My very late entry is here. It's a series of vignettes, really. They're character studies. Yeah. That's it.
My episode was Reprise, but there are spoilers through Not Fade Away.
Thanks very much to bhadrasvapna for the beta. I have tinkered with it since she had it, so any and all mistakes are mine. The characters, however, are not. They belong to Joss and Mutant Enemy.
The Signs that We Missed
If it had started the night he made the deal, that would have been a beginning. If it had started the night Wesley betrayed him, or the night Darla was brought back, or the night he met Doyle, that would have been an answer. If it had started the night he loved and lost Buffy or the night he met her, or the day he saw her, Lolita-young on high school steps, it could have ridden on his role in her calling. If he could say it started with Whistler; if he could name China, Romania, Galway, or the death bed of a Jamestown whore as the proverbial scene of the crime, then he might know the one damning action that somehow tipped the scales. There wasn’t one really, because destiny doesn’t do anything so prosaic as begin. It just quietly exists and if you’re fucked, then you’re fucked all along.
So later, when he thinks about how he got to the alleyway at the end of the world, he thinks about this; there was Darla and seething desperation, and one of the last major decisions that could have been made another way, and then (Connor) things were different. Destiny, Chance, Free Will, three different ways to say the ending writes itself.
Gunn: "I think I'll see what's happening in the neighborhood. Got a feeling I do more good *there* than sitting around here with you two."
Wesley: "Things'll pick up. They're bound to."
Cordy: "Yeah. It's LA. The evil's probably just tied up in traffic or something."
Gunn: "Well, you let me know when it gets here, right?"
Family is an action for Gunn, an occurrence. It's something that happens when you turn around one day and realize you’ll die with or for these people. Gunn doesn’t know when Cordelia and Wesley made the list. They’re stronger than he knew, braver than he ever imagined, and so fucking lost in life-without-Angel that he’s never sure what to say. This is only half his world; it’s the crazy, screwed up half where vampires are heroes and though he hates himself for it a little, it actually makes more sense now.
Life, always rough and random and crazy, got more complicated when Angel threw out the last, best, vampires-are-evil universal truth. Gunn went with it, because he knows when a cause is good, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t waiting for it to fall apart, for some big reveal. And that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss Angel. It just means things make a little more sense now.
Cordy and Wes are stranded in the fight they didn’t start. Gunn gets that, he does; that’s half his world too. But in the other half there is no vision or mystery. You fight the good fight the best you can for as long as you can, and that’s what matters.
And he needs that sometimes, simplicity and memory. His old gang knew him when things made sense and they knew Alonna. He goes back to the warehouses and the bad side of town, the snide remarks and now the I-told-you-so. He goes back to remember things no one else can because no one else was there like he was.
And it isn’t easy. It’s hard and it’s every day and it’s painful. But it isn’t so damn complicated.
Family is the people you’ll die with or for. It’s the people you’ll kill for.
There are two deaths for which Gunn will never forgive himself. Alonna died fighting, so he assumes, but he wasn’t there, or was there too late. Was there in time to look into all too familiar eyes and drive in the stake so that the moment would cycle forever in his head, broken and eternal.
When it happens again, he won’t be there when Fred dies. She dies the same way, defiant and consumed. When it’s Fred’s face and not Alonna’s that wakes him in the night, and her voice that haunts in empty rooms, then he’ll have to remember. It’ll be iced blue eyes instead of fangs. Sharper guilt. He’ll have to watch the demon live.
Wesley: "Yes. - Uh, and you. You should get out yourself. You're young, single. It's a Friday night in the city of... Angphleles? There must be someone you can call."
Cordy: "Ah, no, because then I'd actually have to have some friends. I don't."
Wesley: "That's not true."
Cordy: "You don't count."
Wesley: "Thank you."
Cordy: "You know what I mean."
Wesley: "Things are gonna get better Cordelia... for all of us. You'll see."
It isn’t the headaches that are killing her. Those hurt like hell, but she can handle it. It isn’t her lack of a social life either, and that surprises her a little, because Sunnydale’s Cordelia Chase would never have stood for that. She thinks about that girl sometimes, the one who made fun of Willow and made out with Xander in the janitor’s closet, who couldn’t think beyond “yum” the first time she laid eyes on Angel and who blamed Buffy Summers every time things went bad.
That girl thought that this wasn’t her fight. She didn’t have mystical migraines. She fought evil recreationally, and she had never watched her best friend die. Maybe she was lucky. Cordelia thinks that sometimes, but she’d never say it, because that girl didn’t believe in what she was fighting for. She didn’t have a friend like Doyle to lose. She didn’t have friends like Wesley or Gunn either, and she didn’t have Angel. That’s what’s killing her now. Wesley and Gunn can pretend that they’re doing enough. They have that luxury, even when they know it isn’t true. She’s off-center, unbalanced. The visions are worse, vivid like nightmare flashes. She lives with them, but they aren’t for her.
When she finally passes them on to the person they’re meant for, she’ll already be dead. She won’t know it will happen when she kisses him, won’t think to remember Doyle at the end. When they leave her, it won’t be the relief she expects, it’ll be an ending. She’s seen Angel with the visions, she believed then that he needed the messenger; it’s why she made the choice she made. But she’ll have a new path, and so will he. She’ll love him intensely enough to hope with everything she is that he doesn’t need her anymore.
Virginia: "Most people, they don't even acknowledge the evil, let alone try to fight it. And they don't have to wrap themselves in bandages to keep their insides from falling out."
Wesley: "That's true."
Virginia: "I don't suppose you'd ever consider - maybe giving it up - for something else?"
Wesley: "Could you be with someone who would?"
Virginia: "I don't know. - But sometimes I feel like I should be wrapped in bandages - to keep *my* insides from falling out."
Wesley: "This is difficult for you, isn't it?"
Virginia: "I just don't like to see you hurt."
Wesley: "No. - I mean - I mean breaking up with me."
Virginia makes it home before she breaks. Slumped against the door, gasping in hiccuped breaths, she swears off magic and warlocks and vampires. She’s had enough of that in her life. She swears off guns.
Three years later, watching the news with her infant son she’ll see the discovery of Wesley’s body and the “inexplicable” devastation of the old Hyperion hotel on Channel 7. She’ll cry then, too. When her husband gets home from the bank where he works, from the mundanity of their life, he’ll ask what’s wrong. She won’t tell him.
Tonight Wesley loses the first woman he loved. Cordelia’s vision headaches still vanish with Advil Migraine (though she takes a few more pills than the bottle recommends). Lilah is Enemy, part of a larger adversary, and she sees him as a minor player, unimportant if Angel has left him behind. In Pylea, Fred has abandoned the idea of rescue. She exists in skittish insanity, in a struggle for survival that keeps her from dreaming of home.
Tonight, Wes thinks he knows what it is to be alone.
They’ll drag Angel away. He’ll be alone in the hospital room, unable to speak, barely able to think, and not sure how or why he’s even still alive. It will pass, but he’ll remember - until he doesn’t anymore.
Then he’ll remember again, why he and Angel don’t trust each other even when they want to, even when they’re reaching out and coming back with hand-fulls of smoke. When he knows, really knows, Cordelia will be gone, and Gunn will be breaking and there will only be Illyria, with quiet, knowing eyes and condescension and a smile that isn’t Fred’s because it’s empty, but hurts all the more because it’s just too close.
That’s what it is to be alone.
Lindsey: "We'll stand on our records. It's the only thing we've got."
Lilah: "Then we're dead! Do I have to remind you of our collective screw-ups?! Two of which are still out there somewhere. - You haven't heard anything, have you? You would tell me if they contacted you."
Lindsey: "He set them on fire, Lilah. Even vampires as strong as Darla and Drusilla need time to recover from something like that."
Lilah: "Well, it would be just like them to pop up now!"
Lindsey: "I wouldn't worry."
Lilah: "Someone's got to! We don't get a second shot at this, Lindsey. Nothing can happen between now and Friday to screw this up."
After seventy-five years, there’s no one who remembers the last review. The Senior Partners wait long enough to make sure that all they have is corporate memory and a fear without focus to scare them, to make them offer up their first born children or sacrifice a basement full of goats. Unfazed by blind panic, Lilah looked it up. At the last review they carried seventy-five percent of the staff out in sacks, including half the middle management.
They’re supposed to fuck up. The Senior Partners are waiting for it. Lilah doesn’t die like that, not at the hands of the Senior Partners in the midst of a routine purging of the inept. But God, fuck up they did. It should have worked, but it was Angel so it all went to shit. It always goes to shit, and Lindsey can’t be trusted when that happens. He backs off. He switches sides or grows a conscience. He’s acting weird again. He’s lying; he’s hiding something. Beneath pretended concern there’s smugness and beneath that there’s the real concern and she doesn’t know what it is. She couldn’t care less what it is, provided that whatever it is stays hidden. She’s jittery, uneasy, jumping at every noise in the parking garage and expecting to see one of the psychotic vampires every time she turns a darkened corner. She calls a security company and hires body guards, knowing that they won’t help against the Senior Partners or Angel.
She shouldn’t have worried. For once Lindsey’s capacity to fuck up worked out best for all of them. With the chaos of the Kleynach demon’s death, not a single member of the middle management was carried out in a sack.
Lilah Morgan doesn’t die like that, but she dies in the grip of a love and a fear she can’t yet imagine. In seventy-five years, no one will be talking about the seventy-five year review of ‘01, but in Wolfram and Hart branches all over the world, they’ll still be talking about the LA massacre of ‘03 and about the vampire with a soul who leveled the firm a year later. Those will be the urban legends, the new horror stories that make them sacrifice children to gods they don’t believe in. Lilah, whose contract extends beyond her death, will appear at one of those firms every once in awhile to help purge the inept. They’ll ask her about it then. She’ll shake her head and say she missed it by a year, that she died in the massacre, because she almost did. The questioner will invariably be terminated.
Darla: "You always take a shower when you come back from that place. Don't know why. You're never dirty."
Lindsey: "I'm always dirty."
Lindsey has bigger problems.
Human Darla, for all of her confidence, was frantic and failing, with fear like a time bomb in every move. Nothing she was or did prepared him for the ice in the vampire’s eyes. She has a frightening patience she couldn’t afford before. Even when her hands are cool on his face, and she whispers “you saved me,” he wonders what she means. She isn’t desperate. He’s afraid of her stillness, of how cold she is grown, of the demon returned and the difference he never knew the soul made. Human Darla was ruthless and angry, but wanted only survival; Lindsey has no idea what this vampire Darla wants. She lies in a girlish whisper that makes him want to believe her. She isn’t strong, and he knows it, but when he gets out of the shower she’s standing in the bathroom and she swears she’s strong enough. There’s never anything he would call real between them. She hides too much and he doesn’t trust what she gives. When she slides from the bed hours later, he feigns sleep. He’s afraid for her because she’s still weak. He’s too afraid of her to do more than lie in the dark and listen.
Later, in a hundred seedy hotels by a hundred highway exits, he’ll wake up in the middle of the night. Sometimes it’ll be a nightmare, and then it’s the senior partners and missing limbs and fear. Sometimes it won’t be. That’s worse because when he wakes up in bed alone, he’s never sure whose face he saw, whose hands he felt, Angel’s or Darla’s. He can’t answer the question and doesn’t want to. So much was always about Angel, and when he really starts to understand that, he’ll go back to California.
Things will start to change in a bar in Sunnydale. She’ll carry herself like Faith and from a distance she really will look like Darla, small and delicate and fatal. The vampire she isn’t slaying will be more of a surprise. Lindsey knows who that is too; he’s read all the files. Darla used to tell stories and the books all had pictures of William the Bloody.
Things will change completely in a bar in Santa Cruz, but he won’t know it until two months later when he wakes up to find Eve crying in the bathroom. When she confesses everything, he’ll be surprised only because he won’t have thought that he was that important. He’ll pull her into his arms and whisper nonsensical forgiveness.
There’s an inner struggle for awhile, to run or go back. Finally, Eve will say they can’t keep running, that the Senior Partners won’t let him go. The choices will be die running or die fighting or fight and win, but what they’re fighting for he’s never sure. It’s only in the last hours, in the grip of Angel’s seeming suicide mission, that he’ll wonder if there really was another option after all.
Angel: " Getting to the Senior Partners, that's *my* destiny."
Host: "Is it? Because I haven't actually featured a destiny with you in it lately. It's all kind of murky. - Look, all these messy rites and rituals you've been crashing all over town? They don't *mean* anything. Nervous children. Trying to score as many brownie points as they can before daddy gets home. I got news. Daddy? Not impressed. Anyhow, stopping them won't prevent 'it' from passing into our world on Friday."
Angel: "What is 'it' and how do I stop it?"
Host: "I don't know and you don't."
What’s going on with Wolfram and Hart means death and destruction for them. It shouldn’t involve Angel, but it does. Angel shouldn’t get involved, but he will. In the end, Lorne gives what he can because that isn’t the point.
The point is that everything is murky. Things are changing. The big black mess that he’s getting from the lawyers really doesn’t have anything to do with Angel, and that might be safer. The things that are about Angel are scarier and they’re gonna hurt. Lorne only gets pieces, but Darla’s clearer now than she used to be; her presence means more. Things are changing. The twists are complex. One thing leads to another, but Lorne can’t see the how and he’s only starting to learn that the what isn’t enough. He just sees that it’s dark.
Lorne doesn’t tell everything he knows. He can’t.
Things will make more sense a year later, the night Connor is born and Caritas burns. He’ll know then that he did see it, but couldn’t understand what he was seeing, the meaning lost to the impossibility. The sun will go out, and Angelus will return and they’ll be in thrall of a Power That Was, but he’ll realize only afterwards that he did know before. Even the seer is both blinded and guided by context.
They’ll take Wolfram and Hart. Cordelia will die, then Fred, and he won’t really get it until the memories return. When he’s huddled on Spike’s dingy couch as Angel explains in hushed tones what has to happen, he’ll finally realize that he knew all along.
Angel: "You're not gonna win."
Holland: "Well - *no*. Of course we aren't. We have no intention of doing anything so prosaic as 'winning.'"
Angel: "Then why?"
Holland: "Hmm? I'm sorry? Why what?"
Angel: "Why fight?"
Holland: "That's really the question you should be asking yourself, isn't it? See, for us, there is no fight. Which is why winning doesn't enter into it. We - go on - no matter what. Our firm has always been here . . . And *that* - friend - is what's making things so difficult for you. - See, the world doesn't work in spite of evil, Angel. - It works with us. - It works because of us."
It’s like an undercurrent, dragging down. He’s been trying since he watched Darla die, but he can’t keep his head above the water line. He can fight in the darkness; he can fight without salvation, but not without meaning.
He’s been to a hell dimension. It was hot there, he thinks, and brighter. You saw what was happening. It was possible to anticipate the pain.
It’s cold here. It’s darker and shadowed, and maybe it’s worse not to know. The streets and people look different. They’re emptier and by the time he reaches the Hyperion he’s shaking, trembling from the chill despair.
He’ll say what matters is what we do.
Fight so that the fight still exists. Maybe it isn’t about winning; it’s about action and a capacity for hope, for choice. There will be moments of darkness to rival this one. Connor will be stolen; Cordelia will be lost; Fred will die. He’ll go into his office on the top floor of the newly renovated Wolfram and Hart building and wonder what he’s done and become. No one around him will understand, because they won’t be able to. He will have taken that understanding from them.
On the last night before what isn’t the end of the world because the world will continue, he won’t wonder so much. He won’t be alone then. He’ll know what he’s asking of them, and so will they.
Maybe it isn’t about winning. If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.
Kate: "You made me trust you. - You made me believe. - No, it wasn't you. It was me, right? I couldn't take the heat... That's what they're gonna say. Then you're gonna feel all bad - or you won't care. But then, then I won't care either. I won't feel a thing."
Vodka burns like nothing else, and then she’s sixteen again in the basement with her boyfriend, thrilling at the possibility of getting caught in the days of youthful rebellion before she’d have given her soul to live up to her father’s expectations. She chokes the memories down with the pills and waits to call until she’s certain it’s too late. Kate doesn’t do things half-way. She’s not one of Angel’s causes; she isn’t his informer; she isn’t his friend. She doesn’t want him to save her, though she knows he’ll try. She just wants him to know.
In San Francisco, private detective Kate Lockley will buy a cup of black coffee and a copy of the Chronicle. The front page stories will catch everyone’s attention - the collapse of the Wolfram and Hart building was a strange event, and the deaths of Senator Brucker and her campaign staff a tragic one. No one in the media will connect those events with the blurbs in the back pages about the discovery Wesley Wyndam-Price’s body and the destruction of the old Hyperion Hotel. Kate will. Her partner will roll his eyes when she brings up “that demon shit,” but he’ll know the story of suicide and salvation. He’ll handle their case load alone while she hunts LA. She won’t find Angel, though she’ll look for days, talking to old contacts and haunting the demon bars. She never will believe he’s dust.
Darla: "Don't play games with me."
Angel: "I'm not playing. I just wanna feel something besides the cold."
Darla survives. While Angelus was turning death to art, while Spike was choosing battles he never should have won, while Drusilla was singing to inanimate objects that somehow sang back, Darla survived. She survived and didn’t regret. She was still at the core, unflinching, determined. She doesn’t gamble like this. This is like China; like Sunnydale. She’s spinning again, caught in the whirlwind that’s destroyed her once. It’s the notlove between them, familiar, dangerously beautiful, finally (always) rotted through.
She pushes him away. He’s gentle and it isn’t right. His hand traces around her face. His eyes are dark, unreadable. Oh God, is this what it was like to be Buffy? Her teeth clench at the thought, but then he’s rougher and the pressure of his hands stings the burns on her arms. Then it’s alright again. Then she knows that he’s thinking about her.
She’ll be coughing up blood almost before she’s awake. She’ll stumble to the window to watch the last rays of the sinking sun, and even that motion will make her nauseous. Darla is vain, observant, but she will ignore the gentle rounding in her stomach as long as she can. Despite resurrection, there are things her pragmatism won’t let her believe. Once she knows, there are things it won’t let her ignore.
The last time Angel felt anything like this, he was staring into Darla’s eyes. He’s felt despair since, but not this darkness like drowning. He’s felt like he was losing, but not like he wanted to lose. He’s lost to her until one of them is dust, and the last time he felt this she crumbled to dust in his hand. He should be that strong again. Last time all he had to lose was Buffy (that was enough) this time it’s his whole life.
He crushes her to the wall. Darla, at least, is honest. You don’t get what you see, but he knows what he gets. He’s been drowning in her for centuries.
He’ll dream this night forever. When he stumbles in phantom soul pain onto the balcony, Darla will be there, softer and unreal. She’ll play the conscience that she could never be, speak of the plan that let him keep his soul and left him alive after the cataclysm. The plan that allowed him to save Kate Lockley. The plan that once brought snow to Southern California, that first brought him an affinity with Sunnydale’s Golden Girl.
“You don’t think it’s over? You don’t think you get to choose when it ends? Oh, darling boy.” Her laugh won’t ever stop in his dreams. “They make it up as they go along.”
She’ll tell him what he thought was over is the eye of the storm.
Angel will take his answers from the dream Darla when he doesn’t have his own.
And it will be Connor who is the answer.
Destined or not, Angel made the choices he had to make, and for Connor, for that life, that hope and meaning, he’d do it again.
Tonight he stumbles outside alone, with rain and revelation. He still has his soul and the darkness recedes. By the time she joins him on the balcony, dark hope and triumph in her eyes, he’ll know what he has to do. He’ll let her live, never imagining what that means. He’ll push her away, afraid to draw too close. This is how it begins between them always; it would be too easy to fall. She’s angry and aching, but she’ll be gone when he gets back. Kate will survive. Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn will forgive. Angel will think this is how it ends.
This is how it begins.