Chapter Notes:

For anyone who wondered when and how, exactly, Angel finally decided to leave Sunnydale in the Eyes universe.

This story combines the time and events of the 3rd season episode "The Zeppo" with elements of "Amends" and takes place shortly after Buffy's 18th birthday.

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Parting is Such Sorrow

God, he hated them. Both of them.

Angel scrubbed a hand over his face roughly. Okay, that wasn't true. He didn't hate them. He loved Buffy, some part of him always would. And even Spike wasn't always so bad. Except for the part where the blond annoyance had completely usurped his position in the Slayer's group.

They had the apocalypse handled? Well, good for them. He'd only been trying to help. There'd been portents. But, no, they had it under control. Giles had managed to seal the beast inside the Hellmouth again and no one had gotten hurt – much. Not even Xander. And they'd done it completely without his help. The only thing Angel had done all night was get rid of some stupid zombies who'd nearly run him over on his way to the school. And that had been more of a rage thing, really. Good thing they'd been zombies, not regular kids.

God, he was useless.

He sank to sit on the bed and buried his face in his hands. If he were completely honest, some of what he was feeling had less to do with Buffy not needing his help tonight, and more to do with the fact that she smelled like him. Him being, of course, Spike. His scent was on her all the time anymore, but tonight they'd smelled of sex. When did that happen? Because he could almost understand "we're going to die" sex, but the scent hadn't been entirely new. Beneath the scent of fresh bodily fluids there was also a deeper, lingering musk, at least a few days old. He was fairly certain Spike hadn't touched her before last week; the scent of sex always lingered for days, even though showering so it would have been obvious – at least to another vampire. That he could recall, nothing major had happened slay-wise last week. Nothing to warrant this sudden shift in their relationship. But then he remembered it was her birthday. It would be so like Spike to wait until the night she turned eighteen. Poncey romantic. What kind of demon was he anyway? Dru had to have done it wrong.

Not that he was complaining. If Spike was any kind of demon, Buffy would probably be dead right now.

It was just – there really was no place for him here anymore, was there? Buffy's friends had sacred duty assistance covered, and Spike covered everything else. So, Angel had to wonder, what was he even still doing here? Not that he didn't deserve the misery of seeing her happy with someone else –with his grandchilde, no less– but surely he could do more good elsewhere if Buffy didn't need him.

He flopped back on the bed. "Where's Whistler when I need him," he grumbled. The Powers had sent him to Sunnydale. To Buffy. They'd told him he had a purpose. Was that all al lie? They didn't seem to have an issue with Spike taking his place.

"She never needed you, you know."

The voice, coming from beside him, startled him – and not just because he'd killed his sister with him own hands more than two hundred years ago. He opened his eyes to see a perfect likeness of Kathy sitting beside him on the bed. He blinked, stretched out with all his senses, but aside from her visage and the sound of her voice there was nothing. No scent, no body heat – she didn't even leave an indent in the mattress. It was like she was a ghost.

"It's probably for the best," Kathy's likeness continued in a conversational tone. "You'd only hurt her. Like you hurt everyone you love."

Angel flinched, knowing the accusation to be true. What was it Angelus had said? That his family's blood had been the sweetest of all. Not that Liam had held much love for his parents, but Kathy . . . .sweet little Kathy. The guilt built in his chest, threatening to overpower him.

She laughed, a bubbling giggle. "I know that better than anyone, don't I?" She leaned over him, incorporeal hand hovering even with his cheek. "Tell me, my Angel, how did I taste going down? Hmmm? When you murdered me?" Her face twisted and her tone took on a cruel edge. "You destroy everything you touch, Liam. Father was right, you'll never amount to anything. You're nothing but a monster."

"Kathy?" he finally managed to ask, weakly. What was this? Some new torment the gypsy woman had devised for him? Was he not suffering enough for her taste? But, no. Jenny wasn't like that. She'd tried to convince her family to release him from the curse. Not to remove the soul, of course, but to ease the guilt.

"I'm not a part of the curse, Liam." Kathy said primly, her expression quite similar to the disappointed look their mother had given them as children when they'd failed to learn their lessons. "Not the one the gypsies gave you. I'm the curse you gave yourself when you let that whore touch you. Turn you."

"Who are you?" He demanded, trying to quell the guilt that rose within his chest, threatening to choke him. Because, imposter or not, her words were true.

"Why what do you mean, Liam? Don't you recognize your little sister? Or perhaps she's not good enough a reminder. Would you like another?"

The hauntingly familiar face twisted and transformed, morphing into another. This one it took him a moment to recognize – though, to be fair, he hadn't known the man long.

"Daniel?"

"You killed me for poker winnings," the man sneered. "On the eve of my wedding, you sick bastard. A man who does that isn't worth redemption. He doesn't deserve purpose."

The form shifted again to a young woman. He didn't recognize her specifically, but clearly she was from days long past, servant class, he could only imagine she was another of his victims. That seemed to be the theme of this evening.

"You killed me and my son. For no other reason than we were there. You're a monster, Angelus."

Angel choked back a sob. "I'm sorry."

The woman, Margaret, he now recalled, smiled sweetly. "You're sorry? For me? Don't bother. I'm dead. I'm over it." She leaned in close to him. "If you wanna feel sorry for someone, you should feel sorry for yourself. Oh, but I guess you've already got that covered."

"I am sorry . . . for what I've done. What else can I say to you?" he asked. Because he was. God, he was. He'd been a monster in life and in death, but he was trying to make amends. What else could he do?

Another shift and he was faced with Drusilla. "There, there, daddy. I'm not saying these things to hurt you." Her hand traced the air along his cheeks, her expression tender.

"I don't want to make you feel bad," Daniel said.

"I just want to show you who you are."

This new face sent pain lancing through him. "Buffy?"

No, no, not Buffy. She hadn't been one of his victims. He hadn't hurt her. He would never hurt Buffy – she was his salvation.

Except . . . he hadn't saved her, had he? He'd sent her off to face the Master alone. Had stood there looking at her drowned form and done nothing. Didn't that amount to the same?

"I read up on you, you know." She shrugged. "Spike said some things. I was curious." She titled her head, eyes going unfocused, almost dream-like. "I think what struck me most was the artistry. There was a business man, you killed his children first and arranged them like they were sleeping. He didn't even know until he bent to kiss their cold cheeks." Her voice was sweet, innocent, strikingly at odds with the scene of horror she painted with her words.

"Buffy," he began to protest weakly, hating to hear those words in her beloved voice.

Her gaze snapped to his, fully alert now. "But you see, that's what makes you different than other beasts. They kill to feed, but you took more kinds of pleasure in it than any creature that walks or crawls."

She seemed pleased, and he couldn't look at her anymore. Couldn't listen to her anymore.

"Oh God!" he turned his face away, but he couldn't block out her voice.

"What was it you told Spike once? It was the artistry that mattered? The breaking? That you wanted them to lose everything before you took their lives?"

"It wasn't me."

"It wasn't?"

He shook his head fiercely against the bed. "A demon isn't a man. I was a man once."

Buffy snorted. "Oh, yes, and what a man you were."

"A drunken, whoring, layabout, and a terrible disappointment to our parents," Margaret accused.

"I was young. I never had a chance to—"

"To die of syphilis? You were a worthless being long before you were ever a monster, my dear Liam"

Angles put his hands to his ears, curling up like a child. He couldn't listen to this, he couldn't remember those things. He wasn't that man anymore. He wasn't. "Stop it! Stop!" he shouted.

When ethereal hands covered his he could almost feel them.

"Shh, I don't want to hurt you," Drusilla cooed softly, the near-whisper somehow penetrating the solid barrier of his palms – maybe because he didn't have a pulse to drown other sound out. And all he could think was that she should want to hurt him. He'd ruined her. Thought her his masterpiece. The nun turned whore. God's voice turned to the devil's. "You have to understand, daddy. Cruelty's the only thing you ever had a talent for."

"That's not true." God, it couldn't be true. He wouldn't let it be true.

"You mistake it for a curse, my Angel, but it isn't. It's your destiny. The stars whisper it to me. That my daddy will rise again."

He looked to her in horror and she made a parody of stroking his hair.

"It's the other who is wrong." She shook her head sadly. "My poor William, all broken. Too much man left to be a real monster. You must free him. End him and all that is dear to him, like you did the others. And then you can come home again."

"No—"

Buffy smiled down at him. "You know what you have to do, Angel. "

He shook his head in denial. He didn't like it, but Buffy had chosen Spike. And he was being good to her, being good for her.

"He doesn't deserve me," Buffy said. "Take me from him. Take what you want. Pour all that

frustration and all that guilt into me. I'm not a virgin anymore, but slayers are always so . . . tight. And, of course, once it's over the true curse will be gone."

"What?"

She batted her lashes in faux innocence. "Oh, you didn't know?" She leaned close, so close that had she really been there he'd have felt her moist, hot breath on his ear. "One moment of true happiness and you're free. No more soul. No more guilt." The hand that wasn't really there moved to hover over the crotch of his pants. "Let me free you, lover." she whispered.

This, at last, woke him fully. He pushed away, scrambling back until he was sitting up against the wall. "What are you?" he demanded, mind still racing. Was it true? Could he lose his soul? Of God, if that was true . . . he could have hurt Buffy. He could have killed her. And all because of loving her. What kind of twisted, sick joke was this?

"Why are you fighting this? Me? It's what you want. And after . . . think of the peace."

He grabbed his hair. "No. No! I'm not that monster. I won't."

"You won't." She laughed softly. "Then why do you stay?"

That thought brought him up short. Why did he stay? Hadn't he just had that same thought earlier? He wasn't doing any good here, and Buffy didn't need him, or even want him. He should go.

"No, you can't," Buffy told him. She shook her head. "You know that's not the answer. That won't end this. Won't end the longing. Won't end the torment." She moved to straddle him, and even though he knew she wasn't really there, wasn't really Buffy, the sight of her there made his groin ache with painful hardness. ""Take me. And then you'll be ready . . . " she leaned in to whisper against his ear sweetly, "to kill me."

"I won't."

"You have to! What else are you good for?"

"Get away from me."

She looked at him knowingly. "Sooner or later, you will drink me."

"I'll never hurt her."

"Don't you mean me?"

"You're not Buffy."

She smiled. "No. I'm—"

The phantom's head jerked toward the door and she froze, intangible hands fisting above his waist. "What? No! That bitch. She found them." She turned her glare down toward him. "This isn't over, lover. You're one of mine. You always will be—" The words ended in an earsplitting shriek as she literally dissolved above him.

Irrationally he reached for her, as though to save the real Buffy. But that wasn't really Buffy, and Buffy didn't need him to save her. Not anymore. Maybe she never had.

The words of the phantom echoed through his head over and over. Was he destined to kill Buffy? Would this desire never fade? Was staying here feeding the monster inside him? Would he snap one day and take her? The man in him was no better than the monster, he knew that.

He shook his head. No. He couldn't. He wouldn't.

That thing, whatever it was, it said his soul could be lost with a moment of true happiness. There had to be a way to prevent that. A way to anchor it. Wracked with guilt as he was at the moment it seemed impossible that he could even have even an instant of true happiness, but he remembered the fledgling thing that had been growing between him and Buffy last year, the way it made him feel. It might have been possible to know happiness with her. And if with her, maybe, someday, with another.

He pushed to his feet, hands scrubbing at the sticky remnants of tears on his face.

He had to leave; he had to find a way to anchor the soul. He'd see the gypsy first, see if she knew anything. And then he'd go.

Maybe after . . . maybe once it was done he could come back. Maybe then he could be near Buffy again, but not before.

Because Angelus was nothing like Spike. His demon was a monster who loved no one. Even with his soul a firm cage, he could sense how Angelus loathed Buffy and the softness she wrought in him. How he ached to fulfill the false slayer's words. To fuck her and feed on her and leave her dead for Will and her friends to find. It made him sick just thinking about it.

That wasn't what he told her, of course. He didn't want anyone to know – well, anyone except the gypsy, she was unavoidable, but she'd given her word not to tell the others. He wondered, if Spike had never come to town, and he and Buffy had continued as they were, would Jenny have told them before it was too late?

Instead he told Buffy that he had a mission from the powers. That he was going to L.A. to help the hopeless, fight evil, make a difference. And she let him. He searched her eyes for any hint of regret or remorse, but there was none. She wouldn't even miss him, he realized. Or, she would miss him, but no more than she would miss an old classmate. And maybe that was worse.

It hurt. It hurt and it made him angry, though he didn't have that right, and it would have been so, so, easy to force himself on her in that moment. To take what he needed before he left to become what she needed. But he couldn't. Because afterwards he wouldn't be this man anymore, would he? He wouldn't want to do the right thing. And he needed to do the right thing.

Maybe this was the real reason Whistler had shown him the little blonde soon-to-be-slayer sitting on the steps of Hemery High. Maybe this was the only way he could find out about the loophole in the curse; the only way he'd believe it possible; the only way he'd be strong enough to do what needed to be done. For love. For her. Maybe this was the catalyst that got him out of his wallowing and into making amends. Maybe this was his redemption.

As he drove out of Sunnydale a gentle snow drifted down around him on the road.

Snow? In sunny So Cal? It had to be a sign. A sign for him?

An odd sort of tranquility settled over him. It was a sign, he decided. Like It's a Wonderful Life. A message from the Powers that he mattered and he was on the right path.

"So."

The familiar voice hit him at the same moment as the scent of demon, and he relaxed almost as soon as he'd tensed. Not the phantom.

"Whistler," he intoned, tone edged with irritation – just enough to hide how happy he was to see the messenger from the powers. "Long time no see."

Whistler, sitting beside him in the passenger seat, waved a hand dismissively. "Yeah. There was some, um, heated discussion upstairs when your boy showed up in Sunnydale. We've been on watch and wait."

Angel glanced at him briefly. "What changed?"

Whistler shrugged. "You did. That and your twisted trip through A Christmas Carol the other night. That was the First, by the way."

Angels frowned. "The first what?"

"The First Evil, that's what. And a good thing the Slayer took care of her followers before they finished the summoning. Think of the headgames that thing could have played if it had actually been able to touch you."

They shuddered in unison. Angel had a brief vision of Buffy's body, poised above him, naked and glistening. Below him, writhing in equal parts pain and pleasure as he took her. He shook his head to clear it. Yeah, if that thing had been able to take physical form he might be without a soul at this very moment.

"Speaking of that. Word is you're looking for a way to anchor the soul?"

Angel almost jerked off the road as he turned his head sharply. "What do you know?" he demanded.

"Woah, easy. Eyes on the road, big guy."

When it was clear Whistler wouldn't be able to concentrate until Angel had complied, he turned the bulk of his attention back to driving.

"Tell me," he insisted. "What can the Powers do?"

Whistler shifted uncomfortably. "Well, see, that's part of the problem. The Powers can't do anything. Some mumbo jumbo about the First and the balance between good and evil. They aren't allowed to directly interfere."

Angel growled. "Then why are you here? To tell me it's impossible and make sure I stay well and truly miserable every moment of the rest of forever?"

Whistler shook his head. "You're all so melodramatic," he muttered.

Angel let out another little growl, just to remind the demon he could hear him and he was still waiting.

"Alright, alright." Whistler held his hands out in a gesture of surrender. "I came to help you. Indirectly."

"Indirectly?" Angel prompted through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, sure." Whistler grinned. "Lots of loopholes in this cosmic balance thing, yeah? So long as the Powers don't put their hands in personally we can do all sorts of stuff."

"Whistler," Angel warned.

"Yeah, yeah. The point." Whistler leaned the seat back, settling in comfortably, eyes on the road, hands behind his head. Just as Angel was ready to pull over to the side of the road and throttle the demon he asked casually, "You ever heard of the wishing demon in Africa?"

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Chapter End Notes:

I probably won't do any others with Angel, but this was kind of fun. I didn't originally plan to throw Whistler in at the end, but I'm glad I did. Working on some additional one-shots for this universe. I think I'm going to incorporate Dawn in, but don't worry, she'll be peripheral like most of the non-Spike/Buffy ensemble. Thanks for reading,

reenasas