Series Title: The Night Before Christmas
Story Title: If Your Heart’s Been Longing
Crossover: Beauty and the Beast
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of them, I’m just getting into the holiday spirit. Joss owns Angel, I don’t remember who owns Catherine, the title comes from the song ‘The Night Before Christmas’, sung by Carly Simon.
Summery: An alley, vampires, a rescue, but who is really the one in distress.
As she made her way home from the soup kitchen where she’d spent the evening volunteering, Catherine Chandler felt the rosy glow of doing good deeds fade into the onslaught of fatigue after a tiring day. She’d left the office and came directly to the mission, and now the hours were starting to take their toll.
Catherine was not so tired that she totally lost touch with her surroundings, so when she heard odd noises from a nearby alley she walked faster and began to scan her surroundings. The area she was walking through wasn’t particularly bad, which was why she’d abstained from calling a cab to enjoy the unusually mild December evening. Catherine was familiar enough with the city’s seedier side to take precautions, however all the precautions in the world wouldn’t have prepared her for what happened next.
The moan was so soft that she barely heard it, but it was enough to draw Catherine towards the alley, despite the shadows that lurked there. If there was someone who needed help, she couldn’t turn away.
“Hello,” she called out. “Is someone there? Do you need help?”
There was no answer other than another faint moan, and Catherine moved a little farther into the alley. Finally she was able to make out a man, lying face down in the shadows. She rushed over to him, and began to turn the large man over.
“Hello?” she said, shaking him softly. “Are you hurt? What’s wrong?”
“Hello,” was the faint, reply.
“You’re awake,” Catherine said, relieved. She still hadn’t managed to turn the hunched figure over.
“Yes. Thank goodness you came,” the figure said, a bit more animated. His sudden recovery started the alarm bells blaring in Catherine’s mind. Then he rolled over, and grabbed her.
Catherine had seen many unusual things over the past few years since Vincent had entered her life, including Vincent himself, and not all of them were pleasant. However, nothing sent had sent tendrils of dread coursing through her as quickly as the cold malice in the yellow eyes of the creature before her. She hadn’t been this frightened since the attack which had led her Below, and the creature hadn’t done more than grab her arm. It’s next words didn’t make her feel safer.
“If you hadn’t come then I’d have had to go and find my dinner,” it said, jerking her roughly forward to its chest. Catherine struggled, but the creature had her off balance, crouched on the ground. It also had a grip that seemed to be made of steel. Catherine’s struggles didn’t make a difference, and it used its free hand to brush her hair back from her neck.
“Let me go!” she yelled.
“Why would I want to do that when you were so nice to come to me?” it asked, as it began to bite down on her neck. Before it could do more than scratch her, she felt it jerked roughly away from her.
Catherine looked up quickly, expecting to see Vincent, but instead saw a very ragged looking bum dragging the struggling creature away from her. The man looked normal, but he didn’t seem phased by the creature’s struggles or its gruesome looks. Soon both figures disappeared in the shadows, and all Catherine could see were hints of movement accompanied by the sound of fists connecting flesh followed by a strange whooshing sound. The homeless man emerged from the shadows, wiping his hands on his tattered pants before crouching down in front of her, where she was still half kneeling on the pavement.
“Are you alright?” the man asked, in a surprisingly soft voice. Catherine noted that despite his obvious concern for her welfare, he seemed to be trying to keep a large gap between them. His dark eyes kept flicking towards the scratch on her throat, and he kept swallowing hard. Then his eyes flew up to the entry to the alley.
“Something’s coming,” he said, rising and moving to stand in front of her.
“It’s okay,” Catherine said, rising as well. “It’s probably a friend of mine.”
“Your friend doesn’t sound happy,” the man replied.
“He probably isn’t, but once he knows I’m alright he’ll be fine,” she said.
Just then Vincent entered the alley, just as unhappy as the man had said he would be. However, the lack of struggle between Catherine and the strange man brought him up short.
“Catherine,” he said. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, thanks to my new friend here. He pulled off whoever, or whatever, was attacking me. I was just going to thank him when you got here.”
Catherine turned towards the man and saw that he was slowly backing away from her and Vincent.
“It’s okay,” she said, reassuringly. “Vincent’s a friend of mine.”
It took a minute for Catherine to realize the man seemed more intimidated by her than he was of Vincent. She supposed it made sense since he didn’t seem phased by the twisted features of her attacker, but she couldn’t fathom what she had done to him. She did notice that his eyes were nailed to the scratch on her neck until he suddenly jerked and turned away, panting.
“What’s wrong?” Catherine asked, as she closed the distance between them.
“Catherine, be careful,” Vincent warned from behind her, alarmed by the man’s strange behavior.
“She’s bleeding,” the man said, his voice rough, obviously talking to Vincent. “You should get her patched up, “ he finished then began to move away towards the shadows.
“Wait,” Catherine called out, but it was too late. The man had already vanished into the darkness.
Catherine turned and walked into Vincent’s embrace, before letting him guide her out of the alley. She reassured him that she was alright, and let him fuss over her injury as he walked her home, but part of her mind was still wrapped up in the stranger in the alley. Something about him called to her, although she couldn’t quite figure out why. Maybe it was just because he had helped her, without asking for anything in return, something she rarely saw except in Vincent and the others Below. Maybe it was the fact that he seemed just as much in need of help that night as she had, but he hadn’t let himself receive it. Whatever the reason, Catherine knew she was going to have to try and find her rescuer again.
Catherine prided herself on being a goal oriented person. Once she set her sights on something, she worked towards that something no matter what the obstacles, or what others said. This was why Catherine had been spending progressively colder late afternoons and evenings trying to track down her evasive hero, despite the fact it was probably futile.
Vincent had promised to have those Helpers who would be in contact with the homeless of New York to keep an eye out for the man, but neither she nor Vincent could offer much of a description to go on.
Catherine was moved among the alleys and shelters looking for the strange man. She wasn’t quite sure what she would do once she found him, but she couldn’t back away from this challenge. Both curiosity and a desire to help the man who’d saved her life compelled her to try and find him, even if it was only to say thank you.
Almost two weeks later, Catherine had again returned to the site of the attack. She stopped by here often, hoping that the area was one of the man’s regular haunts, but she had yet to spot any sign of him. As the much more seasonal wind whipped through the twilight air, chilling her despite her thick coat, Catherine let out a sigh, and moved towards home, again disheartened. She was just about ready to give up the search for the mysterious stranger as a lost cause.
A loud crash and a muffled curse from the alley across the street caught Catherine’s attention, and she moved over to investigate it. When she arrived at the mouth of the alley, she saw a figure digging through a pile of fallen rubbish. He was so intent on his quarry that he didn’t even notice Catherine standing there. Catherine took immediate notice though, when the man looked up and revealed the face of her mysterious rescuer. Thanking whatever powers had brought her here, she stepped further into the alley and spoke.
“Hello,” she said, softly, hoping not to startle the man too much.
The stranger, jumped and turned to face her, backing away, and looking about for exits.
“Please, don’t go. I won’t hurt you. You helped me a few weeks ago. Do you remember?”
“I remember,” he replied, stilling his flight, but not coming any closer. At least until Catherine took a few steps forward. “Stay away,” he yelped, backing up an equal number of paces.
“Okay,” Catherine said, holding up her hands and taking a step back. “But I’m not here to hurt you.”
“What do you want?” the man said, curiosity seeming to overcome his shyness.
“I wanted to say thank you.”
This seemed to genuinely puzzle the man. He didn’t quite seem to know how to deal with that.
“You’ve been trying to track me down to say thank you?”
“You knew I was looking for you.”
The man just nodded.
“Why didn’t you let me find you?”
“Seemed like a lot of trouble to go through to find someone. I thought you were going to let your friend Vincent have a go at me.”
“Vincent’s,” Catherine stopped before saying he was harmless, and instead settled for a statement of fact. “Vincent just wants to make sure I’m safe.”
“He shouldn’t let you wander around alleys at night, then.”
“I can usually take care of myself. That, whatever it was-”
Catherine raised an eyebrow but didn’t protest the description.
“That vampire just caught me off guard.”
The man in front of her didn’t seem convinced, and seemed to be debating whether or not to say something about it. Finally he seemed to come to a decision, but his next words threw Catherine off.
“You wanted to say thank you. I said you’re welcome.”
Now it was Catherine’s turn to be confused. The man just stared at her, his face neutral. Then he spoke again.
“You should go home. It’s cold, and it isn’t safe after dark.”
“You said that before, but you’re out here.”
“I’ve been living out here for a long time,” the man said with a slight smile.
They continued to stare at each other for a few more moments. Finally, Catherine gave a frustrated sigh.
“At least tell me your name before I go, so I can give my hero an identity.”
“I’m not a hero,” the man said stubbornly.
“You were for me,” Catherine said, just as stubborn in return.
“What?” Catherine said, confused.
“My name is Angel,” he said, a ghost of a smile again on his face. Then he turned solemn again. “So now I have a name, and you’ve said thank you. You should go.”
Catherine was not about to be put off that easily. She came to a quick decision and took a few careful steps towards the man. He tensed, but he didn’t back away.
“Listen, Angel, why don’t you come-,”
“Don’t!” Angel said sharply.
“Don’t invite me over to your house.”
Catherine gave a wry smile.
“Actually I was going to invite you to the mission I volunteer at.”
Angel looked embarrassed, glancing away from her and shifting uncomfortably. Catherine took advantage of this and closed the distance between them a little more. Angel’s eyes flew back to her, freezing her in place.
“I shouldn’t be in a mission,” he said.
“Everyone is welcome there, Angel. They don’t discriminate.”
“Others need it more. I’m fine.”
“At least let me take you there for a meal, maybe a hot shower and some new clothes. Those are looking pretty ragged, and it’s getting colder.”
Angel seemed to consider this for a moment, then finally he relented.
“Alright,” he said, reluctantly. “New clothes and a shower, but that’s it. I’m sure someone else could use the meal more than me.”
Catherine was just happy the man hadn’t run away, so she kept her protests to herself. Instead she turned and gestured for the man to lead the way towards the shelter. She caught another faint smile at her obvious attempt to keep her eye on him so he couldn’t slip away. She returned it with a warm smile of her own, and the two of them made their way towards the shelter.
A couple of hours later, both of them were seated in the now empty cafeteria area. Angel had gotten cleaned up, and changed into the new set of clothes, but he had steadfastly refused to eat anything. He had conceded to a cup of coffee, and now each of them clutched a mug between their hands. They sat in slightly awkward silence, as steam curled up from each mug.
“Angel, why won’t you take something to eat. You have to be hungry.”
“I am, but others need the food more than I do. I don’t deserve it.”
“What makes you say that.”
“I’m a monster,” he mumbled, staring down at his drink, refusing to meet Catherine’s eyes.
“You don’t seem like a monster.”
“Looks can be deceiving.”
Catherine quirked an eyebrow at that.
“I know you saw Vincent. You have to know that looks don’t mean a whole lot to me.”
“It’s not my looks that make me a monster,” Angel said, looking up. Catherine’s heart ached at the depth of sorrow she saw in his dark eyes. “It’s the things I’ve done.”
“I find it hard to believe you could have done anything that awful, but whatever happened, you seem sorry for it now.”
“Being sorry isn’t enough. I can be sorry for centuries, and it will never be enough.”
“Then do something about it. You saved my life, you obviously know that there are a lot of things in this city that aren’t what they seem. I know people who could help you, so that you could help others. Maybe even learn to let go of your pain.”
“I can never let go,” he said, tiredly. “Your friends are better off without my help too. Every time I try and help someone they end up getting hurt.”
“Nonsense,” Catherine said, sharply. “One person may not be able to change the world, but they can make an important difference. Every person is important.”
Catherine couldn’t quite make out what Angel’s reply was, but she could have sworn he had said he wasn’t a person. Then he seemed to switch gears back into retreat mode.
“Listen, Catherine, I appreciate what you’re saying, and I’m sure you believe it, but I’ve seen things, done things that you could never imagine. Trust me when I tell you that you and your friends are better off without me.”
“Everyone deserves a second chance.”
“Not me,” he stated, pushing back his chair.
“Angel-,” Catherine said, reaching out to restrain him. He paused, a sad smile on his face, and a haunted look in his eyes.
“You know, my sister’s name was Kathy. She was always trying to see the best in me too,” he said as he turned to walk away.
“What happened?” Catherine asked, although she half-knew the answer.
“I-, she died,” Angel said, pausing. “She saw me as something I wasn’t, and it got her killed. Thank you for the coffee and the clothes Catherine. You’ve been too kind.”
With that, Angel moved out of the door and into the night. By the time Catherine had shook herself out of her daze to rush after him, he had vanished into the night.
Catherine arrived at her apartment later, frustrated and sad. She was genuinely worried for Angel, and she wanted to ease some of the pain he seemed to be going through, just as others had helped to ease her through some of her own. As she was unlocking her door, she glanced up to see a sheet of paper folded and slipped behind the number plate.
Catherine opened it as she walked inside, expecting to see a note from Vincent, and wondering why he hadn’t left it on the balcony as usual. Instead, inside she found a flowing, but unfamiliar handwriting, spelling out a simple message: Thank you for your kindness, Catherine. Please do not try and find me again. -Angel
Catherine stared at it a few minutes, before stepping out onto the balcony and into Vincent’s waiting arms.
“I don’t understand why he was afraid to let me help him.”
“If a person can’t see his own worth, Catherine, it doesn’t matter how much someone else sees in them.”
“I just keep thinking that maybe if we’d been able to get him out there, helping people, then whatever is haunting him might have been eased a little.”
“Maybe he just wasn’t ready for it. Perhaps some day he’ll be able to try and reach out.”
“I hope so, Vincent. I hope so,” she said, leaning into the embrace. Silently she said a little prayer that someday Angel might come to realize the kind of difference a person can make.