Buffy woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with the blankets half on the floor and her feet twisted in the sheets. After two years, the nightmares should have stopped by now but they hadn't. As usual, she was freezing from the inside out, her hands were shaking and her head was pounding. The dull ache of emptiness sat inside her, still festering after all this time.
She pulled the worn quilt from the floor by her narrow twin bed and wrapped it around herself before padding to the kitchen. She used a frayed corner of the blanket to wipe her forehead and the tears that she barely noticed were there. Picking up her favorite glass from the dish drainer, she filled it with nearly cold water and gulped it down like she had spent the night in the desert.
The apartment was not her home even though she lived there and the chair she didn't feel like it belonged her even though it did. She bought it at The Salvation Army thrift store along with most of her furniture. Burrowing down in her brown corduroy armchair, decorated with cigarette burns along one arm from the ghost of someone else's vise, she closed her eyes, shuddering when she thought of the expression on Angel's face in her dream. The same face she saw every night in her dreams.
She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and pretended she was curled up in Angel's flawless leather chair in the quilt her mother had left behind when she died. She missed being in that chair in that quilt, loving the clash of the two things owned by the people she loved most and the difference in their texture. She missed having Angel close by, missed burrowing in his arms or making love with him. Now all she had was the memory of her mistakes and how she had single handedly broken herself and took Angel with her.
His face loomed behind her closed eyes so she opened them again and tried to shake him off like the chills, but he stayed with her and strangely, she didn't mind the weight she bore. She still remembered the smell of the moving truck, which was a mixture of mothballs, cedar and stale air. She hired it mostly because of the two burly men that came with it. Angel had been hording her things and wouldn't let her leave with them.
"You can't move your stuff because you aren't leaving me," he said, his voice hoarse and sandpaper dry. She thought it sounded like he had screamed all night for how raspy it came out. When they fought, he hadn't screamed. Not once. Not even when she had. When the two callused moving men came in to move her things, they came back out bloody and angry. Angel attacked them both like a man defending his own life rather than a few chairs and some clothes.
She still shuddered when she thought of his eyes narrowing at them and the curl of his lips in mid snarl. She had never seen that side of him, willing to fight to the death. "You're not taking any of her things," he growled and then went about proving what he said the moment they dared to touch one thing that belonged to Buffy. She still thought it would have been easier to get all of his things out, rather than hers.
Once, long before, the sight of blood on their faces and the bruises rising on them would have upset her. But it wasn't a lot of blood - a dribble here and there. That was nothing compared to what soaked into their bed when she lost the baby. Writhing on the expensive silk sheets her future forced its way out of her womb. Angel could barely call the ambulance because she wouldn't let go of him. He finally gathered her into his arms along with the down comforter and drove her there himself. She held on to him and screamed, jerking painfully in his arms. The doctors had to give her a tranquilizer to get her to let him go and even then they pried her fingers away.
All of the employees were used to the fact that Mr. Angelus never went home. Ever. He lived at the office, had his mail and laundry delivered there, showered, ate and drank there. Everyone knew that he had a lovely home in one of the nicer parts of town where a guard stood 24 hours a day, seven days a week, waiting to protect the belongings of a wife that left one day and never came home.
The change in his behavior from the happy go lucky boss who had a beautiful wife and a deliriously charmed life to the dark, sardonic man he became could not go without notice. Angel never smiled anymore. He thought he did, but there was so no joy in the gesture. He simply bared his teeth.
So, it was not a rare occurrence for Angel to be in his corner office looking over the city with a drink in his hand at the wee hours of the morning. He hated his office, hated that he was trapped there, but it was better than going home. Not that he had a choice. He hadn't even so much as touched a pillow on their bed since Buffy left. He couldn't stand the thought of going every night to a house devoid of her presence.
Two years ago, if you would have asked him, he would have sworn on his life that she was going to come back. He would have killed anyone who said otherwise. She was not only his wife, she was his soulmate. They couldn't live without each other. He still clung greedily to the belief that she would show up and promise to stay forever this time.
The sound of the door opening broke into Angel's reverie. Whistler walked in without knocking, fixed himself a drink and sat down on the other side of Angel's desk, propping his feet up on the corner.
"How is she?" Angel asked. As usual, Whistler was wrinkled from being up all night. This visit was not the first for him but rather the last before he went to bed. He was a cheap looking private investigator, but he was great at his job. He also knew everything about how these two people had rotted away from what they had been two years before.
"The same," Whistler answered into his glass, "I hate to admit this, Angel, but you should probably stop paying me. Nothing new has happened for a very long time. She's exactly the same as she was last week and the week before that and the week before that."
"Just tell me," Angel snapped, "I'll decide when I'm done paying you to spy on my wife." He stood up and refilled his glass, walking very straight for someone who had been drinking all night as he did before every appointment with Whistler. He figured if he was not in his right mind it wouldn't hurt so much even though he knew nothing could stop it. He knocked back what was in his glass and sloshed more in as he grumbled, "The same. What the hell do you know about it? And give me the fucking pictures, Whistler."
Whistler sighed. He tossed an envelope on Angel's desk muttering under his breath, then he poured himself a few more healthy fingers of whiskey. He was going to need it. He carefully kept his eyes from straying to the door to his left. Behind the door, he knew was Angel's bedroom - what used to be his private conference room - and on the far wall was plastered ceiling to floor with the pictures Whistler had taken over the past two years. It was frighteningly similar to a serial killer's trophy wall. It gave him the creeps. In fact, the first time he saw it, he occurred to him that the bastard might even do something crazy some day if she didn't come home.
As he thought about it, he found his gaze straying toward the door and he snapped back to watch his employer. Angel had never meant for him to see that wall. No one should ever have to see that maniacal fucking wall. He nursed his drink as Angel tore into the envelope and pored over the pictures carefully, eyeing every detail quickly before looking back up at his employee.
"She's thinner and she's been sleeping less," Angel barked angrily, "These aren't the same as last week."
"Every week she's thinner and she's been sleeping less," Whistler groaned, "Man, you're crazy if you think she's just going to up and come home-"
"I don't pay to hear your opinion," Angel growled. "I don't care if you have one. Just tell me about her."
Whistler fidgeted in his seat. Every week it was the same. He watched Buffy, and then Angel wrestled every single detail from him with that look on his face, that suicidal, drowning man look. Whistler hated that godamn look. It made him want to slit his own throat or Angel's - anything to make it stop.
That, of course, was nothing compared to the wife. She looked like a light breeze would send her careening toward the ground and she had this haunted look about her, like she was already dead and now was waiting for her body to catch up with her mind. He had never seen two people more in love with each other and trying to die at the same time.
Buffy came home, opened her door and sighed wearily. Angel was pacing around her living room, touching things randomly. She didn't need to look in the refrigerator to know it was stocked with food again or that the drip in the bathroom sink was fixed. He had done this every other week since she left him two years ago. She was certain if she ever brought another man home, Angel would kill him with his bare hands. It didn't matter really. She didn't want anyone else. She still wore her wedding ring just like he did.
He stopped pacing and turned to face her as she walked in and her fingers flew to her ring like they always did. He glanced down at her shaking hand wiggling the diamond and she quickly allowed herself one little peek of him. He was thinner and he looked sickly - much as Angel could anyway. Of course, sickly thin for Angel was still broad shouldered and beautiful. He always looked strong and safe and dangerous to her. He looked like love, like the future - things she wasn't allowed to have. She took a deep breath and did what she always did. She ignored him.
Ignoring him didn't make him go away, but she always tried that first. She set her purse and workbag on the beaten up red chair just inside the door, then headed to the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and looked inside it. He had bought all the things she liked to eat most but she wasn't hungry. The thought of food made her want to vomit all over the kitchen floor even though she was willing to bet a ten spot that there was extra crunchy peanut butter in the cabinet.
She closed the refrigerator door and went into her bedroom, trying desperately to keep her lips from trembling, eyes wide to deny the tears that were already forming. At least she didn't have to look at him. She wouldn't have to see that look in those dark eyes. She already knew they were overflowing an indescribable amount of pain and love and it was too much to handle. She couldn't stand the thought of seeing her missing future in them, so she curled up on the narrow bed on her side and stared at the peeling paint on the wall with her back to the door.
It seemed easy enough to face the wall and block him out until he walked in. The cheaply crafted floor shook underneath his steps but when he came into the room, she didn't just hear him, she felt him. He made her apartment feel like a cardboard box when he was in it, like the walls would just tear away.
"I'm going to replace your deadbolt," he said, his voice low and pained. "It rattles and it took me under ten seconds to pick the lock." Silence. She didn't dare speak and he didn't dare acknowledge the fact that she hadn't. He sighed and continued. "I want you to pick up some carbon monoxide detectors at the store. This building looks iffy and the foundation isn't sound."
Deafening silence added to what was already there and Buffy continued to stare at the wall. Her heart was screaming for her to do something, anything but she stayed still. She would rather walk on hot coals than see that look in his eyes. She didn't want to see the hurt she saw in her dreams every night. She couldn't stand it.
"I miss you so much some days I think it will kill me," he whispered hoarsely. He was right behind her now and she knew he was kneeling on the floor beside the bed. She could almost feel his body heat. "You know the guard will let you in if you want to go home. I told him you could take whatever you wanted now. If you want something in particular, I can bring it over."
He waited. Buffy counted the heartbeats in between. 25 before he spoke again. He leaned over and laid his head in the curve of her side. She held her breath and tried not to shake. He was shaking enough for both of them.
"I love you," he said. His voice was muffled into her sweater but she could hear every word clearly, "I keep waiting for you to come home. I keep waiting. I'll wait forever. You know that-"
"Angel," she finally said when she couldn't hold her breath anymore and the tears forced their way from her eyes. His named cracked out of her dry mouth and splintered into the air. He stopped speaking and lifted his head. Now it was his turn to hold his breath. When she finally managed to speak again, her voice sounded shredded and raw. "Please don't. Just go."
"I'll just change your deadbolt and then I'll go." he answered, gulping back his emotion. He stood as if the action of standing would erase the weight in his heart. "I'm going to be in Europe next week on business but if you need me you can call my secretary or my international mobile phone. You still have both numbers, right?"
"Yes," Buffy croaked. There was no point in arguing. "Tell Whistler to stop following me so closely," Buffy said as he walked out of the room, "His aftershave smells like Giles' dead cat."
Angel dragged through the spacious, glittering lobby of Angelus Enterprises three weeks later and trudged to the elevators. Leaning wearily, Angel thought the elevator seemed to crawl up to the top floor before he could make it down the hall and through his secretary's office to his office and finally to his bedroom.
He had missed his bi-weekly intrusion on Buffy's little dingy apartment and three meetings with Whistler. Needless to say, business was great but it was seriously breaking into his brooding time, not to mention his stalker habits. He made a mental note to send one of his young executives next time. They could go and sit in endless meetings and hop planes and trains all over Europe. The only pleasure he got from these trips was buying Buffy her presents.
Carefully, he opened his bag and tossed clothes over his shoulder until he found the three packages he had brought back with him this time. He opened his closet door and placed them precariously on top of the pile with the rest of the gifts and souvenirs he had bought her since she left. One day he was going to shower her with them and tell her where he had gotten each.
When she left him and he reluctantly went on his first business trip a couple of months later, he bought her the first one, fully intending on giving it to her when he came home, only to remember that he couldn't go home. He tucked it in the corner of his closet that time and now her gifts took up over half of the space. Happily, he started throwing clothes out to make way for her treasure chest. He tried to stop at one point but instead of buying less presents, he bought her more. He was up to three now. Next time he might buy her four.
Wearily, he closed the closet door and tossed off his clothes before crossing the room look over the wall of pictures. The pain still looked new in her eyes just like it did in his every time he looked in the mirror. Maybe that was why he couldn't move on, maybe when Whistler came into his office and handed him just one picture of her smiling he would stop this whirling ritual of pain. Maybe if he saw just one twinkle in her luminous hazel eyes, he could believe in something else. Maybe.
But after two years he had yet to see anything remotely resembling happiness. That was why he hadn't cheated on her on his trip. God, he almost laughed at that thought. How could it be cheating when she'd left him two years before and hadn't looked him in the eye since? He still remembered clearly the look of love in her eyes, what it felt like to look at her and know where home was.
He had been in a pub in England when the girl - one of many over the years - had snuggled up to him at the bar and propositioned him. As usual, he had held his hand up and showed her his wedding ring. "Married," he grunted. The girl, however, didn't move aside as they generally did. She sighed for a moment and looked him over.
"I don't think you're very happily married," she said softly in her beautiful British voice, "Tell me, are you?"
Angel glanced up at her reflection in the mirror over the bar. She was beautiful with long copper colored hair that hung in long, thick silky waves over her back and bright blue eyes that looked sharp and edgy. She met his gaze, still clutching his arm in her hand.
"She's the only thing in this world that makes me happy," he answered truthfully.
"Pity," she purred before sliding off her barstool. Angel blinked back the memory and scanned Buffy's image in all those pictures. Yeah, it was a pity, he thought. He wanted desperately to go over to her apartment and explain why he hadn't been there the week before and why he hadn't called to tell her he wasn't coming, but he knew she didn't want him to be there in the first place. Instead, he crawled under the covers, closed his eyes tightly and forced himself not to get back up and have a drink before bed. He laid there in silence until he could almost smell her perfume, almost feel her presence in the room and that was when she spoke.
"You didn't come," she whispered from behind him. His breath caught his throat and nearly strangled him. He started to flip over in bed to face her, almost believing he had imagined her voice. "Don't! Please don't t-turn around," she begged. The desperate edge in her voice made him stop moving immediately. He settled back and stared at his wall of pictures instead. He could hear the tears in her wobbling voice as she spoke again. "Last Friday after work, I came home and you weren't there. Y-you didn't come. I waited."
"I'm sorry, love," he whispered, focusing on the newest pictures of her, ones he had taped up before he left for his trip. "I was stuck in London in meetings. I couldn't get away."
Her fingertips swept over his shoulder blade, making him jerk violently. It had been two years since anyone touched him there. She traced his tattoo lightly and he gripped the sheet that covered him from the waist down, shaking with the effort not to touch her back, not to turn over, not to fall to his knees and beg her to stay.
"I didn't want you to come see me," she explained finally and her hand dropped away from his shoulder. Just as easily, he jerked again and gritted his teeth. He wasn't sure which was worse - her touch or the lack of it. "I didn't want you to come," she announced again more strongly as if she was trying to convince one or both of them. Angel was already convinced, she needed only tell herself.
"I know," he mumbled regretfully. The bed dipped slightly under her slight weight and he felt her climbing beneath the covers to press her fully clothed body against his nude one. His breaths came out ragged and sporadic as she wrapped her arms tightly around him and pressed her face against the center of his back.
"I didn't want you to come, Angel," she whimpered, her voice muffled against his skin, "but then you weren't there and I I just didn't know how to handle you not being there."
"I feel that way every day," he groaned. He clutched the hand that lay on his knotted stomach and pulled it to his lips. She started to pull away and he held it more firmly, refusing to let it go. "Please, Buffy," he said, kissing each of her fingertips, "Please just stay tonight. Just let me feel you there. I won't even turn over. I promise."
She flicked her tongue out to taste his skin before she could stop herself and then scrambled away. "I'm sorry," she said, running for the door, "I shouldn't have come."
The following morning, Buffy felt better and worse. She was glad that Angel was alright. She had been to his office so many times during the weeks he was gone, wondering if he was still in Europe, wondering if he was gone for good. She couldn't bear to ask Whistler even though she saw him as he followed her almost every day. He didn't bother to try and hide himself anymore. There was really no point. She thought about asking his secretary, but couldn't make herself do that either. Instead, she waited until she knew the building was empty and used her keys and magnetic ID passes to get into his office and always ended up in his bedroom.
She sat at her desk and worked diligently to try and forget about him but nothing was working. She shouldn't have gone there last night. She should have turned to leave the moment she saw him in bed, but the sight of his naked back beneath those sheets just destroyed her willpower. How many nights had she envisioned that exact same thing? He always had his back to her, she never had to look into his eyes. Safe, beautiful Angel.
She looked up from her laptop screen in shock as Snyder burst through her door, slamming it back against the wall so hard the walls shook. "You lost the Davidson account!" he screamed, tossing a sheath of papers at her that exploded across her desk. He swiped his bald head with his clenched fist as he shouted, "It was a TEN MILLION dollar account, Summers, a done deal, and you completely choked!"
"No, I didn't choke, Snyder, " Buffy answered calmly, leaning back in her leather office chair and looked up at him as if they were having a pleasant conversation. Angel could rattle her but Snyder could go straight to hell. She felt a good, healthy dose of anger coming on as he fumed on the other side of her desk. "That man propositioned me half a dozen times during negotiations," Buffy answered, "When he touched my breast last week, I asked him if he would prefer working with another member of our staff. He told me he wanted to have sex with me and I traded him off to Finn."
"It was YOUR account not Finn's!" Snyder shouted, clearly ignoring the sexual harassment part of the explanation.
"Not when I'm being sexually abused, it isn't," Buffy answered.
"Abused?" Snyder huffed, "You could have slept with him! For 10 million dollars, you SHOULD have slept with him! But no! All you young people do is think about yourselves, not my retirement! That was the account that was going to send me to an early life of ease."
"I'm a married woman, Snyder," Buffy reminded him, "And even if I wasn't, I still wouldn't have slept with that sorry excuse for a human being! Now fire me or get out of my office so I can work on other projects!"
Fifteen minutes after the delivery boy left his office, Angel was standing in the small glassed in doors which accessed Buffy's company's part of the large 20 story building. He clutched a large envelope in his fist, squeezing it more tightly with every second that passed. The tall and muscular guard standing in between him and the plain, but elegant lobby was a good head taller and almost twice as wide as Angel. Armed with both a gun and a club, the guard looked unnecessarily frightening for the unassuming consulting firm. Sadly, neither the club nor the gun was going to protect the guard from what would happen if he didn't let the him pass. Angel took a deep breath and tried on his most friendly tone of voice, "I'm here to see Buffy Angelus."
"Angelus?" the guard echoed, looking down on Angel in momentary confusion.
"Summers," Angel forced out through clenched teeth, "Buffy Summers, Executive Vice President of Marketing."
"Ms. Summers is not seeing visitors today, sir," the guard informed him, "but if you'd like to call and make an appointment-"
"I'm her husband," Angel continued, struggling to keep from killing the man. He was still reeling from the slight strain and stuffiness he had detected when he called to scream at her. It sounded like she had been crying. He knew from almost the first syllable that something was very, very wrong. In years she had worked for that company, she had never asked her secretary to tell him that she was in a meeting that was running over. Never. Not even after she had left him.
He narrowed his eyes at the guard. A low growl vibrated in his throat, just loud enough to barely come through in his words. "Martin," Angel said reading the guard's name tag, "I highly suggest you go in there and get my wife."
"She said to admit no one today," Martin said, crossing his arms across his chest and puffing his muscled chest out. Angel had to admit that the guy was built like a fucking diesel which is only part of the reason he smiled evilly when he snapped his foot into his knee and shattered his kneecap. Martin made a gurgling down in his throat as he hit the floor and then hit the steel frame of the doorway. Inertia was definitely working against him today.
Buffy leaned over and watched the blood drip from her nose, between her fingers and onto her wooden desk's shiny surface. Her curse of irritation was muffled from behind her cupped hand as she waited for her secretary to hand her a giant, ungraceful wad of paper towels.
"Sorry it took me so long," her secretary whispered fearfully as if loud noises would somehow disrupt Buffy's nosebleed further. "There's a visitor."
"I told you no business when I'm bleeding to death," Buffy rasped jokingly, even though she did squeeze her eyes shut. She pinched the bridge of her nose with the forefinger and thumb of one hand while she pressed the towels against her face with the other.
"It's your husband," she whispered frantically, trying to get it all out at once, "He's out there and he just broke the guard's knee so please don't make me go back out there and tell me to leave."
Taking a deep breath, she looked up at the shy little brunette that had been her assistant for the past two months. "He'd never hit you," Buffy explained through her red soaked paper towel, "I promise. Just tell him what I said on the phone. Business meeting is running over." She couldn't let Angel in her office. Not like this.
Buffy watched her assistant hovered for a moment before fluttering nervously from the room. After Rebecca left, Buffy rose unsteadily to her feet. She was still bleeding. It hurt and her jaw was already beginning to swell. She couldn't even remember the last time something hurt like this.
Buffy leaned against the wall in her office for a second and grumbled to herself about the pain she was experiencing. Weaving drunkenly toward the door, she thought she may have a concussion.
"Uh Ms. Summers," Rebecca called out. Buffy's head was spinning and suddenly the whispering she thought was annoying now seemed necessary. She leaned wearily against the door and faced her, pronouncing her tiredness by closing her eyes.
Angel forced his way into the office and brushed past the secretary hovering in Buffy's doorway. A knot of twisted panic rested in his belly. He knew something was very far from being right. When he saw her, his suspicions were confirmed. In the background he heard the secretary still pleading for him to wait in the outer office. He shrugged her hand off of his arm and stepped toward his wife.
Buffy was standing in the center of the room, swaying back and forth with a wad of paper towels against her face. She looked at him straight on, wobbling on those beautiful, slender legs. Anything that would cause her to look at him without wincing and turning away was something that needed crushing. But first things first.
He crossed the room in a couple of long strides and caught her before she toppled over. The fluttering secretary buzzed around his ears but he couldn't hear her. He focused on the bundle in his arms instead. Blood had drenched the towels and Buffy's crisp white blouse. A splattering stained her charcoal gray skirt. He sat her down on his lap and cradled her there, checking her face for the damage and sliding that hem between his fingers. The same thing he did when he bought it for her.
It was loose and still must have been taken in, but the skirt was definitely part of the suit he had bought her when she got this job. The Power Suit, she had called it. He remembered that proud look on her face as she strutted around the bedroom in her new suit, trying on her new title as Vice President on for size. He would buy her a thousand suits now if he could have just one more second of that look - happiness, pride, love.
The champagne that night had gone straight to her head and halfway into the meal she was on his lap, giggling at the look on his face when she whispered naughty desires in his ear. If he closed his eyes he could remember just how she looked that night, fresh, beautiful and smiling, her eyes so full of love and happiness that it flowed into him and took over. She had changed out of her suit before dinner and worn her sexiest little black dress for him, swaying her hips dramatically as she made a suggestive display of her choice of clothing.
"That's a little fancy for dinner, isn't it, love?" he asked, eyeing every inch of her exposed flesh hungrily. Her hair hung freely down her back in big, silky blonde curls and he watched as she moved her head slowly from side to side making that mass of hair slide over her bare back.
"I love the way that feels," she answered, looking far more desirable that she realized at the time. Later, when she climbed in his lap in the restaurant with several glasses of sparkly under her belt, she had warmed into that dress and dripped over him like honey. "Take me home, Angel," she had whispered in his ear.
"Leave me alone, Angel," Buffy barked, bringing him out of the memory. She was squirming on his lap, preparing to escape and he pressed her harder against his chest to still her movements. "Hold still," he said, keeping his grip on her tight so she wouldn't notice his hands shaking.
"I'm fine," she complained, wriggling away again. She closed her eyes and pushed on his chest, wincing with her own exertions.
"You're not fine," Angel growled, tugging at the paper towels against her face. "You're going to let me see, love. Either we can look at your face now or I can go kill your boss and we can look before I go to jail. Your choice, really."
Buffy huffed a sigh and lowered the paper towels. She winced at the look on his face and the near growl that escaped his throat. Even though she consented to let him see her injuries, she tried to turn her head, shrinking under the weight of his stare. Gently, he turned her face toward him and without saying a word, he set her down and stormed out of the office.
Buffy scrambled up from the couch in the corner of her office and stumbled after Angel. Even if she hadn't been injured, she would have had to walk quickly to keep up with his long strides, but as it was, she was far enough behind him to hear Snyder's outraged shout and the sound of a fist hitting flesh.
"How dare you!" Angel roared, as Buffy skidded through the door. His fist was a blur as he punched Snyder again and again, holding him against the wall by a handful of tailored white button down shirt. "How dare you lay a hand on my wife, you little fuck!"
"Angel!" Buffy shouted and made her way across the room quickly, before tugging on the back of his jacket. She was so close behind him that he couldn't raise a fist without inadvertently elbowing her so he resorted to slamming Snyder into the wall again and again.
"Come on, baby," she insisted, wrapping her arms around him. She clasped her hands at his chest and tugged until he released her boss. Snyder crumpled to the floor and glared up at them through unfocused eyes.
"You're both pathetic losers," he announced in a muffled voice, "Neither of you have ever been productive members of society. You're both useless."
The last word came out croaked as Angel picked Buffy up around the waist with one arm and moved forward to press his foot against Snyder's bleeding face. His whole body was filled with a rage that came out of him in a fine tremor. Angel never wanted to kill anyone more in his life.
"She no longer works for you, understand?" Angel snarled, "If I catch you in a fifty mile radius of my wife, you'll find out just how useless I am."
Angel was shaking so badly, so filled with mixed but potent emotions that he couldn't extract himself from Buffy's arms. She protested at first when he carried her out of the office, strolling past the shocked secretary and the other employees peeking around office doors and cubicle walls to see the spectacle, but he couldn't seem to make himself put her down.
"I can walk," she argued, but he didn't respond. He couldn't. Driving back to the office was a memory he couldn't summon and he knew he retrieved the first aid kit to tend her wounds, but all of it seemed like it happened to someone else. The sight of her blood, the tears welling in her eyes and the fact that she never would have called him if he hadn't happened to come by frightened him to death.
Buffy quickly realized that he wasn't hearing a word she said, that he wasn't going to let her out of his sight, so she sat mutely and let him drive her to the office. She laid her head against his chest when he carried her into his office building, into the elevator, up to the top floor and into his bedroom. Closing her eyes, she let him wash the blood from her face and took the towel filled with ice he handed her. When he scooted her onto the bed and wrapped himself around her, she didn't even try to stop him.
"I don't want to hate myself anymore," he whispered against her hair and she shivered. Her eyes were welling up with tears that wouldn't allow themselves to be blinked away. His arms were around her so tightly that it was getting difficult to breathe, but she didn't speak. The air seemed to grow thicker until he spoke again as he curled himself around her more tightly. "If you would just damn it, Buffy," he said, heaving a deep, shaky breath, "Just tell me what I can do to make this better. Just tell me what I did wrong and I'll make it up to you a thousand times over."
"You h-have to find someone else Angel," she finally croaked, knowing there was no way to speak without sobbing so hard that she was certain he would not understand her words. She pushed the ice away and covered her face with her hands. "If you would just start hating me instead-"
"Why am I supposed to hate you?" he demanded harshly against the shell of her ear, "For leaving me? For breaking my heart?"
"Yes," she rasped. Her whole body was shaking but the shivers seemed to dissolve into him. All the times she had lain with him, she couldn't remember a time when he felt like a sheet of steel wrapped around her, unmoving, unmovable, except for the slight tightening of his arms as if he was trying to crush the love out of her.
"That would be so easy, wouldn't it?" he sneered, "I'd hate you and you'd be free of me. I feel the guilt in you, my love. I feel it in every inch of you and I know it as well as I know my own."
"No," she sobbed brokenly, "I don't want you anymore. I l-left you."
"You still love me, Buffy," he growled. Flipping her over, he crouched over her shaking body. He pulled her hands away from her face and shook her roughly. "Look at me, godammit! You never stopped loving me."
"Let me go," she said, writhing beneath him to free herself. She couldn't even believe she had let herself get into this situation. He just held her in his arms and it had been so long. She wasn't trying to confuse him with mixed signals, but the truth was getting so hard to hide. She was really tired of hating herself too.
"When I hear you say you don't love me, I'll let you go," he growled, calling her bluff. He looked into her eyes, locking her gaze and stared as long as he could. She didn't say a word, didn't utter a single syllable, but her lower lip was bleeding because she was biting into it to keep from speaking. It was the perfect time to lie, the perfect chance to set him free once and for all, but at that moment, she had never loved him more.
He leaned in and nipped at her mouth until she released her lower lip from the clenches of her teeth. Laving it gently with his tongue, he tasted the tang of her blood in his mouth. He kissed her gently, caressing her swollen jaw with his fingertips and when her tongue tentatively caressed his, he groaned. Everything seemed to be moving so slowly, his mind relishing each detail - his fingers threading through her hair, his body sliding downward to press intimately against hers, her arms coming around him.
"Angel, please " she whimpered, arching against his mouth, grinding against him. He ignored her plea, refusing to take the time to evaluate what it might mean. As long as she didn't say the word "No," he wasn't going to stop. Nothing but that word could keep him from finally making love to his wife again.
He took his time, inhaling her scent with every breath, tasting her skin with every flick of his tongue. Her body was so much more slender, almost frail, and he found himself keeping as much weight off of her as possible, afraid he might hurt her. Even with the changes that had occurred with both of them over the time they were apart, they still fit together perfectly. They had evolved together.
He licked and nibbled along her neck, tracing her delicate collar bone. When her blood spotted blouse impeded his journey, he tugged just hard enough for the buttons to pop off. He wanted so badly to spread her, rip her panties away and bury himself inside her. He wanted to rock with her until she shuddered around him again and again. There was nothing more beautiful than her face contorted in pleasure, her fingers digging into his shoulders and her little mewling cries as she climaxed, but the fool in him demanded that he take his time, that he give her every opportunity to push him aside.
He undressed her more gently than he ever had, branding each exposed piece of flesh with his mouth, making sure that each part of her was his and his alone as it always had been. Her nipples pebbled as he cupped her breasts, sliding the pad of his thumbs over them in slow circles before reminding himself of the sensation of his tongue against the hot little points. She arched her back and pressed her chest against his questing tongue. Her breath quickened and he closed his eyes to the sound, memorizing it again.
The little freckle on her inner thigh made them both sigh as he gave it special attention. He murmured against her skin. She didn't hear what he said but felt the movement of his lips, soft and light. She knew what he was thinking of that long ago night when he noticed it and mentioned that it hadn't been there before. She remembered clearly the sound of his chuckle when he told her he made it. It was his freckle, he had said.
Her beckoning heat carried him up to the apex of her thighs where his thumbs parted her. At the first taste, her back contracted and she moaned. Every muscle in her body concentrated on his lips, his teeth and their little bites and his tongue, tracing each part of her sex.
"Don't stop, don't stop," she panted and he had no intention of stopping. He stroked her lightly and slipped two fingers into her. Wetness poured out of her, begging for more and she raised her hips from the bed to encourage him. Just as release began to flow over her, he pulled away causing her to cry out.
As slowly as he had removed her clothes, he nearly tore his own from his body. He was half afraid she would bolt before he could make love to her. He looked over her, shaking from pleasure, golden hair tossed over the pillow, a light sheen of sweat covering her body and the rational part of his mind knew she wouldn't go. Not now. Still, he kept his eyes on her as he climbed back on the bed and held his breath as he cradled his hips between her thighs. When he opened his mouth to speak, she pressed her fingers against his lips and shook her head. He kissed her fingertips as if that was what he meant to do the entire time and entered her, hissing as he was enveloped in her silken warmth.
Only then did he kiss her again, this time more deeply. Every moment seemed to be well thought out, premeditated. The sun was setting outside as they made love, casting colors around the room and she wrapped her legs around his waist, rising up to meet his thrusts. She moved her hands over his back, arms and shoulders, mapping out a familiar route over his skin. When they finally tumbled over the edge together, they both screamed, forgetting they were in an office building or that they had been separated for so long.
For that moment and long moments surrounding that one, Buffy couldn't seem to remember the reason she had left him. The broken pieces of her were so adeptly melded with the shattered pieces of him, that she almost believed they were whole.
Buffy woke up in the middle of the night just like she always did, coming out of a violent nightmare, but this time she found herself anchored to the bed by her husband's body. His head was nestled against her breasts and his breath was puffing against her skin. She could tell by the rhythm of breathing that he wasn't asleep and he tensed when she tried to move. He pretended to be asleep though, keeping his eyes closed and his body draped over hers.
"You're not asleep," she said, trying to move but couldn't budge him. "Let me up." He raised himself on his elbows and didn't have the decency to be ashamed for trapping her there.
"If I get up you'll leave," he said accursedly. His eyes were already dark with that same look again. It made her panic. She looked away from him as she began struggling to get free. His body was not what weighed her down now, but that expression, that destroyed look in his eyes.
"Angel," she blustered, "Let me up. Let me up." She pushed against him harder and he moved back, startled by her reaction. She acted like she thought he was going to keep her prisoner, although admittedly, the thought had crossed his mind. While she been there underneath him sleeping, he knew it would have been so easy to tie her down and keep her with him. He could make love to her until she promised to stay, watch her experience pleasure again and again until she told him she still loved him. Unfortunately, force wasn't going to get it done. If it was the answer, he would have tried it long before this.
He rose naked and picked up the jacket he had thrown off earlier. Digging into the pocket, he pulled out the envelope he had brought with him to her office. "This came to my office yesterday," he explained as if she wasn't aware.
"Sign it," she said tiredly. She didn't look up at him, but occupied herself with finding her clothes around the room. All of them were ruined, so she laid them on the bed and stared at the rumpled pile, willing them to right themselves again.
"I can't sign this," Angel answered angrily. "I won't sign it!" He ripped the envelope in half and then in half again. The pieces fluttered around his naked body to the floor.
"Damn it, Angel!" Buffy blustered, picking up the nearest thing to throw at him, which happened to be her shirt. "What the hell is wrong with you? I want a divorce!"
"No, you want to escape," he growled. "Those said that we had 'irreconcilable differences.' How the hell can they be irreconcilable when I don't even know what they are? More like irrecognizable. You aren't getting a divorce. We're going to forget, just for a second, that you went to my best friend and had him draw up the papers and focus on the fact that I have the power to keep you from doing this. You can walk away from me all you want and talk to as many lawyers as you need, but I'm sure old Linds told you that I'd be able to stop it."
"Yes," Buffy snapped, "Lindsey told me that you wouldn't let me go and I told him that you would be an adult about it, that you would give me the freedom I'm asking for."
"Well, you were wrong, baby, cause you aren't getting out of this marriage until you look directly in my eyes and tell me you don't love me."
"Love isn't enough anymore," Buffy answered. She pulled on her panties and wiggled into her wrinkled and torn skirt just to have something to do. "We've been apart for two years, Angel! Divorce me and find someone else to be happy with. That's what I want. I want you to be happy. Find someone to grow old with and have a family with."
"I did that already!" he roared. Crossing the room, he flung the closet doors open. Several packages came tumbling out onto the floor. "I still buy you presents every time I leave this damn building. I love you, Buffy. You are free to walk out that door and move on with your life, but I can't. Seeing you tears me up inside and you know who I share that with? Me. Not another woman. Not anyone. YOU are my wife. Period."
"I'm sorry you can't move on, Angel, but I have," she lied adamantly. Crossing to the closet, she stepped over the fallen gifts and pulled one of his white shirts so violently that the hanger flipped off the bar and careened across the room. She didn't bother with her broken bra as she shrugged on the shirt. She buttoned it crookedly as she slipped her high heels on her bare feet. "I'm going to find someone else to spend my life with and I suggest you do the same thing."
Having spouted the biggest, most painful lie in her life, she strutted toward the door, but spun around when he grabbed her arm. "Just tell me one thing before you go," he said through gritted teeth.
"Who was that woman making love to me last night? I don't know who you are, but last night - I'm pretty sure that was my wife."
"Let. Go. Of. My. Arm." Each word was it's own snarl and before he could even release her, she yanked her arm from his grasp. "I won't be back, Angel."
"I want my life to be with you," Angel blurted desperately, crossing his arms over his naked chest to keep from physically restraining her.
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