Courting Sin

Courting Sin

By Leni
Author's Notes

It begins with a gravestone. Janna Kalderash, it should say. A name you'd never seen for the woman you'd never known. You lay the flowers on the ground, crowning each petal with a real tear. But all the while you're thinking: It's more your fault than mine.

You never think to blame him.

Later there is a truth you must face, and Giles happens to be your first confidant. He is also the first to crack, so you guess it's only fair.

Angel is dead to you, and the words flow easily past your mouth. You loved, you lost and it's over now.

Giles's pride is awkward and ill-timed, and maybe that's for the best. A Watcher's pride is for the Slayer who walks through fire, and you're the kind that loves burning in the hottest flames.

It's never over.

But that second truth hasn't crossed your mind yet.

You kill him a thousand times every night.

You hunt the tall ones, the dark-haired ones, the ones who smile at love-struck girls as if they'd bring the moon to them. As they explode into ash, you picture him blowing up. Your stake in his chest, his eyes locked with yours. He'll hate you in that moment more than you're hating him now.

You'll kill him for real when your breath stops catching at the thought.

The word 'computer' has been banned from the library.

You never mention that the machine was never that familiar to the goings-on of this room.

Drusilla is catching butterflies in the park. It's the first time you've seen her since the mall. You can see her again, her petite figure against his. Dark against dark, and they fit so perfectly together. Creation and creator, worship and obsession. Love had never looked so well on him.

In reality that's when you first hated him, when you realised there'd been whole worlds beyond the facets he'd let you see.

Red is all you see now, and your eyes close against the haze. You'll make her pay. Unconsciously your fingers tighten around the wood they're holding, but when you open your eyes, the vampiress is gone.

He's sending chocolate now. Daily boxes that your mother watches parade past with something new in her eyes.

Worry, she'd say. If she said anything. Mistrust, is what you're calling it. At least it's a step above fear. Now you aren't the juvenile delinquent heading for jail, you're just the misled teenager who fell for the wrong guy.

Sometimes you wish you could scream he was the best boyfriend ever. But with no proof, there'd be no point.

Add another mark to the debts Angel owes you.

A push, a strike, a slice.

You duck, don't roll and wait.

A jump, a stake, a scream.

It's victory, your victory.

Somewhere there's a lonely round of applause to celebrate it. You can't help but feel smug at a fellow hunter's praise. There must be something wrong in it; good girls don't pride themselves of their hunting abilities. Good girls don't hunt at all. But you are proud, almost basking in his approval.

Maybe this is the one hold Angel still has on you.

Wrong choice.

This is just your nature. The hold, you still have to find out.

Spike is still in that wheelchair. Broken and useless, he'd be better off dead.

On some nights you see them, Drusilla pushing his chair along the streets. Angelus often walks besides them, throwing mocking jibes at the invalid. In those moments you don't feel like interrupting. For every offence Spike did to you, this is justice.

But then Angelus grabs Drusilla by the waist and twirls her until they're kissing right in front of the wheelchair. That's when you know your eyes and Spike's flash with the same sentiment. Only the thought of squeezing Drusilla's heart between your hands stops you from a suicidal charge.

For Angel, you still haven't found a punishment harsh enough.

Giles is looking at you in the eye again. He hasn't forgone shaving once this week and he's even stopped glancing up hopefully every time the door opens.

So that is closure.

You wonder what the signs were in your case.

Your mother screams at you for arriving home late again.

I was just saving the pre-schoolers from a hungry D'gast, mom. The words choke in your throat, but you've seen what your secret does to others. You love your mother too much for that. Instead you slam the bedroom door like the brat you aren't and turn up your stereo as high as it'll go.

Your mother steps - barges - in only to say you're grounded. She could have added you're disappointing her, too. You hear it between the lines anyway.

You could have laughed, but you just choose a spot at your windowsill, maybe the same one where you used to welcome him with a kiss. Once upon a time, you didn't care; you just waited for him to appear at your window and make everything all right again. Once upon a time, you didn't need to leave this room to be happy.

Now it feels like any other place in Sunnydale: oppresive, uncomprehensible and so very empty. You look out of the window without really seeing anything, never expecting time to turn back.

But you do see something.

That's the first night you notice the shadow across the street.

You hate hospitals.

You hate the probing doctors. You hate the flu and the drowsiness of fever.

At least he brought you flowers, or so Xander claims. You never see those, but you find red roses waiting in your own bed after you finally check out.

Vampires can't come in, but their gifts do. The small card says it's his turn now. You avoid the window for the next week.

The girl actually faints when she sees Angel's changed face. You could have pitied her, if you weren't so busy driving him away from her unconscious body. You don't even notice he's changed back to his human features until late into the fight, when he blows a kiss at you before jumping away from your hit and disappearing into the shadows. Your priority is to tend the wounded and he knows it. Bastard.

The girl awakes easily and is too eager to believe the first story that occurs to you. It worries you a little when she lifts her hand to rub her neck carefully, but she just giggles and shows you the recent hickey.

You don't offer the usual walk back home.

If anger were water, you'd be drowning deep in it.

Xander says you aren't trying hard enough. He also carries your backpack around school and shares Cordelia's dirty secrets. You feel a little sorry for the brunette, flush at the guilty thought and keep on smiling.

There is a line between friendship and censure.

Or maybe one does really include the other.

Lots of opposite feelings seem to include each other lately.

You sit at your windowsill every night.

One time you bring out all the untouched chocolate boxes, open them and begin throwing each piece onto the top of the tree. You shred the cardboard in little pieces and repeat everything.

You don't expect to draw him out that easily.

You don't care.

You'll ignore your mother's anxious reaction in the morning.

Willow says nothing. If she were any more careful people would really start believing you're made out of eggshells. She trembles slightly every time your boyfriend's name is mentioned, and Oz's look as he hugs her betrays how worried about his girlfriend he is.

You'd feel a lot better if the accusations were tangible.

Maybe that's why you haven't snapped at Xander yet.

The chocolates have stopped. There's a pint of you favourite ice-cream at your window waiting for you to wake up. It's melted now, but the flavour remains. Different but the same. There's no hidden meaning in it, you tell yourself.

His last card promised 'soon'. This one says 'Not yet.'

Before he used to keep his word. You forget it's a good thing he doesn't in this case.

You were never a girl of words. You prefer to act out.

That night you leave your lights on and the shower running as you slip quietly out of your house. Rarely have you been so concentrated in your role before. Something feels wrong as you pounce on your victim, beginning with the fact that he's letting himself be pounced upon. A second later everything's explained by the unknown face before you.

Some barely risen fledging. He lets it slip that Revello Drive has been his spot for weeks.

Some barely risen fledging. Another joke and you fell right into it. The vampire tries to fight, but he's too young and you're too indignant for his weak attempts to work. Disappointed? No. Disappointment can never measure against your outrage.

The next morning you smile at a guy in your Chemistry class.

He smiles back.

The next night you kiss Angel again.

He kisses you back.

You're both under a spell.

Jenny will really need it in death, and you won't say she's the only one left to forgive.

You forgave your boyfriend the moment you lost him. Tough luck he isn't here to forgive you.

But Angel's kiss is still Angel's kiss.

Tucked in your bed, you lick your lips a thousand times to erase the feeling.

Your tongue is only a pale imitation.

A shift in reality.

Once this kiss would have given you pause. Your feelings created a barrier between you and your duty. Instead, now you take it as a betrayal of the memories of love.

To heal all wounds, Angel has to die. He loved you so much; heíd want you to move on.

You owe him that, at least.

You hear your mother crying softly inside her room.

You wonder if she'll cry harder at your funeral.

Drusilla is playing hopscotch in the playground.

Ten for Spike, she sings. Twenty mouths of hell, and thirty. Forty for my angel, fifty in his return. Sixty through ninety, you don't want to hear. She whips around at the tenth block, and points in your exact direction. "Bad girl! Crashing my party again, bad!"

That's what you intended to do right now. One against one would be fair. But something in her words stops you; you get the feeling she isn't referring to this moment and place.

You choose to forget that encounter.

You brush against the Chemistry guy during lunch. He gives you his name in a note passed during the next class. Ryan. Ryan is a good name, you think. It doesn't imply protection and goodness. Later he carries your bag around the school all day. He finds you at the Bronze, convinces you to dance to a couple songs and kisses you goodnight at your doorstep.

Your mother breathes in relief. Xander eyes him distrustingly while Willow smiles in satisfaction.

You don't tell them it's just a test.

You don't tell yourself who it is you're really testing.

Angel passes. With honours.

He acts too quickly for you to prepare the necessary contingencies. Did he see you two dancing? Did he see you two kissing? Or did he just see you two talking? Anything is possible with Angel; you knew that before placing Ryan in his view.

Guilty as sin, and you feel like it. You wonder if he even thought that you look awful in black.

The three of you attend Ryan's funeral with circles under your eyes. Willow cries a little; Xander stares unblinkingly at the coffin. When their looks are about to settle on you, you decide to let the tears fall. It's always real tears at every graveyard.

You place down some baby's breath, for innocence.

In conclusion, it's unfair that forgiveness has an expiration date in death. You'll just have to add Ryan to the list.

You say aloud it was coincidence.

Giles purses his lips and locks himself in his office. Willow still sniffles every few minutes, but now she's helping Xander carve new stakes.

None of them wonders why you aren't in the dating pool anymore.

"I hate you," you murmur every time your stake finds heart's blood.

You didn't know any of them in life; don't care for them in death. You're back to role-playing, and when your breath doesn't catch, you know it's time.

To heal all wounds, Angel has to die. To do it soon, you'll have no qualms in playing dirty.

It's quid pro quo. Except that you don't joke around.

Your mother has been throwing all your presents in the trash, so you'll have to buy your own chocolates for this night.

You open the window for the first time in weeks and move to sit at the edge, legs dangling free under you. The wind whips against your hair and face, but you let it play as you slowly take each sweet into your mouth. You have all night for this, and you make sure to let the spectacle last late into the night.

'Pushy', his next message says, peeking between the books in your locker. A presentation card announcing his visit.

Score, you think. He'll come to you.

You burn the slip of paper with a smile on your face. You grin all through your Chemistry class. Cordelia says you have no shame.

She is right.

He fell for it. Hook, line and sinker.

You forget that Angel was probably playing these games long before that saying was invented.

That day you hear Drusilla's song in the back of your head.

Sixty. "The saints will weep and eat you whole."

Let them.

Seventy. "The dancers are in place. Lightning will play their song."

You'll dance along.

Eighty. "Good intentions are all it took. We won't notice until our soles peel away in the heat."

You'll buy new shoes.

Ninety. "We don't see it. We don't know it. But the world has changed and the saints will weep."

You've changed the world a hundred times since you took the Slayer's mantle, and it still stays the same. Drusilla is nuts, that's all there is to it. She's right in one thing only: It may be her party, but it's Angel who handed you the invitation.

The night, a crossbow, a graveyard. The perfect moment for a first meeting.

He appears at your back from thin air, grabs your elbow to turn you around. You use the momentum to kick him, hard, and your lips lift when he snarls in anger. "Not so easy," you quip, keeping alert to the reactions crossing his face. It settles on amusement, your challenge taken as he stands back up.

"Yes, you are." He charges against you, and you let him hold you tight in his grip. "Told you," he whispers against the nape of your neck. You smirk and feel the caress of the stake hidden between a sleeve and your wrist.

"Told you,Ē you retort and move to sink it deep in his chest. Victory, your mind screams.

In vain.

Victory is a millisecond too late when he catches your hand, squeezes until the sound of wood against ground reaches you. "So young. So... stupid." He leans his forehead against the back of your head, kisses your hair oh so softly. The position doesn't bring back any memories.

He's gone before you can convince yourself.

You jump at every noise at school. Willow says you're too touchy; Giles considers that youíre too pale. You have to apologise and take vitamins, each at least five times every day.

You were so resolved a few days ago. You wonder how he managed to strip you of your courage so quickly.

You walk with your head down for days, trying to ignore which funerals are his fault. After a while, even Oz looks at you in pity, because you have a broken, broken heart. Everybody tiptoes around you to satisfy your need for space. Sweet, but foolish.

What you have is a missed chance. You were so close (he was so close) that you could almost feel it (you could breathe him in again).

What you need is freedom. And he isn't gentleman enough to grant that wish.

That evening you find yourself sitting at Jenny's tomb. You tell her nothing, just look on as the grass dries and dies at her gravestone. Tit for tat, you confide to the poisonous powder before sticking it back into the cleaning supplies cabinet.

Your friends say you go out too little. Giles complains that he can't patrol with you every night. It's too soon for round two, but you don't tell them about that.

You kinda forgot to tell them about the first one.

There's no forewarning this time. One moment you're brushing the ash off your clothes, the next you're back first on the sidewalk.

Wrists pinned to the ground, legs helplessly bounded together. This is it, you think. This is the end.

It's not.

His touch on your cheek is gentle, but when he turns your chin up, the look in his eyes is anything but. "You surprise me." He looks amused when you redouble your efforts to free yourself. "Tsk. You came to me first, remember?" Funny, you remember thinking it was the other way around. "I wonder, if I dig deep in your little head, what will I find?"

You shut your lips tight and refuse to answer. Mostly because you aren't sure yourself.

He moves his hand to caress your hair, your forehead, between your eyes and down your nose. He strokes your lips firmly, before continuing past your chin, along your neck and stops at your shirt's low neckline. He follows the cloth's edge with a single finger, then stops and studies you carefully. He nods at whatever he finds in your expression, disappears back into darkness. It takes you a minute to untie the knot at your ankles, but a few hours to shake yourself enough to get up and walk home.

He's going crazy, isn't he?

You never wanted this.

Your mother takes you shopping that weekend. To L.A. A late treat for your SAT scores. You even believe it until she mentions the school counsellor and a recommended appointment with a psychiatrist. She has been worried about you since that nice boy died, she says.

You walk in a daze through the whole afternoon. In return, you choose the priciest items.

It isn't enough. But it'll have to do.

Back home, you discover a small box in your shopping bag. A thin silver chain, a charm that matches the ring you won't wear.

'Happy Late Birthday. Me.'

You don't believe him, either.

It's just jewelry, you tell yourself as you fasten the necklace. You hide the heart and hands under your shirt, but the crown keeps peeking above it. Enough to make Willow notice it. She asks at lunch if you need to talk, or not talk, or maybe punch something really hard?

You love Willow in that moment. Because of that love, you don't tell her what it is you need.

You avoid him for days. This thing the two of you have, it can't be healthy. You concentrate on the demon gangs at the docks, the cat-hunters hiding near the beach. Anything but vampires.

On the fifth night, a fledging practically steps into your stake. "He says you're the vampire Slayer," he relies Angel's message. Over his ashes you answer that his turn will come soon enough.

You know he's listening in the background.

The shrink is younger than your mother made you believe. Dr. Black is fun, she's cool and she actually seems interested in you.

You use a lot of euphemisms for your problems. You caress the small charm all through the session.

She finally tells you that there are many cases like yours. You chuckle, but you feel touched. This 'one girl' thing can get tiring. You like her enough to advise her not to go out at night. She frowns, scribbles one last thing on her notebook but doesn't really listen to you.

You shrug and make a note yourself: There are wildflowers on her desk.

Two of your classmates are found dead in the school library one morning. There are red rose petals thrown around them in a perfect heart.

A suicidal couple, the police determine.

Giles is too upset to make any declarations.

The only declaration involved is Angel's.

He's waiting.

You wear the necklace for patrol. It drives the vampires away more effectively than the cross ever did. You never thought Angel had this kind of influence until you spend four hours hunting with no prey in sight. Your grip on your weapons bag tightens, and you get out a single stake as you abruptly change directions. He wants you for himself? Fine! You'll take this personally to him.

But the stake clatters against the ground when you peek through one of the windows at the mansion. A wheelchair is empty in the middle of the room. Spike stands next to it. Angel isn't aware of this development; you know that for a fact. Your first instinct is to warn him, but then you remember you owe him no loyalty. Do you?

He's going crazy. And taking you right along with him.

Dr. Black talks about peer pressure, teen hormones and kids of divorced parents. That you're an only child doesn't help, she adds at last.

You nod at everything and try not to smirk. No, that you are the 'only one' really doesn't help.

Drusilla is leaning above a small body in a garden. You see the ruined bright-coloured clothes, the clenched little fists. So small, so pale, this you cannot allow. She's too entranced drinking to notice your approach.

Wrong.

When you're close enough, Drusilla raises her head and laughs. "You kill his and he'll kill yours."

There's only one 'he' you two could coincide about. You'd been wondering why Willow and Xander had been spared; now you know there'll be many things you'll allow.

You leave to place another anonymous call to 911, but this time you stay nearby to watch them pick up the child.

Sometimes you really hate your life.

"You left without knocking." He waves the forgotten stake playfully before casting it in your direction.

You catch it effortlessly. "Spike's back on his feet. Aren't you glad?"

He frowns, leaves without another word. You twirl the silver chain around your fingers and smile. It's not about loyalty; it's divide and conquer.

It's not your fault that the concepts overlap in this case.

You find a white rose in your locker the next morning. If you bothered to look it up, you'd find out that it says 'thank you' in the language of flowers.

You throw it in the first trashcan on your way to Algebra.

Your mother kisses your cheek before dropping you at the psychiatrist's office. You hope Dr. Black is giving her some hope.

She won't be getting any from your end.

Xander wonders where you disappear to every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. You tell him you have a pencilled date with an older woman.

He slaps your shoulder laughingly and loudly declares that you're something else.

Did it really take him this long to notice?

Dr. Black talks about life goals, useless school hierarchy and SAT scores. "You should start thinking of the future," she says.

All you see....

All you want....

No.

Dr. Black thinks there's finally been a breakthrough when a lonely tear falls down your cheek.

Ill-timed memories, that's all it is.

The next time you find Drusilla, she immediately changes into her game face, baring her fangs at you. "You!"

You step away as she closes in on you; you're suddenly afraid of the wild look she sports.

"It was supposed to be a surprise. It's all you, always spoiling my surprises." She snaps her teeth, reaches for you, long nails first. "He's playing now. Don't you see? It's all a game for him." She clicks her fingers together, sighs mournfully. "But he'll just break my Spike in the end."

You stop your retreat. Now you understand what this is about. You grab her wrist and pull until you're both eye-to-eye. "I'm not sorry," you tell her. Now all you see are her dark eyes, the night and the silence engulfing you. Then there's something probing deep into you. The corner of her lips lift and you blink as the daze disappears.

"And you never will be," Drusilla whispers before effortlessly fading away.

You never remember in which moment you loosened your grasp.

You find a silver dagger in your schoolbag, the one that stayed at the feet of your bed all night. Not all demons need an invitation, this means, and some of them are his friends. The warning is acknowledged.

But the dagger itself represents no threat. It's meant for you, and not just as another gift. You know that as soon as you touch it. You don't understand the engravings on the hilt, but you're sure they whisper your name. You can feel the metal calling to you, vibrating as it fits seamlessly in your hand. This is new, not even Kendra's Mr. Pointy felt as right.

You wonder where Angel found it.

Willow asks what has you so happy. You distract her with a promise to study French together.

In the mood you're in, you might even keep your word.

Casually, you ask Giles if a weapon can be personalised. He pushes his glasses back up his nose and launches into a lecture of spells and rituals. The gist is yes, but they're rare and consume a lot of work and energy.

You try not to feel pleased.

When Giles questions your curiosity, you smile brightly and say it'd be so cool, like Wonder Woman and her tiara. He stares at you and shakes his head in disappointment. Thatís better than him taking your new toy away for investigation.

You don't question why you don't want it taken away.

Dr. Black talks about relationships, maturity and disappointment. When the words 'bad break up' cross her lips, you know your mother has told her about Angel. You keep her on the topic of Pike for the whole hour.

If your closest friends won't discuss him with you, there's no way you're letting her do it.

Cordelia stares at you consideringly in your next class together.

The next time Xander asks you out to dance, you refuse the offer. You don't want anyone else suffering for love.

Not that you are.

"I see you liked my gift."

You dig the dagger deeper in the Zafer's stomach before raising your head. As expected, you don't see him but you still glare in the direction his voice comes from.

"I knew it'd fit you. A Slayer's weapon for a Slayer. Does it feel good, lover?"

You answer honestly, there's no reason not to. "Yes." A Slayer's weapon, it makes sense. This is why you feel the burning sensation every time you handle it. You dislodge it from between the scales and study it carefully. If you concentrate, you are sure you'd see it glow where it touches your skin. "Did you make it?" you ask before you remember he doesn't have to answer anymore.

He laughs, but answers. "No, my dear." A chuckle. "Why waste time making it from scratch if I could bid for it?" You frown. Bid? As in, an auction? "The money was worth seeing the Council's officer's face when they didn't get it. And yours when you did, of course."

You don't care about the money, or his stolen impressions of you. The Council. God, what else is the Watcher's Council hiding from you?

"Tell you a secret." His voice now sounds mere steps behind you. You keep your eyes straight ahead, but they close on their own accord when he brushes your hair aside. "There's one more in Sunnydale, a thousand times more powerful."

You shudder, and you canít tell if it's at the idea of such a power or at his touch down your spine. In any case, the hand around the dagger tightens nervously.

"Shhhh. Down, girl." He takes that hand in his. If it's by mistake or by design, you'll never know, but for an instant both of you touch the metal at the same time. Slayer and vampire, antagonistic forces. You knew it, but you'd never understood until you feel your energy drained away to repel his. Then there's nothing, only a feeling you'd forgotten: normalcy. Two identical forces in opposite directions, balance.

You stay in silence for an eternal second, and then he snatches his hand back and leaves without another word.

You wish you could stop shaking to do the same.

Identical forces.

Identical.

You never thought of that.

Giles looks confused when you ask for information, as detailed as possible, please. Then he snaps out of it and rushes for the necessary books before you can change your mind.

Oz is the only one who doesn't gape when the group finds you surrounded by half of Giles' collection. They politely ask if they can help, but it's Friday and a night at the Bronze stops them from complaining when you say no, thank you.

If you'd planned this, it wouldn't work out this perfectly.

"In each generation, there's a Chosen One..."

That's the most information about the Slayer's origins. Considering there are two Slayers now, it's even more useless. The more books that say nothing solid, the more unsettled you feel. Your only consolation is the small dagger buzzing against your thigh.

Slamming the last book closed, you jump out of your seat and head outside. You stand on a Hellmouth. The convergence of all magic.

Someone must know.

You wish nobody did, that you'd never heard the story.

Identical, indeed.

Willie's bar will have to be refurnished after you leave.

Your mother doesn't ask why you've been crying all night. She must think you still haven't gotten over Angel.

This time, she'd be wrong.

You use even more euphemisms with Dr. Black. What if everything you believed in, wasn't? What if the person you thought you were was fundamentally wrong? What if...

She stops you and holds your hand. "What matters is where you're heading. Have you thought of our last talk?"

The future. Right. You still have to decide whether you want black or white granite for your tombstone, and which shoes you'll wear. But now, in this little office you manage a smile and blame PMS for your outburst.

Dr. Black makes a lot of notes this time.

"I'm getting bored with this."

Considering he tackled you first, he certainly isn't. Neither are you really.

You tighten your knees around his waist to hold him against the ground and roll your eyes at his sly smirk. You liked him better when he was more conspicuous about it. "Stop losing, you might find the fun."

His sight fixes on the Claddagh charm dangling between you and the leer grows. You forgot you were wearing it; it distracts you enough to allow him to reverse your positions. He pins your arms above your head. "Like this?" You try to throw his weight aside, but he presses down more strongly and murmurs against your ear, "I see your point now." He'll leave purple fingerprints around your wrist. Again. You fight harder anyway. "Don't you get tired of this?" he muses aloud when you finally manage to free yourself.

"My shrink says I have to stand my ground," you say before you attack him again. If you aren't careful someone might think this is your version of playful banter.

It's not.

You find an envelope at your windowsill the next Tuesday. Your fingers don't tremble when you reach for it, but they do when you see the contents. Dr. Black smiles a charcoal smile up at you. You shred the picture and don't tell your friends.

They don't need to know of your latest failure.

You buy a dozen wildflowers that evening.

'Jenny Black.
Beloved Daughter'

She also taught you a little of everything except what you really need to know.

Figures.

But for this death, you've kept the secrets. There's no betrayal, but you are the guilty one. You keep one wildflower in your grasp and go visit your original betrayer. It's been a while.

You stay there past sundown.

You say nothing. You think of nothing.

You aren't surprised when he comes to you. Angel still knows when you want to see him.

"Why?!"

More than a scream, it's pure pain.

He shrugs, leans to take the lonely flower and observes it for a minute before pinning it behind your ear. You let him, because that's what he did after Ford died. "I don't know," he'd said then, after Giles left and he found you kneeling at your friend's grave. But he doesn't move to hug you now, doesn't hold you tightly as the first tear falls. "Why not?" is his answer.

Why not, indeed.

Your mother is looking at you with something deeper than worry. Fear.

Finally.

That nice Principal Flutie, your favourite teachers, every friend and casual contact except for Willow and Xander. All dead. 'What have you done, Buffy?' you hear her think every morning.

You let her do your laundry that week. Your clothes are mended and bloodless the next day, and your mother has left without notice on a business trip.

You have only yourself to blame for her absence.

You go to Crawford Street and half-think of following Giles' example. But it's not about revenge; it's about Angel unbalancing the scales. Again. Why did he have to do it?

Why not?

But there's no trace of him in the mansion. You only find Drusilla and Spike in the gardens. She's sitting on his lap, playing with his hair. He's stroking her lips, smiling fondly as she talks around his fingers. His other hand holds her waist securely as the wheelchair moves under them.

You could do it.

You know both can walk, but not faster than unexpected fire. This is the perfect moment to get rid of them; you will handle Angel's anger later.

But then you catch sight of Spike's expression. Everything's clear in his eyes as he looks into Drusilla's.

Absurdly, it gives you hope.

You cannot sleep for four days in a row.

You finally give in during Oz-sitting.

The werewolf escapes and this time he doesn't go just for rabbits. The next morning you wake up to the sound of Giles' stern voice and the cries of an unknown girl. She wears a long scratch along an arm and a bite mark on her calf. Oz looks down as the others arrive; he is never able to look his girlfriend in the eye again.

You didn't know much about werewolf instincts, but you do know that Willow is silently blaming you.

You actually go to the apartment that night. You're that desperate to settle everything.

It is empty, but you can immediately tell Angel's been keeping it. There's no dust, the bed covers aren't those you left and when you open the fridge, there are bags of fresh blood inside. The kind he once helped to rescue from faux hospital helpers.

There's also a pint of chocolate-mint-cookie-dough ice-cream waiting in a separate case. You tell yourself it's an ambush as you search the drawers for a spoon. That's still your excuse as you lie on the bed.

Your eyes close as soon as your head hits the pillow. It seems that sleeping on a chair at the library isn't conductive to restful dreams.

Turns out that sleeping on a comfortable bed doesn't, either.

---

It's Angel.

It's Angel and she loves him.

It's the end of the world and she doesn't care as she kisses him.

"It'll open its mouth and eat us all," Giles's voice sounds from behind her.

"Like Twinkies, the mini-sized ones." Xander nods, straightening the tux coat lapels along his body. He winks at Willow's long formal dress and smiles when the redhead hands him a piece of her chocolate. Cordelia looks between them, shakes her head and her side bleeds a little.

Buffy wants to ask what's happening, but Willow interrupts her, mock-whispering in Xander's ear and pointing with her chin in the blonde's direction. "She changed everything." In the blink of an eye they're the ones who've changed to everyday clothes. "At least I'm not the one doing it this time." Willow looks at the room around them, and Buffy knows she's thinking of the Apocalypse that's playing. Xander grins and hugs her by the waist. "Black doesn't suit you, anyway." Willow pouts and glares at a strand of bright-red hair. Xander takes it from her hand and tucks it lovingly behind her ear. "Not that you wouldn't work it out," he amends his last statement.

Cordelia rolls her eyes and leaves the room, muttering that the only filing she ever needed to know was her nails'. She walks past Kendra without a second glance, and when the Slayer speaks, Cordelia is already nowhere to be seen. "Being a Slayer is not what you are, but who you are." Everybody nods sagely. "Whatever," retorts a blurry figure behind Kendra, "Want, take, have, B. That's what we Slayers are really about." Willow and Xander turn as one to disagree on that point, making Giles step in to dispel the argument oncoming. Buffy feels her hand taken in a bigger one, metal clinking against metal as they fit together. "What do you think, Buffy?"

Then she's back to the kiss, and she draws a sword... No, her dagger... No, a scythe?

"Close your eyes," she murmurs.

And her world ends as the weapon buries in Angel's chest.

---

"Wake up, damnit!"

Someone is shaking your shoulders strongly. You open your eyes and find his brown ones looking at you in worry. Real worry that scatters your thoughts even further. You think of no revenge now, no death but the one you just witnessed.

He frowns, lets you go and you fall noisily back on the bed. "It's just a dream." You shake your head. Once you dreamed you'd lose him, and you did. That's when it finally dawns on you. You can't lose him. Not this time.

It's never over.

You disentangle yourself from the covers and push him out of your way before you can elaborate on that thought.

You find a note tucked in your waistband. You must have been lost to the world when he first came in if you didn't notice him slipping in that paper. There's only a map on it. It leads you to a vineyard.

When you arrive at your destination, you can only stare at you newest gift in awe. Not only is it the same weapon you used in your dream, it is your missing complement as a Slayer. A thousand times more powerful, he'd once said. Sweet Jesus, he wasn't lying that time. You caress it and almost purr at the sensation. If the silver dagger made you feel strong, this is as close as divinity as you'll ever feel. You never wanted this kind of strength, but you'll take it. You'll have it. You wrap it in your jacket and leave, never noticing the corpse behind the curtain.

The last Guardian may have disagreed with the wisdom of your motives, but Angel didn't care.

You can't possibly show it to Giles. Never mind explaining how you found it, you donít want the Council putting a price on it, too.

You hide the bundle under your bed. It's not as if your mother would notice; she never enters your room if she's home nowadays.

During your short trip, you manage to completely miss the affair with the swim team. Oz's new girlfriend manages to save Xander from certain death, but not before they have to hide in what'd been Miss Calendar's office. The fish boys trashed the place in their way through it and several other classrooms. You wonder where Snyder gets the money for so many repair works. Between it all, they busted Coach for alleged drug peddling. The police never ask too many questions in this town, especially when they find mangled body parts in the school basement.

Your friends are glaring at you as they tell the story. Busy tending to Xander's wounds, Cordelia and Willow won't even talk to you. Giles calls you away and directly asks what's happening to you. You tell him you're sorry, and look at him in the eye as you say you're getting the blues for your coming birthday; eighteen is old for a Slayer, isn't it?

Giles' eyes scatter away at the words. He turns around and begins to pale and stutter.

That talk at Willie's conveyed several topics beyond the Slayer's origins and into the Slayer's current situation. Those Watchers, they really need to cover their secrets better. Or maybe not if useful weapons and barbaric rituals are said secrets. You don't know what Giles would have done, but he's stuttering too much to be completely innocent.

No wonder he and Jenny matched so perfectly. People around you have this tendency to betray your trust; at this rate you may begin thinking there's something wrong with you.

"You like it?"

You kill the other Luiths effortlessly; a single hit is enough to slice through their thick skin. Wow, talk about saving time and effort; you are even starting to sleep six full hours at night. You repeat the move easily until the Luith isn't moving anymore. Then you change the scythe from hand to hand fluidly, making it jump in the air. Small movements that are improving as you feel more confident in its power.

Oh yes, you like it, and you tell him so with a grin.

He raises an eyebrow when he notices you're wearing your ring. It wasn't a conscious decision, one minute you were brooding about it and the next it still fit perfectly on your finger. Much like these meetings still fit. "I think you are misinterpreting things, Buff."

Says the vampire who gave an unbeatable weapon to the Slayer. Nope, you're interpreting this just fine.

At the school, the maintenance guy complains as he cleans the destroyed rooms. If he notices the little blue diskette in a corner, he doesn't give a damn as he throws it into the trashcan.

You duck to avoid his strike, jump to draw a quick breath and attempt to hit him with a left hook to his chin. It doesn't work but you didn't expect it to. It's been a week of absence, of no gifts at your window and zero fledglings to send his best regards. If you didn't know him so well, you'd say he's getting cold feet.

But you know him. He just wants to draw out the waiting.

You don't mind. If you wanted to end this, you would simply reach for the weapon leaning against a nearby tree. But with Angel you never chose the easiest path and, frankly, this is more fun.

The scythe calls to you and, when he pushes you to your knees, you're tempted to retrieve it. He follows your line of sight and shakes his head admonishingly. "Who's handling who, lover? Should I start playing with it instead?"

He's right in his implications. Damn him. If you let it, it could control you. Power is addictive and there's no denying it. Addictions don't follow sanity or rational thoughts. They push you into action and can't be satisfied until you're drowning in them.

You're past the drowning stage with him.

You just aren't sure where you are.

Willow avoids you in class. She looks down every time Oz enters a room. Xander looks at her in worry; lately there have been new nuances in his eyes. Cordelia glares between them and shakes her head a lot.

You observe all this, remember the dream, and you know something big is coming.

You overhear your mom's conversation with her sister. They talk about Celia fondly. You leave through the window and don't wonder which good memories they'll share about you.

You really hate thinking of death this often.

Angel makes you forget about it. He always did.

Your dad calls the next night. You don't recognise his voice at all. When he asks for his ex-wife, you tell him truthfully that you don't know where she is. She probably left a note at the fridge again. That must be easier than to face an unstable daughter.

You're getting used to it, but you don't tell Dad that.

Giles says that the demon population has dropped dramatically in the last two weeks. Loudly, you thank fate for the reprieve. For yourself, you feel the buzz of the unknown metal in your hands.

You can control it.

Really.

Or you can go back to stakes and crossbow, just to prove yourself you're right.

You're half draped on him when you ask the question. "Why is Spike still around?"

"Took you long enough to ask." He puts his hand on your hip, but he doesn't push you away. It feels more like a caress. He licks his lips and chuckles before he knows what to say. "I'm curious. How far must I push him before Spike shows his hand?"

You don't jump away from his touch this time. He's not the only curious one. "Then you'll kill him?"

He smiles, strokes your chin slowly. Somewhere in the last minute, this encounter stopped being a fight. "That's why you told me?" he asks amusedly.

Yes. You'd thought the truth would have a repercussion. You should have remembered that, to him, truth is just another toy.

Once upon a time, Angel secreted away the little truths of your life. Once upon a time, you'd have lowered your head onto his chest and told him everything: Willow's silence, Xander's stubborn ideas, your mother's behaviour, Giles's treachery and the untruths of your Calling. Now you push yourself up and go collect your weapons bag. You feel his eyes on you at every step.

Somewhere else, Drusilla is weeping.

There's a hand on your shoulder and before you've fully turned around, he traps your arms against your body and pulls you forward to him. The bag falls behind you, and you hear the stakes and arrows clatter and roll on the ground. Today wasn't the best day to start on scythe-withdrawal; if this is what happens when you're without it, you'll have to reconsider that decision.

When everything is silent again, he talks. "You never answered, love, why haven't you finished with this?"

You know what he means, too well. Whatever he may think, Angel is still a vampire. He'd stand no chance against the weapon he found for you. The answer is simple: Because when your life is shattering, hunting him is the only stability. But he doesn't give you time to voice that, and you tell yourself you would have never shown that weakness.

He shakes you a little as he continues, his voice lower as it goes. "Why? Don't you see? Nothing will bring your boyfriend back."

You are stunned by his words. You hadn't even considered that possibility, it's that far-off.

Somewhere else, Acathla sleeps.

Feet above him, bulldozers and dump trucks are preparing for an excavation.

Angel brings you up, face-to-face with him, until you have to stand on your tiptoes to keep your balance. "What do you want from me?" you whisper. He's given you roses, he's given you death; he's given you chocolate, bruises, heartbreak and the most useful weapons a Slayer could have. He must want something back.

"Don't you know?"

You only know he's playing with you, just as he's playing with Spike. "How far do you want to push me, Angelus?"

His eyes widen at that name. Yours do, too. It's the first time you've ever used it, the final acknowledgement that your love is dead. When you talked of killing Angel, you never guessed you meant this.

He nods to himself and his grasp tightens around your forearms. "Far enough for this," and then he brings you into a kiss. It makes no sense, but it brings to your mind all the answers.

Angel's kiss is still Angel's kiss, you thought at the music classroom weeks ago.

You rediscover how right you were.

There are a thousand reasons why you shouldn't kiss him back. He manages to drive away each of them as the seconds pass and the kiss strengthens.

When you realise where he's brought you, you aren't surprised.

The apartment is as spotless as the last time you were inside, and the bedcovers feel as soft and smooth as the first time you laid on them. You let him undress you, because that's what you knew he wanted since he targeted your would-be boyfriend. He isnít satisfied until you stand in front of him wearing only the ring that matches his and the necklace he gave you. A second Claddagh for a second time, that could be called poetic if he granted you a second of pause to think about it. But he doesnít, and maybe thatís better. If you thought, if you actually stopped to consider what youíre doing, youíd realise that this moment is madness, and you donít want to admit that. Not even to yourself.

There's no logic, no rights or wrongs to this. You know how his mind works, and how he likes to be kissed. When he shows it is mutual, sense is made.

Everything will be all right.

Everything is different.

Everything feels new. Yet the setting is the same; the mattress as pliant as you lean back into it. He still follows you immediately and he still throws the pillow to the floor but forgets to push the covers aside. His hand's grip on yours is tighter than ever, though, and in no fight did he look at you as such a challenge.

You kiss his shoulder to remember how he tastes, and the familiarity of it comforts you. He kisses you, too. Your face, your neck, licks your nipples exactly how he used to do before. You'd want to hold him, caress him back. There are good memories wanting to be made tactile again. But the difference is that in no memory were you unable to move, and the sound of his name doesn't make him change his mind. "Angel..." you say, just a notch higher.

He looks at you and smirks. "Close your eyes," he tells you, an order underneath the softness of his voice. If the words tug at you, you don't register it. You do as he says and let the sensations take over. As you trust your instincts in a fight, you trust him now. Both are as deep-ingrained within you. He pushes into you; at the same time he steals your gasp with a kiss.

Everything is different.

As he settles back on the bed and holds you close, kisses one familiar kiss at the nape of your neck and tells you to sleep...

...everything is all right.

You arrive home late the next morning. Most Sunday mornings, your mom and you would have breakfast together, talked about friends, school and work. Now the house is empty; Joyce Summers must think that if she doesn't see it, then it isn't happening. Like mother, like daughter.

She went past depression and into denial. You just don't know if it's grief she's staging through.

On Monday morning you wish a good morning to Oz's girl. Willow sees the exchange and turns around on her heel, doesn't speak to you until lunch.

You console yourself with the knowledge that at least she isn't running away in fear. If she knew about Saturday, you are sure she would.

You stop the scythe's blade an inch from his chest. You've discovered he's a real risk-taker. You also must be, letting him kiss you into this helpless state.

Xander gives you his apple in exchange for your sandwich. He laughs at your story of your first patrol and, more than your recalled clumsiness, it's that sound which makes Willow smile.

You remember feeling pity for Cordelia months ago.

You rescue Aphrodesia's newest boyfriend from him. "Why do you have to do it?" You ask as the boy races away. Angel doesn't spare a look for his would-be victim, but immediately focuses on you. He closes the distance between you and reaches to caress your cheek in welcome. You unthinkingly flinch away from his touch; you need an answer first.

He actually looks disappointed for a second. Then his expression hardens and he makes a shot for your chin and lifts it until you have to look into his changed face. "It's nature, lover," he almost growls, "Take it or leave it."

You can't shed yours any more than he can his. You grab a fistful of dark hair and pull his face down into a fierce kiss.

Nature.

His.

Golden eyes when he leans down to kiss you, nips your shoulder with lengthened teeth.

Yours.

Glittery nails along his chest as you rise above him. You lick your lips at the look on his face, and slowly move back down.

Identical and opposites.

Nature.

"They summoned a demon and named it 'Slayer'," you tell him drowsily, still waiting for your heartbeat to return to its normal rhythm.

"I know, baby. I know." You raise your head to stare at him. He pushes your hair away from your eyes. "That's why you needed your weapons. Whatever the Council gave you couldn't be enough for my girl."

"And if I had killed you?"

Angel looks at you in real amusement, brings your left hand to his lips and kisses the Claddagh on it. You understand his answer: He took care of that first.

"Whatever the Council does, Giles loves me."

Angel caresses your hair slowly before bringing your head against his chest. "That he does." He waits until your cheek has settled comfortably against his bare skin, strokes a path from your temple to your chin and back again. "I don't."

Yet Giles is the one you won't approach. Must be a blonde thing.

"Low in vampires, aren't we?" Xander asks as you both hurry through a History assignment during lunch.

You look over at Willow and see that she's distracted with a sorcery book; she can be a real taskmaster, merciless if she notices you're not working. "Same as always," you answer quietly.

Xander frowns. "Weird. I havenít had to carve new stakes in ages. What's this? Recycling Month? Vamps got the Greenpeace channel and are saving trees?"

Well, vamps got scythed through. Xander would surely appreciate the new verb, but you can't explain the story behind it. Thankfully, Willow comes to attention and shushes you before revising your progress with the Russian Empire.

That evening you remind yourself to bring some stakes along. You'll find a place to dump them during patrol. Yes, you're sorry your friends' effort is going to waste, but they can't know of your weapons. Even if you were sure they wouldn't tell Giles, you've kept the secret too long.

You've kept too many secrets too long. One day they'll explode out of their little box and your friends will be there to witness it. Nothing has ever scared you that much.

Days later your Watcher manifests his surprise at your improved technique. You congratulate him eagerly for being such a good trainer, but don't mention your sparring partner on the side.

"You kill my demons now?"

You are staring at Angel half in wonder and half in annoyed surprise. It was your Guhg after all; you'd been hunting it for three nights in a row. When the big body fell noisily before you could run the scythe through him, you knew Angel would be behind it. That second felt almost like old times, when he was always there to guard your back.

"You were taking too long," Angel says with a shrug. "It was getting boring just to watch it."

The illusion of old times lies dead at your feet. It's not your back he's guarding now, but for all intents and purposes, it feels awfully close.

He takes you to the mansion for the first time that night. You'd never been inside and you're a bit amazed that this would be his taste, so different than the small apartment you visited before. A chimney, the wide spaces, the windows that spell disaster for any other vampire.

And yet he maintained the apartment long before you used it. There's something lurking there, but he's distracting you too well to ponder on it. The bed is bigger here, the walls a lot thinner. He whispers in your ear that nobody is in, but you don't believe him. You can hear the wheelchair whirring somewhere nearby, small dainty steps alongside it.

When your voice rises louder than ever, he smiles.

So do you.

You are just finishing pinning your hair up when you find Spike in the common room. He smirks knowingly, rolling the wheelchair in your direction as you button up your shirt. "See what the cat dragged in," he drawls. "A Slayer. Complete, too alive and in our humble abode." He nods to himself, as if your presence was a mystery he couldn't unravel. "What do we owe the pleasure?"

"Nosy boy," a female voice starts from behind you. "Won't let a lady keep her secrets, tsk."

Trapped between both vampires, you automatically assume a fighting position.

"We ain't the ones to be afraid of, Blondie." Spike tells you. "Relax, have a seat, make chit chat with the family." He opens his arms wide and sneers up at you. "Because that's what we've become, the happy little family, right? Tell her, luv." One of his hands extends forward, motioning Drusilla to his side.

The brunette advances, brushing a hand along your arm as she walks past you. Before she reaches him, she offers you a secretive smile. "He's right," she mouths as she sits on Spike's lap. They blow a kiss at each other and then turn to you as one. "Who'd have thought we'd be on the same side."

You raise an eyebrow; those aren't the words you expected to hear.

"Angelus wants you. We can't go against Angelus' wishes, can we?" Spike directs the last words to the vampiress, and she pouts and shakes her head sadly.

You know better. They can, and their denial makes you even more distrustful of this meeting.

Spike sighs at his own alleged impotence, but suddenly perks up. "But your friends, they wouldn't agree this easily. That lovely redhead of yours, what would she think?" He searches for one of his girlfriend's hands and presses his fingertips against Drusilla's, one by one until their hands stand as mirrors for each other. In your silence, Spike answers his own question. "Why, I think the news would break her little heart," he says thoughtfully.

Drusilla takes her feet off ground and raises her legs to tuck them on his lap, too. Cuddling tight against him, she continues. "The children are blind. They'll be deaf, too." And almost in a whisper, she adds, "They'll twist off her head and say they did because she changed hats." At that Drusilla turns to you and taps her chin, looking at you slowly from head to toes, "Black doesn't suit you anyway."

Spike laughs. "No, pet. Miss Slayer here is still a White Hat at heart. It's the rest of her body that says otherwise."

Drusilla traces a finger along his cheekbone. "He's playing with her, naughty angel," she murmurs. Pressing herself against his frame suggestively, she drops a kiss on his mouth before continuing, "I miss that."

Spike's face darkens minutely before addressing you directly again. "What do you say, Slaygirl. Will you trust the force of friendship enough?"

Willow is still mad at you and Xander adds up Angel's victims in silent disapproval. No, friendship wouldn't endure this truth. They'd never understand why you sleep with Angel, they'd never forgive you and you aren't needy enough to ask for it. Reality would draw you apart, indefinitely, and Spike will gleefully tell them every detail of it. You see it in his expression as clearly as you saw his love for Drusilla weeks ago. It's a shame you can't simply destroy them. But they are Angel's first, and you don't get to play with them. So you say the only thing that would keep the lie, keep your friends at your side. "Angel knows."

You never thought to use it as leverage, but you're loyal to yourself first.

Spike's eyes narrow and the hand caressing Drusilla's back freezes in place. "Angelus knows shit. I don't know what the hell you're babbling about."

You look intently at the wheelchair, then raise your eyebrows at him. "And there I thought there were no secrets between you." You point to Drusilla. "Dru knew," you drop the last bomb. Spike slips into his game face as a growl escapes him. Drusilla tries to calm him uselessly. Smugly, you walk past them and into Crawford Street.

You are heading to your room when your mother appears at the top of the staircase. The circles under her eyes are barely noticeable now; the trips have really suited her. As her eyes widen and her hand shoots to grasp the banister, you guess her impression of you isn't as favourable. Angel can be a generous lover, but never a careful one. What your mother doesn't know is that the marks will have faded by lunch, but she won't stay that long. She came only for a change of clothes, she says as she hurries away. She has to leave for Connecticut at once. She must think you're a fool as well as dangerous, as if you hadn't noticed her closet emptying faster with every exit.

So she's chosen to abandon this; you can't blame her. At least she didn't throw you out. As you see her throw the last pieces of clothing into her travel bag, you wish she had.

It'd make more sense than this.

You fiddle with your ring constantly during your next training session. Giles finally notices and looks at you with something between sympathy and pity. "I'm sorry, Buffy." Then he cleans his glasses and reloads the crossbow. "If there was a way to---"

"There isn't." He doesn't look up. At least he doesn't insist that you should dispose of Angel. Soon you'll run out of excuses. "If he did," you attempt after a while, "what would happen?"

The anger in his expression is all you need. Your boyfriend doesn't have a place among your friends anymore. They can forgive anything but Giles' grief. If Angel ever recovered his soul, he wouldn't be welcomed back. If you didn't feel that Karma had more responsibility than Angel in Jenny's death, you'd probably join in.

In moments like this, you know you should join in.

You look in shock at the tableau before you. He never hid his habits, never attempted to deny these nightly hunts. You've read the obituaries, tried to block out Xander's mutterings. Of course you knew. But to see him, to watch him swallow a last gulp of blood before loosening the slim body on top of another one. He closes his eyes for a second, a satisfied smile crossing his lips before he licks the wayward drops away.... "Gotta say, lover, this isn't as much fun without you trying to stop me."

First you're startled, then angry at his words. You raise your weapon and instinctively aim it directly at his heart. Angel watches your actions with a slight rise of a skeptical eyebrow. "If you want to play, you're welcome." He falls into a defensive position, as relaxed as when you used to spar in the library.

Play, he says, as if you didn't wish that was all this was. But the corpses at his side speak most loudly in their silence. That's the Calling you're supposed to answer to.

"We could continue this," he says, and only then you notice that minutes have gone by and you still haven't moved on the attack. "Or you could go save someone that needs it. These ones?" He touches the crumpled bodies with a foot, shrugs. "They won't appreciate your bravery, Buff. Come on, it's a loss of time. Let it go." He points at the scythe in your hands, the one that hasn't moved during this insane conversation. "You won't do it."

You lower your arm, not because he is right. Every victim needs to be avenged; you've learned that. But life without Angel? Going back to the hate and the vengeance and the emptiness? Having no one who understands why you enjoy each kill and who doesn't shy away from the dust in your hands?

No, you can't do that again. You won't.

You know the sight of those girls will stay under your eyelids forever; but in exchange for those hours of unadulterated acceptance, you'll learn to live with it.

If Angel ever recovered his soul, he wouldn't be welcomed back. You don't want to imagine what would happen, but the two of you together seems unfeasible.

Yes, he is still a murderer. Yes, he doesn't show any repentance. But he also finds you and kisses you and makes you feel real.

Is it a sin to wish for things to stay the same?

You scream at Jonathan to run away, now! He is frozen, staring over your shoulder at the hungry face you're protecting him from. You snap him out of it with a slap; it'll leave a red mark but he'll be alive to nurse it. Once the boy is gone, you whirl to face Angel, stalk towards him angrily. "Do you enjoy this?"

He nods at the scythe you're holding, the dagger that shows its hilt above your waistband. "Don't you?" He raises your shirt aside to touch the engraved metal. Few times has he reached out for them, but it still feels like that first night. A first struggle of power, then nothing but final balance, two forces too strong to defeat each other. No, you couldn't live without this rush just as he cannot live without blood.

Angel gave you a weapon to slaughter demons most swiftly; with it you've saved way more people than with your old methods. You haven't given him anything but questions. Relationships are about compromise, after all.

For the first time it occurs to you that might be what's happening between you.

The school has organised a memorial for the losses of this school year. Willow tears up at the J. Calendar on the list. Xander hugs her one-armed at the same time his hand almost squeezes Cordelia's in helpless frustration. This time you wish wholeheartedly you could be the brunette. She didn't know the computer teacher that well; that's a good excuse to look as bored as you're feeling.

Lucky her.

Later, you settle your chin on Angel's chest and poke his shoulder until he wakes up. "You killed Jenny. Why doesn't it hurt? Shouldn't it hurt? Shouldn't it hurt me?" You've never mentioned the gypsyís name, just as he doesn't mention the soul. But the small picture at the front of the assembly, even among so many others, has stirred memories within you. You'd laughed with Jenny once; this angry void you feel at her name now, you don't like it. You ask him because he's the only one who would understand.

His eyes clear immediately. "No," he says without a second thought. He's still a deplorable liar. You reward the attempt with a long kiss, though. When he flips you on the bed and begins nibbling down your neck, all questions are forgotten.

You don't ask why he did it. Survival. You don't need to lack a soul to understand it.

The library's doors haven't finished closing when Willow barrels into you and actually manages to hug the breath out of you. You return the embrace hesitantly; she's been so distant for weeks. You are about to ask where this is coming from when Giles speaks up. "We were just talking about you."

Considering Willow's behaviour, it must have been a good talk. You frown in confusion, deeper when your friend sniffles loudly before loosening you. "You should have stayed yesterday," she says between tears. "I was so scared for you!"

"She was," Xander agrees, coming behind the redhead and standing by her side. "She arrived at my house in a panic. We rushed back to the mall, but couldn't find you."

"I was so worried!" Willow wrenches her hands together nervously, looking down at the floor before her eyes meet with Xander's. He nods at her encouragingly, and only then does she turn to face you again. "I know you must be mad at me." Her green eyes grow wide in apology. "I was so angry. But you weren't to blame about Oz, of course not! And then you come and save my life, again! God, I was so stupid. I'm sorry, so sorry, Buffy."

Xander pats her shoulder consolingly and Giles smiles proudly when you move forward to hug your friends. "It's okay, Will," you tell her. "I understand."

"I don't understand," you tell Angel minutes after school is over, still flushed from the sprint to the mansion.

He slowly opens an eye and then the other, practically yawns each word. "What now?"

"I was hunting a pack of Zafers yesterday." You sit on the bed, making sure not to come in contact with him and stare right ahead as you continue, "Willow was attacked at the mall; Zafers nest all the way across town. What happened yesterday, Angel?"

You close your eyes when you feel his fingertips massaging a thigh above your jeans. "I thought you'd be glad," he says, his voice still rough with sleep.

"I am." You put your hand over his, lead it away and deposit it back on the mattress. "But I still don't understand."

He finally raises, pushing the covers apart and drawing himself to sit beside you. His hands are now more decisive as they lay around your waist and pull you steadily towards him. "I told them your friends were out of reach," he tells you as the scarce distance between you disappears. "I don't like rebels, Buffy. I thought you knew that."

You knew, and you tell him that with a kiss. You know a lot of things. But sometimes you just can't understand them.

Willow is all smiles and laughter again. When she cries, it's because she's thinking of Oz but now she allows you to act your best girlfriend role again. Giles helps you to build a bigger cage in one of the caves at the beach. That way Willow wonít have to see the werewolf couple at the library every month.

You two go back to study together, you shop together and you whisper behind Cordelia's back together.

Everything is back to normal.

You missed Willow. Having her back is worth another lie.

"Spike and Dru left," he says from the shadows.

You feign surprise at the news, and calmly finish wiping the blade off.

"It was odd," he continues, leaning against a headstone. "I was about to unmask the charade. But Spike seemed to know about it. Any ideas how that happened?"

You shrug. "Slayer here, honey. If you want a seer, that'd be brunette, long dresses and scrambled brains."

His lips first twist at the nickname, but he doesn't let himself be sidetracked. He sighs, steps away from the tomb and towards you to steal your breath with a kiss.

"That's the point, love." He accentuates the last word with a peck against your lower lip. "She isn't here. And just when she had this plan. Let me say, it had potential."

You can't help it; every mention of Drusilla on his lips burns you in jealousy. She had his attention long before you did, kept it through centuries and gypsy spells. You don't make yourself any illusions about what happened between them with only a crippled Spike as a chaperone. You're glad he took her along. No, make it delighted, but you don't think Angel would be interested in that. "What plan?" you ask instead, making yourself sound interested.

A rustle in nearby bushes interrupts his answer. You roll your eyes and tighten your grasp on the scythe's handle. But Angel catches the intruder first, a small vampiress looking for a quick meal. She looks surprised when she canít loosen herself from his hold, then relieved when she recognises him as one of her kind. She turns to you with a leer, but it dies quickly when you just smile back at her. Her brown eyes look up in confusion at Angel, and he shakes his head at her. "Interrupting our conversation," he drawls before staking her with an apathetic sigh. "Why are the dumbest girls always turned?" He asks the ashes.

You snicker a little, but sober up as he closes in on you. "We have the mansion for ourselves," he whispers before tugging your arm in the direction of Crawford Street. There is still slaying to be done. But you think of lighting that fireplace and staying near it all night, no Spike and no Drusilla to interrupt you.

You follow him.

The next week you grouse at having to go all the way to Revello Drive just for a shower and a change of clothes before school. Now that your mother doesn't ever show up, you don't see the point to it. After training with Giles, you head straight to the mansion to check out an idea you had during Math. You smile in satisfaction when you're finished. The shower problem is easily solved; the appliances are unused, but still work. About the clothes, God knows there's enough space for your entire closet in this place. Now if you only could decide where to hang a full-length mirror....

Angel finds you taking measurements of the common room. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I think I'm moving in," you say flippantly, just to rattle him. But he doesn't seem rattled at all, just rolls his eyes before turning around and going back to the bedroom. On your side, not until you said the words had you realised that was what you were doing.

As you choose your favourite clothes to take over, you pause to think about your actions. You can admit it now: It's madness. Illogical and unheard of, too. Maybe if you hadn't... if Angel didn't... if, if, if! You can imagine a hundred possibilities where you'd be completely happy, not sneaking around your friends to meet Angel. Where your relationship with said friends didn't hang on the edge and wasn't saved by a lie. Where you didn't have to hide Angel, or where he'd never lost his soul. None of those worlds are as fractured as this one, and the only alternative worse is one where you wouldn't be with Angel at all. But he is. Here and now, he is.

You zip your bag closed and make sure to leave the essentials in this room, just in case the guys come over one day. You lock the door behind you and walk slowly down the porch. When you thought of leaving this house, this scene never was a possibility. In hindsight, there are many paths you could have taken. But here and now, this is it.

Maybe Dr. Black was right, after all. What matters is where you are heading.

Yes, that's all that matters.

"You look different," Willow tells you one day, smiling as she looks over your shoulder to correct your Algebra assignment. Xander looks up from his own homework and nods, "Good different, sure."

A second later he whines for Willow's help with the next problem. You look at them, notice the relaxed way in which the redhead leans against Xander's chair, how his eyes shine as he observes her.

They are really blind, you think. She's still grieving Oz's actions. Xander is too confused at Cordelia's sudden and unexplained departure. You could explain it to them, say why the brunette gave him back the heart necklace. It was no coincidence that it was the morning after Xander forgot another date while he was consoling his childhood friend. But if they are blind to their own lives, then they surely won't see yours.

You don't want them to see, therefore no word crosses your lips. You just smile at them and think that you've come full circle, with only your closest friends at your side. You'll enjoy the feeling while you still can.

"His name is Acathla." Angel points to a statue in a corner of the garden.

He laughs, touches it carefully, almost reverently. "It's also Drusilla's last vision for me." You know nothing good can follow that statement. You're right. "If it opens its mouth, it'll devour the world into a hell dimension. Quite an over-achiever, isn't he?"

It'll open its mouth and eat us all. "Like little Twinkies," you say aloud, and you shudder visibly. You make to rush inside and retrieve your weapons. A single slice and the threat will be over. An Apocalypse is exactly what you don't need.

But Angel stops you, whispers in your ear. "Don't worry; I like the world just fine as it is. Well, maybe a bit more mayhem here and there, but that's it." You never thought he did. He must have sensed your scepticism because he drops his forehead against the back of your hair before continuing. "I leave utter chaos for Giles' little friend. You can't control chaos, Buff. Ethan missed that point. I prefer power, the knowledge of being first." You understand that too well. Staying with him hasn't helped you to forget you're a Slayer first. "It's a gift. For you," he says at last, tracing the silver chain down your chest before pressing the Claddagh charm slightly against your skin.

For a moment, you can't understand the words. Then comprehension dawns and you glare at him angrily. "For me? You're giving me an Aklata?"

"Acathla and yes." He traps you between himself and the stone figure, leads your hand to touch its surface. So cold, so dark; you can hear the hunger within it, growling and swirling in a giant vortex. You feel your hand taken in his, metal clinking against metal as they fit together. "What do you think, Buffy?"

You tighten your grasp on that hand without really thinking about it. "I don't want it," you murmur, more shaken than you wish to be. You wonder if Drusilla shared your dream. Did she see that scene? Did she see Angel dying before her eyes? Will he change his mind and you'll have to choose between him and the world? You can't. You can't!

"Relax, baby." He smoothes his hands down your arms. "Even if I wanted to do it, I have an eternity afterwards." He's kissing a pulse point as he says it, marking the 'afterwards' with a quick nip. After you're dead, he means. It's the first time he has mentioned your imminent death since he stopped trying to kill you. Angel knows you won't let the world be taken into hell. Even if you destroyed this statue, there are countless other ways to bring in a successful Apocalypse. He can find one. You know that as well as you know the body you're leaning against; you also know you won't be around forever to stop him. The weapons he's found for you will help, but the Slayer is still human - Mortal. Now you finally understand his actions. Acathla isn't your gift; his unsaid offer is.

He'll wait for you to ask him.

He'll be disappointed.

You go Bronzing that weekend. The three of you have avoided the place for weeks, never mentioning that the Dingoes are on stage almost every night these days. But tonight is a full moon and their guitarist is locked in a cage. None of you mentions that, either.

You order your Cokes and hum along with the music, comment about school and summer plans. Later it is glaringly obvious that Xander still hasn't learned to dance, but you and Willow cheer him on anyway. Cordelia looks at him fondly from her spot among her friends. The Cordettes have realised they canít exist without their queen, and Cordelia still has the money and the influence to fill the place. You wave at her, and she actually begins to smile back before she remembers she quit the Scoobies days ago.

Afterwards you take the guys on patrol at their insistence. You feel handicapped at having to use only arrows and stakes; but they look happy and the whole night feels amazingly like old times. You also feel Angel's presence nearby, and it reminds you that you'll need all the good memories you can get.

But you're happy now. This world is imperfect and the future will fracture it further, but in this moment, you smile. You're willing to be burned for this happiness.

It's all that matters.

It'll end with a gravestone.

Yours.

Your friends won't raise you from it. But if you change your mind, he will.

The End
19/09/05

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Author's Notes:
Rating R
Summary: Rewrite after ĎPassioní. There are two stories Iíve wanted to write since I began to write fanfiction: A) What if Angel never lost his soul Ė and wasnít in danger to lose it? B) What would have to happen for Buffy and Angelus to get together in S2? This is option B.
Disclaimer: The bodycount? All mine.
Author's notes: *chuckles* Romance? It's B/Aus, shouldn't it be a genre by itself?
Dedication: For Lucey. This is not the birthday gift I promised her (there was a small timing problem with that one. Who'd have thought KBD came after Passion?). But I hope she enjoys it anyway! *HUGS*
Thank You: to S.J. Smith and Matt for the excellent beta-work. I don't know what I'd done without you, guys! Kristi, for the encouragement and the title. You should have seen me dance when she found the title I wanted. Also, to Rachel, for creating
moviequoteminis. One quote was how the story started, which is sorta funny when you know who says that quote in this story. LOL. And to everyone who answered the questions I kept posting at my LJ. *hugs* Very special thanks to Chrislee for running the IWRY-Marathon. *hugs* 30 days of B/A stories, thatís a month I like.
Feedback: You write = Me happy.

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