[community profile] lynnevitational FIC: If You Drive Me Back (B/A, PG-13)

Aug. 17th, 2008 12:58 am
[personal profile] thecarlysutra

TITLE: If You Drive Me Back
RATING: PG-13
FANDOM: BtVS/AtS
PAIRING: Buffy/Angel
SPOILERS: Post “NFA.” There are some aspects of the S8 comics—namely, location—but this story contains none of the comics’ original characters or plotlines.
SUMMARY: Maybe you can start over.
PROMPT: Written for [livejournal.com profile] germaine_pet’s [livejournal.com profile] lynnevitational. Thank you so much for having me, and thanks [livejournal.com profile] chrisleeoctaves for recommending me. I'm very flattered. <3
NOTES: I am, as usual, insanely grateful and ridiculously lucky for the help of my beta, [livejournal.com profile] myhappyface. And in this case, I owe her the title, too. Thank you.


      Love is love and not fade away
      And my love is bigger than a Cadillac
      I’ll try to show it if you drive me back.

             – Rolling Stones, “Not Fade Away”

They found her number on him, the new one she’d never given him. She was in Scotland when they called, helping set up a house and training center for the potentials. Ex-potentials, really, though that sounded worse, as if they no longer had anything to promise. Angel could not remember his name, and carried no ID from man’s world, and her name wasn’t on the paper, only the number. And so Buffy and the doctor danced a bit in determining identities, and then he told her about the memory loss, and Angel’s other injuries. And about how no one had come to claim him.

Buffy caught the first flight to LA, barely bothering to pack.

***

The doctor from the phone met her in the lobby, extolling in his professional monotone the extent of Angel’s injuries. Broken ribs, broken hand, broken face. Abdominal surgery to repair something Buffy couldn’t, had you asked her, identify as being in the human body. And post-surgery, he’d lapsed into a coma. A coma. Buffy thought of all the instances of coma in her life and was uncomfortable by how common a thing it was. Hundreds of stitches, dozens of diagnostic tests with adorable names. And still no answers. They were unable to find any organic reason for the memory loss. It could be shock from trauma, the doctor said, but in those cases we expect only loss concerning the traumatic incident, itself.

Angel had forgotten his whole life. Who does that? Who wakes up one morning to nothing at all?

And the question Buffy wanted to ask after each pronouncement of ill health was, But he’s alive. You’re absolutely sure he’s alive, like, alive alive. But she knew how that would sound, and she didn’t think, after all he’d been through, that Angel needed any more trouble.

The doctor took her to Angel’s room, and there he was, alive. He was attended by a battery of machines: heart monitors, EEG, the slender scythe of the IV stand. The quiet beeping of the heart monitor was near sufficient to drive Buffy from sanity; his heart, Angel’s heart. She watched the peaks and valleys grow and thought of lying against his chest and feeling nothing. Angel’s heart.

Angel was lying in the hospital bed watching as she and the doctor entered. He was wearing a hospital gown, and what flesh Buffy could see—face, throat, hands, forearms—was bruised and bandaged. And he was flushed. Flushed, as in hot-blooded, as in body temperature and blood circulating. As in alive. He was alive, and she might never know how, why, because the explanations were lost with Angel’s memories.

Hi, Angel said.

Buffy came to his bedside. Hi. I’m Buffy. I’m a friend.

A half-smile turned up the corner of Angel’s mouth. I have a friend?

That wasn’t supposed to be a stumper. Buffy cringed. Yeah. You do. Do you recognize me?

Angel studied her for a long moment, earnestly in thought.

No, he said finally. Buffy felt something collapse inside her gut, like a dying star pulling all the hope from her body, but then he said, But you look familiar, and the star brightened, and she could breathe again.

***

The doctor didn’t want to release Angel to her because she had no way to prove custody, but Angel said no, he wanted to go, and there wasn’t anything the medical establishment could do to stop him. When he was well enough to check out, Buffy took him to her hotel room.

One bed. She hadn’t even thought about the sleeping situation when she’d checked in; all she’d thought of was showering and dumping her stuff while not at the hospital. Angel didn’t seem to notice the glaring error, but when Buffy took in the room with the new perspective of him being there, she saw the conspicuous obviousness of the single sleeping space and panicked. I’ll sleep on the floor, she said, even though it was still afternoon, hours before the discussion was practical. Angel regarded her without comprehension, and Buffy quickly backpedaled, needlessly giving him a tour of the room so small a quick turn would showcase its entirety.

Angel’s broken, drugged body wanted sleep early. He brushed his teeth, then shut himself in the bathroom to change into pajamas Buffy had bought him in the hospital’s gift shop. After he had been in there, silent, for several minutes, Buffy knocked.

The acoustics of the bathroom and the mute of the door distorted Angel’s speech, the short noise of frustration from his throat. I need to ask you something.

Buffy agreed, and there was a small knock from Angel’s side of the door. Buffy estimated the height, her mind unfolding the image of Angel letting his weight rest against the door, his head fall against it. Knock. Buffy let her hand rest upon the wood surface above where his heart would be.

We’re friends, Angel said. Buffy told him yes, and he asked whether they were good friends.

Buffy wanted to lie, to have something simple and attractive to tell him instead of the tangle of complications that their relationship was. But she was unsure of his intent, and so she had to tell the truth.

I don’t think I can change by myself, he said. Is that the kind of thing that—that we . . . ?

Buffy started. Oh! Yes. And she told him she’d done it before. That she’d seen him before.

Seen me?

Naked.

Angel’s voice was higher than normal, and he repeated the word okay several times before letting her in.

Angel’s face was burdened with the expression for waiting in the dentist’s chair. He had undone all the closures—unbuttoned buttons, unzipped zippers—but his clothes still hung on him. Scarecrow.

It’s just, he said, then stopped.

Buffy negotiated around the door into the small space. Angel didn’t give any ground, obstinate or petrified, and to enter the room Buffy had to twist her small body in unnatural ways.

It hurts, right? she asked. Yes.

She had him show her where the pain was, his hands ghosting warily over the injured body parts, like a first attempt at sign language. Buffy helped Angel from his clothes, gingerly avoiding the indicated areas. Angel grimaced anyway, but shook his head at her apologies.

***

The black, barbed circle marring his chest. The doctor had told her about it, over the phone, and she hadn’t been able to picture it. No, that can’t be Angel. But then he told her about the other tattoo, the one on his shoulder, a bird or something, and that was it.

The circle was broken by a jagged, pink scar transversing his torso. It was so large, and so dark, that just the sight of it left Buffy with the impression of violence. She was still reluctant to touch him—to spook him with her queer familiarness—but she envisioned her hands on it, her fingers rounding the circle. She could settle her palm in the center and spread her fingers wide as they’d go, and she still could not hide the image from sight.

She asked him where he’d gotten it, when, but he just stared at her blankly. Is it new? And she dropped it, stammering an apology about how things had changed since the last time they’d seen each other. Things were always changing, were always staying the same.

Angel, in his brand new pajamas, bypassed the musical chairs sleeping arrangements conversation Buffy had been dreading all day. He lay down on the bed, twisting gingerly and fighting with the mattress and his pillows until he found the least painful position, and when Buffy hesitated, staring dumbly at the mattress like she was unsure of its function, Angel turned toward her and asked if he was taking up too much room. If he was too big. And she didn’t want him to think that the reason she was on the floor was him, so she just shook her head and slipped beneath the sheets beside him. Angel wished her goodnight, and was soon asleep.

In the dim light, Buffy watched Angel sleep. The geography of his broad shoulders, narrow waist; the cadence of his breathing. She tried to relax, to catch her breath and join him in slumber, but found herself unable.

***

Angel was easy to take care of, and the routine of the days made them go by quickly. Increments of time were decided by changing bandages and taking medication and making sure Angel ate something. At night he slept soundly, which was deeply unnerving; she had never seen him sleep when he was not tortured by nightmares, his body reacting violently. But now his body was still. The thoughts are there, but they make no reflection in your mind. No. The thoughts weren’t there at all, not anymore. The action, the history, was out there in the universe, but Angel’s mind bore no reflection of them.

She had been there a week and a half when Willow called, expressing concern over some looming threat of the week, asking her to come home. Buffy wanted to say no, Angel needed her, but there were such things as duties, and it was the nature of their lives that he could never come first, just as she could never come first to him.

But he couldn’t understand that, could he? In all the time they’d been together, Angel had always been the watchdog of intimacy and propriety; he warned her when they were getting too close, he backed out before something bad could happen. But now he had no memory of the parameters bordering their relationship, and she had to be the responsible one.

I have to go home, she said, throwing open her suitcase atop the mattress.

Angel watched her with mild interest, stretched across the couch in the manner that best favored his injuries. Okay.

I wouldn’t, but it’s an emergency, and they need me—

I said it was okay.

Buffy looked up from stuffing her clothing, unsorted and unfolded, into the bag. Would you . . . would you maybe want to come?

And he smiled his little half smile, something that Buffy had previously chalked up to Angel’s whole brooding, can’t laugh while I still have all this sin, thing, but was apparently inherent.

Where are we going?

***

Buffy had Dawn make him up a room, the room across the hall from hers. Dawn complained, telling her that the potentials were going to be cranky, it was crowded as it was, but Angel needed to be alone with his convalescence and his bruised mind, and Buffy insisted. The house was blissfully near-empty when they arrived in from the airport; Kennedy was aimlessly tending the garden out front, and Buffy found Dawn in the kitchen snacking, but everyone else was gone, out planning, hunting. Waiting for her.

Okay, I have to go, Buffy said, but Dawn’s going to be here if you need anything.

She led Angel up the stairs to the bedrooms. Dawn trailed a few steps behind them. Angel asked who Dawn was. I’m Dawn, Dawn said.

She’s Dawn, Buffy said. My sister. She’s your friend.

Angel smiled. Okay. Hi.

Dawn smiled back, then promised her sister she’d take good care of him.

***

The looming doom proved elusive. Buffy got back from patrolling late, muscles tight with manic energy not expended by a kill. The returning hunting party, equally as irritated, disturbed the quiet of the sleeping house immediately upon entry. Willow’s fervent pleas for the ex-potentials to please be quiet, people are sleeping, were completely ignored. Normally, Buffy might help wrangle the girls, but tonight she was too needled. She left the chattering, chaotic swarm as a sudden hurricane in the kitchen, and walked upstairs alone.

Angel was sleeping soundly in his bed. He had unpacked what few possessions he had; Buffy could see things arranged neatly atop the room’s sparse furniture, his pill bottles standing at attention on the bedside table, his toiletries lined up on the dresser. He didn’t stir when she came or when she left, and Buffy felt it a shame to wake him, so she closed his door quietly and went across the hall to fight for sleep in her own bed.

***

Angel woke in pain, and Buffy woke to him perched uneasily at the edge of her bed.

I don’t know why I came in here, he said once he felt her eyes on him. She sat up, took in his awkward, protective position—arms curled around his stomach, like he expected attack and wanted to make sure his vulnerable places were covered. Are you okay?

Pain, he said. His eyes not on her; his eyes on the pattern the moonlight, filtered through the curtains, left on her bedspread.

Did you take something? He had. She knew he didn’t like to; the drugs confused him, and usually he only took them when she presented them to him. That he’d puzzled through the directions and the implications and tried his luck with the fairytale promise of a little chunk of chemicals was a testament to how badly he was hurting.

Come here.

Angel came near to her, and Buffy pushed out the covers to give him berth. She slipped her hands delicately about his ribs, trying to remember through touch and memory where he was hurting, how to hold him so as to not hurt him. Angel tensed for a moment, hesitant, but relaxed as Buffy brought him against her, brought them both down into the plush warmth of the bed.

Relax.

Gradually, Angel’s muscles relaxed; his breaths deepened. Buffy’s body thrilled at the feeling of Angel’s body moving with breath, with Angel’s body’s warmth, its pulse. She placed her hand in the valley between his shoulder blades, holding him to her, holding him still.

***

Angel was still sleeping when Buffy woke. She gently extricated herself from him, from the blankets, then covered him back up and tiptoed to the shower. He was still asleep as she slipped, dressed and ready for the day, out of the room and downstairs into the hustle and bustle of what was now her life.

Angel emerged around lunchtime, still in his pajamas, hair mussed. The stairs opened into the kitchen, and Buffy, Dawn, and Willow were there, throwing together lunch for several dozen people. As the number of Slayers in the house grew, meals became more and more of a chore. Buffy felt as though she were running mess for the army. You know, whatever army was composed mostly of bickering, hormonal, bottomless pit, teenage girls. When Angel stepped off the stairs, there were a few ex-potentials scattered about the kitchen, not really helping with the cooking. They stared at post-sleep Angel until Buffy shooed them away.

Sleep well? Angel thought he had, and accepted a seat and a ham and cheese sandwich.

Uh, hi, Angel, Willow said. Angel regarded her blankly, and Buffy made quick introductions. You know, there’s a bunch of teenage girls running around the house all the time; I mean, not that anything’s wrong with your, um, ensemble, but—

He can’t change by himself, Buffy said. He’s still too beat up.

On the plane, Buffy had given Angel a basic sketch of what he should expect in Scotland. A basic sketch that completely glossed over the demony bits of her life. Some things were just too hard to explain, and she didn’t want to scare him. You run a boarding school. Okay. So does that make you some kind of teacher? he asked. What do you teach? Buffy had hidden her face in her tiny bag of peanuts. Gym. You know, phys. ed.

Angel had taken things surprisingly well, not asking many questions, accepting most of the even ludicrous things she had to say as gospel.

She should have felt bad about misleading him, but in all honesty she mostly felt anxious that he’d find out.

***

She helped Angel change, and then showed him around the house, the grounds. The ex-potentials stared a bit, either because Angel—grievous bodily injury or no—was still a honey, or because oh my God, Buffy has a man staying at the house! Buffy and Angel sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G—!

Buffy had grown up responsibilities that included weapons training and hunting down that slimy threat of the week, so she left Angel in the library, where he could hang out with Dawn and some old books. Before getting deep into Slayer Mode, Buffy cornered Willow, repairing battle-injured weapons with Kennedy in the garage.

I need a favor. Like, a witchy favor. With maybe some research thrown in there.

Willow bounded up, eager. Buffy told her about the doctors finding no real, physical reason for Angel’s amnesia, and about his new tattoo.

Even if there isn’t a physical reason, there could always be a psychological reason—

Yeah, but we have no luck. It’s probably mystical. Just look into it for me, would you?

***

Willow found a name connected to Angel’s tattoo—the Black Thorn, some mystical Templar thing for the seriously evil demon elite. Buffy couldn’t believe that Angel would be a member of something like that—or, you know, anything; Angel wasn’t a club-joining kind of guy. He was a stay at home by yourself and brood kind of guy. But Willow insisted that they had to look into possibilities. On the other front, she’d found some promising leads about mystical memory loss—about a dozen of them.

She promised to keep looking.

***

After the first night, Angel just automatically came to her bed once he grew tired.

This is okay, right? You’d tell me if it wasn’t? Buffy assured him that she would. I just sleep better when I sleep with you.

Buffy continued to find sleep elusive. She slept better when Angel slept with her, too, but even his presence didn’t quell the anxiety she felt over running the household, and finding the demon ruining her night life, and, of course, the anxiety of Angel himself.

***

Of course there was an argument. Things could never go smoothly; they could never just be about her. They always had to be about the whole world.

Xander was less than pleased to find Angel living in the house, and either he or Andrew ratted to Giles, miles away in merry old England, and Buffy got a stern, father figure phone call about how she needed to be careful, and use her head, and three words, Buffy: Wolfram and Hart. Evil is as evil does, or something.

It ended up name-calling and hair pulling cum intervention, as usual.

I think that you’re insane to have him in the house, with all these girls you’re supposed to be protecting—!

And something wriggling, anxious, crawled its way to Buffy’s heart from underneath her skin. She wanted to scream and rage and tear her hair out, to throw things, to beat the walls until nothing but dust and earth remained. All this strength, and it didn’t count for anything. It couldn’t change anything.

She found herself using her weak words again, sinking to their level, using the weapons they could use. It wasn’t fair. She was better. Angel wasn’t dangerous, she told them. He doesn’t even remember—he doesn’t even know the things he’s done . . .

And Xander’s sole eye cut through her like a knife. J’accuse. Which doesn’t mean he hasn’t done them.

And we still don’t know why this is happening, Willow said, trying to advocate, to make peace, to avoid upsetting anyone even at the expense of her own voice. Maybe the Black Thorn did this to him to incapacitate him—

Or maybe the Powers did it to reward him! They made him human; maybe they thought he deserved a clean slate.

As a reward for all the killing he’s done, Xander said.

As a reward for all the good he’s done, Buffy said.

Xander and Willow started again, both at once, their angry voices tangling into a mindless hum.

You know what? Buffy said. It’s my house. You pay rent, you can have a say.

She left the room. Behind her, their voices just raged higher and higher, a fanfare for her departure.

***

Am I the same?

Huh?

On his back, pillows supporting him. He was healing, but it was slow, and there was still pain. But things were getting easier between them, and Buffy could see him opening up. Angel’s eyes crossed the spots of reflected moonlight dotting the ceiling, watching the constellations. Am I the same as before?

Buffy didn’t answer.

There’s a part of me that knows you, he said. And there’s a part of me that knows me. It can’t be just memories, can it? I mean, there has to be something beyond that—something inherent.

Like your soul, Buffy said.

We can’t be just memories, can we? His eyes fell to her from the false stars speckling her bedroom ceiling. If that was true, I couldn’t still be here, right? I just—I wouldn’t exist anymore.

You’re talking about your soul, Buffy said.

***

Angel got healthier. He got used to the rhythm of the household. He got used to finding sleep in Buffy’s bed every night, breaths apart in shared warmth.

Buffy was getting used to him, too, and she knew it should feel dangerous—things never worked between them, and there was this whole big shoe of Things They Didn’t Know just waiting to drop—but it just felt good, easy. Right.

Angel, testing his healing body, had taken to going on walks in the area surrounding the house. It was mostly uncultivated, woods and heather and earth, and sometimes Buffy would go with him. It was uncommonly peaceful less because of the being in nature thing and more because she was out of the house and just with Angel. She could divide her life into two sections: normal Buffy life, where things were crowded and rushed and loud and people always wanted things from her; and life with Angel, where things were slower, and quiet, and easy. They were walking under the grey sky, marinating in silence, when Buffy caught a glimpse of the spotted rump of a young deer, and, delighted, pointed it out to Angel. They stared enamored at the animal’s graceful movements and soulful eyes, and just stood, silent, watching it, until it ran off, without reason, into the brush. Buffy was sorry to see it go, especially when no cause was readily apparent—it was just there one second, and then gone—and her mouth turned down, but then Angel’s hands gripped her shoulders, spinning her toward him, and his mouth covered hers, a soft, wanting kiss.

It left Buffy breathless, and when he pulled back, moments later, she blinked druggedly, trying to make sense of what had happened.

That was—was that okay? Angel asked. He was flushed. I mean, I’ve wanted to do that for—is it okay to kiss you?

And Buffy took him forcefully by the lapels of his jacket and crushed him against her, her mouth devouring his.

***

The definition of sleeping together changed significantly. It used to be just proximity, comfort, but it became touching, and quiet sighs, and Buffy’s incredible frustration because Angel was moving light years too slow for her and she couldn’t understand why—didn’t he want her as badly as she wanted him? He had to—but then she remembered that he essentially had no past; to his mind, he was a virgin, and when their positions had been reversed she’d strung him along for over a year—God, that’s not what was going to happen here, was it?

It wasn’t a year. It was nearly two weeks, and then suddenly they were both undressed and Angel was beneath her, frozen, and she told him it would be okay, and he just let her take him.

***

And then Angel was grinning, stupid grinning, and he squirmed beneath the covers to face her properly. Was that, I mean—was that okay? Was it good? he asked, and he was so eager in his obvious joy that Buffy had to keep herself from laughing.

What did you think?

Oh, he said seriously, I thought it was—I mean, that was amazing. I just—I’ve never done anything like that before, or—well, I don’t remember, and . . .

She pressed her lips to his, arresting his speech. You were very good, she said. You’re always very good.

We’ve done this before?

A sick feeling rose in Buffy’s stomach. She thought of that night, rainslick, his hands on her, how she had opened for him like a flower and how she had thought, afterwards, about how lucky she was, how she had never expected to be this happy. And about what had happened afterwards, once Angel was happy. And about how now Angel didn’t remember any of it, how his mind was empty of her hands pulling him down to her and her small rent breaths and of telling her Angel was dead and she’d be joining him, and of snapping Miss Calendar’s neck like it was nothing, a dance step.

We have, she said, softly, and then kissed him again so he wouldn’t ask questions.

No, wait, he said, laughing, pulling away. Always. Wait, I have a question.

Her hands on his shoulders, pulling him back into kissing and love and easy quiet with no past and no heartache.

I need to know, he said, and she stopped, her heart waterlogged. Heavy.

Were we in love? he asked, earnest, his dark eyes locking onto hers. I need to know.

What do you think?

Angel smiled. I think we were. Are? I mean, I don’t remember—don’t remember love at all—but how I feel . . . I think it’s too big to not be important. Right?

And a part of her sang, but another worried that he was only choosing love as a default. He didn’t know. He didn’t know the sacrifice and what was given, so much was given; he was just guessing.

We were in love, she said, and then she pulled him back against her. We were in love.

***

Midday, and Buffy was alone in her room, changing the sheets, when Willow appeared in the doorway like a Disney movie’s woodland helper, telling her that she’d found a spell, smiling brightly, expectantly. She was so much more powerful and self-confident than she had been when they’d met, but still always so eager to please.

Willow produced a large tome and opened to the spell in question. It’s just like opening a door to let all the memories back in.

Buffy didn’t say anything, just studied the book. Restoring Stolen Memories. On the opposite page: Locking Memories Away. Restoring, locking. Such physical words, like the book’s authors expected Willow to sink her pale, slender hands into the unsound flesh of Angel’s mind.

It shouldn’t take me long to get the ingredients together; Angel could have his memories back by this evening!

And Willow rushed off to collect the ingredients.

Buffy studied the pages. Each spell was accompanied by a large illustration, apparently from a time when woodcutting was still the hot new thing. The spell Willow wanted to use had an illustration of the silhouette of a man’s head, and a bright star behind the eyes, presumably the spark of the memories being allowed back in. Buffy imagined a supernova and flinched. The opposing page’s illustration also featured a silhouette of a man’s head, but instead of a star there were bars filling the brainspace. A prison, a lock with no key. The notion felt safe, almost cozy, to Buffy; it was a permanent, static solution, nothing unstable.

It wouldn’t even take much. Things could be so easy.

Restoring Stolen Memories. Willow was only doing the spell for her; Angel had nothing to do with it.

If she asked, Buffy knew, Willow wouldn’t do it. She’d forget about it, and that’s where all this would stay: forgotten. A memory Locked Away.

Buffy looked down at the spell book, the woodcut illustrations. The lock and the bright star. Her fingers dusted over the images, tracing their shapes.

Things could be so easy.


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