Bitter From the Sweet
(the "I've Been to Paradise" Remix)
by Aadler
Copyright June 2013

Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of
Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.

This story is a remix, done for Round 1 of Buffy Remix, of "Imperfect Happiness" by LookingForOctober.

Season: Sixth (Buffy), Third (Angel)
Spoiler(s): "Flooded" (Buffy, S4-03) through "Fredless" (Angel, S1-22)

The call had come. As soon as she was able to think, she had known she couldn't avoid this. He had been told of her death, had come to see her grave; her friends (tormentors) let her know all the details. It would have been too cruel not to let him know she was back again (and they hated to be cruel, they really did), and once he knew, the two of them would of course have to meet, and that was something she was determined to have happen away from her home (her hell).

So they picked a place. Neutral ground, halfway between Sunnydale and Los Angeles. A motel, in a little town off the Interstate called Cromwell. She gets there first, because she can travel in the daytime. He arrives an hour after sunset. And minutes after that, she has him onto the cheap bed, the two of them tearing at one another's clothes and at one another like Kosh'tscho demons in rut.

It isn't as good as the first time. She was so much younger then, so full of desire and belief and crazy, lost, tragic passion. Now she's dead, empty, going through the motions and feeling nothing inside.

So ironic that the dead man lying next to her still has all the hope and belief and love that are ashes for her. Both of them died and rose again: he to a demon (first free, then chained to a soul), she to a living body and a soul that might as well be dead and shriveled. He used to claim she had given him life for the first time in a pair of centuries. If so, he kept that life after it was torn away from her.

She's had two lovers since him (and actually cared for one of them, though the other hurt her more). Neither of them, however, gave her as much ecstasy or pain as he has. She doubts there's been anyone else for him since then; he couldn't risk it, wouldn't risk it, wouldn't be able to face her if he had.

That first time, she woke afterward to a nothing that turned out to be a nightmare. This time, she doesn't fall asleep, simply lies waiting to see what will come. Will he be the demon once more? Will she have to kill him again? Will he kill her this time?

Will she try to resist if he does?

His breathing was as fast as hers during their frenzied coupling, while she worked doggedly toward orgasm in the hope that the physical sensation could, at least for awhile, blank away the fact that she can't feel anything else. Once it was done, however, he returned more quickly to normal … although, of course, for him 'normal' means drawing breath only when he needs it to speak, or when he is deliberately mimicking human attributes to keep anyone from marking him (consciously or intuitively) as other-than-normal. She is only now feeling her heartbeat settle back into its customary rhythm, her breath likewise slowing to match it, and it is in this moment that he places his hand on her shoulder and turns her to where they are once again face to face.

(As soon as they were done, she went onto her side, her back to him. He could have sunk his teeth into her neck from behind before she ever had a chance to react. Horrible lapse in her instincts, unless her instinct is now to suicide, which is all too possible.)

"I'm sorry," he says.

"Don't be," she answers evenly. "I got there. I know you felt it."

"That isn't what I meant." His eyes are steady, his voice equally so, but she can sense the emotion he so carefully keeps under control. "You're hurting. I could feel that. Feel that you needed this to … to fill something in you. And I can tell that it didn't. I just don't know why."

"There's always a why," she says, the words meaningless to her. On the other hand, don't they, in their own way, communicate that absence of meaning? "It just doesn't necessarily matter."

"You were taking a chance," he says, in what might be faint reproach if his own concern wasn't so clear.

"Is that what I was doing?" Her eyes are on his, to see (she thought) if it's still him or if the demon is in charge now … but, suddenly, it seems just as likely that he's the one looking through the windows to the soul and seeing nothing. "Did I rush in where you feared to tread?"

"There wasn't much danger of me getting any happiness out of what we just did." The words could carry a whiplash sneer, but he means only what he says, nothing more. "I did hope it could help you, though. I wish I believed it had."

"Why are you here?" she demands of him in abrupt anger. "What did you want to see?"

Now she's the one trying to deliver pain. Not too well, since she can't summon the will to give it her best. He takes it without showing any effect. "I wanted to see for myself that it was true. That you were alive." He waits one heartbeat, two, three. (Hers, not his.) Then: "Are you?"

He hasn't asked anything she hasn't wondered. She doesn't reply because she doesn't know the answer. At last she says, "What was Hell like? When you were there?"

Now something shows in his eyes: alarm, even horror. "Is that what it is? Did you fall into a hell dimension?" His hand is on her shoulder, attempting gentleness. "How … how long was it? for you?"

She looks back to him with every bit of the nothing that is in her. "So there was Time where you were? Because I don't remember any time. It was all … All."

He flinches at what he sees (or thinks he sees). "You didn't deserve that," he says, disbelieving. "I don't understand. You're a champion. You're good. Why would the … the Powers That Be, send you to any of the hells?"

And a part of her wants to laugh at that, but she can't find even the kind of laughter that comes with bitterness. "I don't know," she says in answer. "Why have they?"