Off Route 17

Off Route 17

By ClawofCat
Author's Notes

BUFFY: Angel.
GILES: Is he in trouble?
BUFFY: He knows that I'm ... He, he needs to see me. I have to see him.
GILES: Yes, of course. You'll leave for L.A. tomorrow.
BUFFY: Not L.A. And not here. Somewhere in the middle. There's a, a place.
GILES: I see. Well, we should get all these ... bills and things out of the way before-
BUFFY: I gotta go now.

BUFFY: Skating was an escape. I felt safe.
ANGEL: There's a rink out past Route 17. It's closed on Tuesdays.

Now. Go now. The words run together like a three car pile up, each successive thought ramming into the next until they’re just a mound of shrapnel that she can’t see over or around. She yanks the drawers of her bureau hard when they jam on the runners; she just can’t deal with any more obstacles today. There’s that part of her that wants to scream she doesn’t deserves this, but she tamps down on it and throws the few things she’ll need on the bed behind her.

In the bathroom, she grabs a toothbrush, shoves it into the small satchel in her hand, and strides back into the bedroom to quickly dump the spare shirt, sweatpants, and underwear laid out on her bed in along with it. She lets out a huge breath, crosses her arms, and closes her eyes. It’s not like she’s going away for some long weekend. She doesn’t know what she should bring, doesn’t even know how long she’ll be gone. All she feels is the urgency goading her forward to get the hell out of this house, out of this town, out of her life, so that she can go be someone else with him just for a little while. She’s tried to be someone else before. Maybe she’s that someone else now. In this short time back, more than once she’s gotten onto the floor by her bed and lifted up the skirt, just to make sure that the real Buffy isn’t bound under there, waiting to be released. Willow never did tell her where they put the Buffybot. She’s just glad it’s nowhere she can easily look.

Even her name sounds like a hollow echo, two funny syllables overlaid by the two that define her calling. When she heard the choked surprise of Buffy on the phone, she hesitated and gripped the cordless tightly, afraid that she would have to turn and hand the call off to the appropriate party. He always said her name like he was a little bewildered, overcome with the very notion of her existence. His own name bookended the exchange. Angel… I have to see you. Now. He was her idling getaway car, that secret escape hatch she hadn’t been able to find under the intense scrutiny and worry that bombarded her from all sides.

When she turns, deodorant and hairbrush in hand, Dawn is at her door, lingering at the threshold. She’s worried, brow scrunched and eyes searching, trying to understand.

“How long will you be gone?” She glances at the canvas bag, full of Buffy’s toiletries and clothing. Her attention turns to the room itself, looking for small changes, cataloguing it all just in case they disappear. When things go missing, like family, she doesn’t tend to get them back.

“I don’t know.” It hurts Buffy to say it, but it’s honest. She wants to deflect the alarm and betrayal roiling in Dawn’s stare, but it hits her anyway like an annoyed shove. She can’t be what anyone wants her to be. They want her here; she needs to be anywhere else.

Her guilt expands when Dawn’s small hand pushes a few strands of blonde hair behind her ear, tucking it in and smoothing it down. “Just…come back, okay?” she whispers. She knows her sister can feel the overwrought shudder that shakes them both when Dawn’s arms wrap around, holding her close.

She can’t manage I will, so she settles for yeah, hoping that an apology can travel through osmosis. She feels so small when Dawn steps back and retreats to the door.

“He’s been through this before, you know,” Dawn points out.

“Angel?” Buffy looks down at the bag in her hands, confused.

“Yeah. If anyone knows how to make it back, it’s him.”

She blinks, a tight knot forming in her stomach. He had been an animal, vicious and brutal. It took him weeks to return to the person she remembered and, even then, he was never exactly the same. They were never the same.

“Maybe he’ll even make you happy,” Dawn adds. Her encouraging smile isn’t enough to erase the feeling of doubt that’s posturing, showing its guns with bluster and bravado.

“Yeah. Maybe,” Buffy murmurs, far from convinced but not a little hopeful. “Stranger things.” She motions to the closet. “I should finish getting ready.”

At the casual dismissal, Dawn moves down the hall to go back and help Giles and Willow clean up the mess downstairs and say buh-bye to all the stuff that formally furnished their living room. At the top stair, she looks back. “It’s the ‘too-happy’ part that’s iffy.”

Through the window of the bus, she can see the roof of the rink a few blocks off. She takes her time walking the street, glancing passively into the plate glass of shop windows. A few people come in and out of stores, attending to business as the afternoon wears on, unaware of who or what she is. She’s not far from home, but the anonymity already works its magic and gives her that small bit of space to breathe and relax.

The back service entrance of the rink is locked, but it’s no obstacle as she jars it open with a swift kick. Inside it’s empty and quiet, the ice smooth and gleaming from recent maintenance. She walks to the front of the facility curiously, swinging her bag in a low arc as she makes her way to the concession area. A few stray party hats litter a long table, glitzy streamers waving from the peaks as the AC drones on. Balled up in the to-be-taken-out trash are a few pink plastic tablecloths. Cheap kazoos stick out of red soda cups. She remembers attending birthday parties like this when she was little. Joyce threw one for her seventh birthday, complete with Dorothy Hamill party favors. The decorations were considerably more tasteful than these, though.

Wandering back rink side, she settles on the creaky, cold bleachers. The ice is empty, quiet. Something about the pale, unblemished surface is familiar. She watches the light bend and arc across it, thin scars of yellow dappling the slick spots. Watching isn’t something she ever gets to do, so she plays the spectator – cheering hockey mom, proud skating coach, injured player – and looks from the sidelines, out of bounds, out of energy. Of all things, the goalie net is what shakes a keystone loose inside her. Her breath catches. The refracted light makes her think of…

She flinches suddenly, startled, when the hairs on her arm rise. Her hand clenches reflexively around a stake that isn’t there. It always does when the telltale sensation of vampire ripples over her. It’s like shaving again the grain – prickly. She wonders if he feels it, too, if he can ever forget that she’s a Slayer long enough to see the woman under the power. She’s not sure if there’s anything left to see, if Willow was able to bring that part of her back, too.

She stands when he enters the rink at its far side. Her heart takes off at a run, both panicked and eager with anticipation. Looking at each other across the distance, she thinks of the tower and the jump. All he has to do is pull her back from the howling chasm, the surging vortex that she’s been brought back to. His hockey mitt hands can catch her and keep her from careening off in the dizzying tailspin she’s in.

She projects her panic loudly enough that even Angel can sense it as he approaches. The breadth of her fear shrinks her. He’s never thought of her as small, but he thinks, gazing up at her on her perch several seats from the floor, she’s never seemed tinier. He hadn’t dared to dream, to hope that she would be returned, allowed to live. Seeing her here, breathing, moving – relief, happiness, and concern flood him. This gift – what was the price? No small boon to raise a Slayer, but here she is, and he can’t shake the nagging feeling that it’s come at a high cost.

He stops thinking when he gathers her against him, folding her within the cavern of his arms. His hands are in her hair, her arms hugging his waist. They both tremble, murmuring quiet things, declaring one another’s names on hushed gasps of relief. She breaks their embrace first, her hands a flat shield against his chest. Words stick to her mouth like paste. It’s hard to get them out. She’s not sure whether they’ll come out as a whisper or a shout.

Looking up at him, her chin tucked to his chest, her eyes swim a little, ticking off the mental checklist to see if life matches memory. Maybe he’s a little heavier. Maybe. Could be he’s got some extra worry lines around his eyes, but she can’t be sure. She lets the familiar details drool over her, a thin protective layer of stability that loosens her tongue, makes the talking easier.

“Here we are,” she murmurs tentatively, smiling a little when he leads the charge and smiles first. It’s easy to lean into him when he kisses her brow, the tip of his nose pressed to her forehead, cold and wet like a dogs. She laughs at the image, tension released, and laughs harder still when he somehow latches onto her line of thinking and subtly nuzzles her cheek, breathing light gusts of air across the shell of her ear.

“Do you come housebroken?” she asks, eyes wide. It almost feels right, the quipping and lightheartedness. Almost. She reluctantly loosens her grip on Angel’s coat and lets him take a step back, reestablishing a modicum of distance between them.

“Have you been waiting long?”

What a question. The honest answer? Yes. Yes, I’ve been waiting for you. Yes, I wanted you to stay before. Yes, and why didn’t you come sooner? All I do is wait… wait for the other shoe to drop, wait to die, wait to live. My life, the Slayer gig? One big waiting game. And I also had to wait for the bus. Thanks for asking.

“No, only a few minutes,” she says, sinking back down onto the bleachers. “I figured there’d be some traffic.”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” He says it casually because it’s a casual response to a casual statement, but it seems weighty to her, substantial. He can handle these things – forget about the supernatural stuff – all the normal day to day blah, like driving and traffic and phone calls. He can do that, she thinks, whereas bills and gainful employment and household repairs have completely eluded her. That confidence in living is at once comforting and aggravating. If she could wrap up her life and FedEx it to Angel for oversight, then she would, gladly.

The air is cold. She waits for words of warmth because, knowing Angel, they’re there, if not a little belated. She rubs her fingers absently, until he clears his throat. “It’s good to see you.”

She nods. “Very, very good.” She looks him over thoughtfully, at a loss for how to start a conversation like the one they’re going to have. It’s all so big, so daunting. She starts with small. Simple is a good place. “How have you been?” she asks. “Since we know how I spent my summer vacation, what did you do on yours?”

“I was in Sri Lanka.” He grins a little at her confused look.

“Sri Whatta?”

“It’s near India, to the south.”

“That’s kinda far for a summer vacation. Did you get a really good package deal with Priceline or something?”

His brow furrows. She thinks he’s uncomfortable. “I wasn’t there for vacation. I sought out a clan of Buddhist monks. I went there to find my center, to…”

“Mourn?” She ran away, too, when his death was too much to bear. Not as far as South Asia, but as far as she could manage. She knows she’s right when his eyes downturn a little.

He closes them when her small hand finds his and squeezes. “I’m here now,” she whispers. The words come naturally even if the feeling behind them doesn’t. Here is relative, here is not what she feels or wants, but it’s all she has. That will have to be enough.

“How did you know? About me, I mean?” she asks, fingers plucking the fraying threads on the strap of her bag. “That I was… back.” Angel watches her gaze skitter away on the last word. Like a rock getting heaved into a pond, it disrupts her flow, makes the water choppy.

“Willow. She called yesterday. I wanted to come right away, but she said you were still transitioning.”

“Transitioning…”

“Is that an understatement?”

She laughs, dry, sarcastic. “Yeah, you could say that.” Her hackles rise thinking about Willow, how this is what she does now. Dictates. Brings her back, says when Angel can see her.

She looks down when he covers her hand with his. “I know it can’t be easy. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re entitled to it, Buffy. Set me straight. Tell me how it really is.”

“Financially, it’s not so good. You come back from the great beyond and the first thing you have to deal with is creditors? That has got to be some huge cosmic joke.”

“They say that nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes,” Angel concedes. It makes her wonder if the world without shrimp is exempt.

“Oh, it gets better. There’s always the peanut gallery to chime in on my financial woes, too. Cue the hair-brained suggestions. I mean, who charges innocent people for saving their lives?”

“Actually…”

“Mom did the best she could, but I’m only one person. I can’t split myself apart. Slayer Buffy, and big sis Buffy, and responsible-adult-who-pays-her-bills-on-time Buffy are having a really hard time juggling the load. I just feel…”

She stops mid-sentence, her fists raised defensively. Why can’t she beat this back? Why can’t she just pound the crap out of existential crisis and move on? She draws in a shaky breath, eyes skimming over to Angel and the concerned look on his face.

“You can tell me,” he assures her.

Holding her fists aloft, she unlaces her fingers, palms up, almost placating. “Torn,” she whispers, uneasy with this weakness, the vulnerability. “I just don’t know how to do it all anymore.”

Angel thinks about hell, about everything they tried to take, lash and burn out of him. Total annihilation of self, they ripped the humanity from him because only a demon could survive in a world full of brutality. He can understand the disjointed displacement she’s experiencing. Understands the uphill battle, how she struggles for okay, how normalcy must seem like a distant shore to her.

Grasping her hands gently, he presses the pressure point between her thumb and index finger, working a small circle into the tissue. “I know something about that, how hard it can be to transition back, how everything seems confused and not at all how it should be. The violence inside… the fear, and pain. I know it, Buffy.”

She looks away sharply when that pinhole of pain and shame that she’s kept close, knowing that she damned him, widens and expands. Heaven and hell… they seem contrary to each other, but she listens to what he says. Maybe he does know how it is, the feeling of belonging in the wrong place. Not in the same way, of course, but in a way that counts. In a way that he can relate to.

“But I didn’t have to do it alone,” he adds. “And neither do you.”

She can’t tell him, just like she can’t tell them. If it had been hell, it would be so much easier. Place the blame on torment, and everyone gets it. If they knew what they had done, what they’d robbed her of… she couldn’t. She couldn’t do that to them. What could they possibly say or do to make it easier? She offers a wobbly smile to Angel, squeezes his hand. “I know. They’re trying, but it’s so hard. Overwhelming, even.”

“It takes time.”

“Time… it’s a funny thing. How much of it do I really have? I could be gone tomorrow. Some demon or a freak accident…” Buffy’s eyes are distant as she thinks back to her formless paradise, wishing for that forgotten solace.

“Don’t say that!” Angel hisses, shaking her.

“It’s true, though! I don’t have a say in my time-out, my do-over. I never have. For all this Slayerific power, there’s not a whole lot I can control. Ticking time bomb me. It’s just a matter of time until I’m gone again.” She looks at him desperately, standing over him on the bleachers. She edges back to that night before graduation when he bit her. He could do it again, save her from this hell, release her with his bite. She thinks about her sacrifice, always sacrificing, blood always running. A hot flush goes through her and she clings to that feeling of desire, of something he can give her.

“No,” Angel growls, up now and towering over her, like his size alone can change her mind. “Not now, not as long as I can help it.”

She clamps her hand over her mouth, holding back the tears. The flint of hope shrivels. She wants to lose herself completely, but this isn’t the way. Angel wouldn’t… Faced with another closed door, she collapses against him, a low whine rattling in her throat like a hurt animal. He holds her up, arms tightly around her, while she composes herself, unwilling to break, unwilling to bend. This isn’t what he envisioned their meeting would be like; he can’t stand to see her like this, broken and wounded, floundering without purchase. Something stable, something familiar. She needs that. She needs land and not water.

Her trembling subsides and she’s quiet, breathing lightly against him, as he looks out over the ice. Water like land, slippery, but grounding. It seems like a fair compromise. Glancing down, he sees her looking out, too, the harsh white lights of the rink making her look paler than she is.

“Do you want to skate?” It sounds absurd coming out of his mouth, he realizes, but it’s a distraction.

She draws back, her hands pulled into her coat sleeves. “Do you?” she asks, puzzled.

“I, uh… don’t know how.” He waits for her to plaster an L on his forehead for that admission. Instead, he gets an amused smirk. He’ll take it.

“Says the dead guy whose been around for 300 years.”

“You could show me,” he suggests, tipping his head out toward the ice.

“I could…” She smiles coyly, looping her arm through one of his. “I didn’t bring skates. We’re going to have to pillage the skate rental booth up front.”

They take their time walking across the bleachers, the metal clang of their footsteps sounding loudly through the empty rink, echoing off the walls. It’s still party-hat central in the main room. She has the urge to sweep them off the table, or try to yank the tacky pink tablecloth from beneath the plastic and paper place settings like a magician.

“Looks like someone was celebrating. You think Hallmark makes get well cards for the recently resurrected? That’d go over real big in Sunnydale.”

Angel pauses at one of the tables and flicks the streamers on the peak of a hat as Buffy rounds on the rental window. “You’d be surprised how many specialty card shops and stationers they have in LA. I hear trans-dimensional greetings cards are big.”

“Hm, sounds like a niche to be filled. I could start selling them out of the Magic Box. What’s your size?” she asks, her shoulder pressed to the door of the skate rental as she jimmies the lock. It gives way with a pop after only a few seconds.

“Eleven wide,” but she’s already jogging up one aisle and down another, her fingers skimming over the size numbers like a kid thumbing through old CD jewel cases. She plucks one pair of beige skates from its cubby and tucks it under her arm, all business. Taking in the facility, unchanged since the last time he saw it, Angel decides it was the right choice to come here. It’s familiar territory; he watches her move around expertly, in control. If he knows anything about post-death experiences, you never feel like you have any control.

“Hey, tall guy!” she calls to him. “You’re on your own with your skates. They’re up there.” She points to a shelf above her head and makes grabby hands. “Can’t reach.”

“I have to skate on these?” Angel scrutinizes the thin blade on the black hockey skates she selected for him.

“You’ll be fine.”

“It’ll be like teetering around on heels.”

She huffs, the hint of laughter on her breath, eyes crinkling with the mental picture of Angel in pumps. Her genuine joy is beautiful. It’s not something he’s ever had the opportunity to see on more than fleeting instances, but he’s willing to work for it, to see her crack again and dazzle.

She steps in front of him, poking him in the chest. “And you would know how?”

“Well, I…” He fidgets and shrugs, giving no gory details away.

“Look. More surface area than a heel,” she traces the edge of the blade, “means more uniform weight distribution. Ice skating meets applied physics… Huh. Comprehension. Where’d that clickiness go when I was in college?”

He draws a stake from his inner pocket, holding it up like an exclamation point. “Fieldwork.”

Slaying led her away from most things; it took her life. It took the life she could have had, once upon a time. A wave of nausea rises unexpectedly when she thinks how she had to die twice to get where she is now. She doesn’t want to put a word to the feeling.

“Let’s get you laced up,” she mutters. He follows when she tugs him by his sleeve, guiding him to a bench. Her smile is sunny when she lifts her head, forced and wide, thinning out her lips. “Now no whining,” she warns, tugging on the laces balled in his hand. “I don’t want to hear any ‘It’s too tight. It’s too loose.’ out of you.”

“Would I complain?”

“You already did,” she points out, brows raised, teetering the skate back and forth on the table. “Now, put your foot in the boot. When I get the first part laced, flex.”

It’s not as bad as he thought it would be. Ankles turned in like a child, he skids across the ice on wobbly feet with his arms spread wide for balance.

“Hold on to the side,” she coaxes, her gloved hand leading him to the boards. They creep along like this, Buffy skating backward, arms extended in front of her, towing Angel in her wake. He gives up on trying to walk – digging the picks in with a choppy gait gets him nowhere – and he eases into gliding, shifting his weight forward and then back. She smiles, pleased with his progress, and so they go, Buffy twirling in loose pirouettes as he follows just behind her.

She’s reached some sort of quietus, each liquid movement fluid and relaxed. He hangs back to watch her drift gracefully, limbs working in unison, a well-oiled machine. Like this, she is more than a Slayer, more than a girl. The safety of the ice builds up the much needed infrastructure that she lacked before, bolstering her against the strong headwinds of living that she’s had to face in her time back. Here is her center, no need for tai chi or pilgrimage. Here is her bliss.

“Wanna try some swizzles?” she calls, skating back toward him, bringing her ankles in and them turning them out to create a snaking pattern. “It’s an exercise for beginners.”

When she reaches him, they bump lightly, and his hands engulf her waist. “What about this?” He pushes them into a slow spin, like dancing on air. Something about the weightlessness, the warmth and love in Angel’s eyes makes her remember her confession to Spike in the sunlit alley. I was finished. Complete. The immediacy of the declaration, honest and gutting, renews the anxiety coiled in her. She can see spider webs cracking the glass wall she’s surrounded herself in, the protective, safe barrier of ice melting as reality starts to rush back in with the pressure of a released vacuum. No. Not yet. Not now.

She brings their slow spin to an immediate halt, a small wave of ice shards spraying the air with the force of her blade. “Angel…” she pleads, her voice small and desperate, hands clutching the lining of his coat. “Make me forget?”

He doesn’t hesitate. They kiss and kiss until her cheeks are wet and he’s kissing them, too. The pain escapes from her like missing chinks in a dam, trickling out, coming faster and thicker as the hole widens and erodes with the force of the blockage. There will never be enough kisses to act as mortar for the breach, so he holds her closer, head above the rising tide. He lost her once to drowning, but never again.

The current forces her to her knees, and she drags him down with her, hands restlessly fisting in his coat, trying to press herself to him, crawl inside the dark breadth of the leather. She can’t scramble away fast enough from the ghosts, from the memory of solace torn to shreds by magic. It nips at her heels, an angry dog barking, corralling her into a dark room where she’s trapped with herself.

“Buffy…” He tries to hold her face still, so she’ll look at him, but she shakes him off.

“No… No!” Scooting away, her fist slams into the boards with a crunch. The plastic cracks, her hand bleeds – red dabbling the fabric of her gloves like an insistent sunrise – and then he’s there, grabbing her, holding her.

“It’s okay. You’re going to get through this.”

“What if I can’t?”

His words of conviction are slippery; there’s nowhere for her to internalize them. All the hollow rooms crowd anything else out, greedy and smug in their ability to isolate her. There’s a lifeline somewhere, but it’s far, so far.

“You will. You’re strong, so strong. I know you can do this.” He tells her these things the way she told him on that unlikely night full of snow. He waited to burn, to meet the sun one last time, but she couldn’t let him go, wouldn’t let him fail.

“I can’t go back,” she whispers. “Not yet. I just, I don’t think I could – ”

“You don’t have to,” he promises. “We can go to LA or…”

“No.” She shakes her head. “Somewhere nearby. There’s Dawn. I can’t be gone and leave her…”

“For the night, then?” he asks, slowly lifting her to her feet.

She nods, eyes wide and vacant. “Yeah. For the night.”

They drive half an hour until Angel veers onto a commercial strip and coasts down the main drag, eyes scanning the horizon for flashing fast food and hotel signs.

“Where are we?” Buffy asks, face pressed to the glass, watching a dancing Hooter’s owl hop around the parking lot off to their left, handing out flyers.

“Oxnard.”

Of Xander’s “Fabulous Ladies Night Club” fame? Her eyebrows rise thoughtfully.

“Huh. Not what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?”

“Strippers or something.”

He gives her a confused look and pulls into an all-you-can-eat buffet’s driveway.

Two plates, a shake, and a cup of rice pudding later, she waits patiently in the lobby while Angel gets a room for the night. What is it with hotel lobbies? They all look the same: potted plants, comfy chairs, maybe a sofa, those ashtray stand thingies, a mirror, and a breakfast bar for the more upscale places. She glances at the flyers stacked neatly on a low shelf announcing all the attractions within driving distance, most of them tourist trap activities in LA. There’s even a few for the Bay Area. Nothing mentions Sunnydale, though, demon capital of the western seaboard. She guesses it’s more a word of mouth, creepy hell vibe that attracts the seasonal influx of baddies to her town.

“You ready?” Angel asks. He hands her a keycard with a Domino’s advertisement on it and heads toward the elevator, looking over his shoulder at her with worry. They take the ride up in silence, both of them staring at her sole tired reflection in the mirrored panels of the car. He mutters that he’s used to it when they step out onto the carpeted hallway and trudge to room 3G.

It’s clean and kinda homey. She squeezes past him, poking her head into the bathroom, the closet. It’ll do.

“They didn’t have any with two beds,” Angel explains, scrutinizing the king at the center of the room skeptically, like he might just whip out a black light and start examining the sheets for cum stains. For a guy who lives in an old hotel, his prudence strikes her as strange.

She drops her bag onto the mattress with a bounce, unfazed. “It’s fine.”

Sacking out next to her stuff, Buffy’s eyes close. Belly full and thoughts somewhat quieted, she’s drifted into a listless state. There was conversation over dinner, about Sri Lanka, about school and jobs and change. It wasn’t all bad. Angel even had some good suggestions about paying off her bills and prioritizing repairs that were most pressing. He talked to her like she had a future, like there was something to strive toward. It was sweet, and she could pretend, if only for a little while.

When her eyes open, Angel is still standing off to the side, edging around the bed nervously, like if he touches it he’ll burst into flames.

“You’re twitchy.” It hadn’t occurred to her until now what’s gotten him wound up. Souls going kaplooey from a little in and out seems so trivial in the face of everything else. “Is it us… here?” she hedges. He seems embarrassed.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” he says, as though she needs convincing. He keeps his cool, sits back against the headboard, but the looks he shoots her from beneath his lashes clue her in, in no uncertain terms, that it is on his mind, that under the protection and safety, he is unsafe and hungry. Something uncoils in her, interest piqued, and writhes low into her loins.

“Just relax, watch TV. If it’s okay, I’m going to take a bath.”

He watches her go after she’s toed off her shoes and handed him the remote.

On the other side of the bathroom door, she twists the taps on, and stares at the water foam and bubble from the dollop of bubble bath gel she found on the counter. If anything does happen with him, she’ll be safe as houses, she thinks, her legs falling open under the jet of water. There’s only one place she’s known perfect happiness and there’s no chance she can get back there anytime soon.

Her hair is still damp when the nightly news comes on. She tries to remember when she was actually home to see the 10PM highlights and not out patrolling. Giving up, she leans her cheek against Angel’s shoulder, one hand playing with his fingers resting on her arm. It’s nice, domestic. She likes the quiet, and immerses herself in it, only surfacing when words like rape and double homicide flash on the screen. This is the world she has to fight for, a world worth saving, where humans do this to each other. She asks Angel to change the station, which he does. They settle on a historical movie on HBO. She’s not sure what it’s called, but it has Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix in it.

“Marquis de Sade, huh? You ever meet that guy?” she asks Angel. “Somehow I don’t really see you in tailcoats.”

Angel’s eyes stay riveted to the screen, Winslet and Phoenix locked in a passionate kiss that fades to regret and recriminations. “I’ve read his work. It was decried and banned from publication for its indecency. Times in general were tense back then. The revolution in France was in full swing. Lots of mayhem.”

“Bet you must have been having a gay old time, then.”

Angel says nothing, his mouth a thin line. She thought so.

The heroine has died, a tragic victim of circumstance. Young, virginal, in love, and loyal, she goes to her watery grave mutilated. Buffy trembles, watches the tragedy unfold, fighting off a long ago paralysis and the pain of the bite that soon followed. She still remembers the Master’s mocking red eyes, like goblins in the night.

Laid out on her funeral pyre, her distraught love interest grasps her hand, presses goodbye kisses to her knuckles, tears falling because he couldn’t save her. Buffy’s breath catches when his kiss revives her and he takes her, claims her, her thighs a cradle to his black robes now that she’s been recalled to life.

“If only…” Buffy whispers. She looks at Angel sharply when he suddenly changes the channel. “What was that for?”

“I really don’t need anymore temptation.” He shifts his hips, his trousers tenting at his groin. She wants to laugh. It won’t happen that way, not for them, at least.

Drawing herself up, she deliberately pulls her top up and off. She doesn’t give him a choice and presses herself to him without comment, her hands running lightly into his hair, kneading his neck.

“Buffy, we shouldn’t.” His hands hold her hips, stilling her movements.

“Why? Why not, if it feels good?” She’s sick of the dictating, sick of what’s right and wrong. What about her? Hasn’t she earned the right to be selfish, to take what little pleasure she can wring from her life? The lick of danger that Angel presents feels right in a world where nothing is safe. If hard and harsh is the only thing at her disposal, then she wants it on her terms, wants it all.

“And what if it doesn’t in the morning?” Angel points out, trying to spare her what he thinks can only lead to disaster.

She scoffs. “It couldn’t feel any worse than this.”

She presses his hand to her breast, so he can feel her heart, know that this is something she needs – someone to bring her to life. “Please,” she says softly, arching into the touch. “I want this.”

Solemnly, he kisses her, his fingers lightly plucking her nipple until its hard and rosy. She watches him do this, trying to lose herself, trying to let everything else go. “You’re still so beautiful,” he swears, looking at her sadly. She doesn’t want his pity.

“Come here,” he entreats. He folds her against his chest, strokes her hair, and coos quietly to her like a babe. She’s so frail, volatile. Is this what it will take for the fission inside her to split her apart, release the heat and hate and uncertainty that’s causing this overload? She keeps pulling at straws and coming up empty-handed. It pains him to think that this is what she believes will set her free. She was like this the summer she came back from her shanghai in LA, distant, angry, and different. She used her pain to lash out; she traded her sexuality for a well-placed slight. The simmering feeling of loss goads her onward; he doesn’t know how to pull her back, how to exorcise this from her.

Her kisses are needy and searching, but he receives her tongue kindly and pets her in long, soothing strokes as if she were an overwrought cat. Her slight trembling subsides, tiny muscle tremors that scream fatigue and insomnia. It occurs to him that she’s avoided sleeping.

“If you want to sleep, you can. I’ll be right here.”

She says nothing, just continues to kiss him. She doesn’t want anymore words. Words can’t help her.

“Do you have dreams?” Angel tries, fingers in her hair, his palm cupping her chin.

“Nightmares,” she corrects. “Sometimes I wake up and I can’t breathe. There’s dirt in my mouth and no air. I scream, but no one hears me. I claw my way out of my grave and when I touch my face it’s…” She bites her lip, bites hard enough to draw blood because that’s what vampires do.

“It’s just a dream.”

She stares at him incredulously. “I had to crawl out of my own coffin like some dead, evil thing, Angel. Like a vampire.” She spits it out, disgusted. They left her to rise like a common bit of pestilence, vomited forth from the earth, as though she really had escaped from one level of hell only to stumble onto the floor just above it.

“What am I?” she pleads, fire and anguish accenting her welling but unshed tears. Her words mimic Darla’s, and he wonders if the fear and confusion of resurrection is a common symptom that turns to mania and can only abate with time.

“Don’t think about it now. Put it out of your mind. Just feel.” His acquiescence to her desire comes quickly, so quick that in an instant his mouth is on her breasts, roving between them with pulling sucks that cause a hot and needy flush to crawl up her body. There’s so much shattered debris that she has to wade through, everything feels dampened and soft. She needs more; she needs hard in order to thrust her past the wreckage of her life. Open sea, open sea. He can row her there. He can.

“More,” she whines urgently. Flat on her back, she shimmies out of her sweatpants, pushing them down her thighs, spreading them wide. This isn’t me, she thinks. I don’t do this. She moves fast, like someone hit the chapter select button in search of the climax, detail and nuance be damned. Her hand is between her legs, dabbing lightly, just to be sure she’s awake. She is, she’s wet. It pleases her to know that something still responds, that she can still feel desire, still want. His knuckles are soon beside hers, slippery and dewy as he reacquaints himself with her, how she likes it, what will get a rewarding twitch. She lets loose long moans, just to try different sounds, test them out. Her groin warms when he pushes a finger in and then another. She bridges up to meet him, gasps, and he starts to skate them in and out of her with purpose. She likes that his eyes are wide and focused, serious about her pleasure, serious about delivering. Good. It’s not worth it if he doesn’t want to play, too.

It goes on like this for some minutes until she realizes, a dark corner of her mind sneering, that he’s keeping her suspended, but not pushing her over. She wants to fall. She wants to fall. Her fist clenches. She wants to punch through a wall.

“You won’t break me.”

He looks up at her, dazed, nostrils flared. He nods, his thumb falling to her clit, a third finger crowded next to the other two. She shudders, jerking, but it only takes the edge off.

Her hand is in his hair and she tugs him down, pushes his face to her. She can feel his nose against her, sniffling in all the smells he comes across, moving low and then higher, his tongue painting a slick line across her sex. He holds her thighs down, plastered flat to the bed, and lays her open with his fingers, so that she’s spread wide and he can look. She groans, presses her hips up, and flexes her muscles, causing the whole area to tighten and sigh. He works her hard, pounding evenly, tongue whirling in circles, stabbing into her between thrusts of his fingers. Light, hard, light, hard. She spins, around, around, around. Suddenly, his pace changes and he’s rooting into her like a pig, desperate and hungry, snarling and everywhere at once. He loses the rhythm, and gluttonously licks and nips, starved. When she feels something sharp, she cries out, and he abruptly pushes himself off her, his head turned. The telltale crunch is all she needs to know. He vamped.

“Buffy, we can’t do this. It’s too dangerous.” His voice is strangled, torn. The rational part of her brain that should understand refuses to acknowledge him. Chin trembling, her legs slam shut, a hot shame filling her, anger seeping into her belly. He said he could make the pain go away, but it’s still here, strangling her, no amount of endorphins able to shoo it away. Her pussy aches, heavy and full, left buzzing on the brink.

He slinks off to one side of the bed, like a chastised dog. She wants to scream snap the fuck out of it, but that would be the pot calling the kettle black.

“I’m going to bed,” she announces instead, sweatpants back in place, disappointment barely suppressed. They don’t touch when she slides under the covers. They don’t look at each other. She thought they could get past this, the awkward hurt, the shame, but Angel made sure the repeating pattern stayed the same. When she closes her eyes, frustrated tears fall, lighting up her cheeks with fire.

It’s 11AM when she finally wakes up. The numbers of the red digital clock on the night stand shimmer and jump as she focuses. He’s not in bed, but he’s there, reading the paper, coffee and blood on the table with a plate full of eggs, waffles, and yogurt.

He cranes his head back, the newspaper shuffling a little with the movement. “Sleep well?”

She blinks. “Actually, yeah. I didn’t dream anything.”

He nods. “Do you want to eat something? I can heat these up for you.” She watches him pop the plate into the microwave next to the small fridge.

They don’t say anything about the night before. She eats and watches The Price is Right; they trade off calling out the lowest retail prices. Angel’s better at it than her. Figures.

She catches him staring at her more than once, a little sadly. She doesn’t know why, doesn’t know that he’s reminded of the day that never was, how he ate ice cream with her, and lolled in bed like two young lovers unconstrained by fate or destiny. He gave up his humanity in order to protect her. He thinks now that it was a foolish choice. No amount of bargaining would keep her safe. What would they be doing now, two years later? Would they have a home together? Would they sleep in the same bed just so they could eat ice cream and fuck the next morning? Or would he have buried her, mourned like men mourn, and moved on just the same? The thoughts rush past him, a treacherous Audubon of reflection, while she eats a waffle and he pretends to watch the news. He decides it never would have been enough.

Game shows give way to soap operas as the afternoon wears on. She cashes in on her veg-time; they already decided he would drive her back come sundown. She’s surprised to find him just outside the bathroom door when she comes out. They look at each other, a question floating between them, conviction in Angel’s eyes. Pushing her gently against the wall, she can feel his erection nudge her, his back spooning hers. His hand is at her hip, and then it’s between her ass cheeks, rubbing her pussy through her sweatpants. She says nothing when he pulls them down, and his fingers steal between her thighs, dipping each finger into her in turn, prepping her. She wants him to take her like this, quickly and without thought. Fuck out every little bit of doubt and fear, put his love into all the rotted and decaying places inside her. She flattens her palms against the wall, bracing herself.

“I wish I had been able to save you.”

She looks at him over her shoulder. “It wasn’t your choice to make, Angel.”

He turns her around, words falling, unloading his guilt on her. There’s talking? Why is there talking? Why is he doing this? It’s not helping. He brushes her cheek, starts kissing her, but this isn’t it. This won’t work. Fight fire with fire. She moves away.

“What’s wrong?”

“Are you really that dense? You have a girl standing in front of you that wants to be made love to and you want to talk about regrets. It’s done, Angel. I died. Move on. I should head back anyway. They’ll be wondering about me. I saw a bus stop only a few blocks away.”

“Buffy… Don’t do this. Don’t throw up these walls.”

Her eyes flash a warning. “I’m tired of words. Shit or get off the pot,” she hisses. She thinks he’ll take a step back, but instead he grabs her arm and hauls her to him with enough force that it surprises them both. The kiss is bruising, a hard slap that splits her lip. She moans when his tongue licks at the wound, sucking the beads of blood up like condensation.

Soon he’s inside her, full up, big and load bearing. It’s a wide stretch and her thighs flower open to accommodate him. He has the small of her back pressed flat to the bathroom door, legs draped over forearms, sustaining her, bearing her up with each resounding thrust. She rocks along with the pleasure; it bursts hot and loud, steaming liquid pouring over her, making her loose and easy. He palms her ass, one finger working between her cheeks, pressing into her, so that she’s crying out, piercing and unapologetically, uncaring who can hear them next door or in the hallway. He growls low when her nails leave raw crescents in his shoulders like downturned smiles.

They finish on the floor, her wrists pressed firmly into the carpet by his meaty hands.

She resurfaces hours later, hair tangled and back shining with sweat. They murmur to each other, his hand wedged between their bodies, absently rubbing the tissues of her sex back and forth.

“Drive you back?”

“Yeah,” she sighs. She presses a bruise on his cheek, a cut on his arm. She thinks she sees teeth marks. “Are you okay?”

“Fine.” He doesn’t seem bothered by it. She gets up to dress.

On the car ride back, she thinks about what they did, how his heart wasn’t in it. It reminds her of Riley, how her heart hadn’t been in it, how she had to dial it back so she wouldn’t hurt him. After the first time against the wall and then the floor, Angel reeled her in, bringing her back to a place less wild, less liberating on each succeeding bout.

“Be here with me,” he’d said, slowing her down, reestablishing eye contact that was hard for her to hold. She slowly ceded control to him without even knowing it, he was so subtle. Something in her resented him for not letting her go, for not coming with her.

They’re close to home. She starts to recognize streets and landmarks.

“Can you stop here?” she asks, pointing to a local chicken joint with a garish yellow awning. “I want to run in and pick up some dinner for Dawnie.”

She orders a bucket of drumsticks before asking where their restroom is. The establishment only has one and it smells like piss. The urinal cake sure isn’t doing its job. A glance down reveals how sticky the floor is. Fixing her stare on the scratched mirror, the tears come quickly, the sharp, pungent smell of the restroom chasing them from their cache behind her eyes. She’s back, she’s here, and it’s only a little better. Life has arrived to swallow her back up, its salivating maw just inches behind her. Angel couldn’t make it go away, couldn’t beat it back for her. Alone again, alone at last, it’s her battle to fight. She can only rely on herself. White knights don’t exist for her; she doesn’t have the luxury of a “get out of jail free” card. This is it. This is what she has to face.

Her hands are warm from holding the chicken by the time she returns to the car. The radio drones some ’80s ballad that Angel bobs his head to. He turns to her and lets the car idle when they reach the front curb by her house.

“I’m only a phone call away,” Angel reminds her, pulling lightly on her looped pigtails. She smiles a little when he tickles her cheek with the loose strands.

“Thank you, for the distraction. For everything.” She says it weakly, but it’s heartfelt. Her hand cups his cheek when she kisses him goodbye.

“If you need me…”

“I know. Phone.”

“Yeah.”

They reluctantly inch away from each other, the knowledge of what they did squeezing between them like jabs of an elbow. They’re waiting for her inside.

“I’ll check in soon,” Angel calls when she’s on the porch. She watches him slowly pull away, his black car disappearing down a street and into the night. It makes her wonder if they bore her body away in a hearse. She shudders and pushes the morbid thought away.

With a deep breath, she leaves her bag on the porch, grasps the deep fried chicken, and opens the door with a smile.

The End

Feed ClawofCat
Visit ClawofCat

Author's Notes:
Rating: R
Summary: Something stable, something familiar. She needs that. She needs land and not water.
Warnings: Sexual situations:
Timing: Season 6, Post Flooded
A/N: Beta’d by the wonderful eowyn_315. Many thanks to only_passenger for listening to me whine, and providing invaluable support and help with initial story planning and characterization. I couldn’t have done it without you both.

Home Today's Story2005 Archive2006 Archive2007 Archive2007 ArchiveContact