like never, and like always
A/N: Written for the 2010 IWRY Marathon from a prompt by Lynne. Unfortunately, I didn't quite live up to the prompt even though tkp really worked hard to get me there. Talking of angels, thanks to tkp for the beta.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and all related characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, UPN, the Warner Company, et al. I'm just taking them out for a little exercise.
Summary: Buffy and Angel between Flooded and Life Serial.
I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him
so much, but I knew what was right. I don't know
that anymore. I don't understand. I don't know
how to live in this world if these are the choices.
If everything just gets stripped away. I don't see
the point." -- Buffy Summers, BtVS: The Gift
Buffy sits in front of the cabin in a rocking chair made of ash. The cabin is small, one room with four walls. Before she was the Slayer, Buffy had a fear of being buried alive. She has had enough of walls. It might be funny if it all weren't so tragic. Pushing back against the warped floorboards stretched across the porch with her toes Buffy sets the chair into an easy rhythm. She stares out across the brief expanse of man made lawn listening to the weary creak of the rocking chair, and the heavy, anguished moan of the trees in the forest.
The air is crisp and thin
with altitude and the coolness of autumn, and Buffy shivers despite the layers
of silk, cotton, and goosedown. Light from the setting sun spills like blood
across the horizon. She knows its a trick, all bending light and dust
particles, but the color is so thick that for a moment Buffy raises her hand
and imagines that she can scoop the color from the sky. With the creeping edge
of night the howls begin; there are werewolves in the forest. Buffy thinks of
Oz and how sometimes you have to leave to save your own life.
Angel arrives with the night, well past full dark and the light of the moon hidden between Earth and Sun. The night is dense, inky black beyond the tiny pool of light cast by the lamp above the door. Animals roam between the forest and the meager glow of the light, things with four legs and claws foraging and skulking in the dark. When Angel's car swings around the blind curve leading up to the cabin Buffy is momentarily blinded by the flare of the headlights. Spots blink across her vision, her eyes struggling to re-adjust to the dark. She knows that he can see her, and she wonders what she looks like to him sitting there half-blind in the dark. He isn't even a shadow as he walks across the clearing. When Angel steps onto the porch it's as if he's always been there.
Buffy squeezes her eyes closed, wishing him nearer and wishing him away. This isn't some fairy tale. When I kiss you, you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after. Memory whispered like a promise. Signs and fortunes, prophecies that lie and what he said turned out to be absolutely true. Buffy should have known it would end like this; it was always going to end like this.
Angel sinks to his knees and reaches for Buffy like reaching for a ghost. When he touches her Buffy can feel his icy hands through the heavy fabric of her jeans. He leans up as Buffy leans down. "When you kiss me," she whispers, "I want to die." And their lips collide in the space above her knees. Buffy slides her hands through his hair, traces her fingers over his ears and waits for the moment when kissing him feels like falling. But there is no euphoria here, no bliss, heaven is eons away and Angel's skin is cold as the grave.
He withdraws reluctantly, lips clinging to hers. "Buffy," he says, softly, like saying amen. "You've been waiting. "I'm sorry."
Buffy presses her forehead to Angel's. "No matter how hard I try not to," she says. "I always seem to be waiting for you."
Angel rises in a single, fluid motion, pulls Buffy from the rocking chair and tugs her into the shelter of his arms. Burying her face into his neck, lips pressed against his Adam's apple, Buffy waits for the exhalation. Waits to breathe or shatter.
She huddles close, no warmer in the curve of his arms than she was sitting alone in the rocking chair. Heaven was, she thinks and stops, thinks of a catalogue of things instead: peace, warmth, happy endings-- because heaven was many things.
Then Angel finally says, "We should go in." Says it after he's leached away her body heat and she's begun to shiver.
The cabin is only a room with four walls, and Angel brushes near as he moves about the room, crossing back and forth to collect matches and light the kindling in the fireplace, pull blankets from the chest at the foot of the bed. Buffy stands by the door watching him, arms folded over her chest holding everything in. He barely looks at her, intent upon his self-imposed task of finding lamps and banishing the shadows into the corners of the room. When there's nothing else to do, when the lamps have been lit and the bed heaped with blankets, he cups her face and kisses her on the forehead..
"This feels like a dream," he says, staring down at the golden crown of her head.
Buffy startles at the sound of his voice and reaching hands. She stumbles, her arms still crossed.
"When Willow came," Angel says, folding her in close against his chest and murmuring into her hair. "When she told me ... and I was ... I couldn't do anything." He inhales deeply and Buffy wonders if she smells the same, wonders if he can smell the difference on her skin, where she's been or the thing that came back with her.
"You were just gone."
I was in Heaven, Buffy wants to say, but doesn't. She still hasn't figured out how to say the words, and isn't sure that she ever will. Buffy leans in, and lays her head against Angel's chest. She closes her eyes and listens for his heartbeat; there is only silence.
"You're alive," he says, and squeezes tight enough to crack her ribs. Buffy inhales sharply, eyes rolling back at the way her bones bend and ache in exquisite protest. Heat flares in her belly, a low rolling sinuous heat that spreads down her thighs.
Leaning up onto her tip-toes, Buffy presses a kiss to the underside of Angel's jaw. "I'm here now," she says.
"I'm cold. It's so cold here," she says and licks her lips. Looks up at him and swallows hard around the words pebbled heavy and sharp in her throat. "Angel."
"I know," he says and rubs his hands across the narrow width of her back, and up and down her crossed arms. "There's a fire going. It'll warm up, just give it some time. I'm sorry. I can make you some tea or coffee."
"I-I don't want tea," Buffy says, writhing gently in his arms. "I want you to hold me. Hold me tight."
Buffy presses the blunt edges of her fingertips into Angel's chest. "I want you to--" and the worry in his eyes stops her. His furrowed brow and the concern so much like Willow and Xander and Dawn with their eyes full of love and expectation that for a moment she can't breathe. Feels the air trapped in her chest and she can't make room for more. Buffy closes her eyes, closes him out because he is relieved that she is here and she wishes that he really could kill her with a kiss.
Angel reaches out to cup her face, his hand sliding over her ear and into her hair. A tear slides down her cheek and he brushes it away with his thumb. "Are you okay? When Willow came. When she told me. Something broke inside. She said you were dead. I didn't know how to survive that."
The anguish, the regret, the softness in his eyes set her teeth on edge. He gave her a pat on the back when what she wanted was her mouth bruised beneath the insistent pressure of his.
"But you did," Buffy says, digs her nails into his chest a little deeper, just enough to hear his gasp, and pulls away.
"It's okay. I mean, I didn't expect you to be all broken forever." Her voice sounds brittle and hollow even to her own ears, the words spilling uncontrollably from her mouth. "I killed you once and I moved on. I ran away and changed my name, but I moved on, eventually. I guess I sorta had it coming."
"That's not what I meant ..."
"I don't want to fight with you, Angel. That isn't why I came." Only in a way, it is. She wants him to be angry that she is here or that she died in the first place, that she jumped from Glory's Tower and sacrificed herself to save the world. She wants him to be angry that he wasn't there to save her, to stop Willow from bringing her back. What she wants is to tell him that she was happy and that now she is not, and the distance between the two is like drowning in the sea, all crashing waves and bitter salt. Buffy smiles briefly, shakes her head like shaking away cobwebs.
Buffy presses her lips to his. Angel sips at her mouth like sipping sweet wine. And Buffy wonders if he can taste the difference, the flavor of corruption like a film over her skin and tongue. When she doesn't move, doesn't fade away, Angel deepens the kiss, slides his tongue into the warm recesses of her mouth. Buffy leans hard into the kiss, draws the fullness of his lower lip into her mouth and bites down. Angel jerks, and Buffy can feel the tension in his body, feel the way he's preparing to draw away.
"Do you remember Hell," she asks.
Angel stiffens, his eyebrows drawing together as he stares down into her shadowed face. Buffy can see his thoughts churning, turning over themselves and lining up behind his eyes. There is a way that she is ready for this, and there is a way that she is not. There are two sides to this story, truth and lies, and she hasn't decided which to tell.
Her mouth bends into a tiny smile. "Don't look so concerned," she says and rolls her eyes. "I'm okay, Angel. I'm just a little out of step."
"Tell me what happened?"
Her lips curve up a little more, into a wry, half-shrug smile. "What's to tell. I died. Willow brought me back."
"Buffy," he begins to say and what's between them, between the end of the world and its new beginning, between Buffy's death and her resurrection, are no longer places he can reach.
"Angel," Buffy reaches out, touches his forehead, traces across his brow, hands sliding down into his hair. Heaven is well-being, formless and content. In this world, hard and bright, she needs to shake herself awake, to bleed away the lethargy of happily ever after. Buffy has to live in this world.
Her hands curl into claws where they rest against his neck and Angel grabs her wrists, pulls her hands away before they draw blood.
"I - I jumped. I woke up. In a grave." Her voice is too giddy, a garbled gasp between laughter and tears. "How ridiculous is that?"
It's her name, but the sound grates. It's a title for someone she can no longer pretend to be. Slayer. Chosen. Sister. Leader. Buffy.
"Angel, I'm fine. It's kind of an adjustment, but hey, I've been alive before. Totally remember how it goes. It's not like *you* suddenly developing a case of heartbeat. I mean, it's been a hundred years. I'm sure everyone would understand if you didn't get the being alive thing quite right. But, well, It's only been a couple months for me. A season. A - a summer. I made it back just in time for the Fall Collections. I love boots."
Angel's hands tighten around her wrists. "Everything doesn't have to be fine, Buffy. It doesn't have to be okay ..."
Buffy kisses him instead.
"Buffy. We can't. I can't."
And she kisses him again. To shut him up, to push him, to force him to keep the promise she made. Theirs has never been a fairy story and when they kiss, she still wants to die. Buffy can feel the shift in his body, the moment when what he wants outweighs what he thinks. She presses forward then, presses up.
The next kiss is a question and when he slides his arms around her waist, cuddling her deeper into the curve of his body, it becomes an answer. Only not the answer she's looking for, but then he's answering a different question entirely. The gentleness in the kiss makes her skin itch. It makes her want to push, to kick, to bite.
His lips are soft where they press against her throat, and Buffy wishes that she could pretend that he's savoring the beat of her heart for any reason other than he's glad that she's alive. He's good at sacrifice and self-denial; the only time he ever fed from her she held him to her throat and they both nearly died.
"I don't need you to be gentle," she whispers, her voice lost beneath the ripping of his shirt. "I don't want to be saved." She wants the catharsis of violence. She wants to love him until he bleeds with it and she wants to bleed in return.
Buffy curls her tongue around his, caresses the top of his mouth, catches her teeth on the fleshy fullness of his bottom lip. Curls one leg around his hip, the other braced against the bed, pushes off and presses up all at the same time. Angel tumbles with her as she falls backward on the bed. His lip bleeds where she's bitten. Angel pulls back, holds her down with the heaviness of his body and the softness in his eyes. Buffy touches his lip, leans up to lick the blood away. She feels the heat, the pull of Angel beneath her skin and between her thighs. There is an echo behind her breastbone, an emptiness that aches with everything that she has lost.
But, Angel won't lose himself in her, not anymore. He walked away, gave her up (twice) and survived her death. His joy is tempered by a well of sadness. It leeches the heat and Buffy's passion dwindles into despair. Things change and happiness isn't what it used to be. Neither of them find it in the pounding of blood, her thundering heart, or the release of orgasm. Buffy stares at the ceiling. She wouldn't call it waiting, but she is restless in his arms. When Angel comes, Angelus doesn't come with him.
"I was worried," Buffy says.
Angel sits barefoot and bare-chested in jeans, perched on the edge of the bed, body folded in on itself, elbow on knees. Buffy is hunched at the table, dressed in jeans, boots and a sweater. She is dressed to travel, dressed to flee, her hands wrapped around a chipped porcelain mug are the only thing anchoring her to the now.
"I was worried," she says again. "I thought that maybe -- " She doesn't look at him. Keeps her eyes down and locked on the mirrored crescents her hands make around the mug. "Angelus," she finally says all in a burst as if its the only thing her throat has room for.
Angel nods briefly, he's staring at a sliver of sunlight stretched out across the floor. "I wasn't sure. Didn't really think that -" his voice trails off and suddenly he looks up. "Buffy. Nothings the same. After I left Sunnydale." He shakes his head. "There's been so damn much. Doyle, Cordelia, Fred." His voice drops, soft and deep. "Darla." He laughs gently, a brief expulsion of air meant to indicate laughter. "I keep expecting to wake up and find out that none of this is real. I've done things that I'm not proud of, things I can't take back. I'm not the same man that I was, Buffy."
Buffy closes her eyes, laces her fingers tighter around the cup and squeezes hard. He's fallen in love with another life, found home among people she doesn't know, and if she's surprised to hear Cordelia's name in the list she doesn't show it. When she says, "Believe me," her voice is like glass. "I get it. People change."
Buffy breathes in, exhales, and then breathes in again. Incandescent she wants to say, the word hovers on the tip of her tongue. It's the quality of light in Heaven. Angel's hand cupping the back of her head stops her, steals her breath as surely as a kiss.
She didn't hear him move. Didn't hear him rise and cross the room. She is so much in her own head these days. The world is a blur of light, heat and color that she can't keep up with.
His hand slides down to the nape of her neck, and he squeezes gently. "Buffy," he says and she looks up. She thinks about the deer and the werewolves unseen beyond the line of trees. She thinks about staying. She thinks about dying. She thinks about Dawn on Glory's tower, and then she thinks nothing at all.
"I can't stay here," Angel says as he kneels beside her. "I can't stay and see you and touch you. Sooner or later, you'll be too real and then ..."
"Then Angelus," Buffy finishes for him, everything she ever wanted tucked away beneath his skin. Her lips curve upwards, tight and brittle only around the edges. "You have to go and I need to get back to Sunnydale.
"Yeah, Angelus. Buffy, I have responsibilities back in L.A. Things to do. People...."
"Yeah, I know. Dolye and Cordelia and Fred."
What Angel doesn't say is that he can't afford to lose himself in her; they aren't those people anymore.
"It's okay," she says and leans forward. The kiss is soft and gentle, and Buffy squirms against her need for teeth.
Angel pulls her up with him as he stands, never breaking the kiss. His tongue sweeps across the interior of her mouth and she can taste hope as incandescent as the light in Heaven. Buffy sobs as she breaks the kiss and pulls away. "I have to go," she says and pushes past him, grabbing her coat from the hook beside the door. She is across the threshold and standing in the sunshine and Angel doesn't try to stop her.
Instead of goodbye, she says, "It's funny how the world doesn't end."