How Do We Start Again

Could We Start Again Please

Disclaimer: Premise and Characters borrowed from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel".

Note: Thanks to AgirlNamedAngel for beta-ing for me.

"I think you've made your point now. You've even gone a bit too far to get the message home. Before it gets too frightening we ought to call a halt. So could we start again please?" - "Could we start again please" by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Angel shot upright in bed; the expected and longed for pain was spreading through his body. One last bit of agony then he'd be free of torment forever. He glanced over a Darla sleeping peacefully beside him and picked up a pencil lying on the floor.

He shook the small blond awake; she peered up at him with sleep fuzzed blue eyes. "Thank you," Angel said as he plunged the makeshift stake into her heart. Another spasm of pain shook his body as Darla crumbled into dust, erasing the confused expression on her face.

When the last of the ripping pain had passed, he rose and searched his closet, discarding most of what he found with a disdainful expression. "Ah, there they were… his clothes."

"Who to torture and kill first," he wondered out loud as he stepped into the Hyperion's lobby. Lindsey or Lilah held a certain appeal, but they were on his side now, so maybe not.

Then he noticed the message light blinking on his answering machine. "Stupid bitch," he cursed. "If you wanted someone to save you, you should have called someone who wasn't busy planning the same fucking thing you were up to."

"Of course Soul-boy did it with more class, he couldn't manage the big heroic sacrifice so he decided to take as many other people down with him as possible. Gotta say, in any incarnation we don't think small."

The dark haired vampire's finger hovered indecisively over the play button. "Might as well enjoy this, since I won't get the chance to kill her myself."

As Kate Lockley's sad, drug-blurred voice came over the answering machine he prowled restlessly around the cavernous room. "Call the paramedics, idiot," he growled. "What do you expect of me? Should I rush to you doorway and stand there helpless and uninvited while you expire?"

Suddenly he giggled, a disturbed, high-pitched sound. "Oh yeah… I forgot, I called the paramedics; maybe I'll get to kill you after all. I didn't get to die the way I wanted to, so why should you?"

Kate's voicemail suicide note ended and a second message began. "Hi Angel… um… I know you're kind of busy, what with going psycho and everything, but could you maybe spare a few minutes and come rescue me?" Cordy's familiar voice, wavering between fear and anger, was abruptly cut off. A strange male's voice replaced hers. "Come to 1236 Meadow Road if you want her back."

A red haze descended over his eyes. Cordelia was his; no one had the right to harm her.

He spun on his heel and ran for his car. "Speed limits were for those with merely human reflexes," he decided.

Upon reaching the provided address he tossed himself out of the car, not even bothering to turn off the engine and crashed through the front door, marveling at the ignorance of humans that lead them to put mats that said "Welcome" on their front step providing an open invitation for anything that wanted to come in. A dead blond woman lay discarded in one corner with a girl-child crying moronically over the body as a pale skinned demon crouched over Cordelia's still form.

The next thing Angel knew the huge, expensively decorated kitchen was splattered with copious amounts of blood and part of the demon's arm was in his hand. The rest of the demon was scattered around the room, in small, unidentifiable pieces.

Angel ignored the now hysterical child and knelt beside Cordy. "Still alive," he breathed in relief as the steady beat of her heart and the warmth of her flesh permeated his consciousness. "I'd better get her to the hospital."

Angel fought down the urge to join the girl in hysterics as he realized the implications of his last thought. "I guess I didn't loose it after all," he commented, not sure whether he should laugh or cry, as he scooped Cordelia up in his arms.

Carefully he set her in the car and buckled her seat belt before driving to the hospital.

Once Cordelia was handed over to the care of the various doctors staffing the emergency room Angel went to the pay phone and called Wesley. "Cordelia's hurt, she's at St. Luke's," he said, hanging up before Wesley could reply.

As Angel attempted to leave a woman with a clipboard and questions intercepted him. He gave her Cordy's name, allergies and information for contacting Wesley and Gunn. When the woman asked what his relationship with Cordelia was Angel paused, once he'd said he was family, but now…

"Ex-friend," he said after the receptionist repeated her question. Another thought occurred to him and in a casual tone he asked, "Oh, by the way, do you know if Detective Kate Lockley is alive? She's another former friend of mine. She tried to kill herself earlier this evening. So did I… twice. It hasn't been a good night for anyone."

He couldn't quite remember whether he should be hoping that she'd lived or that she'd died. Alive was supposed to be good, he was supposed to save people, but death meant freedom from pain… Unless you went to Hell. Hell wasn't a nice place; he'd been there. He'd tried to get back… What happened if you died in Hell, they couldn't send you there then right? He remembered thinking that. Well it hadn't worked. Hell wouldn't take him back.

Still it would be nice to know what happened to Kate, but he didn't know which hospital she would have been taken to, maybe they knew…

"Are you alright sir?" The receptionist asked, waving a nurse and a security guard over.

Angel thought about the question. "No, I'm really not, but it isn't anything you can fix, so I'd probably better go."

Angel turned and began walking for the doors again, the trio of hospital workers trailing after him, trying to think of what to say. At the doors Angel stopped and turned around. "On second thought, maybe you can help. I'd like some sedatives. I'm extremely resistant to drugs, so I need strong ones and a lot would also be good."

"Wait here," the nurse said. "I think you need to talk with someone."

"Nope, can't stay here," Angel replied. "Wesley's coming, he doesn't want to see me, especially not dressed like this. Cordelia decided I wasn't evil based completely on the pants I was wearing once; did you know that? It's silly, like the clothes make any difference, but I guess it's a habit, Angel dresses one way, Angelus another. I thought I was Angelus tonight, hence the clothes. They didn't help. I can still hurt, Angelus doesn't care enough to hurt."

"Sir, would you like to come with me," the nurse asked. "You won't have to see Wesley and I can find someone for you to talk to about the sleeping pills."

"Okay," Angel said agreeably.

"Go get Dr. Kells," the nurse whispered to the receptionist. "Tell her we'll be in examination room 4."

"I need to check your vitals and take a blood sample," the nurse requested, once they were situated in the examination room. "Is that okay with you?"

"Haven't got any vitals," Angel almost giggled, holding out his arm. "But you can have the blood, it's not mine anyway."

"Are you taking medication… or anything else?" the nurse asked. "We have to know, we can't prescribe anything for you if we don't know exactly what your on."

"You're not really going to help me," Angel said getting up just as the door opened to admit a tall red-haired woman.

"I'm Dr. Rachael Kells, and you are?" She said, offering Angel her hand.

"Angel," he replied, taking her hand automatically.

"You said you needed sedatives, may I ask why?" Dr. Kells said.

"I want to sleep," Angel explained. "But I don't want to dream."

"Do you have a lot of nightmares Angel?"

"Yes, but the dreams are worse. I just want to rest," Angel said.

"You're tired?" The doctor asked.

"Un-huh, very, very tired." Angel said. "Tired of being good, tired of being bad, tired of hurting all the damn time."

"You said two of your friends were hurt tonight," Dr. Kells prompted.

"Ex-friends, they hate me. Cordelia was hurt because she knew me, Kate hurt herself because she trusted me," Angel corrected. "Wesley got shot a few days ago too, I should have been there to protect him. I think Gunn's still okay, but if he's not, I'm sure that's my fault too somehow… I want to go home now."

"I think it would be better if you stayed here for awhile," the doctor said. We can give you real help here. Sleeping pills won't cure the type of tired you're describing."

Like flood gates opening, Angel felt his anger rushing back to fill him. "Don't make promise you can't keep," he snarled. "You don't know the first thing about me! Don't presume you can help me!"

"I know an excess of pills isn't an answer," Dr. Kells said calmly.

"Take every serial killer you've ever heard of, add up all they're kills… you won't have even a fraction of the number of deaths I'm responsible for. Still wanna help me?" Angel challenged.

"You believe you deserve to be killed?" Dr. Kells asked.

"I'm a coward," Angel replied. "But I'm tired of wasting time on pretty fantasies. I know what I should do."

The security guard outside the door tried futilely to restrain Angel as he left.

Angel glanced through the sliding glass doors. Nothing had changed. "She probably still lives here," he decided, then calmly smashed the glass and stepped into the house.

He walked upstairs and roughly shook the dark haired actress into wakefulness. "Hi Rebecca. You never did tell me the name of your dealer."

Angel dumped a bag of whiskey bottles and an assortment of pills on his bed. He went to the weapons chest and selected an ornate dagger then stripped out of the "Angelus-clothes" he'd been wearing. Dawn was just breaking over LA, but to Angel it was still the blackest of nights, one that would never end.

He felt calm. It was almost over. The rage and determination to win that had sustained him for months had died under the weight of Holland's ugly truths. The freezing cold of despair left behind with Darla's ashes. Angelus' clarity had been an illusion and the hysteria he'd felt since realizing that had faded once he'd come to a decision.

He turned the water in his shower on and waited till it was scalding hot before stepping under the flow, still clutching the knife. Angel braced himself against the wall of the shower, then with a smooth movement opened the major artery in his left leg, a second cut laid open the matching blood vessel in the right. He opened another cut from his wrist to inner elbow.

"Being a vampire was useful," he decided, with a bitter laugh. A human wouldn't know the location of the jugular well enough to slit his own throat. "Of course a human wouldn't have to try so hard." There was always sunrise… but… he wasn't going to do that, because… just because. What would be worse? If the sun rose… or if it didn't? And what about afterwards? He didn't want to know.

Angel growled in frustration as he struggled to slit his last wrist, the blood was making his hands slippery. He'd damaged the tendon in the first wrist; that hand didn't want to work right.

When it was done, Angel let the knife clatter to the floor and leaned back, letting the water cascade down on his upturned face, washing the blood from his body. Slowly he slumped to the floor of the shower, his dark eyes fluttering shut.

Hours later the icy spray of water pulled him back to consciousness. Angel pulled himself back to his feet, shut off the water and staggered to his bed. One of the whiskey bottles broke when he collapsed on it. The broken glass reopened the frail flesh healing over the cut on his arm. Angel watched the slight trickle of blood his body managed to produce dry up, leaving the torn flesh gaping open emptily. For a while he played with the glass, cutting himself, utterly fascinated by the way the blood simply ran out, leaving the open wounds behind. When his body began demanding that he replenish what he'd lost, Angel downed a handful of pills with some of the alcohol. Then he watched the world blur and fade away with satisfaction.

Hunger pains like holy water in his stomach drug Angel from sleep, urgently demanding his attention. Angel soothed the pains with more pills till reality drifted off and left him alone once more.

"Angel never returned that book he took," Cordy said. "We should go take it back from him."

"Don't," Wesley warned.

"It's been weeks," Cordy complained. "What if we need it?"

"It's just a book Cordelia, it's not worth fighting with Angel about it," Wesley said.

"It's an old, rare, valuable, important…" Cordelia began. Then sighed, "He wasn't really going to kill himself, no matter what that lady doctor said. Pills just won't do it for a vampire; he wanted them for something else. But it would be nice to know he's alive, even if he is jerk. I want to go over there."

"I suppose the book is the best excuses we're going to get," Wesley sighed. "I could go with you, if we have to look for it it'll go faster with two of us."

"Angel?" Cordy called, stepping into the Hyperion, it looked almost as abandoned as the first time she'd seen it. Wesley trailed after her.

"Shall we check his room?" Wesley suggested.

"Sure," Cordy replied, sounding much less certain than normal. "Couldn't he have kept the place dusted? That way we'd know if it was him or just bad housekeeping."

Together they ascended the stairs. After knocking on Angel's door for several minutes without response they held a silent debate in glares and gestures at the closed door. With a sigh, Wesley gave in and tried the door.

A clinking, rolling sound of bottles being pushed out of the way accompanied the door's opening. Wesley switched on a light, illuminating the room. Empty pill and alcohol bottles littered the floor. Angel lay, curled under a sheet spotted with blood, his eyes sunken, his skin, transparently pale and patterned with dozens of small, unhealed cuts.

"Angel," Wesley whispered, his voice thick with pain.

"Wake-up," Cordelia demanded, marching across the room and shaking Angel roughly. His body rolled limply under her hand.

"He's not dead! He can't be dead!" Cordy yelled. "Wake-up damn you! You can't do this to me. You don't have to the right to go and die on me!"

"He's not dead," Wesley reassured Cordelia quietly. "As long as his body remains intact he's… well as alive as a vampire ever is."

"Why won't he wake-up?" Cordelia shouted.

"Look around you," Wesley said tiredly. "Empty bottles of sleeping pill and who knows what else, the bloodless cuts… Angel deliberately put himself in a coma. The blood loss alone would have accomplished it eventually if he'd been able to prevent the demon's instincts from forcing him to feed. I imagine that the drugs where to take the edge off his hunger. I wonder if he took that precaution because he was worried about killing someone if he lost control or if it was to be sure he could manage this."

"What do we do?" Cordelia asked.

"Clean this place up. Force him to feed. Give the drugs time to work their way out of his system and him time to heal. Then we do what we should have done months ago; we make him deal with what's wrong instead of just hoping he'll come around eventually."

Cordelia sat in Angel's armchair, watching him sleep, trying, yet again to work out what she was going to say when he woke up.

They had dressed Angel in sweats and a loose shirt before handcuffing his wrists to the headboard of his bed. Some combination of the cuffs, the unfamiliar cloths and his coloring, which was pale beyond deathly, made him look somehow smaller.

Moment to moment Cordelia swayed between fury at what Angel had done to fear for him to pity for whatever pain had driven him to this.

She didn't know how to deal with this. How she was supposed to feel? What was the right thing to do or say? Normally she just said whatever she thought, but this scared her, what if it had been one of her stupid tactless comments that had done this. It was ridiculous to think that, this had been Angel's choice and his fault and Cordy knew that. But what if she could have said or done something to stop him?

Sometimes she just wanted to stake him so he could never hurt her again.

"What gave you the right to confuse me like this?" Cordy demanded of Angel's unresponsive form.

Angel woke slowly, gradually the world made an unwelcome intrusion on his peaceful nothingness. Automatically he reached for a pill to make it go away again.

He blinked in confusion when his hand didn't move more than a few inches. After a concerted effort he took stock of his body, he wasn't hungry, his hands were restrained, he still felt very disoriented, nothing was quite real yet, but that was rapidly changing even if the world stayed a hazy blur no matter how many times he blinked his eyes.

"Angel!" A familiar voice said, demanding his attention.

Angel turned to the indistinct figure that was speaking. "Good, you're actually awake this time. Angel do you remember what you did?"

"Cordy?" Angel managed to ask despite a painfully aching throat.

"She's fine," Wesley said

"Kate?"

"Alive, she is remaining under observation until the doctors can be certain she won't try to take her life again. Angel, do you remember what you did to yourself?" Wesley pushed.

Angel twisted away from Wesley as the memories gain reality; three failed suicide attempts all in one hellishly long night. He buried his face again his pillow, one arm curling over his head as much as the handcuffs would allow.

"Angel, I need to know if you can remember what you did," Wesley insisted.

Angel nodded once.

"Why?" Wesley asked.

Angel didn't respond, but the muscles in his shoulders and back tightened visibly.

Wesley sighed. "All right, it can wait. The toxicity level in your system is still high enough to kill several people; I won't ask that you try to reason just now. You do need to feed however, then I'll let you finish sleeping it off."

When Wesley returned with a mug of blood, Angel had twisted further away from the door, straining against the restrains.

"Angel, you have to eat," Wesley said, garnering no response.

"There are no drugs for you to control the demon with, Cordelia and I will both be here. If you loose control, we'll be the ones to get hurt," Wesley pointed out angrily.

Angel rolled onto his back, his eyes tightly shut.

Wesley unlocked one of Angel's wrists and helped him to sit up. He watched with a growing sense of alarm as Angel groped blindly for the mug rather than simply opening his eyes.

When Angel had finished the blood he lay back down, facing the wall again.

"Give me your hand," Wesley instructed tiredly. "I don't have time to watch you and I don't trust you not to harm yourself again."

Without a word Angel reached up and wrapped his free hand around the bedpost above the other handcuff. Wesley paused, he knew that with both hands chained to the same post Angel would, more likely than not, have the leverage needed to break it, if he choose to try. Still to insist upon chaining him spread-eagle when Angel so clearly wanted to be able to curl up facing away from the door seemed cruel.

Wesley secured Angel's wrist without mentioning his worries. If Angel were that determined to end his life, he would find a way and maybe the only thing left to do was let him go.

Wesley released Angel's arm and placed the mug of blood in his hand. After a week of this he didn't expect Angel to speak to him or even look at him.

"I have a new hoop for you tonight," Wesley said tiredly. "I want you to tell me why. I don't even care if you lie. Just think of a reason for bleeding and drugging yourself into unconsciousness and say it out loud, then I'll leave."

"I promised Buffy I wouldn't kill myself," Angel said. Wesley waited for more of an explanation, but didn't receive one.

"We can't keep you chained here forever," he said once he'd realized that was all Angel was going to say. "I hope you'll promise me that you won't do anything to make me regret releasing you, and if you're wondering, that includes harming yourself in any way."

"I won't," Angel promised dully.

"Angel, I want you to come downstairs." Wesley said.

No response, no movement, not the slightest acknowledgement Wesley had spoken.

"I won't let you go back to sleep until you've done this. I will stay here and talk to you until you get up and go downstairs." Wesley said.

Angel rolled to his feet, staggering slightly as he stood. He walked past Wesley, his eyes fixed on the ground.

Wesley followed him down the stairs to the lobby where Cordelia was already busily cleaning. "We're moving the agency back here, this place is already paid for and it's nicer than the new offices we found," she announced to the room at large.

Angel stopped the moment his feet left the stairs. He stood there perfectly still, head down, shoulders slumped, looking lost and out of place despite the fact that he was standing in his own home.

Wesley stepped around Angel and went to assist Cordelia. An awkward, uncomfortable silence filled the room.

Cordelia balanced on top of a box, trying to dust along the ledge running around the room. She yelped in alarm as the box tilted under her when she stepped too far to one side. She grabbed for the ledge, trying to save herself only to feel strong arms catch her and lower her safely to the ground. Cordy turned to see Angel slowly walking back to his spot at the foot of the stairs.

"You could help out, you know," Cordelia said awkwardly.

Angel glanced at her briefly and saw her familiar hint of a smile coupled with rolled eyes. He'd never quite interpreted that expression, but knew it meant that she didn't hate him at the very least.

Angel's gaze quickly returned to the floor, but his retreat stopped. Instead he paused to right the sofa.

"What do we do now?" Cordelia asked. "Angel's definitely better, not psycho in the revenge way or the suicide way, but he's not really doing that great. He's so quiet, he was never exactly a chatterbox or anything, but now he doesn't talk unless you ask him a direct question and I'm honestly not sure he remembers that sentences can consist of more than three words tops. And what's with the never looking at anyone?"

"He still won't eat unless specially reminded to," Wesley added with a sigh. "I really thought he'd keep improving once he was up and about again, but he seems to have plateaued. We've done everything I can think of to help him and it just isn't enough.

"Maybe what we need is some outside advise," Cordelia said.

"Alright folks, that's it for tonight," The green skinned demon announced shoeing out the last of his customers.

When the bar was emptied he went and sat at a table in the back corner. "Got something picked out yet?" he asked the dark clad vampire.

Angel's two human escorts glanced nervously at one another over the vampire's bent head.

"I can't decided," Angel said hesitantly.

"I could pick something for you," The Host offered.

With a relieved sigh Angel surrendered the songbook.

"You're sure you wouldn't rather choose for yourself?" The Host asked.

Angel nodded.

"Okay, I'll go load my choice. Since it's just the four of us you don't have to use the microphone, just stand where you can see the words and sing."

Hesitantly Angel moved to the stage. As the first words of the song appeared on the screen a horrified expression over took his face.

"Go on," The Host encouraged.

"I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind but now I see," Angel sang in a faltering voice. "Was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears… I'm sorry," he broke off. "I can't do this."

"I guess that's one choice you should have made for yourself," The Host said turning off the music. Angel sat despondently on the edge of the stage. With a sigh the Host joined him.

"Angel… Angel, look at me." The green skinned demon waited patiently until Angel's dark eyes rose to meet his. "You made a whole string of bad choices, I'm not going to say otherwise, and maybe the worst was deciding not to listen to anyone but your own obsession," the Host said. "That doesn't mean you should never make a choice again."

"You always go to extremes; first you listen to no one but yourself, now you won't even make trivial choices without a second opinion. You decide to save the world from evil by sacrificing yourself. When you find out that won't work you try to make yourself over into darkness incarcerate. All because some dead guy told you nothing you did mattered."

"Angel, he lied to you, the worst kind of lie, the kind that's part of the truth. Everyone does have that darkness in them, but what the corpse didn't mention, what you lost sight of, is that they've all got a spark of light as well, and that's what matters."

As the Host escorted the trio out of the bar he added, "You wanted to fight a war Angel-cakes? A war ain't nothing but a bunch of battles strung together. You were fighting the war, until you got too busy looking for the forest."

"I'll walk back," Angel said to Wesley and Cordelia as they reached the car. "I need to think."

"Cordelia, why don't you bring the car back," Wesley suggested.

"You don't have to…" Angel began but a look from Wesley silenced him.

As they walked Angel looked around him, noting the people, seeing the good in them as well as the evil. The child held lovingly by her parents. Smiles between friends. A dropped package being handed back to its owner. The arguments, anger and fear he'd seen before were still there, but they weren't the only things that were there.

Several days later Angel stood in the shadows watching as Wesley and Cordelia dealt with a client. When the woman left Angel stepped forward. "I'd like to help," he said.

"Welcome back Angel," Wesley replied with a smile. "We're glad to have you."