The Place in Between

The Place in Between

She offers herself up to the sky. An impervious gesture, she remembers the exact moment her feet leave the tower and she sails headlong into shimmering energy. She thinks she can hear Glory’s shriek; Dawn’s blood is sticky on her palm; her friends are miles below her, pales faces upturned.

She flies, arms outstretched, putrid air whipping past her, out and up and into the eye of the storm. And she goes gladly. Oblivion welcomes her.

***

He is feeling euphoric as he leads the others back into the hotel. Cordelia is chattering beside him; Fred is buffeted by her new friends; Wes and Gunn trade tactics and they all stop when he pulls the doors open and steps into the Hyperion’s lobby.

Across the massive room is Willow and Angel doesn’t even have to ask to know that it’s bad. Already he can feel something deep inside him hammering against his ribs. Not his heart, something else. Everything human in him drains away.

Willow’s face crumples when she sees Angel. Angel is torn between wanting to turn around and go back out through the doors and walking over to Willow to comfort her, to receive comfort.

But he doesn’t move, can’t.

“Willow?” Cordelia says and she puts her hand on his arm and he’d forgotten how warm humans were; her body heat burns through his skin.

Willow shuffles forward a few steps, but then she stops.

“It’s Buffy,” Angel says needlessly.

***

She’s not in hell or a demon dimension. When she wakes up, she feels rested, clean, sated. It takes her a moment to realize that she’s in her bed in her room on Revello Drive. Mr. Gordo is next to her head.

“Buffy! You’re going to be late.”

Buffy feels her heart lurch into her throat. She must be in heaven because that’s where Mom would be.

Late for what? Buffy thinks. She rolls over and peers at her alarm clock.

She wonders why she doesn’t feel freaked out. She doesn’t though; she feels calm. She contemplates burrowing down into the covers but then decides that she might as well check this place out.

She pushes herself out from under the blankets and finds herself standing in her kitchen. Her mother is offering her juice. When Buffy takes the glass from her hands, she feels her mother’s fingers, substantial. Those fingers had braided her hair, soothed her cuts and, once, slapped her sharply across the face.

“Happy birthday, honey,” Joyce says.

Buffy wishes there was a mirror; is she old?

“I’d forgotten,” she murmurs.

“Wait until you’re my age,” her mother says. “You’ll really stop counting those years.”

“Old is a relative term,” Buffy says.

She doesn’t know why she says it but the words seem meaningful and when she turns around she is staring at Angel’s bare chest. She is holding a bandage and she can see the gash she is meant to cover. Angel’s chest is still and white, perfect skin stretched over bone and muscle.

She can feel her hands shake. She looks up at him and he is looking down, his mouth an appealing smirk. All she can think about is kissing him and the memory of that first kiss rushes back at her: his mouth, a cool and firm pressure against her own and the way it sent tingles out along her fingertips. Kissing Angel wasn’t like kissing any other boy. And even though she didn’t know why, she knew it was true.

***

There is a knock on his door, a pause, and then another. He can’t face anyone. The sun is high in the sky and Angel feels resentful. Buffy is gone, the world should be black. His is.

“Angel?”

It’s Willow.

The door cracks open and then she is in the room. He can smell her grief, the pungent efforts of her weeping.

She crosses the room and stands by the window. She has a crumpled tissue in her hand, useless now.

He grits his teeth, feels the muscle in his jaw clench. He can’t look at her. If he looks at her he will see her sorrow and the pity he knows she must feel for him. He doesn’t deserve her pity. He should have been there. Buffy should never have gone to her death without knowing how much he loves her. Still.

***

Buffy wonders if she is able to dictate which memories she gets to relive. If she thinks it, will whatever it is suddenly appear before her? She closes her eyes.

“Are you going to patch me up or what?”

Angel’s voice above her and it’s nothing like she remembers. Buffy opens her eyes and concentrates on placing the bandage over his wound.

“Good as new,” she says.

“Thanks.”

“Angel?”

“Hmm.”

She doesn’t know what she wants.

She knows exactly what she wants.

***

Her clothes are drenched and she’s sitting on Angel’s bed shivering, too cold and wet to even think about stripping and putting on the warm, dry sweats he’s offered.

He is standing across the room, back turned, a perfect gentleman.

Buffy takes a long moment to think about this, to wonder why this moment out of all the moments should be so precious to her. It is, though; she knows that.

She sucks in a breath.

“What’s wrong?”

“I have a cut…or something.”

“Can I…let me see.”

Then he is beside her on the bed and his gentle fingers are tracing her shoulder blade.

“It’s just a scratch. It’s already healing.”

Buffy twists to look back at him.

His eyes are dark, unreadable, and yet Buffy knows exactly what he is thinking because she is thinking it, too.

***

Willow doesn’t say anything, she just stands there. Her breathing is shallow. She is so quiet Angel can hear her heart beating.

“Jesus, Willow, if you want to…”

She shakes her head.

Angel slouches down in his seat, presses his fingers into his eyes, suppresses a moan. He has an urge to kill something and briefly considers the woman standing in his room, too close.

Finally Willow clears her tear-clogged throat and says: “I’m sorry, Angel. I’m so sorry.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know,” she stopped. Angel’s is staring at her. “I mean, of course, I know, but I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Tell me everything.”

Willow walks to the edge of Angel’s bed and sits on the corner. Then she stands. She is twisting at her mangled Kleenex and Angel suspects she is wondering how she will get the words out, how she will tell him about Buffy’s death. Noble as it probably was, it still took her from this world and that’s a loss that will be hard to bear.

***

She is acutely aware of her inexperience. And her imagination is already racing with images of Angel, decades older than her, and other women. He’s had them; she knows this for a fact. But the way he is looking at her makes her feel, improbably, as though none of them has mattered, like she is the only one: precious, sacred.

There is a long moment where neither of them speaks. Buffy’s skin is pricked with cold and she shivers, feels Angel’s fingers smooth the gooseflesh along her arms and shoulders.

“Buffy,” he whispers, “maybe we shouldn’t.”

We shouldn’t, she thinks. Of course we shouldn’t. It’s all going to go to shit. You’re going to turn into a monster and kill people I care for and then I’ll kill you and you’ll leave me and none of it matters. I don’t care. I just want this moment. Please, let me have this moment.

That’s when he leans forward and kisses her, pulling her into the kiss by her quaking shoulders.

His mouth is so soft and even though she has kissed him a hundred times, this time feels brand new. Every inch of her arches into him; their wet chests connect and an electric charge passes between them.

I want to stay here, she thinks.

Innocence.

Experience.

The place in between.

***

When Willow is done her story, Angel feels hollowed out. Willow has managed to recount the whole tale without crying, but now that she is done Angel can see that the effort has been too much. Her face is blotchy; the tissue is shredded and litters the floor at her feet.

Angel gets out of his chair and crosses the room to a small desk in the corner. He reaches into a drawer and takes out a bottle of whiskey, goes into the bathroom to grab a glass. He’s opened the bottle and poured the drink before he even comes to a full stop in front of her.

“Here,” he says handing her the glass.

She eyes the amber liquid warily.

“Trust me, you’ll feel better.”

She takes the glass and tips the whiskey into the back of her mouth. It burns a trail down her throat, splashes into her empty stomach.

“Thanks,” she coughs.

Angel pours a drink, bigger than the one he offered her, and drains it in a single gulp.

He didn’t want this life. None of it. Not eternity, certainly not the price he paid to have it, and not this feeling. If Willow wasn’t standing in front of him looking so wretched, he’d scream and beat his chest and rage that the only light in his life, the only hope, had been carelessly snuffed out.

Willow wisely offers no trite words of comfort.

Angel considers the bottle in his hand; he could drink the rest, hurl the bottle across the room, hit Willow’s pretty red head with it.

Instead, he places the bottle carefully on the table beside his chair, next to a splayed open copy of Dr. Faustus, and says, “Thank you for coming.”

“You’re welcome,” Willow says because it is the only thing to say.

***

The place between her legs is aching. It’s not the ache of her period or the ache she sometimes gets when she reads the dirty bits in her mom’s bodice rippers. This is different because it is unstoppable.

Angel hovers above her, his eyes gleaming in the murky light. He has removed her clothes; they’ve been discarded in a damp pile at the end of his bed. He has lit a candle. She resists the urge to cover her breasts with her hands. She is not ashamed, only inexperienced, emotionally naked beneath him.

But not afraid. He won’t hurt her. He’ll never hurt her.

He tips his head down and licks around her nipple and she feels a thrill shoot through her. She has nothing to compare it to. He trails a finger up her side, slides his palm up over the slope of her breast and squeezes, reshaping the flesh in his hand.

“You’re perfect, Buffy,” he whispers and she can feel the blush which already flames pink across her chest travel into her cheeks.

Her breasts feel hot under his cool hands. He holds on to her, twists her nipples gently, and slides down the length of her, rests his chin on her pubes.

She tries hard to hold herself still, but her pelvis tilts forwards involuntarily, seeking. She doesn’t know what she wants, has never been at this place before.

Angel slides his hands down and stokes her thighs open. She feels sleek and her own secret smell drifts up to her. Her hands curl around Angel’s velvety sheets. She looks down the length of her body and tentatively meets his eyes, watches in rapt amazement as he dips his tongue into her, as a hummingbird might sip nectar from a flower.

“Angel,” she gasps.

“Shhh,” he murmurs.

His tongue is an instrument of delight and torture. Each stroke hits a new nerve, reaches a hidden spot, seems designed to send her headlong into ecstasy. Why didn’t she know about this?

He is so careful, so gentle, his hands under her buttocks to hold her up to him, hold her close…she’s so close.

She jerks against his mouth. He’s not licking anymore; now he has the very center of her and he’s sucking and she’s coming apart beneath him. The spasms that ripple through her are quite unlike anything she’s ever experienced before. She floats away on the sensations and when she opens her eyes, Angel is above her.

She wants to stop, but there is no stopping. What is will always be and so she hooks her legs around his lean waist and guides him forward. She meets his eyes, sees the question, knows the answer and then he is there, pushing past the resistance until they are locked together.

She feels the tears and wishes she could stop them. She doesn’t want Angel to think that she regrets this. He pulls back a little and she welcomes the brief respite. He is splitting her in two and he has hardly moved. Then he slides forward; his body is angled up so she can see down the length of them to the place where they are joined. His limbs and her limbs, tangled tree roots.

He brushes her tears away with his thumbs and he whispers things to her, endearments in a language she doesn’t understand and he moves steadily but slowly, as if he is in no hurry to get to the place she has already been.

She understands now; has the feelings to go with the words, knows that she has been forever changed. Knows, too, what is to come.

But now, at this very second, she clings to the moment, to the instant when she knows Angel has found his own little piece of heaven and she coasts with him through his pleasure.

***

Angel has to leave LA. He can’t be here surrounded by all these well-meaning people. He needs to be far away, isolated, cut off. It’s the only way he knows how to cope.

He skulks in the cemetery and waits for Willow and Xander to lead a devastated Dawn away. He watches, in amazement, as the gloom delivers Spike to Buffy’s tombstone. Giles sits silently for a long time, nursing a bottle of whiskey.

Then, when the moon is high, he crouches in front of her grave marker and says goodbye.

It isn’t fair. It isn’t fucking fair.

The earth beneath his fingers is fresh and the smell of it almost makes him retch. She shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be beneath the ground. She should have lived forever. He should have turned her.

Jesus.

Angel pushes up, recoiling at the thought of Buffy undead. It is worse, if that’s even possible, than thinking of her dead. Dust. Gone.

***

When Buffy wakes up it is raining. She doesn’t even know if she can call the blank spaces sleep, but it seems like sleep; it feels like sleep.

She recognizes this moment: the familiar patter of rain hitting the gutters above her head, the cool empty space left beside her in the bed, the heavy, used feeling between her legs, a momentary panic because she is alone.

Why, she wonders, didn’t Angel come back inside and kill her? Knowing Angelus’s predilection for games, it is amazing to her that he didn’t stroll back into the room, rape her and drain every drop of her blood.

In the end, though, Buffy knows that what he did was much worse. And she tries not to think about it, not to let the knowledge spoil this moment of bliss.

She sweeps her hand blindly across the place where Angel should be and there he is.

“Hi,” he says.

“Angel?”

“Were you expecting someone else?”

Buffy closes her eyes and when she opens them he is still there.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “Don’t.”

“I wasn’t…”

“You’re not alone…”

“You’re not alone.”

That’s her mother’s voice.

***

Through the parted curtains she can see the sky, grey and dreary. She sits on the edge of the bed, fingers nervously plucking at the chenille bedspread. She consults the digital clock on the bedside table and the minutes tick by so slowly she feels as though…

The door opens. It’s him, a dark silhouette; his shoulders block out the light.

He steps inside the room and closes the door and observes her quietly.

She watches him, too. It’s hard to read his expression; it’s harder to know what to say to him.

He slips his keys into his pocket and takes a step forward. She feels herself shrinking back, an unconscious gesture on her part, but one that halts him in his tracks.

She is suddenly unsure why she wanted, needed, to do this. All she knows for certain is that she did; life without Angel in it, even peripherally, is meaningless.

“Can I come closer?” he asks.

“Yes. I’m sorry,” she says and stands up. “I’m okay.”

She is in his arms in an instant; her face is buried against his silk shirt and he smells the same: clean, freshly showered, like water.

“Jesus, Buffy.” His lips are pressed against the crown of her head. Her hair is dry, brittle. She knows how she must look to him: dead, newly risen. Animated flesh. Not substantial. Not her.

His hands are roaming over her, pressing into concave flesh, grazing over jutting bones, soothing.

He steps back, huge hands wrapped around her diminished biceps, afraid to let her go.

She offers a weak smile. “I need to sit, I think.” She is so tired. So tired. So…

Angel leads her to the bed and settles her before moving around to the other side and lying beside her. She is stiff and shivering and Angel hesitates only a second before moving closer and gathering her into his arms.

He thinks she has fallen asleep until she says: “I didn’t want to come back.”

Angel squeezes her closer, mindful of her fragility.

“Do you want to talk about it?” He asks carefully.

***

One hundred and forty nine days. He could say the hours and minutes, too, if asked.

He knows what he told the others, Cordy and Wes, but he knows better what is in his own heart. And seeing her like this, her eyes shadowed and haunted, her fingers still torn from trying to escape her coffin, is not a balm to him.

In all that time, she was the only thing that ever mattered. That’s what he’d told Cordelia.

There is no way he will survive this and can’t imagine how Buffy must be feeling.

She is quiet in his arms and he has no trouble imagining how she must have felt when she woke up in her own coffin. Vampires feel, for an instant, the same choking panic but it is quickly replaced by an overwhelming feeling of hunger and power and lust.

The worst thing about being here now is knowing that he will have to leave her. He’ll always have to leave her.

***

“The best part,” she says, “was waking up and you were still there and you were still you.”

Her voice is quiet and she has curved into him, her back to his chest.

“No matter how many times I woke up, you were never…”

“I know,” he says.

“There was other stuff,” she says. “Mom.”

He strokes her knuckles with his thumb. She’s so skinny; she smells like moss. He wants to make this better, but he doesn’t know how. He never knows how.

***

Buffy doesn’t want to die, but she’s done it before.

She imagines that she might be going to a very dark place when she propels herself off the tower. But it can’t be any darker than the places she has been before. And maybe it will be better; maybe it will be a gift.

The End

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