A View From Below
By Carla Kozak
Page 1 of 3
Summary: Angel is reminded of what he's lost.
This is the first part of The View Series.
Disclaimer: All of the characters from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox Television and the Warner Brothers television network. I am merely a BTVS enthusiast who has woven these characters into a story of my own. The characters of Gavin Reilly and Siobhan are my own invention, but their destined lines of work are the brilliant creations of Mr. Whedon.
Author's Notes: I am no expert on the Gaelic language, but I do know that its unique spellings and pronunciations can be confusing. So for anyone who is wondering, the name Siobhan is pronounced "sho-VAHN."
The song lyrics quoted throughout the story are from "Dante's Prayer," by Loreena McKennitt, which can be heard on the CD, THE BOOK OF SECRETS (Quinlan Road Limited, © 1997)
It is a comforting thought of long-standing tradition, that the souls of men and women enter the gates of Heaven as angels, to watch over their loved ones left behind on Earth. Whether or not this is true, no one knows.
That the tortured souls in the lower place can gaze up at Earth, with more longing and heartache than the living can imagine, is not often considered. However, it is the most feared punishment of Hell.
Angel had an excellent view.
Cast your eyes on the ocean,
Cast your soul to the sea.
When the dark night seems endless,
Please remember me.
He could see her so clearly, in all of her misery and loneliness. But he could not speak to her, touch her, or comfort her in any way, and the pain tore through his heart. Angel saw Buffy huddled on that bus, looking lost and insecure in baggy overalls and a dark sweatshirt, the hood up over her head, as if for protection. He saw all the others, too: Joyce Summers, crying in her daughter's room; Giles, whose pain at Buffy's disappearance was much greater than the lingering aches from the torture Angel had inflicted on him, even as Willow's persistent headache was more the result of worrying about her best friend than from the injury she'd suffered. Xander too was conflicted--had he told Buffy the real message from Willow, would that have made a difference? Angel wished he could tell him that it wouldn't have. He was all too aware that Buffy had done what she had to do. All of the fault was his.
Why had she run? The expulsion from both home and school--she could have dealt with those. Her mother hadn't meant what she said in a moment of fear and frustration. Giles, and Willow, would have spoken on Buffy's behalf both to Joyce and to Principal Snyder--the latter, always on Buffy's case, and with God knows what nefarious means of his own, needing much more convincing than the former. Angel knew that Buffy was aware of those things. They were minor details, the kinds of troubles she'd dealt with many times before. It was sending him to Hell that she was running from. Especially because she loved him when she sent him there.
Was he angry that Willow had worked the curse again? Oh, no. That he'd been able to tell Buffy he loved her was the only thing sustaining him. And even though it made the task more painful for her, he clung to the hope that she too was deriving some sustenance from that love.
When the dark wood fell before me,
and all the paths were overgrown,
When the priests of pride say there is no other way,
I tilled the sorrows of stone.
Angel raged, not against the Gypsy curse that restored his soul, but against the true curse of being what he was, the creature who had lost all conscience and remorse. The last six months of living again as that creature were also playing inside his head, and they were at least as painful as the 140 years of evil deeds he was still repenting. The shock that accompanied the return of those memories was far sharper than the thrust of Buffy's sword through his chest. True to form, he had marked everyone she cared about, in a calculated effort to punish her not only for being the object of his desire, but for inducing in him that most sublime of human emotions. Over and over, in word and in deed, he had hurt the girl he loved, and he'd done it with a vicious arrogance.
That summed him up. I'm an arrogant idiot, thought Angel. Always was. Probably, it was his damned arrogance that had gotten him into his personal hell to begin with. He began to look back, with the usual self-pity, the old "why me?" plaguing him once more. But Angel saw the irony, too: Had he not been a vampire, he would never have known Buffy.
If I'd only met someone like her, back when I was human, he thought, I'd never have been around to hurt her now. Or to love her, came a parenthetical thought. And suddenly Angel's eyes opened wide, as if that would help him focus more clearly on the visions he was seeing all too well. He hadn't been able to resist replaying the scene of his changing, and all that he'd perpetrated after, so many times, though it sickened him always. But there were things that had happened just before, which he hadn't thought of. God knows, his 140 years as a monster had given him plenty to observe in the following century. Strange, though. Why had he blocked out Siobhan?
Angel began to look back.
He had been happy as a child, he recalled. Life was good then, for his family. They were better off than most. Their small farm just outside Galway was prosperous, and his father had a share in the mill works, too. When he had the time, his father taught him the art of angling, and they'd fished away many a quiet afternoon. Angel's gentle mother was a seamstress of some skill, and as she sewed, she would tell stories to her children. Angel had an older brother he looked up to, and a little sister who adored them both.
But his brother died in a mill accident, and his sister of a raging fever. His mother's stories turned into endless prayers, and his father, feeling that he had not protected his own, turned to drink. He did not hold his liquor well; it made him ugly. Such poor timing, too--this happened just as Angel was hitting the rebellious age, and he'd had many a beating until he grew taller than his father. Then, they just glared at each other, rarely speaking, and his mother prayed on. Angel stayed away from home as much as possible.
He'd studied some, and he had a good mind. There was a man in Galway, a former master at Trinity College, all the way across Ireland in Dublin. Gavin Reilly had come home after many years. He had a vast collection of books, and he taught the brightest boys--history, Latin, and metaphysics. Angel loved the way his mind would leap during these classes, and the teacher took great pride in his pupil, too. He'd encouraged Angel to go to Dublin, and pursue his studies, but again: poor timing. Probably a good thing I didn't go, Angel thought wryly. I'd only have drunk, played cards and mumblety-peg in Dublin, instead of in Galway where I didn't have to pay room and board. For that was pretty much all he did, as he entered manhood. He had an eye for the ladies, too, and they returned his glances happily. He was handsome, and clever, and always, thanks to his mother, well-dressed. And arrogant: the perfect rake.
I did not believe because I could not see,
Though you came to me in the night.
When the dawn seemed forever lost,
You showed me your love in the light of the stars.
It was stumbling home one night after whiskey and cards that he first met Siobhan. He was shivering as he walked past the graveyard, and he told himself that the night was chilly, as indeed it was, but that wasn't why he shivered. Then he heard an unearthly scream, the sounds of a scuffle, and footsteps, running straight toward him. A small fury of a cloaked figure would have hit him square in the chest, had he not grabbed its elbows an instant before impact.
The dark hood framed a face white with fear or anger, and stormy, dark-lashed grey eyes. Angel noted at once that it was a very pretty face, on a wiry frame which was tall, for a girl, but still much shorter than he. He expected her hair to be dark, but the hood fell back as she looked up at him, revealing thick curls as red as a sunset.
"Whoa, there!" he told her. Well, it did feel as though he were holding a skittish horse. "I don't think the Little Folk are overfond of graveyards. But robbers and smugglers don't mind ghosts, so what in Heaven's name is young girl doing in a place that could provide such company?"
"I'm not afraid of ghosts," said the girl, "and it's quicker home if I walk through the graveyard. But there did seem to be another sort of a creature there tonight, and bent on no good. No matter, though. I hit him hard with a blackthorn stick, and I don't think he'll bother me again."
Angel laughed. He wasn't used to such forthrightness, or fortitude, from young women. "As capable as you seem of taking care of yourself, still this is not the safest place by night. Might I escort you home, wherever home might be?"
She looked him up and down, and smiled back. "Thank you, but no," she said. "I can indeed take care of myself. And from what I've heard about you, sir, sure and I think I'd have to be as much on my guard in your company." She leaned toward him an inch, and sniffed audibly. "And I smell drink on ye, too. I don't need a protector whose senses are dulled by whiskey."
With a quick twist, she was free of his grasp. "Good night to you, then!" she said, and before he could think of a retort, she was off.
"I'd be offended, but I do believe the lass is speaking the truth," Angel said to himself. "Perhaps I should have begged for her protection, instead." He chuckled again, and set off at a quick pace--just in case her attacker should shake off the smack of her stick and come after him, as well.
The whiskey kept him abed late the next day, but when Angel finally did wake, he lost little time in learning about the unusual young lady. It wasn't difficult to find those who knew about her--a pretty young woman, new in town, will always attract attention.
Her name was Siobhan, and she had no family. Angel's former teacher, Master Reilly, a friend of her late father, was acting as guardian. Angel found himself wishing he'd kept up with his studies. He began to look for her about the town, but saw her rarely. He even dragged himself to church that Sunday, hoping she'd be there. He was not disappointed.
"You'll smell no whiskey on me today, Miss Siobhan," he greeted her. "Might I meet your high standard, and walk you home?"
She gave him a wry smile. "Well, it is Sunday, and early in the day at that. I guess you won't be tippling for a while. I'd be honored if you'd escort me."
He heaved a sigh and mopped his brow dramatically. "It's happy I am to be in your company. I'm owing a debt to an angry man, and I'm hoping you have your blackthorn handy, should we encounter him."
"Oh, dear, I am so sorry," she laughed. "About your debt, and my empty hands. I find I only need my stick at night, you see. Especially on the nights I find myself crossing through graveyards."
He enjoyed Siobhan's banter, as much as he appreciated her pretty, lively face. She was as bright as her shining hair. When they reached Scholar Reilly's house, Angel asked if he might see her again.
Siobhan's expression turned serious, then. "I'm afraid it wouldn't be wise," she said. "I am a girl with no means, you see. I must earn my keep, and I've little time of my own. You seem to be a man with much time on his hands, and betting and drinks can run dear. I think you would prefer a different sort of lass than myself."
"And here I thought I'd already heard the sermon," he returned, with a hint of anger. But Angel noticed for the first time that her clothes were very plain, and the only ornament she wore was a simple wooden cross hung on a green ribbon around her white throat. It occurred to him that despite her lack of rich fabrics, lace or jewels, she outshone any girl he knew. What is it about her, he wondered. Why am I drawn to this smart-mouthed young thing?
"Sure and won't you inherit from Master Reilly some day?" he continued. "I'd guess his store of books would fetch a shilling or two."
Angel was immediately sorry he had said that, for Siobhan's face paled, and she looked almost sick.
"I don't want even to think of him dying," she whispered, hanging her head. "He is my teacher and my guardian; I would be lost without him." She looked up at Angel. "But should he die, I would be sent to someone else, as would his books. Yes, they are the only things of worth he has, but they do not belong to him. Like me, they are in his protection."
"I am sorry," Angel said, reaching for her hand. "I spoke glibly only, and I meant no harm. Nor do I wish any ill to befall old Reilly. I too have studied under him, and he is one of few to whom I give my full respect, such as it is."
She smiled at him then, and squeezed his hand before releasing it. "Perhaps there is hope for you yet," she said. "But truly, it is better I keep to myself. I am not an easy person to befriend. Please let me say good day now, and thank you for accompanying me home."
She opened the door then, and turned away. But he thought he heard her whisper, "believe me, I wish it were not so."
Angel was not used to rejection.
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