Buffy peeled off her patrol outfit, tossing steel-toed boots, socks, paramedic-issue pants with the pockets full of stakes and chains and holy water, mangled sweatshirt, and underwear on the floor. That familiar smell was on her, the singed smell of vampire dust, and the coppery smell of blood. She padded into the bathroom and started the shower; she gazed at her nose in the mirror. It was swollen, but she could tell it was a little crooked. She placed her fingers on either side and cracked it into line, wincing. She unwrapped the bar of Ivory soap and stood very still, sniffing it. She could barely smell it, because of her nose, but she knew what it smelled like. She pressed it against her cheek.
The phone rang.
"Buffy," It was Xander.
"Hi," she said.
"I'm sorry," he blurted.
Buffy smiled to herself, a small, relieved smile. "Don't sweat it,"
"I do sweat it. You're one of the best friends I'll ever have. I was wrong-I-was worried, I was afraid you'd get hurt, and-"
"Then it would be your fault?"
"I was wrong, too, Xand, but I just had to," she said, "I don't always know why I have to do things, but when I gotta go, I gotta go. It's not something I always like,"
"I know, and I know that about you, and I should have trusted you. Damn, all those times you bailed me out, all those times you forgave me-"
"Xander, we can let this go, it's fine,"
"Buffy please let me finish, OK? I was wrong, because I guess it's always bothered me that-that you're the real hero, but at the same time, you know.... you've always been my hero,"
Buffy's breath caught, "Oh, Xand," she said softly.
"It's true, you know it is,"
They both paused.
"But anyway, now, you're in the clear," he said. "That whole faction's been wiped out,"
"I only got five of them,"
"Well-" he said, "They were actually a pretty important five. And don't short yourself. You took out a bunch in LA, and the ones in the hotel, those were all important kills. The rest were taken care of,"
"Angel," she said.
"Yeah. The last thing I ever wanted to do was give the guy credit for anything, but he really kicked some butt on this operation. He knows how to use recourses. If he was available I'd probably hire him,"
"So, he's OK?"
"He got caught in a crossfire, in Ireland," said Xander, "But he's all right. Only a blood-sucker would have survived it,"
"Sorry. Anyway, you can bolt now whenever you want. We won't be in your hair. I've got assignments backed up, so we're rolling out now. I just wanted to tell you, I'm sorry about the stupid things I said to you, I didn't mean them. And I love you, Buffy, you know?"
"My white knight," she said softly, "I love you, too,"
"Be good, OK?"
"Anytime. I mean it."
Buffy stood under the hot water, letting it run over her upturned face briefly, then turned and let it run over her hair and back. Her taut nerves loosened. She slipped the soap lazily over her breasts and her arms, then lower. She was tired, bone tired. If she could have what she really wanted tonight, what she needed, what her body craved, she would be able to fall asleep in Angel's arms, just fall asleep cradled in the safest place in the world. It would be the balm for her soul. But it wasn't going to happen. The on-again, off-again ballet they were engaged in, the too-dangerous-to-love-you game, had drawn out for so long that Buffy felt the weight of it on her every day. The only thing that lightened it a little was Slaying, taking bigger risks and Slaying better. It was a great situation for Slaying, because it did make her crazy, Xander was actually right before. She was a full-blown adrenaline addict. And that made her tired, too.
She tried to wrap herself in the measly hotel towels. She paced the room, fluffing her hair. She sat on the edge of the bed and thrust her hand into the box again, like someone groping for the winning ticket in a contest. She needed something tonight. She unfolded a letter and settled down to torture herself.
Would it surpass you to know that vampires often have hobbies? There are vast voids between killings for us, lonely gaps in time filled with memories and boredom. What would you most likely say...."Who needs a hobby when you can save a Slayer?" Obviously, later, that became everything to me. And not just because of her beauty; I know what else you'd say. Your sense of humor is a lot like your suits.
I used to have a hobby, back in Europe. I did it partly to lure kills, partly because it annoyed Darla. I was attached to Darla as any vampire is attached to his sire (I say "attached", because with vampires, you can't really call it love), but I always resented her, too. We never pretended otherwise. Darla was very controlling, and I had always been rebellious. Basic personality traits often cling to the undead body after the change is made, although there can be profound changes as well. As a human I was a troublemaker, but not a malicious one. As a vampire my appetite for causing misery was insatiable. The world would have been a much better place if I had met my match in a Slayer early on. I should have been wiped off the face of the earth. This is not self-pity. It's the truth. But about my hobby....I knew something of flowers from my human life, and I knew how to obtain the seeds of the night-blooming variety. There is nothing that will draw a young woman out of party and alone into a garden at night like night-blooming Jasmine. It annoyed Darla to no end to see me crouched and digging in one of the silk shirts she'd gotten me; she used to dress me up like a doll, and I had no patience for it, early on. Vanity kicks in a little later for male vampires, after the incessant emptiness of mirrors begins to take it's toll. I enjoyed the results of the trouble I took; there were gardens all over the world for a century that mysteriously sprouted night-blooming flowers in the summers, and mysteriously, many young women disappeared in these fragrant traps.
I've told you that as a young man, as a human, I was no saint. I leaned quite strongly toward lechery, in fact. The girls liked me and I liked them, and I took advantage when I got the chance. I had always been festinated by women, and my fascination centered on one particular aspect of the feminine anatomy more than any other; the phrase, "flower of femininity" is more than poetry. A woman's sex and a flower are incredibly alike in many ways, in construction and in function. Delicate petals, the shadowy depths that hide kernels of honey, even the sensitive pistil of the flower, which reacts to the environment and stands erect, sending a fertile message to eager insects (do you think I'm stealing from Byron? I'm much more apt to steal from Yeats). From the moment that I met a girl I calculated how long it would take me to arrive with my face between her thighs, tasting her honey. If she's properly caressed, she'll release her moisture so freely that all you have to do is rub your lips against her outer petals and they'll be covered in sweetness; after that point you can please her thoroughly with ease. This alone was an obsession of mine, but it had another fortunate effect: they always came back, at which point I was able to take complete advantage of them with little argument. I never raped anyone, as a human; I mean only that women in my time were obsessed with purity and would argue against the act of love, bargaining for marriage. I was a cad. I always managed to extract the pleasure I wanted from them without the promise of commitment. I also got plenty of practice, and gained a reputation, which I in turn took more advantage of.
I was in my teens when a friend showed me a treasure that one of his ancestors had brought back from the Crusades: a translation of part of the Kama Sutra. It changed my life. The study of love in the East was a new concept to everyone in Ireland, and a banned one, as well. Un-Godly, as well you know. But it held importance for me, the young cad, and parts are very interesting. It's as much a study of the human nervous system and it's part in the spiritual journey as it is a manual. It amazes me that now, in the information age, when almost all human knowledge is available to all people, that men can still be so stupid about women. I've stalked and fed on enough couples to be able to attest to this. A kiss or two, a grope of the breasts, a reach downward, and a near-rape. Pathetic. The waste of an opportunity, it boggles the mind. It's a currently popular human adage: If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right.
I do sometimes wonder how Buffy will feel when I finally tell her all of this; I have a great deal of trouble keeping anything from her. She doesn't ask often, but the way she turns her eyes on me, eyes that take in the world like mirrors of the night sky, I am unable to keep the truth from her, no matter how badly I might want to. I hope she understands how long ago that was for me, and not just in centuries. I hope she'll understand that every woman I've ever touched before her fades into nothing by comparison.
At any rate, by now Buffy was opening in sensual bloom; she had taken advantage of me last night, and I found myself plotting to pin her in a compromising position and force a little unsolicited pleasure on her. Revenge.
She came to my apartment, and I complimented her on her outfit; it was perfect. A soft sweater, with a plunging v in the back, and pants with a drawstring on them. I felt a rush that the hunter feels seeing a deer in an open field.
I ambushed her. She watched me dress, and I sat in a straight chair that I had carefully positioned by a wall to put my shoes on. I paused.
"Buffy, can you help me with something?" I asked her; a cheap shot. Buffy is a Slayer, and can never resist any plea for help. She came to me. I glanced behind her.
"What's that?" I jerked my head toward something that wasn't there. She turned, and I caught her in my arms.
I pulled her backward onto my lap. Her hair was pinned up, so the back of her neck was revealed. I kissed the back of her neck slowly, trailing kisses from her hairline and down; the back of her sweater plunged deeply so I was able to continue downward to the middle of her spine. She sighed and wriggled a little, trying to rise. I pushed one foot on the floor and jerked us backward; the chair thumped back against the wall and we were trapped there temporarily. In order to escape she would have to toss us both on the floor.
"Angel!" she laughed, "What are you-"
My fingers found the drawstring on the front of her pants and began pulling on it, very slowly. I was pinning her against me with one arm. I pushed my thighs together under her , just halfway,and she forced upward a little. My lips returned to the back of her neck. The little knot finally released and her pants came loose around her waist. I left them there for a time, just kissing her back as I pleased. I slipped a hand around her waist and touched the tip of my finger to her belly button. I pushed my lips into her ear and whispered, "Push your legs apart,". She leaned back against me, her chest beginning to move more rapidly, and she pushed them apart; her haunches came up against me, the soft, rounded curve, and I sighed. I pressed my cheek next to hers and stroked my finger with precise lightness downward in one smooth line from her belly button, beneath her panties, right to the beginning of her curls, and back upward. She shifted, surpassed. The curve of her belly there was incredibly silky. I traced the path again, slowly, awakening the sensations there. This is an important spot on a woman; it's just above the center of human creation, the very center of her. Her belly contracted a little and she cooed; she was beginning to feel it already. I continued with very simple caresses, little wavering lines that led gradually downward and back up, just barely touching the skin. I kissed her neck and her ears. I put my lips in her ear again. "Touch your nipples for me," I whispered. She took in a breath and shook against me. She brought her hands to her breasts and I was able to watch her gently tickle them through the sweater. She bucked and made a soft little cry; the chair slipped back on the wall and inch or two, startling us. We were both laughing, thrilled a little by the precarious position we were in. "Keep still," I said sternly. She giggled again and I shushed her. She turned her head and our mouths melded. I slipped one finger a little lower-
The phone rang. Buffy jumped. "Ugh," she said, to the room. She paused, taking a deep breath, and picked up the phone.
"You're international, now," said Willow. Buffy could picture Willow's little sweeping hand gesture, her big eyes wide with encouragement, "The Dal Riada! The original Celtic warrior clan! You're an international Slayer of mystery,"
"Hey, Will," she said, "When do you get your Master's?"
"Right-so, you want to travel?"
"You mean-like, Ireland?"
"Oh," Willow's voice escalated with excitement, "Oh, there are so many power sites in Ireland. The Goddess Brigid. There are some serious pagans there. Old, old magic,"
"Then-that would be a yes?"
"Oh, yes, it's a great idea. And of course, I'm sure we could dig Angel up. I mean, I didn't mean- I mean-"
"It's OK, Will,"
"Oh, Buffy, I just know he's all right. I have a really good feeling about you guys. Really good. And plus, the tarot spread was amazing,"
Buffy sighed. Sometimes she wasn't sure she wanted to know about the future, especially if it was supposed to be good. What if it didn't happen, what if it just got her hopes up? Sometimes having a witch for a friend was a dubious advantage.
"I miss you,"
Willow's voice warmed, "I miss you, too,"
"I should be back up North by tomorrow night,"
"I'm so proud of you. I mean, if I could tell anybody, I'd be bragging all over the campus,"
"Don't study too late. Get some sleep,"
I slipped one finger a little lower into the patch of curls and played with them absently while my thumb continued to stroke her belly. She moaned into my mouth and broke the kiss. "Angel," she breathed. She was almost to the proper point; you should never assault the most delicate part of a woman's anatomy until she has, like a flower, invited touch. She should already have released her honey by the time your fingers stroke her for the first time. The warm scent of her desire came into the air, but I decided to make her wait anyway. I took a small amount of sweater in my teeth and tugged at it, pulling it up over her breasts, but not enough. I tried again. She burst into giggles once more, laughing at my greed. "You want it all," she said. I kissed her ear again, "I want all of you," I said. Nothing was more true. I allowed four fingers to sink into her curls and stroke them. I had been growing harder all this time and she could surely tell by now; she rocked her hips backward against me and the chair finally lost it's grip on the wall. We crashed to the floor. If either of us had been fully human it might have halted the fun. As it was I rolled her over with me, so that I was on my back and she was still pinned against me. I resumed caressing her. She said my name again, more urgently, and began to writhe against me. She was ruining my concentration. "Buffy, keep still," I said, stroking my fingers a little lower through the curls. "I can't!" she cried, twisting. I jerked her back against me strongly, admonishing her. She was panting. I craned my head to whisper in her ear once again, "You're neglecting them," She shuddered but complied, fingers stroking her nipples; she moved her sweater up over them and released rich little mounds of breasts; they were half-trapped by her clothing, but her nipples were standing longingly in the air now where she could reach them. The scent of her moved over me, strong and sweet. I dipped one finger just low enough to contact her moisture. She was hotter than I had dreamed, and the her dew was plentiful, it immediately seeped over my fingers, slippery as melted butter. I moaned; I had to grit my teeth and squeeze my eyes shut for several seconds. She moved her hips in a sinuous motion, bringing her sex up against my fingers. "Not yet, not yet," I whispered. I slid my fingers even lower, for the first time feeling the shape of -
The phone rang.
Buffy grabbed it. "Yeah?" she said, crisply.
"Buffy," It was Giles.
"Will you be ready to head up the coast in the morning?"
She heaved a sigh, "How early?"
"You can sleep in the car,"
"There's much to be done,"
"I know, I understand. Knock me up about 9:00, OK?"
He gave a little snort.
"Yes. I did- I did want to tell you about Angel,"
"What-that he was hurt? I talked to Xander,"
"Oh-yes, but he's alive-so to speak. What I wanted to tell you was-he was trying to protect you,"
"That part was pretty obvious,"
"But....also, the way things went awry....it wasn't his doing, he couldn't have foreseen it,"
"In other words, the way the Record was left for me, the way we were ambushed at the hotel, and tonight.....those things weren't a result of his negligence. I wouldn't have thought so, anyway. I'm kinda used to this sort of thing, Giles. I'm the Slayer. How much protection do I need?"
"He was betrayed by an ally. It was very difficult for him to have you put in that position,"
"Fine!" snapped Buffy, "OK! He cares. I'm thrilled, really. It's wonderful to be cared about, it's great to know he worries about me. I'm so happy! What am I supposed to do, call up a guy who's been avoiding me for four years, who won't talk to me on the phone, and tell him how much I appreciate him? HOW?"
They were silent for a while.
"I just wanted you to know," he said, gently.
"I know, I'm sorry,"she said quickly.
"He-he put himself in danger in order to insure your safety. He was forced to compromise his cover, and he was nearly killed,"
"Giles, I know Angel would lay his life on the line for me in a heartbeat ," said Buffy, "It wouldn't be the first time. He would do anything he had to. Of course I understand that, and try to guess how I feel about him being hurt.... Do you really think that won't give me nightmares? Do you think it doesn't chew me up to know that? But he won't talk to me. All I can do is feel everything I feel at a distance, and hope for the best, and get better at what I do. I don't have other options, Giles. I respect him a little too much to hound him. I respect MYSELF too much to hound him. He doesn't want to talk to me,"
"Y-yes, well, that may change,"
"You and Willow," groaned Buffy.
"I'm sorry?" he didn't understand.
Buffy took a long breath, "Never mind. I'm just....I'm just in a weird mode. I'm sorry, Giles. I know I'm being a harpy. I just need some sleep,"
"Yes, well, do try, and-Buffy-" he paused.
"You truly were outstanding tonight. You'll be the first Slayer in the Watcher's Diaries to have taken out a warrior clan that old and powerful,"
"So-you're proud of me?" she grinned.
"Giles, I know we see each other every day, but I need to hear it,"
"Say it with me: Buffy, I'm....."
"...Proud of you," he finished her sentence, then he said quickly, "Well, of course I'm bloody proud of you. What are you thinking?"
"Made you say it,"
"Made you say it, made you say it," she said softly.
"Do get some sleep," he hung up.
She moved her hips in a sinuous motion, bringing her sex up against my fingers. "Not yet, not yet," I whispered. I slid my fingers even lower, for the first time feeling the shape of the petals between her legs, spreading the slick honey over the outer folds of her sex. I slipped my knee up between her thighs and pushed them further apart. She was trembling violently; she was unable to control her movements. Her body undulated against mine, her legs shook. She was making those little dove sounds I loved. I stroked with just a little more pressure and her sex opened; the next layer of petals, even more slippery, was under my fingertips. She was beginning to chant my name. I slipped my fingers in long, trailing motions along her sex; the pistil of it, her clitoris, was standing up now, and I circled the very tip of it lightly with each pass. She was riding the edge of her pleasure and I wanted her to be every bit as shaken as she had made me last night. I slipped my fingers over her swollen clitoris and parted them, so that it was between my fingers, and held it in gentle pressure, stroking upward, first slowly, then more quickly, my senses all locked on her response. She moved her hips in little jerks, so I stroked faster, and she yelled, arching. She took my wrist in her hand and guided my motions, crying out again, her body bucking wildly. She paused briefly, breathing coming in ragged gasps, and then arched again, pressing my hand onto her sex harder, muscles locked, then straining. This was beyond my limit. I pinned her hips to me and drove against her, the softness of her haunches pressed onto me, and lost myself. I vaguely heard the sounds we were both making-
The phone jangled, jolting her again.
Buffy snatched the phone up, "WHAT?" she snapped. She heard a soft laugh on the other end.
"Hi,"said a velvet voice.
Buffy's heart paused in mid-beat.
There was a silence, full of struggle for Buffy.
"A-are you OK?" she asked.
"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. I'm leaving tomorrow. I should be in California in a little over a month,"
"Oh," she said, hesitating,"-Good,"
"I just wanted to tell you," he 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," she said quickly.
"You weren't supposed to be out-"
"Well, I don't shine in captivity,"
He laughed. "I know. But that's one Clutch that had a lot of control. They had connections on both coasts here, and in the old country. You wiped out their last battalion. They're all weaker now,"
Another silence, longer, and Buffy's stomach was beginning to work bitterly on itself.
"I need to ask you...." She closed her eyes, "...did Whistler read all those letters?"
"No," he chuckled, "I never sent them,"
"Why did you write them, then?"
"Buffy, you know a little more about men than that," he teased, "I didn't have anybody to brag to,"
"So you kept them?"
"Yeah-you know, kind of like a journal-memories," he said, "I'm sorry that they- I mean, were you-"
"Offended? No, they were pretty complimentary," she said, almost reluctantly, "Except for the ones from Angelus,"
She could feel him wince on the other end. "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,"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, why was I never supposed to read them? Because-" she ground to a halt. Not another word would come out. She looked at the paper in her hand, the curling, elegant script. She started again, "Because they're of the past?"
"Well," he paused, "That's another reason I called. I mean, I should be home soon, you know- and I-"
"I- I-don't do too well without you, you know?" he said.
She waited, heart pounding.
"Buffy, when I get back, I want to try again,"
Her heart lightened unbearably. Suddenly she burst into tears.
"I'm hoping that-that you miss me, too," he said, "And that-"
"Oh, God, Angel, I miss you so much, I'm-I'm loony," she voice trembled, "I'm not sane when you're away for too long,"
"We're both a little older now, and-"
"Especially me," she interrupted.
"Both of us," he said, "We did the right thing for a while, but being that far away from you-being back in Ireland-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. Let's start over,"
"O.K.," she tried to keep her voice level but it came out in a whine. Tears were streaming into her ears. She turned on her side, holding the receiver in both hands.
"No," he said suddenly, and there was a silence.
"What?' she said.
"No," he said again, "Let's start now,"
Buffy felt something in her heart settle gently and warmly into place, a missing piece of puzzle that floated into an aching space and landed silently, but with great gravity, the one missing piece.
"All right," she sniffed, "Let's start now,"
"I love you, Buffy,"
"I love you, too,"
"So," his voice softened, and she could hear that sweet sideways smile creep into it, "What are you wearing?"
Buffy cradled the phone on her shoulder. She reached up and turned out the light.