The phone rang. Buffy jumped out of the bed, aware suddenly that she was somewhere strange. She crouched and tucked her arms close to her body, fists up, knees bent, prowling in a circle around the dark, unfamiliar room. The phone rang again. Buffy stopped and it dawned on her that she was in her hotel room in L.A. She should have laughed out loud. She answered the phone.
"Oh....hi....are you....I woke you up! You're usually awake right now," It was Willow. Buffy had a sudden craving for Sunnydale, for hot chocolate and staying up late with Willow and Xander and worrying about school and for all the illusions of childhood.
"You must have a nocturnal roommate, girl," said Buffy.
"Oh, yeah...you know, everybody here's like that,"
"No rest in the brain tank,"
Willow laughed her rich little laugh and Buffy ached with missing her.
"So....how's it going?"
"Well, I knew-"
"He'd be gone?" "Yeah." Buffy sighed.
"Are you going to trail him? It could be a long trip. And what if you find him?" Buffy missed a lot of things about Willow, not the least of which was her brutal insight. Willow was soft, delicately built, gentle to a degree that approached sainthood, but Willow's brain was a terminator. Buffy had come to depend on that.
"I don't know."
There was a silence, but even on the phone it was a comfortable silence, like all the small quiets she and Willow had had together, sitting side by side with nothing to say and no reason to fake a conversation, just sitting. Buffy reached to turn on the light and caught sight of the clock's hands and numbers glowing green. 11:37.
"Whoa!" she said.
"Oh, I just saw the clock. What time is it there?"
"It's a little after two. So-did anything happen today? Any leads, or anything?"
Buffy leaned back on the pillow. "No, not really,"
"So how long are you going to hang out?"
"A couple more days. I've got some ideas,"
"Well, O.K.....well, be careful, of course,"
"If there's anything-"
"You could call me tomorrow. "
"Sure. What do you need?"
Buffy laughed. "I need you to call me tomorrow. It's a support thing,"
Willow's voice warmed. "I'll call you tomorrow,"
"Remember the first rule,"
Buffy hung up the phone and felt the stirring under her breastbone. It was almost like a craving, like some people need coffee in the morning. She needed to patrol. She dressed in her dark clothing, put her hair up, stretched a little. She suited up, slipping stakes into little pockets in her jeans, her sweatshirt, her socks. She'd never been so successful as to use all of her stakes in one night, but you never know. This was a good town for a pass or two, and she could use the night air.
She paused in the doorway and looked down at the box. She had all the time in the world to read those things.
Well, maybe just one.
What is it about the way you dress? Like a vaudeville actor. I used to go to the theatre a lot. Those were days when theater was a grand thing, when the living still expected and craved opulence rather than reality. Now their entertainments are of a different sort, because their lives contain so much of the unreal, they have a palate for real. The burlesque isn't what you'd think it was. It was women playing men's roles in Shakespeare, in timely comedies. It became risqué later on. Anyway, you dress like a mime. Dress sense is big with the undead. We can't see ourselves anymore, ever. Our vanity takes an extreme. We're like Parisiennes before the war, who had a dozen expressions to describe fashion. I'm not quite so vain as I used to be, I'm glad to say.
I used to prowl pubs and gatherings, too. I grew tired of it after the curse; it just made me feel more isolated. Removed from the living, removed from the undead, belonging nowhere. It's been said that the gods give us everything, so that the only sacrament we can truly make is to offer up our own suffering; it's the only thing that truly belongs to us. I made offerings, lots of them. You know I don't expect your pity, just as I know you wouldn't be capable of it.
I was done with clubs, or would have been. But you know why I was forced to step out again.
She was dancing with Willow and Xander. I watched her moving; she looked so tiny among the others. Buffy is petite but she dominates a room in a way that humans can't perceive. They are blind to so much of her. When a vampire walks into a room with a Slayer in it, that's the first scent they pick up, it's the first heat they sense. Buffy puts out surplus wattage, even for a Slayer, but I was the only one in the Bronze who knew it. It was a delicious feeling.
I took a turn around the room; I stood in a shadow behind the dance floor and waited for her to sense me. She began to glance around a bit, then she spoke to her friends and circled, making her way to me gradually, instinctively. I stepped out as she was walking by; we paused briefly, looking at each other, and I wrapped my arms around her. She snuggled close. We stood together for a while, immersed.
"Hi," she said softly.
She pulled back.
"How'd you know I'd be here?"
"I didn't know. I had a feeling,"
The music slowed, became soft.
I slipped an arm around her waist and took her hand; it was the position for dancing the minuette. She looked at me curiously .
"I don't know how to dance like this," she said.
"You don't have to know how,"
"Angel, I can't,"
"Just follow me,"
I pulled her back deeper into the shadows and turned her, leading her. She was beginning to giggle. We swooped, rounded, in contained circles, and she was catching on quickly, as I knew she would. We nearly knocked Willow over.
"Oh....uh.....I'm sorry.....wow.....I mean, sorry...." said Willow.
"Goodnight," Xander breezed past, catching Willow's arm.
"Goodnight!" said Buffy, as I dipped her.
"I wonder where he learned to dance like that!" we could hear Willow's voice as she stepped out the door.
"Antique high school," sneered Xander.
We left soon after. She was wearing the jacket I'd given her. "What's the Bronze like for you, as -"
"As a vampire?" I finished Buffy's sentence.
"Like.....like a 7-11 to a health freak. Even if I could, I probably wouldn't,"
"Does any part of you ever miss-miss the kill?"
"It must be tough sometimes,"
"Well...." I looked down at her as we walked together, "Not as bad as it used to be,"
She stopped and looked up at me. She flipped her hair out of her eyes. I loved the way she did that.
"Why do you think?"
"Why are you answering a question with a question?"
"It's not so bad as it used to be because you make me feel more alive than I have in hundreds of years," I said. "You make me want to protect you, be near you, hold you. I've never seen anyone like you,"
She gave me the full heat of her eyes. Shadows of the leaves moved over her face like a caress. No amount of looking at her would ever be enough. She slid her arms around my neck and kissed me.
"Can I walk you home?"
"Already?" she said.
We walked for a time in silence.
"I made an early pass tonight. Nothing," she said.
"It's been pretty quiet,"
"Angel, last night," she blurted.
"I can't believe the things I was feeling,"
"You're magical," I said.
"Did-did you like it, too?"
"Do you know what it's like for me to keep my hands to myself?" I asked her, "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to behave around you?"
"You hide it really well,"
"You're not really fooled, though, are you?"
She smiled and flushed.
We were under her bedroom window.
"Can you come up?"
"You're not grounded anymore," I was teasing her.
She leveled her eyes at me. It was a new glance, and it warmed me, because she felt comfortable enough now to tell me what she wanted.
"Just come up,"
I followed her. She turned on the light in her little room. I liked this room. It was like Buffy, childlike and fearless all at once. I had found a box of stakes under the bed accidentally when I slept in this room. I was sleeping on the floor and I kicked it; quite a discovery. There were posters and stuffed animals, and ribbons draped over the edge of the mirror. I straddled the windowsill and watched her let her hair escape from it's ponytail, falling softly against her neck. She smiled.
"I have to change,"
I turned away and looked out into the night. I had a sudden longing to see blue sky. Night hours at museums are difficult for vampires; even the most vicious of us have memories that tug, and we are drawn, skulking, fearing to be seen by other undead, into the haven of human art, to see renditions of the world we remember, art by the living. Films are a gift as well, but of a different sort. Brush strokes have a beauty all their own.
"O.K." said Buffy.
I turned, ready to kiss her goodnight and leave. She was wearing a bra that was nothing but lace, and little shorts of some kind. The undead don't breathe much, because it burns the freshness out of the blood, but my breath went out of me.
She tossed one leg over the windowsill and slid right up to me, facing me.
"Don't you want to kiss me?"
"You need your rest. You keep tough hours,"
She planted her mouth on mine and kissed me hungrily, gently biting my lips, sinking her tongue in, searching for mine. Her fingers were gliding through my hair, scratching my scalp lightly. Miraculous, how she was awakening. I was astounded, and delighted, to feel the sensuality blooming in her, but I was also gripping the edge of the windowsill with white knuckles.
There was a knock on the door.
Buffy bolted up and had her robe on with lightening speed. I slipped out alongside the window, holding myself up by the trellis. Vampires can execute small feats of gravity defiance when we need to, but we'd rather not. We heal from almost everything but we feel pain.
"Buffy, are you still up?"
"Yeah, Mom, I'm sorry. History,"
"Is that what you've been doing?"
"Do you mind if I see your homework?"
There was a small shuffling.
"What is this?"
"It's my essay on women's suffrage in the United States,"
"'....the gathering of the NWSA in January 1876 to protest the centennial celebrations, saying the republic 'had refuse one-half of it's citizens the only means of self-government--the ballot,'" read her mother,"Buffy, this is great!"
I could feel Buffy's proud smile through the wall.
"What do you say we go shopping on Saturday?"
"Mom, I don't even know if my teacher is going to like this,"
"I like it, and I'm very proud of you. Saturday,"
I was back on the windowsill by the time she turned around.
"They were braver than most people now could imagine," I said
. She looked at me, wide-eyed.
"They endured so much abuse from everyone. But they never stopped fighting."
She resumed her position across from me.
"That's the key, isn't it? To a lot of things," she said.
"From what I've seen,"
We looked at each other, and the tenderness in her eyes shook me. She was so pure, so purely, humanly alive, so potent with femininity and courage. She took my hand in hers and looked at it, stroking my fingers.
"I'm glad you fought," she said,"I'm so glad you survived everything you've been through. I'm so glad you're here,"
"So am I, now," I said.
She reached her arms around my neck and scooted up so close to me that her thighs were hooked over mine. She pressed her body against me and held me. I closed my eyes and inhaled her. She smelled like night air and sweet soap, faintly, but mostly she smelled like fresh, exquisite life. I stroked her fine, silky hair and fell into absorbing her, soaking her into my senses. We held each other for a long time.
She pulled back a little and gazed up into my face. She touched my cheek, and began exploring my face with her fingers, stroking my eyelids, my lips, my chin, sweetly tracing. "Angel face," she whispered. She took my lower lip gently in her fingers and leaned forward to take it between her teeth. Her tongue curled under mine. The struggle began inside me again. Hold on, hold on, I said silently to myself, and allowed her to tenderly molest my mouth, my face. Her little hand slipped inside my shirt, up the back of my neck, along my shoulder, down across my chest.
Something like a growl escaped me and I pulled back. I wasn't in feeding mode; I was fighting something much more human.
"Why can't we?" she whispered.
"We.....I....." I felt ridiculous, I couldn't form a sentence, then my mind cleared, "You're not completely ready yet,"
"How would you know that?"
"I don't know everything about how you feel. That's not what I mean. It's just...better to wait. There are so many ways I want to make you happy,"
"Don't you think I want to make you happy, too?"
"Please trust me about this, Buffy. The one thing I want to do more than anything in the world is take you right now. But it's just too early,"
"What about what I want to take?"
"Please trust me,"
She looked at me and sighed deeply.
"So how am I supposed to sleep tonight?"
I looked down at the front of her robe and then into her eyes.
She untied the belt of her robe slowly, watching me. She slipped it off and came even closer to me. I lifted her and slid her backward so she was leaning against the side of the windowsill.
She took my head in her hands and guided me to her throat. I kissed her there, under her small ear, down along her singing jugular, into the hollow of her shoulder. She made a little crooning sound, and I chuckled, shushing her. I kissed her shoulders, stroked her arms. I kissed the hollows of her elbows, the inside of each wrist. I slipped my hands quickly and almost imperceptibly around her breasts, just brushing them, and then away. She made another escalating sound, and I put one finger over her lips. She was breathing faster now. I brushed her breasts with my fingers again, just barely touching them, avoiding her nipples; I ran my fingertips around and over them. I bent my head lower and kissed the sweet flesh between them, little kisses that explored the taste of her there, continuing feather-light caresses. She was heating up quickly, but I didn't see a way to slow her down.
"Angel, Angel," she whispered. I kissed her softly on the inside curve of her left breast, and her nails sunk briefly into my shoulders. I kissed every inch of them, lingering, staying clear of her nipples, taking my time. Then I allowed my fingertips to dance across her nipples tantalizingly while I continued kissing. She pushed her hips foreword; she was now straddling me, and her legs tensed around me.
She reached up to unfasten her bra; it was one of those contraptions that opens in the front. I stopped her hands. "Not yet,"
She whimpered. I took her breasts in my hands and closed my mouth over her right nipple. She gasped. I allowed her to feel it for a moment first, before moving my tongue in a long, slow stroke across the tip. The feeling of the lace over her was good; it allowed me to imagine the softness of her flesh, the pleasure of saving that discovery for a later time. She craned her body towards me, urging me. I quickened my motions a little, circling, making little darts across, slowly dragging my tongue across the underside. Her left nipple was more sensitive than her right, so I was saving that. I drew in on her and suckled more aggressively. She bucked foreword. I stopped her. "Not yet, not yet," I whispered. I kissed my way to her left breast, made circles, approached, retreated, approached, and took her left nipple in my mouth very gently. She couldn't contain herself anymore then. I began trailing my tongue over her nipple quickly and she exploded, hands gripping the flesh of my back, her face buried in my shoulder to stifle her cries. She wrapped her legs around me and came right up against me, knowing how hard I was, driving against me. I clenched my teeth as we rocked together. She was relentless. I wrapped my arms tightly around her and she continued bucking her hips ; she pushed her face into my neck and cried out again. I was amazed by her. She was strong in everything.
I was dizzy; faint, almost. I held onto her as she slowly calmed. Her small hand slid up my thigh, reaching, and I quickly took it in mine.
"Let me touch you," she whispered, breathlessly.
"I can't," I said. My voice came out hoarse.
"What is it, Angel?" she asked, her lips on my cheek,"What's wrong?"
She was still breathless, but her eyes penetrated mine.
"You're not ready," she said, wonderingly.
I couldn't find words.
"You're the one who's not ready," she said, gently.
Once again, she had me. I was forced to really look inside myself at the pain I carried with me. Things I'd done. To my family, to trusted friends, to Dru. I hadn't been twisted as a human, but as a vampire I had a reputation of unequalled brutality, and I had earned it. My mother, who had been a woman of such gentleness that she could never turn away one in need, who I had been so close to...my last memory of her is watching the horror on her face as I sucked the life out of my small niece, tossed her away like a rag doll, and then came after her. I had been sickened by myself for literally centuries, but it would never end. Being next to Buffy was such a glaring contrast that I couldn't keep the shame at bay. At first, I had contemplated the possibility that she would be the one to put me out of my misery, that my helpless attraction to her was based on that, or perhaps I was in some way hoping for redemption. The night I killed Darla there was a moment when Buffy almost killed me. I had told her to get it done, and I had meant it. But I had to admit to myself that it was simpler by far: I loved Buffy. And I had no right to.
She was stroking my cheek.
"Talk to me," she said softly.
"It's your bedtime," I lifted her in my arms and carried her to her bed, tucked her in. When she was under the covers I laid down beside her, cradling her head on my shoulder.
"I know you care about me," she said.
"More than anything," I said. It was true.
We lay together in silence for a while.
"It's not your fault that you were changed," she said. "You were a human. You were doing things that humans do. And then you were attacked by a vampire. It's never anyone's fault that they are attacked,"
If I could tell her now that I loved her, if I could release myself with her, if I could allow myself what I wanted so badly, I would be allowing myself happiness. I simply couldn't see myself deserving it....also she was so young, which bothered me profoundly...hypocritical as that was, considering that I had been touching her in no less than a sexual way......but there was another sensation that I couldn't explain to myself: when I was with her, touching her, I had the odd feeling that I was standing on a cliff, that if I gave way to my feelings something would happen. I had no idea if that fall would be mine or hers, and I had no right to take any chances with her safety. How could I explain all of this to her? She might think I was talking down to her, or giving her excuses.
Buffy is profoundly kind. She sensed my dilemma somehow and let the subject go. We laid together on her bed, me above covers, and held each other. Finally she drifted off. The air moved across her throat in a little growling sound. The first night I had slept on the floor in this room she had asked me if I snored. I didn't have the heart to tell her that she did; she might not have understood how adorable that was to me.
I swung out of her window and back into another night. The air was soft and I was full of Buffy. The scent, the taste of her clung to me like dew.
Are you beginning to see how you owe me one?
Buffy cursed at herself. Crying again, damn, damn. She washed her face, drank a glass of water. She looked at her watch. She checked her pockets again, checked stake location, warmed up with a few kicks. Vampires. The misery they cause. The terror they cause. The death of the innocent. The spread of these things.
She walked quickly down Hollywood Boulevard. She glanced around, ducked into an alley, and aimed a side-kick at a brick wall. She grunted, flung her foot out, and drove the bricks inward; the wall began to crumble. Destroying property wasn't her style, but she had to work off a little rage. Being too angry can be dangerous. She looked down the alley and just happened to spot a figure leaning back on the wall, wiping it's mouth, and another figure fall away, cast off like a wrapper.
"Oh, good," she purred.