Tempting


AUTHOR: Leni
WORDCOUNT: 5066 - don't. ask.
SUMMARY: Future. B/A. Non-B/A. Future B/A. Not exactly in that order. You're my imagination come to life.
It was supposed to be dialogue-only. It was also supposed to be short and Spike related. *shrugs* Blame the muse.
FEEDBACK: I want it. I crave it. Pleeeeeeease?
THANK YOU: to toomuchfandom and lucey for the beta.

Written for moviequoteminis, first round


---

Once he opened the door it was already too late. Angel recognised the presence in his room before his senses fully acknowledged it, but he purposely chose to ignore it.

He took out the stakes from the mechanism under his sleeves first, then the bracelet-like pieces themselves. The sword went next, settled against his dresser. He didn’t even register the distressed sound of disgust from behind him, as if she’d never seen the sight of thick blood on an already dirt-marred blade. Despite everything, his hand automatically opened the top-left drawer, reaching inside for the cleaning rag. He always kept it close, nowadays. There’d been a time when he wouldn’t have bothered to clean the mess, but that’s what hanging out with squeamish humans got you.

He unbuttoned his coat and headed for the shower, wordlessly stepping across the room. Between the fight at the last cemetery and the surprise that’d been waiting for him, that’s what he most needed now. His legs would have brushed against her on his way to the bathroom, his newest home was that small, but she’d quickly dropped on his bed, legs tucked under her, before any contact could happen. Her inviting offer to help went unheard as he closed the thin door. Once inside Angel could only think of how difficult it would be to open it again.

He should have known this would happen. Of course the battle in Canada would draw her attention, he just had hoped for the opposite, felt backed up by her prolonged absence... All for nothing. He finished shedding his clothes off and stepped into the shower, leaning his head tiredly against the cold tiles. The water was laced with red when it hit the floor, and he closed his eyes against the sight. He could feel the water running over the reopened wounds of tonight’s patrol and counted every unexpected burn as a new scar to bear – he didn’t heal as quickly these days. The use of soap and shampoo was perfunctory as Angel tried to understand the motives of his visitor. Three years ago he’d thought he’d finally freed himself; four months from now he’d considered that a fact. And now... He wasn’t sure he could handle this again. But he did know he had to confront it, go back into that room and confront her. His whole body shuddered at the thought, and he didn’t know if it was in aversion or anticipation.

There was no surprise, of course she was still in place when he came in. Now she was sitting, comfortably leaning back against his headboard, long bare legs emphasized by the dark sheets. Angel wouldn’t let himself appreciate the sight, under the circumstances it would be the worst move possible, the vilest betrayal.

“Don’t I warrant a ‘hello’ now?”

He almost sighed wistfully, remembering a time when she’d give up after a silence this long. There’d been one truth through all those years: she didn’t like to be ignored. But she had to go and get over it, didn’t she? Angel said nothing as he put on a change of clean clothes, never bothering to hide the view. Neither did he move to face her. It’d been a long time since he felt any kind of shyness around her, or any kind of response at all.

“Some girls would feel discouraged after this treatment, you know? Sure, you and silence, big pals. I get that. But this is getting a little over the silence-y top.”

Now he whirled around, hands fastened around the ends of his belt. The metal buckle bit into his skin, but Angel didn’t flinch. He hated when she played this act, as if she had any right to be in his bed. As if he owed her any attentions. “Get out.” He shouldn’t have said anything, he knew it now. His eyes strayed to the pout that was forming, just like it’d been so many years ago. Ignoring her presence was impossible, and she knew it. Maybe that was what he most hated, that he could still recognise in her the girl he’d once loved.

“I just want to talk, Angel. You liked to talk to me, remember?”

*

“So Giles said to use the swords. The metal was supposed to have some sort of reaction against Zafer skin, but these guys were all mutated or something because, the skin-metal thingy? Didn’t work. The girls were running, screaming and generally being easy prey and God, the crying. I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.”

“Is everyone okay?”

“A couple broken bones, more scratches than I can count, but yeah. The only good thing was that all the girls excelled at running, and those who didn’t learned really fast. I’m wiped out, though. They were too green, who was supposed to be in charge?”

“Vanessa.”

“Tell her that she’ll be doing retraining with me starting from tomorrow on. I don’t care if she’s one of the oldest, she could have killed someone today.”

“Noted. Want me to organise the next group patrol?”

“Please. I’ve never seen Slayers this wimp, was I ever that bad? Don’t answer. For this batch we’ll probably need evil puppets...Oh, sorry. It was the first thing that popped up. I’m really sorry?”

“So Spike was here.”

“Don’t sound so happy. It was business, actually. There’s been more trouble in Cleveland. He came to pick up some girls as extra muscle.”

“That bad?”

“That bad.”

“And you aren’t going?”

“Hey, if Spike, Faith and fifteen Slayers can’t handle it, the world is over anyway. Besides, I’m going to need a week-long massage after this evening. It’s Giles-endorsed, even! I think he’s feeling guilty.”

“It isn’t often that Rupert makes a mistake.”

“Watch me not being sorry for him. Those Zafers were really mad.”

“Come here, forget the Zafers. I think I heard something about a massage?”


*

Angel remembered, and he didn’t want the present to ruin those precious memories. He thought of fleeing, then gave it up. There were places that would welcome him even this late at night, but it'd be useless. In first stance, he'd have to explain why he'd been driven out of his own place. Secondly, chances were she'd just follow him and that he didn't want to explain. Only in the latest weeks had he begun to fit into this group, and nothing like this very persistent guest could disrupt that thin balance. His hand, that had already turned the doorknob, retreated, and he leaned against the doorframe.

She smiled smugly at his unspoken defeat, and moved a leg languidly over the other as she waited for him to take the first step. When he didn't, she frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. “Alright, we’ll only talk shop then.” She looked directly at him, and a corner of her mouth lifted in appreciation. “I saw you earlier.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “I didn’t take you as a stalker.”

“You didn’t?” She smirked, let her fingers play with the hem of her shirt teasingly. “Well, you know better now. I had to see you, Angel. There were rumours that you were back in action, especially after Montreal almost pulled a Sunnydale, but I didn’t believe them. The underground gossip mill isn’t as reliable as it used to be, you know?”

He shrugged disinterestedly, even if now he understood why she’d left him alone for this long. He’d known he shouldn’t have played a big part in that battle, but the odds had been too dire for him not to step in. Now Angel wished he’d thought it over twice.

“I really believed you when you said it was over. But tonight I knew they were all lies. It was just like before, wasn’t it? I saw it in your eyes. You enjoyed that fight, you loved it.”

Angel didn’t bother to deny it; he wasn’t ashamed of that side of himself anymore.

“Why here, though? In this end of the world, doing the little stuff when you could accomplish so much more. Angel, you belong to the major leagues, why on Earth would you waste your - our - time here.”

“Sometimes the ‘little stuff’ is what matters.”

She stopped him with one hand. “Please, don’t go all philosophical on me. It won’t work. I know you’ve played cops and thieves enough to know it won’t make any real difference.”

“And you make it?”

“Touché.” Absently, as if she didn’t know he’d notice, she traced the silver cross on her chest. “I don’t. Yet.” The silver chain twirled around her fingers. “But with you, I could.”

He chuckled. “As if you needed me. You’re hardly alone in your fight.”

“They are all in diapers. You’re the only one who knows how it feels, to be in charge of a bunch of weaklings.”

“Those ‘weaklings’ are now the strongest force around.”

“Wrong.” And she sounded upset as she said the word. “They are okay, I guess. But with you back on my side... can’t you see the possibilities?”

How many times had he heard that very line? Even when they didn’t come from her lips anymore, even when it’d been weeks, months and years since he’d seen her, that sentence had stayed in his subconscious, constantly tempting him. Angel knew it: what he’d never achieve on his own became possible with her. How not to be tempted? But... “Been there, done that.”

“I promise, this won’t be the same.” She cocked her head; the movement made her hair fall swiftly to a side. Angel watched as it cascaded on its way down – she’d grown it long in their last years together – and finally pooled on his mattress. There’d been a time he’d have stepped forward without a doubt, knelt at her bedside just for a chance to play with that hair. Forcibly, he drew his hands back, joining them behind his back. She smiled knowingly at his actions, and curled a loose strand around her index finger, just as he would have done. “And, Angel,” she continued. Her voice cut through his memories, and he had to close his eyes momentarily to return to the present. “There was a time you liked fighting on my side, always helping when I needed it. Your advice was a huge advantage.”

He'd advised Buffy. He'd advised the members of the Council and they'd succeeded, true. But now she was twisting the past, as she liked to do in this little visits. He shrugged. “I’m sure you have great advisors with you.”

She glowered. “How many times do I have to tell you? They don’t know me!”

Angel almost laughed. “And you think I do?”

“Yes.”

He did laugh now. After all this time, after everything her apparitions put him through, that declaration sounded utterly ridiculous. But she just looked up at him with those huge eyes, the same green he’d loved to stare into so long ago. “You really do.”

He shook his head. Once upon a time...

*

“You haven’t said anything.”

“I’m not sure you want my opinion. She’s your sister, after all.”

“So you think I should let her go, too. I’m afraid for her; Dawn is so young... and don’t come to me with the ‘you were younger’ speech, I’m sick of it.”

“You were. But I was thinking that she’s too old.”

“What?”

“She finished school before I came back, how long has it been? You’ve done a good work. Few girls are as mature as Dawn, even among the Slayers. But she wants to do this, and if she waits longer then she’ll really stick out.”

“But... Boston.”

“You know she’s asking only because she loves you.”

“But, Boston! An ocean away!”

“Just say that you’ll think about it.”

“Okay.”

“And mean it.”

“You know me too well.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”


*

Once upon a time, Angel thought darkly. Once upon a time he’d known Buffy like the back of his hand, and vice versa. But that time was long past. It had been simpler times, and how he wished to return and slip back into his memories, but... He stared at the figure in his bed, and had to remind himself that he didn’t want anything to do with her. “I want you to leave.”

“And I want you to come.” She heard his sigh, and obviously took it as an invitation to continue. “Think about it. Don’t you get tired of this lone ranger routine?” She shook her head at herself, rolled her eyes a bit. “Of course you don’t.”

“Someone has to be here, act when necessary.” Which was true.

“And do you have to be that someone? Leave this gig for Spike, he’s hot with the redemption business.”

“I guess that’s one thing we have in common.”

She snorted in laughter. “I never thought I’d see the day.” She tucked her legs in and leaned her body forward, resting her weight on her arms. He’d seen Buffy in that exact pose when she wanted to convince him of something. It could still hurt him that the knowledge was used against him so effortlessly. “But that’s where you’re wrong. You’re so very different. Special, to me. You always were.”

Once he’d have moved earth and heaven to hear those very words. Now the sound of them made the blood freeze in his veins. Wrong, he told himself earnestly even as he wished to just give in, go with her, turn time back... “Things change,” he said, more to himself than to his visitor.

“Yes.” She pouted, as prettily as before. “You used to be more fun.”

*

“I’m worried about Diane.”

“Diane?”

“You know, blonde, lots of freckles, German accent. Can’t handle a sword but runs like the wind.”

“That’s Diana.”

“We had a Diana?”

“Apparently.”

“Don’t laugh at me. It’s not laughable. There’s a Diane, a Dana, Dejanira, Dayenne and now Diana, too. Can’t we spell them into legally changing their names?”

“We could consult Willow.
Or, we could start using nicknames.”

“Because that sounds reasonable. Right. You of the good ideas, have another to share?”

“Blonde Freckles for Diana?”

“Har har... No.”


*

She was right there, Angel had to recognise. He used to be lots of things before. But they’d disappeared over time, pushed away by his growing loneliness. When first decided to break with the new Council, it’d been hell to get used to the new state of affairs. Not even losing his first friends in L.A. had been so hard. L.A. had lasted all of five years in total, even if it’d seemed an eternity. His time with Buffy and her friends had almost tripled that time, years in which he’d helped rebuild the Council. Leaving them, being completely alone again, not truly belonging to any band and with no hope for improvement... Yes, hell was an appropriate description. That he’d been tormented by her constant appearances was just the top of that cake.

He’d learned to drift in and out of society. Old habits die hard; he’d stayed in the fringes for his everyday life and popped up only for the most difficult battles. They mostly took some days; Apocalypses tended to blow up or blow over within hours only.

He'd learned to distinguish the Hellmouth-caused situations, and avoided them like the plague. Even if some Slayers weren't in place, it was a safe bet that she would be. Only rarely had he encountered one of Buffy's friends, and every time he'd put his talent for melting in the shadows to good use. One time it'd failed him; he'd turned around in the middle of battle and came face-to-face with Xander. Both had almost jumped back, too stunned at the other's unexpected presence. But the fight surrounding them had forced them into practicality. They'd covered each other's back for hours, and even then there'd been no words beyond a yelled order to duck or to charge in a specific direction. When it was over, Angel didn't mention that training with the Slayers had finally paid off, and Xander barely nodded in his direction before running off to check on his Slayers. Angel quickly disappeared from the scene before the boy - the man - decided to give up his presence.

Against all odds, it’d gotten better with time. His existence had just begun growing a few hints of real life: Friends that trusted and accepted him, a place to officially call his, the safety of normality surrounding him... But still, there wasn’t a day when he didn’t wish things were different.

"I never wanted this," he whispered, not sure why he was speaking aloud.

The woman before him smiled sadly, and he could almost believe that expression. She sounded really curious when she wondered, "When you thought of the future, what did you see?"

He met her eyes and didn't answer.

"Not this, surely," she asserted.

No, not this.

*

“Oh no, not you too!”

“I’m just saying...”

“Look, I appreciate it, really. I know you and Giles, and Willow and even
Xander are worried, but college and I just aren’t happening. I tried, that my favourite teacher resulted an evil scientist was enough jinx as far as I’m concerned.”

“But...”

“Besides, where will I get the time for it? My current job-slash-life is pretty much full-time, as in literally 24/7.”

“You should consider the future. You won’t always be training the new Slayers.”

“No, I’ll be burying them.”

“Buffy...”

“I did, okay? I considered, I pondered and mused and every other synonym in existence. Dawn’s in Boston, playing Summers college girl. One loose in the world is enough, believe me.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yes, but if you ever change your mind...”

“I won’t.”

If you ever do, we all will support your decision.”

“I know. Thank you. And you won’t mind to be stuck with an uneducated woman?”

“You are kidding? You’re more than I can handle as it is.”

“Thank you.”

“I love you, Buffy.”


*

When he'd thought of his future with Buffy, never had this reality crossed his mind.

“You could have it, Angel. A life together, someone to share your dreams with, wasn’t that what you’ve always hoped for?”

Yes, but his response to her offers always stayed the same – it had to. “No.”

“It’s what I wanted,” she said, the soft voice coming directly from his best memories. “What we had, for the rest of our lives.”

He wanted Buffy back, of course he did. He wanted it so badly that sometimes he could feel her at his side, a presence that emboldened him in battle, or that whisper of courage and loyalty before he fell asleep. But if he turned, searched for her, she was already gone. Those moments were only ghosts of his imagination, and that was why the presence in front of him tormented him so much. Her, he could actually see. It wasn’t fair. Finding her tonight was his sweetest dreams and his worst nightmares come to life, all in one.

“Don’t you want it, too?” she asked.

“Yes, but not this way.”

Her eyes widened innocently. “Way? What way?” She scooted down the bed until she was sitting at the edge. One hand raised towards him, and Angel almost wanted to meet it midway. Instead he forced his body to move away, pressing himself against the doorframe at his back. The hand lowered, and she looked at him as if she couldn’t comprehend his behaviour. “You loved me, you fought for me, and now you don’t want me?”

It was the disappointment in her voice that did him in. Before, he’d always hated to fail Buffy.

*

“Poor baby. Those Luith were really nasty with you.”

“We were taking down their elders, not the best moment for a handshake.”

“Giles says you’ll be fine soon. A week, at most. Now be a good boy and stay in bed.”

“And you’ll help with the process?”

“Actually...”


*

These last three years without a single visit had left him unprepared for tonight, vulnerable. He was walking towards the bed, reaching out for her before he realised how willing to believe her he was. “Buffy?”

*

“You still haven’t recovered. That’s out of question.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hey, I’ve handled Ends of the world without you before, mister. No biggie.”

“I know. I just worry about you.”

“Understood. I love you, too, Angel. But I’ll be fine. I always come back to you, it’s kind of my thing.”

“Our thing.”

“Ours, yes. Don’t be such a worrywart, okay? Kiss.”


*

She had promised, hadn’t she? “Buffy?”

She smiled as he finally said that name, sweet and loving as she watched him kneel before her. His fingertips stopped an inch from her cheek, and he looked up at her with his heart in his eyes. “Tell me this is real.”

The smile stayed as sweet as she answered, “Why ask what you already know?”

Angel could have screamed then, just as he’d done many times when she – this – it – no, he preferred 'she' or he’d really go crazy – first appeared in his life. Instead he lowered his hand. There was no skin to touch, no flesh to caress, only an emptiness that crushed his foolish hopes. Buffy was gone, and she wouldn’t come back this time.

“But it could be real, Angel.” His tormentor continued. “Say yes, and this will be over. I’ll bring her to you.”

“Not this way,” he repeated. “Buffy would never accept it.” There’d been times when he’d felt close to fall in temptation, offer everything in exchange for a little more time with her. In those terrible moments, that knowledge had been the only barrier keeping him from falling over.

“She wouldn’t know. I have the power, you know it. I’ve told you a thousand times, an human’s memories aren’t hard to meddle with. You should know it. Give me the chance to do this for you. Please.”

There were a thousand reasons to accept, each of them shaped in a Buffy-memory. But it’d be a lie, a very cruel one. “I won’t lie to her.”

“Why not? You did it before, quite successfully, too.” Buffy’s image retorted easily.

*

“Mmm...I could do this forever...”

“Eat chocolate bonbons?”

“With extra-minty centre, yes. I love the combination. God, these are so good. I love them... Mmmm...”

“Why?”

“Er... Because I just said they’re delicious?”

“No. Chocolate and mint. Why do you like the combination?”

“Dunno. It’s been my favourite since I was a kid. There was this ice-cream, yum. Dad used to buy it by the dozen; we were that addicted to it.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Weird. I hadn’t thought about that in forever. I guess now you have your answer, who’d have thought? Anyway, want a bite?”


*

One more mistake he’d never be able to correct, Angel thought sourly. The balance between them had been too new, too fragile to resist that truth. It’d taken them years to come to terms with their relationship, they’d gone from strangers to colleagues to friendship as each longed for the other. That final step had been more of a miracle than an actual decision, and to tell her about the lost day after all those hardships... No, he hadn’t been able to do it.

“It’s not a lie, Angel. She wouldn’t know about the pain she suffered, everything she lost. You fell for her when she was innocent and hopeful, I could give you that girl back.”

“I loved Buffy for the woman she became, too. That woman would never be part of this deal.”

“Do I want her to?” She chuckled, as if really amused. “I want you. Lead my army, be my right hand and in return I’ll give you a lifetime with your sweet Slayer.”

“She’d never take Angelus."

"You could do it with your soul intact. You know that."

He could. The things he'd done at Wolfram & Hart still weighed his concience, but they'd been the first step towards understanding: A soul didn't make who he was. The time spent with Buffy had finally convinced him. Somewhere between Sunnydale and Rome he'd earned the right to own his soul. For better or for worse. But just as he'd stayed the same through right and wrong, Buffy's personality wouldn't change in a new 'life'. "She'd never take me if I fought for you.”

There was a little giggle in response, and she looked at him condescingly. “Wouldn’t she? I’m not so sure, you two always were attracted to each other, damned the world around you.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully and lifted her shoulders in a devil-may-care gesture. “Let’s say you’re right. Live that life as you’d prefer. That’s my final offer. Fight with the girl against me, why not? Just come back when she’s gone.”

This was his turn to laugh. “Did you forget? I may not be around by then. Humanity comes with mortality.”

“Ah, ah, ah, but humanity also comes slowly for those who signed it away. You walk in sunlight now, big deal. Normal humans breathe, too, and have a real heartbeat. No, Angel, you fooled me once already but I know better now. Three years ago you swore that a lone man wasn’t of any use.”

“I did?”

She looked at him hatefully. “I left you because I believed you’d take a mediocre life, and now I’ve found you leading the Montreal forces against my strongest followers."

“You need to pick them better.”

She smiled meaningfully, tilting her head higher towards him. “I am.”

“But I’m not interested.”

Changing tracks, she decided to attack from a new angle. “Once you gave your son a new life in exchange for his memories. You could keep her this time, no impossible sacrifices.”

“Connor...” Even after this time, a knot formed in his throat when he said the name. “Connor was a victim of circumstances. He made the wrong choices under the wrong influences, couldn’t deal with the consequences. He deserved a second chance.”

“And Buffy doesn’t?”

Yes. But she’d had a second chance when she was sixteen, and a third when Willow had brought her back. There would be no fourth time, she’d told him once. She only wanted peace, no more fights, no more death. He couldn’t betray her like that. And, anyway, deals with the devil never worked out; his experience with Connor had been enough proof.

Angel sighed, walked to his dresser and got out some daggers from it. He refastened his sword around his back, just as he felt the sun breaking through the horizon. He didn’t bother with his coat this time, it’d be a beautiful summer day. He’d have preferred to stay in and sleep, but even if she left Angel knew he wouldn’t be to relax. Day patrols exhausted him, but maybe that was exactly what he needed.

“Wait.”

He didn’t. He’d had enough tonight. Even the bittersweet joy of seeing that beloved face didn’t match the dismay of knowing it wasn’t real, that he’d never actually see her again.

“Wait!” In a blink, she was before him. Younger now, like when they’d first reencountered each other in Rome. Then she said the words he’d wait for years to hear: “I want you to come with me.”

That this mockery used the same expression Buffy had worn that night, the exact words she’d used, made Angel hate her - it - even more. “Why?” he snarled. “I’ll never agree, why do you keep asking?” He didn’t bother to lash out physically, he’d learned to control that impulse soon after he understood how useless it was.

“Why? Because you’re worth this. Because you’ll say yes one day and I’ll be here to accept you. Because a century has passed and you still want that girl.” The features softened, and Angel almost wanted to scream at the perfection of the picture. “There’s been new friends, good friends. There’s even been lovers you’ve really cared about. I saw you, you loved each of them a little. And still their faces have no effect on you, I could wear their bodies and use their voices and you’d just walk away. But for her, for your Buffy, you stay and listen.” Her fingers didn’t brush his skin as she reached for him, but he shuddered just the same. “You want her back, badly enough to accept my offer.” At his sceptic frown, she added, “Eventually.”

She raised to her tiptoes to whisper into his ear, just as Buffy had done often when they’d been together. “I can wait, Angel. I have time.”

Just like that, she faded away, leaving him with nothing but the surety that she’d be back. Angel stared upwards, at the pinkening sky and watched silently as the sun rose in the background. He chuckled slightly then, looking down at his bare arms. There were several white lines acting as capricious bracelets on his skin, the traces of his last fight still painted blue and purple shadows on his forearm. What the First had said was the truth, he wasn’t human. Not yet. But his body’s protests to his exigent life-style wouldn’t lessen, just the opposite. Not for the first time, Angel was glad for it. He had time, the First had said.

“I don’t,” he told the empty space before him, and thought fondly of the past as he continued onwards.

*

“Look at them, they think we’ll jump each other any minute now.”

“Your friends are worried about us, after what happened at the docks.”

“Why? We were hypnotised. As if they'd never been through it. And it's hardly the first time we're together after that night. It's been a week!"

"And it's only gotten worse."

"I swear, Xander'll break his neck if he keeps craning it like that. I just don't get it. You and I, we're friends, have been for too many years to mess with that, anyway. They know it.”

“...”

“I'm right, aren't I? Because I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t consider you my friend and I thought you felt the same, but if I’m wrong tell me now. Because it’s better to know and---”

“We are friends, Buffy.”

“Good. Good. You had me worried there for a second. You know, good friends don’t lie to each other.”

“What?”

“Nothing."

"...okay..."

"No."

"Buffy, I don't unders---"

"I mean: no, there's something. Willow's still too much of a romantic, you know? There’s this stuff she said and... Damn it, everyone is staring now. Hello? Bit of privacy needed here.”

“Are you alright?”

“Well... I need a drink and... Angel? I want you to come with me.”


*

The End
21/08/05


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