It was just after eight o'clock in the evening and the air was turning cool. The grounds behind Angel's mansion were lit with a plethora of candles, torches and lanterns. There was a tent made from opaque, gauzy fabrics that glowed invitingly in the darkness. Buffy could see the shapes of people moving around in the tent. They were sitting on pillows, casually sipping some of Angel's exquisite vintages as a superb jazz quartet played softly in the background. It was a small gathering, only the closest of friends; the Angel Investigations staff, Lorne, a few of Buffy's friends from school and some of Angel's ... well you couldn't call them friends, associates.
With Willow's help, Buffy ensured her long skirts didn't drag on the ground as she made her way to the tent. Willow was her lone attendant, dressed in a floor length gown of burgundy velvet. The embroidered bodice had spaghetti straps and Willow was self-consciously covering herself with the matching velvet wrap. Their eyes met as Willow's hand found the tent flap. She smiled encouragingly. "It'll go off without a hitch, I promise," Willow said.
Buffy looked at her blankly. "There needs to be a hitch, Will, that's the whole point. Me, Angel, hitching. There needs to be a hitch."
Willow giggled lightly, beaming at her friend. "Everything will be fine," she said.
"You're sure?" Buffy asked, absolutely unconvinced.
The two friends clasped hands tightly one last time before Willow turned back to the tent flap. She peeked inside and quickly pulled her head back, stepping aside. Buffy looked at her quizzically until her father exited the tent. Willow looked from Giles to Buffy and then back again.
"I'll be ... uh ... over there ... uh ... being over there," Willow said before conspicuously leaving Buffy and her father alone.
Buffy looked up at her father, her lips pursed together tightly. "I didn't think you were coming," she said coldly.
"I, uh," Giles stammered. He took a deep breath, steeling his resolve. "You're my daughter, Buffy, and I love you. I will always be there for you, no matter what."
Tears stung Buffy's eyes and she blinked quickly, unable to look at him.
"If you would allow me, I would be most honored to walk you down the isle," Giles continued.
Buffy sniffled loudly and then abruptly threw herself into her father's arms. Giles hugged her gingerly, tears coursing down his own cheeks. After three days spent agonizing over whether or not to come, in the end, he could not desert his daughter. Even if his presence meant granting tacit approval to something against which he was steadfastly opposed, Giles had to be there for Buffy. "I wouldn't miss this day for anything," he vowed.
Buffy and Giles waited as Willow entered the tent. Giles leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on his daughter's cheek and then led her inside. The low murmur of conversation died and the music changed. Every eye in the tent turned to Buffy who couldn't help but feel nervous. Her arm was looped securely through her father's and slowly, they made their way toward the platform at the front of the tent. The platform wasn't high, maybe a foot off the ground but her heart beat faster in her chest.
Buffy couldn't help but raise an eyebrow as she looked at her husband to be. Angel stood on the platform, flanked by Lindsey. But even though she was thrown by Lindsey's presence, Buffy couldn't take her eyes off Angel. He was wearing a pair of black leather pants, no socks, no shoes, a white button up shirt with the first few buttons undone, and a custom tailored black blazer. He didn't look like he was getting married. He looked like he should be in some casual photo shoot for GQ Magazine. She wouldn't have had it any other way.
Buffy's heart was pounding against her chest and her hands were shaking. All of this was so unreal. And despite their connection, she couldn't get a bead on Angel's emotions. When they reached the platform, Giles solemnly placed Buffy's hand in Angel's and stepped back to join Jenny.
Buffy lighted onto the platform where Angel stood, watching him closely. She got some idea of his emotions when he leaned forward and kissed her deeply. Buffy was so startled that at first she didn't respond, but as his lips gently coaxed hers, she sighed and kissed him back.
There were a few chuckles from the assembled audience and the Officiant cleared his throat loudly. They reluctantly broke apart, Buffy blushing as she clutched her bouquet for dear life. She studiously avoided her parents' gaze. Angel - not shockingly - didn't look in the least bit repentant. He appraised her from head to toe, smiling openly at her ensemble. He lightly fingered the collar of the jacket before taking her hand. Buffy smiled at him in return, curling her fingers through his.
The ceremony was what Angel requested, short and to the point. There weren't any flowery declarations of love, but the vows were spoken with vehemence. Angel gave her a wedding ring that was at least ten karats. Buffy's jaw nearly hit the floor. She knew immediately that the plain silver Claddagh would be the ring she wore daily and that the rock was only coming out on special occasions, probably only when Sunday and Cordy were around. Damn it was sparkly.
Before Buffy could really process what was happening, the ceremony was over and she was once again lost in Angel's kiss. This time when they broke apart, they were showered with cheers and applause, rose petals and soap bubbles. Buffy shot a wary glance to Angel, wondering if he would be irritated, but he was smiling with barely contained joy. Her heart soared. They signed the marriage certificate, first Buffy, then Angel and watched as it was witnessed by Willow and Lindsey.
Despite her near extortion level fees, it turned out that Gia was worth every penny. The evening went perfectly as the tent was transformed for a late supper. The food was divine and the beautiful music coaxed a few people to dance. Held tightly against Angel's side, half-drunk on Champaign, Buffy watched as Willow took to the floor with Oz. She couldn't help but smile at the picture they made. Gunn took the opportunity to cajole Angel's new secretary, Fred, onto the floor as well. As Wesley took Faith by the hand, Buffy gave a fleeting thought to joining in herself. One look at Angel dissuaded her. His eyes were smoldering and he pulled her closer for a long, lingering kiss. There was nothing in this world that could have persuaded her to move from that spot.
"Come over here for just a second."
"Why? I don't underst-" Buffy let out a sharp yelp and a laugh as Angel swept her into his arms and ducked out of the tent. The party was still going strong, but he wasn't in the mood to play dutiful host. He'd spent three hours chatting and smiling, all the while wanting nothing more than to be alone with his wife. He finally reached the breaking point. There was enough food, drink and music to keep everyone entertained for as long as they wished to linger. But he was through entertaining. It was his wedding night and everybody else could just deal with his absence.
Buffy's protests were half-hearted to begin with, but they died completely when he kissed her. She finally pulled back, breathless, and gifted him with a blinding smile. Her arms around his neck loosened and she rested her head against his shoulder, letting him take her where he would.
Quickly and quietly, he made his way inside the house and towards the bedroom. Buffy giggled as he carried her over the threshold. He kicked the door shut without bothering to lock it. None of his employees would be stupid enough to disturb them tonight. Angel couldn't prevent the little tremor of pleasure that coursed through his body at the delighted sound she made. It was as addictive as Buffy herself. The idea that he could make her this happy was humbling. He wanted to make her happy forever and he would fight anything - even himself - to attain that goal.
She didn't notice the barely perceptible trembling in his hands as he carefully stripped off her jacket and deposited her on their bed. As always, his dark power recoiled from her light, but now more so than ever. His power whispered inside his skull. It whispered for him to run, to withdraw from her luminosity, to destroy her if necessary, but at all costs to get away from her. Angel ignored the persistent, nagging thoughts. The whispers, the dark instinct had been with him a long time, but so had his need for Buffy. He knew one thing with startling clarity: though Buffy might be a threat to his power, Angel would not live without her another day. The dark power inside him howled and once again, Angel pushed it aside.
She looked up at him from under her lashes, smiling. She pressed her hand to his cheek. "What are you thinking?" she asked.
He looked down at her. She was so damn gorgeous and vulnerable and she was all his. Emotion swelled inside him, so pure it almost burned. Gently, he traced her jaw with a fingertip. "I love you," he said in a near whisper.
Her expression sobered and her eyes shimmered. She swallowed thickly. "I love you too," she said, her voice hoarse.
He laughed and then looked away guiltily. "Most people say that before the wedding," he said, his voice hard with regret.
Her bottom lip trembled and she forced herself to smile and shrug. "We're not most people," she pointed out.
Once again, he met her eyes, his face hard with determination. "You're right," he said, "we're not. But it doesn't mean that you should have to compromise your dreams."
Her smile was blinding. "I'm not."
He reveled in how much her words warmed his icy heart. What on earth did he do to deserve her? He could hear his new father in law's words echoing in his head from long ago. Sometimes people didn't get things because they deserved them, but rather because they needed them. And Angel so desperately needed her. "I will make you happy, Buffy," he vowed.
Her smile deepened, taking on a decidedly carnal feel. "You already do," she informed him.
Leaning down, Angel caught her lips in a tender kiss. His lips nipped at hers and he could feel her smile. Her fingers threaded around his shoulders, urging him down onto the bed with her and he went eagerly.
She scooted over, making room for him as they lay on their sides facing one another. One of his arms wound around her waist, the other gently threaded through her hair. Her deftly nimble fingers quickly found the buttons of his shirt and began working them free. Angel lay still, letting her do as she wished. Buffy was trembling with anticipation, biting down on her lip as she concentrated on her task. Preternatural grace failed her utterly as she fought with the simple fastenings. Her nose scrunched up in a scowl and in a fit of irritation, she grabbed the halves of his shirt and pulled, sending the three remaining buttons careening across the room. Shocked to stillness by her own actions, Buffy slowly raised her eyes to Angel's. Though he tried not to, he couldn't help but laugh. Buffy laughed too.
Smiling indulgently at her, Angel pushed himself into a sitting position and disposed of his blazer and shirt. Once free of encumbrances, he returned to her side. The laughter had momentarily lifted the weighty sense of anticipation, but it once again threatened to crush Buffy. Her stomach was clenched tightly, her heart beating fast against her chest. Angel gently cupped her cheek and pressed his lips to hers. Her trembling hand wrapped around his neck, pulling him closer and she parted her lips. A rumble of appreciation formed in his chest and his tongue licked against her lips.
Her tongue met his in a tentative, playful caress. They toyed with each other, a quick, sensual brush and a retreat, a mischievous nip. The rumbling in his chest intensified and Buffy couldn't help but think of a great cat, like the one carved on her Nottis stone.
Angel pulled back, placing nipping kisses along her jaw. He saw her smile and asked between kisses, "What's so amusing?"
Her smile widened. "Nothing," she said dreamily, curling closer against his body, "just thinking that you remind me of some great cat."
He raised an eyebrow, his fingers burrowing behind her back to find the fastenings of her dress. "Cat?" he repeated.
"Mmm, hmmm," Buffy nearly purred, rolling over so he could divest her of her clothing. "Like on my Nottis stone."
Angel chuckled, pulling the zipper down. "Whatever makes you happy, Ionuin," he whispered.
Buffy rolled onto her back once again and slowly Angel pulled the bodice down until it pooled at her waist. The strapless, cream silk bra framed her breasts perfectly. Angel gave her a grin of barely veiled carnal hunger. The look made her shiver, raising goosebumps all over her skin.
He scooted closer, lying on his side next to her. His large hand tickled along her ribs. "Cold?" he asked.
Biting down on her bottom lip, she shook her head. "No."
Her enthusiasm, her tacit trust hit him like a punch in the chest. He had done nothing to deserve this, yet here she was, lying in his arms looking up at him with complete faith. He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly and bent his neck to capture her lips. She met his kiss eagerly, twining her arms around his neck as he levered his body over hers. Her thighs automatically parted to make a cradle for his hips.
He settled between her thighs. He was hard, aching for the sweet relief of her flesh. He didn't want to rush things. But the best of intentions couldn't prevent instinct. He couldn't help himself, uncontrollably thrusting against her through layers of clothing. She broke off the kiss, a breathy whine escaping her as she rolled her head back. Angel took advantage of the opportunity, burying his face against her neck, carnally assaulting the delicate flesh. His lips and teeth tasted her, claimed her as he slowly worked his way down her body. His nose dipped into the sensual valley between her breasts, savoring the feminine perfume of her skin.
Her fingers curled through his hair as he ventured lower, meticulously laving every bit of exposed flesh. His hands found the material bunched around her waist and he pushed himself back into a kneeling position. Buffy lay perfectly still as he pulled the dress down her legs, allowing it to fall to the floor in a mass of cream silk.
He stared at her, humbled by the beautiful creature lying in his bed, wearing his ring. He looked at her undergarments and smiled with pure carnal appreciation. Her bra was complemented perfectly by the matching thong and garter belt. Seamed silk stockings encased her legs and feet, which were still in their high heels. It was possibly the most tempting sight he'd ever witnessed. He was tempted to fall at her feet and worship her. Which actually didn't sound like that bad of an idea.
He slid off the bed, kneeling. Curious, Buffy pushed herself up on her elbows, looking at him. His hands wrapped around her ankles, fingers sliding smoothly against the silk. She shuddered at the heat of his touch, her tongue coming out to wet her suddenly dry lips. Angel's midnight dark eyes followed the path of her tongue. He swallowed thickly before lowering his mouth to her silk covered toes. Buffy gasped at the heat of his mouth, wet and humid against her flesh. She fell back on the bed, her fingers grasping the black, satin sheets. He teased her toes then licked along her instep before pressing hard kisses to her ankles. Nimble fingers released her feet from the shoes, allowing them to fall, forgotten, to the floor.
He worked his way up the inside of her leg, crawling onto the bed, over her body, never deviating from task. His wet, open-mouthed kisses reached the inside of her thigh, where he lingered, licking along her scar. As he pulled the raised skin between his teeth, he couldn't help but think how close he had come to losing her. The thought spurred him on. She was his now, forever. He would never let her go, never lose her. He continued his journey upward, pressing his nose to the damp silk covering her sex.
Buffy squirmed against him, her fingers sifting lightly through his hair. Carefully as possible, he took the material of her thong in his hands. Buffy gasped as the material tore loudly. Angel chuckled. He pushed the loose scraps away, delighting in how the garter belt and stockings framed her body. He pressed a kiss to the downy hair covering her sex.
She moved restlessly, tightening her grip on his hair and pulling, trying to urge him up her body. "Want you," she panted.
Angel intended to take things slowly, to torture her endlessly. But the breathy cry from her lips changed his mind. Her slunk up her body, positioning himself over her on hands and knees. He stared down at her, smiling wickedly.
Buffy smiled right back. Her fingertips traced over his chest, outlining the muscles. She scraped a dainty, pink fingernail over his nipple and his breath caught in a hiss. Emboldened, her hands ventured lower, stroking him through the overly tight leather. Her fingernails scratched along the length of him, delighting in the feel of his hardness. His eyes screwed shut and she watched the muscles jump in his clenched jaw as she cupped him with one hand while the other popped the button and carefully inched the zipper down.
He let out a yelp as her fingers played over his rigid flesh. Impatiently, he shoved the pants down his hips until he could push them off. One foot got stuck and he kicked in irritation. He growled and Buffy giggled.
Foot free, Angel turned his attention back to Buffy. Her giggles died at the expression on his face. He lowered his body over hers and she instinctively cradled his hips against her own. One of his hands cupped the side of her face, his thumb tracing lightly along her cheekbone.
"Forever, Buffy," he whispered.
Her hand came up, covering his. "Forever."
Eyes locked together, fingers intertwined, Angel slowly pushed his hips forward. She gasped, biting down on her bottom lip and arching her back as he entered her. She was more than ready for him, her body primed and trembling. Her lush wetness surrounded him. There was discomfort, but not enough to overwhelm the matchless ecstasy of finally joining with her mate.
Angel shuddered, unable to prevent himself from slamming his hips forward, burying himself to the root inside his mate. Pleasure streaked through him, white hot. It sang along his nerves, burning away everything but his awareness of Buffy. She was his love, his life, the center of his world. She kept him tied to what it meant to be Angel. Without her everything else was pointless and trivial.
"Angel," she gasped, her hands squeezing his as her legs wrapped around his waist.
He groaned, burying his face against her neck as he slowly withdrew and thrust home once again. He kissed down her neck, pulling her flesh between his lips and worrying it with his teeth. In a move driven by mindless male need to assert dominance, he bit down, right where her neck flowed into her shoulder.
Her shout of pleasure/pain echoed loudly and she arched against him, her sheath fluttering around his cock as she reached completion. He ground his teeth together, barely holding himself in check. He was still, waiting as her tremors passed before resuming his languid strokes. She murmured nonsensically, twining her arms around his neck as her legs once again tightened around his waist.
Twining her fingers through his hair, she drew his mouth to hers, biting down on his bottom lip. She rolled her hips under him, intentionally squeezing him with her internal muscles. Her heart soared as his breath caught, his strokes becoming more uneven.
"I love you, my angel," she whispered in ShadowTongue.
He was lost. Her words were so soft that they didn't register with his mind, heading straight for his heart. He ground against her in three more short, hard thrusts before finding release.
He regained his senses moments later and found himself still buried deeply in Buffy's body, her legs wrapped tightly around his waist. Her lips against his temple whispered words of love and acceptance. He had never felt so right.
Hours later, they were both so sated they couldn't walk if their lives depended on it. Buffy was fast asleep in Angel's arms. He watched the porcelain glow of her skin in the dying candlelight, smelled the soft, feminine scent of her skin. Ever so gently, he twined his fingers through hers, marveling at her perfect, diminutive hand. It was so small, so flawless. He knew from experience that she could tear apart a demon with her bare hands, yet he knew he never need fear her. Though she possessed the power to hurt him, she did not possess the capability.
Her soft little snores made his heart ache with tenderness. Whatever twist of fate had gifted him this chance, he wasn't going to throw it away. He wasn't going to play games or hide behind sarcasm and lies. He loved Buffy and by some miracle, she loved him as well. He would make it up to her, all of his years of toying and bitterness. He would do whatever was necessary to reconcile with Janna and Rupert, to make sure that they could be in Buffy's life without conflict. He would give her the world if she asked because simply by lying in his arms, she gave it to him.
Contented for the first time in his life, Angel lay his head on the pillow. He spooned around Buffy's back, burying his nose at the nape of her neck. Determined that tomorrow would herald the beginning of a new life, he drifted into a deep sleep.
He heard her crying long before he saw her. He fought through the blinding darkness before stumbling through the cold, stone courtyard into the deserted mansion. She was there, kneeling on the ground, a sword clutched loosely in her hand. The sound of her cries shredded his heart. He knew that her heart was broken, possibly her soul as well. She had been well and truly defeated.
He ventured closer, circling around her in a wide arch. She was staring ahead blankly, seeing nothing. Her expression was so bleak, so blank that tears streamed down Angel's cheeks.
And then he knew.
Another her, another him. A lifetime away and yet exactly the same. He saw Janna's death, Rupert's torture. He saw Willow's sacrifice. Most of all, he saw Buffy's excruciating, solitary, unrelenting pain.
He had done this. The darkness inside of him had waited for that moment of contentment and then had broken out with purest rage and seething hatred. The darkness had punished Buffy for every moment of happiness she had given him. The darkness wanted her sorrow, her pain. It reveled in her defeat.
And even now, he could feel his own darkness creeping forward, threatening to overtake him. He could hear the darkness clamoring for Buffy's demise.
Angel woke gasping. The pain was beyond anything he had ever experienced before. A thousand needling points of pain jangled beneath his flesh. He stumbled from the bed clutching his chest. He groped blindly, finding his discarded pants and awkwardly shrugging into them.
It took him too long to find the door. He had to get out of here. He had to get away from her before something bad happened. He couldn't let the moments from his dream come to pass. He would die before that happened.
He could feel the darkness inside of him churning, revolting. He couldn't let it hurt Buffy. He made it to the top of the stairs before his knees buckled. In a moment of unmitigated fear, he knew he was losing the battle.
[End Chapter 18]
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