CHAPTER ONE » Maybe Redemption Is Right Where You Fell
Los Angeles, Six Weeks Later...
I have got to stop with the lyric chapter titles.
The room swam into focus - bright, sterile, crowded, now all-too-familiar - and its newest occupant shook his head, trying to clear away the fog that had settled over his senses. Spots floated before his eyes, hazy halos surrounding usually dull objects.
"How long that time?" he grunted, blinking down at the small, lab-coat-clad woman before him.
A deep frown pulled at the corners of her mouth as she studied the gadget in her hand. "About three minutes," she said absently, pulling her features together.
Three minutes, he repeated in his head. Three minutes on the brink of hell. So I'm betting eternity wouldn't be a picnic.
"This just doesn't make any sense..." The soft twang in her voice grew more pronounced before she trailed off, scribbling notes in his expanding file. "You're still radiating heat, but every time you dematerialize and reemerge, the air around you registers cooler. Sometimes it's just a fraction of a degree, sometimes more, but it's cumulative. The temperature shifts could be related to the increasing length of time you're... well, wherever... But that's not even the strange part."
"No, course not." Spike cocked an eyebrow, waving a hand. "This whole routine is downright mundane. Typical it is. Straight out of wholesome, white bread Nick-at-Nite reruns. 'Growing Pains'. Maybe 'Full House'. Picture it with me now, luv. Ghostly, disappearing Olsen twins. Now that's fun for the whole family."
It is hard as hell for me to type “luv” and leave it. I know that it’s correct for the endearment, but I can’t shake the lingering feeling that it’s netspeak. And the thought of Spike spouting netspeak makes the baby Jesus cry.
"The strange part," Fred stressed, ignoring his rambling, "is that your brain waves still come through loud and clear. And when you're gone, the emissions are stronger. Almost off the charts, really."
Which means... what, for the dearly almost departed?
"Come again? In English, perhaps?"
"Wherever you're... shifting off to, it's taxing your brain activity pretty heavily. So much so that when you're gone, part of your... energy is still here, and it's kicking into overdrive." She pressed her lips together, peering at him curiously.
"You said... You don't remember anything when you come back? Anything at all?"
Fredspeak isn’t quite Lizspeak, but it’s not far off. Plus, there’s the Mal factor: to accent or not to accent? Mal is always yes. Fred is usually no.
Recalling the eerie darkness that consumed him, devoid of anything but the promise of pain, drawing him deeper every time he faded, Spike nearly shivered. Pursing his lips, the immaterial vampire shook his head.
"Just that it's not someplace I want to spend a permanent vacation, if you catch my drift."
She smiled sympathetically in response. "No, I bet not." Biting the inside of her cheek, she sighed. "We just have to figure out a way to anchor you to this plane."
She didn’t quite feel like Fred to me until right in here. Still doesn’t. Edits may be in order.
"So you're still on the case, then," he prompted.
"Just call me Sherlock," she chirped, closing the thick folder and setting the scanner down. "On second thought, maybe Scully. This is paranormal, after all, and I don't think Holmes and Watson would know how to make heads or tails of all this. Demons and hell dimensions and vanishing vampires - "
Spike, however, needs no such assistance – he simply dictates, and I dutifully transcribe. I am but his ghostwriter. No pun intended.
Giggling, she nodded rapidly. "We'll get you good and solid again, I promise. I'm on top of it." Slipping out of her coat, she tossed it over the file, brushing a hand over the front of her skirt. "Well, I will be. Back. On top of it, that is. Right after this meeting."
"Meeting," Spike grumbled. "That's all your lot bloody well does around here. You know in my day, we killed things. Blood, guts, fights to the death... It's the proactive approach." He shrugged. "Then again, there is your ponce of a commanding officer to consider. Probably thinks he can save the world from behind his desk. And an awfully big desk it is. You ask me, he's overcompensating for something."
Fred shot him a quelling look, and he raised his hands in surrender. "Yeah, what is it this time? Angel switching hair care products?"
"Actually, Wesley called the meeting. I guess there's a new development with some prophecy." She turned away slightly, her expression thoughtful. "Wonder if it's Angel's thing."
Spike cocked his head to one side, intrigued. "And what thing would this be, pray tell?"
"The... shan-shoe-ha something or other. Basically says that if he helps enough people, he gets to be human again."
"Oh. Really," he replied flatly. "Goodie for him."
Fred glance down at the leather watch wrapped around her delicate wrist. Cringing, she spun on her heel, heading for the door.
"I'm late," she tossed over her shoulder, smiling apologetically.
"For a very important date, I'm sure," Spike drawled, offering her a two-fingered salute. "Give the Gelled Avenger my regards." She skipped down the office stairs and out of the lab, leaving him behind in bored contemplation.
Still my favorite Angel nick ever, inspired by the rooftop puppy incident of season one. Oh, Gem of Amara, if only I could resurrect you as well.
So Angel gets to be a real boy again, he thought, a shade of bitterness coating his inner monologue. Must be nice.
He reached toward Fred's discarded lab coat, his fingers passing through the crisp cotton like air. Frustration boiled to the surface, and he barely suppressed a scream, instead turning toward the lab entrance and the hallway beyond, muttering to himself.
"Oh, bugger this."
The wooden fibers of the door were no hindrance, and he passed through into Angel's office, bellowing at the top of his lungs before he'd even stopped moving.
"Listen up, Pinocchio. Prophecy or no prophecy, there's no way you get to happily rejoin the land of the living when I don't even have a bleedin' body."
I’m always iffy about overdoing the Britisms. It gets so trite so fast.
Five pairs of eyes stared at him in silence. Then Angel turned back to his resident bookworm, crossing his arms over his chest. "You were saying, Wes?"
Clearing his throat, Wesley adjusted his round, wire frames. "Yes, well, it seems the prophecy speaks of two who are vital to the cause. They are uninformed, but powerful in their own right, and play a key role in preventing the apocalypse."
"So... no shan-whatever mess, then?" Spike looked back and forth between them. "This is about an apocalypse."
"The apocalypse," Wesley corrected tiredly. "The one that will effectively end human life as we know it. And no, the prophecy in question is not related to the Shanshu."
"Ah." He smirked, blonde head bobbing. "In that case, no worries. Carry on."
"Angel, you know I'm all for extra manpower, but... how do we know this thing is for real?" Gunn's gaze was hard, questioning. "You don't even put much stock in your own damn omen."
GUNN! *mass flailing and panty dropping*
Ahem. That is all.
Wesley turned, speaking matter-of-factly. "This one is foretold in the Pergamum Codex."
Suppose we should be impressed. Cue the ooohs and ahhhs.
The suited bald man shrugged, raising his eyebrows. "See Wes, no matter how ominous and foreboding you make it sound, still makes no sense to me." The former Watcher stared blankly, and Gunn rolled his eyes.
Danger, Will Robinson! Epithets dead ahead!
"So it's foretold in whatever big book of doom you've got your nose in this week. But those of us who don't speak dead demon language are all wondering the same thing. So what? Every revelation we've stumbled across or gotten sucked into has some demented double meaning. And usually, they're not exactly in our favor. Personally, I've started dreading the whole 'it is written' spiel."
"I know that," Angel replied, his eyes fixed on the floor. "Look, I'm none too keen on the idea of all-powerful reinforcements. Seems awfully out of the blue, considering our shiny new digs." His head rose, and he fixed his gaze squarely on Gunn. "But the Codex doesn't lie. And it's never wrong."
Spike snorted hard. "And you're speaking from personal experience, are you?"
"As a matter of fact I am," the taller man snapped. "It predicted that Buffy would die. Down to the day."
"Correct me if I'm wrong here, Angelcakes," Lorne spoke up from his perch on a nearby armchair, "but it didn't seem like you were expecting that little tidbit when Witchy Willow came a'callin."
Somehow Lorne’s swagger even translates to type. He’s a pistol, that one.
"Not that..." Angel mumbled. "I meant the first time."
"She died twice?" The chartreuse demon whistled low. "You sure can pick 'em."
"We're getting off track here. This has nothing to do with my romantic history."
"Paltry and amusing as it may be," Spike tacked on. "I thought the Codex was lost."
Eyes narrowed in his direction through a layer of curved plastic. "What do you know of the Pergamum Codex?"
The leather-clad man chuckled, hooking both thumbs through his belt loops and rocking back on his heels.
"Offed two Slayers, mate. Featured pretty prominently in those pages." At Fred's quick grimace, Lorne's incredulous look, and Angel's lingering scowl, Spike shrugged, unfazed. "Not bragging, just stating the facts."
Yanking his glasses off, Wesley pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "It was. Lost. But the original volume has since been recovered, and is now safe in the hands of Giles."
Spike looked pointedly around the room, almost expecting the older man to pop out of some nook or cranny, and Wesley continued. "However, I have access to the text through the firm's archives. Though... how that's possible, I'm not entirely sure."
"What do you mean?" Fred inquired, drawing her brows together.
No doubt something anyone else could say in less than fifty words, Spike's mind griped. He tipped his head back, suddenly finding the ceiling extremely interesting.
"The template that provides me with these ancient writings is only supposed to access information from Wolfram & Hart's locked collection. But Rupert assures me that the Codex is still physically in his possession." He pushed his glasses back on, burying his hands in his pockets. "Well that, and the fact that the prophecy fell into my lap... quite literally, actually."
"And you didn't see that coming?" Gunn muttered under his breath. "Guess nothing was foretold about hardcovers and your nether region."
He was met with disapproving looks from the rest of his crew, while Spike bit back a laugh, and the young lawyer scoffed. "I'm just sayin'... Codex to the groin? Had to hurt."
Mwuaaha. I saw the whole thing in my head, and since I couldn’t shake the mental picture, it had to be written. I think Wes is my go-to torture boy in this ‘verse.
Almost as painful as this never-ending nonsense.
Rolling his eyes, Spike shifted his gaze through one of the floor to ceiling panes of glass, watching Harmony bend to pick up a stack of mail scattered across the floor. One manicured hand plucked up the envelopes, the other battled with the hem of a very short dress.
Much to his delight, the dress was winning.
I suppose that’s Spike for you. When in doubt, oogle.
Angel fidgeted nervously, shifting his feet on the carpet, ripping Spike's attention back to the monotonous goings on inside the office. "So if it's not in the firm's mystical library... where did it come from?"
Oh come on. If you keep asking him questions, he'll never stop! We'll still be huddled in this room come Judgement Day.
"Your guess is as good as mine. The template was on my desk when I came in this morning. I knocked it to the floor, and it opened to that particular passage. I never actually called for the Codex, Angel. It was already loaded."
Bugger all, he's still talking.
"Well," Fred started, wringing her hands in her lap, "the Senior Partners offered us Wolfram & Hart because we put a big kibosh on world peace, right? And now we have a prophecy from a pretty dependable source, saying that we'll be getting help on our side in the whole battle for good... So it couldn't have come from them. I mean, wouldn't that be a little counterproductive?"
"Senior Partners aren't behind this," Angel said quietly. "Fred's right. There's no way they'd give us a heads up on how to strengthen our ranks."
Now this is getting embarrassing, Spike lamented in his head.
"Unless it's a setup," Gunn offered. "Drop a bogus prophecy, send us on some wild goose chase - "
"Keep us occupied," his boss finished, slowly nodding. "Can't fight the good fight without troops on the battlefield."
Is there ever Angel fic when the words “fight the good fight” do not appear?
"I was thinking more along the lines of 'when the cat's away, the mice will play,' but that works, too."
Any minute now, the old 'obvious' light bulb will click in somebody's head.
"So one road leads to victory lane, and the other means a great big pity party. Followed inevitably by our untimely demise, with the head honchos laughing all the way to the end of mankind. Quite the pickle." Lorne clucked his tongue, rising. "And I'm sure you'll work it all out. But right now, I need to see a guy about a headliner. You know how it is. No rest for the wicked."
With a parting wink, he slipped out of the door.
Sinking into the chair the demon had abandoned, Gunn chuckled. "Gotta love a guy with priorities." He slapped his palms to his knees. "So what are we looking at, a diversionary tactic from the suits in the sky?"
"There is another option to consider," Wesley chimed in. "The Powers could be intervening here."
Spike narrowed his eyes at the room's lone female. Come on pet, use that big brain of yours. Show 'em all why you're the resident smarty-pants.
"Or you could have a bootleg book on your hands," Gunn argued. "Hate to state the obvious, English, but the Powers have been a no-show for awhile now."
Throwing his hands in the air, Spike finally broke his self-imposed silence. "Oh for... Call Giles and have him double check his volume. We know that one's real. If the text matches, you'll know this thing is on the up and up. Christ, everything’s got to be a bloody epic drama with you people."
There was a beat of stony quiet, a reticent chorus of blinking eyes and slack jaws, and then Fred spoke up. "Now why didn't we think of that?" she asked quizzically. She flashed him a small smile, then looked back down at her hands.
"I'll make the call."
Spike glared at his sire. "You're welcome."
Angel turned away, addressing the rest of his staff. "Wes, stay on top of this. If Giles confirms, we need as much information as we can get."
"The writings of the Codex are very precise and extremely detailed, as you well know. We are working with a timeframe, but I'll most likely need Fred to assist in the calculations. I still haven't finished the translation, but I've assembled a team. I think we can have it done sometime tomorrow if we work around the clock, Friday if it proves to be as intricate as it seems at first glance. The context of what I have been able to sort out gives the impression that time is of the essence. Whatever happens... it's going to happen soon."
"Do what you have to."
Nodding in Fred's direction, Angel's voice lowered. "The minute this whole thing is squared away I want you back on Spike. The sooner he's corporeal, the sooner he's on the fast track out of my hair."
"Can't have that, now can we?" Intangible hands flew to his own platinum locks in mock distress. "Nothing worse than interference up top. The gel might not hold."
"Figure something out, Fred," the spiky-haired vampire ground out.
Yes, I’m well aware that canon never specified the corporeal issue. Quite the opposite, actually. Do not shoot me dead, canon purists. It’s only fanfiction.
She nodded, wide-eyed, and smiled tightly. "I guess my weekend's set. Not like I had big plans or anything." Looking away, she sighed, her shoulders falling dejectedly. "No rest for the wicked."
Gunn cocked an eyebrow. "In what dimension would that be you? The Twilight Zone?" She blushed, looking flustered, and Spike clapped his hands together.
"So we're all done here. No more namby-pamby rambling?"
Angel whirled. "You didn't need to be here in the first place, Casper. Nobody issued you an invitation."
"And here we go," Gunn groaned, dropping his head in his hands.
"You should be grateful that I crashed your little get together, seeing as I'm the only one using the 'common sense' part of my brain today," Spike shot back. "You'd still be going on in circles if I hadn't been here."
Wesley knocked a fist on the surface of the desk, loudly, pointedly clearing his throat, cutting the impending confrontation short, and two heads whipped in his direction.
"What?!" the arguing vampires roared in unison.
"If we can just put the shouting match on hold momentarily... there is one more thing."
Gunn expelled a deep breath and stood, the sound of air whooshing from his lungs dancing around the room. "You heard the man. Back to your corners."
Disgusted, Spike planted his hands on his hips, and Angel rubbed his forehead, sighing. "What is it, Wes?"
"As I said, the translation isn't complete. But there is an intriguing bit that I managed to get through. It's still a rough interpretation, it'll need some tweaking - " Gunn held up an impatient hand, cutting him off.
"Okay, Battle of the Vamps was shaping up to be more interesting."
"I could say the same for gnawing off my own arm," Spike growled.
Wesley paused for a few seconds, tension heavy in the air, and shot them both a hard look. "The prophecy says that the two in question will 'restore the balance and retrieve the fallen.' There is a section following, I can only hope that it will lend some kind of explanation. I just found the wording to be a bit... odd." He raised his eyebrows in Angel's direction. "'Retrieve the fallen'?"
But the black-clad man's eyes had glazed, his face pulled into hard lines of recognition, shock, the single, hushed word he uttered barely audible.
I can’t take credit for this next section, as most of it came courtesy of lovely guest writer thehouseofjade.
It’s odd to take off the writer’s hat and read as a reader when you’re immersed in your own work, but completely cool nonetheless. Linsey picked up the mood of the entire piece and blended her work in seamlessly – I still have to squint to recognize the bits and pieces I wrote. Plus, Aiden and Moira and Paddy! Brava, Masterbeta.
Michael shouldered through the rowdy Saturday night crowd on the way to the bar. Packed to its Gaelic gills, Molly Malone's Irish Pub dispensed draught beer and old world charm with equal flare, despite it's home in the heart of LA.
"Fuck," he cussed under his breath as a bleach bottle blonde attempted to do an Irish jig on his toe.
If people didn't get out of his way he was going to be late for work.
Aidan, the midshift bartender, was already starting to look a little worn around the edges, as he fended off the advances of two women and one man while he tried to fill an order.
A hand brushed against the back of his jeans, trying to wiggle eager, nimble fingers into his pocket.
This was too much.
Michael whipped around, ready to tell the bimbette to knock it the fuck off, only to come face to face with a man.
Well, more accurately, chest to face.
"Wha..." The word was a gasp, a loss of sound. How did one respond to this?
Wait... why the hell did he care?
Because you need this job, buddy, his mind sounded. And you can't afford to waste time trying to finding another one. He looked down, his patience already wearing thin but his paycheck pleading for civility.
Snapping his sagging mouth closed, Michael settled for his most intimidating glare.
"Oh, I love it. The pouty lower lip, the slitted eyes. That's exactly what we're going for," the small man sighed in rapture. His badly plugged hair bobbed as he fished in his pocket, the oily black-dyed strands soaking up the light. "Tell me you aren't working with anyone."
"Excuse me?" What the hell was he jabbering about? "I work here."
The man's pale eyes widened, bright against the orange-brown tones of his skin. "Are you new to the area? You don't have an agent yet? Oh this is too good to be true! It's gotta be fate."
Extending his hand, he flicked a card out between two fingers. "I'm Roger. Roger Mivaldi. But in the business I'm known as Ace. And you my friend are an Ace in the hole, let me tell you. What are you? Actor? Singer? Because those professions are wasted on you."
"Bartender," Michael replied, a staccato sound in lilting din. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Aidan making some sort of motion...
"Well I can tell you are good with your hands. Bet you get a lot of tips." Roger grinned a smile he obviously took to be mano-a-mano. "But let me tell you. You are not making the money you're worth. It's all about unrealized potential. And that face... lightening in a bottle."
Roger hit on the one thing that could make Michael actually pay attention. They'd been in LA for six weeks and they were still barely getting by, even with Liz waitressing at Tom Bergin's, a popular tavern a few blocks away.
"You don't say," he murmured non-committally. "So how much am I worth?"
Taken aback by the his perceived capitulation, Roger stuttered, "W-well, it depends. First we would have to take a few pictures for m- the agency's files. Nothing too complicated, just something to advertise your worth. I have this job that you would be a shoe-in for, catalogue work, but there's an audition..."
Michael raised his brows.
"Not that you wouldn't blow the audition away. I mean come on, look at you. But we would need to prep you, get all the kinks worked out. I mean sure, the whole package is great now, but what if you freeze in front of the camera?"
He inched closer, and Michael shuffled back a step. "Maybe if you come by my office tomorrow we can work out some of the details. My client roster is pretty full..."
Thanks, but no thanks.
Michael leaned in. "I guess you won't need me then." He clamped an iron hand over Roger's shoulder. "Sorry, not handing out any lucky charms tonight. And I sure as hell don't need an introduction to your casting couch."
Roger squeaked, pulling at the wildly patterned shirt underneath Michael's crushing grip. "You have the wrong idea. G-Get your hands off me. I'll sue!"
"For what?" Michael smirked. "You've obviously had too much to drink and were groping employees." He raised his voice. "Hey Paddy!"
A large man detached himself from the wall, his girth forging a path through the bar patrons. Lap Pin - the erroneously nicknamed Paddy - was second cousin to two Sumo Wrestling champions, but he had left that proud lineage to come be a stunt double and bouncer in LA.
"You got trouble, Mick?" Paddy asked.
"A little drunk and disorderly," Michael replied, before turning his attention back to Roger and lowering his voice. "I wouldn't give Paddy any trouble. He's got anger management issues."
Thrusting the smaller man into Paddy's stomach, he growled, "Make sure he doesn't come back in."
"Sure thing, Mick." Paddy nodded. "Sure thing. C'mon, buddy, we needs to have a long chat about the bar rules."
"B-but," Roger cried. "I didn't..."
The rest of his words were lost as the crowd flowed back over Paddy's wake. Shaking his head, Michael pushed his way to the bar, feeling the sudden urge to shower.
I will never get used to LA.
"You're not fallin' for Rogers clap, are ya?" Aidan asked, tossing him a damp towel. He kept up his thick brogue during business hours, and sometimes after, emphasizing an accent that was almost nonexistent. But the customers got a kick out of it.
"He's a regular?"
"Only if there are boys fresh off the bus around," the bartender murmured as he swiftly assembled a Long Island.
"Good thing I came by car," Michael muttered.
A car that he and Liz had lived in for the first week and a half, camped out in parking lots on the coast and sharing showers with early-morning surfers.
Once they'd pooled their tips from the first few days of new employment, they'd found a studio in Miracle Mile that rented month to month. The apartment was small - a bathroom, a kitchenette, a tiny closet and one common living space - but it was both within their budget and walking distance of their respective jobs.
Six weeks... and they hadn't heard anything. Not a word, in their dreams or otherwise.
Reasons echoed through his head like a beating drum, a steady mantra, words of uncharacteristic hope. He told himself that Isabel was unwilling to risk their safety, unable to contact them... Hunted. Drugged. Anything that meant she was still alive.
Shuffling past the other man, dodging a hot mug of spiked Irish coffee, Michael started taking orders.
"Took care of him for ya, Mick," Paddy grumbled as he forced his girth into the narrow opening at the bar. "He got a little fresh with his hands sooo..."
"Will we be needing to call an ambulance?" Aidan asked, his humorous tone at odds with the question.
Mountainous shoulders quaked in a shrug. "I didn't break nothin'."
"Not a total loss. There's always internal bleeding." Michael rolled his eyes at Aidan's spurt of laughter.
"I can't see the internal, Mick," Paddy replied, his eyes widened in innocence.
Aidan began to choke.
"I'd be takin' that as a no, then, my friend."
"Right," Michael agreed with a snort. Looking at the meaty fists that rested on the counter, he almost felt bad for Roger. Almost.
Bastard shouldn't have tried to cop a feel.
"What's so funny?" squealed the fair-haired girl he'd been making a Kamikaze for.
"Paddy here, he's a comedian," Aidan supplied, flashing the girl a white smile. "He comes from a long line of funny men, going all the way back across the big blue ocean." The blonde tipped her head back, the motion exaggerated by the consumption of too much alcohol.
"You're Irish?" she giggled.
"Black Irish," Paddy grunted, and Michael fought to contain his grin. "On my mom's side."
"Oh." It was half mumble, half hiccup, and Michael choked down laughter. "I'm like a quarter Welsh or something British." Her head tipped down to take him all in as her brow furrowed. "What about your dad's side?"
"Not black Irish." Paddy caught her before she could tip into him, and leaned her back against the bar, winking at the duo on the other side. "I'll be at the door, guys."
The blonde stared at the empty space the bouncer left behind, blinking rapidly, and Michael chuckled under his breath. For a big man, Paddy could move fast.
"Here's your drink." He slid the tall glass of green liquid up against her hand.
"Um, thanks," she muttered, her tone faint, before tossing a ten on the bar and turning to wander out into the crowd.
"I lay odds he takes her home tonight," Aidan murmured from the corner of his mouth.
"What?" Michael looked at the man like he was insane. "Paddy and the blonde?"
"Some girls like the teddy bears." Aidan cocked his head as he gazed out at the crowd of patrons. "And Paddy, he knows when to play hard to get."
Michael followed the other man's gaze, catching sight of the blonde bouffant winding through the laughing patrons, and smirked. Oh, that's what that was.
"That Paddy, he's deep waters," Aidan agreed, slapping two Millers on a tray. "Moira, your order is up. Get this filth away from me before I need to cleanse myself in Guiness."
"Get over yourself," the freckled redhead spat. "You weren't even born in the old country." She hoisted the tray onto one arm, scowling.
"But she has me heart," Aidan quipped as she walked away. "Speaking of which, Mick, your woman called for you. Said for you to call'er when you're on your break."
Old phone rules had gone right out the window. He talked to Liz once a shift - she'd call during downtime or when she was wrapping up for the night, and he'd walk down to Bergin's and pick her up. Normally she stayed in the pub's back room until his shift was over, but during rushes and on weekends, she'd pick up slack in the bar for extra money. Luckily, the laid-back management and the overworked staff didn't seem to mind.
Sliding a mug full of frothy Harps to a waiting hand, Michael shook his head. "Not my woman, man. She's my roommate."
"Ah. And I suppose that's why you barely let the poor girl out of your sight. Because she's just your roommate."
"Right." Turning to the next customer, he nodded tightly. "What can I get you?"
And back to our regularly-scheduled program.
"You're sure it's right." It wasn't a question, but a statement, and Wesley sighed as he pivoted to face his boss.
Have you ever noticed how sighing Wesley always signals an oncoming speech?
"I had four separate translators working on this, Angel. Experts in multi-dimensional linguistics. Not to mention Giles, who's translated from the Codex before. Fred ran all the numbers multiple times, and once she was certain she'd worked it all out, she did it again for good measure. We've spent the last two and a half days pouring over every word."
Hate to say I told you so, but I saw it coming.
"I think there was a 'yes' in there somewhere," Gunn said distractedly, pulling a broadsword from the weapons vault. "Simple 'positive' never hurt anybody, Wes. Might want to try it sometime."
"For the record, I second that," Spike spoke up from his spot in the corner. Never has an 'amen' been needed more.
"I'll keep it in mind," the Englishman returned absently, squinting at the growing stockpile. "Refresh my memory... why are we toting along an arsenal?"
Angel crouched low, examining an unsheathed dagger. "Giles backed up the prophecy, but we still don't know where our phantom copy came from. We need to be prepared for any... surprises. This is unknown territory, and I'm not taking any chances."
"Again with the monologue. Guess 'better safe than sorry' wasn't good enough." Gunn added a crossbow to the pile, looking down at the squatting vampire and hooking a thumb toward Wesley. "You taking verbal lessons from him now?"
Spike snorted. "Afraid not. That little condition predates even your glorified librarian. This one's been spouting drivel for decades."
And unfortunately, my ears suffered through a great deal of it.
"Why are you here, Spike?" Angel straightened, smirking, rolling a thick spear between his palms. "Its not like you can come out and play. Shouldn't you be off somewhere, fading into oblivion?" Spike scowled, and the smirk spread.
"Case you haven't noticed," Gunn interrupted, "we're on a time limit. And we've got bigger things to deal with then petty feuds of the undead." He nodded in Angel's direction. "Once we take care of business, you can go Ghostbusters 'til the cows come home."
"Yeah. Sorry, just got..." Angel trailed off, looking sheepish. "Let's get it done."
Wesley's brow furrowed, and he planted his hands on his hips. "You know, I never quite understood that expression. Where exactly were the cows?"
I kind of think laughing at your own work is a sign of artistic vanity, well-earned or no, but damn if I don’t chuckle every time.
"Forget the damn cows." The bald man closed his eyes, rubbing the back of his neck. "What I want to know is, since when do prophecies come complete with coordinates?"
"Not coordinates so much as... directions, vague as they may be. It's all in the phrasing - "
Gunn shook his head, lifting a spread palm to halt the impending explanation. "Rewind that and pretend I didn't ask. You say you know where this is gonna go down, I'll just take your word for it."
"Thank you," Spike muttered.
"Okay, we make this clean. I'll take point, Wes, you back up Gunn. Nobody goes in until we know what we're dealing with." Spike's eyes rolled as Angel barked out orders. "The... tracking thing with my clothes isn't gonna happen again, is it? Last thing we need is half the firm following our every move."
"I handled it. Your gear is bug-free." Gunn chuckled, cocking his head to one side. "Though I've gotta say, going through your closet is seriously depressing. You need some color in your life."
Gunn presents an interesting challenge. There’s always the danger of wandering down the OC road (as in Original Cindy, not the Gary Stu variety), which would be, in a word, bad. He strikes a very delicate dialogue balance, one the show writers handled amazingly well – it’s harder to pull off than most people realize.
Bending, Angel armed himself, and the other two men followed suit. They headed for the door, weapons in hand, grim, determined expressions in place.
Spike trailed behind, the thick wall his makeshift exit, and started in the opposite direction. He had a date with a fetching mad scientist and several of her mechanical gadgets. But the brilliant gleam of blades cut through his mind, the metallic scent of blood on steel that made him crave the thrill of the hunt, the rush of the kill...
If I only had a body, his mind griped.
Angel's voice drifted down the hallway, still spewing instructions. "So we're all clear on what the plan is?"
If he only had a brain.
Go on, sing it. You know you want to.
"Yeah," Gunn grunted in reply. "We hit the mile and hope for a miracle."
The winding notes of traditional Gaelic music still danced through the air, punctuated by peals of laughter and the muffled rumble of blending conversations.
Michael eyed the clock over the back door, knowing that nearby Liz was immersed in a similar scene. But while he was effectively separated from the pack of rowdy customers, she was probably weaving her way through a sea of people, shuttling back and forth between the kitchen and the horseshoe bar, her arms loaded with Irish dishes and trays of drinks.
Putting the finishing touches on a Cosmo, he handed it off to a brunette with bright blue eyeshadow and shoved the change she left behind into the overflowing tip jar underneath the counter. The after-ten rush had been generous, if unrelenting, and the pool would pay well tonight.
"Be right back," he called out, maneuvering around an open case of Newcastle.
"Make it quick, it's gettin' hairy out here," Aidan replied, turning back to the still-growing crowd. "Moira, get that arse moving! Table nine needs a Redheaded Slut. Told 'em you were just the right woman for the job."
I kind of adore Aidan. Even for this one scene, he was a blast to write.
The waitress flipped him off before reaching for the shot, her muddy green eyes shooting daggers, and Michael smirked, cutting through the crowd.
He slid into the back room and into the office, sitting on the corner of the desk and reaching for the phone. His fingers stabbed out the now familiar number, and metallic ringing sailed through the receiver, muffled by the din outside.
For whatever reason, my phone calls always used to take place in italics. I stopped doing it somewhere along the way, but I think italicized offscreen dialogue is actually grammatically correct. Somebody hit Wikipedia and let me know.
"Hey," he greeted at the sound of Liz's voice. "Are you gonna be done by 12:30? I need to get back, we're getting slammed over here."
"Oh, um, actually, I'm done. Kieran isn't feeling well so the kitchen’s closing early, and Kate and Bridgett want to stay, so - "
"Fine," he cut in. "I'll come get you once we make some headway."
"Well I," she started hesitantly, "I could just go back to the apartment, Michael."
After weeks of being "Mick," and "Mike" before that, Liz was the only reason why his name didn't sound foreign to him.
This made so much sense to me, even if it doesn’t yet click with Michael. That Liz is literally all he has left to remind him of who he really is. Schmoopy, perhaps, but relevant.
"You could. But it's not gonna happen."
"I could take Wilshire instead of 8th, it's always busy - "
"I don't care if it's fucking Mardi Gras, you're not going by yourself," he ground out.
She sighed dejectedly. "I'm tired, Michael, I just want to head back."
"No, you want to try your little disappearing trick. The one that hasn't worked yet." He paused, pulling in a ragged, frustrated breath. "You can do the whole astral thing, Liz. If it helps us find out anything, I'm all for it. But not when it's you alone in an empty fucking apartment."
I think Michael was feeling a little Pulp Fiction nostalgia, and decided to drop a few f-bombs in homage. Oddly enough, I’ve never been tempted to dial it down.
Faintly he could hear Aidan shouting, carried like a desperate plea that cut through the background noise. "Get a move on, Mick, we need hands out here!"
"That's my cue," he mumbled, annoyed.
"Okay," she conceded. "You're busy, I'll just... I'll come to you."
He threw a hand up. "Jesus, you act like they're kicking you out on the street."
Fanon indulgence number three: Michael using “Jesus” as an alternative expletive. Perhaps I get a kick out of it because he’s such a raging agnostic.
"I'm just trying to help," she argued. "I don't need a babysitter, Michael, I'm not a child. And I am perfectly capable of walking a few blocks by myself."
"Liz, just stay there. I'll be down as soon as I can take a break."
There was a moment of silence. "Fine," she said evenly. Then the telltale click sounded in his ear, followed by the low buzz of the dial tone.
Oh, Michael. So young. So naïve. Someday, you’ll learn.
"Great," he grumbled, shoving the phone back into its cradle. Just what he needed after a grueling shift - a run-in with Liz's stubborn temper.
Aidan yelled again, but the words were swallowed in the bar's ambient noise. Michael swiped a hand down his face, rising, and shuffled toward the door.
Experience told him he'd gotten off easy. Two years of life on the run had brought back some of the old Parker spark, the fire she'd had in the beginning, and he'd witnessed enough confrontations with Max to know that she wasn't one to back down.
He froze, his hand dangling in midair.
Is someday here already? I know he’s a quick study, but that was kind of impressive.
Spinning, he took two long strides back to the desk, grabbing for the phone. The pad of his index finger stabbed at the redial button, his other hand drumming impatiently on the receiver held to his ear.
"Tom Bergin's," a female voice said after four long rings.
A voice that wasn't the one he wanted to hear.
"Yeah, I need to talk to Liz."
"That you, Mick? Hold on for just a second," Bridgett said cheerily. He could hear the bustle from the kitchen as she set the phone down, the clang of copper pots, the sizzle of oil meeting heat, and he tried not to count the seconds until the waitress returned.
"You just missed her, darlin'. Tried to catch her, but it's a madhouse out front. Katie says she's headed your way."
The plastic receiver fell to the tiled floor as he turned, storming out of the office and plunging into the crowd.
"Nice of you to make an appearance," Aidan griped loudly as the hybrid emerged, his exaggerated accent dimming in annoyance. "The drinks don't pour themselves, y'know." But Michael brushed past the bar, dodging customers on his way to the door, leaving the other bartender screaming at his back.
I know you all miss the “yanno.” Come on. Admit it.
He knocked into a woman in his path, her outstretched drink sloshing down the front of his shirt, but barely broke his stride. Paddy intercepted him at the entrance, catching his arm.
"Making a break for it, Mick?" He quirked an eyebrow, eyeing the bar over a sea of heads. "Aid's not looking too happy and you're wearing somebody's brew. Anything I should know about?"
"Just got something to take care of," Michael snapped, too harshly, shrugging the bigger man off. "Back in five."
The beefy bouncer raised round hands, spreading puffy palms in surrender. "You got someplace more important to be, I'm not gonna stop you."
Oh Paddy, we hardly knew ye. Let’s observe a moment of silence for the crew at Malone’s…
Michael didn't spare the man another glance (…or not.), instead shoving through the door and into the thick cluster of bodies just outside. Wispy, filmy curls of smoke drifted over his face, across his eyes, into his nostrils, acrid and cloying as it slipped down his throat.
The haze followed him as he fought his way to the sidewalk, settling around him like a dark cloud.
"Just had to prove me wrong," he muttered.
His gaze narrowed, less shielding than searching as he scanned Fairfax. The street beyond the pack outside Molly Malone's was virtually empty, save for the occasional straggler.
Heavy boots beat the pavement, slow and measured, then picking up speed, waiting for a petite frame to step out of a stranger's shadow and into his sight line.
Where the hell are you, Parker?
As he neared the corner, the last visible form ducked down Warner, leaving an empty stretch of pavement.
The cloud crawled into his chest, gripping, suffocating, tightening with each step, and he began to run.
He crossed 6th on red, ignoring the ominous glow of the "Don't Walk" sign as he dodged a dark sedan and an oversized SUV. Legs pumping, he closed in on Orange Street, eyes darting from side to side with increasing distress. Tearing through the intersection, he approached the gentle "V" that marked Fairfax and Wilshire.
This setup involved intensive, borderline-obsessive investigative study (thank you, Mapquest). As many of you know, I am a research hound, and will dump hours of virtual legwork into what amounts to a two-page scene. For fic. Yes, I’m aware that it’s sad.
Skidding to a halt, Michael turned in a tight circle, his breath barely labored but his heart pounding behind his ribcage. The sounds of the city beat in the background, traces of tires and horns, the wail of a lone siren.
He could see Tom Bergin's in the distance, a splash of light in the gloom past Del Valle Drive. Neon fragments of color danced at his back, humming from the still-burning sign of a deserted pizza place. The rest of the empty road was heavily shaded ahead; even the silver glow of the crescent moon was obscured by LA smog.
Case in point: said deserted pizza place actually exists.
The light had turned after sunset, faintly illuminating the area across the asphalt, providing a dimly lit pedestrian path much more appealing than the darkness that cloaked him now.
It was, he knew, the way Liz would have gone.
But where was she?
Maybe she doubled back, his mind reasoned. Maybe she freaked and headed back to work. To wait. Like she should have in the first fucking place.
But his instincts told him otherwise. The churning in the pit of his stomach. The sheen of sweat that coated his palms. The hollow screaming between his ears. The wind that whispered around him like an unseen tornado from the east, chilling the damp folds of fabric against his skin.
The complete absence of a tiny, stubborn brunette.
He took a deep breath. Calm down and think, dammit. She didn't just disappear.
It had been less than a minute, but he was sure every passing second was costing Liz Parker time that she didn't have.
Again with the psychic link. Dial it down, Ms. Cleo.
Michael turned again, his eyes falling on the LA Children's Museum of Art. It was a massive building, out of place among the one-story structures and smaller office complexes on Fairfax, with a paved two-lane road to its side and a sprawling lawn beyond. The site stretched on, completely fenced in, encompassing the entire block of land between Wilshire and 6th. The stone overhang of the second story projected a deep umbra on the street below, and the building cast a long shadow over the open lot, nearly blacking out the green.
I spent a hefty chunk of two days’ time searching for the perfect spot to set this scene (and by extension the rest of the workplace setup). Thank god for good friends in LA.
Trails of goosebumps prickled over his arms, the tiny hairs at his nape neck standing on end... He cut a diagonal course across the street to the northeast corner, the structure looming to his right.
The hinged gate over the wide driveway was padlocked; he could see the heavy, looped chain from several feet away. The lush layer of grass on the other side was empty at first glance, but he squinted through the vertical bars, unable to shake the uneasiness gripping his senses.
The last time the feeling had come, it hadn't been wrong.
Without a second thought, he grabbed at the thick bar lining the top of the enclosure, hoisting himself up and over the edge, landing with a muffled thud. He stalked silently into the open space, tendons taut, muscles coiled, every nerve charged, the scant field of light fading behind.
Fanon kink alert: Michael as jungle cat. I think I’ve actually used that phrasing in Fumbling. I just love the idea that he’s always alert, as he would’ve had to be on Antar. That it’s encoded in him somehow, and is second nature.
Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he caught a flash of movement. His head jerked, eyes sweeping the blanket of black as his vision fought to adjust.
Straining ears caught the fleeting sound of rustling, fabric brushing fabric.
Tensing, he started to raise his arm, stretching his fingers around an open palm, blinking through the dark as he picked up the pace.
Instead of her soft, familiar voice, the low, gritty rumble of growling filled the air - unnatural, unearthly... almost inhuman.
No way in hell that's a dog, he thought warily.
A swift intake of breath gave way to shallow gasps; sharp, desperate bursts to his left...
"Screw this," he hissed. A warm current flowed under his skin, seeping from his fingertips in white-hot radiance. There was a flurry of motion as the guttural sound intensified, a mottled blur of yellow eyes, misshapen features...
Half-assed action alert. Remember, you were warned.
Then lightening exploded through his chest, and he was flying, hurtling backward until the ground rushed up to meet him, sucking the air from his lungs.
He writhed on his back, head spinning and mind reeling, pain needling through his midsection. His windpipe opened and he pulled in rasping gulps of fresh oxygen, the ether burning its way down, adding to the ache.
What the fuck?
The sound of wrenching metal cut through his harsh panting, echoing behind him, but he barely processed it as something spilled from the darkness ahead to the earth below, landing haphazardly at his feet. A second form leapt from the shadows, the feral growl piercing the night.
Michael's arm shot up, searing energy bursting from his spread palm, and the charging figure exploded, flesh crumbling into the wind, bones disintegrating and falling to the grass in tiny particles.
Okay, it’s over. You can look now.
Seriously, his brain screamed, what the fuck?
He blinked, thoughts whirring through his head at a blinding pace, the phantom lash of a powerful arm still ebbing across his chest. The damn thing had tossed him aside like a rag doll.
Then it spontaneously combusted. A lot like...
No. Last time he checked, Skins didn't have a human skeleton hidden inside their husks. They didn't have superhuman strength. They didn't have that magic self-destruct button in front, an easy target just waiting for a quick blast. They sure as hell weren't that easy to kill.
And he had killed it. Hell, he was wearing some of it.
His left forearm stung, and he reached over to pull a jagged stick free of the angry red scratch running along the inside of his wrist. Grunting, he shoved himself into a sitting position, his gaze scanning the area in front of him.
Does wrist action count? As proximity goes, it’s damn close… No? Damn.
A long sheet of deep brown was strewn over a white sleeve, the only things clearly visible in the sliver of light.
"Jesus," he groaned, shifting to his knees. Hooking his hands under her arms, he rocked backward, dragging the slight woman into his lap. "Liz..."
Leaning over, he held his ear close to her mouth, and the slightest puff of air left her lips to graze his skin. An excruciatingly long few seconds, then another, weaker than the first.
One hand wound around the back of her neck, the backs of his fingers meeting sticky resistance, clumped in her hair and fusing the strands together.
Aha! Hand Action: a triumphant 8. Take that, wrist naysayers.
He turned her head in his palm, exposing the torn, blood-spattered flesh of her throat to widening eyes. And just above her collarbone...
Two round, gaping punctures, trickling a wet path that stained the front of her shirt and soaked into the shamrock embroidery on her emerald green vest. Deep black on clammy skin, shocking crimson on bright cotton.
Remember the aforementioned good LA-dwelling friend? She’s as big a research nut as I am, and actually called Tom Bergin’s to ask what their waitress uniforms looked like. In great detail.
She remains awesome.
His free hand snaked over the wound, blood coating his palm as he lowered it flush with her skin. Her pulse tapped against his thumb, weak, thready, and Michael clenched his jaw, forcing himself to focus.
A crystalline glow poured between his fingers, weaving healing threads through damaged molecules, tugging the ripped flesh back together.
Mmmm. Handy power porn. The best kind there is.
On a serious note, healing without a second thought. This is significant to anyone who knows Michael Guerin.
The glimmer faded, blinking out as the circuit of energy closed, and Michael pulled away, revealing unbroken skin. But she was pallid and ashen, all traces of warm hues gone, her lips almost blue in the moonlight.
Raking his eyes down her limp form, his hand following in their wake, he checked for other injuries. Searching fingers pressed down her limbs, over her ribs, finding nothing broken. Critically, he eyed the smeared splotches that still lingered on her clothes, the dark drops sprinkled over blades of grass. There wasn't enough, not to cause all this.
Then what the hell was wrong?
He stared down at her frozen face, hovering between panic and fury, and she began to stir.
"Come on, Parker," he urged, "wake up."
"Michael?" She grimaced, her voice thin, and her eyelids shuttered to half-mast. "I'm sorry..."
He shook his head, struggling to his feet with Liz in tow. "Be sorry later, we need to get the hell out of here." She swayed backward, her head lolling against his shoulder, and he tightened his arm, gripping her waist. "Can you move?"
"I'm cold," she breathed, barely audible. "I... really cold."
"Nasty side effect of blood loss."
And you would know, wouldn’t you, you magnificent bastard? Why must Angel be such a tool? Why do I kind of love him anyway?
Michael spun, throwing one arm out straight, the other swiveling Liz around and anchoring her slumping form to his back.
A trio of men stood in the grass - one solid and stone-faced, one bald and challenging, the last sinewy and somewhat awestruck. The iron fence behind them was mangled and twisted, ripped outward on its hinges. You heard it, genius, he berated himself. You heard it, and you didn't even check. The vertical bars looked for all the world like they'd been torn apart, the chain in a scattered pile of metal links on the asphalt.
Watchful eyes caught the objects they held, and his jaw clenched. Of course, they could've hacked their way through.
Let me apologize now for the bevy of epithets I’m about to unleash upon you all. I’m so sorry. It couldn’t be helped. I tried, honestly I did.
The monotone sounded again, courtesy of the tall, dark-haired man flanked by the other two, obviously the man in charge. "Could be wrong, but I think she's a few liters lighter than she used to be."
"If she's been bitten, shouldn't we be helping?" The one on the right tilted his head as he spoke, his accent pronounced, though his eyes remained trained on Michael.
"After that little light show, I'm thinking he can help himself."
Wait, those holes weren't... They couldn't be...
No, Michael, they couldn’t possibly. And aliens don’t exist, either. Keep paddling up that river in Egypt, pal. You’ll get there.
It was way past time to go.
The problem, of course, came from the muscled and armed triangle of manpower in their path, effectively blocking the exit. The open gate was the only way out - there was no way he could get Liz over the fence.
Michael angled his head back, dropping his chin to his shoulder to whisper down to her.
"The thing you did before, starting the car." She nodded weakly between his shoulder blades, her hands limp at his sides, clutching his shirt in loose fists. "If I feed you the energy, you think you could pull off a warp?"
A deep shudder rippled through her, throbbing through his spine, but her head bobbed again.
"Warp? Let me guess: you're Trekkies who've lost your convention." The leader's voice had lost its brittle edge, sounding vaguely amused.
”The leader.” Oh, it’s painful. I’m so very, very sorry.
How the hell had he heard that?
"Or... they could very well be exactly what we're here for," the English guy stressed in a loud stage whisper, pushing at his glasses.
Okay, definitely don't like the sound of that.
Michael's arm slid free as he grappled for Liz's hand, energy and adrenaline racing through his veins, eager for release.
The third spoke up for the first time, looking toward his companions, and Michael slipped his fingers between Liz's.
*whimpers* I’ll just be over here in the corner, wishing for a pronoun.
"Did anybody else pick up how he made like SlayBoy without a weapon, from twenty feet away?" Two heads turned to peer at him curiously, eyebrows raised, and the bald man shrugged. "Just thought it was worth mentioning."
Power pooled in his palm, surging through and into Liz's skin, and her grip strengthened at his waist.
Valiant effort, but even power porn cannot save me now.
"No you're right, it was indeed impressive. The text did reference a force possessed..."
The accent trailed off as his head jerked, left, right, his face a puzzled mask, the black guy following suit.
Oh, it burns. It burns…
"Did it happen to say anything about vanishing into thin air?"
The last man stood rooted in place, rubbing a hand over the back of his spiky hair, his leather jacket swaying around him. "Guys - "
"I've done some research on species that can shift through time and space, but I've never actually come in contact..." The lean man strode closer to the fence, looking out at the street and babbling incoherently.
Turning in Liz's arms, Michael awkwardly scooped her off the ground, his hand still firmly locked in hers, fingers clasped behind her back.
I still can’t see how that’s comfortable. Sure, it’s possible, but geez.
Her eyes were clamped shut, her features drawn, and tiny beads of sweat coated her brow. "Just hold on, Parker," he murmured, taking a step toward the pavement. They just needed to get back to the apartment, to the car...
She was shaking with the effort of concentration, her face still ghostly white.
"Leaving so soon? And we were just getting to know each other."
The other men stopped their frantic search of the area, turning to move back into position, and Michael froze. "Angel..." the Englishman started, "you mean to tell me that they're still - "
"Haven't moved a muscle. The girl's got some power, though." He nodded toward Liz, offering a bored smirk. "That's a neat trick. Must be a big hit at parties."
Liz gasped, her eyes flying open as she fought to breathe, and Michael stretched out the hand beneath her legs. He could feel his energy re-channeling, still joined with her weak life force, and a brilliant blue shield erupted from his palm, enveloping them both.
The count stands at 10, but I a remain unamused. Must be all the mortification.
"Okay," the bald guy grunted, "getting a little freaked now."
Damn straight, Michael's brain agreed as he eyed the shimmering barrier. Could I always do that?
"So what appeared to be teleportation is actually the ability to create a sort of... mental optical illusion." The man paused, eyebrows knitting behind his glasses. "Well. Honestly, I'm a bit stumped on that one. There was a recorded race sometime in the 18th century that could hypnotize telekinetically, but I believe that they're extin - "
Only Wes would pause to theorize at a time like this.
Yes, I know I’m stating the obvious, but I had to find a way to get a proper name in there somewhere.
"He's not a demon."
Well that's a first.
It couldn't be the unit - the FBI seemed to favor drones in suits, toting night-vision goggles, assault rifles, and a shoot on sight mentality.
No, they had to be some kind of cult.
A cult with monster fantasies and a 'Braveheart' complex.
"Angel, the power they've displayed here, it just isn't humanly possible. I suppose there are exceptions - Gwen comes to mind, but she had... extenuating circumstances."
The taller man shook his head, his gaze unwavering.
"I said he wasn't a demon," he corrected flatly. "Never said he was human."
The line that started this whole damn bunny. At the moment, I’m cursing its existence. There had to be a better way. All the “the”s… *shudder* Somebody? Anybody? Bueller?
Thoroughly exhausted now. Will finish later.