The earth is scorched. Most of Los Angeles County is a crusted black scab. Smoldering ruins. The first habitable houses start appearing along about Oxnard to the North and Temecula to the South. In Temecula, thousands camp where vineyards used to stand. The media says the government has been slow to respond to the extraordinary circumstances, and to the mutants resulting from the shower of pebble-sized asteroids. In truth, they need time to conduct medical exams and to brain wash the shell-shocked Angelenos.
Angel stalks the borderlands beyond the chain linked San Bernandino Safety Zone, threading through the makeshift domiciles of the already released, some of them only marginally sane, who are waiting on their families. He makes his own access into the Zone as needed. He helps the bullied and the weak, the helpless in their most hopeless moments. Most nights he patrols the line, the fence, the chain link between here and there, contributing to the military’s grossly inaccurate and exaggerated but useful lies of the death awaiting anyone who dares to loiter within two hundred yards of the Zone after dark.
It’s Thursday, five months in. On Thursdays, the college kids come in from up North, distributing supplies shipped west from schools across the nation. They also accompany the pro-bono docs, as guides, into the Zone’s labyrinth of misery. Connor comes on Thursdays. He’s in school in Sacramento. He glanced up and locked eyes with Angel about Month Three.
Since then, Connor looks for him. Connor asks after him in places Angel never wanted Connor to know existed. Connor has generally made Angel’s already painful existence hellish as he further limits his territorial range and curtails his activities inside the chain link of the Zone to avoid him. He’s lost two blood suppliers due to Connor’s enquiries. These days, he’s feeding off mountain deer and stray dogs and the occasional rapist.
There’s movement ahead of him, a wash of sensation, heartbeat and scent, coming his way. Angel swipes at the corners of his lips. He is not salivating at the thought of human blood. He’s just hungry.
The man coming at him at a brisk pace through the stygian dark is grizzled under the glare of the next stationary spotlight along the fence, looking as old as Angel feels, though he’s only touching forty. Angel relaxes his guard a little.
When they meet, Angel murmurs, “Hey, Track Man,” and turns to fall in step beside him, the fence between them.
“Daniel,” Track Man says. “There’s a half-demon in Bravo-Four. Shaking in his boots. Came in with his wife and a newborn.”
“In a couple of weeks, not much more.”
“Will he leave without her?”
Track Man taps his chest. “It’s love, bro.”
“That’s a yes?”
Track-Man shakes his head. “No, Daniel. He wouldn’t have come with her if he was willing to leave without her.”
Track-Man often seems to think Angel’s moral compass swings one-eighty to his own. His lips always twist funny then, and he looks at Angel like he’s thick. Angel never tries to dissuade him.
The removal of a full human and her quarter-demon newborn before the medical exams caught up with them would be a trick and a half and Angel isn’t sure his sleeves are that long. “I’ll try,” is all he can force himself to say.
“Grouping of girls came in today. Slayers.”
Angel’s face goes numb, his lips thick. His tongue dries up. There’s a wind blowing in his chest and his legs have stopped.
Track Man stops, too, frowning at him. “You know what they are?”
“Be careful,” Track Man says and walks on.
Angel wonders if Track Man has learned his true nature.
It’s days before he spots them. He keeps moving down the chain link outside the Zone, sidestepping beyond the lights when he passes them, afraid if he stops they will take notice of him. On his second pass, he feels her. He stumbles, studying the huddle of slayers, but she is not among them. He stops in the night between the lights, listening. She’s behind him.
He waits, not sure which side of the fence she’s on, or if she will even see him, as the moon is only a wish tonight. She touches his back. He closes his eyes and sighs, his muscles loosening beneath her hand in a wave until his knees buckle.
“Angel,” she says.
He knows his line. He whispers, “Buffy.”
She places her hands on his shoulders and steps between his legs, so that he can feel her heat on his back, so close he can feel the brush of her breasts. “There were reports. Rumors. That you were here.”
He surges up, turning on her, grabs her biceps and thrusts her back into the chain link. She grunts on impact, her breath whooshing out. The fence flexes but holds. The rushing in his ears is louder than the metal against its supports. “Leave him out of this.”
She kicks at him, but he presses in closer, which kills her impact. “He came to us,” she snarls. “Unlike you.”
There is too much blood on his hands and in his heart and on his tongue. He can’t talk. He growls and shoves her back, letting go of her, but she snatches at him, not letting go.
“Angel,” she says.
He kisses her, his hands in her hair. His tongue slides against hers and then hers sweeps his mouth. He nearly keens. His heart swells from shriveled to bursting so fast it hurts. He lifts her as he crouches and turns, all in one motion, and lays her on her back right there, on the lumpy grass redolent of the tilled field it was only months ago.
“Oh, god,” she says, and their hands tangle as they both tug at the resistance of her black slacks. They scrunch them down onto her thighs, exposing her damp heat to the dry California air. Her full scent rises. Imperative. He jerks her pants to her knees, slides his hands under her, drags her up and forward, plunges down to taste her.
He suckles her clit. She bucks up hard, her cheeks clenching under his grasping fingers, her thighs close around his head. Greedy for her, he moves lower and laps at her sweetness and musk. She holds herself still, but he can feel her quiver. Pulling her closer to him with his hands, he darts his tongue into her, along her folds, over her clit again. Her fingers pull his hair and he shakes his head, hard. Buffy gasps and finally moves with him, to him. Her legs open and she presses up to him, her back arching.
He softens his assault and she eases. He nuzzles, follows her rock as her hips sway, licks along the edges of her, lets her breathe. He’s sprawled flat, aware of the pressure of the uneven ground on his erection. Wiggling, he finds a better angle for both his cock and his feet, and has to close his eyes against the need to just rise and drive into her. When he surges she responds, tightening in his hands and under his ridged, driving tongue.
He supports her lower back with one arm and locks his other hand over her hip, dropping his thumb onto her swollen, sensitive nib. Angel’s savage at the brink and Buffy cries out as she comes. Shuddering, she fills his mouth, and he’s lost, swallowing Buffy, his body screaming Slayer. He rears up, ripping at his jeans, and shoves them down over his hips. Buffy twists, struggling, and manages to free one of her legs from her slacks.
She wraps her legs around him as he falls back onto her, meets his initial thrust, but she’s so tight and so slick he slides, missing her center and they both grunt in pain. She grabs him, his cock throbs in her fevered, guiding hand, and then he’s there, right there at the edge and thrusts home.
Blinded. Engulfed. She. She. She is his existence. Propped on his elbows, his hands on her shoulders to keep her from sliding away from him, he pumps harder, his toes braced on the pipe base of the fence. She’s so tight, so soft, so hard under him, her belly muscles flex and the blades of her shoulders work against his forearms, so strong, her breasts swell under his chest, her nipples hard even through her shirt, he wants, he wants, the hard rise of her pubic bone at the base of his shaft, the hard end of his drive into her soft, tight, wet, hot, hot, hot- he buries his face in her tear soaked neck, her soft cries filling his ear.
She closes on him, opens, and closes, shuddering and he’s coming, coming, can’t stop his shout, the sharp intake of air that hurts his lungs, his teeth on her neck, but blunt, blunt, he sucks her skin in, tasting through his tongue the flush of her blood, her salt, her sweat, her tears, her desire, fear, her anger, she’s mad at him as she bucks under him, tight and not tight and tight. He groans and shifts, his hips still moving, but slow.
He lifts his chest away from hers, braces his weight on his forearms. Her eyes are closed, her temples soaked. He thrusts and she undulates. He kisses her cheeks and her lips and ducks his head to nuzzle her cleavage, drawing in a draught of her scent for thinking on later.
She’s stroking his back. And that feels so damn good, Angel hunches up under her hands, burying himself deeper in her so that she arches and shudders again. They both groan and then she laughs. He kisses her neck and eases away, rolling over onto his back, and rubs his eyes. She sighs and sits up, fishing for her pants.
He levers his hips up, and yanks his jeans back up. Carefully, he tucks his sticky, softening cock well away before zipping up.
“I’ll bring you underwear,” Buffy says.
Looking into the Zone, she’s only a silhouette. Angel wants to draw her lashes and nose and lips. He feels spacey and worn, lying flat on the ground. He hasn’t had sex of any sort in nearly half a year, and he hasn’t laid out flat in nearly as long. He sleeps sitting up- when he sleeps.
“I don’t want you here, Buffy,” he says. Even his voice feels heavy. He’s not angry with her, he’s just done.
“We’re here for you, Angel.”
He tries to roll up, but he’s just so tired. “I needed you six months ago, I called, but…” His arm won’t work. He tries to rise again, to push himself up. His shoulder hurts when he hits the ground. The stars are so bright. He gets his hand up, confused, and slaps at the pain in his shoulder. It stings. Buffy’s face is a dark oval. “Buffy?”
“I didn’t… this, this wasn’t what I wanted to… I didn’t mean…”
He feels it, under his fingers, and gets his thumb nail under it. It’s dark, his eyes are blurry, but it’s a sort of tack he’s holding in his weakening fingers. “Buffy?”
“We’re here for you, Angel. You’ve been… we’re taking you back, to London. A lot of people have died, Angel. You must know…”
“Buffy,” he tries to say, but the dark takes him.
Buffy steps into an elevator at Harrod’s in Knightsbridge, and doesn’t even register the two people on board with her until after the doors have closed, and the man steps forward to stand beside her.
It’s Riley, looking trim and ready for a fight. Buffy glances over her shoulder, and Sam nods hello to her.
“Riley,” she says, confused.
“We need to talk,” Riley says.
Buffy hits the button that will let them out into the Food Halls, near the coffee stand she favors. By silent agreement, Sam scouts a discrete place to sit while Riley and Buffy order.
“Do you live here?” Buffy asks.
“No,” Riley tells her. “We bought a place in Denver before the Troubles, but we haven’t seen it since.”
As always, Buffy’s thoughts veer sharply to Angel at mention of the Troubles, three years past. Demons rose in hot spots the world over and thousands of innocents died in the resulting aftermath. She knows it started in Los Angeles, ground zero was Wolfram and Hart. His role has always remained unclear. She was on her own mission to save the world at the time, but she’s always wondered if her distraction was planned on a larger scale than she can really fathom. “Where have you been?”
“Where the terrorists are held?”
“Terror suspects,” Riley corrects her absently, scanning the menu above their heads.
They carry their coffees back to Sam and Buffy sits on the edge of her chair, waiting. Riley and Sam exchange glances.
“What do you need?” Buffy starts for them.
“We need to tell you…” Riley starts, and looks again to Sam.
“Ask you, really,” Sam says. “We understand you are currently the de facto head of the new Council of Watchers.”
Buffy’s breath catches. Giles has been dead seven months, but these moments still sting. She nods. “I have a board,” she says.
“We have a… detainee, who needs sanctuary. He was never formerly charged, but has been held at Guantanamo since the Troubles started. He’s hard to keep, our program’s being discontinued and our unit’s being re-formed to meet new legislation. We have to find him a home or turn him over to R and D.” She rolls her eyes. “They think he’d make an excellent cryogenics project.”
“A demon, then,” Buffy ventures.
They exchange glances again, which annoys Buffy. “What?”
“It’s Angel,” Riley says.
She can’t breathe. Her hands flutter up. She covers her mouth so she won’t scream at him. Suddenly, every shopper in the Halls is passing behind her chair, laughing and loud, and she can’t. She can’t breathe.
“Buffy,” Sam says and reaches out.
Buffy shakes her head, her throat closed and aching.
Sam drops her hand back into her lap. Her eyes are soft, but she doesn’t look away. Buffy remembers Sam’s straight-forward manner from Sunnydale. She didn’t appreciate it much then, but after dealing with the many new slayers, she sees it in a whole new way, now.
She drags a breath in, and another, but doesn’t know what to do with her hands. She stares at the wall past Riley’s head and shuts out the crowd behind her. She breathes deep again, blinking back her forming tears, and forces her hands down, onto her coffee cup.
“I was assigned to sorting military casualties at the LA morgues those first few days of the Troubles,” Riley says. “Down on Figueroa, they had a tent set up and no body bags left. He was half-scorched, wearing black, so I flipped him over. Claimed him immediately, of course, and arranged separate transport. He had an axe blow to his head, didn’t regain consciousness for three months. He’s…” Riley glances up, thinking, and then shifts his eyes back hard. “Difficult.”
“Angry,” Sam says.
“And he has visions.”
“Some of which we’ve verified.”
“I’ll take him,” Buffy says.
Riley sends instructions, which includes padded walls and steel doors. He suggests the main Council House basement for installation. Buffy simply adds a signal alarm to her guest room door and anchor bolts to the heavy roof trusses on which she mounts steel rings to support ten feet of marine chain and the thickest manacles she can find in a week.
Willow dictates a spell over the phone to strengthen the steel and Xander Fed-Exs her an elephant gun. Just kidding, he says, only not. She removes all the wood furniture, trading it out with several of the young slayers for a pipe metal bed frame and table and a ragged, but intact leather loveseat.
Angel arrives at her door, drugged and cuffed, at four in the morning. Two bullish Marine guards support him. They frown at her and seeing only her, call Riley before they let her sign for him. Riley tells her it’s her head if London goes up in flames.
For a long time, Buffy just sits and stares at him. He doesn’t look up. He’s as gaunt as when she first met him, but unchanged otherwise. His hands and neck are white as alabaster. His head is shaved recruit-style. There’s no scar from the axe. After a while he lets his head fall back, his eyes closed. His lashes throw shadows on his cheeks. She gets up and switches the lamp off, and then checks to make sure the blinds are closed.
Enough light to see by still seeps in from the street. She unlaces his boots and tugs them off. There’s nothing she can do about the windbreaker he’s wearing until she removes his cuffs. Angel moves his head away when she strokes his face.
She retreats to the kitchen and sits on the counter, eating dry cereal and watching him play dead.
She pads in and out of her office, handling what she must by phone. When she wanders out late in the afternoon, he’s hunched forward over his knees, his hands covering his head. There’s blood on his neck from the edges of the cuffs.
“Angel,” she says.
He says something, but she can’t hear him. She kneels down and he knocks her sideways. Buffy rolls all the way over and comes up in fight mode, her feet planted and hands up. He’s standing, his hands fists, his jaw clenched, glaring at her.
“The bar,” he grinds out. “A bar, her bar, the, the, the Taberna Las Gabrieles.”
“The bar, tonight, they get her tonight unless… “ He shakes his head. “Fuck.” He pounds his fists together and then hits his temple. “Fuck,” he shouts. “Write this down! Echegaray, seventeen, number seventeen, Taberna Las Gabrieles.”
He launches himself at her. Buffy ducks and sweeps, catching him behind the knees. Angel stumbles forward, onto his belly, and she scrambles to drive her elbow into him, mid-back. He falls flat. She tries to straddle him, but he hunches, growling, and scrabbles up. Getting his feet under him, he shoots out from under her, into the wall by the door. The dry wall cracks under his weight. He turns, panting, braced against the wall.
“Madrid,” he says loud. “Madrid, Madrid.” He lifts his right foot, kicks the wall and then slams the back of his head into it. “Please, Buffy, Echgaray, seventeen, God.” He sinks down the wall, his voice fading to a harsh whisper. “Please, I’m saying please. I’m not, I’m not hitting. No hitting. Please, Buffy, please.”
“I don’t…” understand, she thinks, but then she does, maybe. She plucks her cell phone off the floor and speed dials Gordon on dispatch at the Council House.
“Who do we have in Madrid?”
“Um,” he says, and she can hear the clack of his keyboard. “No one. April and Ingrid are in Leganes, though, which isn’t far.”
“Send them to Madrid, Taberna…” She can’t remember. She snaps her fingers at Angel, but he doesn’t look up and he’s still muttering. Great. “Taberna…”
She crouches down a few feet in front of him and when he takes no notice, duckwalks into his space. His cuffed hands are in his lap. They’re clenched so tight, his knuckles are white. She touches his chin and he jerks away, but his wild eyes catch hers and stay.
“Taberna,” she says deliberately.
“Las Gabrieles,” he says.
“In Madrid,” she says.
Angel nods. “Number seventeen. Echgaray. Echgaray.” He bites his tongue to stop himself and winces.
“Okay,” she says to him, “All right.”
“Buffy?” Gordon says into her ear.
“Here. Send them to Seventeen Echgaray, Taberna Las Gabrieles, it’s a bar.”
“What should they do?”
“Look for a girl in trouble.”
“Demon,” Angel whispers. “Claws? Head. Off. Head. Off.”
“Tell them,” she says to Gordon. “That they’re going into a fight. Find the girl, decapitate the demon.”
“Got it,” Gordon says and rings off.
Angel raises his hands uncertainly, his eyes widen, and then he bangs his head back against the wall again. Buffy remembers the bag that came with him and leaves him to rummage through it. She finds the pain medication, but he won’t take it.
His eyes glaze over after a while. He lurches to his feet and paces the length of the hall, reverses and comes back down the living room past the door to the end, reverses. Over and over and over again.
Around two am, Angel slows to a shuffle. Buffy’s been dozing, but sits up, wide awake, when he stops and stands, swaying. “Buffy,” he says.
“Can we go to bed now?”
She’s wary of him, but he follows her, docile, and sinks onto the bed in his room. He’s damp from walking in his jacket. She hesitates and then fishes the key from her pocket and reaches for his wrist. He twists and grabs her hand.
“No,” he says, and lets go of her.
“Do you need anything?”
“Will you stay?”
She nods and he lies down. She goes back through the apartment, turning off lights. Hits the bathroom, and pulls on her sweats and old tees. Angel’s eyes are open when she comes back in and he stretches his hands out to her. She’d planned on curling up on the loveseat, but he draws her down beside him.
Buffy wakes to Angel’s mouth, warm on her breast. He blows on her nipple and the ripple down her belly brings her hips up. He’s stretched out over her, his cock hard on her thigh, his arms hemming in her head.
He swirls his tongue on her nipple through her shirt and then draws it all into his mouth. Heat bursts in her belly and shoots in both directions. She wriggles, wraps her arms up around his shoulders, and opens her legs without thinking. Their bodies slid into place like tumblers in a lock.
The tip of his hard on bulges against his black BDUs. Angel pushes it at the crotch of her sweats, and the fabric folds into her slick. Oh. God. Angel groans, his mouth sliding across her shirt, and burrows his face in her neck. Electricity bolts down her spine, pressing her head into her pillow. Buffy arches into him, her pelvis shifts as he lifts and then they are rubbing, rubbing together and oh, god, she could come right now.
She closes her legs and her arms and tries to roll them over. He licks her neck and she bows, curling her head onto his and he swirls his hips in a way that just… she rocks and she pulls and he gives in, ducks his shoulder and goes with her.
She sits up on his cock. He jolts in reaction and bounces, his legs coming up and his arms coming down, his fingers reaching for her hips, to steady her, but he’s still cuffed. He ends up whacking her instead. She grabs the chain and leans forward, taking his hands back over his head. He steals a kiss.
Her mouth tingles and her lips open and god, this is Angel. She licks his lips and he devours her, takes her in, gives his tongue and takes it back. His upper body strains off the bed under her, as he chases her mouth while she holds his hands down. She’s lost in the dizzy, cool, wet, of his mouth, warming fast.
He tries to lift his arms. She presses down.
“Buffy,” he says between kisses. He licks the corner of her lips. Kisses her. She sucks his tongue in and he tickles the roof of her mouth. She has to open her mouth. “I have to touch you, Buffy,” he whispers onto her lips.
She kisses him, soft, and pulls away. His cock throbs, reminding her there are other parts of her body. She rides him and he thrusts up, his head rolling back, his eyes closing. “God, Buffy, please.”
That wakes her up. All the way. She stops.
He opens his eyes. They are dark. Intense.
“Unlock these,” he says.
She frowns, still leaning over him, their faces six inches apart. She was wrong, yesterday. He does look different. He looks raw, like a man barely tethered to the last strand of his control.
“I don’t trust you,” she says, and in the next instant his arms trap hers against her body and he’s flipping them over. She struggles. Her lungs compress and she’s panting for air.
“Stop it. Buffy, stop.”
She can feel it with her whole body, his change. It’s like all her cells line up straight and point at him, quivering. She lies still. The tips of his fangs scrape her neck as she breathes. Her heart is pounding against his ribcage. And in between her legs.
“I feel,” he whispers against her skin, “…so high. They wouldn’t…”
He squeezes her. She can feel his hands working at her lower back. He tips to the right on top of her, fumbles under her, and then his hands are flat on her bottom. He pushes her up with them, thrusts his hips down, and his cock rolls across her clit. She gasps.
“They wouldn’t save them, Riley and the rest. My head.”
He kisses her neck, his lips firm. His tongue massages her jugular and damn,… she tilts her head, opening her jaw to him.
“It feels hollow without the pain filling it up.”
He rolls them back over. Her body is on overload, every pressure and scrape a different sort of pleasure. He lifts his arms, releasing her, and lays his hands on his chest. She rises to kneeling, watching his golden eyes, but he doesn’t move until she pulls at the snap on his BDUs.
He catches the hem of her tee and she lets him pull it off.
She unzips him. His cock is as cool as his mouth was moments before. She trails her fingertips along its long curve without looking at it. Angel’s body trembles between her thighs.
She shoves her sweats down and removes them one leg at a time, balancing herself with a hand on his sternum. He’s focused on her swinging breasts, his hands hovering. She brushes over them, letting her nipples catch and pull in the spaces between his fingers.
He closes his knuckles, rolls one nipple and tugs. Buffy’s a magnet, drawn forward to his mouth. She watches his tongue lap out and shivers when her nipple puckers. She lowers her breasts and he captures one in his palms and one with his lips. He’s careful with his teeth.
She’s sinks, her breast pulling free of his mouth, and hits his cock, which jerks against her. She straightens her back, her folds settling around him, her walls already clenching and then eases herself onto his tip.
She reaches down and grasps him. Angel bends his knees, pushing with his feet, and thrusts into her hand. Once, twice. She lets go, and he’s thrusting up into her. All the way. Angel’s inside her.
His fingers are splayed on her thighs.
He rubs across her clit with his thumb and her hips jump, and he’s sliding out but then he rocks and he’s filling her again…
…this is Angel, this is Angel and she’s fucking him, his cock, his hips, his mouth, her tongue, his tongue is moving in time to his cock, in and slow slide out and hard in, his hand curled against her belly, his thumb, she has to, has to rise up, slide down and now, now, now, his balls slapping heavy as he fucks her, fucks her hard. Oh, oh, God, he’s moving, he’s moving, his windbreaker a wall of crinkling sound, and she’s under him, her hair pulling, tangled in the chain of the cuffs.
His hands close on her head and her heart flutter-stops.
He takes her mouth, her heart pounds on again, he ravishes her, thrusts into her cunt, fucking her, fucking her with all of him. She tightens and tightens and tightens until she spills over, shuddering around him, holding onto him, clinging to Angel.
She dissolves, sobbing into his neck. He drives into her, as deep as he can go and she feels him throbbing there, down inside her. Her muscles grasp at him, her hips still rocking. She shivers, goose bumps rising on her skin. She wraps herself around him, hugging him as slayer hard as possible.
He kisses her neck and tries to shift some of his weight onto his knees. She pulls him back, not ready to face him. “Shhh, Buffy,” he whispers into her ear and settles more of his weight onto her.
He gets better. His next vision scares him and scares her. She utilizes the manacles. Bolts them to the chain in his room until her slayers finally solve the puzzle he’s posed for them, and he calms.
He improves with each rescue. Six weeks in, he visions twice within twenty-four hours and still manages to handle the transitory pain in his head without restraint, though he takes the ice pack she offers him. Later, he shows her how interesting ice can be in places she never thought of before.
Afterward, he goes ten days between and Buffy thinks she might have to find him some downers, he’s so energetic. He spars hard and the sex is spectacular.
Then he visions. Three missions. That third day, he’s lying in the dark of her closet and when she finds him, he’s tender and raw and makes her heart ache for him.
He’s gone the very next day, leaving only a silver band behind. It fits her middle finger. The inscriptions lie upon her skin. Neutiquam erro, I am not lost. A capite ad calcem, Head to heel.
She doesn’t go looking for him.
Angel’s eyes tear, burning from the smoke of two flash-bangs that have just exploded a few feet in front of him. Crouching, he blinks, desperate to see who’s approaching his fight. He almost had the Grachler down, goddamnit. He doesn’t dare wipe his eyes, as he has a crossbow trained on the dazed Grachler to his right, and his bloodied broadsword aimed at the incoming threat.
Exposed to the foursome fifty yards behind him, fighting for their lives against the other three Grachlers, the skin of his back is prickling and his neck hairs are raised. There wasn’t much to hear before the grenade went off; grunts of effort, and the occasional strike of metal on metal or pavement, but now he can hear nothing. He’s in game-face, and knows in his hind-brain he needs to change in case he’s mistaken for bad guy, but he feels to threatened to make the actual shift.
Flash-bangs scream military, and theses days, the soldier boys use bullets of either lead or silver or wood, blessed by a priest.
A crossbow bolt zings past on his right and plants itself in his Grachler’s throat, knocking him to the ground in silence.
Angel ducks left, but before he can rise from his crouch, girls are sweeping in through the blowing smoke on both two flanks. Slayers. Swinging ponytail and short crops, long legs and sure strides. The leading front ignores him, passing within inches without a glance, so he stands slowly, maintaining his vigilance and keeps his weapons up.
They go by in tanks tops and sports bras and one’s wearing- Angel squints to be sure- a ragged-out long sleeve shirt with a puppy sitting above the words, Life Is Good. They are armed with swords and crossbows and guns. He shakes his head, letting his game face go. Slayers with guns.
For a moment, he stands alone. As the worst of the smoke clears he crinks his eyes closed and swipes them and his filthy face with his sword arm. As he lowers it, a slayer is standing in front of him.
“Angel,” she mouths.
“Buffy,” he says, but it’s muffled.
Her mouth is moving. Angel turns his sword in his hand and offers her the handle. She takes it with a frown. Her lips are plump and moist and staring at them, Angel feels how dry his own are. He licks them.
“Angel?” she says.
He presses the middle finger of his free hand on his ear and taps it experimentally. “Flash-bangs,” he says.
She makes an “o” face and nods. His eyes drop, taking her in and the mild swell of her belly takes his breath away. When he glances up, she’s smiling, a little grimly, but still, she’s smiling, so he pretends he hasn’t had the shit kicked out of him and smiles back.
Buffy points past him and he turns as she steps up next to him to watch the girls rout the Grachlers. He’s surprised to see more of the scaly demons have arrived since he got side-tracked with the one. Three of his crew are standing to one side now, watching as well. Munroe is sitting at their feet, holding his side together. His shirt is soaked dark with blood.
Touching Buffy’s shoulder to get her attention, he tilts his head at Munroe. Her hair tangles around his fingers when she turns her head to look and he smooths it down before he leaves. It feels foreign under his battle roughened hands, silky and rich.
Buffy shouts, “I’ll send someone over; I’ll see you after!”
“Okay,” he says. He drops his hand and the backs of his fingers brush the full, rounded curve of her side. She shivers.
“Okay,” he says again and tears himself away to see to Munroe.
Buffy’s gone by the time he gets his crew cleaned up and bedded down. For years, he dreams of washing dried blood off her belly, their soapy hands entangled, the baby turning beneath them.
Buffy’s swept up in Angel’s wake when he grabs up her hand as he strides by her. His hand is hard and cool, like the relief flooding through her, dousing her fear for him. He reaches for her small duffle without stopping and slings the strap over his head and arm, so it nestles against his.
“What happened?” she asks.
There aren’t many people around. The stores off the international terminal shuttle exit are dark, their security grills locked down, and Angel is among the last trickle of passengers arriving off his flight. He hasn’t looked at her yet; she has to trot to keep up with him.
“We sat on the tarmac for three hours.”
He nods at a security guard standing near the moving walkway he leads her onto without slowing down. It will carry them on to the larger nexus of shops and terminal entrances at the center of Orlando’s sprawling airport.
“When’s your connection?”
He stops walking, and uses her momentum to pull her in against him and crowd her against the handrail. Her stomach swoops as it registers that she is still moving, although she’s now standing still. His erection settles onto her already swollen clit and her lower belly. Her body surges, tilting her hips to bring him closer, even as his hands do the same, his palms cupping the bare curves of her bottom. Her black skirt is short; the tips of his fingers edge up between her cheeks and brush her damp thong, her blood-filled flesh.
Her hands grip his hard forearms through the black leather of his jacket, and her head falls back as he kisses her neck. He works his way to her jaw as they sway together on the moving beltway. “I missed it,” he breathes into her ear, and swings away from her just in time to step off onto the carpet. He nearly lifts her bodily off, with a steadying arm around her waist. She’s breathless.
She’s been aroused for days. Where ever they are in the world, they meet here, on the evening of April 16th, every year, when he’s on his way to see Connor. They don’t communicate during the year in between, no phone calls or letters. No e-mail. They just meet here. It’s enough. It has to be.
Angel’s so late this year, that it’s the 17th already. Six years since they met here by accident. Six years since they collided in the dimness of a corner booth at McCoy’s just before closing. Silently. Slowly. The bartender had turned, just as she came, and his eyes widened. She remembers that. He’d found glasses to wash.
“Yours?” he asks, his hands finding her hips, turning her to face him again. They’re blocking the walkway, but there’s no one near.
“Six hours.” They have a whole six hours this year, a lifetime. Desire swirl-tightens her belly. Wetness seeps onto her thighs.
Angel kisses her. Buffy loves the way he kisses her, his lips firm, then yielding. He traces her lips with his tongue, teases her, leads her mouth open with his, invites her in, then takes her, storms her defenses, invades her senses, mates his mouth to hers with relentless intensity.
“The Hyatt,” someone says, and Buffy jumps.
Angel whirls, his hand sliding down onto her thigh, already pushing her behind him, his other hand snaking around behind his lower back. She knows he keeps a back sheath there, holding a small dagger that’s magically cloaked.
“Is that way,” the security guard finishes saying. He points past them, just to make sure they’re following. “The East Hall.” He looks at them a moment, then nods and heads back down to his post at the other end of the beltway.
“A bed,” Angel says, in a wondering tone. His shoulders drop, and then he’s spinning, moving, ushering her in the direction of the Hyatt with a hand at her back.
“That’s so much better than that hallway last year,” he says with enthusiasm.
“Or the bathroom.”
“Or the bathroom,” he agrees. They’re into the open space of the East Hall. There are people sacked out on benches and huddled in small groups on the floor. “The lounge, though,” he says sounding wistful.
Buffy flushes and soaks through her thong, again. It’s starting to chafe, but that feels good, too. Angel looks at her sideways, a knowing smirk on his face and they gravitate together into another long kiss. “The Hyatt,” she pants when he breaks it, moving his lips to her throat, his hands creeping back down towards off-limits.
“Yeah,” he says absently, nibbling her ear.
He groans, soft, low in his throat. He rocks his hips and she finds her hand on his cock as it slides across her palm. When she snatches her hand away, a giggle rises from her left. A group of teens are watching them, hiding behind their video games and pillows.
“Bed,” she says.
And they’re moving again, her hand crushed in his.
She walks in small circles, looking at the art prints hung near the elevators and the small sculpture on a table there while Angel deals with the receptionist. She squeezes her thighs together, so ready she could come with just a touch. Angel’s nodding and signing. When the clerk hands him the room card, Buffy hits the elevator’s up button.
The doors slide open just as Angel reaches her, and thank god, it’s one of the non-glass ones. He herds her in, pushes into her back as the doors close, doesn’t let her turn, traps her there against the wall, covers her arms and hands with his and raises them above her head. He bites her neck with blunt teeth and holds on, pumping his cock against her ass. Her skirt slides up, his slacks rub on her bare skin, and God, oh God.
He takes her right hand and moves it down, eases his weight off her, to give her access, and presses her fingers down onto her clit. She bucks and he follows her, moving their fingers on her in circles, and then she’s coming, coming, coming, her knees giving, and he wraps their arms around her, holding her, captures her mouth and kisses her until she can’t breathe.
When she can stand, he smoothes her skirt, leans back, and hits the button for the fourth floor.
She grins at him and turns in his arms to face him. “My bad.”
He looks down at her. His small smile fades. “Never,” he says. He kisses her, their lips catching and parting, his mood shifting. Buffy follows him down into his darkness. She understands it better now than she did when she was younger, but it’s still a tide that knocks her over and drags her under until all she can do is surrender.
Somehow they are down the hall; he’s picked her up. He fumbles the key card into her hand and she gets the door open. Then she’s on her feet and he’s stripping her shirt off over her head and slinging off their duffels. She tugs at his jacket, rips the buttons from his shirt by simply yanking it open while he unzips his pants.
He pushes on the center of her chest with the heel of his hand and she tumbles back onto the king-sized bed, pulling her legs up, letting her knees fall open. He stares at her quim, which makes it throb. She wore a front-clasp bra on purpose. Now she undoes the clip and lets her breasts spring free. He’s trying to unlace his boots, but when he glances up again, he doesn’t finish, just crawls onto the end of the bed and up over her.
He takes her breasts in his hands and settles his mouth over each nipple in turn. Kisses down her midline and licks her belly button. He sits up then, on his knees. He’s fully engorged, standing hard and thick and beautiful. His pants are wedged around his ankles, his boot toes hanging off the mattress, and she isn’t sure… he just looks at her. His eyes are unreadable, long ago and far away.
“Angel?” she says.
He nods. “Buffy.”
Her name sounds different from his lips than any other. Her chest aches and her breath catches.
He grabs her hips and yanks her towards him, driving himself forward past her thong until he’s buried in her, oh and oh and oh that’s what she wanted. She squirms, thrusting slow, her blood makes a heated rush up her torso every time his cool cock strokes up into her.
Angel massages her clit, watching her, his eyes half-closed. She pulls her legs wider, gets her heels down on the bed and raises her hips, taking him even deeper as she forces his pelvis to follow her body the way her emotions follow his mood. And then she straightens her legs and drops out from under him.
He moans and gives it up, leaning into her, slams his hands down flat on the bed and fucks her, her heels digging into his ass, her nails biting his back. His mouth is open on her neck and all she wants is him like this, inside her, wrapped around her, safe, here, close as her heartbeat.
He goes still, rigid, draws out and thrusts back in hard. She’s so tight. She’s rising, rising, tight, so tight, his cock pulses, and her hips jerk and she’s gone, white light nova, knows she’s screaming but can’t stop. His body is a stone, weighing her down, keeping her with him, until she finds her way back again.
They linger in touches and words. Shower, raid the mini-bar, make love again.
It’s an inside room, with a balcony over the East Hall. Angel will be safe from the sun for the day, and then off to meet Connor in the dark of pre-dawn California. Buffy is headed for Brazil. That is all they each know of the other’s coming year.
At seven in the morning, Angel stands with his hands in his pockets, watching her pass through security. She sees how the sleepy incoming passengers give him wide berth, how the TSA employees mark him with their eyes.
He’s mine, she doesn’t say out loud. And then she leaves him for another year.
When he knows he’s dying, he calls Giles on a number he’s kept safe in a Ziploc between the outer and inner layers of his black duffle. The duffle has changed over the years, but the scrap of paper remains. Once a year he dials the number, listens long enough to ascertain it’s still correct, and hangs up.
This time he lets the voice mail finish asking him to leave a message and then he says, “It’s Angel. 32 Rowden Lane, Galway, next month, around the twenty-first. I’m dying, Giles.”
He has no real hope that Giles will pass the message on, but he knows, at least, that Giles will believe him. Spontaneously combusting vampires would certainly get the attention of Giles’ wholly reformed Council, and Angel doubts it is only Thai vamps dusting after weeks of a wasting illness that leaves them gaunt and mostly insane with hunger.
He doesn’t much follow the populace, but he knows, knew, the local nests and sometimes raided them. Those vamps lost the ability to change into game face before developing an intense dislike of blood. His physical changes have been slowing. What used to be effortless, sometimes uncontrollable, takes him long minutes of concentration now.
Thailand doesn’t have anything like the quantity of bagged blood available in the States. For the past eight years, Angel’s raised his own blood in the form of black mountain pigs and large meat rabbits that had the side benefit of producing income. But he’s also developed the habit of sinking his fangs in rather than collecting fresh blood into a cup. It clots. There’s no one there to see him feed, it’s faster, it feels better. Angel looks at the phone in his hand and then rubs his face. Last night he couldn’t change at all.
He coaxed a pig into one of the small chutes he used to medicate them, grabbed a front leg through the bars and slashed its cephalic vein. It only squealed once, and then settled. When he was done, he wrapped the leg in gauze and a bit of Elasticon from his tiny stock of vet supplies, but then blood had mostly clotted by the time he tried to drink it. He could have drunk directly from the cut, he supposes. His smell and hearing are dull this morning, though his eyesight is unaffected. And he’s still hungry for blood
He sits for a while, staring out his mud hut’s single, paneless window and across his tiny piece of land to the flatlands below. He’ll miss the moist heat he soaks in during the day, the cool nights. The weather dried up when October hit, like a flipped switch, and it’s been pleasant. He guesses he won’t suffer long in Galway’s damp cold, though, that’s something.
He moves through his space- a room and a kitchen with a sink and a hot plate, and a converted, bio-gas burning oven, though he’s never used it. Only months ago, he rigged the bio-gas hook-up to a mini-refrigerator to keep water and the local beer cool. Picking up random objects, he tries to see them as for the first time. A wooden, hand-carved Buddha. A glass globe. A stick puppet with golden skin.
The duffle bag lays open on his unmade bed.
He packs his pair of dark slacks, and his second pair of black jeans, identical to the ones he has on. Two black tee shirts and a dark blue button down. A clean towel. The other he’ll use in the outside bath after he prepares the rabbits for sale.
He’s been re-reading ‘On The Road’, ‘Watership Down’, and ‘Skeller’s Universal Languages’, brushing up on his Aaomac. There’s one living down the branch, on the nearest waterfall. He’s been planning on asking it for a particular potion he trade for another the next time he went down to Bangkok.
He pauses, books in hand, faintly surprised to find himself disappointed. He’s developed a life here, against all his expectations when he’d gimped off the freighter at Laem Chabang Port. He weighs the books in his hands and decides on Kerouac and Skeller.
Reaching to the shelf above his bed, he chooses one of the two native talismans there and places it between his shirts. His daggers are stagger-hung near his bed and the door. He plucks four from their hooks, tucks two away and leaves two out for later. The swords he’ll leave.
As the sun fails and his pigs gather in the dooryard, he lifts the phone once more and calls Kai. Although he’s just an eccentric farang, Angel has taken care to be polite, and when he’s in the extended company of the Thais he depends on, he takes care to adopt the easy breeziness of their interactions. Sometimes it takes a little opium in his system, which he hides from them. And as he enters a room full of Thais, he always tries to think of Cordelia feeding him waffles or bending his ear with some whacked out plan, so there’s a least the ghost of a smile on his face. Angel knows Thailand has been good for him.
He leans forward, elbows on his knees and waits for the connections to click through. Things have been a little different in the world since he started the conflageration in LA. The plus side is there’s actually cellular phone service in the hills here now, a little different technology, though, and slow, but that’s very Thai, so maybe that’s all right.
“Kai,” he says when the Karen farmer answers. “I need to leave the country for a while, would you like the pigs? Yes. Yes, the pigs. No, I’m processing tonight. I know, but I need the baht to travel. There’s three or four days of feed stored in the shed. Yes. You’re welcome. Thank you, Kai, you’ve been a valuable friend. Yes, yes, it is good tham boon. Yes, I’ll call when I’m settled.” He closes the phone softly on Kai’s effusive good-bye.
He strips his shirt off and trudges out to the shed. After sharpening the curved Yuna knife he uses for butchering, he wrestles the big wooden block to out near the rabbit run, takes a deep breath and begins.
By midnight he’s trading the rabbits for baht from the sleepy trader he uses regularly, and is on his way east, to the Banglamung District and Laem Chabang Port, where a Captain Watson has agreed to let him board the Esmeralda. Galway lies at least twenty-five days away. He hopes he lives that long.
In Dublin, Angel buys blood at a butcher’s but although he hasn’t eaten in a week- ten days?- he can only manage half. It tastes bitter and his stomach rolls, not a sensation he’s much familiar with. His ears ring, a constant susurration of noise that makes him irritable.
He buys a junker for cash, a little Fiat that ticks and blows an alarming amount of blue smoke every time he accelerates. Waiting another day out in his little cabin on the Fitzroy, a packet he hopped out of the port at Cherbourg, exhausts him.
The evening’s cold when he emerges. He layers the cashmere turtleneck he bought in France under the new wool trench he traded for a small spell book near the port at Dakar. He’d acquired the spell book in trade for the Skeller’s on the coast of Brazil, looking for a cure to his illness.
He finds the local hospital and lifts what he needs easily enough, once the right opportunity comes along. It’s nearly one, though, before he’s on the N6. The Fiat holds up and he makes Galway in less than two hours.
He sputters to a stop on Denton, grabs his duffel from the passenger seat and leaves the Fiat open, the keys in the ignition. His Bill of Sale, along with another, the buyer name left blank and his signature on the seller’s is tucked above the visor. He has no doubt the car will be gone by dawn.
The door to 32 Rowden sticks a little, but the interior is clean. Pine scent still hangs in the air and it must be strong, since he can smell it. He drops his duffle, unzips it and removes the two blood bags he stole at the hospital. The kitchen’s to the right. Although he hasn’t been here since 1823, he remembers well enough the house he was born in.
There are live yellow daisies in a vase on the kitchen table. Angel frowns. The cleaning service he’d arranged through Wolfram and Hart didn’t go so far as to provide flowers, he was sure, and no one knew he was coming.
Wary, he crosses the floor and has to pull on two different cabinets before he finds the hidden, modern refrigerator. It’s stocked. He stands there with the door open, and stares at the milk and chicken breasts and sour cream and cottage cheese. He doesn’t remember the name of the management company, let alone a phone number.
He closes the door, tempted to go back out and check the house number, but this is definitely his house. He’d seen the pictures during renovation and although it has neighbors that crowd close now and two new baths and this open, halogen lit kitchen, it is definitely his.
If something had happened, a bank glitch, a problem with the company, if the house had been sold or rented when they couldn’t find him, if Wolfram and Hart sussed out his expenditures from some fucking magical paper trail, wouldn’t the locks have been changed?
It occurs to him to check the bedrooms for clothes in the closets, any clue. No human’s here, of that he’s certain; he could still heartbeats in Dublin, though they were muddy and faint. He’s not likely to be shot for his efforts if he roams through the rooms.
The small alcove of a room that had been his sister’s is set up as an office. A geometric screensaver crawls across the monitor on a contemporary wood and glass-topped desk. Uneasy, Angel enters the room and touches the mouse with his forefinger. The screensaver dissolves into a standard Windows desktop, three or four program icons, no names or pictures.
The air smells and tastes flat, but there’s a burnt incense stick balanced in a drinking glass on the desk. Angel takes off his coat, and folds it over the chair back, ants trooping up his spine. Obviously, his senses can’t be trusted. How long does he have? He stalks out of the office, anxiety clogging his throat.
The master bedroom’s door is pushed to, he opens it with the flat of his hand, scanning the room as it reveals itself in the low glow of a light somewhere from the left. Lush, dark colors, burgundy and gold and black. On the long wall, there’s a massive four poster, between velvet draped windows and matching nightstands.
A person in white on the bed, a blonde, a girl he sees as she lifts her head and blinks at him. Buffy. He flushes with cold and then his skin ignites. He shivers, a fine ripple that stands his hairs up on his neck.
“You’re here,” she says, her voice sleep-roughened and sad.
Fatigue, familiar and known, settles over him when she speaks. He’s reminded of the heavy quilts that held him safe on the floor of this room, at the foot of his mother’s bed, when he was sick as a child. He puts his hands in his pockets.
“I am,” he agrees.
She rolls over, only to curl up, watching him from her pillow.
He leans on the doorframe. She’s thin, and her hair is short, falling onto her cheek, but shaved up the back. It makes her neck look long and slender. She’s lying on top of the gold comforter and her legs are bare.
She’s stretches them out under his heavy gaze, until she’s on her back, and then she unbuttons the white oxford she’s wearing. It’s large, a man’s shirt. She brushes it to either side. Her breasts are softer and fuller than he remembers; her belly slopes down in a gentle woman’s curve above her plain white panties.
She feathers her fingers over her chest, down her abdomen and up her sides to circle her nipples, which rise from her creamy flesh, dull points of dusky red. Angel’s blood stirs, spiraling through his thickened veins.
He doesn’t move, only follows her hands as they roam. He is slow, these days, in every response. He can’t smell her, can’t hear her beat, or her breath, for that matter. He shifts his attention to her open mouth. Her tongue is pink, and moist, and he wants to feel it on his lips, in his mouth, on his skin.
When he starts towards her, she tilts her head back, closing her eyes as she rubs her hand down between her legs and up again. He sits down beside her and places his hand flat on her taut belly. Her hand comes up onto his and the other reaches for his chest, but he’s just beyond the stretch of her fingertips.
“You’re hot,” she says. There’s awe in her tone and worry in her eyes when he meets them.
“Fever,” he says and bends to kiss the spot he’s warmed. Her fingers skimming through his hair undo him. He presses his cheek onto her cool, cool skin and closes his eyes on the tears welling in them. His nose is running, which makes him sniff, which closes his chest so that he gasps and then the tears spill over and shit, just shit.
He pulls himself up and tugs on her as he scoots further onto the bed, so that he ends up curled around her, her back to his chest, their arms folded together and fingers entwined. His boots hang off the bed, but he can’t be bothered to take them off.
Angel tucks his face against the back of Buffy’s neck, her hair whisper soft and tickly on his face, and breathes her in but can’t catch her scent. He kisses her throat with an open mouth, sucks her skin in, and finally finds just a frisson of her there.
Buffy holds on tighter, presses her bottom back and winds her upper leg over his, trapping him snug against her. “You’re here,” she says again. “You’re here.”
He breathes with her, and lets the tears run down his face into her hair.
When Angel wakes, his shoes are off and Buffy’s gone. He knows the sun is sinking again. Before he even thinks of sitting up, she’s there, in sweats and the oxford, a steaming white mug in her hands.
“Are you hungry?”
Yes, but just the thought of feeding makes him queasy and slides his brain sideways. “No.”
“Tea,” she says, frowning at his expression. “And whiskey.”
Struggling up out of the nest of the comforter and a blanket she’s draped over him, Angel takes it. She’s wearing a simple gold band on her right ring finger. His stomach drops again.
“How long?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “I’m with you. However long…” Glancing away, she blinks rapidly. “Let’s just have what we can, okay?”
“Okay,” he says, because having what he can means having her, and all he wants before he dies is her.
After a moment, she crawls up beside him, shoves a couple of pillows between him and the headboard, pats him back against them, and settles in against his side. He wonders how she can do this, be with him. And then she kisses his bicep through his shirt and tucks her arm up under his, and he remembers how much it hurt to kiss her when she was sixteen, that sweet, sweet ache that finally ripped him up, but still he kissed her. She’s still his girl. After a second, he relents and relaxes. They share the tea in silence.
When she turns her face up to look at him, he kisses her. It’s languid and slow. He takes the mug from her and reaches over her to set it down. Buffy peels his shirt off as he leans back, and it’s hours before he thinks of anything again beyond pleasuring her.
Six days. It’s six days of hot showers and skin against skin and watching her eat fruit or the eggs he cooks for her. His hearing goes altogether by the fourth day. He sleeps a lot, Buffy lying against him to read, or sitting in a chair by the bed, her feet or a hand on him.
On the sixth day, he reaches for a wineglass on the counter, to pour her Merlot, and goes tingly. An electric shock blows him off his feet. Buffy’s eyes are wide, she’s screaming, silently. He’s burning, his chest explodes and he tries to clutch at it, hold himself together, but his legs kick out instead, knocking a chair over onto him.
His feet drum on the cabinet, he can see them but they won’t stop. Then Buffy’s there, shoving the chair off. His mouth is tight and his head jerks back. He tries to find her, can’t, but her hands, her hands are on him, on his shoulders, her face above his. She’s saying his name, he can see that.
His awareness creeps inward, the pain fades from his feet and hands first, like they’ve been doused in cold water. He stares at Buffy’s panic, her tears are falling but he can’t feel them. Cold washes up his arms, up his legs, his balls shrink and then fade. The cold crawls into his chest. He knows his own eyes are wide, his throat rough, working, thinks he’s screaming, now.
Buffy is sobbing, silently, silently. Her hand brings his up. She strokes his face. Black waves crash through the edges of his vision- a black tide, darting, retreating, claiming more of his sight with every advance.
His chest rises, breaking free of the sucking whirlpool and air fills his lungs, sea-fresh air, air tasting of Galway and home and he takes it deep, takes it deeper, and when he lets it go, he lets his life go, too.
“Angel,” Buffy says. He hears it clear as sunlight. “Wake up, Angel.”
He does, his heart thumping.