The church was modest, undoubtedly old European architecture. From what Buffy had been told, some crazy Californian billionaire had bought the ancient Cistercian abbey from the French and had it reconstructed here in the middle of Los Angeles.
Buffy could understand why Angel liked this place. She knew of his fascination with Christianity. Of his nostalgia, his yearning, his longing. He had been raised Irish Catholic and this legacy still meant a lot to him. He wanted to belong, to find comfort in the forgiving embrace of his God, but his shame alienated him from the solace such a place could have granted. Angel viewed himself as the most despicable, the most repulsive of all creatures in the eyes of his Lord. His skewed, twisted self-image kept him from asking for the peace and absolution God promised all repentant souls.
Still he was the one who had chosen this church. He had told Buffy that the priest was a friend of his, someone he trusted. The vampire hadn't been more forthcoming. And the edifice benefited from an access to the sewers - which meant that Angel could safely meet her downtown even though the sun hadn't yet slipped past the horizon.
Buffy crossed the small enclosed garden which opened on the church square and entered. The nave was almost empty. A few candles burned in the absidioles. The light fell in the choir through the central rose window of the apse. At this time of day, the edifice was plunged in an appeasing half-light.
The priest - a gray-haired, tall, imposing sixty-year-old man - was half-way through the afternoon mass, giving the orison to a few scattered faithful.
"My friends. Be thankful to the Lord, our Father, whose goodness makes us capable of sharing the fate of the Saints in the light. He saved us from the Prince of Darkness to lead us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, whose blood absolves us and purifies our sins."
"Deo gratias," answered the faithful.
A servant carried the missal. The faithful stood. The priest pronounced the ritualistic words before reading from the Gospel according to Saint John. 18:33-37. 'Christ is our King'.
"Et cum spiritu tuo."
Following the priest, the faithful traced the shape of the cross with their thumb on their forehead, their lips, their heart.
"Laus tibi, Christe!"
Buffy listened, not even trying to understand the words. She had never attended a mass in Latin before. Yet the language wasn't totally foreign to her. Giles and Willow used it often enough.
She followed like in a dream the canonical prayer and the chant of the communion. She came out of her daze when the priest proposed that the assembly sung at the request of a dying member of the congregation.
The faithful stood up once again and launched into the Te Deum.
Te Deum laudamus : - te dominum confitemur.
- te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur.
- tibi omnes angeli, tibi Coeli, et universae Potestas,
- tibi Cherubim et Seraphim, incessabili voce proclament : - "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, dominus Deus Sabaoth! - pleni sunt coeli et terra majestitatis gloria tuae!"
The chanting grew in its intensity, submerging the erratic palpitations of Buffy's heart. She pushed her mind to free itself from matter. Or maybe it wasn't an emancipation from the flesh, but an extreme mastery over her own body - so that it became the receptacle, the catalyst transcended and submissive of her slightest thought.
In te, Domine, speravi : non confundar in aeternum.
- Benedicmus patrem et filium cum Sancto Spiritu!
- Laudemus et superexaltemus eum in saecula!
She tensed and her toes curled. The hair on the back of her neck stood up.
He was there. He had entered the church.
With her eyes closed, she walked up the side of the nave. She entered the presbytery through the transepts. She was still in front of the heavy oak door when his fingers wrapped lightly around her wrist.
She opened her eyes.
He trailed a hand along her arm and deposited a small kiss on the top of her head.
"You look exhausted."
She giggled. "Thanks."
Angel led her into the presbytery.
Golden light dispersed in lateral rays over the furnishings. There were books everywhere, shelves climbed along the walls with the enthusiasm of Virginia Creeper. There was stone, wood and dusty leather. A statue of Saint George watched over an old four-poster bed.
Buffy let her forehead fall on her lover's breast. "Nothing. I went to the address Willow found with Giles and Xander. Squat. The place was deserted. I don't even think anyone ever lived there. Willow's wigging because Oz's still missing. She contacted the Wiccan community through the net. She says that the spell involves such powerful magicks, some of the most sensitive witches are bound to notice. They could help us locate Morghane. I... I just don't think it'll be soon enough. You?"
She felt Angel's sigh through his shirt.
"No one knows anything about either Morghane's location or the First - in any case, they're not talking. I'm still waiting to hear from Doyle. There's another nest not far from this church. We think those vamps might be tied to the cadre of Nehemiah. They are old blood, won't be easy to take down. Spike will meet us in the sewers in half an hour and we'll go after them."
"We should go underground, now. With the sun going down, I can't..." - he pointed to the side windows - "keep out of the sunlight here."
Buffy nodded. Angel took her hand and led her through an anteroom to a manhole in the stone floor. He opened the cover and went down first. Buffy was close behind him. She jumped when she reached the bottom of the ladder and he caught her. She tripped and had to grab his arm for balance.
"You really are tired," Angel whispered, concerned.
"I'll be okay. Don't worry about me."
Angel sat down on a somewhat dry spot and patted his lap. "Cm'ere. You might as well rest while we wait for Spike."
Buffy sat with a nod. She slid her arms around his narrow waist and rested her cheek against his shoulder. His fingers traced slow, calming patterns along her spine. "Hm. Feels good."
"Shh. Relax. Don't talk."
The Slayer closed her eyes and concentrated on the cool, pale skin next to her lips, on the silence deep in his chest, on his clean, earthy, male Angel scent. She had missed this. The reality of his physical presence, the solidness of him. His inhuman beauty.
She blinked. And realized that her mouth had strayed. She was kissing his jaw, tasting his skin, and she couldn't stop. She didn't want to.
She sweetly caressed his lips with her own and buried her hands in his dark hair.
His hair. It was his only vanity. He spent several minutes each evening putting it in place. It tended to curl and he liked it straight. Either way, she still loved to thread her fingers through its silky depths.
She looked at him. His head was thrown back against the wall behind him, his eyes closed. Like a big cat disturbed during his sleep, he stirred, exposing his throat in a show of submission.
She dropped a rain of small kisses on his brow, his temples, his structured cheekbones, the exquisite angle of his jaw, his chin, voluntarily neglecting his mouth. His mouth wasn't the least of his assets and she didn't want to get lost in him. Not quite yet. She had waited for this despite herself since she had set foot in L.A.. She needed this now. She craved it like she craved air. All this wanting was driving her insane. And that made her tired too.
Unhurriedly, her lips drifted to his neck. She followed the path of the jugular, biting lightly, licking the skin. Her teeth closed over his Adam's apple - and Angel offered her the gift of his first moan. She smiled - relishing the deep husky sound of need.
His hands came up as if to seize her shoulders and push her away, but fell back uselessly at his sides. Buffy understood that he was powerless to renounce her. She would be the one steering the helm.
She didn't take the responsibility lightly. He was trembling beneath her and her throat closed up.
He was so scared.
She resisted the need to crush him to her chest until he disappeared inside of her - where she would finally be able to protect him. She kissed him. Deeply. Soothingly. Her small, delicate, strong hands smoothed the lines that marred his angelic face. She fell into his distressed eyes, then kissed each lid tenderly.
The shaking stopped.
Without warning, she closed her teeth around his left nipple through his shirt.
His hands gripped her hips of their own volition.
Raising herself on her knees, she threw one leg over his lap to straddle him - facing him. She bit her lower lip deeply, fighting the urge to devour him outright. Ignoring the tingles liquefying her lower abdomen, she took the time to draw the shape of him with her hands - the rightness of him, the ideal harmony of his defined frame and sculpted muscles, lithe but substantial. His body made her wish that she could create a cult to his effigy - a religion of one.
She put her hands on his thighs with the smile of the cat fantasizing about dissecting the canary. She opened the first few buttons of his shirt slowly and exposed his chest. She leaned forward and rolled her tongue around the hard, sensitive nub of a male nipple - nibbling at the flesh until Angel convulsed under her. She felt his stone-hard erection fighting against the restriction of his pants between her legs.
She cupped him intently through the material.
Angel's throat closed around something that might have been a word in some dead language.
"Buffy, please, st..."
His voice had a desperate quality that she couldn't ignore.
Sadly, Buffy drew her hand away.
His fear was so strong. Like a living thing between them. She couldn't blame him. She didn't want to hurt him, to torture him with an impossible mirage. He had already lived through so many deceptions. He shouldn't have to pay for her uncontrollable hormones.
She started to back off - trying to keep the pain and regret off her face - but he stopped her.
She stared into his bottomless dark eyes, her expression blank.
Angel smoothed away the blonde tresses which had fallen in front of her eyes.
It was both a plea and a question.
Buffy unbuttoned her own shirt and unhooked her bra, exposing her breasts.
Angel made a tiny, yearning sound.
She wrapped her fingers around his wrist and brought his hand to her skin.
He bit his lip and Buffy had to smother a groan. She spread her hands against the small of his back. Tilted her head, and he kissed her like a dying man. A shudder rippled through her body and she panted. "Don't forget... Spike."
Angel chuckled as his lips closed around her nipple and she puffed a warm breath of air.
"If he shows up early, I'll stake him myself."
He nuzzled the soft valley of skin between her breasts, taking in mouthfuls, licking, nipping, gnawing, biting lightly.
The vampire took her supplication very seriously. They would have time to indulge themselves later. If there was a later.
But he didn't want to think about that just then.
He lifted Buffy off his lap, helped her to stand and leaned her against the wall.
It was Buffy's turn to shake.
Angel's hands stopped at her hips to steady her then hiked along her waist to her breasts. His long, elegant fingers traced concentric circles around her nipples, never touching, merely following the shape of the dark aureoles.
Buffy's insides contracted sharply when Angel's fingernails scrapped the tight, erect nubs then were replaced by his expert mouth. And while his tongue excited her right breast, his hand delicately stroke the left.
Buffy's heart pounded madly and the heat that spread from the depths of her belly hungered for a quick conclusion. Angel was aware of it. He drew away from her chest. A cold draft of air grazed her humid breasts and Buffy arched her shoulders. She murmured something incomprehensible.
In an instant Angel was kneeling in front of her, pushing her skirt up around her waist, kissing the inside of her knees reverently.
Unexpectedly, his mouth found its ultimate destination through her panties and she cried out hoarsely. He pushed the silky underwear down on her knees and she closed her eyes, biting down on her tongue to distract herself away from the tension building up between her legs.
Angel concentrated on the soft inside of her thighs again and she had to hold onto the wall to keep from grabbing his hair and force him back between her legs. He licked and nibbled the silky skin. He blew a puff of cold air along the outer lips of her sex. Buffy's muscles tensed and she quivered. Her belly and her thighs erupted with goose-bumps. She cambered her lower back, pleading, beseeching Angel to give her a liberation - desperate to feel his lips where she really needed to be touched - and she rocked a little.
In the midst of her laborious breathing, Buffy became aware of sounds and voices. She raised her head slightly. The noise came from above.
She had forgotten to close the cover of the manhole after them.
She lowered her gaze to Angel, trying to alert her vampiric lover to the presence of others in the presbytery a few feet above their heads. She was surprised to meet Angel's twinkling gaze. He had heard, too.
She froze like a deer caught in headlights, left dizzy by the quickly dissipating wave of pleasure spreading from her core. She blushed, trying to remain quiet - paralyzed by the specter of discovery. They were under a church after all.
Angel pressed her lightly against the wall and murmured against the taut skin of her stomach. "Shh. Don't make a sound. The smallest noise echoes in these old buildings."
Buffy nodded frantically and stopped breathing.
She swallowed back a scream when she felt Angel slid one questing, long finger, then another inside her slick, ardent channel. Reflexively, her fingers closed around his shoulders, digging in like claws, and she heard him grunt.
He started moving his fingers in and out of her and she struggled to keep enough oxygen in her starving lungs. His thumb found her clitoris and applied circular pressure on the moist bud.
She gripped his shirt with a soft whimper then stiffened - the voices above where still there.
She began to shake again, needing to release the pressure that rose inside of her in superheated waves, yet incapable of uttering a sound for fear of attracting attention. She wanted to crucify Angel with a stare, but she couldn't keep her eyes open.
She ground her teeth savagely when Angel's lips closed over her clitoris and her hips bucked wildly. His tongue slid around the heated, sensitive center of her pleasure and that was almost enough to push her over the edge. She was sweating and trembling. She knew she wouldn't be able to hold out much longer. She let go of Angel's shirt and buried her fingers in his hair, bringing him closer.
When Angel's blunt teeth closed around her clitoris, nibbling, she bit her own wrist to keep from yelling his name.
The orgasm lifted her away from the wall, her muscles strained to the snapping point. A kaleidoscope of colors exploded behind her lids.
Angel kept his mouth between her legs. He licked her sex carefully, accompanying, sharing in, prolonging her orgasm, welcoming her sweet honey in his throat. When Buffy's breathing lost its asthmatic quality, Angel raised himself off his knees, burying his face between her rounded, perfect breasts for a minute before finding her mouth with his own.
She held onto him for dear life and he enfolded her in his arms.
She whispered against his ear.
"You'll pay for this."
He chuckled. "I know."
"It was... it was..."
She quieted, enjoying the peace, his presence, her fulfillment.
Angel pulled away with a frown. "What?"
Buffy met his eyes, shame permeating her expression. "What about... Morghane? How could we...?"
Angel smiled softly and kissed her hair, pulling her tightly against his chest.
"I'm terrified for Morghane," he murmured. "I want to know her safe, and contented and loved. I'll do anything in my power to find her and save her. But... as uncharacteristic as it might sound coming from me, I don't regret what just happened. I'm not ashamed." He raised Buffy's face to his, sliding a finger under her chin. "Morghane always accepted me for who and what I was. She never asked for anything... With her, I was free to just be. She made sure that I was ready for happiness - so that I could accept that gift when you offered it to me." He kissed her deeply. "I'm not ashamed, because I know that Morghane would have been the first to rejoice."
Buffy nodded meekly. "I'm getting scared, Angel. We're not getting anywhere. We're no closer to finding the successor, we're not even sure that the First is involved. Now we've lost Morghane and Oz... And even if we find them, we still don't know what the counterspell is." She swallowed. "We don't even know if there is one."
"We'll find a way," assured Angel, emphatic.
"Do you... do you think she's still alive?"
"Yes, she's alive." Angel closed his eyes. "When she dies... I'll know."