Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss & Co., even if they're not using it anymore, and you'd think they could at least sell off the characters at a discount, but nooooo . . .

Note: This is a STAND-ALONE story, not the beginning of a longer one. Just exploring a moment in time with our green buddy. Kthxbai.

Note II: This would be a Christmas present for LesserKnown. Glad you liked it, hon!

Never Fall in Love with the Good Guys



Lesson numero uno, compadres: Never fall in love with the good guys.

Believe me, I speak from experience. Four years ago, I had a sweet deal--a thriving club in the demon district of Los Angeles, a CD collection with all the Arethra my little blue heart could handle, and a bartender who made the best Sea Breeze this side of Bimini.

Now? Part-time job reading auras in a demonic dive in Cleveland while dodging pubescent Slayers, a ghost for company, and is it just me, or are we all hearing too much of Sarah Brightman's faux-classical stylings lately? To think that Andrew Lloyd Webber protégé thinks she's in a league with real talent, like the lovely young Miss Chenoweth . . .

The ghost, by the way, happens to be a particularly fascinating breed. She says she's over a thousand years old and was a human, a vengeance demon, a human, a vengeance demon again, and then a human again. Sounds like she and Darla had the same estate planner. She appeared on the barstool to my right about an hour ago and hasn't let go of my ear since.

". . . but I still had these feelings for Xander, so I wasn't able to do my job as well as my boss wanted, so I kept getting censured, and then, through a whole mess that I'm sure was not completely my fault, stripped of my powers again!" She pouts at me. "And now I'm dead, and nobody in the afterlife knows what to do with me, so I'm stuck as a ghost. Do you know how hard it is to sit on an incorporeal ass?"

"Can't say I do, sweetcheeks," I say. I've only been half-listening to her tale of woe, but even so, I've caught the words "Sunnydale," "Slayer," and "Spike," which has made me want to get out of the conversation, possibly via cutting off my own head. Two things keep me from running: first, it's not time for me to go home yet; and second, she's really kind of a sweet thing, in her way. What's her name again? Oh yeah--Anya. I think Spike said her name once or twice.

"You really can't give me a reading?" she asks.

"Sorry, Doe Eyes," I tell her, "but being a ghost, you technically don't have a destiny. But I've gotta tell you, Anyakins--you've got some nice pipes there. Wish I could help."

She makes a "hmph" sound and leans on the bar. How do ghosts do that sort of thing? I've always been curious.

"I can't even have a drink," Anya says when I don't say anything. "I'd give anything for a Cosmo. Can't drink, can't eat, can't have sex . . . it's a bummer. I wonder what Xander's doing. I swear, if he's having sex with someone else now, I'm going to haunt his ass. Well, whenever I find it. Which is really hard. I came to Cleveland hoping one of the Slayers could tell me something, but I can't manifest to humans. It's so frustrating."

"I wonder if they got out alive," I say.

Anya looks at me. "Who?"

I stop myself just in time. She'd probably know who Angel is, and I don't want her asking a bunch of questions I'm not ready to answer. So I don't name any names. "My friends. There was an apocalypse, and I don't know if any of them got out okay."

I'm pretty sure Wesley didn't. Near the end, he didn't even have to sing for me to see the death in his aura. He'd been slowly rotting away since Freddikins left us. Poor Fred. First Cordy, then her. Two of the smartest, bravest, most beautiful creatures I ever met--gone.

"I've been through a few apocalypses myself," says Anya. "It was just that last one that got me. Good thing about being dead is that you can tell who's not dead, if you knew them, and Xander's still alive." She smiles just a little.

Well, something's obvious, even if I can't read her. "You still love the big palooka, don't you?"

"Oh, like you don't have it bad for whoever you're talking about," Anya shoots back.

She's a perceptive little ghostling, I'll give her that. I suppose I fell in love the first time that tone-deaf vampire sang for me. And it wasn't just with him, kiddos--it was with all of them. Sweet, sweet Cordy, Wes with his glasses and that Englishman-in-L.A. thing going on, and Angelcakes himself. I fell in love with that naïve, earnest belief that they could change the world, starting with L.A.

How'd it all fall apart?

I just start talking, and I don't know when I'll stop. "It's all so complicated, Little Miss Ghost. There were good times, there were bad times. New people joined the crew. Someone would split, but they'd always come back. But y'know, something got lost along the way. The Black Knight fell off his charger somehow, and they took a tumble into the deepest, darkest pit of them all. And somehow, I don't think any of 'em got out whole."

Anya's pretty forehead is all crinkles. "That's strangely profound, yet makes no sense at all."

I chuckle bitterly. "Doesn't that just say it all, though?"

Once upon a time, I came tumbling out of Pylea. I was so glad to be out of there, and not just because this brave new world I'd found had music, the thing my soul had been searching for since I was but a hatchling. I was sick to death of the constant all-or-nothing, warrior-or-wimp mentality of my homeworld.

Isn't it weird that I finally understand what's so attractive about dividing the world up into good and bad? For a long time, I was carefully neutral. I didn't judge anybody. I read the auras of champions and child-eaters alike, and I stayed the hell out of the whole Good Vs. Evil prizefight. But now--now, I get it.

When Angel was making his plans, I told him what I knew about Lindsey. Told Angel that Lindsers wasn't going to give up his ambition or his power, and he sure wasn't going to give up his grudge against Angel. Told Angel that something should probably be done about the boy, because he was too big a risk.

And here's the thing: I expected Angel to tell me that he knew Lindsey was a loose cannon, but we don't kill humans. We don't condemn people to death for what they might do. That's what I thought I'd hear.

Instead, Angel just nodded and told me to take care of it, but wait until after Linds had hacked and slashed the Sahrvin ruling caste to shreds.

When I first met him, Angel would've fought fang and nail to save Lindsey's life, even though they hated each other in that UST-ridden way they had. A few years later, and Angel was basically ordering the man's death. And I missed the old black-and-white way of things.

"I think I blame Xander for all of this," sighs Anya. "If he'd have just kept his lips off of Willow, I'd never have become human. Things are pretty simple as a vengeance demon. You go in, you get the wish, you wreak the wrath, and you get out. When you're human, things just aren't that simple. You meet a non-repulsive guy, you have sex, you fall in love, you get your heart broken, you go back to being a demon, you go back to being human, you're still in love, only mostly without the sex, and you get killed."

"I hear you, Baby Doll," I say, and take a swig of my Sea Breeze. They don't make a good Sea Breeze here.

There's a Velga demon on stage now, belting out "My Girl Wants to Party All the Time" almost as badly as Eddie Murphy. He didn't pay for a reading, so technically, I don't have to pay attention, but . . .

. . . but this guy's destiny is to be part of the crack team that finally takes down Angel (he's not dust!) and whoever's around him, people I can't see too clearly. They'll never see it coming.

Not unless someone tells them.

I should stay out of it, I should stay out, I should stay out . . .

I knock back the rest of my lousy cocktail and hop off my barstool.

"Where are you going?" asks Anya.

"Tip number one:" I say. "There's an incarnation of the Three in a suburb of Seattle, if you can get there. They might be able to help you where I can't, since the Crone deals with the dead as well as the living. Look for the last name Doulas. Tip number two: Never fall in love with the good guys. And you can quote me on that, honeychile."

I grab my coat and head out, not listening to whatever Anya's saying to me. I don't know where Angel is right now, but I know where he will be. And that's where I'll be, because you can't ever go back to what you were before.

You can quote me on that, too.