Work Header


Work Text:

These five words in my head scream: are we having fun yet?

She sits, and waits.

She finds it funny, sometimes, that this is how it is. That this is how it will end. Thinks about it, thinks it's funny, and tries not to laugh. She knows that if she starts laughing, other actions--emotions--will swiftly follow and she promised herself--before--that she wouldn't cry anymore. Besides, crying wouldn't be funny.

She's getting good at keeping promises, better than she ever thought she would. She's always been an expert at exacting promises from others, she remembers, but keeping them? Not so much. So it's surprising that she's becoming so good at it now. Surprise is akin to--or maybe just IS--funniness and so she thinks about that as well. Finds it funny and so on and so on and so on.

She likes thinking about how funny this all is. The situation, her, him, the way it will all end--and she knows it will end, because the only other option is that it could begin, and she knows that that's already happened because otherwise she wouldn't be here--it's all funny. Funny ha-ha, funny peculiar. All kinds of funny and she's always been a fun-time kind of gal so the fun-factor is, well, it's FUN.

She watches him and thinks that he must be watching her too. She wonders if he finds this, thinks this, is funny as well. She can't see his face, can't read his expressions--it's too dark and dusty--so she wonders. Wonders if maybe she should ask him--"Hey, you finding this as funny as I am?"--but thinks that maybe silence is better. Everything better is funny, and funny is the best, so she keeps silent. Besides, they talked for hours earlier--even though she hates him--and that wasn't so much fun. She remembers that quite clearly.

She can remember a lot of things. Things that were funny and things that weren't. The weren't times aren't good things to remember--they're not funny and that alone makes them bad--but she remembers them anyway. She also knows--remembers--that a lot of the good times WEREN'T funny, but she calls them funny anyway because she knows--remembers--that they WERE good times and that alone should make them funny.

She knows her logic is flawed, because the flip-side works just as well as the A-side and she knows that in the past she's found a lot of bad times funny, but they were Bad--with a capital B--and so she keeps them labelled as not-funny times.

She also knows--thinks--that maybe this time, although funny now, won't be funny later. She doesn't want to think about that. Doesn't want to believe that a fun time will become a bad time and therefore be a not-funny time. That WOULD be bad. And bad things, times, aren't funny things, times.

Her head hurts as she tries to keep track of what's funny and what's not and the hurting detracts from the fun-factor so she tries to stop. This is funny, this is funny, this is funny--the mantra helps, a little, and she keeps saying it to herself, over and over again, until the little becomes a lot and her head doesn't hurt anymore.

She thinks about how this will all end, and she finds it funny.

Sleep tugs at my mind, pulling gently on the tendrils of my consciousness, beckoning me forward with promises of sweet dreams and the like. I'd like to submit. I WANT to submit. But I can't. Something else whispers to me, cajoles me into hanging on for just a few more moments. To wait in that drowsy state of almost-asleep for just a little bit longer.

Soft voices serenade me as I lie there, not-dreaming and not-thinking, and I listen to the still playing movie absently. A part of me realises that I should get up and switch the VCR and TV off but I'm reluctant to move. I'm comfortable, I think with a touch of petulance. Comfortable and sleepy and maybe just little cold but so not into any suggestion that involves anything akin to moving.

A small sigh, barely more than an escaping puff of breath, leaves my lips and I feel the arms encircling me tighten briefly. A smile slips forward and I shift on the couch, burrowing further into the embrace. This is nice. Better than nice even. A redefinition of the word 'nice'.

A hand twitches lightly as it lassoes my form, the limb stroking over the exposed flesh of my own arm briefly. I sigh contently. A moment later, soft lips momentarily draw over the arch of my neck and a pleasure-filled hum rumbles in my throat. I can feel their smile on my skin and I match the expression with one of my own.

The arms holding me tighten once more, the gesture reciprocated as I deliberately slip a little further into their grip. The movie drones on. Sleep pleads and begs at my attention once more, and I realise drowsily that that something else is silent. Content that I'm no longer required in consciousness, I drift away.

Love you...

She thinks about that moment a lot. Knows that even though it wasn't a funny ha-ha or funny peculiar moment, it was a GOOD moment, and therefore, a funny one. She's redefining the word 'funny' but that's ok. That's acceptable and good and all things positive. That's funny.

She knows, however, that that GOOD moment was the leading cause to a lot of BAD moments and she finds THAT funny. Real funny. It's hard to believe that a moment so good could start so many bad ones but she DOES believe it because she KNOWS that that's how it all happened.

She didn't at the time, though, and that IS funny. She had all these plans and rules and contingencies and in the end they didn't matter. She finds it extremely funny that the one thing she was always so prepared for--prepared to avert, to fight, to beat, to never ever EVER cause, because that would be breaking the second rule--is the one thing she DID cause. Finds it funny. Not funny ha-ha, not funny peculiar, just funny.

Lots of things are funny, after all, and why should this be any different?

Someone's shaking me, calling to me, pleading with me to wake up. I do so unpleasantly, snapping at them bitterly, but they ignore my rejoinders. As I allow them to pull me off the couch I realise that my TV and VCR have been turned off and that my presence on the piece of furniture was solitary.

Questions flood me. What's going on? Where'd they go? What do you want? What's happening?

My friend and I try to answer each other's questions but blank looks seem to be our only answers. The only real ones anyway. In reality, I don't think he has any more answers then I do.

But he does manage to bite out one word, one name, and if it wasn't for his hand on my arm I think I'll fall.

With fear coursing through my veins and arteries, replacing blood with emotion, I allow him to guide me from my home. I can barely focus on the journey, my only plan of action being that of clinging to him as tightly as possible.

When we stop, and he bundles me inside a place he assures me is safe and unknown, I do my best to start thinking clearly once more.

"What's HAPPENED?"

"Willow," he breathes out painfully, "and an acquaintance of hers..." he doesn't finish the sentence and I don't need him too. Stumbling away from him I find a bathroom and collapse to the tiled floor, emptying my stomach until all that's left is dry retching. No, oh god no... poor Willow...

He gives me privacy initially; entering only after my heaving has completed. Handing me a damp cloth, he crouches beside me, stroking my hand.

"Why are we here?" I ask weakly, trying not to picture the redheaded witch in what would have been her final moments.

"After the last time he made me promise that if it ever came to pass again, that my first priority would be to get you to safety."

"Get US to safety, you mean." I reply automatically.

He shakes his head. "Whilst I have no doubt that my safety was also a concern, this was designed for your benefit."

My brain has trouble fathoming this. "Why?" I croak out eventually.

If the situation weren't so freakin' dire, I'm sure I'd call that expression a smile. "You bested him last time. No one, in all of history I believe, has done that before."

I close my eyes and start to cry. "This is all my fault." I sob. I don't know HOW it could be my fault, can find no moment in my recent history that red-letters itself as being MY FAULT but the guilt seems appropriate. Seems to stick. Seems true and real and all other forms of evidence.

He pulls me into a hug. "No," he comforts me. "None of this is your fault."

He's lying and we both know it.

She doesn't like to remember that part, that first moment of the BAD that had followed the GOOD. It's not funny, not fun, and she feels so sad every time she thinks about Willow. Knows that the reason she was the first was because she was the most powerful--the biggest threat--and yet despite that apparently awesome power, ended up being only the first notch in a really long belt. A really long belt that's now full of notches.

She thinks that she'll be the last notch in the belt and that with all those other notches, he'll never be able to actually USE hers. Finds that funny and wonders if he'll become anorexic or bulimic in an attempt TO use her. The mental image is the funniest of them all and she holds onto that image for as long as she can.

When she's milked all the fun she can out of that mind picture she tries to find something else to cling to, something else that's funny. It's a hard thing to do, with her mind all full of not-funny times, and she struggles with her memory. Names and faces and notches on the belt fast-forward in her mind and she wonders why people always imagine their memories as VCRs. Now THAT'S a funny thought. She wonders if she can put a tape in her mouth and if, when she taps her nose, the fast-forwarding in her brain will slow down just a little so that the names and faces and notches can be recorded onto the tape.

Doesn't have a tape to try out the thought so she just watches the images flicker past--her brain's so quick that it takes only seconds--and finds it funny that some of their faces have melted together from the speed. She can still recognise them, name them, though so she doesn't think she needs to get a head cleaner for her head-VCR. Finds THAT funny and considers smiling, just a little. Doesn't, because emotion--action--is still not funny, but thinks about it just the same.

Names them quickly, to herself, so that this not-funny moment can finish. WillowTaraXanderAnyaDawnGilesBuffy.

Wonders if the Hellmouth has a VCR-brain like hers. Wonders if it was kept quiet, contained, controlled and pacified, by sticking head cleaners in there regularly. Wonders who will clean the Hellmouth now that her friends have all become notches in a belt.

She thinks it's funny to think about Sunnydale as a head-VCR and about her friends as notches in a belt, even though it's not funny what happened to them and it's not funny what will now happen to Sunnydale. Finds the contradiction in her thoughts funny in general and lets the moment, the contradiction, linger and swell until all she can do is think that it's funny.


"I have--"


He tries to calm me, to reason with me, but I refuse to hear it.

"Our supplies are running low; we have heard nothing in days--"

I start to shake, fear once again swamping me and rendering me a useless blob of brittle bone and taut skin. In the past three weeks I have aged more than I thought possible, existed only in a state of abject terror. I keep waiting for the call that says this is all over, that our exile is finished, that my world is safe once more.

But the phone is silent.


I wake to silence.

My--our--safe house is not so much a house as it is a run-down, off-the-beaten-track motel. The room is clean, but threadbare; a decor that harks back to the rule of Presidents who died before I was even born. I hate it here, with its moth-eaten curtains and the flickering neon sign outside that bears only two letters which still blink on and off. Their pattern of illumination is the kind that promotes epileptic fits and I've grown to detest the plink-fiz-plink sound they make. A, C, C, A, C, A, A, C. I think I hate the letters themselves even more.

I can hear the drone of traffic constantly but I rarely notice it anymore. The highway passes here but there's no exit. The occasional customers who DO come here usually leave after only an hour or two of patronage, their vehicles sending gravel flying as they screech out of the parking spots. The stain of immorality and louche behaviour on their souls is as thick as the grime on their rusted fenders.

I thought I had made something of my life; grown as a person; evolved into a better lifestyle. Instead I've become the permanent resident at a 'rooms-rented-by-the-hour' establishment that accepts cash only and leaves cockroaches, not mints, on the pillows.

This room is the equivalent of hell for me, and it's for precisely that reason that I'm here. No one would ever think to look for me in hell.

The bathroom door is open, revealing the ripped shower curtain and rusted vanity fixtures. I don't need to move to see that I'm all alone in here. I KNOW I'm alone.

Depression gives me leave to bury my face into my pillow and cry like my world is ending--which it is--but I can't. I have to be sure. I have to know that my nightmare is real, that my imagination is accurate.

The note is next to the laptop we'd set up on the damaged table. One leg is broken and we'd propped the furniture piece up with a couple of phonebooks. Just call me Suzy Homemaker. I crawl to the end of the double bed and lean over to snatch the torn piece of notebook paper. Even on paper, he still manages to stammer somewhat around the central topic. I skim his words, and then crumple the note to my breast as I bury myself into the worn cotton sheets and flattened pillows that smell of deodoriser.

"... I leave now for your safety, and in part, for my own as well. I will return in haste, so please do not allow fear or impetuosity to guide you on a foolish journey after me. I must check that the others are still well and safe, and procure further supplies. Whilst I know you find little favour in this necessary trip, I know you understand the need for it. Until my return, keep safe. I love you..."

I weep. I shake. I cry. I moan. I sob.

I know that I'll never see him alive again.

Not-funny at all.

Sometimes, there are so many not-funny times that it's hard to keep track of them all. Sometimes, the not-funny times get so large and all-encompassing and constant that they merge and melt and mix with some of the funny times and while THAT is funny--the merging and melting and mixing--the end result is not-funny and she finds herself left with yet another not-funny thing.

Which is just SO not-funny, and for a moment she finds it funny that so much of her life--past, present and maybe future--is either funny or not-funny. Her head starts to ache, which is not-funny, so she resurrects her mantra and makes everything funny again.

This is funny, this is funny, this is funny...

A car backfires outside the motel and it's all I can do to NOT scream.

I tremble uncontrollably, hands rising to fist my hair into a bizarre Princess Leia hair-do ala gold bikini style. Oxygen leaves my lungs in gasping breaths, my chest constricted to the point where it feels like my ribs are a heartbeat away from garrotting me. A strange sound of caterwauling reaches my ears and I realise distantly that that shrill and discordant sound is coming from me. Starting in my gut and scratching up my oesophagus, it reverberates past my clenched teeth.

It's an awful sound, an UGLY sound, and I think that's what stops me more than anything else. I can be terrified; I can be heartbroken; I can be a fraction away from loosing every iota of my sanity and snapping faster than a stretched rubberband... but I AM not, and CAN not be, UGLY. So I stop. I stop that sound, I stop trying to pull out my hair, and I stop shaking and wheezing for breath.

I stop being ugly and instantly--INSTANTLY--I feel better.

My eyes are open but I can't see anything. Confused by that, I blink rapidly for a moment or two, and gradually the world comes into view once more. It's not a nice vista, but it's a start, and I realise that I'm crouched--foetally balled up even--in the narrow crevice between the double bed and the smog-smeared window. Curtains that were once bright in colour but are now a faded remnant of weak orangeade dangle above my head, frayed edges brushing my unwashed hair.

No ugliness, I remind myself harshly, and with that echoing in my head, I push myself to my feet. Well, to my knees anyway. Crawling out from my little hidey-hole, I keep moving until I'm eventually crouching, standing, beside the falling-down table in the centre of the room.

The room spins and for a moment I consider dancing to the dizziness. I feel like I'm suffocating as the room suddenly becomes stifling, and the need for fresh air is greater then any sense of security the locked and barred residence can offer. I stumble to the door, flicking off locks and chains, before wrenching the wooden barrier open and cursing automatically as the warped frame causes it to stick.

Standing in the open archway I inhale the smog-and-dust heavy air greedily, gulping the acrid oxygen into my lungs like a thirsting man at a desert oasis. I've been alone now for over a week.

Across the way, a black convertible slumbers beneath that demented neon sign.

I sink to my knees and finally realise that it was all a game. My hands fall into the pile of ashes covering the step into my room. Smears of grey cling to my skin and I realise that I'm crying. A fucking GAME. I stand and, without even bothering to close the door, I walk away.

I don't look back.

... this is SO not-funny.

She's finding it hard to think of funny things now, with all of those not-funny times crowding her, smothering her, begging for her attention. She tries to remember something funny--the plink-fiz-plink of the motel sign, perhaps--but that's another one of those funny-not-funny moments. One of the times when she's not sure if it was a good time that became a not-funny time or a bad time that became a funny time.

It's so hard to keep it all straight in her head, to keep everything ordered and reasonable and filed away correctly. She wonders if she can grab a hold of all the bad times and file them away under T for The-not-funny-Times. Wonders if she can still figure out which times are which. She doesn't want to confuse the good times with the bad, or the not-funny times with the funny, and it's getting so HARD to keep track of it all. Which is funny really, because she was always so good at being sure about things. She could be tactless, and a little confused, and forever forthright, but she was always sure of herself and of her own thoughts.

She sighs in her mind because silence is a good thing, a funny thing, and feels a little bit better, which is also a good thing, a funny thing. She thinks that maybe she should just continue with all the memories--the not-funny ones, she thinks--until they're all finished playing through her mind. Thinks that maybe once she's watched them all again, she'll be able to eject the tape from her brain and throw it away so that she's only left with the funny things.

She thinks it's funny that the only way to get rid of the not-funny times is to allow them free reign, and then she doesn't think anymore, because the not-funny times are playing again.

Isn't that funny?

When the whole world turns against me and I'm all by myself,
and I can't hear you answer my cries for help,
I'll remember the suffering.

I don't know how I got to Cockaigne. I don't remember walking to the highway, or hitching a ride back into the city. I don't remember the taxi ride to the Mall, or the looks on the people who gave a wide berth to me and my appearance. I do, however, remember the feel of the processed air that tossed my hair lightly as I stepped through the sliding doors; the softened glare of fluorescent lighting that warmed my skin as I re-entered the only world I'd ever felt completely whole in.

I make my way to the most expensive, and luxurious, salon in the Mall automatically, unerringly. Impeccably coiffed attendants rise to halt my progress into their sanctuary when I appear and I hand them a credit card to silence any protests they might have over my right to be here. He'd kill me if he knew that I still had his VISA, and the thought makes me smile in sad irony because I know that he'll kill me anyway.

Under the costly ministrations of the salon staff, my identity gradually re-emerges. My lank, unwashed hair becomes a sleek mane of silk; my gnawed nails are reshaped into lacquered jewels; moisturiser is liberally applied as it removes the streaks of grey ash from my skin. Cosmetics and perfumes rain upon my hair and skin and I bathe in the fresh scents of artificial beauty until my own natural beauty reappears and shines once more.

Shopping comes next and I treat myself like I have never done before. Appreciating the journey from rags to clothing riches as I never will again. Silk drapes across my torso in a revealing halter-style and butter-soft leather moulds to my legs. Thin cords strap themselves across my feet in the form of decadent heels and when I finally look in the mirror I can see MYSELF.

It's a refreshing view.

She knows that that moment--which IS more bad than good--plays a necessary part in the upcoming saga of badness but still finds it a good moment. It's a moment when she felt strong, and sure of herself, and beautiful. A lot of the bad moments have her feeling the opposite, so it's good to have that B-side in her memories. Thinks it's a little funny that such a nice moment could arise from so many bad ones but that's the way things are.

She wishes she could stay in that moment for a long time, enjoying the happy and funny feelings that arise from it, but knows that there's still more not-funny ones to come. She knows that she has to get through the not-funny times before she can dwell forever on the funny times and isn't it funny how everything's so dependant on what's funny and not-funny?

I eat leisurely, decadently, in an outdoor cafe. Once again, all my extravagance is at his expense. Sunset pinks the sky and blinds me with golden shards of illumination. I've seen prettier sunsets, for sure, but never one more poignant. When dusk has finished arriving and is simply here, I leave.

I wish it was a Premiere, an event of stars and photographers who're worthy of the makeover I've performed upon myself this afternoon, but it's not. It's just a cineplex, a collection of fist-sized theatres that offer a quantity of films, not a quality of such. I buy a ticket absently, not even caring what the movie is, only noting that it's the next to begin.

The movie has barely begun--maybe fifteen minutes in, if that--when someone takes the seat beside me. He sprawls into the chair like it's a luxury chaise and not a padded plastic contraption covered in mulberry fabric. His arm unfolds to curl not-so-subtly around the back of my chair, fingers cupping my far shoulder.

I shiver from his touch, and slowly turn to face him.

"Hi," the softly whispered greeting is presented with a bright grin and I ache to believe in it; to believe in HIM. But I can't. Because the him I see is not the him who should be here.

"I was beginning to think you weren't going to show." I answer coolly, striving for detachment.

His grin broadens. "No you weren't," he counters and internally, I concede. He's right, I didn't think that. I knew he would show.

"I wanna watch the movie," I tell him seriously and I can tell by his grin that he doesn't. He wants to play; to continue with the game. Before he can tell me as much, I lean into him, resting my cheek on his shoulder and resting my hand on his chest; fingers entwining into the material of his shirt.

He stiffens at the contact from me, the fingers on my shoulder suddenly, and painfully, digging into my flesh. If I live through the night, I'll have bruises tomorrow.

The film, ironically enough, is the latest Star Wars flick and, as I watch lil' Anakin Skywalker free-fall into the persona of Darth Vader, I weep quietly into his silk shirt. I always did like his fashion sense. The movie is about fallen heroes... I hate Hollywood; it parallels reality too much.

When the movie ends I grip his hand and tangle our fingers. His surprise is palpable. We pause outside the cineplex, people flowing around us but never near us. The bright neon lights, unbroken and unflickering this time, cast us in lurid sheens of blue and red. Without looking around, without looking back, I look up into his dark gaze.

"Do it already." I condemn myself. "Take me."

'End my suffering,' echoes madly in my brain.

Using the grip of my hand on his, he pulls me closer. In a swift, sweeping move, he presses his lips to mine, forcing my teeth open, plundering my mouth. My bottom lip rips on his teeth and the coppery taste rolls over my tongue and his. It's arousing. It's bestial. Once again, I want to cry. Wrenching my mouth from his, I lick a trace of blood from the already healing cut.

"I said 'take me'." I whisper brokenly.

He grins devilishly. "I am."

And he does.

Take me. Such a funny thing to think, to say, to remember. 'Take me.' She wonders what she meant by that and what he meant when he answered. She wonders if she really knew what she meant when she meant it. Wonders the same about him. Finds it funny still--even if she's no longer sure what she meant by it--and that's funny anyway--the not-knowing or not-remembering--which makes everything funny.

She's a little tired of everything being funny and not-funny and isn't that funny?

She's a little tired but she knows that sleep is not a good thing right now. She's waiting right now, waiting for something or maybe someONE and it's all going to end soon--the waiting, the situation, HER perhaps--which is funny.

She's a little tired. Funny that.

"You're going to kill me."

"Of course."



She remembers only snippets of the next moments. Bits and pieces of the larger whole. She's not sure if she wishes she could remember more, or if she wishes she could remember less, but she knows that she's wishing for something. It's a standard refrain now: isn't that funny?

"Going to kill me now?"

An inhuman growl echoes, sending chills down my spine. I can't see him, but I know that he can see me. I maintain the bored expression on my face and his answer is hissed. "Soon."

If wishes were horses, we'd all ride to town. Or something like that. She wishes she could remember what she's really wishing for. If wishes were fishes, we'd all swim in the sea. Or something like that. She wishes she could remember whether she really wants to remember or not. If wishes were...

Why can't wishes just be wishes? Why do they always have to be something else? She finds it funny that wishes must always be something else. She tries to make up her own rhyme. A funny rhyme--because if it's funny then it's good and goodness is always funny.

If wishes were wishes, we'd all be alive...

I'm finding it just a little hard to keep track. Of how long I've been here that is. If I'm to assume that he's 'visiting' me once a day, then I could have easily been here two days or more so far. But that doesn't seem right. Maybe he's visiting me more often--several times a day or something. In which case, I've only been here a few hours. If that IS the case then I'm in for a long wait. A very long wait. A very, very, VERY long wait.

Makes me wish he'd just get on with it and kill me already.

Ever since I arrived I've been in the dark. Not figuratively, but LITERALLY. I was brought here blindfolded and I haven't seen a glimpse of light since. When he comes in here, he enters from a darkened hallway. I don't see him either, and haven't since I arrived. He could be wearing a tutu and sporting purple hair for all I know.

The room is square--no windows, one door. I explored of course, searching for an escape that I didn't expect to find. I wasn't disappointed. Well, ok, that's NOT exactly true. It WAS disappointing to not find an escape, and frightening and hope-crushing and all other negative emotions, but it wasn't SURPRISING.

"How's my little fugitive today, hmm?"

I ignore him.

"What, cat got your tongue?"

Mom always told me, when I was little, that if I ignored someone they would eventually tire of--annoying--me and go away. Guess that's why I left my parents alone so much. They kept ignoring me; I stopped annoying them with pleas for love and attention. Unfortunately, he obviously never got the Dr Spock lessons that my Mom did.

"I've been considering my options."

I stare into the darkness. I hope I'm not looking at him--would kind of ruin the whole 'bored, gazing into space' look that I'm going for. I'm pretty sure I'm not looking at him. He tends to stay near that impenetrable door. I don't know why.

"About what to do with you," he elaborates, tone conversational. "You see, there's just so MANY choices." I can hear the smile in his voice, the brightness, as if he's sharing good news with me. "I mean, torture alone holds an infinite supply of possibilities..."

Yay. Let me just dance with joy. I pray he kills me soon. I have no hope for gaining freedom--the chances of that happening are the same as the chances of me winning tonight's Lottery. I beg to the PTB that he kills me soon, and quickly. Ends my misery and pain and suffering and all that.

But he won't. I know he won't.

He'll drag it out, torturing me over and over again. I know so much about him, about his modus operandi, that I could write a book. A thick book, with small print and lots of pages and almost no pictures. A book that I'd hate to research but could easily write. Of course, the movie rights would probably end up in Wes Craven's hands and then the truthful viciousness of my words would simply become Hollywood sensationalism.

I wonder who they'd get to play me?

"Damn it, don't just SIT there! Say something!" his patience disappears as his anger resurrects.

I look in the direction of his voice and raise an eyebrow. "Why don't you just kill me," I offer in an empty voice.

I always sit in the same place. Against the wall, opposite the door. I don't know why.

"I will soon enough, don't you worry your vacuous little head about that."

The door slams shut.

She doesn't think she'd be unlucky enough to get Tori Spelling or--horrors!--Rebecca Lowell, but neither does she think herself funny enough to get someone like Angelina Jolie or Amber Faulding. She's always been a connoisseur of the 'Actors & Actresses Menu' but she's finding it a little hard to match herself with a corresponding blue-box pastry.

Funny how even now she finds herself still thinking--dreaming, fantasising--about her blue-boxes. She guesses some things NEVER change--which is funny since EVERYthing has changed.

Isn't that funny?

"They're all dead now," a smirk coats his voice. "Every. Single. One."

I don't reply. There's no need. It's not like he's telling me anything new.

"You're ALONE my dear, completely and utterly alone." he pauses briefly. "And did I mention that they're all dead?"

I toss my hair; a patented bored expression carved into my features. "What would you like first--the medal, or the chest to pin it on?"

I can hear him in the darkness, the unnecessary intake and exhale of oxygen, the rasp of his clothing as he shifts. "I wonder," his voice turns musing. "If that mouth of yours will keep chattering when I'm finished? If that jaw will keep moving after your teeth have been crushed, one by one? If that tongue will keep flapping when I have sliced it into ribbons?"

I roll my eyes, confident in his ability to see me even though I can't see him. "Well, while you're working away in there--my back molar needs a filling. Take care of it for me?"

"I will have you screaming for mercy, for release from the pain, before I'm done."

I curl my lips into a smile. "I can hardly wait," I drawl in pure sarcasm. "Does that mean you're going to get on with it?"

"Soon," he mutters, more to himself than to me, as he slams out of the room angrily.

I close my eyes and wait for him to return.

She wonders why she no longer cries for her friends. Sure she promised herself that she wouldn't cry anymore--and she's getting good at keeping her promises, which is funny--but still it's funny that she doesn't cry anymore. Funny, funny, funny.

She thinks about the last time she saw her friends. Gunn and Fred at the hotel, the two leaving to patron a local street fair of sorts being run by Anne and her shelter-kids. They were smiling, laughing. Wes was teasing them goodnaturedly, making silly little English jokes that made them all groan with mock-pain. She can't remember where Wes was going, what his plans for the evening were--and the not-remembering is sad and not-funny--but it's still ok 'cause she saw him later on anyway.

Angel's out back. She remembers how she smiled and waved goodbye to Gunn and Fred and Wes, told them all to have fun--'but not too much' wink wink--grabbed her bag and wrap and went out to where Angel was waiting for her in the car. They were going back to her place for dinner--his cooking, not hers--and to watch some video's--her choice, not his.

It was--was going to be--such a fun night, a funny night. She wishes--if wishes were wishes...--that it hadn't turned out to be such a not-funny night later on, but still, in the beginning, it was all good, all funny.

GunnFredAnneKateWesAngel. She wonders why she doesn't cry for them anymore--since they're all dead, and surely she should cry about that--and then remembers that she promised herself that she wouldn't cry anymore. She's getting good at keeping her promises. Which is a funny really. And everything funny is good, and crying is not good, so maybe that's why she doesn't cry anymore. Because everything is funny. Be firm, say it like you mean it--she's always been good at giving motivational speeches... provided there was no need for tact.

Everything. Is. Funny.

I sense it now, the water's getting deep.
I try to wash the pain right over me, away from me.

"WHAT are you doing?"

Despite the fact that I'd heard his entrance, my hand stiffens anyway at the sound of his voice. A quick backwards tilt of my head prevents a nasty smear of mascara from occurring and I mutter a voiceless curse under my breath.

"What does it look like?" I answer rhetorically as I resume the careful application process. The mirror in my left hand is for show only--after all, it's not like I can see anything--but I keep it steady as my right hand guides the wand and layers my lashes in kohl.

It's honestly amusing to hear him fish-mouth as I slip the mascara back into my pants pocket and remove a lip-liner pencil. With careful and professional ease I guide it around the edges of my lips, outlining the puckered curves.

"But it's DARK." he says eventually, and I know that his bafflement will quickly turn into anger. I've thrown him for a loop and that'll piss him off big time. "You can't POSSIBLY be able to SEE anything."

On the opposite end of the pencil is a tiny capsule of gloss--the make-up stick designed for emergency touch-ups--and I smear a carmine coating across my mouth, grateful that the cut from when he kissed me earlier has healed.

"I've been blind before," I tell him truthfully, softly, as I put away the lip-liner and peer unseeingly into my compact, pretending to check that there's no smears or streaks in my careful grooming. "And there's simply NO excuse for not looking good."

I snap the compact shut and turn to stare directly at him. It may be pitch black but I can pinpoint him in an instant.

"Image is everything."

Silence fills the dark room and slowly, surely, I stretch and stand. It's the first time I've ever done so with him there and I can tell the action has surprised him because he takes a step. I'm assuming it's a step closer 'cause there's no way he'd let himself even consider the implications stepping AWAY from me would bring.

"Take you, for instance." I continue conversationally. I imagine his raised eyebrow, his smirk. "Leather pants?" I tsk-tsk with a corresponding shake of my head. "That's SO over already in the evil department." I brush my palms down over my hips and the top of my thighs, bringing attention to my own leather clothing as if to prove my point. "But still you wear them, flaunt them even, 'cause in your--albeit DATED--mind, it's the pinnacle of Versace-vileness."

"You're playing with fire," he warns me in a low tone.

I toss my hair back and send him a wicked grin. "And the last I heard YOU were allergic to that," I shoot back. "So save your concern for yourself."

He laughs then, and the sound surprises me with its honest peal of amusement. Patiently, I wait for him to finish, a hand on my hip. "Brava!" he exclaims eventually, hands giving me an ovation. "Bra-va!"

It's my turn to cock an eyebrow and since I know he can see me, see the expression, I don't bother with verbosity.

"Last time we met you couldn't act to save your life--"

I cut him off promptly. "Yo, Deadboy," I relish the use of Xander's nickname for him. "Someone obviously flicked your elephant switch to 'off', 'cause the last time we met? I got an Oscar." I remind him proudly.

She remembers the last time clearly, vividly, and finds it funny that he's forgotten. It's funny because isn't the last time the whole reason she's here? If he's really forgotten it, then she wouldn't be here. But she is here, and somehow he's forgotten, and that's just funny.

He continues as though I haven't spoken. "--and now, here you are, acting all unafraid and fearless." He applauds once more. "I guess you CAN teach an old bitch new tricks."

I let the insult roll off me like water on a duck's back. I've been called a lot worse than that in my lifetime and for many years I even used that particular curse as my calling card.

"You think I'm not afraid?" A portion of surprise taints my voice and I rock back onto the balls of my feet. "I'm TERRIFIED." I inform him honestly. "You think I don't know what you're planning to do to me?" I begin to pace a little. A few steps one way, a few steps back. "I'm a heartbeat away from stroking at the mere THOUGHT of what's on your torture itinerary."

I pause for a moment, listening to the silence. He's stopped breathing I realise quickly. And he's not moving. I can't hear him at all. I start walking again, this time heading to one of the corners, bracing my hands on the connecting walls and resting my forehead on the cool concrete.

When he still doesn't speak, I continue. "But me being Petrified-Girl won't change anything. Won't stop you. I know that."

"I love this," he chuckles suddenly. "The whole backbone and confidence thing? Just lovely." His laughter disappears in an instant. "And I'll love it even more when I break those bones and shatter that confidence." he boasts menacingly. "You have no idea, little girl, what I have planned for you."

It's my turn to laugh then, rich and loud. My body even shakes as the amusement courses through me and he growls in response, the sound as dark as our surroundings. Gasping a little, I pull myself back from the wall, a hand rising to wipe a small tear from my eye--ever careful of my makeup. "I'm sorry," I apologise through remnants of giggles, trying to check my chuckling. "I've no idea what you're planning?" I repeat. "Puh-lease!"

I glance over my shoulder and banish my laughter as efficiently as he did his.

"I know EXACTLY what you're planning."

Once again I let my imagination picture his expression. A smirk of some description, a raised eyebrow or two. I assume that he's waiting for me to embellish my boast of knowledge and have no hesitation in starting on that elaboration.

"I was Sunnyhell's Research-Girl, Gel-Boy. The Queen of What-Does-This-Demon-Do."

Determinedly, I start walking again. I can feel his eyes on me, following my path, but he's gone silent again. Already invisible, now inaudible as well.

"The moment you went groiny and grry? I became Knowledge-Girl. All two-hundred and fifty-two years of your history? I learnt it, knew it, know it."

"Two-hundred and forty-seven." his voice floats into the room and it's not from near the door. He's moved, moving.

"Two-hundred and fifty-two," I repeat firmly. "You've been saying forty-seven now for at least three years and even that's a misnomer. Embrace your age already."

She finds it funny that he can be so vain about his age. It's not like his age is an indication of how he looks--because for multiple-century-guy, he really does look good--and yet he retains the vanity of a fifty-two-year-old. Which is just funny.

I keep walking; sometimes pacing, sometimes not.

"As for more recently? Well, everyone's favourite whore--Darla--" I emphasise, as if there could possibly be any doubt, "was quite happy to extol some of your finer moments of murderous debauchery."

I pause and offer a grim smile in his direction.

"But killing is boring, in the long run, isn't it?" my voice turns mocking. "Your forte is torture, right?"

I wait for him to agree with me and he doesn't. At least, not verbally. So I continue.

"Mental, physical, unending, constant torture--your M.O. You think I don't know what you have planned? What your game is? Think again, Grr-Guy, I know it all!"

I take a breath and walk in a different direction.

"You think I couldn't see the comparisons between me and Drusilla? Seer and Sighted? Puh-lease." I pfft disparagingly. "I admit, I was Panicky-Girl at first," I let admittance paint my words. "I ran and hid. Did the frightened-little-lamb routine. Wept every time we got word that you'd killed another Scoobie. Wept and thought 'thank god he hasn't found me'. Thought that hiding away would keep me safe, that with every new corpse in Sunnyhell I was going to be ok because you were obviously focusing on them and ignoring me. Letting me go, letting me escape, letting me LIVE. Delusion-Girl, that was me."

My voice turns hard and I pace for awhile.

"But then I found those ashes on my doorstep, saw your car in the parking-lot, and remembered what I'd learnt. Remembered YOU. You're like a fucking paint-by-the-numbers. Two-hundred and fifty-two years and you've the imagination of a N'Sync music video. Killing off Sunnyhell and L.A. wasn't for the hell of it--though I don't doubt that you derived pleasure from it--and it wasn't because you wanted to hurt them--though I'm sure you did that too." I fix a steely glare in his direction. "It was because you wanted to pain ME.

"How To Torture Someone With Visions--I'm surprised you haven't patented the formula. After all, it worked so well with Drusilla." I raise a hand and tick off the options. "Kill all their family and friends, do some mental torture--Darla was right, you know, you DO have the mind game thing down pat. And it's also pretty much a given that some physical torture will come next, followed, of course, by my eventual Turning--capital T no less.

"So don't tell me that I don't know what you're planning. Because I do. I'm well aware of the rules, of the guidelines, and I KNOW how to play this game."

The anger on my face dissipates into a mocking smirk. "But you fucked u-p." I singsong, tossing my hair arrogantly. "You forgot one itty-bitty piece of information." I trail my hand against a wall as I walk and when I think enough time has passed for my taunt to echo in his mind, pause and grin. "I'm no longer Vision-Girl."

It's still pitch dark in the room, and there's absolutely NO conceivable way that I could have any idea as to where he is. But in three quick and determined steps I'm standing right in front of him, my hand delving into his pocket and my chest pressed against his. He stiffens, hands moving to grip my arms and now I imagine surprise on his features.

I'd like to say that he stutters his next question but that's an impossibility. There's a universal law or rule somewhere that states in clear and unequivocal terms that HE DOES NOT STUTTER. Instead I get a hard, bitten out word and I attach a set of narrowed eyes to it. "How?"

Of course, despite the lack of stuttering, I still rejoice in the fact that I've completely thrown him with this ability of mine, this power to find him, sense him, when all logic says that it's impossible. Impossibility may define him, but it doesn't define ME.

Despite his painful clasp on my arms, I free my hand from his pocket and hold up my trophy triumphantly, grinning into those features I know are only a handbreadth from my own. His wallet fits comfortably in my palm, just as it has always done, and for the briefest moment I wonder if there's still a picture of me in it. When I speak, my voice is full of innocence, my lips curled into a smirk that harks back to my high-school days.

"Angel always did know better than to keep cash on him when I was around."

She thinks her ability to sense money, to SMELL money, is funny. It's a talent, and one that she's always taken for granted, but now--just like in high-school, when she used it to weed out who was worthy of her time and who wasn't--its once again served her well. For awhile she'd thought that she'd lost the ability--lost her money, lost her high-school--but apparently the talent survived her poverty. Funny that.

Chest to chest, thigh to thigh. Silk to silk, leather to leather.

I may not like the mind, but his fashion sense--although 'dated'--is sexier than hell. And since that's probably where he's planning on taking me, it seems appropriate that my taste in men is still utterly tragic.

The smirk on my lips stays present even as his hand slides along my arm, eventually pausing at my wrist. Slowly, surely, he tightens his grip.

I can't help but wince as my hand starts to numb, the limb cooling as he cuts off my circulation. Still he keeps up the pressure, squeezing even harder. His wallet tumbles from my suddenly nerveless fingers and there's the soft thwack of leather hitting the ground. I wait for him to release my wrist but instead he grips just that little bit harder.

There's a popping noise and my first thought, inanely, is that I never knew that broken bones could sound like bubble-gum when they're snapped. Then the pain hits and those previously nerveless fingers are full of fire, the numbness replaced with electric shocks, the coolness now searing hot. I gasp in surprise at his action and then allow a strangled moan of pain to trickle out.

Fuck that HURTS.

She stares now at her wrist and wonders why, if it's smashed and shattered, it doesn't hurt. She remembers what happened to it, and how it hurt so bad when it happened, but now there's nothing. No pain, no agony, just her wrist in her lap. Isn't that funny?

With my wrist crushed, he finally lets up on the pressure, but he doesn't remove his hand. Instead, his fingers move to tangle with mine, the supposedly intimate clasp shadowed by the intense pain it causes. Whimpers escape, unbidden and unwanted but unavoidable. His other hand releases my arm and instead slips around my waist, pulling me even closer.

"You think this is a game?" he asks, head dipping towards the curve of my neck.

"I know... it is." My voice is pained, weak; words forced out between clenched teeth.

He chuckles softly, lips brushing across my shoulder blade and I jerk instinctively at the contact. "You're wrong," he whispers into my ear, "very, very wrong." I close my eyes. "This isn't a GAME..." Stepping forward, his thigh and hip guides me back a step, hands and chest forcing my torso to accompany the movement. "It's a DANCE."

I've heard some people say that when they're in excessive pain--like Spice Girls and FIVE concert type pain--that they can 'float away', distance themselves from it. Ascend to a point in space and simply view what's happening to them. X Files sort of stuff really. Unfortunately, I've never been able to do that. The one slightly paranormal thing that's experienced by millions of people on this earth and I'm immune. Me! The bearer of visions and room-mate to a ghost and former-Scoobie and I'm talentless. I'm sure a lot of people would consider that just-deserts or something.

But in my mind, and to quote a good friend: it's just not cricket.

He dances me around the room. Orchestrating me into a waltz, forcing me to follow his lead. It's graceful, DECEPTIVELY graceful, because I can feel every single instant of it. Every microsecond and nanosecond and it fucking RIPS.

My wrist is no longer the only area of pain on my body. It's the source of the agony, yes, but not the ultimate. Agonising shards splinter from my fingertips, down my arm and across my shoulder blade. My torso and back are on fire, a spreading inferno that--as he moves to dip me in a parody of romantic choreography--sears right down to the backs of my thighs.

I'm crying and moaning constantly--tears streaming down my cheeks and whimpers uttered without chaperone--and while I hate to give him this satisfaction, I can't stop myself. I'm a bitch, an actress, the 1998 May Queen of Sunnydale High and a former cheerleader and Seer and Scoobie. What I am NOT is Superwoman or a Slayer. A crushed wrist HURTS.

As always, I'm blind to his expression, but the smile in his voice is unmistakable.

"Cordy, Cordy, Cordy..." he tsk-tsks me. "Tears? Moaning? What ever happened to that backbone, that spitfire confidence? That 'I know EXACTLY what you're going to do'?" he pitches his voice high on the last part, as if to mimic me.

"I said... I knew..." I gasp out, teeth clenched. "I... never said... it wouldn't... HURT LIKE HELL!"

He laughs at my response, twirling us around that dark room as if it's the grandest of ballrooms.

"So I'm predictable, huh? Damn, now see THAT'S a shame, 'cause I've always prided myself on being original."

"The... only thing... you're original at... is your... COMPLETE... lack of innovation... Even Michael... Jackson... knows when it's... time to change... styles." I snap back, before gurgling out a strangled scream as he lets go of my waist and spins me out a few steps--using my poor wrist as the pivot--and then pulls me back again.

My feet tangle as I return to his embrace, body collapsing against his chest--which does nothing good for my wrist as my weight tugs on the limb--and the pain reaches excruciating levels. For a moment it's hard to keep conscious, and when I finally manage to regain my senses, I berate myself for not taking the chance at blessed oblivion.

He actually pauses and helps me steady myself, waiting until I'm once again upright and stable in his arms, before moving again. Gliding steps and slow turns to guide us around the room. I forget about trying to argue with him, fight with him, and instead let my head drop down onto his chest and weep bitterly.

She thinks it's funny that she cried back then, since she no longer cries now. She wonders if that burst of weeping was what prompted her resolve to never cry again and finds it funny that she can't answer with a firm yes or no. Finds it funny, which means it IS funny, and isn't that funny?

These five words in my head scream: are we having fun yet?

For a long time there's just the sound of my wretched crying, but as my sobbing gradually lessens back into silent tears and whimpered moans, I'm surprised to realise that he's being rather gentle with me. The forced dancing is still causing me a colossal amount of pain, yes, but his embrace is firm and his steps light; the clasp on my waist featherlight and the grip on my wrist almost supporting.

He feels the same as Angel--even smells the same--I acknowledge distantly, wishing that it IS Angel I'm dancing with. But it's not, because Angel is dead--in all senses of the word now--and even if he weren't, Angel doesn't dance. Not with me. Cardinal rule number twelve-thousand three-hundred and fifty-six out of the million or so rules that Angel and I have.

Angel and I were always so GOOD at making and--usually--keeping the rules that we lived by. I sniffle miserably at the sudden realisation that the rules are all useless now. And they're useless because--my breathing hitches in my chest and I'm sure that I can feel my heart actually BREAKING as comprehension dawns.

I've broken the first rule.

1. Always, always, ALWAYS keep each other safe and alive (or undead).

The hard-fast, ultimate, from-now-until-eternity rule has been broken. By me. The one rule--the NUMBER one rule--that had no excuses, no loopholes, no clauses. No time-outs or time-offs. A million or so rules to keep us going, but only one rule to allow us, and the other rules, an existence. We could--and sometimes DID--break those other rules, but never--NEVER EVER NEVER--could we break that first rule.

And now Angel is dead. Which means that I've broken the first rule and thereby made all the other rules useless. Some bestfriend I turned out to be...

"You're so quiet, my dear, dear Cordy... whatever is the matter?" his lightly mocking voice is loud in my ear and I shiver uncontrollably. "Where have all your barbed entendre's gone?"

If I'd lost all the strength to fight him before, then I'm in negative amounts right now. I can only muffle choking sobs into his chest, wishing for impossibilities--Angel alive, my friends alive, my wrist uncrushed--and wishing for it all to be over already. To my surprise, however, I DO speak, and that one little breathed out question capitulates the last of my 'I know EXACTLY what you're going to do' arrogance.


Yes, 'how'. Three letters, one syllable. 'How'. The 'whys' are no longer important, the 'whos' are already known, the 'wheres' discovered, the 'whens' started. But 'HOW'. THAT'S the question. I know everything else but I don't know 'how'. Namely:

"How are you here?"

Agony returns tenfold as his gentleness disappears. His back arches away from me, head cocked back, limbs tightening around my form as if to prevent me from escaping as he laughs and laughs and LAUGHS. I always took it as a compliment that I was able to make Angel smile so much; somehow I don't think it's a compliment that I can make this guy laugh so often.

"Oh Cordelia--my never-dulcet, always-insensitive, Cordelia--haven't you figured it out yet?"

And the thing is--I haven't. I've had a lot of time to think about this, I know, and I've certainly come up with more than my fair share of theories, but the problem is--that's all they are. Theories. I've got the facts:

Fact A--Angel and I fall asleep on my sofa. Fact C--Wesley wakes me up; I'm alone.

But where Fact B should be, I've only got theories. Like:

Theory I--Angel decided to leave and got drugged/killed. Theory II--Angel was kidnapped and got drugged/killed. Theory III--Angel decided to leave and decided to go get lucky/killed. Theory IV--Angel was kidnapped and forced to get lucky/killed. Theory V--Buffy.

So: how. How is he here? Which of my theories--or of some as-yet-unthought-of theory--is correct. How?

Her theories are funny now--and were probably funny then as well--because they're wrong. And isn't it funny how she didn't know that they were wrong, because the answer is so clear now when she thinks about it. She thinks about it, thinks about how funny it--all--is, and thinks 'funny that'. Which is funny really.

He's tsk-tsking me again and it takes me a moment to stop mulling over the question and focus on his answer. "--it was you."

I blink. And he must see the expression, because he laughs again.

"Yes my tactless-treasure, YOU."

My mouth gapes open, finally silent of moans, and I fish-mouth stupidly. "No." I reply finally. You're WRONG, screams my brain. It wasn't me. It was my FAULT, yes--because I broke the first rule and failed to keep him safe and undead--but it wasn't ME.

"You." he replies succinctly, obviously enthralled with this turn of the conversation--argument, verbal battle, whatever. "Oh this is DELIGHTFUL!" he crows then, spinning us around the room in a succession of swift, sweeping steps. "Yes Cordelicious, it was you. And the beauty of it all--you didn't even have to DO anything! You were just your usual pathetic little bundle of former-glory and lo-and-behold--presto! even--that was all it took."

"No," I repeat, shaking my head. He's lying, he has to be--it wasn't me. My fault, yes, but it was NOT ME.

"Yes, yes, YES!" he crows. "No Buffy, no sex, no drugs, just YOU. Ironic, isn't it? That perfect happiness could come from the inconsequential act of being in YOUR company. A wench who doesn't even put out--soap operas would--and I believe HAVE--killed for a plot-line like that!"

"No," I moan, not out of physical pain this time but from an agony far, far worse. The idea--the thought--that he MAY be right. I shake my head. He's not right, he's NOT. It wasn't ME!

"You, you, YOU!" he sings happily. "Sickening, really. I mean, sex with Buffy was bad enough--all skin and bones and no experience," he tsk-tsks and I feel ill from his words. "And that whole drug-of-Raven thing? A cheap thrill. But THIS! This was so much more disgusting!"

I'm back to whimpering as he forces us to spin and waltz and twirl faster and faster. His hand moves on my waist--rising to lewdly caress my breast and then dropping to run rampant over the top of my thigh. I think I'm going to be sick.

"Lying on an over-stuffed sofa, curled around your emancipated body, watching some simpering actress and over-paid actor prance about a screen--THAT was all it took." He's supporting me completely now, my body upright only because he deigns it to be. "You must feel so PROUD, Cordy dear, so very, very proud, to know that you gave him that moment of perfect happiness."

"No," I protest inconsolably. "NO!"

I try to fight against him now, struggling to get free, but he holds me just as tight as before; crushing me to him.

"Yes, my dear, yes. Perfect happiness from complete contentment, absolute acceptance. You knew what he was, what he could be, and yet you still loved him. Still trusted him. Still embraced him so closely and tenderly and allowed him the freedom to simply BE. GOD! How SICKENING!"

He spins me away and this time, lets go. I tumble to the ground, limbs useless and weak, and it's only as I hit the floor that I realise just how much he was SUPPORTING my wrist even as he gripped it painfully. The appendage flops agonisingly as I curl on the ground, dry retching from the bitterness of it all.

"It wasn't me," I moan weakly. "It wasn't."

"Cordy, Cordy, Cordy--it WAS."

Rule two, second only to the irrevocable rule one.

2. Never, ever, EVER allow for Angel to experience perfect happiness.

A rule not to hurt Angel, but to prevent Angel from ever hurting another. A golden rule. And I've broken it. Smashed it, destroyed it, revoked it, crushed it, damaged it, betrayed it, fractured and killed and shattered it.

I scream loudly at the realisation; a form of insanity embracing me as I finally understand the breadth of my fault, the width of my crime. A hitching wail of a scream that grates my nerves and eardrums like shards of glass in an open wound.

She wonders if... if... if...

She thinks that... that... that...

Funny--she can't remember what she was going to wonder, think...

Isn't that funny?

A rule is like a promise, I remember inanely, for a second, and I never was any good at keeping my promises. The sudden urge to laugh overpowers my screaming and I fall quiet then, silent mirth racking my form. Maybe I should start trying to KEEP them, I think wildly. Maybe my life would be BETTER if I actually kept a few promises instead of carelessly breaking them and throwing them away.

My tears now smiles, my sobbing now laughter, my retching now confidence, I push myself to my knees. This is it, I think firmly--madly, stupidly, insanely--no more breaking--down or rules or otherwise.

"Well," I force out, staggering--just a little--from my knees to my feet. "KUDOs to me then."

I don't worry about a mirror this time--I wouldn't be able to hold it up anyway--but I pull out my mascara wand and wield it just as artistically without. Fingertips wipe away any traces of smeared makeup, cleaning my skin back to alabaster.

"But," I continue as I recap the mascara and replace it in my pocket. "That just proves my point now doesn't it? The one about originality, that is. And WHAT an example! Lil' ol' Cordy Chase, out-originating YOU." I smirk. "How IS that groove you're stuck in, anyway?"

He sighs dramatically. "Well if it isn't Her Royal Bitchiness, back on the throne of 'I know EXACTLY what you're planning'."

She finds it funny that the catch phrase of their battle is not an insult, or a cleverly designed quip, but rather the simple statement of: 'I know EXACTLY what you're planning'.

Isn't that funny?

I'm not exactly positive--read: totally unsure--that this--supposed--returned strength of mine is going to last, but by god, I'm going to make the most of it. No more rule breaking, I've promised myself. And I'm gonna keep that promise, I swear I will. But to do so--I'm gonna have to keep a few other promises first.

There's a chance, I think distantly, that he's actually succeeded, that I've finally gone insane, and I struggle to dismiss the idea. He can't of won--I'm not Vision-Girl anymore. No visions, no insanity. That's the rule after all, and there's gonna be no more breaking of rules.

"So what now?" I question him, raising an eyebrow as I carefully--painfully--curl my arm around my middle and cradle my tortured wrist. "More playing--DANCING," I emphasise, remembering his term, "--or are we finally just gonna get on with it?"

I tip my head to the side, baring my neck provocatively.

"Now, now Cordelia," he drawls softly. "Don't you know that all good things come to those who wait..."

I pfft disparagingly. "Cliches? Puh-LEASE!" I raise my good hand, drawing my fingernails down the length of my exposed neck, taunting him. "Come on--you know you want to."

A low growl permeates the room.

"What are you waiting for?" I exclaim in exasperation when he doesn't move.

"True artistry takes time, a perfect waltz must be choreographed not--"

"Save it Fang-Face," I cut him off. "Your metaphors--and the ideas behind them--are useless now, or have you forgotten that? Forgotten that you've killed them all off. You've left no one alive to 'appreciate'," the word is spat from my lips, "the fruits of this labour so there's no POINT in dragging this out, no conceivable reason to NOT get on with IT."

"I'LL appreciate it," he smirks happily. "And so will your precious Angel."

"Angel's DEAD!" I screech back, my voice harsh.

Now exasperation paints HIS words. "Oh for crying out loud, Cordelia--ignorance is the greatest form of stupidity and you really shouldn't diminish your already LOW levels of intelligence that way. Angel and I are one in the same--always have been--and despite your past history of believing us otherwise, it's time you faced facts."

"No." I repeat firmly, struggling to keep the shrillness out of my voice. "Angel's dead. You left his ashes outside my door..."

"Those were SPIKE'S ashes you fool!" he shoots back.

"So!" I state wildly. "That just proves it! Proves that it was one more of your fucking symbolising-metaphorical-cliche ridden acts of 'artistry'," the word tastes sour in my mouth. "Spike had become an embodiment of Angel in many ways--right down to that love-the-slayer routine. Killing him was just another way of killing Angel."

My breathing harsh, my wrist knocks against my side and the throbbing pain is excruciating. I suck in some deep, shuddering breaths in an attempt to calm myself somewhat.

"Angel lives," he states coldly, concretely, "and it's time you dropped this fantasy..."

She thinks it's funny that he used those words there. Lives and fantasy. Thinks it funny because Angel never lived... he unlived... and like she would ever pick THIS as a fantasy. As if! She so has better--funnier--fantasies then this.

I close my eyes briefly, taking a large breath, and when I open them again, my middle name has become 'resolve'. "Angel is dead, you wanna-be-BIG-baddie, and I KNOW that because like I told you earlier--I'm no longer Vision-Girl." I tap my forehead lightly. "My visions were always for Angel, and I always knew that while he was alive--undead, whatever--that the visions would keep coming." I eradicate the space between us and stare up through the blackness of the room to look into his eyes--or at least, where I imagine them to be. "When you arrived, and Angel died, those visions stopped." I lick my lips. "Angel is dead."

I can barely hear it, but I'm sure it's there. The uncertainty, the doubt. His voice--in my mind--is smothered in it. "I don't believe you."

"Believe me," I whisper softly. A smile graces my lips. "So you see? You've already lost. Already fucked it all up. You killed them all off so quickly in an attempt to best me, denying yourself the chance to 'dance' with them... all for a Mona Lisa that doesn't even exist anymore."

I take a step back and retrieve my lip-liner pencil and gloss, smearing the shade across my lips. Silently, he follows me and his hands grip my forearms tightly. I smile softly, mockingly, and let my good arm slip up and around his back--embracing him even as he tries to intimidate me.

"I'll never be the same again, you've succeeded in that," I allow him. "But there'll be no insanity-with-visions, no Dru-lookaliking. It was a Catch-22 and if you really believe--which I don't--that the two of you were the same person--vampire, whatever--then you should have remembered what I told Angel a long time ago. My visions, my messages--they were always for HIM. Angel."

I pause and stretch, reaching up until my lips can gently grace his forehead with a kiss, my hand on his back smoothing over the silk of his shirt.

"They were never for you," I remind him with saccharine sweetness, "Angelus."

There's a brief rush of air, a gentle rain of falling dust, and I blink several times to clear my sight. A useless action still, what with all the darkness, but instinctive. I let out a sigh that I hadn't realised I'd been holding and bring my arm--the one that had been curled around his body--up to my lips, using the pencil to touch up my makeup briefly before slipping the lip-liner back into my pocket.

She finds it funny that she's alive. After all, she gave him so many opportunities to kill her--'Why don't you just kill me.'--and so many openings to Turn her--'Come on--you know you want to.'--and to finish what he'd promised--'Soon.'--and he hadn't. His determination to dance the dance, to play the game, had cost him his chance and isn't that funny?

Wesley was right--'You bested him last time. No one, in all of history I believe, has done that before.'--she really IS the only one who's ever beaten him and isn't that funny? That lil' ol' her--Cordy Chase, Queen C, 1998 May Queen of Sunnydale High, former Cheerleader and Scoobie and ex-Vision-Girl--beat, bested and defeated Angelus--the Scourge of Europe.

It's just ALL so FUNNY.

I sink slowly to the floor, cross-legged near a powdered covering of ash, and words from a long ago memory float back to me:

'If the day ever comes that I...' 'Oh, I'll kill you dead!' 'Thanks.' 'What are friends for?'

I smile as I whisper:

"Finally--promise kept."

She's getting good at keeping promises, better than she ever thought she would. She's broken so many, after all--rule one and rule two and so many more besides--but now she's doing ok, she's doing good, she's doing funny and she's getting good at keeping promises, better than she ever thought she would. Isn't that funny?

She wishes there was someone left to share this knowledge with, this wonderful premise of her keeping her promises. She runs their names--their videotapes--through her mind--her head-VCR--and double checks to see if anyone's left.


All gone. Not-funny.


All gon--she pauses in mid-thought, a new one occurring.

For the first time, a smile erupts on her lips, brilliant and bright and it's ok--the action--because the corresponding emotion is ok too. Happiness. She's happy--because she's not alone. How funny!

A small sigh, barely more than an escaping puff of breath, leaves my lips and I feel the arms encircling me tighten briefly. A smile slips forward and I shift on the couch, burrowing further into the embrace. This is nice. Better than nice even. A redefinition of the word 'nice'.

Angel. He'll be coming for her soon, she realises slowly, ecstatically, coming to rescue her. It's so funny she almost laughs at the idea--because he won't yet know that she doesn't need to be RESCUED--since she's already killed Angelus--but still he'll be coming. They've made promises, she reminds herself, promises about and for and with each other. Promises to always be there for each other, to always stay together and be together and there's no way Angel would break a promise to her.

He's always been so good--better than her even--at keeping his promises.

She can hardly wait! But she knows she has too. She's already waited this long, she reminds herself, so a little bit longer won't hurt. Which is almost funny, since so many things have hurt her recently, but this won't. She knows it won't. Because Angel would NEVER hurt her.

She just has to wait for him, which is funny, because she was already waiting for something--for it all to end--and now she's waiting for something so much better. Funny that.

A hand twitches lightly as it lassoes my form, the limb stroking over the exposed flesh of my own arm briefly. I sigh contently. A moment later, soft lips momentarily draw over the arch of my neck and a pleasure-filled hum rumbles in my throat. I can feel their smile on my skin and I match the expression with one of my own.

There's a worrying thought though, a horrible idea, that maybe--just MAYBE--she's not getting as good at keeping promises as she thought she was. Because maybe--just MAYBE--she hasn't kept the promise--rule--of no visions, no insanity. That would be not-funny--in oh so many ways--and she struggles--just a little--to banish the terrible thought.

It dissipates rapidly when she reminds herself that Angel will be here soon, she just has to wait a little longer, and there's no way Angel would come if there was something not-funny about her--which there isn't since Angel IS coming. It's funny to even CONSIDER this not-funny idea because she no longer has visions so there CAN'T be any insanity--that was the rule after all--and anyway, if that rule WAS somehow broken then that would mean that Angelus had won and hasn't she already told herself, promised herself, that she's beaten him? She has, she knows she has, because Angel is coming and everything is funny.

She just has to wait.

The arms holding me tighten once more, the gesture reciprocated as I deliberately slip a little further into their grip.

Love you...

She sits, and waits.

Angel's coming, she knows he is. He has to come--they're all they have left now, thanks to Angelus. But Angelus is dead now, and she's kept her promise, so of course he'll be coming. Angel would NEVER leave her alone, not when this is all finally ending.

She thinks about how this will all end, and she finds it funny.

The End