There was pleasure, and then there was this.

There was the feeling of Angel inside of her, stretching her, coaxing her to accommodate his size, promising ecstasy the instant he started to move. And then there was that sensation of utter contentment, the fullness of absolute completion - this imploding symphony of unqualified bliss and ancient belonging.

For so long, she had been lost, and Angel was showing her the way home.

She needn't go back or forward. She just needed to go within.

Tension in her nerve-endings was fast reaching the threshold of pain and she could not endure much more of the sweet torture, but she trusted Angel. The wave of her pleasure wavered on the brink of crashing down and she felt like the jumper holding onto the rail of the bridge. Rooted to the ground by hundred of thousands of years of evolution and the human drive to survive, yet inexorably pulled forward by the chimerical promise of oblivion and release.

Angel slid out of her completely before diving back in her tight channel.

Buffy howled.

Her world exploded in a concerto of light as the deepest orgasm she had ever known swamped over her and through her, wiping out her senses to leave her soaring high without ever renouncing Angel's grounding embrace - a willing captive of her own skin.

She slowly came down from her peak. Her inner muscles clamped down her lover's shaft, as if her body remembered what it was like to be without him, incomplete, and did not want to risk him leaving ever again. Tears welled in her eyes, but she wished them away roughly. They had tonight. Whatever Angel's final decision, it was so much better than having had nothing at all. She threw her arm behind herself to encircle his waist as best she could and pulled him closer to her.

"I love you," she whispered hoarsely.

Angel was licking her shoulder-blade, tasting her sweat. He raised himself on an elbow, the movement twisting his hardness inside of her, and she gasped. "I love you," he murmured against her cheek, kissing her. She bent her neck impossibly to reach his mouth and claimed him forcefully, needing to fill all of her with his presence.

As always, Angel read her mind, or maybe her body. He grasped her waist and pulled her on top of him, his front still to her back. Her head fell on his shoulder, bending back, and he turned his face to grant her mouth better access to his. She sucked his tongue inside her warmth and explored the cool surface, as if she was a stranger in a strange land. She sobbed a little against his lips, the pleasure was that strong - overwhelming.

Like he had done a hundred times before, Angel stroked the hair on her temple and she calmed, her breathing a little less raw, a little less asthmatic. But he was still inside of her. He raised his hips up smoothly, setting up a thorough, unhurried rhythm. His free hand caressed her tummy, palm down in big, encompassing strokes, pushing down lightly, as if he could feel himself moving under the layers of supple skin and firm muscles. The slight pressure echoed richly inside her core, more moisture seeped out and her vagina clenched around Angel. He grunted in her mouth. He bent his knees to raise her hips up a little. His hand reached down and found the small bud emerging longingly amid the drenched lips of her sex. His fingers danced over her, tantalizing, as his mouth and teeth alternated between nipping, gnawing and brushing her swollen lips. She never knew her mouth was that sensitive. It felt like her taste buds were sharing in the fun alongside the rest of her body. He rolled her clitoris between his fingers, barely applying pressure and she felt the heat build up again in the pit of her stomach, whirling.

It was almost like sea-sickness, but warmer, headier, kind of like the sensation of your lungs trying to crawl out of your throat as you plunged down the highest slope of a roller-coaster. Only without the fear. It was exhilarating and nauseating all at once, but you knew that the exhilaration would win out.

Angel dived deeper and twisted her clitoris, tickling the roof of her mouth with the tip of his tongue.

Buffy sunk back into herself when her second orgasm hit and she thrashed, gasping a silent cry of thanks to the heavens. She vaguely felt Angel gathering her closer to him, murmuring words of encouragement, love and praise in her ear, bringing her safely through the rush of mindless rapture. She blubbered with joy and he wrapped his legs around hers.

She felt protected and cherished, collapsing languidly against Angel. She would never have another lover like him, not that she would ever want one. A man of such innate decency and unshakable integrity, a man who worshipped her and who she worshipped in return, who could have her every nerve sing in ecstasy because he would never make love to her body without making love to her soul. The man who her soul embraced again and again as the mate it had known forever.

She gasped out for breath, and idly thread her fingers with his. "I... I need a little... break."

He turned her to face him, slipping out of her, and she protested his loss with a whimper. She lay sprawled across his hard chest, limbs akimbo, her forehead pressed to his. He pecked small, feather-light kisses on her lips.

"Come on, love. Just once more."


"Please, Buffy. For me?"

He pouted.

She had never seen him pout before. He looked like a lost little boy, his huge, sad puppy dog eyes pleading with her, and she could refuse him nothing.

"Just... just once more."

He smiled, a blinding smile, and the bone-deep exhaustion vanished miraculously. She had no other ambition in life than to make him smile like that every night. If she ever achieved this, it would truly be enough fulfillment for her. She would count herself as one of the blessed.

As if inhabited of a life of its own, her hand trailed down one lean hip then slid down his flat stomach to find his hard length. Her palm cradled him lovingly and he gave a little sigh.

"You haven't..." She stopped, unsure of her words.

"I want to wait. I've waited so long already. I want to... be inside if you, as long as I can. Don't worry about me."

Buffy smiled. A small, sorrowful twist of her lips. "I worry about you. Always. I worry about your heart," she murmured, echoing his paroles of so long ago. "I want to keep you safe."

"You are."

"I want to give you happiness."

"You do."

The slight change in tense didn't pass by her. She would make him happy, always. But she couldn't keep him safe forever. They had but now.

Gently, Angel rolled her on her stomach, and she shivered with anticipation. The memory of the pleasure was so close, she could almost taste it already. Lifting her up with one arm, Angel slid a pillow underneath her hips, raising her slightly off the mattress. Kneeling at the foot of the bed, he gripped one ankle in each hand and spread her legs.

She heard him growl.

More honey dripped from her core. Her thighs were already soaked. The pleasure billowed through her like some unrelenting wave from the mere imagined invasion of his stare. She had never felt more exposed in her life - nor safer.

Nothing happened for several seconds, and she fought the need to twist her head back to look at him. She had nothing that she wished to hide from his gaze. His eyes could cradle the smallest imperfection and leave her secure in her own beauty. It was a gift very few men possessed or yielded unselfishly.

His cold fingers followed the slope of her shins, then lingered behind her knees.

Buffy giggled.


His large hands progressed along her thighs, and she didn't feel like laughing at all. His touch stopped short of her apex and disappeared altogether.

She groaned. "I can't take much more of this teasing, Angel..."


When one questing finger drew the edge of her slick folds, she flinched, startled. A nail scraped the small patch of skin separating her sex from her ass and she jumped at the unexpected bolt of pleasure. Three fingers roughly invaded her sex as the foreign pleasure kept on flowing through her, and she rocked against the pillow. Her fists grabbed handfuls of covers and sheets.

"Angel!" she wailed, shocked to find the familiar white heat rising so forcefully, so soon. But even the heat wasn't white anymore. She began to distinguish colors amidst her pleasure. Angel knew her so well, he could alter the quality of her release, like the same music sheet could be interpreted in as many ways to suit the musician's mood.

Buffy felt first the abrasion of the stubble on his cheeks, scraping the tender inside of her thighs, then the lazy rasp of his tongue lapping at her sex, sipping the moisture pooling there even now. She thrashed in wonder to feel the orgasm building already, but Angel firmly grasped her waist with his hands. His tongue replaced his fingers, delving inside her scalding hotness. She mewled, she couldn't help it. When his elegant, classical nose poked her folds and his tongue and teeth found the tiny, straining bud of her pleasure, she bit down on the mattress under her face and let the bed swallow her scream.

She didn't have the leisure of regaining her senses this time.

Angel buried himself in her once again. And the invasion was sweet as ever.

His fingers lovingly drew the sweat-mated hair away from her face, and she gasped out for breath like a small carp in the fisherman's net.

"You're... you're gonna kill me, Angel."

He laughed, and it was worth it.

"You're the Slayer," he said simply, as if that was explanation enough.

Buffy quieted. He was right. She was the Slayer. He could never force her into anything - not that he would ever try to. And she realized that he trusted her as much as she trusted him. Trusted her to fight against her deepest instincts and not destroy him. To turn her back on him without looking for the closest stake. To let him lead her to bliss.

His first stroke was deep and slow, and Buffy reached out to grab one solid forearm.

"Don't... hold... back," she huffed. "Give it to me, Angel... Make me... take it."

"Are you sure?" His voice shook.

"Yesss," she hissed through gritted teeth. "Hard. Now. I want you."

There was hesitation, then Angel hooked his arms under her thighs, lifting her off the bed even more. The angle changed, and she moaned, loud and breathy. He thrust deep, and she saw stars - whole constellations of them. He slid in and out unevenly, grunting, and she could tell that his jaw was clenched. She spread her legs as far as they would go, opening to him. She heard whimpering and realized that it came from her. She was crushed into the mattress by his weight, but it wasn't uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. She couldn't get enough of it.

"Harder, Angel. More!"

He thrust harder, hitting that spot inside her core, and she sobbed - little broken sobs of glorious ecstasy.

And then, she felt his cool seed spurting against her inner walls and tears flooded down her face.

Angel was shouting her name.

Buffy collapsed back onto the bed, and he collapsed too. He kept up his faithful litany of her name against the sticky skin of her back. He rolled on his side, cuddling her, and lay his tired head on her heaving chest.

Languidly, she brushed the hair away from his forehead and looked past his shoulder. She caught her expression in the glass of a framed painting on the nearby desk. She had never seen that look on her face before.

Buffy kissed the dark head pillowed on her breasts and stroked the nape of his neck comfortingly. He was trembling beneath her fingers, and she knew it wasn't the cold. She frowned. She had known how the night would end as soon as he had confessed to her what weighted on his mind. But dawn was far away still, and she would be damned if she let the pain ravage her life one minute sooner than necessary.

Something lying on the floor caught her eye, and her mind was made.

Buffy gingerly laced an arm around Angel's wide shoulders and turned him on his back. Without thought, she straddled him, her wetness against his strong thighs.

Their gazes locked.


She sealed his mouth with a brief kiss and he fell silent. Angel was tense under her. He was steeling himself against her anger. She had been so angry at him in the past year, he had come to expect that from her. There was fear, but also a pained endurance in his dark eyes.

Buffy was coming to despise his aching stoicism, yet it was so much a part of who Angel was. And she loved all of him. It was all for her, this misplaced strength, this inappropriate display of generosity, this foolish bravery, this shame, even this unfathomable pain. They were the darker reflections of Angel's soul. So very few took the time to look beyond the façade of shadows he presented to the world. Morghane. Maybe Spike, in his own way. What would happen to Angel, to the lighter, brighter part of him if they abandoned him all? Who would answer his too rare smiles, who would enjoy his unassuming humor, receive his quiet wisdom, be worthy of his unwavering loyalty?

Who would love him?

Buffy bent over the edge of the bed, and she caught Angel's confused frown. But still he kept quiet, respecting her wishes.

She picked up the black scarf < probably Morghane's > and settled back on her knees.

Angel's eyebrows drew together.

Buffy worried her lower lip. "Will you let me?"

Angel tensed and his hands twitched. A muscle jumped in his throat. A shadow passed over his eyes and Buffy's expression fell.

What was she thinking anyway? Angel might as well have been back in Hell a few days ago - his nightmare had been so vivid. Yesterday, he had been tortured and raped in front of her eyes. This would look to him as if Buffy wanted to punish him. And she couldn't blame him for misconstruing her intent.

He nodded, and it didn't surprise her. It was so like him, to feel that he deserved anything she chose to inflict on him. She didn't want that.

"I would never hurt you, Angel. But you're always the one doing all the giving." He shook his head to interrupt, and she scowled. "No. Hear me out. I just want you to lay back and enjoy yourself for once. Please?"

He took a small breath. His gaze cleared, and he smiled a little.

< How can I not love him? There is so much to love in him. >

Relieved, Buffy hesitantly picked up Angel's left wrist and tied one end of the scarf around it, careful not to tighten it too much. She looped the scarf through a small bar at the head of the foldout bed, tugging his arm above his head, then tied his second wrist next to the first. The skin torn by Lisandra's shackles had healed. Only a slight redness remained. Still, she didn't want to hurt him in any way.


"Y... yes."

His voice was strained. Buffy lowered her eyes and realized that the source of his discomfort had nothing to do with anxiety.

Angel was already fully erect, twitching in front of her.

She looked at him. If he could, he would have been blushing. As it was, he evaded her gaze. She would have none of it. So Angel was aroused by being restrained. She could have guessed as much from his colorful history. Who cared?


Sheepishly, he looked at her.

She grinned lasciviously. "Like that, uh? Maybe some day I'll let you return the favor." Outrageous, she batted her eyelashes at him.

He choked, then laughed a little.

Satisfied, Buffy bent over him, running her hands down his sides. Her gaze embraced the offering laid out before her. Her mouth ran dry and her heart tightened in her chest. Each time, it felt like she had forgotten. Like his beauty was too poignant, too heartbreaking to ever be faithfully committed to her memory. She wouldn't have minded greeting each night with the prospect of that rediscovery - but Angel's fateful words echoed in her mind. Soon, memory would be all she had left.

Blinking back her tears yet again, Buffy took in the vast, dark horizon of him. She felt so small, perched on top of him. His size, like his strength, had always been a luxury she was eager to grant herself. She bowed over him, her hair closing like a curtain around them. She framed his face with her small hands. There was so much to see there, for who wanted to look. She remembered that night in the alley, and then later, when she had taken a better look at him in the mausoleum. That jarring, profound feeling of ancient recognition. The immediate, though confusing knowledge that - despite his first wounded words - a friend looked out to her from that face. The improbable tendrils of kinship had been woven that very day - and every day ever since.

Buffy brushed his mouth with hers, coaxing his lower lip to fullness and he allowed access. Their tongues dueled for a little while, playful. She could feel his grinding hardness insistently poking her middle.

Keeping his attention diverted with the kiss, she snaked an arm between them. Her agile little hand closed around his sex and Angel spasmed against her. She swallowed his shout, grinning against his lips like an unrepentant Cheshire cat. She pulled back, taking in the beloved prize cradled in her palm. She had forgotten. His size, his hardness, his smoothness. Yet she remembered her delight, years ago, when she had first beheld how it could grow under her fingers. She had relished the idea that this part of Angel belonged to them alone, that her and only her could ever lay eyes on its rigid, ripe perfection.

It was also then that she had realized she could give him pleasure in return.

"I'm sorry."

Angel blinked, confused.

"For what Lisandra did to you. I'm sorry I couldn't stop her from... raping you."

His expression softened and his compassion shone through. "It's okay, Buffy."

She shook her head, adamant. "No. No, it's not. I watched your pain, and it almost destroyed me. I couldn't stop it. And I knew you were baiting her... to protect me."

Angel lowered his eyes, and she understood, startled, that he still felt shame for an act which had been forced onto him.

Buffy knew words of reassurance would sound hollow. She bent a little and deposited a small kiss on the tip of his sex. He swelled between her fingers, and gasped. She eyed him surreptitiously. His head was thrown back, his lips parted, his lids tightly shut. A light flush colored his pale cheeks and he panted. The mist of guilt had lifted from his face. There was only pleasure.

Her thighs were soaked again.

He was beautiful.

Buffy realized that she had never told him. Or not enough. And that he needed to hear it, because he wouldn't know.

"You're beautiful."

Angel shuddered between her legs. She encircled the base of his sex and tightened her fist around his flesh. He jerked upwards. Her mouth watered. She smoothed the pad of her thumb over the head of his shaft. She teased the retracted foreskin with the edge of a nail and milky whiteness pearled at the tip of him. Buffy gathered the slippery liquid between her fingers and coated his length with it. She wrapped her palm around him and her hand glided effortlessly down his hardness. He moaned. Amazed, Buffy felt him expand again. It was a wonder that he could ever fit inside of her.

Her fingers slid up his sex, then down again, and she set a slow rhythm, experimenting a little.

"F... Faster."

Buffy giggled. She squeezed harder and jerked her wrist unevenly, hastening the pace.

Angel whimpered her name with trembling lips. He strained against his bonds, muscles standing out against the skin of his forearms, and Buffy slowed down.

"Don't, Angel. You'll hurt yourself."

His lids lifted lazily and glazed eyes found her worried gaze. "I... I..."

Reverently, Buffy brought her face closer to his sex. In any other circumstances, his expression - half hopeful, half scared - would have been comical. As it was, her throat seemed to close up.

Her tongue emerged between moist lips, and she idly licked the underside of him. He tasted like almonds and some kind of earthy spice. Not bitter, just heady. She remembered that taste, because she remembered those months spent discovering each other, her coy approach to his maleness, his patience, and her building confidence. For once, she allowed the memories to suffuse her, guide her, and Buffy understood what healing was all about. She was making love to him again, and it wiped her recollections clean of the taint of what had come after.

She took him in her mouth. Angel thrashed and twisted, his hips driving upwards of their own volition, but she was ready for him and she didn't choke. She loved him with her lips, her tongue, her hands and the muscles of her throat, and he shouted her name.

It sounded almost like pain.

"Buf... Buffy. Stop... Please... st... stop."

The words were torn from his chest.

She stopped.

"Inside. I... I want to come in... inside..."

Buffy kissed his stomach. She raised herself above him. Angel's eyes were wide and he watched himself disappear inside of her. Buffy moaned as her muscles shifted to accommodate his size. She had never been in that position before, above, and she had never felt him so deep. He filled all the space inside of her and she thought that she might burst. She hovered on the edge of discomfort, but there was no pain. Only pleasure, peace, satisfaction. Perfect contentment.

She smiled, and Angel smiled back. A tear fell down her cheek, and a matching one trailed down his temple.

No more longing.

For a little while, Buffy didn't move, admiring the shape of him underneath her. His solidness. She encompassed the expanse of flesh, skin and muscle with generous, lavish strokes. He had healed. The bruises had faded, some redness remained where Lisandra had abused his nipples. She could still trace the ghost of lash marks on his chest and arms. The hole in his stomach had closed up and she could tell that all his ribs had knitted into place. Buffy felt the weakness in his movements, witnessed the exhaustion in his eyes and face, but he would be back to full strength in a couple of days.

She had seen the blood on his lips and the fresh bite mark on Morghane's breast when Spike had given her Xander's coat. Angel had drunk from the Guardian. Buffy wasn't about to bring it up though. She had no idea how Morghane had convinced him to drain her, but she knew how her lover would have reacted upon realizing what he had done. She wasn't about to add more self-hate to the already overflowing pile by playing twenty questions.

Thankful for her Slayer constitution, Buffy raised herself up then slammed back down on him without feeling the strain in her thigh muscles. She increased the tempo, picking up a little litany of moans each time Angel's length hit the walls of her vagina. The friction was beyond what she could take, and soon she was arching up mindlessly above him, her hair flaring wildly around her face - senseless with joy.

This time it didn't feel like reaching a threshold, more like a brilliant explosion - like the grand finale at the end of a fireworks display. Expected but unannounced. Her body sung, exultant, and soon Angel joined her in this sacred dance, attuned to the mysterious language of their joining.

Buffy didn't realize that she had collapsed on top of him until the coolness of his chest against her inflamed skin filled her senses. Her heart rate slowed down and she sobbed her happiness in his collarbone. She plastered herself to him. Angel was still inside of her, softening, and she surrounded herself with him, unwilling to relinquish his closeness.

"Buffy, Buffy, please, untie me. Please, love, let me..."

Sluggishly, she reached for his wrists. She fumbled with the knot, but managed to untie one of his hands. It was enough. Angel tugged the scarf free of the bed rail and enfolded Buffy in his arms. She wrapped herself around him, hugging him as he hugged her.

He was memorizing her. And she had not realized it until it was too late.

She swallowed painfully, tucking her head under his chin.


She was the one who would be going back to Sunnydale, but he was the one who would be leaving her. And there, in the safety of his arms, it was more than she could take. She had to face reality again.


He was pleading with her.

"Tell me why..."

She fought to keep the tears out of her voice. She didn't want to make this hard for him. She respected him too much.

"Buffy, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But I... I have to do what I feel is right. Not only... not only for you, but for me too." His voice trembled in his chest. "I'm not leaving you. I'm more thankful than I can say that you would still... still love me after everything I did to you. Knowing how badly I hurt you. Your compassion... It's... humbling. I cherish it, that you've remained the most generous being I've ever met despite all that has been done to you, and all that has been taken from you. I want to be worthy of that gift. But... I'm not. Not yet."

She couldn't help it. She had to protest.

"Yes you are, Angel. You are worthy."

"I don't know that."

Buffy closed her eyes, breathing a calming breath. He was right. He didn't know.

She had an epiphany. < That's what this is all about. >

"When..." - she refused to even think an 'if' - "When you know, will you come back to me?"

He choked. "Yes."

It was a promise and she felt comforted. This time, there was hope. She had had it with hopelessness.

"But our love is not a prison, Buffy. I don't want you to drag it behind you like a weight..."


His arms tightened around her slim shoulders. "Please. Let me finish."

She sighed.

"I've lived a long time, Buffy. And I know now that we never make a decision for ourselves alone. Our most mundane choices impact on the lives of those around us - on the destinies of those we care for the most. Yet still we must choose, lest we be paralyzed by that realization - the understanding of our true responsibility." He gasped. "I need... some time, Buffy. I know you'll wait, because I've seen the depth of your loyalty. I love you, but I can't stand the thought of that love being a burden to you. It would be a betrayal of all that has passed between us. So I... I want you to accept that I will abide by your judgment. I would never take the choice away from you again, I swore it. I must make peace with myself before I can be worthy of your trust. But I won't... I won't have my decision ruin your life more than I already have. If you meet someone..."

Tears spilled past Buffy's lids. Just how blessed was she again?

He was setting her free. Once more.

He did not understand that she had always been free.

"I love you." She had to say it. "Just... don't forget to come back to me?"

"Never," he promised fiercely. "I won't be far, Buffy. If you need me..."

"I know."

She shifted, pulling his head to the softness of her breasts once more.

"Sleep, my love. Let me watch over you for a little while longer."