“You still see him.”
“Him?” Buffy’s tone is absent. Her purse collapses onto Angel’s kitchen counter.
“You’d be able to smell it if I did, wouldn’t you?”
“You smell like a fresh shower.”
Buffy looks at Angel, then away. “Consider the shower was for you?”
Spike gives her the same hard time. Musical chair vampires wears her out sometimes.
Angel knows. Knows that.
The interrogation, half-hearted, is habit. Angel’s passive resistance.
Once upon a time, there were Gypsies. He knows better than to lay down any kind of law.
They are trial attempting to elude error. It’s hard enough just trying to connect with Angel, much less to touch him. Each of them—though likely he more than she—must always think about the possibility of Angelus surfacing. There is nothing left for them but temperance.
And a weight like humidity hanging all around.
Angel survives. Dragons and lawyers, all of it. Buffy’s gladness is an act of determination. The coming and going of this man has ruined her times the number of fingers in the fist she forms, grasping for composure as though for straws, when she is delivered the news. It isn’t within her right to be angry.
She is silent amidst cheers.
She gave up cheerleading a lifetime ago. Literally.
Spike, too, comes through the battle. Payback for the heaven stunt, she guesses. There is no math for the way she needs them both.
In the shower, she scrubs hard enough to bleed each of them from her skin. It’s counterintuitive, shedding layers to build a wall.
And it isn’t. She cleans the slate for each of them.
What other choice?
Buffy never could choose. The universe, she thinks, should have chosen for her.
“We can’t,” is what he tells her when she shows up in the L.A. wreckage. He’s mainly healed. She kisses him, mouth a magnet, and he repels.
“Why can’t we? This is kissing.”
“And it only stops at kissing when one of us knows better.”
Buffy swallows at the truth of it. She doesn’t want to hear about the battle. She wants a reunion, the whole nine yards.
How long has she been waiting?
“Nothing’s different.” He reaches gently above his head to detangle her hand from his hair. Buffy shakes it free and presses it to his cheek, still textured with new burn scars.
“Angel. Look at me.”
Everything’s different, is what she doesn’t say out loud.
Isn’t it always?
Buffy moves back to the States because they are here, and Dawn is old enough now for a little apartment in Rome, and for school, and to be regular instead of renegade. Neither vampire says, “Let’s shack up and retire, and read newspapers on Sundays over coffee and blood.”
She’s ready to live alone anyway.
She tells herself it doesn’t have to mean she’s lonely.
“Slay with me, then, if you won’t touch me.”
They hunt. It’s not like old times, but they kill three vamps and some screwy demon guy in one night.
His place is scant blocks from where they find themselves afterwards. “You can shower there,” Angel tries.
Buffy doesn’t know why she feels like she has to muster courage to answer. “You could join me.”
Under the spray, the muscle and meat of him gathers her up, and this is as loose as she’s seen him since she started seeing him again. They don’t speak, just hold, for minutes that are so drawn out but over right away.
“Wash my hair?”
“I only have men’s shampoo.”
“Soap is soap,” her voice shrugs.
Into his palm pours a small pool of clear liquid. “Turn,” he instructs, and she thinks it is a tender syllable, and one little tug of need twinges in her belly.
He lathers her, gentle and for longer than needed. “Close your eyes,” he whispers, or it seems like a whisper over the heated downpour. Her lids drop and she sees, behind them, a sword in her hands. A demon on the verge of vacuuming the universe into its maw.
Close your eyes.
At distance of inches, she cannot know if he’s hard or not, and she doesn’t ask or look, and definitely doesn’t bring a hand to the small of her back to feel for the tip of him that may, or may not, protrude just behind her.
He steps out wordlessly when she is rinsed clean.
“If he ever comes back.”
She’s not even through the door and he’s talking at her, pacing.
“We’ll work it out. The spell,” she breathes.
Maybe she should coddle him. After everything, she doesn’t have the ability in her arsenal anymore. His fixation is bothersome, though, even with the stakes being what they are.
The stakes. Buffy has to shake her head sorrowfully. One thing they never are together is happy.
“You get so grumpy about him.” She’s drinking tea at the table in his eat-in kitchen. She never brings it up, she and Spike. But tonight her fuse is shorter than usual. Forgiveness is all burned down.
He does not reply. So again.
“What would you have me do, Angel?” Even a hint of blame now.
He sighs before he speaks. “I know Spike. When he’s with you, I know what he feels.”
“You love me as much. Don’t you?”
“It isn’t hierarchal, Buffy,” he says, but she knows it’s not what he thinks.
“Please don’t tell me you think I wouldn’t do those things with you if you’d let me.”
He deposits her empty cup in the sink. “Same means. Different ends.”
“What, because you think he gets happy while you’d get grr?”
He’s silent for minutes, and then she can’t stand it. His back is still to her when she turns to go.
Buffy has a key she’s never used before. When she twists it in the lock, her heart double beats. She is excited as much as she is fearful to catch him unaware.
Angel wears only pants, bent half into the refrigerator. She takes him in before she does anything else.
“Close the door,” he reminds her. It’s a little thing, force of habit one would think.
Her eyes measure his tattoo. “I came to kiss you,” she admits right away.
He rises, blood bag in one hand. “I’ll taste like this.” He holds the marooned plastic up for show and tell.
“It’s always excuses with you. I’ll taste like blood. I’ll lose my soul. Blah blah blah. It’s astounding how often I have the urge to tell you to shut up considering how little you say.”
Her sarcasm releases a layer of tension. “I could eat later.”
“No need. I can wait.”
“Maybe I can’t.”
He’s on her then with vampire quickness, still holding the bag in the hand that isn’t splayed against her back. His hunger is superimposed. She feels it everywhere, him. Everywhere.
It’s almost a slam, her back against the door to his apartment. Half the cage of her ribs is compressed by his massive hand; the V between forefinger and thumb edges her breast. Angel mouths her neck, his teeth matched saws, over his own scar, his own mark.
He staked his claim so long ago.
When he pushes off of her—a shove that would knock her backward to the ground if she wasn’t braced from behind—it’s with violence. His fangs are out, and then in the blood bag before she knows what’s going on.
He sucks. Moans. Sucks. The erection she felt against her lower abdomen is still visible through his clothing.
“Go. Now.” Firm, a commandment, blood dripping down his chin, words misshapen through the sharp of his vampire teeth.
Buffy’s key clinks against the hard wood floor.
She will not come uninvited again.
“You know that’s not fair,” is her answer when he asks what would happen if he told her to choose.
She’s brought him to bed. His mattress is still fitted with crimson sheets. They are dressed and not touching, each on their backs. It’s a good tactic, she notes, for not having to look either at or away from each other.
“Besides, it’s you who chooses.” It seems like a time to talk softly. She’s not oblivious to the danger lurking in him, even the souled version. Her pulse walks eggshells. He could break her heart so easily.
In so many ways.
“I choose you. I’m trying, Buffy.” It’s almost like a plea, but it’s Angel, so it’s harder than that.
The bruises on her ribs from the night before are gone by now, of course. But the cage remains. And she can’t deny the bars she’s put up between the two of them, even as she tries to rattle them loose.
It’s only easier to make it his, the choice.
“If you’re trying, why does it feel so static?”
“Are you trying? Do you even have to try with him?”
Something turns up the flame beneath her. “This isn’t about him. Stop making it that way. You won’t even touch me!”
It’s a long time before he says, “I want you alive.”
“Sometimes I think it isn’t even that, Angel. Sometimes I think the only thing between us that won’t move out of the damn way is that you don’t want to be the one who kills me.”
“And you do want that? Am I am your death wish, Buffy? Is that the reason you keep me around?”
She would say stop being ridiculous, that she keeps him around because she loves him and hopes it will someday be enough. If she were in the mood to speak to him, that’s what she would say.
Instead they lie on the bed and look up.
“How long has it been since you’ve seen me naked? Since you’ve looked?”
“We showered two weeks ago.” He seems to be in a hurry, but hasn’t disclosed any reason for it. He skates around his bedroom, busy doing nothing.
She’s undressing. “I said, since you’ve looked.”
He stills, leans over the dresser across the room from her like he’s just received devastating news.
“It’s been a long time.”
“I can’t. You wouldn’t remember.”
She’s naked now, her clothing a small heap at the foot of Angel’s bed.
“I remember. It’s been since just after I came back from the grave.” She never says from heaven, even though he had nothing to do with the whole debacle in the first place.
“I was thinking of another time.”
“You’ll never let it go, will you? It will always come down to that night.”
“I told you you wouldn’t remember.”
“Because he gets to have you. All of you. He gets to enjoy you,” is what he’s nearly shouting, slamming the cupboard doors in his kitchen.
“Take me. Have me. All of me.” She’s close to crying, pitch desperate. To feel so unwanted, and to have to shoulder the blame for it at the same time is devastating. Doesn’t he realize?
“I don’t want you like that!”
Now she does cry, and hates herself for it. “Then all this is needless,” she manages to whisper.
He lets her hang for too long in this noose of grief. She thinks his demon still owns him sometimes. Or maybe it’s only his ugly pride.
He sits down around the corner of the table from her. Takes one of her little hands in his. Both are the same temperature.
“I didn’t mean…I’m sorry.”
“Sorry you don’t want me? That you’ve been stringing me along while I’ve been making a fool of myself? This is worse than Angelus. Can’t you see?”
She sobs. Damn, does she sob.
“Buffy, I want to make love to you so badly it’s all I think about.”
“What’s the problem, then? I feel like I’m missing a page in my script.”
He kicks the legs of her chair out from under the table, and she climbs or he lifts her into his lap. It’s that seamless.
“I can’t imagine,” he begins, kissing the top of her head, “being with you and the whole time fighting so hard against it.”
“Why is it always a fight with us?”
“I remember what it was like to be so perfectly happy with you. And you come here, and I smell abandon on you, and it’s almost too much. Your desire. I have to fight even that. The motions we could go through, they’re feasible. I could give you the mechanics. But it wouldn’t be me, Buffy. I wouldn’t be there. It would be the only way not to put you in danger. You want that? A bar that low?”
She recognizes the vulnerability he’s taken on in his admission, and respects it, even though the delivery is only salted sorrow.
But it doesn’t change that fact that it’s all there’s ever been between them. Damage control. She doesn’t know he has another version of their story, tucked away deep inside him.
She doesn’t understand what he can’t come back from. How much pain there is in settling when you know what you’re settling for.
“My place,” Buffy suggests. “I have all my weaponry there.”
“Is this really worth risking your life on?”
She could ask the same of him. She’s only just told him she’s willing, if necessary, to put up a fight.
Choices. They could go on like this indefinitely. They could stop seeing each other all together. If it were a matter of need, she’d go to Spike, and he’d go on starving and shame himself for being hungry in the first place.
Or, they could be prepared, each of them, to die for a chance to be one, together, happy.
“If we’re in close proximity—”
“If? That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Is it your ego that imagines I couldn’t take you? Damnit, Angel. I’m a slayer. And don’t tell me I don’t know what he’s capable of. I know too well, if anything.”
“Spike won’t allow it.”
“He doesn’t own me any more than you do.”
“I’ll come unarmed.”
Buffy collects her purse. “If you hold back, it isn’t worth it. I fear that more than I fear him.”
“I’m in love with you, Buffy.”
And yet, she thinks.
The shower again, but now they touch everywhere. He kisses her like flapping his wings for the first time after so long bound.
“You like it,” Buffy observes when her zeroes in on the scar he put into her neck.
“I can’t explain…I know it isn’t right.”
“It’s not wrong. Doesn’t feel wrong,” she says, lightly pushing his head back into place. “It give me tingles.”
“It’s supposed to. I have them too.” He returns, mouthing the textured mark. She wonders if it’s sweet on his tongue, different tasting than the rest of her.
“I want to see your other face,” she requests, finally.
“I’ve seen it a million times, Angel. What’s one more?”
“One more when were in the shower, both fixated on the scar from the last time I bit you?”
“Vamp,” she says quietly, but she looks him in the eye.
Angel would call this unnecessary risk. As though they’re going into battle.
Which they always are, aren’t they?
But the ridges assemble, and his mouth brims with fangs. She touches his high cheekbones. An ache collects in her chest.
“Kiss me,” she demands, nearly climbing up his body.
She can show him. Everything’s different.
Water drips from their bodies onto the plush bath mat. He pushes her roughly against the vanity, and the small of her back layers bruises, because she pushes too. So it’s kiss shove slam, kiss shove slam, and she doesn’t mind the pain.
He turns her. His erection, pressed between them, aligns with her spine.
“You want somewhere to put that?” she asks, a rasp both sweet and raw on her voice.
“You asking on your behalf, or mine?” he rumbles.
“I hear that if you do it right, the payoff’s mutual.” Now she’s purposefully sultry, her neck craned to mouth his ear. She thinks of how he’s had her in the past. Once as a blushing, fragile child. Once as walking ash, dry and tired. Desperate, yes, but absent.
He lifts her onto the vanity abruptly. Her knees wince momentarily when they collide with the marble, because just minutes ago it was porcelain. Between her legs, the sink dips, a tiny, empty ovular sea.
Buffy is glad the mirror is fogged. She doesn’t want to see herself without him.
Hand between her thighs, his fingers coax the slick that has gathered inside of her down, out, and around.
She remembers this from before, both times. Him taking care. Patient. Gentle.
Fine for a little girl. As well for a stale collection of grieving bones. But not, Buffy thinks, fine for now.
Amidst the sink-side coastal city of bottles and jars on the vanity, Buffy quickly grasps at a clear, plastic container of baby oil.
“Use this,” she breathes, holding it out behind her.
“You’re wet enough, Buffy. More than,” he assures her.
For a moment she hates him. All these months of resistance. She’s been wet enough for years, distressfully so. Like torturing, he’s kept her held just far enough away.
And now he will pet her. Now he’ll discover she’s ready for him and pretend as though she’s just discovering it too.
So she counters. “That’s not where I want you to fuck me.” Her voice is even. Even and firm. They don’t say fuck, so he’ll be sure to take notice.
She feels pieces of a wet hand—filmy-wet, not shower-wet—take the bottle from her hand. “I’ll go slow.” A reverent vow.
“I can take it, Angel.” Her eyes feel like fire. Her body: a weapon.
He lubes her wordlessly, outside, then in. Once there are two fingers twisting and stretching, she leans forward. Palms paste to the tiled backsplash. Crown of her head against the mirror.
She only has to say more three times. On the third, the tile cracks beneath her hands. Muscles in her belly tighten to counter his palm, spread out and jerking her back on each thrust.
Needlessly, she could tell him. She’d give just as hard all on her own. She likes the feel of him making her, though. Likes the idea of all his repression flooding away, leaving only a fierce desire for her behind.
“Jesus, Buffy,” he gasps. “I had no idea…”
“I told you.”
He begins to grunt in her ear at the same time he grabs the vanity, thumb hooked around the edge, fingers scrabbling and finding nothing but the curve of the sink to clasp.
“Come in me, Angel. I want your mouth anyway.”
“Fuck,” and she’s hardly ever heard him breathe, but he’s panting now.
She knows he’s come when the marble splits beneath her.
“Lie back.” As if an appeal. Buffy might wonder if he thought he required forgiveness for something. But he wouldn’t be Angel if he didn’t.
Her sheets are the color of eggplants. Purple, she read once, signifies royalty.
Now she is his princess. She can tell by the way he studies her, touching her inner wrist, tracing her clavicle. His face reads awe.
At the scar on her neck, he pauses.
“When were you last bitten?” Is the question he asks. What he wants to know is if she’s allowed Spike to do it.
She hasn’t, is the answer she’ll refuse him until he’s willing to man up and ask directly.
“Dracula. He used a glamour on me. It was years ago. Before I died.”
Sometimes her life is compartmentalized this way, into the before and the after.
Not with Angel, though. He is only a constant, put away for whiles of time, but never beyond an injured chamber, something perpetually offbeat in her chest.
Even now there is a pang. He takes his time because he wants to. Sketches on skin are lovely, perhaps, but do not feed a fire, or a growing girl.
A princess, maybe. But not a queen.
“You’re holding out on me, Angel.”
“Why do you say that? Because I still have my soul?”
In bed, lying side by side, their bodies brush against more than touch. Sheets and blankets are wound and tangled, half hung off the foot.
“This isn’t,” he clears his throat. “You’re not exactly how I remember you.”
“I’m alive and all grown up,” Buffy defends. “You’ll fault me for that?”
“He’s influenced you.”
Buffy sits abruptly. “This isn’t something he made me into. This—what we’re doing—isn’t some puppet show he’s putting on.”
“If you say so.” Angel turns from her, thinks of ice cream. Sunshine.
“Don’t. Don’t look away. I’m a slayer, Angel. I have power. I let that power own me, burden me, for a long time.”
“And you mean to tell me you discovered this upside all on your own?”
“Does it matter?”
The silence stretches across the room. His back stretches across her eyes. She wonders if he’s sleeping. Hours into a high stakes night, and this is the first time she’s been afraid to touch him.
The first time she’s felt fragile.
It occurs to her, finally, that when she is his, she is wounded by love. Torture is maybe all they share in common, the ache of an unfilled need, the unwillingness to abandon it.
When she is raw power, severed electrical line whipping and sparking in a high wind, she’s a stranger to him.
“Hey,” she says finally, one fingertip traversing his shoulder. “I can concede for a little while. The power trip thing.”
She waits, not for very long, but the dark and the tension inserts seconds between the seconds. Time, for she and Angel, has always been relevant.
Finally, almost instantly, he sits up next to her, gathers her like flowers into his arms.
“Let me make love to you.”
She swallows before she says, “Okay”.
Being pinned beneath him means so many things.
It means he has the upper hand.
It means, should his demon come out for a play date, she’s at a disadvantage.
It means she has sense memory of their twice before; he was over her for each.
It means he’s working hard, lifting and landing his entire lower body to fill and unfill her.
It’s a breakneck pace. She isn’t sure why she assumed he’d be slow or soft.
At first she was flattened. Then right-angled, legs ringing him somewhere just below his ribcage. And it was soft, and slow, at first. With jet-puffed kisses and touches like feathers and only scant whispers between them.
Now she knows he’ll give even when she doesn’t demand. Maybe even harder, because the terms are his, and because this is how he’s wanted her: each of his arms linked under her knees so she is folded, ass nearly off the bed. Above her head, he holds her wrists hard.
The bed moves in inches. This is harder than anything.
She comes when she isn’t expecting it, the angle of their fuck sparking at her clit like rubbing rock and flint to make fire.
“Angel!” And he has glowing eyes on hers. “Please, don’t stop,” she hears herself say, and he doesn’t.
The breathing won’t take no for an answer now.
She sleeps maybe an hour before her slayer sense jerks her awake. She’s disoriented in the pitch darkness.
The mattress shifts with his weight. Near her face, the air is disrupted. Drilling through the blackness, his eyes, shining gold.
Her pulse jerks. The pointed pearls of fang linger inches from her, bared from beneath snarled lips.
“You smell like fear, Buffy. Isn’t this what you wanted? No holding back?”
“You startled me,” she manages.
“Sometimes I shift in my sleep. Depends on what I’m dreaming about.” His tone is suggestive. He loosens the blankets from her, exposing. She remembers that, like this, he can see in the dark.
Her eyes adjust more slowly. She tosses a glance at the bedside table. The clock reads 4:52. Beside it, her trustiest stake. She grabs out, and the familiar, worn wood fits into her palm as though magnetized.
“So, you’re thinking toys.” He catches her at the wrist and twists her arm above her head. “Never been much of a fan, myself. Call me old-fashioned.”
“Angelus.” She thinks the individual syllables are too soft for the steel sum of the word. She strains against him, white-knuckling the stake. He is a cinderblock, unmoving.
Until he is moving, hand up her thigh, fingers working into sticky space between her legs. Her mouth opens on a gasp.
“That’s right,” he soothes. “There’s my girl.”
Her body writhes. Her mind reels.
Suddenly, then, he’s in her. She whines like a siren, tries to get out from under his weight.
“I’ve made a lot of bad decisions,” he says, seemingly oblivious to her struggle. “But only one I can’t live with. I hope the two of you will be perfectly happy.”
He releases her hand, the stake, her defense. Just before his fangs sink into her neck.
Beneath him, she rattles the bars but the cage doesn’t give. Miniature rivers run down each of her temples. Shaking, she positions the wooden point against his back. “Please, don’t make me do this,” she begs.
A new sear of pain comes when she feels the flesh of her neck rip, the jaw there tighten and moan. He’s drinking her quickly and fucking her quickly and soon she won’t have any choice but death.
Her own, she corrects herself. Because already the margin has been reduced to kill or be killed. Around her, the room begins to spin.
She pulls in a breath, deep as she can muster. “I know who you are,” she half whispers, half sobs. “I don’t understand. But I’ll always love you.”
She feels him come inside her.
And then she’s alone, blanketed in ash.
In the bathroom, she starts the shower. Runs her fingers over the jagged edge of the split vanity counter.
The mirror is clear when she looks up. She does not want to see herself without him.
Buffy never could choose.
Feed only_passenger Visit only_passenger
Summary: Buffy never could choose. The universe, she thinks, should have chosen for her.
Disclaimer: The characters aren’t mine. I don’t get paid.
Warning: Warnings: Non-consensual sex, character death.
A/N: Many deep thanks to my beta, clawofcat for all her hard work on this one. All remaining errors/ shortcomings are mine.