Disclaimer: see prologue

Chapter 12

"My congratulations," Travers said. "I didn't think you could actually do it. Of course it's a pity the Breton got away, but he's only one vampire."

"Two men are dead," Giles said, his eyes furious. "Not to mention countless other victims. If you'd notified us in Sunnydale as soon as you knew that Angelus was back, we could have dealt with this much more efficiently. The whole operation has been a mess from start to finish."

Travers fiddled with a pen. "That I agree with, though I will not take the blame." He sent a look in Mike's direction.

"I did what I thought was best," Mike defended himself, "as you know very well, sir."

"Too well," said Travers. "Well, I would like a report in with me in two days. Dictate it to one of the secretaries. And get that arm looked at, Fletcher - we need you operational again as soon as possible. The more so because we lost Jenkins and Fratelli."

He looked round at the three of them, and seemed about to say something else before clearly thinking better of it and walking out. Giles sank into a chair.

"Prat," he said succinctly.

"I expected to feel ... happier, somehow," Mike said. "But I don't. I just feel empty."

"Yes, I know," Giles agreed. "The summer - the summer after Acathla, I felt I should feel some joy, but I didn't. Empty describes it rather well."

From her place in the corner where she sat with her knees hugged to her chest, Buffy looked up. "I feel like my heart's been torn out," she said softly, the first words she had spoken since they arrived back at Headquarters. Giles and Mike exchanged glances before going to her.

"I'm sorry, Buffy," Mike said.

"No, you had to do it," she returned, lifting large, tear-reddened eyes to him. "I would have done it if I'd been able to - but he was too much for me. Some day every Slayer finds a vampire that's too good for them. I just ... I just never expected it to hurt like this, I guess. Not again." She sighed. "Somewhere inside I kind of hoped we could bring Angel back." Tears began to trickle down her cheeks once again, and angrily Buffy wiped them away. "I always knew he'd be there, waiting, if I needed him. And now ... and now he never will be."

Giles said nothing, merely taking out a handkerchief and handing to his Slayer before putting an arm around her shoulders. Together they stood there, each occupied with their own thoughts.

Buffy and Giles flew home three days later. The young Watcher Steven drove them to the airport. He was marginally more relaxed now in Buffy's company, but was again especially careful about his driving, and he said very little.

Mike hung around until the Slayer and Giles had checked in, and then they came over to him. There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Buffy smiled ruefully at Mike.

"Thanks. I think you saved my life the other night, Mike. That puts you in good company."

"Who are the others?" Mike asked softly. She looked at her fingernails.

"Giles, of course. Xander, Willow, Riley ... Spike, as daft as that sounds. I'm going to miss him in a way."

"The most infuriating vampire ever," remarked Giles. Buffy laughed, and then her laugh stopped.

"And Angel. He saved my life a lot. And broke my heart. And comforted me. And loved me."

"I wish I'd met him," Mike said, brushing her arm with the fingertips of his right hand. "I'm so sorry this had to happen, Buffy."

"So'm I," she said, and hugged him. "Look after yourself. Keep in touch - only don't call if you need me to slay anything. Call for nice things. And let me know how Katie does."

"Dan thinks she'll be fine," Mike said, thinking of his little niece. "She keeps asking for Sophie, but that's only to be expected. I'll tell Dan you asked."

"Thanks."

Mike nodded, and then found himself enveloped in a hug from Giles.

"Let's hope we both sleep better from now on," the Watcher said. "If there's any word on the Breton, let me know."

"I will."

Buffy let Giles move away, and then hugged Mike again, before glancing at Steven, giving Mike a little grin, and hugging Steven too. "Thanks for the rides," she said.

Steven had gone bright pink, but managed to stammer a, "No problem," before he turned away. Mike shook his head at her.

"That's just mean," he said. Smiling, Buffy shrugged.

"I know. See you. Soon."

Mike nodded, and watched as they lifted their hand luggage and turned away. At the first security point, Buffy turned and waved, and then she and Giles were gone.

Mike sighed, and walked over to Steven. "Come on, then. Let's go."

"She's amazing," Steven said, as they headed out towards the car park. "More than I ever imagined a Slayer would be."

"She is," Mike agreed. "She really is."

The two men exchanged smiles, and behind them, the check in desk for flight BA729 to Los Angeles closed.

* * *

Luc handed his forged passport over to the customs officer and smiled. "Bonjour."

"Bonjour, m'sieu," the officer said, scanning the passport in a cursory manner. "Merci." He handed it back, and Luc tucked it in a pocket of Angelus' leather jacket, settled the strap of his bag more comfortably on his shoulder, and went to find his trunk.

Ten minutes later, the trunk stowed in the boot of a cab, and the cab weaving through night time Parisian traffic, Luc was taking in the sights and smells of France for the first time in over a century.

He had found the train journey underneath the Channel relaxing and novel, the experience dulling for a while the pain of what seemed like a hole deep inside him. Now, he was vaguely comforted to find that Paris had changed a lot, the cars and the lights seeming to speed the city up somehow.

The cab driver tried, and failed, to make conversation with his passenger, and they made the journey from the Gare du Nord down through the bustling city in good time. Looking out of the window, his chin pillowed on his hand, Luc saw with a start of recognition the double towers of Notre Dame to the south. This was territory he knew now, the sandstone streets of the Marais and the Right Bank, and though the neon signs above the doors of the gay clubs were unfamiliar, he began to feel at home.

In a short while the cab pulled up outside a building with a 'hotel' sign outside, and Luc climbed out. For a moment he wondered whether to kill the driver and have done with it, but the indecision lasted only a second and he paid the man off and watched him driver away.

With his trunk on the ground by his side, Luc looked up at the fa├žade of the hotel and smiled to himself. On a summer's day in 1838 he had stood in the same place with another trunk next to him, preparing himself to enter the service of a smooth-talking Irish vampire.

Now Luc Tarpeau, the Breton, stepped forward and rang the bell of the house that had once belonged to Angelus. He had come full circle. It was time to start over again.

FIN

* * *

Author's notes: and so, once again, we bid a fond "au revoir" to Luc. Many thanks to reviewers - I've been flattered by the too-generous comments, but am very glad you enjoyed the story.

As of June 17th 2003, you can, if you want, move on to the sequel: "To Find Yourself."