Written for B/A lyric wheel over on LJ. Thanks to Leni for running! My prompt was the song Simple Twist of Fate by Bob Dylan.
The Eye Will Often Wander the Road That Love Has Taught
Angel has his shirt on within seconds of hearing Joyce Summers's voice. He knows that he should be making a stealthy exit out of the back door in case Buffy's mother would rather get her mail than be brought a cup of tea in bed. But he stays, listening to Buffy give her mother the run-around. In his nearly-professional liar's opinion, she's not doing a very good job. But that is just one of the things he likes (loves, but he's not going to go into that, not when he can see the details of the hand-painted trivet that reads "Buffy, age 5," not as he realizes once again that Buffy, age 5 happened only a sliver of time ago) about Buffy. She's a terrible liar, which he likes to think shows a natural inclination toward truth, although it could be equally related to a lack of acting ability.
It isn't as if it is the first time he had been hidden from an arriving parent. Actually, a significant number of his trysts ended with someone hiding or escaping. No one wanted their daughter to be seen with Liam O'Reilly, not when he hadn't been seen at church since he was singing a very high tenor to fill a choir space at the chapel on Middle Street. His mother was such a pious woman, his father a respected merchant, so people couldn't understand how he had turned out the way he had. Still, no matter how many (mostly true) stories floated around the streets detailing his misdeeds (he could check all the deadly sins off his to-do list, plus a good number of the "thou shalt not"s), he still managed to get some girl or other into his bed (or her bed. Or one at an inn. Beds weren't really necessary at all, actually. A good space of floor was just fine) most nights. He never used violence (he wasn't an angry man, only a stupid, selfish one), just coercion and manipulation and the slightest hint of pressure.
But that wasn't until later, not until he was seventeen (or maybe eighteen. Those years of uselessness blend for him, grow unremarkable from their sameness of sex and liquor). At fifteen he was just beginning to defy his father, to get ill more and more often on Sunday mornings. Keiran O'Reilly had always been firm about church-going and young Liam had never disobeyed (not just because he was afraid of his father's fist, but because every once in a while, he would do something that would make his father pleased and that would make Liam smile for the rest of the day) until his friend Michael Sullivan told him that Father Donnegan had been lying about the lightning strikes for those who didn't have proper faith, and he had decided to try it out for himself. He started out staying inside all day, moaning and getting cool cloths for his forehead. But when he saw that God wasn't striking him down and the family business was still prosperous and the milk flowed as rich as ever, he started to go out in the day.
One Sunday early on in his rule-breaking career, he went down to the docks (taking back roads because he wasn't quite ready for some busybody to report his rebellion to his father) where his cousin Brendan's ship was coming in. Liam had always wanted to sail (not that his father would let him when there was a family business to run), had always loved the ocean and the idea of traveling farther than the next village. He wanted to see all the sights of Europe, like the rooms Brendan told him about, rooms full of paintings and drawings and sculptures that you could go visit. There was a painting in the rectory that usually people didn't get to see because Father Donnegan kept it hidden away, not wanting his congregants to know that even a man of God had some earthly possessions. (It was of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris, painted to show the light flowing through of the stained glass windows, and he wanted to see that too.) But Liam O'Reilly took the dare to slit the Father's robe so the bottom dropped off when they all started moving in for mass. (Not even the threat of his father can stop a boy who's been called a coward by his friends.) Kieran had let the good father do the punishing for that one, and it had meant a stronger caning than any his Da had given him and a month of cleaning the rectory. He found the painting tucked in the back of a cupboard.
Brendan's ship, the Iphigenia, wasn't in yet, so Liam sat beside the docks, pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and began to draw using a piece of charcoal.
"Now that's a pretty picture," a voice cooed in his ear.
He looked up to see a girl (older than him, although by how much he wasn't sure) hovering over his shoulder.
"What's your name, lad?"
He scrambled to his feet. He'd just shot up about five inches and wasn't quite used to the new height yet. (His sister sometimes ran away when he came near because she didn't recognize him that tall.) "Liam O'Reilly." he said, hoping to God that his voice wouldn't crack before he realized that God probably wasn't open to receiving his prayers at that point.
"Well, Liam O'Reilly, why aren't you in church on the Lord's day?"
Liam wasn't a good liar. The times he'd tried, for innocent reasons usually, his father's hand had flattened and struck out at him. "Mercy and truth are met together" the old man would snarl over his son's prone form. So he told the truth: "Just an innocent bit of fun, miss."
She moved toward him, looking up at him coyly, her head level with his shoulder so that her breath ruffled the lace around his collar. "Perhaps the two of us could have an innocent bit of fun together."
She pulled him by the hand toward an inn and up the back staircase to a small, sparsely furnished room. The bedclothes were rough, but Liam didn't care as the girl pushed him on to the bed. He leaned up to kiss her (the third girl he'd ever kissed, after Peegen McShane in her father's orchard and Eileen Lynch when she came to deliver some jam from her mother) . "What's your name?" He gasped.
He must have noticed the tiny, lying pause before her answer because he was able to recall it later. "Maggie," she said quickly before leaning in to him firmly, almost violently, as if she wanted to live off him like a parasite. He let her.
When he woke up the room was bare. He didn't see her anywhere. It didn't make sense because it was her room, but all of Maggie's belongings were gone. He told himself he didn't care, pushed the window open wide, pretended that it didn't matter that he was getting dressed alone as if the last few hours hadn't happened, as if he hadn't betrayed his father's lessons for nothing, as if the old man hadn't been right all along.
As he tried to sneak out, the innkeeper's wife, Mrs. Brady, caught him. "Liam O'Reilly, how can I tell your father that you were keeping company in my inn with an unmarried woman? And on a Sunday!"
Apparently all she had to do was open her mouth, which she did as soon as she entered the O'Reilly house, dragging Liam behind her by his ear. Kieran lashed him, bad, but as the strap came down on his back, Liam had the curious thought that this was the same as ever. This beating was barely harder than the one he had gotten when he had broken his father's antique spyglass or when he had mentioned that he might not want to go into the cloth trade.
He thought then- as his back split open to look like a gaping mouth- of the look on his mother's face when his father's back was turned. Brighid Flanagan O'Reilly was a proud woman. It was her land that their fine house was built on, a good Flanagan parcel passed down to Brighid - the only child at the end of the line- through seven generations of men. She could read and was quite knowledgeable in history. Liam wasn't sure why she married his father after her parents died, but he knew that she regretted it. Sometimes he would come in to the kitchen and find her wide shoulders bent in and a long, narrow cut trailing in to her dress. If Kieran entered the kitchen, Brighid would answer his questions respectfully. But as her husband left, she would look after him with a snarl tangling her prematurely wrinkled face. There was so much hatred in her expression that it would make Liam, standing frozen in the doorway, sick.
"I do everything you want, you filthy, rotten bastard," she hissed.
As his father's strap fell on his back, Liam echoed the statement in his head. He fought so hard to make his father proud of him: always obeying the schoolmaster, first to learn his catechism. But no matter what, his father always expected more than the more his son had just met. And still whenever the boy was less than perfect, Liam would need to move gingerly until his cuts and bruises healed.
It was useless trying to please his father. It was ridiculous to pray the rosary, to memorize the prices of silk and linen, to stay away from women of poor morals (or women at all because that could lead to poor morals) if Kieran would just jump on his faults, real or imagined.
And so he decided to stop trying to please his father.
His first attempts at seduction were clumsy but successful. He would see the girls afterward, in town or in the pub, and it was awkward until he gained a reputation that ensured that no one would expect to bring him home to Mother.
Angel doesn't want that with Buffy. Not pretty words and bright lies leading to just one thing. He wants to help her and maybe have something more, something real and mature and committed. But for now keeping her safe and innocent and perfect is enough. Still, he doesn't want to be Liam again, hiding while the lady of the house is diverted. So he goes out to meet Joyce Summers, hopefully not for the last time.
"Oh my God, you sound like you want to marry me!" Buffy's face is alight with a mixture of glee and disgust.
Angel looks down at her face, amused. "Are you saying you wouldn't have married me?"
She snorts. "Are you kidding? I would have been Mrs. Angel No-Last-Name in a second. And then I would have had a breakdown the second you asked me to grab you a cup of blood."
He chuckles. "I never would have asked you to get my blood. I probably would have kept it in a separate fridge in a separate house."
He wants her to tell him, "Silly man, there wasn't any need for that," but he knows that it's not true. Sixteen year old Buffy, no matter how much she loved him, wouldn't have been able to receive all the secrets of his dead, hollowed heart.
This Buffy, Buffy now, at sixty-seven (though she looks five years younger, which she considers an unexpected plus of being a Slayer, although Dawn was aging similarly gracefully, so it might have been good genes. Whenever she tells him that she's glad that she looks younger, as it makes it less odd when she goes out with her husband who looks every minute of his fifty-five years, he delights in telling her that the most successful marriages have the woman being eight years older than the man. He also uses this as proof that Dawn, five years younger than her husband, made the wrong choice. That is still the one thing that he and Spike agree on) had been his confessor for years, as he had been hers. She's not the teenager who shied away from any impropriety within herself further than the occasional lusty dream about Luke Perry. Now she's his wife who tells him about the triumphant, killer's rush she got when she heard a demon's last breath (back when she used to slay, that is), who knows that he missed his sister's confirmation because he was banging one of the girls from her confirmation class against the back wall of the church, who has taken him to Ireland once a year for the past five years and let him take her around and talk.
This is the first time they've come to Galway and they sit on a hill, Angel's back against a tree, Buffy tucked between his legs. There are years more worth of stories to tell her, even some good memories in the bunch, but he chose to tell her this one. She's heard it before, not all the exact details but she knows it from when their kids were getting to the age when they might be having "relations" (as Angel called them. Buffy would roll her eyes and wonder how a man who could dirty-talk like her husband could be unable to say the word "sex" when it was referring to his children). He told it to her one night as they cleaned up the kitchen from dinner, the kids already in their world of too-loud music and too-bright computer screens, wondering if he should tell Aidan, who was just starting with a serious girlfriend for the first time. (He hadn't asked her whether he should tell Connor on his wedding day because it was clearly too late. They still weren't very close and just knowing what he knew about his firstborn's sex life was enough to make him uncomfortable. The bud was fully nipped when Connor wrote a special note on his invitation that read "If you get mushy, old man, I will have the ushers boot your ass to the curb," and then had repeated the sentiment when Angel had shown up at the church.) They decided against it. Aidan was sensitive; they had worked for most of his childhood to tease him out of his shell and they didn't want to scare him back in. And anyway, Abby was a sweet girl, had lived down the block from them since they had bought this house and had become Aidan's best friend about a week after that.
They discussed it again when Erin, brash and Irish-tempered (Faith at fifteen if she had had parents who loved her, more vitamins and fewer drugs), began coming home from late movies with friends with fluffy hair and freshly reapplied makeup. He made Buffy walk in front of him as they went to Erin's room (still painted Fairytale Pink and taken up mostly by a giant canopied bed) so that she wouldn't leave him to stammer his way through The Talk alone. She outdid herself, though, sitting between her daughter and husband as they both blushed and refused to look at her, muttering "Mom!" or "Buffy..." through clenched teeth when she hit a particularly awkward point. They had decided not to have Buffy tell the story of her first time. They had never hidden their past from their children, no matter how much they might have wanted to, but they were afraid that it would cast their entire relationship in a negative light and make Erin nervous about her father. So Buffy had gone through most of the topic, allowing Angel to just give a bare bones description of what had happened with Maggie. He thought that he had never loved her more than when he had walked out of the room with still working circulation, despite the consistently deeper blush that was threatening to make his face a permanent shade of vermilion.
Now, as he grows older and (he likes to think) wiser, he has decided that love isn't about amount. It's about depth. He loves Buffy just as fiercely as he had when he first saw her, but now his love is deepened and nuanced by knowing her quirks and (at least some of) her thoughts. It is the same for her. She brings him to Ireland every year not for herself, not so she can learn about him as her younger self wanted to, but for him, so he can have closure.
She still smells like vanilla, although her current shampoo is freesia and he breathes her in, tightening his arms around her. He is filled with words and some overflow as he whispers against her temple. "Thank you."
She leans back, looks up and grins. "No brooding now. You'll get all wrinkly and you know I only keep you around for your looks."
"Then why do I keep you around?" He returns wickedly, and she smacks him, aging but still a slayer. (She retired at thirty-nine, when Aiden was born. She could have gone ten more years, but the slayers easily picked up the slack and she didn't want to risk the baby. He knows she still misses it, although even without the kids, she would have retired by now. Sometimes she's restless in the night, not from remembering, but from the itch she still gets, the urge to run and stake and kill. It doesn't disturb her, just annoys her that she can't make it go away and she can't do anything about it.)
"You keep me around," she says with affected dignity, "because of my fabulous wealth, my witty conversation, my excellent connections...Should I go on?"
He looks down on Galway, wonders if Maggie's descendents are there, wonders if he could find her grave (it seems that many of the pivotal people in his life were only called by one name). He has never been more sure of his wedding vows than this moment, when he knows that she would go looking with him if he asked her to.
He places his cheek on the top of her head and takes in a breath of Ireland at sunset. "Go on forever, my love."