Kaleidoscope

 
 

He could hear it in his head, their conversation from so long ago.

“I did a lot of unconscionable things when I became a vampire,” Angel said. He turned back towards her, but couldn’t meet her eyes. “Drusilla was the worst. She was... an obsession of mine. She was pure and sweet and chaste...”

Cordelia’s voice was soft. “And you made her a vampire.”

His was bitter and hard. “First I made her insane.” He met her gaze at last. “Killed everybody she loved. Visited every mental torture on her I could devise.”

Her turn to look away.

“She eventually fled to a convent,” he continued, “and on the day she took her holy orders, I turned her into a demon.”

Angel sat alone in the office of the Bronze. Cordelia had insisted on working at least part of her shift. She needed the distraction; said that going back to the mansion just then would drive her mad. And the look in her eyes had said she didn’t mean it like that, but her mouth wouldn’t utter an apology.

And Angel didn’t think he deserved one.

It had seemed so simple when Whistler had told him, “…you can become someone… someone to be counted.” He had known the risks he would face. He knew his past, and how it haunted him — that’s why he’d lived in one gutter or another for decades.

But he hadn’t known he’d become part of a family, one that didn’t know all that might be in store. He hadn’t known how his past might come to haunt all of them.

He hadn’t known he’d fall in love.

It hadn’t seemed so much to ask, after so much misery. Moments of comfort amidst endless stretches of battle. Those burning dark eyes to gaze into awhile after so much time staring down the dead. A home she filled with real warmth and her unique fire, to return to from the cold and damp of the cemeteries and sewers.

Was it so much to ask?

Then his tortured, twisted ex-lover had come to town, and gone to town, and Angel realized that ninety-five years of wallow and a couple years of penance weren’t nearly payment enough for the things he’d done.

She sent assassins and called down curses upon his friends, all the while hoping to touch the evil in his demon heart, a mirror of the sickness he’d lavished upon her over a century ago. And when he rejected her, Drusilla took his beloved, and measured out her unrequited devotion in the thin white stripes down Cordelia’s back. And worse, in her dying moments, gifted over the nightmare visions that left him sitting alone in this office, and Cordy out at the bar, numbing herself with work to forget, for a few hours at least, just how much his happiness was to ask.

*   *   *   *   *

The back door to the Bronze banged open onto the parking lot, and Ripper and Annie startled from his bike nearby, their moment lost. Matt the bartender emerged whistling, then smiled once he’d spotted the ex-Watcher and… new friend.

“Hey, Ripper,” Matt said, trash bag in hand.

“Hello, Matthew,” Ripper sighed. He straightened, disappointed further when Annie’s hand left his chest. “How is Cordelia?” he asked.

“Oh, uhm, Cordy’s fine,” he nodded his head back towards the doorway, “workin’ her shift again.”

“Well that’s good.”

The bartender shifted uncomfortably under Ripper’s stare. The older man coughed lightly.

“Oh!” he said, finally getting it, and tossed his bag in the dumpster. “I-I’ll, uhm, see you later.”

Ripper nodded, smiling slightly, and the young man hurried back within. Ripper turned back to Annie, but she was looking back at the door, cigarette at her lips again.

“Is that the bartender, Cordelia?” she asked.

“Yes…” He could see she was genuinely concerned. “She’ll be fine,” he reassured her. “She has friends inside.”

Something in her face looked skeptical. “Including the boyfriend?”

“Angel.”

Annie raised her eyebrows, looking back at him. “Angel?” she blew out a cloud of smoke. “Kind of a girly name for a guy that buff.”

“Well,” he smiled inwardly, “no one picks on him, if that’s what you mean.” Then he cocked his head, mock frowning. “Buff, you said? Did you like him?”

“No. Too pale for my taste.” Which he thought was an interesting way to put it. And, he frowned, entirely too perceptive. Who was this girl? He shouldn’t press this. He should just find out information. “So how do your tastes usually run?” (Okay, Rip, not that kind of information.)

Annie cocked her head. “You mean, do I usually go for British bikers in leather?”

He shrugged. “When you’re not going for dark-haired tough girls in leather.”

“It depends on the town,” she smiled.

“So you’re from out of town then?”

Annie nodded.

“Traveling with your friend? To anywhere special?”

She tapped the cigarette filter on her bottom lip. “Listen to you with the Twenty Questions.”

“Curiosity,” he shrugged.

Annie cocked her head. “And if I don’t like a curious man?”

“Have something to hide?” he dipped his head, looking up at her through his lashes.

The girl laughed. “Everybody has something to hide.”

Ripper looked off as a boisterous crowd of partiers drifted through the lot. “They certainly do in Sunnydale.”

“I noticed you have an interesting town,” she said cryptically.

He chuckled. “You have no idea.”

She was silent a moment, watching him. “Well, do you care to share?”

Ripper waved back at the two young ladies from earlier in the evening, greeting him with exuberance from across the lot, even hanging onto some just-for-the-night boyfriends. “What, betray my secret identity right here before my fans?” he grinned, while idly looking at the girls’ partners for vamp sign without success.

“We could try the alley behind the Circle K,” she followed his gaze, “but I think your girls have it covered.”

Ripper looked at her sidelong. “I can think of somewhere better than that.”

She shrugged an acceptance, flicking away her cigarette. Ripper handed her his helmet, which he refused to let her refuse, and climbed astride. She settled behind him as he kicked the motor to life.

Then her hands slid around his waist and under his jacket, and it was enough to keep him warm as they cut through the cool Sunnydale night.

*   *   *   *   *

Xander double-checked the street and all potentially un-living shadows before he exited his jeep and crossed to the little apartment building. That it was better than base housing was about the only thing going for it, but as long as Willow was inside, it was home.

He saw the light under the door as he slipped his key into first the deadbolt, then the knob. He set the odds at fifty-fifty that the bedspread around her would be strewn with texts on demonology
for Ripper, rather than textbooks on biology for class, but at ninety-nine to one that she’d be sleeping, rather than reading.

She was wearing her footy-pajamas, hair strewn about her head where it rested on her arm, face down atop the covers. Xander took the cold cup of tea from the night table into the kitchenette and washed it. Then he turned off her laptop, and started gathering up the books.

“Casey’s Demon Physiology,” he read aloud to himself from the first spine. “I think the house wins that bet.”

Willow stirred just a little bit when he turned her slightly and slipped the covers over her. Clicking off the light and climbing in beside her, he kissed her Titian locks as she cuddled to him in the dark.

“I couldn’t stay awake,” she murmured.

“That’s all right, hon,” he whispered, “you can stay awake for me tomorrow night.”

*   *   *   *   *

The bike rumbled up an alley lined with wooden, unmarked doors. Ripper settled at the last of them, and Annie could see a wide street around the corner of the building as she unstrapped the helmet and pulled it from her head after climbing from behind him. A sign beside a stoplight read “Main”.

She shook out her hair. “What is this, the nickel tour of Sunnydale, starting with your place?”

“Yes. I was thinking of taking you to the Sunnydale Museum next,” he shut off the engine and flicked down the stand, “then possibly the Zoo.” Stepping past her, he slid a key into the lock and opened the door onto a neatly kept kitchen. If he’s a bachelor, she thought, he’s got a maid.

Ripper moved to the refrigerator as Annie closed the door behind her. “Something to drink?” he asked over his shoulder.

Helmet in one hand, she shrugged her jacket first off one shoulder, then the other. “Whatever you’re having.”

She hung her coat on a chair at the kitchen table as he popped the top on two Löwenbräus. Annie drifted over to a dark door at one end of the kitchen, and she reached in for a switch, flicking the lights onto a small bedroom.

Ripper followed her, offering one of the beers. She handed the helmet to him in exchange. “You have the biggest head,” she smiled.

He took it from her outstretched hand, and tossed it on the bed. “It’s served me well over the years.”

Her eyes scanned the room, taking in the many shelves of books, walking about slowly. “I can imagine.” She leaned against the edge of his desk and regarded him, bottle at her elbow. “How many years?”

Ripper laughed lightly. “I wondered when that was coming,” he took a swig. “Do you try Twenty Questions now?”

“We do like our secrets,” she mimicked his swig.

“So it would seem.” He shrugged. “But some secrets are trivial.”

Annie pursed her lips. “And others are dangerous.”

“Is that what you are,” he stepped closer, “dangerous?”

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” she quoted with a smile.

“That’s about standard for this town,” Ripper smiled curiously.

“So it would seem,” she said back to him, trying to keep her mind on why she was here, but having trouble amid the curious combination of scents — the must of books, the bitter staleness of cold coffee, and the faint trace of not-too-distantly burned sandalwood.

“You’d fit right in,” he said.

“Maybe,” Annie shrugged, “if I was staying.”

Ripper prowled closer. “It grows on you, this town.”

“And why is that?”

“Something in the air,” his voice was low and seductive. “Like the deep ley lines of magic.”

And now we’re getting somewhere, she thought. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was just being poetic, which is what he wanted. “Magic?”

“It’s all around you,” he spread his hands.

“Is that what you are?” she played along. “A magician? A warlock?” (’Cause I can dust one of those, she thought to herself.) Annie gestured at the shelves. “Are these your spellbooks?”

“Something like that,” he grinned.

She felt lost in that smile. Trapped in those green eyes. She glanced around the desk behind her, just to look away. Cluttered, not like the kitchen. An open book beside a stack of closed ones, a pen and inkwell (who had those anymore?), half-full coffee mug (“Kiss the Librarian”?), bottle of Tylenol, scribble-covered legal pad, a small globe, pack of cigarettes…

“Oh yeah,” she reached for the pack, “you’ve quit.” She looked for a place to set down her beer, without much success. Her hand drifted to the open book, filled with beautiful handwriting.

“Let me get that,” he said, setting his beer down on the edge of a shelf and stepping to the desk quickly. He reached around her and flipped the book closed to give her a space to set it the bottle down, which she did. (That was important, a part of her thought, a part she could barely hear anymore.) She turned to give him access, but that just left her pressed against him in the small space between desk and bed.

They both froze, facing each other, their bodies still lightly touching. Ripper couldn’t resist leaning in just a bit, not meaning to start anything, just testing the waters, but Annie’s arm reached up to his neck in response and she brushed her mouth lightly against his. Even that brief contact was enough to break his resolve, and as he leaned down to initiate a true kiss his hands went round her waist of their own volition.

Annie instinctively shifted her weight into Ripper, a corner of her mind surprised as his kiss began to weaken her knees, and reached both hands to tease through his hair at the back of his neck. Her movement and his shifted her T-shirt and his hands found bare skin, which they began to caress. Their kissing deepened and any remaining thoughts of conversation fled.

The touch set both their skins humming. Annie responded by sliding her hands under his leather jacket and easing it off his shoulders, then smoothing them back up his neck as she started another, yet more intense kiss. With the jacket still on his arms, Ripper found it delightfully difficult to wrap them around Annie as he wanted to. Still kissing, he shrugged off the jacket. Once his arms were completely free, he used them to lift her even with his own height, turning them towards his bed by sense rather than sight.

They fell with Ripper above, but Annie used the momentum, turning them sideways so that she ended up on top. As she straddled his thighs and leaned down for another kiss, her hair tumbling around them both, Ripper’s hands resumed running up her sides, raising her shirt. He broke their kiss just long enough to ease the shirt over her head and completely off, too engrossed to try her trick.

Left my hands free, the thought flitted through Annie’s mind. She sat up and used them under his shirt at the waist of his leathers, beginning to search for the closures. Ripper raised his torso enough for his mouth to explore her skin now exposed, Annie moaning softly when he started at the base of her neck. Ripper used his hands at her hips to guide her up to kneeling as his mouth traveled down the center of her, his hands continuing to slide up her back, stopping at her bra. When his mouth reached her stomach she gasped in delight and sank back, using her strength to take him with her and turn them both so that she was below, wrapped in his arms.

Ripper, of necessity, broke off his kissing and Annie eagerly reached her mouth for his, her tongue entering the fray now. It was Ripper’s turn to moan and the brief (though pleasant) surprise at Annie’s strength drowned underneath desire.

With Ripper above it was easy to get his shirt off, but a part of Annie smiled as her sports bra with the zipper in front caused him confusion that she could feel through the touch of his hands and his mouth. She started to end their now French kissing in order to push him back and instruct him in this matter, but Ripper quickly proved her underestimation of his knowledge by leaning just far away enough himself to slide his hands around to her front, his fingertips tickling her ribs maddeningly on the way. Even with their oral activity resumed, he managed to locate and undo the zipper by touch, raise her up, and ease the offending piece of clothing down her arms and off to oblivion without any assistance.

Skin brushing on skin pushed them both farther away from structured thought, and one of Annie’s last was to wonder how they would get their boots off and still maintain maximum physical contact. Even though both would later recall the intensity and fierce joy of this experience, neither Ripper nor Annie would remember the answer to that particular puzzle.

*   *   *   *   *

Faith sat uncomfortably on the edge of a large freestanding flowerbox that, perched in the sidewalk that ran along front of the rooms, unsuccessfully tried cheering the dingy motel on the outskirts of Sunnydale. She gathered her jacket about herself once again against the cool night, as her eyes continued to scan the parking lot for any sign of
Annie.

She shouldn’t be worried, Faith thought. They both did this. B would come home, they’d share a detail or two, spooky night, rah rah, and they’d sleep in each other’s arms.

But Annie had been bothered tonight, and Annie was never bothered. She’d promised to be back by dawn.

Tracking the goth guy had been mostly a bust. He kept tracking going through cemeteries, and then had gone headed down into the sewers. If he was trying to find her and Annie, what the hell was he doing down there?

And there was definitely something different about him. No one normal could have moved like that. Plus, for all his tracking, Faith had the sense he knew she was shadowing him. So maybe he was just leading her on a wild goose chase. She wanted to talk to B; B would know about this stuff.

Yet here it was, sky starting to turn light, and she was waiting on a stupid flowerbox with the impatiens.

Faith took Annie’s spare Camel from behind her ear, and held it in her fingers idly. She touched it to her upper lip, smelling the tobacco, and the touch of Annie’s fingers. Just a little while longer, she thought, then I’ll go inside.

*   *   *   *   *

Ripper pawed the bedside table by his head for a button to the alarm for several seconds before he realized it was actually the phone ringing. The great glowing red numbers on his clock read almost the same as the last time he’d awoken, but for the letter reading “A” instead of “P”. He brought the cordless receiver to his ear and stabbed the talk button with a beep.

“Hello?” he croaked. “Angel?” he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “Yes, of course,” he whispered, without immediately remembering why, “I’ll be there in a, uhm, little bit. See you then.”

Ripper pressed the button again to close the line, and sat up on an elbow. Spying his clothes scattered about the floor, he recalled why he’d been whispering, and turned his head to the bed beside himself.

Only to find it empty.

Probably for the best. If she’d been there, he’d have tried to make her stay. Stay in Sunnydale, stay in his life. And he knew what happened to the women who stayed in his life. He brought them lilies, and kept their plots trimmed and neat.

But what if she had been connected to Cordelia’s vision? You certainly mucked up that investigation, old man. Well, Angel, can’t tell you if she’s a demon, but I do know she wears a sports bra. Good show.

Think, Ripper, what did you find out? She’s very strong. (No, what did you find out that’s useful to the cause, pillock.) She’s on the run. Wouldn’t admit it, but it was in everything she didn’t say. She was concerned about Cordelia… which means she didn’t cause the vision. Not on purpose, at any rate.

He pushed back against the headboard. She knew Angel was a vampire. No, no, he couldn’t be certain of that. He might have read into that too much. He could say she sensed something was different about Sunnydale. Inconclusive, at best.

So what else?

He wanted to see her again. Utterly useless to the cause, but utterly true, nonetheless. Fat lot of good it would do him… she and her girlfriend were probably gone by now.

He rolled, naked, from the bed, deciding. He needed to get over to Angel’s before the day got too late, and sitting about missing her accomplished nothing. He grabbed his robe to head for a quick shower, wincing when he pulled it on. At this rate, he thought, that shoulder is never going to heal.

*   *   *   *   *

For the first time in more than a hundred years, Drusilla had watched a sunrise. It was almost enough to make her want to keep this body. But then she thought upon her favorite things… how a dead body looked so much sweeter under a full moon than stark light; how blood had a much richer shade to it in the dark than in daylight; how exquisite a child’s simple fear of the dark could be… and she’d turned her back upon the amber streaks spilling over the horizon.

Even the familiar streets of Sunnydale (a name more delicious in the darkness) seemed tainted by the day as she walked them. And with each step, the sunlight wore into her link with the wolfgirl, and the weaker she became. Cursing the light, she pulled at the nearest manhole cover and slipped down in the blessed cool of the sewers.

No, the wolfgirl’s body, though it provided many comforts and challenges, was too small and limiting for Drusilla. She thought about the next step in her plan… as if there’d ever been any doubt about it.

Time to visit the old haunts, and old friends and snitches. She had to get ahold of Spike.

They had so much to catch up on, Spike and Veruca and she.

 

IV: First Contact