The Last Beat of My Heart
in the sharp gust of love - my memory stirred - when time wreathed a rose - a garland of shame - its thorn my only delight - war-torn, afraid to speak - we dare to breathe – majestic – imperial - a bridge of sighs - solitude sails - in a wave of forgiveness
on angels' wings - reach out your hands - don't turn your back - don't walk away - how in the world - can i wish for this? - never to be torn apart - close to you - 'til the last beat
of my heart.
-The Last Beat of My Heart, Siouxsie & the Banshees
Sometimes she dreams of him.
She calls down to him from her window above the villa street, and his name tastes strange upon her lips, but still sweet. Her hair billows around her face like a golden curtain, and she thinks of Rapunzel and smiles.
And he climbs the trellis with roses dripping from it like ripened fruits; hand over hand like some kind of storybook Romeo, meeting her at the top with a kiss. And they don't speak, because they don't need to.
Sometimes she thinks she still feels him. She'll turn, expecting him to be standing there like he always used to, hands in his pockets, shoulders dangling loosely, head hunched down as if he didn't really want her to see him at all.
But he's never there, and she walks on, feeling something in her heart that she can't quite put a name to.
He watches her sometimes, walking through the streets of the villa in dappled sunlight, basket in hand, picking through the peddler's apples and pears like a little girl gathering flowers. There's a spring in her step that he hasn't seen since before she turned seventeen, and when she turns, her skirt twirls around her legs almost playfully.
She's back in school now, and she spends more time studying than she does slaying vampires. There's a boy, too. A tall, straight smiling boy whose face lights up a bit every time she comes near, and she doesn't let on much, but he can tell. He can always tell with her.
He wonders if she ever thinks of him. If she can still sense him the way she used to, the way he can always sense her. He places a hand over his heart, feeling the steady pulse there, and wonders. Do they still fit together? Had they ever really fit together?
He thinks they did, once.
Sometimes he stands on the street below her window, the scent of summer roses filling him with memories and false hope. He imagines that she comes to the window and leans out, blond hair billowing in the soft, night breeze, her face warm with a welcome smile, calling down to him like Rapunzel in the fairy tale. He stares at the tangled trellis and the gnarled twist of roses that weave in and out between the ancient wood, and imagines setting his hands upon it, climbing the vines to meet her with a kiss.
The Powers made him human, but sometimes he thinks that only she can make him real.
But her window doesn't open, and her face doesn't shine for him, and instead he plucks a rose from the thorny weave, cupping it in his hands like a treasure as he walks away.
Slayers in every corner of the world, and she can have everything now.
She wants diamonds in a ring of gold. Children. An ordinary life.
And all he wants… is her.
She's never liked History much, but there's one day when they study women in American History, and Eleanor Roosevelt in particular.
It's a hokey quote, really—the kind of thing they print on high school year books and sing in dopey love songs—but it resonates inside her like the sound of delicate chimes on arriving home.
"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
She scrawls it across the cover of one of her spiral notebooks in too-girlish script and claims it for her own.
Tucked into the inside of his jacket, close to his heart and secreted away from the world, there is a pocket watch that ticks off the minutes of his mortal life. He can hear that ticking, every moment of every day, each tiny click another second gone by without her in his life. Once, it had served to remind him of a day that existed only in his memory and dreams. Now, it reminds him that he could have that day again, every single day for the rest of his life, if only he were brave enough. Now, it tells him that time is running out.
Fear would keep him from her forever if he let it.
The years are many, the betrayals of trust carefully logged and the depth of her love unknown, and there's not enough strength in that tiny voice that speaks up inside him, insisting that it's different now—he's human.
He wants to believe that. God, he wants to believe that more than anything, to sink right into that bright white hope and let it swallow him whole.
The delicate scent of roses clings to him, and he clutches thick petals close within his hand, raising the softness to his face, breathing deep of its scent. Footsteps in the alley as she makes her way home, and he waits for her to come to him, hopes that she will bless him with that bright, shining smile that still fuels his hope in the world.
It's an evening like any other, walking home through the cobblestone streets in the height of summer, the scent of roses filling the air and calling her home.
She's almost there, in the home stretch of the alley that leads to her apartment in fact, and within waits the evening of quiet solitude and hot tea she's so been looking forward to.
So why does she feel like she's still waiting for something?
She passes the trellis next to hers, and then she knows.
He turns to find surprise, shock, and wide green eyes that swirl with gray storm clouds that claimed him like a tempest long ago.
"Oh my God! Angel!"
And then there are arms around him, enveloping him with the familiar faint, flowery scent of innocence, and he is frozen, a fly trapped in a web of his own making.
"What are you doing here?" she almost squeals, her face glowing with excitement, and then, on the heels of that, barely pausing to draw breath, "Is something wrong?"
He pulls back, feeling the muscles in his face pinch with discomfort, and his hands wander through the heavy summer air for a moment before sliding into the familiar depths of his pockets. He wants more than anything to take her in his arms, pull her close, breathe her scent, kiss her lips, but his arms are suddenly awkward and he can't seem to make his mouth do anything, because all he can see is her, and oh, God, he isn't ready for this.
"Okay… I know you were never really that chatty, but…." she says, drawing back a step. "Oh no! Are you evil? Again?"
Her brows draw together in a concerned frown as she tenses, and one of her hands slips inside her purse. He can see her gripping something tightly there, a cross, or maybe a stake, and for a moment he thinks of the blood that would pour from his heart is she staked him. Not ash or the weight of an unwieldy soul set free. Red, warm, human blood.
"Buffy…" He pauses, everything he wants to say tangled up in the syllables of her name, and then just shakes his head. "No, I'm not evil."
Somewhere back in LA, in the sparse apartment he didn't really think of as home, there was a picture frame. A simple thing, made of brown polished wood and glass that sat dusty and empty now, that sun-kissed picture of them taken back just like all the loving hours they'd spent together; human, alive and in love. It stood at his bedside, a lone sentinel, an empty eye into a world that might have been. A broken dream begging to be put back together again.
And standing here now, so very close to her, the potential of all his broken dreams realized and given breath, it strikes him once and for all that this girl, this Slayer… she's the only one who has ever seemed real, the only one who's ever made him feel alive.
He loves her. Still.
What is he doing here?
He takes the rose in his hand and lifts it, offering it to her. It's been five years, three apocalypses and half a dozen wars, and the time has come to stop playing games.
He presses the flower into her free hand, feeling soft, thick, velvet petals slide between their palms as he laces his fingers through hers. Her other hand comes free and he captures it, lifts it to his heart and rests it there, letting his eyes carry everything else.
And no, they don't need words. Not ever. Especially not now.
They barely make it up to her bedroom.
She's wanted this since before she knew how to speak, before words got in the way and language was just a concept that held nothing to the desires of her heart. His hands on her, her fingers tangled in his hair and her mouth tasting the sweetness of his soul, the salt of his skin, the beating of their hearts in time as he moves and she exhales. Every sensation is exquisite, perfect and beautiful, every movement is a sweet harmony of motion that brings them together as one, and this is… oh… this is everything their first attempt at this was not. There is no fear between them now, no faltering, and this is how it was supposed to be, how it has never been with anyone, no matter how many times she stretched and strained and tried to feel.
Burning, she is burning; bright fire within the shadowed walls of her room. Has she ever been this alive?
The surface of his skin is a tapestry of sensation, fingers running over its curves and scars, trying to memorize every inch, and it is new and remembered all at once. Entire universes swirl within his eyes, worlds undiscovered and places her heart has longed to touch but never been to.
"I love you..."
She gives a shivering thrust of her hips, enveloping him, and he shakes in response, his breath a hot tattoo upon her bruised lips as he dives deep for another taste, and she feels the center of her soul like the sun to the planets, everything in the universe—his, hers—aligning and spinning around her. This is… God, this is better than anything she has ever known.
Love like a sixteen year old girl's swells within her heart, filing her, and she wonders if she will always feel like this with him; raw and open, real and visceral, nothing held back, everything given, no holds barred. It's only ever been like this with him, this total freedom and comfort, even when she was scared so many years ago that she might not know what to do to him. She knows his heart, knows his soul; knows his love and how it goes deeper than bones, deeper even than the abyss of his eyes. And now she knows how to touch him, too.
His eyes close and he shudders blissfully as she bears down upon him, confident and beautiful, a goddess on fire, giving and taking, taking and giving, pleasure white-hot and excruciating everywhere their skin touches, narrowing to a rainbow of pleasure as they rise together above the sun, exploding in a supernova, each wave of ecstasy brighter than the one before it.
Slowly, they cascade back down to earth, heart hammering in her chest in time with his, and oh, she's never been this alive before, never glowed like this, never loved like this, and the words don't come, but that's okay, because their eyes say everything and the unspoken words are like a song reverberating through her heart, and all she wants is him and to be like this, feeling him, full and alive and breathing against her.
"Is this real?" he whispers, his voice cracked and broken with emotion.
"Shhh…" she breathes back, turning her face against his.
"Are you real?" he asks, his voice urgent, body shifting against hers. "I can't… I don't want to think this might be… that you might not be…"
"Shhh…" she whispers again, smiling against the curve of his cheek. "I'm real. I'm here." And she moves, thrusting against him, kissing his mouth.
"Then love me," he whispers.
And she does.
After, they lay together in the darkness, limbs twined around each other like clinging vines. Moonlight and shadows fall across their bodies, limning them in stripes of glowing white and blue-black, and Angel thinks he could just lay here like this for the rest of his life, their naked bodies tangled in sheets and bathed in this shadowy glow. He could stay right here forever, her body pressed up against him like second skin, feeling her fit so perfectly into the curve of his own.
She shifts away a little, and he wriggles to follow her, not willing to let her go even that far.
"I want to make a new rule," he says, fitting his chin into the curve of her shoulder.
"Yeah?" she asks, and he can hear the smile in her voice as she turns her face toward him.
"No empty air or clothes between us for at least the next decade."
"That'd make slaying a whole lot more interesting," she says and then chuckles. "And traumatic for the Slayee's."
"Good thing we've got that 'stake therapy' program."
"All your undead problems solved in a simple one step progr—wait—" He feels her tense and she sits up, staring at him. "Did you say decade?"
"You know," he says, trying to play it cool with small shrug. "Or the next millennia." His heart skips a beat, and he marvels at the sensation, swallowing against his fear. "Whatever works for you."
Her eyes are wide with a thousand different emotions as her fingers venture toward his chest, skimming the skin, feeling the pulse beneath. "Human," she whispers with a shaky, disbelieving breath.
"Human," he agrees, and lifts her fingertips to his mouth, kissing them lightly, eyes never leaving hers.
"When?" she asks.
"After the last apocalypse."
"Shanshu," she whispers, and the strange syllables hang in the air between them.
She is silent for a long time, and he can see the tension in her as she ponders that, lithe muscles coiling beneath the skin.
"Why didn't you come for me before?" She pulls her hand from his—gently, slow, but it still hurts.
"I… wasn't human then."
"You know what I mean."
He doesn't want to talk about this. He slides up against her, nuzzling warm skin, losing himself within the curtain of her hair.
He sighs and draws back a bit—only as far as he needs to in order to speak.
"You mean after Wolfram & Hart." It's not a question; he knows exactly what she means. He always does.
He feels her draw a breath, then hold it before exhaling. "Spike came."
"I know. That's why I didn't."
She pulls back, and he can see the outline of her face in the dim blue moonlight, the deep pools of her stormy eyes reflected back at him. She has no words, caught off guard and vulnerable, and he speaks to save her the pain.
"You loved him."
The barest of nods, the slightest inclination of her beautiful face.
"I had to know… had to see if you…wanted him."
She closes her eyes to him and breathes deep again.
"I know," he answers.
"But I didn't…" she falters, uncomfortable for the first time since they stumbled up the stairs together.
"I know," he says again.
"Why didn't you come right away… after?" she asks, and he can hear the tremor in her voice, see it in her face.
"I was… I didn't…"
"Want me?" she asks, and her voice is fragile as glass, and he wishes she would open her eyes. Her fingers curl, lost in the sheets, and he reaches out to take them between his own.
"No. I wanted you too much. And you have your life here and everything is…" he hesitates, the words true, but so difficult to say. "…is good for you. Finally, after all these years… Buffy, you have everything now."
"Do… do you love me?" she asks, and his heart skips a beat. His living, beating heart.
"I never stopped loving you," she whispers, head bowed. "You are everything, Angel."
And the quiet, desperate passion in her voice—the simple truth of her words, hit him like the best punch of his life, take his breath away.
"Buffy… I can't remember a time when I didn't love you," he says, shaking his head with vague amazement. "When I look back… you're always there, always with me." Husky words, still nearly breathless with emotion, and her eyes open to him at last, flowers of hope hungry for the sun.
"You're all I ever wanted, Buffy. When I look into the future… You're all I see."
She sits there, silent and still for a long time in the moonlight, and he can hear the clock tick off the minutes as he waits for her to speak. He's waited years just to look at her again, spent centuries learning to bide time, and he can wait as long as she needs him to.
"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
"Yes," he whispers, and it is an agreement, a promise and an entreaty all at once.
"You'll stay?" she asks, her voice soft, vulnerable, face like a child.
He reaches out and cups her face between his hands like a fragile treasure, pulling her down to him as he kisses her.
And all the feelings, all the words, all the years between them, resolve themselves in a single instant of warm breath given; a single word whispered against her lips.
Sometimes they feel it like a tiny sun inside their minds, radiating happiness, and life and eternity. Sometimes it is a black hole torn ragged in their chest, and their sorrow pours out and the pain bleeds in. Sometimes there are words that are soft and sweet, exchanges of love given and stories from lives shared. Sometimes there are words that are thrown like daggers that cut and wound, scarring in the aftermath. Sometimes, their souls entwine together as one, each indivisible from the other, and sometimes, a gulf grows between them until they are each lost even to themselves.
But always, the weave and weft of time finds them together, pieces woven into a greater whole, each cut from the same fabric; lovers, soul mates, friends.
And when death finally comes to call upon them, it finds them still in love, standing brave and strong and unafraid, side by side, forever.
And they are utterly without regret.