Buffy stood on a rolling, grassy rise, staring east, toward the mountains. She could hear herself breathing; see the blue-black shadow of the horses silhouetted in the moonlight on the next rise; feel the chilly air on her wrists and nose.
Stars rode the night sky, bright pinpricks of light. Giles always named them and she always forgot. Maybe that was the Little Dipper; maybe it was something else. Why weren’t they called The Cranberries or Louboutin or something she could remember?
She’d hit the edge. She was cooked. Too many late-night hunts and early-morning training sessions made Buffy a bitch.
Giles told her to take some leave. He’d worn the “or else” look – the one she knew not to argue with. The Council houses in Paris and Berlin had standing rooms for her, but that felt too much like work.
Besides, Xander had left his favorite black sweater here, and she was tired of hearing him whine about it. Giles bought this log cabin in the Georgia foothills because it was less than a two-hour drive to the Atlanta airport. It made it an easy place to grab some downtime since he’d started routing their international flights through Atlanta.
A horse lifted its head, ears pricking. It pranced sideways and let out a low whinny. The hair on her forearms and on the back of her neck rose.
Her breath caught. She’d hoped, but she hadn’t expected.
Her awareness of him fell over her like a lace dress. His hand dropped to her shoulder. Not squeezing, just there.
The horses froze, twitched and then bolted.
She, too, had trouble standing still. Every instinct hummed the same tune: dust him. She diverted the noise to her other senses: the scents of drying leaves and wood smoke; the small animal rustling about twenty feet to her left.
Only one series of breaths steamed on the air, but she was used to that now. They crossed the field toward the porch light. The hard shell of her life left her little in the way of softness, but some feelings penetrated and she imagined dancing him across the field, pure joy under the stars.
She shut it down. She’d never been that girl; she wouldn’t know where to start.
Their boots clomped as they climbed the stairs and crossed the porch boards. She touched the unlatched door with her fingertips and it swung open.
While he dropped his bag on the nearest chair, Buffy threw a log on the fire. When sparks caught flame, she crossed to the bar set up on the table behind the couch. She poured a Glenlivet and a glass of Bordeaux. He didn’t drink much, unlike Spike, who was like Brad Pitt in the Ocean’s movies, always eating or drinking. But sometimes after he traveled, he liked to unwind with something.
They settled on the couch, side by side. She clunked her boots on the brass trunk Giles used as a coffee table and sipped her wine, which had come from one of the bottles he had shipped over to stock the cellar.
After a while she let her head drop to his shoulder. Her hand found his where it lay on his thigh. Their fingers laced.
She thought about kissing him; considered how she would take off his shirt. Tear it off? Unbutton it slowly? She could picture his throat in the firelight and feel herself kissing her way down: chest, ribs, belly, following the goody trail until she licked his thighs, entranced by their paleness in the shadow-and-glow.
In a little while, when her shoulders were loosening and she was tired of imagining him naked, she put down her wine and took his glass from his hand.
He grasped her hips and pulled her astride his legs. He was just starting to get hard, like a man on the verge of waking. She nudged his mouth with hers. He tasted like scotch and copper and that incense flavor only he had.
She didn’t know where he’d come from or even how he knew she was here. It was typical of him to appear and disappear, never identifying his purpose, but just going about it. Was it to be with her? Was hers to be with him?
He sipped her the way he’d sipped his drink, savoring and lingering. She was starting to rev as she tickled the hair over his ears. It was shorter now than it had been last time they were together. She tugged it, liking the change.
He sighed and bit her lower lip gently, tugging it into his mouth and letting it go with a little pop. She smiled at him and he smiled back. His hands slid around her, locking her in his arms. He made her feel safe. Safe enough to shuck her shirt over her head and pitch it off to land wherever it might.
He laughed under his breath, scooted forward on the couch and unbuttoned his shirt, like he was answering a dare. She waited for him to shrug it off, then leaned in and licked his chest. When she was here with him, she could inhabit herself all the way out to the skin, instead of stopping her… soul? consciousness? … a safe inch from the surface.
Oh, he was getting warm and his fingers trailing up her arms sent spikes of pleasure through her. She shivered when he finger-tipped her back, giving her the edge of his nails. She bit his lower lip and licked above his eyebrow. He bit her throat with blunt teeth and she arched against him.
Like a strobe light flashing, one second she was here, and the next, it was 15 years before, his teeth buried in her throat. Coming and coming in deep red rivers of sound and sensation, locked and lost in her own world.
She slid under the wave of feeling, her heart in her throat, her mouth watering with that fear-lust fire he was the first one to spark. She felt the heat with Spike, with The Immortal, but it was the clear shimmer above the flame, not the flame itself.
He released her neck and time flashed and she was back here with him. Here and now. Curled into him on Giles’s brown leather couch, shirt off, jeans unbuttoned, those big hands sliding under the back strap of her bra.
He kissed her and she groaned into his mouth and he stole her breath, sucking in, filling his lungs. She breathed for him again and the fire caught, exploding into flame.
He wrapped his hands around her skull and yanked her forward, grinding their mouths together, the pain of teeth on tender lips arrowing deep into her belly. They rolled until her back bit into the cool, slick leather, and he veed her zipper and peeled off her jeans. The pencil-narrow openings captured her ankles like manacles and he looked up at her, one eyebrow raised, lips quirked in a half-smile as he tugged them free.
She laughed, tousling his forelock, her black-painted nails disappearing into the shadows of his hair as he kissed between her breasts and licked her stomach. When her eyes drifted shut, they felt gritty and tired. She squeezed them tightly as he drifted lower, kissing a heart on her panties, which made her laugh again.
In Rome, she didn’t sleep much. Giles kept her days filled training Potentials to fight and her nights teaching them to hunt. But they both knew that she was just honing weapons that were already innately talented killing instruments.
She arched up, waiting, aching, for him to slide her panties off, but instead, he cupped her ass and leaned into her. She felt him blow on the fabric and the hair on her body rose. Her fingers twisted into the leather cushion and she arched again.
He licked her panties, circled his tongue and pleasure shot out her hands and feet like arrow bolts. She watched him through her eyelashes, the craving on his face as powerful as what was churning through her.
She clutched his shoulders and forced herself into his mouth, crying again as his tongue pushed the fabric into her. The wet scrape, the tension of the pulled nylon, the clawing fingers on her hips…the endless-stupid-pointless hours of training and hunting and boredom lifted, taking her with them.
The orgasm hit so hard it hurt, cramping, curling her around it. She panted through open lips, shuddering and writhing on the leather. She felt him retreat and blinked to see him standing beside the couch, shucking off his boots, his socks, his pants.
He sat and pulled her on his lap. She popped the clasp on her bra and let it slide down her arms and land on the cushion. The tip of his cock poked through her trimmed curls. She ran her fingertips around it and they both shuddered with the current, like hitting the electric horse fence by accident: a jolt, a connection, a ringing through every cell. She lifted and lowered and he was inside her, spreading her open from bottom to soul.
She pumped on him, couldn’t stop herself, couldn’t slow down, couldn’t… couldn’t….
She came again, clenching and shuddering around him, all those closed places creaking open, light leaking through. She sucked in air, grabbed the hair at the back of his neck and flipped him off the couch, onto the floor. She needed the wood at her back, needed the hard bite of being penned between one painfully ungiving surface and another.
Hip bones ground into hip bones, shoulders into collarbones. She groaned, her knees falling open, her hands drifting to lay palm-up on the floor. She fell limp under him, letting him pound her, knead her into the Murphy’s-and-dust-smelling wood.
In Rome, she was pent up, toothpaste waiting to be squeezed from a tube. She never planned on living to 25, much less 30, but here she was, no longer the chosen one, the one girl in all the world. There were 50 of her in Rome alone, and more coming every day.
Grabbing her knees, he shoved them up next to her shoulders and drove into her. She knew he needed to pummel something and she needed take it, his supernatural beat-down.
Her lower back bore the brunt, vertebrae popping as he worked her into the floor, driving out the demons of boredom and uselessness. It shouldn’t feel good but it did, the sharp ache building as the angle of penetration changed.
Their coming release would be bigger than orgasm.
She put her hand between them and circled herself with her fingertips, spreading herself wide so he slammed into her clit.
He glared at her, his mouth drawn back in a snarl. She pulled her skin tighter, stretching until it hurt. It increased the stinging pleasure and she screeched and exploded.
Thrusting unevenly, he arched back, mouth open and eyes closed, and followed her over the edge. Then he collapsed on her, buried his head in her neck, and rolled them so she was on top.
Angel. She sighed.
They lay twined and cooling, her breath evening out. She slid to the side, not off of him, but just enough so she had room to run her fingers over his silk-smooth chest.
She didn’t like thinking of how young he’d been when he’d been turned, but certain elements of his barely post-pubescent body forced her to confront the fact that she’d already eclipsed him in age.
His fingers trailed up her back to tickle between her shoulder blades. He blew out a breath and it ruffled her hair. Cupping the back of her head, he kissed her.
In a few minutes, he picked her up and lay on the couch, pulling her over him. He tucked her head under his jaw and fluffed the navy fleece blanket over them. It settled lightly across her shoulders and back.
He stroked her hair, her neck, her spine. He kissed her head. Her breathing slowed and she drifted away.
She blinked awake, finding a room in soft-focus. Where was she? Oh, the cabin.
Alone, she shuffled to the bathroom to pee and brush her teeth. About half the time, Angel left in the night, to do whatever he had to do next.
She didn’t mind waking up alone; in Rome, she shared an apartment with Dawn and Willow, a revolving door of their lovers, and any Potentials who drifted by for breakfast, lunch, dinner, research, to trade shoes, borrow nail polish….
Her mom used to say she liked being alone, but Buffy hadn't understood it until Rome. Her heart squeezed. She wished her mom was here to tell that to; they’d laugh about it.
She pulled the white waffle-weave robe off the back of the door, and huffed when she saw Xander’s sweater on the hook beneath. Grabbing it, she opened the bathroom door; she gasped, hand to her heart.
Angel shrugged and then smiled. She smiled back.
He took her hand and walked her into the kitchen, where he got down a box of cereal and pulled milk out of the fridge. She hung the sweater on the back of a chair, poured coffee beans into the grinder and watched Angel fill the teapot with water for the French press Giles kept at the cabin.
The sun poked its fingers through the blinds and she got up and closed them, noticing that Angel had pulled on his shirt and wore his boots unlaced. He had twigs in his hair.
She crunched through her cereal and he sipped coffee. The birds outside woke up and started singing. In Rome, she’d be watching CNN Italia while Dawn blasted The Ting Tings. The cabin’s silence encouraged more silence and she didn’t resist.
Together they loaded the dishwasher and went into the living room. There was new kindling in the bucket next to the fireplace and a fresh stack of logs on the brick hearth.
Angel set the French press and his cup on the coffee table. Sipping her coffee, she sat next to him. The cabin's overhanging tin roof kept the low-angled sun from breaking through the windows.
Buffy took a magazine from the stack on the table, the latest Italian Vogue. She started at the beginning, lingering over the ads, actually reading the main article.
Angel opened a leather-bound book. She could smell the dusty, old paper and thought of the Sunnydale library. The gray-filtered light felt both cool and cozy. Buffy let the silence and Angel’s presence envelop her.
Twilight. Shadows rising. Birds rustling and cooing.
Angel sat on one of the wooden porch rockers, shirt unbuttoned, pants kicked off on the porch. Buffy straddled him, toes on the rockers, and hands in his hair. She rose and fell over him, sighing into his mouth as the chair glided with their rhythm.
Where they met, his skin was warm; against her back, his hands were the same temperature as the air. She shivered at the difference, body spooked and soothed by him.
Predator; prey. Pray.
She closed her eyes.
He thrust up against her, hit the right spot and she arched back. His hands trailed around, up to her breasts, lightly cupping. The cool of his flesh, the chill of his thumbs on her nipples.
She cooed like the birds when she came.
They walked to the edge of the woods. Dappled clouds streamed past the moon, making it look like a boat on choppy water.
Their shoulders bumped. She surprised herself by missing graveyard walks with him, by craving innocent kisses on moon-painted headstones. She dropped her head to his arm and kicked leaves.
The horses were back on this side of the field. Their ears pricked; they whinnied, nervous.
Angel stopped, turning, and kissed the crown of her head. She smiled up at him, taking in his warm-bourbon eyes, his beautiful mouth, the cut of his cheekbones. He brushed her hair back and she closed her eyes and pressed her cheek to his calloused palm.
He kissed her lips, adjusted his duffel bag and walked off through the woods, his broad shoulders gradually blending with the dark.
She felt the tug of him loosen until it snapped. When she turned, the horses had come all the way up to the fence and were grazing peacefully.
She wrapped her arms around herself and looked toward the lights coming from the cabin windows.
These meetings were more than a distraction, less than a healing.
They never thought of the curse anymore. Probably because they’d discovered the secret: it wasn’t about Angel’s perfect happiness, it was about hers.
Xander’s sweater was too big to pack into her overnight bag, so she belted it over her pegged jeans. With her black booties on and her messy hair pulled into a twist with a clip, she felt like she was ready to face Rome again.
When she heard her rusty voice greeting the attendant at the Avis car rental desk she realized that she and Angel hadn’t spoken a word the entire weekend.
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Notes: To Chrislee, who asked for years. And to landrews, who always makes it better.