and every breath we drew was (hallelujah)

and every breath we drew was (hallelujah)

By biggrstaffbunch
Author's Notes

--- †

Baby, I've been here before†
I've used this room, I've walked this floor†
I used to live alone before I knew you
† † †

i. graduation day

† †

Tonight, there was a battle and a victory and a high school that was blown to snake-filled smithereens, but the most important thing--the reason you're standing in the middle of an abandoned mansion and the remnants of an abandoned life--is that there was a goodbye. † †

There was you, and there was him. A girl not quite a girl and a man not quite a man, and all the words you've never said just sinking in the expanse of space stretching out between the both of you. He looked you in the eyes, resolute and sorrowful, broad shouldered and strong, and then he walked away. The ambulance lights flashing red over his stupid, stoic expression, and the smoke swallowing his form in one unapologetic gulp, he turned to leave like leaving you was all he knew to do.

He said he wouldn't say goodbye. He's always been a liar when it comes to easing your heart though, and so you forgive him his moment of prolonging the agony. Probably that forgiveness (and a side of masochism, yay you) is why you're here now, listening to the quiet of empty rooms.† †

You remember thinking of him for a moment before the explosives went off, trapping the mayor-snake in the building, the bated breath minute of not being sure whether your plan would succeed or not. You remember thinking of the look on his face as the mayor told him in no uncertain terms that he would outlast you, that he would watch you die. You remember being viciously glad for the billowing fire, the finality of the bricks and cement slamming into the ground, revealing a carcass of scaly skin amidst the rubble. You remember thinking again, with a grim, ironic satisfaction, No one messes with my boyfriend.† †

You remember seeing him after. You remember the cut of his pants and the swing of his coat, the sheer familiarity of his face. You remember him fading into the night, fragmenting into pieces that were captured by the darkness bit by bit, step by step as he walked away.† †

You remember other things, too. From before. Like the brittle quality to his voice as he said there was no future for the two of you, the churning waste of Sunnydale sewers rushing in the pipes above and around you both. The feverish pallor to his skin as he struggled to process toxins shot into him by an assassin who knew the truth (that he was the one precious thing you never knew how to save) and so he lay there, dying again at your hands. The way the rest of the world faded to black as you offered your neck to him, as you punched him so hard your knuckle split, as he surged forward and with a broken cry against your skin, sunk into you like a sunset into the sea. The knowledge that he might bleed you dry, and the feel of his hair beneath your fingers as you realized you didn't care. † †

You're not stupid. More than that, just because you're occasionally blind when it comes to your heart doesn't mean you're naive. You know that if he didn't leave tonight, he might not have ever left at all. And then three months down the road, maybe five, you would have kissed him and he would have kissed you back, and the happiness that sleeps inside of you, the light that has no place in a world this dark, it would turn the key that keeps his soul in the cage of his body. Havoc would ensue. People would get hurt. People would die. And you would let it happen, because you're not strong enough to stop it again. † †

Deep down, you're afraid that he left because he knew what you know now. That all you ever do is kill with your love. † †

(Death is your gift. Somewhere in your head, there's a hiccup in time, and you forget the words because you know you will hear them again.)† †

So here you stand, in his cavernous living room where you slept in his arms, where he knocked things over in his haste to drink from you, where you did tai chi and he touched your spine and whispered into your hair that he was sorry, where you chained him up and killed him, not in that order but it's still the way you remember it, all fragmented and disjointed like the pieces of you that had to be glued together in the aftermath of the first time you drove him away with a sword through his gut. In this aftermath, you wonder who will put you back together again.† †

You wish there was even the smallest physical momento to make everything you and he went through more than just nightmares and lost dreams. You wish there was something to take away with you, like he's taken parts of you away with him. You wish there was something other than his death on your shoulders, his blood on your hands, his taste on your tongue.† †

Something, you wish. Anything. Everything.† †

Nothing. The windows are locked, and the curtains don't move, and when you sigh, you don't hear an answering breath, the air stirring somewhere behind you. You turn, your chest pumping painfully, your ears pricked for any sound. The shuffle of his step, the way he clears his throat when he's uncomfortable, a soft grunt from whatever wounds he may have accrued tonight. † †

You fold your arms around your waist, breathing in the remembered smell of him. The mansion is still, and you are alone.† †

You lock the doors when you leave, and you don't look back. † †

---†

I've seen your flag on the marble arch,†
but love is not some kind of victory march,†
no, it's a cold and it's a very broken Hallelujah!
† †

ii. i will remember you

† †

It's funny how you like to play at men and monsters, being neither and both of them in one of those annoyingly complex ways that Spike would have probably written a poem about back in the days when he was less of an idiot and more of a--okay, idiot, but he was a lot more frilly back then.† †

Well. For all your harping on Spike, you understand the paradox a little better now. You can save the day, but you're not a champion. Every murder you've ever committed, every death on your hands, it weighs on your shoulders and presses you down into the ground. You're not on the earth for yourself, the burden says. You're living for everyone you've ever killed. So what are you now? A man who was a monster or a monster who tries to be a man?† †

"Man," she muttered this morning, hours ago but living in your memory like a VCR stuck on rewind. Tipping your chin with one finger, turning your face to the window so that the meager sunlight just cresting the city buildings could crown your brow, she made you look at a new world, a world of which you were suddenly a part. The sheets slipped to your waist and her arm was so warm slung carelessly across your stomach that you shivered. You blushed at her slow smile. You were never one to shiver; you were not one to blush.† †

"Man," she said, more decisively, and leaned in for another kiss. "Look at you, all virginal and morning-after--" she had stopped abruptly, her face turning uncertain for a blank moment. Her morning afters hadn't been exactly sweet, this you knew. But then she shook herself, closed her eyes and kissed you again, and you also knew she was replacing every bad memory with the minutes that ticked by in that room, on this day. You reached up and combed your fingers through her hair, taking in the tiny knots and snarls in the length, the way the hair at her temple rioted cheerfully along her forehead. Her skin was healthy and pink, and she had a lazy smile set in the curves of her cheeks and lips. She looked like innocence and light. Like home, and warmth. Like everything she ever did from the very beginning: something worth protecting.† †

For a moment, as her eyes blinked dreamily open, the ocean blue of them so clear, so calm, you did feel like a man. You felt like a man who had been a monster and who would never have to be a monster again. You felt like it was a reward, this small concession of being with her, loving her. You felt exactly like the Oracles said--released from your fealty. Able and allowed for the first time in more than two hundred years to do what you wanted, not what was wanted from you. † †

You should have known, but when it comes to her, haven't you always been--as Cordelia has put it not-so-delicately before--loser pining guy?† †

There is a clock in your head, and you have fifteen minutes before this entire day is erased. For an entire day, you lived like a human being, a heart that pumped blood and a stomach that hungered. For an entire day, you knew what it was to love the woman you love freely, without restraint. Without fear, with a fearsome abandon. And now, because you had the hubris to believe in redemption without sacrifice, because you had the humility to believe in a world where she only lived if you were undead, the powers-that-be are making you give back every hour.† †

She told you, in those suspended hours beneath the sheets, her cheek over your beating heart, her mouth an 'O' of fascination, "I used to be afraid that I was the only one who would never get over it. That you'd move on because you've got forever, and me--I'd stay unrequited girl for the rest of my life. Charles Schulz would feel sorry for me, I'd be so pathetic. I'd get cats. Lots of them, all named Mr. Pointy. That would be me, only--Angel?" She looked up at you, lashes dark and long, lips curved in a small, private smile. "I don't think anyone could ever forget this."† †

That she could even think she's at all forgettable is almost laughable. Mostly it's tragic. Because yes, you have forever. Forever to keep reliving this whole day. Forever to keep thinking about the fact that in a short while, you will be walking into the room where she stands, staring into eyes you will always dream about, telling her again that you are going away. Taking things away. Again.† †

You keep on walking, and the setting sun is hot on your neck. You close your eyes; right now, all you can do is cherish the heat.† †

You don't know if you will ever feel it again.† †

- - -†

There was a time you let me know†
what's really going on below†
but now you never show it to me, do you?
† †

iii. sanctuary

† †

You are a big girl now. That's your mantra, at least.

You keep on muttering it to yourself, seething as you take the stairs, as you get into your car, as you drive away from L.A. and all the stupid L.A. things that happen whenever you enter city limits. You are a big girl now and you don't rush away in a pout when your ex-boyfriend harbors a psychopathic murderer as his new pet project. You don't just cut and run when stuff gets tough; that's not who you are, not anymore.† †

Except yes it is. That is exactly who you are. That is who you will always be with him, because as much as you came here to punish the twin-half of you, the dark side of your moon, that initiative is lost on you when it comes to hashing things out with your first love. It's a cycle of meaningless half-truths and hurtful full truths and you can't think around the image of him holding her on his bed.† †

You know it's not what it looked like--not in the way most girls would mean. You know he wasn't holding her out of any affection or desire. But she still gets a piece of him that you will never have, the twisted places in the depths of him that he will never show you. You got a glimpse of it when he turned, that awful year in Sunnydale. But you'll never see how bad he can be, you'll never understand to the fullest how that drives him, shapes who he is. And as ridiculous as it is, you wish you could. You wish there was something that dark and corrupted about you, something to make you look into his eyes and know where the shadows come from, to get the path he is traversing.† †

Instead, you wait in the wings, you come around monthly or annually or nightly in your head, have your fun little spats. You make something huge into something compartmentalized, something easy to access, something just full of bitterness and yearning and longing and all the regular good stuff of the average dysfunctional couple. You turn your love for him into a merry-go-round of accusations and recriminations, of wishes. You're dizzy with trying to make it all as normal as you can, when really, your love for him is anything but.† †

You love him in ways you can never verbalize. This love is quiet and painful, the force of it like a glacier cutting through the sea. Undeniable, unstoppable, dangerous. This love is something you can't quantify or qualify, and you struggle to put it into words, but all that comes up when you try to describe what you feel is the memory of his body bowed over your hips, shoulders broad under your hands and his voice raw in supplication, calling your name because he'd just dropped from the sky, fresh from one hundred years in Hell. Those years mean that it has been more than a hundred years since he first fell in love with you, and you still think you have loved and will love him longer and better than he could ever understand. † †

You looked into his angry face, the finely-drawn restraint as he told you to go home. You knew he was telling you the truth when he said seeing you cut him up inside, but you never realized--not till you'd seen--that he wasn't lying to himself about it either. He wasn't making you into something mythic and unmatcheable, like you are so guilty of doing. He was simply telling you that it hurt, seeing you again.

More than he knows, you can understand. And just like that, the righteousness dissipates within you. Because here, at last, is your point of commonality. The parts of both of you that no one will ever know.† †

There are ways that even now, years older and (some would say) a bit wiser, you fall back into being not such a big girl. Where you stick your lower lip out and scowl at a world that won't ever give you a break. Where you throw tantrums or act selfishly, or write in your diary for old times sake. Sometimes you even scrawl over the trembling doodles of your name and his, retracing the words and wondering at how they are as optimistic and secretive now as they were then, alive in the depths of you where no one but him can touch.

You have something waiting for you in Sunnydale. Something that has the chance of being good, and right. Open. Free. Something that won't keep you awake at night, tossing and turning with the sheets tangled around your knees. You have a shot at a new life, and that doesn't come cheap in your life. You want to take the opportunity. You do.

But the thing is, you're always going to be waiting for him. Just as he's always going to be waiting for you. It should feel more like a cross to bear than it really does, you realize. But just right now, it feels like a prophecy.

Your foot eases up on the gas pedal slightly. There will be plenty of time for the two of you. Isn't there always?†

---†

I remember when I moved in you,†
And the holy dove was moving too,†
And every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah
† †

iv. post-flooded

† † †

She's alive where once she wasn't. Again. You of all people should know how to appreciate that, and yet--† †

She was never supposed to die. You gave up another opportunity to another life, just for the guarantee that she would live. And no, it's not about guilt, or retribution, or one good turn deserving another. It's about sacrifice, and you wish you knew how to measure what you couldn't give up against what you've lost, what you've gained. You wish you knew you where she's been, what she's seen. You wish you knew why she can't look at you.† †

You wish you had been there to save her.† †

You want to hold her like she's fragile, because you did once and she was once and that, at least, was something you could understand. This, though. This rest stop at the halfway point between L.A. and Sunnydale, this ramshackle shelter of a McDonalds, burgers and cheese and french fries and all the things she used to love sitting there on the table like dead things. Your hand, on the table. A dead thing. This is nothing you can understand.† †

You killed for her a long time ago, laughed at nature and the rules that told you vampires didn't kill vampires and hunters never loved their prey. You were killed by her not too long after, the press of her lips and the sword to your stomach, Acathla beckoning you with its bottomless mouth. You'd do it again, all of it, but you've changed and so has she and you wonder what you mean to each other still. Death and damnation, love and absolution--something undefinable, indiscernible.† †

What more can you give her, now that she's different in ways you haven't even begun to track? What more do you even have left?† †

The day is turning to night outside when she drags you to the public restroom marked 'women,' closing the stall door and pressing you against the dingy walls. Her hands are searching, sifting through your hair and clutching at your wrists, and her breath is harsh, gasps slipping from between her teeth as she kisses you, her mouth bruised from the force of her desperation. You give in because you always give in, inches and miles before you have to stop.† †

Tonight, she doesn't let you stop. You think there might not be a need to stop. There is no perfect happiness is the way her brows slash dark across her face, the way the moonlight casts a blueish shadow over her deadened limbs.† †

You brush your lips against her neck, and slip her shirt up and off. Her stomach is tight, pale. White like marble despite the California sun, and wrapping your arms around her slender waist, you kiss her breasts, laving the new skin. She tastes like earth and stone, graveyard and dust. Bones. Blessed water. Your mouth goes up in flame, and you don't care. It hurts to touch her, but that has never mattered to you before. She is sacred just by being here, a miracle twice over, and this is the closest to God you will ever get.† †

She is crying when she comes, your fingers hot and slick like her tears. There is an eerie nimbus around her head, the reflection from the streetlights outside making you blink up at her face, the way she is calling out a silent plea and her fingers are folded around your neck. You're the one on your knees but she's the one praying, and you don't have to wonder any longer where she went. It's there in the wildness of her eyes, the unfamiliar cast of her face. This is Hell for her, this life. This place. This moment.† †

You want to take her home with you, but you have no home. She is your home. You have a family and a hotel and a mission, but she has always been your truest home, and you don't know what to do knowing that if you are her home too, neither of you have a place to go any longer.† †

"Half-way points," she mutters drowsily, when she finally speaks. "Almost to the end, but not quite. I'll be okay, Angel. Right?"† †

It's the most optimistic thing you've ever heard, and you can offer no reassurances. Instead, you kiss her softly, wrap her back into her clothes, smoothing her hair (darker like the rest of her) and breathing in her death scent once more. You tell her that you will always love her, and she nods against your neck, her nose cold and her lips warm. She does not say it back to you like she usually does. She is quieter about it, less demonstrative. She touches your heart, drums her fingers against where it ought to beat, and then touches her own. Her expression breaks you, a combination of resignation and bewildered longing. You curl your fists against her back, holding her like an anchor, doing all you can to keep her from drowning. † †

You can't protect her from the world any more than you can protect her from herself. You can't save her (could you ever?) but you can try. You can keep on trying for the rest of your years on this forsaken earth. You can keep on trying, and you will.† †

When you get into your car to drive back to L.A., you watch in your rearview mirror as she ducks her head against the steering wheel of her own car, breathing in and out, in and out.† †

You can still hear her heart beat in your mouth, the bitter and salt under your tongue as your traced your name in the depths of her. And you tell yourself that it has to be enough.† †

---

Maybe there's a God above†
As for me, all I've ever seemed to learn from love†
is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
† ---†

v. forever

You donít know how to describe the way it feels, to be so young and feel so old. To huddle on the floor of a cemetery, propped up against the eerily still chest of your demon ex-lover. Mourning the loss of your human mother. Wondering if itís the last loss of your human ties to this world.

You think fleetingly of Dawn, and guilt floods your cheeks as you remember that you forgot her. The sin seems unforgivable now, after all thatís happened, but a gentle touch to your cheek and you lean back, sighing. He has always allowed you to be who you are, flaws and all. This is where youíre safe, when nothing else is.

So much to think of right now, and your head is full of lists. You reach down and squeeze the strong, long fingers resting on your thigh. He is solid like an oak, reassuring and tall, indomitable against the thunder and lightning threatening your horizons. You have faced down giant robots and trolls and Spike and giant snakes and still, nothing frightens you as much as the thought of letting go of this hand. You turn it over, tracing the lifeline thoughtfully. Marking the jagged edges and the deviations. Trusting that the way the line fades into his wrist means that he will live long after you have gone, that he will be forever in a way mortals are always searching for. Itís the one future he never wanted, to outlive those he loves, but right now, putting your own mother into the ground, you have had enough of the crazy ways lifeís cycles are interrupted. You want him to go on indefinitely, you want him to be eternal.

At the very least, you never want to face the prospect of burying him under the dirt, casting dust to the wind and knowing you will never touch his face again.

ďDonít leave,Ē you want to whisper. He is crap at condolences, telling you that youíre strong, telling you that people will understand the pressure youíre under, that things will work out. But he isnít crap at being there, at holding you and helping you feel lost in only the best of ways. He is the weight that holds you down, the lucky charm you carry in your pocket, the cross you touch when faith is low. He isnít crap at being any of that, and youíre rightóyou are seriously needy right now.

ďYou should go,Ē you whisper instead. ďSunís gonna come up.Ē

He shakes his head. ďSunís always gonna come up,Ē he says. ďIím staying here with you until Iím toasty.Ē

You canít fathom this stubbornness is his eyes, the way he holds you like you are precious, the stuttery way he breathed into your lips when you kissed. You donít know how one moment itís a struggle to be an adult, to let him go, to understand how to be an ex instead of an always. And then the next moment, itís thisóitís the steadiness, the knowledge that though nothing can change certain inevitabilities about the two of you, sometimes thatís a good thing. Itís the way he is sitting in a graveyard, holding you as you try and figure out how to keep on going long enough to feel like living isnít the hardest part. Itís the way he whispered your name when you cried, the way he will go through human loss and human pain because you are going through it, and because he is the other half of you, even now.

You always forget how perfectly you fit against him, until youíre right there again.

ďThe way the suns rise these days,Ē you sigh, ďYouíll be extra crispy.Ē You close your eyes and kiss him one last time, an echo of your motherís perfume from the sleeve of your coat, the brush of his fingers against your neck a benevolent, affectionate touch that is different than a loverís but more than a friendís. Every paradox and disjunction clashes within you, and you clutch him closer for just one more moment.

ďYou have to go,Ē you say.

ďI have to go,Ē he echoes.

The sun rises on an empty lawn full of crumbling headstones, but your heart is okay enough to walk out alone, your back straight and your chin up.

You will never be able to thank him enough.

---

It's not a complaint that you hear tonight
It's not the laughter of someone who's seen the light -
No, it's a cold and it's a very lonely Hallelujah!

vi. the girl in question

† †

You know that time is careless and callous, because all you have are the seconds stretching out ahead of you, boundless and infinite, and all you can do is live in the past. † †

You were a drunken brute for most of your early years, and a vicious killer for most of the rest. Somewhere after though, you were something a little better--a little softer, a little darker, where you could exist within yourself and blink into the gentle warmth of a young girl with old eyes and every dream she ever showed you in the bright, slow revelation of her smile. Revolving around her golden light, laying your lips against her neck and feeling the trust beating out of her jumping pulse, the skittering benediction of her fingertips against your ridged brow--the sheer simplicity of how easily it came to both of you, the loving--it's what helped you settle into this skin, the skin to which you've resigned yourself, the cool skin with the dead blood and the dead heart underneath, the skin that heals itself but can never seem to guide the body it guards to do anything but hurt others, whether by word or deed or simple truths that you even now cannot find the strength to deny. † †

Once, you didn't think those truths even mattered. (Though so old, you were like a youngling in many ways. Learning and relearning how bodies and souls fit together and it wasn't until later that you realized that for you, bodies and souls may never fit together.) Yes, there was pain. Yes, there were sewers and snakes and mansions and Masters, and yes. Yes, you watched her blossom and bleed and you knew you were complicit in the tears that tracked her cheeks, the tremble in her touch. † †

But there was the sun. There were the shifting columns of white light slatting into the spacious stone room where she killed you and sent you to Hell. Months after you spilled from the yawning maw of one hundred years damnation, there was a night she stayed over on your old couch, a bundle of bones and muscle and silky hair, sweet smell. In the morning, and after the morning, and all day long even when she left, there was the sun. How could any truth come close to extinguishing the fierce burn of her palm curved against your chest, the imprint of her lifeline pressed into your shirt? † †

What you've learned since then is that even the sun isn't forever, and some truths are only as strong as you make them. † †

You look out the window (has necro-tint ever made you feel like she did when she kissed you?) and you shield your eyes. Italy did more than just make you vow--for the thousandth time--eventual revenge on the Immortal. Italy also opened your mind to the idea that she is not sixteen anymore, and her dreams are not washed in the colors of the dawn. You knew before that she was changed--less from age than the tragedies and triumphs and collective human experiences that make age so wearisome--but catching the faint scent of her in her flat, watching the strobe lights of the club play over the swinging length of her hair, the smooth curve of her shoulder, you couldn't find a trace of that youth in her any longer. Even after Caleb and before her cookie speech, the moment when her tongue slid against yours and she tasted like sweat and blood and Spike, even then you could hold her and imagine her with shorter hair and a fuller face and a dress that swirled around her knees as she slayed.† †

But now you're left to rifling through your mental scrapbook of all your ghosts, and her face is a phantom on the page you can't turn. You've lost other people you love, but this was the first in a long line. The domino that started them all--you can say you're selfless all you want, but you're selfish at the core of you. There was never going to be a world that let you be together, and so you didn't even try. You turned around and walked away and you're always going to be the one walking away from her, you know this. Only this time--this time--she might have let you without a word of promise or a request for you to stay.† †

You saved her from yourself. You did what you had to. There is a sun still glowing low behind her eyes, and one day it will crest the hills of her irises again, and she'll be a living flame for someone else. Someone who can appreciate the fire.† †

L.A. is ablaze in the sunrise, and you wonder how long this day is to last.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: Hard R
Summary:I did my best, it wasn't much/I couldn't feel so I learned to touch/I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you. Angel, Buffy, and reunion. Happy endings don't come easy. Sometimes they don't come at all. Six times our star-cross'd lovers never made it to their final act.
Notes: Thanks to chrislee, for being so understanding about my dysfunction, as always!†

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