Blue Shift by Wisebloodredux
Summary: "Blue Shift" is the first of three 1st person POV explorations of the late S1 Angel/Cordy/Wesley dynamic. Told from Angel's perspective, it can be read as a stand-alone, but it shares elements of time, plot, setting and continuity with companion pieces "Red Shift" (Wesley) and the to-yet-completed "Violet Shift" (Cordelia).
Spoilers: Chronologically, "Blue Shift" is set after 'Blind Date' and 2-3 days before 'To Shanshu in LA'.
Notes: The music Angel listens to, Samuel Barber's aching 'Adagio for Strings', was a late-night discovery via moonlight ride with NPR accompaniment that seemed to capture the mood of the entire trilogy. Just so you know, there's a whiff of Angelus here. It gets pretty dark. Not much fun, being in Angel's head on a day like this...
Some days, life isn't
too bad. Cordelia has a Vision, and I can do the job I came here for. Lose
myself in the hunt-and-kill of some recently-arisen netherworld baddie while I
tell myself I'm doing good work. Maybe, if I'm lucky and focused enough, even
But this isn't one of those days.
No new cases on the roster. No flashing migraine neon signs. The bills have all been paid, the files are more or less in order, and Cordelia is very bored. Her desktop is only slightly cluttered. The inbox is empty. The plants are watered -- my usual task. Fresh, hot coffee in the pot, even; she's gotten better at it, but I'm deep in mental hibernation mode and don't make any effort to touch the stuff. I know she's noticed because she's drinking out of my mug instead of hers. Cupping it with both hands and having silent conversations with herself, probably imagining that because it's mine, she can gain some kind of insight into my morbid funk just by holding it.
Not much evidence of my presence to tap into, though. Virtually undetectable fingerprints, no breath, no body heat. A specter, to all intents. She has some experience in that area, but Dennis is so much easier to deal with, I imagine, because he doesn't also insist on taking up so much physical space in her world.
So, boredom reigns at Angel Investigations, and my noticeably worse-than-usual lack of enthusiasm for existence becomes the preeminent subject of my staff's scrutiny.
"Angel's bummer cloud," Cordelia once named it. Dense and foreboding, hanging over me with a threat of perpetual downpour so at odds with this bright, desert-locked metropolis I call my territory -- just tangible enough to leaden the air, but not so much that there's any real possibility of release.
She's at least able to fob off her covert observation of me in a semi-believable fashion, camouflaging her sneaking asides behind the slick mag pages she's so avidly thumbing through. The newsstand owner down the street loves her, knows exactly which ones to set aside; today, there's Italian Vogue, Cosmo, Elle and a couple of edgier ones I've never seen before.
But Wesley ... well, let's just say if he was an actor, he wouldn't be getting many callbacks. Huddled over 'The Scroll' and peering through his magnifying glass at the tiny, crabbed scrawls, he buffers himself between the piles of books to either side while studying me with what he thinks is surreptitious inscrutability. It's so obvious, I have to tilt my chair away from the door. I know it infuriates him when I get like this. When I close up, pull my arms and legs in and seal the vents of my shell. It's my protection against becoming emotional roadkill. I am what I am, and nobody ever said vampires don't have their moods.
Unfortunately for Cordelia and Wesley, I'm a lot moodier than most.
They do their Kabuki pantomime, trying to discuss me without really talking. It's almost amusing, but I find myself wanting to slam the glass door shut just to hear it shatter and realize my momentary humor is just a thin façade over the enraged knowledge that I can't escape from them. Even if I wanted to.
Finally, when I can't stand them watching me any more -- their whispers, the concern -- I retreat to the basement. Behind my disappearing back, the relief is almost palpable.
I'm stuck in a memory loop, thinking about one particular kill today. Back in Prague, when Darla and I were together in those wild years before the Kalderash laced my rapacious vampiric appetite with a poison pill, the Great Earthquake leveled everything. Titled and peasant alike were rendered equals in the chaos, and we two rode the maelstorm, devils on horseback in love with our own insatiable evil as we drank the spectrum from human fonts that ran beggar-red to noblest blue.
All equally rich in its wine-dark savor.
It was a feast of truly ungodly proportions, and we sickened ourselves on the mad banquet of flesh that overspread the town with the hyperflorid abundance of a Roman bacchanal. The one I can't stop thinking of ...this particular woman ...
The apartment is so quiet. I riffle through my record albums, seeking noise of my own choosing to drown the clamor of my mind. My hands are shaking. As if I can actually feel the cold ... the numbness of no gloves on a frigid, crystalline Czech winter evening. I pull out all my favorites, but nothing's exactly right. The Arvo Part is lovely, but right now I just don't have the energy to mourn the dead of World War II when I've got my own pile of corpses to contemplate ...
I finally settle on Barber's "Adagio for Strings" and let the needle coast over the wavering black vinyl, its softly worn crackles strangely reminiscent of fire ... I think of the fires in Prague from burst gas mains, casting their fleeting shadow plays on crumbled masonry walls as the people ran, stinking of blood and insanity, in the streets ...
I turn it up a little too loud.
I know they can hear it upstairs -- are wondering what cryptic message I'm trying to send up through the floorboards. The rumble of the bass tickles through my feet as I strip on the way to the shower.
Thank the Romans for the modern conveniences of plumbing and pressurized water. They invented it and exported it to the rest of civilization, but the greatest triumph in personal hygiene has come in the form of the shower, which reached its pinnacle of development at the cusp of the 21st century. I've lived a long time, and after you've been drenched by a few too many chamberpots of shit raining down from a second-story balcony, you learn to appreciate the value of a good rinsing-off. I can't imagine, now, living without one.
The drum of the water is such a comfort. I turn into it, deafening myself with the cleansing roar while drops thump on my chest in the bitter-sweet mockery of a heartbeat. Also, tears don't show. I've learned to sob quietly. Sometimes, it's not so bad. If I'm strong enough, I can keep the faces, the vivid, still-frame stutter of memories, at bay.
This is not one of those times.
I stand against the torrent until my body throbs with scouring heat and the stream begins to run cool, until the edge of my fugue has been blunted and spirals down the drain. An eldritch ocean of mist wraithes around me in vaporous eddies as I step out. I scrape the towel roughly over my limbs, my genitals, enjoying the almost-abrading tingle. It's some kind of sensation, at least. But I don't let myself think about that too much.
The hair is easy: a dab of gel, skimmed across my palms and mussed through two or three times. I've done it so often by feel that the idea of a mirror is laughable, even if seeing myself was an option. Cordelia used to protest the absence of such a fundamental grooming accessory, but she knows now how it disturbs me not to feel myself present in my own home.
Lately, she's taken to using a little hand mirror. As a habit, it reeks of an Old World narcissism which, I have to say, I actually find sort of charming. She usually pulls it out to check her eyeliner and lipstick, or her teeth, but occasionally I'll catch her just gazing into it. I envy her that-- the ability to see into her own eyes. To feel herself as being real. I can only see myself in the eyes of others, and, mostly, what's reflected there isn't what I'm looking for.
On a day like this, when my plans don't include gutting something disgusting and wearing it home as some kind of urbane guerilla fashion statement, dressing should be an afterthought. If I really believed I'd be down here undisturbed all day, I'd just throw on something slouchy, maybe even do some t'ai chi. But I know how they are. In an hour or so, one or the other will come to ask a question, or deliver some bit of unimportant news, conveyed in what they hope is a suitably urgent tone that'll disguise the real reason they've intruded.
I lean into the armoire and pull out the midnight-blue matte-silk shirt Cordelia surprised me with a few weeks back. I wonder if I might be able to fake myself into a semblance of a better mindframe by wearing it -- but then, knowing they'll see right through that crap attempt at psychology, I let myself go for the soft, drapey black I'm really craving.
To assuage my guilt over not wearing it yet (because I was shocked she'd spent so much on a spontaneous gift -- and because it's so exquisitely cut, with hand-sewn French seams and turnback cuffs, that it really isn't appropriate for everyday), although I promised her I would, I forego the usual battered demon shit-kickers for that pair of black calf monkstrap oxfords she once mentioned liking. The buckles are squarish and silver, vaguely Puritanical, which bothers me -- until I reason it's just that they remind me of Penn, and he's gone, so why obsess?
I feel sorry for them, for me being the mess that I am, and for the fact that they, for whatever reasons, have become saddled with my interminable weight at this juncture in their young lives. I worry they got off at the wrong station to follow me; that dragging my baggage is slowing them down from catching the next train. You know, the one they should be taking, where there's actual light at the end of the tunnel.
They handle me cautiously, like a precious but cracked vase. Admiring my artful surface while they squint at the hairline fractures that mar my dualing psyche, I am illuminated by their regard in all my imperfectly- mended glory. A conservator's nightmare.
Hold me up to the light, metaphorically speaking, and it penetrates right through me. I can't hold the things I used to, contain them with hermetic sanctity. I'm stained by what I've done, broken to near-uselessness in so many places, and nothing that touches me cleanses me; it just drains out of the cracks, spilling like guts from an eviscerated belly.
That woman in Prague ... I remember her mouth, how beautiful it was. How it shaped to fit my insolent member so perfectly, and how the choked vibration of her scream was as pleasurable a sensation as I could then conceive of. I had already drained her son -- a fair child of only ten or so --while she watched in rapt horror, wiping his blood off my chin onto the hem of her wool dress as I knelt to pull her down onto the crockery-littered floor.
She barely moved, but her mouth ... a moist, swollen cavern of enveloping rapture that stayed hot until well after I'd fucked her a good hour or so. By that time, she'd bled to death from the wounds Darla had inflicted while I'd had my way with the boy, and her rapidly cooling body held no more interest for me. We left the door open to let in the icy air, and Darla and I stood for a while to appreciate the steam rising from the wreckage of their fragile human geometry -- watched as the lustrous, inflamed rose of the woman's lips was translated into muted indigo by the language of death.
God forgive me --
It suddenly dawns on me why I possibly haven't yet worn Cordelia's gift. And why, now, I probably never will.
I'll just have to explain it to her somehow.
The needle is scratching at the end of the album side. Finding myself on all fours, I get up and replace the record in its fragile paper sleeve, carefully shelving it. Cordelia leaves everything a wreck when she's down here prowling around, but my records ... It's funny, she thinks they're so hopelessly old-fashioned, but she handles them with such reverence. She even knows from watching me how to hold them by the edges only, expertly flipping them with a twitch of her palms.
I've never spoken a word to her about it, but she just knows. How it soothes me. Or the beast in me, I suppose.
Only today, it isn't working its usual spell.
I don't know what to do with myself. I grab a book -- Morris Berman's 'Coming to Our Senses. A Wesley suggestion. Reading gives my agitation a purpose, something to push itself against, but I can't keep my eyes on the page, finding them glancing up at the stairs, toward the elevator. Figures I can't relax when I have the time to. It's so rare lately, I should appreciate these little pauses in the hack-and-slash slipstream.
And Cordelia ... she deserves a day without eye-gouging headaches and horrific images every once in a while. I catch myself cursing the Powers and stop, as if I'm afraid They might overhear. But it's maddening. Out of so many ... how can they do this to her? To someone who's never before experienced any kind of real pain?
Of course, I understand that's the point, but it doesn't make me feel any better.
Which is also the point.
After a sufficiently long while, when I think it's safe, I venture back upstairs. The office is dark, the computers shut off. Wesley's books are neatly stacked, and I can see more tabs marking the pages where he's found something to investigate further. An excellent researcher, Wesley. I'm only just beginning to realize how fortunate I am to have him. His copious notes, written in a delicately precise script, are immaculate. Were he a Watcher, his journals would be a joy compared to some I've had the displeasure of slogging through.
Cordelia has actually completely cleared off the piles of paperwork from her desk, which puzzles me, as she normally has a few things there just to make herself look busy. Then I notice how her magazines are stacked to the side, and my confusion deepens. She always takes them home, the better to plan an appropriate wardrobe for when she's achieved her inevitable superstardom.
Not sure why, I linger there, inhaling the faint perfume from the discarded sample strips in the trashcan she's forgotten to empty, and the clean wood scent of the pencils secreted in the back of the bottom drawer where she thinks I don't know to look. I'd like to think it would take more than a twig-size No. 2 to do me in, even if my own hand was behind it. I feel the corner of my mouth trying to hook upward as I head toward the door.
Obviously, she's been watching me the whole time. More unnerved that she escaped immediate detection than I want to admit, I actually startle but manage, I think pretty smoothly, to segue it into my swing around. She's in my office, sitting back in my leather chair with her knees drawn up under her jaw. Her hair curtains around her in jet waves, surrounding the luminous disk of her face the way space shapes itself to fit around the moon. She's staring at me with intense concentration, trying for stern but coming off more worried than she thinks I can see in this faint light.
"Where're you going?"
I know she hears me swallow, it's that loud. I hood my eyes downward, and the chair creaks as she rises, her light footfalls tapping to a stop in front of me.
"Nowhere." We both know I'm lying. It's true, I was thinking of leaving--
but maybe it's only half a lie, because I had no idea where I was going to go.
"It's late," I say, which is a guess since I don't have any idea what time it is, and it all feels the same to me, anyway, when the sun's not around as a marker. Sleep, feed, meet, kill, brood, sleep ... But I know it must be late if she's still here, in the dark, waiting. I see a cunning frown gather as she works out where to best insert the verbal chisel.
One that'll accommodate the coming blow to wedge me open.
"We actually got a lot done today," she says, too quietly. I think I blink.
Not the tangent I was expecting. Cordelia being subtle by feigning casual normalcy. Weird. I'm tensing, suddenly off-balance.
"Wesley went home a couple hours ago." Her hazel eyes puncture me unwaveringly, and I edge uneasily back until I'm against the wall.
"I think he was kind of upset you never came back upstairs. He wanted to talk to you about something. He's been working really hard on that Scroll of Aubergine, you know."
"I had things to do," I answer, my voice as carefully neutral as a demilitarized zone.
She strides up within an inch of me, poking a finger at my face. "Angel, you are *so* full of shit --" she indicates a benchmark just above my eye height "-- up to here. I can tell `cause you're on a full tank."
That's two jabs so far, and joking ones at that. Usually she can coax a smile out of me, but such is my gloom-cloud that I can't even summon the pretense of one. Her face falls like a confection jostled too quickly out of the oven; she leans back to take me in, and effortlessly, stunningly, changes tack.
"But, I gotta say, you're lookin' fab." She sweeps me with an almost wistfully appreciate look, and I'm secretly glad I took the effort to dress. "Oooh."
Stooping quickly, she purrs with approval. "The shoes are tre yummy."
"Thanks," I mutter, just to have something to say, although, for once, I know she really means it.
Her mouth bends like a rubber band, snapping into a slow crescent. "So. We kickin' it curbside or driving?"
I suddenly understand where this is going, and anxiety cramps me. I was going out ... to be alone.
Like I've been alone all day. Like I've been for --
"I can give you a ride home," I feint, misunderstanding her on purpose.
She rocks back and forth, her teeth seizing her lip as she contemplates her next response. Finally, she twists her head, calculating. "I waited for, like, a million hours for you. Aaaa-looooooone." Her lashes do that flutter thing.
Knockout. I'm going down, I know, but not with a jab of my own. "Who said you had to wait, Cordelia?" I try to make my growl light, hiding my irritation. "Wesley would have been glad to give you a ride." I shrug off her glare.
"Angel -- you know that's not what I mean," she huffs, tired of sparring. "Never mind. I'm outta here." She snatches her jean jacket off the coatrack and shoulders it on like she means it. A ribbon of panic twines my insides, tightening.
Her lip droops as she turns away. "What if you're not the only one around here who needs something out of this gig. Didja ever think of that?"
"No, I'll drive you." Realizing I've left the Plymouth keys downstairs, I go to her desk, where I know she keeps the extra set. So taut, I'm almost vibrating. She watches me fumble in the drawer, her expression unreadable.
I walk back to the door she's propping open for me with a nonchalant sandal. Just that quickly, she's opening, pouring on her Cordy-charisma like night-blooming jasmine, drawing me in. I know she wants to touch me, even if it's just to stroke the fabric of my shirt, but instead she only hands me my leather coat, fondling the lapel with her thumb as I take it from her.
I try giving her the magazines, and for that I get a light smack on the arm and a look of bemused scorn. "Leave `em. I read almost all of them already, but what else am I going to do tomorrow? Jeez. You have any idea how boorrrrring Wesley is with the scroll-jabber? After about two seconds, I start going all glazy-–"
"Cordelia," I warn her, but my fangs are firmly retracted. She smirks as I toss the glossy mags on the couch, laughing slyly at my barely restrained impulse to straighten them.
"It's a nice night, huh?" She's playful now that she has me. "Let's walk around to the car." With nimble practice, she spins her hair into a top-down- ready knot. I can't help but stare at her long throat, rising as it does from a woven necklace of sparkling cobalt beads.
I make myself look away as she turns back; her eyes are coolly knowing. "Maybe we should hit a drive-through blood bank on the way out, huh? Snacky Angel. Come on, Yo Badness. Cruise us someplace cool."
The sky is full of glitter, spun out across the ocean haze in a dusting of silver tinsel. A low moon, nibbled to fingernail-thinness, skates above. We park and walk to the pier, where we're pretty much alone. One couple huddles intimately to the side on a bench, immersed in intense conversation. Their attention doesn't even waver when we pass.
I remember the feeling of being so absorbed by someone else like that. Two poles, the axes of their respective worlds, shifting to circle one another. Locked in cosmic tandem ... but ultimately, still isolated.
Or maybe that's just one pole I'm thinking of. Whichever's the most bitter cold.
"Whatcha thinkin', Angel?" She dares to touch me this time, only her face is so sad I can only think she's read my ill-concealed misery and is a string plucked in sympathy with it. Her coal-hot forefinger feathers the top of my fist. I look across the dark, moon-flecked water, its undulant surge and swell seeming to draw an answering moisture into the corners of my eyes by sheer force of attraction.
"Angel ..." She lightly brushes my face, lips bent with strange tension as she inspects the wet. Her arm snugs around me, and just for a second I allow myself to lean into it. Let myself smell her opulence, feel her soft, pliant warmth and the faint down that furs the nectarine blush of her cheek.
Her voice hums into my ear, so low it's like wind across the rim of a conch: "You hurt so much."
I don't know what to say to that, not trusting my voice to be any steadier than my hands, which have somehow become clamped around the pier railing as if to keep me from hurling myself over. Finally, I manage, "We -- we should --"
"Go? Yeah, you wanna run. I know." She takes her arm away, hugging herself against the stiff breeze. Her hair springs loose a curl or two, one riding along the arch of her temple like a corkscrewing thought making its way outside her skull.
I shake my head, hunching my shoulders against the wind as I take the opportunity to shove my hands -- traitors -- into my pockets. "Not run ... just hide."
Her eyes follow the line of the horizon where it curves away into fresh, open sea. "Don't hide from me, Angel. I know ... listen, you're going through so much crazy stuff, it's like you're living on your own personal fault line. Everything's getting all shook around. But you're solid." She gently strokes my back, and her hand burns, branding me with the ghost of her human fire. "No matter how intense everything gets, you always roll with it."
"I came here, and I was alone," she murmurs. "No friends ... nothing. But everything's so much better now than I could have believed. My job, my apartment. For the first time in a long while, the ground feels real under my feet, and so much of that's because-- because you're ..." She sniffs. I watch her from the side, entranced by the blazing liquid glimmer of her eye.
If I'd had breath, I'd be holding it. I bend my head and wait.
"... My stability." She finishes with a little cackle, and I feel something indescribable -- a cracking open inside me, spilling hope and wonder like brilliant, golden yolk from its trembling center.
Today was rank. This moment, by contrast, is so the opposite, it's almost worse as I mull over what to say -- how to gather my scrambled thoughts and speak as if I haven't just lost the shit she insists I've got so much of.
"Cordelia ... I know I haven't --"
"You don't have to explain anything to me," she demurs. "I know what you were doing today. Thinking, feeling, remembering. Listening to your sad music. Wesley knew what it was. It's totally okay. You do what you gotta to deal."
She elbows the railing, tipping her chin. I'm watching intently for tears, but all I see is a wide smile, pent up and now released -- one I know she's saved all day for me.
"Only, you wouldn't let me in earlier. But stuff happened. You worked something out. And now, you are."
The waves chop at the pilings. Cordelia smushes her nose against my jacket, squeaking the leather, and giggles at the noise. I close my eyes and feel the cloud lift just enough to let a smile of my own break through.
Some days, life isn't so good to begin with. Then, inexplicably, poles shift. The stars come out, and the weight ... well, it gets, if not exactly lighter, then a little easier to carry.
This day was definitely one of those.