Title: Past and Present
Author: Dusk (dusk@goldserve.net)
Fandom: Angel
Pairing: A/m (Angel/Host)
Rating: PG
Archive/repost: AngelSlash, RareSlash
Disclaimer: Not mine. No profit made. Just telling a story.
Summary: Sequel to 'A Voice Alone'. A little friendly intervention leads Angel to some interesting realisations about his past.
Comments: I would advise people read the previous story before this one. It'll make more sense :) It can be found at my site. This one is a little heavier. Feedback is always appreciated. This is for everyone who wrote to me after the first one :) You made my day. {hug}
Posted: Feb '01

***

"You're not fooling anybody, you know."

Angel looked up from his book into the less-than-happy face of Cordelia, his part-time secretary and full-time self-appointed parent. She stood in front of his desk, arms crossed.

"Who am I meant to be trying to fool, exactly?"

"Me. Wesley. Yourself."

"No I'm not." As comebacks went, he had to admit, it lacked finesse.

"You're brooding, and you've been sitting here brooding for over an hour."

"I've been *reading* for over an hour," he corrected her.

"You have not!"

"Have."

"Haven't."

"I don't think this is going to get us anywhere. Did you want something?"

In answer she darted forward and plucked the book from his hands, retreating beyond arm's length with her prize.

"Hey," he protested mildly.

She glared at him. "If you've been reading this same page for an hour - and I haven't seen you turn a page in all that time - summarise it."

"I can do that."

"Go on, then."

"It's about demons. Eastern demons," he told her.

She looked at the front cover, which Angel could clearly see from where he sat. The title was 'Demons of the Indian Sub-continent'.

Damn. Busted.

"Nice try," she said archly.

"I thought so."

She ignored that. "The chances of you telling me what you're brooding about are pretty slim..."

"I'm not brooding," he muttered.

"...so I'm not even going to try. What I am going to do is *ask* you to get out of this office, preferably somewhere with people, until that black cloud over your head goes away. Do something *fun*. *Please*."

He looked at her. She looked back.

"I'm *thinking*," he insisted. "Not brooding."

I'm sure *you* believe that, her eyes said. I don't.

The silence grew uncomfortable, at least for Angel. Cordelia, apparently, could stand there as long as it took.

He stood up. "I'm going out," he announced, as though he'd made the decision without coercion.

"Good. Will there be people involved?"

"Probably."

"Will there be *fun* involved?"

"It's possible."

He picked up his coat and walked out without another word.

He hated it when Cordelia was right.

***

Ramone nodded towards the door. Cary, leaning up against the bar and surveying his territory, followed his gaze. He immediately stood up.

"Well, look who it is! Maybe I'll go say hi, see how he's doing...."

Ramone grinned. "Maybe?"

"Isn't there some rule about employees not second-guessing their employers?"

"Wouldn't know, boss," the bartender replied, still grinning.

"It's a good thing for you that you're irreplaceable," Cary muttered good-naturedly as he walked off.

"Hey, stranger," he greeted the vampire with a smile. "Decided to grace us with a tune?"

"Uh... no. I thought I'd just hang out, if you don't mind."

Angel had raised looking out of place to an art form, Cary decided. "You know you're always welcome here, Angel." He paused and studied the other man's face for a moment. "Okay, what's the problem?"

"Do you have time to talk?"

"Always. Go sit down, give me fifteen to line up a few of the regulars so my services won't be needed for a while, and I'll join you." He waved a hand signal at the bartender, who nodded. "My guy'll bring you a drink while you wait."

"Thanks."

Cary grinned and departed, heading for the stage. Looking around, Angel located a fairly secluded and otherwise empty table. The bartender arrived as he sat down, setting the glass in front of him. He looked up.

"AB neg, 98.6," the man answered the unspoken query.

Angel blinked. "Thank you." He took a sip, confirming the information for himself. Up on stage, an Abba song was being cheerfully mutilated by a trio of drunken chaos demons.

Ten minutes later, after much banter and gentle bullying from the host, a group of regular patrons had taken charge of the scheduling and Cary was free to join Angel. He sat down with a weary smile.

"I swear, those guys were just *waiting* for a chance to take over. I may never get my bar back! Now. How's the drink?"

"Good," Angel admitted.

"Great! I decided it'd be worth keeping some on ice, just in case."

"Uh... where..." Angel trailed off.

Cary rolled his eyes. "The blood bank, silly. You think I'd make a no-violence rule and not stick to it myself? I'd lose all credibility."

"Sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I mean, I know."

"Enough apologies. I believe you wanted to talk? Go ahead." Without needing to be asked, the same bartender silently brought over a gin and tonic. Cary acknowledged him with a nod.

Angel stared down into the remains of his drink. "I intended to come back before now, and now I kinda feel like the prick who said he'd call and didn't, and I got thrown out of my own office by my secretary, on charges of brooding."

The demon laughed. "And the alleged brooding was due to the not calling?"

"Yeah. Sorry about that."

He waved that away. "Well, I kinda expected to see you sooner too, but you knew where I was, I knew where you were, and I guessed you'd be back at some point. The brooding part doesn't exactly surprise me. You do sort of have a habit of doing that, don't you?"

"I wasn't brooding. I was thinking," Angel insisted, wondering why everyone seemed to know him better than he knew himself.

Cary nodded. Okay, he wanted to call it thinking. Thinking was fine. "So. What were you thinking about, or shouldn't I ask?"

"You, mostly."

"I like where this is going."

"I wanted to come back and see you."

"Okay... but you didn't."

"No, I didn't."

There was a small pause while both parties thought about that.

"I may need a little help with this," Cary ventured.

"When I start seeing people, things tend to go badly."

"How bad are we talking, here?"

"My personal best is an eternity of torture in the bowels of hell."

"And I thought I had some bad exes," the demon sympathised. "No, I know you mean that literally. And because of some less than pleasant experiences, you decided that it would be best to never have a personal relationship ever again, for the rest of your immortal existence?"

Angel thought this summed it up pretty well. "Basically, yes."

"Well, that just sucks," Cary said candidly.

The vampire returned to staring at his drink. "Tell me about it. But in a way, it's not even my decision to make. Did I tell you about the curse?"

"I've heard about it, yes. Gotta say though - and I'm being purely selfish in telling you this, but it's true - I really don't think that's much more than an excuse."

Angel frowned. "How, exactly?"

The demon leaned in confidentially. "I did some checking. Perfect happiness is what you might call the trigger, am I right?" Angel nodded, and Cary continued. "You've been around. You know, or you should by now, that sex? It's just sex. It can be good, it can be bad, if you're lucky it can be fantastic, but at the end of the day, it's not what counts. Happiness - true happiness - comes from in here, my friend." He touched his own heart with one hand. "I don't think you've given it too much thought since you came back, have you? No. I don't blame you. The pretty blonde girl - and I'm not even going to mention what kind of self-destructive streak you must have to get involved with somebody who makes a living killing your own kind - the girl... what's her name?"

"Buffy," Angel said quietly.

"Cute. So with Buffy, you have a very lovely young girl, a mortal no less. When you're with her, you can forget, forget it all. All the things non-humans do, by birthright, by choice, by circumstance... some of it's pretty grizzly, and with that pesky soul of yours, you're feeling it bad. Then she comes along, and you can pretend that it never happened, you can decide for a short time that you're mortal again yourself. You can have, for lack of a better word, a normal relationship, just a guy and a girl, together forever. The end. It's what most people want, when you get down to it."

The vampire said nothing.

"The problem is, it's a fantasy. A beautiful one, I'm not arguing with that... but you got so involved that it became real, and that's where the happiness was. You forgot that it could never happen. The gift she gave to you that night, it was her belief in your dream, not just her body... it just filled your cup of happiness right up to the line marked 'perfect'. And that, as they say, was that."

Angel stared at nothing, going through this in his own mind.

"I want you to be honest with me. Now that that's happened once, do you really, honestly believe that you could ever reach that point again? Where things are perfect? Because I don't think you're capable of it. As long as you remember, you won't ever allow yourself to enjoy that level of happiness. You could love someone, have great sex *and* be genuinely happy with yourself and your life... and the memory of Buffy will still be the thing that anchors you to this world."

He sat back, signalling for another round of drinks. They came, and still Angel sat in silence.

"What are you thinking?" Cary prompted gently.

"No," Angel said under his breath. "No," he repeated. "You're right. I couldn't get that again. Not now. Not if I live for a thousand years." He looked up at Cary for the first time since they sat down. "How?" he asked, bewildered. "How did you just work all that out? I've spent years trying to analyse it all... and you..." he trailed off, looking lost.

"That's the trouble," Cary pointed out. "You've been thinking the same thoughts, over and over until that's all you could think about. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective." He pushed the fresh glass toward his companion. "Go on, drink up. It'll do you good."

Angel accepted the glass. "I don't know what to say."

"Say you'll buy me dinner and we'll call it even," Cary kidded. Angel smiled, aware that he'd probably never find the words, equally aware that the demon knew this and accepted it.

"Don't sweat it," Cary told him quietly, for a moment completely serious. "I know that what I have is a gift, and it's worth listening to a hundred thousand bad Elvis impersonations and giving advice on the petty squabbles of the world if every now and then, I get to do something like this for somebody I care about." He reached out and took Angel's hand, squeezing it. "Are you going to be okay?"

Angel smiled. "I don't think I'm ready to jump into anything yet. But... I will be. Soon." He got to his feet.

"I'll be here," Cary smiled up at him, and Angel leaned down and kissed him, just once, on the lips.

"Thank you," he said quietly, and left.

"You big sap," Cary told the departing figure fondly, once he was sure Angel was out of earshot. "And I'm just as bad." He shook himself mentally and prepared to get back into the role of the easy-going host.

"Oh, get back to work, you," he told his grinning bartender as he passed the bar.

[end]





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