Feedback : Pretty please, whatever you thought of it. It will feed my muse for the next story – honestly. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine. If they were, I’d look after them better. No money will ever be made from this fic.
Distribution: The Angel Texts Blood Roses Scribes of Angel. Anyone who already has my stories. Otherwise - you want it? Really? Gosh. Just tell me where it’s going please.
Spoilers: None, really.
Rating: Family entertainment
Content: B/A Future reality
Summary: For anyone who’s read ‘The Nature of the Beast’, this might be what comes afterwards. I might even incorporate something like this into that series, if you like it.
A response to Dark Star’s monthly (April) challenge at the Blood Roses forum.
Fools, or a Fool
Something connected with Easter
Posy – (archaic) a short motto, line of verse, etc., inscribed within a ring.
[alteration of poesy]
It’s about an hour after sunset, an ice-bound evening in some nameless northern city. It’s 1st April, almost Easter, and the winter should have broken by now, but it hasn’t. Not here. Not where I am. Never again, where I am. I don’t exactly know where this is. That doesn’t matter, because I don’t give a damn where it is. She’s dead. That’s all that matters. For me, winter will never break again.
I’m standing on this street corner, in this poverty-stricken area of the inner city, held by promises. Promises I don’t know if I can keep. Promises to wait for her. To seek redemption for her sake. It’s a good time to be thinking about that, perhaps. Easter. The time when a man died, and bought redemption for the whole human race, so we’re told. What’s that? You want me to tell you if it’s true? Listen, you’re the humans around here; you’re the ones with souls. I’m just a demon. How the devil should I know?
But that’s what Easter is about, not chicks, and bunnies and eggs. They’re a leftover from a much older, pagan time, symbols of new life, of renewal and fertility. Symbols of the goddess Eostre. Would you think it sacrilegious if I said that Buffy, the closest thing to a goddess I’ll ever know, died wanting to bring both new life and redemption to me?
I’m hunched into a thick overcoat, the collar pulled up around my ears. Not that I need it, of course, but it would look odd, in this frozen evening, if I didn’t wrap up warm like everyone else. But I don’t need to; I’m dead, after all. Just not as dead as she is.
I’m hunting for my next meal, surrounded by the smells of hopelessness and despair. I don’t touch innocents any more – that would have caused her too much pain – but there are plenty of others to choose from. I can almost touch the haze of cocaine in the air – there’s a dealer, not too far from where I’m standing. Perfect. At least, that’s the business I’m about when something happens that is so unexpected, so impossible, that I wonder if I’m losing my mind.
I see her, from the corner of my eye. A petite blonde, surrounded by her friends, bouncing down the steps of an old church, sucking a lollipop.
A vampire’s heart doesn’t beat – you know that – but mine definitely gives a lurch, nonetheless. I don’t really believe in déjà vu, but there she is, a bright, young California girl, with an aura as big as the city, just as I had first seen her almost eighty years ago. When I turn to look, though, she’s gone. There’s just that glimpse of her, an image burned indelibly into my retina. And I’m left standing here, alone, in the darkness.
I tell myself that she was never there, that I’m hallucinating, but I know that isn’t true. Demons are very down to earth beings. We see things as they really are. We don’t hallucinate. Well, there was that one time. You remember. Can I plead exceptional circumstances? Being locked in a box under the sea for three months must surely qualify as exceptional circumstances? Anyway, she didn’t look exactly the same as she had, all that time ago. This time, she was wrapped up against the cold. Her friends were different. And it was the glow of the streetlight that made her hair shine more softly, not such a brilliant halo as she wore on that first afternoon in the sun.
But it was 1st April then, too. April Fools’ Day. She bounced down the steps at Hemery High, sucking that lollipop, and made an April Fool out of me. Well, out of both of us, soul and demon alike. There’s only me left to remember. The Soul is somewhere else, has been for almost eighty years. He’s probably with her now, and I don’t want to think about that. The first day I saw her, she made me feel like an April squire, and every fibre of my being is longing for her to do it again.
I look at the simple platinum wedding band on my finger. I don’t need to take it off to read the posy inscribed there.
Endless like my love. Forever.
She’d had that done, and given me the ring on the day I married her. The word ‘Forever’ had stabbed me to the heart then, just as it does now. My hand creeps to my throat, to find the chain around my neck. To find the mate of that ring, the one I gave her in exchange. I’d thought about leaving it on her finger, to rest in the earth with her, and decided against it. If she really was right, that we might meet again, then I would have it to give to her again. As I pull it from underneath my shirt, I don’t need the light of a streetlamp to read the inscription I had put there, the posy, the words that seemed the only possible words to say.
The only soul I will ever need. And I remember another promise, made to an old man. To the priest who married us. He knew what I was, what she was. He even knew *who* I was, yet he agreed to marry us all the same. For a price. He’d wanted me to do him an unspecified service and that task is long since complete. And he’d wanted one other thing, after Buffy was dead. He’d known, somehow, that I would never turn her; that I would be left alone, in the end.
Go to confession.
That was what he’d asked. I’d given my word, and a demon has nothing but his word. This church looks as good as anywhere to keep that promise. The fragrance of incense is here, and from where I’m staying I’ve heard the angelus bell, ringing for the sunset devotion. Appropriate. So, it’s a Catholic church. They do confession.
Before I can change my mind, I’m striding up the steps, cutting through the space where I saw her, and into the scented shadows.
Entering a church makes me uncomfortable, but no more than that. Crosses, of course, burn me. The atmosphere of the church, and its religious symbols, causes a feeling of nausea, a charge on my skin, a feeling of repulsion. It isn’t as bad this time as the other times that I remember. In fact, there’s hardly any repulsion at all. Perhaps it’s because I’m older, stronger. Or perhaps it’s because of her blood inside me. I don’t know.
The confessional is easy to see, its dark mahogany bulk blackened with age. It’s already in use. I’ve been in them before, of course. I’ve sometimes taken the place of the priest – it’s extremely crowded in there, holding the dead body, but I’ve managed – and I’ve helped confessees to find a better place. Well, don’t you always say that the dead have gone to a better place? In New Orleans, they even *celebrate* at a funeral. I’ve just done my part. I’ve never been on the other end of the confession, though. That will be a new experience. At almost 350 years old, new experiences are a bit of a rarity, and are to be cherished. Strange, though, because I’m feeling oddly nervous.
I don’t have long to wait. A woman leaves the box, and walks towards the altar, no doubt to say her Hail Marys for whatever insignificant lapse has been preying on her mind. She wraps her long shawl tightly around her as she steps past where I am sitting, as if she can feel the frozen death inside me. It’s my turn now.
I find that I don’t want to keep this promise but, as I said, a demon has only his word, so in I go. I find it in me to feel some small sense of compassion for the unsuspecting priest about to hear *this* confession.
The box is steeped in the scents of god-fearing humanity. Sorrow and anger, remorse and defiance; the ghosts of confessions past. It’s intriguing. The partition slides open and I can see the shadowy outlines of the man on the other side of the screen. He leans forward a little, and I can hear the creak of the wood, the rustle of his cloth. And I can smell him. It’s an almost familiar scent, and I rifle through my memories. He interrupts me, giving a little cough to let me know that he is ready.
I think I know what I should say.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
I don’t think that one is going to work. Let’s try something else, see whether the priest goes with it.
“I’m here to make confession.”
“When did you make your last confession?”
This year. Last year. Sometime. Never. Every day, with her. She *was* my confession.
“I’ve never made confession before.”
“What is that you wish to confess?”
“More than can be remedied with a couple of Hail Marys and an act of contrition.”
He hesitates, and his voice becomes more gentle. He sounds about 30, maybe 35.
“Why have you come here? Now?”
Because of her. To find a future with her. And because she wanted me to try for redemption, on the day she died.
‘I want you and Angel and I to be together forever, wherever that might be,’ she had said. ‘I want you to go for the redemption that was promised to him. You must have gone a long way towards earning it now. You’ve only saved the world like a zillion times. Make them give you a backdated agreement!’
I had given her my word. And I had given it to the priest who married us.
“A long time ago, I promised an old man that I would confess my sins. I always keep my word.”
I have it now. The scent from the priest reminds me of that old man. Just a little different. It can’t be the same person though. That was more than seventy years ago, and I could hear the unsteady fragility of his heart even then. He wouldn’t have survived more than a year or two. Perhaps he smells the same because all priests come from the same well of souls?
“Then tell me of the sins you have committed.”
Now that the moment is here, what to say? How many sins have I committed? All of them, I imagine, and often.
“I have killed.”
And killed. And killed. And enjoyed it. I still do. Should I leave aside the ones that I’ve killed for food, for sustenance? After all, I am a predator. You don’t expect a lion or a cheetah to do penance for every gazelle it kills. It simply eats its dinner, then goes off to make little lions, or cheetahs. Why should it be different because you are the gazelle? Nor do you expect a man-eating tiger to mend its ways. You simply kill it if you can, as you would kill us.
There are others, though.
Spike. I killed him because of human jealousy, an infection from the Soul, I’m sure. From Angel. I’ve regretted that ever since.
Buffy. My mate. I could have given her eternal life, with me, but she wanted to stay human, so I didn’t. And I wanted her human. I wanted her warmth and light and *life* and the thought of her almost unmans me, here in the musty shadows of the confessional. I killed her, at the end. True, it was to save her pain, but it was my fangs that finished her off. I will regret that until the universe becomes a dead cinder, but she wanted it, so I would do it again. Regret without repentance can never lead to forgiveness.
The priest stays silent. I’m not surprised.
And how. I am an expert in how to break a human’s body and a human’s mind, separately or together. And how to remake them as I desire. I made Drusilla, one of my finest moments. Angelus. I’m a legend amongst demons of all kinds, famed for my cruelty.
I taught my mate to enjoy pain with her pleasure. Never too much, but in our long life together, I showed her almost everything I knew about the pleasure/pain continuum. Almost. And I taught her to enjoy giving pain. I’m a demon. We like pain – of the right sort, anyway. Do I regret that? Never. Not if she didn’t. Doesn’t.
Rape is all about power. And my pleasure. I’ve raped more people than you could imagine. Woman, man, vampire, it made no difference to me. And I’ll continue to do so, because it’s part of the power structure of vampire society, and therefore necessary.
But I raped her. When I first returned, I was half insane from the century of captivity, and I raped her. She forgave me. I can’t, though, and it will remain forever as an unforgiven sin. No priest or penance can ever take that burden away.
“I’ve coveted and I’ve stolen.”
Well, once you’re dead you don’t need it any more. I have lived very well on the proceeds of your deaths. I now rule the underworld of half the globe, much of that power stolen from others. It kept the peace, though, so perhaps you should thank me for it. I have, after all, saved the world quite a few times, although only because of her.
I stole her from you. She was the Slayer, made to protect humanity from vampires and demons. She remained the Slayer all the days of her long, long life. I coveted her and I stole her, and made her mine. I would do it again and again. No repentance there, then.
“And other sins. There are too many to say.”
I have loved. Demons cannot and do not love, but I have. I have sinned.
I have saved the world from apocalypses, from vampires and demons, from plagues and fiends. Initially, I saved it with her, but when she became too old, I saved it for her. I have sinned against my kind, mortal sins that are neither forgotten nor forgiven in the deepest reaches of Hell.
And there are all those little things I did that distressed her, hurt her, disappointed her. I can recall every single moment of our life together, and those are the sins that I regret.
“Do you repent of all these sins?”
To be a penitent, I must accuse myself of these sins, with sincere sorrow and with purpose of amendment. And I must undertake penance. This much I know. Yet, what would I change? Some of it, perhaps. Things I have done to hurt her, certainly.
But had anything been different, she and I might never have spent the last seventy years in love. If she and I had been different, would the Earth have survived? What is expected of me here? What do I expect of myself? More importantly, what does *she* expect of me? If she wishes me to cosy up to the Soul, wherever he is, what does *he* expect of me?
Perhaps I should just take this priest as my evening meal and leave it at that. Then words come, but I don’t know where from. The voice is mine, though.
“I repent of all those sins that have hurt her.”
He doesn’t ask me who has been hurt. Afterwards, I wonder about that.
“If I give you a penance, will you go and commit no more sin?”
My greatest weapon has always been the truth. Now, it forms a bright, shining sword, and it spears through my heart.
“I cannot promise that.”
There is a small pause, and the scrape of cloth against wood as he shifts in the confined space.
“Will you do penance for the sins you have already committed? And come to confession again when you are able to make that promise?”
With hindsight, I should have wondered more about this priest.
“Tell me what penance can possibly redeem the things that I have done.”
“Only solemn penance will suffice for the capital offences – murder, adultery and idolatry.”
Murder; check. Adultery: check. Idolatry? I don’t worship much of anything, but I’m a demon and I expect to be given due respect. Does that count? He goes on.
It’s a statement. How does he know? He pauses again, as if to give me the chance to confirm or deny what he has said. It’s a pause that I refuse to fill. After a few moments, he continues. His voice has a backbone of steel.
“St Patrick’s Synod decreed for the Irish church one year’s penance for each and every capital offence. That should suffice. The penance will take the form that I prescribe. Until the task is completed, I will not grant you forgiveness. Your sins are retained. You must seek me out for forgiveness when the task is completed. We will then see whether you have committed more acts that require penance. Do you understand?”
Is he counting the food kills? If he is, I am in serious trouble here. Some nights I’ve gone hungry, some nights I’ve glutted myself. Average it at one per night for 350 years. Do the math. If he’s going to stick to a year per sin, I might as well dust myself now, and save time.
How did I get into this position? I came here to *confess*, not to set up a karmic credit card, to enslave myself to some priest in some ritual of penitence that I don’t accept! I really should just drink him down and be on my way. I should go and find someone who can… Who can do what? Bring her back to life? Die for me, in order to redeem my sins?
The Soul knew. Redemption would be by his own efforts. Buffy has passed that task to me, and I have accepted it. And it occurs to me that this is not just an ordinary priest.
It also occurs to me that it’s still April Fools’ Day.
“You will travel the path that she set you upon, for as long as it takes. That is my sentence.”
What? What does that mean? And ‘sentence’? Who does this guy think he is?
Vampires are very, very fast. Even so, he is quicker still. As I pull open the door on his side of the confessional, he is gone. There is no sign, sound or scent of him within the body of the church.
I pull my coat around me, feeling a sudden chill, and decide to shake the dust of this city off my feet. As I hurry down the steps, though, I do know one thing. Priest or no, it was what she wanted. I *will* travel the path she set me upon, and I will travel it for as long as it takes. Damn.
The priest watched the vampire stride off into the darkness. Had Angelus turned, he would have recognised the man who performed the wedding ceremony that Buffy had so wanted. A lot younger, of course – that had been a whole lifetime ago. Well, two lifetimes, actually. In the last one, he’d only been incarnate for a short time before expiring of some childhood malady. But that had allowed him to be here, now, in the right time and place, just where he was needed.
He smiled. It had been so unexpectedly easy. Using the girl on the church steps had been an inspiration. The vampire had taken the bait, hook, line and sinker. He was ready for it, of course, and that had made things easier. Whether Angelus believed it or not, he was condemned to service. Condemned. Promised. Chosen. It didn’t matter what you called it, it all amounted to the same thing.
Condemned to continue the tradition of sacrifice for the possibility of redemption. Easter’s gift.
Promised a future. Angel’s gift, although Angelus didn’t know it, paid for in sacrificial coin.
Chosen to find new life. Eostre’s gift.
The Champion was back. Not yet whole, but that would happen in its own time. Satisfied, the priest stepped back into the church and closed the door against the night and the cold.
4 April 2004
| Fiction Index | Home Page | Back |