Angel sat in his office, chin resting on the tent of his interlocked fingers. The hotel was mercifully quiet: Connor asleep, Gunn and Fred on a date, Wesley off doing research, Lorne doing whatever Lorne did in his room upstairs. Cordy had left with Groo not twenty minutes ago, leaving Angel with deeply conflicted feelings.
He couldn't shake the image of Groo standing in the hotel lobby, dressed in his own clothes. He couldn't shake the image of Cordelia touching Groo's muscled chest, ministering to the wound that wept there. His own chest throbbed dully, but he'd be patching it up himself. He wasn't sure he wanted Cordelia's long, thoughtful fingers touching him anyway.
Angel stood up abruptly and walked across the room to escape the thought of Cordelia's fingers. Cordelia and her fingers and any other body parts were off limits to him. Certainly off limits now that Groo was back in the picture. Cordelia hadn't asked Angel to make the trip to the demon brothel to buy enchanted condoms so she could fill them with water and drop them from the Hyperion's roof.
He wondered at his judgement anyway. That he was even contemplating a relationship with Cordelia, beyond what they already shared, worried Angel. He'd never force the issue. But what if it was something that Cordelia wanted, too? What then? Would he have the strength to walk away?
He chastised himself. Of course he'd have the strength to walk away. He'd walked away from Buffy, hadn't he? How much harder could it possibly be to walk away from Cordelia?
Pouring a cup of scorched coffee and taking a scalding sip, Angel thought, That's the problem. He wouldn't necessarily have to walk away from Cordelia. He could take her to his bed and join his ancient flesh with hers and feel the shuddering relief of his own orgasm, and walk away when it was done.
But then, everything would change. Cordelia would understand that she could never be the one. Angel would know for certain what he already knew for certain, anyway. They'd have crossed the line between friendship and something else. They'd have to work in the same office: sharing pens and space and memories. Cordelia would start wearing even more revealing clothes trying to tempt Angel and Angel would spend more and more time upstairs with Connor trying to escape Cordy's desperate seduction. It would be ugly.
What Angel imagined was this: Cordelia flung across a couch or chair, ass lifted in the air. Silence, while he cleaves her. Her fingers clutching whatever they could find. Him, an erection so tight it takes long minutes to come and his only concern is that release. Not hers. Never hers. His hands reaching under her, cruelly twisting distended nipples. Her sharp gasp. Then, seed spilled, he walks away. Away.
It wasn't like this in Angel's fantasy because he thought that the only way to protect his soul, while having sex, was to practically rape the woman. It was far more complicated than that. He didn't have this particular fantasy about everyone. No, he reserved the fantasies about violence and domination for the women who weren't her. Buffy.
Angel cringed inwardly. He wasn't worthy of Buffy's love and he wasn't strong enough to resist her. That's what all this was about. Angel felt the lump in his throat and dashed it away with more of the acid-tasting coffee. Cordelia was interchangeable. She could be any face on any body and it wouldn't make any difference.
Angel moved back to the desk and sat heavily on the chair. Since their secret meeting a few months back Angel had done his best to focus on other things. It hadn't been hard. First an otherworldly-pregnant Darla had arrived back in Los Angeles. Then Connor. Vengeful Holtz. Always troublesome Wolfram and Hart. If it wasn't one thing, it was something else. But all of that, even if it had all happened in one day, would be easier than thinking about Buffy.
It was the one thing Angel could not allow.
Buffy lay twisted in Spike's arms, muscles straining to find comfort in the awkward position.
"Stop squirming, pet," Spike whispered in her ear.
"I'm not comfortable," Buffy said.
Spike laughed. "That's the whole point, love." He twisted her arm further and adjusted himself slightly, causing Buffy to gasp: half in pleasure, half in pain.
Spike had never known anyone with as high a tolerance for pain as the Slayer. Not even Drusilla. Oh, her body could take the torment, but her mind was so fragile that sometimes Spike would have to stop before they even got started. Buffy was steel. Her body was made for torture, and her mind welcomed it, giving Spike free reign.
Now, as she lay twisted beneath him, face buried in the pillow, fingers locked with his, Spike ground into her and felt the tightness in his balls that alerted him to his impending orgasm.
"Ow," Buffy complained into the pillow.
Spike pushed harder.
"Spike," Buffy said, through clenched teeth.
Withdrawing, Spike flipped Buffy over and did two things in quick succession. First, he lifted Buffy's arms to the wrought iron headboard and snapped her wrists into the shackles that hung there. Second, he ripped a piece of duct-tape from a roll he kept handy and slapped it over her protesting mouth. That was a pity, since he loved to watch Buffy's mouth form helpless "O's" as she came.
"There," Spike said, sitting back on his haunches and admiring Buffy: naked and silent. "Let's start again, shall we?"
Buffy walked silently away from Spike's crypt, perfectly aware of his assessing gaze on her retreating form. In the still night air she could smell his bitter cigarette smoke and closer still, freshly turned earth. It was almost two a.m. and Buffy was tired, beyond tired. Life was sucking her dry and she was going without a fight.
She felt the sudden urge to cry and she bit her lip hard; felt blood fill her mouth. She'd forgotten that her lip was already shredded from Spike's cruel game-face kiss. How ironic that her job as the slayer provided the perfect cover for her injuries. No one ever questioned the odd bruise or scratch. Only Buffy knew how deep the hurt really went and she never said a word.
Angel settled in the chair beside his son's bassinet and trailed a finger along Connor's smooth cheek. For the first time in his life, this life and the other, Angel understood what it meant to love unconditionally. The love he felt for Connor; he could never withhold, never take back, nor give stingily. Angel's heart sang in his chest and he rejoiced at the sound.
He hadn't known, when he'd fallen in love with Buffy, that love was a complicated puzzle. Sometimes, while he watched his son's sweet repose, he found himself thinking of her and his love for her. There'd been conditions from the very beginning. It would be easy to say that the blame lay at the feet of the curse, but the truth of the matter was that the blame rested squarely on Angel's shoulders. Angel's love for her had been absolute, but not without doubts and Angel, despite his years, hadn't known how to cope. Buffy, so much younger, took their love at face value. He wished now he had been able to do the same. But he'd seen the future and it scared him.
His son's future scared him, too, but the trouble that Angel knew would come seemed far away. Angel knew that sooner or later he would have to explain to his son about his unusual entrance into the world, his unfortunate lineage. But for now he was content just to let it be.
And Angel understood something else: he understood his father. That understanding brought with it a certain amount of pain. Yes, his father had been a stern, uncompromising man with very little love to spare. And yes, Angel had wanted nothing more than his father's approval. And yes, he'd never been able to live up to his father's demands. But now that he had his own son to serve as a constant reminder, Angel knew that his own father's path couldn't have been easy.
Angel shifted in the chair and closed his eyes.
Love had never come easily to Angel. Before he'd been changed he'd loved two people: his younger sister, Cathy, and himself. He'd loved himself far more. He wasn't proud of his life before Darla had lured him, drunk and willing, into the alley. But since the people he had hurt were long dead, the only person who had to live with the consequences of his actions was himself. Angel figured he'd done a piss-poor job of making up for his past misdeeds up to this point. Maybe Connor was a sign.
Who was he kidding? He'd never be able to make up for what he'd done. Never. But when he looked at Connor; peaceful and trusting and totally dependent on him, Angel knew he would have to try.
Buffy sat on the window ledge and let the cool breeze wash over her. The leaves on the tree, fingers-length away, rattled against the side of the house, against each other. The house was silent. Willow and Dawn were asleep.
Arriving home from Spike's, Buffy had showered, changed into sweats and a battered t-shirt and then crawled into bed. But the bed felt…weird, and the window ledge looked…comfortable, and so she'd kicked off the covers and settled here.
Buffy felt closer to Angel here on the ledge, than she did anywhere else. She wasn't exactly sure why. Maybe it was that when she sat there or even when she just looked at the ledge, she had the overwhelming feeling that Angel would miraculously appear. She knew that wasn't possible. Most days it was knowledge she could live with. Some days it was like a kick in the gut.
After her return to the land of the living, Buffy had felt as though she was walking in a foreign country, a land where no one spoke her language. She had money to spend, but she couldn't find what she wanted and she couldn't figure out how much anything cost. Everyone had regarded her with painful hope in their eyes and Buffy had been unable to meet their gaze, hadn't known where to look.
Buffy had hoped seeing Angel again would anchor her. She thought he would slip his hand quietly into hers, as he had the night of her mother's funeral, and she would be able to gather together all the tattered ribbons of her heart. She thought he would braid her together again.
But, standing beside Angel by the lake, she was dismayed to discover that in her absence, Angel had stepped away. How could he have gone so far away from her, she wondered before she remembered that she'd been dead: dead for weeks. Of course he had stepped away.
They hadn't touched. Angel had reached out a hand to smooth her cheek but she'd backed away from him, afraid. What if it's all still there? What if, when he touches me I feel it all again? And what if there's still no place to go. Better to back away.
Buffy hadn't realized just how far she'd gone until she'd stepped into Spike's cold embrace.
Swinging her legs back into the bedroom, Buffy returned to her bed. Spike.
His face, all angles and sharp edges, slid into place in her head. "Damn," Buffy said. She grabbed a pillow in a firm embrace and closed her eyes tightly.
Wesley stood beside the bassinet and the sleeping vampire, reluctant to wake either. He placed a hand on Angel's shoulder and pushed.
Angel awoke suddenly. "What's wrong? Where's Connor?"
"Everything's okay, Angel. I just wanted to check on you…both."
Angel stood, stretching out the kink in his lower back. "We're great. Although, I gotta tell you, baby sleeping habits bite…" Angel said, and then grinned sheepishly. "Well, you know what I mean. You look like you could use a little sleep yourself, Wesley."
Wesley rubbed the stubble on his face and nodded. "Yes, I could do with a good night's sleep, actually."
Angel adjusted the blanket on Connor and moved over to the little kitchenette. "Want tea?"
Joining him, Wesley shook his head. "I've been thinking…" he started, clearly uncomfortable.
"Thinking what?" Angel asked.
"You've been thinking about Buffy?" Angel asked, quietly. "Why?"
"I don't know, really," Wesley said, moving to a chair next to the little kitchen table. "I just had the weirdest sensation that something was…amiss."
Angel stood silently, tea kettle in hand, eyes not quite meeting Wesley's. "Amiss?" he asked. "Do you know something, Wes? Because if you know something, I want to know, too."
"No. No. I don't know anything."
"Look," Angel said, putting the kettle on the stove and turning on the gas burner. "If you have something you want to say to me…out with it."
Wesley examined his hands, which were marked with the ink that had leaked from his fountain pen. "I wonder about you and Cordelia, actually, Angel. I wonder if you might not have some unresolved feelings for her." Wesley raised his eyes and met Angel's own.
"Feelings. For Cordy." Angel leaned against the counter and crossed his arms defensively over his broad chest. "I…"
"It's none of my business, Angel. I realize that. It's just…"
"You're right about that, Wes," Angel said, sternly.
"Well, I worry."
"About me or about her?" Angel inquired.
"About you both. I care for you both," Wesley said, sadly. "I fear that if anything should happen between you it would only end badly."
"What? You're worried about my soul? Is that it?"
"Oddly enough, Angel, no. I don't believe your soul would be in jeopardy should you pursue a relationship with Cordelia."
"Why's that?" Angel asked, already knowing the answer.
"Well, that should be obvious, even to you."
Angel rubbed his eyes. "I know. Of course I know." Turning off the stove, Angel poured boiling water into a teapot and moved to join Wes at the table.
"Buffy," Wes whispered, "is in trouble, I think."
"What do you mean?"
"What happened when you met after she returned from…beyond…is private. I don't wish to be privy to that information. But Angel, can't you feel it in your heart that she's in trouble?"
Angel shook his head sadly. "I don't feel her anymore, not here," he said, pointing to his heart. "I feel…disconnected from her…I don't know why."
"I do," Wesley admonished. "Because you've allowed yourself to disconnect. You've allowed your thoughts to be taken up with other things: Connor, money and now this pseudo-obsession with Cordelia. May I be frank?"
"I thought that's what you were doing," Angel said, grimly.
"I've never weighed in on the whole Buffy issue. My relationship with her can only be characterized as estranged. But, I will tell you this, had it not been for her, you wouldn't have the capacity to love others. To love your son. To love us. I am not saying that you need to race back to Sunnydale and resume your relationship with Buffy this very instant. I'm quite sure that wouldn't be prudent. But I must ask you, Angel; how can you go on knowing you walked away from the one person who loved you beyond all else?"
Connor stirred noisily, and then with a wail, announced his return from sleep. Angel moved to the bassinet and picked him up.
"I don't deserve her love," he mumbled into Connor's head.
"Perhaps not," Wesley said, standing. "But I don't believe we get to pick whom we love. We either love them or we don't."
Buffy stood in the moon's spotlight outside of Spike's crypt. She used to like to stand there, waiting to see how long it took him to sense her. Not tonight. Tonight she pushed open the heavy door and went inside.
Spike was sitting cross-legged on top of a stone slab, pulling crossly on a cigarette. The smoke plumed around his platinum head, drifting across the room like wood-smoke.
"Couldn't stay away, eh, love?" he sneered.
"Guess not," Buffy said, inching forward.
"Wouldn't 've thought you had any energy left after what we got up to…" Spike let the image of Buffy, naked and bound, linger in his mind.
Buffy laughed. "That? Surely you can do better than that, Spike?"
Uncrossing his legs, Spike slid to the floor, moving toward her with an arched eyebrow.
"Are you baiting me, Slayer? Do you want me to hurt you? Because you know that I can." He lifted a finger and traced her swollen lips. "I will."
"You hurt me because I let you hurt me, not because you can hurt me," Buffy clarified. "But I'm tired of that now, Spike." Buffy took a step away from Spike's tender finger, his soulless gaze. "I'm tired of you."
Spike snorted inelegantly. "Yeah. Sure you are." He moved toward her menacingly, trapping her against the wall. "We're not done, you and me, not yet….maybe not ever."
Buffy smiled politely and brought her knee up sharply into Spike's groin.
Spike sunk to his knees with a grunt. "Jesus, Buffy," he gasped.
Stepping around him, Buffy said, "I guess this is 'ever,' Spike."
Back in her room, Buffy settled on her bed, watching the window and waiting. It may not be tonight, or tomorrow, or the night after that; but Buffy was certain that he would come. He would come.
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