Buffy was on patrol in Sunnyrest Cemetery as usual. Popping her gum noisily, she moved quickly down the well-trimmed rows of grass, rendered a sickly gray by the pale light of the new moon. She had a specific grave in mind—one that had been filled-in only that morning.
Another wild dog attack, the paper had read, and she’d snorted to herself in mixed annoyance and amusement as she gulped her coffee that morning before class. What in god’s name were the adults in this town thinking, anyway? Dog attack? Since when did wild dogs drain all the blood from bodies at the neck? Morons.
She spat out her gum and approached the grave with relaxed stealth. Newbies were so easy. No real fun at all, especially when she was really spoiling for a fight.
Since Angel had left, she’d felt…tense. Slaying took care of some of that tension, but much of it hovered, unresolved, around her like a cloud of mixed anxiety and anger. She missed him desperately. Needed him unconditionally. And he’d left her. For “her own good,” no less. She raged inwardly at being treated like a child by her once-lover, always-love. How dare he belittle what they had by suggesting that she’d be better off in the light. Moving on. The light? Yeah, right. Things were only darker since he’d left.
College hadn’t offered the instant adulthood she’d craved…instead everything seemed disjointed. She felt out of place…adrift in a sea of oppressive change. And her anchor, her compass, her reason for continuing the fight, was gone. She was alone in the raging sea and the worst part of it was that no one knew it but her.
Even fighting Angelus hadn’t been this difficult for her. Even then, she’d seen him…touched him…been able to hope. Now hope was dead. Angel hadn’t called. Hadn’t written. She wasn’t even sure if he’d remained in LA. Perhaps he was in Tibet by now or some other freighter ship destination of which she had no knowledge.
Morosely, Buffy sat against a gravestone and began flipping her stake over in her hands. Her friends just didn’t get it. Her once-Watcher couldn’t (didn’t want to) understand.
She could feel Angel. Not as a vampire, though the tingle in her lower belly whenever he was near was well nigh unbearable at times since they’d been unable to really touch. No. She felt Angel’s soul. Felt it with her own, somehow. They had shared something…something that even she, in her adolescence recognized as profound.
The dreams the First had sent them only proved it to her more fully. Though Angel didn’t…couldn’t understand that. He’d thought that seeing his past evil first hand would disgust her. Feeling the absolute joy and pleasure he’d taken in tormenting and killing his victims and their families was chilling to say the least. But Buffy’s dreams hadn’t stopped with Angelus’s actions. No, she’d felt Angel’s reactions to those terrible scenes…felt him in her soul as if she’d shared every moment.
Angel was helplessly drawn to the memory of the blood he’d spilled, it was true. He couldn’t help but yearn for the rich visceral pleasure once afforded him by the hunt. He was a predator. Buffy recognized it in him, just as she acknowledged it within herself. They were killers…both of them. She didn’t kid herself about that.
But Angel HATED what he’d done. Hated himself with such fury that Buffy had been shocked nearly senseless by the pain he was in. He fought the demon with every ounce of strength he possessed. He fought it every single day. And he atoned. And yet, no one seemed to realize it but her. Giles had never forgiven him for the actions of Angelus. Xander had never accepted him to begin with. And Willow was so clueless Buffy still wasn’t sure she’d even recognized evil when it stared her in the face.
So Buffy mourned alone. For the brave, bright, loving soul that was her Angel. For the one night of glorious love they had shared. And, her hand brushing the mark on her neck from his last embrace, she mourned the glorious body and beautiful face now lost to her forever.
She’d thought their link, the soul-bond between them, strong before she’d offered herself to him. Now, remembering the desperate, shattering pain/pleasure of him draining her body into climax, now she wasn’t sure if she was even whole anymore.
Surely Angel had taken something of her with him when he’d left. Some precious, unknown piece of her being that simply wasn’t present anymore. She had no words for what she felt and no one to tell of it, even if she could articulate it. But the feeling persisted…painful and growing more so with every passing day.
He couldn’t do it anymore, Angel thought morosely as he gulped down a tepid mug of blood while staring moodily down at the lights of the city below. He was trying, Powers help him, he really was, but the ache in his soul for the sunlit goddess he’d left behind on the hellmouth was more than he could stand any longer.
What use was he to anyone, good or evil, like this? Better to end it—to find some great evil and sacrifice himself in its destruction than to continue this useless twilight existence without the only one he could ever love. He’d tried. He’d fought who they told him to fight, he’d helped who they told him to help and he’d held tenuously to the compassion and love that she’d taught him. He’d seen what she’d suffered to save the world again and again. To offer less when he owed so much more would have been miserly and ungrateful of him.
So every night he went out into the city and saved souls and every day, trapped by sunlight in his apartment or the noxious sewers below, he felt his own soul slipping further and further into despair. Without Buffy, Angel could find no reason to go on. Without Buffy, the hope of redemption meant nothing. He’d given the best part of his soul into her keeping and then left her. It had destroyed a part of him to do so—to see the pain he’d caused yet again to the only woman he’d ever wanted to love…the only one who he seemed to hurt past bearing every time he touched her.
Angel couldn’t escape the sense memory of her greatest gift to him…couldn’t and didn’t want to forget what it had felt like to take her. Her body, crushed under his massive frame as he’d sunk fangs into that delicate throat. The first wash of hot, salty blood into his mouth as he’d sucked her life, her self, her very soul into himself…all given freely in love. It was rapture, was ecstasy, was nirvana…heaven on earth. She was the angel, not he. And she’d writhed beneath him in agony as he’d taken everything she had to give. He’d been so caught up in the power of her blood, his own pleasure at her unbelievable taste, that he’d come within a hair’s breadth of killing her—killing the only woman he’d ever loved.
That, more than anything, was the reason he’d left her. For every time he’d seen her after that, all he could think of was her taste and her small, perfect body crushed beneath him. The memory of their one night together before Angelus melded with the memory of her taste and all he could think of was combining them. To take her while he drank her, to be truly one with her, would destroy them both. If he stayed, he would take her again. He had to. Melding bodies, minds, souls together, he would crush them both in his passion. What a great “thank you” for saving his sorry unlife that would be.
But the distance wasn’t working. He ached for her and every day the demon grew stronger, screaming within him to return and take her, possess his mate, and free Angelus to torment her further.
Thus he was here. The door to the fabled oracles stood before him. His desperation had driven him to beg them for something…anything…to keep the demon at bay. Or better yet, permission to end it all. Perhaps they might be kind, perhaps there was a demon that needed killing but was too strong to die alone. That would be penance of a sort, would it not. Angel no longer cared what happened to his soul…Hell couldn’t be worse than this…he’d been there once before and he knew, deep within him, that Hell was where he belonged anyway.
He uttered the ritual incantation and the doorway opened before him. Two beings paced slowly into his vision within a classically domed room of white marble. They were blue, he realized, blue with ornate gold glyphs on their skin. One, a female, spoke to him.
“What brings you into our presence, lower being?” she asked caustically. “And what gift have you brought us?”
Angel hadn’t realized the need for a gift, though he acknowledged its appropriateness. “I, um,” he dug wildly through his pockets. He had nothing to offer, he realized and recognized the truth of his thought. He was nothing before them and could offer nothing to anyone. His glance fell to the claddagh on his finger. *No!* the demon within him hissed. But it seemed fitting, somehow, that he give up the last tangible link to his love along with his unlife, since he’d already decided that he couldn’t continue without her. *She’s better off in the light, better off without me ruining any chance of happiness she might have,” he thought, and pulled the ring from his finger decisively.
“Here,” he said, holding the ring gently in the palm of his hand. It floated across the room to land lightly in the palm of the female oracle.
“A ring,” she said. “You offer us the marriage of two souls, all the happiness you ever had, all the hope you once embraced. It is a fitting gift. We accept.”
The male oracle turned to her in consternation. “You know what he wants,” the male whispered, still loudly enough that Angel could hear. “You cannot accept a gift without payment, and you cannot pay the price he asks. Give it back.”
“It is not your decision to make, my brother,” she said, turning the ring over in her hands. It glowed there with a fire that Angel had never seen in it, and he realized that the ring truly represented everything he so desired and could never have.
“I choose whether to accept the gifts, and this is a great one indeed. But Warrior, how will you continue to fight without love, without hope, without anything for reward?”
“Please,” Angel begged, “just give me a task, a final task that you don’t want to waste another warrior on. Something…fatal. Please. I’ll go out fighting. I’m not asking for forgiveness or redemption. Just, please, let it end.” He looked down at the floor of the chamber, ashamed of his request but unable to ask anything else of them.
“Together you are strong,” the female oracle stated compassionately. “Apart, you, neither of you, cannot long survive…not sane and whole. Because you never even thought to ask for it, Warrior…because you are truly noble, humble, and sorry for all you have done, I grant you your heart’s desire.” She raised her hands before him and blue and gold light flew from her fingertips to circle him in a glowing net of energy. It tightened abruptly and sank into his pale skin, making him momentarily luminous.
He felt a preternatural frisson of almost pain and jumped involuntarily. “What…what did you do?” he asked.
“Your soul is bound. You are still needed for the fight. Go and be with your love. She needs you by her side in order to continue,” the male proclaimed.
With a thunderous clap, Angel found himself propelled out of the audience chamber and into the basement where he’d been. He shook himself, still amazed at what had happened, and then it sank in. He was safe. Safe from Angelus anyway. But how could he return to Buffy now? She’d moved on with her life, gone to college, and he was certain she’d moved on from him, as well. She belonged with someone who could give her children and a life in the sun, not with some bloodsucking monster who could dwell only in darkness. But wait…they’d said something about apart they were weak. Did that mean Buffy was in danger?
No longer conflicted, Angel ran for his car, certain of only one thing…he must protect Buffy.
Sunnyrest finished, Buffy walked slowly to the next cemetery, weariness pulling at her skin like water. The fledgling had been a late riser and she’d almost fallen asleep waiting for him. At least he wouldn’t be bothering anyone else ever again, though a new fledge would certainly spring up by tomorrow. The utter pointlessness of her continued fight was wearing at her again, and Buffy took a long moment to register the presence of a vampire in the clearing before her. It was an older one, probably about 200, and dressed in a truly awful worn velvet coat.
Buffy ran forward, stake in hand, senses alert and muscles ready for the fight, her weariness pushed aside as she concentrated on the task at hand. Parry, kick, block, swing…the violent dance progressed with predictable moves and counter moves on both their parts. Then an indefinable presence twinged at the outer edges of her mind and she lost focus for a moment trying to pinpoint it. The vampire sprang for her throat, using her distraction against her.
Buffy went down in a flash with the vampire climbing upon her in a heartbeat. She struggled against him but he’d pinned her arms and was much heavier than she. She swung her feet forward and locked them quickly around his neck, flipping him off of herself with one lithe movement, but his claw-like nails raked her neck as she did so.
Buffy lunged for his chest and staked him, then collapsed in the dust of his remains as the wounds on her throat bled. He’d nicked an artery and she pressed one trembling hand to her throat to try to hold back the crimson liquid as it poured down her neck. If she could just hold it closed for a few more moments, her slayer healing would kick in and it would scab over. Blackness pulled at her and she felt herself falling into its soft clouds. Her last thought before succumbing to it was *Angel.*
He felt her more strongly with every passing mile. Felt her bone-deep weariness and a despair that mirrored his own. She wasn’t happy. He could tell that as he crossed into Sunnydale. If she was keeping to her usual pattern of patrol, he should find her back at the dorm by now, he thought, but the room didn’t throb with her presence the way her room at home had. *It was a good thing,* he thought, that he’d at least keep in touch with Giles, though with the caveat that the former Watcher not inform Buffy of his whereabouts. At least now he knew where to wait for her.
But waiting quickly palled and his longing overcame his patience. He drove to the closest cemetery, knowing that she was, most likely, just finishing up there before returning home to sleep for her few stolen hours. Her schedule had always been impossible and, he admitted to himself, was undoubtedly more so now that he wasn’t there to help hunt.
As he approached Restfield, glancing around for any sight of her, her presence flared in him like a sudden light. Her presence and a whisper, like a sound almost out of his hearing, a whispered “Angel.” He parked the car and leaped out, eager to feast his eyes upon her golden beauty once more, then stumbled as her pain hit him, battering at his senses then abruptly and ominously ceasing completely.
He ran forward and found her face-down on blood-drenched ground, still scattered with the ash of a vampire. Grabbing Buffy by the shoulders, Angel flipped her over, revealing inch-deep, raking wounds on both sides of her neck…the source of the blood smell that had morphed him instantly to game face. The wounds were closed now, but her heartbeat was shaky and erratic to his preternatural hearing. She was in shock, he realized, the blood loss was so great.
“Buffy, beloved, hang on, please, just hang on!” he cried, scooping her into his arms and running for his car. He clutched her to him with one hand and drove with the other, reaching the hospital in record time. He rushed her into the emergency room and stood helplessly as they took her away from him, the tragic deja vu echoing in his mind.
Buffy woke slowly from the soft darkness that ensnared her. *What am I…hospital smell…oh, no, that vampire,* her hand reached for her neck and encountered bandages, which she promptly pulled off so she could feel the extent of the damage. The gashes had healed, as she’d known they would, leaving crusted scabs that were fading rapidly. *Well, I’m not dead, anyway,* she thought ruefully, then opened sleep-crusted eyes to look around her as she became aware of someone…Angel? clutching her other hand.
“Angel?” she whispered, the beloved name lilting as it always did when she uttered it.
“Buffy, my god, Buffy, I was so worried,” he said, pressing cool kisses to her hand and gazing into her eyes.
“The vamp I killed,” she smiled ruefully at him, “definitely in need of significant manicure time.”
His short bark of laughter faded as he gazed somberly at her. “Buffy, I know I left…I know I told you that I didn’t…but I can’t...I needed…I’m sorry. Tell me to go and I’ll leave you alone, now that you’re ok. I just, I had to see you again…” his voice trailed off into silence as he looked into her changeable sea-green eyes.
“Leave?” her voice wavered. “But, you just got here.” *Whining, Buffy, you’re whining at him again. No wonder he left, especially after you were such a bitch about the whole Faith thing.*
He said nothing, just looked at her as if…wait. He looked as if his heart was breaking!? “Angel, do you…would you…could you stay?” she asked, longing choking the words as she uttered them.
“If you still wanted me to, that is, I spoke to the oracles and they,” he paused, then blurted out, “they’ve bound my soul. Angelus can’t escape now…ever.” He was afraid to meet her eyes, afraid of what he might see there. He deserved rejection, derision, hate for what he had done to her, drinking her nearly to her death. He huddled into himself, despair once again clouding his mind. Then she touched him. Her hand was gentle on his face, stroking softly down to cup his chin and tug upward until he met her eyes.
“I’ve never wanted anything more in my life than to have you with me,” she whispered, and the joy that flooded his entire being was such that had his soul not been secure, Angelus surely would have been free that very second.
“Now, please, could we get out of here?” she asked. “You know how much I hate hospitals!”
Angel grinned at her and scooped her deceptively fragile form into his arms. “Your wish is my command, beloved.”
He paced too fast for merely human eyes to see straight down the corridor and out into the now-glorious night, carrying his lover gently to his car and placing her inside before climbing in himself. “Where to, Buffy?” he asked.
“Let’s go to your apartment. Let’s go home,” she replied, and his dead heart felt as if it might almost beat with the happiness that overwhelmed him.
He drove quickly through the slowly fading night and they arrived at the basement apartment that he’d never quite been able to vacate completely. Angel carried Buffy over the threshold, the moment holding immense significance to him as he reclaimed this space where he had hurt her almost past bearing the day after her birthday. His drawings and sketches were missing from the walls, as were his weapons, but the bed and armoire still waited, nestled in the cozy dark. Angel placed Buffy carefully on the couch, laughing a bit at her protests until he opened the armoire to retrieve clean sheets. He stripped and remade the bed with fussy precision as she laughed at him.
Angel turned to her, ready to simply cuddle and hold her through the night, knowing how tired she must be…how drawn she looked. There, before him, she stood, gloriously naked and smiling…her face transformed from weariness to welcome. She raised her arms to him and he moved to her, pulling her to his embrace. He kissed her, gently first and then with rising passion as all the lonely months screamed at him to simply throw her down upon the bed and thrust himself inside her in one quick motion.
He tamped down those desires for later and bent to worship her soft, full lips instead. He brushed his mouth against hers, reveling in the heat that spilled from her like a furnace. She was so alive, so perfect, so…ripping his shirt off?
Angel is wearing entirely too many clothes, Buffy thought as she gasped into the marvelous tenderness of his kiss. She needed to feel his cool hard body against her own…needed the touch of his skin like she needed air to breathe. Her hands went to the buttons of his shirt, but need demanded him now! She ripped the shirt from him with one sharp pull and dropped it heedlessly to the floor. Her hands smoothed over the muscled planes of his body, enjoying the touch of his cool skin, the perfection of his beautiful frame and holding him to her with all her considerable strength.
Angel’s unnecessary breath caught in his throat as Buffy moved her hands over him. His every nerve tingled at her touch and he gasped as she stroked up over his nipples with her little hands. Then her hands moved down to cup him through his jeans and his breathing ceased altogether.
Growling fiercely, Angel grasped his lover’s diminutive body and turned, placing her carefully on the bed. He knelt, covering her naked skin with his body as he pressed eager, desperate kisses to her lips then moved to her neck. He was, momentarily, afraid that she would flinch from him as he kissed the marks, now mere scratches, left from her earlier fight with the vampire. Instead, she sighed and he scented her arousal growing even more heated as she tilted her head and offered her neck to him.
Angel groaned into that delicate skin, laving it with his tongue and sucking gently to taste the remnants of the blood still present near the fast-healing wounds. She acted as if she *liked* this, not as if she were afraid, and he grew more confident, licking lower and caressing his Mark with his tongue.
Buffy’s reaction surprised them both as she surged upward and moaned in need. Angel’s tender kisses there were almost enough to catapult her over into orgasm without him even touching her anywhere else. Buffy gasped at the sensation and pulled him closer, once again aware that he was still half-dressed. “Angel,” she ordered, “off!”
Thinking she meant that his weight was too much to bear, Angel moved hastily to one side and yelped a little as he was violently rolled to his back. Buffy ripped the fly of his jeans open and yanked them from his hips so fast that he was naked before he knew what had hit him. Then she did, climbing him and sliding her soft, heated body against his in an intimate caress.
Angel had wanted to take it slow, wanted to spend time savoring her every taste, every touch, but Buffy was done waiting. She straddled his narrow hips and plunged herself down upon his rampant cock with one brutal motion, screaming out her pleasure as he slid inside her tight folds.
Angel nearly spilled right then, sheathed within her molten heat for the first time since that terrible, glorious birthday. Only centuries of practice and iron control prevented him from doing so.
Buffy groaned at the feeling of Angel, her Angel, stretching the tight, almost virgin confines of her body. He felt…words couldn’t describe the perfection of this moment. He was so right, within her, stretching and rubbing that hardness within her…his cold a perfect counterpoint to her heat.
Buffy pulled herself up, then plunged downward again, moaning at the pleasure that zinged through every nerve at the glorious length of him.
Angel grabbed her hips with shaky hands, staring up at her as if she were some impossible dream that he’d never believed could actually come true. Buffy smiled at him and leaned over to kiss him, her mouth soft and warm upon his cool one.
Angel rolled her with one, lithe movement, pinning her beneath him and sheathing himself even deeper in her welcoming depths. Buffy cried out in pleasure at the feeling and Angel withdrew only to thrust again. He bent his head and captured one perfect nipple between his lips, sucking it into his mouth and teasing with his tongue.
The coolness of Angel’s mouth sucking on her sensitive nipple drove Buffy headlong into orgasm, and she screamed out his name as he suckled her. He waited till she calmed a bit, then began a slow, deep movement, rocking his hips into and away from her.
Buffy clasped her legs up around Angel’s waist, pulling him ever deeper into her body and rocking up to receive him. Her hands swirled around his chest, tugging at his nipples and pulling, twisting just slightly and releasing…the tiny pain forcing his rhythm faster as he gasped for unnecessary air.
Buffy, too, was gasping, as each powerful thrust pushed her deeper into the mattress. Angel was holding nothing back, was consumed with desire for her and she for him.
They came together, shouting their completion to the heavens and riding the crest of that joyous wave until both lay together, spent, and cradled within each other’s arms.
“I love you, Angel,” Buffy whispered against his neck, pressing soft kisses to the angled plane of his jaw as she sighed in languorous wonder at the pleasure still pulsing within her heated womb.
“I love you, Buffy,” he replied, amazed anew that this glorious creature, killer of his kind could have found it within her to care for such as he.
They curled together and slept, smiles of joy on both faces and souls once despairing now dedicated anew to each other and to the fight.
The female oracle smiled at the scene and her brother scowled at her. “We shouldn’t have interfered,” he hissed, his displeasure at her quite clear.
She scoffed, turning from the orb to glare at him. “You know nothing,” she said harshly. “Without each other they would quickly lose all hope and without hope, there is nothing but despair. What use would either be to us then?”
A shining glow filled the room and they both turned in surprise. On a pedestal in the corner the ring that Angel had given as tribute was suddenly joined by another, smaller ring…one that would have been recognized instantly by the Slayer, were she to see it again. It had, once upon a time, brought her love back from Hell, though she hadn’t realized it. The shining symbols of love glowed even brighter for a moment, so bright that both oracles had to shade their eyes. Then the rings fused together, interlocked forever as the souls who had once bourn them were locked together as well, never to be parted again.
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