Ring A Ring O'Roses

Because, in the end, we all fall down.

"Ring a ring o'roses
A pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down."


As a vampire, Angel had never really considered deep down what death would be like.

One would think that being living death, it would be a subject quite close to his heart; prune-like and petrified though it may be. And it was... just never his own. The death of his enemies, now, that was a subject Angel was all too familiar with, and thought about on a regular basis. The death of humans, well, that had been Angelus' forte. He had made death his own personal art, knew how to sculpt and shape it into something he considered beautiful, knew how to make it last. His work was death, his life was caught up in death.

Death. (That word.) Easy to say; but what does it actually mean? What would it mean for him?

Death was the absence of life. The absence of everything, if one did not believe there was a life afterwards.

Angel didn't quite know what he believed. He knew that as a human he had been religious, but then again he had been raised in Ireland in the 1700's so that was pretty much a given.

He knew that crosses burned and so did holy water. They crawled underneath his skin and ate at his dead flesh; searing, scorching, sizzling. Churches made him hurt inside, in a place he could not pinpoint (if he could, he would have ripped it out long ago) and chills run up his spine. And sunlight; that most beautiful of God's creations, hated him. Reviled him so much that it rejected his very presence, sought to eject him from it.

From this, a hypothesis formed that if indeed God existed, he hated Angel. (Especially since he had eaten a fair few nuns in his time, too.)

So Angel sort of hoped there was no God.

He knew there were higher powers; the Powers That Be... they had been on his side. (Mostly.) Maybe they would look after him when Death came knocking.

Angel still could not imagine death, though death was all around him. Death for him meant ashes. All that he was; his very essence, his body... reduced to smoke and chars and dust and nothing more. What was once invulnerable, immortal; blown away... smoke in the wind. All that life, all those years, all those memories. Nothing.

Angel couldn't imagine being nothing. It may sound arrogant, but he had always been something, and usually someone of importance to the world, or to the Powers, or even just to individuals - like his team, or the Scoobies... or Buffy.

Since he was born, he had been human. When he wasn't human, he was a vampire. The closest Angel had come to death was when Buffy had defeated Angelus, sacrificed him to save the world. But even then, it hadn't really felt like death. He had still been aware, breathing, in pain. All that had seemed a lot like life. Then he was alive again, and human for a little while, and then once again a vampire. Flitting on the borders of life and death but never quite crossing into either country. He lingered in the wasteland, ever-constant and never stable. Never staying in one state for too long. Good, evil, grey area; life, death, unlife; human, vampire. (Even a puppet once, but don't bring it up. It's kind of a sore spot.)

This state of not-death and not-life would frustrate anyone.

And then there was a prophecy.

Shanshu brought hope, the hope of mortality. But even then, even as he sought this most sacred of prizes, Angel did not consider death. For he sought under the pretence of life, of peace, of happiness. Never did he admit he might be searching for death. To have the knowledge that one day he could just die (and die like a normal person), and not wonder what lay ahead for a vampire, not have to keep wondering if he would be cursed for lifetimes of sins... but finally forgiven.

Redeemed.

There was another word Angel contempleted on a daily basis. His redemption; his quest for salvation. Sometimes he wondered if it was selfish. If he was seeking forgiveness purely to save his own soul from the fires of a hell dimension, and not simply because it was the right thing to do.

Angel had come to accept this selfishness. Of course he cared about the path of his soul. Who wouldn't in his position?

But there were other times when Angel felt it was pointless to seek redemption for himself; he could never be forgiven. Everything he had done weighed upon him and Angel felt as helpless and trapped as he had under the sea, under the pressure of thousands of tonnes of water. (It had crushed his chest and sapped his strength and burned his bones with its unbearable weight.)

Sometimes he dreamt of the sound of water and the smell of wood. He would wake up, and for a moment, everything would just seem a little crazy. Like he was living inside his own head again. And then he would look up from himself and the world would look so beautiful; just for a second, because it wasn't the nightmare he remembered - and there were no shapes in the shadows.

But then he would go outside.

The blood filled his head and choked his lungs as it was spilled across the streets by hapless sinners with no concept of Hell. Angel saw them and thought; if only they knew what he knew of Hell... they wouldn't do it. But then again; if everyone knew Hell as intimately as Angel, humanity would tiptoe around each other like a mouse in a jungle full of predators. That was no way to live either.

Angel knew he could not fix the world. He knew that he could live for a million years, for all of eternity, and he would never see the day when all evil was extinguished; when nothing but good remained. (Even if the world got close; somehow Spike always managed to stick around... goddamn necklace.)

But he tried. Because, really, what else could he do?

And this was how Angel ended up in the alleyway. (Yes, and Spike was there too.)

... "Well, wishes just happen to be horses today."

Angel stared out; "Among other things."

If this was the face of final death, it wasn't anything Angel hadn't seen before.

Well, except maybe the dragon.

"Okay, you take the thirty thousand on the left," Gunn sounded scared. But then again, he was only human. And he was hurt. Angel was sorry, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it... and thinking about pain led him on to Wesley and he just couldn't go there right now.

"You're fading. You'll last ten minutes at best," Illyria stated bluntly. Her brutal honesty felt oddly comforting.

Gunn stood up. "Then let's make 'em memorable."

There was the Gunn that Angel remembered. The brash, often foolish human that fought against evil because that was just who he was. Angel knew that in the unlikely event that final death did not catch him this day, that he would be the one to remember.

Angel narrowed his eyes as the horde grew closer, thundering angrily at the motley band of survivors in the dank alleyway. He heard Spike address him, "In terms of a plan?"

"We fight," Angel said. It was the only thing he could say.

"Bit more specific?"

Angel felt like hitting him, but restrained himself. Barely. There were slightly more important things at hand.

"Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon."

He'd like to be a white knight before he died. If only there was a pretty blonde around to rescue... Angel smirked. She'd kill him herself if she heard that. And then he would know what final death felt like, because if he came back after that she'd kill him again. That was kind of her gig.

Angel really would have liked to see her one more time, though.

He swung his sword upward, and let the smirk spread across his face. Come on then, Death... show me what you're made of.

"Let's go to work."