Here's a short story for week 2 of the Phantasmagoria project, for 'The Harvest'. Hope you enjoy it (and that I can link it properly!)
Author : Jo
Feedback : Pretty please. At LJ or to firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating : General
Summary : Why does Angel tell Buffy he’s afraid?
It’s harder than he thought it would be.
Oh, when Whistler showed him the girl, and held out the prospect of a new life, he’d known it wouldn’t be easy. After all the evil he’d done, and his century-long slide into dereliction, he’d understood that recreating himself, rising above the vampire, could only ever be hard.
This is different. This isn’t about the thirst, that ever-present craving to sink his teeth into butter-soft flesh and rip open the pulsing, throbbing conduit of life; nor the absolute imperative to feel the blood flowing hot and thick over his tongue, to savour each life, with its hopes and dreams, as it surges down his throat. Not those things. He lives every day with those things. He already knows how hard that is.
What he hadn’t suspected was how hard it would be to resist the pull of Family.
Darla, yes, if he’d known she was here he would have understood that. Even when the soul was new and exquisitely painful, he couldn’t keep away from her. He might have hated her for what she’d done to him, for making him a vampire, (or did you only hate her for abandoning you? a small inner voice suggests, faintly contemptuous) but he’d followed her across half the world, and he’d asked her to take him back. That was a long time ago, but he can still hear the silken rustle of her kimono, still smell the cold steel of the blade she’d held at his throat, still see the disdain in her eyes as she searched his soul.
Hate. Hate is such a complicated emotion, especially between ex-lovers. Between a vampire and his sire, complicated doesn’t begin to describe it. And there is such a fine line...
Not that fine line between love and hate, he tells himself. He’d never loved Darla. How could he love, without a soul? You have a soul now, that small inner voice whispers to him, and she’s here. She’s still Darla. He ignores the voice. No, he’d never loved Darla. She’d damned him, and so he must hate her, because none of the other emotions can encompass how he feels about her. Yet, she’s his sire, his mentor, his lover. And if he’s honest with himself, he would have to admit that she had made him, in all senses of the word, and he had welcomed that. At the time.
He hadn’t expected her to be here, though, and yes, that makes it harder than he had thought when he told Whistler he would do this. The pull that he feels from her, the yearning to be with her again, to have it all again. To reap the whirlwind. Having a soul doesn’t begin to stop the yearning, just as it doesn’t stop the blood lust.
But even Darla isn’t the worst. The worst is the Master and his Harvest.
He eases his position a little, in the deepest shadows of the alley, and wonders how much longer he’ll have to wait. He wonders whether his waiting will be in vain, and whether he’s done too little, too late to help the girl. It’s no good thinking about that, not yet. With luck, the end is still to play out.
He remembers the gleam of sunlight on her hair, the soft curve of her cheek, the baby-pink nail polish, and then he tries not to, because he also remembers how she made him feel. How he wanted to cherish her and keep her safe. She was... she is... young, unready, untrained. The chances of her succeeding are small. How can he believe in her, when her death seems so certain? And yet, he thinks he does. But he doesn’t believe in himself, either, and so he’s got no cause at all to trust his judgement in this.
Angel’s worried about the girl, but the demon in his mind can’t get away from Family. He tries to keep his thoughts on her, even though they keep sliding away, the demon’s blood racing to the pull of the magic being worked tonight. He’d waited for Buffy in the mausoleum today, coming up silently behind her as she found the door to the tunnels padlocked and chained. She hadn’t even needed to turn round to know that it was him. He wonders about that now, as he listens for the sound of her footsteps, of her heartbeat, but there’s no sign of her yet.
“I don't suppose you've got a key on you?” she’d asked. But this isn’t his handiwork. With his penchant for telling the truth, but only some of the truth, he’d told her that they really didn't like him dropping in. What he didn’t tell her was that the lock and chain have been put there purely to keep him out. He’s made too many visits, been almost caught too many times, lurked more times than once too often. He isn’t welcome at their table. He brushes a hand over the front of his jacket, removing a lingering scattering of dust. No, they really don’t like him, period.
Buffy doesn’t know how he tried to clear the way for her today. He’d been in that mausoleum since the night before, trapped by the daylight, waiting for her to come. He’d heard the lightness of her footfalls as she ran across the graveyard, listened to the thu-thump of her heartbeat, steady despite her speed, felt the silvery Slayer sharpness twisting in his gut, winding him harder and tighter the closer she got. Even so, when she stepped through the door, she’d taken his breath away. Metaphorically speaking, that is.
He’s not used to feeling like a schoolboy. He’s never had any difficulty smooth-talking the opposite sex. Not as a man, and not as a vampire. Trying to talk to her in that mausoleum, though, his lips were wooden, and his tongue a rigid stone in his mouth. He could barely form words, and he winces at the callowness as he remembers their conversation. He hadn’t wanted to get into why they didn’t like him, and so he’d clumsily switched the subject.
“I knew you'd figure out this entryway sooner or later. Actually, I thought it was gonna be a *little* sooner.”
He’d tried for flippant, but missed by a mile, as he struggled with his unwieldy tongue, and the delicious racing of her blood. He’d meant to say more, but then he’d looked at her face, and hadn’t told her how long he’d been waiting for her, cramped and stiff and cold, his hand on the stake in his pocket, afraid that they would know he was there, that too many of them might come at him through that locked door, and drive him into the daylight. You’ve been waiting for her all your life, that same little voice, deep in his soul, says, but he hushes it. He can’t afford to get any more deeply involved with a Slayer who might not last the night. His hold on the path to righteousness is slippery indeed.
And then she’d asked him his name. Thinking about it now, he doesn’t know whether he’s done the right thing. He could have given her any name. He could have been Tom, or Dick or Harry. Or Liam. But he is who he is, and he’d told her his name. If she survives, and if her Watcher is any good, they might find out more about him than he cares to think. It’s too late now, though.
Then he’d told her that the Harvest is tonight.
“Why don’t you stop it,” she’d asked, and he’d told her that he was afraid. That was the absolute truth, just not the truth that she thought it to be. Angelus always lied with the truth, and now Angel’s doing it, too. He’s not afraid of going down there with a stake in his hand, or not much. He’s afraid of the Harvest, and that’s what makes everything so very much harder than he had expected.
He’s had his own harvests, of course, reaping blood and fear, pain and terror, measuring the yield in the artistry of the kill. Dreadful as those in-gatherings were, the Master’s Harvest will be something altogether different. Angel’s heard about it before, in his travels: the once-a-century moment when the mystical alignments permit a Harvest of souls, of blood, by one vampire on behalf of another. He knows that the Master won’t just use the energy from the destruction of those souls to give him the psycho-spiritual key to unlock his prison. He wants enough energy to unlock the portal, too, enough to bring back the old demons, and to remake Hell on Earth.
Angel has never understood this desire to bring back the Old Ones. It seems like a death wish to him. Even Angelus prefers the Earth as it is, with its luxuries and its teeming humanity. But what Angel can’t argue with is the pull that his grandsire’s Harvest has on every cell of his dead, demonic flesh, the call of the Master to all his family. That evil old vampire thrums through his veins with a heat that Angel hasn’t felt for decades, not since Darla, and it demands his obedience, along with that of all the other Aurelians. Angel wants, he needs to be there, to share in it, to sweep up the fallen crumbs of power as his sire’s sire breaks free from his captivity. His need is so all-encompassing that it terrifies him.
It was that fear that kept him rooted to the spot as a small, blonde schoolgirl with the courage of a lioness went down into the teeth of the Master, to rescue her friend. He’d stood like a stock, stupid and useless, and watched her go, taking his heart with her. With the magic of the Harvest thick in the heat of Sunnydale, Angel dare not go down into the tunnels again, into the Master’s lair. If he did, if he’d fought the Harvest himself, he believes he would be consumed by it, and become just one more of the Master’s vampires, just another obedient Aurelian. He’s always been weak, and in that weakness, he would be lost. He’s sure of it, and he simply won’t let that happen.
That is what he’s afraid of, and that is why it’s so much harder than he expected it to be.
Even here, in this alley, it’s bad enough, as the mystic convergence unwinds, the power of the moment reaching its crescendo, and this is as close as he dares to come. He’s outside the Bronze, and Luke and Darla and the others are inside. So is the Slayer. He’s waiting to see what comes out. Will it be Slayer and salvation? Or will it be triumphant Family, with a Vessel that has achieved its purpose, bringing the end of the world?
He’s holding onto his own new-found intentions with both hands. Unlike the Watchers’ Council, caught up in their own politicking, Whistler and those others with him had foreseen the coming dangers. They hadn’t believed that the untrained girl from Los Angeles could possibly be ready to deal with them. He knows he should be in there, doing what he’d come here to do, helping her to save the world, but he’s afraid that if Angel goes in, it will be Angelus that comes out, secure once more in the bosom of his family. Or worse. Perhaps it would still be Angel, but an Angel with even more blood on his hands, asking Darla and the Master to take him back. Either that, or his soul would be one of those that buys the Master’s freedom. He may have cursed the thing many times, but that seems a poor end for it.
So, all he can do is wait here, and see what happens. So far, it doesn’t seem to be going well. He can feel the Master’s strength growing exponentially, which means that Luke is drinking his fill. Feeding for two. Nurturing a new birth.
Suddenly, in a burst of noise and light, amid the scents of blood and ash and human sweat, the door to his right opens, and a stream of refugees breaks out into the alley. As they run past him, too breathless to scream, he sees that Darla is one of them, the skin of her cheek blistering and burning, in too much pain to be aware of him. He thinks of her beautiful face, and he wants to go to her, but with a wrench he remembers his purpose, and he stays where he is.
He hears the sound of shattering glass, and a heartbeat later the pounding call in his blood and in his head starts waver and fade, its iron claws slipping out of his psyche, and then, mercifully, it’s gone. He’s a free... well, not a man, but he’s free of that terrible imperative, and the albatross of dread starts to fall from his neck. Two of the Master’s vampires scuttle out of the door, their scent spiced with failure and with fear. Angel watches them go, then looks back into the doorway. There are only humans – and the Slayer – left in there. Anything else is dust.
“She did it! I'll be damned!” he says to himself, and he expects that he will, although that isn’t his most immediate problem. He won’t go in to her, because he’s afraid that the bodies and the blood and the death, compounded by the sheer relief of escaping the Master’s net, will bring out the demon in front of her. He doesn’t want that to happen. Not because she might stake him, but because he couldn’t bear the accusation, the betrayal, the disgust on her face.
He hears her footsteps, and her heartbeat, counterpointed by those of her friends, and he sighs in relief. He moves away from the doorway that has sheltered him, not seeing the words of warning stencilled on it.
WATCH YOUR STEP, they read.
How many times will he wish that he had done so? How many times will he know that he wouldn’t have held back, even if he could? But all that is for the future, and he knows none of it as he turns and walks down the street, away from Buffy and her friends, although her scent follows him on the night breeze, tempting him to stay.
He came to Sunnydale in hope, and found Family and fear. Now, he has hope again. He defied Family before. Without the mystical shackles of the Harvest, he knows he can do it again. Even Darla. He has to. He thinks that he may have nailed his colours to the right Slayer’s mast, and wonders whether there is any possibility of a fresh start with her. A second chance, to help her with whatever monsters may come, to prove himself more of a man than he has so far.
He smiles to himself. The Master is still here, and a force to be reckoned with, but the Harvest is over for another hundred years. Now, all they face is just another big, ugly vampire with a batnose.
Hard may still be hard, but somehow, thanks to her, hard just got a little bit easier.