By Carla Kozak
Summary: Angel has been released from Hell and is looking for Buffy.
Part of The View Series
Disclaimer: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and all of its themes and characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox Television and the WB television network. I am merely a BTVS enthusiast who has woven its characters into a story of my own.
Author's Notes: See my previous stories, A View From Below and Who Wants to Live Forever? for more about what Hell was like for Angel, and how he got out.
Angel stayed mostly in shadow, unnoticed amid the lights, jarring music and laughter of the Santa Monica Pier. He was the seeker, and did not wish to be seen.
He was having no luck finding what he was looking for, but that didn't mean he wasn't taking note of everything around him. There was plenty to see. The mix of people on the pier, at night, was always varied and interesting, and mostly young. It was an easy place to blend in and have fun, but from his hidden vantage point, Angel saw things most others missed.
The sad and sorry, the lonely and disenfranchised stood out sharply to him. Not the rebels, with and without causes--they were all too visible. But Angel saw the wasted ones, who couldn't afford metallic or inked body adornments, and who had lost everything but themselves, though their souls and bodies were barely their own. They sold those, in return for food or, more likely, the drugs and alcohol which would make them forget how lost they were. There weren't quite as many now, since the pier had been cleaned up and rebuilt, but there were a few. They were hidden almost as well as Angel, except from those who knew where to look for them. No one else seemed to notice.
Vampires, too, left them alone. They had no longing for that fouled blood. Vampires preferred the healthy and beautiful, with blood that was deliciously rich. Sometimes they picked the ones with such strength and spirit, it seemed a shame to waste them, and so these chosen ones were allowed to join the ranks.
In a perfect world, Angel would not have been observing from the shadows. He would be strolling the pier, laughing, with Buffy on his arm. They would ride the Ferris wheel, looking at the view from the top with joy, and then they'd crowd into the photo booth, Buffy on Angel's lap, for souvenirs of their happy night together. They would be the handsomest couple on the Santa Monica Pier, the pair that everyone else would envy. The ones on whom vampires would gladly draw a bead--except in a perfect world, there would be no vampires.
The world was far from perfect.
Angel thought back on those nights when he had been the one on the prowl, with Darla, or perhaps Drusilla at his side--they had been both the enviable ones all others noticed, and the hunters. He recalled soft spring nights on the Champs Elysees, summers in Monte Carlo, and crisp autumn air on St. Mark's Square--not too close to the Cathedral, of course. Angel was merely thinking, not looking back with longing, though those had been nights he savored. Darla loved the aftermath of earthquakes and other natural disasters, when they could feed with impunity amidst the panic, but Angel--although he'd taken part more than willingly during those times--preferred not sharing the spotlight.
Angel also recalled the other disasters--those brought about by man. The atmosphere was different then; vampires might observe, but they rarely added to the terror, as if there was little room for them amidst the evil already present.
Angel had left Europe before the two World Wars, but he had experienced other conflicts. He had seen the guillotine at work, and some of Napoleon's skirmishes, a few of the pogroms in Russia, and the Ottoman slaughter in Armenia.
Angel's thoughts lingered on the pogroms. Vampires hadn't mixed much with Jews. Perhaps this was because Jews themselves had been wary of strangers, and kept their distance from Gentiles both by habit and preference. Then too there was something about them--even without wearing an obvious symbol, like the Christian cross, they seemed to emit an aura distasteful to vampires.
Angel recalled a young violinist in Vilnius with whom he'd been enamored. He attended every concert in which she played, craving the passion she poured into her instrument. For months, he did not approach her, though he sent her elegant bouquets. The accompanying cards had only a sketch of an angel. He hadn't known why he kept his distance--he told himself he coveted the music as much as its mistress, and sensed that destroying one would end the other. But one night, his desire grew too strong.
He followed her home that night, with his flowers. She answered his knock, and gazed at him coldly, but with fire in her eyes. He remembered that she was wearing emerald green velvet, which set off her dark beauty to perfection.
She stood in her doorway, and said only, "There are many sorts of angels, and some do not sing the praises of God. Thank you for the flowers, but please do not send more." Then she shut the door in his face.
Angel just stood there, still holding the white lilies. There was nothing else he could do, and it was not just her lack of invitation which barred him from her. He had needed to step back after knocking; the door had burned his hand as holy water would have done. He noticed a small silver cylinder, engraved and filigreed, nailed on the door post, and sensed that it was the source of that protective fire.
Angel left Vilnius then, hungry for something more than blood. It was not long before he met another dark beauty, the Gypsy girl whose death brought his soul back to life.
He pondered the Gypsies, and their stores of secret knowledge. Were they similar, in some ways, to all the mysteries the Jews studied in their books and scrolls? Angel realized that had he been more insightful, he might have sensed that, and stayed away from them as well. Jews and Gypsies had been specific victims of Nazi torture and death. What had Hitler been afraid of, Angel wondered, that he was so anxious to destroy them?
A burst of laughter nearby brought him out of his meditation. He had been thousands of miles, and many years away from the Santa Monica Pier. He glanced idly at the source of merriment, two couples looking at the strip of pictures they'd posed for, all crammed into the tiny booth.
But these were not just four anonymous teens, undistinguished from the many others enjoying the pier. Angel knew these four. The tall, dark pair, vividly attractive, were Xander and Cordelia. The other two, shorter, both red-haired--it was Willow, and that guitarist who sometimes played at the Bronze, the one who had been at Buffy's birthday party. What was his name?
"Oz, I hate to say this, but should we be heading home now?" Willow was talking. "I kind of think that if Buffy were in L.A., she wouldn't be hanging out here. I'll bet there are Hemery High kids around, and I think she's staying away from anyone who might know her."
It was all Angel could do, not to spring from the shadows. He wanted to throw his arms around these people, his friends. There had been seven human beings in the past hundred years who had accepted him, cared about him, and four of them were standing six feet from him. And they, too, were searching for Buffy.
Buffy, the missing link. And the main reason why Angel had to stay hidden. She was missing because of him.
"And that includes us," Cordelia was speaking. "If she wanted us to know where she is, we'd know. Her mom and dad told the police and everyone that she's missing. I'm not sure why we think we can find her."
"Because we know her better than they do--and we know that she's not in any of the obvious places," Willow explained patiently.
"But I still think she wants to be gone, or she'd tell us..." Cordelia began again.
"Unless she *can't* tell us," Xander interrupted, with some force. "She might be hurt, you know."
"Yeah, right, the Slayer's hurt," Cordelia snapped.
"Maybe not *hurt* exactly, but she's hurting. I know that," Willow said, "I sense that, somehow. I just hope it's not so bad that she's let down her guard. But we'd better go. We only came here because we figured she still has to slay, and this might be a vamp hangout. No luck, but I'm glad we came. I don't think I've laughed in months. It felt good."
"I'm agreeing with that," Xander concurred. "I feel kind of refreshed and renewed. Okay, Oz, take us back to Kansas. There's no place like home, especially for vampires."
"My van-shaped balloon is tethered in the parking lot," Oz said, "let's go click our heels for Sunnydale."
"I think I picked up some of Buffy's spider sense. I could swear I feel a vampire near by," Willow shuddered.
"All the more reason to get to the van," Cordelia said. "I know you guys like to think big, but face it, even as a team, we're way lame at this game. We're not Buffy."
"Cordy, my queen! You said 'we'!" Xander picked her up and twirled her in an embrace. "You've actually aligned yourself with the lesser beings!"
"Yeah, well, don't dwell on it. I'm still wondering why I'm here with you, except that I really wanted to go to L.A., and my car's in the shop," Cordelia made an elaborate show of straightening her mussed mini-dress, but she let her arm slip around Xander, and he squeezed her shoulders affectionately.
Angel had followed them as far as he dared.
He slipped back into a hiding place, feeling shaken. It hurt that he couldn't connect with Buffy's friends, as he had in the pre-Angelus days--when they had been his friends, too. But he regrouped: What had he learned? Buffy wasn't in Sunnydale, and if she was in L.A., she was well hidden. But there were plenty of places to hide.
As if on cue, a voice came from behind Angel.
"Hey, mister, whatcha looking for? Maybe we can give you what you need."
Angel had good night vision. He saw two kids--skinny, wasted, a boy and a girl--blending into the darkness. They were leaning against each other, as if for support. The boy's teeth were chattering. The girl spoke again.
"You like girls or boys, mister? You can have either of us, for 50 bucks. Or double the money, double the fun."
A line from a Springsteen song played in Angel's head: "and the kids round here look like shadows, always quiet, holding hands." He answered, "Sorry. That's not my thing. And no offense, but looking at you, 'fun' isn't the first word that springs to mind."
"Yeah, well you look like you've been to hell and back," the girl snapped.
Angel's laugh was hollow. "That just about sums it up."
He understood them, though. He'd been at the end of a rope too, more than once.
"You want something to eat?" he asked. "I'll get you some food."
The boy was shaking now, and he coughed. It was the girl who answered again.
"We haven't been keeping food down too well."
"And I guess going home is out of the question?" Angel asked, rhetorically.
"Home?" The boy spoke, in a thin voice. "What's that?"
Another quote came to Angel. "'Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.'"
"Then I guess this is our home," the girl said. "But what's your excuse for being here?"
"I'm looking for someone," Angel said. "But I don't think she's here." He looked at them again. "Hey, I'm in no condition to judge you. I'll give you some money. I'd rather you used it for food, or meds or something, but do whatever you want with it. Get whatever you need."
"What's she look like, mister? We hang here a lot. If she's been by, maybe we saw her."
Angel doubted it, but what did it hurt to tell them? He thought of Buffy.
"She's 17," he said, "small, blonde, with hazel eyes, beautiful. Full of attitude." He smiled at the memory.
"Sounds like Buffy," the boy muttered.
Angel was all attention. "She was here?" he asked, hoping against hope. "When?"
The girl looked at him with dawning comprehension. "We don't keep such good track of time. A few weeks ago, maybe. She was like you," she said. "She didn't belong here, but somehow she fit in. Even though she was different."
"She tried to help us, too," the boy coughed again. "She didn't have much money. But she brought me some soup. And she tried to get me to go to the hospital."
Angel reached over, and put his cool hand on the boy's feverish forehead. "AIDs?" he asked softly.
The boy nodded. "I think I have pneumonia. Or maybe TB."
"They've got drugs for pneumonia and TB," Angel said.
"They'll just make me die slower," the boy shrugged.
"How old are you?" Angel asked.
"Fifteen," he answered. His undersized body made him seem even younger, but his face was ancient. He answered the next question before Angel had to ask it. "I've been on the street for three years."
"I'm sorry," Angel said. The words echoed in his head, sounding even more inadequate.
"It's not your fault. I'm not even sure who to blame any more," the boy spoke as though he'd given up the fight.
Angel looked at the girl. She seemed much the stronger of the two, but he wondered if she was just acting that way to help the boy. She caught his look and seemed to understand it.
"I've still got plenty of people to blame," she grinned. "It keeps me going."
Angel found himself grinning back. "Hey, I won't be hanging around here, bothering you," he said, "but did Buffy say where she was heading? Anything you remember might help me."
The girl shook her head. "She didn't say much of anything. I think she wanted out of L.A. though."
"She said she needed to get off the beaten path," the boy looked up.
"The road not taken..." Angel murmured.
"Huh?" the girl said.
"Sorry," Angel smiled at them again. "I seem to have Frost on my brain." He didn't expect them to get the allusion.
"It's a poem, isn't it?" the girl asked. "I heard it once."
Angel quoted for her:
"'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'"
"I know that road," the girl said. The boy sat down, leaning against a wall, and she pulled a thin, dirty blanket around his shoulders. "I never thought the differences would be good ones, but I didn't think they'd be this bad."
"Would you have been better off taking the other one?" Angel asked.
She shook her head. "No. That's the one thing I'm sure of."
"I guess that's why you understood Buffy--and me," Angel said. "We're a confederacy of those who took that road less traveled."
He slipped some bills into her hand. "I guess I'm about to follow it again," he said. "Take care."
Angel walked away, hoping they would take care, of each other, at least. They didn't say thank you, and he didn't say good-bye. He thought of another lyric from that Springsteen song: "And the poets down here don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be."
Is that what Buffy was trying to do, by taking the less-traveled road? Was she attempting to stay away from pain and danger? She'd tried that before; it never worked. She always rallied, and did her job. Wherever she might go, there would be some sort of monster to fight--and she would always have pain in her heart.
Angel paused to consider just which path Buffy might have followed, in which direction it might lead, and he thought of the nameless two he'd just left behind. A swift stake through the heart wouldn't kill their demons. He thought again of the Gypsies. They had punished him beyond measure, but they'd been powerless against the Nazis, and their remnants were still the victims of hatred and prejudice across Europe.
"I guess we all have to choose our battles, and fight the ones we have a chance to win," he said to himself.
What had Buffy chosen to fight? Willow thought she was hurting; Angel figured that was a given. Had she tried to get as far from Sunnydale as she could?
Angel had to get a clue on where Buffy might be. Travel, for him, was difficult. It had to be done by night, and he'd need a place to hide from the sun by day. Securing a car would be hard, too. He had money, but no documents. There were ways to get fake ones, but Angel didn't have time. That meant finding a hot car, and being extra careful while driving it, so the less aimless traveling he had to do, the better.
But still there was the challenge of finding Buffy, which was like the proverbial needle in the haystack, or scything his way through a dense jungle. Again, Angel focused on what he knew: Buffy wanted to take a different path, to a place where she could be anonymous, as far away from familiarity and memory as possible--but she didn't have much money. So there was only so far she could go, and it had to be a city that was used to transients, yet not one that was too hard on their wallets.
What jungle path would take her to a place both accessible and remote? Angel set his heart and soul in Buffy Mode; he forced himself to think as she would. Like the Slayerettes, he knew her well. And he too felt that, unconsciously perhaps, her slayer sense might lead her to vampires, and Angel knew a thing or two about them.
He closed his eyes, concentrating. Yes. Angel found his direction. He had just enough time before dawn to find a car.
A day of hiding. Angel had tried to rest, but he was churning inside. He was off as soon as the sun set, after one brief but necessary stop at a just-closing Chinese market for a live chicken. Bird blood wasn't his favorite, but it would have to do.
Angel drove as fast as he dared through the night--he didn't want to risk being stopped by cops, or chased trying to evade them. Luck seemed to be on his side this time.
That night and one day later. It was after sunset again. Angel had poked around in the jungle of weirdness and light that rose from the Nevada desert. He'd found places where Buffy had picked up minimum-wage jobs, and out-of-the-way rooming houses she'd stayed in. And then he found her.
She was sitting on the fire escape of what looked like an abandoned building. Just sitting, staring out into the night. She was thinner than he remembered, and far grubbier. Her eyes were huge, and haunted.
Even as he watched, she seemed to tense. She shuddered briefly, and looked around, focusing her gaze in the dark. Angel smiled to himself. Buffy was on guard. Her slayer senses were working.
He couldn't wait any longer; whatever the consequences, he had to make a move.
"Buffy!" He called out softly. The sound of her name seemed to hang on the night air. It had been scarcely louder than a whisper, but she had heard it. She crouched at the iron railing, peering through the bars.
Angel called her name again. He felt absurdly like a third-rate Romeo, looking up at that fire escape balcony--or perhaps the setting was more like West Side Story, the most recent retelling of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers. How ridiculously appropriate, Angel thought. Something in him long to say, "it is the East, and Juliet is the sun," or else sing "Maria." He almost started laughing, and he realized it was from nerves--Angel had stage fright.
And so, as he moved into Buffy's field of vision, he simply said, "It's me."
In a voice as hushed as his had been, and full of doubt, Buffy said, "Angel?"
They looked at each other for what seemed a long time, taking in every nuance of appearance. Then Buffy dropped lightly from the iron stairs and stood only an arm's length away from Angel. She hung her head, as if she couldn't bear to look at him.
"I sent you to Hell," she whispered.
He didn't reach for her--not yet. "I didn't give you much choice," he said.
Buffy continued as if she hadn't heard him. "I loved you, and I sent you to Hell."
"Buffy," Angel asked, almost desperately, "what has your life been like, for all these past months?"
Her eyes lifted then, and met his. "It's been hell," she answered, on a ragged breath.
"I guess we're even," he said.
She was still wary of him. "How did you get out?" she asked.
"Penitence, prayer and the promise of good deeds lessened the severity of the decree," Angel said.
"Huh?" For just an instant, her face took on an expression of befuddled innocence. It was a look from her pre-Angelus days. He realized how much he missed that look, and wondered if he'd ever see it again.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I've read a lot over the past two centuries, and lately I've been spouting some of it. Kind of like a walking book of quotations. That one does pretty much explain why I'm here, though. It's based on a Hebrew prayer. Willow might know it."
"Willow..." Buffy swallowed hard to keep from crying. She was so lonely.
Angel moved a step closer. "She's worried about you, Buffy. They all are. I am, too. That's why I got out--so I could help you."
"Help me?" She echoed his words again, still choking back tears.
"I know how hard it's been," Angel said. "I've seen some of what you've gone through. I've been through it, too."
"Oh, God," Buffy inhaled sharply. "I'll bet you have. It's not just the vampires, is it? I can kill them. It's funny, because I never even thought about them before I learned I was the Slayer. This other stuff...I always knew it was around, but I didn't think of it any more than I thought about vampires. And I can't fight it. I can't do a damned thing to stop it."
"I know," Angel said again. "Vampires are just one aspect of the misery. But you're the only one who can stop them."
"What about the rest of it?" Buffy cried. "What am I going to do?"
He let himself touch her then. He caught hold of her hands.
"Deal with what you know you can, Buffy. Don't think it doesn't help. Do that first, and then we'll think about the rest."
She looked at his hands clasping hers, and then at his face. Angel's face, the one she adored, the one that was burning with love for her.
"I'll help you," he repeated, softly.
"Angel, what are *we* going to do?" she asked.
He knew what she meant. He had to be honest.
"I don't know," he admitted. "But we can't deal with it here. Let me take you home. We'll talk to Giles, and try to figure out our lives."
"Angel," Buffy said, "that night..."
Again, he knew. He touched her cheek.
"The most perfect night of my very long life," Angel told her. "The closest I've ever been to paradise. Don't ever doubt that, Buffy."
She gave him a small, shaky smile.
"Come on," Angel urged her. "We've got a long drive ahead of us, and a lot to talk about on the way."
The smile grew just a little. Buffy's small, strong hand squeezed his.
"Let's go home," she said.
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