Sense Memory

There are touches, everywhere in this bed. Touch of cotton against her back as she is laid upon the sheet. Feel of hair between her fingers, between her thighs. Soft caresses, like raindrops in a garden. Long, warm sweeps of hand. Large hands, two pairs; one tanned, one pale. Buffy takes one of each and presses the palms together. Bends the fingers forward until they interlace. They're exactly the same size.

Buffy kills things every day. She knows the importance of hands.

“Buffy.” Angel’s lips against her ear, shivering the tiny hairs on her skin. The hands lift her and she floats on his voice. But the whisper is torn and cracked; burnt pages and winter leaves. Even as she floats, she knows he is the one being carried.

*


She found him in the company of an icy dominatrix with a punk hairdo and a 19th century vocabulary. The two of them were holed up in an abandoned hotel in downtown L.A. The building would have been Hiltonesque in its day… which, when you think about it, was only last week.

“I heard you had an apocalypse without inviting me,” she said. “That’s pretty bad manners, even if we aren’t dating anymore.”

Angel smiled at her, but Buffy didn’t quite believe in it. “I wasn’t sure you’d come. I didn’t think it was your kind of party.”

“You know me. Always up for a bit of world save-age.”

“I’m not so sure we saved anything here, Buffy.”

He recited to her his list of things lost. Wesley, Gunn, a girl named Fred whose face now belonged to the creature with the messiah complex. Cordelia. Buffy felt a stab in her gut at the way he spoke her name. She’d always imagined that cadence, that reverent expression, would belong only to her. Stupid to think so; petty to feel it. But there it is.

She was the first to bring up Spike’s name. When Angel looked up, his eyes shone.

“You should have seen him, Buffy. He was incredible.”

*


There are sounds in the bed. Small noises, like children hiding in coal bins. Like that story Spike used to tell. She misses Spike, sometimes. Misses his lewd grin and filthy mouth; the constant litany of dirty secrets dropping in her ear.

But not tonight. Tonight she revels in the quiet. In the breathy moans moving relentlessly over her body. Feels the thrill in her belly as a warm tongue slides over her nipple. Sighs with pleasure as another tongue slips into her mouth. Angel’s kisses are demanding, nearly violent, and she’s left breathless with the force of them. He’s always fighting, always struggling, and oh, she loves that about him. She understands that tonight, she needs to let him win.

The other man in the bed with them seems to understand this, too. Buffy can’t help but admire the change.

*


They should have expected him, really. Inevitable that martial law should be declared. Los Angeles was chaos, and the job of organizing the peace fell under the command of Major Finn.

His stride was bigger than Buffy remembered. He carried himself with the air of one used to having his orders obeyed. His wife (Sara? Sue? Sam, that was it) wasn’t with him. She’d been killed in a fight. They’d given him a promotion. For outstanding bravery on the field of battle and courage under fire. He kept the medal in a drawer and wore the hardness around his eyes.

When Finn and his men arrived in L.A., the people rejoiced. Hailed him as a hero. They saw his face on the news, heard his steady army voice, and they nodded and sighed. Now things will get done. Now we will have shelter and clean water. Now we will be saved.

Inevitable, too, that he and Angel would cross swords as soon as Johnny came marching home.

“We’re taking over this building. My men need a base of operations.”

“L.A. is my city. The Hyperion is my property. You think I’m just gonna jump when you say how high?”

“No, I think you’re gonna respect the rule of law and do what needs to be done to restore order.”

“I didn’t take orders from the Black Thorn, or the Senior Partners. Why would I take them from an overgrown boy scout?”

“Because there’s not an evil cabal on this earth as ruthless as the United States government. Now you’re gonna get out of my way and let me do my job, or I’m gonna sign you up for a day spa in Guantanamo Bay.”

“I could take you down before you even reach for a taser.”

“Taking down’s easy. Building back up again… that’s the hard part.”

“Don’t push me, boy.”

But it was no use. Riley was all grown up. Angel didn’t have any boys left.

*


Riley smells like gunpowder. He’s only had to fire his weapon twice since he’s been in L.A., but the scent of it clings to him like desert dust. She imagines that Angel must find it overpowering.

Angel doesn’t smell like anything at all.

Riley’s nose is buried in the soft hair between Buffy’s legs. She wonders what she smells like to him. Lilac, maybe, from the soap she’s been using. Or something more pungent; she hasn’t showered since they returned from patrol.

His tongue is sliding up and down over her clit, and she’s gasping. The moans he’s wringing from her are new. It didn’t feel this way with him before, this relentless pulse between her thighs. She grasps at his hair and calls out his name when she comes. She never did that when they were a couple.

Ironic that it should happen tonight, now that he needs nothing from her.

*


When the army moved into the Hyperion, people began to migrate there. Nina was one of them. Angel opened his arms the moment he saw her, and she walked straight into them, as if they were home.

“You can’t stay here,” he said, holding tight. “These army guys… I don’t think they’d be a big fan of having a werewolf in the lair.”

“I don’t have anywhere else to go. The moon’s coming tomorrow night. I need a cage.”

Buffy stepped forward. “The council has a branch in L.A. I can take you somewhere safe.”

When she got back from escorting Nina to her new digs, she found Angel sitting alone in the lobby.

“You have a girlfriend,” Buffy said, her mouth tight.

“You have a boyfriend,” Angel replied.

Buffy nodded. “So I do.” They sat silently for a moment. Finally she asked, “Anything else you wanna tell me?”

“I have a son.” And he might as well have reached into her belly and ripped out her womb.

After listening to the story, she brought his head down to her shoulder and laid it there. Stroked his hair in comfort. She couldn’t begrudge him this. Because he missed the boy so much. Because he was grateful to have him at all, even at a distance. Because she had Dawn, and she may have a child of her own, one day. Just not his child.

*


She thinks about this now, as Angel slides into her. She’ll take Riley’s cock in her mouth but she won’t let him fuck her, not with Angel right here. Riley could plant life in her belly, and she doesn’t want to throw that in Angel’s face.

Riley is spent, and it’s just the two of them, now, Angel moving inside her, above her. He lowers his head to kiss her, but she holds his face between her palms, passes her thumbs over his cheeks.

“Angel. Look at me.”

The muscles around his eyes gather tight together. She wants to believe it’s a sign of his passion, but she knows that’s only half the story. He’s lost so much, and a thousand strokes of her hand over his brow could never smooth the lines.

But for now he is seeing her, with his shoulders moving above her and his cock sliding inside her. He keeps his eyes on hers, even as his movements speed up, even as his mouth opens and he chants her name, “Buffy, Buffy… Oh, God, Buffy…” And when his body arches and he throws his head back, she finally lets her eyes close and lets the clench of her thighs take her. And she almost believes she can save him.

*


She thinks that Angel misses Spike too, sometimes. Thinks that might be why they all ended up here, tonight, in this bed; and that disturbs her in ways she doesn’t care to examine too closely.

They’d come back to Angel’s suite after patrol to find the power had gone out. A blinking blue sign across the street cast the only light in the room.

“So much for army efficiency,” Angel sniped.

“Rolling blackouts,” Riley said. “There isn’t enough power to supply the whole city at once. It’ll come back on in about 20 minutes.”

“If I trip over the coffee table, I’m holding you personally responsible.”

“You’re a vampire. You see fine in the dark.” Riley smirked. “ ’Course it would help if you didn’t have that huge forehead hanging over your eyes.”

The next thing she knew, Angel had Riley by the shirt and was shoving him up against the wall.

“Fuck, man! What are you doing?”

Angel slammed Riley until his head snapped back, cracking the plaster. This was usually the part where Buffy would step in and tear them off each other. But Angel’s face was crumbling like a statue, like ancient ruins.

“It’s all wrong,” he whispered. Riley was tall. Angel had to crane his neck to look at him.

He grabbed the flak jacket in one hand and a fist full of hair in the other. Yanked him down until Riley’s face was level with his shoulder. His features glowed blue under the blinking neon.

“Your eyes. What color are they?”

“What?” Riley panted. “You’re out of your mind.”

Angel shook him. “What color?” he growled.

“They’re green.”

Angel searched his face for a long moment. “Close enough.” Then plunged his teeth into Riley’s neck.

*


Buffy wonders what blood tastes like to Angel. To her, it’s metallic and unpleasant. Injury and death. But watching Angel as he drinks from Riley’s arm, as his eyes close and his cock stiffens, she thinks that maybe to him, it tastes a little like love.

It’s an illusion, of course. For both men. Their eyes close and their cocks get hard and they pant and they come, but the people they love are in the ground, and all that’s left is the taste of the blood. It’s a lie, like the flavor of Riley’s come in her mouth. The stuff of life is bitter like the ocean.

And that’s why she can’t stay. Why she knows this is just for tonight. Because it isn’t just Riley in this bed with them. It’s Nina and the Immortal and Sam and Spike and Cordelia. It’s Buffy’s friends and Riley’s men and Angel’s brigade of lost boys. It’s an imperious god-king whose eyes will never be the right color, and a boy who calls Angel “Dad.” A sticky honeycomb of ghosts tangled up in their limbs.

And she loves Angel, God, as much as she ever did. But she can’t give him perfect happiness anymore. Right now, she doubts she can give him any happiness at all. But she can give him this, and Riley is giving him this, and for that, she is grateful beyond measure. Humbled that Riley can see past his own pain to help an enemy grieve. Hopeful that in this strange communion, they can both find some kind of solace.

She will leave in the morning, and Riley will command troops in the streets, and Angel will look for a new mission. And one day, after he’s found it, she may come looking to join him. Until then, Buffy will press this memory tight between her senses, like petals in a book of poems; like a pearl under the pile of mattresses where the princess sleeps, restless and bruised, dreaming of morning.


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