Angel turned the ivory vellum envelope over in his hands again. He’d had it over a month and had yet to open it. It addressed in a delicate printed calligraphic script and was postmarked from Rome. And he knew at a glance that it was a wedding invitation.
He had called after the most recent apocalypse had been stayed, but had only exchanged a few awkward words with Giles as Buffy had been out on patrol, as was all too often the case. In the weeks after, he had been busy with the necessary cleanup activities – including the dissolution of the Wolfram & Hart holdings, beginning with the LA branch. No easy task, given the breadth and depth of the organization, and its antiquity. Now that things were mostly wrapped up, the team found themselves with some time on their hands.
Spike watched Angel grow more morose and sullen as the days passed. He could easily have said a few words to put him out of his misery, but he found it much more entertaining to watch him brood and speculate about his actions. Which was exactly what he was doing right now; enjoying a beer and watching his grandsire turn that small piece of paper over and over in his hands. He had even made a bet with Gunn over the eventual outcome.
It was just after two in the morning, when Angel finally looked up from his desk. “We kept the jet, right?”
Gunn, half-dozing in a nearby chair, came awake with a start. “Huh? What?”
“The jet. We still have the jet, right?”
“Yep.” Flashing a smile at Gunn because he had won the bet by less than a day, Spike rose to his feet. With confidence brought by the fact that he himself had ordered it readied, he added, “It’s even fueled and ready to go.”
For the first time in weeks Angel smiled. “Good. You boys want to go to Rome?”
Within the hour, the former Wolfram & Hart jet was in the air.
“No, B. I get to pick the song.” Faith laughed, jerking the play list out of Buffy’s hand. “That’s the deal.”
“Fine.” Buffy returned with mock seriousness, as she sat back in her chair. Reaching for her drink, she took another sip of the icy limoncello. “But only because you’re the bride to be.”
On the small table in the corner that had been transformed into a stage, Amanda was painfully belting out the words to Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” while a dozen or so other Slayers laughed and cheered her on. The small club was packed that night with young women, all Slayers, all there for the bachelorette party. Spirits were high and the typically quiet Café Rosati rang with conversation and laughter. And for perhaps the first time ever in the club’s almost 100 year history – a karaoke machine.
“I still can’t believe I’m going to do this.” Faith said with a smile and small shake of her head.
“What? ‘My Heart Will Go On’ is a time-honored Celine Dion classic. Bet you half the girls here know the words and will be singing along, so it’s not like anyone is going to hear you.” Buffy teased, feeling slightly buzzed from the alcohol and a little giddy from the general celebratory mood. “Unlike whatever song you no doubt are going to pick for me.”
“Damn, I never even saw Titanic.” Faith muttered, finishing off her third drink and setting the glass back down on the table with a heavy thump.
“Me either. Though Robin’s a great guy. You’re both very lucky.” Buffy replied, leaning back from the table as the waitress set down four double shots of tequila, a small dish of limes and a salt shaker.
“He is. I am. I just never thought that I’d be the one to do the whole marriage and kids thing though.” The brunette slayer said with a heartfelt shrug as she licked a spot on the back of her hand and liberally doused it with salt.
“Kids?” Buffy sputtered, dropping the salt shaker on the table. With finely honed reflexives – even while slightly tipsy – she caught it before it rolled completely off the table.
“Not yet. But someday I think, maybe. Robin wants ’em.” Faith held up the glass of tequila and waited until Buffy was ready and had picked hers up as well. They tapped them together in salute then both Slayers downed the clear liquid on one gulp.
“That’s great.” Buffy rasped out, her eyes watering as the tequila burned it’s way down to her stomach. Having sucked the juice out of a slice of lime, she dropped the peel on the table.
“Yeah? And what about you, B?” Faith signaled the waitress for more drinks as another of the young Slayers, Paige, took the stage and began a high pitched, but not too horribly bad rendition of “All You Wanted” by Michelle Branch.
“Huh? Me what?” The blonde slayer questioned with wide eyes. Absently she ran a hand over her hair, smoothing the long strands.
“You, guys, kids, relationships. You never talk about any of it.”
“Oh. That.” Buffy sat back in the chair, “Not much to talk about. I work, I train, I patrol, I slay and I take care of Dawn. There’s not much time left after that. I mean, I do date sometimes but…”
“But what?” Faith persisted, leaning aside while the waitress cleared the empty glasses off the table to make room for the fresh pitcher of limoncello and clean, chilled glasses.
“But I don’t know.” Buffy replied evasively, reaching for the pitcher and filling both their glasses. “It just never seems… right. You know, like it.”
“Right, huh?” Faith questioned with a snort. “It could be that. Believe me when I say I didn’t really think there really was such a thing as ‘love’ that a good long weekend or two couldn’t shake outta your system.” She grinned at Buffy over the rim of her glass. “But something tells me that it has more to do with the fact that the guys you’ve dated just don’t happen to be a certain tall, dark and hottie vampire. One say, named Angel…”
“Maybe.” The petite blonde returned with a noncommittal shrug.
Angel surveyed the lights of Rome with a calm gaze, knowing that he had a good twelve hours to find Buffy. No one married at eight in the morning, even on a Saturday in Rome. He could still reach her in time.
Tense and on edge, his head aching from tiredness after the long flight, he snapped a terse reply at Wes before glancing back out the window. He knew he wasn’t thinking clearly. He had come to Rome on instinct, as if compelled by primitive feeling alone. He was beyond rational thought or introspection or understanding. He only knew that he didn’t want Buffy to marry.
He closed his eyes and concentrated as the car careened along the road and into the city. Where would she be?
“We’ll stay forever this waaaayy… you are safe in my heart, and I know that my heart will go on and ooonnnnn…” Faith sang exaggeratedly, finally taking her eyes off the screen where the lyrics had been displayed and glancing at the audience. Dropping her head back and holding out her arms dramatically, she held the last notes for an extra few seconds for effect.
As the final chords of the sound ended, the girls went wild, jumping to their feet, laughing and cheering. Buffy, feeling the effects of the alcohol that she had consumed, stood on the chair and let out a couple of loud ‘woots’ herself and called for an encore.
“No way, B.” Faith grinned, tossing the microphone to her sister Slayer and she stepped off the makeshift stage. “You’re up.”
“But I don’t even know this song,” Buffy grouched as she jumped lithely down from the chair.
“Oh, and I knew that one? C’mon, I can barely even pronounce the name Celine and I still did it.” Laughing, the brunette Slayer picked up the empty pitcher and waved it at the waitress. With her other hand, she gently but firmly pushed Buffy toward the stage. “You’re the only one that hasn’t been up there at least once. And besides, I chose this song especially for you.”
Drinking down the last of her drink for courage, Buffy walked toward the stage and fiddled with the karaoke machine until she found the song that Faith had insisted that she had to sing.
“What?” Angel turned his gaze from the window to look at Spike.
“Not far from the Piazza San Cosimato in Trastevere.” The blonde vampire added smugly, settling himself more comfortably on the seat and opening the small compartment that contained the crystal liquor decanters. The limousine had belonged to the Rome branch of Wolfram and Hart and had been retained, thanks again to Spike’s meddling foresight.
“What are you talking about?” Angel questioned tersely.
“While you’ve been brooding I made a call or two. The girls are having a bit of a bachelorette party – or so I’m told – at Café Rosati tonight.” Spike sniffed the gin decanter, grimaced and replaced the lid. “Hm. Cheap booze. Who’d have thought?”
“Who told you that?” Gunn asked, shifting on his seat. Across from him and next to Spike, Wes flipped through a book on Rome that he had grabbed before they left Los Angeles.
“I know people that know people…” Spike answered with a shrug. At Angel’s piercing – and less than friendly – stare, he clarified, “Maybe I asked Andrew.”
“Andrew.” Angel replied flatly.
“He’s a veritable font of information – if he likes you.” Spike grinned cheekily, knowing that the wannabe Watcher hadn’t endeared himself to the older vampire during their brief encounter some months back. He also knew that Andrew had deliberately planted seeds of discord with Angel, thinking it would help Spike’s cause in winning Buffy back. Little did he know that Spike had realized long before then that he and Buffy weren’t meant to be. Oh, he still loved the blonde Slayer – there was no doubt about that – but he knew it wasn’t the kind of soul-stirring love she had for Angel and he for her. Or even, if he actually admitted it, the love he, himself, still held for Druscilla.
Less than ten minutes later the car came to a stop on narrow street in a congested area. Opening the door, Angel stepped out and looked around. That familiar pull in his blood was there just below the surface. It was subtle and faint, but there just the same. She was nearby.
“Well, he was right, wasn’t he?” His words more a statement than a question as he glanced at Angel before lighting his cigarette.
Without a word, Angel turned and walked toward the small painted sign that said “Club Rosati”.
Buffy listened to the beginning beats of the song as she waited for the words to appear on the small screen. Finally, she began to sing, her voice soft and tentative, “What I’m looking for… is a love that’s forever… Someone who can capture my soul in a heartbeat and stay for all time.” At the pause, she stuck her tongue out at Faith who was grinning widely. “What I’m praying for… is a match made in heaven. Someone who will worship my body and still put his heart on the line.”
“Commitment. Someone who’ll go the distance. I need somebody with staying power who will make me go weak in the knees…” The alcohol surging through her blood helped loosen her inhibitions and the first nervous flutters began to subside, so Buffy began sway on the makeshift stage to the music. Feeling less self-conscious and more relaxed, she began to sing with more gusto, “Commitment… And everything that goes with it. I need honor and love in my life from somebody who’s playing for keeps.”
“Good God. That’s Buffy and she’s singing?” Spike exclaimed with a smirk, as they stood just outside the back door to the café. The doorman at the front had said that there was a private party inside, so they had not been allowed inside – through that door anyway. Angel, however, was determined.
“I’m guessing no small amount of alcohol has been consumed.” The blonde vampire smirked as he exhaled a lung full of smoke.
“She’s…” Angel paused, searching for the right words as he eased the door open slowly so as to not make a sound.
“Terrible.” Spike finished bluntly, crushing his cigarette out under his shoe before following Angel through the door.
“She’s not that bad.” The taller vampire whispered, shooting a dirty look over his shoulder.
“Maybe not, but she’s not that good either.”
“What I’m searching for… is a man who’ll stand by me. Who will walk through the fire and be my flame in the night.” Buffy couldn’t help but grin at Faith, who was holding up lit match in mock salute and waving it back and forth in the air. “Oh, and I won’t settle for… less than what I deserve. A friend and a lover who will love me for the rest of my life.”
With an athletic spring that defied her state of inebriation, she jumped on the nearby table and continued the chorus, “Commitment… Someone who’ll go the distance. I need somebody with staying power who will make me go weak in the knees.”
“Commitment. And everything that goes with it. I need honor and love in my life from somebody who’s playing for keeps.”
Unable to ignore that familiar tingle in her stomach, that heady sensation of knowing that he was nearby, Buffy scanned the room with her eyes. It was impossible. He was thousands of miles away in Los Angeles. They hadn’t talked for months. Still, she felt instantly sober, as if her body knew that a state of guarded watchfulness was necessary.
Seeing nothing of particular interest, she glanced back at the small monitor screen and continued with the song though she had lost some of her earlier momentum. Now her words seemed to come out flat and almost monotone, “Yeah, I’ve had promises broken. Three words left unspoken. They just left me achin’ for more. But I’ve fought temptation. I won’t be impatient. There’s one thing worth waiting for…”
Buffy stopped abruptly as her eyes landed on the man who just stepped into the light from the back hallway. Angel. He was looking just as good – or better – than last time she had seen him. She blinked. He was still there. Was she hallucinating after having too many of the delicious limoncellos? And combining those with tequila shots was probably not the best idea…
Noting her surprised look and intense stare, the entire room swung around their eyes coming to rest on the newcomers to the party. Instantly, four of the more perceptive Slayers came to their feet.
“Well, now, if this isn’t a tad bit uncomfortable.” Spike quipped, breaking the awkward silence. “Nothing like having a dozen or so Slayers staring at you.”
“What are you doing here?” She asked, once they had found the only place with any privacy in the same club – the bathroom. Given the small size of the room, they had to stand fairly close, almost touching.
“I wanted to see you.” He replied, smiling down at her like he knew something she didn’t. God, he had missed her. Every time he saw her again after they had been apart, he was reminded of that. And every time, his feelings seemed more acute.
“You haven’t called for months and suddenly you just show up here?” Buffy’s eyebrows lifted skeptically. “Not that I’m not glad to see you but…”
“I couldn’t let you get married without talking to you first.”
“Married?” Her eyes widened and she gaped up at him. “Huh?”
“I got the wedding invitation…”
“Wedding invitation? But that’s not…” Suddenly Buffy burst out laughing. Without thought, she put her hand on his chest. “You thought that I-? Oh, Angel. Did you even open the invitation?”
“Well, no. Not yet.” He replied almost defensively.
“Faith is getting married. Tomorrow in fact. Not me.”
“Faith?” He echoed, suddenly feeling like a fool.
“Brunette, about this tall.” Smiling, Buffy removed her hand from his chest and held it up. Touching him was making her feel slightly light-headed and she realized that her earlier alcoholic buzz had returned with a vengeance. She’d have to tell Giles about this so he could file it under interesting things to know about Slayer physiology.
“Well that’s good. I mean, I’m glad it’s not you.”
“Really?” Almost unaware she was doing so, Buffy inched closer. A small shiver of anticipation crawled down her spine as she stared up into his eyes.
“Yes.” Reaching out, he settled his hands on her waist, just above her hips. He could feel the heat of her body through the thin material of her dress and it filled him with an intrinsic longing that he had almost forgotten.
“Want to explain why?” The warmth of his gaze gave her a serious jolt of desire.
“Later.” Lowering his head, Angel kissed her.
Buffy smelled coffee before she opened her eyes and it took several seconds before it registered where she was. Rolling over, she grimaced at the dull ache in her head. No more limoncellos for awhile. And certainly not in the quantity she consumed last night.
Her lashes fluttered and she came face to face with the object of her dreams. He was wearing only a pair of black sweats and looking perfectly scrumptious and perfectly at home.
“Coffee with cream, no sugar.” Angel handed her the coffee mug as he sat down on the bed next to her.
“You brought me home.” Buffy said, sliding up in the bed to sit up – and suddenly realizing that she was nude under the thin blankets.
“Yes.” Taking a sip of coffee, Angel looked at her over the rim of his cup.
“And?” She questioned with the lift of one delicate eyebrow as she tucked the blankets securely over her breasts.
“And nothing. We kissed, I undressed you – and just when it was about to get really interesting, you passed out on me.” He smiled, reaching out to brush a stand of hair away from her face.
The events of the night came flooding back. They had made out in the Café Rosati bathroom until Faith banged on the door for them to come out. She endured the dark haired Slayer’s teasing commentary only as long as it took for them to make their way through the small café and out the door. After that, they had come back here, to her apartment. For a fleeting moment she wondered where Dawn was and if Spike and the others had come back with them, but that, however, seemed less pressing than resolving the immediate issue at hand.
“You stayed here, last night?”
“Yes, right there next to you.”
“With me.” She took a large sip of coffee as she studied the pattern on the quilt. She was feeling warm and fuzzy at the idea of sharing such intimacy with him. It had been years since she had even considered the possibility of sharing a bed with him.
“Yes. And by the way, you snore.”
“I do not.” She retorted somewhat indignantly.
“It’s very cute.”
“So we didn’t-”
“No. Not yet.” He murmured, as he took her coffee cup from her and set it on the nightstand next to his own.
Buffy’s gaze shot to his face and her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, yet? Last I checked, we were somewhere between ‘can’t’ and ‘never’.”
Tugging off his sweats, he slipped under the blankets next to her. Pulling her into his arms, he ran his palms down her back. “I mean yet, as in not until now.” The words were murmured softly against her skin as he nuzzled the sensitive spot below her ear.
Their lips met then, his tongue slipping into her mouth in explicit promise. Rolling then slightly, Angel settled over her, most of his weight braced on his arms.
God, he felt good, she thought, hard, muscled… She moved her hips slightly, lifting upward and added ‘really hard’ to her mental description. After several long, heated kisses, she slid her fingers in his air and pulled his head up.
His dark eyes, half closed, were a scant few inches away and looking in to hers. They should talk. Not kiss. Naked. She should find out why he’s here and what this means; there were issues that they needed to resolve… They couldn’t just start their relationship anew – if that’s why he was here – by first falling into bed. Could they?
“What about the curse?” Her voice was strangely breathless – or maybe, not so strangely given the intimacy of the situation and his erection pressing into her thigh.
“Wes is fairly certain that perfect happiness is next to impossible to achieve. Rare, I think was the word that he used.” Lowering his head he licked one of her nipples. “And given everything that’s happened in the last few years and the fact that I know that the trigger… let’s just say I don’t think we have to worry.”
“Really?” Her tone was filled with disbelief and stricture. Could it be true? Was it really that simple? No… it simply wasn’t possible. They were destined for doom and gloom and challenges and heartbreak and years of apartness.
“Yes.” He replied without equivocation. Of course, he had taken the necessary precautions… magically enhanced chains were in the trunk next to the bed; Wes had promised to find Willow and an orb of Thessulah before the day was out.
“I’ve thought of you every second since we’ve been apart.” His voice was velvety and low as his mouth slid along her neck. He paused and laved the small scar, feeling a strong sense of primitive possessiveness at having marked her. “Of holding you like this, of making love to you.”
“You’re sure?” She felt compelled to ask, even as her hips were lifting in invitation and her hands were drifting down his back and tugging him infinitesimally closer. Could he be right?
“Yes.” He confirmed, any doubts that he had in his mind slipping away as his erection nudged her wet, hot core. Promising himself that he would make it up to her later, he ignored any other preliminaries or foreplay and gave in to the urge to simply bury himself in her welcoming warmth. He had been waiting far too long as it was. Years too long.
Buffy sighed softly as he glided in, slowly filling her, and making her a true believer in the notion of perfect bliss. When he was completely inside her, his back arching into the exquisite, riveting sensation, a low groan escaped his lips.
Welcome home, she thought, loving the sound he made low in his throat, the feeling of him over and around and inside her. He was making her feel as if pleasure and love and hope for the future were finally within her grasp. Her eyes closed as she arched into him, clutching him closer with strong arms.
Their impatience equally matched after years of waiting, he established a hard and fast rhythm that Buffy met with an eagerness that only served to spur him on. Her soft cries of pleasure were muffled by his lips as he propelled them up on the bed with the force of his thrusts.
Mindless to all but Angel and the carnal satisfaction that was fast drawing within reach, Buffy melted around him, her hips rising to meet each down stroke, fervently matching the sensational rhythm of his lower body, her impassioned senses peaking fast and furious…
Angel sucked in an unneeded breath, attempting to stave off the raw, acute feelings of lust but every nerve in his body seemed to be screaming for release. He suddenly lost any attempt at control, plunging into her body with barely suppressed violence.
A low keening cry escaped her lips as Buffy met him with equal ferocity, her nails digging into his back as she moved with him in feverish abandon. They were both driven by what seemed like years of deprivation, of need, of suppressed desire.
She came quickly, once, then again because he didn’t stop, then once more before he joined her in yet another staggering climax. For long, intense, seemingly endless moments they shared in the mind-blowing, cataclysmic glory. When the last ripple of pleasure died away, the rapture dissipating in slow degrees, Buffy’s eyelashes fluttered and she opened her eyes.
“So what do we do now?”
“We wait.” He kissed her gently and glanced at the clock. “What time is the wedding?”
She traced the slant of his eyebrow with her fingertip. She felt blissfully lethargic and yet strangely energized. And not surprisingly, also a bit fearful. “Not until four.”
“Good,” he whispered, kissing her again before sliding down in the bed. His initial hunger sated, he settled in for a more leisurely reacquainting of her charms. His gentle suckling on her nipple was sending heated waves of pleasure rolling downward. His hands, meanwhile, wandered over her body, exploring sensual places.
She’d forgotten how skilled he was in exquisite degrees of tactile sensation. The pressure of his mouth sent intense vibrations, hot, throbbing beats through her body, the molten pleasure flooding downward and out in all directions, consuming her. With a low moan, she moved against him as he slid lower, his lips brushing a path along her stomach, down over her neatly trimmed curls. Sliding her fingers in his hair, she drew him closer as his tongue laved at her wet and swollen flesh, paying special attention to her clit. He licked in a slow, exacting rhythm that quickly brought her to a state of panting arousal. Within seconds, she came with a gulping, gasping moan… and even before this last ripple of pleasure died away, he touched her again and the flooding pleasure began to build anew.
Hours later, the rumbling in Buffy’s tummy made the lack of food over the course of the day impossible to ignore. She was lying curled next to Angel, her head on his shoulder, still panting slightly as the remnants of a recent orgasm slowly reverberated through her body. With a blissful sigh, she turned her head to look up at him, “Would you mind-”
“Getting you something to eat?” He smiled as a memory reminiscent of a certain day years ago flooded his mind. It was one of his fondest, yet most bittersweet memories. Even so, he would gladly replace it with new ones, such as many more days like today.
He could definitely read her mind, Buffy thought, her lips curving upward in an answering smile as he rose from the bed and pulled on his sweats.
“Well, that wasn’t what I was going to say, but that will work.”
“There’s ice cream and some chocolate.” Angel shouted some minutes later from the kitchen. Shaking his head slightly, he examined the contents of her small refrigerator. There was coffee, bottles of water, some leftover pasta, chocolate bars, ice cream, some yogurt and something in a pink pastry box that he hadn’t opened. Later he’d have to find a butcher shop for blood, but that wasn’t pressing.
“And cake!” Buffy called, remembering yesterday’s purchase. She often stopped at the bakery on the corner to pick up fresh breads or pastries. This last visit, the Saint-Honoré cake had been too tempting to pass up.
“And cake.” Angel murmured with a smile, opening the box to reveal the rich, butter-cream frosted confection. He made fresh coffee and sliced a generous portion of the cake that he put on a small plate.
He lounged on the bed and watched her as she ate, enjoying the sight of her attacking the cake with gusto and enthusiasm. It had been much too long since he had seen her; he had forgotten by half the contentment that filled him just by being with her.
By the time he returned to the bedroom from taking the dishes back to the kitchen, Buffy was lying on the bed, waiting for him. Her legs were spread wide and her arms were open in welcome. It was his dream come true. With an uncharacteristic grin, he quickly joined her in the bed.
She was insatiable that afternoon as she had never been before; sex had been a pleasure but never the ravenous needy gluttony that was consumed her that day.
Later she wondered if it had been because she had been expecting it to end – either by Angel leaving or by him losing his soul.
It was late in the afternoon when Buffy walked with carefully measured steps through the apartment until she reached the bedroom door. The silk chiffon of her bridesmaid dress rustled slightly, otherwise she made no sound.
“Angel?” She questioned almost hesitantly, peering into the shadowed bedroom.
“Hey, sweetheart.” Turning his head, he looked over at her. She was a vision in the strapless pale lavender dress, her hair pulled up on her head with delicate pearl clips.
Buffy grinned. He was just as she had left him, naked and chained to the bed. And still obviously Angel. Apparently Wes had been right. How many times in the next few years would she wish that Wes had made this miraculous realization before? And how many times would she realize that ‘now’ was perfect. Any earlier, it probably would have been too soon for them for a variety of reasons that she did not care to examine.
“As much as I like this look on you, I suppose I’ll have to let you go so you can get dressed.” Still grinning, she took the key and unlocked the heavy padlocks at the end of the bed and began to uncoil the chains that held him. “Spike, Wes and Gunn are here. They’re going to ride over to the wedding with us.”
Angel helped Buffy work the chains loose and piled them in a small heap on the floor as he rose to his feet. They had served their purpose and kept him secured while they waited to see if he would in fact, lose his soul.
She wrinkled her nose at him at he stopped to look down at her intently.
“I love you, you know.”
“I know.” Stretching up, she kissed him lightly, sweetly on the lips. “I love you back. I’m glad you came to Rome.”
“Me too.” His smile was affectionate.
“Now hurry and shower so we’re not late. Faith will kill us both if we miss her wedding,” she murmured in a tone that easily expressed her regret and her happiness.
With a smile, Buffy watched him disappear into the bathroom.
Sometimes the best things happened when you least expected it.