The flesh was warm against his lips. And the blood spilling into his mouth was ambrosial. He reached his leaden arms up, clawed the arm closer, drank more greedily. He thought, hazily, that the arm might retreat, but it did not.
Even in his delirious state, he knew the difference between pig's blood and human, between vampire and human, between Slayer and human. This wasn't specialty blood, but it was beautiful just the same.
When Angel opened his eyes, he was neither shocked nor dismayed to see that the wrist pressed benevolently against his mouth belonged to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. He had a vague notion that it was Wesley who had pulled him from the ocean. A less clear memory was the face he'd seen standing behind Wes; Justine's pale, angry countenance.
Angel and Wes had locked eyes, but Wes hadn't flinched or tried to remove his arm and Angel had continued to drink until he passed out.
While he slept, he dreamed.
In the box at the bottom of the sea, he'd had waking nightmares.
In one he'd been enraptured by Cordelia standing before him in a glimmering white gown. She'd said she loved him and he had kissed her, kissed her, kissed her until he was lost in her and then, without hesitation, he'd sunk his fangs into her throat and drank her life down like an elixir.
In one, the food of a feast passed before him. Everyone was there: Connor. Fred. Gunn. Cordy. Lorne. They were happy, so happy, and Angel had allowed himself to believe that he was happy, too. But no one would feed him. When he finally reached out to grab a passing platter, it was empty. A wineglass crashed to the floor.
In another, he and Connor fought a posse of vamps. In sync, two halves of one whole. And when the fighting was over and Connor was standing before him, beaming, Angel had snapped his neck. Flimsy, really, a human neck, he thought.
But now, rescued, Angel dreamt the old, familiar dreams.
Buffy turning to watch his awkward entrance to her high school prom, her eyes shining with unshed tears. He walked toward her in slow motion and it seemed as though he would never get there and even if he finally did, nothing would compare to what it had felt like to see her for the very first time.
wild horses could not drag me away from you
That she should fit so perfectly underneath his chin was a miracle. That she loved him, unbelievable. He couldn't have known that she had even more to give him.
"Do you believe in fate?"
Angel heard the words from far away. Two voices, whispering cautiously about the meaning of the world, about their place in it, about his worth.
He surfaced silently, kept his eyes closed and listened.
You don't believe them, do you?
A buzzing beside him.
I don't believe them. Of course, that implies that I believe in something and I'm not sure that's true.
I believed in you, once.
"No," a decidedly male voice said. "Not Buffy, Angel."
Angel looked up and saw Wesley looking down.
"You're better," Wesley said, assuming it was true.
Angel nodded. He couldn't take his eyes off the jagged scar on Wesley's throat.
"I'll take you back to the hotel then, shall I?"
Angel nodded again and closed his eyes.
The memory that haunted Angel the most was the one where Buffy's pale throat was bared to him in exquisite submission. He could barely stand and yet he had somehow found the strength to get out of bed and leave the room where she had leaned over and whispered, "Drink me."
Stubborn to the end, she'd followed him into the mansion's great room and hit him, hard. Sometimes, in the night, he thought of that second before he'd done what could never be undone. Bitten her. Drank her. Cradled her swooning body against his. Closing his eyes, he could still remember the way her orgasm had vibrated through her, could remember the exact moment the flavor of her blood had changed because of it.
Maybe one mouthful would have done it, cured him. Maybe all it would have taken was a drop. But Angel hadn't been able to stop. Hadn't wanted to stop. Even as he felt her heart's careless rhythm slow to a whisper, he hadn't been able to drag his mouth from her torn flesh.
Now the memory left a bitter taste in his mouth and an ache in his soul.
The hotel seemed an empty, gaping wound.
In his own bed, in his own room, alone again, Angel sat silently for a long moment before picking up the phone and dialing the number he had committed to memory and then promptly tried to forget.
He listened to the distant ringing and was about to hang up, when she answered, breathlessly.
Angel couldn't remember the last time he'd heard her speak, when her voice hadn't been clogged with regret or fear or tears. This simple, impatient, "hello," pushed a lump the size of a bowling ball into his throat.
"Hello," she said again, her voice a little less sure. "Okay, whatever."
"Angel?" The tremulous question hummed along the telephone wires.
He cleared his throat and whispered, "Yes."
"Oh," she said. "What's wrong?"
Angel closed his eyes. Vampire memories were too long, he decided. He remembered, suddenly, climbing into Buffy's room just after her summer in Los Angeles, after the Master had killed her. From her bedroom window he'd watched her wrench herself from a malicious dream and was sorry that he only had more bad news to impart. She'd been beautiful then, puffy with sleep, her eyes wary and young. He kept forgetting how young she was.
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I just…"
"Oh God," she said and Angel knew he had made another mistake.
He'd read once, in a women's magazine Cordelia had left lying around, that sometimes lovers could be friends. Sometimes, people were able to move past a sexual relationship and be pals. The story had given all sorts of examples of people that had once been couples, who were now friends, sometimes even best friends. Friends that set their exes up with other people, friends that talked on the phone and offered each other advice, friends that, despite a complicated and messy history, didn't have trouble with a telephone conversation.
Angel didn't have any experience with this sort of friendly arrangement. His long-term girlfriends had mostly been of the undead kind. Buffy had been a new experience for him. She still was. She was human and yet her feelings were so intensely focused, sometimes Angel had a hard time looking away.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't…"
"Don't, Angel. Please don't say you shouldn't have called. It's too late for that," Buffy admonished quietly.
"Okay. I'm not sorry. I just don't want to cause you any more…"
"Stop. Stop right there," Buffy said. "Why did you call me?"
"I want to see you." The words left Angel's mouth before he had a chance to censor them.
"Oh," Buffy said.
"I know. It's impossible and dangerous and…."
"Okay," Buffy interrupted.
"Do you want to come here or should I come there?"
"I'll come to you," Angel said. "I'll come now. There's time."
He could have used the door, but he knew where Buffy would be and he knew that she would expect him to climb the trellis to her window. There she was, sitting cross-legged on her bed, hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail, collar-bones, sharp ridges bracketing her throat. The room smelled of vanilla, and Angel could see the candle burning on the bedside table.
She turned when she heard him and smiled as he climbed over the windowsill, chased by the approaching dawn.
"You're getting brave in your old-age," she joked, glancing out at the sky, which was just beginning to show signs of a maidenly blush.
Angel didn't smile. "You look…." He couldn't find the words that would adequately describe how she looked to him.
"Fabulous. Marvelous. Alive," Buffy quipped, shrugging.
"You look better," Angel said honestly.
He crossed the room to the bed and sat on the corner of it.
"How are you?" Angel asked.
"I'm okay," she said.
"You could have asked me that on the phone, Angel. Surely you didn't drive all the way to Sunnydale to ask me how I was."
Angel shook his head.
"I had an…interesting summer," Angel began. "I know you'll need the back story, but for now let's just say that I've had a lot of time to think."
Buffy shivered. Underneath her tank top her nipples tightened into sharp knots, and she crossed her arms in front of her chest to prevent Angel from seeing.
"A long time ago, you came to Los Angeles to see me, madder than a wet hen because I'd come to Sunnydale to protect you from something Doyle had seen in a vision, but I didn't let you know that I was there. Do you remember?"
Buffy nodded. "I remember."
"There's more to that story than you remember, Buffy." Angel shifted on the bed, sitting forward so he could look directly into her eyes when he told her about the most important day of his life.
Tell it all, you idiot, his conscience told him when he would have left out some detail. Tell her how after devouring the contents of the refrigerator, you went to the pier in Santa Monica and stepped through the hedge into the direct light of day, felt the sun on your skin for the first time since you'd been in possession of the ring of Amarra, and how not even that compared to walking toward her and sliding your fingers up through her hair and kissing her in front of the sky and the sun and the world.
Tell her how it felt to hear the wild-alive beating of your heart down in the sewer tunnel, but not even that could compare to how it felt to sweep the dishes off the table and, with complete abandon, join your body with hers.
Tell her. Tell her how it felt to make love over and over and for each time to feel like the very first time. Tell her how her skin felt, how she tasted of sweet honey and salty tears, how her moans delighted you and scared you and made you yearn to go deeperdeeperdeeper, until there was no way of telling where you ended and she began.
Tell her how you felt when she admitted that this, falling asleep in your arms, was what she had wanted more than anything. Tell her how you rejoiced in the way she slept, your little Slayer, against the chest that now held a beating heart. And how that beating heart hardly mattered as much as the fact that she was there.
Tell her how, when Doyle came with the news that the Morah demon was back and bigger, you decided to leave her sleeping.
Tell her how you felt when she saved your sorry ass.
Tell her how you gave up a Ming vase to the Oracles so that they might rip it all away.
Tell her how you asked to be turned back and gave her only a frantic sixty seconds to digest the information that it was all a dream, all pretend, for your memory alone. Tell her what it was like to watch her cry and to know that, once again, you'd chosen poorly.
"Why are you telling me this now?" Buffy asked, her face inscrutable.
Angel shook his head. "I don't know. It seems I've made a mess of things all the way around. It's complicated and I'm not saying that as a way of saying nothing. I will tell you. Everything," he said.
"Okay," Buffy replied.
"Buffy," Angel said and watched her close her eyes against her whispered name. "Look at me, please." She opened sleepy hazel eyes and met Angel's.
"I've played a stupid game with you," Angel said, taking Buffy's hands in his. He watched her eyes droop once more as he traced circles in her palms with his thumbs. "I made decisions without considering anything but…well, me."
Buffy blinked solemnly.
"But nothing is any different, Angel," she said.
He raised her upturned palms to his mouth and pressed a cool kiss against her hot flesh.
"Then, I don't understand."
Angel released her hands and shrugged off his leather duster. He reached over, wrapping his hands around her slim shoulders and leaning in, he kissed her.
There it was. That electric current which hummed through her lips, into his lips. No kiss before, none since, had had the same effect on him.
"Buffy," he murmured against her mouth.
"Angel," she whispered back.
Then, she melted beneath him and he was on top of her and the kiss was an endless reaffirming of their feelings. He felt her hands slide beneath his silk shirt, her hip bones butting against him, her breasts, soft and warm against his chest.
This was a mistake, he knew, but he couldn't wrench himself away. He slid his fingers through her hair, felt the cool trickle of a tear, left her lips long enough to lap it up. He slid his hands under the small of her back and flipped them over, watched her eyes adjust to the new position.
"I don't understand," she said against the long finger he pressed against her trembling lips. She arched against that same finger as it trailed from her mouth, to her chin, down to the hollow at the base her throat, down into the valley between her breasts. His eyes never left her face.
He could feel his erection: a sudden, painful reminder of what they couldn't do and he slid his hands down to her hips, rocking her slightly against him, so she'd feel it, too.
"Angel?" she said.
"Take your shirt off," he said.
She shook her head.
"Please, Buffy," he said, resting his hands on her thighs.
She grasped the hem of her shirt and pulled up, baring herself to his hot gaze and resisting the urge to cover her aching breasts with her hands.
But then, Angel was sitting, supporting Buffy's back with the bridge of his hands, his mouth pressing moistly against the slope of her breasts, studiously ignoring her erect nipples.
He could smell her. Could feel the thrumming of her blood against her skin. He felt her push her little hands through his thick hair and hang on as her orgasm coursed through her. He slid his hands further down her back, inching her crotch toward his. The contact was too much and she muttered incoherently, her head tossed so far back, it almost reached the bed, her body a taut arch of quivering muscles and nerve endings.
"You have to stop," she said as he stretched her out and covered her body with his own.
"I don't think I can," he said. "Not anymore."
He reached between them and pulled at the string of her pants, fumbled with his own buckle and zipper, awkwardly freeing them both. He stood only long enough to remove his pants and pull hers down, sweeping them to the floor and leaving her, shivering in tiny white panties.
"If I thought there was a chance that I would, someday, have my shanshu," he began, pulling her forward on the bed so that her legs dangled off the end and he was kneeling at the altar of her femininity. "I could go on." Hooking his fingers in Buffy's underwear, he pulled them down her legs, dropping them to the floor. He turned his attention back to the aromatic cleft between her legs. "God, Buffy. You are so beautiful to me," he said before lowering his mouth to taste her. He pushed her thighs wide apart, exposing her most secret place to his wide, careful tongue, his gentle fingers.
He pushed one long finger into her opening, stroking her clenching inner walls skillfully. He drew her straining clitoris into his mouth and rolled the tip of his tongue around it, before nipping it lightly between blunt teeth and angling a second finger into her tight passage.
"Angel," she moaned, arcing off the bed, a prism of flesh and light and love.
He withdrew his glistening fingers and traveled the length of her body, kissing her before she had a chance to draw breath. He knew she could taste herself on his lips and it gave him a thrill of pleasure that she should know her own taste: sustenance from his mouth to hers.
"Do you know what eternity is, Buffy?" he asked.
Her eyes widened at the question, but she remained silent.
"Wesley fed me, gave me his arm like I was worth something. Cordelia took back the visions despite what it cost her, and now she's gone. Everywhere I turn someone is giving up something, for me," Angel said carefully.
From his new position, Angel could feel his penis pressed against Buffy's moist center. He had an overwhelming urge to slam into her, split her apart and then make her whole again.
"Eternity never ends, but if you're a demon that's good because all you care about is self-gratification and the pain and suffering you can cause others. As Angelus, I could have lived forever," Angel said, shifting slightly and pressing forward, entering Buffy just the tiniest bit.
"As Angel, I don't think I can." Angel watched Buffy's eyes darken as she realized what he was saying and for just a second, Angel felt her body rebel against the swift and sudden intrusion of his manhood. It took two shallow strokes before he felt her breathing still and he stopped, holding her close against him, feeling the warmth of her surround him. "I don't have any desire to live forever anymore, Buffy, not if it means a forever without you."
"It doesn't…" she started, but he covered her mouth with his, effectively cutting off the words she might have said, words that might only cause him to reconsider his present course of action.
Breaking the kiss, he said: "I was going to tell Cordelia I loved her, Buffy. I thought I did. I looked at her every day for three years as nothing more than a friend, a counterpart, a sister and then one day I looked at her and it was different."
"Are you making a confession, Angel?" Buffy asked incredulously. "Is that what this is about?"
Angel looked shocked. "No," he said, dipping his head to tongue the scar on Buffy's neck. "It's about this." The raised skin pulsed under his tongue and he felt his cock grow bigger and harder, wrapped in its warm flesh embrace. He couldn't have stopped even had he wanted to; he began pumping furiously into Buffy's heated core and didn't stop until he felt his orgasm rip through him. Sated, he remained inside her, waiting.
"Angel," Buffy said. "What have you done?"
"When I drank you, Buffy, it joined us irrevocably," he said.
"I know that," she said, cautiously.
"We drink blood, that's what we do, but with you it was different. I wouldn't have lived without your blood and you gave it freely," Angel said.
"And I'd do it again in a heartbeat, Angel," Buffy said.
"But even without the blood…" Angel said.
"Even without the blood, you're my mate. I knew it the moment I saw you," Angel continued, his eyes distant and hooded.
Buffy tried to shove him off her, but he was too strong, too determined and her efforts were futile. "Angel," she said, the beginnings of panic rising in her throat.
"It shouldn't have happened, you and me, but it did. I did it all wrong. I forgot who I was," Angel said, focusing on her face once more. "I fell in love with you."
"I fell in love with you," Buffy said, quietly.
He nodded once and withdrew from her. Reaching for his pants and shirt he dressed quickly and then turned to face Buffy.
"I need to know how the story ends, Buffy. I finally want it to end. I don't want an eternity if I have to spend it without you. What good are all those days if they're spent longing for what I can't have?" Angel felt helpless tears gather and spill from his eyes.
"Angel, tell me how to help you," Buffy pleaded, rising to her knees and gathering the sheet primly around her breasts.
"You can't help me, Buffy."
"If I can't help you, why are you here?"
Angel shrugged weary shoulders and stepped closer to the pool of sunlight, which spilled into the room at the window.
"Angel," Buffy said, standing, heedless of the sheet, which fell to the floor at her feet.
"I'm not a man, Buffy. I don't even have words to tell you how much I love you and how much I regret what I've put you through,"
Buffy held out a trembling hand. "Please don't add insult to injury, Angel."
Angel slanted his eyes toward the sunlight and turned back toward Buffy, his mouth quirked in a curious half-smile. "You didn't think…" his voice trailed off. "Oh, Buffy."
"Okay, but I still don't get this. Any of it."
"And why are you still Angel?" Buffy said suddenly, stepping forward.
Forward and through him, like mist.
The blood remembers. Angel thinks that as he claws himself up from sleep. No matter how many twists in the road, he feels sure he will always find his way back home. Home is where the heart is. Hadn't he seen that, needlepoint on a pillow?
Now he is too far away from where he wants to be and has no map to guide him. Cordelia is gone. Wes is gone. He's left with Gunn and Fred and neither of them know him. They expect that he will captain this ship, but Angel would rather drift aimlessly.
The blood knows.
Angel knows that nothing good will come of his estrangement with Wesley. He knows he should try to fix it, patch things up the way the doctors had mended Wesle's torn throat, but Angel isn't a big enough man to extend the olive branch and Wesley has moved on to bigger and better things.
There is a yawning hole where Cordelia had once been. This isn't love talking. This is Angel who misses Cordelia and her no nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach to life. Sometimes, if he's really quiet he thinks he can hear her.
The blood calls. Every day. All day. He's ravenously hungry and insatiable. He just wants something warm. Foolish, really, to think he could have lived any other way. Wesley's arm. Buffy's throat. Wesley's arm. Buffy's throat.
Blood. Blood everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
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