If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free
“Coming!” The delivery man heard the crisp, British accent moments before the door swung open.
“Delivery.” The young man announced, handing over a clipboard for the occupant to sign.
The Brit looked curiously at the clipboard. “We weren’t expecting any packages today, are you quite sure you have the right address?” The delivery man rolled his eyes. Of course it was the right address; it was printed right on top of the signing form. “Well can I at least see the package first before signing this?” The resident asked.
The delivery man disappeared up the sidewalk for a moment, going to the back of his truck. He pulled out a dolly, and placed a large wooden crate on it. The crate was roughly the size and shape of a coffin, with a large envelope firmly taped to the side. “Oh dear.” The Brit began polishing his reading glasses nervously. There was no mistake; this package was indeed meant for his residency. “If you would be so kind as to bring it in, I’d appreciate it.” He said, signing his name off as the recipient.
The delivery man brought the box into the hall, and dropped it unceremoniously. He then took the clipboard, glancing down to make sure the signatures were correct. “Merci, Monsieur Carswell.” With a quick tip of the hat, the delivery man climbed into his truck and drove back down the winding road that lead away from the Vampire Council’s castle.
(Gideon, we have a problem). The Brit called upon his best friend.
(How bad a problem can it be? It is broad daylight.) The tiger replied from the other side of the castle.
(The good news is that I believe la Belle Morte has come home. The bad news is that she is alone, in a box, and with a letter from Monsieur Jean-Claude.)
(I don’t suppose it is too late to move back to India?) The weretiger mused.
“I am not so sure that was the wisest move you have ever made, my friend.” Asher and Jean-Claude were sitting alone in Jean-Claude’s office, waiting for Anita and Damian to get back from the FedEx office.
“Perhaps not, but Monsieur Angelus does have a point. Our kind survives by adapting to our surroundings. We have been living in this country for centuries, and yet we behave as though it is still a colony of Europe. That is hardly adaptive.”
“Oui, I understand that we must adapt to our surroundings, but do you not think that a bit extreme?”
“Perhaps, but it is the extreme that gets noticed. Perhaps one day the historians will remember us fondly for what we have accomplished today.”
“Jean-Claude, the historians will never see your declaration, for surely they will be burning it in the castle fires the moment they release Belle Morte.”
“But I stand behind every word I wrote. It would be folly of them to ignore it.” Jean-Claude replied proudly.
“Oh, surely they will not ignore it. They will simply kill you first, and then ignore it.”
“That may not be so easy. Not only did Monsieur Angelus and Monsieur William witness the document, but I had duplicate copies of my Declaration of Independence sent to the press and United States government.”
“You are crazy, Jean-Claude.”
“Oui, a man in love will do many foolish things.” Jean-Claude smiled, wistfully.
“Ah, if only I had such excuses for my foolish acts.”
“Oh but you do. Only a fool would stand by my side, and yet here you are, mon ami. Surely that is love of some sort.” Jean-Claude could sense the melancholy seeping back into Asher’s mood, so he decided to back off a bit. “By that logic, we must live in a city of either lovers or fools, eh? Still, it is a lovely city to own, and now it is safely ours.”
“How can you think it is safe after declaring independence from the council?” Asher frowned. Jean-Claude made no sense to him even on the best of days.
“I have declared the vampires of the United States free of involuntary control based on principles in this country’s constitution. Should a council member attempt to set foot in my city, Anita will now have the legal right to shoot at them until they go away. For all their postures and powers, I do not think the council has ever been tested against one of ma petite’s silver bullets. It may just surprise them.” Jean-Claude replied. “I’m sure Belle Morte will tell them all of the folly of coming to this land. I convinced her of that point quite firmly.”
“I do not think she was in a mental state to question what you were telling her. Crosses were not meant to be swallowed. Her throat will be burnt and scarred for many centuries more, I fear.” Asher replied. Part of him really enjoyed Anita’s method of attack, leaving Belle Morte with the large cross shaped scar across her neck. Part of him could commiserate with his sire, for while he knew the vampire would one day heal her wounds, it would be many eons before she would be able to live with her temporarily disfigured self. She too would know what it felt like to be loathed. Perhaps fate did have a way of returning favors.
Jean-Claude nodded understandingly. “One day she will understand, and forgive us for our mercy.”
Willow had been found under the rubble of the hall, and brought to one of the Circus bedrooms to recuperate. Richard wanted to bring her to the shifter hospital to have her looked at, but the hospital was full of damaged wolves from the battle. Richard had to settle for side by side beds in a spare room, his own injuries requiring bed rest to heal. Oz sat on a chair beside Willow’s bed, watching the redhead for any sign of consciousness.
“Has she woken yet?” Richard asked, looking up at the younger wolf. The adrenaline rush had run out several hours ago and he had fallen asleep against his wishes. Now he felt as though he had been out for days.
“Not yet. Dr. Gray says if she’s not up in another hour she’s going to have to get an IV to keep her hydrated.” Oz frowned, still not ready to meet Richard’s eyes.
“Oh, you might want to mention it to her. She hates needles.” Richard commented absently.
“I tried to tell her, but it doesn’t seem a high priority to her right now.” Oz held Willow’s limp hand in his, rubbing it gently, hoping that something would get through.
“Is she just sleeping, or is it worse than that?” Richard asked, wishing he had stayed awake for Lilian’s visit and diagnosis.
“Her energy is badly depleted. The doctor wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong beyond the scratches and stuff.” Oz looked at Richard, and didn’t like what he saw. The concern in Richard’s eyes reflected everything Oz felt and beyond.
“She’ll be okay. She’s going to live forever.” Richard answered, trying to convince himself as much as Oz.
“Nobody lives forever.” Oz frowned.
“Maybe not, but nothing’s stopping us from trying, eh?” Richard winced as he tried to prop himself up on the bed. The knives pinning him to the wall had some silver content, and he had not healed completely when he shifted. “How about you? Are you okay? Anita ended up in a coma for almost a week the last time she had tried breaking marks from a vampire. Did Aurelius hurt you at all?” Richard saw the how the young kid he had mentored had turned into an old man in a matter of a few years, and it broke his heart.
“Nah, that’s not really a problem. I mean, it feels sort of empty now, but we weren’t bound for that long and it wasn’t really any strong emotion holding me to him, so I’m fine. Honestly, what Anita said as Willow was more troubling than anything Aurelius did.” Oz admitted.
“What did Anita say?” Richard asked with dread. He knew Anita was a bad politician even on the best of days; tact was not her friend.
“Willow’s part of your pack, isn’t she?” Oz didn’t really answer the question, but Richard knew the wolf well enough to know that this was what really was bothering him.
“She’s our pack vargamor. She’s been to our lupanar. She’ll take good care of us, and we’ll take good care of her.”
“For how long?” Oz asked, gazing at his first love. “Until you get back with Anita? Until you find yourself a lupa? How long will Willow be here?”
“Honestly? I don’t know that.” Richard sighed. Perhaps he should have feigned sleep for a bit longer, except that would only delay the inevitable. “I do know this. Anita, Jean-Claude, and I will live forever, but I will never be able to live with Anita forever. Giles thinks Willow may also have made herself immortal inadvertently. I can see myself a hundred years from now sitting on a porch, sipping lemonade with Willow, and we’ll still be able to surprise each other and find things to say to each other. Immortality is long and scary, but there’s no one I’d rather spend forever with. A girl like that only comes around once in a lifetime.”
“I know.” Oz nodded wistfully. He wasn’t sure what he wanted from the Ulfric. Part of him wanted to have Richard promise the earth and heaven above for Willow, so he would know she’d be in good hands. Part of him wanted to have Richard act cold and foolish, so he’d be justified in whisking her far, far away from here. He knew if he were Xander he’d be grilling Richard on every thing Anita had mentioned. He should be feeling outraged that his so called friend would move in on his ex-girlfriend. But what would be the point? Richard was a good guy. Willow needed a good guy. Oz couldn’t promise to be there for her, not for eternity. Richard could.
“Take care of her, okay?” Oz said, knowing it was time to make an exit.
“I promise, I will.” Richard answered solemnly, knowing just what it cost the young man to say that.
Oz leaned over Willow and gently kissed her forehead, ready to be back on the road. “Richard?” Willow whispered. Slowly her eyes opened. “Oz? You’re here. I thought I dreamed that.” She mumbled staring up at her first love, hovering over her.
“I’m here, but I should probably not stay too long.” He looked up at Richard, nervously.
“Did it work? Did you get away from the bad vampire?” Willow muttered, searching his eyes for what always had gone unsaid between them.
“Yeah, I’m fine. But if I were you, I would get Anita to take acting lessons before she impersonates you again.” Oz winked playfully, but the smile never reached his lips.
“Oh goddess, I’m so sorry about the whole thing. We should have told you but there was no time.” She frowned.
“Hey, no hard feelings. The big bad’s gone; that’s what matters.” Oz shrugged, not quite sure if he believed that. “So I guess I better leave now.”
“You know, it doesn’t have to be forever.” Willow mumbled, as Oz stood up.
“What do you mean?” Oz had to ask.
“I mean, when you leave, it’s not going to be forever. You’ll always be able to come back to me, and I’ll always be able to go back to you.” Willow answered.
“You were right the first time. We’ve done enough looking back. It’s time for you to look forward.”
“Stop, Oz.” Willow grabbed his hand and pulled him closer to her bed. “I didn’t mean that we had forever to be like we were in high school. We’ve already done that, and we know it doesn’t work. What I meant was, well, I like you. I miss talking to you. It would be nice to see you for something other than the end of the world. There’s gotta be something in between being in love and walking off into the sunset.”
“So, in other words, you want to keep in touch.” Oz cocked her head at her like a puppy contemplating a new command.
“Exactly!” Willow smiled. “I think I’m going to stay in St. Louis for awhile, so you’ll know where to find me. We could both use a friend stopping by every once in awhile, right?”
“Are you happy in St. Louis?”
“I’m happy with Richard.” Willow answered the question Oz had wanted to ask, but couldn’t. “And we both would miss you as a friend if you never wrote back to us now that we’ve seen you again.”
Oz pondered her words. She had a point. He had missed her much more as a friend than as a lover. He had missed Richard’s advice, as well. Perhaps being a wanderer without ties was over rated. “So friends?”
“Forever.” Willow nodded, a peaceful smile on her face.
“So I’ll see you around sometime? I should probably go now. I left my car in Philly, and I should probably get back before the parking ticket people find it…” His lips curled up in a wry grin that Willow knew meant everything would be okay. With a short wave, Oz was out the door.
“How are you holding up?” Richard asked Willow after a few minutes of silence.
“I think I’m ready.” Willow answered.
“Ready to get out of bed?” Richard was amused. Evidently Willow liked Lilian’s orders as much as he did.
“Ready to start the rest of my life.” She turned her head to face him and smiled.
“So that’s it, you’re leaving?” Spike asked, not letting his eyes stray from the fish tank in front of him.
“You know the rules. Jean-Claude said twenty-four hours after Aurelius left.” Angel shrugged, sitting down in the executioner’s living room.
“So that’s it. You came, you slew, you go home?”
“You know that’s how it goes.” Angel answered, watching the angelfish swim around in circles, chasing each other’s tails.
“Did it feel like this when you killed Darla?” Spike had to ask.
“The emptiness, you mean?” Angel thought about it. Spike had tortured his sire’s line before, but this was probably his first kill.
“Yeah, something like that.” Spike tilted his head, and watched all the fish swim sideways in the same direction.
“At least you’d never slept with Aurelius.” Angel answered with a dry chuckle.
“True that.” Spike let out a non-convincing laugh. “It just seems wrong. I mean, we’ve been the line of Aurelius for centuries, and now he is no more. I just thought he’d be harder to kill.”
“He was hard to kill, you just had Oz and me butter him up a bit for you first.” Angel replied. “Look, we can talk about this more in LA. Have you got your flight plans set yet?” Angel didn’t want to have this conversation in someone else’s house. Neither of them was good at emotional talks, and this was a talk he’d been waiting to have with someone for years.
“I’m not going back right away.” Spike replied. “I think I should keep an eye on Red a bit longer.” Angel raised his brow at that. “And Asher and I have a little business to take care of.” Angel looked at Spike questioningly.
“It’s none of your damn business.” Spike replied with a grin.
“As long as I’m your sire, it’s my business.” Angel replied, tongue-in-cheek.
“You jealous of Asher, you big poof?” Spike teased.
“No. I just want to know why you’re in trouble when Jean-Claude calls me to tell me to pick you up.” Angel shrugged.
“He’s got a lead on some medical clinic that says they’ll do vampire cases. We figured we could check it out together. Maybe plastic surgery can reverse some of that scarring of his.”
“You sure you want to loose your chip?” Angel asked, understanding exactly what Spike wasn't saying. “You just got used to it.” Sure it wasn’t a soul, but it worked in almost the same way. He didn’t want to admit, but Angel rather liked the thought that his childe was in the same boat he was when it came to feeding.
“That’s a load of bull, and you know it.” Spike frowned. The angelfish began swimming upside down. “I don’t want to get used to it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t quite feel up to the bloodbaths of my childhood again. It’s just… do you have any clue how hard it is not to hurt people? They’re bloody everywhere! They trip over my foot, they run into me on the street, and it’s my head that hurts. I can’t keep this up.”
“So you and Asher, eh?” Angel smiled as the fish jumped from the tank, still upside down.
“No, not me and Asher. You’re such a ponce.” Spike smiled.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. So I’ll see you around some time?” Angel stood up; it was time to leave. He could see Anita’s jeep pull into the drive, prepared to take him to the airport.
“Yeah, I’ll stop by. Say hi to Princess for me.” Spike winked.
“I will.” Angel picked up his bag. “Oh, and William? Quit playing with Anita’s fish. They’re not supposed to be upside down for so long.” Angel smiled as he headed out the door, ignoring Spike giving him the finger. He couldn’t wait for the next family reunion.