Most people don't like flying, but Buffy's not most people -- she likes it just fine. She's not afraid that the plane will crash (even if the whole falling and crashing and dying thing ought to be pretty high on her list of phobias) and it's not hard to give over her life into the hands of the pilot.
She's not crazy about the little, enclosed space, though. Which probably has something to do with waking up in a coffin, but really Buffy thinks it's mostly because there's nowhere to go. She walks when she needs to think. She even walks when she needs not to think. On a plane, walking space is pretty much at a premium. The aisles are small -- which on its own is okay, because so is she, comparatively -- and they're always crowded with other people who are waiting for the bathroom and trying to change baby's diapers or wrestle something out of the overhead bins. And it smells, like half the world has never heard of deodorant or mouthwash.
So it's a relief when the plane lands at LAX. There's no one to meet her, which is a little bit depressing, but really in the grand scheme of depressing things it's just a teeny tiny blip on the radar, because Spike... Spike's gone, and Angel's alone.
Angel came to her when her mother died, to comfort her. Now it's her turn. So Buffy squares her shoulders and goes to find the rental car place.
She's still not the best driver in the world, and the time she spent in England hasn't helped -- driving on the other side of the road has just made everything more confusing. It seems really unfair that she has all these responsibilities as a slayer yet the universe hasn't seen fit to make driving just a little bit easier. The rental car reminds her of the one Giles had back in Sunnydale, which seems like a million years ago.
Angel is waiting for her at the address he gave her. Buffy can tell right away, just by the way he's standing, that he's more hurt than he let on over the phone. He's a little bit hunched, his shoulders curled.
He looks... sad, and as soon as she sees him she knows she's not just here because she owes him. She's here because she loves him.
Buffy straightens up, bag in hand, and walks toward him, almost painfully aware of how she must look in the sunshine. She doesn't say anything until she's standing right in front of him, gazing up at him. Way up. "Were you always this tall?"
"Probably," Angel says. He starts to move, like he's going to put his hands into his pockets, then winces. "I'm pretty sure I stopped growing."
"It looks like you stopped taking care of yourself, too." Buffy wants to touch him, but she's not sure she should, not yet. "How are you?"
"Fine," Angel says. It sounds like a lie. "I'm fine. How... how are you?"
"I'd be better if you let me in," Buffy says pointedly.
"Oh," Angel says, stepping back to make room for her. "Oh, right. Sorry."
"It's okay." It's not like she expects a heck of a lot more from him. He has that chivalry thing, sure, but it's not something you can count on.
There are a lot of things she's learned not to count on, and a few that she has. Giles, Xander and Willow, Dawn -- they're on the trustworthy list. One hundred percent there for her, no matter what.
"So... you're really sure?" Buffy bends down and sets her bag gently on the floor in the hotel's lobby. "I mean, I know you said... but there's not any chance that he could be holed up somewhere?"
Angel swallows like it hurts. "I'm sure."
She wants to ask how, how is he sure, but then on the other hand she kind of doesn't want to know. It's hard enough to deal with the fact that Spike's gone -- again, and she never had a chance to do more than talk to him on the phone that one time -- without having some detailed picture in her mind of how it happened. She feels, suddenly, incredibly weary, and it must show on her face because Angel's expression goes from sad to worried.
"Do you want to lie down? You look... tired."
That's supposed to be another way of saying old, but Buffy knows that's not what Angel's thinking. He picks up her bag and leads her to the elevator, nodding at the desk clerk as they walk past. The room is nice enough at first glance, and clean, which is what matters more. She sits down on the closest of the two beds and unzips her boots, kicking them off onto the floor with two soft, muffled thumps. Staring at the carpet, she's strangely reminded of how it felt when she came back from being dead, the second time. Like she's kind of far away from everything. It's got to be a defense mechanism, a way of not feeling too much too soon.
She looks up, and Angel's watching her.
"I should probably just get some sleep," she says.
"Yeah. Here, let me..." Angel untucks the bed, pulling down the sheets. They're a rich cream color, soothing. She lies down and he pulls the covers up over her. "Do you want... can I stay with you?"
"Of course you can," Buffy says. She reaches for his hand, interlaces their fingers together. It hasn't been long enough -- there probably isn't time enough in the world -- for her to forget what his skin feels like against hers, and she ends up moving over and pulling him down onto the bed, snuggling against his chest. His arm goes around her automatically, and Buffy closes her eyes and sighs.
"I missed this," Angel says, his voice rough.
Buffy nods. "I did, too." She doesn't really feel sad, except for Angel, because he shouldn't have to lose anyone else, none of them should. She lost Spike a long time ago, though. "You're sure, right?"
The room is quiet before Angel answers. "Yeah," he says finally. "I'm sure."
She falls asleep like that, in Angel's arms, the covers between them because she's lying underneath them and he's on top, and she's the only one breathing.
Just like always.
When she wakes up, Angel's hand is stroking her hair gently. She's groggy, confused for a few seconds until she can remember where she is, and why.
"What's wrong?" she says.
"Your stomach was growling," Angel says; she lifts her face and looks at him, and he's smiling a little bit. He shifts away, still moving like he hurts, and winces when he pushes up onto one elbow.
Buffy frowns and sits up. "You're really hurt."
"I'll heal," Angel says.
"I know." She's gentle as her hands move to the neck of his shirt and start to unbutton it, and persistent when he tries to pull away. "Hey," she says, not letting go. "At least let me look."
He looks embarrassed, but he leans back against the headboard, getting comfortable, and lets Buffy undo his shirt. She straddles his thigh without thinking about it, one knee between his legs. Pushes the fabric aside and frowns at the deep bruising, almost black, over his ribs and chest.
"Wow." Buffy smoothes her fingers very, very carefully over his skin, tracing a linear bruise with the lightest touch possible, and Angel inhales sharply. "Did that -- " She glances up at him, ready to ask if that hurt, but his eyes are dark and his lips parted, and their faces are closer together than she realized.
"Hurt?" Angel finishes for her. His voice is soft, and his hand settles on her hip. "I didn't notice."
She leans in closer until their noses are almost touching. It's like being pulled, like Angel's a really big magnet and she's... something metallic. "I was going to offer to bandage you up, but it doesn't look like there's much to do."
"No," Angel says hoarsely. He licks his lips. "Just bruises."
It's hard to tear herself away, but she does -- not a lot, though. She settles beside him and touches another bruise gently. "What was this one?" she asks.
Angel glances down. "Um... I forget. A fist, maybe. Or an elbow?"
Her fingertips skirt upward, and she lays the flat of her hand over a larger bruise that's shaped almost like a triangle. "This one?"
"Uh... I think that one was a tail."
"A tail?" Buffy says.
"There was a dragon."
"A dragon?" Buffy feels her eyes widen. "Seriously? Like, a real dragon?"
"Real enough," Angel says ruefully, and the moment, the Big Sexual Tension Moment, is broken. Buffy's not sure whether to be happy or sad about that, but she's distracted by her stomach growling.
"I really am hungry," she tells him, getting up. "Does this place have room service?"
"I don't think so," Angel says. "But there's probably delivery. You know, pizza or something."
"Pizza's good," Buffy agrees. She goes over to the desk -- which is bolted to the wall, like someone might want to steal it -- and opens the drawer. It falls out of its little slot thing, dumping the small collection of menus and papers with hotel information printed on them to the floor and leaving her holding the drawer by its handle. "Huh."
"Sorry," Angel says, like it's his fault that the desk drawer is faulty. He comes over and kneels down, even though doing it makes him wince, and starts shuffling the papers into a loose pile. Buffy is already on her knees beside him.
"You don't have to do that," she says, even though it's already too late.
"I guess this place isn't that great," Angel says. "I wish..." But he doesn't finish, and that's good, because Buffy's not sure she wants to hear what he wishes.
"Yeah. What's up with this place?" She concentrates on the practical, sets the drawer to the side and picks up a menu with line drawings on it. "I thought you were living the good life these days. A big fat paycheck, designer suits..."
Angel sits back on his heels. "The credit card's in Wolfram and Hart's name." He says it like she'll know what that means.
She does. "And you don't want them to know where you are."
"No." On the other hand, maybe not. "I don't want them to know where you are." Angel looks at her then, what looks like two hundred and forty years' worth of sorrow and pain on his face, and there's nothing Buffy can do except put her arms around him and hold him.
It's not enough, but it's all she can do.
Angel doesn't feel any better when she's hugging him, because he knows it's only temporary. Buffy's still inside his heart, wedged in there, and he'll always want her. Always. No one else -- even Cordelia -- came close to being what he needed, although there'd been times when he'd tried to pretend it wasn't true. "We should order you some food," he says. He can't do this, can't have her touching him -- he wants her too much, he's shaking with it, and with his world this crumbled it's harder than it should be to deny himself.
"Okay." Buffy lets him pull away. "It is," she says quietly, looking down at one of the menus that ended up crumpled somehow. "It's going to be okay."
"I know," Angel says. But he's thinking about Spike, about Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn and Fred, even Illyria, and he can't see how it's going to be okay. Everything hurts, and he doesn't think it has anything to do with bruises or broken bones.
Buffy is tucking her hair back behind her ears and grimacing. "I feel all icky. Stupid recycled airplane air. Would it be okay if I took a shower?"
The thought of her standing naked under running water with only a door between them is too much for Angel. "Sure," he says. "There's a pizza place around the corner, I think. I could walk over and get you something."
"That'd be great." They both stand up.
"Okay. I'll... I'll be right back." And Angel flees the hotel room before she can do or say anything else.
He doesn't remember that his shirt is unbuttoned until he's waiting for the elevator. At least he has some cash on him. He took it off half a dozen bodies after the fight, with Spike's dust still on his clothes; he didn't dare go back to Wolfram & Hart. That was... three days ago? Four? Maybe five or six. He's been holed up at the hotel since, having bought a change of clothes down the street and then paid for a week's stay with trembling hands that the clerk didn't even comment on. Things were still crazy in L.A. then. They're almost back to normal now, if the people walking by him as he steps out onto the sidewalk mean anything; Angel tucks his hands into his pockets and goes first to the liquor store he remembers having seen. He buys a bottle of 16 year old Bushmills and stands at the pizza place with the neck of it firmly in his grip, paper bag crumpled and twisted around the glass. It's comforting.
When he gets back to the room, Buffy is out of the shower and has changed into different clothes. The bathroom door is open, the mirrors fogged over with condensation, and she's in there toweling her hair dry. Angel feels an almost inescapable urge to go into the the room and join her while he can, while the proof of who and what he is would be hidden; to pretend that he's not a vampire, that he's just a guy who can give her everything she ever wanted.
Luckily, as urges go, it passes quickly.
"I got the pizza," he says. "And diet pepsi. Do you still like diet?"
"No one likes diet," Buffy says, coming out of the bathroom. Her hair is shiny and dark with water, combed back away from her face. "They just drink it because it's better than having all that sugar."
"I thought sugar was a good thing," Angel says.
"Not for those of us who want to maintain our girlish figures." Buffy takes the pizza box from Angel's hands and sits on the bed that's still made up, bouncing a little bit.
Angel stands there for a minute, just looking at her, then tears his eyes away and sets the can of diet pepsi on the desk, hoping it can take the weight. He pulls the whiskey from the paper bag and unscrews the cap, about to take a swallow before he sees Buffy watching him. "You want some?" he asks.
Buffy makes a face. "A world of -- " She cuts herself off before she finishes whatever she was about to say, rearranging her features carefully. Slowly, she lifts a slice of pizza to her mouth and takes a bite. Chews. Swallows. Then, "Okay," she says.
He goes into the bathroom and gets one of the plastic cups -- wrapped in more plastic that has to be torn off; apparently germs are scarier than he'd ever imagined. He pours a couple of inches of Bushmills into it and gives it to Buffy.
"Spike would have liked this," she says. "I mean... I got drunk with him one time. In his crypt." She throws back the whole drink all at once, then makes a terrible face. "Bleahhh."
Angel almost smiles, but thinking about Spike is enough to keep him from going all the way there. "And then... something... happened?"
"What? No!" Buffy takes another bite of pizza and talks through the mouthful.
Confused, Angel drinks directly from the bottle. "But eventually...?"
"Well, yeah," Buffy admits. "Eventually. But not then." She holds her cup out, and Angel tips another couple of inches into it. "It was kind of nice," she says, then flushes at the look on Angel's face. "Being drunk," she clarifies quickly. "Not... the other. I mean, that was nice, too, but... so not talking about that now. Or, you know, ever." She drinks the whiskey and makes that same face again. "Wow. The taste of this stuff has not gotten better in the past couple of years."
"Sometimes people mix it with water," Angel says.
She looks into the cup doubtfully. "I'm not imagining that making it any better. There'd just be more of it to drink."
"And you're drinking to get drunk."
Buffy looks up, her eyes a little wider than usual, and their gazes meet. It's like drowning, Angel thinks, and he knows how like-drowning feels, even if actual-drowning hasn't been part of his admittedly long history. "That's kind of the point, yeah," she says.
Pulling a chair over nearer the bed -- because there's a line that they've already crossed, and they're going to cross it again, but not yet -- Angel sits and pours more whiskey into her cup before drinking some more, himself. "Then let's do it right," he tells her.
Buffy hates the way liquor tastes, but that's probably a good thing. If you liked the taste too much, combined with liking how it made you feel, you might end up with alcohol poisoning, and that's not part of the plan. She has to be on a plane back to Europe in less than 48 hours, and she'd really rather do it unaccompanied by the world's biggest hangover. Still, it's nice to let the stuff seep into her bloodstream, warm and relaxing, making her worry a little less about Angel and whatever it is he's thinking.
She's sitting on the floor now, leaning against the bed, her fingertips tracing the end of Angel's Alberto Guardiani shoes. A minute ago they were laughing -- she doesn't remember about what -- but now they're both quiet. The peaceful kind of quiet. "Nice shoes," Buffy says, because they are.
Buffy starts to untie them.
"Um..." Angel says.
"Hey, if we're sleeping here, you should at least be comfortable." To Buffy's somewhat-drunk brain, this makes sense. "Geez, did you have to tie them so tight?"
"You're drunk," Angel says, amused.
"Hey, you drank way more than I did." Which is totally true.
"Yeah, but I probably weigh twice what you do," he says. It takes Buffy a few seconds to realize that what he said was weigh, not way.
She manages to finish untying one shoe. "Lift," she says, tugging, and Angel obeys so she can pull the shoe off his heel. The shoes are nice, but kind of beat up. "These are the ones you wore the other night," she realizes.
"Yeah," Angel agrees, and he's gone all still, reminded.
Buffy sets the shoe down carefully and moves on, untying the other one. "I think you should tell me," she says, while she's looking at shoelaces instead of Angel's face. "What happened. Because if you don't... I don't know. I just think it's better to get it out there." She risks a glance up at his face then. Wishes she hadn't, because his lips are pressed tight and his hand is clenched tight enough on the neck of the whiskey bottle that she's afraid it might break, and she's forgotten how much life can hurt.
She liked forgetting.
"He's dead," Angel says, then grimaces, probably because dead isn't really the best word to use. He drinks from the bottle again, long swallows, and licks whiskey from his lips the way he licked -- no. Buffy's not thinking about that now. Or ever. "Isn't that enough? You'd better not expect me to cry over him. I didn't even like him."
But he did. Even if Buffy didn't know that before, she knows it now, by the harshness in Angel's voice. And besides, it's not just Spike he's mourning. Leaving his shoe where it is, she reaches up and wraps her own hand around the bottle, above Angel's. He doesn't loosen his grip.
"Let go," Buffy says. "Come on, you're going to break it."
Angel lets go, and she sets the bottle down as far away as she can reach. She finishes taking off his other shoe, because that isn't the kind of thing you can leave undone. "You don't want to know," Angel says.
"No," Buffy agrees. "I don't. But I think I need to, and I think you need to tell me."
It's quiet, and Buffy isn't sure she likes the quiet.
"Please," she says softly.
Angel gets up and goes over to the windows on the other side of the room; Buffy rests her arm on the bed and her chin on her hand, watching him, but all he does is stand there with his back to her, looking out into the dark.
They're both drunk, and Angel thinks Buffy is wrong -- she doesn't need to hear this. Part of it's him being selfish, though, because he doesn't want to have to tell it. He knows Connor is okay, and that's the most important thing. Without that, he doesn't think he'd be able to keep going. Even with it, it feels too hard not to give in. Give up. "There isn't anything to tell," Angel says. "We were fighting for a long time; I don't know how long. Hours. Wesley was already dead, and then Gunn... Illyria... I don't even know if she can die. She was still standing when it was over." He remembers that moment very clearly, because the rain had let up for a few minutes and he could still taste Spike's ashes on his lips. Illyria had straightened up, her expression blank instead of haughty, turned, and just... walked away. He hadn't called after her, and she hadn't looked back, and he hasn't seen her since.
"And Spike?" Buffy asks.
For a long time, he can't say it. He's always told himself he hated Spike, and most of the time he even believed it, but deep down he's all tangled up. Spike was annoying, and... well, annoying pretty much says it all. But there's something binding about being vampires, being a family, and it's something Angel can't shake. Darla's gone, and Dru... who knows where the hell Dru is. "He got skewered, okay?" Angel's voice is rough and more than a little bit angry -- he's angry at Buffy for making him say it, even though he's the one who called her and told her what had happened. He hadn't asked her to come, but knows he wanted her to. "I went to try to -- " Fuck, it's so hard.
She gets up and comes over behind him; even if he couldn't hear her, he would have felt the warmth radiating from her. He doesn't turn around.
"I was too late." Always.
"Angel..." Buffy's hand touches his arm, and he's glad he's wearing long sleeves, that she's not touching skin, because he doesn't think he could bear that. "It wasn't your fault."
Angel jerks away and turns to look at her, grateful for the anger surging through him. "You don't know that," he growls. "You weren't there."
"I would have been!" Buffy's shrill, her eyes bright. "If I'd known, if you'd picked up the phone and told me, I would have been. God, Angel, I'm here now. Let me help you."
"It's not always about what you want," Angel says. "And there isn't anything you can do to make it better!"
"Maybe not, but I loved him, too," Buffy says, distressed, and everything goes slow for a few seconds, like time turning to molasses. It reminds Angel of Illyria, back before, right after Fred died. It's so quiet he thinks he can hear Buffy's heartbeat thudding in her chest.
Angel goes to her and takes her into his arms, holds her. "I didn't know," he says stupidly. "I didn't know, that you..."
"I did." Buffy sniffles. "It's not -- it wasn't easy. I didn't want to. But I didn't know... God, it was so confusing." She looks up at Angel. "Love's kind of like that."
"Sometimes," Angel says. He reaches out tentatively and tucks her hair back behind her ear. It's cut differently. More... choppy, or something. "Not always."
Buffy's serious, watching him. "I won't say it didn't mean anything," she tells him. "Because that would be a lie, and I don't want to lie to you."
"Nothing wrong with a little white one now and then," Angel says, sounding like an idiot even to his own ears.
"But it wasn't this," Buffy says. She curls her hand around the front of his shirt and tugs at it. "This is... there's nothing like this. You and me, we're different. Special."
"What about The Immortal?" Angel asks, trying for a lighter tone. "You do realize he had me chained to a ceiling, right?"
Buffy rolls her eyes. "Again with the you and me being special." She pulls away, walks over and sits down on the partially unmade bed. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I like him and all. But if you had to listen to him go on and on... Tibetan monastery this, nuns in Frankfurt that, blah blah blah." She looks up at him, her eyes drawing him closer. "He's not you. No one is. Not The Immortal, and not Spike. Okay?"
Part of him wants to argue, to ask questions, but he knows that's not going to help. Spike's gone, just like so many others before him, and nothing's gonna change that. Nothing.
"I do think about it," Buffy says, gaze unwavering. "You know, that far ahead? Sometimes. I just... I still think it's a long time coming."
And Angel hears her. He gets it. There might be a time for them, but it's not now. "I'm still not getting any older," he says, like he did before. "For now... well. I'm glad you're here."
"Me, too," Buffy says.
After a minute, Angel clears his throat. "I think you were supposed to be eating pizza."
"Yeah. I'm not really hungry anymore. I guess it was all that Scotch."
"Whiskey," Angel says.
Buffy wrinkles up her nose. "There's a difference?"
"Yes," Angel says firmly.
"Come to bed," Buffy says, her voice soft and gentle, and Angel's heart melts.
She undresses him the same way she took off his shoes -- slowly, concentrating on it like it's the job that's important and not the end result. She slips each button free, slides the zipper down, pushes his boxers past his hips until he's standing in nothing but his skin. Then she takes off her own clothes, revealing the curves he remembers, not much changed in the intervening years. Curves he's thought about as he brought himself to a guilty, solitary release so many times.
Then they get into bed together.
Angel can't help but think he must be dreaming.
Curled up against Angel's solid bulk, Buffy knows she can convince him everything's going to be okay. That's why she's here -- because he's hurting, and because she loves him, and because this is how she can reassure him that there are still things worth fighting for. Like this.
Even if they can't have everything, they can have this.
At first, when she kisses him, he holds back. Doesn't do much more than let her. But after a minute his hand closes around her shoulder and he pulls her closer, and then somehow she's underneath him, held down by his weight. It's superficial, but Buffy is glad she shaved her legs when she took a shower -- for about three seconds, because then Angel's fingers are between those legs and wow does he know how to do this, it wasn't just because their first and only time she was so inexperienced. That thought jolts her eyes open because she hasn't said it yet, and Angel lifts his weight a little bit and looks down at her. "What?"
She's not sure how she's supposed to answer when his thumb is on her clit. "We can't -- " she gasps.
"I know," Angel says. One finger slides into her and she gasps again. "We won't." He leans down and kisses her, just a little bit wet. "I want to see you."
"I'm right here," Buffy tells him.
"Yeah, but... like this." Angel rolls onto his back, pulling her on top of him until she's settled right over his erection, feeling its hard length against her. "God, you're so beautiful."
Buffy rocks a little bit -- it feels amazing, and this is close but not crossing over the line. Angel touches her breast, the edge of a finger teasing her nipple as his other hand goes between her legs again. "Angel..." It feels right, saying his name. It's what she's supposed to say.
"Buffy." And that's right, too. She knows he can feel it the same way she can by his voice, by his face. This is so intimate that it should be weird, after all this time, but it's not weird. Not even a little bit.
Angel touches her, working two fingers in and out of her until she's gasping and shivering, rubbing herself against him without shame. She can't brace herself on his chest because of his bruises, but she's strong enough not to need to. Their eyes are locked when she finally comes, and she bites her lip, moaning softly through the waves of pleasure until it's over.
She reaches behind her, shifting her weight forward, and takes Angel's slightly sticky, warm cock in her hand.
"You don't --" he starts to say, and she silences him with her fingertips against his lips.
"Shh. I love you." And, like that, Buffy strokes him, watching his face until it contorts, his eyelids fluttering closed for a few seconds, his thigh muscles tense underneath her as he spasms. "I love you," she says again when he relaxes.
Angel kisses her hand, then pulls her down and holds her. The room is quiet and dark, and Buffy feels safe. "I love you, too," he says.
Lifting her head, Buffy looks at him. "Never stop, okay?"
"Never," Angel agrees. He rubs her shoulder gently and sighs.
"I wish I could stay longer," she says, already regretting how short a visit it's going to be. "I wish --"
"Yeah," Angel says. "I know. Me, too."
"Someday," Buffy says, and Angel nods and holds her more tightly.
It's not like there's anything else that needs to be said.
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Summary: It's Buffy's turn to remind Angel how to be strong.
Thanks to Mer for the idea, and to Eponin and Justhuman for the betaing and advice.
Unlike the characters, all errors belong to me.