Shadow Lives

Part 6:  Stealing Life

          "The Cliff Notes version? I want a normal life. Like I had before… 
            I wish we could be regular kids." – Buffy,  "What's My Line"

         "Big question. What do I want? (Thinks) Love - family - a place

          on this planet I can call my own." – Angel, "Warzone"

"It's almost like old times," Willow sighed happily.  "You and me taking a quick break from patrolling to pick up a movie."

"Yeah," Xander agreed with a touch of sadness.  "The only thing that's missing is Buffy."

"I can't believe it was Anya who found a good way to bring back the dead and not me," Willow said.

"What Anya did had some pretty serious drawbacks Wills," Xander warned.  "I wouldn't wish my demon's memories on my worst enemy, let alone on Buffy."

"It's really that bad?" Willow asked her voice filled with concern, sympathy and something more.

"You can't ever hint at this to Anya," Xander said.  "She was only trying to help and I am coming to terms with it, but honestly I'm glad we didn't know about the curse when Jesse got turned.  It's better that we just killed the vampire he'd become."

"You wish you were still dead?" Willow asked.

For almost a block Willow's question hung in the silence between them.

"I don't want to die if that's what you're asking," Xander said finally.  "I want… I want to be forgiven.  I want to somehow make up for the things I did after I was turned… Who would have ever thought I'd be the one who'd finally understand Angel?  I want to be able to sleep without hearing my victims scream in my mind.  I want my innocence back, but I can't ever have that so I'll settle for having a great big light in the sky or something saying I've done enough good to cancel out the evil things."

"It's too bad Anya couldn't have found an alternate dimension where you weren't a vampire," Willow said, sounding lost in thought.

"Master Liam, you've a guest," Anna said. 

Buffy's mouth dropped open at her first sight of Angel, he was dressed in tan breeches and a white shirt, his long hair was neatly pulled back and strangest of all, he looked about nineteen.

"Mother, Father, if you'll excuse me?" he asked getting up from the table.

"You said we could go riding after lunch," Kathy protested.

Angel smiled at the five year old.  "I'll be right back Kathy-sweet, don't you worry," He promised then took Buffy's arm and led her outside. 

As they left the house Galway transmuted to LA and with the change in setting Angel's appearance shifted back to what Buffy was accustom to.

"That was your family wasn't it?" Buffy asked.  "Do you dream about them a lot?"

"More lately," Angel replied.  "I used to have nightmares about killing them occasionally, but now I seem to have switched over to happier times.  It's nice to remember them like that."

"I'll have to do this dream-walking more often.  You can introduce me sometime," Buffy suggested.  Then her expression turned serious.  "But right now you have to wake up.  Willow's going to do something bad, you have to stop her."

A slight woman with long brown hair shifted her book bag to the other arm as she leaned against the side of the phone booth in the corner of Sunnydale University's MU building.

"So what did my mom say?" she asked.

"She said yes, she's going to display my paintings," his voice reflected disbelief  "Maybe this is her way of saying she's finally accepted our marriage."

The woman snorted with a bitter sort of amusement.  "More likely you're just too good to snub."

"Whatever the reason she's giving me a chance, I'm grateful for that much," he replied.

"It calls for a celebrations," she declared.  "Dinner out?"

"I'm on my way to get the kids," her husband replied.  "I'll pick you up in front of the library."

"Good plan, the less time they spend with the Harris' the fewer chances they'll have to turn them against us."

There was a momentary pause.  "Xander and Willow are my family Buffy, and it's not as if I didn't give them reason to hate me."

Buffy sighed.  "I know, Xander's the one that found you after you tried to kill yourself, he really looked up to you, it very was traumatic for him.  You've told me before why I should excuse how he acts toward you, but the wreck and everything that happened afterwards was thirteen years ago, before I even met you and I feel like I've know you forever, so isn't that a bit long for him to still be upset?  It wasn't like you were yourself then… Why did Mom have to decide to talk to you on such short notice, she knows you work nights so we don't need a babysitter for the kids."

"Maybe she thought I'd have to bring them with me."

"Don't even suggest it Angel," Buffy ordered.

"They are her grandchildren.  And she's never even seen them," Angel said quietly.

"And she won't see them until she takes back disowning me either," Buffy replied.  "I let you set the rules with regards to your family, but Joyce is my mother so we deal with her my way."

Angel sighed. "She's the only grandparent the kids have.  Would it be so bad if we made the first overtures?"

"Angel," Buffy said warningly.

"Discussion over, I know," Angel said.  "I'll see you in fifteen minutes…  I love you."

"Love you too," Buffy replied irritation melting out of her voice. 

A minute later a bright flash of light surrounded her.  When it faded the spot where she had stood was empty.

Angel fidgeted nervously as the truck pulled on to the freeway.  According to the driver's logbook his next stop was in Sunnydale.

His friends were going to be furious about how he was handling this.  Actually if he stopped to think about it there were a lot of things they didn't like these days.

They didn't like him patrolling with Faith but they couldn't stop him, so they contented themselves with the promise that he and Faith would call for back up if they ran into anything more threatening than the run of the mill demons feeding on humanity.  They didn't like that he refused to be excluded from cases, but were gradually coming to terms with the idea.  Still, he didn't even have to ask to be certain they weren't ready for him to take a solo mission to Sunnydale.

And it didn't matter.  Buffy said it was urgent, she said it involved her.  He was going, and he was going to deal with things his way.  It was about Buffy.

Buffy pushed her long brown hair out of her eyes as she scrambled to her feet.  She stared around herself in alarm; she was in the middle of a circle drawn in sand on a plastic tarp in a bright cheerful kitchen.  The candles set at the four corners of the tarp and the dark robed figure were so out of place in the perfectly normal kitchen, it almost made it freakier than if they'd been in some dungeon.

"Buffy don't worry, everything will make sense in just a minute," the witch said in a happy voice, pushing back the hood of her robe to reveal coppery red hair.

"Willow Harris!" Buffy exclaimed.  "Are you out of you're mind?  I don't care what Angel says about staying in touch with family, you're never getting near our kids ever again, and I always though you were less of a freak than your husband."

Willow's eyes widened in surprise.  "Me and Xander?  Wow your world really is different," she said taking a step forward to examine Buffy more closely, as she did so her foot scuffed the line of sand encircling Buffy.  "…Wait a second 'our kids'.  Your and Angel's kids!?  Oh goddess, you have kids… This complicates things… but just finding a living you was so hard…  What if there aren't anymore?  Xander would kill me if I used a vampire.  I know what happens with a corpse, it's not at all nice…"

Buffy backed away from Willow, her eyes fearful.  She felt the doorknob against the small of her back.

"Buffy?  What's wrong?" Willow asked.

Buffy turned and darted out the door.

Willow started after her when the phone rang, startled Willow glanced toward it and Buffy disappeared through a break in the hedge.

Angel considered enlisting Xander's aid as he walked toward Willow's place.  This wasn't his normal case, there was no bad guy, just Willow and a mistaken belief that time could be turned back.

He wasn't going to fight with her, just talk some sense into her and Xander's voice might carry more weight with Willow than his would.  Always assuming that Willow hadn't already talked Xander into her point of view, it certainly was a tempting one…

"Buffy you're sure Willow's plan can't work out?" Angel asked.

"You know it's wrong for about a bazillion reasons," Buffy said.  "Beside, if my soul is brought back it'll tear off the dimensional patch my death created.  We'll be in the same fix we were in when I jumped the first time.  Maybe the PTB would prefer if I sacrificed Dawn, but I can't."

Buffy sighed.  "Maybe that's what I was supposed to do and everyone would have been better off if I had let Dawn jump.  Maybe Giles and Xander wouldn't have died.  Maybe Willow wouldn't hate herself.  But in my heart I swore to protect Dawn long before anyone told me I had to protect the whole world," Buffy said.

They settled into silence for a few blocks then Buffy added.  "The PTB aren't exactly all knowing, they keep asking our minds to out weigh our hearts.  I know I should have let Dawnie jump.  She would have done it Angel.  She would have given up her life to save the world."

"She's your little sister," Angel said quietly. "How could she have done less?"

"And that's why I couldn't let her.  They took my whole life, how could I let them have hers too?  Of course they got it anyway didn't they?  It's just like you and Darla; they thought it was 'fair' to expect you to feel the same about her as you would have about any other vampire.  But she wasn't any other vampire was she?  She was your family, like Dawn's mine and you can't just turn off your feelings about family.  They wouldn't be family if you could.  But the PTB won't accept that."  Buffy said angrily.

Angel frowned.  "What are you?" he asked.

"I told you."

"I wouldn't expect a representative of the PTB to be so bitter toward them."

"She's coming!" Buffy exclaimed.  "I can't stay.  I don't know what might happen if I get too close to her."

Angel felt Buffy's presence fade; a moment later he heard running footsteps approaching.

A petite brown haired woman crashed into him.  Angel caught her before she could fall and set her back on her feet.

"Sorry," the woman said backing away then she looked at him.  "Angel!" she exclaimed throwing herself into his arms.  "Oh god Angel.  I was just walking on campus, not five minutes after we hung up, then I was somewhere else and Willow was acting all freaky.  I don't understand what's going on."

"It's okay Buffy," Angel said.  "I'll explain it, I'll make it right."

Buffy smiled up at him.  "You always make me feel better," She said.  "But we are not letting your cousin or his wife baby-sit ever again."

"Buffy we need to talk," Angel sighed.

"Dawn, you have to listen to me," Spike said in a tight pain-edged voice as he pulled the slender girl into an isolated alcove at the Bronze.

Dawn shook off his hand angrily.  "I said four weeks, not two," she snapped heading back toward her friends.

Spike grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her back to face him.  "Look at me you heartless little bitch," he demanded shaking her until they both winced.  "Look at what you're doing to me."

"If I'm heartless it's dating you that made me that way," Dawn snarled back.  "Do you think it's easy for me, loving a guy who looks at my friends as fast food?"

"I save 'em for you, don't I?  I save all those cattle, you ought to show some gratitude," Spike growled.  "Instead you do this to me," Spike held his hand in front of Dawn's face letting her see the fine tremors that wracked his system.

"You shouldn't have threatened Xander," Dawn shot back.  "Remember what I can do the next time you think about hurting my friends!"

""You wouldn't be so bloody casual about torturing me if it weren't for Xander," Spike sneered.  "You think he can replace me.  Well think again little girl, you need me as much as I need you."

"I'm not the one who's going to be coughing up pieces of his innards if he doesn't learn how to behave himself," Dawn snapped.

"We'll see how long it takes for you to crawl back to me after your new champion's gone," Spike threatened stalking away.

Angel sat dejectedly on the hearth at the mansion.  Buffy crouched fearfully on the far side of the couch.

"I'd never hurt you," he said quietly.  "Please believe that."

"I want to go home," Buffy whimpered.

"Would it be so bad to stay here?" Angel asked reluctantly.

"I want my husband and my kids back," Buffy cried.

Angel looked away, his expression ashamed.  "I'm sorry, I felt… like I had to ask.  I'll see that you get home."

Slowly Buffy came out from behind the couch.  "Why do I believe you?" she asked.  "You aren't him, you're some kind of monster.  How can I feel so safe with you?"

Angel smiled a little, "It never made sense that you'd trust me, but you did.  I won't let you down."

"You know another me?" Buffy asked curiously.  "Like you're Angel, but not my Angel."

"I love her, like you love him," Angel said.  "Come on, lets see about getting you home."

"Where are we going?" Buffy asked.

"I need to have a few words with Willow," Angel said darkly.

"I don't like her," Buffy complained.

"She's your best friend," Angel said.

"She's Xander's wife," Buffy said with a roll of her eyes.

"That's different," Angel said.  "Xander's your other best friend here."

"Xander's your bitter, grudge baring cousin, the one you're still trying to make up with after years and years of him being a pain," Buffy said.

"Why?" Angel asked.

"I guess I've got to get used things being all weird here," Buffy said changing the subject.  "Why do we have to talk to Willow?"

"She's the one that brought you here.  Willow wanted our Buffy back," Angel said. "She forgot you'd have your own life.  She's the one that can send you home."

"Let's go."

As they walked Angel couldn't help watching Buffy curiously.  "We have kids?" he asked.  "I mean you and your Angel."

Buffy smiled suddenly and dug out her wallet.  "I've got pictures."

"A moonlight walk on the beach?" Anya asked uncertainly.

"I thought it would be romantic." Xander said.

"But this is Sunnydale," Anya reminded him.  "What if it's dangerous?"

"I'll protect you," Xander said.  "Besides, it's not like I could take you to the beach during the day."

"I like the idea of you protecting me," Anya said.  "Especially if it's not from anything overly dangerous."

Xander laughed.  "That's my Anh, always practical."

"I really do like it," Anya said.

"Xander?" Willow yelled running up the beach.  "I saw Anya's car and…"

"Wills, you are interrupting," Xander said smiling tightly.

"I brought another Buffy here," Willow said.  "Then she ran off."

"Is she a vampire?" Anya asked.  Xander tensed.

Willow glanced nervously at Xander.  "No, nothing like that, but she isn't our Buffy yet.  I don't know what she knows.  She freaked, it wasn't Slayer-like."

"What were you trying to do?" Xander asked.

"Isn't it obvious?" Anya asked.

"I guess we'd better find her," Xander said.

Angel touched the picture gently.  "She looks exactly like my little sister."

"I wish I'd known her, everybody says Marie reminds them so much of Kathy," Buffy replied.  "This is our son, Aaron.  The only person Aaron reminds anyone of is himself."

"I don't know, his eyes are like yours," Angel said.  "What's it like?"

Buffy smiled softly.  "We fell in love the day we met and got married as soon as it was legal.  We have two great kids, extremely hyperactive, verging on insanity causing kids, but I'd never change them.  It's perfect, just the four of us."

"Xander!  Anya!" Dawn yelled.  "Where is everyone when I need to warn them?"

Dawn banged on the door for a few more minutes then turned and ran down steps. 

"I hate Spike, why does he have to be like this," she thought.  "He's supposed to love me, so now he's good.  He's been good for years and years and years.  It shouldn't be like this anymore."

Dawn took an angry swing at bush.  "It isn't fair.  Why can't he just trust me?  I love him, I don't care that Xander doesn't like him.  I wasn't going to leave him no matter what Xander said.   But oh no, Spike can't deal with things like a normal person, he has to go out and try to kill someone."

"He made me hurt him and now instead of knocking it off he's even more determined to kill people.  Why is my life like this?"

"Willow," Angel said in a stern voice.

Willow, Xander and Anya turned to see Angel and Buffy walking toward them.

"You found her," Willow said with relief.  "Buffy, why'd you run off?  I was worried.  If you'd just given me a second I'd have fixed everything."

"No," Angel said.  "You're going to put her back."

"I have it all figured out," Willow argued.  "I pop out her soul and put in the right one, then everything's back to normal."

"No!" Angel said his voice rising slightly.  Buffy cowered behind him.

"It'll be just like the good old days," Willow prattled on.  "Buffy, Xander and I as best friends.  You dating Buffy, but no curse this time.  I'll bring back Giles and Jenny too.  Then they'll get married and everyone will be happy.  I can't bring Tara back, because of the magic problem but I could make Oz come home and forget all those worries about the wolf and Xander and I…"

"Then you'll make me disappear and cast a love spell on Cordelia and Xander so they'll be an item again, right?" Anya asked angrily.

"Why would I do that?" Willow asked.  "You're like the improved version of Cordy, you're a lot nicer to Xander.  Don't worry guys, I'll make everything perfect."

Staring at her in disbelief Xander slowly backed away from his oldest friend.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Willow asked.  "I know that I screwed up the first time I tried to bring Buffy back.  I didn't get it, I didn't understand what went wrong, so I just did my best to live in this awful place.  I didn't have any other choices.  Then Anya showed me the way.  Sure she messed up a few details, she brought versions of you two that were messed up.  There's nothing wrong with that Buffy and once I get rid of her other soul and clean up her mind a little she won't even remember ever being anyone else."

"It's what I should have done with you Angel.  Poof, no more memories from the hell-world Sunnydale.  I'm a little scared to try it now, I might get rid of the wrong soul, but if I had of taken care of that first then it wouldn't be a problem.  See I learn from my mistakes."

"What about my kids?" Buffy asked stepping forward to confront Willow.  "They have to grow-up without a mother so you can have everything the way you want it?  What about my Angel, should he grieve because you don't want to?  What about me?  What happens to me when you * pop out * my soul and get rid of it?"

"She has the life Buffy and I always dreamed about," Angel added, seeing Willow's determination waver.  "No demons, no vampires. Just a normal girl and her normal boyfriend, who got married and had a family and lived happily ever after; that's what Buffy told me she wanted about a month before she turned seventeen, isn't that right in the middle of those 'good old days' you want to bring back?  Even then Buffy wanted something else.  She wanted what this Buffy has.  What right do you have to take that away from her?"

"Anya got to have her life back," Willow said.  "I just need a few more people so I can have mine too."

"There was no one in our world to miss Angel or I," Xander said.  "No one not evil anyway."

He stopped and walked over to Anya.  "You know I love you don't you?" he asked.  "I've been trying to find the right setting, but I want this said before I finish what I've got to say to Willow.  Anya, I think maybe I should propose to you all over again, so much has happened.  But you're still wearing my ring, so either you really like it or the answer's still yes.  I'm hoping it's the latter, or even all of the above.  So I'm asking if you want to set a date instead."

"I'd like to elope," Anya said.  "Preferably in the next couple days, before anything can happen.  Then we can have a for-show wedding, with a dress and guests and a cake and presents, lots of presents."

Xander smiled.  "I think we could swing that," he said.  "Just please remember I love you and I want to be with you, but honestly you shouldn't have brought me back.  I didn't want you to spend the last five years of your life obsessed with my dying.  I wanted you to be happy, to live your life.  I would have waited for you, we would have been together in the end."

Xander took a deep breath.  "Do you really think Buffy or any of the others, would be happy if they could see us today?"

Buffy took out her wallet and handed the pictures to Willow.  "That's my family.  They're real people.  They need me.  I need them.  Send me home, please."

Willow bit her lip, staring down at a picture of Marie and Aaron splashing in a wading pool.

"Marie's in the second grade, she wants to be a writer when she grows up.  Aaron's five, he says recess is his favorite part of school," Buffy told her.  "Angel starting to get some notice as an artist, he'd love it if he could make a living that way.  I went back to college this year, now that the kids are both in school.  I haven't picked a major yet, but I really like this mythology class I'm taking.  Do people get degrees in that?"

"Okay, I'll send you home," Willow said, sounding defeated.

"Bloody bitch!" Spike swore kicking his TV over.  "She won't be so smug when he's gone.  I welcome the bastard; because I think it'll make her happy and now she thinks I'm expendable.  I'll show her who's expendable!"

Spike punched the wall, the stone cracked, his knuckles bruised.  He didn't seem to feel the pain.

He tucked a few stakes into his coat and stalked out of his crypt cursing Xander and Dawn under his breath.

After the spell was complete Angel walked outside and slumped on the front step of the townhouse.  A few minutes later Xander slipped out.  He stood in the doorway watching Angel for a few moments then asked, "You going to be okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Angel replied.

Xander sighed but didn't dignify that with a reply.  "It's almost dawn, you could crash at my place and head back to LA tomorrow night."

"I don't want to impose," Angel said.  "I'll spend the day at the mansion."

"Oh yeah that's just what you need, a whole day trapped in there, reliving everything you and Buffy went through during senior year.  You won't be imposing."

"I'd rather stay at the mansion," Angel rephrased.

"Then I'll stay with you," Xander said.

"Alone," Angel modified.

"How'd you get here anyway?" Xander asked.  "I didn't think you'd bothered to get a car or anything since you've been back."


"Angel!  That's dangerous," Xander reprimanded on reflex.

Angel stood up and started walking.

"Okay, that was a stupid thing to say given who and what you are," Xander said.  "Where are you going?"

"To the mansion, it's almost dawn," Angel said not looking back.

Xander followed Angel.  "We should catch up, it's been months since I was in LA.  Has anything interesting happened to you guys?"

"No," Angel said. "Why don't you go home?"

"I'm going," Xander said taking a few jogging steps to catch up with Angel.

"Why can't you hang out in cemeteries like you're supposed you bloody home-wrecker," Spike complained.  "It's too late to get back to the crypt."

He slipped into the mansion,  "Guess I'll spend the day here and kill Xander tomorrow night," he said making his way to his former room.

"You're here for the day," Angel sighed.  "Now I'm going to bed."

"You don't want to talk or anything?" Xander asked.

"No," Angel sighed.

"Well good night, or good morning I guess.  We can talk later," Xander said.  "I've got dibs on the couch."

"There are beds here," Angel pointed out.  "Several in fact, the rooms are up stairs."

"You never answered me, what are you?" Angel asked once he was alone.

"I never told you I was sent by the PTB," Buffy sighed.  "Nobody sent me, I just came.  I was worried about you."

"When I died I let everything go.  I'd given them my life, shouldn't that have been enough?  And then there you were.  Somehow the instant I died my soul was drawn to yours."

"I was ready to let go, you weren't.  All I could see was how much I'd given up.  All you could see was what you'd left undone.  It's not good when the dead spend too much time worrying about the living, it's one way to end up a ghost."

"When your friends drew you back into their world.  I thought you'd have a chance to clean up all those loose ends that bothered you so much," Buffy said.

"What about the loose ends you left?" Angel asked.  "Dawn, Willow, Giles, Xander, you left them dangling."

"I gave them everything I could," Buffy said.  "Dawn's life was the only other thing I had to give and I couldn't surrender that.  I did my best Angel, then I let go."

Spike tossed and turned restlessly, the nagging ache that seemed to suffuse his body prevented him from resting.  It was driving him mad with need, he thought.  Giving up on the possibility of escaping into sleep he wandered into the mansion.

Upon entering the front room Spike noticed a freshly made trail in the dust leading up stairs.  Hopefully demon, demons he could fight, adrenaline was almost as good as alcohol for distraction Spike decided donning his game face. 

As he climbed the stairs a scent he recognized and loathed filled the air.  Spike's expression turned malevolent.  "Isn't this a nice coincidence," he said to himself.  "The very blighter I want to kill decides to spend the day in the same hidey hole I pick."

He followed the track to the first bedroom and kicked in the door.

Xander blinked sleepily at Spike.  "What are you doing here?" he asked.

Spike drew a stake.  "Figure it out yet whelp?" he asked.

Xander scrambled to his feet. 

Spike spun and kicked him in the chest.  "You wrecked everything," he yelled.

Xander grabbed the rug Spike was standing on and yanked.

Spike landed in a crouch then side-kicked Xander in the head.  "Dawn needed me before you came," he continued.  "She loved me."

"She never loved you," Xander spat shaking his head to clear it.  "You were her last option."

"I'm all she needs," Spike growled, the stake splintering in his hand as his fist clenched.  He felt a presence behind him and lashed out blindly.

Angel deflected the blow and punched Spike.

"You," Spike snarled, his molten eyes gleamed with an insane light.  "I'll kill you both," he hissed throwing himself at Angel.

Angel tossed Spike over his shoulder then turned to face him.

Spike snatched up a chair and used it as a club against Angel.  The older vampire fell back absorbing Spike's assault while he looked for an opening.

Xander grabbed the chair.  Spike twisted around and rammed the chair into Xander's face.  Xander reeled back.

With an enraged shriek Spike threw himself at Angel before he could take advantage of the distraction Xander had given him.  Off-balance, they crashed through the blacked out window.

Xander started toward the window only to be driven back by the merciless late afternoon sun.

Spike and Angel fell two stories into one of the mansions gardens. 

Angel screamed with pain as his landing drove the trellis of a long dead rose bush deep into his side.

Spike rolled to his feet, skin already smoldering from the sun but too far lost in rage to heed the warning.

Angel climbed to his feet as well, looking for shelter.  The bare exterior wall of the mansion and a tangle of brambles that didn't provide enough shade to shelter a rabbit greeted him.  He felt his blood rapidly soaking his shirt, sticking it to the wound in his side.

Angel caught Spike's next charge, dropping to his knees to add momentum to his throw. 

Spike smashed into the wall off the mansion.  Flames licked at his flesh.  He stood and took several steps back toward Angel then was consumed by fire.

Angel blinked at the ashes that had been Spike a moment earlier then frowned at his own, unburned hands in confusion.

Still frowning he started around the mansion to the door.  A wave of dizziness swept over him and he stumbled.

Angel pressed his hand to the wound in his side warm blood pulsed over it.  Angel held his hand out before him, turning it back and forth curiously.

His legs gave out and he slid down the wall.  Tilting his head back Angel stared up at the sun, slowly a smile formed on his lips.

"Forgiven," he said weakly.

A few minutes later Angel was distantly aware that Xander was calling to him worriedly, but he couldn't muster the strength to respond.

"He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital," Xander said.  "They told me he'd lost too much blood, he went into shock, they couldn't do anything."

"But Angel is a vampire," Wesley argued vehemently.  "Vampires simply can't bleed to death."

"He wasn't a vampire, not then," Xander said.

"No, I don't believe it," Cordy said.  "The powers wouldn't have made him human only to have him die a few minutes later."

"Don't you get it," Xander exclaimed.  "From the minute he went out that window he was dead.  If he'd stayed a vampire the sun would have destroyed him like it did Spike."

"Why did you let this happen?" Cordy demanded angrily.  "Why didn't you protect him?"

"I couldn't!" Xander yelled back.  "He was protecting me!  I couldn't stop what happened!"

"He looked very peaceful," Anya interjected.

Xander took a deep breath.  "How do you think Angel would have preferred to die?  As a human or as a monster?  The PTB gave him what he wanted."

"Dawn?  Are you coming?"  Willow asked, standing outside of the locked door to the younger woman's room.

After several minutes Willow set the tray she was carrying on the floor.  "I didn't think so," she muttered.  "I'll be gone for several hours.  I'm leaving some food for you outside the door, like normal.  Eat up before it gets cold."

The door cracked open and Dawn's haggard face appeared.  "I hate both of them," she said.  "No, I wish I hated them, either of them, instead I get stuck understand."

"And that only makes it harder right?" Willow asked sympathetically.

"Yeah," Dawn said.  "Spike was being the evil demon he always was.  Of course he tried to kill Xander.  He thought Xander was a threat to him.  And Angel was a good person, of course he couldn't stand by and let Spike kill Xander."

"God, I didn't mean that the way it sounded.  I'm glad Angel protected Xander, I really am.  But I miss Spike.  I thought I'd changed him.  I thought I could make him change because he loved me.  I'm such an idiot aren't I?" Dawn asked, beginning to cry.

Willow wrapped Dawn in a tight embrace.

After several long minutes Dawn pulled away.  "I've got to get dressed for the funeral," she said.  "Don't worry, I won't make us late."

"They're burying you next to me," Buffy commented happily.

"Cordy and Wes aren't taking it well," Angel worried.  "I knew it was going to happen, but I thought I'd have more time to get them used to the idea."

"You tried," Buffy said.  "There are always going to be a few things you can't take care of."

"I probably should have just told them," Angel replied.

"Angel," Buffy sighed.  "You can't do this, you can't keep what-if-ing things.  If everything had of been different today would be different.  If you'd told them that you were going to die, maybe they would have stopped you from helping, then you wouldn't have shanshued.  If Dawn had of let Spike isolate her from everyone else, maybe he wouldn't have felt the need to kill Xander.  If you and I had of been different all those years ago, if we'd followed the PTB's plans instead of our hearts, maybe we'd have been rewarded with all our fondest dreams come true, who know.  Things didn't work out like we hoped that they would, I know that, but they worked out okay.  You did fix things between you and your friends.  You helped some more people.  You and Faith saved Lissa, there's a good chance that she and Xander will make the Watcher's Council join the new century in another decade or so.  And it's not like you're leaving anyone in a lurch, not like I did.  They'll be all right.  Dawn'll get over Spike; I think she'll be happier in the long run without him.  And you and I are together.  That's not such a bad ending is it?"

"I always hoped things would work out more like it did for the other us; marriage, kids, a normal life.  I thought meeting her should have made me want to fight against this ending," Angel said.

"Like I said, maybe it would have been like that for us if we'd made different choices, but we made the choices we had to make.  A white picket fence wasn't in the cards for us."  Buffy said.  "Come on Angel, it's time to go.  They'll be okay without us this time around."