It was a control thing. The numbness that might have come at the bottom of a bottle was not an option for him. Not that he couldn't get drunk, just that it wasn't as much of a relief for him now as it had been when he was a mortal. Then, a night at the local pub was as much about causing his father distress as it was about losing himself in the liquor and then in the warm, musky flesh of some tavern wench.
Still, as he sat swirling the amber liquid in its Waterford crystal tumbler, the reassuring smell of it conjured up images of Ireland: of peat bogs and the ocean, his mother and sister, and yes, even his stern and disapproving father. Although he thought of them rarely, now, the smell of Irish whiskey played tricks on his brain, and sent him spiraling back to his life before.
How ironic that he'd been nothing when alive: a hooligan, a useless waste of flesh, a philanderer, a drunk, a scoundrel. He'd lived off his allowance without ever doing an honest day's work and the only true bit of love he'd had in him he'd saved for his younger sister, Cathy. The child had idolized her big brother, though Angel could no longer remember what he might ever have done to deserve such hero worship. Even that hadn't saved her in the end.
In the alley across from his favourite watering hole, in an instant he remembered only as devastatingly painful and mind-numbingly pleasurable; he'd been forever changed. Darla. An icy blonde beauty with a wicked smile and a luscious body had seen the potential in him and had taken him as her own. He'd remained tethered to her for over a century until the gypsies had cursed him with a soul. She'd had no further use for him then, though he supposed in some ways she'd always love him. Had he loved her? Angel didn't even need to dignify the question with an answer. His feelings for Darla were complicated but he never mistook them for love though he supposed he'd only come to that conclusion from the vantage point he'd achieved after the return of his soul. He does, however, allow for the possibility that when Wolfram and Hart returned her to this world as a dying mortal he had loved her, just a little. Perhaps they had been counting on that. As usual, they had underestimated him.
Like everything else in Angel's world, his ability to separate love from affection, lust from love, hunger from need was a question of control. And if nothing else, Angel was a master of control. How else had he been able to survive these past few years; the long, endless minutes since he'd left Sunnydale?
Angel shifted quietly in his chair, mindful of Connor asleep in the bassinet next to his bed. Various rooms in the hotel were occupied with the people who, over the past couple of years, had become the only true family he had ever known. Angel's mouth curled into what passed, for him, as a smile.
Leaning his head back against the plush cushion of the chair, Angel closed his eyes and drifted. Not quite dreaming, not quite awake: Angel gave up control.
Even if he could do it differently, Angel wasn't absolutely sure that he would. Still, in his mind he replayed the crucial scenes over in his head.
He could see her ahead of him, stake in hand, prattling on about the upcoming prom. He couldn't hear exactly what she was saying because he was rehearsing what he was going to say to her: his, "I think that we have to break up" speech. Break up. God, how did a 242-year-old vampire get himself in a situation where he had to break up with someone in the first place. If the pain hadn't cut like a serrated knife through the very center of him, Angel might have laughed.
They'd stopped and just when he decided that this could wait, he could wait, she'd made a comment about his serious expression and he'd been forced to lay his cards on the table. He said his piece. He'd kept his voice from breaking, just. He'd watched, horrified, as Buffy's face had collapsed. His fingers had ached to reach out and trace the silvery path of the first of many tears to trail down her cheek. He'd controlled that urge and the urge to take it back, all of it.
And her words that haunted him, still: "I want my life to be with you."
And the reply he'd taken back a million times over in his dreams: "I don't."
Angel's face twitched with the memory of it, a wound that wouldn't seal over.
As close to death as he'd ever been, Angel lay sweating and delirious in his bed at the mansion after being wounded by Faith's poisoned arrow. Felled by a bloody poisoned arrow, how lame was that?
Even though she'd known that it was over between them, even though he could see through his pain-glazed eyes the hurt and accusation in hers, she'd vowed to heal him. When the cure of Faith's blood was no longer an option, she'd bared her own throat; a submission so poignant that he'd almost forgotten all the things he'd said to convince himself that leaving was the only possible thing to do.
But she'd had to hit him, hurt him, to make him take her blood. And, oh God, the incredible rush of that embrace, of her blood pouring into him, her heart pounding fiercely against his own hollow chest, his erection an uninvited guest to the feast. On and on and on...the intoxicating smell, her breathless moans and hitching breath as she lay beneath him, the hot tears: hers and his, as they lay joined, teeth to neck, breast to chest, her groin cradled in his.
The final battle: the smoke and ruin, the rubble of the school, the victory. The loss.
And in the midst of it all, her: impossibly beautiful, incredibly strong, defiant in the face of the unknown. Except he knew that she had known, had always known and he'd been unable to stop her from loving him anyway. Hadn't even been able to control his own insanely human and fragile feelings.
So he stood there, watching her, unable and unwilling to move his eyes from her face. What could he change, really? Silent waves of regret and longing and love passed between them. He was sure he could hear her thundering heart. He was sure she could read his thoughts: I love you, Buffy. Only you. Always you. In this life and in the next life. I'm sorry. Not for loving you, but for hurting you, which was never my intention. You are my heart.
He was sure he'd seen if not forgiveness, then, understanding flicker in her eyes and that was the moment he turned and, without looking back, walked away.
From the very second he'd walked away from her, Angel had regretted his decision. But he'd been a solitary creature for the better part of a hundred years after the gypsy curse: he knew how to be alone. His hunger for her, for the light that he'd stepped into whenever he was with her, for the smell of her, for her touch; he could control that. Well, he could control it until he couldn't control it anymore.
He had the morah demon, and Buffy's perfectly timed arrival in Los Angeles, to thank for the next miserable chapter in his existence. Suddenly human, he'd abandoned every thought but one: kissing Buffy. Kissing her and kissing her until they wouldn't have been able to string a coherent thought together between the two of them. And he had; kissed her on the pier in Santa Monica, felt her mouth yield in surprise beneath his, until he gained some semblance of control. Then, sitting like two virgins contemplating consummating a long-term relationship for the first time, he had talked himself out of what he wanted even more than his mortality: Buffy, naked and golden, in his bed.
Instead of offering her bliss, he offered her tea.
The mature plan was, apparently, to wait for a while. Innocently, she'd placed her small, trembling hand on his and the waiting was over. Smashed plates, spilled milk, ripped clothing in the wake of the tremendous need to expose flesh, feelings, selves.
Nothing could ever wipe the memory of that day from his mind. But he had asked the oracles to wipe it from hers. Selfless, he wondered now, or incredibly fucking selfish. Sometimes the line between the two blurred.
He should have stayed away. But in the end, he could not. When the news of Joyce reached him, he returned to Sunnydale. He knew where she'd be and he knew where his place was: at her side. In the dark, in the very cemetery where they'd spent so much of their time, he'd held her close; listened to her brave words and her frightened words and he'd offered what comfort he could.
He could control his feelings, he'd assured her. Bullshit. When she'd leaned into him for what he'd intended as a kiss of comfort it took only seconds before comfort turned to desire and desire to rage like a fire through him. It was the definitive moment for Angel. The absolute moment of truth: nothing was different between them. Nothing would ever be different.
So, here he sat, surrounded by the people who knew him best of all, living a life he had carved for himself out of nothing. He opened his eyes, swept the room and waited: for the sound of movement in the hall, for Connor's sudden alert cry, for his breathing to return to normal, for control.
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