Buffy grunted and rolled over in bed; she was having a fitful night. She suddenly remembered that she wasn't wearing pajamas of any kind. She had crawled right into bed from the shower. It had been a long night, with meeting Vicky and learning Go and killing fifty or so vampires with Giles, and she had just drifted off. Usually she wore something to bed, because Mom's visits were common, for one thing, and also it was a Slayer habit. No telling when you might have to leap up and go to work.
She squinted at the clock on the night stand and groaned. Sometimes she woke just as dawn started and then she could go back to sleep, but she'd been trying to break the habit and sleep right through till light.
She was hot, for some reason. She tossed the covers off and wormed into the pillow, but this was cramping her neck. She sighed and turned over again, then rolled onto her side, coming right up against a smooth, cool chest. She gasped loudly as a muscled arm, hard and chilly as marble, wrapped gently around her waist. His mouth found hers easily in the dark.
She crooned, her voice trembling. He continued to kiss her and his hands slid lightly over her body, lingering everywhere, her shoulders, her back, her throat, her breasts, her stomach, her thighs, her face. His hands warmed on her skin. He slipped two fingers between her legs and said, "Mmmm," in his velvety voice, because she was already wet, of course. He caressed her delicately for a time, then slid two fingers into her; Buffy gasped again as her body contracted, sending waves of electricity through her singing nerves. He drew on her tongue and held the tip of it in his mouth, nibbled gently on it exactly the way he'd nibbled on the bud between her legs so long ago, and a little desperate explosion of breath escaped her, she broke the kiss. He pressed his thumb against her clitoris and began to massage little circles there. He leaned close to watch her expressions carefully. She could see his eyes glimmering tenderly in the dark.
"Like that?" he whispered.
Buffy's voice warbled, "Yes!" Her hips ground into his hand involuntarily, and she gave over and let it happen. She thrust herself against him and he kept his wrist still, moving his thumb just enough, smiling softly as he gazed at her. She wrapped an arm around his neck and hung on, because it was coming quickly, and then she exploded, giving a series of puppy-like whines, the muscles in her thighs shuddering. She panted onto his face as warm-cool relief flooded her. She wrapped herself around him.
He gathered her fully against him and she felt his tall, thick sex, like stone, press against her belly. The full magnitude of wanting him, and not being able to have him, stunned her. She whimpered and he said, "Shhh," holding her, rocking her. She slid her fingers into his hair and pressed her face to his neck, and burst into tears.
"It's all right," he whispered.
"It's not all right," sobbed Buffy, "It's not, it sucks, Angel, it's the worst thing in the world, it's impossible!" she ground her face into the hollow of his throat and let loose a flood of anguish, clawing into his back, her keens muffled. She heaved, her tears flowing relentlessly.
"It's going to be OK," he said.
Buffy wept. "God, I miss you so much! I miss you and I want you, I WANT you, I want you inside me, and it's not FAIR!"
"I promise, it will be OK,"
"God," she took a deep, shuddering breath, "Oh, my God, how-"
"Shhh," he kissed her softly. "I'm coming home,"
A fresh flood of tears came and Buffy let them. She shook in his arms.
"I'll be home soon," he said. He wrapped both arms tightly around her and rolled on to his back, pulling her onto his chest. He kissed the top of her head.
"I hate it that you left," said Buffy, and she couldn't stop it, it all came out, "I hate it that you just left and you didn't even tell me, I HATE that, and you were hurt and I hate that, and I miss you, and being without you is the worst thing in the world and I don't CARE about all the crap anymore, all the 'different worlds' crap and I don't care about anyone like I care about you and that's all that's ever really going to matter. I KNOW that now, I was going to try to get closure somehow, which was so STUPID because I love you, I love you and I've never loved anyone else and I never will. I don't care that I'm going to get old and you won't and I don't care that we're different. None of that matters!"
"You're right," he said.
"But I'm MAD at you because you don't just get to run off without talking to me. You don't get to. That was wrong and I don't want you to do that again,"
"Well, you need to promise me, because it's the wrong thing to do and I'm really mad," she sniffed.
He laughed, gently.
"I promise I won't leave again unless I take you with me,"
"Well, you'd better mean it,"
She felt him frown in the dark.
"I mean everything I say to you," he said, somberly.
"I know," said Buffy, "I know,"
"Buffy, it's going to be all right," he said. "I know you don't believe it now, but give it a chance. Just know that it will be OK. It doesn't matter how,"
She sighed deeply. Just having him there, that was all that mattered. It really was. Her friend, her best friend, her deepest trust, her craving. Just be here, she thought, we'll take care of it somehow, just be here, just come home.
"I'm on my way," he said, and Buffy jolted awake. She was wrapped around a pillow. She sighed and sat up, taking her glass of water from the night stand and gulping. She needed to hydrate; it had been a good workout at the Presidio. She padded into the living room to fill her glass by the water cooler and paused to look out the window; the sky was taking on delicate new light, and shadows were fading. She loved this time of day, even though it would be nice to sleep through it. She glanced at her purse on the window sill and a little thrill went though her, because she hadn't finished his last letter. She took the letter and the glass of water into her bedroom and laid over the covers, admiring his writing by the growing light. So pretty, so elegant, with the sweeping, fine pen strokes. In his day people had big designs for their signatures, like the Declaration of Independence, with all those spirograph-type whirls and things. His letters were great to get, but also nice to look at.
tears creeping down. There was so much to like about him.
I reached for you. I always do, after those half-dreams, even though I know you're not there, even though I know that sinking feeling will hit, that emptiness. Somehow, just reaching for you is a comforting little ritual, even when it stings. Then I wonder where you are, how you are, what you're doing...
I heard the phone ring downstairs and I knew something was up. I pulled on clothes, and moments later John knocked on my bedroom door.
"The States, Uncle,"
It was Whistler. He said two words.
"Damn," I heard Doyle's voice in the background. It was a conference call.
"Whistler," I said, "Why are you there?" He could appear anywhere he wanted to. He could have come here and then appeared in LA, with a thought.
"Things are getting out of balance here, pal. She's needed,"
"Angel, there's no other way," that was Doyle. I wasn't having any of it.
"There is, and you'll do it. I don't care what you have to do. Put everyone on this. Do not involve Buffy. This isn't her fight,"
"It's gonna be, sooner or later," said Whistler.
"Then later. Drop everything else,"
"We're already on it," said Doyle, "But this cadre is coming up fast. I don't know how long we can-"
"All right," I said, "I'm going to give you a number. It's a friend of hers. Fill him in. Send two patrols out tonight to get complete reports. No hunting, just intelligence. I want to know everything,"
"You know, " said Whistler, "She's gonna come looking for you. Two months is a long silence, even for you guys,"
He was right.
"Get the Record back," I said, "Whistler, help him find it,"
"Angel, listen, I don't-"
"You're worried about balance?" I said, "Then help us. Just find it. We'll steal it back," I swallowed, hard. "I want to know the second she sets foot in LA. I want her covered,"
"Anything I can do?" John asked after I'd hung up. He knew I'd say no.
"Not about this. I'm going out. Keep an eye sharp. I have a feeling Midir is going to send out some minions tonight. But I shouldn't be long,"
"What if things go as they did last time?" he demanded, "What if you need backup?"
"I'm not fighting tonight,"
"You're not looking to. What if they're looking for you?"
"They will be. I want them to,"
"Why the Hell won't you admit that you can't do everything alone? Is it some kind of idiocy that sets in after a century? Or have you always been full of yourself?"
I thought about it.
"Probably both," I said.
We were temporarily at a draw. I looked at this elderly man who glared at me with my mother's eyes and and I felt badly, but it couldn't be helped.
"It will be enough for you to stay safe tonight," I said, "Be careful,"
I packed the broad sword and my crossbow in a duffel bag, slung it over my shoulder, and left. I needed some time to think, I needed to walk. I also wanted to check Galway city, the alleys and pubs, for minions. I found myself on Salt Hill promenade, smelling the sea and listening to various conversations as locals and tourists went quickly by, braving the cold between pubs. I thought about you on the other side of that gigantic, thrashing force and remembered the Pacific. It has a different smell, just as I've heard that it's a different color. I tried to remember colors, the gray-green of the sea here, and the deep, aching blue of the sky when the rain clears as it occasionally does in Ireland; all I could remember were colors you've worn, soft white and pink, blue, and the occasional black lace, and how they made your eyes look. I kept wandering and found myself heading back toward home. I went past the estate and into the hills just behind it, taking deep strides, and I wondered what I could be heading for. It was as if something were pulling me.
The hills here are rocky and sparse. I stopped on the edge of a rare patch of trees and stood very still, puzzled at myself. The leaves moved in the wind, hissing softly. I was worried; I thought about you in LA. I didn't want you to be ambushed, but if you knew about the Monahgans you'd charge in alone, and I needed to have Doyle and everyone else handle as much of it as possible first. I had a feeling that there would be a small revenge squad waiting outside the estate for me, I needed to head back.
I heard the call of what sounded like an owl. There aren't many owls here. It couldn't have been that. I looked up. The sky was cloudy, no moon or stars. I heard the eerie call again. It was beginning to sound more like a voice than a bird call. A large shadow tilted wings and sliced through the air, passing close enough to brush my cheek with a feather, even when I ducked.
I thought it was an owl after all, or a raven...but something seemed wrong with it...it was leaping along the ground with a feline grace; then it fluttered up into a tree and stared down at me. The hair on the back of my neck bristled. My fangs started to come up. It leaped off the branch and landed in front of me.
It stood, growing in size and ruffling wings which dissolved and became arms. I recognized her from my youth as a human. The old wise woman. I shook my head, blinking. It couldn't be her; she had been the same age when I was seventeen. When I opened my eyes she was suddenly young, then her features dissolved and became those of a cat. Her image was one of wavering layers, like moonlight through leaves. A deep snicker became a growl, not sinister, but terrifying all the same. She blinked yellow eyes and made a ragged purring sound that became my name.
"Aingeal," she rumbled, "Welcome home,"
I was speechless.
"You don't remember me?"
I had known her as the wisest woman in Galway, with a fine reputation. My mother had cautioned me to show her the utmost respect. She had presided over Beltane, near my birthday, the old ritual. I remembered the fire, the heady taste of the ale, that damp, dizzy spring night. She had marked me with the family symbol using ink made from birch ashes. I remembered the stories my mother had told me. In the old days, every warrior family had a druid, or druidess. They were shapeshifters, guardians, powerful and moody beings. It all made sense to me suddenly. The griffin was her.
She took one step foreward and with a swift movement lifted me by the throat. I struggled at first, but she hissed a warning. Her paws, then hands, gripped the flesh of my body as though she were searching for something, kneading me like dough. It felt as though she were probing my internal organs, even rearranging them. There wasn't pain, only alarm. She released me and I fell, hard. She purred again.
I felt my throat; around it was a rope of very heavy, twisted metal.
"A torc," I said, wonderingly. An ancient battle accessory, worn by the old warriors like Cuchulainn. It gave protection.
"Your head will stay on," she said, "You will not lose it in war. In love, that is another matter," I opened my mouth to remark but she held up an ancient hand that became young, and then dissolved and reformed as a paw, "Your heart may still be pierced. I cannot shield your heart, and neither can you. It is your most precious weapon. A sword within a sheath is useless. Keep your heart open and ready, be stealthy with it, listen closely to it, heed it. You do this well now. You must do it even better. But your neck is protected," a young girl's smile twisted into a grandmother's sly grin, "You are a traveler like no other, Son of Fionn. I have been waiting for you,"
"How did you know-"
"The darkness could not hold you," her eyes glinted on me affectionately, "I saw your change. The light found you long after, but there was room in your heart to keep it. You carry light into darkness, it is a sacred purpose," she brushed a wing over my chest, "This-Egyptian geis angers me," she hissed, "It does not honor your manhood. I will remove it,"
"But not yet. I want the cauldron kept by Midir. Do you know it?"
"You will bring it to me. After you have defeated the Mayv. But first, Midir. You will train with me tonight,"
"Show me the sword you won,"
I pulled it out of my duffel bag.
"Good. You make your ancestors proud, winning the Monaghan blade. Slice me in half,"
She laughed, "You can not harm me, Son of Fionn. Swing quickly,"
I pivoted, drawing the blade through her. It was like slicing a cloud.
"Good, now face away from me," I turned and stepped in a half-circle, throwing the blade form my hip, but she was gone. I anticipated and thrust upward, turning. She laughed melodiously from above, with a young girl's voice. I had guessed correctly.
She lunged at me with a great paw. I ducked, fainted to the left, and then spun, pulling the blade through her neck, which showed a brief seam and then became whole again. Suddenly she was gone; I slipped to the ground, rolling back, and swept the blade to my right, piercing her misty form. She laughed again.
"You are a son of the great warriors. I am satisfied,"
"I don't know what to call you," I said, as I got to my feet.
"Birog," she said, "I have been with your family from the beginning. You ancestors are singing. You cannot hear them,"
"But," she smiled a kindly ancient smile, "There is something you would have of me,"
"Protection, for my family,"
"It is already done. They will come to no harm. I have seen to that for centuries,"
I considered this. "And when-I was changed-you did then, too?"
"Yes. But there is another in your thoughts now,"
"I am worried about her,"
She laughed gently, a deep, rough growl.
"She is protected by a greater one than I,"
"For now, I am satisfied that you may win. Find the dolmen of Dubh Na`n. There is a passage under it. There you may enter the catacombs. Follow it for ten miles, until you come to the fork. Go right, and his lair is not far," she pushed me to my knees and put her palms on my shoulders, "The wind follow you, the earth receive you, the darkness keep you in safe embrace," she said, and then she released me and spread her great wings, rising into the tree above and settling on a branch. The moon rolled briefly from behind the clouds and I saw her in sharp detail; she was smaller now, she resembled a crow, with the head and claws of a fine cat. "Victory, son of Fionn, bring victory to me and to your family," and then she rose into the night, and was gone.
Time would only be wasted if I headed home now, and she had reassured me. I searched my brain for the location of the dolmen; I had been studying the old map. I set off to find it.