Angel can smell the sunrise.
"Smell" is the only word he has for that ability, which is not like the standard five senses that come with the human package. It's different -- unearthly, something that only arrives after death and cannot be fully described in any languages of the living. But it's more like smell than anything else -- the first, faint hints of it that grow stronger with proximity; the way it just lingers in the background, virtually never becoming overpowering; its capacity to inspire memory in sudden, piercing shafts of clarity.
The sun rose several hours ago, and the scent of it did not put Angel to sleep for the first time in many months. He's awake now, wide awake as he's so rarely been, ever since Darla --
No, he reminds himself. No thinking about Darla. Don't even think about the name.
Angel has told himself such things before, but this time it works, because this time he really means it. He is awake now in every sense of the word, awake and eager to start a new day.
And today, he thinks, today perhaps Wesley and Cordelia and Gunn will call, and they will take him back.
When he got in late last night, his burden draped over his shoulder and his mood again darkened, he had almost lost sight of the possibilities this day brings. Difficult to think about starting over when the past has just lashed out at you again, cut you with stinging words from the lips of a girl who died screaming at your hands. When you see the man who has the love you fought for so desperately and lost all the same, and you see him just throwing that love away, as though it were a styrofoam cup --
That line of thought won't help either, and so Angel, as he did the night before, turns his attention to more constructive matters.
He spares the man upstairs only the time it takes to stand at his bedside and take stock of his condition. Last night, Angel was torn as to whether or not to take him to a hospital; he didn't think either the blood loss or the alcohol poisoning were so severe as to require a doctor, but, in most situations like this, he'd err on the side of caution.
But hospitals want addresses, and phone numbers, and next of kin. They want to know who to call, and Angel only knows one person in the world connected to Riley Finn. Last night, he decided that Buffy would have to learn the truth about this someday -- but not like this, and not from him. Angel still doesn't know if that decision was made out of bitterness or insight or something else altogether.
In any case, Riley is sleeping it off with no worse damage for his night on the town than a fresh scar on his neck and what will no doubt be a wicked hangover. Somewhere out there, though, Buffy must be worried about him. Angel knows how Buffy gets when she worries; she can work herself into a state more effectively than anyone Angel's ever met. And now, undoubtedly, she's all shaken up, that little tremble in her lips, all because of fear for Riley. Buffy is hurting. This man has hurt her. She gave her love to this man, and how has he repaid her? With betrayal, and abandonment, and infidelity with creatures like Dru. Angel looks down at him, feels the anger course through him, clenches his hands into fists.
And then he forces himself to push the anger aside.
This, Angel thinks, is the test -- the test he's been expecting ever since he awoke, gasping in the shock and anguish of self-knowledge -- a few nights ago. He has told himself -- has told Cordelia and Wesley and Gunn -- that he is a new man. He thought he would have to prove that to them over time.
It looks as if he must prove it to the Powers, first.
Angel turns from Riley and goes downstairs. He hasn't really looked at the hotel's lobby in months now -- it's passed before his eyes, but he's never truly allowed himself to see it. To see the dust that has collected on every surface, the dingy condition of the floor. This room smells musty and stale and lifeless. It smells like what it's been -- a vampire's lair.
Angel spends a little while sifting through various drawers and shelves before he finds Cordelia's stash of cleaning supplies, a cardboard box filled with soft rags and sponges and brand names Angel doesn't much recognize. What cleaning he used to do for himself he mostly did the old-fashioned way, with soap and water and brush. These new brand names sound very cheerful, promising better days and lifelong loyalty: Future, Bon Ami, Sparkle, Pledge. The smell of the stuff within the bottles and cans is less promising; the odor speaks of chemicals and carcinogens to Angel, but then, this is not one of his main concerns. Making this hotel fit for humans again is.
He reads the labels, figures out what everything is used for. The windows will have to wait until after dark. The rest of it -- well, it's as good a place to start as any.
Angel strips down to his t-shirt and starts from the top up; he remembers that much about housecleaning, at least. He dusts the banister and the woodwork, sweeps the tiled areas of the floor. A bloodstain behind the counter proves stubborn, and Angel has to get on hands and knees and scrub with a little wire pad for about forty minutes to get that spot absolutely, totally clear. Will he vacuum and then mop, or vice versa? A trickier decision, so he spends a long time thinking weighing the pros and cons while cleaning out the phone cord with a paper towel, meticulously wiping the grime from every single loop.
This is all a very good means of distracting him from the fact that, despite all his wishes and hopes, the phone is not ringing.
Finally, Angel vacuums, then mops, and is left with a sparkling lobby that could accept agency customers -- or, for that matter, staying guests -- without shame. He is also left with a great, empty silence. Cordelia and Wesley and Gunn have not called.
For the first time since his awakening at Darla's side, Angel allows himself to consider the worst-case scenario -- it is too late. He has hurt them too much. They will not take him back.
If he has to go on without them, he will. Angel has started over many, many times, and generally with far less in the way of material and emotional resources than he now possesses. He has never yet gotten it right -- but he's getting better at it, he thinks. After countless reinventions, he is pretty sure he's hit upon the understanding he needs to finally walk one road, stay on it, begin building something that might last.
But he wants this path back, this path he wandered from in his obsession and misery and rage. Angel knew, even as he left it, that this was the best situation he was ever likely to have. Though he could not have romantic love, he could have friendship. Though he could not live among humans, he could work beside them. Though he could not stand in the sunlight, he could get close enough for warmth.
He had decided he didn't deserve those things when all the crimes of his past and the potential failures of his future coalesced before him in the shape of Darla's fragile body and even more fragile soul -- when he saw them both destroyed by the woman who was, in the end, only the evidence of his own powers of destruction. So far as he went, he was right; Angel has spent too much time taking stock of his crimes not to understand that he deserves nothing but pain. But now Angel thinks it's not a question of what he deserves. It's more a question of what those around him deserve -- friendship, loyalty, communication, protection, understanding. They deserve to make their own choices about the risks they take, even those risks Angel brings with him by nature of who and what he is. In other words, they deserved a lot better than what he's dealt out.
He thinks he can make Cordelia and Wesley and Gunn see all this, if he gets the chance. And if he doesn't -- well, he'll just have to do better, next time. He'll eventually find others who want to do the same work, who might be willing to take a chance. And maybe these will be the people he'll never let down. The ones he'll get to keep.
But he can't imagine that they will ever mean as much to him as the ones he so carelessly threw away.
Angel actually gets so far as to begin contemplating other cities in which he might live -- if he has to start all over again, then a clean break might be best -- when he hears the footsteps upstairs. His body tenses, but he forces himself to remain calm as he turns to face Riley.
Riley looks pale, as well he might. One hand grips the staircase railing as he walks downstairs, but otherwise he shows little sign of weakness. He doesn't quite look Angel in the eyes. "Where are we?"
"The Hyperion Hotel," Angel answers. "I live here." After a pause: "I haven't called Sunnydale. But I think you should."
Riley laughs, a small, bitter sound. Angel wasn't expecting that. "What's so funny?"
"No need to call Sunnydale," Riley says as he continues down the stairs. "I haven't lived there in months. And nobody there is expecting to hear from me. You didn't know?"
Buffy and Riley broke up. Angel feels a quick flash of satisfaction -- mean-spirited, maybe, but undeniable -- as well as a great, yawning uncertainty. As much as he'd disliked this man at their one disastrous meeting, he'd at least known, in the general sense, what was going on with Buffy. Now, that one slim thread of knowledge has snapped; she's lost to him again, a total mystery.
Angel can see the scars on Riley's arms and neck very clearly now; the light reveals their lividity, as does Riley's unhealthy pallor. These are not the scars of someone who's just started playing this dangerous game with vampires, Angel knows. These are the scars of an addict. "So you thought you'd make yourself feel better like this?"
Riley knows what he's talking about, but shakes his head. "This started before. This is why we split up. Happy now?"
"You were doing this before?" Angel is astonished. And then, not surprised at all -- those marks were more than a few weeks in the making. Riley's skin is crosshatched with the work of many vampires, many nights. But then a darker realization sets in. "You did this to Buffy. You were cheating on Buffy."
"That's how she saw it," Riley agrees. His face isn't quite so closed off now; he's studying Angel's expression. What is he looking for? "But I wasn't having sex with them. Not -- not then, anyway."
The line between sex and drinking blood can be as broad as a continent or so narrow as to be nonexistent. And if you're paying vampires to suck you off, you're at the thinnest edge of all. "It's the same thing, the way you were doing it. You know that."
Riley laughs again, the same disjointed sound as before. "Buffy knows it too, doesn't she? I have scars from strangers. She has scars from you."
She's still scarred. Angel has only seen the marks of his fangs on Buffy's throat once; he traced them with his fingers, regretfully, reverently, as they lay in bed together on a night that never was. The memories of that night can still pierce him to the core, but worse still are the memories of how Buffy got that scar. "That's not the same thing at all. Buffy was trying to save my life."
Riley stares at him, uncomprehending, and Angel realizes that Buffy never told Riley about the sacrifice she made for Angel, the terrible risk she took. He realizes that Buffy is ashamed of what she did, and he feels it like a punch in the gut. He drops his head, stares down at the can of Bon Ami in the box. Gold foil and white print. Hasn't scratched yet.
Apparently Riley's unwilling to ask Angel to tell him something Buffy wouldn't tell him herself. He makes his way to the bottom of the stairs, and Angel can tell by his step that Riley's still feeling badly. Once again he tries to remember that this is the test. This is what the Powers are asking of him, to prove that he will take care of anyone. Anyone at all. "So, who do we need to call? Your --" Angel struggles for military words that won't be archaic. "Your captain?"
Riley looks away. "I'm not in the army anymore."
"Why not?" Angel says. It's a question he asks by reflex, with no thought as to what Riley might or might not answer. To his surprise, Riley goes even more pale. Even his lips go white, and his heartbeat speeds up as though he were afraid. But it's not fear Angel senses in him, not exactly --
He pushes past his morbid curiosity to the mission at hand. "You could probably use something to eat."
"You keep -- food? Human food?"
He used to. The little mini-fridge used to be stuffed with food: Cordelia's chalky-smelling, utterly unnecessary diet shakes; Wesley's tuna sandwiches on white; Gunn's bottles of Gatorade and half-eaten, rewrapped hoagies. But he has nothing to offer now, except -- "I keep a phone book. So we can call and get you a pizza. Or Chinese, or something. I -- I think I remember that there's a Thai place in the neighborhood."
The mention of Thai food leaves Riley unmoved. He watches Angel in silence for a moment before saying, "Why are you doing this?"
"Helping you?" When Riley nods, Angel says, "That's what I do."
That is what he used to do. And what he means to do again.
And then, right then, as if it's a signal from the Powers themselves, the phone rings. Angel feels the smile even before he gives in to it, wheels around, picks up the receiver with shaky hands. He knows Riley can see his transparent happiness, doesn't care. "Hello?"
A moment's silence. Then, "This is Angel Investigations?"
The voice is unfamiliar -- accented in a way Angel can't immediately identify, maybe Indian. More to the point, it is not Wesley or Cordelia on the line. His heart sinks, and he sees Riley taking in the disappointment on his face.
No matter. One more test. "Yes, it is," he says. It seems more trouble than it's worth to explain that there are, currently, two Angel Investigations. "I'm sorry. How can I help you?"
As it turns out, Angel can help him by casting a ghost out of a haunted store. Riley watches, wordlessly, as Angel jots down notes about the store's history and situation. The owner reacts with some consternation when Angel tells him he will need to close the store for the exorcism. Apparently this store never closes.
"It's that or have your customers see something that's likely to drive them away for good," Angel points out.
After a pause, the owner sighs. "Very well. When can you be here?"
"About thirty minutes after sunset."
If the owner finds it odd to schedule business appointments by the rising and setting of the sun, he doesn't say so. "I will be ready. Do I need to -- do anything?"
"No," Angel assures him. "I'll bring what I need with me."
After he hangs up, Riley makes a move for the phone. "What are you doing?" Angel says.
Riley cocks an eyebrow. "Getting that pizza you promised me. Or was there a time limit on the offer?"
Angel feels more than a little stupid. "Of course not. It's just -- I have to make a phone call first."
With a shrug, Riley surrenders the phone. Angel manages punch in the number of the other Angel Investigations office without trembling, but that's the most he can say for himself.
They don't want him calling until they're ready; he knows that. But surely they'd want to know about a case. He could use the help, too; the best means of performing an exorcism is a Mingus tripod, which conveniently requires four people. And working together once more might go a long way toward showing them that things can be different now -- maybe tip the balance --
It seems as though the phone rings many times before the machine picks up. Angel breathes out a sigh of disappointment, hangs up without leaving a message.
"Who were you calling?" Riley asks.
My friends, Angel would like to answer. "Some people I -- used to work with. I thought they might help with the exorcism tonight."
He waits for Riley to ask why he uses the phrase "used to," why these people don't work here any more. And he wonders what he can say that won't leave him feeling isolated and stupid and humbled before this man, the last person on Earth he wants to be humbled before.
And yet, is that the point? If he will let his pride drop in front of Riley, will that finally prove that his pride is his master no longer?
Angel considers that, sees the truth of it. For the first time, he realizes that he is not working to prove all these changes to Wesley and Cordelia and Gunn as much as he is working to prove them to himself.
"I'll need someone to come along tonight," he says quietly. "Will you help me?"
Riley stares at him; then, to Angel's surprise, he begins to laugh again. For a few moments, Angel just watches Riley as he leans against the counter, shaking hard from more than just the laughter, making that same frightening, broken sound. Finally, Riley gasps out, "You. You need me. There's some supernatural stuff going down, and you believe you need me."
"Yeah," Angel says. He wants so badly to take offense -- does Riley mean this as mockery? But he senses that's not it. He looks at the man anew, wonders about the differences between the person he met before -- unthinking, belligerent, wearing army-issue gear that apparently matched an army-issue brain -- and this person, with scars and regrets and no sense that anybody might want him for anything.
Angel knows that feeling very well.
Something Wesley said to him, right before the end, flickers in his memory. His work is about more than saving lives. It is about saving souls.
"I think maybe I do," Angel says.