“Am I dreaming?”
It was the first time she spoke. The caress up her thigh stopped abruptly but he didn’t move otherwise. She kept her arms around his neck, holding him tightly lest her question be answered in the affirmative and he vanished.
In the silence, thoughts and alternatives flitted through her mind, neither making much sense. But this moment didn’t make any sense either, did it?
But he still stayed.
She finally dared to move her fingertips, slowly, until there were ten sure points of contact to his skin. To him. But she’d touched him for weeks, held him and made love to him, and every morning... “Am I?” she pressed.
She tried to find his eyes with hers but he kept his gaze lowered, focused on her nose, her lips, her neck, anywhere but her eyes.
“Did I ever tell you,” he began and then the words died as he shook his head.
She startled at the sound of his voice, just realising it was the first time he spoke, too. The caress resumed, at her waist this time, and he kissed her shoulder once, twice until he seemed to have gathered the courage to finish his sentence. “Did I ever tell you that you are the most beautiful woman on earth?”
As his lips moved to hers, he didn’t let her answer. His hand trailed maddeningly slowly along her ribcage and she forgot why answering would be important. He hadn’t answered her either, had he? Maybe it was better like this, while they could pretend that this was real and that he’d stay beyond sunlight and her sister calling her for breakfast.
It wasn’t until morning, when she woke up fully clothed and alone, that Buffy understood that answers were indeed important. Her answer? It was simple: No, he never had called her a beautiful woman. She’d been only a girl, a silly schoolgirl in love, when he’d left her.
And his answer?
His answer.... She still didn’t know.
Except that not even her sweetest memories and best dreams had ever kissed like she’d been kissed last night.
Willow broke into giggles at her girlfriend’s joke and Kennedy smirked smugly. “Hey, Buffy, can you believe what... Buffy?” The blonde was staring into her cup and she obviously hadn’t heard Kennedy’s punch line. Considering her friend’s expression, Willow doubted she’d been paying attention at all. It’d been like this since they’d met for lunch an hour earlier. “Hey, Earth to Buffy?”
Buffy finally blinked, then blinked at the couple at the other side of the table as if surprised by their presence. Then she recovered and smiled sheepishly. “I missed something?”
“Just the world going around,” Kennedy said airily, a little miffed at having been ignored.
Willow put a hand on her girlfriend’s arm, smiled at Buffy. “Are you okay? You seem... distracted.”
The blonde shook her head. “Everything is fine, Will. It’s just so cold. I still have to get used to the weather, I guess.” To stress her point, she hugged her arms and rubbed them over her sweater.
Willow let it slide. “It is cold. But then, Californian girls, right?”
Buffy smiled. “With three months in Brazilian summer, in your case.”
“Oh, that was beautiful. Never thought so, but it is.” Kennedy nodded in agreement. Willow allowed herself another second of sweet remembrance and then got back to her role of concerned friend. The last year she and Buffy had grown distant, with her in South America and Buffy still in Europe. But she’d flown to England as soon as she’d heard the news from LA, and now here she was, two months later, worried because her best girl friend wouldn’t even mention the subject. “But other than the weather, Italy is fine?”
A real grin, the first this afternoon, crossed Buffy’s lips and her eyes widened. “Rome is great.”
If not for her distracted spells, Buffy looked really fine. Maybe time had done its job and she was dealing with the vampires’ loss. Willow looked at the blonde again and rethought that idea; maybe someone was helping her to deal. “That’s a ‘My Roman friend is great!’ smile,” she teased with a knowing arch of her eyebrows.
Buffy laughed. “There is that, too.”
“Do you love him?”
Both friends turned to Kennedy. Willow smiled warmly. Buffy tried a smile, too; though it was obvious she felt uncomfortable answering such a personal question to a girl she didn’t count as a close friend, even if she was Willow’s long-standing girlfriend. Finally she shrugged, choosing a non-answer for the unwelcome question.
“The Immortal, right? Sounds lovable to me.” Ever positive, Willow nudged her friend.
Buffy didn’t disagree.
“Where do you find these guys anyway?” Kennedy again.
She gazed at the younger girl, starting not to care whether she was Willow’s girlfriend or not. There were questions that not even the redhead would have asked, like this one. “Phonebook,” Buffy deadpanned. Still better than telling her to mind her own business. “Right under ‘Scourge of Europe’ and ‘William the Bloody’.”
At a loss, Kennedy frowned. The frown deepened when she noticed that her girlfriend had paled, though she was valiantly keeping on a smile.
Buffy noticed the same and chastised herself. Kennedy was Willow’s girlfriend, therefore she deserved better. “Sorry. Bitchy much?” She tried to look genuinely apologetic. “I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Truth is,” and here she sighed, “I haven’t seen the Immortal in a while. There were, hm, complications.” She stared into space for a moment, wondering whether that was an accurate description for what’d been happening in her bed for the last five – or six? – weeks. But she remembered in time that she had company and returned to herself. This time her eyes were lit with a softness Kennedy didn’t recognise in the older Slayer.
Willow thought it looked familiar, though she couldn’t place the feeling, and she instinctively grinned happily at the sight. Suddenly an idea struck her. “Oh!” She leaned forward conspirationally. “Someone else?”
Buffy’s expression was answer enough.
Willow took that in and then began snickering. Kennedy and Buffy stared at her questioningly and after a few more seconds of mirth, the redhead revealed her thoughts: “Just thinking that I was worried for nothing. You are in love.” She shook her head at herself. “My best friend radar is so rusty, but I don’t care as long as you’re happy. Are you?”
Buffy thought about it – for a second.
Then both women were laughing together, and eventually Kennedy smiled along.
She returned to full consciousness with the feeling of his lips on hers.
She’d recognised whose kiss it was immediately that first night, and in her surprise she’d sat upright and found nothing but the dawn creeping through her curtains into her bedroom.
The second time she didn’t move except to follow the movement of his mouth with hers, still half sure it was the work of her imagination, a thought that was reinforced by the absence of any proof come dawn. It took another week before she admitted that her imagination had never been so good, and considering all his returns into her life, why should this one be any more normal? At least this time he’d stayed for more than a night.
Angel’s kiss. Really Angel’s kiss, she’d thought when she was finally allowed to breathe and she hadn’t dared to open her eyes. She’d wanted to call his name, reassure herself that she was right and he was with her. But a finger to her lips had stopped the word, all words she might have said instead. All sounds had stopped and she’d allowed it.
Silence was no reassurance, no. That self imposed blindness had been no reassurance either. But it’d been so long since she’d been sure of anything where he was concerned. Why not? She’d thought. Why not?
So she’d simply let him kiss her...
...just as he was kissing her now. But this time her eyes were open.
And so were his.
“I saw Willow today,” she told him afterwards, knowing they still had an hour before dawn.
“Wasn’t she in Brazil?”
She frowned at him.
"Andrew told us."
He looked surprised, opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. "I should have known."
"You look happy."
Buffy looked up and saw her sister at her bedroom's door. She took out the headphones and arched an eyebrow. "Will you ever learn to knock?"
Dawn rolled her eyes. She was tempted to poke out her tongue, too, but in the last year she'd learned to rein in on that particular temptation. "Geez, Buffy. I just came to check if another singing demon had snuck in."
"Why? You've summoned one?" But Buffy was smiling as she said it, making obvious that she considered that past mistake forgiven - if not forgotten.
Dawn made a face. Then pointed at her sister's lap, where her Discman lay. "You were singing at the top of your lungs," she explained. "My Heart Will Go On of all things. The least you could do is to change the repertoire after a decade, you know?" She rolled her eyes again as her older saved-the-world-a-dozen-times sister poked her tongue out at her. "Yeah, real mature, Buffy. No wonder all Italian guys want a piece of you." She avoided the plush toy flung her way. It was a little sister's duty to tease about an older sister's love life, or lack thereof. Not like anyone had made an appearance after the Immortal. Thank God the Summers’ curse hadn't extended to her yet, and she had a great party tonight to test that theory. "Anyway, I'm out.” Dawn hesitated. “Try and don't let Andrew steal my milk?"
"Right. About that." Buffy's face turned serious. "How would you feel about Andrew leaving?"
"Really?" Okay, she had sounded a little too eager. Cold, Dawn, you’re cold, she chastised herself. She liked Andrew allright, but this was supposed to be a place for the two of them, Buffy and Dawn. Maybe get some sister-bonding experiences in-between spats. Andrew was so cramping their style.
Buffy chuckled. "I'll talk to him later." Then her tone turned mischievous. "I'm not sure if I'll tell him about the milk, though. Why miss the fireworks when you find him out?"
Dawn muttered under her breath, but as she left Buffy's room she had to smile. Whatever happy-pill her sister had found, it must be good. She didn't know what had Buffy in such a splendid mood, but since she hadn't been grilled on and on about where she was going and whom with, Dawn was all for it.
Behind her, Buffy put the headphones back on. Dawn was such a complainer, anyway. She hadn't been singing 'at the top of her lungs'. Humming, maybe. God, she was humming now.
She looked at the mirror and giggled. Love looked good on her.
She knew she'd fall asleep soon. Whatever she tried, dawn always caught her sleeping.
Sleeping and alone.
But for now he was here, holding her. It was enough. It must be enough. But she'd never settled for enough when Angel was concerned, had she? Would that drive him away again?
She traced the line of his nose, the bow of his lips and the line between them. Seven years ago she'd dreamed with this: Lying peacefully in bed, skin to skin. Afterglow, some called it. Intimacy. Contentment. Happiness. All the words forbidden to them. Seven years ago she'd thought she'd burn and never ask for anything else if only she could enjoy a moment like this...
...and now she could barely hold the tears at bay.
He was here. But he was not. He was holding her. But only when night arrived. He hadn't told her why or how he'd arrived here, why or how he disappeared again every morning.
But she was no fool. But now she dearly wished she was.
"You are dead, aren't you?"
She marched through the Slayer house with furrowed brows. The silence felt too strange. Buffy was used to the Slayers sparring in every available room, or they’d be gossiping or quizzing each other or plainly making noise.
Giles’ sudden call, his too calm voice added to his unusual reticence to broach whatever subject was worrying him and now this silence. After all the mystery Buffy had expected to find pre-Apocalypse preparations. Instead all she got was a nervous Andrew telling her that everyone was in the Main Room, waiting for her.
She quickly left Andrew behind, eager to find out what the fuss was so she could return to Rome before nightfall. Approaching her objective, she could hear the voices inside, though they barely contrasted with the surrounding silence since none would rise above a whisper. The only time these girls were quiet was when danger was unavoidable.
Now truly concerned, she flung the doors open.
Even the low murmurs fell to an awkward hush at her entry.
But still no danger was obvious. Buffy opened the door fully and let herself in, glancing around searching for a clue. All heads turned towards her like a wave, then they simultaneously moved away to look at a point at the front of the room.
Buffy followed that line of sight… and the point became a gasp of recognition (hers) and a slow smile (his).
He was standing between Giles and Willow, looking unusually uncomfortable under the attention. His eyebrows narrowed as she suddenly stopped midway to him, but she simply felt rooted to the spot.
Then his lips mouthed her name and, God, he was alive!
Buffy ran through the Slayers to welcome him and didn’t care if her friends were gawking at the unexpected show of affection. “You are alive,” she whispered, dimly aware that she was clinging to him but unable to bring herself to care. “He said…. Everybody said…. I thought I’d lost you, too!”
Spike’s arms locked around her and his voice hid a small, too small, laugh. “Fat chance.”
Buffy finally let the tears fall even as she laughed back, and kept laughing.
“Angel, aren’t you?” she insisted.
Angel took the finger pressing at the corner of his lips and kissed its tip. “We can’t win all battles,” he said softly, as if she were still sixteen and still believed in forever.
Forever had become her enemy, didn’t he know that? “That tells me nothing.” She decided to be stubborn. It was easier than the sorrow growing within her. “I’ve lost, and I’m here. Losing means nothing but trying harder, coming stronger out of it.”
“Because strong is fighting?”
Something in his expression gave her pause. She thought she remembered those words, important words, her words, but she couldn’t place them exactly. “Yes.”
“You are the strong one, Buffy. You always were. You fight because it’s who you are, because it’s what you want. I fight because…” He kissed her palm. “Because it’s what I needed to do. It was the right thing.”
She didn’t understand a word. All these years and she still couldn’t understand him. Why couldn’t she? She saw that abyss that had scared her when she was sixteen, the one that had terrified her at eighteen and that finally had swallowed him away after her graduation. All her battles, all her losses and her deaths and Angel still was two centuries away. Even now, when her skin warmed his and she looked so deep within his eyes she thought…she thought…she thought she was helpless against whatever he’d decided.
He smiled at her gently. “It’s not about giving up, not really. I couldn’t give you up, so I didn’t.” He laughed softly. “Some would say it’s more a weakness than a strength, though.” She thought she looked hurt at that, because his eyes turned serious and he swept her into a long intense kiss. “Will you always doubt me, Buffy?”
Yes. Until she woke up and he was there. She couldn’t settle for enough; she tried and couldn’t. “That tells me nothing,” she repeated, though her voice was slightly shakier this time.
“It’s all I can tell you.” He pointed upwards, then pursed his lips and pointed downwards. He shrugged. “Whoever sent me here, there are still conditions.”
It was the first time he referred to the cause for these visits, but Buffy didn’t care about that. “No, it’s not all.” Yes, stubborn was definitely easier. “Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I’m mad. Tell me you are somewhere in California and have again decided not to tell me where you are, how you are.” She was pleading now. Uselessly and she knew it. She rested her head on his chest so she wouldn’t have to see the answers in his eyes. “Tell me you aren’t really here.”
Silence, and then a low chuckle.
She rose to stare at him.
He reached out to touch her chin, brought her closer to him for a sweet kiss. “I’m not that good a liar, Buffy.” But he was guiding her into another kiss and she let him.
She closed her eyes and he was so real beneath her. It was him. It was Angel. Whoever had sent him here, he’d said, as if it didn’t matter. In that kiss it didn’t matter to her, either. She’d worry later. Consult books, call Giles and move everything in her power to make this last.
But for now… why would it matter? Dead, alive, everything in-between. Nothing had changed. She was Buffy and he was Angel; of course nothing would work as it should.
“Tell me I’m not dreaming, then.”
Spike suddenly let her go. Buffy noticed that he was confused by her reaction so she checked her laughter. “It’s just… All the mystery. I thought the world was ending and it was you. You are really here. This is no dream.”
He glanced from her to the Watcher and her friends, who were still standing around them. “You mean Rupert didn’t tell you?”
Buffy shrugged. Who cared? She’d learned that Giles didn’t consult her on most things – the important things – anymore, and in the weeks after the revelation she’d learned not to care about that. “You know what they say. The Slayer is always the last to know.”
“Yes, about that.” Giles, and reality with him, intruded. He gave Xander a look, and immediately he and Willow led the girls outside. Some protested, Kennedy’s voice being the loudest, but in less than a minute only the original members of the Sunnydale gang remained - and Spike. Giles cleared his throat. “I didn’t tell you over the phone about Spike’s presence because I… I mean, we felt it’d raise some questions.”
“Don’t include me, Rupert. I was all for calling you myself, doll.”
Buffy nodded, rewarding him with a small smile. Then she faced her friend. “Questions?” She wasn’t sure what they meant by that. Of course she’d have questions. She’d been sure that Spike had died in LA, even Angel had seemed to think so… and then it dawned on her. The others didn’t know about Angel. They’d believe that as soon as she heard about Spike’s survival, she’d want to know about the other vampire…. “Oh.” Her friends always meant the best, Buffy knew that. In the year away from them, she’d even made her peace with the fact that they’d always act in her best interest – and screw her up in the process. “You should have told me.” Making peace didn’t equal letting it pass unchallenged.
Willow looked down, wringing her hands nervously and biting her lower lip in that gesture that meant bad news since Buffy had known her. Xander had both hands buried deep in his pockets; he’d look at any place but at her. Buffy had to smile as she looked at the third member of the uncomfortable trio. Giles looked a second away from taking his glasses off and cleaning them. Some things never changed, and even though she didn’t agree with their methods, Buffy was oddly grateful for their constancy.
After a long minute of silence, Spike was the only one who would look at her in the eye. “It was a tough battle,” he started, answering the question that hung unasked in the air.
“We….” Spike licked his lips, then changed tracks. “Wolfram and Hart will need a couple of decades to build up its power base again.” There was a hint of pride in that sentence.
Buffy understood. She understood too well. It was the same pride she’d felt when she’d gathered the Slayers after Sunnydale and told them what a great job they’d done… right before she listed the names that’d been left behind. When Spike’s face softened, she knew what his next words would be. “Don’t.”
His eyes widened. Green met blue for a long moment. It was he who finally acquiesced with a brief nod.
Giles’ voice was worried. “Buffy. I don’t believe your attitude….”
Buffy turned around, summoning the biggest smile she could find. “My attitude is the right one, Giles. Spike is back.” She gestured to the blond, winked at him. “I say we celebrate.”
The others looked at each other, questions and answers going back and forth silently.
“Didn’t you hear the lady? She said party, and I agree.”
They turned to Spike, who was also wearing a big grin.
“Brownies?” Willow suggested.
Giles and Xander muttered rebelliously but they took a look at Buffy and followed the redhead’s lead. “Fine.”
Buffy started after them, resolute to enjoy herself for the afternoon before her flight back to Rome. But she was stopped as Spike’s grasp encircled around her wrist.
“You’ll need to hear the words, Slayer.”
She didn’t turn. “From his lips, yes.”
Good intentions, Buffy thought ironically. Her third death would be via good intentions. She used his hold to pull him forward, looked at him in the eye and spoke earnestly, willing to put every bit of self-assurance in each syllable. “Trust me.” Spike seemed reluctant, but he finally nodded. With this reassurance that he wouldn’t broach the subject again, Buffy tugged on him playfully. “Come on. We still need to find fresh blood for you.”
“I’d forgotten you were this bossy.”
She laughed again.
“Get used to it.” Then, in a whisper. “Because I’m planning to boss someone out of his afterlife and you’re gonna help me.”
Spike stopped, eyeing her. Then he raised an eyebrow. “Let me guess, tall, dark-haired and just as bossy, right?” He chuckled. “Can’t say I won’t enjoy the challenge. He owes me big for playing me, you know?” As he realised that she wouldn’t know, Spike shook his head. “Long story.”
Buffy nodded, but she privately agreed with him. The story of Angel’s last days at Wolfram and Hart had taken them almost a week to tell.
Beside her, Spike sighed. “Just never thought I’d be helping the competition come back.”
She stopped, as she rounded to face him, her head tilted slightly on its own accord and her expression softened. “Spike….” She needed to say it. Spike looked more confident in himself, if that was even possible, and she read in his curious expression the knowledge of what was coming. He was just wondering how she’d do it. Well, she’d do it fast. She was more confident in herself, no more cat-and-mouse games with her own heart. “There was never a competition.”
He nodded to himself. Then, with a smirk: “You weren’t saying the same a year ago.” Buffy said nothing, but something must have betrayed her because Spike’s face sobered in a second. His eyes narrowed as they peered into hers. “That rat!” he exclaimed, shaking his head wildly. “He’s ashes and he still finds a way to beat me here!”
She rolled her eyes. Boys would be boys. She snickered to herself as she thought of Angel’s reaction at the news of Spike’s reappearance. As long as he didn’t go all ‘You should be with someone in the real world’.... Because she might hit him and test a niggling theory that maybe if unconscious he wouldn’t leave her at dawn.
“Do the others know?”
She shook her head.
No thought was needed: “Because I trust you.” A pause did come when she considered whether to reveal the rest. “…and I think he trusts you, too.”
“Damn well he should. I faced a whole army with him… and you already know about that.”
She nodded sheepishly.
“Bet he left out how I killed a dragon all by myself.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
Buffy laughed. “As a matter of fact, he did tell me about that.” She didn’t say he’d sounded still peeved that Spike had taken his dragon.
Spike eyed her slowly, taking in her relaxed expression and the fond smile she wore. Finally he smiled, mostly a self-mocking smile, but there was also admiration there. “Poor guy doesn’t have a chance to rest in peace, does he?”
Buffy just smiled back and happily lead him to the kitchen quarters.
“Tell me I’m not dreaming, then.”
Angel kissed her as an answer.
Kisses from high school and late night patrols. Kisses from sweet times she’d buried deep in her memories, where nothing could touch them. Kisses from when she’d still been a virgin and this – this kiss – was the only thing she could dream of.
With his lips so insistent above hers it was obvious that this was no dream. “Good.” Buffy smiled contentedly up at him. “Good. As long as it’s no dream, I can work with it.”
He raised a curious eyebrow.
“I’m not giving up on you either, Angel,” she told him seriously. Then she pecked his lips and beamed. “Here’s what I think,” she explained at his confused look. “Death is really a tease. She’s courted us for years, tempts and beckons whenever she gets the chance. But whenever she gets her hook in, she lets us go. Don’t you see? It doesn’t want us. I drown; you go to hell. I fall; you challenge hell. And here we are.”
“No, you aren’t going negative on me, Angel. Not this once. I know this is not what I want. It’s not what you want either.” She waited, but he didn’t deny it. “We have a chance, I know it. Whatever happens, I’m touching you. Touching. You. That’s the whole point of it.” She brought her hand to his chest, pressed lightly to demonstrate his solidity. Then she looked directly at him, daring him to oppose her. “You want back. You want it bad. Admit it.”
He smiled ruefully, touched the back of her hand and caressed it. “Sometimes beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Tough. I’m no beggar.”
“Angel….” She mimicked.
He shook his head. But he was smiling. “Do I have a choice?”
She made as if to think his question through. Then she let out a chuckle and suddenly he was on his back and she was kissing him with the same intensity she’d been kissed before. “No,” and she was giggling. God. First humming and now giggling. “Not really.”
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Summary: Seven years ago she'd thought she'd burn and never ask for anything else if only she could enjoy a moment like this.
Disclaimer: I can wish.
Thank You: to Sharon for the speedy beta. Yeah, I need to check the deadlines better. Lol! And to Lisa for helping me brainstorm. *hughughug*
Dedication: to Lucey. Because you’re always such a sweetie to me and I MISS YOU! *pout* *clings and doesn’t let go*