The Bright Obvious
Author ~ Voleuse ~ website ~ journal
Title ~ The Bright Obvious
Rating ~ R
Timeline ~ Set during "Deep Down"
Author's notes ~ Dark things are dreamt beneath the surface of the sea.
Story written for ~ SJ Smith
Required character ~ Angel
Genre ~ Future/Past/AU
One other requirement ~ Mention of a gift Angel gave to Buffy (canon or otherwise)
Two restrictions (optional) ~ No slash and no C/A
Spoiler level ~ End of S4
Rating level ~ R
"We must endure our thoughts all night, until the bright obvious stands motionless in the cold." - Wallace Stevens
He spent weeks staring into the abyss before the delusions started. He's not sure when the fish started talking to him, but he's pretty sure the last one had teeth.
He curses the sea, something he might never have seen had he stayed human, stuck with cobblestones and fields. Knee-deep snow the closest to ocean he would ever have come.
Vampires don't usually feel the cold, but it oozes about him now, though he stays bone-dry. He's the only thing with real blood for miles, and he can't hear the comforting thump of human heartbeats.
His own blood, borrowed, slows and slows more, until it sloshes like the tides in his veins.
And he dreams.
"Am I a thing worth saving? Am I a righteous man?"
Buffy is weeping, sobbing desperately as he clutches her shoulders, and even in his despair, even with his soul, he feels takes a modicum of pleasure at her frightened pleas.
"What do you want from me, Buffy?" He pulls her to her feet again, bends his body until his face is even with hers. "What do you want?"
Her eyes are wide, and her breath shudders against his lips. He kisses her, gently, and her body goes liquid in his hands.
"Do you want this?" He kisses her again, and it becomes more desperate, and her hands snake against his neck, the cladagh cool against his skin.
She nods, and he bows his head, trailing his lips against her neck.
"Do you want me?"
"Yes," she gasps, and presses her lips to his temple.
He grins, changes, and plunges fangs into her.
Drinks, and when he's done, let's her body slump to the ground.
He sees snow falling, and marvels at the artistry of her body, slowly being blanketed in white.
Angel stops counting the days, stops trying, because he can't count them anyway. He can't feel the sun from where he is, doesn't feel the familiar sear of its rise.
There's only the endless chill of sunset now.
A bell tinkles as he pushes open the store's door, and Angel breathes in the scent of curiosity and currency when he enters. It's a tiny shop, quaint as most in Sunnydale are, and he's fairly sure he'll find what he's looking for here.
Buffy's birthday is in a couple of weeks, and it's been decades since he gave any woman a gift that didn't begin or end in bloodshed.
It's been decades since he's given a gift at all.
It's been a lifetime, or two, since he felt about anyone the way he felt about Buffy.
The shopkeeper, a girl with a wide smile, offers her help to him, but he just shakes his head and runs his hand over the glass panels of the counter. Peers at the sparkle of silver under fluorescent lighting, and sees them.
Cladagh rings, rows of them, nestled in black velvet.
"Good choice." The girl pulls out the display, places the rings on the counter. "Cladaghs are very popular gifts, especially with the promise ring crowd."
He reaches into his pocket, finds the trinket he pocketed when he last visited Buffy's room. A cheap ring, not anything precious, but hers. He's seen her wear it a number of times, a twist of metal and colored crystal. "I need one this size."
The shopgirl smiles. "Sure." She takes the ring, matches it to the right size, and names the price. "For someone special?"
"Yes." He pays the amount, puts both rings back into his pocket. "Very special."
The girl smiles again.
And then he rips her heart out.
In the first week, trapped in his underwater coffin, hunger pulsed in him like a heartbeat. Not appetite, not some superficial bodily function, but an unending craving for the hot spurt of arterial blood, fresh and close to boiling.
As time passes, the hunger fades to a dim companion. If he was able, he'd be glad of it, else it would have driven him mad.
He'd be nothing but dust and dreams and hunger.
He already is.
He's pacing in the waiting room, anesthetic and ammonia strong in the air, when the doors to the operating room burst open, and Darla appears, radiant, though wheelchair-bound.
Angel reaches her in three steps, kneels at her feet and kisses her, tears in his eyes, her own tears teasing his mouth as he draws back. "Darla."
"Angel." She beams at him. Looks down, and Angel realizes she's holding a baby.
"What should..." He reaches forward, hand trembling as it brushes against the baby's head. "Do you still want to call him--"
"Connor." Darla nods, brings Angel's hand to her mouth. "We'll name him Connor."
Angel wraps his arms around Darla, embracing them both.
He isn't prepared for the rough shove against his chest, and he flies back, hitting a bank of plastic chairs with a grunt. "Darla?"
He blinks, then, because Darla is gone, and rising from the wheelchair is Buffy. Instead of the hospital gown, she's clad in leather pants and a turtleneck. She looks perfect, immaculate, and she holds a stake in her hand.
Connor is clutched in her other arm. Sleeping peacefully; smiling, even.
Buffy has murder in her eyes.
"Buffy?" The hospital echoes with sudden emptiness, and Angel just wants to hold his son in his arms. "Buffy, what are you doing here?"
doing here?" She stalks forward, and he stands hastily, stumbles backwards. Keeps going, keeps out of reach. "What are you doing?"
She stares down at Connor, a mixture of malice and longing in her eyes.
"Buffy." Angel is afraid, so afraid. "Give Connor to me. Please."
"Why should I?" Her pace speeds up, her boots clicking against the cold floor. "He's mine. He should be mine. You promised me."
Her fist is clenched around the stake, and the cladagh glints under the hospital lights.
Angel sobs, knowing.
She's going to kill Connor. After she kills him.
He runs into the front doors of the hospital, and the metal digs into his back. Pushes, and the doors open, and he falls into the sunlight.
Buffy stands over him, teeth bared, and Angel squints up at her. She opens her mouth to speak, but instead she lets out a scream.
Then, he sees the flames that lick against her coat, and like memory, he sees her afire. Burning, burning, and Connor starts to cry.
Angel reaches, tries to save him, but it's too late. In a moment, they're crumbling to ash, and he's left with nothing but dust in his hands.
There's room enough in his coffin to turn, but Angel doesn't tend to spin in his grave. He tosses a bit, but he doesn't realize.
He just remembers, and dreams.
His father didn't like the wench.
Looking back, that's probably the defining reason for his interest in her.
Over the intervening centuries, he's forgotten what her name was, that wee lass with her sideways glances and golden hair. He can see her smile in the corner of his eye, but he can't remember her name.
He saw her slipping out of the tavern one day, the newest wench, one he hadn't found opportunity to press into a corner, ale in one hand and her skirts in another.
He couldn't very well let her slip away, could he?
He tossed coin on the table, shrugged off the barkeep's half-hearted curses, and tramped across the room, out the door, and into the alley. Breathe vapor in the cold, he shivered, then caught the shimmer of the wench's hair, down the street.
Only half-inebriated, he caught up her easily, caught her wrist with a practiced catch, caught the girl with a roguish grin.
Tumbled her first in a nearby alley, her lithe body buffering his against the icy stone wall. Not a virgin, this one, but he reveled in her all the same.
Spent a time or two with her again, later, before his father warned him against whores.
Then, he gave her a cladagh, heart inward. He didn't wear one himself, but she never paid that mind.
A few weeks later, he followed another blonde into an alley.
His girl, his cladagh girl, he killed with a laugh.
If he had ever considered the depths of the Pacific, Angel might have imagined it silent. A grave of sound, dark and unforgiving.
The silence is, at first, relentless, but in time he begins to hear again. The slow creak of the ocean's hand, pressing against his bed. The muffled boom of the outside world, dancing miles above his resting place. The trickle-drip of water, intruding upon his solitude.
If he had ever considered the depths of the Pacific, Angel would never have imagined this.
"You're not to see that whore, Liam." His father's face is flushed, angry, and he smirks at the vein throbbing in his neck. "You bring our family to shame."
He doesn't bother to respond. Simply turns his back on his father, and walks out the door. Ignores the berating man following him to the threshold.
He whistles as he meanders around the city streets, bright in the afternoon.
He reaches her boarding house and skips up the stairs to her room, ignoring the slanted glances cast after him. He doesn't owe explanations or apologies to this lot, or to anyone. He pays for a room in the building, same as the rest of them.
He doesn't bother to knock on her door, but simply unlocks it with his key, and steps quietly into the gloom. She's already waiting for him, ties on her dress loose, knees wide as she slouches in her bed.
A pleased grunt suffices for his greeting, and with little ado, he's undressed, ready, and inside of her. She moans his name, but it's wrong. It's not Liam, it's...
He startles, mid-thrust, and pulls back. The girl beneath him is fine-boned, but her complexion is fair, smooth. She's not the wench. "Darla?"
Darla shakes her head, laughs, and arches under him. Her features shift, her skin darkens, and she's younger.
Buffy nods, breathless, and gasps against his skin. "Don't stop, Angel."
It all seems wrong, somehow, but he can't help himself. He plunges into her anew, and revels in her moans. He feels a frantic buzzing beneath his skin, and he chuckles when she rolls them, sits astride him.
"God." He runs his hands over her body, clutches at her hips. "Buffy."
She laughs, then, and then a stranger thing happens. Her face changes, morphs into something hideous, and her grin reveals fangs.
He can't stop, can't stop inside of her, and even as he realizes what she is, he cries out in pleasure, grinding his body into her.
She bends her head to drink, then, and he sobs.
The sea is all Angel sees. All that he knows, if he knows anything at all, now.
There's the ripple of the glass before him, and then the deep indigo of water.
It's all he sees.
It was months ago when he first saw Buffy. A bright young woman, only newly adult, and the recently called Slayer.
He thought she was beautiful, golden in the sunlight and ferocious in the night. Lonely and strong and dangerous.
He wanted to help her, so he traveled to Sunnydale, and waited. Found a place to stay, a good supply of blood, and a little shop filled with trinkets. Crosses and cladaghs, and he dreamed of wooing the Slayer with silver.
She never came.
The Master did, that shrivelled bat of long ago, and Darla reappeared with him.
Angel killed her, the first night they crossed paths. He wasn't able to save the little redhead her companion dragged off, but he killed his sire, and was glad.
He fought the vampires, old allies some, and hoped that Buffy would arrive soon.
But she didn't, and the Master ascended, laughing at the formerly-fierce Angelus, who fell under the onslaught of newly-turned.
For a while, after his capture, he endured the torture. Trusted that Buffy would arrive, to save the town. Save him.
She never did.
At first the whipping boy for all the vampires, Angel soon became the personal pet of the redhead he had failed to rescue, so long ago. Vicious and pretty, even in bloodshed, Angel learned to beg at Willow's order.
Now, even as she unlocks his cell door, he whimpers. Partly because he expects pain, and partly because he knows she expects it.
He's learned not to displease Willow.
She's alone today, he knows, Xander's footsteps absent from his hearing. She kicks him, makes him face her, and he flinches away even as he obeys.
"Good morning, puppy." She's wearing a corduroy skirt today, an odd contrast to her corset. He's seen it before; she's curious today. She has questions, and she's persistent in getting answers.
"W-Willow." She rips his shirt open, and he shivers when the air hits the ever-healing wounds on his chest. Sees her flip a matchbook between her fingers. "P-please. Don't."
"I like it when you beg." She tosses the matches over her shoulder. Straddles him, and giggles as when he writhes, afraid. "Good puppy."
She reaches under, undoes button and zipper. Strokes.
Smiles. "Very good puppy." Eases onto him.
He thrusts, almost involuntarily.
"Why did you come here, puppy?" Her tone is conversational, strange counterpoint to the lewd twists of her body. "Why did you stay?"
He gasps, frantic with need, with fear. Hears footsteps in the corridor.
"Who were you waiting for?" And she stops, poised above him, and he can't move under her hands. Her eyes flash yellow, and she bares her teeth. "Who?"
He strains against her hands, panting. "For the Slayer. F-for Buffy."
"What kind of name is Buffy?" A low chuckle from the corridor, and he turns his head to see Xander, arms crossed, leaning against the bars. "And what's a slayer?"
Willow shrugs. Stands, and smirks down at Angel. "Good puppy." She leans, rearranges his clothing to fully cover him, ignoring his yearning flesh. "Stay."
Angel shuts his eyes as she goes to Xander, but he can't stop listening.
They couple for hours in front of him, and he can only burn.
Months under the ocean, and soon Angel doesn't even see the world above him.
He can only remember.
When he's lucky, he can dream.
His eyes blink open, and the world is golden and glass before him. Beside him is a gilded woman, and she seems familiar.
He smiles at her. "Hello."
She doesn't smile back, but there is compassion in her eyes. "Hello, Angel."
"Do I know you?"
"You did, once." She strokes at her wrist, and he sees a watch on it, its clockwork incongruous against her metallic skin. "You might again."
"Who are you?" He looks around, and all he see is white. And her.
"A friend." She gestures with one hand, artfully. "One who would see you live. As it were."
He feels the import of her words, but doesn't know their meaning. "Where am I?"
She looks at him, sternly. "That is unimportant."
He spins around, sees nothing. Feels nothing but the weight of his body, the swish of his coat. "Why am I here?"
"Because you are going to die."
"I'm..." He pats his hands down his chest, feels the solidity of flesh and existence. "How?"
"By becoming obsolete." She raises her arms, gestures at the whiteness of their surroundings. "By staying in stasis, and ceasing to live."
He feels helpless, feels frozen in this nothingness. "What do you want me to do?"
She draws forward, then, takes his face in her metal-cool hands. "Wake."
A spotlight searches the depths.
His fingers almost twitch.
He sees the future.
It might be a dream. It might be an idle, impossible hope.
It also might come true.
He is human. The sun is warm against his face, and he feels the precious beat of his heart, long-forgotten.
He is not human. The sun chases him to shadows, but it is no burden. It's a reminder of his responsibilities. A reminder of everything that he can do for those who can't defend themselves.
He is part of a family. He has Connor, his son, a sweet infant in his arms. A toddler, finally walking, laughing as he calls him "Daddy." A child, learning to skate on the ice, learning to hit a hockey puck. A teenager, petulant but loving. He has Connor. He has his son.
He is alone, but not. He has friends, good friends who would die for him, if he would allow it. They protect and comfort each other. They laugh together, and mourn together.
He is with Buffy, hands clasped together, silver adorning their fingers, evidence of their devotion. Pledged, happy, and finally at peace.
He is not with Buffy, but they are together nonetheless. Their hands clasp when they greet, glad to meet, and nostalgic with love. They are equally happy at parting, not to be rid of each other, but knowing that they'll have a endless future in which to meet again.
He is dying, ancient and bed-ridden. A woman, almost as old, holds his hand in her own, and the rings on their fingers clink when they meet. He knows it is his time, and he is satisfied. He has lived longer than any human has, and atoned for his sins rightly. He has seen his children grow to become parents themselves. His vision fades, and he knows that he has loved, and been loved.
He is dying, young as he has been for hundreds of years. Blood rushes from him, but he knows one thing: He has done right. The world will go on, and in part because of him. He's longed for one thing, ever, and now he has achieved it.
A flash of light tickles at his eye, and he blinks.
With that flutter, his blood begins easing through his veins again, and he knows he
It isn't much, not yet, but for now, it is enough.
There is light in his eyes, and he knows his name.
There is light.
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