TOMORROW’S GHOSTS

 

Author: Jo
Feedback : Pretty please, whatever you thought of it. It will feed my muse for the next story – honestly.

Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine. If they were, I’d look after them better. No money will ever be made from this fic.
Distribution: The Angel Texts; Dark Star’s Blood Roses Forum; The Angel Elders Mansion; Scribes of Angel
You want it? Really? Gosh. Just tell me where it’s going please.
Spoilers: None
Rating: PG, but if you don’t like Christian religious content being played with, don’t read.
Content: Angel. Buffy. Maybe.
Summary: Why does Angel always have to be Fate’s bitch?

**

I’ve only been in the cemetery for half an hour and already Buffy has found me. She always knows where I am. She’s sitting on top of one of the tombstones, swinging her bare feet around. Her high-heeled sandals lie discarded on the turf. One of them has its heel buried deep in the grass, which is when it came off, and she decided to stay barefoot for a while. I’ve never known how she manages to fight in shoes like that.

It isn’t cold tonight, not by a long chalk, but she’s wearing my old leather jacket. She often wears it, but it still looks almost as good as new. I suspect it’s worn better than me. No, I’m still not ageing. I’m just worn.

“Looking tired tonight, Angel.”

I acknowledge the truth of that with a grunt. I’ve never been much with words; well, I *can* be, but it sometimes isn’t me saying them, and so I can’t trust the words that come out. Least said, soonest mended. Do they still say that, I wonder? So I stick with least said.

She chews her chewing gum and peers around her. It’s a long time since I saw her chew gum, and I wonder why, tonight?

“Seems like forever since we were here together.”

Another grunt from me. We parted a long time ago. I ought to move on, I really did.

She hops off the tombstone and pads around me, her bare feet making the slightest whisper on the mown grass. She’s inspecting me.

“You need to take more care of yourself. You’re definitely looking seedy. Can’t have that. Look at your coat – I can see at least three rips in it.”

I bet she can. Three separate sets of talon marks, three times when something almost got me, but she doesn’t know that, and I’m not going to tell her.

“And you definitely need to get it to a cleaners. Couldn’t you dress better than that for me?”

No, my love. I’ve got nothing else to wear, not even for you.

She takes a sniff.

“Good job vampires don’t have B.O., Angel, but you really need to get that stuff cleaned up. This isn’t like you.”

No, my love, it isn’t. Please don’t ask me why. Please.

Suddenly she turns back to her impaled sandal, and I think that it’s a pity the heel isn’t made of wood. Her heel through my heart would be a mercy, although I can’t tell her that, either. Properly dressed again, she takes her leave for the night.

“I’ll be here tomorrow, Angel, if I can.”

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…. No! I can’t think like that. So, I just grunt, and turn away from her. When I can’t bear it any longer, I turn around, but she is gone.

I take out two vampires and a demon before I decide to call it a night. The demon was old and toothless, but he fell to me anyway. Kill them all. Wasn’t that what I once said? I must keep my vows. Look what has come from not keeping my vows.

Dawn isn’t far away, so I hurry back to my refuge. My lair. I’ve nothing fit to call a home anymore. I’ve run out of money, and that’s why I find myself back here. That’s why I find myself living in a crypt, where the dead, at least, make no demands of me. There are no comforts of any sort in this lair. Leaving aside that I haven’t seemed to earn comforts, I’ve only been back in Sunnydale, although it isn’t called that anymore, for twenty four hours, so it’s just going to be a case of curling up in a corner and waiting for the next fight. And the next.

I’m at the door when Wesley finds me. He, too, always finds me, and he never did have any sense of timing. I pretend I’m just passing by the crypt. I’m far too ashamed to tell him that this is what I’ve been reduced to.

He wants to know what I am doing, why I look so shabby. I manage to persuade him that I’ll see him tomorrow (tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow), and I hurry away. When I creep back, just ahead of the rising sun, he, too, has gone.

I bar the crypt door against the day, and huddle down into a corner. There is no sign of my occupation of this place. I have few possessions, just the clothes I stand up in, really, and the sword that I put down next to where I’m going to sleep. When that sword breaks, or is taken from me, it’ll be tooth and claw. I travel with less baggage now. The bare stone is cold and hard on my flesh. That’s something else I have less of. I know I’m starving, and I’m sure Buffy, or Wesley, or one of the others, will tell me about it, sooner or later, but it won’t make any difference. I don’t eat much at all. A rat, now and then, when I can’t stand the hunger any longer. I won’t starve to death, now, will I? It brings other problems, though.

I tug my shirt out, and inspect the flesh on my belly and chest. I’m much gaunter than I used to be, of course, but I’m not healing well, either. The deep claw marks have been there for a couple of weeks, now. They won’t really heal unless I allow myself to feed. That means killing something, because once I start feeding I won’t be able to stop. I can feel another slew of claw marks on my back, but I can’t see them, and I can do even less about them than I can do about the ones on my belly, so there’s no point in worrying.

I tuck my shirt back in, and spend a little time, here in this almost total darkness, trying to inspect my hands. I seem to spend a lot of time doing that. I spent a long time looking for the blood that I could feel on them, but now I’m looking for something different.

After a while, I take out of my pocket the only other thing I have apart from the clothes I’m wearing and my sword. It’s a book. Oh, not a printed book. They’ve all gone, all the ones I had. It’s a journal of sorts. Not a diary, I couldn’t bear that. An eclectic mix of extracts, bits of texts, things that I remember but no longer own. Things to excoriate my soul. It doesn’t take long to find the passage I want. It’s about tomorrow. I simply can’t bear to read the first two lines, not after seeing Buffy, so I skip those.

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

I wonder, not for the first time, if Macbeth could possibly be right. Life signifies nothing. Everything that I have done, all the evil, the pennyweights of good, do they signify nothing? The lives of all my loved ones? And I wonder, not for the first time, whether I should ask Wesley when next I see him.

I fall into a troubled sleep, and have nightmares about those I love. Nothing new there, then. And the ghosts of the past come to visit, as they do each and every day. I cannot bear it. All this time, and still I have not learned to bear it.

*************

He sits with his bare feet dangling in the stream, thinking about what more he can do. He has laboured so long at his appointed task, and yet it seems no nearer completion. He doesn’t hear the newcomer, but he knows someone is there. A hand drops on to his shoulder.

“Hi, Gabe.”

“Hello, Az. Haven’t seen you around in an age.”

“No. Must be at least an age. Things to do, places to be, you know. The Boss just assigned me back here.”

“You’re here on business then?”

“No! Knew you were here, so I just thought I’d stop by, see how things are.” Az has his fingers crossed behind his back, even as he speaks.

“I’m on vampire watch.” Gabe isn’t sure how much he should say to his old friend…adversary…he’s not sure what to call him. Whatever, they certainly go back a long way. They know each other so well that appellations like friend or adversary no longer apply.

“Ah! Angel.”

“How did you know?”

“Word gets around. How’s he doing?”

“Better than might be expected, but not good. He’s lasted longer than anyone expected. He’s going downhill, now. Personally, I don’t think it’ll be long before he hits the point of no return. He’s almost there – another few days maybe. I’ve got instructions for if that happens…”

Az curses softly under his breath.

“Want to tell me what’s been happening? If you don’t, I’ll understand. I know I’m out of the loop on this.” He’s got his fingers crossed again, although he doesn’t know why he should. Damn it all, someone like him can’t be expected to tell the truth, surely? He sits down next to his friend and dangles his own feet in the stream, feeling the exhilaration of the racing current. He’s really missed this. If things don’t go right, he might never feel this again. But not if he has any say in the matter.

Gabe turns to face him, and sunlight makes the tears sparkle on his cheeks.

“He never has a moment’s peace. He’s been on the receiving end of every dirty trick that anyone seems to know. And it’s gone on for so long. I don’t understand. I truly don’t understand why the Powers would heap all this onto him, when all he’s trying to do is the right thing. It seems so unjust. So unfair. Why would they do it?”

Perhaps against his better judgement, Az tells him.

***********

It’s night again, and I’m out hunting. Times change, things change, but there are always demons to hunt. Faith is coming over the cemetery, towards me. She’s a fairly regular visitor.

“Hi, big boy.”

I give her my trademark grunt. She doesn’t seem offended.

“You aren’t moving so well. Still having trouble with those wounds?”

She seems to know more about me nowadays than Buffy does. I’m not sure why that should be a surprise. After Buffy stayed in Rome, Faith and I spent some time together. It didn’t work, and it didn’t last for long, but it was more than Buffy and I ever had. But it went bad, too. I should have known.

She leans nonchalantly against a tall headstone, a little moue of distaste on her lips.

“Listen, you really gotta do something about yourself. B doesn’t want to see you like this.”

Too bad. This is how it is, now. That’s when the demon hits me, from the back. I should have felt it, I should have scented it. I should have *known*. But I did none of those things. Faith leaps at it, but it bats her away as if she were no more than a shadow. I manage to kill it, but now I have a sword thrust through my gut that will be weeks healing. I take my leave of Faith, because I can feel the urge to feed spiralling out of control. Time for a rat, perhaps. So weak. I’m always so weak.

I don’t leave it at a rat. I really should have, but I told you. Once I start to feed, I can’t control it any more. At least I manage to hold it down to a couple of feral dogs. I disgust myself. It used to be said that the good die young, so that they may not be corrupted, and the evil live on, that they may repent. I have repented. I have repented in every way I can imagine, and it has not been enough. I have surely repented more than any creature on this planet, and I cannot bear it any longer.

When I get back to the crypt, I slip in quickly, before Wes finds me. I spend a little while inspecting my hands again. Sometimes I worry that my nails are getting longer and harder, and I remember Nest and Kakistos. Will I grow to look like them? It’s vanity, of course, perhaps the last piece of hubris left to me. I deserve to have the appearance of what I am. I think that would be too much though, so, every night, I look, just in case.

The nightly inspection over, I sleep once more with the unbearable ghosts of yesterday, and the ghost of Macbeth in my pocket.

**************

“A WA…mmph…?”

Az’s hand is firmly over Gabe’s mouth, until he can trust Gabe to keep quiet. At last, his friend subsides, and Az lets him go. As Gabe opens his mouth to speak, Az puts his finger to his own lips in the universal sign for silence. Gabe mouths the words.

“A WAGER?”

He sits in appalled silence, and it is a long time before he can speak. When he does, it is in a hushed whisper.

“What do you mean, a wager?”

Az stirs the current up a little with his feet, causing a small tide of misery for the unknowing creatures below. At last, he gives a small shrug. He replies in an undertone.

“Well, you know how it goes. Tough guy talk, one thing leads to another, and then it’s game on. Started with one soul bet against another, then it goes to double or quits, and after a whole load of that it’s my apocalypse against your apocalypse. After a while, it got to dominion over universes, and now it’s got as far as cosmic destruction, without let or hindrance. Everybody’s Judgement Day, all at once.”

“Bu…but, I mean, why didn’t I know about this?”

“Guess you’ve been busy here.”

Gabe seems to chew this over, and it looks as if it sticks in his craw. Good, thinks Az. I can work with this.

“But what’s the actual bet? I mean, he’s been tried to the utmost, but I just do as I’m told. I’m just a messenger, you know.” This last is said a little peevishly. Gabe has been a messenger for a long time. He’d expected to have moved on by now.

“Well, I think it’s changed over time, depending on the stage of the wager. It’s down to whether he cracks or not. The latest is that he’ll be driven to suicide before he gets the girl.”

“Oh. Who’s winning?”

“We are, I think. My Boss won the last bet, that he’d weather the problems thrown at him, and I have to say, your Boss did a da..shed fine job of trying to bring him down. Now, your Boss says Angel can stand anything your side can throw at him, and my Boss says he’s had enough, that he’ll dust himself. What do you think?”

“I think you’re winning.”

“Should we go take a closer look?”

“Would it do any good?”

“Don’t be so negative, Gabriel. Surely you’re looking forward to Judgement Day? I know we are.” Az has his fingers crossed again. Who the hell wanted everything to be destroyed? What fun was that? His Boss was seriously worried that he’d win the bet. That’s why he’d sent Az. Gabriel sighed.

“Okay, Azazel, let’s go take a closer look.”

The archangel and the demon slip into the cool jet stream and ride the winds around the Earth.

***********

It’s still the middle of the day when I wake up. I’m stiff, and I have a crick in my neck. Buffy is here. She always finds me. I’d hoped she wouldn’t. Even in the depths of my guilt and repentance, I never believed in sackcloth and ashes. I used to have the best clothes that I could steal. Everything had to be a statement, somehow. More sins. I’ve never been able to stop sinning, even now, when I no longer even know what my latest sins are. My gut hurts, and my shirt is stuck to the half-healed wound. She sees me wince and comes closer. I wonder if she will offer to help, but she doesn’t. I’m glad of that.

She doesn’t say anything, just stands frowning at me, displeased by something. I wonder if she’s possibly displeased that I’m not dead.

When she comes, I always try not to look at her, not to stare, not to want her as I’ve always wanted her, warm and living in my arms. Today though, I look. She doesn’t look any different from the girl I first saw, shining in the sunlight. She looks younger than she has for a long time. Seeing her now, I wonder what was the point of being dragged out of the gutter all those years ago? Without that, I would have been truly dead by now, and I think I should welcome that.

Still she remains silent, inspecting my new accommodations. When she finally turns back to me, reproach is shining from her young-old eyes. She slips from the door, and is gone, lost in a blaze of light, where I cannot follow. Not yet, anyway. I won’t be able to sleep again, so I pull my book from my pocket, and turn to a well-thumbed page.

“Yesterday I loved, today I suffer, tomorrow I die: but I still think fondly, today and tomorrow, of yesterday.”

Lessing, some minor 18th century German playwright, knew a thing or two when he wrote that. He didn’t know enough, though. Yes, I still think fondly of yesterday’s love. How could I not? Despite all my sins and mistakes, despite the wretched outcome for us all, how could I not still love her? As for the rest, better to suffer than to die? Not any more. Not after all this time. Perhaps it’s time for tomorrow.

***********

Gabriel and Azazel ensconce themselves on top of the church tower. It’s the highest point around. Az looks at the town around him, at this not-Sunnydale that the vampire had returned to. There are resemblances to the original Sunnydale, but big differences, too. Everywhere is different, now.

“How long’s it been?”

“Since his soul was stolen from Purgatory by the Kalderash?”

Az nods, and both he and Gabriel shudder at the recollection. The Rom could hardly have expected that particularly piece of insanity to go unnoticed or unpunished. If they had thought that souls whose eventual fate had not been decided were less noticeable, more expendable, than those finally allocated to one place or the other, then they had been much mistaken. The Powers had been definitely pissed off. Both of them.

“Two thousand, four hundred and seventy three years, nineteen days and six hours.”

Az stares moodily at the ground.

“Been a lot of changes since then. Near-Apocalypses, fall of civilizations, that sort of thing.”

“Yes. Big changes.” Gabriel looks wistfully around. “It isn’t the prettiest place on Earth, but it’s a lot better than nothingness. Strange, isn’t it, how whenever civilisation rises again on this continent, they go back to what it was like in the 20th century? I wonder why?”

Because that’s the time I like best, thinks Azazel, and I keep pushing them that way. It’s hard work, too. But he says nothing to Gabe.

“So, can I ask what you’ve been up to with the vampire?”

“Well, I move him around when I’m told to – it was difficult getting him to this new version of Sunnydale, because he really didn’t want to come. It took a couple of car wrecks, a murder hunt, and a bomb on a train.”

“You created a trail of bodies? You?” Az is trying hard not to show his astonishment.

“Ran out of other ideas.”

“Oh.”

“I’ve made sure he meets the girl in every incarnation. The trouble is, he always thinks she isn’t real. I’ve not been able to get them together, ever, since that first time.”

“Why would he think she wasn’t real?”

“Probably because he’s haunted by all of them, all the time.”

“What?”

“Every minute of every day, he’s haunted by the ghosts of the past. That was a standing instruction. He tried to make friends again, you know, a number of times, but none of them had the zing of that first grouping. He hasn’t tried for nearly fifteen hundred years. That first group, they’re the ones he mainly hallucinates. He still thinks that their deaths were his fault. Of course, he thinks the deaths of all the rest were his fault, too… Buffy’s the worst for him, so he gets her most often.”

“He’s been *haunted* by his lost love for over two thousand years? *Two thousand years*? And he hasn’t had a friend in the world for fifteen hundred years?” The poor bugger, he thinks. I’m amazed he’s not banging his head on a padded wall. Or dust. This stops. Now.

Gabe looks shamefaced.

“I just followed orders,” he mutters. Az decides to ignore that.

“Okay, let’s decide how to deal with this. Now.”

“But…but, we’re on *opposite* sides! If what you said is true, I’ve got to make sure he stays alive, and you need to make sure he dusts. And I can’t remember now, am I supposed to keep him away from the girl, this time? Or not?”

Az sighs. Gabe’s a decent enough sort – for an archangel, of course – but he could be a daft old buffer. Why was it that goodness always seemed to reduce the number of brain cells? Perhaps they didn’t have any genes for sneakiness or low cunning. He crosses his fingers again, ready to tell his next lie. His Boss has given him carte blanche to end this game and keep the cosmos intact, but if Gabe gets wind of that, his sense of honour would require him to report back to his own Boss, and then the fat would be in the hellfire. Az hopes the default position isn’t total cosmic annihilation.

“Look, Gabe, I daren’t let anyone on my side hear this, because it isn’t quite in the team spirit, but I really don’t want the world destroyed. What about you?”

Gabe eyes him up warily.

“Well, of course, as you said earlier, we all ought to be looking forward to Judgement Day. You know, fulfilment of all our destinies, and all that.”

He looks around him, and sniffs the breeze, redolent with the scent of citrus. He looks at Az’s innocent-seeming face. Az has never, ever let the cat out of the bag about anything that they’ve talked over between themselves.

“No,” he continues, miserably. “I love this planet in particular. I don’t want nothingness. I’m too old for a new start.”

“So, let’s start to put a little action together. The game ends when he and the girl overcome all and get it together, forever. What have you got planned today?”

Gabe tells him.

************

Buffy’s here again. She’s curled up next to me, and her head is almost touching my shoulder. Almost.

“What are you reading, Angel?”

I show her my page. Hamlet’s musings on death.

“…To die: to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished…”

She doesn’t read it, though. She was never interested in my books. Perhaps, had we had time when she was older, perhaps then she would have been. It never mattered to me though. She gazes up at me, and she looks almost real. Sometimes, I’m afraid for my sanity, because sometimes she looks as if she *is* real. I think I see her walking down a street, or sipping coffee in a coffee house. One time, I thought I saw her leading a mob bent on taking back their town from corrupt warlords. That was during one of the periodic falls of civilization. Those times when she looks real are times when I have to run. So often in the past, I’ve wanted to think that my Buffy had been brought back to life, but she hasn’t, of course. She’s in Heaven, and that’s where she belongs.

Most of the time, seeing the ghosts of yesterday harrows my heart. Not today, though. I’m pleased she’s been to see me so regularly since I got back here. I tried so hard not to come, but everything was against me, as if I was being herded here. But I’m glad to have seen so much of her. Oh, I know she – and the others – are just ghosts, hallucinations, but they are my constant, my only, companions. And now I’ve decided to join them, if I’m allowed. I’ve tried so hard, and I cannot bear to live any longer. So, tonight, I’ll fight my last fight, and then I’ll wait for the sun. I’ll just open myself to the light, and spread myself on it, thinner than the dawn mist. If I’m not allowed to join them, maybe at least I’ll be granted annihilation. Tomorrow, I’ll just be one of tomorrow’s ghosts.

***********

“So, we’re agreed are we? Tomorrow, we make sure that he sees the girl. How old is she now?”

“Fifteen.”

“That will do.”

“Do you think this will work, Az?”

“Absolutely, Gabe.”

“You don’t think we’ll be caught? You know what my Boss does to people who don’t obey?” Gabe shudders, thinking of the aftermath of the last rebellion. Az pats him on the shoulder, despite his own shudder of recollection.

“If anything goes wrong, I’ll say it was all my fault, that I deliberately messed up your meticulous arrangements. He can’t do much worse to me than he’s already done.”

Gabe looks at him gratefully.

“Thank you, my old friend.”

“No problem,” says Az, a little gruffly.

*************

I’ve killed the only demon I could find tonight, and I’m on my way to church. That’s where I’m going to do it, at the Church of Saint Michael. Michael, the warrior archangel. I’ve been a warrior for over two millennia, now. If there is such an archangel, maybe he’ll speak up for me. Besides, the steps face due east.

They still hold the Compline service, where people can go to meditate on, and repent, the small sins of the day. Mine don’t come into that category, but if I sit quietly at the back, perhaps I can make a very private confession. And then, when the church closes, I intend to wait on the steps for the morning’s sunrise. There’s a nice, light breeze tonight. With a bit of luck, they won’t even have to go to the trouble of brushing me away.

*************

“Pssst! She’s here! Quickly!”

At Azazel’s words, Gabriel hurries to the other side of the church tower, to join his partner in crime. He’s shaking a little from the magnitude of what he’s about to do, then he gets a grip on himself and mutters a few words. Being a messenger, he likes to use words to bring things about. The vampire, hurrying along the street towards them, ‘happens’ to glance into a side street, and he freezes like a startled deer. He’s seen the girl, walking towards him.

The demon and the archangel see the emotions play across Angel’s face – fear, love, disbelief, and sheer, naked need. Then he turns away to look in a shop window, leaving plenty of room for her to pass him by, unnoticed.

“Oh no!” Gabe is dismayed. He’s done this so many times, and it has *always* gone wrong. “It’s going to go wrong again! What can we do?”

Az manages to hold in his sigh of frustration, wasting no time reflecting on the archangel’s underused brain cells.

“It’ll be fine this time. You’ve done it just right, I’m sure. Very subtly.”

Surreptitiously, he waggles his fingers. That always works best for him. The girl’s ridiculously high heels catch in a gap in the paving stones just as she draws abreast of the window-shopping vampire. She tips headlong into the dark-coated figure, and the contents of her bag spray across the pavement. As she topples from the broken heel, he instinctively opens his arms for her, and she takes the vampire to the ground, where they sit in an untidy heap, surrounded by lipsticks, compacts, combs, hairbrushes and other girly things. There’s also a small stuffed pig.

There, thinks Az. Deny that, if you can; disbelieve that you just got a warm armful of Buffy.

“Ouch! Oh, will you just look at that! My heel’s broken. And ouch again. I think I broke my ankle.”

She is trying gamely to stand up, but she can’t. The vampire seems stunned. Sinking back to her knees, she puts her hand on his arm.

“Are you okay, mister? You look hurt. I’m sorry, I feel like a complete klutz.”

She pauses, to really look at him.

“Hey, do I know you? My name’s Buffy. Are you sure you’re okay? You look as if you’re having a heart attack…”

And he thinks that he might be, in the loosest sense of the word. When he speaks, his voice is gruff, rusty from disuse. He can’t remember the last time he did anything but grunt. And he can’t seem to get the words past the lump in his chest.

“No… no… I’m… um … fine. Erm… I’m…I’m Angel. Let me see that ankle.”

Gently, he feels the ankle, testing its movement.

“No, I think it’s just twisted. Shall we, erm, shall we get all your stuff off the pavement…”

Angel picks up the stuffed pig, and holds it out to her.

“Oh, poor Mr Gordo! Well, he’ll wash. I seem to have made you all dusty too – they never sweep these streets often enough, do they? And look, I’ve ripped your coat. I’m sorry… We’ve met before, haven’t we? I know we have. Where was it? I’m sorry, I can’t remember…”

He interrupts her, his voice soft with incredulity, with pain, and perhaps with just a little wonder. There’s no room for hope, not yet. Maybe that will come later.

“Don’t worry. Look, let’s get you up and then I can take you to the hospital, have your ankle checked. It’s not far. If I hold on to you, do you think you can walk, erm, hop there?”

The smile she gives him is dazzling.

From his vantage point, Az breathes a sigh of relief, which is cut short by a mild curse from Gabe. Even a mild curse is a surprise, coming from an archangel.

“Oh, fiddle-di-dee.”

When Az turns to look at him, Gabe’s face is ashen.

“I’ve forgotten that wretched curse! That was such a masterstroke, we thought that your Boss would never be able to counter that, but I don’t know of any way to get over that. What are we to do? We’ll all be doomed!”

“Don’t worry, old fellow. We’ll keep watch, and I’m sure we’ll see that everything will be fine. First things first, but I’ve no doubt something will come up.”

Az looks back to the little street scene. The tiny crowd that had gathered is now starting to drift away, as the vampire helps the Slayer-to-be to her feet. He sees the tiny frisson that runs through Angel as he grasps her hand, and Az realises that not only does Angel now know for sure who she was, but he also knows for certain what she will be, and how much help she will need. He won’t abandon her. Across the street, a young, dark-haired woman stands, transfixed. Then she rummages in her bag and pulls out a very, very old photograph. He knows what it shows. Angel. She’s his ace in the hole.

This is what has occupied so much of Az’s time in recent centuries. He’s worked for generations on the remaining members of the Kalderash clan, inflicting them with all the plagues and pestilences he could think of, without actually wiping them out. Boils, hives, diseases of sheep, that sort of thing. Eventually, they took the hint, and went to consult a Sibyl. After she’d eaten the magic mushrooms, he’d sent her the necessary oracular utterance. The Kalderash must right an ancient wrong if the clan are ever to prosper again. It has taken them years to discover what that sin was, and how to fix it, and this young woman is the one chosen to remove the clan’s bad karma. Now she has spied her quarry. Things are really looking up.

Gabriel’s voice comes at his side, anxious.

“You really think we can work it out?”

“I *know* we can. We’ll take suicide watch on him for a bit, though, eh? Constant supervision? Just to be sure?”

Gabriel nods.

“Can we do it together?”

“Sure, old boy, why not. Well done. You really did well this time.”

Together, they sink to street level, and follow the pair, she leaning on his arm, he unable to take his eyes off her, as she hobbles towards her home. She’s declined all his efforts to get her to the hospital. If she thinks it odd that anybody wouldn’t have an autocar in this day and age, she has said nothing. Az feels the gypsy following at a distance, intent on learning about Angel’s habits, the better to complete her task.

The nightwatchman walks down the street, his voice clear above the small sounds of evening.

“Nine of the clock, and all’s right with the world…”

It might well be, thinks the demon. It might well be.

THE END
28 November 2004

Author’s notes

1 In her awesome essay, ‘Idol Reflection’, Kita wrote:

“…the nameless Powers of both good and evil are constantly fighting to have him on their side, his existence and deeds were prophesized by ancients, and the fate of the world occasionally depends on his orgasms.”

Gave me an idea. Why does Angel always have to be Fate’s bitch? And will he get to the end of his tether? Thanks, Kita.


2 The two lines from ‘Macbeth’ that Angel couldn’t bear to read?

“She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word,”

2 Gabriel is, of course, the archangel, the messenger of God.

3 Azazel is a fallen angel. According to some sources Azazel was a leader of the grigori (also known as "watchers"), a grouping amongst the fallen angels. Interestingly, Azazel" is found in the Bible in Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26, but is not listed as an entity or spirit. The word is translated "scapegoat" and simply means "the goat of removal." The scapegoat (the azazel) is sent to wander in the desert, carrying the sins with him while another goat is sacrificed to God.