Dia De Los Muertos by Psychofilly
Summary: Challenge - All Souls Day 1999: Angel and Cordy, any level of relationship, any rating. Must include an egged car, Pan de la Muertos and Angel saying the words "You are what you eat."
Spoilers: Late Season One.
Notes: To the awesome blossom, starlet2367 for the challenge and the beta and the quick ass-kicking to get me back into writing. To Damnskippytoo because it's all her fault and to the Time Turners, just cuz I loves ya. Write it fast when you have a moment to breathe--don't think, just write.
woke to a dull pop that echoed against the wall like gunshot. He threw on some
slacks, a black sweater and a pair of boots, sweeping his watch and
keys off the entry table as he hurried up the stairs to his office.
The sound on street level was louder, a fast staccato crackling
that ruled out gunfire. He took a deep breath- fireworks. His mind
turned in a sleep-hazed circle as he checked the suite of rooms for
signs of life. No one was here but a quick glance of his watch quelled
the last of the unease in his gut.
Six o'clock. Cordy would still be out on her midday break, that nebulous stretch of time in the middle of the day that she reserved for herself. He didn't really know what she did during that time. He supposed she pursued auditions worked out and did whatever young aspiring actresses did while their vampire bosses slept. Not that he really cared… though he reminded himself to check her timecard and make sure she hadn't found a way to make him pay her for the time she took off.
Cordelia was sneaky that way, he mused as he ran his hand over the scarred wood of her desk. The echoing crack of fireworks made him flinch, his bones sliding under his skin as the change seized his features in defensive reflex. He reminded himself that it wasn't gunfire, not like the sharp machine-gun report that assaulted his ears for nights on end in the American lines during the second world war.
He shut his eyes and took a deep breath, only to open them again at the sight of blood long ago shed that flowed behind his eyelids. He wished he could put such memories to rest, bury them in a mass grave and then obliterate all signs of their existence. Instead he lived with an ugly scar of rough-turned earth, stained ocher, severed limbs still sticking out and pointing their damning fingers at him.
Angel shuddered, pulling himself out of the mired trenches of memory. He almost jumped out of his skin as the phone rang. He backtracked to the desk and after a moments hesitation picked up the receiver.
"Angel Investigations, we, ah, help the-" Another burst of firecrackers scattered his concentration like ash in the wind. "Uh, we help the people that need-- Can I help you?"
"Angel?" Cordelia's voice crackled over the line. "Why didn't you just let the machine get it?"
Why *didn't* he just let the machine get it? "Are you okay? Do you need anything?"
"I didn't need to talk to you, but whatever. I'm going to be a little late- hey, watch where you're going!" She sighed dramatically, then yelled "Little brats. I'll tell your parents that you're egging cars!"
"What is that?" he asked, his sensitive ears picking up the sounds of music and people laughing and speaking in rapid-fire Spanish."
"Dia de los Muertos," she replied. "I guess it's your day, huh?"
November second. He should have realized. Anyone living in Los Angeles for any length of time knew of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. "Cordelia, what did you need?"
"What? Oh, yeah, I'll be late --actually, don't wait up, I'll call you if I have a vision. Okay?"
It was actually a relief but out of politeness he asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I just- there is something I need to do tonight. Don't go all parental on me."
That drew a snort out of him. "Not likely."
She chuckled and her tone softened, almost sounding affectionate. "Take care big guy. Go have a beer with Wes, or better yet, sit in the dark and pretend you aren't brooding."
She hung up before he could reply.
Angel checked his watch again. Six-thirty. Wes would be in soon. He would be ready for action, looking to prove his worth. Eager for one of Cordy's visions, hopeful that this would be the night he could convince Angel to play one of his word puzzle games. Angel's stomach did a nasty flip, partly out of hunger, partly from the thought of spending an evening trapped in the same room as Wes. If Doyle was here --but Wes wasn't Doyle-- the reluctant soldier turned hero.
In a desperate attempt to change the direction of his thoughts, he grabbed his coat and slipped out the door, grateful that dusk was upon the city. It was easy to disappear into the purple tinted alleyway beside the building. He cut east at across a few blocks and took a left at Lorena only to be brought up short by a street dancers wearing huge clacas, their deaths-head eyeholes painted flat black, their wide lipless toothy grins symbolizing that death was nothing to fear. Maybe they were right and death was a friend, but dying wasn`t…
He sidestepped the dancing men, threading through the crowd with practiced ease as he tried to drown out the sound of mariachis. Young women in brightly colored skirts twirled like plastic flowers in the wind. Old women sang songs to honor their ancestors. Hundreds of people were talking, laughing, eating- celebrating in the face of death as he walked among them. It felt too much like trolling for food. He had to get out of here, find somewhere that didn't scream a cacophony of death in his ear, one that forced him to remember what he was.
He turned abruptly, intending to backtrack out of the street fair and into a less populated area. He almost ran over an old woman and startled her into dropping the basket she was holding. Angel snatched it before it could hit the ground even as he steadied her with one hand.
A deep red rebozo wrapped around her shoulders, as if to hide paper- mache skin stretched over birdlike bones.
The old woman looked up and blinked, her eyes filmy white with cataracts like the eyes of dead soldiers staring blankly at the sky. She smiled and patted his arm. He gently released her. Instead of walking away, she reached under the cloth covering the basket and held out a loaf of Pan de la Muertos.
"Por los muertos," She said with a kind smile.
"No, gracias, pero--"
"Por la muertos," she reiterated. "Te gustas."
Angel allowed her to press the still warm loaf in his hand, "Gracias." The old woman nodded and moved on. "But I don't eat," he said under his breath. However, he couldn't quite bring himself to throw the loaf away, after all it was a gift, a gift for the dead. Angel chuckled at the literalness of it as he walked away.
For a while, he moved on autopilot, allowing his feet to take him where they would and trusting his ears and nose to keep him from the worst of the crowds. There was a party in full swing at the cemetery. Streamers and flowers wreathed the headstones as a Spanish radio station blared, adding to the sound of laughter as people toasted their dead.
He turned the corner, surprised by the realization of where his feet had taken him. He looked up at the familiar ratty apartment. He squinted up into the darkness. "Doyle." The name came out on a shaky breath. There was a light in the apartment. He supposed it shouldn't be surprising that there was a new tenant.
Angel skirted the building and headed back in the general direction of the offices. Memories crowded like a battalion of ghosts beyond his peripheral vision. He hoped if he kept his head down and looked straight ahead they would dissipate into the night. It might have worked if a scent hadn't brought him up short. His head snapped up and his nostrils flared as he tried to get a direction.
His nose lead him to a chapel that was as old and run down as the rest of the neighborhood. Tonight it was filled with light and people. The scent was stronger here, mixing with the smell of fresh breads and incense. He stood at the door and filled his lungs with the scents around him. "Impossible," he murmured. He breathed again. Leather alcohol, sweat and the slightly sour smell of Brakken demon. "Doyle?"
Angel rushed into the chapel, the crawling nausea of being inside a house of God swept away by an adrenaline-pumping mixture of rage and hope. He strode down the aisle scanning the rows until…
She was sitting alone by the aisle, her dark cascade of hair drawn back into a simple ponytail. She stared straight ahead at the huge alter that had been erected in the chapel.
He understood now. She was wearing his jacket.
The rich orangish-brown leather still permeated with his scent. Angel didn't even realize she had kept it. The day they had packed Doyle's things she had carried the bags downstairs, her expression a bleak mix of grief and battle-weary resignation. She hadn't brought Doyle up since they had cleaned out his apartment. What was she doing here?
At that moment she turned, as if she could sense the turmoil and confusion coming off of him in waves. Her eyes went wide and she whipped around quickly, scrubbing at her face. It was too late. He'd seen the raw red of her eyes. He moved up the isle until he was even with her. "May I?"
Her answer was a shrug but she scooted over a fraction. Angel shifted the loaf he was still carrying, it's bone pattern dusted with sugar. He hesitated, then walked to the front of the church chuckling when he noticed a particular offering of scotch and a lottery ticket. He laid the loaf next to Cordy`s items, crossed himself and returned to her pew. She was staring at him as if he were a particularly hard quiz in one of those magazines she liked to read.
"Since when did you get all religious?" she asked.
"You are what you eat," he said with a smirk.
"That`s just so wrong," she stage-whispered, hitting his thigh with her fist.
"What about you? Dia de los Muertos seems like a strange holiday for you to observe."
An eyebrow arched as if to say, "So?" and for a moment he thought she might not answer him at all--. But then she took a deep breath and let it out in a long slow sigh. "Our maid, Consuela. She used to make an altar in her room. I saw it one day and threatened to tell my mother she was some sort of devil worshiper. She explained the concept to me and even let me make an offering for my dog that had died a few weeks before." She shrugged. "It helped. It made me feel connected to Muffy in a way I hadn't been since he died."
Angel tried to hold it in, but couldn't help but chortle. "You had a dog named Muffy?"
"You dated a girl named Buffy, dorkweed."
"I don't want to get into a stupid argument, Angel. I just wanted to feel connected again, even if it was just for tonight. I wanted to remember the good things about Doyle and let him know I hadn't forgotten him."
Her voiced cracked slightly at the end, and she turned away. "I know how you are about your past so I didn't tell you." Her fist, still on his thigh unclenched and her fingers spread over his knee and squeezed. "I know there are things you don't like to think about, even though you spend, like, hours doing just that."
He grabbed her hand, pulling it into the cradle of his lap as he put his other arm around her shoulders. He pulled her close and after a moment she lay her head on his shoulder.
She sniffled. "It's not bad, remembering. It's sad, yeah, but we had some good times too."
"Yeah, we did," he said. Angel closed his eyes and breathed her in as the murmur of others who were paying their respects washed in gentle waves around them. She smelled as much of Doyle as herself. For him it had become the scent of family, the scent of home.
Angel shed the guilt and let himself remember.
It hurt, it hurt like hell, but for the first time since Doyle had sacrificed himself, Angel felt some peace.