Title: Remembering the Dead
Category: Angsty Romance
Content: Well C/A of course
Summary: A story that reunites them
Spoilers: none: post everything
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Notes: It’s been a while, hope the juices start flowing
Thanks/Dedication: To Laurencedec for the lovely ficpic!
The thumping rhythm of a bass beat had reached his ears a mile away. And now, standing in front of the small club, listening to the downbeat shaking the blackened windows above the entrance, smelling the fresh blood pumping through young veins full of hormones, he paused. He shouldn’t be doing this. He should forget about her. Turn around and walk away. But even as he told himself that chasing after what he could never have was wrong, he walked to the door. Anticipation flooded him, gave him that little rush, a memory of life before it quickly faded. Her voice. In seconds he would hear her voice. He walked the few steps through the door, scanned, paused, waited.
“Hello, Salty-greatness,” a voice that wasn’t a close enough match said excitedly.
He closed his eyes as anticipation turned to anger. He turned to the brunette who was approaching with an eager smile. Her face was too thin. Why hadn’t he noticed that before? And her eyes, they weren’t hazel. They were brown. Dark brown. He tried to conjure up the image that had burned its way into his mind. Tried to place it atop the one that was in front of him now. He inhaled. At least she had remembered to wear the perfume he had sent her. That would help.
“Come on,” he grabbed her arm a little too rough.
“Hey!” she complained, although she didn’t seem too eager to be away from him as he dragged her through the throng of people and out to the alley beside the club. He was handsome, and he had showered her with gifts all week. – an outfit, shoes, perfume, a stylish leather bracelet. So what if with each gift had come instructions on the best way to wear each item. Most attractive men liked their dates to look a certain way. Didn’t they?
The young girl felt the cold, damp brick against her back as her escort pinned her with his larger frame. Her heart beat wildly. Fear fought its way up her throat but she swallowed it. She hadn’t come to L.A. for nothing. With a guy like this on her arm she would be noticed. And if this was what it took to get him, then she would do whatever he wanted. After all, she was an actress, or would be as soon as her big break came. She could pretend not to be terrified by his dominating presence and almost angry pursuit of her.
He tilted her head up slightly, surprisingly gentle. She noticed then, in the dimness of the moonlight that his eyes were closed. “Salty Goodness,” he whispered. “Say it.”
“What?” she breathed back.
He tried not to let his impatience show. Calmed himself. Kept himself in the moment of the memory. One of many he had tried to recreate within the last year. “You were supposed to say”, he gave the instructions as if speaking to a child, all the while holding the image of a dead woman behind his closed lids, “‘Hello, Salty Goodness’. Remember, I wrote it down for you?” His eyes remained closed.
“Oh, yeah,” she remembered now. She always had trouble with lines. She made a mental note to work on that. Taking a deep breath she tried to get into character, remembering his instructions. ‘With confidence,’ she reminded herself mentally.. “Hello, Salty Goodness,” she purred.
He seemed pleased. His eyes were still closed but the expression on his face softened just a bit, as if the words brought back a lost memory, soothed him. He leaned his head down slowly to hers, brushed her lips, whispered against them, “You thought I didn’t hear you that night. That I was so caught up in her that I could never notice you.” He kissed her again, this time a little deeper.
She was breathless when he finally left her lips and crushed her against him, burying his head in her hair. With his eyes still tightly shut he inhaled the scent of his gifted shampoo, perfume. And the face blazed before his mind. Dark flowing hair – the way he preferred it – hazel eyes, a bright smile that could induce euphoria. “Cordelia,” he called her name like a talisman. An incantation that could bring back his sanity, the touch of humanity that had once existed for him.
The young body in his arms stirred. “Um….it’s Amanda.”
Reality came biting back at him like an icy wind. He opened his eyes and pulled away slightly, looking down into eyes that tried to hide hurt pride.
“My name,” she tried again when he didn’t respond, “is Amanda.”
“No,” he said softly. “Tonight it’s …….” And then the situation turned as it always did. Whenever he tried to speak her name with open eyes, with the reality of a woman that could never be her staring him in the face with a small amount of fear in her eyes. Dark brown eyes…..not hazel.
He pushed her away slowly. “This isn’t going to work.”
There was more shame than apology in his voice. “I could try again, go back into the club and wait for you. I’ll get it right this time.”
“No. It’s the wrong club. The wrong night. The wrong…..moment. The moment’s past, and it’s too late to get it back.”
“And I’m not the right girl,” she pouted the way most vain girls do when fishing for a compliment from a guy. Trying to bring the focus back on herself.
He didn’t notice. “No, you’re not.”
And then he was gone. As if he’d never been there in the first place. Amanda forgot about the sting to her ego. She stared down the alley, trying to bring the night into focus. She shivered, crossed her arms, and ran back inside club.
SOMEWHERE BEYOND EXISTENCE
The Keeper scanned her surroundings. Beauty was in everything. Perfection. Peace. She studied the souls of the once heroic humans. This was their reward. For protecting the world they were given paradise. A garden of innocence. Blissful amnesia from the harsh world they had faced and the harm it had done them in their attempts to make it better. They were like children to her. And she loved them.
She smiled as she scanned her paradise and theirs. Their smiling faces. And then her eyes rested on one soul. The one that sat always alone. The one who’s face never quite smiled. She had been a great soul on Earth, although few had known that fact. The Keeper had always found that the greatest heroes where often unknown to those they had saved.
The Keeper approached the woman who took the form of her Earthly self. “Cordelia,” her voice flowed like soft music. “Why do you sit alone?”
Cordelia did not look up. Instead she brushed her hand across the perfect grass, studying each blade, wondering at the fact that it never grew past a perfect height, always glowing that perfect, dewy green yet never felt wet to the touch. “Why am I here?” she finally asked softly. Her eyes still fixed on the grass beneath her.
An emotion alien to the Keeper radiated from Cordelia’s spirit. “You are here because this is your home,” she explained with perfect pitch. “And we,” her hand swept out gracefully, “are your family.” Was it sadness that this soul felt? It was hard for the Keeper to identify.
“Is this Heaven?” Cordelia asked, the confusion of a child shadowing her face.
The Keeper fell silent. It had been since before her time as the Keeper that a soul had questioned their place in the Afterlife. All who came had no memory of what had come before. This was simply home. Heaven was a word used by the living. By those who remembered.
The Keeper sat down beside Cordelia in the soft grass. “Why do you call this place Heaven?” she inquired carefully.
Cordelia shrugged and looked away. Her sadness grew and as it did her ethereal companion noticed the perfectly formed flowers around them withering slightly. She held back her alarm and reached for Cordelia’s hand.
Cordelia felt a warmth run through her spirit, dulling her sadness. She turned and gave her Keeper a small smile. “I’ve only ever known this place,” she confessed. “I know that must be true. It’s supposed to be my home. But I don’t feel like……” she paused.
“You belong?” the Keeper gave the words Cordelia couldn’t find.
Cordelia nodded with a new wave of sadness. The grass beneath them dulled. The Keeper noticed.
She looked at Cordelia. This beautiful soul was as perceptive as she had been in life. And if she still held a connection to that life then she was correct. She did not belong. At least not yet. The Keeper rose from her seat with a floating grace. Cordelia watched, looked up at the angelic face that smiled down at her.
“All will be well, Cordelia,” the Keeper smiled and Cordelia felt the familiar warmth flood her body again. A false warmth. A warmth that began to die away even before she lost sight of the Keeper. Cordelia looked at the others, those that laughed and played like children beyond her solitary spot. She wondered why she could not feel as they did? Their laughter pierced her ears, made her nauseous. Couldn’t they feel it? This wasn’t home. It wasn’t even Paradise or Heaven or whatever you wanted to call it. It was …..a dream…….a lie……..a bright hiding place from a darker reality. She closed her eyes and leaned back, trying not to feel the cushion of the grass, blocking out the sounds of superficial joy, daydreaming of a world of deeper emotions. A solid world, full of imperfection, full of true joy because it held true sadness, true light because of its darkness.
Cordelia Chase laid in paradise.
And dreamed of home.
Angel walked the dark streets, his edginess bordering on angry violence. He had to get home, get rest, get himself together. The morning was only moments away, he was cutting it close as always. In those first few nights, after the battle, he had considered staying in that approaching dawn. Watching the sunrise until he burned his way into the next world. But in some strange way he felt that act would put him further away from Cordelia. At least in this version of hell he would have his memory of her. In the one that waited to reclaim him he couldn’t be so sure.
So he chose to stay. Not for the good of mankind or for the Powers. For himself. He would continue to exist. Cultivate his memories of the dead until they grew into madness.
He knew he was playing with fire, with his very own soul. It had begun innocently really, his reenactment of every moment, every second he had known her. After the battle, when all that was left of his human family had been destroyed, he and Spike had collected the fortune he had stashed away from Wolfram and Hart and gone their separate ways. He wasn’t really sure why he had decided to stay in L.A.. Maybe because Spike had decided to leave. But he stayed, purchased a home even. A rambling house with enough land to feel solitary even though it was a part of one of the most exclusive neighborhoods outside of L.A.. He settled there, quietly. The last two years had been a whirlwind of chaos and he needed the solitude in order to think again, to remember why he was and what he was.
Then he started seeing her. The color of her eyes set into the wrong face. Her hair flowing down the back of a stranger. A woman wearing Cordelia’s favorite perfume passed him one evening on the street and he actually followed her. For a month. Every woman became Cordelia. For a moment anyway. He knew he had loved her deeply. But when she had come to him, set him straight again, said good-bye, he thought that he would mourn her and move on. But things were so out of whack, the world in such turmoil that his mourning was put on hold. Only when the battle was over and the clueless humans were saved did he give himself the luxury of thinking about her, missing her. And mourning turned to deep sorrow, and deep sorrow to unhealthy obsession. Not only did he not move on, he regressed into memories, moments with her. He grasped at everyone he could find, replaying them over and over in his mind until that was not enough. Reenactment became his new drug, although a disappointing one. He knew that soon those failed attempts to recapture lost moments would not due either. But what else did he have? What other way could he conjure up someone that should be left in peace?
His slow and steady stride never faltered as he crossed the threshold of his hillside home, the first rays of light hot on heels. He crossed the interior of his spacious home, watched the western sky through the large windows facing the ocean as it turned pink before pulling the heavy drapery closed. He stood there, his hand on the thick fabric, staring at nothing, remembering everything.
“I am not asking for a reset of all things,” the Keeper pleaded her case.
“It will not be allowed. Sending her back with a new life will destroy all that has been accomplished. The battle ended successfully. We are pleased with the outcome and will not jeopardize it for one insignificant soul.”
The Keeper kept her calm composure, but the word insignificant stung her very being, made her feel things a Keeper was unaccustomed to feeling. “Then do not give her a new life. Change nothing but her mind. All of the humans who shared her life for the past few years have gone from their Earthly existence. Send her back with altered memories of the last few years, away from the city that would remind her of her days as a warrior.”
The Keeper paused, waiting for an answer. She was met with a silence that gave her hope.
“I am not merely asking this for her,” she continued her persuasion. “There is a danger that lurks for all of us here if she stays. As a human she was touched with powers that no other human has ever possessed. Those powers linger still within her. She is perceptive beyond any soul I have encountered. She feels the absence of life. She remembers.”
“It is not merely life she remembers, not just her powers that touch her,” came the answer from the ethereal voice.
“His sorrow ties him to the city in which he lost her. We have no fear of his interference.”
“He is a very volatile being. Her return could trigger things in him for which we are not prepared.”
“It could be argued that her return would make him less volatile.”
The Keeper waited a moment and then used the full force of her beautiful voice in response.
“He will remain far away. He will not know of her return,” she tried to sound sure. “But if he did, would it be so terrible? To give him something he longs for after all he has done for us.”
“It is the Keeper’s nature to reward. It is natural that you would think it logical to give him happiness, peace. You know nothing of darkness, of the thing that lurks within him.”
“His darkness has been blended with his whole. There is no danger of the evil that lives within him ever ruling again.“
“But it is still there.“
“As it is in all creatures of that world. If we do not care for our warriors, give them all they deserve for risking everything for us, then we are no better than our darker brothers and sisters. Those that use up the world and thrive on pain and chaos.”
Again there was a long pause.
“You will be responsible for this Keeper.”
Hope shined in her beautiful eyes.
“The moment she remembers, she will return.”
“Of course,” the Keeper bowed deeply and quickly glided away.
ONE MONTH LATER…….
Angel stood atop the abandoned hotel. He could feel the prickling on his cold skin, an electricity that gave the illusion of warmth for a brief moment, warning him that the sun would soon rise. He ignored his instinct, his need to hide in darkness. This time the illusion of warmth from the warning would turn into real heat. A blistering inferno to send him, if not to peace, to a place without the memories. Angel squeezed his eyes shut, replaying every moment with her as he had done a thousand times, blaming himself for every missed opportunity.
Guilt consumed him.
It was appropriate, he thought, that guilt should be his last thought. After all, it had been his first in this newly souled life. Through all the changes and lessons and betrayals over these last years, it had never left him, never failed him, a steady and constant companion.
A piercing pain shot through Angel’s head. Another internal warning. The dawn was near. He forced his eyes open, stared at the distant, lightening sky. He wanted to see it, watch his destroyer as it………
“Son-of-a-……” Angel felt himself land hard against the small internal room wall of the rooftop entrance. The metal door to the roof slammed with a resounding thud, blanketing the small, square room in darkness.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” Spike spat in the darkness, giving the metal door one last push for good measure. “You could’ve fried out there, you great poof.”
Angel pulled himself up slowly, his eyes shooting into Spike through the darkness. “Move,” he growled.
Spike turned, staring directly into Angel‘s eyes through the darkness, awareness of the situation dawning. “Ohhhh,” he drew out slowly, “suicide was it? Didn’t know, mate. Thought you’d lost your marbles or somethin ’ ,” Spike moved aside. “By all means, go ahead.”
Angel paused for a moment. Even though he could not see it, the eastern sun beamed down brightly on this side of the roof . His instincts told him that. Just like they were screaming out now not to open the door. He grasped the doorknob. Another instinct crept in a split second before he turned the knob. The ability to smell blood. Human blood. “You’ve been feeding,” he accused without turning around.
Spike was glad Angel was not facing him. It was all he could do to keep up his vibrato of his ‘ I could give a shit’ attitude. And more importantly, if Angel was facing him, he would be able to see the guilt in Spike’s face. Hell, he could probably sense it anyway. Spike cursed himself for crawling back to L. A. for Angel‘s help. “Don’t act like you haven’t taken a sip or two here and there. I can smell it in your veins just as you can in mine,“ he defended. “After what we’ve been through for them, it’s the least they owe us.” Spike leaned against the wall, averting his eyes with more shame than a sip of blood should produce.
Angel let go of the doorknob and turned toward Spike. “I may have taken a drink from more than one human in the past few weeks, but I’ve never taken more than a drink. I’ve always left them alive and well,” he defended.
“And scared shitless I suppose.”
“Better scared than dead. There’s more than a sip flowing through you,” his jaw muscle tensed. “What have you done, Spike?” Angel braced himself for the answer, ready to drag Spike beyond the door with him, ridding the world of them both.
“What have I done?! Well, for one thing I haven’t given up like you.”
“Spike,” Angel advanced slowly.
“I haven’t killed anyone, at least…..not on……oh, bloody hell,” Spike shook his head. “I don’t know what I’ve done. What any of it means.” Why was he doing this? Why did Angel have to be the only other vampire left here with a soul? Tension thickened in the room before he continued. “Three weeks ago I started following someone. Only because she was alone and young, mind you. Petite, blonde, little thing, with big blue eyes.” Spike swallowed the embarrassment that tried to climb into his throat, giving away something he didn’t want the stupid poof to know. It wasn’t Angel’s business that he had been following her because she reminded him of Buffy, that he had followed any and every girl that had reminded him of her since arriving in New York.
“She was a college student, always took this one particularly dark alley home at night. Well, we both know what waits in alleys for lit’l girls. We used to be those things. But one night her class let out early. I heard her screaming two miles away,” Spike felt the blood in his stomach curdle. He couldn’t explain why the thought of the young woman he barely knew being in trouble made him so protective, so out of control. “When I got to her they had already beaten her so badly that I hardly recognized her. She was dyin’ right there. I couldn’t….. I hadn’t even cared to know her bloody name, but when she looked up at me. I couldn’t……”
A deadly silence engulfed the small, blackened room. “You turned her,” came Angel’s astonished whisper.
Spike bravely turned his eyes back toward Angel and nodded his head very slowly.
“You couldn’t stand to see her die so you turned her into an soulless demon? A vampire?”
“Well the vampire part is right,” Spike mumbled.
Angel’s stare deepened, trying to process the information Spike was handing him. What was he trying to say?
“She has a soul you bloody, idiot. I turned her, yes. I knew when I bit into my wrist what I would have to do to her when her soul left her body and only evil was left. Except when she woke up, it was still there. Shining brighter than any I’ve seen. Another vampire, with a soul. Looks like this souled thing isn’t just for Big Bads after all.”
NEW YORK CITY
two weeks later.
Cordelia Chase marched through the rich crowd of the posh New York restaurant and back to her boss’ office in her best, and one of only two, hostess outfits. It was a tight fitting, just above the knee leftover from her days of leisure in Sunnydale. One of the few designer outfits she had left. But even if it was several seasons old it was black and classic and looked damn good on her. She would have tomorrow off before Matty knew what hit him.
Cordelia opened the door without a knock and flashed her winning smile.
Matty knew he was in trouble.
“Cordelia,” the fifty-ish, potbellied man said as if exasperated with a small but adorable child, “if I give you anymore advances I’ll be working for you.
Cordelia’s grin grew wider as she sat down in the leather chair opposite the desk and crossed her legs. She had always used her looks and personality as a charm but secretly suspected that it was more of a paternal feeling that Matty had for her that got her her way with him.
“Why would you think I came in here to ask you for an advance?” she feigned innocence.
“Oh, maybe because you’ve asked for, and gotten one, over the last three pay periods. And you’ve only been here a month.”
“I need tomorrow off.”
“No,” he shook his head even though he knew within seconds the answer would be yes.
“I have an audition. A real audition. Okay, it’s a deodorant commercial, but it pays more than this job. No offense.”
“None taken,” Matty mumbled.
“Plus it’s exposure.”
Matty sighed and rose from the desk chair. Why did he feel so protective of this girl? Young women had pranced in and out of his trendy restaurant for years holding the job as hostess, secretly waiting for that big break. Most of them annoyed more than interested him. But Cordelia brought out the big bear in him. Almost a fatherly instinct. He wished she would get that big break, but the odds are, from what he‘d seen over the years, that she wouldn‘t. It broke his heart for her. “Alright. But that means you work a double the next day. Right?” He really didn’t need her for the double, but she needed the money.
“Sure, Matty,” Cordelia shot back as she was exiting the office.
Matty stuck his head out of the office door, “And get Antonio to walk you home!” he yelled after her.
Cordelia shook her head in agreement as she disappeared into the lingering crowd at the bar. She was sure this audition would be the break she needed. It had to be. Over the last few years in New York she had been living the fashionable life of the young, starving actress. Except that it wasn’t what she had thought it would be at all. It was full of rejections, late notices, sleazy I’ll-help-your-career-baby older men, and a dive of an apartment that took, at last count, five roach motels for her to get a good night sleep. To say the least, the bright dream conjured up by a teenage Cordelia was growing dim in the face of a mature mindset. More than once in the last few weeks had she pushed dreams of a different life out of her head. A life with connection to the world. A purpose.
Where had that come from? Was it truly maturity bringing up all of this crap?
Snagging her coat from the hook by the back entrance, Cordelia left the restaurant through the service door and into the dark night. The door slammed shut and locked just as she remembered Matty’s instructions about Antonio. “Crap.“ Oh well, at least it saved her the unwanted attention from the smitten bar tender anyway. Granted, he was hot. Okay, he was drop-dead-gorgeous and Cordelia’s reluctant attitude not only puzzled the studdly muffin that had girls falling all over him every night. But in all honesty it puzzled Cordelia as well. Many nights she wandered herself if something was wrong with her libido. Maybe it was the drive for a career. Possibly. But that drive had even seemed to be waning lately. Oh well, she couldn’t psycho-analyze herself tonight. Tonight she had to get a good night sleep. Maybe getting the commercial tomorrow would rev up her gears again, in all areas. Pulling her coat tightly around her for the three block walk to her apartment, Cordelia tried to dismiss any serious thought processes. Tried to slip into Sunnydale Cordelia. Tried but failed.
Angel walked the cold streets of New York. Since returning with Spike, neither vampire had had any luck finding the newly cursed girl. Why had Spike left her here alone? She might not even know what she was, how to take care of herself. How not to kill. And most importantly, why did Angel care? Angel couldn’t figure out why he felt responsible or protective. He assumed it was his vampiric nature. She was after all family now, of sorts. And the soul bonded her to them, made her the third wonder of the underworld. They would find her. If they didn’t, he knew that the guilt would consume Spike and possibly bring him back to L. A.. Back to the rooftop with Angel. This time to join him instead of save him. Both vampires knew that Angel had not changed his plan of exodus from the world. Just adjusted the time a bit. He would help Spike find the girl and then he would go back to L.A.. Finish the job. End misery.
Crossing the dark street of the upper scale business district, Angel finally noticed how the few humans around him bundled themselves in layers of clothing while clouds of fog appeared and disappeared before their faces. It was cold. He hadn’t noticed. He guessed he must look out of place with no coat. And no breath. He suddenly felt as he always did in a crowd of humans, self-conscious, and a little hungry. His confession to Spike was true. He had only taken a sip here and there, but it had been wrong. He knew it. Vowed not to do it again. But it had brought back the craving. He suddenly heard the beating of the hearts around him, imagined what their blood, just a drop of it, would feel like, taste like, sliding down his throat.
Casting his eyes downward, Angel crossed the side street quickly, anxious to get to Spike’s spacious, basement apartment and away from temptation and guilt.
So distracted was he, that he slammed into the shoulder of a couple passersby, never turning to react to the verbal New York responses to his rudeness. It was best to keep his gaze down anyway. Best to concentrate on gray, cracked, dirty sidewalk, instead of any poor woman on the street who might carry a resemblance to Cordelia.
He wasn’t going to go there.
‘Forget it, forget it, forget it,’ came his mental mantra.
A third shoulder rammed into his.
“Watch it, buster,” came the biting remark.
It was happening again. Her voice.
But it wouldn’t be her face.
Maybe her hair.
But not the eyes.
He forced himself to walk forward. He had to get to Spike’s, find the girl, end the misery.
“What a jerk,” came the muffled complaint of the woman.
He couldn’t help himself. He stopped and turned just as she was shooting him a condemning look across her shoulder.
The frown on Cordelia’s face slowly faded and turned into a look of surprise. She turned her body halfway, as if to get a better look at him. Angel’s body tensed. Was he finally mad? A faint cordial smile, the one people give old acquaintances began to draw itself across Cordelia‘s face. She turned fully and began to weave her way through the small crowd of pedestrians.
Angel stood. Expressionless stone. No hint of anything on his face. The moment blurred with their first encounter in L.A. when she had made her way across a crowded room to speak to him. So sexy, unfazed by the horrors that awaited her there. This was a moment. A memory superimposed on some poor girl who was taking her life in her hands by flirting with him. ‘Leave,’ he told himself. ‘Walk away.’
“Angel?” came her warm voice when she finally reached him.
The smell of Cordelia invaded his senses. He stared at the girl harder. Trying to turn the perfect hazel eyes green or blue. Trying to focus better so his brain would realize that the woman was not what she seemed, not what his memories were making her out to be.
“Cordelia,” he wasn’t even aware the name had crept out.
“Oh my, God! Angel? What are you doing in New York?” she smiled brightly as she reached the square of sidewalk in front of him.
“I……” His mind was playing tricks again. It had to be. Wake up dammit!
Cordelia’s face took on a hint of carefree humor. “Well, I see ya got the social conversation thing down pat. So….. are you still all grrrrr?”