By seraphcelene
Author's Notes

"And the encounter took place, at last,
between two dreamers, neither of whom
could wake the other except for the bitterest
and briefest of seconds."
- Eric, Another Country

Angel remembers the lake of fire, his blackened skin peeling back from the bones, and his skeletal fingers reaching for the shore where she is waiting. Buffy with her arms crossed, all of her weight back on her left leg so that her right foot is free to tap her heartbeat on the shore. The sound echoes over the muted roar of the conflagration and his soundless screams. She is inpatient because she is waiting, and he can hear her pissy sigh from here. Smell the vanilla-earth-sunshine of her on the heated air as she rolls her eyes and shifts her weight to the other leg. Her impatience is a lie, but he cannot stop himself from wanting her, can't stop reaching bony fingers to the shore, the flesh on his arms eaten away by the flames on the water.

Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Angel sees Buffy kneeling, not standing, and her cupped hands are filled with warm water. In this reality (memory) the dancing light and the shadows twisting on the walls are only the flicker of candle flame. Her haunted eyes do not watch him, she relearns him by touch instead. Angel has seen her hope (and her horror), it is a mirror and seeing her is like believing a lie. He tilts his head back against the bath tub, closes his eyes and concentrates on her hands sliding against his body beneath the water.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.

Buffy's hand is in the cup of his and Angel follows the click of her boot heels on the pavement. The sky overhead is bright and full of moon covered only briefly by clouds that sail like witches between the trees. Buffy is the path Angel followed from Hell; she is yellow brick and bread crumbs. Angel's hands, tight in his skin, are smudged with ashes across the knuckles.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,

The rhythm of her heels is like a heartbeat on the sidewalk. He can hear the tattoo against the shore (it echoes) and he can see that she's waiting beyond the stretch of his melting fingers. Angel is burning in a lake of fire while Buffy waits. Her hand is outstretched, now, reaching but she is sighing and there is still the tap of her foot like the crack of a whip against his back. The sound of teeth and leather burns and tears at his shoulder blades.

When he looks up, back arched hard against the pain, the moon is covered by clouds of witches sailing south.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.

Buffy is waiting when he blinks, not on the shore with her arms crossed or her hands outstretched. No tapping toes mark the time it takes him to burn. She is waiting, one hand carefully cupped in his, the other wrapped securely around his wrist.

"Angel," she says carefully, gently. His name falls from her lips like a question or a song.

She tugs again and this time he follows. It is easy as that...

... and the crack of the whip uncoils pain across his spine. He contracts against the searing ache, muscles bunched and waiting for the tap tap tap and the fire burning on the lake. But when he looks, dares to peer between lashes glued to his cheeks by blood and melted flesh, it is dark and he is hunched against a wall, his wrists manacled in cold iron. Hours have passed, maybe days, centuries; it's been an eternity since he's been here. Angel remembers the gray walls and the echoing fireplace. On the floor, the smudge of hellfire ash is new.

Angel can hear Buffy entering the room, listens to the tapping of her boot heels as she nears, and then she's kneeling, a crumpled white bag cradled in her hands. Angel watches her and she is young and soft despite the centuries. Her name, cold as a star, lingers on his tongue. He wants to say it, wants to name her his beloved but the nightmare is too fresh: Buffy on the shore waiting with a whip in hand, the tap of her toes marking the end and the beginning, measuring the time it will take him to die and be re-born.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,

"You have to eat," she says, lifting a container from the bag. The smell slams into him. Animal. Cow. Blood. He can feel the slide of fang and the shift of bones beneath his skin. Turns his face away so that she will not see the way he burns up, face melting...

... and beyond that...

... beyond the blood and the cow, the animal stink, Angel can smell fear, excitement, and the vanilla-earth-sunshine-Buffy smell that followed him even into hell. A reminder of heaven that seethed on the breeze across the lake. Buffy on the shore with a cracking whip and tapping boot heels, her hand outstretched and waiting while he burned. And he can see her, the arch of her neck and the tilt of her head, the way that she leans forward, fingernails gently scratching the thick vein throbbing beneath her skin. The give of her flesh beneath his fangs is heavy and sweet. His cock rises to the melody of her heart pounding behind her breastbone. Buffy moans, breathy and generous, against his shoulder. He can feel her heart fluttering against his tongue and heating her name, star-cold and wedged in his throat. Feels the flutter like a fish and then a butterfly's wing and finally the ghost step of someone he cannot recall. She is dead when he pulls away, limp and staring, her mouth curved around the shape of his name.

Sicut erate in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum.

Angel jerks, knocking the blood away. Buffy starts, a stake appearing in her hand within the space of a sigh. Instinct born from centuries. It's in the blood, he knows. He has tasted her night after night for an eternity, always in the cradle of her welcoming arms and thighs.

Angel shrinks back against the wall, the chill leaching the heat from his memories.

Buffy finds a rag to mop up the blood.

Ave Marķa, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

She is what he dreamed of in Hell. The coils of his memory tangled with a torturous nightmare. Buffy on the shores of a burning lake, (although he could not see her) cracking the lash of a whip against his back in the rhythm of her name. She died in his arms every night for hundreds of years. Angel dreamed of Buffy dressed in leather coats and gowns that Darla and Drusilla wore. He dreamed her dressed in jeans and boots, her hair a crown of gold, with sword in hand, blowing kisses, beckoning, waiting.

forgive us our trespasses...

When he fell to his knees, she was dressed in shadows, a flower tucked into the honeyed hair drawn up away from her face. Fists clenched, fighting, waiting. Amen. She took his hands and it was more than smoke and memory. He felt the lace of her fingers; the new callous on the pad of her thumb. And it was easy as that. He followed her heartbeat, the tattoo of her boot heels on pavement, and walked under the moon, clouds like witches spread across the sky.

The End

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Author's Notes:
Rating: PG-13/light R
Summary: What Angel remembers between Hell and home. Set post-Beauty and the Beasts.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, UPN, the Warner Company, et al. I'm just taking them out for a little exercise.
for Chris, with trepidation, because she wondered.

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