I still feel safest at the Hyperion. The endless cheery subservience at Wolfram & Hart makes me very nervous. They all *look* so sincere, none of them have seemed false in the slightest. But when I really need to think, to remember, to . . . brood, I go home, to my hotel. To the last place I was happy.

It's not quite dark enough for the big show to begin off Santa Monica Pier, but the illegal fireworks are already firing off in various parts of town. Here on the roof I can see for square miles, and the night will blossom fire in all directions.

I love fireworks. I always have. Galway in the mid-eighteenth century hadn't had much in the way of pyrotechnics, but I remember a traveling fair where they fired off Roman candles, to the superstitious terror of the peasants and the giddy joy of the nobles. Bridget McAllister had been terrified and hid her face in my shoulder at the noise, and later she thanked me very sweetly for protecting her. Her cries were not those of pleasure the next time I paid her a call.

America was still the dumping ground of England when I was turned. The Irish who got too noisy about silly things like basic human rights were shipped across the Atlantic. Or they made the journey in order to make their fortunes. I knew both sorts, and I threatened more than once to leave my father to his expectations and to go to the colonies myself. I don't know when I found out America had claimed her independence. I must have known there was a war about it, but I was too young and enthralled with my new power to care about much more than my next kill.

I wanted to go, to see the new world, to taste the blood of brash, free men. Darla always refused, in no uncertain terms. She never explained why. It must have taken a direct order from her Sire, the Master, to bring her to his side in Sunnydale. She distracted me with scourging my way through Europe and points east. I remember one night, though, overhearing Spike whispering to Dru that they could run away from me, they could go to America, where they could be free to make their own way. I put a stop to that nonsense as soon as I could. Now, for the first time, I wonder if there was jealousy involved as much as outrage that Spike could imagine he could leave at a time of his choosing rather than my own.

But it was me who came, instead, making my own way, losing myself in the brave new world. They all watched me suspiciously, there in the steerage section of that immigrant ship. I don't remember how I got past Ellis Island, maybe I just swam to shore and disappeared into the immense anonymity that was New York and America.

It shocked me, how *big* the place was. I wandered for years, and the only borders I came up against were the oceans. Canada and Mexico never lured me, I felt safe within the confines of the land of my exile. It grew so quickly, so arrogantly. Each 4th of July I watched the fireworks and felt grateful for another year's refuge. Even during the witch hunts and suspicions of the '50s, I never thought of leaving, just migrated to the other end of my country.

I was in New York for the big Bicentennial celebrations, and for the first time in decades I remembered the calendar. 1776. I'd been a vampire for twenty-three years when America declared her independence. I was over two hundred years old myself. The people in colonial costumes made my withered heart hurt, especially the children. I saw a little girl skipping along in her long skirts. She gave me a confused look when I spoke to her and said her name wasn't Kathy. She went to her mother, also in costume, and pointed at me, and they both gave me suspicious looks. I took to the alleys, then, and only came out when destiny caught up with me.

Who was it that caught me on the roof of the Hyperion the night of the 4th that first summer after I moved in? That's right, Wesley. Cordelia had wangled an invitation to someone's boat party, and Gunn was nursemaiding his gang through the carnivals and parades. Wesley had gotten homesick and tired of Ungrateful Day, as he'd taken to calling it, and wandered to the office to see if there was work he could lose himself in. I still think he headed up to the roof to watch the fireworks himself, but he always claimed he was just strolling through the halls and got suspicious when he saw the roof access door open. Whatever, we watched the fireworks together, not saying anything other than "Pretty" and "Oh, look, that building's on fire."

The next year, I was still numb from Buffy's death and the whole Pylea thing. Suddenly the 4th rolled around and Cordy's directing Wes and Gunn in carrying a grill up onto the roof, drafting me into lugging food and beer, and bullying Fred out of her room in order to celebrate her first Earth holiday in five years. It was a good night. I caught myself looking forward to the next one.

I remember thinking, "My son was born in America. He is an American." Well, Irish-American. I always hated St. Patrick's Day, but I was going to teach him to love fireworks as much as his old man did. I think I was too far gone to notice when the 4th rolled around again. I don't imagine they celebrated that year, though I wonder what Connor made of it.

I should have made them edit Connor from my head, too, after I saw him. But, no, I always get to remember everything.

Apparently Wolfram & Hart has a softball league. And a big picnic in a park on the 4th of July. I saw the fliers on the bulletin boards, and some of the folks in the halls said they were sorry I wouldn't be able to join them for the ballgames and barbecue, but they hoped I would be able to join them for the private fireworks display. Something about a unique show such as only Wolfram & Hart could organize. As their new boss, I suppose I should have gone, but as an old champion--who the hell pinned that word on me, anyway?--I can't stand socializing with them.

Two years ago I had a family with me. I even laughed and didn't feel like I was betraying Buffy's memory. Gunn and Wesley got into a not-fight about the Revolution, Cordy just shook her head and pretended she wasn't having a good time, and Fred sat in a corner, big-eyed with uncertainty until the fireworks started and she started naming the chemical compositions of the colored fires. I wonder if she even remembers what day it is, down there in her lab. Gunn is--I don't know where Gunn is. He's alone a lot, these days, though he always seems to be listening to something none of the rest of us can hear. And Cordy--she was gorgeous that night, the evening breeze in her hair as she let out little squeaks of delight when an especially loud firework burst in the air. She tried to deny doing anything so plebeian, but we all saw her.

A big fountain of blue and red sparks just went off over at the pier. The piercing colors hurt my eyes a little, but I can see them burn longer than humans can. I hear someone say, "That one was lovely," and it sounds so close . . .

I don't turn at the sound of footsteps on the rooftop, but I do pick up the cold beer Wesley sets down on the balustrade in front of me. We don't speak, except to say, "Can you hear the car alarms going off with the impact of the sound waves?" and "I didn't know they could do that shade of green."