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05/18/17 04:16 am
pj! I remember wishing one of your stories would be finished seriously about a decade ago. Amazing. I just tried an old password I used to use and amazingly got in too. Memories!
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10 yrs later, i finally rem my username and password. Pari, you rock. Hope you are well.
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Great post.
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08/31/16 03:43 pm
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Author's Corner

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Authors Chapter Notes:
This is inspired by "For the Man Who Has Everything" by Alan Moore. Also plays with some things Joss said at the High Stakes party re: the end of Angel.

This story got away from me a little, and stopped being Spuffy. I had to smack it around a little and get it into line... but for those of your who complained, it's a little more Spuffy now. Sorry!

It had been some kind of a week. On Monday Buffy heard from one of her operatives that Angel had gone to the dark side, that he had joined the Circle of the Black Thorn and maybe killed Fred. Then on Tuesday she heard he was dead, that he and his crew had died trying to destroy the Circle from the inside.

On Wednesday she had mourned for him, her head buried in the Immortal's cold chest. She had re-examined herself and her own mortality on Thursday, and had ended the day by breaking up with her undead boyfriend. He had been surprisingly upset, but life was too short for a relationship that was going nowhere.

Then on Friday, she heard that Angel was back, somehow surviving an unsurvivable attack alone, and he wanted to see her. Saturday she got on a plane, a red-eye, and early Sunday morning she landed in Los Angeles, before the sun came up, and she found him where she had been told to find him, at the Hyperion Hotel.

The hotel was a thing of legend, something she had heard a lot about but never seen. It was not nearly as fantastic as she expected. In her mind she had built an image of a gothic mansion, ripped from the pages of Dracula. This place was just an old Los Angeles hacienda, run-down from disuse.

Angel met her at the door.

"Thank God you're alive!" Buffy said, and she ran up to Angel and hugged him. "Not really alive, of course," she corrected herself, "but still walking and talking and fighting the good fight." She stepped back and grabbed his hollow left shoulder. "What happened to your arm?"

"I lost it," Angel said, with a crippled shrug.

She stepped back, pushing him a little harder than she intended. "You lost your arm? What?" she sputtered, too tired to come up with any better response. "Can that happen? Is it permanent?"

"Of course, Buffy. I'm a vampire, not a lizard."

"You have no left arm, Angel. You're a crippled creature of the night."


"You stubborn old man," she said, scowling. Why did this make her so mad? She took a deep breath and tried to be considerate... but couldn't. "Why didn't you ask for help?" she demanded.

"I was undercover," he said. He still had unhealed scars on his face and neck from the fight, which was remarkable for a vampire. "An army of slayers wouldn't have fit my story."

"And you decided this on your own?" Buffy said, her hands on her hips, staring at him accusingly. "Did you ask your friends if they minded being sacrificed for your pride?"

"I didn't phrase it like that, no." he snapped, scowling back at her. "My team knew what they were getting into, the same as yours did last year. We just didn't get the happy ending. So it goes." At this he paused for a moment, and his lip trembled visibly. Then he added, almost hissing, "How could I come to you, anyway? You told me I was your enemy."

Buffy looked at him as if he were an alien and not the sometimes love of her life. Had he lost his faith in her? Perhaps. He was changed. If it were possible, she would say he had aged. His smirk had sagged into a frown, and his eyes were tired and jaded; he looked more and more like the old man he really was.

She kicked a rock near her feet, sending it scuttling into the bushes. "Is Cordelia...?"

"Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn... all dead, and Fred, mostly," Angel said. He was disturbingly dispassionate about it. "Somehow we survived. Lucky us."

"Us?" Buffy asked.

"It wasn't just me, that's why I asked you to come here," Angel said, and he looked over his shoulder. "Illyria survived. She's the demon that inhabits Fred's body now. Fred, you didn't know her, but she was one of a mine. Illyria is not. I thought you could take her with you. She's very strong and she's a girl so you could pretend she's a slayer. For me, her presence is... depressing."

Buffy waited for him, wide-eyed, but that was all he said. "Okay," she said, and frowned. "I'll talk to her. Is that all you wanted to tell me?"

"No," Angel said, and he paused, and he looked over his shoulder again. The wind picked up through the trees, and Buffy looked up, hoping a villain would fall from the sky, anything to bring them back to the same level. Angel followed her gaze for a moment, and then he took a deep breath and said, "Spike. He survived too. He wanted me to tell you."

Then he just stood there, crossly, like he was waiting for a bus that was late.

Buffy nodded once, bit her lip for a second, then said, "Huh?"

"That's my cue," he said, and she thought she saw him roll his eyes. He trudged off.

Before Buffy could ponder him or the strange way he was acting, Spike appeared, back from dust, in all his bleach-blonde Spikeness. He jammed his hands in his pockets and said, "Hi."

Buffy stared at him, slackjawed, and cocked her head to one side. She could not possibly know what to think. She raised her eyebrows, opened her mouth, prepared to ask how, when, and why he was here, not to mention hadn't she been told, but then she sighed and said, "New coat, huh?"

"Yeah, my old one got trashed in Rome."

"Rome, huh? I've been there. It's nice."

"I don't know. The people are kind of bollocks. The Immortal owns the town, to boot. Feels crowded."

She nodded, and self-consciously took another step back. She hadn't even known he was back from the dead, and it seemed like he knew who she had been dating. What lapse in intelligence had kept her out of the loop on something this important?

She suspected mutiny; Giles must have known and not told her. Hell, an event this important, everyone must have known and not told her. Some leader she was.

"I don't know what to say," she said eventually. "I guess it's good to see you're alive. I mean, not really alive, but--"

"No, actually," he said quietly, interrupting her. "Really alive."

She looked at him again, and noticed now that even in the bare light of pre-dawn that his skin was not as pale and his eyes were also brighter than she remembered. She put her hands on her head and closed her eyes.

She arranged all the facts in her head: Very many dead; Angel has lost an arm and all love for the world; Spike is a human. Check, check, and check.

When she opened them she asked, "Sanshu?"

"The one and only."

"Angel must be furious," she said, understanding.

"Seems that way," Spike said, and at this he turned away from her, looking vaguely into the mouth of the Hyperion. "Do you want to come inside?"

"Why not."

She followed him into the hotel, which had become dusty and tattered to match the facade. He sat on the circular couch in the middle of the room, and she sat next to him. She was startled by his warmth.

"Angel would've gotten it, of course," Spike explained, "The sanshu, I mean. The beating heart and the frailty of it and everything, I expect they were meant for him. Except, he signed his claim away with the Circle. I was surprised the PTB would care about some mortal paperwork, but I guess they're bloody particular."

"When did this... happen?"

"When we were fighing the army of demons and all else. I was right in the middle of it, too, which was pretty inconsiderate. Angel had to save me. Probably why he lost his arm."

Buffy looked away from Spike, clasping her hands nervously. "Angel's changed. Hurting, maybe. He doesn't seem like himself."

"He's got enough to be down about, love," Spike said, shrugging. "Could be because he lost all his friends in this fight. Could be he wanted to die with them. Or like you suggested, could be he's bitter about the Sanshu business. Cor, I would be."

"It's probably all those things," Buffy said.

"It is not his finest hour."


Angel had become an expert at disappearing into the shadows, and he hid with practiced skill on the dusty staircase, watching them. When they sat down together on the couch, though, he decided to slip away for real. There were some things he didn't really want to know.

As he walked to his room, he saw Illyria standing in the hallway, absolutely still, her hand on the wall, eyes closed. He found himself wondering what Fred would think of all this, of her, but that was a thought he couldn't bear, so he stomped quicky into his room and slammed the door.

He picked up a bottle of lighter fluid lying on the mantle and sprayed it into the fireplace, over some half-burnt logs. Then he struck a match and threw it into the fire. Why did he even have a fireplace, he wondered, filled with wood and fire, two of the few things that could actually kill him? The same reason he used to drive a convertible, maybe.

He crashed on his bed, arms splayed, eyes vacant. He couldn't imagine why he was still here. All the human feeling he used to carry with him, the feelings that made him unique, had turned to hate and resentment; everything that was still alive in his dead body had been sunk into his friends, into Cordelia, and they were gone.

And Buffy had the nerve to come here, to his temple of personal misery, and accuse him of being selfish. To accuse him of not doing the right thing by his friends. As if he hadn't wondered that every night since they died. As if that even mattered at this point. As if...

He was startled from his sulking by the rustling of curtains. He jumped off the bed and demanded, "Who's there?"

A familiar figure stepped forward from window, his silhouette unchanged in a hundred years. "Happy birthday, Angelus," he said.

Angel was about to correct him, to thank him sarcastically but then tell him that his birthday was another day. Then he realized he didn't remember when his birthday actually was, and that he didn't even know how old he was any more, and in that moment of self-doubt the thing was upon him, all tentacles and feelers.

Then Angel was released from reality...


Liam staggers out of the bar, his brain reeling. His friend Dugan falls; he hears himself mumble, "why don't you rest right here..." He feels like falling, too. Why does he do this to himself, night after night, spending so much money just to throw up three hours later and wake up with a headache? He tells himself he should stop, and then laughs, stumbles, hiccups, laughs again...

Then he sees her. A vision, a vignette, like something from Vermeer. And blonde... he loves blondes. Is it a dream? She turns to him, lovely like a sunrise, smiles demurely, then starts to walk away. He follows her... God, he is drunk.

She allows him to catch her. He gets better look at her; she is dressed like a duchess, and not from around here. He says, "So, I'd ask myself... What's a lady of your station doing alone in an alley with the reputation that this one has?"

She replies rhetorically: "Maybe she's lonely."

"In that case, I'd offer myself as escort to protect you from harm and to while away the dull hours."

She smiles coyly. "You're very gracious," she says, and he feels he might be in love with her, that he would like to spend forever with this woman who is perfectly polite and beautifully seductive at the same time.

He is about to say that yes, he is gracious, when another woman jumps off a rooftop and rolls spryly off the ground, springing to her feet. This woman is rough, dressed like a man, and also not from around here. She laughs and says, "Get away from him, Darla."

The blonde beauty jumps, turns, snarls, "Slayer!"

The mannish woman, this Slayer, grins.

"Darla, huh?" Liam says, his head swimming. "Pleased to meet you."

Darla, his beautiful blonde, whirls on him, and he sees her face has changed awfully. Her forehead is scrunched up like an angry dog, and she has long sharp fangs. Liam backs away; this is not his usual drunken vision. She growls, "Stay out of this," and then turns back to the other girl.

Before he can put it all together in his head, the two women start fighting. It is quickly apparent that neither of them are normal women. The Slayer grabs Darla by the arm and flips her over her head, launching her into the side of a building. Darla jumps up, unphased, and charges the Slayer with more force than the best boxer Liam has ever seen. The Slayer falls to the ground, then rolls over her head, jumps up, and kicks Darla artfully in the throat. But she is too slow, and Darla catches the offending foot, twisting it, knocking the Slayer off guard and wrenching her knee. Darla snickers, and stalks the injured slayer.

"Did you think you could take me alone? Do you even have a stake?" Darla asks, her new teeth making her lisp. "How long have you been the slayer? Three, maybe four years? I am Darla of Aurelius, you foolish child. I have been a vampire for thirty years, and I---"

At this point, Liam picks up the largest loose cobblestone he can find, winds up, and pitches it headlong into Darla's demonic head. Darla wobbles, surprised, and the Slayer takes this moment to jump up, whip a sharp piece of wood out of her coat, and plunge it into Darla's bare chest.

"Surprise," she says, "I do have a stake."

Darla looks down at the stake in her chest, and for a split second Liam can see the shock and disappointment written on her face. He briefly feels like it was not supposed to happen this way. Then, in an instant, she explodes into dust, the air screeching around her in protest, and she is gone.

The Slayer is limping, and Liam goes to help her, but she waves him off. "I've suffered worse," she says. He is staring at her slackjawed, so she smiles at him kindly and says, "Thanks for helping me there. Good arm on you."

"I guess, um, I play rugby."

She nods. "I'm Katherine, by the way. You're lucky I stopped by when I did. It looked like she was going to turn you into--"

"--a vampire?"

Katherine nods. "You wouldn't want that, believe me. Eternal life isn't all it's cracked up to be. So I hear."

"And you're a.... slayer?"

"The. Slayer. Yes. I hope for both our sakes that you never meet another one." She smiles, and he notices that despite her manly guise, she has a girlish charm. She asks, "What's your name, then?"

"I'm Liam."

"How Irish. Liam." She tastes it, likes it, then smiles wistfully and says, "My Angel."

She waves and takes off. He watches her go. It would be the last time he ever saw a vampire, or a slayer, until the end of his life.


"I should go check on him," Buffy said. "He must feel so alone."

"He's always felt that way," Spike said, shrugging.

She frowned at him. "I would think having a heartbeat would make you more compassionate."

"Buffy, it's not that I don't care, it's just that there's not much to be done for him. And anyway, I'm not lately his favorite person."

"Well, maybe I am."


"Ugh, Spike. You may be human, but you're still a dick."

She got up and started up the stairs. Spike waited at the bottom, trying not to feel hurt. "I'm not..."

He couldn't help wondering what exactly he had to do to impress this girl. He had gotten himself a soul, come back from the dead, and now he was human. For her. And she hadn't even given him a pat on the back; he'd gotten name-calling.

"Angel?" Buffy said, tapping gently on the door. "Would you like some company? I want to talk to you."

Buffy waited quietly, but he didn't answer. She was about to knock again when the blue girl, Illyria, the former Fred, came up to her and said, "The feeling of this room has changed. It sounds like an infection... no, a fungus."

"You can hear fungus?"

"Do not question me. I have existed on planes you can't imagine," she said. "Enter with caution. The others would miss you."


She tried to door but it was locked. She forced the door open with her hip and walked in slowly. It was dark, and she saw Angel standing in front of the window, absolutely still. "Angel?" she said. He didn't answer.

As she got closer she saw that there was something large attached to his chest, feeding on him; it was something alien and strangely beautiful, halfway between a flower and an octopus. It was definitely alive and it didn't belong there. "Spike!" she yelled, running up to Angel. "Spike, hurry! Angel's in trouble!"

She put both hands on the parasite and braced herself with a foot against the windowsill, pulling as hard as she could. It didn't budge. Spike burst into the room ready to fight, and was surprised to find it so dark and quiet. "Help me with this," Buffy said, nodding at the parasite, and he added his strength to hers, but even together they couldn't get it off of him.

Illyria stood behind them, watching coolly. "You won't succeed that way," she said eventually. "That is the Black Mercy. Once it takes hold, it will not let go unless his will allows it."

Buffy let go of the parasite and turned to Illyria. "What are you talking about?"

"The Black Mercy is a powerful symbiote, so old it has no origin," Illyria explained. "It once incapacitated the mightiest of the ancients by creating their perfect fantasy world. It will hold as long as he wants it to."

"How did it get here?"

"Someone came through that window," she said, pointing. Buffy looked; the window was open. "I heard him. He was quiet, and dead, but I heard him."

"And you didn't say anything?"

"In my current form I could not have stopped him, and you were too far away to help," she said, shrugging. "He is gone now. We must deal with the Black Mercy ourselves."

"Like Hell we must," Spike said. "I bet it was someone from the Circle, tying up loose ends. I'm not going to sit around waiting to be next."

"Perhaps," Illyria said.

"What do you suppose he's fantasizing about?" Buffy asked quietly, looking at Angel. He was as still as stone. She looked into his open eyes but saw no recognition.

"Hmm, let's see," Spike said, smirking at her. "It's been five years since the guy has had a happy. I don't know, what do you think he's fantasizing about?"


Siobhan is a lovely girl with bright red hair, big green eyes, and a face full of light. She's made a sport of flirting with Liam, and people have begun to talk; Liam likes it. He watches her dance, smiling. She catches his eye and smiles back. Dugan nudges him and says, "What are you waiting for? Dance with her."

"Aw, be quiet."

"Come on, you two have got an understanding," Dugan asked. "If you don't ask, she'll be insulted. Besides, she's adorable. Just look at her. Smiling like that."

"Leave it alone," Liam orders, waving at Dugan. "Maybe when I've had a few more drinks..."

"No," Dugan says. "Now."

"Fine. You wanker." Liam laughs, rolls his eyes, and walks towards Siobhan. The first two steps are hard but the rest come easy.

She hears him coming and turns to watch him, wide-eyed. "Here you are," she says, as he comes to stand in front of her. "And I thought you'd never get up."

"Aye. So you were waiting for me?"


They stand there awkwardly for a moment, and a young couple dances by them, arm in arm. Someone is playing a lively tune on a fiddle. "Should we dance, then?" he asks.

"We should," she says slyly, "but I've seen you dance."

"It's bad, I know. Don't pick on me."

She smiles and shakes her head, moving closer to him. Her words are all weighted with expectation. "Did I tell you Jenny was in foal? Breeding with Beau finally took. Foal's going to drop in May. I hope it's a colt."

"Is that innuendo?" he asks.

"I'm been winking at you for half an hour, Liam, trying to get you to come over. Had time to think of something bold to say."


"Do you remember last spring, when my mother made all those different pies, but then everyone just ate the apple? Except you. You had the cherry and the mincemeat, both." She giggles. He looks at her, confused, waiting, and she shrugs. Her left hand flutters nervously.. She puts her hands on his shoulders lightly and says, "Nevermind. Maybe we should dance..."

"What is it you want from me?" Liam asks.

"You know what I want."

"No... I don't."

She huffs. "Don't be ridiculous, Liam. I'm tired of this game we've been playing. I want someone such as yourself to hunker down on one knee, ask me to marry him, and be done with it. Did I really have to tell you that?"

"Oh. Well, yes." He had no idea. He runs his hand through his hair. "Why?"

"Because you're kind to me, and I think you like me, and I can imagine certain things that are good to imagine, with you," she says, then adds, "and... I love you. That's why."

"Sio, my father says--"

"Don't bring him into this, Liam," Siobhan snaps, putting her hands on her hips. Other people have started to stare at them. "I'm talking about you."

"Shhh..." he says, and he takes hold of her shoulder and pulls her aside. Her eyes flare but she abides. He says, "Listen, I didn't know what we had was, well, serious."

"It isn't, Liam. Of course it isn't. I'm just starting to wish it was."

He laughs, and almost smiles. "That's kind of sweet, I guess."

She looks at him, half hurt, half fond.

"I'm not against the idea," Liam admits. "I figure some day I'll have it all together and then everything will make sense. I'd like to be the sort of guy who gets to hunker down on one knee and propose and such, and seeing as I do love you too, I guess, it would be good if it were you. I just hadn't thought of it yet, alright?"

Her eyes water. "You love me?"

"Oh, please Siobhan, of course I do," he says, smiling. "You're only the prettiest girl I've ever met, and you've got a temper like nodody else that says, 'Love me or else!' Am I wrong?"

"No," she says, smiling. "That's me."

"So stop being so spontaneous, and I'll get to it eventually."

She puts her foot down. "No."


"I'm not getting any younger, Liam," she says plainly. She was nineteen. "I could shuffle off this mortal coil at any moment. I've got no cause to wait."

"I see," he says. She shrugs at him and laughs. It is infectious, and he laughs too. "Alright, then. Fine. We can... do that."


"We can get married, I mean."

"Confound it, Liam, but I just said you had to be down on one knee. Do I have to spell it out for you?"

He sighs, and the look in her eyes reminds him of the time when she insisted he teach her how to drive a carriage. He could hardly drive, himself, as his father was always reminding him, so they had an awful time of it. Somehow that had only made it better. He laughs, suddenly giddy, and drops down on one knee. "Siobhan Flannery, will you marry me?"

She rolls her eyes, smiles, and says, "I suppose."

He jumps up and grabs her by the waist, lifting her up and spinning her around. The world takes on a different meaning, and she has never looked so beautiful.

"You're not mad, Liam? That I forced the issue?" she asks carefully, as he puts her down. "This is really what you want?"

It occurs to him that this is what he has always wanted. To have a perfectly normal life and a lovely girl of his own. To move out of his father's house, grow crops, raise children. To be a man.

"Yes, Sio. It's perfect."


"Alright, I've found the scent," Spike said, calling from the fire escape. "It's faint, but it's definitely undead. I think I can follow it."

"How exactly can you smell this thing?" Buffy asked. "You aren't a vampire anymore."

Spike cocked his head to one side, as if the idea had never occurred to him. "You know," he said, "I have no idea. Maybe it's a residual thing. Or a maybe I'm a mutant, you know, like Wolverine."

"Whatever," she said, snider than she meant. "Just get going."

He jumped through the window back into the room. "Why are you giving me such a hard time?"

"I'm not giving you a hard time," Buffy said, crossing her arms and looking away from him. "I'm upset about Angel. He's catatonic!"

"This conversation does not interest me," Illyria said. She turned from them and left the room. Buffy watched her go and rolled her eyes.

"He wasn't catatonic when you called me a dick!"

"Oh, shut up, Spike."

"Buffy, that is exactly what I'm talking about," Spike said. "Why can't you just be civil to me? For once. This is the first time we have spoken since I came back from the dead. Can you just--"

"Well, that's the problem, isn't it!" Buffy said, suddenly yelling.

"What is?"

"This is the first time we've spoken. Since you came back. A year ago! That's three-hundred and sixty-five days that you couldn't even pick up the phone. Or, hey, it's modern times... shoot me an email! You were in Rome, damnit, and you couldn't say 'Hi'?"

Spike looked as if he had been slapped in the face. He didn't breath for what seemed like ages. "I tried to talk to you in Rome," he said eventually. "We both did, Angel and me. You were otherwise engaged."

Buffy looked at Angel, standing their paralyzed, and at this she collapsed on the floor. "I would have liked to have heard from you," she said. She took a slow, ragged breath. "I would like to have known I didn't have to miss you."

"Buffy, come on," Spike said, and he sat down in front of her. "How could you possibly find time in your lovely Roman holiday to miss me?"

She pushed her hair out of her face, and her eyes were shining on the brink of tears. She set her jaw and stared at him defiantly. "I loved you, remember?" she said.

"Come off it, Buffy," he said, and he jumped off the floor and back to the window. "You didn't love me. You couldn't."

"Spike, can we not do this?"

"No, Buffy, I can't let you get away with this," Spike said, shaking his head. "That business about you loving me was rubbish. It was just something you said because I was going to die. We both said a lot of things."

"You don't get to decide how I feel.... felt, whatever."

"I guess not," Spike said. "But I'm not dying anymore, so you can stop claiming feelings you don't have. Just treat me civilly, like you would anyone else, so we can stop playing games and get it done already."

At that, he ran down the fire escape, clattering all the way. Buffy felt like she was a pile of mush, worry and confusion spilled out every which way. She had expected this trip to be difficult. She had expected emotions to run a little high. But she had not expected Spike. He had a way of cranking up the volume, so to speak.

She stood up and went to Angel, leaning against the wall beside him, so that she could whisper in his ear.

"You never doubted that I loved you," she said to him. "Nope; you had other hang-ups that kept us apart. God, what is my problem? Why can't I find a guy who doesn't have at least a century's worth of baggage to swoon after?"

Angel stood there, completely still, lost in his own world.

"Hey, this is a lot like our relationship," she said, grinning. "I talk on and on about my life and my feelings, and you just stand there looking mysterious. Except now you're a captive audience. You can't disappear this time.

"What I don't get is, you left me. I loved you with all my heart, and you went away. Then four years later you come back with some rink-a-dink amulet and all of a sudden it's like it was my choice, and that whenever I'm ready, we can get back together and ride off into the sunset. As if that wasn't what I wanted all along. What changed for you? Was it because Cordelia died? You lost your back-up? Of course I'm assuming that's what she was. Maybe I was just a thing, and she was what you wanted all along and that's why..."

Buffy sighed. She knew she was supposed to bring him back to the real world, that she was supposed to give him a reason to live, but she didn't know what that was supposed to be. She knew how he must feel. It was her worst fear, to survive a battle with all her friends dead. The guilt he must feel, she thought. Like when Xander lost his eye, except a thousand times worse. Maybe he was better off in the fantasy world.

"I still love you," she said softly. "I understand how you feel. I know you might not want to come back to us, but I want you to know that if you decide to come back... I'm here for you."


The minute Liam enters the house, his wife knows it. "Liam!" Siobhan calls, her bright voice bouncing off the walls of their little house the minute she hears him slam the door. "Is that you?"


She bounds up to him, holding a bundle of baby in her arms. Her cheeks are rosy from the effort. "You're back early."

"Goodness, yes. Sheridan is full of hot air. I sat through forty-five minutes of debate about the potato yield, then I snuck out the back after he started going on about the masonry in the church cellar."

"So there wasn't any important news at the meeting?" she asks. "Was Dr. Rosemeade there?"

"No... why?"

"Because Connor isn't getting any better. I think you need to take him to a doctor." On cue, the baby coughs. She adds, "Now."

"Ech, but I just washed Jenny down. How am I supposed to get there?"

"Why don't you walk, you old sack of meat?" she chides lightly, pushing a finger into his softness of his stomach as he comes up to her to snatch the baby. "Ooh, getting a little pudgy, aren't you?"

"You should talk, my lass." He grabs her by the hips foundly and squeezes. "Are those... saddlebags?"

She pulls away gracefully. She has gotten rounder in the five years they have been married, but she looks no worse for it, and knows it. "This is the shape of a woman," she says, smoothing her skirt. "In case you've forgotten. Now, get going, before he sicks up on you."

He kisses her gently on the forehead and heads out the door, holding Connor close to his chest. It is a warm night, a beautiful country, an idyllic life. Connor squirms in his arms. Darling baby, he thinks, but Siobhan worries too much about him. "It's just a cold, isn't it, sweetheart? Doesn't your mother worry too much? Isn't she bossy? Eh?"

He tickles Connor; the baby gurgles healthily. Liam considers returning to the house and putting him to bed, but he would rather not argue with Siobhan. The woman refuses to lose an argument no matter how ridiculous it is, bless her.

He takes a wrong step and feels a familiar pain shoot up his leg, the subsequent nausea, and he thinks for the thirtieth time that maybe he should tell Dr. Rosemeade about it. This was how his father felt before his heart gave out, he remembers. But for the thirtieth time he decides that it's bad enough to have one worrier in the family, and he can take it. Like a man.


Buffy was watching him so closely that it scared the pants off of her when he blinked. She had been watching him for over an hour, telling him that she cared, that she would always be there for him, that she needed him, when suddenly he blinked, the only movement he had made the whole time. She was so startled she almost fell, then she jumped up and yelled, "Spike!" But Spike was long gone, chasing demons, even now.

She leaned closer to him, feeling that if she could see him blink again, even once, she would have succeeded in some small way. She said, "Angel, can you hear me? I'm here. It's Buffy. I'm here for you."

She braced herself against the bed again and began to pull on the Black Mercy once more, as hard as she could. "Angel, it's Buffy. I need your help. I need you to fight," she said, straining.

And then she saw something, in his eyes. Shining. She dropped the Black Mercy and looked closer. "Angel, can you hear me?" she said. But he hadn't blinked this time, she realized. His eyes were shining with tears.

Angel was crying.


Liam feels the nausea wash over him, and the dizziness, and he tries to keep walking, to make his way through the house without arousing suspicion, but this time he can't. The pain shoots up his leg again, and he collapses.

"Liam!" Siobhan yells, and runs to him. "Liam, what's wrong? What happened?"

"I don't know..." Liam mutters. "She's been calling to me, Sio. She doesn't think I should be here. Maybe she's right...?"

"She? Who is she?" Siobhan demands. She looks over her shoulder and yells, "Connor! Get Dr. Rosemeade! Your father is in trouble!"

"Ah, Connor," Liam says, smiling. "He's such a good boy. Why didn't we have another one? I might have liked a little girl..."

Siobhan looks confused and tries to answer, but he doesn't hear it. The room goes black and he passes out.


"Angel?" Buffy said, as he blinked again. "Angel!"


Liam finds himself in bed. Siobhan hovers over him, her face a blank slate. Dr. Rosemeade has arrived, and he moves to and fro busily, avoiding his eyes.

His father went this way, Liam thinks, remembering how frail the former tyrant had been on his deathbed. And now he too was on his way gently into the night.

Siobhan slams her fists against the bedside table suddenly, knocking a glass of water to the ground. It shatters. She says, "No," and then, to the doctor, "He was healthy before. A man doesn't just suddenly start to die, does he? Do something!"

"I've already done everything I can. It's between him and God now."

Siobhan shakes her head. "What does God know about it?" she demands. "God sits in the heavens all day long and he see a thousand people die and a thousand people born. A million changes. He doesn't know anything about what it's like for one person like me, or Liam."

"Don't blaspheme, child. The priest is on his way."

Liam coughs. "I've been sicker, but somehow I know... I guess this is how it feels. Something on the other side wants me, and... I'm sorry, Siobhan."

He grabs her hand, and she begins to fret. "Connor!" she calls. "Come in and sit with me. Your father needs you."

A lanky child comes into the room, his dark hair in characteristic disorder. Siobhan frets over him, too, licking her hand and trying vainly to fix his hair. "Leave him alone, Sio," Liam says, laughing hoarsely. "Come here, son. Sit by your old man."

Connor approaches his father almost shyly and sits by him, hesitant to meet his eyes. He is afraid.

"Don't be afraid, Connor, it's just death," Liam says, trying to smile. "It's just a part of life. Like growing potatoes. Like sleeping." Connor nods, but he doesn't smile back. Liam runs a hand across his cheek, and Connor finally looks at him. "The best thing you can do for me right now is to live your life properly, the way I meant for you, and to remember me well. Will you do that?"

"Liam, don't. He's frightened."

"I'm not," Connor says quickly. He looks his father steadily in the eyes and says nothing.

"Oh, my dear boy. Heart of my heart," Liam said, smiling weakly. "It would have been such a pleasure to watch you grow. You will make a fine man someday."

"No, pa, please stay. I'll miss you."

"Connor, I'm trying, but..."


Buffy was about to go find a tool, like a crowbar, since she had grown tired of tugging on the Black Mercy with her bare hands, when Spike burst in through the window, shouting, "Is he back yet?!"

"Who?" Buffy asked. "Angel?"

"No, the Immortal," Spike said, panting. Like a human, she realized. "I was following the scent, like I said I would, when all of a sudden the trail doubled back on itself. And it got stronger, too. And that's when I recognized it."

"So the Immortal put this thing on Angel?" Buffy asked, confused. "Why would he do that?"


Buffy and Spike looked to the door, where the Immortal stood, holding Illyria limply by the neck. He released her, and she slumped to the floor. "Hello Buffy," he said.

"Revenge for what, Jack?" Buffy demanded, pointing at Angel. That was his true name; he had finally told her, late one night, and she used it now with the hiss of an ex-girlfriend. "What exactly did Angel do to you?"

"It's not about what he did to me," the Immortal snarled, his pale face looking suddenly more threatening than she ever saw it during their love affair. "It is about what you did to me. You left me, Buffy. Nobody leaves the Immortal. You made me feel... bad, about myself. Nobody does that."

"Oh my God, get over it," she said, rolling her eyes. "So you were dumped. Don't tell me you've never been dumped before."

"You presume too much, Slayer," he hissed. He had never called her that before, and she felt her heart closing in. This is what he thought of her. "You did more than leave me. You dared to suggest that there was someone," and at this he looked at Angel, then Spike, "that you wanted more. Than me. I don't like it."

"Okay, I get that now," Buffy said, shrugging. "I still don't understand why you stuck the alien octopus on my ex-boyfriend."

"That is the Black Mercy, you ignorant twit," the Immortal snapped. "It lets you experience what you want most in the world. I wanted Angel to want something more than he ever wanted you."

"How do you know he's not thinking about me?" Buffy demanded.

"Simple, my dear. Because if he was thinking about you, the creature would have no hold over him. You are right here, professing your love no doubt. But as you can see," and he looked at Angel's paralyzed figure at this point, "he has not chosen you."

It was simple. The Immortal was right; Angel didn't want her anymore, and she couldn't save him. She sunk back on her heels, her heart falling.

"Excellent detective work, by the way," the Immortal said, tipping his hat to Spike. It was at this point that Buffy noticed he was wearing large black gloves, a pair she had never seen before. "You've come a long way, William."

She looked closely at the gloves. They were bulky and not nearly fashionable enough for the eternally stylish Italian. That must mean that...

"Spike, get his gloves!" she yelled, and she kicked the Immortal hard in the knee. He stumbled and fell forward a step before catching himself, and Spike dashed forward, grabbing the Immortal's hands. The Immortal stood up quickly, and threw Spike off of him. Spike flew across the room, taking the gloves with him. His his human body slammed against the wall and crumpled onto the floor.

"Spike!" Buffy yelled, but before she could go to him, the Immortal grabbed her wrist and swung her around him, tripping her over Illyria's unconscious body. She fell on the floor, and he pounced after her; she rolled away just in time. He landed spryly beside her and grabbed her by the hair, kicking her in the stomach. She recoiled and kneed him in the head.

Spike, meanwhile, stood groggily, trying to regain his balance. The room spun, and he could tell Buffy was in trouble. Not much he could do, though; they needed a vampire, not a man. Spike carefully put on the gloves and walked towards Angel, grabbing the Black Mercy with both hands and pulling with all the meager strength he had.

"God, I hope Buffy's right," he said. "Come on, peaches. We're counting on you."


"It won't be long now," the doctor says. The priest busily attends to the last rites, while Siobhan and Connor hold each of Liam's hands.

"I can feel it, pulling at me," Liam groans. His chest throbs; his whole world aches. Their faces were becoming indistinct, like drops of paint.

"You mean death?" the priest asks.

"Fight it," Siobhan insists.

"I can't!" Liam yells, "This life doesn't want me anymore. It isn't fair though! Why would the Lord let me see this, to feel this life and then take it away?"

"Shush, man, you endanger your soul," the priest snaps.

"My soul? What is that to me?" and at this the priest shrugs. "I love you, Siobhan, and I don't want to leave you... and Connor, our child," and he see a flash of another life, and he realizes that this is not his. He looks at Siobhan and feels for a moment like he has never seen her before. Connor is not hers; Connor was barely even his.

He says, "I don't belong here, do I?"

Siobhan looks startled. She crosses her arms over her chest, and cocks her head to the side, as if considering him for the first time. As if they had never met. She knows, he realizes. She has always known.

"No," she says eventually. "Not exactly."

She comes closer to him, so close he should have been able to smell her, that soft smell of lilacs and flour, but everything is pulling away from him so fast, he can't even feel her when she touches him. She is cold. He remembers Darla, the vampire, suddenly, and another world begins to open up inside his brain. His name is Angel. No.

"Is this real?" Liam asks. "I want it to be real."

"Maybe," Siobhan says, and sighs. "It should have been."

"I think it was," he says eventually, "but now it's not."

She nods, and glances at Connor, who looks away. "It was worth it, wasn't it? You loved it? Being alive?"

"Such a tease, a waste," he says quietly.

"That's life," Dr. Rosemeade said, shrugging.

"But I... I love you, I love Connor, and our cottage by the river, and the soil, and our horses... but they want me back. My demons. Please...."

Connor steps forward, and he pushes Siobhan out of the way. He says, "I'm sorry, dad. Angel. That's just the way it is."

Connor's voice has changed, and Liam looks up at him. It is no longer his beloved son; his face has changed, like Darla's, and his teeth, now fangs, glisten in the candlelight. The devil-mouth opens, and Connor leans over his father, coming towards his neck.

Siobhan yells, "No!" but it is too late to change anything. It has been too late since the beginning. Liam feels his teeth sink into his neck. It doesn't hurt. Connor pulls away, cuts his finger with his teeth, and spills his own blood into Liam's mouth.

As he feels the blood spill into his mouth, Liam feels history putting itself back together. He remembers gypsies, and a slayer that was not Katherine, a slayer that he loved. And he remembers suffering. He asks, "Am I Angel now?"

Connor smiles the sadistic smile of an evil thing, silent, and Siobhan begins to cry. "You are Angel," she says, sobbing. "You were always Angel."


As Spike pulls the Black Mercy off of Angel, at last, the dark vampire's eyes open, enraged, as if yanked naked from a warm bath into the cold. He turns to the door, where Buffy and the Immortal still scrap painfully.

Wordlessly, Angel stormed up to the Immortal and Buffy. His enemy saw him, and dropped Buffy, bruised and betrayed, and turned to face Angel. "My old friend," the Immortal said. "How does it feel to have everything you ever wanted taken from you?"

"So you're the one who did this to me," Angel said coldly.

"Yes, but don't take it personally, dear Angelus. It was all about Buffy," the Immortal said, and he looked at her with a twisted grin. "Why don't you tell her about what the Black Mercy showed you? She'd love to hear how it wasn't her."

Angel did not answer; he grabbed the can of lighter fluid from the hearth and a piece of flaming lumber, wielding it like a sword. Before anyone could stop him, or even understand what he was doing, he dosed the Immortal in lighter fluid and lit him on fire.

"Burn," he said.

As he went up in a pillar of flame, the Immortal screamed with shock and outrage and screeched into dust. Angel watched silently, the firelight dancing in his eyes for a moment before it went out with the dust. He went over to Buffy and offered her a hand silently, helping her to her feet. Buffy said, "Angel..." but he shook his head, not wanting to talk about it.

And then Buffy's eyes grew wide, and she pointed behind him. He turned and saw Spike, spread out on his back on the floor, the Black Mercy sucking at his chest.

"You do it," Angel said, and he sulked out of the room. "Hard to pull with one arm, anyway."

Buffy knelt beside Spike. She took the gloves off his hands, put them on, and started to pull.


Spike woke up suddenly. He felt like he had been kicked in the nuts. Buffy had the Black Mercy, squirming, in her hands; she heaved it into the fire. It struggled for a moment, then shriveled up, a black and lifeless heap.

"Come on," Buffy said, and she extended her hand to him. "Angel's downstairs. Let's get out of this room, it smells."

He took her hand, and stood. She smiled at him, sympathetically, and then looked away. He followed her downstairs.

"So I just checked my records," Angel said as they entered. "Apparently, today is my birthday. Funny he knew that."

"Yeah?" Buffy said. "We could have a party."

"I don't think so."

Spike watched them bantering and sighed. The memory of his short and simple paradise tasted like a copper penny in his mouth. He slipped away towards the pantry.

Buffy did not notice; she laughed. "So how old are you, then?"

"Come on, Buffy. It's not polite to ask." He shoved her playfully. And for the first time since she'd arrived, he cracked a smile.

"Plus there's all that time in Hell I condemned you to." she said. "We'd have to debate if that counted."

Angel laughed, becoming younger as he did so.

She smiled back. "Hey, there's the Angel I remember," she said.

"Thank you, Buffy," he said softly. And he came up to her, and he hugged her. He had not even hugged her last year, when she was about to go to battle, possibly to her death. "I don't remember exactly what you said to me, when I was out back there, but I know it was because you cared, and that has made all the difference. Thank you."

"Oh, so you don't resent me for pulling you from paradise?" Buffy asked.

"Oh, I do," he said. "I'm just trying to be big about it." And then he poked her in the ribs, smiled, and said, "Just kidding.

She smiled, and poked him back. "Hurray for me, then," she said.

He patted her on the back, like a father, and pulled away from her gently. That was how it was between them, she supposed. It would do.

"Should I ask?" she said carefully. "Do I want to know?"

Angel sighed. "About the world the parasite gave to me?" He looked at her shining eyes, the hurt she was hiding. "No, I'm sorry. I don't want to talk about it."

"Right," she said. "I'm not what you wanted, or the Black Mercy wouldn't have had any hold over you."

"Not technically," he said. "You might have..."

"Angel," Buffy said. "Was it Cordelia?"

Angel looked startled, and her name hung in the air between them. "No," he said after a moment. "Why would you think that?"

"I've just, well, different things I've heard, and the timing of things..." she said, and she shrugged. "I know you loved her."

"Yes," Angel admitted, "but that's not what I saw." Buffy looked up at again with her shining vulnerable eyes, and he sighed and continued. "Very well, Buffy. I dreamed that I was a man, that I had never been a vampire. That I grew up, married, had children, and died as a man in the eighteenth century. That was my perfect world." He looked dark for a minute, and sad again, but he shook his head and it passed.

Buffy nodded, digesting this for a moment. She decided that she would not let it hurt her at all, then she said, "Eighteenth century?" He nodded. "But they didn't even have television."

"I know, but it's my fantasy. I don't expect you to understand."

She laughed. "Are you kidding? All technological advancements aside, you're looking at the former queen of I-wish-this-hadn't-happened-to-me land. I just thought you had gotten over it by now."

"No," he said. "I guess not."


Spike was fiddling around in the kitchen, trying to find something to eat. He had so many different cravings now that he was human. It had been much easier as a vampire: when hungry, eat blood. Or maybe a blooming onion. Now he had to deal with the five food groups, four taste buds, getting enough fluids, and the danger of food boredom. Also he was afraid of getting fat.

He saw Buffy enter, out of the corner of his eye, and he ignored her, shrinking away from her like a child who has done wrong. She waited for him to look at her but he refused.

"Spike?" she said at last. "I'm going to leave soon. Can I get a good-bye, or are we not speaking again?"

Spike shrugged and said, "Good bye," not meeting her eyes.

Buffy sighed. She was not strong enough to understand why they could not have a pleasant conversation with each other, not ever, despite their mutual affection.

"I guess I'll take Illyria back to Rome with me. I may even leave today," she said. She had decided to take the blue demon with her. She was not unlike a new slayer, in many ways. They both nodded and didn't respond.

Spike cleared his throat and said, "I hope you didn't let the Immortal upset you. This business about the Black Mercy, and Angel not wanting you above all other things, and what not."

"Of course it upset me," Buffy said, "but it's okay. It's only my pride that makes me want to be in his thoughts. He's not my heart's desire, not anymore." She smiled. "I understand I'm not the perfect fantasy."

"Yeah, well, the thing is..." and Spike ran a nervous hand through his hair, "The thing is, my dream... you were."

Buffy nodded. biting her lip. She wrapped her arms around her stomach. "Okay," she said.

"It doesn't matter," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know why I do this. I just... I wanted to tell you. I'll see you later." He made a dismissive guesture.

"I do love you," she said, firmly. Spike looked up, finally, his expression inscrutable. "I don't want to marry you or anything... but I love you. Okay? Can you accept that?"

Spike nodded. "I believe you. Buffy, I'm sorry about snapping at you before. You go ahead and treat me however you want to. I should have told you I was back."

"You should have? You, who were in Los Angeles while io stavo in Italia? How about everyone else?" Buffy said. "Tell me that Giles didn't know and I will tell you that you are a liar. I hate it when people protect me by lying to me."

"I'm still sorry," he said. "While I was having my dream... the reason I knew it wasn't real was that it was all too easy. I didn't feel guilty. I have the weight of centuries on me, Buffy. You probably think I'm making this up."

"No," Buffy said, shrugging. "You don't wear it on your sleeve the way Angel does, but it is in your mind. It is why we're apart, isn't it? Why you never tried to get closer to me after you got your soul."

"That, and your frigid bitch-ness," Spike said, smiling.

"Okay, tough guy, I'm not going to--"

Spike grabbed her around the shoulders and pulled her close to him; she relaxed in his arms and let him kiss her, fiercely, on the lips. She felt the warmth of him, and wrapped her arms around his soft middle, surprising herself with how much she liked kissing a human.

He pulled away from her, smiling. "I love you too, Buffy," he said, smiling sheepishly. "I meant to do that a lot sooner."

She laughed. "I have to go," she said, "but next time you're in Rome, look me up."

"Sure, but no more creepy boyfriends."

She raised an eyebrow. "Unless, of course, they're you?"

"Of course," he said. "Present company excepted."


Monday morning and Buffy had another plane to catch. Angel had called a taxi and Spike was carrying her luggage. Illyria followed her without a word of good-bye to her companions. They got in the cab and pulled away.

Buffy looked back at them, Spike and Angel, two chapters of her life standing there, a new one just opening, and she said to herself, softly, "Some kind of a week."

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