Proceedings -- In the aftermath of Reunion
Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Season Two Historical Note: The action in this story takes place directly after "Reunion".

Author's Note: I'm sure I'm not the only person wondering about what went on after Angel fired Cordy/Wes/Gunn, so this is my take on the situation. In three segments, the final one takes place in a setting introduced in the beginning of my Season One story, "Starlet". e.c. 13 jan 01




PROCEEDINGS
by Evan Como






I. There's Joy in Repetition

This wine...

Is not all that. With a little olive oil, however, I have no doubt it would be great for focaccia. Which reminds me -- one bottle into Holland Manner's private reserves -- I haven't eaten since lunch.

I wonder if Darla will mind that my blood alcohol level is more than a few points above simple intoxication. Not that I can't handle my liquor, I would hardly classify myself as drunk. I'm completely lucid -- 100% fine and doodley-dandy considering the circumstances.

For instance, it shouldn't be possible that I can think about eating while I'm watching my co-workers being consumed. Maybe I'm past the point of revulsion. After you see one life after another viciously ripped out through someone's neck, it really does become routine. The crying, the begging, the death. Minks was especially pathetic, sniveling until Dru - with a single, deceptively-frail hand -- yanked him off his sorry knees.

What I've been noticing is that the instant the fangs sink in, however, all protests become lost to -- What? Fright? Pain? I just don't know. It doesn't seem like it would be all that painful; but, I have extremity amputation to use as a comparison to attack-by-vampire.

Although, if I wanted to get technical about it --

I guess I'll just have to wait my turn, figure it out for myself in the ten or so seconds I'll have before the internal light goes off. The actual siphoning part looks...

Murton seems -- *seemed* to have liked it just fine. Nighty-night, Lisa.

This is...

This is...

This is really, really dull.

I wonder if the Manners have any California's in this pit or if Catherine only served the domestics at her dinner parties. Now, *that's* something to look forward to: never having to attend another Catherine & Holland dining soiree. Not that they were bad, they were just pretentious. Exactly like this wine tasting tonight. Holland only decanted the two bottles. For all of us, only the two bottles.

Cheapskate. Well, he certainly found out for certain that you can't take this shit with you.

Here's a French... another French... French... French... More French. Not that I have anything against the French or their excellent wine-making abilities, but something lighter, a skosh bit younger...

Looks like that's a negatory, Counselor McDonald.

OK, then. I'll just make do with another one of the same. Lessee...

Um, DULL! Right. This is boring as hell to me, but the two ladies -- and I will call them ladies -- are having an excellent time. Holland would have been the one to point out that they're super-enthusiastic and *that's* what's important. Thinking from experience, I can empathize with the necessity for high morale in the work place, especially since I've had my share of job disenchantment, most of it caused by the very same VAMPIRE ANGEL who sealed all of us in here with Darla and Drusilla. Everyone, that is, except for that idiot no-show, Mathiason -- the only one on the Team who would have actually enjoyed this experience.

But that's straying off-topic.

I wonder where THE VAMPIRE ANGEL is right now-- If he's sitting on the staircase outside the door listening to and ignoring the helpless as they cry out for him -- or a specified Deity -- in their hour of need. Darla and Dru seem to be unconcerned about THE VAMPIRE ANGEL'S absence. They seem to be, not only enjoying us, but one another's company immensely.

That's nice. There's nothing like being surrounded by your favorite associates when you're ready to do a little bloodshedding. I'm thinking that from experience, as well. Although... I really didn't consider any of my co-workers friend-worthy. I never socialized with them, actually couldn't say what went on in their heads, who was married or stuff like that.

Like Lilah... Hell if I know if she started having more fun after she went blonde.

It's just really too bad THE VAMPIRE ANGEL's missing all this. What's the fun in vengeance without being a witness at the execution? Unless, because he can be accused of so much worse in his unlifetime, he'd be as bored as me. So much he and I have in common at the moment; although, I think that his active participation would have decreased the boredom quotient dramatically.

What I don't get is why Holland didn't even bother to inquire how THE VAMPIRE ANGEL eluded LAPD apprehension. That's what *I* wanted to know. Nooooooooo, Manners went straight to pleading for his life. I could see it in the eyes of THE VAMPIRE ANGEL that there would be no leniency -- nope, not at all -- because I've more than made the not-so-pleasurable acquaintance with the very expression he had on tonight.

Nice that, on this particular occasion, I wasn't the only one being graced with his malefic countenance -- the final perk of being on a team. I've never seen the charm of THE VAMPIRE ANGEL'S soul, personally. He has never been anything less than one egotistical and vindictive bastard in all the time I've known him.

Maybe my remaining moments would be better served in reflection of my personal regrets. Do I regret taking that office with its incredible view of the city and all the benefits that accompanied that decision; or going to THE VAMPIRE ANGEL to prevent three innocent children from being killed, prompting the offer of said office; or having a bout of misplaced compassion that got the whole wad of destiny in a bunch to begin with?

Nah, those aren't regrets; but I do have a couple of big ones. One of them has to with a certain blonde in this room that I didn't kiss harder or for longer, that I didn't have the opportunity to catch a four century-old strain of syphilis from. At this juncture, venereal disease would have hardly mattered.

This 1928 Lafitte Latour... going down smoothly enough, but it brings me around to regret number two.

There was a $3.99 1995 Merlot I picked up at Trader Joe's a year or so ago. Damn awesome bottle of wine. Chilean? Central Coast? Whatever; it doesn't matter. What mattered is that when I went back a week later, it was sold out. I wish I'd bought a case of the stuff before that happened.

I should have learned my lesson from that. 'Snooze a little; lose a lot'.

Both Darla and Dru are ignoring me, snacking around me. Hell if I can figure out why. Maybe they're trying to sell me on the merits of being a vampire -- the literal as opposed to the metaphorical. Not that they'd offer me a choice in the matter if they deemed me worthy enough to join the club. Or maybe they're saving me for THE VAMPIRE ANGEL, himself.

That's actually quite a few options as my life draws to a close -- none really better or worse than the other. Pity that my life's gonna end on such a note of ambivalence; but, at least, that can't be categorized as regret.

Wolfram & Hart Special Projects wanted the Dark One, and we got him. There aren't too many men or women who, before they die, get the chance to see their labors bear fruit.

So cheers! Team, Holland. And let's enjoy that eternal snooze.


II. He Had A Nasty Reputation As A Cru-el Dude

"He was *gloating*! Did you see that look in his eyes?" Wesley own look had glazed over his half-empty pint, the dark brown brew not dissimilar in coloration to the eyes in discussion.

"He wasn't --" Cordelia paused as the occupants of the adjoining table finished booing. Inhaling deeply, she lowered her voice and continued, "-- gloating, Wesley. He was sad."

She turned to their companion for validation. "Way sad. Huh, Gunn?"

Before removing his attention from the stage, Gunn shook his head in vehement disapproval. He looked down at the table and tilted his glass to contemplate the stout ale's ivory head. Tasting the beverage did nothing to disprove his theory that his drink tasted like he had been sipping through soap suds and only served to reinforce the informed decision to never again have "whatever Wesley's drinking".

"Gunn?"

He followed Cordy's voice up to hazel-eye level. "They use molasses to make this stuff?"

"Gunn!" Cordelia snatched Gunn's glass. As an equal-opportunity spoilsport, she grabbed Wesley's glass, too, and rearranged both ales in the center of the table.

Gunn slumped in the booth. "I'on't know what Angel was, exactly. All I know is that, for the first time in a coupla months, he actually told *you guys* the truth."

Wesley's bottom lip threatened to drop off, it hung that despondently. "I thought that -- " He glanced away for a moment before mirroring Gunn's posture.

"Good Lord! Six months ago I sat in another booth situated in a different sector of this city extolling all of Angel's virtues! I thought I knew him then... Now... that person tonight, sitting across from us --"

Wesley glanced from Gunn to Cordelia, then lowered his sight to nothing in particular. "If I could only stop losing them," he muttered into his chest.

After setting her elbows onto the edge of the table, Cordelia deposited her chin onto the heels of her palms. She sighed.

"Angel's gotta show, right? He's just *gotta* show!"

The singer on stage opted for an acapella encore instead of relinquishing the microphone to the next karaoke performer. The Caritas host's smile had worn as thinly as his outrageously-colored sport coat and his discreet elbow ended the extended performance.

Wesley, who had a decent view of the entrance, shook his head in defeat. "I'm afraid -- and, at this point, I'd like very much to emphasize the word 'afraid' -- that if Angel was going to show, he would have done so by now."

Gunn, whose long arms were crossed in front of him, leaned forward to rest on the table. "If I remember right, I told y'all that he wasn't going to come *here* in the first place." The tone of his voice was subdued, hardly critical. "Angel has nothing to sing about; he already made a decision."

The anxiety Cordelia had been holding hostage was released. "But, Angel's still good. I *know* he is!" She reached out for both men and latched onto their forearms with all of the strength behind her conviction. "Locking his enemies in a room with crazed, bloodthirsty vampires doesn't classify as a soul-losing offense. Right, Wesley?"

An allergic reaction that had been spreading feet-upwards throughout Wesley' body finally made it to his waist, making his lower extremities feel as if they were stuffed with pins and needles. "I don't want to imagine Angel -- " The words "has gone bad" were nearly mouthed, they were that softly spoken.

"With his soul in tact... The internal struggle..." Wesley shuddered when his shoulders went numb.

"Seriously, Wesley," Cordelia chided, "*that* wasn't the reassurance I was hoping to get from you."

But, her frown softened considerably to Wesley's hang-dog regard. The ex-Watcher had aged more in two hours than in the year and a half they'd known one another. She didn't doubt he noticed that failing their responsibilities to Angel had done the same to her.

Gunn bolted upright. "Y'all can sit here crying in that sorry excuse for beer or we can step to."

To their shrugs of incomprehension, he explained, "look, I don't know about'ch'all, but I say sittin' here in this booth ain't gonna solve the situation. Let's get to Trousdale and unlock that door, show Angel what he shoulda done and maybe -- just maybe -- get there before his internals have to do anymore strugglin' than what they've already done."

"I guess..." With her brows furrowed, Cordy gave an indecisive tug to the hem of her floral print blouse before rising. "I guess... Whatever we do, Wesley. Do you think I should call for Buffy?"

Wesley scooted out of the booth, stood, and gulped down the last of his ale. He had to force the swallow. All was not nummy.

"I think that call may be a little premature on our part. After all, until we know the outcome of the situation --" He stopped mid-thought and stared at the dainty hand that had taken up consoling residence on his forearm.

Cordelia's eyes were moist, brimming with despair. "No, Wesley. I mean call Buffy -- For help."

Cordelia and Wesley took the mournful lead and Gunn followed their dispirited procession, accompanied by a not-so-horrible-as-usual rendition of a song he fondly remembered from childhood. He listened for a moment in appreciation until, halfway up the Caritas staircase, he finally gave into his curiosity.

"Hey, ya'll... So what, exactly, is a Buffy?"

III. Along The Edge Of Where The Ocean Meets The Land

The Santa Ana Winds tormented the City Of. For the second round in less than a month, the North-Easterly gusts meant another day of heat was in the forecast; and, if not a record- breaking high, there would be still be enough of a temperature to keep the humidity low and the allergen levels above normal.

Harriet Doyle rubbed at her nose with a tissue. Her sinuses annoyed her; her eyes watered. Being higher up in the foothills where the wind could be downgraded to breeze status provided some relief -- it was calm compared to the maelstrom at the base. It was also cooler, but not overly so, and she clasped her coat lapels closer to her neck with one hand and wiped under her nose again with the other.

Los Angeles sparkled above and below. After the first day of winds, all the dust in the basin had been blown towards the Pacific and even the natural haze of the city had disappeared. A cloudless sky revealed Mars sidling next to the crescent moon. The lights of the city's basin twinkled like unearthed gems.

"The stars are brightly shining," Harriet sang to herself, enjoying her reverie enough to rein in her melancholy over a job-related travel schedule that made it impossible to spend Christmas in Kansas with her family. She caroled under her breath, nodding at the assorted demonic visitors to the hillside memorial park who extended courteous gestures in Harriet's direction.

Upon reaching her destination, Harry tilted her head and gazed in wonder. The constellation flinted off the metal sculpture, animating its fire bolts. A memory of her first Christmas as *Mrs.* Doyle blazed in her heart and she smiled. No sooner had she serenaded "oh hear..."

She froze. Her wide eyes took in the solitary figure she hadn't noticed upon arrival.

"Angel."

If he'd heard her call his name, nothing about Angel's bearing signaled as much. Instead, standing next to the marble pillar, he was motionless except for his fingertips. They swayed in the wind like silent ivory chimes.

"I --" Harry neared him, stopping shy of the fragrant alyssum rampaging around the sculpture's base. "Angel?"

Angel pulled his gaze down from the hillside and turned profile to study her from the corner of his eye. His taut lips barely parted when he said, "a year ago, I was told 'for every door that closes, another opens'."

Wiping at her nose, Harry nodded in familiarity. She stuffed the Kleenex in her side pocket. "I remember you telling me that."

The hem of his leather jacket flapped wildly, as if to prompt Angel that direction, but he remained immobile. Only his lids closed and reopened; perhaps in response to the gust that had also taken control of his eyelashes.

"I've been slamming a lot of doors in the past 12 hours," Angel confessed a minute later.

Harriet cautiously moved to the bench that had been placed in front of the memorial. She sat and, from her position, looked up to regard the vampire she hadn't seen since an end-of-summer barbecue. This being was hardly relaxed -- Angel's bearing was stiff; the features usually softened by resignation were steely; the voice, often tempered with pensiveness, registered intensity.

Curious onlookers regarded the monument, stooped to pick a miniature bouquet, and moved on. Passing by, others hushed "The Warrior" reverently to one another.

Soft blond curls scattered forward into Harriet's face. The sudden part down the back of her head drew a line of chill while the ethno-demonologist diagnosed, "your demonic aspect is apparently strong tonight, Angel. What's going on? Where's Cordy? Wes?"

The gaze returned uphill. "I had to let them go. I have to -- Do this on my own now."

Harry shivered. A quick study of Doyle's life-defining accomplishment gave her the courage to remind Angel, "but, you're not supposed to be doing this on your own. The Powers That Be specifically --"

His sharp tongue cut her off. "If I'm not supposed to be doing this on my own, then where the hell are They? Because, I've been sitting around wearing my self-restraint like a good boy and nothing -- NOTHING!"

When Angel swept around the coat submitted to his authority.

His lowered voice was heavy with animosity. "Everyone wants to be inside my head, Harriet, as if it's the most fascinating place in the universe. They take my memories, use them against me and all I'm supposed to do is accept it?"

He ventured right a few paces, returned; took a few more steps -- unconcerned about direction -- before stopping directly in front of her.

"I've been at the mercy of everyone I killed for over a century," he continued, fingertips raised to his brows, "but when *I'm* the victim, I'm just supposed to suck it up and take the abuse? Keep friggin' going?"

His open palms pounded the coat against his chest. "Who's protecting me, Harry? Who's protecting *ME*? Because it hasn't been Cordy or Wes and I sure as hell know the PTB haven't been lending a hand."

Straightening, Angel's arms returned to formation at his sides and he glowered at her.

Harriet tugged once on the leather coat's placket and was surprised when Angel plopped onto the seat next to her. With her hands in her lap, she folded them one over the other. The breath she drew for pause, she hoped would work for him as well. She could almost hear Angel's rage sputter and rekindle, stoked by each whip of the wind.

The wind that budged not one hair on his head.

"Some working situations, Angel -- it's possible to end up with all-give or all-take. Your duties with The Powers That Be are like that. They didn't offer you a benefits package because they don't have one; and you know if they did, Cordelia would have taken advantage of it by now.

"For *both* of you."

Angel inhaled deeply and held onto the breath. Harriet regarded the monument.

She directed her words at his shoulder. "The Powers That Be have given you a purpose, Angel."

"A lot of good purpose did Doyle," was Angel's bitter retort.

Sniffling, Harriet produced another tissue from her pocket. "Yes, Angel. A *lot* of good," she said, the warmth of her invisible smile apparent in the tone of her voice.

As they sat without speaking a palm frond skidded across the path, chased by a quartet of stampeding children. An inhuman male shouted a foreign language and the children obeyed, halting immediately and contritely bowing their heads.

The lines scoring Angel's forehead deepened while his hardened expression crumbled by degrees. He shifted uneasily beneath a coat that didn't seem a part of him any more. A hard swallow preceded his exhale.

Harriet Doyle patted the vampire's arm before embracing it and Angel suffered the affection without comment. She resumed her humming.

"No one understands and I don't expect you to, either," he stated matter-of-factly. Satisfied with whatever information he had gleaned from the hillside, Angel took to his feet.

The coat fell open, but he made no attempts to close it. Instead, the vampire dropped his chin and looked sidelong at his former associate's former wife. "I just need to know for sure which side I actually belong with."

Harriet leaned back, meeting his earnest gaze with one of her own before he turned his back to leave. "If you didn't already know the answer to that question, Angel --" she stifled a sneeze by holding her breath, "-- you never would have come *here*."

-0-

Angel's Journal
evancomo@netscape.net