AUTHOR: Vatrixsta Cruden
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thanks to Ducks, for arranging this whole thing, and my endless love and appreciation for Sarea, who always makes time for me.
DEDICATION: For Elani Angel, because she wanted it!
SUMMARY: Everything in life leaves a mark of some kind.
by Vatrixsta Cruden
Sticky skin and pounding hearts, greedy mouths tasting all the flesh they can reach and the desperate way he clutches her when he comes: these were the things Buffy missed most while she was baking
It was ten months now since Angel had come back into the forefront of her life and they were just finally at a place where they felt comfortable enough to share -- things. Intimate things. Things that still made her blush in the broad light of day.
They didn't start sharing -- things -- at first. Things between them were almost Victorian in their restraint as they talked about the weather in Los Angeles, how the new state-of-being Angel found himself in was treating him, and how downright peaceful things were ever since that portal sealed all the evil of hell and earth behind it.
"A thousand years of peace," Angel said, and he'd still been undead at the time, so the prospect of another few hundred years on the earth without a huge good vs. evil struggle going on was probably kind of cool. "Doesn't sound too bad, huh?"
Spike had snickered, and Buffy had smiled at them both. "Sounds like something I asked very nicely for when I was sixteen."
"Maybe you weren't ready for it then," Angel said.
"Spare us the philosophical waxing," Spike said, "and leave it to us professionals."
William the Bloody Awful Poet and Angel, formerly the Scourge of Europe, were the last two vampires on the face of the earth.
About five minutes later, it was just Spike. The fit he threw about Angel getting the shanshu was amusingly childish and almost completely exaggerated. They were both fairly satisfied with how prophecy had come to be realized.
Sometimes, Buffy thought the only reason Spike wasn't too bent out of shape about things not working out between them was because Illyria was more flexible than a Slayer.
"Um -- yes?"
Speaking of flexibility -- after the purge, Buffy lost more than a bit of her Slayer abilities, but she was still in peak physical condition and had a few more tricks up her sleeve than most of the other girls out there. Angel was pretty much a normal guy, except for the fact that he had about two hundred and fifty years of fighting experience, could bench press a Honda if necessary, and had spent more time than Buffy liked to recall in the bed of a professional whore.
After their initial bout of shyness and restraint, they decided to work their way backwards through the Kama Sutra.
"I don't like this one," Buffy decided at last, letting out a sigh. "It's giving me a cramp."
"Thank God," Angel agreed, and he let her leg drop a long, long way back to the bed. They fell to their sides, breathing heavily, and Angel felt around on the nightstand until he found the book. "What about fifty-two? You liked fifty-two."
"No, you liked fifty-two," she said wryly.
He thought about it for a moment, then grinned. "Oh. Right."
"Maybe we can forget the book for tonight," Buffy suggested. "I mean, it's not like we really need to rush through the whole thing right away. We've got..." She thought better of saying 'forever' or anything else of substance. They hadn't actually discussed what they were doing. "Awhile," she settled on finally. "A good long while."
"Yes," he said, and he tossed the book aside. To her slight chagrin, he did not move to assure her that they had, in fact, forever. He did kiss her, though, and she let her chagrin go; she'd spent a long time trying not to think about the future; a few more weeks wouldn't hurt.
Dawn was getting hungry for food; not carnival food-on-a-stick food, but a nice healthy meal with nutrients and cutlery and everything. She figured that meant she was getting old. Angel was at one of the booths buying something to snack on. He was really big on snacks now that he could digest food properly. He and Buffy had been tiptoeing around each other for a few weeks now, and rarely went out on dates without a chaperone of some kind, like they didn't quite trust their situation or each other.
That was also getting old.
Buffy was high, high, high above everything, sitting alone in a two-seater car that groaned and creaked as it climbed its way to the top of an impossible peak. Roller coasters had never been a particular passion of Buffy's, but in recent years, after the end of days, after the thousand-years-of-peace schtick kicked in, after, she had developed something of an obsession with them. Most people assumed it was because, with all the demons gone, there was precious little to afford Buffy a real rush. Dawn knew better. The one girl in all the world with the speed and skill, yadda, yadda, and Buffy was still terrified of the roller coaster she had gotten stuck on when she'd been six years old and their dad took them to Magic Mountain over summer vacation. Dawn had been a baby, and one of her first memories was of Buffy being stuck on the Colossus. Dawn recalled screaming and screaming from her mother's arms, Joyce looking like she wanted to kill Hank Summers for putting their little girl in mortal danger.
It certainly hadn't been the most traumatic thing Buffy would go through in her life, but aside from the weird phobia the elder Summers had with hospitals, it was just about her biggest irrational fear. It had always struck Dawn as especially unfair that the last time Buffy died, she'd had to do so from a great height.
Thoughts like those made her stomach clench up, and Dawn forced herself to look away from where Buffy was about to go careening down the long slope of a roller coaster probably put together by drunken carneys. Angel was marveling at the bright pink cotton candy he'd just bought from a vendor.
"It's just -- sugar," he said, and he stuck out his tongue to taste some. "It has no substance. It's... it's..."
"The word you're looking for is yummy," Dawn corrected, and she leaned over to take a bite. He looked at her a bit resentfully, but kept any comments to himself.
She was, Dawn knew, back to playing the role of buffer. It was one she'd gotten comfortable with during Buffy's senior year of high school. Sometimes, Buffy would invite Angel over (assuming Joyce was out of town) and they would sit around pretending like they didn't want to rip each other's clothes off. They made Dawn sit with them, play games, pretend like they were doing it for her sake when they were really just desperately trying to mask all the tattered edges of their relationship.
Back then, giant forces of the universe were keeping Buffy and Angel apart; big, huge, world-destroying consequences of their love coming to fruition.
Now, they were just kinda being babies about it.
"Why do I keep eating it?"
"Because it's like legal crack," Dawn said, letting out a sigh.
"It doesn't even really taste good," Angel went on. "It's cloying and weird." He took another bite.
"It's a mystery of the ages, like marshmallow Peeps," she said.
Angel's eyes lit up. "What are marshmallow Peeps?"
Before Dawn could answer, Buffy's ride was over and she was skipping toward them.
"I am so doing that again," she declared as she, too, took a big bite of Angel's cotton candy. Dawn bitterly noted that he didn't seem the least bit resentful about it.
"I thought you were majorly freaked about roller coasters," Dawn said. "You wouldn't even ride Space Mountain with me."
"Over it," Buffy said with a shrug.
"Over it?" Dawn put her hands on her hips. "Since when are you over it?"
"Maybe since the last battle I had on this earth was more traumatic than Lord of the Rings and the Matrix put together and metal cars that go really, really fast can't really compare."
"Whatever," Dawn said. "He rode a dragon into another dimension and he's still too freaked out to get on one."
"Hey," Angel said.
"You were practically whimpering when she went on the Cyclone," Dawn said flatly.
"Well they might as well call them death cars," he muttered.
"It's all right," Buffy said soothingly, "I think I've had enough carnival fun for tonight. What's next?"
"Dinner," Dawn said. "But not with you two."
Buffy pouted. "But--"
"No buts," Dawn said flatly. "The two of you will go out and have dinner together. Preferably in the restaurant of some ridiculously expensive hotel where you'll get a room."
"Dawn," Buffy said through clenched teeth.
"Buffy," Dawn said back. She pecked Angel on the cheek and stole his cotton candy from him. "I'm not going on any more dates with you. You're both human and relatively without obligation or restriction. Jeez, live a little."
She only looked back at them once, when she was pretty sure they wouldn't be able to see her. They were staring at each other with the lights of the Ferris wheel spinning dizzily behind them. Angel reached out first; he always had, Dawn remembered. Their fingers clashed together first, and he stared down at Buffy's hand like it held all the secrets of the universe. He bent his head and pressed his lips to her fingers, then folded them over to reach her knuckles, then the back of her wrist. Buffy's mouth moved, but Dawn couldn't tell what she was saying; whatever it was, they left the carnival hand-in-hand, and no one heard from them for about a week.
It wouldn't be the first time they disappeared without word. Giles scolded them the first time; by the tenth he'd taken to sighing deeply in great disapproval.
Dawn was just glad to have her weekends free again.
Angel ran a private investigation office in Los Angeles; it was still called Angel Investigations, and run once more out of the Hyperion hotel. The cards with the little lobster-angels Cordelia had printed up in another lifetime were on display at the front desk, and the agency's motto was etched on a plaque behind the reception desk: We help the helpless. A series of photographs hung on the long wall that spanned up the staircase in the lobby. Buffy spent a lot of time staring at that wall, looking at it like it held a deeper meaning to something, and Angel wondered often what she thought about when she looked at the small snapshots of his life.
The pictures were courtesy the very expensive camera Cordelia had bought for the agency less than a week after she'd been hired.
"For the clients," she'd said, a picture of innocence. She must have forced Doyle to take a hundred pictures of her until she found one suitable to submit as a headshot when she went on auditions. That practice faded after their first year together, when being co-workers had somehow, without his realizing or consenting to it, morphed into being family.
They never did use the thing for official business. It seemed everyone was an amateur photographer, and they'd each taken their turns at it, some results better than others, only a few shots taken on the timer working out.
The wall sported a black and white of the original Angel Investigations team, Doyle and Cordy smiling brightly on either side of an uncomfortable looking Angel; Wes, Cordy, Gunn and Angel during that first house cleaning at the Hyperion; Fred and Cordy getting tips from Lorne on proper eye-shadow application. Near the end, the largest group shot taken when Connor had been a baby, of his family very shortly before it had been broken apart forever. Next to it was a self-portrait Spike had taken of himself and Faith when they'd gotten drunk one night after a hearty fight, their faces pressed together as they laughed, Faith's mouth open as she said something forever captured and forever lost. The last picture was of Connor, all grown up, standing with his father in a beam of light that showed off the different identical shades of brown hidden in their hair.
A few weeks ago, Angel had been playing with the camera again while Dawn and Buffy sat on the couch in the lobby painting their toenails. He'd gotten a wonderful shot of them; he knew exactly where it was going on the wall as soon as he found the right frame.
Angel spent a lot of time looking at those pictures, too, marveling at them, thinking how he'd been alive for so long, but never really found a life until so recently.
But then, Angel didn't really measure things in longevity. He and Spike shared one of the longest, most tangled histories known to man or vampire, and they could barely stop bickering long enough to save the world. Considering he'd spent a great deal of his unlife trying to avoid human contact, Angel thought there really had been a lot of people he'd managed to love and be loved by in return.
"What are we doing?"
He glanced over at her. Buffy was rubbing lotion onto her freshly shaved legs, spilling bits of the coconut-scented stuff onto his very expensive silk sheets. He set his book aside.
"In general, or tonight?"
"Don't dodge this. There will be no dodging," Buffy said firmly. "We've been avoiding this talk and I don't want to be avoidy anymore."
"What exactly is it that you think we're avoiding?" he asked carefully.
She gestured between them, which was unfortunate, as she was still holding the lotion and more of it splashed all over his sheets. She didn't seem to notice.
"Us," she said. "You and me. I know -- I know you love me, but..." She sighed. "I guess that sometimes, I look around at your life, and I think -- I don't know you at all. Which is stupid, because I probably know you better than I've ever known anyone in my whole life, but--"
"It's not stupid," he said quietly. "I -- we -- it was bound to take some adjustment. Neither of us have been particularly good at being in a relationship before."
"Understatement of the decade just barely edging out 'Angel's kinda quiet, isn't he?' for the title," she said.
"What are you really asking me, Buffy?"
"I guess..." She set the lotion aside and he breathed a sigh of relief. "I guess I'm just wondering if we're permanent like crazy glue or permanent like hair dye that fades away after awhile."
"Get off the bed," Angel said.
"So not the answer I was hoping for," she said.
He rolled his eyes at her. "Just do it."
She did, though she was glaring at him a little. He pulled the comforter back from the bed and gave his sheet a shake until it fanned out over the bed.
"When you look at this sheet," he said, "what do you see?"
Buffy shrugged. "Black silk?"
She looked closer. "Um... oh! Chocolate?"
He smiled a little. "What else?"
"Coconut lotion," she said, reaching out her hand to wipe at the smudges. It only ground the liquid in deeper, spreading the stain. She grimaced. "I'm kind of a slob, huh?"
"Kind of," he agreed gently. "But you're here. You're in my life."
"Like a stain," she said, and she didn't look too happy about it.
"Everything in life leaves a mark of some kind, Buffy," he said. "This sheet is just the easiest example I have. You're everywhere on me, Buffy, in my home, on my walls, in places the eye can't begin to see. You're a part of everything I do and everything I am. For all our problems, I thought -- I just thought you knew that."
Her eyes were liquid, and he was moved to realize how much he hated and loved them that way; hated making her cry, but was perversely glad that he could.
"I'm a girl, Angel," she said with a little hitch in her voice. "We like to hear you say it anyway."
He hung the picture of Buffy and Dawn up on the wall the next day. The frame wasn't perfect, but it fit there all the same. The wall seemed to almost come to life sometimes, as though it knew the secrets of the hotel, or the people whose smiling faces adorned it. Angel thought that Buffy would stop staring at the wall so much once the picture of her and Dawn appeared, but if anything, she stared more. It was different now, though; once, she'd been staring at it because she was questioning her place in his life; he knew that was no longer the case and it made him smile, because this time, finally, he knew they were going to get it right. No, she wasn't questioning her place in his life any longer.
She was appreciating it.
Elements from Elani: Buffy is the only Slayer/ex-Slayer, some angst if you can swing it.
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