He’d taken the envelope out of his pocket too many times. It was bent and folded, wrinkled and stained. He held it up to the light bulb of one more tacky lamp in one more orange shag carpeted hotel room and once again tried to read just a single word of the dark shadows of ink.
But it wasn’t his to open.
He stuffed it back in the leather of his coat, cursed and poured another drink. Kept to the curtained dim of the room while the sun made its cross of the sky.
When night came, he drove endless highways. Headlights cut into dark. When the pain allowed he looked at maps, studied newspapers, sometimes surfed the web in libraries long after the patrons were safe in their beds. When it didn’t, he held too tight to the bottle, had to be careful to not break it in his fingers and he chewed on bitter, stolen pills of morphine.
The letter burned when he held it in his fingers. It weighed him down. It was a penance that he never asked for, never accepted. Never wanted. He’d given all that he was. He’d lost everything that truly mattered.
The goal, the finish line, the touchdown … the win. All of it, gone. And the simple fact that he had survived meant nothing. Nothing at all.
He peeled back the bandage under harsh fluorescent light. A groan that turned to a growl as he poured a bottle of hydrogen peroxide mixed with mystical herbs over his chest. His eyes flashed gold and blood swirled with the water that ran from the bathtub’s faucet down the drain.
Who knew a dragon’s bite would be poisonous. That it would hurt so fucking much.
He stood on the porch for hours before finally raising his hand to the door. Dressed in black, only the moonlight pale of his face gave away his presence. Below zero temperature made him stiff. He could be a statue wrapped in leather, his collar up, no breath clouded from his mouth. The cold made the pain in his chest feel like frostbite and knives.
A patch over one eye and the thick sweater didn’t hide his size. The boy had grown into a man.
Angel handed Xander the folded envelope from Spike with deliberate slowness. Having only one eye didn’t shadow the surprise and it didn’t shield Angel from the palpable scorn.
Xander looked at the name written on the paper and shut the door. The brief glimpse of light and the licking dance of warm air disappeared past Angel and he stood, once again, alone in the dark. Angel turned to leave, his purpose fulfilled. He was done, empty. It was over.
Two steps to the sidewalk and Angel heard his name again. Twice now, since the end of time.
Xander stood in the doorway, light spilled around him. His dark brown eye glittered and the back of one hand wiped a cheek.