Buffy runs across the street, heart pounding in her clenched chest. It’s dark, the sky the colour of over-ripe plums and her hands, when she looks down at them because they are shaking, are translucent. She leans into an alcove, the glass of the shop door cool against her forehead.
She lifts her eyes, but nothing is reflected in the door. She can pretend if she wants, that the voice is just her imagination.
But then there’s a hand on her shoulder. She can’t ignore that.
“Buffy.” It’s not a question this time. It’s a fact.
She pulls a breath into her lungs; it hurts. Then she turns head first, so she can see him, followed by the rest of her body, a slow pirouette.
He is standing there. This is no mirage; her brain is not playing tricks on her. She can touch him. She reaches out a hand, follows her pale, thin fingers through the night until they make contact with the lapel of his coat.
“Oh my God,” she whispers. “I didn’t want—I thought--”
“I’m sorry,” he says. He lifts up a hand, larger but equally pale, and lays it over hers where it rests, at least temporarily, against his chest.
“I have to go home,” she says. “Dawn’s there. Waiting.”
He nods. “I’ll walk with you.”
She tips her head back. The sky is smeared with hazy light, as though someone has reached a hand into the stars and squeezed them: paint from a tube.
“I mean, I’ll walk with you if you don’t mind,” he says. “I know this is--”
Buffy pulls her hand out from under his. She half expects to see a mark, to have been branded by his touch, but her skin is unblemished. All the wounds are on the inside, still.
“I live that way,” she says pointing down the street.
Angel nods. “I know.”
Buffy steps past Angel. She concentrates on putting one foot in front of the other; it suddenly seems more complicated than it should.
“Buffy, look,” Angel says, grabbing the edge of her sleeve and stopping her. “I’m sorry. I keep saying that, I know, but it’s true.”
She looks down at his fingers and then up at his perfect face. He is waiting for a reply and she doesn’t know what to say. She pulls her arm and her sleeve slides out of his grasp. She turns and starts walking and then stops, inspired.
“This just doesn’t get any easier.”
“I know,” he says.
Buffy looks down at her feet. When his feet come into view she knows that he is too close.
“I’m not sure how I feel,” she says, stepping back.
“Tell me about it,” Angel says and Buffy hears the sardonic tone in his voice; it’s the first familiar thing about seeing him again.
“I need to get home,” she says looking back over her shoulder in the direction of her house.
They walk in silence. The streets are mostly empty.
“Did you want to come in?” She asks when they arrive at the narrow brick house where she lives with Dawn and various Slayers-in-training.
Angel looks at her closely, but she keeps her eyes blank. Not that it matters; she knows he knows how this feels.
“Would it be okay?” He asks. “There are some things we need to talk about.”
Buffy looks down at her watch. It’s after two a.m. The house should be sleeping; they could talk, undisturbed, in her rooms, which occupy the entire third floor.
She nods and digs in her pocket for her keys.
Upstairs, she slips out of her coat and holds out her hand for his. He shrugs it off and passes it to her and she takes too long hanging them up in the closet. So long, in fact, that he appears behind her expectantly.
“I thought maybe you got lost.”
She smiles a smile she hopes will stay put when she turns around to face him.
“Do you want tea?” She asks.
He shakes his head.
“Well, let’s go--” She inclines her head towards the hall.
Once in the room, Buffy switches on a lamp and space that is part living room, part office and part kitchen blossoms out of the darkness. The bay window overlooks a neat, fenced-in square of land.
Buffy settles on one end of the couch, hands snug between her thighs. Angel takes the chair opposite, leaning forward, his hands dangling off the edge of his knees.
“You said you had things to tell me.”
She doesn’t have any patience for small talk. This isn’t exactly a new development, but Angel’s arrival gives her an opportunity to practice. Time is short. She knows this now.
Angel: still with the cryptic.
She watches him. It’s ridiculously easy to read him: he’s worried and clearly trying to censor himself. His eyes are careful, but he’s twitchy and that always means something bad. Or, it did- a million years ago.
“Angel,” she says not even bothering to eliminate the impatience from her voice. “It’s late. I’m tired.”
He nods. And stands. And crosses the floor, side-stepping the small table, to sit beside her.
This won’t do, she thinks, pulling her legs closer to her chest, digging her nails into her palms.
“It’s about Spike.”
“You came all this way to talk about Spike?”
His hand, long elegant fingers extended, drifts across the short distance between them and settles on her knee.
Please don’t touch me. Please don’t touch me. Please don’t. Touch me.
“I made a promise.”
“To Spike?” Buffy laughs, but the sound is sharp and it hurts her throat.
“Yes. To Spike.”
Buffy stifles a response because she already knows what Angel is going to say, has, in truth, been waiting for him for days and days. She can’t meet his eyes, but she can’t bear to look at his hand, either- so she twists her head and stares at the window. The light from the lamp makes it impossible to see outside, but there is the promise of freedom beyond the window and that is enough.
His voice is so quiet and so full of hurt, but she can’t do what he wants. Still, she isn’t surprised when he leans closer and touches her chin with his cool, remembered fingers. She lets him lead her face with that touch, thinks she’d go just about anywhere with him, even to this place she does not want to go.
“I know you don’t want to hear this anymore than I want to say it,” he says.
“I already know,” she whispers.
“Everything?” he asks.
He nods. “Still.”
“Are you telling me for my sake or for yours?”
Angel quirks his mouth in what passes, for him at least, as a smile.
Half-way through Angel’s confession, Buffy opens a bottle of wine. By the time the inkiness has leached out of the sky, the wine is finished and so is his story. Her head aches.
“You can’t leave now,” she says.
“I can’t stay.”
“You know why, Buffy.”
“Even after all this?”
“Because of all this,” he says.
“I don’t blame you, if that’s what you mean.”
Angel looks down at the floor before meeting her eyes. “I don’t need you to blame me for it to hurt.”
“I’m responsible, too,” she says. It’s a peace offering he will not accept. “I’m not sixteen anymore.” She doesn’t know why she says that, only that it’s true.
He shakes his head, backing away from the light streaming through the window towards a shadowy corner. For some reason, this is the thing that makes her cry. And suddenly, where she has been stoic and composed, she is adrift and inconsolable.
He is beside her in seconds, pulling her back, away from the awakening sun.
“Buffy,” his voice is desperate. His hands are pressed into her back as though they might dyke the broken dam. “Please.”
She tries to stop, she does. But nothing makes sense anymore. Even the people who are supposed to live forever don’t. How is that fair? If Spike is vulnerable, Angel is, too. And she can’t articulate how horrifying that is. She’ll lose everybody. She’ll be all alone.
“Listen to me.” His voice is in her ear; his hands are stroking her back; her heart stutters and slows. “I will never leave you.”
The words are not enough this time. She takes his hand and pulls him out of the room, down the hall towards another door. She knows he’ll understand why the room has no windows.
She shakes her head. Don’t speak.
This is how people grieve, she thinks, as she pulls off her shirt and pants. This is how they are made whole. This is how they let go of their losses; how they make their way towards the light.
When she tugs at his shirt, he doesn’t resist. Her hands travel over his skin, trace the tattoo on his back, slide into the waist of his pants, reach for the hardening length of him.
She steps back, stretches out on the bed and waits for him to decide.
“Are you sure?”
“No,” she says.
It’s the truth and it satisfies him. He comes to the bed, but there is tentativeness in his touch as he settles his hands on her stomach, his mouth on one soft, flat nipple. She waits for the fire to catch, to remember what it felt like to burn up under him, for the sizzle and pop of her orgasm.
Whatever is between them, though, is tempered by grief. The pleasure, when it comes, is brief and far away.
They are as far apart from each other as they can manage. Her eyes are closed but she is not asleep. She is aware of him watching her and of the hours they have left before he can leave safely.
Spike would have something to say about this.
She imagines his voice: I think I know a little something about love, pet.
So does she. It holds you, vice-like, and shakes you until your teeth rattle.
Spike would say: But that’s part of the fun, love. No one gets out unscathed. Why in the bloody hell would you want to?
Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, Spike says the exact right thing.
Angel wants her attention now. His voice is a cruel reminder of what she has lost and has yet to lose.
“I can’t,” she says.
She means she can’t open her eyes. She can’t live in this world. She can’t say good-bye. She can’t stop crying. She can’t.
His knuckle is against her cheek. And then his mouth is pressed against hers, cool and deliberate. And he shifts closer and slants his mouth and slides his tongue against her lips, an entreaty.
Her skin prickles like it hadn’t earlier. This time it remembers his touch and feels the burn. She opens her mouth, sucking his tongue and his groan down deep. He pulls her closer and she feels him, solid and unyielding, against her.
This is what it is to be alive. She slides her hands through his hair, holding his head still, while she pushes him back so she can straddle him. She wants this more than she can ever remember wanting anything. Him. The hard thick length of him, her hands pressing against his shoulders, the slight adjustment that allows him entry, the slow, slick sinking and the distant memory of before- gone now, in the wake of this new, tangible moment.
She leans down to kiss him because his eyes are making her heart hurt. She shifts again, driving him deeper; she wants to feel all of him, buried in her like a sword.
She bites into Angel’s lip and then, without even thinking, bites into her own, and she knows the second Angel tastes her blood because she is whip-quick on her back and Angel is ferocious, fucking her without finesse.
He’s holding her wrists above her head with one hand; her nipple is stretched between the thumb and forefinger of his other and her cunt is humming around each thick stroke. She digs her heels into the bed, tilting herself up for more. And she thinks she even says ‘more’, screams it, as her mouth fills with blood and her eyes fill with tears.
She tries to pull one hand free, wants to rub at her clit, but Angel’s eyes are dark and he tightens his grip.
Nothing is what it should be.
Angel comes without sound. Buffy watches a muscle jump in his jaw, feels the pressure on her wrists ease and then tighten. And then, she is on her belly, a pillow under her hips and Angel’s fingers are pressed into the wet cavern of her and she can feel his cock again, hard against her ass.
And she knows the truth before he breaches her flesh; she’s known it all along. That this grief is shared and that this much she can willingly do.
It is dark again.
Angel is standing at the bottom of the steps, looking back up at her. His face is pale and beautiful. Still. Always.
She reaches out a hand and he does the same, and under the moon, their fingers touch and it isn’t hard for Buffy to imagine what it had been like for them, once.
He knows enough not to say the words and she knows enough not to expect them. He smiles a little before he drops his hand and steps back.
At the corner he looks back and Buffy nods. Her life is made up of these little moments and tonight, it almost seems like it might be enough.