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Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

Faulkner...Faulkner...must be an English class project, no one outside Mississippi voluntarily reads this much Faulkner...

She ran her fingers over the spines of the books, gently tapping Mr. Dewey's numbers and smiling at their dizzying logic, so cool and precise it looked like chaos to the untrained eye.

Five, six, seven years and she was back in the library. Not the same one, she couldn't bring herself to go back there, but nice and peaceful and with a solid enough budget that her position hadn't been cut (yet), and she loved books, she did, she--

--she wasn't alone.

She forced her hands to keep moving and her breathing to stay steady. No need to tip off the whatever that she knew was there. It was the old feeling sweeping through her again, the one she missed like a junkie sometimes, her heart pounding and her skin tightening and that delicious electric tingle at the base of her spine. She hadn't lost all of her instincts since...last spring; dulled them, maybe, but she could still sense a presence behind her, still search for anything that could be a makeshift weapon...

All she had was a stack of hardcover fiction, but it would do-- aim for the head, the eyes, the chest, aim for anything and run for the door--

"Fred."

The books tumbled to the floor. She turned slowly, the adrenaline in her blood turning to stone and her breath freezing in her chest. She stared at the figure in the doorway, the ghost in black leather with the awkward little smile she still cried for sometimes and the big dark eyes that she wasn't ever going to see again oh God it couldn't be...

Angel took a cautious step forward, stretching out his hand. "Fred, it's me."

"No," she said firmly, stepping not back but sideways, maneuvering toward the open room so he-- it; it wasn't him, he was gone-- couldn't pin her against the bookshelves. "No, you're dead. You have to be dead, because you never would've left us like that--"

Her voice choked off in her throat as she saw it again, the gaping empty lobby of the Hyperion echoing their voices back to them as she and Charles burst through the doors, still laughing and sun-warm from the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, calling out to their friends and getting no answer. "Everybody's gone...Charles, where'd everybody go?"

"I know, Fred. I'm sorry." He took another step and she skittered sideways again. She didn't want to be touched by a ghost or a broken-off delusion from the back part of her mind. "It was Connor, Fred, he betrayed me, threw me into the ocean--"

"Connor!" she blurted, hands fluttering up to her glasses. "Oh, I'm so sorry about Connor-- Connor died, Charles found it in the paper, he resisted arrest and the police-- he attacked the police, and they--"

"I know." His hand fell back to his side and he closed his eyes, his face going tight with grief the way it had been in the weeks before she and Charles left on their vacation-- but not just before they left, oh no, he'd been so happy then when Connor had come home and said he wanted to get to know his father. "I know. Wes told me."

Another halted breath, another knife in her heart. "Wes?"

"He found me...he rescued me." Angel stuffed his hands into his pockets and stared down at the floor. "He helped me heal, because there was no one else--"

"There was no one," she repeated, feeling her face twist into a snarl as the bitter edge of memory rose up again. "Cordy and Groo, gone; Lorne gone; you and Connor gone, Wes long gone...just the hotel all empty and we had nowhere to go..." He reached out to her again and she stumbled backward. "What happened to the others? Did Connor get them too?"

"Lorne went to Las Vegas. Groo...Groo left town, I don't know why. Cordy was supposed to meet me to talk, but she never showed up..." He shook his head. "Wes and I never did manage to find out just what happened to her."

"Wes," she said again, too softly, her right hand jumping automatically to her clasp her left one, to caress the ring Charles gave her. "You...forgave Wes?"

"Well, I did some thinking while I was...gone, and then he saved me, and we've been working together trying to find Cordelia--" He broke off, staring past her out the window. "We've been together."

"How is he?" she asked, still running her fingers over the ring, trying not to think back to his face the last time she'd seen it. All alone...in the hospital and broken and all alone...

"He died," Angel said, and his voice was so small and lost she almost missed the words. "While I was gone, he fell in-- he was-- he had a relationship with Lilah Morgan. When she found out I was back and he was helping me, she revoked some kind of protection she'd give him." He shook his head again and his eyes focused on her face. "We gave it a good try, but you can't outrun the Senior Partners forever. They always get you in the end."

"I'm sorry," she whispered, to him and to Wesley and her own year-ago self who didn't know where the road would lead.

His eyes widened suddenly. "Oh, my God. I can't believe I didn't-- Fred!" He grinned at her, and the way his whole face lit up made her dizzy, the way it did back then. "Vampire, remember? Good hearing, especially when it comes to heartbeats? When are you due, Fred?"

She laughed out loud, not bothering to clean the hysteria out of the sound. This was, undoubtably, the most emotional changes she'd ever gone through in a ten-minute span. "Two weeks."

"So you must be almost done working here." She nodded- no maternity leave, of course, just quitting. They'd buy imaginary diapers with the ghost of her salary. "Good thing I came tonight, then-- Wes tracked you here, but he didn't get a home address before...well."

She swallowed. "Wes was keeping track of us?"

"Yeah."

"So...he knew." She gave the ring another twist on her finger.

"About you and Gunn getting married? Yeah. He knew." Angel shifted his weight. "He was happy for you. Really."

"I bet." She awkwardly bent and began collecting the books she'd dropped. He stooped to help her.

"How's Gunn?"

"He's good," she said, trying to fold back the corner of a page that had crumpled when it hit the floor. "He's driving a delivery truck-- you buy a Coke from a vending machine or a convenience store in a six-block radius in Central, you've got him to thank." She stacked the books on a table and glanced wearily at the shelves again. He silently took the top half of the pile and started to put them away. "We have a little apartment. Cheap and ugly-- but it's ours." She bit her lip. "We're really happy." The truth, no more, but oh God why did saying it feel like such a betrayal?

He stared at her and smiled again. Her heart broke one more time. "That's wonderful, Fred. I'm so glad...oh, Fred, don't cry."

She rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes. "I'm sorry, Angel-- if we'd been there, if we hadn't gone on that stupid vacation-- if only we'd stayed--"

"It wouldn't have changed anything," he said firmly, reaching out to clasp her shoulder.

"You don't know that," she insisted, wiping her eyes again. The baby kicked restively and she winced. "You don't know how much it might've changed."

"It doesn't matter," he said quietly. "Don't dwell on it. You're happy. Be happy."

"It feels like we're cheating," she admitted. "Like we dodged our destinies, somehow, just living this ordinary life."

"Well, that could be good luck," he chuckled, turning back to the shelves. "A destiny's not always a great thing, you know."

She watched him for a minute. "Why'd you come by here tonight?"

His hands went still. "So you don't believe in social calls?"

"Not now. Not after this long. Not from you." He chuckled at that, putting the books down again and turning to face her.

"I'm leaving," he said quietly. "Heading up to Sunnydale. Buffy called-- they need an extra sword." His eyes were unfocused again, and she knew he wasn't really talking to her. "Sounds like what they really need is another Slayer...but she won't even consider getting Faith out..." Fred's forehead wrinkled in confusion, but he plowed on. "I'm going to have to fight next to Spike, can you believe it? Never thought I'd see the day..."

She interrupted, finally. "Who's Spike?"

He stared blankly at her for a moment before his face fell and a devastating sadness came into his eyes. "Oh, God, that's right, you weren't here when Spike came to LA. That was Doyle and Cordy back then. And you don't know who Faith is either, do you?" She shook her head. "Right...it was me and Cordy and Wes, then..." He stared down at the carpet. "God, there's no one left who remembers the old days anymore."

She reached out to touch his shoulder and he caught her hand in his, smiling at her as best he could. She wanted to tell him she was sorry, but she'd said that so many times already and anyway, was she, really? Hadn't things worked out...well, if not for the best, at least for the good? She and Charles were alive and together and having a baby, and even if there wasn't much adventure in a life of minimum-wage jobs and no health insurance, at least there weren't many monsters.

They'd gotten out, the way you weren't supposed to be able to. Somehow they'd walked away- "like leavin' the Mob," Charles joked.

After a few minutes he squeezed her hand and let go. "I need to get on the road," he mumbled, stacking the books again. "Tell Charles I said hi."

"Tell him yourself," she said, blinking away fresh tears. "Come home with me, have dinner."

He shook his head. "No, they need me in Sunnydale. I've got to make it there before daylight." He looked into her eyes for a long moment, and she knew, with a chill running up her spine, that this really was the last time she'd see him. However things went in Sunnydale, LA was too full of ghosts for him to return.

"You say they need swords," she said numbly. "Should I send Charles up? He'll come if you need him. We don't-- we don't do that, much, anymore, the hero thing, but if you need him--"

"No," he said quickly, shaking his head. "No. You two are going to stay here and have a family and live. If I know that...it'll be easier, whatever I have to do, if I know that you two made it."

She swallowed. "Don't talk like you're not going to make it."

He smiled and reached out to touch her face with his hand. "Be well, Fred," he said softly. "Take care of that baby. Raise it to be wise and kind and good-- the world needs people like that more than it needs champions."

She nodded, unable to speak. His hand fell away, but her eyes were too full of tears to see him leave.

She left the books stacked on the table and walked out of the library, pulling the cross from her pocket out of habit rather than thought as she walked to the car. She'd deal with the mess tomorrow; tonight she needed to be with someone she loved, someone else who remembered, someone she could sit with and recall the old stories.

Tonight she needed to go home.

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