Setting Is Everything
Rating: PG-13 for a rather naughty bit of Angel's past
Feedback: Yes, thank you. Melpomenethalia@aol.com
Spoilers: Through mid-season 3 Angel.
Distribution: Fanfiction.net and the Bunny Warren. If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: Angel is struck by how fitting the dominant setting of his life has been.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
Random spasms tremble through the form of the demon Angel had killed moments before. Its body splays across the damp pavement of the alleyway, and Angel himself, weary from the fight, slowly slumps against the brick wall at his back and slides down it until he sits on the ground, his eyes unfocused. It has been one of those days when he stays away from his co-workers and friends, knowing they will dismiss his current disposition as merely yet another "brood." He is sick to death of that word they bandy about so lightly, trying to make him feel foolish when in truth there are days he wants nothing more than to stay in his bed until the hotel collapses around him from age and the sunlight finally streams through the ceiling to end him. It's a hopelessness, an isolation they could never begin to understand.
The coldness of the asphalt under his palms bites into his skin and reminds him that he has thin cuts on his palms, a souvenir of the scales that covered his adversary. Somehow, the pain brings with it a certain clarity, and he takes a moment to look at his surroundings. An alleyway: how many times in his life has this been the backdrop? And suddenly, he knows why it's always been such a fitting place for him to be.
His first fight was in the alley behind Harrigan's bakery back in Galway. He'd been no more than ten years old, but the other boy was at least fourteen. To this day he can't remember what prompted the fight; as likely as not, it had been nothing at all except the challenge of trying to best the larger, tougher-looking Seamus. He recalls that his own skull had become quite closely acquainted with the back wall of the bakery shop during several occasions in that brawl, and he can still feel the ache on the side of his head if he dwells on it long enough. But he also remembers the rush of wild, untamed pride he felt when Seamus turned tail and ran from him, giving him the victory. It had been Liam's first taste of violence, and, even as a human, he'd relished it.
It was only a few years later when he was in an alleyway behind a pub in the least respectable part of town. The clock tower had struck one some time ago, and the shadows had been black as ink, something he remembered being both aggravated by and thankful for as he'd slipped out the back door with the tarted up girl who couldn't have been more than sixteen. He'd saved up a penny here and there for months, often as not taking the coins from someone else's pocket, until he was sure he had enough to buy a few minutes with one of the girls his mother had referred to as "sellers of sin." The act itself had been awkward, a few clumsy caresses and wary gropes that finally led to the loss of what very little innocence still clung to him. Afterwards, she had slipped his coins into her corset, given him a kiss on the forehead, and stumbled drunkenly back into the pub to drum up more business. He'd never known her name.
And then, there had been Darla. "You were made in an alley, as I recall." Liam had been not quite so drunk as he seemed at the time, but the woman had still looked to him like some sort of earthly angel when he'd glimpsed her at the mouth of yet another alleyway, the one that would see the end of his human life. Utterly beautiful she had been, from the pure white of her gown glowing under the full moon to the curve of her pink lips when she smiled at him beguilingly. He'd fought the mad desire to rush home for his sketchbook to capture her image for eternity. Absolute perfection, and this delicate bit of pearl and satin had wanted him. Of course, he hadn't quite counted on what she wanted him for. When the bite had come, he'd been overwhelmed by it, stunned, shocked, but for some reason, unafraid. It felt fated more than anything else.
Almost a century later, his first sight of Drusilla had been when he'd emerged from an alley and caught the silhouette of the girl as she went home from church with her sisters. His obsession with her had been the absolute culmination of Angelus's evil. His cruelty had always been like a symphony, and Angelus made Drusilla his orchestra, playing the notes of his most perfect creation of agony and despair and indescribable perversion on her unwilling soul. She was destined to be his unliving, unbreathing masterpiece for all time, and he'd known it inside the moment of that one little look filled with nameless terror that she threw over her shoulder at him.
So very many decades later, another scene of an alley leapt to his mind. A completely different continent, but one dingy passageway was so much like another that they were nearly indistinguishable. This had been New York, and the soul had driven him all but mad. Whistler had found him diving into garbage to find rats to eat and instead had offered him a chance at redemption. Angel had thought he had finally lost his mind completely at the time, but he really couldn't be bothered to care one way or the other. He hadn't believed the other demon's promises, but putting up an argument was just too much work. So, he'd followed the strangely dressed being across the country and fallen in love with the Slayer on sight.
Their first meeting had, true to form, been in the alley outside the Bronze. She would never have known it to look at him, but he was fighting not to run from her in terror. It had taken every single ounce of his resolve and strength not to allow his hands to shake when he handed her the box with the cross necklace nestled inside. Three months had been spent finding just the right present to put in her deceptively tiny hand, and he very nearly bolted as soon as he had. Another blonde, another alley, another moment that would change him forever.
He'd left her, and part of his heart had been numbed by it. For a long time he hadn't allowed anything to truly touch that part of him that could be vulnerable if he left it unguarded. Darla had done it. Human again, everything that he wanted to be, and she was attempting to throw it all away to become a vampire once more. He'd wanted to kill her himself in that alley when she had lured the most pathetic excuse for a vampire he'd ever seen there for the purpose of having him sire her. The irony of her throwing away what she'd taken from him was obscene. And then she'd said the words. She was dying. In that moment, every last bit of hatred had flown from him. No matter how much he hated what he had done with her for over a century, the idea of her dying slowly from a human disease was hideous to him. She was the only one who knew him, remembered him. Even Drusilla and Spike were mere children compared to her. It didn't make sense from any perspective: she was evil, she was trying to become evil again, he should loathe her for everything she'd done to him and countless others. None of it mattered anymore. The world had come crashing down once more.
Connor had been born in the alley behind Caritas, and it was where his mother had died. An absolute impossibility, a joy he should never have had the opportunity to experience, was mixed with the strange sorrow that accompanied Darla's only unselfish act in her entire existence. Suddenly, the image of his sire had dissolved into the pelting rain and left behind a squalling baby, small enough to be dwarfed by Angel's hands. Never before had he felt so connected to any living being, not even when he had been alive himself. This was his own flesh and blood. His view of the world had tipped precariously, and in that moment, everything took on a different perspective.
Now, he lies here, in an alleyway, staring up at the thin slice of sky overhead, knowing that somewhere behind the smog and the reflected glare of the city lights are the stars. With absolute surety, he knows that when his time comes to die, either his ashes or his blood will find their final resting place in yet another alley, for it would be only fitting. What else is an alley but a place that is nowhere at all, not one thing or the other? It's a space made up of absence and otherness: not the street, not the store or the pub or the club, not inside and not out, but lurking constantly on the fringes of the world. It's never a part of anything, and it is inhabited by those despairing few who have nowhere else left to go and will die, unmourned, with their names unknown.
A few drops of rain spatter listlessly on his upturned face, and Angel realizes that time has passed. Dawn will come soon, and he needs to get back to the Hyperion to tell the others that the demon has been destroyed. Already its corpse has nearly dissolved by the light touch of the raindrops, and it will be gone completely in a few minutes. Leadenly, he gets to his feet, and for a moment he feels every one of his many, many years. He cracks his neck thoughtfully, letting the kinks from the fight release, and reaches out a hand to touch the grime that coats the reddish brick, feeling strangely sympathetic. Then, with a soft whisper of leather on wind, he'd gone.
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