Guilt Trembling Spoke My Doom
Angel, post NFA
Rated R for implied violence
Thanks to my betas cornerofmadness, way2busymom and ljgould.
I own nothing but a large mortgage.
Pain washes through him. He can't even think; the only thing he's aware of is heat, hotter than the sun, white-hot pain inside, outside, pouring off of him. There's a dull roar, screams he realizes but he can't make out any words. All he can see is gray and he can't decide whether it's the street or the sky; he can't focus. He tries to move and this time the pain is sharp, a knife cutting his body in half. The gray darkens into a black void.
He blinks rapidly, trying to make sense of the white walls, white bed, white ceiling that surrounds him but his pounding head is barely able to process anything. He tries to move but winds up groaning as his body refuses to obey. Instantly, a woman in white is by his side, smiling but he can read the shock in her eyes.
"You're awake. That's wonderful."
None of this is making any sense and once again he tries to lift his unresponsive body out of the bed. "Sir, you can't do that. You'll injure yourself." There is an edge of no nonsense about her as she speaks. "You've just had major surgery."
Surgery. He looks down and realizes his chest and arms have a variety of tubes and wires attached to them and that a small army of blinking, beeping machines stand at the head of the bed. His eyes open wide in panic and suddenly he's gasping for breath. He barely registers that the nurse has moved swiftly to his side and in a moment, he's breathing regularly again. "What's going on? How am I here?"
"I'll have the doctor come right in."
The doctor is in his fifties, graying temples, expensive suit, professional demeanor, kind face. Marcus Welby come to life. "Well young man, I'd say you were born under a lucky star. Do you remember anything?"
The take down of the Black Thorn. The rip in the sky. An army of demons. "An…explosion?"
"Something like that. You were pretty much right at the center of things. We had to remove your spleen, do a little abdominal surgery. You also had a few broken bones but all in all, your survival is a miracle. A gift" The doctor hesitates for a moment and then plunges on. "You didn't have any ID on you. Do you have any family we could contact?"
My name is Angel. I'm a 251-year-old vampire. I died when I was 26. And now I'm alive again. "I don't remember much of anything. Not even my name."
The doctor looks at him closely for a moment, a more interesting specimen than usual. "You've been through a major shock. Your memory should be returning in a couple of days."
He finds out to his dismay that he'll be hospitalized for at least two more weeks; gut wounds are hell on the body. On his third day of consciousness he turns on the TV, more out of boredom than any actual desire to watch. The reporter stands in the middle of a street that looks like a war zone. "Hundreds still missing and presumed dead due to the terrorist attack in downtown LA." The stench of vomit lingers long after the nurse baths him and changes all the bedclothes.
The first bouquet arrives on his eighth day in bed. He doesn't understand it, until the nurse informs him that he's a celebrity. The only survivor within the two-mile epicenter. Coupled with his amnesia, he's big news. He wants to vomit again but he pushes down the nausea. No survivors. Murderer is his only thought.
Three and a half weeks later, he's finally released. His room looks like a sweet sixteen party on steroids; every surface is covered with flowers, balloons, stuffed animals. He leaves all of it behind. He 's relieved and shamed in equal measure when he's told that all hospital and doctor services were donated. The billing clerk hands him an envelope as he signs a seemingly endless array of papers with his current moniker of John Doe. It seems that flowers and trinkets aren't the only things people have been sending. He tells the woman to just give the money to charity but she points out that he still doesn't know who he is and until then, he'll need cash to get by. He feels even worse, but he can't deny that he needs the money and gratefully accepts the envelope.
He's already in the taxi when he realizes that he has no place to go. He asks the driver to take him to any clean, inexpensive motel. The short walk down the corridor and out the door of the hospital has left him exhausted and by the time he finishes checking in, collapsing on the bed and falling asleep is all he can accomplish.
When he wakes he considers calling England and then, just as quickly, discards the idea. They were right not to trust him. On his best day, he had never killed more than fifty in a single night. The current death toll estimate is close to two thousand.
He finds a local grocery that's willing to deliver and orders twenty-five dollars worth of canned soup and a can opener. The food is just as tasteless as when he was a vampire, but he needs to keep his strength up and so he chokes it down, three times a day.
His body hurts all the time, the angry, raised red scars that criss-cross his abdomen ache and pull. Every time he coughs, it's a punch to the solar plexus and he moans with the pain, even as he welcomes the burn.
As soon as he's strong enough, he has a taxi take him to one of the seedier areas of the city. He pays extra for the man to wait as he walks in with feigned confidence, One thousand dollars later, he has a birth certificate, a social security card and a driver's license. More importantly, the government thinks it issued them all. The violet hued demon didn't even blink (or perhaps it didn't need to, he's not that familiar with this particular breed) at his request and the only hitch is when he's asked for his name. Angel is just as dead as Liam and Angelus are, and it takes him a moment. He gives a thin-lipped smile as he spells it out.
Another four weeks pass before he ventures out again. He buys an '82 beater, and as he drives it off the lot it's one of the few times he's ever been nostalgic for Wolfram and Hart. Two nights later he drives it to the east side of town. He parks the car and heads into the bar. It's still early, but the place is already doing a booming business. He counts six vampires, two skitwart demons, four knaj'das and something that looks like a large daisy playing pool. Nobody pays him any mind, likely assuming that a human who appears as unfazed as he is can hold his own. Besides, bartenders the world over prefer to avoid trouble in their own establishments. He goes to each patron in turn, asking if they've heard any recent news regarding Spike or Illyria. He doesn't get any positive information.
He goes out every night, always to a different place. Sometime, if the vampires present are old enough, they know who Spike is. Sometimes he describes them to the various patrons. Sometimes he makes a quick sketch on a borrowed cocktail napkin. The answer is always the same. There has been no word of either of them since that day.
On the one hundred twenty-second day, he stays in.
It's early December and he hopes his car can make the journey. He's barely making the speed limit as he drives up the coast and after a couple of hours, he pulls into one of the scenic overlooks. The sky and sea are the same sapphire blue and all that distinguishes them is the white foam in the water and the marshmallow puffs in the air. The rhythmic slap of the waves against the rocks and occasional bird calls are the only external sounds here, a marked contrast to the continual cacophony that surrounds him in Los Angeles. After a few minutes those noises fade into the background and other sounds surge into prominence. The huff of his breath, the thump of his heart, the creak of his knee, the whoosh of blood in his ears. His body has been silent for so long that he still can't get used to the constant noises it makes. He takes a step closer to the guardrail and looks down at the sheer rock face wall underneath him. A year ago, if he leapt over the railing, he would have walked away, any damage his body sustained healed in a day or two at most. Now if he jumped, his crumpled body would lay there, a feast for the circling gulls. He takes another step so that his feet are directly under the railing and he thinks about all the blood spilled by his hands. He closes his eyes and lifts his head up, the sun warming his skin, Father Nolan is right in front of him, his pinched ferret features, and sharp angular body unchanged from two hundred and seventy years ago, "Suicide is a mortal sin," the priest thunders in that voice that terrified him as a child. He stands there for a long heartbeat and finally pulls back.
Once he arrives on campus, it takes him two days to locate his son. For the next few days, he shadows him everywhere; confident that a quarter century of stalking means that Connor would never know he was there. He watches his son go to class, joke with friends, make out with a girl and toss down Jell-O shots at a party. He is happy and well adjusted, just another college kid doing college kid things. He wonders if Connor mourned him at all when the news from LA hit the airwaves. It doesn't matter. It's the only relationship of any kind that has ever turned out well and that's because he excised himself from the equation.
Satisfied, he sells his car to the scrap heap, buys a plane ticket and doesn't look back.
He delivers a portfolio of artwork and a card with his name and address to every ad agency in Manhattan. Six call him back. He explains to each that he was a survivor of the recent LA terrorist attack and as a result, doesn't have current references. Three recognize him as the "miracle amnesia person". One offers him a job. That's all he needs.
He leads a quiet existence. He's not a big talker at work and he always declines when his co-workers go out for a drink after work. Several months go by. He is having dinner in his small, overpriced studio apartment when he looks up and sees a young woman sitting across from him. She is pretty although a bit coarse looking, eighteen or nineteen at the most. He remembers paying her and the blowjob he received in return. He remembers telling her that it was only fair to pay her back in kind and then sucking the very lifeblood from her until she crumpled dead at his feet. He remembers that it happened in Rome in 1771.
She doesn't speak and her expression isn't accusatory. It's just mournful, the way you look at a funeral. Or maybe, the way you'd look at your own funeral if you could somehow see yourself being buried.
He jumps up from the table so suddenly that the chair tips over with a crash. No matter where he goes in the small space, the apparition follows. Always a foot away, never closer, never nearer, her expression never changing. As suddenly as it appeared, it disappears into the air.
The next night a different visitor materializes. He is twenty-two and dressed in his wedding frock coat. He had met the boy a year earlier, still with a girlish blush on his cheeks and pretty in the way young men often are. He slowly became his friend over a period of months, talking about art and literature. And then, even more slowly, he let his hand linger a bit too long on a shoulder, stared a bit too intensely when they talked, let his thigh casually brush against his when they played billiards. It was almost too easy when he seduced him three days before his marriage. And wonderfully amusing when he slit his own throat, dressed in his wedding finery on the day he was to marry.
This time he begs forgiveness but as before the ghost is silent. He closes his eyes, tears streaming down. When he opens them, he is alone.
On the third night, he enters his apartment with a bottomless sense of dread. When the ghost appears he is bewildered, it is no one he knows. Then he realizes the middle-aged man is wearing current clothing and he understands the man died in LA because of his hubris. He runs to the bathroom, vomiting over and over again. When he finally staggers out, he is alone.
He stays at the office as late as possible on the fourth night, finishing up some mock-ups for a new ad campaign. When he finally walks in, he is alone. He is alone during dinner. As he is washing the dishes, the back of his neck prickles. It is Wesley. He barely has time to grab his keys before he is racing out the door. He doesn't stop running until he is out of breath. When he looks up, he is in front of a bar and gratefully goes in.
He drinks shot after shot of whiskey, everything fading from view until he's back drinking pint after pint in Galway, his only sins that he likes to drink and he likes to gamble and he likes to fuck and he doesn't like to work. He stumbles home only after he's firmly told that the bar is closing. The alarm in the morning manages to rouse him. His head seems to be three sizes too small for his brain; his mouth feels like he's chomped on a roll of toilet paper and his stomach wants to have an out-of-body experience. It's been a quarter century but he hasn't forgotten what a hangover feels like. Much later in the day the knowledge that being drunk in an alley cost him everything once before sobers him up almost instantly.
He has dinner, cleans up, and now quietly reads a book, all with no visitors. He begins to relax, for the first time in days. Scrooge only had four ghostly guests, he tells himself. He feels it before he sees it.
She's four years old, blue eyes too big for her face. Darla and he had drunk down her family one hundred sixty seven years ago. Darla was already dragging him out the door, ready for more amorous pursuits, when he heard the rapid flutter of her heart coming from an armoire. He left her on the floor, neck snapped.
He ignores her and continues with his reading. He rereads the same page over and over. When he goes to bed, she stands at the head of it, never blinking, just looking at him. He doesn't fall asleep until 4:30. At the office he looks so drawn and pale that everyone assumes he's still ill. It takes all of his willpower not to yell at their solicitous concern. I don't deserve it, don't you see?
After work, instead of going home, he goes back to the bar. He doesn't order whiskey this time, just Guinness. He drinks just enough to get a buzz on, make everything just a little bit less real. Not drunk he tells himself. Not drunk. The ghost doesn't affect him this time. He goes about his business and he goes to sleep.
This becomes his routine for the next three and a half weeks. He goes to the bar and downs eight or ten or twelve bottles. With reality blurring around the edges just a little, he goes home and lives his life. On the twenty-fifth day, Doyle is waiting for him and reality snaps back into focus. He heads back to the bar. He's nursing a single bottle of beer, trying to make it last. He doesn't want to get drunk but he also can't face going back and seeing his dead friend. He turns a little and that's when he notices he's being watched.
She's got long dark hair, a nice ass, medium sized tits and pouty lips. Forty-five minutes later they're in her apartment and his hands are under her shirt. When he finally gets home, it's three in the morning and he's alone. He falls asleep, body sated.
Surprisingly, even as his personal life falls apart, his business life keeps improving. It turns out that having almost no knowledge of pop culture guarantees that the ads he's assigned to wind up being fresh and innovative instead of falling back on tired cliché. Within a year, he's promoted and manages a small group in the art department. He's friendly but reserved, never engaging in small talk. No one knows anything about friends or family, even after months pass he remains a cipher.
He discovers that the past never shows up until at least 7:30 PM. He never stays late at the office but instead rushes home and has a quick meal. He hits one of the bars and drinks enough to forget. He goes off with a different woman every night. He doesn't feel guilty about the one-night stands; he assumes they know what they're signing up for. And since he knows he could make the world's most jaded whore think she's seen the Holy Ghost, he figures they're getting a good deal.
One night, when an especially comely girl gives him the eye, he forgoes the liquor and makes an early beeline to her door. She's half undressed and under him, when he looks into the eyes of a pregnant twenty-eight year old. He kept her alive for hours after giving her an impromptu cesarean. He rolls off his conquest claiming a sudden stomach virus. After that, he's never completely sober at night.
Three years pass and he's still with the ad agency. He's the head of the art department now and his latest TV ad (for stockings) won a Cleo. He spends a quarter of his time out of town – meeting with prospective clients, presenting new ad campaigns, going to industry conferences. He's relearned the fine art of small talk and can discuss recent movies, current best sellers and the latest TV hit show without missing a beat. His clothes reflect his salary; Italian silks, Egyptian cotton, crisp linen, tissue thin wool. He laughs more freely, the fact that he manages it without ever actually smiling goes unremarked.
Outwardly, the rest of his life hasn't changed at all. He still lives in the same small studio apartment, in the same "colorful" neighborhood. He still goes out every night and always winds up in someone else's bed. But subtle aspects have changed.
One night he comes home and stares at himself in the bathroom mirror until his eyes begin to water. He covers it up the next day and takes down all the remaining mirrors wondering if his soul is being sucked out a teaspoon at a time.
He has a shot or two with his ale nowadays. Sometimes he smokes a little pot. He knows one day it will all catch up to him and everything will come crashing down. He can't work himself up over it. Part of him knows he deserves it.
On the night Fred comes to call, he watches as she stands with her hands outstretched, beseeching him, silver trails on her cheeks. He hits four different bars before he finds exactly the right person. She's more than happy to hurt him just enough and then just a little bit more. He screams as he cums and the abyss waits for him, endlessly inviting. Several days later, he examines the small white scar that has been left imprinted on his chest. It's the color of vampire skin.
On the weekends he and the rest of New York run errands. He spends extra time at the gym, does his laundry, picks up his dry cleaning, does his grocery shopping and vacuums the apartment. He almost always has Sunday afternoons free. Sometimes he catches a movie; sometimes he heads to an art museum, sketchbook in hand, sometimes he strolls around The Village. It's mid-March and still a bit blustery. His Sunday excursion for the day will be uptown at Central Park. He's a bit out of sorts when he realizes the park is much more popular than he would have expected; he's not in the mood to be near other people. He quickly hikes to the center of the park where The Ramble is. With over thirty acres of woodlands, it's just as empty as he expected. He stands near a bench, sketching the scene in front of him, trying to capture the interplay of sun and shadows on the trees.
He's so intent on drawing that he doesn't hear the snap of a twig until it's too late. When he turns around, his sketchbook falls from his hands into the soft scrub below. The demon is a few inches taller then he is, covered in grayish scales with an undertone of green. The wrist, elbows, knees and shins all have bony protrusions that are, for all intents and purposes, permanently affixed daggers. It smells dank and moldy and it's already lunging for him before his legs obey his brain. He's running as fast as he can, his Nike trainers slapping hard against the path. He chances a quick look behind him; the demon is on all fours, in an easy loping gait. He suddenly realizes he's heading north, straight to the lake. The boathouse only opened a week ago and there's sure to be families and couples renting boats. Muscle memory takes over as he stops short, somersaults and starts running back the direction he just came from. It's not nearly as smooth or as quick as he used to be, but it's unexpected enough that the demon is thrown off track for a second. His lungs are killing him and his legs are burning. He's huffing shallow breaths of air, not enough to keep him going but he doesn't have a choice. He's blinking and shaking his head at regular intervals, trying to keep the sweat out of his eyes. He's long gone off the path, crashing wildly past trees and shrubs. He stumbles at one point and as he's righting himself, he feels a slight tug. The sleeve of his sweatshirt and the outside of his arm, from his shoulder to an inch above his elbow have been bisected. He yanks himself away and puts on a final burst of speed. Thirty seconds later, he almost crashes into one of the huge rock outcroppings that dot the park. He's got nowhere else to go and the fetid stench of the demon behind him is overwhelming. His only thought is how long will it take his body to be discovered. He feels a whoosh of air and waits to feel the demon tear into his flesh. It doesn't occur and finally he turns around. He knows the shock in her eyes is mirrored in his own.
"Angel?" For a brief, eternal moment he wants everything that her voice has ever promised. And then his heart hardens.
"What…what was that thing?" He easily channels his surprise at seeing her into a more general state of shock. He adds a soft brogue to his question.
"Angel?" she asks again, but this time he can hear uncertainty in her query. He doesn't hesitate to press his advantage. Emotional devastation has always been his strength,
"If that's an angel," he points to the severed head lying at her feet, "I'd hate to meet the devil himself."
He sees her shoulders slump ever so slightly at his words and then he sees the steel of the slayer take over. "You need to get your arm looked at. It probably needs stitches."
"Thanks for saving my life. Cian Brennan."
She nods. "Buffy Summers. I'd suggest you keep out of unpopulated areas in the future." And with that, she melts into the surrounding trees. He stares after her for a while, trying to memorize the cadence of her voice.
Four days later, when the doorbell rings he opens the door without bothering to check the peephole. He's expecting the FedEx guy with a delivery from Amazon, instead she's standing there, arms crossed, eyes blazing.
"Can I help you, miss?"
She shoulders her way past him and steps into the middle of his studio. "Did you know Dawn is all grown up now? She's a Watcher. Not what I wanted for her at all, but she finally made me understand that I didn't have a lot of say in the matter." Her eyes narrow a bit at the memory. "She's an expert in languages. Can speak twelve demon languages fluently, reads another fifteen and as far as human languages? Well, let's just say that she's handy to have on vacations in exotic locales." She stands there hands at her sides, tension evident in the lines of her body. Her expression is angry but her eyes speak of immense sorrow. He remembers seeing her look just like this in the Sunnydale sewers a lifetime ago. "Cian Brennan. Ancient Sorrow." He turns unable to meet her gaze any longer.
Her voice hardens immediately. "Some things still didn't make sense. But you know Giles. Loves a challenge, especially when it involves musty books. It took it him two days to find the shoe shine prophecy." She chops her hands in the air, making it clear he isn't to interrupt. She takes a step toward him, eyes snapping dangerously. "I can understand you not wanting anyone to know about the changes in your life. It's your life after all." She's trying to keep her voice emotionless, but he can hear the bitterness seeping in. "But you had a demon army to battle. There are two hundred slayers that could have been there in a matter of hours. What were you thinking?"
At that, something snaps and he straightens up and shouts back at her. "It had already been made perfectly clear on several occasions that we were on our own. How was I supposed to know that that time didn't count?" Her expression is initially befuddled, then shock and betrayal blossom. He watches her and realizes she never knew. He was cut adrift that terrible year but it wasn't with her consent. The anger drains out of him at the sight of her pain. "It doesn't matter. He was right not to trust me." He doesn't want to be the cause of a rift between Giles and her. "I started a war without considering the consequences and hundreds of people died as a result. My fault. My fault." He shuts his eyes and for a split second, he can see them all endlessly stretching out before him, an endless march of the dead.
"Angel, that's not your fault. There's plenty of…"
"Angel's dead. He died four and a half years ago along with all of his friends and one thousand, eight hundred and thirty-six other people." He looks past her, at the white wall behind her. "I think you should leave."
She doesn't say anything and then he hears a rustling sound. "I'll be in town a few days. Here's the number where I can be reached if you want to talk." He can hear the defeat in her voice and then the door opens and closes. He finally stops staring at the wall and collapses onto the couch.
When he picks his head up, Cordelia is standing in front of him. She isn't sad though. She isn't anything. She's the lifeless body they buried on a dark February evening, arms and legs wasted because of the coma. "No, no, no, no." He shuts his eyes tightly and sees….Cordelia. She's storming into his dingy little office, taking over the place, asking about sign painters and exterminators and charging the rich. She's changing Connor's diaper and blowing a raspberry on his belly. She killing some demon with a sword because she's Cordelia, damn it and she'll do anything she sets her mind to. She turns to him, full on, with that killer smile that brings men (and vampires) to their knees. And then she rolls her eyes at him. "You are such a dumbass, you dumbass." And just like that, she vanishes. He blinks a few times, trying to process it all. Finally he strides into the bathroom and snatches the pillowcase from where it's been covering the medicine cabinet mirror for more than two years now.
He looks into it for a long time and all he sees is a man. Just a tired looking man, staring back at him. He walks back into the single room that defines his living space and notes that it's devoid of decoration or personality. It contains an oatmeal colored couch, a sisal rug, a blonde wood coffee table and a folding table and chairs. He's been living in a shithole for well over four years. He picks up the small piece of paper lying on the table.
He clears his throat three times before speaking. "Hey, ah. I was thinking that I would like to see you. Dinner tonight, maybe? If that's ok?" He rattles off his number and is about to hang up the phone when he picks the receiver back up to his mouth. "This is Angel. See you later?"
He still doesn't know how or why but maybe it's time he stopped trying to return the gift and started using it instead.
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