Marks are not unheard of, but they are rare and there's something of a dark consideration to them.
It suits Liam fine. Father Callahan looks at him twice but says nothing when he happens to stagger into Mass. And there's a bit of fear along with the vitriol in his father's voice; when Liam wants him to shut his mouth, he'll sometimes just shift his shirt aside so the edge of the mark is visible. It signals nothing - there's nothing Liam can do, no powers he can draw on - but he enjoys seeing his father pale and stutter and lose his thoughts for a moment.
“You've the devil in you, boy,” his father bellows one night, overcoming the fear, and Liam tries to pretend it doesn’t hurt more when he's fully sober.
And then he does have the devil in him, and on him.
“Does my boy have a soulmate?” Darla says coyly the first night as she wriggles along his body and tears his shirt apart. “Did I steal you from some poor girl?” She examines the mark more closely, giving him a playful frown. “Or maybe she didn’t like you very much. ‘Yeah, there's a problem.’ Cruel first words for a soulmate.”
He's never heard the term “soulmate” before. Anyone in town who doesn't think about marks with suspicion calls them “sonuachar.” Obviously it can't apply to him anymore, and he didn’t consider it much even when it did, but he doesn't want to give Darla all the power, more reasons to feel superior, regardless.
“Never met her,” he says, eyeing Darla's neckline. “Always been all my own man.”
She laughs richly. “Not anymore,” she whispers and leans down toward him.
“You ever wonder,” asks Spike, “who your bird was s’posed to be?”
“Got all the birds I need.” Angelus claps a hand onto his shoulder, smirking a little at how Spike tenses to avoid flinching.
“Maybe.” Spike shrugs on a new jacket, picking at the seams so it lies straight. “But you ever wonder who that one was supposed to be?” He gestures to the words on Angelus’s chest, framed by the open sides of his shirt and visible even in the room’s dim light.
Angelus shrugs. “Dead a hundred years ago in Ireland, I’d bet.” He finally buttons his shirt, and indifferently adds a coat on top. He wraps an arm around Spike. “The universe made a mistake and I’m stuck with a tattoo I didn’t ask for. Who cares?”
Spike doesn’t look convinced, and he almost asks if Angelus thinks there’s a chance he didn’t miss his person, that she’s still out there, waiting for their words to fall into place. He knows that it can't affect him or Dru, and it certainly makes no difference to Darla, but if he trusted Angelus to be reassuring, he’d ask anyway.
He shrugs instead. “You’re right. Let’s get going. I think the girls will’ve picked out their outfits by now.”
And he steps over the bodies of the men on the floor and leads Angelus out into the hall.
Sometime in 1947, Angel realizes that he’s never actually seen the words that have lived on his chest for his whole life. He’s gotten glimpses in water or windows as a child, but he hadn’t been around a mirror until it was too late for him to use one.
He manages to buy a camera without talking much. Apparently camera salesmen aren’t particularly chatty either. He brings it back to his room, and suddenly wishes he’d talked a little bit more during the purchase: he’s not entirely sure how to work it.
He muddles through, only dropping it twice, and only pulling on one thing he doesn’t think he’s supposed to. Finally he has it aimed. He takes a few, hoping that one will be clear enough, and then he goes over the the Daily Beacon offices. Just as Angel had hoped, the late night photo guy fills up the darkroom with his yawns. He doesn’t even notice that in with the pictures of the latest disasters and political scandals, there’s a series of a man’s bared chest, a phrase lettered small around his heart.
As the sun prepares to rise, Angel stares at the pictures, and for the first time he allows himself to wonder if these words that he can now see so clearly for himself might still hold his future. But how sorry she will be if she ever finds him.
He tears the pictures, and flips a match onto the shreds. He’s always known how he’s been marked. Seeing it for himself hasn’t changed anything.
There is little nutrition in rats. Later, Angel will be surprised that he managed to avoid humans in his weakness and hunger and frenzy. But now, he only wants another mouthful of blood, and a human manages to find him.
She’s an older woman, extremely well-dressed, with silver hair chicly cut at chin-length. Perhaps a human wouldn’t be able to see that at her roots, her hair is just plain gray.
“I’m sorry,” she says, apparently such a habitual smoker that she doesn’t drop her cigarette even as she startles, seeing him hunched at the edge of the alley. “I didn’t realize anyone was out here. I always come out before intermission, to have time and beat the crowds.”
As he focuses for one moment, Angel can hear from inside the sounds of an orchestra playing Puccini. He hadn’t even realized he was in the Theater District.
“Oh, my dear,” says the woman, with a sudden tenderness that surprises Angel. Perhaps she thinks him deranged as well as homeless, in need of medical help. But then she waves a hand toward his chest, partially bared in a torn shirt, and says, “It’s not as bad as this. Look.” She lowers the neck of her blouse slightly. Angel can see the words on her collarbone: ‘One large coffee, please.’
He knows others like him exist, but he doesn’t encounter them often.
“I worked at a cafe for two years and jumped every time someone placed an order,” she says, eyes kind and distant, cigarette forgotten. “I worried that our paths would cross and we wouldn’t realize, or life would get in the way. But I knew him the moment I heard his voice. We were written in stone. And we had three years together before he became ill.” She steps toward him, and with deer-sprung legs he steps away, breath coming fast. Even under the smoky, perfumed scent around her, even protected by skin and veins, he can smell the blood. “Whoever she was, she wouldn’t want you to suffer like this just because she’s gone. You needn’t suffer like this. You can be helped.”
It takes a moment of puzzling past her firm hope for him to realize the mistake she has made. Perhaps when she lost her soulmate, she considered downsliding to something like his homeless helplessness, and so assumes that this is what has happened to him. He doesn’t bother to correct her.
Low voiced, hoarse, Angel indicates her cigarette and says, “You’ve been smoking those a long time. Maybe you’re just waiting for them to do the job for you.”
She’s re-situated her collar, but now she buttons the top of her coat too, fingers stumbling. And yet her voice is strong and pointed as she says, “Maybe. Maybe I’ve been thinking about it through twenty-four years of being alone. But I’ve lived a life in the meantime, and I treasure my memories instead of drowning in them. Can you say the same?”
Angel glances away, knowing she’s right, knowing she’s wrong as well. He has no memories to treasure. He doesn’t think the future was written in stone. He thinks it is inscribed in ice, fooling the eye with solidity until he melted it all away one night in another alley, centuries ago.
He walks away, saying nothing. When he finally eats next, he finds the taste extraordinarily bitter, even for rats.
Even without Whistler’s hints (“This girl’s special. She’s got something you’ve been looking for.”) Angel would know. He thinks of that woman, years ago now. I knew him the moment I heard his voice. He doesn’t even need that. He looks out the car window into the California sun and sees her and knows, certain as starvation, after two hundred years and five thousand miles, how to be found.
He can tell the moment Buffy hears his step. He nearly crosses the street, ready to pretend innocuousness; he’s done it several times before, unready to face her, to face this moment, after so long.
But now he has a message, and a gift, and so he follows her, and loses her. Until she finds him.
They stare at each other for a moment. Angel lies frozen. And suddenly he realizes that he’s never imagined that he would have to speak first. All the possibilities, all that time thinking, wondering, blaming, and he never considered that he might have to start.
“Is there a problem, ma’am?” he comes out with finally, coughing a little, still on the ground.
She sounds alert and startled and distant. “Yeah, there’s a problem.” A sob lives in his chest, hearing her finally say it. And then she adds, “Why are you following me?” The first piece, the first potential of a future.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Angel says gently, “but don’t worry. I don’t bite.” And he lowers his shirt enough for her to see her first words engraved around his heart.
A very soft “oh” comes out of her. She turns restlessly, brings a hand up to her hair, traces her fingers around her own heart, and then turns back to him. “This town really has all the surprises,” she says.
Angel gives himself permission to stand. “Not just this town,” he says. “I’ve been waiting a pretty long time to meet you.”
Expressions flicker across her face - doubt, confusion, shyness, anger, a sparking joy - and he loves each one. Finally she lands on a gentleness, and he loves that most of all. “Do you maybe - Do you want to tell me about it?”
“The story might take a while,” he warns.
Quickly she says, “That’s okay. I want to hear it.”
And so, hand in his pocket holding the box with his carefully selected gift, for the first time, he tells someone what’s happened to him. He begins.