The Lion and the Dove by Ligeia

In the graveyard a solitary dark figure moved among the monuments to the dead. Coming to one particular tomb, the figure stopped and seated himself on a stone bench in front of a plinth made of the same grey granite.

He liked this spot. It was special. Someone had cared enough for the departed to visit this place frequently. Often enough to require a bench anyway. Someone came to sit here, communing with a lost love . perhaps talking to them . . . maybe just remembering. Feeling close.

He stared up at the marble angel atop the granite pedestal. It was an unusual statue. Not the usual depiction of an androgynous seraphim or a fiery archangel. Not the ubiquitous and innocent child-angel. He hated those; they reminded him too much of old times . . . very bad old times. No, this angel was none of those. This angel leaned out over the pedestal, kneeling down on one knee as though considering whether or not to step down from its platform. Its eyes were half closed and heavy lidded; a faint smile was frozen on its white marble lips. The palest of blue veins ran through the pallid marble giving it the aspect of a consumptive in extremis. It seemed to look down upon the figure on the bench. One wing spread out over the tomb, the other lay smashed on the ground below. Its right arm was slightly raised, the fingers spread wide as though to grasp or exhort . . . or beckon. In the other hand it clutched a dove, held tight . . . or about to be set free.

Darla is like that marble dove, he thought. Beautiful, but heartless and cold. Frozen in time like the little stone bird and just as soulless.

Someone had been there recently and left three or four red roses on the plinth. The dried petals were scattered about like drops of blood at the angel's feet. A bronze plaque lay on the ground beneath the statue. Angel picked it up and slowly brushed the dust from its surface.

James Albert Stafford
1898 - 1979
Beloved husband, father and grandfather. 'Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee and to bring thee into
the place which I have prepared.'

This person . . . this man . . . lived and died; had a family, friends, lovers. There was still someone who cared enough to bring flowers. A wife perhaps, or a son or daughter. Someone. Angel leaned forward, placing the plaque at the statue's base.

His own unlife had spanned several lifetimes already and what did he have to show for it? Death and destruction, dissolution and despair.

What would my life have been, he wondered, if Liam had lived his allotted span? If Ariel had not died? Would it have been a good life? A happy life? A place in the community? Children, perhaps. A venerable old age, ending naturally and marked by some small monument in an Irish country churchyard, by now overgrown and long forgotten.

But all that had been stolen from him. All the possibilities torn away and this . . . this hateful changeling of an existence left in its place.

Why have I kept on for so long, he thought, enduring this awful half-life, seeking a deliverance that doesn't exist? Or doesn't exist for me anyway.

Angel rose and climbed to the crest of the hill overlooking Sunnydale. The little town was a constellation of coloured lights, some moving, some still - all silent.

What a strange place to seek salvation, he thought. Here at the Mouth of Hell. I've finally reached the point where I hoped I might redeem myself only to be considering ending it all at last.

He laughed a little then, but sadly.

How easily desire changed to hunger when I kissed Buffy. I have no control over myself, so how can I hope to help her? All I've achieved is to put her in more danger. What good is it for me to stay?

Or to go on?

He looked back down the slope at the angel with one wing.

'I'm like that,' he said quietly, ' . . . broken.'

He considered waiting there at the top of the hill, allowing the sun to rise over him. A couple of hours and it could all be over. Death by daybreak. How poetic. Seeing the sun come up for the first time in two hundred and forty years - it might just be worth it.

Thinking about Ariel before had reminded him of his tattoo. Liam had asked a Welsh sailor to do it for him when his beloved girl died back in Galway over two hundred years ago. Her death was the first of Darla's little gifts to him. Angel had almost forgotten the tattoo until Buffy commented on it. The Lion of St Mark. A lion with a single wing.

'We are, each of us, angels with one wing. We can only fly by embracing one another.' Someone had said that to him once, he no longer recalled where or when.

Angel sighed. I guess it can wait a little longer, he decided. Maybe I can still do some good here. After all, the sun always rises. It'll be here tomorrow, or the next day. There's no hurry. Not just yet.

He turned and walked back down the hill.

*****

Darla moved around the apartment as they talked, touching small items on the tabletops or moving a lamp, looking at the prints on the walls. She tapped an immaculate fingernail against the glass covering a flight of mounted butterflies, as though expecting to startle them into frantic life. Angel never took his eyes off her. She enjoyed that feeling. It had been a long time since he had watched her this intently, no matter that the cause was different these days.

'I gave you life - eternal life - and what have you done with it?'

'You expect me to thank you? After what you did to me?' Angel was incredulous, angry. Just a few minutes with Darla and all the hurt began to well up again. Hurt he had given as well as received. 'All you ever gave me was death; my own and the deaths of the countless thousands I killed for you. The deaths of my family .'

'Oh, please!' Darla shrugged off his words. She had heard them all before, decades ago. Old news. 'It's not like your family meant anything to you when they were alive. Or when you were.' She turned to Angel and smiled, sensual and predatory. 'Except for that pretty Irish colleen.'

Angel refused to take the bait. He would not discuss Ariel with the demon who killed her. But Darla would not let it rest.

'Can't say your taste in women's improved since then, or even changed much for that matter.' Darla continued to circle the room, picking up a delicate ivory netsuke and holding it up to the faint light coming through the papery blinds. A tiny Japanese courtesan and her samurai lover, limbs knotted together in an erotic embrace. 'You've found yourself another little virgin I see. I wonder if you can save this one?'

Angel did not respond. Darla turned sharply to face him, her voice hard now, accusing.

'Angelus would have taken her by now . '

'Angelus is long gone.'

'I think not .,' the predatory smile was back. 'He's only sleeping.'

Angel knew this was true. Angelus talked in his sleep.

'You're so predictable, Angel!' Darla goaded. 'And just how do you expect it to end this time? Any differently from the first? What was her name? That little Irish whore of yours? It seems to have slipped my mind - but I can still recall the taste.'

Angel lunged at Darla. Grabbing her around the throat, he slammed her up against the wall. Darla gasped, mostly in surprise then the smile returned.

'You can't choke me, idiot!' she rasped. 'I don't breathe!'

'Shut up, then!' Angel growled. 'Just shut up!'

'If you think that killing me will relieve you of your guilt, you're wrong.'

Angel released his grip on Darla and stepped back. She stepped away from the wall, rubbing the redness from her throat.

'The Master would have had you rule by his side. He'd have you back even now . . . ,' she offered, '. . . and so would I.'

'You sent me away.'

'I never sent you away. I allowed you to leave.'

Not true, Angel thought. You forced me away with a dozen small cruelties until I couldn't stand it any longer.

'Every child rebels against its parent some time,' Darla continued. 'I'm willing to let bygone be bygones.'

'On your terms.'

'Naturally.'

Darla smiled again, sweetly this time. Angel did not doubt she was sincere but the memories of her love withheld over something he could not help - the restoration of his human soul - still caused pain. It would be no different this time.

'It must have been so lonely for you these past years.'

A century on, Darla still knew exactly how to get to him. Where to stick the knife in, when to twist it.

'Unlike that other fallen angel,' he replied, 'I don't consider reigning in hell to be a viable option.'

- Finis -