The demon, the one who'd lived inside him for so long, who'd made him do--he shuddered even to think of what it had made him do--might have enjoyed it. But he'd gotten back his soul, just before. The re-souled Angel couldn't say this was a vacation spot of choice.
The demons loomed over him. A whip lashed out, tearing thin, bloody lines down the curve of his chest.
"Who are you?" The demon-voice pressed against his eardrums, the deep vibration of it making him queasy.
"Angel," he said.
The whip cracked across his face. "Who are you?"
"Angelus." Would the demon name gain him favor?
Apparently not. When the whip struck the time it had fire on the tips. Angel gasped at the flash of pain.
"WHO ARE YOU?"
He swallowed blood. "I am no one."
Time. Time and no time. There was no way to measure it. Sometimes he felt like he could see it, moving in nauseating waves under, over, around him. Through him.
Work. Work and pain. Nothing else. Over and over, for years. Decades. Centuries. Who could tell?
Time. Time, more time, ages, eons. Work and pain. Mostly pain.
He remembered three things. He remembered his name: Angel. He remembered what his name was here: No one. And he remembered a feeling.
A rare feeling, that had filled him brimful in the moments before--this. He called it love, and sometimes he called it Buffy.
He ached. His body, his heart, his soul, which somehow hadn't been beaten back out of him. This amazed him, when he managed to think about it. But these moments became fewer and fewer.
He was so tired.
Buffy, he thought, though he could barely remember what the word meant. Why didn't you just stake me?
He had no name. He was no one. He was pain and weariness and utter defeat. There was nothing else.
And then there was.
Light. Air. A cool breeze on his face. His naked body was sheathed in sweat and he could feel the soft waft of air on every inch of his skin.
God, it hurt.
He had no words, because he had no mind to make them. The only sounds he could make were animal, mindless. They tore his throat and hurt his ears.
On some level, they made him sad.
Time had changed. Slowed. It had slowed down so much he could feel it pressing against him as he tried to move forward through it. That hurt, too. It was too hard. Would he ever be anything other than exhausted?
But here there were also soft, gentle sounds, colors. Light--but some instinct told him light was bad.
It was all too much. He couldn't hold it all inside him. It hurt too much after having been so thoroughly emptied.
Something bubbled up to take over. Instinct. He needed food. Blood. He could almost taste it in his mouth. The desire became his whole world and he let it drive him because he had nothing else. He had once been ruled by a demon and this was nearly the same thing. Driving him without conscience, without feeling.
What was conscience? What was feeling?
One word kept coming back to him.
What the hell did that mean? Every time the word came to him he felt . . . something. Something dangerous. Dangerous because it made him soften, and softness was vulnerability, and vulnerability meant death. He pushed the word away.
He found food, and ate. Blood ran down his throat in a hot stream. It tasted good, of life and heat. What had he eaten before, in that place? He couldn't remember.
It was good for a time. The pain was gone, the pain that had driven him in--the place--the other place. There was food and the moonlight felt good on his skin.
Then, suddenly, something happened. A creature like the
soft creatures he fed upon, only this one was not soft and it hurt him
and then chained him up.
He couldn't understand this. This creature had been too small to hurt him--how had she hurt him? And while she hit him and kicked him and chained him to the wall, that word kept coming back.
But this couldn't be Buffy. Buffy wasn't supposed to hurt.
So now he was chained up and couldn't hunt or run and all he could do was sift through his thoughts. There were so few of them, this didn't take very long.
Food is good.
Light is bad.
Buffy is good.
The first one was painful because he had no way to hunt. The last two sent him into a cycle of puzzlement. If nothing else, this confusion kept him from thinking about the gnaw of hunger in his gut.
Buffy good. Buffy hurts. Around and around. Which was right?
Both were right. From the depths of his mind, there where everything that had once been Angel now lurked, images rose, soft bubbles lifting to the surface of his mind.
The soft, small, blonde girl--the one who had kicked the shit out of him and left him here--her face open, vulnerable, her eyes swimming with emotion.
What was that?
Hanging there in the dim light he let himself explore that. He had nothing else to do. And he remembered the feeling, how it had filled his whole body, taken over his life, and how soft and deep and good it had been.
His eyes felt wet, after a time. He wondered why.
The feelings kept coming. He couldn't understand them but it was too late to stop them. They flooded through him, bringing pictures and sounds. He hung there from his shackles, helpless under the onslaught.
A whisper of breath against his ear. "Angel."
Softness under his hands. The smell of flowers and skin. A rhythm and a dance. The animal that ruled him tried to change it into something else, a primitive rutting, but that wasn't what it had been.
He squeezed his eyes tight, feeling the burn of tears down his face, trying to bring the beauty back into his memory.
And it was there. One perfect memory, preserved like a bubble of glass. The single most perfect moment of peace and contentment he had ever known.
And suddenly, in that moment, he was human again. Or as close as he could get.
But he knew something else then, something as clear to him as his own name had suddenly become.
Danger. Not to him. To her.
How did he know this? He had no idea, but he let the animal move him again, just enough to tear the manacles free and to run.
The rest was a blur. He barely knew what he did as he tore the creature away from her, saved her from its blind desire to kill. I have done this before, he thought. I have fought for her. I have died for her.
And when the danger was past, he turned to her and looked at her, at her beauty and her softness and smallness. Her strength. He staggered toward her and fell on his knees at her feet, burying his face in the soft, sweet scent that held every memory he had worth remembering. The word tore from his throat, the first word he had spoken in centuries of pain and emptiness.
Because Buffy was love.