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Life Lessons

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Summary: BtVS:Hancock Nine life lessons as learned by immortal superheroes while figuring out their lives, saving the world a bit and Getting Over It. A challenge response that went wonky.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Movies > Hancock(Moderator)FaithUnbreakableFR1319,2736293,88627 Jul 0827 Jul 08Yes
A/N: I wanted to answer a challenge. And I wanted to write a Hancock fic. I decided to do both at once and the result is unlike anything I have ever written. So buckle up for a fast ride with questionable plot, borderline crack, a bit of world saving, use of the F-word, some drama and a dash of romance. Ye have been warned. Srsly. Please don't shoot me.

Disclaimer: I own nothing. I just borrow and put back, more or less undamaged. Don't sue. Buffy belongs to Joss Whedon and Hancock belongs to whoever invented him.

The wonderful BuffCharmed has struck again. Awesome art ahead:

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Illustration

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Life Lessons

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“Happy birthday, Buffy!“

Buffy looked up from her work distractedly, eyes wide in surprise. Her birthday? Already? Hadn’t she just… Right. That had been last year. She smiled brightly and let her friends believe it was because of the cake in their midst.

In truth it was kind of funny how easily you forgot things that meant absolutely nothing to you. Like a birthday on a date you picked from a supermarket bill because in this day and age a girl needed a DOB even if she hadn’t been born.

Even if she wasn’t human.

So Buffy shoved her paperwork to the far corner of the desk to make room for the giant cake and wildly blew on the trick-candles that were spelled to never go out.

“Happy twenty-five, Buff!” That was Xander. He was grinning from ear to ear. She grinned back, ignoring the tinny feeling inside her chest. What did it matter that he was three thousand years off? What did it matter that they’d never know the truth? That she was alone?

+

After fifteen minutes of trying to blow out the candles and a few hours of wild partying at Headquarters, she managed to slip away unnoticed. Which might have had something to do with the amazing state of inebriation the general populace had acquired. Even Dawn, giggly happy and just nineteen had gotten a few glasses of wine into her and the buzz would carry her through the night. She couldn’t handle her liquor very well.

She’d gotten that from Joyce.

Buffy let her legs carry her down the usual route through Cleveland. She needed a cemetery but which one didn’t really matter. It wasn’t like there was a body. And man, was she feeling maudlin tonight. It was that whole birthday thing. It reminded her of all the things she didn’t have.

Age. Weakness. Family. A soul mate.

Yep, the last one was the one that hurt most, definitely. When the gods had made her, they had been quick to tell her her place. She was a tool. A weapon. Created in a time of need to forever hold back the hordes of darkness. That was her job. Her reason for existing. She was Slayer, first and foremost.

But even Greek gods had a shred of mercy in them and so they had softened forever with a companion. She’d find him, they’d told her and she would be complete with him because he was her other half. The second part of the half soul she carried within her.

Buffy’s gods, her creators had not been loveless or cruel. They had not meant to torment her. They had given her the most precious thing they could offer. Completion. Perfection.

They had not told her that to be complete she had to be mortal. They had not told her that her love would kill her soul mate. They had not told her that love overcame even the steel encasement they had built for her body.

So she’d fought their wars and won their battles and held back the hosts of darkness as was her duty. And when the world had been cleansed of evil temporarily she had found him.

She had become mortal for him.

She had lived with him for fifty wonderful years.

And then she had watched him die.

They had promised each other to stay together. That if one died, the other would let them go, would join them. They would be together forever. She had meant to stay. She had meant to be his for all eternity.

But as she stood at his grave, waiting for age to take her too, she had wanted to live.

In the thousand years since her birth the world had changed so much. She’d wanted to see the rest of it. Wanted to feel it, taste it, smell it. She wanted to be there. She wanted to be alive.

So she had turned her back and walked from his grave. And with every step the years had fallen off from her until, half a world away from his remains, she was a girl again. A young as the day she had stepped from her creators’ hands.

Sometimes she had looked behind her, expecting to see him there, young again, alive again. Apart, they were forever. But old age was the one weakness even they could not rise from.

He had lived his life with her and died, happily, waiting. And instead of waiting to join him she had walked away in her last moments, because there was still a drive in her to learn. To be more than what she had been.

Since then she had walked the world alone, the only polemistis to be without a soul mate.

She reached the first cemetery quickly, her feet carrying her there even as her mind was elsewhere. Quietly she meandered through the silent field, touching a tombstone here and there until she found the perfect place.

It was a dilapidated stone angel, half hidden by trees and shrubbery, watching over a long forgotten grave. With deft hands she pulled one of Willow’s never ending candles out of her jacket pocket and placed it in the angel’s hand. She lit it.

Then, like she did almost every year – if she remembered that another year had passed already – she sat down on the cold ground and focused her gaze on the flame, telling her lost love of life on earth.

It was her way of apologizing for leaving him alone in the after life. Her way of saying sorry for not being sorry. She missed him and loved him, yes, but she felt no regret for living on without him. Not anymore. There was just a sort of hollow, where he’d used to live inside her soul.

+

Lesson #1: There is no such thing as a Happy Ending. Especially not for superheroes.

+

White room? Check.

Glittery lights? Check.

Golden people in the background? Check.

Angels singing? Thank the gods, they’d finally gotten rid of those yowling menaces.

Little chubby man in badly fitting suit? Check.

“Hermes,” she greeted him, no heat in her voice. She’d known for a while that she was pending a reassignment. She’d been with the Scoobies for ten years now and soon her lack of aging would be noted. As a favour to her, the gods tried to avoid getting her into situations where she had to explain herself. She liked it better if she could just come and go and be done with it.

The chubby guy frowned, “Whistler, I’ve told you a hundred times my name is Whistler now, Chrysafi.”

She grinned at the messenger god. “I’ll stop calling you Hermes when you stop calling me Chrysafi.”

With a resigned sigh, the god gave up. They had been playing this game every since he had changed his name a thousand years or so ago. He just couldn’t win against her charm and her grin and that right upper cut.

“We got a job for you.”

The raised eyebrow was a definite ‘you don’t say’. Sometimes he missed the old days. Immolate a chicken or two, worship in a few nice temples all over Greece, and most of all respect the damn gods! Didn’t the young ones have any sense of propriety anymore?

Shaking his head he decided to simply get this over with, “In a new dimension.”

Buffy – he did usually call her by her current name in his head, just not out loud (he had to get his kicks from somewhere) – had that resigned look she usually got when it was time for a reassignment. He breathed a sigh of relief. He had been afraid that she would refuse to leave the dimension her soul mate rested in. But then all others of her kind had long since faded from this world. It had to get lonely in the long run.

“Since you opened up the slayer line the way you did, there is no need for you to remain here anymore. The world is as safe as its going to be for another twelve-hundred seventy-eight years. But your new job is a bit….different.”

Used to the oddities of the in-between they were currently residing in, Buffy scrunched up her face in concentration for a moment before sitting down in mid air. “How so,” she prompted.

“Well, there’s another polemistis who needs your help.”

The eyebrow rose again. “There’s something out there that’s big enough that one of us can’t handle it?”

He squirmed. “Not exactly.”

Damn, now she’d caught scent of his discomfort. And she zeroed in on it like a shark on blood. “What exactly do they need my help for then?”

“His name is Hancock and he might have amnesia and doesn’t remember who he is.” He squeezed his eyes shut waiting for the explosion to come.

She didn’t disappoint. “He what? How the fuck could you let one of us lose their memories? We’re designed to be invincible. How did that even happen?! And why didn’t you fix him?”

The god grimaced. “Hey, I was all for fixing him. I got out vetoed, though. They said he was too focused on his soul mate. So they used his amnesia to separate them.”

Again he waited for the explosion but it never came. Instead Buffy’s voice grew very low and very cold. It was moments like these that Hermes remembered that they hadn’t just created immortal soldiers. They had created weapons, unkillable, indestructible killing machines. If one of them put their mind to it, they’d have no problem at all slaying a god or two. Not in this day and age where every deity was weakened through lack of worship.

“Let me get this straight. You let a polemistis lose his memory and did nothing to fix him because he what, put his soul mate above others? Focused on protecting her instead of mortals? Because he protected the other half of his soul and himself?!”

Hermes could only nod weakly.

“Did anyone stop to remember that that is how you made us? We can’t help giving everything we have for them. They are all we have in this damn world!”

Her voice finally rose again on the last line, causing a few of the golden skinned oracles in the vicinity to press their hands over their ears.

Buffy took no notice, looking heavenward instead and shouting, “You fuckers!”

Hermes winced. This was getting worse by the minute. He needed to calm the vampire slayer down before she decided to take apart the in-between. “So are you going to help?”

Furious green eyes turned on him and he fought not to cower. The polemistis might have been a good idea three thousand years ago when the world had been young and wild but now they were… relics. Strange and alien and so very not human at times.

“How?” Buffy snarled and the messenger god fought to keep in a sigh of relief. She’d do it. She’d help Hancock. And her track record said she’d fix the broken hero.

”He’s a wreck. Just… help him remember that he’s supposed to be a hero. That’s all you need to do.”

She snorted, “If that’s all.”

Well, the god added mentally, you might find some relief of the loneliness you refuse to admit you feel. Outwardly, he just nodded.

Buffy sighed. “You’ll set me up with the usual provisions, right? I won’t have to whore myself for food?”

Whistler frowned. Mess up one time, and they never let you live it down. Ever. “You’ll get everything you need for yourself and the job.”

With a nod the blonde stood, hands on cocked hips, head tilted in a maddeningly bemused way. “Do your worst then.”

A moment later, there was only light.

+

Lesson #2: ‘No rest for the wicked’ is not just a platitude. Actually, it’s more of a law. And it applies to non-wicked people with the same accuracy and twice the ferocity.

+

Hancock was tired. Tired, confused and damn it all to hell, sobering up. He hated that part. But the next liquor store was half an hour’s flight away and he’d already had one goose incident today. And a flying car. And another flying car. And a wrecked train. And some freaky tree hugging punk who wanted to clean up his life.

Couldn’t people just express their gratitude in liquor? Two birds, one SUV. He ran his hands over his beanie covered head, trying to wipe away the headache that was setting in. Damn, damn, damn.

He liked his life. Lots of sleep and booze and no-one to bug him. Why did Ray Fix-the-World Embrey have to show up and shake him up enough to actually think about his offer? The only offers he usually considered were those of scantily clad women. But -

One hand groped blindly for the small metal box sitting next to the bed. He fumbled it open with bleary eyes, staring at the contents for a few long moments. Trying, forcing his mind to come up with something. Anything. There was nothing there. Nothing at all. Only black walls in a black room. His head was a fucking dead zone.

But maybe…. Fuck no. He was comfortable like this. Right? With a headshake he slammed the lid back down and pushed the box away. What did it matter? It was just –

“Christ, he wasn’t exaggerating when he said you were a honking mess.”

Hancock shot to his feet so fast his head hit the trailer ceiling. Hard. And broke it. Angrily he slapped against the metal, bending it upwards enough to pull his head out, eyes fixed on the tiny form standing in the doorway.

“Who the fuck are you?”

She was tiny, blonde, tanned and dressed like… well, like some badass superhero with a leather fetish. All gold and black. And she was grimacing at him. Well, that was familiar. How the hell had the bitch gotten up here in the first place? It wasn’t like there was a hiking trail with signs leading to his home.

She lifted a delicate hand and waved it in front of her face, “You have booze breath, bucko. Real bad.”

He growled. She was six feet away, for hell’s sake!

“How can you even smell yourself? Or,” she looked curious suddenly, hand dropping to her side, “Have you found a way to shut down the super smell? Because that would be awesome. Cause honestly, critter hunting in the sewers with super enhanced smell? Not my idea of a good time. And anyway….”

He was tired. He was hung over. And the chick’s frequency was making his brains resonate.

“Who the fuck are you?” He was shouting now. Bad idea. With a wince, he grabbed his head. Ouch. Note to self: Don’t shout when hung over.

Blondie shut up with an audible clack. “And polite, too,” she said in a more normal voice before taking a step closer and smiling at him. It was a real smile, the kind you get from kids when you save their ice-cream from hitting the pavement. He hadn’t gotten one of those in a long time. Unless you counted the Ray-of-Sunshine - and the man was just freaky.

And then she said them. The three words he’d been waiting to hear for the past eighty years. An answer. A question. Everything. A response to prayers he’d never dared utter aloud. Three magical words. And no, not those three words.

She said, “I’m like you.”

And a thousand different reactions he had mapped out for himself since he’d woken without a name and identity completely eluded him as he stood there, gaping, one hand still on the trailer’s ceiling, next to the head shaped hole.

Then the tiny blonde’s smile turned into a gleeful smirk as she closed the distance between them, grabbed him by the collar and dragged him outside. In a single smooth motion, she spun in place once and hurled a startled superhero over the cliff and into the cold ocean below.

Hancock’s last thought before he hit the water was that this was certainly the most unusual hangover cure anyone had ever tried on him. Then all his mind could come up with was: Fuck, cold!

+

“You’re seriously trying to tell me that I’m immortal?”

Freshly well, cleaned seemed to be the right word, shaved and dressed in clothes he hadn’t worn for a week, Hancock was now sitting on his pseudo front porch, listening to the tiny blonde who had introduced herself as Buffy.

Buffy stopped her pacing of the grassy hill to give him a flat look. “No, I’m telling you that the fact that you haven’t aged in the past eighty years was a complete fluke and that you’ll die tomorrow.” Hancock was sure that if he’d remembered primary school, he’d have compared how he felt under her scrutiny to one former teacher or another.

“Of course I’m telling you that you’re immortal. You’re three thousand years old, for Twinkie’s sake.”

If she put it that way.., “Alright. I believe you.”

She flashed him a grin and went on with her explanation. “You’re a polemistis.”

“Ehm, bless you?”

Another one of those looks. If he hadn’t had first hand experience with her own superpowers, he would have tried legging an hour ago. Even without his hangover, this was too much to take in.

Polemistis. It’s what our kind is called. It’s ancient Greek and simply means Warrior. Guess they couldn’t be arsed to come up with a proper name. Or a plural.” She frowned at the idea. “So they named us Warrior.”

“Hold on. Rewind. Us? As in, more than you an’ me?”

She finally stopped pacing and dropped into a rickety plastic chair next to his. Then she threw her legs over the arm rest and turned to face him. This time, her smile was soft and without malice. “Yeah, us. There used to be a lot more. But they’re all gone now.”

Scratching under his beanie, he wondered out loud, “Didn’t you just tell me we’re immortal?”

She nodded. “Yeah. We are. Until we find our soul mate.”

He wanted to make a smart ass comment, he really did, but the look in her eyes simply said no. So he didn’t say a word.

“We are all half of a whole and we’re immortal until we find our other half. The closer we get to them, the weaker we become. If we leave them, we regain what we lost. But if we stay with our soul mates, we become fully human. We can have kids. We age. We die. It’s our reward for being good little weapons.”

“Have you,” man, this was awkward, “I mean, you can’t have found yours then, right? You don’t seem very mortal from where I sit.”

“Oh, I found him.” The smile lost some of its shine but not all of it. “I found him almost two thousand years ago.”

“Then why aren’t you dead?” Smooth, real smooth.

Buffy leaned back in her chair, staring at the endless sky above them for a few long minutes. He was about to go looking for something to drink, preferably with a high alcohol percentage, when she finally spoke. “There is a moment, just one moment, where we can be separated. When one of us dies of old age the other one usually soon follows out of grief. But if you turn your back then, if you consciously walk away from the most important thing in the world, you revert back to form. You become as you were, your soul mate stays dead. I did it. I spent one lifetime with him and then I walked away.”

Hancock jumped to his feet, too agitated to stay seated, “Why the hell would you do that? I mean, you got someone who means everything to you and you just walk away? Why? That’s fucking stupid!”

Surprisingly, she took no offence to his charming as usual manner.

“I wanted to live,” she simply said. “I wanted to live more than I wanted t be with him. So I left. And thus I am the only truly immortal amongst us. I really can’t die anymore. Unless I went back to the place where he was buried. Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know. All I know was that I wanted to live, to learn, to see more of the world. And that’s what I did.”

Hancock slumped back in his chair. “Was it worth it?”

He tried to imagine loving someone completely, utterly. Someone who’d come looking for you if you got your head bashed in and forgot who you were. There was a flicker of recognition there, a tiny thought that said, if you got your head bashed in doesn’t that mean that you were close to –

+

Lesson #3: Rock bottom has a basement. And it’s deep.

+

He refused to finish the thought, focusing on the golden face in front of him. He liked the chick, if he was honest. She didn’t take any of his shit and so far, she had matched him step for step. And she told no lies.

“Let me think,” she offered, nose scrunched up in thought, “Was it worth it to know what really happened to Elvis? You bet.”

He shuddered dramatically, “Elvis? You white people just have no taste.”

“Hey!”

+

Hours later Hancock was flying aimlessly over Los Angeles, trying to figure things out. When had that started anyway? Three days ago he’d been happily drunk out of his mind and worried about nothing but the next bottle of booze. Now he’d been bone dry for almost twenty four hours, had met someone who was like him and wanted to help for some weird reason, had found out that he had a soul mate and horror of all horrors, had been to a family dinner in suburbia. With Ray The-world-Hugger and his wife who thought he was a lost cause and their brat who’d gotten it into his head that Hancock was a hero.

And that wasn’t even the best part. Nope, the best part was that Ray Grins-a-Lot wanted Hancock to go to prison. Voluntarily. Smoke that, voluntarily. To prove to the citizens of LA that they needed their hero. Only Hancock was pretty sure that no-one needed him. Or ever had, for that matter.

It was almost sunrise when he finally headed for his trailer, still not closer to solving anything than hours before. He just didn’t know what to do anymore. He landed more gently than he usually did (no-one wanted holes in their front yard) and slipped into his trailer. He wasn’t really surprised to find a slight figure with a blonde tuft of hair curled up on his bed, breathing deeply in sleep.

Well no, actually he was surprised. He couldn’t remember anyone ever sleeping in his bed before. Hell, he couldn’t remember ever taking anyone to this place before. But then he hadn’t found Buffy. She’d found him. And then she’d thrown him like he had thrown a certain whale and told him a story that was so full of crack it had to be true.

And maybe it was time to get a puppy or something because it seemed he was starved for human contact. Why else would he like the short blonde after knowing her how long? Twelve hours?

It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that she’d shown up when he’d been about to break or that she’d known the entirety of his sob story without needing to be told and hadn’t even tried to pity him for it. Or that she’d told him some of the things he’d been longing to hear for almost a century. She’d told him that he wasn’t alone. That somewhere, someone loved him. That he wasn’t a freak of nature. Hell, he had a purpose. He could be someone. If he got his shit together.

If he…. Shit. What the hell was wrong with him that he stood in the doorway of his own trailer, watching a stranger sleep and having sappy thoughts about her? He was going to puke!

He was going to –

- do nothing and keep staring, apparently. Damn it, this was right up there with wanting to prove something to Ray Of-the-love-and-peace-Brigade’s wife and son that he was not a failure.

It was almost dawn when he made his decision. If he was going to try and be a better hero for a scrawny kid with a complex and a not-failure to the kid’s soccer mom, then he might as well go to jail for the blonde in his bed. Really, why the heck not? It wasn’t like there was anything else left to do. Or be. Or try. Or want. Or -

Well maybe one thing. He could get revenge on Buffy for his involuntary bath.

+

As expected, the blonde polemistis screeched rather nicely as he flung her off the cliff and into the freezing sea below. Unfortunately, she was still screeching when she came shooting out of the water like a torpedo and started smacking him around with her soaked and probably ruined leather pants.

Not that he minded. Her legs were kind of nice, if one took into consideration that they were older than Jesus.

A half hour later she had forgiven him and they had settled next to each other in the plastic chairs, watching the sun rise. It’d been a while since he’d been awake and coherent at this time of day. And if he had ever sat in companionable silence with anyone like this before, it had been more than eighty years ago.

Finally Buffy broke the silence. “So are you going to go?”

“To jail?”

“No, to Disney World.” She rolled her eyes at him. He rolled them right back over the rims of his spanking new sunglasses before pushing them back up with his middle finger. She refused to take the bait.

“I guess. Not like they can keep me there if I get tired of the food.”

“Do you want to go?”

He snorted, returning his gaze to the horizon. “What I want is to be left alone with a stash of booze to last me until doomsday.”

She was silent for a moment before asking, “Want to know what I think?”

He considered saying ‘no’ but somehow he got the impression that the girl wouldn’t be deterred by something as simple as that.

“Don’t strain anything,” he offered instead.

“I think that you don’t want booze and a lonely trailer on a freaking cliff. I think that’s what you would like to convince yourself to want because it’s a nice crutch and keeps you from thinking too hard about what you really do want. Getting warm?”

Since he refused to answer her question they sat in silence for a long time before he turned his head and shoved his glasses down enough to give her a look that clearly said that she was crazy.

Then he told her, “Jail it is then. But I swear if they don’t serve Italian, I’m out there faster than you can say Jim Beam.”

+

Lesson #4: Being immortal does in no way shape or form protect you from stubborn women on a mission to make you a better person. Ever.

+

To say that Ray was surprised when he was told that Hancock already had a visitor was to say that the moon is a big rock. As he was led into the visiting room, he was even more surprised to find a tiny blonde thing sitting across from the grumpy superhero, telling him some sort of story and gesturing wildly.

As he came closer, Ray noted that neither of them were using the ‘phones’ attached to the wall, but chatting as if unhindered by the glass wall between them.

But the most fascinating thing of all was the tiny smile on Hancock’s lips. Ray was sure the man didn’t notice his own expression but it was undeniably there and it made the PR manager happy. Happy people always made him happy.

The blonde stopped talking as Hancock’s gaze finally settled on Ray and she turned around in her chair, curious. When she noticed him she gave a little wave before turning back to the hero and saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Try not to permanently maim anyone.”

Then she was off with a bounce in her step, completely ignoring Ray who sat down in the chair she had just vacated and picked up the phone to press against his ear.

“Hancock,” he greeted, “How are you doing? And who’s your friend?”

The tall man grinned. “Just an old friend.” There was a strange emphasis on the word ‘old’.

+

A month later Hancock wasn’t wearing orange anymore but a white Armani suit and a beautiful blonde for arm candy. A lesser man might have wondered how the tides had turned so damn fast, but John Hancock had learned long ago to not look a gift horse in the mouth but ride it till it dropped dead.

He didn’t even mind that Sunshine Ray kept patting his shoulder and grinning stupidly, or that Mary kept looking at him like he was a particularly interesting frog she couldn’t wait to dissect. Or that Buffy was giving Mary much the same look as she repeatedly ground her finger nails into his forearm as punishment for dragging her along to this… event. If you could call it that. He felt a bit like a three headed elephant in a circus.

But then, Ray-Ray had promised that there’d be steak and that made it all worth it.

+

They were done with dinner when Buffy came to her conclusion. She had watched Mary all evening long, wondering. But when Hancock told the story of how he’d lost his memory, she knew who and what Mary was.

There were tears in her eyes when the black man admitted that no-one had ever missed him. Tears that didn’t express compassion but guilt. And if there were two things that pissed Buffy off, they were people who lied and people who hurt the ones she held dear.

Mary was currently doing both.

Sure, the slayer hadn’t known Hancock for long but during his month long prison stint she’d visited him almost daily out of boredom and when the man couldn’t run away, he was a lot easier to talk to. They’d bonded. In a very strange, unconventional way and mostly over tales of botched world saving attempts, but they had bonded.

Buffy liked John Hancock. Not because he was a hero or funny or smart or sarcastic. She liked him because she’d been alone for two thousand years and he knew what it felt like to have no-one. He knew that when she opened her mouth and snarked and bitched and moaned, she was sometimes simply trying not to cry. He knew because he did the same and that was… well, mainly it was dysfunctional and probably unhealthy, but it was also a comfort.

Plus, the man had a sense of humour as black as Spike’s worst moods.

So, Mary. Who was pissing her off. Immensely. Mary, who was excusing herself to go and powder her lying little nose. With a blinding smile at Ray The-happy-go-lucky-sunshine-Man (damn it, now Hancock had her doing it, too), she stood, grabbed her purse and followed the taller woman into the restroom.

When she entered the room, Mary was standing over the sink, staring at her own reflection. Buffy sent her a brief look that clearly said to stay put and then started smacking all the stall doors open, checking for other people. When she found none, she leaned against the door leading outside and said in a very calm voice, “You left him in that alley, didn’t you?”

The other woman whirled around with such force that the tiles under her heels cracked. Her expression was furious, surprised and scared. Buffy smiled sweetly.

“What do you know?”

“I know that you left so he would live and then you never came back.”

“I was trying to save him!”

Dropping her purse carelessly in a random sink Buffy stalked closer. “Save him? How? By letting him think that no-one gave a shit? If you wanted to leave him, you could have at least told him what he is before taking off! You don’t leave your damn soul mate, for Christ’s sake! Especially not when he doesn’t know who he is!”

The fury was slowly gaining the upper hand on Mary’s face as she threw back, “Well then, where’s yours?”

Buffy didn’t miss a beat, “Dead.”

The taller woman’s mouth was already open to shoot back a sharp comment when the word registered. For a moment she stood there gaping. Then, “You’re Chrysafi.”

The slayer groaned. “Don’t tell me I’m famous in this dimension, too?”

Mary smirked. “You’re the only without a soul mate. Of course you’re famous.”

“Great. Jut great. At least in my dimension I was the only one left.”

Mary’s face smoothed out some. “Hancock and I are the last here.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “Yeah. We used to spend a decade or so together and then separate again.”

“Why?” There was more than curiosity in the slayer’s gaze now.

Mary smiled sadly. “We wanted to live.”

Her honesty was rewarded with a blinding smile. “So did I.” And then something clicked, “That’s why you left him, isn’t it?”

A nod. “I thought.... We always agreed that we wanted to live. But it hurt so much to be apart so… I thought he can’t miss what he can’t remember, right?”

There was understanding in the green eyes that met hers. Understanding and pity. “You can miss something without ever knowing what it is.”

Then Mary was alone in the restroom with nothing but the knowledge that eighty years spent alone hadn’t made anything easier and Buffy was right.

+

Lesson #5: Whoever said that time heals all wounds died young. Pain just ebbs and flows like the tide. But it never leaves.

+

Women were demons. Simple as that.

First they kissed you and then they threw you out of the house along with the fridge and half of the kitchen. And then -

Hancock looked down at his cut and bloody hand and ground his teeth together hard. It was her. Mary was the one. Buffy had explained the whole gig to him a hundred times. They grew progressively more vulnerable around their soul mates until they were completely mortal.

No matter how much he’d refused to think of it before, he couldn’t deny it anymore now. She’d been there. Eighty years ago when some fuckers had bashed his head open like a water melon, she’d been there. And she’d never come for him.

He landed like a bomb in his own front yard, taking out a chunk of cliff and a plastic chair in the process, too angry, disappointed and confused to really give a damn. At least until he noticed Buffy, still in her pretty green cocktail dress standing a few feet away, her eyes shining brightly in the dark.

For a split second he thought it was pity he saw in her gaze and he almost drowned in instantaneous rage. But then she sent him a slow pained smile and the rage faded as fast as it had come, leaving him completely deflated.

So he’d stopped drinking and shaved and gone to jail and saved the world a bit. It hadn’t changed anything. He was still John Hancock from nowhere and no-one wanted him. Except that he was pretty sure he loved Mary and nothing was like it had been before.

He was tired all of a sudden. Too tired to even take offence against the understanding, sorry look on the slayer’s face.

“She told you,” Buffy finally guessed.

“You knew.” His voice sounded flat even to his own ears.

She chuckled, taking a few wobbly steps forward. High heels were not made for grassy hills. “Why do you think I followed her into the restroom and yelled at her?”

He looked up from her shoes, eyes wide in surprise. “You yelled at her?”

“It was a regular bitch fight.”

“Why?”

She reached him then, stopping in front of him and looking up earnestly. “That’s for you to ask her. Just remember that I’m still here, kay?”

She waited patiently for his resigned nod. As if he’d get rid of her. She was too entertaining for that. Then she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and took off, leaving a rain of dirt and grass behind.

He snorted and tried to suppress a little smile.

+

The next morning, while Hancock was already off trying to convince Mary to talk to him alone, Buffy still slept and dreamed.

Slept and dreamed of a room that was nothing but white.

“What now?” She asked, tapping her foot on the invisible floor. The motion caused no sound and so was rather ineffective. Her glare however, was not. Hermes gulped.

He totally needed to find another job. They didn’t pay him nearly enough for this and after several thousand years of killing (or at least trying to kill) the messenger, he was more than fed up with the whole gig. Everyone kept talking about the great and noble heroes. Did anyone ever remember that the very same heroes liked to beat on him like he was a punching bag with sound effects? Of course not!

Still, a job’s a job. “I’m here to warn you, Buffy.”

She smirked at his use of her chosen name. “What’s burning this time?”

“Ehm… Ghost riders?”

The slayer’s eyes widened in surprise. Ghost riders shouldn’t have existed in this dimension that was almost entirely without magic. “Where? When? How?”

“Downtown LA. In about fifteen minutes. Portal. Do you need details or will you just for once do you job and not make my eternal life hell?”

Her eyes narrowed as she caught scent of his squirming discomfort. Damn it, he’d tried to turn her away too quickly.

“Hermes?” There was a razor sharp threat in her voice.

“Yes?” At least she wasn’t calling him Whistler yet. Or Hermi. That was always a guarantee for ugly bruises.

“What is this about?”

He shuffled his feet a little but managed to meet the warrior’s cool gaze. “Well, you see, when I told you to help Hancock get his shit together?”

She nodded.

“You might have noticed that he’s sort of doing that already?”

Another nod. She had noticed that he would probably have done just fine without her.

“We might have had a bit of a nefarious purpose when we sent you here. Since the First Evil business, your own dimension is sort of unstable. The Ghost riders aren’t just randomly jumping dimensions but looking for you. Apparently, you killed most of them a couple centuries ago. If they’d entered your home dimension, a whole bundle of parallel universes would have crashed because their energy shifts the balance. Here on the other hand, you can face them no problem. You know the gods can’t touch Ghost riders in any way. This world is stable and thus the best place to face them.”

Except that no-one in this dimension knew anything about magic. He didn’t say that out loud, though.

For a long agonising moment he thought this was it. He was sure the polemistis was going to wear his ribcage as a hat and his balls for earrings. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, she just sighed and shook her head.

“What would you incompetent bunch do without us to fix your divine messes?”

It was a good question. A real good question. Especially since the invention of the Ghost riders had been a god’s idea. Hermes grimaced and snapped his fingers, sending the blonde back into her body so he wouldn’t have to answer.

They definitely didn’t pay him enough for that.

+

Around the same time Hancock landed on top of Mary, squished between a broken lamp post and several tons of concrete. He was about to resume yelling at his soul mate when he noticed her eyes widen.

He twisted enough to find Ray The-happy-fairy-Man standing at a broken window several stories above, staring down at his wife in horror, shock and disappointment.

Beneath him he felt Mary tense, ready to throw him off and flee when a bright voice suddenly called, “Incoming,” followed by a medium sized explosion as Buffy landed sharply only a few feet away from the other two polemistis.

She grinned, ignoring the mess the two love birds had caused. “Make with the foreplay later, we have Ghost riders incoming.”

+

Lesson #6: Murphy’s Law applies always and without exception and the worst possible outcome can only be avoided by copious amounts of luck, skill and stubbornness.

+

The looks she received from both Mary and Hancock would have made a lesser woman squirm in her pumps. As it was, Buffy just sighed.

“You have no clue what I’m talking about, do you?”

They shook their heads as they climbed back to their feet, unconsciously starting to dust each other off. Above, Ray the Happy was still watching slack jawed and dumb struck. She felt kind of sorry for him. Not only had he just figured out that his wife was indestructible, but also that she had, once upon a time, made like bunnies with Hancock.

Well, it wasn’t like the slayer was very fond of the situation herself. The grumpy polemistis had grown on her, damn it.

Now, however, wasn’t the time for a pouting fit. Instead she turned and pointed down the damaged street to where a sort of grey mist was already starting to form above a pile of haphazardly flung cars.

“That,” she informed her two fellow heroes, “is a portal that’s opening between dimensions and will, in about thirty seconds, spit out a whole army of Ghost riders.”

Hancock came to stand next to her, Mary on her other side, forcing distance between herself and her soul mate. He made a hissing sound with his lip between his teeth and asked, “You’re not talking Nichols Cage here, are you?”

With a snort the shorter of the two women shook her head. “No. I’m talking spirits of dead warriors with a grudge. They form hunting groups and kill everything in their way. Ever heard of the Wild Hunt?”

She received two hesitant nods. “Yeah, that’s them. Enough of them can throw a world into chaos. And the fun part, they don’t fall into Zeus’s jurisdiction because they’re not alive and they’re not in Hades’s either because they’re not really dead.”

“Then whose jurisdiction are they in?”

Buffy gave Hancock a very, very flat look. His own hopeful expression crumbled.

“Damn,” he grumbled. “I liked my life better before I knew all that shit.”

At the same time Mary, who wasn’t as overwhelmed by the supernatural as her other half, asked, “How do we kill them.”

Buffy shrugged. “Salt.”

“Ghost margaritas?” The only male in their little group waggled his eyebrows. Both girls shook their head resignedly. Above them, Ray-Jay-Bay stood very still, not believing his eyes.

Down the road, the grey mist had formed into a solid tear in reality and was emitting a chillingly cold wind. It smelled of graveyard soil and blood.

“Where do you expect to find enough salt to kill an army with?”

Buffy grinned at the other blonde. “Not at all. That leaves,” she stopped talking, holding her hand out in front of her as if to catch something. A second later a big freaking scythe appeared out of nowhere, landing in her outstretched hand. “Sacred weapons.”

Blank looks. “Oh for…, haven’t you guys ever had a decent apocalypse before?”

Blank looks. The slayer turned her face heavenward and yelled, “Yo, Whistler, two sacred weapons, please. Express order!”

Hancock was about to try and feel the small woman’s temperature when two things happened at once. The first was the dimensional tear breaking open and a horde of bearded, roaring, weapon swinging warriors bursting out of it, making a beeline for the three warriors.

The second was two swords forming in mid air and dropping like rocks toward the two unarmed heroes. The only reason Hancock managed to catch the broadsword at all were three thousand years of instincts reasserting themselves.

+

Lesson #7: This shit always happens to you and never to anyone else.

+

The Ghost riders hit like a tidal wave whose highest point was focused solely on Buffy. Hancock gave her a sideward glance, trying to figure out if she’d noticed that the bad guys seemed awfully intent on her. By the speed with which she twirled her insane weapon, she had. But then she had said something about throwing the world into chaos so he figured the why didn’t really matter anymore.

Buffy was moving like water herself, always half a second ahead of anyone else, cutting and slicing into the enemy like they were air. Which they sort of were because as soon as she cut or stabbed them, they poofed.

Literally. They simply went up in smoke, becoming one with the grey fog that accompanied them.

Then the outer edges of the horde hit and there was no more time to watch the tiny blonde fight. Hancock barely brought his sword up in time to parry a ghostly axe aimed at his head. The thrust jarred his arm and shoulder and he stumbled backward, narrowly avoiding landing on his butt.

He took half a step to the side and spun to avoid another attack before ducking under a sword and risking a glance over to the two blondes. They had been forced together and were now fighting back to back, poofing ghosts left right and centre.

+

Ray was frozen in his spot by the ruined window, staring down on the carnage below. The street was torn open and ripped to shreds and there where ghosts - ghosts for crying out loud - everywhere and they were attacking Hancock and Buffy and Mary.

Mary who was responsible for the state of the street. Mary who knew Hancock. Mary who could fly and wield a sword and kill ghosts (how did that work anyway? They were dead!). Mary who suddenly seemed to be a complete stranger because he certainly hadn’t married a valkyrie with a broadsword.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. This wasn’t right. This was -

“John!” That was Mary. She was fighting with her back to Buffy, cutting down the greyish figures that had come out of nowhere. At her yell, Ray automatically searched out Hancock in the fray below and found the man struggling. Both women seemed to be in their element but the tall man was losing ground.

He ducked under another sword swipe and called back irritated, “What?”

Mary beheaded a guy almost a head taller than her, spun and cut another one’s arm off. “Stop thinking!”

+

Since he had already tried everything else, Hancock decided to listen to his soul mate’s advice and simply stopped trying so hard and suddenly –

- suddenly everything slowed down and his moves grew smooth, his strikes sure. As if he’d done this a million times before. As if he’d been born with a sword in his hand. As if his muscles and his body remembered, even if his head did not. It was then and only then that he truly believed what Buffy and Mary had told him.

He was a three thousand year old polemistis, a Warrior of the gods. He was indestructible. He was… damn, he was almost a god himself.

An expression of total glee spread across his face at the realization and after that, it was all just a matter of hack, slice, duck, spin, behead. Within minutes, the last Ghost rider in the vicinity had been vaporised and the heavy grey fog surrounding him lifted as the Californian sun, unhindered now by whatever magic had held the Ghost riders together, shone brilliantly once more.

He dropped his sword and spun around to where the girls were finishing off the last of the bad guys and was about to scream just for the sake of screaming, when one of the grey spectres lunged toward Mary, feigning high and then going low in the last moment, running her through with his transparent sword.

She grabbed the weapon even as she used her own to slash at his chest. He fell backwards with a roar before disintegrating. His weapon followed a split second later leaving behind –

- a gaping wound. Hancock’s eyes widened in terror as Mary reached down to touch the blood flowing liberally from the stab wound almost as if she were mortal. As if -

if we stay with our soul mates, we become fully human

- she were human. She stared at the blood on her fingers for a brief moment before lifting her gaze to look at him across the battle field. She looked lost.

Then Buffy was there suddenly, the scythe gone from her hand, stripping off her shirt and pressing it against the wound as the taller woman started to sway dizzily.

Finally remembering where he was, Hancock yelled at Ray without turning to look, “Call an ambulance, now!”

Then he was there beside the two women, helping Buffy lower Mary to the ground, helping to put pressure on the wound. But there was still too much blood. So much. He hadn’t known humans had so much blood in them. But then he’d never concerned himself with these things before. He was invincible after all. He was Hancock.

And he was getting hysterical. As he put more pressure on the soaked makeshift bandage he noticed that there was a cut on the back of his hand. Funny. He’d never used to get those.

He looked away from the sight and found Mary’s eye fixed on his face. She was smiling.

“I wanted to come for you,” she said and there was blood in the corner of her mouth. She wasn’t supposed to bleed, was she? He pressed harder while Buffy sprinted away, looking for something else to use as a bandage.

“Shh,” he tried to tell her, “Don’t talk,” but she wouldn’t listen. Her hand rose shakily to his face, cupping his cheek.

“I cared. I wanted to take you home. I wanted… but I thought you couldn’t miss what you don’t remember and we…” She coughed. There was more blood. He hated the damn stuff, hated it!

“We promised each other once that we would live. We didn’t want to end like the others. We didn’t want to die. It hurt, leaving each other. So much. And I thought, if I stayed away, it would get better. I thought… we could be happy without each other.”

She laughed suddenly and damn it, it sounded like she was dying. She was dying.

“And then you showed up again. We just can’t get rid of each other. And… I’m sorry I left. I’m sorry.”

She fainted. And then Buffy was there, pulling him away and the EMT’s were there too and Ray and everything moved so fast he had not time to breathe. He was crying.

He’d hated her. For eighty years he’d hated her without knowing her because she had left him. She’d walked away. She’d left him.

But she’d done it to keep him safe. To save his life. He remembered Buffy telling him that she wanted to live. Live. Live without Mary? No. Not without her. Even if he knew nothing about her, he couldn’t live when she was dead. Die with her then? Just fade away, as a mortal?

Buffy was there, pulling on his arm, trying to get him to look away from the gruesome sight in front of him. He couldn’t.

He wanted to live. He wanted Mary to live. She’d left him so he would live. He wouldn’t let her die.

In a trance he shook off Buffy’s hands and turned around. He turned his back on Mary and all the blood and her pale skin and he took the first step. It felt like it was killing him.

He took another step.

God, this was killing him. It was. He would die. Any second now. He’d just fall over and be dead. And he’d drink no more booze. Ever.

Another step.

He couldn’t see where he was going because of the tears.

+

Lesson #8: Sacrifice. So much sacrifice. And so much pain.

+

Buffy was there suddenly, by his side, pulling his arm to rest across her shoulders. She was looking up at him with that sweet face of hers, asking something.

“…. Sure you want to do this?”

No, he wanted to say, no he wasn’t sure at all because it hurt, it hurt so bad to walk away from her. It was killing him.

But he nodded and croaked the only word left to him. “Live.”

For a precious second, she just stared at him, trying to see to the bottom of his soul. Then she nodded, bent her knees and leapt.

+

Epilogue

+

Still dressed in his spiffy outfit, Hancock landed next to a small figure perched on the edge of the Empire State Building, staring at the erm… redecorated moon.

“That’s kind of…. freaky,” she commented, nodding at the big heart he had carved into it.

Grinning, he slung an arm around her and asked, “Like it?”

“Ray’ll love it.”

“He does. The kid, too.”

They didn’t talk about Mary. Not yet. He’d left so she would live. Both of them were back to their invincible selves once more. Both of them lived.

Buffy found it sort of nice that after all these years she’d finally found someone who wanted to live as much as she did. She’d always been afraid that one day she would be alone because she could not die and all the others of her kind could. But with Hancock and Mary around, she wasn’t scared anymore.

They loved life and they loved every new day. What else had driven Hancock for eighty terrible years?

Mary was back with Ray and her stepson. She’d raise him and eventually, she’d let him run free. And when Ray died of old age, she’d come and find them for a while.

Until then Buffy intended to keep Hancock. At least for a century or two. After that, who knew. There’d be new fights. New jobs. New loves.

She sighed softly and Hancock laughed quietly, nuzzling his nose into her temple, pressing a kiss to her face.

“Wanna go home,” he asked.

Turning away from the molested moon, Buffy nodded.

+

Lesson #9: There is no such thing as a Happy Ending. Because nothing ever ends and life just goes on and on and on and there are new things to discover every single day. You truly do have forever.

+

In the in-between Hermes smiled and toasted himself with a cup of ambrosia. The slayer was happy and a happy slayer was a lot less likely to rip him to shreds and make jewellery of his assorted body parts when he was forced to brief her on her next assignment.

All in all, things could have gone a lot worse.

+

End

+

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The End

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