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Four Times Angel Keeps His Halloween Traditions And One Time He Doesn't

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OCTOBER 31, 1999

Angel closes the door behind Cordelia, stealing a peek at the way her bottom rolls firmly against the black wool of her very short skirt. Leaning against the door, he listens to the clicks of her high heeled boots along the pavement of the hotel walk and then the sidewalk until they fade away, maybe half-a-block down. There's plenty of traffic, both motor and pedestrian, but he's capable of intense focus when he chooses. When she's well and truly gone into the early evening, with plans for attending a Halloween party at a hotel near her apartment to fill her night, Angel sighs and kicks off the door, hoping Doyle keeps his promise not to try and drag him out 'for fun' later.

His Halloweens are usually quiet, except when he inadvertently stirs up trouble. Ever since he's been re-souled, he's reserved the day for thoughts of his family. His real family, dead centuries now, and allows himself to feel his age. Cordy would laugh if she knew how ritualized he's become about Samhain, or even that he still calls it Samhain, but Halloween is too modern and too American, and All Souls too pure for him to taint. Even in Sunnydale, that one crazy year, he found enough hours over the course of Samhain to complete his remembrance.

He wanders across the front office, letting his gaze roam the walls, the blank ceiling, the water cooler and cluttered desk, taking stock. In his back room, he runs his fingers over the spines of his collection, traces the line of the bookshelf and lets his fingers rest on the cool bulb of an Orb of Thesulah that sits nestled on the top shelf. Just in case. It's here, Cordy knows it's here... just in case.

Pulling the right bottom drawer from his desk, he withdraws a shot glass and the bottle of aged scotch he bought three weeks ago just for this occasion. The middle drawer yields fine paper, three quills, and a fresh bottle of ink. He lays it all out on his leather blotter and cracks opens the ink. The smell burns his nostrils and moistens his eyes. He blinks, inhales deeply and settles himself in his creaking chair. Taking up a quill, he reaches for the sheathed knife laying next to the desk lamp which he doesn't bother to turn on. Tonight he acknowledges his nature and what it has cost him, as ruthlessly and truthfully as possible without drawing actual human blood.

Choosing the longest quill first, he sharpens it. He dips it in the ink, gives it a firm shake, turns the paper to the proper angle and begins.

'Dearest Kathy...'

 

OCTOBER 31, 2000

Angel grunts and twists the knife within the Huji's chest, hoping to hit heart or lung or something.

“Angel!” Cordy cries.

He risks a glance to her and sees the sword coming straight at him. He stretches to grab the hilt of the sword, and punches it backwards into the face of the Huji's demon Keeper. The Keeper drops behind him. Wrenching the knife out of the Huji's scaly flesh, Angel sidesteps. As the Huji falls forward into the space Angel is no longer occupying, Angel drives the sword into the back of the its neck. Its severed head falls to the ground, rolling away as the body thumps down and makes the ground quiver under Angel's feet. He looks over, to where Cordy should be, and she's still there, grinning like a madwoman, blood splattered across her cheek.

“A little help, here?” Wesley croaks from her feet.

She rolls her eyes at Angel and then crouches down and heaves at the leg of the demon trapping Wesley beneath it. Both the demon Keeper and his guard are Grothers, nearly human looking, but built big. Angel joins her, lifting the guard's shoulder and isn't surprised to see Wesley's short sword has done its job in dispatching it. Wesley struggles to sit up, coughing. Angel draws the blade out, wipes it across the guard's filthy shirt and hands it hilt first to Wes, who nods at him.

“Thank you, Angel.”

Cordy helps Wes stand. Since they are in the sewers, they are inclined to let the bodies lay, but there's an alcove a few feet down that will at least get them out of the way. Angel drags the Huji over, while Cordy and Wes wrestle with the Keeper. Cordy takes the keyring from his belt, jingling the ten or fifteen keys that hang from it.

“I guess we should go take care of the monster zoo before we go out,” she says, her tone resigned. She's been looking forward to Halloween for a solid month. She made Angel and Wesley both promise to go to the club she picked out, though he refused to make a promise that he'd stay at least an hour.

“I'll do it,” he offers. He still has commitments to himself to fulfill tonight.

“No,” she says. “You're still coming out with us.”

“I will. I'll meet you when I'm done.”

Her lips quirk. She says, “Right, Sleepyhead.”

Angel bites his tongue on his retort and tries reason. “I can travel faster without you. By the time you get ready and drive there, I'll be showered and on my way.” He transfers his gaze to Wes, confident that Wes will read his sincerity.

Wesley clears his throat, drawing Cordy's attention to him. “I have extra clothes in my saddlebags, Cordelia, do you mind if I clean up at your place? And uh, I do believe I might need stitches, before we hit the club?”

“You're bleeding?”

Both Angel and Wes nod in the bright cone of Cordy's Maglite.

Cordy rolls her eyes again. “Let's go,” she says, handing the key ring over to Angel. Her fingers are warm on his as she gives his hand a squeeze. She doesn't have to say anything. He knows she's telling him to be safe. “Don't stand us up, big guy.”

***

Back tracking, Angel finally finds the zoo hidden below the public library. It's a series of wire cages, some as large as a hundred by a hundred feet. There's grow lights and stunted trees and even flowering bushes. It took money and plenty of it to hollow out this space without collapsing the infrastructure above it. Angel follows the lines of the walls, seeking out the joints and supports. He'd bet the Hyperion that the military built it.

Once Angel sics Wes on locating Alan Moriarty, the zoo's supposed owner, and determines who's been actually acquiring the odd collection of creatures Moriarty is holding, he can lay this case to rest. It's been a long three days. And Cordy's right, he's tired. When he does sleep, he dreams of Darla. Although his stomach knots just thinking of her, his cock hardens, too. Foregoing sorting through the keys, he smashes the lock on each wired enclosure instead. His knuckles bruise and the metal tears his palms as he yanks at the doors one by one. The pain keeps him focused.

Most of the creatures yield easily to his sword and fangs. He only dares drink from the Masolay, which he knows from seeing old woodcut prints. It's a big, thick-bodied deer-like creature and supposedly garners long life. Since he already has immortality he figures its magical properties can do him little harm and his time will be too short tonight to go hunting up a blood meal in LA that he can take without guilt or possible exposure. He's relied on stray dogs in the past, as a last resort, but he can't dredge up anything but dread at doing so this Samhain. He wants human.

The blood of the Masolay is hotter than human, and it's frantic heart sends it into him in a satisfying high-pressure gush. He takes way too long, lost in draining it, giving in to his nature this one night out of the year. Cordy will berate him, but he doesn't have time for her tonight. His needs tonight are more important to him than the slow burn her anger will cause in him tomorrow. He likes that heat, anyway. He likes the lash of her tongue and how she gets in his space. Sometimes she's a lot like Darla.

 

OCTOBER 31- NOVEMBER 1, 2001

The concrete floor of the dormitory in the old convent is cold under Angel's knees. He holds a picture of Drusilla in his head for as long as she will let him. But then he lets his photographic memory loose, something he keeps locked up almost as tightly as Angelus. The girls, the uninitiated, the confirmed, the women who tend to them, black and white habits framing their faces, swept aside from their pulse points, long necks, pale arms, opened thighs stream past his unblinking eyes.

When he's the same temperature as the floor, he finds himself stretched full-length upon it, face down, his body clock rousing him from the stupor of his self-flagellation. His left cheek feels glued to the frigid hardness, a fine grit sticking to his skin as he lifts his head. He plants his hands shoulder wide and pushes himself up. Once more on his knees, he listens.

The night is early morning still. It smells of the pine surrounding the abandoned site and the rich black earth of the undisturbed cemetery at the rear. No birds call. No rustlings in the brush. Just his own silence. He's never missed the rush of his own blood in his ears as much as he does at this time every year.

He fumbles in the black sling sack he'd dropped hours ago, when he first knelt here where those he stole the most from slept. He'd taken plenty of lives, but he thinks maybe taking away someone's faith and virginity and life, all of it, in mere moments, is the worst act he can commit and he'd done it countless times. But still, when he thinks on it, the hot seep of desire crawls into his belly, scales his spine. It was glorious. Never has he been so fulfilled as in those moments.

Pulling out a single taper, Angel lights it with the silver lighter he'd taken off a dandy in '38. He'd refrained, barely, from eating him although the man deserved every moment Angelus would have taken to make him miserable before dispatching him without a thought. The lighter reminds him of the self-control of which he is capable. It reminds him that he can do this- have a soul and honor it. He honored it earlier in this day by working with Cordelia, teaching her to fight off predators like Billy. It galls him to think that Billy has a soul and thinks nothing of it, while Wesley is so tormented by his, it might kill him one day.

He stares into the flame and lets the hot wax of the melting candle coat his fingers and hand. It's the same hand he will later sear once again, in the coming daylight, as he continues to observe the stations of his Samhain, his own personal Day of the Dead, during which he lets both the dead and death ride him. He listens to his own stillness and the screaming, hollow stillness of the ghosts he carries within him until the flame is guttering an inch above his clenched fist and he is panting in response to the pain that, despite all signs to the contrary, insists he is alive.

Smoke and sweet wax fill his nose until a robin calls, finally. With that tentative cherriup heralding the dawn, Angel releases himself from his self-imposed bondage, if not his living death.

 

NOVEMBER 1, 2002

Few churches have adequate sewer access for Angel's daytime visit, but over the last century, he's managed to find one every year. For about thirty years, he'd made do with his father's brand of Protestantism, except when in New York. In Sunnydale, it was the Universal Community Church,
Since he's been in LA, he's returned to the Catholic churches of his very early life. There's three with access. This Samhain, he chooses Lourdes, because it is close to where Gunn and Fred are sitting on stakeout. The last time he'd been in this church, Cordy had called him three times before he was done.

Before he enters, he punches at the newest phone Wes set up for him. When he thinks he has it set on vibrate, he drops it in his jacket pocket with a sigh. He wishes Cordy would call him now. His heart twists. Or even Connor, at least tell him he's keeping her safe.

He pads through the basement and slips up the stairs into the little back hallway. There's no one about. The nave echoes with the hush of mid-afternoon, the muted traffic of the street. It is shadowed and cool, oiled wood and worn leather covered bibles. He slides into a pew about midway and leans forward to drag in the scent of the dry paper, the slight must of every bible he's ever held. He doesn't touch.

From his other coat pocket, he draws out a folded cotton cloth. It is his favorite for cleaning his swords. Unfolding it, he reveals the sheen of the rosary Cordelia bought shortly after they started working together. She'd bought three bibles and three rosaries and six crosses in various materials and sizes. You never knew what you might need on a case or what might be destroyed when you most desperately needed it.

This had been her favorite. Although she didn't use it, and wasn't Catholic, she liked the feel of it in her hand, she said. Cool marble beads, shot through with blue veins. Fred and Gunn found it when they cleared out her apartment and exorcised Dennis. Fred left it on his dresser for him to find one day after he came home again. As he rolls it between his fingers, still wrapped within the cloth, Angel thinks of the pressure of a million pounds of water in his ears, the strange distorted dreams he suffered, the endless, raging hunger. He has to wait for acknowledgement before he starts.

On his fifth silent recitation of the Hail Mary, a heartbeat comes to him, someone is standing at the top of the stairs to his left and ahead of him. There comes the soft pad of leather shoes on the carpet runner that runs alongside the pews. Breath. Mint and coffee. Cherry pastry. Citrus lotion. Old wool and cat and parchment.

The priest stands near him, in contemplation of him. After a long moment, the priest nods and drops a hand upon his shoulder. Angel can't tell if the tremble he feels is himself or the priest, but the priest's fingers close on him, stilling the movement. “If you need me, I'm here. Just along the hall to the offices. I'll let Father Tim know that you're here.”

Angel knows Father Tim. Father Tim knows him. Angel turns his head to meet the old priest's eyes. “Thank you,” he says.

The priest gives him a small smile, just a tightening of his lips, wariness filling his eyes. Fear wafts off him, but only a little, and his sympathy is stronger. Angel's heart tightens in his chest and he drops his gaze, turning his face back down as he clenches his jaw.

The priest sighs. He pats Angel's shoulder firmly once more and leaves him.

Angel slips the rosary from the cloth and wraps it across his palm and over the back of his hand. This year he eschews asking for forgiveness. Instead he asks for love, in hopes that he can re-claim Cordy's friendship, and shed this dreadful fear he carries- of and for his son- from his heart. Closing his eyes as the beads heat up, he begins on the short strand.

***

Father Tim rouses him before their first parishioners are due to arrive. There's been a bit of traffic, but the priests directed those few stealing in early away from him and the thin rise of smoke rising from his clenched fist, dispersing fast enough in the lofty church to be dismissed as incense. He was aware and unaware, at once, deep in meditation.

He is not graceful when he rises, there's almost nothing of the predator left in him right now. Father Tim takes his bicep and steadies him, doesn't comment as Angel stumbles on the first step of the staircase, only keeps him from pitching headlong back into the dark. The shadows settle on Angel like balm, soothing his raw, opened edges. In the basement, Father Tim steers him to the teen rec room and sits him on the closed toilet in the half-bath. Angel just breathes in youth and vanilla and denim and hope and innocence and that thin stream of want and physical desire that fills this space and waits.

The soft, nothing scent of the white burn cream Father Tim opens wakes Angel a bit from his stupor. He lets Father Tim peel his fingers open and unwind the rosary. The beads clack when he drops them into the sink. Angel opens his mouth, but Father Tim speaks first.

“I'll wash them. Just let me,” he strokes Angel's hand, encourages him to open it all the way. “... do this, first.”

Angel closes his mouth and stretches his burnt hand open, flat, giving Father Tim access to clean the deep trenches of blackened flesh. Maybe Angel wouldn't mind letting it heal on its own, would even welcome the extra length of time, but even with Father Tim's administrations, it will be two or three days before the flesh is healthy and unmarked again. Angel can't let it lie a week or more, too many lives depend on him.

Even if he wanted to turn his back on those lives, he can't now. Meeting Whistler and then Buffy changed his life. He tried throwing it away, but the first time Buffy and the powers that be intervened. And then when he tried again, Cordelia wouldn't let him. She just kept the faith and kept right on helping the helpless, no matter how much it hurt her. He doesn't want to disappoint her.

“You won't. You haven't,” Father Tim murmurs.

“What?”

“You won't disappoint her. You're a good man, Angel.”

Had he been talking out loud?

“Who do you think might be disappointed in you?”

“Cordelia.”

“Ah,” Father Tim says. “She's, um, no longer with you?”

Angel shakes his head. They had met on a job. Angel doesn't want to explain Cordelia's absence, her amnesia, his son... He sucks in air when Father Tim presses his fingers against the burn across his palm, working the cream down into the wound. He glances over, frowning at the pile of used gauze, the opened bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

“I guess you're back with me now?” Father Tim says, amusement lancing his words.

“Yeah,” Angel grunts. “Ow.”

Father Tim laughs.

 

NOVEMBER 1, 2003

Angel sits at Cordelia's side, holding her limp hand in his. This year, he's forgone the pleasure he normally takes in purposely opening his senses as the last of his Samhain traditions. Normally, he washes off the effort of his hours, the recriminations, the memories, the blood of whatever he's fed on, and then seeks out his pleasures, the better to understand the razor-sharp edges of pain he deserves and find them.

Today the only pleasure he took intentionally was to shower in the hottest water Wolfram and Hart can provide him in his luxury high-rise in the sky. Sometimes it feels like he keeps the sun and moon close company in their piece of the sky. Between Harmony providing him custom blood blends, the warmth he soaks in through the necrotized glass of his floor-to ceiling windows, and the rumbling power of the sleek sports cars housed especially for his use, on any given day he feels either satiated or outright overwhelmed across his senses.

The beauty of the rooms that he wanders through, the scents that assail him- leather and pampered flesh and the very rarest of blooms, potions and magic-, the textures beneath his fingertips at every turn, the expectant hush that falls over every entrance he makes... it's hard to not appreciate. It's hard not to become used to it, to expect it even. Some days he does, lets it be just what it is- a payoff for his complicity. Most days, though, he can be the man he wants to be. The one who's denying his nature except when it's useful to his mission.

His mission here to to take down Wolfram and Hart. He remembers that. He might have forgotten it a little, in his grief for Cordelia, his squabbling with Spike, his concern that his team, his family, is being tempted away from helping the helpless with knowledge upgrades and sleep deprivation and lab toys and power. Number Five reminded him he has to hold onto his heart with both hands. The only way he can save his family from Wolfram and Hart's eternal machinations and keep Connor safe in the future is to take this place down. Topple, burn, and smash it into tiny pieces and carry every piece into Hell by hand if that's the only option left to him.

Cordy's hand is cool and dry. He wonders if she's here, trapped inside her body, or if she's free already, escaped from the useless beating of her heart. He doesn't know now if her care and keeping was his demand for his services to Wolfram and Hart, or if he was manipulated into asking for it. Is she only alive because Wolfram and Hart can use her against him?

She never knew the course of his Samhain. Midnight is closing in on the last hours of November 1. Tomorrow is All Souls Day. Is Cordelia in Purgatory, waiting on prayers to push her over into heaven? He hopes no one prays for her then, because he still needs her, whether she's his weak spot or not. He gets tangled trying to sort his own intentions out. He's a fly, pulling on Wolfram and Hart's web strings and thinking he's controlling them. He needs Cordelia here to remind him that he's not, despite that fact that he could order ten employees into this room right now, drain them dry, leave the bodies where they lay and not face a whit of consequence for doing so.

He stands up from the uncomfortable plastic chair he's been sitting in and leans over her. He strokes her cheekbone and then kisses her, a brush of his lips across her forehead.

In his apartment, he breathes in the odors of leather and lemon oil, and the faint, pleasant tang of the Gyuman demon who cleans for him. He follows the scent trail of a carafe of Merlot left ready for him on the bar. Turning from the wine, he shuts off the lights and goes to sit in front of the window. The lights of Los Angeles lay spread before him, the darkened hills of Griffith park to the north and the empty expanse of ocean to the west. The air conditioner comes on with a soft whoosh. He fingers the scar across the knuckle of his left thumb.

“Where'd you get that one from?” Spike says from the wall to the right of the window.

Angel closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He cast himself carefully outward, absorbing whatever his senses touch. He lets the lap of electrical energy from Spike in, lets it wash over him, draws on Spike to push out the rest of it all, run interference on everything from the chemicals rising from the carpet at his feet to the stiff scratch of his shirt label at the nape of his neck. It all fades.

Far away, he hears Spike mutter under his breath. “Fucking ponce, you've been to see her again, haven't you?” and then his energy surges, pushing, seeking. “You don't actually have a heart, y'know.”

Angel forces himself not to push back, opens further instead. Please, he thinks.

Spike fills Angel up, whites him out and shuts him down.