Buffy smoothed a finger over the thick line of raised flesh on Rick's stomach, petting it absently as she curled into his side, bare skin warm against bare skin. "How'd you get this scar?" she asked sleepily, hoping it came with an interesting story like the one about his desert tribesman's tattoo.
She loved the sound of his voice, and the way it rumbled in his chest as he spoke. Rick O'Connell wasn't the most eloquent guy she'd ever been with, or the strongest, or even the handsomest-- though he was pretty darned cute-- but there was just something about him. Something vital, something half-starved with the need to protect and gratify; something that spoke to a long-denied need in her as well. He made her feel sexy and cherished; and she could only hope she did the same for him. It was everything she'd been seeking from Spike, but never quite found; everything she'd wanted from Riley, but been unable to reciprocate.
Instead of speaking, Rick twitched under her questing fingertips and shifted a little, turning on his side to face her more fully. Then he reached up to cup the side of her face, feathered his fingers through her hair, and finally skimmed his palm downward over smooth, sweaty skin. She stirred as he passed over her breast, sending still-sensitive nerves singing in protest and encouragement, but stilled again as he reached his destination, rubbing gently at a spot above her waist.
"Pretty much the same way you got this one, I'd guess," he said, with an unexpectedly sober, unsmiling gaze.
Buffy stared back at him, blinking back up from the edge of sleep as she realized what he was implying. He knew she came with an extra added skills and healing factor package, though she didn't think he'd ever heard the term 'Slayer'; he seemed to have picked up a supernatural education of his own by dint of bad luck and a talent for survival. She didn't doubt he'd seen the matching scar on her back and guessed how she'd got them. But to claim the same sort of injury for himself....
She glanced down at his hand, then his scar, then back up at his face, searching his expression for any hint that he was teasing or making things up. Rick returned her scrutiny calmly, blue eyes gentle and deadly serious all at once, all the usual laughter drained out of them.
Oh, she thought, feeling like she'd taken a brick to the skull. Oh.
"Show me," she said, softly.
Rick nodded, understanding without having to be told, but rather than turning over again he captured the hand still stroking his stomach and lifted it, guiding it up over his broad shoulders and around to his back. There, several inches above and across from the matching line of scar tissue on his stomach, she felt it: the place where the sword had exited-- or maybe entered?-- his body. She tried to picture it for a moment, envisioning the path the blade must have taken as it pierced through his body, and felt a chill in her stomach at the image. It should have killed him. How had a wound like that not killed him?
Tucked up against him, arms around him, she could feel the tension in Rick's body as she processed what it meant. She wondered how many people he'd told in the past, and of those, how many had realized that no normal human could have healed from such a blow without serious impairment, if they had survived it at all.
"Demon?" she had to ask, doing her best to keep her tone non-accusatory and mild.
Damn Spike anyway; before the on again, off again disaster that had been their relationship, she'd been quite comfortably in denial about the one thing all her men had in common. "Girl just needs a little monster in her man," he'd said: and so far, it had proven true, time and time again. She'd thought Rick might finally represent the end of that pattern: a spiritual healing on her part, now that she'd finally put her lone Slaying days behind her and settled into a somewhat normal life. Being proved wrong-- stung a little, in that you should have known better kind of way, and worked better than a bucket of cold water on the low burn of arousal his intimate touch had reawakened.
Rick shook his head minutely by way of answer; she felt the movement more than saw it, pressed into his chest as she was. "No," he elaborated. "Well, not unless there was more to Shangri-La than advertised. Lin doesn't think so-- but then again, she didn't think I'd been dosed with enough of the magic water to do more than heal me, either." He shrugged. "But it was pretty obvious something had happened when she started aging again and I-- didn't."
"And Lin is?" she asked, carefully. Slayer instinct told her to pull away, look him in the eye, distance herself from the potential threat-- but female instinct, and something stubborn that still insisted on hoping, kept her close, wrapped around him in denial.
"Daughter-in-law," he said, smoothing a hand gently over her spine. "You'll like her. She looks about eighty now, this tiny little Chinese woman, but she's been around since something or other BC and she can still kick my ass when she wants to."
"Your-- two thousand year old ass?" Buffy choked, dizzied by the concept. Talk about older boyfriends!
He chuckled. "No. More like a hundred and fifteen; it'll be a hundred sixteen this December."
"Wow," she said, still stunned by the casual way he was discussing the subject-- after months of dating her without saying anything at all. "Where can I get your anti-wrinkle cream?" She had questions galore, but one really stood out from the rest of the pack: "No, seriously-- why are you telling me this now?"
"Apart from the fact that you aren't aging, either?" he prompted, gently. "I'd never have guessed it when I met you, but it was kind of hard not to notice your friends changing without you when I looked through your photos."
Buffy grimaced. She'd been a little nervous when she'd caught him going through the few photographs that had survived the destruction of Sunnydale and the albums she'd filled up since, but more out of embarrassment than from any real fear of what he'd find out about her. "I try not to think about it," she said, obliquely. "Maybe I just age really well?"
Rick snorted. "Right. Anyway, she's going to be in town tomorrow-- Lin. We have dinner every year on the anniversary of Alex's death."
"And you want me to meet her."
"And I want you to meet her," he agreed. "She's the only family I really have left. Her and Alex's kids are all grown and scattered; Evy's brother died years ago, and my own family dumped me in an orphanage in Cairo when I was a kid. Lin's the only one left who really-- remembers."
Rick quieted then, and Buffy let him, clinging to him as the ripples of his revelation shook through the comfortable relationship she'd built around him.
She'd have guessed him to be in his thirties, before, if she'd had to pick an age; they'd joked before about celebrating their birthdays half-way between his in early December and hers in late January, a mark which just so happened to fall right around Christmas, but they hadn't talked years or childhoods or anything else that serious yet. It had been nice, falling in with someone who knew she was unusual but accepted her without a lot of uncomfortable questions; it had been pleasant, dating a solid, normal man unconnected with her job who nonetheless had enough experience with the supernatural to handle himself in dangerous circumstances.
They'd met in the middle of just such a circumstance; she'd been at the local museum to talk to one of Giles' contacts and Rick had been visiting the Egyptian exhibit when a crazy wizard with a yen for an enchanted gem in one of the displays had raised half the mummies in the building to help him retrieve it. He'd seemed surprised when she'd joined him in fighting the things off, then openly admiring as the brief battle wore on, and she'd been equally appreciative of his smooth moves, excellent aim, strapping good looks, and boyish exuberance. He fought like he did it for a living but didn't seem to have any clue who she was, and she hadn't dated anyone since she'd kicked the Immortal to the curb; she hadn't been able to resist the temptation.
But now-- her light-hearted, capable warrior had turned out to have a deeper past than she'd expected. He'd had a wife, children, grandchildren; he'd been born back when William the Bloody had been a fledge under Angelus' control; and she had a growing suspicion that some of the "According to the Medjai" tales he'd told her about the unlucky foreign warrior were actually based on adventures of his own. What had made a man with that kind of history take her up on her flirting in the first place?
"I died once, you know," she said abruptly, into his collarbone, pushed into speaking by some emotion she couldn't name. "Three times, really, but just the one time that stuck."
"The stab wound?" Rick asked, rubbing hand pausing over the raised mark on her back.
She shook her head, dislodging sweaty strands of hair that had stuck to her forehead. "Earlier. That happened when I was twenty-two; I died when I was twenty. Magic. Really painful, but sudden. I sacrificed myself to save my sister, and then--" She paused.
"Heaven?" he suggested, gently.
"How--?" She interrupted her story to tilt her head back and stare at him, bewildered and strangely moved by his conclusion. "No one's ever guessed that right off the bat before."
He sighed, and the shadows of old grief crept into the lines around his mouth and eyes. "My wife," he replied. "She was killed on one of our adventures, stabbed in the gut by an old enemy. Took her a couple minutes to die, and I-- well. It's-- a long story, but the Book of the Dead was involved; Alex got his hands on it while I went charging off to avenge her. He and Jonathan, Evy's brother, brought her back just in time to stop me from getting myself killed, too. And that was one of the first things she said afterward: did I want to know what Heaven looked like?"
"Yeah," Buffy murmured. "I-- was there a lot longer. About five months, according to-- but it felt like forever to me. I didn't notice much of anything for about a year after that-- the adjustment nearly killed me all over again-- so I can't be sure the urn of Osiris is really what made the difference. But since Willow raised me with it, well, I don't injure much. When I do, I heal really quickly. And the aging thing-- yeah, I'd been hoping it didn't mean what you think it means, but it probably does." From somewhere, a shaky smile welled up; she didn't know why she felt so relieved to have told him, but there it was.
"You're so resilient," he marveled, reaching out to stroke his thumb along the curve of her mouth. "I think that's one of the first things I noticed about you: you fight like an angel, like you've been doing it for a million years, but you still have spirit. I could see it in your eyes. That's what drew me to Evy, too; she started out as just a librarian-- couldn't even throw a punch when I met her-- but she had that fire in her. She never let anything stop her from trying to do the right thing."
He sounded so wistful, Buffy felt an entirely unworthy stab of jealousy. Stupid; it wasn't like his wife was still around to compete with her, and of course, at his age, he'd already had plenty of time to settle down and be happy. And she couldn't be sure she wouldn't sound the same if he ever asked her about Angel; as uneven as that relationship had been, he'd still been her first love. "How long has it been?" she asked, capturing his hand and rubbing at the unadorned ring finger.
"Too long," Rick whispered. "Too long. She was never quite the same after that-- a lot more restless, for one thing. I didn't mind; I was pretty restless myself. She came from a rich British family, but I was just an American orphan with a case of wanderlust; and after twenty more years of war and adventure--" he gestured at the scar on his abdomen again. "I got myself nearly killed, and it was like it threw her into another gear. No more trying to retire for her, she wanted to wring every last ounce of excitement we could get out of life. She died in action a few years later, just after our first granddaughter was born."
So, something like fifty years ago, if Buffy had the timescale down. A long, long time to be alone. "This isn't just a temporary fling for you, is it," she said softly.
She tried to imagine what it would be like: meeting his ancient Chinese daughter-in-law, bringing him back to England for the Council's Christmas party. Letting him threaten Dawn's prospective boyfriends; traveling the world to see the places that were important to him. Fighting evil together-- truly together, all cards on the table, not just dragging one another out on patrol or to places where they 'had a feeling something was going to happen'.
It scared her. And she knew Rick could probably see that. But--
"Only if you want it to be," he said, searching her face with his bottomless blue eyes. "I admit, it's not something I was looking for. I pretty much never thought I'd find a partner ever again. But you know, I wasn't really looking for it with Evelyn, either; it just happened. She saved my life the day I met her, then endangered it in wild and unusual ways, and by the time our first adventure was over I knew our life together would never be boring."
--It was kind of liberating, too. She felt naked, in a way that had nothing to do with skin; she felt-- she felt weightless, as though she might fly away if his arms weren't anchoring her down. Had it really been that long since she'd been able to be all of herself with anybody? Did she even want that?
Yes, she told herself, making a conscious decision to let go her doubts. Yes, she did.
"There's a lot we'll have to talk about," Buffy warned him, pulling back enough to sit up, pale sheets pooling around her thighs. "There are things I haven't told you, either."
Rick stared appreciatively up at her bared torso from his sprawled position; the sheets weren't pulled up high enough to hide his interest, but his voice was still steady as he replied. "So, is that a 'yes'?"
A smile tugged at Buffy's lips; she leaned forward and crawled over his body, settling into his lap with a distracting wriggle. "I'm sorry, was there a question?" she teased, her spirit suddenly full of light.
He surged up off the bed, flipping her over as he moved, pinning her down against the mattress in a tangle of fabric. "Do I really need to ask?" he replied, making some pretty distracting wriggles of his own.
"Ooh-- yes," she gasped, pressing kisses against his shoulder and digging her fingernails into his back.
"Yes to the question, or to me needing to ask?" Rick laughed, then groaned: and there were no more words.
"Lin will be glad," he murmured, much later, as they drowsed toward sleep again. "She's been worried there'd be no one left to look after me when she's gone."
"I think you were right," Buffy replied, yawning. "I'm going to like your Lin."