BATTLE AT SILVER POINT, CANNON BEACH, OREGON
CHINESE-CANADIAN WAR OF 2014
Raindrops plink on his closed lids, but Angel can't muster up the strength to open them and face the tortured sky. The battle is not near. He hears it from the distance, though, past the rising ridge of mudstone his battalion has finally reclaimed.
His memories seem to be bleeding out as fast as his stolen blood. He wonders if he'll really die this time. This fight is worth his life, holding the rebels coming down out of Washington like wolves at the Oregon line. If Buffy's still alive, still in San Francisco, maybe this will fight will keep her safe. His first life steals by, and then his second, until there she is, lollipop filling her cheek, all innocence and hidden potential.
Closing his fingers, long grass catches against his palm like blonde hair. Vertigo sweeps him up in its spinning grasp until they are flying together again, twisted around one another, her lips sweet against his own, but then there are other lips, smiling against his ear, a whispered giggle. He turns his head, questing for the scent lingering on the air, a musk that makes his blood surge. Wet and cold, it trickles down his gashed neck and under his collar in response.
When he wakes again, the brittle rough of a limestone grave marker lies beneath his fingertips. He knows Buffy is coming here to meet him. But it is Cordelia's weight against him that comes instead. They are falling, clutching at each other, and then he rolls them over so that he's on top, her nipples hard pebbles pressed to his chest. A quick, hard flush of want-need-take lifts him, arching, from the ground. The answering pain slams him down again.
Dawn is rising, cold and damp and dark. The rain has slowed to a drizzle. He is, somehow, still living. There is no more noise of battle, no breath near him, no beating hearts. There is a light, far away. It's moving, with the gentle swing of a lantern, but the light is white, and harsh.
“Buffy,” he says, except his lips barely move, and he can't hear himself.
Her strong fingers are cold, laced between his own. Her breath mists as she turns her gaze to the whitewashed sky, snowflakes catching in her thick, golden lashes.
A warm hand steals over his chest, another familiar beat. He relaxes. Cordelia is here. The dark curve of her hair brushes his face. She'll know what to do. She'll take care of him.
Still holding onto Buffy, he lifts his other hand and finds Cordy's cheek. She turns her head and kisses his palm. Wesley must be downstairs. He sighs and lets his protesting arm fall. She strokes the wet hair from his forehead, murmuring. She smells of orchids to him, damp earth and lilac. Cool air flows over his skin as she cuts his shirt off. Tugging, she loosens it and pulls its remnants from under him. The hotel is hushed, but there is movement below, only just within his senses.
Her heated fingers trail his shoulders and then stop. She flattens her hand against his sternum, pressing down in warning, before she swipes at the gaping wound in his flank with whatever concoction Wesley has provided her this time. He rips his hand from Buffy's to stop her, but she only grasps his wrist and continues.
“Shhh,” she whispers.
He opens his eyes and she's looking down at him. At him, not the hole the Kelter demon has left in his side. Moving slow, he cups the back of her neck with his hand, her hold still loose on his wrist, and pulls her down to him. The kiss dizzies him. Her tongue slips past his seeking lips and tangles with his in a slick, sweet, slide that deepens until he's no longer sure of his boundaries; he can feel her feeling him.
And then her lips are on his throat, searing brands of damnation, but he doesn't want to stop and he definitely doesn't want her to stop. He shifts under her demanding hands, takes her left wrist and brings it to his mouth. He doesn't bite. He simply kisses her, laves the skin there, the pulse, with his tongue so that she squirms and nips, her kisses grown greedy with need.
He lets her go when she sits up, panting, mussed hair framing her flushed neck and cheeks, pupils blown wide like he's a drug she's just inhaled.
“I'm sorry,” he says.
Cordy shakes her head, her fingers on her swollen lips.
And then he hears Wesley's tread on the stairs. “Wesley's coming.”
She nods and stands, grabs at the soaked, bloody washcloth lying forgotten on his belly. She retreats to rinse it. Wesley taps on the open door and enters, hot blood steaming from the massive mug cradled between his hands.
They are standing on the ice. She wears white skates. He wears his demon's face. He almost doesn't recognize her in this lonely hearts, teenage girl guise, with her lavender sweater and navy scarf wrapped just so around her throat. Her seasoned eyes and firm jaw give her away. He buys in when she ignores the blood on her blades and the body nearby and pretends he's just a boy.
“Here,” Wesley says from above and behind him. “Press here, Gunn, as hard as you can. Cordy, can you see it?”
The pressure's too painful, the concrete too hard, the dark too much to bear.
“There's too much blood,” she says, her voice hollow.
Cordy's covered in blood. She holds her dripping arms out to her sides while Angel wipes the blood from her lips and and away from her eyes and nose. It's human blood, but not from a human death. Angel can smell heparin in it, and a preservative and the slight taint of plastic from the donor bags it had been stored in before being poured into the cauldron Wesley upended to end the Yut calling ritual. The blood was bait, but Angel doesn't think any self-respecting Yut would actually cross through three dimensions simply for donor blood, even if the ritual requirements had all technically been met. Rituals are like recipes, they require a little flair and individuality on the part of the chef.
Cordelia shudders, recalling Angel to his task. “Can you just...” She takes a deep breath. “Can you just take me home? You can't wipe enough off to matter.”
He tucks the inadequate towel around her neck, and wipes his hands on his pants. “Wes,” he calls, and Gunn looks up. Wes is down below the ritual altar, making something clank. All the acolytes are gone, having run when Angel literally dropped into their midst from the I-beams above. “I'm taking her.”
Gunn's eyes narrow.
“Home. I'm taking her home.”
Gunn nods, sharp. “We're cool,” he says. “See you back at the Hyperion.”
Angel wants to think it's not a warning, but Cordy is coated in human blood, and Gunn's not stupid.
He walks Cordy out of the half-buried bunker hidden at the back of Washington Park. There's a light fog clinging to the top of Echo Lake. In the open night air, the blood blossoms with scent, filling his head. He concentrates on the squish of Cordy's boots with her every step. But then she stops, a hand on his arm and leans over to pull them off. “Ew,” she blurts. “You are so buying me a new pair tomorrow.”
He glances back as they move on and sees they are leaving bloody footprints behind. He moves her off the paved path and onto the grass.
She veers back against him. “Cold, wet ground, Angel.”
“Sorry,” he says. “We're leaving tracks.” She looks over her shoulder. Grimacing, she pulls her mouth into a tight line and marches forward through the damp, unkempt grass.
He wants to kiss her.
She's wearing a butterfly barrette. It's pink plastic. Darla wore one sculpted by Tiffany, a riot of colors. He wonders if he might find one like that again, of cloisonne, maybe. But then Buffy turns her heart-shaped face up, her blonde bob swinging, and her lips are bubblegum glossed and he thinks, no, the pink plastic suits her.
“And another butterfly for that one,” Wesley growls. “But we'll need floss for his thigh, just to keep him together until the blood kicks in.”
“I'll get it,” Gunn says. Angel listens to his footsteps, can see from the velvet tread, the soft, worn carpet of his suite, the faded reds and golds.
Cordy's light touch lands upon his forehead and cheek, and then she's smoothing the tape bandage she's made onto his temple.
Traffic rolls by outside as steady and unending as surf.
At Cordy's, Angel steals up the stairs, checking to make sure they're in the clear. Any of her neighbors will call the cops in a heartbeat if they see her layered in blood. He creeps back down and waves to her. She trudges to his side and he takes her elbow on the stairs, scared she'll fall in her wet socks.
Dennis opens the door before they can sully it, and shuts it with a firm shove when they are inside. The shower starts up. Cordy hands the bloody towel to him. He's uncertain of leaving her like this.
“I'll just...” he says, indicating the kitchen. “Tea?”
She shivers. “Can you,” she says, tugging at her long-sleeve sweater.
He looks at her with regard. Cordelia is miserable, the drying blood caked in her hair and smeared across her face where he had tried to clean it.
He steps forward and taking hold of the hem at the bottom, lifts the sweater. She raises her arms so he can pull it off. The blood has soaked through the plain, baby blue tee-shirt she's wearing underneath it. Her nipples stand out straight from beneath the thin cover of her sports bra. He drops the sweater on the floor and reaches for the shirt. She lets him.
Holding onto the hand he offers her, she strips out of her black slacks, leaving them in a pool at her feet. When she straightens, he draws her closer. The bare space left between them heats. She holds his gaze and doesn't flinch when he leans forward. He reaches up and unfastens the butterfly clip holding her hair in a pile above her head. It falls down around her face in a stiff curtain. She quivers and closes her eyes.
He suffers for long seconds. He can't not... kiss her. Softly, he kisses her clean eyelids and then allows himself to kiss one cheek, her nose, her throat. He can't...
...not lick at the still damp pools beneath her lobes, clean the blood from the hollow of her collarbone, nuzzle along the edges of her bra, lick the cleft between her breasts. He unzips her front closed bra. She holds her breath, but doesn't stop him. Easing the bra aside, he reveals the milky white of her skin in contrast to the dark burgundy of the blood. He breathes on her aureolas and his cool breath forces her nipples tighter, contracting them to hard, flushed points begging for his touch.
He skims his thumb over one. Cordy straightens, lifting her chest on her inhalation, so that she's pressed into his palm. They come together in a trembling rush. His hands find her back, her tacky skin. Her tongue sweeps his tingling mouth. Their hips bump and shift, finding the spot that warms them until Angel burns with need.
Backing Cordy up, he turns and turns again, until she's sinking against him. He scoops her up, his mouth never leaving hers. Without thought, he heads for heat, the running shower. Steam envelops them when he kicks the door further open and carries her through it.
The door slams shut on them, and only then does Angel think of Dennis. “He's not going to stop us?” he says between kisses, as he sets Cordy on her feet.
She tugs on his short hair, keeping him connected to her. “Don't stop, don't stop,” she whispers. “I'm not scared.”
“You don't need to be,” Angel says and takes possession of her mouth and her body and then, under the hot, pelting spray that makes the blood run off them in pink rivulets, he simply takes her.
The light penetrates his closed lids. Angel tries to open his eyes, but can't. His lips are sealed, his hands and feet unresponsive lumps. Sensation is still his though. The ground is colder than he is, the air wetter. A salty breeze licks his ear and a ground bird he used to know the name of is calling nearby. There is blood. There is breath. Two heartbeats hover over him, one steady, the other galloping. The scared one is sweating, a bitter aroma that makes Angel's gums itch, but the change doesn't come. It's shut down, just like the rest of him.
“Dead, think you?” A whiskey roughened grumble. A man.
There's only a mumbled reply, from the scared one.
“Best be sure he's not one of them.”
“Sun'll be out inna bit,” the scared one murmurs.
“Best not to wait.”
Carried on a cold gust that strokes his scalp, a long, strangled groan erupts from the direction of the relentless bird. A Godwit, Angel remembers. A delicacy fit for the king's table. He hopes it's fit enough to carry his soul away on its marbled wings.
“Here, now, what's that,” the man says, his voice being carried away by his feet.
The scared one hesitates and then fades away.
She nods, her lips pinched tight together so that her chin forms a vee.
She's literally drawn a line in the sand of the beach at Morro Bay and invited him to cross it. If he does, he's hers, whether they can ever make something of it or not. He's hers. He is hers, but... he can't just abandon them.
She turns on her boot heel and walks away. The wind blows her moonlit hair sideways, baring her pale neck above the collar of her black leather jacket. He wonders if his scars made the trip back from heaven. He might be hers, but she's not his. She's the world's- the Slayer, the chosen one. His are waiting for him right now, in the home they've built together.
His buy him pig's blood, and find him ancient texts that are new to him, and wax poetic about the best oil to use when sharpening a blade. Someday maybe he'll be theirs.
He waits until her beat fades to back away from the line. She doesn't look back. He doesn't expect her to, and when he finally turns away from her, he doesn't either.
“Hey,” Cordy says into his ear. “Did you know old soldiers never die? They just fade away.”
He laughs, but it hurts and he stops. “He was a Ha'regan demon.”
“Who?” Cordy says, the mattress shifting beneath her weight.
Angel cracks his lids open. She's tucked up next to him, one hand on his chest, so he can't really see her. Wesley's there, too, slumped in the arm chair pulled up close to the end of the bed, sleeping, steady as a rampart. “MacArthur.”
“That's from an old war song. MacArthur used it in a speech.”
“Oh.” She sits up, her hair swinging forward and looks down at him. “Let me guess, old Ha'regan demons never die...”
“...they just fade away,” they say together.
The sun finds him.
As his lids burn away, he finally sees the Godwit. It hovers on the breeze above him, waiting.
He wakes in his suite. It's dim and quiet, at once familiar and strange around him, like he's been away a long while. Fingers ghost over his temple. Some memory he can't quite catch. He half expects to find a bandage there, the smooth silk of adhesive tape, but there isn't one. His skin is unblemished.
Rising into the cool of early dawn, Angel eases through his routine, savoring the tight pull and spring of his muscles as he moves, the heat of the shower, the aloe vera soap, the shampoo under his hands, the stacked pleasures of build up and release. He pulls on his favorite shirt, revels in the rich fabric of his slacks, the cotton plush of a great pair of socks, the comfort of his Doc Martens.
He's sitting behind the counter, safe from the brilliant sun striping the lobby floor, when Cordy wanders in. “Hey, Angel,” she calls. “I brought you real coffee.”
He inhales her scent along with with the coffee. She lets his fingers linger on hers as he takes it.
They aren't a couple. Not really. But every now and then, when they need what only the other can give? They are a single person.
Angel always thought soul mates were a myth until Buffy. He didn't actually know they weren't until Cordy.
“Hey, all,” Gunn yells, banging through the door, a brown paper bag cradled in his arm.
“We brought breakfast burritos,” Fred says, sliding in behind him. “Come on, Wesley, have you got the witness reports?”
“Yes,” Wesley says, looking up to catch Angel's eye as he strolls through the door Fred is holding. “We've got a case, Angel!”
Deja vu grips Angel as he holds Wesley's gaze. The same contentment he woke with startles him in its intensity. He's happy to be home. And happiness doesn't scare him anymore. He glances over and Cordelia smiles at him, her eyebrows raised in question.
Angel nods and addresses all of them. “Let's get to work.”