The grit of the sand digs into his sun-reddened skin, the grains irritating the sensitive flesh. He doesn’t know how long he’s been laying on the beach, but the tight, pulling sensation on his chest tells him it has been quite a while. He knows he will pay for this indulgence tomorrow, but he can’t find it in himself to care. Not now, when his life is measured in finite terms, the march of time pressing on and making itself known in every new wrinkle, every newly-discovered gray hair. His entire life is laid out in front of him, the endless possibilities stretching before him, and for now all he wants to do is exactly this: spend all day on the beach, laughing and playing as the sun beats down upon him, and then retire to the house before making love to the woman beside him. It’s not much of a life but it’s his.
He is exactly where he wants to be.
He glances over at his alarm clock, unsurprised to see her fast asleep. The sun plays along her hair, the rays turning the strands into buttery gold, and his hands fairly itch to bury themselves in the shining mass. Her skin, faintly pink from the sun’s rays, gleams with vitality and, his now-human senses aside, Angel swears he can almost see the blood rushing through her veins. For a brief moment, he longs for his vampiric senses, for the opportunity to taste the blood that practically sings to him. Just as quickly, the longing fades, his humanity making itself known once again as his stomach rumbles.
It bothers him sometimes that he occasionally feels the bloodlust, the urge to tear his fangs into her neck, glutting himself on her blood. When he confides in her about his fears, she shakes her head before cupping his face in her hands. “It’s okay, Angel. Who you were has made you who you are. I love who you were, I love who you are now,” she whispers to him, pressing her forehead against his and Angel is reminded all over again why he fell in love with her.
He turns his head to the left, the empty glass beside his head reminding him that they haven’t eaten since lunch several hours ago. He still marvels at the fact that he has to eat and drink, not to make others feel more comfortable around him but because he is human. For so long, shanshu was an impossible dream, a carrot dangled in front of him that he could never reach, and after signing away the prophecy in order to appease the Black Thorn circle, Angel knew it would remain just that. However, The Powers That Be weren’t done toying with him and he awoke in the alley where he stared down the Senior Partners’ army, bodies littered around him, gasping for breath as his heart nearly pounded out of his chest.
Human. The word is heavy with the sensations that come with it, not only for Angel but also for the woman beside him. It pounds in his brain, a relentless drumming of everything that he now is, echoed by the gentle thump thump of his heartbeat. He feels the echo in his veins, in the tugging and pulling of muscles coming to life, and in the endless dance of long-dead nerves awakening. He sees it in the way her eyes light up every time he steps out in the sun, or sighs, or does anything that speaks of his humanity. He tastes it in her kiss, in the way she nibbles at his bottom lip before thrusting her tongue in his mouth. He smells it in the salt air of their new home, in the perfume she always wears, a light citrus blend that reminds him of the first morning they woke up together after he came for her.
Angel doesn’t know if he has ever felt this way before, even on The Day that Wasn’t, a day that is years gone past. He relegates thoughts of that day to the far corners of his mind where memories tangle like dusty cobwebs. Now, with the human weakness of memory, that day transforms into a hazy dream, the sharp edges of pain and loss merely softened to regretful remembrances. What once comforted him, reminded him that for one day his dreams came true, become distant memories.
No longer can he recall the bitter tang of Buffy’s tears as they desperately kissed as the clock bore down upon them. The memory of the scalding heat of her body as she pressed full-length against him when they tumbled onto his bed no longer chases the chill from his own. When he closes his eyes, he can no more remember the taste of her skin than he can the fresh, mossy air of Ireland. Instead, the memories of that day are mere whispers of feelings, weakening over time until it is a struggle to remember it had ever been real.
The gentle lapping of the waves against the shore rouses him from his relaxed state. He turns to the woman beside him, a slow, easy grin slip-sliding across his lips as a not-so-gentle snore breaks the hushed stillness surrounding them. Leaning down until he can feel the heat radiating from her body, he brushes his lips against hers. Softly, sweetly, the salt from her sweat stinging his dry lips. She crinkles her nose as she fights the urge to wake up and murmurs a soft plea for just five more minutes. He runs a finger down her nose and traces the sensitive skin just above her upper lip.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty,” he whispers in her ear, her blonde hair puffing slightly from his breath. He marvels once again that he has breath, but the thought is quickly stopped when she rolls over and snuggles against his chest, mindlessly peppering his collarbone with tiny kisses.
“Angel,” she breathes against his skin. “Just five more minutes, baby.” Her lips move along his throat, the tiny nibbles and bites on his pulse point causing his hips to thrust against hers. “Mmm, someone’s happy,” she murmurs as she feels the press of his erection against her belly.
“Always,” comes his soft reply. In the blink of an eye—apparently he didn’t lose everything when he turned human, he notes—he rolls her onto her back. “Hi.”
“Hi.” She runs her hands through his hair, and Angel arches into her touch. He is fascinated with her hands, the small, graceful digits belying the underlying strength. He always watches as she paints her fingernails, changing from petal pink to fiery red to dusky coral week to week, amused by the intense concentration she gives each nail. Finished, she waves her hands before him, a triumphant smile on her lips, and he is awed by the happiness that small act brings. He couldn’t have that for so long, the fear of perfect happiness always at the back of his mind; now, the simple pleasure of watching his lover paint her nails is his very definition of perfect happiness.
Everything is his definition of perfect happiness nowadays.
As his lover gently pulls the hair on the nape of his neck he focuses on her again. She’s smiling at him, her eyes burning with desire, and he can’t help but press his lower half more firmly into her body. The pressure leaves her pliant beneath him, her legs falling open to cradle his hips. He’s hard, and she mewls as he gently thrusts against her, the sound only making him harder. He glances around, and as always they are alone on their stretch of beach. With one hand he pushes his bathing suit down enough to free his erection. Snaking one hand beneath their bodies, he pushes the material of her bikini bottom to the side before burying himself in her warmth.
He stills, savoring the moment. This happiness was denied him so long that even now, after countless days and nights of making love, he wonders if this is not merely a dream to be snatched away as he wakes in hell.
Understanding the hesitation, she traces his brow, her fingers lightly tracing the furrowed lines. “Angel,” she whispers, the words familiar to them both. “It’s real. I’m real, you’re real, and this is real. You survived, and you came for me.” Her voice breaks at the last, and Angel knows she is still overcome by the fact that he came. For her, for them. After their reunion, she confesses that she didn’t think she would see him again, especially once word of the devastation in L.A. became known. Even now, his whispered promises of love and fidelity still can’t completely erase the fear she had when she left him in L.A.
“I’m here, Nina. I came for you and I’m never leaving.” His words are spoken softly but urgently, the promise of a future hanging between them. He moves then, slowly withdrawing from her body before reentering, his movements as steady as his words. “I love you, Nina. I love you.” At his words she tightens her legs around him, the unspoken invitation clear. He increases his pace, the slapping of his hips against hers echoing the lap of the waves against the shore.
As she climaxes, pleasure washing over her features as she shouts her release, he thinks it’s one of the most beautiful sights he’s ever seen. For a moment he thinks of Buffy, and if the thought doesn’t feel like a betrayal, when he stares at Nina, her face morphing into Buffy’s, he knows that is. Thoughts of Buffy are infrequent now, the bitter pain of her betrayals lessened to a mere sting whenever he thinks of her refusal to help when Fred was dying, or her mistrust of him regarding Dana. He forgives her for the disloyalty, but he can never truly forget. It pains him to realize that Buffy’s love wasn’t as strong as her mistrust, but he understands that where he is now is where he is meant to be. He indulges his thoughts of Buffy when they occur—granted, while buried inside Nina is probably not the best time—because to make peace with his past, he knows he cannot ignore or repress any longer. He doesn’t want to spend his new life the way he spent his life as a vampire: brooding, plagued by the sins of his past. He’s been granted a gift and he intends to make the most of it.
Sometimes at night, when the moon is glinting off the still water and he is standing alone by the shore, Nina softly snoring in their bed, he questions what could have been. He wonders what Buffy would have done if he had shown up in Rome, battered and bruised and human, but his fears leave the thoughts unspoken. His discreet inquires during his recovery from the battle revealed that Buffy was “blissfully happy,” engaged to the brother of one of the newly empowered Slayers, according to his source in Rome. He worries that Nina believes she is his second choice, that he only came to her because Buffy was unavailable. He knows that’s not true, even in his occasional wonderings of what might have been, he never regrets not going to Rome. His relationship with Buffy was long over, and to go after her would have been clinging to the past, not looking towards the future. Angel feels that certainty deep within, but that belief doesn’t erase the ghost of Buffy. Only time will exorcise the specter of his former lover.
Nina knows all about Buffy, can tell when Angel is thinking of his former lover, and he is grateful for the security she finds in his love. He reassures her that while part of him will always love Buffy, he’s made peace with his former relationship with the Slayer. When she nips at his lower lip to remind him of the here and now, he realizes she knows where his thoughts are. He silently mouths an apology and she nods her head in understanding, that simple act reminding Angel of what a remarkable woman his lover is. With a conviction borne of love and trust, of endless days and nights spent in happiness, he knows that his relationship with Buffy, the struggles and joys of their time spent together, has made him ready for the hope he eyes just beyond the horizon.
And now, as he faces an uncertain future, immortality reduced to a few decades, he knows one thing: to embrace the gift of humanity bestowed upon him that rainy night in the alley, he has to leave the past where it lay. Once, his dreams of a future seemed only possible in the arms of a golden girl, the one who touched his heart so long ago, but now Angel knows that his future resides not in what could never be, but in the woman by his side.
With a silent thank you to his former lover, Angel says goodbye to his past, and embraces the future he holds in his arms.
Feed Lee Visit Lee
Summary: How does one move on? To embrace his future, Angel must first say goodbye to his past.
Author’s notes: Thanks to Maren for her help and encouragement in the development and writing of this story.