"The hardest thing in this world is to live in it."
--Buffy Summers, "The Gift."
His bootheels crunching shards of broken glass should be the first sign that something is off kilter...that something isn't quite right. The complete absence of light in the hotel's expansive lobby should be the second. But he manages to ignore the prickling at the back of his neck in favor of some good old-fashioned swaggering. Macho posturing. Snappy insults he's been storing up since he discovered the "Cops Suck" sign on the back of his truck about three miles outside of Tijuana.
"What's wrong, Angelus? Can't the big bad bane of Wolfram & Hart afford a light bulb?" he drawls.
A shape in the corner barks out two curt words. "Get. Out."
Now, his neck starts to itch...but, once again, he pushes the sense of wrongness aside. He's been waiting for this moment for weeks. Maybe months...maybe years. And nothing can stop the skip in his step, the mocking lift in his voice. "Ooooh, I'm sooo scared. Maybe he'll chop off my new hand?"
"I said...'get. out.'"
"Maybe my feet? My head?" he continues, chuckling, as he rounds the first sofa.
But that is as far as he gets. Because, in the blink of an eye, Angel barrels out of the darkness...and he is slammed up against the nearest wall. The back of his head makes contact *hard* and stars flash before his eyes.
"Get. the. Fuck. OUT!"
The words are hissed from between pointed teeth. Precise. One after the other, vibrating with barely checked...barely checked *what*? Rage? Grief? Passion?
"You've had your hand cut off, Lawyerbeast...do you want to know what it feels like to have your heart cut out? Do you? Let me tell you what that's like...it's like laughing one minute and then forgetting a thing like laughter ever existed the next. It's like feeling the sun on your back and then having someone black out the sky."
The breath on his face is like icicles made from fire. As paradoxical as a vampire's lungs working, as a vampire's heart beating. But he can feel that, too...the heartbeat. Pounding slowly against his chest...like the underwater echo of his own pulse in his ears. "What happened?" he gasps out, suddenly glad the wall is there to hold him up. "What is it?"
"She's dead," Angel says, eyes unseeing...focused on some point far above his head. The next words are a whisper so bare, he has to strain to hear them. "She's dead and I'm alive."
He's not sure which part of the confession to wrap his mind around first...but his lack of certainty doesn't stop his throat from working up sounds, phrases, questions. "Alive? What d'you mean 'alive'? And who's dead, Angel? Who'd you kill?"
"'Who'd I kill?' You always know the right thing to say, McDonald. Must come with the degree and the briefcase." A fevered laugh, hurried murmurs... "And you ARE right. I did kill her. I left her for dead and someone else just helped her along, finished the job."
"*Who*?" Lindsey demanded with rising urgency. "Dammit, tell me! Who's dead? Darla? Dru? Cordelia?" *Please don't let it be Darla*, he thinks frantically. *Please*...
But a quick shake of a dark head and a darker heart puts that fear to rest. "No one you've ever met. No one you've ever tried to destroy to get to me. Although, I'm sure you would've thought of it eventually." Again the slightly insane and martini-dry laugh. "You're quite the industrious one. Busy little worker bee...bee. B-b..." The laugh breaks off, turns into a damp stutter.
And he knows. He may not know *her*...but he knows. He sees her reflection, her shadow, in the blackened mirrors of Angel's eyes...hears her name in the unfinished syllables that hang in the air. "Buffy."
The vampire nods. One arm drops away from Lindsey's side and a bottle appears between them. Half full of some kind of liquor...maybe even blood. He can't tell. Angel pulls back just far enough to take a long draught and then the bottle goes flying. He winces as he listens to it shatter...adding another layer to the razor-edged carpet.
"Buffy," Angel repeats. "Bu-ffy. The one girl in all the world called to fight the darkness...the one girl in all the world that I love." His brows furrow for just an instant. "LovED," he corrects, companionably pressing his forearm against Lindsey's throat. "But she's dead now. Everything I touch dies eventually."
He is choking slowly and is the only one who seems to notice. Of course, the choker has a lot on his mind...the chokee being the least of it. "Everything...*everybody*...touches...dies...eventually..." he gasps out.
"Not me." Angel shakes his head violently and the pressure on his windpipe heightens. "You're touching me...and I'm not dying. I'm alive."
"Alive?" He nudges the legs that are pinning him still. Twists against the hips even as he broaches the other part of the vampire's initial disclosure. "What d'you mean 'alive'?"
"Don't you feel my heartbeat, Lawyerbeast? Don't you feel me breathing on your face? Life. Glorious life." Angel leans forward and the deathlock on his throat finally loosens a bit as lips hover near his ear. A quick whisper...feathery seduction. "Shanshu."
Even if he hadn't known what was in the scrolls of Aberjian, the word would've made everything clear. For in it's sound, alone, is the ring of truth...a death knell and a birth announcement wrapped into one.
Angel is human.
Angel is human and alone.
No true love waiting at the end of the rainbow.
A cruel twist of Fate.
He should laugh. Now that he's not in immediate danger of suffocating, he should laugh...should take pleasure in his enemy's ultimate misfortune. He should say something like "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy!" or "Congratulations!"
But he can't.
Another cruel twist of Fate.
He whispers, "I'm sorry." And then he turns his head, catches the brooding mouth unawares, and kisses it.
The contact is brief...too brief. No tongue, no tenderness...no taking. Angel stiffens, jerks back...but Lindsey's lips follow like a sunflower chasing the sun. And they follow in vain.
"Is this some new form of torture, Lawyerbeast? Payback? The firm running Vice now?" the other man snarls, whipping his face away, out of range.
"No," he says, softly. "No more firm, remember?"
"You're just a vamp whore, aren't you, Lindsey? Darla...me...what difference does it make? One set of teeth is the same as any other in the dark, right?" The insinuation is callous, dirty...full of derision. And of agony.
"Would that make you a Slayer whore, Angelus?" he wonders without rancor, without the same taunting acid. "Faith, Buffy...what difference did it make? Seen one stake, you seen 'em all, right? One pair of tits is the same as any other in the dark, right?"
Clenched jaw. Gritted teeth. And the arm is back against his throat. "Don't. Ever. Talk. About. Her. Like. That."
He's never batted his eyelashes before--Billy got the long ones in the family anyway--but, instinctively, he knows that being innocently obtuse may be the best chance for his survival. And Angel's, too. "Who? Faith?"
The once-vampire growls...a growl that would most certainly have been accompanied by ridges and fangs in his previous incarnation. "What do you want, McDonald? Why are you here?"
"I wanted to make you pay," he admits, quietly. "I came here to make you suffer. But I reckon Fate beat me to it."
Something flickers in Angel's eyes. The faintest shadow of humor. "I reckon it did at that," he agrees, with just the barest hint of a brogue.
And those two things...the humor and the brogue...seem to crack the wall. Small fissures at first. Then bigger ones. And the grip that pins Lindsey by the throat fades away as shoulders begin to shake.
"Shh," he whispers, reaching up to touch the other man's face...a less invasive gesture than the kisses, he hopes. "It's all right..."
The tears slipping down Angel's cheeks must be the first he's cried since he heard the news, because they come slowly at first and then stronger, like a storm. "No...no...it's not all right," he chokes out, leaning into Lindsey's fingers as if he craves this small contact with something real, something solid. "It's not all right...it'll never be all right again."
"Hush now," he says, knowing he sounds like his mama and stroking the bent, dark head just like she would. "Just don't think that, Angel. Buffy wouldn't want you to think that. She'd want you to live. The hardest thing in the world is to try and live in it..." he murmurs, not even knowing half of what he's saying, only knowing that it sounds right.
He slips his arms around the taller man, trying desperately to take the racking sobs into his own body as the barely audible "I don't want to try...I'm sick of trying" spills from the salt-reddened lips.
"You can't be sick of tryin' something you haven't really done in two hundred years, Angel," he disagrees, gently. "This is your chance...your second chance."
Deep brown eyes, so filled with pain that there's no room for anything else, focus on him for just an instant before drifting back into the anguish. "What good is a second chance without someone to share it with? I-it was going to be ours...hers and mine...we were going to walk in the sunshine together..." the low voice breaks off with a shudder, another sob.
He grabs Angel's face in his hands, jerks it up again, level with his own. "It's bright outside," he reminds, firmly. "You could walk out there with *me*. Right now. It's just a couple of feet to the door."
The mask of pain only deepens. "I...I can't...I *can't*."
And Lindsey gets it now. Why it was probably better to let him wallow alone in the dark with the booze and the shattered glass.
To let all the grief out means to drown in it.
To drown them *both* in it.
No. Fucking. Way.
He can't swim.
He *won't* swim.
"Yes, you *can*," he hisses with a hard shake of his head. "You're no coward, Man. I know you. I didn't come back here to see you wimp out on life. I wanted a fight. And you're gonna give me a fight one way or another," he assures, with a none-too-gentle shove.
At first, it has no effect.
He remembers that there's no demon now, nothing that can be so easily brought to the surface. He's dealing with a man and a man's violence...violence that has to climb it's way up a mountain of pain. The demon would just jump up there and play King of the Hill.
So, he shoves again. Gives a rough shake to the broad shoulders.
"Come on, Angelus," he urges. "Where's the insufferable asshole who never gives up? Who cuts off hands and slams doors on a roomful of lawyers and two vamps? Where's the bigshot hero?"
"He's dead." Angel dashes the tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand, features starting to harden just a bit. "He's dead and in the ground."
"Bull. Fuckin'. Shit."
As soon as the words are out, his spine and the wall find themselves reacquainted. Jarring. Rough. His head snaps back at the force of Angel's left hook and he can't help the victorious smile as he feels his mouth fill with blood.
*Bravo.* *Much better*.
Angel whispers, "I'm sorry" with cold irony, mockery. And then he turns his head, catches his throbbing, split, lower lip unawares, and kisses it.
The contact is hard...too hard. All tongue, all torture...all taking. He feels his bones melting like ice, tries to dissolve away and sink in at the same time. The sweet-tart, metallic, taste of blood passes from lip to lip, tongue to tongue.
"This is what you want, isn't it, Lindsey? *This* is what you came back for."
"N-no..." he moans, helplessly, shaking his head and returning the kisses with equal fervor. "No."
"Liar." Angel heightens the pressure, sucking the drops of what used to sustain him off his bottom lip. "This is what we are, Lawyerbeast," he hisses. "This is what we're always going to be to each other. The fuck-er and the fuck-ee. Until we kill each other."
"I'm...not...planning to die..." he assures, tangling his fingers in the silky hair at the base of Angel's neck. "So, you've got this monkey on your back for years to come."
Almost immediately, he knows it's the wrong thing to say. And the body pulling back from his confirms it. He tenses up, expecting a blow or some sort of snarled insult...or maybe more tears. Instead, what he feels is a palm against his cheek. Tender. Dark eyes glistening with just the faintest sheen of grief. "Nobody *plans* to die."
And then the mouth descends on his once more. Not an attack this time, but a surrender. Maybe Angel's kissing *her*...maybe he's seeing *her*, feeling *her*...but Lindsey is past caring.
Hands under his shirt. Pulling it from the waistband of his jeans and yanking it over his head. Hands shifting him around so he faces the wall. Mouth slipping from his down to his throat, kissing the pulse it can no longer puncture. Mouth tracing his shoulder blades. Hips jerking backwards as he gasps and swears. Hips grinding together as the darkness grows darker and flashbulbs go off behind his eyes.
The myth of the vampire was one thing...the reality of the living, breathing man is much worse.
He wants this. He wants this. He wants this. He's always wanted this. Fuck-er and fuck-ee. Three miles outside Tijuana he knew it. He knew it at the threshold. He knew it five minutes ago.
He'll take Angel any way he can. And then he'll have to leave.
He wants this over.
He wants this done.
He wants to walk back over the fragments of glass, tucking his shirt back in as he tucks away the memory of this day...tucks away the memory of a broken Angel with broken wings.
"Buffy, oh God, Buffy...oh, I love you so much..."
"I know...I know...." he whispers, softly, feeling the hot splash of sorrow, of regret, soaking his skin. "She loves you, too. Always."
He wants to go back to the light, to the world.
He wants to live in it.
Even if he has to do it alone.
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