Angel Book of Days, Autumn/Fall

The full list of stories, which I can not wait to read, can be found Angel Book of Days Archive

written for Cerisaye
Title: Heartbeats
Rating: PG-13
Timeline: S2-S4
Requested: Darla, Halloween

Author's notes: Thank you so much to Violet for the beta and the hand-holding and everything else you've done. I have no words. And to Ash for the read through and because I can't think of Darla without thinking of you.

I found out at the last minute the date of Connor's birthday and it made me have to rework a huge part of the fic, so if it doesn't have as much Halloween as I wanted to give cerisaye, I hope I can be forgiven.


Heartbeats

The fabric of reality thins and fades on Halloween. The spirits of the past walk the earth, allowing us glimpses of them. Allowing them glimpses of us.

Vampires stay inside on Halloween. They tell themselves that the Holiday is trite, passé. The truth is, even demons fear their dead.

***

October 31, 2000

She stared out the window, watching the rain trace patterns on the glass. Her eyes followed a single drop as it glided downwards, always falling, silvering in the light, beautiful and graceful and doomed. Convinced she could feel every beat of her own heart, the soft thumping sound echoing within her. Each beat drawing her closer to death. Drawing her back closer to hell.

She never talked about it, but she'd been in hell. Before Wolfram & Hart brought her back with dark magic and darker hearts. What was there to say? She had been a vampire. A dealer of death for over four hundred years and she'd done it with vicious joy, savoring each death, each destruction. Even now, she felt no sympathy for her countless victims. Wrong place, wrong time. She did what was necessary, to survive. Nothing mattered more than survival. Whored herself out in life to men she despised. Ripped out their throats in death. Those lives were nothing when measured against her own continued existence. Until she'd made the wrong choice, trusted that Angelus still could not kill her. Until he sent her to the hell she had damned him to.

Who could she tell? Who here would understand the pain of eternal torment? The lawyers were children, playing with toys they couldn't hope to comprehend. Wracking up debts they didn't really believe they'd have to pay. Lindsey never asked aloud, only with a questioning gaze that begged, pleaded with her to talk to him. He never spoke a word about where she'd been, but would just look at her, seeking answers, seeking a truth she didn't want to share. His eyes filled with apologies and a love she couldn't afford to let herself believe in. It was just another lie, a weapon to use against her. Not that it mattered. If Angel couldn't love her, she didn't want anybody else. And it couldn't be real, anyway. She didn't deserve to have anybody look at her like that. Or she could talk to Holland, who would pat her hand and lie that they had a solution in the works, his eyes blank, voice smooth and avuncular and completely devoid of true caring. Lilah, who could barely conceal her own distaste every time she was in the same room with Darla – she almost wished she could tell Lilah. Listen to the false concern in that patronizing voice falter as her own inevitable fate dawned on her, dig the truth in deeper. They were all damned. Angel – her heart twisted within her. Stupid, mortal heart. They had betrayed each other so many times, in countless different ways. She expected no sympathy from that quarter. The only one who might understand was the one least likely to care.


“Darla.” Lindsey's voice came from the doorway, quiet and soothing. He spoke to her as if she were a wild animal, trying to coax her to his hand. She couldn't allow herself to resent it. She wasn't animal. She wasn't that innocent. She was the condemned, a prisoner of hell, rescued for a heartbeat, given a moment's rest only so that the horrors that awaited her death could slice at her with renewed vengeance upon her return.

She didn't turn. Couldn't bear to see that soft look of concern in his eyes, sandpaper on raw nerves screaming. She didn't want to die. Didn't deserve to live. But worse – she didn't have a choice. She was powerless.


His voice came again, and she closed her eyes against the stab of pain that went through her. “It's Halloween tonight. I'm afraid – the building always has children in, trick or treating. I know you treasure your peace and quiet but…”

“It doesn't matter.” She kept her tone even through an effort, each word measured and flat. Smooth glass, give them nothing to hold on to, nothing to grab and tear. Another drop of rain began its slow, inevitable descent.

She heard him shift uncomfortably behind her. “I understand that Halloween is a traditionally slow night, for…”

“Vampires, demons. You can say the words. I won't break.” She was already broken, hairline cracks running through her entire body. Waiting only to shatter with her final breath.

Behind her, Lindsey inhaled. Let it out on a sigh. She let the sound slide off of her. She couldn't be what he wanted. Couldn't be what anybody wanted.

“So, there won't be any memories?”

Memories. There were always memories. Strongest now were the times of despair. After she left Drusilla and William, unable to stand their reminders of Angelus, of Drusilla's mad babbling about her Daddy. She lost track of how many she turned during her journeys alone. Each tall, dark and broad shouldered. And each one staked as he failed to live up to the ideal in her head. The loneliness finally drove her first to the New World, and then further west. The call of the Hellmouth, combined with the rumors that her Sire had established a new foothold, drew her to Sunnydale. And somehow, she never could quite summon the courage to leave again. Even as she lost her treasured status as her Sire's darling and was treated like the barest fledgling, a mere minion. He'd never forgiven her for choosing Angelus instead of him and made her pay a thousand times over. But she still stayed. The loneliness was worse than the servitude. The same emptiness and despair she felt now.

With an effort, she broke free of the past. Hundreds of years of acting – in life, in death, in life again – kept her voice emotionless. “No, Lindsey. There won't be any memories. Not of Halloween.”

She could feel him moving closer, his left hand hovering over her shoulder for just a second before pulling back. He rarely touched her. As if he were afraid that if he did, she'd disappear. His hand would pass right through her as she dissolved back into dust. She sometimes wondered if he would only grab her, shake her, hit her, if she would feel anything. Or if this body, this weak, human body she could almost feel decaying around her, was forever numb. Had the fires of Hell burned away her nerve endings? Or was that part of her still trapped there, screaming?

“Darla.” Lindsey's tentative tones reached her ears again.

“Yes?” If he said her name enough times, she thought with a flash of anger she quickly smothered, maybe she would become real. Something more than the shadow she felt herself. She focused on the rain tracing the glass, concentrating on her breathing, centering herself. She was weak now, helpless. She couldn't afford to show anything that could be used against her. She couldn't afford to trust anybody but herself. Everyone else betrayed.

“If there's anything you need, anything I can do, you know that I will. I only want to help you.”

Make me immortal again. Save me.

But she just shook her head. “No, thank you, Lindsey. There's nothing I need.”

She felt gaze pressing into her. Stay still. Don't move. They only chase you if you run. When he left, when she was alone again, she could let herself relax. Watch the hypnotizing motion of the rain sliding down the window, listen to the rhythmic patter of the drops hitting the glass.


May, 2001

With a sigh, Darla let her victim crumple to the ground, savoring the taste of rich, warm blood that still filled her mouth. Chocolate, she noted absently, and coffee. That extra buzz shivered through her, sparking like electricity. She still reveled in the power coursing through her veins, treasured each kill as if it were the first again. And she felt even stronger now than she had on her previous turning. Who would have thought that Drusilla would give her such gifts?

But she was still hungry. She frowned as she looked at body lying at her feet. The third that night. That felt a little off. Darla dismissed the thought with a shrug. She had three years worth of death to make up for. The hunger would pass, eventually. It always did.

Her head tilted to one side. She thought she heard something; a faint patter, like raindrops. She shivered suddenly, forcing down the memories. Absently, her hand caressed her stomach. She still had a couple of hours until dawn. Time for at least one more kill.


September, 2001

The drumbeats thrummed through her like a heartbeat. Like the heartbeat she could hear within her womb. The two sounds echoing and entwining with one another until she wanted to scream, to rip the child from her, to tear the throats out of the drummers and drink their blood until she finally felt satiated.

She hated it. Parasite. Infestation. She could feel it growing and moving inside her. It was everything she loathed, a reminder of mortal existence. Everything she'd given up, given up twice and never regretted it. She'd never wanted a child, not even in her first mortal life. This thing was an abomination, a creature she would find a way to destroy before it destroyed her.

I must be patient.

She was so close to finding the answers she sought. What it was that was growing within her. Where it came from. And most importantly, how to get rid of it. She couldn't afford to indulge her own rage, to annihilate those who might solve the puzzle.

The bokor approached her warily, remaining out of reach. He shook his head, his face grave.

Darla felt her stomach lurch within her as the scent of blood wafted towards her. She couldn't tell if it was the increasing hunger or nausea. The creature within her upset everything, disturbed her unnatural balance with the world. Made her loathe and crave the taste of blood at the same time. Tried to control her. She would not be controlled.

“We have learned nothing that you did not already know. That which you carry is alive, and should not be. It is destruction and it is salvation. And the loa will not intervene.”

Darla felt her face contort with rage. “But what is it? Why is it here?”

The bokor frowned. “I have said that they will not reveal more. It is not for a djab, a devil, to question the loa. We will not aid you any further.”

It was so hard to think anymore, feeling that life fighting inside of her. Feeling her own hunger grow greater with every passing day, every passing minute. As if she could drink down victims by the dozens and never become full. And the noise. The constant noise, the rapid heartbeat within growing louder every day. She'd tried to drown it out with the screams of others, their pleas for mercy, but it was always present. The sound of the thing moving within her, the heart beating – she could never find peace anymore. When was the last time she'd truly felt peace? Perhaps that brief moment in the wine cellar, Lindsey's throat bared before her. A chance to unleash all the frustration and rage she'd kept bottled up as a human, knowing she had the power over his life or death. The feel of necks snapping beneath her hands like twigs, throats tearing beneath her fangs, the blood filling her mouth. Or that night with Angel, feeling him move within her, during the brief moments when she had hope that Angelus would return. Visions of death and chaos and safety dancing through her head. Of togetherness and companionship. Visions ripped to shreds when he somehow kept his soul but apparently gave her this creature within her instead.

She'd heard rumors of a shaman in South America. One who specialized in ritual magic and demonic pregnancies. He was her last hope. If he was unable to tell her what was growing inside her and how to destroy it, she'd have no choice but to seek out Angel. If for no other reason than she refused to continue to suffer alone. He'd done this to her. He would pay.

If she could only silence those infernal drums. With a snarl, she moved forward, hands outstretched. But the bokor was ready, a cross appearing in his hands. “Go. Do not anger the loa further.”




Her body hungered for the kill, for the blood, but she forced it down. She was still in control of herself. She gave a final glare before vanishing back into the night.


October 22nd, 2001

It was raining again. Darla felt the pain wracking her body, tightening in bands of red agony, and thought that the rain was a mercy she did not deserve. The droplets washed away her tears before they could become evident, before Angel and those humans could observe them. Her hand cupped her stomach, taunt and full. Life. She was going to give life. A wave of emotion swept through her, a feeling of love so great she almost didn't feel the pain of the next contraction. Tears traced paths down her face, disguised by the downpour.

She grasped the feeling, held on to it tightly. She hadn't known. Hadn't realized what she'd done to others, ripping away this love she treasured more than anything, more than her own existence.

I won't lose it. The thought was desperate. She'd risk anything rather than risk losing the memory of this feeling. She couldn't go back to what she was. She saw Angel closing his eyes tightly. Barely felt the pain as his hand crushed hers.

She felt blindly with her free hand, grasped a shard of wood. Alleys , she thought ironically, always seemed to have convenient stakes . Listened to the heartbeat within her, concentrated on it. It was growing fainter but she still had time, she could still save her son. She had been a whore in life, a whore in death, tempting men to their fall. She would be redeemed by the savior she was giving birth to, the pure soul she felt moving inside her. He was good. She knew it, knew it as surely as she knew that she was not. She could feel his love for her in every cell of her body. The knowledge that her son truly loved her, that she truly loved him would save her. The sound of his heartbeat within her, soothing her. She would cling to that sound in hell. No shrieks of pain, no cries of torment could drown out that sound from her memories. The knowledge that she'd done one good thing. With a final sigh, she drove the stake towards her own heart. Clung to love even as she felt her body turn to dust, washed away in the pouring rain.



Los Angeles, 2002

She watched from the shadows, always invisible. Unseen. When she plunged a stake towards her own heart, she'd done so knowing that she was headed back to hell. Almost welcomed it.

But then the fates played yet another trick upon her. The Powers that Be, the Senior Partners. She didn't know which was to blame and she didn't even know if it really made a difference. They might define themselves by good or evil, but she no longer could see a distinction between them. They – whichever they it was - gave her back her soul, tied her existence to that of her son's.

At first she thought that it was a reward, a form of heaven gifted to her for her own self-sacrifice. Able to watch her infant son, the love and warmth he received. Still able to feel that love herself.

But she had no ability to change things, to alter a course of events so terrible that Hell would have been a release compared to the torment she suffered now. Watched betrayal after betrayal, her happiness a house of cards crumbling inwards. Watching her infant son blink out of existence as he was carried to Quar'toth. Felt herself blink out of existence with him, hurled back to Hell.

Then, suddenly, she was back, and so was her child. Only he wasn't a child any longer. His body was that of a teenager but his eyes – his eyes held a weight of years that nearly crushed her. And she knew then that she was still damned. Condemned to watch her son move in a haze of pain and confusion and pay for her centuries of death. She had brought an innocent soul into the world, only to watch it twist in agony far more lingering than the death she brought to her countless victims. His eyes filled with shadows of loss and distrust, unable to love or hope. And every word of despair he spoke was a blow against her.

Darla watched from the shadows when Connor sank Angelus to the bottom of the ocean. Decided it was a fitting punishment. Angel had promised to keep their son safe, promised to protect him. Instead he'd let him be taken. Stolen seventeen years of watching from her, stolen love and laughter and joy from Connor.

Bitter rage filled her as she watched Angel's return. She saw him reject the child she still loved and wanted to yell, to scream. Make herself heard, do something. But she could only observe. Watch as every joy her son tried to reach crumbled to dust beneath his hands. That thing with Cordelia's face. Should have eaten her when I had the chance. Not even the soul within her could mitigate the rage she felt as her son fell further and further into himself, manipulated by a beautiful body and sweet lies.

Justice. How often had she used her own body, her own lies, to manipulate men? Laughed in her heart at how easy it was, how vulnerable they were. The sins of the parent revisited upon the child.

Forced to watch, Darla began to concentrate all of her rage and anger and sadness, all of the overwhelming love she still felt for her son. Balled it up tight within her, feeding it. She would not be controlled . She would not allow her son to be controlled. Not by some power with its own agenda. Her son deserved a chance to live, a chance for joy. Used those emotions to force herself into existence a final time.


Tried to reach him, show him the love that she still felt, that pervaded her entire being. Felt herself almost break through when – it was too late. The thing wearing Cordelia's face was stronger than she was, its lies stronger. Darla had failed.

She watched the remainder of the days almost numbly. Saw the mask of joy on his beautiful face, but felt the anger within his heart. Sat beside Connor as he slept, her hands reaching out to caress his face instinctively, even as they passed right through him. I'll never hold my son. She somehow still felt the shock of that, pain a knife edge slicing through her. Darla watched as her son saved the world at the cost of his last hope of peace, losing himself in the process. Falling into an ocean of rage.

Felt her heart scream as she watched the decision on Angel's face. How can you do it? How can you sacrifice our son? He was the one good thing we did together. How can you?

And when the knife slashed down a final time, she felt her last ties to the earth sever with that final heartbeat, whirling her back into hell. The pain and despair upon her child's face the only thing she would ever see again.

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