"What the hell are you doing?" Cordelia greets me as she comes out into the courtyard of our new base of operations. One thing you can't take away from her; you never have to try to guess what she's thinking.
For example, right now I know she thinks I've lost my mind. I suppose I don't exactly look like the picture people usually conjure up when they think of me. At the moment, I'm on my hands and knees, spading the freshly watered dirt with an old trowel that's been moldering out here for at least a dozen years, if not more. I suppose the plastic nursery packs filled with fragrant little white flowers don't exactly match with my brooding image, either. If she only knew.
"Planting flowers, Cordelia. Why don't you go inside and wait for a client to call? I'll only be a little while," I say. Internally I'm wondering how many times I've had to tell my supposed secretary over the last year that it's her job to answer the phone, but I bite back the words.
I hear her high-heels clacking their way back across the lobby and her mutterings under her breath about me being "terminally bizarre." I wait until the last sounds disappear before I get back to the job at hand. We moved to the Hyperion about three months ago, and all the necessary modifications have been made. The lower level is clean, the phone lines and computers are working, the file cabinets have been set up, and the windows in my rooms have blackout curtains.
Wesley has started to refer to the place as my "residence," and I actually prefer that word to home. This place echoes during the day, and I can smell over fifty years of dust here. Dust is not a comforting scent to any vampire. It gets, well, quite frankly, lonely. Over a hundred rooms and not one human heartbeat, even my own. There's a rather large family of mice living on the fifth floor, and a stray alley cat has been known to show up occasionally (I'll deny the saucer of milk if anyone asks). That's it - that and one old vampire who becomes deeply ashamed of himself when he realizes what exactly it is that he's missing.
I miss my family. Not my human family, you understand. My father and I never did get along, and while little Kathleen crosses my mind fairly often, I'm not Liam and haven't been for almost a quarter of a millennium. No, in spite of the guilt and the pain the soul puts me through, it's the other four that I miss: Darla, with her charming smile and her tiny hands; Penn, my first childe, his gray eyes glittering in amusement by the lamplight; William, and his constant, arrogant bragging that always made me grin behind my hand; and then there was Drusilla.
I told Buffy that Drusilla was the worst thing I ever did, and I meant it. I've been alive a very long time, and for me to say that girl was the sweetest, kindest, gentlest creature I ever met is no small thing. Of course, that was before I broke her mind into bits for the sheer pleasure of it. But it was strange. Something of that goodness clung to her afterwards, though it was changed and perverted.
You must understand that Darla never loved me, and I never loved her. We liked each other well enough. We amused each other. Our temperaments were well suited to one another, but that was where it ended. When push came to shove, we both betrayed one another over and over again to save our own skins. The one time that Darla did come for me, in Rome, I found out later that she'd simply been bored that night and thought a rescue attempt might be entertaining. I recall laughing at that and saying that I was "right well pleased ennui had chosen to attack just then." If either of us had left one morning and disappeared for a few decades at a stretch, the other wouldn't have thought a thing about it. Still, she was my sire. The memories I have of her, while not exactly wholesome, more often than not are tinged with a kind of friendly warmth.
Penn, on the other hand, was the over-achiever of the bunch. He was so bound and determined not to fail his second "father" that he was absolutely frantic to prove himself. But it wasn't love that he had for me. It was a deep desire for acceptance, for praise, for whatever it was his human father refused him in life. It pleased me to no end that I'd picked a childe who excelled at the lessons I taught, and it was nice to have another male around the house. But, in the end, Penn had itchy feet and wandered off. If it hadn't been for the soul, I think I would have kept our appointment to meet in Italy, but his departure had caused me only minor discomfort. His death, though, was remarkably painful to me. It startled me, but I realized that I'd actually missed him.
William was, and remains, a pain. He had reason to be a thorn in my side, truth be told. I couldn't stand him much of the time, but that was later on. At first, he was great fun to be around. He was reckless and daring; he put zest back into our little group along with a taste for the unexpected. It was refreshing. After a while, though, he became increasingly aware of exactly what Drusilla felt for me, and it made him hate me in short order.
He knew that Drusilla actually did love me, and wherever she is, there's no doubt in my mind that she still does. That was the one thing of her humanity that wasn't ripped from her with her soul. I was the center of her world, which made my soulless self annoyed quite a bit in the old days, but it was intriguing, too. Other than my sister, no one had ever truly loved me, certainly not with the strange, burning, almost desperate fervor that Dru did. Darla used to laugh at her for pillowing her head on my knee by the fireside like a child, and William would shoot me dagger looks. If I ever needed to punish her, it was the simplest thing in the world to do. All I did was disappear from her sight for a few days, and by the time I came back, she'd be little more than a shuddering, sobbing wreck on the floor.
Without my soul, I am, as you've probably noticed, not a very nice guy. I was no different when it came to Dru. I used her love to torture her whenever I wanted to. It was just another game. But there were moments when even Angelus lost his perfect cruelty and played along. There were moments when he actually enjoyed being loved. And when I came back to them in China, when her eyes lit up and she threw her arms around my neck and shrieked "Daddy!" over and over again so loudly that I thought I'd go deaf, it was the one moment that felt like coming home.
That's why, when I saw her in Sunnydale for the first time, I just warned her away rather than staking her. When she tied me to the bed the night of her cure and burned me, I could have snapped those ropes at any time. She knew it, too. But I didn't do it. After the hell I'd put her through, she deserved to get a little of her own back, and, while I won't say I was ready to willingly lay down my life to heal her, the thought of her dying almost made me ill myself.
In all my life, there have only been three beings who have loved me. As a reminder of one, I keep a claddaugh ring in the deepest pocket of my leather coat. The face of another, recalled from hundreds of years ago, gazes out at me impishly from a portrait, drawn by my own hand, that rests on my bureau.
But it's for the other, the one no one would understand, that I'm letting the rich, spicy scent of the earth fill my nose as my hands becoming lightly coated in the wet mud. For her, as I did at the old mansion just to see the delight in her eyes at the surprise, and as I'm doing now, I plant jasmine, her favorite. Until that perfume is wafting through the night air, this place just won't be home.