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The P R I S M   S E R I E S : B L A C K (story seven of nine)

Author: Dazzle (RhinestoneDazzle@aol.com)
Rating: PG13
Archive: Wherever you want
Spoilers: Through the ATS third-season episode "Forgiving"
Warnings: None
Summary: In the aftermath of Connor's abduction, Angel is paralyzed by grief, anger, doubt and loss. Seventh in the Prism Series, which follows Cordy and Angel's developing feelings throughout the previous year.
Thanks: To Inamorata for the great beta-read and encouragement
The symbolism of black: fear, anonymity, unhappiness, remorse, anger, mystery, mourning, death

*****

"What the hell are you doing?"

I can hear Gunn yelling at me. I can feel the orderlies pulling me out the door. But it all seems to be happening a long way away.

Somewhere, just outside my body, there's this world with light and sound. In that world, Gunn is shouting for me to stop. Fred is crying behind me. And in front of me -- getting farther and farther away, as if in slow motion -- is Wesley. I see him gasping in his hospital bed, and then I see the door swing shut in front of me, and it's a relief not to see him anymore.

The rage that was powering me fades, replaced by -- nothing.

"Angel, don't, don't, you don't mean it, you know you don't mean it --" That's Fred's voice. Those must be Fred's hands on my shoulders.

"Get him out of here or we're calling the cops." Must be a security guard. If I turned my head a little, I'd see him. I don't turn my head. I stare at the closed door.

"You're not going in there." Gunn grabs my arm and pulls me away. I follow him, Fred stumbling along next to us, as we make our way to the garage. I don't resist.

And then it's darker, and it smells like rubber and oil, and I can see Gunn's truck. "What the hell that was, I don't know," Gunn mutters, the words echoing against the concrete.

"He's upset," Fred says. Her voice is thick with tears. "He's hurting. People do things they don't mean when they're hurting."

"Looked like he meant it to me!"

"Wesley's okay. He's fine. If Angel really meant to k -- to hurt Wesley, you think he couldn't have done it?"

I take a couple steps away from them. At the end of the garage, I can see thin strips of light, bleeding in from the sky above. The light is weak and pale -- the day's overcast, perhaps. But it's enough. As I walk slowly toward it, I hear them arguing. The words bounce off the surface of my mind; they make sense, and yet they mean nothing.

"Goddamn sick thing to do, attack a man lyin' in his hospital bed --"

"Charles -- what happened to Alonna -- if it was somebody's fault, even somebody you loved -- could you swear you wouldn't do the same?"

Fire's not the fastest way to go. It hurts, hurts like hell. I remember the last time sunlight scorched me --

And then I remember it down deep, memory hitting me with sights and smells and sensation just like it was happening now. I was standing in the courtyard, and one hand was on fire, and in the other arm I was holding my son.

I'd burn forever if it meant I could feel his weight in my arms one more time. My son. Connor.

I take another step toward the light --

"Angel! What are you doing?!" Fred half-grabs, half-tackles me; her skinny little body doesn't even seem to have any weight. "Are you trying to go outside? You know you can't?"

"Hey, hey, hey." Gunn gets in front of me, and I have no choice but to meet his eyes. They're dark with pain -- remembered or new -- as he faces me. "Suicide is not an option, bro. I know it's bad --"

"You don't know anything."

"The hell I don't. I mean, I didn't ever -- " He can't finish it. "I know how it is to hurt. I lost my sister, you remember?"

I lost my sister too. And my father, and my mother, and my friends, and Doyle -- and Buffy -- and each one of them tore me to shreds, once I knew what I'd done. Every single one of them a wound I never thought I'd get over. And if they were all restored to me, alive and okay and loving me like nothing ever happened, I'd cast them all down into hell if it meant Connor could be safe.

"Angel, man." Gunn is trying hard to be kind. It's new to him. I can't tell if it fits him well. "You can't do this."

"You can't stop me." I look past him, at the not-so-distant light.

"No, please --" Fred scrambles between me and Gunn, puts her arms around my waist. "Angel -- if you go out there -- what will we tell Cordelia?"

Her name slams into me, and everything that seemed so distant just a minute ago -- the smells, the sensation, the physical pain -- slices through my grief. In one vivid rush, I'm wholly in the real world again. And it's a thousand times worse.

I feel my face contort in agony, and before my eyes blur with tears, I see Gunn and Fred's expressions change from ill-concealed panic to shock and pain. "Oh, God," I choke out. "What will I tell Cordelia?"

My legs give out, and I slump to my knees. Fred wraps her arms around my shoulders; Gunn stands next to us, looming above, a silent guardian. We're huddled together in the garage, three refugees from a better world to which we can never return.

Connor is in a hell dimension. My son is in hell. I remember hell.

"Oh, Angel, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Fred repeats, over and over, as though this were somehow her fault. Gunn doesn't say anything, but I feel his hand touch my shoulder hesitantly. I fight to keep from sobbing, because I think if I start, I won't stop. But the tears keep welling up, streaming down my face, and I don't even feel strong enough to wipe them away.

A woman walks past us, obviously trying very hard not to look. I guess other people have done this. Broken down crying outside hospitals. Sometimes they did it because I killed someone they loved. They felt the way I feel now. This devastation -- this worse-than-nothingness -- this is what I brought to the world for a century.

Did the Powers take my child to show me this? If so, may they rot and perish. Connor wasn't a lesson. He wasn't a tool for my instruction. He was -- his own --

"Come on, Angel." Fred is gentle as she wipes my face for me. "Let's go home --"

"I can't," I whisper through my constricted throat. "Connor -- his stuff is there. His toys." A fun mat that blinks and beeps, and a terry-cloth dog. "His crib."

"Then let's go to my place," Gunn says. "You can hang there long as you want. Let me and Fred get you set up, okay?"

It's a small thing, in a way -- come to my house instead of yours. But Gunn's never invited me there, and though he never said so, I knew it was because he was wisely afraid of Angelus, smart enough not to let a vampire be his friend. I tried to kill his best friend ten minutes ago, but he's making the offer here and now. "Thank you," I manage to say, because I know he deserves that much. "But I can't. I can't be near anybody right now."

Not anybody human.

"We're not leaving you alone," Fred insists.

"I won't," I say. "I won't go outside. I won't -- get hurt." I feel rather than see Fred and Gunn exchange looks. "I won't hurt anyone else." Anyone human.

"You swear, man?" Gunn says. "Don't make us tell Cordelia we lost you too."

I was going to walk out into the light and end everything, and I would have hurt Cordelia. Like the world needs any more pain in it. "No," I murmur. "I'm coming back. I just have to be alone."

Somehow I get to my feet -- how can my body have any strength left in it? I feel like my limbs weigh a thousand pounds. My head is already beginning to hurt, a dull ache that throbs from crown to temples to jaw. But I stumble toward the garage drain, pull up the grid. Metal squeals, and I can see the entrance to the sewer system.

Fred says, "What are you going to do?"

"Some good," I say, and I drop into the mire.

*****

So far as I'd thought about it -- and I hadn't really -- I thought it would take a while for the hunting instincts to claim me. But three steps into the sewer and I smell it: a vampire nest, and not that far away. Of course, of course, near the hospital, near the blood bank, why fight for it when you can steal?

My face shifts and my soul quiets and my body tenses as I cease to be a man. The fangs that spear into my mouth tell me I am again a monster. And a monster has no reason to hope, no reason to grieve, no reason to love. Just the one reason to be. To kill.

I run through the tunnels toward the nest. My feet pound against concrete and metal, so they'll hear me coming. It doesn't matter. I reach into my pocket for the stake I always keep with me. It's sharp and it's strong and it hasn't gone anywhere.

The first vampire runs out to see what's coming. She barely has time to react before I slam the stake into her chest. There's pain and dust and a scream that doesn't last nearly long enough before dissolving into the wind.

"What the hell!?" another vampire sticks his head out, and I grab it and twist savagely. The neck bones break; a human would die instantly, but he just screams -- long and satisfying, this time. I stake him through the back the moment he's done.

"Dammit, get the swords!" another one yells from inside the nest. And on the morning after I lost my son forever, I feel myself starting to grin, because I know how much murder lies ahead.

*****

By the time the blood rush has left me, it's hours later. How many hours, I don't know. Not enough. But one moment I am the killing machine I'm meant to be, and the next --

The next I'm leaning against a sewer wall, the dust of yet another vampire settling in the muck at my feet, and the anger and glee is slowly washing out of me. Low tide. My body no longer feels strong and powerful. It feels exhausted and weak, with the blows dealt by Sahjahn still heavy on my body. My hands are trembling around the sword I claimed from one of my victims. And my unbeating heart still seems to be contracting, over and over, a throb of pain.

A few minutes ago I was the Powers' destroyer. Now I am bent and stooped, a grieving father once again. Before I was savage and mindless. Now I am tired and teary and heartbroken. Before I didn't remember anything of love. Now I do. What is it the Powers want of me? Do they want a killer or a father? They let my child be taken. Maybe that's my answer.

I lift my head slightly, try to get my bearings. I've been running beneath the city for hours and hours -- no telling exactly how many miles I've covered. But I take my time, use my senses and my own familiarity with the city's underbelly, and realize my location. I'm on the outskirts of Silverlake. I'm not far from Cordelia's.

Cordy's not home, of course. She doesn't know anything about this, and she doesn't have to yet. She's the only one still in that better world, where we're all friends who love each other and live together with my baby boy. But I can't deny how much I ache to see her -- just SEE her, not even be seen by her. Just to get a look at her face, to remind myself why I've chosen to go on.

And that's when I hear the thunder.

I find the ladder -- corrugated metal rungs bolted into the cement -- and begin climbing. The manhole cover isn't that far above me; I can tell by the way my footsteps echo off the metal above. I don't see any light.

Instead, as I climb, I feel drops of water begin to spatter on my hands and face. My shirt -- already moist with blood and slime -- starts to feel cooler. There's another crash of thunder, and this time a flicker of light, no doubt cast by a bolt. I reach the top and shove the cover off. And, for the first time in a very long while, I am standing on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon. The sun can't hurt me, because the storm has wiped it away. Mere rain won't make it safe for vampires; light slips in through the clouds, enough to kill, anyway. But the sky is like pitch now, the wind whipping around me in savage gusts. This is the only day that will admit me and allow me to walk in the world.

So I stumble down the sidewalk, unseen. Nobody else is out in this squall. My feet seem to find the path to Cordelia's apartment complex on their own; my body knows the way even when my mind is too exhausted and beaten to think.

I know where Cordelia keeps her spare key, but instead of going after it, I just rest my hands on the door and whisper, "Dennis." A moment later, the door swings open. Cordy's apartment is comfortably untidy, filled with her magazines and her knickknacks. I breathe in deeply, taking in the smells of cocoa butter and herbal shampoo and what's just intrinsically Cordelia. The effect is immediate and complete; I go from isolation and desolation to instantly being surrounded by her. It's as though she appeared out of the ether and embraced me, and for one dazed moment I wonder if she will.

But then, on the faintest breeze of that breath -- there's another scent. Masculine, strong, not entirely human. Groo.

I start to laugh. The sound of it is strange; it's the laugh of hysteria, and I know it, but that doesn't mean I can stop. I fall down onto her sofa, clutching my ribs as I howl with laughter. Groo. She's with Groo. Of course she is. I told her to go away with him, didn't I?

Dennis shuts the door, but he doesn't do anything else while I convulse with laughter. The only other sounds in the world are thunder, lightning and rain.

I gave Cordelia up. Why? Because I knew I couldn't be good for her. I couldn't give her what she really needed -- a man who could be in her life in every way, a lover, and oh God Cordelia deserves a lover, or a hope of a future. Same reason I gave Buffy up, in the end. So I never said anything, never made the move, left Cordelia alone so she could find a good man.

And I gave Connor to Wesley, because I had to learn to trust my friends. I had to stop thinking that the world revolved around me, that I was the only one capable of protecting Connor. My son needed to be a part of the world, and so I let Wesley take him for the night.

I have learned to be a good friend and a good father.

"Haven't I learned a lot?" I choke out. Nobody answers.

But after a few more minutes, Dennis folds something soft around me. At first I think it's a blanket, but then I realize it's an oversized T-shirt -- one of the ones Cordelia sleeps in. It smells more like her than anything else in the apartment; it's soft in my hands. I hold it to my chest and face, and the laughter finally turns into tears. The sobs I'd battled at the hospital take me over, and it seems okay not to fight anymore.

*****

I brace myself for a long time before I finally push open the door.

The Hyperion's lobby is still marred by the pentagram on the floor. But Connor's bassinet, his toys -- they're long gone. I should feel grateful to Gunn and Fred; they took them away for me. But it cuts me all the same.

"Angel?" Fred comes running out from Wesley's -- from the office. "Angel! You're here!" She comes galloping toward me with her arms out, but I shrink back a little; right now touching anyone else would be too much. Fred sees it and stumbles to a halt right in front of me. "We were worried."

What am I supposed to say? I'm fine? I settle for, "I'm back."

Gunn sticks his head out of the office and studies my face for a long minute. Whatever he sees there must be all right, because he says, "You want to go over to my place now?"

I look up. I wonder how many times I carried Connor up and down those stairs. "No," I say. "I'm going to my room." They don't try to stop me as I go.

My room is a blackened husk. I breathe in, hoping -- dreading -- that I'll still be able to smell Connor in there, just a little bit. But there's nothing but charred wood, acrid smoke.

The walls are in shreds. The bed is thick with soot. The rooms that my son and I shared -- for a very short time, the home of a small and strange but happy family -- are destroyed. I'm all that's left. I sit down in the middle of it all, disregarding the ash, the past, the future.

This is where the Powers want me to be. And so this is where I have to stay.

*****

END

Continue on to 'Blue'...

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