Photograph

Photograph

By Jo
Author's Notes

Doyle: (a photograph falls out of a book) Wow. (whistles) She is something. This an old squeeze of yours? Angel with a deep breath: Yeah. (The Bachelor Party)

It was always about Buffy. Of course it had always been about her, ever since he’d first seen her. No, that was a lie. It had been about her since long before then. It’s as though he’s been waiting for her, with everyone else just a rehearsal, to prepare him for her.

He clasps the photograph in his hand, as though the thin card might hold some of the warmth and vitality of the sitter, might let him feel that vitality once more on his parched skin. After all these months, he’s parched from the lack of her.

His fingers trace the outline of her, on this stolen photograph. She doesn’t know that he has it. That’s something he’s very good at, taking things that don’t belong to him. She’s one of those things. He had no business making her his, and the price of his mistake has been terrible.

The camera has captured her so perfectly that it seems he should be able to touch the softness of her skin, smooth back her hair. Speak to her. Kiss her.

No. He can’t think like that.

He puts the photograph back onto the page of the book on his knee. Nicholas Nickleby. It’s the page that talks about laying down one’s life for a friend. He’s hesitated over that page for many minutes now. He doesn’t want to lay down his life at all, not knowing as he does what’s in store for him after death. But, the path he’s chosen might demand that he lays down his life any day of the week, and for a stranger. He’ll do it, but if he has to, he’d rather lay it down for her. He’d do that in a heartbeat... Except... except, if he had a heartbeat, he thinks he’d be more reluctant to throw his life away. If he had a heartbeat, he’d have a chance with her.

He’s becoming maudlin, and yet he can’t seem to move beyond that page of the book. Buffy and laying down one’s life. They go together too well for comfort.

He traces the long edge of the page with his forefinger, wanting to trace the lines of the photograph again, but knowing that it’s only paper. Looking at her face makes him think of other women from his past, women who have, more or less, made him what he is.

Anne.

Anna was the most common form of the name when he was a boy, but this girl was called Anne. She wouldn’t have accepted association with anything common, and so she’d been Anne. She’d been small, blonde and beautiful. And she’d been his first love. His first obsession.

He has a photographic memory. He can remember every detail of her, even after all these years. In appearance, Buffy and Anne could have been cast from sister moulds. Still, her face was a shade more perfect than the one that looks back at him from the pages of Nicholas Nickleby, her nose a little straighter. And there are other differences.

Anne had not grown up in Galway. She’d come from Dublin. Her parents had died of the pox, or a plague, or the great famine of two years ago, he’d never quite known, and so she’d come to live with her closest living kin, in Galway.

She’d been... well, again, he wasn’t entirely sure, but he guessed she was nineteen or so. He’d been fifteen, rising sixteen. He hadn’t finished filling out yet, and he’d been as gawky as a colt, but perhaps he’d been more promising than the other boys. In those days, there hadn’t been so many to choose from.

And he’d still been a virgin. He knew a couple of the boys whose fathers, in that more lusty age, had bought a clean whore to initiate their sons into the pleasures of manhood, but not his father. Not his straitlaced father, with his god-fearing ways and his tight purse. And Liam had had some romantic notions, at that age, about true love. And so he’d held his father cheap, but not minded too much. Later, of course, he’d found whores enough among any of the village girls.

Anne. She had hair that shone like the moon at harvest time, a paler colour than Buffy’s would ever be, and eyes of cornflower blue. He supposes now that she might owe those features to the Dublin Vikings of almost a thousand years before. Her morals, though, she must have found in an alley, although he couldn’t see it at the time, and her aunt and uncle had called her an angel.

He’d followed after her, a mooncalf, for months before she’d deigned to look at him. Oh, he hadn’t stalked her. He wasn’t a stalker, not then. But whenever he’d been in sight of her, he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. His own friends had nudged each other and smirked. Her friends had giggled, and cast backward glances at him as they walked away.

And then one shining summer’s day, she and her friends were sitting in a meadow, picking daisies and making daisy chains, which they would laughingly lay on each other’s hair, or hang around their necks. After a while, Anne lay on the grass, reading, while the others gossiped, or chased each other over the flowery mead. Angel... Liam... had yearned to walk over to the group and sit with her head in his lap, perhaps reading to her from whatever book she was immersed in. The ache was physical, his first true stirrings of lust.

When it was time for the girls to leave, Anne shook out her skirts and pushed the slim little book into her reticule. As she walked away, Liam saw something fall to the ground, unnoticed. The girls ambled down the path, arm in arm, whispering smiling secrets, and Anne at last favoured him with a gentle look. Hurriedly, he stood up from where he’d been sitting, and made her as graceful a bow as he could. Only when she had gone from sight did he run up the meadow to see what she had dropped.

It was her book. He looked at what she’d been reading, shocked and excited in equal measure. It was poems from the debauched era of the Restoration. His father wouldn’t have allowed such a book near his own daughter. Seeing the bookplate in front, he wasn’t surprised to see that it was from her uncle’s library, because he was sure she hadn’t bought it herself. He was equally sure that her uncle didn’t know she had it.

She’d put an embroidered bookmark into the page she’d been reading. It was a verse by William Congreve.

Would I were free from this restraint, Or else had hopes to win her; Would she could make of me a saint, Or I of her a sinner.

He felt the pulsation of lust at the thought of making her a sinner. Biting his lip, he fought for control. Then, he ran after the girls, catching them just as they started up the carriage drive to Anne’s home. Shyly, he handed her the book.

“You dropped this.” He was tongue-tied, awkward, but she took the book with a word of thanks. He watched her walk away, and she turned to give him a small wave before turning her attention back to her friends. Then, she stopped, said something to the others, and ran back down the drive towards him, her skirts caught up in one hand.

“You know the old cottier’s house down by Aileen’s Wood?” He nodded, dumbly. “Tomorrow,” she said. “Three o’clock.”

And that was where he met her. Perhaps she’d sent her maid down to prepare the place. However that might be, it was clean and swept out, free of spiders and mice, with a rag rug on the floor. And it was there that she allowed him to stroke her hair, to whisper to her of his ardour, stumbling over his words as his need roared through his blood, singing in his ears, clouding his mind.

At last, she allowed him to kiss her, and it was a taste of heaven, her mouth sweet, and scented of violets.

He saw her as often as he could after that, although it wasn’t often enough for him. They would give each other common bows in passing, and no more, when they met in the street, and in church. A village is a small place, though. Word spread that some sort of courtship was in the offing. His friends made game of him, and her friends giggled and pointed and put their heads together for whispered conversations.

His mother pursed her lips and softly warned him of the fickleness of gently-bred women. Surprisingly, his father said nothing, tolerating the supposed relationship with an indulgence the like of which Liam would not have thought the man capable. No doubt he thought the girl a good catch for his son, better than might have been expected. She was rumoured to have an inheritance that would command the elegancies of life, if not the luxuries. And so Liam’s father held his peace.

Liam met Anne about once a week, in the abandoned cottier’s house. He brought small gifts for her: posies, candied fruit, and once a piece of silk stolen from his father, for a new reticule for her. Innocent kisses gave way to fumbled caresses, the touch of her skin inflaming the heat of his passion.

It happened after a very few of those stolen meetings. She lay next to him, his lips delivering kisses to her throat, her cheeks, her lips, his hand delving into the bosom of her gown, the soft and yielding flesh in such sweetly painful contrast to his own unbearably hard and swollen self. Then, she took hold of his other hand, the hand that was stroking her hip, and pressed his fingers in between her legs.

Even through the silk of her gown and the layers of her linen shifts, he could feel her heat. Too urgent to consider, led entirely by his lust, he rolled her onto her back, pulling frantically at her skirts, tugging them up to her waist, fumbling with the layers of underdresses, while she tugged at the front of his breeches. The pressure of her hand almost caused him to spend himself there and then.

At last they were both free of their restraints, and he pressed forward into her, more easily than he had expected. As easily as his friends had said they had entered the hired whores. He only remembered that later. As he slid into her, all he could think of was the warm, moist treasure that he’d uncovered, the soft moans of pleasure from her that stoked the fires of his libido, her nails clawing at him through his shirt, and then, all too soon, the agonising ecstasy of his first orgasm.

Later, he lay watching her straighten her dress. His own breeches were still undone, and he was bare-chested. She’d used his shirt to clean herself up. He smiled up at her, the object of his adoration. He couldn’t wait to see her again. Tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough.

He’d knew he’d come too quickly, not yet having the abilities he would learn later; and she’d pushed him down her body, to finish her off with his mouth. That had been strange, tasting her and himself together, as she convulsed against him. Strange and wonderful.

“I’ll be sure to last longer for you, love, next time. It was good, though, wasn’t it?”

She didn’t answer. She simply shrugged as she refastened the blue ribbon around her stocking, just above her knee.

“Will I be seeing you tomorrow?” he asked her, rolling lazily onto his side, resting his head on his hand. His voice was smooth, cajoling. He’d learned more confidence, in these last weeks.

She turned to face him. “It was sweet, Liam. First time, was it? One day, to be sure, you’ll be good enough to satisfy a girl. But, you know, I think I’d have done better with the farm boy from over the hill. Perhaps I’ll try him next time. Come back when you’ve had a bit of experience, when you can hold it longer and please a girl better.”

And then she walked away from him, into the daylight.

He can see her now, the expression on her face as she delivered her damning verdict. He looks again at Buffy’s face between the pages. The resemblance is no more than superficial. The warmth in Buffy’s smile, the glow in her eyes, the courage and humanity written through every lineament, these are all things that were alien to Anne.

He remembers the cold mockery of her smile, the hauteur in her eyes, as she heaped humiliation on him. He’d done the same thing to Buffy, and he knew exactly how much it would hurt her, and how long the effect would last, because he’d felt exactly that sort of hurt. Experience shows you how best to twist the knife.

His next conquest had been kinder, but no matter how much he was attracted, he’d rarely targeted blondes, and if he had, they’d been big-boned, strong girls, not petite girls like Anne. He’d put aside his youthful notions of romance, and learned to take his pleasure as it came, with little thought for the future, and no real care for his conquests. The memory of Anne’s treatment of his virginal inexperience had coloured his behaviour for years, until another woman had changed him forever. Angelus had remembered it, too, and paid it back with interest. Ten years later, Anne, followed by her husband, and her pack of brats, had been the first to fall to him after he’d left the graveyard, determined on taking the village.

“Can I make it last long enough now, sweeting?” he’d asked her, as he prolonged the pain of her death. She had only been able to scream as he entered her again, and again, eased by the slickness of her blood.

Angel looks across at a cupboard, where he keeps his supply of Scotch. He’d like a glass or two to blunt the memories just a little. He hasn’t earned that relief, though. Not yet. He has more to remember, like exploring a rotten tooth, or poking at an abscess. There’s more pus to exhume, yet.

He runs his finger down the paper cheek, wishing it were her soft, smooth skin. Her warm skin. Unlike the second woman who looked so much like the girl in this photograph. Another woman who was a fatal obsession with him, just as this girl is. The only difference is that, with Buffy, the fatality came after the obsession. This other one was fatal before she became an obsession.

Darla. His second obsession.

He realises that he never knew how old Darla was when she was turned, but he doubts she was past twenty-five. She was a working whore, and working whores didn’t live long, nor keep their looks long, in those days, a century before he was created.

And there goes that photographic memory again. He can see her now, standing in profile, and then half turning to look down the alley at him. He thought at the time that she was looking to make sure he was following, and he’d been right. He’d developed an instinct with women. He could read the body language. He’d known she was a stranger in town, and her elaborate coiffure and the costly silk gown told him that she was a gentlewoman. Still, with that tacit invitation, he’d taken her for a whore, albeit a highly stationed one.

Something in him had seen her and perhaps yearned for the innocence of his love for Anne, but experience had overridden hope. She’d stood in that alley, with a come hither look in her eyes, and he didn’t know what she was, and so he’d taken her for an expensive, gently-bred whore, even as he hoped that she wasn’t.

He’d expected to get laid, at the very least. He’d hoped that he might find some place in her household, especially if she wasn’t married. Angel’s lips twist into a grimace as he remembers Liam’s drunken thinking. He’d been a parasite, even then.

Liar!

Angelus lied with the truth. Angel simply doesn’t tell all of the truth. Angel doesn’t lie. Except to himself. He lies to himself all the time.

Some part of him had thought all those things. But part of him had seen his youthful, romantic idyll reborn, in this lady who might be all that Anne hadn’t been. A second chance at the dream. And the hope that this one, at least, wouldn’t turn to ashes in the morning.

He’d got a hell of a lot more than he’d bargained for.

Her definition of foreplay, of course, had been fangs in the throat, and an early grave. Waiting in his coffin, aware of the heartbeats above him, and the rush of blood through their living veins, he’d been consumed by the greatest hunger he’d ever experienced, and he’d wondered whether this was the Hell that his father had promised him. Would he have to spend an eternity in this cold dark place, just listening and hungering? He’d been afraid, lying there, and then he’d fought his way out, just as he had fought his way out of the womb, and out of his father’s house.

He’d hurt, when he pulled himself out of the earth, gasping in air that couldn’t fill his lungs in the age-old reflex to mitigate pain. That all-consuming hunger had been sated by the blood of the sexton. He’d thought he might have needed more, but Darla had told him that a vampire’s first meal would always be a small one, his stomach not yet accustomed to its new diet.

When he’d fed, she’d taken him to the shelter she’d found for the day. It was the cottier’s house in Aileen’s Wood. By the next dawn, they would sleep – or, at least, they would lie together – in Anne’s bed, replete on her blood. But for today, it was this familiar abandoned house.

With Anne, he’d lain here on a rug that she had provided. With Darla, there was a man’s heavy riding cloak. A scattering of coins, a very fine silver pocket watch with an enamelled face, and a white clay pipe filled with tobacco lay carelessly strewn on the floor nearby. A portmanteau stood by the wall, gaping open to reveal a glimpse of white linen. A deep blue velvet lady’s riding habit had been dropped next to it, and a matching hat with a curling white ostrich feather.

“They won’t be needing those anymore,” Darla told him, as she rubbed up against him, a cat in heat. “And I was careful with the blood. I kept the horses, but if you really want to stay here for a while, I expect we won’t need them yet.”

“You think of everything,” he murmured, as he nuzzled at her neck with his lips.

She pulled away from him, but only a little. “Not there, dear boy, not yet. You’ll learn...” He stopped her speech by the simple expedient of kissing her, as his hand came up to caress the soft flesh pressing over the neckline of her low-cut pink gown. He remembered the wound she’d made there, to give this new life to him, but there was no trace of that, no scar, just clear, smooth flesh, asking to be kissed.

He was much more assured now, in his approaches to women. The coolness of her flesh was different, intriguing, strange, but the warmth of her response was unmistakeable. With deft fingers, he set about the complicated task of undressing her, unhurried despite the burgeoning need at his crotch. Darla, with a welcome cruelty that she would always show, undid the fastenings of his breeches, and set to work with an experience born of nearly two hundred years of whoredom. He almost spilled himself into her hand.

Once more, the breath was rasping uselessly in his chest by the time he had her naked on the floor. He’d learned a lot in the last decade though, and pressed forward confidently into her.

What he hadn’t yet learned was just how much more sensitive this rebirth had made his body, and that sensitivity was growing by the minute as the demon matured. Her skin seemed to sparkle against his fingers, and the feel of her, as he slid into her, a cold fire searing over him, bringing him gasping to a halt, his nails digging into his palms, his eyes squeezed shut as he thought of anything but the tightening of his balls and the starfire playing over the velvet flesh that was buried deep inside her.

“Look at me,” she instructed. If he obeyed, he was sure that the sight of her would finish him, and so he kept his eyes closed.

“Look at me!” There was an edge to her voice now, as sharp as the fangs that had taken his humanity.

He opened his eyes to see golden eyes, bony ridges and glistening ivory. Yesterday, sight of that face would have withered the most ardent desire he might have felt for this woman. Today, though, it struck straight at his libido, and the fire in his groin became even more urgent, more demanding.

“Yes, darling boy. Show me.”

He felt the bones in his face shift, and sharp fangs cutting into his lips as he grinned at the woman beneath him. Every nerve sang like a plucked bowstring, even more receptive than a moment before.

“That’s right, my Angelus. It’s all so much brighter, isn’t it...”

He started to move within her, hanging tightly onto his self control, concentrating on the flare of colours around her, shadowy colours, shades of darkest ruby, purples as black as the night, greens taken from the deepest heart of the sea, and colours that he had no name for because the human eye had never seen them. Then she leaned upwards, her eyes gleaming and her tongue running over her lips, as she buried her fangs into his neck.

He couldn’t help it. It was all over for him, and he’d never had an orgasm like it. He was falling into those colours, and they were exploding inside him, igniting his blood and pulling him into the furnace of the demon.

He howled in ecstatic anguish, and she pulled his head down, into the crook of her neck.

“Bite!” she ordered.

As fangs met flesh, and cold blood filled his mouth, the fire in his blood and in his groin burst free, like molten gold, and he pumped into her, harder, deeper, faster, until he was utterly spent.

It had been too soon for her, though. He knew that, as he released his hold on her neck.

“Angelus.” There was that word again, and he wondered what its significance was for her, whether it was the name of someone he should know.

Her voice was husky. “Never mind, dear boy. It’s all so much more, isn’t it?”

Oh, yes. That it was.

“A few moments, and you’ll be ready again. You’ll learn to control it, I promise you.”

The hidden threat in her voice made him shudder, but it was a promise that made his limp cock twitch inside her.

And he has learned. Darla taught him well, over all those years, until the time when he surpassed even her, in all manner of demonic things.

He pulls back from these visions of the past, and sees the photograph again. Almost, he puts down his book to fill a glass and numb the ache in his heart and in his groin, but he doesn’t.

He gazes down at the image as though he could see her colours flare, as though he could lose himself in them and forget everything that has ever been. As though he could become a new man. But that, of course, isn’t going to happen.

If he holds his palm so that it’s almost touching the picture, his skin tingles, and he thinks of the electricity that always sparked between him and Buffy. She’s his third obsession – the third of this sort of obsession, anyway. He’s had many other kinds.

He pictures their first kiss, feels it on his flesh, tastes it in his mouth. Anne tasted of sweet violets, Darla of blood spiced with cruelty. His first taste of Buffy had been pure innocence, as sweet as honey and citrus. Then, as the kiss deepened, she tasted of heaven and hell, of the world, of every human pleasure and joy.

And then the hormonal rush had hit him, and she’d tasted of love and desire and lust. It had overwhelmed him, and he’d had to pull back, nothing more than the demon. He remembers the look of contempt on her face as she saw his true self, the loathing in her voice. She’d given him a second chance, later, but it would have been so much better for them all if she’d staked him there and then.

His fist clenches as he remembers their first night together, first, only and last, not that they’d known it at the time. All they’d seen were the endless possibilities, except, those endless possibilities had never envisaged what had turned out to be the truth.

He’d wanted to wait, before making love to her, but they had so very nearly died... He’d put up no resistance at all. So weak. He’d always been so weak.

He’d felt like Liam, back on that long-dead day when he’d lost his virginity, shy and excited, filled with hope and passion, but he’d had two and a half centuries to learn how to please a woman. He’d used every second of that experience, on that night, to minimise Buffy’s pain and to maximise her pleasure.

He remembers how she’d closed around him, just as she’d closed around his heart and his life and his mind. She had colours too, but so different to Darla’s night shades. The colours that coruscated from Buffy as he made love to her were diamond bright, the sharp, clear yellow of spring, the life-giving green of summer, the blazing scarlet of autumn, and the clear high blue of winter.

And he’d fallen into those colours in an act of love that melded those two formative obsessions that had gone before.

He’d fallen into her, he’d given himself over utterly to the love that he felt for her, to the sheer humanity of that moment, and to the absolute peace and joy that had calmed the fire in his blood as he watched her sated sleep.

He could fancy that those two had gone before, to prepare him for this, for a passion that was almost alive, a passion that was surely greater than he was. From Anne, his passion had the innocence of his youthful intentions, his notions of an idyllic romance. From Darla, it had the absolute life-changing intensity of all-consuming desire.

Three obsessions. Three was a fateful number. Strange things happened in threes. His mother had used to say that third time pays for all. Even after two and a half centuries, he’d been no better than an innocent in this. He’d clung to the hope that this third time would, indeed, pay for all, and it had. With a vengeance.

What he hadn’t known was that, although he might have gained control of his seminal fluid, he had a doomed case of premature ejaculation of the soul.

Angelus. Angelus had used the worst things that he’d learned to hurt Buffy, to take the fight out of her. But Angelus had forgotten those colours in which Angel had burned away his soul. Buffy’s colours were those of adamant.

He tries to put aside the sweet torture of reliving that night. He ought to ration how often he thinks about it. A dozen times a day should suffice.

He was right to leave her. It might be the only decent sacrifice he’s ever made. He’s left her twice now. The first time, of course, wasn’t of his choosing, but it was still his fault, the fault of that premature ejaculation of the soul. And then the break that he made, leaving Sunnydale to give her the chance of a real life, with real humans, and a real human boyfriend. Not a life with a monster like him, whose soul would certainly take flight again.

He’s had two chances with her, and neither of them has come to anything good.

And there’s that number three again. Might there ever be a third chance with her? A third time that would pay for all? He daren’t hope it, and yet he can’t help it. Hope springs eternal, and he’s got more of the eternal than most.

The text on the open page catches his attention again.

He is my only friend. I would lay down my life to help him.

He would lay down his life for her, gladly, despite what must come after, but he’d rather keep his stupid, innocent romantic dream of a life where he might have something to offer her, where a miracle might allow it.

He wonders whether there’s any power under the sun that might give him that miracle, and then he tells himself that it’s impossible. There’s nothing that can help him. That’s why he’s reading this book, really. The story of Nicholas Nickleby offers a slim comfort in its message – that we can overcome tragedy by defending the poor and the suffering, that we can triumph over evil with goodness, and that we can find love and family even amid the most trying circumstances. That’s what he’s trying to do now. That’s what he needs.

But, oh, he wishes he could see her again, and not just in this photograph. He wishes that he could feel her skin against his, her lips on his, and that they might have a future together. That he might be just a normal man, falling asleep in the arms of his normal girlfriend, happy together.

But that can’t happen. That could never happen. Never.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: Same as the show
Summary: The Bachelor Party is the episode immediately prior to I Will Remember You. Leafing through a book on Angel’s desk, Doyle finds a photograph. This story explores what Angel might have been remembering, before Doyle came into the office.
Disclaimer: Usual stuff…
This story is especially for Chrislee. I hope she likes it.

Story Notes

1 Nicholas Nickleby That really is the book in which Doyle finds the photograph of Buffy, and the first page he opens really does show text referring to laying down one’s life for a friend. I’ve spent entirely too much time with my nose pressed against the TV screen.

2 Cottier An Irish peasant holding land under cottier tenure, the letting of land in small portions at a rent fixed by competition.

3 18th century ladies’ underwear There were no knickers. How ever did they manage? Here’s a site showing the ladies’ underwear of the period, with which poor Liam would have to wrestle.

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