She wasn't used to arriving too late, to feeling extraneous.
The LA Apocalypse had all gone down without her. Other slayers, nearer to hand, had caught wind of what was up, had ridden in at the zero moment to rescue the world, and incidentally save Angel, who was at the heart of the debacle. Buffy heard about it the next day, via email. An email not even written solely to her, but one sent to the Council headquarters by one of the attending slayers, and forwarded around.
It felt like quite a come-down, missing an apocalypse. But then everything since the end of Sunnydale was an unexpected downer. Closing the hellmouth and sharing her power and being free of the whole weight of the world was supposed to be a marvelous gift. So her disappointment in everything since made her feel furtive and guilty. It was like when they brought her back from her grave: she was supposed to be grateful, carefree and happy and eager to get on with her bright new life. That it wasn't like that this time felt like a personal failing.
She didn't talk about it. The only one of them she'd ever been able to tell that kind of stuff to, her old enemy, was dead and gone.
She felt guilty about that too. That she'd let Spike make that sacrifice (though what else could they have done?), that she'd waited until it was too late to tell him her heart, and that none of them mourned him properly. She missed him in secret. It wasn't enough.
Nothing was enough anymore.
She took two more days to dicker with herself about going to LA. There was no good reason to. The battle was over, the rent in space-time closed up, the demon hordes dead and gone. No one had summoned her. They didn't need her leadership, or her muscle. Clean-up was never part of what she specialized in. To show up would only be to call attention to her out-of-the-loopness.
But she couldn't go on with what she'd been doing before that email. Having learned of Angel's close call, she had to just lay eyes on him again, even though every time she did, nothing came of it but the same old wash of indecision, regret, and a strange sickening nostalgia. Her old feelings for Angel would never come to fresh fruition. Nor would they die entirely. They were nothing but futile, which was just her state of being these days. Out of sorts, out of place, and in danger of being out of her mind soon, if something didn't change.
She needed a change of scene, even if it ended up being humiliating.
In that mood, Buffy flew from Rome to LA.
The light was different in LA. There was nothing like Italian light, of courseBuffy had learned that along with much else in the last year. LA was sunny too, but the light here lacked that astonishing quality that made Italian things so subtly glow. The celestial light in Rome, the way it reflected off all that ancient stone, had fooled her at first, into thinking that at last she was all clear. Happy and carefree and young. It took a while, to understand how stuck she was. The stupid thing with The Immortal was the culmination of six months of flailing aroundand she'd gone on seeing him way longer than she really wanted to, as she tried to convince herself that he could make her feel more alive.
In Los Angeles, the arrested apocalypse had left a grit, a tinge on everything. Buffy thought she could see it from the plane as it made its descent. In the cab from the airport, she thought she perceived, smelled, a brown undercurrent to everything, like a film between her and the palm trees, the candy colors, the glitter of glass highrises.
The taxi left her off in a marginal neighborhood, in front of a huge half-derelict art deco pile of a decommissioned hotel.
The Hyperion. Angel's headquarters, before he gave it up to take over the LA branch of Big Evil, Inc. She didn't know what the story was there; of course he hadn't told her, when he came to Sunnydale a year ago, and the info in the email was sketchy. Sketchy info, withheld secrets, these were a big theme of her life. The opposite of TMI. She was as addicted to withholding as any of the rest of them, so she couldn't exactly squawk.
From the sidewalk the place seemed deserted, but as she approached the entrance, the door swung open and a slender young man with lank floppy hair came out, talking to someone over his shoulder.
Someone who turned out to be Faith.
Buffy blinked at her. She looked sleek, radiating well-being, power, her hair all shiny, lipstick perfect. No evidence of that cloud that used to hover over her, when she was always in the wrong, and felt herself inferior to the rest of them.
Seeing her, Faith frowned her old defiance for a moment before her face relaxed, became smug.
"Here to check my work, B?"
Her work. Oh.
"Wouldn't let anythin' happen to Angel, not while I've got strength in my good right arm," Faith said. It wasn't quite a boast, but Buffy heard the undercurrent: what Faith had with Angel was better than being lovers. Stronger, more important. So: nyah.
"How did you know what was going on here?"
"Connor tracked me down in Cleveland."
A flicker of smile lit the young man's eyes. He was looking at Faith sidelong, like he was all crushed out on her. Next to her, even though he was a little taller, he looked like a puppy.
Buffy was about to ask, when Faith smiled too. Faith's smiles were never just about humor or happiness; seeing her break into a grin made Buffy cringe inside. "You don't know about Connor, do you? Angel's son."
Angel's son. Okay, Buffy thought. Somewhere along the line Angel had rescued this kid from some big nasty thing, and started calling him his son. Which was ... affecting. Sweet.
Not like the Angel she knew at all, who was always the opposite of Mr Touchy-Feely. But: nice.
She put out her hand. "Connor. I'm Buffy."
"I've heard of you." His handshake was firm but a little damp. Buffy guessed the dampness was about Faith, and felt a twinge of sorry for the young man. He wasn't in Faith's league. He didn't even look like her idea of Use 'Em And Lose 'em material.
"You've come to see my Dad?"
That felt like a bit of a stretch. One thing to refer to someone as your son, the 'honorary' implied, but the 'Dad' thing started to sound like one of those junior high school games where a pack of girls pretended to be each other's cousins and aunts and called themselves accordingly. Anneoying. Buffy repressed it. "Your Dad."
"Angel's inside," Faith said. "He's kinda banged up but better than yesterday."
She wanted to get the whole story out of Faith, but even more she just wanted to see Angel, to assure herself he was still whole. There would be those few minutes of getting to feel her feelings about him, before they'd both have to clamp the lid down again. Like that night after her mother's funeral.
Anyway, Faith and Connor were on their way out somewhere. They were already walking away.
She pushed inside. After the glare outside, she had to blink before she could see anything in the vast dark lobby. There was no one there. Buffy whispered, "Angel?" Then heard herself, and cleared her throat. Louder, called out, "Angel?"
No answer. She went to the desk. Recent evidence that someone was aroundthe kind of detritus slayers left: pizza boxes and crumpled napkins, one cold slice remaining, half curled. Empty cans of diet coke. A twisted tee shirt, blood-stained. The offices behind the desk were unpeopled. Buffy went to the stairs, climbed up to the second level. Called out again, and listened. This time a door opened at the end, a young woman came out, carrying a backpack. "Who are you?"
"I'm Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Who're you?"
"Marisol the Vampire Slayer." She came closer, a short chunky girl, maybe seventeen, her black hair severely bound back. "Huh, you're real. I mean, I know you're real, but I never thought I'd see you. The source."
"We all got the power from you, right?"
"Sort of. But I'm not"
"You're inspiring. I always think, when I'm fighting, what would Buffy do?"
Buffy found herself gripped in a sudden hug, that caught her off-balance. She never knew what to say when the new slayers treated her this way. She wasn't a rock star, or a star athlete, and she couldn't, as Faith did, preen.
Marisol didn't seem to hear. "Angel's in his room, top floor. All the others are up there too. They didn't seem to want us girls to stick around, except for Faith, they knew her before. And most of us have gone home already. I'm leaving now too."
Buffy didn't ask who the 'all' were. Angel's people. Good news then, that they weren't dead. Marisol pointed her to the elevator, and walked off, just as if she'd clocked out and was done with work for the day. Buffy waited, watching her descend the stairs and cross the dusty marble lobby to the exit. Her exit, and the ensuing quiet, left Buffy with a foreboding uncertainty. Maybe she shouldn't see Angel. After all, once she'd seen him, then what? There was nothing for her to do here.
Suddenly she felt like a fool.
That's when the elevator doors opened, and The First Evil stepped out.
The affront of this apparition, coming now of all times, the form of it, blew her up into a white rage. That was supposed to be over. She refused to get back on the I See Dead People Tilt-a-Whirl. And there was nothing in the email to indicate that the First Evil was part of this latest apocalypse.
"What is this? I thought I was through with you! You're just gonna keep coming at me, so I can keep on beating you down? Doesn't that get old, even for you?"
"Wasn't me summoned you here, Slayer. Wasn't anybody, far as I know. Can toddle back off to La Dolce Vita anytime you like." The First Evil twiddled a hand in the air, in a just-you-turn-around-and-march-on-out motion.
"You'd like that. What are you doing here? Gathering intelligence for round three?"
"Uh ... was gonna fetch some blood for The Brow, but come to think of it, why should I wait on that wanker, 'specially now you're here? He's your honey, you look after him. I'm off." The First Evil yanked its leather collar up, gave itself a shake, and barrelled towards the stairs.
The First Evil jostled her as it passed, the displaced air of its passage cool against her bare arm.
Buffy shuddered. The First had some new powerThe First had changed the rules. She took off after it, when the truth slammed down.
He'd sprinted down the stairs, across the lobby, and plunged out the door.
She caught him under the overhang, just as he was about to pitch out into the sunlight.
"Don't burn!" She yanked him back.
"Christ! Thought it was night."
"Sorry to spoil your suave exit."
He pulled away. "Don't burn. Bit of a laugh there. Could've said it sooner."
"I ... I did." She blinked, would've rubbed her eyes except for not wanting to ruin her make-up. This was like a dream. As illogical as a dream. Because when she'd allowed herself to fantasize about somehow seeing Spike again ... well, those woozy late-night fantasies were never this. "Don't you remember? I wanted you to follow me out of the hellmouth, but you insisted."
"That I did." He shrugged. "Had to be the way it was."
"So ... uh."
"Go back inside."
"Why? Can't I even talk to you?"
"Just made it bloody clear you want me out of your face."
"No! No no no!" When his eyebrow quirked up, she grabbed and shook him. "Spike!when I saw you just now, I thought you were The First!"
"you were dead! Why haven't you told me you weren't dead!"
"Had my reasons, didn't I?" Again he pulled loose, shaking out the duster in a way that showed he really didn't want to be touched. But she had touched and smelled the faint odor of tobacco and hair gel and leather that was him. More than enough to be certain.
And with that certainty came a hot flush of confusion, and chagrin.
She fell back, raised her hands to show she wasn't going to grab him again. "Because it would've spoiled that suave exit?"
"Pretty much, yeah." He folded his arms over his chest, shoulders hunched.
"And the rest," Buffy finished for him, "is commentary."
"Right. So ... here you are. You were in on the apocalypse? With Angel."
"Fightin' the good fight. Which we would've lost if Faith hadn't beamed down with a posse of girls in the nick of time." He sounded, Buffy thought, not particularly glad to have been rescued. Had he wanted to dieagain? And why hadn't he died in the first place?
"Look," Spike said, "Himself's in bed upstairs. He'll have heard you hollering inside, knows you're here. Better go to him."
"Where are you going?" She glanced at the sunny walkway to the street. The day was relentlessly sun-drenched, and hot.
"Not suicidal. Just ... you startled me, is all. Didn't think."
"You said Angel needs blood?"
"Said I wasn't gonna be his errand boy, didn't I?"
"Well, you drink blood too, don't you? And I could use a sandwich. They don't feed you on planes anymore, and I've had a long trip."
"Sure, Slayer. S'why I survived the hellmouth. To fetch you snacks."
That strong feeling, that she should never have come, was hot upon her again, making her cheeks burn. Spike had been going to get blood for Angel, before she turned up; he'd been working with him, they clearly were, strange to think, a team. Only enter the Slayer, and already it was turning into a mess. Spike with hackles up, ready to bail.
She might've been the one to bring out the best in him, but it didn't work that way when Angel was there too. Put them all together, they devolved lickety-split.
"Attitude much? Fine, you're right, I'm here to see Angel, and I can take care of myself, and him too. I don't even know what your status is anymore."
"No, you sure don't. Might be I'm evil again. Might eat you where you stand." He shrugged again, as if he wanted to shrink into his duster, and then did one of those flash-forwards he saved for special occasions, disappearing back through the door in the space of an eye-blink. When Buffy followed, the lobby was deserted once more, and she couldn't feel his presence anywhere.
She took the elevator to the top floor without encountering anyone else, and found Angel's door easily enough; she was aware of his presence as soon as she stepped out of the car. There was that tingle in the base of her skull she always felt around vampires, but with Angel there was something extra, a connection she didn't like to analyze.
She knocked. "It's me. May I come in?"
The door was opened by a blue woman with the huge abstract eyes of an insect. She seemed to take Buffy in whole, without reaction, like a camera, then glanced over her shoulder towards the bed, where, in the darkened room, Buffy could only make out the shape of a man, but none of the details.
"Another of the females," she announced. "I had thought they were all gone."
"It's Buffy. Let her in."
Angel's voice was a croak. Buffy forced herself to cross the room at a measured pace, though part of her wanted to break into a run and fling herself at him.
She turned on the bedside lamp. Angel blinked and shrank.
"You're all crispy." The sight of him filled her with a momentary terror. He was bandaged, he was burned.
"There was a dragon."
"It's times like this I wish there was such a thing as a hospital for demons. You really"
"should've seen me before Faith opened a vein."
"Faith and Connor both. I was pretty out of it, or else I wouldn't have let them"
"You were nearly dead." The oh God went unverbalized, though it shot through her like an arrow. Buffy's knees were suddenly watery; she sank down on the side of the bed. Awash in sadness, and futility. Wanted to take Angel's hand, but was afraid that would hurt him. His fingers were blackened, emerging from dressings that wrapped all the way up both arms. But he took her hand, gave it a gentle squeeze and hung on.
"I would've been here if I'd known," Buffy said. "You should've called me."
"Tried Giles, but he wasn't buying."
"He didn't tell me." The rage roiled up againat Giles, at Angel, at Spike, at herself. What was this? How was it that they'd fallen into this state of mutual idiocy?
"Not surprised," Angel said. "He was pretty sure he was talking to Angelus, or the next worst thing." Though his fingers were entwined with hers, he wasn't looking at her. He seemed tired, more tired than any vampire ought to be, despite his meal of slayer blood.
"And you didn't call me," Buffy said, on a sigh. "Because?"
"Wasn't your fight."
"Not mine specifically. Because clearly you thought it was a fight that could use some back-up slayers."
"No, I know. We've said it all before. I really shouldn't have come." She drew her hand away, got up. Her knees were her own again. She could get out of here.
She waited, half-turned away, her legs itching to move. On the other side of the room, the blue woman stood facing the corner, preternaturally still, as if someone had shut her off.
"Buffy, Wes is dead."
From Angel's inflection, he might have been talking about a lover. She stiffened. "I'm sorry."
"I ruined his life. I got him killed. All of them. My ... friends. They're all dead."
"Because they trusted me. I screwed up. I lost them all."
"But you're not alone. Faith's nearby. And here's your colleague with the ... the indigo carapace. And that kid who calls you Dad, which I personally find way creepy but then no one asked me. And" Spike.
There was a pause, then Angel's voice was a whisper. "I shouldn't," he said. "But now you're here, I wish you'd stick around a while."
A little while later, when she walked out of Angel's suite, Buffy almost tripped over the brown bag on the floor outside the door.
Inside was a quart container of blood, a ham and cheese on rye, some pickle slices wrapped in waxed paper, and a can of Diet Coke, getting warm.
Buffy knocked on all the other doors down the corridor, but there was no answer at any of them. No sign of Spike.
She brought the blood in to Angel, and sat down in one of the armchairs to eat the sandwich. Conversation was scanty; she dozed, she wasn't sure how long, but when she stirred again, Angel was still lying there, staring at his failures, and the blue demon on time-out in the corner hadn't moved.
Buffy rubbed her eyes. "What's her story?"
"That's Illyria. She's probably trying to heal herself. She wasn't so quiet and still before. Or else the fight ... broke her too."
"Sounds like you don't know her that well?"
"She ... it's a long story. She used to be our Fred."
"Your fred. ... What's a fred?" Buffy wished she could just ask for a crib-sheet. A Power-Point presentation. Flashcards. Something to bring her up to speed. Angel's world and her world weren't the same anymore. Having to ask these questions made her feel dopey, and half-deaf, and like a pest.
Behind her, the door opened. "Winifred Burkle, girl genius. An' the sweet heart of the operation. 'Til the blue meanie here killed her when she took over her body. Enjoy your sandwich?"
Though his voice made her break out in goose-flesh, Buffy ignored Spike, kept her eyes on Angel. "And this murderous Illyria, you keep her around why?"
Spike closed the door behind him, and trod none-too-lightly towards the bed. "What do you want him to tell you, pet? He kept her around because she was too strong to get rid of, and he had other problems in train, and when the chips were down, she helped our side. Executive decision. You know what that's like." To Angel he said, "You're lookin' a bit less well-done. Your visitor's pipped you up a bit, I see. Now get moving. Extra-crispy an' prostrated never won fair maiden."
Spike grabbed Angel's wrist, and hauled him to a sitting position. Angel cried out, and Buffy started up, thinking to swat him off, but Spike wouldn't let him go. He threw her a look that clearly told her to stay out of it. The vampires eyed each other for a moment, challenge in their gazes, then Spike yanked again, and Angel was on his feet. He tottered; Buffy restrained the urge to jump up and grab him. Spike steadied him with a hand on his waist, then turned him loose. "Well look at you. Up on your hind legscan you bark like a seal?"
"Shut up, Spike."
"Oh go ontalk dirty to me, baby."
Angel growled, and his eyes flashed gold.
Spike laughed. "There ya go. That's our Angel." He sketched a bow at Buffy. "Milady, your swain."
"Spike, stop it. That's not how ... this isn't ...."
The eyes he turned on her now were of ice. "No? What did you have in mind, Slayer? Tell us, do, so we can hop to it. Why're you here?"
"II did come to see Angel." She was blushing, confused in front of them as she couldn't easily recall being before. Spike's unexplained presence overwhelmed her. She wanted to haul off and punch him, she wanted to drag him into another room and interrogate him alone, undistracted.
She wanted to throw her arms around him and kiss him and tell him she had meant it, she had, she did.
All she managed was a beseeching glance at him that bounced off Spike like nothing.
He prodded Angel's shoulder. "An' here he is. All intact, right down to the handy curse."
"Spike!" Buffy stamped her foot. "Don't do this! I didn't know you were alive! You didn't want me to know, so how is that my fault? I didn't know what was going on here! As soon as I found out, I"
"Buffy, Spike, don't. Not here." In his mummy wrappings, Angel had sunk back onto the side of the bed. The visible skin had healed a bit even since she'd first entered the room, but he seemed spent in a way that had nothing to do with the burns. Spent and sick and much much too tired.
She wondered why he seemed bigger than she remembered him; usually revisiting the things of one's youth and innocence revealed them to be smaller, less than. But even afflicted, Angel was huge, huge as the feelings he still stirred up in her gut, and her chest, and her head and her groin.
And Spike was more beautiful than she recalled, and his sneer cut through her like never before, and she wanted him to give her that soft gaze he used to have only for her, that made her feel so wholly known even as it tore her up inside.
Don't, Angel had said.
Don't, don't, don't.
That used to be her mantra, around both of them. Not that it ever kept her out of trouble. With them, it was never anything but trouble.
"I didn't come here to make things difficult. I just ... I wanted to help. I wanted to be with ... " the man I love. Her heart shook within. Both of them. A sob rose up in her throat, contracting it into a painful knot she had to grimace to swallow. She didn't want to get emotional, not in front of them.
Three points of a triangle, they faced her, and she faced them. The air was thick with everything she was supposed to have lived down, everything she'd felt and never said.
Why was it that the worst agonies she had to suffer, were in the presence of those she cared about the most?
In her corner, Illyria moved, abrupt and fluid. "The female consumed the entire sandwich. But the brined vegetation leaves an unacceptable odor." She crossed the room in a movement like a ripple in a pond, snatched up the bag with the remains of the lunch, and was gone.
They all blinked at the slammed door.
Then Spike chuckled. "She's quite a girl, that blue. Never can tell what'll set her off."
"Is she your"
"What? My bit of skirt?" His saucy grin mocked her, as if he'd never loved her, never heard her confidences or told her she was The One. She wanted to scream why are you doing this to me?, but all she could do was open her mouth like a fish.
"... I'm only trying to understand."
"Would be like tryin' to fuck a particle accelerator, I expect," Spike said, shrugging. "A blue one."
"I thought I told you to shut up."
"Yeah, well, your days of dishin' orders to me are done, mate. In fact, now Slayer's here, think I'll be off altogether. Got nothin' to stick around LA for anymore. An' I've got no taste for listenin' to you two go through yet another performance of your tired little play of Oh How Forbidden Is Our Endless Love."
This time when he sped to the door, Buffy managed to get there first. "Spike, no."
"Get out of my way."
"This isn't right! You can't let me think you're dead for a whole year, and then treat me like I stood you up! You may not love me anymore, and that'sthat'sthat's your prerogative. But I don't deserve this! And I know Angel doesn't either. Whatever you feel about me, don't take it out on him."
"Oh, so I'm to be nice to Himself? Like it's gonna make any difference? Like you're gonna take me in your arms an' kiss me an' say you want me? You never wanted me, an' you've no more need of me, and that's why I didn't tell you where I was. You came here for him. Leave me out of it."
"You don't know. You don't know what I'd do ... you haven't given me a chance."
"Yeah, well, I know you, Buffy. No one knows you like Spike knows you."
Her skin flushed hot. " ... that's ... that's true. Don't you think I know that? And I've missed you, like ... I've missed you ..."
"What you said, when I was burnin' up ... you'd only ever say a thing like that when it was too late to have to stick to it. Since I got better, I won't hold you to it. But not interested in listenin' to your hems an' haws."
His words, his face, sent her into a fury. She wanted to slam him, but a tear slipped free, and she had instead to force herself back under control. She fought her sobs, at the same time waiting for Spike to gather her in. To tell her that it was really all right, that he believed her and still loved her and this misunderstanding was done with.
But he didn't touch her. She wanted to look at him, but she couldn't bring herself to raise her head, and her eyes were awash. And behind her, Angel was silent. She couldn't imagine what he was thinking. Couldn't remember when he'd ever been so passive. She wanted to go to him too, but it had been such a long time since she could go to him for anything.
That made another sob bubble up.
Spike was so still. Had he always been like that, able to just stand still and watch her and do nothing? It seemed strange, but she couldn't remember, and he'd been gone from her for so long that he'd taken on a sort of imaginary character in her mind. Since his death, she talked to him more than she talked to anyone. More than to Angel. In her mind she made love to Spike, and lay with him afterwards, and talked to him, about everything, about her whole life. Much much more than to Angel. Her love for Angel was like something suspended in amber, precious and real and intact but ... apart. Untouchable. She carried it with her always, but didn't get much use out of it. Whereas Spike ....
Sensing that Spike was ready again to walk out, she placed herself more firmly against the door. Forced herself to look up, to meet his observant eye. And then to glance back at Angel. "This is all wrong. Why does it have to be this way? I mean, we've known each other forever, right? We should be able to just sit together and talk. The three of us. Shouldn't we? Can't we?"
It turned out they could sit together, but the talk didn't come. After ten minutes of excruciating silence, Spike grabbed the remote.
They watched the last twenty minutes of Passions. Angel back in his big bed, propped on pillows, Spike sprawled at the foot, and Buffy curled in her armchair. Spike talked back to the commercials like he was alone. Angel was quiet, and Buffy wasn't sure if he was awake or not, except that sometimes he'd meet her searching gaze, with a look she didn't know how to interpret.
When the show was over, and Spike began to channel surf, she sprang up, antsy and dissatisfied. "I'm still hungry. Are you two hungry? I think we're all hungry. Is there more blood in the house?"
Without taking his eyes from the TV, Spike nodded. "Downstairs."
A sensation flashed through her, so sudden and tangible that it was like a gut-blow, of how it would feel to have them both sunk into her throat, tight up against her, one on each side, her body surging as they pressed her between them, sucking her down. She'd lie entwined with them, they'd hold her and feed, and she'd curl a hand into each one's hair, thrilling as she felt them burgeon against her, grow warm and well, and when it was over Angel's burns would be all healed, and Spike would understand what she wanted him to understand, and she too would be fine, somehow fed by the act, made stronger.
They would know all that was in her heart, and everything would be all right.
All at once she was aglow, and throbbing between her legs. "Then I'll get some more blood. I'll bring it up in a little while. Wait for me." She hoped they couldn't smell what she was thinking, hoped they wouldn't notice anything unusual as she went to the door, forcing herself not to run.
She took the stairs, gasping, not knowing herself. In all the years, she'd never fantasized such a thing. Never wanted But it bloomed and bloomed again in her head, suffusing her, so she headed not for the kitchen but for a bathroom.
On the toilet she strummed at her taut clit, and came at once in a series of long deep shudders, biting her other hand to keep from making a noise. Then pulled off her shirt and splashed herself all over with cold water. Stood over the sink until her breathing, her pulse, were back to normal. Until she dared to look at herself in the glass, and try to smooth her hair.
Nothing here was what she'd anticipated. Least of all herself.
" ... give her a chance."
Spike glanced around sharply. Angel looked at him through slitted eyes.
"Chance to do what? Run me through the grater few more times? You weren't there, Peaches, you don't know what"
"Give her a chance to show how she's changed."
"You think she has."
"I know it." Angel paused. "And I know you haven't. Not towards her. Not really."
"No." Spike stared at the TV. The strobing colors made his eyes sting. He blinked. Demons don't change. Oh he'd changed and changed and changed and what good had it done, and yeah some things never shifted, no matter how much you ... Christ.
"We weren't going to see her again. We agreed."
"She came to us."
"She came to you."
"Okay. Point is, this whole thing isn't about you, so quit being such a diva."
"Never said it was. Why I should take off now. My reasons for sticking close have expired."
"Have they? Spikewhat will you do, if you leave here?"
"Dunno. I'll find something."
"What's that going to be? Stay, and we'll fight together."
"Oh, we'll fight together if I stay, all right."
"Well, you like that too."
"Couldn't lick your weight in feather dusters now," Spike said, and yawned at him.
"I had a hundred years of being souled with nothing to do and no one to do it with, so believe me, I know what I'm talking about. I don't recommend it. You need the mission. The fight isn't really over. It never is. You're a good fighter. And we ... what we have in common, means ... we should work together."
Spike laughed. "Where's a voice recorder when you need one? Could play that back to myself on lonely nights."
"Yeah, fuck you too."
Spike was quiet then. He hit the mute button, and drummed the remote against the coverlet. "Talk about lonely nights. There's your problem. You've lost your friends, an' you're scared. Want me to keep you company, ain't that right? Because you may not like me. But you know me."
"If you leave," Angel said, "you'll only get bored and end up drifting back."
"What about Buffy?"
"What about her?"
"You gonna get with her at last?"
"You know I can't." Another pause. "Not even sure I'd want"
"Oh, don't kid yourself."
"Where's that blood?"
Spike sprang up. "I'll get it. But you're gonna owe me for all these times I've mopped your brow, you lazy shite."
She found the fridge. The young man, Connor, was in front of its open door, gulping orange juice from the quart container. He crushed the empty as she came up. "Hope you didn't want any."
"Is there more?"
He shook his head. "Faith's on the grocery run. So there will be."
"You didn't go with her?" Because you sure looked like you were stuck to her like glue.
"They're gonna deliver. We're sort of carless now. And she had another stop to make."
"So you ... you live here too?"
"I used to. But not anymore. I go to Stanford."
"So you came down for"
"The Apocalypse. I had to help."
"I'm a fighter."
"You don't look"
"Neither do you," he said, pointedly. "Angel is my father."
"... you said."
Connor cocked his head. "I thought you and Angel were close. He never told you about me?"
Buffy didn't like this. Any of this. It was trying to put together one of those jigsaw puzzles with two thousand pieces that were all sky.
And she hated having to admit she didn't know anything.
"Well, I guess you and he have had to keep apart, right? Because of the curse."
"Right." She hated it that this stranger was up in her business.
But he looked like a nice guy, Buffy thought, clear-eyed, giving off an air of openness and confidence. Well-adjusted.
Not the kind of person she associated with Angel at all. Not to mention that he didn't look like him at all. Where Angel was big and wide, the kid was compact and wiry. You could cast him as an elf if Orlando Bloom was unavailable.
"I guess I came about because of the curse. In a way. Apparently my mother was trying to break it. She couldn't, but she ended up with me."
"Your mother. Who's your mother?"
"I never knew her. Her name was Darla."
"Darla. Darla? She's a vampire. They're both vampires."
The kid nodded. "It was a big thing."
"A big secret thing." How much else has he never told me? "So you must've been born long before I ever met Angel."
"No. I was born in 2001. Though that's not what it says on my driver's license."
"but Angel slew Darlawhen I was in high schoolI
Connor shrugged. "Guess it didn't stick. But she's dead now, and I don't think she's ever coming back. I grew up in a hell dimension, which is why I'm like this."
Like what? He looked all wholesome, like a Mormon. This wasn't just a world of weird, it was a whole solar system of it. Everywhere she turned in this place, there was something to pierce her.
"I need blood."
He started, his gaze going sharp. "You're not a vampire."
"Neither are you. Which I don't get. I mean, if vampires breed, which they don't, shouldn't they breed little vampires? Especially when they send them to be raised in a hell dimension? Is that like military school? What'd you do to deserve that? Discipline problems?"
"Angel didn't send me there. I was taken. When I was small."
There was a whole story here, and suddenly she didn't want to hear it.
"Angel and Spike are waiting for their afternoon tea. That's T for tepid." She reached around him to take the blood from the fridge. "Where's the microwave? Need to warm this up."
"Are you going to be visiting here long?"
When she glanced up, Connor's expression was much less disingenuous elfin Mormon, and a lot more brooding penetrating stare.
Whoa. She saw the resemblance now. To Angel and Darla both.
"My Dad's had a tough time. I mean, tough is an understatement. If you're going to make things worse"
"I'm not here to make things worse! I keep saying that and no one believes me."
"Slayer doesn't mean to bring the pain. Girl can't help it." Spike was leaning in the kitchen doorway. "Do us a favor, boyo. Leave us be. Want to chat with the lady."
The microwave dinged. Connor gave Spike a look Buffy couldn't interpretand how long had Spike known about this mysterious son?
"I'll bring that up to my father."
They waited, gazing off in different directions, as Connor poured the blood ino a thermos, grabbed a mug, and left the room. Waited until they heard him cross the lobby and get into the elevator.
"Noyou listen" She went to him, grabbed him by the lapels, and dragged him down to her mouth. She intended her kiss to be deep and warm and speaking, but Spike's mouth didn't open against hers, and after a terrible hanging moment, he drew back.
In a tone she'd seldom heard, he murmured, "Know that about you. S'nothin' new there."
"That I get you hot. Desire doesn't solve anything. So just ... please don't."
"You're determined to misunderstand me."
"Don't think you understand yourself."
"I didn't expect to ever see you again!"
He was silent.
"Okay! Okay! If you'll just sayjust say it! Say you don't love me anymore, unequivocally, so I'll know that"
"Buffy. You have your life, on the other side of the world. Go back to it, an' leave Angel an' me to ours. That's how it's been the last year, an' how it's got to be."
"If you'd just say"
His eyes as he gazed at her now were full of a gentleness that verged on pity. "Said it. All right? Said what I came down here to say. You wanted to see if Angel was alive, I get that. You've seen. Now go home, love."
"No! What are you trying to do? This isn't"
"Tell your sis I said hello. Hope her hard feelin's have worn away by now."
"Spike, I am not letting you boot me out of here and then carrying messages to my sister! What is this?!"
"This, is our life. Our set-up, our mission. This ought to be remedial, Slayer. You know all this. You an' Angelcan't mix, and we have to do what we have to do. Without you gettin' involved."
She gasped. "Are youhave you twoare you involved?"
"You're a couple now. You know, I always sort of suspected there was"
"Bloody hell! We are not!"
"Then why are you trying so hard to get rid of me?"
He didn't answer. Buffy threw up her hands. "I know! Yes, I know! I shouldn't have come. But I love him. I shouldn't have to tell you, that there's times it's impossible to stay away from someone you love, even when ... even if it would be better ... and Spike, I love you. I do. It wasn't a lie."
"Never said it was."
"What you're too much of a hero to ever take."
It occurred to her, for the first time, that this might have happened sooner. That if she'd told him her love back in Sunnydale when there was still time to do something about it, he might've rejected her as he was rejecting her now. Maybe he couldn't bear it, the idea that she might love him back. Maybe the mere suggestion tainted her in his eyes.
That would be the kind of exquisite irony she'd be caught up in, like a sticky spider web.
The thought made her feel sick. She wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.
She wanted to be back home. Be with her sister, no one but her forever, because Dawn was the only one who wasn't dangerous, wasn't difficult. They were just sisters and that was that.
"Sometimes I still hate you." Buffy shoved past him, and left the hotel.
"You should get back to campus."
"I'll go when I'm ready." Connor's grip on his elbow tightened. They were walking together, slowly, across the room. Angel gritted his teeth. It wasn't the pain, so much, as the intense itching: he wanted to rip off all the bandages, he wanted to scratch away at least two layers of skin. He wanted to scratch away the last year, so that Wesley would be back, and Gunn, and Fred, and he would go easier on all of them, he would forgive and ask to be forgiven, he wouldn't take away their memories, hi-jack their lives.
They were all gone.
But he had his son. His son who came to him now, freely, and with so much affection.
Affection Angel didn't much feel worthy of.
"Tell me more about Faith," Conor prompted.
"Don't get excited about Faith. She's not for you," Angel said. He clenched his hands into fists to restrain the urge to scratch, but Connor frowned.
"Or what? You'll deck me?"
"What is it with you? I don't mean to give you a hard time, Dad, but ... why do you have to give me a hard time? I just like a girl. It's allowed."
"Why? I've seen her fight. I've heard her talk. I've seen how she is with you. We have stuff in common."
Right, you're both killers. But I got you out of that, free, in a way Faith will never be.
"I like her strength," Connor said.
"Lots of women are strong. Women, in general, are a hell of a lot stronger than we give them credit for." Angel huffed, and dropped into a chair. "Men are idiots, usually, where women are concerned."
"I guess here's where I say something like 'takes one to know one'. What are you going to do about Buffy?"
Angel repressed an urge to growl. "Nothing. There's nothing I can or will or should do about Buffy. She's here on a visit. She'll be leaving soon."
Angel peeled back some of the wrapping on his left hand. The revealed skin was newnot exactly pink and healthy, but fresh. Suddenly he was pulling at all the bandages. He half-expected Connor to stop him, but the boy only watched, his lips pursed.
"You don't need my permission with Faith. You take up with her at your own risk, all right? But don't meddle with me, son. Not now."
Why must people want things from him? Couldn't he be allowed just a few days to acknowledge the dead while the living took care of themselves?
Connor shook his head. Quietly, he asked, "Would you like me to get her to go? Buffy, I mean."
"... no. Leave her alone. She'll know what's ... what's appropriate. Anyway, it's not just up to me. She's also Spike's"
"His friend. She's Spike's friend too."
Connor looked doubtful. But all he said was that Angel should wait for him to get the scissors, so they could get the bandages off properly.
When he left the room, Angel fell back in the chair, closed his eyes, clenched his fists. The itch raced over him, up and down, like fire. He'd been on fire, and it felt like this in the first moments, a strange licking sensation that was curious, almost pleasant, until you realized what it was. All at once he remembered Nina. Did it feel like that for her, those first moments of changing, as the features shifted, the hair sprouted?
And what would she do this month, when her time came? Where would she go, if not to him? She didn't know where he was. He should call her. But if he did, she'd think he meant to go on with
and why not? Why shouldn't he go on with her?
Angel couldn't think of the last time he'd made love to any woman more than once.
With Buffy ... it was twice. The second time on that night that was forever erased.
Otherwise, it was only with Darla. And he'd fallen out of the habit of thinking of Darla as a woman. Or what he'd ever done with her in bed as making love.
Connor returned then, with the scissors. Angel thought again how handsome he'd turned out, how like his sharp-faced, clever, bright-eyed mother. And now he was a normal young man, with clean hands. Except he had the strength of a champion, and the champion's inherentwas it inherent?attraction to the strong and dangerous and glamorous. Faith was all of that.
Angel loved Faith with a strong, credible love, not with desire, but with pride, like an uncle, a brother. He'd helped rescue her, and she'd met his challenge. He wanted her to be loved by someone who could match her, understand her. But he didn't want to give Connor to her. He didn't think Faith was anywhere close to being able to be good to a man, not like he wanted someone to be good to Connor.
As Connor pulled the bandages away, he decided not to contact Nina. A clean break was best thereshe knew what she was now, and could take care of herself.
As for Connorgetting him back to school, and Faith back to Cleveland, should cure that problem.
"You shouldn't be in such a hurry to make everybody go," Connor said.
Angel started. Since when did the boy read minds?
But he was just continuing the conversation from before.
"You're mourning. You should have company. People who know you. Better than I do."
"I" He couldn't tell the boy that all these people around didn't constitute company so much as they constituted a series of problems he was supposed to solve, when all he felt capable of doing was sleeping and staring. He hadn't even had a chance to shed his tears yet. He couldn't break down, couldn't release all he contained, with Connor there, or Spike, or Faith, and least of all in front of Buffy.
The people I want aren't here. The ones who are here ... aren't who I want.
Angel thought of funerals. There should be funerals. For Wes, and Gunn. For Cordelia. For Fred.
Too many, too many. Who would take care of all that?
Connor tugged away the last of the dressings. "How's that feel?"
"Better." It didn't, but there was no point saying so. He was tired again, and couldn't see any way out of that, any way forward. What he'd said to Spike a little while ago, about the mission, going on with the struggle, it felt like nonsense now. Stupid nonsense.
He was a stupid failure and he just wanted to sleep.
Suddenly Spike was there. He didn't say anything, but began not ungently to haul Angel up. With Connor's help they guided him back to bed. Spike murmured something to his son, and then they were alone.
"Drink a bit more of this."
"Will do, soon's you drink. Got to keep your strength up."
"Stepped out. You don't want her now. Can barely hold your eyes open."
Angel drank. It was just animal blood this time, without the exciting guilty frisson of Faith's. " ... maybe ... maybe from now on, you could run things. When I make the decisions, it's no good."
"Oh yeah. You'd go for that, when you're one hunnerd percent. Ought to make you sign an affidavit now, you'd say anything, wouldn't you?"
"Shut up an' sleep, old man. Only reason I'm bein' kind to you now's 'cause you're unlikely to remember it when you wake up."
"Have another beer. Jeez, you're allowed. Are you still all with the low-fat yogurt with the scruples on top, B?"
"I thought you'd reformed."
"I work it every day. But you've still gotta enjoy life, or else you might as well just kill yourself."
"Somehow, I don't really want to listen to your life advice, Faith."
"Fine. I don't care what you do."
The bar they sat in was loud, the music pounding. It was music like they'd danced to together, those years ago. Buffy couldn't help responding to the beat, though she didn't want to show it. Didn't want Faith to be aware of how it danced through her, made her want to get up and move.
Faith leaned towards her again. She had to talk right into Buffy's ear to be heard. Her breath was beery. They'd been together for a few hours now, ever since Buffy ran into her as she was leavingstorming out ofThe Hyperion. Talking slayer stuff, and managing not to say much of anything. Buffy got the story of the apocalypse, but the Faith's-eye-view starred Faith and wasn't all that informative on the bigger picture.
"Why don't you just do what you feel?"
"Take what you want, B!"
"Smash and grab? Because that worked so well for us before." She took a long swallow of beer. Was this her fourth mug, or her fifth? She tried to recall how many times she'd gone to pee since they got here, but things were a bit muzzy.
"No smash. No grab. That's not what's called for here."
"What then?" Buffy wasn't even sure what Faith was talking about.
"You're so hung up between the two of them you're paralyzedwhy don't you just have them both?"
The suggestion, so casual, so smirky, shocked Buffy to her marrow. She couldn't believe Faith had the nerve to say this. It was obscene. She flushed all over, her skin crawling.
"You have a dirty mind." Resolutely, Buffy resisted the visuallots of visualsthat were popping and flashing in her head. That was just like Faith, to turn things that were big and serious and deeply personal and ... unpossible, into a filthy three-way orgy. "Are you sleeping with that Connor?"
Faith's eyes widened. She still looked like she was sparring, like this whole conversation was a game. Buffy loathed her in that momentFaith should have too much on her conscience to grin like that, to look so goddamn saucy ever again. Who did she think she was? How dare she talk about the people she knew as if they were characters on a soap opera?
Buffy wanted to punch her. The relentless beat was beginning to give her a headache.
Faith took another long pull of her beer. "Not yet. Not sure I want to go there. Only because of Angel."
There was another, smaller shock in this admission. Faith being thoughtful. Faith considering the consequences of something she might do.
"I don't get how he's Angel's son. I don't get how he's Darla's."
"You'd have to ask him."
Faith meant Angel. Buffy didn't think she could ask Angel about that. Even at the best of times, she couldn't listen to him tell about his past, his crimes, without feeling sick and ashamed of herself and so unsure.
She remembered telling him she didn't know if she wanted children of her ownthat she couldn't even keep a goldfish. And how he'd cautioned her, more than once, that he'd never be able to give her a family.
And yet somehow he had a son, and she had ... nothing with him. The way still blocked off, same as ever.
Why couldn't she stop wanting to get over that wall?
"Anyway, Connor doesn't look like your type," Buffy said. "Breakable isn't that enticing for you in the end, is it really?"
"He's no more breakable than we are, B."
"He's a twig."
"Nah. He's, like, a boy slayer. Strong as us. You should see him throw down." She smiled lasciviously. "See that, you'd wanna throw down on him, yourself."
"Must everything out of your mouth be so crass?"
"Apparently, yeah. Must everything out of yours be so fuckin' prissy?" Faith stuck her tongue out. "You need to get laid. How long's it been? For real, B, they'd both go for it. They need it much as you."
"Stop it." She bit back an urge to bark We're not friends! She didn't want herself in Faith's imagination like this. And she no longer subscribed to the idea that sex was the fast-track out of feeling bad.
"Anyway, you think those two've never done that before? Had a girl together? Had each other? Hell B, they're vamps. They've done it all."
Buffy slid off her stool. She couldn't listen to any morethe impulse to hit out, to pound Faith 'til she beggedwas almost irresistible. How dare she talk about them like that? How dare she tell her anything? Did Faith think those last couple weeks in Sunnydale erased everything between them from before?
Shoving her way out to the street, Buffy took off running, but slowed when she saw a cop car crawl slowly by. People didn't run so fast on city streets, not if they didn't want to attract suspicion.
The dizziness from the alcohol hit her when she stopped; for a moment she could've sunk down to lie on the pavement. She forced herself to walk, languid and stretchy.
What she wanted, needed, was a good slay. But Faith had already told her that LA was now curiously devoid of vamps and demons; those who weren't involved in the apocalyptic battle seemed to have fled or were lying so low as to be out of play. Won't last, she'd said, but for now there's nuthin' to do but dance and drink, and ... you know ... hootchy coo. The way she'd eyed her, Buffy wasn't sure for a moment whether Faith wasn't coming on to her.
Faith would come on to pretty much anyone, though.
She was just that gross.
Walking, taking deep gulps of fresher air, Buffy tried to parse her next move. Going back to see Angel again ... to see Spike ... would accomplish ... what? Nothing.
She should just head out to the airport, go home.
She'd left her bag at The Hyperion, though. Would have to swing by and get it. And probably there were no more flights tonight, so she'd have to call the airline, get a room somewhere, wait.
She could do that. That would be better. Best of all would've been not to come at all. That way she wouldn't have known about Spike, and wouldn't have had to see how much, though Angel clearly needed someone, he didn't need her.
He'd asked her to stay around, but Buffy was pretty sure, knowing him, that he wished he'd kept his mouth shut, and would prefer she not take him at his word.
She hoped she'd be able to sneak into the old hotel, grab her stuff, and make a quick getaway, but of course Spike was sitting on the pouf in the lobby, smoking a cigarette, when she walked in. Why he was hanging around down here, rather than upstairs where there was a television, was a mystery.
"I'm heading out," she announced, loud and bald and uncontradictable. "Back to Rome."
"Good. Since you hate me so much."
"Spike! That's what I mean! When you talk like that!"
"Why shouldn't I? What're you gonna do, Slayer? Notice you haven't told me anything new, shown me anything new. You're not gonna be my sweet mistress now any more than you ever were, an' short of that, I prefer not havin' you dangled in front of me. Think I've earned that much peace at least."
That angry flush bloomed in her again, making her heart into a hammer. Spike regarded his cigarette.
"Angel doesn't need your teasin' presence either. Just a torment to him at the best of times. Which this isn't, not for him. You came, you saw, now go home."
She could go without her bag. There was nothing in therea couple of outfits, some make-up, an iPodshe couldn't easily replace.
He'd never talked to her like this before, not since he'd fallen for her. Spike had his stones back. All the way and more.
She really needed to just turn around and go.
She stalked closer. "When I kissed you earlier, you pushed me away."
"Was same old. Not the way you'd treat a fellow you really cared about." He rose. "Now on, want all or nothing at all. Don't need to please you anymore, Slayer, so it doesn't matter if I speak my mind."
A hundred intricate explanations filled her, but all she could manage to say was, "You confuse me."
"I always have." He began to walk away.
"If I'd known! If you'd called me, come to me! But I come hereI get blindsided by youand now you"
He wheeled around. "Slayer. If it was me you really wanted, you'd have flown into my arms by now. We both know it's still Angel, only you can't fly at him, 'cause you both think it'll be Angelus who'll catch you." His shoulders slumped. "Fucking hell. Why do we have to go over this again? Leave a fellow alone. Go home."
"What would you do? Say I flew into your arms. What would happen? Would you be the sweet lover I know you can be? Or would you think less of me, because I loved you? What about that?"
He'd started to walk away. He stopped. His back was still turned. He wasn't wearing the duster; she could see how his shoulders climbed towards his ears, how he forced them down.
Her mouth felt full of sand, the backs of her eyes burned. "Admit it Spike. You're not sure you want me to love you. Because you believe that taints me, is that it? If you really cared for me, as a woman and not just a hero, you wouldn't have hid out here, you'd have told me you were alive. How do you think that makes me feel?"
Those last minutes in the hellmouth flared up againgrabbing his hand, telling him her truth, knowing it was too late. Having to leave him. And then missing him. All alone, missing him. None of the others talked about him, even those few times she let his name slip. They just let it lie there. Abandoned her with her unfinished grief the way she'd abandoned him.
And all this time he'd been alive, and concealing himself from her.
"This isn't only about me not being able to choose. You have a choice too, and you ... you chose not to come to me. You chose not to give me a chance to show you ... show you something new."
"Maybe it's a bit like you say. But what I chose, Slayer, was to stay with Angel, an' do some good. Got a powerful desire for that, an obligation, just like he does. Long as I last, that'll never be over. Got to stay here an' stick at it."
Spike always fought dirty. Even as she hated it, Buffy had to admire this tactic; it was nasty, and effective. She felt skewered. And he didn't even know that for the past year she'd stepped aside from the mission, tried to live like the normal girl she'd never really been and didn't even want to be anymore.
And his message was clear: Angel and I fight here. Your fight's in Europe.
Faith's remark popped back into her head. You think those two've never done that before? Had each other? Spike had denied that they were involved, but that didn't mean Spike didn't wish they were. Hard to imagine Spike committing himself to a cause that didn't have at least some connection to an object of his erotic fixation.
As all this flashed through her head, Spike was already climbing the stairs to the hotel mezzanine.
Before she realized what she was doing, Buffy was shouting. "Did you lie to me before, when you said you weren't lovers? If it's Angel you want, why don't you do something about it?"
Spike stopped, stared at her. "You're mighty interested in that all of a sudden. New kink? Want to watch, that it?"
"I want I want you not to bebitter ... and ... alone." Like me.
She ran a few steps closer. Her head was buzzing; she could barely breathe, and wanted to cry; that's how she knew she'd hit upon the real truth in this tangle at last.
"Spike, I didn't come to take over, to stomp all over everything. I wanted to see how things were here. I wanted to help. And I want you to have what you need. Even if it's Angel."
Her heart trembled in her chest. Spike cocked his head, but otherwise didn't move. His eyes for once were unreadable.
She was focused so intently on him that she didn't notice they weren't alone. Not until the voice announced his presence.
"It isn't me. Is it, Spike? If it was, you wouldn't be shy about letting me know." Angel leaned over a little, so the dark of the mezzinine no longer concealed him where he leaned against the rail. He was immense and calm and very pale.
A panicky surge went through her: how much had he heard?
Spike started too; his eyes flashed gold. "You're supposed to be sleepin'."
"I woke up. I'm hungry." He sounded, Buffy thought, almost plaintive. Angel moved towards the head of the stairs. He was dressed, in a shirt and trousers. The collar done up high, probably to conceal the burn scabs, which also dotted his neck and face. Spike stood his ground, watched him traverse the mezzinine, start down until they stood, not on the same step, but eye to eye.
They looked at each other for a long silent moment. Angel grasped Spike's biceps. "Valiant words just now, about the mission."
"You know I mean it."
"So you'll be going with her."
"No. Why're you trying to get rid of me? Haven't I proved my right to be your pain-in-the-ass lieutenant? And it's not like you've got anyone else left at your command."
"Her oven timer seems to have gone off," Angel said. "Cookies are baked."
Buffy winced. She was surprised Angel remembered her dumb metaphor, which sounded even dumber, brought out again like this.
Spike said, "What the fuck?"
Angel gave his arm a little shake. "She wants you. She just said so."
"Didn't hear that. An' it's you she's in love with, same as forever. Though she's got a funny way of showin' it, trying to shove me into your bed."
Angel sneered. "Does she make you more stupid than you naturally are, Willie? Wouldn't be abandoning the mission, to go with her."
Spike never took his eyes off Angel's. "She hasn't asked me. Not really. And like I said, I'm good here."
"Hey!" Buffy said. "Stop saying she like that. Standing right here. And I didn't ask either of you to have a verbal shoving match with me as the booby prize."
"You didn't ask either of us to be your man, either," Spike said. "Same old, same old."
Buffy's mind whirled, shaking out snippets of memory, strong feelings that put her off-balance. This wasn't fair, the way they were treating her! They seemed to meld, then separate, then meld again as she watched them; she blinked, trying to clear her vision. The time zones she'd crossed crunched up and slammed her. She was tired. So tired, and lonely. Tired of this impasse the three of them were caught in.
Angel sagged. "I need more blood," he told Spike. His tone had changed from combative to confiding. Except where his skin was burned black, he was pale as a newly-peeled potato. Suddenly it wasn't clear to Buffy if he clasped Spike's arm in fellowship or to keep himself from toppling down the stairs. "I was on my way to get some, when"
"Got a ways to go yet, healing," Spike said. "But you look a bit better."
Angel nodded. He dropped Spike's arm; they came down the stairs.
They might not be sleeping together, but how like a couple they were, a couple of long standing, at ease together, casually looking after each other. Buffy yearned towards that; it had been so long since she'd had anyone who treated her that way.
She didn't know how she was going to get it from either of them, since they were closing ranks against her before her very eyes.
They paused as they came abreast of her. Politely, Angel said, "Do you want anything, Buffy?"
Desperate times called for desperate measures. Spike had jeered at her that she had nothing new to say. Well, she'd surprise him now. "Yes, I want something. If you'd both just hear it. I want to love. To be loved. I want to not be expected to choose."
Spike jerked his head up. His gaze pierced her with an intensity sharp as a bite.
"I don't mean choose between loving and being loved. Because I want both. I'm ready for both."
Angel's gaze abruptly dropped away.
"I may be a little bit drunk," Buffy said.
"No shit," Spike muttered. "Go sleep it off."
"No! It's true! Why do I have to choose? That's what has us all so stuck! Why can't I just stay here with you?"
"With me?" Spike barked it, a challenge.
"Both of you. I want both of you. You both want me. We could make it work if we tried."
Spike gestured in disgust. "You really shouldn't drink, Slayer. Not any better at holdin' your liquor than you ever were. Turns you into a babblin' idiot. Go to bed." He strode off towards the kitchen without waiting for a response.
Angel hastened to follow, but she caught his arm.
"Would you listen! I don't want to be pushed back to the other side of the world by myself. Not now I've seen you again, not now I've seen Spike. Can't we work something out?"
Her face was burning with blushes, she couldn't believe she'd spoken any of this out loud.
Angel said, "Spike's right. You've had a lot to drink, and you're ... saying things you shouldn't say. Things you obviously don't mean." She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him so embarrassed. His bewilderment made him appear improbably young.
"I'm saying, let's try something new." She tried to engage Angel's eyes, but he wouldn't look right at her.
He shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Angel. Why should we all be apart and alone? We should be together, all of us."
"You really should go sleep it off. We opened up a room for you. 401. Across from Faith's. She aired it out earlier, made up the bed for you." He broke from her then, moving swiftly towards the kitchen. The swinging doors flapped hard as he passed through to the hotel's service corridor.
She wanted to take off after them, but to do what? Plead her case some more? Try to take it all back?
The way Spike had looked at her made her shudder.
The way Angel refused to look.
She held herself still for as long as it took to get behind the closed door of 401, and then the tears came down.
In the kitchen there was no sign of Spike, but the travel mug with the warmed blood in it was on the counter.
Grateful, Angel scooped it up and headed for the elevator. He was bone weary. Sick. And wanting to be sick. Sick and unconscious, and by himself. Without these mortifying distractions. He would take a handful of the sleeping tablets Connor had brought in, and fall back into oblivion.
There was nothing else to do, because he sure didn't want to review what just happened. He really could've gone the rest of his unlife without hearing Buffy refer to Spike as the sweet lover I know you can be. It was one thing knowing, intellectually, that Spike had had her. Bad enough when Buffy admitted, a year ago, that Spike was in her heart. But that was enough of a euphemism he could shunt it off into an alcove of his mind and not let it change how he thought of her. Buffy's heart was large and could contain multitudes, including puppies and pretty flowers and french fries and maybe Josh Hartnett and also Spike. It didn't mean anything, him being in her heart.
But to hear Buffy talk to Spike the way she'd talked out there in the lobby. Challenging his love, as if it really mattered. That was just too hard.
It would've been bad at any time, but now, when he'd just sent his friends to their deaths, and had no idea if the Powers were still guiding him or if they'd abandoned him when he signed away the Shanshu, it felt unbearable. He'd never expected to have Buffy in his life again, but he'd compartmentalized her, and his love for her, and he was dealing with the fact that she'd never be his. Part of that deal involved her never being Spike's, either.
To hear her say she wanted to be with both of them, threatened to shatter his last shred of dignity.
That proposal was obscene. More. It wasn't Buffy. It simply was not.
He'd shared Drusilla's attentions with Spike. Often, in the old days. Darla's sometimes, too, with Spike and plenty of other men. And not just theirs. He'd debauched plenty of women with plenty of other fellows, every which way that was possible.
But he'd never loved those women. They were fellow vampires, fellow demons, or whores and victims on their way to providing him with a good sup.
Buffy was different. Special. She was absolutely not in that category at all.
Reaching his room, he stumbled forward into the dark, unbuttoning his shirt with one hand. He'd get into bed, swallow the sleeping pills down with the warm blood, and then Hello Nothingness.
"Slayer's off her rocker."
The drapery at one window shifted, admitting some ambient light, showing Spike standing there, blowing cigarette smoke out into the night air.
"We're not talking about it. Get out."
"I've seen a lot more of her when she's out of her mind than you have. I know the signs."
"She was drunk. Everyone gets sentimental and says weird things they don't mean when they're drunk." Angel was determined to make that the crux of it. Buffy would never ever have spoken such stuff sober.
"It's not true."
"She reeked of beer."
"Not disputing she's drunk. It's not true what she said, about me thinkin' less of her for loving me. I wouldn't do that. It's moot anyway, because I'm not the one she loves. An' then she suspects you an' me are fucking. Girl's all mixed up."
"Yeah, well, there's a lot of that going around. Why are you still here?" Angel shucked his clothes, reeled towards the bed, grabbed up the pill bottle.
"Dunno why she had to come here now anyway. Could've used her help a few days ago when we had our wrinklies in a vise, but now that's done with, she's got nothing to do here but tease. Which she bloody loves to do."
"Spike. Get the fuck out."
"I'm not leaving. You're not the one true champion anymore, and you're not getting rid of me. Got to regroup an' go on. You need me, you wanker."
"Out of this room. Leave me alone."
"You think I won't go to her? Gonna go find the slayer right now, and when I'm done with her she'll remember she can love you all she wants, but I'm the only one can fuck her full of bliss and still be all right in the morning."
Angel roared. Spike's cigarette tip flared, then disappeared; he dropped the drape, and it was dark again. Then the door slammed.
Angel swallowed the pills, and was quickly gone too.
With the bottle he'd retrieved from his room, Spike headed up to the Hyperion roof. Needed some fresh air to get drunk in. Some stars to ponder, in order to put some perspective on the general madness. Everything was arse-over-tit, himself most of all, and Angel wasn't the only one wondering what it meant that he hadn't fallen in battle when better warriors, better people, were gone.
Wondering what his purpose was supposed to be from now on, and where to look for it.
He opened the tequila on the stairs, and took a deep swig before opening the door that led out onto the roof.
He'd see which side had the nicest view, the farthest view, and sit there. He had a good few hours before the dawn would drive him indoors. And with any luck Buffy would make good on her promise to leave LA, and be gone first thing to make a 6:00 a.m. flight.
Except that she was already sitting on the western parapet, her head silhouetted against the almost-full moon, gazing out towards the distant ocean.
He tried to slip silently back into the stairwell, but she'd already turned.
"Leave you in possession of the field."
"I don't want possession of the field." She leapt up, came towards him. "Please stay."
Her hair was mussed, face tear-stained.
Her bright eyes still had all their the power to pierce him to the quick.
"Thought you were goin' to bed."
"What's in that bottle?" She was flushed, heart racing. Smelled like beer and jet planes and insomnia. Eyelids fluttering with chagrin.
"Tequila." He held it out to her. "Not that you need to be any more out of your mind."
She grabbed the bottle, and before he could grab it back, hurtled it to shatter in a corner of the parapet.
"I was gonna drink that!"
"Don't want you to. We need to talk."
"We do not. Got nothing else to say to you, Slayer."
"I know you're angry at me."
He wasn't going to lie to her and deny it.
"See, I knew it. Because I'm angry at me. I should've planned it better. What I'd say. And when I'd say it. Except it wasn't something I planned. It was more like a bolt."
"From the blue. You know. A brainstorm."
In her hesitant stance, Spike saw for a split-second the little girl in the Summers' family albums, all unaware of her future, that Dawn once showed him.
"I shouldn't have come to LA now. And I really shouldn't have started with you two about ... about us. My timing sucks. II am going to leave in the morning, go back to Rome. If you and Angel ... if anything changes ... you can just let me know. Okay?"
He could imagine himself agreeing, and her turning away, and being gone. And tomorrow Angel wouldn't bring it up, and he wouldn't bring it up, and the nights would go by, and the weeks and the months. And that would be so easy in a way, because the agony of keeping up love in thin air was so familiar. As known and well-fitting as his old duster, the one he no longer had.
She was a terrible, profoundly aggravating girl. No one could torment him like Buffy.
"Go to bed then, Slayer. S'late. Nothin else we need to chat about now."
She dropped her gaze, and he could feel he'd shamed her. But there was no frisson to it.
"I just really wanted you to believe me."
Her eyes glittered with beseeching.
"Pet, I did. When I was about to die, you loved me."
She wore that stunned expression she sometimes took on, that made him willing to stake himself if it would ease her.
Except this time, it just pissed him off.
He itched to punch her, but went for the door instead.
Her blow caught him in the back of the head. He stumbled, and she slammed him back against the stairwell door, pinning his hands against the metal. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks ruddy like the cheeks of girls in 18th century portraits. For a long moment she just took him in, as a slow warm grin tugged at her mouth.
"Wasn't that just like old times?"
"You are not going to push me away, or explain me away, anymore. I am your girl, and you are going to stand still and shut up and let me kiss you."
They kissed. She ran it, her mouth hot and wet and eager, tasting of beer and the crying she'd done, and of herself, a flavor that excited him like nothing else ever had. Every time he tried to free his hands, or surge against her, she pressed him back, reminding him who was, if not bigger, than definitely just that much stronger.
He liked it. Liked being bullied, when it was accompanied by the slow thorough probing of her tongue, and her warm belly rubbing against his.
She kissed him for five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. His whole body was on fire for her, but she was merciless, keeping him pinned. Her aroma changed, deepened, as her own excitement ratcheted up, but she kept it slow, purposeful. Excruciatingly intense. All the nerve-endings in his body seemed centered in his face. He was grunting now, low pleading noises that she answered with sighs and groans as she licked her wordless story into his mouth. Fucked him with her tongue.
At last she paused to draw a long breath. "Do you understand me now?"
"Comprehension's dawning, yeah."
"You're an excellent kisser. I know I never told you that. But I always thought so."
Before he could answer, she began again. He understood many things nowthat this wasn't merely a return to Help Me Feel. She was serious, imparting her fervor with total concentration, kissing it into him. Her hands pinning his wrists to the door were a sort of promise too. That she would never abandon him again, that she was ready to take charge of him in the way he needed her to. She acknowledged his surrender with a tender force she'd never shown him before.
When she squirmed against his groin, he knew she felt his erection, wanted it, but she was patient. For once in their dealings, she was in no rush.
He shut his eyes, the better to experience this, to drink her in with his other senses.
"The rubbing of the tongues. I see this human behavior everywhere. It is on the television. What does it signify?"
Illyria had materialized right beside them, her face with its unblinking eyes inches from theirs. Buffy started. But she didn't let go of his wrists.
"You exchange genetic materials through your oral cavities. Where then do you carry the immature young?"
"We're not exchanging genetic material. We're exciting each other. In a little whilebehind a locked doorwe'll exchange. Kissing is sometimes publicbut the exchange, that's private."
He was astonished at Buffy's politeness. He himself was inclined to pitch Illyria off the roof.
"This stimulation of the tongue causes the half-caste to become fertile?"
"You know," Buffy said, "I really hope it does not. I don't think it does, but since I've been here I've heard a pretty freaky story about two vampires having a kid. So we might have to be careful. Thanks for the heads up. We're going to go indoors now. You can stay here if you want."
Seemingly satisfied with this conversation, Illyria nodded and stepped back to give them room to open the stairwell door. It was only when they passed through that Spike realized the blue god couldn't have come to the roof that way. Had she scaled the building? He glanced back. She was standing on the parapet, staring up at the moon.
Buffy glanced too. "Y'know, I'm just sort of taking Angel's unspoken word for it that I'm not supposed to slay her."
"Probably wouldn't do to try. You'd only get hurt. She's sort of a fact of life round here now."
"Apparently. My room, or yours?"
"Yours is closer."
Buffy had experienced it before. Many times. The first time she slayed a vampire, seeing it shiver into dust that held its human shape for one terrible moment before giving way to the air. Watching Angel undress for her, on the only night they had together. The night she struggled out of the grave to find herself plunged into what felt like hell. The sight of the huge sinkhole where Sunnydale had stood.
She didn't expect to feel awe when, having scrambled down from the hotel roof with him, invited him inside and carefully locked the suite door, she turned back to Spike.
He stood in the middle of the room, but at the same time she perceived him as floating, ephemeral. She'd just now stopped kissing him, touching and talking to him, so why all of a sudden was she caught in this strange bubble, where he embodied everything she'd ever irretrievably lost?
It came to her that she was still drunk, possibly drunker even than before, because kissing Spike again a year after his completely permanent death was such an unlooked-for, wild, enthralling surprise.
She wasn't sure how much longer she'd be able to stand upright. Her brain and belly were swaying inside, her senses reeling. That was a cliche, about the reeling, but it was true. She could feel them, her senses, whipping around.
Spike was keeping quiet, letting her look at him. She moved closer. Another thing about being drunk is that she was somehow very clear about what she was feeling. The barrier between thought and speech, always so staunch with her, was getting trampled.
"I want you to know that this past year, not a day went by when I didn't think about you." Not a night. Not an hour. There was a tremor in her voice she couldn't control. "It was so hard not even having a photograph of you, because memory ... memory is so not enough." She came up to him, touched his face. She was all a-tremble with desire, a desire that seemed to transcend mere arousal and satiety. "You're more beautiful than I remembered. You look so good to me."
"Not good at all. Big Bad here."
"Hey! Don't quip while I'm telling you my heart."
"Oh, is that what you're doing?"
Oh God, I am. A sodden wave rushed up and lifted her off her feet, tossed her towards the ceiling. She seized his hands to keep from getting sucked up in it, tumbled head over heels. "Listen. Listen, beautiful Spike, because I never talk like this, I might not do it again." She tugged on his hands, and laughed. Once it began, the laughter took on itself, pouring out like a coughing fit. Spike laughed too, indulgent, and gathered her in. Swung her up into his arms.
Like a bride, she thought, I feel like a bride. "Listen! Listen!"
"Gonna put you to bed, girlie, on account of you're on the verge of passin' out." He carried her there, laid her down gently, and started to take off her shoes.
She sat up. "Listen! I want to say it out loud so you won't be in any doubt. Here's how it is. You were my enemy, and then you became my ally, and finally my friend. Our friendship was forged in terrible wrong and pain andandbig badness. Right?"
"Right," he said agreeably, letting one shoe drop and prying off the other.
"So it holds. It's strong. Super-strong. It transcends death. But that's not all."
"Not all? Fancy that. Lie down, there's a good drunken slayer." He prodded her shoulder.
She caught his hand again. "Spike! I'm serious, here! You're not just my friend. You are also my love. I love you, and I'm in love with you, and I'm your girl and you're my beautiful blue-eyed vampire-man."
As she babbled, she saw him soften, smile, and begin to bask in her declaration. He was radiant.
No question that he believed her.
At the same time, she knew that the unmentioned name was in his mind. It was in hers too, making things complicated.
"I don't want you to worry about him.. I can't say I love you both equally because you are Spike, and he is Angel. He is tall and dark and like the Incredible Hulk and you are wiry and light and likelikemaybe The Human Torch."
"That was me, yeah, all on fire down that hell-hole in Sunny D."
She winced. Had not meant to remind him of that. "Or do I mean the Silver Surfer? Xander would know. Not thatnot that I'm going to call and ask him or anything. You just have to believe me, that neither Angel or you takes away from the other. Of that I'm sure."
"And whatever Angel decides about us, I'm not waiting for him to say yes to me in order to say yes to you. I say yes to you, Spike." Her cheeks were bright hot, and she dropped her gaze, which brought her eyes straight to his bulging crotch. She forced herself to look up into his face again.
His eyes, smiling, brimmed with tender amusement. "Well well. In vino, veritas."
"It was beer, actually."
"Sam Adams, draft. Can smell it. You've been a thirsty little slayer."
"And now I smell bad? Don't tell me I smell bad!"
"Go to sleep, love."
"But we're gonna do it first, right? I'm so ready for you, God you must smell that too, I'm not gonna be able to hide anything from you, am I, uh, not that I want to! I justI need to pee" She started up, and almost toppled. Spike caught her, and guided her to the bathroom. She used the toilet without turning on the light. Her head weighed a ton, and at the same time it was a balloon, bobbing along the ceiling.
She made it back to the bed in a running leap and a bounce, and thinking of that bulge in his jeans, peeled out of her teeshirt.
Why aren't you in here with me?"
"Give us a sec'. Gonna take a leak."
"Since when do you do that?"
"Beer in, piss out. Even for demons."
She heard the hard clack as the toilet seat hit the back of the tank.
The next thing she was aware of was a bright light against her closed lids, immediately followed by a seering pain behind her eyeballs.
Morning. She fought free of the sheet tangled around her body, and hunched around the other way, out of the sunlight streaking in the unblinded windows.
But her head hurt too much to sleep again. So much that it was astounding she'd been asleep at all.
"Owwwwww." Moving hurt. Lying still on her stomach hurt. Rolling onto her back hurt. Every position made her head feel like it was in a visea vise being turned by some very muscular kind of demon.
She wasn't wearing any clothes.
But she couldn't remember the much-anticipated lovemaking. That was gone. Not a kiss, not a caress, not the weight of him on her, the heft of him inside her, not a growl or an endearment. The whole event vanished in a drunken blackout, and the man himself vanished too.
It must've happened though, because she was soaked between her legs, lying on a wet spot, and her thighs were stuck together.
God. Had he really fucked her and then left her to sleep alone? She dragged herself to the side of the bed. Her stomach flopped, bile rising sickeningly up her throat, burning, making a foul tang at the back of her tongue.
And now the Sunnydale High Marching Jazz Band was doing a medley of their worst bits in her throbbing head, which felt inflated to the size of a beach ball. At least.
"Oh God. Never. Never again. I'm Diet Coke girl, forever." She dragged herself up. The dried fluids had knit her pubic hair so it tugged painfully when she rose.
That's when she saw the blood stain on the sheet. Her gorge shot up, and she hunched over, so as not to vomit, because the memories that flooded herof being forced to the bathroom floor, struggling against his clutching hands and furious face and the sharp knee driven between her thighswas immediate and vivid.
Forced and torn and left unconsciousNo no no. She staggered up, still hunched, favoring her groin, and scuttled into the bathroom. But there was no tearing pain there, just the sick pounding of her head. Glancing at herself in the big mirror, she saw no bruises, or marks of any kind, on her nude body.
A clot of blood ran down the inside of her thigh.
She'd begun her period, that was all.
Even though there was no one to see, Buffy was overcome with chagrin at the conclusion she'd leapt to. Now she didn't want to face her reflection as she tore through her toiletry bag for a tampon. He'd sought his soul for her, fought to win it, and was never anything but on her side ever since. Last night their whole interaction had beenwell, she'd said a lot of stuff she couldn't quite remember, but that quarter hour of kissing on the hotel roof was indelible. The upstairs bathroom in Sunnydale was as far in the past, and as irrelevant to their love, as the night her mother clocked him in the high school corridor.
How could she have gone there?
At least he would never know she'd had that thought. He must've left her when he smelled the blood; it made sense that he wouldn't want to lie there with that aroma in his nostrils, and maybe he'd even tried to wake her up to tell her. She must've been dead to the world.
In the shower she tried to rinse away the ugly flashes of memory, but like the pounding in her head, the nausea in her belly, and the sharp cramps that began as soon as she was on her feet, they hung on, like the shreds of a nightmare.
Need coffee. Need juice. Need to go out in the lightwith my dark glasses on. Need to wash my mind out with soap.
He sees them. The three: Gunn, Fred, Wes. Their backs are to him, but they're not very far away. Angel trots towards them, calling out. They're only walking, three abreast, away, but he's faster, he's going to catch up in a moment. And meanwhile they'll hear him, so they'll stop and turn and wait.
Fred's hair is loose and moves on the breeze. Gunn's arm is around her on one side, and Wes's on the other. They move very evenly, almost like skating. Angel calls again, but they don't turn, or even pause. Though they're only walking and he's running now as fast as he can, through a dark air that feels like glue, they're getting farther and farther away. His friends, his partners.
Angel stumbles to a stop. "It's your fault too!" he screams. "I'm not the only one who fucked it all up!"
Then the earth erupts at his feet, and he falls.
Angel awoke, harsh and sudden, with a sensation of his body hitting the mattress, as if he'd plunged from the ceiling.
He was in his bed, in his old suite at The Hyperion, the air smelling of dust and rusty blood. Right away he remembered that his friends were dead, and that while they made mistakes too, everything really was his fault, because he and he alone made the decisions that led them there.
Maybe the Powers had forsaken him. Maybe, when he signed away the Shanshu, he'd signed away their guidance too.
Probably he was supposed to be dust now.
Connor should go back to school, and Faith to Cleveland, in a day or two.
Buffy had come here and said a lot of nonsense, but soon she would take Spike back with her to Rome, and he'd be all on his own. No seer, no friends, nothing but this hulk of a hotel. A good place to stay buried in.
How low was he, when the removal of Spike felt like a grave loss?
Angel dragged himself up and into the shower. The last of the scabs fell away in the hot stream. He was well again, at least physically.
The brightness of the mid-morning, even with sunglasses on, proved too much; by time she'd shuffled down from the hotel entrance to the sidewalk, Buffy's head was throbbing so hard she could only retreat back into the Hyperion's welcoming darkness.
Moving towards the kitchen, she hoped not to meet anyone. This was prime vampire snooze-time, and with any luck, Faith and the mysterious Connor would be elsewhere, doing whatever it was that girl slayers and boy slayers did together.
Angel was just popping the microwave door as she walked in; the stink of heated blood flooded the room. In the next moment, Buffy's digestive tract was no longer under her command; she hurled forward and vomited into the sink.
In another moment Angel's hands were gently sweeping back her hair, as she coughed out the last remnants.
"Big night?" He turned the sink on full. She'd thrown up mostly stomach acid; wasn't sure if she'd eaten any dinner the day before.
"Apparently." She rinsed her mouth, shut off the tap. Angel was still holding her hair with one hand, but as soon as she straightened up, he let it go and stepped back, moving to pour the hot blood into his insulated mug. Once the lid was on it and the container rinsed, the smell was nearly gone. "There might be some stuff I'm forgetting."
"I hope you haven't been making a habit of that. Drinking."
Angel looked grim, and turned away. "Siddown. What you need is some food in your stomach. I'll make you some eggs. Don't say no. Trust me, you'll feel better."
"You are going to make eggs."
"There was a time when I cooked breakfast for my team all the time. Cordy could've told you, I fry a mean omelette." He was opening cabinets now, assembling ingredients. It was a good way to keep his back to her; Buffy was surprised he wasn't fleeing her presence altogether. The whole course of last evening's events was coming back to her in bits and flashes. Her argument with Spike in the lobby. Angel's entrance, and then her speech to the two of them. Her proposition.
And the horrified way he tried to negate it by refusing to look at her.
Oh yeah. All the pieces were back in place. Buffy sat at the end of the big table, and laid her head down.
Angel set a glass in front of her, and slapped some pills down on the wood. "Drink this down. Take these. You look kind of green."
"Whereas you seem to be all better now." Meekly, she sipped at the orange juice. "Which is good."
Angel didn't reply. He was chopping onion and pepper with vampire speed. Buffy sat back and looked around. The kitchen, like the rest of the hotel, had an air of disuse, and was dusty, but was otherwise pretty nice. "This is some place you have here."
"Glad I had the forethought to ward it up before we moved out. Found it just as we left it when we came back." Angel paused. "When I came back."
Despite the cheerful sound of cooking, the smell of coffee brewing, the temperature between them, not exactly high from the get-go, plummeted. Buffy swallowed the aspirins. "If I'd understood the situation, maybe I could've helped. I'm sorry about that. It's partly my fault, and partly yours. Lesson learned: Champions need to stay in touch."
"I guess so." Angel cracked eggs on the edge of a basin, in a way that showed Buffy how careful he was being, to rein himself in.
"I just want one egg."
"But you're going to eat three. And bacon and toast and fried tomatoes."
"And like it?" She couldn't help smiling into her juice glass.
"And like it," Angel echoed.
"So you cooked for them. Cordelia, and"
"And Doyle. Later Wes. And even a few times for Gunn and Fred and Lorne too, but more recently... more recently we'd let our good old habits slide."
"Those happy little rituals are always the first thing to go when things get bad," Buffy said. "The last year in Sunnydale, we"
"How's your sister?"
The question startled her. "Dawn is good. She's at university, in England. At Cambridge, actually. Huh. I forget that you knew her. Because you really never have been in the same room as her, you just think you ... I got the sense from Faith that something of the same sort happened here. Wholesale insertions into people's memories. Except not an insertion so much as a deletion. Your son was deleted."
"It was a decision I made." The frying pan sizzled as Angel poured the egg mixture in, sending up a cloud of steam.
"A bad decision?"
"He's alive. The hostages he was about to murder when the spell took hold are probably all still alive too. My friends aren't. You tell me if it was a bad decision."
"God. That's not my call." The headache still thumping behind her eyes was just another reminder of how surreal, how hard, this superhero life was.
And you couldn't walk away from it. She'd tried, and not only would it suck you back in, butthe sense of displacement, of missing everything important while you were fixated on what was utterly trivialskiing with the Immortal!was killer.
When would this headache clear up?
Angel slid a plate in front of her.
There was a lot of food on it. And ... it looked good. The omelette fluffy, the bacon crisp, the tomatoes with those toasty brown patches. Her stomach, obedient dog, growled.
"There, I knew you were hungry. Eat up."
He sat, prepared apparently to watch that she did as she was told.
It was the first time since her arrival that she felt he really welcomed her. He'd been too weak the other day, begging her not to go; that wasn't like this, didn't impart the little frisson of pleasure. Who knew Angel could cook, would cook, had such a grasp of domestic details, of human comforts?
He knew how to make proper coffee, too.
"I hope you'll tell me everything. That we can tell each other ... what friends should tell."
That slayed the doting pleasant look. "Where to begin." It wasn't a question, more a negation.
"I could use the FAQ on Connor. I'd like to know about the friends you lost, and about this law firm thing, andand" It nearly shut her down, realizing the length of the list, and how many things weren't even on the list, because she didn't know to list them.
Their paths really had diverged. She knew almost nothing about him anymore.
Except that he was still Angel, and the sight of him still cracked her open inside and filled her up with a brimming golden glowing love. This overwhelming feeling didn't make her happy or satisfied; sometimes it felt as close to outright suffering as her middle finger was to her ring finger. But though so many years had lapsed since he'd left her, that love never modulated, let alone died. It was a fact inside her, like her slayerness. A fact she wanted to face.
Even in her next-morning nauseated sobriety.
Angel shook his head.
Buffy put a hand on his. "Please. I'm in no rush. There's plenty of coffee. Tell me something. It might help you, to talk about it. Any of it."
"And what will you tell me?"
She blinked, confused. "Anything."
"What happened with The Immortal?"
"The Immortal. How did he throw you over?"
"He, uh ... he didn't. How do you know I was seeing Piero?"
Angel shook his head again, and started to get up. Buffy grabbed his arm. "How do you know? Have you been spying on me?"
He gave her a look of such blandness it made her flinch. "Yes. When I had the resources of the law firm at my disposal, I had you watched. I wanted to know you were all right."
"You wanted! You never called me or wrote to me but you set spies on me?"
"Told you she'd pout."
Buffy glanced around. "Spike! You knew about this too?"
"Only at the end, pet. Otherwise I probably would've found some way to tip you off, without tippin' you off about me." He swung into the room, turning one of the kitchen chairs backwards to sit.
She scrambled up. "God! Every time I start to think we can get it together and relate to each other like grown-ups, you pull some stinker like this! What is the matter with you?"
"Yeah, what's the matter with you, our Liam? Don't you know first thing 'bout relating to a woman, you homunculus?"
"You shut up, Spike! You don't get to kibbitz this fight, Mr I Didn't Bother To Say I Was Alive!"
Angel's fist struck thunder on the wooden table. "Both of you, shut up!"
In the sudden silence, Buffy realized her headache was gone.
She drew herself up. "Don't you try to shut me down. Just because you don't want to own what you did, doesn't mean I'm going to pretend it didn't happen!"
"Buffy. C'mon. I didn't do anything. I just had a couple of guys in your general vicinity, just, you know, making sure no harm came to you."
"No harm? I'm the vampire slayer!"
"Well, according to the bi-monthly reports I was getting, you were more of a party-girl-ski-bunny-topless-sunbathing-on-the-Riviera"
Spike perked up. "Topless? Why Slayer, you have changed."
"That's just how it is on French beaches, okay? It would've been dorky to wear the top! What do you knowthe last time you were on a beach they still had bathing machines."
"Been on a beach more recently than that. Moonlight swimming. Vamps don't need to wear suits, we're wild creatures who swim naked Say, you an' me ought to do that. What about tonight?"
"Spike. Buffy and I are having a discussion. Would you get out?"
"I'll leave if the slayer asks me to."
This response so astonished her that for a moment Buffy could say nothing. Spike was watching her. She expected to see him smirk, but he seemed genuine.
"She turned back to Angel. "Are your spies still on me?"
"No. I ... after we saw you in Rome, I called them off. And before you start screaming again, yes, I should've told you that too. We were only there for a very brief time, and it was in the middle of the whole clusterfuck that the last month has been."
"You were there. You saw me."
"Yes. Yes and yes. And maybe keeping that from you is another of the myriad ways I fucked up, but since it's a mistake that did not lead to your dismemberment or death, I'm kinda gonna give myself a pass." Angel looked at them each in turn, and slammed out of the kitchen.
The door flapped violently in his wake.
Spike caught Buffy before she reached it. "Wait a bit, pet."
"Why? I have to talk to him"
"He can't. Not yet."
Spike turned her, his hands on her shoulders. "Little hung over today, I reckon."
"You were in Rome. And you saw me. And still you didn't"
"Never mind that. There wasn't any time, had a caper to pull off on a deadline, an' then to rush back here. Better we didn't meet up then."
"I'm sick of being told what's best for me." She was tense, still wanting to take off after Angel, or to berate Spike in his place.
"Know the feelin'." His thumb came up and caressed her jaw. "Don't be too cross with him. He's a chundering idiot, but I reckon he does the best he can."
"I ... I guess."
"For an emotional cripple."
He shrugged, smiled. "Just callin' him like I see him."
His thumb was still drifting along her cheek. Buffy caught it gently in her teeth, and let it go. "... what happened last night?"
"Nothing. What, you think I'd get on you when I wasn't sure yes meant yes? Learned that lesson already."
"No! Spike, no, I never thought that. I just ... I was surprised when I woke up and you weren't there."
He looked puzzled now. "Pet, tried to wake you to tell you you were on the rag, but you were out. Was a bit ... confusing, lyin' there with you spread out beside me like a cornucopia, an' no tasting allowed, so I took myself off. Figured you'd twig to it."
"Oh, I did, II totally twigged. I was just ... disappointed."
He smiled again, wistful. "So was I. Lay awake for hours, thinkin' on what you said to me. How you looked at me. Don't mind tellin' you I took myself in hand, on the strength of it."
She got up on tiptoe, whispered. "... I don't mind telling you, then ... I've done that a lot myself, in the last year. Thought of you, when I ...." She blinked against the prick of tears in her eyes.
"Made you sad, did it?"
"I'm sorry you suffered on my account."
"Maybe you are, but it thrills you too, doesn't it?"
Spike glanced away for a moment, and she knew she'd hit the mark there.
"Will sleep with you tonight, if you want me. Say, what about that beach date?"
"You were serious?"
"Why wouldn't I be serious?"
"Yes. I'd like that. Only Could we ask Angel too?"
"He's not fond of the ocean since he spent a summer at the bottom of it. Besides, thought you an' me ought to have a proper date at long last. Seem to remember you tellin' me last night that you weren't going to let Angel determine how things go between you an' me. But ask him if you must."
"I did say that, yes. Okay, I'd love to go to the beach."
He lit up. "I'll find us some wheels, an' all. You only need to bring yourself. No suitwe'll do this demon style, yeah?"
"Way to endear yourself," Spike said, when Angel opened his door. He'd retreated to his suite, where he seemed to have shut himself in, after the argument in the kitchen, like a wild animal responsible for its own confinement. "Never gonna get horizontal with the slayer if you keep that up."
"I notice you haven't either."
"Not yet. She wanted to last night, but she was drunk."
"I don't like the idea of her drinking. It doesn't seem like her."
"You don't know her anymore. She does all sorts."
"Don't tell me," Angel warned, warding him off with a gesture.
"Girl's flash in the sack. An' not just therehad her other places too, every which way. Energetic an' flexiblein every sensean' a quick little learner. Was very little she wouldn't do." Spike threw himself into an armchair. "Still, would like to find out how she is with a fellow she's really fond of."
Angel perked up, looked smug. "Buffy in love ... she was wonderful."
"That's not what Angelus said."
"I'm not talking about that time. Though she was wonderful then too."
"That was the only time there was."
"No. We had one other." Angel started pacing again. "Five years ago, she came to LA, I forget why. We were attacked in my office by a demon whose blood brought me back to life."
"Brought you back to"
"A gifthorse which, when I examined its teeth, I found I had to give back. The price was too high."
"You were alive."
"For a single day. A day which the Powers agreed to take back, to make as if it never happened. Except that I remember it. I remember making love to Buffy, for hours. With ice cream."
"She was sensational. We were sensational. Nothing in my life or unlife was ever so rich and perfect as ... I was never so happy, so delighted. But the great thing of it was her happiness. I'd never seen her like that before either. Just pure, unadulterated joy."
"Ah." The pang that started when Angel said Buffy in love was now a full-fledged ache. His heart was always breathless for her, always yearning and hoping. He could twist Angel's head off now, for forcing him to think of Buffy giving herself to him, especially in a state of joy, and at the same time, there was a surge of affection for the old man, because they shared that consuming love for the world's most adorable girl. He pricked himself with it a bit more. "Did she shine with it?"
"She did. Like a little sun."
"An' don't you think she would again, if you stopped antagonizing her for a moment an' took her in your arms?"
Angel's open, reminiscent expression darkened into something nearly thunderous. "You know I can't. And why would you even want me to? She's yours now. I heard what she said to you."
"Don't really want her in your arms, no. But I do want her to be happy. An' if part of that's havin' you in her life, an' her bed ... well, so be it."
Angel grinned suddenly. "You're practically cutting out your tongue, saying that."
He was. Knew in his heart that as he pretended to be more interested in Buffy's fulfillment than anything else, it wasn't the whole truththe idea of her not being his alone tormented him. Even as he suspected the only way he'd be able to have her in any ongoing way, despite her reassurances, was by sharing. If he plumbed for All Or Nothing At All, he'd lose. "Well, don't exactly like it, do I? Old Spike ought to be more'n enough for any woman, especially the Slayer. She knows I love her like"
Angel took a bottle out of a cabinet and poured himself a glass of whiskey. "She's only confused because she's here. You should take her away. To Rome, or anywhere. Just go."
"Just go, he says. How'm I to do that? Knock her out and stuff her in a burlap sack? What century you think this is, idiot?"
"You could have her if you'd just step up and take her. Sometimes that's what a woman wantsshe wants not to have to arrange and decide everything herself."
"That's bollocks." An' went so well when I tried it in her bloody bathroom. "Might be some women are like that, but not our Buffy. Wouldn't want her to be, come to that. Anyway, haven't I told you an' told you that I'm not gonna walk out on you? We have work to do here, yet. Was out doin' a bit of recon early this morning. Things are humming at Wolfram an' Hart like nothing ever happened. Demon life's startin' to come out of hiding again. We averted an apocalypse, but that was last week. They're already assembling the ingredients for the next one."
"Don't change the subject."
"Thought you didn't even want to talk about it."
"I don't." Angel closed his eyes. "Spike, I know you care about the mission. I respect that. And if Buffy had just stayed where she belonged ...."
"Oh fucking hell. Don't put it on me to remove the temptation. Y'know, if you really an' truly mean to give her the go-by, you ought to tell her yourself. Tell her in no uncertain terms. But I don't think you do mean to. I don't think that at all."
"Well think again. The people who work with me get slaughtered. I'm not going to risk anyone else."
"It's not up to you, you great prat. Look, not gonna stand around here arguin'. You'd better go talk to her, because she's gonna stay sore about that spying caper 'til you do."
"Why should you care if she's sore at me? All the more for you this way, isn't that so?"
"Already have a date with her tonight, whether or not." Spike scooped Angel's car keys up from the dresser, and pocketed them.
"Hey! Put those back!"
"Tsk tsk. Wouldn't lend your ride to your best friend?"
"You're not my best friend, Spike!"
"Best one you've got left. Should treat 'em better, now they're so rare."
Angel found her, an hour later, in the basement. Punching the small bag, so hard and rapid it resembled a uvula in a cartoon scream.
And she herself: totally concentrated, lost in the precise action of muscle and force. He stood in the doorway, watching her. She knew he was there, though he was behind her; she'd sense him. But she kept on. Her golden skin was dewed with sweat, ponytail jouncing.
When she stopped punching, the abrupt silence was like a final blow. Without turning, she pulled off the gloves. "These fit me, so they can't be yours."
"I bought them for Cordelia. There was a time when I was training her. She became a good fighter. Knew how to handle a sword."
"Did you fall in love with her?"
Angel answered without hesitation. "Yes."
"Oh. II'm glad"
"Nothing ever came of it. She was taken away before we could."
Now Buffy turned. Her face alight with curiosity, but at the same time restrained, so he could see the effort she was putting into remaining objective. "But if she hadn't been taken away? Were you going to risk it?"
Yes. No. Maybe. All three seemed true. If she'd met him on the bluff, declared herself, as seemed her intention ... would he have allowed himself to be her lover?
It wasn't orgasm, or even making love to a beautiful willing woman, that was the danger. People thought that, but he knew it wasn't true. It was something altogether more concentrated, quicker and deeper than that, a confluence.
He'd often wondered, since infant Connor was taken from him, why those moments of joy he'd experienced with his little son didn't bring out Angelus. Some of them, surely, should have? Perhaps because his pleasure in the child was never unaccompanied by anxiety, by a pressing sense of the mystery of his existence?
"Buffy, I'm sorry about the spies. I know it was wrong, and you have the right to be angry."
"I have the right, do I? Gee, thanks!"
"Don't take it that way."
She came up to him then, craning to look up into his face. She was redolent of sweat and menstrual blood; he could smell also her recent proximity to Spike. The combination of odors made him feel at once possessive and near despair. No matter what she said, she didn't need him. Not really.
And that was for the best.
"How should I take it? Should I be grateful that you're still taking all the initiative in our relationship? Cutting me off at the knees?"
"Buffy. We don't have a relationship anymore. Remember? We can't."
"That's not what you seemed to think the last time I saw you, in Sunnydale. And if we don't, why spy on me at all?"
"Because ... because I'm still weak."
"Oh, you got that right. You're infuriating, too. Last night I wanted to punch your lights out."
He wasn't ready for how she grabbed his head and yanked him down. She'd never kissed him like that before, and for one upside-down moment it might've been Spike's aggressive nervy mouth pressed to his, Spike's muscular tongue thrusting in.
It was Spike whom she kissed in this raunchy way. With Spike she'd moved beyond the yielding femininity Angel remembered. Spike had fucked both the grown woman and the slayer, whereas he'd had only the earnest young girl, still self-conscious, still learning.
There was so much more to Buffy that Angel had never met.
He was meeting it right now. She vaulted to wrap her legs around his waist, bringing her up to his eye level. Hers sparkled, daring him, defying him to put her down before she took possession of his mouth again, her hands fisting his hair. "It's a good thing I like you so much, or you'd be in waaay more trouble right now, mister."
With her pressed up against him, Angel's newly-healed skin prickled with the ghost of its burns. Somewhere deep within, the angry lecherous demon shifted and groaned. Banked desire unfurled, making his clothes too tight, making her squirming body almost too hot to handle. The smell of her flowing blood was keener now her thighs were parted, bringing back with a sharp immediacy his memory of biting her, drinking deep. He wanted to fall to the floor with her, have her right here on the cold cement; he wanted to dash her body against the wall before these sensations undid his last shred of self-control.
It was Buffy who let go suddenly, falling back like they were repelling magnets.
"God, Angel. What's it going to take to unfreeze you?"
"Take?" It was all he could do not to fang out; his body sang with a disturbing voltage. "Buffy, you should take Spike and get out of LA."
She stared, mouth slack, incredulous. The moment boiled. Then she tossed her head, and seemed to shrink. Muttered, "Way to humiliate me."
She was on the stairs when he caught her, pulled her back. "No. No. Not humiliate. Protect. For God's sake Buffy, they're all dead. I led them to their deaths. I don't want ... You and Spike, you both deserve your lives. You should be happy. Spike ... can make you happy."
Her face was a mask of fury. "I don't think you believe a word you're saying. You cling to that curse because it protects you from honest dealing with the people you love. Don't you think that stance is getting a little shopworn?"
"The curse is real." He wanted to plead with her, not to torment him, not to challenge him. Not now, while he was so raw, steeped in his failures.
She could be imperious too. "I know it's real. But I don't believe in lightning striking twice in the same place. Perfect happiness isn't going to come from being with mewe're both way past that point. But we can offer each other some good-enough happiness if you'd stop being such a first-class martyr."
"Buffy, you can't know"
"And if you think I'm going to take Spike away from the mission he's dedicated himself to, or beat a retreat because you insist on being Mr Unilateral Decision, you can forget it. I'm part of your life again, and his, and you're just gonna have to deal."
Buffy turned and marched up the stairs.
Rooted to the spot, Angel struggled for some response. "Just ... don't let Spike mess up my car tonight!"
Buffy wrote an email to Willow. My life's now set up for maximum confusion. Buckle your seatbelts, everybody. I'm going on a date with Spike tonight. Oh yes, Spike's not dead. We're going to go skinny dipping in the Pacific. And I'm getting involved with Angel again too, though so far he isn't cooperating. I'd say: Don't Ask, except I know you will ask. All I can say is that I'm changing my life based on a drunken revelation. Really, something I knew deep down all along, but couldn't let myself know until just now: I'm in love with them both. Indivisibly. And I'm a kinky girl and I have needs. I'm trying to get them met. I'm looking forward to meeting S and A's needs too. I think it'll work out. Also, staying here because it looks like there'll be steady work for a senior slayer. And it's time for me to end my time-out and get back in the game.
BTW, Angel has a son. I still don't entirely understand the detailshe was born to Darla, who I thought was dust, just three years ago, but he's a college student now. And I think Faith is doing him. Yes, she's here too. I'll tell her you said hi.
Buffy hadn't brought a swimsuit with her to LA, so despite Spike's caution, she went out to buy a bikini, just in case. She also, despite his telling her she had to bring only herself, picked up a bottle of good wine, and the makings of a picnica baguette, some prosciutto, a melon, and a nice little Spanish cheese. A year in Rome had taught her a proper regard for food. And Spike always liked to eat.
They'd be naked together, but in a fresh waythe ocean breeze on their bare skin, under the bright moon, under the water. They'd play, and talk, two things they'd never really done together.
Changing her tampon before meeting him in the lobby, she was glad it was the time of the month. It gave them spacehe wouldn't expect sex, at least, not serious sex. (His description of hera cornucopiaflashed into her mind; she imagined him going down on her, making her come over and over so the blood would flow thicker, as he lapped it up. He'd asked her to let him do this back in Sunnydale, but after she knocked him unconscious with one right to the jaw, he didn't bring it up again. Now the idea made her flush; her clit twitched, and it was all she could do not to touch herself. If he asked her again? But he wouldn't, would he? He'd wait for her to signal what was to be permitted.)
"All ready, kitten?" Spike sprang up when she walked into the lobby, came to her and put an arm around her, very casual and companionable. Yet at the same time she sensed it was a test, one the many they'd set for each other all eveningdetermining what each was to be allowed by the other. How easy they could be together. "You smell nice."
"New perfume." She wondered if he was referring to that scent, or the one of blood she knew must hang around her just as enticingly. "You smell nice too."
"C'mon then, the car's out back in the alley."
The car wasn't all that was out in the alley. Sprawled in the back seat, towels around their necks, were Faith and Connor.
"Let's get going. We're missing prime moonshine here," Faith said.
Buffy glanced at Spike. "I thought we were going to be, you know, a deux."
"So did I," Spike murmured.
"Did Angel put you up to this?" Buffy asked. "More spying?"
She thought Connor blushed a little. "Dad doesn't even want me dating Faith. So, uh, no."
"Don't be paranoid, B. Double-date with the hotties, that's all. C'mon, let's go."
Spike opened the passenger side door, and handed her into the car. Buffy giggled. "All right, we'll all go. But you two better behave, or we'll leave you at the side of the highway to hitchhike."
As they left the city and headed towards the isolated beach Spike knew, Buffy was uncomfortably aware that Faith was all but fucking Connor in the backseat. She tried not to keep glancing at them in the rearview mirrors, but it was hard to concentrate on anything else. There was something weird about the two of themBuffy knew he was twenty, but beside Faith he came across like a child, a child being corrupted by an older woman. Hard to remember she and Faith were the same age, just twenty-three. In so many ways she felt ancient, like she'd traversed life-times. Something to do with having been dead, she supposed.
After a while they sank down below the mirrors' sightlines, and then it was just the occasional thump against the seat back, and Faith's triumphant chortles that reached her over the roar of the wind and the engine. Spike put his arm around her again, and yanked her in close. Chuckling, he whispered, "Slayer girls're wild."
Wild. Oh, we are. She laid a hand on his denim thigh, and another fantasy bloomed vivid in her mindshe could undo Spike's flies, pull out his cock. Go down on him right here on the freeway. If anyone could be trusted to come doing eighty and not get them killed, it was Spike.
And he'd love that. Oh, how he'd love it.
And so would she. She missed his cock, wanted to reacquaint herself with its beauties. Knowing that Faith was right there, and might see her if she popped up suddenly, made the whole idea that much more enticing.
But she didn't move. Spike moved his hand down from her shoulder, up under her arm, fingers spidering her ribs. Tugging her closer.
"Like havin' your head on my shoulder."
"Me too." Overhead, the full moon sailed above the light-wash of the city they were leaving behind. She began to smell the ocean. "I never dared imagine this."
"Even with the naughties in back, s'good, yeah."
"I almost don't want to get there. We could just drive, right?"
"Gonna see you all nude an' glowing in the moonlight. Won't miss that."
"I don't know if I can do nude in front of the kid."
"You promised, Slayer. An' expect he an' Faith will disappear off into the dunes soon's we park." He gave her another squeeze. "Spoke with Angel, did you?"
"We don't have to talk about Angel. Tonight is for us."
"Thought he was our significant other."
"Oh no, is that what we're calling him?" She couldn't help but laugh. And then laugh again, at how easily that we came to her lips, how amazingly good it felt to ride with Spike and chat with him. He could be so easy to get along with, when he wanted to be, when she let him.
Ease like that, was hard to remember, with Angel. She must've had it, at some point, but the moments that came to her memory most readily were never those.
"An' larger for his absence, drat him. Though we both know how bloody large he is, in every dimension."
Spike's fingers tickled under her breast. "Oh you filthy-minded kitten. Know what you're thinkin', though it wasn't what I meant."
"It wasn't?" She rolled her head against his neck, enjoying how the wind whipped her hair around. Brought her lips to his ear. "Tell me the truth. You and Angelyou have done it, haven't you?"
"Aren't you obsessed."
"The more you evade the question, the surer I am that you've been jumping each other's bones this whole time."
"Not in this century. Or the last one, come to that. Not since the glorious nineteenth. When we both wore waistcoats."
"And were evil."
"I'm always evil in the sack, baby."
She giggled again, and poked him the side. But before she could reply, Connor popped up behind them. "Whoa! You had sex with my Dad?"
Buffy turned to frown at him. "I thought you were busy back there. And we were whispering!"
"I hear like a vampire. What's this about my father?"
"Bloody nothing," Spike grumbled. "Anyway, here we are."
They'd pulled off the freeway, and were gliding now into a small parking area overlooking a stretch of deserted beach. Moonlight glittered on the water out to the horizon.
"Good spot!" Faith said, leaping out of the car, yanking Connor after her. They ran down towards the surf, pulling clothes off as they went.
Buffy turned to Spike. "I'm sorry to keep bringing up Angel."
"S'all right. Can't really help it, can you?"
"No, I can. And you're being really nice about it. I call a moratorium for tonight."
He took her hand, brought her palm to his lips. A shiver went through her, made her seize his face, bring her mouth to his. All his kisses, she thought, were so eloquent. He told himself to her with kisses. She tasted his yearning, his patiencewhen was Spike ever patient, in the past? She gasped when they finally broke, catching up on breath. He smoothed her blowing hair under his hands.
"I love you. Spike, I love you so much."
"An' I love you. Tell me what Angel said to you before."
"I thought we weren't going to talk about him anymore now."
"Was askin' about this before and we got distracted with smutty talk."
She shrugged. "He said I should go back to Rome and take you with me."
"And you said?"
"I said no. He wants to be alone so he can wallow in being lower than low. It isn't good for him. Spike ... Do you believe in this? What I want to make, here, with both of you? Because if you really hate it, then maybe"
"Don't hate it. Perplexes me a bit. Frustrates me, too, because wouldn't be a man if I didn't want you all to myself. But ... because it's what you want, an' you've never once steered me wrong, I'm willing to see how it'll go. Besides, I've sworn to never never never desert Mr Micawber. If you tried to take me off home with you, I'd have to refuse on account of that. Bloody nuisance."
In the moonlight, his eyes were pale as a husky's. Buffy looked at him for a long time, savoring the moment, the stillness, and the atmosphere of possibility they'd created together. It would probably all descend into disaster, but for the moment, basking in his gaze, she was golden.
She took off her sandals, tossing them in the back, then stood up on the seat, and pulled off her dress.
"Slayer." He looked up at her, grinning.
She undid the front hook of her skimpy bra and sent it sailing into the rear seat after the dress and shoes. All that remained was her panties. "You take these off, Spike."
He reached for her.
"Feel free to use your teeth."
They almost didn't make it out of the car. Holding her by the hips, he lipped the edge of her thong, tugging it down far enough to reveal her pubic patch, of which he took a deep appreciative inhalation. And then she couldn't stop herself from brushing that hair across his face, or from seizing hold of his head as he pressed his nose and mouth into the cleft of her thighs with a hungry sigh.
"We should go down to the water."
"Just let me bring you off. You're luscious. An' your little clit's all hard for me already."
She glanced around, towards the ocean. Could see Faith and Connor's white bodies as they ran in and out of the surf, and knew they were laughing and shouting, though she couldn't hear them.
Her knees went soft; she sank down onto the top of the front seat, spread her knees wide. Still holding her hips, Spike knelt between her legs to kiss her belly, tonguing her navel, teasing her sensitive inner thighs, before he began to lick her clit, lapping at it with the wet flat of his tongue.
She came almost at once, wimpering, digging her fingers into his hair. He stilled his licking as she rocked against his mouth, staying with her as she shuddered, then brought her up to a second climax almost as quickly as the first.
"You're so easy, Slayer," he said, smiling as she declined a third go. "Your sweet clit just gets a look at my tongue an' off she goes into a paroxysm."
"Yes. Oh God. Kiss me now."
She fumbled for his waistband as he pressed pussy-flavored kisses on her mouth; he peeled her hand away, and for a moment, they wrestled. She broke free. "I'm naked. You get naked too."
He jumped out of the car, stripped off. His cock, as she knew it would be, was hard, bent back against his belly. Curved to the left. "See what you do to me, Buffy?"
"I see." She was off-balance, palpitating. Heart pumping excited happiness through her, so she wanted to shout and laugh and jump at him. Facing her, he spat into his hand, started to caress himself.
"You watch. Watch me, love."
She watched. Eyes jumping from his fast-flowing hand, up to his face, the mouth open, eyes half-lidded, half lost in himself, half observing her. She noticed his breathing, heavy gasps powering his rush to the climax, that broke in gusts of white shooting into the air, landing on his belly, streaking his fingers. Staggering a little, she climbed out of the convertible, went to him. More kisses, and she was ready to pull him back into the car, but instead she seized his hand, sticky with jism, and kissed that too, before tugging him to run down to the ocean, and right in, jumping at the cold slap of the water, plunging to get it over with. Salt to wash away their salt.
She shouted, and splashed, and dove; took and returned mock taunts from Faith, then raced Spike out past the breakers. Wet skin and hair and eyes sparkling in the moonlight, voice light and delightfully thoughtless. Spike was sure he'd never seen her so unself-conscious except when she was in the midst of battle. But this was nothing like battle, this was the slayer at her ease, enjoying herself. As much as he could see she'd forgotten herself in the ocean, she never forgot him; Spike felt himself the center of her attention. Attention of an novel kindshe wsn't enlisting him to fight, or to fuck, but just to play with her. There was an innocence in their nudity, so that in the context of the beach, it felt eternal, just the way things were. At first he noticed her casting little glances at Connor and Faith, but she quickly grew used to the sight of them; her gaze passed over his own sex, causing apparently no more excitement than the beauty of the silvery dunes, the glittering sea. Floating out past the breakers, treading water with arms linked, she regarded him.
"You're like a portrait bust," she said, tracing his shoulders with her fingers, then smoothing his wet hair back off his forehead. "White marble, in this light."
"Am I handsome then, Slayer?"
Her smile was solemn. "Very handsome. You know you are, you vain thing."
"Always wanted you to know it."
"I do. Though at some angles, you have kind of a weak chin. But a little imperfection just adds to some men's attractions. To yours. I love looking at you."
"An' I love hearin' you look."
"Ah there! When you smile like that, with your whole face, it's dazzling." She touched him, as if it wasn't enough to see, she needed to feel it as well. "I never thought we'd have this. I'm sure you never thought so. You've waited much longer than I have. But then, you always knew whether I was alive or dead, whereas I"
"Could thumb wrestle over which way of suffering is worse, but rather just say we've both had a deal of aggro over each other."
Nodding, Buffy threaded her arms around his neck. Pressed kisses along his cheekbone, under his ear, before whispering, "Oh, you. My old enemy." He didn't think she'd ever be much for endearments, but it sounded like my darling to him.
Then she floated back, to arm's length, and he saw her light air was gone. A flare of alarm shot up inside, but he put on a smile.
"Nothing. JustI don't want to say it out loud, but ... this scares me. When I tell you I love youand it feels like such an understatement, or else like I'm some kind of weird talking dollI'm not sure it's real. That any of this is."
"Sounds real to me," he said, feeling helpless.
"Because the good things ... the good things always end up not being real."
He wondered at that, her emphasis on the real. Recalled her pounding his face in that alley by the Sunnydale police station, telling him that he couldn't feel anything real, that he wasn't real himself. What did that mean to her? And what did it mean now, that she expressed her fear that way?
Was she afraid of him? Angel said she'd been joyful in love, and okay, he'd just seen some Buffy joy, disporting in the waves, but was that her putting on a brave face, or was it real?
Even when she was right here with him, alone with him, it wasn't quite enough. He knew the lack must be in himself, not herwas that what she'd hit upon, while she was hitting him years back? Was that what was pricking at her now? His own insufficiency that made real love impossible? The soul was supposed to supply that missing piece. It did and it didn't.
Maybe that was why she wanted Angel too. Because deep down she was scared of him, of what they'd too recently been together. Deep down she was convinced there was something he was missing, something she could get only from Angel.
Her teeth were chattering, and he realized she was waiting for him to answer her. "Don't need to be afraid of me. Would never hurt you again." Was this the right response? Got me all at sea. Ha bloody ha.
Buffy nodded. She was shivering now. "I don't like it out here anymore, I'm getting cold."
She struck out for the shore. Spike followed, wondering at her for showing so much vulnerability. Even admitting she was cold. She'd never allowed him into her inner sanctum that much before.
That was good. Wasn't it good? He had to quite overthinking this. Shouldn't think at all, it wasn't his strong suit.
When they reached the blanket, Faith and Connor were nowhere to be seen, and most of the picnic Buffy had assembled, including the wine, was plundered. "Those sneaks! They only left the melon! They will pay."
"I brought things for you. Hid 'em in the cooler in the trunk. Wait a sec'."
When he returned with sandwiches and a six-pack, Buffy was wrapped up tight in a big towel, shivering.
He hunkered down beside her. Hard knowing that he couldn't warm her by taking her in his arms. She stared out at the ocean.
"He worries too much about being happy. Who's happy? I mean, I'm happy right now, because you're here and I don't have to pretend anymore about what I feel. But the sadness, the misgiving, never stops. I mean, we know what we know. We just always do."
"That's true. Might amuse you though, pet, to see me open a bottle of beer with my fangs."
She turned to him with a smile that only wobbled a very little. "Yes. I think it would."
Buffy put on her dress and the cardigan she'd brought. When he moved to put his own clothes back on, she stilled his hand. "Unless you're too cold. I like looking at you. And it's like Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe, only, you know, the way it would be if Manet was a she."
"Since when are you up on the great French painters?"
"Piero took me to Paris." She sounded rather glum about it, so he didn't press.
They drank the beer. Spike watched Buffy eat, and then nap for half an hour, curled on her side like a little girl. When she awakened they lay together looking at the stars, mostly not talking, and he was aware with all his heightened senses of her hair tickling his skin has the breeze blew, and the aroma of her body, and how relaxed she was, with her head resting on his chest.
He thought about Angel. The elephant in the room. He'd be alone in the hotel, stewing. Grieving. Going over his earlier encounter with Buffy. And for all he knew, Angel might be the chief occupant of Buffy's thoughts right now. No matter what he did or said, how he engaged her attention, she would think about Angel. Probably she'd only come out with him this night because she was sure Angel wouldn't. As soon as the old man got over his scruplesand he wouldonce Buffy got a renewed taste of him, she wouldn't want anything else. He, Spike, would be extraneous. This worry set up inside him like an itch, until he couldn't lie still.
He got up on an elbow. "Let me kiss you."
Did she look startled? It was so quick he couldn't be certain, but her hand came up and drew him to her mouth. Her mouth which opened wide for him, gasping hot breath into his, emitting little groans as he licked into her tongue. She was holding him now, her arms two bars of warmth around his bare back. He was getting excited, his cock pressed against her hip. Buffy shifted away.
There. He knew it. Spike sat up. "You don't want"
"No, just" She met his eyes. "What's the matter? You look angry."
"I'm not forcing myself on you."
"No, of course not. God, what did I do tooh. Oh Spike, no, not that. I just didn't want you to stain my dress." She reached for him then, her delicate hand closing around his shaft, the thumb imparting one exquisite caress to the tip, that made him shake. Then she paused, and met his eyes again. "May I?"
"Only if you really want to."
Her eyes opened wide, taken aback, full of dismay.
He couldn't believe he could feel this again, not nowthe iron sense of outrage at her for shutting him out. Are you afraid of me yet?
She knelt up then, hands in her lap, like a contained and observant cat. He pictured himself springing up, running back into the sea, swimming fast to exhaust this rage that had taken hold of him.
"Spike, talk to me. What's happening here?" She reached out then, her hand warm and dry where she laid it on his forearm.
I want you to never think of him again. I want you to belong to me. If my burning love isn't enough for you
"Nothing. Nothing's happening, I get that, yeah?" He rose, muscles ready to course him away.
Buffy stayed where she was, only looking up, her expression mild, puzzled. "Spike. We can be together right now, if you like."
"If Ilike. Listen to yourself. As if you're humorin' a child." Even as he said the words, he knew he was being absurd, that he was behaving like a child, starting a tantrum for no good reason. He hated her calm. How could she be calm?
Buffy got up then, scooping up the paper bag the sandwiches came in. "I just have to take out my tampon. I'll go behind that dune for a minute. Then we can do whatever we like." She walked stiffly away.
The line of her back, her blowing hair, made him quiver. He still wanted to flee, resisted the urge as if it was the undertow pulling hard at his legs. His cock was hard, but he didn't touch it. Didn't move.
She returned carrying the bag squashed small, carrying her sweater. Dropped both a little distance from the blanket, and pulled her dress off. She was naked underneath it. As she came up to him, the breeze brought the rich scent of her unblocked menstrual blood to him; he couldn't help flaring his nostrils, breathing it in.
"Whatever we want," she murmured. "Whatever you want."
What if what I want is for you to never see Angel again? What if I want to rip him out of your thoughts?
She took his right hand, laid it on her breast. "Spike, make love to me now."
He steeled himself. "That's not ... that isn't what you planned for tonight."
"Everything doesn't have to be planned. And I don't want you to think everything always has to be how I say."
He drew his hand away. Buffy stood her ground, her nipples hardening in the cool air, skin pimpling. Her eyes were soft and full of questions.
Spike, I think you're angry because you still don't believe me. Please believe me."
His throat closed into a painful knot. Suddenly he couldn't look at her anymore.
Buffy seized his hands, brought them to her lips. Pressed a kiss into each palm. "Will you trust me, Spike? I promise you can trust me, I won't betray you."
The rush of shame nearly pulled him under. Deserted by the rage that lent him, a moment before, such a fiercesome exoskeleton, he could've collapsed.
She glittered all over, impossibly beautiful. He stared at their conjoined hands, astonished at how she'd found her way so unerringly to the true heart of his fury. "Fuck me, I'm a real shit! I'm sorry. Buffy, forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgiveI'm sorry tooI don't hurt you on purpose."
"I know, petal. See that now."
"I hope you do. I'm doing my best to show you"
"Put your dress back on. We should wait, like we meant to. Best for both of us."
She nodded, but instead of picking up her dress, she sank to her knees, her two hands starfished on his hips, and put her mouth on his cock.
"Hush, you. I really really want to."
She did. It was only the second time she'd ever given him head. The earlier occasion was most memorable because she'd been invisible at the time. And trying to shut him up.
Whereas now ...
Well, she'd learned a thing or five, and if he had the Immortal to thank for it, well ... he wouldn't thank him, but he wouldn't kick over it either.
"ChristSlayerbloody hellgood. So goodlittle geniushot little mouth"
She rolled her eyes, and winked at him.
Faith and Connor staggered out from the long dune grass so soon after Buffy finished and rose to accept Spike's worshipful kiss, that she was pretty sure they must've been watching. She decided she didn't care; after all, she had nothing to be ashamed of, and the two of them had certainly been doing the same thing and more during their hours of disappearance.
Faith grinned and made a high sign at her. Connor looked up at the pattern of the night sky with the serious mien of a hunter, and announced that if they left right away they'd make it back before first dawn.
They gathered up the things and sauntered towards the car.
"Glad to see you givin' out a little joy, B," Faith murmured as they followed a few paces behind the men.
"Giving and getting. You though, are a thief, and owe me sixty bucks for that food and wine."
"Sixty! C'mon, I don't have that kinda money!"
"Shut up. I know exactly what Giles pays you."
"Wasn't me did the swiping."
"That's between you and your toy boy then, but you'd better pay up."
Faith glanced away. "He's not a toy." She dug in the pocket of her jeans, and thrust three twenties into Buffy's hand.
When they reached the car, Spike held the keys up. "Ever drive this, Connor?"
The boy's eyes widened; he snatched the keys out of the air as Spike tossed them across the hood.
"You an' me get to loll in the back this time, Slayer."
As Connor pulled out, already going too fast, Spike coaxed her onto his lap, drawing her hair back in one hand so it wouldn't whip around, settling her head against his shoulder. She sighed, snuggling in.
"Say we did pretty well tonight on our first date," Spike murmured.
"We did. One out-of-bounds, but the refs called it good. Final score, oral sex: two, punches thrown: zero."
"Quite a result."
"For us. A perfect game."
There were times he really wished he wasn't a vampire.
Like today, Angel really wanted to cut off his nose. Because it sure felt like everyone was rubbing it in what should have been their private business.
What would, if he had his way, be no business at all. Because if it was up to him, his son would be back on campus, not floating around with a dreamy abstracted air, his mouth reeking of Faith's pussy. And Faith would take his gratitude for saving him back with her to Ohio, and leave his son alone.
The whole deal with Wolfram & Hart had gone about as wrong as anything could, but Angel still had his son out of it, his son restored to mental health, to a normal life.
Except for the super-strength part. And why couldn't Connor just use that for something lucrative, like playing pro ball?
"They'd turf him off for usin' steroids, for one thing." Spike said. The kitchen door flapped violently behind him. "Really should stop muttering to yourself, Peaches, you're gettin' to be a security risk."
He too was redolent of Buffy, and bed. Why was all this wantonness going on in his house of mourning? Since when did people not understand what was appropriate, that there was a time and a place?
He could throw Spike out. Buffy would leave if Spike had to.
Of course that would require Angel to get up the energy for a fight, because the only way Spike would let himself get pitched out the door was after Angel beat him down.
He wasn't up for a beat-down. Wouldn't mind, in fact, being thrown out himself. Felt a twinge of nostalgia for, of all things, the homeless rat-sucking years. He was free then, at least. As free as he ever was, with the soul. No responsibilities. No one's feelings to take into account. Barely any feelings of his own.
"Shut up, Spike."
Spike poured himself some coffee and sat down. "I will if you will."
They were both quiet for nearly a full minute, then Spike made a face. "Right, that's done. So let's chat. Shouldn't be so sore at your boy. Why shouldn't he have a go at Faith? We know how talented slayers are. What good company."
"I don't want"
"What's what you want got to do with it? Boy's an adult, got his own life. An' has a sense of his destiny. He's not meant for ordinary things."
Angel clenched his fists. "Spike, why is it that though you keep saying you want to help me, all you do is give me a hard time?"
"Don't see those as mutually exclusive."
"How are you helping me? You're flaunting this thing with Buffy, and you're not taking her out of here and leaving me in peace."
"No. You're stuck with us. We're all gonna be a team."
"We are not."
"That? Not a persuasive refutation."
"Doesn't it occur to you that maybe, before I've even had a chance to say goodbye to my fallen comrades, the last thing I need is a full immersion in this" He spread his hands out, as if the words were written on their backs, "this debauchery?
"Hasn't been any of that. Not yet."
"And there won't be! Not here, Spike! Not here, and not now! You need to"
Spike swung up. "Leave me any blood?" He opened the refrigerator.
"How can you be hungry again so soon? You smell like Buffy's." Angel shuddered, imagining what Spike would've been doing, to smell the way he did. He hated that Buffy let Spike touch her. That she took off her clothes for him, opened her thighs.
Spike flashed him a grin. "Slayer an' me have been getting reacquainted, yeah, but don't get ahead of yourself. She hasn't given me a taste of her Aunt Flo, whatever you think you smell. An' I haven't fucked her yet."
Angel shouted. "You disgust me! Don't you talk about her like that! Show some respect!"
"Talk about her as I know her! Girl's raunchy an' hot, she fucks an' she sucks an' she loves gettin' her pussy licked an' a cock up her pretty little bunghole. That's the truth of her! It's you who's lacking respect, for seeing her like a plaster saint, an' keeping her at arm's length. It's you who's disgusting, denying she's a woman."
This was too much. Angel grabbed him up, slamming him face-first into the big wooden table, pinning his neck. "Shut up. SHUT UP."
For a moment Spike was absolutely still, and Angel began to think he'd gotten his message across at last.
Then Spike laughed, low and sultry. He wriggled his bottom. "Oh, I get it now. Go on then, our Liam. Have me. Know you want to. No shame in it. Like old times."
"No shame!" That's when the fury blinded him, even as it lent him the full surge of strength he'd been sure, a few minutes ago, he still lacked. Strength to haul Spike up by his neck and slam him down again, so his head went crack against the tabletop, strength to wrench his belt and jeans so they tore.
"You want old times, Spike? I'll remind you. I'll remind you of what you and I are to each other."
One arm extended to hold Spike down, Angel tugged at his own fastenings with the other. He'd gone hard in the space of a moment, desire a fist aching to strike.
Before he could drive in between his trembling glutes, Spike twisted his head around to look at him. Tongue flirting. Nothing frightened, nothing submissive in those golden eyes. "Yeah. Make me your boy again. Make me your pony. You been wantin' it all this time, you high-minded shite. Go on."
"That I won't. You like hearin' me talk. Like hearin' me groan an' plead when you're up inside me. Well I remember." Spike reached back, his hand closing around Angel's cock. "Well I remember this splitter of yours. Give it me. Fuck me 'til I'm yours again. Fuck me 'til you remember you're a man an' not a plaster saint yourself."
Spike. Christ." Angel hauled him up by one biceps, wrenching him around to bite off the saucy nasty stream of words. To bite those delicious lips, that slipping silver tongue. Amidst the storm in his head came the feeble thought that he shouldn't lose himself this way, shouldn't give in to Spike's taunting. But he was roused now, furious and in motion, and once in motion, how very very hard it was to consider stopping.
Spike grunted, grabbing at Angel's shirt, at his neck, kissing back like snatching bites from an apple, then wriggling and kicking until his boots dropped off, until he was stripped from the waist down. "Fuck me, Angel. Fuck your boy. Let it out."
The butter dish sat out on the table; swarming at Spike, tongues entwined, Angel knocked the glass lid off, scooped some into his fingers. More fumbling, more grabbing, fingers sliding across skin, and then he was there, deep inside, Spike's legs on his shoulders. Fucking so hard the table bucked across the floor.
Between the insistent clattering of the table legs and Spike's stream of foul-mouthed encouragement, he didn't hear the kitchen door swing at his back. Buffy entered talkinghe caught something about coffee, followed by something about them fighting, before her voice cut off like the closing of a lid.
Then"Oh. Oh my God. Youyou're not fighting. You'reoh."
Angel couldn't see Buffy, not without pulling out of Spike and turning so she'd see too much of him. He just heard and felt her, gawping behind him, her heart speeding up; saw Spike craning to observe her with altogether too much amusement for Angel's taste.
"... I ... I'll go. I'm sorry, I"
"Can watch if you like, pet."
Angel slammed a hand over Spike's mouth; Spike's laughter buzzed against his palm. The kitchen door flapped; Buffy's aroma already dissipating. Angel pulled free, stuffing himself painfully back into his pants. His erection wouldn't go down. Spike's leering face, the perfect sweet tightness of him, how he moved, his sobbing breaths, and the sharp smell Buffy gave off when she understood what she was seeing, looped in his mind. Angel paused to tuck in his shirt, buckle his belt, as he called her name. Behind him, Spike, still expelling laughter, sat up. "Not gonna just leave me like this, are you? All buttered up but only half cooked."
Angel barreled out of the kitchen. Arrested so abruptly, his body was pent up, brain fizzing over with explanations and apologies and shame. Why did he let Spike goad him, rob him of his dignity?
"Buffy!" He rushed into the lobby.
"Why Angel! We were starting to think there was no one here!"
The Burkles rose from the sofa and rushed towards him.
"You're here." Deja vu froze him. Then he realized that of course he had seen this before, the Burkles, earnest and dwarfed by the lobby's vastness. "... I thought you wouldn't arrive until late tonight at the earliest."
"We drove all night," Roger said. "For our little girl, we didn't stop."
"Where is she?" Trish said.
That's when Angel wished to all the Powers that he'd had the courage to tell them the whole truth over the phone. But at the time he'd called, only after much prodding from Connor, and even Faith, who thought it was cold even for him to leave Fred's parents in the dark, he'd felt it was somehow inappropriate to actually tell them over the wire that their daughter was dead. And not just decently, normally dead, but eradicated in favor of an other-dimensional god currently using her body for its own purposes.
As a parent himself, he knew the agony that news would impart.
So he'd saidwell, now he couldn't quite remember what he'd said. That something cataclysmic had befallen Fred, that the Burkles had better come and see about her. He'd never actually uttered the word funeral. Not that the event scheduled for tomorrow morning in the Hyperion lobby would be a true funeral. More a gathering, a little farewell ritual, a wake, for the few people who remained, who cared about the passing of Fred and Wesley and Charles. There was no need for a cemetery, because there were no bodies to inter.
But now here they were, looking exhausted, ahead of schedulehis schedule. And catching him, if not with his pants down, then with a wet spot on his fly and an ache in his balls he couldn't will away.
He hated Spike, for distracting him, even for a few minutes, from his grief.
He failed even at grieving.
Trish was tugging on his arm now, and Roger regarded him with a terrible querying concentration. Angel looked at his shoes, and wished these weren't such good people. If he knew anything bad about them, if he'd never talked golf with Roger or seen Trish save the day when she ran that demon over with the bus, this would bemarginallyeasier. "I'm sorry. I couldn't tell you on the phone. Fred ... is no longer alive."
"Now wait a minute"
"You know the work Fred was so committed to was dangerous. She understood the risk. I'm so sorry to say ... she was ...." Angel stopped. Where was Illyria? When had he seen her last? He'd plannedas much as he'd planned anything, which wasn't a lotto persuade her strongly to stay out of the way tomorrow, and until the Burkles went back to Texas. But as yet he hadn't had that talk with her. And he really didn't want to have to say that their daughters' body was still walking around.
Trish tugged on him. "Our baby's dead?" When Angel nodded, she cried out and threw herself into her husband's arms, sobbing. The couple clung to each other, and Angel felt a million miles away. Untethered, without support. They were human, as Fred had been human, beautifully, fragiley, fully human, and he was not.
Angel tried to focus on the story he had to tell, because they'd turn back to him any moment now, demanding all the details. But there was a boulder crushing his chest.
I'm a fraud. They left their daughter here thinking she was among responsible people, doing important work. And to save my child, I led yours to her hideous death.
He wished they'd accuse him, that they'd strike out. But for the first few minutes, they only cried, both of them. After a while, Roger fixed him with that stern but reasonable eye, and said they'd better all sit down and hear what happened.
"I'm sorry. I tried to save her. I failed."
"Save her from what? What killed her? Where is she?"
"She's ... she's gone. I'm so sorry. There's nothing left of her that I can reunite you with. I'm sorry." He was aware of himself slipping, composure fragmenting. Wondrous that it had to be perfect happiness that could rob him of his soul, because it seemed now that it would rather be thisa perfect confluence of grief and guilt and ruination that ought to strip him naked, strip him down to the demon, not so that Angelus could run riot, but rather so that he could be fully seen for the horror he was, and neatly despatched.
Roger and Trish ought to stake him. He could go to the weapons cabinet, and give them a stake, and tell them to do it.
Show them how.
Angel sprang up.
"Where are you going?" Trish said. She jumped up too, plucking at his sleeve. "Angel."
He turned back to her. The tears were still in her eyes, the bewildered pain, but he also saw in her face compassion for himself.
She thought that, like her, he was innocently bereaved.
He couldn't ask it of them, to put an end to him, the idea was insane. It wasn't what they'd come here for. They just wanted to talk about Fred, understand about Fred, not that they ever really could. They didn't know he was their enemy, they wouldn't believe him if he said so.
"II thought some coffee," he said.
"Yes," Trish said. "Yes, that's a good idea. Show me, I'll make it. I know how Roger likes his coffee."
After Angel's abrupt departure, Spike stayed where he was, bare-assed on the wooden table, too jelly-legged to move, absorbing his disappointment, which overtook him, much like the impulse to seduce Angel overtook him, unpremeditated, sharper and more immediate than he could've anticipated. Was over a century since he'd given himself to the old man, but some skills really didn't rust from disuse, and some desires, no matter how long postponed, never died out. However pissed off and unwilling to take him seriously, Angel's body still responded to his, still meshed with his. Those devouring kisses betrayed the truth behind Spike's teasing'sAngel wanted so much more than he ever let on about. He could try to grind his desire down, pack it away, but at Spike's coaxing, it sprung forth fully-formed, larger than life.
Spike was hard and brimming, greasy, his flesh racing. He took himself in hand, but after a couple of tremulous pulls, decided it would be better to retreat before anyone else shoved in here for their elevenses. Bring himself off in the shower. Unless he could find Angel first. Maybe the old man was in his room and could be made to finish the job.
He went up the back way, taking the fire stairs.
Buffy was leaning on the wall beside his door. She started to life when he appeared, her eyes going huge.
"Look at that. He tore right through your belt."
Spike repressed his surprise at finding her here. "An' it was a new one, too."
She flowed towards him as he came near, the aroma of her excitement flowing too.
"I was hoping you'd come up here."
She was up on tiptoe, pulling him down, tasting his mouth with nearly the same gusto as Angel did a little while ago. It only took a moment for Spike to adjust to the size difference of the lips and tongue invading his. Both were commanding, insistent. She broke off to inhale. "I would've watched," she whispered, her fingers twisting into the stuff of his shirt, taking possession, her breath sharp against his lips.
"Thought so. But you ran."
"I panicked. Where'd he go?"
"He panicked too."
"And left you." She reached into his torn jeans, without shyness, and tugged his cock free. "Unfinished. Let me."
Before Spike could suggest or negotiate, she began working him with her hand, in a way that made it impossible for him to move, impossible to speak. Her grip, her action, were incredible. And she knew him. He realized, as he grunted into her hair, that she'd watched him wank off, she'd studied his technique. Gave it back to him with some added flourishes of her own.
He needed the wall to hold him up. "Christ, Slayer. Buffy. I'm yours"
"I know. Aw, Spike." She bent to kiss his belly. "You're so slippy. You taste like butter? Huh. God, I can't believe I saw you How did that happen? I thought you said you two weren't doing that."
He couldn't answer. Somehow she didn't seem to expect him to; slowing her hand, she pressed kisses on his mouth.
She was wrapped around him now, riding his thigh as she worked his cock. Getting a little lost herself, murmuring so he knew her train of thought. "He was fucking you. He was"
"Slayeroh God, slow downlet's go to bed"
"No" She pressed him back against the wall. Redoubled her efforts, made him shake, brought him off, and giggled wildly when his cum spattered her. Licked some from her fingers, then offered her hand to Spike. He obligingly licked it clean, sucking on her fingers.
"God, I can't believe I saw that. It was ... wow. I should've just kept quiet and ...."
"Take it you're not jealous?"
She frowned. "For a few moments. But then ... no. No, I'm not jealous." She sounded surprised.
Spike realized, with an unexpected pang, that he couldn't say the same himself. Exciting as it was, Buffy's attitude roused his own sense that no matter what he did, Angel would always come first. Even though he didn't take her, even though he was, since she'd arrived here, barely civil to her.
"Good. Come in here now, gonna fuck you at last."
"Spike, no. Not yet."
He couldn't believe this. She was on the boil, she'd waylaid him in the corridor to ravish him, and now she was going coy? "Can tell you're all het up. What're you waitin' for?"
"You know I have my period."
Spike could tell this wasn't really the reason, the whole blood-lust thing aside. Something else than a fear that he might taste her blood was making her all hinky now. He thought of how she'd been last night on the beach, offering herself so calmly, so readily, in the face of his anger. She'd been so ready to placate him then.
And here she was saying no. And still sounding placatory.
He was getting a little tired of taking these tests.
Didn't want her in a spirit of being placated. Which was why he'd held off at the beach.
"Slayer! What's the switch needs flipping before you'll fuck me? You waiting for Himself's permission? His participation? Or am I not to really have you until he's done it first? Just tell me, Buffy. I hate a mystery."
Her blush was a kind of answer. "II don't know. I mean, it's not like I have a plan, a firm set of rules in my head."
"Better come inside, can't have a conversation with my cock out like this."
She followed him into the room. He pulled off his ruined clothes. "Got to wash. Don't leave."
He took a flash shower, and was back with her in a few minutes. When he came back into the room, she was sitting in an armchair, her legs drawn up, clasped in her arms.
"Right." He pulled a comb through his wet hair. "You were telling me what it's gonna take for me to get started with you. At least he took me when I goaded him. Not like you. Angel doesn't pretend to care for me, but when his passion's up, he doesn't pare it."
"That is so not fair." She glowered; he felt her anger mounting. Good, he was comfortable with her angry.
"As it happens," he said, snapping fresh clothes out of the drawer, "we were talkin' about you. Was trying to impress upon the old prude that you're not the innocent little girl he thinks you are, that you've ripened into something so much better'n that. He was a bit irritable on the topic, an' got more riled still when I reminded him he wasn't always such a Care Bear as he pretends to be now."
"So he was thinking about me when he slathered you with butter."
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Don't think so. In fact, I'm sure that for once he was giving me one hundred percent of his attention."
His jaw was tight. When would she do that? When was she going to be his, the way he was hers? Except he wanted to transcend this yours mine and ours thing and just be. Be with Buffy, be her man, every bit of him and every bit of her, even if he wasn't her only man. With no more tests and trials and maddening awkward impasses.
"Listen to me, Slayer. Need what a man needs from the woman he adores, an' you know I'm ready an' willing to give it back double. But can't beg an' plead for it anymore."
Buffy heard this with an expression like a wounded doe. Spike preferred the anger. "I don't want you to plead! Why is it all so mysterious? I'm not trying to drive you crazy, I just" She wandered towards the bed; looking dazed, deflated. Sat down hard at the foot, hunched over. "There's no instruction manual for this kind of thing! I meanI don't even really know what this kind of thing is!"
"I've sussed it. You don't want to give me what you're not givin' him. Even if he's turning it down."
She opened her mouth, as if to object, then closed it. "Probably. Probably that's what I'm trying to do. Which is stupid."
"So Angel gets to deprive us as well as himself," Spike challenged.
"You could've had me last night." She tugged at her hair.
He started to speak, but she cut him off. "No, I get it, it wasn't the right way. You were angry, and I was managing you, and it was all rational and stuff. We had a key moment there, but it wasn't the way you wanted our first time back to be. And you were right."
"I want you just to come to me," Spike said quietly. "Regardless of anyone else, I want you to come to me, an' give yourself to me, an' let me give myself to you. Not in a corridor or on a beach, but in a bed, when we'll have hours to ourselves."
"I ... I know." She moved back to him then. "You are being so kind to me, don't imagine I don't see that. So patient with all this. Go on being patient. I promised I'm not going to betray you or leave you again. Did you think I forgot that already?"
"And you've said you have no intention of abandoning Angel."
"We all need each other." She threaded her arms around his neck. "And I don't mean just physically. None of this is just physical. You understand that, right? That we're talking about"
"Course I understand. I'm the only one of the lot of us who's never been too much of a pussy to talk about Love."
She flinched when he said it, and for a moment he thought she was going to pull away. Saw her decide to take it, instead, a dig she maybe deserved.
More gently he said, "And I know you, Slayer. Know your tricks an' your manners." He smoothed her hair back, holding her head like the precious thing it was.
"Yeah, you do. You always have. Even when I didn't understand myself, you knew me. And you know him, too."
"The all-seein' eye, that's me."
"Which is why we both need you so much. Without you, we're blind."
Could stand to feel a bit more needed by you than I do. No point saying it. He'd made his complaint and received his reassurance, and there was nothing else to do about it now. Even if she slammed him into the wall and climbed him like a monkey, he wouldn't fuck her right now. It wasn't the moment.
"Better go find Himself an' jolly him out of his sulk. He'll be off somewhere hunched over his rosary, no doubt."
Buffy jumped so she could see through the diamond-shaped window in the kitchen door. Angel was there, with a middle-aged couple, sat one on either side of him at the table, apparently in earnest conference. Another jump showed her that the woman, whose long silver-threaded black hair was pulled back in a braid, had her arm looped through Angel's. Weird.
Spike was about to push through, but she stopped him. "He's got people in there," she whispered. "Do you know who they are?"
Spike glanced through. "No."
"Maybe they came for help. Probably we shouldn't go in there now."
Spike looked again, frowning, then drew her away from the door. "Bloody hell."
"I'm guessin' that's the Burkles. Parents to the sweet Fred. Lady looks like her, an' he's got the same accent."
This wasn't the first time Spike had referred to Fred so affectionately; Buffy wondered if there had been something going on there. And also what it was about this absent comrade that made everyone so devoted to her. She recalled now that Willow had babbled a great deal about her a couple years back when she returned from her resouling adventure in LA.
"We'd better not intrude," Buffy said. "Let's go see if we can find Faith and Connor."
But at that moment, Angel pushed the door open. "Spike! You remember Trish and Roger Burkle."
Spike gave him a look that said You stupid berk. "Never seen 'em before in my life."
Angel frowned prodigiously. "Then come meet them. You too, Buffy." He pulled them in. The kitchen smelled like butter, and coffee. "Trish, Roger, let me introduce my colleagues"
Spike nudged her forward. "Buffy Summers, the celebrated vampire slayer. An' I'm Spike. I was very fond of your daughter. Very fond of her indeed."
Hearing this, Trish Burkle began to cry again. Angel went to the cupboard and brought out a bottle of whiskey and five glasses.
In the ensuing hours, Buffy barely opened her mouth; listening, she learned more about Spike and Angel's lives without her than she'd ever hoped to hear. The Burkles (and the whiskeythere were more bottles where the first came from) were able to draw them out in ways Buffy could never hope to do. Their tongues once loosened, they barely shut up. Angel especially, had never talked so much in her presence; Buffy suspected he'd never talked so much, period.
As Trish questioned him, Angel told how he'd rescued Fred from an alternate dimension called Pylea, how she'd become part of his team, and seemingly everything he knew about her adventures, her contributions, her love affairs and friendships since. This necessitated mentioning the others who were gone, Charles Gunn and Wesley. When he'd brought things up to the last year, Spike chipped in; he'd put away enough booze by then to be watery-eyed, and spoke of Fred with the tenderness that befitted a sister. Buffy wondered if he'd ever talked about her that way. She thought he must have, when she was dead, and probably even when she wasn't, and swelled with affection towards him.
There was more crying too, in between the exhaustive narration. Even Angel broke down at last, in dry sobs he could barely allow himself.
By the time the Burkles rose to leave, refusing Angel's offer to put them up in the Hyperion, saying they'd be back the next morning for the memorial service, it was well into the evening. Buffy, as the only nearly sober one, helped them through the lobby and out to their car, which she drove for them to a nearby hotel. The Burkles had gone quiet, each looking out the window. They thanked her when she pulled up at the entrance and gave the keys to the valet, and were drunk enough to forget to ask her how she would get back.
Buffy walked. It was good to get some of what passed for fresh air in LA, and she needed a little time to process everything she'd heard. Much as she'd known that Angel had a whole life apart from her, it was still stunning to finally hear about it, to see the emotion these people she didn't know had generated in him, to understand the history, the connection.
And she'd seen too, in ways they probably didn't realize they were displaying, how close Angel and Spike had become in the last few months. They were fractious with each other, always needling, always on the verge of anger, but Buffy could see that there was something comfortable in that for both of them. Reliable.
She stopped at an all night diner, not unlike the one she'd worked in as Anne. They'd been drinking all day and Angel had forgotten to offer his guests anything to eat; once she sat down in the red booth, she realized she was ravenous, and ordered the biggest burger platter on the menu. After she ate, she went to the back to visit the bathroom. The last booth before the restrooms was occupied by a pair of male vampires, drinking coffee. They glanced up at her as she passed, their gazes idle, like surfeited lions.
On the way back after peeing, she was ready with the stake. Got the first one in the back, so he never saw her; took the other across the table as he leapt up in protest. So quick that no one else in the place glanced up. The waitress would notice a weird grit in the half-full coffee mugs. Buffy left a big tip.
Back at the Hyperion half an hour later, there was no one in the kitchen. She stacked the things in the dishwasher and turned out the lights before going up the fire stairs.
No answer when she knocked on Spike's door. She opened it and peered inside; no one there. Buffy went along to Angel's. It wasn't locked; she walked in without knocking, and straight through the sitting room to the bed. There they were, under the quilt, side by side, not quite touching, giving off heavy fumes of whiskey, apparently asleep. One low light burned on the bedside table; she decided they'd left it on for her, and started to undress. This scenario was not at all how she'd imagined it, but she was the one who'd started the threesome thing, and now was as good a time as any to put it into practice.
When she emerged from the bathroom, Angel stirred. "Burkles all right?"
"Sssh. Yes. Is there room for me?"
He moved a little closer to the edge; she crawled up from the foot between them, thinking how strange it was, to get into bed with two men. Two men who between them probably contained three fifths of expensive whiskey. Of course, if they were alive, she reminded herself, they'd smell worse. At least they weren't sweaty and sticky; they didn't give off that meaty smell Riley used to have after an evening of beers. She pulled the quilt back so she could get beneath it, and saw that they were both naked. She'd left her underwear on, she wondered why now.
Spike didn't move or sigh as she wriggled down, trying to get comfortable. He was dead to the world. The sheets were cool even where the men had been lying on them. Angel turned off the lamp.
Now that she was lying down, she was heavy, her belly full, brain slowed, but excited too, by being here, by acting as if this was just the normal thing she did now. She lay on her back, not touching either of them, which took some effort, and felt the seconds tick by.
Then Angel rolled onto his side. She could feel him looking at her in the dark. Could feel his unvoiced offer. She got up on one elbow; he stretched an arm out behind her, so she lay back with her head on his shoulder. It was yearsshe couldn't count how many right off handsince she'd felt his satiny skin against her cheek this way, been so close to his massive recumbent form.
"All right?" he whispered, sounding sleepy and large. His raspy whisper vibrated against her cheek. He laid a hand on her body, under her breasts; she covered it with one of her own.
"I am. Are you?"
"I don't know." He paused. "No. Of course I'm not."
"I think it was good ... that you talked it all out. I know it's not your way ... it's not mine, either. We're usually a couple of clams. But it can be right, to get things off your chest." She whispered, barely aspirating, confident that he could hear her clearly. He didn't breathe at all as he listened to her speak; she recognized that the stillness of his body, the absence of pulse and heartbeat, didn't disquiet her. It was what she was used to. "I know you're not going to feel better just like that. It can take a long time."
"I know now ... I know better some things about you. About what you've endured."
"That's what I was going to say to you. After listening to your story."
Buffy squeezed Angel's hand. Beneath his palm, her stomach gurgled. Her eyelids were so heavy. But she wanted to stay awake as long as he was; this was the first time he'd talked to her like this since her arrival.
"I don't know what anything means now."
"You'll find out. With time. Or maybe you won't. But you'll just get on with it. It's what we do."
"Without Spike, I don't think I'd have made it."
This was the last thing she expected Angel to say; she held her breath, expecting Spike to pop up beside her and holler triumph. But he slept on.
"Don't tell him I said so."
"You should tell him."
"Maybe I will. Go to sleep, Buffy."
"We'll get through the memorial tomorrow, all of us together. It's going to be okay. I love you, Angel."
He kissed the top of her head, and she was out.
She woke to a light caress of air on her skin. The sheet she lay beneath was moving; it felt like fingers lightly caressing her arm. Sounds came to her clearing consciousness, the soft sounds of men trying very hard to be silent. Buffy cracked one eyelid; it was too dark to see more than a shape, moving slowly in a familiar rhythm on the other side of the wide bed. There was the sound of mouths on mouths, and Spike whispered, "Good, Liam, this's good, yeah. Yeah."
Angel said: "Ssssh."
"S'all right, our mistress is still sleeping.'"
Angel made a low sound that it took Buffy a moment to decipher as a laugh. She kept absolutely still, trying to breathe the way she'd been breathing when she was asleep. If they realized she was awake, she was sure they'd stop, and she didn't want them to have to stop in the middle of it again.
It was another few moments, listening with all her being, before she sorted out that Spike was inside Angel. That wasn't how she thought of them. How she thought of him. Angel was the kind of person who didn't roll over. Especially for Spike. So she'd always believed.
They were lying on their sides, barely moving. Spike had done it to her like that a couple of times, when she'd permit him a final bout after hours of more energetic and athletic coupling. She'd let him get away, those times, with saying things to her she didn't usually let him say, because he was behind her and she didn't have to see the helpless yearning in his eyes. She could pretend to be half asleep, while, their legs scissored, her upper body tumbled away as if it had nothing to do with what was going on below, he filled her in a way that made him feel huge, caressing her clit with one slick finger, telling her that every time she came for him, it was an admission of what she wouldn't say, what he knew she felt. One day you'll say it, Slayer. One day you'll admit it.
Spike was talking now too. He never could make love in silence. "That's it, Liam. Just relax an' let me drive. Nothin' for you to do but take it. Feel it, an' let go. No one needs to know you let yourself get fucked. Just let it all go."
Angel emitted sighs and grunts that also, to Buffy's wondering ears, sounded unlike him.
This went on for some time. Then there was a susurration, that came back on her like wavelets in a pond; the sheet rising and falling on puffs of air, before it settled and was still. She counted to one hundred and twenty-seven before there was any motion; the men shifted, there was a wet sound, and they resettled themselves.
" ... get up," Angel murmured.
"Ssssh. 'Nother hour," Spike said.
Quiet. Buffy counted some more, and then the room was full of light, the sheet thrown back.
She sat up slowly, scrubbing at her eyelids. It might've been a dream, except that the aroma of sex hung on the air. Dust motes swirled in the sun rays. There was a note on the pillow beside her.
Take your time. He'll be busy with the guests. See you downstairs.
Was quite something, Spike thought, how getting a leg over could improve one's outlook generally. Relax the shoulder blades, loosen the spine, make even pig's blood taste bloody wonderful because of the appetite a nice slow morning fuck imparted. He felt quite well-set-up again, ready for all manner of business.
Curious that it was Angel and not Buffy who'd given way first. Prior to Buffy turning up, he'd had no slightest thought of attempting anything of the like with the old man, and he'd have wagered quite a large sum of money that the non-feeling was mutual. Not that he didn't remember, sometimes even with a queer nostalgia, how it used to be with them, when he'd formed, with Drusilla, part of Darla and Angelus' entourage, and been aware, often enough, that all that kept him from grandsire's quick stake was what he could do for him with his mouth and arse. Half the time he hated being made to serve as Angelus' butt-boy, and the other half ... he'd liked it just fine, thank you, not that he let on much, if he could help it. No use letting Angelus' head get any more swelled than it already was, especially over how much Spike liked his big swelled cock.
As he'd occasion to remark recently, they'd never, in those years, been intimate. Except that one time. And just now made time two. And what a time it was. Not just Angel wanting a cock up his bum, which only seemed to happen once per century, and not just dropping his armor to show how much he craved some bodily kindness, which happened not even once a century. He'd done all that while Buffy was right there beside them, yet without reference to her in any way. Angel never glanced at her, much less suggested they take the show elsewhere, or invite her to join. Of course they were both completely aware of her presence. It was why they kept so quiet, went so slow. Spike liked quiet and slow, always thought quiet and slow were distinctly underrated, especially among vampires. He was pretty sure Angel would be rethinking quiet and slow from now on.
He was pretty damn sure Angel was rethinking him, in general.
They'd both known the moment Buffy came awake. Angel tensed, but just barely. There was no question of stopping. Knowing she was watching, or more likely, only listening, gave the whole thing an extra kick.
Spike wondered what she was thinking while she lay there pretending to be still asleep. As they were leaving the room later, moving with demon quietness because she was sleeping again, deep and motionless, he'd paused to look at her, all alone and curled up like a child in the enormous bed. Awash with tenderness as always when he got a glimpse of her slumbering; she was so vulnerable then, and girlish, and he liked to see her relaxed. But there was a little twinge of pleasureable upmanship too; here she was waiting for Angel, and here was Angel waiting for them both to walk out on him ... and yet Spike got in. Got in first. Score.
It probably wasn't going to solve anything, but that didn't take away from the spring in his step, the song in his heart. Because the thing about physical happiness was its undeniability. There was nothing to explain or reason in it, it just was. And even though he was facing a lugubrious day of memorializing the beloved dead, Spike was pretty sure that lift would get him through it all right. And tonight ... tonight would be interesting.
The Rolodexes and Palm Pilots of the dead or departed, having been left at Wolfram & Hart, were forever lost. So it was difficult to notify all the people who knew Cordelia, Gunn, Wesley and Fred. But it was the older acquaintances Angel wanted, the ones from the time before they'd gone to the high rise penthouse, and with the list of names he'd given them, Connor and Faith tracked down as many as they could. Even so, the gathering was small. Apart from the Burkles, there was a red-headed ex-girlfriend of Wesley's, a geeky software billionaire still dressed like a teenager though he was pushing forty, three members of Gunn's former demon-hunting crew, the owner of Fred's favorite taco stand near the Hyperion, and a blonde called Anne who smelled oddly familiar, though Spike couldn't place her. She was supposed to be a friend of Charlie's, but when Buffy came down and saw her they each cried out in recognition, shared a long embrace, and talked together for ten minutes, only stopping when Angel stood up in front of the two rows of folding chairs, and cleared his throat.
The guests sat. No one seemed very sure of what was supposed to happen. It wasn't very like a funeral or a memorial. There were no flowers, no programs, no photos displayed of the dead.
Angel wasn't even wearing a coat and tiehis suits, like everything else that had come with Wolfram & Hart, remained there. He looked underdressed in a dark shirt and slacks, undefended standing without a podium in front of the small assembly, who all watched him intently, ready to take their cue.
"Thank you all for coming. None of you is unaware ... of the monumental struggle that goes on in this city, usually beneath the notice of most people, except when something cataclysmic occurs, as it did the other day. The official story may have been water-main break, but we know better. We know that our friends Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Charles Gunn and Winifred Burkle each, in their own way, dedicated their livesand finally gave their livesin the struggle against evil. They're heroes, worthy of our profound gratitude, respect, andand love. We love them, and we miss them." Angel paused then, looking at this shoes. "I hoped that some of you would want to stand up and talk about each of our friends, so that we could remember and honor them. They have no graves, no markers. They only have our memories." He paused again, looking even more uncomfortable.
Spike was sitting in the back row, in the last chair. He didn't set much store by these kinds of rituals, especially when they were so slapdash. He'd learned, when Buffy died, that mourning was something that happened, not at a specified time and place, but moment by moment. He hadn't loved any of the dead, not the way he loved Buffy, or even Angel, but he knew he'd feel for them, and that they'd maintain their presence for him quite sharply for some time. He was here to be polite to Angel.
Buffy had placed herself in the first row, at the opposite end. He wished she'd sat by him. He hadn't seen her yet that morning to speak to, and wasn't sure if her decision to place herself so far away had to do with what she imagined were Angel's feelings, or what were her own. Anne sat beside her. Spike stared at the back of her head, the cascade of blonde hair, trying to figure out why she'd pinged for him when she first walked in. Beside him, Pryce's red-headed ex-girlfriend took a surreptitous glance at her tiny diamond wristwatch. Spike wondered why she'd come; if she was that much of an ex, it hardly seemed necessary.
Angel cleared his throat. "I don't intend to stand up here and talk and talk. But before I open the floor, I want to say a few words about my friendmy dear friendWes. I feel responsible for the fates of all the people we're honoring here today, but Wesley's suffering in particular ... his suffering ...." Again Angel stopped, his mouth working, as at the impossibility of describing what he alluded to. "... from the time he first came to LA five years ago, Wesley was my number one ally, my loyal friend, and most perceptive critic. His devotionto me, and to my missioncost him not just his life, but his ... his life. The private life, the domestic life, the ... normal life of a young man. He knew a great deal of disappointment, in ... in people. In me. Yet he dedicated himself to our work, and it was that workthat killed him. I can't begin to"
The dry voice came from behind them. Everyone craned around.
Wesley, arm in arm with Fred, stepped down into the lobby.
Spike rose with the gasp of the mourners, placing himself between them and the two newcomers.
"I must say, one's fantasies of attending one's own funeral were never like this. But it's most touching. Thank you, Angel."
Trish Burkle leapt up with a scream, and rushed towards her daughter. Roger followed, more slowly, eyes wide. Everyone else was up now too; Angel and Faith flashed through the crowd, shoulder to shoulder with Spike, arms outspread to keep anyone else from coming closer. But Trish had already snatched Fred into her arms, crying loudly.
"What's Blue gone an' done?" Spike murmured, low so only Angel would hear.
"My return isn't her doing," Wesley said. "She is only ... call it shielding me a bit."
"Why Fred honey," Trish said, "Look at you. Look at you. It was a mistake. You're really all right. You're here."
"Why Mom, of course I'm here. I'm so sorry you had such a fright. I'm just fine. I was incommunicado for a little while, and Angel thought I was gone, it's not his fault. But I'm all right. Everything's all right."
"Oh thank God, thank God!"
Both Burkles had their arms around her now, crying, while FredIllyriabeamed and dimpled, tears in her eyes, her mouth blooming into a toothy smile.
"What is this?" Faith said. "Wesyou can't be Wes." She shot forward suddenly, grabbing his shirtfront, yanking him in. "What are you? And how dare you come in here with"
Angel stared, and for a moment, swayed. "He's Wes," Angel said, in a voice that sounded like an echo from the abyss.
He was. Spike could tell the same way Angel didhis nose confirmed it. This was Wes, or at least his reanimated body.
Angel plucked at Faith's arm. "Don't."
"But I don't like this! What the hell!"
"He can't help it," Angel said. "Can you, Wes? It's the same as what happened to Lilah."
"Quite. Death doesn't let one out of the contract." He glanced around, at the staring people, at the lobby, at Spike, and at Faith, before his calm gaze came to rest again on Angel. Who'd become, in a space of a sentence, twenty kinds of tired.
"So you're here towhat?"
"To ask for asylum."
Asylum. That word struck Spike's ears with a sort of awe, which he imagined communicated to the others as wellthey were all silent. It wasn't what you expected to hear from someone who wasneither dead nor undead, whose soul was not his own.
After a moment in which the only sound was Trish Burkle's grateful sobbing, Wes took one step forward. Quietly, he said, "Angel? Might I have a word with youapart?"
"No!" Faith said. "No secrets! Whatever you have to say, you say to the team!"
"The team." A ghost of a smile wafted over Wesley's lips. He wore a week's growth of beard, which suited him, Spike thought, and was dressed in his usual sort of clothes, clean and more pressed than he'd been in recent times. Obviously not the clothes he'd fallen in, then. "I promise there will be no secrets from you, my dear Faith. But right now, please don't interfere."
The 'my dear' made her blink; Wes took advantage of her confusion to draw Angel aside. They walked off behind the hotel desk and disappeared into the office beyond, closing the door.
The red-headed ex seemed to come out of a trance. "II think I'd better get to my next appointment."
Most of the others seemed all too grateful for this signal, and murmuring excuses to no one in particular, bee-lined after Virginia out of the hotel. Illyria had led the Burkles off; Spike heard the three of them chattering in happy Texan until the elevator doors closed on them. For a moment he considered taking off after themit didn't seem right to deceive the Burkles that way. But he remembered what Illyria could do, how quick she was to anger, how easily she could dust him. It was out of his hands.
Only Anne remained. She said to Buffy, "If it's okay, I'd like to wait. I knew Wesleywhen he was shot in the street a few years ago, they brought him to my shelter. I want to be sure everything is all right."
Buffy waved a hand. "Be my guest. I'm not really in charge here anyhow." She glanced around at Faith and Connor, who were themselves deep in a conversation carried out in hissing whispers, with gesticulations, and then at Spike. "Anne, I don't think you've metthis is myuhmy boythat ismy friend"
Anne fixed him with a flat gaze. "I know who this is. I just don't know why he's here. I was going to ask earlier but there wasn't time."
"Oh, you know Spike?"
Anne's chin tipped up; she glanced away from him and back at Buffy. "He bit me on the neck when we were in high school."
"Bloody hell, I knew you smelled familiar."
Buffy's mouth and eyes went wide. "Oh my God! I can't believe I forgot that! Chantarelle! Sometimesyou just don't make the most obvious connection"
"I'll thank you to remember you volunteered to be eaten, you silly bint!" Spike said. "Goin' on and on about becoming a Lonely One. Fairly gaggin' for it."
She put a hand to her pale neck, as if she was bleeding again. "That doesn't make it all right. And it doesn't explain why"
"He has a soul now," Buffy said. "He's been an ally of mine for a while, and last year he fought to regain his soul. He's nothing like you remember."
"So he's like Angel?"
"I'm a hell of a lot better than"
"Yes," Buffy said, laying a hand on his shoulder to quiet him. "Like that. A vampire with a soul." She shifted closer to him, and to Spike's surprise, threaded an arm around his waist. "He's not just an ally either, we're ... we're involved."
"Oh." Anne let go of her neck. "This ... is shaping up to be quite a day."
"Look," Spike said, "I'm sorry that ... I mean, can't explain away what I was when ... I'm only glad I didn't have a chance to hurt you. I really am different now."
"Yes, all right," Anne said. "I suppose everyone reinvents himself in LA." She glanced around. Angel and Wes had emerged from the office and were striding towards them.
Spotting her, Wesley's face lightened a shade. "Anne. It's good to see you here."
"I'm not sure whether I should say the same."
It was the question they were all thinking. Angel wore his heaviest look. "After Wesley ... fell ... he was repossessed by Wolfram & Hart. They hold a lien on his soul."
"Right," Faith said, breaking away from Connor and once more getting into their faces. "He belongs to them. So we're letting him in here why?"
"I'm still myself, despite my ... bondage," Wesley said. "I'm not a zombie to be blindly directed, nor can the Senior Partners compel me to act for them. But I amcall it constrained in various rather uncomfortable ways. Illyria is using her power to shield me from their notice; as long as she remains near me and exerts this force, I'm invisible to them. They may not yet be aware that I've gone AWOL, but they'll notice soon."
Buffy looked stunned. Experienced as she was, Spike realized that the Wolfram & Hart way of things was new to her.
Anne looked thoughtful. "If you're still around, what about Charles?"
"I have no information about Charles," Wesley said. "But it would be most prudent to assume that he"
"So this is the big fall-out from the deal you made last year," Buffy said.
"Part of it." Angel said.
"And I'm the other part," Connor said, looking squeamish. "This is all because of me."
"Not true," Angel said.
"Don't try to kid me, Dad."
"You're not responsible. You didn't choose any of this. You were a child. I had to decide for you, and I"
"And blah blah blah," Buffy said. "What is, is. Now that the memorial has been called on account of Not Really Dead, let's roll up our sleeves. Wes, do you have any idea how to proceed?"
"I didn't expect to see you here, Buffy."
"That makes us a matched pair." She glanced around at Anne. "Do you have skills? If not, maybe you should go."
"II don't ... well, actually I make really good chili."
"Cooking's definitely a skill."
Wes held up a hand. "Much as I would relish a bowl of chili from Anne's hands, now that I've reached what feels like a relatively safe place, I'd most like to rest. And until the Burkles are sent back home, it's perhaps best we hold off on planning our grand strategy. It's going to take some time, now we no longer have the firm's research facilities at our disposal."
"Um ... okay. So you rest, and we crack the books, and we figure out What, exactly?"
"How to break an unbreakable Wolfram and Hart contract," Angel sighed. "Oh yeah."
"I'd like to be finally free."
"Free?" Spike said. "You mean dead."
"If that's the only way I can be released," Wes said, "then, yes."
"You're really goin' to let Illyria go on with her cruel charade?" Spike asked.
Angel glanced around. "Where is Illyria?"
"She went off upstairs with the Burkles. Think we ought to join 'em."
"Better not," Wes said, on a sigh. "Don't be deceivedI have no control over her. She does what she likes. She seems at times to be susceptible to sentiment, but I don't trust its consistency."
"I don't trust yours," Faith said. "How do we know you're telling the truth about anything? How do we know you're really Wes?" She appealed to Angel. "Just because he smells like Wes to youhow is that better proof than that he looks and sounds like him to the rest of us?"
"Faith's got a point," Buffy said. She was disinclined to credit that the Wesley she'd once known could now be so steely and self-possessed. He was ... kinda hot. "How do we know you're not here to kill us?"
Wesley held up his hands. "I left my flame-thrower in my other trousers."
"You'll have to take me on trust," Wesley said. "I know that isn't something you ever cared to do, but
"Oh come on! You were a buffoon."
"Percy's buffoon days are long behind him," Spike said.
"Buffy." Angel stepped between them. "Wes is right. We have to go on trust. I made the mistake of not trusting him once, now I'd rather err on the other side. I owe him."
To Spike's surprise, Angel shot him an is that okay with you? look.
"Angel, I still don't think"
"Faith. Don't you have a hellmouth on Lake Erie to be seeing to?"
Her eyes bulged. "The fuck? I pull your freakin' balls out of the fire and you talk to me like that?"
"My place, my rules!"
"My watcher, my rules!"
"He's not your watcher anymore!"
Faith sneered. "C'mon, I know what this is really about. But we're both grown-ups. You don't get to tell either of us who we can"
Spike raised his arms. "ChildrenIllyria? The Burkles? She might've eaten 'em by now."
The elevator doors opened then. Trish and Roger stepped out, with Fred between them, as they'd gotten on. They were no longer laughing, but the pall of sadness they'd worn since their arrival was gone too.
"We understand everything, Mr Angel," Roger said, taking Angel's hand and shaking it heartily. "You put us through quite a hell the last couple days, but there's no hard feelings."
Trish chimed in, "We know our Fred's part of something just awfully important, and we're proud of her as proud can be. We know you're looking out for her, and that she'll be all right with you." She turned to Wesley. "And you. I hope you two will make each other very very happy. Roger and I couldn't be more pleased. Now why don't you come out with us for a celebratory lunchwe want to hear all about your plans." She embraced him then; over the lady's shoulder, Spike saw Wesley's demeanor crack, become the face of a man too terrified to breathe, before it hardened again. "We're delighted you're going to be part of our family, Wesley."
"Th-thank you, Mrs Burkle."
"Trish. You promised before, call us Trish and Roger."
"That's right, son," Roger said, offering him first a hand, and then a hug. "Now come on. We're going to lunch, I'm buying. Need to have a good visit with our little girl before we go back home."
Fred said, "I wish y'all could stay in LA for a while, I miss you both so much. But you understand. We've all got so much to do ...." She slipped her hand into Wes's.
The four of them walked out, leaving the others looking rather stunned.
"How does she do that? Look like Fred. Did you know she can do that?" Angel said.
Spike shook his head. "Doesn't surprise me, though. We really don't know what-all she can do."
"Should we ... maybe we should tell Trish and Roger"
"They wouldn't believe you," Buffy said. She was still gazing towards the door, and Spike saw something in her face that showed him she was remembering people whom she'd loved, whom she'd never see again. "Why should they want to believe you, when their daughter is right there?"
"But it's wrong"
"Sure it is," Buffy said. "But they have their daughter, and she tells them she's engaged, and she looks happy ...."
"Poor bastard Wes," Spike said. "Seein' her like that. Havin' to play this charade."
"Does he know it's a charade?" Buffy said. "Maybe he thinks ...."
Angel shook his head. "No, he knows what she is."
"Guess Illyria's protectin' powers only extend so far. She's got to keep him close. Still, draggin' him off to this lunchmight as well run him through with hot pokers. Not big on the compassion, is Blue."
Angel was also staring at the door, staring into his own bad conscience. "Buffy ... maybe you could call Willow. She might be able to help us with the mystical side of this."
"I'll go call her."
Angel shuddered, and brought his focus back to the people in front of him. "Connor. Your parentsall of usare counting on you to get your education. I'm glad you were here to help me in this, but now it's time for you to go."
Both Connor and Faith started to protest.
"I'm not trying to separate you. All I'm saying is, Connor's got to get back to Stanford. As far as you seeing each other," he held up his hands, "you two work it out. I'm going ... I'm going ...."
"Could use a drink," Spike suggested.
"We've been doing too much of that," Angel said, on a sigh.
Anne plucked at his sleeve. "You have people to feed tonight, yes? Let's go see what we can get going in the kitchen."
Spike started to follow, but Anne cast him back a look that showed she preferred he'd keep his distance.
Well, fine. Himself probably would be better for a bit of culinary therapy, and meanwhile he could go talk this all over with Buffy.
He found her in her room, sitting on the bed, cell phone in hand.
"Willow will be here in the morning. She said she's looking forward to seeing you."
"Oh, I bet she is."
"No, she really is. I told her, about us, by the way."
Spike sat down beside her. "What did you say?"
"That I'm in love with you, and with Angel, and that I'm staying here to be with you both. And that I'm getting back to my calling."
She looked at him, and after a moment, took his hand. Hers trembled for a moment before she squeezed his fingers. "So that was Fred."
"That wasn't Fred. Farthest damn thing from Fred there is." Spike turned her hand over in both of his, cradling its warmth, tracing the lines of her palm with a finger. It moved him enormously, just that Buffy would allow him to hold her hand. He wondered if he'd ever get used to it, and kind of hoped he wouldn't. Didn't want to fall to taking her for granted.
"There were some things I wanted to say to you, but this thing just now kind of knocked them out of my head."
"We'll get to 'em."
"We will. So ... do you really think he's all right? Wesley? I mean, he's obviously not all right, but all right to let him in here with us?"
"Angel thinks so, an' that's good enough for me." Spike paused, continuing his caress of her hand. Buffy curled her fingers around his. "Poor sod really has had a rotten time."
"I guess you can identify. With the dying and not really dying, and with the"
"Disappointment in love." Spike squeezed her hand. "Identify, yeah, but don't mind admitting Wes has me beat in the heartbreak stakes. Charlie told me he was sweet on Fred for years, an' she treated him like a colleague she was vaguely fond of, until just a few weeks ago. Think I'd prefer bein' outrighted despised to that. And then when she changed her mind, an' it looked like he was gettin' his shot at satisfaction, she got taken over by Blue. Should've seen him after that, Buffy. Was absolutely bugfuck crazy. Could tell, when we made our plans for the last big battle, that he was lookin' forward to death. Getting his quietus. Had nothing to live for anymore now his sweetheart was gone."
"And now he's neither dead or alive, and Illyria isn't Fred, but she is .... God."
"Sucks to be him."
"It really does. We're lucky. I get how lucky we are." Buffy darted a glance at him from the corners of her eyes. "The moral of the story isseize the day, right?"
"The moral? Stories haven't had morals since I was"
She rose. "You turn down the bed while I put the do not disturb sign on the doorknob, okay?"
"We'll have all afternoon, I think." There was a sudden sly glint in her eye. "Unless of course you're too shagged out from this morning ...."
"No fear." He leapt up to do as she asked.
She was nude when she emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, a couple of towels over her arm. Spike was sorry for thathe'd have liked undressing her. He'd turned the bedclothes down, but kept his own clothes on, thinking she might like the same thing.
Buffy paused halfway between bathroom and bed.
"I don't need to tell you I'm still menstruating."
"Right, you don't need to tell me."
"That isn't ... I assume it isn't a problem."
He wasn't sure what sort of problem she meant. There were a few to choose from.
"Not squeamish, me."
"No. No of course you're not." She took a deep breath. "It's just thatthe other day you said it was, uh, confusing for you. To be in bed with me while I was, um, bleeding."
"Well, yeah. Because you were three sheets to the breeze an' oozin'"
"Food. Your ... food ... is what comes out of my ...." She made a face. "That's got to be weird."
"It's a problem for you. Buffy, we don't have to. Been content to wait, haven't I?" He remembered that during their affair two years ago, she'd never come to him when she was on the rag. The reason why seemed pretty obvious at the time.
"No, I want to. I really want to. But I just need us to be clear, before we start"
That's what the towels were for, he realized. Made sense. She wouldn't want to stain the sheets, and the fucking would get messy. The idea of his own cock covered in her blood was arousing and unnerving too, because she seemed so unnerved by it. She'd expect him to wipe himself up as soon as they were done.
"Keep this neat. And no tasting. Got it." The words came out, he realized too late, cooler than he'd intended them.
She'd started to spread one of the towels out on the sheet, but at this, she froze. Without looking up, her hair hiding her face from his view, she said, "No, you don't. I was going to saythat I'd like you to do whatever you want." She straightened up then, confronted him. "That's why I didn't want to wait. It was something you asked me for, before. Totaste. You can if you like."
He approached her, still a little suspicious. She was nervous, clearly excited, but full of apprehension too. He was unused to these kinds of negotiations with herin the past, he'd been pushy, and she'd been punch-in-the-nosy. They didn't work things out in advance in this stilted style. "You want me to do that? Want me to lick you out?"
"If ... if you want to."
"Would do it like a cat at a bowl of cream."
She flushed all over, and shuddered, and when he touched her shoulder she flowed against him, which was all the reassurance he needed. Negotiations over. Now she was touching him, it was like her starting pistol had gone off: her hands in his hair, her mouth hot and demanding on his. She tore at his clothes; when they were off, she pulled him down onto the mattress; mewing, humping his thigh. Her skin was moist all over, exuding an intoxicating perfume; he took deep delicious whiffs of her as he pressed her back, nuzzling her armpits, her breasts, the hollow of her throat.
"You astound me, Slayer," he whispered. "You're just too much."
"An' I'll never get enough. Never enough of you, sweetheart."
She was exquisitely sensitive, moaning and curling and rippling as he kissed his way down her body. When he reached her stomach, she was already pushing hard at the top of his head, urging him further. He laughed into the curve of her belly, relishing her impatience, already imbibing the rich salty aroma of her, anticipating the taste and texture of the blood on his tongue, and wanting to postpone yet a little more the fulfillment of such a long-held wish.
"Aren't you greedy for your pleasure, little minx?"
"And aren't you?" She spread her legs wide.
He slid off the side of the bed, to kneel on the floor, and dragged her by her hips to the edge.
"Spike! Shut up!"
He couldn't help gloating, as he got his first taste, as the velvety stuff coated his tongue, and the power of it slammed into him, lit him up like a pinball machine on Tilt. Never thought she'd surrender this, never never. How wrong he'd been. Once she gave her heart, the slayer gave all of herself. Blissful amazement eddied through him as he swallowed her down.
And she'd chosen him to receive this favor, him and not Angel. Angel might be offered it later, but it would only be in fairness. He'd always have been here first. And he knew it was petty and stupid to get such a thrill from that, but still he did. Was like beating him out for that idiotic Cup of Torment. Not that he'd mention it to Buffy. Would keep his sense of conquest to himself.
She tensed all over as he licked her; trying to hold herself back, not to spend too soon. He teased the pucker of her ass with a moist pinky, strummed her hard little clit with the other hand, and licked deep inside her, unfurling his tongue as far as it would go. The walls of her cunny rippled, she groaned and gyrated, her breathing getting deeper, ragged. Fingers scraped at his hair, and she was saying things in a breathy pleading voice that made no sense, that filled him with pride.
Her blood hit him with jolts like pure adrenaline; he felt like he could lift the whole damn hotel up over his head, or light it up like a Christmas tree, or both. He was super Spike.
Her orgasm came like running off a ledge. A sudden sharp plummet; she wasn't quite ready for it. Her thighs closed tight around his head; she surged and cried out and sobbed his name. He urged her through it, urged her higher. In her throes, the slayer could be dangerousshe squeezed hard, engulfing him; he was glad he didn't need to breathe. It lasted for a long time, and she was still vibrating high when she tore herself away, grabbing him up onto the bed, saying Fuck now, fuck me, oh God. As soon as he was inside her she rolled him over and took control, riding hard, staring into his eyes, her own huge and abstracted and glittering. Like she was high. Like he'd made her as wild with him as he was with her.
He came with a sharp upward snap that bucked her like a mechanical bull. She gave forth a raucous laugh, that gave way to giggles as he fell back, spent. Her laughter was silvery and fed on itself; she gathered up her hair, fanned her neck with her hand, let it fall. Still laughing, she shook her head, smiling at him. "II can't stoplaughing"
"Beautiful you are."
"Hard you are." She squirmed on him, squeezing her cunny muscles. "I meanjeez. Like steel. How do you do that?"
His erection hadn't gone down. For a grim moment he remembered how hard he'd been after tasting the blood of the slayer he'd killed in China. Like a powerhouse. He'd fucked Dru all night afterwards, and walked bow-legged for another day.
"S'what you do to me, baby."
She quieted, and put a hand to his face. "My blood. What my blood does." She paused. "I've seen what my blood does to vampires."
"But never like this, I'll wager. Let's enjoy it, then." He rolled her over. Wanted to cover her, to give her another bout that was slow and up close, mouth to mouth, eye to eye. She wrapped him in her arms.
She nodded solemnly, a little smile making a bow of her lips. "And you?"
"Extremely. I'd even say: perfectly."
She rushed a finger to his lips. "Hush. Jinx."
"Hey, I'm the one who's allowed"
"Except I'm afraid none of us is allowed."
He kissed her furrowed brow. "None o'that now, Slayer. You an' me are having our afternoon, an' we don't have to think of anything that's not in this bed."
Even as he said the words, he knew that everything was in bed with themtheir pasts, their fears, and all sort of other people. But he at least was determined to ignore all that, as long as he could.
Buffy squirmed. "Is this getting ... too ... "
"Maybe we should clean up first."
"Nah." He started a little in-and-out, to show her they weren't getting glued together. She was slick and drenched, but there wasn't much blood left; he'd been thorough. Greedy. Buffy sighed, and wrapped her legs around his back.
"You are a girl who loves to fuck," Spike said.
"I really am." She smiled up at him. "Love fucking you.." Suddenly there were tears in her eyes. "I really missed this. So much."
"We've never done this before. Not this way. All affectionate."
"I know. I know, but you can miss things you've never had. Maybe you even miss them more, because of that."
He did know. He was how he'd missed her, often and often. The summer she was dead. And this past year, after he'd made up his mind to leave her alone.
"We'll make it up to each other, won't we, pet?"
She drew him down to kiss. "Oh, we will, Spike. I promise."
Illyria wasn't in the room. Angel was alone with Wesley. A Wesley who was no longer wearing the calm and ironic mask of earlier. Now he sat at the desk, his elbows on it, his face in his hands. Angel watched him, speechless.
Wesley scrubbed at his eyes, and looked at him, bleary, exhausted. "Before I died, I understood it all. There was no time to confront you then. But you did it. You did all this to me."
Angel glanced away, then forced himself to look back into Wes's eyes. "I did. I made a unilateral decision."
"I would never have signed myself over to them, if I'd known it all. It's true I was tempted, but I'd have walked away, if you hadn't"
"I didn't even want to come back here. It's just that I have nowhere else."
"And I owe you," Angel said.
"Yes. You owe me."
There was a silence between them then, that drew out, second by exquisite second, until Angel was fighting a burning in his eyes that presaged tears. He wanted to ask Wesley if he hated him, but there was no possible answer to the question that would've been particularly relevant. He sprang up. "We'll find a way to free you. Meanwhile, whatever you need here, to be comfortable"
Wesley rose. "Comfortable. Yes. I suppose we'd better choose a room."
It took Angel a moment to realize that by we, Wes meant himself and Illyria. He nodded.
"Is it odd," Wesley asked suddenly, "to find yourself back here again?"
"I've missed it."
"Have you? I imagine it'll get lonely. Once the others go."
"Spike ... and Buffy ... look like staying."
"Indeed? I was surprised to find her here."
"We've all changed."
Wesley went to the door. "Some of us more than others."
Angel was alone for a quarter of an hour, reflecting bleakly on the sort of peace he'd experienced at the bottom of the ocean, where action was impossible, compared to what gripped him now, when there was so much to do and yet all he could contemplate was the welcome obliteration of consciousness, when Connor put his head into the room. "All right, Dad. I'm going back to Palo Alto."
"What, now?" Angel got up. "We barely"
"Well, you're right. Classes started two days ago. I should get back."
Now that the boy was finally doing as he was told, Angel wanted to keep him. There'd been so little chance to talk. Because of Faith. Because Connor had become fascinated with Faith andit wasn't Faith's fault. He shouldn't blame her. People became interested in one another. It wasn't something he could control. Or should control. "Yes. It's time."
Connor came forward, "I'll see you at the next break. Oryou can come up and visit, you know. That would be good. I'd be glad to see you, for a weekend, or"
He pulled Angel into a hug, that once begun, Angel couldn't bear to break. Connor exhaled a sigh, and patiently let himself be held for longer than was strictly comfortable.
"Hey boss." Faiith was there. Angel dropped back fast. "I'm headin' out too. Gonna take the drive up with Connor, fly back to Ohio from there."
"Oh ... sure."
"Unless ... I mean, maybe I should stick around. 'Til you work out this thing with Wes. Except I'm thinkin' maybe he isn't going to want me up in his grill. You've got Buffy for muscle, if"
"There's plenty of muscle here, yeah," Angel said. "Go ahead with your plans. Thanks ... thanks again for showing up."
"Hey, for youalways."
With their departure, Angel felt a hush settle over the hotel. He went back into the office. There were tasks to perform, paperwork, calls, correspondence. If he was going to carry on again as Angel Investigations, or something like it, he needed to re-establish ....
No. No, he didn't have the energy for all that. He sat at the desk, in the silence, and let his sadness sift down all around him. He'd taken on the evil at its source. He'd cut a swathe in it, torn a hole big enough to evoke some serious retaliatory wrath, and in the end, he'd received help, and been able to walk away, to go on fighting.
Too many dead, but this wasn't a defeat. He tried to convince himself, but mostly the thought just lay there, uninflected, uninspiring. It's what you do that counts. He didn't feel capable of doing anything, right then. Didn't know what to do.
Angel went out into the lobby, which was quiet, and dark. The day had drawn to a close without his realizing it. He went to the courtyard door, thinking he'd sit outside for a little while, breathe the early evening air, the exhalations of the plants.
But at the door he felt that the courtyard was occupied. He saw the shapes of two people in the dark, on the bench. Wes, and Illyria. Who, in the guise of Fred, sat on Wesley's lap, her two slender arms draping his shoulders. They kissed slowly, with a kind of chaste curiosity, like children. Like children, until Wesley let out a whimper of such anguish that it was all Angel could do not to burst through the door and go to him.
Illyria laid a finger on his mouth. "Do you prefer something else?" she whispered, and though the word's were Illyria's, the voice, the cadence, the sweetness of the whisper was Fred's.
"Yes," Wesley said, after a pause that seemed to sob. "I prefer anything but this, you know I do. But don't change it. And don't you dare ask me again." He caught her against him, and then they weren't like children at all, and Angel drew away, and left them alone.
He climbed the stairs. Followed his nose to the room where Buffy and Spike were. Stood outside the closed door, listening. Heard Buffy laugh, and the low buzz of Spike's voice, unintelligible, the tone insinuating and bawdy. Buffy laughed again. Angel raised a hand to knock, but didn't knock.
Was about to turn away, when Spike called out, "Know you're there. Quit lurkin' and come on in."
It was a sight he'd never thought to see, a sight that would, until quite recently, have been completely unsupportable.
Spike and Buffy, nude and tousled, lolling together in bed.
He'd risen from a bed containing them both that morning, but her presence then was almost incidental. Thisthe perspective from the doorway, of the two of them taking their smiling easewas far different. The room was heavily perfumed with their exertions. She was propped up on one elbow, her pretty breasts undefended, relaxed and rosy-cheeked as a Boucher. Spike's beauty too gave Angel a pang; he was always at his best without any clothes on.
"Close the door," Buffy said. "Is Wesley all right?"
"He's with Illyria." Angel wondered at himself, for stepping in here.
For not throwing the bureau at them.
Buffy got up and came toward him. He thought of how long it had been since he'd seen her naked. She had a confidence in her body that was more marked than on that undone day, and also in what she was doing. In where she found herself. She was taking it all in stride.
Her skin was mottled with hickeys. She came up and kissed him. "Come to bed. You need some TLC."
Up close, her aroma was even strongerthe juices of her pussy, her menstrual blood that was almost gone (into Spike's mouth, he realized, with a twinge of affront), repeated sweats, repeated climaxeshe remembered how she could go and go. He didn't know if he could bear it, even as the intimate odors aroused him.
She understood his hesitation. "Maybe I'll take a shower first."
Spike hadn't moved; Angel was surprised by his silence. He'd been playing the gentleman for the last couple of days; it was unusual. Angel wasn't sure he liked it, or that he could trust it. But perhaps Spike had changed. Perhaps this ... thing ... they were doing together, had already changed him. Perhaps it was his indulgence in her blood. Spike wasn't used to being loved.
When the bathroom door closed behind Buffy, and the shower came on, Spike threw the sheet back and got up. The sight of him, decorated in her scratches, brought Angel instantly, painfully erect. Spike gave him a glance, and went to the bureau, took a set of fresh sheets out of the bottom drawer. Without being asked, Angel came to the other side of the bed, helped him strip and change it. Aware of his hardness rubbing painfully behind his fly.
When the bed was made, Spike looked up and smiled. "Got her all revved up. Leave you to it, yeah?"
Angel stepped around to him, caught him. Spike's face, his hair, smelled heavily of Buffy's cunt. His mouth, that dropped open at once against Angel's, tasted of it. Bearing in on him, gathering Spike close, Angel devoured the taste of them both. Spike's cock twitched against his trousers. Angel fisted it.
"Ah ... I'll stay then," Spike breathed, grinding into his hand.
"I don't want you to wash yet, either."
"Right." Spike gave him the impish grin that always made Angel want to punch, or fuck.
Backing Spike against the wall, he groped him, tongue in his mouth. Slid a hand past the tightening balls, pushing the legs apart, to probe at the arsehole. It was moist. Spike gasped. "Has she been here?"
Angel stabbed him with a finger, and Spike seized his shoulders hard. "You'll show her how," Spike said. "If she doesn't know. ... tho' expect she does. Girl knows it all."
Angel kissed him again, and released him. Started taking off his clothes. Spike helped.
Emerging from the bathroom, her wet hair loose down her back, Buffy found them breathing into each other's mouths, a hand wrapped around each other's cock.
"Are you trying to make me crazy? Because it is so working."
It was Angel who jerked away.
"You don't have to stop. I could watch. I ... I liked listening to you this morning."
"It's you he wants now, pet," Spike said. Angel couldn't look into his face, but he heard that provoking grin. "I'm just the fluffer."
Even now, Angel didn't know if this would be possible. The vast reluctance he'd been coasting on since Buffy came up with this idea hadn't let go of him yet. He was accustomed to self-denial. Especially where she was concerned.
He couldn't remember for how long he'd felt ashamed of wanting her. Of wanting anyone?
Buffy came to him. Spike's love bites were a little faded from what they'd been before the shower; the aroma of shampoo lay overtop that of blood and arousal. Drops of water flecked her shoulders and chest. She pulled his head down to kiss, her small hand exerting her determination on the back of his neck. Then she kissed his breast bone, which was at her eye level, and put out her tongue to moisten one nipple, before drawing it into her teeth, gnawing gently so it puffed out. She tugged the other in her fingers. Angel's breath caught. Buffy glanced at Spike. "I bet you like these."
"Sire's got lovely tits, yeah," Spike said, on a laugh.
Angel felt like he was falling; he fumbled out, reaching for the pull of the bedside drawer. Grabbed out the stake he knew was in there, and pressed it on Spike. "You hold onto this."
"Not gonna need it, you great fool," Spike said. "That's not what's gonna happen now."
"That's right," Buffy said.
"I won't be the fool when I rip her throat out before you can get your gameface on."
The words hung in the air among them, their harshness shocking even to him. Maybe mostly to him. Spike didn't flinch, and neither did Buffy. Angel was in the clasp of fear, but Buffy's eyes only widened. Concern and comprehension. She took his hands in hers, threading her fingers into his, and spoke gently, as if he might shatter.
"We're going to be lovers, Angel, and you're going to survive it. You're going to be ... you're going to be taken care of. Okay? Just let me take care of you. This is for you, now."
She maneuvered him around so the bed was at his back, and he had to sit, his cock, no less rampant for his anxiety, standing out from his lap, irrepressible. Buffy glided her hand around it, working the foreskin down, spreading her fingers wide to encompass it as best she could. Her hand was very warm on his flesh. Her eyes gleamed with lust. Her pulse beat in her fingers, transmitting it to him.
"Spike will like watching, though."
"Will he?" Suddenly Angel remembered the timethe first timeSpike, only he wasn't Spike yet, still just Silly Willie, walked in on him rogering Drusilla. His incredulous horror, as all his illusions shivered into jaggedy bits.
What a frisson, what a cockstand came from inflicting that most tender pain! Far more memorable than the being into Dru. Far more memorable, he knew, to Spike also, than the threesome that ensued. Which did nothing to set Spike back on those particular pins. He was never the same fellow again, after that night.
Buffy turned from him, to give Spike a kiss. Looked into Spike's eyes. How intimate they were! They could speak to each other with gazes. When had that happened? Just now, before he walked in? Or had this been going on a long time? It made Angel feel desperate.
"I want you here," Buffy told Spike. "I want us all to be here with each other."
Angel wondered at himself, how helpless he'd become. This situation wasn't of his devising. Buffy had given herself to Spike first, and she'd spent all afternoon in here alone with him. Now it was his turn, and she wasn't offering him the same thing.
Yet a few moments ago he'd told Spike not to go.
He didn't want to be alone with her. He couldn't sort out exactly why, not now he was so aroused, his senses swimming in the both of them. There was Angelus, beating the bars deep inside him, crowing that he was about to be set free. But it wasn't only that.
Buffy kissed Spike again, slow and lingering. "I've thought about this," she said. "You know I have."
"That's right, pet. Gets your honey dripping." Spike cupped Buffy's pussy, his fingers disappearing into the folds, and a moment later brought them up to Angel's mouth. "Doesn't she smell like heaven? Taste her." Spike pressed his gooey fingers through Angel's lips, and Angel licked at them, his blood and cock and desire leaping. "Let's see you fuck her then, our Liam. Let's see your big pego go inside her. You can taste how ready she is. Look how tight her nipples are. Listen to her breathin'. Slayer wants her fuck." Spike kissed Buffy's parted panting lips. "Go on then, love. Go on and have him."
It was something like a dream. He didn't even realize until much later how still he was, as if bound, or held by a spell. His skin alive, every muscle and nerve quivering. Time slowed so each moment was like a bead of oil let go into water, smooth and languid. Buffy and Spike kissed a little more, like accomplices, and then she turned back to him, and her mouth was on his. He inhaled hard as her tongue entered his mouth, he breathed like he needed the air. She straddled his lap, hands on his shoulders, so his cock nestled against her wet pussy hair. Her eyes were all for him now; Angel looked into them with curiosity, and felt he was experiencing a reunion with someone he'd forgotten even about forgetting.
The room rushed around him, he felt the draft, everything rushing and rushing, and only he perfectly still. Buffy moved against him, making the crown of his cock caress her clit. She whispered. "You want me, don't you, Angel? You want me to make love to you, yes? Yes?"
The room, the air, his body, plunged. He took hold of her, and thrust inside. "Yes," Angel said. "Yes."
"Right. Who's happy, then?"
Buffy expelled a gusty sigh, and giggled. Angel, still on top of her, lifted one big hand and cuffed Spike in the face. "Shut up."
"I've made my point."
Ignoring him, Angel said, "Am I crushing you?"
"Yes. Please don't move yet." Buffy was still wrapped around him, but loosely now, arms and legs gone lax. His softening cock was still buried in her. He was very aware of her hands starfished on his back, fingers trailing gently where a little while ago they'd dug and scratched. They'd gone through two lightning bouts, with barely a pause in between; once roused, once engaged by her, Angel's self-restraint was nothing but wet tissue, decimated. Buffy in his lap, in his arms, riding his cock, was the culmination of every fantasy he'd forbidden himself to indulge, every uncontrollable dream he'd wake from to find himself gushing on the sheets. He wanted to be fully present for this, but she was too frenzied, and he was too; impulse seized him, and even in the midst of his terror that this was the soul falling away, he couldn't pull back. Buffy seemed oblivious to her danger, she egged him on, the nasty delicious words Spike must've first unleashed in her pouring out as she worked him, when she wasn't biting his shoulders or sucking on his tongue.
She'd changed so much, even from the Buffy she'd been on that day that was erased. He no longer quite felt he knew her. He no longer believed he was the only man she really loved. It was confusing, made him feel he was running to catch her up. But in a way it made it easier to follow her lead; she'd amply demonstrated her power to make these decisions for herself, for him. Even if she wasn't as thoroughly acquainted as he wished she was, with how much he had to atone for.
Spike was stretched out beside them, head propped on one hand. Angel had been aware of his attentive presence the entire time, but he'd kept his distance, and his silence. Letting Buffy have her way with him. It was only after he spent the second time that Spike joined them on the bed.
Buffy rippled beneath him, tightening her inner muscles. He lifted his head to look at her. She was smiling, looking a little drunk, Also bright and interested. He rolled over, taking her with him, so she was sprawled on his chest. He glanced at Spike as he smoothed her hair back with both hands.
"Isn't she something?" Spike said.
Bluffy blushed. "You two stop."
"You don't want us to," Spike said. "You love showin' yourself off to us. Love bein' worshipped by two handsome virile vampires who're wild for you." To Angel he said, "See? Isn't she like I told you?"
"She is," Angel said, solemn. He couldn't get enough of combing his hands through her hair. She was still flexing around him, it was almost lazy, almost incidental, how she was getting him hard again. He didn't want to stop touching her.
"You told him about me, Spike?" To Angel she demanded, "What? What did he say?"
"That you've grown into your desire."
"Only I didn't say it in those words."
"Well, I get that. That explains why my ears've been burning." Buffy laughed. "I can just imagine how Spike describes me. With that filthy mouth of his."
"Which you love. You love me tellin' you how saucy you are an' what you do to me."
"I do." Buffy reached for Spike, who slid obligingly closer. "Kiss him for me. I want to watch you kiss."
"Think Angel wants to be kissin' you at the moment," Spike said. Angel was amazed by his good nature through all this. As if it really was a pleasance to him, to watch his darling, his obsession, give herself to his forever rival. Maybe it really was. Hard to credit, but maybe so. Angel pulled him in by the nape of his neck. Tasted his mouth first to oblige Buffy, and then, immediately, because he wanted to, because his desire for Spike was as ready as the other desire, rising up prickly and compelling.
"Yeah. Like that." Buffy reared up to observe, wriggling on his cock. Angel groaned, reeling Spike in as he thrust up into Buffy's drenched depths. "You have no idea how hot that is. I can't wait to see you two do it. You'll do it for me, right? Where I can see?"
Spike laughed into Angel's mouth. "Will we fuck to entertain our pretty mistress, Liam? To please her imperial majesty?"
"That'll be one motivation, yeah."
"Oh God," Buffy said. "Do it now. Right now. Please." She climbed off of Angelhe would've protested this abandonment, except that Spike, mouth covering his, was all too ready to scramble up in her place.
"No, not like that," Buffy said. "Do it ... do it the way you were in the kitchen the other day. Spike on his back."
"Girl knows what she wants."
"Yes I do."
She was kneeling beside them, caressing herself with both hands. Angel couldn't take his eyes off her, her tangled hair, her moist flushed face. Her eyes shone. Spike was looking at her too; for a long moment that was all they could do, drink her in.
"What are you waiting for?"
"You're distractin' us," Spike said.
"No distractions. Please." She dropped her hands from her pussy.
"Can't help it, love. You're too luscious. Got our cocks twitchin' for you right now."
Angel sat up. He caught Spike's idea out of the air, though it was clear that Buffy wasn't there yet; she glanced around impatiently when Spike shifted behind her. "What?"
Angel lifted her by the waist; for a moment she resisted, but when she felt Spike come in close against her back, join his supporting strength with Angel's, she drew in a sharp breath.
"Oh. Oh. You're going toI've never done this before." She appealed to Angel. He kissed her parted lips, sipped the gust of her excited breath. "But you two have."
"Well, yeah," Spike said against her ear. "Lots of times. But never with a woman as precious to us as our souls."
There was a moment when Angel thought Buffy might weep. He exchanged a long look with Spike.
Angel said, "That's right. But if you don't"
"I want to! God yes. Yes." A shudder took her, and she flushed all over. Spike was pressing kisses into her neck through her hair. Both men inched closer; Angel's cock encountered Spike's in the seam of Buffy's body. She moaned, dropping a hand down between her open thighs. "Oh, there you both are." Her fingers wound round the head of his cock, and Spike's. She gulped air. "Justgo slow."
"Make sure not to hurt you," Spike said. "Make sure you'll like this."
She nodded frantically. Spike grabbed the lube from the bedside table. Angel could feel his fingers slipping into her ass, and he could see it in her face, the caught lip, the fluttering eyelid. Strange, Angel thought. Had everything been different, had he been able to stay with her from the start, he'd never have sought to go into her there. That wasn't ... he'd have treated her always, the way he treated her that first time. As precious and delicate. As a lady.
Probably would've bored her to distraction, if they weren't rent apart.
Spike was murmuring. "Should be a doddle, you're all loose an' relaxed already. All wet an' pliable."
"I know," she babbled. "Okay."
"You just relax. We've got you. Angel an' me, we've got you an' we're holdin' you. That's it, pretty girl."
"Yes." A sob escaped her, and she shuddered with need, as if Spike's reassurance was the most bawdy talk.
Beneath Buffy's body, Spike's hand closed on Angel's cock; their gazes mingled again over Buffy's shoulder. Spike's eyes had gone warm and swimmy; he showed Angel a smile that was almost shy. "Shall I marry you together?" he said, guiding Angel's cockhead to its target. With a sigh, Buffy took him in, seeking his mouth with hers as she sank down until their hair was crushed together.
"I'm here, Buffy. We're here."
"You're so quiet."
"I" I'm in awe. He gathered her closer, though they were already so close, and reached beyond her to Spike, catching him by the neck, pulling him in to kiss. Buffy laughed softly, craning her neck to see them both. "This is so crazy. You two are God. I love you so much. I love you both so much. Spike"
"Want me, Slayer?"
"Please. Now. Please."
Angel felt him enter, through the thin membrane that separated them, the bulk of him sliding slowly in, resting then moving. Buffy quivered, panted, pulse fluttering, her hands traveling up and down Angel's arms, clutching unconsciously at his neck and shoulders, then reaching back wildly to pluck at Spike, who caught her hands, kissed and held them. "You all right, love?"
"I'm so full. Is there more? I'm so"
"Little more. Can you take it?"
"Yes. I love you. Yes. I want all of you. All of you both. This is good. This is so good Angel"
She was already starting to spend, from inside, in deep waves like labor; she bore down hard, threw her head back onto Spike's shoulder, laughed and sobbed. Spike was babbling lascivious praise of her. He kept his thrusts small, gentle, caressed her breasts, kissed her neck. Angel realized he himself was barely moving. He didn't need to. He was the ballast. He held Buffy, received her exquisite heat, her tremors and inner convulsions, and through her, he connected to Spike too. Buffy was the one in the middle, but Angel was sure he felt just as much filled with her and Spike as she did with both of them.
He was the last to finish, and before he threw his own head back, it was Spike he saw most clearly. Spike's blue blue eyes, unwaveringly fixed on his. Angel thought he saw something there, that he didn't know, until that moment, he'd been yearning for.
Angel and Buffy were asleep when Spike left them, to go up to the roof and smoke.
Fred was there, looking out over the city. She was wearing Wesley's shirt, and nothing else, sitting on the low parapet. Knees drawn up, her two small feet lined up together. The sight blasted Spike's contentment.
Fred turned her head to regard him, with a smooth insect movement that was Illyria's. "I am learning to wear this form. I am learning to ... enjoy this form."
"Oh, are you? Got no bloody right."
"I do it for Wesley. He says he does not like it, yet he does. He wallows in caprice and lies."
"You're takin' advantage of"
"He mates with the shell, but always he is too delicate. Neither I nor the shell would wish to be invariably so treated, yet when I attempt a different way, he gets up and goes to the toilet and does not emerge."
Christ. "Like I said. You're takin' advantage of the poor bloody sod who"
"I protect him. Make him invisible. If I did not, they would take and use him." Her gaze was too intense; Spike realized she'd never blinked, the whole time. "He is not free. Where I come from, I was the only one with freedom, and everyone else answered to my whims. But here it is all ruined."
Bugger how she could make him feel sorry for her. Spike lit his cigarette and took a long appreciative drag.
Illyria cocked her head. "You too have been mating."
"Every chance I get."
"When you have completed the act, do you weep?"
"Not ... not generally. Though there've been times when"
"Then why is it that when the pleasure is upon me, I cannot control how my eyes leak fluid and my chest feels crushed? It is a low and sordid thing which I should not be compelled to desire!"
"Can be a bit sad-making, if ... if conditions are right." Or wrong. "S'not ... that surprising, really." She was in love with Wesley, and didn't know how. Or maybe she did know how, maybe she knew all about it and thoroughly grasped the gut-shot futility of him and her. The poor fucker couldn't even escape into death. He'd already been killed and now he was just existing, unfree, rudderless. Trapped with the bizarre simulacrum of his true love.
"Over and over Wesley brings me to this terrible climax, with his mouth, he and over and over I"
"Some people wouldn't complain."
She leapt up. "I disdain complaint! I ... I merely observe."
"Yeah, right." Spike offered her the cigarette. She sniffed at it, then bit off the lit end and chewed contemplatively before swallowing.
"I must return to him now."
"You do that, pet. Be kind."
"You think I'm a less imaginative lover than he is."
This got Buffy's eyes open. She realized that Spike was gone, she was alone with Angel. "No, I don't think that." It didn't seem like the kind of thing he'd worry about, let alone say out loud. Especially after the last few hours. "It's true I'm more familiar with Spike's, uh, repertoire. Because you and I"
"He bragged," Angel said. "He bragged about how many times you let him ... and what you let him"
Sated and sleepy, Buffy didn't want to have this conversation. Not now.
On the other hand, if they're going to be involved with one another, some things will have to be brought out in the open.
"So, did you two use me to get at each other a lot this past year?"
Angel turned away from her. "A fair amount."
She could imagine the things Spike might've said. Knew full well how crude he could beWhat's it take to pry apart the slayer's dimpled knees? Knew the only better than killing a slayer would be fucking one. Having a soul wasn't going to cure that streak in his nature.
"And I'm sure you had equally, uh, incendiary things to say to him in return."
Angel still faced away from her, staring at nothing. Full on brood-mode.
"Angel, look at me." When he did, she said, "I don't really know what kind of lover you are, but I'm very very interested in finding out. I don't think I'm going to be disappointed. I haven't been so far."
"The thing is, I'm not ... I've got so much on my mind ...."
This was the kind of thing a man said when he couldn't get it up. Not that she'd ever been with anyone who had problems, but she'd seen scenes of it in movies. Angel had been doing just fine all night.
"I know you do. What are you saying?"
"Just that ... you and Spike seem to have ... fun. Together."
"Laughing. I heard you two laughing." He paused. "I'm not much fun."
With a lick of panic, Buffy tried to remember when she'd ever laughedreally laughedwith Angel. When he'd ever been fun. Fun like she'd had with Spike on the beach the other night, or like, yes it was true, they'd had in this bed all afternoon, before Angel came in. Nothing came to her. All the associations her memory threw up around the early times were Angel were so serious. Needing him and thinking about him night and day, worrying what he thought of her, worrying how she looked to him, and if he liked how she smelled, and if a two-hundred-year-old guy could be interested in a girl like her. Love was fraught and frightening and oh so heavy. Solemn at its core, maybe even more solemn than the slayage. Sure, they'd had their lighter momentsshe remembered giggly sessions of necking and groping in various boneyardsbut Angel's real dimension in her mind was vast and dark.
She'd never really picked that apart. It was sort of stunning.
"And I don't hear you rushing to contradict me."
"No! No ... " Buffy struggled for the right response. "I don't expect you to be all light and fun. This isn't a fun time for you. And fun isn't what I came here for."
"None of this is what you came here for."
"You're wrong. I came here originally to find you. To see if you were all right, and if I could help. I didn't know about Spike, remember? And look, if our laughing together offends you, if it feels misplaced right now ... I'm sorry. We are happy that we found each other again this way, but I don't want to add to your pain. I wanted to make it less."
"I know you did." Angel's expression became a little less charged. "I just needed to remind you ... I'm not ... I can't ever be ...."
"Angel, don't compare yourself to Spike. I don't want two of him."
"But I suspect if two of him were to turn up one night, you wouldn't kick them out of your bed."
Buffy couldn't help smiling at that image. "No, I guess I wouldn't. But the same would go for two of you, okay? And hey, here's one of you, and one of me, so instead of being all Eeyore, why don't you show me how imaginative you can be?"
She told herself, and him, that she wasn't comparing, but of course she couldn't help it. Comparing things to other things, experiences to other experiences, it was just human nature. And when you were romantically and sexually involved with two mentwo souled vampiresat the same time, of course there was a lot of compare-and-contrast. So when Angel went down on her for the first time, Buffy's thoughts ran at first towards Spike, who despite how magnificently well-matched they were fucking, she thought of as more of a tongue than a cock man. But that lasted only until the sensation became so engrossing she couldn't form coherent thoughts. Angel knew what he was doing too.
Spiraling down, she laughed, and heard herself laughing, and abruptly stopped.
Still between her thighs, Angel looked up. "What?"
"I don't know. Maybe"
"Buffy. I like hearing you laugh. God, you're so beautiful when you're thrashing around and"
"Okay." She smiled. "Wow. I was wondering what this would be like, with you. I can't believe we've never done it before. You really know your way around me already."
Angel looked like he was going to say something, but then all he did was nod, and crawl up to sprawl alongside her. He had a prodigious erection; Buffy eyed it greedily, and took it in her hand.
"Have you been going without for a long time?"
"Yes. And no. Mostly yes, but there was one time .... You should know, I was seeing someone recently. A womana werewolfcalled Nina. We were just getting started together when ... I sent her away. Before the battle. She doesn't know I survived it."
"Don't you think you'd better tell her?"
"I was thinking I'd let sleeping werewolves lie. If she knew, she might"
"Ah. She was in love with you?"
"I don't know."
"I see." Buffy played with his cock for a moment, wondering about Nina. She found she couldn't work up much of a sense of worry. Sufficient to the day, and so on. "So ... you were in love with Cordelia, and never did anything about it, and you were getting involved with this Nina, but you weren't in love with her. Anything else?"
"You certainly moved on."
"Part of me moved on. And part of me never ever left you. Which sounds crazy, but"
"Oh, I get it. It's been the same for me. There's the life you're really living, and the life you would be living, if ... it's not even that one is real and the other isn't. I mean, it is, but the imaginary one has a kind of reality to it also. The inner life."
"The inner life," Angel repeated, with a comprehending nod.
"The one where the rules are different."
"Right. We might want to compare notes on that some time."
"Some time. Not now." She tugged on him. "Hey, you know what I'd like? I'd like you to get on top of me, and be really heavy, and fill me up all the way to my heart."
"I can do that."
"Yes, you really really can."
She came awake into the old apprehension: that she would find herself alone.
Buffy drew in a breath, stretched a hand out. Encountered cool smooth skin. Then a hand wrapped around hers.
"Spike." She flushed with gratitude and opened her eyes. It was all right.
"You sleep well?"
"Lyin' here with my girl."
Slipping her hand from his, she laid it on his cheek. Traced his mouth with her thumb. Emotion filled her, a congestion. "I want to wake up next to you every day." This, she hoped, said everything. Otherwise, she'd be telling him all day, millions of words that still wouldn't tell it all.
Spike bit her thumb, and smiled.
"It's just you an' me at the moment, Himself's up and gone off."
"What time is it? Is it late?"
"Not late, love. He just ... could only luxuriate up to a point."
"You are being so nice about this. You didn't have to go."
"Wanted a smoke. It's not so bad as I thought it would be. You two get on all right alone together?"
"Yes. It was ... we ... I realized I don't know him very well, not like I know you. It's weird, because I've loved him all this time, and I know he always loved me. But he's not easy to know. Neither am I. Angel and I are alike that way, we're both pretty ... opaque. Whereas you ... you're very knowable, somehow. And you've always known all about me. In ways that used to make me want to punch your head."
"I'm not all that bright, but I do have my moments of insight."
"C'mon, you're plenty bright! I don't get all mixed up like this over stupid guys."
"Spot the chink in the armour, that's all, so I know just where to sink the knife."
She saw him wince, as she winced herself. "True. But when you use that power for good, it's, uh, really good. You understood me, and after ... after you started to care about me, it meant that you accepted ... you let me be what I ...." It embarrassed her still, to refer back to that terrible year. She didn't like to remember how they'd treated each other, how difficult she'd been with him, with everyone. Herself most of all.
"It's a bit confusing, is all, hearin' you praise me."
Buffy's eyes stung; a sensation seized her that could give way either to laughter or tears. "Spike, don't you know you're my best friend?"
She was sure that deep down he must know this. How could he not know? It was the foundation they rested on, as real as the bed they were sprawled in. But Spike's eyes went round with awe, and incredulity. "Couldn't be. Buffy, we're all right, so there's no need to pile on"
"Don't insult me."
"Just don't appreciate you too much? Is that it? You still think it brings me down, that I could love you?"
"Nothin' could bring you down, in my eyes. But, yeah. Can't quite get used to thinkin' of you and me as equals. And probably shouldn't. Better, safer, yeah, for me to keep humble."
"Is that the prompting of your soul?"
"It is, love."
"Okay then, I won't try to persuade you out of it. But you are my best friend. And I love you, and I'm going to tell you I love you whenever I feel like it. And there's nothing you can do to stop me."
"S'true. Nothing I can do."
Buffy traced his smile with her thumb, and basked in the warmth that radiated from his gaze.
"You must be sleepy, Spike."
"Am a bit. Been awake since ... at least a day."
"Also I know I've got to be stinky and sticky and all that, but before I go get in the shower, do you maybe want to, just ...." Shifting closer to him, she let her hand burrow beneath the sheet.
"Aren't you a greedy little thing?"
"Just a slow easy one, okay?" she murmured. "Because I'm kinda sore, but I still want"
"Slow as honey dripping off the spoon," Spike said, and took her in his arms.
It was strange and wonderful, holding Spike while he slept. Wonderful because she'd never wanted to do it in that other time (cuddling with him then repulsed her far more than other iffy things Spike did coax her to do, like licking out his ass) and now wanted so much that she couldn't tear herself away, even as the minutes advanced towards noon. Strange because it was jarring to experience his absolute stillness, no thubbing pulse, no sighs or snores. She watched his eyelids, wanting to see if there was movement beneath themdid he dream? She was sure he did. But there was no physical sign of it. And yet, cool and still, he was absolutely not dead. No one dead would wear that expression of sated content, or feel so satiny to the touch.
Buffy expected a knock at the door at any moment. Willow would certainly have arrived by now. She needed to go downstairs and get back into the fray. Spike could sleep well into the afternoonand should be allowed to. Finally she detached herself, rising slowly so as not to disturb him, and allowing herself a last few moments of looking. Finally she fished her cell phone out of her bag and snapped a picture. She'd often been sorry, in the last year, that she had none of him.
Self-consciousness swamped her as she descended to the Hyperion lobby. Even after a long hot shower, Buffy felt she must still reek of sex; she wondered if she was walking funny or just felt like she was. She was swollen and still juicy, aware with every step of still-simmering arousal.
Angel was in the kitchen, with Willow, who was in tears. Jumping up, Buffy glimpsed them through the window in the door, and was instantly sorry that she'd left Angel alone to deal with her friend. Especially after last night, all that sweetness and communication opening between them; she should've been more conscientious about her promise to take care of him.
Anne was there too, a supportive arm around Willow's hunched shoulders. Where my arm should be, except I was lolling around in bed with my boyfriend instead, Buffy thought. One of my boyfriends.
They all glanced up at her as she came through the swinging door, like they didn't expect her.
Buffy froze, her impulse to go to Angel and kiss him knocked askew. "Hi. Uh, what?"
"Nice of you to join us," Angel said. "Where's Spike?"
"He's asleep." She tried to smile at him, but the smile failed. He had his Easter Island Idol face onlowering and blank. Reined in tight. Instead she went to her friend. "Willow, you're here. Sorry I wasn't down earlier." They hugged; Willow was trembling.
"I can't believe Fred is dead. I didn't know that would shake me up so much."
"But you didn't know her."
"Not really. Just met her the time I came here to resoul Angel. But she was ... kinda great."
"Where are they? Where's Wes?" Buffy looked towards Angel again, but he immediately turned his back, and started fussing with the coffeemaker. She appealed to Anne instead.
Who shook her head helplessly. "Gone. They seem to have left early this morning." She picked up a slip of paper from the table, that lay beside a large crock pot, its lid filled with condensation. The chili, Buffy remembered. Anne had brought it. Her stomach growled, and she realized she was roaringly hungry, and thirsty. The smell of the coffee was enticing. But it didn't seem right to ask for breakfast now.
The note, in Wesley's measured script, said that upon further reflection, he and Illyria had decided it was better they leave LA. They might contact the council at some future date, but until then, they preferred to strike out on their own.
"Huh. He comes to you for help, and then he just changes his mind? Where do you think he went?"
"No way to know," Angel said. "Which is the point."
"Willow, you can do a location spell, can't you?"
"Not while he's being shielded by Illyria."
"Which is, again, the point."
Angel's irritable tone made them all glance up, but he had his back to them, rummaging in the fridge.
Buffy rose and went to him. Touched his shoulder, as inflexible as granite. "Hey."
He ignored her.
"Angel. I know this sucks, but I don't think it's your fault."
"You don't know anything about it. So why don't you keep quiet."
Buffy recoiled, but it was the glance Willow and Anne exchanged that carried the full impact of how off this was.
The coffeemaker ticked off; Angel grabbed up the pot and started pouring.
"Buffy, can't you just"
"This is how you talk to me, after" She stopped. Not in front of an audience.
Anne rose. "I'll pass on the coffee, thanks. I'd better get back to the shelter. You guys enjoy the chili, I'll come back for the pot in a few days."
Before Buffy could urge her to stay, she was gone. Willow looked around slowly at her. "Uh, is everything okay here? I mean, I know it isn't, but are you two"
"Fine," Angel said, like a door slamming.
"Oh." Willow spread her hands on the table, examining their backs as if for clues. Buffy longed to ask her a question, but her throat had closed into a painful knot. It couldn't be that, anyway. If it was, Willow would say something, do something. Not just sit there like she wished she could bolt.
Angel put the coffee mugs on the table, and walked out.
As soon as he was gone, Buffy was able to inhale again.
"Okay, what was that?" Willow said.
"I don't know. Is he?"
"You tell me."
Willow raised an eyebrow. "Angel's in a bad mood? Because all his people died, and now Wes took off in the night without saying goodbye?"
"I guess that's all it is."
"All? What else would it be?"
There was a pang in being reminded of the crisis here, reminded that while she was reconnecting with her lost loves, Angel was deep in bitter mourning, racked with guilt. Telling him it wasn't his fault, wrong move.
"Could you excuse me for a minute?"
She found him in the office behind the hotel desk, staring into an open file drawer as if it was going to tell him something. Buffy waited in the doorway for a few ticks; when Angel didn't acknowledge her, she cleared her throat. "Hey, sorry. The devastating just keeps coming."
Angel didn't move.
"But, um ... maybe he was right. This is kind of the first place they'd look for him."
He slammed the file drawer shut with a clang.
"Drop it. Don't want to discuss it."
"Okay, but you could"
"I could use a little less of you distracting me right now. Don't you think you've done enough of that already?"
This buzzed through her like electric shock. Buffy forced herself to stay calm, even as her gorge rose.
Angel faced her then, and she really wasn't sure who she was seeing. The skin bridled at the back of her neck.
As he moved towards her she forced herself to hold her position in the doorway. "Hello? Do I really deserve to be spoken to like this? A few hours ago, we"
He was still expressionless. Not angry, not sad. Just nothing. "Everything here can't revolve around you. Your romantic fantasies."
Flashes sparked in her field of vision, but the anger rode in to hold her up when her knees and vision went swimmy. "Is this what I'm supposed to expect after every time I make love to you? Because I'm having a full-on flashback here, and it's scaring the hell out of me."
"Himself bein' a prick after he's gotten his dick wet? Surprise surprise."
Buffy resisted the urge to wheel around. "Spike, just don't." Even as she stiffened, willing him to go away, to not make this worse, she welcomed the light touch of his fingers on the back of her waist.
"Don't object to you bein' mistreated? By him especially? Can't do it, pet. What're you on about, our Liam? Weren't took in the night, were you?"
"Wesley and Illyria are gone."
"And that happened because you laid down with Buffy. Sure, makes sense. Punish her for it, go on."
Buffy kept her voice to a murmur. "Spike. Don't, please."
"That's right, our Willy," Angel said. "Don't." His eyes went yellow.
Buffy acted then, thrusting a hand out, grabbing Angel by the front of his sweater, yanking it tight. "Stop it. Stop! We are not escalating this! We are not getting any more stupid and mean than we already are!"
Angel tore free, jostled past her and Spike, and disappeared. A distant door clanged.
Spike cocked his head. "Sounds like he's gone down towards the sewers. Just the place for him, in a filthy state like that."
Buffy dropped into the nearest chair. The tears welled up before she even knew she was going to cry. Her face was on fire. The humiliation surging in waves, foul and bitter, burning her. Repeating the original shame and horror, that 17th birthday morning when she'd found herself entirely betrayed, doubling and redoubling with everything that had just occurred. And she'd let it happen. She'd set herself up. Persuaded Angel to her bed, given herself to him, just like that other time, and just like that other time, he'd turned on her when it was over.
How how how could this be happening again?
When Spike knelt beside her and tried to take her hand, she hurled herself up. "Don't touch me!"
"I don't want to have to hit you!"
Spike held up his hands. "Right you are, Slayer. Prefer not to be hit. Shall I go entertain our red witch while you pull yourself together?"
The sobs were rolling up with no more control than a bout of vomiting; she'd already curled back into the chair, face pressed into her knees. At the suggestion that he leave her, she nodded wildlythe last thing she wanted was a witness, least of all him. But in the next moment, she shot a flailing hand out.
He caught it tight. "Oh sweet. Come to Spike. Spike's got you."
She let him gather her in, kiss her hair, murmur to her, but willed herself, with deep hiccuping breaths, to calm.
Spike felt her stiffen. "Have your cry out, love. Nothin' to be ashamed of."
"I'm done." She hiccuped again, and pulled away, though she longed to cling. "You will not look at me with those eyes of pity. And you will not lord it over him when he comes back. This is between Angel and me. Stay out of it if you know what's good for you."
"Sure. Perfectly able to pulverize the dastard all on your own. Though wouldn't mind gettin' to watch."
"Spike, what did I just say?"
"C'mon now. Think this doesn't remind me of all the hell I put you through myself? That I'd like to protect you from forever?" He gestured helplessly. "Could pull his fool head off."
Buffy glanced away. The intensity in Spike's eyes, all that regret piled up, might make her cry again. His love was so enormous and accepting, the temptation to retreat into it like a child into her mother's arms so strong, she was sure she had to stand firm lest she disappear inside it.
"Bloody hell! Who does he think he is? After imbibin' all your sweetness last night, shouldn't look at you cross-eyed, let alone dare to humiliate you likelike"
"Okay, Spike. Okay." She was starting to feel confused now, the anger, clear and cutting as pure acid, getting mixed up with doubt. She should have seen that Angel was too wounded, too troubled, to be drawn back into a love affair. But she was all Miss Self-Absorption. Thinking she'd found The Answer.
"Not okay. He ought to remember, an' bloody think."
"It's dangerous ... a mistake ... to try to make love to someone who's dying inside. I should know that. I was that."
"You were not." Spike grabbed her then, almost shook her before abruptly letting go, hands held up in apology. "No comparison. An' don't you give me that look either. He should know as well as I do, how to cherish you. Treasure you. What we owe you. For believing in us. Being good to us. But he's so used to running everythin', thinks he's right even when he's flogging himself for bein' wrong. Always has to be the biggest hero, or the biggest monster. What he is is biggest pillock out."
Against her will, a grin was trying to form on her lips by time he got to the 'pillock'.
Spike took her chin in hand, tipped it up. "That's it, pretty girl. Right to be furious, but don't you waste tears on him. Don't you let him make you feel sorry. Done nothing to be sorry for."
"But" Again she had to pull away, because he made her want to fold, to be held forever.
"He loves you all right," Spike said. "But he's no damn good at it. Rank amateur. Doesn't know how to look after what's precious to him. Never had any practice."
"Well, has he? Doesn't even know how to leave a lady smiling after he's enjoyed her favors. Always does something to ruin it."
"But he wants to learn."
Buffy whipped around.
Angel stood in the doorway. Not the impassive idol head now, but the man again, burdened by all he'd done wrong.
Spike moved instinctively to place himself between them, but Buffy stepped around him, went up to Angel, and slapped his face. The sound of the blow was loud in the small space. "If you ever ever do that to me again, we are done. I will go. With or without Spike, either way, I will leave and never see you again."
Angel loomed over her, but he was like a big dog, focused on his mistress, needing signs. "Yes."
"I understand. Buffy, I'm sorry."
"I know that doesn't mean anything. Saying it."
"True," Spike interjected. "But you have to bloody say it. Ought to say it every minute of your miserable existence, on your bloody knees." Spike paused. "We both should."
Angel ignored him. "Buffy, last night wasso good. So good it scared me, because I shouldn't ... I can't ... and then this morning, when ...." He fell silent, regarding his shoes.
There was, Buffy realized, no point hearing him say it all. She knew everything he might have told herthat he was angry at her only because he was angry at himself, that his old Catholic soul smelled sin in every pleasure, fatal temptation in every bit of softness; he was plunged in inexorable guilt over the suffering and waste of his friends. And of course it was all so, it all made emotional sense, roused her sympathy and pity and wild urge to offer comfort. But it didn't either. She could accept it, his contrition, his limitations, say it would be all right. But it wasn't, it cut her inside, went on cutting and cutting, because the memory of that first time never really faded. That primal betrayal was so much a part of her that it was never not there.
Every time she opened her thighs to a lover, she defied her fear all over again. The fear he'd planted in her.
He'd warned her. Since she got to LA he'd told her, he'd done nothing but tell her, that he and she could not be. And she'd ignored him, and now there was this.
Yet she believed she still loved him, though she couldn't sort out what that could possibly mean, if it didn't include knowledge, trust. The kind of instinctual ease she had with Spike.
Somehow, despite all their history, because of it, she and Spike were friends.
And somehow, just as Spike had observed years ago, she and Angel weren't. Couldn't be.
It made her feel stupid, this love, like she was knocking her head against a rock. Why? Why are you still so twined inside me that I can't rip you out without ripping my heart out too? Her palms tingled; she flexed her hands. When had the room gone so dark? She blinked, and couldn't really see Angel. He was just a dark mass in front of her. She took a deep breath. It was difficult.
Angel said, "I know this much. I've lost the way. I want to make this right. If you leave here, I'll never find the path again. If I'm not right with you, I'll never be right at all."
Spike snorted, but said nothing.
"I have no right to ask for anything from you. But I'm asking. Not for forgiveness, that's too big to ask for. Too soon. Patience. Your patience."
Buffy realized she was nodding. What he was saying ... yes. Hadn't she promised, just like Spike promised? A promise that was also a threat, an injunction. Not to leave him, not to abandon him to his spiraling guilty confusion, the confusion that could lead him only towards further disaster. She had, and now she had to stick to it. She forced her lips to part. "I'm not going to give up on you."
Angel sighed; she felt his hand moving slowly towards her, and stepped out of reach.
"But we're not going to sleep together again. I mean ... not until the trust is ... if it ever ...."
"Buffy, I know. You don't have to say."
"Not tappin' my ass either, 'til you've made all smooth with our girl. No matter how long that takes."
"Oh for God's sake," Buffy said.
Spike retreated a little, to lean on the desk, arms crossed. "Whatever hurts you ... hurts me too."
There was a silence then that felt unbreachable. Buffy wanted to leave the room, but Angel filled the doorway and showed no sign of budging.
How, she wondered, was this ever going to work? When she couldn't even get out of here and go fix her make-up?
"Uh, so." Angel's sheepish gaze skirted from one to the other. "... noticed just now, there's a herd of Grackens that've set up housekeeping in the ... you guys want to grab some swords, go take 'em out?"
Spike perked up. "There enough to go around?"
"Smelled like there'd be merry sport for all, yeah."
Thank you, Lord, Buffy thought. I need something to hack. "Sounds swell. Lemme just ask Willow if she wants to come with."
As she moved towards him, Angel laid a hand on her arm, so lightly she barely felt the touch before he withdrew it.
Buffy paused. The fog had lifted; she could see him. Recognize him. Her Angel, the one she'd never wavered from. He was still there. It made her sorry, to find him again, familiar and beloved, beset by so much trouble, because the barriers were there too, just as familiar, and she didn't know if they could ever come down again. No matter what her intention might turn out to be.
Angel nodded. He stepped clear and let her pass.
Return to Herself's Fic.