I wanna help her. I want... I wanna become someone.
They walked back to the abandoned warehouse in silence. Angel's shoulders remained hunched, his hands deep inside the pockets of his filthy coat. His thoughts slammed randomly against each other, billiard balls unable to coalesce into something greater than their parts. He had come across the country on the say so of a Guys and Dolls reject, with the slim hope that somehow his ever quickening downward slide would be averted. What Whistler had shown him had made him sympathetic toward someone else for the first time in a long, long time.
This girl – Buffy – was so very young. Too much a child to be asked to save the world. Why should fate have singled her out?
He'd spent the last hundred years making wrong choices. Every time there had been a fork in the road, he'd unerringly chosen the wrong direction. No matter what he had done, the end result was that people got hurt. He walked silently next to Whistler, weighing his life and finding himself lacking.
“I don't know how to help her,” he finally stated. Helping himself has been more than he could accomplish. How could he be asked to help someone else?
Whistler turned, giving Angel an appraising look. “You will.”
The warehouse was simply an immense, empty room with concrete floor and cinderblock walls. Angel could smell traces of motor oil and exhaust and the metal of machinery long gone. There were narrow windows high upon two sides that butted against the ceiling. No moonlight shone through, the angle was too high, making the interior shadowless as well as featureless. Oily grit crunched under his boots as he walked further into the space. In the far corner was a pile of gray, threadbare blankets. A high-pitched, all-too-familiar squeak echoed softly.
"Originally I was going to try to find you a suite at the Ritz, but then I realized this was probably more your style." Whistler stated, not sounding particularly apologetic.
At one time, a slur like that would have guaranteed a ripped-out throat. Now Angel couldn't even muster a glare. Besides, it was true. When was the last time he had even bathed or combed his hair?
"I'll let you get to it then, right? I'll be shoving off for now."
Angel turned to the other demon, keeping his uneasiness at that statement to himself. "What?"
"Things to do, messages to deliver, lives to ruin. See you in the morning, kid," Whistler continued. And with that, Angel found himself alone.
Lives to ruin. Angel hoped he was being facetious, but Whistler's brand of humor was difficult for him to distinguish from straightforward honesty.
Rats skittered around the edges of the building. He guessed he'd be dining on rodent cruor later tonight. Come morning, he'd have no choice but to be trapped in this oversized prison cell, but for now he needed to escape the confines of this place or what was left of his sanity would be pushed to the brink.
He strode through the streets, unconsciously noting that the air quality was much worse than the last time he'd been here, close to half a century ago. Some things were still the same though – LA wasn't a walking town. The few people he did encounter gave him a wide berth, although he was too deep within his own head to even notice.
Round and round his thoughts swirled as he attempted to figure out a way to assist Buffy. He imagined that going up to her and saying, “Hi! I'm a vampire and I'm here to help!” would only get him staked for his troubles and rightly so.
He could retrace his steps back to the Summers' house but he wasn't sure what purpose it would serve. She was asleep and safe for now. There was a small part of him that would have liked to just go and gaze at her because in some ways she reminded him of himself. He had never asked to be a vampire with a soul, instantly becoming neither man nor beast but something that resided in the cracks of both. He suspected that being the slayer might be similar.
He needed to take things one step at a time. He needed to find a better place to live. He needed to get his strength back. Maybe he could find out where the vampire hangouts were and he could pass Buffy some information. Eventually he would formulate some strategies regarding the most effective way to help out.
For the first time in years he felt a small flicker of hope. He got back to the warehouse just ahead of the breaking dawn. Whistler was still gone. No matter. Angel could wait for tonight. He crept over to the tangled pile of blankets and layed down after removing his boots. His dreams weren't edged in red as usual, but instead were washed in gold as he chased after the laughing figure of a young woman; his dream self content to be close enough to watch over her.
He woke up as the sun was setting, his internal alarm clock more accurate than any one made by man. He looked around, even as his nose was telling him that Whistler hadn't been here in hours. He pushed the blankets aside, scrambling to his knees, disbelieving what was plainly obvious. A small white piece of paper littered the floor, twenty feet away. Standing, he walked over to it and picked it up from the dirty concrete floor.
You'll be fine.
He stared at it, then crumbled it in his fist and in a rage, tossed it. All it did was bounce lightly against the floor. He made an incoherent noise, slamming his fist against the wall. The pain radiated up through his elbow, his face shifting in reaction to it. He couldn't do this. He had no idea how to even begin. He would head back to New York the next night, back to the shadows that Whistler had dragged him out of.
He sank back down to the floor, his face melting back to human. He dragged his finger through the caked-on dust present on the floor. Five minutes later, Buffy's face was peering back at him – young, vulnerable, full of life.
He couldn't leave. He knew exactly what Buffy was going to be facing because for one hundred and fifty years, he had been the monster ready to pounce and kill; the nightmare that used the cover of the dark to terrorize. Murdering thousands with no more thought than a person gave to stamping out an anthill.
He would make penance for his sins by making sure she survived.
As soon as her training session with Giles was done, Buffy headed home. She trotted with a slow, intentionally loose gait. Not running, she told herself because what with the sunlight and the whole no clouds in the sky, there was absolutely no need to run. At all. She sped up just a bit anyway. When she got to the Henderson's she jumped the fence, cutting through the back yard, a guilty look briefly crossing her features when she realized that she had trampled the carefully planted begonias.
Bursting through her front door, her heart began beating faster as she scanned the empty living room.
"Buffy?" Her mother's voice floated in from the kitchen. "Any homework?
Relief rushed through Buffy, leaving her voiceless and feeling boneless. She closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe deeply. "Just a little," she finally managed.
"Are you okay?" Joyce stepped into the living room, drying her hands on a dishtowel and looking at Buffy with concern.
"Just tired." Going on instinct, she crossed the room and hugged her mother fiercely for a moment.
"Did you flunk a test?" Joyce asked with a combination of bemusement and knowledge in her voice. "Or is there something at the mall that you just have to have?"
"I didn't realize that hugging set off the mom detector." She shrugged, trying for a look of nonchalance. "Next time I'll call the police before engaging in any other suspicious behavior."
"Well, if public enemy number one is interested, there might be fresh baked brownies in the kitchen. And do your homework," she called after Buffy's retreating figure.
It took less than five minutes before Buffy gave up on her trig homework. She just couldn't see the point of worrying about how to calculate a cosine. She had a brief image of telling some demon that she needed to figure out the angle of stakeage relative to the distance he was standing from her so that she could accurately kill him. Easier just to shove a weapon through his body.
Instead, she doodled triangle people all over her paper. "You're acute one," she said to one long, skinny triangle girl she had drawn, complete with long lashes. She grimaced at her statement. "Note to self – geometry humor, not that funny."
Her history assignment was to read the next chapter. At least that seemed relatively straightforward. Thirty minutes later she was close to throwing the book out the window. How could she possibly keep all these dates of all these battles memorized? She literally had her own battles to worry about and she couldn't see that knowing about these was going to help. And why had people been fighting about roses anyway? That seemed pretty low on the list of things to go to war about.
Well, at least English couldn't be too bad, could it? Except that with all those 'thees', 'thous', and 'thys' populating Othello she quickly lost the thread of whatever Shakespeare was getting at. It was time to call in the big guns.
Rolling over on her bed, she reached for the phone on her night table and quickly dialed Willow.
"Hey, Will. How's the homework coming?"
"Almost done. I can't believe they're letting us read Othello."
"I'm not sure I'd use the word read. That sort of means that it's in English. I'm pretty sure this is mock English."
"I just meant it has so much," and here Willow's voice dropped dramatically, "sex in it."
"Sex? What? You mean birds and bees, everybody Wang Chung tonight? I'm pretty sure I would have noticed that."
Willow giggled. "Act 1, scene 1. The beast with two backs?"
Flipping through the first few pages, Buffy found the reference. "Oh. Is that what that meant? I thought it was something to do with a camel. Your version makes a lot more sense." Buffy wrinkled her nose, thinking. "So the play is about some guy who goes crazy because of sex?"
"Jealousy." Willow's voice was surprisingly gentle. "Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful."
Buffy didn't bother saying that she didn't see a whole lot of difference. After all, in the end Othello murdered the woman he loved.
“Off to see Willow and Xander?” Joyce asked as Buffy rinsed her dinner plate before placing it into the dishwasher.
“Thought I'd stay in tonight. In the mood for some mother-daughter bonding?”
“Now I know you're angling for something from the mall,” Joyce responded with a wry smile. “Movie night? I'll nuke some popcorn.”
Searching through their tapes, Buffy avoided any romance movies. When she saw Terminator, she smiled. She hadn't seen the movie since she was ten. All she really remembered was Arnie saying, “I'll be back,” and Linda Hamilton kicking robot ass. She could use some girl-power heroics.
As soon as the movie ended, Buffy wound up blowing her nose hard. Tears pooling, she felt stupidly childish, but the words tumbled forth anyway. “Why did he have to die? She has to spend the rest of her life trying to save the world. Would it have been so terrible to give her that bit of happiness?”
“Oh, Buffy.” Her mother hugged her tightly against her side. “I know you're upset about that boy. But someday you're going to find your special someone. It's fine to make mistakes along the way. Everyone does. It's just part of growing up. And when you do find him, I can promise that no evil robot from the future is going to take him away.”
Buffy forced a watery smile. “Thanks.”
Buffy looked out her window at the moonless, pitch sky. She wasn't afraid of the dark, she was the Slayer, but tonight the secrets of the night were not hers to decipher.
She had spent the day postponing the inevitable. But in the end, she couldn't hide from her mistakes. Too much depended on her.
Dropping to her knees in front of her dresser, she slowly slid open the bottom drawer. Her neatly folded sweaters had that freshly laundered smell clinging to them as she rummaged underneath them. She sat back on her heels as she carefully removed the drawing that Angel had left her the prior night.
Giles had said that the picture was purely to throw her off her game. The evil vampire equivalent of boo! But she knew there was more to it than that. Tonight Angel would bite the town red. For the first time, she understood why slayers had no family or friends. Every person who died tonight would be because she refused to leave her house. But until Giles could find a way to disinvite Angel, she couldn't risk her mother. And Angel would take full advantage of her failure.
Sitting down, she placed the drawing next to her on the edge of the bed. Absentmindedly her index finger hovered above the surface, tracing the lines he had so carefully rendered. Why hadn't Angel ever told her that he could draw? She suddenly wondered if he had often left behind a picture as a sort of calling card when he was stalking someone. And with that thought, she suspected she knew why Angel had never told her he had artistic talent.
She had always thought that the Angel she had known was the Angel he had once been as a human – quiet, unassuming, a person who preferred to stay in the background. But now it occurred to her that maybe she knew Angel as well as she knew the soulless monster – not at all. What other aspects of himself did he keep out of sight because it brought to mind a death-filled past? She wished he had trusted her enough to tell her. She could have helped him see that he didn't have to turn his back on things he had once loved because they had been twisted to another purpose.
She couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like to have Angel draw her. She looked at the portrait, examined it closely. She saw the way he captured her upturned nose, the blush on her cheeks, how sleep removed the burdens she normally carried around. She couldn't deny what she saw here. If Angel had drawn this before she had ruined everything, the picture would have looked exactly the same. He still loved her, even if was now through a scrim of hate.
She didn't know how she was ever going to be able to kill him.
Angel could feel Buffy's heart, fluttering bird-quick against his chest. She lifted her head, and once he looked into her eyes, she spoke. “Your table is broken.” She shifted and he realized her thighs were sticky.
Angel tightened his hold on her waist as he lifted his head. “Want to see my bedroom?”
Buffy raised her eyebrows as she looked up at him. “Are you propositioning me?” A grin that could only be described as saucy animated her face.
“Yes,” he said with utter sincerity.
After tucking himself back into his boxers and closing the button on his pants, he said “Hang on.” His super-enhanced strength may have been gone, but she weighed so little that it wasn't much effort to lift her up. She clung to him, legs wrapped around his waist, arms snug around his neck as he walked them to his bedroom. At the side of the bed, he bent over and she let go, bouncing on the mattress.
He was about to climb onto the bed himself, when Buffy sat up with one arm outstretched. “I want to see you.”
A wolfish grin lit his face. Their only previous time together, he had undressed under the covers. His sole focus that night had been on pleasing Buffy. He hadn't thought about the fact that Buffy had never seen him naked.
He hadn't seen his own face in several centuries, and that simple fact that he now could see it reflected was almost unfathomable. But he had a long standing familiarity with his own body; his father had cuffed him more than once for the sinful pride that he took in it. Alive, unsouled, souled – if he was honest, that pride hadn’t changed too much over the centuries. But this was the first time he was eager that someone else look at him with the same satisfaction.
Nimbly opening the buttons on his shirt and rolling his shoulders, Angel let the shirt slide inelegantly to the floor. He watched as her eyes darkened, taking in his torso. She was lying on her side, head propped up by her hand, waiting for the rest of the show. He popped open his trouser button, pushing his pants and boxers to the floor. Stepping out of them and straightening back up, his eyes locked on Buffy's.
Angel was fully expecting her to blush and immediately drop her eyes. He was hoping that instead she'd look impressed. What he wasn't counting on was for her to look confused and dismayed. “Is there something wrong with it?” Buffy asked uneasily.
His initial thought was to yell, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with my dick.” His second impulse was to yank his pants back on and leave. Instead he stood there naked, his pride and joy suddenly shriveled to nothing and stupidly said, “What?”
“Maybe it's because you were a vampire all that time?” She worried her bottom lip with her teeth. “It's supposed to look mushroomy. But you've got a sock,” she haltingly explained.
It took Angel half a minute to puzzle out what she was talking about, but once he did he started to laugh. And then immediately stopped when he saw Buffy's stricken face. “I wasn't laughing at you,” he quickly said. It wasn't entirely true, but it wasn't his intention to make her feel bad. “I'm not circumcised, that's all,” he shrugged.
“Oh,” she said frowning, the lines in her forehead deepening. “How does that work?”
He had done things with Darla, Dru and Spike that would make the Marquis de Sade blush, and yet he found he was speechless in the face of Buffy's question. He wished he had even a tiny bit of her guilelessness. “The skin can be moved back as a man gets erect,” he said gruffly. He was looking at the ground, completely unable to look her in the eyes, as he felt his face flush.
He heard the bed shift and picked his head back up in time to see that Buffy was now sitting up, bent toward him. She lifted her right hand and jabbed him with her index finger. Angel had actually seen her perform exactly this move in the past, whenever she wasn't one hundred percent sure that the demon she had just run through was dead. He didn't appreciate having his penis thought of in the same manner as a hopefully deceased demon.
He was about to leave in order to retain some dignity (and it had never occurred to him that the curse wouldn't be the biggest obstacle with regards to his sex life) when she reached out again, and lightly danced four fingers down his shaft. His breath hitched and he immediately began to harden.
“Heh,” she said, obviously pleased. She began to twirl her fingers up and down his length. Angel found himself torn between keeping his eyes open because watching her small hand skate across his cock was just about the most erotic thing imaginable, or closing his eyes in order to more fully concentrate on the sensations. She gave a quick, firm squeeze to the base, causing him to gasp as his eyes slammed shut in pleasure. Problem solved.
The squeak of the bed told him she was shifting position and then her other hand was suddenly on his balls, exploring, stroking, rolling. When she gave a firm tug, her name spilled out, hot and molten inside his mouth.
He was hard in her hand now, curving slightly toward his belly. She traced the line between the head and foreskin and white-hot desire raced through his veins, causing him to thrust hard through her fingers. The hand on his sack shifted down to his thigh where she pinched him hard.
“Nope. None of that. You have to stay still.”
Opening his eyes again, he barely registered that her own eyes had become a deep green and her tongue kept darting out between her lips. He had spent the last few months becoming his own man; learning how to be a leader. He no longer cared. He wanted nothing more than to be her willing soldier, in her thrall forever.
Her hands seemed to be everywhere, her palm rubbing his cockhead, her fingers fondling the underside of his shaft, all of it driving every thought from his mind except Buffy, Buffy, Buffy and how fucking good she was making him feel. “Need more,” he finally managed. His entire body felt enflamed with lust.
“Show me,” she whispered, her words engorging him even more than her insistent fingers. Her hands dropped down to her sides and Angel groaned in frustration at the loss of contact. She repeated her command, more insistent this time.
Half-stumbling the three steps to his nightstand, he fumbled in his drawer until he retrieved the partially used tube. He turned and grabbing her outstretched hand, generously coated it with lube. He then guided her hand to his aching cock, wrapping it around his length, his own hand placed on top of hers. She began stroking along his shaft, pumping hard while his hand stayed tightly wrapped around hers. She was gliding over the head on each upstroke as his balls tightened. He let out a sudden string of curses as he released all over his belly and their combined hands, all rational thought gone except for the pleasure rushing through his body as his knees buckled.
When he finally regained some small measure of composure, he was treated to her broad, self-satisfied smile. She then looked curiously at his come which now dotted her hand. Sticking out her tongue, she licked a bit into her mouth, rolling her lips.
“Fuck,” Angel moaned. He then roared in a more than passable imitation of his former vampire growl and tackled her onto the bed, while she giggled underneath him.
"I don't hear anything." Doyle furrowed his brow in concentration. "Guess that means everything's fine."
"Or she staked him," Cordelia hissed.
Doyle raised his eyebrow and gave her an "are you for real?" look.
"What? She's the vampire slayer. She could have forgotten that he's a good vampire."
"Princess," he admonished.
"All right. Probably not. Still, it's too quiet down there." She huffed a put upon sigh. "I better go down and check."
"Are you sure you should be interrupting?"
"They can't get groiny, so it's not like I'm going to need therapy. And if I do see anything nightmare-inducing, Angel will just have to pay for the psychiatrist ."
"I'm sure they'll appreciate that compassionate streak."
Cordelia marched over to the elevator, tapping her foot the entire time it slowly creaked back up. She steeled herself to deal with whatever the two of them where currently getting up to (please, let it be nothing).
Her eyes widened as she stepped into Angel's apartment, unable to comprehend exactly what she was seeing. Angel was sitting at his small kitchen table, scribbling madly on a pad, while around him the floor was littered with dozens of wadded-up papers.
"Angel?" she said hesitantly.
He slowly lifted his head, his entire being radiating misery and despair. "I can't get her right. I've already forgotten." His voice cracked with the effort of his words.
White-hot anger suffused Cordelia. She hated that it had taken Buffy less than an hour to completely destroy Angel. And once she had finished shredding his heart, Buffy had waltzed back to Sunnydale without a care leaving her to pick up the pieces. She strode across the room in order to stand behind Angel, enveloping him in a hug around his shoulders and letting his head fall against her. "I've got you," she murmured. Cordelia silently vowed she was never going to let Buffy hurt Angel again.
Three more hours until sunset as the dust motes danced and pirouetted in the golden late afternoon haze.
Angel's eyes remained unfocused as he stared out into his apartment. Had he honestly thought that he would be able to change Wolfram and Hart from the inside? Or had he known from the beginning that it was futile and hadn't cared so long as Connor was safe? He could no longer say.
In the absolute stillness that characterized his very being, he could discern other sounds – the hum of the air conditioning unit, the start and stop of the refrigerator motor, the slight rustle of the papers on his desk. If he concentrated a little harder, he could faintly make out his employees on the floor below him, the creak of the building, and the elevator gears turning. He should be downstairs in his office, doing the CEO thing. Throwing Evil, inc. off the scent of what he had planned for tonight.
He found himself thoroughly unable to muster any concern.
If he closed his eyes, the faint sunlight filtering through the window would disappear. He didn't feel any warmth because the sun's heat didn't make it through the specially magiced windows. Like everything else in this place, it was all artifice. Get too close and the strings were readily apparent.
Tonight it would end. They would take down the Circle of the Black Thorn. People would have just a bit more freedom in their lives. The scales would tilt just slightly more to the side of Justice. And come the morning, he would be dust.
He was ready. He had made so many missteps over the course of his unnatural existence. At least he was leaving the world a better place.
He had said his goodbyes to Connor, even if he hadn't phrased it that way. Connor. It was worth everything to see his son and to hear Connor acknowledge him as his father. To see him healthy and whole, doing all the things Angel wished for him. Angel was aware that even if every other moment of his life had been beyond reproach, the fact that he had sacrificed his friends to Wolfram & Hart was enough to secure his place in Hell. He still wouldn't have undone it, even if it was offered to him.
It didn't mean that he shouldn't offer some sort of penance.
The expensively decorated suite had never been any kind of home to him. Anything that meant something to him, anything he held dear he had left behind, not wanting it tainted. Better to never see it again.
There was no denying though that doing without his personal treasures hadn't been exactly difficult. From the expensive Italian silk suits to the garage full of sport cars to the wall-hung, flat-screen TV, he enjoyed every bit of luxury that had been showered upon him. He had been trapped in a gossamer web of material things, willing to compromise his principles over and over for the sake of keeping the company running. No more. Right now, he would use one of their gilded thorns to try to find some small measure of peace for those he had wronged.
The modern, black wood desk in the corner, like all the other furniture in his apartment, was composed of simple lines with no ornamentation. Soulless, in his opinion. Opening the drawer, he retrieved several sheets of personalized stationery, as well as an ornate enameled fountain pen, complete with gold nib. One of the few things in this entire building that wasn't sleekly modern; he balanced the pen in his hand and smiled. Not the tool he preferred, but it would serve his purpose.
After taking a deep, unneeded breath, he began to sketch. It seemed appropriate to start here, with the one person who had sinned against him as much as he had sinned against her.
He had drawn her thousands of times, so much so that even with his eyes closed he could still draw a reasonably accurate portrait. Ten minutes later, he was finishing some crosshatching of her hair for texture. Pushing back in his seat, he admired his work. The features were delicate, the very definition of femininity. And yet, if one looked closely enough, the steel behind the eyes was hinted at and her mouth had more than a touch of haughtiness. Darla could play at being innocent, but the truth was there if one knew what to look for.
Even now, he couldn't quantify his feelings for her. - mother, lover, teacher – each of those and more. She had nurtured every drop of viciousness that had existed within him, initiated him into every form of perversion known to man and crowed with delight when he surpassed her cruelty. She had pointed out the path to Hell and he had been more than happy to dance along it.
When she had been resurrected, he had never asked where she had found herself prior. He told himself it was because he didn't want her to have to dwell on it. But the truth was he was terrified to know where she had gone after he had dusted her. He had already spent a seeming eternity in a hell dimension, confirming that that would be his final fate was more than he could endure.
If he asked his adopted family (not that he would), they would agree that his conflicted feelings were because she was Connor's mother. And that was certainly part of it. He loved Connor more than anything else on earth, and because she was a part of Connor, he loved her. But even before his son's miraculous conception, his emotions toward her were less than straight-forward. He had a soul, but underneath that thinly pasted-on veneer was a demon. Darla had aided and abetted the demon as he raised the corruption of innocence to an unsurpassed art form; and it still thrilled him.
He stared at the portrait and thought of the human she had originally been and the human that Wolfram and Hart had raised from the grave. He wished he had been able to save her. And once he had failed in that endeavor, he wished he had staked her immediately. But he wasn't sorry he hadn't, because it brought him Connor.
He said a silent prayer for Darla. And hoped that God was more merciful than he and Darla had ever been.
It took him a few minutes to compose himself. Tilting his head back until the back of it hit the top of the chair, he let his eyes flutter closed. Sifting through his memories the way children sifted through the sand, keeping only what he needed. The past flowed through his pen, each line precisely placed. He had lost so much since coming to this city.
Darla's portrait stopped at her shoulders. The muscle in his jaw jumped as he firmly closed down the thought of her slender ivory throat. Leaning forward, he continued to work on the full-length sketch he was now drawing. He could hear Cordelia's voice. Only you would draw the clothes for the guy who dressed worse than a blind homeless person. His mouth quirked up just a tiny bit. It was true that Doyle hadn't possessed much in the way of fashion sense.
Allen Francis Doyle was his first friend in over two hundred years. Angel hadn't exactly made it easy for Doyle to befriend him; black was not only the color of Angel's clothes but his entire scowling demeanor. But for some reason, Doyle had persisted.
Doyle had died a hero's death, but he should not have had to make that sacrifice. Angel should have saved him.
What would Doyle have thought of Wolfram and Hart? Been impressed by the quality of the booze, that at least was undeniable. Would the shiny toys have seduced him as easily as everyone else?
Angel didn't think so.
There were harder questions. If Doyle hadn't died, Angel himself would never have fallen for Cordelia. Or, even if he had, he never would have acted on the feelings. Cordelia would have never gotten the visions. Would that mean that Jasmine would never have gotten her wormy hands on Cordy? Even if she had, Doyle would have seen through the ruse instantly and they could have saved her. No Jasmine; and if Jasmine had never come to power, Connor would have never succumbed to despair and madness. Wolfram and Hart would have lost their bargaining chip and Angel wouldn't be sitting here right now, planning on a final heroic act. What if. A bitter laugh echoed in the room. What was done, was done, no point in thinking about what might have been.
He scrubbed his hands over his face, emotions crashing randomly through him. Grief and guilt drove his pen, the ink flowing smoothly across the paper. Cordelia rose before him on the page, her megawatt smile beckoning him. Doyle might have been his first friend, but Cordelia had become his best friend. He had never met anyone like her, with her tenaciousness, her bluntness, her huge heart. Why had he had so little faith in her? How had he been so easily manipulated to believe that she would betray his feelings for her by sleeping with Connor? Or was the real problem that he hadn't felt he deserved her love?
His stupidity had cost Cordelia her life.
He missed her every day, although he kept his sorrow to himself. If she were still alive, she never would have let him sign up with Wolfram and Hart. She would have called him an idiot and helped him find another way to save Connor. Without Cordelia by his side, it hadn't taken him very long to lose his way.
Abruptly, he pushed himself out of the chair and crossed the room. Opening the cabinet, he pulled out a bottle of Jameson's and a cut crystal tumbler. The whiskey slid down his throat and pooled hot in his gut. At least he knew that Doyle and Cordelia were in a better place. Cold comfort, but better than none. Better than where he'd be heading.
In the end, being his link to the Powers hadn't done Cordelia any good. There had been no visions warning them about Jasmine or the aftermath. Maybe he should have remembered that having the sight was always more a curse than a blessing.
Sliding back behind his desk, he set the refilled glass down and picked up his pen. He found his hand shook slightly, and as a result, could do no more than depict her eyes, different sets all over the page. Cruel and calculating, chaste and unsullied, wanton and dangerous, the light of wisdom, the emptiness of madness – he had seen all of this in Dru's eyes, sometimes in the course of mere seconds. He should have ended her unholy existence long before; now she would continue to murder long after he himself was gone. It seemed that Connor was not his only child that he favored over the world. One more stain on his soul.
He took a long pull of whiskey, knowing he was putting off the next drawing. He had long thought Drusilla his worst sin. Now, he was no longer sure. Every line he drew felt like a slash against his own skin. The ink that flowed felt like it was composed of his own blood. Fred stared back at him, as trusting and accepting as ever.
Fred. He could draw her as much as he wanted but the fact remained that there was no Fred anymore. Winifred Burkle now resembled an Easter egg, repainted, the insides removed and thrown away, only a fragile shell left. Cordelia and Doyle were dead, but Angel knew that their souls resided in Heaven. Fred didn't even have that. She was just gone.
Handsome man saved me from the monsters. She had never caught on to the fact that the handsome man was the monster.
What would Gunn have done if he realized Angel's complicity in Fred's cessation? The only reason Wes hadn't staked him was that Wes was all too aware of his own part in sending Fred to her death.
Turning Fred would have been kinder. At least her soul would still exist somewhere. He stalked over to the window and watched as the azure sky slowly bled pastel. The last sunset he would ever see and more than he deserved. He thought briefly of Connor's smile as he said, “Dad,” earlier. He would have made the exact same choices even knowing what he now knew. Fred for Connor. Cordelia for Connor. The world for Connor.
The silver accents in his apartment glowed pink from the setting sun; a note of grace for the living before the world edged into darkness. A reminder that his kind would be banished once more to the alley's shadows as the world turned. The beauty of the sunset was not meant for him.
He picked up his pen, and realized that it was almost empty. He twisted the barrel counterclockwise, laying the cap on a piece of blank paper in order to contain any stray droplets. Opening the bottle of blue-black ink, the smell enveloped him – slightly metallic, sharp, relaxing him as always with the sure knowledge that ink was something he was master of.
He is on his knees, the wood seat uncomfortably rigid against them, but he is too short to see the entirety of his father's desk any other way. The heavy oak door is slightly ajar and he can hear the murmur of his father's voice as he talks to Mr. Ceallaigh. His father rarely takes him to his place of business. All during the long buggy ride Liam finds himself enthralled by the sight and sounds of the bustling village. His father's business is the best of it all, though. First they stand in the big storeroom. Liam runs his fingertips over the bolts of linen when his father isn't looking, feeling how the fabric changes from featherweight smooth to coarse and rough.
But his father's desk is by far the most fascinating thing in a building full of fascination and Liam has never gotten to see it without the presence of his da looming over him. There is a stack of heavy ivory paper, each sheet so thick that it feels more like a piece of cloth that writing paper. His father's seal, heavier than he expected. Candle, oil lamp, paper knife, scraper – he touches each in turn as if it will impart some sort of knowledge. At the edge of the desk is a large, heavy bound book. Liam opens it and sees the rows of numbers, all in his father's precise script. He is learning his sums at school and he happily thinks that is something he can do to help. He turns the pages until he comes to a blank sheet. Leaning over, he unstoppers the bottle of ink and breathes it in deeply. He is not allowed to use ink just yet, but he has watched the older boys very carefully and knows what to do. Taking the quill, he dips it in the ink pot and lets the excess drip back. Then, he carefully begins to write out numbers, but he soon tires of that activity.
Instead, he begins to draw. First he draws the ink bottle and he is pleased at the likeness. He then sets to, his tongue poking out of his mouth slightly as his concentrates on transferring the contents of his father's desk to the ledger in front of him. He is so intent on his task that he doesn't even hear the creak of the door as it opens or his father's heavy tread.
His arm is nearly wrenched out of its socket as his father drags him away from the desk. He doesn't understand the look of rage that is plain on his da's face and he is too frightened by it to even speak as his father demands to know what manner of demon possessed him. That night, he is thrashed for the first time in his life and with each blow, something hardens irrevocably inside him.
Angel stared at the picture of his sister, mother and father. This was the first time he had drawn them since the day he murdered them. What could he possibly say? Sorry? Forgive me?
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. The words left his lips soundlessly.
He slowly rifled through each of the pictures he had done. They were all members of his family, adopted or blood, forced or voluntary, still, all his and all dead because of him, in some way. He shuddered. Here was tangible proof of what he was, what he would always be.
He turned to look outside. The sun had almost sunk below the horizon. Within the hour he needed to be at Spike's to set his plan in motion. But first...
One more sketch to go, but instead he found he couldn't stop. As soon as he put the finishing touch on one drawing, he was instantly starting another. It was only the fact that time was in short supply that caused him to finally lay down his pen.
Buffy in every pose imaginable, every facial expression he had ever seen.
Through the years he had often wondered if he had done the right thing by walking away time after time. Especially after finding out how lost she had been after her resurrection. Now, however, it was obvious that leaving her had been the better option. He hated The Immortal, but there was no denying how happy Buffy had seemed.
More importantly, she had escaped the real curse of his existence. Get close to him, wind up dead. Seemed rather obvious in retrospect. By the morning, the rest of his gang of misfits would also be dead. He could see it in their eyes, a haunted look that he suspected he sported as well. None of them wanted to be a part of the world any more. It had taken and taken and not given much back.
But Buffy? She was different. He had always known that she was special. Who else would have reached out to someone like him? Who else would have loved him and continued to love him after the crimes he had committed against her and others? Yes, others had come to stand by him but that was only because she had first turned him into someone worth taking a chance on.
Everything he had been through had left him broken, a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. Everything she had been through had only made her stronger, better. He remembered the way she had smiled at him when he had handed over the amulet. Then she had told him she still dreamed of a future with him.
Not now, though. Now he had taken over Wolfram and Hart and lost her trust. He had crossed one too many lines and Buffy had finally given up on him.
Would she mourn when she found out his fate? Some selfish part of him wanted her to break down and rail against the heavens.
He grabbed a fresh sheet of paper and drew one final picture of Buffy, bringing every trick he knew to bear. She looked almost real when he was done. Her back was arched, a flush evident in the swell of her breasts. Her lips was slightly parted and kiss swollen, her eyes wide. She was a study in erotic bliss, the perfection possible when two merged hearts, minds, souls. He had given her that and that was enough.
He stood. Time was up. His final reckoning was upon him.
The house was cute. Blue shutters, wide front porch, flower boxes overflowing with trailing petunias, snapdragons and violets. If you checked the dictionary for the definition of charming, this house would be the illustration; a realtor's wet dream. Angel hated it.
He had been staring at it for close to an hour, hidden in the shadows that the neighborhood provided. Straightening his shoulders, he came to a decision. He marched across the street and pressed the door buzzer firmly.
"Buffy," he said softly as the door opened.
Eyes widened in shock and then narrowed into slits. She didn’t bother hiding the spill of emotions that overtook her face and Angel wondered if she was about to slap him or even stake him. Instead, her expression became guarded. "Come in, Angel," she said flatly.
She led him through a small entryway to her living room. It was inviting, decorated with colorful throw pillows, tables, and shelves dotted with knickknacks and photos. She led him to a sage green club chair while she sat on the patterned couch opposite.
"You haven't changed. Which I guess is to be expected. Don't bother telling me the same is true for me," she said, holding her hand up to silence him.
Angel blanched at her tone. Obviously she had changed. Her hair was shot through with silver now, plaited into a loose French braid. He hoped that the lines around her mouth and eyes were due more to smiling and laughter than tears and pain. Her eyes hadn't changed at all, though. He could still read her emotions in their ever-changing palette. Right now they were a rare light brown, signaling her uneasiness.
"Are you here to warm me about some big evil rising out of the East?" she continued.
"Just happened to be in the neighborhood?"
“Spike,” he finally answered. He knew that wasn't an answer or maybe not even the right answer. Probably not any answer at all, but he didn't know what else to say.
The flinch was subtle, but Angel still caught it. “Spike's gone. Eight months now.” At least part of her coldness toward him was actually grief that she was barely keeping at bay, he realized. That revelation didn't make him feel any better.
There had been whispered rumors but Angel hadn't believed any of them. Spike was the one who could always charm or brawl his way out of any situation. He had sort of assumed that when the Angel of Death came calling, Spike would just challenge him to a poker game, ace palmed to ensure a win, in a less high-brow version of a Bergman film. “I'm sorry,” Angel said.
“Don't.” Her hands were held up as a protective shield. “I know how you felt about him, so I'd rather not hear any platitudes.”
A flash bang of anger raced through him. “He was my family. Yes, it was a fucked-up, murderous, incestuous family and half the time I wanted to stake him, but he was still mine.” He'd barely finished his rant when the salt tang of Buffy's tears was apparent. Amazing. Even dead, Spike managed to screw his life up. He sighed, ashamed. “I'm sorry,“ he repeated, this time barely audible. “I'll let myself out.”
Buffy picked her head up, her lashes glittering with tears. “What do you want?”
He stopped and sat back heavily on the chair, feeling the slight creak of the wooden frame. What did he want? Everything, if he was being truthful. He wanted not to have had to sacrifice Cordelia and Connor and Buffy. He wanted that day back and a million more like it. He wanted his son's childhood back. He wanted not to someday bury Connor. He wanted so many people not to be dead, but especially Cordelia. He wanted to get older and die. He just wanted...everything, but in the end he said, “I want to draw you.”
She didn't bother hiding her surprise at his request. Angel was pretty sure she would turn him down. Had she ever seen any of his artwork other than the gifts he had left her when he was soulless? He didn't think so. If he had remembered that, he wouldn't have bothered asking.
“How long would it take?”
“Two hours or so, total.”
Her expression was closed off. Even her moon-gray eyes didn't give a hint as to her thoughts. Finally, she gave a little head-shake, causing her braid to bounce. “Yeah, okay.”
It was obvious that she was doing him a favor, but Angel didn't much care. “I'll come back tomorrow with my stuff.” Once he was done, he would leave her to her mourning.
“Are you sure you're comfortable?”
“Fine, Angel. Can we just get on with this?” She was sitting on the couch again, stiff-backed, hands primly in her lap. This wasn't what he had hoped for, but he didn't exactly have a claim here. He opened up his sketchpad and started to draw.
Thirty minutes later after countless false starts, he slammed his pad closed in disgust. Part of the fault was Buffy's. The ramrod posture, the little annoyed sighs, the way her eyes kept shifting in an effort to see the clock on the shelf. He wished she hadn't said yes when she so obviously didn't want to model for him.
Not that the artist was blameless. He should have been able to sit down, finish his sketch and leave. But instead of concentrating on the living, breathing Buffy in front of him, he kept relying on memory. And so the curve of her cheek was too round, her figure too youthful, there was no hardness in her eyes. He kept drawing a sixteen-year-old Buffy. The girl before he ruined her.
He swiped his hand over his face, trying and failing to excise the emptiness he felt.
“You have charcoal on your cheek.” It was the first time he had seen her smile at all since he had knocked on her door. “You look tired. Do you want to finish tomorrow?”
Surprise widened his eyes and momentarily tripped his tongue. “Are you sure?” he finally managed.
She shrugged. “I can spare another two hours.”
Leaving his hotel, Angel decided against going directly to Buffy's house. He felt unsettled, which meant sketching wouldn't come easily. Walking randomly, his long stride enabled him to cover a fair amount of distance in a short time. He wasn't looking for trouble, but when he stumbled upon a hulking demon with grayish, sagging skin and a lingering small of fresh blood clinging to it, he was only to happy to dispatch the monster with his sword. He lunged toward it, but the demon was much quicker than he anticipated. Snarling, he changed as he felt his right side being shredded. Darting away, he shifted to a two-handed grip on his broadsword, swinging the blade hard into the neck. A second later, he dropped to his knees, pain radiating through him as the now headless body dropped beside him.
Pushing back up, he wobbled dangerously for a moment and then started back. Instead of heading to his hotel, he turned to go to Buffy's. He didn't know her phone number and he was convinced that if he didn't show up, she would change her mind about letting him draw her. He had thought that he had finally moved past it all, but seeing her awakened emotions that he normally kept reined in. Obviously, she had made her choices and he didn't fault her, but he found himself needing this small tangible proof of her.
Thirty minutes later, he lurched through her front door.
“Angel?” Buffy's brows knitted together. “Is something wrong? You look ghost-pale instead of regular vampire-pale.”
“Fine,” he muttered. “Where do you want---”, he stopped, suddenly hissing in pain. The room started to swirl around him in an interesting manner as if he was once more hanging onto his pet dragon and soaring through the air.
When he next opened his eyes, he was sitting on top of a close-lidded toilet. He flinched as the warm washcloth dabbed his ribs.
“Welcome back to the land of the unliving.” Buffy was kneeling in front of him, his shirt and coat removed. “You,” she said pointedly, “are not exactly easy to drag up a flight of stairs. I have new respect for the term 'dead weight'.”
Her hands were so warm against his skin. He tried to recall the last time he had been touched. More than a decade ago.
“I left your coat and sword downstairs, but your shirt was a lost cause. Sorry. Knowing you, you probably have twenty more just like it.”
He grunted noncommittally. Secretly, he breathed a sigh of relief. She obviously hadn't noticed the holes in his coat's lining, or the fact that the elbows were starting to wear through. The last thing he needed was her pity.
"I used to do this for Spike every once in a while. You would think that after a while, bar fights would lose that soaked in booze appeal."
He tried to shift away from her, but she was still stronger. "You don't need to bother with any of this. I'm going to heal the same, either way."
She pressed her lips into a disapproving line. "No way I'm going to let you bleed all over my furniture, so hold still."
He didn't bother pointing out that he didn't exactly bleed like a human and that his blood was thick and sluggish. Once she wiped off all the spatters and clots dotting his skin, the huge hole in his side would no longer pose a threat to her decor. What he really longed to do was beg her to stop because it brought to mind a long time ago when she had bandaged his wounds. Then she had done it because she loved him and wanted to ease his discomfort. Now it was because she didn't want him to leave a trail of blood. Knowing that hurt much more than the physical wounds.
"Were you happy?" he asked suddenly.
She pulled up short, her hands flying off his skin. He thought maybe she wouldn't answer, but instead, she shifted back on her heels, arms hanging limp at her sides and her eyes looking far away.
"Three years after the L A. disaster (He inwardly winced. Disaster was not nearly harsh enough.), there was a pounding on my door. I was in Scotland then, den mother to, in Xander's words, the girl power version of the Justice League." She sighed, gathering her thoughts. "It was Spike. It was the middle of the day and it was Spike."
“Did he every tell you how he became human? After all, it's not every day something like that happens.”
“He claimed it had to do with Mountain Dew. Typical Spike,” she said, her expression soft. Her heart was beating too fast, and her eyes were squeezed tight. She was trying hard not to cry and Angel already had all the answers he wanted. Life, however, was rarely kind to him.
"It took him a year and a half to convince me to marry him. He was good at taking care of me." A small smile touched her lips. "He was even better at driving me crazy. He was a stubborn ass, never knew when to shut up. Pottery Barn should have sent us a thank you card because we were constantly replacing dishes." Her smile had broadened, the creases around her eyes crinkling.
She shifted forward again, silently bandaging Angel's side. Her hands were no longer warm.
Once she was done, Angel thanked her and left, explaining that he was too worn out to consider drawing.
"What have you been up to all these years?" Buffy asked.
Angel had been concentrating on getting the curve of Buffy's collarbone just right. She was still sitting at the end of the couch, but in a much more relaxed pose than the first time. He had decided to concentrate on the lines of her body first before tackling her face, but her sudden question had caused his pencil to slip. He frowned at the slash that now seemed to pierce her chest before he picked his head up to answer.
She rolled her eyes, a gesture so familiar that the years fell away. He quickly dropped his gaze. "I figured that part. I meant other stuff. Like for starters, where are you living?"
“Here and there.”
“And everywhere,” she teased.
“Pretty much.” He carefully rubbed at his mistake using a kneaded eraser. “I think the longest I've stayed anyplace in the last fourteen years was two months.”
“Oh” The humor fled from her voice. “I guess that's why Spike and I couldn't find you.”
“Find me?” Angel again stopped what he was doing.
“We searched for you for a while.”
Angel was grateful that he had practice in keeping his emotions at bay; and even more appreciative of the fact that his constant moving meant that they had never discovered him. He had a depressing vision of Spike gleefully smirking at him every time Buffy's back was turned.
He tried to find something to say to this revelation when he noticed Buffy barely suppressing a yawn. Saved by fatigue, he thought. “You're tired. Why don't I come back tomorrow?”
She happily accepted.
It had turned out that stopping the sketching session when he had, had accidentally worked out to his advantage. Buffy had asked him it was all right if they just started over so she could begin in a more comfortable position.
Which was why she now had her head leaning on the sofa arm, a small pillow propped underneath, her hair loose about her shoulders. Her body was stretched out across the cushions, her legs curled up a bit. She was beautiful like this, her neck arched, her breasts full, and her curves tempting. He was doing some preliminary sketches, warm-ups really, long sweeping strokes that more invoked her current relaxed pose rather than being an actual portrait. He had just flipped to a new page when the phone rang.
Buffy bounced up off the couch and raced upstairs. Moments after saying hello, he heard the bedroom door click closed. Obviously, she was going to be a while, so Angel stood up and wandered around the living room.
There were photos scattered on every available surface. He recognized Willow, Xander, Dawn and Giles, but seeing them made him aware of just how far away the past was. Most of them he hadn't seen in close to twenty-five years. There were pictures of multiple girls that he didn't recognize – various slayers, he assumed.
The vast majority of frames, however, contained pictures of Buffy and Spike. Their wedding photo, Buffy luminous and Spike with a look of awe; posed pictures, pictures with friends, candid shots.
Spike had gone back to the dirty blonde curls he had been born with. That, in and of itself, wasn't what affected Angel so strongly. It wasn't even the obvious fact that Spike had aged in the photos Angel carefully examined. It was the way Spike's face had changed, reflecting a life fully lived, sorrows and joys both leaving a mark. Nothing ever made a lasting scar on Angel's skin, no matter that he wished otherwise.
Twenty-five years was nothing to someone like him. It was more than a quarter of a lifespan of humans. In that moment, Angel was reminded just how removed from the world he was. Buffy suddenly laughed, her voice a balm that he wasn't allowed to indulge in. He spun on his heel and headed out the door.
Over the past years, Angel had discovered that no matter where you where, things lurked in the shadows. It had turned out to be no less true in this area. As a result, he had spent the last two nights hunting and had dispatched more than his fair share of monsters
Now, it was 4 p. m. and Angel was trapped in his crummy hotel room. He was fairly sure it was clean, but that was all that could be said for it. He was suddenly too restless to sleep and had run out of reading material. At least he had come to a decision. As soon as the sun set, he was leaving.
It wouldn't take him long to pack, he was down to three shirts and one spare pair of pants. Most of his weapons were already packed, his broadsword and battle axe just needed to be loaded into the car. He regretted that his charcoals were still at Buffy's. It would be quite a while before he could afford to purchase more.
The phone rang and fear coiled and sprang, a cobra striking. He had only one thing left to lose now.
"Connor? Is everything OK?"
"Buffy?" His relief was immediate but short-lived. "How did you get this number?" Never mind that Connor hadn't had the number either. Panic was always lying just under his skin.
"Willow. Locator spell. When you didn't show up yesterday or the day before, I got a little nervous. I know it's not like you're not 'now you see him, now you don't' guy but you used to only disappear for a day or two." Buffy's tone was light but Angel could hear the thin edge of accusation underneath. "But you're coming tonight, right, to finish?"
He told himself it wasn't guilt that made him acquiesce.
"So, the couch again?"
"I looked through your pad yesterday."
Angel knew that tone. Not apologetic. Predatory, more than anything else. He mentally flipped through his sketches. Aside from the failed drawings of her, they consisted of landscapes and still lifes. Connor refused to sit still for a portrait during the two or three times yearly they got together. He had long ago stopped drawing his L.A. family; it just hurt too much. Obviously Buffy had seen something that bothered her, but he honestly couldn't guess what.
"We need to talk." She was on the couch, elbows on her knees, head cradled by her small, strong hands. Her eyes were fixed on his. "Do you remember before we started dating?" She was staring at him, her face impassive. "Of course you do," she murmured.
"I didn't even think you liked me. It didn't occur to me that 'demon on the rampage in Sunnyrest' was the Angel version of flirting." She shifted suddenly, swinging her legs up onto to the couch so that they stretched out sideways, her head leaning against the arm. Her eyes, though, belied her casual pose.
"I loved Spike. I still love him."
"Buffy, please." His eyes slammed shut, as if not seeing meant not hearing as well.
"For almost twenty-two years, you disappeared. That's half my life, Angel." Her voice had become a harsh rasp. "Spike knew me. There are pieces of me that belong to him that no one else will ever have. But..." Her voice unexpectedly softened.
"There are parts of me he never know because I gave those away to someone else a long time ago."
Angel opened his eyes. He wasn't sure what she was getting at.
"Most of me though doesn't belong to anyone.” She picked up the drawing pad and opened it to one of the pages containing the pencil sketches he had done of her. “These are pretty crappy. This could be Megan Fox, instead of me. OK, bustier and you probably don't even know who she is, but you get my point.”
Angel bristled briefly at having his work criticized, but immediately deflated at the truth of her words. “I'm out of practice.”
“It's not practice, Angel. You know why you can't draw me? Because you don't know all of those new pieces of me."
She leaned forward then, her eyes a blue green sea of possibility. Angel could drown in those eyes.
"So the question is, what do you want, Angel?"
He still wanted all those things that he couldn't have. That he would never have. But maybe there were things he could have, if he was brave enough.
"I want to draw you," he stated with conviction.
Buffy smiled, and it was like the sun.
Feed a2zmom Visit a2zmom
Rating: NC 17
Summary: Drawing her was the only way he could hold onto her.
Notes: thanks to my absolutely fabulous betas - married-n-mich, yhlee and fauxmaven.
and a huge thank you and smooch to Chrislee for running my favorite ficathon and keeping the love alive.