Faded Photographs

by Saber ShadowKitten


Part Four







Los Angeles, Saturday, 27 May, 2000





Two days had passed since Tanner had appeared back in Angel's life. Two days of researching and sleeplessness and bittersweet memories. Two days filled with daydreams and nightmares of times long past, invoked by the sable-haired human who had no idea what he'd meant to the vampire.

Angel couldn't stop the memories that kept overwhelming him over the past two days. The remembrances weren't in any particular order, just random snippets from a time when he, as a true demon, had been completely and undeniably happy.

It was that happiness that was causing Angel's nightmares, though. His mind brought forth images of the horrendous tortures he'd inflicted on the London populace after each of his dates with Tanner. The mortal had made the vampire feel all tender and sweet and had turned his insides to mush, feelings which he had abhorred an hour after parting from the young man.

Drusilla was another unpleasant memory that kept popping up in Angel's mind. The female vampiress had been jealous the time he spent with Tanner after that first week, and she'd set about making her unhappiness known. The vileness of her gifts to him as she had tried to bring his attention back to her turned Angel's stomach even now, over a century later. Angel remembered that he had finally given Dru a quest to find a mortal homosexual female, with true red hair and brown eyes, in order to get her out of his sight and allow him freedom to pursue his obsession with the handsome boy, Tanner.

Not all the remembrances were unpleasant. Quite the contrary -- Angel was having a very hard time keeping his hands off of Tanner because of them. He had been moments away from giving up his control and passionately attacking the mortal when Cordelia had unintentionally come to his aid by whisking Tanner away to show him the marvels of the just-starting twenty-first century... beginning with the shopping mall.

And, of course, Cordelia had taken Angel's money with her.

Angel dropped his head onto the backrest of his chair and shut his eyes. Wesley had left for the library roughly three hours before to research the local conditions in London at the time Tanner had stepped into the future. Normally, his associate would simply use the computer in the main office to do such research, but Angel knew there was a certain blond divorcee who worked at the library and whom Wesley felt would give him the assistance he needed for his arduous task.

A smile tugged at the corners of Angel's lips. Love was in the air, and it made both humans and demons alike do funny things.

Angel remembered the night over a hundred-odd years ago that Tanner had invited him to a dinner party the mortal's father was hosting. The vampire recognized the signs of love now as he thought back, but at the time he hadn't known he had fallen for the sable-haired youth.

The dinner party had been like any other dinner party the vampire had attended when he'd been on the hunt, with mortals dressed in their middle-class finery, sipping sherry and smoking cigars. The food itself had been delicious, according to Tanner, but since his sister had made the meal he'd been hard-pressed to be impartial.

Angel remembered that it was after the meal had been served, when the men had retired to the study and the women to the parlor, that the soulless vampire he once was had almost lost his precious control. At the meal, Tanner and he had sat at the opposite end of the table from the mortal's father. He'd engaged in light conversation with William Tanner II's attorney friend and the attorney's wife. Tanner had sat across from the vampire, as was custom, and his shy, softly spoken additions to the conversation had shown his intelligence and had endeared the human even more to the dark-haired vampire's heart.

After dinner, in the study, Angel remembered that Tanner had offered to pour him a glass of sherry. The vampire had accepted and watched with hungry eyes as the sable-haired young man walked away. The finery Tanner had been dressed in had made the vampire want to rip every last stitch of the fine clothes to pieces. The boy's crisp white shirt was in great contrast to his sharply pressed burgundy waistcoat and matching burgundy cravat. It had been while he'd been fantasizing on what he'd do once the moral was fully nude that he'd inadvertently overheard Tanner's father.

And it had taken all his willpower, plus some, not to jab the cigar cutter that'd been in his hand into William J. Tanner, the second's, throat.

The recollection of the cruel things Tanner's father had said about the youth incensed Angel even now. It reminded him of the way his own father had treated him, but at least the human named 'Liam' had deserved much of the insults and dressing down of his character. The mortal Angel had once been had been a lazy, self-serving, whoring, drunken fool, who refused to work only because his father had wanted him to.

Tanner, on the other hand, had a beautiful soul, had done what he'd been told, had helped his sister, had earned his keep, and had tried never to make waves with those around him. And yet, his father had spoke of his only son -- with Tanner in the room, no less! -- as if Tanner was a leper, a boy to be avoided at all costs lest his shyness or his homosexuality rub off on anyone.

Angel knew now, logically, that Tanner's father had been lashing out because of his disappointment that the Tanner name wouldn't be continued. But, back then, the vampire had wanted to tear the elder Tanner's tongue out and eat it before the man's very eyes.

Angel took a purposeful breath in order to calm himself. It wouldn't do him any good to get upset over something that happened a very long time ago, even though, to Tanner, the event hadn't even occurred yet.

That thought pulled Angel back to the task at hand : finding out how Tanner came to be in the present and why. Over the past two days, with the help of his co-workers, he'd found a complex spell that would send Tanner back to his own place and time, without memories of the unexpected visit to the future, but they'd found no answers as to Tanner's appearance to begin with.

Was the human a part of a prophecy they'd yet to uncover? Was his appearance to remind Angel that not everything that had happened before he'd gained his soul was bleak and horrid? Or was it a reminder of another life he had destroyed?

Angel sighed unhappily. When his thoughts weren't in the past, they were going round and round over the question as to why Tanner was in the year 2000. There had to be a clue somewhere.

The phone rang and Angel picked it up, grimacing when he remembered the last time he answered the phone a telemarketer had about talked his ear off. "Hello?" he said tentatively.

"Angel? It's Rupert. Rupert Giles," Giles's voice said clearly across the line.

Angel relaxed back in his seat, glad it wasn't a dreaded operator, then straightened immediately when the name clicked in his mind. "Rupert, what's wrong? Is it Buffy? Is she okay?"

"What? Oh, yes, yes, Buffy is fine," Giles reassured him. "Everyone is fine here."

Angel thought he heard a "Hey!" shouted in the background over the phone. "That's good. Um, so..." He let the prompt dangle, waiting for the ex-Watcher to go on. When the other man didn't, he hid a sigh and said, "Rupert, why are you calling?"

"Right, er, my apologies," Giles said. "Spike is making a nuisance of himself, as usual."

The dark-haired vampire's brows went up. "What is Spike doing there?"

"He's... well, disappearing," Giles replied.

"He's what?"

"Dis-disappearing," Giles repeated. "As in, becoming more translucent. I can see through him and he isn't too thrilled with that fact."

Angel frowned in thought. "Is he a ghost?"

"No," Giles said. "I can touch him readily enough, and he is able to pick up and move objects on his own. No walking through walls and such."

"Do you think maybe he had an invisibility spell cast on him?"

"To what purpose?" Giles asked in return. "Willow and Tara have both denied casting any such spells, Spike is adamant about not wanting to be invisible and-and we can think of no one else who would want to bother with casting such a spell on him."

Angel heard Spike in the background, undoubtably telling Giles off for the subtle insult he'd spoken. Only Spike would have the balls to tell off the person who was trying to help him.

"How long has he been like he is?" Angel asked.

"It seems to be a gradual dissipation of his solidity," Giles replied. "According to Spike, on Thursday afternoon, when Xander had gone to see if he was in Sunnydale, as Cordelia -- a-and I presume, you -- had requested, he said he awoke feeling odd. On Friday morning, he noticed he could see the bright light from the television shining through his hand. By that night, he said he was able to see the dull glow of a burning out street light and the blurry outline of the lightpost through his hand. Now, today, I can see through him myself, but not, er, perfectly clear."

Angel's hand had frozen in the midst of reaching for a pencil at the words "on Thursday afternoon," and the rest of what Giles had said barely seeped into his mind.

Thursday afternoon was when Tanner had appeared in the office of Angel Investigations.

Thursday afternoon was when Spike woke up feeling odd.

Tanner had been in the year 2000 for two days.

Spike had been slowly disappearing over the past two days.

"Holy shit," Angel swore.

"I-I beg your pardon?" Giles said over the line.

"Oh, sorry, Rupert," Angel said, cringing at his crass words. "I just realized what may be happening to Spike."

"And it caused you to speak an obscenity?" Giles sighed. "Now, why do I get the feeling I'm not going to want to pass the information on to Spike?"

"You're not," Angel answered simply. "And I'm not going to tell you what's happening, either. At least, not yet."

"And why, pray tell, is that?" Giles asked.

"Because I'm not sure if I'm correct or not," Angel said. "Just keep an eye on Spike. If he asks, tell him I'm working on the answer."

"Very well," Giles agreed. "Please call as soon as you can."

"I will," Angel said. "And call me if there's a notable difference in his translucence."

Angel hung up after saying his goodbyes and stared blankly across the office. Spike was disappearing. That in and of itself wasn't such a heartache. The blond bastard had tortured him, had gone after those he cared for and loved, and had helped to send him to hell.

No, not him -- Angelus.

Spike had aligned with Buffy against Angelus, something that was almost unheard of for the younger vampire to do. Granted, opening the demon dimension wasn't one of Angel's soulless counterpart's brightest ideas, but he still hadn't expected Spike to turn against him. In fact, he would have picked anyone out of a trillion vampires who'd turn against him over Spike. Even Drusilla.

But, Spike had done it; Angel, with his soul intact, had gone to hell; and the world had turned on. And later, Spike had returned to Sunnydale, spouted nonsense about love and hatred, and then left again only to return and torture the dark-haired vampire for a piece of jewelry. Then again, Spike always was a sucker for a pretty gem.

Angel stood and walked into the main part of the office to pour himself a cup of what Cordelia claimed to be coffee. Coffee made him jittery, but, right then, he needed something to jolt him out of his shock.

Because, if what he thought was true, Tanner's presence in the future was altering history.

Angel swallowed a sip of the bitter brew, made a face, then tossed back the rest as his mind turned over the new piece to the puzzle he'd been given by Giles. If Tanner's being in the future was changing the past, would it also mean that Angel's memories would start to fade, as well? Would the events that occurred as a direct result of Spike being a vampire never have happened? Would Spike have ever existed to begin with?

Angel knew immediately that the answer to his last question was a firm 'no.' Spike, the vampire, would never have existed if the mortal hadn't met Angelus. Tanner would have lived out his human life, never learning of the viciousness and atrocity of vampirism. He never would have lost his pure soul and adorable shyness. He never would have stopped blushing every time sex was referred to, despite being made love to every night for nine months before he was turned.

The little devil inside Angel's conscious spoke up, adding to his list. Tanner also may have never known what it felt like to be truly loved for who he was. He may have never known the touch of another man. He may have died from any number of things before he'd even received a simple kiss from someone who desired him.

Angel leaned his back against the doorframe to the inner office and stared bleakly at the chipped wood across from him. The first kiss that he'd shared with Tanner was one of the most wonderful experiences in his long life. In fact, every experience that he'd had with Tanner rivaled those he cherished having with Buffy. Or rather, Angelus had.

"Damn, I'm getting a headache," Angel muttered, banging the back of his head lightly against the doorframe. Angel, Angelus; Angelus, Angel. Same body, same memories, same knowledge of what true love felt like, same knowledge of losing that love.

"What I wouldn't give for a simple case," Angel sighed, moving back over to his desk to continue researching. "Like a six-ton, elephant-like Percius demon that breathes fire and is virtually unkillable."

But, instead of a Percius demon, Angel's mind conjured up memories of two-ton elephants and first kisses on a quiet night in June.





*****





London, Thursday, 16 June, 1872





Angelus and Tanner strolled through the Regent's Park Zoo, the bright full moon providing all the light they needed. They were the only two people there, the zoo having closed at sunset. Angelus had wanted to do something different with Tanner and, while waiting for Tanner to finish helping Beth so they could go out, the human's niece, Mellie, had been extolling the virtues of the trip to the zoo she'd made that day.

The animals were noisy in their cages, the night bringing the predators out of their daytime slumber. Angelus smiled each time Tanner jumped, startled by an animal's call. The vampire briefly wondered what would happen if he were to roar himself in true demon fashion. More than likely, Tanner would faint like a silly woman.

Hmm, Angelus thought. If Tanner fainted, he'd have an excuse to loosen the human's clothing. Perhaps fawn over the boy a bit. A wicked smile curved the vampire's lips.

"I don't think I l-like that smile," Tanner commented. Three weeks of going out with Angelus every night had managed to displace most of the young man's shy stutter. He was more comfortable in Angelus's company, allowing their nights out to be more enjoyable. More companionable.

Angelus both loved and hated it.

He desperately wanted to kiss Tanner. He wanted to drink the mortal's shy smile, sip the intelligence of his speech and lightly bite his witty tongue. Angelus wanted to feel the warmth of the human as he held the lad pressed against him. He wanted to hear Tanner's soft moans and breathy gasps of excitement that he had caused with his lips and teeth and tongue.

Three weeks of waiting for the right time to kiss Tanner. Three weeks of Tanner's intense blue gaze, his honeysuckle scent and watching his kissable lips move as he spoke. Three weeks of leaving Tanner's company in painful arousal and having to fuck his prey before brutally killing them.

There was something about Tanner, though, that prevented Angelus from simply taking what he wanted. Every time the vampire came close to pouncing, Tanner would turn and smile bashfully at him, or blush a new shade of red, or make a quiet joke that would have him laughing loudly.

Even worse, he felt incredibly happy from just being in Tanner's company. It was sickening, but he couldn't seem to change it. He truly liked Tanner as an individual, not as a new pet or as a meal.

"What's wrong with me smile?" Angelus asked as they paused outside of another animal exhibit.

"It matches his," Tanner replied, pointing at the golden lion pacing in the back of the cage.

"Mayhaps 'tis because I'm a hungry predator, as well," Angelus teased.

Tanner's defined cheekbones colored as he jokingly asked, "And wh-what's your prey?"

"Blue-eyed lads with dark hair," Angelus answered with a wink.

"Angelus." Tanner blushed even darker.

Angelus chuckled. He pointed to the elephants across the path between the cages and they headed over to them. "Your niece said these great beasts were her favorite," he commented.

"Prolly because she got to feed 'em," Tanner said.

Angelus turned away from the elephants and leaned back against the cage. "Have you ever been t' India, lad?"

"I haven't even been to the bloody Wax Museum," Tanner replied with a small bite in his voice.

Angelus knew to steer clear of topics surrounding Tanner's bastard of a father, for they could easily ruin a good night out. If, in the long run, it wouldn't hurt the boy, the vampire would break the man's neck in an instant. However, Tanner cared deeply for Beth and Mellie and, without their father to support them, they'd end up on the streets... or worse.

"Not t' worry, Tanner. India isna that wonderful a place," Angelus told him. "But, in the land o' the dark-skinned, the people ride elephants like horses. 'Tis a very smelly way t' get from one place t' another."

"You rode on an elephant?" Tanner asked in amazement.

"Aye," Angelus replied. "And on camels, as well. I'd recommend the elephants, though. They be a much friendlier animal."

It was at that very moment one of the elephants in the zoo chose to show her species' friendliness by snaking her trunk through the cage bars and snuffling Angelus's hair.

Tanner burst out laughing, the sound echoing in the zoo, causing the animals to hoot and holler. Angelus scowled, shoved the elephant's trunk away from him and grimaced when he felt a slimy substance in his hair. Tanner clutched his stomach and laughed even harder at the expression of disgust on Angelus's face.

"Are you laughin' at me, boy?" Angelus asked in an angry tone.

"Yes," Tanner chortled.

"An' do you think that be wise?" Angelus said, taking a menacing step closer to the laughing man.

"No," Tanner gasped between laughs as he backed away from Angelus, stopping when the giraffe cage was at his back.

"Well, then, dinna you think you should stop?" Angelus said, pinning Tanner to the cage with one hand on either side of the young man, gripping the black bars tightly.

"No," Tanner sniggered.

Angelus arched an imperious brow. "This be your last warnin', lad. Stop your laughin' at me or pay the consequences."

"Maybe I want to pay the consequences," Tanner said, a husky teasing note in his voice as his laughter died away.

Angelus's nostrils flared as he inhaled sharply, the scent of honeysuckle overpowering the dirty scent of the zoo. The moonlight shown down upon Tanner's flushed face, the white light creating small diamonds in the sable-haired mortal's blue eyes. Angelus could hear Tanner's heartbeat pick up and the younger man started to breathe faster as the current of electricity that seemed to flow between them sparked.

With aching slowness, Angelus leaned closer to Tanner. He watched as the younger man's eyes fell shut and heard the mortal's breath catch in anticipation. Angelus wet his lips, closed his eyes, and pressed his mouth to Tanner's.

The world exploded into light behind Angelus's closed eyelids. His mouth began to tingle and he could not prevent the quick inhale of unneeded breath. The vampire's heart felt like it had started again and the sound of it pounding in his ears drowned out the sounds of the animals.

Angelus brushed his lips back and forth over Tanner's until the younger man's mouth parted. He felt Tanner grasp the front of his shirt as he angled his head and deepened the kiss. Angelus groaned in the back of his throat when he felt the tentative brush of Tanner's tongue on his lower lip.

Angelus took the invitation and plunged his tongue into Tanner's open mouth, sweeping the inside of the warm cavern without hesitation. Tanner's body radiated heat that Angelus could feel through their clothing as he pressed himself closer to the other man. He heard Tanner moan softly and the vampire almost came in his trousers at the sound he'd been longing to hear.

The dark-haired vampire broke the kiss abruptly, leaving them both panting heavily. His half-lidded gaze hungrily drank in Tanner's darkly flushed face and moist, swollen lips. Tanner's blue eyes were wide and full of swirling emotions -- desire, wonder, happiness and confusion.

With another groan, Angelus bent and captured Tanner's mouth again in a short, possessive kiss. The tingling in the vampire's lips spread throughout his body like wildfire. He pulled away with a gasp and shut his eyes tightly as he tried to regain his control before he took Tanner hard against the cage.

"Crikey," Tanner breathed, a light break in his voice.

Angelus chuckled softly and opened his eyes. "Aye, 'tis 'crikey' indeed," he agreed. He forced his hand to let go of the cage bar and brushed his thumb across Tanner's warm cheek. "I've been wantin' t' do that fer weeks."

"Why'd you wait?" Tanner asked, then turned a deeper shade of pink.

"I dinna know, lad," Angelus replied truthfully. He gave Tanner a devilish smile. "But now that I know that you liked me kissin', I'll be doin' it all the bloody time."

"Like n-n-now?" Tanner suggested with a bashfully hopeful look.

"Aye, like now," Angelus agreed, and he pressed his mouth to Tanner's for the third of many kisses to come.





*****





Los Angeles, 2000





Angel quickly rose to his feet when Cordelia led a stunned-looking Tanner past him and into the lift to his apartment. "Tanner... Cordelia, what happened?"

Cordelia gave Angel an innocent look. "We went shopping," she said, pulling the lift gate shut. "Right, Tanner?"

Tanner's glazed eyes stared blankly at the lift wall.

Angel took the stairs and met Cordelia in his apartment, a scowl firmly in place. He put is arm around Tanner's shoulders as soon as the gate opened and led the sable-haired man towards the bedroom.

"Tanner, are you okay?" Angel asked.

Tanner slowly turned his head and blinked owlishly at the vampire. His pale face contrasted greatly against his borrowed dark shirt.

Angel swore silently and helped the mortal sit on the edge of the bed. He quickly divested Tanner of his boots, unbuttoned the top two buttons of the young man's shirt and gently pushed him back on the bed.

"Rest," the vampire instructed, brushing Tanner's slightly-curled hair back from his forehead. Tanner stared up at him dazedly. Angel unconsciously let out a soft purr of comfort and brushed a kiss on Tanner's brow. "You'll be okay, heartling. Just rest."

Angel shut off the night-stand light and headed out of the bedroom. Cordelia was sitting at the kitchen table, a plate of cookies in front of her. He speared her with a furious look as he came to a halt on the opposite side of the table and folded his arms across his chest.

"What?" Cordelia said. "I only took him shopping. Is it my fault that the Spike Clone couldn't handle it?"

"Where did you take him?" Angel asked in a clipped tone.

"The mall," Cordelia answered. She snorted disdainfully. "He made a pig of himself over Cinnabon. It was so embarrassing."

Angel pressed his lips in a thin line and waited.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Okay, he acted like a shy little boy who was afraid of his own shadow every time someone got close to us. I had to hold his hand the whole day. Do you know how many potential dates I lost because of that?"

"Why didn't you just come home?" Angel said, irritated.

"There was a sale at Bakers!" Cordelia exclaimed.

"You terrorized Tanner for shoes," Angel growled.

"No, he liked the shoes," Cordelia said, biting into a cookie. "He even found me this really nice light blue strappy pair that'll look so great with my daisy-chain skirt. Why is it that gay men have all the good taste?"

Angel pinched the bridge of his nose. "Cordelia..."

"I mean, look at you," Cordelia said, gesturing at him with her cookie. "You're half-gay-"

"I'm half-gay?" Angel peered at her over his fingers.

"- and you have great clothes," Cordelia continued. "They're all black, but they're still great."

Angel sighed. Why was it he put up with her again?

"Oh, anyway, Tanner was ooh-ahh over the whole mall experience until we went into Spencers."

"You took him to Spencers?!" Angel exclaimed. Doyle had taken him to the specialty gift shop one November evening and it had taken him weeks to scrape his jaw off the floor over what had been available right on the shelf for the public to purchase.

Cordelia nodded. "Tanner turned as red as a Coke can and started hyperventilating. I dragged him out of there and into the next store to ask him what his trauma was when he freaked even more. I thought gay men weren't supposed to get oogy over women's lingerie."

Angel searched his mind for the store that was located next to Spencers in the mall. His eyes bugged. "You took him to Spencers then dragged him into Fredericks of Hollywood?!"

"I didn't do it on purpose!" Cordelia exclaimed. "I wasn't schooled on the dos and don'ts for annoyingly shy homosexuals!"

Angel pulled out the chair in front of him and sat down heavily. Poor Tanner. The sable-haired human couldn't even look at men's undergarments without turning ten shades of red, which was why Tanner never wore any... one of many little somethings the vampire had loved about the boy.

"I take it you brought him home after that?" Angel asked.

"Yeah, I splurged on a cab," Cordelia said. "Not something I ever want to repeat."

Angel groaned and dropped his head down on the table. First, she took Tanner to Spencers and Fredericks of Hollywood. Then, she subjected him to a high speed ride in a California cab. Poor, poor Tanner.

"Hello, all," Wesley greeted cheerfully as he entered the apartment.

Angel grunted.

"Trouble?" Wesley asked.

"Ask her," Angel said, pointing at Cordelia without lifting his head.

"Hey, if you didn't want me to take him shopping, you should have said so," Cordelia said.

"Cordelia took Tanner shopping? Angel, are you certain that was a wise thing to do?" Wesley said.

Angel raised his head and shot Wesley a glare. Wesley held up both his hands. "Never mind," the rogue demon hunter said. He joined them at the table. "I've found the information as requested at the library, Angel."

"Good," Angel said, straightening. "If we decide to send Tanner back, I want to be sure nothing goes wrong."

"If?" Cordelia questioned. "I thought sending Prepubescent Spike back was the main goal?"

"We still don't know why Tanner is here to begin with," Angel said, ignoring her slight. "Until we figure that out, I don't want to chance sending him back to the nineteenth century."

"Have you found any reference to a prophecy as of yet?" Wesley asked.

Angel shook his head. "No, and I'm starting to think we won't," he replied. He went on to fill in his coworkers on his phone call from Giles and what had befallen Spike.

Wesley tapped his chin when Angel finished, his brows furrowed in thought. "And you surmise that having Tanner here, in the future, is altering the past?"

"Yes."

"Wow, this is like a bad re-enactment of Back to the Future," Cordelia said. Both men looked at her in confusion. "Hello? Michael J. Fox? 80's movie? Scary neon vest?"

"Do you know what she's talking about?" Angel asked.

"Not a clue," Wesley replied.

"Ugh! You people have got to get a life!" Cordelia threw up her hands. "Back to the Future was a movie about a kid who went back in time and messed up the history."

"I don't know what-" Angel started to stay.

"I'm not done," Cordelia interrupted. "You see, Marty -- that was the kid's name -- had this picture of his family. Every day that he was in the past changing history, another person disappeared on the picture until Marty was the only one left. Then he started disappearing on the picture and in real life because he'd stopped his parents from getting together."

Cordelia stopped and bit into another cookie. Wesley and Angel waited for her to go on. She didn't.

Wesley and Angel exchanged sighs. "Cordelia, what happened next?" Wesley asked.

"Next?" Cordelia said with a confused frown.

"In the movie?" Angel prompted.

"Oh, well, Marty made it so his parents fell in love, everyone reappeared and they had lots of money," Cordelia said.

"So, what you're saying is..." Wesley frowned. "What are you saying?"

Cordelia sighed dramatically. "The past is being changed because Tanner is here, not back in the dark ages where he belongs. That's why Spike is pulling a vanishing act. Pretty soon, bye-bye blond himbo."

"Blond himbo?" Angel smirked.

"Well, um, colorful descriptive aside, I concur with what Cordelia suggests is happening with Spike," Wesley said.

"That was my conclusion, too," Angel said. He slumped back in his chair and tapped the table with his fingers. "Trouble is, what are we going to do about it?"

"Let the himbo go," Cordelia said promptly. She grinned at her rhyme and ate another cookie.

"It's not that easy," Angel said.

"Why not?" Wesley asked.

Angel frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Tanner is living, breathing human being. Spike is a vicious, evil vampire-"

"With his fangs capped," Cordelia interjected.

"-who destroyed many lives during his reign of terror," Wesley went on. "You have a chance to save all those people as well as that shy young man's soul. What other choice is there?"

Angel glanced back towards the dark bedroom. "Tampering with history is wrong. Everything happens for a reason."

"Yes," Wesley said. "Including Tanner appearing in the future before your soulless persona met him."

"So you think Tanner is here because I'm supposed to save his soul?" Angel asked.

"It's your job," Cordelia pointed out.

Angel traced a heart on the tabletop with his finger. "It's still not that easy."

"Why?" Cordelia said.

The dark-haired vampire's face transformed into its true countenance in an instant and he snarled, "Because it isn't!"

Angel stood abruptly, his chair scraping on the floor, and he stalked to the sink. He gripped the edge of the counter, dropped his chin and closed his golden eyes. He fought for control over his demon.

"Angel?" Wesley said tentatively.

"I... Angelus... he..." Angel took a purposeful breath and blew it out sharply. "Angelus loved Tanner as much as I loved Buffy."

Cordelia gasped and Wesley murmured, "My word."

"Should I take that away from him... from me?" Angel asked, turning to face his friends. His ridges stood out plainly on his brow. "Would I have been able to love Buffy if my unsouled self hadn't learned what love was with Tanner? Would I have made the same choices if I hadn't met him? Would I even have my soul?"

All three of them were silent for a long time, each thinking about what Angel had said. Angel forced his human mask back over his features and swallowed back the lump in his throat. Tanner, and subsequently Spike, was such an intricate part of the twenty years before he regained his soul, he couldn't even picture what unlife would have been like without the dark-haired man.

"You said Mr. Giles would telephone if Spike's condition changed?" Wesley inquired, breaking the silence. Angel nodded. "Then the decision need not be made at this very moment." The ex-Watcher stood. "Come along, Cordelia. Let us go gather the spell components, just in case."

Cordelia rose and gave Angel a consoling look. "It'll all work out, Angel, you'll see. We live in California, a gay man's mecca, next to Miami. Tanner will fit in just fine."

Angel watched as Cordelia and Wesley went up in the lift before he moved. His long strides carried him across the apartment to the bedroom quickly. The light from the living room cast a soft glow in the bedroom, allowing Angel to easily see the sleeping man on his bed.

Tanner was laying on his stomach, both arms under the pillow his head was resting upon. His face was peaceful in sleep, his long lashes like dark half-moons against his skin. His breathing was deep and even, and Angel could hear the slow rhythm of the young man's heart clearly in the silence of the bedroom.

Angel crouched down beside the bed, his brown eyes caressing Tanner's sleeping features. He and the boy had slept together as often as they could before Tanner was turned. As much as the vampire had wished it, Tanner had refused to simply move in with him because they were intimate. It wasn't proper, Tanner had told him over and over again.

"Hearts and flowers and love, that's all you ever wanted," Angel murmured softly, reaching out to twist a lock of Tanner's dark hair around his finger. "Could you find them here in the future?"

With a sigh, Angel released Tanner's hair, straightened and left the bedroom. He had a lot of thinking to do, even though he wanted nothing more than to crawl into the bed with the sable-haired human, cuddle up to his warmth and reminisce about all the nights the vampire spent holding Tanner in his arms.





NC-17 Version

PG-13 Version