INTO THE FIRE
E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be-------------------------------------------
a patron of the arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob and his bunch are all mine - keep your hands off!
Summary: The past comes back to haunt both Logan and Angel: the search for a missing person forces Logan to recall a part of
his past that he'd rather forget, while a new enemy targets Angel for a sinister purpose.
Notes: Takes place sometime after the events of "X2" and immediately after "Nepenthe"
Two weeks ago - Ecuador
The good thing about trying to find her was she made the job easy. All you had to do was follow the bodies.
This latest kill was quite fresh. A family living in a house that was little more than a hut; probably kindly peasant folk who thought they were helping out a lost foreign stranger. Only to have they necks broken, and their eyes gouged out. (And eaten? He never found the eyes, and there were rumors she did that.) She saved the kids for last: a five year old, a toddler, and an infant. She drained them all dry, but let them keep their eyes. She liked young blood, but not young eyes.
The demon bar was just inside a forest that the locals said was haunted. It wasn't, of course; it was just a story perpetuated to keep people away. It too was just a hut, a two room affair with a thatched roof and wicker furniture, an overhead fan pushing around stale air. The clientele looked up at him as he entered, smelling his Human blood, but growled as they smelled the magic on him. Like he'd enter a place like this - or go after a monster like her - without protection. He was confident, but not stupid.
She sat at a back table, wiping the mouth of a porcelain doll with a dirty napkin. As he approached her table she looked up, a wicked grin splitting her face. She was frightfully thin and pale, almost fragile looking, her long dark hair like a shadow cradling her head. But her eyes were alight with pure madness, the kind that made even fellow demons want to crawl under tables to avoid her. "You don't belong here," she said in a sing song voice, almost like a child.
"You're Drusilla, yes?" Milos asked, although he already knew the answer. She was said to look fragile, and be anything but. She was said to be beautiful, and madder than a shithouse rat, all of which made her spectacularly dangerous, even amongst her breed.
Her lips were the dark red of dried blood, and he was sure that's what it was, even though in this dim light you could mistake it for lipstick. There was a flush in her pale cheeks that suggested her recent kill. "Wicked, wicked man. You know."
"I do," he agreed, pulling out the chair across from her and sitting down. Even with the table separating them, and his magical wards in place, he didn't feel perfectly safe. And if she was like this, what could her sire have been like? "And I have an offer for you, Dru, if you'll hear me out."
She cocked her head, looking through him as if she was listening to a conversation in another room. But then she grinned, flashing bone white teeth, her empty eyes fixing on him once more. "You have a secret." She made an odd noise, the hum of an excited child, and whispered dramatically, "You want daddy."
She did have the gift of precognition. It was claimed, but she was so mad it was impossible to tell for sure. He was pretty sure now, though. "Your sire? Yes, I do."
"But they’re singing for you."
There was no music anywhere. "Who?"
"All my dead birdies. Can't you hear them? They open their beaks, but no sound comes out at all. They're lonely."
Shithouse rat, all right. Was that her way of saying she knew he was dying? Perhaps. "They can wait. Where's your sire, Drusilla?"
She moved her doll to her lap, its face a pale, blank mimic of its owners, and she waved a finger at him like a scolding parent, clicking her tongue. "Just because you stink of shadows doesn't mean you get any presents."
Oh god, was he going to need an interpreter? He hadn't thought of that. "In exchange, I'll give you the address of an orphanage. A dangerously overcrowded orphanage run by the Catholic Church. Just think of all those juicy little children."
Her eyes lit up even more, and she made a small squealing sound. "Lovely little lambs, so lost ..." her smile became as sharp as a razor blade, not so much predatory as gleefully murderous. "The cross will not save them. All those shriveled men in their cassocks ... they get stuck in my teeth."
"I'm sure. Do we have a deal?"
Her eyes were hard to look at. "I could make you tell me."
"But don't you want to hurt him? Don't you want your grandfather back?"
Her look changed; he had surprised her with that. So her precognition wasn't total. "Granddaddy? He's gone; wicked bad girl ground him to dust."
"I have a way of bringing him back ... in spirit, if nothing else."
She sat forward, resting her chin in her hands and looking up at him as adoringly as a schoolgirl with a crush. "Your head is full of sparks."
He couldn't even guess what that was supposed to mean. "You know your grandsire was special, yes? He was the founder of the Aurelian line, a special breed of warrior vampires. Sadly the line was diluted the more it spread out. But there is a way to restore the line, to create more of these warrior vampires, these true vampires. All I need is the blood of the most pure member of the Aurelian strain, the less diluted of the line, the most direct descendant possible. Do I need to tell you who that is?"
The smile was back, wolfish and so cold he could feel a shiver in the base of his spine. He didn't let it out; if she smelled any fear, she might attack out of habit. "Daddy. But he's a bad daddy. He won't help you."
"I know. I'm actually hoping he doesn't." He had studied Angelus, read up on all the Watcher journal entries on him he could find, and the pure rumors that existed beyond them. The problem was, he was dead .... or at least he was last time he'd heard. The portents had changed now. Why and how he had no idea, but he was glad; his research wasn't done in vain. “I just want to find him.”
She continued to give him a leering smirk that was half drunk and half wicked, her eyes shining like new pennies on a corpse’s eyelids. “You want to escape the shadows. You want to be one of them.” She made a strange humming noise that could have been a type of swallowed laugh, but there was nothing warm or humorous in it.
He knew what he was, and he knew what he was doing. Yes, he was going to die. The problem with some magicks was that they pulled energy from you; do one dark spell too many, and you could pay for it with your life, as he was. He was trying to figure out how he could save his own life and not give up his magic when he discovered a whole host of Watcher’s diaries on sale - on ebay.
It was part of an estate sale, listed as a collection of “gothic fiction” by a distant family member who had no idea it wasn’t fiction, and that he had a family member in the demon killing business. It was in one of the diaries that a Watcher named Dhaljit Singh had written about her in depth study of the so called “Aurelian strain”, a vampire that was a breed apart. The last true Aurelian, though, was the one often referred to as The Master. His “offspring” were subsequently weaker, and eventually the strain was so diluted within a few generations that it disappeared. Why was the Aurelian strain different? She surmised that the Master was a direct descendant of the first demon that changed a Human into a vampire; he was a part of the original template. But too much mixing with Humans neutered the strain, making them just like any other vampire. The strain might be alive but “dormant” in any of his original line, but the problem was none of the vampires the Master persona! lly sired were still alive; he hadn’t sired many, and those he had were done a long time ago. But there was the second generation, those sired by the Master’s sirees (for lack of a better term), although many of them were dead as well. (Damn slayers.) But he knew of at least one, one who happened to have been one of the Master’s favorites - a vampire named Angelus.
He was pretty famous among European Watchers for his reign of terror, where he was known for such atrocities as massacring entire villages, turning a Slayer into a vampire, and attacking a Watcher’s informal retreat in the Swiss alps and killing all inside. Exactly the type of guy you wanted to invite home to mother … if you wanted to see your mother die a horrible death. It was easy to see why the Master loved him so. He was an excellent candidate for the strain just based on his general level of viciousness, and he was still alive (so to speak). But as soon as he prepped to go to Los Angeles, Angelus (now Angel) was gone. He couldn’t get a clear answer on what had happened; there was some kind of big battle, and when the dust cleared, Angel was nowhere to be found. So it looked like all his research and spell casting was for naught. He had several other options for keeping himself alive and casting, but he didn’t really like them, which was why they weren’t his first ch! oice. But just as he was about to give up and make a deal with some minor demon, he heard Angel was back.
There was no point in becoming a plain old vampire. Anybody who watched one too many monster films and had a pool cue could kill you. If he was going to do this, he wanted to be better than the average bloodsucker; he wanted to be a breed apart. And he wanted lackeys with enough strength to keep trouble off his back. “Just tell me where he is, Dru, and I’ll tell you where the kids are.”
Her look was dreamy, contented, and more than a bit mad, her lips curving into what could have been a smile if it had any warmth or sanity behind it. “Daddy’s in his city, but he’s not alone. There’s a metal tiger man with sparkly blood, my bad little sisters who put wasps in my head, and a fallen angel who glows and hums like a star.” She made a strange noise deep in her throat, the type an excited child might make on Christmas morning. “He’s so bright and pretty …”she suddenly frowned, her brows dipping sharply down over her eyes. “… but he can be very mean. He burns.”
No one mentioned that she babbled. Spoke gibberish, yes, but not rambled on and on about imaginary creatures. “What do you mean he’s in his city? Do you mean he’s back in Ireland?” Where was Angel from anyways? He couldn’t quite recall … did he even know? He knew he was originally from Ireland, sure, but who didn’t know that? Wait a moment - city of Angels? “Hold up. Do you mean he’s back in Los Angeles?”
Her smile grew wider, showing small, mostly even teeth. “Daddy can’t even die right.”
“We all have our flaws,” he told her, taking the address he wrote down on a scrap of paper out of his pocket. He slid it across the table to her, but quickly withdrew his hand so she didn’t touch him as she snatched the note off the table.
Yes, he was going to be a vampire king, but that didn’t mean he had to like them.
This is where he’d imagined they’d be in a perfect world: a penthouse in Tokyo, a large space in the tallest building in the city, which he couldn’t help but note was safe from snipers, simply because the building close enough to its height was nearly a half a mile away, and with the mirrored, polarized windows, a sniper would find a shot impossible. It really bothered him he couldn’t stop thinking about these kind of things.
The window wall in their bedroom gave them a spectacular view of the city, especially at nights, but it was dawn now, the sky a rosy, golden tinged pink, and it was still beautiful. There was no such thing as a perfect world, but this was probably close.
Mariko turned over, settling against his chest as he laid there, glancing out the window and wondering why his stomach felt like a solid slab of granite. It was clenched so tight it hurt.
He stroked her back idly as she slid her arm over his chest, letting out a sleepy, contented noise. “You do sleep, right?” she murmured.
“Sorry. Did I wake you?”
“Possibly. I had a bad dream about you.”
“What did I do?”
She ran her hand over his chest, almost tracing a pattern. “It was really weird. It was you, but not you; it was like someone else was behind your eyes. Someone I didn’t like very much.”
Was that a warning of some sort? Perhaps; he wasn’t sure. “I’ll make sure if I’m possessed, it’ll be by someone nice.”
She slapped his arm, and he chuckled, although it seemed forced, and made his gut hurt more. It had to be psychosomatic, as his healing factor should have kicked in by now. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. See if you get laid again.”
“Well actually, I’m good right now.”
“Oh, I’m sure you are.” Her soft hair tickled his skin in a familiar way, and he loved it. He forgot so much about her, but they couldn’t take away his sense memories. He knew her smell, the taste of her skin, the feel of her touch; they could almost reconstruct her whole. She was soft and warm, and he never wanted to leave.
(So why was his gut still hurting?)
“Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
He glanced down at her. “Nothing’s bothering me.”
She looked back at him and frowned, her black eyes still betraying a hint of sleepiness. “Hon, I’m your wife. Would you like to try that again?”
He sighed and rolled his eyes sarcastically. Yes, there were major downsides to marriage, and this was one of them - a near inability to keep secrets from her. “I’m just … I’m a complete bastard, Riko. I never deserved you, and I still don’t.”
She propped herself up on her elbow, and looked down at him, a savage look in her eyes. “What the fuck is this self-pity bullshit? Will you knock it off? It’ll really hurt if I knee you in the groin now.”
That was undoubtedly true. “If I loved you enough, I could do this,” he said, his voice almost breaking. He had to close his eyes to hold back the tears. “I want this; I want you more than anything else. So why can’t I do this? What’s wrong with me?”
When he opened his eyes, she was looking down at him in obvious consternation. God, she was so beautiful his stomach hurt even more. “What the hell are you talking about?”
He ran a hand through her warm, mussed hair, enjoying its silky feel beneath his fingers. “I failed you,” he told her in a hushed whisper; he couldn’t keep the tears from falling, but it was too hard to try. “I didn’t protect you, you died, and I can bring you back; I have a chance to bring you back. And I can’t do it.”
“What? Are you on medication? I’m not dead. And even if I was somehow, you never failed me, you self-deluded shithead. You’ve saved my life - and my family’s - more than I’ve ever bothered to count. I know for a fact you’d die for me, which is a little frightening if I think about it for a while, but still … fail me? You could walk out the door now and I’d never think you’d failed me in any way. I might think you’re an asshole, but that’s a different story.” She gave him a small, encouraging smile, but it faltered in the face of his miserable expression. “Are you actually serious?”
He took her face in his hands, and realized that even though she wasn’t technically real, that she wouldn’t remember this anyways, he didn’t want her to know what happened to her, or how badly he’d failed her. “I will never love anyone like I loved you. You know that, don’t you?”
She seemed briefly suspicious, as if she couldn’t quite follow this conversational shift, but she brushed away his tears with her thumb, and said, “Ah, here’s the sappy bastard I know and love. Yes, I do; I’ve never loved anyone like you either. Scary, isn’t it?”
“Frightening,” he agreed, and kissed her. She responded warmly, easily, her body pressing against his in a way that felt like deja vu, but wasn’t quite. He wanted to tell her that he liked the man he was with her, but he had died with her, and he wasn’t the same; part of him feared that he could destroy everything and bring her back, but he’d be so different from the man she loved that she wouldn’t love him anymore. It was stupid and selfish and cowardly, but somehow he knew he could bring her back, yet in doing so he’d destroy more than just the world as he knew it. What they had was one of those once in a lifetime things, the perfect meshing of personalities and desires and needs, and he would fuck it up so badly she’d realize she’d made a horrible mistake. But better her alive and hating him than dead. So why couldn’t he do it?
He didn’t fool himself - he wasn’t a good man. He wished he was, but he just wasn’t. Maybe he wasn’t the animal the Organization wanted him to be, but he was far from an ideal Human being. Calling him a “hero” made him want to shudder at the abuse of the term. He was simply the bully for the good guys, the one who used his talent to destroy to help them (and help them retain their moral superiority, since he was the only one who got his hands dirty). He was sure Riko wouldn’t recognize him, which would be doubly true if he destroyed everything just for her. If she ever found out, she would never stop hating him. What he loved about her was how compassionate she was, even if that almost endless well of forgiveness helped kill her (after all, she was the only one in her family with a conscience; that was a weakness that they ultimately couldn’t abide). If he did this, he’d be more of a Yashida than she ever was - destroying the world for a selfish desire was somethin! g they usually did before breakfast. But not her, never her.
She was too good for all of them. She deserved her time in a better place, away from all the killers and thieves and others who thought life was the cheapest commodity around. The ultimate irony was he belonged in her family more than she ever had. He bet they recognized it too, although not in time; not quick enough to keep him from destroying them all. When he died, he died violently, taking them all with him as he went. If the best of them couldn’t exist - Mariko - then neither could the worst of them; he made damn sure of that. (But he included himself in the worst of them list, which earned him no brownie points, but he hoped that someone somewhere would cut him some slack for that.)
Her kiss lingered on his lips, along with the feeling of her body, but he made it all go away because he had to. His stomach was clenched so tight it felt like he was doing damage to himself, his stillborn conscience kicking up a fuss all its own. He closed his eyes as he let this reality dissolve all around him, and opened them when he was sure he was back in Bob’s Sydney home, in the living room of what seemed like an empty house. He sat on the sofa, waiting for him to show, because as abandoned as it was he knew he was here. This was a mindscape, namely Bob’s, so he couldn’t not be here.
He’d been in his living room more than once, but as he wiped the tears from his eyes, he thought the color of the carpet had changed. Had it always been this shade of vivid indigo blue? It was a really odd color for a carpet, it couldn’t exist in reality, but very little that was in his house could exist in reality, so that was no hindrance.
He’d almost pulled himself completely together when he heard footsteps on the stairs. “Logan,” Bob said with an irritatingly cheerful tone. “I thought I sensed you here. How goes it?”
“Take it away,” he said, without bothering to look at him. He kept staring at his bold carpet, thinking he could almost see flecks of mica in its strand. Something shiny, something metallic. “Or block it off, something. Make it like it was before, so it’ll only kick in when I really need it. I can’t have it at my fingertips.”
“What, the power? Why? You’re handling it splendidly. In fact, I’m pretty sure the rest of the PTB’s are shitting themselves - well, figuratively; excretion is only for corporeals, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Humans can’t handle the power, or so they’ve always claimed. They really don’t like being proved wrong. Hell, I think they’re gonna take the power from me and give it to you.”
“I’m not kidding. Get it the fuck away from me before I … just do it. Get rid of it; block it off. Do it now. I can’t fight it forever.”
He felt Bob’s shadow over him, and reluctantly looked up. He was standing there in his usual leather pants and baffling t-shirt (this time it said “Poisonous and Evil Rubbish”, with the design of a stick figure throwing something in a trash can). His eyes just mildly neon. “Actually, you can. If you were ever gonna do it, you’d have done it already. You are one stubborn motherfucker, mate. Do you think it’s a case of personality suiting biology, vice versa, or just a happy coincidence? I mean, your body very stubbornly wants to survive at all costs. In a bullheadedness-off, I don’t know which one of you’d win.”
He glared up at him, feeling the mildest of shocks. Bob knew he wanted to wreck reality to bring Mariko back? So why didn’t he try and stop him? “Would you have let me do it?” he snapped. “Or was it a test?”
He shook his head. “I’m a big proponent of free will. If you’re stuck being my avatar, you might as well do something with the power; it’s the least I owe you. But I’m not worried about it, ‘cause clearly you understand that what you’re holding is thermonuclear, and you have no desire to deploy it. This is where your age shows. You’ve learned there’s such a thing as too much power.”
Logan jumped to his feet, the sudden and somewhat inexplicable rage filling him giving him something to focus on, something to pull his mind away from Mariko and his constant, continual failure of her, alive or dead. “Don’t you dare say that. Don’t you -”
“What? Don’t I what, Logan?” he interrupted, partly challenging and partly curious. “Why do you hate yourself so much for doing the right thing?”
He didn’t know what he was going to say anymore; the words died in his throat, and he desperately wanted to hit him, to just beat him senseless so he didn’t have to think anymore. His hands curled into tight fists, and his claws itched beneath his skin. Oh yeah, he was such a good man he wanted to cut him in half in cold blood. Man, he was the second coming of Gandhi.
“If it’ll make you feel better, do it,” Bob said casually. “It’s a mindscape - no harm, no foul.”
“Stop being so fucking reasonable,” he growled. For some reason, Bob’s calm acceptance was making him angrier.
“You know better than I do that she wouldn’t want you to do it. You love her enough to respect her wishes, no matter what you want.”
“Shut up!” he roared, but rather than attack him, he seemed to lose all strength in his legs, and he collapsed back onto the couch, holding his head in his hands. It was possible Bob had made that happen, but the hollow ache in his gut convinced him that wasn’t so. No, Bob had uncovered a terrible truth, something he knew but hadn’t wanted to admit. Yes, Riko wouldn’t want him to do it; he knew it. Again, she was his conscience, and dead for decades or not, he still couldn’t act contrary to her wishes, even if it helped her. “Fuck, I hate this.”
“I know, it’s not fair,” Bob agreed, sounding genuinely sorry. “But if it’s any consolation, I’m serious about the PTBs. They’re watching you, and they’re pretty impressed, if not a bit pissed off. You’re supposed to be doing a Jean and going crazy with your god powers and you‘re just contradicting them. I think they might … reward you somehow. Not sure; they’re pretty capricious.”
He glanced up at him, still feeling painfully bereft, but confusion was tempering it. “Reward me? How? Should I be worried?”
Bob thought about that a moment, grimacing, and then shrugged. “Well, it wouldn’t hurt. Their ideas of rewards can be weird.”
He stared at him somewhat caustically. “Really. Like yours?”
Bob wagged his finger back and forth, the universal gesture for “don’t go there”, but he still smiled anyway. “I like to think mine are opportunities for growth.”If that was true, Logan figured he should be about twenty feet tall by now. Oh shit - he hoped they didn’t take that literally.