Disclaimer: I do not own Angel the Series or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Summary: A decade after the Battle for L.A., Angel finds Buffy, but she's no longer with The Immortal. Instead she's chosen another old enemy.

A/N: Title inspired by The Killers "Mr. Brightside."

"Always Mr. Brightside"

Angel walked into the manor, the scent of rotting flesh following him inside. He stripped off his blood and goo saturated jacket and tossed it into the barren fireplace, promising to burn it at a later time. The vampire with a soul took a seat at his mahogany desk and leaned back in the groaning black-leather chair. He reached out and snatched the single gold-framed picture on the desktop, holding it at chest height.

Faces smiled back at him from beneath the glass: Wesley, Fred, Cordelia, Lorne, and Gunn. The group wasn't posed but huddled closely together, faces determined as they sorted through leafs of parchment and dusty books. The picture had been taken during that short period of time when they'd all been together. Angel had captured the moment on accident as he was fumbling with a client's camera. He didn't know exactly how he had managed to keep up with the photograph, but he was glad to still have it.

Angel hadn't known how quickly those days would fade. Ten years ago they, his family, had been divided and his world had changed. Cordelia had passed on quietly, Fred's soul had been destroyed and her body taken by Illyria, Wesley had gone half mad and been killed, and Gunn had been slaughtered in the Battle of L.A. Amongst it all, Spike had been there, a thorn in Angel's side but an able hand nevertheless. He had disappeared less than a year after Gunn's death.

Angel hated to admit it, but he wouldn't mind seeing that snarky peroxide-stained head again.

"Foul smelling pit of human garbage, not fit for me to tread upon," Illyria sneered, walking into Angel's office. She was, of course, referring to their new home, New Orleans. Angel, use to her haughty antics, smiled softly. Illyria would never change, he thought reassuringly.

Illyria sat a postcard down before him. It was from Lorne, and the picture on the front was an aerial view of Hong Kong at night. That made Angel's mood brighten only slightly. A postcard only reminded him that he hadn't seen his green skinned friend since he had opened a club halfway across the world.

"Thanks."

Illyria cocked her head, indigo eyes piecing the vampire. "There is a vampire slayer in this city."

"Rachel visiting?" Angel asked, referring to the young slayer who kept tabs on Baton Rouge.

"No. You have a picture of this one hidden in your bed room. I believe you lusted after her once."

Angel blinked. "Buffy?"

Illyria raised her chin. "It is the one you once spoke of. You visited her in Rome over a decade ago. . . ."

"Was she still with The Immortal?" Angel snapped.

Illyria was quiet for a moment, her eyes drawn down. "I believe she was with no such being."

Angel leaned back in his chair, one name running through his head like a chant. Buffy. Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer.


Dusk, New Orleans.

Angel stalked her, traveling close behind the slayer like he had done so many years ago in a little town called Sunnydell. Buffy was aware of his presence, the tingling feeling in the pit of her stomach that demons left behind. She shrugged it off. One vampire was not enough to make her turn away—she would let him come to her. Buffy Summers was the eldest of the slayers, their leader, but she was only in her early thirties. Her graceful walk portrayed a girl much younger, but her eyes, cold flint, spoke of many years. To Angel, she was more gorgeous than ever.

"She walks in beauty," Angel whispered, unable to take his eyes off of her. He hadn't seen her in a decade but the feelings he had for her ignited instantly.

Buffy walked into an alleyway, stopping before a chain link fence. She flipped her bobbed blonde hair, a distraction from the hand she had already slipped into her light jacket. "Ok, buddy, as much fun as this whole cloak and dagger bit is, I'm calling off the role-play."

Angel smirked, his hands in his pockets. He walked out of the shadows, letting his footsteps fall with just enough sound to alert the Slayer. "I see that Andrew guy has been influencing your one-liners."

He could hear her shallow breath as she turned. Her eyes were wide and glistening as she took in his familiar form. "Angel."

"Buffy."

She took a step forward, and he met her, wrapping his arms around her waist and lifting her in a soft kiss. Buffy's expression was dreamy, as if she was recalling some forgotten memory. She let her lips brush against his again and pushed away from his embrace. He caught her hand before she could step back.

"You were always better at greetings," he said.

"This is your new home?" she asked. Without an answer, she continued, "I didn't expect that. I thought I was getting away, coming here."

Angel's low brow rose. "Don't you think you've been away long enough?"

Buffy shook her head. "That's not what I meant. I've retired, from Slaying."

"You can do that?" Angel scoffed. "I didn't thing being the Chosen One came with a retirement plan. How are the benefits?"

Buffy glared. "Better than you would expect." She rolled her eyes, showing a bit of the California girl that she had left behind so long ago. "It doesn't mean I don't stake the occasional baddie—I just don't go looking for it. I've let others take that over. We have a whole army for Armageddon clean up, a crew for taking out demonic councils, and nifty training facilities."

"But I never thought you would stop," Angel said with a frown. "Did Faith take your place?"

Buffy laughed. "Nope, it was another slayer, her name's Alicia—she's head now. Faith took retirement three years ago, when she had little Robin Jr. She has twins due in August. Mommy duty took her out of the game."

"Faith, the mom. Hard to believe."

"Strange days," Buffy agreed.

"How about you?" Angel asked.

"No, mini-Buffs, yet," she smiled.

"Yet." Angel let the word sink in. It held hope . . . for Buffy, not for him. Instinctively, he sniffed the air. There was definitely a scent on her. It was familiar, but he couldn't place it off the top of his head. However, it was masculine and mixed with the musk of a recent romantic encounter.

"So, last time I heard, you were with The Immortal," Angel rambled. "Not that I have a, um, problem with that or anything like that. I mean . . . that's none of my business."

Buffy bit her lip. "It was a fling. Things didn't work out. You know, story of my life."

"Oh, really." Angel rocked back on his heels, shoulders tense. "So, that cookie dough thing. . . Are you done?"

Buffy looked down, unable to look her ex-lover in the eye. "You could say that."

Angel nodded in conformation. "But the cookie jar is already empty."

"Angel, I'm so sorry," Buffy began.

He cut her off. "Don't be. It was a long time ago."

Buffy crossed her arms. "I need to go. It's late." She walked around him, without a goodbye, disappearing down a sidewalk.

Angel blinked back the wetness in his eyes. Part of him had always known that there was no chance for him to be with Buffy, but another wanted to believe there was hope left. The latter no longer existed.


He needed to know. It was that simple. He needed to know if Buffy's heart was going to break again. He needed to know if she was in danger. He needed to know the bastard's name. Angel shook off the aggression, pacing the sidewalk. Ten minutes he had waited in the alleyway, somehow thinking that she would return and say that she was only joking, that he was the one she was meant to be with. But she didn't return.

Angel tilted his head, taking in the smells of the city. Like honey to a bee, he found her, a sweet scent that stirred the animal blood in his veins. He followed her signature scent, walking too fast. He knew that he was drawing attention, but he didn't care. He needed to find her again. He stopped in front of an antique shop. Angel closed his eyes, sensing her. She was definitely in this building—upstairs.

"Buffy's living above an antique shop?" he muttered, amused by the concept. Anything comical in the statement was swept away as the masculine scent swept over him again, stronger than before. The mystery man who'd taken Angel's hope away was there too, in the flesh this time.

Angel could feel a growl growing in the back of his throat. He walked to the side of the building where a convenient staircase led to the top floor, a quaint fern hanging off the side of the railing. Angel took the steps two at a time, landing without a sound. He didn't want her to hear him this time. He hesitated at the door, hand hovering over the door knob. What was he doing? He couldn't walk in, even if he wanted to. He had to be invited.

He heard her footsteps in the room, the sound of a wood floor yielding to the weight of a body and groaning again as another body landed on a piece of furniture. Buffy's laugh sounded through the door, and Angel barely resisted the urge to put on his game face. He could practically see the strangers lips against her smooth skin, over the ghosts of marks Angel had left long ago. The vampire with a soul could almost see those foreign hands running along her lithe, curving body, clutching, owning, unforgiving. And less than thirty minutes ago, Angel had had her in his grasp, her lips against his.

He rapped his knuckles across the door. There was quiet inside, shock, not panic, as Buffy probably reached for the closest weapon.

"It's me," Angel called, trying to hide the pain in his voice.

Again, footsteps, except they came in his direction this time. He heard a chain fall, a bar being pulled back, and finally a latch's click before the door opened ever so slowly. Angel's eyes caught Buffy first. The slayer was glaring, mouth pursed in anger and confusion. Her hair was ruffled and her blouse sloppily buttoned in haste.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

Angel ignored all of this, looking past her at the man walking toward the door, shirtless, zipping up a pair of leather pants with one hand.

"You?" Angel snarled.

"Me," Spike agreed, attempted a snarky grin. He failed miserably. Spike looked down at Buffy, catching her eye. "Peaches was bound to find out sooner or later, love. With a forehead that large, bet is he has something behind it. Invite the bloke in."

"I don't think that's such a good idea," Buffy stated.

Spike raised a brow at her hesitation. "Can't save us from one another, Slayer." Buffy didn't reply. He lover shrugged. "Fine, I'll invite him in. Angel, come in out of the cold, you old. . ."

Angel cut him off, lunging at his grand-childe. The two landed on the apartment floor, Angel's fist slamming into Spike's jaw. Spike attempted to block the blow but only managed to get his arm pinned, leaving him spitting blood with a grin on his face.

"I've missed that, peaches," Spike spat with a laugh.

Angel wrapped his hand around Spike's neck, squeezing.

Thump.

"No," Angel muttered.

Thump. Thump.

The vampire with a soul pushed himself up, and Spike attempted to regain footing. Angel took a step back, looking only at the smeared blood on his fingers. Spike's blood. Angel lifted it to his mouth, licking it off. Human blood.

Then the pulse he had felt had not been his imagination. Spike had won. He had the girl and the prize. Mortality was his.

"I'm sorry."

Angel looked up at the source of the apology. "How? When did. . .?"

Spike wiped at the blood trailing from his lip to his chin. "It wasn't like we had expected. There wasn't some sacred light show, or even a bloody banquet. It didn't happen over night either."

He looked at Buffy. The Slayer nodded and walked to the sofa, plopping down. The men made no such move.

"It was slow," Spike continued. "It started after I became solid again, or so I'm guessing. My phoenix bit in the Hellmouth must have set it off. The first change occurred when Illyria took Fred. It hurt. . . watching her suffer. I didn't even know her that well, but I could see that she was a real talent, that one. When we left her with Wesley, I thought I felt my heart beat. It didn't do it again, so I assumed it had been my imagination.

"After the battle, after Gunn and Wesley were gone, I quit drinking blood. I guess you didn't notice, seeing that we didn't quite sit around the dinner table together."

"But. . . How couldn't I have noticed?" Angel asked.

"You were busy adjusting," Spike answered. "The smurf was moaning enough to distract the both of us, I suppose. Back to the story, mate. Months passed as we did clean up work. One day I put my hand into the sunlight. Nothing happened. No poof and ashes, I could walk in the day. I didn't, of course; you would have noticed that, no matter how thick you usually are.

"I woke up before sunset one day, thinking the whole earth was shaking to hell. I thought it was a bloody earthquake. I was wrong. It was my heart beating, racing. I was alive. So, I left."

"And. . .That's why you left?" Angel shouted. "You couldn't have told me!"

"I know what you did," Spike said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Officially, the fates had already chosen me for the prophecy long before the contract was even written, but I know you signed away your only chance. Who did think would end up the 'real boy'?"

It was the truth. So why hadn't he realized it earlier? He shook his head, turning his back and walking toward the door. He had held onto that lie because it had given him hope. It had been what had kept him going.

"Angel," Buffy called. She was at the doorway with him in less than a second. "Angel. . . I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I didn't mean for things to turn out this way."

"I know." Angel walked down the steps.

"Poofer!"

Angel turned around as he reached the ground level. Spike was at the top step beside Buffy. Angel watched the crow's feet at his eyes deepen as the human man smiled down at him.

"The world still needs a hero, Peaches. They still need you. That's the real reason why you didn't win the prize. If you'd won, you would have stopped fighting. The Powers couldn't let that happen, mate."

Angel turned away from the couple, a shadow on night and walked away. Somewhere a scream sounded, a demon feasted on flesh, and the innocence of the world faded. Angel's pace hastened.