Title: Five Things Which Never Happened To Warren

Author: Selena

Spoilers: For all seven seasons. Yes, seven.

Summary: See title. Five roads not taken for Warren.

Disclaimer: Not mine. All hail Joss.

Thanks to: The person who issued the "Five Things." challenge; HonorH for beta-reading; Andraste for an inspiring debate.

I.BUDDY, BUDDY

Warren knew he hated Sunnydale the moment he saw it, but of course his mother didn't listen. She had some post-divorce dream about life in California, featuring the beach, the Pacific Ocean, a garden of her own and possibly Patrick Swayze. Which meant she managed to overlook all the rather blatant signs that Sunnydale would have won any competition with Salem or Castle Rock or Derry for Just Plain Weird And Bad News. But of course his mother had never read Stephen King.

It didn't take him long to figure out everyone in this town was into massive denial, which fit into his mental picture of them as small-town idiots. The high school was the same as his old one; more idiots, jocks, and bitches out to torture you with their miniskirts and their superior smiles. Well, he would survive this last year, go to college, prove his genius, be finally appreciated somewhere and never be bothered by any of them again.

The computers the school used were at least two generations behind. He was told that there had been a great teacher who got killed the year before, and since then, no real replacement. A student had taken taken over from her,and the principal couldn't be bothered to hire someone fully qualified he'd have to pay as a replacement. Of course, recommendations about updates from a student were easily ignored. Warren had his own computer at home, of course, two of them in fact, plus the microstar laptop, but in a rare moment of altruism, he still thought he should complain, on principle, for the poor slobs who wouldn't be able to compete at all later on. So he went to the student who had filled in for the dead teacher, a girl named Willow Rosenberg.

She heard him out, which was a surprise. He hadn't really expected her to. After all, she regularily hung out with two specimens of the species puella cheerleadera, a gorgeous brunette which a toothy smile and a voice just designed to draw blood, and a blonde who looked like she came from one of the stupid movies his mother had believed to be representative of California. Moreover, Willow Rosenberg dated a guitarist. If there was a magical circle of cool, she had managed to enter. And Warren was quite self- conscious that so far, he had not come even close. Of course, soon enough, that wouldn't matter anymore. But still. It was awful, standing in front of a girl, knowing he looked awkward and clumsy and that she probably would yawn and tell him to bore someone else.

"You're right," she said, and Warren sat down in surprise. "But that's Snyder for you. He hates the lot of us - he wouldn't do anything do improve the situation." She bit her lips, and the nervous gesture didn't fit with the image he had of her at all. "My mother is on the School Board, and I asked her to organize a complaint, but she.got distracted."

He felt a sudden wave of sympathy. Mothers were unreliable that way.

"Okay then," he said, and shrugged. He'd have left, but Willow was the first person whom he couldn't quite categorize, so he felt compelled to stay a bit longer. He asked her about the classes she had taught, and how she compensated for the lack of new software. This turned out to have the most amazing results. Her whole posture changed, her quiet voice grew bubbly and vivid, and two hours later, they were still talking.

Warren couldn't believe his luck. He had finally found someone who spoke the same language. She understood what he meant when he mentioned designing interfaces that would be independent of touch, and brought in some of her own ideas. She was smart, really smart, and apparantly she had been starving for someone to talk computers with, too, ever since that teacher died.

Some weeks later, when they were working on their first program together, he mentioned, casually, the weirdness of living in a town that could be a video game, full of monsters and even a superhero. She grew very still.

"You.know about." she started, hesitatingly.

"Please," Warren said. "I've seen her stake those things outside the Bronze. Your pal. How dumb do you think I am? Anyway, it's cool. You're her Q, right?"

James Bond movies weren't exactly Willow's forte, it appeared; she thought of the Star Trek Q first.

"No," she said. "Though I sometimes think I could have been, you know, with the witch fu? Maybe I could have learned to magic her enemies out of existence."

Obviously, more explanations were due. Willow told him she had tried some spells and done some research about magic, to the point where she considered becoming a witch. But since they started hanging out together, between hacking and designs and plans for Artificial Intelligence, courtesy Meers & Rosenberg Enterprises, she didn't have the time to practice her spells anymore.

"So bye bye, Witch Willow," she said somewhat wistfully.

"I like Hacker Willow," Warren replied before he knew what he was saying, and felt mortally embarrassed. He flushed, certain that she'd either laugh or be embarassed as well, which would completely spoil the first friendship he had. "I mean," he continued, desperately, "as a friend."

To his infinite relief, she smiled at him. "Hey," she said. "Friendship is good. And who needs magic anyway?"

II.BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN

He had never hated and admired a person as much as Maggie Walsh. She recruited Warren shortly before graduation. "You'll have to transfer to UC Sunnydale," she said, without preamble.

Warren had no intention of doing so, of course. He wanted to get away from Sunnydale, and the college there really wasn't first class. Besides, the blonde, business-like woman who had introduced herself as Professor Walsh taught psychology, which had nothing whatsover to do with his fields of interest.

"If we'll have you," she continued, without even waiting for his reaction. "You're obviously smart enough for this project, but are you suitable?" Her grey, cool eyes behind her glasses took him in, measuring, and he was conscious of every inadequacy of his life. Which was ridiculous. He didn't even know this woman.

"You'll have the chance to be part of something extraordinary," she said. "Something few people will ever know about. Something that will change our world."

He was, humiliating as it was to admit, hooked and reeled in by an expert. She put him through a series of tests. Warren thought they were only slightly more challenging than the SATs, but in the end she said:

"Meers, you're hopelessly immature, with unresolved mother issues, emotionally none too stable and a borderline sociopath. But I'm not interested in that. What I am interested in is for you to give your best as a programmer. You might even be able to justify your existence this way. Only let me make one thing clear: if you mess up my project in any way, I will personally carve your insides out with a very dull spoon."

He knew then he would get his revenge on her, just as he knew he would give anything to be a part of this project she had liberally hinted at. As it turned out, at first the Initiative seemed to be his dreams come true. Being part of a secret government force that dealt with demons in a high- tech way seemed infinitely cool and even worth sticking around in Sunnydale for. Warren adored the secrecy of the underground lair, which could have been built on the designs of Ken Adams. He asked whether it was, and was met with dumb incomprehension. Nobody in the Initiative knew the name of the genius who had created all the cool stuff for the Connery Bond movies.

This he would have regarded as a fly in an otherwise perfect ointment, were it not for the fact it would become symptomatic. He posed as a student at UC Sunnydale just like Riley Finn, Forrest, Graham and the others did, but did they deign to notice him above ground? They did not. Actually, they didn't notice him all that much in the lair, either, except for Finn, the one time they talked, laughing about Warren calling it "the lair". Warren was forced to come to the depressing realisation that his social life wasn't that different from high school. There were still jocks around. And a queen bitch.

Not that Professor Walsh didn't deliver on the promise of challenging work. The behaviour modification chips were a brilliant idea. Fine-tuning them for the various sub-terrestrial species was what he did at first, but when he suggested that negative conditioning fell short of what was possible, that one should able to rewrite their behaviour and control it completely if the interfaces between the organic and the cybernetic could be improved, Maggie Walsh introduced him to the ADAM project.

This gave Warren his chance, in more than one way. He might not be interested in psychology, but one didn't have to take Professor Walsh's classes to figure out she was more than professionally concerned with Riley Finn. And it wasn't a simply classifiable concern, either. The human organic components she used for ADAM were all from the same man, and Warren managed to hack his way into her classified files long enough to find out it had been her son. Who, not so coincidentally, bore a striking resemblance to Riley Finn. Unresolved mother issues, was it?

On the other hand, she wasn't just maternal about Agent Finn, either. Warren caught her watching him after Finn had gone through some vigorous exercises, his shirt clinging to him, displaying every muscle of his well- trained, sweaty body, and it wasn't a maternal gaze at all. When Finn began going out with Buffy Summers, she started to exhibit jealousy that really didn't have much to do with the concern of a mentor.

At this point, Warren had been slaving away in secret on his own special project for a month, and with the Initiative's financial and technical resources, which he appropriated for himself without hesitation, he was done far earlier than he would have been on his own. When the android was complete, and its programing fine tuned, he sent it to Maggie Walsh with specific instructions. And waited.

She turned up at his dorm, in the room that he shared with some nonentity whose first name he tended to forget, at dawn. The fact she didn't wait till he showed up for work was already proof of how successful he had been, and Warren was exhilarated. "Out," she said, and the nonentity fled, highly disturbed of the professor's intrusion. As soon he had shut the door, Maggie Walsh came up to Warren, slapped him, and left in complete silence. It was a hard slap, and she was an athletic woman; Warren tasted blood in his mouth afterwards. At the same time, he felt an incredible rush of satisfaction. He had sent the android, a perfect doppelganger for Riley Finn, to her in the evening, and if it had not met her then, it would have returned as instructed. She, on the other hand, had not arrived here before now. There had been an entire night, and she knew he knew, and would know forever.

He sent her the invitation for dinner soon afterwards, and knew she would accept, no matter what Professor Angleman or her other collegues would say, or, for that matter, Riley Finn and the soldiers who treated her with fear and awe.

She had no other choice.

III. THELMA AND LOUIS

In retrospect, Warren was grateful to Spike. His break-up with Katrina, or more accurately, Katrina leaving him in indignation and disgust, had left Warren feeling worse than at any point in his previous existence. He couldn't imagine living without Katrina. He couldn't face seeing her again and not be able to make everything the way it had been. He couldn't even bear the idea of college, not without her to work with, and everyone staring at him, whispering behind his back, speculating why she might have left. Or maybe they had always expected her to. After all, why should a beautiful, smart woman like her bother with the likes of him?

When Spike showed up to intimidate and blackmail him into building another robot, Warren woke of his post-Katrina-malaise to two useful realisations. One was that, romantic notions of Katrina weeping over his dead body and regretting every harsh word aside, he didn't really want to die. He wanted to live, even without Katrina. The other was that living, with or without Katrina, would be difficult with a vampire to whom his idiotic mother had given an invitation breezing in and out his place of residence. Who said Spike wouldn't just drain him if Warren wasn't useful anymore? Also, even if he did give Spike what he wanted and Spike wouldn't bother him again, there was the distinct possibility the Slayer would kill him if she found out what he had built for Spike. Or at least hurt him very much. And Warren had just had about his share of Buffy Summers encounters. In the middle of his depression, he felt a distinct pang of hatred at the thought of her standing in his doorway and casually ruining his life with a few words.

Once he thought about it, the solution to both problems was obvious. He built and programmed the Slayer-lookalike as Spike had requested, but added a few hidden extras of his own. Spike didn't even bother to run a program check when he showed up to collect his order, but that was a vampire for you. No sense of technical finesse. No, Spike just lit up like a Christmas tree at the sight of the android throwing itself on him, and apparantly was so eager to get laid that he ran off with it without even bothering to deliver some final threat. Warren packed his stuff, and waited. Sure enough, some hours later his creation returned, with a wide, guileless smile.

"I had great sex with Spike!" it chirped. "Then I dusted him, like you said."

"What is your first priority?" Warren asked, checking.

"Protect Warren," the android said promptly.

"Second?"

"Do whatever you tell me to do. You are my creator. You are very wise."

They both left Sunnydale then. Warren didn't exactly know where they were going. He just knew he couldn't return to College, not with Katrina there and tormentingly out of his reach, and not if Katrina did not return and every corner would remind him of her. So he hit the road. He figured the Slayerbot would be a useful bodyguard, given the weirdos one was almost certain to encounter. Also, he was quite aware that while Buffy Summers wasn't exactly his type, most people would describe her as pretty, and a guy travelling with such a girl would cut a far more impressive figure than Warren Meers on his own.

He could never pinpoint just when he started to think of the android as "her", not "it". Of course, he had always thought of April as "her", but Warren was determined not to repeat the April mistake. This android was not there to love him, just to protect him, and he certainly was not inclined to love it, given its resemblance to Buffy Summers. At most, he thought he'd feel a certain pride, given that it was the walking, talking proof of his genius. Still, after a while, he found he enjoyed watching her slay vampires in the sleepy Californian towns they came through. He certainly enjoyed having her beat the crap of some biker jerks who jeered at him and tried to make a pass at her. This, unfortunately, meant the clothes Spike had brought him to dress her in were somewhat damaged.

"We'll go shopping," Warren told her.

"I love shopping," the Buffybot declared. "Shoes are very important."

"Actually, I was thinking of a blouse first," he corrected, and she pouted a bit. Warren was quite proud of this particular sub-program, which had not been there in April. At the time, he had wondered why Spike insisted on it, but now he could see pouting did not need to look and sound annoying. It could be.quite endearing, actually.

"Blouses are good," his creation said, "but shoes are better." Her pout dissolved into a beaming smile again. "You should get new shoes, too."

Remembering the first time he had tried to buy a gift for Katrina, Warren said ruefully: "I'm afraid we'll run quickly out of cash this way."

"Money is important, too," she confirmed, and marched off. Not too long afterwards, she returned with the cash register of the gas station Warren had gotten gas from earlier this day.

At first, he was shocked, until he realised he was actually thrilled. Why hadn't he thought of this before? She was strong. Of course, they couldn't just go on robbing gas stations. Especially with her looking the way she did. People would remember her. But the next time she beat up some jerks, she could take their cash as well, and they wouldn't dare to complain. They'd be too embarassed a little slip of a girl had been able to make mincemeat out of them.

They lived the high life then, Warren and his android. It was as good as Bonnie and Clyde, Warren thought. Without the ending. He upgraded her software so she could recognize worthy targets more easily, and after they could afford it, he equipped her with the ability to dial into phone calls, sorting and locating those who mentioned carrying money around as well. This resulted in a highly successful raid on some L.A. lawyers who were going to pay demons with unregistered cash for some hit operation or the other.

"They were evil," the Buffybot declared. "They even talked of kidnapping and vivisecting little angels!"

Sometimes, she still managed to confuse him.

"Specify," he said. She inclined her head and quoted, with a perfect voice recording: "So that means you'll deliver Angel's brat this time, then? The doc is still waiting to look what his insides are made of."

Warren lost interest. "Never mind," he said. "Tell you what - we'll go to Vegas next!"

Las Vegas was the best. It was such fun, buying her dresses, bringing her into Caesar's Palace and winning with her ability to count the cards. Not too much, though; Warren had seen enough Mafia movies to know better, and he had never forgotten the injustice of Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman getting kicked out of the casino in Rain Man. By now, Warren himself thought he looked quite presentable. She had persuaded him to go for leather trousers, and a long trench coat, and the sun glasses were a given. He was having a great time. So he couldn't understand it when he had another nightmare which made him wake up sobbing. It was Katrina turning away from him again, and he couldn't comprehend why he should still mind about Katrina, who was stuck in her drab, colourless existence and would never know what she was missing.

The android, who lay next to him, recharging her batteries, turned her head and watched him. Her eyes looked incredibly big in the dim light of their suite.

"Don't be sad, Warren," she said, and moved her left hand to his head, stroking his hair. She had never done this before, and it confused him as much as his dream had done.

"I'm not," he protested.

"You produce tears, and little hiccuppy noises," she pointed out. "These are signs of human grief."

"It will pass," Warren muttered. Being seen like that would have irritated and infuriated him if it had been anyone else, but with her he found he didn't mind.

"I'm glad," she said. "I don't want you to be sad."

"Why?" he asked before he could stop himself. After all, he had not programmed her to love him, or even like him, just to protect him; protection did not include concern about his emotions.

"You are my creator," she said simply. "Also, you should eat more vitamins."

The end, when it came, wasn't completely unexpected. Those lawyers she had robbed apparantly had friends. With helicopters. As Warren found himself being chased by police cars and helicopters, being driven towards a canyon where he would have to stop, he suddenly realized that this was it. And he didn't mind that much. He had never felt as alive as now, he couldn't be further from being a nobody, and he wasn't alone anymore. Of course, as soon as they caught him it would end in beatings and prison or other humiliations, but he had no intention of letting this happen.

"They talk of capturing and harming you," the Buffybot said, having listened to all the radio and cell phones.

"Won't happen," Warren declared confidently. He smiled at her, and took her hand. When she returned his smile, guileless, utterly believing, and full of affection, he hit the gas pedal, and the car drove into infinity.

IV.THE GODFATHER

Hanging out with Jonathan and Andrew was a bit like starting to die, and Warren knew it. He had shared a few classes with Jonathan in high school, of course, but they hadn't become friends then; they had barely exchanged a few words, though on two or three occasions they had rolled their eyes at the same idiocy, or recognized an allusion no one else got. As for the Wells brothers, he found both the dogs at the Prom and the monkeys at the play mildly entertaining, but not enough to remember their first names, and Andrew was a year younger anyway. He did remember Jonathan's first name. Most of all, he remembered that as isolated and sniggered about as he himself was, Jonathan was laughed about more, and had the downtrodden look perfected through years which Warren swore he'd never wear himself. Jonathan had accepted the role they had assigned to him, it was as simple as that, and Warren never would.

To become friends with Jonathan and Andrew meant an implicit capitulation to Sunnydale. It meant Warren had resigned himself to staying here. It meant he had given in and had started to be swallowed by the Sunnydale miasma, and that one day it would spit him out with the rest of the creeps and freaks who never made it in the real world. The knowledge was oddly soothing for a time, numb as he felt after Katrina had left. Besides, if Jonathan and Andrew had one thing going for them, it was that Warren never had to pay attention to his words; he could talk about whether Saavik would have worked better than Valeris in ST VI without anyone looking at him with condescending amusement. Moreover, he was smarter than both of them and became the leader without much effort. It wasn't a bad feeling, being looked up to. For a time, it was enough.

For a time.

Then looking at Jonathan and seeing himself started to become more and more unbearable. Andrew he didn't mind as much, because Andrew was such a child anyway. But Jonathan was his own age, he might not have been as intelligent, yet he was by no means stupid, he had some genuine skills as a warlock. And he had tried to kill himself once already. Hearing Jonathan bring up his pathetic memories of that glamour spell he had been foolish enough to end, or of the Prom where he had been singled out to give a speech devoted to the Slayer who had taken Katrina and with her Warren's chance of a future away made Warren wonder whether this was how he, too, was going to end, sooner or later. Boasting of a few gadgets, with the look of a dog grateful for scraps, and with the prospect of another suicide attempt on the horizon.

It was this prospect that made him start their career as supervillains.

This, too, worked, for a time. The Slayer was by no means the invincible warrior they had thought her to be. Actually, she was quite pathetic, with her attempts to get a job, ending in Doublemeat Palace, of all the places. At this point, the supervillain gig had started to bring in cash, and Warren thought he was entitled to feel smug, watching her on his surveillance cameras in her awful red and white stripes and cow hat and her inability to return to college again, or indeed to have any kind of fun, if one excepted those marathon sex sessions with Spike which looked quite entertaining on video but didn't seem to make her happy, either. Served her right. If anyone was a loser slated for an early death, it was her, not him.

Then Warren saw Katrina again, and his carefully reconstructed world shattered, like the glass splinters surrounding her after he had dealt her that final, fatal blow. It was all he could do to keep it together and save their collective asses, and who was the one to spoil it afterwards by giving him that holier-than-thou look? Jonathan. Of course. Watching Jonathan watching him would drive him insane if he didn't put a stop to it sooner or later. So Warren decided to make it sooner.

Shaking Andrew loose for an evening was tricky, because Andrew on his own was a security risk. Not to mention he might think Warren was trying to cut him loose. As it turned out, Andrew thought no such thing. He had a remarkable capacity for belief, which was useful. "Don't let me down on this, Number One," Warren said, entrusting Andrew with collecting information on some demonic something or the other they could use to hide better from the Slayer, and Andrew, blue eyes wide open, and obviously pleased by the sensation of Warren's hand on his shoulder, assured him he wouldn't.

If Andrew was the ideal Trusted Lieutenant, Jonathan was anything but.

"Where is Andrew?" he demanded suspiciously as soon as he had realised Andrew was gone. Warren explained about the mission, and Jonathan looked somewhat mollified, but only barely. Unwashed, wild-eyed, and twitchy, he certainly was Jack Torrance material. If Jack Nicholson had been pint-sized and not inclined to smile.

"Relax, Sparky," Warren said. "The truth is, I wanted to talk with you. About what happened. That's what you're thinking about all the time, isn't it?"

"I thought we weren't to talk about it ever again," Jonathan said, voice still edgy with distrust.

"Well yes, but you're not very good at it, are you?" Warren shot back, and to be able to release the anger boiling in him was a relief. "Do you think you're the only one who can't forget it? You didn't even know her. You and Andrew, you didn't even see how special she was until I spelled it out to you."

Now Jonathan stared at him with disbelief. "You're sick," he said, slowly. "Warren, how could you do that to her if she was your ex? How could you."

"Right," Warren said. "And the Swedish twins you keep boasting about would have slept with you without that spell. And you didn't write 'hypnotize Buffy' on the board. What did you think we were going to do with her afterwards, Captain Righteous?"

Jonathan looked away, and slumped a bit deeper into his chair. "I didn't.. I didn't realise," he whispered. "I didn't know."

Didn't know what, Warren could have asked, but he knew exactly what Jonathan meant. This didn't make him feel more kindly towards Jonathan. "And when you signed up for the Supervillain gig?" he asked. "Dude, you've lived in this town all your life. Don't tell me you thought we'd play it strictly DC and never kill anybody with lines. That works for Andrew, but not for you."

"I didn't think you'd play it Ultimate, either," Jonathan said between clenched teeth. As insults went, this one wasn't bad at all, considering Warren had poured scorn on the Ultimate version of Magneto only a few days before the Katrina incident, because in his opinion Millar robbed Magneto of all his intelligence and made him into a one-dimensional maniac. But that was just it - Jonathan wasn't stupid.

Warren sat down opposite Jonathan, on the table with the monitors they used to keep Buffy under surveillance. His left hand went behind the screen. "Here's a competition, Bilbo," he replied. "Riddle me this. You tell me exactly what I feel, I'll tell you exactly what you feel. Whoever comes closest decides what we're going to to do next, the three of us. So if you still believe we should turn ourselves in, we'll do that. If, that is, you're spot on about me. If I come closer about you, you'll shape up and there'll be no more complaints."

Jonathan sat straighter. It was easy to see he was hooked, but he tried to play it cool. "What about Andrew? How do you know he'd go along with."

"I think we both know Andrew does what I tell him to do," Warren said bluntly. "So, shoot."

Some moments passed, and for some reason, Warren thought of their first Dungeons and Dragons where Jonathan had been ahead for a quite a while and then spoiled it because he couldn't wait. That was what using magic did for you. You got used to flashy results after a short while. Technology, on the other hand, demanded infinite patience.

At last, Jonathan said, listlessly: "You don't feel much of anything anymore. Except that you're thrilled you got away with murder, and that you could frame Buffy for it. You're sorry the girl is dead but mostly because this way, you can't force her into being there for you, or punish her for leaving you. And whatever you're planning, going to prison isn't on the menu."

Warren leaned back. "There's a surprise," he said drily. "Because I don't think you're really planning to go to prison, either, and it has nothing to do with me holding you back, Sparky. You feel cold and sick whenever you think of them both, Katrina and your beloved Slayer, and you're also horrified and ashamed because something in you still wishes everything would have gone as planned. It would just be easier. But what you really want isn't prison, or being a supervillain, or going back to plain old Jonathan. What you really want," his right hand went to the pocket in his jeans, and he knew Jonathan didn't notice, since he was too busy listening, "what you really want is for Buffy to kill you. And then it will be over, and you'll finally be first for her in something. And then you'll be at peace."

The silence between them was thick and heavy, and Warren thought he could smell all the junk food they had eaten since going into hiding. For the first time in a while, he saw dawning respect in Jonathan's eyes, mingled with the more recent abhorrence.

"You're good," Jonathan said hoarsely.

There was quite a lot Warren could have replied, from a smug "of course I am" to an impressed "and so are you". But he was going to give Jonathan a worthy farewell. The old Jonathan, at least.

"See, Fredo", he said, doing his best Al Pacino imitation while he put the sunglasses on with his left hand and pulled out the cerebral dampener with his right, "I know it was you. I know it was you."

In the flash, he couldn't see Jonathan's expression, so he never found out whether Jonathan had recognised the quote, and understood. As the light from the dampener died down, Warren rose and saw Jonathan had the same blank gaze as Katrina had had. Everything else was wiped away from the brown eyes, and he knew he'd never see his own decay in Jonathan ever again.

V.EVER AFTER

It was hell. He didn't know where she started and he ended, and he hadn't known ever since she killed him. It was only the quality of pain that changed, going from every inch of his body screaming out in bright agony to a kind of throbbing, numb horror which went on constantly. It was only recently that he realised he was himself, not her, of course, but that didn't help one bit. The rage and pain inside him, which came from both of them, still ate him alive, and there was no death to escape into anymore. Looking in the mirror, seeing her seeing him, he saw his tomb, and since she thought his thoughts, or he thought hers, he knew she saw the same.

So he had brought them to this garden, with the bright sun and the trampled grass being eternally the same as well. Bloody California. They were like flies caught in amber, nothing but treacly, yellow light streaming around them, imprisoning them in one body, and no chance to break out. Her admirer was there, or was it his? He didn't know the difference anymore. The kid that looked up to him with awe and adoration and enough lust to make it clear it wasn't just a platonic crush. Right now, the faith expressed there maddened him even further.

"You were there," he screamed. "You were there when I killed her."

He could almost feel his dead lover's body again, the generous curves he had known so well, her eyes staring up at him empty, eternally empty, where they had once been filled with affection and belief. With anger, too, at times. That memory hurt almost as much, the memory of his lover accusing him of violating her. She didn't understand then. He had just wanted everything to be the way it had been, he wanted them to be together again, and why should she not forget the memories of their quarrel? They only meant pain for both of them.

But of course he had been wrong, and had lost her again when she found out. What he had done next was even worse, and it brought him to his knees now, shaking with grief and hate and self-loathing. The kid kept talking to him, but he didn't want to listen. He didn't even want to look. If that fool ever understood, he'd see the disgust and damnation mirrored there, too, and really, didn't he deserve it? The mystery was why the kid hadn't realised this yet. Wasn't it obvious that anyone close to him would be used, and betrayed, and destroyed, sooner or later?

"I'm sorry," he cried, and the tears he felt running down his face knew no difference of identity anymore, either. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, God, I'm so sorry."

But there wasn't anyone who heard, and who would ever separate them. They would fuel each other's hell, Siamese twins who would melt into one. It would drive him completely insane, he knew it, and the power he had always wanted, she had always wanted, that power which was now woven into every fibre of their being, made sure nobody would ever be able to take them down to free them.

He heard his name, or her name, repeated, and then, he felt the kid pulling him up. "I think I figured out how this works now," the kid said. "It's a fairy tale." There was something different about the voice, still young, still with the same naïve persistance that all screw-ups would somehow unravel and become a shiny, smooth whole in the end, but there was also an understanding which was new.

"I know what you did," the other continued, "but that's over. Come back to life, Warren. Come back to me."

He felt the kiss first, tender, full of longing and much surer than he had believed Andrew to be capable of. When he started to return the embrace, clumsy, still shaking, he felt her retreat. She withdrew in the back of his mind, vanished like her own echo, and suddenly he knew who he was again. The relief made him dizzy, and he gasped for air.

Andrew stepped back a little, smiling at him, tears in his eyes as well.

"I knew it would work," he said triumphantly. "That's why I stayed here. To make this happen." A little more uncertain, he added: "Am I good?"

Warren stared at him, stared at his own real, flesh-and-blood-and-skin hands. The air of the lazy sunlit afternoon wasn't stifling amber anymore, it was liquid gold, and he breathed in deeply. Then he hugged Andrew, for the first time without any calculation, condescension, pitying amusement or any kind of second thoughts at all beyond the overwhelming gratitude at being alive again, at being given another chance.

"You're perfect," he said.