posted on 26-Aug-2002 8:49:49 AM by Catheryne
Part 1

Who would ever think that she would find the most amazing guy by just doing her ordinary job—saving the world, fighting off demons? If only she knew earlier, she would have exerted all her witchy efforts to quickly earn points and get rewarded by one good man.

Michael must have noticed her looking, because he turned his head to peek at her from under the brown hair falling at his temples. Man, was he hot! Paige thought. He brooded, and that was sexy in a guy. Of course he had secrets. So many dark secrets in his eyes. But that only made her want him more. It struck some deep-seated chord inside her that she might someday be able to soothe that awful thing bothering him.

Paige smiled at her boyfriend and sauntered over to where he tended bar. He grinned, leaned over the counter and kissed her swiftly.

“You changed your perfume,” he commented.

“Like it?”

He smiled. “It’s nice. But you know I really like you in the one I bought.”

She chuckled. Him and his cooky taste in essential oils and that new age stuff. He wasn’t using them himself, but he had this weird hang-up. He just had to smell her wearing them! Now was that fair? Ah well, Paige thought. Everyone had something unique. This was just his. If it helped him get over… No. She shouldn’t think about that. That was a year ago and it had not bearing in the relationship that they were building.

“I’ll wear it on our next date,” she promised.

Michael seemed satisfied with that. He motioned to the other bartender and headed for the backroom. She followed him a few minutes later. Without knocking she pushed the door open. He was looking in his locker for some tiny jar. She could tell by the way he read the labels and sniffed, then placed them back inside. She thought she saw something clipped at the door of his locker. She stepped closer and saw a rather worn picture of a laughing girl, wrapped in so many layers of clothing. Apparently, judging from the background, it was taken on a snowy Christmas day. The humor in her eyes vanished.

Suddenly, Michael straightened. He strained to hear the music in the club. He grabbed her hand and propelled her towards the dance floor. Paige smiled happily. Michael wasn’t one for expressiveness. So this was something cool.

“I requested this song,” he explained to her.

With a sinking feeling in her heart, she laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around his waist. The singer that Piper hired crooned on the stage, that old, old love song that Paige learned to enjoy, wonder about and despise at the same time.

“The poets say that all who love are blind, but I’m in love and I know what time it is…”

~*~*~*~

In one of the tall buildings in San Francisco, a stately beauty slammed into the office of her co-vice president. She strode to his table and dropped the financial statements in front of him.

“What do you think this is—your personal savings account?” she demanded. “What in hell do you need all these private eye fees for, Lindsey?

“I need to find someone, Lilah,” he growled. “You know that.”

She did know that. In fact, she’d been witness to the panic, the sheer drive, the underlying energy in the search for so many months. What she didn’t know was why. But the why really didn’t matter that much to her. He wanted to find this girl, and that’s that. “For heaven’s sake, Lindsey, she’s been gone a year. She’s probably dead.”

While he had been calm the entire time she was freaking out in front of time, he had his limits. By the time the last syllable fell from her lips, he’d shot out of his chair and grabbed her by the collar. “Nobody dies until I let them,” he gritted out. “And she isn’t dead until I see a body. So don’t say stupid things, Lilah. The girl’s alive. And I needed her found yesterday!”

~*~*~*~

“Ugh!” The blonde girl made gagging noises while the dark guy in front of her guzzled the thick red liquid from his glass. “That is just gross,” she complained.

Angel put down the glass and raised an eyebrow. “How can you tell if you won’t even try it?”

Her bee-stung lips were screwed in disgust. “At least let me fix it up for taste,” she offered.

He shook his head slowly. “No. Your idea of fixing the taste is to dump chili sauce in my precious fresh blood supply. Let me tell you, Type O and Tabasco—don’t mix.”

“Finicky.”

“Sane,” he corrected.

“Ungrateful,” she tested.

Finally, the vampire chuckled a bit. “Comes from being undead.”

Cordelia lowered her compact to watch the two interact. Her eyes narrowed. Angel wasn’t being Angel with this Maria around. Her eyes rolled towards the other end of the room. Wesley kept his gaze on his computer screen, but there was a smile on his lips. Gunn was unabashedly watching the two, amazement clear in his face.

Finally Maria pushed herself up and grabbed her purse. “As much fun as it was sitting in the dark with you, Angel, I have a job to go to.” He had found her work singing over at Lorne’s place. At first The Host wouldn’t agree to pay Maria when customers were all eager to sing for free. But Angel got her an audition, and the moment Lorne saw the brilliant clarity of her aura, it was all they could do to get the green guy to shorten working hours. According to the demon, he had never seen a more relaxing aura in his existence.

“Yeah. Gunn’s going with you.”

Maria snorted. “I don’t have money to pay for a bodyguard.” She whirled and left hurriedly.

Gunn looked to Angel for his next move. The vampire just jerked his head in Maria’s direction, and Gunn ran after her.

Part 2

A Year Ago

“We’re almost out of cash,” Max announced to his friends. They had been running for a while now. For the first few weeks they had lived on the money that he, Michael and Isabel pooled together. It wasn’t much. Isabel contributed the bulk of it with the cash in her purse.

Oddly enough, the next months they lived on Maria’s money. She would leave for a while and say that she would get a job and when she returned, she had enough money to last all of them for some time. They all wondered how Maria did it. Afterwards she’d seem so happy though, and satisfied. Michael would have thought the worst were it not for the fact that she came back less than half an hour after. Oh yeah, and the fact that he trusted her.

“I can get some,” Maria offered. Kyle grinned at her, and Maria rolled her eyes heavenward. She had been leaning back against Michael on the bed. But for the chance to be useful, she sat up.

Max looked at Michael uncertainly. Beggars can’t be choosers. But he was really curious about what Maria actually did to get that much money every time. He agreed and Maria skipped out the motel room happily. “I’ll be right back.”

“We know.” When the door shut behind her, Max turned to his best friend. “Follow her, Michael.”

“Finally,” Michael muttered. Every time she left he wanted to go with her. Max kept telling him not to. They had to respect Maria’s choice to be alone.

He spotted Maria by the reception desk, speaking on the phone. Silently he edged his way closer, careful not to alert her to his presence.

“Yeah, we’re here. Right where I told you. Yeah.” Maria looked around, and Michael flattened himself against the pillar so she wouldn’t notice. “Really?! That’s so great. Thank you thank you thank you! Okay. Bye.”

Maria exchanged a few words with the frowning receptionist. But after she told him her name, the receptionist smiled politely and handed over a thick white envelope. Hastily, Maria broke open the seal and peeked inside. And then she drew out the folded fax paper and read, walking to the stairs.

All of a sudden the letter was taken out of her hands, and she was looking into the dark, furious eyes of her boyfriend.

~~

Piper laid down the food on the table. She slapped Paige’s hand away as she reached to take a piece. “We’re waiting for Leo,” Piper informed her youngest sister.

“Orb now, orb now,” Paige muttered.

The blue lights materialized as she prayed. Leo appeared worried, which meant there was something supernatural was building. Paige sighed in resigned dismay. Well she wasn’t fighting off demons and warlocks with an empty stomach! While Piper approached her husband to ask what’s wrong, she reached for a slice of quiche.

“We need to save a young woman. She’s going to be attacked by sucking demon outside a building in LA,” he told them.

“Beat you to it!” Phoebe announced, with a directory in hand. She was still in her bathrobe with a towel wrapped around her head. “Had a premonition while in the shower. The girl’s blonde and the sucking demon attacks her outside the building of Wolfram and Hart, a law firm.” She dropped the directory on the table and started rifling through the pages.

Muffled with food, Paige asked, “Are you even sure this is supernatural?”

“What do you mean?” Piper inquired.

“Can’t this just be some tryst? I mean, sucking demon. That could really translate to a passionate date with an overeager lawyer given the location,” she explained.

“Good point.”

Before Leo could reply, Phoebe shook her head. “No, no. Definitely a demon. I saw it. Attack, screams. And don’t diss attorneys. Cole was one.” And then she paused. “Point taken.”

~~

“I can’t believe this!” Max exploded. “We trusted you, Maria. And all along you’ve been telling someone where we are, where we’re going to be.”

Maria bit her lip. Confronting Max was the only requirement Michael gave her before he’d give her back her letter. “It was the only way he would know where to send the next money.”

“But if we knew that you were laying some sort of breadcrumb trail to us we wouldn’t have allowed you to do that.”

Michael, who had been standing behind Maria the whole time, thought that it was a little hypocritical of Max to be yelling at his girlfriend like this. Sure, he was pissed at first. She was putting herself in danger just so she could support them. And he wanted her to tell Max just so she’d finally come clean. Secrets were a no-no when you had to depend on each other for survival.

“Look, she didn’t think it over. That’s that. She won’t do it again, okay,” Michael snapped at Max. “Come on, Maria.” He took her towards their own room. She was still a bit shell-shocked at how Max reacted, so she let Michael lead the way.

He sat her on the bed and gave her back the letter. “Sorry. I didn’t know Max would act like such an ass. I thought he was going to tell you how stupid it was and let it go.”

Maria took her letter and looked at him directly in the eye. “It wasn’t stupid, Michael. It was working. We were okay and he wouldn’t have said anything to anyone, least of all the FBI!”

“It wasn’t the smartest thing to do. We’re running and hiding. And you tell your uncle to wire the money to our next stop. It’s like plotting our collective demise.”

She huffed. “I didn’t tell him to send the money. He offered!”

“Maria—“

“Fine.”

“Look. I spotted you standing there in the reception desk, your back to the door. The receptionist obviously knows there was money in the envelope. You could have been attacked. You were reading your letter with a manila envelope of cash in the corridor!”

“It wasn’t smart.” She had to give him that.

“You’re not putting yourself in more danger than you already have—for us.”

Maria laid down on the bed with her letter. Taking off his shirt and pants, Michael climbed in beside her. She turned her back to him and let him embrace her spoon-fashion. “So read it to me,” he requested.

“What?”

“Tell me about him. And if you want to share, I’m here.”

He was nibbling on her shoulder. Maria smiled and started talking. “Well he’s my half-uncle. My mom’s half-brother. And we used to sing together a lot. Sometimes he’d play the guitar while I’m singing. He was my accompanist when I competed at this contest one summer I was vacationing in LA. We won.”

“Musical family,” he commented needlessly, just to show that he was still listening.

“He’s really rich, you know. He’s vice president at this law firm called Wolfram & Hart. So he doesn’t really mind sending me money. He loves me. All high school when we hardly saw each other we wrote and called. And he always told me I was the only pure thing in his life—that I can’t him from destroying himself.”

“You make him good.”

“Maybe. Yeah.”

“Well we’ve got that in common.”

“Michael—“

“Yes.”

“Do you think I can go see him? We’re so close to LA now.”

Max was going to absolutely hate this. But this was a guy who had been unknowingly supporting aliens. He deserved to see his niece. Still, Max was going to kill him for this. “Want me to go with you?”

“Well, he kinda doesn’t know I have a boyfriend. And I don’t want him to blow up on you. He doesn’t approve of the way we’re on the run and all. He thinks it’s no way for me to live.” Michael tightened his embrace on Maria. He himself didn’t like to think of Maria stuck in a life like this. She deserved something more. “So let me work on him first before you come into the picture, okay?”

~~

“What are you still doing in the building, Arco?” Lilah Morgan demanded of the towering demon. “Lindsey fired you, didn’t he?”

“He hired me to get the vampire with a soul. But we didn’t agree that I had only a month to do it. He didn’t even pay me the rest of the amount we agreed on!”

“Well you didn’t do the job.”

“I’ll kill him!”

Lilah smirked. “Third door to the right.”

Arco crept to the office to find the door open. He was about to storm in when he heard the bastard talking softly on the phone, in a tone he’d never heard him use before.

“You’re really visiting me then. That’s great! We’ll catch up. I know, Maria. Be careful all right? You know you’re the most precious jewel my worthless family ever spawned. Well you and Amy. When will you arrive? That soon? I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow night then. All right. Love you.”

Arco stepped in the moment Lindsey put down the phone. “Mr. Mac Donald.”

The lawyer glanced up and glowered at him. “What are you still doing here?”

“I just wanted to say before I left that it was memorable working with you. Bye.” Arco strode towards the elevator grimly. Tomorrow night wasn’t too long of a wait.

tbc

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-Aug-2002 1:17:45 AM ]
posted on 26-Aug-2002 12:20:56 PM by Catheryne
Part 3

“So do you see anything?” Piper inquired of her sister, who had had binoculars trained on the Wolfram and Hart building for two hours now.

“Nope,” Phoebe told them. She sat down on the passenger side of the jeep and handed the spying instrument to their youngest. “You go. I’m starting to get a crick on my neck.”

Paige squinted to help her see. From the driver seat Piper told her, “Don’t do that. You’ll get wrinkles.”

“Well there are so many blondes,” Paige complained. “This city is like total blonde power.”

“Well I’m betting P3 only twenty percent of those are natural blondes.”

“That’s not helping, Piper,” Paige said in a high pitched voice. “So who do I have to look for exactly?”

“She’s got blonde hair, straight, past her shoulders. Medium built. And in my vision she’s wearing a mud colored coat,” Phoebe supplied. “Sorry it’s not too specific. It was a really quick premonition.”

“Ummm…” Paige widely moved the binoculars to follow someone. “Would it be specific enough if I tell you that there’s one girl near the entrance to the parking area being chased by a seven foot demon?”

Piper and Phoebe both elbowed their doors open. “Come on!”

~~

Michael didn’t feel right letting Maria go alone. Sure, she asked to meet her uncle by herself. But he still should have commuted the way here with her. He didn’t have to meet Lindsey Mac Donald. All he had to do was sit in some waiting area until Maria decided it was time to leave.

So a few minutes after she left, Michael decided to follow her. She was such a brisk walker, even if she was little. By the time he caught up with her, they were already just a few yards away from Wolfram and Hart.

“Hey Maria!” he called to her.

She turned around. Her lips parted in surprise at the sight of him. They pulled into a pleased smile. “Didn’t know you’d bother to come such a long way, Spaceboy!” she said loud enough for her to hear.

“You didn’t think I’d let you go off without protection, did you?” He strode towards her.

She had been smiling, standing there just waiting for him so they could walk inside the building together. All of a sudden, her eyes widened in terror and Michael’s head whipped to take in the towering beast of a humanoid figure charging towards his girlfriend.

“No!” he yelled. His legs pumped on the cemented pavement as he struggled to beat the creature to Maria. “Run!” he screamed at her. Michael collided with the large attacker and fought with him, rolling on the sidewalk.

Maria frantically looked around for help. Where just a while ago there were still several people milling about, now the street was deserted except for a long jeep way off. Three slight brunettes were running towards them. “Help us!” she shouted.

Her scream caught the attention of the demon, and he seemed to recall that it was she he was after. He pushed Michael away and crept towards Maria. “Maria, run!” Michael commanded her again.

“No, I’m not leaving you!”

“Run, dammit! I know what I’m doing.”

“NO!”

“RUN!” Barely three feet away, Maria ducked when the demon grabbed her. “RUN!” Michael kept yelling. Frantic to get away from her attacker, she dashed away and into the street. “Maria, NO!” was the last she heard from him.

~~

“Look, Angel, it was not your fault we lost that girl yesterday. Cordelia’s vision was off. We could not have made it on time to save her,” Wesley advised Angel wearily. He fastened his seatbelt firmly and held onto the dashboard for his life.

Violently, Angel slammed his fist on the steering wheel and they veered widely to the left. “You don’t understand, Wes. I can’t lose them. That’s why I’m here—to help them.”

“Well you won’t be helping anyone if we die in a car accident!” Wesley watched the meter go past 80 miles on a city road. Granted it was night and no one was about anymore, but they had to be careful in case.

“I’ll still be able to help. I’m already dead remember?”

“That comforts me, Angel,” Wesley murmured. “Really does.”

Angel clenched his fingers on the steering wheel, glowering. They should have known. The little girl in Cordelia’s vision was about to be drowned by a cult leader, and he went against his instincts that she would be at Kennon Road. By the time they arrived at the real scene, the seven-year-old was already facedown on the water.

He had been so absorbed in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the flash of golden hair until it was too late. “Angel, look out!”

He slammed on the brakes a nanosecond after the sickly sound of a pliant body hit the windshield. Angel cursed and he and his companion hurried towards the unmoving body on the road. They were at the intersection of one of the streets going to Wolfram and Hart. Wesley thought they saw some scuffle over there, but they had no time to check it out.

Half the girl’s face was covered in blood and Angel could see the large wound at the back of her head. She was barely breathing. They had to take her to the hospital at once. He picked up the girl who was surprisingly light in his arms and set her on the backseat of the car. “Wesley, you drive.”

~~

2003

He had thought she would be safe. She’d run a safe distance already when the convertible appeared out of nowhere. Then everything occurred in front of his eyes in slow motion. She looked terrified. Now that he thought about it he thought at that last second she looked for him. Michael wished so hard he had been standing up so that she could have seen him at least. But whatever the creature was had held him down. All her could do was scream two useless words, “Maria, NO!” Like she had a choice. She didn’t have a choice.

Up until today he still wondered how the three sisters saved him from the freak that attacked Maria. And until today he wondered how whoever had her buried her, where, and how he would get there. They were questions the sisters couldn’t give him answers for. They saved him that was all.

And through the months that he was catatonic, when he was probably replaying the scene of his girlfriend’s murder (because that was what it f-ucking was) as theorized by the shrink, he was assigned to the social worker who helped save his life (when she shouldn’t have—a feeling that stemmed from his deep disturbance about the misfortune that befell this Maria, again by the pansy-ass shrink). Paige Matthews saw to it that he went back to the land of reality even if he wanted to be dead. Paige Matthews searched for a family of Michael Guerin, came up with no one, and helped him get a job instead. Who knew his experience with Hank would come in handy and he’d be a bartender in one of San Francisco’s hottest clubs? Not that he was great at mixing drinks. Hank just liked straight liquor, beer to be cheap. But Michael learned to handle alcohol and alcoholics—a natural, Piper called him.

He could have easily looked for Max. Would have taken time but he’d do it. Problem was, he didn’t want to go back there. He’d lost Maria. He didn’t want to immerse himself in that world again. Besides, they would take him away from California. And he could never agree to that. Maria was here. Wherever it was in California the state buried her, he’d stay. He would find out sooner or later. He was getting chummy with this big policeman the Halliwells were friends with. Maybe he’d help him look for unidentified female girls who got killed last year. Maria deserved one flower at least, maybe a marker with a name.

“Michael.”

“Yeah?” He looked up from the book he was reading. He noticed that Phoebe looked a bit fidgety and Paige appeared paler than usual.

Piper sat down and explained the situation to him. “Something came up and the family needs to leave for a while. We need to figure out a… feeling that Phoebe had this morning. You know she’s got strong instincts right?” Michael nodded, knowing they were not telling him something but understanding too well what that was like. “We need you to stay here in the Manor for us. I’m expecting a really important call for the club. I need you to take it.”

“Hey no problem,” he told them.

The three left and Michael remembered that he should have kissed Paige bye or something. He shrugged.

~~

“Maria, that was one hell of a story!” Gunn laughed uproariously, clutching his middle. “I don’t believe a word of it. Did that really happen?”

Maria wiped tears of mirth from her cheeks. “You know I wouldn’t know, Gunn. But I need to invent some stuff to fill up the huge blank wall I call my past.”

Her newly assigned bodyguard sighed. Give it to the girl to make a joke about her situation. He couldn’t believe this was the same girl Angel hit a year ago, with no identification except for a necklace with her name on it. He knew a lot of girls who wouldn’t just forgive Angel for robbing her of all her memories just like that. Cordelia for instance. But this girl woke up from surgery and closed her hand over Angel’s. When he apologized and admitted the accident was his fault, she had told him, according to Wesley, “It’s called an accident because no one meant for it to happen.”

Wesley told him that it was one of those moments with Angel. One of those few minutes when he wouldn’t say anything, but there’s rapid eye movement. You know he was thinking but he just can’t process his thoughts enough to make a coherent sentence.

And then Angel had become so protective of her. He installed her in a place close to his. One night she walked in while he was… fortifying himself. She screamed her head off and ran to her room. When they coaxed her out, she was surprisingly accepting. That made Cordelia suspect that the girl knew worse secrets than the existence of vampires. She wondered what would be even weirder than vampires and demons though. Certainly nothing would compare. Gunn knew Cordelia just left it at the supposition that since she lost her memory, Maria probably didn’t remember that vampires suck humans’ blood. Awful thing to forget if you asked him.

“I really think you should stop being my chaperone all the time.”

Gunn sputtered on his drink. “Chaperone? Little lady, I am not a chaperone. I’m a bodyguard, a genuine security officer, an investigator extraordinaire!”

“Right. Bodyguards are expensive. I don’t need one. You’re more useful as part of Angel Investigations. And I can’t afford you.”

Gunn shook his head. “With his paranoia, you can wheedle Angel into paying you for keeping me around.”

“I wish he’d be here to listen to me tonight though. Tonight’s kind of important.”

“Is it?” Gunn tried to hide his grin. “You’re up!”

tbc
posted on 27-Aug-2002 1:13:00 AM by Catheryne
Part 4

Paige took in the patrons of the club in slack-jawed amazement. It was the first time she actually saw demons and whatever creatures milling about and who were not interested in killing her or her sisters. Some tables held men who looked more like rhinos and elephants. Standing off in one corner were teenage girls wearing gothic blacks and muted silver. “Those kids give witches a bad name.”

“Oh them? They aren’t witches. Those are humans who just like to exude the aura,” a waitress informed them, before promptly heading off to serve drinks elsewhere.

“Wow,” the youngest nonetheless commented in awe. “How did Leo manage to get us in here. This looks pretty exclusive. We didn’t tell them we’re the Power of Three, did we?”

Piper snorted. “And have these… customers… growl and pounce on us? No way! Let’s just say my husband has connections.”

“Over both the living and the dead,” Phoebe offered. To the looks of puzzlement in her sisters’ faces, she told them, “James Joyce.” Still those doubtful looks. “An author. You know that story with the party and the doctor?” She sighed in exasperation. “Fine, fine. Michael was reading it and I caught the last line, okay!”

Paige grinned. “I was just wondering.” She chuckled. “I mean I would never actually accuse you of being literate.”

“Hey!” Phoebe protested.

A cloud seemed to descend on Paige as she inquired, “So where is he? The Host—I don’t see any green guy anywhere.”

“Are you okay, sweetie?”

“I’m fine, Piper. It’s just… the reason that we’re here… bothers me.”

“Look, we don’t really know if my premonition is correct. And I mean so what if I saw that Maria girl being attacked? It could have been a premonition of the past. We’re just here to make sure. Whether or not this affects us—“

“It’s still an innocent. I know, Pheebs. I know.”

“It was in that exact same location. Wolfram & Hart. It could easily have been premonitions of the night she died,” Phoebe comforted her sister.

“I hope so. I’m just so insecure I guess. Michael hasn’t really been into the idea of us, right from the start. And this new threat—“

“Is not a threat at all,” Piper interjected. “If it really is the past, then all we’re here to find out is more information. Think about it, Paige. When you get home to San Francisco you can tell Michael everything he’s been wanting to find out. Silver lining? If we do learn the details, Michael can close that chapter in his life.”

Phoebe nodded. “He’s holding on to her because he never got that closure.”

Paige’s eyebrows furrowed. “So I bring him to the grave and live happily ever after?” She buried her face in her palms. “Oh my God I’m a horrible horrible person!”

The music started up, and Piper looked up at the familiar melody. Paige groaned. There it was again. She could swear that that song was haunting her.

She and Phoebe looked up at the stage at the same time and gasped. “No,” she whispered.

Piper cocked her head at them. “What’s the matter?”

Liquid eyes turned to the sister who apart from being his boss, had least been involved with Michael Guerin. Paige couldn’t speak, so Phoebe had to articulate the horror for both of them. “She is alive.”

~~

Her eyes were closed as the music floated from her fingertips, into the guitar and out to the captive audience. From her lips flowed the words that she knew by heart, although she could never remember why or how. That particular song was just there, and it might as well be etched in her brain for all the times she had unconsciously picked the piece to begin her set.

“The poets say that all who love are blind; But I'm in love and I know what time it is. The good book says, "Go seek and ye shall find." Well I have sought and, my, what a climb it is.”

Even though she couldn’t recall a face, she vaguely remembered a firm form under her hands. And she was pretty sure that once she had run them over a body that was as hard and unyielding as Angel’s. Younger. But then when you put a vampire in comparison, everyone would be younger. She had embraced Angel many times, often Wesley and once the aloof Gunn. But in her mind she vaguely recalled an embrace that held more heat.

And she knew that for the right to hold him, she did have to climb a very steep incline. How sick was it that she remembered that guy’s hands roaming all over her body, and even in sleep she could almost recall the desperate way he breathed out her name over and over when he moved over, around, and inside her?

“My life is just like the weather, it changes with the hour. When he's near I'm fair and warmer, When he's gone I'm cloudy with showers. In emotion, like the ocean, it's either sink or swim, When a woman loves a man like I love him.”

God! Maria squeezed her eyelids so tight that moisture seeped out. This was what she hated. Knowing that she had been through this amazing, breath-taking, once in a lifetime kind of love but not really experiencing the joy of remembering exactly. It was better if she hadn’t experienced it at all. That way, she would not have this sucking, empty, paralyzing feeling where he should have been.

Ignorance is bliss. Da.mn right!

“Never treats me sweet and gentle the way he should; I got it bad and that ain't good. My poor heart is sentimental, not made of wood; I got it bad and that ain't good.”

She felt that her crooning was just a melodious way for her heart to keen to the sky. By this point in the song, Lorne would already be standing in front of the stage, drawn by the stormy aura surrounding her, anxious to have her open her eyes and assure him that she’s fine. And every night she lied with a smile. And the next night her heart would be wailing at the same piece, while her voice was still controlled and right for a performance. It worked. She had a salary, and she silently screamed at how unjust all this was.

“But when the weekend's over, and Monday rolls around, I end up like I start out, just cryin' my heart out. He don't love me like I love him, nobody could. I got it bad and that ain't good.”

Maria put the guitar down on the floor and hastily wiped the tears from her cheeks before finally opening her eyes. She smiled at Lorne, and he nodded and walked away to check on other patrons. She sought out Gunn and didn’t find him at the bar where she left him. Three brunettes were regarding her with shock and… fear?… and then she saw them.

Gunn was grinning beside Angel, who bore a bouquet of the most colorful spray of flowers she had ever seen. Maria broke into a smile, not minding Wesley smiling faintly or Cordelia glowering behind the vampire. “Angel!” She flew from the stage and tore through the floor before jumping into the waiting arms. “You came.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he told her. When he handed her the flowers, he greeted, “Happy birthday, Maria.”

Her lips curved uncertainly. “It’s not my birthday.”

“But it’s the anniversary of the night I run you over.” Maria’s eyebrow arched, so he amended. “Met you, I mean. That’s the day you were born for us in Angel Investigations.”

“Thank you.” She took the flowers and pulled them over to one of the vacant tables. “So did you three save anyone tonight?” she asked eagerly.

“As a matter of fact, we did,” Cordelia replied, a tad coldly to Maria’s taste. “We’ve been working really hard.”

Angel interrupted, “But we won’t bore you with the boring details. It’s your birthday. The gory stuff would make us all broody.”

“You’ve always been broody, Angel,” Wesley said.

Angel smiled. “No need to let that affect Maria’s special day though.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes and stood up. “Having said that, I’m going home to rest. No need to let my exhaustion set a pall on your day though. Carry on.” She turned and left.

“Wow. What climbed up her ass?”

~~

Michael flipped on the remote control, having rounded the hundreds of channels thrice already. There was nothing on. Nothing he cared to watch anyway. The girls were miles away and it was his day off.

He turned off the tv and drew out the picture from his pocket. He took it from his locker when he found out that he was staying the long weekend at the Manor. Michael didn’t like not seeing the worn photo for a long time.

She was really young. He remembered they were seventeen when this was taken. If she hadn’t met him, she would probably be in Roswell, prepared to raise hellions with someone worthy. Or maybe she would be here in California giving men fantasies with the sound of her voice as she sang and moved on the stage. Either way, Maria would be alive and noisy.

He heard a noise from the attic and immediately sprung to his feet. The sisters wanted him to guard their house while they were away. They probably knew that burglars can easily slip in. With a quick brush of his lips against the still lips on the picture, he crept upstairs.

When he got into the attic he saw a tall black demon standing near the book on a pedestal. Michael raised him hand to ward him off, and a blinding light emerged. When the light vanished, he rushed to where the demon was last seen standing. His attention was caught by the Book.

He read the first page and looked down on his hand. “I’m a witch?” And then he blinked rapidly and shook his head. This was what tv deprivation did to an alien. “I mean, they’re witches?”

~~

“Leo!” Piper yelled in their hotel room. “Leo, get your blue ass down here!”

Paige and Phoebe sat on the bed, waiting for their brother-in-law. At the sound of wrath, Leo’s orbing took less than three seconds. “What is it?”

Since this was her husband, the other two allowed Piper to handle it. “Did you know about this?” Piper demanded.

“About what?”

“We saw her, Leo. Michael’s girlfriend.” Paige winced, unnoticed by her sister. “She’s alive, Leo!”

Leo’s gaze went to Paige, who looked away quickly. “Yes.”

“Yes what?” Piper screeched.

“Yes I knew she was alive. I would have felt it if the innocent died.”

Piper raised her fingers to her temples as she processed this information. “You knew and you didn’t bother to tell us?”

Leo sighed. “I’m sorry. At first I thought she was dead. I couldn’t feel her anymore. And then when I started feeling her again it was too late. You’d already fallen for him, Paige.”

“Do you know what you’ve done?” Piper demanded. “You’ve ruined three lives, Leo! You, mister,” she said as she stabbed his chest with her finger, “are not getting any for a loooong time.”

Leo walked over to Paige and knelt before her. He took her hand in his. “Paige, I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head a bit, as though she weren’t all there at that moment. “No, no,” she said faintly. “Say sorry to them, not me.”

“What are we going to do, Piper?”

Piper sighed. “Well Pheebs, if my useless husband can orb us to the Manor, we’re fetching Michael. When I said we’re here for closure, I meant it.”

“Yeah,” Paige agreed lightly. “Would it be okay if I were the one who told Michael?”

“Of course, sweetie.”

~~