Crap Shoot

Author: Margot Le Faye

SPOILERS: None. References to the Fray comic book, but no real spoilers for that, either.

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel or any of the characters therefrom. No profit is being made from this work of fanfic. No infringment intended

***

She pulls hard on the cigarette, drawing the mentholated poison deep into her lungs. The irony that something so deadly is one of the few sources of comfort she has left does not escape her.

But as are all comforts, this one is cold and ultimately useless. She flips it to the pavement--or, the broken cement that used to be a pavement--of the dank alley, and grinds it beneath her boot-heel.

"End of what?" she asks, with more irritation than interest. Her voice is husky, years of bad habits having turned what was once little-girl breathiness into the sultriest of whisky voices. Another irony, more annoying than the first: in her voice, men find promises she long ago lost any interest in keeping. Persuading them of their mistake can be a tedious business. The matter at hand and the male in front of her are another order of business entirely.

"Days," he repeats calmly. Though he looks as youthful--and dresses as badly--as he did when she first met him that terrible year after she turned seventeen, he was ancient a thousand years before she was born, has seen too many world-ending catastrophes to be anything but tranquil in the face of this one. His calm is only slightly ruffled when she laughs at him.

"Been there, done that," she says mockingly. "Sunnydale. 2003 Old Reckoning. Angel Deus Ex Machinaed, Spike burned, and Willow sent my power into every potential slayer on the planet. That was the End of Days, all right. No more Chosen One. Just an army of slightly more powerful than average girls ready and willing to take on whatever happened next." She sighs. "At least, in theory."

"You did what you had to do," he says gently.

"Would’ve been nice if your bosses had told me exactly how it was going to go wrong,"

"Hey, kid, I’m only a messenger. I don’t choose the message, I just deliver it." She cocks her head and gives him a considering look.

"It work both ways?" she asks. "’Cause I’ve got a message for them--"

He holds up his hands in a gesture meant to placate: "I’m pretty sure they’ve already heard it."

"But they’re gonna ignore it, as usual?" She shakes her head. "Like I would expect anything else."

"They don’t exactly ignore," he ventures. "More like…time is different for them. And for you. Not like it was before. These things have to play out, and it’s never easy." That gets a bitter laugh.

"Never easy? Understatement, much?"

"You had to stop the First Evil. You did. And, you put an end to the calling and sacrifice of slayers."

"Not for long," she points out. "Or has Maleka Fray already been forgotten?"

"Part of the plan. She wasn’t like you, not an innocent. More like Faith: born fighting."

"Is that supposed to make it all right? Because it doesn’t."

He offers her an apologetic shrug of his shoulders, because that’s all he really has. He has never been more than a messenger, after all. She drops her list of complaints. It’s an old, old refrain, and even she is sick of the unending lament. He knows, she knows, and They know, that whatever bad habits she indulges in--and the smoking and drinking are so far down on the list, they’re not even counted--she’s going to soldier on, anyway. He gives her the information she needs, she nods her understanding and heads off into the night.

On the way home, there’s the usual fracas. Some men can’t see a woman walking alone after dark without figuring her for fair game, especially in the neighborhoods she travels. They always mistake her for an easy mark. She doesn’t even waste a good quip on them most nights, just beats the shit out of them, in the half-hearted hope it’ll teach them some manners. Not that manners are what they were when she was a girl. Still, she makes the effort. It’s all she can do.

She arrives at the building in which she has quarters, looking none the worse for wear--she was worn to the bone long ago, yet still looks little more than the child she can all-too-vividly remember being--and slaps her palm on the print plate. Unlike the primitive models just being imagined in her girlhood, this one has a DNA analyzing component that no one has figured out how to outwit. Yet. The door shimmers out of existence--the science has to do with molecular compression, which she has come to understand at least in theory--long enough for her to enter.

She feels it as soon as she crosses the threshold, the tingle along her nerves that can only mean one thing: He’s tracked her down, again, and he wants to play.

It’s about damned time.

Her lips curve in a predator’s smile, and she lets the stake slide down the sleeve in which it has been concealed, to fall into her waiting hand. Adrenaline pumps through her as she strides toward her quarters, anticipating the workout she’s about to get.

He doesn’t disappoint, not that he ever has. The door to her living space has barely rematerialized behind her when he ploughs into her from the side, bearing her down to the floor. He’s in game face, and she’s fairly pissed that he seems to want to skip the preliminaries this time, and go right for the jugular. She blocks him with her fist, pushes him off forcefully enough to send him sailing across the room. He crashes into her end table, breaking a lamp. He finds that hysterically funny--no one uses lamps, anymore-- and is still laughing when she stalks over to him, brandishing her stake.

"Miss me, lover?" he grins as she brings it down, aimed precisely for his heart. He moves so damned quickly that even she can barely track him, and she snarls as she’s forced to circle, stake held at the ready.

"In your dreams," she growls. She’s still speaking when he delivers a lightening-fast kick that sends her flying in her turn, but she leaps back to her feet before his preternatural speed can get him close enough to take advantage of her fall, and the fight is on again.

They go at it hard and fast for the next half-hour. There isn’t much talking, although when he rips her blouse off, she does curse a blue streak. He giggles like a fool and promises her a new one. His response when she tears his hand-sewn Italian silk shirt--even though it isn’t called Italy, any more--into rags is all the reparation she needs.

"Fucking whore!" he roars. "Do you know who I had to kill for that shirt?"

Probably some idiot holo-star the world will barely miss, and she’s long since stopped weeping over the losses she cannot prevent. She doesn’t bother responding, just kicks him in the solar plexus, hard enough to knock him ass over teakettle. He smashes into her couch, which tilts over with the force of his landing. He rolls off the back, and leaps over it to get to her. He’s fucking gorgeous in flight, pure predatory danger, but she doesn’t have time to admire the view. She dives to the side--or, that was the plan, but he snags her heel on the way, and she crashes hard to the floor.

Instantly, he is on her again, and she’s pinned, cursing another blue streak as his knife makes quick work of her pants. He hasn’t gone for the kill this time, and she is cursing because that’s what he expects when he ruins her clothing. It’s a distraction, and a moment later, he howls in outrage as she plants the stake firmly in his broad chest.

"She scores!" she chortles, pushing him off her so she can do a victory dance. "Yay team Slayer!"

Her victory dance is rudely interrupted when he reaches out a hand and grabs her ankle, pulling her down beside him. "No fair!" she complains, pissed again. He knows the rules as well as she does. She got her stake into his heart before he got his fangs into her neck, so game over.

"Look again, lover," he smirks. She does, and is even more pissed. At herself. How the hell did she manage to miss his heart at point-blank range? Almost before the thought can even register she’s moving to rip the stake from his chest and reposition it properly, but he’s anticipated her and the stake is tossed into a corner of the room where she’s unlikely to get it. Especially since he’s got one arm wrapped around her like a band of iron, and she’s going to have a hell of a time breaking his grip.

"Getting sloppy in your old age, babe?" he smirks. She dislodges his smug expression--and, more importantly, his grip on her--with a head butt that should crack his jaw, but doesn’t. She’s away and across the room, ripping open the drawer of her end table, for one of her spare stakes. A long time ago, she’d have broken a leg off a chair and used that, but there are barely enough trees left on the planet to keep everybody breathing, and logging has been illegal for years. Most of her stakes are lawful, registered antiques. A few are black market. Any one of them will do, right now.

None of them comes within her grasp. He’s on her again, smashing her face down into the floor before she can pull the latest version of Mr. Pointy free, his hands locked about each wrist, keeping her from fighting back.

And then there’s the cool sharpness of his bite, making her shudder as her blood begins to flow out of her veins and into his mouth. His erection is grinding into her ass, and with a moan she spreads her thighs, wriggling against him invitingly.

It’s an invitation he never has passed up, and never will. He doesn’t stop drawing from her veins as he transfers her right wrist to his left hand, where it joins the other wrist. Not that she’s struggling, but he is a total dom, and she is totally turned on by it.

So, she doesn’t struggle when he reaches into his back pocket and hauls out the cuffs. The alloy from which they are made may have changed, but the style is pretty much what it was a thousand years ago. The classics never go out of fashion. Soon, her wrists are cuffed to each other around the leg of the end table, leaving his hands free to reach for his knife again. Her undergarments go the way of her pants, and then the knife is gone, and she hears the satisfying sound of his zipper being lowered. He’s not much for modern clothing, his indulgence in genuine leather when cows are even rarer than trees, typical of his hedonistic nature. She’s more concerned with his hedonistic libido as he nudges her legs further apart with his knee while slipping his hands under her rib cage and up to her full breasts. He’s pinching her nipples, sucking on her vein, and grinding her into the floor so hard that her clit rubs against the carpeting, and she knows she’ll have rug burn on it in the morning. Which will give her a good excuse to demand that he kiss it and make it better, so it’s not totally a bad thing.

But, he still isn’t giving her what she wants, and she squirms against him trying to get him to hurry up. Luckily, he’s as impatient as she is, and a moment later the full, thick hardness she craves slides into her sopping depths, and she keens as she goes into an instant orgasm.

One thousand years, and she still comes the moment he’s inside her.

He has more self-control. He rides out her orgasm, waiting until her shrieks and shudders have stopped and she’s gone limp before he withdraws his fangs, and drops slow, nipping kisses on her back and shoulders. He stops pinching her nipples, just holds them lightly between his fingers. He’s not even pumping into her anymore, wanting her to be completely recovered from her first, too-quick, peak so he can build it again, harder, more prolonged, more deliciously painful, than the first one.

But neither of them is really long on patience. Barely a minute has passed before she’s wriggling back against him again, begging him to fuck her. He makes her say the words, because he loves it when obscene language comes out of that sweet, still innocent-looking mouth. She indulges him, a husky murmur of profane images describing this most sacred union between them. He rumbles into a purr, tightens his fingers on her stiff little nipples, rolling and pinching the sweet bits of flesh, and begins to pump his hips, sliding his thick shaft deeper into her slick channel.

He loves it when she talks dirty.

She tells him what she wants, and he eagerly does her bidding, fucking her as hard as she can take it, which is harder than any female vampire, demon, or demigoddess he has ever nailed. It’s not all a one way show: she begins to undulate her internal muscles around him with a smooth, sinuous rippling motion a snake would envy and he groans as he feels his own climax approaching.

She tosses her hair back, and offers her neck. "Bite me, you bastard!" she hisses and as soon as he sinks his fangs home they both explode into sweet bliss. They come for what feels like forever, bodies locked together in climax. He loses count of how many orgasms he can feel shudder through her, his own load being well and truly shot. Eventually, he collapses down on top of her, driving her further into the floor. She isn’t complaining, and they lie that way, contentedly, for a long time as he slowly softens and slips from her body while his seed slips down her thighs. Eventually, she stirs.

"Get off," she grunts. "Gotta breathe."

"No, you don’t," he points out reasonably, not really wanting to move.

"Whatever," she says and bucks up with just enough force to make him roll over. He’s not too badly upset, smirking as he crosses his arms beneath his head and makes himself comfortable. "Asshole," she complains, but whatever sting the words might have is nullified by the fact that she leans over to plant a firm kiss on his mouth.

"Key?" she demands, jangling her wrists. He pats his pockets, but comes up empty. "Uh. . ." he looks sheepish. She rolls her eyes and gives one swift pull, breaking the connecting link. He grins as she gets up, walking naked into the food preparation area of her quarters, giving him a fabulous view of the most beautiful derriere this side of a paradise he has no expectation of ever entering. She hasn’t cleaned off his seed, yet, which is still making its slow way down her thighs. His cock perks up at the sight.

"Hungry?" she asks, passing her hand in front of the wall that camouflages the food dispenser.

"A little peckish," he admits. She nods, touches the appropriate sensors, and retrieves a salad for herself and two of the rare bags of human blood she goes to immense trouble to keep on hand for him. This stuff isn’t illegal in private possession. Just odd, and hard to come by. The medical profession has been using synthetics for centuries, and even diagnostic tests can now be performed while the blood is still in the body. The only need for human blood is for research, or for feeding the vampires no one really believes exists.

But, the black market of this time is no different from the black market of any other time: if someone wants to buy, someone can be found who is perfectly willing to sell. Whether people believe in them or not, vampires--or lurks, as they’re now called--represent a steady market of interested buyers.

She pours the blood into a large, deep mug, sets it inside of the temperator--which has replaced the stove, the microwave, and the open fire as the preferred method of cooking in this day and age--and presses the setting. Almost instantly, the blood has been warmed to human body temperature while the mug remains cool to the touch. She grabs her plate and walks back to him, handing him the mug as she sinks gracefully to the floor at his side.

"So, what brings you into town?" she asks as she digs her fork into her perfectly crisped California--it’s its own country, now--salad with the ginger Tahitian dressing that is currently all the rage. It’s a rage she admires, and speaks a command that will activate her personal buzz-droid. The buzzer drops down from its storage compartment in the ceiling and hovers anxiously around her head. She gives it the command for more Tahitian dressing and it obediently flutters off to the food prep area to retrieve some for her.

"Got wind of another apocalypse and decided to come out to play," he tells her as the buzzer returns with the requested comestible.

"You gonna fight for the other team?" she asks casually. He usually does.

"You think I want those damned prophecies to come true?" he demands.

"Nope," she says, sending the buzzer off to find a pack of cigarettes and her lighter. "No more than I do."

"So, why are you fighting for the Powers?" he asks. Not that he doesn’t already know the answer. But what the hell, baiting her is half the fun.

She’s not very bait-able, tonight.

"I’m fighting for the Powers because it’s the right thing to do," she says, directing the returning buzzer to drop its burden into Angelus’ waiting hand before returning to storage. Angelus shakes two slender tubes out of the pack, puts both of them in his mouth and lights them before handing one to her. Even if he picked that gesture up from a black and white movie of her grandmother’s time, she finds it sensual and intimate as she accepts her cigarette, still damp from his mouth. Funny, the things that survive, the things that don’t, she thinks as two clouds of blue smoke drift up to her ceiling. In her youth, she believed a complete ban on tobacco was only a matter of time, while the trees and woods and forests would go on forever. Instead, trees are scarce and cigarettes are plentiful, though they now come wrapped in a covering synthesized from plant leaves. Outlawing tobacco turned out to be even less effective than outlawing alcohol. Coffee, too, is still available. Starbucks remains as wildly popular on Earth as it is in the demon dimensions where it originated. But only historians remember what words like book and library mean. Buffy wonders, briefly, what Giles would think of the fact that she is often nostalgic for books. She laughs ruefully, and returns to the present conversation with her eternal lover. "What I want doesn’t matter," she says as she sends another blue cloud aloft. Her voice betrays no hint of resentment. She is merely stating a truth she has long since come to terms with. "Never has. But, given a choice between you being made human, and the rest of the world being sucked into hell, I’ll take you human." He arches a brow at her, and she grins. "At least for a few years. I can always find a lurk to turn you, once the novelty wears off." She doesn’t mention the restoration of his soul. That has been a non-issue for a very long time.

He isn’t unduly disturbed by this plan. In fact, he’s counting on it, if his own team fumbles. And they probably will fumble. One thousand years, and his girl has pulled it out of a hat every damned time. He mainly fights on the losing side as a matter of principle. He’d actually be pretty ticked off if his own team won.

The world as it is suits him just fine. Plenty of darkness. Plenty of victims, willing or otherwise, and his own darling slayer around to keep eternity interesting. And, eternity is exactly what they have.

Three things of major importance to Buffy and Angel happened in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. First, Angel did one good deed too many, and was forced into true immortality, unlike the quasi-immortality he had enjoyed for nearly three centuries. He became immune to stakes, beheading, burning, and any other method traditionally used to destroy a vampire. He still couldn’t go out into the sunlight: it would still incinerate his flesh, it just wouldn’t kill him. And, as he had occasion to discover, the resultant period of regeneration was excruciatingly painful, beggaring even the torment he had endured in hell. Angel had been depressed as hell, because he couldn’t even hope that he would Shan-shu, become human, and lose the immortality. Spike’s reappearance within this mortal coil was found to have fulfilled that particular prophecy, much to everyone’s disgust, including Spike’s. Angel had gone on a three-month bender that had only ended when Buffy tracked him down in the bar he’d taken over in Tiajuana, and kicked his ass back to L.A.

The second momentous thing that happened, about fifteen years after Buffy had gone mano á mano with Glory, was that she had been mortally wounded . . .and had recovered. The gang did research, and realized that Buffy’s continued youthful appearance was owed to more than good genes. When Willow’s resurrection spell had been interrupted all those years before, it had the effect not simply of recalling Buffy back to life, but of making her incapable of dying. Willow was devastated, and it was Buffy’s turn to go on a three-month bender.

Angel didn’t rescue her. Because, the moment he heard that the love of his life was afflicted with the same immortality that beset him, the minute he realized that he would never have to bury her again, would never have to live in a world that did not contain her, the third momentous thing happened. Angel had a single instant of pure and perfect happiness. The moorings on his soul were immediately loosed, and it drifted off into the ether, leaving Angelus fully in control once more. His first action upon realizing his new and improved status was to locate a sorcerer powerful enough to cast a spell that would make him invulnerable to the gypsy curse so that no one would ever be able to use it to restore his soul, again. His second action was to track Buffy down to the same bar he had gone to, and kidnap her.

It didn’t work out exactly the way he planned. True, he killed her the way he had always dreamed of doing; during a marathon bout of sex in the middle of the most amazing orgasms either of them had ever had. Her rich, spicy-sweet blood pouring down his throat, so much better than the blood of any other Slayer, would have brought him off all on its own. But drinking her down while encased in her lush, damp heat, listening to her breathy moans as each slow pull of her blood into his mouth set off another of her climaxes, feeling her silken walls clamp around his cock in, literally, a death-grip…the reality had been better than his wildest fantasies had prepared him for. He drained her dry and fed her his own blood, collapsing on her cold, unmoving body to dream sweet dreams of a world consumed in blood and fire and ruled over by himself and his mate. But when she woke up, she was as human as ever, soul in residence and no hint of a demon to be found. She laughed at him, and asked him what part of her not being able to die he hadn’t understood? He got pissed off, and tried it again, forgoing the sex in favor of the element of surprise. Same results. Only, this time she was pissed off at him for being what she called jackass stubborn. And, he suspected, for forgoing the sex, though why that would bother her when she climaxed just as hard from his bite as he had from her blood was a mystery he never quite solved. They argued, then fucked like bunnies, and Angelus was becoming resigned to the fact that he’d just have to keep her chained to his bed for the rest of their existence, when she escaped.

Her friends urged her to capture him, and, since he could no longer be killed, at least imprison him, to keep him from the depredations he would surely wreak against a (more or less) innocent and unknowing world. She tried it. Her luck at keeping him in chains was about as good as his was with her.

They wasted the next hundred years in a constant battle for the upper hand. Meanwhile, certain truths were borne in upon Angelus. Authentic immortality--rather the pseudo-immortality that could be ended by a well placed stake--had changed the very nature of the vampiric creature that he was. For one thing, he no longer had the appetites he had in his youth. He rarely experienced real hunger, and while he wasn’t, and never would be, above killing for kicks, he no longer had to kill for survival. Even killing for kicks wore thin after a while, and while he remained a formidable opponent, and a dangerous predator when roused, he just wasn’t roused to it all that often. For another, he appeared to be immune to the grotesque changes that beset the very oldest of vampires. He never would have to worry about getting a bat-nose like the Master’s, after all.

Meanwhile, other truths were borne in upon Buffy. In a very few years, no one who met them believed that it was Dawn who was the younger sister rather than Buffy. That was the first sign of what was to come. Everyone around Buffy lived out a normal human life-span with the normal human connections--marriage, children, grandchildren, eventual old age and, in most cases, a peaceful death from natural causes. Except for Spike, whose death in a motorcycle accident left his great-grandchildren annoyed that the state of California hadn’t rescinded his license when he’d officially hit the century mark twelve years before. But Buffy remained unchanging, a spectator to the normal lives she had earned for her friends, but was forever denied, herself.

After she’d been torn from heaven and clawed her way out of her grave, she thought she’d lost any illusions she’d had about ultimate justice, about good triumphing over evil, about those who constantly made sacrifices for the greater good ever receiving their just rewards. But as her unending youth increasingly isolated her from everyone she had ever loved--everyone who was aging, becoming more frail, more forgetful, while she remained unchanged--those illusions she had not realized she’d retained were brutally stripped from her. What Buffy learned, slowly and painfully over a long stretch of years, was that it was all a crap shoot. As Angelus mockingly informed her, even Angel had finally realized that there was no grand plan or ultimate design that would make sense of the universe. There was just this: a few billion mortals slogging away on the mudball Earth, making the best of things, unaware of the armies of Light and Dark that, once in a while, gathered the strength to come together in cataclysmic battle. Who would win was always the biggest crap shoot of all, and by any historical measure that could be applied, Buffy had enjoyed a winner’s streak that just had to be due to end, soon.

As time went on, Buffy also learned that she couldn’t save everyone, and that no matter how many vampires she killed, or how many demons she destroyed, there would always be more. The hosts of hell were plentiful and they were prolific and even she couldn’t hope to wipe them all out. Angelus, who wasn’t actively killing and torturing the way he had in his youth, began to seem the lesser of a whole lot of other evils. Angelus’ motivations regarding the Slayer were a lot more basic: she was the hottest piece of ass he’d ever had, and he knew damned well he’d never find anything like her ever again. He refused to even consider that the deep and abiding love Angel had felt for her had anything at all to do with his own opinions about her sexual skills. The Slayer was a nuisance, but in time he’d tame her, he was sure.

After the first century or so, the battles between them became more a matter of form than of determination. As the world around them changed at an ever-accelerating rate, they were the only constants in each other’s lives, the only familiar touch-point.
And the sexual heat between them grew, rather than diminished, over the course of years. So one time, when he blocked her punch by grabbing onto her fist and pulling her into his arms, it wasn’t a huge surprise to either of them when he followed it up by devouring her mouth with his own rather than by slamming his fist against her skull. Instead, he slammed her against a wall, pushed her skirt out of his way, ripped off her panties and gave her what they had both wanted from the moment they met. She responded by wrapping her legs around his waist and riding him like a Kentucky Derby jockey coming into the home-stretch a nose behind the leader: fast, furious and with single-minded determination.

Truce was declared. They even tried to live together, which worked out nicely for a few decades, until someone tried to end the world, and they ended up on opposite sides of the battle. Buffy was, in Angelus’ opinion, overly sensitive about the whole thing, refusing to continue to live with him just because he’d single-handedly decimated half her army. When she walked away, he didn’t try to stop her, just boasted that she’d be back.

She was, but it took another hundred years and another battle. And she didn’t exactly return under he own steam. True, they met from time to time during the intervening century, and reconciled almost immediately, but she was adamant about wanting her own space. It was frustrating, and he was forced to resort to stronger measures. Thus, when an opportunity presented itself, Angelus knocked her out while she was busy saving the world again--careful to wait until the world had actually been saved, and her guard was down just the tiniest bit--then carted her off to his current residence--a deserted 15th century palazzo on the Mediterranean. Once she got over her mad, they settled in more comfortably than the first time around. Buffy resigned herself to the fact that Angelus would never allow his love for her to dictate his actions regarding the whole conflict between good and evil thing they were both caught up in. He wasn’t Spike, he reminded her. She didn’t want him to be, she’d snapped. Despite a penchant for bickering, they managed together pretty well for the better part of the next century.

She was not amused by his scheme for importing Kalarian slave girls from one of the less civilized dimensions and selling them on what was becoming an intergalactic market, at that point in time. She freed the girls, costing him a small fortune, and left him, again. Though not for long.

So it has gone for the rest of the millennium. They live together until Angelus crosses some line, violates some ethic Buffy barely realizes she’s retained, and she leaves. They run into each other and reconcile for a night or a week or a decade, but she won’t immediately move in with him. Eventually, though, he wears down her resistance, and the whole cycle starts all over again.

There are worse ways to spend eternity, she supposes. Early on, she thought that one of the better ways would have been if it were Angel beside her, rather than Angelus. But if her life has taught her one thing, it is to be careful what you wish for. She discovered, painfully, that the question of Angel’s soul was resolved for good and all. Too, as the centuries wore on, she was honest enough to admit to herself that even if she could somehow restore Angelus to the Angel she had fallen in love with all those long years ago, there was no chance that they could possibly pick up where they’d left off. The woman she has become--hard and bright as the most carefully polished diamond, all sentiment and softness leached away--would not be an easy and comfortable fit for him, anymore.

She and Angelus are another matter. Time has worn away the jagged edges between them, making them a very comfortable fit, indeed.

Well, except for his insistence on siding with the guys trying to end the world, each and every time. She gets that it is a matter of principle. She even gets the principle. For that matter, given all that they have endured, all that has been done to them in the name of preserving the balance of power between Good and Evil, she isn’t entirely unsympathetic to said principle. She simply has other, more important principles to fight for.

But not, if Whistler is to be believed, for at least another two weeks.

Smiling, Buffy puts aside her now empty plate and removes the drained mug from Angelus’ hands.

"Still feeling peckish?" she murmurs. He cocks a brow.

"Why Miss Summers," he purrs, "whatever did you have in mind?" With a smirk every bit as wickedly seductive as his own, she moves over him to straddle his hips, tosses her hair back and shows him.

Like they always do when they first reconcile, they spend the next few days in bed. As ever, he drains her dry the first night, while she sucks on his bleeding wrist. Although he claims he only does it because it makes their orgasms so incredibly intense and though she long ago let him persuade her that the resultant pleasure is worth the headache she invariably has when she wakes up, she suspects part of him secretly hopes that if he does it often enough, eventually he’ll succeed in turning her. She is equally certain that if he ever did succeed, he’d be utterly horrified. There’s less than no danger of it ever happening, anyway, and she does not begrudge him his secret Vampire Buffy fantasy any more than he begrudges her the secret Angel Restored fantasy she can’t quite let go of. She finds his ability to cling to such dreams strangely endearing, so lets him have his way. The fact that he’s right about the orgasms doesn’t hurt, either. And, once in while, they role play…

This time, though, it isn’t only her head that ‘s throbbing, but her clit. The rug burn is as bad as she thought it would be. She pouts and demands he kiss it and make it better. He has some interesting ideas on the subject. One involves the soothing properties of ice. He uses small chips of it with the sensitivity of an artist and the skill of a surgeon. She comes non-stop for five solid minutes before he listens to her pleas and lets her rest. He’s rock hard and aching, but she’s too tired to move, so he simply stretches out beside her and lazily strokes a hand along his shaft, whispering erotic things in her ear. Slayer recuperative powers make the headache fade to a level she can ignore, and restore her energy in a matter of minutes. After a particularly vulgar utterance, Angelus finds himself thrown on his back, his hand knocked away from his cock so that his eager lover’s hot mouth can glom onto it. He loses no time in pulling her legs over his head, burying his face in her dripping pussy. He takes a moment to stare at her erect clit, peeking out from her nest of curls. The poor little thing is red and abraded, and he runs his tongue over it soothingly in apology. Buffy gives a muffled shriek as his cool tongue slides over the burning nubbin, sucking him further down her throat and caressing his balls. Light explodes behind his closed eyes and only the skill imparted by thirteen centuries of sexual experience allows him to deny his own orgasm. He’s enjoying this too much to let things end too quickly.

But just because he needs to hold off, doesn’t mean he has to make Buffy wait. He plays one of his favorite games, trying to see how many times he can make her come before she goes unconscious from sheer bliss. The combination of Slayer stamina and vampiric endurance is a fortunate one. She’s been climaxing for half an hour before he senses that her energy is flagging. He slows down his pace, lightens the pressure, keeping just enough stimulus to hold her interest without bringing her to yet another orgasm and lets go of his control on his own pleasure. He allows himself to concentrate on the feel of her tongue laving him, teeth scraping at him exactly the way he likes. Her tongue and her hands are marvelously talented, and as she fondles his heavy sacs, he can feel them tighten, feel his rigid flesh gathering itself to release his load. He slides a finger deep inside her as his tongue lashes her abused clit with renewed energy, feeling her reach that final peak just as his own release bursts free. She drinks him down even as he laps up her copious juices, holding her hips firmly in place. Eventually, he softens and slips from her mouth, but he is unrelenting in his attentions to her swollen sex, and he does not release her until she collapses, unconscious, sprawled over him.

He lifts her up and tucks her back into the bed by his side, her head comfortably pillowed on his shoulder, his body spooned around hers, a blanket ensuring that she is not chilled. He is always solicitous of her comfort, a fact which clashes with his status as a master vampire and Dark Champion, and which ought to bother him far more than it does. Angelus tells himself that the reason he doesn’t just push her aside and walk away once his own needs are met is because it would piss her off when she wakes up. She’ll be more amenable if he treats her gently, more receptive to whatever little games he wants to play. Force has its charms, and Unwilling Buffy is a true delight, chained in his bed. Willing Buffy, however, is even more receptive, inventive, and accommodating and that is, he reassures himself, the only thing that motivates him to show her any consideration at all.

He’s been telling himself that lie for so long, he is convinced of its veracity and is able to fall into an untroubled sleep, dreaming of the fun to be had when his lover wakes up, fully recovered.

The reunion sex doesn’t exactly pall--it never has, it never will--but eventually they do get around to expanding their activities to include other interests, or duties as the case may be. Over the next few days, though Angelus continues to stay at Buffy’s place, he makes the contacts he needs to be invited into the big battle on the side opposing Buffy. Everyone knows that they are romantically involved. Everyone also knows that they will not pull any punches: neither will betray his or her own side, and neither will hesitate to incapacitate the other. Whatever they are outside of the battlefield, on it they are dedicated, consummate, and frighteningly adept adversaries. Angelus is, quite simply, the only Force of Darkness capable of even slowing this Slayer down, so his welcome into the ranks of Warriors for Darkness is assured.

Not that he is surprised, of course. That’s how it has gone for nearly a thousand years.

What does surprise him, this time, is just how well his own team is organized, how vast their resources . . .and how utterly unconcerned Buffy seems to be. She isn’t even trying to gather an army, or research ways of stopping the forces arrayed against her. As far as Angelus can see, her preparations for the upcoming Apocalypse consist mainly of giving herself a manicure and treating herself to a full-body massage at one of the inter-dimensional spas that have become so popular.

"You do know what you’re up against this time?" he growls one night.

"First Evil," she says, not raising her gaze from the nail she is buffing. "Army of Turok Han. Again," she sniffs disdainfully, the been there, done that obvious in her voice. "Horde of Zombies," she continues with a yawn. "Brotherhood of Hr’losian Sorcerers. Remaining assassins of the Order of Taraka. Herd of rabid werewolves and forvalaka and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh. And the former Scourge of Europe, now known as the Dark Lord of the Cold Hells. And his army. You are bringing the Ice Warriors, aren’t you?"

"Of course I’m bringing the Ice Warriors," he says angrily. "What the fuck is the point of being the Dark Lord of the Cold Hells if I don’t have my Glacial Army at my back?

"You may want to put them in front of you," she advises. "Just a thought."

"Buffy," he growls warningly. "I don’t think you’re taking this seriously." It is an oddly disturbing thought. She’s certainly pulled off the big save every single time before this, but it has also always cost her monumental effort. Have her constant victories finally gone to her head, making her think herself invincible? That way lay disaster. If his girl doesn’t watch herself, he thinks, she might end up imprisoned in a hell dimension at the mercy of her demon master while the world burns and every mortal being on it endures an eternity of torture.

Of course, he’ll be the demon master at whose mercy Buffy will find herself, and he could give a fuck about the world, so the scenario does have an up side….With a shrug, Angelus leaves her to the plans she isn’t making.

As the inevitable portents unfold, Buffy maintains her nonchalance. The sky rains fire, the sun weeps blood, the earth groans and the seas boil. Which, in these days of impervious building materials and instantaneous transportation from one end of the planet to the other, doesn’t cause much inconvenience and no more than a mild report in the news that the scientific community is working on the problem, and things should be back to normal in time for rush hour. Buffy mainly seems interested in ordering a few hundred gallons of cookie dough fudge mint chip ice cream from a company that specializes in recreating historical recipes.

But, on the appointed day, the Hordes of Darkness gather at the foredoomed and fated battlefield, and enact the rituals that will sink the crimson sun beneath the coal black waves of the boiled sea, and usher in the Reign of Eternal Night.

They are rather miffed that the Slayer hasn’t shown.

Surely she should have amassed an army of Warriors of Light? Surely bloody battle must be enjoined? Surely she isn’t just going to give up without a fight?

It is Angelus who realizes that, in fact she is going to do exactly that.

And that she is going to win, anyway.

It isn’t the sound that alerts him, but the scent: a mix of vanilla and Essence of Buffy that was imprinted on his senses a millennium before. He snaps his gaze upward, frowning at the point of red light, high above him, and quickly descending…and then he realizes what his glorious bitch is up to and collapses on the ground laughing like a loon, realizing that the sorcerers are useless and the rest of them are toast.

After all, none of the Hordes of Darkness are impervious to fire, but everyone knows that magic is no damned good against dragons.

Of course, everyone also knows that no one can ride a dragon, but no one seems to have told that to Buffy, or to the dragon she is clearly riding, in a beautiful arc destined to collide with the heart of the Army of Darkness. Angelus calculates that he has about ten seconds to impact, springs to his feet and races to put his Glacial Army between himself and the mobile inferno about to devour the gathered legions. He dives beneath the overhanging cliff just as the first gout of flame incinerates the hysterically chanting sorcerers.

Nope, magic is no damned good at all against dragons.

The Hordes of Darkness break ranks and scatter across the face of the earth. Or try to. The dragon has an amazing wingspan and the ability to flit from one end of the horizon to the other with no more than a few desultory aerodynamic flaps. Of course, the methodical way it goes about circling ever inward from the outermost perimeter, forcing the hordes into a tighter and tighter knot, increasingly easy to send up in flames, is likely owed to the gentle guidance it is receiving from the goddess on its back. From the safety of the overhang, Angelus admires the view.

When it is all over, the dragon circles to a graceful landing on the scorched earth. The First Evil, incorporeal and helpless as ever, leaves in a snit. Angelus slogs his way through the bog left behind by the now completely melted Ice Warriors to where Buffy is dismounting.

"How the fuck did you get that thing to let you on its back?" he asks admiringly.

"Her back," Buffy corrects, busily scratching the dragon carefully behind her massive, dangerously scaled ears. The scales, Angelus can see, are a blood-red organic metal. They’re probably sharp as a sword to the touch, and explain why no one can ride a dragon . . .unless they’ve equipped themselves with a thick leather saddle and sturdy leather boots, as well as leather pants. Angelus grins. Bonus points for finding a combat outfit that looks as hot as that one. Buffy ignores his increasingly lascivious glances, continuing to answer his earlier question. "And that was easy. She never tasted cookie dough fudge mint chip ice cream, before." At his blank look, she pats his hand comfortingly. "It’s a girl thing," she explains. Angelus nods.

"So, we done here?" he asks, already bored.

"Not quite," a new voice says genially.

Angelus growls. Buffy rolls her eyes. Not such a new voice, really.

"What now, Whistler?"

"You won," he says simply.

"Uh-huh," Buffy says. "As usual."

"Not really," he smiles. "Usually, you stop the current threat, but more are waiting just behind it. This time--"

"Do not," she begins furiously, "Do not dare tell me that it will be different this time." Beside her, the dragon lifts her head warily and scents the air, disturbed by Buffy’s anger. "It is always supposed to be different, this time. And it never is. Even when we threw every demon in the world out of this dimension, slammed the door shut and threw away the key, the lurks returned in a few hundred years--"

"And Maleka Frey stopped them," Whistler says. "And, when the next resurgence comes, someone will stop that, too. But not you."

"Why not her?" Angelus demands. "She’s immortal. We both are."

"Not for long," Whistler says. They never see the balls of light coming.

They do feel them, though. Heat and light and power slam into each of them, through their respective chests, and fire scorches through their veins.

The dragon launches herself skyward with a growl of distress, disappearing into the dimension Buffy borrowed her from. Buffy screams. Angelus roars, more in fear for her than in pain for himself, though he is in a degree of pain that beggars even the experience of being revived from the fire.

It lasts only a moment, one excruciating, attenuated moment of exquisite agony. When it is over, Angelus finds Buffy lying limp and unmoving at his feet.

He roars again, but it does not come out the way it should, not the full throated, leopard-like growl of a master vampire. His roar is the wholly human, wholly anguished cry of a man in love who has seen injury done to his mate.

Wholly human.

Angelus realizes, in fury, that his face is not shifting, his fangs not descending, no matter how hard he tries to call forth his demonic visage. With a snarl, Angelus scoops up Buffy and holds her close to his annoyingly beating heart.

"What have you done to her?" he demands.

"Same thing I did to you," Whistler says with something akin to cheerfulness. "Congratulations. You’ve both shan-shued.

Angelus is about to ask how the hell a girl who can’t die was supposed to die until she lived, but Buffy chooses that moment to announce her return to this mortal plane by drawing a deep breath, and choking on it. Angelus pats her back, soothing her as the paroxysms of coughing sweep over her.

"Easy, baby,"

"Whistler?" she gasps. "He still here?"

"He was just leaving," Angelus says, looking daggers at the little demon. The look isn’t noticeably less intimidating than it has been for the past thirteen hundred years, resident demon or no. Whistler notices.

"Ah. Angel?" he begins uneasily. "Isn’t this what you always wanted? Your reward? Aren’t you happy?"

Angelus lets loose a string of curses in Gaelic that would make a demon blush. Whistler does, but then grows deathly pale. This time, it is Buffy who is laughing. Whistler doesn’t recognize the sound, at first. She’s too rusty at it, hasn’t had anything to laugh about in a number of lifetimes. Eventually, Angelus helps her to stand.

"You don’t get it, do you?" she asks Whistler, and he could swear that the look she gives him is a pitying one. "They didn’t tell you. Or maybe They just weren’t paying attention."

"I’m betting on the latter," Angelus mutters.

"Paying attention to what?" Whistler asks.

"You thought making Angelus human would make him Angel again, didn’t you? Restore his soul, his mission, his memories?" Buffy presses.

"If he’s human, the demon is gone," Whistler states.

"Oh, yeah. The demon is gone. But, that doesn’t mean much. The demon hasn’t been in charge for a long, long time."
Whistler looks at her blankly, completely at a loss.

"Happened about two or three hundred years after Buffy found out she wasn’t mortal anymore," Angelus picks up the tale, still inspecting his mate for any signs of damage. "I got in the way of something, pissed off a coven of witches. Not wiccans. Witches. None of that ‘return three fold good for good’ crap. Just a craving for power and the ability to use it. I had protected myself against having the gypsy curse performed on me, but they weren’t using that. Had some other mojo they cooked up, tailor made. They knew about my precautions. And, they figured out how to get around them."

"Angel’s soul was restored then," Buffy said, extricating herself from her mate’s inspection. She was fine. "And, made permanent. The witches figured it was about the most torment they could give him. They were right, too. You should have seen him those first ten years. He was a real basket case. I’m talkin’ howling-at-the-moon-chain-up-in-the-basement raving lunacy."

"Good thing we had that dungeon," Angelus agrees.

"I guess," she says with a grimace. These are not her favorite memories.

"You’re saying that all these years . . .that’s been Angel running around on the dark side?" Whistler can’t believe what he is hearing.

"Just how often do you think he could stand it?" she asks bitterly. "His soul isn’t a yo-yo. How many times did it have to be pushed back into his abandoned body, with a fresh load of slaughter to remember, before he cracked? Before the soul and the demon merged, so that there’s no real distinction between them anymore?"

"But, he was one of our strongest. . ." Whistler begins, and stops at the looks they’re giving him. His mind whirls as he tries to process it all, that for nearly a thousand years, one of the Champions of Light had been fighting for the Forces of Darkness. And, he tries to process what it must have been like for Angel, consciousness restored to the horror show, one too many times. "I’m so sorry," he whispers, painfully aware of the inadequacy of that response.

"Yeah, everybody’s sorry," Buffy says, rolling her eyes.

"But at least it’s over, this time," Whistler offers her hopefully. "You can have what you’ve both always wanted: a normal human life, a family, growing old together, dying in each other’s arms."

Buffy and Angelus exchange a look of pure disgust.

"You think that’s what we want?" she demands. "You think that, after a thousand years of this crap, we’re just gonna go off in the sunset, buy a house with a picket fence--gees, do they even have houses with picket fences, anymore?--and live some kind of normal life? You think we’d even know how?"

"It’s your reward," he says helplessly. Buffy snorts.

"No, it isn’t," she says. "It’s just the reward They feel like giving me, the one that suits Their purposes. But guess what? It sure as hell doesn’t suit mine." She smiles unpleasantly. "You might want to step back, right about now," she warns him.

"Hey! Just the messenger!" but he is backpedaling. Luckily he does it quickly enough. She’s already begun chanting, and in a few minutes something that should not be possible happens. He can see the light tracing along their veins, back through the path it took on its way in. A moment later, two balls of light explode from their chests and hurtle toward him. He instinctively puts up his hands and a moment later two orbs are returned to him, exactly as they were when he cast them at the Champions who were supposed to be rewarded with their hearts’ desires.

"How the hell did you do that?" Angelus asks, impressed. She arches her brow at him.

"In one thousand years, you think I wouldn’t learn a little magic?" she shakes her head in disbelief.

"Well, that seems more than just a little magic," he points out reasonably. She shrugs. "I did my homework," is the only explanation she gives.

"What have you done?" Whistler asks, shocked. "You can’t have…you haven’t…how could you--"

"Throw Their gift back in Their faces?" Buffy asks. "I told you: I did my homework. And, I crafted the spell I needed to undo what They had you do."

"So, you two, you’re immortal again? Slayer and vampire?"

"Looks like," Angelus says smugly around a mouthful of fangs as he slides effortlessly back into game face.

"Almost," Buffy corrects him. "Because I’m pretty sure if They were gonna make me human again, I wouldn’t have been a Slayer anymore, right, Whistler?"

"There’s no need for any Slayers," he affirms. "Won’t be for another thousand years."

"Is that right? Well, then, I’m not a Slayer. I’m done. Finished. Retired, resigned, released, however you want to think of it."

"You can’t just walk away from what you are."

"Yeah, and I can’t refuse a gift from The Powers That Be, but I just did." He looks shocked but more, he looks saddened, and she understands that his sorrow is for her. It softens her, briefly.

"It’s not so bad, Whistler. All we really want is to be left alone. Angelus doesn’t need to feed that often. He’s not going to cause the kind of havoc they need to raise a Slayer to stop."

"Well, I don’t know about that," her mate begins.

"Not for another thousand years, anyway," she glares at him pointedly. He shrugs. It’s only time, after all, something they have in unending quantities, it would seem.

"That isn’t what I’m worried about, kid," Whistler says. "Immortality . . .it sounds great, but have you thought about it? Really thought about it? Even a thousand years, that’s nothing. This old earth is going to be around for a couple of million years, Buffy. Are you prepared for that? And, even if you are, are you prepared for what comes after? Entropy? The eventual death of the entire universe? All matter collapsing in on itself until the cold stars and dead planets are blown to dust? What happens to you two, then? Immortal, and spinning endlessly in a vacuum, with no light, no heat, nothing at all?"

She smiles gently, touched by his concern.

"You think I learned how to do a spell I couldn’t undo, if I need to?" she asks.

He stares at her, at the two of them, and realizes that, no, she won’t leave herself without an out. Someday, the two of them will be human. They most likely won’t raise a family, but simply live out a normal span, before going on to whatever heaven or hell is destined to have them. Somehow, despite Angelus’ fearsome reputation and the horror he has wrought on a million hapless innocents, Whistler doesn’t think that it is hell in which they will take their final rest. Perhaps neither heaven nor hell. Maybe they’ve earned their own place, their own peace, maybe their suffering in this lifetime has paid for whatever sins they’ve needed to pay for. He doesn’t know. He can only hope. If anyone deserves that bit of peace, she surely does, and he knows there can be no peace for her without the demon who even now holds her close in a protective embrace. He nods, accepting what they’ve told him.

"I see," he tells them. "I’ll let Them know."

"Suit yourself," she tells him, unconcerned. He nods again, and walks away, leaving them to find their own way off the battlefield, as they have found their own way out of the plans and traps and enticements of a thousand gods and demons and Powers, before.

"That went well," Angelus says, pleased.

"Pretty well," she agrees. "Although he did chase off Mrs. Gordo, and I’m pretty pissed about that."

"Mrs. Gordo?" Angelus asked.

"The dragon," Buffy explains. She looks at him speculatively. "You wanna go for a ride? ‘Cause, I do know where to find her…."

He grins, and takes her hand, letting her lead the way to the cave where she knows how to activate a gateway between worlds.

And, someplace that is not a dimension, but is simply else They decide that matters turned out as well as could be expected. One never knows about Champions, after all. Some break under the pressure, some die at the first true challenge, some grow disheartened and a few, a very few, endure.

It is a crap shoot. But Buffy, at least, seems to have finally lucked out with the dice.

The End