I walked into the drawing room and was greeted by a round of grins. Johnny was sitting up, I was very happy to see him out of bed. His color was good.
They all beamed at me.
"You'll be leaving us, then," said Mark, cheerfully.
"Not...well, not right away, I-"
"None of that," laughed John, "I'm kicking you out. I've booked a passage for you tomorrow night. Better accommodations on the way home than here, I hope,"
"Time won't catch up with you," said John, "But for her it's different. It's moving fast, for her. You'd better catch up with her or be left wanting. No sense in that,"
I stared at them.
"You're welcome to visit again, of course," said Johnny soberly, "But bring her with you. She'd better see the painting before she signs anything,"
John leaned back slightly in his chair, frowning. "You're looking grand," he said, "How are you healing?"
"I...I heal fast,"
"Sure," said Mark, "Now, so. The wives will be here tomorrow,"
We sat for hours by the fire. We hadn't had too much time to spend together yet; it was what John's wife would probably still call "scoroichting"; men gathered together for the sole purpose of gossiping and discussing politics.
They wanted to make an early evening out of it; they were leaving early to go pick up their wives and bring them here, and Johnny still needed plenty of rest to heal. It was the last evening I would have here for a while and I was stung a little with poignancy as I wished them goodnight.
"Better make that phone call, Uncle. She's waiting for it, I'll warrant,"
"Not calling a woman," said Johnny, "That's begging for a scrap,"
"Good night, Uncle,"
"Good night," tomorrow the house would be swarming with company, if I knew my family at all. There was bound to be a bon voyage party. If I wanted to talk to you uninterrupted, now would be the time. I held the receiver in my hand for several minutes and stared at the fire. I poured another whiskey. I stared at the fire some more. I dialed the number incorrectly twice, then finally steeled myself and forced my fingers to do it right. I waited forever until it rang once. You picked up the phone.
"WHAT?" you said.
This struck me as funny. It must have been a busy night. I laughed.
"Hi," I said.
There was a breathy silence.
"Yeah," I braced myself.
"A-are you OK?" you asked.
I winced. Giles must have spoken to you, of course. "I'm all right,"
"Are you really?"
"Yeah, I took a beating, but I'm getting back to full now. I'm sorry I didn't talk to you. I had to keep my mind clear. It know it was rude, but I had to," this sounded weak to me, but it was the truth, "I'm leaving tomorrow night. I should be in California in a little over a month,"
"Oh," you said, hesitating,"-Good,"
"I just wanted to tell you," I said, "Good work, that was the Dal Riata, the lead team. You took out the toughest of them. It's quite an accomplishment,"
"All in a day's work," you said quickly.
"You weren't supposed to be out-"
"Well, I don't shine in captivity,"
I laughed. "I know. But that's one cardre that had a lot of control. They had connections on both coasts there, and in the old country. You wiped out their last battalion. They're all weaker now,"
"Good," You had heard enough of that, I knew. At this point I was just hoping you would stay on the phone with me and I had no idea what I would say next, only that it was you, I was talking to you, you were holding the phone and I could hear your voice.
"Angel?" you said.
"Yeah," was all I could say. I was suddenly aware that I was an idiot.
"I need to ask you...." you hesitated, "...did Whistler read all those letters?"
"No," I winced. I chuckled nervously, "I never sent them,"
"Why did you write them, then?"
"Buffy, you know a little more about men than that," I teased, "I didn't have anybody to brag to," Then I began to realize exactly what sort of idiot I was. Every word I said to you sounded stupider than the last.
"So you kept them?"
"Yeah-you know...kind of like a journal-memories," I admitted, "I'm sorry that they- I mean, were you-"
"Offended? No, they were pretty complimentary," you said, almost reluctantly, "Except for the ones from Angelus,"
I allowed myself another gulp of whiskey, "My reminders. I'm sorry, Buffy. I never meant for anybody to find them, especially you, but we were in a real bind. I didn't have any other options at the time,"
I paused, mystified, and a little terrified.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I mean, why was I never supposed to read them? Because-" You stopped. There was a long, hollow silence, "Because they're of the past?"
Here it was. I'd have to be a man now, take the plunge now, risk it all now. All I had to lose was you. All I could hope for was you. "That's another reason I called. I mean, I should be home soon, you know...and I-" I blundered to a stop, inwardly cursing at myself. I started again, stuttering, "I- I-don't do too well without you, you know?"
You were silent. My mouth went dry, the earth opened up to swallow me whole; I said it anyway.
"Buffy, when I get back, I want to try again,"
You made a sweet sound, a bright little sob.
"I'm hoping that-that you miss me, too," I blabbered, "And that-"
"Oh, God, Angel, I miss you so much, I'm-I'm loony," your voice trembled,
"I'm not sane when you're away for too long,"
This spurred me, and then I wasn't able to think before speaking at all.
"We're both a little older now, and-"
"Especially me," you said.
"Both of us," I said, "We did the right thing for a while, but being that far away from you-being back here-it put a lot of things in perspective for me. Without you the whole thing...everything, it's all like a bad joke, nothing makes any sense, there's no point to any of it,"
"I know-I know-"
"So- let's start over. When I get back, let's just take it as it is, and work it all out. I know there's a lot to work on, but I need you, Buffy. I need you. Let's start over," I wanted to tell you everything right then, all of it, but it would have been the worst time to tell you. Then it hit me: you'd already read the letters I wrote to Whistler. I would send you all the letters I wrote to you here, I'd have John send them, one by one, so you would know everything as it happened, you would know it all. Then you would have time to decide for yourself, before I arrived.
"OK," you said, in a soft, teary voice. My heart shifted in my chest, my eyes filled, it was excruciating. You wanted me, too. You didn't know that things had changed, and you wanted me anyway. I was trembling with the thought. But suddenly I couldn't wait for it all, I needed you so badly, the craving for you was like a starving in my bones.
"No," I said suddenly, and there was a silence.
"What?" you said.
"No," I said again, "Let's start now,"
"All right," you sniffled. Your voice was warm, full and soft, like a blanket I wanted to wrap myself in, "Let's start now,"
"I love you, Buffy," I said.
"I love you, too," Magical words, words that made me soar, made me feel the world expanding again like it had the first time I saw you, the bravest little girl in the world, the loneliest little girl in the world. The girl who opened my heart, the girl I fell in love with on sight, now the woman I needed.
"So..." I couldn't help it, "What are you wearing?"
There was a rustling sound, then a click.
"Inadequate hotel towels,"
"Are you all right?"
"Just my nose. I reset the break,"
I could see your perfect little nose. I wanted to kiss it, badly.
"I love it," I said. For some reason the idiot factor mattered to me less now, I was almost giddy.
You giggled. "You love my nose?"
"And what else?" I could hear gentle mischief creeping into your voice, warm like a spice.
"Everything," I said, "Everything, all of you,"
Your voice was moist again. "I wish you were kissing me. I wish you had your arms around me, I wish I could smell you, I wish I could have my hands on you,"
"I do, too," Your warm little hands, circling the back of my neck, creeping into my shirt and stroking my chest, holding my cheek as you kissed me. I love your hands.
"All those times you made me happy, I remember everything. I guess if I had forgotten anything it would have been in your letters, though,"
"The detail. Amazing. You know what?"
"I-" you sniffled, pausing, "I didn't know. I mean, I did, but reading those...I really know how you feel now. I mean, you still do, right?"
"I love you," I said, "I love you, Buffy. I always will. I can't stop it, I never could,"
"I want your arms around me,"
A moan escaped me. I could feel you, smell you, the faint scent of perfumed soap and the underlying freshness of life...the muscular curve of the small of your back under my hands, your fine, soft hair in my nose. You sniffled again.
"I want your arms around me. Promise me-"
"I want you to kiss me until I pass out,"
"I promise, I promise," I swallowed. Your mouth filled my mind, the plump shape of your lips under mine, the lusciously wet kisses, your sweet tongue stroking mine, warming mine.
"I want your hands all over me," your voice had deepened in a whisper, "All over me,"
"I will," I choked and cleared my throat, "I'll do anything you want," You had no idea. It would be a long trip home, dreaming of all the things I would do to you, really give you now.
"Then talk to me,"
"Huh?" Idiot, I'm an idiot.
"Where do you want your hands right now?"
I closed my eyes. "Touching your face,"
"Kissing you," I whispered.
Your breath chafed against the receiver. I thought about your skin, your velvety cheek against mine, the way your throat arcs gracefully when you lean your head back to look at me, the way your breathing comes faster and faster, the feeling of your powerful little heart thudding against my chest. I ached.
"Buffy," I said.
A gust of breath again, then, "I threw the towels off,"
My ability to speak ran aground, skidded to a stop. I gulped.
"I remember how you used to touch me, nobody ever touched me like you do, nobody, you know that, don't you?" you panted once, twice, "Do you want to know where my hands are right now?"
You were waiting. "Y-yes," I said.
"Mmmmhhh," you breathed. I was shot through with electricity, my eyes squeezed shut, gripping the phone. I could smell your breath, like apples, I could taste your mouth.
"What does my belly feel like?"
"Silk," I grunted, "Your skin..."
"I'm stroking my belly, like you used to,"
"Buffy," I begged, shifting in the chair and glancing nervously behind me, but everyone was in bed.
"I'm teasing a little...higher..." you sucked air over your teeth, "I'm touching...remember how you made me wait forever before you-"
"Buffy..." I was very uncomfortable now, with my clothes straining against me.
"Before you finally touched them. You made me so sensitive, all you had to do was barely touch me and you always knew exactly how...God, I thought I was coming apart the first time you did that, and then every time-"
"I love you," I blurted.
A little puff into the phone, "I have the phone on my shoulder," you whispered, "So I'm using both hands,"
"Unnh," I grunted.
"I'm stroking them, so lightly, the way you used to torture me like that," you gasped, then you made the sound my dreams are full of, a soft, dove-like coo. I was forced to loosen my clothes, or I would have been injured.
"Oooo," your voice escalated, then broke in a high-pitched little cry, "Angel-Angel-"
The sound of my name in your voice, so urgently, suddenly made me drunk. I was dizzy, I felt I might fall out of the chair. I could see the dew gathering on your upper lip, I could remember the incredibly light, slippery moisture-
"My fingers-" you gasped, "My fingers-inside me...Angel-"
I was gripping the phone with such force that I heard it crack. The sound jolted me, but I hadn't broken it. You were still there.
"Touch..." you panted, "Are you? Do it, do it now,"
It hadn't occurred to me that I was capable of blushing. I hadn't in well over two centuries.
"Please?" you gasped again, "For me, tell me you are, I want you so bad-"
"Yes," I groaned.
"I want you to-"
"Are you..." your voice trailed off in sudden shyness, and I felt another thrill, that contrast I'd always loved in you between your steely strength of character and your pure girlish demureness; I pictured your eyelashes, the way they would flick down and then up, unveiling those amazing eyes, those enormous doe eyes, and I made a shivering moan. "Are you...hard?" you whispered.
"Yes-" I said, too loudly.
"I'm-I'm-I'm wet, I'm so wet, remember in your letters you'd talk about-"
"I know-" That one night, with you in my bed, you beneath me, opening to me, opening to all the pleasure I could give you, surrendering to it. A harsh tingle rushed through me, remembering your heat, your lush wetness, the way you gripped me, the way you looked at me. The way I felt completely loved for the first time.
"How..." you gasped, "How hot and-"
I groaned between my teeth.
"Angel...Angel!" then you were giving a series of little desperate cries and my mind went completely blank. I shuddered, convulsing as I clutched the phone. You sighed and panted some more, gradually giving longer and slower breaths. I was trembling. I leaned my head back in the chair and moaned again.
"I love you," you said.
We were silent. I listened to your breathing and thought about the way you were curled in my arms that night, the way you fell asleep on my chest, the way dreams carried you gently off as I watched, worshipping you, amazed by you.
"A month?" you said, after a few minutes.
"Uh..." I cleared my throat, "Yeah, thirty-five days,"
"It's going to be the longest month ever,"
"Yeah. It is...but, Buffy-"
"I-if you change your mind, I'll understand, I know that-"
"Stop," you said. "Stop, right now, stop it. How old am I now?"
"It's just that-"
"A long time ago you told me that I wouldn't know how fast time goes, and that someday I'd want it all," you stopped, a little breathless, and then kept on, "Well, I don't have it all. I tried. I won't have it all unless I have you, it's not right with anyone else. It's just all wrong, it's always wrong. I don't care about kids, and I don't even care if I can never have you inside me again. It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me, but if I have you beside me, I can remember it, and I can hold you, and I can kiss you, and I can be with you. I love you, Angel. I want you to come home. Come home to me, come home,"
"I will. I am. I'm coming home,"
"You told me about doubt once, about what not to doubt. Don't you, either. I want you and I always did. You were the one who-"
"I know. I'm-"
"Just stop it," you said, and a surge of love for you, a deafening storm in my mind, washed my thoughts clear. You were right. It would be best if I shut up. I was treating you as though you were still a teenager, and you aren't, now. You know what you want. I had better respect that or I'd end up insulting you, which was the very last thing that I wanted.
"I never wanted anyone else, anyway," you said, softly now, "Come home,"
It's as close to heaven as I've ever been. Still, there's a part of me that does have doubt, that is ready for you to tell me you've changed your mind. I'm ready for that, but I'm also ready for another possibility. I'm ready to ask you in person, to really put it on the line, to really have you. I couldn't ask for more. I'm certain it's far more happiness than I was ever meant to have. All I can do is strive to deserve it. That, I know how to do.
And I know that I love you.
I'm coming home.