Aconitum (Chapter Fifteen of Soulmates)
The daylight is a centuries-old curse to Angel, never more so than now. Here he is, trapped inside his mansion, when all he wants is to be with Willow, to talk to her, to reason with her, to make her understand what they mean to each other. He wants to use the bond, to read her feelings, to consume her with his - he knows that in this way he can almost own her the way he longs to and it’s almost more of a temptation than he can resist
But resist he does; he knows that he must. As much as he might dream and hope with all his heart that she’s softened by now, that she’s seen the truth, deep down he is aware that she hasn’t and the demon in him is crafty enough to remain subtle, to remain devious, and to exercise all the cunning he’s learned through experience and possesses by nature.
Still, at least he can dream - dream of the day when she is his again.
“Angel.” Her voice is soft, as soft as her skin, the skin he’s caressing as he undresses her. She shivers slightly as he touches her; she’s affected by his nearness, affected by *him*.
He can’t speak, but he doesn’t need to - the bond is there and it’s telling her everything he can’t: that he loves her, that he needs her, that he wants her so desperately it’s almost more than he can stand. She’s his and he needs to show her just what that means, to take her again, this time with her absolute, knowing consent.
Lips on skin as he kisses her shoulder, her neck - which waits for him to mark it with his fangs, to claim her as his with both soul and demon. Her blouse slides easily down her arms, baring pale, creamy flesh to his gaze. He unbuttons her jeans and watches as she slips them off, then stands before him clad only in small scraps of cotton and lace.
“So beautiful.” He finds his voice, though it’s as soft as hers. His desire for her is nearly driving him insane. He knows he should restrain himself, that he mustn’t frighten her with the fierceness of his want, but it’s impossible for him to hold back. He reaches out through the bond, letting her know as best he can that he isn’t trying to hurt her, and then he’s lost.
Picking her up, he carries her to the bed and almost throws her onto it. He can’t bear to wait any longer.
He’s half hard and ready to take himself in hand when his fantasy is interrupted. His senses, always alert, have picked up the presence of a visitor: Buffy - she’s in his house.
It’s enough to bring his arousal under control; he gets up from his chair, straightens his clothes and heads downstairs to talk to her. While he knows she can’t pick up the scent of Willow from the sheets he refuses to strip from his bed, he still doesn’t want her in this room - not ever. It’s their room: his and Willow’s alone. Buffy doesn’t belong here.
He stands in the shadows for a moment and sizes her up as he watches her standing there by the fireplace, gazing into the flames; he can read her with astounding ease. She’s nervous, his one-time lover, but she’s also looking for something, something he can’t give her - won’t give her - though he can’t just tell her that outright. He pities her; her heart is on her sleeve and she is so very, very vulnerable.
The intruder in his house is a lovelorn girl, not an avenging warrior, and it’s obvious Willow has said nothing to her, has communicated none of her confused perceptions of what happened between them. The fact that she hasn’t done so as yet makes it unlikely she’ll do so in the future. Time, after all, is more likely than not to dispel her delusions. He’s safe from any misguided wrath.
“Buffy.” He keeps his tone diffident, noncommittal. Once again, his demon is strategizing, conniving, guiding him in the moves he needs to play the game and win. He knows that the best way to let Buffy go is to allow her to write the script, allow her to conjure up the reasons why their love can never be. Just give her cues, that’s all, and don’t give her any thread she can spin into hope.
“Angel.” She is obviously taken by surprise and spins around to greet him at the sound of his voice. Sometimes Angel finds it hard to believe she’s the finest Slayer who’s ever lived - like now, when she’s in the room with a vampire and doesn’t know it until he speaks.
Silence hangs heavy in the air between them. Angel’s awkwardness is feigned, though Buffy’s is real enough, inspiring more pity - not that it will keep his eyes off the prize or take him out of his game. He will plot and plan, scheme and maneuver, fight and win. He may regret her being a casualty (if such she must be), but it won’t stop him from doing what must be done. Still, there’s enough softness in his heart for him to rue the fact that, no matter what, she will suffer, the only question being to what degree.
“How are you?”
“I’m good.” Buffy’s arms are wrapped around herself; she’s looking around, her eyes lighting on him and then moving away; she’s shifting her weight from foot to foot. There’s no Slayer here, just a desperate teenage girl hoping against hope that her heart isn’t about to be broken into more pieces than she can count.
“So, that demon, did you kill it?” He’s heard lawyers say that the only questions you should ever ask are ones you know the answers to and considering their guile, he figures they’re as good of mentors as any in this situation.
“Um...yeah.” She was lost in thought for a moment and Angel marvels anew at how easily she lets her guard down in the presence of a demon, how easily she forgets what he is. It’s telling him once more why she was never the one for him. Because he is a demon, a fact he no longer feels the slightest compulsion to ignore or suppress.
She continues after a moment’s pause. “It turned out not to be a demon, actually. It was a guy I went to school with: Pete.” Her face gets that far away look he remembers from the library. Romeo and Juliet ride again. “He did a Jekyll and Hyde to try and hang on to the girl he loved, but he lost control and...he killed her.” If Angel’s memory serves, the boy killed two other people as well, but he isn’t about to bring up his knowledge of the facts of the case. He lets Buffy frame the narrative as she will.
“Love is a dangerous thing.” He keeps his tone carefully blank, but he hopes his words will do what he wants them to do: give Buffy a nudge in the direction of the out door - in both the literal and metaphorical senses.
On one score, however, it seems he’s failed. She’s still standing by the fire, rapt with her memories, struggling to find her words, no spirit of leave-taking at all in evidence.
“He almost killed me, too. I was kinda glad to have Faith there, you know?” Her tone has changed abruptly. Is that an accusation he hears beneath her words? It’s obvious she almost expected him to show up and save the day, to be the white knight by her side, just as he used to be before sex and lost souls and hellfire and true love changed the world forever - changes she refuses to see.
He’s a bit accusatory towards himself now also, though not for the same reason she is. He never should have allowed Buffy to depend on him the way she does; she’s a Slayer and, when all is said and done, and despite the friends she has to aid her, she must fight alone. He’s weakened her in that regard and he regrets it sorely. If it weren’t for Willow and the need to win her, he’d be blunt and direct and give Buffy the cold, hard shock she needs to truly get back to herself again. But he can’t, not without throwing away his heart’s desire, and whether he feels remorse or not, Buffy’s fate cannot be his concern.
His demon is at the fore now, Angel giving it rein to keep himself from weakening and from missing anything he might use to his advantage. She keeps talking and he listens for anything that might potentially have some utility.
“Well, at least it was Pete and not Oz.”
Angel looks at her questioningly. He remembers that he isn’t supposed to know the boy even exists. “Oz?”
“Oh, sorry. I guess I forgot that he wasn’t around before...you know. Anyway, he’s Willow’s boyfriend and he’s, well, he’s a werewolf and we kind of thought he might have been the one who killed those people but, lucky for Willow, and for him, he didn’t, so...”
“Willow’s dating a werewolf?” He does his best to sound only casually curious, but he wants to get a sense of Buffy’s (and the rest of the gang’s) feelings about Willow’s so-called boyfriend, to see if there is any ammunition there that might serve him in his campaign.
“Yeah. I mean, he’s actually a really cool guy. He plays in a band and he’s really sweet, except during the full moon, but he’s usually locked up then, so it’s okay. And he loves Willow. He really, really loves her.” Buffy’s voice goes soft and wistful. “That’s the most important thing. And they seem to be dealing just fine with the demon-y stuff.”
Oh no. As if he didn’t already hate Oz as much as it was possible to hate any creature ever born, now he has even more reason to despise that pathetic excuse for a demon: his ridiculous relationship with Willow is maintaining in Buffy the very hope Angel is trying so hard to destroy.
“They’re lucky.” Angel’s tone is blank again, however, it is taking more effort than before. He almost chokes on the words as he fights down all traces of his feelings about Oz.
“Yeah,” Buffy replies. And finally, finally there is a hint of knowledge in her tone. Maybe she’s remembering his soul and the happiness clause, the clause she has no reason to doubt is still in force. “They’re lucky.”
The silence is back, and this time it feels like the prelude to goodbye. It is.
“I better go. Gotta train, research, slay, spend time with mom - same old, same old, right?”
She walks to the door - slowly, sadly - and he realizes that there’s something he’s forgotten to ask her. As much as he hates to prolong this encounter, it can’t be helped; he needs to know.
“Do they know? That I’m back, I mean.”
“No. I haven’t figured out a good way to tell them. Lay low for awhile, okay? Just until I can come up with the right words to break the news.”
“Okay. I wasn’t really planning on making a big announcement or anything anyway, so...”
“Good. I’ll tell them soon, I just...I just need time.”
“It’s alright, Buffy. I think they’ll need to know sometime, but I’m not in a hurry.” Yeah right. The sooner he can be out in the open, the sooner his acknowledged return and frequent presence will serve to force Willow to see the truth about their relationship, the better, but there is no way he can come forth with any of that to Buffy.
“Thanks. I...I’m gonna go now. But I’ll be back soon. Tomorrow. Okay?”
And with that, she is gone: out the door, down the drive, and into the night. He isn’t, however, sorry that she’s been here tonight. Her visit, unwelcome as it was, has given him some important information and actually went some distance in furthering at least one of his objectives - that of ending her side of their relationship.
It’s important to consider, after all, what a kindhearted and loyal friend Willow is; he’s certain she’ll be more receptive to his suit if she knows she’s not “stealing” the man Buffy loves. Also, while he’s not sure exactly how things will play out once he’s successfully wooed Willow, he does knows that it will all be so much easier if Buffy is not still convinced that theirs is a forever love, a living thing. Yes, all in all, dislodging Buffy from his life will be the removal of a tremendous impediment to achieving his dream.
But Oz, damn him, is still there. He’d hoped Buffy might be jealous of Willow’s ability to share a life with a demon when her own demon lover is denied her, but sadly, Buffy’s affection for Willow runs a bit too deep to make her a useful tool in his quest to awaken his love to her folly - at least not as far as he can see at present. At least, though, he now has a better idea of the obstacles he faces.
He mulls over last night’s reconnaissance and Buffy’s recent conversation, mining them for any clue, any tiny shred of potential weakness they can give him, and he finds it. Buffy might not speak for the whole group, but if she does...if she does, then there is a chink in the armor of this calf love that he could well exploit. Buffy’s description of Oz offers tantalizing hints that he’s nowhere near as much a full part of the gang as Willow herself is, that he exists to them solely as Willow’s swain.
Last night’s debriefing in the library showed him also that Buffy and Giles found it quite easy to believe the boy a killer. It helped immeasurably, of course, that the wolf himself was unsure of whether or not he had slain those men. That, too, is worth storing away in his mind, and with not a little anger at the friends who think a creature incapable of any real awareness of the dangers of his demonic nature is a fit lover for Willow.
There’s nothing he can do with these insights as yet; no plan he can currently conceive so artful that it could possibly fail to lead Willow straight to his door as the author of Oz’s misery, but in time...yes, in time, once Angel is out in the open, once he’s been able to learn more, to map out the group dynamics and find a place within them...yes, indeed, he’ll put his knowledge to good use. After all, unmasking a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, even if one must lay another’s kill at his door to do so, is hardly a villainous deed. Sometimes the ends do justify the means. Because in the end, the hero always gets the girl.