Buffy stood on the edge of the parquet floor at the Bronze watching her friends dance. Anya moved around Xander’s wheelchair with graceful moves, the former Sunnydale High graduate confined to the wheeled conveyance after a construction accident two years ago had left him with only limited use of his legs. Jessie and Willow danced nearby, showing off their newly acquired skills from weeks of classes in ballroom dancing.
Without warning, a hard arm slid around her waist and swung her forward, out onto the dance floor. Buffy suppressed a surprised gasp then fought to collect her wits and her balance, only to lose both as Angel pulled her closer pressing her tightly against him. Her breasts were pressed against his chest, his thighs firm against hers.
Even though he had anticipated it, there was no icy bite of sensation when he touched her, no painful chill. Undoubtedly, it was related to the spell and the existence, or rather lack thereof now, of the lilies. With the disappearance of the lilies, so had gone the icy touch.
Buffy noticed the missing sensation as well, glancing up at him in surprise. Despite the spell surrounding her heart, her body instantly came alive in his arms. Her breasts swelled and her nipples hardened. A warmth swirled in her belly, moving lower. She attempted to hold herself rigid but her body naturally molded to his, his thighs brushing hers evocatively with each subtle movement of their dance. Their hips swayed together, predictably, sexually. Memories of past times being held in his arms just this way surfaced with riotous ferocity.
Angel savored the feel of her in his arms after so long. She relaxed against him yet refused to meet his eyes, struggling to take control of her spiraling wits, to cling to her composure. His touch had sent her senses into an unexpected tailspin.
“Um, Angel. You’re holding me too close.” Buffy murmured softly as she caught sight of her friends gaping at them openly. “What are they going to think?” She quickly looked for Cordelia, expecting to see the former cheerleader scowling over Angel’s shoulder at them any minute as well.
Angel looked down at her, studying her face. Everything was so achingly familiar and yet he felt that in some ways he had never really looked at her before. He cared little what her friends thought. For the first time, he was going to put them – their relationship – first. His gaze roamed the slender line of her throat, taking in once again the absence of his mark from her neck. “I’ve held you closer, if you remember.”
Buffy’s eyes shot up to his face as she took a swift intake of breath. The husky whisper with its carnal allusion affected them both, Angel tugging her hips closer to his in a natural and instinctive gesture. Unable to form a coherent response, Buffy said nothing but simply swayed against him to the music, lost for a moment in the feel of his body against hers. Her body fit so neatly, so perfectly against his that it felt natural to be held in his arms. This wasn’t what she had expected or planned, but it felt … nice.
Her glorious golden hair was pulled up tightly on her head and he wished nothing more at the moment than to free the tiny sparkling dragonfly shaped clips holding it in place and watch it tumble onto her shoulders and down her back, across her breasts…
“You look beautiful.” He murmured then added in a hushed undertone, “I’ve missed you.”
Buffy opened her eyes, lifting her head from his silent chest to look up at his face. “Thank you.” She calmly remarked, as if she couldn’t feel the slight bulge of his erection against her stomach, as if they danced like this often when in fact this was only the second time they’d seen each other in over 4 years. She dismissed his statement about missing her as politesse and returned her cheek to his chest, content for the moment to enjoy the feel of being held.
“So who’s tall, dark and glowery over there with Buffy?” Jessie asked bemused, noting that the blonde was dancing for the first time that night.
Willow frowned, noting the vampire’s presence for the first time. “Angel.”
“Buffy’s ex.” Anya added for clarification. “What’s he doing here anyway?”
“Angel? Angel’s here?” Xander whirled around in the direction of their glances, caught off guard by the name he hadn’t heard in quite some time.
“I don’t know.” Willow stated flatly. First Angel’s call, now he was here in Sunnydale. She’d done the spell to restore his soul a few years back after a pleading call from Cordelia, who had been easily forthcoming with the information that she had been the reason for Angelus’s return. Willow had suspected lies and so had done a little sleuthing with magic – finding out later that the ritual she had performed had been purely a smoke and mirrors show for Angel’s benefit; his soul had instead been taken by a Shaman with powerful black magic and later returned when the demon that had bartered for the act paid the agreed on price. Although she had no proof, Willow believed that Cordelia had been the very demon responsible. At the very least, the former Sunnydale resident and girl known as “Queen C” knew more about the events of those months than she would let on. Regardless, Willow had never mentioned the incident to Buffy on the off chance that the Slayer would once again be hurt by her ex.
“Well I know I don’t know but I know I sure as hell don’t like it. Why’s he dancing so close with her anyway?” Xander muttered, spinning his chair around once again to stare at the couple across the dance floor. “You don’t have to stand that close to dance to this song. And where’s Cordy anyhow?”
“Maybe he’s evil.” Anya suggested, watching as Buffy’s head came up with a start at something the tall vampire whispered near her ear. She murmured something in response then returned her head to rest against his chest, after which he kissed the top of her head so lightly that she didn’t even seem to feel it before closing his own eyes, as if savoring their dance.
“He could still be evil.” The ex-vengeance demon insisted, even though the observed actions seemed to be in direct contrast to her words.
“Maybe.” Willow replied distractedly, her attention focused on the couple as well. “Wonder if she knew he was coming?”
“I doubt it.” Jessie tugged on her lover’s hand, drawing her attention back to her. “Besides, it’s just a dance. She looks like she’s enjoying herself for a change. What’s the big? You guys always want her to find a guy. He’s a guy, isn’t he?”
Three pairs of eyes swiveled around to look at the brown haired girl.
“What? He’s not a guy?”
“Will. You take this one.” Xander wheeled his chair off the dance floor, Anya following. They stopped at their table and continued to watch Buffy and Angel move together under the dim lights.
“They do make a striking couple. He’s all tall dark and handsome, she’s little blonde and sunny. It’s a nice contrast, really.” Anya commented, blithely ignoring Xander’s irritated scowl.
“Where’s Cordelia?” Finally gathering her wits as the song came to an end, Buffy looked up at him, stepping back and freeing herself from his hold.
“Still in LA I would imagine.” His voice was softly emphatic as he reached for her hand, not willing to let her go completely.
“You are completely unscrupulous.” Buffy admonished, jerking her hand away from him irritably. “For the record, I would find your behavior unacceptable.”
“What? Dancing with you?” Angel smiled slightly at her, enjoying the slight flush on her cheeks. Was that from anger or from their dance? He’d felt the slight response of her body to him; that she wasn’t entirely immune to him warmed his heart and gave him hope. Not to mention, it stirred another part of his anatomy with results that would be far more obvious if he hadn’t been wearing pleated trousers.
“You don’t hold another woman that close, even when you dance, you- you – well I don’t know what you are but it’s not something good! Dancing that way – it’s practically cheating.” Buffy snapped, stepping back from him. Her physical response to him annoyed her, as did the idea that he could most likely tell given his vampiric senses. “You’re-”
“-still attracted to you?” Angel finished with a small smile. A smile that she’d not seen in years and even then not often, but one that had easily melted her reservations on more than one heated occasion. His fingers circled her wrist, drawing her steadily toward him.
“What the hell are you doing, Angel? You came here to talk now you’re acting like you want to seduce me.” Buffy replied then added pettishly, “And I thought you were bringing your girlfriend.”
Damn, Angel thought, this was not at all how he had intended to start the evening, but when he’d seen her standing there in her figure hugging black dress with the low-cut back, all of his rational thoughts flew right out of his head and he simply gave in to impulse and swept her into his arms.
“I’m sorry. You look so beautiful.” Angel apologized, instantly contrite. He lifted her hand and kissed it, his lips brushing lightly against her knuckles as his eyes sought hers. “I just wanted to hold you. To dance with you.”
She waited almost 5 seconds before she replied, uncertain what to say to such an unexpected answer. “Okay, fine, whatever” she said finally, “but don’t do it again. I have no wish to have Queen C after my head. Sunnydale has demons enough without that one in particular.”
As if she only just realized he was still holding her hand, Buffy jerked away, her agitation and quick movements drawing attention from the people nearby. “And stop holding my hand.” She hissed softly through her teeth, while forcing a smile at the gawking onlookers.
“Sweetheart, your friends are watching.” Angel glanced over Buffy’s shoulder, noting the obvious and mostly unfriendly stares of her friends. “They’re going to be over here with a stake in a minute.”
“I’m not your sweetheart,” she repudiated, “and it’s not like they haven’t seen us argue before.” Bristling with outrage at his casual, almost lackadaisical response to the mention of his current lover, vexed at her body’s almost eager response to him, and indignant that he could seemingly ignore all but his own interests with ease, Buffy continued huffily, “Why don’t you just tell me what you came here to say, then you can leave. I’m sure Cordelia will be waiting for her kiss at midnight.”
“Jealous?” Angel looked down at Buffy’s face, amused. How had he thought he could ever have accepted anything less than his gorgeous golden girl? How was it that he’d allowed himself to settle for a cheap imitation these past years, curse or no? Just being around her made him feel more alive than he’d felt in years.
“Please. If I took the time to be jealous over every two bit whore and demoness who’s bounced on the Angel ride, I’d be in a perpetual shade of green.” Buffy retorted as she plastered a fake smile on her face and turned to wave at Willow and the gang who were watching them with undisguised and concerned interest.
Angel laughed, amused at her wit even though he was a bit chagrined of what she obviously believed about his many and varied sexual exploits as both man and demon. Of course, he had never professed to live a life of celibacy before he met her; and afterwards, well, all other women had paled in comparison. He leaned closer to her, tilting his head as he studied her face. His grin was wicked. “Your eyes are green.”
“Very funny. Ha. Ha.” Buffy looked at him with irritation as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Look, you said you wanted to talk, so talk.”
“I do want to talk to you, but somewhere quiet … private.” Angel replied, a quiet reflective nuance underlying his words.
“We can talk here. It’s quiet.” Buffy replied, raising her voice to be heard over the music that had resumed playing. “Well, it’s sorta quiet.” She amended as she glanced up at his expression out of the corner of her eye.
“Please.” He entreated softly, his voice low and husky near her ear as he bent down so that she could hear him without shouting.
“Unless you’d rather dance…?” He added, the idea of holding her in his arms again far more appealing than simply talking. If she wanted to stay, then he certainly had no objections.
Buffy sighed, turning back to face him. His expression was sincere, his powerful body tense beneath the white linen shirt and black leather jacket, his dark eyes intent upon her.
“Okay, okay. Fine. We can go-” Buffy drew a blank, unsure where they could go and find privacy on New Years Eve. Grudgingly, she continued, “We can go to my place. Let me tell the gang that I’m leaving.”
Angel replied politely to the barely civil greetings that he received from Buffy’s friends, curtailing the impulse to speak up when they whispered their disapproval to her that she was leaving with him. With considerable effort, he also ignored Xander as Buffy’s high school pal stared at him openly with hatred as he bitterly and less than discreetly berated Buffy for what he perceived to be another of her shortcomings: the inability to think straight when it came to her vampire ex. He was honestly surprised to see Buffy’s high school friend in a wheelchair; she hadn’t mentioned anything about it nor had the news made its way to LA via Cordelia’s gossip grapevine. He made a mental note to ask Buffy about it later.
Angel escorted Buffy to his car, opening her door as she slid into the black GTX. He was somewhat surprised to find out that she still preferred to walk rather than drive, which was just as well – driving had never been one of her strengths.
Buffy rode mostly in silence, speaking only to direct Angel to the small condo where she now lived. Luckily it had been close enough to the house on Revello drive that she was able to keep her old phone number – if for no other reason than sentimentality. Most of the furniture and other household items had been sold along with the house, helping to pay for their bills and Dawn’s college education.
When they arrived at the condo, Buffy invited Angel in, hanging her coat in the closet and draping his over the back of the couch.
Angel glanced around Buffy’s small condo with a critical eye. It was neat and tidy, but was almost lacking in personal touches. There were framed pictures of her family and friends along the mantle, but little else to give him any clue about the woman in front of him or her life now.
Buffy offered to make tea and Angel accepted, not because he particularly wanted it but because it would give him time to compose his thoughts. He sat and watched contentedly as she bustled around the kitchen.
“So, you said on the phone that Giles came to see you?” Buffy questioned, breaking the silence as she sat two cups on the table along with the teapot. She paused for a moment after she sat, having the strangest sense of déjà vu; as if she and Angel had sat like this before.
“Yes.” Angel replied, reaching for the teacup and curling his hand around it, enjoying the warmth of the steaming liquid.
“And?” She prompted, curious and somewhat impatient to hear why Angel had felt it necessary to see her in person on New Year’s Eve and without his significant other in tow. Briefly she wondered how he had managed that. Knowing Cordelia as she did, the former brunette would surely have expected him to be with her on such an auspicious occasion as the start of the new year.
Angel took a deep, unneeded breath for courage. How many times had he wished he could have said these words to her before? How many times had he practiced them in his mind on the way here? Yet, now that the moment had arrived, he was unsure how to begin.
“Angel?” Buffy queried softly, somewhat worried by his serious expression and obvious hesitation in speaking.
Glancing up, Angel stared into her mossy-green eyes. Finally he spoke. “Giles- He told me that the curse – the one to restore my soul – had been changed.”
“Changed? How changed?” Buffy questioned, her voice low and wary. “When changed?”
“The clause – the happiness clause – had been removed. When Willow restored my soul.” Angel replied softly, the impact of the words significant due to their timing. It meant that his soul had been returned to him without the perilous clause when he had gone to hell with Acathla.
“What?” She questioned again flatly, as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing.
“Jenny changed it. Giles knew… but he never told anyone until now.”
“How could he do that?” Buffy asked, bitterness in her voice. She stared at him, unable to think or process the multitude of thoughts and questions that were swirling in her mind.
“He had his reasons. I think I even understand-”
“Understand?!” She interrupted, standing abruptly and causing the cups on the table to rattle, tea spilling over the rim. “You understand! How could you?” Buffy whispered as she paced restlessly to the window, staring out into the darkness, the implication of his words washing over her. The undesirable aftermath of the clause in the curse had seeped into every part of her life – their life and had, at base, been the reason that Angel had ultimately left her.
“Look Buffy, I was angry at first too. It’s certainly not by any means the way I would have wanted things to turn out, but it’s also not the worst thing that could have happened.” Angel said softly, shrugging his shoulders the slightest bit as he stared at her back. “If you hold a grudge or refuse your forgiveness, you’ll only end up letting it continue to hurt you. I know, I’ve been there.”
Without turning back from the window, Buffy asked, her voice flat. “Why’d Giles feel the need to tell you this now? Nine years later.”
“He’s sick, dying.” He paused for a long moment before he murmured the words softly, knowing that they would be difficult for Buffy to hear given her feelings for her former Watcher.
Buffy spun around and stared at Angel’s face. Why didn’t she know that Giles was sick? Why hadn’t he told her? More deception? More lies? She always thought that Giles had been the one person that she could count on, the one person she could always trust. Now it seemed that the man she’d loved as a father had betrayed her. Well, it just proved to her that the words that Whistler had said to her all those years ago still rang true – ‘In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.’ Angel had shown her time and again the truth of those words and now Giles simply reinforced them.
“So, he thinks that because he’s dying that he can just what? Get all these things off his chest and go to the grave with a clear conscious?” Buffy exclaimed angrily, hurt and enraged at the dishonesty that had been perpetrated. “How dare he?”
“Buffy.” Angel soothed, finding her reaction to Giles’s ill health somewhat unusual. He expected tears or sadness, not this clinical anger. Had she had a falling out with her mentor? “Put yourself in his place.”
“I have been in his place! There have been a lot of times that I’ve had to make hard choices, choices that I would have made differently if it had only been about what *I* wanted.” Buffy trailed off softly, a trace of anger still evident in her tone. “Being in his place doesn’t make it right, Angel.”
“No it doesn’t make it right, but it is understandable, you have to admit that.” He continued in a low anguished voice, “I *murdered* his girlfriend. He saw this as a way to punish me. You think you wouldn’t do the same thing?”
“No.” Buffy retorted without hesitation. What Angel? You don’t remember the understanding, the sympathy, the loving support that my friends, my family, my Watcher all gave me when I was forced to murder my lover? Oh, that’s right you weren’t around to see it. Do you think they would have understood if I had let you live instead of sending you to hell with Acathla? No. Were they supportive when I hid you after your return from hell or when I protected you from Faith? No. Did I ever punish them for any of it? Make them feel the slightest bit guilty about it? No.
“Buffy, sweetheart, there are no absolutes. We all make mistakes. We’re just doing what we think is best at the time. We’re all weak and when we get hurt – deeply, horribly hurt – that pain, those wounds bleed into our lives, tainting our judgment until even the most foolhardy choice seems logical, practical. Until the most vicious and cruel act imaginable can seem justified…”
“That’s no excuse. He fucked up my life. Your life.” Buffy’s eyes met his again, as she glanced up from the table where she had been staring down into her teacup, her voice terse with resentment.
“I know. I’m sorry.” Angel replied softly, his voice somber. He gazed at Buffy from under his dark brows, his mahogany eyes darker in the florescent glow of the kitchen light. “I know it’s hard to accept. To understand.”
“You’re sorry? I don’t buy that Angel.” Buffy murmured softly, a contentious note rang in her words.
“I am sorry Buffy. Things should have been different for us-”
“Why? Because we could have had sex?” A small tight smile played over her lips at what his words implied. “You would have stayed in Sunnydale if you had known about the clause – or, rather lack of the clause – and kept the promises that you made to me about making things work? That we’d be ‘okay’?”
“That isn’t the only reason why I left. You-”
She continued as if he hadn’t spoken, her voice sweet and mocking, “That is all that a relationship is based on, isn’t it? Sex. Making love. Or at least that’s the most important part. Love alone, without the physical act – well, that’s not enough. Companionship, friendship, mutual interests – those hardly matter. How could I have forgotten what you taught me?”
“That’s not true” Angel breathed, his voice between a growl and a whisper. He was more than a little uncomfortable with her implication that he had left her with such a jaded view of relationships.
“No? Oh, sorry – there’s sunlight too. And normal. Let’s not forget – things must be *normal *.” Buffy replied with soft sarcasm, “Is life with Cordelia *normal*, Angel? ”
Abruptly Buffy held up her hand and looked away from him. This conversation was pointless; Angel’s life now was not her business nor should it matter to her in any way. He’d made the choices he’d made for whatever reasons and they’d both learned to live with them.
“Look, Angel, it doesn’t matter.” Buffy turned back to face him, her voice softly apologetic, her green eyes luminescent in the soft light. “There’s no sense in looking back on what might have happened, what could have been. We’ll never know.” But would things have been different? Would Angel have tried to make things work with them – with her- if they had been able to make love?
“Thanks for telling me. About your soul. About Giles.” Her tone was very matter-of-fact, albeit somewhat cool and unemotional. “And hey – I suppose I should even say congratulations. Although-”
“Although what?” He asked softly, urging her to continue and slightly confused by her abrupt about-face in the conversation.
“I always thought that, well, that you-” Buffy sighed, sitting back down in the chair across from him. It didn’t matter, not any longer, so she might as well just get it out. “I mean, I guess I always thought you had somehow secured your soul. Since you could, you know- make love to Cordelia. Unless maybe it was different because of the whole demon thing…”
Angel glanced away, unable to meet her eyes. Awkwardly, with voice tinged with apology, he said, “I didn’t – that is, I hadn’t. But… it wasn’t the same.”
“Oh.” Buffy studied his profile for a moment, before a flash of anger rose. Anger that he wanted Cordelia so much that he’d risk the return of Angelus to be with her. It was stupid at worse and irresponsible at best. Her eyes blazed with anger as she challenged, “Well, then wasn’t that awfully risky then?”
“No.” he replied firmly, absolute conviction in his words. “Absolutely not. I would never- I always knew that I couldn’t- that I wouldn’t lose my soul. The curse was always in the back of my mind.”
“I see.” Buffy acknowledged, thinking over his answer. She poured more tea as she contemplated her next words. “Well, I’m glad things have worked out for you.”
Angel’s brow furrowed with concern and he frowned. He was beginning to suspect that the spell that she had done had closed her off emotionally from everything, from her friends, from him. Even from Giles. His eyes drifted over her curiously, searching for any sign, any detail that might in some way give him a clue as to the origin of the spell – and how it might be broken. The tattoo vine ring was still apparent although now it appeared more blue than black. Other than that and the missing mark, there were no apparent physical signs.
“Angel, unless you have something more to say you’d better go. You’re already too late to get back to LA before midnight. If you don’t hurry, Cordelia will probably kick your ass out.”
“Promise?” he softly inquired, continuing his lazy perusal of her features.
Buffy stopped short at his reply, lifting her brows in question.
Angel leaned forward, chastising himself for not being more forthcoming with the information earlier about his breakup with Cordelia. While he, quite firmly in his mind, was no longer with the seer in any way, shape or form, Buffy had no way of knowing that. Perhaps that’s where some of her reluctance was coming from. “Cordelia and I – well, we’re not together anymore.”
Buffy scanned his face with her eyes, effectively hiding her surprise. “Really? Since when?”
“A few days ago.”
“Oh. So a breakup and no loophole in the curse and here you are? How convenient.” Buffy retorted, “Let me guess… you figured that no-date Buffy would be lonely and would make for some convenient and easy fun while your tried out your new no-clause curse? Or did you just want to see the look on my face when you dropped the news on me, since the funniest part is always the look on my face when-”
“Buffy, please.” Angel interjected softly, “That’s not true. You know I’ve never stopped caring about you. Loving you.”
“Really? You ever tell Cordelia that?” She questioned casually, tilting her head slightly.
Unable to look her in the eye, Angel glanced away. To his shame, he’d never been honest with himself or with Cordelia.
“I thought so. Look, Angel. Thanks for telling me. For making the trip here in person and all. I appreciate it- really I do.” She declared very simply, pleased with the objectivity that she now had in dealing with him.
Purposefully he stood and walked around the table to stand near her. Buffy craned her neck to look up at his tall height.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s almost midnight.” Angel stepped closer to her chair, reaching for her hand and slowly raising it to his lips. His lustrous eyes were the color of deep rich chocolate, intense and beautiful as he stared down at her with ardent speculation.
“So?” She whispered, an elusive sense of want drifting through her senses.
“So it’s New Years Eve. It’s almost midnight. I want to kiss you.” Angel said softly, his glance tender as he lifted a hand to brush aside a tendril of her hair that had escaped her upswept style and had fallen over her forehead.
“Um, I don’t think-” Buffy licked her lips nervously, despite herself.
“Don’t think.” He said, his voice taking on a husky quality. His fingertips brushed across her bottom lip with the lightest touch. “Just kiss me.”
She swayed toward him as he bent down, as if guided by magnetic attraction. “I shouldn’t.”
“I know.” His lips settled on hers with the lightest touch, teasing gently. He intended to woo her using all of the skills he’d acquired since first making love to his governess at thirteen. In the years since, he’d become quite accomplished at pleasing women of all types, be they human or demon, and he was determined that none of that expertise would go to waste in his attempt to win back the one woman that he loved.
He kissed her with light brushing kisses first, reaching down to draw her up and into his arms. When her hands settle on his biceps, he closed his eyes and claimed her mouth eagerly, tasting the sweetness of her lips with his own, gently stroking her bare back with his fingertips and waiting until she was returning his kisses with an eagerness of her own.
“This is not sensible.” Buffy murmured, breaking off their kiss for air as Angel’s lips slid along her throat. The kiss had shaken her, her physical response to him unrestrained.
“I don’t want to be sensible.” He whispered softly against her ear, nibbling gently on her neck and causing goose bumps to rise along her arms.
“And I’m not interested in what you want.” Buffy pushed back from him and stood utterly motionless, working hard to suppress the desire that he had so easily evoked. He still stood much too close for her comfort.
“What about what you want?” His voice was low, hushed, resonating in the small kitchen as he took note of the subtle signs of her arousal; her heated skin, her flushed cheeks, her scent.
She didn’t pretend to misunderstand his implication. “Are you talking about sex? Why don’t you just say so? You want to know if I want you?”
“I already know that. I was wondering if you’d acknowledge it.” Angel voice was soft when he replied, a faint smile on his lips.
“So no more happiness clause so you thought maybe you and I could-”
“No,” he interrupted, shaking his head slightly. “It’s not like that-”
Her brows rose in surprise. “No? Then what?”
“I mean yes, you know I want you. I want to be with you. Of course, I want to make love to you. But that doesn’t mean I came here expecting anything.” Angel said in a quiet tone, holding out his hand in supplication. “I’ve been stupid Buffy, I should have realized it before now but I didn’t and for that I’m sorry.”
Buffy studied him through the veil of her lashes.
“Sweetheart, I want a relationship with you.” His voice was intense, his statement one of emotion and feeling. His dark eyes drifted over her, wondering again how he’d lived without her these last few years.
“Angel, you know I care for you.” Buffy stepped away from him, and paced briefly around the small table as if she needed physical distance. “I’ll never forget you, what we shared.”
A promising start, Angel thought, relaxing slightly.
“What we had once… It was nice.” She continued, resting her hand on the table and looking directly at him.
The feeling was more than mutual, he reflected. The time he’d spent with her had been the best years of his long life; she was not only passionate beyond his wildest dreams but she conjured up a depth of feeling in him that he’d never experienced before or since.
Buffy paused, studying Angel in the soft light of the florescent overhead lamp. There was no denying his physical appeal; his facial features were classic and aquiline, his frame etched with a compelling animalistic strength and near predatory grace, both of which were so undeniably masculine, so breathtakingly appealing that it was no wonder he had been the gold standard that all the men that followed him in her life had been measured against.
“Quite honestly, Angel, you’re much better than any erotic fantasy I’ve ever imagined.” Buffy stopped and looked at him levelly, “or any other lover I’ve ever had.”
Her statement stirred both pride and possessive jealousy, as he found that he intensely disliked the thought that other men had known his Buffy intimately.
“However, I’m not interested in a relationship with you.” She finished flatly, her green eyes gazing at him with something akin to sympathy.
“What? What about us?” Angel questioned, taken aback at her words. He hadn’t expected this to be easy, but then he hadn’t expected an outright, blunt refusal either.
“There is no us, Angel. There hasn’t been an “us” since the day you left me.”
“Buffy… I want to make things right with us. I want to spend my life with you.” Angel entreated softly as the cold, harsh reality of her words began to sink in.
“I don’t.” Buffy returned the exact words to him that he’d said to her so long ago. Words that had broken her heart now did the same to him.
After a few minutes of silence, Buffy declared softly. “You should go.”
Angel nodded, walking slowly toward the door. He lifted his coat from the back of her couch and shrugged into it, not allowing him to think of anything except moving forward. He wondered how he would survive without her now that he’d realized how much she meant to him.
“Good night.” He said the required pleasantry even though he didn’t quite mean it, his voice so quiet that it barely carried beyond their position at the door.
“Take care of yourself.” Buffy replied, pleased with herself that she was able to calmly articulate the words.
Angel paused for a moment, feeling he needed to do more than just wish her a casual good bye. He longed to take her in his arms, to take her with him. Instead, he only kissed her cheek and murmured the required response before turning and disappearing into the dark night.
Buffy shut the door firmly behind him then leaned heavily against it. She found herself not only drawn to him but also terrifyingly tempted. Angel was everything she remembered, gorgeous, sexy – singularly and absolutely captivating. There was no doubt in her mind of the exquisite pleasure that could likely be found in his arms. However, she was no longer a young and impressionable young girl whose head could be turned by a handsome, older man with a seductive glance and persuasive smile. Nor was she some desperate, lonely spinster that would fall into bed with him should he but nod his head. But the temptation to indulge in a few intimate physical delights had been more than strong…
Buffy sighed and pushed away from the door. She’d spent too many years – not to mention the magic spell – to get him out of her system and move on with her life. She relished her independence now, her emotional objectivity. Surely she was strong enough to resist one man no matter how sinfully handsome or celebrated his sexual expertise…
Regardless of the fact that she’d been celibate since her disastrous affair with Spike…
Perhaps she had too many principals, she reflected. After Spike, she’d resolved to be more prudent in her choices. And Angel… well, getting involved with him even just for carnal satisfaction would be not only imprudent, but several yards, miles even, beyond that.
Shamelessly unreserved and wickedly delicious in bed though, a devilish voice inside her head reminded her, forcing vivid memories of their nights together to the forefront of her mind.
She gripped her hands together as she walked down the hallway toward her bedroom, as though she might restrain her sexual urges with the simple gesture. It was nearly impossible to do however with stark images of Angel sitting across from her at her small table lodged in her brain – his tantalizing smile, the boldness in his glance, the overwhelming sense of power that he personified. He was tall, dark and breathtakingly handsome, all honed muscle and animalistic grace beneath the perfectly tailored clothing, the black leather blazer emphasizing the breadth of his shoulders, the starkness of his features.
She’d never met another man like him, his presence one of sheer physical force. The purity of his finely molded features was only accentuated by his physical perfection, his rich chocolate eyes enhanced by the slender sensual lips that more than promised impassioned pleasures of the highest order. He was, indeed, the consummate male animal.
Good god – she was carrying on like an infatuated adolescent – again, Buffy thought with a brief shake of her head. Perhaps a little time spent with Mr. Happy to assuage some of the sexual frustration burning inside her was in order. But sex toys just didn’t appeal when Angel’s virile and erotic image was in the forefront of her brain.
Buffy sighed heavily. Maybe she should go patrol instead.
The vampire’s dark brows rose faintly as the door closed firmly behind him. Her words had been painful, but pain was something he was used to, something he understood. In no way did it mean that he was giving up, however.
Angel glanced back at Buffy’s door as he reached his car. He doubted if she’d be very forthcoming with any information about any magic she had engaged; last time he’d asked she’d plainly told him that it was none of his business. Of course, he hadn’t asked her in the politest of ways, having been rather angry and bewildered himself at the time.
She wasn’t unresponsive to him, that much he knew. But she also wasn’t herself. Either she truly no longer cared about him – or Giles – or it was the spell that she’d done.
He’d start with the spell.
Angel waited until Buffy left on patrol the following night, then crept quietly up to her condo door. He grimaced at the ease with which her door lock was picked, making a mental note to ensure that it was replaced with something stronger at some point in the near future.
His eyes swept around darkened living room, his preternatural eyesight taking in the objects with ease. It was much the same as it had been the previous night. Various pictures of Dawn, Willow, Xander, and Buffy lined the mantle. A larger picture of Joyce sat off to the side next to a white orchid. Angel smiled slightly when he touched the silken petals; the orchid was silk. For some reason it reminded him of her various comments over the years about her inability to care for things: goldfish, kids.
He glanced at the two magazines on the table then moved cautiously down the short hallway. Even before he reached her bedroom, he was assaulted by her scent. It was vanilla and honeysuckle and an underlying scent of pure Buffy. He breathed in the various smells like a man gasping for breath as he slowly but surely made his way to her room.
He paused in the doorway before entering with reverence, cognizant of the fact that he was infiltrating her private sanctuary. A brief flash of guilt washed over him as he considered that he was invading her privacy, but it was buffered by a stronger need to have her back. And for that, he was impatient.
Angel flicked the switch on the low lamp on the bureau, casting the room in a golden glow. While he didn’t need the light, he wanted it. He wanted to see the colors and textures of her room, as if it might give him a clue about the woman she had become. As the rest of the house, her room was neat but sparsely furnished. The walls were a warm, rich peach contrasting nicely with the textured adobe brown duvet on the bed. A faux Indian print rug partially covered the golden oak hardwood floor.
With stealth and speed, Angel searched her closet, finding little of interest to detain him. He was careful to leave everything exactly in place so as not to arouse her suspicions. He found himself easily distracted as he searched through her chest of drawers, the tiny wisps of silk panties and lacy bras eliciting carnal thoughts that he didn’t exactly have the time to indulge just now. His eyes widened in surprise when he found the pink vibrator, carefully hidden at the bottom of one drawer. Her scent was clearly on the pink object, indicating that it had indeed been used on occasion. With a heated rush, visions of Buffy pleasuring herself with the vinyl instrument clamored through his mind and sped straight to his now semi-hard and growing arousal.
Angel carefully tucked the sex toy back into the drawer, forcing aside the lascivious and carnal thoughts that were demanding action in his brain and body, and attempted to turn his mind back to the reason for his midnight search of Buffy’s home – to find anything he could about the spell and about her.
After searching the closet, the chest of drawers and the nightstand without finding anything that gave him even the slightest clue, Angel turned to the chest that sat under the window. It creaked when he opened it, the hinges worn from use. He flinched slightly from the cross laying amidst the various weapons, his eyes skimming over the stakes and bottles of holy water before coming to rest on a stack of journals. Her diaries. He wavered, torn between the desire to read them and the need to respect her privacy. Searching her room was violation enough he determined with effort; she’d never forgive him if she found out that he’d read the almost sacrosanct diaries.
Sighing, he closed the chest and turned to the bed. Perhaps if he found nothing else, he’d have to at least skim through them. Even in his desperate need for information, he found the idea somewhat distasteful.
He knelt and looked under the bed. There were two boxes. He slid one out and opened the lid. It was filled with odd bits of mostly bloodstained clothing. He pushed it back in place, then slid out the other box. His eye was immediately drawn to the small card taped securely to the top. It was one of his business cards for Angel Investigations, one that Cordelia had had made the first year that he’d been in LA.
With a foreboding sense of trepidation, he lifted the lid on the box. The cross that he had given her lay on top of the various papers and small boxes inside, the smooth silver gleaming subtly in the low light. Cautiously he lifted it aside, mindful of the pain that such a beautiful piece of jewelry could easily inflict on him. Underneath the necklace were a neatly tied together stack of letters, a dozen or so in all, all of which he noted after he slipped them out of the ribbon holding them together, were sealed and addressed to him in LA. Had she written then and not sent them? Before the thought was even complete, he noticed that they also all had “Return to Sender” printed on them in a looping and familiar cursive script. Buffy had sent the letters and Cordelia had received and returned them. Angel cursed softly, his features twisting in displeasure. Here was yet another damaging thing to chalk up to his seer.
Setting the letters aside for a moment, he glanced through the other contents in the box. There were two cards and a letter that he had given her when they were first dating, along with the book of poems that he’d given her for her birthday. In a velvet jewel box he found a pair of blood red ruby earrings and an elaborate matching choker that Angelus had given her. A second velvet jewel box contained a pair of square-cut deep green emerald earrings. There was also a note that read “Soon” that the demon had sent her along with flowers on Valentines Day. He was somewhat startled to find that she’d kept the things from his demon. He was also dismayed to realize that Angelus had gifted her with more elaborate gifts that he himself had.
Continuing to shift through the contents, he picked up a worn business card with a date of May 2003 neatly printed on the back. Turning the card over he was more than surprised to see the name Magos Exousia. Angel had no idea that Buffy had ever been in Nikkos’s shop. However, the date could be about right as to the time when the flowers at first appeared at the Hyperion… Perhaps she’d bought a spell book there that she’d used. It wasn’t much, but it was more than he’d hoped. Even though it had been three years, it was possible that Nikkos would remember her, the shop proprietor having a known weakness for beautiful women.
Pleased with his find, Angel briefly glanced at the last two items in the box, a fat manila envelope with the return address of a Los Angeles funeral home printed on the upper right corner along with a small prayer card. He thought it unusual that her mother’s funeral had been handled by a home in Los Angeles, but dismissed it as not particularly important. Perhaps Buffy’s dad had initiated the arrangements. He replaced the items back in the box with meticulous care, stopping when he picked up the letters that had been addressed to him. His curiosity overcame his reservations about further invading Buffy’s privacy, and he withdrew a small pocketknife from his pants pocket.
He opened each letter carefully, slipping the sharp blade under the envelope fold and cutting through the glue that held the envelope closed, and read through them one by one. His heart ached to know that she’d poured her feelings for him into these letters, yet they had been callously and unknowingly rejected.
The words were slightly different in each letter, her mood clearly vacillating with the dates and the events of her life at the time but the gist was often the same: she told him that she was trying to be strong, trying to be what he wanted her to be but that she still loved him and missed him. In one particularly poignant letter she entreated him to reconsider his life in LA, emphasizing her belief that love could conquer all, that they could overcome any and all obstacles in their paths together if he would but give them a chance.
With a heavy heart, Angel opened the last and presumably the final letter she had ever attempted to send him. It was dated, May 19, 2001.
I’m writing you this last time to say goodbye. I wanted so desperately to call you but I was so afraid that if I let myself hear your voice that I would never be able to go through with this, even though I know I don’t have a choice. Or maybe I’m afraid that you, with your noble sense of duty and responsibility, would insist on trying to help me. I can’t risk your life too. I know that I could never again watch you die – that would be far worse for me than having to face death myself. This is something that I have to do alone.
I love you. I will *always* love you. I never stopped. I tried, but I couldn’t. I’m sorry. I’m sorry too that I could never have the normal life you wanted for me. I tried, but I just couldn’t do that either. Maybe Slayers just don’t do normal, you know?
Please take care of yourself. You have to be strong, even when you want to quit or give up. Remember that there are things in this world worth fighting for. Sometimes the hardest thing in this word is just to live in it.
Goodbye Angel. I know you’ll find your redemption. I hope with it you find love and happiness too. You deserve it.
Always your girl.
She had written to him just days before her battle with Glory. A tear leaked out of his eye and dropped on the paper as he thought of her alone in her room writing him one last time, knowing that she’d face her death within days. Again, he cursed his own stupidity for leaving her alone, for not being there when she needed him most and for blindly ignoring obvious clues that were right in front of his face about the betrayal and deceit Cordelia perpetrated right under his nose. Adding insult to grievous injury, it appeared that this letter, like the others, was returned to her the very day that she faced Glory and died. He wondered if she knew, or if her friends had simply tucked this letter in with the others.
The sound of the key turning in the lock startled him out of his heartrending reflection and brought his head up with a jerk. He moved quickly, switching off the light and replacing the letters in the box and sliding it back under the bed. Apparently he was also no longer able to easily sense her nearby the way that he used to; he guessed the reverse was also true for Buffy – likely she’d be unable to tell him apart from any other demon or vampire her senses picked up.
For a brief moment he considered forcibly taking her away with him. In the next moment however, reason replaced raw emotion. Opening the window quietly, he dove through the small enclosure into the nearby bushes. Standing quickly, he closed the window and then blended in with the shadows of the night.
When he reached LA, Angel took the side entrance to the hotel and made his way quietly up the rarely used back steps. He wasn’t in the mood to trade pleasantries with anyone, and he doubted if he had it in him to be civil to Cordelia tonight.
Maybe Buffy was right to send him away. He couldn’t just expect to walk back into her life again after all this time. Having his soul permanently didn’t change the man that he’d shown her he was. He’d hurt her time and again, both directly by his own words and actions and indirectly by not paying attention to what was going on beneath his very nose. Now he’d have to regain her trust and her love.
Angel unlocked the door to his room quietly, wanting to avoid a confrontation with the dyed blonde residing across the hall at all costs. Locking the door again behind him to prevent any unwarranted intrusion, he went directly to his bedroom, stripping off his jacket and shirt along the way.
Just before he crawled into bed, he paused for a moment before retrieving his keys and opening his trunk. He reached into the bottom for the small cloth box that had held several of his items from Sunnydale, muttering a curse under his breath as he realized that he hadn’t gotten his things, other than the Claddagh ring that he still wore, back from Connor. He’d ask his son about it tomorrow. In the meantime, he selected a picture of Buffy and sat it on the table next to the bed.
“I’ll get you back, sweetheart.” He said softly to the picture as he turned off the light. His words, driven by emotion, were like scenting his mate, primordial and reflexive. He didn’t allow for any doubt to cloud his mind. Against all reason, all logic, he knew that she was still his *mate*. He was determined that this was one campaign that he would not lose.
In the week that followed, Angel’s activities adhered to a typical pattern. He threw himself into work with a zeal that he’d not shown in years, refused to see or even speak to Cordelia, and spent most of his non-working time scouring magic shops in Los Angeles and the nearby cities for any and all information on magic spells that would be used to break a bond between a demon and his mate.
When he was at the Hyperion, he preferred his own room and his own company, although he did spend some time with Connor, attempting to find some way to deal with his difficult and clearly resentful and angry son.
Buffy called late the second night he was home, responding to the gift of the deep violet-blue hyacinths that he’d sent her along with a note of sincere apology. They talked briefly, Buffy suspicious and Angel wary of being to forward or aggressive in his courting for fear that it would scare her away.
Two days later her sent her a large bouquet of Shasta daisies in a pottery vase, followed in another two days by a blooming Serotina honeysuckle. Several days later, Buffy returned home from patrol to find a large bouquet of peach roses in a copper tin along with a whimsical note. Each time she received the flowers Buffy called, chastising him for sending the clearly expensive arrangements but he could tell that she was pleased. She jokingly told him that he shouldn’t expect to see the plants next time he came to Sunnydale – she wasn’t particularly adept at keeping live things alive.
The flowers continued apace, Angel searching for unique and exotic flowers (with the explicit directive to the florist of ‘no lilies’) with which to woo her, as did the phone calls. He guised it under the name of friendship and apology, teasing her that he’d switched to flowers now instead of plants so that she wouldn’t have the burden of plant ownership. Gradually she warmed to him, their conversations friendly and cordial. He could still detect the lack of real emotional depth in her voice and it worried him. Was the spell permanent?
When he wasn’t busy or couldn’t sleep because his impatience for Nikkos’s return rose with a vengeance, he drank, reducing the pain and uncertainty of his future with Buffy to manageable levels.
One evening he woke late, rising to find Lorne sitting on his couch waiting patiently for him.
“Well, cup-cake, have you brooded long enough?” Lorne asked, crossing his legs. He knew that the vampire and the seer had had a falling out – that had been obvious since Angel and Connor’s altercation in the hotel lobby. What he didn’t know was why. Cordelia had tearfully told him that Angel had thrown her out without reason. When he had suggested as much to Gunn, he had been met with a skeptical raise of an eyebrow and a few choice words that implied that the seer had perhaps not been truthful or faithful to her vampire lover. Lorne shuddered then, recalling Angel’s words and cold expression several mornings ago when the vampire had mentioned that someone had been lying to him. Now though, the green demon was here hoping to find the truth and dispel some of the obvious tension that had been suffocating the occupants of the hotel.
“Not brooding.” Angel cast Lorne a skeptical look as he past by him on the way to the small fridge he kept in his room stocked with blood. “Waiting.”
“Waiting?” The Host asked curiously, his eyes following the vampire across the room. “Waiting for what, might I ask?”
“Information.” Pulling out a bag of blood, Angel turned away from Lorne as he fed. Normally he wouldn’t have even considered feeding with anyone else around, but his patience with Lorne was limited.
“It wouldn’t have anything to do with the little blonde Sunnydale-based petit-four that’s been the recipient of a rather substantial number of exotic blossoming blooms, would it?”
“Yes.” Angel replied tersely, turning back to face Lorne. While they were friends, it annoyed him more than a little that the green demon had seen fit to snoop into what he considered to be his personal business. “And I don’t want to hear anything about kye’rumption or destiny or fate or true love. You wouldn’t know anything about those if they bit you on the ass.”
“What?” Lorne sat up with a surprised jerk. “But-”
“Look, I’ve been going through life these last few years with blinders on, but no more. I’ve let everyone tell me what’s best for me, what to think, what to feel for so many years that I’ve almost lost the ability to figure it out for myself. I’m done with that. I’m going to get back the one woman – the only woman – that I’ve ever loved if she’ll have me.” Stopping in front of the sofa where The Host sat, Angel continued, “And nothing is going to stand in my way this time. Nothing. If you’ve got a problem with that, then you’re welcome to leave.”
“Angel-cakes- well, you and Cordelia… the chemistry. The magic…” The green demon was flustered, having never seen Angel’s anger turned on him with such absolute finality.
“Tell you what Lorne. When I bring Buffy back, I’ll get her to sing for you. Hell, I’ll sing for you. And then you can see what kye’rumption really is.” With that Angel grabbed his jacket and keys and stalked to the door.
Without thinking, he got in the GTX and started the engine. He had no answers yet to speak of, yet he didn’t want to wait another week before seeing her again. He turned the car in the direction of Sunnydale and pressed on the accelerator.