AUTHOR: JEAN-VIC (aka Alex)
SUMMARY: Angel, with no memory of the time he returned from, begins his mission to help the helpless in Los Angeles.
POSTED: 24 Mar 2010
CATEGORY: Adventure / Angst / Romance
WARNINGS: Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT: MelBelle
1) This fic is set in Los Angeles during the events of Season 1. This particular chapter is set between Lonely Hearts and In the Dark.
“So, he turned back time?” A solitary male voice in the dark spoke out, echoing for miles, the only sign of life in the black.
“Yes,” a host of voices said in reply. “He saved the world, stopped the Senior Partners from winning the war, and all he had to do was relive his life.”
“Hmm, not a bad deal getting two cracks of the whip,” he said almost enviously, his voice the only sound again in what seemed like eternity.
“It is when one has suffered as he has.” The voices felt close now, a gentle breeze dancing across his skin with every syllable. Yet no echo. It was as if they were inside his head. “Losing everyone he cared about took its toll. At the end, he was not the man he was at the beginning. He was…. a shell, and only the sight of the one he loved, undead and murdering innocents, could convince him to go back.”
Rubbing his eyes he staggered through the endless dark, searching for something to hold, his head screaming as if it were full of molten lava. Falling to his knees he found no floor, just an endless drop into infinity, twisting and contorting in the nothingness around him. He felt the fall, but no air, no resistance, no pull of gravity. However, he did feel every molecule howling in pain, as if his very flesh was melting from the bone, bones that felt like they had been obliterated.
“Do you feel his pain?” came the voices once more, like the sound of thunder, drowning out his screams. “We take that as a yes.”
* * *
The fires of hell itself seemed to rise from the bowels of the demon and consume it, leaving only a cloud of dust dancing on the wind. Within seconds that was gone as well, nothing left of the vampire that had once stood before him.
Angel couldn’t pretend to be happy about it, the whole thing an exercise in futility. One vampire dead, ten more being sired all over Los Angeles. Since arriving in LA staking vamps had been all he’d done, despite the time he had saved Kate, while the girls in peril ran home to their sheltered lives, forgetting the monsters that preyed on them.
That wasn’t the problem, social exchanges not being his strong suit. He preferred them to leave him be, but he knew that they wouldn’t learn from the experience. It left a sickening taste in his mouth and the feeling in his gut that he wasn’t helping anyone.
Every day, however, he was reminded of how important his role was when he saw Cordelia at her desk, living her life and trying to make a difference in her own way. He’d saved her, and she had made every minute since count. To most, she was the spoiled rich girl, but he saw something else, a desire, in her own little way, to help people. At a reasonable fee of course.
“Are you okay?” Angel asked as he held his hand out to the pile of garbage.
“Aye, grand,” Doyle replied as he grabbed on and pulled himself up, the stench of two weeks’ worth of rotting food following him. “You know me. Nothing I like more than spending my evenings rummaging in the bins.”
“Thought you’d be relieved. Gave you an excuse to be out of the fight.”
“Hey, dont get me wrong, bud, I’ll avoid a fight whenever possible but not at the expense of my leather jacket or my chances of wooing Cordelia. I may be wrong, but she seems like the type who appreciates personal hygiene.” There was no response from Angel, his attention elsewhere. “Something wrong? I mean, you’re usually rolling in the aisles at my jokes.”
“I’ve just been wondering whether this is all there is.” Angel said, turning his attention to Doyle as he picked pieces of decaying human activity off his body. “Is killing vampires my grand mission, because I was doing plenty of that before you and the visions showed up?”
“Hey, man, I’m just the messenger. That’s my part of the bargain,” he explained as he peeled a rotted banana skin from his shoulder, the spots indicative of its age, resisting the urge to gag as he did so. “Besides, don’t you like the quiet, simple tasks instead of the world ending, apocalyptic horrors you’re used to?”
Ignoring the smell which he had for so long called home, he rested against the Plymouth, the black steel popping as it distorted beneath his weight, his eyes focused on some invisible point, inquisitively. “I was brought back for a reason, Doyle. I just thought it was for more important things than this.”
“I’m pretty sure killing those vamps was important to the woman they were chasing,” Doyle replied as he opened the passenger side door, the pained whine of the hinges echoing along the alleyway.
Resignation laced his voice. “Maybe. I was just expecting more.”
“Baby steps, Angel. Don’t tempt fate. Now, do you mind if we head back because I’m desperately in need of a shower.”
The hint of a smile curled Angel’s lips at the thought of another futile exercise. Humans may not sense it, but the stench would linger for weeks to come, locked deep inside Doyle’s flesh, no matter how much he tried to wash it clean. Whatever he did, he wasn’t helping.
* * *
Cordelia paced the linoleum as she waited for the day to begin. It was already deep into the afternoon and still they hadn’t had a client. In fact, they hadn’t had a client ever.
Every time Doyle had one of his visions her heart stuck in her throat, excitement at the possibility that maybe that was the one that got the business rolling, and got her living relatively comfortably. Instead, he was just getting visions about slime demons trying to eat children or vampires chasing women in alleys. Not exactly Donald Trump, any of them.
Even if they could pay, Angel was being Mr. Nobility and refusing to charge, leaving her sharing a bed with the cockroach family from downstairs. He was paying her but that would dry up soon enough. He hadn’t exactly played the stock market in his 200 plus years, and life in the garbage wasn’t exactly a well paying gig unless you counted your wealth in terms of left over pizza boxes or foil hats that protected your thoughts from the little green men in the sky.
The silence was broken as her head rattled off the desk, and Doyle’s attention gained, it having previously been on what the horses had done the day earlier.
“What’s the matter, princess?”
“You’re the matter,” she replied from beneath a barrier of hair splayed across the desk. “You’re supposed to be all visiony, giving Angel his missions from the Powers That Be, and here we are, nothing to do but watch the money just go down the drain.”
Finally, she lifted her head, her face a picture of bleakness, the once perky smile replaced with a sullenness and lack of any sort of enthusiasm. “That’s the problem, Doyle. That’s why we need you to show Angel where the paying clients are with one of your spaz attacks.”
“These visions aren’t exactly under my control,” Doyle said as he returned his focus to the betting pages. “Besides, you know Angel. He believes in helping people for the sake of it. That’s why he’s the champion around here.”
“Pfft! Champion, Schmampion!” Her shoulders trailing, she dragged her feet as she rounded the desk and made a bee line for the coffee. “He’s all “I must help the Helpless in their hour of need”, but he seems to forget that charity starts at home. I’m helpless! Last night I might as well have had dust for supper with a side of dust.”
“I thought Angel paid you your wages in advance?” Again he followed her movements, the waft of her perfume as she passed drawing his attention, his eyes scanning every inch, admiring the way her clothes lined every curve and almost revealed every detail of her body. “Shouldn’t that be covering you for a month?”
“I’m an actress, Doyle,” she explained, a hint of desperation lining her voice. “I needed head shots and a haircut and other things that will make me irresistible.”
A cheeky smile firmly in place, he followed the hem of her collar to the head of her cleavage, enough showing to tease any man yet still concealed enough to leave plenty to the imagination. “I thought you already had that covered,” he said as his eyes continued down, her hips firm against her skirt, every perfectly toned sinew almost visible.
“Nice try,” she replied, not hating the attention. Life was a show, and she was the Star.
“Yeah, well you know me, love. I just ooze ch-”
His voice trailing off meant nothing to her, oblivious and just waiting for another session of flirting. He wasn’t her usual sort of guy but he had a certain something. “You ooze what, Doyle?” she asked, already knowing the answer, but not expecting to turn around to find him writhing in the chair, his hand to his head as if that would ease the pain.
She was lost. She jittered on the spot, reaching out to him yet holding back. What could she do when he was having a vision? Doyle needed-
“Doyle!” Angel’s voice was like a breath of fresh air, relief overcoming her, his very presence calming her. He’d know what to do, how to look after Doyle. He’d make it better. That was what Angel did.
Within moments he had the situation under control. The vision had stopped, Doyle had his usual glass of whiskey and headache tablets to dull the lingering pain and she was taking notes as he described what he had seen.
It was scary how calm and collected Angel was under pressure. She wasn’t used to that side of him, the frantic Buffy lapdog his usual routine. Now, though, he was a figure of power, stability. He wasn’t the shy boy in the corner just begging for a friend. He was the master, now. She doubted Buffy would like that side of him.
“Same woman?” Angel asked, confused.
“I’m telling you, man, same woman,” Doyle explained before downing the last mouthful of whiskey. “Obviously not done saving her yet.”
“Well, what did you see?” Angel asked, impatiently, snatching the few notes Cordelia had written from her.
Despite the nice development that Angel was his own man, now, she still wasn’t onboard with the mood swings. Whenever it came to helping those helpless he became the boss from hell. “I don’t know how they did things in Eighteenth Century Ireland, but in Twentieth Century America we say please.”
He shot her a look, frustrated, unwilling to entertain her, to which she recoiled behind an innocent smile, her head tilted and her foot twisting into the ground coyly. Within seconds the harshness of his eyes softened and his face wrinkled into a smile as he returned his gaze to the sheet of paper.
“I saw the same thing as I saw last night. Scared woman, hungry vamps and I sensed a whole lot of hidden extras.”
“I didn’t know the visions came with a Special Features option,” Cordelia chimed in. “Do you get subtitles?”
“I’m sensing something from her and the vampires,” Doyle explained as he popped another pill from its aluminium casing. “This isn’t just a bunch of hungry vamps. They’ve got a motive besides the usual kind of the death and mayhem variety.”
Pulling on his coat he checked the pocket for the stake he had left there, finding it in its place, still dusty from the night before. He wasn’t done with it yet. “We better check it out then.”
* * *
“There’s no one here,” Doyle said, peering through the slits between the rungs of the blinds.
It was your typical suburban home. A pretty little garden, a fine shade of green trimmed to perfection, no blade out of place. A mosaic of beautifully coloured flowers lining the edges, the white picket fence their shelter from the elements.
“Clichéd, much?” Cordelia scoffed. “I never properly thanked Daddy for making sure our house never looked like it belonged to the Brady Bunch. But then again, The Brady’s never had an IRS audit, unless I missed that episode.”
“Well, I hope your Dad had better security than this place,” Doyle said as he edged inside the door which had been left unlocked.
Angel could only watch from the back seat of his car, the tinted windows keeping the majority of the dying sunlight out. It made him feel even more useless knowing that he was trapped in the car like a dog while Doyle and Cordelia searched the house for clues. He was glad to know that it wasn’t a simple bust ‘em and dust ‘em scenario, however. This woman needed help.
It was unsettling, though, that she had been the focus of two of Doyle’s visions now. He had an intimate knowledge of vampires and they weren’t creatures to pursue the same victim if they had lost them, unless that was part of the torment, but aside from himself, most vampires weren’t into that sort of thing.
It was deeper than just vamps wanting a feed. They wanted something from this woman. Her blood was just a bonus. It always made things more difficult. Creatures with something to lose, or gain, were more dangerous. They fought harder.
The last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the horizon, Angel’s ticket to leave.
Immediately, he smelt them, mixed in with the scent of freshly mowed lawns and fading remnants of blooming flowers. The still warm air was thick with it. Vampires. Their scent was fresh. He only hoped that she knew not to invite them in.
“Found anything?” he asked, leaning against the invisible barrier which kept him out, peering into the hallway to try and spot anything out of place.
“My old life,” Cordelia called back, before appearing seconds later to invite him in.
Showing him around, she reminisced over the affluent lifestyle she now missed. Expensive dinnerware, priceless antiques. Even the smell was something she pointed out. The scent of wealth, power, intrigue. The ability to do anything she wanted, the power to fulfil any dreams or wishes.
Big comedown, but not one that she hadn’t benefited from. He saw it, the way she was developing. It was slow but she was different. The girl he had met two years prior was gone. In just half a year, living like any normal person, she had changed for the better. He liked this Cordelia.
She continued showing him her old life, her old self, but his attention was elsewhere. The stairs. Floorboards distorting. He signalled for her silence with a hand on her forearm to which she immediately responded, knowing almost instinctively that quiet was needed. Probably a benefit of life with a Slayer.
“If you want to walk out of here alive, I suggest you put your hands up,” came the voice from the doorway. Female. Nervous. What the humans couldn’t hear he could, and she wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence, her voice breaking and quivering ever so slightly. Being hunted by vampires relentlessly had probably frazzled her nerves. He couldn’t blame her.
Cordelia and Doyle obeyed immediately, turning round slowly to face her. “Good. We’re getting somewhere,” she said, edging into the living room, gun still aimed straight at Cordelia’s chest. “Now, care to explain to me what you’re doing?”
She hadn’t seen him. Vampire hearing had given him ample time to get out of the way. Before she could react he had the gun out of her hand, the clip ejected from the handle and barrel snapped off. “We’re here to help, but we can’t do that when we’re being threatened.”
“Here to help? You’re one of them,” she said, backing behind her desk in the bay window. I know a vampire when I see one. Worked for one for long enough.”
“Who hasn’t worked for one?” Cordelia chipped in; her hands still high above her head. A tap on the shoulder from Doyle giving her the go ahead to lower them.
“Trust me, love, I know how this looks, but we’re legit,” Doyle added. “As crazy as it sounds, I get visions about people in danger and for the past two nights I’ve seen you being chased by vampires.”
“Last night… that was you?”
“In the flesh. If you like, you can smell my jacket. Still got a whiff of the bins about it where one of your boys knocked me flying.”
“Jeez, Doyle, are you paid hourly to be icky!?”
Confused, and conveniently ignoring his sometimes incompetent staff, Angel asked, “You worked for a vampire?”
“I worked for THE vampire. Russell Winters. Most wealthy and powerful vampire in Los Angeles. Even creatures of the night need secretaries,” a statement that elicited a nod of agreement from Cordelia. “He felt it was more costly to keep training new secretaries so he resisted the urge to feed on me, but he wasn’t exactly the perfect employer. He may not have drunk, but he made my life hell in other ways.”
“I take it the wages were good, though?” Cordelia asked, receiving another of Angel’s intense looks, her feet not only over the line but this time way out sight of the line. “Sorry,” she quickly added.
“I was so glad when I heard the news that someone had killed him, to know that I was free of that monster. But I wasn’t done there. I had tried to leave in the past only for him to stop me. Now, he couldn’t. Using my knowledge of all his accounts, I took every cent he had and ran.”
“And now these vampires want that money?” Angel asked.
“Not for themselves. Winter’s vice President was also a vampire. They had been together for nearly fifty years, partners in life and death,” she explained, taking a seat at her desk, the dull twilight outside streaming through the blinds and cascading across it. “He wants the money that Russell left for him, and he has hired these vampires to get it. Every night they come for me.”
“Don’t worry; I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“There’s nothing you can do, vampire,” she said, resignedly. “I think it’d be better to just take Virgil up on his offer and meet him tonight to return the money.”
Angel stepped forward, his eyes questioning. “Where?”
* * *
The clock chimed once as the hand struck midnight. It was the only sound that had been made in nearly an hour, the thick silence almost as dense as the tension. He had insisted on going alone, and that had been four hours earlier. No one said anything, but the concern was evident in the chewed fingernails on both of Doyle’s hands and the twisted, frayed ends where Cordelia had been rigorously twirling her hair.
It had been too long without word. He hadn’t called. He always called.
“Is he as good as you say?” Jessica asked between drags on her cigarette.
“No,” Cordelia replied. “He’s better.” Empty words, just as much meant to reassure the client as they were herself. The truth was, she had no idea whether he was good enough to handle the odds Jessica had told them he’d be playing. She hoped he was.
She didn’t fully understand why he already meant so much to her. She had known him for years but in the few weeks she had been with him in LA she had seen a different side, a gentle, caring side. He had taken her in, given her a job and, while it wasn’t much, a form of support.
For no reason, he had given her a chance. After her track record in Sunnydale, not many afforded her that.
She didn’t want to lose that. Never thought it would happen, but it felt like he was her friend, a friend she wasn’t ready to lose.
The door swung open, her heart skipping a beat as she looked to the figure in the way. He was battered, bruised and bleeding from various places. His clothes were torn, and his shoulders hunched over as if he could barely stand. He was standing though, and she felt a relief that she wasn’t used to. This wasn’t survived the monster of the week relief, though. This was… different.
She was just relieved he was there.
“Jessica,” Angel started, wrapping his arm around Doyle who propped him up before he toppled. “They won’t be bothering you anymore.”
* * *
He wasn’t entirely sure whether his idea was a good one. He had his doubts whether it was even possible. He didn’t know if he was strong enough, but it felt right.
After a life of bad choices, it was difficult to know when he was making a good one. Buffy had been the best decision he ever made, and leaving her the hardest, but he knew in his heart that both were right. This felt the same. Something about it felt right, like it was meant to be.
A strange feeling.
“What’d you do to rile her up?” Doyle asked as he watched Cordelia slam around the office, everything that wasn’t nailed down used to signal her anger in a very noisy way.
Angel’s eyes stared into some invisible space again, his mind wandering. “She’s just angry that I let Jessica keep all the money. She thinks I should have charged her because she was nothing but a common thief. Her words.”
Doyle flinched as Cordelia shut the blinds, but not before glaring intensely at the back of Angel’s head, as though it would explode if she concentrated hard enough. “She does have a point. That woman stole that money and you let her keep it? All the while, good ol’ honest Cordelia is living in the poor box.”
“You really think I want her to have dirty money?” Angel replied, finally affording Doyle a fleeting glance. “It was tainted. I don’t want that on her hands. Besides,” he continued as he rose from his chair. “I’ve got a solution.”
And it felt right.
“Oh yeah, and what would that be? Couple of pairs of new shoes? I hear Gucci have the newest line out?” He may have been a 246 year old vampire, but he was still male and any mention by another man of fashion or shoes was met with quizzical, if not concerned, looks. Defensively, Doyle added, “She tells me these things like I’m interested. So come on, what’s this grand solution?”
The right one. “I’m going to invite her to move in with me.”
“Excuse me, what? I thought you were Mr. Lonely, needing your peace and quiet so you can be all broody and mysterious,” Doyle said, moving close to Angel to implore with the vampire whose focus was elsewhere. “No, I’ve figured it out now. Actually, it’s all a ploy so you can swoop in all charming like and save the day and get your groin on with former Miss Sunnydale! Seriously, man, how could you?”
“I’m not interested in Cordelia, Doyle. I’ve had my share of bad relationships and endless heartaches for two lifetimes.”
“Yeah, but you’ve lived for three lifetimes. Seems your okay for another bad relationship.” He quietened down when Angel shot him a disdainful look. “Alright, fine. I’ll trust you. So, why you doing it then?”
Angel smiled as he opened the door, the sound of Cordelia huffing and puffing immediately noticeable as she sought attention. It felt right. The helpless weren’t just out there on the streets. They were right in front of him.
Still smiling, he simply replied, “I want to help.”
* * *
“He remembers nothing,” dozens of voices speaking in unison, soft again, the harshness subsided, the pain gone. “His memory was wiped. A condition of his return. After all, who would want to remember pain of such magnitude?”
In the darkness he laid, the pain gone but the memory fresh, his body still reeling from it, every part of himself remembering and wishing it would never return. He tried to stand, to find his way out, but there was nothing left. He felt like a shell. Even his desire was no longer strong enough.
“Now, with no memory of his past, his future, he is vulnerable,” the voices said again, distant now. “In this state, anything could prey on him; use him for their own evil will. There is a lot of power residing in one who has endured a temporal fold, power that can open many dark pathways.”
The darkness subsided, recoiling away from the light and once again he found himself back on the rooftop, staring across as Angel Investigations. The night air was soothing, drawing his eyelids down as he breathed it in, deep and long while it caressed his skin that still felt like it was burning after what it had endured in the past day or two.
Alerted by a scream, he opened his eyes and watched as Angel’s woman danced around, hugging him and kissing his cheek. It left the vampire looking flustered and awkward, pushing her back, distancing her away from himself. Funny. If only he knew what she had once been to him, that that had once been the norm.
“He is vulnerable,” the voices returned, a whisper on the breeze. “You know what to do.”
Eyes burning into his skull, watching him. Waiting.
It was here. A vampire.
It had run, scared. Couldn’t blame it. Not many who knew who he was stuck around, and the number that did know was growing daily.
This one, though? Watching him? Was it really planning a sneak attack? Not smart.
Then he felt it, behind him, silent in its motion, but it forgot about the heartbeat. Wait…
“Vampire’s dead. Has been for the past minute. Maybe you need to keep up.” It wasn’t a voice he recognised. Deep, aged, every syllable scarred by years of cigarette abuse. “Or maybe I need to slow down. One of the two.”
The face didn’t fit. Young, barely over thirty, dark hair laced with gel leaving messed up points, a style that seemed so popular recently, even clichéd. His eyes told a different story, though, his skin marred by dark rings and numerous lines, each crack a betrayal.
“Who are you?” Angel asked.
“Straight to the point. I like that. Names Christian,” he said as he reached inside the expensive suit jacket he was wearing, something that wouldn’t be out of place at Wolfram and Hart, which was the very reason Angel was reserving judgment.
“Well, Christian,” Angel replied, almost ironically. “What is a guy dressed like that doing staking vampires in dark alleys? More to the point, vampires I’m chasing?” Aggressive tone. The norm in a city where trust was low on the list. With his experience, it was justified.
“I’m just following orders,” Christian replied, lighting the cigarette he had pulled from his suit. “I was told to give you a message, so here I am delivering. An old friend of yours is on his- well, no, is here in LA. Name Spike ring a bell?”
Too many bells. “What would Spike want with me?”
There was pause, eyes focused solely on each other, as Christian sucked on the end of his cigarette, his breath seemingly endless. His voice strained as he held the smoke deep in his lungs, he replied, “Gem of Amarra.”
“Sorry. I don’t accessorise.”
“No, but you will. Another old friend is visiting LA. Daniel Osbourne?”
His eyes scrunched into a frown, Angel asked, “Who?”
“I think the Sunnydale Alum call him Oz.”
Now he was definitely confused and what he was about to say seemed almost whimsical. “Oz is bringing me the Gem of Amarra, and Spike is coming to get it off me?”
“I guess you’re an easier target than a Slayer. Anyway, they’ll be here tomorrow night,” he explained as he rooted around in his trouser pockets. “When you help Rachel with her boyfriend problem, Spike will be watching from the roof. When you get home, Oz will show up with the ring.”
“And I trust you because…?
“Oh, you don’t have to trust me, but it won’t change what’s going to happen,” Christian replied, a note in his hand meant for Angel. “When you realise I’m genuine, you can find me at this address.”
Angel scanned the paper. Legit address. It was a bar. This guy was remaining as inconspicuous as possible. “What if-?” Gone. Man that was annoying when he wasn’t doing it.
* * *
Angel climbed the stairs quietly, listening to his surroundings for anything out of place. Rachel was safe in the car, but he couldn’t get her home just yet. If what Christian had said was true, Spike would be on the roof of that very building. Angel could definitely smell him.
He’d been through recently, his cologne, the product on his hair, the cigarettes all melded together to create Spike’s scent. Every detail was perfect, even the brand of cigarette. Looks like Christian had been right.
Carefully, he slid the roof access open, right before him the shape of his old grandchilde, staring down at where he had just been with Rachel. He was stalking him. Again, like Christian had said, he knew Buffy was going to send the ring to him and came looking. He’d probably been tracking him for days, watching where he lived, how he moved around, where he frequented.
Spike was doing his homework. He was learning, finally.
Still, time to end it before it began. “Hey, Spike,” Angel called out; to which Spike quickly spun round to meet the sound of his voice. “Been a while.”
“Too long, mate,” Spike replied, deep set confusion furrowing his eyebrows, but that was Spike’s typical look. “How the bloody hell-”
“Got a tip off.” He knew he was smirking, smug in his little victory, but it felt good. Spike thought he was being clever, stalking him, and hiding in the shadows. He should’ve known that wouldn’t work. Now he did.
“Should’ve known. Pretty obvious you’d have contacts now that you’re Angel, vamp detective. Suits you,” Spike said, smiling with an arrogance that had never failed to piss him off. “Always thought you were a dick.”
“I have my moments,” Angel replied, unfazed. It was a mind game. Spike was good at them. Get inside their head, annoy them, expose their fears, deepest secrets, desires and they lost some of their armour. An opponent with weak defences was an easier opponent to beat. Problem was, he was trying to use it on the man who taught him how to. “So, this can go one of two ways, and neither of them sees you getting the Gem of Amarra.”
“Word of advice, vampire to tosser, you’re not so scary without the bint next to you.” That one touched a nerve. “Ah well, at least we can save all the faffing about and get to the fun part early.”
In less than a second William had disappeared, the demon, Spike, taking his place, his eyes golden beneath the firm ridges of his forehead, his mouth protruding slightly over fangs stained with a hundred and nineteen years worth of death and destruction.
“What do you say, Gramps?”
“My pleasure, Willy.”
Spike swung first, but Angel had been expecting it, throwing his hands up to catch in the incoming blow. He hadn’t seen the kick to the back of the head coming, though. Or the knee to the face which quickly followed. He backed off, watching his opponent and thinking how to best tackle him, all the while adjusting his nose, the bones crackling beneath the skin.
“Ha ha, what’s it been? Hundred years since we last had a scrap?” he asked as he paced, strutting up and down, proud of his brief spell of domination, all the while failing to realise he was surrendering the small advantage he had. “I’ve changed. Bagged me two slayers, destroyed the Order of Aurelius, terrorised Sunnydale for the best part of a year. You won’t win this time, old man.”
He came again, starting this time with another attempt at a kick, but again Angel was ready. Before Spike could counter, he delivered a sharp blow to the gut, grabbing Spike’s shirt and ramming him into the wall. Right where he needed him, and without hesitation he delivered two elbow strikes to Spike’s temples, the second of which left him sprawled out on the floor, dazed.
“I changed as well, Spike,” Angel said, towering over his fallen opponent. “Not the same man you fought back then.”
“Too bloody right, you’re not!” Spike was up, ready, the sight of his own blood streaming from the back of his head giving him the energy he needed. “You went and got yourself a taste for rats, Manilow and a Slayer. You never told me. Did she like it rough?”
More mind games. He was being pushed, but he had to resist. If Spike forced him to lose focus, he couldn’t win. The only answer was to push back. “Not as rough as Dru.”
“You son of a-” He came at him again, but his attack was sloppy, and Angel was easily able to counter with a few sharp punches and a spinning kick to the back of Spike’s head, the impact echoing a sickening crack into the night air.
His bleach blonde hair became a dark shade of crimson where the kick had connected, opening up the wound created by the impact with the wall. Staggering forward, he came to rest against the rooftop ledge, his knees buckling beneath him. Nevertheless, Angel approached slowly. A wounded animal was always dangerous, and this animal knew martial arts.
“You’re lucky,” Spike said between shallow, needless breaths. “Still hurting from my brawl with the Slayer, is what it is.” He looked up as Angel’s shadow loomed over him, mere inches between them. “This it then? You gonna do me in? Seems right, you finishing me off.”
“Like I said, the Gem of Amarra stays with me,” Angel said, dropping to his knee, leaning in close to his protégé, their faces almost meeting. “If I see you in LA again, I’ll kill you.”
He’d fought countless demons, been punched by a Slayer numerous times and even taken a beating from The Master, but none of it compared to the way it felt when having his head smashed against concrete, every bone feeling like they were being obliterated, the fragments tearing his flesh apart unseen beneath the surface. He’d let his guard down, and Spike punished him for it, delivering another blow to the face, every sense he had screaming with each contact.
He could barely focus. All he could feel was the pain, and then the searing heat of ribs cracking against a steel dumpster in the alley below. A blood soaked groan passed his lips as he stared back up at the younger vampire smiling down at him cockily.
Had to give him credit for playing possum like that, but he’d be ready next time.
Spike revelled in watching Angel struggle to his feet, the drag on his cigarette laboured by throaty chuckles. Probably should have killed him, but without Angel there to collect Buffy’s little messenger would turn tail and run back to Sunnydale, and that wasn’t a fight he wanted to get back into. Best just to let this one slide, after a few sweet parting words for his old sire.
* * *
“Spike did this to you!?” Cordelia asked, her voice even louder this time than the two previous times she had asked. Usually, he would understand her fear, Spike being a vampire any human should fear, but when it was affecting her patch up job, he struggled to sympathise.
“He’s coming here for the Gem of Amarra, which apparently Oz is coming to give me, tonight.” He winced as she ham fistedly applied another bandage. It would be better in a day, but right now he didn’t need her putting too much pressure into bandaging a wound caused by two broken ribs piercing his chest.
“Yeah, well, all I want to know is when Buffy lost her frickin mind!” Cordelia huffed as she tapped the last bandage down before taking to pacing his floor, an attempt to help him up not once crossing her mind from the look of it. “I mean, sending this Gem here so Spike can target you- she struggles to beat Spike.”
“Don’t you worry about Spike,” Angel said as he lowered himself into his chair slowly, not wanting to dislodge the ribs from their place. A good night’s rest would fuse the bones almost completely, but until then he had to be careful. “I can handle him.”
“Yeah. Looks like it too.”
“He got lucky this time,” Angel replied, gritting his teeth as he shifted his position. “It won’t happen again.”
Finally, she took a seat, her arms folded high up her chest, her lips puckered sweetly into a pout as she revelled in feeling sorry for herself. No matter what, she could find the danger to herself in a heartbeat. He genuinely wondered what she was worried about. Was it him? Herself? Her wage slip?
“Until Spike’s dealt with, I want you to stay with Doyle and lay low. If Spike knows you’re here, he’ll try and get to you. I don’t want you brought into this.”
“Yeah, and what about you?” Her stare was intense, her eyes moistening beneath her lids, more than average blinks controlling it. “Who keeps you safe? Or, is that not a priority? Maybe you getting hurt, or Doyle even would get to me. This isn’t just about me, Angel. I don’t want to come back in a few days to find nothing but a dust pile and a smug little cockney asking for some dumb ring.”
That answered his question. He searched out her gaze as she tried to avoid it, and said, “Nothing is going to happen to me, Cordelia. I can handle Spike.”
“Promise you’ll come back, then.”
He’d always wanted to be the kind of man that could keep his promises. They were the men who stood out, had good repute in society. They were the men who everybody looked up to and trusted. He wanted to be trusted, and he wanted to keep his promise. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something he could do this time.
Interrupting his stammering, Doyle appeared at the foot of the stairs. “Angel. Someone here to see you. Says he goes by the name of Oz.”
* * *
Most bars met you with flickering neons, the smell of testosterone and alcohol mixing in with the strong colognes and perfumes, a queue around the block and a guy with a clipboard way too drunk on power. This bar, though, was different. This place greeted with you with the sight of patrons being tossed out, drunk and disorderly, boards acting as makeshift windows and the one neon light left operational flickering and buzzing a sorry tune.
The smell reminded him of the old ways, where horses messed on the streets and housewives tossed the household waste out of the window and onto the pavement. All that mixed with a whole lot of anger, resentment and fear.
This wasn’t a nice place, aptly named the Lone Bar. No one who came here wanted to be known, or even seen. They just wanted one more drink to make the pain a little more bearable.
The doormen knew him, throaty growls vibrating the air as he strolled past them. Empty threats. He’d caused trouble before and got a few punches for the trouble, but they were the ones left with broken bones and numerous bleeding orifices.
He was met by discordant notes and screams of anger as the music blared out, the smoke hitting his face feeling like a backlash. Through the haze he could see Christian, sipping at a whiskey silently, ignoring the tumult surrounding him. Angel made a bee line, avoiding fighting demons and various items being thrown around, and took a seat at Christian’s side.
“You wanting a drink?” Christian asked, his eyes not leaving the murky mirror in front of him. “I’ve not tried it myself but I hear the blood here is nice. Freshly drained from a virgin and everything.”
“I’ll pass,” Angel replied, returning the gaze of the not so pleasant bartender who he had threatened with a broken neck the last time he was in.
“Well then, you must be here about Spike, because I know for a fact you’re not here for a social call.” Angel’s lack of a response drew Christian’s attention, and a smile before he continued, “Everything I told you happened didn’t it. I love vindication.”
“Look, Spike won’t stop until he gets what he wants. I need to know where he is and get to him first,” Angel explained. “How you knew about him and Oz in the first place raises its own questions, but it’ll have to wait.”
“You’re right, because I can’t tell you how I knew,” Christian replied as he pulled another piece of paper from his jacket pocket before handing it to Angel. “But I can tell you that I’m an ally and to prove it you’ll find Spike at this address. And watch out for the vamp on the right. Listen for the chains.”
* * *
The alley off Third. That was where Christian said Spike would be. Once again he was following a hunch blindly, given to him by a complete stranger who gave his word that he was an ally. Wouldn’t be the first time Angel had been told that only to be stabbed in the back.
He couldn’t trust Christian. Not yet. He couldn’t risk ignoring him either. Doing so could see a lot of people hurt. If Spike wanted the Gem of Amarra, he’d do everything in his power to get it so he needed to find him and stop him now. Christian? Well, he was the closest thing Angel had to a lead, and he had to follow it.
Suddenly, the air was thick with it. Blood. Fresh. Warm. Full of fear, the rich scent gushing through his nostrils to his tongue, dancing on the buds. His body urged him on, his natural desire to drink, to feel the warmth down his throat and the life slipping away beneath his fingertips.
His soul screamed at him, though. His conscience forbidding him to follow that line of thinking, the memories of thousands of innocent lives snuffed out by his hand all too vivid.
Then he was met by the all too familiar sight. A helpless victim, scared and whimpering for her life as it was drained from her in the dark, dank surroundings of an alleyway, a dustbin the only shelter between the ensuing murder and eyes of the world. Not exactly a noble death.
“Let her go,” he demanded, raising his voice above the sound of Spike guzzling down every drop of her.
Immediately, Spike obeyed, turning to face his old mentor, licking the crimson stains from his fangs as he released his prey. “Did anyone ever tell you that you were a hell of a buzz-kill, mate?” Suddenly, he was off, running to safety. He’d expected it. Spike wasn’t stupid enough to risk another fight.
“Run,” Angel said to the woman before giving chase, only a step or two behind his grandchilde.
It was over quickly, a chain link fence a barrier to Spike’s escape. If Christian was right, Spike had one more trick up his sleeve and he would be blindsided from the right by one of Spike’s hired goons.
“Caught me fair and square, White Hat. I guess there is nothing to do now but to go along quietly and pay my debt to society,” Spike said, sarcastically, raising his arms above his head in mock surrender. Too confident. Pretty obvious he wasn’t working alone.
“You think you can come to my town and pull this crap? You never learn, Spike,” he replied, reaching for the stake inside his pocket.
“I may be a slow learner, but…”
Angel heard the chains rattling in the shadows to his right, just like Christian had said. Suddenly, a long chain flew at him, but he was ready and caught the steel collar before it wrapped itself around his throat. With a quick tug the vampire was pulled from his hiding place and onto the stake, the dusty remains scattering onto Angel’s jacket, speckling the black material with white dots.
“Like I said, you never learn.”
“And the moral of the story is: let the good guys run in packs,” Spike said, his eyes closed and a sigh of derision escaping his lungs. “Evil works best alone. And it’s bloody cheaper.”
Angel may have been ready for the vampire in the shadows, but not for the garbage can sent hurtling towards him and before he could react he was floored by the thin metal crashing into his skull. Immediately he could feel the blood starting to trickle and the muscles beneath his skin moulding a new visage.
His eyes golden beneath the ridges on his forehead, and his razor sharp fangs bared, he jumped to his feet, ready to face his grandchilde again. He was gone though, hopped over the fence most likely. Probably his smartest decision since arriving.
He was tempted to follow his scent, to track him down and make sure he never hurt anyone or threatened another soul again. He couldn’t, though. Cordelia had asked him to promise to return, to avoid any unnecessary danger. He hadn’t made the promise, but he intended on keeping it anyway.
Angel scratched at the dried blood lining his forehead, the cut having closed on the drive home, as he waited for Doyle to answer his phone. With every buzz on the line he got slightly more concerned. He had told Doyle to expect his-
“House of Pies,” Doyle said, his voice nasal and trembling, the line compromised by scratching as, Angel imagined, he fumbled with the phone.
“Doyle, it’s me. Spike’s taken care of,” Angel explained, balancing the phone between his shoulder and ear as he removed his coat. “You should be safe to come back in tomorrow. Can you put Cordelia up for the night?” Laughing, he continued, “No, I didn’t think you’d mind. OK, I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”
It was footsteps above him which woke him the next morning. Running. Oddly timed. The owner was limping. They were bleeding. He could smell it, thick in the air. Fresh. Warm. Sweet with fear. Laced with adrenaline. Reaching the top of the stairs Doyle called out to Angel frantically, continuing to call as he hobbled down the stairs.
Up like a shot, Angel met him at the foot of the stairs, immediately supporting his weight and guiding him to the sofa. He was a mess, his face broken and beaten, blood escaping from his nose, his lip, his temple. Angel recognised the old, familiar scent seeping out of Doyle’s leather jacket immediately. “Spike!”
The blood pooled in Doyle’s mouth as he tried to speak, his response gargled. “Aye. Waited ‘til me and Cordelia left the apartment. Man, that guy can throw a punch, alright.”
Angel’s focus shifted from the injured friend before him to the one he hadn’t seen or heard yet, tunnel vision blocking out anything but her. “Where’s Cordelia?” Angel asked, his eyes intense as he squeezed Doyle’s shoulders ever tighter.
Trying to manoeuvre free of Angel’s grasp, but ultimately unable to break from it, or Angel’s determined stare, he explained, “I tried to fight him, bud, but Spike took her. Knocked her out and took her over his shoulder. He didn’t say where.”
Releasing Doyle, Angel cursed himself for leaving Spike. He should have known that he wouldn’t stop until he got that ring. He was never afraid of him like other vampires were. Simple threats didn’t speak to Spike. He only understood action. He’d made a stupid mistake letting him go, and now he had Cordelia.
Running his finger along the rough edges of his broken skin, thin red trails snaking across his skin in its wake, Doyle asked, “So what do we do now?”
* * *
4 Days Ago
The steel basement door to Angel’s apartment slid open, lifting unnaturally on its hinges when it hit the far side. Once he had entered he slammed it shut behind him, another crack of steel on steel resonating around his basement. Tired, he took a deep breath in, savouring the feeling of home. Without warning, his senses were bombarded as a powerful scent overtook him, knocking him dizzy as he staggered forward, trying to shake his head clean.
“What is- Cordelia!?” He called out as he tried not to gag on the scent, glad he didn’t have to breathe any more in but regretting that first accursed breath. “Cordy!?”
“Oh, good, you’re home,” came the reply as she skipped round the corner. Not her usual style. Dripping wet yellow rubber gloves, a dishevelled hair style, sweat laden and greasy, and one of his best shirts covering her clothes, the sheer size of it enough to reach her thighs, and protecting them from the indelible stains she had managed to cover it with. “I’ve cleaned round the place, polished all your weapons – and the cabinet! – and I’ve washed all the dishes for you. Well, your blood mug and the one plate you allowed me to unpack because they clash with your decorating. Are you sure your melodramatic Slayer love wasn’t an overcompensation?”
Ignoring that question, he asked, “What’s that smell?”, tugging at his nose as the scent persisted, pulling his top lip over his teeth as he flared his nostrils, his eyes scrunched into small crumbled packages. However, on the positive side, it was keeping his mind off the ruined shirt and the priceless weapons cabinet that was now most likely blotted by white rings.
“Oh, I just thought that you have a hard time killing vamps and nearly dying and everything so you should be able to relax when you get home. Nothing says relaxing like a scented candle,” she explained with a smile, every tooth on show and her eyes glistening with pride in the dim light. “Also, its soothing qualities will help you really get into the broody groove as you mull over your past evils and forever never-gonna-happen Buffy love. Do you like it?”
“Erm, scented candles have an engineered scent to make it more noticeable to people,” Angel said as he wiped tears from his eyes, that solitary breath of the stuff still plaguing him. “It’s really powerful and it doesn’t sit well with vampire senses.”
“Oh,” she replied, suddenly deflated. “I didn’t know about that. I’ll just clear these up.”
He watched as she shuffled around the room dousing numerous flames and throwing the candles into the garbage. He followed behind her, stammering to try and find the words to say, the words that let her know she’d done a good thing.
“The smell should clear soon,” she explained as she made her way to the bedroom, the wet gloves snapping off and discarded onto the leather chair. “If not there’s air freshener under the sink.”
Quickly grabbing the gloves before hiding them behind his back, he called out, “Cordy…” not wanting her gesture of friendship, the first he’d experienced in almost ever, to go ignored, or her memory of treating him like a friend being one of negativity.
She turned round expectantly, her eyes wide as she waited for what he was trying to say. Eventually, he said the only words he could. “Thank you.”
Once again her smile beamed, almost infectious in its radiance, nearly drawing one from his usually stoic demeanour. That was gift enough. “You’re welcome, big guy.”
He hadn’t spoken. He just stared vacantly into space from beneath his furrowed brow, his arms folded and one hand covering his mouth as he wandered in some distant imaginary land.
“Angel!?” Doyle called, pulling Angel back to reality. “What do we do?”
“We get her back, Doyle! Now!”
* * *
It was the stench of cigarettes and alcohol that woke her, not mixing well with the dull throb in her head. Groggily she looked up, her vision gradually becoming clearer. Not the person she wanted to see stood before her.
“Enjoy your kip?” Spike asked as he picked at the dirt under his fingernail with a small knife. “You might want to tell the Mick to move somewhere a bit cleaner. Few minutes in there and my nails are as black as arseholes.”
A lovely image to go with cha cha going on in her head. Not her first thought, though. “Where’s Doyle? I swear, if you hurt him I’ll-”
“You’ll what, peaches? Call me nasty names? Tell me how evil I am and that I deserve to suffer and die?” Spike asked, pretending to bite his nails in fear. “And then I bet you’ll tell me that Angel will make me pay. Oh no, not the big, bad Angel.”
“You can laugh, but when he does get here he’ll make sure you get what’s coming to you!”
“I’d be scared but the only people Angel’s a threat to are the poofters on the other side of town. That whole Buffy thing was just denial. He’s not impartial to a bit of back door shenanigans. Besides, pet, he ain’t coming for you.”
“He always comes,” Cordelia replied without hesitation, all the while trying to show no intimidation. She’d learned after a long time on the hellmouth that broadcasting your fear was the worst thing you could do. It just spurred them on. “He won’t leave me here. If you think he will you’re a bigger idiot than he says.”
“You’ve been unconscious for a good few hours now and still no sign,” Spike said as he played with something that looked like it was built to hurt. He wasn’t going to torture her, was he? “Face it; it’s you or the ring. If he gives me the ring, he sacrifices hundreds and thousands of lives. If he stays away, he just loses you. Not a great loss, really, is it?”
Mind games. Just like Angelus used to play. She tried not to listen. He didn’t know Angel. He was a hero. He’d do what was right. He’d find a way.
“Queen C. Heard all about you back in Sunnydale,” Spike said before an evil grin pierced his lips. “Evil bitch weren’t you.”
“I was young. I’m different now.”
“Ha, keep telling yourself that, love. It’s been three months,” Spike said, holding up his last three fingers, each nail painted black. “You don’t change that quickly. You’re still a nasty piece of work, hiding behind the big smile and the fluttering eyelashes. And I thought I knew evil.”
She lacked the usual comeback, the quick wit, the fierce tongue. She tried to think of something to say, but she couldn’t. She didn’t know if it was his words or fear, for herself and Doyle.
“Used to know a bird like you, back when I was human,” Spike continued as he browsed the remaining torture devices on the table. “Broke my heart. Made me feel less than a man. Made me feel like I was nothing. I wonder how many people you made feel like that. How many lives you ruined.”
He chuckled as he ran his finger along a fine blade, droplets of blood running down its glistening surface. “You really think he’d save someone as disgusting as you?”
She had no answer. Every word true. Why would Angel risk so many just for her? No sane man would. Angel wouldn’t.
Coming to kneel in front of her, Spike tried to lift her chin, but she pulled away, the look she gave him saying the words she couldn’t. Sucking on the blood slowly running down his finger he added, “Don’t worry, love. If Angel won’t save you, I will. I’ll take you just the way you are.”
* * *
He could feel them, surrounding him, a thick presence without form. They were there, though, their breath in his ear as the words pierced his skull, images of beauty lacing every syllable. It was like a choir singing to him the very song of creation. They were in a good mood.
“How are things progressing, Christian?” The voices asked, a multitude of male and female.
“I have made contact with Angel and I gave him the message,” Christian replied, his head bowed in the presence of it. There was nothing before him, however, but an endless black. “He followed my advice. He must have believed me.”
“Watched him for a long time we have, and never has he trusted anyone that quickly,” he was quickly corrected. “It was an act of necessity. He had nothing to lose in following your advice, and it proved to be correct. More will be needed if he is to trust you completely.”
“There is something else. The woman. She is living with him now.”
It never felt right when the room was silent. The only thing that gave him any comprehension of presence in that place was their voice filling his head. Either they had gone, left him there in the void, or they were thinking. He had never had eternal beings down as thinkers.
“Strange.” Mixed in with the terror their voices instilled him with, he was relieved just knowing he wasn’t alone. The void between worlds wasn’t a place where people actively sought to spend their days. “We had expected such things eventually, but not so fast. The Powers That Be must have underestimated what they did to them, and now it is greatly affecting their actions and motives. Monitor the situation, Christian, and keep us updated.”
“Won’t that interfere with our plans?” Christian asked desperately as he felt them fading away. “If he is focused on her-”
“You worry too much, Christian, over things of which you have no knowledge,” the voices replied, suddenly close again, swirling around him like he was in the eye of a storm. “His feelings for her could be beneficial to us. People are always so much more compliant when they have something to lose.”
Again he could feel the connection breaking, their essence leaving him, but he didn’t try and stop it this time. They had said their piece, and they were done with him. Until they needed him again, he would hear no more.
Suddenly, the void began to shatter and tear as light broke into the dark. Slowly he regained feeling, and he became less and less an unfeeling shell bowed down in the dark. It was as if he was waking from a dream, his mind returning to the conscious world. Within moments the endless void, the eternal black and the terror, and wonder, which he felt in their presence all faded and he was once again staring at his own reflection in the bar mirror, his face blotched by year old stains scarring the glass.
“So I said Ping Pong Balls, not King Kong’s Balls,” the landlord laughed, finishing the joke he had started thirty minutes earlier, his cloth covered hand twisting in a recently used glass. Of course, it wasn’t thirty minutes to him. For him, time had just moved as usual, mere moments. It was only Christian who felt the difference, being pulled from time itself to meet with them. “Hey. You feeling alright, buddy? That one usually kills.”
“Sorry,” Christian replied as he swirled the whiskey in his glass, staring into the cyclone forming at the bottom. “Just not really in a laughing mood.”
“Then guess how I’m feeling.” Not a voice he was expecting to hear. He didn’t have an appointment with Angel any time soon, as far as he knew. Before he could reply, Angel raised his hand, gesturing him to stop. He obliged, allowing Angel to ask, “Where’s Spike?”
Behind squinted eyes he pondered that question, answering, “I told you where he was. He was there, wasn’t he?”
“Oh, he was there, and I chased him off,” Angel explained, his large frame looming ever closer. “And now he has my friend because he still wants the ring, so you better tell me where he is.”
“I’m sorry, Angel, but I don’t know,” Christian replied, gesturing to the bar tender for a refill. “I only know what they tell me.”
Covering the empty glass with his hand, Angel leant in close to Christian, his eyes searching the young man, but his usual methods weren’t intimidating him. “So, you work for people who claim to be my allies, and you bring me information days in advance, but when I actually need your help you know nothing?”
“I’m glad we sorted that, out.” He had barely finished the sentence before Angel had him by the throat and pressed against the bar, his trachea bending in his grasp.
“I’ll ask again, and if you want to enjoy that drink, and your ability to breathe, the answer better contain Spike’s location,” Angel said, his eyes a golden red, his teeth snarled as he squeezed a little harder. “So, where’s Spike?”
His voice distorted by the pressure on his windpipe, Christian explained, “It doesn’t matter how much you threaten me, it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know where he is. They’ve told me nothing about this.”
After 246 years, it became clear when someone was lying. It was always accompanied by fear, no matter how mild. As for Christian, there was no change in heart rate, no perspiration, breathing normal. No one could hide their emotions that well. He hated it, but he was telling the truth.
“I really am sorry, Angel,” Christian spluttered as he straightened his tie and smoothed out his grey suit. Palming his throat, he added, “Why don’t you try and track him from where he took your friend.”
“Spike knows me,” Angel said, taking Christian’s glass from the bar and downing the whiskey inside. “He’s not so stupid that he’d leave a trail.”
Christian chuckled into his new glass as he sipped at the contents. “Spike wants the ring, and it’s likely he’ll want to make a trade. Seems to me he’d want to be found.”
* * *
“Tick tock, love,” Spike said, watching the seconds count over on his watch, almost indiscernible beneath the scratched glass. “Looks like I won’t be getting that ring, after all. All that leaves now is to decide what to do with you.”
“How about you kiss my ass!”
Taken aback, yet impressed, Spike smiled into the cigarette as he lit it, taking a deep breath before speaking. “Funny thing, defence mechanisms. Never quite know which you’re going to get. Should’ve guessed you’d be a fighter, hiding all that pain, all that dejection behind a wall of hostility. Little tip, the eyes give it away.”
He was barely half way down the cigarette when he flicked it away, embers flying in its wake and sparkling on his black leather duster for a few moments, the gentle breeze of his movement dousing them. Kneeling in front of her he continued, “Don’t worry, though, love. When I’m done with you, everything he’s made you feel today won’t matter. Especially when you help me kill the pillock.”
Part of her didn’t want to believe that he hadn’t shown up. Part of her wanted to squeeze her eyes shut, and make believe that he’d helped her, that he’d seen something in her that was worth saving. She wanted to believe she was as important to him as the helpless he put so much effort into saving every day.
Should have expected she wasn’t. She wasn’t innocent like them. They deserved to be saved. Her life wasn’t worth theirs. Angel knew that. That was why he’d left her.
“Gotta admit, though. I’m not too sure turning you would strike the right note,” Spike explained, searching some random spot for enlightenment. “Never was one for the theatrics, myself, but it might hurt Angelus a bit more if he finds a little dead present in his bed from his old pal Spike.”
“His name is Angel!”
“Yeah, and he’s not here, pet. No need to defend his honour, now. Your knight in poncey armour left you here with me. Like I said, you’re just not that important, sweet.”
“I’d like to test that theory.” Angel’s voice. She turned to look, to make sure it wasn’t some figment of her desperate imagination grasping at some straw hope. It wasn’t. He was there, and he didn’t look happy.
Hopelessness, anger, the feeling of worthlessness, all faded, replaced with a burst of relief. Angel’s eyes came to hers immediately, a thousand words spoken in a stare. She couldn’t look, turning from him; her eyes fixed to the floor, Spike’s boots, anything, just not on him.
“Angel. Had us all worried,” Spike said as he began to untie Cordelia, his hand firmly grasping her arm when the knots were loosed. “Was about to gift wrap the little bit and send her home first class, but now you’re here we can get this bollocks over with.”
“Let her go, Spike,” Angel said, his eyes once more fixed on his childe as he pulled Cordelia in close to his body, his arm around her neck, his fingers gesturing for the ring.
“You know the deal, mate. You give me that shiny little bauble, and you get the bint.”
After another quick glance at Cordelia, desperation marring her face, he threw the ring, Spike catching it in his free hand. He could only watch as he put it on, becoming invincible and infinitely more dangerous than he had ever been before.
“Now let her go,” Angel demanded as Spike continued to back out of the warehouse, Cordelia still tightly in his grasp.
“You know what, I’ve had one of those trademark bad guy changes of heart,” Spike said as the sunlight slowly immersed his body. “Think I’ll take her with me. Killing game can get a bit lonely.”
“Easy, mate,” Spike said as he reached the middle point between the buildings, bathed in sunlight, ignoring Cordelia’s squirming in his arms and holding her with ease. “Think about your blood pressure.”
It was hopeless. Spike had won. Angel couldn’t save her, not without killing himself. His eyes, though. So confident, so sure. Cunning. He wasn’t finished yet, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a stake, he nodded at her, as if to say it would all be alright. She wanted to believe it would be, that he could save her when she was helpless.
“Not gonna kill me, Angel, or did you forget to read the manual?”
“Won’t kill you, but it’ll hurt like hell,” Angel said, drawing his arm back and launching the stake through the air. It moved too quickly to be dodged, and lodged itself firmly into Spike’s shoulder, forcing him to release Cordelia with a shout of pain. “Run to me, Cordy!”
Without hesitation she broke into a sprint, running to him, his arms outstretched to her, his hands sizzling in the sunlight. His eyes never left hers, unflinching despite the pain. As she reached him every worry faded, his body shielding and concealing her. She felt as if tears would flow any second.
Before she could speak he handed her off to Doyle, saying, “One more thing I’ve got to do.”
Behind them, a van burst through the doors with Oz at the wheel. It sped towards them, but Angel was able to jump onto the side, sheltering from the sunlight. As Spike removed the stake from his shoulder, he was met by Angel hurtling through the air towards him, the collision knocking them both into the shade of the adjacent building.
Almost immediately both were to their feet, their faces morphed completely to reveal the visage of the demon. Angel threw the first punch, connecting with Spike’s face. The second was dodged, Spike gracefully dancing out of the way and spinning to swing a large boot into Angel’s temple, knocking the elder vampire face first into the large steel door of the warehouse.
Without hesitation Spike was upon him again, slamming Angel’s head against the steel time and again, bones cracking beneath the skin, blood vessels bursting and his skin splitting at the seams leaving long trails of blood flowing down his face. Sensing an opening, Angel dodged an attempted kick to the back of his head, flinging a leg out and connecting a kick to Spike’s gut, sending him staggering back.
Pouncing, Angel rallied a volley of punches into Spike’s face, savouring the feeling of bones shattering beneath his fists, teeth cracking, his nose breaking and blood warming his knuckles. The final punch knocked Spike to the ground, but rolling into the fall he rose to his knees, meeting the approaching Angel with a stake to the stomach.
“Bugger! Few inches too low. Never mind,” Spike shouted as he pulled the stake out, the squelch of torn muscle, flesh and sinew echoing in the shady alcove, and brought the stake down at Angel’s heart.
There were mere inches between the tip of the wood and Angel’s chest, only his last ditch catch stopping his childe burying it in his heart. It was the opportunity he needed, using the time to remove the ring from Spike’s finger, and then swing his forearm, smashing it into Spike’s temple sending him spinning off only to come back round to be met with a stake to the neck.
Shouting in pain, Spike dropped to the floor, the stake firmly lodged in place, and looked up as Angel stood victorious over him.
“It’s over Spike,” Angel said, picking up a broken piece of a concrete slab before slamming it down on the Gem of Amarra lying on the ground. He didn’t take his eyes off his old protégé as he stepped into the van as it pulled into the shade.
“That it, then?” Spike called before Angel shut the van door. “Not even going to finish me off? You made that mistake before!”
Smirking, Angel replied, “Why should I kill you, Spike? The sun will be coming round soon.”
As soon as the van rounded the corner, Spike’s attention moved to the slowly decreasing shade, the realisation setting in. “Oh, bloody hell!”
* * *
“How are you feeling?”
“Better now I’m home. Always nicer than being tied up somewhere with Radioactive Man playing the ‘You’re all alone’ card.” She tried to laugh it off, her defences up at maximum. He saw through it. Spike had done a number on her head. His death couldn’t have come slow enough.
Often he watched her, listened to her, using his senses to hone in on the tiny details humans couldn’t see. Changes in her voice, her scent, her body language. It was amazing that this was the same girl from Sunnydale. Either that or he just hadn’t paid attention to her back then, Buffy his main focus. She was so insecure, so sure that she wasn’t good enough.
Guilt. He knew the feeling. She had done things and said things that hurt others. She had made lives miserable, the role of the popular kid played to perfection. Now she had grown up and finally come to see what she was, and she truly believed that made her unworthy.
She had become just like him.
“I knew you’d get there eventually,” she added, her eyes darting around the room, never meeting his for long. “You always do.”
“You thought I wasn’t coming, didn’t you?” He kept his distance, blocking her retreat up the stairs with his body if she tried to take that option. “You believed Spike.”
Playing with the solitary ring on her finger, her focus on the small gem at the top glistening in the dim light, the only thing her father could afford to buy her for Graduation, she replied, “I didn’t think you had forgotten me or anything. It’s just…. you’re Angel. You help the helpless, and if Spike got that ring a lot of people would die. I just thought…”
“You thought you weren’t worth saving.” Immediately her attention was grabbed, and her eyes fixed on his as shallow pools formed on her lower eyelid. “Welcome to the club.”
“It’s not like I have reason to believe anything else. I mean, look at me. I was the biggest bitch in Sunnydale.” Ashamed, she looked away again, seeming to forget who she was talking to. “If I was you and I had to make that choice, there’d only be one option.”
“There was only one option, Cordelia, and I took it,” he explained. “As soon as I heard you were gone I had one thing on my mind and that was getting you back. The rest was just a bridge I’d cross at a later date.”
“Yeah, but why?”
“Because every time I look at you I see a woman who has done bad things and wants to help people…. for a small fee.” Her efforts to fight back the tears threatening to fall were helped as a brief laugh forced its way past her sadness. “And I see a woman who I consider a friend, and I wasn’t going to give that up because of some ring. You’re important.”
She tried to speak, to answer him with some argument as to why his statement was wrong, but she couldn’t, Doyle’s shouting from the top of the stairs interrupting her. Another vision. He was needed.
All he afforded her was an apologetic smile as he grabbed his coat, and the broadsword he kept in his weapons cabinet. This time, however, she blocked his exit up the stairs. As he turned around he was met by her arms wrapped around him, and her head resting against his chest.
She took a deep breath in, his smell strangely comforting, and familiar, as if she had known it for a long time. It felt like home. She wasn’t used to that. Ever since the IRS had taken her concept of home away from her she hadn’t felt like she belonged anywhere. Now, though, she felt like she belonged. She didn’t deserve it, but she belonged.
Suddenly aware that she was slowly squeezing him tighter and nuzzling into his chest, she pulled back, her hands on her hips, her eyes everywhere but on his, her free hand scratching at the non-existent itch on her forehead. “You better go slay. Be careful, though. I’ve had enough patch-up practice this week.”
Unable to resist a poor joke, he smiled although briefly, and hinting at irony he replied, “I can’t make any promises.”
Immersed in darkness, Angel sipped at the increasingly warm, thick red blood staining his glass, his lips leaving smudged rings at the rim. Bitter, he sucked his lips back, exposing his teeth as he swallowed the fluid.
A deep rumbling filled his apartment, all his possessions composing music as the large vehicle sped by over head before fading back into the thick silence he had come to familiarise himself with again after she’d left.
It had been a few days since she’d left. At his request, Doyle had found her a new apartment. His generous offer, the outstretched hand to a needy soul had been withdrawn, the old living arrangements straining their budding friendship, numerous arguments leading to hard feelings and deep seated resentment.
He was particular. For 100 years everything had been just so. There had been no one to stop or change his force of habit, to invade his comfort zone. It had been him and his tendencies for a century. Not even Buffy was able to interfere with his living arrangements.
Cordelia, though. She had done what no one else had for a long time. She had lived with him, shared his space, penetrated his inner sanctum and had shared something with him he hadn’t opened up for a long time. His sanctuary had become her rented room. In his safety she found a home.
She’d driven him crazy! Near the end, he found himself hating every minute he had to share with her. At first it hadn’t been too bad, her slotting into his routine nicely, but after a while it started to grate. Wet towels on leather furniture, white rings scarring the wooden antiques he had collected over the years, chunks of linoleum missing from his floor. It all added up, and that was without the constant nagging.
Now she was gone.
There was a chance it wouldn’t have happened, an embittered ghost not wanting Cordelia in her home. Ironic. His words gave her the strength to defeat the spirit, to release the old Cordelia, the same Cordelia he couldn’t accept, the same girl he had kicked out.
Problem was, that girl he couldn’t abide any longer, who he needed to be away from, he realised, was gone now. It was quiet without her. Without the needless backing track he could think. Without the TV blaring or radio playing he had the peace he desired, only his thoughts, the voices in his head speaking to him.
He had gained the freedom to be miserable, to wallow in his past and relive endless horrors. He could bask in the memory of Buffy’s face and bathe in its perfect glow without constant reminders to cheer up, or forget her. He could do as he pleased without being told his behaviour was pointless and he was just wasting time harbouring a dream that was beyond impossible.
Her scent was fading, everything she touched losing the imprint of her presence, like a body giving up the ghost. Her perfume didn’t swirl around him when he returned. Her attempts at cooking didn’t frustrate or amuse him. Her movements in the night, dream induced groans, didn’t worry him any longer or make him want to rush to her aid.
Cordelia was gone, the frustration that she was truly exorcised from his home. Now, he had what he wanted. He was alone again. Yeah, just what he wanted. To be alone, submerged in darkness. It was better that way.
Whether she knew it or not, every second she had lived with him had been a dance with the devil, death nipping at her heels. He was dangerous. His friends forgot what he was, his fluffy soul, the tortured champion lulling them into some foolish sense of security.
Watching her sleep, her whimpers drawing him to her, ready to save her from whatever troubled her, he lost himself in the fantasy. At first, she was his friend, sleeping in his bed. Slowly, she became so much more, her smooth skin glistening in the dim light stirring something deep inside him.
He’d caught himself as he imagined sinking his fangs into her thigh, the taste of her skin on his tongue like honey. The sound of her screams, the scent of her fear aroused him. She was perfection, a meal to be savoured, a kill to be cherished. Worst of all, deep down, in the darkest corners where his soul didn’t reach, he wanted to take that bite and lose himself in sweet indulgence.
She was better away from that, away from him. It was better he stayed alone. He preferred it.
His mind ticked over as he stared at the wall, his mind lost in one dark thought, one unpleasant realisation.
It was quiet, and he was alone.
* * *
Third wine in, a deep shade of red staining her lips, her tongue sweeping over the soft skin to draw in every last drop. The bottle lifted, her invisible counsellor pouring another glassful. With her slowly diminishing hand eye coordination she felt around for the glass, wrapping her fingers around the fragile stem.
“It’s not like I miss him or anything,” she said, veiled eyelids focusing on the picture of Dennis in her head, the image she created for him sat in the chair across from her, his shirt horizontally lined black and red, his hair blonde and scruffy. “It’s just… he’s my friend, you know, and we lived together for over a month. That’s a long time. You really get to know a person in that time.”
She tapped her finger on the rim of the glass, but the refill wasn’t coming, her invisible roommate placing the half empty bottle at the highest point in the apartment. When it was out of sight, she dropped her head, her arm the barrier between her skull and the solid wooden table.
“I mean, we’re both alone out here,” she continued, her words muffled by her sleeve. “All my friends are either dead or off at college, and Angel…. well, he’s Angel.”
Invisible or not, she could feel his arms wrap around her, helping her to her feet, his body supporting her as her head lulled backwards. Groggy, dreary eyed, the words kept coming, an emotional outpouring in no need of a refill.
“But he was my friend, and I was his.” In her head Dennis was agreeing with every word, in a posh British accent for some reason. Silly Dennis, putting voices on for her. “Even in that short time I felt like I was starting to get to know him. He needs me. He’s all alone over there, all lonely and alone. No one should be alone.”
Slowly, Dennis lowered her onto the bed, holding her head as he gently placed it on the pillow.
“He’s a good person,” she said, nuzzling into her pillow. “He doesn’t deserve what he’s been given. I should be there with him… but he doesn’t want me there. Stubborn! That’s his problem.”
Starting to get worked up, she felt calmed as a cool hand stroked her face. She smiled as she sighed, sleep taking over, and settled in.
“Thank you, Dennis. At least you want me around.”
* * *
The night air was cool, though he barely felt it hidden beneath the layers, his hands buried deep in his pockets, his head down to the ground, shielding the only showing flesh from the breeze.
It was quiet, unusually so for a Los Angeles night. Even on the nights where little happened, there was always some residual noise from somewhere. Distant traffic, an argument in an apartment building, the slow thump of music playing in the clubs blocks over.
Tonight, there was nothing. He’d come out to get away from the quiet, not find more of it. He’d sat upstairs all day to avoid it, just soaking up the inane chatter as he read or studied his files. He didn’t listen intently, daring not to in case he got caught up in the evils of fashion and celebrity culture.
It became a bit too much when the argument started, Cordelia and Doyle bickering over silly things. Even then, the raised voices carried downstairs, providing ample relief.
It would fade in the end. He knew it would. He’d just grown accustomed to someone being there, and now she was gone he found himself missing her and the company she afforded him, the friendship she willingly gave.
There had been others who had offered friendship, but it never came freely. There was always an element of mistrust, doubt about his past and his uncertain future, the line he walked too thin for comfort. Not her, though. She was his friend despite his past, his future. She had given him something he had sought for a long time. In a way, she had given him forgiveness.
He could never forget that.
A scream pierced the night, a soul in need of his help and his undivided attention. He caught himself before he felt too relieved and ran, following the sound to its source. Buildings, garbage cans, chain link fences all flashed by as he ran, the screams growing louder with each stride. Worlds shattered beneath his feet as he ran through the shallow puddles on the ground, tiny white eyes watching him from unseen hiding places.
Within moments he reached her, cowering in a dirty alley, scampering backwards as the demon bore down on her, its claws stretched out as it prepared to strike, its eyes firmly fixed on her throat. Angel knew the type. It was a vicious, merciless killer like so many of them. Problem was, he was better at it.
Without hesitation he attacked, jumping onto its back, the spines ridged along the length of it scraping against his stomach and tearing at his shirt. He tried to place his hands as it thrashed violently, its teeth and powerful bite in the back of his mind as he finally got one hand to its chin. Its brutish appearance hid the underlying intelligence it had and as he tried in vain to snap its thick, muscular neck, it threw him off, his body smashing into the garbage cans.
He waited as it lumbered towards him, huge claws on show, ready to tear him apart. He was prepared though, driving his stake into its foot, and taking its head under his arm. Without effort, he ran up the wall, landing behind the demon, its head still in position, and with a sharp tug, snapped its neck, the crack echoing around the alley way.
Dropping the corpse, the final despaired groans seeping from its lungs, he turned to face the woman who was now hiding in the cleft of a doorway, her body curled up into a ball, her face buried in her knees. He could hear her heart racing, and he could smell her skin becoming moistened with sweat, her breaths shallow and numerous.
“You’re safe now,” he said, not wanting to get too close. “It’s dead.”
He kept his focus on her as she slowly unfurled from her cocoon, smudged, blackened eyes slowly scanning the scene, taking in the sight of the dead attacker, before coming to meet his own. She wore a frown over a pair of the deepest blue, uncertain of what happened but assured of the fear she had felt. The typical reaction of those first encountering the supernatural.
Almost clichéd, her next response was to stand, speechless, and rush away, flinging the tattered remains of a leather handbag over her shoulder, her high heels barely supporting her as she slammed her feet down with each step. She didn’t want to hang around. They rarely did, but he wasn’t finished with her yet.
“These things don’t attack for no reason, you know,” Angel called out as he studied the body before him, yet alert to her every movement, the sudden silence in the alley meaning he’d got her attention. “So, you want to talk?”
* * *
Three lawyers filed out of Holland Manner’s office, smiling through their teeth as they shook hands with their demon clients. They gave Lindsey an acknowledging nod before going back to their patronising tones and the basic tenets of acting required for the elaborate show they put on for their clients. Experts.
As always, Holland knew Lindsey was there and before he had even reached the door he was beckoned in, the sound of his name on Holland’s tongue disturbing the hairs on the back his neck, his skin feeling like it was creeping off his body.
Holland’s eyes always seemed so friendly, so welcoming, like he was looking at a son. He hated it, because he knew who Holland really was. What he was. It wasn’t pleasant people who worked here. Wolfram and Hart wasn’t a place for the friendly types. He made no excuses for who he was, and those who did made him uncomfortable.
“Lindsey,” Holland began, his voice soft, barely disturbing the air around them. “What can I do for you?”
Handing a large dossier to his superior, he replied, “I did some checking into Angel, like you asked. Looks like the guy we’ve been waiting for,” he explained as Holland flicked through the pages. “Turned in the 18th Century by a vampire named Darla, terrorised Europe for centuries as Angelus before he was cursed with a soul by gypsies. Since then he’s shunned his evil ways, except for a little reprieve he had in Sunnydale.”
Holland scanned the pages briefly before bringing his full attention back to Lindsey, the disconcerting smile firmly in place again. “Thank you, Lindsey. Very good work. I’m sure the Senior Partners will be very interested in what you’ve found.”
“There’s more,” Lindsey continued as he pulled another sheet of paper out of his briefcase. “Reports indicate that since the morning of the 12th May Angel has been exuding highly elevated energy levels. They seem to have no effect at all, but they are there and they are extremely pronounced.”
“Magic?” Holland asked as he scanned the paper.
“I’m afraid there is no way of being sure, sir. None of the outside contractors were able to determine what they were.”
“Interesting.” The smile returned as he looked at Lindsey. “I will inform the Senior Partners and see what they advise. I suggest you go home and get a good night’s rest. Again, good job.”
His voice slithered in his head as Lindsey forced a smile. “Thank you, sir. Good night.”
* * *
Ripples of heat emanating from the cup moulded her face, twisting it as she stared blankly at the table. Long strands of dark hair dangled in front of her; somewhat hiding the lines rolling down her cheeks. A demon attack, a missing sister. It couldn’t be coincidental.
He was surprised, however, that a usually passive species would attack her, but anyone could turn, even those ruled by codes of conduct. He himself had been the child of a Catholic home but went on to become the greatest mass murderer the world had known. Some were just wrong.
Gathering the scattered remnants of a bad night and an even worse week in the City of Angels, she said, “Thanks for the milkless, sugarless tea and the shoulder, but I have to find my sister. I’ve wasted enough time.”
There were no long goodbyes, no gratitude filled hugs as she stood. She barely even looked at him with anything resembling civility. He didn’t follow, instead focusing on the cup handle as he pulled at the flaking porcelain, chipped during Cordelia’s heavy handed dishwashing.
“Who’s going to find you?” he asked, matter of factly, again his few words drawing her to a full stop.
“You’ve already annoyed one pretty dangerous demon by getting too close,” he explained. He brought his eyes to hers, his features unflinching, the severity of her situation needing to be expressed. “I won’t be there next time.”
“And what else do you propose I do?” she asked, throwing her bag to the floor. A subtle invitation. A cry for help. A chink in the armour she had worn so perfectly all night.
Another soul in need was all he saw, hiding behind the bravado. Her life was a stage, an act put on for the eyes of a world that didn’t care nor made an effort to notice. Inside, she was a scared little girl, hiding away from the judgment she imagined her peers wished to pile on her. In reality, it was the mirror she hated, her own self deprecating thoughts she was hiding from, her own weaknesses and failures.
She reminded him of Cordelia, living a life behind the sharp tongue, the attitude. To the outside world she was the bitch, the Queen of Hearts that everybody feared. Inside, she was a good person, a soft, gentle person crying out for help and acceptance.
Angel couldn’t turn this one away like he turned Cordelia away. She needed his help.
“The bathroom is just through there,” he indicated with a nod of his head towards the door. “Get yourself cleaned up and then you can tell me about your sister.”
It took her a moment to digest what he said, her eyes wide in disbelief. He was doing all he could for now. Her sister would have to wait. It would take research and tracking to find her. For now, he had an empty apartment to offer and a woman in need of a home. Whatever her suspicions, his motives were pure.
Still, she refused to budge, lingering in place as she tried to work him out. He could see it in her stare, the boxes in her head being ticked off one by one. Not a trusting person by any stretch. At least she was smart enough to know that trust was a fool’s game.
“Believe me, I know putting your faith in a complete stranger is high on your to do list right now, but considering what you’re dealing with, I’m the only chance you’ve got of finding your sister.” He couldn’t sugar coat it. She needed to know. He just hoped she was smart enough to believe him.
Sighing behind closed eyes, she seemed to surrender to the situation, replying, “Where are your towels?”
* * *
“Call me paranoid.”
“You’re paranoid,” Doyle replied, returning to the funny pages and the latest adventures of Hagar the Horrible.
“How can you call me paranoid?” she asked, ignoring as Doyle buried his face in the paper, letting out a mock scream and asking the Lord to give him strength. “Laugh at me all you want, but I’m telling you, something is wrong with Angel. He’s quiet.”
“He’s Angel. If you hadn’t already noticed, princess, he’s never exactly been Mr. Sunshine and Lollipops,” he explained, folding his paper, realising that Cordelia wasn’t going to let him read it anytime soon. He loved her, and all, but she wasn’t the easiest person to know.
“No, this is different,” she said, watching the elevator, hoping to see his figure behind the latticed doors, for him to come in and greet them, smile no matter how briefly. At least then she would know he was okay. “He’s been more grouchy than usual since I left. You think… you think me leaving has bothered him?”
“Morning,” Angel said, moving straight to the coffee machine. As he passed by he gave the briefest of smiles, mouthing the question, “Are you okay?”
He hadn’t smiled in days. He had barely spoken in days, and he certainly hadn’t afforded them friendly small talk. Maybe Doyle was right; she was imagining it all, hoping deep down that he was missing her like she was missing him, despite her denial to Dennis. He genuinely wasn’t bothered. She was just an annoyance that he had now gotten rid of.
“Erm yeah, fine, thanks,” she stuttered, arranging the loose files on her desk. “You?”
“I’m alright,” he replied, grimacing as the coffee bathed his tongue, thankful that the taste was dulled. “Finally have something useful to do now that we have a new case.”
Doyle swivelled in his chair, mocking the look of offence, asking, “Got yourself a new source there, bud?”
“Now who’s paranoid? He probably found something last night while he was out patrolling.” She didn’t look at them, focusing on the computer screen and the demon research pages they had discovered. She didn’t want to look at Angel. She thought that it had been mutual, that in the time they lived together, they had become friends, important to each other. He was important to her. Instead, she was just a secretary and a nuisance.
“I’m not interrupting am I?” It was a new voice. A woman’s voice. Now she had to look. Long brunette hair cascaded over her shoulders, her dark eyes shy, and her smile nervous. Angel’s shirt looked good on her, revealing her curves but leaving enough to the imagination. Wait, Angel’s shirt!?
Eyeing up the new client, Doyle had to smile, Cordelia’s gaping mouth not lost on him. “Oh, he found something, alright.”
The scent of coffee on his fingers filled his sinuses, his hand over his mouth as his eyes flicked back and forth between Cordelia and the woman he had brought home the night before. He liked his quiet, peace, but this silence was unbearable, every thought running through Cordelia’s mind he’d already predicted.
Her scrunched eyes and the shallow lines on her brow cracking her flawless skin beneath the strain of her frown read like a book. All she was seeing was him on a killing spree, Angelus reborn. The all too real memories, still fresh one year on, were right in view of her mind’s eye and she was staring them dead in the face.
She was all too predictable. She should have known that he wouldn’t take that risk again. Nothing was worth the forfeited lives of those he would hurt. She was one of those lives. Being his employee, his friend, she was directly in the firing line and if he knew her at all, she’d be the first to step onto the front line to stop him hurting anyone.
Her life wasn’t negotiable.
Looking around and seeing no break in the awkwardness was forthcoming, Doyle slapped his hands together and extended his arm to the young woman. “Okay, well, seeing as Angel’s practically a mute most of the time and Cordelia’s dealing with new feelings of inadequacy let me be the first to introduce myself. I’m Doyle.”
Brushing strands of hair behind her ear, she reached out and shook his hand, nervous laughter proceeding before replying, “Sarah.”
“It’s a pleasure, love.”
It looked good on her, the shirt. The dark reds really sat well with her skin tone, Cordelia thought. Actually, it looked great on her. Angel wasn’t messing around.
That was what it always came down to. Cordelia, and those she considered ‘her kind’, analysed things based on their external appearance. Picked flaws and failings in a person’s very essence based on the state of their skin, how modern their clothes were and how much like ‘them’ they were.
In the end, though, that was all it was, an external reaction to an unfamiliar stimulus, and in this case, a truly unwanted stimulus.
She could hear Doyle’s voice as he chatted away incessantly, muffled in the background as she stared. She could feel Angel looking at her, and wondered if he knew what he’d done, if he had the brains to realise what he had told her in not so many words. Did he know that he told her she wasn’t good enough?
Living with him had had its rougher moments, and there had been disagreements. She knew she was difficult to live with, and accepted it. It was her, and no one could change that. They wanted her, they got that. Hell, she’d accepted Xander Harris’ faults, so how could someone not grant her the same courtesy?
She thought he had, that in the short time they shared an apartment, they had become closer, and had some form of mutual understanding. Seeing his face as he rescued her from Spike, the sheer determination to not let her be hurt, the things he said to her when he brought her home. Made her wonder, staring at this barely clothed beauty, just how much he’d regurgitated in her ear.
The acceptance she thought she was getting was actually nothing of the sort. In the end, she hadn’t been good enough of a friend, in his eyes, to warrant living with. As soon as he could he had her turfed out, and moved in the next one, hoping she’d pander to that huge ego before he disposed of her, as well.
Their friendship wasn’t in doubt. She knew how she felt about him, how close she felt she was growing to him. He had been more of a friend to her than anyone else had ever been. It hurt, though, knowing that as close as she thought they were becoming, as strong as she thought their friendship was starting to be, he didn’t see the same. He saw a friend that annoyed him and who he could deal with seeing less of.
He wasn’t willing to open his apartment to her, but for this girl the door was practically off its hinges.
All that aside, there were more important things to deal with right now, namely the very fragile soul Angel was so prone to losing. It was a sensitive subject, though. She needed subtlety, and if there was anything she was, it was subtle. “Angel, a moment,” she said, pointing to his empty office.
She gestured for him to shut the door, feeling the anger boiling behind her eyes, the worry for Angel’s wellbeing, and her own. However, she kept reminding herself to keep it subtle. “Quick question:” Subtle, Cor. Subtle. “Have you lost your frickin mind!?” That would do.
“Er, hello! Have you forgotten what happens when you get jiggy!? You go all homicidal and I can’t make my rent payments!” she said, pacing in front of his desk, holding her forehead as she thought about the implications, among other things.
“I didn’t get “jiggy”, Cordelia. I found her in trouble last night and I helped her out. That’s what we do here. Help.”
“You don’t think I know that? You know what else I know? You. You’re old fashioned. You love to save the damsel in distress, and then swagger off into the night all ego and pheromones.”
“There was no swaggering, Cordelia. She was hurt and needed a place to stay.” She didn’t care that he looked frustrated. She didn’t care that she was the cause of it. She needed him to realise what he obviously couldn’t grasp. Women loved him, and his quiet charms, the innocent chivalry that he exhibited for every woman.
“Yeah, and all of a sudden Hotel Angel, which is usually harder to get into than an inn in Bethlehem, is full of vacancies. A few days ago you couldn’t wait to get rid of me!” Also, he needed to realise that she recognised his behaviour. He was lonely. She got that. Problem was, accepting vulnerable women into his home, mixed in with his need for acceptance and companionship was a bad cocktail that no one needed him drinking.
“She doesn’t get peanut butter in the bed and tear up my linoleum! And, that’s not true.”
Having her failures thrown at her, especially when she had given him what he wanted before anyone else had, was a bitter pill to swallow, so she wasn’t swallowing it. She wasn’t at fault. He was, if he was so hypocritical that he would condemn her for her faults while not recognising the huge, evil, baby killing elephant in the room.
“Too right it isn’t true, buster! I did not get peanut butter on the bed!”
“No, I meant it’s not true that I wanted you-”
Three sharp raps on the inside of the door frame halted Angel midsentence, and drew their attention to the Irishman in the doorway.
“Sorry to interrupt your little domestic, but it isn’t polite leaving a half naked girl with a complete stranger who looks a bit shifty, even if I do say so myself.”
“Yeah, I’ll take her downstairs, find her some clothes,” Angel replied, glancing at Cordelia once more before taking Sarah by the arm.
“Steal some of Buffy’s clothes on one of your late night visits, did you? Didn’t know Angelus had a taste for cheap heels.” Cordelia replied, sharply.
To her annoyance he didn’t take the bait, remaining business as usual, as usual. “Could you two see what you can find on a Samantha Stone? Sarah’s sister. She’s been missing for two months.”
His eyes stayed locked on hers as the lift slowly descended into the basement. She maintained the seriousness on her face, showing her disapproval at the arrangement, until he was out of sight. Immediately, she felt her eyes soften, the thought that he didn’t want her around still running through her mind, her attempts to accept that this floozy was a more desirable roommate more difficult than she thought they would be.
“You alright, love?” Doyle asked. She was showing too much if he could read there was something wrong. Time to do the Cordelia thing.
“Fine,” she said, smiling as she twirled on her heels to face him. “Now come on. We need to try and find this girl.”
* * *
Hours of searching had yielded little, and Doyle had been nothing like helpful. Add to that the constant thoughts about Angel and his new chew toy having a bit too much unsupervised fun while she was still lying on the “not good enough” scrap heap made it all the more fun. Not. Now, she had to deal with it all again. Another meeting with the boss man, and another little trip into emotions she shouldn’t be having.
Disappointed? About being kicked out? Why? She didn’t need him. He needed her. What was his friendship but a big slice of brooding pie with a side of Buffy whipped cream. She offered him everything, and he gave nothing. Well, that was what she told herself as she tried to convince herself that she shouldn’t be feeling bad that he didn’t want her around.
Shame she didn’t fully believe it.
At the base of the stairs, she was greeted by the sight of Angel leaving his bedroom, where Sarah was sleeping in his bed, while buttoning up a fresh shirt. Wow, that stung! Hadn’t he heard a word she’d said? After his betrayal of their friendship she could have left him, let him lose his soul and kill hundreds, giving him another long list of names to feel guilty over. She didn’t have to help him after he had made her so unwelcome, but she had. He was her friend, and she didn’t want him hurting people, for their sake and his, but he goes and bones the new girl anyway!
So: miserable, occasionally rude and unappreciative, former mass murderer and now ungrateful. She just wished she could tar him with that brush, and not understand and know the other Angel, her friend.
She wished he’d listen.
“What now, Cordelia?” he asked, frustrated, not taking kindly to her questioning gaze sheathed behind the squinted eyes of the moral high ground.
Fine. He wanted to get snippy, she’d wash her hands of him. “Tight rope, that’s all I’m saying. On that topic, you wouldn’t happen to have set up a ‘My Boss has turned evil and is trying to kill me slowly and painfully’ severance package, would you?” Had to get one last dig in.
“What do you want, Cordelia?” Angel asked as he rubbed tiredly at his eyes. She wasn’t sure if it was irritation or if he was just worn out from a little one on one with his special new client.
“I’ve searched everywhere for Samantha Stone but she’s playing the missing person role perfectly.”
“You can’t find anything?”
“Nope. No missing persons reports, no priors. Nothing.” He looked disappointed. Probably worried Sarah wouldn’t give him the Deluxe service later. He wanted it so badly, she wouldn’t deny him. “So, I went ahead and made a call to your Detective friend, asked her for a favour. She was more than happy to help when I said YOU needed it. She gave me an address.”
Without any word of thanks he snatched the paper from her hand and grabbed his coat from the banister as he bounded up the stairs. She wondered if she was stupid to expect a thank you.
“Cordelia?” Angel said as he dipped his head below his ceiling. “Look after her.”
Yep, she was stupid.
He felt like a dick. Hell, he was a dick. He was famous for it. Like Doyle reminded him when they first met, he was a bastard. He wasn’t proud of the fact, especially when Cordelia was the one on the wrong end of it, but he couldn’t be around her right now.
She’d been a friend to him when he needed it, and accepted him like he had wanted so many too, with no questions asked. She had faults, but she saw through his, or gently nudged him in the famous Cordelia way, where she told you bluntly what your problem was, sometimes to the point of it being an insult, but you couldn’t help but smile.
She was a friend, and he had made her move out because he couldn’t accept the very things that made her human, her faults. He couldn’t look at her, anymore, without feeling it. She didn’t care. She had her own apartment, her own space. Why would she be disappointed?
He had thought, at one point when they were talking in the office, that she had been disappointed that he had asked her to leave. The way she brought it up, the tone in her voice. She seemed let down that she had been “replaced”. No, he was mistaken. It was just another way of making it clear she didn’t want to deal with Angelus.
Still, even if she didn’t care about his, as he saw it, “betrayal”, he did care.
Sarah? His way of compensating. He wouldn’t fail this one like he failed Cordelia. He didn’t want people in his home, complicating his life. He wasn’t interested in other people’s lives. They needed him, though, and any way he could help, he would. For them, for Cordelia. In a life full of mistakes and bad choices, moving her out was one of the ones he could atone for.
* * *
The landlord didn’t take his eyes off Angel as he searched the dozens of keys on his belt for the one marked 2-C. As soon as Angel had mentioned who he was looking for, the landlord’s whole demeanour had changed, from polite and welcoming to suspicious and hostile, questioning what Angel wanted with Samantha.
He hadn’t given a definitive answer, but already, he had a suspect: a landlord obviously enamoured and overly protective of one of his patrons. If that was an unreturned feeling, it was a possibility that he had had a hand in her disappearance.
He knew the type and had seen it a lot in his time. Spurned men hurting the object of their twisted affection in some effort to keep them for themselves. It was almost clichéd.
Finally, the door swung open, but the landlord was less willing to remove himself from the frame. It was only Angel’s fake credentials that had got him this far, but he foresaw there could be more trouble. If only this guy was a vampire. Much simpler that way.
“Nice girl, that Samantha. Don’t try anything funny. I’ll be watching you,” he said, his short, stubby finger inches from Angel’s face.
Ignoring the threats, he slowly reached his hand into the door, sighing when he found he could get his hand in without resistance. How would he tell Sarah, he asked himself as the only possible conclusion repeated in his mind endlessly. Now he was glad he hadn’t promised to find Samantha. Alive at least.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be good,” Angel replied as the landlord slowly retreated back to his personal apartment, 2-A, another hint of evidence that he was obsessed with the girl, and possibly her murderer.
Finally free of that unpleasant distraction, Angel entered the apartment and locked the door behind him. The scent of wealth hit him immediately, Samantha’s affluence apparent straight away. Fine furnishings, a thick carpet under foot and the most advanced technology all on display. He also didn’t fail to notice the antiques sheltered away in a display case, the combined value stretching into the millions, he imagined.
Mail lay on a side table, a casual glance at which indicated that it had been posted and opened only a day earlier. According to Sarah, her sister had been missing for months. It was too small a thing to make any decisions, but it raised questions. He hated questions. It was always the questions that led into the complex personal lives of his clients and victims, a place he still wasn’t comfortable going. It was necessary, though, to discover the truth behind Samantha’s disappearance, and her murder.
* * *
“Your hour’s nearly up!” the landlord called from the doorway, barely disturbing Angel as he stared at Samantha’s picture.
He’d checked every room, uncovered everything that might give him some idea, or some beginning of one, as to what caused her death. In the three quarters of an hour it had taken him to search completely, he had found nothing and it bothered him.
Dirty dealings, bad connections, unpaid debts – these were the things he expected to find. Some sort of evidence that they were involved with cults or other demonic groups, but there was nothing, a whole lot of recent nothing. That bothered him more than anything else?
Sarah had told him that her sister had been missing for months, yet everything in her apartment said that she had been there just the night before. Mail opened, e-mails read, a newspaper with an advertisement cut out dated for the day before. It hinted at any number of things, but namely that Sarah had been wrong, or she was lying.
He didn’t want to go down that line of reasoning. It was a last resort. He couldn’t pin the blame on Sarah based on what he had seen in her sister’s apartment. Not yet. She still seemed innocent, and even went up against a powerful demon in her attempts to find Samantha. No, it couldn’t have been her.
After all, Samantha didn’t necessarily have to have been missing to have been out of contact with her family, even her twin, Sarah, if she was involved in things she shouldn’t have been. Maybe it had only now caught up with her, but then again, there was no sign that she was involved in anything.
“Time’s up,” the landlord said as his large, round frame filled the door. He was trying to look intimidating but with one finger rooting around in his belly button, he looked anything but.
Angel took one last look at the photo of Samantha, before silently making his way past the landlord who grunted a satisfied chuckle, his throat raspy as he coughed out the rest of it. He wasn’t off the hook, just yet. There was still a possibility he had done it.
For now, though, all Angel could do was follow the last, solid lead Samantha had left. She wore the same perfume as Cordelia did, and he was going to follow its faint signature to its source.
* * *
The flickering lights in the hall weren’t doing anything for his head, every flash shooting sharp pain along the nerve endings. This wasn’t vision pain, though, but the regular type of headache, the ones brought on by a little too much liquor and a lot too much work. Computer screens, police reports, census records, all to find one non-existent girl and he was just about ready to drop.
Barely coherent, he felt his way along the corridor, his hand running along the faded yellow, strategically dodging the ever growing patches of brown, slowly overtaking the wall paper like a glacier. He waited for the rough, unvarnished wood beneath his hand, the sign of home, careful as he did so to avoid the splinters branching out at the corners.
It was nothing special, Spartan in many ways, but it was home.
Practically falling into the room, the door handle his only support, he sighed in relief, closing his eyes to absorb that welcome home feeling. Reaching out he felt for the light switch, talking to the plastic covering as though it had been trying to elude him, and pressed it down, his eyelids suddenly becoming a shade of red.
Necessary to survive navigating the apartment, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes. He jumped back, fists ready, though he was in no shape for a fight, when he saw the man stood by the window, dressed in a suit that would make Cordelia a little hotter. He just stared, a hint of smile curling the corners of his lips.
Doyle, breathless, and his heart racing, could only stare back, looking the stranger up and down as his sore head was barraged with possibilities. Who did he owe money to? Which of his “friends” employed men who looked like that? He kept drawing blanks.
“My apologies,” the stranger said, stepping out into the middle of the room, his hands still firmly in his pockets. “Bit of a bad habit, I have, waiting in apartments. I really must remember not to. Never makes a good first impression, unless of course, you’re dealing with someone who needs to be a bit frightened. You’re just a harmless half breed, though, so I apologise.”
“Maybe I am, but you have 10 seconds to explain what you’re doing in my flat before this little half breed gets mightily violent,” Doyle replied, hiding behind the bravado, all the while making sure he was close enough to the front door to make a quick getaway.
The stranger could only chuckle, a set of pearly whites on show as he rocked back and forth on his heels. “Now now, Allen. We both know that’s an empty threat. So unbecoming.”
“The name is Doyle.”
“Your name is whatever I wish it to be, Allen,” he snapped, his voice all of a sudden more severe, his eyes intense as he stared into Doyle’s eyes.
He was human, dressed in a poncey suit, using words like unbecoming, and yet Doyle felt strange around him. The way his eyes bore into him concerned him, the blackened pupils making him want to avert his gaze. This man, so ordinary in many ways, felt… wrong, the only way he could describe it, and he cursed the day, though he didn’t remember it, that he had got caught up with the likes of him.
With a cough to clear his throat, his eyelids flickering under the stare that would not relent, Doyle asked, “Who are you, anyway?”
His voice softened again, but he continued to watch Doyle. “Neither enemy nor friend.”
“Oh great, I love to come home after a long day and settle down with a steaming hot cup of cryptic,” he replied, regretting that he had decided in that moment to be cocky, recoiling away slowly from what he feared would be unpleasant consequences.
He didn’t fly off the handle like Doyle expected, nor did he look any angrier. Instead, he pulled a cigarette from his top jacket pocket and a lighter from his trousers, and lit the white stick hanging from his mouth.
Taking a drag, and releasing the grey cloud up onto the brown, patchy ceiling, he explained, “Well then, let me make it clear. My name is Christian, and if you don’t help me, your friends will die.”
“Listen, you want to come here and intimidate me, have at it, but I won’t let you do anything to my friends. You got that?” He surprised himself with the show of confidence. That wasn’t him, not usually. Most of the time, he left the fighting to Angel and verbal insults to Cordelia. He wasn’t going to let some suit threaten them, though. Not those two.
Even more surprising was Christian’s reaction. He’d expected more threats, maybe even a bit of a beating. Laughter, though? He hadn’t expected that. This wasn’t that cocky, ‘you don’t stand a chance’ laughter. This was genuine. Christian was pleased that he’d stood up to him.
“It’s good to see that some things haven’t changed,” Christian said, placing his arm around Doyle’s shoulders and leading him to the window to gaze out on the city. “Even when realities bend and break, time shifts and falters, the hearts and souls of their subjects never change. Now I see why they chose you.”
“Chose me?” Doyle asked, his voiced tearing with a high pitched squeal. He didn’t bother to repeat himself in a deeper tone, though. It wasn’t important. “Look, man, unless the lottery has chosen me for a support grant, I’m not interested.”
“Like I said, Doyle, without you your friends are doomed,” Christian said, looking out over the city, his eyes strained as he thought. “Their deaths will bring nothing good, and you are the key to their salvation. Your role shall be revealed in time. For now, patience is needed.”
He didn’t know what he had been smoking, but the big destiny wasn’t his thing. That was Angel’s gig. He had the wrong man, he was sure of it. Something made him want to wait, though. Part of him wanted it to be true. If his friends needed him, he wanted to help.
* * *
Everyone knew the smell of the sewers, none more so than him. He’d spent countless hours familiarising himself with humanity’s waste. It felt almost ironic that he was down there, wading through it all. One human left over searching for the clues of another.
It wouldn’t be long now. Thing about the sewers was that the smell was overpowering. It was all there was. It seeped into clothes and skin, every bead of sweat thereafter contaminated with it. That was the trick, though. He knew there was something wrong when the stench of the sewers paled in comparison to something else.
It was getting stronger. He was getting closer. Part of him already knew what was waiting for him. It wasn’t the first time he’d smelt it. Despite his age, he wasn’t so cynical that he couldn’t hold out one shred of hope that he was wrong.
He knew he wouldn’t be, though.
For another ten minutes he followed the scent, until he found what he had been looking for.
Samantha Stone, a woman he’d spent the past three hours acquainting himself with, lay before him in a bloody heap, naked and alone. Her pale skin was slashed along her back, three large claw marks scarring the blank canvas, leaving their mark. It wouldn’t be long before she was nothing more than a stain on the concrete floor, the chemicals in her body working away, breaking her down and tearing her apart inside out. It was the only way they could integrate without raising suspicion.
A changelum. No one knew what they looked like. There was no one left alive who had seen one in its original form. They killed their victims with the their three large claws, before stabbing them through the eyes with two other appendages, one sucking out every part of the human, or whatever they were killing, while the other filled the body with various acids to destroy what was left.
With that DNA and genetic information within them, they transformed over numerous painful hours. That was how he first met one 150 years earlier, the screams alerting him to what he assumed, and hoped, was a bit of fun on a particularly boring night. All he found was a changelum, midway through its transformation. The noises it made even caused him to cringe, despite all the horrible things he’d seen and done.
He turned and ran, every bounding step weakening the scent and easing the thoughts of the innocent girl who’d done nothing to deserve that fate. Problem was, where he couldn’t think about that death, another possible death gnawed away at his mind, the thought of what this thing did to its victims screaming at him as waves of stagnant air swam in his face.
Reaching into his coat pocket, he reached for the phone Cordelia had given him, struggling to bring up his contact list as he ran, his fingers slipping on the protector Doyle had bought him so he didn’t get blood and guts on the keys. Finding Doyle’s name in the list at long last, he hit the call and waited as each ring tone lasted what seemed like hours.
When he heard the sharp click as the other end picked up, Angel didn’t waste any time with greetings. “Doyle, I need you to go back to the office. I think Cordelia is in danger.”
“Hello, Angel,” came the reply, the gruff American accent immediately recognisable. “Got to say, I feel a bit useless now. I thought it was my job to tell you these things.”
“Christian?” Angel asked, pausing briefly as he reached the junction to remember which direction he had come from.
“I know you were expecting Doyle, but he’s busy making me a cup of Irish tea,” Christian replied, a smug inflection creeping into his voice. “Whiskey to you.”
“I know what a- Look, Cordelia is in trouble!” Angel explained, not wanting to waste any more time with needless chat. “I’m at least an hour away. Doyle needs to get back to the office, now!”
“Well, that’s the problem, Angel. This changelum isn’t just some random demon. She has connections. Powerful connections.” His voice was all of a sudden serious, all the joking aside. Angel could practically picture the look on his face. “She’s using magic that is preventing anyone entering the office. She wants Cordelia alone for as long as possible.”
Dodging a large, sluggish demon, slurping a Big Gulp, blocking most of the passage he replied, “That’s why she sent me looking for her sister/murder victim.”
“Doesn’t affect you, though,” Christian explained, ignoring Doyle asking if it was Angel on the phone. “Legally, the office is your property. No magic can change that. You can still get in and help Cordelia.”
“I’m an hour away. I’ll be too late.”
“That’s where I make myself feel all useful and needed again,” Christian smirked. “My superiors told me to leave an item for you at an address and then wait for you to call Doyle. Next manhole cover, you’ll find the gift right in front of you.”
Angel continued running, climbing the ladder three rungs at a time as he escaped into the fresh air, leaving the stench of his own failure behind him. The sight of his car parked across the street, a note on the windscreen telling him he was welcome, made him feel that little bit better. He could be home in mere minutes, now. Until he had her, though, safe and away from harm, he couldn’t be happy.
“Please,” he begged as he turned the ignition key, “just hold on.”
* * *
Doyle watched as Christian finished the last of his tea, not caring that it tasted so foul Christian had added a lot more Whiskey. He deserved at least that for lying. “So that was my big destiny? Make you a pretty expensive drink and provide you with a phone?”
“Never had you down as someone who wanted the lead. Figured you were happier working the curtains.”
“Aye, but it’d be nice to be important for a little while, be remembered for something worthwhile,” Doyle replied.
All Christian could do was smile at the transparency of a man who tried to be anything but. “So, you’ve seen it then? Cordelia and Angel?”
“What, how close they’ve become so soon, the undeniable chemistry? No. No clue what you’re talking about.” Doyle replied, his voice heavy laden with sarcasm. “Got to give Angel credit where it’s due. He doesn’t mess around, and he doesn’t have low standards. That’d be two top draw lasses he’s gone after now.”
Replacing his hands in his pockets, Christian silently walked past Doyle again, feeling his new acquaintance shudder just a little as he stopped by his side. “Tonight was just our introduction, Doyle. There is more for you. Believe me, very soon, in one bright, shining moment, you will be the most important person in the entire world.” His eyes now firmly set on Doyle’s, he said, “As for them, I wouldn’t worry. They are friends, nothing more. You can offer her things he can’t.”
“Aye, a crappy cup of tea with a whole lot of whiskey, just to take the edge off!”
“Doyle, you’re not the only one who wants to be important.”
* * *
The chiming of Angel’s clock grew more noticeable as she walked down the stairs, her footsteps intentionally loud, her thick heels slamming down on the wooden surface. Angel wasn’t in, but her frustration wasn’t reserved just for him. His new chew toy would get just a little taste of it for being such a skank!
“Sarah?” she called out into the eerily silent basement, the midnight chimes having stopped leaving no sound behind. “Are you down here?”
“You wish I wasn’t,” came the reply from the darkness engulfing the kitchen. “You want me to disappear and leave you and Angel in peace.”
“You think I don’t know about you two?” Sarah asked as she stepped forward. “Everybody knows. It is written in the stars, etched in the minds of seers and spoken in the legends told in the dark places. You love him and he loves you.”
“Listen, Sarah, sweetie, I know you’re having a bit of a stressful time at the moment, what with your sister and all, but are you totally insane?” Cordelia asked, watching as Angel’s guest slowly edged into the light, her eyes rolling around in her head, while she seemed to listen to unheard voices, whispering unintelligible replies. “Angel and I are friends. Where are you getting love from?”
“No. Not yet. It hasn’t come yet, but it will.” She held her hands against her temples as she spoke, concentrating intensely on some invisible spot behind Cordelia, forcing her to glance over her shoulder a few times to check what was attracting her attention. “He hurt you, didn’t he? Bringing me here? He wasn’t what you thought. You weren’t what he wanted.”
She’d seen a lot in Sunnydale and a few things in LA, but this woman was creeping her out, her body jerking uncontrollably as she walked disconcerting. The tears streaming down her face, for no reason, like something out of a horror film, made her just want to grab her coat and run home. This girl needed help but it wasn’t from her. She’d find it in a rubber room.
That, and the fact that she knew exactly what she was thinking made for a bedtime story she didn’t want to read alone in the dark.
“I think I need to get Angel,” she said, thrusting her thumb to the stairs as she slowly backed away.
She was too slow too react as Sarah lunged forward and rested her hands against Cordelia’s face, looking into her eyes with an unhealthy obsession.
“I wish you didn’t have to feel like you do,” Sarah said, droplets of tears gathering on her chin. “I wish you could know the joys you were meant to… but you can’t. The legends of the vampire and his seer must go untold. Your story must never come to pass. If it does…. we are all doomed.”
“Okay, look, I don’t know what mind trip you’re on but you better get your freaking hands off me, bitch!” she shouted as she kicked and struggled, her efforts getting her nowhere but into Sarah’s, or whoever she was’, tightening grip.
“I am sorry, Cordelia Chase, but your joy, Angel’s redemption, are secondary to what I must do,” she explained, as Cordelia’s body fell limp in her arms, every sign of consciousness gone, not even the tears falling on her cheek drawing a reaction. “I am sorry, great one, but I must send you back.”
* * *
He thought he’d left it behind, the stench from the sewers, but as he forced his way through the door to his office, it hit him again, square in the face. Mixed in with the stench of the grim death they afforded their victims was the blood of goats and the typical Wiccan spices he’d become so accustomed to around Willow.
He hoped he wasn’t too late.
As he ran through the office the sound of chanting grew louder. Maybe that was a positive sign. Ignoring the elevator he rushed down the stairs two steps at a time, the scent and the chanting ever increasing, until he saw her lying on the floor, unconscious.
Candles were strewn around her, the waves of light shimmering over her body telling lies with every second of their existence. They made her look beautiful, perfect as she lay there, silent and motionless, every feature flawless. Lies, hiding the truth of the situation. He wished he could give into that lie and ignore the lines drawn in blood around her, the dead animal heads forming the points of the pentagonal symbol, the knife dangling closely to her throat as her captor chanted.
“Let her go!” Angel called, hoping to distract her away from Cordelia.
Sarah, or the demon posing as Samantha’s sister, turned to face him, her eyes blood red and tears of the darkest crimson flowing down her pale cheeks. “So sad, what is to be done here. Something so beautiful, spoiled. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
“It doesn’t,” Angel quickly replied, his voice almost pleading. “If you don’t want to hurt her, don’t.”
“Your love must be destroyed. The beauty will lead to darkness, the sacrifice to pain. What was done must be undone, and she is the catalyst. I am truly sorry.”
He didn’t breathe, but as she raised the knife high he gasped as his thoughts went straight to a helpless Cordelia lying on the floor. Almost instinctively he reached for one of the decorative knives on the wall behind him, unsheathing it in one smooth motion as he released it from his grip.
The piercing scream filling the apartment told him his aim had been dead on, but he didn’t look, instead watching and praying to some higher power, most likely indifferent to his cries, as the ceremonial dagger fell towards Cordelia. He bounded across the room, ignoring all obstacles and just hoped he could get there in time.
Landing face to face with Cordelia, he plucked the knife from the air mere inches from her throat. For a moment he just looked at her lying before him, his hand and the knife still firmly in place, telling himself to make sure he remembered just how close he had come to losing her.
It was too close.
“You have no idea what you have done, vampire,” the demon called from the sliding metal door as she pulled his knife from her hand. “You will regret this day! I only pray for your sake, that it is worth it!”
She ran, but he wasn’t going to follow. Cordelia. That was all he cared about right now.
“Wake up,” he said, shaking her gently in his arms. “Come on, Cordy. Wake up.”
Touching her cheek he could feel her raging fever. This wasn’t natural, he realised. She’d been put under by something; mystical if the set up they were in the centre of was anything to go by.
“Come on, Cordelia! Don’t do this!” Not like this, he told himself. Not like this. It wasn’t time. He wasn’t ready to lose her yet.
“Mind out,” Doyle said, pushing Angel out of the way as he tipped an almost neon blue liquid into her mouth. “Another gift from our buddy Christian.”
Angel watched, wishing he could hold his breath as he waited, hoping that Christian would come through again. Her spluttered cough dragged the smile to his face, a small laugh creeping out as he wiped his face, relieved.
“Hello, beautiful,” Doyle smiled. “Thought we’d lost you there for a minute.”
As the pieces fit into place, his face became more and more real to her, and her own beaming smile met his. “Doyle. You know, it’s a good job you turned up or I so would have haunted your little Irish butt.”
“That wouldn’t be the worst thing, love.”
“Doyle?” Angel called from the doorway, drawing both of their gazes. “Take care of her. I’ll be back soon.”
“No problem, bud.”
She didn’t need him around, he thought as he slammed the sliding metal door shut. She hadn’t even noticed he’d been there. She had Doyle. He was needed elsewhere. He could help her in other ways, not just by being close by. The first thing he could do to help was to make sure this demon never tried to hurt her again.
She didn’t need him, she thought. Why should she be upset over his lack of interest, when she had someone like Doyle showing enough interest for the both of them. Angel was her friend, but that didn’t mean she was going to allow his own failings to upset her. He couldn’t take her as she was, he didn’t want to be around her as much as she wanted to be around him; he didn’t care about her as much as she cared about him, but that was fine. It didn’t change anything. She’d accept him as he was, and be his friend.
Beyond that, she needed nothing more from him.
* * *
He had been tracking the demon since it had left Angel’s apartment, watching it silently from the rooftops as it escaped its hunter. Angel, his superior tracking abilities aside, hadn’t been able to keep up. Demons like this, with connections like they had, knew how to disappear.
Their magic, though, no matter how powerful, was nothing compared to the power his masters possessed. They had created dimensions and bent realities to suit their whim. What they wanted, they got, and right now, they wanted this demon and those it worked for, and no magic used would throw them off the scent.
He was their vessel, their agent on earth, and whatever they commanded, he obeyed. Obedience to their will was greater than the punishments they would prepare for him, the endless horrors he would face in a million infinities within a place with no doors. What he had to do he didn’t want to, but it was necessary.
The demon wasn’t looking when he landed behind her, instead making sure Angel was off her tail. It was only when her back met his solid chest that she spun around, her eyes searching every inch of him, her tongue flicking back and forth past her lips as she struggled to comprehend how someone had found her. The spell she used should have put her out of sight of anyone.
Childish tricks that his masters had overridden for him.
“Powerful magic you’re using if it can stop everyone except the owner getting onto the property,” Christian said, not wanting to waste any time. He wanted this over and done with. “Let me guess, blood rituals on the catalyst to reverse the temporal fold. You tried to taint their love, the one thing he returned for, and for what?”
“We have seen a great many evils come upon this world because of the fold,” the demon replied, Sarah’s face still its chosen guise, the already smudged mascara becoming worse as more tears began to flow. “Destroying their relationship, ruining their love… a necessary evil. If we do not reverse the fold, the world shall face horrors which you cannot even begin to comprehend.”
Necessary evils. There was a lot of that going around.
“So, your masters don’t see the Senior Partners ruling this and every other dimension, humans and ‘half breeds’ their slaves, all that was good and pure vanished, a distant memory spoken of only by those able to remember, a dark time?”
“We have seen the Dark Times, the Apocalypse brought down upon the earth before the fold,” she explained. “However, what will come to pass because of the fold is a much worse fate. We do not dare even speak the name of the one who is coming, and neither would the Senior Partners.”
He hadn’t been informed of any other evil due to rise. All he knew of was the original goal, the goal he was set by his masters, and that was to help Angel prevent the rise of the Senior Partners. Anything else this cult foresaw came second. If they were a threat, he’d be told. Until then, the plan would go ahead as normal.
“Angel was brought back to fix things, and nothing is going to stop that,” Christian said, his tone growing darker, his eyes narrowing as his gaze zoned in on the demon’s, never relenting. He hoped she knew that this wasn’t something they could agree on. “Not you, and not your cult. Pass that message on.”
He could tell that she understood; that she knew the futility of trying to negotiate. He wondered whether she sensed it, what he felt in the back on his mind every day, that darkness they tormented him in. Had it become such a part of his soul that he exuded its power? Did she see the horrors that awaited those that stood in their way?
Could she see his nightmare?
“What can I say that will change the minds of my masters?” The crack in her voice, the hint of begging resonating in the quiver, suggested she did. “They will send more in my place. I am a lowly grunt. More powerful beings shall come in an attempt to stop what is to be born. Our mission is endless, and it cannot be stopped. No message you send could possibly change that.”
After the last syllable passed her lips, her eyes closed, her head bowed to him as if she had seen the only way this could end, the only fate left for her, the fate his masters decreed she must face.
“Like you said,” he sighed, as he felt the bones in her neck shatter in his hands. “Necessary evils.”
The garage door slammed against the concrete wall, the metallic thunk echoing around the empty parking lot. Barely allowing the door to open, Angel rushed through, his coat half on while Cordelia and Doyle tried to hang onto its tails, frantically trying to get his attention as he made a bee line for the car.
“Angel, will you just stop and think for a minute!” Cordelia said, following him round the driver side as he slammed the door shut.
“Decision’s made, Cordelia,” he replied, the last syllable of her name drowned out by the engine springing into life.
Seeing Cordelia had put half her body in the car, blocking Angel from reaching the steering wheel, Doyle called out, “Let him go, Cordelia. If the Powers didn’t want Angel helping Buffy, they wouldn’t have sent the vision. Stop your worrying!”
“No, you don’t get it,” she began to say as Angel pried her hands from the wheel and slowly pushed her from the car, exerting no more force than was necessary, so as not to hurt her. “When Angel and Buffy get together, nothing good ever comes from it.”
Doyle had to laugh, though not at the sight of her blocking Angel’s exit by leaning on his bonnet as holding his wheel hadn’t worked, but at what she was suggesting. He wondered if she ever realised what she was thinking. “You honestly believe he’s going to turn up, save her and then make with the lovey dovey?”
“How do you think it happened last time?” Cordelia asked, her eyes never leaving Angel’s as he got more and more frustrated in his seat.
“Cordelia, I’m going. Can you please move?” he asked, revving his engine, knowing full well the threat was empty, and that she knew it.
“Come back upstairs, love,” Doyle said as he began climbing the stairs, stopping on the third step to look back at the pair of them and the crazy show they were putting on. “Leave him to it.”
Had enough, Angel stepped out of his car, much to Cordelia’s delight. Another victory for stubbornness. Her joy was short lived, however, as Angel began ferrying her towards the door, her attempts to stop him futile. “Don’t worry, Cordelia. I get in, help her, and get out. No extras.”
As soon as his back was turned, she rushed back to the car and dived into the passenger’s seat before he could restart the engine, locking her side as if that could stop him getting to her if he needed to.
“What are you doing now?” he asked, folding up in his seat, as if she had drained every vestige of his will.
“Angel, when I say it ends badly, I’m not talking about Angelus. I’m talking about your feelings.”
“I don’t like that word,” he replied, still folded up and rubbing tiredly at his eyes.
“TS, buddy boy, because I’m going there,” she said, taking hold of his chin and pulling his gaze to her own. “You see Buffy and it always ends the same way, and that’s with a great wad of pain and heartbreak. I don’t want to see you upset for weeks on end just because you’ve seen her and been given that painful reminder. Besides, it scares the clients away when you’re all grouchy.”
He recognised genuine concern when he saw it. It was a luxury he hadn’t often been granted in his time. It was something he’d wanted for over a century, the knowledge that someone out there cared about him, his feelings. His tone and his eyes softening, all he could say was, “I’ll be fine. I promise.”
“Yeah, you will be because I’m coming with you,” she explained as she fastened her seatbelt and locked her door. “You want to help Buffy; you don’t do it without me.”
His only reaction a blank stare, she urged him on. “Come on, chop chop. Time’s wasting.”
A prolonged sigh was blanketed out by the engine starting again, his scowl directed at the road ahead as he guided the car out of the narrow passageways.
“Cordelia, you coming or what?” Doyle asked as he re-entered the garage, noticing immediately the wide open space where the car and Cordelia had been. “Oh, that’s bloody charming!”
* * *
The wind rushed past the windows, the constant whooshing against the car exterior the only break in the silence.
He didn’t need the noise, or conversation. He needed to think about how to approach this. He knew, though, that his late night companion was eager to talk. It wasn’t because all she did was talk, but because he saw her, out of the corner of his eyes, turn to him and take a deep breath before returning her stare to the barely lit back road they had been on for an hour.
It was preferable she didn’t speak, but he had a feeling she wouldn’t hold off much longer.
What was there to say, though? Everything she could possibly say they’d either already covered at some point in their short association, or he had already thought of. He knew this was a bad idea, but he couldn’t leave Buffy in danger. If she didn’t need help urgently, the Powers wouldn’t have sent a vision. She was a slayer after all.
There was no place for doubts. Not now. He needed conviction in his actions, otherwise he would be more of a liability to her. This wasn’t about their past, the trials they’d faced and ultimately failed in. This was about him helping the helpless, and tonight that was Buffy.
With no real way to deal with the past, he kept his eyes on the road and off the rear view mirror and the road kill behind him. The reasons why were of no consequence. He wanted to chase lesser mysteries, other people’s crimes. It was easier that way. The past is a puzzle, like a broken mirror. As you piece it together, you cut yourself.
He’d spilled enough blood.
He saw her shift in her seat again, and this time she didn’t turn back. “What are you hoping for from this trip down memory lane?”
“I told you, I just want to get in, help Buffy and leave with as little to no contact as possible.”
“And you honestly believe that you taking on your Mr. Stalky persona will go down well?” He felt her stare, hot on his face, the questions too right for his liking. “I know Buffy, and she’s big on the power and the control. If you just turn up in ‘her town’ without a word, she’s gonna be pissed.”
Let her be, he thought to himself. It was better than the alternative. At least she didn’t have to see him. For him it wasn’t so simple. He had to look at the life he once had, the dream that became a nightmare. He had to watch her new life without him and feel it burn in his chest, watch what he once had burn to the ground. The flames wouldn’t cleanse his past, but make the shadows he carried leap higher.
He was sparing her that.
His willing ignorance drew a sharp scoff of disbelief from her lips, as she shook her head and watched the dim lights on the horizon slowly come into view. “You know, I don’t get you sometimes, and I’m a great judge of character. Every day you wake up and put your life on the line against all manner of nasties. You have to carry the knowledge around that the big guys in the sky have chosen you to be their champion. But ask you to see her… different guy. Scared to face the music.”
“And what else do you suggest I do?” he asked, taking his eyes off the road for the first time all night. “Big reunion, angst and drama and then leave again? It was hard enough the first time. I’d rather spare myself and her the trouble.”
“Yeah, but that’s the problem. I can respect that it will hurt both of you, but it’s like leaving the splinter in. It’s just going to get all icky and gooey, and in the end that’ll be worse for both of you,” she explained. “Everything you felt will be twisted into something unrecognisable, and then what happens when the world’s two heroes need to work together?”
The relationship was a car crash. They both knew it. It was why he left. He’d hit the brakes just in time and stopped it from changing them, twisting them into wrecks of their former selves. Problem was, neither of them had stepped out of the car, and the flames were drawing ever closer.
Cordelia was right, not that he’d tell her. If he carried this around, and if she did, it would mutate and evolve into something neither of them wanted. The wound would infect, and eat them alive from inside out.
“Cordy, I don’t… I’m trying to move on and this… well it will-”
The past is a gaping hole. You try to run from it, but the more you run, the deeper, more terrible it grows behind you, its edges yawning at your heels. Your only chance is to turn around and face it.
Problem was, his love was another hole he had barely escaped from, every ounce of strength he had needed to escape it clutches. Seeing her again, he knew he could fall victim to the genius of the hole: no matter how long he had spent climbing out, he could still fall back down in an instant.
* * *
It was the tinkling of a bell that heralded his entrance, and the rattling of beads as the owner of the small antiques shop emerged from the back. He wasn’t sure they had sent him to the right address, it not seeming like a valid front for cult activity, but he wasn’t willing to question them when they gave their orders.
“Not often we get people dressed that smart in our humble establishment,” the owner said, eyeing Christian up and down as he approached. “What can I do for you?”
This wasn’t the owner. Who were they trying to fool, hiding behind a mask wearing a food stained vest, his arms exposed to reveal the fading blue proclamations of love for his mother and countless past relationships? The scars on his face told stories of a life that antiques collectors could only live in their nightmares.
And the stench, emanating from the back of the shop. It wasn’t the usual smell of these places, the polish and the almost obsessive cleanliness. It was foul. It was a changelum.
The ‘owner’ could see that the smell was affecting him, his face scrunched up as he leant against the counter. “Sorry about the smell, mac. Drains have gone again. They said they’d send someone round first thing, but you know how these things go.”
“So, who was the unlucky gentleman you happen to be wearing?” he asked, his question putting an end to the nervous laughter the changelum had so badly hidden.
“Ex-con,” he explained, as he rummaged around underneath the counter. “Murderer. Unrepentant. Dealing since he got out.”
Christian stepped back, unsure, his eyes flickering back and forth as he replied, “And what makes you judge and jury, and in this case, executioner?”
“Same thing that compelled you to kill my mate of two decades. I want to save the world.” The changelum pulled his arm out as Christian held his breath, only to reveal a small key. “The only reason I’m not killing you now is because he wants to see you.”
Christian followed as the demon beckoned him to the back, placing the aftershave soaked handkerchief he carried to his nose to block out, at least partially, the ever more powerful stench. Through the store room, he followed, until he was told to enter another door, which he guessed led to the basement.
He walked past the demon, their eyes locked as waves of hot air hit his face, the demon infuriated at his presence. He wouldn’t fight, not if he wasn’t commanded to do so. Still, Christian understood his pain.
Unable to look into the eyes of another victim of his actions, he offered all he could. “I am sorry.”
The door slammed shut behind him as the changelum ignored his apologies and left him to his master. Within, the dim, flickering lights barely revealed the head of the cult, an old man in a cheap suit, sitting upon a makeshift throne at the back of the room, in reality a small chair that they had adorned with fabrics and scatter cushions. At least that explained where the actual shop owner had gone.
“You think I killed him?” came the voice as soon as the thought ran through Christian’s mind. “Fear not. Changelums of my age do not need to kill people to take their form. Just a simple touch.”
Christian slowly approached, looking through the near blackness to see if he could find the owner, finding him, eventually, slouched in a corner, unconscious.
“He yet lives, but for me to maintain this form, he must remain… inactive,” the leader explained. “Killing is such an ugly thing. I abhor it, and yet it is a necessary-”
“You see, then, why we are doing what we are,” he replied, with a smile he didn’t look entirely comfortable using. “The vampire and his seer are of great importance, but in returning to this place, to this time, they are bringing a much greater evil upon this world than the Senior Partners. We cannot allow it.”
“Anything can be fought and killed,” Christian said, stopping a few feet short of the leader’s throne. “That’s the nature of things. The Senior Partners can be stopped. Angel is destined to stop them. Whatever it is you fear, they can be stopped.”
“Foolish boy! You have no idea of the danger the world faces,” the leader said, rising from his chair and pacing in front of Christian. “Every dimension is under threat from what is coming. And you honestly believe that one vampire, soul or not, can stop such a power?”
“Not me,” Christian replied, bowing his head to the suddenly unsure demon, gesturing for him to touch his head. “But those who instructed me to speak to you, those who made me kill one in your charge; have the power to stop anything that goes against their wishes. They have a message for you. Angel and Cordelia must live, and they must fulfil their destiny. Continue on this path, and they will not be well pleased.”
Tentatively, the cult leader stepped forward and placed a hand on Christian’s head, pulling it away in horror instantly and collapsing onto his chair, snapping the old wood. Crawling backwards he huddled against the wall, his eyes filled with terror as Christian adjusted his suit and began to leave.
“I’ll pass on the message that you’ll be ceasing activity immediately,” he said as the creaky old door squealed open and the changelum handling the shop front rushed past him to his master’s aid. “They will be thrilled.”
* * *
There she was.
It hadn’t taken long for him to find her. For three years he’d worked closely by her side, and even when she wasn’t always aware of it, he was nearby. He knew her routes, and her habits, and right on schedule she was making her way through the graveyard.
From the darkened doorway of one of the crypts, he kept a close watch. There were no vampires around. Not now, anyway. He’d dealt with the few lurking around as soon as he arrived. They were alone.
He could hear her heartbeat, gently thumping beneath her breast, even from this distance. Calm. Relaxed. She was more confident now than she used to be. When he had first known her, he had always heard a heartbeat full of trepidation. Now, there was nothing. She had truly become the slayer in the past few years.
That being so, he knew that she could sense him. She wouldn’t know it was him, but she would sense something in the graveyard with her. Time to make himself known.
He stepped forward silently as the moonlight washed over his body, and approached her slowly as she strolled along, whispering to herself about what had happened that day, how she would deal with the next, and more importantly, how she felt about it all. He was pleasantly surprised at the maturity in her thought processes now. Maybe, with that same new maturity she had acquired in her few months outside of school, she could approach their discussions differently to last time.
It would make it easier on him, not having to be the level head again, if she could see the logic in his reasoning now. He hoped that this time they could talk.
He was within touching distance of her now, and he knew she could feel him. She had stopped talking, and her heart had increased slightly. He could practically hear the adrenaline coursing her veins.
The memory of her taste, the demonic urges to feed set in, his throat vibrating as he struggled to withhold the natural, predatory growl rising from deep within his lungs. Lustful desires welled up as his eyes rolled over her body, and evil intentions manifested in the pitch black emptiness of his pupils. He wanted to feed.
He wouldn’t feed. He’d grown used to the urges. He could resist them now. Sometimes, he wished he didn’t have to.
Her name on his tongue, she spun around, swinging a right as she did, but he was able to catch it before it landed. The left came in quickly, but he was able to hold it off with his right, leaving them face to face for the first time in five months. There was nothing between them, nothing getting in the way. He wasn’t sure that was best.
“Angel?” she asked, shocked, yet not even attempting to break from his grip. “What are you doing here?”
Enjoying the feel of the smooth skin on her arm a little too much, he let her go, replacing his hands in his pockets. “I needed to see you. You’re in danger.” The first part had started to draw a smile, but she was quickly brought back down to earth when he finished his explanation.
“Always hated déjà vu,” she replied, to which he could only draw a blank. “Never mind.”
“A friend of mine receives visions of people in danger,” Angel explained, following her as she made her way over to a gravestone and took up a pew, not convinced that she was even interested. “He saw you.”
“Does he see me a lot, because last time I checked, I’m in danger every night? Slaying is a 24/7 kinda gig. What’s so special this time that you were willing to break your oath to stay away forever?”
“You see, I knew you’d get arsey. Why do you always have to go on the defensive?”
There it was, the moral anger look she always got before she went on a rant. God, that was one thing he hadn’t missed. As beautiful as she was, that look, the way her eyes degraded him with nothing but some superiority she felt entitled to, he had always hated. At times, he just wanted to remind her of her place in the world of which she was still very short for.
“I don’t know, Angel. Maybe I just wasn’t expecting a late night visit from my ex-squeeze who turns up doing his best Lassie impression,” she replied, pulling the stake from her pocket and fiddling with a splinter dangling from its otherwise smooth edge.
“Feel you need that?” he asked, watching as she winced as the sharp wood sunk into her flesh.
“Never can be sure.” Now he was wincing.
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you. I should have just remained hidden and helped you secretly. Dammit, Cordy!” he muttered as he turned his back and rubbed at the stubble on his face, practically biting down on his hand not to speak to this girl the way he wanted to sometimes.
Suddenly, her attention wasn’t on the splinter anymore. “Cordy? As in Delia? As in Chase?”
“She works for me now,” he explained. “She convinced me to speak to you, and not be all Mr. Stalky. I knew I shouldn’t have listened.” The fact that he used one of Cordelia’s mannerisms wasn’t lost on him, and neither was the quizzical look it elicited from Buffy for just a fraction of a second.
“No, you should,” Buffy replied, another trademark change of heart having just occurred. “Look, Angel, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you when you’re just looking out for me. It’s just…. when I see you after all this… after everything it’s taken to get me this far, it throws me.”
Sighing, and looking at the perfect moon above, he replied, “Yeah, me too, but you and I, the responsibilities we have… this won’t be the last time we need to work together. What we had… will always stay with us, but if we avoid each other it’ll just make things harder. All I know is, I don’t ever want to reach a point where I just simply cannot look at you.”
“Me neither. We need to be adult. That would go well with the mature, new college Buffy action figure.” He laughed a little, a rarity from him that could only make her smile. “Whatever help you can offer, Angel, I’ll gladly take. Being around you will be hard but-”
“We’re stronger than that.”
“Yeah.” Pouting, she continued, “I hate being strong.”
When she looked up again, he was backing away into the shadows, his eyes on hers. “I’ll be in touch,” he said as the moonlight rolled off his body and the shadows took over. “And make sure you remove that splinter. You don’t want it to get infected.”
* * *
The cool night air warmed slowly, the black sky lighting gradually, eventually becoming a fiery orange, wisps of clouds like smoke from a flame. The sun was rising. He could feel it. He wished he could see it. Instead, he had to be satisfied staring at the mansion garden long overcome by weeds, questioning how in such a few short months the beauty that had been his garden had disappeared.
In the end, nothing lasted forever. Even the things that should. They passed. Everything had its time. Even his relationship with Buffy had an end. It never used to occur to him how frail their relationship was, but now it was all he could see. The feelings were real, but the roots didn’t go down deep enough and eventually the weeds took over.
A ray of sunlight crept along the floor at a snail’s pace, making its way ever closer to him. It would be time to go inside soon, he realised, but he wanted to stay outside a little longer, look at what once was. This time, he wanted to see his past, to discover his future.
Los Angeles. Helping the helpless.
“Hey.” Cordelia. “When did you get back?”
“About two hours ago,” he replied, as she ran her hand over his shoulder and took her place at his side.
“No,” he replied, as if shocked he wasn’t thinking about her. “The garden. Used to be nice when it was blooming. Now, it’s just weeds smothering it all.” He couldn’t lie to himself for long. “And, yeah, a little bit of Buffy’s in there for good measure.”
“I’ll let you have this one, considering,” she said, leaving his side and crouching beside one of the flower pots on the perimeter. “I figure you’re not ready to talk yet. Need to do your brooding thing.”
“Kinda,” he said as his lips curled with a smirk, wondering how she knew him so well so quickly, questioning how one who Buffy had always portrayed as so self-centred could be so understanding, caring and most of all, forgiving.
“Remember: you want to chat, you know where I am.”
“Well, I’ll leave you it then. Get dressed and made up for my oh so boring day waiting for you to wake up again.”
The warmth of her hands enveloped his as she clasped one hand and closed his fingers gently. He could feel something soft brushing against his skin, small and weak. Fragile in his grip. Alone again, he unfurled his hand to find the small flower she had left there. A sign of life.
Hope for the future.
Heavy eyelids had closed long ago, shutting her off in darkness. The ache didn’t subside, however, the fatigue feeling like two tiny goblins behind her eyes tearing away at her optic nerves. She just wanted to sleep; being human and all, but Angel didn’t see it like that. They had clients, so she needed to do her shift. No thought to the fact that she’d spent the past couple of days in Sunnydale with him while he dealt with his slayer issues and had barely slept in the car on the way home.
Well, not happening, bucko, she told him. Well, no, she told him in her head. Her way of telling him had been to collapse onto the sofa in the front office and not move since getting back. Her passive aggression hadn’t even shown up on his radar. He was too busy going through the few files Doyle had made while they’d been away.
“He’s not as distraught as I thought he would be,” Doyle said as he watched Angel through the glass partition. “So, I’m guessing it went well?”
“Only because he recognised my obvious greatness and, for once, listened to my worldly wise words,” she replied, folding her arm over her face, the crook of her elbow on her temple. “I told him to see Buffy in person, and he did. He was down afterwards, but he perked up eventually. I think he realised I was right, and that in the long run it was better for both of them. But don’t you go blabbing. He spoke to me in confidence.”
“Hey, we had a moment, I’ll have you know,” she replied sternly, finally sitting up for the first time in hours. “We shared some personal growth. That’s rare for a 300 year old vampire.”
“246!” Angel called back from the office.
She tried to continue, but a crash from Angel’s office cut her off. Slow to react, she watched as Doyle, who had seen the whole thing, grabbed the golden letter opener from her desk and ran to give it to Angel, being knocked aside by the attacker for his troubles. Reaching the door, she watched as the demon fled out of the broken window it had come through, its green, luminescent blood rolling down the once spotless surface of her letter opener.
“What the bloody hell was that thing?” Doyle asked, holding his jaw as Angel pulled him to his feet.
“Don’t know, but it was powerful,” Angel said, leaving the small knife dangling between Cordelia’s fingers as she was forced to reluctantly accept it. Pulling his coat over his shoulders, he continued, “I need to track it down, before it does anymore damage. You two, find out what you can and call me when you have something.”
Before they could even question his orders, he was gone, down to the basement and his sewer access.
“You heard him, mister. Research!” she said, sauntering back to the couch after dropping the letter opener into the waste disposal by her desk.
“He meant you as well, darlin’.”
“Hey, I was up all night helping him. Now, it’s break time,” she replied, lying down again and turning her back to him.
“You heard what he said. This demon is powerful. If we don’t find something, Angel could get hurt, but at least you catch 40 winks.”
“Doyle, it’s Angel,” she explained, almost as if he should have already known what she was about to say. “Nothing is going to happen.”
* * *
The sewers were fast becoming his second home, the tunnels and routes almost cemented in his brain. This time, he had the scent of the wounded demon to guide him, its powerful blood growing more potent with every step. It had a strange effect on him, something he couldn’t explain. He didn’t feel normal, or grounded in its presence.
He felt like he knew it from somewhere. Deep in his memory he could feel it creeping around, but he couldn’t get at it.
Leaning against the sewer tunnel he pinched at the bridge of his nose, shaking the cobwebs loose. What the hell was this thing, and why was it making him think of Buffy? Again, he felt like he knew the answer but it was in some unreachable spot in his brain. Unless that was what the demon wanted him to feel, its blood having a defence mechanism to put its attacker off guard.
Whatever it was, he had to keep on, before it did any more damage.
“Bad idea, Angel.” The cigarette dropped in front of him, the damp floor dousing the last remaining embers. Angel followed its path to the shadows, Christian’s outline clearly visible to his eyes which were specifically designed for this environment. “My masters are adamant that nothing good can come from you facing this demon, and recommend you leave it to me.”
“Don’t care much for you, do they, if they want you to fight this thing?” Angel said, walking past his mysterious advisor who answered to some unknown forces. “You’re human. I’m not. I can’t risk your life.”
“Update: you’re important. I’m not. Ergo, don’t fight this demon.”
He heard him, but he wasn’t listening. Human lives were non-negotiable. That even applied to humans whose motives weren’t always crystal clear. “I’ll handle it.”
“Always have to play the hero,” Christian replied, one step behind at all times.
“Not about being the hero,” Angel said as he tried to choose between two tunnels, the scent strong in the area, as if the demon had stopped to rest. It knocked him off a little as it pooled in the entrances to both options. Finally picking one, he continued, “It’s about helping people, making sure the things in the night don’t get a chance to prey on them.”
“What if they prey on you?”
“I kill them. They kill me. Either way, there’s one less monster in the world.”
It was close. He could feel it. It wouldn’t be long now, he thought as he rounded the next corner, only to be met by the demon swinging its blade. Ordering Christian to stay back, he moved in, duelling with the demon, watching for any flaws in his technique, any gaps in what seemed like a solid defence. It would expose itself sooner or later. He just needed patience.
With one sloppy move, he opened himself up to an attack, taking a knife to the palm of his hand as a result. The scent of his own blood running around in his mind, he vamped out and came back for another go, Christian’s words from the side of the room not distracting him from his cause.
As steel met steel, Angel spotted a weakness and made his move, driving the handle of his axe deep into the pre-opened wound. Groaning in anger and pain, the demon lurched backwards, holding his stomach to stem the flow of blood, but it was to no avail, its large body collapsing into a heap.
“See, no problem.”
Noticing the blood of the demon seeping into his own wound, Angel suddenly felt an immense pain wash over him, as if he was being torn from reality and returned to it in one swift movement. Crouched on his knees, and drawing his first breath in centuries, Angel listened to the sound of his own heartbeat.
“I’m alive!” he exclaimed as Christian sighed, knowingly, from his front row seat. Rising to his feet, and suddenly sullen in the face of his new found humanity, Angel added, “And I remember everything.”
“Now, you see, there’s the problem.”
* * *
The warmth of the sun, a stranger he’d long forgotten. He didn’t want to leave it just yet. He wanted more time to catch up, to savour its presence, the feel of its touch on his cold skin. He wanted its sweet kiss to soothe his tired, old body. It had been too long.
There was another stranger he needed to see first, a friend who, despite their separation, fit right back in. A friend who had transcended the word friendship, it unable to capture the true essence of what they were. He needed to see her.
Unsure how to play it, he lingered outside the office door, out of view of the glass. She wouldn’t remember. No one did. Not since the fold. He couldn’t just walk in and tell her what they had been, what they were before it had all come to an end. She was still just an 18 year old girl, shallow and naive yet. The true her, the woman she would become, wouldn’t reveal itself yet. She wasn’t blossoming. More needed to happen.
He wasn’t sure he could wait for her feelings to catch up. Last time, the first time, he’d waited too long and he lost her. For ten years he had walked the world alone, without her guidance. By some cruel twist of fate, she returned to him once more only for him to have to leave her. His death or hers. After that choice, she either died alongside him in an apocalypse, or she was turned and resurrected him without a soul.
There was no choice. As always, her life wasn’t negotiable. He was glad that even when his memories were gone, he still maintained enough of himself to hold that view.
Perhaps that was their doing. The Powers said they would change things; ensure that he didn’t make the same mistakes over again. Maybe they left just enough of his original self, enough of his love, to make sure he protected her this time.
To make sure he got it right this time.
Fuelled by reckless abandon, he removed himself from his perch on the steps and made his way in, the air in his lungs growing stale as he held it in place. The plan had been to walk in, forgetting all doubt, and to kiss her, to feel her lips against his again after what had felt like a lifetime, or two.
Plans never came off. He should have known that. Doyle, the sight of him, stopped him in his tracks. It had only been hours since he’d seen him, but it felt longer. According to his memory, it was closer to 15 years. This wasn’t the Doyle he remembered, and it knocked him.
Looking up from the bottle of whiskey his heavy laden eyes could barely focus on, Doyle looked upon him with derision. “Got your memories back then. That should come in handy.”
“How did you-”
“Oh wait, no it won’t, because you’re also human. You’re just like the rest of us. Expendable.” He remembered. Somehow, Doyle remembered his old life, his original life. He shouldn’t. They destroyed that time. “You know the vision pain. Nothing compared to feeling your flesh melting from your body, or to feel your eye-balls turn to mush in your skull.”
How do you respond to that, to a friend who knows his future and sees the bleak, barren landscape stretching out ahead of him? “Doyle, I-”
“Save the rah-rahs, bud. Not in the mood. If memory serves, I’ve got another, what, two days left. I’d rather spend it drinking than listening to a rousing speech.” Drink in hand, he barged past Angel and out of the office. He wanted to follow, to tell his friend that it would be ok, that he’d fix it. He couldn’t follow, though. Not when everything he wanted was stood behind him.
He could hear her, sniffling. She’d been crying. He turned to see her mascara stained face, her blotchy eyes looking back at him. Imperfect perfection. She was beautiful.
In the past hour, he’d lived an entire life. He’d felt the sun on his skin, held his baby son in his arms. He’d loved a family and lived. Now, he was back to the beginning. The next go round. He had one more spin of the wheel, another roll of the dice. He had everything before him and yet all he wanted was her.
The plan had failed, but he could give it another try. Fuelled once more by reckless abandon, he rushed to her, planting his mouth upon hers gently, savouring her taste in every part of himself.
In an hour he’d lived a life, his old life. He’d lived and died, joy and mourning overcoming him in brief moments, memories of lives he could never reclaim, a son he could never see again. He had lived an old life.
Now, she was his life.
* * *
His lungs emptied, an inaudible scream passing his lips as his naked body slammed into an invisible wall within the void. In the pitch black, Christian saw nothing, but he felt everything. Right now, they were punishing him for his failure. Knives of fire pierced his flesh as he waded through a lake of icy water, his feet being gashed by the razor sharp rocks beneath.
Every time he felt he reached the end of his torment, they knocked him back, forcing him to relive the pain one more time. Problem was, one more time soon became endless, and he felt like he been there for days already, descending the seven circles of hell, paying penance to his gods as he hoped for some form of respite, some peace. He didn’t deserve it, but they had never denied him before. He hoped, again, their love would shine through and free him.
Again, his hand felt the cold earth and without resistance he climbed out. The ground beneath was a construct of their will, nothing truly existing in the void. All that existed there was them, their presence, their furious anger and wonderful mercy. This measure of peace he found, as he caught his breath, was their doing.
“We are displeased,” came the voices, hundreds of males and females speaking in unison, a harmony to be feared and worshipped in one thought.
Breathlessly, he whispered the only words he could muster. “I tried.”
“Not hard enough,” they replied as the ground beneath him disappeared, leaving him plummeting in the emptiness. “If you had truly wanted to stop Angel, you would have, but you stood idly by as he made the same mistake he made last time.”
Warmth embraced him, a soothing blanket on his tired, aching body, his naked flesh no longer exposed to the harsh elements they had conjured for him. “Angel rectified his mistake last time. He will do so again.”
Something large and unseen knocked him flying, reminding him why he shouldn’t speak when he had failed. “Will he? When Angel accepted the offer of the Powers to return to this time, he explicitly did so on the condition that he remember none of what transpired in the original time. Now, here, what will he do with the knowledge and the memories he now possesses? Everything we are working towards could be jeopardised!”
Struggling to his feet, the blood pooling beneath his tongue, cradled by his teeth, he braved the risk of their anger and spoke once more. “If he knows he can return to his ignorance, he will make that choice.” They were merciful this time, more warmth washing over his body, fragments of light breaking into the darkness they had trapped him in for days, while reality had frozen around him.
“You are naive, boy!” they replied, as the light around him brightened. They were sending him back, the noise of the world creeping in, its scents rushing wildly through his sinuses. “This goes far beyond Angel’s memories. He was the focal point of the temporal fold. In the restoration of his memories, everyone else regains there’s. People will see their futures, their lives, deaths, joys and sorrows! Such knowledge… there are things man is not meant to know, things we keep hidden from them. In their ignorance, they find bliss.”
“What would you have me do, my masters?” he asked, covering his eyes to shield them from the sunlight he had been hidden from.
Their voices soft, faded behind the ever emerging sounds of reality, they gave him one more order. “You will do nothing! You have already failed us once. We shall deliberate on the matter. There is chaos on earth. Do what you can to stem the tide.”
Children laughed as the sea air enveloped him. Taking a deep breath, he looked around at the confusion Angel’s transformation had caused. Ecstasy, sorrow, pains beyond measure. He saw people without hope envying those with everything to live for; some of the living envying the dead as they remembered what was coming.
He did this. He had failed. He had work to do.
* * *
“So let me get this straight…” Her fingers walked along his skin, one of her eyes closed so she could properly focus on her construct making a journey along her lover’s chest. “You died and then you were given a second chance.”
“No, I was going to die,” he replied, watching as the little man came closer to his face. “Had to. My blood had to close the portal. If I didn’t, hell on earth. Before I did, time froze. Wesley appeared with a message from the Powers and offered me another shot.”
“And, evidently, you took it.”
“I had no other option,” he explained as the finger man collapsed into a splayed hand pressed against his chest. The warmth of her skin, the feel of his heartbeat beneath her touch. It felt ironic.
She couldn’t know. Not what they were. Not what they would have been. He couldn’t bear it, seeing her like that. Even now, when the future wasn’t even a remote possibility, her face, demonic and devoid of the very compassion and warmth he loved her for… it haunted him. It gave him vindication that this was the right choice, even if he had doubted it when the choice lay on the table before him.
“Three doors, Cordy.”
“They say there are three doors to go through. I picked the one that led to you.”
“Dork,” she giggled, slapping his chest gently before climbing out of his bed.
Naked, she crossed his apartment, stopping for a second in the doorway to send him a fleeting glance, a cheeky smile forming when she realised how much she was making him squirm. He wanted her back, now. He missed her already.
Returning moments later, she seemed troubled. Holding her again, he felt her unease, the tension building beneath her flesh, every sinew tight.
“How long have we had to wait for this?” she asked, placing her hand above his heart once more.
“This is where we’re meant to be,” she said, though she didn’t sound convinced. “You and I, together. Forever. So clichéd, but it’s us. Our future is this. It’s what we’ve always wanted. So why do I know it won’t last.”
“Cordy, believe me, I know exactly how you’re feeling,” he replied, pulling her closer and resting his cheek against her soft hair, its scent intoxicating when he needed complete focus. “It will pass. Everything does.”
“Angel,” she said, her voice cracking. “That’s what scares me.”
* * *
That tune. It was all he could think about.
The knife in his hands, he rubbed the cloth up and down its steel surface, cleaning every inch of it. He’d always liked everything to be a certain way. A stable job, a wife and two beautiful daughters approaching their tenth and eighth birthdays respectively. A nice house in the suburbs, an adequate car. He had everything he wanted, until that morning. That was when the tune had started. That was when everything changed, when nothing was as it was supposed to be.
Dabbing his finger on the sharp tip of the faultless steel he hummed the sound of his heartbreak, the tune that had come to define his life. Inadequate.
As the last notes cracked in his throat, a single tear rolled down his cheek. The muffled voices behind him couldn’t change his mind, especially not that of his brother, the man he had seen in his memory, the man who had taken his family from him.
“Why, Paul?” he asked as his brother squirmed in his bonds. “Why did you always have to take what was mine? Mommy says give it back!”
Without another word, he slit his wife’s throat, the blood spurting from the wound as she gasped behind the rag keeping her quiet.
He revelled as his brother screamed for his dying lover, but couldn’t bear his children see it. Quickly, he spared them and took their lives the same way, more tears flowing as he watched their young lives fade before him as quickly as they had once sprung forth before him.
“I’m sorry babies.”
Placing the knife in his wife’s lap, he tore the gag from Paul’s mouth as he lathered him with every possible name, even calling him a monster.
“I’m a monster, Paul?” he asked, as he picked up the knife again. “I had everything, until you saw fit to come and ruin it. You took everything from me!”
“You’re insane! Nothing happened!”
“No, but it would,” he replied. “Two years from now I’ll come home, walk upstairs to see my beautiful wife, thanking God with every step for what he’d given me, and instead I’d open my bedroom door to see you banging her brains out in my bed. And that DAMN music!! Playing over and over!”
“I could have changed it!”
“No,” he said as he raised the knife above his head. “You can’t change the future.” Without hesitation he drove the knife deep into his brother’s chest, savouring the feeling as it tore through his flesh, his brother’s screams fading into stifled gargles as blood poured from his gaping mouth, his eyes rolling into the back of his head as he bled out.
“Funny. My wife had that same expression while you were fucking her!” Feeling like King Arthur, he pulled the knife from its resting place, the once and future king, and sat cross legged in front of his dead and dying family. “So glad I remembered. Now you’re all mine forever.”
His arterial blood splattered across the TV screen as he gargled his life away, the newsreader’s face reddened as she continued reading her lines, oblivious, as was everyone, to the massacre on the other side of the camera.
“There are increasing reports of mass suicides and revenge killings all over the world today as this phenomenon continues to take its toll on the globe,” she announced in a dry, uncaring tone. “Also, numerous military powers are preparing their forces for war in anticipation of attacks yet to take place; much focus on Afghanistan who we believe will be responsible for an attack on the United States two years from now. We’ll bring you more on this later, but for now we go live now to one of the world’s leading religious figures.”
“Don’t you see what this is?” the senior Christian screamed into the camera, his saliva blotching the screen. “Don’t you recognise the warnings we have given to you time and again? Our sins have been revealed, and the Lord is not well pleased. Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation, for the end is nigh. No! The end is here!”
The feeling of warmth on his skin never lost its appeal, still as wonderful as ever, he thought, as he craned his neck to the sky and allowed the rays of golden light to bathe his face. A man’s cough pulled him back to reality, his large frame partially blocking the door to the coffee shop. Removing himself from the way, Angel began the four block journey home.
It had been another coffee run for Cordelia, who was yet to leave his apartment. Some may have become fed up with the constant back and forth, but, when he had a creation so pure it could only have been divinely made waiting for him, the trip, and the wait, was worth it.
Walking the street, dodging the oncoming pedestrian traffic, he felt like an actor from a musical, a beaming smile on his face and a skip in his step. It felt so unnatural, so unfamiliar. Pain was his life. Always had been. For as long as he could remember he had been held tightly in the embrace of the arms of sorrow.
It felt like a lie. He’d tried to reassure Cordelia, told her it would be fine, that nothing would come between them again. He wanted to believe it, but he felt too good. In the rare moments in his long life where he had some semblance of happiness, something always went wrong because he was feeling too damn good.
Preternatural senses had deserted him when he had become human, but he still knew when he was being watched. Deep in the shadows of an alleyway, he could feel eyes on him. Abandoning the warmth of the sun, he stepped into the shade, wondering who it was. Word had to have spread about his new situation. There were bound to be some pissed demons and vamps who fancied getting some measure of vengeance against him now he was vulnerable.
A puff of smoke floated from a small alcove, dissipating as a man walked through it, his broad shoulders, long coat and the perfectly styled hair all indicators of who it was. “Christian. Still want me onside even when I’m human? Why do I doubt it?”
“You doubt it because you’re smart,” Christian replied, taking another drag on the cigarette, the flaring embers lighting his face a dull orange. “Well, I thought you were. Question: what are you doing? It’s been three days and you’ve allowed yourself to stay in this state.”
“What, happy?” he asked, hoping he could convey his offence.
“Not a luxury people like us are afforded, Angel. People need you, and as a human you’re not what you need to be. You cannot fulfil your destiny like this.”
Smiles were a strange thing. Such a simple action, a basic movement of facial muscles and yet they could tell so many stories. A smile wasn’t just a response of happiness. It was a defence, it was questioning. Right now, his smile was wide, his teeth on show and yet his eyes portrayed a disbelief as he struggled with the knowledge that they weren’t in it for him, or Cordelia. Never had been. In the end, it all came back to the destiny, the big win.
Picking up the tray of coffee and the greasy bag, where the cream frosting had begun to melt from one of the cakes she’d requested, Angel replied, “I couldn’t care less about my destiny, or the Powers or the ones holding your leash. I‘m in this for one person.”
“Remind me, would that be Cordelia? You see, I get the distinct feeling it’s really all about you and what you want. Screw the consequences. Screw everyone who might get in the way.” He wasn’t done, following Angel from the alley and out into the bustling street, the lunch hour traffic still thick.
“Everything I do is for Cordelia,” he said, angrily, the feel of his cheeks flushing new and unexpected. “I came back for her, to save her. Now, we’re free thanks to history repeating itself. This time, I’m not losing that. I’ve seen how it goes, and without my memories, I’ll lose her. This time, she gets the life she deserves.”
As Angel barged his way through the crowd, anger fuelling every step, Christian strolled behind, dodging the oncoming effortlessly as he pushed. “And what about all the lives you’re meant to save? What about all the lives that have been ruined by this?”
“’I’ll say it again for the hard of hearing. I don’t care!” He stopped trying to run, turned around and faced his conscience and looked him square in the eyes. The hollow, sinking feeling he had grown so accustomed to didn’t appear. There was no conviction this time. “I’m done. So tell your bosses to chase another rainbow.”
No more would she come second. For too long he’d compromised her love for the cold love of the world. He had another chance to give her what she deserved and he was going to. This time, she came first.
Christian didn’t follow this time, merely watching as Angel disappeared into the crowds swelling around him. There was no getting through to him, he knew. Part of him understood, sympathised with him. After all he’d done, he’d never found any happiness. Now, he wanted what he felt he deserved. That wasn’t Angel, though. They’d shown him enough for him to know the true Angel.
Angel fought, no matter the cost, because it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t something forced on him, but a choice he made voluntarily. Now, there was nothing left. The fight that gave his life purpose was gone, a fire long extinguished. Perhaps they were right in what they had told him. Angel made the choice to return to this time, to live again, but only to save her from the inevitable future that awaited.
Perhaps this was Angel. He was the same man, but changed. His attitude, his beliefs, moulded into something new. He wasn’t the champion of old. Now, he was a man seeking to save the one he loved. His choice was never about the world, but Cordelia, because she was his world.
Like that, he was of no use. His masters needed a champion and it was only him who could fill that role. Without him, they’d already lost.
* * *
Bitter fluid lined his throat, the soft flesh burning beneath the whiskey kiss. He waited for the pain to dull, for his body to become awash in the alcohol’s soothing glow. Still, at the bottom of every glass he didn’t find what he was looking for. Ordering another drink, he hoped this would be the one that made him forget.
His flesh melting from his bones, his eyes bursting in his sockets, organs boiling inside his chest. It was all he felt, day and night; all he could remember. After that, only darkness; endless black stretching on into eternity.
That wasn’t the worst thing, though. The pain, the darkness, didn’t compare to feeling her. Cordelia. As the visions left his body, he felt her, her life slowly fading from her because of what he’d done. He felt every second of her pain, every tear she shed.
It was worse than his agony, knowing she’d suffer because of him. Everything that would happen to her was his fault, but as the last drop of his latest drink slid down his throat, he still couldn’t forget.
“Thought I’d find you here,” Christian said, gesturing to the barman as he took a seat beside Doyle, leaving one free between them. “It’s where you’ll find a lot of people after what happened.”
“And here I was thinking Americans were intellectually challenged,” Doyle replied, taking the drink brought for Christian from his hand and downing it in one. “I might just have to go and change my long standing opinion now. But, given I’ve only got a couple of days to go, I might just choose to go out believing you’re a load of ignorant pricks. Revelation will eat into my drinking time.”
“So, you’re still going to go ahead with it?”
“Aye. May remember every gory detail, and have a few ruined pairs of trousers, but it’s my job.”
Remembering his conversation with Angel earlier in the day, he was confused, asking, “Why, though? Don’t you want a second chance?”
“Living my second chance, bud. May be my next go round, but those people still need me. Not exactly looking forward to it, but I’ll do it all the same.” Seeing the irony, he had to chuckle, continuing, “Always did want to be a hero. Get my moment in the spotlight. Shame that spotlight is gonna kill me slowly and painfully, but hey, I fill myself with enough of the demon drink and I may only feel a wee smidgen of the endless agony.”
“Angel doesn’t share your line of thinking,” Christian sighed. “He wants no more of this life.”
“Would you? How long has the man had to suffer? Now, you and yours are expecting him to just carry on and suffer again for a war, I’m sure, he feels is pointless. Wasn’t around, myself, but how many friends did he lose?”
“They tell me… all of them.” Suddenly, Doyle’s desire to drink overtook Christian as his cheeks puffed out, his mouth full to the brim with the whiskey he stole from Doyle’s hand. Payment in kind. “Still, it’s his duty. You’re continuing with yours, seeing it through to the end.”
“Aye, but there are some things worse than death.”
Silence prevailed as Christian thought for a few moments as Doyle continued to bury himself in liquor. Broken by the scraping stool, Doyle pined for the silence once more, firing a questioning glare at the suit as he stood up and dropped $30 on the bar.
“Doyle, could you at least speak to him? Try and convince him to make things right.” Turning back briefly, he added, “People need him.”
“I wouldn’t worry about, bud. If I know Angel, you’ll get exactly what you want.”
* * *
The sound of a heart beat had always held a mysterious attraction for him. It wasn’t just an indicator of a human presence. It wasn’t just a means to track a human’s movements. It was more than that. It was life itself. It was the key to a human, and he savoured the sound of it. Evil, he relished feeling it slow as he drank, its fading rhythm singing the final song of the life he was stealing. With a soul, it meant he wasn’t alone.
He couldn’t hear her heart anymore. It was a realisation that set in as he watched her sleeping. Her breaths – soft whimpering betraying her dreams – were still there, but her heart lay hidden beneath the surface. The song he once savoured, the knowledge of her presence echoing around his mind, her life ringing in his ears, was gone. Despite the return of his own heartbeat, he found himself saddened to think he wouldn’t hear hers.
In the end, he realised, it was a small sacrifice to pay because now he had the touch of her skin, the warmth of her kiss, the sweetness of her embrace. What he couldn’t hear, he could feel resounding in tandem with his own whenever he looked into her eyes and felt her body beneath him, nestled in her warmth, their souls entwined in the throes of passion. One loss had allowed so much gain.
An entrance upstairs caught his attention, nothing else doing so all night, his focus solely on her laying beside him, the beauty she exuded from every pore. Worrying a drunken Doyle would disturb her, he pressed his lips softly to her arm and allowed the warmth of her skin to tingle across them.
Climbing from the bed, he replaced the clothes he had lost earlier and made his way to the stairs, dodging the cold coffee on his floor, with every step his longing growing a little, the short distance feeling like too much to bear. After everything they’d gone through, after the time they’d waited, any separation was hell. He wanted to sort Doyle out and then get back to her as quickly as possible.
Cold steel met his head, its icy touch hurting his temple as the barrel of the gun was pushed against his skin, forcing his head over to the side. Whoever it was, they were out of sight, stood perfectly within his blind spot.
“Over by the desk. Now!” A male voice. Somehow, he recognised it but couldn’t place it. “Make a sound and I’ll kill you.”
Instinctively, he raised his hands, as if outstretched arms and open palms would stop a bullet. A gesture for calm in a situation anything but. So many thoughts making noise in his head, he struggled to focus, but Christian’s words earlier that day stood out in the din, the face of his assailant driving the message home.
“My god!” No words needed to be said. They knew each other well for strangers, the life in which they had been the most important people binding them to each other.
“Glad you remember me, but then again, of course you do. Everybody remembers everything.”
A gun in his hand, a shakiness in his posture and tears in his eyes, this man wasn’t where he should be. This wasn’t him. Not the man he remembered, not the man he trusted. This was exactly what Christian had told him about. This was a ruined life, a broken man with a heart shattered into pieces.
It was his fault.
“Where is he, Angel?” he asked, his eyes darting back and forth between the chambers on his revolver and Angel. “Don’t know why I ask that. I already know. Seeing as he wasn’t born until 2002, it’s pretty obvious that he doesn’t, as yet, exist.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Connor. One of the many victims of his choice to return, another life that he was responsible for ending. He hadn’t thought of him, much, since fighting the Mohra. He didn’t like the knowledge that his son was gone, that he would never again live the life he always wanted for him, but the grief and the pain were burdens he’d grown accustomed to.
Connor, biology ignored, was never his son. His memories, his life, revolved around the man pointing a gun at his heart. The family fabricated for him were his home. The wife and child he went on to have. The vampire who conceived him wasn’t part of that and he’d accepted it.
He loved his son. Always would, but their lives weren’t together. He’d grieved once already.
“He told you, then?” Angel said. “The truth.”
“Of course, he did! Do you have any idea about the relationship we had with our son? Again, another stupid question. You know every detail of our relationship, because you were the one who set the specifications!”
“Killing me won’t bring him back,” Angel explained, fearful, for the first time in a long time, for his life. If he was gone, what would happen to Cordelia? He couldn’t leave her. Not now. “I am sorry for what’s happened. I know what it’s like to lose a son, but-”
“But you did it anyway! You took our boy away!” She had to have heard something. The way he was shouting had to have disturbed her. He hoped she slept through, hoped she didn’t come upstairs to this scene. “Way I see it, based on the impossibility of the nature of his conception, I doubt he’s ever coming back. So, what purpose do you have? You’re just a body, a stain that needs to be removed, and there are people who will pay good money, give anything to see you dead.”
“What have you done?”
“Made a deal. Your life for Connor’s. They say they can bring him back, just as he was.”
“They’re lying to you. You can’t save something that never existed,” he explained as the mirror stared back at him, his reflection holding a gun, threatening to destroy him, all for the love of a boy. A son.
Love was a powerful motivator, a selfish motivator. It made fools of everyone it touched, everyone it cursed, bid them to do awful things just to satisfy their addiction. It wanted blood. Wanted a sacrifice, and it didn’t discriminate. It wanted the world. Angel had given it already. This man wanted his.
“He did exist!!” he shouted as he pulled the firing pin back, the tremble in his hand fading as the adrenaline, the rage, set in. “And he will again.”
He shut his eyes as Connor’s father took aim, waiting for the shot to ring out and herald his passing. It was more horrifying, though, the sound he actually heard. More painful than a bullet shattering his heart in two.
Whether she’d heard the argument or was just curious where he’d gone, he couldn’t know. He felt it was the latter, her smile so beautiful against the darkness of their moment, her voice so expectant as if she couldn’t wait to be near him again.
It all changed when the shot rang out. It took her a moment to realise there was a hole where her heart should have been. As always, even the most horrific of situations seemed so much better in the presence of the light she exuded, until it faded.
He ran to her side, catching her mere inches from the floor, collapsing with her under her dead weight.
“Cordy, look at me. Look at me, Cordy!” he shouted as her eyes searched the ceiling, her desperate gasps for air failing to sustain her. “Hold on, ok! I’m going to call for help.”
He tried to reach the phone, but it was too far from where he was, not even the tangled cord within his reach. The faint hope that maybe Connor’s father would step in, make his mistakes right, ran away with him out of the door.
One of the things people had always said about him was that he never gave up. His fight gave him a purpose in the face of hopeless odds, a seemingly pointless, pain filled existence. She was his light, his purpose. It was why he kept reaching for the phone, shouting with desperation as his fingers danced by its side.
A warm hand on his cheek pulled him back to her.
“It won’t help,” she gasped as a single tear burst from its duct and streamed across her face. “You know it won’t.”
“I can’t lose you!” he urged once more as he tried desperately again, ignoring the blood pooling around them.
“That’s our lot.”
His face was pure horror, the words circling his mind as he tried to deny the truth that she was living. There was no future for them. Not like this.
His tears dropped on her forehead, her own strange calm dissipating as her last breaths gargled in her throat.
“Angel…” she said, her face contorting as it hit her. “…I don’t want to go.”
He lost count of how long he sat with her on the office floor, rocking her in his arms as the blood coagulated beneath them, his tears warm against her increasingly cold skin.
Love was a powerful motivator, a selfish motivator. It made fools of everyone it touched, everyone it cursed, bid them to do awful things just to satisfy their addiction. It wanted blood. Wanted a sacrifice, and it didn’t discriminate. It wanted the world. Angel had given it already. It still wanted more.
There was only one way to give it what it wanted, what it needed.
* * *
Smoke danced around his body as the white light around him disappeared, the faux wall, the doorway between worlds, returned to block the way to the Oracles’ dimension. “Angel? The blood-”
“You want to get in here, don’t you?” Doyle asked, thumbing towards the doorway to the Oracles’ chamber. “Would that be for a little thing called a temporal fold?”
“Not here to chat,” Angel replied, barging his way through to the altar to start the spell he needed to perform to get in, the prior used ingredients Doyle had used saving time.
“Well, that’s a resounding yes, so here’s a resounding ‘no need’.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t been losing yourself in some bar, you’d know why there is a need.”
“Not all of us got something out of your little brain voodoo! I know for damn sure that I didn’t get a weekend with the woman of my dreams!” Doyle replied, placing his hand over the spell. “And before you get all growly, just remember that you’re human now. Fight won’t be as simple as you’re used to, so I suggest you let me finish.”
He wasn’t in the mood, but he wasn’t getting into a fight. There wasn’t time. He’d let him have his say, but if he wasn’t satisfied, he was going in.
“I’ve spoken to the Oracles. Seems my sacrifice last time round qualifies me as a champion, certificate on the wall and everything,” he explained as he gathered up the ingredients for the spell into his small leather bag. “I’ve asked them to fold time. Same deal as last time, except this time, I get to keep the memories.”
It felt like such a long time ago, when a phantom of some cruel cosmic opera came to him in the midst of death’s embrace. It seemed like decades since Wesley had shown him the inconvenient truth, that they’d lost the war and that everything they had fought for, everything they had sacrificed, had been for nothing.
It had been so long since Cordelia’s eyes had flashed a golden shade of amber, bloodlust and evil replacing the loving heart he had come to know her for, had come to adore her for. In reality, it had only been months since he made the decision to return and try one more time to make it right, to make things the way they needed to be.
There was no love for the world in his decision, no noble cause nor the screams of the lost ringing in his ears. All he could see was her, wrapped in darkness. His only motivation was to give her another chance, to save her from the future that waited. As she had been for so long, she was his reason.
Different time, different place, same reason: Her. The Universe, the Powers, some unseen God up above didn’t want them to be what they wanted to be. No matter how much he needed her or wanted her, or how much she felt the same, they couldn’t be. No, that was a carrot at the end of a far off stick. Play by their rules, fight their war and do their job, and they’d get their reward.
That was their lot. Like this, they couldn’t be together. Time had to fold. He had to lose everything they’d done. What they were and what they felt had to die.
She already had.
Out of the corner of his eye he glanced at Doyle, no expression on his face. He was past feeling anything but numb, but as he walked away, he made sure to offer the obligatory, “Thank you.” He was sorry if Doyle had wanted a song and dance, a big hug and praise for his sacrifice, but he wasn’t giving. There was no time.
He didn’t have long, if his memory served. An hour at most. If this was the end, there was only one place he wanted to be. She was waiting for him.
* * *
“Sorry, I was so long,” Angel said, dropping his keys on the side table. “Met Doyle on the way, and we got to talking. You wouldn’t believe what he’s been up to.”
Usually she replied, he thought as he looked around the apartment. The dishes weren’t done, the bed wasn’t made. Something was wrong.
“In here, baby,” she called from the living area.
Relieved, he rushed over, the distance between them unbearable. It had been too much time apart. He’d never felt like this before, the withdrawals their separation brought on so alien to him. He’d never needed someone so much.
She was still on the sofa where he’d left her. Morning TV had been their soundtrack as they enjoyed each other’s company. He’d had to leave, though. Something came up, but he wasn’t sure he remembered what. All he could think about was getting back to her.
Replacing himself in the seat beside her, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder as she nuzzled into his body. “Anything good on?”
“Nah. Just a lazy day. Didn’t want to get up.”
“Well now you don’t have to,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Cordy, you’re freezing. Why didn’t you turn the heating on?”
“I don’t feel cold. You’re probably just warm from being out in the sun.”
So often he had to remind himself to just stop worrying about her. It was just it had been so long that they’d waited for this. He wanted nothing to interfere. He wanted no more tragedies, and it was putting him on high alert. Silly really. “Sorry, Cordy. I’m just being fussy.”
He kissed her again, but couldn’t fail to notice the blood on the shirt he’d given her to wear in bed. “Did you cut yourself? Let me see.” He inspected both hands but found no mark.
“No, it’s yours. You only went and gave me one of the shirts you wore on patrol.”
“I’ll get you a new one, then,” he said, jumping up to fetch a clean one from the wardrobe.
“Angel, it’s fine! It’s dry.” It had only been a few seconds since the last spell of paranoia and he was starting up again. Resolving to not do so from that point onward, he took a seat and pulled her in close again.
It was a pitiful sight, what he had stumbled in on. It wasn’t a long trip from the Post Office back to AI, but something had gone wrong on the way. Angel… wasn’t right. Doyle continued to watch unnoticed as Angel, alone, acted out their roles. Nothing was out of place to him. Not Cordelia’s body, nor the blood streaked along the floor. There was no TV for them to watch, and it was the middle of the night.
“I’m sorry, bud,” Doyle whispered as he watched from the stairs, noticing on the clock the few moments left before the fold. “I’ll leave you two in peace.”
“So, what do you want to do today?” Angel asked her.
“You know what would be nice? Staying in all day, just the two of us. TV, ice cream, talking. You know. Quality time. What do you think?”
Relaxing into his chair, his cheek on her head, a smile forming as he questioned what he had done to deserve this perfection, he replied, “Nothing but me and you? That sounds perfect.”
* * *
It really was beautiful, he thought. The setting sun, casting an orange glow across the sky, a purging fire cleansing the world of all the dirty mistakes of the day just gone, fixing them so the new could start. He’d never really appreciated it before. It was just one of those things that happened, not worthy of his time.
Funny how the prioritisation of time changed when there was so little left of it.
Funny how he knew that in a few days he’d be dead, and yet he didn’t care. There was no fear, no resentment for missed opportunities, no anger at some unseen higher power for dealing him the bad hand. It was something he had to do.
His friends, though, were different. They were what he didn’t want to leave. They were the images he’d miss, the faces, the smiles. Unlike the setting sun, however, he’d always appreciated them.
“It was selfless, what you did.” Doyle didn’t look. He knew who it was. “My masters were extremely pleased. That wasn’t one of their suggested solutions.”
“Couldn’t be Angel,” Doyle explained. “I’ve never seen him like that. He wasn’t the man he used to be, who I remember. He was just a shell living for Cordelia. She was all that kept him going. If he’d gone back with his memories intact, he couldn’t have helped anyone.”
“The new man is back, though. He is the true Angel, not the husk hollowed out by a cruel, black joke we call a world.”
“Calm down, bud,” Doyle urged, raising an eyebrow to the over dramatics. “It’s not all bad.”
“Anyway, that’s not what I came for. My masters are extremely pleased and they asked me to express their gratitude for your sacrifice.”
“Do I get a prize? A day at the spar maybe? Make me look and feel fab for my big trip into the wild blue yonder.” Bit of sarcasm. Always went down a treat. Bit on the rude side, but he wasn’t in the mood for inter-office memos and monthly quotas. “Oh, by the way, I wouldn’t worry about the Mohra. Told Angel how to kill it. They think you gave me the tip when you first graced me with your presence.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the expensive suit as Christian leant against the concrete ledge. “I wasn’t worried about the Mohra. How are you feeling?”
“Got a few days left before I die, but before I die I’m going to curse the woman I love with visions that will eventually kill her unless my best friend, who has no memory, finds a way to stop that,” Doyle replied. “And, oh yeah, if Angel doesn’t do things differently this time, it’s curtains for this little world we call home. Won’t lie, for all my speechifying to Angel, the seeds of doubt are there and they’re sprouting away.”
“Doyle, I promise you, myself and those I answer to will do everything in our power to ensure Angel fixes the mistakes of the original time.” Sighing, his tone changed, the official company man position fading. “Though I understand your concerns, and that it must be hard. It must be a terrible burden, knowing what’s coming, the responsibility you have.”
“No, aside from the obvious… I feel good.”
“You do? Surprising.”
“Angel probably wouldn’t agree, but… it’s good,” Doyle said, smiling at the sun as it kissed the horizon. “…being a hero.”
“That’s it. I’m done.”
It sounded almost prophetic, Angel thought as the image of Doyle on the screen stilled and flickered. He wanted to kill the image, a lie as long as it existed. Doyle was gone, and he didn’t want to believe anything else. It just prolonged the grief. She wouldn’t leave go of the image, though, holding the lie within her iris, finding some solace in the comfort it bestowed.
Finally, the last image of his friend burning his tired eyes, he destroyed it, committed it to memory and blackened the screen with the push of a button. His first instinct was to run, hide away in the depths of his basement finding his own comfort in the dark silence. He couldn’t run, though, Cordelia’s arms clutching him tightly as she stared at the blank screen.
She’d lost one friend that night. She wasn’t letting another leave her.
Right now was when Doyle was needed the most. He’d always had a wise word, provided some clarity to the darker moments, in his own way. He would have known what to say to her. Angel didn’t. He wanted to be what she needed right then, to have the words that would dull the pain, but that wasn’t his strong point. Causing it was more his trait.
He’d caused this, he thought as the unmistakable warmth of a human tear warmed his skin, drops blotching his trousers randomly as she tried not to sniffle too loudly. If he’d been stronger, Doyle would still be alive and she wouldn’t have to feel this.
The pain both of the people he called friend had experienced that night played out in front of him and reran in the annals of his mind, a dual assault on his already fragile state of being. He stroked the smooth hair on the back of her head as she buried herself in his lap, the contact laden with guilt as he tried to ease what he had caused.
“I think I’d better get home,” she said, moments later, wiping at the black streaks staining her plump, flushed cheeks as she reared her head. “It’s late. I’ll be missing work if I don’t go.”
“Take the day,” he replied as she gathered her belongings from her desk, noticing her efforts to avoid looking at anything left by Doyle. “I’ll handle everything here.”
“Angel, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but what makes you think I don’t also want to bury myself in work so I don’t have to think about it?”
She knew him. He often forgot that. No one had really known him before. Just her and Doyle. Now, just her. “Well, at least stay here, tonight. Save you a trip. You can have my bed.”
The whiskey bottle glistened against the faint light in the basement, the allure of its anaesthesia calling to him. For the second time that night, he had the distinct feeling that Doyle’s actions had been almost prophetic.
“Takes the edge off, I find,” Doyle said as he placed it on top of Angel’s weapon cabinet.
Maybe for him, but the effect wasn’t as noticeable for a vampire. He’d need more than a half bottle to take the edge off the thoughts cutting through his mind, a thousand daggers in every thought tearing him to shreds.
He wished for silence, the semblances of a prayer being uttered as he tried to quiet his mind and stop the noises rushing back and forth.
Cordelia. All other thoughts ceased, as if in answer, as he heard her moving around in his bed, the sheets grazing her skin, follicles of hair catching within the fibres and stitching. She was awake, her heart too fast for a sleeping woman, her breathing controlled.
“Cordelia?” he said, standing at the foot of the bed as she tossed and turned.
“You know, if I’d been asleep you’d be getting so ignored right now. That or kicked,” she replied. “But then, your totally not weird hearing ability tells you in great detail what state I’m in, so you weren’t risking either of those, were you. And I’m sure, seeing as you have common sense, that you know exactly what thoughts are keeping me awake.”
The mattress sank beneath him, bedclothes pooling around his waist, material inching out from underneath as she clutched the edge of the quilt tightly, her half naked body vulnerable to the cold air circulating his apartment.
Multiple layers pulled up under her chin, she asked, “Why did he do it, Angel? I mean, there had to be another way.”
There had been. If Doyle had just let him, he could have been the one to stop the bomb. Doyle would still be here, and Cordelia wouldn’t have to feel emptiness which he felt mirrored within himself. If he’d been stronger, she wouldn’t have to feel it. “I guess, in the time we had, Doyle felt there was no other way. In the end, he made a choice. Us or him. There was no question. I know because there was no question for me.”
“This isn’t your fault, Angel,” she said, releasing her grip to stroke his shoulder. “Don’t you dare think your death would have been some better option!”
“No! Doyle didn’t want you to die. Maybe he believed in what you’re doing here. Either way, you or him, I would have lost someone I loved tonight. There is no better option, just two equally shitty hands the devil dealt us!”
“The devil we know…”
“Angel?” she asked as he stood up from the bed, an incoherent, random statement the last thing he was willing to leave her with. “What are you talking about?”
“What happened to Doyle, we could never have seen coming. We could never have stopped it,” he explained, some measure of his guilt washing away and implanting itself on the shoulders of another as clarity replaced the nonsensical babblings his mind had been trying to process all night. “There was someone who could, though. Get some rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
One foot across the precipice, he felt the pull of her voice draw him back, soft, tear stained eyes staring helplessly back at him. She was just a helpless victim, but not to him. Still, she was a victim fate wouldn’t allow him to save that night. No matter what had happened, she’d been doomed from the start.
“Can you stay? I don’t- I don’t want to sleep alone, tonight.”
It didn’t take him long to decide, taking his place beside her on the bed. A helpless victim was all she was, the pain already inflicted, but at least fate would let him ease it in some small way. Perhaps in the end, Doyle had known. Perhaps he knew that they’d be fine, that Angel could protect her. Perhaps Doyle trusted them to get by without him. It was all they had now, and if it was what Doyle wanted, what Doyle believed he could do, he would try.
The onset of sleep pulling him down, her hand on his chest drew him back for an instant, the whiskey bottle in the living room in plain sight, its sweet anaesthesia suddenly seeming pointless. He’d lost one friend that night, but he had another still by his side. They’d get by, in time.
They still had things to do, appointments to keep. Doyle was gone, and he wanted answers. Christian would have them.
* * *
The words zigzagged beneath his aching fingers, a thirty hour day taking its toll, no amount of coffee fuelling his late night research. Pictures caught his eye, but there was no significance in the dead eyes staring back at him, names and places meaningless in the sea of ink. Holland had passed on the file, however, entrusted it solely to him in the expectation of a job well done.
“This is the highest priority, Lindsey,” he’d said as the goldenrod folder hung rigid in the air, defiant of gravity as it waited to be transferred from one owner to another. “The Senior Partners need this handled as quickly and as professionally as possible.”
“Sir, don’t you think-”
“Lindsey, you worry far too much,” Holland said, forcing the assignment into his reluctantly open hand, the arm around his shoulder clutching him close to the man he had long looked up to as a father figure. “I trust you to get the job done, and so do the Senior Partners. Find the man in this file, and make contact. We need his assistance with… recent developments.”
“Ha ha, you see. Inquisitive, asking questions above your pay grade. That’s why it had to be you. It won’t be easy finding the man in that folder, so put that mind of yours to good use. Let me know how far you get tomorrow evening.”
Just as quickly as he had been pulled into a cold embrace, he was released from it, cast off into the corridor and expected to fly solo. As the double doors closed him off to any answers, he glanced down at the file to see nothing but a symbol etched onto its surface, wondering what the Senior Partners could possibly want.
It had been two hours, and still nothing. Half a century’s worth of information, and yet nothing worth mentioning. Nothing to help him find the man in the pictures. No leads as to where he was. Suddenly, the black and white haze took focus, two words giving him all he needed, and some inkling into why the Senior Partners wanted this so urgently. Two words and it suddenly fit into place.
The reports of energy levels around Angel from months back, reports of momentary spikes in those levels in Angel and Doyle mere days earlier, spikes that coincided with a temporal fold apparently granted by the Powers. And now, in black and white before him, two words: “Temporal folds.”
Whoever this man was, he knew how to find him. One phone call and the process began.
His fingers danced over the keys as he held the receiver to his ear, the ringing buzzing through his head. Moments later, he replaced the receiver, twirling in his leather finished chair, the view of a pink, early morning sky not as painful as it had been ten minutes earlier. Now, he’d done his job, he could revel in a small victory.
“Sorry, Angel. Play time’s over.”
* * *
The Plymouth screeched to a halt outside the small warehouse, a mosaic of glass shards running the perimeter, flakes of brown metal twitching in the wind and ready to crumble at the slightest touch. Good, he thought. They’d be alone.
He knew she wasn’t certain, that doubts had filled the narrow spaces of her mind where thoughts of Doyle had yet feared to tread. What he didn’t know was what she doubted, but if her mind was anything like his, she doubted him and what they were doing there. Last semblances of a good man, but right now he was suppressing it, telling her what he had been repeating in his head all night.
“We need answers. Christian has them.” Vampire with a soul. That was how people knew him. A hero of the huddled masses, righting wrongs and fighting the perpetual injustices of the world from his modest detective agency. What people always forgot was that he was the most dangerous man on earth, and right now he was pissed. “And they better be good.”
Thick dust danced on the air, the dim lights illuminating the dead memories of the past as they drifted aimlessly. Angel followed them as they descended until his eyes met the lonely figure in the centre of the vast floor, half empty bottle in one hand, the bridge of his nose squeezed between the fingers on the other.
“They told me you were coming,” Christian said, bloodshot eyes meeting theirs. “Gave me a nice headache just to tell me you were coming to have a little chat. And here you both are.”
“Any other titbits of information get through in the past few days, or do they just give you the useless stuff?” Angel asked. He wanted to get in close, make sure Christian felt him and the rage streaming from every pore. She wouldn’t let him, though. Her arm linked with his, she restrained him. She couldn’t stop him if he wanted to go, but he respected what she wanted.
Throwing the, now, empty bottle to the empty side of the room, waiting for the shatter and the crescendo of falling glass to finish so he could speak, Christian replied, “Straight to the point, as ever. Always liked that about you, Angel. Yeah, they told me that you were coming to talk about Doyle. And before you ask, yes, I did know it was going to happen.”
Releasing his arm, Cordelia asked, “You knew?”, only Angel’s arm across her body holding her back. “You knew and you never warned us!?”
“I wanted to.”
“Obviously not as much as we wanted you too,” she seethed as her brain searched for a moment when she had hated someone more, and finding nothing.
Mourning for the drink he wished he still had, he added, “Doyle was a good man. I can think of two people in this building who deserve to die more than he did. I wanted to- My masters forbade it. His death was…” he sighed, “…too important.”
She hadn’t resumed holding his arm. He was free of her reservations, and with a million questions burning and pressing against his temples, he made his way slowly to the font of his indignation, hoping the one rule he kept firmly pressed to his moral compass guided his hand, and not the fury he wished to unleash.
“Too important? Our friend’s death was too important for you to do anything to try and stop it? Who follows an order like that? I’ve done a lot of bad things, but that… you have a soul. You’re human,” Angel explained, trying to fathom the reality. “You know what, I’d say that that should make you less inclined to allow harm to come to a ‘good man’, but that might be the very thing that made you follow that order. Nothing but human.”
“Angel, I don’t expect you to understand, and I would never ask you to, but I can only intervene when they deem it necessary. All I can ask is that you have faith.”
“Faith in what? Some unseen entities that play games with human lives?” Angel asked, making his way back to Cordelia and leading her by the arm towards the door. “Sorry, but I want nothing to do with them, or those who follow their orders blindly. I suggest you stay away from now on. We don’t need your kind of help.”
“Angel, you need me!”
“Things are coming Angel and without me you won’t be ready for them,” Christian explained. “Without me, more of your friends will die. If you walk away now, Cordelia will die.”
It was like a light to the flies. Against his better judgment, he was hooked and rushing headlong into a bad decision. “Are you threatening her?”
“Only with the truth.”
Casting his one rule aside, his moral compass twitched aimlessly, though his aim was true, the punch connecting perfectly with Christian’s cheek, the impact launching him across the room and into the fragile wall barely holding the ancient structure up.
“In my life, I’ve lost two people I cared deeply about,” Angel said, hoping his point was made. “Cordelia won’t be the third! Threaten her again, and I’ll kill you.”
Usually, they stayed down, cowering in fear and hoping that he’d spare them. Humans. A fearful species by nature. As a result, there was something disconcerting to even a vampire about a human not only immediately getting up from a demonically powered punch, but laughing about it. “Now now, Angel. That stubborn attitude of yours is going to get her, and a lot of other helpless people, killed.”
Ignoring Cordelia’s pleas to leave it, and the knowledge that she would be ashamed of him for this – that knowledge too much for him; enough to hold him back – he moved in again. “I guess you didn’t hear me,” he said, swinging another right.
There was a distinctive sound of a fist connecting with a face, as bone meets bone, the thin layers of skin inadequate to stop their meeting, tiny cracks audible only to a vampire as minute fractures line the bone beneath. He didn’t hear it this time, instead the acoustic clap of his hand meeting palm echoing around the empty hall.
“Oh, I heard you, Angel,” Christian said, slowly getting to his feet, Angel’s fist still firmly gripped between his enclosed fingers. “But it’s time you listened.”
He’d never felt anything like it, Christian’s free hand almost penetrating his torso, the blood immediately rising in his throat and bathing his tongue as he gasped for needless morsels of air. An uppercut, like a sledgehammer crushing his chin, sent him skyward for a moment before the cement floor bid him home with a cold, unwelcoming embrace. No human could hit like that, slayers included, and suddenly Angel had no qualms about what he was about to do. Outmuscled, maybe, but there was more to a fight than strength alone.
Up to his feet, he spun on his heel with the entire force of his body behind the leg hurtling through space towards Christian’s head. Everything behind it, it was still caught effortlessly, leaving his ribs exposed. Unrelenting, Christian threw punch after punch, his knuckles shattering bone as Angel resisted the urge to scream through the pain.
“The vampire with a soul, destined to save the world or destroy it in the final battle of The Apocalypse,” Christian said, timing each punch with the end of a sentence. “Help him to right the wrongs of his past, they said. Help him atone and find your own redemption, they said. Why do I feel that helping you will be an impossible feat, Angel?”
Options fading fast, Angel brought his standing leg up in another, desperate attempt to make contact, but again he was too slow. In a fluid motion, Christian caught his leg and spun around to hurtle him into the same wall he’d been sent crashing into moments earlier, moments when things made sense, when Christian was just another human. Vampire or not, the steel meeting his head, the blood seeping through the fracture in his skull, hurt like hell. He was done.
Through squinted eyes, he saw Christian approaching, slowly, wiping the dust from his suit as he did. Dodging the blood spluttering from his mouth, Christian kneeled at his side, pulling Angel by the chin to face him, to face the truth.
“What you need to get through your thick skull is that I am here to help you make things right,” Christian said, calmly, as if there had been no fight, as if nothing had happened and it was just business as usual. His secret was revealed, but he seemed like he couldn’t care less. Then again, why would he have to? “Those unseen entities that you’re so willing to question are the very same Powers that have been sending visions. They are trying to help you save your friends. Save the world. When you accept that inconvenient truth, you know where to find me.”
He searched the room for Cordelia, wishing he’d taken her advice, regretting ever coming to that place. His shattered ribs sliced against his lungs, the breath he needed to speak nowhere to be found, and the desire to call out to her going unrealised. Heels on the concrete. Running. She was coming. That knowledge dulled the pain.
Her running stopped as Christian held her at the elbow. He’d taken a beating from this man, all because of an indirect threat. Now, he was touching her. He wanted to shout, to demand that he leave her be, but not even his will could force the words.
He watched her recoil as Christian leaned in to whisper. Maybe he’d hoped Angel would be too preoccupied to hear such a small noise, but right now his mind was solely on them.
“You’d better get him home. He’s lost a lot of blood. And just so you know, I’m truly sorry about Doyle,” Christian explained, sighing as he looked at the broken body lying in the cold. His handiwork. “And him.”
* * *
The artificial lights of LA glared white hot against the darkness, his eyes still adjusting after what seemed like days in the void. He had longed to see the light again, holding on to the hope of the stars’ embrace, the kiss of the moonlight on his skin, the warmth of a golden sun. Instead he found the endless sea of fluorescents and neons turning the serene landscape into a patchwork of human made imperfection.
He searched the soft material of his jacket, his quivering hand caressing its surface to find the pocket and the flask of whiskey within. The cold steel soothed his aching fingers, the after effects of the Powers’ treatment of him in the void too real, not even the alternation of realities easing the pain.
He suckled at the rim, his dry tongue like sandpaper in his mouth, the stale air within providing no relief. A frustrated shout nothing more than a hoarse squeak, he curled into a ball, the steel bending beneath his grip, hiding from the lights behind the concrete barrier which provided the only protection on the exposed rooftop from the world beneath.
Moments passed as more and more slipped into focus, the fingers of his memory finding the experience of the void seared into his mind, the scars never fading as the wounds disappeared. As he pieced it all together the world became less of a haze, as if waking from a dream. Their words echoed in his head once more as the last piece slotted into place.
In a moment of respite, his naked body pouring out its anguish, they spoke, giving voice to his nightmare. “Was it necessary to react so… violently?”
“I’m…sorry… masters,” he replied between gasps of air, no breath providing enough.
“While we do not agree with your reaction, we concede that Angel behaved less than favourably, also. Although, we hope you realise the negative impact this will have on your relations with him.”
Suddenly weightless, he was lifted, his nakedness replaced by the warmth of his clothes, the feeling of the slow return to the earthly plane and the warmth of the Los Angeles night. His racing mind eased, escape imminent. He’d been there far too often of late, and with this ending he could once more that it would be the last for a while.
“We also hope you realise that you must now take a greater role in their lives with Doyle’s passing.”
He’d given himself over to their service willingly long ago, helping the helpless his mission. He’d found a kindred spirit in Angel, a likeminded soul who he could share battle with. He had found no such thing, the rejection of his presence obvious, the understanding of why even more so. Subjection to that on a more regular basis was the last thing he wanted.
Eyes were the worst mirrors.
“Doyle. Even with the memories of his former life, the sacrifice he made, he still chose the same path. Brave. Heroic,” they explained, their voices fading with each passing second. “It seems, in the end, Doyle was too much of a hero. His death did not only serve to save Angel’s life…”
His memory searched for the rest of their message as he picked himself up from the pebble dashed roof. Stones clicked and clacked as he walked, gravity pulling the strays from his jacket back down to their rightful place. With the flash of light from a distant helicopter circling the low rent housing on the far side of town, his memory took a leap forward and made the missing connection.
The artificial lights of LA shone against the darkness, a beacon that drew all near, a haven for the downtrodden and the beasts that preyed on them. Angel had dedicated his life to helping these people, and whether they knew it or not they needed him. Now, Angel needed his help if he was to make a difference. Suddenly, LA mattered more than it had before. Now, it was his responsibility.
Taking a deep breath, he gazed at the city once more as the Powers’ final words echoed round his mind.
“In the end, Doyle made sure she was safe,” they explained.
“Indeed. Doyle didn’t pass on his visions.”
* * *
He hadn’t said anything, since the fight had finished. She didn’t push. Seeing him like that was never easy, but this wouldn’t be one of those times where she tried to pull him out. There was no pulling him out. She knew that, because there was no pulling her out, either.
Unlike the wounds and bruises inflicted by Christian, these wounds weren’t superficial or easily healed. Vampire healing didn’t apply to the scars left on the soul. That was just an unknown entity floating around somewhere in their heads, going completely unnoticed until someone hurt it.
Doyle’s death had hurt. She felt it clawing at her and tearing the fragile essence of what she was to shreds. Her heart ached in mourning for the friend she would never see again, but in her worst moments she found herself wishing she had never known him just so the pain she felt wouldn’t have come to her. She hated herself for that.
She knew Angel did too. Right now, they were the same and she knew that there was no pep talk that could pull them out of this, no blunt honesty to make them see the reality of the situation. The reality was hitting them thick and fast, and that was the problem.
There were things she wanted to say, though. She wanted to let him know how stupid he was for going in there and fighting Christian. No one had known Christian was super powered, but Angel was willing to hurt him in the first place, believing him to be some regular human. She wanted to him to know that Doyle didn’t die so Angel could become a law unto himself and that he would have been disappointed had he been there. Most of all, she wanted to him to know that grief was no excuse for his actions, and just how ashamed of him she was.
However, she also wanted to thank him. She wanted him to know that she was grateful that for the first time in her life, someone had gone all out for her like he did, caring for her wellbeing and willing to do anything to help her. Innocent lives weren’t a trade off for her own, but it meant so much that he tried.
Seeing that just reaffirmed in her mind that they were all that was left and they needed each other from now on. They were responsible for each other. If they were going to get through this, it wasn’t going to be sat alone in a basement or crying alone in the bath. A band aid, bandages, disinfectant. They weren’t what was needed to heal the superficial wounds inflicted on the surface. Their souls, though, needed each other.
They needed friendship, now more than ever. It wasn’t the place or time for words, though.
She pressed the last bandage down against his skin, placing her hands on her hips, satisfied after another fine job. He afforded her a fleeting glance before putting on a clean shirt and heading to the bedroom. She knew it was his thanks, but she wanted more. The silence just opened the door to the noise in her head. She wanted to hear anything but.
He stopped in his tracks when she said, “I just want you to know…” She searched the room through hazy eyes for the strength to say the words she was choking on. There was no strength in this, though, she realised as she collapsed into the sofa, her hands shielding her stinging eyes from the air.
She wanted to tell him that she would always be there, that she would stick with him through this. She wanted him to know that all they had was each other and she wasn’t going to give that up. As far as she was concerned, it was them. Good intentions, though, were so often nothing more.
His presence loomed over her, his large frame unmistakable, imparting a feeling to those in close proximity. Intimidation. Fear. For her, safety. Home. He was close, and she knew it. It took a moment, but he took his place at her side, pulling her in with his good arm, her head finding the nook of his shoulder.
He didn’t seem to care about the tears staining his fresh shirt. He just mirrored her sentiment, as if he could sense everything she wanted to tell him, and, speaking his first words in hours, told her softly, “I know.”
Los Angeles, 2 Days Ago
The pen twirled along the paper, blue lines taking the shape of a name and an address on the yellow post-it. Cordelia noted it all down, the sympathetic ear to the frantic pleas for help that had seemed so prevalent since Doyle’s death. The phone calls and walk-ins just seemed so much more abundant since they had lost access to the visions.
It could have just been the fact that they had yet to answer a single call since Doyle had died, though, she thought as she killed another case, running it through with a pin as it took its place on top of the others on her desk. Every day the pile grew taller, and it didn’t look like it was going to go down any time soon, either.
He hadn’t recovered. Doyle’s death had hit him hard, and he hadn’t been the same since. She had expected it to take a toll, because it was taking a toll on her, but she had thought he would be stronger. The Angel she knew, the Angel Buffy had often spoken so highly of, didn’t stop fighting. He never gave up no matter what he was feeling.
The truth never matched up to the legend, though. She was seeing a side of Angel she hadn’t seen before. The moping and the brooding alone in the cave were nothing new, but the selfish disregard for the needs of others was. Not once had he come upstairs to ask how she was. Not once did he show any interest in any of the cases she brought down to him. All she got was the cold shoulder.
Was it a new trait, she wondered, or an overly bad reaction to a close friend’s death? She’d never seen it before, but admittedly it had only been recently that they’d been close. It couldn’t have been there for good. That just wasn’t Angel.
She needed to remind him who he was.
As she descended the stairs she could almost see her breath, each step taking her further into the darkness. He was a vampire. He didn’t need lights to see, and he hadn’t been using them. Handy on the utility bill if they weren’t taking cases. At least he hadn’t lost all sense.
She scanned the room as her eyes adjusted, hoping to see his prominent outline. A glint of light from his bloodied glass betrayed him, her guide to the seat beside him. His eyes didn’t waver, focused completely on the wall in front, not one acknowledgement of her presence apparent. Stoic as ever, she wondered if it was that way in his head, or if the calm waters were a lie to cover the raging torrent.
She hoped her presence stirred something. She hoped it opened his eyes, whether he liked it or not. “You know, Angelus was a real bastard. I mean, honestly, how much of Sunnydale did you get through? Lost quite a few friends to vampires. How many of them were taken by you? I bet you don’t even remember half of them, do you?”
Calmly, he sipped at the rim of the glass, the gliding of liquid down his throat the only sound he afforded her.
“That’s not true, though, is it?” she said, seeing his nonchalance with a dose of her own, though she was so much better at it. “Never tell a woman anything, Angel. They talk, and Buffy and Willow did a lot of talking in earshot of me on one of those research nights in the library. Apparently, you told her that you remember every single life you’ve ever taken.”
“It must be hard, having to deal with all that guilt. It explains the quest for redemption, the quest you’re currently not on.”
For an instant, his eyes darted to hers, dark, yet distinct against the background. Focused and intense, he didn’t hold his gaze, but she knew she’d gotten to him. The old Angel was in there, and he felt it, the call of the needy and he wanted to help. He just needed some of his own.
“I do remember every life I took, Cordelia, and I do want to atone, but what would be the point?” He was firm in his conviction, taking his empty glass and heading to the kitchen without another word.
“You know, Angelus was an evil son of a bitch, but at least he had no soul,” she said, cowering from the sudden swathes of light filling the apartment, her dark adjusted eyes recoiling from the glare. “What about you? What’s your excuse? You know exactly what goes on, but you’ll sit idly by while people suffer because you feel bad. You told me that you wanted to help people, that you wanted to atone. Now, you’re just acting like a selfish bastard!”
“I wanted to help. I wanted to make up for the things I’ve done, but guess what: I can’t. Ever! The Powers are focused on their cosmic game of chess and the pawns be damned!” he explained, falling into the seat next to her, everything about him almost routine, as if he had given up.
“Angel, the Powers may not care about us and they may care less whether we live or die, but we’re not in this for them,” she said, her hand going out to him almost instinctively and finding his shoulder, his eyes meeting hers as her fingers moved in circles against his skin. “We’re in this for the people that need saving. You set out to help them because you don’t think people should suffer like they do, like you once made them. The Powers just provided the means for you to do that. That hasn’t changed.”
“They knew about Doyle, Cordy,” he replied, his lower eyelid glistening as it moistened to tears that so rarely flowed from his eyes. “They knew he was going to die, and they let it happen for their grander scheme. I could have taken his place. I could have saved him, but they preferred for him to die.”
“Yeah, and so did he. Maybe he thought you could do more good here than he could. Maybe he thought the world was a better place with you still in it. It’s a good job he can’t see what he died for; so you can sulk in the basement.”
She wanted to sympathise with him, feel his pain. Part of her did. It sucked that the Powers allowed one of their own to die, but it gave Angel no excuse. Doyle died so they could continue on, but all he cared about was the fact that he wasn’t in control, that someone else held all the power, saw the future before it happened. He felt that gave him a right to feel used, when the only one who had that right had made a choice to sacrifice his life.
“Maybe it would have been better if Doyle had lived,” she said, removing her touch, her comfort, her support. “At least he would have tried his hardest to make sure people didn’t suffer, grander scheme or not, because he knew that it wasn’t about the voices in the sky. It was about every single person he saw, and felt, suffering in his head.”
“Yeah, and look where it got him.” He didn’t look at her, staring down into the red abyss as he twirled it in the glass. She wondered if he was ashamed, or if he really was just that much of a dick. She wanted to believe it was the former. Still, it made no difference what she believed. He was going to believe what he was going to believe and do what he was going to do. There was no changing that.
All hope gone, any respect for him with it, she brushed past him, her leg knocking his as she made her way to leave. From the foot of the stairs, she said her final piece and hoped her words haunted him. “I’m glad he isn’t here to see what he died for.”
* * *
Manchester, England 1927
The last of the mills fell silent as the smog ridden sky grew darker, the sun setting over a murky horizon. Candlelight danced behind tattered curtains, manic silhouettes displayed on their moth eaten surfaces as families eagerly awaited the return of the miners, the factory workers, hugs and kisses abounding despite the sheet of grime covering every husband and father.
He had grown accustomed to the scene playing out as he watched from his condensation covered bench nestled beneath two old oak trees in the park. Every day he watched, the coins dropped by the few who pitied him providing money enough for a bottle of whiskey and a meat pie to savour while he did so.
For as far back as he could remember, he had watched from that spot and every day he wondered how they did it, how they fought. Life was not something to be savoured nor enjoyed. Humans lived for but a brief, fleeting moment, and in that moment all they seemed to do was struggle.
Every day he wondered what point there was when everybody’s fate had already been decided. The churches of the Almighty were spread across the land, beacons of hope to the downtrodden and poor, the words of a loving God and his offer of salvation echoing throughout the cavernous halls. “For God so loved the world,” the preachers recited.
Was this not the same God who pronounced that he was all knowing and that he foresaw the past, present and future as one? Was this not the God who foresaw who would descend into hell and yet forced this harsh life, and hell, upon them, regardless?
He’d read those words with horror as he sought the comfort of God years earlier. A ruined life was all he had to his name, but in that despair he found hope in the words of missionaries. The loving words etched into the books soothed his aching soul, until this unbearable truth made itself known. His last point of hope faded at that knowledge of a divine power who knew the harshness of life, knew the fates of all, yet stood idly by as they suffered.
Now, he sat, watched and wondered at why these people fought, why they struggled. Every trial they ever faced, every tragedy they ever suffered, every lost loved one was just part of the machinations of an uncaring deity. Their lives, their struggles, were just necessary events in the grander plan, the salvation of the chosen and the destruction of the devil.
The tragedy that was life was just a necessary evil.
* * *
Los Angeles, Present Day
Demon bars. They were more common in LA than people would expect. Demons enjoyed a social life too; the virgin blood and baby toes, where regular people would expect to see peanuts, an added perk.
This demon bar was no different to any other. Its atmosphere was almost toxic, that special blend of stale beer and cigarette smoke swirling around the fans as they threatened to detach from their ceiling bases. Its decoration was typically modest, layers of green patterns peeling from the damp infected walls, fluttering ever so slightly in the small amount of air being circulated by the fans.
Like most demon bars at noon, the attendance was down, the only sound coming from the squeak of the bartender’s cloth on the rim of the beer glasses and the sports news being interrupted at vital moments by the clack of pool balls colliding.
This was just a typical, unremarkable demon bar lining just one back alley in Los Angeles.
With one opening door, everything changed. Usually, the patrons wouldn’t give a flying who, or what, came in or went out. Not their business. Privacy was more their thing, despite the setting. The three men demanded attention, however, their guns twitching nervously on the brink of their holsters, fingers on the triggers poised for any trouble and the body armour thick enough to need more strength than any demon here had to be penetrated.
A black and white photo darkened as it landed in the shallow pool of beer that had been slowly expanding on the bar. The image still visible despite it, one of the men asked, “Have you seen this man?”
He’d run this bar for twenty years and dealt with some of the worst hell had to offer. He was calm, peering along the bridge of his nose through the thin rims resting on overgrown nostrils. “Yep. Couldn’t have left more than five minutes ago. He seemed to be in a hurry, though.”
The photo clung to the bar as he retrieved it, streaks of pale, brown fluid lining the wooden top narrowing as they stretched. “Thank you, sir. Your co-operation is appreciated.”
Silently they left, every pair of eyes watching intently until the door was shut behind them. The metal bolt clicked into place, and everything returned to normal. The familiar sounds returned, as did the strange serenity surrounding the creatures within.
It was just a normal demon bar like any other, but it had its moments.
* * *
Four months in Los Angeles. It had felt so much longer, struggling every day for that time. Work had been scarce, the dreams of fame and superstardom fading more and more into obscurity as each day passed. Angel Investigations had provided some support, keeping her fed and clothed while she searched.
The searching hadn’t been intense, however. No matter how much she told Angel and Doyle that it was all just temporary, she had begun to find a home there, a purpose in helping Angel help people. The fame and fortune became an afterthought to the mission.
There was no mission now, she thought, as she pressed her lips together to even the lipstick, inspecting the face in the mirror and imagining that same face on the cover of all the magazines, or her name gracing an Oscar. This was the beginning of her dreams coming true.
Even as the thought materialised, it felt hollow. The pit in her stomach remained cavernous, unfulfilled by the prospect of celebrity life. A dream forced upon her was no dream, but a compromise of who and what she was. That was when the pit grew wider, its edges yawning at her heels as she wondered exactly who and what she was.
All she was good for was looking pretty, the Hollywood pose in exchange for the soul.
She almost thanked heaven as the knock at the door intruded on her thoughts, blocking the train before it sped off to a place that only alcohol and junk food could pull it back from. Genuinely excited by the rare show of attention from the outside world, she almost skipped to the door, her smile already prepped to receive whoever stood on the other side of door number one.
It could have been an old friend from school. It could have been the postman. Maybe it was an agent who’d been forwarded her details. In a perfect world, it would have been Angel, humbly stood before her as he sought her help once more with an unreserved invite to return to the office and help right the wrongs of an unjust world.
The figure before her was a harsh reminder that it was far from a perfect world. “What do you want?”
Invitation or not, he stepped over the threshold, inspecting her apartment with fleeting glances in every direction until he finally brought his stare to her own, two piercing blue eyes zoned in on her own, unrelenting. She almost felt her skin crawl as he, seemingly, studied her. She wondered if he was reading her mind, because it felt like it.
“What I want doesn’t come into this,” he replied.
“Will you stop with the obscure man of mystery routine? It’s getting old, fast, and I’m in a rush, so if you’d just get-”
“Angel,” he interjected, taking note of her frustration. He needed her on side, not even more antagonistic than usual, not that he wholly blamed her or Angel for the antagonism. “We need him to fight. You’re the only one who can drag him out of this state of self pity he’s in.”
“No.” He knew the look, the tone. She was resolute. This wasn’t a stubborn ‘make it worth my while’ kind of refusal. This was real. “The way he goes on, you’d think he was the only one who lost Doyle. You think I’m not hurting? You think I’m not pissed with your bosses for withholding need to know info? Guess what: I am. Angel can’t see past his own selfish misery, though, and once again forgets the massive pile everyone else is in.”
“Then don’t you think he needs his friend – his best friend – to pull him out, make him see the harsh truth of the situation? He needs perspective, and history shows you’re the only one he’ll take it from.” Her quizzical look brought him to his senses. “Recent history,” he added quickly, masking his relief that she didn’t question further.
She pulled the door as wide as it would open, stepping aside to give him ease of access to the world outside of her apartment. “He wants out of the life; I guess there’s no need for me to stick around. Got a call-back for a national commercial. I’m on my way there now. No matter what I say, Angel is always going to do what Angel is going to do. That’s what history shows. I’m done trying to change his future. My help is no longer on offer.”
* * *
Christian’s hand grazed the wallpaper as he felt his way along the dark, damp infested hallway. The lights were out, the landlord too cheap to replace the bulbs obviously, but he didn’t need to see. Thankfully, the Powers were specific. He just needed to feel for the third door on the left.
The splinter embedded into the palm of his hand as the wood of the third door touched his skin. “Home, sweet home,” he said to the barely conscious creature strewn over his shoulder as he kicked the old door open, it’s rusty hinges nothing but bronzed shards scattered over the patchwork carpet.
He had to pause a moment as he entered the room, the clicking noises he made with his tongue stifled by the sound of the body slamming into the floor, a muffled groan barely escaping the shroud. As the moans became barely audible sobs, he resumed his clicking until the demon dropped from its ceiling perch.
A Kungai. Deadly warriors. Honourable creatures. There was no honour in what the one who called himself Barney had done to it, though, stealing its Tak horn while it slept, sedative drugs keeping it under the thrall. The Kungai wanted the horn back, and justice to be done. He was offering both.
His attempts at communication only led to confusion, the Kungai not fully understanding – or perhaps not fully trusting – that a human was offering help. With the removal of the shroud and the handkerchief stuffed in Barney’s mouth, he proved he was legitimate as the Kungai joyously clicked his reply, beating his chest as he gestured towards the empathy demon.
“Wh-What’s he saying?” Barney asked, as he watched from the floor.
“I’ve given him the location of your partner and his horn,” Christian explained. “The Kungai thanked me, and informed me that you… well, Kungai retribution can be a rather brutal thing. He invited me to watch, even saying he would lay your blood upon me so his gods would smile down upon me, but I told him that I’m a busy man. Got other business to attend to.”
“Wait, you can’t let him take me! Do you know what he’ll do to me!?”
“I do, but I’m afraid I just can’t feel your pain,” Christian replied. “Just like you couldn’t feel his.”
Barney’s screams and pleas for help and mercy faded as he got further away. His ears had become deaf to the cries of the wicked long ago. Such people, and their crimes, could not be tolerated. Mercy could not be shown. The fight against evil had led him down dark roads, and he was sure of more to come, but it was necessary to wipe it out.
That was why Doyle had had to die. In the long run, it was necessary. Didn’t mean he liked it. Still, because of that necessary evil, both Angel and Cordelia had abandoned the fight. If Cordelia wouldn’t help, it was down to him. That was his next mission, to pass on the words that were once said to him to bring him back from the brink.
He took a moment to breathe in the fresh air as he stepped back out into the world, relishing a brief respite before his, what seemed like, eternal work continued. No rest for the wicked, he thought.
* * *
Manchester, England 1927
Night after night he watched the curtains, the silhouettes dancing the same routine. Father was home, and he’d been drinking again. The children had been bundled off too bed quite some time ago, Mother not wanting them anywhere near him as the monster within was unleashed by the drink.
Dutifully, she cooked his tea and had it waiting on the table. To his every need she pandered, but it still wasn’t enough. He wasn’t satisfied. After all, she was the reason his life was so bad. His mother had warned him, but he didn’t listen. Now, she needed to be punished.
The make-up she applied so expertly covered the silvery, purple marks circling her eyes. No one could know what he did to her. The children had been sworn to silence long ago. People suspected, the gaggle of old hens at the market clucking as she passed out of earshot. People knew, but it wasn’t their place to get involved.
Neither was it his, despite having watched him beat her night in and night out for three years. Tonight was no different, her hands no barrier to the barrage of fists raining down upon her. Not even God would help her, so help was obviously not part of his plan for her. Like so many others, his plan for her was suffering.
He felt the whiskey begin to take hold, the world around him slowly fading, his mind entering the wonderful haze of solitude the alcohol imparted. Awkwardly, he shifted on his bench, lying down before he fell down as a comforting blackness took hold.
There was no comfort, though. No solitude. He hadn’t escaped reality to some far off dream. He was conscious, but surrounded by an overwhelming black, stifling almost as he tried to draw breath, his lungs burning beneath his melting flesh. His screams were inaudible, like ghosts calling to the living.
It felt like years, unseen torments and horrors playing out endlessly as he begged for a reprieve, the word he didn’t want to say perched on his tongue. Was this hell?
“Some would call it that,” came the voices as the thought crossed his mind. “However, we know it as suffering. What you’re feeling is the combined anguish of every torment suffered by every human being past, present and future. This is the evil you have ignored for so long.”
Their voices were part of him, in his head, clear and precise amongst the din. He wondered whether insanity had found him and crawled inside his head, seeping into the cracks of his fractured mind.
“You’re quite sane. We just needed you alone, to show you why.”
Silence prevailed, their words ceasing as everything fell still. His body ached as he wondered, waiting for the ending to the sentence that seemed to never come. Ignoring his own reservations, he asked, “Show me why what?”
He wished he’d never asked as their voices penetrated every part of him, endless words piercing his ears as he pleaded for it to stop, unable to do anything but listen. For years the voices played in his head – or what seemed like years – whispering words he could barely comprehend but mysteriously understood.
Finally, it stopped. He hung in the empty void, almost lifeless as they whispered once more in his ringing ears. “People suffer because of evil. We must fight it, stop it. Until that time, people will always suffer. Some must suffer more than others, but only because it is necessary to bring an end to it all. Some are chosen, like you, to lead the world to the promise of peace.”
His body was soothed, the ache in his joints fading as his mind became awash with peace. It didn’t seem real, the first smile he’d experienced in years his reaction to what he felt. And then it was gone.
“Now do you see?”
Almost in mourning, longing for that feeling to return, he replied, “I see.”
“Then will you help us?”
For so long he’d wondered why people fought, rejected life as nothing more than the tragic plan of an uncaring deity. He saw no point in fighting, but now he realised why people fought through the pain, and the anguish. They were fighting for something better, something higher. They were fighting for some kind of peace.
“I will help you.” Maybe he’d find his own.
“Thank you, Christian. We shall come for you when the time is right.”
* * *
Muffled voices and stifled laughter could not penetrate the plate glass windows giving the outside world a view into the bar. The beautiful people on show, their world paraded before the common people as the unreachable heights they had attained by birthright were flaunted.
As always, she stood out from the crowd. Her presence pushed everyone else into the background. Her smile drew all in, teased like the forbidden fruit of Eden. Beauty personified. Everything people wanted to be. Everything most never could be. Cordelia Chase, back amongst her people, once more living the life she deserved.
She was a good woman. He was glad she got what she wanted. Still, the guilt and the pity of how it ended swelled up inside him. How they left their burgeoning friendship, the last impression he’d given her before she left. Cowardice and self pity were not the images he wanted her taking with her. He had wanted her to see more.
A faint heartbeat drew closer, seemingly silent footsteps betrayed as the smallest of fibres on the soles scraped the concrete. The materials of their clothes rubbed together. It was unperceivable to the human ear, but it was instinct to him. It was how he hunted.
“I could count on one hand the number of men who’ve managed to sneak up on me unnoticed,” Angel said as his stalker came within four feet of him. “You’re not in that number. You’re not exactly a man, though, are you Christian.”
He couldn’t hide the smugness in his smile, the slight derision framing his steely eyes. A small victory, but it felt good.
“Neither are you, if I recall, and I’m not just talking literally. You really should have listened to Cordelia, Angel. She’s got a wise head on those young shoulders.”
The smile disappeared as the reality of his choices came back. His conscience was already satiated with years of guilt. Christian followed him as he walked off; forcing him to look into the mirror of the soul and see the black stain that had grown even larger.
“I was in pretty much the same position as you once. I would have given anything to have her in my corner. I understand what you’re feeling better than most, but look at me. I’m fighting. I realised that sometimes the hard choices have to be made.”
“Don’t need the lecture.” He didn’t want to stop walking. Perhaps running was a better way to look at it. He’d gotten good at running from the problem, hiding away behind an excuse. He’d always done it. The past week had been no different. “I’ve had time to think.”
A history of running away. He shirked the title of champion because of it. He questioned why he was brought back from hell because of it. Angelus, Angel, soul or not. It made no difference. He’d always been running. There was one thing he was better at than running, though; something Doyle saw in him, something that made him realise Angel needed to stay. Cordelia saw it and had joined in his cause because of it.
For all the running, fighting was what he was best at.
“Cordelia was right. It’s not about fate or destiny. It’s about the people I swore to protect,” Angel said as he looked back to see Cordelia climb into a limo with her friends from ‘the biz’, wondering whether she’d still be at his side had he just swallowed his pride, abandoned his fear and fought like she knew he could. Too late to think about it now.
“You’re wrong as well, Christian,” he continued, the click of Christian’s lighter closing drawing him back. “For all your grand schemes, you and the Powers forgot that it’s about the people. It’s about helping the helpless. Stop the big bad, and you’ve saved the world for another day. Save the soul, and you’re building towards a world where there are no big bads.”
“That’s why we need you, Angel,” Christian explained. “Champion of the people. The dirty work? That’s for me to handle.”
Stray embers nestled into the fibres of his coat as Christian dragged the last inch of his cigarette in one breath. He wiped them off, asking, “So why did you come to me, Christian? I doubt you just wanted to give me a pep talk.”
“Earlier today, a demon hunter was captured by some very big evil. The biggest evil, you could say. Friends of yours, I believe.”
“Let me guess: Wolfram and Hart?” Three words to choke upon, words he was growing tired of hearing as the scale of their influence in the infestation deeply lodged in the bowels of the city grew with each mention of their name, each unpleasant encounter.
“We don’t know why or what information they’re after, but it’d probably be best if you helped him,” Christian said as he twisted the heel of his shoe over the dying cigarette, dousing it finally.
“Okay. Who am I looking for?”
His smile was suspicious, as the irony laden words left his mouth. “The name Wesley ring a bell?”
Heavy bass and an electronic synthesiser made the room pulsate with life. Bodies moved in unison as the music blared at its loudest. It vibrated through everyone, from the floor to their flailing limbs as they had fun, flirted or just let off some steam.
Aura James had done all three that night. Her friends had brought her to Los Angeles for the weekend after a particularly bad break up with her boyfriend. Things hadn’t been right with them since they had left Sunnydale High, but losing the relationship still hurt. Now, she wanted to dance and laugh with her friends, and maybe even find a hot rebound.
After the call of nature, obviously.
Gesturing to her friends, she made her way through the crowded club and to the neon sign in the shape of a female outline. Hoping it wouldn’t be too crowded or too dirty, she entered, the thin door filtering a lot of the music, her ears ringing as the relative quiet overtook her. No one was in there, so she had the pick of the stalls, the one with the cleanest floor her personal choice.
Adjusting her outfit, she re-emerged moments later, making a bee-line for the mirror, her compact already out of her purse. Fixing any kinks in her makeup, she admired her beauty, pouting and blowing a kiss to herself. Before the fresh lipstick dried, she left her mark on the mirror, kissing its surface and giggling at the imprint.
The drinks were kicking in, now.
Everything blurred as her head collided with the mirror, shattering at the point her forehead met the glass. The drink didn’t dull the pain. Staggering on the floor, she tried to look around but couldn’t see beyond trickling, crimson lines mixing with the tears that were forming fast. She wanted to scream, but no one would hear her.
Her attacker’s voice. A woman. She struggled to her feet; the slippery counter her only support. Glancing at the mirror, she saw the deep gash on her head and how fast it had turned her skin a deep shade of red. There was no one with her, she noticed. Was she imagining a voice?
Turning around, she found two golden eyes staring back, watching her gleefully with a demonic face. A shrill scream pierced the air, but her mouth was soon covered. She was helpless, too weak to fight back as she was forced into a cubicle, the door locked behind them.
“Please, no! Don’t do this.”
Her pleading was met with a finger across her lip. “Sshhh. Don’t worry about a thing. I just thought we could get reacquainted.”
Before she could react, it was upon her, fangs deeply burrowed into her neck, her struggling doing nothing to dislodge the creature. She fought, though, kicking and scratching until she could do nothing more.
It released her after a while. Weak, she lay there and watched, listening to every barely comprehensible word. It told her what it would do, and why. She had never prayed. She had never paid attention to God. Now, she was doing nothing but calling out to him, not wanting Him to let this thing do what it wanted.
As it descended upon her once again, its shadow enveloping her, she knew that prayers were useless.
* * *
“Did you see it?!” Cordelia asked as she barged into Angel’s office, bypassing the wheelchair bound Wesley altogether.
“See what?” Angel replied, the nature of her entrance pulling his attention away from Chastity Grainger’s autopsy report which Kate had been more than willing to give given the strange nature of her death.
“Aura’s dead,” she gulped. “Killed at a nightclub, last night. Her ears were torn off.”
He perched on the edge of his desk as the realisation hit him. Two former classmates and friends from Sunnydale were dead, killed by a vampire that seemed to know they were linked and seemed to be making the killings personal. He wondered how he had missed it.
As Cordelia explained to the always oblivious Wesley who Aura was, Angel announced, “It’s hunting the Cordettes.”
“If that is the case, I suggest we warn every remaining member,” Wesley called as he wheeled himself to the phone.
“No need,” Cordelia replied, almost exasperated with the latest stray Angel had brought home. “I’m the last one, and I already got the memo.”
“If you are the last, that makes you vulnerable,” Wesley said, replacing the receiver back on its base. “Its focus will be solely on you. We could use that to our advantage.”
“It’s getting nowhere near her!”
Eyes tell stories. Subtle changes were indicative of so much. They were windows into the soul. He was serious. His eyes followed suit. Wesley shifted uncomfortably in his chair as old eyes stared him down, almost seeing to his core. Angel wasn’t going to allow her to be harmed. Not this girl. Not even the risk of harm, even if controlled, was acceptable.
As adamant as Angel was, his mind was naturally clouded at the thought of a friend in danger, but he needed to see the bigger picture. He took a gamble. “Angel, I understand your concern, but this vampire obviously has its intentions set on killing Cordelia. By using her as bait, we can stop it before it does any more harm.”
His lips pouted and his brow furrowed as he watched his twitching feet. He knew it was their only option, but it was not one he desired. Wesley understood, but he knew firsthand that such risks needed to be taken in the line of duty. The Watchers had taught him that.
“We can be nearby,” Wesley continued. “She will come to no harm.”
“Cordelia, it’s your choice,” Angel said, rubbing at tired eyes, resigning himself to the correctness of Wesley’s argument without giving him any validation.
Her gaze flitted between the two of them as she digested it all, lingering on Angel as she sought an answer from him, but he gave her nothing, deadpan as ever. Finally, looking down at the breasts she had been endowed with, she said, “You two are more trouble than you’re worth!”
* * *
“I don’t like it,” Angel said, his eyes firmly fixed on Cordelia as she stood fifty yards from them in a short skirt and low cut top.
Even he couldn’t deny how good she looked. Angelus whispered wicked words into his ear, a demon on his shoulder tempting him with sins of the flesh. He was thankful for his soul helping to keep such urges in check, knowing exactly what he would do to her if it wasn’t there. It helped him recognise exactly what this vampire would be thinking as it watched her. It made him more resolute to stop it.
“It isn’t an ideal scenario, admittedly, but one which I believe will help us destroy this monster,” Wesley replied, his own attention on the ancient text before him as he attempted to translate the now dead language. “Fear not. One sniff of a vampire, and we’ll be there to aid her.”
Wesley’s distracted optimism gave him no encouragement. He wanted him to keep watch as well, but he was too busy in his books, trying to discover who it was that had held him and tortured him for almost a day. A coven of time travelling wiccans seemed a fanciful idea, but it was one he had devoted countless hours to pursuing.
Cordelia. Her stalker. They were real. They were a present danger. Whatever machinations Wolfram and Hart had concocted could be dealt with at a later date. Now, he just wanted to ensure Cordelia was safe. He had her back. He needed to keep her safe.
“Wes, can you please-”
He suspected there had been some sort of breakthrough, but he wasn’t interested enough to ask, biting his lower lip and squeezing the steering wheel as he tried to resist the temptation to take the book and throw it from the car.
“Oh, my mistake,” Wesley continued. “That group was destroyed over a century ago. Still, another potential candidate crossed off the list.”
“Can you stop that for a while?” Angel asked, hoping a stern look would force Wesley to do as he was asked. “We’re here for Cordelia. She needs to be our focus.”
“Yes. Indeed. ” The book snapped shut, a puff of dust ejected from within its worn pages. “You’re absolutely right. I am sorry. I…. Angel, where is Cordelia?”
His attention immediately returned to the spot where she had been stood. He’d only taken his attention away for a few moments. He knew, though, that that was more than enough for a vampire to act. He tried to keep calm and think, but his mind chattered away as Angelus whispered more evils to him, taunting him with what would be happening to Cordelia.
He drowned it out, and focused on the important thing.
* * *
Awaking from unconsciousness, the world is a blur. Reality shifts, twisting and distorting as the fractured picture slides back into view. Nothing makes sense as the constructs of the unconscious mind fall away, crumbling like a city built on the shore.
She wasn’t sure of anything as she looked around, groggily. Her head ached, and her mouth felt like it had been filled with sand as she desperately ran her tongue in small circles to stimulate saliva production.
The lamp light was harsh, her eyelids drooping for protection. She tried to raise her hand to block it out, but she couldn’t budge her arm an inch. Forcing her eyes open, she looked down to the plaited pattern of the rope wrapped tightly around her stomach and her arms. Wriggling was no good, her exertion evident through gritted teeth as she hoped for a bout of supernatural strength to help her snap her bonds.
Her unconscious mind had placed her at work, on the set of her new TV show. She had made friends with the other cast members and then spent the evening helping Angel at the library in Sunnydale. She thought it was Angel, anyway. She sensed it was him. He didn’t actually have a face. No one did, but she knew. Sunnydale? It had been the office until Wesley first spoke, and then everything changed.
Now, though, the horrible truth was sinking in. That was just a dream. Where she had been, what she had been doing and why, all slid back into the cognitive portions of her memory. Now she knew. The vampire had her.
It didn’t feel right, though. He’d promised to protect her. He said that he would keep an eye on her at all times. She’d believed him. It was Angel. No matter what had happened between them, it was Angel. He always protected her.
“Hope you like what I’ve done with the place.” The voice was instantly recognisable, but she couldn’t place it. Looking around, she found the owner, stood in the darkened corner. “After all, I didn’t have a nice home back in Sunnydale; a fact you and your friends never let me forget.”
Cordelia withheld a gasp as Elena Matthews stepped into the dim light. She looked different to how she did in school. Her once freckled skin was pale, prominent against her jet black hair hanging loose in place of the ginger ponytail she had worn all through school. Even her clothes had changed, appearing slightly more upmarket than her old ones.
Elena had never been well off. Not like her. Her house was small, her clothes modest and her place in society fairly low down. She’d never failed to aim some barb at her as they traversed the school years together. Elena had been beneath her and her friends. God, she had been so shallow.
“Can’t take credit for this place, though,” Elena continued as she admired her home, running her hand across the soft drapes. “Took it off a nice man at a rock club. He thought I was a Goth. He liked Goths, he said. Wanted to get inside me.” Chuckling, she finished, “I got inside him, in the end.”
Before the sentence could pass her lips, Elena had crossed the room and covered her mouth. Her grip was tight, and her eyes seeming to burn furiously as she shouted, “Did I say you could speak!? That was always your problem! Never.” A slap stung Cordelia’s cheek. “Kept.” Another stung the opposite cheek. “Your mouth.” She covered her mouth, forcing her head backwards. It felt as though her head would tear from her body, her pained cries muffled beneath a dead hand. “Shut!!”
Tears welled as she stared back at the very personification of demonic wrath, years of repressed pain and rage swelling to the surface in the face of their inflictor. What? Was she supposed to complain? She’d caused this with her behaviour in school. She and all of her friends, or what she thought were friends. She couldn’t complain. Torture was something she’d perfected long ago. Time to receive some in kind.
Elena hadn’t failed to notice the single tear running down the beautiful face of her tormentor, licking it from her soft flesh. Cordelia flinched instinctively as a sharp fang grazed her cheek. She had to wonder why a vampire cared what had happened in life.
“Do you know how often I have thought of this moment?” Elena asked. “The other girls…. killing them was special. I have still kept parts of them, as a reminder that I beat you all in the end. Chastity’s eyes, because all she did was watch. Aura’s ears, because she listened and never said a thing. I wanted Harmony, but she got the same fate I did. Turned fighting the Mayor. You, though… you’ll taste better than all of them.”
Spreading her legs, she straddled Cordelia, almost hugging her as their cheeks touched. Elena’s whispers were like a sick love letter, every syllable making Cordelia question more and more whether her actions had been so bad that they actually left scars beyond the grave.
“That’s why I brought you here,” Elena explained. “I want to smell your blood every time I come home. I want to taste you on the air. I don’t ever want to forget this. Still, I don’t ever want to be equated with someone as disgusting as you, so I will show some mercy. I’ll make it quick.”
“Was I that awful?” Cordelia asked, quickly.
Elena seemed to be taken aback, if not outright offended. “Excuse me!?”
“In school, was what I did – we did – so bad that it justifies killing us?” She feared the repercussions of such a question when her captor was clearly in such a fragile state of mind, but she had to know, for the sake of her own conscience, for some indication of where she would end up after death.
“School is only the beginning. A place where we realise our potential and determine what road our lives will take. It isn’t the end of the world,” she said, chuckling almost ironically at the thought. “But it was for me. What you did to me, and what I’m going to do to you, are all that I have.”
Elena moved in as Cordelia closed her eyes. It was all she could do. Another solitary tear descended down her face as she accepted what was about to happen. Just as her life was becoming something good again, it was to be taken away. The Powers’ idea of a cosmic joke, or just a really bad turn of luck? Either way, she died.
The smashing of the door drew her back. “Angel!?” She craned her neck to see, but couldn’t twist that far.
“I’m here, Cordy.” At the sound of his voice, she was awash with comfort, the knowledge of imminent salvation a warm embrace. Angel would save her. He always did.
“I don’t know who you are, but I suggest you get the hell out of my apartment!” Elena shouted, her attention not on Cordelia for the first time all evening.
“Bit stupid to think I wouldn’t be able to track the scent. You’re young, though. Probably didn’t know to cover your tracks. Still, I’m here to take Cordelia back, and kill you,” he replied, as a matter of fact, stepping over the broken shards of the door. She felt bad for thinking it, but she was glad the owner wasn’t alive to bar his entrance.
“Sorry. Not happening.”
“It’s not up for debate.”
Elena charged out of Cordelia’s view. She couldn’t see anything, the majority of the room behind her, but she could hear the commotion, and occasionally she would feel small shards of broken furniture hit her back or legs.
She’d seen a lot of Angel’s fights, but this was worse than any of them. Not knowing how it was playing out was worse than watching an opponent gain an upper hand or even seeing Angel on the verge of defeat. For all she knew, he was in a world of pain and his death was a foregone conclusion being drawn out by Elena, fuelled by sadism.
Angel would win, though. He always won.
The air rushed past her, brushing her skin, as Elena flew across the room, crashing into the bookcase, shattering it upon impact. Bleeding from the head and staggering, she shook herself into cognisance. Elena charged again, but there was no commotion following. A large thud and then silence.
“Are you ok?” Angel asked, kneeling in front of her, inspecting her for any wounds.
She could feel her face contort and her mouth quiver as she nodded an answer.
He moved to her back, instantly attacking the ropes binding her wrists. Within seconds, she was free to stretch her arms and loosen her aching joints as pockets of air popped beneath her skin, wonderful cracks travelling along her arms and down her spine.
Her feet were still bound, however, but he was on it. Moving around, he attempted to free her completely, but jerked back as the wooden stake embedded itself in his gut. He groaned as his hand hovered over the wound before pulling the stake out slowly. His attention diverted, he couldn’t see Elena coming. Neither did Cordelia. All she could do was watch as Angel was tackled and sent hurtling through the window. She could hear him fall, hitting fire escapes on either side, before finally landing on the concrete with a sickening thud. He’d survive the fall, but he wouldn’t be getting up fast enough to stop Elena.
Elena revelled in her victory, shouting abuse through the window at her fallen attacker. This was her chance. Angel had loosed the rope around her ankles enough for her to slip free. That was only a start. She needed to escape. Elena would be much faster than her. Running wasn’t an option.
A glint of light danced across the small pool of blood – Angel’s blood – that had fallen from the tip of the stake. It was her only option. Elena’s back was still turned. It had to be now.
“No one is going to ruin this!” Elena shouted at Angel. “No one! Nothing will stop me getting what I deserve!”
Her gloating over, she turned around, but Cordelia was ready, driving the sharpened end deep into her former classmate’s chest, flesh and muscle shredding beneath the force.
“You deserve to rest in peace,” Cordelia said.
It was quick, but terrified horror became a smile of acceptance before Elena faded to dust. At least, she hoped it was acceptance. She hoped that the Powers, or whoever determined such things, would be kind to her and see the nature of her plight. Elena had been a victim that was turned into a monster. She deserved to rest, now.
Dropping the stake, Cordelia acknowledged the fact hopes rarely ever came to fruition, and remembered old conversations in the library in Sunnydale where Giles would explain the Watchers’ understanding of the supernatural universe, and its afterlife. Vampires found only hell. There was no suffering for them. Soulless creatures revelled in its horrors.
Their souls, though, trapped in the ether, wandered forever, without a host. There was no peace for them. There was no peace for Elena. As in life, all she had was lonely wandering.
Still, as she trudged out of the destroyed apartment, she hoped that maybe, just maybe, the Watchers would be wrong, and that the fates would be kind to Elena. She hoped they would grant her peace. All she could do was hope.
* * *
The engine turned over, sputtering and coughing as it struggled to keep going as he pulled up to the kerb, his eyes on her front windows, hoping for some light to be visible. There was a lamp on somewhere in her living room, the fine threads in her curtains exuding minimal light. Either she was still awake, or had fallen asleep on the sofa again.
It had once been the case that a walk to her front door was him dropping her home after she stayed late to help him with a case, or just making a social call to ensure she was ok. Sometimes, he had just sought her company out, it preferable to the bleak silence of his apartment. He liked his alone time, but sometimes he enjoyed being in her noisy apartment as she watched terrible TV or cooked him a meal he wouldn’t be able to taste.
Now, he didn’t walk her garden path to visit a friend. It was a call-back, a check-up on a client to make sure that they were well. He preferred the old visits.
After three raps on the door, it wasn’t long before it opened to nothing but a blank wall.
“Hello, Dennis,” Angel said, crossing the threshold awkwardly, his head bowed even though there were no eyes to look at him.
“Dennis, who is- Oh, Angel. I wasn’t expecting you,” Cordelia said, drying her hands on a dish towel she had taken from his apartment when she moved out. It was cheaper than buying new, so he had allowed her to take some things, even though she never asked. He just never made it an issue, preferring to be silently generous.
“I just thought I’d stop by and make sure everything was ok… that you’re ok.”
“I’m fine,” she replied. Her eyes darted to the floor as the words passed her lips and she was now nervously drying a finger that was nowhere near approaching wet.
“Are you sure?” he asked, her body betraying her speech. “I know that the things she said must have gotten to you, and killing an old-”
“Angel, I’m fine!” she interjected sharply before he could finish. “Yeah, I was a bad person in school. I did mean things, but that part of my life is over. I’m different now, and I guess the universe or the Powers or whatever agrees because my life is great! New job, more money, nice food, nice clothes. I have everything I want. Would that happen to a bad person?”
“Yeah. That TV show I was auditioning for: the producer called me today,” she explained. “I got the job. I start next week. I’m going to be famous!” she squealed.
“Oh. I see,” he said softly as he picked a strand of dead skin from the tip of his index finger, watching it tear away.
“Is that ok?” Cordelia asked. He knew that he was giving too much away, showing a disappointment that should have been kept concealed. “You weren’t expecting me to come back to AI, were you?”
Laughing it off, he continued, “No, of course not. I knew you weren’t coming back. I’m just glad you got the job you wanted. You deserve it.”
No, she didn’t, and she knew it. There was one thing she deserved, and if not for Angel, Elena would have ensured she got it. All the horrible things she’d done in school couldn’t be atoned for by a few months helping a hero. There was no redemption for what she’d done. With a soul, she had tormented and ruined lives. Perhaps it was the superficial lives of high school, but some scars never healed, and she had imparted more than enough.
How many words that sprang from her lips had emotionally maimed other students? How many young boys had been so hurt by her put downs that they were now afraid of women? How many girls thought themselves too ugly to be worth a damn? How many Elena’s were there?
Angel had once been a monster. He’d reluctantly told her stories from that time. He’d even told her about Dru, and some of the things he had done with Spike, male companionship opening up new possibilities not available with females. Angel had, by his own admittance, created monsters. It was his greatest sin, and the blood on the hands of his protégés stained his just as much as his own crimes.
Now, she too had created a monster. Maybe she killed it, but that didn’t change what her actions had done. Even after death, the words and actions of one high school cheerleader seared in the mind of a creature that had no reason to care. The power she had, and the damage she had done… there was no redemption for that.
“Thanks,” she replied, hoping it sounded genuine despite her doubts. “And thank you for yesterday. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you.”
It seemed like an invitation to rejuvenate what they had. One person opening the door to a friendship, again. He wanted to step through, but she slammed it shut. “I can’t pay you, right now, but as soon as my first wage comes in, I can drop it by the office. Is it the same price?” She was just a polite client, expressing gratitude for something he wanted no gratitude for.
He wanted his friend back, not some hollow accolade.
Looking to his car, an escape route, Angel said, “I better go. It’s getting late.” He realised he hadn’t given her an answer, hoping that was answer enough. There weren’t any words with which he could express his desire to have her back in his life, and he wasn’t going to make a fool of himself fumbling over words in front of an unreciprocating acquaintance.
The cool air brushed over him as he stepped out onto her porch. Final words reached out to him, beckoning him as she said, “Bye, then.”
It stopped him dead in his tracks. Turning to meet her gaze, he found nothing but a closed, wooden door, a symbol of the impenetrable barrier that now stood between them. It called to memory a good few months when he could call Cordelia Chase his friend. It brought to the fore feelings of longing and regret. It made him wish he could forget.
He would have to.
With a catch in his throat, he uttered the only thing he could, the only word that had any relevance to their relationship now.
Galway, Ireland 1753
The noon-day sun was harsh, the rhythmic clacking of hooves like a drumbeat in his head as the shrill screams of playful children pierced the peaceful afternoon air.
He could feel the scornful eyes of the elders watching him as he made his way through the cobbled street, dirt layered fingertips circling his temples. Their daughters admired his strong build and ‘angelic’ features, while their brothers and suitors looked on him with a jealous disdain. It wasn’t his fault he’d been blessed by a God he had no time for, he thought.
This was what his father hated. The reproach of the townspeople earned his ire. His own fault, really, Liam thought. If he didn’t want his friends and peers to see his son nursing a mighty blight from the night before, perhaps he should have let him sleep it off rather than insist he spend the day out of the house.
The heat of the sun making him even more sickly, he headed for the well. The horse whinnied as its rider pulled hard on the reigns to ensure it didn’t trample all over him.
“Liam! You looking to get yourself killed?”
“Ah, and a fine morning it would be for it, too, Caoimhe,” Liam replied, taking one of the reins to help calm the startled horse. “Surely it would be preferable to the pounding in me head.”
“A pounding in your head?” the young woman giggled. “What of the pounding of your heart that so conveniently beats my name?”
“Aye, it did once beat that very sound, but you spurned my affections-”
“So you replaced it with the song of the ale house?” She sounded almost disappointed, but lacking in anything resembling surprise. He’d gotten himself quite the reputation, obviously.
“That I did, lass,” he replied. “Catchy tune, and it never lets a man down. I needed something to block the images of your splendour from me thoughts,” he said, the cheeky grin that had set so many hearts a flutter slowly forming.
“Oh, Liam. If only your charm were not merely a ruse, and your heart not so desirous of childish things.”
“Hope for me yet, then, lass?”
A smile could betray so much of the heart, and her smile was a treacherous thing, but he liked the secrets it was sharing with him. “Farewell, Liam.”
With a kick of her heels the horse once again began its gentle canter. With a hand to the sun, he admired her grace as she left, her movement on the horse almost ethereal.
Suddenly, she became heavy, the horse lumbering as she seemed to struggle in the saddle. Unusual for an accomplished rider like her. Swaying in place, and grasping her head, she threatened to topple. Ignoring any ache in his own, he ran to her aid, but he was unable to stop her before she fell.
Falling into the hay, her fall was broken. Dazzled, dazed and confusedly searching the sky for her bearings and some sense to what was happening was how he found her. “You alright, darlin’?” he asked, offering her a hand.
Staring at him for a moment, it was if a ghost from her past had risen, stuttering over her words as she tried to fathom his presence before her. Barely able to pronounce the word, she asked, “Angel?”
* * *
Los Angeles, Present Day
“Yeah?” he called back from his office, his focus on the desk that had somehow started wobbling again.
“May I see you for a moment?”
In another room, probably deep in a book, he was sure that Wesley wouldn’t have seen his eyes roll and heard the exasperation in his sigh as his head fell to his chest. “Right. Coming.”
He was barely in the room before Wesley started, briefly looking up from his book before tracing the ancient lines with his fingers as he explained. “Our little diversion to deal with the Ethros possession aside, I do believe I have discovered exactly which set of buggers tortured me for nigh on twenty-four hours.”
Colourful shapes danced against the blackness of his eyelids as he rubbed at his tired flesh. “You ‘believed’ you had found them two weeks ago, but actually found an old Chinese recipe for noodles.”
“Well, it’s hardly my fault your previous secretary was so clumsy with her food around ancient works!” He’d learnt not to say her name, but even an oblique reference to her seemed to cause Angel to squirm, shifting uncomfortably in place. “As I was saying, I have come across a phrase which has been repeated in different texts. That struck me as it was said numerous times during my ordeal. Whenever another member of the group would exit, they would end their discussion with the phrase ‘alla fine del tempo’.
“Italian. ‘At the end of time’.”
“Indeed, and it has been repeated in various languages and in various cultures, but all in reference to one group, the Ordinem Tempus Finitum, roughly translated to mean, the Order of Time Finite.” He looked pleased with himself, closing the book slowly as he looked to his employer for approval, a smug grin barely containable. “Additionally, they have been known to work with Wolfram & Hart in the past.”
Without a word he reached for his coat. Ignoring Wesley’s deflation at his lack of praise, he said, “We have a name. Wolfram & Hart lack deniability. It’s a start.”
“Angel, I feel I should be there when you confront this group. I want to know what it is they wanted with me,” Wesley explained as he rose from his chair.
“Sorry, Wes, but I do this alone,” Angel replied as headed to the stairs, the garage only accessible through his apartment.
Wesley was right behind him, adamant of his role in this investigation. “If you haven’t forgotten, I am a former Watcher. Within my mind there is knowledge amassed over centuries, secrets of the occult, the paths to new worlds, the means to destroy this world. Whatever they were searching for, whatever they may have found, I need to know and I need to pass it on to my supe- The Council.”
“That’s exactly why you can’t come, Wes,” he said, continuing through his apartment purposefully, giving no inch. “They wanted you. I can’t guarantee that I’ll keep you safe.”
“While your concern is noted, I am not some weakling who is unable to protect himself,” Wesley argued. “And I certainly don’t appreciate you projecting your perceived failures with Doyle and Cordelia onto me. Doyle chose his end, and Cordelia… well, if she is anything like she was in Sunnydale, she isn’t fit to do this job.”
The purposeful walk, the uncompromising attitude, the armour he had built over a century, all chinked by one sentence. His head low, he considered his options, his next move. Wesley was out of order, but he was the one ally he had left, the one person yet to abandon him. He was sure it wouldn’t be long before he did.
“You’re wrong,” Angel replied. He had so much in his head, but it was best not to say all the things he wanted to. Another alienated comrade was the last thing he wanted. Hell, it was the last thing he needed. For all his faults, Wesley was there. He wasn’t ready to let that go. “Doyle died saving me. Me. Cordelia was foolish enough to think I was worth her friendship, and I squandered that. They were the best the world had to offer, and I lost them both. You’re staying here.”
There was silence between them as the steel door slid open, and no looking back as it slammed shut. He had one goal, and that was too discover whatever the Ordinem Tempus Finitum wanted with Wesley, and stop them. Wolfram & Hart had the answers. He had the means to extract them.
* * *
It had been a short conversation, Holland Manners fully expecting him to show up at some point to ask about the people that tortured Wesley, and more than willing to give him the location of the people that had reneged on their deal.
The old church on West 79th Street, off La Tijera Boulevard. That was where he would be able to find the Ordinem Tempus Finitum. It would have to be a church. Evil often domiciled in the seats of holiness. He himself had loved convents. The mockery of God was favoured by some practitioners of the dark arts, their very disobedience to His laws not enough.
It had been almost half an hour, and there was no sign of activity bar the flickering of orange light at the base of the windows and shadows of the Order’s members dancing across the ceiling. It was impossible to tell how many were inside from the silhouettes alone. It could have been less than ten, or it could have been dozens.
He’d faced one of their Order before when rescuing Wesley. He’d been quickly dispatched. Human. He couldn’t be sure of the others. Cults involved in dark magic were rarely ever just human. He was sure there’d be demon muscle. Nothing would be learned sat outside, however. He had to move in, and now was the time. Any time he wasted could be time he’d come to regret.
The sun hadn’t been down long, the air still warm as it rose from the concrete in waves. A yellow tinge coloured the sky in layers as the city lights began to emerge on the horizon, a dark orange glow slowly fading away on the other. He felt the elation of the night overcoming him, and an ‘almost bursting into flames’ unease offsetting that joy, but that could have been the aura of the church as he drew ever closer.
The power of the cross wasn’t the same for vampires as it was for man. A symbol of hope, forgiveness and everlasting peace should a person have faith in God. For him, a rejection of all that he was. It offered him no forgiveness, but condemnation for all his crimes against man and God, whether he committed them with or without a soul.
The door creaked open, the cross behind the pulpit searing. He wanted to recoil, but at least 25 pairs of eyes stared blankly back at him. The cross bawled at him more the closer he got. It wanted him gone. He wanted to be gone. He couldn’t show weakness. In the pulpit, one man stood brazenly at the foot of the Saviour’s iconography. Either he was mocking God, or he knew his hunter feared His most famous relic.
The Virgin looked down on him as he travelled further into the Church. He went unopposed, aside from the aching within his soul as the images of his past crept up on him, perfectly captured pictures replaying in his mind. Doyle and Cordelia were his most recent sins. They were a part of his war and he had failed to protect them.
At least Cordelia was safe, now. Still, he’d let her down, abandoning her when she needed him the most. Perhaps now he could save at least one friend.
Stood at the foot of the pulpit, he looked up to the man within its wooden confines, seemingly trapped within the words of the book at his fingertips. His skin was young, the ravages of time barely marking its surface. His eyes, though, were tired, windows into a soul Angel was sure he’d sold long ago. His hooded robe mostly kept him hidden, but his face was visible, warm and welcoming. He understood why he had such a following. A charismatic leader no doubt.
“Either you’re hoping I’m a new recruit, or you have no idea who I am,” Angel said, rounding the communion table at the foot of the pulpit stairs. “I’m here about a friend of mine.”
“How is Mr Wyndam-Pryce?” His eyes didn’t leave the book, flitting from one page to the next as he handled the ancient text as he would a newborn baby.
“He’s English. Not exactly chatty about how he feels,” Angel replied as he climbed the stairs, exuding confidence but being equally wary. Anyone showing such malaise around him was either dumb, didn’t know he was a vampire or had no reason to fear him. He couldn’t be sure which, yet. “He was in a wheelchair for a while after what one of your people did to him. By the way, about that… I don’t feel too happy about it.”
“Necessary, I’m afraid. Helping you required drastic steps.”
“Why do people keep telling me that it takes necessary evils to help me?” Angel asked, braving the condemnation of the cross as he revealed his vampiric face, hoisting the Order’s leader high into the air by the throat. “Couldn’t you just buy me some strong sun block?”
His minions wanted to attack, rushing the pulpit as he dangled helplessly. It was only his reassuring gesture to stay back that assuaged them.
“You hurt my friend to ‘help’ me. As I could have snapped your neck ten times already, I think it’s clear that I don’t need your help,” he said, golden eyes staring into irises of blue, beset by increasing numbers of red lines as he squeezed. “Whatever it is you’re planning, I suggest you stop. This is your first and final warning. Take your cult, and leave.”
“Together, we can be the salvation of humanity,” the leader wheezed. “You cannot comprehend the evil that is coming, and if you do not help me you will not know until it is too late and it is revealed to you painfully.”
“When evil cults talk about salvation, it often means damnation. Too often. No deal. It ends now, easily or difficultly.”
“I’m sorry, Angel, but I cannot allow the world to be destroyed because of one narrow minded vampire,” the leader replied, trying to prise open Angel’s fist with his fingers. “You may not understand now, but you will come to me willingly, one day. That time has not yet come, but I expected that. That book I was reading,” he added, with a glance to the pulpit. “Charming little thing. Contained a rather nice spell I did so enjoy casting.”
“Pity. Looks like it didn’t work,” Angel snarled.
“Are you sure? I was certain you hadn’t spoken to Cordelia in weeks.”
The fear of being within the vicelike grasp of a vampire faded. He stopped wriggling as he hung. He merely stared down at Angel, smiling too subtly for comfort. He felt like he was showing too much, but anyone who had done their research knew what Cordelia was too him. He’d planned ahead and inserted the perfect contingency.
The cult’s leader already knew his feelings, so it was too late to conceal them, but he needed them to know what harming Cordelia meant for them. With a roar, he slammed his quarry into the crucifix, shattering the holy symbol with the force, the splinters burning his skin as they came to their rest, before bringing him round and throwing him from the pulpit down to the merciless concrete. As all 25 underlings rushed to attend to their unconscious master, he made his exit, the car up and running almost before he was inside.
His foot to the floor, he set his mind to Cordelia, ignoring the rules of the road as he sped to her aid. She needed him, even if she didn’t want him, and he was going to be there.
* * *
He’d been invited in before. He’d never been so grateful for it as Cordelia’s front door crumpled under the force of his kick.
“Cordy!?” he called as he checked every room, her scent fresh. She was still in the house. Blood. It was like a homing beacon, drawing him in. His body was on autopilot, the trail of blood in the air his course.
A tiny pool of blood had formed where her head met the floor, miniscule spatters dotting the edge of a table she had insisted on installing. Small as it was, it was enough to draw him in. Rushing to her side, he softly called to her, imploring her to wake up, hating the vulnerability of her position and ruing his part in her current situation.
His fault. A fact that hurt more now than it had ever done before. He had never wanted to be the cause of her pain, but ended up becoming so regardless.
Footsteps in the doorway. He already knew who had come. “She’s breathing normally and her heart rate is good, but she’s taken a knock to the head,” he explained, his head pressed to her chest, his eyes finding focus on Christian’s shoes as he approached, slowly.
“Angel, she is going to be fine, but we need to take her away from here,” Christian said, stopping inches from them as Angel felt her pulse, some relief washing over him at the feel of its strength beneath the skin on her wrist.
He rose to his knees, his eyes on Cordelia as he brushed stray strands of hair from her face, her skin sticky with fever sweat. “You know something, then,” he said, finally looking away from her. “The Powers told you what’s happened to her?”
“Angel, Cordelia is far, far away, and well out of our reach.”
“Not good enough,” Angel said as he pressed Christian up against the wall, both hands inches from his neck as Angelus screamed at him to tear every fibre, bone and muscle from his throat and revel as he gargled his own blood and writhed on the floor.
“You sure you want to do that after what happened last time?” Christian asked, their eyes locked and unwavering.
“When it comes to Cordelia, I’ll go through anything or anyone. Even you.” He almost growled the words as the anger boiled inside his chest, sheer willpower keeping the demon at bay.
“I know you would,” Christian smirked.
Angel wanted to hit him, to take his frustrations out on the face of the man who had caused him nothing but trouble, but an invisible split them, pushing Angel back with surprising force.
Looking at something unseen, Christian’s pupils narrowed as they focused on something Angel was not cognizant of. “You’re right. I am sorry, Dennis,” he said. “Of course I will help Angel,” he continued as their eyes met once more, albeit with less ferocity. “He says you had better bring her back.”
“I will, Dennis. I promise,” Angel said, assuredly, as he attempted to focus on the spot Christian had but seeing only wall. “First, I need to know what’s wrong with her. Christian? Care to explain?” he asked, ignoring the unsettling thought that he could see the dead, ignoring the questions racing in his mind, bringing himself back to Cordelia, the first and only priority.
“Like I say, her mind is very far away and we will need help bringing her back. But, I had better not say anymore. What is about to happen…” he stammered, head drooping as he thought on what they had told him. “well, it’s best you don’t know.”
* * *
As the world began fading, the piercing whistle of the kettle becoming a distant whine, Dennis’ rummaging through the drawers as he searched for a spoon to stir her tea nothing more than a faint rustle, the smell of her freshly sprayed perfume merely a memory, new sensations began to arouse her senses.
Bouncing, she felt the breeze gently caressing her scalp as it weaved through her hair, the smog of the city and the scent of a man made world replaced by the open, fresh air of the country. She could feel the warmth of the sun as her eyes struggled to adjust to its harsh glare.
Suddenly, tumbling, a white abyss opening its jaws to swallow her whole. Feeling enveloped within its eternal expanse, she struggled. Her kicks and punches drove it back, the glaring white receding as shapes came into focus, becoming buildings, a horse… a man.
“You alright, darlin’?”
Long hair, old timey clothes, skin tanned a healthy brown? No. It couldn’t be. Could it? “Angel?”
…TO BE CONTINUED…
THIS STORY APPEARS TO BE UNFINISHED