And Also With You




By Mandragora

Email: mandragora@blueyonder.co.uk

~~~~

All he knew was pain.

He could--sometimes--dimly remember that there had been a time without pain, when searing agony had not blazed a trail along sensitised nerve endings, without the lash of fire screaming its way across whitened skin, that blackened and curled, finely crisped at the edges, then healed, over and over.

Yet it seemed unreal that there had been such a time, that there ever could have been--somewhere--a place where every moment had not been unrelenting torture, burnished in anguish. Maybe he was wrong, maybe this had been all there ever was, all there would ever be.

There would be no end to this, that he knew. For he was damned. Damned, bound to suffer the everlasting torments of the deepest depths of hell.

So, he endured, because he could do nothing else. There would be no escape. Not for him.

At first--aeons ago--he had hoped that somehow there would be redemption. That he could find his way back, to her whom he loved beyond all others, to protect her and look after her, even if he could not touch her. Now, he had forgotten even her name and all he longed for was oblivion.

If he had been asked to describe where he was, what his surroundings were like, who his companions were, he could not have done so. And that was not only because there were no words, the power of speech having deserted him. That there were others he knew. He could sense them, hear their cries and screams, moans and groans. Once, he didn't know how long ago, he thought that one of them might have touched him, a brief, gentle sensation that would have made him weep so different was it to the pain, if he had still been able to cry. But there were no tears, only blood. He had tried to reach out, to touch in his turn, return the comfort but had met nothing, only emptiness. Perhaps he had imagined it after all.

And so the ages passed until he had forgotten everything, even his own name in the white-hot crucible of everlasting agony, when all pretensions to humanity had been burned away, leaving only the merest beast that would--

"Angel. Angel!"

He groaned and reluctantly opened his eyes, vampire sight dazzled momentarily by the soft electric glow of his bedside lamp. Above him, chestnut mane limned in light, was a girl, no, a woman really, maturing fast as humans were wont to do.

"Are you going to sleep all day?" the voice demanded. "C'mon Angel, there's clients to see, people to save, you doing your white knight on horseback thing. Only without the horse." She cocked her head to one side, consideringly. "Do vampires even ride horses? Or do they kinda sense that they might be a good midnight snack? That's if you guys even drink horse blood. What does it taste like? Don't tell me, like beef, yes? You know, when you ask what something tastes like, everyone always says chicken. But that's ridiculous, 'cause a horse is nothing like a chicken. So, I'm wondering--"

"Cordelia." Angel held up a hand, trying to stop the seemingly endless stream of words. He sat up, the cotton sheet falling to his waist as he did so. "I'm trying to get up here, so if you don't mind..."

She looked at him blankly for a moment. "Oh. Well, I'll just leave you to shower and everything. Although, it's not like I haven't seen it all before you know."

He felt a vague sense of alarm. "You have?"

"Hello. Memory going? They say it's the first to go and I guess if I was two hundred years old, I might--" At Angel's glare Cordelia, unfazed, merely shrugged. "When I stayed here, remember?"

He winced. That was a memory he preferred to forget. "Oh. Yeah."

Cordelia turned to go, but stopped when she reached the door. "Er, you are okay, Angel, right? You know, after the whole rushing-off-to-Sunnydale-to-save-Buffy thing."

He heaved an inward sigh. Tact and sensitivity, thy name is Cordelia. "I'm fine."

"Okay. Good. I'll see you above. Have to rescue the phone system from Doyle. He's probably handing out free tokens by now. You know, buy one rescue, get one free." Her voice was fading as she took her long-legged presence away.

He called after her. "Cordelia."

"Yes?" The word floated back to him.

"You were right. They do taste like beef."

"I knew it!" The triumph in her voice made him smile, a welcome antidote to his awakening mood. He shook his head a little to clear it, the vestiges of nightmare lingering still, but mostly dispelled by Cordelia's vibrant, down to earth presence. It was an overly familiar phantasm, the memories of his sojourn in hell escaping his control. It occurred usually--especially--when he was worried or upset and lately he had been both.

Buffy.

He swallowed heavily, remembering how she had looked when he had seen her, last night. Her hair was blonder than he remembered it, the face a little thinner, evincing maturation from the young girl she had been to the woman she was becoming. He had made certain that she didn't see him because it hurt to even see her. To know that she was aware of his presence and that it would upset her was unbearable. And so he had tracked her, watched her with this new guy. Riley, bland, all-American type, looked like a nice guy. Angel hated him.

He had gone to Sunnydale because Doyle's latest vision had shown her to be in danger. But he wondered now whether his presence there had ever been necessary. She had not really needed his help, was more than capable of taking care of herself. Her and her friends.

He sighed and threw back the covers. Time to face the day.

~~~~

It was while he was still in a state of amused disbelief that Doyle and Cordelia could actually think that he was going to stake himself, with a piece of wood that he was using just to level out his desk, no less, that it happened.

He had decided that he needed to reassure them that although, yes, he was depressed over the separation from Buffy, no, he wasn't going to kill himself over it. Their concern was annoying but also a comfort. If he'd still been human it probably would have induced a warm inward glow. As it was, he had to settle for a pure emotional response, centred squarely in his brain.

He sighed and tried to explain to them his perfectly reasonable decision to watch over Buffy, attempt to protect her but not let her know that he was there. He couldn't understand why Cordelia and Doyle seemed to have trouble grasping such a simple concept. It had been the right decision, he knew it was the right decision. "Look, Buffy will always be a part of me and that's never going to change. But she's human. And I'm...not. And that's also never going to change. Look, we said our goodbyes. No need to stir things up again."

But Cordelia just didn't get it. She frowned at him as she spoke. "You don't want to 'stir' but if my ex came to town and was all stalking me in the shadows and then left and he didn't even say hello I'd be--"

"A little bit upset. Wouldn't you?"

Angel whirled around at the familiar voice. It was her. Buffy. His first thought was pure delight at seeing her beloved face again. His second was trepidation. What was she doing here?

The next few hours passed in a confused blur, an amorphous mass punctuated with sharply clear memories, encased in shining, polished crystal of various colours, the obsidian of despair, the shining amber of hope, rose, the colour of love, verdant new life, the crimson of passion.

--the fight with Buffy as she came to see him, to tell him that she didn't want to see him, even though she hadn't seen him, as he'd been careful to stay out of her way when he'd visited Sunnydale yesterday.

--the weird feeling he had got when the demon that had broken into his office had bled over him when he and Buffy battled it.

--the feel of Buffy's body under his, all strong, smooth muscle and satin skin, when he'd landed on top of her when fighting the demon. The pair of them hadn't quite managed to kill it. Instead, it had sent him reeling back, stumbling, falling onto Buffy. There had been a long moment when they had both hesitated, fought temptation because he knew, knew, that Buffy had wanted him, as he had wanted her. But duty had won and they had set off to track the demon together, splitting up only when it became obvious that it might have gone above ground. He couldn't go up there in the full light of day, but Buffy could--and did, leaving him tracking the demon in the sewers. He had found it first, fought it, made it bleed, again, adding to the blood that had fallen on him earlier, in his office.

--the amazing agony and wonder he felt when he was reborn as human after being baptised by the demon's blood. He'd felt every cell, every nerve in his body twist and turn, reform and reshape and the pain of it was unbelievable, indescribable, but it was nothing to how it had felt when he had taken a breath, actually inhaled and felt the air flood his lungs. He had a pulse and a heartbeat and it was-- It was just perfect.

--the feel of the benevolent sunlight on his skin when he had gone outside during the day totally unprotected, without the ring that had prevented his vampire self from frying, and actually stood there, not skulking in shadow. For the first time in centuries, the sun was friend, not enemy. He raised his face to the sun, feeling its warm and gentle caress bathing his skin. The wonder of it did not prevent a stray thought that perhaps he ought to consider using a sunscreen.

--the look on Cordy and Doyle's faces at the realisation that he was--that he really, actually was--human.

--the explosion of texture and flavour in his mouth that was food. Crisp, tart and fresh, the taste of apple, the coolly melting sweetness of ice-cream, the delectation that was chocolate as it slid smoothly down his throat. Words could not express how marvellous it was to be able to eat again, the simple mechanics of chewing and swallowing a delight. He gulped at it greedily, unable to assuage his appetite. This, this was life!

--seeing himself for the first time in years, centuries, even muted in glass. This was how he looked, kind of serious and very white skinned (another mental note about the sunscreen) with dark hair and eyes and not bad looking. Pretty damn good looking, in fact.

--meeting the Oracles, strange golden skinned beings, otherworldly, ethereal. They had told him that he had been chosen to be a Warrior, a defender of the weak but that he was now as a mortal being released from service. Free, he was free. To live as he pleased, to love whom he would. Buffy.

--walking along the pier, looking at the glint of sunlight off the blue, blue waves and seeing her, Buffy, his Buffy. And ah, the look of wonder on her face as she saw him walk in the bright sunshine towards her, just before he bent and kissed her.

--sitting opposite her at the kitchen table in his apartment, agreeing solemnly that they should not rush things, that they should wait and see whether his humanity was permanent but that they would stay in touch. And then she had reached out, with slender fingers and laid her hand on his. The touch undid him.

All his fabled self-control slid away, evaporated into the ether. Somehow she was in his arms and he was in hers and she was real and alive and he knew that nothing could keep them apart. Not any more. Passion flared, intense and deep, so deep. He sobbed once for the joy of it, at the feel of her body against his.

Then he couldn't wait a moment longer, needing to merge himself with her, lose himself in her and he felt her strong limbs wind around him tightly as he lifted her up. She felt slight in his arms, despite the knowledge that she could snap one of his limbs as easily as he could break raw spaghetti if she so chose. He had never been so conscious of her slayer strength as now, when he could no longer match it. Now that he was human. The loss of his supernatural abilities was trivial compared to the knowledge of what he had gained.

Buffy.

He gasped at the feel of her small tongue twining with his. Her taste, of apple-fresh, spring days and cherry blossom, threatened to overwhelm him. Sweeter by far than even Slayer blood had been when he had been a vampire. Which he wasn't. Not any more.

He felt almost giddy, with lust and love and delight. Buffy. His Buffy. He could say that now without fear, love her as he had so longed, to the depths of his soul, to do. Because now, perfect happiness was attainable, was within his grasp. It was no longer something to be feared but instead could be embraced, with joy. He gasped as her slender fingers slid into his shirt, caressing his chest, tweaking a nipple.

Arousal, coiled low in his belly, burst into full-blown splendour. He groaned, low in the back of his throat. Once, just once, he had made love to Buffy, joined with her, mingled their essences. It had been the most perfect moment of his life, one that he knew he would give almost anything to experience again. Except his soul. But now...now he did not have to, he was free. Free to love her again and again.

Somehow they were on his bed; the sheets cool against fevered skin. He could feel his pulse beating hard in the hollow of his throat, hear his blood thundering through his ears, even as he gasped for breath. All of it was a novelty, to be savoured, lingered over as a bottle of fine wine, save that all was now lost in the driving urgency of the moment, to slide into Buffy's body, to make their union complete, to love her.

Oh, my love.

She cried out against his mouth as he entered her, a sound not of pain but of purest rapture. He knew that she felt it too, the miracle that everything they most wanted, most needed, should be granted to them at last. He laughed for the joy of it, at the feel of her body around his, clasping him smoothly tight, happiness overflowing from his lips even as she dragged his lips to hers, kissing him with exquisite passion.

When they moved it was as one, in perfect harmony, male and female, yin and yang matched to create a being greater than its component parts. Love's essence distilled, so that this moment, this union was the most complete moment of all the long years of his life.

He felt the urgent imperative rise, the culmination of ecstasy. For a moment he wanted to cry out, to protest that it was too soon, but then he remembered. They could do this again. He met her eyes, bright with tenderness as he grasped her hand, threading her fingers through his. Together then.

As he was crying out and twisting and dying inside her, he felt her trembling, head thrown back, hair tumbling across the pillow as her body rippled in sensation around his as she orgasmed around him.

Afterwards, they lay together for a long time, her head along his shoulder, the sweat-damp silken strands of blonde hair tickling his skin. His breathing slowed gradually but even the striving after breath was a novel delight to he who had been without breath for centuries.

She shifted slightly against him. "Wow."

"Yeah."

"I mean, I thought it'd be, you know, good, but I didn't know that it'd be good."

He grinned at her and pressed a kiss to her temple.

"'Cause when we were...together, last time, just before-- After we had that whole sewer bonding experience and then we-- That is, well last time I didn't know, you know, what with it being my first time and all. But now--"

He smiled at her indulgently. She looked adorable, he thought, cheeks flushed deep rose, hair fanned across the pillow.

"--I've got so much more to compare it with--"

He felt a sudden chill. Compare?

"--and I gotta tell you, none of the others came even close."

Others?

She giggled. "I guess it's all that experience, it really counts. Funny, when Giles says that he sounds all fuddy-duddy, kinda parental. But you, you being so much older, it's kinda exciting."

Others? "Buffy." She looked at him with shining eyes. "What others?"

"Oh. No one important. It's-- That is-- I--"

"No, no, I'm sorry. What you did while we weren't...together, hey, it's really none of my business."

"No, Angel, I'm sorry. It's just...I was so miserable, you know, without you. When you were in hell and after--when we couldn't be together."

He pulled her to him, running his hand down the satin-smooth skin of her back comfortingly. "Yeah. I was miserable, too." He firmly squelched the uncharitable thought that miserable though he'd been without her, he hadn't seen fit to try and assuage his sorrow by getting his rocks off.

"Besides," she mumbled, "it's not like there were that many."

"Of course not." Silence, then, "How many?"

She screwed her face up into a grimace of concentration. "Lessee. Er, well there was Josh and Peter and Mike and Xander--"

"Xander!"

"It was only the once," she reassured him. "Then there was Steve and another Mike and Oz--"

"You slept with Oz! But, but--"

"I know, the Willow thing. She's cool with it."

"Really?" He tried and failed to keep the incredulity out of his voice.

"Uh huh." She gave a little laugh. It made his teeth hurt. "Yeah, once she found out the side benefits." A coy look. "I don't mean to brag, but I think Oz learned a few things from me."

Angel fought hard to keep his expression impassive as his mind reeled. Buffy had slept with--fucked--all those men, including Xander, her friend, who had had a crush on her for as long as Angel had known them. And Oz! Willow's boyfriend. That wasn't-- It couldn't-- Could it?

He started as Buffy began to giggle. "Angel, you're too easy!"

"You're joking, right?"

"Of course I'm joking."

Oh. He started to smile in relief, even as a small uneasy part of his mind noted that it was unlike Buffy, to be so... so cruel. A slender hand caressed his chest reassuringly. He shivered, feeling incipient arousal at her touch. He rolled over, trapping her beneath him, careful not to rest his full weight on her.

She smiled at him lovingly and wrapped her legs around him, then reached up to run a finger along his lips. He flicked his tongue out to capture the finger in his mouth, tasting her again, inimitable Buffy flavour. "Actually," she murmured, "the bit I was joking about was about me and Xander." Another smile, somehow sly and furtive. "It was more than once. In fact, it was lots and lots of times."

Instinctively he attempted to rear back, to get away from this warped parody of the Buffy he knew, the girl he had fallen in love with. But he was held fast, trapped by Slayer strength, his newly human form no match for Buffy.

"Let me go!" he panted, trying to escape the limbs wound around him, embracing him with the ferocity of a mating black widow spider.

"Sorry, honey, not on the agenda." Even as she spoke, Buffy rolled them both over with insulting ease, until she was atop him, his arms pinned above his head, held fast by one small, strong hand. Her strength shocked him.

"Buffy what-- What the fuck are you doing? Let go! Let go!"

"Fucking," she mused, seemingly unperturbed by his increasingly desperate struggles. "That sounds like a plan. Let's fuck." She touched her tongue to a nipple. Disbelievingly, he felt his erection jump. "Oh yeah, that's it. Give it to me, baby. Come on, you know you want to, lover, stick that big fat cock right up me. Angel, babe, do it to me, fuck me hard!" She sounded like something out of a bad porno flick. So why did he still want her? Why couldn't he control himself? No matter that she was rubbing herself up against him, all smooth skin and wet readiness, that he could smell her heat, almost taste it as she rubbed her small, pert breasts enticingly against his chest.

He groaned in despair and tried once more to throw her off. He panted, struggled, strained every muscle. Failed. He was caught fast. Above him, Buffy smiled triumphantly. "Buffy, please--" He was dismayed at the pleading note in his voice. "What are you doing? This isn't you, you don't want this. You--" He stopped abruptly. Swallowed. "Who are you?"

She laughed. "Took you long enough. It's just as well you've got other...talents, because I gotta tell you, lover, you've got shit for brains."

"Who are you?"

She shrugged. "Who do you want me to be?"

He shook his head wordlessly.

"Let's see, obviously you'd like me to be Buffy." She laughed, threw back her head and flexed her torso, making her breasts shift enticingly. He watched, mesmerised, still hard even though he now knew that whoever she was, she wasn't Buffy. But she looked like Buffy, moved like Buffy, sounded and tasted like Buffy. His treacherous body didn't seem to know the difference and that scared the shit out of him. Because what he had just made love to--no, what he had just fucked--wasn't Buffy. What the hell was it? He felt strangling hot panic rise up in his throat and swallowed hard again and again. His heartbeat sped as he gulped for air. Physiological reactions--human physiological reactions--which he had forgotten how to control. He thrashed desperately underneath her but she stilled him easily, tightening her grip around him, until he subsided with a gasp of pain that he was wholly unable to subdue. He would be bruised come the morning.

"But is it just Buffy...?" She spoke calmly, as if she hadn't just had to expend strength holding him down, pinning him to the sheets of his own bed. There was a sudden blur and shift of the form above him. Even as he blinked, she wasn't Buffy. Instead, "Hello Angel, my love." A familiar lilt, that of the Cockney servant girl she had once been. Drusilla looked down at him lovingly, the expression failing to mask the insanity lurking in her eyes. Seemingly fragile, whipcord thin, she held him fast, still.

Drusilla. Angelus' greatest creation. Angel's greatest shame. He squeezed his eyes tight shut, so he wouldn't have to look at the demon inhabiting the form of the young girl he had destroyed. And, blessedly, he felt his erection begin to wilt. It had always been Angelus who had wanted Drusilla, not Angel. The remorse and self-disgust he felt whenever he saw her precluded any physical attraction.

"Not Drusilla, then." The voice transmuted in mid sentence, the thin nasal sound of Drusilla's voice changing into one that was deeper, richer. Familiar. And the body changed too, he could feel it, the fragile form metamorphing into someone who was stronger and more richly curved.

He opened his eyes. Faith's luscious body was above him, her dark eyes gazing down at him thoughtfully. His perfidious erection showed renewed interest as the undeniably beautiful young woman bent down to kiss him. At the last minute he managed to turn his head away, so that her red lips met only his cheek.

She slapped him, hard. He gasped at the shock of pain that went through him. Mortal senses, mortal sensitivity.

"Look at me, Angel. Look at me."

He opened eyes stinging with unshed tears.

"What's the matter, Angel? Don't you like me?"

She looked almost...shy, hopeful, a young girl not quite certain of her own attractiveness, no matter the predatory way her body held him firm. He blinked hard as he had a sudden thought. Was this how Xander had felt when Faith had almost raped him? Had she used the same look on him to get him to lower his guard?

Faith raised an eyebrow. "Xander, hmmm." She shrugged. "If that's what you want..." Her form shifted again, hardened, bulked out until a naked--and very definitely aroused--Xander Harris was sitting atop him.

"No!" The protest was immediate.

Xander grinned at him. "Your voice says no, but your body says yes." He rubbed against Angel's erection--Angel's still very interested erection--as he spoke.

Angel squeezed his eyes shut, unable to control the mortifying blush that spread from chest to hairline, cursing--for an instant--the mortal body that allowed such a betrayal.

"Who'd a thunk it," Xander mused. "Angel has a thing for guys. And here was me thinking that you hated me. Guess it's true what they say, about hate and love."

"Donít flatter yourself," Angel growled, opening his eyes even though the treasonous flush hadn't subsided. "This is just-- just--"

"Physical?"

"Exactly!"

"Yeah, but you still want me." Xander's grin was sly.

"I might--might--have a-- a-- Might be a little--a very little--attracted to Harris, but you're not him."

The sly grin didn't waiver, if anything became only more triumphant. "You still wanna fuck me."

"I don't know who you are."

"Still clueless, huh." Xander shook his head in mock sympathy. "Just as well you've got that whole tall, dark, handsome hero-type thing going, 'cause I gotta tell you, you aren't doing real well in the intellect department."

"Fuck you!"

"Hey, you're gettin' it. That's sorta the idea."

Angel tried, once again, to free himself, knowing he was probably going to fail, that this Xander form was holding him with more than human strength. If it had been the real Harris Angel reckoned that, even mortal as he now was, he could have taken him. "I'm not," he panted, "fucking--" A heave of muscle, futile but he had to try, had to attempt to break free. "--you!"

"No? Pity?" Xander sounded almost disappointed. "Back to the Buffster, then." The male form shifted, lightened, but lost none of its strength. Buffy looked down at him once more. Oh God! His erection leapt at the sight of her, even knowing it wasn't Buffy he couldn't help himself, because he might be attracted to Faith and Xander but neither of them was Buffy and Buffy he loved.

She smiled at him. He felt sick at the gloating look that disfigured her lovely face. He wished he'd never seen it, was desperate never to see it again. "Hello, lover," she said softly and bent down towards him. He turned his head to one side but he felt her warm breath on his neck, still an erogenous zone to him after centuries of being a vampire. She licked at the skin, as he fought to hold back a groan. A moment later and he felt sharp teeth biting at him, hard enough to leave a mark. At that, he cried aloud.

She pulled back, evidently examining the mark, satisfaction in her eyes. "There, you've got my mark on you." She touched the place where her teeth had marked. "My brand," she said softly, "to remind you that you belong to me."

"Don't," he choked. "Don't!"

"Don't what? Do this?" A shift of her torso as she rubbed her breasts against his chest. "Or this." She rubbed herself, warm wet woman-flesh, against his cock. He moaned. She was going to rape him, he knew it and there was nothing he could do to stop it, because he was weak, so weak--

Jesus! He almost screamed aloud as she took him, lowered herself upon him suddenly, heated, silken flesh enclosing him suddenly. He felt as if he was being swallowed, buried alive, enveloped totally because there was no way that he was the aggressor here. No, she was taking him, fucking him, using him for her pleasure. She was grinding herself upon him, toying with him, squeezing him tight, playing him like a flute, ignoring his suppressed gasps and groans. And there was nothing he could do to stop her.

Now he knew, really knew, what it must have had been like for his numerous victims, the despair they had felt when he had overwhelmed them, their horror at his gloating enjoyment of their pain. Eternity wouldn't be long enough to atone for what he had done.

At that thought, he cried out, a long wail of despair. She laughed. He sobbed, panted, gasped for air. Get her off! Get her off. No, no, no!

"Angel, Angel, wake up man. Angel!"

Wha-- He sat bolt upright, panting, even though he had no breath. Doyle's concerned face swam before his eyes.

Oh fuck! With a groan, he dropped back to the bed. It was dream, just a fucking dream, because he sure as hell wasn't human. He was still a vampire. He closed his eyes wearily. Shit! Just a dream, probably brought on by his trip to Sunnydale.

"Angel, you okay? Come on, help me out here."

He forced his eyes open, squashing the impulse to turn over and burrow his face into the pillow, shutting out the world. "I'm fine."

"You sure? Because I gotta tell you, you've looked better."

"I said I was fine, damn it!" He bit down on the shout. "Sorry," he muttered, because Doyle was his friend and deserved better than his lousy, frigging temper. As he spoke he became aware of two things. One was that he seemed to have lost all his fine-honed sense of control and the other was that he was hard. Really hard. Really fucking shit!

"S'okay."

"Yeah. Thanks." He closed his eyes and waited for Doyle to leave, but he showed no signs of doing so. Angel could smell him, close by, rich blood-scent tinged with a flavour of demon, could hear the blood thundering through his veins, throbbing gently at wrists and neck...

He bit down hard on a groan.

"Doyle." His voice sounded hoarse, even to him.

"Yeah?"

"Would you leave, please. Just go."

"I dunno, Angel. I mean, you look really bad. I'm not kidding here. You should see yourself. Er, if you could, that is."

"Doyle, I said--"

"Yeah. But--" There was a rustle, then a depression of the bed, as Doyle sat down next to him, the smell of blood making his senses swim. "--you gotta cut me some slack here. One minute you're rushing off to save your ex and the next you're back, looking like you've just lost the final round of--of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Angel opened his eyes and stared at Doyle in disbelief. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

"It's very popular in Ireland," Doyle said defensively.

Angel rolled his eyes. "Whatever." He suppressed a slight smile, aware that listening to one of Doyle's lame attempts at humour was somehow reassuring. Normal. If only he could get rid of this damn hard-on! "Look, I don't mean to be rude--"

He ignored the muttered, "That'll be a first."

"--but I really, really need to be alone right now." He looked up at Doyle hopefully, but he was shaking his head.

"I-- I just--"

"Oh, for God's sake," Angel snapped, losing patience. "Can't you take a fucking hint, Doyle. I woke up with one hell of a boner and I need to take care of it, so if you'd just--"

"Okay, okay." Doyle had risen from the bed and was backing off, hands held up defensively. "Sorry," he muttered. "I'll be upstairs if you, um-- I'll be upstairs."

Angel lay back on the pillow with a groan. He raised his hands, looking at them curiously. They were shaking.

Just a dream, all of it just a dream. He hadn't been mortal again, nor had he fucked some kind of-- of succubus, that had been out to suck his soul--his precious human soul--out of his body. What had happened was that he had been shaken by seeing Buffy, by being close enough to smell her unique fragrance, hear her voice, all the while knowing, knowing, that he couldn't have her ever again because if he did he would turn into a monster, into Angelus, and he couldn't do that, never, never, never. So his subconscious had fashioned up some kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy, or something. But it had felt so real.

He looked down at his insistent curving erection ruefully. Real enough that his body still bore the after effects. He sighed and grasped himself, preparing to take care of the problem.

Thirty minutes later, aching, sore and now it was more than just his hands trembling it was his whole damn body, he was moving beyond arousal into real pain. Nothing he tried had worked. Nothing. No matter how much he fantasised, mostly about Buffy and how it had felt when he had made love to her for real, but also Faith, Willow, even Xander, even Cordelia for fuck's sake and further back, to the most delicious women--and men--that he had known he was still hard, unable to come. He'd moved from the bed to the shower and back again, trying every trick that he knew, but in vain. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what was wrong with him? Because in all his years--centuries--on this earth he'd never had this problem before.

He gritted his teeth, mind racing like human prey running from a vampire. Shit! He couldn't function like this, couldn't get on with the job he'd been sent back to do and he sure as hell couldn't go to a hospital. Maybe if he tried one more time...

"Angel." Doyle. "You comin' upstairs or what, because-- Oh, you're not up yet."

Angel clenched his teeth as his hands clenched the sheet he'd hastily pulled across that part of his body that was still up. He couldn't miss the expression of concern writ large across Doyle's expressive, fine boned face. "Obviously."

"Yeah, okay." Doyle frowned down at him. "You look worse than before."

"Uh huh."

"Want to talk about it," Doyle offered carefully.

"No!" Then, in a softer voice, "Doyle... Thanks, but I'm o--"

"Feeling like shit but hey, you're Mr Cool, too cool to ask for help, even though if you had an ounce of common-fucking-sense you'd know that sometimes you just havta let someone help?"

There was a moment's silence. "Pretty much," Angel finally admitted.

"Come on, Angel, we're mates aren't we? That is, I thought we were mates."

"We are." This time, because Doyle looked so damn hurt, the reassurance spilled out hastily.

"And mates help each other, right?"

"Right."

"So...?"

Oh shit. Angel sighed and prepared to spill his guts, because Doyle was right, he did need help and Doyle was his friend and maybe, just maybe he could come up with a solution, something other than cold showers, which had been a dismal failure. "It's..."

"Yeah?"

"I-- Um... The thing is--"

"*What*!"

"I've got this damn erection and no matter what I try I can't get rid of the fucking thing and its gone beyond funny because it hurts." The words tumbled out like blood from an artery.

He dared a glimpse at Doyle, who's face was blank with astonishment. "Oh." Then, a moment later, "Oh. Yeah, I can see that'd be a problem, all right. It's not, um, a regular--"

"No, it frigging isn't!"

"Sorry, sorry, course it isn't. Okay. Yeah. D'you think maybe it'd...help if I--" Doyle broke off what he was saying and gestured expansively towards Angel's sheet covered groin. A blush flirted with his cheekbones.

"I, I dunno. That is, I can't ask you to--"

"Hey. You. Me. Mates. Remember?"

"Yeah, but, you're a guy and--"

"And I'm a little attracted to you," Doyle blurted.

Angel's eyes widened. "You are?"

"Just a tad," Doyle admitted. "You know, when you do that whole avenging angel thing, when you're wearing the coat and all and are kind of striding down the street..." The blush intensified. "It's not like I'm desperate, or anything like that, but, yeah, I am attracted. A bit." There was silence then, while Angel stared at him, digesting what he'd just heard. "But if you're not. To me, that is, that's okay. I mean, we don't have to--"

"I am."

"Oh." Doyle blinked. "You are?"

"A bit."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"O--kaay. Well, since we've got a bit of a mutual attraction type thing here, how'd you wanna do this? Should we--"

"I'm not sure that we should."

Doyle stared at him, a frown creasing his forehead. "But you just said--"

"I know. It's not that. I just-- It's the soul thing. I don't know if I should risk it."

"Oh, gotcha. But, it's not like you're in love with me, or anything. Are you?" The rising note of alarm in Doyle's voice brought an involuntary smile to Angel's face, almost making him forget for an instant the driving imperative of his body.

"No. No. I'm not. It's as you said, we're friends."

"Exactly! So, being with me isn't like being with the love of your life--Buffy--or anything. And therefore there's not gonna be any moment of perfect happiness, just...you know. Relief."

"Relief."

"Yeah." Doyle grinned at him. "Come on, Angel," he coaxed. "It'll be a good craic."

At that Angel laughed aloud. Because there was something so irresistibly appealing about Doyle as his blue eyes implored him to just let go, have fun, enjoy the craic. Besides, Doyle was right. The risk was minimal and God knows but he couldn't go on like this.

"Is that a yes?" Doyle asked.

"It's a yes--and thank you."

"No worries. Er, so what happens now?"

Angel reached up and tugged gently at Doyle's hand. "Come here." He pulled Doyle down on top of him, grasping the surprisingly strong body in his arms. Doyle fitted there well and Angel enjoyed the feel of his body heat against his own colder form. The taste of Doyle was surprisingly sweet as he delved into Doyle's yielding mouth. He could smell Doyle's arousal, rising headily into the air, making him feel a little dizzy. Angel pulled at Doyle's clothes impatiently, Doyle's hands moving swiftly to zips and fasteners, colliding with his.

Doyle's skin was white and almost hairless, smooth under his caressing hands, as Doyle gasped and arched up against him and his glossy black hair was silky to the touch. It was...nice, good, very good, even. Doyle wasn't Buffy, no, but that was good because it meant he could just enjoy this without fear, knowing that no matter how pleasurable it was there would be a tinge of regret that it wasn't Buffy he was touching and caressing and--

He gasped as Doyle, unexpectedly assertive, bit at a nipple, sending a swift dart of sensation straight to Angel's groin. He arched his head back, allowing Doyle to feast on him, dimly aware with that small part of his mind not given over to sensation that there was more passion than he had ever expected to feel with Doyle. His friend Doyle.

Oh yeah! This was good, hell this was great, uncomplicated, just fucking, buddy fucking. Why hadn't he thought of doing this before, all those years when he'd been lost in misery. Before Buffy. But then, before Buffy he had been too lost to even think about--

Jesus! He groaned as Doyle's hot mouth found him, taking him in deep, sucking hard. And, God, Doyle was really good at this, definitely talented. Turned out his tongue wasn't just good at helping him yack on after all. Angel's hips moved helplessly as--at last--he felt his climax approach, shuddering up hard from his belly. Oh yeah, this was it-- Yeah!

"Doyle," he managed to gasp, "I'm--"

But Doyle just grasped his hips tighter and ran his tongue softly along the underside of Angel's cock and at that he lost it. Shouting, vision blurring into a white haze, Angel came and came.

He dropped back to the bed, a limp rag. Weakly, he waved a hand in Doyle's direction. Doyle, who lay gasping beside him, arm across his eyes, evidently missed the gesture, so Angel leaned over and kissed him for a long time, until Doyle's breathing calmed a little and he kissed him back.

"Thanks," Angel said, feeling a little awkward now that it was over, but determined not to be rude, because once upon a time, when he had been very young his mother had emphasised the importance of good manners. But, really, what did you say to your friend who had just given you a really great blowjob? "That was really, er, you know."

Doyle grinned at him, a little, and Angel felt relief, because it was the usual Doyle grin and it was going to be all right. Maybe better than all right. "I keep on tellin' you, I'm a man of hidden talents."

That was so perfectly Doyle that Angel was wholly unable to prevent the laugh that bubbled up from his chest. "Yeah and you know what, Doyle, I'm starting to believe you."

Doyle snorted. "Now he believes me!"

Angel met his eyes and that set him off again, because they were crinkled with mirth, very blue. Beautiful eyes, really. "S-sorry," he gasped. And then sobering a little. "But, hey, is there anything I can do for you. You know, after..." Because Doyle had been aroused, he had felt that he was but Doyle had a sheet thrown over him, so he couldn't see if that was still the case.

Doyle shook his head. "No need, I'm, er, cool."

"You're sure. I mean, you didn't--"

"Actually, I did." There was more than a tinge of pink on Doyle's cheeks as he admitted, "I liked feeling you, you know. It was, um, good."

"Yeah, it was," Angel agreed quietly.

A moment later and Doyle threw back the covers. "Is it okay if I take a shower? Gotta be getting to work. Cordy'll be wondering where we are and next thing we know, she'll be comin' down here and seeing us like this will definitely ruin my chances with her."

"Because of course she's gonna be succumbing to your charms any year now."

"Exact-- Hey! That's any day now, I'll have you know."

Angel grinned at him, enjoying Doyle's look of mock hurt. It was gonna be okay, it really was. It'd been bad, seeing Buffy and wanting her so badly that it hurt and then the dream and everything. But Doyle was the best, a really great friend and the best of it was knowing that there wouldn't be any repercussions from this, that they could go on as normal. He watched as Doyle, after a swift glance at him for permission, shrugged into his bathrobe, then turned towards the bathroom.

But Doyle stopped, then twisted round to face him. He cocked his head to one side, then stood watching Angel, a curious half smile on his face. Angel felt an uneasy prickling sensation run up his spine. "What?"

Doyle threw back his head and started to laugh.

"What!"

"It's true," Doyle gasped, between snorts of mirth. "It's really true. You're thick as pig shit, you really are, Angel me darlin'."

"Doyle, what--"

"No, no, you still don't get it, do you. I'm not Doyle!"

Angel shrank back against the headboard of the bed. He opened his mouth, but Doyle forestalled him.

"Actually, that's not completely true. It's probably fairer to say that 'Doyle' doesn't exist."

"I don't-- What do you mean?" Inside, Angel was cold, frozen, impossible though that was for a vampire.

Doyle shook his head admonishingly. "Slow, Angel, slow. Like I told you earlier, it's just as well you're so pretty because you've got fuck-all goin' on for you otherwise."

Earlier? Angel shook his head, to clear out the white noise that reverberated within his skull. Earlier had been a dream. Just a dream. Please let it be a dream.

"Well that and one hell of an ego."

"Doyle--"

"I keep on telling you, not Doyle, Doyle doesn't exist. He's a figment of your imagination."

"That's-- That's not true." The protest was automatic, falling from numb lips. Angel clasped his hands tight to still their trembling. What was Doyle playing at? No, not Doyle. Because horrible though it was to admit, whoever--whatever--had sucked him off earlier it hadn't been Doyle, just like it hadn't been Buffy. Whatever it was that was haunting him, he hadn't thrown it off. Not yet. But he would. He would remain calm, he would cope with this, just like he'd dealt with all the other crap that had come his way.

The Doyle figure laughed. "Think about it, Angel. What kind of an ego imagines itself called back from hell by some sort of 'Powers that Be' to fight for the 'forces of good'. Such colossal arrogance, to imagine that the world can't exist without you."

"I didn't--"

"Oh but you did! Give yourself a pat on the back, Angel, 'cos you've just won the Mr Vanity of the year--no, of the fucking century--award. I gotta hand it to you, such hubris. You could give even me a run for my money. And I have to admire your imagination, the whole Oracles business, the detective agency shit. You know, most people would've stuck to fantasising about what they knew, helping out their nearest and dearest, that kind of thing. But that's not enough for you. Angel in the City of Angels. Nice touch."

"You're crazy. You're fucking crazy! This is real, Doyle, this is my life."

Doyle grinned at him, with such malice that Angel shuddered uncontrollably. "You're dead, Angel."

"I'm a vampire, yes, but I--"

"Dead and in hell."

Angel blinked. Huh?

"Sodom and Gomorrah! How stupid is it possible to be? It's an illusion, Angel. All of it. A fantasy, not real. The whole detective agency thing, LA, Cordelia--Cordelia Chase as your receptionist, hah! As if! And Doyle. None of it ever really happened."

"No! No, that's not true."

Doyle moved so fast that Angel missed it. One moment he was standing feet away, the next he was right there gripping Angel's arms, hard. Angel could feel the heat of his grip, too strong to break, as thin fingers grasped his arms, clasping them tight, so tight that it hurt. And hot. He felt as it he was burning. Christ! He was burning!

Angel yelled and tried to pull away from Doyle's iron grip, iron hard, hot as smelting iron, hot enough to burn. Smoke rose greasily, thick and black, enough to choke him. Let go! Let go!

But Doyle didn't let him go, ignored the whimpers of pain that Angel was helpless to control as he leaned nearer and nearer, no matter how much Angel tried to shrink away.

"You're mine, Angel. It's a done deal. Bought and paid for and I'm not letting you go."

"Who-- Who are you?"

"You know who I am. Every time Angelus took a life, tortured his prey, played with his food, I was there, enjoying the ride. Angelus was one of my best and if I can't have him back, then having you is the next best thing."

Angel shook his head. No. No!

Doyle smiled, an oddly tender smile as he let go of one of Angel's arms to run a finger down Angel's cheek. Angel shrieked in agony as the flesh crisped and smoked at his touch.

"Please," he choked out. "Please."

"Ah, no, Angel, there is no mercy, not from the likes of me. Because you get it now, don't you? Don't you!" He shook Angel a little, impatiently, as he spoke. Angel felt his whole body jolting, felt vampire-strengthened bones snap like rotten autumnal twigs, in the vast grip of the thing that had him, that had been playing with him like a cat with a mouse, enjoying his futile attempts at escape, letting him go so far and then putting out a paw and trapping his tail with its claws. Because Angel got it, beyond hope, beyond redemption.

He cried out, a long wail of despair and Doyle smiled with pleasure at the sound. "That's right," he crooned. "Now you know, who you belong to. Donít you?" Angel felt his head jolting back on his neck as Doyle shook him again, hard.

"Yes!" The word was forced out with hopeless desperation.

"That's right. And where are we?" Angel shook his head, eyes closed, lip bitten through. Doyle shook him again. "Where are we?"

"Hell!" he gasped. "We're in hell."

"And why's that, Angel. Tell me why!"

"Because I--"

"Yes?"

"Because I never left!" At that, Doyle let him go. Angel bent forward, kneeling on the bed, head to the covers, back bowed as his whole body shook with the silent, wrenching sobs of utter despair. Doyle--the devil--was right. Now he knew, all too well. Illusion all of it, because there was no escape, not for him, no hope of salvation.

For he was damned, bound to suffer the everlasting torments of the deepest depths of hell. And what was greater torment, than to dangle tantalisingly the hope of escape, better yet redemption--and then take it away.

Even as he wept, he could feel the bed beneath him melting away, as the chimera that it was, to be replaced by that which was dreadful and terrible beyond words. Hell, where he would burn in uttermost torment forever. And then he was burning, burning in the white-hot crucible of uttermost agony, as it was all torn away, all of his dreams and hopes.

All he knew was pain.


Finis


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