A Thousand Tiny Deaths
(Written for the IWRY Ficathon)
Summary: They meet once a year--long enough to avoid temptation, short enough to avoid losing touch. (Post-NFA)
A Thousand Tiny Deaths
"I will love you like none other,
for I have died a thousand tiny deaths
and every time,
I thought of you..."
~Drama, Joseph Michael Linsner
She hadn't known anything of love until she'd met him, and she had knelt at his feet to learn, tilting her face upward like a flower seeking sun. Captured by her smile, warmed by her adoration, he had taken her in his arms and lifted her from the ground, whispered soft into her ear the secrets of love. He'd taught her all the great truths he'd known and she'd come willingly to his arms, shivering and bare, and he'd warmed her as she'd warmed him, shown her the most beautiful secret his heart had ever kept. She had given to him the gift of her innocence and his treacherous hands had crushed it, and the face of her world had been forever changed.
The setting is red and gold and she has dressed the part; sun-spun hair straight and long, elegant dress dark as blood with lipstick to match.
She's gorgeous and gracefully poised, wearing a composure he's rarely seen in her--but her face is too smooth, too expressionless, too carefully schooled. The small table is a distance where silence stretches out and splinters between them, and the question she stopped asking years ago hangs there fractured, unspoken.
Tiny candle lights from their tabletop are caught in her eyes, illuminating them like doorways, and for a moment, he can see all the way inside her quiet fortress. He wants to go inside, kneel down before her altar and give himself to her completely. But his chest remains still, and her face remains unmoved, and all there is are waiters that glide by with high-perched trays and busboys that dip low, and the clock on the wall ticks off another second, oblivious and merciless.
Faces bathed in warm light and flickering shadows, they both stare at full plates, fingers twisting nervously around forks and knives in strange designs.
And all he can do is sit here pretending a prophecy doesn't exist, that there's no reward they've both been waiting for, no reprieve.
So he asks her stupid questions about her life and she hardly responds as she picks at her food, never giving more information than she has to.
When they say goodbye, she hugs him with awkward arms and he hardly moves, touching her for just a moment before letting go.
Her hair is shorter, and her eyes are filled with life and laughter like he hasn't seen them in longer than he cares to remember.
She dines on sushi and he chuckles at the way she wrinkles her nose at the wasabi when she gets too liberal a dose. The wine loosens her up and she keeps the glass full, laughing at herself and nearly toppling the table when she spills it in his lap.
It's too casual, too close, and both of them forget themselves, lost in the ease of being together again.
She hugs him goodbye and holds on tight, her face tucked into the curve of his neck. It's the most natural thing in the world when she turns her cheek toward his, mouths inching towards each other, seeking, meeting, tasting, and gentle questing explodes into white-hot passion, her hands on his skin, senses stinging from the smell of her, the feel of her body, the whimpers and moans that escape in tiny shudders captured between his lips and devoured.
And then he tastes salt, feels her trembling, and memory returns.
She's staring at him, face tear-streaked and shell-shocked.
"We can't." Her voice is filled with such sadness, such disbelief, and she is bitter all over again for relearning what they both already know.
Betrayed, she flees his arms, disappearing into the night.
She wears braids this year, and her cheeks are bright as the flowers that embroider her silk dress. Her fingers drum restlessly over the smooth wood of the table, and his eyes follow them with enthralled obedience.
Her nails are short, dark pink and perfectly manicured, but her fingers are just as he remembers them, tiny and delicate as they'd been the day she'd linked them through his. Then, they'd been adorned with ugly plastic rings in varied colors he couldn't imagine anyone wanting to wear. Today, beneath the fading light of the Paris sky, the light falls in just the way all dreaming young girls imagine it must, streaking gold and deep pink-purple to silver at the sky's edges, and it flares along the top of her knuckles, captured in the single gleaming ring on her left hand.
Tiny fires dance, born and dying with each strum of her fingers, and he thinks of a day long ago when those flames might have belonged to them.
"June," she was saying, and he can hardly hear her, can barely stand to listen.
The air is thick with sound; the clink of silverware against ceramic, the continuous murmur of quiet chatter from the people around them, the hum of cars and the whooshing sound they make as they pass. And yet, here, near the edge of the screened patio, it is dead silent, as if all the air had been sucked away and the sound with it, leaving him gasping for breath.
"Buffy," he begins, faltering when she looks to him. He takes a deep breath, smelling jasmine, tasting honeysuckle. "If we could do it all again--take it all back and do it over..." He considers, thoughts fragmented and escaping, and he doesn't know how to say what he means, so he just says it. "Would you?"
Ruby lips shiver once with unspoken words, grace on a thin wire, and time seems to freeze around them. The air hangs strange and hot between them, mosquitoes hum in the background, and the failing sunlight paints them in deep-drenched coats of crimson red. They should be two lovers falling deeper into each other but they aren't, and now they never will be, and he wishes he had never asked, because it's all there in the words locked frozen behind those lips, all there in the eyes that can't quite meet his and can't quite look away.
It's all there, and now he will always know.
London. Bits of sky are visible between the tall buildings he can see through the windows, and their light is pale and gray, wan as it falls cold against her porcelain features. No make-up, no smile. Her eyes are flat as the light, and her face is a carefully built castle of stone.
The ring is gone from her finger. He doesn't ask and she never tells, and he wonders when it got like this between them. They'd been close once. They'd talked about everything once.
"Hungry?" he asks.
She shakes her head, and he falls silent again.
After a long time, she speaks.
"Why always on this day, Angel?"
--I'll never forget.--
"No reason," he lies.
When the light fades at last from the sky, she leaves.
Silver. There is silver at her temples, strands winding up into the loose bun piled atop her head.
She twirls her fork in spaghetti, twining noodles and smiling at him. She's happy this year, mortality and empty dreams the furthest thing from her mind as she chatters on about her sister's wedding.
"You should have seen the look on Dawn's face when Willow"
The color of the church bells that rang in his village as a boy; the pure beauty of their song matched only by her laughter.
"broke out the Sunnydale Scrapbook at the reception! I thought she was"
The color of a promise he'd put on her finger once upon a time when she'd been less than half the age she is now.
"going to die."
There's not enough time.
Her broken voice whispers in his mind, a memory of a day that never existed, and for the first time, he believes.
Her hair is pure silver, long and free-flowing as he runs his hands through it, his mouth caught up in hers, heat and warmth and the sharp, bright taste of peppermint gum. She smells like honey, and thistles, and she's so warm in his arms, so vibrant, so alive.
"Make love to me, Angel." Her voice is a ragged whisper and her hands are poems against the bare skin of his chest.
She strains against him, crushing him close with tiny arms and fevered whispers, and he could live right here forever, feeling her, smelling her--oh, God, tasting her--
He snaps back into himself, meeting awareness with a sudden, sickening sensation of guilt. Hot oil churns deep in his guts, a rising, swelling blackness that threatens to consume him, and he cannot meet her eyes as he pulls away.
"Angel?" Her voice is still a plea, liquid fire that snakes through his belly.
His hands rise to protect him from the sound--from himself--and his shirt is an afterthought, buttons ripped away and edges flying free.
"I--" the words won't come and he gasps for breath he doesn't need.
"Angel, please," she whispers, coming closer again, words a murmured prayer of warm breath against his lips.
"I can't Buffy. Oh, God... I can't."
She stops, face slipping as she stares at him.
"It doesn't matter any more... it can't." Her hands shake as she lifts them to his face, drawing him near, her eyes an entreaty and a promise all at once. And he wants to, God knows he wants to--and she knows it, too.
When he pushes her away, it hurts more than he thought anything ever could.
And still, the look on her face is worse.
"Why do you keep coming here, Angel?" she asks, turning her wheelchair away from him.
He walks up behind her, rests his hand on her shoulder. Cotton crinkles against brittle bone, and she cringes at his touch, but he does not pull away.
"You're just the same as you always were," she says, voice soft. Spindly fingers reach up to touch his, wrinkled and ravaged with time.
The evening sky is placid above them, stars twinkling merrily into the night like tiny smiles etched into black velvet. She stares up at them for a long time, and her voice is a bare whisper when she speaks again. "I always thought we'd have more time."
Hope let go in a moment of truth, finally admitted, and oh the cost is high, so high.
"I... I did, too." It hurts him, that past tense, and sharp pain wends its way from heart to throat.
"We never talked about it... but it was always there, wasn't it?" she asks, her voice damp with unshed tears.
He turns the chair, gently, and falls to his knees before her. Green-gray eyes are set deep behind folds of wrinkles, their color still the same, the same life still shining. He remembers how they sparkled when she was a girl, how they'd loved him with fire and lingering slowness.
He'd thought he might speak, that he might somehow find the words to make his soul warm again--but she presses her fingers to his mouth, slowly shakes her head. And those eyes, sadder and wiser now than when he'd first gazed into them so many years ago, speak everything.
"Tell me a story," she says instead. "Tell me a story with a happy ending."
Nearby, fall leaves twirl in the wind like restless memories, their skittering sound the passage of time and the hollowness of years.
"Tell me," she pleads in a whisper.
Spirit broken, voice cracked, he does.
She listens, even smiles when he tells her how the Vampire Knight and the Slayer Princess lived happily ever after in the land of the sun.
After, she asks him to see her to her room, and he wheels her silently through the pristine hallways, leaving her with a kiss on her forehead at her door.
It rains the day they bury her.
Angel stands beneath the trees and watches mourning faces, crystalline tears on features he does not recognize. Slayer strength and stamina kept her heart beating long past every single one of her friends, and he is the last one left who remembers when she was but a girl.
Warm mouths meeting in the sunshine, the beat of two hearts in time, the chill of ice-cream against warm skin. He remembers it like yesterday. It was his mantra, his reward, his salvation, the thing that kept him going, battle after battle. It was the tale he'd told her the day she'd died--how it should have been.
No husband, no children. He never asked her why, and she never said. But he knows. Deep down in his heart, rooted in the darkest of his nightmares and the worst of his fears, he knows.
When night falls, he moves from the shelter of trees and stands beside fresh-tilled earth, hands deep in his pockets, thoughts tangled far in the past.
He wonders what the sunrise will look like.
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