HEART TO HEART

The hotel seemed quiet.  Too quiet, though there were lights on.  Gwen walked up the front steps, stopped at the door, then turned around and walked back down.  Again.

She should just go in.  If Angel wasn't there, so much the better.  She could just go home, not even bother to leave a message, just let it all go and get back to her normal life.  After all, he'd made no attempt to contact her.

            Of course, the way she'd left it with him last time, she really needed to be the one to initiate the next contact.  He probably thought she had no desire to see him ever again.

            Or touch him.

            She stared at the doors.  Touch him.  She remembered the shape of his hands, the imprint of his fingers, better than his face.  Remembered the taste of his mouth and the way his lips fit against hers.  Even the memory overwhelmed her sometimes.

            She should just go.  It should be the smart thing to do.

            She backed away from the doors and went back around the side of the building.  Away.  She needed to be away.

            Concentrating hard on that, she hunched her shoulders and walked fast, intent on forcing herself past the hotel.  Just a few more yards--

            Something large and dark plummeted from the sky and landed hard in front of her.  She squeaked--she couldn't help it--and she couldn't stop in time.  She slammed into the large, solid mass, and her startlement sent electricity ringing right through her, all over her skin, and blasting into the dark, hulking form.

            "Gyaah," it said.

            Gwen stumbled backward, barely regaining her balance.  Angel--for it was, indeed, Angel who had nearly landed on her head--caught her arm and steadied her.

            "Are you all right?" he asked, and, "Are you okay?" she said in the same breath.

            "You, um…shocked me," he said.  "Literally."

            "Sorry.  You shocked me.  Figuratively."

            "Sorry."

            She brushed herself off, gathering her composure.  "Where the hell did you come from?"

            He pointed.  "Up there."

            She looked up.  Way up.  A balcony protruded from the building, one of several but the only one with a light on in the room behind it.

            "That's your room?"

            "Yeah."

            "And you jumped all that way why?"  It was quite a distance--not the kind of distance a person would generally jump outside of a suicide attempt.  But she was forgetting--Angel wasn't a person.  Thus his ability to still walk and talk after she'd just slammed him with God knew how many volts.

            He looked forlornly up at his balcony.  "I didn't want to be there anymore."

            She looked at him then, really looked at him.  Something lurked in his eyes, something deeply, profoundly painful.  Moreso, she decided, than usual.  "Are you okay?"

            He studied her face, as if trying to decide whether to tell the truth.  Finally he said, "Not so much.  Not really."

            "Do you…do you want to talk about it?"

            Again he perused her.  Then, casually, he held out his hand.  "Walk with me?"

            And there it was.  The longing, so deep she could barely feel it, or could barely feel anything else.  She slid her fingers--her bare fingers--into the clasp of his big, pretty hand, and her skin sizzled, and so did his, and he smiled and squeezed her fingers, and they walked together down the sidewalk.

            They walked in silence for a time.  Gwen was so focused on the small movements of his hand in hers that she barely noticed.  He seemed comfortable with silence--she'd gathered that much about him.  It wasn't just that he wasn't a big talker, either; he just seemed at home in the absence of conversation.

            "It's been a weird last few days," he said presently.

            "Really?"  She wondered what kinds of things might qualify as weird in the life of a vampire--and a vampire detective, at that--and for a moment wondered if she really wanted to know.

            "Yeah."  The silence fell again.  It would have been rude, she thought, to break it.  She watched him as the light from the streetlamps came and went across his face.  He seemed to be somewhere else entirely.

            Suddenly she realized where they were going.

            "Do you think coffee is going to help?" she ventured.

            "No.  But it's a quiet place to sit and talk, especially this time of the morning."

            "Do they ever close?"  She'd never heard of an all-night coffee shop.

            "They open really early, is all."  He stopped suddenly.  "Do you mind?  I mean, I didn't think to ask if you have somewhere else to be."

            She smiled.  If I had somewhere else to be would I have been skulking around outside your stupid hotel?  "It's fine."

            He bought her a latte and nothing for himself, and as they sat at a back table he said, as if only just thinking of it, "Did you want a brownie or something?"

            "No, thanks."  Stupidly, it touched her that he'd remembered, and for a moment she couldn't look him in the eye.  She sipped her coffee instead.

            "She came back," he said suddenly.

            There was no reason why this should hurt.  She barely knew him, had spent only a matter of hours in his presence.  But at his words, a barb stabbed through her heart.  She bit her lip hard and said nothing.

            Carefully, she looked up at his face.  His eyes were a very long way away.

            "She came back," he repeated.  "She doesn't…doesn't remember anything.  Doesn't remember where she is, who she is.  Or who I am."

            Gwen swallowed.  Did she hurt for him, or for herself?  Still, she felt the need to reach out to him.  She sensed a loneliness in him, something she wasn't even sure she could touch.

            "You loved her," she said, so quietly she wasn't entirely sure he'd heard her.

            "I love her," he said, not quite correcting her.  Suddenly he scrubbed his face with his hands, mustered a wan smile.  "I can't do anything about it.  Not now.  Not any of it.  Can't be anything to her, not to anybody."  He stopped.  "I'm sorry."

            Gwen studied him.  She was starting to understand, but wasn't sure where the insight came from.  "Do you have anybody--anybody at all--that you can talk to?"

            "Cordelia," he said.  "She was the one."

            "What about your friends?  Denzel, and Twiggy?"

            He smiled again.  "Gunn and Fred."  He shook his head.  "They have each other.  I had her."

            "I'm sorry."  She didn't know what else to say.  It seemed inadequate, in any case.  He nodded, staring blankly at the table.  He looked so painfully, desperately alone, though he was only separated from her by the width of the table.

            Every impulse that had been trained into her over the years told her to keep her distance, stay away, never to reach out.  So she didn't know what it was that made her leave her chair and come to sit in the empty one next to him, on the other side of the table.  He looked at her, bemused, as if he was having a hard time staying focused on the present.

            "Angel--" she started, but didn't really know where to go from there.

            Then some instinct, long-buried, fiercely denied, lurched to the surface, and she held her arms out to him.

            He moved into her embrace, settling his head into her shoulder.  His weight felt good against her and she scooted closer, putting more of her body into contact with his.

            She had spent hours, months, years of her life wondering what it would be like to have someone hold her, comfort her when she was hurting.  It had never occurred to her to wonder what it would be like to comfort someone else.  It was beautiful, profound, she thought, and tried not to be so grateful that his pain had allowed her to feel this.

            He clutched her to him and she could tell he craved the contact almost as much as she did.  Did have no one in his life to hold him like this?  Or had it only been the woman, Cordelia, who no longer remembered him?

            His head lifted from her shoulder, his cheek resting against hers.  It was a good, soft feeling.  She had her current under tight control, but somehow, right now, the control was nearly effortless.  She knew it wouldn't hurt him, so the usual tension, the fear that it would escape her, was gone.

            They sat like that for what seemed like a long time.  Gwen, her eyes closed, had neither interest nor care for anyone else who might be there.  All that mattered was this.

            Finally, he drew back, but before he moved completely away he kissed her softly on the mouth.  It was a careful kiss; he was probably remembering how she'd flaked on him the last time, overwhelmed by the intensity of touching him.

            She still held him; she slid her hands down his arms, over the soft, supple leather of his coat, until her hands found his.  He answered her touch, tangling his fingers with hers.

            "Are you gonna be okay?" she asked him.  Some of the sadness had eased in his eyes, but it was still there, dark and heavy.  She doubted anything could make it truly disappear.

            "Yeah," he said.  "It may take a hundred years, but yeah."

            She would have missed the vague smile if she hadn't been looking for it.  "I hope--"  She stopped, realizing she wasn't sure what she hoped.  "I hope it all works out."  That was good.  Positive, but noncommittal.

            "Yeah.  Me, too."

            The heaviness of his tone made her wonder once again about all the things about him she didn't know.  He was still very much a stranger to her, yet she was drawn to him mercilessly by her craving for his touch.

            Daring, she lifted a hand and traced the low, straight line of his eyebrow, then trailed her fingers down his cheek.

            "I can walk you home," she said.

            He nodded.  "That'd be nice."

            Leaning into him, she kissed him again--soft, simple.  Then, one hand still caught in his, she picked up her latte and let him lead her out of the coffee shop.

END.