"Immortal Beloved..." LXXXII...



A shortie..

.PG-13

Disclaimer: No, Joss, no...I make no claims, put that thing down!

It's all yours and ME's...

Spoilers for Angel to the bitter end...Flee at once!...

Summary: Various outcomes following "Girl In Question" and /or "Not Fade Away" on Angel...

Ok, I lied about stopping at 50...But me poor ole mum would just say, "so long as I like it, it's ok..."



***

Switzerland...One of the more incredibly luxurious castle-chateau homes of the famed Immortal...A little after 8am...

By the fabulous pool...Initially a natural spring-fed pond, beautifully enhanced by one of the world's great landscape designers...A lithe, blonde young woman, in the most haute of bathing suits and light robes, sheltered under a vast, stylish hat...Regarded with keen attention the remarkably handsome, tall, blonde, and muscular young man, engaged in setting up the area for the day, who'd just brought her a rather elaborate juice drink...

She lifted the hat slightly and gave him a smile from behind the most expensive of fashion sunglasses...Which he returned...With just the right level of impertinent appreciation...

"So...It's Joachim, right?..." she grinned...He nodded, setting the glass carefully on coaster on the table by her...

"You're definitely new here...And you look even better by daylight than last night at dinner..." she removed the glasses, tongue touching the outside of her upper lip...Looking him up and down...

"I hope to give the most satisfactory of service, ma'am..." he smiled...

Oh yeah...I'm sure you will...A wide smile...

"Will there be anything else, Ms. Summers...?"

"I dunno...Joachim..." a shrewd look, followed by another, more careful overview of his rather magnificent physique...

"Anything else you'd care suggest that I haven't...Tried...?"

He gave another smile..Again, just enough impertinence...

***

LA, downtown...Scene of the final battle with the Senior Partners of Wolfram-Hart, Inc...A little after 2 am...

A battered-but-rather-pleasantly-surprised-to-be-still-Undead Angel, carefully supporting an equally battered Illyria, eyed the rather gore-begrimed young Slayer who'd just come to him, several dozen other Slayers heavily engaged with the Partners' forces all about them...Many more Slayers...Some barely in their teens, a few well over fifty...Pouring in from various transports, both ground and air, by the minute...



"Mr Angel?...We've got Mr. Gunn to an ambulance, he's on his way to LA General, I think he'll be ok..." He nodded to her...

Maybe we'd better get you and...The Slayer eyed Illyria who gave a firm look back... "Dr. Burkle-Wyndham-Price..." Angel smiling faintly...

"...You and Dr. Burkle-Wyndham-Price out now..."

He frowned...Leave the field while he could still stand?...Bad enough to have to be rescued by the people who 'didn't trust him anymore'...

Nobly repressing the rather-of-his-old-human-days thought...And a bunch of girls to boot...

"We're quite all right, thank you..." Illyria answered for him...He nodding with another smile...Straightening a bit even as he felt Illyria do the same...

"Yeah...In fact I think it's time we pulled a few of your people back here and organized a final charge for the Hell portal..." he eyed the wavering ranks of the enemy... "These guys look ready to break to me..."

The Slayer grinned, shoving back strands of her long hair...Sounds like the Angel I vaguely remember, thanks to what our Counselor General passed on to us all on activation...

"I'll call Ms. Summers over...She's coordinating communication..."

"Buffy's here?...I hadn't seen..."

Ummn, no...Not that Ms. Summers...The red-haired, slight young Irishwoman shook her head... "The Counselor General wasn't able to come...This operation was ordered by Chairman Giles..."

Giles saved our asses?...Oh, now I am definitely going nowhere...

"Dawn?...This is Valerie..." the Slayer spoke into a cell phone... "Can you come over with the main transmitter...I'm with Mr. Angel by the corner tower..."

Angel smiling at the lilt in the young woman's voice... "Nice to see some of our own made the cut, miss..." he noted as she put the phone back on her holster belt...

"Nice to know the great Angel is one of our own..." she grinned back...Then looked down at her demon blood-smeared blouse, a tad embarrassed now...Ummn... "Sorry I didn't have a chance to change, sir..."

He waved a hand, indicating his own rather shredded garments... "We're strictly informal round here tonight, Slayer...The formal reception comes later, on the ashes of Wolfram-Hart..."

"Is there any word on William?..." Illyria asked... "He was surrounded the last time I saw him..."

"William?..." Valerie looked up at the word...Surprising the two by the sudden trembling in her face and the quaver in her voice... "No...And believe me, we're looking everywhere..."

"William!!..." A call in the distance, echoed by several Slayers...Testifying to Valerie's statement...Angel frowning slightly...

Well...I suppose I should be pleased, in a vague way...Him being my grandson of sorts...

Always good to know a male descendant is a hit with the ladies...Long as he's souled and less likely to torture and massacre them...

"Lets close this party down...Then we'll find him...Alive..." Angel moved his stiff arms a bit and looked round for a weapon... "Spike has more lives than any cat..."

"Yes, lets go...I'm anxious to see our enemies trapped, unable to retreat, writhing in their last tormented agonies..." Illyria nodded...

"My boy?..." Angel turned back to Valerie as Dawn reached them with a couple of Slayers in tow, all lugging equipment... Hey, guys!...Dawn came to them, grinning...



"Connor's fine and on his way...But we will keep him back till alls clear...If we can.." Valerie smiled... "I hear he takes after his father, so I have me doubts..."

Hmmn...Angel eyed her... Slayer task force commander at her age and Irish to boot...And a perfect age...

Yes, we'll definitely do the formal reception/celebration thing after this, if it cleans out whatever resources the remnants of W-H has left...

I mean this modern, New World stuff about finding love on your own is all very well if you've Eternity to play around in...But there's something to be said for the Old World way...Yes, high time dear old Dad gave his son a helping hand in the romance department...

"Busy night..." Dawn noted, looking round at the Slayers, most now driving back their foes, who were starting to show clear signs of panic ...Dodging a piece of flying...What she preferred to think of in general terms as debris, rather than assorted body parts...

"Where's Spike?..." she looked round, a bit anxious...

"No word yet..." Valerie replied, she and the other Slayers looking rather downcast... "But Angel says we're sure to find him, soon as we shove the Partners' guys back to Hell...Which, if you'd contact the squad leaders for a concentration here...I think we're ready to do..."

Gotcha...Dawn nodded...Angel staring at her...

"She's the Buffy Summers' sister?..." Illyria hissed to him, eyeing Dawn as she spoke rapidly to a microphone in hand...

"Rather human...And young...To be out here...Why did the Slayer let her come alone?..."

"If I know Buffy...And I do...She didn't...I'd say Dawn sneaked into the nearest transport..." Angel smiled at Valerie...Though looking a bit down...

"Am surprised Buf didn't come, if even Giles was willing to help us out..."

"William will be disappointed..." Illyria sighed...Valerie biting a lip and looking away as she heard...

"The Counselor General has lots to do these days..." she hastily noted... "Actually the Chairman appointed Dawn our communications officer...After the fact of her being found on board one of our transports from London when we were setting down and it was too late to send her back..." a wry grin at the stowaway, now busy with her transmitter...

Angel watching Dawn as she spoke to the squad leaders, passing on the orders for a move to their own central location on the field...She giving a slight frown as she heard the group of them speaking...Especially at the mention of the 'Counselor General'...

"All set...They're moving to regroup here..." she pulled the transmitter headset back...Valerie nodding...

"Lets go, then..." Angel lifted a broken spear pole he'd spied on the ground... "Time to complete my extremely hostile takeover of this firm..."

Say, about?...he turned to Valerie...Who knew immediately...This being the fourth time he'd mentioned it...

"Your dragon corpse is fine...We've got it back there, safe..." she pointed...

Great...he beamed...As Illyria rolled her eyes...As if we didn't hunt them practically to extinction back in my day...Poor dumb beasts...Like flame-breathing dodos, really...

"Dragon?..." Dawn blinked...

***

Switzerland...same time...

Where the Immortal, having some early morning business matters to attend to, had applied his daylight protections...The only magics he allowed himself as an absolute necessity to participate in the human world he'd long ago pledged his loyalty and service to...A bit earlier than usual for him...



And emerged upon a scene which challenged even his imperturbably calm nature...

"Buffy..." he frowned at the two now occupying her reclining chair...

Oops...Hey, Henri...she grinned at his divinely handsome features from beneath Joachim...Who made a move to rise...Hastily...

"Joachim...Please return to your...Other duties..." the Immortal coldly told him...

"Just a minute, Joachim...Henri...I asked him to hang a bit...Keep me amused..." she noted, eyeing him coolly...Holding Joachim in place...

"Would you allow the boy to rise, please?...Dear?...I don't believe in embarrassing servants..."

Hmmn?... "Oh, sure...Sorry..." she nodded...Releasing a somewhat relieved Joachim...Who'd found himself gasping a bit in her firm grip...

Yes...Thank you... The Immortal eyed her...

"I think, perhaps, my dear...We should have a little privacy...We have some urgent matters to discuss..."

Oh?...

"Yes...Including your...Current condition..."

Henri...she sighed...

"Which appears to be deteriorating to the point where you forget yourself..."

She gave him an indulgent smile... "Now, Henri...You never minded it when my 'current condition' left me open to accepting some of your kinkier suggestions..."

He frowned darkly...

"And it's not like Joachim here is likely to hold my interest for more than a day or two..." she grinned...

"In fact, I'll probably need you to finish things...These hulky human types usually start off strong but can't go the distance..." Joachim blinking a bit...

"Joachim...You have other tasks to perform...Go to them...Now..." the Immortal waved him off...

"Hey...He had things to do here..." Buffy frowned...As Joachim hurried off into the house...

"Buffy!..." Henri snapped... "I do not appreciate talk like that in front of servants...You are, after all, no less responsible for your actions now than I am..."

And I expect you to behave with proper decorum...Even soulless I retain a sense of the proprieties as well as my famed degree of moral sense...

"I expect you...If only out of respect for who you are and for me...To do the same..."

She frowned now...

"No one's here but us today...And you've always told me to enjoy myself while I can however I can...That's what I'm doin'..."

"You are Buffy Summers, the Greatest of the Slayers...And Slayer Counselor General..."

"Semi-retired..." she insisted... "And I've never given a damn about my status on the Slayer hierarchy...Even in the old days..."

"Regardless...You have a position to maintain...And, as my guest, you might consider my feelings in this..."

"Fine...Sorry..." she waved a hand bearing a couple of rather remarkable and incredibly expensive rings... "Had no idea your Soullessness was suddenly takin' things so to heart..."



She eyed his impassive face...Sensing...Something surprisingly genuine in his upset...Her manner softened a bit...

"Sorry...Really...I wasn't thinkin'...I honestly didn't think it would bother you..."

"I hate seeing you acting beneath yourself..." he shook his head, taking a chair beside her... "And you're becoming less and less aware of it..."

I hate seeing how you've...Changed...

"Is that my fault?..." she replied coldly...

"If that is intended as an accusation..." he eyed her... "If you still suspect me..."

She sighed... "No..." she waved a hand... "I know you didn't have anything to do with it...Or you'd be dust now, believe me..."

But you were content with things when we started out...she noted...

"It didn't matter to you then..."

"I hadn't watched you change then...Or learned to care for you as I do..." he added..."And I have tried to help...Done what I could..."

Even if it might cost me...You...

"I know...And I'm grateful...For everything..." she smiled at him... "Especially for your help in keepin' my secret from the guys..."

I doubt Dawn and the rest would be able to bear it, if they knew...Even if I have managed pretty well...Done my duty when forced to...And found a reasonable degree of content...

Somehow I think they'd find my goin' vamp easier to take...she shook her head...

"Course...If they ever found out...And your people turned out to be right and even Willow couldn't help...You would probably be the first they'd blame...And come after..." she paused, blinking a little...

"That is not why..." Henri fumed again...

"I didn't mean that...Sorry...You know I can't help the way I am now...The way I act sometimes when I don't think...But I don't mean to hurt you or anyone..."

And, as best as I can now...I do care...Henri...she smiled at him...

"But not as much as for..."

"Memories of the old days, kiddo...When I was what I was...They stay with me, reminding me of how I once felt...I can't help that...But I haven't gone after him, even for ole times' sake...Give me that much at least..."

"Only because he'd know...In a second..." Henri frowned...

"Maybe...He did know me damned well, then...But even Dawn and the guys haven't guessed, however they may occasionally grouse at the reduction in time and attention I have for 'em these days...The main thing is, I haven't gone to him...And I might've, seeking what he might be able to restore to me, at least in part...At least in memories of how things were..."

Not to mention he's probably not doing too badly with Angel...Or wouldn't be once I started managing his career...

"If you do want..."

"We've been through this before...No...I don't want to stir up old sorrows...At least for him...I can't give him what he'd want and deserve...Not now...And not even then..."



It's best to leave things as they are in that relationship...As he seems to realize...she noted...

"Speaking of him...Or avoiding speaking of him..." Henri gave a sour look... "Leads to me to the urgent matter I spoke of..."

"Well?..."

"Giles called me just now...Your phone was off..."

Oh, right...she grinned... "I didn't wanna be disturbed for a few minutes..." Pulling the phone...Then sighed... "So, things not going so well in LA this?...What time is it in LA?...Morning?..."

"Fairly well, the battle seems likely to be won...By our forces..."

Yay...she grinned...Then her face clouded slightly...

"Hope he isn't too disappointed...But I couldn't go and let him find out about me...Even if he wouldn't tell the guys...And the Slayers might even have sensed it if I hung round them too long..."

Still...If they really need me...a slightly bored tone...

"Dawn's joined them..." Henri eyed her...

Oh, crap...she frowned...

"Well...Nothing I shouldn't have expected when she insisted on staying in London instead of heading back to Rome...But Giles might've kept a better eye on her..."

Is she?...An exasperated tone...

"Fine, so far...They're keeping her away from the fighting..."

"Great...Then no prob...And William will be glad to see her there...They had some issues that last year after Spike'd tried to rape me the summer before...It'll be nice for him..."

"You aren't going?...To be sure?..."

"Dawn's a big girl..." she waved a hand... "And you said they're keepin' her out of it...I don't want to risk it unless I really have to..."

"Your own sister, Buffy...Even putting emotion to one side...Your friends and family are sure to wonder..."

"Captain of my..." she paused... "Fate...Henri...Let 'em wonder...They were happy enough to accept things when I suddenly stopped moping around about William and 'moved on'..."

"Have you considered?...Your wiccan friend might still be of help..."

"Your people said it was hopeless without knowledge of the method...Or where it went to..."

Telling them would only hurt them...And I've no desire to hurt anyone...Or have them fretting over me, spoiling what's become a rather pleasant existence for me...

He shook his head...

"As I say...If the situation goes bad, Dawn has my number...I've got your stuff...I can teleport to LA in a few seconds...Don't worry about it..."

Though it does you credit, soulless guy...she grinned...



"Now...Go and get your Slayer a nice present to make up for that little snit just now...Something diamondy, I think...Yeah...Try to surprise me..."

"And I think it's time we did a little shopping spree in Paris...I'm getting bored with the sticks..." she noted...

Frowning but resigned, the Immortal headed back into the great house...

A buzz drew a frown as she lay back...Damn...

"Yes?...Yeah, Giles...What...Ok, so you've sent all the Slayers you could to LA...Great...Hmmn?...No, I do not intend to go unless I absolutely hafta...Hey, he showed some common sense and chose the sensible course of not bothering me, why should I stir up old troubles?...Really?...Yeah, Henri told me..."

Sure I knew she wanted to go...She wanted me to go...But as I said...

"Giles...She's old enough to decide things for herself...If she wants to go and see Spike that's her..."

Yeah, yeah...she sighed... "Look, you sent a horde of Slayers, right?...She'll be fine...She has my number if she gets into trouble..."

And I'm not her mother...

"Got my own life to lead, Giles...But if things go south there, you know you can give me a call...Henri's got what I'd need to teleport...So, no problem...See ya, bye..."

God...

Hmmn...She looked over where a door on the patio had opened...

A slightly nervous-looking Joachim apologetically bearing a few more setup items...

Hey...she waved...He nodding slightly as he hurried about his duties...

"You got sibs, Jo?..." she called over...Who nodded briefly... "Mine's not even real and nothing but trouble...Well, anyway..."

Another buzz...

Crap...she frowned... "Oh, Buffy, our rears and the world's are in danger and you gotta come save us...For free..." she sneered to herself...

Ummn...No...I mustn't think like that...I would go...If they...If he...Needs me...

Though nothing says I gotta go running just cause Dawnie wants to play with her old babysitter...

Hmmn...I wonder...Sounds like my artificial sis is indulging a little romantic fantasy...They were alone together a lot that summer when I was gone...

Before I came back...Feeling...Almost as I do now...Nearly as lost...Nearly as...Dead inside...

But back then I had him to bring me back to life for real...And I wasn't really...What I feared...

What I am, now...Hmmn...

Maybe the thing is...Then I feared it...Now...

I accept it...Don't mind it...Maybe even...

Prefer it...

At least the pain's gone now...Except for the memories...And the dreams...



Another buzz...She rolled her eyes...

Gotta be Xander...Well, if he's so concerned about poor lil' Dawnie, let him go...she sighed and opened the phone...

"Hey, Xander...What's up...?"

Worst of it is, even soulless I can't say no...Professional that I am...

***

LA...

Far down off the main street the Slayers were massing on, in a small alleyway littered with non-human corpses, in the midst of the enemy forces...

A feeble groan as a slight blonde young woman in jeans and white blouse tore through a pile of rubble and corpses to reach...Buried in the heap...

"Uhhhnnn..."

"William.." a whisper barely a breath...

"Oh, William..."

He looked up...Hey, she smiled down at him...

"Buffy..." he whispered, then fainted...

***

He woke to find himself being gently carried in...He looked up at her face...Yep, my Buffy's arms...Definitely not the First, very likely a fantasy as I lie in a pool of my own blood, waiting to die...She halted...Lowering him...

A repressed moan came from him...Through clenched teeth...

"Will, you're in pain?..." she asked anxiously...

"Not since I saw you..." he smiled faintly...Then groaned again...

"All right, I'm lyin'...But I am better..."

She looked round...Still deep in enemy country, though the ones flying by their alley didn't seem any too bent on hunting them...Or on anything but saving their asses...

"I'll try to get you to where the Slayers are...The other Slayers...Just set a mo while the crowd back there flees by..."

I'm sorry I don't have anything...she began...

"Gifts aren't required, girl..." he grinned... "Though in my human day, on formal reunions of old lovers, a personal token..."

"I meant something for the pain, dope..." "I know..." he nodded...

"...'Sides..." she beamed... "I woulda thought I was gift enough..."

"Oh, yeah..." he smiled back...

Hmmn...He eyed her a second...



Wait a mo...

Ummn...She looked at him, realizing...Shoot...

"Hey, look at all these dead demons...And all the ones running by..." she tried... "I'll bet you sense 'em all over..."

He frowned...

"Nice outfit..." she smiled...Tapping his new jacket...His traditional black, but clearly not taken off either a dead Slayer or a department store rack... "Angel's been doing right by ya, I see..."

"Who are you?..." he cut her off, glaring at her... "You're not human..." He started trying to wriggle out of her arms...Groaning as he did...

Ummn... "Don't get upset, Will, you thrash around, you'll get hurt...I am Buffy..." she set him down gently... "Please, honey...Don't move around like that..."

"Buffy...was human last I checked in Rome..." he gasped out, pausing in his efforts to rise...Sensing...With a puzzled look...

"See, you sense the soul, don't you?..." she nodded eagerly... "I'm not a demon, Will...Well, not a full-fledged vamp demon...The soul's right here..." she touched her chest...

"You're transformed?...Buffy...?" he stared in shock...Then frowned...

"Girl, for Christsake, how could you be so stupid?...You, the Greatest Slayer of all Time?...The Slayer I suffered hideous agonies for..."

And that before my impromptu roasting at the Mouth...

Ummn... "I do have a soul...You are sensing it, right?" she tried... "And there's a little more to it...If you'd let me..."

"I leave you alone for a year and...Are you trying to tell me you let him transform you?...Is this the new European way of politely telling me you're looking for an immortal threesome with the Immortal and me, demon girl?... 'Cause if it is..."

William...she frowned...

"When did he do it?...How?..." he cut her off... "And why did your idiotic friends and that worthless dolt of a Watcher of yours take their eyes off you for a second while that Immortal pile of shit got his hooks into..."

"The Immortal guy?...Oh, no...This happened a while ago...About three years to be more precise..."

On my world...she eyed him...

Your?...World?...he blinked...

"Your freakin' what, girl?...Are you tellin' me you're not my Buffy Summers?...You're some demon bitch from another dimension, with some miserable lout of a soul, wearin' her..."

Great...he fumed..."So I rate Buffy the Doppelganger, eh?...Sounds about what...I'd..." he tried to raise himself again...Uhnnn...

"Stop it, Will...You'll hurt yourself...There's nothing to get so upset about...I am Buffy... Just let me explain..."

Well...ok...she gave a sheepish look at his hard stare...

"Not exactly your Buffy..." she eyed him... "Not 100% per se...Though my soul is..."

What?...he blinked...

"See...The thing is William...Like I said...I am a Buffy...And I sure as hell love you..." she beamed...



But...

"So, then..." he stared at her... "You're a Buffy...But you aren't my Buffy?...I mean, the Buffy I know?..."

"Oh, yes...I am..." she earnestly noted...Ummn... "Well, in part..."she hesitated... "It's a little difficult to explain..."

"Seein' as we're likely going nowhere till that crowd up there thins..." he nodded towards the street, where another horde of rather panicked-looking demons was now passing in near-stampede...

"Well..." she sighed...

See, after I had to flee my world...Everybody in the old gang on that Earth being kinda pissed at me after I killed my Willow's girlfriend, Tara...And came through this interdimensional portal I created from Giles' books...

"I got pretty damned good at magics on my Earth by the way..." she noted... "Back when I was still human I was tryin' to raise you from the dead on my world when I got caught by this nobody piss-ant human villain, a guy named Mears and his vamp ally with my guard down..."

But that's another story...she noted his frowning look...

Anyway, evil demon me got through the portal in one piece and found out there was a Buffy here, alive...

"So, naturally, my first thought was...After 'oh, please let there be a William around', that is...Ambush and kill...Try and take her place using magics or somethin'..."

I know...Stupid plan...she sighed, waving a hand...

"Demons, ya know?..." a feeble shrug... "Not all that imaginative as to battle plans..."

"But then I heard about you...You're the talk of the underworld here, Will..." she beamed proudly... "Even the most evil fiends teared up talkin' about how you overcame your dark nature to love and help me...And won your soul back...And died for me...Well, for a Buffy..."

Wow...she shook her head... "My Earth's Will was great too, but he died of TB six months after Willow and I helped him drive Spike out and regain Humanity..."

The Humanity quest ain't all it's cracked up to be, believe me...she noted...Though we were very happy those six months...

"I know, digressin'...Sorry..." she waved a hand... "Just wanted you to know where I'm comin' from..."

So...I heard all this...And heard that you'd just come back once again from the dead, still with the soul...Though you weren't with Buffy...And one of my sources...

"Well, ok...It was Harmony...I called Wolfram-Hart and pretended to be this Earth's Buffy...She told me you were babblin' crap about pure sacrifice but you were just sure I...She...Didn't really want you and you were mainly just too scared to risk it..."

She also gloated that she'd never tell you I called and that sort of thing, her being Evil and all...That was last November...Did she ever?...

Didn't think she would...

"Bein' a practical girl...Of necessity...I saw my chance and went for it...One of my sources had told me...My demon me...About your demon soul-restoring god in Africa...I figured...Knowing how much a soul would mean to you...Hey, what better intro gift for one's souled guy?...Not to mention a sure-fire conversational topic to break the ice..."

And if this world's Spike could do it for love, believe you me, Annie...My demon self...Wasn't about to be caught nappin'...

"With a leetle...Persuasion..." she grinned...Ummn...she noted hastily... "I didn't kill him, even demonic Anne knew you'd want a soul-restoring god around in case of problems or for Dru or such...Anyway, I got a soul back and as Buffy again, headed out to find you..."



Though, havin' a soul...Life becomes complicated again...Ya know?...she eyed him...

Oh...Yeah...he nodded...

"I kept runnin' into people in danger and all...And havin' a soul again, I couldn't just leer at 'em and join in the killin'...I had to help...And I had to be careful not to attract attention and have this Earth's human Buffy and the guys gettin' wind of me..."

And I realized I was feelin' a little strange...The soul seemed to carry its own baggage, apart from the usual hideous remorse and all, I mean...It seemed almost to have had its own life...And memories...Memories I knew were different from what I'd known on my world...

"So I did stopped to do some consultin' with experts, such as they were...Figurin' I'd best get my act together if I was gonna win you to this deal once you knew just who I was...Though, naturally with the soul back I was ready to step aside if you and your Buffy were...You know.." she shrugged... "But, as Buffy and you still didn't seem to be makin' moves on each other...In fact, from what I was hearin'...She was actin' kinda strange...Not her old self...Kinda cold to the old family, keepin' from them...Even Dawnie feelin' neglected, according to what I heard via some guys I got to magically tap phone lines..."

And then, after going through all the available help at hand...I found out...

Hmmn?...he stared...

"They...The folks I consulted...Including some vicious but very learned demon monks in China... Weren't sure if we all have just one Soul across the universe's dimensions...Or if souls get blocked in interdimensional summonings or what...But the bottom line was..."

When I got my Buffy soul in Africa...I kinda...Sorta...

"Completely unintentionally, I swear..." she put up a hand...

Though I can't say about your demon god...I did get the impression he was laughin' at me behind my back when I left...

"You took Buffy's soul?!..." his voice went from shock to vivid rage in less than five seconds...

"Hey, it's my soul, too...Ummn...Or now...I mean, I am the soul, mainly...It's the demon body I took..."

Or got stuck in, whatever way you chose to look at it...she sighed...

"So you see, Will...I really am mostly your Buffy...Just the physical body and mind weren't mine...This Earth's mine...Though very, very close..."

"But...My...The Buffy of this Earth?...Is she...? What?...Demonically human now?...A zombie?...Some kind of murderous human fiend...?"

Which might well explain the lack of attention yours truly has been gettin'...Me not for one second believin' Andrew kept my secret for more than thirty seconds on his return...

"Oh, no...She's still human and all...Just soulless now...And actually doin' pretty well...Probably about as happy as a soulless type can be..."

"So, she's evil now?..."

"Nooo..." she frowned suddenly...Geesch, Will...This is me we're talkin' about...

"Not evil...And she still fights the good fight...Occasionally, at least...It's just...Without the soul, she's not quite as into the incredible compassion and selflessness thing...She kinda takes it a little easier now...Especially when it's not a world-saving crisis..."

And maybe she's a little colder to Dawn and our friends...Not all that concerned about you and your fate...Not willing to stick up for poor Angel when Giles insisted he'd sold out to Evil, Inc...

"But hey, instinct and memory alone...And her natural good sense and desire to stay on the winning side...Keeps her on the Light side...Don't worry..."

He eyed her narrowly...



"If you really were...If you have my girl's soul in there..."

"I'd never allow it to be kept from human Buffy, right..." she sighed... "And for a while I was gonna stick myself and send me back to the human host...If I could be sure she'd get the soul back, of course..."

No point in dustin' only to find myself back off to Heaven and soulless Buffy without me to watch her...

"But then I checked on her, unseen, and she hadn't become some kind of human Angelus...And you, despite that little rendezvous with Harmony..."

Of which she happily gave me full details...A hard frown at him as he tried to look somewhere else...Ummn...

"Weren't with anybody...God, sorry as I was for you being alone, I sure was happy to hear that..." she smiled... "And I thought, hey...If I do go back to human Buffy...The merged me-human host is sure to start in again with all the usual reservations as to you and me...Much as she...I...We...do love you, Will..."

And the biggest of prob of all...the long vamp lifespan...You'd only have me for a few years before I'd be the one to go dust...In slo mo, but still...Then you'd be alone...For God knows how long...Or you'd have to find a way to go human...Or even...She pantomined a staking...

"It's not fair to you...And now I had the perfect solution, thanks to my dimension-bridgin' demon..." she smiled...

But...he struggled to rise... "You can't mean it...You'd leave human Buffy without a soul?...Her soul..."

"Hey, 70% of my demon and human experts say it's my soul as much as human Buffy's...And of the rest, 80% say I at least have a valid claim to make on it..."

He frowned at her...Wincing a little at the pain of sudden motion...

Aw...Will...she sighed... "You know I'll do whatever's right in the end...But after I heard about you and Angel takin' on the Partners, I had to make sure you were safe and I wanted to talk this over with you first..."

After all, if I stay with the vamp bod...she raised a forefinger to his glare...Now, hear me out...

"We can stay together, no complications...And this world gets an Immortal Slayer...With a very compassionate soul..."

And human Buffy knows, I think...she noted... "At least about lacking the soul and all...I think that's why she's been running off with the Immortal...Keepin' away from Dawn and the guys..."

She likes her life now...Much as a soulless human can like anything...

"If you are a soul...If you're not lyin', fooling my senses somehow..." he began... "Then you know I can't agree to this...Even if it's true that Buffy...You...Won't exactly be raring to renew our relationship..."

Yeah...she sighed...I knew you'd say that...Then beamed... "You are a good man, William..."

So...she sighed...

Looks like you oughta be safe here...she handed him a cell phone... "Giles' Council number is the first one...He can relay the call to someone here...They'll pick you up..."

"You wanna do the honors...?" she eyed him...Offering a stake...

I can't guarantee 100% I'll wind up in human Buffy...But my experts did kinda think it would work out...she noted...

Ummn...he stared at the stake in her hand...

"Right..." she nodded... "It was a little mean of me...Sorry...I'll go back there and do it myself..." she waved at the back of the alley...

Bye, sweetie...she bent down over him to kiss him... "I am Buffy, Will...Everything important...And I do love you...I want you to know that..." she rose...



Wait...he whispered...Trying to rise a little...

"Don't William..." she hastily knelt back down... "You'll hurt yourself...I'm ok with this...I knew in my heart I'd hafta..."

I just wanted to see you again...See you safe...she smiled...And tell you how much I do love ya...Without the human complications gettin' in my way...

"We'll catch up together in Heaven...Look for me at those pearly gates when you come...I'll be wearin..."

"Wait, Buf..." he put out a shaky hand... "There's no need to do it that way..."

And no need to do it alone...he eyed her...

"Lets see the dawn together..." he smiled at her... "I've no pressing plans this morning..."

"William...You have so much to do...A life to regain that you deserve to live...And if you're startin' to get all noble you're obviously feelin' a little better and not likely to die from these wounds..."

A little...he nodded, grinning as he managed to sit up...She tried to get him to lie back but he waved her efforts off...Taking her hand...

Listen, Buffy...

"Girl...Endless centuries alone condemned to being Angel's undead, wisecracking sidekick is hardly what I'd choose to call...Life...Even Unlife..." he grinned... "Suppose we leave it to God...The miserable soddin' bastard..."

If he makes me or better yet both of us human before dawn...We'll graciously stay on and try our best to defend and better his pathetic little world...

If not...Wherever we go, we go together...

"Will..." she frowned... "I didn't come here to get you to commit suicide with me..."

And one of us should keep an eye on human Buffy...In case I don't wind up back there...

"If you go, girl..." he shook his head... "I go...Buffy, there's no life for me here, alone...Only with you, wherever that is..."

"'Death, only death, can break the lasting chain;

And here, ev'n then, shall my cold dust remain,

Here all its frailties, all its flames resign,

And wait till 'tis no sin to mix with thine'..." he quoted...

"That's..." he began...

"'Eloisa to Abelard'...Alexander Pope...I know..." she beamed... "I put it on your tombstone on my world after you died...Say, you are feeling better..."

He stared at her...

"It was a favorite of yours...And I've done my damnest...As demon or human...Souled or soulless...To live up to it..."

Girl...he smiled up to her, taking her hand...

"You do believe me, then...?" she eyed him... "That I am..."

I believe you...he nodded... "I'd know that soul in any body..."



"Whoa..." a familiar voice chuckled at them...He tried to look over...She staring...

"Now that is romantic, guys..." Buffy smiled coolly at them from just up the alley...

Hey, Will...she nodded to him...Putting down a large orb, now black and drained...

"Nice to see you still kickin'..."

And you...she turned to her twin... "So I imagine I have you to thank for my new outlook on life...?"

***

"Buffy..." vamp Buffy/Anne eyed her... "Will's not up for this sort of thing...If we're gonna fight or anything..."

Human Buffy rolled her eyes... "Fight?...Sweetie, your demon is showin'...I don't wanna fight...It ruins clothes and might potentially lead to Death some bad day...Not to mention beauty-marring scars that might not always heal so well..."

But you're right...she nodded, looking William over... "He does look bad...We best wind things up quick...If he'll be sensible..."

Though I thought you two were planning a big flame-out in a couple of hours?...That can be painful too, ya know...A grin...

"Now William..." she came closer to him... "From what I heard before I butted my lovely blonde head in on this tender scene...You were taking the noble road again...Heroically insistin' that..." she eyed Buffy/Anne...

"Buffy..." Buffy/Anne firmly noted...

"Right, Buffy-vamp twin...Must give up the soul to me...And you, whoever you are...Buffy-twin from another world..."

Seemed to be insanely bent on provin' your devotion and essential souled niceness by makin' the ultimate sacrifice...For me as well as our guy?...

"Thanks...Sis?..." the human nodded with another cool smile...

But suppose...Will, just suppose... That I'm content with things as they are...

"Suppose...For what I chose to call...Whatever...Love, affection...Or the memories of the same...I'm good to go on lettin' you keep Buffy the Soul in there...To be with you..." she nodded at Buffy/Anne... "And leavin' me to move on with my life...Soulless or no..."

Call it my way of payin' you back for all you've done for me...And for the sake of what I...What I still at least remember I...Felt for you...

He shook his head weakly...

"If you were yourself, Buffy...You'd never agree to this...What about your family, the friends, the Nibs?..."

"They haven't seemed to get too upset about me the months since Buffy the Soul Sucker vacuumed me soulless...I'd say they've excepted the new me as a natural thing...Growin' up, developing my own interests...Getting freakin' bored to tears with the same old, same old...In any case, it was better than the way I'd been since Sunnydale..."

Even you woulda believed in me if you'd seen then...she smiled... "My new, detached and poised style was a definite improvement from their pov..."

"I can't go along, Buf...This is wrong and I'm more...Not less...Sure of it since soulless you came in..."

Mmmphf...she frowned...Then eyed Buffy/Anne... "Some guys..."

"He wants to do the right thing by us, Buffy...And I suppose he's right..." the vampiress sighed... "We know he's right...Though at least now he knows we did try to be with him..."



"William..." human Buffy looked at him... "I'm warning you...Even if this succeeds and she pops right back in me...The practical, sensible, for-want-of-a-better-word, soulless side of me will win out on this...Much as my soul loves you...And even I, who can't exactly get all that het up over anybody now, cares, sympathizes, and would like to have you around...Especially if you stay with Angel and his new Wolfram-Hart at a salary that might keep me..." she grinned...

"But in the end, all the things that kept me from trying to help you before you got the soul...From dying with you at the Mouth, from trying to bring you back from the dead...They'll be still be there..."

I tried to bring him back from the dead...On my Earth...Buffy/Anne noted... "Good for you..." human Buffy nodded...

"I get the picture...Still no picket fence in our future..." he sighed... "But...What about the Immortal?...What's he got...?"

"He's soulless...With a kinda moral sense and a healthy appreciation of the practical benefits of fighting for the winning side...He understands me and he knew right away when I suddenly lost the soul...Even offered to try and help, though not knowing the method there wasn't anything he could do except help me conceal it from Dawn and co...He doesn't expect or demand too much from me, as you would William... We get along..."

And he's got all the wealth and power necessary to keep this soulless Slayer girl in style...she smiled faintly...

"Maybe it'll be different now..." Buffy/Anne noted... "I've made him believe I love him...Maybe I'll convince us that we can try to love him once this body's dust and we reunite..."

"Maybe..." human Buffy shrugged... "But given past history, I wouldn't put money on it...And there's the pain we'd cause him...That's been blocking us as well...He'd have us for a few years, then...Alone again..."

And duty would press him to stay on...We'd want him to look after everybody...He'd get all noble the way he does now, and stay...

"I kinda figured the same..." Buffy/Anne nodded...

"So...Will, you can either agree to this..." human Buffy turned to him... "And let us work out some way to tell the guys..."

No?...she eyed his shaking head...

"Well...Then there's the other solution..." she sighed...

Buffy/Anne tensing a little...Human Buffy eyeing her...

Hey...she frowned... "I don't mean...That...In my soulless way I love him too, ya know...I got the memories, if not quite the heart...And I know what I owe him..."

She looked fixedly at Buffy/Anne...Oh...hh...That solution...the vampiress nodded...

"What?..." William looked at the Buffies...

"Are you sure?..." Buffy/Anne asked... "Yeah..." human Buffy nodded... "It's the best way...But be quick...Dawn and the others are gonna be here any minute..."

"But can we be sure...?" "If you wind up in Heaven, William will take care of her...And she'll go to Africa, I've no doubt...She already did once, right?..."

Yeah...Buffy/Anne nodded, smiling...

"Buffy..." Will tried to rise, suddenly realizing... "Don't..."

Human Buffy knelt and cocked her head to one side, waiting...Smiling as gently as she could at Will for a moment...

"There's only room for one Buffy here, my...Our...Love...But it will be my body...And our soul...Minus the complications...Hurry..." she glanced at Buffy/Anne...Who headed over towards her...



No...he tried...Geesh, Will...she frowned at him..

"Just for once, accept a gift instead of insisting on being the giver...I don't know about sis here but I know I'm making a big effort on this one..."

Lets get crackin' sis...she smiled at Buffy/Anne who reached her now...

"Will, if we don't reunite right away, make sure you call Giles and have him warn Dawn and the Slayers...We'll get away and make it to Africa, don't fret...Though I hope things go the quick way...If they do, we can go vacation somewhere together a week and then just say some vamp got me while I was tending you and you somehow got me to Africa... "

And my strange behavior these past months was just my poor sufferin' heart workin' things out...she smiled...

"Which is more or less true..."

Buffy/Anne paused by her, waiting...

"Tell Henri...The Immortal..." human Buffy smiled... "It was fun, a real blast...But I had to follow my..."

Soul...I think He'll understand...

"I do love you, too, in my way, Will...It is what I want...I remember how I felt...And I want to be free to feel that way again...Pain or no...With you...Forever..." she noted quietly...Motioning to Buffy/Anne who bent over her...Took demon face and sank fangs...

Stake at her side in hand, ready...

***