Blindfold (Chapter 1)
Last night, Angel hadn’t sensed that anything was amiss. He’d felt completely normal after his shower, if still displeased about the fact that his shirt was in a dumpster outside awaiting a trip to the landfill. But other than that irritation, nothing about him had been the slightest bit different from the way he normally felt. Following his shower, he’d been slightly hungry, so he’d heated up some blood for a midnight (well, technically, 4AM) snack before heading to bed just as the sun was coming up. Everything had gone according to the new routine he was establishing here and, again, it hadn’t seemed as though anything was wrong with him.
Now, though? Now Angel felt anything but normal and something was horribly, catastrophically wrong.
Because when he’d awoken in the afternoon and opened his eyes, he’d found himself in total darkness.
Angel was blind – completely blind.
Willow was just about to lose her mind from the boredom of yet another summer day spent all alone. Even the online forums were deserted as it seemed every geek in the world besides her had better things to do on a sunny July afternoon than log onto their computers. Yeah, even Andrew Wells had a richer, fuller life than she did, huh? This was a definite ‘oh, the humanity’ moment. Just when she was about to swan dive into total self-pity, though, fortune smiled on her as she heard a heartening ringing noise. She raced for the phone, happy that someone, anyone, wanted to talk to her. Was it Xander, calling from the road? Buffy from her Dad's house? Or was it Oz, calling her from wherever in Sacramento the Dingoes were staying?
Picking up the receiver on the third ring, she was disappointed to hear the voice of a total stranger and it took her a moment to register what the woman was saying. “I have a call for Willow Rosenberg from Angel.”
She got it together and said, “Oh. Sure. I know him.”
The first thing Angel felt upon hearing that familiar voice at the other end of the line was an almost pathetic gratitude, which of course reminded him of just how helpless he was. It had taken him over ten minutes just to find the phone, navigate the touch pad, finally, after more than a few frustrating mistakes, dial 411, and then ask the operator for the number of Willow Rosenberg in Sunnydale, all the while hoping against hope she was listed under her own name. Luckily, he was at least charming enough to get the woman who’d found the number for him to also dial it. He couldn’t have borne with the endless fumbling and humiliation it would have taken him to manage a full number, including a separate area code.
He was having flashbacks to his first days in Hell. That feeling of being trapped and at the mercy of anything that wanted to hurt him… and everything had, hadn’t it? What would happen to him now if one of his enemies found him?
“Hey, Angel.” She heard the subtle change as the operator disconnected, leaving her alone on the line with someone she had never actually expected to speak to ever again. “Are you looking for Buffy?”
She was taken aback by the vehement “No!” she got as his immediate response and maybe he realized, because his tone quickly mellowed. “I’m sorry. It’s just best for both of us to make a clean break.”
“Okay.” What should she say now? Because if he wasn’t calling to try and find Buffy, why was Angel talking to her? Trying again, she asked, “Did you want to know how she’s doing or something? Because I’m not sure I should…”
If he didn’t just blurt it out, Willow was going to run through every possible reason for his call without getting anywhere near the truth. “I need your help.”
That stopped her cold for a moment. “Oh. You mean like research? On the net? Like last time when…”
Again, he cut her off. “Magic.”
Huh? Angel was asking for her to help him with something that needed magic? Okay. Except… As much as she wanted to see herself as Mojo Girl, the truth was that floating pencils was really her most consistent achievement. Yeah, she’d restored Angel’s soul, but everything since then had been pretty anticlimactic... or disastrous. She didn’t even want to think about that spell Anya had tricked her into. “Don’t they have any experienced witches in… you’re in Los Angeles, right?” Willow was pretty sure Buffy had told her that’s where Angel had headed. “Because, hey, I’m totally flattered and everything that you’re asking for my help, but…”
All right, Willow could not have heard what she just thought she did because what she thought she heard was… “Did you say that you’re… blind?”
He couldn’t believe he’d just revealed the truth like that to someone… well, the fact was that they weren’t exactly close, now were they? But who else could he trust? That was why he’d called her, wasn’t it? Willow was the only person even remotely connected to magic he knew who would be willing to help him at all and who wouldn’t take advantage of him in his current condition. “Yes,” he said in a low voice, hating how much pity she must already be feeling for him. Dammit! The last thing he ever wanted to be was an object of sympathy.
“How… I mean, you’re a vampire. Doesn’t… Don’t you just heal?”
Every word was a stake to the heart. Because he’d hoped that very thing, but he knew that no healing was going on in his body and he was still trapped in darkness and… “It’s not getting any better,” he snapped.
Bite her head off, why didn’t he. Sheesh! But even as she was about to take offense, her natural empathy kicked in and… gosh. How would she feel if she suddenly couldn’t see anything? She’d really hate it, that was for sure. Guess this solved the mystery of why the operator had called her, huh? Because she’d sort of wondered about that. “I’m sorry.” She was silent for a moment, and then she asked, “Do you want me to talk to Giles?”
Rupert Giles? No! He was one of the last people Angel wanted to hear about his misfortune. There was no love lost between them, and though Rupert had good reason to hate him and Angel understood that, he wasn’t going to hand the man the opportunity to destroy him. Or to enjoy his helplessness. “No,” he stated emphatically. “I don’t want anyone else to know.” He thought about the werewolf who was her boyfriend and he added, “No one. I mean that.” It wouldn’t make sense to a human, he knew, but it was unbearable to think about another demon knowing the vulnerable state he was in. The soul didn’t change his nature completely, did it? It didn’t magically restore him to humanity and its acceptance of frailty.
“Please?” Even he couldn’t believe that he’d broken down and nearly begged her, putting all his fear into that one word. He had to be right about her.
Oh god. He sounded so scared. It was hard to imagine him like this. Even when he’d been poisoned, he hadn’t sounded so small and frightened. It occurred to her that if she promised to keep this secret, she wouldn’t just be keeping important stuff from Buffy and Giles, but from Oz, too. Could she do that? Should she do that? “I promise not to tell anyone,” she heard herself say, and her choice was made. Promises were sacred to Willow. She just hoped that making this one didn’t ruin her life.
Now she guessed was a good time to ask the questions that suddenly sprang to mind. “How did it happen? What do you need me to do?”
“Giles?” Willow called out tentatively as she tiptoed into his apartment. She was really grateful for his habit of leaving the door unlocked. As no answering voice was heard, she was even more grateful that he was predictable. There was a weekly lecture series on British history going on at the downtown library and, as much as Giles ranted about the indifferent speaking skills of the historians, he never missed it – including today’s talk on the role of women in the Industrial Revolution.
Willow sort of wished she could have attended that one, actually, but she knew Giles relished having his own hobbies and pursuits in which ‘the children’ were uninvolved, and anyway, if she’d gone, she’d have missed Angel’s call and… she wouldn’t be here in Giles’s apartment stealing – no, borrowing – a few books on magic which she was sure he wouldn’t miss for a day or two.
The same better be true for her parents’ car, which was also being pressed into service in the cause of helping Angel.
Had Faith bitten her or something? Because Willow suddenly felt like a very bad girl what with the breaking and entering and the grand theft auto.
But that was silly, wasn’t it? Situational ethics were still ethics and all of this was for a very good cause. Even if Angel had broken Buffy’s heart into a million pieces, he was still one of the good guys and he needed her help.
Everywhere she looked she was reminded of the fact that Angel couldn’t see. Oh god! How was he even going to feed? She’d better get a move on. Carefully extracting six or seven pertinent-seeming volumes from Giles’s stash – if only Angel had given her more information to go on; she would be irritated with him if it weren’t for the fact that he was really suffering – Willow tried to make it look as if nothing had been displaced and then, stuffing the books in the duffel she’d brought for just that purpose, she carefully made her way out of the apartment. No one was in the courtyard. Goody! No witnesses!
Trying to rationalize away that last very criminal-sounding thought, Willow hurried to the Honda she had stol… borrowed from Sheila and Ira and drove away. This was going to be her first attempt to navigate the freeway. Now all she had to do was hope that she didn’t get pulled over.
Oh, and had she remembered to pack her toothbrush?
Waiting for Willow’s promised arrival, Angel felt every minute as if it were a century. He hadn’t realized just how very much his sight meant to him until now. He felt trapped. He couldn’t even read to pass the time and, while he’d managed to find his blood in the refrigerator, he’d had to drink it cold, straight from the bag. To add injury to insult, he’d stubbed his toe on something as he tried to return to his chair.
Those damn, worthless kids! Had it been the H’rack they’d attracted who did this to him? Or had it been that slop in the goblet the girl had tossed in his face? His money was on the latter, but what did he know? Not nearly enough if Willow’s barely suppressed aggravation during their phone conversation was anything to go by.
He felt reduced and diminished in a way he’d never experienced before. It wasn’t Hell, but it was its own kind of torment. Never before had he been so dependent and even though it had only been a few hours, he already hated it. When he’d been poisoned, the delirium and the certainty of impending, true death had ameliorated the very feelings he was now experiencing and there’d been none of the fear.
What if this was permanent? What if there was nothing Willow could do?
For the first time since his turning, Angel came close to praying. Please, whatever transgression this was punishment for, please give him the chance to make up for it somehow. He’d be better, do more, fight harder… whatever it was that needed to be done, he’d do it. Just don’t leave him like this – alone in the dark, purposeless and weak.
What did humans do when they lost their sight? How did they cope?
How long had it been since he’d cast his mind back, not to his life as a human – he’d thought about that often – but to himself as a human? To what he experienced? Too long, hadn’t it? Because when he reached inward, there was nothing there. No sense of who he'd once been, not the faintest glimmer of reflection showing him a man inside. He wasn’t there anymore, was he? No more Liam. Just a demon named Angelus and a soul named Angel and a barren void where humanity had once existed.
What a contrast he was to the girl he had reached out to as his savior. She was so very, very human. Goodhearted and idealistic and pure in word and deed. Well, except for the magic. And the werewolf who was her lover. Oh, and hadn’t there been some sort of dalliance with Xander Harris?
He hadn’t thought about her very much before now, had he? Hadn’t put the pieces of knowledge he’d picked up into the picture he’d initially formed of her and then shoved to the back of his mind. No, he’d focused on Buffy and hadn’t spared a moment to care about her friends, not as people.
Well, he had to have been right about Willow’s heart because otherwise he couldn’t imagine why she’d taken his call. Why would she want to help him given the little regard… god, he’d never even thanked her for returning his soul. What kind of man was he that he hadn’t done that much for someone who’d given him the most extraordinary gift? Because it was a gift now, even if it did have some of the same onerous trappings as the curse it was originally intended to be.
There was so much he had to rectify when it came to Willow and the minute he saw… the minute she arrived, he’d start. Now if only, she’d…
A noise drew him out of his reverie. The elevator was coming down. He almost jumped out of his chair, but then his other senses kicked in – scent and… something else – and he realized it was Willow. She’d come. She’d really come to help him. Schooling his expression into stoicism, he listened as the elevator slowly made its way down to his living quarters.
Willow stood in the creaking, old-fashioned elevator as it took forever to get down to Angel’s apartment. She felt like a criminal all over again, even though she was grateful she had learned how to pick a lock on the internet. If only Angel hadn’t locked the darn front door on the building. But she guessed he hadn’t exactly expected to be blind today and to need to have someone come in and help him. Good thing people around here weren’t all that nosy, huh, because lots of people had been walking by when she was breaking in, but no one said anything. It was an even better thing that she wasn’t actually a burglar.
Her overnight bag and duffel full of books sat on the floor of the elevator car beside her as she finally came to a stop. This was Angel’s place. Gosh, it wasn’t exactly bright and cheerful, but… vampire, so picture windows were probably not a design feature he looked for. Still, it was kind of depressing.
What would be more depressing though was if she couldn’t see at all. Like Angel.
She shook off her pessimistic thoughts. The last thing Angel needed was for her to be all Debbie Downer, so she plastered a cheery grin on her face – even if he couldn’t see it – and, as she pulled open the iron grating to enter his place, she chirped, “Hi, Angel!”
He didn’t smile back. Oh well, once she fixed him up, he’d be happy. “I brought a bunch of Giles’s books, so let’s get this show on the road.”
To be continued…