Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Angel" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Fray". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, the UPN Network, Dark Horse Comics, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.
Historical Note: Season three, after "Tomorrow".
Author's Notes: Wow, it's been a long time since I've actively finished anything! I started this one shortly after S3 ended and just couldn't get back into it. Until one day... It's wild. You can finish the first draft and work on a rewrite before you realize that the story just isn't right. The subject was there, but the voice was all wrong. And then Angel took over.
So, thanks to Angel. Also to Ebonbird for coming to L.A. to visit for my birthday. And to Nix for the technical advice.
No beta. Any errors are mine and my vampire muse's. e.c. 05 Sep 02
by Evan Como
The sea possesses the perpetual capacity for reprocessing waste.
How's that's for a thought-niggling concept? It's just one of the many keeping me from dormancy while life drones on not so very far away. Although, distance can be considered relative when one's been soldered into an iron coffin and ditched into the sea.
By a relative, no less.
Would it have been so awful -- OK, much more awful -- for my son and his redheaded accomplice to have at least dropped me deeper into the Pacific? That way the ocean's movements would have made this summer's version of perdition more soothing. I could have sunk into hibernation by now, lullaby'd by the strains of shifting sand and scuttling crustaceans -- with their faint vital rhythms.
Instead, I'm fucking wide wake. Extremely aware of how small this goddam box is, how the water's salt content is scouring my shriveling flesh while its meager oxygen level tries wheedling me into relinquishing my last gasp.
But, what's a prison, huh? The Tower of London couldn't keep me in. Hell regurgitated me. I've climbed back into my own body after being displaced from it. A couple of times. I even broke the shackles of my own emotional confinement last year after Buffy died... Briefly. Briefly, but longer than the first time which, when it comes right down to it, Buffy, proves *you're* still the escape artist of all time. Even if I get out of this particular predicament, I've yet to defeat undeadness.
I'm telling ya. Nothing I learned in Sri Lanka could've prepared me for dealing with this. This goes way beyond sorrow-preparedness training. No singing bowls here; no mantras. And besides, unlike monastery seclusion, here I've got that major problem of not being far enough away from civilization.
I can't clear my head. I can't concentrate on anything...
Anything other than...
If there'd ever been any doubts in my mind that Stephen was my son -- and, there had *never* been any -- they'd expired at the first acrid flare of that acetylene torch. As if sealing his fate while tending to mine, my young man's genes had finally bloomed. Connor Angel, son of vampires, with all the hatred your beloved human surrogate could cram into you...
Take a look at yourself, lad. Take a big ugly look into that strictly-human, boyish face of yours. Are you proud? Can you savor the revenge? Or, can you see that you're no longer Junior...
You're a Master of deception.
But I'm not going to think about what you've done. I've got almost three centuries of memories to rifle through so I don't need to dwell on you. I've got so much macabre subject matter to brood on that I don't ever have to waste another thought on you. In fact, I can even think pleasant thoughts. Yeah. I had happy times, even before you were born.
This particular pleasant memory begins at dusk. The sun had just retreated below the horizon line as I'd approached our designated meeting place. Like most vampires, I'd taken enough chances with pure sunlight to know how to skirt its burn -- by drifting in and out of shadows, pausing just long enough for a ray to shift so that I could turn another corner. I'd learned to make safe passages of any street, any tunnel -- man-made or natural. If you inhabit a place long enough eventually every byway can be interconnected, forming a giant labyrinth.
It shouldn't be so surprising to the Powers That Be -- or anyone for that matter -- that you'd found the exit I'd conjured, Connor. Escape is the family forté.
Anyway, I should have noticed her first when I rounded the ice cream stand. Instead, I'd probably zoned in on the bright aqua and neon apricot-streaked sunset. In the split-second that I hadn't been paying attention something slithered through the crook of my arm but, being cool like I pretend that I am most of the time, I didn't jump. The connection came quickly enough of the lithe, tanned forearm breaking up the monotony of my black outfit.
"You're so early!" Cordelia'd exclaimed. Her teeth shimmered like pearls. Her brilliant, brilliant smile.
I'd nearly lost her two weeks prior and every time I saw her, I still marveled at her recovery. Even if she'd only briefly left a room, her return would still leave me dazed. If one of my instantaneous fugues had ever left her bewildered, she'd never let on. Her near-death was as unspoken about as my near-Angelus episode. We left it at: life would just assume more variations in our version of normalcy.
Her smile coaxed one out of me. "I started early. I made really good time considering that the route isn't as direct to Venice from Silverlake."
I don't think she waited for me to finish before tugging me towards the tiny round table where Wesley sat. What a set! The table and chairs had a Cubist thing going on -- tilted and foreshortened -- and, despite a tan from the late afternoon sun, Wes looked as unfit to be out in public. He smiled uncertainly while scooting to the edge of his chair. Palm down, he braced himself upwards, breathed out through thinned lips.
"You're so early," he parroted, except with his English accent. Wes' one-dimpled expression was part enthusiasm, part excruciation; straightening his spinal column had sent a shockwave through his lanky frame. Obviously, but more so odorously, endorphins had immediately overpowered the perspiration and sea-air clinging to the over-bleached oxford shirt blousing from under his tweed jacket.
Not as nonchalantly as I'd attempted, I wrangled my arm from Cordelia's stronghold. "I started early -- "
"'Cause the route from Silverlake to Venice isn't as direct," Cordelia concluded. She batted her long lashes at him.
He shook himself out of a fugue of his own. "We hadn't expected you for another hour, at least."
Eyebrows knotting with confusion, I puzzled aloud, "But you were already waiting..."
Cordelia grinned. "Because *I* figured you'd be early." With that, she shucked the calf-leather coat from off of my back and put it on over her gauze peasant-top.
Wesley clenched one fist several times then shook it out. "Really, Angel. If this conversation doesn't cease now, we'll be here all night speaking only of your miraculously early arrival." With its blood flow restored, the same hand dropped to massage one thigh indiscreetly.
Before I could finish asking, "Have you eaten yet?" his burp had answered my question. Amused by Cordelia's hand overtly flagging in front of her nose, I figured part of Wes' discomfort could even have come from a hot link -- loaded with grilled onions and peppers and spicy mustard.
Shop-owners pulled their rusty anti-theft grates into place. The crowd had thinned considerably in the few minutes since I'd been there, making like the vinyl handbags and $5 sunglasses that had disappeared from display, signaling the end to another retail day.
"Looks like there's not much going on. Maybe we could head to Century City, catch a movie or something," I ended up suggesting to the back of Cordelia's head. Pear-shaped rhinestones spangled her smoothed crown while her long hair dunked in and out of several dark coils being strangeled by a jet ponytail holder.
"But, I've already been down to that end of the Boardwalk, Cordelia," Wesley called after her. He finger-combed the irritation twitching one eyebrow. "Thrice!"
"What's down here?" I asked, following. Without thinking, I cupped his elbow.
And he froze. "Angel, please. I'm not that much of an invalid," he cautioned.
I swear, if he said that to me now like how he'd said it... I'd be tenderizing him! I still can't believe how he could make an accusation out of just of trying to be helpful. It's not like I hadn't almost lost him, too, but he never remembered that. I should have left him to burn with my apartment; that way I wouldn't want him so dead.
Like always, I remember apologizing, "I -- I'm sorry. I just -- " I crossed my arms and sunk my hands deep into the folds of my black pullover. "I wasn't thinking."
Ignoring me, Wes hobbled onward with his complaint. "Cordelia! Must we? Again?"
She skipped backwards, back to us and a woman had to swerve her baby's stroller out of the way of a sure collision. Before the Mom got a chance to spew her anger, Cordelia's wave at the "Keeeee-UTE Baby!" extracted a doting parental grin.
By then, we'd caught up. She parted me and Wes, turned, and glommed onto us both. For an early-June L.A. night, it was warm. The deepening sunset dusted Cordelia's hazel irises cinnamon. Her weight shifted more left to compensate for Wesley.
"We should go," I whispered into her ear. For my suggestion, a wild curl flopped across my lips.
"No way!" she replied, putting her brakes on. "What we need to do is take a picture!" Pinwheeling, she aimed us at a photo booth that promised "Full Color Portraits in 5 Minutes!"
"And, instead of '3 different poses', we can get 3 copies of the same pose!" She beamed at us.
I broke formation.
Her voice sounded a mile away. "Angel!" she kept shouting. Finally she latched onto me and pulled hard.
But I didn't stop. After all, I'd only distanced myself from them by about eight paces, if that many. "I don't do pictures," I said, firmly enough to mean 'no'.
Which, of course, is the one word in any language that Cordelia cannot comprehend. "C'mon, Angel! It'll be fun!"
A roller-skater, with long dreads that looked like tentacles reaching out of the top of his turban, cut off Wesley's approach. I couldn't decide if the guitar slung across the guy's torso was there for strumming or if it was being used to weight his center of gravity. Annoyed, Wes finally waved past the offer of "Premium Incense, six for one dollar!"
Surprisingly, the ex-Watcher took my side in the matter. "I don't blame you, Angel. I know I certainly don't look my best. And I'm sure this creeping humidity isn't just playing havoc with your hair."
I willed myself not to coif. "This isn't a vanity thing, you two." And, it wasn't. I just...
I bowed my head to the disappointment that'd consumed Cordelia. I knew her well enough to guess that her request probably wasn't being based on sentimentality -- that used to be strictly Wesley's M.O. But since her recurring-vision coma, she'd been changing. At first I thought all that caring she'd been directing at me and Wesley was an act -- one she was finally good at, but still just an act.
Watching her reclaim Wesley's arm made me realize -- with the same startling impact of being slammed to a flagstone floor -- that caring, sharing persona she'd affected...
Was who'd she'd actually become.
Avoiding eye contact, I mouthed, "I'm sorry."
"No. Excuse *me*," Wesley remarked. Sand beneath his crepe-sole loafers skritched across the pavement as Cordelia pulled him aside.
"No problem, my man." The pedestrian doffed his Kangol and plucked at a bold, Kente-cloth sling keeping a drum at the small of his back.
"Why's he carrying that candle snuffer?" Cordelia asked way too loudly.
The drummer stopped. He had inclined his head slightly in greeting and, when he raised it, there was a bemused expression wrinkling his brown, Vaselined skin. He wasn't as young as he'd first appeared; the youthful buoyancy to his step and congeniality had fooled me, which actually felt kinda neat.
He raised the object of Cordelia's fascination -- his drumstick -- and pointed to the sea. "For out there," he announced before moving on.
"There are candles on the sand?" Cordelia asked, much more softly into Wesley's bicep.
When Wesley directed his chin towards the water the balmy cross-breeze tousled his wayward hair. Daylight's petering embers blazed off his retinas, making dual red suns with grey coronas of his eyes. His arm, like a movie Moses', rose at the water, commanding.
"Candles on the sand," he hushed, reverent.
They took off and I trailed them. Actually, with Cordelia increasing her lead each time she kicked the beach out of her way, I ended up behind Wesley -- just in case. I don't know how she'd managed it but she'd smoothed our way and, each step closer to the noisy assembly, Wesley's footfall had become stronger as if to mock: sand, what sand?
By the time we'd joined up, the sabar-drummer we'd been following had already taken his place on the outside of the drum circle and begun adding his rhythm. Tentatively, his right palm cupped the shell of his instrument to test several tempos comprising the cacophony.
Gourds, tambourines, maracas, bells, cymbals accompanied percussion instruments of every other shape, sound, origin. A round, hassock-sized drum droned a steady stroke-stroke basso when walloped with a fleece-headed beater. Two men -- brothers by their features -- shared conga duties, making a duet of a samba. Wes, laughing, stopped clapping long enough to point out one of the few women in the group; rising high on knees burrowed into the sand, her wide hips and round shoulders toggled sideways while the heels of her palms and the pads of her chunky fingers danced across her skins.
I patted Wesley across the back agreeably and his heart fluttered before recommencing his own internal rhythm. Feet apart, he swayed with the tide. "What do you know? Englishmen *can* find a beat!" he snickered.
I would have hugged him for surviving that blast if I could have found the courage. By the time I thought I'd actually accumulated some, his eyes had dropped, his smile had waned. I peeled my hand from his back but not before it'd been slicked by his uneasiness.
I should have killed him then.
Oblivious to all, like raindrops would've been to the crashing surf, a teen's snare drum tapped away in the background. Unable to find the source of the offensive beat, a crouching djembe-player discovered Cordelia instead and nodded approvingly. Ringed by her fallen hair gems, she'd dug her heels in to anchor herself while her slender hips swayed without shame. The candles that had been our beacon to this place, being attended to by the circle's admirers, bathed her bare legs with soft light.
"Thunk. Thunk." The djeli slammed the drumhead, rousing a deep, booming sound.
"Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk." Each of the conganeers answered.
I'd become mesmerized. The djeli's ten human fingers plied his goatskin head too rapidly and I was the only spectator with the eyes and ears capable of detecting each individual sound.
"Sounds like a stampede of woodpeckers!" Cordelia laughed, slapping the tops of her thighs.
"Gun godo godo gun," the djembe questioned.
"Gun-GUN," the sabar replied.
Not one to be left out of a conversation, Cordelia added, "Pata pata."
Puffing out his tie-dyed tee-shirted chest, the lead drummer took stock of the circle. "THUMP," his drum decreed, calling for obedience.
Which the djembe instantly acknowledged. The bongo quartet fell in time, too. With their belled anklets jangling, dancing children mimicked the fleeing shoreline birds with gleeful cries. A legion of replies wafted on the air.
"Gun godo godo gun pata gun godo godo GUN GUN," the djembe laid down repeatedly.
Compelled to answer, a fair-haired man scuffed closer and I recognized him immediately. In a thousand years, I'd still be able to close my eyes and see that tipper dance across that drumhead -- no differently than I'd witnessed it centuries before. He executed a baton-major's gestures; his elbow flailed, evoking a precise, hollow song. Strong notes were complemented by a rush of softer ones, a right proper introduction for his bodhran.
Of my country. Your ancestry.
Without thinking, a smile as wide as the djembe-owner's face overtook my own. "You play dat t'ing well," he'd yelled, increasing the volume of his cadence. I had to nod in agreement.
"I do a' right," the man replied, revealing his roots as not from Eire but Arizona. At the flattering comment, the sunburn that had seared the tips of his ears seized him from the neck up.
"Someone best t'ink about beatin' down dat snare drum." The djembe resonated quads.
The bodhran-player tick-a-tatted his frame-drum's rim. "Ah, c'mon. Why take it out on the poor snare? Drums don't kill tempos, inattentive drummers do!"
That made me laugh.
Your mother's laugh had been no different while we'd aimlessly floated across the Keta lagoon. I'd joined her and our singular voice cut through the raucous air -- rife with danger warnings, beating between all the islands we'd tasted.
All those tribal voices, not a human one among them -- only their drums, wailing in a tongue we completely understood. We added them to the count. Since landing upon African soil, we'd heard the same serenade many, many times.
Darla wouldn't let me throw our canoeist overboard. "It's part of the romance," she'd whispered against my lips. Slumped in the prow, four lifeless fingers trailed through our leeward wake, raking the full moon's reflection.
Ebony water shimmered -- "THUMP!" -- Candles flickered. A few of the drummers fell off of the swell, returning for its crest.
Without warning, Cordelia's hand clipped my nose. "Sorry," she said without contrition. Parallel to her collarbones, pancaked hands hammocked her face. Eye shadow twinkled in the corners of her closed lids and on the apples of her happy cheeks.
The snare drum found the collective tempo. Only for a bar.
"What time is it?" Wesley asked. He massaged his bare wrist with a hot palm; he'd never stopped clapping.
I checked my watch and it ticked to match our deafening background. The sun had long since meandered towards Hawaii. Over an hour had passed.
Cordelia collapsed at the waist then threw herself back up. It wasn't until she hugged herself that I realized she'd long since dropped my coat. I picked it up off my shoes, shook it out, and draped her shoulders with it.
"We should go, Angel, and get this old man home," she joked, patting Wesley's arm. "This was a long, long day and EW! Repetition, much? You so shouldn't have eaten that hot dog, Wesley!"
"Hot link," I murmured. Just because.
At absolute dark, the last beat fell; the crowd cheered. As they said their goodbye's, Cordelia and I scooped up Wes with my arm resting over hers. Wesley didn't make a peep, probably to conserve what little energy he had. When we got to the bike path, I let go but I could still feel them coursing through me. The one heart pounding, exhausted, the other...
Compassionate. "That's it, Wesley. Just breathe in what you can," Cordy soothed against his matted temple, matching her decade and a half-senior's hands-on-knees position. "You'll be OK."
Wesley followed her instructions attentively, needing to believe.
She shrugged. "And if you're not OK, Angel will have to carry you the car like a bay-beeeeeeee." She yanked the Plymouth's keys from the pocket of her cargo shorts and jangled them in front of his eyes.
I cradled my arms.
Wesley reared. "Look at that! All better." The step he took wasn't the most convincing, but he was adamant about any volition he made being his own. "Very much improved!"
Back on our way to where Cordelia had parked, I lagged a half-step behind.
"So, what'll we do now?" she asked over her shoulder.
When I stopped to think, they stopped. The drummers dispersed around us; Cordelia cumbia'd to a beat she'd memorized; Wesley, grateful for rest, just waved.
I leaned against a palm tree, watching, remembering wanting to listen. I wanted to treasure every sound. I wanted to remember the lathered bike rider who passed us, walking his messed-up bike -- the clack-clack of its disengaged derailleur, air sputtering through its spokes. I wanted to take that and every moment before and make them all my prey.
I gathered Cordelia and Wesley by their shoulders and rotated us. "So, you want to know what we're going do now?" I proposed, hurting my cheeks from trying to be serious.
Wesley nodded, not to agree but as if he knew why. That's always been his problem -- always assuming how much he knew.
Cordelia smooched my cheek. "We're going to take a picture!" she squealed, racing for the booth. "I've got dibs on the crappy mirror!"
So that's what we did. And now while I'm deteriorating beneath this brownish-green brine, and Cordy's getting more pissed that, not only did I not meet her, I split without saying good-bye, and, hopefully, Wesley's putrefying in a stew of betrayal, there's a $5.00 pose that's holding our place in time.
A reminder that I should have known better.
Like I should have known better on Pylea than to prance in the sun. Like I should have known better than to hold you in my arms and assume that I'd ever get to be your real Dad. And love? FORGET love! Love is a cherry ride geared up to backfire. I can't even manage friendship.
Why the fuck am I telling you any of this? I can be dense, but you've more than gotten it through to me how much you're not interested in anything I've got to say. So I'm done talking to you, Connor.
Now here's a prayer to whoever's listening: God, PTB's, Rama, The Top Tortilla -- ANYONE! A deal: I'll stop being something other than what I am, falling for the delusion that I can have the good life that everyone's been giving permission for me to have. I'm not asking to be let out of here; I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be a good thing for the world because -- just from personal history -- I'll either murderize someone or I'll be, pretty much, really insane.
If it's at all possible, I just want to get a good-bye message to Cordy. And then I want some quiet. You'll never have to hear from or about me again; I'll shut up and go to sleep. If this is retribution for my past, I'm accepting it. No redemption? OK. I knew it didn't actually exist.
I just need an end to the