You think it could have ended with a blinding white light, with a man disintegrating into nothing for a handful of half demons he barely knows. Or perhaps as dark-haired girl slips quietly from a coma to the afterlife, or maybe as a vampire with a soul stands alone in a street full of bodies, both friend and foe and the aching knowledge that he’s the only one left.
You think it might have ended at any one of those moments, stopped the universe in its tracks so it could lose itself in mourning, but the world moves on, keeps spinning; Good men die before their time, the light struggles against the dark and the past has a tendency to repeat.
When he wakes up, it always takes him a moment to remember where he is. The light bites and stings at his eyes like it’s been years since he’s seen the sun instead of mere hours. He never remembers his dreams, but he wakes up in a panic that’s tempered with an odd sense of accomplishment that he can’t rightfully explain.
But it’s important, he knows that much. Another piece to an identity he’s never been able to find.
“Sometimes,” he confesses, looking first to his left and then back right, “I look in the mirror and see someone else.”
The psychiatrist nods once, jots something down on his notepad and twirls his pen. “Who do you see?”
“What,” he corrects softly. “Green skin red eyes, it looks like a monster.”
The pen freezes inches from the paper, hovering as if in wait. He stares at it, suddenly sure that this is the last time he’ll be in this place, this room. It’s not worth it anymore; it hasn’t been for a long time.
“And why,” the psychiatrist asks, “do you think you’re a monster?”
Because I didn’t save them, he starts to say, but the words die on his lips. In the end, all he can do is shrug.
It’s hard not to feel aimless. He drops out of school at nineteen and flits from job to job, town to town, never staying in one place for more than five months or so. The jobs, the people, this life, it just doesn’t fit. It hasn’t fit since he was eighteen and came back from college on summer to find his parents, both of them, dead on the floor of their living room.
(Drained dry of blood and that bothers him more than anything else)
“My dad died the same way,” the detective, Kate Lockley, says in a daze.
“Vampire-style killing, pathological, ritualistic…” he feels like he’s fighting through a fog. “Some one’s got to ban those Anne Rice books.”
Lockley cracks a wry smile, drawing out wrinkles on her weathered face. He watches, entranced as she pushes a lock of graying blonde hair from her face. “Have we met before?” she asks.
He blinks. “You really don’t have this comfort the mourner thing down, do you?”
“Sorry,” she says, staring at him with clear blue eyes. “It’s just… you remind me of someone I knew back in LA. I haven’t thought about him for a while.”
“Who do you think might have done this?” he asks. “Something this sensational is bound to turn up something. You’ll be able to catch them right?”
Lockley evades his eyes and slips her notebook from her pocket. “No promises,” she says quietly.
He’s not surprised.
“Where too, kid?” the ticket man asks. “We’ve four different lines, buses running out of each of them every half hour.”
He stares blankly at the destinations. The cities hold no real meaning for him, who he is, where’s he’s going, where he’s been. It doesn’t really matter as long as the next place is away.
“Come on, kid, I don’t have all day.”
He shoves a crumpled fifty towards the man. “How far will this get me?”
“Depends on which line.” The ticket man regards the bill suspiciously. “You running from something?”
“Doesn’t really matter now, does it?” he answers. “How far will it get me?”
“It’ll get you to LA,” the ticket man says.
“Then I guess I’m going to LA.”
It’s as good a place as any.
He waits alone on one of the station’s less stable benches. The light is bad and the scene is dirty, but it’s also mostly empty and fairly quiet, so he doesn’t mind. Absently, he pulls the ticket from his jacket pocket and stares at it for a long time. He likes the thick block letters reading ONE WAY because the only way worthy of moving, after all, is forward and he’s going to keep moving in that direction until he finds what he’s looking for.
(He thinks it might be answers, he doubts he’ll ever find them)
His entire life is compressed into a duffle bag, a few changes of clothes, some old pictures and battered notebook. It’s infinitely mobile, but at the same time, inherently disappointing. Tomorrow, he thinks, he could be wiped off the face of the earth and there’d be no one to remember him but the overstuffed duffle and his battered old leather jacket.
He wakes up drenched in sweat. Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing here?
He stumbles blindly towards the bathroom and turns on the light first and then the sink, splashing handful after handful of water onto his face. Already the dream (despite the terror, it had never felt quite like a nightmare) has left him. He looks up at the mirror, half expecting to see the monster’s face staring back.
But it’s not there.
Instead his own pale eyes glare back at him accusingly. He looks like hell. His light brown hair is wet, plastered to his forehead. His skin is too pale. The light smattering of freckles across his face stand out prominently, the only splash of color on his cheeks.
How old is he anyway? Twenty? Twenty one? Has his birthday come and passed without his knowledge like it had the two years prior?
Does it ever matter?
He glances back up to the mirror at the familiar reflection and the familiar features and suddenly realizes that it’s not him. Not anymore.
Saturday morning, he starts walking. He does this every time he winds up in a new town; wonders aimlessly for a day, picking his way through back alleys and getting himself thoroughly and completely lost. He knows it’s not safe. He was stabbed back in Boston, when he stumbled into gang territory and was mugged in Seattle. He gets himself into back situations in worse neighborhoods and every new town; he does the same thing over again.
This time’s different. He doesn’t feel as directionless as he usually does. His feet move with a distinct sense of purpose, dancing through the streets like they’ve been here before even if he hasn’t.
He stops suddenly, an unexpected feeling sweeping over him. I’m here. I’m back. This is home. He anxiously surveys his surroundings. The street is old and run-down, but it has a businesslike air about it that saves it from complete disreputability.
One of the buildings on the block catches his eye. It looks almost completely destroyed, charred and structurally unstable. He is suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of loss.
He doesn’t know how long he stood staring at the shell of a building, but it is long enough to attract attention. A man approaches him hesitantly. “Are you lost, son?”
No, he almost answers, this is the first time in years, I’ve know where I’m going, but the response is illogical. “This building,” he starts, and forming the words is like speaking underwater. “Do you know what happened here?”
“Angel Investigations,” says the man. “An old PI place. Someone planted a bomb there.”
The revelation drops ice into the pit of his stomach. “Was anyone killed?”
“Not that I know of,” says the man. “But it was twenty-five years ago. I don’t see why someone your age would take such an interest.”
“Twenty-five years?” he repeats distantly. “Why didn’t they rebuild?”
“Wolfram and Hart took an interest. A law firm,” the man pauses, “come to think of it, things went bad for them too. The LA branch has been closed for going on twenty years. Why do you ask? This is all before your time.”
Because it matters, he thinks.
“No reason,” he answers.
He sits alone at the end of the bar nursing a glass of whiskey, not because he needs it, but because he missed his twenty-first birthday by two weeks and today’s as good a day to celebrate as any other.
It’s a new town after all, another chapter in his otherwise aimless life. Besides, it’s not like he ever gets much to celebrate.
“I’m not here alone,” a voice snaps from somewhere beside him. “I came with my boyfriend, Alex.”
And to his complete surprise, a girl reaches out, grabs his hand and spins him around. He gawks at her. She’s gorgeous of course, (so very far out of his league) with this long dark hair and pleading gray-blue eyes.
“So this is invisible Alex.”
He tears his eyes from the girl to stare at the large biker looming over him with bulging muscles and a shiny bald head. He takes a deep gulp, raises his glass and says, “Cheers mate.”
“I would have thought,” the biker continues, leering at the girl, “you’d like to try a real man instead of a scrawny little boy like this?”
“Scrawny?” he repeats, puffing out his chest a little. “Did you just call me scrawny?”
“We’ve got to go, Alex,” the girl says, tugging insistently on his sleeve, “Now!”
He allows himself to be pulled from the bar. She doesn’t let go until they’re two blocks away and then she drops it like it was on fire. “What the hell were you doing in there? Trying to get yourself killed? He had about a hundred pounds on you!”
“So,” he says, for some unknown reason feeling deliriously happy, “you calling me scrawny as well?”
“No!” she snaps. “I’m calling you an idiot.”
“You try spending your life as the undersized punching bag in a school full of footballers and see how well you take to being called scrawny,” he retorts, but there’s no venom in his voice, just the sudden, overwhelming desire to make her laugh.
“You’re an idiot,” she repeats, but this time she’s smiling.
“I’m also not called Alex,” he says, “but I’m guessing you already knew that.”
“Oh,” she says sheepishly, “that. I was looking to ditch that guy and I was pretty sure you were there alone, I hope--”
He waves a hand. “Anytime a beautiful female picks me up in a bar is a good night for me,” he says and lights up when she laughs.
“Cordy Deal,” she says, extending a hand.
“Allen Webber,” he replies.
On an impulse, they decide to pool their money and rent an apartment. He tries to caution her about getting too friendly with strange men, but she brushes him off with one of her megawatt grins and says, “Somehow I doubt you’re the dangerous. Strange yes, dangerous, not so much.”
“Maybe I’m the one who should be worried,” he jokes. “You could have picked me up in that bar with an intent to kill.”
“You’re sleeping on the couch,” she says.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“And this is temporary,” she continues. “We’re both new in town. When we get on our feet, it’s goodbye. Off in different directions to live out our lives.”
“Of course,” he says. “Just a couple of complete strangers helping each other out.”
He finds himself slipping into a faint Irish brogue when he’s around her. He has no idea where it came from. He’s never been out of the States before, where he picked it up is a mystery to him.
But it’s there. He can suppress it when he’s concentrating on it, but more often that not, it’s unconscious, like he grew up in Dublin instead of DC.
One day, she asks if he’s British and he finds himself mildly offended that she doesn’t know the difference.
Three months later, they’re both settled and comfortable, but neither has left. Somewhere between the insanity of his old life and the stability of the new, he realizes that he’s home. He finds a job as a computer technician fixing old laptops. She’s an aspiring actress who daylights as a secretary. They eat dinner together more often than not; take out, canned soup or mac and cheese in their cramped kitchen. They trade stories, talk about nothing and everything all at once. He starts to smile more, starts laughing again. He realizes with surprise that he’s happy.
At night, they hit the town because there’s nothing better to do. They make it a point to enter separately. She flirts with everything that moves, always looking for the most handsome, the most wealthy. It doesn’t bother him as much as he thought it might, because no matter how many drinks or how much flirting, they always wound up leaving together, the two of them laugh and joking just like always.
After a while, they start being taken for a couple.
They both deny it, but he really doesn’t mind.
They hardly have anything in common, but somehow it works. She makes fun of his wardrobe. He makes fun of her organization skills. She’s an upper class girl at heart at ease with high society at fancy parties and he prefers back alleys, pubs and darkness. They’d arrived in the city on the same day, but opposite end of the town and somehow, they’d made their way to same bar on the same night. Middle ground.
“Destiny,” he jokes, “the powers-that-be conspiring to get the two of us together.”
“Please tell me you’re joking,” she says, “Next you’ll say we knew each other in a past life.”
“Of course,” he retorts, “the two of us and a vampire with a soul fought the forces of evil.”
“You’re insane,” she says, but she’s laughing.
“Love you too, Princess.”
Opposites attract, fight, tease, but come together invariably in a place called the middle. They’re both happy here.
“It’s haunted,” she tells him. “That hotel over there. I heard a girl talking about it at work.”
It’s almost dark, they are on the street all alone, whispering despite their solitude and for a second, he almost believes it. “Never figured you one for ghost stories.”
She shrugs somewhat sheepishly. “They always felt right to me. Ghost and demons and witches and magic. I mean it would explain a lot. Never seem any reason to doubt them.”
“And I’ve seen less to make me believe,” he mutters, but even as he says it, he remembers his parent’s bloodless corpses and red-eyes staring from the bathroom mirror and he doubts. “Let’s here your story then.”
“Standard stuff, really. Big fight. Lone survivor. Wastes to nothing, blah, blah, blah. Probably looking for an eternal playmate or something.” She gives him a wicked grin. “Want to check it out.”
He hesitates for a long moment because his thoughts don’t make any logical sense. He voices them anyway, voice low and creaky, “It’s not time yet.”
The bar is crowded and noisy, lights flashing, music blaring. He’s lost track of Cordy somewhere in the throng and the thought fills him with an irrational panic. She wouldn’t have left without him. She never leaves without him.
He elbows his way through the crowd of dancers, taking more than a few blows in return as he interrupted various exchanges. He needs to find an exit, fresh air and her, because she left without him and his cell has been silent all night long.
She’s in trouble. He knows it almost intrinsically. She’s in trouble and she’d going to die if he doesn’t do something fast.
The cool night air washes over him like waves on a beach, the entire world quiet, oddly serene when compared to the club’s din. He pauses for a moment, waiting, listening.
And then he hears the scream.
On autopilot now, he wrenches a board from one of the crates lying outside the club and starts to run.
He finds her four blocks away (it will not occur to him until far later to ask himself how he’d heard her), pinned to the wall of a dingy alley by a man that was easily twice his size. “Get your hands off her,” he says and his voice is shaking.
The guy turns away from her, steps towards him and out of the shadows and he gets a look at the face. Its eyes are yellow. Its face is contorted, ridged with gigantic incisors protruding his mouth. Vampire, his mind supplies.
He surprises himself by standing firm, hand clutched around the splintered piece of wood.
“Walk away now,” the thing growls. “Walk away and you just might make it out of this night alive.”
Behind the thing, he sees Cordy slid down the wall, palm pressed to her jugular to stop the blood flow.
“What did you do to her?” he croaks.
“Walk away,” the monster growls.
He reacts on instinct, jerking the splintered piece of wood upright and into the thing’s chest. It looks at him in shock and before he can register what just happens, it explodes into dust. I killed it, he thinks dumbly, I killed it.
The sight of Cordy’s motionless body spurs him into action and runs to her side, cradling her head in his arms. “Wake up, Princess, come on. Stay with me now.”
She has a pulse. Fainter than it should be, but there. He dimly realizes that his hands are smeared with her blood.
“Come on, I need you to wake up.”
Her eyelids flutter a little. “Is he gone?”
Relief washes over him. “Yeah, I took care of it. Try and stay awake, I’ll call for help.”
He fumbles through his jacket for his cell phone, fingers thickly seeking the number 911.
“Doyle,” she mutters.
The name freezes him, finger hovering over the call button. The name is familiar, resonating in some distant part of him that he doesn’t even recognize but…
“That’s not my name,” he replies. “It’s me. It’s Allen.”
“Doyle,” she says again.
He shakes his head and dials.
For weeks after she’s discharged from the hospital, neither mention the incident. They go about their business as if nothing had happen, like they were prepared to let denial morph the whole ordeal into a hazy, ill-formed memory.
But something won’t let him forget. It’s like looking at the world through a new, different lens and the whole thing is in frightenly sharp focus. He starts seeing monsters everywhere. He looks at a man skulking in the shadows and sees vampire reads the obits and finds words like “unexpected” and “ritualistic” and things start falling into place. He runs a nationwide search and comes up with more than three hundred cases of bodies drained of blood in the last year alone.
He should let it go. He should free himself of this obsession before he gets in too deep, but the memory of his parent’s bloodless corpses drive him forward. This new world terrifies him, but he digs deeper into it every day.
“What was it?” Cordy asks on the eight day. “The thing that attacked me.”
He wants to lie to her. Wants to say it was just some jackass, but he sees the bite wounds standing out livid against her pale skin and can’t force the words out. “Vampire,” he says shortly.
She sits down across from him. “That’s what I thought.”
She’s taking this much better than him, with a smile and a nod rather than a crisis that threatened to tear her entire reality apart. She always had been the believer.
“Who’s Doyle?” he blurts suddenly.
She looks up sharply.
“When I found you,” he stammers, trying to explain. “You were out of it with the blood loss and all but… you looked straight at me and called me Doyle.”
“It’s just a name,” she says listlessly. “I’ve never met a Doyle in my life.” She smirks. “You know, it kind of suits you.”
And the funny thing is he can’t disagree.
He’s at work when it ends his career, tinkering around with a dusty old computer, looking for some salvageable parts. A coworker pokes his head into and says, “Hey, Webbs!”
Surprised by the sudden noise and still more than a little skittish from the incident with Cordy more than a week before, he jerks his head towards the noise and inhales a lungful of dust.
And he sneezes.
He doesn’t even notice something’s wrong until Mike starts screaming and even then, he’s not sure what the problem. He pushes his chair back, stands up and takes a step towards him. “Mike, what’sa matter?”
“Where’s Webber?” Mike says, stumbling backwards.
“I’m Webber!” he says. “Allen Webber! Practically my whole life.”
“What have you done with him?”
“Mike, it’s me.”
He follows Mike out of the workroom and into the public and it’s not just Mike screaming anymore.
He glances to the mirror hanging on the far wall.
The red-eyed monster smiles back.
He doesn’t wake up because it’s not a dream. He sprints to his shared apartment and slams the door shut, thankful that Cordy won’t be back for more than an hour. He makes his way to the bathroom and stares at his reflection in the mirror.
He’s him again. The red-eyed demon banished back to whatever depths it had crawled out of (it had crawled out of him hadn’t it?) and he can’t even pretend to ignore it anymore. (He can’t be one of them)
He catalogs his appearance. Two eyes; green, pale, freckled spattered skin, a slightly crooked nose than has been broken at least once, light brown hair that always seems just a little too shaggy. It’s him. He doesn’t have fangs or green skin or spikes protruding from his face. He’s normal.
He looks down and realizes his hands are shaking. It takes all his effort to make them stop. There are faint scars on his hands, burn marks snaking up his forearms. They’ve been there for longer than he can remember.
Not for the first time he wonders where he’d gotten them, why his earlier memories aren’t filled with fire and pain. Why his parents hadn’t been able to give him any answers.
And he remembers the red-eyed monster in the mirror and not for the first time, he wonders if they were really his parents.
He finds the description of the demon in a dusty old occult book buried in the depths of the public library. He reads it eagerly, going over the description four times before he can think enough to process it.
Bracken demon. The description fits. They’re compatible with humans which fits with his whole face flopping charade. This is really happening, he thinks, I should tell Cordy. And right on the heels of that he realizes that, not, he can’t.
He spends a weeks waiting for the other shoe to drop, for him to suddenly turn green in public or to get the sudden uncontrollable urge to kill, crush, destroy.
But he hasn’t changed. As far as he can tell, the only lasting repercussion of his little demon episode has been loosing his job. He still feels like himself. He still feels human.
And from what he understands, he still is human. At least mostly.
“If you’re not going to tell me what’s wrong,” Cordy says one day, “then the least you can do is buy me a drink.”
“But wouldn’t that make this a date?”
She shakes her head. “All right, bad ultimatum. Let’s try this. Tell me what’s wrong or I’ll feed you to my friend the vampire.”
“That’s not funny,” he says.
“Well, you’re being stupid!”
They’re sitting at their usual table sharing a basket of wings in their usual bar. Someone from the next table glances over at them, worried; they don’t usually fight like this. He tries to flash them a grin like there’s nothing wrong when in reality, everything is.
“I lost my job,” he tells her quietly because it’s easier than saying I’m part demon.
“What?” she replies, shocked. “Why?”
He opens his mouth, not quite sure what’s going to come out (he’s sure it will be a lie) but before he can speak something happens.
One second he’s talking to Cordy and the next, his head slams into the table and he’s in a back alleyway and there’s this beautiful little girl of about twelve standing across from him screaming like she’s going to die and then the scene flickers and the same little girl’s on the ground, neck a mess of red as someone shrouded in shadows makes a getaway. And the he sees a hotel (The Hyperion?)
His eyes snap open and he’s back in the bar. Cordy’s got a hand on his arm and another on her cell phone. “I’m fine,” he croaks, even though his head is throbbing.
“I’m calling an ambulance,” she says.
“You’re not,” he says, panic setting in. What he saw, it was going to happen, soon. “You’re coming with me.”
“You just had a seizure,” she says.
“I-” he starts, but can’t finish, “there’s no time. I’ll explain later!” He quite know what’s happening himself. “You’re going to have to trust me.”
“You sure we should be here?” she asks, hesitantly.
“Has it been wrong yet?”
They’re outside the Hyperion Hotel, the sun shining down, scorching his face. It seems too bright for a day like this, a day when he is about to plunge them both into darkness.
“I’m just saying it’s not safe. You don’t have anything to prove.”
She’s right and they both know it. He’s still unsteady from the last fight, right eye practically swollen shut, painful bruises standing out purple on his neck. He’s just a kid, hardly into his twenties, reckless, vengeful, idealistic, with delusions of grandeur he can’t actually hope to fill.
“It’s all right, Princess,” he says, “I’m just the messenger. Give the hero his time and place and move along.”
She nods and presses her lips together and he thinks that she understands this all better than he does, that she knows neither of them are willing to let go of this new life even if he won’t voice it.
“What’s this guy’s name again,” she asked.
“Angel,” he answers. “One of a kind, vampire with a soul.” He smirks. “Be nice.”
She whacks him on the arm and grabs his hand. “We going to go or not?”
“After you, Princess.”
“Do I know you?” the vampire asks after a long moment, an odd sort of nostalgic look on his face.
“Allen Webber,” he says in response and nods to his left. “And this here’s Cordy Deal.” His eyes sparkled. “We’ve been sent. By the Powers That Be.”
The good never truly die, the light endures in the darkness and things always come full circle.
That, after all is the way of the world.