Love Me When I’m Gone ~ Chapter 10
Booth sat up, his heart pounding. He could hear the last of his scream echoing in the room.
“Jesus!” Bolting out of bed, he ran to the bathroom. In the mirror, his skin was unblemished, eyes there, tongue – not a mark.
“It was a dream – just a dream – “ He told himself sternly. “Just a dream – a horrible, vivid, too-lifelike dream.” There was no way he was going back to bed.
Picking up the phone, he called room service and ordered hot coffee sent up. It was tempting to ask for a bottle of Irish whiskey, but passing out was the same as sleeping.
While he dressed, Booth pondered the commonalities in the dreams. The blonde woman from the gun show had shown up twice now. She’d been the woman he’d been having sex with in that kitchen as well as the innocent virgin in the one good dream he’d had. She’d also stuck a sword in his gut and sent him to hell.
“Talk about your bad breakups.” He rubbed his chest where the blade had penetrated.
The other blonde woman he couldn’t place, but apparently they’d like to hurt people together.
He shied away from the homosexual part of tonight’s dream. No way was that something he’d do. He’d never been that horny. Rosy Palm and her five friends were always there.
There was a knock on the door, and he jumped up to answer it, thankful for the interruption.
The bellhop was there with a pot of coffee. Booth grinned and waved him in to set it on the table. He signed his name to the check and tipped the bellboy, gratefully inhaling the aroma of hot coffee.
“Thanks, mister.” The bellhop said as he left the room.
“No prob – “ Booth stared.
Frank Gilnitz stared back at him. Clad in 1950’s hotel finery, ridiculous little hat on his head. “Sir? Sir, are you all right?”
He blinked. The same young man who’d brought his coffee was there. White jacket, black pants. No hat. “Uh, sure. I – ah – really need that coffee.”
“I know the feeling, sir.” The young man grinned. “Though, it may be because I’m a vampire.”
“A vampire.” The kid grinned again. “’Cos I work all night and sleep all day. Well, when I’m not in class. So actually, sleep is rare.”
“Right. Been there.” Booth nodded and closed the door. Get a grip, Booth. There’s no such thing as vampires.
After a cup of coffee, he felt human again and turned on his laptop to check his email.
Bones had sent him a very dry and fact-filled email about the final disposition of D.B. Cooper’s remains. Angela’s was much shorter and to the point. “Go have fun, get laid, and bring me back a t-shirt from Bubba Gump Shrimp.”
Parker’s was full of the rough and tumble fun he’d had with his cousins in Philly. And a line buried at the bottom that said ‘Grandpa said the hair would grow back’.
“Whose hair? Yours? Grandpa’s? Which cousin? The dog?” He sighed. “Great. You mom will kill me. On the bright side – no more nightmares.”
He sent back a carefully worded reply to not cut anyone’s hair and to behave. But have fun. Balancing dad vs. buddy was harder than it looked on TV. “Where’s Mr. Cunningham when I need him?”
After answering emails from friends back at headquarters in Washington, Booth found himself going over his nightmares again. They’d gone from vague and unremembered to realistic and unforgettable.
“Booth, you’re an investigator – get to the bottom of this! What’s concrete? What’s something I can work with?” He went through the dreams, discarding vague images, demons, and sex.
He was left with a short list. The Hyperion hotel, the blonde woman from the gun show, Lockley, and two names – Angel and Angelus.
Angel had been the man who’d headed up the PI firm that had been working out of the hotel at one time. The hotel he’d read about when he’d found Mr. 1952’s picture, so it was understandable that it’d turn up in his dreams. But he’d known nothing about Angel, Inc before his research.
“There’s no way I could have known that.” He chewed on his lip for a moment before opening a page at Yahoo and typing in Angel Investigations.
Clicking on a link, Booth found himself at a website that had been put together by someone who had just enough HTML knowledge to be dangerous.
“’Angel Investigations. We help the helpless.’” He skimmed quickly over the site.
There was a graphic of what looked like a squashed butterfly next to a couple of testimonials from former clients and a phone number. He wasn’t surprised to find it had been disconnected when he tried to call.
Back on the search page, he hit the Images link. There were a few, mostly of an attractive dark haired young woman sitting attentively at her desk and smiling. One photo, however, was of a group, presumably the entire staff.
The dark haired woman, a white man with glasses, a thin girl with long, curly hair, a black man, and behind them, looking uncomfortable, was a man who looked exactly like him.
“You must be the mysterious Angel.” Booth clicked on the photo and viewed it at its full size.
The hair was longer than his own and sticking up in gelled disarray, as if he’d styled it without looking into the mirror. The body was slimmer and less muscular than his own, and the skin much paler, but other than minor differences, this man was him.
Sighing, Booth leaned back in his chair. He warmed up his coffee and sipped it while he studied the image. It was easy to see why people could confuse him with Angel.
That left him with three questions. Who was Angel? Where was he now? And why did he look the same as he had in 1979, other than a hairstyle change? With no last name listed anywhere, no social, or any other records Booth could find, Angel was a dead end. He had lived off the grid somehow.
He looked at the other name. “Angelus.” As a Catholic, he knew what the Angelus was, and sure enough, a search gave him a few thousand results to that effect.
“So how do we make him unique enough to find? Hmmm… “ There was even less to go on than there was for Angel. Just a name.
“Might as well try ‘plus vampire’ – he did have fangs.” Booth typed in his new search terms. “Or maybe he just needed a good dental plan. And a tan.”
Hitting enter, he sighed again. “Probably get a million damn pages about vampires going to Mass.” A page full of results popped up a moment later.
He leaned forward, staring at the first one. ‘Angelus: Scourge of Europe.’
A sense of dread settled over him as he moved the cursor over the link. His hand trembled and the urge to wipe out the results was almost too great to resist.
He forced down his fear and clicked the link with more force than needed. The page loaded quickly. Slick and professional looking: The Watcher’s Council Records.
‘Angelus, also known as the Scourge of Europe and the Angelic One. One of the deadliest vampires ever sired. The Council monitored his activities carefully and without interference, in accordance with the Prophecies of Aberjian.’
Booth skimmed the information. This make believe council had a lot of information on this Angelus, including the decision to let him run wild because of some prophecy.
‘Believed responsible for the death of Eleanor, Slayer from 1758 to 1760, no proof other than her Watcher’s description of an extremely handsome, dark haired vampire with a stylized gryphon tattoo on his back – below the right shoulder – as he fled the scene.
‘Additional note added in 1778 by Watcher Sebastian Bosworth: The gryphon is apparently based on the griffin in the Irish Book of Kells. There is no information as to how Angelus might have seen the Book of Kells, but his first appearances were in Ireland, making it the most likely location of his siring.
‘Additional note added in 1997 by Watcher Rupert Giles: Confirmed that Angelus does have the tattoo on his back.
‘Last European sighting in Romania in 1898.
‘Resurfaced in 1997 in Sunnydale, CA, claiming to have his soul restored by a Romani curse, and asserting that he was no longer evil or feeding from humans. Using the name Angel instead of Angelus.’
“That makes no sense, that’d make the guy over two hundred years old!”
There had been a picture, but a broken image symbol was displayed where it had been. He searched through the page’s source code for the address to the images folder, but a master list of images didn’t come up. “Good security on the server. Damn it.”
Returning to the original search results, he checked for images. None were listed, and Booth headed to a favorite site for finding the ‘net’s lost and deleted info.
“Vampires aren’t the only things that don’t stay buried.”
Anything posted on the internet was never truly gone just because a link was removed or the item deleted. Just because you couldn’t see it, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
The FBI was only one agency that recorded and archived web pages. Director Hoover’s secret files were nothing compared to the FBI’s internet archive. In honor of the first director, and his habit of keeping files on anyone he saw as a threat to the US, they’d code named the archive Hoover. The inside joke was that if it was posted, they’d Hoovered it up.
“The old man would love the ‘net.” Booth grinned as he put the Watcher’s Council page link in the search box and hit enter. A neat list of archived dates for the pages popped up a second later. “Running slow today, Hoover, quit stopping to look at the porn.”
He hit the oldest archived page link and the page opened obediently. The same page as before, but this time with the deleted picture inserted partway down the text.
Only the top of the image was visible and Booth scrolled down. It was a grainy reproduction of a tintype photograph of a man with a smirk curling one corner of his mouth, dark eyes lit with an evil that transcended the primitive photographic technology of the time.
Booth’s hand slipped off the touchpad and dropped to his lap. “No…”
It was his face staring at him from out of the old-fashioned clothing and hairstyle. A face connected with evil and murder generations before he was born.
Next to Angelus in the photograph was a blonde woman with a secretive smile on her painted lips. The same blonde woman he’d seen in his dreams urging him to rape the young nun.
The legend beneath the image read “Angelus and Darla, circa 1859, London”.
Both put his hand back on the touchpad and clicked on Darla’s name. The link jumped him farther down the page.
He quickly skimmed the information on Darla.
‘Believed to be American by birth and at least three hundred years old. Sired by the Master, a powerful member of the Order of Aurelius. Staked in Sunnydale, CA in 1997 by the current Slayer Buffy Summers. The Slayer has asserted that Angelus staked Darla but it is unlikely that he was able to do so due to the strength of the sire/chylde bond.’
Under the short entry was another picture. Booth recognized the young woman as both the nun he’d been violating as well as the second woman in bed with Angelus and Darla. There was insanity coloring her expression, a look he’d seen on a hundred killers’ faces.
Next to her was a well-dressed young man with long curls and an adoring look on his face. He was obviously in love with the woman. Booth swallowed hard as he recognized the young man from his dream.
‘Drusilla and William the Bloody, AKA Spike, circa 1861, London.
‘Drusilla, sired by Angelus, current whereabouts unknown but believed to be alive. Dangerous even by vampire standards. Possesses the ability to hypnotize her victims as well as the ability to see into the future, though randomly and not always accurately.
‘William the Bloody, known by the mid-twentieth century on as Spike. Possibly sired by Drusilla, given his level of devotion to her, but most likely by Angelus. Last reported location Los Angeles, CA working with Angel Investigations in 2004.’
“Another hundred year old guy?” Booth frowned. “Why the hell am I reading this crap?” As he started to close the page down, he noticed that Angel Investigations was highlighted as a link. He stared at it a moment and then clicked on it before he could change his mind.
The pictures he’d seen on the Angel Inc. site appeared on the new page. Angel, who he’d obviously recognize anywhere – especially in the mirror – along with the women and the two men. There were other pictures as well, including a skinny man dressed like a Billy Idol impersonator – he recognized William the Bloody AKA Spike despite the bleach job – and another man who had green skin and red horns.
“You gotta be kidding me. Horns? Hey, why not? There’s fangs, lets have horns!”
Hitting the back button, he caught a glimpse of another picture at the bottom of the page just before it vanished. Hurriedly, he went back and scrolled down. The breath went out of him with a gasp.
It was the blonde woman from the gun show and the one who’d been the object of lust in his dreams. The good dreams. She had a bright smile and sultry hazel eyes that he somehow knew changed color with her moods.
“Buffy Summers, current Slayer 1996 – present. The Chosen One.”
“The Chosen One?” Obviously this was some kind of cult or a group of gamers who were taking their RPG way too seriously.
Shaking his head, he scanned over her bio and list of exploits.
“Killed the Master… staked Darla but claims Angelus/Angel did it to save her… kept Earth from being sucked into a hell dimension by Acathla… sent Angelus/Angel into the hell dimension…”
He reread the last sentence. Slowly and carefully. “Sent Angelus/Angel into a hell dimension for an unknown period of time, possibly hundreds of years due to the time differences between various dimensions, in order to close Acathla’s portal, which had been opened by Angelus.”
“Close your eyes.” A soft whisper from nowhere. Sharp, agonizing pain blossomed in his chest.
With a frightened lunge, Booth pushed the laptop away, watching it crash to the floor. Sparks flew out of the case and the images jumped and went black.
“This – this is not real – “ He got up and ran his hands through his hair. “I’m still asleep – I’m still asleep – “
“God, you were always such a whiner.”
Booth spun around. The Other – Angelus – was there. “You are not real!”
“More real than you ever were, Soul Boy.”
He started toward the apparition and as expected, it vanished before he could reach it. “See! I knew it! Oh my God… I’m losing my mind.”
Dropping to his knees, Booth clenched his eyes shut. “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee... God, please help me – I’m going crazy – if this is a demon – oh, God – I don’t believe in demons!” His heart was pounding and he couldn’t catch his breath. Demons were Old Testament – hardcore Old Testament – his mind shied away from the very idea. Somehow it was more comforting to think he was losing his mind. “Hail Mary, full of grace – “
“Fucking whiner.” A soft chuckle drifted to him, and Booth turned. The laptop’s screen was shattered, but an image was still there. Angelus’ smirk haunted him as he fled the room.
In the hallway, he nearly ran over Bosco and Crawford as he rushed for the elevator. Bosco put his hands up, catching Booth’s forearms and stopping him. “Hey, man, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing – bad night.” He lied.
“No more dirty dreams?” Bosco gave him a slap on the arm as he lowered his hands.
“No. just a lot of tossing and turning.”
“You going down to breakfast?” Crawford asked as he hit the down button for the elevator.
“Uh, no. I’m going – “ He didn’t know where he was going except out of the hotel. “Uh – church – I’m going to church.”
“What the hell for, it isn’t Sunday.” Crawford said.
“Hey, Catholics don’t wait until Sunday.” Bosco told him. He knew from serving with Booth in the Gulf that Booth was Catholic and unlike himself, more than just a casual Mass on Christmas Eve Catholic.
“Exactly! Catholic – church – we love it!” Booth grinned and nodded as he stepped into the elevator, barely giving the doors time to open. “I need to go – to confession.”
Bosco nodded in agreement. “Compete with a clear conscience. I’d do that. If I had anything to confess, that is.”
“Seriously?” Crawford looked from one to the other. “Bos, I’ve only known you two days and I can give you a list of things you need to go confess.”
“Whatever.” The other man shot Crawford a dirty look. “Go on, get to confession, the range competition isn’t until after noon anyway.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that.” Booth jumped out of the elevator as the doors opened at the ground floor and ran across the carpeted lobby.
“What the hell?” Crawford frowned as he watched Booth all but run out of the hotel.
“I dunno.” Bosco wondered if Booth was dealing with PTSD. A few years ago, Booth had had problems, just as he’d had after 9/11. Maybe something had brought the issues up again. “I’ll talk to him when he gets back.”
“Somebody needs to. He just hasn’t been himself the last few days.”
Booth stepped inside the church, taking a deep breath of cool air. The building was old, Spanish stucco style with huge spires dominating the surrounding area. It was cool, dark, and inviting. Yet he felt like a trespasser, as if he somehow wasn’t welcome.
He paused at the marble stoup. Images of his flesh melting away halted his hand above the holy water. A bitter taste filled his mouth, and he could smell the stench of burning flesh.
You’re imagining things! He forced himself to place his fingers in the stoup. Cool water bathed his fingertips, and Booth quickly crossed himself with it. All in your mind, buddy, all in your mind. Far from being comforting, the thought frightened him even more.
The church seemed empty, and he took a moment to kneel and say a quiet prayer. Using a taper, he lit one of the candles in front of the statue of Mary and watched the flame flicker.
“Can I help you?”
Booth jumped and turned, his hand automatically reaching for his weapon.
The priest smiled, obviously used to people who were on edge.
“I – ah – “ His hand pulled away from his gun as if the butt were red hot. “I think I need to go to confession.”
The man’s eyes were kind. If he found the statement unusual, he gave no indication. “Is something troubling you, my son?”
“I’ve been having strange dreams. I can’t sleep.” Booth ran a hand over his hair. “I think I’m losing my mind, Father.”
“Perhaps confession will help.” The other man nodded. “Sins – even those that seem small – can weigh on our conscience.”
Nodding, Booth looked to where the confessional booths sat against the wall.
“Whenever you’re ready, my son. I’ll be here.” The priest patted his shoulder gently and walked away.
Booth took another moment, watching the candles flicker and dance before making his way to the confessional. Shutting the door, he closed his eyes and waited.
Moments later, the small paneled section next to him slid open, leaving only the concealing screen between himself and the priest. “May the Lord be in our hearts to help you with your confession. Speak, my child.”
Crossing himself, Booth began the familiar ritual. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been…” He searched his memory. Before Cooper, before the Kitty Litter murders, before the Bus Locker Killer investigation, and after he was shot. ”Thirty eight days since my last confession.”
Confession was something he’d done since he was a child, when his only sins had been the occasional swear word or pushing his brother around. It was an easy, familiar unburdening.
“I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain more times than I can count, but less than before, I’m really working on it. I’ve had lewd thoughts about another man’s wife.”
“Have you acted on these thoughts?”
“No! God, no!” He cringed. “Goodness, no. I don’t believe in adultery. Never. But she’s hot and I had some pretty… lewd and lustful thoughts about her for a couple of minutes. And, I’m not placing blame here, but she was flirting with every man in the room.”
“I see. And what else, my son?”
“I argued with my son’s mother. I was mean and disrespectful. I apologized, but it was uncalled for.”
“No. She wouldn’t marry me.” Realizing how that might sound, he rushed to explain. “I wanted to marry her. I didn’t ask until she’d peed on the stick – we didn’t have the results yet – but – “ He sighed.
“I understand that women can be sensitive about the timing of a proposal.”
“You’re not kidding. She moved out a few days later. But I was sincere, I loved her. Still do, sorta.”
“Anything else weighing on you, my son?”
“I’ve coveted a weapon that another competitor is using. Um… masturbation. A lot.” That sounded like he was a pervert. “I’m a little out of the dating circuit.” Or a loser. “I was recovering from a gunshot wound, and I kinda have a crush on my – one of my co-workers.”
“This woman, she tried to shoot my partner and I got between them.”
“I see.” There was a pause from the other side of the screen. “Would your partner be the co-worker you have a crush on?”
“Yeah.” Booth said softly.
“Not that any sin is unimportant, but these hardly seem as if they’d cause such trouble as I see in you.”
He made a face. He’d been caught working up to the big stuff when he knew he was supposed to confess it first. “I killed a man.”
There was a moment of silence before the priest continued. “You killed a man?” Clearly this was more than he was used to hearing.
“I’m with the FBI, Father. Here, I have my badge.” Booth fumbled for his wallet and held the badge up to the screen for a moment. “I don’t just go out randomly shooting people. Just the occasional clown.”
Another pause, shorter this time. “You shot a clown?”
“Not a real clown – it was on top of an ice cream truck – and – I don’t like clowns.”
“They can be frightening.”
“Exactly, and I was a little… on edge at the time.” He put the wallet away. “This man I killed was a murderer, and it was self-defense. But…”
“But you enjoyed it.”
“Yeah. It felt good to hand out justice, and I know that’s wrong. It’s part of why I love my job, you know, it’s why I chose law enforcement – I can help balance the scales.”
The priest was quiet for a moment, and Booth feared some heavy penance was coming. It was part of the process, and necessary to save his soul, but at the same time there was the very human fear of punishment.
“Tell me, my son, about these dreams that are tormenting you.”
“They started out pretty harmless, Father, but they’ve been getting stronger. More intense, more real. I’m not getting very much sleep. I’m… I’m afraid to sleep.”
He hesitated, unwilling to give the details in the light of day, even in the sanctity of the confessional. Still, that’s what he was here for.
Booth took a deep breath and began. “I keep dreaming that I’m someone else, a killer, a rapist. This sounds crazy, but sometimes I dream I’m a vampire, and not the pretty kind, either. All fangy and deformed.” He touched his forehead.
“In one dream, I’m – it’s like I’m trapped in my body and watching, but I can’t act – and I killed nuns and raped one – and then turned her into a vampire like me. And I ended up in Hell, being tortured because I had a soul. I… I just don’t understand why I’m dreaming this. I just…” He let the thought trail off.
“Perhaps…” The priest paused. “Perhaps this dream has come from your killing of the other man. You may be putting yourself into his place in your guilt.”
“Maybe.” Booth bowed his head, resting his forehead on his clasped hands. He didn’t really think he felt that guilty. God, he was tired. He sighed. Add another Hail Mary, Father.
He drifted off for a moment, hearing the priest’s soft voice advising on the balance of mind, soul, and conscience.
“It’s because you’re the spawn of Satan.”
Booth blinked. “What?”
“These visions prove that you’re evil, that your soul is lost.”
“What did you
say?” He snapped fully awake.
“I said that the penance will cleanse your soul, my son, for I can see you are truly contrite, but I do think that if these dreams continue, you might consider seeking professional help. A counselor, or psychologist.”
“Oh. I thought – “ He leaned back, resting his head against the paneling. “Father, could I be possessed?”
“You know, like, by a demon.”
“I – I doubt that. You’re here in the church. You’ve shown no signs of discomfort, as a demon surely would.”
“I was afraid to touch the holy water.”
“But you did touch it?”
“I made myself, but yeah.”
“And nothing happened?”
“No.” Booth admitted.
“Well, I think that would prove you’re not possessed.”
There was a hint of a smile in the priest’s voice, and Booth found himself smiling as well. “True.”
“Spend some time in prayer before you leave, and if you find that these dreams continue, please come back and speak with me.”
“I will, well, I’ll be heading home in a couple of days, but I’ll talk with my priest. And I do know a shrink.” He bit back a grin. “From… when I shot the ice cream truck.”
Calling Dr. Gordon had already occurred to him during the frantic drive looking for a church, especially now that the dreams were starting to affect him while he was awake.
“It’s probably just sleep deprivation and because of the powder that Indian threw in my face. It was loaded with drugs, and then he’s got this picture – “
“Someone drugged you?” The priest was clearly shocked again, and it showed in the tone of his voice.
“Yeah, he tried to convince me I was this guy he knew like thirty years ago and then there’s all these pictures of men who look like me. Only they’re from the forties and twenties – “
“Is he part of a cult?” The priest sounded alarmed. “This man, is he trying to brainwash you with his beliefs?”
“No. Well, I don’t think so.” Booth wasn’t sure how to describe the encounter. “I think he really thinks I’m Angel – that’s the other guy’s name.” He shrugged, forgetting the priest couldn’t see him. “Dr. Gordon said the drugs are letting my subconscious play out fantasies and stuff.”
“Hmm… that could be. I’m afraid that’s a little out of my area.” The priest chuckled. “Your life sounds both interesting and dangerous.”
“You don’t know the half of it, Father.” Booth gave a soft laugh. “You just don’t know.”
There was an answering chuckle from the other side of the screen before the priest recited the words of absolution. “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
himself as the familiar words washed over him. He felt lighter, comforted by
the life-long ritual.
"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good." The priest continued.
"For His mercy endures forever." Booth murmured.
Leaving the confessional, Booth made his way to a pew close by. He knelt and began to pray, letting his fears out to Someone who had more strength and understanding than he did.
He felt more weight lift from his shoulders, and tears of gratitude burned behind his eyelids.
A girlish giggle broke his concentration.
He looked up, seeing no one but a nun at the altar. Shaking his head, Booth returned to his prayers.
“Mummy said her prayers every day. Even when you killed her, remember?”
Booth’s head snapped up. Insane giggles echoed through the church. He looked again at the nun.
She turned her head, the dark wimple framing her face, taking nothing away from her beauty. Drusilla smiled, dark eyes glittering with madness and malice. A slim finger lifted to her lips. “Shh… you’ll wake the dead.”
“No…” He lurched to his feet and ran toward her as she turned to leave. “No!”
Grabbing the black clad shoulder, he spun her around.
Wide, frightened eyes stared up at him, the nun’s mouth opening in a silent O of alarm. Her hands flew up to her pudgy cheeks as if she were afraid he’d slap her.
Booth recoiled. This wasn’t Drusilla. The nun was sixty if she was a day. He’d just assaulted a bride of God! “I’m sorry – “
“What – whatever is wrong?” She reached out to him, obviously still startled but overcoming her fear. “You look so frightened.”
“I – I – “ He searched for a valid reason for having accosted her. His eyes searched the stained glass windows, skimming over long dead saints and miracles.
Over the altar hung a large crucifix. The martyred Jesus was so lifelike Booth gasped. Pain lanced through him and he jerked his sight away, meeting the gaze of the nun once again.
“There was a spider – a big one. I didn’t want it to bite you.”
If she could see through the lie, she didn’t give her feelings away. “Well, thank you for brushing it away.”
“You’re – it’s okay.” Turning, Booth hurried down the aisle toward the doors leading outside. Not only had he assaulted a nun, he’d lied to her as well. “I’m going straight to Hell.”
In the entrance way, he paused next to the stoup of holy water. His skin crawled as he approached it, and he fought the warning of danger that his mind was sending. Images of his flesh burning and melting, falling away from his bones.
His grandmother had told him when he was a boy that holy water was the tears of the Virgin Mary and it would protect and bless him. From his catechism he’d learned it was a reminder of his baptism, the salvation of his soul.
All of his life, he’d dipped his fingers into holy water, crossing himself, protecting himself, reminding himself that his soul was redeemed. Desperately, he shoved his hand into the stoup, jamming his fingers painfully against the marble at the bottom.
For a moment, he felt the agonizing pain of it burning his flesh away before reality overcame illusion. Cool relief rippled around his hand as he pulled it out of the holy water. He crossed himself slowly, letting the holy water trickle down his face and over his heart.
Stepping outside, he closed his eyes and tilted his head back, letting the bright California sun and warm breeze dry his skin. If he were a vampire, could he stand in the sun like this? A smile curved his lips. Of course not.
The rustling of fabric brought him back to Earth, and he opened his eyes.
Standing on the stairs, just inside the doorway next to him, was a woman dressed all in white, a bouquet of roses in her hand. Not a woman – a bride.
“I’m sorry.” He flushed, realizing that he was intruding on this poor bride’s wedding. The most important day of her life and he was ruining it by standing on the middle of the church steps blocking the door like some crazy sun worshipper.
She smiled up at him.
Booth stopped. The bride. She was the woman from the gun show. The woman he’d dreamed of making love to and had awoken feeling her skin against his. Buffy. The Slayer.
“Angel.” The green eyes were full of love.
“Buffy.” He heard himself say.
Glancing down, Booth saw that he was clothed in a tuxedo. Fear clenched his guts. Something was about to happen. Something horrible and wrong that was his fault. Something he couldn’t stop.
He reached for her as she stepped out into the sunlight. “No! Buffy, no!”
Before he could touch her, she exploded into flames. The beautiful white dress became a shroud of fire. Within moments she was gone. All that remained was a pile of ashes and her bouquet.
“Ashes to ashes… dust to dust…” A high soprano voice sang from behind him. “Ashes to ashes…”
Without a look back, Booth sprinted down the steps and ran to where he’d left his rental car. Jerking the door open, he slid inside and started the engine.
The girlish voice echoed in his ears. “Ashes to ashes… dust to dust…”
He rested his forehead on the steering wheel. “God, please help me. I’m losing my mind, please, God, please! I’m begging. What have I done? Please forgive me, please. Please, God, help me.”
The hair on the back of his neck stood up in warning. Someone was watching him.
On the church steps, he saw the priest. The man’s lips were turned up in the slightest of smiles.
Slamming his foot down on the accelerator, Booth forced the car out into traffic. Tires screeched and horns honked. He ignored them. It was California, they were used to it.
A few blocks away, he pulled into the parking lot of a Korean grocery store and took his phone out.
He stared at it. Who could he call? Bones would say he was obviously suffering from sleep deprivation and the effects of the drug Yiska had given him. She’d mock his fear of demons and ghosts as unscientific.
His mother would help. A devout Catholic, she believed as the Church did, that although extremely rare, demonic possession could and did happen. But she was three thousand miles away and he’d only terrify her with what was happening to him.
Who could he call for help? A sudden thought came to him. Dr. Gordon! Pulling his phone out of his pocket, Booth looked through his recent contacts for Dr. Gordon.
Dr. Gordon had to know someone out here who could help him. There were plenty of shrinks in LA. One of them had to specialize in hallucinations of demon possession.
He selected the number and waited, impatiently drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Cowlitz County sheriff’s office.”
“This is Sheriff Samuels.”
Pulling the phone away from his ear, Booth looked at his phone, the contact on the screen didn’t match the one he’d selected. “Uh, this is Special Agent Booth.”
“Hey there, Booth, how’s it going?”
“It’s going.” How the hell had he dialed the sheriff’s number? It was probably in his recent contacts and he’d selected it by mistake.
“Thanks again for finding D.B. You can’t believe the tourists we’ve got up here already.”
“You found him, we just ID’d him.” A thought suddenly crossed his mind. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a number for Yiska, would you?”
“He doesn’t have a phone, but he’s right here.”
“He is? You didn’t keep him in jail, did you?”
“No, no. He came in a little while ago.” The sheriff said. “Said he was expecting a call.”
“Did he?” Booth shivered involuntarily. “Would you put him on?”
There was a moment of quiet, followed by the sounds of the phone changing hands.
“Angel.” Yiska’s voice was calm, as if he’d been expecting Booth’s call.
“What did you do to me, old man?” Booth hissed into the phone.
“Are you following your dreams?”
“Am I – I don’t have to! They’re following me! What did you do to me?”
“I freed your memories. Listen to your dreams, and they will tell you who you are.”
“Yeah?” He clenched the phone so tightly the case began to creak in warning. “Well, I’ve seen who I am and I don’t like it! In these dreams you gave me, I’m a fucking monster! A murderer!”
“Those are your fears, they’re twisting the meaning.” Yiska said. “You’re a good man, a warrior for good. You need to listen carefully, and you’ll discover who you really are.”
“I know who I really am!” His head fell back on the seat back, and he closed his eyes. “I’m an FBI agent, and I like it. I like me!”
“Now that you are freeing your memories, you must look for a guide, someone to help you.”
“Help me? Right now I need a shrink, how’s that for help?”
“A shrink?” The old man snorted. “What do they know, they’ll say it’s all in your head.”
“It is all in my head!”
“Listen to me. You need to find the place where they stole your life from you. Find the place where it ended. Do you understand?”
“No.” Opening his eyes, he sat up. “Wait. Maybe.”
“Maybe is not enough. You must find the place where your life ended!” The old man insisted.
“Lockley said something.” In the background Booth could hear Sheriff Samuels telling Yiska to give him the phone. “She said something about an alley.”
“An alley – no, he wants to talk to me!” Yiska said loudly.
Booth held the phone away from his ear as Yiska and the sheriff argued over the phone. “What did she say?” He thought back over his conversation with the crazy ex-cop. “She said something about an alley. An alley… that alley… the alley. The alley! That’s it! She said ‘go back to the alley where you died’!”
“Yes! You must go back to this alley she spoke of. Search and you will find the trigger to bring back your memories.” Yiska said excitedly. “Look for something personal, something that would mean something only to you.”
“Too bad there’s only a million alleys in LA.” Booth felt the excitement draining away.
“No, there is one – one that means something to you, only to you.” Yiska insisted. “Look into your dreams, they have told you.”
“Yeah, you know what, I don’t want to look into them, they scare the hell out of me.” He frowned. “I still think you did this to me.”
“I was only trying to help you find your life that was stolen. Wait – “
There was a fumbling sound and a clunk that made Booth wince. Obviously Sheriff Samuels was through being nice about getting the phone back from Yiska. The old man was clearly crazy, even without the conversation they’d been having.
Leaning back in the seat, he grimaced at how uncomfortable it was. Next time he rented something bigger. “Wait.” He hadn’t rented a car, he’d been using taxis. A ball of tension settled in his gut. Where had he gotten the car?
He reached over and opened the glove compartment. Inside he found a rental agreement with Crawford’s name on it. At least he’d stolen a friend’s car. Crawford might get pissed at him, but he wouldn’t have him arrested. Booth shook his head. A hotel full of LEO’s and he’d stolen a car.
“Sorry about that, Booth.” Sheriff Samuels said suddenly. “He’s harmless, really. He just got it into his head that you’re this Angel fella that was living here back in the day.”
“It’s okay. It’s not the craziest thing that’s happened to me lately.” Booth chuckled. “I went to this hotel and the damn thing is haunted. I heard – “ He stopped. The hotel, the damage had been in the back. In the alley. “Gotta go.”
He snapped the phone shut and turned the car back on. Swinging into a tight circle, he dodged an old woman carrying an armload of groceries. She cursed at him in Korean, swinging her hand up in a universal gesture of screw you.
The car plunged into the street, scattering traffic in both directions.