Work Header

a hat, a coat, a gun

Work Text:

Nothing has ever quite smelled the way LA smells, that would be the first thing he’d tell you. An aftertaste in the back of the throat, like something that used to burn. (And, oh, does he know burning.) The hint of rain that hasn’t, will never, fall, (except for when it does, black shirt stuck to cold skin, skin that can never get colder--), but even if it did, that fire would still smoulder. There are more cars than people in Los Angeles, someone told him once. Gasoline hangs in leaden strips around his fingers, the slide of his cheekbones, on the soles of his shoes, and he can well believe it. LA smells of the sewers he walks in, and of streets that are always gleaming, never clean. It smells of fear and lust and, above all, ambition; falling on the streets like rain, and he (does not) grin, bears it. It smells of the sunshine he’s never walked in, and of dreams that never come to pass. It smells of ice in whisky, red lipstick, and all the flesh that he can do nothing but smell, never touch.

It smells of blood, too, of course. But then, nowhere Angel’s been in the past four hundred years hasn’t, has it now?

There are places that were built so you could come to them with nothing. He’s told himself before that he came here with nothing, but he knows a lie when he tells himself one. Angel has never arrived anywhere with nothing, has dragged his baggage across half of Europe, kicking and screaming and pleading for its life. (Sometimes not so metaphorically.) There’s a voice in the back of his head that tells him truths he doesn’t want to hear, and he hasn’t tried to drown it out since the Boxer Rebellion. So he only owns three shirts. So he’s got nothing but the coat on his back and a spare knife or two. So what if everything stinks of sunshine and he’s not felt daylight on his skin since a field in Ireland, three lifetimes ago.

He came here with nothing. He comes everywhere with nothing, because he doesn’t deserve something. It’s his way.

“I guess someone’s pointed out the irony of it to you before,” says Cordelia, in that tone that means she’s going to do it anyway.

“What,” says Angel, not bothering to make it a question. She’ll answer it whether he wants her to or not, it’s what she does. (What he needs, he does not let himself think.)

“Sunshine State, vampire, come on,” says Cordelia, “I know you aren’t actually this dumb.”

Angel stares back and doesn’t move, because he’s not. He’s not, but here’s the thing: LA is sunny, but there’s not much warmth to be got around here.

Cordelia smiles, and moves, with wary slowness, and puts her hand on top of his. Her skin is warm, and soft, and tan. He still isn’t warm. He doesn’t notice how the pulse beats in her neck; the only warmth he’ll ever be able to buy, at any price. He doesn’t. He doesn’t. He doesn’t--

Of course, he does.

There are things in himself he’s never managed to clean out. (Apart from the obvious. Apart from the other voice, the one the soul only keeps in handcuffs, cannot silence.) His voice, for instance, is only perfect Brooklyn vowels most, not all, of the time. He can’t say his maker’s name without slipping into Irish brogue. It comes through in threats, but never in affection, and his thoughts-- his thoughts have never taken on the New World pronunciation at all. (Make of that what you will.) He’s always had a predilection for leather, no matter how it reacts to the rain. (He thought it never rained in LA. Micro-climate, his ass.) He keeps his knives sharp, and always passes on a gun unless it’s for show-- and he’s always been good at that. There’s an actor in his soul, and when he’s out of it, too. You’re only as frightening as they think you are, there’s only power if you can make it yours. There’s so much in himself that he’s never been able to clean out, and it doesn’t matter that he can’t stand in the sunlight, he’s an LA boy through and through.

It’s the stuff extraneous to him that you should be worrying about, anyway. There’s a flash of bleach-blond lagging behind him, just around that corner. There’s dropped consonants, and swallowed vowels. There’s rivers of blood, and more leather, and another man who goes by one name, and one name only.

“Christ, what a fuckin’ tart you are,” says Spike, staring down a gun barrel, and ah, there it is. The one Angel’s never been able to out-perform. The one who’s always got his number. The one who’s holding the stake.

Speaking of things that burn: it’s in LA for the first time that Spike makes the admission, real smoke curling out of his nostrils, a Malboro Red, half down to the filter between long, bloody fingers.

Jesus,” Spike says, “you think I’m gonna wander off all sad, on my lonesome-like, if you try and lose me a few times? You got another think comin’, Granpda, and make no mistake. Ain’t nothin’ to do ‘round here but follow you and you know it. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I want, Angel, ‘cause that’s the sort of bollocks I’m bloody sick of, comin’ from you. You know. You’ve always--”

“Why do you do it, Spike?” says Angel, the words ripped from his mouth the way they’re always ripped from his mouth, and he could mean a hundred, a thousand, things, but Spike is Spike and he knows what Angel means, even if Angel wishes he didn’t, because the wishes that Angel tends to make in the dark, (and aren’t they always--), well, they don’t tend to come true.

“Take the Lord’s name in vain?” says Spike, his breath white against the black of his coat, and he huffs the laugh that drags Angel back a hundred years and more than a thousand miles, “Why do you think, old man?”

“I think you like the pain,” says Angel, because he remembers the burn of it, the sting of speaking words that demon lips no longer have the grace to carry, of how he never said them, but-- Angelus. Well. Angelus liked the burn as well as Spike did. (Better.)

“Yeah,” says Spike, pushing the cigarette out in his own palm, grinning through it, pushing his own finger into Angel’s chest, digging in, and as Angel sees the reflection of what burns in both of them, that whitehot fire in their chests, blazing in Spike’s eyes, as Spike leans in, close enough to bite, whispers, “Don’t you?”

But there was a time before Spike, and a time before that spark, or, at least, lots of times. Angel came to LA in the rain, with a broken heart and a soul that was singed at the edges. LA was bright, but then it was dark, and Angel liked the neon glow of it, the things that were almost sunlight and almost clean, if you squinted, if you let yourself believe. He liked the solitude, and the lies, and the way that he could walk down alleys and people knew. Humans couldn’t smell like him, but they know the scent of predator because all predators do. (He’s still amazed at how so many humans never need to see the teeth, but even more amazed at how many never seen him coming. Oh, glorious Tinseltown, how it knocks all those defences down.)

Angel came to LA wanting to be on fire, running because all he could do was feel. Angel liked LA because you could be as crazy as you liked, and as lost. Angel came to LA lost. Angel had always, however, been crazy. Angel fell in love with LA because it wanted everything from him, even when he had nothing, because he had nothing. Angel was in love with LA before he’d even noticed, before he’d ever saved a life, before he even knew it at all.

Then Cordy smiled at him, in a room full of people and a heart that didn’t beat skipped one, anyway. Because that’s LA for you, Angel was yet to learn. All you can do is burn.

If Angel came to LA wanting fire, then Wesley came seeking it. A boy who never became a man, a boy who became nothing at all. A man without a calling, a head full of terror and Latin and his father’s disappointment. Wesley who held a gun like it was a polite suggestion, Wesley whose voice shook when he gave commands. Wesley who bartered and badgered, who ducked and dived and ran. Wesley came to LA, and Wesley was Peter Pan. But came is a verb of the past tense, and Wesley, Wesley stayed.

“Put the knife down or I’ll shoot your wife in the kneecaps,” says Wesley, shotgun steady in his hands, leather at his throat hiding a scar that everybody knows about, but no one ever mentions, and his voice doesn’t waver. Angel stands behind him, knife in his hand, and knows it’s because Wesley doesn’t lie. He’ll shoot her, and then, when he’s done it, he’ll shoot her again. It’s all in the numbers, and a hundred will die if they don’t get what they need. Wesley sees people, but he also sees numbers, and he’ll shoot her. He’ll kill her, if he has to. Wesley has roots in LA, but it works both ways.

“Bloody glad I didn’t have to,” says Wesley, after, as Angel drives down Sunset Boulevard, and knows Wesley still isn’t lying.

“But you would’ve, if you had to,” says Angel, and Wesley frowns like he’s being stupid. (Which is, let’s face it, something most people must seem, to Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.)

“Of course I would,” says Wesley, his eyes wide, “she made her choice. It’s hardly my fault if she made the wrong one. Haven’t you heard, old boy? Chivalry is dead.”

“Yeah, I heard,” says Angel, and puts his foot down. He’s long past being afraid of what Wesley is capable of, or so he tells himself, from time to time. He knows what Wesley is. Wesley put down roots in LA, but it works both ways.

Wesley flips the radio on, and as Johnny Cash streams out into the night air, Angel releases a breath he never needed to take, and knows. LA put down roots in Wesley, and it’s never letting go.

It’s the hotel, of course. The hotel is where LA is, is LA. It had already been LA for him, another lifetime ago, when he’d worn his hair slicked back and suspenders that he’d stolen from a vampire, right before he’d dusted him. The Hyperion is faded glamour and dark corners, literal ghosts and actual demons. It’s business cards with a wonky angel printed on them, and if home is where the heart is, well, Angel’s certainly bled a lot on that lobby floor. It’s drinking whisky that’ll never keep him drunk, blondes who want him to save them, and the family he’s built for himself-- with occasional visits from the family he made, and the family that made him. (And isn’t that a lot of blondes?) It’s the corridors where his son cried, and the same corridors where his son tried to kill him. It’s the bedroom that he’s mourned in, and Cordy’s smile in the early evening, when he shuffles downstairs and tries to pretend that he’s a champion, and not just a guy who’s done his shirt buttons up wrong. It’s life, his life, and what’s a hotel but a city in miniature, a little version of this city who haunts his dreams and lets him haunt its nights?

Hyperion to a satyr, yeah. He’s heard the joke before. It’s still not funny.

Here are the things that surprised Angel about the city that bears his name: how easy it is to buy blood there. (You’d think, eventually, that he’d stop being shocked about that, but he never is.) How his leather duster doesn’t make people stare, but in that arena, he should’ve known better; LA people understand the value of a good front. How its impact never lessens, how those lights never quite seem to dim. How the people might be beautiful, but heroin makes everyone ugly. (Okay, so maybe that one wasn’t that much of a surprise.) How he never seems to run out of cases to be on, even when no one’s paying him, even when he hasn’t drank in a week and is so far past starving he can hardly see straight. (This happens a lot. He never tells Cordy. Sometimes he gives himself away to Wes, but that’s Wes. If Wes didn’t know from the age of ten what made a vampire weak, Wes would have had a lot more beatings.)

But mostly, what surprises him the most is that it never feels alien, and it never feels wrong.

“You’re older than this city,” says Wesley, one night, as prosaically as Wes is ever able to say anything, “and you believe in such a thing as fate. Has it ever occured to you that those two concepts may, as it were, be connected?”

He hadn’t. But there’s a prophecy with what might be his name written in the first line, blurry and indistinct, and he hadn’t thought of it, but, hell, he knows this (his) city, and not reading between the lines is no excuse. He should have thought of it, because LA’s clearly thought of him.

“What bollocks is this?” says Spike, frowning at the faded wallpaper, the first time he visits LA, (and isn’t trying to kill anyone, or, at least, anyone specific), and Angel narrows his eyes, says, “Where’s Dru, Spike?”

Spike slumps back in his seat in Angel’s office, his legs spread wide, says, “Dumped me, didn’t she? Not evil enough for her, apparently. I ask you, how many nuns does a bloke gotta kill before the bint’s impressed, eh?”

“A lot, I should imagine,” says Angel, his eyes narrowed, because Spike knows exactly what he’s doing, with the nuns, and Spike knows Angel knows it, too.

“Well, here I am,” says Spike, inspecting one black-nailed hand, “and I ain’t even killed anybody yet, so you can get your knickers out of that particular bunch that I know they’re in, we don’t have to fight unless you want to.”

“Let me guess,” says Angel, dryly, “you want to?”

“We’ve met, right?” says Spike, but there’s an aggression in his eyes that Angel’s seen before, and it usually followed his own hands on Dru, looks much too like Spike’s bitter frustration that Dru will always love her Daddy, and welcome his hands on her, too.

“I’m taking you out of here before my employees get back,” says Angel, his hand fisting into Spike’s collar, and Spike grins, says, “Ashamed of me, are you? Colour me incandescently surprised. Can we go somewhere with kittens?”

“No,” says Angel, slipping a knife into his boot, “and shut up.”

Here’s perhaps the most surprising thing about LA so far: Spike does.

Dru’s not the only one who enjoys her Daddy’s hands on her, and Spike isn’t the only one who’s lost someone. Rain is good for hiding in, and the dark is where they go through the motions of breathing, after all. An alleyway is more than good enough, because this isn’t something to glory in, but Angel only breaks one of his ribs, because, out of the two of them, he’s the only one who knows how to use kindness as a weapon. Spike shuts up because he’s learnt some lessons, (if not enough), and Angel is silent because Angelus was the talker. Spike smooths down his hair, after, bottle-blond shining in the dark, the only thing that is. There’s blood shining on his lip, because Angel let his teeth slide out, but only graze. There’s a puncture wound in Angel’s neck, because Spike has never quite been a master of restraint. (Later, Angel makes it look like something else.) They don’t say goodbye because they don’t need to, they’re them, there’s no such thing. They don’t say goodbye, and next sundown, Spike’s gone. Angel doesn’t miss him, but then, there’s not much to miss. Spike’s the bad penny of Angel’s life, and he’ll be back. LA will drag him back, even if Angel doesn’t. There’s a pattern to these things, and Angel closes his curtains to the sunrise, digs his fingers into a bitemark, forces himself to feel nothing, because nothing is all there is. (Isn’t there?)

“I’m so glad I moved here,” says Cordelia, in that way where she wants to be sarcastic but it comes out sincere.

Angel takes another deep breath that he doesn’t need, sips his blood, says, “Yeah, me too.”

He walks her to her car, even if she tells him a dozen times that he doesn’t need to, (she never believes him, but it is entirely for his own peace of mind), and then tries to jostle Wesley into going home and fails. (“This treatise is fascinating, Angel, if I can only work out this verb that was corrupted when it was translated from Sumerian into Greek I’ll be able to raise fire by clicking my fingers!”)

He opens his curtains, knowing full well that he’ll have to close them before he goes to sleep, or he won’t wake up at all. He sits on the bed and just looks, knowing that each light is least one person, knowing that at least ten people will die tonight that he was never going to be able to save. LA is only beautiful at a distance, but sometimes it’s the sort of distance that you can only see from inside. He’s never looked good in neon lighting, but, hey, it’s better than no light at all. He saves some people, and maybe that’s enough. He gets something flickering in those dark corners, and it’s better than nothing at all. He closes his curtains, and slides off his shoes, and doesn’t delude himself. He’s the only angel in this city, and his halo’s pretty filthy. LA’ll forgive him, though. It’s not like it can throw stones.

He closes his eyes, but doesn’t shut off the light. He likes to sleep with it on. No, he doesn’t want to think about what it means. He’s the only angel in a city that wears his name like a stolen trench-coat, he’s allowed to like what he can steal right back, and if he’s found something he doesn’t have to steal, well. Welcome to LA. Even the things that are yours, you have to steal them first.

What came first, thinks Angel, the chicken or the egg, and rolls over. Here’s the first thing he learnt when he got to this dirty, beautiful, shithole of a city: it doesn’t matter. It’s not only his name that makes him belong, because LA? Was never his, always owned him, always waiting. After all, he thinks, drifting, before he falls asleep, what’s better than a city that stole you?