Author's Notes: Written for speedrent challenge # 166 on Livejournal, with the prompts: balloon, sunset, rooftop, show. Takes place post-Rent. Title taken from the AFI song of the same name. Note: This is NOT a songfic.

Dedications: To anyone who has ever left me feedback, praise or constructive criticism. Without you, I would not be able to grow or be inspired to continue as a writer. Thank you.

Warnings: I write Angel using feminine terms, so if you have a problem with that, just a head's up.

Disclaimer: "Rent" remains the property of Jonathan Larson. I own nothing to do with its characters, events, or places. This fiction was written with recreational intent only.


Summer Shudder

Orange, hazy and muted, like dying embers, was the first thing that caught his eye as he stepped out, underneath the evening sky. He smiled. It was a balloon, small, and obsolete, weakening with each gust of wind that blew his way. Collins' mind couldn't help but to summon childhood memories, days of youthful disdain for anything and everything significant. In the shimmering flesh of the balloon, Collins could see what he'd left behind as he got older, as he abandoned childhood for adolescence.

He couldn't help it-the momentary trip down memory lane had only added to his cheerful demeanor. He continued watching the artificial object, as if he were watching after a small child heading off for school for the first time. There was a pride shining in his eyes that he just couldn't place. Then he remembered. She'd always loved balloons.

Instantly, whatever mirth he'd come to obtain disintegrated, as though nothing more than particles of dust. He watched as it floated off into the distance, soon joining the gingers, reds, and yellows of the setting sun. It was a beautiful image, almost like a masterpiece. He shuddered as he thought of how many nights they'd spent together, doing nothing more than watching the same magnificence before him.

The memories threatened to overwhelm him, coming up at him from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It was as though he were asphyxiating, choking on past affections given and received, struggling to maintain breath as words and lullabies sauntered through his mind.

Instinctively, he turned the other way, wanting to get as far away as possible from the accusatory glance of the sunset. It had been over a year since she'd passed, and he found that he still could not let go. Her ghost clutched at his beating heart, a phantom of what she had once been restricting his abilities to move on from the past.

The intruding heat of summer days slowed his progress. The boisterous noise of celebration gave him cause to seep out of his own little world of passivity. It seemed that he'd walked upon a show, of sorts, of decadence and vibrancy. Everywhere he turned; people were dancing, singing in the streets. His heartbeat slowed as the color red jumped out at him. Red like the color of her lips, kissing him, whispering sweet nothings into his ear. Red like her favorite outfit, spinning around as he took her by surprise. Red like the color of her tainted blood, the very thing that killed her.

He gulped audibly, nervous, afraid, and so horribly alone. He felt like a stray dog walking among princes and royalty, rugged, dirty, and unwanted. He was nearly torn into tears as the sensation of drowning again rose in his throat. He turned to walk away, when the whisper of an angel halted him.

He paused. It had sounded like someone had whispered, "I love you" into his ear. But who? Who could love him, after she had gone? Curiosity provoked, he headed swiftly in the direction from which he swore it had originated.

Pushing past gypsies, dancers, and tarot card readers, shoving aside that universe of magic surrealism, he made his way through the crowds, gathered into various groups like high school cliques, and desperately searched to find that voice. It had sounded familiar, and he simply had to know where, and from whom, it came from.

He was beginning to grow weary, after a solitary half-hour in which he managed to accomplish nothing. Tears rained down his face, a storm of longing and loneliness. No voice, no face, no nothing. He sighed, and prepared to leave, to go home and forget about the ghastly despondency of his day. He felt the burning of regret, of hopelessness, of despair, igniting his throat. He felt so useless, a year after her death, and no backbone, no spine to prove that he'd successfully let her go. He must have been going insane.

It was then he looked up at the rooftops, and he felt his breath go silent, as though it had seen a ghost. Dancing more vibrant than all the rest, with a passion that seemed so much beyond earthly presence, was his Angel, his own slice of heaven. He made to make his way up towards her, to speak to her, to see if he could touch her, when her voice, strong and stern, slithered its way down to him, like a snake descending on its prey.

"No day but today."

He shivered, again, startled by the words, the pact between him, her, and their group of friends, a second family not held together by blood, but by something stronger. Love. He looked up at her, all aglow with heavenly grace and sparkling radiance, looked up at the rooftops to take in what he could.

"I love you."

He gasped aloud, shocked and warmed at the words, realizing now that it had been her all along that had whispered in his ear. As he waited, the day fell into rest, the sunset growing darker with each passing minute.

He looked up from his feet, at which he had been staring, trying to acknowledge the power and the truth in her words. He looked up again to see her smiling, sadly, regretfully, and then she was gone, like a mirage, like a portrait of something that had never been.

He shuddered. Night had truly fallen.