Disclaimer: I just use them, I don't abuse-erm-own them.

i. Romania, 1898- Pre-series

The air didn't smell Irish. Nothing seemed the same, actually; it all felt different...more somehow. Everything was sharpened and focused, which was a marked contrast to his usual hangover symptoms. He debated that perhaps he was dead, but his Catholic teachings led him to believe that Heaven wouldn't be this dark and mundane. Perhaps he was in Hell. His father's face came before him, screaming about his worthlessness and sin. Maybe his father had been right. Maybe he had disappointed God too many times and he had been consigned here. But his father's face, which had been shouting abuses, was now blue-pale and blank. The bile rose in his throat and he understood...he remembered. He collapsed and rocked on the ground, wrapping his hands around with legs. He abruptly let go, staring at his hands. He was disgusted, felt the urge to tear at them, to shred the skin so he would bleed like those he had...God, he could barely think the word. A keening noise tried to shake itself from his chest and he stifled it by biting his hand until he could taste blood. He deserved no release. He was a foul, terrible creature and he needed to suffer as he had made others suffer. Which way to avenge their deaths? he wondered. Wait for the sun to rise, perhaps break off a tree branch and stake himself. He lay on the ground for a long time, pushed there by the force of his grief. He trembled all over, violent spasms that tore through his form. And suddenly there was another presence with him. Tiny warm hands brushed their way over him and he relaxed, an iota at a time. Tears built in his head, pulsing and hot, but he refused to let them come. Shhhh, something whispered, too immaterial to be real, but surrounding him just the same, just let go. And he cried for every despicable thing he had done, all those opportunities he had erased. The presence around him continued to span his body, feathery-light. It allowed him to cry, to accept all that had happened to him in the past century and a half. The sun is rising, it reminded him eventually, and you cannot die. You have so much to do, so much good. He could not have explained to anyone how or why or where he understood- there were no adequate words- but he knew that he had to take shelter against the sun. Neither could he explain why he whispered to something- the presence, the empty air, his victims, himself- I won't fail. I will find you.

ii. Paris, 1899- Pre-series

They were chasing him, those boys, not realizing that they were endangering their own lives by doing so. To them he was just another homeless man to follow. Angelus whispered under his skin //it would be so easy, just take them// closer to the surface because he was so weak. All his instincts, vampire and human, told him to fight, that he could win this battle and be done with the nuisance. But the control he had worked so long to achieve told him no; keep running away from all that pulsing blood. He was so intent on not paying attention to the children behind him that he did not notice the garbage can on the sidewalk until he crashed into it. He slipped, catching himself on his palms as he tumbled into an alley.

"You're lucky they didn't get you." The voice that came out of the shadows was how he imagined honey would sound if it were articulated: sweet and warm with a thick French accent. "You don't look as if you could defend yourself if they had."

He peered into the darkness and made out the lumpy shape of an old woman. As she reached out a hand to help him lean against the alley wall, she studied his face.

"What's your name?" she asked kindly.

It was the first time he had been asked this. Most people he saw took him for a homeless beggar and ignored or ridiculed him. Any other homeless people he met had instincts enough to stay away from him. But this woman did not appear frightened at all. Her heart kept a steady pace as she waited patiently for an answer. But he did not know what to say. The knee-jerk reaction was "Angelus," but that wasn't right, and he wasn't Liam anymore either. And then his sister's voice spoke clearly in his head: Are you an angel? He wondered if she had a tombstone, what it would say: loving daughter, faithful friend, taken before her time...beloved sister, of blessed memory? And in the moment, he decided that he would be her blessed memory. He would carry her with him, her memory echoing each time someone said his name. With renewed purpose he looked into the lady's eyes and said for the first time, "My name is Angel."

"Pleased to meet you, Angel," said the woman, "Now if you would be so kind as to escort me to the soup kitchen round the corner, I'd be much obliged."

Angel rose and helped the woman to her feet before helping her out of the alleyway and into the misty night.

iii. Welcome to Hellmouth

That did not go as planned, was his first thought as he lay on the ground, the figurative wind knocked out of him. He glanced up at Buf-the Slayer. During his time as Liam and as Angelus he had been suave, never lacking for company. But to keep the demon within him at bay he had to avoid all base thought; Angelus only fed on it. Being near women, especially this one, led to thoughts, and the thoughts led to Angelus humming a bloody little tune in his head and that led down a road no one wanted to go.

He realized that she probably wanted an answer of some kind, an explanation as to why she had a new stalker but he could not think of a single think to say that would make him seem smooth rather than like a complete lunatic. The soul in him wanted to sob and thank her for giving him a new purpose, for coming here, for lifting him from the literal filth and breathing new life into him. The demon in him rolled his eyes. Corniness is not close to godliness, you great souled idiot. Act casual.

Angel ignored the insult and decided to take the advice. He peered up into the face that he had traced a million times in his mind after waking up from nightmares of his past. His eyes lingered on her bare, unblemished neck, revealed by her pulled up hair before he forced them up to her face. His first attempts at speech were sort of wheezes, which was ironic as he didn't need to breathe. Angelus rolled his eyes again and mentally smacked Angel upside the head. This is not the first girl you've ever talked to. Put up your borders of solitude or whatever and pretend you're normal.

He had become excellent at solitude. He could do this; he could be casual and withdrawn. He blinked, slipped on his mask, took a minuscule breath and finally came up with: "Is there a problem, ma'am?"

iv. Becoming, Part 2

She was not putting her whole heart into this. To another person it would seem as if she were fighting with everything she had, but he has trained and fought beside or against her. He knows that she is still in love with the soul and does not want to hurt this form. That is why first blood is his. It is just a thin scratch, but it oozes garnet and smells of innocence and triumph and strength and her.

But that victory was moments and an age ago and here he was back in the mansion, still reeling from her unexpected resistance. While outwardly he fought bitterly, bringing his sword in jarring blows against hers, inside he smiled. He had underestimated her. A few months ago, he had believed her to be a short distraction: while enjoyable in its time, ultimately fleeting. But she had endured his torture and still had not broken. He had taken away all her supports: her mother, her Watcher, her friends. All her strengths were gone, he had forced her to do battle against and injure the shell that she loved, and still she fought. Quite simply, she amazed him. She captivated him and as they sparred viciously, he realized that she was his ideal mate. She was the best of her kind and he the best of his. She might pretend to be a naïve schoolgirl and in some ways she was, but there was darkness in her that she sensed and feared. Given the chance, he could cultivate it. They could be wonderfully, horribly powerful, if she would just let him guide her.

But his guidance didn't seem to be on her mind as she slashed her blade through the air and knocked his to the ground. She hit him again and he crashed to his knees. All the alpha dominance in the world could not stop him from raising his hand in an automatic, futile effort to protect his body from the swing of her blade. Even as he attempted to shield himself, he smirked inwardly. She was aiming to slice his head off, which meant he would turn to dust without a drop of blood being spilled. The gate would still open and hell would reign. He would triumph even if he wasn't around to see it.

The thought did little to comfort him as pain ripped through his midsection. He doubled over, forehead nearly touching the floor. He did not understand. She hadn't struck him, yet he hurt. He chuckled inwardly in a harsh, humorless way. Special Buffy ma-

Buffy is crying. That thought came before everything. He did not know where he was, when he had left the alley that was his last memory, how he had gotten here or what Buffy was doing. She was in pain. He could smell it and feel it within himself and so he rose, trying to heal her. He was confused and he told her so, but she did not speak other than to say his name. He pulled her into his arms, trying desperately to remember and then deciding that it did not matter, that he would find out later. She was rigid in his arms and while he touched her and kissed her as if to make up for lost time, he wondered what had happened to make him feel so separated from her. And then she kissed him and told him she loved him. She told him to close his eyes and even as he remembered Darla's fangs sinking into his neck, even with his memory confused and spangled with holes, he did as she asked. He trusted her so completely that his senses did not even register the air being pushed out of the way as the sword headed towards his midsection. The cold metal, colder even than his body, slid through him and for an immeasurably short time, barely long enough for the thought to form, he hated her. And then the thought disassembled. He still didn't understand how she could do this and he held out his hand, said her name as a question, a prayer and a plea, but he didn't hate her. He had been in love with her from the second he saw her, but she had no need, no reason to love him. Whatever she had given him- a few months, a few hours, just a brush of her hand on his- it was enough. Love was on his mind as his elbows hit the dirt, spinning the sword around his insides. His fall raised dust from the ground and at first he thought that his mind was too disjointed and confused to recognize his own habitual coughs or his groans of pain. It wasn't until the face leaned over his that he realized that something else was present and mirthful.

"Welcome," it cackled, and he remembered.

v. Not Fade Away

Riding a dragon is much harder than it should be. For one thing, its scales have a grain to them. As he was climbing up, they were rough, scraping the skin from his shins. Now that he has reached the top, though, they're slippery and don't provide any footholds. He is stabbing the thing, but it refuses to die. And of course it's not a strategist: it's weaving around, flying up and then landing sharply. Or perhaps trying to jar him off is the strategy. He manages to get in a good jab behind its throat, which seems to be the right thing to do, because the flames sputter out. But the last gush of them catch Spike in the back as he leaps in a deathly dervish. Their eyes meet and Spike looks like Lot's wife, but a column of fire instead of salt. Angel can still see those knife blue eyes as Spike is consumed. They tell him that he is the last one and he must be strong, he must keep fighting.

For a tiny slicing second, Angel thinks that it is ridiculous: why keep fighting now that he has no reason to do so? His family is gone, (even Illyria is gone, after taking down half the army) and he is a failure, he has doomed the earth to this. But this despair is followed by a renewed fervor and a minor epiphany. This is not all about him, but he has caused this and he will finish it. He feels infused with strength as he swings at the dragon once more. This time he makes contact with a patch of unprotected skin beneath its chin. It shrieks and he twists the sword further, piercing through the neck. It dies standing, but then its legs fold and he is thrown off, tumbling down the dragon's slick hide into an alley.

Of course, he thinks dazedly, it always starts and ends in an alley.

He tries to get up but is stopped by a booted foot on his chest.

"What's happened, Angel? Did my invitation get lost in the mail?"

He decides that he must have cracked his head harder than he thought if he is imagining that Buffy is there.

She rolls her eyes at him. "Of course I'm here. I have eyes and ears everywhere now." She removes her foot from his chest and helps him up. "Now come on, let's finish this. I want to go somewhere to catch up before I have to get back to Rome."

They fight through the night. He thinks that maybe William wrote a poem a few lifetimes ago saying something like that. But then he stops thinking that because it just hurts him to think of all the people he has failed. The list plays over in his mind anyway. As if he could stop it.

The sun is rising as they kill the last demon and he rolls his eyes at how inconsiderate the Powers are that they don't even stop the sunrise so their champion can stop the apocalypse. But then he falls to his knees, feeling as though someone has hit him from behind with a club of some kind. As the pulse dances under his powder pale skin, he wonders if this is just wishful thinking. And then Buffy is beside him, kneeling in the who-even-knows-what. He opens his mouth to tell her not to ruin her clothes, but then shrugs and just kisses her instead. Maybe the Powers aren't so inconsiderate after all.

When they break apart, she stares at him like he is some sort of giant present. "Looks like we have to catch up on more than I thought. And I won't be going back to Rome so soon after all," she tells him, and he kisses her again. As he does, he thinks of every person he has met, everything he has done, because it has all led him to this point. He has fallen and risen and journeyed on and finally, finally been reborn.

vi. Future

The labor ended at three minutes past twelve. Twenty minutes later, Buffy watches him, unable to raise her head from the pillow. He holds Zoe in his arms, a look of amazement on his face. He appears to be counting her toes for the seventh time.

They considered naming her after someone, but the lists they made were too long and too depressing, and they decided that she needed her own name. Finally they came up with Zoe: life.

Somehow she expected that being the Slayer would make giving birth easier. It didn't. She is finally able to wet her lips and ask him a question. "What are you doing?"

He does not even look at her as he responds. "Falling in love all over again."

A/N: The last one came to me first and called for some friends.