She watched his hands. Is it weird, she wondered, to be so interested in a man’s hands and then dismissed the thought. Of course not. This man’s hands were wide across the palms, with short, thick fingers and blunt nails, neither chewed nor manicured.
He didn’t use his hands to punctuate his speech. Rather, they sat calmly on either side of the half empty beer bottle, thumbs running up and down its sweaty surface, a caress.
He wasn’t talking to her. She wasn’t sure what she’d do if he actually turned in his seat to make a remark that might indicate interest or amusement or, even, if the words were just a request: “Pass the peanuts.” She was only half-listening to the drone of his voice, its low murmur as he confessed his loathing for his job, his girlfriend, his car, his dog, to the man sitting next to him.
She’d sat at the bar because that had seemed less obvious than sitting all alone at one of the booths that lined the wall. Feet locked over the rung of the stool, she could order a drink, “I’ll have a glass of red wine, please,” and drink without looking too conspicuous.
The man with the hands and his friend were already there when the bartender, a sullen man with a shiny forehead, slid a globe-shaped glass of Chablis across the bar. She nodded and reached into her pocket for a crumpled ten.
Now fifteen minutes had gone by. She’d barely touched her wine. The bar was filling up and she was beginning to think that he wasn’t going to show. Of course he would.
The man beside her turned to her and smiled. He was handsome: blonde hair cropped short, brown eyes, straight white teeth. For a minute she indulged the fantasy that he was her blind date. It was a game that she played often, although it never went anywhere, because what experience did she have with blind dates? She let the scenario unravel in her head:
Mutual friends thought they’d be perfect together. They’d arranged an informal drink at a local wine bar. She was a grad student. He was a professional something-or-other who drove a Harley (her friends knew of her weakness for bad boys and always tried to find a man with just a teensy dark streak). He shared his white-bread belief system: two kids, station wagon, picket fence. He’d tell amusing and endearing stories about growing up in the Midwest, where his mom stayed home and he and his brothers had a tree house and a secret password. Then, he would wait expectantly for her to divulge something of her own life. Her classic opening line: Do you believe in vampires?
“Could you pass the peanuts?”
“Pardon,” she said, her eyes focusing, the dream lost.
“Oh, sure. Sorry.” She reached down the bar and slid the basket towards the man. He nodded his thanks and settled the basket between himself and his friend. She watched as he snapped the shells between his thumb and a curled index finger. She took a sip of her wine.
Who was she kidding? He wasn’t her type, even if she could imagine those nimble fingers working at the buttons on her white cotton shirt. Her imagination didn’t stretch much further than that.
“Buffy.” A breathless voice beside her.
She turned and smiled. “Wes.”
“I’m terribly sorry that I’m late. There’s a lot going on just at the moment,” Wes paused, signaling for the bartender’s attention. “But you don’t want to hear about that.”
The bartender arrived and waited for Wes to place his order. “Becks please,” Wes said, before he settled himself on the stool next to Buffy. “Would you rather have a booth?”
Buffy shook her head. “I can’t stay long.”
The bartender delivered Wes’s beer and they touched glasses. “Cheers,” Wes said before taking a long swallow. “Ahh, yes, that’s lovely.”
Buffy smothered a smile. It was good to see Wesley. It was good to be reminded of the past, the past she was trying so desperately to forget. It was good to know that he would have answers to her questions, but would ask no questions of his own.
“How are you?”
Except that question. He always asked that question.
“Good. You look well.”
That was the sum total of their small talk. Buffy reached into her worn leather knapsack and pulled out a crumpled Manila envelope and handed it to Wes. “This is all Giles and Willow could dig up on that Siskoth demon,” she said. “I’m supposed to tell you that there are some photocopied pages from some very rare book Giles apparently found.”
“Don’t you read Giles’s notes to me?” Wes asked.
“I just thought you might be curious,” Wes said.
“It’s not my life any more,” Buffy said. “I’m just the pack mule.”
Wes took a sip of his beer. “Hardly. Have you seen the others?”
“Only Dawn. I spent some time with her in Cleveland. Why she decided to go to college there is beyond me.”
“Once a Hellmouth groupie, always a Hellmouth groupie I guess,” Wes said with a small smile.
“Faith is there still. Dawn’ll be fine.”
Buffy held up her hand to stop him.
“Well, I appreciate this,” Wes said, indicating the envelope.
“Email would be quicker and more efficient, you know,” Buffy said, running her finger along the rim of her wineglass.
“Yes, I suppose it would,” Wes acknowledged.
“But that’s not why we do it this way, is it, Wes?”
She stopped what she was doing and lifted her eyes up to meet Wesley’s.
He met her gaze evenly. “No. It’s not.”
“Where is he?”
“Across the street, between the electronics store and the barber shop.”
Buffy sighed. “I asked you not to say anything, Wes. I trusted you to keep this between us.”
“I didn’t say anything, Buffy. You’ll have to take my word on that. Although considering that the proof that I’m lying is lurking across the street, I guess you have no real reason to believe me,” Wes said dryly. “It would be impossible to keep this meeting a secret. He’s known from the very first time I saw you.”
“I told you to be careful. Did he follow you?”
“No. He knew the moment I went back to Wolfram and Hart. He could,” Wes paused, “he could smell you.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Well, duh.”
“I showered, Buffy. Scrupulously.” Wes paused as if considering his words. “It’s been almost two years. Don’t you think it’s time you and he had a chat?”
“There’s nothing to say.”
Wes cocked a skeptical eyebrow.
“Well there isn’t.”
“I have to say that I believe Angel would disagree.”
Buffy stood and said: “I’m just starting to sort through my life, Wes. My life. A life that belongs to me and not to some council in the Mother Country. A life that I didn’t get to have before my world got sucked into oblivion. I deserve it. I’m taking it.”
Wes reached over to touch Buffy’s hand, which rested on the bar, and then thought better of it. “No one disagrees that you don’t deserve some time to put your affairs in order, Buffy, least of all Angel.
Buffy tipped her head toward the window. “Then why’s he out there?”
“Buffy,” Wes said and paused, weighing the pros and cons of divulging his, until now, hoarded information. “He’s been out there every single time we’ve met for the past year. Has he ever once tried to talk to you? Have you seen him or even thought you’ve seen him?”
“I must be losing my touch,” she said.
“He’s better at staying in the shadows than he ever was.”
“I thought heading a big, evil corporation meant that he’d have to get out more, you know, yuk it up.”
“Angel doesn’t socialize, Buffy. You know that.”
Buffy slid her arms through the straps of her bag and nodded. “People change.”
“Can I give him a message at least?”
Buffy considered the question and shook her head.
“Well, tell Giles thanks for the information. Give him my best. Willow, too.”
“I’ll tell them. But you know you and Giles will be deconstructing this meeting as soon as you can put in the transatlantic call,” Buffy said, her voice skirting the edges of laughter.
Wesley stood and hugged her. She felt small and fragile in his arms and for a moment he thought of turning his head and giving Angel the signal that would indicate that Buffy had agreed to see him. She seemed more and more lost to him with each passing week. Whatever she was searching for, it seemed further away than ever.
“Take care of yourself, Buffy.”
Angel stepped further into the shadows as Buffy exited the bar. For a moment her eyes seemed to meet his across the dark street, to reach right into the alley where he’d stood watching her for the past 90 minutes, but then she settled her backpack more comfortably on her thin shoulders and headed down the street towards the subway.
Seconds later, Wes came out of the bar and crossed the street, waiting for Angel to join him under the neon barber’s pole.
Wes tapped the envelope.
“I don’t give a shit about what’s in that envelope,” Angel said. “Giles sent that information weeks ago. This is …”
“Pretense, I know,” Wes said.
“Bullshit. I was going to say bullshit,” Angel said tightly.
“She’s fine, Angel.”
“She looks pale and tired.”
“Yes, well, other than that, she’s fine.”
Angel started to walk down the street and Wes turned to follow him. For a long moment the only sound was Angel’s heavy boots hitting the pavement. He stopped so abruptly, Wes almost bumped into him.
“Has she seen the others?”
“Dawn. She spent some time with Dawn in Cleveland.”
“Call Faith,” Angel said. “I want to know what she knows.”
“Done,” Wes said. “Shall I talk to Dawn?”
Angel shook his head.
“Angel,” Wes said softly. “Buffy isn’t going to accept your help and she won’t like it when she finds out that you’ve been…”
“Finds out I’ve been what, Wes?”
“Talking to her friends. Keeping tabs.”
“I wouldn’t have to do that if she’d actually talk to me so that I’d know she was okay,” Angel said, before turning and heading back down the street.
“You have my word, isn’t that enough?”
“No,” Angel barked before rounding a corner and disappearing from Wesley’s view.
Angel’s office at Wolfram and Hart was meticulously organized and sterile. It had none of the comforts of his suite at the hotel. The walls were bare. The bookshelves contained not a single volume of personal worth, the desk was tidy, the day’s file folders stacked neatly and centered on the leather blotter.
Angel did his job well. With hundreds of employees and endless resources at his disposal, he was more efficient. His own team, Fred, Gunn, Lorne and Wes, had accepted his decision to make a bargain with the devil and after a few weeks, they’d all seemed to thrive in the atmosphere of limitless possibilities. Cordelia, still bed-ridden, was ensconced in a beautiful room surrounded by the best medical technology dirty money could buy.
Sometimes at night Angel wondered whether he shouldn’t have made different decisions regarding Connor, Cordy and Buffy. For example, what if he hadn’t given Connor up for a chance at a new life, what if he had tried to help him adjust to this one? Then, Angel remembered peering through the glass at Connor and his family and he doesn’t doubt his decision for another second.
Maybe he could have bartered for Cordy’s health. What would have been to stop him? He could have included her in his bargain with Lilah, but he hadn’t even thought of it. She’d dangled that amulet in front of his face, waved some folder thick with gathered intelligence and he’d headed to Sunnydale. Buffy could have looked after herself; he knows that now. Hell, he’d known it then. But it had been a long time since he’d had any real legitimate excuse to see her.
And Angel wondered now why seeing Buffy always means kissing her. And why kissing her always churns his stomach, fills his heart to bursting. Caleb, the psycho-preacher guy was wailing on her pretty hard when he’d arrived, but she’d rallied. More than rallied: she’d kicked that asshole’s butt from this life into the next one. And still found time to give him the sweetest, most incredible kiss he’d had in recent memory.
He hadn’t been lying when he’d stepped back to watch the fight and thought: I miss this. He did. It was the simple, unvarnished truth. He could fill his life with other people and other moments, but nothing was ever as good as fighting by Buffy’s side. Nothing was ever as uncomplicated as the feeling he had when she was in his arms. Of course, he’s not stupid enough to ignore the fact that their relationship was a minefield of problems. He knows this; it doesn’t make it any less true that with her he felt complete.
Angel paced through the office and didn’t hear Lilah when she entered the room. She never knocked. Lilah Morgan was as forthright in death as she’d ever been in life. But, as it turned out, she’d been a valuable asset and Angel doesn’t know what he would have done without her at Wolfram and Hart. She knows everything about the place, the players, the dark secrets that linger just beneath the surface of the company’s rotten skin. She gave up the information when it was requested and stayed out of everyone’s way otherwise. Angel didn’t trust her, but he felt a grudging sort of kinship with her. He’d been to hell and he suspected that playing with the good guys was just about killing Lilah. Figuratively speaking, of course.
When he spotted her, immaculate in Armani, he stopped pacing and waited.
“She wouldn’t talk to you, eh?”
“What do you want?” Angel sighed.
Lilah sank into one of the leather wing chairs in front of Angel’s desk. “I thought you might like to know where she’s staying.”
Angel considered Lilah’s statement. “Why would I want to know that?”
Lilah examined her perfect nails. “It’s gotta be tough, Angel, wanting to see her and being denied time and time again.”
Angel said nothing.
“I just think that you need to be aggressive. I know for a fact you’re capable of that.”
She was goading him, he thought, and he wasn’t going to take her dangling bait.
“Wesley talked to you about this?” Angel couldn’t help himself. He felt a twinge of betrayal.
“No. Of course not,” Lilah said. “Wesley says that she’s fine and I’m sure she is, but I’m also sure that she must feel very isolated. She’s given up everything she’s ever known in order to find something she’s not even sure exists.”
Angel stood in front of the specially treated plate-glass windows and watched the sun slip up through the cracks between the Los Angeles skyscrapers. It had become a daily routine for him; watching the sunrise. Until he’d come to Wolfram and Hart he hadn’t been able to do it, not since the forgotten day, not since the Ring of Amarra. It was a strangely emotional activity. The sunrise represented what he wanted, but what was not quite within his grasp.
Lilah changed tacts.
“I hear that Cordelia is making some progress.”
“She’s better,” Angel replied simply.
“If she woke up, Angel, you could…”
He turned to meet her eyes. “I could what?”
Lilah stood and straightened her skirt. She leaned over the desk and printed something on a notepad. “That’s where Buffy is. She’s taking a flight back to New York tonight.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Angel asked.
“Why not?” Lilah shrugged and left the room.
Buffy woke with the sun. Early to bed, early to rise. She stretched and reached for the remote, turning the television on to some local morning news program. The hotel wasn’t upscale, but there was a coffee maker in the room and Buffy started a pot before she headed for the shower.
She ran the water hot, lathered her hair and conditioned it, shaved her legs and then stood under the stream for a long time thinking about Angel in the alley across from the wine bar. She’d known he was there; she’d known it weeks ago. Although Buffy wasn’t sure that her instincts would still alert her to the presence of a demon, she’d know Angel was within a country mile ‘til the day she died.
Call it intuition, call it spider-senses, call it whatever in the hell you wanted, Buffy always knew when Angel was close. It had taken every ounce of willpower she had not to walk across the road and touch him, scream at him, kiss him, hit him. From the very first time he’d hidden himself to watch her, she’d sensed him, unconsciously. Every time she’d met Wesley after that the feelings had grown stronger. Wesley had only confirmed her suspicions. She knew that he was trying to gage her interest in a reunion and Buffy wished she could just let the inevitable happen, but not now. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t know if she’d ever be ready.
Buffy turned off the shower and reached for a white hotel-issue towel. She wrapped it around her wet hair turban-style and then reached for a second towel to wrap around her body. When she opened the bathroom door, she followed the steam out into the bedroom and felt her breath catch.
Angel was sitting, statue-still, on the edge of her bed.
“You scared me,” she said.
Buffy scanned the room. Her bag, containing her clothing, was sitting on a chair on the opposite side of the bed. She doubted if her legs would make it that far before giving out. Still, she couldn’t stand there in nothing more than a couple of towels.
“I need to…” she stopped and watched Angel follow her gaze to the bag on the chair.
Hugging the towel tightly to her slight body, Buffy crossed the room and rummaged through the small suitcase, retrieving bra, panties and jeans. Her shirt was hanging in the closet by the door. It meant crossing back in front of Angel again.
When she turned back towards the closet Angel was staring at her so intently she wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d discovered wounds on her back.
“You shouldn’t have come,” she said, her voice quivering.
“I know. I should have respected your wishes. I couldn’t.”
Buffy nodded. “I need to dress.”
Buffy started across the room but when she drew even with Angel he reached up and grabbed her wrist. She’d forgotten what it felt like to be touched by him, what it felt like to have those cool fingers against her skin. It burned.
She stepped back, pulling her arm out of his grasp. She couldn’t be lulled by his touch.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She walked to the closet and took her shirt from the hanger and disappeared into the moist bathroom, closing the door softly behind her. She sat on the edge of the tub, her knees giving out at the not altogether unexpected shock of seeing him again. She’d known the day would come. While it was true enough that Los Angeles was a sprawling metropolis, the law of averages weren’t exactly in her favour when one considered how often she came here and who she saw when she arrived.
She pressed her knuckles into her eyes, hard, so that she wouldn’t cry. But it didn’t matter, the tears came anyway, leaking out and trickling down her clenched fists.
“Are you okay in there?”
Angel’s words, close to the door, prompted her to pull herself together and she pulled the towel off her head, wiping her face with it before dropping it to the floor. She combed her hair and braided it loosely before she pulled on her clothes, took a calming breath, and went out into the main room.
“You’ve been crying,” Angel said.
“What do you want?” Buffy asked.
“I wanted to know that you were okay,” he said.
“I know that Wesley gives you the updates on my health and well-being. Don’t you trust him?”
“I don’t trust anything,” Angel said, “except what I see for myself. And you. I trust you.”
Buffy walked to the coffee maker and reached for a plain white mug. “Coffee?” she asked in a voice that belied how strange this situation was.
She poured herself a mug and then bent down, retrieving a couple of creamers from the minibar.
“It’s been almost two years,” Angel said quietly. “I know you said you needed time. How much time?”
Buffy said nothing. She took a sip of the lukewarm coffee before turning around to face Angel.
“I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. I can’t answer any of your questions.”
Angel stood and advanced slowly, approaching Buffy as though she was a wounded animal who might snap at him if he moved too quickly. When he was close enough to touch her, he stopped.
Buffy held the coffee mug at chest level, cupped between two hands as if it was a weapon she could use to defend herself against him. But even she knew how futile it was. Against Angel, there was no defense.
“What are you afraid of?” Angel asked gently.
Buffy contemplated the question as if she had every intention of answering it. She went through the list in her head: Senior year calculus. No date for the Prom. The Master. Unemployment and no prospects. Losing her friends. Being alone. You.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” she lied, staring into the liquid in her cup.
Angel wrapped his hands around Buffy’s and extricated the cup from her trembling fingers. He leaned around her and placed it on the top of the bar fridge. “I want you to talk to me, Buffy. I don’t want to hear second-hand that you still cry over Spike’s death or that you took a break from college or that you don’t see your friends as often as you should. I want you to tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
Buffy sighed and stepped around Angel, careful not to brush against him. It didn’t matter anyway; she knew that he knew the effect his nearness was having on her. There was no way to stem the desire that raced through her body, to quell the nerves that flushed her with adrenaline.
She felt his hand on her shoulder and she stopped, close to tears again. Wouldn’t it be easier to give in to the temptation, she wondered?
I’m sorry,” Angel whispered. She felt the pressure of his lips on the top of her head and then before she could confirm it with her eyes, he was gone.
Buffy stood at the departure gate for a long time. Her flight had been called for a second time and any more hesitation on her part would surely mean she’d miss the plane. She looked down the gangway and considered her options. She could get on the plane and head to New York or she could stay in Los Angeles and face the truth.
What in the hell was that she wondered, shifting her carry-on to the other shoulder.
Buffy sighed and turned away from the entrance to the gangway. She sat on the nearest orange plastic chair and dug through her knapsack for her cell-phone. She may as well make the call before she lost her nerve.
It was barely dawn in England, but Buffy had no doubt that Willow would be up, pacing restlessly. Tara’s death, although three years past now, still kept Willow up and wandering most nights. Not even Kennedy’s brief stay in Willow’s life and bed had changed that.
Buffy listened to the familiar transatlantic double ring. Then: Willow’s even more familiar voice.
Buffy laughed. “How did you know?”
“It’s always either you or Xander at this hour. Where are you?”
“At the airport in LA,” Buffy said.
“Are you coming back to England?”
“New York then?”
There was a pause.
“What happened, Buffy?”
“I saw Angel.”
“Well, I saw Wesley first and he confirmed what I guess I knew all along, and what I suspect you knew all along, too,” Buffy said, although there was no rancour in her voice.
“I didn’t want to keep a secret from you, Buffy. I know that secrets lead to all sorts of bad stuff, like remember Ford?”
“I remember and I’m not mad. At least I’m not mad at you,” Buffy said.
“Don’t be mad at Angel, either, Buffy. He was just worried about you and he was trying to respect your wishes, although I guess he gave up on that, eh?”
“It just seems to me that after all these years he’d have more patience,” Buffy said.
“So now what?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted. “He came to see me this morning, but I didn’t know what to say to him.”
Willow could offer no advice to her friend. She understood Buffy’s confusion and she wasn’t sure that a heart to heart with Angel would make the past few years miraculously resolve themselves. On the other hand, Willow knew that maybe all Buffy needed was someone to listen to her. More than anyone, Angel was Buffy’s equal.
“Maybe you should try again,” Willow suggested.
The loud speaker announced the final call for her flight to New York, but Buffy knew with certainty that she wouldn’t be on it.
“Then if you could just sign this,” Fred stopped to point, “and this, I’ll get out of your hair.”
Angel scrawled his signature across the two lines Fred had indicated and set the pen down on his desk. “So everything is okay?”
Fred smiled warmly. “Everything is wonderful, Angel. The labs, the equipment, the technicians and the research assistants, it’s more than I could have ever hoped for and we’re really making progress with a lot of the projects. I think you’ll be really pleased, at least I hope you will.”
“I’m sure I will,” Angel said. “Is there anything else?”
“No. No, that’s everything,” Fred said. She gathered up the papers and slipped them back into the file folder she was carrying. “Are you okay, Angel?”
Angel stood. He was tired, no question. At least when he hadn’t had contact with Buffy he could pretend that a meeting was imminent. Now, having seen her, he could no longer imagine a reunion. She’d seemed like a ghost to him, her feelings as transparent as vapor.
“I’m good, thanks, Fred.”
“Good. Okay, then, I guess I’ll be going.”
Fred headed for the door and paused just before she stepped through the threshold. “Angel,” she said, turning to face her friend and employer. “I just hope you know that we all support you. That if you needed anything we’d help.”
Brown hair swirling in her wake, Fred left Angel’s office.
Angel sat back down at his desk and pulled open the top drawer. A bottle of Glenfiddich rattled against the mahogany and Angel pulled it out. He twisted off the top, tipped the bottle back and took a long swallow. He hadn’t fed since the morning and he felt the pleasant sensation of the liquor traveling through his thin veins. He closed his eyes and tipped the bottle again.
“I always wondered what it would be like to drive a man to drink.”
Angel’s eyes shot open. Surely he wasn’t drunk after only two swallows of scotch. The hallucination moved closer.
He lowered the bottle to the desk and sat forward. “I thought you were going to New York,” he said.
“I was. I am,” Buffy said, sitting in the chair in front of Angel’s desk. “Nice digs,” she added, surveying the room with an appraising eye.
“Thanks,” he said. He reached for the cap from the bottle and then before screwing it back on he said, “Did you want some?”
Buffy shook her head.
“Look,” she started, “I just couldn’t leave things the way they were. I just don’t want you to be worried about me.”
“I wasn’t worried…”
Buffy cut him off with a meaningful glare.
“Ok. I was a little bit worried,” Angel conceded. “I had every right to be.”
“I can look after myself, Angel. You know that. You know that better than anyone else.”
“You just seem…”
“I’m not trying to be patronizing,” Angel said, “and God knows I can do that in my sleep. It’s just that over the past few months, when I’ve seen you with Wesley, you haven’t seemed happy.”
Buffy shrugged. “What’s that?”
“You used to be happy.”
“Weren’t you? Ever?”
Buffy met Angel’s eyes across the gleaming desk and nodded.
“Well you have more reasons to be happy now than not,” Angel said. “You kicked The First’s evil ass all over Sunnydale and back, you saved the day again. Dawn and Willow and Giles and Xander are alive.”
“Anya’s dead. And Spike.”
“A war has casualties, Buffy, you know that.”
“Did you know that the amulet would kill him?”
Angel paused. Was that what this was all about? Was Buffy punishing him for Spike’s death?
“No, Buffy, I didn’t. But if you had known would you have chosen any differently?”
Buffy considered her answer and for a second, she even considered lying to him, but he’d see the truth in her eyes, he always had.
Then Angel had to ask the question. “Is it because of Spike? Is that why you seem so sad to me, to everyone?”
Buffy stood up and Angel immediately feared that he had said too much, that Buffy would bolt for the door and he’d never see her again. His patience was frayed and he itched to touch her.
“I’m sorry. It’s not my business,” he said, moving to join her at the window.
“How is this possible,” Buffy asked, indicating the fading sunlight coming through the glass and caressing Angel’s face without causing any damage.
“It’s necrotempered glass.”
“I take it back, Buffy,” Angel said. “What I said about this not being my business. The last time I saw you I asked whether Spike was your boyfriend and you said that he was in your heart. But you also said that you needed…”
“I know what I said,” Buffy said, cutting Angel off before he reminded her of her ridiculous cookie dough analogy. “You look pretty in the light.”
“Stop changing the subject,” Angel said firmly.
“Why did you come here, Buffy, if you’re not going to talk to me?”
“I told you. I don’t want you to worry about me,” Buffy said, turning her face up to meet Angel’s expectant eyes.
“Well, you haven’t given me one damn reason to stop worrying with this little visit,” he whispered. He reached out a hand and laid it against Buffy’s cheek. Her skin was warm and soft and Angel felt the electric charge of touching her pulse through his arm.
That did it. His name on her lips for the first time undid him and he bent forward and kissed her with a hunger that he hadn’t known still existed in him. There was only the briefest hesitation before Angel felt Buffy’s mouth move against his, her lips opening to welcome his tongue. Angel couldn’t resist the invitation.
She groaned against his mouth and he pressed against her, pushing her back a little so that she was leaning against the window. He knew that she’d be able to feel him, feel his need, and he didn’t care. He hadn’t touched another woman since the last time he’d seen Buffy. It was too long. He was wound tighter than any man should have to endure.
He lifted his hand and pulled the elastic from the end of her sloppy braid, sliding his fingers through her hair to loosen it. Then he trailed his fingers over the barely visible proof of their coupling, the union that was almost more significant than their lovemaking. Buffy had given him her blood willingly, had pulsed under him as he’d drunk and just thinking about it aroused Angel even more. He broke the kiss and stepped back.
“I want…” he stopped.
“I know,” she said. “It’s why I don’t…”
“Shhh,” he said, pressing a finger against her kiss-swollen lips. Taking her hand he led her to a door at the back of the office. The room was murky, but Buffy could make out a bed and she stopped.
“Sometimes I don’t make it home,” Angel explained.
“I can’t. We can’t.”
Angel swept her up into his arms and smiled, his teeth gleaming white in the dim room. “We can. I can.”
Settling her gently on the bed, Angel sat beside her and took her hands in his. “There are certain perks to running an evil law firm,” he said.
Buffy pressed her lips together. “And you didn’t tell me? How could you keep something like this from me,” she said angrily.
Angel shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe that you’re pissed off at me. I wasn’t the one who made it clear that I didn’t want to talk. I would have told you if you’d let me come near you. Goddamn it, Buffy.”
“It’s just that, well, this is big, Angel.”
“Maybe. But it couldn’t be the reason you came to me.”
Buffy closed her eyes.
“I’ve made mistakes in the past, Buffy. You know that better than anyone else. After seeing you that last time in Sunnydale I felt hopeful. You said that maybe in the future, and I thought you just needed a little time.”
“And you said you’d wait.”
“I did wait,” Angel said quickly.
“How long since you’ve known?”
“Since Sunnydale. I’ve known since then.”
“Angel, why didn’t you say something?”
“What? What could I say? ‘Gee, honey, I know that you’ve got a big battle ahead of you and you might not make it and, shit, I might not make it, but just thought you should know, my soul is anchored.’ Would that have helped given all that was going on?”
“No. Maybe not,” Buffy conceded. “But after. You could have told me after.”
“When? You made it patently clear that you needed space and like I told you, I’m not getting any older.”
“So, what happened? Why now?”
“You’ve been drifting aimlessly since Sunnydale, Buffy. You’ve seemed purposeless to me. I know, there are lots of Slayers out there to help shoulder the responsibility but I don’t care how many Potentials there are, Buffy, there’s only one of you. You’re not one of the masses, you’re special. Whether you think you do or not, you need a mission.”
“And what? You think if I have sex with you, I’ll suddenly have a reason to live?” Buffy asked sarcastically.
“Jesus,” Angel said, getting up off the bed and moving across the room. “I don’t deserve that.”
Buffy dropped her head and stared at her unadorned fingers. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Angel moved back across the room and knelt in front of Buffy. “This isn’t about sex, Buffy. It was never about sex. Not even when I left the first time.”
Buffy met Angel’s eyes and acknowledged the truth of his statement. “I know.”
“Do I want to make love to you? Yes. Do I need to? Always. If I can’t, does it change the way I feel about you? No. Never.”
“I know that, Angel.”
“Ultimately, I want what’s best for you. My actions don’t always bear that out, I admit it, but it’s true.”
“Yes, you can be a little heavy-handed sometimes,” Buffy said with a smile.
“I know. I don’t know how you mortals manage; I’m 250 and change and I still screw it up.”
“So, what do you think is best for me?” Buffy asked.
“A mission. Work to do. You’ve spent a lot of your life fighting the good fight, but you’ve spent the last two years going from place to place sleeping on people’s couches. Even someone with no ambition, Xander for example, would find that tiresome after a while,” Angel said.
“Xander’s changed. We all have.”
Angel stood up and joined Buffy on the bed. “I guess I still have Xander issues.”
“I’m sorry,” Angel said, his eyes darkening.
In an instant, Angel’s mouth was on hers again, effectively cutting off any protest and taking her breath away. He eased her back onto the bed and felt himself harden again when he felt her hands slide over his shoulders and into his hair.
He smoothed her cheek with his thumb. He eased himself over so that he could move his hand down, tracing the column of her throat, the bony ridge of her collar bone, the gentle swell of her breast, the sloped plane of her rib cage, the sharp knob of her hip, her muscular thigh. He broke his kiss and searched out her eyes, watching them turn from hazel to green.
“May I?” Angel asked, indicating the buttons on Buffy’s blouse.
She nodded, licking her suddenly dry lips.
Deftly, Angel undid the tiny buttons. Buffy watched his long elegant fingers slide the buttons from their casings and she was reminded, suddenly, of the man in the bar. She hadn’t kissed any man since she’d last kissed Angel. Sometimes, like she had when she’d met Wes the previous night, she fantasized about meeting someone new, someone who didn’t know anything about her or her past, but Angel was right, she was special. An ordinary man would never do.
“Oh,” she said, when Angel slid his fingers into the opening of her blouse, sliding the material off her fevered skin. His fingers were so gentle, so assured. She felt her nipples pucker against the satin of her bra and she arched her back, inviting his touch.
More than anything, Angel wanted to linger over Buffy’s beautiful body, to worship it. He wanted to draw the experience of loving her out, to wring every last drop of desire from her, pushing her to the edge but never quite over it until she screamed for him. But Angel knew his own body well enough to know that tonight that wasn’t going to happen.
He unsnapped her bra, baring her creamy breasts; he slid the zipper of her jeans down and then stood, pulling the soft denim down her legs, taking her panties with them. Buffy’s red leather mules were already on the floor, and Angel dropped the pants on top of them. Then, while she watched raptly, he pulled his shirt over his head, undid his pants, toed off his shoes and was, suddenly, hard and naked before her.
Buffy sat up and leaned forward, wrapping her hot mouth around the smooth head of Angel’s rigid manhood. He groaned out loud, his knees tipped forward, and his hands rested on her shoulders.
“Jesus, Buffy,” he said.
Cupping his heavy sac, Buffy began to slide her mouth up and down Angel’s shaft wetly. He tasted of earth and water. He seemed familiar, although she had never done this before. She widened her mouth to accommodate his girth, opened her throat to allow him deeper access, but he was still too big and the thought of him in her made her ache with anticipation.
Abruptly, Angel pulled back. “No,” he said. “Not like this.”
“Okay,” Buffy said. She eyed his rigid phallus and lay back on the bed, waiting for him to join her. Instead he fell once more to his knees, hooking his hands around her knees and pulling her down the bed so that her center was at the bed’s edge.
“It’s alright,” Angel whispered. He ducked down, lifting her legs over his shoulders and pulled her closer, close enough to blow cool air across her quivering mound.
Angel dipped his head and drew his tongue up through Buffy’s moist curls. She shuddered around him and he stopped.
“Please,” she begged tremulously.
Angel parted her with his fingers, exposing her tiny bud. This was why he loved her: This single act that revealed her vulnerability to him, this willingness to expose her weaknesses, to him. He loved her strength, of course he did, but a bigger part of Angel wanted to protect her, to be the person to offer her the one place where she could go and feel safe. He’d been waiting almost two years to be that place.
Holding her open, he grazed his teeth against her clit and relished the vibrations the simple act caused. He flattened his tongue and licked her from top to bottom. Again. She pushed forward and he obliged, drawing her into his mouth and sucking. He knew the minute her orgasm began, could taste the difference, could feel her heartbeat race and he opened his eyes, reaching up over the beautiful landscape of her body to watch her face.
When her breath had quieted, Angel lowered her legs and slid up the bed.
“Open your eyes,” he instructed.
Angel positioned himself between Buffy’s legs and slid into her. She didn’t flinch, but Angel could feel her body stretching to make way for the intrusion. Her eyes widened and narrowed, but didn’t close.
“Stay with me,” he said.
“I never left you. Not really,” Buffy said.
When Angel began to move, to reclaim what had been lost to him for so long, Buffy went with him. She took what he offered and gave up her ghosts. She arched into his magnificent body, pulling him more tightly against her with her legs, which she had wrapped around the small of his back. She kissed him, hungrily, and wept at the loss of his mouth on hers. And when his orgasm came, barreling out of the dark like a train from a tunnel, Buffy went along for the ride.
In the silence that followed, Buffy contemplated all the reasons why she had stayed away from Angel and Angel thought about why he had ever let her go in the first place. They didn’t speak. They waited, in the darkness, for the light.
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