Los Angeles had rebuilt after the demon attacks - Los Angeles was good at rebuilding itself. People pulled together during the crisis. Skin color and sexual orientation didn't seem like such a deal breaker when actual demons were roaming around, serving as a real threat. Once it passed, once the sun came back out and the legions of hell were banished again, most people fell into two groups. There were those that wanted to kill Angel more, because vampire = very bad, and those that loved him too much, because good vampire = savior. The former made life more interesting, and the latter made the pain of losing people who'd really loved him all the sharper.
In three years, there had been so many - Cordelia. Fred. Gunn. Wesley. Wes was freshest, sharpest, because there'd been things between them unfixed, things that had gone wrong between two friends who only wanted the best for each other. Every loss hurt about the same, though. They were all people he'd loved, who'd loved him, that were gone forever. No one was going to bring them back. No magical force or warp of time could change it.
Being alone again, suddenly, irrevocably, after learning to live in a family - it was almost more than he could bear sometimes. The one thing he held onto was Connor's safety. His son's resiliency and strength had already seen the boy through terrible times that felled the rest of Angel's family. There had been a magical time warp involved initially, but everything else was Connor's unending will to survive, and Angel's resolve to stay as far away from his son's life as possible. After all, people around Angel tended to end up dead.
The days seemed longer now, but it was probably just his imagination. He was supposed to be using this time to rest, but instead he used it to memorize the path of every scorch mark on his ceiling. So far, his memory was proving as agile as it ever had. Stretched out on the bed that was his only real indulgence (Egyptian cotton sheets, 600 thread count, Queen size because a King wouldn't fit down the stairwell), he tried to pinpoint the heart of his restlessness.
He spent more time indoors, for one. Wolfram and Hart was gone, burned to the ground along with the rest of the city, and with it went fancies like sunlight without screaming and bursting into flames. It was harder than he'd thought to go back into the darkness; he was a dark thing, and coming to terms with that all over again was even harder than it had been before. It was easier to live underground when you'd forgotten what the light felt like.
Since the Hyperion held too many painful recent memories, he was back at the old offices again. They were still burnt out and trashed, but the living quarters suited him well enough. There weren't exactly a lot of clients to impress with fancy space; Angel Investigations had been defunct for a long time. Mostly he patrolled, and watched, and waited.
He'd dragged the new Queen sized bed down here, found a clean enough wall to hang his weapons from, and got a good demon electrician to come downstairs and rig up enough power to read by. Drab as it was, it felt good to be there again, in the place where he, Doyle, and Cordelia formed their family; it was the place where he'd been teased with humanity, and where all things he missed from his new life were born.
Vampires returned to the same places over and over. If it weren't a crater in the middle of nowhere, Angel probably would have gone back to Sunnydale, now that Buffy wasn't there.
Most of the time, he didn't think about Buffy. It was easier that way. When you lost an arm, you didn't spend every waking second wishing you had the arm, or thinking about how tragic it was to lose it; you just learned to live without it, and soon it became something you did without thinking. People adapted; even vampires. But days like this one, the ones that felt longer than they were, he got maudlin and spent a lot of time thinking about all the limbs he was down in this life.
Speaking of magical time warps…
Angel had the distinction of being the only creature he knew of to have personally cut deals with two different powerful beings to completely re-shape the fabric of time so that someone he loved could live a better life without him in it. One took back seventeen years, the other a single day, but both changed the world in immeasurable ways. Hell, if he hadn't taken back the day with Buffy, there wouldn't be Connor, and that thought chilled Angel's already cool interior to the bone.
There was a noise across the room. Angel didn't sense anything hostile, but he scanned the room for the nearest weapon anyway.
Not that it would do him much good. Illyria was standing above him, staring at him with Fred's face. She held a big rock in her hand.
"Should I be looking for something sharp right now?"
She cocked her head. "Do you intend to cut something?"
He nodded at the rock in her hand. "Depends. Do you intend to smash something?"
"This is for you." She threw the rock at him, which was indeed heavy and would have stolen his breath if he had any.
"It is a magical object," she said. "Wesley hunted for it in his spare time while you toiled at Wolfram and Hart. He was… ended before he could locate it. I was… compelled to finish his work." Illyria cocked her head to the side. "He believed that it would help."
Illyria looked Angel in the eye. It unnerved him, the way it always did, how there was nothing whatsoever of Fred behind her eyes. If he just glanced at her, he could almost pretend, but then Angel had always been bad at playing pretend. He did tend to stay as still as possible in her presence, as if any sudden movements on his part might spook her.
"It distressed him when he discovered the memories you stole from him," Illyria said. "Not because he was angry with you, but because it caused him great pain to know the lack of peace in your life, and more, the lack of peace between you. He regretted that more than he could say. There is more information than I have in his notes. I believe that had he been capable of making a rational last request of me, it would have been this. He would want me to bring you peace, to heal something broken between you."
"I didn't hate him," Angel said, staring down at the rock. Slowly, he moved into a sitting position. She was in an emotional state, and that made her even jumpier than usual. "I know he had his reasons, that he did what he thought was right."
"I believe you humans value love more than a simple lack of hatred," she said.
"I'm not human," he said.
"You are to me," she said. "Your demon is so diluted by humanity I can barely smell it on you."
"That's sweet," he said flatly.
"Go through Wesley's notes," Illyria said. "Find your peace."
"Why does this mean so much to you?"
She looked conflicted. "I am not sure," she said in stilted tones. Then, she left, as silently as she arrived.
"Tell Spike I said hi," he yelled after her. He stared at the rock. It didn't look special, but then, dangerously magical things rarely did.
Angel glanced at his watch. It agreed with his internal clock - four hours 'til sunset. Wesley's pages and pages of notes were well packed into a black, fireproof box hidden away in what used to be Angel's bedroom closet.
"Anything to kill some time," he muttered, and rolled out of bed.
There were three notes pertaining to the "perspective stone" as Wes referred to it. The first was a diary entry Angel had never felt comfortable reading before, as it felt like intruding on Wesley's privacy. With a clear goal in mind, he easily overcame his reticence.
We are twice damned. Not only have we entered into this devil's bargain with Wolfram and Hart willingly, but Angel has done so at tremendous personal cost. This is the second such incident I have become aware of. While a certain amount of restraint is necessary to Angel's very existence, it continues to worry me how little he seems to think is owed him in life. He feels entitled to nothing, but responsible for everything. It is an unbalanced way to live, and I am regretful that I cannot find a way to remedy it.
In all honesty, my mind and heart have been so consumed with Fred's loss that I have forgotten how to be anyone's friend, least of all Angel's, who needs a friend possibly more than anyone I have ever known. We owe each other more than this. I thought of the stone as soon as Connor's memories were restored to us all, but only now am I determined to locate it. The rumor is that it was used a hundred years ago to help Slayers come to terms with the necessity of their lives, but that there was a consequence the Watchers had not anticipated. It was declared lost and never spoken of again. The perspective stone may be the very thing Angel - possibly all of us - needs to move on.
The next was an instruction on how to use the stone, so far as he could find in the official (and unofficial) records. It seemed that the user had to fall asleep clutching the stone while thinking about the one moment in their lives they wanted to change. A dream state would commence and the dreamer would experience an unusually vivid hallucination - almost like a fever dream - to give them a sense of perspective on their own lives.
I find myself suspicious of the official records. They make it sound like a fantasy, a delusion, and all other data I've collected indicates the stone to be a legitimate magical object. To listen to the Council, you'd think it was a peyote rock.
I've mentioned the stone to Illyria. I'm almost certain she had a flicker of recognition, but then she's notoriously hard to read. Since she spends a great deal of time sitting quietly beside me while I work, I've started talking to her, thinking out loud. Sometimes I forget she's there. She agrees that the Council's records are likely inaccurate. It makes sense that they would wish to subvert all information regarding such a remarkable item. They didn't like Slayers thinking for themselves; arming one with the knowledge of what changed, and what remained the same, based on a single choice, and the rebellion could have only been revolutionary. For my own sake, I wish that I could go back to that night I took Connor. I wish I had loved Angel less, and trusted him more. Would we have come to this place if I had? Would Fred still be alive? Would Cordelia? Would Connor be a toddler, asleep even now in his bed?
What wonderful, terrible knowledge.
Angel clutched the rock tightly in his palm. It was heavier than its size would indicate, roughly the size of a jagged tennis ball. He stared at Wesley's handwriting, neat and precise as ever. After a moment, he turned from it. Safety wasn't the only reason he kept Wesley's notes locked up tight. Thinking of Wes caused a physical ache in his gut, the pain fresh and raw. But he didn't have time to dwell on that or any other of his recent losses.
He'd been living between a rock and a hard place for years; at least his bed was a more comfortable spot to be stuck.
Angel woke with a gasp when he realized he needed to breathe. The room was dark, which it had not been when he fell asleep. He was no longer clutching the rock - in fact, his hands were holding onto something infinitely softer.
"Did you forget you have to breathe again?"
An arm slung over his chest and he blinked in the dark, wishing for night vision. After a few seconds, his eyes adjusted a bit, and he could make out her hands by the light of the moon. Her nails were painted a pale pink and chipping around the tips. They were Buffy's fingernails - delicate, feminine, and recently in a fight.
"Yeah," he said quietly, taking in another breath because he could. His heart was hammering inside his chest.
"It's been like seven years, Angel," she muttered. "I know we're still live in the night kind of people, but four a.m. isn't night, it's morning, and we are so not morning people."
"What kind of people are we?" He could tell her he had no idea what had happened to them in this world, but the idea of having the Scooby Gang poke and prod him until they'd determined he wasn't some kind of demon imposter was unappealing. No doubt his time here would be finite, and he wanted to make the most of it. Playing along would give him an undiluted snapshot of the world that wasn't.
"We are demon ass kicking, young minds molding, make love in the mornings kind of people," she said, stretching the full length of her body against his. She was wearing something silky, but not much of it.
"Just the mornings?" he found himself murmuring into her hair. Centuries could fly by and nothing would be as natural as lying with Buffy in his arms.
"Not just the mornings," she agreed. "But I was going for descriptive." Her mouth met his chest in a lazy kiss. "Of course, it is morning right now."
This was the perspective Wesley's rock had wanted him to see. But just in case it wasn't, and just in case he never had another chance to tell her…
Angel pulled Buffy up his body until he could look her in the eye. He held her face in his hands and made sure she was awake.
"You are every wish I was too scared to make," he said quietly. "And this is a heaven I never thought I could deserve."
"Trust me, Romantic Guy," she said in a sultry voice, her hand slipping beneath the sheet. "This isn't heaven. It's way, way better."
The next time Angel woke, it was because the breath had been knocked out of his body.
"Up! Up! Up! Up! Up! Up!"
"No up," Buffy mumbled from his side.
He was so sure she would have blonde hair that he was actually shocked when it was the exact shade of his own. She was a miniature him with Buffy's eyes and Buffy's smile and an immeasurable feeling of joy bubbled up in his heart just looking at her.
"Up," she said quietly, her little nose pressed to his, small, warm hands pressed tight against his cheeks.
"Why should we get up, when it's so nice and warm here?" He bear hugged the girl to his chest, then rolled her into the bed between him and Buffy. She giggled and turned between them, as though undecided who she wanted to snuggle into.
"Daddy, we need food!"
On cue, his stomach growled. Buffy snorted out a laugh.
"You're such a guy now," she said fondly. "What's for breakfast, Joy?" Joy.
His whole body seized up in reaction. He wondered which of them had thought of the name first. She was probably named after Buffy's mother, because he's sure that's something she would have wanted, but Buffy also didn't believe in saddling new people with the names of the dead. She carried enough death around with her every day. Joy was no doubt a compromise of two desires. To say nothing of an articulate expression of how they must have felt when they found out she was coming. Angel felt a pang of longing to know what that moment must have felt like. News of Connor had been miraculous, but surrounded by such oddity and horror. Learning that Buffy was carrying his child could have been nothing but bliss.
"Pancakes!" Joy yelled.
"Daddy loves pancakes," Buffy said, as though it were the most amazing coincidence.
Angel remembered there was little he hadn't loved as a human, but pancakes did sound especially delicious.
"We're getting up," Angel said, though part of him wanted to stay exactly where they were. But he was curious about this world. And it was the last thing Wesley had ever thought about showing him. That made it important to see every part of it, not just the ones he already knew he loved.
Joy bounded off the bed and raced back out the door. His heart thumped double time.
"I hope Giles didn't let her help make the batter," Buffy sighed. "That's how we invented gummy worm pancakes."
"I was dead for almost three centuries," Angel said. "Gummy worms don't scare me."
"They should," Buffy laughed. "You eat like an eight-year-old and I swear it's going to catch up with you eventually. You aren't immortal anymore, you know. You should weigh five hundred pounds."
"I'm pretty sure I stay active," Angel said.
"Yeah, yeah," she grumbled, climbing out of bed. "You have a houseful of women keeping you young and strong. I've heard it all before."
"I wouldn't call it a houseful," he said carefully.
She gave him a disbelieving look. "Yeah, okay, Angel. Whatever. Get dressed or she'll just bring Stake with her next time."
"Stake" was giving him the evil eye.
"Just give him a small piece," Buffy advised.
"Absolutely not," Angel said. "I will not respond to terrorism."
Whining pathetically, Stake went down on all fours and changed tactics; his evil eye morphed into a wide-eyed plea, all watery and forlorn. He gave the impression of a dog that hadn't eaten in days, rather than a well-fed shepherd mutt that was developing a potbelly.
"I do respond to big, wet eyes," Angel grumbled, tossing the dog a piece of bacon.
"Don't I know it?" Buffy confided with a grin.
The house was gorgeous, situated in the heart of Rome. It was the sort of place Angel had always seen himself. He had never pictured sharing a breakfast table with Giles and thirty-six Slayers-in-training, but other than that, it was idyllic. Joy was using gummy worms (thankfully not dropped into the batter) to give her pancakes different facial expressions and Giles was trying to persuade her to eat instead of playing.
"Don't you get all squelchy tyranty with her artistic expression," Buffy warned.
"Yes, because all tyrants do begin by forcing the oppressed to eat their pancakes," Giles said.
Already this morning, Angel had learned that Willow and her girlfriend were touring a new facility in London; that Cordelia (who was alive and well and married to Doyle who was also alive and well; Angel felt a deep sense of sadness that he would likely not get the chance to see either of his old friends) would be coming to visit for the next few months, husband in tow, while they prepared for the birth of their first child - Buffy muttered something about getting way too freaked about what would probably be barely a quarter of demon in the baby; and that Giles, though no longer strictly needed as Buffy's Watcher, was still very much needed by her in every other way. He and Angel had apparently resolved their differences, and tolerated each other almost happily.
Angel was afraid to ask about Wesley. If Doyle hadn't died in this world, that meant things in Los Angeles had drastically changed. Not only would he not have been around to intercept the rogue demon hunter, it was possible that without his presence, Wesley might not have ever made it to Los Angeles. He could be dead, or almost worse, he could still be sitting in a roomful of books, afraid of his father, afraid of life, and sure he was oh-so-superior to it all. Angel preferred the latter - there was always hope, as long as you were alive - but was pretty sure his friend, Wes, would rather be caught dead than still embroiled in his father's world.
Thoughts of Wes turned to thoughts of how the rest of his history had played out, and he thought very suddenly of Faith. He was very worried about what might have happened to her right up until the moment she strolled into the room.
"Suit up, Slayerettes," she said. "Your real workout begins in five. G-Man, save me some pancakes."
"They'll be cold," Giles warned.
"I like my pancakes the way I like my men - cold and hard." She winked at Angel. Perhaps she was proof that he'd been able to do something right as a human, after all. He got the sudden thought that she'd been a turning point, that saving her had probably saved him, too.
"Go away," Buffy said sweetly.
"Already gone," Faith called back as she walked out of the room.
"Two more weeks," Buffy muttered, "and she'll lose interest and start roaming the world again in search of salvation."
"Sometimes you don't find salvation," Angel said. "Sometimes it finds you."
"That's silly, Daddy," Joy giggled.
"I agree," Buffy said.
"I get no respect," Angel said dryly.
"Now you know how I feel," Giles added. "All right, Joy, are you ready for today's lessons?"
"Ready," Joy chirped, hopping down from the table. Faithfully, Stake plodded along behind her. "What are we learning about today?"
"Today we are starting with verbs…" Giles' voice trailed off as they left the room.
"She doesn't go to school," Angel said.
"No," Buffy agreed, looking at him oddly. "It wouldn't be safe."
Angel tried to backpedal. "I know. I just wish she could have a more normal life."
"We normalize her as much as possible," Buffy said. "Besides, normal's overrated, and with all the creepy things out there that would love to hurt her to get to us, I'll take a little abnormality any day. I mean, that whole thing with Holtz made you want to lock her in a glass tower."
Of course. There were prophecies. Connor killed the demon that summoned Holtz, but it wasn't Connor, necessarily; it was Angel's child. What had been different, Angel wondered? Was it just Buffy, or had other factors come into play? He wanted to ask her about it, but there was no way to do it without making it seem like he'd forgotten what was probably the most traumatic incident in Joy's young life.
There were a lot of things Angel had always wanted to know, and he could get away with some of them, at least. He tested the water.
"Did I ever tell you I almost went back to being a vampire?"
Buffy laughed. "You're funny."
"Not really," she said, then pulled a face at him to show she was kidding. "You are to me, at least. Are you serious?"
"Angel, we talked about it for like, an hour straight," she said, adopting a serious pose. "We made with the weeping, and the arguing, and the doomed lovers diatribe. You said you'd gone down to talk to the Orcas, that you were going to take the day back for sure, but that something they said changed your mind." She smiled, a little sad. "I was so relieved I thought I was dreaming for a minute."
"I was afraid for you," he said. "And maybe for me, too. I didn't want to be a burden to you."
"I know," she said. "But you never could be. Angel, no one in this world could love me as well as you do. Nobody's better at it than you. I wish we'd both learned that lesson sooner, but oh well." She laughed. "Of course, I never would have guessed that the road would get even bumpier after you got de-vamped."
"Yeah," Angel agreed, laughing like he knew what she was talking about. "It was rough for awhile."
"I guess that's why I was finally able to forgive Faith," Buffy said. "For everything. Because I don't know what would have happened if she hadn't happened to us when she did."
"Right," Angel agreed, nodding. He debated for half a second, then took a shot. "She woke up from that coma just when we needed her particular brand of crazy the most."
"I don't know that I really needed her to steal my body," Buffy said dryly. "But when you knew she wasn't me - just knew the second she touched you - it made everything we were going through seem trivial. I don't know if I ever really told you, but I had always been afraid of that. It's stupid, but I thought maybe you only really loved me because I was blonde, and strong, and a Slayer. But when she was all those things - and probably kinkier than I'll ever be combined - you chose me. You saw me in Faith's body and you looked at me the way you always had. Some things are built to last, Angel. We're one of them. I just needed something to make me believe it. That moment did it."
"You're pretty kinky," Angel confided with a smile.
"Because that's the point," Buffy said with a chuckle.
"The moment I saw you, I loved you," Angel said. "You know that. And it wasn't because you were strong - which you are - or beautiful - which you will always be. I loved you because you're Buffy Summers, and I think I was built to. I know in my gut that I was made to love you; to keep you safe."
Sighing, Buffy set down her fork and pushed her plate away. "I know you've always wondered," she said softly. "And the truth is, we'll never know if I would've still died if you'd been vamped up. Maybe you would have saved me, and maybe it was just the way it had to happen. I've made peace with it, Angel. I wish you could, too."
"I don't think I'll ever make peace with the concept of your death," he said honestly.
"And that's why I keep you around," she said brightly, then bestowed a smacking kiss on his lips. He held her to him for a moment, relishing the feel of her, the taste of her.
"So," he said softly against her mouth. "What are we going to do today?"
"Well," Buffy said slowly. "Giles cooked breakfast, which means he'll expect lunch and dinner to be taken care of. We can go into the market and get whatever's fresh, and you, husband, can decide what delicacy you're going to serve to your hungry, hungry household. Oh, and Xander's coming back tonight with Dawn, so whatever you make, make twice as much so we don't run out."
"Boy's got two stomachs," Angel muttered.
"More like three," Buffy corrected. Her expression grew wistful. "Today's our day off. We don't have to train Slayers or read musty books or figure out why the world might be coming to an end. I'm going to pick Dawn and Xander up at the airport tonight, but until then, I'm all yours."
"Let's go for a walk," Angel said quietly. "In the sun."
"It's always a beautiful day in Rome," Buffy agreed. She took his hand and tugged him after her.
As if he ever needed prompting to follow her anywhere.
One minute they were walking in the sunshine, and the next, he was underneath the Los Angeles post office. He thought this might be a fraction of what Buffy felt when Willow ripped her out of heaven.
"You do not get to keep that life."
The voice was both welcome and painful. "I thought you were dead," Angel said.
"Do not think in such linear terms," the male Oracle said. "All things are alive and dead simultaneously. Time is a current."
"Which one is real?"
"They are all real," the female Oracle said. "You wanted to see what would have happened had you made a single different choice. That was it. In every moment of decision, different worlds are born. That was the world you didn't choose. It will exist whether you live in it or not. In some worlds, you have a son named Connor, but that boy was born to you and the vampire Darla, and he cannot be recreated any other way. You also have a daughter called Joy, and she can only be created between you and the Slayer, Buffy. She also exists in many worlds."
"Many worlds," Angel mumbled. "Just not mine." "You should be careful what you wish for," the male Oracle said, almost kindly. "No world is perfect, and the one you so recently inhabited is no different. Much that you feared came to pass. The Slayer had difficulty choosing the world over her desire to keep you safe for the time you remained in Sunnydale. You were frustrated by your inability to protect her, to fight beside her, as you once did. But you gave her much she would not have had without you. You gave her a safe place. In that world, you were the only thing she was glad to see when she returned from Heaven."
"She still died," Angel said stubbornly.
"It was your greatest fear," the female Oracle agreed. "And it happened in every single world, regardless of your choice."
"So what now?" Angel felt himself grow angry. "I get to carry around another day? I get to remember being a real husband and a real father and having all this, having the people I love with me-"
"Some of them," the male Oracle said. "Some of the people."
"Cordelia's still alive," Angel snapped. "Doyle is still alive. Wes and Gunn are probably dead, I know, I get that, but-"
"Did you ask after the female, Fred?"
"Fred," Angel whispered. He'd begun to think of her as Illyria, to hope that maybe somehow, despite what they'd all been told, that some part of Fred was still alive inside her. Despite knowing how totally a demon could obliterate everything that had once lived inside its shell.
"She lives, as well," the male Oracle said. "She is a slave on the world Pylea. Her mind is completely shattered. She scratches at the wall and longs for death. This world granted that her suffering continue unabated."
"And the people you saved in Los Angeles," the female said. "You returned to Sunnydale with Buffy, and many of those people had nowhere else to turn. Wolfram and Hart continues their flirtation with existence and obliteration. There are always consequences."
"What's the right choice, then?" Angel looked at them helplessly. "What point do I go back to? What thread do I pull on to make things right?"
The Oracles shook their heads. "You assume that anything that has happened is wrong."
"How can it not be?" Angel snapped. "Good people died. They were taken before their time, they shouldn't have-"
"Good people die," the female Oracle said. "Good, brave people die in exchange for living more extraordinary lives. All these people you love so much, that you miss so dearly - they mattered. And they matter all the more for how much you love them, how much you would sacrifice to save them."
"Look to the future, Lower Being," the male Oracle said. "Look not at the wreckage, but at what is still there to salvage. It is a valuable lesson."
He was alone. Back in Los Angeles, Rome already a fading memory. He was underneath the Post Office and his internal clock told him it was night. He was no longer breathing, but he felt alive. Not since Angelus had blazed a bloody trail across Europe had he felt so clear, so sure of the universe. No wonder the Watchers had been so afraid. No one this certain could be kept under anyone's thumb.
And nobody who felt like he did now could ever refer to herself as cookie dough.
Wes had given him a gift, as precious and wonderful as he'd hoped. Angel couldn't pay his friend back, but maybe he could honor his effort.
"Wonderful, terrible knowledge," Angel said softly, thinking of Wes, thinking of Joy, wondering if she would ever exist in his world. He thought of what Wes would say. That we can't begin to understand what life is to demand of us. That Angel had a destiny. Angel had always thought that destiny couldn't truly have a happy end in store for him, not after all that he'd done. But maybe destiny had a happy end in store for Buffy. Maybe he was supposed to be part of that.
After all, some things were built to last.
Sunlight darted in through a crack in the curtains, and Buffy unhappily blinked her eyes open. The household was already buzzing with activity; she could hear the many floors below bustling as breakfast was eaten, training sessions commenced. There was a knock on her door and Dawn leaned her head in.
"You got a package," Dawn said. "It's from Angel."
Scrunching her nose up, Buffy felt something niggle at the back of her mind. "A package? From Angel?"
"I think it's a rock."
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Rating:PG - 13 (though it's probably safe at PG, I like to hedge)
Summary: In every moment of decision, different worlds are born.
Thanks to the tremendous Margot Le Faye for beta that made this 100% better! *SMOOCH* babe.