The air would have been considered stale if not for the scent of leather and polish lingering about the room. The lighting was adequate, if a little dim, and the curtains were drawn, adding to the hushed atmosphere that one would find in a library. The room did house books, the shelves groaning with the strain of so many, and the desk held a few hostage in their haphazard pile. Obscure titles adorned spines that were well-worn and a little scruffy, but the woman facing the desk wasn’t interested in deciphering the text. She was nervous. The expensive perfume she had dabbed on her skin that morning did not disguise the heady aroma of fear that was flowing through Angel’s senses. Well-manicured fingers fought each other, twisting about on her silk-covered lap. Her heart beat staccato in her breast, its rhythm alluring and disconcerting to him. He had to focus. He did so by studying her face.
Elena Morrison’s beauty was marred by her lazy left eye. Not too lazy that it wandered off its orbit, mind, just enough that it gave her a slightly cross-eyed look. Still, she was attractive and wouldn’t be short of male company whenever she chose. Her skin was flawless, and Angel’s gaze lingered on her neck, ignoring the ample silk-covered bosom that filled out her dress.
Angel shifted his eyes, embarrassed, to peruse the notes he had written down.
“Let me get this straight. You think there is a vampire living in your neighbourhood.”
Miss Morrison’s dark locks bounced prettily when she nodded her head.
“And this is because…”
She wet her lips with her tongue.
“Because she’s always got blood on her clothes and sometimes it’s in her hair.”
“Are you sure it’s blood?”
That earned him a snort. “I know blood when I see it. Besides, she’s always out at night. I never see her about during the day.”
“I go out a lot. I’m popular. I have a boyfriend. We like to socialise.”
Miss Morrison’s nerves appeared to settle the more she spoke about herself. Her hands unclenched and she smoothed the material of her dress. Angel understood. Talking about vampires tended to make people nervous.
“And during the day?”
“She’s never about.”
“You say your boyfriend spoke to her.”
Elena’s smile was all teeth. “He did. He said hello and she replied the same. “
Angel’s brows lifted with incredulity. “The vampire didn’t attack your boyfriend?”
“No. Just hello and she was gone.”
That in itself was odd, a vampire who allowed a human to pass by, and with a hello, no less. Still, Miss Morrison had mentioned bloody clothing. That was worth investigating.
“Your boyfriend, Lincoln, got a good look at the vampire?”
“He said she was a bit of a hottie. A brunette by all accounts.”
“And this was where?”
“Around the corner from my building.”
Angel found the address he had scribbled at the top of the page. It was all the way across town and it wasn’t the best of neighbourhoods. It puzzled him a little but he kept his thoughts off his face. Miss Morrison’s appearance had indicated a wealthier locale. He was reminded of another question he had intended to ask.
“How did you find me?”
The woman licked her lips again. Angel wondered if it was a nervous habit.
Her eyes couldn’t quite meet his. “Word gets around.”
He wondered if she knew he was a vampire. He didn’t offer her his hand when he stood up.
“Thank you, Miss Morrison. I’ll look into it right away.”
Elena got to her feet and released her coat from the clutches of Angel’s coat stand. Angel quickly rounded his desk and helped her into it. It was Russian sable and expensive.
She said, “Good luck,” and on her four inch heels, walked out the door.
Her boyfriend was in the car waiting for her. When she got in, he said, “Did he believe you?”
“Why shouldn’t he?” she answered with a tremulous smile. She didn’t want him to know how much the meeting had shaken her. It wasn’t everyday that she sat in the same room with a creature that could kill her in a heartbeat.
Danny Brightwell kissed her on the cheek before starting the car.
“That’s my girl.”
Angel opened the curtains. It was the middle of the day but he wasn’t worried. The parted curtains revealed a set of double doors. It had been a previous tenant’s fancy and Angel hadn’t cared enough to remove them. The doors opened to his rooms beyond and he stepped through, leaving the office behind. It wasn’t really an office: to him it was a place to read. People came to his door of their own accord and he dealt with them there, he didn’t advertise. His dwelling was beneath ground, a basement tenement nestled below the street, access given by a flight of narrow steps from the pavement.
Warming up his mug of blood, Angel retired to the one armchair he had in his inner sanctum. There he sat, his vision focused toward the recent past. Angel and Illyria had been the only two to make it out alive the night the Senior Partners unleashed their fury upon them. The demon God-King had courted death that night. It was tired of the world and no longer wanted to haunt it in the shell that had once been Winifred Burkle. Its wish had not been granted, and neither had Angel’s. He, also, had been prepared for the end of his existence. What Angel found, instead, was the horror of survival. He found himself adrift, cast off from humanity, with no way back as far as he could see.
Illyria managed a spell that opened a doorway to another dimension. Staring at him with its strange jewel-like eyes, it had said, “There is no place for two kings in a kingdom,” and had stepped through. It had been two days after the fight in the alley. He hadn’t seen the God-King since.
Angel stayed in Los Angeles chasing after the remains of the demon army, until the day an army of slayers muscled in. Angel moved on, then. Slayers wouldn’t stop to consider the difference a soul makes. Besides, he was sick at heart at the devastation and loss of life his actions had cost the city. He was supposed to save lives, not end them. He stole a car, the first of many, making his way across the country. He spent a week here, a few months there in strange towns, cleaning up the demon population as he did so.
And here he was in Philadelphia, on the other side of America, keeping a low profile and killing demons. And if he helped a few people along the way, he did that too. Distance became his habit. Distance is what kept people safe from him. Closeness is what killed them, and he crumbled a little each night when he recalled how close he and his friends had been.
His meal finished, Angel washed up and returned to his den. Opening up his laptop computer, one that he had stolen in another town, Angel went to work looking into the background of a family he had reason to believe were tied into criminal activity, some of which Angel was sure was demon related. The family was wealthy, and with wealth came glamour and fame. His encyclopaedia was the society page and in the business section of local newspapers. He came across something unexpected.
Evening fell quickly as it did this time of year. It was November, the temperature was dropping, reminding everything and everyone that winter was well on its way. The city raced past his window, flickering images of Georgian and Victorian architecture catching his eye among the new. He pulled up a couple of streets away from the address he had been given and walked the distance, scouting out the area on his way. The wind was chill, people dressed in overcoats, scarves and hats, scurried around him as they came and went about their business. Angel’s footsteps were silent as he slipped up and down the streets in search of anything unusual. He crossed over Fitzwater Street on 9th Street, where Sarcone’s Deli, still open for business, sat on the corner. He meandered past the bakery – it carried the same name as the delicatessen - beauty shops, and a restaurant named after Ralph, whoever that may have been, and several restaurants of Italian origin. South Philly, as the area was called, was home to a lot of Italian, Irish, and African Americans, as well as Poles, and migrants from Asia. Latin Americans were also making their presence felt. But mainly it was the Italians who dominated the area, some neighbourhoods bearing the name Little Italy. Angel knew that if he ventured over to Pennsport he would encounter people who claimed ancestry from Ireland. He had visited the area more than once on business, but one evening he had taken the time to take in the Mummer Museum. 2nd Street was home to many a Mummer club with the museum as the Mummers’ crowning glory.
Mummers were actors that entertained in one’s home, usually in small troupes. At least that was how Angel remembered them. The modern day Mummers participated in the New Year’s Parade in Philadelphia, showing off their brilliance and entertaining with music on a grander scale than Angel had ever seen. Although comedic, the plays usually carried an underlying theme of duality and resurrection. A slain character being given a magical potion that restores him to life, by a doctor, of course, is central to the plot. Angel was drawn to the theme, he couldn’t help himself. And what he saw was nothing like the Mummer plays he had seen back in the day. Angel just couldn’t find anything funny about their depiction of the battle between good and evil, no matter how tenuous the implication was.
He walked past the now silent Italian Market, closed for the evening but he knew would be bustling come morning. Above many of the stores were apartments, some owned by the businesses below and lived in by their families. Angel passed by Miss Morrison’s address, the building was brick and in keeping with the rest of the street. It was shabby.
A shadow made itself known to him as it darted down the street. Angel hurried after, keeping pace at a supernatural rate. The chase led him away from 9th Street until it ended in a quiet lane, bracketed at one end with buildings that at first glance looked empty and abandoned. Either the vampire was stupid, leaving the door it had entered slightly ajar, or it was a trap, set to close when Angel stepped through. Not wanting to disappoint, Angel crossed the threshold. A small reception area greeted him, its desk sad and lonely and thick with dust. He stood still, listening for movement. The only sound he heard was the scratching of small creatures that ran behind walls and beneath floors. Branching off from either side of reception were a couple of doors and a hall that ran between. He walked the hall, striding past rows of cubicles. The building was like a rabbit warren, segmented, with places crammed in.
A flight of stairs beckoned, rising from a space not unlike a foyer, yet sat in what appeared to be the back of the building. Angel climbed the stairs, pulling his head in when, suddenly, something flew at him from out of the gloom. Recoiling with the impact of a body landing across his back and shoulders, Angel straightened and, with a shrug and help from his hands, the body flew backward and tumbled down the stairs. Angel rushed up the last few steps, meeting a second vampire attack at the top. Using his left arm and blocking the fist that was aimed at his head, the stake in his right found the vampire’s heart with ease. The sound of a scuffle coming from the floor above distracted him for a moment and he was knocked off his feet. Angel rolled away from the boot that was aimed at his head. He lashed out with his leg. A foot slammed into his ribs. Ignoring the pain, Angel got a hold of the foot and twisted. The foot went away. Angel scissored his legs and came upright. Two vampires crowded him. They were male. There hadn’t been any sign of the female vampire Elena Morrison had mentioned, but the night was young. The vampires charged. Angel sidestepped. Ash drifted to the floor. The vamp closest to him had run into Angel’s stake. Its companion tackled him and they both fell to the floor. They pounded each other, grappling and tumbling along the hall. Angel managed to get his feet under him and he launched himself and the vampire into the air. They hit the ceiling, and plaster, board, and paint crumbled about them as they landed back down. The vampire growled at him and attempted to rip a chunk of flesh from his neck.
“No you don’t!” Angel snapped, before cracking his knuckles against its jagged teeth.
The vampire spat blood. Its splatter hit Angel in the eyes. Angel made a face. At the end of his patience, he butted the demon in the head, breaking the hold the vampire had on him and he dusted it as it stumbled back. Wiping at his eyes with his sleeve, Angel decided to investigate the floor he was on. He didn’t want to be ambushed by any vampires coming up from behind him when he headed for the level above. He was ambushed anyway. Peering into a room, he was set upon by three of his kind. Angel was skewered by a piece of wood, a chair leg, he noted, when he pulled it free from his shoulder. He returned it to its owner, only this time the wood pierced the heart of the unlucky vampire. A blade glinted as it was swung toward his neck. Angel ducked away, avoiding the killing blow. Metal circled his arm as he lashed out at the closest figure.
“What are you? Vampire ninjas?” he asked, jerking his arm, bringing his opponent close.
Angel swung the unfortunate demon into the arc of the other’s blade. Lunging through the falling ash, Angel tackled the last vampire. Tumbling to the ground, they flailed around, Angel attempting to knock the sword from the other vampire’s hand. He succeeded by slamming the other’s hand through the wall. The sword rattled away. Straddling the vampire, Angel reached for it, ignoring the punishment the vampire was inflicting with its fists. Bringing the blade across the vampire’s neck, its hands scrabbling, desperate to hold the sword off its flesh, Angel leaned in and cut through to the floor. The vampire disintegrated beneath him, its mouth open in a silent scream.
A loud thump had him looking to the ceiling. Angel clambered to his feet and, sword in hand, made his way back to the stairs and tread lightly up the steps. The landing was empty. Angel crept along the hall, following the sounds. Beside him, Angel felt the wall shake. Something big had been thrown against it. The sounds of a brawl drew him on. Angel could see four or five forms thrashing about when he glanced through the doorway of a room on his left. Suddenly, he was shoved forward. He crashed through the melee and into a small figure. His arm came up and deflected the stake aimed for his heart. It sliced into his flesh, raking a long furrow across his chest as he pushed it aside. Angel swung his sword at the figure trying to kill him. Without checking his swing, he deflected it instead, having recognized the face before him, and took the head off the vampire beside her.
“Buffy?” he asked, his jaw slack with amazement. An arm about his throat wrestled him away.
“Angel?” the dark-headed woman gasped, before she, too, was back in the fray.
Angel brought his elbow up and jabbed it in his attacker’s face. He hit him twice before the creature let him go. Furious now to end the matter, Angel swung about with his sword, taking the head of a vampire with his upswing, and its buddy lost its head with the following downward stroke. Buffy spun and pivoted, her stake driving into dead flesh, and out through falling dust. The air filled with ashes and silence. They stood, staring at one another. Then Buffy coughed.
“God. I hate breathing in vampire dust,” she complained when she had finished hacking up her lungs.
Angel couldn’t believe his eyes. It was Buffy. Where had she come from? Why hadn’t he sensed that she was here? Had he closed himself off that much? And why was her hair that colour?
He said, “Why is your hair that colour?”
Buffy grinned at the silly expression on her ex-boyfriend’s face. She had been stunned to find Angel here, and it was obvious he was just as astonished to see her, and yet the first thing to come out of his mouth was to ask about her hair.
She tossed her head. “You like?”
Buffy frowned. Men weren’t supposed to be that honest when it came to a girl’s hair.
She forgave him a moment later when he said,
“I nearly killed you.”
Buffy was rewarded with his lopsided grin.
“Not the first time,” he said.
She reached out a hand to touch the wound her stake had inflicted. Her fingers stopped a hair’s breadth away. She noticed her fingers were shaking. She clenched them, withdrawing her hand.
“What are you doing here?” they asked in unison, and smiled sheepishly at each other.
Angel indicated the floor, and they sat, ignoring the grime, already filthy from the fight.
“There’s been a lot of vampire activity in the area. I’d been patrolling and I followed a vamp here, but I’d never encountered this many before.”
“It was a trap.”
Buffy’s eyebrows rose an inch. “I gathered that.”
“I was sent here, looking for a vampire. A brunette. You.”
“Slayer here!” Buffy said, indignant, jabbing at her chest with her thumb.
“I think they knew that. Maybe they thought we would kill each other and they sent along a few playmates to finish the job if we didn’t.”
“Boy, they got that wrong!”
Angel smiled at her and Buffy’s heart sped up a notch. He had that effect on her. His smile faltered and his look turned serious.
“What are you doing here, Buffy?”
She glanced down at her feet. Angel’s legs were inches away from her. His hands were close…she could reach out… When Buffy looked up again, Angel could see a sadness lurking behind her eyes. For all her bravado, Buffy was unhappy.
“It’s what I do, what we do. The slayers, I mean. Philadelphia is just another city in a long list of cities.”
“What do you mean, Buffy?”
Buffy stared at him, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.
“I’m done baking,” she whispered, “and I had no one I wanted to share me with. I thought…I wondered, and I hoped that one day I would see you again.”
Angel opened his mouth, but Buffy’s hand came up to forestall what he was going to say.
“I thought you might have died in L.A., but we heard reports of some mysterious guy,” she attempted a grin at her reference to her long ago description of him but failed miserably, “who after polishing off a fair number of demons that were bent on decimating the city, disappeared. It had to be you. I needed it to be you.”
“Do you know how big America is?” she asked, her tears tunnelling track marks down her dusty cheeks. “I had given up, Angel, after searching for you these last few years. I changed my look, I coloured my hair. I go by Elizabeth now. I didn’t want to be Buffy anymore. I didn’t want to be the slayer who loved a vampire and lost him to fate and destiny. I thought I could begin again. Start somewhere fresh, where nobody knew the Buffy and Angel saga.”
And his thumb was on her cheek, brushing away the tears. Buffy choked up a sob, and suddenly she was in his arms. And she cried, releasing all the tears and heartache the last few years had built up. When she was done, he didn’t let her go. Instead, he let her nestle against him. It was a solid, familiar place, his silent chest home for Buffy. She snuggled in with a happy sigh.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were looking for me. I wanted to be as far away from L.A. as possible,” he said.
“We found Wesley and Gunn,” she murmured, needing not to add that his friends had been located in the morgue. “What happened to Fred and…” dare she ask? She did. “Spike?”
She was surprised that Angel’s body did not tense at the mention of his grandchilde’s name.
His voice was soft, sad, when he answered her. “They’re all gone.”
“I’m sorry, Angel. If I could turn back the clock…”
“Don’t. It’s done. It had to be done.”
Buffy didn’t think Angel sounded as if he was too sure about it.
They sat there, silent, one heartbeat between them.
“Did you know there’s a large population of Irishmen in this city? I looked for you among the faces,” she said, changing the subject.
“Did you?” he murmured, and she felt his lips brush her hair.
“I even went to one of those Mummer evenings at the museum because it seemed like something you do when in Philadelphia.”
She felt his body tremble. No, it was shaking with laughter.
“What?” she asked, turning to face him.
“I went to a show.”
Her eyes went huge. “When? What if?” They compared dates. They had missed by days. Suddenly, Angel was kissing her. She was breathless when he released her.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“If you still want me,” he said.
Her answer was to kiss him back. When she could breathe again, she asked, “What do we do now?”
His eyes said one thing, and Buffy shivered at the promise there, but his mouth said another.
“Elena Morrison, the woman who came to me about a vampire hunting the neighbourhood, just happens to be the girlfriend of one Danny Brightwell. It was they who set the trap.”
“Because you have been investigating something they didn’t want investigated?”
“Yeah. I’ve shut down a few demon-run operations lately, and I think the family are behind them. They’re bad news.”
“And they’re squeaky clean as far as the cops go,” Buffy said.
“They wouldn’t happen to be demons, would they?” Buffy had that anticipatory gleam in her eye. One that said she would welcome a good battle, especially since they had been the targets of the Brightwell family.
He offered, “We could go and find out…if you’re game, that is.”
Buffy hit him, hard. Her fist bounced off his chest. Immediately, she was sorry. She had forgotten his wounds, and she opened her mouth to apologise, when he rubbed at it, a wicked grin on his lips.
“Can you keep up, old man?” She grinned back at him, before getting to her feet. “Watch me.”
Halfway down the stairs he said, “About your hair. You know I prefer blon…”
Buffy’s laughter followed him as he fell the rest of the way down, her shove not being at all gentle.
Feed Ares Visit Ares
Author's Notes: Rating: PG13 for violence Summary: Some say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What about the bad? Can evil intentions bring about some good? Author’s notes. This is for Jo. Where would I be without you? Thank you, you’re a gem. I apologise for any inaccuracies in my depiction of Philadelphia. All facts were gleaned from Google. http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/bigmap/outoftown/pennsylvania/philadelphia/south/9thst/index.htm Philadelphia Pennsport Information on Mummers and their origins and plays.