All Souls' Day

All Souls' Day

By Spiralled
Author's Notes

Buffy stared at Willow, who kept her eyes down, folding and unfolding the edge of her napkin. Had Buffy heard her right?

"I know you mean well, Willow, but given my ride on the merry-go-round of the quick and the dead, I'm kind of surprised you're even suggesting it."

"I don't blame you for being reluctant. That's why I didn't say anything before running it by Giles first." Willow looked up, her eyes pleading. "But, Buffy, you can't go on this way. The not knowing is taking a toll." She wrapped her fingers around Buffy's bony wrist. "I'm worried that there won't be anything left of you the next time I visit."

Buffy placed her free hand on Willow's. "What's with the worry? I'm not any thinner than I was back in Sunnydale."

Willow lifted her eyebrows. "What about between then and now?"

"I have no idea of what you're talking about, Will." Which was an exceedingly lame lie. A little sun, a little pasta and a lot of relaxation and she'd actually had to start wearing a bra for more than fashion. That was about the time she'd met the Immortal and he'd assured her, quite enthusiastically, that her curves were right where they should be.

But that had been last spring, before all hell broke loose. Before Angel and Spike disappeared and were presumed dead. No bodies to find if they had turned to dust. But if they weren't dead, they would have contacted her by now, wouldn't they have? Buffy pushed the scone away, her appetite gone again.

Buffy stepped into the kitchen and checked her watch, counting the minutes until sunset. There was plenty of time; she might as well make herself comfortable. She shivered and then shrugged off the large pack from her back. Zipping open a pocket, she found a thick, wool sweater and pulled it over her head. Facing toward the sea, the cottage air was more than a little chilly.

Walking the perimeter of each room, Buffy assessed her surroundings. She'd come in through a mudroom, to the kitchen, which had a large wood stove as well as a washer and dryer. Beyond that was a bathroom with a claw foot tub with a wraparound shower curtain - the best of old and new. To the left was the main room. The focal point was a large, stone fireplace with two wing chairs flanking it. Nearby was a wooden table worn shiny with use and a pair of matching chairs. A few steps away stood a large bed with natural wood posters on the corners and covered with a wedding ring quilt. The walls were a white plaster, making it far brighter inside that she'd anticipated. All around, it was a quintessential thatched Irish cottage, well at least for the tastes of a California city girl.

Buffy checked the supply of wood. It seemed low. The place had electricity for refrigeration and lights, but Willow had been insistent girl that natural light was important. Something about the mix of heat with light being a draw for the dead, even the vampire kind. With it being the beginning of a damp and chilly November, a fire sounded good to her. Of course, first she needed to wait for sunset to start it. In the meantime, cutting wood should warm her up.

Once she'd stacked enough wood inside to ensure a roaring fire all night long, she returned outside, putting the ax away and tidying up the yard. The sun was sinking lower, a warm red glow trailing behind. It was nearly time. If she hurried, she might be able to get a quick shower in before sunset. Gathering up the yew and silver fir branches, she laid an overlapping path from the dirt trail to the door of the cottage. Double-checking her work, she returned inside, hopeful for a large hot water tank.

Buffy stepped out of the shower, wrapped the terry cloth robe around herself and scooted out to the main room. There had been hot water and she'd lingered longer than she should; best to do the prep first, get dressed later. From her bag she pulled out the favorites. On one side of the table she set out two bottles. On the other side she set out a ring and a postcard. In the middle she set out a mug that she filled with blood from the cooler pack; the remaining packs earmarked for the fridge.

When she opened the refrigerator, she was surprised to find it full of food - milk, orange juice, fruit, cheese and bread. Dropping the blood inside, she opened the freezer. Jackpot! Pints and pints of ice cream. And a note.

Buffy,

You can't do this without feasting foods. Say hi for me, okay?

Love, Dawn.

She wished her sister was there to hug instead of a very cold note card. Sisterly affection was a remarkable thing. However, she didn't have time to linger. Glancing at her watch, she realized she'd cut it too close; no time to get dressed.

She moved back into the living room and dropped the note card in the middle of the table as well. Then she flicked the match against its box, the acrid smell puffing to flame. Cupping her hand around it, she lowered the match to the candlewick. It sputtered briefly and then caught, stretching high and then bobbing happily. She set it in the center of the table, just behind the mug.

She held her breath. Would it happen immediately? Willow had said probably not, that she might need to sit vigil for a while, reflecting on the moments that made the loss so painful now. Hadn't she done enough of that the past few months? She sighed. Apparently not.

Which possibility did she hope was true? Alive, but ignoring her? Dead, but at peace? Or there was her nightmare possibility, dead and tortured. But her friends were right, the not knowing was worse. Well, between now and sunrise, she'd know. She might as well get to building that fire.

Slowly the cottage warmed up and Buffy curled up in the wing chair nearest the fire. She let the fire be, watching the logs transforming to white hot briquettes, yet still no sign of either of them.

Giles had connections to the people who owned the cottage and surrounding land, which had a corpse road running right past the door, and that boded well for her task, so here she was. He had concurred with Willow that even if both were dead, it was most likely that only one would respond to the invitation to speak with the living, with her. And given that the site was in Ireland, he had hypothesized that the power of the land might call more strongly to Angel. But it was only a theory.

She watched the fire, remembering those first painful months when Angel had mysteriously returned to her from whatever hell he had been in. It had been chilly in the unheated mansion, yet when she had set a fire in the fireplace, he had reacted so badly that she'd had to kick it out immediately.

If he came back to her again like that… She couldn't finish that thought, it was too unbearable. Right now it was looking more and more likely that neither would be showing up. That was of the good, right?

She hated to admit it, but part of her was disappointed. The thought of any chance to talk to him again, to touch him again, even if briefly, would be something.

Wondering if this spell would work or not, Buffy had barely slept all week. The result being she was now fighting to keep her eyes open. She should get up, get some fresh air. Instead, she nestled her head in the nook of the wing chair, watching the white and red dance back and forth across the coals.

"Buffy?"

She woke with a start, chilly and disoriented. The fire had burned down to embers. She whipped her head around to the table. The candle was still burning. She unfolded herself from the chair and added wood to the fire.

"Buffy."

She jumped to her feet. In the shadowy doorway stood a broad shouldered man. "Angel?"

"How?" he asked, slipping down the length of the doorway.

In an instant Buffy was kneeling at his side, her hands cupping his face, searching it. He was soaking wet and so blood and mud covered, it was nearly impossible to tell what really was the extent of his injuries. This was exactly what she had been afraid of. But better to pull him out of hell, even if for a night, than to leave him there, right?

"It's me, Angel, I'm here. Honest. We're in… I guess it doesn't matter where we are, does it? You came. I hoped you wouldn’t be able to, that you were still out there doing what you do, somewhere. But you came and I’m glad you came, but it would’ve been better if you couldn’t, at least I think it would’ve been better." Buffy knew she was babbling, but she didn't care. He was a mess, but he was Angel, that's all that mattered. She leaned in and brushed her lips against his, whispering, "I've missed you."

He needed cleaning up, but he probably needed food more. She grabbed the mug from the table. They hadn't been sure exactly how solid he would be, but she'd brought plenty of blood just in case. She silently thanked Willow for her insistence. Always the optimistic romantic, that Willow.

Returning to his side, she shook him. "Angel."

His eyes opened slightly at the sound of his name. It was hard to know if he fully understood who she was.

"Drink this, okay?"

She placed her thumb on his chin, prying open his mouth before lifting the mug to it. Slowly, she poured, making sure he was swallowing. She knew it was cooler and probably more congealed than he liked, but warm and creamy was a luxury he was going to have to do without. When she looked up from his lips, she realized his eyes were on her, drinking her in as deeply as the blood.

"Can you walk?" she asked, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and helping him to his feet. "Let's get you out of those wet clothes. Uh, I mean in order to get you cleaned up, not to, well, never mind."

"That's too bad," he said in a weak voice, "I liked your first idea."

Would it ever be possible for her to think about a soaking wet Angel without remembering the time they had made love? Or the horrible nightmare of the months that had followed? Which hadn’t stopped her, unfortunately, from finding him irresistible when in the mall he was again soaking wet. In her head she'd known he was Angelus, but her heart insisted that some part of Angel was still there.

Once in the bathroom, she propped him on the covered toilet seat and began running the bath water. As the tub filled, she knelt to first undo his boots. The laces were a gooey knot of substances she didn't even want to imagine.

"Don't suppose you have a knife on you?" she asked, pulling at the stubborn laces.

Eyes half closed, he reached toward the small of his back, drawing out a dagger he must have stashed there. "Will this do?"

"Good enough," she replied, eyeing the overkill of blade. "I'll try not to cut your foot off."

"Thanks."

The dagger made quick work of the ties. Then heedless of what else was caked to his boots, she slid them off and peeled off his socks. It was hard to tell under all the yuck, but it looked like they had little yellow smiley faces all over them. He never stopped surprising her.

“Hey there, mister, keep them eyes open," she said, pulling him to his feet.

He smiled at her. "I really wasn't expecting heaven."

She looked away, dreading having to tell him the truth. "You know what they say, you can take the boy out of Ireland, but you can't take the blarney out of the boy. Now let's get that coat off."

He shrugged off the coat, but his fingers couldn’t manage the buttons. She brought her hands to his chest, the buttons responding to her more nimble fingers. When she reached the button to his pants, she hesitated.

"Buffy."

She jerked her hands away, looking up guiltily.

"The water."

She glanced over her shoulder. The water was plenty high, especially once Angel's muscled form was added in. She turned off the tap. When she turned back, Angel had managed to slide his pants and his boxers off and apparently he was happy to see her. Or more likely, knowing Angel, it was the side effect of whatever fight he'd been in the middle of.

She tried to keep her eyes on his face. "Do you need help getting in?"

"Bit of a first step. If you could keep me steady, I can take care of the rest."

She wrapped an arm around his back as he climbed in, which put his semi-erect penis pretty much at eye level. She knew she was blushing, which was silly. It wasn't like she hadn't seen naked men before, including Angel. But with him? That had been years ago. Besides, she wasn't exactly sure what the protocol was when you called a former boyfriend back from the dead. It probably wasn't to ogle him and plot out fifty different ways to jump his bones.

Angel let out a hiss as he inched his body slowly into the warm water, which crept up his thighs, hips, abs and finally to his chest. If he wasn't so battered, she would have sworn he was doing it purposely, enticing her. And now, with his eyes closed, his head tipped back against the edge of the tub and his arms akimbo over the sides, he looked far too beguiling.

"If I leave for a couple minutes, you're going to be okay, right? Not going to slip under water and drown on me are you?" He opened one eye. "Right. Not physically possible. Leaving now."

Predictable. Angel got undressed and her brain dribbled right out her ears. She scooped up his clothes, hoping she might find her brains tucked inside, and moved to beat a hasty retreat.

"You're here."

"What?" she asked, turning back.

"You're here," he repeated, his eyes holding hers. "I'm going to be more than okay."

She nodded, not trusting herself to say anything. Of course, that didn't stop a smile from tugging at her lips. Scooting out of the bathroom, she couldn't help but beam. Also predictable when he was around.

In the kitchen she was the Buffy the Task Slayer: off with her now-muddy robe, into the washer with the clothes, a damp cloth over the trench coat, once over her own body with another cloth to remove the transferred goo, on with some clean clothes and last but not least, a mug of blood in the microwave.

Everything took more time than she wanted to give it. Time she could be spending with Angel; time they didn't have to waste. Every minute away from him made her wonder if his presence was all in her imagination. But the repetitive tumbling from the washer's cylinder reassured her otherwise.

The microwave beeped, pulling her out of her reverie. She grabbed the mug and one more wash cloth from the cupboard before returning to the bathroom. He'd managed all right in her absence, refilling the tub with cleaner water. And bubble bath? Kodak moment didn't begin to describe it. His eyes were closed, so in lieu of a camera, Buffy did her best to memorize every bit of him, down to the cleft in his chin and the lines between his eyes.

As if reading her mind, his eyes opened. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself. I brought more blood," she said, perching on the edge of the tub and handing him the mug. "This time it's warm."

"Thank you," he replied, first sipping and then taking measured gulps.

"I put your clothes in the washer. If they're in shreds when they come out, it is not my fault, because it means they were only being held together by the goo and blood, if your coat is any gauge."

"There were a couple of battle axes." He frowned, studying her clothes. "Please tell me you didn't put your robe in with my clothes."

She smiled. He must be feeling himself if he was worried about her mixing his precious blacks with her white robe.

"Yes," she said, "there will be lovely grays with all the lint you could ever want."

"There are things you shouldn't joke about."

"True," she replied, and without giving herself a chance to second guess it, dropped a kiss on his lips, "but this isn't one of them." Then she reached for the mug. "How about one more refill before you get out?"

He handed her the mug, but didn't quite let go. "Do I get another kiss?"

"If you ask nice."

He released the mug. "Nice, naughty, however you like."

Laughingly, she threw the washcloth at him as she backed out of the room. Wanting to make sure he regained his strength totally was the only thing that kept her from climbing into the tub with him.

In the kitchen, the washer was nearly done. She cast a longing eye toward the bathroom. If she didn't wait for it to finish, they couldn't dry while he cleaned up. If he didn't have dry clothes when he got out, he'd have to wear a towel. Or maybe a sheet, like a toga. She smiled at the image, then sighed. Not having two minutes to switch laundry was an insufficient excuse.

When she returned, he was washing his thighs. He winced as he tried to extend his reach lower.

"Here," she said, handing him the mug and taking the washcloth out of his hand. "Let me help you with that."

Leaning back, he lifted his foot into her waiting hands. She took her time, running the cloth along his calf, feeling the firm muscle and learning the number of bruises by counting the slight presses of his eyebrows as she worked toward his ankle and foot. As she washed his other leg, she watched to make sure he finished his mug. Maybe it was her imagination, but with each sip, his color improved and he winced less from her touch.

"Back?" Buffy offered, releasing his foot.

He nodded and leaned forward, resting forearms on knees. As she ran the cloth over his back, she was pleased to see that the bruises had all but disappeared, which allowed her to enjoy the view. The broad shoulders, the mortar line of his spine between the muscular walls of his back, melting into the firm ass that was just under the soapy water. Or at least she assumed it was still firm. She'd berate herself for her one track mind if she didn't think his thoughts were running parallel to her own.

Still, there were things they needed to talk about. "Angel?"

"Mm, hm."

"Where have you been?" She filled the cloth with water, rinsing off his back.

He turned his head toward her. "L.A., Buffy. You know that."

She pressed her hands into his back. L.A.? That wasn't possible. "What's the last thing you remember?”

"I was in the alley behind the Hyperion, fighting the Senior Partner's demon horde. I remember…" His back rippled beneath her fingers. "I remember Spike shouting for me to look out, I turned and then I was, I was... here. Wherever here is."

"Ireland," she said absently.

"Ireland?"

He was describing the battle from last May. Impossible. "But after that," she insisted. "Where have you been since then?"

He twisted around, facing her. "There isn't any 'since then'." He frowned. "Maybe the question isn't where am I, but when am I."

"It's All Saint's Day."

"After Samhain? 2004?"

In the next room, she heard the buzzer and moved toward it.

"Buffy, where are you going? I've got a few questions left, if you don't mind."

"Your clothes are dry."

She stood in the kitchen, holding one of the freshly laundered smiley face socks. It just didn't make sense.

"Cordelia gave me those. She enjoyed the irony."

She turned and he was right there, towering over her, a towel around his waist, his hair a crown of wet spikes.

"Buffy, what aren't you telling me?"

"I could ask the same thing," she retorted, pushing the sock against his chest and brushing past him.

She added wood to the coals of the fire. It had been a cheap, petty thing to say, even if she did need the space to sort things out. She sighed. She really needed to get herself some better coping mechanisms.

There was a knocking from the doorway and Buffy looked up. There he stood, scowling and buttoning up his shirt, filling the same doorway he'd crumpled in less than an hour earlier.

"I'd ask if this was a good time, or if I should come back later, but I still don't know how I got here or exactly where here is, so I think we're stuck with now."

His tone was sharp, but he was barefoot. Not only a peace offering, but calculated to play on one of her weakness - those bare feet.

She moved toward him, hands held open. "I'm being generous on the cryptic, miserly on everything else and your clothes are so wrinkled," she said, touching his chest. "And slightly damp."

He looked down and frowned. "I know. I considered looking for an iron."

Buffy laughed. "Back from the dead and you're concerned about wrinkles." She bit her lip as she realized what she had said.

His frown deepened. "Dead, huh? You'd think that would be something I'd remember."

"I'm sorry, I'm sucking at the whole explainy thing. I sort of figured you'd know the answer to the mystery of where you've been. All I really know is that no one has seen or heard from you in nearly six months. Not since that night in L.A."

He looked down at her and his eyebrows bunched together even more. She was expecting something broody and profound, instead he moved past her, examining the table. "What's this?"

"What would you say if I told you it was a shrine designed to encourage a visit?"

He held the bottles up. "Whiskey and hair dye? Why do I think these aren't for me?"

She knew she didn't have any reason to feel guilty, but she did. "I hadn't heard from Spike since that night either. Not that he was talking to me before that." It came out sounding full of more pain than she meant to share.

"Oh," he said, his face holding a familiar look of guilt. He gently set the bottles down and his hands wandering over to the other items.

"However," she said a bit too brightly, "the ring and the postcard are for you."

"The Red Cross?" he asked, examining the front of the card.

She smiled in anticipation. "Yep. He's got an internship with them."

"He?"

"Connor."

He looked at her wide-eyed. "How?"

She shrugged. "The truth has a way of coming out. Don't worry about it. Just go ahead, read it."

After he'd read through it, for what she guessed was the third time, he looked up. His eyes were shiny.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"You're welcome. I'm sorry he's not here. I didn't know if you'd come and if you did, what kind of shape you'd be in. Didn't think it would be a good idea. Maybe next time." "No, Buffy, don't be sorry. Too many of my sins have touched him already. I want him to be free of that. To be happy." He held up the post card. "And it sounds like he really is happy. That's more than I could hope for."

Setting it down, he picked up the ring. "And this?"

She titled her head. "This really earnest guy once told me that the claddagh is a sign of devotion."

He met her gaze. "It still is." He slipped the ring over his finger, heart pointing in.

The space between them disappeared. She felt her heart speed up and she licked her lips. The excuse of injuries was gone and hadn't they done enough talking?

He brushed the hair from her face, tracing his hand along her jaw line, resting under her chin and lifting her face to his. All she wanted was to kiss him, to feel him kiss her.

His lips were on hers, cool and tender. Her hands slid up his chest, wanting to slip around his neck. Instead, she willed herself to push a hairsbreadth away because if she started kissing him now, nothing short of another apocalypse would get her to stop.

"Angel, I… I haven't told you everything about the spell."

His eyes searched her face, his worry clear. "Please tell me you didn't do anything reckless."

"No, no," she assured him, touching his face. "I didn't sell Dawnie to a demon, gut a deer, sign over my birthright or anything. Maybe we should sit down."

She took his hand and led him to the edge of the bed. Which might not have been the best choice of furniture, considering where her mind had been wandering. But she had all the facts and he didn't. She had to tell him.

"Buffy, tell me. We'll manage. We always do."

He gave her an encouraging smile. She tried to return it, although she couldn't help but think he had an odd idea of what managing looked like the past few years.

She took a deep breath and repeated what Willow had explained to her. "There's a window of time between sunset on All Saints' Day and sunrise on All Souls' Day when the passageway between the living and the dead is easy to cross if the dead are given some encouragement. The yew boughs represent death and the fir boughs, rebirth. Laying them out was to help redirect the dead from the corpse road - the road that leads to the cemetery - to the home. The warmth of the fire draws in the deceased. The remembrances make sure it's the right one - that it is the one the living loves."

She stopped, her hand tracing the ring of quilt blocks. Even these looked like the sun. "It only lasts until sunrise. Then the deceased loved one, you, Angel, you…"

"Go back to where I came from. Buffy. No wonder you were so concerned about where I've been."

He brushed the back of his hand against her cheek and she leaned into it and whispered, "I was so worried you were in a hell dimension again."

"Oh, Buffy." He wrapped his arms around her, resting his chin on the top of her head. They sat like that, saying nothing; the only sound was the crackling of the fire. This moment. She'd be happy to take this moment for the next hundred years. Eventually, Angel raised his head and his arms loosened their grip, although he didn't let go. "There's a lot of time until sunrise. Do you think this place has a Parcheesi board?"

"A what?" she asked, pulling back.

"Parcheesi. It's a great game. Or even better, Monopoly." He stood and began looking around the room.

"Monopoly." Board games. She'd just told him he was back from the dead with a same day ticket and he was talking about board games. One of them was losing it, that was for sure.

"Yes. Houses. Hotels. Paper money. Great game. The secret is the railroads. Someone's always picking up the 'Take a ride on the Reading Railroad' card." He sat down on the bed, leaning back on his elbows. "How about you? What's your preference?"

Buffy was on her feet, her temper rising and she felt like crying - never a good combo. She tended to say things she shouldn't. How could he joke like this? He was joking, wasn't he?

"Me?" she responded. "If I were voting on how to spend the next few hours, the only thing I'd be riding is…"

It was at that moment she saw the gleam in his eye. Somehow, without actually moving, his body lost its casual air, shifting to something far more suggestive. She shook her head, but couldn't stop herself from smiling as she closed the distance between them, straddling his knees.

He sat up, his hands brushing the outsides of her thighs as he asked, "I'm sorry, could you repeat that last part? I'm afraid I didn't quite catch the end."

She braced her hands on his shoulders, looking down at him through hooded eyes. "You," she said, lifting one knee and then the other onto the bed, hugging his thighs. "I'm going to be riding you."

"Now that you mention it, that sounds like it could be more fun than Monopoly."

"Good answer."

She kissed him fiercely, one kiss folding into another, deeper and more searching as Angel slowly leaned back until his shoulders met the quilt, his hands sliding up her thighs to her ass. She lowered her body toward his until her breasts were nearly touching his chest. Then she broke the kiss, resting her forehead against his.

"That wasn't very nice of you, you know."

"True," he said, his hands pushing up the edge of her shirt, his thumbs rubbing in circles on her stomach. "But my memories of tonight need to last me a while and I now have a whole album of your very expressive face in here." He pressed his forehead gently against hers.

"Except you'll be in oblivion."

"Then I guess you'll need to remember for the both of us."

Buffy felt a sob welling within her. She pushed it away, choosing instead to press herself into Angel, kissing him as if she could memorize him again, for always.

He pulled her shirt up, his thumbs brushing over the thin lace of her bra, making her breath catch. Out of necessity, she broke the kiss, allowing Angel to free her from her shirt.

She studied his face; his kiss-reddened lips and his dark eyes, warm and hungry at the same time. "Angel, if we keep going, are you worried about your soul?"

"I know I’m on borrowed time. Even as I touch you," he said, his hands catching hers, tracing their way down the length of arms, along her breasts, cupping them and brushing her nipples, "I can feel the moments between now and dawn slipping away. That will keep me more than grounded, even with what I have in mind." He grinned. "Because if I'm remembering this correctly, Samhain is a time for celebrating as if death isn't at the door. Preferably as lustily as possible."

She shivered with dread and delight, realizing this night held both faces of anticipation.

Angel sat up, his hands sliding around to the small of her back, pressing gently as his mouth closed over her breast. She was so ravenous for him, her mind could hardly hold a thought other than wanting to fuck him until they both saw stars. But that would only be a blur of heat and moans and missing buttons, which would be fine if they had forever, but since they didn't, she would memorize every moment.

Buffy closed her eyes, savoring the sensation of both the lace and his tongue teasing her nipple to a peak. As he turned his attention to the other, Buffy turned her attention to his shirt. She traced along the collar, finding the first button. As she undid it, he lightly nipped her, causing her to gasp, eliciting a rumble of delight from Angel.

With full intention, Buffy drew her fingers down to the next button and Angel's mouth returned to her other breast. She fondled the button as he fondled her, finally slipping it open and receiving another nip. Again, she traced her way to the next button and Angel returned to her other breast. But this time when she popped it open, he released the clasp of her bra, sliding it down her arms.

She took advantage of the shift to find his lips, to kiss him, her tongue entering his mouth, seeking and being sought. She slid her fingers to the last button on his shirt. As she slipped it free, Angel nipped at her lower lip, sucking on it in a slow rhythm that started her clit pulsing. She splayed her fingers, wanting to touch all of him as she ran her hands up his chest, over his shoulders and down his muscular arms, removing his shirt.

She trailed her nails slowly down his back and up again, knowing without seeing the white lines of relief left in their wake. Angel hissed with pleasure. He grabbed her hips, pulling her closer. She could feel his hardness and pressed her hips into him, arching her back. His mouth sought out her breasts again, his teeth and tongue worrying her nipples into even tighter nubs. She rocked back and forth, the press and release of pressure only fanning her desire for more.

His thumbs pressed their way in between her skin and waistband, unbuttoning and unzipping her pants in two quick flicks. She shivered has his hands wedged their way past the open vee of her pants, the palms of his hands pressing into her belly as his fingers sought her hips.

Angel groaned, pulling his head back. "Buffy, did you paint the leather on?"

She smiled wickedly, shifting her weight. "I thought you liked me in leather."

"I do. But I like you better out of it."

"Then scoot back a bit," she said huskily, nodding toward the heart of the bed.

His hands pressed in and then began to retrace their way, his fingers detouring, dipping beneath the band of her panties, brushing the top of her curls before finally retreating reluctantly. His eyes never left her face as he pulled himself back, causing her body to protest the lost of contact.

Buffy rose on her knees, her hands sliding against her skin, where Angel's hands had just been. She began to shimmy, the leather shifting from her waist to her hips; the power of her sway instantly confirmed as his cock pressed higher against the fabric of his trousers. Her pulse quickened and she fought the urge to rip off both of their clothes and take him then.

Instead, she licked her lips and found her voice. "Now you."

He raised an eyebrow and licked his own lips before undoing his button and zipper, easing his pants off. She swallowed hard, realizing he was going commando as his cock sprang forth. Her will power wavered as he held it, keeping himself safe from the zipper's teeth. She wanted her hands around him, but instead she slid them further back, pushing her pants below the slight curve of her ass. Her panties were pulled along as well, which was fine with her.

"No."

"What?" she asked, momentarily confused.

"The pants can go, but keep that bit of satin on. For now."

Here and now, she'd do anything he asked, no matter how he asked it, but she grew wet with the authority of his voice; the certainty and the promise of it. She adjusted her panties, her insides quivering so much, she wondered if she'd come from only the touch of his voice.

Keeping one hand on his cock and the other on his pants, he shifted himself backward, slithering further out of his trousers, like a snake shedding unneeded skin. Her pulse racing in anticipation, she drew her hands back around her hips and leaned forward, pushing the material of own pants down her thighs to her knees.

"Hold still," she said huskily, leaning even further forward and pulling at the legs of his pants until they slid off his body. She managed to drop them off the side of the bed, nearly mesmerized by his nakedness, by the dance of the firelight and shadow across his skin. She stayed there, hands resting on her knees, the man of her constant desires before her, his thumb beginning to brush along his length as he waited, his eyes fixed on her. Getting to her feet, Buffy freed herself from the final hug of the leather, stepping out of it and moving cat-like toward Angel.

She started with small nibbling kisses on the arch of his foot. She'd learned years ago that he wasn't ticklish, or at least he never expressed a reaction, which only heightened her fascination with his feet. She continued along the hollow behind his anklebone, along his calf muscle to the hollow of his knee, amused by the taste of green tea from the bubble bath.

Before she could continue on to the mapping of his thigh, in one fluid motion he grabbed and flipped her, pouncing so that she was now the one on the mattress and he was the cat-like one, her wrists lightly pinned beneath his hands.

"My turn for a while."

His mouth was on hers, kissing with a hunger that fueled her own sense of want. His fingers strummed along her throat and neck, coming to rest on the now faded bite mark. She tilted her head back, pulling the skin taunt, feeling her pulse pounding beneath his fingers. Imagining his body's reaction doubled her anticipation.

Contrary to her expectations, he kisses grew gentler, slower. She shifted beneath him, having no interest in slow and soft right now. Her eyes flew open as his weight shifted sideways and his hand left her neck.

"Angel," she said, a world of frustration expressed in the inflection of his name. He couldn't be stopping now. He wasn't having one of his attacks of guilt and responsibility was he? Because she would not be held responsible for her actions if that was the case.

He smiled, his voice husky, devilish. "Still my turn."

He peppered her eyelids, her nose, her lips with kisses. She responded with a mewl of frustration, rubbing her hip against his erection.

Infuriatingly, his only response was a widening smile. Fine, if reacting didn't get her what she wanted, maybe stilling herself would. She focused on her breathing, striving to smooth out. She clamped her lips together and arched an eyebrow at him as she inhaled.

Just as she prepared to exhale, his hand brushed under her waistband, finding her curls. Somehow, breathing suddenly didn't seem all that important. His hand dipped lower, tauntingly close, then eased away before returning, infinitesimally closer. She closed her eyes and arched her back, seeking his touch, which remained elusive.

His name was on the tip of her tongue, but she fought the urge to call it out, instead she tangled her hand through his hair and pulled his lips to hers. She teased her tongue between his lips, seeking a small relief from the teasing he’d been inflicting on her.

His thumb hooked under one side of her panties, pulling them off her hip before brushing across her mound and pulling them lower. His hand slipped beneath her, kneading her cheeks before pulling her panties down past her knees, allowing her to kick them off. Finally, his fingertip brushed the tip of her and she gasped, his touch bringing only the briefest relief before the heat of want roared back.

"More," she murmured into his mouth, continuing the kiss, "more."

Again, one by one, his fingertips brushed along the top of her clit; relief and heat, relief and heat tapping like a coded message through her body. Then again, only this time his fingers continued lower, the anticipation sending her stomach fluttering. His fingers slipped between her lips, stilling for what felt like forever before slipping inside her while his thumb continued rubbing small circles where his fingers had been. Her muscles gripped around him and she struggled not to buck her hips against his hand, trying to hold her orgasm at bay, wanting more. His fingers pressed against her wall and she squeezed tighter, her head falling back.

"I…" Her mouth moved wordlessly, finally managing a hoarse, "Angel."

"Buffy." His voice was as hoarse as hers. "Beautiful," he said, withdrawing his hand and stroking her thigh, his mouth seeking hers before moving lower, continuing his litany, "so beautiful."

She remembered the talent of his tongue, but decided on a rain check, rolling them over so Angel was beneath her. She pressed her body to his, feeling his cock push back against her.

"Want you. Now," she whispered in his ear before setting back, adjusting her hips over his. The firelight again danced across his body, shadowing his eyes, but she could feel them burning into her.

His hand guided his erection toward the heart of her heat and she sank slowly down, wrapping herself around him. His hands held her hips and she began to move, everything slick and tight and hot. She leaned forward, her rhythm uninterrupted as her hands pressed against his chest, thumbs rolling over his nipples.

He groaned and she picked up her pace, the friction against her clit and inside her drawing every muscle tight. Her breathing was shallow and quick, magnified in the near silence of the cottage. She felt herself on the edge, hardly able to move, thankful for the hard trusts from Angel's hips driving her to that place. Her muscles squeezing in rapid spasms, every inch of her body tingling and she knew her own orgasm was driving his home as well.

Spent, she fell into his arms, kissing each bit of skin she could reach as he pulled her close. Buffy knew the dopey, self-satisfied smile on his face was matched by her own. His hand cupped her breast, drawing lazy circles on her nipple, which responded appreciatively. She snuggled in closer, tucking her head under his chin. His arms wrapped around her, content instead to draw the lazy circles on the small of her back… and occasionally lower.

A wave of exhaustion hit her and she struggled to stay awake, unwilling to waste a moment. She could lay here forever. Unfortunately, forever was about to disappear with the dew. Involuntarily, she shivered and squeezed him tight.

"You're chilly."

"Doesn't matter," she replied, even as tiny bumps rose on her arms.

"You're getting goosebumps."

"No I’m not," she lied. "I'm just shivering with delight that you're here."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "As true as that may be, you're cold. We'll have to warm you up."

"Okay," she said simply, pushing herself up just enough to plant a kiss on his lips.

Sitting up, he said, "I was thinking of warming you up in a more traditional way."

She batted her eyes. "Traditional? And here I thought you might find doing it that way kind of boring."

"A nice, roaring fire, Buffy."

She sighed. "In that case, I'm going to go look for food." She flashed him an over-the-shoulder smile as she left the room. "I suddenly seem to have worked up an appetite."

When Buffy returned from the kitchen, she found him staring out the window and she found herself staring at him, the lines of his body more appealing than the statues that peppered Rome. She shook herself from her reverie. "Come back to bed. Morning is far, far away."

"So it was the nightingale, and not the lark?" he replied, letting the curtain drop back.

"That's right. There's a whole galing of night still ahead of us. Besides, Romeo," she added, flourishing her find from behind her back, "I've got strawberries and chocolate sauce."

"And you started without me, didn't you?"

He grinned wolfishly and in one motion, scooped her up and kissed her, searching out and most certainly finding proof of the taste testing she'd done in the kitchen.

When he broke off the kiss, she pouted up at him. "Look at this," she said, pointing to a spot on her thigh where the robe had fallen open. You made me spill chocolate sauce. It barely missed my robe."

His eyes were dark and hungry. "Any suggestions for how to fix that problem?"

She wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled his head lower. "You're resourceful," she replied, her lips grazing his ear, "I'm sure you'll think of something." She brushed her lips along his jaw and mouth as he lowered her in one of the wing chairs near the fire.

She released his neck, leaning back into the chair, anticipating his next move. Her stomach fluttered as she read the smoldering want in his eyes.

He knelt in front of her and somehow, without dropping his gaze, managed to pluck a strawberry from the bowl and run it along her thigh, catching the stray dollop of sauce. He brought it to his mouth, removing the chocolate from the berry in a series of tiny licks. The allusion wasn't lost on her clit, which thrummed in measure. Finally, the chocolate was gone and, lips pursed, he pulled the strawberry into his mouth. Her breath caught in her throat. His eyes crinkled and he bit down on the berry and tossed the stem into the fire.

He dipped a finger into the sauce and brought it to her lips. She leaned toward him, her tongue running along the underside of his finger before lazily swirling her tongue around the chocolately fingertip and finally sucking it clean.

"More?" she asked, dipping another strawberry into the sauce.

"Definitely more. But you can finish that one."

With that, he removed the bowls from her lap. Buffy tried to calmly nibble at her berry, but that lasted only until his hands loosed the tie on her robe, pulling open the terry cloth.

"What's this?" he asked, eyeing her black cotton shorts, his hands spanning the waistband of fabric loosely hugging her waist and belly.

"Well, you didn't seem to want them." She laughed lowly at the bemused expression on his face as he finally recognized his own boxers, their waistband rolled over and over again to give hold to her smaller frame. Sort of.

"I want them back."

"If you want them, you'll have to take them."

"I intend to."

He pulled her hips to the end of the chair, sliding the cotton off her body, his hands hugging her legs the entire way down. Tossing the shorts aside, his hands again pressed along her legs, the insides this time, gently parting her thighs. His mouth working kisses along her trembling flesh, stopping when he reached their juncture, returning to the other thigh and beginning again.

She leaned back, closing her eyes, trying to be zen about it and enjoy the aching anticipation, when all she wanted was his mouth on her heat. His hands pressed her legs open further, his thumbs kneading her thighs. Then her whole body jumped and her eyes flew open as his tongue flicked across her clit, its touch disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. The angle of his head blocked her view of what he next intended, yet she stared at his glossy, dark hair as if she could drill her will into his mind.

Just as he had done with the strawberry, he engaged in a series of the tiniest licks, causing her to grasp the arms of the chair. Then he moved his ministrations lower, repeating the same flicking motions. She tried to buck her hips, wanting him deeper, wanting the pleasurepain to end, but the strength of his grip held her nearly motionless.

She had passed the point of believing she could survive even one more moment at least three times when he pulled her legs over his shoulders, his tongue driving deep. She gripped the chair arms so hard that the wood beneath groaned with her. His tongue drilled deeper, his nose pressing against her, so that every other sense dropped away until there was only this small, molten place that he governed with his slightest touch.

A burst of air burst over her clit sent her hips bucking as she called out his name. Then his mouth was there, sucking, his tongue teasing. Every nerve in her body came back to life, electric spasms wracking her body with pleasure as Angel held her tight. She squeezed her eyes shut, seeing stars before it all went dark.

Buffy woke with a start, chilly and disoriented. Lifting her head out of the corner of the wing chair, she rubbed at the kink in her neck. Blinking, she tried to get her eyes to focus in the dim light. Had she passed out? Why hadn't he woken her up?

"Angel?" she called, pulling her robe a bit tighter as she stood.

She ran to the kitchen, hoping he was there, attempting in vain to do something domestic. He wasn't. She went to the window, lifting the curtain. The light burst in, bright enough to show the dust dancing in its beams. She clutched the counter, her mouth dry. He was gone and again she hadn't had the chance to say goodbye.

She returned to the main room, searching for a remembrance of him. It was empty, the bed was made, their abandoned clothes gone, the fire nearly out. Why did Angel have to be so compulsively tidy?

She returned to the chair, the grief flooding back. She laid her head against the chair back, pulling her chilled feet underneath her when the thought whispered darkly in her mind. The chair, the robe, the dying fire. She refused to listen. He had been there, he had.

She buried her head in the corner of the chair, wanting to curse the singing birds, the bright sun and whoever was chopping wood. She'd been promised solitude, was that too much to ask? It was the only cottage for at least a mile, for Pete’s sake.

Buffy let the anger flare up inside. She needed something to keep her going and anger was as good a way as any in her experience. She moved to the door, following the sound of the chopping around to the back, heedless that she was still dressed in only her robe, the ground chilly on her feet.

As she approached, she could see the man was dressed in black pants and shirtless. He lifted the ax, the sun glinted off it and the muscles of his back rippling as he brought down the blade. She stared at what had to be an illusion.

Standing frozen, she watched as the man brought the blade up and back down, splitting the timber in two. Bending low, he picked up the wood, tossing it into a pile. As he straightened, he saw her, the ax slipping from his hands to the ground. For a moment, he, too, stood there frozen.

"Angel?" she finally whispered.

"Buffy." He crossed the space between them, taking her face in his hands. "You're up. I didn't realize how late it had gotten. Did I wake you?"

She searched his eyes, her fingers reaching up to touch the smile the threatened to bust open his face, his breathing a bit labored.

"It was so close to dawn, I thought it would be better if I didn't wake you. Then it was dawn," he said, shaking his head, bemused, "and I was still here. And it looked like we needed more firewood. I guess I got carried away."

"You're sweaty," Buffy said wonderingly, brushing his hairline

"Been spitting wood."

She wrinkled her nose. "And kind of stinky."

"In a manly sort of way, I hope," he replied, his thumbs brushing her cheeks.

"And standing in the sunlight."

"I wondered when you'd notice that." The corners of his eyes crinkled. He took her hands and pressed them to his chest. "Can you feel it?"

"Angel, your heart. How?"

He shook his head. "I don’t know. I'm hoping Giles can shed some light on it." He grinned again. "Pun intended."

"Are you sure you're okay?" she asked, searching his face, running her fingers over his chest, his arms. He felt so real.

"More than okay," he assured her, grabbing her hands in his. "You look worried." "Well," she said, not knowing a way to say it that wouldn't come out wrong, "you're so happy."

He laughed a deep, rumbling laugh. "I can see how that would be disconcerting." His face grew a bit more serious. "It's strange, Buffy, but this is for real. I don't know how, I don't know why, but I know I'm here to stay."

Something bubbled up inside of her; the grief, the anger, the fear melted away and she couldn't help but return his smile.

"In that case," she said in wonder, "kiss me."

His lips were warm and salty, tasting of thirty thousand sunrises. She could live with that. They both could.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: NC 17
Summary: You want one that doesn't have NFA spoilers? Buffy doesn't know any more than we do when NFA ended. The not knowing has taken its toll on Buffy and requires trying something radical.
Author's notes: Thank you to my betas Mommanerd and Married_n_Mich. They make everything they touch so much better. Thank you to Uppity Elf and Trickstersonii for their insight on magic and other related issues.

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