after.midnight // v.naked

AUTHOR: Tamara
EMAIL: tamara@bitchenvy.com
RATING: R
SUMMARY: On his last night in Sunnydale, Angel reflects on his relationship with Buffy.
DISCLAIMER: Buffy and Angel aren't mine. They belong to Joss Whedon. I'm not making any money off this fic, so please don't sue me.

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He sat in front of the fireplace, staring idly into the crackling orange and yellow flames. Absently, he twisted the little circle of silver on his finger, his thoughts straying, as they often did lately, to the one who had once owned its mate.

Buffy Summers. Light of his life. Apple of his eye. Ruler of his world. Center of his universe.

Falling for her was the best mistake he'd ever made. He was powerless against her, and all it took was one word from her lips and he would do whatever she asked. He didn't understand how he'd allowed himself to get close to her, to open up his heart and let her in. He tried keeping his distance. Tried resisting her harder than he'd ever resisted anything. But she pushed her way in, gotten under his skin, ordering him to take notice, demanding that he love her.

And he did. Love her. More than anything. More than anyone. Ever.

He trusted her. He trusted her with his life, with his heart. In return she trusted him, totally, completely, despite all misgivings, despite all warnings to the contrary. She risked everything to be with him, to show him how much he meant to her. And he betrayed her. He turned her love into a cruel joke, defaming it in every way possible. He taunted her, throwing the love and trust she had in him back in her face.

Despite it all, she still loved him.

He couldn't understand it. How could she still care? After everything he'd done to her, everything he'd said. How could she still look at him? How could she still trust him with her secrets and her tears? How could she still love him? He didn't know how. He didn't claim to know why. But he knew she did. Saw it on her face, in her eyes, everytime he saw her. Heard it in her voice whenever she called his name.

And because she accepted him, he loved her all the more.

Before he met Buffy, love had been the farthest thing from his mind. Getting through the night with his mind intact was what was important. Trying to fight the demon raging inside him, trying to forget all the evil he'd caused, all the lives he'd destroyed, was how he spent his life. He'd never thought he was deserving of death. He felt that living with the guilt, and the pain, and the hatred of himself, of who he had been, was just punishment for what he'd done all those years ago. Love had never even entered the picture.

Until he saw her. Then things changed.

His first clear glimpse of her, through the window in her bedroom, was like seeing the light. She'd been standing in the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror, resigning herself to the truth about who she was, of what she'd become that night. One look at the tears streaming down her face as her parents' argument sounded loudly through the thin walls, and the pain ebbed, the raging demon subsided. All because of her. He sensed something in her that night, loneliness, despair, pain, and it touched him. There was something that she needed, something only he could give. She needed his help. She needed his understanding. She needed his love. She gave him something to live for and she became the most important person in his life.

But he didn't want to want her.

In the beginning, he told himself constantly that he didn't love her. Tried to convince himself that the joy he felt in his heart when he looked at her, the sadness that overcame him when she wasn't around had nothing to do with love. For a while it had worked. Not well, but it had worked. Then he'd kissed her and he knew there was no going back. He wanted Buffy more than he'd ever wanted anything. He wanted her more than he'd ever wanted to end his suffering.

It baffled him, his love for her. He was over two centuries old. He'd seen and created more death and destruction than nearly any other vampire that had walked the face of the earth. He'd been the object of obsession for many a female, mortal and immortal alike. They had fallen at his feet, begging him to make them what he was, begging to be with him forever. None of them had ever mattered, he'd never loved anyone more than he'd loved himself. Even after he'd regained his soul, he'd never allowed any woman to get close enough. And then some 16 year old kid, full of life and packing major attitude, came along, knocked him off his feet, and turned his world upside down. He fell. Hard. She confused him. When he was around her he felt like a kid in the throes of his first major romance. She fascinated him. She made him doubt anything he'd ever thought he knew about women.

Staying away from her hadn't been easy. Not when everytime he saw her he wanted her in his arms, her lips on his, his hands caressing the softness of her skin. Not when his sleep was interrupted by dreams of her, of her body beneath his, her legs wrapped tightly around his waist, her sounds of pleasure echoing in his ears as he buried himself in the tight warmth of her body over and over again until she begged him to stop, until she demanded he never stop. It had been even harder when she discovered that her hands didn't have to be still, that her mouth had the same effect on him as his had on her. That her power over him was stronger than his over her.

It was then that he wished cold showers worked for vampires.

Slipping the ring from his finger, he held it up, studying the circle in the light of the fire. He thought briefly of tossing it into the flames, watching as the last symbol of his love for Buffy melted away, consumed by a heat not nearly as potent as the passion between them. However, the thought was short lived, discarded as quickly as it had come to him, for he knew that he wasn't strong enough to end it that completely. But he did have just enough strength to let go. It was the only thing he could do. No matter how much he wanted to be with her, disregarding everything and everybody, he knew it wasn't possible. He'd accepted it. So had she.

But knowing didn't lessen the pain. Accepting it didn't make him love her any less. In some ways, it only made him love her more.

He was awed by her strength, amazed by her courage. She'd suffered so much, faced so many evils, fought so many battles. Still, she carried on, meeting each new challenge, honoring her duty, keeping safe a world that had no idea who she was or what she did. He knew how hard it was for her to face death every night and not crumble under the pressure her duty put upon her. She was the strongest person he knew. Leaving her would be the hardest thing he'd ever have to do. But even that was easier than loving her so much and not being able to have her by his side.

She was his friend, his only real one in over a hundred years. She was his lover, the only one he wanted. She was his mate, the one he would love for the rest of eternity.

Reluctantly, he placed Buffy's ring on the hearth, then he slid his back onto his finger, heart facing inwards. Grabbing a black leather bag from the floor, he took one last glance at the place he'd called home for the last year. And with his mind focused on how he'd tell the woman he loved that he was leaving, he walked out of the mansion and into the night.

Back in the room, the little silver ring, the symbol of a love so strong it survived the depths of Hell, glowed brightly in the light of the dying fire.