A/N: If this reads a little rusty, that's because writing this was like pulling teeth for me. Between graduate school and focusing on other fandoms, I haven't written for Buffy and Angel in more than a year, and let's just say that jumping back on this bike again wasn't as smooth of a ride as the old expression implies. I'm sorry that it took me so long to write this sequel to Not an Addict, but, in a way, it seems fitting that it was finally penned for this year's I Will Remember You ficathon. For those of you who wanted more to the previous story, I hope this satisfies your need for resolution, and, for those of you who appreciated and liked Not an Addict for what it was on its own, I hope this is still an enjoyable read for you as well. Also, I just need to say that the song lyrics included in this story come from Lana Dey Rey's "Video Games."

~Charlynn~

Once, Twice, Three Times an Oracle

I'm here, but I'm not. We were there, but now no more. We live. We die. We live. We die. We live. We die. I am. Nothing is, and nothing does, but I still remain, changed yet eternal. Watching. Observing. Pronouncing. Guiding. It is a constant circle, a seemingly endless evolution, but then, unexpectedly, things change. I change. Time actually begins to matter once more after hundreds of decades of pointlessness. We were, but he has faded, and now I remain. Waiting. Weighing. Never wondering, for I am wonder itself – always magical, always unattainable, but no longer actually always.

Tick tock. Tick tock. The wrist watch winds to a close.

It continued with a second kiss of death; it progressed with the third sting and slap of life.

\ % \

Apparently, being in love with Cordelia had given Angel a sense of self-worth. With an ironic twist of her lips, Buffy recognized that such a transformation for the souled vampire was fitting... given how confident Cordelia was... and that was putting it nicely. At least on some levels, her former rival was good for Angel. After all, when he had been with her, he had, at first, banished himself to an underground, dingy apartment – hiding as if ashamed, and then, later, hid away in the very place that could remind him the most of all things he had done wrong, their relationship and his presence back on earth evidently inspiring self-loathing and flagellation rather than fortitude and belief in himself.

Shaking her head to rid it of its distracting thoughts, Buffy sniffed – not from an overabundance of emotion but because her nose was itching – and then continue up the Hyperion's grand and impressive staircase. She moved instinctively, almost robotically, drawn to where she somehow knew she needed to be. Earlier... whether that was yesterday, the day before, or even last week, Buffy wasn't sure – for some reason, time was shifting differently for her here in LA without the help of the rising sun and the falling moon to guide her, the white walls of her new, temporary home replacing everything and anything having to do with the outside world... Lilah had pressured her to memorize the schematics of the hotel, to train with some new, high-tech weapons she somehow had access to, but Buffy had refrained, going so far as to laugh in the other woman's face, taunting her that, obviously, she had never before been in love, because, if she had, she would know that to kill someone in your heart, you didn't fight in any way which could be learned; you had to fight dirty, and her body would know what to do when the opportunity to kill Angel presented itself.

Briefly, the logic still buried deep inside of her had questioned just who Lilah Morgan was, why she wanted Angel dead so badly, and what exactly the woman did in order to have such unbelievable resources at her disposal, but, like with any thoughts which could deter her from her purpose, Buffy had pushed the worries aside. Who and what Lilah was and why she had turned to Buffy for help didn't matter; what mattered was that, for the first time since she had cruelly been dumped back into her life on earth, it felt as though there was someone who understood her, someone who wanted to help her without judgement. Willow, Xander, Giles, Dawn, and even Spike had all come to her with concerns about the recent changes in her personality. While they could easily see what was wrong with her, though, they failed to realize their own culpability and the fact that they were only worried about her because of how her changes would affect them, and she was sick and tired of doing everything for everyone else. Just once she wanted to be selfish. Just once she wanted to do what would make her happy... or, if not happy, then at least content once more. And that meant escaping them, escaping her life, escaping her destiny, but, most of all, it meant escaping herself.

Unfortunately, though, the drugs just weren't enough any longer. At first, they had served as a balm of sorts, wrapping her problems with a soft, protective embrace so that they could no longer hurt her... at least, not as much. But, now, the jagged pieces of her heart had managed to wear through that protective casing. If she wanted to numb her pain, then she had to root out the source of it and put it to rest once and for all, and there was only one person capable of hurting her at that point: Angel. And it wasn't even the fact that he had a child with another woman, that he was moving on and falling in love with someone else; rather, it was the fact that, even after all the disappointment and the betrayals, she still loved him enough to allow him to hurt her. Nothing much made sense to her any more, but one thing had become abundantly clear: for as long as Angel lived, she would love him, so he had to die. Buffy just couldn't handle feeling... well, anything at that point.

It was weird being in a place so large, so expansive while it was also so empty. She was used to her own tiny home on Revello Drive, now practically bursting at the seams with all the people who officially and unofficially lived there. And it was creepy, too – being in a place where even her softest tread upon the carpeted stairs seemed to echo and reverberate throughout the hotel's lofty expanses. Oh, Buffy knew that she wasn't technically alone in the Hyperion. Lilah's men... whoever they were... had scouted the place before Buffy had entered, using even more high-tech equipment to check for body heat signatures... not that such things would help her if she ran into a vamp or two, but that was the point, wasn't it: to run into a vamp or two... or, more accurately, just one, and, even more, she was supposed to run into them with the pointy end of her stake first, her body only managing to collide with the resulting cloud of dust. Offhandedly, she had wondered if Lilah was involved with some government group – after all, her gadgets were very reminiscent of The Initiative's, but Buffy had quickly dismissed such a thought.

No government employee dressed that good.

Now in the labyrinth of hallways which criss-crossed to make the second floor, she focused. Using the connection which had always seemed to exist between them, Buffy honed in on where she felt Angel the most. Like a valley girl sniffing out a sale, she just... knew where his rooms would be. She could feel his essence – the traces of his touch, of his scent, of his soul lingering in the air in the one place he allowed himself to just be. Momentarily, she felt her heart sing when she failed to pick up on anyone else's signature there – no Darla, no Cordelia, but then Buffy scolded herself silently. After all, her mission wasn't driven because of jealousy; it was born from necessity. Her sanity required closure... of the most permanent kind.

If she was surprised when she came to a stop in front of a door just like all the others she had passed, Buffy didn't react. Even if Angel was suddenly now more confident, he wasn't pretentious. He wouldn't need a bigger and better room than everyone else simply because he owned the hotel. No, his motto had always been to blend in, to fade into the shadows and make himself just that much more unnoticeable. She smiled in remembrance, grateful that, while in some aspects he was now a stranger to her, he hadn't changed entirely. That realization should have given her pause; it should have made her stop and rethink her actions, but it couldn't break through the haze currently shrouding her mind.

Being this near Angel... even if it was only his things... made her feel desperate in a way she hadn't felt since she had woken up alone in the white cell. They... he, Angel, was too close to the heart of the matter, her heart. Being there, standing in front of his room, made her want things that she should no longer want, made her crave things that she could no longer have. Suddenly, her body broke out in a sweat, her skin started to itch, and an intense pain swept through her form, rocking Buffy back onto the heels of her feet. She needed to run away, but she couldn't. She needed to hide from everything – Angel, herself, the truth, but she couldn't. Instead, all she could do was twist the door's handle, stepping into a room that was oddly foreign and intimately recognizable at the same time, and, immediately, she knew the cause: the suite wasn't just Angel's; it was his son's, too.

As if in a trance, she bypassed the bed Angel slept in daily, ignored the chair he sat in to sketch and read, and didn't even notice the closet where his clothes – clothes that no doubt still smelled of him – hung. Quickly walking through the room, Buffy made her way towards the door which connected to his son's nursery, Connor'snursery. He was alone there, asleep in his crib, the person – whoever it was – downstairs in the office ignorant of her presence with the baby before her, a baby which was an abomination and a miracle in the very same breath, a baby which Buffy felt an undeniable urge to protect.

Gazing down upon the infant's cherubic face – his skin rosy with the innocent glow of sleep; his delicate, long lashes brushing blissfully against the apples of his cheeks; his lips pursed to suckle even in slumber, she realized that she couldn't kill Angel. Whether he had hurt her or not; whether she was miserable without him or not; whether her own sanity, her next hit, her own survival was dependent upon the fulfillment of her promise to Lilah or not, the vampire she loved would live to see another night. Seeing Connor made her think of Dawn. He made her recall what it was like to lose her own mother, and she realized that she could never take from a child what she herself had lost, especially not Angel's child.

Suddenly, it didn't matter that he didn't love her anymore, that he, instead, was falling in love with Cordelia; all that mattered was that Angel lived. She had been wrong to think that her pain would suddenly disappear if she took the life of the one thing that could still make her feel. No, the only way that Buffy could once and for all let go of her misery was to simply cease to exist for a third and final time. With that thought she realized that, when she had agreed to kill Angel for Lilah for a hit of heroin, she really had possessed no intentions of actually going forward with her deal. Instead, the point had been to die at Angel's hand, punishing him for all the things he had done over the years to hurt her in the one way which she knew from first hand experience would crush him the most: killing her, sending her to heaven, or hell, or just... nothingness. It had been one thing for Angel to move on with his life after she died from saving the world; it would be a whole different matter for him to move past being the one to end her life. In that way, she would not only have gained the peace she so desperately sought, but she also would have had her revenge as well.

Dazed and sick – not from withdrawal this time, she recognized, but from her abhorrence towards her own mind, heart, and soul, Buffy stumbled away from Connor's crib, never once having sullied the child with her own touch. She lurched back into Angel's room before her legs gave out on her and she collapsed upon his bed, immediately breaking down into body-wracking sobs. In her regret, her self-loathing, and her fear – after all, she didn't even believe herself strong enough to take her own life at that point, she never noticed that she was no longer alone. The last thing Buffy felt in her third and final lifetime was the sting of a needle on the side of her neck, pricking her jugular. Then, for the final time, she died.

It's you, it's you, it's all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you

"Look at what the rooster crowed in," Wes greeted him from behind.

Already, Angel was moving up the stairs on his way to Connor's room. They had quickly fallen into a routine where his son woke just as Angel was returning from patrol so that the two could spend some quality father-son bonding time while Angel fed him his first bottle of the day. Though he appreciated Wesley taking the previous night's shift with Connor, he wasn't in the mood to make small talk or humor the ex-watcher. Rather, he just wanted to spend a few quiet, peaceful minutes with his little boy. Alone. Plus, something was off. Either something was about to go down, or it already had, but, whatever it was, it was important, and it would directly effect him. All night as he patrolled, he had been on the lookout for some hint, some clue as to what new evil was afoot, but the demon underbelly of Los Angeles had been rather staid... as far as such a scene possibly could be, and he had returned that dawn without any more information than he had left with the evening before.

"Wes, if you're going to speak in idioms, at least get them right."

"I did," the other man defended, rapidly backing down. "Alright, so I didn't, but it was on purpose. You don't really scream kitty-cat, Angel, and, given your nocturnal habits, what I said felt more... fitting."

"Only to you."

"Yes, well, perhaps you're right. Anyway, moving on," Wesley segued their conversation. "How did everything go out there last night? Did you slay the dragon... so to speak of course. I mean, there really aren't any dragons in LA, right? Nasty, scaly creatures. I've always hated reptiles."

Angel shrugged. "The usual?"

"Huh."

Glancing back over his shoulder, he could tell that Wesley had no idea what his response was referring to. For some reason, the ex-watcher seemed even more scatterbrained that morning. "Patrolling, it was the usual," he clarified. "No dragons, no doomsday; just a few garden-variety demons to dust."

"Brilliant use there of alliteration, Big Guy," Wes complimented. They had reached the hallway which led to his rooms, the rooms he shared with his son. "It's like I'm back in England, sitting in a jolly good English lesson." Wesley sighed fondly. "Aw, those were the days."

"I bet."

"Anyway, I've been meaning to discuss something with you, Angel."

Dryly, he remarked, "and just what exactly have we been doing for the past five minutes?"

"Um, well, anyway," his co-worker hedged, ignoring the question. "I think it's time for Connor and I to spend some alone time together. The little man needs to get to know his Uncle Wesley... or is that too formal? Should it be Uncle Wes instead? I contemplated Uncle W, but that just sounded too... well, too Texan."

Getting to the point of the matter, Angel asked, "what do you mean by alone time," as he opened the door to his living quarters.

"Oh, I thought I could babysit for you – you know, take Connor home with me this morning. We'll spend the day in the park. We'll feed the ducks, watch the other children eat sand. It'll be idyllic. Then, he'll stay over at my apartment this evening, giving you a good 24 hours to..."

Distantly, he knew that Wes was still talking, his voice buzzing in his ears like a mosquito, but Angel wasn't listening to what the other man had to say. Instead, all his attention, all his focus was placed upon the sight before him. Standing in the doorway of his bedroom, he suddenly realized what he had been sensing all the previous evening.

"Angel, are you even listening to me," Wesley wanted to know, attempting to push his way past Angel's larger form which was blocking the entrance to the room. When he wouldn't budge, his coworker started to peer around his wide shoulders, suddenly gasping out in surprise when he saw what had so distracted him. "A slayer with narcolepsy, how rare! I can't believe Mr. Giles didn't share this with me when I was, albeit briefly, Miss Summer's watcher."

Ignoring him and his totally crass, totally oblivious comments, Angel ordered Wes, "go into the nursery, pack a bag for Connor, and don't come back here until you hear from me?"

"Are you serious? Angel, I don't think this is a very good idea. You and Buffy in the same place... even if it is a large hotel... is a very bad idea... of Angelus proportions."

"Do it."

As soon as the rough command fell from his suddenly dry and clenched lips, the ex-watcher was already scampering away, his previous protestations quickly forgotten in the wake of his desire not to incur Angel's wrath, and, in that moment, his intense ire was barely restrained, just bubbling beneath the surface. The last thing he needed was for Wesley to make one more uncouth remark, for he never wanted his son to see him lose his temper, especially not with someone human and generally harmless.

He waited until he heard Wes' clumsy steps upon the stairs before moving across the room. Despite the fact that her usually sun-kissed skin was far too pale and that her lips were tinted a horrifyingly telling shade of blue, Angel still checked Buffy for a pulse. Bending over, he turned his face to the side in order to rest an ear against her chest, against her still and un-beating heart. It was then that he saw the needle.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that, because she was dead, he no longer had to be gentle, but, still, Angel carefully, millimeter by emotionally painful millimeter, pulled the needle out of Buffy's neck. Once he had it placed upon his night stand, he stood up, taking a cold, hard look at the woman he loved... or at least what was physically left of her. She looked like a junkie – greasy, flat hair; hollow face; black craters cradling her eyes. Her stare was empty, not because it was caught in death but because the heroin had robbed her of everything else but that final relief. And it was certainly heroin. Even without the proof of the needle, Angel had been alive long enough to recognize the signs. Despite understanding his actions, though, he felt compelled to push up Buffy's long, baggy sleeves. Just as he expected, he found track marks.

"It's sad, really, that a strong and capable woman allowed you to ruin her like this."

Quickly pivoting around, Angel found a smirking Lilah Morgan leaning oh-so-causally in his open doorway. "You," he accused, advancing a menacing step towards her. "You did this to Buffy."

"Oh, no," she denied quite smug. "When I found... or, well, more accurately, was led to her, she was already a lost cause. Sure, I tried to take advantage of her... let's call it her fall from grace, convincing her that because of everything you had done to hurt her, you deserved to die, but she just couldn't do it. Despite the fact that you left her, that you gave up forever... or until we killed you... with her, that you slept with and conceived a son with Darla, a vampire who tried to kill her, that you haven't been there for her since she was brought back to life, and that you've been simpering after Miss Chase now for weeks, she still couldn't kill you. So, she reneged on our deal, and I provided her with one last high as her severance pay from Wolfram and Hart, but you were the one who killed her, Angel."

Before he could react, she said, "and don't even think about taking your frustrations out on little old me. I saw Mr. Wyndam-Pryce leave here with your precious son. As we speak, I have men watching them... with their sniper rifles. If I don't walk out of here, you'll have their deaths weighing on your conscious as well."

Through gritted teeth, Angel asked, "what the hell do you want, Lilah?"

"Oh nothing." Her otherwise dead eyes sparkled with amusement, gaiety, and joy – all at his and Buffy's expense. "I just wanted to see your face when you realized she was dead, when you realized that you have no one to blame but yourself. The only thing that was missing was the popcorn."

With that, the sadistic lawyer turned on her expensive, designer heels and sauntered away, her laughter floating back in a goodbye taunt. While he wanted nothing more than to tear Lilah apart limb by limb, he did not doubt the fact that she had only braved confronting him after ensuring her own safety. But her day would come – someday and no doubt sooner rather than later. In the meantime, though, there was one thing she had been wrong about: while he certainly did blame himself, there were others who needed to answer for Buffy's death as well.

\ % \

"I find it interesting, Xander, that you're always available to call in the take-out orders, but magically... and I do mean magically, Willow, you're always suddenly so busy with some all-important task when the doorbell rings, and it's time to pay the..." The front door to what used to be Buffy's house swung open at that point, and Giles' words stilled upon his lips. It made Angel nauseous that, while Buffy had been killing herself for weeks – months, and while she had died in LA just the night before, everyone here in Sunnydale – her supposed family – were carrying on as if nothing was amiss. Apparently, his disgust and animosity flashed dangerously across his unblinking gaze, because Giles took a step back, his own eyes suddenly wide with fright. "Oh my."

Before the watcher could say anything more, Angel stepped into the house, lifted his arm, made a fist, and knocked Giles unconscious. The other man fell limply to the ground, further compacting his injury by knocking his head upon the first riser of the stairs. By the time Giles settled flatly upon the floor, a small trickle of blood leaking from the corner of his lips where Angel's first had first impacted him, Angel himself was breathing heavily, his emotions swimming on the surface, and his hands were quivering with a barely suppressed need to kill. Despite his soul, the instinct to reap unto others the same fate which had taken Buffy away from him, especially those who had been in a position to help the slayer and had done nothing, was strong.

Slamming the door shut behind him so hard that the windows along the front of the house rattled precariously in their panes before once more stilling, Angel believed his actions enough to draw forth the others in the house whom he wanted to confront. But no one stirred. In fact, the only reaction he received was Xander yelling from the kitchen for Giles to be careful with his food, and, it was only when another few minute went by without said food being delivered into the hands of those it was supposed to feed that Xander ventured forth to see what the delay was.

Xander took one look at Angel and then his gaze fell to the floor, eventually zigzagging between Angel and the fallen watcher several times before yelling, "Willow, I hope you have an orb of Thesula handy, because we have ourselves 175 pounds of soulless vampire on our hands!"

Willow scrambled out quickly from the kitchen, coming to a sliding rest at her best friend's side. He didn't even give her a chance to respond, though, before Angel was asking, "where's Dawn?" While Buffy's sister – the key which had started the entire mess they were now all bogged down under – wasn't his favorite person in the world, he knew that Buffy considered her an innocent and would not want her hurt by what he was about to do.

"She's out – at a friend's for the night. Where's Buffy," Willow questioned in return.

He ignored her in favor of slapping Giles' face several times in the effort to rouse the passed out watcher. When the other man's eyes opened to pained slits, Angel took him by the ankles and drug him into the living room, Xander and Willow following obediently behind.

"I think it's pretty obvious where Buff's been, Wills," Xander responded to the witch. "Evidently, someone decided to forget their sacred duty in order to shag the happy out of the vamp in black. Again."

"I'm not ev... I'm not Angelus," Angel corrected himself, corrected them. "If I was, you'd all have been dead by now, because I'd have no reason to toy with you anymore; you'd be nothing but dinner in my eyes."

Xander and Willow exchanged confused, wary glances, while Giles, still lying on the floor, watched him with a narrow, suspicious gaze. Speaking haltingly, his concussion obviously causing him discomfort, the watcher ordered, "answer her; answer Willow."

"Buffy's in Los Angeles – at my hotel to be precise, in my bed."

"So what," Xander inquired, head tilting to the side in unvoiced bewilderment. "Are you saying that the Buffster no longer rocks your world, and, if so, why are you taking that out on the G-man?"

It was actually Giles who reacted. "Be quiet, Xander."

The fact that Giles wasn't jumping to conclusions, that he wasn't charging him with accusations based upon the fact that Angel had attacked him without what the three of them would consider provocation told Angel that Giles had been aware of Buffy's problems, whereas the others had been ignorant. It also told him, though, that it was Giles who had watched Buffy spiral out of control and did nothing to stop her fall from grace. While Xander and Willow's obtuseness was deplorable, especially since they were responsible for Buffy being brought back to life in the first place, Giles' inaction was disgusting... but also, unfortunately, par for the course. After all, it wasn't the first time that the watcher had sat back and observed Buffy in pain, in danger and done nothing to prevent it.

Because of this, when he said his next words, Angel focused his attention upon Giles. "She's in my bed, because that's where I found her – vacant, lifeless, dead."

Giles eyes closed in sorrow; Willow collapsed bonelessly onto the floor; and Xander stood rooted in his spot, mouth gaping open in horror. As if to mock the solemnity of the moment, the doorbell rang, Xander's dinner having arrived. But no one moved to answer the door, and, after several minutes and several attempts to gain the attention of the homes' inhabitants, the delivery boy moved on, leaving. It was only once the silence had descended upon them again that anyone spoke. Giles asked, "what happened," his voice dripping with resignation.

"She overdosed... or, more accurately," Angel answered, "someone shot her up with a lethal dose of heroin, and she died with the needle still sticking into her vein."

"What kind of sick bastards are you involved with in LA," Xander accused, yelling. "Obviously, she went there to save your sorry ass yet again..."

"Like you're one to talk in that department, Harris," he fired back in retaliation.

"Yeah, well, at least my mistakes never cost Buffy her life, and I certainly didn't drag her into anything that involved drugs."

"You're right," Angel acknowledged, shocking everyone in the room but especially Willow who gasped, silent tears tracking their way unchecked and unnoticed down the redhead's face. "It is my fault that Buffy's dead. I left her, I hurt her, and I betrayed her, but I had nothing to do with her drug use besides perhaps driving her to her desperation. I had no idea that she was using, and, if I had, I would have done something to help her... which is more than I can say for someone else in this room, isn't that right, Giles?"

"I threatened her," the watcher defended himself. "When I found out that she was using heroin, I told her that if she didn't stop, I'd tell you, knowing that she never liked to disappoint you, but I guess it didn't work."

Incredulous, he roared, "you threatened her? She wasn't a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum; she was a sick, broken woman who was doing everything she could to just survive. First, you turned a blind eye to what Willow was doing, then you did nothing to help her once she was brought back from heaven, and then you threatened her? And I can't believe that she started using with heroin. She had to have tried something else first, and not one of you," at this point he allowed his eyes to sweep the room, meeting all three humans' gazes with the full strength of his recrimination, "ever saw something suspicious, that you never saw the signs of just how desperate she was."

Giles pushed himself up so that he was leaning against the couch. Lowering his head in shame, he confessed, "I did. I saw her smoking a joint, but she promised me that it wasn't a problem, and I believed her. I wanted to believe her. By the time I found her various pieces of heroin paraphernalia, it was too late. That was just a little more than a week ago. I confronted her, we fought, and she took off. When she didn't come back from patrol, I was worried, but there was no talk about town of anything happening to the slayer, so I just... assumed she was alright, that she was either off somewhere coming down from a high on her own or that she had gone to you for help. Spike was taking care of patrolling, and we were taking care of Dawn, so..."

"Giles, why didn't you tell us?"

"I... I don't know," the older man said, suddenly looking twenty years older than he had just minutes before.

"Does it really matter at this point," Angel asked in response to Xander's question, but his own rhetorical inquiry was meant for all of them, himself included. "We're all at fault, but admitting that isn't going to bring her back. She's gone. Again. And this time nothing and no one is going to bring her back."

Turning, Angel walked away. Without looking back, he opened the front door and left, his black trench coat billowing out after him.

\ % \

I am, and he is, and she was. Usually, that is how it is, but, in this case, I took an interest. Never before alone, I have grown weary of my watch, and, without a corporeal form, it is quite challenging to receive the proper tokens of appreciation a higher being like myself becomes accustomed to. My brother is gone. When the fourth and final bell sounded, he went along on its hollow, tinny note, disinterested - as always – about what would come to be. But I have always been amused by lower beings, especially those who are destined to be champions, and so I was given the task of seeing what was to be come to fruition.

You can't see me, but I'm here. You can't touch me, but I'm always touching you. Inside, outside, I am – still, so I feel. You can't hear me, but I hear them. Always them. The two. Three is the magical number. Four is final. But two is perfection. I was two; they are two. I will be two again; they will always be two together. And, so, it was at this point when I was given the choice: be not and then finally nothing or wait and be not forever more, always – at least to them, remaining something. Alone... for a short time. For you see, one can only be after ceasing to be three times, and I have been ended four. And one can only be if they are worthy, and insignificant, lower beings are so rarely anything but worthless. But she had already ceased thrice, and she was a slayer – the slayer. A Champion. And a champion's girl. Always. As you'll see.

\ % \

He came to an abrupt stop in the doorway to his own room, horrified and dismayed by what he saw or, more accurately, what he didn't see: Buffy's body was gone. Though it was senseless, he rushed around the room, tearing it apart, searching for some clue, some sign as to what had happened to her lifeless form. But there was nothing to indicate someone else had been in his room. Nothing was disturbed, nothing was misplaced, and nothing was missing... well, besides for what had remained of the woman he loved, the woman he would always love in life, in death, and everything else in between.

"Angel, we need to talk."

Violently pivoting around to face the man behind him, he dangerously demanded to know, "what did you do with her?"

"With whom," Wesley questioned inanely.

"Buffy."

"I assumed that she went back to Sunnydale," the ex-watcher remarked. His words were dismissive enough to ring of the truth, but, at the same time, his coworker refused to meet his eye, his shifty behavior alerting Angel's suspicions. "Really, though, I'm not concerned with that at the moment. Like I said, it is important that we discuss something."

"Not until I get some answers," he responded through a clenched jaw, his choppy words fired from his cracked lips like carefully aimed bullets. "When I left earlier this evening, she was still here. Right there," Angel clarified, pointing a shaking finger towards his own bed. "I hadn't moved her. And, now, here you are, telling me that there's something you need to tell me, and I have to say Wes that it looks pretty bad for you – suspicious. So, I'm only going to ask you this once more: what did you do with Buffy's body?"

Wesley swallowed roughly. "Her body? You mean, she wasn't sleeping last night? She was dead?"

Realization dawning, he shifted tactics, "for that matter, what the hell are you even doing here, Wesley? I told you to stay away with Connor until I called and said it was safe to bring him back." When the other man didn't answer and, instead, just nervously shuffled his feet back and forth, Angel strode purposefully through the room and into his son's nursery, coming to a halt directly before the empty and cold crib. He could hear that Wes had followed him.

"Where is my son?" His tone was deceptively calm. When no explanation was given, Angel whirled around to face his coworker, bellowing loudly, all his reserve and composure disintegrating, "where the hell is my son, Wesley?"

Suddenly, the man before him transformed. He stood up straight, rolled his shoulders back, and, in an effort to reek of conviction, met Angel's eyes as he answered, "I gave Connor to Holtz." Before he could respond, the ex-watcher was already rushing to add, "as for Buffy, I have no idea. I never touched her, I swear to you."

"Get out."

Wesley blinked rapidly. "I really don't think that's the most productive way to deal with this... situation. We need to talk about this, Angel. We need to..."

"I said get out," he interrupted the other man, "and do not come back unless you have my son with you."

"Angel, I..."

"Don't," he prevented him from speaking once again. "Wesley, the only reason you're still alive right now is that I... just can't deal with you right now. You have no idea what you did to me today."

And he honestly didn't. Without Buffy alive and the dream of someday reuniting with her after he achieved his Shanshu sustaining him, he had felt adrift in the world – purposeless, hopeless. But, up until a few moments ago, he had still had Connor: his precious, perfect, innocent son. Maybe he hadn't been conceived under the best of circumstances, but he was still his child, he loved him unconditionally, and Connor was not at fault for his parents' mistakes, for his mistakes. His son had been the one thing that was keeping Angel going after having to confront both Buffy's death and his undeniable role in it, and, now, without him, he just felt... empty – like there was nothing left to fight for.

Slowly, he collided with the crib behind him, and Angel slid down so that he was sitting on the floor, his back resting against the bed in which his son should have been contentedly sleeping in. For the first time since he had found Buffy's body, he allowed himself to cry – silent, devastating sobs which soaked his shirt but did nothing to alleviate his misery. She was dead, Connor was gone, and Angel was... alone. Again. And he wasn't sure if he could survive it this time.

\ % \

But he lived; he was, and I remained until he ended, waiting. His third end was not as peaceful as her end – the chosen, his chosen – not as still, but such a corporal conclusion was fitting for he who had ended so violently twice before.

After what the lesser beings considered a little more than two years, I was for one last moment. Though unseen, I witnessed it all, weaving myself throughout the city on a mist which would carry thechampion away. I was light itself. I was magic. I was a haze of white – streaks of gold and blue tinting my edges where the shadows met my spirit, dashing away. But only he could feel me – a worthy being. So, when he ended, I wove myself around him, cocooning him as he fell. My will greeted his death. Taking it. Savoring it. Celebrating it.

It was done.

As the last breath of his third life slipped past his bloodied lips, he sighed a single name: Buffy.

Forever was upon us all.

\ % \

He shook his head – confused, displaced.

The last thing Angel remembered was fighting in one of LA's countless alleys. It had been dark, rain had been pouring from the sky, and his death had been imminent. In fact, he was pretty sure that he had sustained a killing blow, falling to the cold, unforgiving pavement. But then this... presence had surrounded him, and he had felt safe. Comforted. He had felt Buffy nearby.

She was still close, but he was no longer hurt, and Los Angeles was nothing but a distant and ever fading memory. Instead, Angel found himself standing in front of a very familiar door. It had been his door once, and, just on the other side of it, he had experienced the highest and some of the lowest points of his long existence. For a short length of time, it had been his oasis, their oasis, and, now, without explanation or reason, he was back, and, more importantly, so was she.

Tentatively, he moved forward to twist the handle, but, before his fingers could even grasp the cool metal, the door was opening for him. "Took you long enough," Buffy commented flippantly. With a toss of her hair, a secret smile meant only for him, and a twinkle in her bewitching green eyes, she ushered him into his old apartment... only instinctively Angel knew that it wasn't the very same place, that – for a lack of a better way to explain the situation – they weren't in Sunnydale any longer.

But that's when conscious thought fled him. Rather than continuing to puzzle out this latest development in his strange yet miraculous existence, he couldn't get past the vision Buffy made before him. Her long, blonde hair hung loose down her back; a slippery, slinky, silky white dress hugged her lithe, graceful form; her feet were bare, her tiny toenails painted a hauntingly familiar shade of azure; gold bands encircled her fingers, her wrists, her upper arms, and hung carelessly from her regal neck – a silver claddagh ring, the ring he had given her so many years before, standing out boldly in its contracting tone; and all along her delicate, smooth, flawless skin there resided blue and gold tattoos, tastefully applied but still a shock to him in their newness.

"She wanted me to wear black – and you, too, for that matter, but I told her that I was sick of that color, that, since I was an all-seeing and all-knowing being now, I should be able to pick my own clothes out. After all, I did so when I was just a lesser being –her words, not mine, and I did so when I was the slayer, too. Why should being an oracle be any different?"

He grinned then, savoring her unique sense of humor and irrelevance. "You're not just an oracle, Buffy; you're the oracle."

"Nope, you're one, too, now, you know... though, like I said, you sure as hell took your sweet time."

"At what," he snickered, absolutely shocked by this latest turn of events but determined to not second guess them and, instead, savor them, savor her while he had her. "Dying?"

"Well, you know that patience has never been my strong suit."

At that point, Angel felt her nimble fingers attacking the fastenings of his stained and ripped dress pants. Quirking a brow, he quipped, "apparently."

But Buffy didn't take the bait; she merely smirked. Soon, he was naked, and she was leading him towards the bed. Once they were there, she handed him a pair of lightweight, linen pants – white, of course. He slipped them on; she pushed him down so that he was lying before her on his back. Without words exchanged between them, Buffy climbed over top of him, sitting so that she was straddling his lower abdomen, the cradle of her hips resting against him intimately. He rocked up into her, but she didn't reciprocate. Instead, she smiled demurely.

"Soon," she promised him. "And forever, too." She twisted around then to root inside the drawer of his bedside table, of their bedside table. When she turned back towards him, she held a paint brush and two bottles of body paint, their hues matching those of the tattoos upon her own body perfectly. "But first, a little foreplay."

It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth living if somebody is loving you
Baby now you do

Finally, they begin again, and I end.