Written for the 2010 IWRY Marathon
NC17: for language and a bit of violence.
Word count: Approx 2050
Disclaimer: Not mine, more’s the pity.
Summary: As Angel works, he reflects.
Belief isn’t just a word. It’s a state of mind. And as far as minds go? Mine can be pretty damned twisted. But let’s not go there. Really. You don’t want to know. Let’s focus on what’s important. And right now? The demon that’s about to shred me with its nine inch claws. It’s showing me its teeth. I’m not impressed. I show it mine, and it blinks, I hope, in envy. It roars a challenge. The demon’s belief is that it can walk away from this, victorious. I’m about to educate it.
I duck when it takes a swing at me. I launch myself sideways, kick out with a leg and smash its kneecap. It bellows. Its breath is to be believed. Rotting flesh never smelled so bad.
“Fresh mints, please!” I say as I press my advantage.
I swing my sword, hoping to take its head. The demon is not there. It has folded in on itself, and when I lean in for the killing blow its claws are through my chest. Son of a bitch. It’s faster than it looks. I can’t help the growl of pain that escapes my throat. I don’t drop the sword though. Its eyes are gleaming, thinking victory is within its grasp.
“Not so fast, boyo!”
I bring my feet up against its chest and heave myself backwards, slashing at its face as claws disengage. The other claw bats away my blade as if it was a piece of kindling. In fact, a piece of kindling would do more harm to me than steel. Undeterred, I pivot away and score a cutting line against its leathery torso. It barely registers. Okay, if that didn’t make an impression I guess I better try harder. The demon shuffles to its feet, limping as it chases after me. Flexing my legs, I spring upwards, somersault over the beast, my sword slicing through its thick neck as I land. The body lurches a step or two more, before collapsing, the head rolling away and resting against the sewer walls.
I stand there panting, not that I need the air, but habits are hard to break, even two hundred odd year old habits. I look down at my torso. My coat and shirt are punctured. Blood is a bitch to get out of silk. I guess the shirt is headed for the trash. I finger the holes in my coat. It’s black, cashmere, and it won’t show the damage. That’s something, I suppose. I don’t give the carcass a second look as I leave. Lugin demons are few and far between. They’re attracted to testosterone. Young men and sport. A couple of the hockey team hadn’t made it home from practice, and of course I had had to investigate. Problem now solved.
I head for the nearest manhole. I need to feel fresh air against my skin. The foulness below has tainted more than my senses. The night sky calls to me, and soon I’m standing on the roof of a building, my gaze raking in the city. There are people scurrying by, and some not in a hurry; in particular, a man and his pretty girlfriend, hand in hand, laughing. She’s a blonde and she reminds me of a certain someone. I step out into thin air and, the sensation of flying sending a thrilling shiver up my spine, land safely behind them in shadow. Moving faster than a human, I brush past the man, turning him slightly from his date. He utters an oath.
“What the hell?”
The hand he is holding has dissolved into ash. My stake disappears up my sleeve and I continue on my way, leaving him staring about. As I turn a corner, I hear him calling her name. “Lucretia?” Yeah, right. A name like that, a dead give away.
Once upon a time, there was nothing I thought I couldn’t do. To be a demon and a powerful one at that was a heady aphrodisiac. I thought humans were weak and fragile and ripe for the picking. I can hear the words I spoke to Cordelia so clearly in my mind. “It was all about the pain and the pleasure.” I had believed in evil, and in doing evil. Hell, I was the poster boy for evil. I took pleasure in inflicting pain on others. And then I was cursed. Those damned gypsies… Lucretia had been what I once was. A predator, killing without remorse, feeding on the weak and helpless. The belief in oneself absolute. Not a few times have I wished for that clarity back. I blink at my surroundings. I am standing in front of a store window. Carpet cleaners of all types are on display. I turn and continue on my way.
There are parks dotted about the city, little oases of green amongst all the concrete, glass, and steel. I make a habit of patrolling these havens of nature. People walking in the park? An open invitation to a vampire. The cemeteries, too, get my attention, but for now I find myself sitting on a park bench. It’s a mild night, there is a bit of a breeze blowing, and there are plenty of people about. Two men walk by, chatting about a movie they have just seen. I can smell popcorn on their breath as they pass. Along the path, there is a man and a woman sitting on a seat like mine. She has blonde highlights in her hair, and his is as dark as mine. They are kissing, lost in each other’s arms. An old familiar ache sets up home inside my chest.
Human contact is something I crave and my friends couldn’t afford. Wesley’s face swims before my mind’s eye, followed by the others, all lost to the world because of their belief in me. I didn’t deserve friends like those, willing to lose their lives for my mission. I’m not an honourable man. I may be a champion but I have done disreputable things. Even with a soul I’m not a nice man. I’m not even a man.
The scent of fear catches my attention. The murmur of rough words being spoken lands in my ear. There are two men leaning over the lovebirds on the park bench. The muttered threats originate from the newcomers. I see a glint of steel menacing the young couple. I sigh. Vampires aren’t the only monsters out at night. The young man is tense with fear and anger. I know he’s going to do something both heroic and stupid. Silently and swiftly, I step up behind the two men. A knife is at the woman’s throat.
Innocently, I ask, “Is there a problem here?”
A blade appears in the other man’s hand as he twists around towards me. He menaces me with it. “Get lost!” he orders. His buddy hasn’t bothered to lift his head and his knife doesn’t move an inch from the woman’s flesh. His other hand has found her breast and he is squeezing it, hard. The choice is made for me. I move preternaturally fast and pluck the knife from his grasp, breaking his wrist as I do so. He screams, “You fuck!” And staggers back, gripping his wrist.
“Oops, sorry about that.”
At the same time I snatch the other weapon from his partner in crime. The idiot tries to run for it. I give him a hard shove, and he falls and smacks his head on the pavement. His breathing tells me he’s out cold. My fist finds the other mugger’s temple with a satisfying thud. He joins his partner on the ground.
Looking over at the lovers, I see that they are both staring at the men on the path, their eyes huge with surprise.
“Are you both okay?”
They look up at me and nod. The woman’s hands are shaking as she brings them down from her neck – I can see that she wasn’t cut - and her boyfriend covers them with his not so steady ones.
“I’d call the police before they wake up,” I advise, and leave, before they pull themselves together and want to involve me further.
The wind is picking up now, the mildness of the night, turning cool. It’ll drive people indoors. There’ll be fewer pickings for the monsters out here. I have a purpose and I know where I’m heading. I owe everything to one special person. The person who believed in me, who showed me that I could do better, and that I could become someone. I had spent years eking out an existence in filthy alleyways. I shudder now at the memories. Dining on rats. My skin crawls at remembered taste. I believed that if I became invisible, my crimes would disappear. I should have known better. But I wasn’t the man, vampire, I am now. I had been damaged goods. My soul couldn’t deal with the depravity of the monster I was, and by isolating myself was the only way I thought I could deal. I never expected that I could be worthy of friendship, or of love. She has saved me.
It is the belief Buffy has in herself that I admire. She sets an example to all who meet her. She never gives up. She does what is right, and she cares so much, it’s frightening. I am privileged to know her. Even though I have loved other women, I don’t think I can love another in the same way I love her. And there lies the rub. I cannot love her and remain myself. For years we’ve been apart, because one moment of perfect happiness turns me back into the monster I once was…am.
You see, those gypsies were very clever. I experience a moment of perfect happiness and I lose my soul and I’m evil again. I’ve had a few years to ponder on why the gypsies would dare to build in a loophole that would rid me of my soul. One would think they wouldn’t wish Angelus loose in the world. Other than my killing anyone who brought me happiness, as if anyone who dared to show me pity, to love me, deserved to die - once re-ensouled, and I believe that I would have been re-ensouled, for the gypsies always had someone of their clan watching me - I would live in fear of experiencing that emotion ever again. I would be miserable for eternity. I am sad on Buffy’s behalf. I know she loves me and yet she cannot fully enjoy the benefits of that love, which is one of the reasons I left her all those years ago.
Buffy is everything to me. She has an inner quality that sets her apart. Sure, she is human, she has her human weaknesses – cookie dough, chocolate chip ice cream comes to mind – but she rises above her own considerations to do what is necessary for the world. No wonder she was Chosen. She has what it takes to be the Slayer, and what a magnificent slayer she is.
Ahead is my destination. I see the diner is well patronized. Every table by the windows is taken. The aroma of coffee wafts out the door as a couple of women leave the establishment. I catch the door before it swings closed, and I’m inside. I survey the crowd and find who I am looking for. She lifts up an empty cup, all smiles – I can’t help the grin I return - and I head for the counter to order a refill for her and a coffee for me.
She is sitting in the corner, at a table for two.
“You’re late,” she says, the welcome in her voice belying her words.
I say, “Buffy,” and all’s right with the world.
You see, Buffy’s belief in me is all encompassing. She is willing to make sacrifices for the both of us. Right now, perfect happiness is off the menu, but she assures me, once Willow has her hooks in a problem, it’ll be solved. The most powerful wicca in the world has given us hope. I’m looking forward to experiencing a bit of that happiness. It’ll be perfect.
AN: Thanks you, Jo for your wonderful friendship and helpful suggestions.