The Undertow

by Felicity

 

 

Summary: Done with Darla, Angel visits Buffy in his search for warmth.

Author Notes: This is pretty dark, but it has its redeeming qualities I promise.

Story Notes: Set about a week after "Reprise" on Angel and "I Was Made to Love You" on Buffy. A companion to my story "Wreckage". The song is "Full of Grace" by Sarah McLachlan.

Warnings: language, violence

Disclaimer: They're not mine. If they were, none of this would ever have happened.

 

 

 

 

I was hungry. Not for blood-for flesh, for feeling, for warmth. What I'd forgotten was that Darla didn't have any warmth to give. Even deep inside she was cold, dead, evil.

 

I'd been warm once, and I was hungry for that...so I went back.

 

She walked into her room alone and didn't turn on the light. I didn't need it to see; she looked older, tired, hanging on the cusp of horror, as if a few slippery fingers were all that kept her from falling...to what? She was all dressed in black. I can't remember ever seeing her all in black.

 

I was silent, unmoving, swathed in shadows. Her senses must have improved, because she turned to close the door and stood with her back to the window, to me, and said, "Angel."

 

"Buffy."

 

"Didn't expect to see you here," she commented. Her voice wasn't deliberately cool so much as...dead. Emotionless, carefully.

 

"What happened?" I asked, not that I cared. Maybe a little. She turned at that, surprised.

 

"My mother died," she said. Joyce. I remembered when my mother died-when I grinned at the look of absolute terror on her face. I can still taste her blood, sweet, coppery...

 

"I'm sorry," I said. A lie perhaps. Part of me thought Joyce was probably better off where she was. "What happened?" What I was really asking, of course, was if it was vampires.

 

Buffy gave a helpless little shrug. "She had a brain tumor. They thought they'd gotten rid of it but...obviously not." She gave me a sharp look. "If you didn't know, why are you here?"

 

I didn't take the invitation to step out the shadows. "I wanted to be."

 

"Great," Buffy commented bitterly. "Thanks for stopping by. If you don't mind, I could use a little privacy at the moment." She'd walked closer, was only a few feet away now. Moonlight from the window framed her face, glowed in her hair, emphasized the stark black of her clothing. She should have stayed on the other side of the room.

 

"I do mind," I said, and finally stepped out the shadows into the moonlight with her. We were a whisper apart. She looked a little alarmed, but only a very little.

 

"I could make you leave," she told me, but I could tell she wouldn't, didn't want to. It was there in her voice-the need, the buried pain and a hunger of her own.

 

"You could," I agree quietly, bending my head until we were inches apart-less, centimeters. "But you won't."

 

"Why not?" she challenged me.

 

"Because you want this too." I kissed her gently, the way I used to kiss her-as if she were glass, breakable, or the sweetest wine to be savored. She returned the kiss, rougher, hungrier, and then all of a sudden I was slammed against the wall, Buffy's tiny body pressed to mine, her hands holding me firmly. I laughed at her, at the whole situation. I thought I'd be the one playing rough.

 

"I'm not a little girl anymore Angel," she reminded me, ignoring my bitter mirth. I knew, oh god I knew. I fairly ached for her by that time.

 

"Good," I whispered, and reversed our positions, holding her against the wall, kissing her without gentleness, without tenderness, without love.

 

The way I kissed Darla.

 

And that's the way Buffy kissed me back.

 

It was so different from the first time it's a mockery to assume they're even related. Then she was inexperienced, tentative, innocent and I was gentle, thoughtful, so in love I couldn't breath anything but her. This time...god, this time... We were hungry, both of us, and that's all we were. Hungry, rough, like a battle. No give and take, no sense of the other person. It was just take, take, take, rip and tear, make me warm, make me feel, make it over.

 

It wasn't over. Afterwards I lay in her bed, not touching and we both knew what had happened and what, most distinctly, had not.

 

No searing pain to wake me from heavenly dreams. No ripping, no hellish glee erupting inside my head.

 

No warmth. No true happiness. No end.

 

I didn't say I was sorry. I wasn't. It was what it was. I had taken my goddess, the one thing left in my world that had been beautiful, and ground it into the dirt, reduced it to my level.

 

"I'll let you be alone," I said after a few minutes-five, ten, twenty, I don't know. I climbed out of her bed and began to pull off my clothes, so hastily discarded. My shirt was missing most of its buttons. Buffy's skirt was ripped up the middle.

 

She gave a bitter laugh, sitting up in bed, the sheet covering most of her, her loose hair rumpled. I caught a glimpse of the pale flesh of her shoulder, the curve of her back not covered by the sheet.

 

I wanted her. I still wanted her. I had enough decency left to leave though.

 

"You think that's really what I want?" Buffy asked. "To be alone?" I drank in the sight of her as I buttoned what was left of my shirt. She shifted beneath the sheet, pulling up her legs.

 

"More than you want to be with me right now," I offered truthfully. "I just gave you all the comfort I have to give." She winced, because it was as far from comfort as it was possible to be. I picked up my jacket and shrugged it on. Turned to go.

 

"Angel," Buffy called. I turned back. Her expression was closed, sealed off. "Are you looking for true happiness so you won't have to feel at all anymore, or because you want to remember what it feels like?"

 

If I had the capacity left for surprise, I would have felt it then. Still she understood me. Still. What was I supposed to say? She knew the truth already, and I wasn't ready to say it out loud. Not to her. I turned toward the window again, and an image placed itself over my view-Buffy, holding me against the wall, as savage as I have ever been.

 

"Did you let me because you hoped I'd kill you after, or because you wanted to feel alive again?"

 

There was a little sound from the bed behind me. I wanted to turn, but even in my screwed up head I knew I shouldn't. Her mother had just died. She'd dealt with enough of my crap for one night. Make that for a lifetime.

 

Why did I care? I didn't really, I just...I was leaving. That's all there was to it. Maybe it was because I didn't want her to be hurt. Maybe I'd just finished with her.

 

I climbed out the window, into the night, the shadows where I belonged, and left the tarnished, weary remains of what I'd once loved behind me.

 

//the winter here's cold, and bitter

it's chilled us to the bone

we haven't seen the sun for weeks

to long too far from home

I feel just like I'm sinking

and I claw for solid ground

I'm pulled down by the undertow

I never thought I could feel so low

oh darkness I feel like letting go//

 

I went back to LA, back to hours of pointless fighting, destroying whatever happened to be in my path because it was there. I had nothing better to do. Fighting took a little of the edge off; I didn't have to think if I was killing something.

 

One day I got up and found mail. I never got mail. There was just one envelope, and the writing looked familiar. Inside was a slip of paper. All it said was "Motel 6, Thursday, 9:00 p.m." There wasn't a signature-there didn't have to be. I knew who it was from.

 

I left at dusk on Thursday, and drove straight to Sunnydale. I convinced the teenager at the front desk to call up, and got a key off of him. The elevator was small, dingy. Everything about the place needed a wash. Not that this was a time to be obsessed with cleanliness.

 

Room 213. I keyed open the lock and opened the door. She was sitting on the bed wearing a robe. She turned when I walked in, watched me without emotion. "I didn't want you to ruin any of my other clothes," she explained as I took in her outfit, or lack thereof.

 

"Fair enough," I said, and closed the door behind me.

 

It wasn't much different that time-we were still hungry, still hurt, still searching for something in the other person that we couldn't find in ourselves. We knew we weren't going to find it, but we had to keep trying. Had to keep hurting each other and ourselves. Maybe I didn't hurt her, I don't know. Maybe I didn't hurt myself, I couldn't tell. I was numb.

 

I didn't stay much longer this time. "Where's Dawn?" I asked, because for some reason I was beginning to be bothered by silence. I can't imagine why...maybe because I'd always been comfortable in it, and now nothing was comfortable.

 

"She's with Xander. Movie night, every Thursday." Her words were a promise, or a challenge perhaps. Or a threat.

 

"Next week?" I asked, reaching for my boxers, my pants, sliding out of the bed. At least the sheets were clean. She was still lying there, her hair spread out on the pillow and I felt the tiniest pang. She should be in a real bed, a beautiful room, being pampered and cuddled by someone that was capable of it. Not there with me.

 

It was only a moment though, and then I didn't care again.

 

"Same Bat time, same Bat place," she agreed quietly, gazing up at me. One hand reached up idly and twisted a strand of hair.

 

Goodbye? It didn't seem appropriate. There hadn't been a hello after all. It wasn't like I'd really been there at all; it was this interlude, a moment in time where we came together like tidal waves, clashed and dissipated, pushing away, back to where we'd come. In a few hours Buffy would be gone too, and a maid would come and change the sheets and then there'd be no trace of us anywhere. I still had my soul. I hadn't felt a thing, much less happiness. It was just another thing to do. I left without another word.

 

One week, oh...a month later...Buffy came with stitches on her forehead and a bruise all the way down her arm. I wouldn't even have known it was there-she wore a dress, and I pushed her against the wall and pushed up the skirt. I grabbed her arm and she cried out in pain. I stepped back as if she'd burnt me.

 

"What is it?" I demanded, angry for some reason. Not at her-at myself, for hurting her. As if taking her against the wall was every girl's dream.

 

"Nothing," she said, sounding irritated, and grabbed the belt of my pants. I jerked her hands off and unzipped her dress roughly, pulling down one shoulder. It was revealed: mottled black, blue, green, deep bruises. I thought of what it took for Buffy to bruise.

 

"Who did this?" I asked. "What's going on?"

 

"Why do you care?" she demanded, jerking her dress back up. "It's none of your business Angel. You're not part of my life. Don't try and pretend like you are."

 

She started toward the door, not even bothering to zip up her dress. I didn't let her get far enough for it to matter-before her hand touched the doorknob I'd jerked her back, kissing her roughly, ravenously. I didn't bother to avoid touching her arm or her forehead. By the time it was over there were tears streaking down her face. I picked her up and carried her to the bed, gently laying her down and pulling the covers over her. She curled up there, unmoving, silent.

 

I wanted to ask if she was okay, but I knew the answer. What did I think it would be? What did I think she would say? I'd fucked her like she was nothing, and hurt her in the process, physically as well as...whatever else she was feeling. She hadn't protested. I knew she wanted it, that's why she came...she needed it as much as I did. But she was lying there, looking like a little girl for the first time since I saw her the night of her mother's funeral.

 

I knew I should go, just leave her there. In a week she'd be all right, be herself again. I couldn't make myself walk to the door. I lay down on the bed, not touching her, just laying there, and stared up at the dirty white ceiling. After a few minutes Buffy said, "You can go. I'm fine."

 

"I know," I replied, and I didn't move. Who the hell knows why? So we lay there, not touching, not saying a word. She fell asleep after a while, and I think I dozed. I left a few hours before dawn, and she was still lying there, breathing softly, one hand curled gently on the pillow.

 

//if all of the strength and all of the courage come and lift me from this place

I know I could love you much better than this full of grace

full of grace

my love//

 

The next Thursday we didn't say a word about it. Her bruises had healed, her stitches were out. I wondered what had done it to her in the first place, but I didn't ask. She didn't want my help, and I wouldn't offer it even if she did.

 

Passion, I suppose you could call it. If I had to justify it, I might say that was why I kept going back. I lost hope that it would change anything, that I would lose my soul or find it, somehow. I just went-for pleasure, for lust, for passion. Not passionate love. Not even the kind of passion I was obsessed with as Angelus. I never felt anything except when I was in that hotel room-and all I felt then was need. Besides, the Slayer's a great fuck.

 

I started hanging around, after. There wasn't anything better for me to do-no place to go, no people to see. I'd stand by the window and gaze out at all those innocent houses with their innocent inhabitants and their innocent lives. Stupid lives. They had no idea of the horrors around them, the horrors within them. They lived out their placid little lives and one day when they were out walking with their 2.4 children something would grab them out of the shadows, butcher them and the children and go off to look for another meal. And the other stupid people would say "what a tragedy" and "isn't that terrible?" but they wouldn't watch and then they would be the next victims, or the ones after that. Even if they somehow managed to escape death, they would wake up one morning and realize they hadn't done a thing with their life. They would look at their husband or wife and know that deep down inside they hated them for all the little things-the insecurities, the annoying habits, the thoughtlessness. One day they'd be out with those 2.4 children and one would say something and they would just snap-slap the kid, they deserved it anyway.

 

One day they would wake up and realize they weren't living a nightmare, they were the nightmare.

 

Buffy slept sometimes, restlessly, or watched me. We rarely talked. Once in a while she'd comment on politics or the weather, or some news scandal. I'd grunt, or make a sarcastic comment. Sometimes when she slept, she cried out in her dreams, but I could never tell what she was saying. Once she struck out in her sleep and hit the bedside lamp, shattering it. She didn't wake up, and I had to hold her down until she calmed. I left money for the lamp on the table and left early. A few days later I got an envelope in the mail with the money and a note which smelled of her. "I am not your whore," it said.

 

I didn't think she was. No more or less than I was hers anyway.

 

I still went the next Thursday. She was there, waiting. I didn't say anything and neither did she. That night I didn't stay to see what she dreamt of. I don't think we said one word the entire time, not even...

 

Time passed. My life was gray, featureless, alone, except for Thursday nights. Thursday nights, from sunset to dawn, were red and black, jagged and flesh colored, smooth, sinful, pained.

 

I still dreamed about Darla once in a while, though more about Buffy. Now I had so many ways to dream of her, so many different ways I'd used her, dirtied her, torn away her innocence and left her dark, soiled, just like everyone else. Mostly I didn't dream at all.

 

Faith wrote me a letter. I wondered if she was as good a fuck as Buffy was, and I didn't go visit. She didn't deserve that. In her cell she was a million times better than me, roaming the streets. Better, but not good. Not clean. There's evil in her, just like everyone else. Once I pretended the good could outweigh the evil, but I'm a case study in what bulshit that was.

 

My hunger for her never abated, never lessened. Sometimes it was torture just to get through the week without the feel of her skin, without her nails pressed into my back, without her legs wrapped around me. I'd wake up in a cold sweat of desire, and only later would I realize that I'd dreamt of watching her sleep, peacefully, without nightmares. I haven't the slightest idea what her life was like during those months. For all I knew she had a boyfriend, or other men fucking her in the same hotel room the other six nights of the week. Maybe she was their whore, just not mine. I had no illusions about Buffy anymore. There was darkness in her just like everyone else-darkness I had fostered, darkness I had brought out, but it was hers all the same.

 

I've slept with a lot of women in my time-young, ancient but with the bodies of young girls, knowledgeable, innocent, willing, unwilling. Buffy was like none of them. I suppose she could be most closely compared to vampires I'd screwed-Darla, even, without the limitless experience. She had the same voraciousness, the same capacity for anything I could offer.

 

They never fell asleep afterwards though, and they never had bad dreams.

 

"I wonder if Riley could tell," Buffy mused one night, half-propped up in bed. She was brushing her hair idly, a sheet dripping over her, one leg bared to the thigh. We weren't done for the night, I could tell just looking at her. I wasn't going to go another week. The words quelled my immediate desire though. I'd never known if she had a boyfriend...but I suppose I always assumed she didn't.

 

"Tell what?" I asked harshly. She tugged at the brush gently, pulling it through a tangled curl.

 

"The difference. He was...my third. You, this jerk, and then Riley. I was still pretty...Well, I wonder if he could tell now, if I slept with him again. If he'd know what I've been doing since he left."

 

"He left?" I asked, going for nonchalant. I don't know why I cared. She wasn't mine; she'd never been mine. This was mutual...release...nothing more. She didn't seem to notice, caught in some reverie.

 

"I didn't care enough," she offered with a small, bitter laugh, and finally looked over at me. I was leaning against the wall by the window, wearing boxers. "And with you I cared too much. Funny, isn't it?"

 

"Hilarious," I replied coldly. I walked over to the bed and she sat there, looking up at me expectantly, the hairbrush paused in mid-stroke. I took it out of her hand. "We'll save this for later." Her gaze took me in steadily, not objecting, not agreeing. Just watching. I bent over her, one hand trailing up her naked leg. "He'd know."

 

"How would he know?" Buffy asked steadily, curling the leg up, around, pulling me closer. Her nails trailed down my neck, pricking, tracing...

 

I hated myself for saying it, but I was feeling too much at that moment. Things I didn't want to feel, didn't even want to exist inside me anymore.

 

Regret. Pain. Remorse.

 

I bent my head and kissed her neck, the junction where her throat met her jaw, the hollow where her pulse beat. I moved up to her ear, teasing, biting gently, making her moan. "Because you'd kill him."

 

She stiffened beneath me and in a moment I was flat on my back, Buffy above me. I grinned at her and one of her hands caught my throat. "I could kill you," she stated, her eyes cold and hard as flint. My grin didn't fade, but I did something strategic and the determination of her hand on my throat did.

 

"Not tonight," I told her, and proved it to her.

 

//so it's better this way, I said

having seen this place before

where everything we said and did

hurts us all the more

its just that we stayed, too long

in the same old sickly skin

I'm pulled down by the undertow

I never thought I could feel so low

oh darkness I feel like letting go//

 

And then, one Thursday, she wasn't there. I was walking through the lobby, towards the elevator, in a particularly foul mood. Not like my moods varied all that much, but Wolfram and Hart had just won an important case. I felt like pounding something. Preferably Buffy. Into a bed.

 

"She's not here," the kid at the desk called. I turned, nearly snarling.

 

"What?!"

 

"The lady you come meet. She didn't come tonight," the kid said, backing up a little at my expression. In seconds I was in front of the desk, my hand at the boy's collar, his toes barely touching the ground.

 

"What do you mean?" I demanded.

 

"She just never came man! God! Put me down!" he yelled. I let go and he slumped to the floor.

 

She wasn't there. Why the hell wasn't she there?

 

Was she done? Done with the whole thing? With me? Had she found someone she wouldn't feel like threatening? Someone that would hold her afterwards?

 

Why was that so upsetting? It's not like there weren't millions of other women I could find to meet me in hotel rooms. Hell, I wouldn't even need hotel rooms for most of them. Or not hotel rooms I'd need to pay for anyway.

 

I should have gotten in my car and gone back to LA, but instead I drove to Buffy's house. It didn't look like there was anyone home, but I climbed in her window anyway. I was halfway in before I realized the lump on her bed was a person. Buffy. She was crying, great, shaking sobs, but silently, as if she was afraid someone would hear.

 

"Not tonight Angel," she whispered when I dropped into her room, making enough noise that she would know I meant to be heard. "I-I can't tonight."

 

If not before, I should have left then, only I couldn't. Something about the way she was lying there, like a rag doll.

 

"What happened?" I asked, as gently as I knew how to anymore. I don't know why I cared. It had been so long since I cared about anything. So long since I'd felt...anything. I didn't even recognize it.

 

"Dawn," Buffy murmured. I found myself sitting down on the edge of the bed. She turned over to gaze at me, still shaking. "She's gone."

 

"She ran away?"

 

Buffy laughed bitterly, still crying. "I wish. People run away...they come back. She's not coming back."

 

"Why?"

 

She gave me a look, like 'why do you care?' but she must have found something in my face or, or maybe she just didn't care anymore, so she told me. "She wasn't real. She was a...a thing. Energy. There's this law of the universe...energy is always conserved. Well she's the thing that broke that law. She was energy. She created it. She was called the Key...they put her in human form to keep her safe, and sent her to me. Only I couldn't, I couldn't keep her safe."

 

"Key to what?" I asked, somehow folding her into my arms in the process. I'm not sure how, she was just there suddenly, leaning against my chest. She kept talking, didn't even give an indication she'd noticed.

 

"Other dimensions. There's this god...Glory. She used to rule in another dimension, but now she's stuck here in mortal form. If she got her hands on Dawn, she could open a gate to her world...like the Hellmouth, only it isn't in one place. It would be everywhere. The worlds would...merge. All the demons, all the horrors there...would be here. And Glory would rule them all."

 

"She did that to you," I said, remembering the ugly bruise, the jagged cut.

 

"She's strong. Well...she was. She fed off the extra energy Dawn emitted, just by existing. By now she'll be like anyone. Anyway...I couldn't stop her. No one could. And there were other things...there would always be someone after her. I couldn't protect her forever."

 

"Did she do it or was it a mutual decision?" Buffy gave me a look of pure revulsion. In that moment, I knew I deserved it.

 

"You think I told my little sister to kill herself?" Buffy demanded. "Maybe that's all you know anymore Angel. Maybe you have closed yourself off from everything and everyone so much that you can't fathom what it's like to love someone so much it hurts, or to feel every pain they feel doubled, because they should never have felt it in the first place. Maybe that's just too much for you-I know what you did. How you closed yourself off from Cordelia and Wesley. And maybe you thought because I fucked you once a week that I'd done the same Angel, but you were wrong. Because I would never have given up on Dawn. Never. She was my sister."

 

I killed my sister, remember? I don't know why I didn't say it. It was on the tip of my tongue.

 

Maybe it was because I remembered what it was like to feel that way. I remembered what it was to have a sister. And I remembered what it was to love like that.

 

Buffy was crying again, trembling with the tears running down her face. I gathered her to me again, unable to say anything. I didn't know what there was to say, or not to say. I didn't even know what I was thinking at that moment, or feeling, if I was feeling anything.

 

"Why Angel?" she sobbed, all the righteous anger gone from her voice. "Why did it have to be like this? Why did I have to lose them both? How could I lose them both?"

 

I don't think she expected an answer, and I had none to give. She was asking all the questions I'd never asked out loud. Would she follow my example and give up on everything else because the world had already given up on her? She'd already taken steps on the path to darkness; steps I'd led her to. It wouldn't be hard for her to complete the transformation. I'd seen the darkness in her, in her eyes, the despair.

 

That's what it was, really: despair. There's only so much you can take, and then one day hope vanishes, completely. Or so I thought. Until I heard Buffy's voice again.

 

"I know she wasn't a person, but do you think...do you think maybe there's a heaven somewhere for all the things that never should have been on this earth? Another dimension where she was just a girl?"

 

I didn't. But I lied. "Yes."

 

She relaxed against me again, and kept crying, quieter, gentler, worse in a way. I just sat there and held her and didn't think about things. About what she'd said about closing myself off. About why I couldn't leave when I saw her lying on the bed.

 

Finally she pulled away a little, and tilted her head up to me, her face shining in the moonlight that crept through her window. "Make me forget Angel," she said, calm and begging, hungry in that way I'd grown to know so well.

 

Only this time I couldn't. I looked at the streaks of tears down her perfect cheeks and knew that this time I couldn't make her forget, or myself. I wanted to too much. Not to pound her into the bed. Not to make her scream, or beg, or moan...

 

I wanted to make her smile. And cry. I wanted to make love to her so sweetly that she felt warm at the end. I wanted to worship every inch of her soft, silky skin, to kiss away all the tears, to hear her whisper my name in that voice I haven't heard for so long...

 

I wanted to make love to her, and that was the one thing I could never do.

 

//if all of the strength

and all of the courage

come and lift me from this place

I know I could love you much better than this full of grace

full of grace

my love//

 

"Not tonight Buffy," I told her gently, so full with all these realizations I could hardly speak. I felt like the wine glass this time, only I wasn't full of wine. I was full of...of something unnamable. Hope, maybe. Or grace. Maybe even love.

 

"Why not?" Buffy demanded, her voice hurt, angry, like a child denied a toy.

 

"Remember the first time?" I asked.

 

"Which one?"

 

"After your mother's funeral. The answer was both."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"You asked me what I was looking for, and the answer was both...But it didn't matter then, because neither came true. But they would now."

 

Her breath caught and I could see the change in her face as she understood. She'd asked me if I was trying to lose all feeling forever, or find what it was like to feel again; the answer was both. Tears welled up in her eyes, the mirror of my soul for a moment. She looked full too...full of whatever it was I was telling her.

 

"Me too," she whispered. "The answer was both. It's still both."

 

"Not tonight," I told her, drinking her in, drinking in the pure light of that vision, of her face in the moonlight. Whatever dirt I had dragged her through, whatever level I had reduced her to...she was still her, and I've never seen anything to equal her face in any light, moon or sun.

 

"No," she agreed softly, "Not tonight." But she didn't let me go, and I didn't let her go. She leaned back into me, and closed her eyes and I lay her down on the bed. Only this time I didn't lay on the other side, staring at the ceiling. This time I lay right beside her, wrapped her in my arms, and ached for the paradoxes of life, for a curse far beyond anything the Romany could have imagined for me.

 

The truth is, I never touched her. I never dragged her in the mud...that's impossible. Because there is good in this world, and nothing, certainly not me, could ever reduce her to anything less than she is, which is everything. Light and dark. Hope and despair. The truth is, she was the one that lifted me up.

 

I didn't go. I held her all night. And with the dawn I found grace again, like a sunrise.



| Fiction Index | Home Page | Back |