* Faith was enjoying LA. So far, it had provided her with money, a place to stay, a job she liked and a promise that all charges would be dropped. Not bad for forty-eight hours in a city. She wondered if the poisoned dart had been a bit cliché - she'd done it before and last time she gathered that Buffy had offered her own blood to save the hunk of stuff who called himself Angel. It hadn't exactly worked, and she'd got a knife in the gut because of it. Still, the Spike guy didn't look all that happy when she left him and nothing says I miss you like killing off your lover. She grinned as she imagined Angel's face, that automatically brooding forehead overcome with even more pain and anguish than usual. God, what a waste of a man, although, from what she'd heard, William the Bloody had been one hot lay in his time. She wondered if Buffy knew her precious Angel was swinging both ways these days. Wondered if she should do the honourable thing and tell her. Well, there was always time later. She checked her watch for the time and strolled up the stairs to the door of Angel Investigations. Pretty cute that - Angel was trying his hand at being a PI. Not a bad thing for a vampire to do, she guessed, as long as there weren't too many day cases. Still, wasn't that why she was here now? Pushing open the door, Faith stepped into the slightly dusty atmosphere of the office, pleased by the long line of light that separated one half from the other. Stepping over to the desk, she wondered if she'd have to ring for service before anyone knew she was here. Old Angel seemed to be losing his touch. You'd think there was something on his mind. 'Good Morning,' came Cordelia's tired voice as she entered the office. 'Here at Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless.' 'Good for you, girl,' said Faith brightly, noticing the bags under Cordelia's eyes. 'looking a little rough, Prom Queen, Angel keeping you up all night?' 'Faith?' Cordelia blinked. Faith grinned, it was nice to be recognised. 'Glad you remember me sweetheart. It's been a long time and I thought, since you and I have both had Xander, isn't it time we put that doggy to bed?' 'What?' said Cordelia. 'What are you talking about?' 'Angel about?' asked Faith stepping closer. 'Cause I wanted, you know, to say hi and all.' 'He's not here,' said Cordelia, aware she was edging back toward the door. 'All alone?' smiled Faith, licking her lips. 'Gee, sweet, I'd have thought there'd be some big bodyguard around you these days.' 'Get away,' said Cordelia, trying hard to keep down the tremble in her voice. 'I'm not alone.' 'No?' asked Faith, brushing away the strand from Cordelia's forehead. 'And I was told you were all by yourself these days. No money.' She stroked the hair behind Cordelia's ear. 'No friends.' Faith smiled at the girl. 'Nobody to care.' Cordelia raised her eyebrows. 'That's not me, Psycho girl, that's you.' 'Really?' said Faith, 'Cause you're looking pretty lonely right now, Princess.' She withdrew a short blade from her sleeve and held it up to Cordelia's chin. 'Why don't we work on that "where's Angel" question, again?' As Cordelia closed her eyes, she heard footsteps on the stairs and hope came back briefly. 'I can't find anything, ' said Xander, an apple in his hand. 'It's not like we haven't looked before, but will Wesley take that?' Faith stepped back and greeted her onetime lover with a smile. The blade didn't shift from Cordelia's throat though. 'Hey Xander. Good to see you again.' The apple stopped part way to Xander's mouth. He took in the situation before him and made a quick decision. 'Faith,' he said curtly, 'You going to let her go?' She smiled and Xander wondered how he had ever let that woman anywhere near his naked body. She was as sexy as hell, a rampant tigress, but like the animal, she could turn on you at any minute and devour you whole. 'Well, I don't know Xander,' she stressed, 'Isn't she just the cutest when she's scared?' 'I'm not scared,' said Cordelia. 'Can it, Princess,' said Faith, 'I can smell it from here. You're just aching for lover-boy here to save you, aren't you?' She flicked the blade against Cordelia's throat, a thin line of blood appearing where the knife passed. 'Knock it off Faith,' said Xander. 'Why?' grinned the Slayer. 'Just what are you going to do about it? Offer me that pasty body of yours again?' 'His body is not pasty,' said Cordelia. Faith turned and looked at her. 'At least you don't pretend to be as sweet as old Buffy. Umm, what other stuff did you two kids get up to?' As she turned to Cordelia, Xander threw the apple at the Slayer. She turned to catch it, but in doing so, moved the knife away from Cordelia's throat. The girl dipped under Faith's arm and ran to the stairs. 'Don't suppose you brought any of the weapons up,' she whispered to Xander. 'No,' mumbled Xander, 'I wasn't expecting Faith issues.' 'Well we got them.' Faith laughed and pulled out a revolver from her pocket. 'You know, you two look so sweet together, it's a real shame that I'm gonna have to.........' She tossed the gun over to Xander and he caught it awkwardly. 'You're giving me a weapon?' Faith shrugged. 'I really don't feel like Angel's in the game here. I mean, he really needs to find me so he can cure his pet vampire and look - left you two all defenceless.' She shook her head pityingly. 'I just don't feel right about it.' She threw both her arms out. 'Tell you what, why don't you shoot me now?' Xander stared at her. Had she really lost her mind? He would swear that back when he and she had got together she was selfish, but sane. Had being with the Mayor so long done this to her? He lowered the gun and shook his head. 'Come on!' she shouted. 'You can do it. Or am I going to have to use it on your Prom Queen first?' She made to grab Cordelia and Xander fired the gun at her hip, watching in disbelief as no bullet hole appeared. Faith just grinned at him and grabbed the gun back. 'So you do have a set after all.' She shrugged. 'So I guess, you can tell Angel I was here.' 'He's going to find you,' said Cordelia, 'And he will take you down.' Faith just shrugged again and moved to the door. 'Nah, see I'm getting paid to kill him, and I'm the Slayer, special powers and all. Only reason I'm giving him a shot is to make it interesting.' She opened the door. 'Oh and Xander?' He glared at her. 'Don't play with guns if you can't shoot straight.' She lifted her arm and fired a clear shot into Xander's belly. 'Gosh, that one wasn't a blank. Later, guys.' As Xander crumpled on the stairs, Cordelia caught him and Faith crashed through the window. Xander groaned, the pain intense but strangely leaving his mind clear. And, as Wesley came up the stairs, the crash having finally got his attention, Xander felt protected. Which was kind of funny considering he was bleeding out in Cordelia's lap, and she was crying so hard. As the ambulance came and took him away, she stayed with him, and throughout the clear pain, the shock of being shot, being patched up by the medics, Cordelia was with him. And she didn't look like she was going away any time soon. * Wesley ran his sweaty hand over his forehead. He'd been through every book he could find, every known tome on toxins and he couldn't find another cure. Spike was growing weaker almost by the minute and he couldn't get hold of the one thing that would cure him. And even if they brought Faith close enough, the chip in Spike's head wouldn't let him bite. He sat by Angel's bed, watching the vampire, mopping Spike's brow when it seemed to get too hot, just being close. Watching. Doyle came back in the room. 'Xander's gonna be fine.' Wesley nodded, but didn't turn to look at him. 'Angel will find her, you know that don't you, man?' Wesley nodded and Doyle sat down next to him, wrapping his arm over the Englishman's shoulders. Grateful for the comfort, Wesley leaned back into Doyle's arms and felt the solid warmth of his body. 'When Angel.........when this happened to him, I wasn't much help. I bumbled, I stuttered.' 'You're different now,' said Doyle reassuringly. Wesley shook his head. 'That's just it. I didn't care all that much whether the vampire lived or died. I was just trying to help the Slayer. If Angel had died, I wouldn't have grieved, I would have thought him an inconvenience, finally away from Buffy.' Doyle nodded. 'I know, man, I know.' 'No, you don't see. I don't want Spike to die and still.........I can't do anything.' 'Angel?' They turned as Spike reached blindly for his lover. 'Angel's not here, Spike. He's going to get the cure.' 'Angel, ' said Spike as though he hadn't heard, 'I'm a silly fucker.' Doyle exchanged a look with Wesley and the Englishman nodded - Phone Angel again, see how he was doing. Wesley got up and walked out of the room, the mobile number finally used after all this time. 'Pet,' said Spike, stopping and starting his speech at irregular intervals, 'Sometimes.........I'm just as big a wanker as you. Killing's all right. It's a good crack if you do it right.' 'Spike,' said Doyle slowly, 'It's Doyle, Angel's not here.' 'But I can do without.' Doyle flinched. The most violent vampire he'd personally met was saying he'd give up killing. Doyle didn't know he'd started again. Better listen. 'Cause the one thing, most important.........always you, Pet.' He smiled and stopped straining to sit up. 'Always loved you, Peaches.' He tried to stretch his hand out, catching Doyle's arm instead. The half demon felt the heat coming out from under his thin, elegant fingers. 'Mine,' Spike managed, and fell back into a troubled sleep. Wesley walked back in the room, noticing Spike's outstretched arm and Doyle's now troubled expression. Doyle looked up at him and Wesley nodded. 'He's coming back now. Seems to think Faith will try again here.' Doyle nodded. 'Doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.' Wesley pulled the crossbow from behind his back. 'Now that helps a little,' admitted Doyle. 'No one gets close to Spike,' said Wesley, 'Or you,' he added with a smile. 'Protecting a vampire?' asked a new voice, 'Now why would a watcher be doing that?' They turned to look at the stairway. Wesley was the first to catch his voice. 'Hello Buffy.'
Angel entered the building as the dusk closed in. He'd spent all day following the tunnels, finding crime scenes with a Faith hallmark. So far he'd found more than he was really comfortable with. Not that comfortable was anywhere near how he felt at the moment. God, what was he going to do? He'd been running around, trying to find Faith, trying to bring her back to Spike, to cure him, as Buffy had once done for Angel. He couldn't see Faith being as willing. Even in the cold hours of the night when Spike had slept and left Angel to his thoughts, he had never believed that losing Spike this way was a possibility. Sure, he'd gone over and over the potential consequences of removing the chip from his wayward child. He'd agonised over the decision, wondering if he was just doing it for himself - proving to the dark vampire for all time, that Spike was with him for more than just a regular meal. It even felt stupid to talk about. Even Cordelia had noticed that Spike had changed, and for her to actually notice made it significant. But he didn't really need her to tell him that Spike prioritised his needs. And Angel knew, or hoped he knew that he came higher on the list than getting a good kill in and human blood. Not that any of that was of any use right now. Not when Spike was lying in his bed; poisoned; dying? What was it going to take to get Spike back to health? Angel didn't allow himself to believe, even for a second that he'd lose him. That was just not going to happen. For a man so used to being a pessimist, Angel found himself focussing on the positive. It almost felt as though he was adopting Spike's optimism whilst the younger vampire was.........okay, find Faith. Wesley had told him about her recent little trip to the office and, if she could do it once, she could do it again. Certainly stood a better chance of him finding her than just trying to follow these stupid leads that didn't take him......... 'Angel?' .........anywhere. 'Kate,' said Angel curtly as he saw the police officer's already scowling face. Before he'd been forced into revealing he was a vampire, or at least, that vampires do exist and he was part of that world, he and Kate had formed a decent alliance. He wouldn't call them friends exactly. Neither was all that good at trusting, and he'd heard that her father had been killed by a couple of his kind. Not him, or anyone he knew, but his kind. Obviously, stereotyping was an issue with the woman. 'So,' said Kate, 'You don't call, you don't write - might think you were avoiding me because of something.' Angel saw how easily she was settling in for a long argument and shook his head. 'I don't have time for this,' he said, walking past her. She grabbed his arm. 'I don't think you're leaving. I've heard reports from several crime scenes this evening about a tall, dark stranger. Course, they leave out the V word, but not everyone's as educated as me.' Angel pulled his hand free. 'I know who you're looking for,' he admitted, 'But this is personal. I'll take care of it.' She raised her eyebrows at him. 'Just where do you get off?' He sighed. 'Kate, you want to rant and rave at me for what someone else did to your father that's fine, but you're going to have to do it some other time.' 'No, you don't get it do you? This isn't some evil thing that we can't handle, it's a girl, doing bad things, and that's my territory.' Angel stared at her a minute and understood. It was his own fault, really. He'd brought her into a world where everything wasn't as black and white as she wanted it to be. The only thing that mattered to her had been taken away and this was the only way she could deal with it. It sucked, majorly sucked, but he wasn't responsible for her any more. She wasn't family. 'Kate, I'm sorry about your father, but it wasn't my fault. Now I'm gonna find her, and I will take her down, but you really shouldn't get involved.' 'Is that a threat?' Angel shook his head. 'It's a promise,' said Angel. 'You can't handle her.' 'And you can?' she asked. 'Big Brave Angel comes to save the day?' He walked off then, ignoring her calls, ignoring the fact that he'd ever liked her. Because she was wrong - again. Because she'd never be right. Because it wasn't the day he wanted to save. * Buffy walked down the stairs slowly, taking in the scene. 'So,' she said, 'I'm guessing there's a good reason behind this.' 'Buffy,' began Wesley, but she held up her hand. 'I'm thinking, Spike has some top secret information and you're all tucking him up in bed to keep him snug and warm whilst he remembers it.' 'Buffy,' repeated Wesley, 'There's a lot about this you don't understand.' 'Got that right,' said the Slayer, walking towards Angel's bedroom. 'I come here because I hear Faith's out to kill Angel, and I find you two standing guard over.........Spike.' She shook her head. 'Forgive me for not getting it.' Doyle frowned. 'Xander never said anything to you?' 'About when he was here? No. He said it was safer in Sunnydale, but he didn't say why.' She half smiled. 'Didn't guess it was because you were taking in stray vampires.' Wesley exchanged a quick look with Doyle. Was it really their job to tell Buffy what Spike meant to Angel? Or should they just prevent her from attacking him? With Faith on the loose, and Angel due home at any moment, they might be as well try her with a delaying tactic. 'Xander's in the hospital,' said Wesley, 'Faith shot him.' 'Xander's here as well?' said Buffy. 'Is there anyone I know who's not in LA?' She stepped forward, and the men instinctively stepped in her way, blocking her path to Spike. Buffy looked from one to the other, recognising the protection, baffled as to where it came from. 'This is Spike, right? I mean, we're not in some Twilight zone twin thing?' Wesley nodded. 'He's been injured, he might,' he sighed, 'He might die.' 'Die again?' mused Buffy, 'Pretty good going for a dead person.' 'Look Buffy,' said Doyle nervously, 'You and I don't exactly know one another, but Spike there isn't your problem.' 'He's a vampire,' said Buffy, 'And I'm the Slayer. That kind of makes him my problem.' 'Stop being facetious,' said Wesley, 'Doyle's right. With Faith on the loose, a poisoned vampire really isn't the issue here.' 'It's him being here that I have the problem with.' 'Spike's been defanged,' said Doyle, 'By one of your lot - them Initiative people.' 'They're not my people,' said Buffy automatically, 'He's a part of their program?' 'Can't bite, can't harm, can't threaten any human, except with his tongue,' added Wesley. Buffy laughed, but she still seemed dazed. This hadn't been the easiest of weeks. 'So Angel is opening a home for ex-vampires.' And again Wesley and Doyle exchanged a look. She was seriously missing something here. 'So,' she went on, 'Is Xander okay?' Wesley nodded. 'He lost a lot of blood, but I'm told he'll be fine. Cordelia's with him.' 'And again I'm surprised. Is there anything else I need to know?' As Wesley's eyes flickered up to Doyle, she stepped forward, getting in his eyeline. 'Would you two just quite with the not so subtle "Buffy mustn't know" tactic. It's getting old very quickly.' Wesley just stared at her. Back in Sunnydale, he hadn't made any impression on Miss Summers' life, except to put her off Watchers for good. He'd been ineffectual, a person for whom she'd had no respect, and in truth, he'd done precious little to earn it. There had been rules he was determined to follow and she had no part in that. Wesley had been determined to make a good impression - not to the Slayers, but to the council, following their step by step pattern to watching. He was too indebted to his father, and those who trained him to do anything else. But he'd been stripped of everything that he believed in, his command, his vocation taken away because he'd not allowed for difference of opinion. Buffy and Giles were.........family - they understood each other, worked as a team. And that was something he could never be part of. The council had lain all the blame with him, and whilst he accepted most of it, Wesley had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't all his fault. If he'd understood why the Slayer had lived so long, how her circle of friends benefited, rather than hindered the good fight. If he'd known any of that, he might have stood a chance. Here, dishonoured and penniless, Wesley had been given another opportunity, and he'd taken it. Working for a souled vampire, finally using his researching skills to help those around him, accepting that companionship could come in any form. All this he'd done, accepted, and found he could improve - get over his flaws to become someone of use. He mattered now. But Buffy didn't know that. To her, Wesley was still the impotent Watcher who had ruined many of her plans. He wasn't Angel's employee, Doyle's partner, or Spike's friend. He was just Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, man to be disobeyed and discounted when she decided. 'Buffy,' he began slowly, 'I know this must seem strange to you, but Spike is our concern. He's been poisoned by Faith and the cure.........' 'Don't tell me,' said Buffy, 'Slayer's blood.' She shook her head. 'Can't she come up with anything original?' 'Doesn't look like it,' said Doyle. 'Maybe it's like a calling card, you know, kill off a vampire lover and get you all on edge?' As Wesley winced, Buffy turned to the half-demon. 'What did you say? Someone's.........Spike and someone?' She looked at Doyle as he tried to shake his head. 'So who? Spike and Cordelia?' Wesley laughed harshly and held up his hands when Buffy turned on him. 'What?' she asked coldly. 'Nothing,' said Wesley, 'Just.........Cordelia and Spike. I can't see it myself.' Doyle nodded. 'They'd talk themselves to death in seconds.' 'Okay guys,' said Buffy, 'Much as I'd like to listen to your little conversation here, I came to help Angel and stop Faith. Can we deal with that please?' She stared at them both and Spike stirred. Before she could comment, both men had turned to the bed, ready to do what they could to make the vampire more comfortable. 'Need a fag,' said Spike with his eyes closed. 'He what?' asked Buffy. Doyle reached for the cigarettes, but Wesley shook his head. 'I don't think that's a good idea, Spike. You're very ill, I don't want to do anything to make it worse.' '.........fucking dead already.' Buffy looked at the wound in Spike's shoulder, practically identical to the one Angel had been given the previous year. It was festering, its purplish appearance due to the powerful poison that was breaking apart the vampire's body. And these two looked bothered about it. Didn't they know anything about Spike? Didn't they know how many he'd killed, how much he loved to destroy, taking life as he pleased, bringing forth creatures of destruction, utterly unrepentant for his sins. He was a vampire, one without a soul, and therefore fair game. Just because the Initiative, and she really hated that name now, just because they had managed to take his bite away didn't mean that Spike was a creature to be saved. But would Angel see it that way? She knew, from things Giles had told her, from things Angel had told her, that Spike was his protege, Drucilla's childe and his once favourite creation. As Angellus, he had originally admired Spike's talent for violence, training him and taking pleasure in the vampire's savagery. With his soul, he'd feared for Buffy and everyone else because of Spike's persistence - his willingness to get the job done, no matter how long it took. He'd killed Slayers before, and Buffy knew he would have liked to take her for a third, a hat trick of Slayers. She just knew he'd get a kick out of that. But now he lay in Angel's bed, dying from a rare poison, whilst Angel presumably went out and brought a dead Faith back to feed him. It wasn't Faith's death she objected to specifically, she'd had a few thoughts that way herself, and Buffy was fairly sure she'd be one of the first in line to celebrate the Slayer's death. But the idea of Angel curing Spike at all bothered her. What right, what reasoning could Angel possibly have to save one killer with another? Wesley lay the damp flannel over Spike's forehead. 'I think he's asleep again.' 'How can you tell?' asked Doyle, 'He's dead, how do we know he's not dead dead?' Wesley shrugged. 'I was expecting a big pile of ash if that happened.' 'Good point,' admitted Doyle. He stood up and saw Buffy still glaring at them both. 'Buffy, I don't see what you can do here. Angel's changed a lot since you knew him and I'm not sure you're up to dealing with that.' 'Excuse me?' said Buffy, 'I don't know Angel?' 'Angel,' moaned Spike. 'He's coming, Spike,' said Wesley, 'It'll be all right.' 'Stupid Pouf.........' 'Well he hasn't changed,' said Buffy. '.........kill himself.........' 'And with instructions too,' nodded the Slayer. '..........mine.' Buffy blinked and bent closer to the vampire. 'What did you say?' Wesley lay his hands gently on Buffy's shoulders. 'Buffy, I think you should come away.' 'Did he say mine?' 'Yeah,' said Angel, walking into the room, 'That's exactly what he said.' Doyle gave a rough smile to the vampire and Angel nodded, thankful for the concern he and Wesley had shown. They walked out quietly, leaving Angel with the women he had once loved and the man he loved now. She looked at him a moment in silence, taking in his long lean frame, his intense gaze and the gentle mouth she'd dreamed about more times than she could ever remember. She had changed over the time they were apart, had grown, moved on - found someone new. His curse was to never know that growth - Angel would remain the same throughout the ages. To see him now - looking the same as the first day she met him, hurt more deeply than she'd expected. There was always sorrow with Angel and strangely, it was one of the things she missed most. Before she could say anything, he moved forward and kissed Spike on the forehead, a gesture so peculiarly intimate, that it really could have no other meaning. Suddenly feeling as though she were falling, Buffy sat down on the side of the bed, watching as the man she had threatened the world for, loved another. She wasn't sure if she did know Angel anymore. Taking his time, aware that things had to be said, Angel wiped the sweat away from Spike's body. He knew how this felt, and knowing, although it didn't make it better, helped focus his mind. Faith had done this, Faith would be coming and Faith would die to save him. There were no other options. He sat down next to Spike and wondered where to begin. 'So you and Spike,' said Buffy, aiming for casual. 'Is that something you were going to tell me, or were you saving it up to torture me with later on?' There's as good a place as any. 'I guess I deserved that,' said Angel. 'Er yeah,' agreed the Slayer, 'Got that right.' Angel shifted slightly, wondering what he should say. Buffy, I know I professed undying love for you, but that was a while ago and I've changed my mind. You see, Spike came to me and, well, I realised that it wasn't you I've always loved, but this amazingly arrogant and annoying English vampire who drives me crazy half the time, actually.........actually, make that all the time. He's been the most evil thing I've seen, the purest vampire in existence and the only one I ever met whose personality remained the same. He belongs to me and I, against everything you would believe, belong to him. Now what did that come down to? 'I love him, Buffy,' said Angel slowly. The Slayer snorted out a laugh, the first tear threatening to fall. 'You love him. Right.' She touched her hand to her forehead, as if she was trying to wipe away the knowledge. 'And all that between us was what? Practise? So that you could come here and take up with that, that.........That?' 'That's not fair.' 'Not fair?' She shook her head in disbelief. 'I came here because Giles told me you were in danger.' Angel frowned at her. 'That's pretty much a given everyday. Why now?' She set her jaw. 'Faith,' she admitted. 'She did some really bad stuff and I wanted.........' 'Revenge?' Buffy shook her head. 'To see her put away, for good.' 'Well that's okay then,' said Angel, 'Because that's exactly what I'm going to do.' 'Oh really? Cause the way I see it, you're going to feed her to Spike, which is not okay, not okay at all.' 'And what were you going to do, Buffy?' She blinked, unprepared for the question, unprepared for Angel to give her anything but understanding. 'I was going to.........the police. She needs to go to jail.' 'They can't handle her,' said Angel, 'She's too strong.' 'Well she's the Slayer. We're supposed to be strong enough to take down vampires.' He saw the glimmer of a tear on her cheek, the saltiness lost below the smell of Spike's sweat. 'Doesn't always work, does it?' she whispered. Part of him wanted to go to her then, hold her in his arms as he had done before, letting her pour out her troubles onto him, accepting the sorrow as if it was his due. He was the vampire with a soul, guilty for everything he had done, and everything he had failed to do. Letting the little slayer cry whilst he held her had been as much a part of his atonement as anything he had done since. It was almost like an addiction, the pain she expressed never close to the remorse he felt. But if he had started to become a someone with Buffy, he was becoming more human because of Spike. The Oracles had allowed him to stay with his vampire lover, to keep his soul, because Spike could show him the way, whether he knew what he was doing or not. And he refused to lose him now. 'Faith's going to be coming here and when she does, I'm going to cure Spike.' She stared at him a moment before nodding. 'And I don't want you changing your mind all of a sudden and stopping me.' 'You think I'd do that?' 'I don't know,' said Angel to her incredulous expression, 'Did you think I'd be here with Spike?' She looked down and shook her head. 'No, I really didn't. I thought.........' She raised her head and looked at him. 'I've met someone else. Someone I love.' Angel wondered why it didn't hurt. Hadn't he wanted this for her? Wasn't this the entire reason he'd left Sunnydale, so that she could move on, find someone she could build a life with, rather than the dark that he inhabited? And if it was, why did she still expect him to hurt over it? 'That's good,' said Angel, 'I'm pleased.........for you.' She nodded. 'I never thought I'd come here,' she said, 'I mean, I had this little dream where it was just you and me, no monsters, no world threatening disasters, no curse. Just you and me, alone, making love, making a life.' She felt the wet trails streak her cheeks. 'That's never going to happen, is it?' Angel shook his head. 'Never could.' 'Oh,' she breathed, wiping away her tears, 'Well, I guess I can take that.' She got her feet, ready to go. 'I'm gonna go, I think.' He watched her, realising that the last of his love for the Slayer had died a while ago. He hadn't felt it leave, but he knew what had replaced it. If it meant he never saw Buffy again, he wouldn't mind, as long as he could bring the cure to Spike. And he didn't know if the Slayer would have a change of heart, protecting Faith at the last minute. There was no animosity on his part, just the wish to have her leave, and the life he'd created restored to him once more. 'Take care,' he said, opening the door. Buffy hesitated, wishing he'd hold her, wishing he'd let her know that she hadn't imagined being in love. Hadn't imagined being loved. But Angel's heart lay elsewhere and she couldn't even hope to understand that. Where they'd once been warriors side by side, Angel was no more a part of her life as her errant father, someone she knew of and cared for, but who would never enter centre stage again. She'd leave the door open, just in case. 'Angel?' she asked before she left for good. 'Yeah?' She offered him a small smile. 'I hope you get Spike back.' He smiled at her and she read the worried need in his face. Buffy walked up the stairs, heading out of Angel's home, out of his life, back into her own world. This time she didn't hide the tears, didn't stop to think how things could have turned out. This time, she was on her own. I hope you get him back, she thought as she walked away, because I know how it feels to lose the one you love. And I know you can't replace them.