The Presence of Departed Acts


Rating: PG for some images
Spoilers: Angel S1 -5
A/N 1: Italicized fragments from The Book of the Watchers in The Book of Enoch. Some character dialog included from Shiny Happy People, The Magic Bullet, Sacrifice, Hole in the World, Shells, Time Bomb, Dear Boy and Darla. Summary from Jesus by Brand New.
A/N 2: Written for the 2007 lynnevitational. Much appreciation and many thanks to kormantic, diachrony and tkp for the beta. Special thanks to tkp for also holding my hand and listening to my random rambling while I wrote this. All errors and mistakes are my own, 'cause I'm lame like that.
Dedication: To chrisleeoctaves for inviting me to the lynnevitational and as a result getting me to finish this.
Summary: Do I divide and pull apart? 'Cause my bright is too slight to hold back all my dark.


**

Angel falls for nine days and nights.

He drops like an anvil, heavy with the weight of his sins and failures. The past unfurls as he falls, memories like shooting stars rush past and disintegrate into showers of glittering debris. What had been, everyone he ever was, uncoil in triplicate -- human, vampire, souled -- carbon copies of the same face flailing, loving, wreaking havoc and burning out spectacularly.

The exact moment that Angel signed away his salvation shines particularly bright. A prick of the skin and somewhere in the world a parchment carries the rusty stain of his name in borrowed blood. That night the sky burned and ashes drifted like snow, caught on his eyelashes and covered the abandoned dead. Buildings fell. The earth shook and rumbled and burbled up its rotten contents.

Wesley, Angel remembers, never made it to the alley.

Gunn was the second to fall, discarded as easily as he had been caught by Ilyria’s strong, leathered hands. They’d tried to shield him, but the horde that spilled up from the bowels of Hell were legion.

Beyond the dragon’s heated wrath, Angel recalls bodies strewn in the broken streets, Faith, twisted metal and negative space. And he remembers falling.

For nine days and nights, Angel remembers falling.

*

one. Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the darkness.

For the first eternity they pin him to cracked earth, leave him spread and naked beneath a vast, star spectacled sky. The rise and set of suns and moons are mapped out in geological time on celestial calendars, every second of every hour scheduled and accounted for. There is plenty of time to think and repent, or so the plan goes.

The Children of Heaven count the sinners who fall like ticks on a clock to mark the time, ten thousand eternities until judgment and the end of everything. The sinners are counted a second time as they cross the rivers; Lethe is the furthest south and the last heavenward border. Angel waits uncounted, chained to barren rock and dreaming of himself with palms cupped and brimming with the promise of forgetfulness. Between his dreams of salvation he is troubled by ghosts and the damned.

A week, a month, perhaps a year, later, the vultures come with sharpened beaks and razored claws to scrabble through his insides and pick apart his bones. Butterflies flit through the dark and sip on the blood pooled in the hollow of his open belly.

Angel chuckles at the night sky -- sharp, staccato shots of mirthless laughter that scatter the vultures for fewer minutes than it takes to build an hour. If he can recall the length of an hour, a minute, a month, a year.

The vultures always come back.

An Olympiad, a lustrum, maybe a decade, later, a mouse tiptoes across Angel’s ribcage, nibbles its way towards the shriveled husk of his heart and nudges it.

“You don’t belong here,” the mouse says, its whiskers twitching at the lonely rattle Angel's heart makes. "I’ve seen your kind before, champions who've lost their way. Lost their minds, too, if they weren’t careful. Oh, not often, mind you. But every few millennia. Every few.”

"A warrior." Sharp as thunder, a familiar voice cracks apart the dark. "I was beginning to wonder if this world was void of your kind."

"Somehow it's always about a girl with you." The mouse curls into the dip of Angel's collarbone, flips its tail over its nose and rests its head on crossed paws. "Not that you're all that unique. Since the beginning of time it's always been about a girl-- Daughters of Men, whores, madonnas."

"It holds value," Illyria growls. "Worth beyond price."

"That is relative," the mouse sighs heavily, curling its body tighter. "Eternity has a way of changing your mind for you. I imagine he'll learn that soon enough. We all do."

Angel angles his head ever so slightly towards Illyria growing up from the cracked earth, one arm draped across the stab of its raised knee, its booted foot firmly planted in the dust.

Beyond the hair and the eyes, the suffocating blue of its lips and the sharp rise of cheek bones, Fred hides in the planes and angles of Illyria's face. Angel can just make out the shade of her brown eyes. Illyria raises its arm and points at Angel. The gesture is weighted with accusation, Illyria's or Fred's, he cannot tell.

Beyond the length of Illyria's hand Fred's fingers push through an opaque membrane of patchwork memories. She struggles to separate herself from the figure frozen under the stars. The things that defined Fred fill out the ghost of her until she pulls free of Illyria with a gentle pop. A static charge arcs between them as Fred drags her rosebud breasts and flat belly through the dust until she's resting beside Angel.

Exhausted, Fred lays there -- collapsed.

Time passes uncounted as Angel waits, until finally she gathers herself, pushes up, arms quivering with the effort it takes to hold herself upright. Her head hangs low and she wobbles dangerously. It takes all of her strength, every last ounce of will to straddle her arms over Angel's head. Before she died, Fred had gotten very good at gathering her courage for the difficult moments. It serves her well, now, even though here there is nothing to fear and she is only an imagined ghost besides.

Slowly Fred eases down, presses in close, her body at an angle to Angel's. Her blushing breasts are smoothed against his chest. The curtain of her hair traps them in a world without butterflies or maggots, without the tug of vultures and Illyria's cold stare.

"Handsome man saves me," Fred says. The tip of her nose just barely brushing Angel's.

Illyria's voice echoes Fred's. "Ridiculous apes," it snarls.

The mouse lifts its head slightly. Angel can feel the tickle of its whiskers against his jaw. The movement stirs Fred's hair cascading in benediction around his shoulders.

The last time Angel saw Fred she was dying -- pale and losing a battle with the primordial god-king who remorselessly devoured all of her Fredness.

Angel is as hungry for the sight of her as he is desperate to avoid the smooth softness of her eyes. He tips his head back, suffocated by her adoration and the choice he made at the bottom of The Deeper Well.

"Hearts get in the way," Fred whispers. "Right?"

The mouse answers her indirectly. Whispering its truth into Angel's ear instead. It isn't as if it matters to her after all. Fred is dead and gone.

"Hearts hold the beginnings of the end," the mouse says. "Always have. For humans and immortals alike."

Angel wishes that he could tell Fred all of the whys for her death, as if that could make it better, make it right, fix all of the places he's gone wrong for her. He wishes that he could tell her why he will always be sorry, but never sorry enough. But Angel's words are lost to him here, tangled in clauses and fine print, the language of contracts. This is what Wolfram and Hart have left him.

"Nothing is what it used to be, is it?" Illyria, waiting in the dark, is impossible to ignore.

The mouse coughs delicately. "Drogyn spoke true. Nothing of Fred remains. The price you paid was a high one. But destiny is a difficult path to walk, champions must fall as surely as they rise."

Fred smiles the lie of her sweetness, her hope, her innocence. Angel understands better than anyone that she isn't real, not anymore.

"I'm sorry," Fred cries. "I've been so alone and scared."

"Lies," the mouse says. "All of it. Angel, this isn't the place for you."

*

two. On the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire.

Time is and it isn’t and on the second day of the second eternity they crucify him in a field of golden wheat and tallest corn. Angel hangs from a simmering cross, a blood and bone scarecrow. For a while he marvels at the ferocity of heat and light, at his continued existence in the face of the blazing sun.

A generation, a century, maybe a millennium, later, the crows with their sleek feathers and raucous voices come and peck at his eyes and the tips of his fingers. They chatter and pull at the flesh of his lips, tug at the thickness of his hair.

Hours, weeks, maybe months, later, a voice shouts from the ground: “I know you.”

Angel never turns his gaze from the blinding glow of the horizon; a grim smile curls into the corner of his mouth.

“Of course I do,” the voice says, this time near Angel's ear. “On the plain. There were vultures and butterflies. Maggots, too, if I recall.”

The little white mouse whispers shoo at the sky and scatters the crows away from Angel’s eyes and the crown of his head.

“Didn’t think I’d see you again," it says, sitting up. One paw rests on Angel's mangled ear. "You must‘ve been a world of wicked in your time. Most earn redemption the first time around." The mouse pauses to nibble at an itch on its belly. "Of course not many people almost destroy the world. It's a rare and singularly human talent. Most demons wouldn't even dare."

Angel licks his dry, cracked lips. He thinks of Drusilla and Acathla and the years before them both. Angel's flare for mayhem was a careful cultivation of lash to back. Spare the rod, spoil the child as his father always said.

The mouse gently bites Angel's chin, recalling him from memories of heat and snow: It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy, it's the man.

Angel watches the patterns in the sun -- rolling gases and flashes of fire that flicker into images. A steel blade of a girl smiles serenely and holds a bundle wrapped in blue blankets.

“That’s not how it happened.” The mouse stretches out across the mound of Angel's shoulder. “And well you know it. Wrong blonde.”

The girl in the sun glances down at the bundle in her arms and whispers something. Her smiling, talking lips sometimes blow kisses.

“She loves you, you know," the mouse says, voice hushed with bitter disenchantment. "It’s in the way she says your name. No damnation falls as sweetly as the curse of I love you."

In the sun, the image of the girl shivers and rounds. Her hair and eyes darken. She continues to blow kisses at the baby.

Across the sunburned expanse, a figure steps out of the sun with the leisure of a blooming flower, then within the blink of an eye Jasmine stands beneath the cross, her back to the sun and waving Cordelia.

"I needed a miracle," Jasmine says, the truth plain and scalding as the day. "And so I arranged one. All these events unfolded that I might re-enter this physical plain." Jasmine turns towards the sun, squinting against the blaze of light and Cordelia's loving smile.

"You should listen to her," the mouse chimes, then chirps a tiny sound that scats the creeping crows away again. "She's got a point. There really wasn't much to be done. It was the way of the thing. Champions, destiny, the illusion of choice."

They mirror each other, Jasmine and Angel, staring straight ahead into the sun with wrinkled brows heavy with thought and sweat. They watch Cordelia laughing and cuddling Connor against her chest, his baby fingers curled around her thumb.

"That is where my parentage began," Jasmine says, her voice reverberates over the rustle of the corn, doubles and ricochets off of nothing that can be seen by the human eye. The sound haunts the field in complimentary parts: harmony and melody, treble and bass. It vibrates and overlaps until she fractures into two.

The second Jasmine, a translucent shadow layered over the first, turns her head to look back at the cross through pale, narrow eyes.

"What's your part in this, Sariel?" she asks. "It isn't your place."

The mouse licks his tiny palms, washes his face with quick strokes before turning his red eyes towards split and doubled Jasmine.

"Am I not the Guide, the Watcher of Men? Is this not my function, the reason for my creation? I am but a humble servant fulfilling my duties. Besides," the mouse says. "Naamah is lost to me. This is all that is left. He doesn't belong here. This place is the prison of angels and defeated gods. He has earned redemption."

Jasmine snorts with laughter, eyes rolling, and turns away. "You fell of your own accord and so did he. This fearful place," she mutters, "Is exactly where he deserves to be."

"His presence is a mockery."

The hitch in time smooths out, the doubled vision sews itself back together. Jasmine, whole once again, smiles into the sun. "My love is all around you," she says.

A gurgle of laughter floats across the field and carries with it a sweet, light breeze.

"Who loves guilt like you love guilt." Cordelia continues to blow kisses from the sun.

The breeze subsides and Angel is left blistering beneath the unrelenting sun. The crows, bold once more, creep up the heavy curve of his bicep.

“Shoo,” Sariel hisses, and the crows pop, disappearing in a whirl of black feathers.

*

three. Bind him fast for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth

On the second day of the third eternity Angel is buried in the sand, his head left exposed for the scorpions to snap at. A lustrum, an era, maybe an eon, later, his eyelids have been chewed away by the sand fleas, among other things.

A period, an epoch, maybe an age, later, Sariel crouches to the right of Angel and examines the lidless eyes. He is surprised by the things that Angel isn't sorry for: Connor in a bloom of white light, his throat slit; Buffy, all of sweet sixteen, and the vision of himself heaving over her.

"Seventeen," the mouse says. "It was her birthday."

Angel stares straight ahead. His unblinking eyes are red, the inner corners burdened with sand and guilt.

In the distance, Darla kneels in the sand beneath the shelter of fourteen trees. Her dress is the same soft shade as her eyes. The sweetheart neckline is stained with blood.

"I remember everything, Angel." Darla's smile belies the quiet horror weighting her voice. Memories are everything here, a kind of proof that anchors the guilt.

Sariel scratches in the sand, rooting up fleas. "If you could change anything, would you?" he asks.

Angel doesn't answer. Three eternities and his words remain lost in the gaping abyss between heaven and hell. The Children of Heaven bound and covered in darkness, swear they hear the sound of his voice echoing from the stars.

"You'd want them all the same, wouldn't you? Just as they were and just as it happened."

Sariel's scratching paws fling sand into Angel's perpetually staring eyes. "You are no better than the unrepentant damned condemned to wait here." His voice is too loud for the tiny mouse body and echoes across the desert. "But for all of that, you do not belong here, Angel."

Darla sweeps one hand across the sand. "You said you'd give me everything, do you remember that?"

"They can't continue to speak for you," Sariel's thunderous voice leaves a crack in the sky. "This insistence on repenting for imagined sins is a waste. Your gift shouldn't be squandered beyond the breaking of the world. You gave up your Shanshu, but Heaven is still yours."

Darla winks at them in the distance.

"No matter how good a boy you are," she says. "God doesn't want you." The delicate punctures marring her throat weep redly. "But I still do."

*

In time Angel finds himself in a field, the grass stretching green and tall to his knees. Around its perimeter, haunted and barren trees huddle in a tangle of dying foliage marking the return to Tartarus. A path unwinds brightly to the south.

Despite the icy sky above the naked and crowded trees, over the field the sun shines true, and a breeze ripples the grass. Bees drone and buzz drunkenly among a scattering of heavy headed flowers.

Sariel is there when Angel turns. Not the mouse that he was, but the angel who fell, cruelly beautiful and diminished. His hair and eyes are the deep, bright color of jet.

"There is no one to speak for you here," he says, eyes flat and glittering in the light. He gestures towards the sparkling road that parts the trees on the field's southern end. "That is your path. There is your gift. You do not belong here."

Angel bows his head, licks his lips and strains for the words he has not spoken in three eternities. "Not yet," he says. "Not yet -- there's so many. You don't know what I've done. I have to make amends."

The heavy bark of Sariel's laughter carries easily across the field, into the trees, to the sky and clouds. "Man," he spits. "Oh, Father, they are indeed your most fascinating and miraculous creation."

Sariel takes a step towards Angel, opens immense black wings with a snap that lays the grass low on the ground. The trees begin to whisper then, trading secrets in a language like the sound of water over rock.

"Do you see us, vampire? Chained to the Earth and burning beneath the sun and stars, ever hungry for the divine. We are cast out, condemned to wait just for the chance to earn redemption. We wait for that which you have already been granted. You cannot outrun destiny, Angel." He folds his wings back and the murmuring trees hush. "Trust me, we all get what we deserve."

Angel shoves his hands into his pockets. This is the first time he's allowed himself clothing and for a moment he relishes the comfort of his fists hidden in the material. "I can't," he growls. "Not yet. I was in charge. What happened ..."

Cordelia steps onto the field from the path. "We all decided, Angel," she says. "We all decided to stay."

"It ain't always about you." Doyle joins her in the grass. "Everybody's got a role to play."

Wesley slips his arm easily through Cordelia's. "You need to accept that."

Angel stares at them, sees the shadow of Gunn behind them and Darla standing nervously further down the path.

He hangs his head, remembering the night he closed the doors on Holland Manners. He thinks of Darla and the obscenity of Cordelia's swollen belly. Mistakes, poor choices, signs he should have recognized. Things that, in the end, weigh heavier than the populations that fell to Angelus's bloody appetite.

The path to the south dims, the friends and lovers who came to lure him into Paradise fade as Angel turns away.

Sariel's dark eyes flash with the light from this briefest glimpse of Heaven. "You mad, stubborn fool," he says bitterly, his voice low and harsh with longing. "What I would give ..." He turns back towards the gossiping trees. "You are a fool."

"Maybe," Angel says as he follows Sariel back into the wood. "But there's always a catch and there's always a price."

Let him abide there forever and cover his face that he may not see light.

 


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