It took a long time for Giles to pry his Slayer away from Angel. And even after that, Buffy wouldn't let go of the vampire's hand. Willow was explaining to Morghane how they had come back after believing them dead - to find that most of the rubble had already been moved around by emergency services looking for victims. But Buffy and Spike had refused to give up. The feeling that Angel still lived was a lot stronger there.
Then Giles had remembered Dunst mentioning the back entrance of the warehouse and suggested that they looked around the sewers. They had found an access across the street and then trailed around in the dark without a clue, until a soft, golden light guided them to the huddled forms of the Guardian and the souled vampire.
They dumped the humvee after wiping out fingerprints, just in case, and piled up in Oz' van to make their way back to Angel's. No one talked on the way there. No one mentioned the fateful words Morghane had pronounced in the sewers. In fact, the Guardian fell asleep in Spike's arms before they even reached the van.
Buffy was still clinging to Angel's hand, her face tucked in the hollow of his shoulder, murmuring soothingly in his ear.
The vampire's face was blank, and his eyes were closed. Utterly impossible to read. But he was trembling, deep shudders that seemed to reach down to the core of his being and envelop him in a cold embrace.
Oz took stock of the general exhaustion and floored it.
They had to wait a few minutes for Willow to lift the protection spell she had cast on Angel's building so that the vampires could enter. Tacitly, they agreed to let Spike and Buffy put their respective charges to bed. Morghane was still lost in slumber, while Angel was practically sleep-walking. Only Giles accompanied them down to the apartment, just in case one of them needed assistance.
Angel insisted that Spike installed Morghane in his bedroom while he retreated to the foldout bed in the study. The first and only words he had pronounced since leaving the sewers.
"Let me help," murmured Buffy, subdued.
Angel's silence worried her, but she didn't want to push him - force him to talk. He had been through so much over the last week. She would be there for him when he needed her, but until then, it was enough for her to hold him tightly to her chest.
To feel him real and solid and alive against her.
Slowly, she unbuttoned his trousers and tugged them down his narrow hips. He wasn't wearing anything else. She guided him to the bed, pushed away the covers and Angel laid down, naked, on the cold mattress.
Buffy leaned over him and deposited a soft kiss on his cool lips.
"I'll be right back, love."
She kissed him again before leaving the room.
Giles was waiting for her, sitting on the living-room couch. He stood.
"How is he?"
"I think he's a bit shell-shocked right now."
"Who could blame him..." Giles mumbled under his breath.
"I'm going to take care of him. I need to tend to his wounds."
"Go to sleep, Giles. Take the others back to the motel. I'll see you tomorrow. We all need the rest."
The ex-Watcher smiled kindly at her.
"You too, Buffy. Angel is not the only one who went through Hell last night. Don't forget to sleep."
Impossibly, she blushed.
"Don't worry, Giles. And thank you. For everything."
He grunted. "You're welcome. Goodnight, Buffy."
After Giles went up the stairs, Buffy walked to the entrance of the master bedroom.
Spike was sleeping under a thick, blood-red coverlet, his eyes closed, holding a naked, unconscious Morghane in his arms.
Buffy smiled then made her way to the bathroom. She filled a small basin with warm, soapy water, collected a washcloth, a few bandages and went back to the study.
He was lying prone where she had left him. He hadn't moved at all. He was asleep.
Silent, she deposited all the items she had gathered on the desk and dipped the washcloth in the basin. With great care, she began to clean up his wounds.
Unexpectedly, tears welled in her eyes.
There wre so many injuries, even if the most serious had healed already.
All of a sudden, it flooded back to her. Everything that he had gone through, all that he had suffered at Lisandra's hands. The news of his demise had eclipsed the memories of what the four of them had endured in that lair, but suddenly it was all there again - and the sobs overtook Buffy.
She clasped a hand over her mouth. She didn't want Angel to see her like this and start worrying.
Despite her wishes, he stirred.
He opened darkly ringed eyes and blinked a little. "Buffy?"
"Shush, love. Go back to sleep."
He paused, almost disoriented. Then, without a word, he gently tugged the washcloth out of her hand and she let him. He let it fall to the floor. Clumsily, he pulled her next to him in bed and, as soon as she lay by his side, his fingers found the buckle of her black leather belt, unhurried. He fumbled a little, and she took over the task, eager to feel him against her skin.
It had been so long. She had wanted this forever. She had no memory of a time before that craving, before that need to come home, before her love for him.
Soon, she was naked, and she lay her cheek over his unbeating heart, as if she had done this a thousand times before.
And in her dreams, she had.
Her small, warm hands crept up his chest and he growled low in his throat. His larger hand sought her wrist and he brought her palm to his lips, kissing the soft, delicate skin at its center.
She shivered, and eagerly lifted her face to meet his kiss.
Angel was coming home.
His tongue tasted the soft, welcoming insides of her mouth and he felt high, almost dizzy.
For a little while longer, Angel shoved away the feeling of doom, the certitude that he was careening towards his ineluctable destruction - the final breaking of his heart.
Buffy would not understand. Wouldn't forgive. And he couldn't fault her for it. She had given so much already, endured and pardoned. She had accepted his leaving, forsaken her rightful anger and taken him back into her heart.
He couldn't ask her to do it again. He had no right.
Just like he had no right to claim her as his once more, in this bed. Yet just the same, he couldn't stop and deny himself the ephemeral comfort of her arms.
He had been right that last Christmas. He was weak.
He would never be anything else.
His lips strayed away from Buffy's mouth and Angel burrowed his nose in the fragrant slope of her throat, just under her chin where the skin was soft, duvet-like, almost translucent. He inhaled deeply, wrapping himself in her scent, just like he was sheltering his body with the length of hers.
Buffy cooed a little, and a lone, cool tear trailed down his cheek to lose itself in her hair.
In the church, it had been about need and release - his need and her release. Tonight, it was about worship and communion. He stood at her altar, hoping to catch a glimpse of Heaven before being sent back to Hell. He couldn't get close enough to her warmth, close enough to her life, close enough to the warmth of the life burning inside of her, blossoming in her breast. The way her soul always seemed to make love to her body.
He lowered his head and sighed. His breath barely tickled the crest of her breasts and yet, she moaned.
Angel repressed a smile. He hadn't forgotten. Despite Hell, despite how long ago their first and only night felt to him, he remembered. Making love to the Slayer meant revering equally every inch of her. Buffy experienced the faintest touch with heightened sensitivity - much like a vampire would - and he relished the thrill of seducing the hunter in her. The predator. His demon's worst enemy.
His name on her lips, in that raspy, slightly slurred voice, was his undoing.
He pulled her strong little body closer to his own. He sought out her mouth again.
The kiss was slow at first, tentative. Exploring. Kissing Buffy always felt like discovering new and wondrous territories. He could never get used to the taste of her, never tire of the shape of her lips, of the sweetness of her tongue. If he spent the rest of his eternity mapping her out with teeth and hands and eager fingers, he would never know her completely. Because change was a constant. Because she always shifted, even imperceptibly, to welcome his touch. And he kept on discovering infinite and enticing new ways of worshipping her - as if her soul was whispering to his.
Or maybe, this was better explained by a slight derivation of the Heisenberg principle. No observation could be made with certainty, because nothing could be observed without being altered. Heisenberg had never theorized the effect of the observation on the observer, though.
Angel whimpered as Buffy undulated against him, her coarse curls teasing the sensitive skin of his sex.
He could personally attest that the principle worked both ways.
His erection throbbed with need, but he ignored it. Buffy's hard small nipples poked his chest longingly. Neglecting them for one moment longer was blasphemy. Smoothly, he sat up, taking Buffy with him - and she yelped in surprise. She adjusted her legs, graceful, to straddle his lap without putting her weight on him.
"Angel, you're injured," she protested with a frown.
He did not answer. Couldn't. His throat was tight with longing and awe.
Buffy began to bring her hands up self-consciously.
"Don't," Angel murmured hoarsely.
He raised his eyes to his lover's face and took in her flushed skin, swollen lips, disheveled hair and huge, clear hazel eyes. If he let himself, he could see the love for him overflow in her naked gaze. He could also see the pain and the fear. The lingering apprehension, a leftover of Angelus' cruelty and of all the times she had been hurt since.
The joyful, sublime sensuality which had awakened in Buffy under his respectful attention, to be nurtured and cherished for months, had been rudely shattered by the careless, cruel words of his darker half.
This he considered his most grievous sin. The one he would never forgive himself for.
< No redemption, Angel. None. >
Angel wished he could devote his life to healing that wound. But he knew he wasn't yet worthy of the task.
He might never be.
"Don't hide them from me. Please. They are so beautiful."
Buffy gasped wetly.
Slow and solemn, she lowered her hands and offered herself to his appreciation.
Angel's eyes brimmed with gratitude.
Unabashed, he devoured her with his gaze. The golden light spilling from the modest desk lamp cradled her curvaceous forms, framed her serene expression and sheathed her athletic limbs. He was reminded of a small statue he had once possessed. A marble representation of the Cananean deity Astarte, incarnation of Venus, warrior-goddess of love.
Angel bent forward, encircling her waist. He nuzzled the valley between Buffy's bared breasts, nudging a soft curve with his nose like a kitten begging for a sign of affection.
Buffy's pink-painted fingers threaded through the short hair at the nape of his neck. She bowed over him and brought her moist lips close to his ear.
"They are yours, Angel. Only yours."
He shook a little then stiffened under her hands.
"What is it?"
He moaned, muffling the sound against her bosom.
Gentle, Buffy hooked a finger under his chin, raising his face to her. Sheepish, he was powerless to hide the unnatural shine pooling in his eyes.
Her voice broke, and she averted her gaze. Shame tightened the tiny lines around her mouth.
Angel silently castigated himself for causing her more pain. Promising to punish himself later for that transgression.
Buffy's breath caught on a sob. "I never should have left anyone else touch me... I'm sorry..."
Frantic, he stilled the hectic flow of words with the pad of his thumb across her lips.
"No, no. Never... Don't ever think... It's... it's..." He pushed the words past the lump in his throat. "I wanted this for you. I'm sorry you were hurt. I just... I wish I could have spared you this pain..."
This time it was Buffy who stopped him, pressing her mouth to his.
"This is all in the past, Angel. Here, now, we are together..." She bit down lightly on her full lower lip. "Love me?"
Angel set out to wipe out the doubt and uncertainty off her face.
This was unacceptable.
The guilt didn't lie with Buffy. It was his sole cross to bear.
"You're my girl," he answered with his trademark crooked smile - and she laughed.
The elegant, soothing tingle of wind-chimes. Snaking down his spine.
He lifted a trembling hand and gently cupped her left breast, feeling the comfortable heaviness, the firmness, the lush, soft texture of the skin. When his cool fingers closed around her, Buffy crooned. He brought his second hand to her right breast and closed his eyes.
His world narrowed down to the warm, perfect globes in his palms. They rose and fell between his fingers, as if they were inhabited of a life of their own, and Angel listened closely to the rhythm of Buffy's breathing. Its tempo echoed the light ups and downs of her breasts, and Angel felt like he was holding her breath, her life, in his hands.
She was silent. She did not moan or beg for more, and he opened his eyes.
Tears trickled down Buffy's face.
He brought his mouth to a perk, engorged nipple. His tongue emerged from parted lips to trace the shape of the dark aureole. It was like tasting raw silk. This time, Buffy whimpered - a high, wondrous sound of stark need - and his sex rose between his legs, straining against his stomach.
He cried out when Buffy's avid hands enclosed his aching hardness.
"Bu... Buffy... Love... Don't..."
She giggled, unrepentant.
Angel gripped her wrists tightly, careful to keep her nails clear of the sensitive skin, and pinned her hands by her sides - hoping to convince her without words to keep them there.
"It's not fair..." she whined. "How come I don't get to..."
Angel took the little pebble dancing in front of his nose in his mouth. It distracted her from her current train of thought alright.
Her breathless shout stroked the fire in his groin.
His tongue climbed the little mount between his lips, exploring the crevices, the boulders and the cliffs being born as his coldness grazed her heat. He nibbled around the erected hill of skin and the need to suckle overtook him. He needed the maternal comfort. He felt that he could suck her very heartbeat into his mouth.
Buffy clutched the back of his neck, crushing him to her softness, and he moaned again. Surrounded by the decadent aroma of her skin and the overflowing firmness of her curves, Angel was convinced that he could live the rest of forever here and be fulfilled. His mouth trailed from one nipple to another, leaving a cool trail in its wake, lavishing the same attention on her right breast. Velvety duvet tickled his nose and he teased the fine hair, blowing air on the moist skin. Goose bumps erupted over Buffy's chest and she threw her head back - exposing more skin to his avid touch.
As ever, the sight of the Slayer baring her throat to him shook Angel to the most visceral depths of his being.
Realization tore into him.
He was getting ready to leave her. Again. This time for his own sake more than hers. And whether she forgave him or not - he hoped that he could dredge up the strength to do what was right.
That meant speaking up now.
"Angel? You're crying... Angel?"
He was powerless to subdue the spasms jarring his bones to the marrow.
"Angel, you're scaring me." Despite her words, Buffy's voice was still calm and measured. As if she refused to add her agitation to his. "Whatever it is, you can tell me. I'll deal. We'll deal together." He shook his head, desolate. "Remember, Angel. No more secrets. I promise not to freak, but you've got to trust me with the truth."
Gracefully, Angel fell on his side, taking Buffy with him, her back to his front. He wrapped his long body around her smaller frame, spooning her. His arms circled her middle, his fingers coming to rest under the graceful arch of a breast. His right leg slipped between her knees and his sex nestled against the rounded curves of her haunches.
His sight was filled with the golden mane of her hair and the tender curve of a shoulder. On instinct, his mouth found his brand on her neck. And the old, relentless shame - a bitter friend - sunk her claws in his soul.
"I'm not going back to Sunnydale with you."
Buffy's sharp intake of breath brought her spine closer to his chest.
"I... I thought as much. You have your life... here. It's... it's okay, Angel. Did you think I wouldn't understand... I'll come visit every other weekend, and you can do the same..."
His heart snapped cleanly in two.
"What... what do you mean?"
"I... I need... some time. Alone. So much has happened, and I..."
Buffy convulsed in his arms. It might have been a silent sob.
"No, no... wait."
He fell silent.
"Make love to me, Angel."
He tightened his hold on her.
"Make love to me. And then, maybe, I'll be strong enough to listen. But not... not right now. Not after everything. We deserve more, Angel. You and me. Please... give us that much."
Angel couldn't deny her. He didn't want to. Even though Buffy was wrong - this was more than he deserved.
"I love you," he murmured against the delicate patch of skin behind her ear.
One of his hands returned to a painful nipple, rolling the tight pebble between his fingers, a blunt thumbnail scraping the excited flesh, his touch alternating between light and rough. His other hand slid down along her abdomen to her stomach, to the edge of the dark V between her legs. He wedged his thigh against the moist folds of her sex and Buffy arched against him with a hiss. His finger drew intricate, Celtic designs above her curls, hiking up her belly to her navel, then down again in a smooth dance of unending circles and Saint-John crosses. Buffy crooned as her muscles awakened to new, foreign sensations. He was teasing her womb through the silky barrier of her skin.
Moisture lazily seeped out of her sex, over his thigh. Her channel called out to him.
"Angel, please... Don't make me beg..."
Her sentence ended on a squeak, and Angel chuckled despite himself.
"Come on, love. You can take it. Trust me?"
The whine was ripped from her throat.
His fingers wandered from one nipple to the other. The switch would only leave her bereft breast hungry for more attention, readying her for his next touch, keeping each nerve in a state of perpetual arousal which would only serve to magnify her liberation when it was finally offered. His thigh pushed against her sex a little more, tantalizing her clitoris with a shadow of the pressure she craved. His fingers continued their swirling waltz on her belly and Buffy began to shift restlessly in his embrace.
"Shh. Keep it in. Try to hold still."
She grunted. "I... I though it was my... t... turn, after the church..."
His tone was a little hard, and he felt her breast lift in his hand in response. Smiling, he nudged her head to the side with his chin, exposing his mark. He bent over the scar, and nipped at the raised skin with blunt teeth.
Buffy yelped and dug her nails in his hip, but he didn't mind. "Hold it, hold it, there." His fingers on her abdomen switched their patterns to tight concentric circles right above her center. "Right there, Buffy."
"It's... Angel, it's building... Angel."
His sex ground between the cheeks of her ass and the friction relieved some of his yearning. The scent of her arousal was driving him out of his right mind. Moisture flowed freely, abundant, over his skin.
He pinched her nipple. And she yelled.
Her voice got lost on a tangent of strident "oh, oh, oh..." and Angel knew it was time. Using his knee, he raised her leg, just as he was hoisting her up higher on the bed. The weeping head of his sex caressed her folds and he gasped.
Buffy stilled. She didn't even bother to breathe anymore.
Slippery, fragrant honey reached out to coat his hardness and then he was the one groaning mindlessly. Buffy was shaking again, her breathing erratic and desperate. She tried to impale herself on him, but he grabbed her hips.
She hit the mattress with a closed fist, protesting sluggishly.
She was beyond words.
Flattening his tormenting hand on her belly, he entered her with one long, smooth stroke.
Buffy didn't even try to stifle her scream.
Time dislocated, and eternity stirred joyfully in his soul.
When he rejoined his body, he could feel all of it. Her beauty, her intelligence and her strength, her compassion and her courage. It all originated there, at the core of her, where she welcomed him with all that she was. He was startled and humbled to discover that the well of her love for him sprung there too. From her center, her womb. The throne of life inside of her. His sanctuary of infinite belonging - where time had never been that enslaving universal invariant, but the eternal friend of his heart, guardian of his most precious memories.
Opening his senses and his mind, he committed the sensation to his soul.
Angel knew from the teachings of experience that this instant needn't fade or disappear forever. The moment would never be lost if he cradle it in the gentle embrace of his soul, nurturing the memory lovingly like one waters a rare, exotic rose.
There was true freedom and true comfort in the realization that, until his final death, he would shelter that beautiful fragment of infinity in his heart.