Angel in shadows

No Greater Love

by Maureen Wynn
Copyright © 1997

The nearly full moon shone brightly in the clear sky, lighting with stark clarity the empty streets of Sunnydale. The school was dark and silent, but seemed to echo with the laughter and adolescent high spirits that had filled it earlier. Everything was still, lit clearly by the silver-blue light of the moon, black and white and hard edges, harsh yet indefinable shadows hiding secrets.

The point of brightness shone warm and yellow, spilling out into the darkness, somehow taking the hard edge off the coolness of the late fall night. The light shone through a gap in the curtains, revealing behind it the ordinary room of a teenage girl, full of warmth and light and happy laughter. The beam of light shone out on a still, dark form, illuminating a hard profile, dark hair, shadowed eyes...

Angel knew he shouldn't be here. It would be difficult to explain himself if he were seen, and hard-won trust might be lost again, never to be regained. Even knowing this, however, he couldn't bring himself to leave. The urge to share this life, however tangentially, was too strong to resist. He hadn't had a chance like this in centuries, and might never get another chance. The girl inside laughed at something her friend on the other end of the phone line said, and Angel closed his eyes briefly, enjoying the sound of simple pleasure. At this moment, the demon was far distant, and Angel drowned himself in the feeling, wanting it not to end, resisting the pull of far distant memories...

Caitlin laughed, smiling up at the tall boy beside her, and threw at him one of the blossoms she had gathered, laughing again when he ducked. He bent down and picked up the daisy, then plucked off the petals, and one by one, tossed them at the younger girl. "Caity loves David... Caity loves him not... Caity loves Matthew... Caity loves him not... Caity loves Padraig... Caity loves him not..."

"Stop, you awful boy," she said, giggling again when he tossed the remains of the flower at her at the sound of that hated word. "You make me sound as if I were the most fickle creature in the county."

"Perhaps you are," he replied. "You flirt shamelessly with every young man in the parish, dance with them all indiscriminately, yet won't settle on any one. Perhaps I'm too unschooled to understand these things, but that sounds like fickleness to me."

"And yourself?" the girl asked. "You have not settled for any of the young ladies who flutter about you, trying desperately to catch your eye. I happen to know that Constance bought that lavender silk for the Spring Ball specifically because you had once expressed a fondness for that color. And then you ignored her the entire evening." She grinned impishly up at the taller boy, waiting for his eruption, for she knew he disliked Constance Shaughnessey intensely.

"Her!" he exclaimed, more than meeting her expectations. "That, that... frivolous girl! She thinks the only proper way to spend her time is riding, stitching her endless tapestries, and sitting about in the garden. She hasn't a single thought in that well coifed head of hers," he finished irritably.

"And Kathleen is too awkward, Jane is too tall, Marianne is too plain..." She shrieked and ran through the gap in the privet hedge when the young man, tired of the teasing, tried to pull out her hair ribbon. He ran after her, and she led him a merry chase through the grounds, ending finally at the edge of the cliff by the seaward edge of the property. Worn out by the run, Caitlin sat down on the turf, and started tossing her now bedraggled blooms into the surf. Her companion sat down beside her, and gazed out at the sea.

"Seriously, Angelus," Caitlin said, "Aren't you ever going to settle on a bride? You're truly not a boy any longer, despite how Father regards you. And he might have more respect for you if you were to settle down." She regarded her brother with a worried expression, for she knew she was bringing up a tender subject with the young man.

He sighed, and said, "I'm not ready to tie myself down with a wife and a gaggle of children yet! I haven't seen any more of the world than the meagre miles of this county, and one trip to Ulster for the horse fair last spring. Look at it!" he said, gesturing to the wide ocean. "There's so much more world out there. So much to see, and do, and experience, and so little time to do it before I have to settle down and be the gentleman farmer that Father wants me to be. If I choose a wife, I'll never get to see London, let alone America!"

Caitlin looked solemnly at her older brother, and asked him, "Why haven't you left here? I know you want to travel more than anything, and I thought you would leave two years ago, when Colonel Northard was recruiting for the Brigade. You spent so much time talking with him that winter, but when I discovered that he was gone, here you still were. It quite surprised me."

Angelus looked at his younger sister, and didn't have the heart to tell her why he hadn't left then. Depite his desperate desire to be away, she had been so ill with smallpox that he was afraid that if he left, he would never see her alive again. And while he could quite well do without the company of most of his large brood of siblings, Caitlin had been his favorite ever since her birth, when her small, squalling body had been put into his trembling nine year-old's hands. He could not imagine leaving, not knowing the fate of this beloved sister.

He passed off the seriousness of the moment with a forced laugh, and replied, "It was a temptation, I must admit, but Father would have been so angry. And how much of the world am I going to experience as a lowly subaltern in the Brigade? There will be other opportunities. I'll get away from here, you'll see. And if you like, little miss, I might even take you with me!" he teased, tickling her ankle where it showed under her skirts. They both laughed at such a foolish notion, then he helped her up and they headed back to the house.

Willow really didn't look anything like Caitlin, Angel mused. Willow was much taller, and Caity's light brown curls were quite different from Willow's straight red hair. But there was something there. Some trick of personality, some similarity in the wide smile... Or perhaps it was just the eyes that looked at him with the same wide-eyed serious gaze, the gaze that, despite all his expectations otherwise, despite all that he was, showed respect, and affection, and trust. The gaze that said, so clearly and directly, "I know you'll look out for me." The same look that Caity had always had for him, even at her last moment...

The demons had fed well, been sated with the feeding at the farm. Many families had gathered for the harvest ball, and had provided them with more than enough bodies, warm blood spilling out in abundance. Now the vampires were amusing themselves hunting down the stragglers, the ones who had tried to hide when the vampires had suddenly arrived out of the darkness. Darla, the evil blond temptress, was especially good at finding them where they hid, seeming to sniff them out by the smell of their fear. He could hear her charming laugh, as she dragged yet another victim into the hall, and flung her down on the stones before the evening's host.

Caitlin got up awkwardly, cradling her wrist, which looked like it had been broken in the fall. She stood still, staring at what had become of her brother, at the demon who now used his body.

Angelus laughed, and let his human face become that of the demon. The girl's eyes widened, but still she said nothing. "Little Caity," he said, getting up from his chair at the great table and walking over to where she stood. He put his arm around her shoulder, and gave her an affectionate little squeeze. "Isn't she quite the little trooper?" he asked Darla, who was looking very demure, leaning against the table. "Not crying, not screaming, not even begging for her life. I'm quite proud of her," he said, giving her another squeeze.

She did gasp when the squeeze suddenly became an unbreakable grip around her shoulders, turning her to face Angelus. He snarled into her face, and was pleasantly amused when even this did not break her silence. Yes, this one really was his favorite sister. The others had squealed like little pigs when they'd seen what he'd become. It seemed appropriate that their blood now fed him. Perhaps he'd do Caitlin a favor, and simply kill her quickly. She was still looking into his eyes, looking for any last vestige of her lost brother, when Angelus lowered his head and sank his fangs into her soft throat.

The tall figure stood in the shadows beyond the window, until the light was extinguished, and long after. Angel took one last look at the window, behind which Willow slept quietly. Then, looking toward the east where the sky was brightening, he returned to his apartment, knowing that she had passed another long night safely. So long as he could do anything about it, this girl at least would not have her trust revoked as savagely as his sister had. No one should have to lose that innocence of trust along with their life, and Angel was determined to safeguard Willow's, whatever the cost to him.

Angel walked home, his eternal burden of guilt lightened one small increment, but that immeasurably small amount was enough. It was enough.

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