Angel was supposed to take Buffy to the docks, shepard her through the woods and back again. They were waylaid.
Newly baptized, Angel fed Buffy promises molded into a silver ring. He slid the ring, his hands holding her heart, onto her finger as a puddle spread at their feet.
He took her to his home. To the thick, warm walls of his castle beneath the city, a den decorated in shoji screens and low furniture. Buffy dripped awkwardly onto the mats covering the floor until he finally sent her to change clothes.
When she came to him, shy and damp, wrapped in one of his towels, she sat beside him, her tender skin covered in gooseflesh. Buffy watched him with soft, wounded eyes, the weight of her gaze heavy upon his cheek. Angel meant to be Prince Charming for her, dry off her baby fingers and tuck her carefully into bed. He has never been man enough to give without taking and he kissed her instead.
He ended between her thighs, taut with muscles and smeared thinly red. Gobbled her down and watched her break for him, swallowed her cries and gave himself up.
Once should have been enough.
Oh, grandmother, what a big dick you have ...
Beneath him, Buffy writhed, flushed, succulent, neck arched and her head flung back into the pillow. Staring down at her passion-bright face, Angel worked twice as hard to be gentle.
What the fuck? She isn't even a good lay. Cmon, she was a virgin two seconds ago. For the love of god!
Angel pumped her hard, two fingers curled up inside and his thumb raking across her clit with every stroke. It was her first time and her birthday and it should be good for her. He needed it to be good for her.
She breathed his name, sugar sweet and aching. Shaken and unsure as the pressure built again and she threatened to come undone.
"Come for me, baby," Angel whispered.
The panic on her face, at coming apart so completely, melted into vague eyes and a slack mouth. Her body pulsed around his fingers and a thin mixture of fluid and blood seeped onto the sheets. Angel rubbed his hands in it, spread it across her thighs, kissed her belly, so that he wouldn't kiss away the blood and the come.
But the scent of her, at once sweet and befouled, was nearly overwhelming. Angel's face folded back beneath the skin. His bones shifted and changed, his forehead and his eyes. Angel pressed his face into the bed beside her hip so that she could not see the monster she has made of him.
Don't be a chump. Take it like a man.
Angel felt his chest tighten. Felt the squeeze of love and, for the first time in a long time, peace like breathlessness. Contentment spilled through his veins, mixed with the glow of soul trapped behind his breast bone and simmered until it cracked. The sudden snap lanced jagged and sharp through him, bowed him off the bed and threw him to the floor. The world narrowed down to the sharpness in his chest, thumped hard inside his skull and flashed behind his eyes.
He lay still, gasping, before he finally rolled to his knees.
Buffy knelt on the floor beside him, the sheet dragged from the bed and tucked carefully around her body. He hadn't noticed. Hadn't felt her small hand on his shoulder or her voice in his ear: “Angel, what's wrong? Angel!”
He hadn't noticed any of her modest concern, only now he did.
On the floor, staring at her covered from neck to knee, he remembered her breathy moans and the way her body clenched around him. Recalled the strength in her thighs and back. The way she arched so very high and so very hard when she came.
Then he smiled, wide and brilliantly sharp.
Oh, grandmother ...
“Hello, lover,” his fist shot out and wrapped into the sheets tucked around her breasts, dragged her forward into the V of his knees.
“Give us a kiss,” he said and leaned down, sank the glittering sharp of his smile deep into her jugular. Buffy didn't push him away, cradled him close instead. Her arms curled up across his shoulders, her fingers digging bruise deep into his back.
He pushed Buffy back onto the floor, mesmerized by the heavy, frantic thud of her heart and the feel of her blood flowing out and out. It was easy to part the shroud of sheet. There was the dry rip of cloth and then he pushed himself inside her, his hips catching the rhythm of her heartbeat.
With every pump of her heart and surge of her body, he swallowed Buffy down. Worked her with his body and his hands until she came. Swallowed until her tiny hand, heavy with silver, fell away.
II. Negative Numbers
The city is still busy.
It is buried beneath snow and cold, and still the people slush their way to parties and bars and the end of the world. Focused as they are on the vodka in their glasses and the pasta on their plates, they never see the Apocalypse looming to swallow down their Happy Hour Christmas.
Out of the corners of their eyes, they barely miss the vanishing of their children, lured away by lullabies and cakes and dolls dressed in russeted silk.
Cordelia had called Buffy with wild snowflake tales of Darla, magical pregnancies and Angel disappeared without a word. Everyone was out looking for him, but nothing had turned up. No leads, dead ends all of them. Last minute, last shot, you're it, she said. Something in her voice told Buffy, we take care of our own. We don't need you, only this time we do because we're worried and no one can find him.
Buffy braved the winter world, went across the desert and the country, followed a whisper in the back of her mind, a tugging in her heart, until she found herself in a high rise above a frozen city blanketed in white.
“Buffy,” he says when the elevator doors shush open. He is not surprised, now, although earlier the sound of her name from the Porter had been completely unexpected. He'd frowned at the phone, finally told the old man to let her up.
Angel says her name again now, staring at her bundled from neck to knees in a coat of candy apple red. With snow still dusting her shoulders, he wonders if she's thinking of that one Christmas in Sunnydale.
Buffy's eyes are more lost than he remembers. She's been back for such a short time and there is a world more of hurt beneath her eyelashes, smoothed across her glossy lips, flushed into her hollowed cheeks. He recalls his own return and can't imagine that life after Heaven is any easier than life after Hell.
“Aren't you going to invite her in?”
The glass walls on either side of the elevator doors reflect only the room behind him, the white carpet and the pale walls, white furniture and icy splashes of the palest pink. Darla, leaning against the piano, is a translucent shadow in the glass. He can see right through her.
Buffy looks at Angel, Her lonely-lost eyes round and quiver with the beginning of tears.
“Buffy,” he says as she brushes past, shrugs away his detaining hand.
The room is filled with the odds and ends of this new life with Darla: cut glass vases filled with calla lilies, scattered newspapers, and heavy books laying open on the coffee table, the pages packed tight with diagrams and cramped, shifting script. Buffy walks past all of it, past the porcelain dolls tucked into the arm chair, past the winter mink abandoned on the couch and stops a pace in front of Darla standing with one hand resting on the piano's lid. The other hand cups the bottom curve of her swollen belly.
“How?” Buffy asks, her voice shock empty. She is very still in the whiteness of the room.
Darla smiles widely, her tongue curling up over her lip. “Well, you know,” she lisps. “The usual way.”
All Angel can say is her name, again and again and again, Buffy-Buffy-Buffy, forever and forever into eternity, a prayer, a benediction, a memory. Buffy on a day that never happened and that he can never forget. Buffy, always, at the end of the world, her mother's grave, resurrected and in his arms for a day and a night.
Now, here in a city buried by the winter.
She turns from Darla's delicious smile, a small explosion of color. Her small, strong fist lands beneath Angel's jaw. His head snaps back, and the clack of his teeth reverberates through his body. Darla's delighted laugh curls around the sound.
A second blow to his gut folds him over and he crashes into a glass table and the calla lilies. He always forgets how strong she is, that they can trade blows with her none the worse for it. She is stronger still, as she is now, a tiny juggernaut of hurt, rage burning up the heartbreak on her face. The stake in her hand is a reflex, habit hard-wired into her.
Angel catches her hand just before the zenith of the killing arc.
She sobs hot and broken through gritted teeth, brings up her other hand to force the stake to its mark.
“Buffy, no.” If she really wanted to, she could kill him. They are both aware of that fact.
“How could you,” she cries. “How -- why --why would you?” She leans into the stake. Angel squeezes her wrists tightly, amazed as always by the strength in her baby bird bones. He pushes back against the insistent plunge of the stake until, with a sob, she crumples into his arms.
Angel sits up, gathers Buffy into his body and holds her amid the broken glass and crushed flowers. Her sobs are raw and harsh, broken. The lost, forlorn cry of the abandoned.
“Buffy, she's carrying my son.”
Just beyond the frame of window and curtains, Angel can see the darkened skies and the white buffet of snow beginning to fall. The elevator doors shush open.
Buffy sinks even deeper into Angel's arms. She is no longer crying, only laying in his arms, her face turned away from the mirrors and the windows and the room.
The room is cold.
The sheets on the bed are stiff and vaguely scratchy. He wishes that he could replace them for her. They stretch smooth and tight, barely disturbed by the gentle rise of her body, and tucked with military precision into the corners of the mattress. She is covered by a very light blanket and gooseflesh marches up her arms.
Liam leans over and takes her icy hand, examines the palm, and faintly blue fingertips. Gently, he chafes her hands and arms, warms them up until they are rosy pink again.
“I've been commissioned for three more portraits,” he says as he pulls a second blanket from the closet across the room. He spreads it over her, careful to tuck it around her shoulders without disturbing the wires and tubes.
“It's amazing to me that people still do this kind of thing.” He pauses, standing over her and brushes the hair from her vacant eyes. “But I make a living, so I guess I should be thankful.”
Liam settles into the chair beside the bed and takes a sketch pad from the bag he's brought with him. He balances it on his knees while selecting pencils and charcoals, lining them up on the empty tray table stretched across her lap.
“Your Mom will be here tomorrow. I think your Dad might come, too. They miss you.” He wishes that he were more at ease talking to her. Wishes that he could fill up the time he spends at her bedside with easy chatter about the mundane things he does during the day, maybe tell her stories of the more risque exploits that take up his evenings. He never does. Never feels quite comfortable in her presence. She just stares at him anyway. Sometimes he feels very foolish.
He really doesn't have to be here. The nurses would prefer that he work elsewhere. They always complain about the charcoal dust and the smudges on the blankets. Liam insists that it will make for a better portrait if he sits with her while he works through the initial stages, but the truth is that he got her down in one go. He memorized the curves and shadows of her face during that first visit. The others, her friends, are his interpretations of the doctor's detailed descriptions.
This is, perhaps, the twentieth such portrait he has done for Joyce Summers. Her daughter's imaginary graduation; there is a serpent in the middle of it.
“I, um, showed your Mom the first rough layout. It's gonna be pretty big, but I told her I wouldn't charge her more for the new size. I didn't think that would be necessary.”
Just now he thinks that maybe she is pleased.
Buffy stares right through him.
Liam flips the pencil in his hand across his knuckles. It is a new trick. That kind of fidgeting always bothered him in other people, but he feels at a loss in the face of Buffy's disaproving blankness.
Liam slides around quickly in his chair, the pencil catching and flipping upwards and out of his grip to land on the bed beside Buffy's knee.
Joyce laughs quietly. “Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.”
Liam clears his throat, recovers his pencil and begins tucking away the supplies he's laid out. “Um, no. No problem. I was just about to pack up.”
“Oh, no. Don't leave on my account. I know I surprised you, but we closed the gallery early and I decided to spend the remainder of the day with my best girl.” She walks to the bed as she speaks, and places a kiss against Buffy's temple. Smooths her daughter's hair as she watches Liam pack everything away. “Really. Don't go. Please," she says.
Liam watches Joyce with her daughter, the gentleness of her hand on Buffy's still head, the way her eyes shiver with an emotion he doesn't want to name as heartbreak.
“Where's Mr. Summers,” Liam asks.
Joyce drops her gaze. “Working.” A smile gently tilts the corner of her mouth. “Of course, working.” She seems to shake herself, the downward curve of her smile spiking upward and he can see the embarrassment on her face. “Tell you what, angel, you sit there and work. I brought a book and I'm going to sit over there in the corner and read. I won't get in the way. You won't even know that I'm here.”
Liam hesitates. He always wonders if she notices when she calls him angel. It is a nickname the nurses pinned on him when he began showing up day after day and week after week. They never call him so in front of the doctor, only when they are alone with no one except Buffy to hear. At some point, Joyce picked up the name as well, although it falls like an endearment from her lips. If Buffy ever woke, he wonders if she would say it the same way.
Perhaps she would call him Liam. He wonders if, should she ever waken, she will recognize him.
He nods briefly, “Okay.” Sits back down and pulls out the most recent sketch, a chronicle of her daughter's dream world. The snake fills the left side of the page, a mass of students in cap and gown surround Buffy at the heart. Torrance High School, standing in for Sunnydale High, burns in the background.
In the lower right hand corner, amidst the fire trucks and ambulances, a dark figure hovers. The man is half hidden in shadows, Liam has always been reluctant to give him a face. The figure hangs on the edge of the sketch, fading into the chaos of Buffy's third Apocalypse. Liam wishes he could give them more time to say good-bye, but this isn't his dream. It is hers, and the good guy doesn't win the girl this time. He just fades into the background and disappears.
IV. The Mermaid's Tale
This, dying, is harder than he thought it would be. Hurts more, too. And not just in the hole through the gut sort of way. He's done that before and it wasn't this. That time was soft kisses and the sword was so sharp he didn't actually feel it. Just Hell on the other side.
This, dying, is burning and bleeding and ripping pain that he can't swallow down.
Buffy made this look so easy when he found her face down in a shallow pool, still pretty lying robed in snowy white. Angel tries to remain still but can't help but writhe.
Beside him Buffy sobs, tries to hold in his life with her hands. He remembers that she was supposed to die protecting him, only here he is, a hole in his belly meant for her and Riley watching their backs while she gathers up the pieces of him. He'd tell her to leave it be, but his throat is mostly crushed. Perhaps he'll suffocate before he bleeds out.
Buffy with her sad eyes and her tears and strong hands. She fought over him, around him, and two steps ahead, turning in an arc of sunshine and she missed the demon on the left.
Angel did not.
She shouted his name and the world slowed like the pouring of molasses until he hit the ground. Sound returned and time shot by in violent increments that he could distinguish only as then and now.
And Buffy above him, beautiful and something that he could never seem to hold onto, even when it should have been a possibility. Even after his mortality. But then she tucked him away. Coddled him, protected him. Ultimately, found a replacement. Even now the man fights as no human should be able. He fights as Angel once did and no longer can. Even before the wound spilling his guts to the floor.
This, dying, was inevitable. It was the promised forever offered with a beating heart and he took it. He chose her over duty, chose happiness and they gave him death as a reward.
This, dying, Angel thought.
V. The Sorrowful World
There amongst the darker clouds and granite mountains, where shadows and light stretch into the fall of her body upon the ground, is where they left him. Behind him she spoke and the blush of his name in her weary voice shivered over his heart to rest in the hollow of his chest. Oh, how he wished for tears. He would weep for her. For the thirty times three lifetimes she has spent cast into the abyss.
Yes, he would weep for her.
Her hand on his elbow resettles his bones. Angel was never aware that his fractured insides had never completely healed, but the way that his body adjusts to the presence of hers tells him otherwise. He has missed her in ways that were never accounted for. Missed more than just the bells of her laughter and the sigh of her breath against his shoulder.
Buffy's death was an ache in his marrow, the world purged of color and sound. The progress he made, the people he filled his life with after Sunnydale, have no dimension without the whisper of her in the back of his mind. There is a space of him left hollowed and keening for the lack of her.
It is an old story, the lovers who become lost to each other, separated by death and frigid forever. The shock of it resounds only from the guttural voice emerging from Willow's schoolgirl face. The eyes were a surprise as well.
Hell is unforgettable and there is no question of who will retrieve her.
Angel has been a Champion for years, now. He knows how to play the game, if he can remember the rules. Being with Buffy rewrites everything and there is the challenge. He goes nevertheless. Angel walks the eternal road that snakes through the lake of fire. Hell does not resound with the echo of his footsteps, but the terrain shudders with remembrance. He has been here before.
Glass shards and puddles are scattered at his feet. Mirrors shatter with each step he takes as he bears with him the heaviness of a soul not his own. She is strangely light, the press of her palm barely a presence at all. He wants to turn back, to check for the shine of her face, but he has been warned: Don't look back. You must not look back.
With her hand at his elbow, Angel walks out into Hell.
For moments, the presence beside him shudders and disappears, Angel stops several times and waits. Waits for the hand at his elbow or against his waist, waits for the brush of her fingers against his hand. The further they go, the longer it takes for her to return to him. Finally, he no longer feels anything at all. This is not how he imagined it would be.
He would not have guessed that reality would thin as they moved towards the breach between worlds. But he forgets that she is real here and he is not. She is losing substance as they travel and he can only hope that she will cross over with him.
Her voice is carried on the sulphurous wind, a sighing question that eases the tension from his shoulders and sets his feet to motion once again. Ahead of him he can see a girl, small, and dark haired, her eyes are lit with fire and the shape of her face is endearingly familiar. Angel turns his gaze away, refuses to stare, afraid that hers is the face of the girl matching his footsteps in the mud.
They appear periodically, meant to make him doubt. Their sweet faces crack and melt away as he comes abreast of them. He tries not to look. Avoids the flashing mirrors they hold up to him, the golden lockets and crosses of silver. He has been warned. Willow, crumpled in his lap and covered in sweat, made him repeat back the admonition: "Don't look back. I must not look back."
He whispers it like a mantra.
All the way to an obsidian lake smooth as glass where an old man waits on a ferry made of planks and old rope. Angel pays him with a coin as shiny and round as the cold moon and the man takes them without speaking, his wheeling, fire-lit eyes staring straight ahead.
They sail across the still surface, the ferryman standing at the prow. The opposite shore looms near and Angel can see the gleam of light that marks their exit. The boat floats near and Angel steps off into black, calf-high water. The bottom of the lake is uneven as it surges up out of the water and Angel must scrabble for purchase. Broken bones and shells slide beneath his determined feet. Buffy is only a memory against his back. But this is the final stretch and he stretches his fingers out towards the blindingly sublime light. Shadows flicker deep within the light, and he imagines Willow on the other side.
Staring so hard, so very deeply and then he steps to the right onto a pile of loose, broken bits that shift beneath him, shift and force him unexpectedly to his knees. Angel turns out of habit, they are so close to the light, and his hand extends. Words hover on his lips: "Are you alright?"
And then he freezes, with one hand raised and Buffy reaching for his fingers.
Light from the hole between worlds surges forward, swells and brightens and swallows him up.
"Angel?" Willow frowns down at Angel. He kneels on the floor, burned beneath him.
"Angel," she asks again. "Where is she? Where's Buffy?"
The End Red - Little Red Riding Hood (Surprise/Innocence) Negative Numbers - The Snow Queen (Offspring/Quickening) Thorns - Sleeping Beauty (Normal Again) The Mermaid's Tale - The Little Mermaid (I Will Remember You) The Sorrowful World - Orpheus in the Underworld (The Gift/Bargaining)
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Summary: Love can be as sharp as the point of a knife, as piercing as a sliver of glass. Five fairy tales, Buffy and Angel.
A/N: Written for the IWRY ficathon. Special thanks must be extended to Kita for the line in Losing My Religon that made my thoughts for The Mermaid's Tale suddenly make sense, and a2zmom's vision of Liam as painter that gave my Liam a reason to be in the room with Buffy. Atmosphere courtesy of Fiona Apple's Never is a Promise, Colin James Hay's I Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You, Rachel's Anytime Soon, Disturbed's Darkness and, for tkp, Nine Inch Nail's Something I Can Never Have. Summary from Jane Yolen's Knives. These are inspired by and loosely based around five fairy tales; they are listed at the end. Last but never least Mucho gracias, merci and Thank You to the lovely