Title: In Pursuit of Happiness

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Rating: T

Summary: Mary had a bag of groceries in her arms, dinner to cook, and her son inside doing his homework; she really wasn't in the mood for a confrontation. 1200 words.

Spoilers: AtS post-"Not Fade Away"; no comics; "Hancock" (2008)

Notes: Vaguely set in the same 'verse as "Secondary Insurance Policy"; also for a challenge pairing.

Sometimes, Mary wondered what their lives might have been like, had Ray been a bit more careful the day he'd stranded his car on the tracks. If he'd been watching the traffic a little more closely and realized the cars ahead wouldn't leave enough space for him to cross the tracks before they stopped, or if he'd left work even a few minutes earlier or later, avoiding the time the train was scheduled to cross the tracks entirely-- Hancock would never have had to swoop in to 'save' him, her current husband would never have taken her former husband on all unknowing as his newest project, and she'd never have had to break cover for the first time in over eighty years.

It had worked out for the best, she knew. The burden of guilt she used to feel every time she turned on the TV to see evidence of the wreck Hancock had become without her had been put to rest. Ray finally knew what she was, and still accepted her; Hancock had pulled out of his spiral of destruction; both men had become overnight successes in the public eye-- and the three of them, she and her two husbands, had managed to find a balance that worked for them all.

There had been consequences, though, to go with the triumphs. Explaining everything to Aaron, for one thing. Paying for the damage she'd inadvertently done to her house, for another-- not to mention the buildings her impromptu throwdown with Hancock had damaged downtown. (That would be impacting their credit rating for a long time; it was a damned good thing Ray had started making so much money, or his stance on pushing Hancock to take responsibility for his actions would be coming back to haunt them.) Having to take up actual public protection duties of her own-- an occupation she'd never been as suited to as her partner. She'd just as soon have avoided that last, but she'd already seen in Hancock's example the way the media would vilify a 'superhero' who didn't live up to their imagined perfection-- and if she had trouble resisting that pleading look from Ray, she had no hope of ignoring it from their son.

She had no trouble, though, ignoring the many requests for interviews that had flown her way thick and frequent since their lives had changed-- or turning away the whackjobs that periodically came out of the woodwork to confront her in a way they'd never have done the city's half-drunken, grumpy, unmistakably male former resident superhero.

"All right, what do you want?" she prompted the blue chick currently standing on her doorstep. Mary had a bag of groceries in her arms, dinner to cook, and her son inside doing his homework; she really wasn't in the mood for a confrontation.

The woman tilted her head slightly, her demeanor as frosty as her complexion. She was petite, slim and several inches shorter than Mary's height; she couldn't have weighed more than two-thirds what Mary did, but she gave off the impression of being larger than that somehow, in a vague, immeasurable way. Like one of Mary's kind would have, only not-- that Mary would have sensed at once.

"I wish to understand," she announced, in a tense, commanding tone.

"Understand what?" Mary said, wrinkling her brow in irritation. "That you're trespassing on private property? Because I think I'm well within my rights to drop kick you into the next time zone if you interfere with my family. I made it clear when I started assisting the city that I wasn't going to tolerate work following me home, and if you're not here about work, you have no right to be here at all."

"You subordinate yourself to the humans," the woman said, lips pursed in disapproval. "You concealed yourself among them for decades without once revealing your power, not even to heap punishment upon the heads of those who had harmed one important to you."

Mary swallowed, shifting her grip on the bag of groceries as it began to sink in that this was more than just another whackjob-- this was something different, something old. Something demonic, but sane and intelligent, more powerful than the run-of-the-mill bottom-feeders that were all she'd personally encountered in this "enlightened" modern age.

The Slayers she'd met recently-- Faith and Buffy-- had claimed to have seen and heard of actual Ancient Ones surfacing within their human lifetimes, but Mary had found those stories hard to credit; if it hadn't been for their unusually strong presence, and the unmistakable echoes of her sisters Bastet and Sekhmet resonating in the young women's auras, Mary probably would have shut the door in their faces just as she'd have done to any other intruder. As she wanted to do to this woman.

Except-- if their stories had been right-- this was Illyria. Weakened by her rebirth or not, she wasn't someone to be underestimated; she'd been a god to the gods who had created Mary's kind, still whispered of in horror-filled tones in Mary's youth. Call her crazy-- actually, don't-- but Mary wasn't all that eager to see whether the bogeyman's bogeyman really could do all the things she'd been promised by those whose task had once been to keep those like her in line.

"I did what was necessary," she said, firmly-- but cautiously. "I did what I thought was best to ensure that both of us would live."

"Live," the woman replied with a sneer of disgust. "You would claim this state of existence as living? The power to rule at your fingertips, and you use it to serve humans rather than making them serve you?" She shook her head, a deeper blue spreading out from the roots of her hair even as Mary watched and diffusing through once-brown irises. "How can that be enough?"

"It just is," Mary said, tensely, still unnerved but unwilling to back down. With Aaron just on the other side of that door, she dared not betray any sign of weakness. "I'm happy. He's happy. Maybe it's not perfect, but it's what works for us. And we're going to keep on living, and finding what happiness we can, no matter what the world throws at us. We've done it before. We'll do it again. And it's really no business of yours."

The woman's gaze didn't break; she continued to stare fiercely at Mary, dissatisfied with her response, as the tension ratcheted up in the air. Then, without warning, something changed; the tension broke, and she seemed to suddenly grow smaller, fitting back into the shape bounded by her skin. "How?" she asked, more quietly. "How can that be enough? My guide is gone, and I... I do not understand."

Oh, Mary thought, stunned, as the altercation she'd been expecting... transmuted into something altogether different. Damn. Where was Ray when she needed him? Another more-than-human in need of self-image adjustment; this would be right up his alley. Provided Illyria was willing to listen.

Warily, Mary bent to set the groceries on the stoop, then pulled her cell from her pocket.

"You're in luck," she said, carefully. "I think I know someone who can help."