Letters

Author: Jo
Written for the IWRY Fic Marathon, 2006. Thanks for hosting this, Chrislee, and for letting me play.
Rating: If you’re old enough to watch the show, I guess you’re probably old enough to read this. There’s the odd naughty word and just a smidgin of sex.
Content: Angel/Buffy, of course
Setting: About 5 years after Not Fade Away
Summary: It’s about Angel and Buffy, and communication, and the Post Office. The Oracles lived under the Post Office, if you recall.


Dedication: This is for my father. He’s 89 this year, and will never read this, but it’s for him all the same. Except for the years of World War II, most of which he spent as a POW in Changi Jail or on the Burma Railway, he spent all his working life at the Post Office. The early years, he worked as a postman, and then he was in charge of parcel sorting and deliveries in our city. You wouldn’t believe the miracles they have to work to deliver the stuff we give them.

 

Inscription above the General Post Office, New York City, 8th Avenue and 33rd Street:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. Said to be translated from Herodotus, describing the Persian mounted postal courier service operating around 500BC.

 

**

There are angels and demons walking the Earth. Some of them work for the Post Office.

 

**

It was close to sunrise when Angel let himself into the small house, cradling his arm to prevent blood dripping onto the worn carpet. There was already enough of it on the pavements, marking his journey down from the hills and through the town. Still, it was just starting to rain and, with luck, the blood would be washed away before it was remarked.

The house was the best that hed been able to find for a short let, one from a long, Victorian, stone-built terrace; all of them had seen better days. It didnt matter, because hed move on again soon, probably by the end of the week. Hed done what he came here to do.

Once in the bathroom, he shrugged out of his coat, keeping that left arm as still as possible. As he peeled off his shirt, he ran a bowlful of hot water, and then examined the long slashes that ran down the upper arm, and that had almost severed it at the elbow. He didnt know for sure what sort of demon it had been he no longer had any books to research these things, owned nothing that he couldnt carry but that didnt matter either. It was one of those that had escaped the terror of his Los Angeles Armageddon, and it had been a danger to humanity. Hed ended that danger. Thats what he did now, chase down the remnants of that demon army, and anything else dangerous that he happened to find along the way. That was his life. Hed been doing this for the last five years.

As he broke open the first aid kit a very extensive first aid kit and started to swab the demon saliva from the wounds, he reflected that there used to be people around him to help with this sort of thing. Not any more. It was more of a Lone Ranger sort of deal. That way, he couldnt get anyone else killed. He wondered for a few moments whether to put some stitches into the worst of the slashes it would be a day or two before those were healed but settled for a bandage, tightened with his teeth. He didnt put a shirt or sweater on, not yet. Let it stop bleeding first. His wardrobe bill was becoming extortionate.

When he got to the fridge, he remembered that he was almost out of blood. There was just enough for tonight, and for tomorrow, when he rose, if he was careful. The trouble was, he didnt feel like being careful. The monster hed just killed had almost been the death of him, and he wanted to feed.

Sighing, he filled a glass, and put the rest back. There was no microwave here, so he would have to drink it cold. Cold comfort, again. Still, it was the last day of the month, and there was something better to do than think about cold blood.

There was only one main room downstairs in this tiny terraced house, a living room and dining room combined. That didnt bother him. He didnt need much room for dining. But, the gatelegged table that was pushed up against the wall made a handy worktable. He lifted the drop-leaf, and swung out the gateleg, to give him a space to work on, then he pulled a small, stiff folder from the sideboard drawer, and sat down.

Inside the folder were envelopes, and a block of heavy cream stationery. And his pen. For this task, he wanted his favourites. Heavy cream paper, fountain pen, black ink. Real writing materials. On the last day of every month, he wrote to Buffy.

Mytholmroyd
West Yorkshire

31 October 2009

My love

You would like Mytholmroyd. I think I would, too, under better circumstances. Its in some very wild country Bronte country. I remember you liked Wuthering Heights. The house that served as the model for that doomed place isnt so far from here. I went there the other night, hunting, but I didnt find what I was after. Heathcliff and Cathy never seemed far away, though.

The memory of it filled his inner vision, and he wished that Buffy had been there to share it. He saw a countryside of meres and cloughs small lakes, and steep-sided valleys and long stretches of heather moorland, with cotton grass to mark the mires. He couldnt help but smile. She would have complained bitterly about ruining her shoes, and would then have convincingly kicked demon ass, if the demon had been there to kick.

At this time of the year, its cold and foggy, and if the air isnt dripping mist, its horizontal rain. Definitely a perfect place for demons, but not, unfortunately, for demon hunters.

I think it was a Seff demon this time, except that it had horns. Youve never seen one of those, have you? I hope not. It has more claws than teeth, and more teeth than you even want to think about. Its just a body in a bog, now, something to fertilise the cotton grass. I just hope that its a few thousand years before they dig it up again.

I think that my job is nearing completion. Ive had word of something that might be a Kharif Beast in Cameroon, although it might simply be a man-eating leopard, and I shall have to see to that, but there are no other leads. It seems that everything else that I loosed onto the Earth on that one night in Los Angeles is finally dead. Im grateful for that, although I dont know what my purpose will be then. Still, Im sure that something will come up. Neither of us seems able to find much time for a break, do we?

How are you, sweetheart? I never seem to have enough news of you. Is Giles recovering well? And Dawn? Did she run off with that circus acrobat? The world hasnt ended in your wrath, so Im guessing not.

When Ive finished this letter, Ill go to bed and dream that Im holding you in my arms once again. Imagine that I can feel the weight of your hair running through my fingers. That I can breathe in the scent of you, air to a drowning man. That as I press my hands against the golden silk of your skin, your heat is burning against my palms, as the fire of your soul is branding itself into my own. Again. I am a marked man. I could never be free of you, even if I wanted to be. And I shall dream that I can taste you again, life to a dead man.

I love you. Ive always loved you. I always will. I miss you, more than any words can ever tell.

Yours, forever

Angel

He sat for a few minutes with the two sheets of paper in his hand, and then he placed them carefully on the table. On the envelope, he simply wrote Buffy. Then, from the sideboard, he pulled out a shoebox. There were five years worth of letters in there. He never posted any of them.

It wasnt that he didnt know her address, although he didnt. It was that he used this as a monthly indulgence, in the hope that it would make his feelings for her into commonplace and ordinary affection, rather than the extraordinary love that burned as bright as ever. So far, the strategy hadnt worked, but he hoped that, given enough time, it might. Time. He certainly had enough of that. After all, nothing had changed, and now, courtesy of Wolfram and Hart, he had no hope that anything ever would.

He left the shoebox open, ready to receive the latest secret letter. He knew how dangerous it was, to play with his obsessions like this. He was afraid that the neatly-arranged bundle of love letters would become lettres de cachet, imprisoning him; that admitting his continued love for her like this would only bind him ever more firmly to her. Perhaps it already had. Having started, though, he didnt want to stop.

Each month, he would write the letter, opening his heart to her, and letting his imagination run free when he thought of what her life might now be like. Then he would leave it open on the table while he slept. He never questioned why he did this, but it was almost as though he hoped that some vampiric Santa Claus would somehow appear to collect it, and grant his wish. If hed been good enough.

As he did every month, he went to bed to dream of her, after hed granted himself another indulgence of a much more earthy kind.

**

You would have thought that, with all the Slayers around nowadays, shed have more time to relax, more vacation time. More time to just be. Not a bit of it. The power in the other girls was fading, slowly but surely. They were still good fighters, but soon they would just be normal humans. Only she remained the same. She wondered, sometimes, whether Willow had been allowed to bring out their innate potential just for that one event, the Sunnydale Apocalypse. She wondered, too, whether they should have gone to the fight in Los Angeles. No, she didnt wonder that. She knew they should have. It was just that she hadnt known about it at the time. No one had been close enough to Angel to know what was going on. Not even her. Maybe the Slayers had been created for that, too, but in the end Angel had faced it alone. Perhaps not quite alone, she allowed, but without her. That had been alone enough, and it had been her fault.

She shut the drawer shed been searching in with unnecessary force. Shed made such a mess of things with Angel, and now she didnt even know whether he was alive or dead. Whether he was just ordinarily dead, or dust, rather. The pen she was holding snapped in her fist, and she threw the pieces across the room as temper got the better of her. Why was it that she always seemed to get so sohormonal in the run up to Thanksgiving? And it was weeks away yet!

She went back to the abused drawer for another pen, and then sat down at the table. Dawn wouldnt be back for hours. There was plenty of time. She opened up the box shed brought down from its hiding place under her bed, and took out what she needed, a pack of charity-produced notelets with pictures of tigers on them, complete with silver envelopes. The pen shed found was Dawns, a big green thing that would write in purple, green or red. She opted for purple as the best of the three. Then she started to write, as she did every month, as she had done for the last five years, and for no better reason than she seemed to need it, to find comfort in it.

Sunnydale Mark 2
22 October 2009

Dear Angel

I dreamed of you last night. I dream of you often, but this was the dream I have repeatedly, especially in late Fall. I dont know why, but I do. We were sitting in a kitchen, and you were pouring tea for me. You were human, but then I dream about that a lot, too, in all sorts of different ways.

Then she sat sucking the end of her pen. She looked at the box. There were five years worth of letters in there, none of them ever posted. Well, how could they be, when she didnt have an address, or even know whether it was Heaven or Hell? Shed tried to move on from Angel, but she had never properly succeeded, not truly.

She sighed as she reviewed that thought. Truthfully, she hadnt succeeded at all. She hadnt moved on in any meaningful way. She wondered whether that might be because she didnt want to. That was the truth, as her dreams proved. She still loved him, and as long as she still loved him, she couldnt settle for someone else, no matter how hard she tried to persuade herself. She fingered the silver cross around her neck. Suddenly decisive, she picked up the phone and dialled.

Giles? Hi. Yeah, were still on for next week. I need to ask you a favour though. Ive lost something valuable, and I want to find it. Do you know anyone around here whos really good at the searching with a crystal thing? I mean, really good?

**

When he rose, late the next afternoon, he carefully folded the letter into its envelope and put it in its proper place, the last one in the bundle within the shoebox. He drank the last of the cold blood, and then went to re-dress his arm. As he tightened a new bandage over it, he came to the decision that there was nothing keeping him here. True, the rent was paid for another two weeks, and he didnt especially want to go to Cameroon, but he felt uneasy in his gut. He hadnt felt that for a very long time. Not since hed last seen Buffy. Shed always managed to do that to him, when she was near. Now, just writing a letter had brought it all back, it seemed.

Yes, hed go. Perhaps stop off in London or Paris on the way. Or Vienna. No, in November it was better to go to somewhere warm. Hed go via the Mediterranean. No sooner said than done. Hed just pulled out his bag from beneath the bed, when there was a knock on the door.

It was still daylight, and there was no porch, but the front door faced north. He wouldnt get crisped. It was probably only some door-to-door salesman, though, hawking something that would be of no conceivable interest to him. No one else had knocked at that door since hed been here. Hed almost decided to ignore it, when the knock came again, more imperious this time.

Door knockers and ringing telephones are almost impossible not to answer. Theres something in the human psyche, and it seemed that it had transferred to the vampire psyche, too. Or, at least, to his. He went downstairs. When he opened it he wondered, for a lunatic moment, if the Seff demon, or whatever that thing had been, had actually dusted him, and he hadnt noticed. Or maybe there was a vampire Santa Claus after all. He could only find one thing to say.

Buffy.

**

They sat having tea, and it was déjà vu with a difference. That is, this time there was no important, life-changing difference, in him at least. He tried to put that day out of his mind. They kept a careful distance apart, while Buffy explained, at first haltingly and then in a gush of words that betrayed her nervousness, how shed used his old jacket and the cross to have him scried for. The witch had been amazed that it worked with items that had been away from him for so long, and had told her that there was a great deal of power keeping the links in place, and wasnt that just the truth? The woman would have been even more amazed, if she had known all of it, though.

He listened with his own brand of amazement, that is, a gut-churning sense of wonder on the inside, and a calm stoicism on the outside. She fell silent, and sat looking down at her hands. He at last managed to get the parts required for speech back into working order.

Why did you want to scry me out? Why have you come, Buffy?

She looked up again. It wasnt the clear-eyed gaze that he remembered from all those years ago. It was something much older, more shadowed and, more than anything, he wanted to drive those shadows away.

I never stopped loving you, Angel. I needed to find out whether there was any way we could make it work between us. Whether youd found a solution…”

Now it was his turn to look down at his hands. He couldnt tell her that hed signed away their only hope. He should rot in Hell for that one thing alone. If he told her, he wouldnt blame her if she sent him there herself. But, his problem wasnt sex. He knew that. It was perfect happiness. Surely, surely, with what he had on his conscience, perfect happiness could never be in the mix again, could it? He could control himself that much, couldnt he? He felt like a callow youth, clutching at straws.

Then, she reached over for the teapot and, anticipating what she wanted, he reached out to pass it to her, and their fingers touched. Just as they had on that day. It was liquid fire on his skin. Again. Human, demon, it was all the same when she touched him. This time, they had the table between them, but as with everything else that had been in their way, it didnt matter any more.

Now her lips were on his, and her hands all over him, his arms were full of the woman he dreamed about every night, and his senses overloaded by the nearness of her. She started to pull off his clothes, and images of a broken table came back to him, although Buffy wouldnt remember, so he picked her up and, as she wrapped her legs tight around his waist, he simply ran up the stairs.

He was drunk on her, drowning in her, and she on him. There was no finesse, no need for preparation, simply the immediate imperative of NOW. He managed to pause for a single fleeting second, as he lay above her, skin to skin, and take in her flushed and radiant beauty, and then they were kissing as though this kiss could wipe away a decade of soul starvation, and he was pressing forward into her, into those gates of desire.

It had never been about sex. It had always been about her. That was why she had been so dangerous to him.

She was clawing at him, sinking her fingers into his muscles, pulling him harder, deeper, more. And he responded. Then, he felt her tightening around him, her arms, her legs, her cunt, making them one with each other. He wanted to cry for joy, to shout his elation to the world, to sink his teeth into her and taste her blood, and then the shout was hers, and the blood was his as she gouged his skin with her nails, but the roaring was that of the demon, and so the tears were his, as pulled out of her, unfulfilled.

She didnt understand, at first, as she urged him back into her. He shook his head, but he moved down the bed and used his other natural weapons to bring her back to fulfilment, again and again. Only when she was utterly sated did he take her back into his arms and rest his cheek against her hair.

Angel, are you Were you…”

He didnt let her finish.

Ssh. Dont worry…”

She looked up at him.

Well work it out, wont we?

He wondered whether they could, but he wasnt going to say that, not now.

We will.

Their bodies clung to each other that night, as they dreamed their dreams.

**

They did things that normal couples do. They walked, although that was in the darkness; they talked of everyday things; they went to the places that couples go; they spoke of Cameroon. What they didnt speak of, not yet, was the third person in this relationship. Of Angelus.

Or of the fear.

What they also didnt do was to find unalloyed togetherness in love-making.

Because of the fear.

Every time he came close to ecstasy, Angel could feel the demon roaring its approval, could feel the rising tide of pure joy threatening to shake loose the moorings of his soul. He knew joy in her company, all day and every day, but when he made love to her, she brought him to a species of mindlessness that could kill them both.

It still wasnt about sex. It was still all about her. He could have fucked every living being in any part of this dimension and never lost himself the way he did with her. He wondered whether she could kill him again, if the worst happened. And he knew very well what Angelus would do, if that worst ever did happen. After all, it was what he wanted to do himself. He prayed for a miracle.

**

And so the days slipped by. He knew they could be happy ones there was more laughter now than either of them were used to. More ease. More comfort. The fear, though, remained, and so did their eternal triangle.

He saw the shadows darken in her eyes, and he wondered what she saw in his.

On a grey November day, he rose early. She was already gone from their bed, and he could tell from the aromas drifting up the stairs that she had breakfasted. Or perhaps it was lunched. It felt about mid-day. His lease was up tomorrow, and they needed to decide what to do, where to go. Would it be Cameroon? As he thought about that, he felt a tiny frisson of fear.

As he walked down the stairs, washed and brushed up for her pleasure, he saw her pushing something into a bag. She was packing. A fire flickered in the small grate.

Ready for the Kharif Beast?

He knew what she would say before the words were even out of his mouth, and he knew that he would have no answer for her. She stood with her back to him, her head bent, and she stayed like that for a moment. When she turned, he could see that she had been crying. He made to move towards her, down the final few stairs into the living room, but she held up her hand to stop him.

Theres no solution, is there, Angel? You make love to me, and hes always there. Youve never allowed yourself to finish, although you try to make sure I dont notice. You talk to me, and were happy, and then you remember him, and you simply shut down. We go out, and youre laughing and joking, and its as if youd seen him on a street corner, and you turn into Joe Stoic.

There cant be three people in a relationship, Angel. I dont care what you are. I dont care about sunlight and picket fences and fat babies that neither of us is ever going to have. But I cant ever make you happy. Im never to be allowed to make you the happiest man in the world, whether its in bed or whether its simply walking in the moonlight.

I cant kill you again, Angel. If he ever gets loose and I know youre afraid that he will Id have to find a way to cage you and chain you, and look for a solution that you never found. And wed both have to live with the responsibility of whatever hed done in the meantime.

She had to stop to draw breath, and he was sure she wanted to blow her nose, to fight back the tears that were threatening. He walked down the last three stairs, but she moved away, putting an armchair between them.

You would have told me if you had, wouldnt you, Angel? If there were a solution, you would have found it. You must have looked? And a year as the CEO of Evil, Inc? If it were to be found, youd have found it there, wouldnt you?

I told Giles that I thought that was why youd taken over at Wolfram and Hart. To find a cure. It was, wasnt it?

How could he ever tell her that he had mortgaged his soul for Connor, and then sold it, and their future, outright for the chance to fight Armageddon?

Buffy…”

No! Please, dont say anything. Dont make this harder. I love you, Angel, and I know that Ill never stop, but I have to make my life without you…”

No!

Yes! Angel, please I cant do this again. I had to know. I had to find you, find whether you were still alive. And I had to come and see if there were any chance for us, any solution. But there isnt, is there? I feel you pull away from me every time you think that happiness is sneaking up on you. And Spike was right, all those years ago, when he told us wed never be friends. Remember?

He remembered. He remembered everything. Including Spike.

Buffy. We can…”

No. We cant. We cant be together. If we tried, wed end up hating each other or killing each other, and I really dont know which would be worse. And we cant be friends. We know that.

Im going, Angel. Theres a plane, and Ive called for the taxi…” ”

You did!

She shook her head then, negating what shed just said.

No. I wouldnt. But I wanted to make it quick. I didnt want to drag out the pain of it. Weve given it our shot, Angel, and it didnt work. Im going to make the best of it that I can, now. So will you. Maybe this was a mistake…”

Never! Buffy, please! Give us a chance. Together we can look for the answer…”

If you havent found it in all these years, it isnt there. And you dont think I didnt look, either, do you?

She reached under her bag and brought out a bundle of letters. He didnt need to see them to know they were all addressed to him.

Its the end, Angel. Please dont come looking for me. Not ever. That would just be cruelty. Please.

He held out his hand to her, and even he was uncertain of whether he expected her to take it, or to give him the letters. She did neither. She threw them onto the fire. He started towards the bundle as the flames licked around them, charring and blackening them, burning them away, as she was burning him away. She stopped him with a word.

Angel!

He looked back to her.

Let them burn.

He tried to think of something to say to her, to marshal some argument, anything to stop her, to rescue them both from these quicksands, but the fault was his. In every way, the fault was his.

Dont leave me…”

There was a heavy knock on the door.

Thats the taxi. I mean it, Angel. I love you, but I have to leave you. You were strong enough to do it before, and you were right. Now I have to do it. Remember, dont come after me. I couldnt bear it.

She swung the pack onto her shoulder, and went to the door. It led straight from the living room onto the street. As she opened it, he saw that the person whod knocked wasnt a taxi driver, but the postman. He held a parcel in his hands, and a clipboard.

Recorded delivery for a Mr…”

He looked down at the package.

“….Mr Angel.

Thats him.

Sign here, please.

Buffy looked back at Angel, and saw his face. She had pity on him, and took the proffered pen, scrawling her signature in the space shown to her by the postmans finger. Then she took the package and placed it on the seat of the armchair, where her pack had so lately been. The postman nodded to them both, then climbed back into his van and drove away. As he did so a taxi drove up, the sign proclaiming it to be A1 Five Star service. Angel could have described it differently.

Buffy walked out on to the narrow pavement as the driver got out and came round the front of the car towards her. They exchanged a few words, not loudly, but Angel could hear.

Taxi for Miss Summers, for the airport?

Thats me. Just a minute.

She turned back to the doorway.

Goodbye, Angel. Look after yourself.

She bit her lip, and then she turned on her heel, into the rear door that the driver was holding open for her.

Angel wanted to rage, to beg, to plead with her. He wanted to drag her back out of the car, to hold her to him, and to never, ever, let her go. Not for the rest of eternity, and there was only one way to do that, of course. He wanted to get down on bended knee. Most of all, he simply wanted to say something that would stop her, would bring her back to him, to make all this suffocating pain never have happened. But, she was out in the daylight where he couldnt go. He thought about it anyway, but that would distress her more than anything, so he didnt. He wanted to, though.

And then she was gone.

**

Hed stood like a senseless statue for what seemed like hours, but was probably only minutes. Then hed gone upstairs and lain down on the bed, where he could still smell her. He hadnt thought, he hadnt cried, he hadnt raged or beaten the wall or the pillow. Hed simply lain like one dead. After all, that was what he was, wasnt it? A cursed and damned corpse. He hadnt even needed to blank out all thought. It was as if his mind had simply shut down. Later, he decided it had probably been the best of the alternatives. The other had been too Angelus-like in its rage and spite.

He stayed there for more than twenty-four hours. When he finally rose, it was getting dark. He became almost manic in his actions, dragging out his possessions from cupboards and drawers, and tossing them into his bag. Hed be out of here just as soon as it was safe to do so. Hed no idea where to, but just now the Dark Continent seemed as good a place to lose himself as any.

He started to tidy up, to leave the place as he had found it, but the truth was that it had worn his tenancy lightly. There would be no evidence that he had ever been there. That she had ever been there. Except, of course, for the ever-present scent of her, taunting him with his failures.

He was savage with himself, then, in trying to repress all thought of Buffy, savage, but ultimately unsuccessful. He wondered whether shed reached home safely. Then he realised she had never told him where she was living now. It was like a knife to the heart, understanding that she perhaps hadnt trusted him enough to tell him. Then he recognised that he hadnt asked her, as if by asking he would be tempting her to go back instead of stay here. Perhaps she hadnt brought it up simply because he hadnt.

He felt something wet on his hand. When he looked down, hed been holding a mug, and all he was holding now was shards. The rest lay scattered at his feet, as blood dripped from the palm of his hand. He leaned against the kitchen counter, head bowed. His fault. All his fault. But, step by step, everything hed done had all seemed so necessary at the time, as if he had no choice at all. Now, he had been given the thing the person he wanted most in all the world and, just like that, hed lost her again. His psyche was as wounded as his hand.

He cleaned up the broken shards on the floor, and then he wiped away the bloody handprint, and by that time, his palm had stopped bleeding, although his psyche hadnt. The house was cleaned, albeit minus one mug, and he was packed and ready to go. Just one more thing to do.

He went back to the cold embers of the fire, to the fragile leaves of carbonised paper that were all that was left of the letters it seemed shed written to him. He knew that you could recover writing from burned paper, hed seen it done on TV. He was tempted. He wanted to know what shed said to him, when she was safe in the knowledge that he would never read her thoughts. Then he snatched up the poker and jabbed it into the burnt remains, again and again and again, making clouds of black fragments fly. When hed filled the ashpan, he stopped, his face smudged black from the paper and smeared from his tears. He took the pitiful remains outside, swept the hearth, and then went upstairs to clean himself up.

And then it was full dark, and time to go.

It was as he put the key on the mantelpiece for the agent to collect that he saw what he had forgotten. The package, on the seat of the armchair.

He had no idea what might be in it, or who might have sent it. After all, no one knew hed been here, and hed only taken the let for a month. Hed expected to be out in much less.

He put his bag back down on the floor, and picked up the parcel. It was more or less a cube, about eight inches to a side, heavy for its size, and although it was neatly wrapped in brown paper, it had a slightly battered look to it that suggested many miles of travel. And the paper was covered in writing. He looked at the writing, dully, although his mind failed to make much sense of what was on there.

Pull yourself together, he thought. Pull yourself together, or youll be dead in a week. Something will get you.

So what, he thought back to himself, but he crushed that thought down as completely as he could.

Focus. He had to focus.

The wrapping paper was covered in redirections and official stamps of postage paid. This package had followed him around the world, each move endorsed by the post office of the country where it had been handled. It had come here from Spain, just as he had. Before that, it had been in Malta, just as he had. And before that, a dozen or more places. Always, it had been a few weeks behind him. He turned it over and over to find the starting point. India. It had started in India. That was the last person hed got killed.

His mind conjured up the picture for him. A young man. Enthusiastic. Athletic. Mohan Singh. He shouldnt have died. It had been a band of Korach demons, moving from village to village, leaving devastation in their wake. As he hunted them, hed met Mohan Singh, and Mohan had travelled with him, hot on their trail. Then theyd caught up with the band in the middle of a feeding frenzy. There were too many of them, and theyd been too strong, even for a demon like him. One of them had almost decapitated him, but Mohan had got in the way. Hed wound up dead. So had all the Korach.

To his great shame, Mohans parents had thanked him for returning the body of their son, and theyd put him up until hed healed, and theyd invited him to the funeral. The post office stamp on the original address came from Mohans familys village. But what would they be sending to him? And how had they known where to send it?

It wasnt until hed got out one of his knives and carefully slit open the wrapper that he realised the parcel had travelled further than hed realised. The post office in that remote village had merely redirected it. Beneath the wrapper was another wrapper, bearing the telltale stamps of its own odyssey. Vienna, Geneva, Prague, Budapest, Sofia. Half a dozen more. It had started life in China.

He remembered all these places. What he didnt remember was telling anyone where he was going next. Again, he slit open the wrapper. There was another underneath, and yet another. Five years worth of wrappers, as it turned out.

By the time hed got to the original wrapping, with its single, elderly postage stamp, he realised that this had followed him all the way from Los Angeles. This original package was also now rather smaller than it had been, with all the additional paper stripped off.

Carefully, he removed the inner wrapper. The box inside was an everyday but sturdy white cardboard box for posting breakable items. There was only his name on it, no other writing, or clue about its contents. He cut through the sellotape, and opened it up. Another, more ornate box lay beneath three white envelopes, each addressed simply to Angel, and each numbered. Number one lay on top, and he opened that first.

The letterhead was that of a firm of attorneys in Los Angeles, although not Wolfram and Hart, thank god. Angel had never heard of them. It had been written a week after Armageddon.

Dowson and Porter
Attorneys at Law
Los Angeles
26 May 2004

Angel
c/o The Hyperion Hotel
Los Angeles

Dear Sir

We write on behalf of our late client, Mr Wesley Wyndham-Price, and act as his executors.

Angels fist clenched around the letter, crumpling the stiff sheets.

We are currently probating Mr Wyndham-Prices will, but you should know that he left his assets in their entirety to yourself. In respect of that, we have had some unusual correspondence, namely a package with a covering letter, which the Post Office was unable to deliver to Mr Wyndham-Price, and which was marked Urgent. He should have received said package on 20 May, but he was, sadly, deceased by then. A further letter, from the same party, was delivered to us yesterday, with instructions to pass both items on to you. We have had the privilege of reading the contents, and profess ourselves to be baffled.

After giving the matter very careful consideration, we have decided to forward all items to you, as Mr Wyndham-Prices inheritor, even though probate has not yet been granted. We feel it possible to do this since the items were never formally in the possession of Mr Wyndham-Price, and since we are in possession of updated instructions from the originator of the correspondence.

We trust that you will be able to derive a more lucid understanding than we have, but if we can be of any further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We shall write to you again when Mr Wyndham-Prices due process of probate has been completed. If you would acknowledge receipt of this correspondence, we should be grateful.

Yours faithfully

Smoothing out the sheets, Angel laid them down on the table. Then he picked up envelope number two.

Wolfram and Hart inferus
20 May 2004

Inferus. Hed never forgotten his Latin. That which is below. His gut wrenched. What the hell (no pun intended) were Wolfram and Hart doing writing to him after Armageddon?

Angel
c/o Dowson and Porter
Attorneys at Law
Los Angeles

Hello Angel

I guess youll be surprised to hear from me, especially after whats gone down. Well, let me tell, you, you caught everyone here by surprise. Id say well done, but that wouldnt sit well, not here. Still, Team Angel really did it, didnt you? Not for long, admittedly, because you know well soon get people back into the spaces you left. I wonder what youll do then?

One thing you should know is that youre getting a lot of Powers very irritated indeed, both on your side and on mine. My side want rid of you, and your side are doing a bit of navel-gazing about what the Hell possessed them to recruit you to the fight for Good. You need to start thinking a bit more, Champ, instead of letting the demon do the thinking. Take that as some well-meant advice from what you might call your ex-attorney.

Another thing you might want to know is that Wesley isnt here. Thats the truth. He isnt here, and Im happy about that. Believe me, I would know if he was. Neither is Cordelia, for what its worth. Im pretty happy about that too. That girl would have been a real pain in the ass, worse than anyone else to have to live, sorry, exist, with. Lindsey and Holland would send their best wishes to you, though, for a hot and painful future, if they knew I was writing this letter.

Which brings me to why Im writing to you. I sent something for you, but I sent it to Wesley. You were very good, Champ, and you have to be congratulated on your strategy. We had absolutely no clue what you were planning, and so the timing of what I sent is entirely coincidental. Personally, I think that the other Powers might have got sick of Cordelia nagging at them to do something, but thats just my opinion. Ive no idea where she is.

Id better stick to the matter in hand I dont want to be caught saying more than I should.

So, I sent a package for you, at the instructions of the Senior Partners, but I sent it to Wesley, so he could satisfy himself that it was genuine. Its entirely genuine, Champ, and I really think this is a one-time only offer. You should think about it carefully. Thats a bit more gratis advice from your ex-attorney.

To be truthful, I dont want you reading what I wrote to Wesley, but since its already in the hands of the lawyers, I suppose that it will have to stand. So, I wont repeat it all here, again. Read what I said to him, and do whatever you need to do.

I know youll think Im lying, but Im not. If it makes you feel better, Im not doing this for you I would never do this for you this is for Wesley. Its what he would have wanted. If you dont believe me, well, Im inclined to say tough shit, but Ill leave you something to speak to your vamp senses which, let me tell you, is a thought that still grosses me out. I dont sweat anymore, but I still have the blood and the tears. Eat it up, Champ.

Dont end your existence by finishing up in the same place that I am. That would seriously piss me off. And when you next see him, give Wesley well, youll know what to do. Do it for me.

Lilah

Angel stared in disbelief at the letter. Beneath the signature were two spots on the paper, both dry now. One was simply a blotch that had raised the grain of the paper. A teardrop. The other was dark red, a spot of dried blood. They had lost any quality of scent.

Apart from those two drops, this was a perfectly normal letter, so far as he could tell. Ecru paper, of good quality, and black ink. Not a whiff of sulphur. Hed almost thought that it would have been written in blood.

As if in a trance, mesmerised, he licked his finger and ran it over the tear stain. Then he tasted it. Bitter as gall. He did the same with the blood, examining the redness on his finger before tasting it, as if he were afraid of what this particular blood might contain. Who could ever know what traps Wolfram and Hart would set for him? This could be something worse than poison.

So what, he thought. And then he decided that really was enough of that kind of thinking, but he put his finger to his tongue, anyway.

It was blood, and his body remembered the particular taste of it, even if his soul didnt. Marcus had got a good mouthful. Angelus had had far more, but it hadnt been so good from a corpse. This was dead Lilah. He could tell. He never forgot someones blood. He savoured all the flavours of it. Lilah had been telling the truth. She was in a world of pain and longing and regret, but she was telling the truth.

He pulled out one of the dining chairs, and sat down. He picked up the third envelope, but he didnt open it just yet. First, he picked up the box, nestling in protective packaging beads inside the cardboard container. This other box was dark brown, a deep reddish-brown, like mahogany, and it was patterned. He ran his fingers over the pattern, and it was rough. Scales, he thought. This was demon hide. He levered off the top. Inside, fitting exactly into the box, was a flask made of something that looked like silver. It was ornately decorated with symbols of eternity from a dozen different cultures, and there was a small glass window in the front. The flask was filled with something that glowed an unnatural shade of green.

He didnt pick the flask out. He didnt even touch it. If hed had breath, he would have been holding it. He opened the third envelope, the one addressed to Wesley.

Wolfram and Hart inferus
19 May 2004

Hello, lover

Surprised? Well, so am I. Not a lot of freedom here to write to the loved ones back home. But, the Senior Partners wanted me to do something, and Im going to do it through you. At least it means I get to talk to you. Not talk, as such, and Im not going to get a response, but I least I know youll read this.

How are things with you? We dont get to hear much about those who are still, you know, alive. I miss you, Wesley. What? You dont believe me? Or you dont believe that this is me? I bet youve got a dollar in your pocket that says youre wrong.

I know that Angel has signed away his shanshu. Some of the Inferus powers thought that it would be a suitable grand gesture, to show that hed truly decided to join our side. But, sometimes, cooler heads have to prevail, even if its a bit late.

I bet he hasnt told you about that, has he? You should go and ask him about it.

It left him without hope of ever being human, and some of the more stupid ones thought that would be enough to seal him to the Dark Side. I laughed my ass off when I heard. Of course hed sign it away, if he thought he had to. Its precisely the sort of thing that Angel would do. The Senior Partners themselves agreed, when I went to see them about it.

And then there was the visit from the other Powers, the ones that Team Angel used to work for, and that was the most fun you can get down here, believe me. They were like a skunk with a stick up its ass. I guess thats when I first thought that Cordelia might be rattling their cages.

They were adamant that the prophecy had to play out. The Senior Partners, well, they sort of shrugged, as much as they could, if you know what I mean, and said that the signature was in blood, all fair and square, permanent loss of future privileges, and so forth. Have to put the best face on, you know, in front of those others. And down here, theres quite a choice of faces

Then came a Hell of a negotiation, and I mean that quite literally. The outcome was that your boss gets one more go, provided Im right in thinking that signing it away was his own grand gesture to save humanity. Mistaken, of course, but still a grand gesture. Of course, if hes come over to the dark side, well, all bets are definitely off then.

You see, the problem is, miracles.

You and your boss were supposed to have spent some time putting two and two together. That didnt happen, or at least, not so youd notice. I dont know about Angel, but I think you wereotherwise occupied, Wesley. Got your mind on other things for much of the time. The prophecy was there to remind him that it could be done. Without that, or, at least, without him understanding just how to make it happen, a miracle would be needed to make him human.

Nobody likes miracles. Really. You dont believe me? Just think about it.

For us, it creates entirely too much publicity for the other side. Gives people too much hope. For the other side, it creates entirely too many expectations, makes people too dependent, less likely to take steps to look after their own futures.

Take Angel, for example.

He was shown how he could have what he most wanted. He was given the solution. Or at least the only solution hes ever going to get. True, that was by accident, but it would have happened sooner or later. It was destined, for pitys sake. The one who set that in motion much earlier than it should have been has suffered a horrible fate, you know? Made even my eyes water when I first saw him.

But that was what fooled the Oracles, of course. They sensed that it was destined, that it was meant to be. They just didnt look far enough ahead. Too arrogant, I expect. They didnt see that it was only the timing that was wrong. If they had, they could have given him better advice. Treated him better, not left him to fend so much for himself.

So, Angel was shown how he could have what he wanted, and it happened, and he gave it up for the greater good. Typical. Absolutely typical. Then, he was shown the prophecy, and we werent at all pleased about that. You know we werent. The prophecy was there, though, to remind him what could be done. Im surprised they gave him that much of a second chance. Those particular Powers arent big with the patience.

Does he do it? No. Never too good with the smarts, our Angel. Hes always had the balls, but the brains can be very lacking, especially without you, Wes, to look after him. Angel and the blonde suit each other in that respect, dont they?

The bottom line is, Im sending you a little something in this package. You should know what it is by now. Its Mohra blood. Thats how hes meant to get his humanity back, not by some miracle, which was what he clearly expected. But the universe isnt going to fall over itself to straighten him out. He could have worked all this out for himself, but there was no sign of that happening.

You can keep this blood, Wesley, until you think hes ready for it, although I think wed prefer you to use it sooner rather than later. We dont want him making any more grand gestures, because theyre bad for business, too, and I am very suspicious of what Angels doing. The Senior Partners are very suspicious, as well. They know him much better than the Black Thorn do.

So, since we feel a little less trusting of his conversion than the Black Thorn seem to, wed rather have him human. Theres enough here for you to do whatever tests you like, and theres enough here for the little blonde as well. Itll make them the same, if thats what those kids want.

I know youll work out what all this means much quicker than he would in fact, Im not at all sure hell ever work it out, if he hasnt by now. Its an aspect of the demon, and I know that both of them understand what that means. Something similar happened to her, after all, just a different aspect of a different demon. Angel never thought it through, last time, when he gave his humanity back.

You will, though, Wes, wont you? You think everything through. And you understand. Look it up in your books. Angel will tell you it didnt give him the jewelled eye that allowed the Mohra to be killed. He wasnt jonesing for a hit of salt, either. But, youll investigate all the aspects of the demon, and youll know just what Ive sent you here.

Youd think hed have seen the possibilities, wouldnt you? A vampire, at his age, and with his experience? And definitely with his motivation. He was never as smart as my Wesley.

Take the Mohra blood, Wes, and do whatever you need to do. It wont spoil. Its a gift, and not a poisoned one, I promise. Im doing this for you, not for him, because I know that youd want this for him. You can give him as much as you like and her, too it wont hurt them. But, even a few drops will do the job.

I miss you, but I know youll understand when I say I hope I never see you again. You dont belong in here.

Keep at it, slugger.

Love

Lilah

By the time hed finished, Angel sat with his head bowed. Why had he never understood this before? Why had he never seen? And why had the Oracles never told him? Too many questions, without a hope of an answer. Lilah was right. Hed never had as many smarts as Angelus.

He picked the silver flask out of the box, and sat staring at it, holding it in his hand like something precious.

**

Lilah sat back in satisfaction. Putting a hellish read receipt on the package had been childs play. Shed never doubted it would be delivered, but shed wondered, sometimes, whether it would arrive at an appropriate moment, or whether it would be too late. Seemed as if the Post Office had timed it perfectly. At least, a bit more angst had been screwed out of Angel. She liked that.

Still, she was glad that Lindsey hadnt been with her when it had finally been opened, and she hoped that Wesley would be pleased with her. Well, it was the last unselfish thing that shed ever do, she supposed.

On a whim, she crossed over to her desk and sat down. Everything here was of the best. There was hand-blocked paper, and a gold fountain pen. The ink was the best there was, too, especially for this job. Her own hearts blood. She started to write.

Wolfram and Hart inferus
23 November 2009

Hello again, Angel

Congratulations! You opened the box! Happy to see that youve got a few brain cells in there, Champ.

Its all truth you know. Unlikely as it seems, everything I said was the truth.

She paused and frowned down at the ecru-coloured paper, and then she started to write again.

It wasnt quite all of the truth, though. Well, what would you expect? Im in Hell, dammit! Theres no way I would have been allowed to tell all of the truth without at least one of the Senior Partners knowing what Id said. Oh, they wouldnt mind my little impertinences. In fact, they would have been suspicious if Id been all prim and proper. That definitely wouldnt have been me, would it?

I wanted to tell him more, although you wont believe that. Wesley would have known that Id said as much as I dared, but that there was more to find out. You know, if hed lived, I wouldnt have needed to spell it out for him. He would have worked it out for himself, eventually. I wonder whether youll be as astute as he was? I doubt it, somehow.

Still, I dont bear you any malice. Scouts honour, Angel. You might remember that, once upon a time, I had the hots for you. I always liked my men dangerous and, lets face it, you were more dangerous than most. I dont mind admitting that now. You do remember, dont you? Im glad I was dead when Angelus got to me, but it was a shame that Marcus was wearing your body, then, wasnt it? Marcus did me a favour, though. If Id allowed myself to get involved with you, things would have been so much worse down here. And anyway, that was before Wesley. Told you. Dangerous.

So, no malice, and I really dont mind any more if you manage to work it out and get a life. Literally.

Oh, who am I kidding? Youll have no idea, without Wes. Here it is then, Champ, all set out for you.

You thought the Mohras humanity took away your strength, made you too weak to protect Buffy, and probably you just didnt want to be a regular Joe, did you? It regenerated you, brought you back to life with the loss of your vampire powers, but if you look for the Mohra demon in your books, and really think about it, youll find something else. Youll find that the Mohra regenerates itself again and again, and each time it does, it comes back stronger. You knew this. Hell, after you thought youd pretty well killed it, you went up against it a second time and felt its strength.

Same thing would have happened to you, Angel, if youd let it. If youd given it time. Yeah, I know, youd have had to get knocked down a few times, but youre used to that. Youd be a human, with superpowers. Sure, its humanity with a difference, but youd still be human. As human as the Slayer is now. And youd still be able to intervene in Apocalypses. Apocalypsi. That should appeal to both you and your little blonde. The best of all possible worlds.

You never thought about that, though, did you, Angel? Ill let you into a secret. Neither did the Powers. Any of them.

If you and that little Slayer want to be regular Joes, and stay out of situations that will bring about the strengthening of the new demon, Ill be a little bit pleased for you. Good to see someone getting something. Just this once. And the Senior Partners will be pleased to be rid of you. And maybe to be able to win you over with ordinary human temptations. Who knows?

Do I think thats actually whats going to happen? Not a cat in you-know-wheres chance. Personally Im going to put money on it. You two could no more stay regular Joes, stay out of helping the helpless, than I can get away from the Senior Partners. In fact, I think its going to happen pretty damned quick, and I guess Im rather hoping for it. It will provide me with so much fun, and fun is a little lacking in Hell.

She paused again, smiling and playing idly with a bone ornament on the desk. It really would provide some fun. And a possible end to her incarceration here.

Holland told you the truth, Angel, that night in the elevator to the Home Office. I guess you either forgot it, or thought that hed lied. The Senior Partners have absolutely no interest in actually winning an Apocalypse. None at all.

Why?

Angel, just for once, think with your brains and not your balls.

The Apocalypse is the Final Battle, and no matter which side wins, that will mean the end of everything. Tell me, who the hell wants that? Well, not Hell, thats for sure. And you can bet your slippery soul that the Senior Partners as sure as hell arent going to lose one, either. What its all about is the dance. The game. The power.

So, along comes this prophecy about this vampire called Angel, that hes going to play a key role in the final battle, but no one knows which side hes going to be on.

Lilah tapped her nails on the table as she thought about the sparring of those early days.

Those early days do you remember those? They were all about getting you on our side. And then it happened, after such a long time, and such a lot of effort. Or the Black Thorn thought it had. They really thought theyd turned you. More fool them.

That was when I went to see the Senior Partners and, believe me, what I had to say definitely sent a frisson through the highest echelons. What did I say to put them all in fear and trembling and an almighty rage, too? Nothing but the truth.

Lindsey called you a vampire with big brass testes. Thats half the story. The Angel I know? Hes just so damned dogged and persistent and just plain remorseless in getting what he wants that whichever side has you with them just cant help but win. You should have seen theirfaces.

My solution? I told them that it might be better for everyones long-term plans if no one had Angel, alive or dead. Youre going to owe me for that, by the way. Youll owe me big time.

That was what pulled the rug from both sets of Powers. That was when they relented on the shanshu and told me to take the Mohra blood, to take anything, just as long as your humanity doesnt come as a miracle. If you spend your life as a regular Joe, away from all this destiny stuff, with a wife and two point four kids and a dog and a picket fence, perhaps eternity will be safe.

But there were things I didnt remind them about, because they dont know you as well as I do. It seems they dont know the Mohra, either. I do, though. Ive made it my business, lately. After all, Ive got a captive, and definitely out-of-favour, Mohra to play with. And I also know that it doesnt matter about your soul or even about your humanity. That part about dogged and persistent and remorseless? Obsessed, even? Im thinking that applies to whichever Angel youve got chasing you down. Angel or Angelus, its all just you, isnt it? And I dont think that youve got any fondness for any of the Powers, do you?

Perhaps in the future, the Senior Partners will change their minds and want you on their side. Perhaps they wont. And the other Powers? Who can tell?

She sat back in the chair, playing with the bone ornament again. If the Senior Partners wanted him back, she was sure she could deliver, no matter what the state of Angels flesh. Almost sure. She dipped the pen in the inkwell again.

As a human, you might not be much of a contest for them, no matter what you might want to do. But if your veins still run with the blood of eternity? Well, no matter where it comes from, theyd all better worry about you.

Im pretty damned positive that, if the mood took you, youd face down both sets of Powers. Wouldnt you? Now, that definitely would be fun. And maybe thats what the prophecy meant all along that youd be on a totally different side. Your own. Or maybe humanitys. I cant help wondering what would happen then whether it would still be the end of everything, or the beginning of something new?

So, let me wish you well on this latest voyage of discovery for you. I really look forward to seeing what my gift brings.

Luck to you.

Lilah

She put the pen down, and waited for the blood to dry. As she waited, she reflected that Holland and Lindsey and Nathan had done a good job on Angel, but if you really wanted to screw someone over, you needed a womans touch.

She smiled in self-satisfaction. She was well regarded, here, now. So well regarded that she wondered whether the Senior Partners might not feel ready soon to get her another life. Not a human one, she was sure, but a life was a life.

She stayed as she was for some little time, her complexion rosy in the flickering red light from outside the windows. Then she got up, picked up the sheets of her letter, and carefully fed them into the flames of the fire in the hearth. It was hellfire, of course, another small reminder of what else was down here, apart from this comfortable room. She watched the smoke spiralling upwards, as though it could carry her words to him, in some sort of mystic postal delivery.

It might have been thought odd to take so much time writing something that shed always intended to burn, but all she had here was time. Still, the letter writing had been an oddly satisfying and cathartic experience.

She sat down again, in a large, over-stuffed armchair. She stretched in her chair, cat-like. She hoped shed be around to watch the entertainment.

**

The Oracles had said, If it has happened, it was meant to be.Angel was suddenly sure that Lilah was right, that hed been blinded to the possibilities. If it was meant to be, perhaps it wasnt as a temptation, to be resisted, but as a clue to how, when the time was right, he could evict Angelus forever.

And perhaps that time was now. Perhaps hed done enough, now that hed cleared up the consequences of his own Apocalypse.

He put the flask back into the box, and folded up the wrapping paper. Then he put it all into his holdall. Time to go. He might not know where Buffy was, but he was sure there would be a limited number of possibilities. Besides, shed found him, so he was sure he could find her. In fact, he knew he could find her, wherever she was. If necessary, he would go to Giles. Although, the more he thought about it, the more he decided that was a good idea anyway. Just to be certain, perhaps Giles could test this gift from Hell in the way that Lilah had expected Wesley to test it. Check it out thoroughly. Find out what little surprises might be tucked away in it. Hed decide about that on the journey.

He was going to see his girl. He had the solution to their problem and, this time, he meant to talk it through with her, to share it with her. There would be a downside, he was sure. Nothing from the Senior Partners or from Lilah ever came without a downside, but he knew that now. Theyd find out what it was and how to deal with it. He was smart enough for that.

He put his bag down again as memory came flooding back. He could almost hear Lilahs voice as words whispered into his mind.

An aspect of the demon.

He remembered how the Mohra had returned, stronger than before.

An aspect of the demon.

Well, well. That had never occurred to him, in all those long days when hed lain sleepless, remembering what hed given up. When hed lain wondering whether that had been his finest moment or his nadir for sheer stupidity.

An aspect of the demon.

Could it be true? That, like the Mohra, there could be regeneration that would return him back to life, stronger? And Buffy?

How might Buffy feel about a forever with him, if she didnt have to be dead to enjoy it? Especially if he had the power to match what he was now? If they were both as indestructible as he was now? But still human? They would still be human, wouldnt they? Thats what the Oracles had said he was, when he went to ask.

Or they could opt for that little house, the kids, the dog, and let someone else do the fighting.

The choice was theirs, it seemed.

He and Buffy, theyd both make this decision. And if she decided not to see him, he would make her. He wouldnt take no for an answer. This time, nothing would stand in their way.

He smiled, a small wry smile, but with amusement in it. The Powers might not like miracles, but this was a miracle of sorts, for both of them. From the Post Office, if from no one else.

He walked out into the night with more hope than hed had in a very, very long time.

The End

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