He wiped the mustard from his upper lip and put the tissue in his pocket ... and before passing the threshold, he wiped his boots on the welcome mat. He had to be stealthy and not leave a trace of his passing. That was an important part of the job.
He could not smell her in the living room, so he went up the stairs. There was a faint trace of aura coming from one of the bedrooms. He went inside and coughed loudly. “I know you're here, kid,” he said.
There was a shift in the air, imperceptible to the human eye. “What are you doing here?” he heard her say.
He put his hands into the big pockets of his coat and sighed. “Don't think I didn't see your little trick with the pencil,” he said. “I got my eyes on you, kid. If the masters figure out what you are doing...”
A glass globe lifted from a shelf. When her invisible hands shook it, it whirled up the fake snow flakes inside, until they slowly fell down upon the two miniature figurines trapped inside. “Pretty,” she said in her disembodied voice, which no human would have been able to hear. “I haven't seen snow since I was a little girl. I used to run out into the back garden and see how many flakes I could catch on my tongue. My brother used to gather it up in his hands and force it down my collar.”
He mumbled something under his breath and pulled his pack of cigs from his pocket. The habit was unworthy of someone of his station, but there was no way he could do this job without cigarettes and hot dogs. “Are you listening to me?” he asked and put a cigarette between his lips.
The globe returned to the shelf. “What of it?” she snapped. “So what if I pushed a pencil? Did I upset the balance of the universe or something? Butterfly effect? Tornadoes in China? Snowstorms in Sahara?”
With nervous fingers, he rolled the spark wheel several times before it would light. “You were told to let things play out,” he said. “If the masters figure out what you are doing, they may throw your sorry ass back into the Ether.”
He imagined he saw her shrugging. “I couldn't help myself,” she said.
He took a deep drag, which made him cough. “You don't know what you're giving up, kid,” he said, once he had cleared his throat. “The Powers have high hopes for you. Soon, they may even allow you to take corporeal form or ascend to join them in their dimension … something I will probably never get to do.” He took another drag. “Fucking speciests! After all the hours I've put in over these long centuries, I am still just a lower plane demon to them.”
There was a long silence. If it wasn't for the faint scent of her aura, which was almost completely masked by the thick cigarette smoke, he would have thought she had snuck out on him. “I just can't abandon him, Whistler.” she finally said. “He...” She fell silent again.
It is hard to read the emotions of a spirit, because they don't cry or choke up or give off any of those other physiological signs to tell you what they're feeling. Even their voices— if you can call them voices, as it is really more like a telepathic thing—are eerily inexpressive. Most of his friends had told him that spirits didn't have emotions, because you need a body to feel things, but Whistler knew better. He was able to recognise a cry for help, no matter how it was expressed.
He sat down on the bed, placed his hat beside him and sighed long and deeply. He was tired. “I know, kid,” he said, “but the thing is, you promised us that Angel would be the one to stop Acathla. You swore to me, to the masters and to everyone who had ever believed in you that you weren't just acting out of self-interest. Yet, here we are. Angel turned out to be the enemy we were afraid of.” He took another drag. “Maybe the masters knew. Maybe they take some sick pleasure in seeing us fuck up the world.”
An airless wind flew by him. “Maybe I was a little overconfident,” she said, “but he was doing so well. He was well on his way to becoming a real hero … before the accident.”
Whistler turned his head in the direction he thought she would be. He didn't even know if that last bit made sense. For all he knew, she might be inhabiting the whole room at once. Non-corporeal spirits were a total paradox to him— both dead and alive— existing without existing. “You of all people should have known Liam would fall for some chick as soon as he stopped moping,” he said. “We pushed him right into the arms of one.”
“If only it was just that,” she said, “but this is different. That is why the curse broke. It is proof that he can truly love. That is why I wanted him on our team, because I know who he really is … what he really is capable of.”
Whistler stood up. “Wow, kid, that is really sweet,” he said, as he walked nervously around the room. Then he laughed to himself. “Remember how you were when you were first brought before us? You were so innocent. So pure. You thought we were angels.” He took another deep drag. “But we're not,” he said and coughed. He cleared his throat and said, “Look at me,” and punched his chest with his thumb. “We're not angels. We're the bureaucrats of the universe. We don't deal in love. It is our job to protect the balance of the multiverse and the very fabric of reality.” He scoffed. “He really loved her, you say? Well, tell that to all the people you've doomed.”
“I'm trying to fix things, and you're telling me to leave it alone?” she said. “If we only give them a little nudge in the right direction, they could set all of this right.”
Whistler shrugged. “The masters have made their decision,” he said. “They feel they've given this universe all the help it deserves. If the slayer can't stop Acathla from devouring the Earth, then The Powers have the chance to re-inhabit this world with a new and improved race of people. One that won't mess up like this sorry lot have done.”
“We deserve another chance,” she said.
Whistler flicked his cigarette. The ashes landed on the head of a stuffed pig. “He deserves another chance, you mean,” he said. “You're still only thinking about him. Angel, Angel, Angel!”
“He is the only person I ever knew who isn't killed,” she said. “What else am I supposed to care about?”
Whistler grimaced. “That's an odd way of phrasing it, considering what happened,” he said. “Have you considered, though, that maybe he doesn't deserve your care? He or the sorry world that he is a part of? When the apocalypse comes … if it comes … the masters will surely rapture all the souls that are worthy enough to be kept for the new world they are creating. You could help shape that world, but you need to understand your place in things … and your responsibility to the larger good.”
“But he won't be saved?” she asked.
Whistler shook his head. “No,” he said. “He will be too close to the statue when it happens, and he and everyone in this sorry town will be sucked in— body and soul— before the masters will have a chance to intervene.” He dropped his cigarette into an abandoned glass of water. “You're too emotional about this. He was never any good. Let him go. You have a bright future ahead of you, and your concerns are greater than him.”
“Help me, Whistler,” she said. “Please...”
He looked down on his boots. “I can't, kid,” he said. “I will contact the slayer when it is time and tell her what she needs to know to save the world. If she succeeds, then good. If not...” He shrugged. “Well, at least we tried, and we will soon have a new world to protect and guide. No matter how it goes down, Angel won't make it.”
The spirit fell silent. Whistler wanted to say more, but he heard footsteps down in the hall. It was time to make himself scarce. He grabbed his hat and climbed out the window, got his foot stuck on the window sill and tumbled out with a loud shriek.
The spirit remained behind, pacing or floating back and forth inside the room. It had to be in here somewhere. She could feel its presence. It called to her. She opened a drawer, and there it lay. The ring Angel had given her when she was only a little girl. She lifted it up, but she had no fingers to put it on. All she could do was look at it— the crown grasping the heart. It had been her most priced possession.
“Is anyone in here?” The slayer had entered. She walked in slowly and wrinkled her nose, as if she was smelling something offensive. She lifted up the plush pig and dusted him with her hand. “I was sure I heard something.” The spirit could hear her thoughts just as easily as speech and often had difficulty distinguishing between the two, because to her, it was the same thing.
The slayer shrugged, propped her pig up against the pillow and started gathering stakes in a duffel bag. She was so beautiful. It was easy to see why Liam had fallen in love with her. The spirit was considering her aura much more than her physical appearance. To the spirit, she looked like the solar eclipse she had watched with her brother when she was a little girl. There was this beautiful light inside her, but she was keeping it all in. That was the light that killed him, the spirit thought. Of course he would be able to see it. He was always very perceptive, no matter what everyone said about him.
The phone rang. The slayer stuck it between her shoulder and her cheek and kept packing. “Hi, Willow,” she said. “No, I'll do a couple of sweeps, and then I'll stop by.” A pause. “Yeah, Xander was pretty much being a ... Willow! Where did you learn that word!?” The slayer broke a smile. “My God. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
She walked over to her desk of drawers to look for more stakes.
Whistler warned me not to intervene, the spirit thought to herself, so I should probably put this back where I found it.
The spirit let the ring fall back inside the drawer. It hit the wood with a deep thud. The slayer cocked her head and looked at it. “I don't know,” she said into the receiver. “I don't know what I wanna do.”
Yes, you do, the spirit thought to herself. You know exactly what you wanna do, just like Whistler knows what he is doing by not ratting me out to the masters.
The slayer took the ring and held it up in her palm. “I'll, I'll see you in a little while, okay?” she said and hung up the phone.
The crown holding the heart, the slayer thought. I feel like my mind is wrestling with my feelings. She sat down on the bed. Killing one person to save the world? It feels wrong. Xander will be happy to see him gone. To Giles, he will always be the one who killed Jenny and not the one who fought by my side all those times. Cordelia does not care. Willow cares, for my sake at least, but how long 'til she starts to forget? A tear parted from her eye and crawled down her cheek. To my mother, he is my crazy ex-boyfriend. I will never get to tell her about the most exciting moments of my life. I will never be able to tell anyone about the man only I got to know. When it's done, they will ask me how I slew the monster. She squeezed the ring inside her fist. Saving the world will be easy. Living in it will be the hard part.
The spirit wanted to reach out and touch her. She'd always wanted a sister. How wonderful it would have been to have been born into this time ... to live in this time when girls can go to school and to have Angel and the slayer pick her up every evening afterwards and drive her home.
Eventually, it turned out like Whistler had predicted. The world was saved, but Angel was not. The spirit watched as the slayer impaled his body and threw him into Acathla's gaping mouth ... and she screamed a silent scream that neither Angel nor the slayer could hear.
When Whistler came to find her, the spirit hid her disappointment from him. She was resolved to play the long game. She would get herself into the masters' good graces somehow. Maybe then, she would be able to fix this. All she needed was a little bit of power, and she would go after him. Liam had come for her … that day when she got herself lost in the sea fog. She had twisted her ankle between some rocks. He had found her and carried her all the way home as if she was weightless. Once she was strong enough, she would climb into Acathla mouth and get her brother out. Whatever remained of him, she would rescue. Whatever he was to the world, to her, he was the brother who told her that there was nothing in the fog for a true soul to fear.