A/N: This fic is a scene stealer, so there is a good bit of dialogue taken from the episode, in addition to numerous references to events in the first and second seasons of AtS. In episode 1x15 “The Prodigal,” Kate refers to demons as “evil evil-things.” A hearty thanks to
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No profit is gained from my writerly endeavors and no copyright infringement is intended.
Clarity can be a beautiful thing. It brings direction and purpose, generates drive and passion. But clarity’s not always easy to come by, and sometimes the road to enlightenment can be a rough one. Looking back at the last few months, there are more than a few steps along the way that Angel wishes he could have skipped altogether. Aiding and abetting murder is one; dismissing his team and his friends is another.
His entanglement with Wolfram & Hart, not to mention their bullpen of lawyers, had taught him some pretty important lessons, and left a few respectable bruises. His knitting ribs could attest to that. Didn’t think Lindsey had it in him.
Galloping in like a one man-cavalry last night reignited the dying embers that had fueled his first year in Los Angeles. He had a new life, his own crew, and all of it had been derailed by a bunch of suits and the promise of a woman.
A stroll in the Hyperion’s garden lets him gather his thoughts, and makes him aware just how silent the old hotel has become without Angel Investigations. The fight moved on while he wasn’t looking, and he’s still playing catch up.
“Strong, silent type who likes the smell of jasmine. The surprises just keep on coming with you.”
Angel turns to see Kate coming up the walkway, her hair pulled back, makeup applied, seemingly in control of the life that was almost lost if she hadn’t made the call and he hadn’t gotten to her in time.
Drawing back from the shrubbery, he lets the blossom he was holding drop back into its net of foliage.
“When you have over 200 years of unlife to live, you start to pick up hobbies.”
“And gardening is one of them?”
Hands in pockets, he turns to sit on a bench in the courtyard. “Not really. But I knew a woman who loved them.” He leaves out the part that she was Darla’s homicidal playmate. “Her appreciation rubbed off on me.”
“Ah.” Kate’s off-hand acknowledgement brings her a few steps closer, so that she’s standing right in front of him, waiting. Worrying the sharp edge of a key in his pocket, he knows without seeing them that his hands are busted from the fight. Hers, on the other hand, are smooth and unblemished where they hold the strap of her bag.
“You’re looking better,” he says.
It’s not an invitation, but Kate takes it as one and sits, dropping the purse between her feet. She’s composed now, but he wonders how hard it was for her to find the courage to come here. In those tense and fitful moments when she came to, she was defenseless and weak in his arms. He knows that weakness is not an easy thing to have someone witness. Not for Kate, not for a cop.
“I was shaken up. It took me some time to adjust… to get my head straightened.”
He understands how the search for meaning can spur you to look for it in all the wrong places. It all depends on who you are and where you look, but pills and a vodka bottle are no more effective than escaping into a demon’s darkness.
As soon as he catches her in his peripheral vision, she leans forward earnestly.
“Can we talk?”
The dab of rouge she’s colored her cheeks with doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s not a shade she wears often, and it gives her a faint, bashful blush. When he found her earlier, she was close to death, a grayish pallor spreading across her lips. But she’s shunted that away and covered it up.
“I thought you didn’t want to see me.” He had taken her harsh dismissal as final. Some people don’t want to be saved. Others just need to be shown that life is worth living. He was hoping that Kate would be the latter.
"I feel like such an idiot.”
"A lot of that going around,” Angel admits, taking stock of all the poor choices he’s made in the last few months. Ingratiating is in store, maybe even groveling, to work off his veritable leaning tower of debt to the colleagues he left high and dry.
"I just couldn't... My whole life has been about being a cop. If I'm not part of the force it's like nothing I do means anything."
And there it is again, the thing about meaning. Turning to Kate, his face bruised, Angel’s answer is simple. "It doesn't."
"Mean anything. In the greater scheme or the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win." It only took him one hundred years to figure that one out.
"You seem kind of chipper about that," she says with some surprise, her lips quirking up in a tiny smile.
"Well, I guess I kinda - worked it out. If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. ’Cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today. I fought for so long. For redemption, for a reward - finally just to beat the other guy, but... I never got it."
"And now you do?"
"Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world."
She’s quiet beside him, pensive and thoughtful as she takes in what he says. When he gets to the part about kindness, her eyes shy down, that tentative, hopeful smile appearing again.
"Yikes. It sounds like you had an epiphany."
"I keep saying that,” he laughs, looking her way. “But nobody's listening."
"Well, I'm pretty much convinced, since I'm alive to be convinced." It’s easier this way, she realizes, airing out all that’s come and gone between them. When she looks at him now, she doesn’t feel that fission of hate. Kindness… she should try to make more room for it in her life.
"You know you don't have to be a cop to be..." Angel adds quickly.
"I'm okay,” she reassures him, adamant and more in control than she’s felt in months. “Anyway, I'm not headed towards another pillathon. I'm very grateful.” She lets the words sink in, wash over him. He’s told her he lost faith, couldn’t find the great reward, so maybe her thanks is enough. Maybe it will make the smallest amount of difference.
“I never thought you'd come for me, but... I got cut a huge break and I believe...” She pauses, looking heavenward, searching for the words. She’s only just come to this now, after all this time, and she wants to get her feelings across.
“I don't know what I believe,” she says, her eyes meeting his, “but I… have faith. I think maybe we're not alone in this."
Alone. That’s all they’ve been – how he’s been – lately. Isolated.
"Why?" he murmurs, waiting for the answer that will illuminate everything for him.
Sitting up straight, Kate’s words are pointed. Simple but true, they are an unintentional benediction of hope. "Because I never invited you in."
Something passes between them then, a flint of hope, the smallest of flames just catching. Angel turns to her slowly, astonished.
“I don’t know if there are flukes – vampires walking into the sun and not bursting into flame, or looking into mirrors and suddenly having a reflection – but it has to mean something. We don’t all get second chances. And I wouldn’t have without you.”
Her gaze is deep, searching. It’s hard making sense of this life, so she takes baby steps instead.
“I thought you should have this.” In her hand is a manila envelope. She hands it to him, and he turns it over.
“What’s in it?”
“Confidential police documents on your favorite law firm.” Reaching in, he thumbs through the contents, his eyes skimming the files.
“Let’s take this inside.”
They move into the lobby, her thready pulse a backdrop to his silent perusal of what she’s brought him.
“There’s a lot there. Facts struck from the record. Deals made. A partial client list. It might help. Maybe something will stick.”
“How did you get this?”
“Internal records.” She smirks. “I had to hand in my badge, but they didn’t say anything about my keys.”
Looking at Kate from across the few feet separating them, he wonders about their part in the greater scheme of things. He had said to Darla that he thought if he could save her, that he could somehow save himself. Standing here with Kate, he realizes that he might not have been wrong after all. Darla just hadn’t been the one in need of saving.
“Would you like – ”
“I came here to say –”
They talk at once, and both fall quiet.
“Go ahead,” Angel whispers.
The silence stretches, seconds ticking by as Kate watches him, and waits.
“This is goodbye,” she says, at last.
“Like you said, gotta find a greater purpose.”
“Where will you go?”
“Houston. My cousin is there with her kids. I should try and reconnect, deal with my family stuff. With Dad gone, being here, it’s just…”
Haunting. She doesn’t need to say it for him to know. Dogged by the legacy of a father, a failed shared career, a grave and a man she can’t put to rest, he has no trouble seeing why she needs to go. He’s made a vocation of running from ghosts and a spotted past. Every fight won and life saved proves his father’s prophetic words wrong – he will amount to something.
Kate has been an innocent in all this, and the twinge of guilt that followed him from Sunnydale grabs him now. He caught a lucky break, was given a chance to reinvent himself, but she deserves better. She deserves normal. No amount of mystery or ambiguity on his part was able to shield her from the truth. If only he had been able to keep the wool over her eyes…
“I’m taking the train out tomorrow. I’ve already shipped some of my stuff.” She purses her lips, hesitant, but relaxes them when she realizes there’s nothing else to say.
“I’m sorry to see you go,” Angel says truthfully. She’s yet another warrior sent to the grist mill, chewed up and spit out. Good thing she’s fortified with steel.
Kate shifts, followed by a small nod. “That’s more than I’ve gotten from anyone else.” Slinging her bag over her shoulder, she turns and marches across the marble floor. There’s a finality to her step, closure in her walk. Their door’s about to close and it spurs Angel to action. He calls her back. This is the last chance he has.
In a flash he’s in front of her again, his hand curling gently around her wrist. She looks at him, confused, her heart speeding up with unknown anticipation. Holding her hand in his, he presses a business card into her palm, his fingers brushing hers to seal them tight over the small piece of paper.
“Stay in touch,” he whispers, a gaze meant just for her peeking through his downcast lashes. He knows too well how easily one can fall out with another. Fighting alongside Wes and Gunn and Cordy last night opened him up to a loss that he hadn’t known he felt. He needed them, and he had just walked away. He had walked away from Sunnydale when things got rough, turned his back on a possible love. Drowning in Darla, in the pool of dark despair he found himself in with her, he realized that his curse isn’t the belabored moment of happiness. It’s not being able to connect with those around him.
With their touch still lingering, Kate looks down at the card, at his hand holding hers. When their eyes meet, she remembers their embrace all those months ago.
“Fuck it…” she mutters and tilts her head up so that her lips close over his in a heated kiss. There is a moment of hesitation, and then he responds, a possessive hand wrapping around the small of her back to drag her close. He didn’t want to assume, didn’t want to push. But her tongue leaves no ambiguity, so he sheds his sense of propriety like a wet dog shaking off rain water, fast and brusque. The imminence of her departure brings his unearthed yearning for her to the surface, each kiss excavating the hidden thicket of longing that he squirreled away. Pushing her bag off of her shoulder, he takes because she wants, and immerses himself in satisfying his craving.
Their lips meet in quick jabs, pecking at each other hungrily, but with underlying reserve because in many ways they are still strangers and she can’t stand the idea of playing the helpless, love-struck damsel. It’s been a long time for her, though, and all the suppressed need that she’s bottled up since the sensitivity training urges her to open her mouth wider against his. His lips are cool and dry, and she sucks at them gently to work up some moisture because her whole life is about chafing and fighting and right now giving is the only thing on her mind.
With her arms linked beneath his armpits, she feels the faint ripple of his shoulder blades beneath her palms as his hands come up to skim along her torso. Each steady press of his fingers coaxes pants from her, breathy and hot so that her breath dots his face with warm patches of heat. A tug has her flush against him, belly pressed to his, breasts grazing the cotton of his shirt when his hands latch flat to the small of her back to keep her steady. She stumbles sideways, her knees loose, and he bolsters her like he did in the shower, holding her up while she drowned.
Cracking her eyes open, she sees that his are closed, a one-eyed Cyclops in her too-close field of vision. Their lips pop and slide, the noises of their kisses urging her onward because it’s the first real and authentic sound she’s heard all night. Her hands rub a line across his belly up under his shirt, and his skin is smooth except for the swells from his sledgehammer encounter that created small hills along the landscape of his chest and abdomen.
When he first met her at the club two autumns back, he had felt a connection, tapped into her solemn lonesomeness and fraying anger. They’re alike in many ways, so having her against him with her need and fierceness and desire unleashed makes him acutely aware of his own hunger. He forgets what it’s like to have a human woman full of unfulfilled passions in his arms, unjaded by the simplest touch and brush of his lips. In Sunnydale, it was innocent eagerness, the blossoming of newfound sexuality. Then there was Faith, who kissed with a purpose, a haughty knowing skill. He’s relieved that he doesn’t see Darla’s wicked smile staring up through her eyes. His sire’s cruel intent flashed full throttle only the night before when she sat riding his cock to exhaustion.
Right now there is Kate, who wants to be held and loved, and as much as she’s sought it, it’s been denied her at every turn. Her kisses are raw and uncensored, manically spilling across his lips because intimacy comes with a price and she never did manage to earn enough credit to have her father’s love.
His eyes flick down to her, a tiny whimper catching his attention when she clutches his shirt and moans quietly. The sound appeals to his baser urges, and his cock rises to attention in response. Fingers in her hair, he angles her chin up, draws her in, and fulfills her hushed, but no less urgent plea to be consumed and seen and known. It’s always about goodbyes, so he makes it a memorable one, the hot press of lips causing her blood to run quicker. His regret comes to her encoded in their kisses, shallow thrusts of his tongue a stylus for his longhand recollection of every missed opportunity and unseized moment. Pulling him down closer, her palm worries the short hair on the nape of his neck, and his lips skim her cheek, her brow, her ear. Her breath saws the air and catches when the tips of his fingers graze her breast on its descent to her waist.
As he traces down the sinews of her neck, she throws her head back with a throaty groan. She feels like an etch-a-sketch, curly-cue lines of arousal zig-zagging their way across her body to meet at her pulse points, the biggest one of all a swollen beat between her thighs. Her hand tracks down to his groin, and brushes what it finds there through the material of his pants. When she grips him and squeezes, like her trigger finger on her service revolver, he rumbles against her and laves a trail down to her shoulder, peppering her skin with nips and sucks. Her hips cant forward, her groin brushes the swell in his pants, and a flood of excitement rushes through her and out of her. The saturated slide of her panties against her slit has her quivering, and she’s goaded into softly grinding her pelvis against his thigh. He indulges her whim and sets to bouncing the heel of his foot slowly. The fluctuating pressure he creates between her legs urges her to gyrate harder and groan when her jeans rasp harshly against her clit. This slow-dance of a fuck has his senses on high, and he takes in every nuance he can draw from her. She smells heavily of sex, it blankets her, and with ravenous abandon he starts to dot the other side of her throat with light bites.
She stiffens suddenly, muscles at attention, breath held, when he encounters the raised swell of the bite he gave her. She feels suspended in those seconds of waiting, a rabbit set to flee or fight. The moment his lips brush the healing scar an electric shock zaps through her along with a torrent of sensation that has her adrenaline pumping, heart hammering. Her body screams danger, screams fight, and she listens to those instincts; they’re what’s kept her alive this long. Pressing her hands flat to his chest, she shoves him away and clasps her throat, her eyes wide and bewildered.
And she remembers – this is what she’s been trying to get away from – these evil evil-things. They came and took her father, her job, her naiveté, and she’s been cast adrift because she knows now that monsters are real and she’s cavorted with one of the biggest of them all. Fighting the good fight, seeking redemption for past sins makes hardly any difference. He’s still one of them, and she has to get far, far away.
“What the hell was that?” she demands, her pulse pounding a rapid march under her palm. He hears the thundering of her heart and smells the zesty tang of sex and uncertainty. It inadvertently excites him, and he mentally scolds himself because he should have known. She’s only human.
“Did it hurt?” The question is honest and he doesn’t look guilty exactly, but perhaps sympathetic, like he’s in on the joke and pities her for being so spooked. Her alarm has him on edge, but he’s at a loss about what he can do. It’s what he is, and for all his suppression the fight that’s waged within himself for years has had no clear victor.
He watches Kate’s eyes dart around – the floors, the wall, his face – like she’s looking for an answer, something familiar to calm the insistent hammering in her chest. She takes a steadying breath, lets it out slowly.
“No…” she murmurs, “but it felt like an electric shock. Sharp and fast, like a huge bee sting.” Her hand pulls away from her neck expecting to find blood, but there is none. Just her sweaty palm and the thunderous thud of her pulse in her ears. Will it never calm down?
“Sometimes bites can be sensitive long after they’re given.” He weighs his words carefully, uneasy with giving away more information than necessary. She doesn’t need to know about any of this, so he spares her. “Proximity to the vampire that bites you can set it off.”
He would apologize for it, and maybe that’s what she wants to hear, but the bite saved her life, and for that he will never be sorry.
“Does it go away? Or will I always freak out when a guy gets close to my neck?” She spits the questions at him, shaken and frightened that no matter how far she runs she will never be rid of this and the reminder of what’s out there lurking in the night.
“It’ll fade.” He lies.
She looks him dead in the eyes, thoughtful and cautious. She searches his face, and he knows regret when he sees it.
“You never take the coward’s way out.” Not like me, she thinks. “You don’t run. Maybe… maybe that’s a reward in and of itself.”
She doesn’t realize how wrong she is, but he keeps his peace.
Walking across the lobby, she shoots him a parting glance full of blue eyes and blonde hair. How many times has he been the one to turn away, to leave others standing? He watches her lips part and sucks in a shallow, unneeded breath.
“Goodbye, Angel,” is all she says, with fervent sincerity, and her eyes linger on his for a few seconds before she turns away for good and lets herself out.
When the front door swings shut with a bang, he turns back toward the counter. Kate was wrong about walking away. Without Cordy and Wes, he has shrunken in on himself, turned from the light. Without them, without humanity, he has nothing to guide him. It took a bout of torture for him to admit that he’s been searching for forgiveness. Gathering up his coat, he realizes that the goal is still a work in progress. He hopes that a certain L.A.-based investigative team has an opening for him.
Walking across the hotel’s threshold, Angel fails to realize that left behind on the floor of the Hyperion, crumpled from the force of Kate’s grip, is his business card, stark white against the dark floor.