Love Me When I’m Gone ~ Chapter 14
“Trust me, Mom’s gonna love you – everybody will.” Angel ushered Buffy into his hotel room. “She may – she will – bug you about babies.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” He closed and latched the door behind them.
They’d hailed a cab after the fight had ended, easy enough given the area they’d been in and their looks – the pretty had preference in LA. Angel had a tear in the knee of his jeans from the scuffle, and they’d opted to head to his hotel so he could change.
“Your laptop’s broken.” Buffy eyed the shattered screen.
“I was seeing things.” He grimaced, eyeing the damage. “Angelus was talking to me. I freaked out a little bit.”
“I’ll bet that’s not covered by the warranty.”
“Probably not. Demon haunting is probably an extra thing you have to add.” He picked up the envelope lying next to the busted laptop. It bore the hotel’s logo.
Inside was a note from the hotel manager, and he scanned it quickly. The maid had reported that the laptop had been on the floor and broken when she entered the room. If he disagreed, he needed to contact the management.
“I better call downstairs and let them know I broke it before they fire the maid.” He gestured toward the dresser. “If you want to change, there’s a t-shirt and sweat pants in there. You can skip the sweatpants though.” He winked at her.
“Actually… “ She pulled her shirt off over her head as she walked toward the bathroom. “I thought I’d take a shower first.”
She giggled as she heard the phone hit the floor. “I promise I’ll save you some hot water this time.” Shaking her hair out of her face, she turned to smile at him.
Her smile faltered. Angel was gone, and the note was drifting to the floor. “Angel?”
Charging back into the room, she swept the curtains aside and looked under the table. “Angel, this isn’t funny!” There was no answer. Angel was nowhere in the room, and the safety locks were in place, just as he’d latched them when they’d entered.
“Oh my God…” Had she finally gone crazy? Had she imagined Angel had returned? Was it all some crazy hallucination she’d created?
No, she told herself firmly, she hadn’t lost it. The busted laptop was still on the table, the receiver on the floor with the note. She hadn’t imagined it. Angel was here – had been here. Only now… he was gone.
She sank to her knees. “Angel, I can’t do this again.”
“My shower’s not as big as yours.” Angel found himself talking to thin air. He spun around. Lots of thin air. Virtually nothing but nothingness as far as he could see.
“Great…” He sighed. “Okay, whoever you are, I’m no longer the vampire with a soul. I’m just a regular guy now, okay? So just send me home.”
“Why have you given up your life?”
“We gave you your reward.”
“You were not supposed to remember.”
“You are upsetting the pattern.”
“You are interfering with other events.”
The voices were loud and came out of nowhere and everywhere all at once. They overwhelmed and deafened him.
“Stop!” Angel covered his ears but the voices came from within his skull. “Stop! Please!”
“Silence!” One voice finally overrode the others.
“Thank you… oh jeez…” He rubbed his head. His brain felt like mush.
“Agreed. We cannot expect a lower being to communicate with us.” Came another voice.
“Hey! I resent that lower being crap! And you – “ He stopped. “You… know it…”
“He is not completely ignorant for a lower being.” A chuckle like wind chimes.
“Just put him back where he was.”
“Nay! He must be put back where he was before!”
“Hey!” Angel yelled at the unseen voices. “I agree with going back where I was just a minute ago!”
“We gave him his reward and he rejected it. We should smite him down.”
“You are always smiting. We don’t like it, it leaves holes in the playing field.”
“Hey! Hello? The no smiting I’m all for. Just send me back to Buffy and we’ll call it a day.”
“It speaks to us!”
“How dare it!”
“You did ask it a question.”
The voices began to pile on top of one another again. Angel cringed and stuck his fingers in his ears, trying to block them out.
“Silence! The question was put to the champion. Allow him to answer.”
There were murmurs and sounds of annoyance but the unseen group kept its silence.
“Champion, that’s right.” He thumped his chest with more bravado than he felt. “I’m not an it, not a lower being, I’m a champion. And I’ve done my job damn well.”
“What is your answer?”
“Uh… what was the question again?”
“He mocks us!”
“What is your answer?”
“I, ah… can I have the question again? It was a little noisy in here.”
“Do not try our patience. Former champion or no, our time is not to be wasted.”
“I’m not, I just didn’t hear it. Too many people were talking.”
“People?” Came an offended voice.
“Yeah, well, I don’t like being called ‘lower being’, either.” Angel snorted.
“Why did you give up your life?”
“I didn’t.” He protested.
“You have given up the life we have given you. Why?”
“I haven’t.” Confused, he held his hand out. “In the alley? I didn’t really have a choice.”
“Not that life – this life!” A voice interrupted.
“He cannot comprehend, he’s only a lower being, no matter how intelligent he appears.”
“He comprehends that he was not given a choice!”
“Hey! Knock it off with that lower being crap!” Angel growled. “I don’t understand the question – and I’m not stupid, thank you very much!”
There were chuckles. “This one is amusing. I can see why you favored this one for so long.”
“Impertinent animal! It should be – “
“Smote down? Yes, we know. The playing field would be gone if we let you smite everything that displeased you.”
“The question remains unanswered – “ One voice overrode the others. “Why did you give up the life we have given you?”
The wheels had begun to turn, gears clicking into place inside his head. “You mean – my life as Booth?”
“He does comprehend.” The voice was smug.
Angel felt a bit smug himself. “Damn right.”
“If he comprehends, then he shall be punished!”
The smug feeling vanished. “Whoa! Whoa! What am I being punished for? I didn’t do anything!”
“You gave back the life we gave you. You rejected our reward.”
“Reward?” Shanshu = reward = Buffy! “My reward was to become human so I could be with Buffy.”
“That would not be a reward.”
“Says who? A life with my soul mate? Yeah, sure, you’re right, what a horrible idea!”
“He has still not answered the question.”
“His answer is known. He gave it up for the female lower being.”
“The female is no mere lower being!” The protest was echoed by other voices.
“It matters not. He gave up his reward of a new life for the old one with the female –“ A thunder of protest cut the voice off momentarily. “ – the Chosen One.”
“It must be punished!”
“Yes.” A voice agreed sadly.
Other voices – some eager, others indifferent – added the assent.
“Hey! Don’t I get any choice here?” Angel called out. “I was promised a reward – “
“Yes, to be human.”
“We made you so, and now you throw it away.”
“What are you talking about? I’m still human!” He pinched his arm, yelping to prove it hurt.
“This was not what was intended.”
“I don’t care what was intended! What about what I wanted?” He turned, holding his hands up beseechingly. “Don’t I have a choice in my own fate?”
“Of course you do, Angel, that’s why they’re all in such a state.” The voice was colder and dark compared to the others.
Angel shivered and instinctively backed away from where the nothingness was darkening.
“You are not welcome here.” A voice protested.
“Welcome or not, I am allowed at all council meetings.”
“We are not at council.”
“Really? Enough are present to constitute one.”
“We have not called a council!”
“Then I will.” The voice deepened. “I call for a counsel to decide this matter.”
There were angry mutterings, and flashes of light seemed to spark through the cloudy nothingness. Areas of it began to take on colors. Grays and blues, reds and pinks, colors that Angel couldn’t name.
“This is not good.” Angel said under his breath. It was reminding him more and more of a trial. A court of higher powers, and he was the chump on trial for something he didn’t know he’d done.
“Hey! Hey!” He yelled, trying to get their attention. “I want someone to help me, to speak for me – somebody who can help me figure this all out!”
“Uh… yeah, I guess. Someone who’s on my side.”
“A counselor.” A soft voice prompted.
“Yes. I need a counselor.” He nodded.
There was silence.
“So… is that a yes or a no?” Angel asked as the silence continued.
“It’s a yes.”
That voice was familiar and had come from somewhere instead of nowhere. Angel turned and gaped at the man beside him.
“Angel.” The other man smiled and extended his hand.
“Wes?” He ignored the offered hand and threw his arms around Wes, hugging him in a fierce embrace. “Wes! It’s good to see you!”
“Yes, well…” Wes briefly returned the hug before pulling away. “I wish I could say it’s good to see you as well.”
“You’ve caused a bit of a predicament, I’m afraid.” A smile curved his lips. “Not that that’s unusual for you.”
“Okay, come on, I didn’t do anything. I was living my life happy as a clam, and then suddenly I’m here with people yelling at me.”
“Let’s have a seat, shall we?” Wes walked to a desk and chairs that had materialized.
Seating himself, he motioned to the other seat. “It’s one of the first things one learns here, how to manipulate one’s reality.” He explained.
Angel sat down cautiously. The chair was solid. “Nice trick. I don’t suppose you could manipulate walls, a floor, and a roof while you’re at it?”
“If it’ll make you more comfortable.”
The whiteness vanished, replaced by the familiar setting of Angel’s office at the Hyperion. Wes sat behind the desk, reminding Angel uncomfortably of the time when Wes had been in charge. The move wasn’t without its implications.
“The Powers are upset because I remembered who I am.”
“Extremely.” Wes leaned back and steepled his hands together under his chin. “At least… some of them are.”
“The others are probably on my side.” Angel nodded in agreement.
Angel raised an eyebrow. “The ones who’re not on my side want me to be happy, but the ones who are on my side don’t want me to be? That’s fucked up.”
“It’s not that they don’t want you to be happy – quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.” He drew a breath, started to speak and then changed his mind about what he’d been going to say. “Perhaps I should start at the beginning.”
“Or rather, the end.” He said sardonically. “When you died in the alley, the Powers – the ones on our side – gave you your reward.”
“Shanshu.” Wes nodded. “However, it wasn’t exactly the way you expected it to be. Not that you had any say in the matter, of course.”
“Oh, of course. Heaven forbid I have a choice in my own destiny.”
“And therein lies the rub.” He leaned forward, tapping a finger on the scroll that lay open on the desk. “The Scroll of Aberjian clearly states that you will Shanshu.”
Angel leaned forward as well, but slowly – the scroll hadn’t been there a moment ago.
“Shanshu does mean both ‘to live’ and ‘to die’, so I was correct in my translation.” Wes gestured and red lines appeared on the scroll. “This marks the outline of the scroll when we briefly had possession of it.”
The scroll Angel had stolen from Wolfram and Hart had been tattered and worn, with pieces missing. This one was in perfect shape, as if it had just been written. The lines did look exactly as he remembered the scroll to look. “We already knew that, unless you’re just wanting to brag.”
“Of course not.” The other man couldn’t hide his grin. “Well, perhaps just a bit. What’s important here, however, is another section of the scroll that was missing.”
Tracing his fingers along another passage, Wes translated. “The reward being given, the souled vampire shall live out his new life until he joins the Chosen One on the other plane.”
“Other plane? Like… Jet Blue?”
Raising an eyebrow, Wes asked. “Are you mocking me?”
“No. well… “ Angel grinned. “Maybe a little. Seriously, so it’s saying I Shanshu and I find Buffy. Happy every after, right?”
“Not exactly. That is to say – “ He sighed. “Not on the mortal plane. Your destiny is to live out your life – a full human life – without Buffy.”
Angel’s face went blank, and he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s not acceptable.”
“I understand, Angel, I – “
“Do you? Do you understand, Wes? Everything I did, everything I fought for, every day I worked for one goal – one. Shanshu and Buffy. That’s it. Nothing else.”
“You will be together, Angel, just not here. Or rather – “ He motioned over his shoulder. “There.”
“Then it’s not a reward. It’s a punishment.” He shook his head. “At least as a vampire I had something to look forward to. I knew Buffy was alive and out there waiting for me. I’d rather go back to that than be human without her.”
“That’s not a choice you can make.”
“Apparently, nothing is a choice I can make!”
“It may seem that way sometimes, but it’s not the case.”
“Oh really?” Angel slapped a hand down on the desktop. “Prove it!”
“Angel, you’ve made choices throughout your entire existence that were of your own free will – “
“Bullshit!” He cut Wes off. “My life and Buffy’s – and everyone else’s has been preordained and prophesied and predicted! We’re just a bunch of puppets!”
“While there are certain things in our lives – certain events – which are destined to happen – ”
“However.” Wes continued. “The majority are not. I can show you if you like.” He hurried to finish before Angel could interrupt again.
“You do that.” Angel settled back in his chair once more. “You show me where I’ve had any choice – ever.”
“Think of your life as a line, with certain events strung along it like points.” Wes drew a line in the air. “Your life, Liam born in 1727. Died and turned, 1753.” He tapped the line and created a point at the beginning and another partway along it.
“Now this is how you lived it. You were a wastrel, a brawler, a drunkard – “ He smiled slightly as Angel sank lower in his chair with each pronouncement. “And a bit of a womanizer. Actually, quite a bit of a womanizer.”
“Women like me, is that a crime?” He said weakly.
“In some places, yes. But that’s hardly the point.” He waited, but the pun went unnoticed. “In 1753, you were turned by Darla, who had traveled alone – for unknown reasons – into the depths of Ireland.” He drew a slightly wobbly line from the first point to the second.
“Hey!” Angel said indignantly, recognizing the snobbery in the other man’s very British tone. “Ireland is the greatest country in the world, and Galway is the oyster capital of the world – bet you didn’t know that.”
“Neither of which would interest a vampire. Especially Darla.”
“Just make your point, all right?”
“The point is, Angel, that even if you had been the perfect, proper, dutiful son learning your father’s trade and working hard – “ Wes drew another line from the point of Liam’s birth, this one straight and true. “If you had been an upright, churchgoing man, married and faithful to a good wife – “ He continued the line, just as straight as before, ending it at the second point – the point where Liam had died. “You still would have met Darla and been turned by her.”
Angel shook his head. “No, no. She saw me in a pub. Darla never would have sired me, because I wouldn’t have been there. I’d have been home being a good Catholic and being fruitful with my wife.”
“She would have.” Wes insisted. “Some way she would have spotted you and decided to turn you. This – “ He circled the point. “ – is preordained. No matter what path you’d chosen for yourself as Liam, you still would have been turned by Darla and become Angelus.”
“I’m not buying it. What if… what if I’d stayed on the Continent and become an artist like I wanted?” Bitterness at being ordered home by his father, and obeying meek as a lamb still galled the back of his throat. Hundreds of years hadn’t softened the humiliation at the weakness of his own character. “Then I wouldn’t have been in Ireland at all.”
Another line, this one fluid and graceful, flowed from the point marking his birth to the one marking his murder.
“It would have happened.” Wes said softly. “Differently, perhaps, but it would have happened.”
“You’re just making my point, Wes. We’ve got no choices in our life.”
The other man gestured and the extra lines disappeared. “Not so. Certain things had to happen, but the years between those events were strictly up to you to make of them what you would. These events in your existence were preordained. Your birth, when you were turned, the Gypsy curse, Connor’s creation, and Shanshu.” A row of points appeared along the line.
Angel perked up. “But not what happens after that? So I do have a choice.”
“Yes and no. At the end of your existence, you will be with Buffy on the next plane.”
“Only… my existence hasn’t ended, and there aren’t any more damned preordained events. I’m not seeing a problem, here.” He leaned back and smiled. “I’m human and with Buffy, it’s all good.”
“Oh, if only it were.” Wes sighed. “Here is what the Powers, those on our side, had planned for your Shanshu.”
He added a line on to the row of dots, connecting with Shanshu. “They created Seeley Booth’s life. It took quite some time, by the way, this wasn’t an overnight whim. When they placed you into it, they gave you a life free from demons and monsters – “
“Vampires and werewolves – “
Wes shot him a stern look. “A life that was long and relatively peaceful, where you would die at a very old age surrounded by children, grandchildren, et cetera.” The line extended to the edge of the wall and pushed through it.
“But no Buffy.” Angel said stubbornly.
“All right, no Buffy, but you wouldn’t remember her, so you would never miss her. Once you’d died a mortal death as Seeley Booth, you would join her on the next plane.”
“Join her?” Wes had said that more than once, he realized. “She’s going to be there way before me, isn’t she?”
“Yes.” He didn’t try to soften his words. “She is still the Chosen One, and still a target.”
“What if I don’t go back? Then what happens?”
“Then you will die approximately two years from now.”
Angel blinked as the majority of the line vanished leaving it no more than a few inches past Shanshu.
“Buffy will die as well, trying to save you.”
“Oh, come on, Wes. I handled myself pretty good tonight.”
“It was that fight that alerted the Powers on our side that you had regained your memories.” Wes told him. “The problem is, you will continue to be targeted. Not so much to kill you – although they will certainly try to do so – but to draw Buffy out and kill her.”
“I won’t be a liability. Not like the last time.” Angel shook his head. “This time I’m used to being human. I’m not expecting to have vamp strength and abilities. I know my limitations. And – “ He jabbed a finger at the other man. “I’m pretty good at taking care of myself.”
“It’s not that you won’t be able to handle yourself in a fight, Angel, but you are human, and well…”
And there were many things faster and deadlier. Even with his knowledge and skills, he was overmatched. Angel shrugged. “So we die. And then what? Do we go to heaven together?”
“Yes, the next plane is what’s considered heaven.” Wes nodded.
“All right, well, that’s settled. I don’t have a problem with a shortened life and I don’t think Buffy will either.”
“I’m sure she won’t.” He said sardonically. “She has been here before.”
“So what’s the problem, Wes? Why’s everybody all pissed off at me?”
“Because, Angel, it’s not all about you!” Wes shot to his feet. “Can you for just one moment think of someone besides yourself!”
“Excuse me? All I did was think of other people! Look at the demons I killed and the innocents I saved! The years Buffy and I spent apart because of the damn curse! Doesn’t that count?”
“No, not in this! You don’t understand!” He pulled his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. “I’d forgotten what it was like to talk with someone who doesn’t know. It’s quite frustrating.”
“So why don’t you enlighten me?”
“Very well.” Wes drew another line, complete with its own set of points strung along it. “This is Buffy’s life. She was going to live to here, five years from now. If you stay, it will end here – “ He looked at Angel as he wiped away the end of the line along with 2 X marks.
“What were those?”
“Those are upcoming events – battles with the other side that Buffy will most likely be a part of if she’s alive.”
“But they’re not set in stone, like some of the others?”
“No. Given the scope of the battles, it’s likely – though not a certainty given her current erratic behavior – that she’d be involved.”
“Let me guess, good loses without her?”
“We will likely lose one, but not both. These events are flexible to a certain extent. Neither is an apocalypse event.” At Angel’s startled look, Wes nodded. “Yes, apparently there is more than one apocalypse. If Buffy is not at these battles, evil will stand a much greater chance of winning.”
Angel couldn’t argue that. Buffy was the Chosen One, and she’d killed demons by the handful – even a god – that supposedly couldn’t be killed. She was GI Joe, Patton, and Rambo all rolled into one dainty blonde package.
“Humans will continue to flourish, but evil will gain an important foothold.” He smoothed his hand over the scroll on the desk, and a new one appeared on top of it. “This scroll is where we find Buffy’s fate – “
“Wait – “ Getting up from his chair, Angel looked closely at one of the points on Buffy’s life line. It was an odd color. A line came out of it, extended briefly before turning back into the point. “What’s this – this loop?”
“It’s where Buffy killed herself.”
“What?” Angel looked over the line at Wes. “Buffy didn’t kill herself, she had no other choice!”
Wes looked away. “According to the scroll – “
“Wes, she sacrificed herself. She didn’t have any choice.” When Wes didn’t answer, he went back to his chair, sinking into it. “Did she?”
“Buffy had a choice, Angel, and she took it.” He said. “She was miserably unhappy. Her mother was dead, her father had abandoned her, you had left her – “
“No.” He shook his head in denial.
“There were other solutions Buffy could have chosen, Angel. She could have stopped Dawn’s bleeding, or cut her loose and led her away from the opening portal.”
“No.” Angel shook his head again. Buffy would never kill herself. Never take the coward’s way out. He shied away from the memory of the times he’d been too afraid to end his own existence.
“She killed herself. She jumped to her death. Willingly. Joyfully, even.” Wes sighed softly. “I can’t blame her. She knew Giles would take care of Dawn and of killing Glory.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Angel held up a hand. “Buffy killed Glory, you can’t take that away from her – she killed a god.”
“Giles suffocated Glory’s human host, and he and the others agreed to spread the lie that Buffy had killed Glory.”
“That doesn’t make any sense – why?”
“You’re talking about the same group who used a robot to pretend the Slayer was still alive and well in Sunnydale.” His expression gave away what he thought of that tactic.
“They were protecting Sunnydale.” Angel hadn’t liked the idea, but it was better than the alternative. “When Willow brought her back, it caused that loop. Why did the Powers let her do that?”
“Because this point – “ Wes gestured and a point farther along the line glowed briefly. “ – was preordained, and therefore had to happen. Even death can’t stop destiny, I’m afraid.”
“So I’ve noticed.” Angel huffed.
“The defeat of the First and the closing of the Hellmouth in Sunnydale – these things had to happen, and they could not happen without Buffy.”
“Hmmph.” Angel leaned his chin on his hand and glared at the point. “So I gave her the amulet for nothing.”
“Oh, no, no, it was needed.” Wes assured him. “It was a key element and played a crucial role. Spike had his own destiny, after all.”
“Spike?” He looked up again, a surprised expression on his face. “I suppose he’s up here, too?”
“Actually, no. He’s… “ The former Watcher searched for the proper way to convey the concept to Angel. “He is in… purgatory, I suppose you could call it.”
“Seriously?” He wasn’t Spike’s biggest fan, but locking him out of heaven didn’t seem fair. “He did save the world. At least once. With help. And he isn’t responsible for what he did after he was turned. No soul – remember?”
“That’s not in dispute. The decision was based on the fact that he willingly gave himself to Drusilla. He wasn’t forced or murdered. Unlike you, he saw her true face and gave himself to her.”
Angel hadn’t known that, he’d assumed that Spike – or William, as he’d then – had been ambushed by Dru and turned. “He knew she was a vampire?”
“Not the particulars, but – “ Wes was also confused as to how someone could gaze upon the face of a vampire – their true demon visage – and willingly become one. “The final consensus was that he hadn’t known that he would lose his soul; therefore, he hadn’t sold or given it away.”
“So they couldn’t send him to hell.”
“Saved by a technicality.” Angel chuckled. “He’d appreciate that.”
“He’s non-corporeal, and has been sentenced to help those in danger of making similar mistakes, and after a time he may redeem himself and be allowed to enter this plane.”
“Shanshu – sorta.”
“Yes, only it’s not a set destiny for him. It’s completely within his power to stay in purgatory forever, depending on his actions.”
“He’ll make it.” He knew his grandchylde – there was no way Spike was going to stay somewhere he couldn’t drink or smoke.
“Yes, well, as you pointed out, he did save the world, at least one time.”
“What about Cordy?”
“Here, you mean?” Wes’ face broke into a broad smile. “Oh, yes she has a wonderful show, new episodes every evening. It’s quite enjoyable, really. Funny, but relevant and moving at times.”
“She always wanted to be a star.”
“Exactly, and she is. Here we can live out our wishes and desires, and share them with our loved ones. Doyle escorts her to the studio, and has a reserved seat in the front row. He’s very devoted to her.”
“Doyle?” Of course Doyle was in heaven. A sad smile touched his lips. He’d been a true hero – the true hero. Sacrificing himself without a thought. “He really had a crush on her.”
“Far more than a crush, Angel.” Wes smiled again. “Though not nearly as epic as your own love for Buffy.”
“Epic’s another word for angst, Wes. What about...” He hesitated a moment. “What about Fred?”
The smile on Wes’ face faded, and he looked away. “Illyria was correct – Fred’s soul is – gone. She’s not here.”
“Wes, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” It wasn’t enough, but it was all he could offer. “I guess heaven doesn’t have everything after all.”
“Well, I do spend a lot of time reliving our time together and… extrapolating on what might have been.” Catching Angel’s gaze, he smiled. “It’s not as… sad as you might think, the realities we create here are… well, realities of a sort. But of course…”
He nodded. “Of course.” He couldn’t imagine heaven without Buffy. Even reliving their memories – no matter how real they might seem – wouldn’t be enough.
A thought struck him. “What about Gunn? Is he – “
“No.” Wes said sharply.
Again Angel nodded. Gunn had been responsible for freeing Illyria from her sarcophagus, and for Fred’s death, even if it had been indirectly and unintentionally in both cases. Gunn had known that someone would die. Unlike Spike, he had willingly signed over his soul, and he was probably in whatever passed for hell.
Memories of his time in Acathla’s dimension caused a shudder to work up his spine, and Angel said a quick mental prayer for Gunn. No matter what he’d done, the man had been his friend.
“Well!” Wes said cheerily. “Now that you understand, we’ll just have everything put back the way it was.”
“Oh, no, no, no!” He raised his hands. “I never said I understood – and I don’t want it the way it was. I like it the way it is.”
Even Wes’ sigh had a British sound. Angel crossed his arms over his chest. “I got time.”
“Angel, you – “
“Nope. Explain all you want. I’ll just sit here and think of ways to make it up to Buffy for being tied up here so long.”
“Buffy won’t realize how long that you’ve – “ He stopped. “Oh dear, I suppose you were fishing for that, weren’t you?”
“Didn’t you say you knew everything?” He grinned.
“Apparently not everything. We don’t read minds – it’s considered impolite, and of course there’s no need since everyone knows everything they wish to know.”
“Talk away, Wes.” Angel smirked. “Apparently, I’ve got all the time in the world.”
“I’d forgotten what a stubborn ass you can be, and do stop smirking, it reminds me of Angelus. Perhaps I should bring him into this discussion.”
He put more into the smirk. Shanshu trumped soulless vampire. “Go ahead, I’m guilt free.”
“Aren’t you concerned with the consequences of what happens after we lose one or possibly both of these events?”
“Nope. I’ll be here with Buffy. I doubt we’ll even come up for air. We’ve got a lot of wasted time to make up for and fantasies to fill. Hey – “ He looked thoughtful. “Will we need air?”
“What about your friends? Dr. Brennan, Ms. Montenegro, Dr. Hodgins?”
“They’ll be fine. They’re used to weird things and there’s no Hellmouth in Washington. Though considering the press and the politicians – you gotta wonder.”
“And your son?” Wes knew he’d hit pay dirt when Angel flinched. “What about Parker?”
“Don’t you mean Connor?” He hid the fear that had risen up thinking of Parker in a world populated with demons. “Parker isn’t my son. I did the math, Wes.”
“Connor has his own destiny – a rather unique one that your presence doesn’t affect. However, Parker will be alone. Fatherless.”
“I’m not going to abandon Parker just because he’s not mine.” His eyes bored into Wes’, and the other man had the good grace to look away. “I’ll be the father he needs – be what my father never was – for as long as I can.”
“And then what? Then what happens to him? Have you thought about that at all? Or are you too busy imagining all of the carnal delights of being with Buffy?”
“Carnal delights?” Angel laughed. “Jesus, you’re so fucking uptight. You sound like your father.” He laughed again as a flush covered Wes’ face. “You know what’ll happen, Wes? Nothing. I’ll train him, and as for Buffy, you can’t ask for a better mentor than Buffy.”
He nodded confidently. “Parker will be prepared for any demon that comes his way. I’ll get every amulet, potion, or trinket that’ll help keep him safe. And there’ll be people to help him, even Connor will be there for him.”
“Ah yes, a knowledgeable human among the dangers of the demonic world.” A bitter smile twisted Wes’ lips. “Like Fred was?”
“Fred – that – she – that wasn’t normal.”
“Having her soul reduced back to the particles that make up the universe? You’re right, that doesn’t happen every day. Let’s see… Cordelia, then?“
Before Angel could answer, Wes continued. “Her body used, prepared, and defiled to bring an evil god into our world?”
“You’re going for the extreme, Wes.”
“Extreme?” He arched an eyebrow. “Fine. Xander then. Loses an eye, and then Anya. Willow, also loses her soul mate, and nearly her own soul. Tara, murdered by a boy meddling with magic beyond his ken.”
“Tara was shot – that’s not demonic!”
“Warren used a gun only when magic had failed against Buffy. Jonathan, sacrificed to release the seal on the Hellmouth.” He paused. “Do I need to go on? Because there’s a long, long list. Why, I haven’t even gotten to Gunn yet. Or Lindsey. Or Principal Snyder – eaten by Mayor Wilkins after he turned himself into a giant snake demon.”
“No.” Angel turned away. He couldn’t deny there’d been a terrible toll on the humans who’d taken up the fight and those who’d joined the other side – still more who were innocent victims caught in the middle of the fight. Would the world be better for Parker if he remained ignorant of the demons in the world?
“It’s pointless, Angel. You won’t be around to teach him anything at any rate.”
“Two years isn’t a long time, but a lot can be accomplished.”
“You won’t have two years with Parker.”
“What? You said I’d live two more years!”
“You will, but not with Parker.”
“You’re not going to kill him?” Angel sprang to his feet and started around the desk.
“Of course not!” He held up a hand to halt Angel. “But if you stay with Buffy, Seeley Booth will die. His friends and family will bury him, mourn, and live their lives without him.”
“And what’s to stop me from showing up on his mother’s doorstep? I can say I was in Witness Protection.”
“Nothing. Except that you won’t remember him. Your memories as Seeley will be stripped away.” He smiled slightly. “You’re not dealing with amateurs, Angel.”
“You son of a bitch, you’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” He ground out between clenched teeth.
Wes’ eyes darkened with sadness. “Of course not, Angel, I’d love nothing more than to wish you a happy life with Buffy. For the two of you to raise Parker together, but there are greater things at stake here. When it comes down to it, the lives of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans –“
“Don’t quote Bogie to me.” Angel sighed. “I gave you the DVD, remember?”
Angel shrugged. He was quiet for several moments, running everything he’d heard through his mind and looking for a way out. They weren’t going to force him to give up his new life with Buffy without a fight.
Force? The train of thought stopped, derailed by a key point he’d almost overlooked. The PTB could have just put things back to the way they’d been before he’d remembered. Waved a hand, and he’d be right back into Seeley Booth’s life. Instead, they’d brought him here to be bullied and threatened by Wes.
“What was it you said earlier, Wes, when I said I have no choice in my own destiny?”
Wes didn’t answer, instead, focusing on the lines he’d drawn representing Angel and Buffy’s lives.
“They can’t force me to give it back, can they? Otherwise, they would’ve done it already. Right? Right, Wes?”
Wes sighed. “They aren’t allowed to force you. But, Angel, you have to understand – “
“Oh, I understand. They can’t make my decision for me.” A frown creased his forehead. “But… they did. They made the decision to make me into Seeley Booth without asking me.”
Moving back around the desk, he sat back down, folding his arms across his chest. “What aren’t you telling me, Wes?”
Sighing again, Wes sat down across the desk from Angel. “When you died, the Powers on our side put you into your new life as Seeley Booth. They were seeking to fulfill the prophecies of both scrolls. However, there was an objection from the Powers on the other side.”
“The evil ones? Why? You’d think they’d want me out of their hair.”
“One would think so, but they saw the potential in using you as a distraction for Buffy. They might win a number of victories that way.”
“But nothing major, we already know that, right?”
“Even small victories add up, Angel. And there are two upcoming major events, as I told you earlier.” Wes smiled grimly. “There was also an objection from some of the remaining, neutral, Powers about your lack of Choice.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a second! I thought there were only good Powers. You’re giving me good, bad, and what – leftovers?”
“The Powers That Be are just that – powerful beings. They don’t classify themselves as good or evil. They have merely chosen sides in the conflict.”
“The conflict? So human life is a conflict? A game? They play with our lives?” Why he was surprised, Angel wasn’t sure. He’d suspected all along that they were all just playthings.
Frowning, Wes shook his head. It was so difficult conversing with someone who didn’t know. “The conflict is between demon and human – more accurately between the Old Ones and humans.”
“Sounds pretty simple to me – good versus evil.”
“Except that all demons are not evil, as you well know, and that both sides see themselves as good and the other as evil.”
Angel nodded in agreement. It was never that simple. Even the Nazis had seen themselves as the good guys. So had the Russians, North Koreans, Romans, Egyptians, and on down the line.
“There are beings that take no side but merely watch, and others who sometimes take a hand in an event just to watch the outcome, and still others who monitor the two sides for fairness.”
“So we are a game to them.”
“Many of the neutral and the evil – for lack of a better term – Powers objected to your free will being subverted. An agreement was made that you would be placed into your new life, but that there would be a trigger that would bring back your memories, should you ever seek it out.”
He remembered holding the melted chain and rings, the burst of memories that had flooded him. He nodded once again.
“Our Powers set down the stipulation that the other Powers couldn't interfere with your life in any way or use their agents to cause you to look for the trigger.”
“They did, though. Yiska used that powder to start my dreams.”
“Angel – “ His eyebrows went up. “How could you think Yiska is evil? He’s on our side. Unfortunately, we believe that he was ‘pushed’ by the other side into doing what he thought was right.”
“So they broke the agreement.”
“That would be the easiest answer, but no. Unfortunately, there are more nuances to these agreements than your United States income tax code.”
“They left a loophole.”
“Exactly. Without meaning to, of course. They specified no other Powers or their agents could interfere with your life – but left out that one of their own could.”
Angel rubbed a hand over his face, trying to put together everything he’d been told. There were layers and layers of deception and plans – that’d been more Angelus’ forte, but the demon wasn’t with him anymore.
Wes went back to the two lines that still hovered in midair. “There’s an event that we haven’t discussed.” He slid the two lines into a parallel position, lining them up carefully. An X appeared on each and began to glow softly. They were in exactly the same spot on each line. “Here is the day you became human and then gave it back.”
“Mohra demon. Sex. Sad goodbye. I was there, Wes.” Angel refused to let Wes get under his skin with this one. “Nothing much to discuss. We went right back on track for our – “ He made a grandiose gesture. “ – destinies. Like we had any choice, right?”
“Well, not exactly. If you had not given your humanity back – “ He put his fingertip on the X on Angel’s line and drew a new line from it at a slight angle before drawing a similar line from the X on Buffy’s, angling it toward Angel’s lifeline. “You would have lived seven months and some odd days. Buffy would have been injured trying to save you.”
“But she would have lived, right? Because of what had to happen later?”
“Yes, that’s correct. However…” He drew Angel’s lifeline out, then continued Buffy’s past it and back into her original life line. “The baby did not.” Wes drew a very short line starting between theirs and ending abruptly at the same point human Angel died.
“Baby? There wasn’t a –“
“No, but there would have been. Neither of you considered birth control.”
A baby. Everything he and Buffy wanted. They’d had a baby. No, he corrected himself, they’d almost had a baby. And Buffy would have lived on alone. In more pain and loneliness than before.
“You’re not convincing me I didn’t do the right thing. Actually, I wish I’d known this before, one less thing to brood about.”
“I’m not trying to convince you otherwise. I agree you made the correct decision, Angel. What I’m trying to show you is that you created a child with Buffy. Parker.”
Angel blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Parker is your son with Buffy.”
“Oh, no! No, you don’t!” He stood up so quickly the chair tipped over. “You’re not bullshitting me, not about this!”
“I’m not bullshitting you, Angel.” Wes ignored Angel’s outburst – it wasn’t as if he could be harmed.
“Then what would you call it? Parker isn’t even old enough to be that baby – if there even was a baby!”
“The day you were human was in November of 1999, and Parker’s birth was in March of 2002.”
“I know when my son was born.”
Moving the baby’s short lifeline down slightly, Wes placed it farther alongside Angel’s lifeline. “The life that was made that day could not be unmade. The universe doesn’t allow it.”
The baby’s lifeline grew suddenly, extending out to the same length as his and Buffy’s. “He was placed into the Seeley Booth history that was being created for you.”
“No.” Angel shook his head. “Rebecca is Parker’s mother, not Buffy.”
Wes picked up a framed picture from the desk and handed it to Angel. “Really? I think he has Buffy’s smile, that mischievous little grin of hers – and I do think his eyes are the same hazel, don’t you?”
“No.” He didn’t need the picture, a million memories of Parker flashed into his mind. Smiling, pouting, playful, sad, trusting – every expression reminding him of Buffy.
Two years and then Parker would be fatherless – no, Wes said he’d be fatherless now, his death faked and his memory of his son erased. How could he choose Buffy over his own – their own son? How could he not?
“Parker will be safe. He has his mother. My parents, Bones, and Connor. And – “ Angel snapped his fingers as he remembered something. “Parker’s the Slayer’s son, he’ll have powers of his own, just like – what’s his name? Wood? Just like he has.”
“I’m afraid not, Angel. Parker’s abilities were stripped away to protect him and to allow him to live a normal life.”
“Stripped away? How is that – how is that possible?”
“Many things are possible.” Wes said softly. “So many things.”
“A normal life. That’s good. No demons, no monsters – “
“No father.” The other man reminded him.
“But safe.” Angel weighed the differences. Parker had his grandparents, an uncle, Rebecca, Bones – he had good people who would raise him to be strong and safe. Buffy had no one but him. If Rebecca married what’s his name, Parker would have a stepfather. It might even be less complicated without him around.
Wes knew what Angel was thinking and it was hard to blame him. If a life with Fred were to suddenly appear to him – how would he be able to turn his back on her? Thankfully, he didn’t have to make the decision. “You’re right, Parker will have a safe life.”
Angel smiled, but there was an uneasy feeling in his bones. Wes had agreed too easily.
“Parker will graduate high school, his grades high enough for a local university, but not for one of the better ones. He will serve a short time in the Army, four years, never rising above private, never able to qualify for the Rangers. He wants to join the FBI, but can’t meet the requirements. He does – briefly – attend the police academy, but washes out, as they say.”
He pressed on before Angel could interrupt. “Parker will work for a security firm patrolling stores and businesses. He will marry and divorce three times, no children, and battle alcoholism and gambling addictions his entire life. In the end, he’ll lose the security job due to his addictions and drift from one dead end job to another.”
“No… no…” Angel said softly, shaking his head in denial.
It saddened him to see his friend hurt, but Wes shook off the feeling and played his trump card. “If you stay, he will serve with distinction in the Rangers, and have an equally successful career in the FBI, rising to Assistant Director before he retires.”
"Assistant Director?” The number two man in the entire Bureau? Even Booth hadn’t set his own sights that high.
“Marriage to one woman, who loves him completely, four children, and no problems with either alcohol or gambling.”
“How can… how can it be so different?”
“Because of the presence of a strong, loving father to guide him.” Wes reached across the desk and clasped Angel’s hand. “You have it within you to be the father you needed – the one I needed – the one Lindsey needed – and every young boy like us who lacked a good father in their life has ever needed.”
“It’s not fair, Wes.”
Angel gripped Wes’ hand, glad for the support his friend was offering.
“The Powers are not unkind, Angel – although it seems that way at times. They have to balance the wishes of their champions with the battles that must be faced and won, and they are giving the two of you eternity together. Just not right now. When you are together, these separations won’t matter anymore.”
“I have to discuss this to Buffy, I can’t just disappear on her, not again.”
“They will give you an hour with Buffy before they return you to your life as Seeley Booth, and neither you nor Buffy will remember any of this. She won’t remember this and be sad, Angel.”
“Anymore than she already is, you mean? You know – she’s their Champion, the Chosen One – why do they let her live this way? Why does she have to be so lonely?”
“Free will, Angel. Buffy broods over her memories just as you did, and refuses to let them go. She’s choosing to live her life this way.”
“Free will, my ass.” Angel jabbed a finger at the air. “I’m not doing this without discussing it with her, and if we do this – if we do it – I want Buffy to be happy when she thinks about me! And don’t give me any crap that you can’t do it!”
The sky outside the windows darkened and thunder rumbled. He refused to be intimidated. “I mean it! I’ll stay, and you can screw yourselves!”
Wes winced. “Angel, please, be reasonable.”
“I am done being reasonable.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “We get twenty-four hours to make the decision.”
The other man tilted his head to one side slightly, listening. “Done.”
“Can I get that in writing?”
A clap of thunder rattled the room. “Okay, I’ll take your word for it.” Angel stood. “See you later, Wes.”
“Much later, I hope.” They shook hands. “Enjoy your life, Angel.”
“I intend to.”