One more for the road.
Riley signaled the bartender with an eyebrow and pushed his empty bottle through the peanut shells scattered along the bar. His body vibrated with tension and not even the beer and whiskey had done much to diminish the uneasiness he felt.
He barely lifted his head as the bartender, a mean-looking fuck, put the bottle of Pabst in front of him, and the shot of bourbon beside that.
“I’ll have my tab,” Riley said reaching for the bottle.
When he was finished his beer and its chaser, he reached into his pocket for a couple crumpled twenties and dropped them onto the bar.
He threaded his way through the tables and stepped out into the humid L.A air.
God, why was he still sober? Or mostly sober at any rate.
The sun had gone down, but it had left behind the scum of smog and heat that coated every night-lit surface of the street in front of him. Riley rubbed a thick wrist against his forehead and turned south. Three days off and why he’d picked L.A. he’d never know.
Bullshit. He knew exactly why he’d come here, he just didn’t want to say it out loud.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a business card. He’d asked around and that was the beauty of a big anonymous city- there was always someone willing to give you information, no matter how strange the request, for a discreetly folded fifty
So now, he made his way along the street, hugging the buildings and glancing up occasionally to get his bearings. He felt jittery, like a junkie anxious for his next fix.
He came to the intersection and turned left. This street was less busy and less prosperous. One more left turn and he was really off the beaten track. He inspected the card in his hand once more and then crossed the street, found the street address painted in small black numbers beside a red metal door. He wasn’t sure what the protocol was, but he decided against knocking.
Inside it was eerily silent. He shoved the card back into his jeans and started down the narrow hall. He’d been to a few of these places, but this was the first time his skin had crawled with something more than just sick anticipation.
A noise boomeranged out of the darkness and Riley moved forward. He wasn’t afraid, but his training had taught him to be cautious. He pushed at doors along the hall as he passed them, but the rooms were empty. He doubted that it was because it was a slow night.
At the end of the hall, a set of stairs led up and Riley began to climb. He wished he had a weapon of some sort, but his fists were already clenched and he supposed that would be good enough.
Another noise, an immediately familiar ‘wooshing’ sound, propelled Riley up the stairs and into a big, dark space. He could make out the shapes of sagging chairs and mattresses; he recognized the smell of copper and sweat. The sound of a grunt drew his gaze to a far corner where two figures were clearly fighting. And then that ‘woosh’ sound again, as one of the figures disintegrated into dust.
Riley waited until out of the gloom, Angel emerged- his face cut with shadows and menace.
Riley squared his shoulders. From experience he knew there must have been at least a dozen vampires in this place, maybe more. Many of them would have been whores, but at least a handful would have been muscle. It looked like Angel had taken out the entire nest by himself. And he didn’t look any worse for the effort.
“Riley Finn,” Angel said. “I don’t remember calling for back-up.”
“Alone?” Angel took a small step sideways and peered around Riley.
“Back up,” Riley said. “You did this by yourself?”
“Still have a little something left,” Angel said quietly, taking a step closer.
Riley stood his ground.
“What do you want, Finn? Are you following me?”
“No,” Riley said. He didn’t want to tell Angel he’d come to this address for –well, not for him at any rate. Angel being here was an unlucky twist of fate. But now that he was here, Riley wasn’t about to back down. “I was out walking. I heard a noise.”
“Good ears,” Angel smirked. “Bit late though; party’s over.”
Riley unclenched his fists and crossed his arms.
“Were you looking for a fight?” Angel asked. “Because the last time you and I were alone like this, you got your ass kicked.”
“Things change,” Riley said coolly.
Lightning fast, Angel’s fist landed just below his nose. He felt his lip split and his mouth filled with blood.
“Fuck! You sonofabitch,” Riley said. He spat out a mouthful of blood.
“Yeah, I am,” Angel said. “You should try to remember that.”
There was no mistaking the warning in Angel’s voice; something blacker than his coat hung around his shoulders. He stepped around Riley and started down the stairs. Riley turned to look after him.
“I don’t get it,” he said quietly.
Angel kept his back turned, but he paused.
“You and her.”
He could see, even in the dark, Angel’s posture stiffen.
Riley lifted the edge of his T-shirt and wiped at his mouth. The worst of the bleeding had already stopped.
“What did she see in you? I mean, really?”
Angel turned his head.
“What did she see in you?” Angel replied.
“I think it was the whole breathing thing,” Riley said sarcastically.
Angel laughed unpleasantly. ““You really don’t want to fuck with me tonight,” he said.
“Having a bad night?” Riley asked conversationally. “Or century.”
Angel came back up the stairs. “People always think they can predict how I’m gonna react. Toss a few old names into the ring and watch Angel spin out of control.” He stepped closer and Riley could feel the rage coiled under the vampire’s skin. “Do you know what I mean? Go home.”
“Can’t,” Riley said bringing his head forward, smashing his forehead against Angel’s.
He felt Angel’s hands grab onto his T-shirt and then he felt his feet leave the floor. Seconds later, he was crumpling against the wall on the other side of the room. He sucked a wheezy breath in and let it out.
“I’m happy to finish this here and now if you are actually stupid enough to stand up,” Angel said crossing the room and crouching down in front of Riley. “Never mind. You don’t have to stand up. You are an idiot.”
Angel was staring at Riley’s forearm, at the faded and newer scars, evidence of Riley’s addiction.
“That’s why you’re here,” Angel said. He laughed unkindly.
Riley folded his arm into his chest and sat up. “Fuck off,” he said.
“Well, this is an interesting turn of events,” Angel said. “I never figured you for a junkie.”
“Save it,” Angel said. “Does she know?”
“Buffy and I--” Riley stopped. He didn’t owe this fucker an explanation.
Angel stood up. “What? You thought she’d stay with you once she found out you got off on having some vampire whore sucking you off.”
Riley stood, too.
“Yeah,” Angel said. “You got off on it. Sex and blood,” Angel shook his head, “nothing like it. As a matter of fact, earlier this week I made just that point with a roomful of scum-sucking lawyers. Good times.”
Riley headed for the stairs. He didn’t like the look in Angel’s eyes or the malice in his voice and suddenly he wasn’t interested in going another round with him. He thought he might have dislocated his shoulder.
“Where you goin’, Riley?” Angel said conversationally.
Riley went down the stairs and headed down the hall towards the door he’d entered. On the street he turned right and then cut through an alley. He stopped. Dead end. A rusty grocery cart was turned over on its side; someone had dropped a plastic bag filled with garbage and someone (or something) else had ripped it open, its contents spilled like decaying guts.
When he turned back around, Angel was standing there.
“You wanna dance?” Angel asked benignly. “Because I can see that you’re in some—distress.”
Riley waited. When Angel was close enough, he snapped his right arm back and smashed it into Angel’s face. Angel took a couple steps back and then two quick steps forward, a freight train. Riley felt himself pinned against the clammy wall of the nearest building by one huge hand and a pair of dark, dead eyes.
“Ever fuck one?” Angel asked and Riley watched as Angel’s human features melted away- replaced by malicious eyes and sharp teeth. “A vampire, I mean.”
Riley didn’t answer. Angel eyes gleamed golden, lit by something dark and dangerous; his prominent brow banished the man, welcomed the demon. If possible, he looked even bigger, despite the fact that Riley was taller.
Angel stepped closer to Riley, pressing him against the wall with his body, so close Riley could feel the muscles in the other man’s thigh. There was nowhere for Riley to go.
“You want to touch the darkness, is that it?” Angel said his voice full of smoke and venom. “Aren’t you afraid you might not make it back?”
“Aren’t you?” Riley said, meeting Angel’s eyes.
“I’m not coming back,” Angel whispered.
Then Angel’s hand was in Riley’s hair, pulling his head to one side. Riley tried to straighten his head, to resist, but then he felt the slice of teeth through the skin above his collarbone and the languid sucking that followed. Easy as that. One slow pull after another and Riley felt his cock stiffen.
He closed his eyes and listened intently for his heart beat- knew that Angel was listening for it, too. Then he felt Angel’s cool hand against his stomach, popping the button on his Levis, snaking down inside his jeans. He jerked forward and Angel pressed his thumb into the slit, dragging the moisture over the head of his prick.
He felt the cool night air against his torn skin and his hot dick and then Angel’s hand- wet now with what he knew was spit and his own blood- was back around him, sliding up and down. Then the teeth were back, tearing a new feeding ground and sucking in time to the strokes.
Riley came in powerful spurts. He would have fallen, knees no longer strong enough to hold him up, but Angel held him in place. He lifted one hand to Angel’s shoulder to steady himself and Angel pulled away.
“Look at me,” Angel commanded and Riley opened his eyes to find Angel smirking malevolently, his mouth bloody and his eyes so empty Riley felt really afraid for the first time that night.
Angel stepped back and Riley slid to the ground.
Angel wiped his hand off on the tail of his shirt before he knelt down beside Riley.
“She talked about you once. Said she trusted you and I hated you for that — but I wanted her to be happy,” Angel said. “You should have been that man. Not this one.”
Riley closed his eyes. He felt euphoric. And ashamed.
He felt Angel’s hands under his arms, hauling him up, yanking his jeans up and fastening them. He felt cool fingers at the wounds on his neck. Then they were walking: Riley was able to manage one foot in front of the other only because he was leaning against Angel and the vampire was doing all the work.
They exited the alley. Riley knew this because it was like walking into daylight; the streetlights were too bright and he groaned. He felt Angel’s strong fingers dig into his waist and they crossed the street. Riley felt what little energy he had left drain away with each step until he felt the darkness rise up and claim him.
He woke up on a couch. The room was grey, the colour of early dawn on a day that will not see the sun. His head throbbed. On the table beside the couch were two bottles of water and Riley reached for one. His hand shook as he twisted off the cap and took a greedy swallow. The water soothed his throat, but settled uneasily in his stomach.
The room was tilted and Riley lifted his head. He was in some sort of office, but it didn’t look as though it was getting much use. The bookshelves were mostly empty, a plant with wilted leaves sat on a corner of the desk, dust motes drifted in the air.
Angel appeared at the door. “When you feel up to it, get the fuck out.”
Riley wrestled himself to a semi-sitting position.
“Why didn’t you kill me?” He asked.
“I have a soul,” Angel said as if that should be obvious.
“Lots of killers out there with souls,” Riley observed.
“My conscience is already pretty crowded,” Angel said. “Besides, there’s always next time.” He paused to consider Riley. “But there’s not going to be a next time, is there?”
Riley swung his legs off the couch and leaned forward. He looked at the floor.
“The army teaches you to see things in black and white; they tell you who the bad guys are and you kill them,” Angel said. “Trust me, that’s a pretty narrow view of the world. You’re young still, but if you’re lucky, you won’t always be.”
“I suppose you think you did me a favor tonight?” Riley said.
“No, if I’d done you a favor you’d be dead.”
Riley closed his eyes. He would need to sleep for a little while longer before he could even consider finding his car. His leave would soon be over; he’d have to rejoin his squadron. He felt weak, but he knew his body would heal.
The hotel was silent, empty rooms.
When Riley opened his eyes again, Angel was gone. He touched his fingers to his neck and gritted his teeth.
Whatever had happened here, Riley was certain these wounds were not the worst damage done.
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