DISCLAIMER: I don't own QAF, the characters…blah blah blah. You know the drill. If I had any right over these characters, the finale would have never have happened.

A/N: Once again, a HUGE thank you to Xrifree. The world's best beta. Ever.


PROLOGUE

He watched the gaunt body on the hospital bed. It wouldn't be too long before the heart monitor went flat; the man was too weak to hold on much longer.

The harsh hospital lighting made the short, light brown hair appear almost sandy in colour; at a younger, healthier time, it had been worn long, like a hippie. Unconsciously, he ran his fingers through his own golden blonde hair. He hated having to do this.

The sister was seated next to the bed. Her bright red hair was almost garish in this setting that was too lonely, too quiet and too full of sorrow. She was crying. Not loud sobs, but the tears were as steady as they were silent. She was speaking to her brother, making an effort that all three of them knew was futile. She knew. She must know that the time had come.

He tried to concentrate on her hair again, blocking out her voice and the display of heartbreaking emotions in front of him. Everyone had to leave someday. It was the natural order of things.

At least that's what he had been told repeatedly, and he chanted it over and over again, willing himself to understand it.

It was too hard to watch. She loved her brother. Unconditionally. He didn't have to hear her to know it. The pain and sorrow on her face; it was obvious. This man was a good man; like all humans, he had made his share of mistakes, but his essence was pure.

This wasn't fair. They should be left to live their lives; it wasn't right to come in between love like this, no matter what your orders were. But no one would ever agree with how he saw things; he had had that argument too often and knew how it always ended.

What he was doing wasn't fair. He knew it. Why did they have to die? There was so much love in this room; why did it have to end like this? Spreading misery in this manner felt so wrong. His shoulders sagged with weariness; he wasn't meant for this task. Deep down, he had always known that. He had been told over and over again not to interfere with the human world; he was only supposed to fulfill his duty. That was a task he always struggled with, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile performing his duty with his beliefs.

Having to take this human was proving to be particularly difficult. There was so much bravery and courage in the man; he had prepared carefully for his own death, remaining strong and valiant even while facing the inevitable. To take away the life of such a man…the fact that he had prepared for this made it worse. Weren't bravery and courage qualities that were to be rewarded instead of punished? And the sister; all her efforts, all her love…it would all be in vain. Her time too would come sooner than expected; the effect of losing someone you loved so conditionally was something humans consistently underestimated.

The time was drawing closer and he felt the light emanating from him become brighter. The body remained on the bed as the soul began to rise. He felt a tear trickle down his own face as the man stopped, bending down to whisper the final farewell to his sister.

She couldn't hear him; but perhaps she sensed something, because she was screaming for the nurse even before the monitor went flat and pummeling the lifeless body at the same time.

Watching them, preserving the natural order seemed less and less comprehensible to him.

The soul of the man had seen him because he received a tired, brave smile.

"You look like a ray of sunshine...I suppose I should be glad that I'm seeing you and not a horned monster."

His heart grew heavy when he saw the effort the human was making to come to terms with his fate.

Could he…could he learn from this human what courage was? Instead of always doing his duty unhappily, was it possible that he could be brave enough to do what he thought was right?

The red-headed woman's body was racking with sobs in the background. She had finally given in to her grief, even as the doctors fought a losing battle.

There were tears on the human's face as he undoubtedly heard his sister, but it didn't stop him from moving forward.

I can't let this happen. It isn't right. It isn't fair. Let me learn from this human, and give his courage the respect that it deserves.

He knew that he wasn't supposed to do this; but he was incapable of remaining stoic any longer. He made his decision, breaking all the rules that he had always struggled with.

"Stop. Go back. It's not your time."

Eyes widened with surprise and hope.

"But...I'm dead…right?"

"She needs you. Go back to her. Don't touch me and you will be fine. Hurry; turn around before the light touches you. Go back."

Some things didn't need repeating. The human whispered a thank you, and he watched as the monitor picked up the signal, weakly at first.

He waited and watched, long after the doctor and nurses left, after the woman had dried her tears, after the sun had set. He waited until the man finally woke up and asked his sister "Did I miss the Golden Globes?"

Whatever punishment he would be given would be worth it.

Smiling, he turned around and walked back alone.


Same hospital, several years later

The dull beep of the machine didn't even register. He watched the human, mesmerized. The time was approaching, and he knew that the human he should be concentrating on was Ted Schmidt, the patient. But it was the friend – Brian Kinney – that had him transfixed.

He was back at the same place. It was here that he had spared his first human, and it was something he thought about often. The case in front of him today reminded him in particular about that time. The two patients, admittedly, were as different from each other as could be, but Brian Kinney seemed to have the kind of strength of red-headed woman had had. It was difficult to explain, even to himself.

This human, Brian Kinney, there was so much anger within him, so much indignation. But behind all that rage, there was grief. He could see it in Brian's eyes, hidden behind a thick veil of pretence. Did it help, he wondered. Did the pain truly go away if one pretended long enough?

Ted Schmidt would die, and he would die through the hand of Brian Kinney.

What would it do to Brian, he wondered. A human so unable to confront his own grief that even when he was alone, he continued pretending. Would this human be able to carry on after having to end another's life or would he be haunted by his decision until it was his own time to go? Was it even fair to make a human face such a situation?

"Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you. For going home with some tweaked out little twinkie and thinking you got lucky."

Brian had stood up and his hands were hovering over Ted's face.

He watched Brian, and felt more and more certain that if he were to successfully complete his assignment, the anger and fear that Brian Kinney was now feeling would be nothing compared to the guilt he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

"Did he let you eat his ass? Did he let you suck his cock? Well, I hope it was worth it. And fuck you for choosing me. I ought to let you lie here forever. How'd you like that? Can you hear me?"

He dragged his attention away as he sensed the light become brighter. Ted's spirit moved slowly, shoulders sagged and eyes full of regret.

He looked from the spirit back to Brian, who was still speaking. The tone was cruel and angry but what he heard was the fear and hurt inside those words.

"You know, you're not so bad looking. In fact ... you look better like this."

He turned from Brian towards Ted's spirit, torn between doing his duty and doing what he thought was right. It didn't seem fair at all that the living had to keep suffering for the deeds of the dead. Brian Kinney seemed to have enough pain of his own; was there truly any necessity to add to his burden?

"You should die more often. Or live. So that I don't have to say yes."

There was a lot more time left, but when he heard Brian's last words, he came to his decision. "Go back. I'm not here for you. Don't touch me, don't step into the light and you will be fine. Turn around and go back."

Ted's spirit mumbled confusedly, but followed the instructions with lightening quick speed.

"Yes, I'll do it. I'll give you what you want. What you need. But don't think it's for you. It's not. It's for me."

He wanted to wait, as was his norm, to share in the joy that inevitably a followed a reprieve, in whatever way that he could. He wanted to see Brian Kinney smile, to see the veil lifted from those eyes.

Instead, he watched in growing horror as a male nurse placed a hand on Brian's shoulder, turning the man around.

No no no no no no no

In a matter of seconds, the two of them were kissing and groping and stripping, falling over onto the neighbouring bed.

Feelings of anger and dismay flooded inside of him. Had he been wrong? Had Brian Kinney not felt the emotions that he had credited the man with? Had he just abandoned his duty for a human to whom it would not have made a difference?

He turned away, refusing to look at what was happening any further.

Mistake or otherwise, he would have to face the consequences of his action.