Martyr by Medea
Summary: Angel has some very dark moments on Valentine's Day.
Spoilers: Waiting In The Wings, Season Three
to Yahtzee's challenge on ACAngst.
He deserved this. Today of all days, he deserved
the most excruciating tortures the world could rain upon him.
The pink candy hearts.
The rosy-cheeked, holiday cherubs that graced store fronts, restaurants -- bus stops, for godssakes.
Even the Backstreet Boys.
Well, maybe not that. He'd visited some of his worst horrors on this day,contrived and executed some of the blackest tortures ever suffered by human or demon, but some things were too sadistic even for Angel.
Bitterly, Angel hung his head and stared at his shoes as he continued downthe street. Too sadistic for him? Who was he trying to kid?
A vision of a lithe, dark-haired school teacher crept into his thoughts.Those brown gypsy eyes had widened in eternal terror when he'd snapped her neck. Angel shuddered. He could almost feel the vertebrae cracking beneath his palms. Fighting down a wave of nausea, he clenched his fists tightly enough to draw blood.
Blood. Valentine's red.
A near-miss with a passerby reminded him that the streets weren't empty, and he raised his head. Ahead of him, two well-coiffed men strolled arm-in-arm, their hands occasionally drifting down to cup each other's asses. Their muted voices rose and fell in a relaxed, playful cadence. Angel glanced away.
But no matter where he looked, his gaze landed on couples paying tribute to the cultural imperatives of this day. In a café window, he saw lovers stretch their hands across white, linen table cloths and entwine their fingers.
Undoubtedly, Rupert had planned just such a romantic, candlelit dinner for Jenny Calendar. The soft-spoken Englishman had probably taken his courtship slowly, like the proper gentleman he was, fussing and sweating to ensure that everything would be perfect on the night he seduced her.
Her beauty had been perfect in death as Angel had lain her body out for Giles to find.
Angel hunched over, his shoulders sagging under the weight of remorse.
Of all possible nights of the year, why couldn't the Powers have required his services against a demon or other such menace tonight? He could use a good fight right now. Anything to take his mind off his bloodier diversions of Valentine's past.
But, no, tonight it just had to be quiet.
Quiet enough for his comrades-in-arms to have plans. Fred and Gunn. Wesley. Cordelia.
Cordelia was probably showing her precious Groosalug the sights of L.A., dazzling him with her smile and with a taste of city life that had to be a little daunting for the overgrown peasant.
Angel clenched his jaw. At least he hoped it was daunting.
Pausing, he closed his eyes. His skin crawled, he was so agitated. It would feel really, really good to hit something.
Decision made, he opened his eyes again and started back to the hotel. A few hours with the punching bag in his basement should do wonders for the tension.
Couples continued to pass; solitary souls, too. Angel turned his attention away from them, letting everyone fade to a wash of gray at the periphery of his vision. Or maybe he let himself fade from view; a phantom drifting through a world upon which he'd forfeited his claim. It didn't matter.
A few blocks from the hotel, a small flash of red caught his eye. Roses, single stems and bouquets, beckoned from a street vendor's white, plastic tub. But that wasn't the red that drew him. The vendor, a gnarled old man in sweats and a thin wind breaker, cursed, brought a finger to his mouth, and nursed it with his tongue. Salt rich, the scent of blood whispered across Angel's palate. A single, dark drop clung to a thorn on one of the stems.
Angel paused, then strolled over to the vendor.
He was on the edge.
A few pleasantries and five dollars later, Angel was once again on his way to the hotel, bearing a single red rose.
The fragrance taunted him.
Rich, copper tang...
But he wouldn't. Today of all days, he wouldn't.
He had glutted himself on blood on this day; indulged himself in every wanton, dark desire; summoned forth that desire in innocent beauties only to smother it forever. More than enough reason for him to deny himself now.
The lobby was deserted when he returned home. Old. Silent. Empty.
His footsteps resounded in the air as he crossed to the office. No messages on the answering machine, nothing scrawled on Cordy's notepad.
Angel ran a finger over the yellow carbons of old messages, tracing lightly over Cordy's fluid handwriting.
He placed the rose on her desk and walked away.
Lorne greeted him in his apartment with news of Connor's quiet evening, but the ever-sensitive demon couldn't fail to note Angel's dark mood. When his initial attempts to draw Angel out failed, he hesitated for a moment, as if contemplating his options, then gracefully departed, leaving Angel alone save for his sleeping son.
Angel stood beside the crib and stared down at Connor, envious of the child's peaceful, untroubled slumber. A brief, wistful smile touched Angel's lips before his eyes darkened and he withdrew to change for a work-out.
Shedding his leather coat, he stripped off his shirt and exchanged dark slacks for loose-fitting sweat pants. Ever so softly, he gathered Connor up in his arms, unwilling to rely on electronic baby monitors, given the array of forces with unholy designs on the child. Angel grabbed a thick, cotton quilt and made his way down to the basement. He spread the quilt on the practice mat and lay Connor down. Hopefully, a few grunts and the dull thud of Angel's fists against the punching bag wouldn't awaken him.
Angel was grateful for small mercies when, indeed, Connor slept through the two hours his father spent pummeling the bag. However, far from relieving the tension, Angel's frustration merely increased. The dark vampire abandoned his exercise in futility, pretty certain that if he kept going much longer, he'd knock the punching bag clean out of the ceiling.
He needed something more. He'd hit and he'd hit and he'd hit, but it hadn't purged him. He needed something extreme. Something that would cut to the very depths.
The thought clung to him like a shroud.
As he climbed the stairs back up to his apartment, with Connor snuggled against his bare shoulder, the thought twisted and darkened.
He knew he should be disturbed that he was even contemplating doing this. He *was* disturbed; it was sick, and Angel couldn't help feeling that, somehow,Connor would be tainted just because he was sleeping nearby while Angel did this. But Angel was tainted; he was unnatural. And he needed this.
So Angel set Connor back down in his crib, then sat on the edge of his bed,and opened the drawer to his nightstand, revealing the crucifix he kept hidden there. He winced, but forced himself to look at the Christian symbol.
The Church honored Valentine as a martyr to the faith. Somehow, what had been a commemoration of violent, ugly death had been polished into a bright, shiny celebration of romantic love. But Angel was damned. Faith rejected him. Love, he was denied. Only the darkness of his own murderous legacy remained to torment him.
Slowly, Angel reached into the drawer and closed his hand over the cross. His flesh seared upon contact and instinctively he pulled back. A wild, determined gleam shone in his eyes and he thrust his hand back down. This time, when his fingers curled around the cross, he held on and let it burn until his entire arm trembled from the pain. When the agony became too great, he dropped it on the bed.
Angel stared down at the angry, blistered brand on his palm. He panted in pain, blinking back tears.
Reaching for the shirt he'd discarded before his work-out, he wrapped it around his injured hand. Then he carefully picked up the cross and applied it in merciless, gradual steps all the way up his arm.
For each angry mark, a memory.
Mid-forearm...the newlyweds he'd sliced beyond recognition with a straight-razor in 1872.
Elbow...Drusilla and her entire family.
Bicep...the eleven year-old girl he'd sodomized with a red-hot poker in 1854.
Angel was struck by the sheer irony of it, as he gazed down at his red, inflamed flesh. He was running out of arm, and he'd barely even tapped the surface of his vicious legacy.
Cordelia's tentative voice sent a guilty shiver down Angel's spine.
She appeared at the French doors that opened into his bedroom, still dressed in the elegant, subdued ensemble Angel guessed she had worn for her evening out with her Pylean hero. In her hand she grasped the rose he'd left on her desk.
"Oh...I wasn't sure you were here," Cordy murmured. "I just came to check on---what the HELL are you doing?!"
Her eyes widened in alarm as her gaze fell upon his abused, tortured limb. The rose slipped from her fingers.
There was really no way to answer this question. So he didn't.
"I thought you had plans for this evening," Angel countered.
"I did, and stop avoiding the question," Cordy snapped as her expression instantly shifted from concern to anger.
"This doesn't concern you, Cordy."
"The hell it doesn't!" Furiously, she strode forward and yanked Angel's arm between them, like a lawyer confronting a defendant with the murder weapon. "When I find my friend hiding out in his room, deliberately hurting himself, you bet it concerns me."
"I wasn't hiding out."
Delicate, feminine eyes flashed at him in cold fury. "You answer me, Angel. You explain to me why you're not a danger to yourself, and to your son, or so help me I'm taking Connor home with me."
"Connor's in no danger," Angel retorted sharply, fixing her with an unrepentant stare. However, Cordelia didn't flinch, and in the end, it was Angel who relented.
Averting his eyes, Angel confessed, "This wasn't about causing pain, Cordy. It was about easing it. Valentine's Day isn't one of my better days."
"Don't you think this is taking the whole Lonely Hearts thing to the extreme?" Cordy demanded.
"Not everything associated with this day has to do with romance," Angel snarled darkly. "When I didn't have my soul, I celebrated it every year, but love and romance were in no way a part of it. You don't even want to know the things I did. Jenny Calendar was one of my milder whims."
Cordelia's lips parted and the fury in her eyes was replaced by uneasy comprehension. For a moment, she said nothing, and merely scrutinized him with such intense compassion it wrenched his heart.
"Give me the cross," she whispered at last, holding out her hand.
"Cordy, I'll be fine."
"I'm not letting you do this to yourself any more. Give me the cross," she repeated, the sternness in her voice belied by a hint of panic. Impulsively, she snatched the cross out of his heavily-wrapped hand.
Cordy attempted to fling it away but Angel's reflexes were too quick for her. Gripping his unscarred hand over hers, he drew her intimately against him and slowly positioned their hands over his heart. Upon contact, his skin hissed beneath the cross. Cordy let out a desperate whimper and fought to jerk her hand away. Mercilessly, he trapped her hand under his, forcing her to press the cross to his chest.
The air smelled of charred flesh and Cordelia's perfume.
Vaguely, through the blinding pain, Angel wondered if the cross would burn straight down to his heart. He felt Cordy shiver against him, felt the soft brush of her thighs against his, the enticing curve of her hips, and imagined holding her close until she burned all the way inside, until he was nothing but ashes.
"Angel, stop this," Cordy's voice trembled as she stared at him with equal measures of pity and horror.
Traces of moisture glistened at the rim of her eyes, just above those soft, dark lashes. Her fear mesmerized him. For whom? Herself? Him?
Cordy raised her free hand to caress his cheek and whispered brokenly, "Please...please, Angel, don't do this."
Eyes locked with hers, Angel eased his grip and let the cross slip from her hand. He released a shuddering breath as it clattered to the floor. For several moments more, Angel held Cordy's hand over his heart. His entire body throbbed -- just not in the way he'd imagined, those countless times he'd pictured her body pressed so closely against his.
Now that the source of his agony had been removed, the pain was almost worse. It radiated through his limbs, unbearably paralyzing. He wanted to squeeze his eyes shut and scream, but he couldn't tear his gaze from Cordelia's. She was crying in trembling, muffled gulps, as if she were afraid to let herself cry because it would make this all too horribly real.
Suddenly, the guilt, the tension, the bitter self-recrimination drained away, and Angel felt only the need to comfort and be comforted. Cordy hadn't deserved any of that. She couldn't know, couldn't understand, and he valued whatever it was that they had too much to add her to his list of Valentine's Day victims.
Murmuring hushed assurances, Angel gathered her in his arms and held her close. He felt the damp flutter of her lashes against his chest and reveled at the heat she imparted to his cool skin.
Cordy pulled her head back but didn't try to break free of his embrace. Setting her jaw, she stared at him and choked, "Promise me you'll never do that again."
Angel lovingly caressed her face. Then, taking a step back, he knelt down, gingerly grasped the fallen crucifix with his protected hand, rose up, and placed it in her hand. He took her free hand, cupped it over the crucifix, then covered it with his own.
"Take it, Cordy. I'll be fine. I promise."
Slowly, Angel leaned in and pressed his mouth to hers. He let his lips linger, savoring the taste of her, the feel of her. But just as she relaxed and parted her lips in dawning realization of much that had remained buried, Angel broke off the kiss.
Cordelia and Angel regarded each other quietly, the veil between them momentarily removed.
Then Angel moved away. One step back, scarce inches, but in terms of what they were to each other, what they could be to each other, a chasm of decorum.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Cordy."
"Angel..." she began uncertainly.
Discreetly, he shifted his gaze away from her questioning eyes. "Isn't there someone waiting for you?"
Cordelia's breath hitched. She hesitated for several moments, then turned to leave. At the French doors she paused and bent down to retrieve her rose. Twisting to give him one, final glance, she said, "Happy Valentine's Day, Angel."
Clasping rose and crucifix against her chest, Cordy silently left his suite. Angel stared after her for awhile longer, sadly reflecting on his inability to give love without pain. A woman who took his heart had to be mindful of the thorns.
Weary of such thoughts, Angel went to Connor's crib, gently lifted his son and cradled him close. Warm and comforting, like Cordelia. Stretching out on the couch, Angel settled Connor on his chest, and smiled as the sleeping babe snuggled against his bare skin.
No rosy-cheeked, holiday cherub could compare.