Grief

Grief

If he empties his mind, pushes thoughts of loss and anger away, sometimes Angel can smell Ireland. The scent is a peculiar mix of cow dung, barley, hops and peat but, nevertheless, the combination is like perfume to him, especially after all these years in cities filled with exhaust and smog.

In the back garden of the house he'd grown up in, his mother had planted a wonderful hedge of roses. As a very young boy he'd loved to lie on the carpet of fallen petals, squinting up at the endless blue sky. His father would call for him, a distant storm, but young Liam would barely hear him. There was too much world beneath those flowers.

Older, he'd lost his virginity to a scullery maid, a pretty fair-haired lass, with stormy grey eyes. He has a vivid memory of a thorn piercing her back; she'd cried out and he'd clapped a large and sweaty palm over her pretty mouth lest his father hear.

"Shh," he'd said. "'Tis only a thorn. Aye, naught but a scratch."

The blood had beaded there, and without quite knowing why, he'd taken his finger and touched the drop. Then, as if to test her reaction, he'd licked his finger clean.

***

One thing Angel has learned: life goes on.

Of course he's learned other things; it is impossible to live as long as he has without racking up the platitudes, but Angel knows, without a doubt, that the world keeps turning. Always.

So, when Cordelia dies he has no choice but to go on. His grief, like all his grief, is lost in what must be done. Useless meetings and stacks of meaningless memos and, occasionally, if he is lucky, he still manages to escape Wolfram and Hart, hit the streets, spill some blood.

Angel swears he can still smell her perfume, that her essence still lingers in the room where he stands, holding the phone against his silent chest. He knows that as soon as he puts the phone back in its cradle, he'll have to push the sorrow away. He can't do it, not yet; so he stands there, his back stiff, and holds the phone and holds the memory of her, too.

It might have been an hour; it might have been an instant, but finally Angel sets the phone down and heads up to his rooms. He hangs up his suit coat and unbuttons his shirt, steps out of his trousers and boxers, shoes and socks and turns the shower on hot, steps underneath the spray.

There it is then: grief.

***

Ireland was a green hill. That's what Angel remembered.

By the time Liam was eighteen he'd already disappointed his father, and broken his mother's heart. He'd been thrown out of half of the pubs in the village and slept with every ripe barmaid who'd have him. What Liam, now Angel, doesn't remember is when he stopped caring what others thought of him.

Angel leaves the shower, dries off and walks naked to the bed. He slips between the cotton sheets, settles back on his pillow and considers his next move.

Cordelia is dead. Truly dead, now, and there is no chance for reconciliation or reunion or even remorse. Angel bunches his hands at his sides and contemplates what his world means without her. He cannot.

Los Angeles is endless pavement; Cordy was green and now she's dead.

***

"I just heard."

Angel doesn't know how to react when he hears her voice.

"Angel?"

He hesitates and then says: "I'm here, Buffy."

"I'm sorry," she says.

"Me too."

There is another small silence, awkward and filled with things unsaid and unsayable.

"Is there anything..." she doesn't finish; there is no point.

"Thanks."

"Okay, well."

"Thanks for calling, Buffy."

"Angel?"

"Yeah?"

There is static on the line and then, "Nothing."

He wishes she wouldn't call. He wishes she wouldn't hold on to the hope he's long ago abandoned. Her voice is a knife in his gut. It is almost more than he can bear.

***

Wes arrives in his office looking pale and gloomy and Angel manages to smile, not at him, for him.

"Have we anything pressing today?"

Angel sweeps his hand over the neatly stacked file folders and shakes his head.

"Not pressing, no."

"Good," Wes says, scraping a hand over the stubble on his chin. "I don't think I can bear another minute."

Angel wants to say something to Wes to wipe the worry from his eyes, but there isn't anything worth saying.

"I keep thinking we failed her," Wes says.

"I know."

"Well, then." Wes stands, smoothing the front of his trousers and for an instant Angel is reminded of the prissy Watcher his friend had once been. Wes had had his second chance; Cordy never will.

"Yeah."

"I'm going to go, then," Wes says.

Angel nods.

"I'm going to drink, in case you wanted to join me," Wes says.

"Thanks, but no," Angel says.

Wes tips his head and leaves the room. Angel is sure he is crying.

***

He keeps a bottle of Jameson's in his desk drawer, not because he likes it particularly but because, strangely, it reminds him of his father. Now he opens the drawer and pulls the nearly full bottle from his drawer. Angel isn't a drinker, not anymore. Sometimes, back in Sunnydale, after a night in the cemetery with Buffy, he'd come home and drink, vodka mostly. Three long swallows and he could just about ease the ache in his crotch. Just about.

Now, he twists off the cap of the bottle and lifts the bottle to his lips. There it is, that smell and the rush of memories. Angel closes his eyes and tries to hold on to the picture of his father: thin-lipped, steely-eyed, a hard, uncompromising man who'd shown him little tenderness as a child and not a drop of understanding as a man.

But it hardly matters now.

***

Wolfram and Hart is never truly empty. Even at three a.m. there are employees refilling their coffee cups or riding the elevator to the records department or tapping the keys of their laptops. Still, Angel walks the halls, especially on the nights when he can not sleep. There are more of those nights now.

The thought that plagues him is this: did he love her?

He turns the question over and over in his mind and can never reach a satisfactory resolution. Maybe there is none. But he keeps thinking that he should know; after all these years he should know his own heart.

***

A week after Cordelia is buried, Angel has a nightmare. He is in a field, an Irish field. A crooked stream slices the field in two and in the distance he can see children running. He fills his lungs with air and in his dream his chest expands with oxygen and the feeling is amazing. He starts to walk. He wants to see the children. His feet feel clumsy and he trips and when he looks down he sees that the ground is littered with stones, large stones engraved with names: Winnifred Burkle, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Cordelia Chase. Angel can feel the bile rise in his throat and when drops to his knees, blood streams from his mouth and doesn't stop until the ground is gore.

***

Did he ever grieve? Ever in his living life? Angel can't remember. Has he grieved since he's been dead made living? If he contemplates the question the answer stings.

The lives he's lost and those he's yet to lose wind, barbed and inevitable, around his heart. A heart he is sure will be breaking forever.

The End

Story Index
Thoughts

Red is the Rose
Come over the hills my bonny Irish lass
Comer over the hills to your darling
You choose the rose love and I'll make the vow
And I'll be your true love forever


Chorus:
Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows
Fair is the lily of the valley
Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne
And my love is fairer than any


'Twas down by Killarney's green woods that we strayed
The moon and the stars they were shining
The moon shone its rays on her locks of golden hair
She swore she'd be my love forever

(Chorus)
It's not for the parting that my sister pains
It's not for the grief of my mother
It's all for the loss of my bonny Irish lass
That my heart is breaking forever

(Chorus)