Disclaimer: Usual stuff… Written for pleasure, no profit.
Rating: If you’re old enough to watch the show, you’re old enough to read this. Violence is involved, so get your armour on.
Written for the wonderful IWRY Fic Marathon, 2012. Thanks for hosting this, Dark Star, and for keeping the event so alive.
Setting: Sometime in the future.
Summary: Angel is fixated on dreams of Swan Lake, and on his latest mission.
He watches the dancer intently, the brass balcony rail cool against his palms. He wonders whether he is leaving fingerprints deep in the metal, but he can’t tear his gaze away from the girl on stage. Her silken slippers whisper over the wooden boards, unheard except by a creature with senses as good as his, and her long, gauzy skirts float with the motion of the dance, so like the swansdown in which she is supposed to be clad. Her body embraces the depths of sorrow that she is suffering and he can feel her agony.
He grips the rail more tightly as Odette’s false double, the black swan Odile, dances a taunting, vaunting dance, and as the sorcerer mocks the suffering girl he has made into the Swan Queen.
It is January 1895. Much to the disgust of Darla, and the amusement of Drusilla, Angelus has brought his family out of Rome, away from the territory of the vampire that calls himself The Immortal. Spike, always ready to rub salt into his grandsire’s wounds, said that he was running away with his tail between his legs, but then so was Spike, and Angelus let the insult go.
He was less worried about where they were running to, being more concerned with the ‘from’, and was almost surprised to find himself back in the cultured elegance of St Petersburg. He isn’t unhappy with that turn of events, though. He likes it here, even in the depths of the Russian winter. And now he and Darla have some time to themselves. They’ve come to the ballet.
That was something else that surprised him. Five years ago, he saw his first ballet. Giselle. Beauty and Evil often go hand in hand, but on that night he learned that Evil can be moved by Beauty, the beauty of music, the beauty of dance, and the heart-searing beauty of a tragedy well-told. Giselle moved him to tears. Later, much later, he wondered whether that was the moment that brought him to the attention of the Powers-That-Be, with everything that was dragged in on the coat-tails of that twist of Fate.
Notwithstanding that as yet unknown Apocalypse-shaking future, he enjoyed Giselle so much that he’s chosen to come to the ballet again. They are in the Mariinsky Theatre, in their own box, and Darla is happy with that. Not that she especially likes the ballet, but in this city, the ballet is the place to be seen. Darla likes to be seen, to be admired, to wave to attractive young men, and some equally attractive young women, between the Acts and to slip out occasionally to arrange secret assignations for when the ballet has ended. Angelus is happy with that, too, because he will take his fill of the meals that Darla has procured.
But now he is engrossed in this new ballet. He feels those unfamiliar emotions swelling in his chest again, as Odette learns that her Prince, the Prince who should have rescued her from the curse of becoming a swan with the dawning of each day, has been tricked into pledging himself to Odile instead of fulfilling his vow of love to her. Now she is doomed to be a swan forever, day and night, winter and summer, with no possibility of ever walking the Earth as a human again, for as long as she lives.
In a few shockingly graceful steps, she pre-empts this terrible culmination of her curse, and she throws herself into the Lake of Tears, unwilling to give up what is left of her humanity. The Lake is no colder than the silvery tear that now glides down Angelus’ cheek. He hears a tiny, disdainful sound close by, and Darla presses her handkerchief into his pocket.
“Use that, dear boy. It’s a good thing that William isn’t here to see you.”
But Angelus doesn’t care, rapt as he is in what is happening in front of him. Prince Siegfried, unable to face a future without Odette, or perhaps unable to face a future in which he knows that he could have broken Odette’s curse, and will always know that he failed, makes his own leap into the storm-tossed Lake of Tears, to drown with the innocent woman that he loves.
Their moment of sacrifice and death breaks the magic of the sorcerer, destroying him, and allowing the souls of the lovers to ascend together, the two dancers clinging tightly to each other. The applause is thunderous, from this famously hard-to-please audience, and Angelus claps his hands as long and as loudly as anyone else.
“Come along,” Darla whispers. “We have dinner waiting.”
Angelus allows himself to be pulled from the theatre, but it is with regret. He would much rather be eating Odette.
Angel awakens with a start. He can still feel the coolness of the brass rail under his hands, feel the swell of emotion from the tragedy of the cursed Odette and the hapless Siegfried. He’s been dreaming about Swan Lake a lot recently. Those dreams are infinitely preferable to the other dreams that he has.
But for now, it’s time to rise, and to go about his business. He splashes some cold water over his face – a catlick of a wash, his mother would have said. He spends a lot more time picking over his stash of weapons, choosing ones that will give him the best results for what he has in mind. When he leaves, he locks the door, but only because of the weapons.
He abandons his car on the periphery of his hunting area. The streets that he walks through are dank and hostile, the towering buildings on either side never allowing the sun to cleanse the flagstones. Gangs of knife-wielding adolescent outcasts contribute their quotient of hostility, but they don’t bother him, any more than do the drifts of wind-sifted rubbish. He’s looking for something, and he’s not exactly sure where that something is, but his nose tells him that it isn’t far.
At length, he finds a faded red door, the paint cracked and peeling to show the silvery-grey wood underneath. It looks as old as he feels. The feral scent of musk is strong here. Silently he moves down the row of identical houses. Once, they might have been distinguished by the colour of their doors, but now, like cats, they are all grey in the dark.
The one at the end is empty. He slips round the corner to the end gable, masked by a weedy sycamore growing through the rotting fence. The cast iron drainpipe is rotting, too, but it is still firmly anchored, and he climbs quickly up onto the slate roof. It takes only moments to remove a few slates, enough for him to drop through into the space beneath. It stinks of age and dereliction and urine. As he suspected, the loft spaces are not fully separated, and he negotiates his way back to the house with the red door in full hunting stealth mode. Once there, he listens attentively, triangulating the sounds from beneath, his hearing as effective as echo location. He draws his weapons, a short sword and a heavy mace, with two long knives still inside his coat, and then he allows his final weapon to appear – the demon. It shows his monstrosity, and it is appropriate to what will happen this night. Then he steps forward and falls through the fragile trapdoor in a swirl of dust and wood fragments and darkness.
The Kharash demons living here don’t run from him, as he knew they wouldn’t. They are battle demons, muscular but mainly human, and there are a dozen or more of them. They don’t fear a lone vampire. But that is their mistake. They aren’t driven by the adrenalin of his rage and pain. He cuts down the first two with his sword and crushes the skull of a third with his mace. He marks the fourth by the long scar on its cheek, very recognisable, and he brings his mace up under the demon’s jaw, sweeping it off its feet to crash into the wall behind, where it lies motionless. He moves on towards the stairs, and that is when the brutal savagery really begins.
When he is finished, the place is like an abattoir. He’s barely been touched, except by their blood, which turns out to be as red as the door, and he’s liberally covered in that. He heads back upstairs to find the one with the scar. The demon is still unconscious. Satisfied that he will live, Angel hoists him onto his shoulder and carries him down back alleys and over rooftops to his car. He bundles the body into the trunk, shackling it with chains so that it will be immobilised, then sets off to where he’s been bivouacked to collect his gear. He has a long journey in front of him, and he won’t complete it tonight, but he can make a start.
He finds an abandoned and ruinous brick-making factory for the day. He’s slept in worse, but not that many. The doors are wide enough to allow him to drive his car in. He leaves the demon in the trunk and finds a shadowy corner. He’s so tired that he falls asleep straight away. He would have preferred not to. His dreams contain... horrors.
Tonight, his sub-conscious mind has chosen the ballet again. It is less benign than it may seem.
He’s seen different versions of Swan Lake. He’s seen happy endings, where Prince Seigfreid fights the sorcerer, breaks the curse on Odette, and lives happily ever after with her. Once upon a time, in his waking hours, he had dared to dream that such a miracle might be his, his and Buffy’s, but his own particular sorcerer is still full of malicious, vengeful magic.
Today he’s back again at the Mariinsky Theatre, watching the deaths of the lovers in the Lake of Tears and the destruction of the sorcerer on its banks; watching Seigfreid and Odette’s reunion in the ever-after. Even that would be a victory, but he doesn’t believe that his ever-after holds any promise for him, other than darkness and pain.
The sun has been down for two hours now, and Angel’s up on the rooftops, his favourite vantage point. He likes it here for the same reasons that an eagle likes an eyrie. It is out of the way of other predators. It lets him see far across the landscape, to survey his prey. And it feels so damned good to be almost up in the sky, with the wind pressing against him, even if he has no wings to spread. He turns his face upwards, fancying that he can feel Buffy looking down on him with love, waiting for him, like the Blessed Damozel. But it’s all fancy. Truth is starker.
Then the wind whips around him bringing something that he’s been waiting for, and his focus on that fleeting message is complete. He’s suddenly the absolute predator. His prey is a nest of Morad demons. He has caught the scent of them returning from whatever business they’ve been on. The wind gives him direction. They are coming from the south, from the direction of the moon, so he need not fear being silhouetted by its diamond brightness. He stands on the very edge of the man-made precipice until he sees a dark blue van pull up at a fire-damaged store. A handful of crouched figures run from the vehicle. The door swings open so that they can run straight in, and closes swiftly behind them.
Angel smiles grimly. He is amused that they might imagine the stench of burned wood and plastic could mask their distinctive odour from him. Utter folly. He strolls back down through the building and makes his way to the store. The windows are boarded up, but the door is boarded up from the inside. They are definitely expecting him. So they should be.
Silently he draws his weapons. He has chosen a mace again. That served him well with the Kharash. Two long knives hang from his waist. His sword is new, though, especially chosen for this battle. It is a broad and heavy seax, rather than a true sword, a wickedly-sharp twenty-inch fighting knife with a distinctive broken back shape that gives it a needle sharp point. The ancient weapon is ideal for close-quarter fighting, and has been brought up to date with brass knuckles fixed to the wooden hilt.
The door is no obstacle at all, cracking open at his first powerful kick. The store is dark and empty. For one brief moment, he thinks that the Morad have fooled him, and left by a back door. Or worse, that this is an ambush. But then he hears the murmur of muted voices. In the back of the store, he finds the trapdoor to the basement.
“He’s in. We should have left tonight instead of waiting for daylight.”
“He would still have found us.”
“You’re running from a single vampire. We can take him.”
“He’s overcome all the rest of us.”
“Silence! You all know what to do. There are ten of us. We will have the upper hand.”
Thanks, he thinks. Ten. They are battle demons, very strong, very powerful. But on the cellar stairs, they can only come at him one at a time. That will be his initial battleground. He rips the trapdoor off its lock and out of its hinges. The cellar is in darkness, but that doesn’t bother him, and he swings the mace and thrusts with the seax as a demon lashes a blade across his legs. He feels the first gush of hot blood across his hand. He kicks the body away from him as he moves to a lower step and waits for the next opponent.
The third one to come at him is the one he’s been particularly looking for. This demon has a long sword, but Angel simply crashes the mace down onto his hand so that the sword falls from his nerveless fingers. A blow to the demon’s temple and the fight goes out of him.
The seven remaining demons decide that they’ll do better to wait for him to come to them. They stand in a semicircle, hefting their own weapons. He smiles a smile full of teeth, and obliges.
He sits on the blood-smeared stairs and surveys the carnage on the floor below him. His fist is still clenched around the handle of the seax, his bruised fingers jammed into the brass knuckles. The mace lies at his side. He had a mission, and now that it is complete, he feels emptied out. Hollow.
One of the figures on the floor stirs. The others will never stir again, not this side of Hell. It’s too close to morning to get to where he needs to go, but he’s sick of the stench of that bane of vampires, fire; and the demon blood, red like human but stinking of garlic and rotten fish is turning his stomach. Stiffly, Angel gets to his feet. He throttles the live demon back into unconsciousness, slings the body over his shoulder, gathers up the mace and leaves. His fist is still clenched around the seax, as though welded there.
He finds an abandoned building of uncertain purpose, as uncertain as he now is. Parking the car in a corner that is free from rubbish, he leaves the demon bundled in the trunk and finds a dark shadow to huddle into. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to sleep, but he does.
The familiar brass rail is beneath his fingers, and the swan dancers glide across the stage in a cloud of tulle and feathers. But then the cool metal of the rail disappears, the dancers flow together and re-emerge in more modern costumes. It is a different city, a different continent, a different world. Paris. Siegfried is as brave as Odette knew him to be, and he fights the sorcerer. It is an unfair contest that leaves the Prince dead, and Odette to become the absolute possession, the plaything, of the evil sorcerer, von Rothbart. She will spend her life fulfilling his every desire, yearning for her freedom or her death.
Like a kaleidoscope, space shifts into a new pattern of light and colour. Northern England. The Prince, determined that von Rothbart should not have Odette, drags the sorcerer into the Lake of Tears where they both drown, leaving Odette now human, but bereft and alone.
The figures shift and merge into a new dance. New York.
Darla is no longer with him, and he is not in a luxurious box. He’s in the cheap seats now, his hands clenched on his knees as he watches the doll-sized figures. But the music sweeps him along with the story, and there is that tear again, as the Prince’s promise to wed another woman, even though he was tricked, leaves the innocent Odette in swan form forever, mourning her lost love and her lost humanity.
He tries to recapture one of the happier endings. But it is all too painful, and his body, normally so still in sleep, as still and silent as death, thrashes in remembered agony. The dream shifts and changes. It is the same continent, but just as he fled New York all those years ago – ‘to’, this time, rather than ‘from’ – so he flees New York now. He had a guide, then. He has only his punishing memories now, as he goes from bad to so very much worse.
These are the dreams that he dreads. Yet, he cannot escape them. He cannot force himself to wake up from them. He has to bear it, from beginning to bitter end.
They stayed away from each other for so long, he and Buffy. Perhaps emotionally bankrupted by the constant tirade from her friends to stay away from that damned vampire, she accepted an offer of marriage from another man – no, a man – and even his dream skates over those terrible days that followed. But then she begins to understand how she has been mistaken, and she comes to find Angel. We’ll work it out, she says. If there’s a way, we’ll find it together. Even if I have to make a eunuch of you. He laughs at that, and if there is a brittleness to the laughter, he hides it well.
She takes out an earring, and pricks her finger with it. In his dream, that tiny bead of blood swells, perfusing all his senses, until it dominates his world. Red. Copper. Hot. Sweet. Salt. Throbbing. Silky. It engulfs him, an ocean of Slayerhood, a roaring cataract of Buffy. In the real world she had offered her finger to him, a pledge of her faith, and he had meekly licked it. The dream knows him better, though.
That night, after she has gone home, he walks into the local Catholic church, the faith of his childhood, and he bows his head to the deity there, giving thanks for the mercy shown to him. He kneels in supplication, even as the radiant power of the cross threatens to flay the flesh from his body, and as the weight of disapproving ritual and harsh faith tries to expel the abomination from this holy place. He doesn’t belong here, but it is part of Christian history that sin is purified by pain, and he welcomes it, doesn’t try to fight it, except to remain stoically in his place. And yet, in the soul-searing ordeal, he feels something else. Something not of him and not of this place.
Real physical pain. It is pain beyond bearing, but it isn’t his. He is used to the pain that he carries, to the pain of being the abomination. This is different. This is about Buffy. This is Buffy. He runs from the church, so fast that no one ever suspects his passage.
He is, of course, too late. He’s always too late. He travels further and faster than even he thought possible, the demon’s powers increasing logarithmically in his moment of uttermost need. When he reaches her, there are no last words, no final farewells, only her bleeding body still heated from battle.
And a coalition of demons, an alliance to take down the last Slayer. They are leaving as he arrives, helping their wounded, but arrogant with victory. He has the choice of staying with her, or of taking his vengeance. His mind is scythe-sharp when he decides to stay with her. Grief has sliced him open and emptied him out, but like a man wounded in battle, he hasn’t felt it yet. For now, he knows very well that revenge is a dish best served cold, and he intends to exact revenge in full measure. For now, then, he marks the demons, by species and by each individual. He would know them anywhere. If he has to go to Hell to find them, he will.
So, he holds the body of the woman he loves, watches the back-slapping victors disappear into what is left of the night, and waits for the numbness to fade so that the pain can forge a different Angel.
He drives the car up a stony mountain trail, so little used that he has to clear away a landslip from the recent rains. He makes just enough space to get the car through and drives on until even the ghost of a trail cannot take him any further. He drags the Morad demon out of the trunk. It is shackled and gagged, but it struggles to get free. He has a long hike, so he punches it back into unconsciousness again.
When he reaches the cave, the iron gates are still securely locked. Once he is inside, he pushes aside a boulder that he’s used to block the tunnel. A little further on, a spacious water-worn chamber opens out. Water still trickles down the walls, but whichever underground river spewed through here, it is gone now. Here, though, is a selection of demons shackled to the walls. Their hostility is palpable, but they remain silent, helplessly watchful. He chains up his latest captive at the end of the arc of prisoners.
There are now eleven of them, and this has been his mission. These are the eleven that assassinated the Slayer. His Slayer. And they are the last of their kind. He’s made sure of that. This vengeance has been years in the making, and he is serving it very cold indeed. As cold as the blood of a vampire.
He pulls one of the knives from his waist. It is the smaller of the two, but it is exceedingly sharp. The Kharash demon misunderstands.
“Why are you going to kill us now?”
“Oh, I’m not going to kill you. Each of you is the only one of your kind that I’ve left alive. You’re going to continue to exist as something unique and uniquely alone. If you don’t, it will be your choice. I’d rather leave you to suffer.”
“Why? Why are you doing this?”
“You killed her.”
“That was just business. We were told to take her out.” The demon looks bitter. “We were told she was the last of her kind, too. What’s your interest in this?”
“Whatever she was, she was mine. That makes it my business.”
The Morad is conscious again, and yanks at the chains, but Angel knows they will hold. It spits at him but misses.
“Don’t you know who it is that has hunted down all your people?” it asks the Kharash.
“A madman. An agent of the Watchers’ Council. No, we never knew.”
“He’s Angelus. He had a thing with the Slayer.” It exaggerates the word ‘thing’.
“Angelus has nothing to do with this,” Angel says mildly.
“You think?” The Morad is full of contempt.
Angel shrugs, and chooses the Morad as the first victim for the gelding knife. The Morad screams during the castration, and sobs afterwards, curled up in pain. When he’s finished with all eleven, his hands are covered in a rainbow of blood. He looks at the agonised demons. Why should they not suffer a little as he has suffered? After he lost his soul to Buffy, when he knew how completely the Kalderash had exacted their own revenge, he might just as well have been castrated for all the pleasure he ever had afterwards. Now each of them really is the last of their line, and a good thing too.
He digs into his pocket and pulls out a key, tossing it down to the floor.
“I’m sure one of you can reach that. If you can, you’re free to go. I’m done with you.” Let them spend the years alone and suffering, as he has. It will be just a taste of his own pain, but he knows that it will be much worse than death. Death can be so simple.
Outside the cave, he can smell the approaching dawn. Not long now. Further around the mountain is a small, fast-flowing stream tumbling through a landscape of bare rock. He rinses his hands in that, then finds a stream-side boulder, where he makes himself comfortable. There is no Lake of Tears here, and this stream will have to suffice.
Buffy, his Prince Seigfreid, the lover who might have saved him from his curse, is dead. He is tired of the fight. If he is to be like Odette, trapped in this cursed shell forever, he wants no more of it. He has rid the world of some of the worst of its demons, but that was his last act for humanity, his swan song.
He will wait here for the sun, and find out whether there can be an apotheosis with the soul of his lover, or whether there is only the Lake of Tears for him. He’s afraid that he knows the answer to that.
An unwelcome thought comes to him. He has brought so much misery to so many people. Perhaps he isn’t Odette/Odile. Perhaps he’s the evil sorcerer and the world would always have been better off without his baleful presence. But he has no time to brood on that. A bright line of white light breaches the greying horizon. A flock of swans wing overhead, calling musically to each other as they pass, and he draws in a deep breath, steeling himself for the last act.
If you are hazy on the story of Swan Lake, go here: