more days like this
by zara hemla

you're just an object in my eyes
the cure

More days like this and the howling black wind really will consume her. Best not to think now, best to stand mute and stare at the bleached gravestone, best to mumble something appropriate. About how everything will be okay and how really, she's going to kill Angel because she's ready this time, this time.

But she is lying. Not to herself, because somewhere down in the eye of the storm, she knows he is more important than any of them. Lying to all people residing outside her skin: to Giles, to Willow, to her mother. Best not to think about it. And she doesn't need to. Because though he has been Angelus for too long now, she has thought about nothing else.

She burns, standing at the graveside, thinking about him: six long feet of alabaster, never mind the slightly jutting forehead and the dependence on product. Ten white fingers, each willing enough to strip her out of her clothes as fast as lightning. The half-deprecating smile, and the things he whispers, things that stroke her vanity, if she's being honest, and drive her back to him every time, keep her in love with him simply to hear what he will say next.

But stop. That was Angel, vampire of brooding mystery, vampire with soul. Vampire who could love her back. Not vampire that killed Jenny Calendar and laid her on Giles's bed like an Aztec sacrifice. And for Giles's sake, she tries again to hate. And can't.

She can picture those same fingers whipping Jenny's head around efficiently, the flex of his biceps that overcomes the pressure of the spinal cord. The feral smile he wears as he sketches her picture, there on the knobbly school floor, her life ripped out of her in one swift tilt. And oh, atop the thrill of thinking of him, the black wind whirls up inside her skin, blotting out every thought but the ones that were good, the ones she should be thinking of. For what Slayer would admit to lusting after their Watcher's almost-lover's killer?

Unthinkable. And yet, behind the black wind, she knows something equally as unthinkable: he is the most important thing. Xander probably senses it, hence the sublimated hatred. Her mother might suspect something now. But most of them go on in blissful ignorance that given the choice, she would take Angel over all of them. And even now, the hope that he might come back to himself overwhelms her.

Be Angel, she finds herself thinking when she sees him leaning against a moonlit corner. When she peers from her window to find him watching her, just another shadow. When he picks up her mother's groceries. Be Angel. But he never is, and he never will be, despite the many times she has begged the powers that be to bring him back. They owe me something, she thinks. Dammit. They owe me this.

Even as Angelus, she still wants to protect him, to pull her punches. She can't, because he doesn't, but she has protected him by not killing him ... so far. Damn Jenny for working late. Didn't she know that in this town, you went home at sunset and you put up your crosses? What could she have been working on that was so damn important? She shifts her feet and stares at Giles's tortured face. Probably shouldn't think ill of the dead. She might come back.

They walk away after the service, her hands at the ready should Giles decide to faint, or go dig up the grave in grief or something. But he does not flinch, and when she offers to go home with him and clean up the roses and the wine, he declines. He gives her a look that sees deep, but not deep enough, and he gets in his car and he drives off, leaving her to pace the blocks home. And of course her shadow tears away from her and coalesces into a black duster jacket and the face of Angelus riding above it, a face paler than the marble gravestone and just as cold.

He stands in the deep doorway of a crypt, one hand laconically holding a just-picked rose, the other shoved deep into the pocket of his leather pants. She can see the outline of his knuckles pressed in smooth black. She both loves and hates noticing those details. He smiles sideways at her, like a boy wanting praise, and she slips off sideways to stand in front of him, lined in daylight, a safe distance from his reaching arms.

"Here. 'S for you," he says, and lobs the rose at her feet. She does not pick it up. It is, of course, a rose like the one that was tacked on Giles's door. At her tacit refusal, his smile grows into a smirk.

"Passion's so interesting, isn't it?" he asks. "Can turn a poor man rich, a rich man poor, all that crap. Grief, it comes out of passion. So does lust. Everything that makes you human, it comes out of passion."

She feels the black wind whirl up again. Had this ever been Angel, this prating fool? She crosses her arms. "You write that down for your debate club speech next week? 'Why killing innocent women is good for society''? Don't forget you're an Irish farmboy -- why bother talking like a philosopher?"

This time he throws back his head and howls, the long line of his throat jigging with laughter. "Pretty speeches don't make philosophy, Buffy. Just like pretty sketches don't make art."

"And pretty caresses don't make love." That came out of the black wind somewhere -- she hadn't meant to say it. But it was true.

He looks down at her again, teeth flashing in the crypt's dim light. "Buffy, nothing I ever do is pretty. He might have done pretty things, but I don't do pretty. And guess what? The Calendar bitch was as innocent as I am. She deserved to die and ooh! It was so much fun!" He mock-shudders, wickedly splaying out his hand as if to reach for her neck. Let him try, she finds herself thinking. Just let him try.

She wants him to show that he'd burn for her, the same as she does daily for him. "And I'm supposed to fall on my knees to a killer, is that it? 'Cause what else were you playing fetch-and- carry-boy with my mother for?"

"You knew I was a killer when I was him, Buffy. I've been killing for nigh on three hundred years. It was good enough for you then. Wasn't it."

Oh, how she wants to deny it, but she can't, even now, she can't deny what she'd felt when she had him underneath her, all his power leashed at her command. The quick taunt of his teeth across her skin. All his power leashed. And now.

"I see that it was. Are you gonna go run tell Willow all about it at your next sleepover? 'Hey Willow, you'll never guess, I'm jonesing for Angelus, that psycho vampire with a case of ego. ' Slayer likes it dirty. Slayer likes it ground fine."

"Dammit." She meant to catch him with words, but he's had more experience, and she feels like slamming him up against the wall of the crypt and teaching him who is who. She clenches her elbows even tighter, willing her legs not to move. Willing herself not to speak to him, because at the same time he is ruining her image of Angel, he is somehow refining it, making it sharper. Oh, she wants to cut herself on those edges. But the black wind, the one that whirls inside to keep her whole, is something to grab onto.

"I've met Slayers like you before, but never had the pleasure of one. Spike's had a few, though. He says they all like it once before they die. He had one in nineteen eighty five, up against the wall of a subway station. He said she screamed for it like a bean sidhe." He stops for a minute, gauging her reaction, the moves on, of course, because he has to run his mouth. "Ruining those pretty girlhood fantasies? Oooh, he leaves me roses on the bed. Oooh, he brushes my hair after we 'make love.' He sleeps by me all night, holding me in his arms. Admit it -- you don't want that. You want the stranger in the dark, the stone angel holding his arms out."

"Come into the light and say that," she grinds out finally. He continues regardless.

"I am bad for you. I want to be so bad for you. Come back to me, Buffy. Come back."

She hears the words as usual, lets them bounce off her whirling shield, doesn't let them penetrate, because some days she wants it so bad she would go to him, go and hang, go and be damned.

"Come into the light and say that. You want me to burn for you. Won't you burn for me?" She uncrosses her arms as she says it, lets her hands fall to her sides, her stance loosen. This conflict is over now.

"I don't need light to burn for you," he replies, his voice sliding over her like grass growing over a tomb. And she smiles at him, a wistful Buffy-that-was half smile, and she turns and walks away. The sparring won't end, it won't even pretend to. And she isn't ready to kill him, and she never will be. This will just have to play itself out, she thinks as she finishes her walk home. She pulls the front door open and pivots slowly to look out on the street. He's not out there -- she could sense him if he were, like she'd sensed him the night before, watching her grief -- but he will be.

Another day like this -- she can bear it. She can see how it turns out. She thinks fleetingly of Giles, how he must be bearing his day, and she thinks then, at least my lover isn't dead. Steps in, pulls the door slowly to.


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