Gone by Christie


Summary: Misery is an old friend of Angel's.


Spoilers: Through to Couplet, Season Three.


Notes: Thoughts after Groo fought the demon in the park, and before Angel and Wesley talk in the magic shop.



Angel remembers standing there, in the shadows, for hours and hours. Just watching. The sun wandering across the sky, transferring shadows from western corners to eastern ones, and Angel moved accordingly, shrinking back toward the building as puddles of sunshine crept nearer.

He remembers Cordelia laughing, Fred laughing, the sun making both their eyes crinkle a little at the corners, barely visible beyond the edge of the sunglasses. The sparkly silver of Cordelia's bikini catching random rays, making them wink at him. Mocking him. Her skin glowing golden as the hours slipped by, becoming wet with a fine sheen of perspiration. He remembers thinking, redundantly, she's beautiful. Thinks it again, and again, trying to make it somehow bigger, stronger. Beautiful. Not enough to describe her. No words enough.

When the sun had crept too close to the building to leave room for him, he'd had a decision to make. He went inside. Into the dark and gloom of the Hyperion, what Cordelia tried to pass off as coziness but knew she wasn't really fooling anyone. Not the six people that rattled around its halls all day, sometimes all night, and not the occasional client who passed through. Calling the Hyperion cozy was like calling their coffee Starbucks and it just wasn't going to gloss it over enough, no matter how many coats of paint you slapped on it.

Angel hadn't been disappointed that day; only that he'd been forced into the darkness while Cordelia was still in the light. But he'd left with a lightness in his heart, because he loved her, and everything seemed right that way.

Now, he's reminded of that day. The false sense of belonging. The way Cordelia looks in the sunlight. Like she belongs. Only this time she's not sipping margaritas and joking with Fred, sun tanning in the hotel's garden patio because she needs to be close by in case Wesley breaks the case. No, she's standing in the sun, along with the rest of the people he's come to consider family. And they're congratulating the interloper for saving the day. And the interloper, the Groosalugg, *is* the hero, because if he hadn't been there, no one would have, and an innocent woman would have probably died.

He escapes into the dark, back through the sewers, as quickly as possible. No need to remind everyone of what exactly he is. No need to broadcast his limitations. He knows them, everyone knows them. The less is said, the better. He makes good time back to the hotel, doubles back and decides not to go there. Not now. It's too...painful.

Different kinds of pain -- different remedies. Angel will take physical pain over this any time. The darkness of the sewers isn't just dark. It's deep. Weighty. It sits on his chest and presses. Angel wonders if he was human, or a Groosalugg, if he'd have trouble breathing.

Angel wonders if the Groosalugg sits and thinks about Cordelia. Not just the obvious things, but extra things. Like how she stirs the sugar into her coffee in the morning. Once clockwise, twice counter clockwise. Lifts the spoon from the mug and taps it, three times, against the edge. Then sets it on a paper towel. Folded, over one way, then the other to make a perfect square. Every day, the same. Clockwise, counter clockwise, tap tap tap. It's never faltered in the entire time Angel has been taking notice.

Does Groo know that? Angel's willing to bet good money that he doesn't.

Does Groo know that when Cordy's been on her feet all day, she sits, takes off her shoes one by one, first the left, then the right. Never right then left. Left. Right. Takes both shoes off, tosses them to her right, haphazard. Never sets them neatly, never puts them away. Always tosses. Like the ritual itself is tossing some of her fatigue with it. Sighs softly after the toss. Blows a small breath up, and depending on the hairstyle that day, might puff some strands into the air. Might not. Doesn't matter. Always blows a small breath up. Lifts her toes, left, then right, stretching her Achilles tendon and her calves, then points toes down, left, then right. Uses her left hand to massage her right foot. Uses her right hand to massage her left foot.

Never wavering. Always the same, subconscious procedure.

Angel bets Groo doesn't notice. Angel bets Cordelia doesn't even notice.

Angel notices.

He finds himself at the juncture where he became human. It's weird to be back here, and he turns in small circles. When he was human, he was weak. Untrained and confused, even more useless than he feels now. He supposes that's what they call Irony. With a capital I. He supposes the Groosalugg has the best of both worlds, only the nagging in the back of his mind warns him about greener grass, because the Groosalugg has his own set of problems, even if they're not quite visible when Cordelia's kissing him off the cheek and sending him off to battle.

The Groosalugg isn't even human, and his heart is in his ass, and that comforts Angel, but only a little. Only in the largest sense of Irony.

The Groosalugg can fight in the sunshine, and be applauded in lush parks by admiring masses. The Groosalugg can be embraced in the sunshine by the most beautiful woman in the world. The Groosalugg, Angel thinks, might not mind that his heart is in his ass because at least it's beating, and someone wants it.

Angel follows the path he and Buffy took that fateful day that was never meant to be. He prowls the sewers in the opposite direction, starting where he'd ended and ending where they'd started. The steps leading to the world above, to the sunshine, are wrought against the sewer walls like a path to salvation. Angel studies them.

If Angel concentrates, he can almost see Buffy climbing those steps, disappearing into the day with sadness and hopelessness in her eyes that had nothing to do with the demon she was hunting. Even then, Angel had said it: *he went up, where he knows I can't follow.*

It seems like a lifetime ago, but everything comes back; only the feeling of inadequacy had been quickly replaced with hunger, wonder, excitement. Human feelings.

Inadequacy hadn't come back. No one ever caused him to feel it. He always won the battle. That much closer to winning the war. Until now.

Angel doesn't pay attention to the shaking of his hand as he places it up. One rung. Lifts his booted heel and places it, too. Two rungs. Two steps closer. To. Gone.

He stops, wonders what it would be like for them. Without him. He saw it once, saw them move on. He had been the one left alone. It was about the mission, not the man. About many souls, not just one. They'd figured that out, or always known it.

Angel's hands aren't shaking any more. He can feel whisps of warmth from the day above. It feels like a sheet fresh from the dryer. Only he knows it won't feel that comfortable for long. One more rung. He squints. That much closer.

The darkness below him pulls. Back down. Down, where he belongs. Angel looks back, then up, and wonders. Will they ever figure it out? No pile of dust in some conspicuous place that they can put two and two together and figure out where he went.

Just. Gone.

They would mourn. They would continue the fight. It's about the mission, not the man. About many souls, not just one.

Angel lifts his hand, the left one, and lets the sun filter onto it. It burns. Physical pain that makes him yell without realizing it, but pain much less than the ache in his heart. Instinct pulls the hand back down, into the dark comfort of the sewers. It weighs on him. His hand throbs. He smiles.


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