Truth and Bone
Chapter Two: Truth and Bone
with the light in our eyes it's hard to see
i'm not touched but i'm aching to be
i want you to come, i want you to come
i want you to come walk this world with me
It was past midnight by the time Lauren arrived back at her sub-basement level apartment, and she never thought she’d actually be grateful to see it, but she was. However, as she descended the stairs she was quickly aware of the smell of demon in the air. She couldn’t see them, but she could smell them nonetheless.
Sighing, Lauren reached into the back of her jeans and pulled her favourite stake out. They weren’t vampires, but years of experience had taught her the hard way that many things could be killed with a stake. It also conveyed an important message; this person knew what they were doing.
When she was far enough down the rickety, somewhat rotten wooden staircase to get a look at the door to her apartment, she bent forward and looked a little further. T’Aker demons, mercenaries for hire mostly, and quite a few of them. If she’d been in her top form, they’d have been no worries. But as it was, she was hungry, tired and injured, and although she could still take them out, she knew she’d be injured pretty badly. With the night’s patrol wounds still fresh, and her knee on the verge of dislocating again, that wasn’t a course of action she wanted to take. Slowly, so as not to attract their attention, she backed up the stairs.
When she’d reached the street level she broke into a run, heading anywhere that wasn’t her apartment building. She ran blindly in the opposite direction for blocks, only stopping when her fear had run itself out. She’d never been afraid before. Numb, betrayed, ecstatic, grief-stricken... those she’d been. But fear, never. Gasping in deep breaths to calm herself and keep the tears back, she squatted down and placed her hands on her sides.
It was then that she noticed where she was. There was a brick wall in front of her, but over the top of it towered what was very obviously playground equipment. A brightly coloured plastic sign hung by the front gate ‘St. Paul’s Kindergarten’. A Catholic kindergarten. Alex was Catholic, Lauren remembered, holding back a sob.//“What are you two up to now? Please tell me I won’t have to throw you out.”
“Laurs, love, I know yer stronger than me usually, but I doubt ye can do anything of the sort in yer current condition.”
“I have to agree with Alex, Lauren.”
“Oh, you do, do you? Well, do I need to threaten you two with Buffy? Because I will.”
“No, no, absolutely not. We’re behaving ourselves.”
“Good. Because right now it’s just too much effort to walk to the phone.” Lauren fell back onto the coach, settling into the cushions and folding her hands over her enlarged stomach.
“So, what was it you two were whispering about before I waddled in?”
“The baby’s baptism, actually,” Alex replied sheepishly. Lauren glared at him, and then at his accomplice, but her stifled yawn ruined any intimidating effect it may have had.
“Alex, we’ve been over this. I’m. Not. Catholic. No one in my family is, or ever has been.”
“But I am. My whole family is. And you KNOW what my mother’s going to say if the baby’s not Catholic.” Lauren closed her eyes, grimacing tiredly at the mere thought of her mother-in-law.
“Unfortunately, yes. But Alex, who else do we know that’s Catholic? I mean, the baby’ll need godparents, won’t it?”
“Well, I’m Catholic,” ventured their guest, and Lauren could almost see Alex giving him a thankful smile from behind her eyelids.
“Yes, but you don’t count.” Lauren said, mumbling through a yawn.
“Oh.” His tone caused her eyes to flick open, and when she saw his expression she was quick to amend her statement.
“I mean, you’re so old you practically founded the bloody church.” She was rewarded with a half-smile for her efforts, which made her feel immensely better. Angel’s self-esteem was bad enough; he didn’t need to be put down by his best friend’s hormonally imbalanced, very pregnant wife.
“I’m not quite that old.”
“Yeh, well, you’re Irish. You’re all Catholic, aren’t you? That’s why there’s so many of you.” Alex was still looking at her, puppy dog eyes firmly in place. Lauren managed to hold his gaze for a few moments before she surrendered.
“Look, I’ll strike a compromise. But it’s just for now, ok? I get Buffy for godmother, since she’s the same religion as me, and you get Angel for godfather, since he’s the same religion as you. That is, if he agrees.” She looked up at that, and was greeted with a look of awed, grateful disbelief.
“Yes, of course . That is, if you’re sure you want to do that...”
“O’ course we’re sure, ye great git. I can’ think o’ anyone I’d rather have as godfather.” Alex gave Angel a mischievous smile then, as an obviously evil thought popped into his brain. “Besides, I gotta keep ye around fer advice on how to make m’self an even bigger family.” Angel couldn’t help but smile at that, and Alex revelled in the blush that rose to Lauren’s cheeks.
“I can’t believe you two talk about that! And around me! I’m fat and bloated, and you’re still contemplating... ugh. Get out of here, you two. I wanna sleep, and I’m too lazy and heavy to get upstairs in any way,” she ordered around another yawn.
“I can carry you, if you’d like. Your bed’ll be much more comfortable.”
“Tha’s ok Angel. I’ll take ye, won’t I, m’ love?” Lauren smiled sleepily at him, her gaze full of love as she lazily outstretched her arms. Alex gathered Lauren in his arms and carried her upstairs, mumbling to her softly the entire trip. A lazy smile stretched across her features as she lent her head against his shoulder. Angel felt a pang of jealousy travel through him. He’d long since accepted that he and Buffy would never be like Alex and Lauren. Their situations were different... and he would never deserve such bliss. Still, during moments like this, he couldn’t help but hope.//
She’d caved eventually, of course, and their beautiful daughter had been baptised Catholic. She’d still kept Buffy as godmother though, and Alex had raised no complaint. God, she missed them all. Ached for them, for home. It had been that way since she’d left, but with the dreams she’d been having lately, her feelings seemed magnified, more intense, sharper.
She knew she should have called Angel weeks ago, when the dreams first started. She knew it would’ve been the right thing to do -- what if her dreams were prophetic? But it hurt that they hadn’t recognised her. That he hadn’t recognised her. Alex had considered Angel a close friend -- the only other Irishman in Sunnydale -- and the fact that he didn’t know her, despite her glamour... it hurt.
Deciding that her pride would have to be pushed to the wayside for this particular occasion, Lauren reached into the back pocket of her jeans and dug out the crumpled Angel Investigations card. It’d sat in her jeans for weeks, and she wasn’t sure why she’d never thrown it out, but right now she was thankful she hadn’t.
The ‘Hyperion Hotel’ wasn’t too far, about twenty minutes or so on foot, less by the subway.
Taking a deep breath and casting one last look at the deserted playground, Lauren turned and walked away hurriedly, looking neither forward nor back. ~*~
my mouth is full of secrets i'm too afraid to tell
my body's full of longing for you to know me well
i move through the day in the rhythms that i've known
i've got this crazy dream of stripping down to truth and bone
“That was definitely an... interesting performance. At least, it was up until when I fell asleep. Did I miss much?”
“No Gunn. And I assure you, it’s perfectly acceptable to snore through LES MISÉRABLES! I can’t believe you! Who sleeps through Les Mis?”
“Okay, okay. Sheesh Cordy, you wanna tone that down to... ooh, hello.”
Angel looked up at Gunn’s breathy exclamation, seeing a flash of blonde hair from the edge of his vision. Was it...? But he stopped himself before he finished that thought. No, it wasn’t her; he’d have felt it. Taking a deep breath, he turned his head and at first, he didn’t recognise her. Her hair colour was different, and her eye colour too, which was a surprise.
“Uh... hi. I’m sorry. Have I come at a bad time? I could possibly, umm, come back later...” Lauren stammered, surprisingly shy around the group of strangers. She recognised the voice of one of the women, Cordy, that guy had called her, and Angel, of course, but none of the others.
“No, no. It’s not a bad time at all. Have you been here long?” Lauren shook her head in denial, finding it easier then lying outright, and Angel looked relieved.
“Please, come inside. Have a seat,” he said, gesturing towards the door. Lauren made a feeble attempt at a thankful smile, and the vampire returned it, opening the door and ushering her in.
When they were gathered inside introductions were made, and they all stood uncomfortably afterwards, no one quite sure what to say or do.
“Well,” Angel began, clearing his throat. “How about we sit down?” Everyone seemed to be in silent agreement, because they moved down the stairs and onto the couch without saying a word.
After this there seemed to be nothing left to do to break the ice, and Angel sat down and looked at Lauren intently, awaiting the reason as to why she’d just shown up weeks after their encounter, without so much as a call. Perhaps she’d have a solution to the strange dreams he’d been having. He wondered if she had them as well.
Lauren sat uncomfortably, fiddling with the ring hanging from a chain around her neck. She’d been certain she should come here, but now she wasn’t so sure. What should she say? ‘Oh yeh, I got scared by a bunch of measly demons, so I ran, and this is the only place I knew to run too’. She could see that going down real well.
The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. Lauren could feel Angel’s eyes boring into her down turned head, and her thoughts flickered back to Alex’s words in her last dream.//It’s okay Laurs. Ye can talk t’Angel. He’ll keep ye safe when I can’t.//
She still didn’t know what to say.
There was another man, wearing glasses and a slightly stuffy air, who was regarding her as intently as Angel, although he was much more discreet about it. She blinked her eyes, focusing on his face, and realised who he was at the same time he realised who she was. She saw the recognition spread across Wesley’s face, and searched frantically for something to say before he did.
“I, ah, I came to tell you that there’s a wicked nasty nest of T’Akagr demons that’s ransacking my neighbourhood. Thought you should know, that’s all.” She blurted out, standing quickly and heading straight for the front doors. However, in her hurry to reach the door, she tripped on one of the steps. Angel was by her side before she hit the ground, catching her as he often had Cordelia when a vision struck. He steadied her easily, and she took a step backwards, up the stairs. All she succeeded in doing was making herself stumble again, but she caught herself this time, steadying herself a step away from him.
“I take it you need help with them, then?” Lauren’s eyes flashed at that, and Angel realised immediately that he’d used the wrong word.
“Help? No. No, I don’t need your help. I’m good. You know... how about you just forget that I visited at all. I can take care of this problem fine by myself.”
“Really? When you have trouble making it up a couple of steps without stumbling?”
Lauren narrowed her eyes at him, stepping forward so that their eyes were more or less even, given that he was a couple of steps below her.
“You know, I’m sure Les Misérables was lots of fun. It’s nice to know you’re taking in dinner and a show while the rest of us have our asses handed to us on a plate,” she said sharply, casting a pointed glance at the plush hotel interior and their expensive evening clothes.
Angel’s eyes flashed, gold mixing with the chocolate brown. He opened his mouth to reply, but he never had the chance to say what would’ve definitely driven her away for good, because just as he was about too, Cordelia’s hands flew to her head and she shrieked, collapsing into Gunn’s arms as she was overcome with pain.
“Oh... oh my god... S-Sunnydale... the Hellmouth and-and... Buffy... Willow... and... oh gods, Oz!”
Angel had started for the door on ‘Buffy’, satisfied that Cordelia would be safe with the others until they could meet him in Sunnydale. The road was quiet, his car the lone one parked by the sidewalk. He was halfway towards it when a flash of denim and blonde hair rushed past him, headed for the same car. Vampiric reflexes enabled him to reach out and grab Lauren just before she was out of reach, pulling her back onto his chest. She jerked away quickly, swivelling to plant a fiery glare on him.
“What?” She spat out, her words dripping with barely restrained fury. The extent of her anger took Angel by surprise, and he bit back a growl as the demon raged within him.
“What are you doing? Planning on stealing my car to get to the Hellmouth? Do you even know where Sunnydale is,” he replied, loading his voice with scorn. Lauren looked at him with a mixture of disbelief, disgust and anger.
“Of course I know where Sunnydale is. My fucking brother lives there. I used to live there, wise ass.”
“Oh, really? Well, if your brother’s just a normal resident of Sunnydale, I truly doubt this’ll have anything to do with him at all,” Angel replied, settling his weight as he prepared to sink into an argument. Lauren growled at him then, and Angel watched in surprise as her eyes turned a deep emerald green and red streaks appeared in her blonde hair.
“We’re wasting time. You wanna make sure Bu -- whoever you’re after is okay, and I wanna check on my brother. Can’t we just go?!”
“Not until you tell me who you are. Or, more importantly, what you are.”
“Neither are anything that should interest you. All you need know is that I won’t hurt you. At least, not on this car trip. I need to get to Sunnydale as much as you do.”
Angel regarded her for a second, his brow creased. His instincts told him this was a bad idea, but the look of utter desperation in her eyes stopped him from saying no. Opening the car door, he gestured for her to get in, which she did, warily sliding into the passenger’s seat. Angel crossed to the drivers’ side, never taking his eyes off her, before sliding into his own seat.