"Maybe people like us aren't meant to, you know, have that."
"Angel," she insists softly, "there are no people like us."
Two hours later:
A shimmering tide of raven-dark hair cascades over her back as she kneels on the grassy bank. It cloaks her as she leans over the water’s edge, bent as if searching for treasure or the jewel of her reflection. Dusk begins its long, slow descent, casting vermillion shadows over her outstretched arms, turning the water the color of unshed blood.
She kneels in starlight, reaches into the stream, and laughs.
Light rapping on the door rouses Angel from his restless nap, and it takes him a long moment to realize that he is still seated on the pewter suede sofa, chin resting on his fist, face turned eastward, toward the Valley. Shaking off the stupor, he rises and finds that the meal Cordelia requested has arrived.
“I’m dying for Italian” she’d said, rolling her eyes heavenward and reciting a litany of must-haves. “Rock shrimp risotto. Veal piccatta. Oh, and get some of those little meat roll things. Bracciole? Those. Don’t forget the pasta. Angel hair, not fettuccine. You pick the wine. And surprise me with dessert. No boring tiramisu. You ravaged Italy, use your imagination.” With that she’d gone off to take a shower.
It’s all there, on a long cart swathed in brilliant white linen. China plates. Whisper-thin crystal goblets. Sterling chafing dishes heaped with food. Two silent W&H staffers glide in behind the wagon and follow Angel’s pointed finger to the middle of the living area. When they glide out again, tables have been set, complete with low sprays of pale freesia and roses the color of a skinned knee.
For the first time in years, Angel’s stomach rumbles. After examining every menu item on the serving board without taking a bite, he pauses at the dessert plate, removes its ruby dome, and appraises the neat stack of miniature rum cakes it reveals. There’s one on the bottom that won’t disturb the symmetry of the pile, so he pops it in his mouth and lets it melt there. He knows what the ingredients are from a long-ago memory, but wonders if he is really tasting them. Egg yolks. Mascarpone. Almond. Pistachio.
“Honey. Definitely honey,” he thinks.
He realizes he can taste the rum, too, and swallows hard, drawing it from the cushion of sponge cake and custard on his tongue.
And she is there, in the alcove, threading her fingers through damp curls, watching him.
“This is a first,” she says, almost reverently. “You like pastry.”
Angel cannot speak. If he swallows again he will choke, or spew what’s left of the silken treat all over both of them. He holds the remainder of the cake in his mouth and waits until the sight of her -- in one of his black cashmere pullovers and nothing else -- registers beyond his amygdala.
It could take awhile.
“Ooh, baby babas,” she sighs, crossing to take a closer look at the sweets. “Knew I could trust you.”
Three kinds, he tries to say, but it sounds like “Fee kunks.”
Cordelia is scrutinizing a satin embossed place card. “Valentino. You’re a lot looser with a buck now. Maybe that’s something I should thank this…this place for.” She looks up, frowning. “Or not.”
Angel points to one of the silver warming trays, astounded by his inability to string words to form sentences. In the fraction of a second before he speaks, he thinks, I’m so tired.
“They didn’t have rock shrimp tonight, so I ordered the saffron risotto instead.”
He doesn’t pull away when Cordelia touches his outstretched palm. She laces her fingers in his, as if about to waltz. So he doesn’t resist the impulse and takes her waist, lifts her slightly, leans in, and pulls her into a languid box turn.
As he moves her the exhaustion vanishes. He hasn’t slow danced in five years; hasn’t waltzed in fifty, yet it comes back to him as though he’s done it every night of his life. He lets the motion reveal one of the few sweet secrets he has left: he can dance, and dance well.
She is awake and laughing in his arms. Eyes alight, smile brighter than moonlight, cheeks flushed with surprise and pleasure, and she is looking at him as though he’s hung the Pleiades. In a moment of stunning clarity, Angel realizes that Cordelia is right.
There are no people like them. They haven’t missed the moment; they are in it.
She’s right, he thinks. I am a dumbass.
He lifts her a little higher, locks his gaze to hers and lets himself drift in the darkness there.
“Ta tu go halainn,” he whispers, falling into his oldest habit. Forgetting he is anything other than 26, all beating heart and heated loins, forgetting that he ceased to be Liam centuries ago with death’s needles sunk deep in his jugular and the unforgiving smack of cobblestones on his knees. Forgetting that there will be another moment in his brutal, endless life.
“You go haul yourself,” she gasps, delighted. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? Go faster? Rent a U-Haul?”
It feels good to laugh, and Angel does, until Cordelia wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him, soft and honeyed and not unlike sweet dark rum. Maybe a hundred kisses follow, maybe a thousand. They don’t stop to count, not even when they find themselves tangled as one on the pearl gray suede armchair, Cordelia’s legs wrapped around his waist, her mouth on his neck.
“What does that mean?” she asks, breathless.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, and repeats the mantra again and again until he comes.
They don’t make love in Angel’s bed until they have exhausted the other surfaces in the suite. (Out of deference to the overpriced catering they leave the dinner table undisturbed.)
Once there, Angel drifts off, his cheek to her hipbone, cupping her sex with long fingers, claiming her even in sleep.
The broadsword’s edge reflects the last sliver of daylight, gleaming against the gathering clouds. The blade spins, then settles in the grassy bank, point buried in a thatch of silver-backed clover. Doyle kneels next to the weapon, runs a finger down the shaft, whistles through his teeth.
“Sar alainn,” he whispers to the washer woman, still bent over the darkening river. She raises a scrap of carnelian satin, then plunges it into the current. Doyle’s eyes flash demon red as he looks at Angel, in the next instant they are quicksilver, cold. “The sexual imagery’s kinda trite, with the sword and all,” he confesses, reaching to touch her hair as she worries the fabric in and out of the water, against unseen rocks. “But she is magnificent. A real stiffener, like I said.”
Angel sees the maiden from behind, sees the shadowed muscles in her back flex as she works, watches a gleaming rivulet of sweat creep down her bare back, leaving a shining trail that bisects the tattoo at the base of her spine, separating day from night. He feels himself swelling with desire, wants to surrender yet again, bury himself deep in her as she toils, wants to hold her breasts as she labors, wants to anoint his palms with the moisture that pools between them.
Doyle runs the flat of his hand against the sword’s blade and coats it in viscous black blood. “Why doesn’t it surprise me that you’d never settle for anything less than fucking the Morrigan?”
Angel isn’t sure whose voice he hears as he escapes the dream’s grip to find Cordelia settling herself down on his distended cock with a satisfied sigh. Slender fingers touch his mouth as she whispers for him to “shush, baby.”
“Too good to waste,” she moans, slipping her finger between his parted lips as he gasps, sure of nothing. “Too good.”
The washer pounds the garment against a pale granite mound. The sound it makes is like skin on skin, slapping and sighing. Angel recognizes the shirt. It was part of a too-extravagant gesture, the only way he knew to win her back. She called the clothes her “all-is-forgiven” wardrobe.
“Cordy,” he whispers, reaching for the sodden blouse. The washer offers it to him and he realizes it drips not with water but with blood. Bile rises in his throat as he forces his eyes away from the bloodied rag to her face, ancient and terrifying. Fearsome Morrigan, come to choose the next soldier to fall.
This time when he wakes, Angel is alone. Panic overwhelms every heightened preternatural sense; there is nothing he can feel but blind terror. He bounds out of the bed, senseless, and aims his sleep-weighted body toward a shaft of amber light seeping in from another room.
It’s not until he rounds the corner and sees his lover perched on the toilet that he realizes he is running, and he stops, gripping the rim of a marble and glass sink for balance.
Cordy squints up at him from beneath tousled locks, then yawns. “I need a minute,” she tells him, voice echoing in the cavernous stone and glass bathroom.
It occurs to Angel that he is no longer locked in a nightmare. Cordelia is very much alive, evidenced by the sound of water hitting the bowl beneath her. He scratches his head, straightens. Waits for the nausea to pass.
“I’m having the best pee of my life,” she confesses. “I love you, but I’m not going to rush it.” She waves a handful of toilet paper at him. “To hell with the cars and the Kandinsky, honey. They woulda had me with the super-quilted 4-ply. They probably sacrifice small virgin bunnies and spin the cotton out of their tails to make it, but…”
Angel supports himself against the wall as the room blurs out of focus. He hears Cordy wash up, then feels her warmth as she presses against him, trailing kisses over the place where his heart once beat. “Been a long day,” he says, his voice ragged.
“Been a good day,” she reminds him. “Maybe the best.”
Angel’s thoughts flash back to the washer at the ford, and he understands.
He knows better not to promise her another day like this one. Instead, he kisses her brow and takes her to his bed, where he can watch her sleep in the last hour before dawn.
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