Between safety and ruin
Author: Jenny Haniver
Summary: AU set during Buffy's post-resurrection meeting with Angel.
Notes: This story is for procasus who requested many things that would spoil the story if I wrote them here. Thank you to Ares for the beta.
It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Sun Tzu
The dirt of the grave still clings to her when she sees him at the halfway point. He is waiting for her outside the coffee shop as if he expects her to stand him up. As if she is still dead and this entire meeting might be a cruel joke orchestrated by Xander and Willow.
Her eyes see past him into the shadows. "He is still--too still." Nothing that reminds her of living or dying or passion (or heaven). She shuts down her thoughts ruthlessly.
This is necessary. She remembers loving him.
He remembers mourning her. He reaches out tentatively. Soon they are touching. Beyond the grave dirt and the shadows surrounding him, she can smell the lingering reek of happiness. He found peace without her, and her final rest has been ripped away.
She pulls her hand back from his touch and he recoils as if she has punched him (again) like that time so long ago with Faith. Blood and ashes in her mouth. She can barely look at him.
“You're alive,” he says numbly. The words fall flat.
She stares at him. “Sometimes I'm not sure. Sometimes I think the grave is just letting me out for the weekend and I want to go back.”
He is weaker than she remembers. He can't look at her and absorb this. She remembers when he was older and wiser. He tried to slow them down, to stop the train wreck, to leave her before he destroyed everything. Now he is a timeless folly, a vampire with a soul who cracks bad jokes. She can smell the happiness on him like something rotting in the garbage that no one has remembered to take out.
She remembers loving him. Bleeding for him. But she has nothing left. Only the bitter residue of resentment remains.
“It was either safety or ruin,” she tells him. “I wish you had destroyed me instead. The slow dismal burn of not seeing you was worse than knowing that I was the one person who could never make you happy, because the whole world, my world depended on it.”
“I wish someone would tell me why I had to be punished for your sins--why I couldn't be happy because of all the people you killed.”
“Buffy.” It's torn from him with tortured agony. She's not looking at him anymore. She ignores the interruption completely.
“I went to hell with you, Angel. And you came back. And you *left* me. I died a million times and I could never take you with me.”
His face is struggling to process this rapid-fire information. From agony to defeat to blazing anger.
“You selfish bitch.”
She looks back at him calmly as if they're discussing the weather.
“You think this is easy for me?” he chokes out.
She tilts her head, looking at him again, studying his face for an answer.
“No,” she says finally, after a long pause, “but you want it to be--that's why you left me.”
“Not for me and my happiness and my sunshine filled days. Obviously!” She shakes her head angrily as if these thoughts are wasps circling her.
“You knew what I was--you saw the darkness. And it was too complicated, too hard for you to imagine dealing with that every day, and still being the hero you wanted so desperately to become, so you left.”
He opens his mouth again, his angry protests ready. “I would have given *anything* to be able to be with you as a man, Buffy,” his voice is low and mean, “but I couldn't.”
She places both hands on the table. Gripping the edges to stop them from flying at his face. “I remember the day, Angel.”
Her gaze never waivers.
“The day you took away from me.”
She pushes the chair back and all but runs from the cafe. Angel starts to follow her, only to be stopped by the owner who is interested to know whether he is planning to pay for their coffee.
By the time he reaches the parking lot, she is nowhere in sight. Her mother's SUV (her SUV now) is still there, so she hasn't left.
That conclusion is confirmed by the sharp blow to the back of his head. He's too surprised to react quickly enough, and she's stronger than he's ever known. Is it because she died and came back? Or is it just that he's never seen her this pissed off?
His last thought before he sinks into unconsciousness is that happiness was over-rated. Feeling her fists beat him into oblivion, her arms cradling him as he goes, why had he every thought he could belong to the world more than to this dark creature pummeling him? If this is his last moment of existence, he is glad that it belongs to her.
He is relieved when he wakes up, and also disappointed. She is right that he is afraid. Dying has always been easy. But living, really living, is complicated.
The chains rattle together as he raises his head. Not the first time he's awoken this way, not even the first time with her.
She is standing in front of him, watching. Her hands on her hips. He can smell the vanilla perfume covering something earthier, the dirt from her grave. The vanilla is new., which means she's had a shower.
“You're mine,” she tells him. No time wasted on the preliminaries.
He rattles the chains deliberately as he balances his weight on his feet. He's not too badly hurt to stand, but the chains are strong. She's not playing.
She smiles. “Are you done testing the waters?” she asks mockingly.
Her smile is closer to a sneer. He hasn't seen a real smile since they met in the coffee shop.
“Ready to jump in?” she continues.
He raises his arms wide, as if preparing to be crucified, or inviting her embrace.
“I'm not going anywhere.”
She slips closer, so that her breath caresses his face as she utters words too horrible to come from the girl he used to know.
“I've dreamt about this since we first met,” she confesses. Her eyes are hard, but he has no doubt that it's true.
“I've wanted to claim you and tie you down and I've wanted to die for you--with you”
His eyes close and his head bows. The weight is unbearable. It's everything he never wanted for her. It's the opposite of what she meant to him.
He must be saying that out loud, foolish as that is, because she smiles again and it's cold and hard, but at least it's not mocking.
“That's exactly my point,” she says, turning away from him.
She whirls to face him again so quickly he's dizzy from following her with his eyes. It occurs to him that he's weak because he hasn't eaten. It made sense at the time. He was going to see her. There was no time to spare. He remembered clawing his way out of his own grave, but he couldn't imagine that his girl would ever be this far gone.
“You wanted peace the same way that I did,” she snaps. His attention is back on her face, the angry lines of her muscles whipped into a furious frenzy.
“For you, it was smelling my blood on the sheets.”
He cringes at the way she's cheapening that night, but he can't argue, he can't stop listening.
“For me it was always being able to lay down my sword--to have it finally be over--to know the world didn't need me anymore.”
She sighs, as if the anger has finally gone out of her (doubtful, but the momentary peace is a balm).
“I loved you,” she says and there is no smile, no anger, just the innocence he tore to shreds.
“I wanted to lose myself in you,” she continues. “I know you can understand that.”
It hurts to see her this way. But it hurts more not to look. She is not his golden girl, or his destiny, or his reward. She is a young girl bearing the weight of the world, who has clawed her way through the dirt to return to him and he was ready to push her away. For what?
He's saying this out loud again, because she answers. “You dumped me for Cordelia and your shiny new friends in LA,” she says pitilessly.
“They'll look for me,” he warns her. She smiles again, and this time it's real, but her words are no less chilling.
“Let them try,” she assures him, “'ll kill them all if I have to.”
“You knew Cordelia in high school,” he reminds her. “She was your friend.”
Buffy laughs softly, “that girl died, Angel, and if you're smart you'll get to know the new version pretty quickly. I don't make idle threats, and no one messes with my boyfriend.”
“So we're dating now?” he asks her using his deepest deadpan. He rattles the chains softly as he rests his back against the wall. “I guess it goes without saying that we're kinky.”
He's retreated into the zen-like demeanor that used to impress her.
She moves in front of him, so close that her lips brush against his when she answers.
“There are so many things we haven't tried yet, lover, I hope you're up for it.”
She looks down and he knows that whatever he might want to feel, he is still at least one-half demon and the demon is drinking this in.
The rest of him feels like he has died and gone to hell...again. Miserable flashbacks of torments that were only bearable--no, survivable--because he knew the real Buffy would never be consumed with such darkness.
He can smell the whiff of burning sulfur and feel the crack of her whip. But when he opens his eyes, she is sitting quietly, watching him.
“I'm going to fuck you,” she says.
“Well, you'd better get on with it. The longer I go without blood, the less I'll be able to fulfill your fantasies.”
He is drawing on years of practiced control to keep his voice even, but his blood is racing, his body screaming.
She smiles again, gently, and traces the curve of his cheek with her cupped hand. He leans in to meet her without conscious decision. She is still home. She will always be home. Even when the walls are collapsing and the rafters are on burning.
When she kisses him, it's liquid heat, molten fire that burns his love until it melts--running down his skin like tears for the one person he has loved in 250 years. She swallows the pain and exhaustion, but not the hunger. He can feel her pulse calling out to him like a demented beacon. She traces his throat as if she can hear his thoughts.
“I won't stop you,” she says, “if you want to disappear in me.”
He clings to her, whether to stop this or hurtle into it headlong, he doesn't know. He doesn't push her away, even when he feels her small insistent hands reaching down to remove the barrier of clothing separating them.
There is no fumbling or shyness; she has slept with other men and it shows.
His longing for her, which he thought he had buried under friendship and shanshu and prophecies and daily trivia, rears through him like a sleeping serpent. He awakens, and there is only her. His golden girl, his goddess, his warden and executioner.
She frees his manhood, but not his arms or his legs. She rips his clothing away where the chains impede her from removing them. She sinks onto him, dripping wet and angry again. Furious lines crossing her face--raging, reckless energy as she envelops him and rides him with the fury of a demon. He thrusts up and into her--again and again. He is brutal, but she is more so. His chest, his throat, his arms, he knows already, will be covered in bites and bruises from her lovemaking. Because only love could hurt this much.
He struggles against the chains to reach her with his arms, to hold her, but she shakes him off. Gasping and screwing him into a bloody broken wreck. If he were human, this would have killed him, either the blood loss or the pace, which would have broken his neck. She pumps faster and harder, until finally he can't hold back. His cold wet semen fills her and her pace becomes wilder--sliding up and down like a broken merry-go-round. And then she gasps for the last time and collapses onto his chest. He can't wrap his arms around her, but he can just barely stroke the ends of her hair.
She lifts herself up, eventually, and languidly shifts to face him.
He wants to return to himself, to be the zen master in control of his feelings. He wants to say, “what now, Buffy?” and force her to face what she's doing before it's too late, before the depths of his despair over his lost golden girl give way to something resembling happiness that she's here in his arms (or as close as he can come to that). Instead he watches transfixed as she licks the spatters of blood marring his ravaged flesh.
He wants to recoil. To tell her that he doesn't want this. If she were smiling again (that horrible cold death of a smile) he might be able to do it. But she looks so young, and sad, and serious licking his wounds. It's easy to forget that she is only 20 years old—less than a tenth of his existence. The slayer is older--an ancient animal like him--infecting the girl until she is ancient in her baby doll skin. She keens softly for less than the space of a second--so briefly he might have imagined it. Then she looks into his eyes and raises her fists again. The darkness is almost instant, this time.
When he wakes again he is weak and sore. The wall is no longer supporting him. It takes a moment for him to place himself, to realize that he is in a bed. Even longer to understand why the stale, abandoned air smells familiar. He hasn't been back here since he returned from hell. Without his soul, he could torment her and root through his former possessions, with his soul forced back into unwilling flesh, he dreaded the thought of returning to his first Sunnydale residence.
“Do you remember this place?” she asks him.
Of course he does. And of course she's waiting. Watching to see when his eyes open, for the moment when he is ready to be her plaything again.
The man reviles her. This thing pretending to be his love. The smell of sulfur that clings to her. The grave dirt that she can't wash off.
But he is not a man. And his body hums with pleasure. The demon traitor waiting, wanting. Hoping for a little pain (his or hers--doesn't matter) begging him to lose himself, to set it (him) free.
“You don't understand, do you?” his mocking is for the demon as much as it is for her.
“Perfect happiness isn't the same as a quick fuck--you're gonna have to do a lot better, Buffy.”
“I love you,” she tells him. “I don't want you to leave me.”
It's hollow and empty--a husk of the passion they used to share, but he sees her. Through the darkness of the unlit apartment, through the shadows that followed her from the grave. She is not his golden girl, but she is Buffy, and he loves her.
“I'll never leave you,” he swears to her, “even if you kill me.”
It's fervent, and from the depths of his soul he knows that it's true. It all belongs to her. His soul, his skin, the bones that give him shape and direction. The flesh that feeds her or that is hers to toss away.
He is saying this out loud and it is a vampire love poem. His body and his blood that will be given up for her.
She looks at him with eyes that are too hollow. Too empty. She wasn't raised catholic. She doesn't understand what he is offering.
He raises his arms tentatively. They are not bound or chained; he is uninhibited. He tears the flesh at the base of his throat and draws her gently to him.
“Drink,” he says quietly. An invitation or a command.
She tilts her head back and looks at him carefully. The demon, the man, the one thing she loves more than the world or herself.
“I won't be like you,” she tells him.
“I won't be either,” he responds gently, ignoring her attempt to stall, ignoring her silent protests.
She still resists him, and a slayer is too strong to force. But he knows, better than anyone, that there are other ways to dominate someone.
He traces his fingers gently down the side of her face, along her hairline. “I've wanted this too,” he confesses, “since the day we met. I've wanted to drink you and to keep you.”
His other hand is busy, pushing past the resistance of her jeans, into the wet curls tucked into her school girl panties. “Mine...forever,” he whispers.
It's a sigh of pleasure more than permission, but he doesn't stop. His fingers work the small mound of her pleasure until she throbs with need. He buries his face into her neck, tasting her pulse, smelling her strong slayer blood. He savors it (for the last time). She is so young--only 20. And she will die tonight, in his arms. And he will die of happiness that he has been the one to steal her away from all things--from her mortality, her sunshine, her watcher and her friends.
His fangs slide into her neck and she savors the greedy slurps as he drinks her down. One hand guides her mouth insistently to his throat. The other hand is still busy teasing every drop of pleasure from her.
His fangs feel like dying, like heaven. But heaven was never this good. Heaven was constant and feeble in contrast with this sharp, heavy pulling, this drawing her down into everything she's every wanted. Into him.
Heaven never made her burn and scream and she kicks out, finally, when she can't contain the heat and the pressure. If he was human, he would be dead from the force of her muscles squeezing him.
He rips away her jeans without ceremony, and he is finally inside her. Pouring into her the same wetness he is taking by the mouthful. She knows that when she wakes up again she will be dead like him, and her heart beats harder, faster, racing to join him.