SUMMARY: An old acquaintance finds Angel
SPOILERS: Set in AtS Season 2, between “Blood Money” and “Happy Anniversary”
DISCLAIMER: Some of the Characters described within are property of Mutant Enemy Productions, 20th Century Fox, Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, and anybody else working for/with them – in any case, not me! These characters are used without permission, intent of infringement, or expectation of profit – it’s just kinda fun! Original character/s and story line are mine!
NOTES: Transcripts of the above episodes can be found at http://www.studiesinwords.de/angel.html - Yes, this is an original character piece! I wanted to practice writing adult situations and developing a character- Fanfic is a terrific place to play as a writer and learn new skills. Angel is a strongly developed character, ideal for bouncing things off of- This story was months in the making, and although I’ve been slightly Jossed in AtS Season 3, I think it fits very nicely in between episodes.
THANKS: To all the great websites out there offering so much info and insight – to Kelley for encouragement and helping me cut and rearrange; to Vicky for the detailed beta- in her own discovery of things she didn’t know that she knew, she gave me the tools I needed to de-murk the story- and to that God of creative genius, Joss Whedon – without whom life would be extremely boring, and we’d all have a lot more time to sleep and eat- J
POSTING: Yes, but please let me know where!
FEEDBACK: Thanks! firstname.lastname@example.org
An odd feeling of rising grew in Angel. He'd been dreaming of swimming in Lough Corrib. He could feel the weight of his body being added in layers, until he was here, lying on his back, arms thrown wide, the non-descript ceiling of a hotel room above him. His hotel. His demon waking him.
Voices far below. He rolled out of bed, instantly alert. After sliding on the black trousers he'd left on the chair near his bed, he stalked to his closed door, and cracked it open. Two, three now, in the lobby. Humans.
He retreated to snatch up a short sword with a thick blade, but didn't bother with shoes or a shirt. He'd locked the exterior doors after he fired his crew. They still had their keys and the sewer, but he knew with absolute certainty it wasn't them.
He moved in silence, a predator, sliding along close to the walls. Near the top of the stairs, he stopped to scent and listen.
Lindsey, damn him, and the slick baritone was the realtor who'd leased him the Hyperion. The other was tantalizing, familiar, and female.
"... calling. There's been no answer."
"Looks pretty deserted," Lindsey said. Angel clenched his jaw. Don't you wish, Lindsey.
"No," the woman said. "There's been recent activity." It sounded like she was moving further into the room. He knew her, could almost feel her leaning into him. Angel shifted so he could peer down into the lobby. "What does Angel Investigations investigate?"
"Don't know," Lindsey lied. "Don't care, really. We'd just like the building. We need a location where we can put up associates and interns, maybe clients when they come to town." He paused. Footsteps towards the stairs. "We've heard the place will be available in a couple of months."
Angel stifled a growl. Not falling. The feel of his dream… the lap of water and her voice.
The realtor cleared his throat. "Well, as I told you on the phone, Mr. McDonald, Angel Investigations has not given notice, and they are currently in good standing with us."
Angel couldn't see him, but he could picture the exact smirk Lindsey would be wearing right now.
"Yes, I understand. Leah? What do you think... first impressions?"
His muscles locked. Trust me, trust me, he’d asked, and she had.
"It's lovely. A bit... strange. I'll need full blueprints, and the usual in the way of photographs." She finally moved into Angel's view, her dark hair streaked with silver now, but she was still slender, still filled with that power that sung to him, the moon to the tide. She ran her hands over the reception counter. Strong hands, he knew, with a firm, knowing touch. "Hmmm. This may be a big job, Lindsey. Perhaps you should be certain of acquiring the building before sending me a packet." Her tone became brisk and firm. "I'd hate to waste my time and Wolfram and Hart's money."
"You can clear it."
She turned to Lindsey, and Angel could see her annoyance. "Of course."
Lindsey's laughter echoed across the large space and a surge of anger caught Angel by surprise. Then Leah was looking straight at him. Surely she couldn't actually see him.
"I'd never doubt you, Leah. Do you want to see more?" To Angel's ear, Lindsey oozed lewd suggestion.
She turned and disappeared from view. "No, Lindsey, I've got other consultations this afternoon." Angel smiled. Rebecca had been just a pale shadow of her.
"Okay, Melman, our appraisers will contact you."
Angel leaned back against the wall, letting his sword arm drop and closing his eyes as he listened to the realtor lock up.
Angel stood in the deepest of the shadows that fell from the Northwest Tower in Wicker Park, flush with new housing, restaurants, and art galleries. He had been drawn by the activity, the body heat, the beat, and he'd been coming back to watch the girl. No one saw him, just another shadow, still and cold.
Looking down Damen, he thought of how much the area had changed since he'd arrived. The ramshackle Victorians were being overshadowed by condos and townhouses. Live theater and coffeehouses. It certainly wasn't the rundown, vermin infested place it had once been, but the light hadn't filled all the corners yet, either. He took a deep breath, scenting. Horse dung was infinitely preferable to the stench cars emitted. The girl had not yet arrived. He settled back against the wall, prepared to wait.
As the night aged, the crowds swelled, and then waned. The hustle slowed and waiters came to stand on the walks, smoking. Small clusters of people stood half-in and half-out of the various artists’ studios, speaking in quiet voices. Restlessness finally stirred in Angel. He was hungry. His eyes swept the street again and there she was, coming now past the Ricky Renier Gallery, strolling, happy tonight.
He willed himself to darkness, trying to fade into the building. She stopped in front of him. Without turning, she spoke, “I see you there. You’ve been watching me.”
The pit of his stomach dropped. He stepped out into the light. She had made money tonight; he could smell the sex on her.
She turned, her dark bob swinging, her eyes capturing his, then roaming over him, finally returning to his face. “You could scare a girl, if she thought you were following her.”
What could he say? Yeah, I’m drawn to you. I’m lonely. I’m sliding back into my endless pit of despair and can’t seem to stop myself. Help. He laughed at himself and a small smile showed on his face.
She smiled back, her teeth in surprisingly good condition, white, even. He wrenched his attention from her mouth, only to become mired in her eyes, which were filled with her good mood.
“Not following then, waiting for me.” Her voice was low and she spoke with more confidence than he had imagined she would. “What do you want?”
I want... companionship. No! You can’t have it. Don’t deserve it. Just leave. He studied her face. She was pale, a sprinkling of freckles over her nose, dark eyes, large eyes, open, and patient. Her hair was almost black, with long layers that feathered across her cheek when she tilted her head, looking back at him. Leave. Now.
He turned and strode off, trying to shut off the running argument in his head. Move, just move. He heard her start after him, then stop, then start again, running now to catch up. She caught his arm and he stopped, dropping his head in defeat.
“Hey,” she whispered. “You shy? Don’t talk then, just come on...follow me.” She gave his jacket a tug and he turned, eyes on her feet, delicate in strappy, black heels. The despair rose in him, threatened to wash away his reason, but the wanting was worse and he followed her, concentrating on the swing of her skirt, desperately cultivating silence inside.
Her apartment was two blocks down and three blocks over, the area a little grungier, but still this side of respectable. She unlocked the deadbolts and swung the door open, motioning him in. When he just stood there, she entered, saying, “Come on in, it’s okay,” and he did.
She took his jacket and laid it over the back of her threadbare couch. “I don’t usually bring men here.”
And you haven’t now, Angel thought.
“Sit,” she continued. “Would you like something to drink, some wine?”
Angel shook his head, still looking at the floor, trying to block out the internal clamor that had set up the second he walked he passed her doorway, not knowing exactly what he wanted here. She stood in front of him, ran her hand down the side of his face. She kissed his forehead, and his ear and his neck. He shivered.
“I’m going to shower. Please, sit.” She walked off toward the back and in a few minutes he could hear water running. Don’t just stand here, idiot. Sit or leave.
She reappeared in a towel, smiling at the surprise on his face. “You felt cold. Come take a shower with me.” She took his hand, led him to the bedroom, light woods and dark blue, and pushed him down onto the bed. She kneeled to unlace his boots, tugged them off and stripped him of his socks. She gently massaged his insoles, and he almost moaned. Right there, at that moment, he surrendered, let his senses take over, decided to just be, just tonight.
In the bath, steam had filled the room, its’ moist heat seemed to drape itself over his coldness, then it seeped, ever so slowly, into his skin. She stepped in, closing her eyes under the sharp stream of water, slicking her hair back. She beckoned and he let the water wash over him, closing his own eyes and leaving them closed as she soaped him, running her hands lightly over his chest, down his arms, stooping to soap his thighs and calves.
She slid by him and soaped his back, massaging harder now, so that he braced his hands on the wall, letting the water hit his bowed head and sluice down the back of his neck, wash over his chest. She kneaded his shoulders, worked her fingers into the tight muscles along his backbone, then slid her arms around his waist, placing both hands on his chest as she ever so slowly leaned into him, pressing herself along his starving for touch body. Her nipples were hard pebbles in a pillow of soft flesh. Heat and lean muscle. She rubbed against him, her body slick with soap, the sensation heaven.
Memories rose, disconnected bubbles with emotional centers, and he tried hard to concentrate only on the girl holding him, as she worked one hand across his right cheek, down between his legs, the other roaming in circles over his chest and belly, gently sliding under his erection.
Bathing had been work, not so long ago, first just because it was such a chore, then because, for at least two long periods of time, it had just been something he couldn’t be bothered to do. With indoor plumbing and a good attitude it had become routine, but never had he showered with a naked girl, with soap and an abundance of hot water.
A few times he and Darla had managed to elevate bathing in a hip tub to an art form, and there had been a memorable experience in a cold creek with an unwilling participant...that had ended badly, but the feast had been magnificent. God, did I just think that? Did I think I could just take what I wanted? She was so young. He shuddered and groaned. Damn it! He lifted one hand and slammed it back down on the wall. Stop it!
The girl froze, and her stillness brought him back. He shook his head hard, raising his face to the spray. Leaving his hands on the wall, he turned his head slightly so she could hear him, “It’s okay, I’m okay.” His voice was soft, and hoarse from lack of use. He’d been falling from his ordered life for a month or more. He frowned. Yes, definitely more, but he couldn't grasp the time. From experience, he knew darkness lay ahead, but he couldn’t seem to stop it.
Moving slowly, not wanting to scare her, Angel turned. She’s brave. She didn’t drop her arms or step back, just let him turn and embrace her. He gathered her close and she pressed her taut belly hard against him, pulling him tight against her with both hands. She nuzzled into his neck, then nipped at him, before kissing him with an open mouth, hot and wet. He wanted so badly to have her mouth, but knew better than to ask her for it. Instead, he tilted his head, let her lick and nip, and make him weak with the pleasure of it.
When her tongue invaded his ear, he growled and scooped her up, let the water rinse over them for a moment. He bent his head to kiss her nipple, flick it with his tongue, and then lap water from her breast. He set her on her feet and shut the water off, as she reached for the towels she’d hung on the rod. When he turned back, she draped one over his head, and rubbed vigorously. Even that felt like foreplay to him, and he ripped open the curtain, picked her up again, still wet, and carried her to the bed.
Angel laid the girl out like a prize, stood appraising her, planning his attack. He reached down and grabbed her calves, gently pulled her to the edge of the bed, encouraging her to wrap her legs around him. He pressed one hand down between her breasts, over her belly, feeling her arch beneath it. He splayed his fingers, able to span her belly hip to hip. The heel of his hand hit her pubis and rubbed in small tight circles, barely brushing her clit. He brought both hands up, settled her more firmly against his heat, then rubbed her shoulders, sliding his hands to her back, lifting her slightly, as he leaned in to suckle, drawing first one then the other breast into his mouth, laving each nipple with his tongue.
She fisted her hands into his hair, asking for more, moving restlessly beneath him. Slowly, slowly he kissed his way down her belly, sliding his hands down until her backside filled them. He massaged, satisfaction growing in him as she relaxed. He dropped to his knees, and she brought her legs up to rest on his shoulders, opening herself to him. God, oh, god.
He rubbed his face on her thighs, and then kissed gently, finally at her sweet spot. She gasped at the contact, then pressed up, and he answered, burying his tongue in her, scraping her with his teeth, pulling back to lap at her folds, tease her.
His hands moved; one to the back of her neck, anchoring her to his ministrations, the other to her breasts, roughly kneading, running his thumb over her nipples. He sucked her in hard, gently shaking his head, flicking his tongue across her pulsing clit. He could feel it then, she gave herself to him. She moaned and thrust to him, just a woman with her man, wanting him, wanting the pleasure. He wanted to give it to her.
He slid his hand into her hair, scratched her skull, and tugged her head back. As he felt her tighten, he bit down carefully, and plunged two fingers into her. She screamed, or near enough. “Ohhh! Oh, God! Oh, God!” She was bucking against his hand now, kicking his back, and exploded, shuddering against him. He looked up to see her eyes closed. She was gasping for breath. He moved both hands to cradle her bottom, held her when she would have moved, so he could lick her clean, let her recover.
“I don’t...I don’t usually...God.”
Angel smiled, leaned up and rubbed his face against her dark mound, slid his hands to her thighs and moved her legs from his shoulders. He kissed her inner thighs, then stood, pulling her to him and entering in one swift motion. She automatically closed her legs around him, thrusting her pelvis up, throwing her head back again. She moaned, moving against him.
Her heat enveloped him, all he was. She was tight from her orgasm, held him fully. He closed his eyes, lost inside her. When she moved, he groaned, let it build until he had to move or die. He wanted and that was all that mattered. He pulled back, so slow, almost all the way, and then plunged into her again. She met him with a moan, and they were still again. She stiffened. He opened his eyes.
Panic rose on her face. “Wait, wait.” She pushed against him, drew her legs back, trying to push him away with her knees against his hips.
I didn’t change, did I change? He held her to him, her struggles only igniting him. He closed his eyes, struggling now with himself. Say something! “What? What’s wrong?”
She was propped on one elbow now, pushing at his chest, tears starting down her cheeks. “Condom! You don’t have a condom! God, I’m so stupid!” She fell back, covering her face, crying now in earnest.
Relief whickered through him and he laughed, leaning over to wrap his arms around her, still buried deep inside her, even her sobs a sweet vibration to him. He picked her up, and she grabbed at him to keep from falling, wrapping herself around him. “ Shhh... it’s okay,” he whispered. He kissed her eyelids, tasting her tears, inhaling her fear like a drug. Go away, this is my deal. I don’t want her fear. But he did, she smelled so wonderful. No. Look at her. “Look at me.”
Her eyes opened, and they were deep reflecting pools of misery. I should stop. Let her go. But he didn’t. He could easily hold her here in his arms all night. He shifted his weight, spreading his feet out and she settled more comfortably over him. He began to sway slightly, front to back. She closed her eyes again.
“Put me down... please.”
“Look at me,” he commanded. He could feel her body responding to his sway, opening to him, relaxing. Tears were silently sliding from under her lids and her eyes brimmed with them when she finally opened them.
“Stop,” she whispered.
He matched her whisper. “I’m clean, I’m clean. I can’t hurt you, can’t impregnate you. Don’t cry.” She leaned into him, buried her hot face in his neck. “Don’t give me your fear. All I want is your pleasure. All I want is tonight.”
She bit his neck, hard, and he stifled a growl, tightening his grip on her. She spoke savagely against his neck. “Don’t you get it? I’m a whore! I could die making a mistake like tonight! I only give pleasure, I don’t take it!”
She sobbed, holding him tighter. “You need to go.”
“There won’t be any going here tonight. Only coming.” He kissed her neck, nuzzling, sucking in the skin over her jugular, savoring. He could hear the rush of her blood. Smell the desire she was hiding. He thrust harder with his hips. “Trust me. Please trust me.” She fell away from him, hands on his shoulders, letting her head fall back. She ground against him in circles.
He maneuvered them to the bed, and she clung to him as he crawled to the center before lowering her. He gradually let his weight settle on her, until he could rest on her and his elbows. She settled, sliding her legs down his, hooking her heels on his calves. He took her face in both hands, brushed the hair and tears away with his thumbs.
She sighed, looking up at him. She ran her hand through his hair to the back of his head. “What’s your name?”
He thrust slowly, thinking only of her heat, her slick friction, making her his meditation. “Angel.”
“Kiss me, Angel.”
Anytime. Some strong emotion ripped through him, he didn’t know what; that she’d trust him, find him trustworthy. You’d give that to me. Me. Determination now filled him, made him feel whole and powerful. I won’t hurt you, I won’t... He brought his lips to hers, hesitated, feeling her breath. He kissed her, tenderly, and then drew back.
She tugged his head down, kissed him hard, opening her mouth, thrusting her tongue into his mouth, so hot, so alive, at the same time urging him tight against her with a hand on his lower back, arching herself against him, and then giving to him, tilting her pelvis up, and bringing him deeper, inviting him in.
He plundered then, driving into her, reveling in her mouth and body, dizzy with it, becoming a sensory being, seeking heat, and growling in his wanting. She responded in kind. They became one animal, pleasure being its only need or want.
Angel was ravenous as he prowled down the back alleys that led to his basement room. He saw movement along the wall ahead of him and stopped. A black dog was snuffling between two dumpsters. Angel slowly moved on. When the dog spotted him, it stiffened, the ruff rising on its’ neck. Angel stopped once more, crouched and held out his hand.
“Here, pup, here.” He patted the ground. “Come on, come on pup.” The dog lowered its’ head and wagged its’ tail hesitantly. Angel crept forward, “”It’s okay, come on.”
The dog slinked toward him on its belly. They continued a slow approach, until the dog chickened out, dropping to the ground. Typical modern Border Collie. The dogs of his youth had been brilliant herd dogs but brutal, as likely to bite the shepherd as the sheep, none of this groveling.
Angel reached as far as he could and scratched the top of its head, then confidently closed the distance. The dog rolled over, presenting its belly and Angel rubbed it, checked its neck. No collar, not well kept. Food. Vamping, he caught the dog up and retreated to the space between the dumpsters, working his way behind a pile of pallets and junked chairs, the dog whining and snapping.
He sank his fangs in and drank. The dog was better than his most recent meals, but still an acquired taste, and its coat was dirty. I should go see Samuel, he‘d have packets. He had let his contacts for blood slide, couldn't stand the smell of the butcher's long enough to strike a deal. It was too much bother. He hugged the body, sighing. Discontent and disappointment rippled through him. Wanting nothing more than to slide down the brick wall behind him and just sit without moving for the next century or so, he lifted the dumpster lid and disposed of the dog. Better. Still hungry, but daylight was coming.
At the apartment, he ripped an eviction notice off the door and for the first time in a week, he remembered not to bother with the lights, since the electricity had been shut off. Good for something at least, he thought, as he crumpled the notice. He ran the three deadbolts home, dropped his jacket over the only chair he had, and checked the blinds and window locks.
He looked around the small single room. There wouldn’t be much to take. Stored in several places around this city and others were small caches of weapons and valuables that could be traded, if need be. Some he hadn’t seen in decades. He had hit this wall before. Once it had been fifteen years before he surfaced. I’m drowning. He rubbed his face as he sat on the bed. Gotta snap out of it. .
But his limbs were heavy, and he found it hard to think. How many hours had he waited tonight, what had he thought about? He couldn’t remember. I could hold onto her. No, no, I’ll just drag her under, she’ll figure out what I am sooner or later. I almost lost it tonight, came so close...she’d have been so good, could of stopped. Stop! Stop it! But he couldn’t, the faces and the screams came flooding in on him.
Gas lights and the drip of water from the trees following a tremendous storm. He was bursting with energy, hunting by himself, relishing the night. He was waiting for a certain young woman of noble birth to slip out to meet him. They had been taking rides at night, and she was relaxed with him, laughing at his jokes, allowing him kisses and small favors at their favorite spot in the meadow south of the village.
His horse shifted beside him, stretching out to nibble at the neck of the mare he had brought for Audrey to ride. The mare squealed at the gelding's advances. Angelus laughed, jerking the mares’ reins sharply. “All the women play hard to get.”
“Angelus,” Audrey called softly. “Be nice to Gwen, and I’ll be nice to you.”
“You’ve set me heart to leaping, dear Audrey. Would you be offering me your sweet kisses?”
She glanced down, demurely. “Mayhap more.”
He helped her onto her horse, standing by until she was settled, then swung up onto his own mount.
She laughed, kicking her mare. “Mayhap, you’ll have to catch me first!” she flung back over her shoulder.
Angelus’ horse danced beneath him. “Never a problem, darlin’,” he said softly, and let his horse move into a gallop.
In the meadow, she offered him her breasts, but he took her innocence instead, took her hard, reveling in her screams, and drank her slow.
Angel rolled over and hit the floor hard. He was still fully dressed. His head was pounding. Wait, that’s the door. He stumbled up, feeling drugged. A small child sat in the corner, playing with a porcelain doll. Her straight dark hair fell to either side of her face as she looked up, face contorting in terror, and screamed.
Angel recoiled as if from sunlight, turning to be confronted by a girl chained with hands above her head. The room had changed beyond her and he grasped at the memory. Paris. She was bruised and bloodied from the waist up, multiple bite marks marring her breasts and neck.
Her father had lost a great deal of money gambling and owed Angelus a huge sum. He had gained her trust, wooing her for over a month, escorting her to soirees, accompanying her to the opera. Not all for revenge, the girl was beautiful. His insistence on playing games both delighted Darla and drove her mad by turns. Angel stepped forward, some thought of apology forming, but the girl drew in a sharp breath, and then her blood-curdling scream came rolling over him. He covered his ears, eyes clenched tight.
A booming sound, followed by sharp raps.
“Angel! Open up!”
Opening his eyes, Angel slowly lowered his hands, his breath coming fast. Okay, Okay. Just dreaming. Damn. He staggered to the door. Reached for the deadbolts just as the door swung open.
“Angelus! So nice of you to drop by. Sophie... Sophie! Please go tell Tess she has a caller.” The older woman turned back to Angel. “Please join me in the parlor while you wait. Would you care for a drink?” Yes, of course, and Tess lasted two days.
“Angel!” A sledgehammer on the gates of Hell could not have been any louder. “Angel, I know you’re in there! Be out by tomorrow morning! I got somebody else coming in!”
Angel leaned against the door. Sure, no problem. He sank down to sit on the floor.
The jagged rocks of the towering monastery wall at his back had ripped his thin shirt and now drew blood from his abraded back with every thrust Darla demanded. Straddling him as he sat, a monk strewn to either side, cowls thrown back, looks of stricken ecstasy remaining on their faces, she drove him on, the smell of his borrowed blood exciting them even further.
A small whimper of fear drew their attention, even as they continued their violent pairing. A young girl, her market basket fallen to her feet, stood frozen on the cart path running along the wall. Darla tossed her hair and returned her concentration to the task at hand. “Oh, Angelus! I love Greece! So accommodating, so romantic. The beauty of the landscape, the soaring architecture, the tasty peasants. Dinner and dessert in one place. It’s glorious!”
“Your dessert has finally found the strength to run, love.” He grimaced as she slammed him back into the wall with both hands on his shoulders. She undulated with her release, and a wicked smile crossed his face. He ran a hand down her chest, pushing her back, splaying his fingers over her belly, his thumb rubbing slow circles over her swollen center, prolonging her pleasure. “Shall I catch it for you?”
“Yes. We still need music to complete the night. I want to watch you make her sing!”
Angel woke with a start, the girl’s screams still echoing in his mind. He slammed his head back against the door, and then sat there a while longer, letting his erection fade, watching the thin sunlight allowed by the blinds move across the ceiling.
At some point he finally realized the room was dark. He stood uncertainly, then began to gather the few possessions he had here, filling his small leather duffel with clothes, a couple of leather bound books, two daggers, and a small Ziploc fragrant with a mixture of herbs. He slung the bag over him so the bulk of it lay at his back, the strap across his chest, and surveyed the room again. Suddenly exhausted, he found himself unable to leave. He collapsed on the narrow unmade bed, and after a moment, he rolled so he was lying on his stomach, still wearing his bag. His vacant gaze roamed the room. He felt hollow. Only he wasn’t, was he? He was filled near to bursting with this fucking soul! Just do it, already! Don’t deserve it, haven’t earned it. Coward. Yeah… but what if it’s not oblivion? He locked in on the mosaic of cracks spreading up the wall from the baseboard. Oblivion.
Get up! He closed his eyes, sighed. Let all his breath out. Don’t you wish it were that easy. You’re dead already. Get up. Angel levered himself up, forced himself to the door, undid the deadbolts, stepped through and waited to hear the snick of the door shutting behind him. Why don’t I just not do this? I’ve still got a little cash, can bounce or something for more...I’m so tired. And I’m so sorry. A pretty brunette, wide set green eyes. I’m sorry, Tess. He growled, low and soft, a rumble. Yeah, you’re sorry all right, what the fuck am I doing to myself? He was still standing in front of the door. A shadow fell down the stairwell.
“Hey, Angel, that you?”
I don’t know. “Yeah.”
“You get all your stuff?”
Yeah, even taking the nightmares with me.
“Good. No hard feelings.” Footsteps overhead, door slamming.
I wish. Last night rose unbidden, the girl slicking her wet hair back, beckoning him. Leah. I will not. I will not.
Within a block of his leave taking, Angel felt lighter. No responsibility. Just had to feed himself, find shelter from the sun, an easy undertaking in a modern city. Woods had been hard. Some days he had dug himself into the dirt. Small towns only tolerated his presence for days at a time and one never knew when some enterprising young maid would start flinging open windows and doors. Keepers were fast to grow suspicious.
Safe in his black cloud, he ignored the boy trotting alongside him. Finally resorting to pulling on Angel’s pack, he was then comically scared when Angel swung around at him, scowling.
“Spit it out.”
The boy stared at him, face wet, lower lip trembling. His scent filled the air between them. Angel licked his lips, caught himself at it, and clamped his jaws shut. After a moment, he spun on his heel and walked away.
“Wait!” the boy cried out. “Wait, Mister!”
Angel stopped again. The boy moved in front of him.
“You seen my dog? He’s a great dog.”
The city was full of dogs. “What’s it look like?”
“He’s this big,” stooping over slightly, hugging air like a dog’s neck, “and he’s got a white spot, right here,” patting his right shoulder, “ and a white stomach, and his eyes are blue.”
Angel groaned, and covered his face with his hands. Why me! What is this shit?
The boy burst into tears. “You seen him, you seen him, haven’t you?” he wailed.
Kneeling, Angel gathered the boy to him, absorbed his sobs. Finally the boy hitched in a couple of deep breaths and quieted to snuffles. Angel tried to draw back but the boy clutched at him, got his arms around Angel’s neck, clung, buried his face. Angel patted him awkwardly.
After a moment, he gave up and hugged the boy again, holding him tight. Passerby continued on their unseeing way, not even sparing a glance, though Angel knew they were being watched by others, from hidden places. “It’s dark, you better get home.”
“Yes. Took care of him.” Angel gritted his teeth. His voice was rough. “He’s got no worries anymore.”
The boy’s chest hitched again. He made no move to let go. Under the grime, he was sour, sweat and cigarette smoke. He rubbed his face, tucking his chin down, and Angel could feel the flutter of his eyelashes, his hot breath sliding down under Angel’s collar. Ah, Kathy, if only I had ye to hug one last time. He let his head drop, the boy’s hair under his cheek, closed his eyes, and rocked. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. He did ’na deserve such an end. A fine dog he was, and it’s a field fulla sheep he’s chasing just now. Did he like to chase?” Angel could hear the broad lilt in his voice but didn’t try to hide it.
“Did he bark every minute he wasn’t sleeping?”
“Aye, then he was a good lad and he’ll find himself a nice fireplace and wait for you to join him when you’re all grizzled and gray.”
The smallest of laughs.
“All the dogs you’ll end up having will be lying up there, by the fire, bellies full, blue eyes watching for you.”
The boy drew back, a serious look on his dirt-streaked face. Some small part of Angel echoed at the loss of his small, dense warmth. The air was cool on his wet skin. A larger part of him was riveted on the boy’s throat. He was talking, but Angel could only hear his heart beat, only see the swell of his jugular, the slide of the skin across it as his jaw worked. The boy reached out again, gripping Angel’s shoulders.
Dimly, Angel was aware of the boy’s rising panic. “...okay? Hey!”
“Go,” Angel managed. “Just go now.”
When the boy continued to stand there, Angel began to panic himself. He stood, nearly knocking the boy down. “Go now, lad, please,” he pleaded, hearing the fast beat of the boy’s heart like a tribal drum calling him. His voice dropped, as the demon pushed, pushed. “Aye, lad. Don’t trust me, I’m the stranger your Mama always warned ye about. You better git.”
The boy bolted, and Angel watched him go. Half a block down though, he stopped and turned. “Is he really...”
Angel closed his eyes, struggling. “In fields of green, boy, go home!”
Angel sat on the beach at the lakeshore, his bare feet buried in the sand. He hugged his knees, watching the lights of the boats. He wiped his mouth across his arm again. Back to rats. He could afford a couple more hours of self-pity, but then he’d need to find access to the underground. I could go to Leah’s. No! It sounded harsh even in his own head. He buried his face in his arms, wishing Coq d'Or was still open. A shot of Jamieson's would rinse the rat out. A bottle or three might rinse the boy out.
“Angel?” The voice was so soft, he thought it was inside him. He could smell her on the breeze. Leah. He looked up. She was still on the walk near the breakwater. She would not have expected him to hear her. She hesitated, then started towards him, calling louder now, “Angel? Is that you?”
She came halfway and stopped, uncertain. She turned, and he knew she was gauging the distance to the lights. Let her go. “Leah.”
She flashed him a brilliant smile, slipped off her shoes, and walked briskly to where he sat. He wiped his mouth again. She gracefully lowered herself to the sand, and leaned into his shoulder. Angel lay his head back down on his arms, face turned to her.
“Hard day?” she asked, concern evident in her tone.
He couldn’t help smiling. “You don’t know the half of it.”
He shook his head slightly. “What are you doing down here? It’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous is my regular. Every Saturday and Wednesday.” She shrugged, and looked up at the clouds scudding over the moon. “Pays the bills.”
“What’d you want to do? Before?”
“I don’t know...I followed a guy here, ya know? I thought he’d stolen my heart.” She laughed. “And I guess I just thought something would happen, that I’d suddenly look up one day and have a career, a beautiful house, kids.” The clouds parted and light shadowed her features, pooled in her eyes. “I’ve thought about it, living here, it makes me want to build things, maybe beautiful buildings, modern but with that Northwestern feel, ya know? Like that feeling you get standing there on Chicago, looking at the garden gate, those arched windows with the vines growing over them.”
“You should do it.” He was thinking of the monastery at Athos. “Life is short, but buildings can be ageless.”
She laughed. “Maybe in Europe. Around here, most older buildings are fair game. I’d love to see Florence and Rome and the Basilica of St. Peter.”
“It’s beautiful,” he said, before he could stop himself.
“What are you doing here, Angel?”
He finally lifted his head, sighed deeply. “I made a mistake. Followed a girl.” She stole my soul.
“You don’t strike me as the girl following type.”
“Well...” he clarified, leaning back on his hands, “she was a woman and she said she’d show me the world.”
“Ah! The young victim of an older woman.” She grinned at him. “Obviously she kept her promise.”
He nodded. His demon had brought him more pleasure and knowledge than he would have ever been privy to in his human lifetime. Galway had been in decline, and his father, an only son, had been fortunate to still own his small bit of land, have a viable profession. Catholics didn't even have the vote left when Darla turned him. He'd never have traveled, except perhaps as crew on a hooker, and they only ran up and down the coast. That had been beneath him, was way too much work, and he could see the coast from horseback. God, I was spoiled.
He had seen great triumphs of architecture and art, feasted on the visions of painting and sculpture created during the Renaissance, been in all the Great Houses of Europe and beyond. He had met, often took pleasure from, and occasionally fed on, brilliant statesman, magnificent artists, skilled writers, talented actors, witty intellectuals, beautiful ladies.
Yes, she'd kept her promise, and that part he could never regret, no matter how guilty it made him feel. He was still Irish and still Catholic and still flared with rebellion despite all the years. Although he’d take it back in a heartbeat, he knew exactly why he had stepped into her offer of the world.
They sat in companionable silence. Leah had soothed him in some way he didn’t understand. He felt drained. The lap of the lake was a rhythmic counterpoint to the hushed swish of the light traffic behind them. The light wind caressed his hair, kissed his ears. The glimmer of the moon across the water was a constant movement so that he couldn’t focus on any one thing and he finally closed his eyes. Stretching out his legs, he could feel the coolness of the sand. He settled back on his elbows, let his senses go.
The wind carried the scent of the lake, more like Galway Bay then Lough Corrib. Lough Corrib had a deep, murky odor. Just the thought had him feeling the tug of currents. His skin hot and ripe with the sun, water closing over his head, the cold spots toward the bottom, the squish between his toes and the cloud of lake bottom trailing after him as he pushes off and ascends toward the light. The cool shock of the breeze licking his head as he breaks through the surface. That weightlessness he can only feel floating, drifting, arms and legs spread wide, water brushing over his ears, the alternate hush of the lake and the crystal clarity of his friends’ laughter from the shore. Eyes closed, trusting himself to this placid creature rocking him, even though, deep down, he knows the dangers of the lake.
Angel settled further, laying his head on the sand, feeling the drift. Leah shifted beside him, and suddenly he seemed only able to focus on her. The warmth of her body lapped at his, her breathing was the brush and hush at his ears, the scent and sound of her blood his own, her heartbeat...he could almost feel it, his own, as he drifted.
“Angel,” she whispered. “Wake up, Angel.”
Warm fingers on his face, warm lips on his.
“I’m sorry, Angel,” whispering. “We should go.”
He had been in a dreamless place. Blessed darkness. He was awake, but stayed down, savoring.
“Angel, it’ll be daylight soon, I don’t like to be out like this...it’s Sunday. It’s not ... come home with me.” Her distress moved him.
“It’s okay, Leah. I’m awake,” he whispered. He let his eyes slide open. “Why. Why did you trust me?”
When she would have pulled away from him, he grasped her arms, eased her back onto his chest, and hugged her. She gave to him. “I don’t know.”
“I’m not trustworthy.”
“Did you lie to me then?”
“Sometimes... sometimes trusting another person is more about trusting yourself. It took me a few bad tricks to figure that out.”
“You don’t know me.”
“I know broken, Angel. You’re broken in ways I can’t even imagine.”
Shit. “Is it that obvious?”
“It’s like a scream that doesn’t stop. It pours from you.”
What? Angel abruptly sat up. He held her away from him, so he could see her face. “Do you see auras?”
She dropped her eyes. “No. It’s not like that.”
If he'd had a heart, it'd be thumping. She felt me, why else would she have walked out across the sand? “What is it like?”
“Um...feelings, flashes, mostly like colors or sounds that make me feel certain emotions.” She looked up again, reached out. He pulled her onto his lap, and she touched his face. “I don’t need to know you, Angel, to know who you are. And I don’t need to love you. I don’t need you. You need me. You want me.”
Stunned, Angel sat in silence. I do, I do. No wonder I’m obsessed with you. Darla’s arm in his, Drusilla steering her sisters away from him, her liquid eyes giving away her fear. She had known who he was, felt the bloody cloud of death that followed him. Does she? Does she know me?
“Angel. Angel, look at me. Don’t be scared, please. You’re the first I ever told.”
“I’m not...” But he was, he realized. He was terrified. She can’t know. I don’t want her to know. The blackness was welling up in him, and it was that lake bottom mud, oozing into his ability to function. He shook his head at the thought forming, snaking through him. Maybe she can save me.
She kissed him then, startling him. His lips hardened and he turned his head, but he didn’t relinquish his hold on her. She shifted, pulling against him, and worked her leg across so she was straddling him. “Angel. I don’t care,” she said, nestling against him, whispering now against his lips. “I don’t care about whatever it was that broke you. I trust you. I trust you at this moment.”
She kissed him again. He was firm in his refusal, but he couldn’t seem to let go of her. Let go, let go of her. You don’t... “I don’t deserve your trust.”
“Too late. I gave it to you the other night. You begged for it.”
Oh, God, I did. Grow up! I deserve every day I’ve had to live through. Why drag somebody else into this corner? He rolled suddenly, letting go, dumping her onto the sand, but she managed to grab his jacket, pulling him over with her. He growled, planting his hands on either side of her head. “You’ll only get hurt if you trust me.”
“You won’t hurt me.”
Oh, yeah? He kissed her hard, forced his tongue into her mouth, and it only angered him when she opened her mouth, willingly followed his lead, hooked an arm around his neck to bring him closer. He reached down and unzipped, rucked her skirt up, and pushing her panties aside, found she was wearing crotchless hose. He growled again and buried his face in her neck as he felt the change coming on him, stop, stop. He could smell another man on her; his, his, she was his. He plunged into her, and she cried out, throwing her head back, opening her neck and her body to him, writhing beneath him. He licked her neck, nuzzled, let his fangs rest on her skin. Don’t. Don’t hurt her. She smells so good, so warm. Taste her, taste her.
He was ruthless, hitting her hard enough to drive small grunts from her. Her hands clutched at his back. He could hear himself growling, almost continually, knew she’d never heard such a sound before. She whimpered, and he could feel her fear now, smell it, taste it in her sweat. She pushed at him, yanked his hair, trying to tear him from her neck. No! No! An anguished howl tore from his throat, as he barely managed not to sink his fangs in, don’t, don’t, not a dream, not dreaming. He was panting and he could feel her heart jack rabbiting.
“Shhh. Shhh.” He used his weight keep her down, kept his head turned away, even when she hit his back, her chest hitching with her sobs. Remorse hit him instantly, and he just wanted to dissolve. He felt his features drop away, that strange invulnerability and rage leave him.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” His voice was ragged, tears tracked his cheeks, and surprise again, when she hugged him fiercely. She should be shouting at him, want him off her.
She hitched in a deep breath, and he lifted himself a little, just enough so she could breathe. “I’m so scared. I’m so sorry.”
“It wasn’t you, Leah. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m sorry I...” He swallowed. “I’m going to move, okay? Don’t ... don’t run, yet...please.”
“No, no! You don’t understand… I know.” She ran her hand into his hair, tugged him down to her, kissed him with passion, so he had no choice but respond, shame shooting through him, as she trapped him with her legs. “You’re so scared, so scared. Is that what you live in? The cold and the dark. It was so dark, I felt blinded.”
She kissed him, reflecting his need and want back to him. “And the craving. Do you crave so much it hurts? I felt it. Oh, my God, I could feel it like it was my own, but not the why of it.” She was rocking now, gently, and he was hard again. “There’s a lot of good in you, Angel. How do I know that?”
Tenderness filled him, and guilt, and an infinite sadness. He rolled, taking her with him, sand flying. She sat up and he held her hips as she slid slowly along his length, and then lowered herself again. She pulled at his trousers and he lifted, allowing her. The sand was cold and rough on his bare skin, but she could press against him now, taking him fully, rub up against his pubic bone. He thrust gently, confused, wrung out. She rode him slowly, tears still falling, dropping like acid condemnation on his skin as she unbuttoned his shirt, laid him bare. She placed her hands on his chest, pressing on him, the weight of all the ones he had raped, taking his pleasure in their fear.
“Your heart doesn’t beat. How can that be?”
Angel grabbed her wrists, intent on stopping her, but she frowned, her voice harsh, “No! I know your fear."
“And I know what you want. I’m not what you’re looking for.”
“You are exactly what I’m looking for.”
“I can’t help you with your… curse.” She had the temerity to laugh and his hips moved of their own accord.
“It’s a gift, Angel. One that’s being wasted on me.”
“Death is my gift. I can make you want it in the worst way.” Hunger rode him, and his grip tightened. He shifted beneath her, shoving down the demon before it rose. “I could have killed you three times over tonight.”
She leaned forward, kissed his chest, twisted her wrists until he relented and she bore his hands down, pinned him to the earth, grounding him. He let her, wanting her weight and the solidness beneath him, making him feel real and a part of the waking world, her world.
“What do you want?” he asked, driving deeper into her. She shook her head, staring down at him. “You know how scared you are to say it? That’s how scared I am I’ll do it.”
She let go of him, and sat up. Closing her eyes, she moved in slow circles, let her head fall back. He stroked the softness of her belly. “I don’t want to die."
She put her heart into it for the both of them, and he came again just after her, the shame returning as she lay languid over him. And sunrise was coming. He gingerly rose up, holding her to him. He could see dragon’s breath rolling in from the lake. No hurry, then, the city would be socked in this morning.
2001 Los Angeles
He was waiting for her when she returned before midnight. She didn't seem surprised to find the door unlocked or to see him there when she entered. "You haven't changed, not on the outside." She spoke with wonder, but no fear.
Unsure of what to say, he remained silent.
"And on the inside? Have to say, it's still seeming awfully dark."
He hung his head. She made him feel defenseless, somehow, ashamed. There was no way to explain to her all that had happened since that day on the beach, especially the last four years. It seemed a lifetime.
"I still can't see what you crave, beyond punishment. What you physically crave."
He wasn't going to tell her.
"I've met others like you. But you're different from them. They are invariably vicious, demons in human shells. Vampires." She cocked her head, considering. "You. You definitely have a soul, but you have a demon, too, don't you? How can that be?"
Rough sand. "Your heart doesn't beat. How can that be?" Whisper-soft.
She circled him, stalking her answer. Without looking up, he let her, taking his own time to feel her, feel her difference across the years.
"Cursed with a demon?"
"Vampire. Cursed with a soul."
She paused, just a break in her footfalls. "So you're the one. Blood, then, but you deny it." She stopped in front of him again, stood so still and silent, that the soft beat and breath of her seemed an acoustic chorus. He glanced up, and saw that's what she had been waiting for. "No."
No? He frowned, not following.
"No, I'm getting it the other way."
Perplexed, he finally relaxed; let his guard down a bit. He had known she would come, had let her in himself, and could protect himself here. "I think I know, Leah."
"The demon wasn't first, you were first."
"Well... yeah, I was turned."
"And you're soul stayed."
"No. It went... elsewhere." He shrugged. "Into the ether."
"So. The demon had its shell."
"And the demon was cursed with the return of your soul."
He closed his eyes, sighed. Why am I letting her do this? "Technically, yes."
"You have all the memories."
He didn't answer, couldn't answer. He'd done this line of thought before, gotten tangled in it.
"How long were you in the ether?"
Angel made a grab for Angelus, called him up just enough to save him, hoped his eyes weren't golden as he stabbed her with them. "Look it up, Leah. Eighteenth and nineteenth century. Angelus. We use each other to mutual advantage. We're just me, now." Buffy walking away from him. Inexorably, his gaze was drawn down. The Morah just a dead thing on the floor. He squashed the memory.
"Angel, Lindsey doesn't know I read people. He's..." He looked up when she paused, but she was looking past him, eyes roaming, searching for the right word. Her eyes landed on his, darker than he remembered. "... complex. His energy is filled with you. Your vibe. It took me a while to recognize it."
"Don't underestimate him, Leah."
"I know. I know Wolfram and Hart. Every time I have to visit with them, it takes days to repair my vision. They just reverberate over there. It's like walking through an energy earthquake."
"Why work for them then?"
"I'm the best in my field. I command a high price and they pay it."
"So, you're still a... "
"Don't, Angel," Leah snapped. "Don't go there. You're still dead." She took a deep breath. "I wasn't finished."
He nodded and folded his arms.
"After the first couple of jobs, I tried to avoid them, but then I discovered most of the companies I was doing work for were owned wholly or in part..."
"By Wolfram and Hart."
"Yes." She smiled then, her eyes softening. "They have a remarkable track record for purchases of ill-designed buildings the world over. Good locations for their purposes, but requiring feng-shui fixes to appease various partners and clientele"
"You've traveled." A statement, nothing more.
Now she grinned. "I thought of you in the Basilica of St. Peter."
He waited for some response to well up inside him but he still felt hollow. This encounter was proving easier on him than he had imagined. There was no way Lindsey could know about Leah. Even now he wasn’t so paranoid as to believe that they could have found her. Maybe she told them. Boone did.
She reached out toward him and he tensed, drawing away from her without actually moving. Undeterred, she stroked his face.
"Angel. Surely you haven't been lost in this blackness since Chicago."
The sound of the lake and the feel of her beneath him. He asked her not to run, and she hadn't. In the end, he had been the one. Walked her home in the fog, and then escaped Chicago by way of the underground, more afraid of himself than that small lad had even thought to be, walking fast and only having to backtrack twice. She would not get his guidance. He scored a car in the evening with his last bit of cash, and eventually made his way to New York, where he could fall hard with no one to stop him. Whistler. Buffy with her lollipop and buried power... Buffy beneath him. Pain slammed through him, unexpected, a flash of white-hot. His whole body clenched against it, and he grimaced, squeezing his eyes shut, fighting it.
"Oh, Angel." Her voice was a grounding rod. He grabbed her upper arms, and her hand dropped from his face.
It took him a moment to realize the groan he heard was his own. He swallowed, panting hard, trying to recapture his calm, looking for his cold, dark spot. Suddenly, he found himself. He was staring at her, locked in the endless depths of her eyes. Feeling like he'd been burned, he spun away from her, stumbled to the counter, braced against it, letting his head fall.
"You've known love. True love. True friendships."
"Yes." To his own ears, his voice was a harsh rasp, so different from the music that was hers. "You've honed your skills."
"Yes," she said. "Usually a little more subtle, but..."
"Wolfram and Hart." He turned to her, still pushing the memories away, repacking his emotions. She dropped her eyes and he knew his look was too intense, too threatening, too raw, and all he could think was, good.
Still looking at the floor, Leah clasped her hands in front of her. "It isn't meant as a weapon, Angel. I have a few clients on the side who know and come for healing. I offer clarity, and sometimes release."
"I don't need healing."
"I know that. You need pain."
"Yes. You do. It... it seems to be keeping you focused." She gave him a desolate look, like maybe she was seeing straight through him, like he wasn't standing six inches from her. "But I think perhaps you're looking the wrong way."
He strode past her, but she caught his arm and he felt that electric whiplash go through him, only muted, now.
God help him, why was he waiting?
"You're the reason."
He shook his head, his resolve seeping out of him.
"For some reason, you were my best conductor, reflected at least some clarity back onto me. Gave me focus. I wanted your world, where I might be normal. I never would have pursued learning of my gift, and learning architecture, finding a way to merge my ability and passion through feng-shui. It was you. Let me help you." She was pleading now, and he remembered how he had begged for her trust.
She had given that trust to him, fully, not knowing what he was. And so had Buffy, even after she knew him. Lowering her crossbow, the little fool had offered him her throat and he'd been lost. And let’s not forget Rebecca, you idiot. She had done the same, in a completely different way. She had reminded him so much of Leah, had been so unafraid of him. God, can I never learn?
Angel took a deep breath and blew it out, looked down at Leah. Dark eyes, dark hair framing a fair, heart-shaped face, sprinkling of freckles over a perfect nose. Full lips. Warm. Even through his jacket, he could feel her heat.
He had not trusted himself with Leah. But Buffy. He had trusted himself too much. He had loved her fully and deeply and been caught unawares when his moment of perfect happiness slid over him. It had cost him his life. He had died knowing his demon would use her trust of him against her. He was dead. She should have killed the demon. Even now that thought was a twist of red-hot iron in his gut.
Maybe the ether wasn't heaven, but it certainly wasn't hell. He had no memories from his time there. It would have been infinitely preferable. And even after her love for him had consigned him to the worst of torments, he still wanted her, enough to risk both their lives. Full trust would never be possible, on either side.
Darla's stricken face following the trials. She had trusted him, heart and soul, and he had let that soul be stolen. And he hadn't killed the demon. Lead settled in his chest, sunk deep into his belly. Maybe I should destroy every Orb of Thesulah on earth before I finish off Wolfram and Hart. Then again, there probably wasn't a single person left who would bother with his soul. What have I done?
Wesley. Gunn. Cordy. They had given him as much trust as they dared, and what had he done? Thrown it in their faces. Protecting them. I'm protecting them. Yeah. Right. Sent them out on their own, visions and all. But if he could just destroy Wolfram and Hart, a large chunk of evil would drop out of the world. Wasn't that good? Better than spending his time killing vamps and demons one and two at a time?
"Angel, please." Those eyes, tears brimming, one sliding now through long, lush lashes. What’s your name? Soft, slow, hot. Angel. Gone. Looking for himself inside her. Kiss me, Angel. She had been his innocence, which he had lost that cold, wet night in Sunnydale. So cold.
He threw out, and she enveloped him, heat radiating off her, her scent, blood scent, filling his head, feeding his fear. He didn't dare seek comfort, of any kind. He knew the price now, and that he couldn't be trusted to know when he'd be required to pay it. Her nostrils flared as her pulse sped up and her breathing shallowed. She tipped her chin up, responding to him. He leaned in and kissed her throat, just below her jaw.
"I wanted it,” he whispered, knowing she’d remember. “Wanted death."
"It's not for you."
"I know. I don't deserve it and haven't earned it. Yet.” He kissed her again, and then trailed his lips up to her ear, kissed the lobe. “Doesn't keep me from wanting it."
Let her go. Make her go. Now. Because of him she was working for Wolfram and Hart. He let the cold flood in on him, until his muscles tensed with it. He needed it. Needed the cold, and the pain, for the coming battle he could feel waiting for him.
“No.” Angel broke her grip on his arm and continued across the lobby. He held the door for her, made himself watch her wipe the tears away.
“Why won’t you trust me, Angel?”
“Because you trust me,” he said, without thinking, and then he knew it to be true.
She brushed his chest as she passed and he shivered.
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