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Expiation: The means by which reparation or atonement for crimes or sins is made; an expiatory sacrifice or offering; an atonement.
If you had asked me a year ago if I thought that I mattered to anyone, I would have said, “No. I don’t even matter to me.”
You probably would have found me in a bar, tossing back spirits, ogling the female patrons and then coming up short for my tab. I would be half drunk by noon, completely drunk by dinnertime and passed out by the time the night crowd arrived. That was my life. That was my reason for living. Alcohol, women and that wonderful calm that comes with floating away on a tequila wave.
To say I existed is a stretch of the word. I didn’t really exist. To exist, you’re an actual being and you have a life. I was half of an actual being and half demon and nothing I had could resemble a life. I gambled to get money, took the beatings that accompanied the fact that I couldn’t pay my debts, and then squandered every penny I had for more booze. No, I wouldn’t call that an existence. I would call that limbo, a state of oblivion.
I wasn’t aware of anything past the moment. So when the moment found me beaten and left for dead in an alley, I was all too happy to welcome it. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see because my eyes had swollen shut and I couldn’t do anything to stop my blood from pooling out of the knife wound in my gut. I also couldn’t do anything except comply when strong hands gripped me and put me into the back of some kind of car.
The ride was long and I don’t know how I survived for that period of time, in and out of consciousness. When the hands gripped me again and hoisted me from the car, I was able to open my eyes and there was nothing. I had stepped into a fog that was thick and cold. I was sober enough to be scared and scared enough to be quiet. I knew about demons and other dimensions, but I didn’t know what to make of this … nothingness.
“Hello?” My voice bounced through the area when I finally spoke, returning to me as a faraway echo and I repeated it several times.
Then a voice, as crystal clear as a ringing bell, rumbled through the fog. I could actually see the fog shift as the words blew toward me. “From this day forth, you are a messenger. A seer. No longer shall you live as a vagrant. Your expiation begins today.”
Before I could reply, I was blown backwards and awoke two days later in a hospital bed. I had warm food, warm cover and a headache that would not go away. I thought it was all a dream: the fog, the car ride, the voice. But one word kept clinging to me. A word I didn’t know the meaning of. Expiation.
I asked a nurse, a lovely young thing by the name of Lucy, what that word meant and she was able to find a dictionary. She read it to me. “The act of expiating; atonement.”
I had been told that my atonement was beginning that day.
Now, atoning for your sins is something that only happens to righteous men, right? Men who are seeking spirituality and must cleanse their souls to accept it? Wrong. I didn’t find the Powers That Be. The Powers That Be found me.
The first vision came like a freight train. The minute I stepped into my apartment for the first time after the hospital visit, I was sent to my knees as pain ripped through me. I saw a handsome young man, a vampire, and a beautiful young girl, the Slayer. Their identities were whispered somewhere in the back of my mind, and I knew them. I heard them laughing, I saw them crying, I felt them hurting and I felt their love. My heart would swell with happiness and then crunch with pain, but always, there was love.
I watched her go from a young innocent to a woman in his arms. I watched him go from gentle lover, to psychotic madman. I watched him suffer in hell, her suffer on earth and then I saw them come together again, overcoming odds that would leave the strongest people hollowed out. But they pushed forward, fighting together in the face of adversity.
The vision felt like it went on for hours. I felt her hopes and her dreams. I felt her struggle with herself to maintain her distance and not give in to the desires that burned within her. I felt him too. I felt him reaching for her, only to pull away at the last moment, before it became too late to turn back. I visited his dreams, where she tormented him, asking him why he couldn’t give her what she wanted, why he couldn’t love her like a real man.
I saw the Mayor telling him that they had no future and I was shown the conversation he had with the Slayer’s mother. I felt his body weaken and his resolve slip away as she spoke about her daughter’s future. I saw him following the Slayer through a sewer tunnel, his mind full of pain and his body tight with tension. I intruded on their moment, heard him say things he would wish to erase and then, it stopped and there was blackness and the sounds of sobbing. I felt like I was dying inside.
It moved forward suddenly and I saw Angel alone. He was standing in the distance, staring at her through smoke and debris. Together, they had defeated a demon and it was down to goodbye. The air was electric between them, both wanting to rush forward, to say that it could work, to say that it wasn’t impossible. Both of them waited for the other to make a move and both of them stood their ground. Pride and pain prevented either from stepping forward and after one last look, he turned and disappeared into the night. And it was despair that replaced the pain inside of me.
Then the vision became jumbled. I saw Los Angeles. I saw Angel brooding himself to death and then I saw him dying with her name on his lips. My mission was clear. I was to go to him and give him a link to the Powers That Be. My own atonement was to help him find his. As soon as I got it loud and clear, the vision subsided and my feet propelled me to my desk where I jotted down several things.
When I had written it all down, I napped. When I awoke, I couldn’t remember the Slayer’s face or the intimate details of their life together, but I still carried their pain inside of me. I still carried the memory of great love and great loss, but she would have been a stranger to me on the streets. I was not meant to know her as he knew her, but I knew him, better than he knew himself.
I found him easily enough. I simply let myself into his apartment and waited for him. When he came in, I watched the way he moved; meticulously and without caring for his belongings or his surroundings. Finally, he sensed me and I showed myself to him. He knew immediately that I wasn’t a human and that was good. It saved me from explaining things I’d rather forget. He accepted me almost immediately. It was his nature to just accept things at face value. He had reservations, oh, that much was apparent, but he let me into his world.
After the first mission we went on was finished, and he had saved Cordelia, things began to change immediately. She became a fixture at his place, she needing saving as much as the two of us did. I think I knew instantly that I would love her. I think the minute Angel hopped into the backseat, in front of that madman’s house, and she climbed in beside me, I knew right then.
What can I tell you about Cordy? I said she was a stiffener when I first met her, but now I would say she is a treasure. She was lonely, so lonely that she wore it on her face like a scar. Everytime she smiled, you thought it was a prelude to a rush of tears. I wanted to protect her instantly and be in her life as much as possible. Not just because she made me smile and was easy on the eyes, but because I thought she needed something that she had never had before. Someone to listen and have her best interest at heart. I like her for her. She had no money, no glamorous clothes and nothing to give me other than her big smile and guarded heart. I wanted both.
Okay, okay, so I kind of hoped that her best interest would be realizing that she wanted me desperately, but hey, I am sort of human, right? In all honesty thought, I wouldn’t have just had sex with her. I would have waited until she was ready for me to make love to her and could return the feeling. I dreamed of her, sinful, lusty dreams, but I had respect for her. I had love for her.
For months, we all worked side by side, but more importantly, we grew side by side. When I went to Los Angeles to be Angel’s link to the Powers, I thought he would learn from me, but I would wager a bet that I learned more from him. I learned to be a better man. I learned what self-sacrifice is all about. Did you know that he was a human being for a day? Completely mortal and completely capable of being with his Slayer and he gave it all up for the greater good?
That’s how I wanted to be remembered. As self-sacrificing. I didn’t want to be known forever as a seer, or a link or someone's ex-husband. I didn’t want to be known as a gambler or an alcoholic. I wanted to be known as somebody. Somebody who was willing to give up the only love he had ever known, the only family he had ever known, just to keep them safe.
So, that’s what happened. It all came down to one night on board a ship full of half-breed demons and the Scourge, who wanted to destroy anything with any humanity. Cordelia was there beside me and I knew that she would suffer so badly if it wasn’t stopped. Angel, being the hero, said his goodbyes to us and got ready to stop it himself.
It was in that moment, that moment where I knew with complete certainty that he was going to die, that I realized my true atonement. You see, I never got the chance to tell him that I had seen pieces of the future, his future. I never got the chance to tell him that three years down the road, Buffy would come to him again and they would make love and that love would shatter his curse and make him whole. Yes, that’s right. In three years, he would be expiated and she would be relieved of her duties. They were going to be given each other as reward for their time served to the Powers That Be.
I realized that he wasn’t meant to die. That’s why I had seen glimpses of his future. I realized that he had given up so much already and that left me. He had to give me up and go on because never, not once, did I see myself in his future. I hit him hard, knocked him down into the bowels of the ship and turned to Cordelia. That pain that I had felt so vividly when I saw the vision of Buffy and Angel’s love came back to me with a vengeance and I kissed her. I poured myself into her, tasting her trembling lips, inhaling her scent. For a split second, I wondered what could have been and rethought my decision, but then she looked up at me with her doe eyes and it was over. She also had a future. And I wasn’t in it.
The Powers That Be had taken a scoundrel off the streets, given him a purpose and let him feel complete for months. I looked down and saw the faces of the half demons, saw Angel climbing the ladder and closed my eyes. I saw my mother explaining to me that I would never be a normal man, relived the moment that I turned my back on my kind, saw my wife leaving me because I was a failure, and I jumped.
I landed on the device that had been invented to destroy humanity and I held on for dear life. I held on for Cordelia, I held on for Angel and the atonement I know he has coming, and I held on for me. I held on even though it was burning me alive and I wanted to scream. I pulled the plug and dared a glance behind me. I saw them there, my people, the people I loved more than anyone should dare love and then in a flash of light, it was gone.
And I was a hero. Just like I wanted to be. Just like Angel.
I know that I hurt Cordelia. I poured a little more of myself into that kiss than I meant to, because she has the visions now. I know that Angel feels like he’s responsible and somehow failed me, but I also know that time will heal that. I’m sorry for letting them down, but I’m not sorry for what I did.
That’s my story. Such as it is.
And I was instructed to tell it to you so I could be judged worthy or unworthy. I’m not a righteous man or a perfect man. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve sinned and I’ve lost my way a million times. If you didn’t think me worthy of whatever it is I’m supposed to be asking for, that’s okay too. It’s okay because you let me have more happiness in the last months of my life than a man should have and I’m grateful for it.
My only regret is that I had to go before I said thank you to the two of them. Before I said I love you.
What are you doing?!
The light was blinding and Doyle pulled the cord, unplugging the device. His bracken face was at the forefront and when the light died out, he still clung to the contraption, trying to get his bearings. He heard Angel shout at him to hang on and the dead light was slowly lowered onto the floor of the boat.
The half breed demons helped him off and hugged him tightly, thanking him for what he had done, but Doyle’s gaze was pinned on the two people who were climbing down the ladder and rushing toward him. Cordelia reached him first, took one look at him and slugged him on the arm. “You could have died, you know!”
“I’m sorry.” He touched her cheek and then her hair, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t dreaming. “I-It’s really you.”
“Did that thing fry your brain? Who else would I be? And listen, Mister, you owe me more than a dinner at Pizza Hut for this one. It’s going to cost you big. I’m going to have worry lines in the morning.” She stopped talking and looked him in the eye. “Don’t ever do that again.”
Then he was crushed against her, her lips on his and she was squeezing the life out of him. Doyle felt the visions come back into him and broke free, dizzily pulling her against his chest to steady himself. Angel watched with a smile on his face and winked at Doyle, who was staring at him over Cordelia’s shoulder. “You know, you better enjoy that while you can, because I’m not going to hug you, Doyle. Do you know what could have happened to you just then? I’m guessing that you’re alive right now because you let the demon out and it’s stronger than a human.”
“Who cares what could have happened?” Cordelia let him go and turned to look at Angel. “And don’t beat him up or anything because we still have to reshoot that commerical for the agency and I think it would look better if he wasn’t all black and blue. Ooh! Or maybe he should be all beaten up and bad looking. We help the helpless, right? I'm going to be a director one day.”
Angel watched her walk away, mumbling about writing a new script for the commerical and turned back to Doyle. “You scared the hell out of me. I couldn’t do this without you.”
“You could.” Doyle replied, still trying to get his bearings.
“Well, I could. But I wouldn’t want to.” Angel clapped him on the shoulder and nodded at the demons. “How does it feel to be a hero?”
“It feels like coming home.” Doyle replied and squeezed his hand.
The oracles smiled at one another. The male shook his head and said, “If you keep altering time, you’re going to get fired.”
“Getting fired means being cast down among the humans.” The female replied, staring at the portal they had opened to view Doyle’s return. “And with humans like that, I don’t think I’d mind.”
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