And No Good Thing Ever Dies
Hope is a good thing,
"Youíre going back to New York, arenít you?"
"Iím going back to New York," Lina confirmed. "I miss the actual hands-on stuff of being a doctor. Iím not cut out to be an administrator."
Angel didnít want her to go; he wanted to say Donít go, stay here. The words were hot on his tongue, but he swallowed them. He swallowed back the pain, as well, before Lina took note, but it was bitter as old blood. "Well, I did tell you youíd miss it," he said at last, in what he hoped was close to his normal quiet tone. Angel could feel Linaís eyes studying him, but he returned her level, appraising gaze with a steady one of his own. Her eyes filled with regret, and sorrow and, finally, pity. He should have known he wouldnít fool her for even a minute.
"And now I have something for you." He watched as she reached her hand into her bag and came out with a slim white envelope. Cordeliaís name had been written in script across the front. Angel reached out to take it when Lina proffered it. At her urging, he opened it. Inside was a check covering their fee, plus a small bonus. Angel gave a low whistle.
"I would have given it to Cordy directly, but I hate seeing an orgasm on a womanís face unless it happens to be mine."
Angelís initial reaction was to be shocked, but he soon realized that the reaction was just a faÁade heíd gotten used to showing. Heíd been so used to burying his maturity while he was with Buffy that letting it out now was tougher than he would have imagined. He had been a lusty youth, and Angelus had never wanted for female companionship. That thought sobered him; he always equated lust with Angelus and shied away, forgetting his past before Darla brought him across. Angel glanced up at Lina; she must have seen some of the inner turmoil come across his face.
Lina sighed. "Iím sorry, I deliberately tried to shock you. I just want you to remember - weíre two adults talking here, and you can tell me anything."
"Thanks, I need the reminder. Um, Li..." He thought about keeping his thoughts to himself, but sheíd be gone soon, and he had to tell her what was in his heart. He just didnít know how to begin.
Lina must have sensed his dilemma, and she helped by starting the conversation. "Our timing really sucks, huh?"
"It really does," Angel agreed.
When Angel didnít continue, Lina took up the burden of moving the conversation along. "When we met, I was a basket case, a nut cluster of tangled emotions. And you..."
"I was a mess," Angel admitted. "I still canít believe your faith in me, your trust."
"I guess I needed to bond with someone safe."
"Safe?" Angel snorted. "Thatís the last word you should use to describe me, Li. I mean, you saw..." Angel took a second to regroup. "You saw me at my worst, Lina."
Lina shook her head, but Angel knew she wasnít denying his words, just discounting their importance. "I know you walk a fine line, Angel - I understand that better now -- but they deserve to know all of who you are, each face you can present to the world."
"No, I donít want them seeing that side of me. Itís ugly."
That same mixture of sorrow and pity filled her eyes, and Angel couldnít bear to look any longer. He turned his back to her, but made it into a useful move and leaned over to put the check into a drawer for safekeeping. Angel turned back when she tugged at his sleeve.
"Iím sorry, Angel. I just hope you can find peace some day, peace and maybe love. Maybe we both will."
"Yeah? I thought - Wes..."
"No. He reminds me too much of Lif. It wouldnít be fair to him." Lina dropped down to the couch and patted the seat cushion next to her. "Thereís someone for everyone, Angel - for you, for me, for Wes, even for Cordelia." Angel joined her on the couch and she pulled up a knee and turned to face him. "Youíll see."
Angel sat back and listened to the sounds from the rest of the building. He could just make out Wes and Cordy bickering, and he found himself smiling. People talked about comfort foods, but the noises coming from the building above him were his comfort sounds. After a few minutes, the offices upstairs gave back nothing but silence, and Angel knew that Wesley and Cordelia had left for the night. They had said their good-byes to Lina earlier, and left Angel as the rear guard.
Cordelia gave Lina a perfunctory hug, told her to take care, and walked out without a backward glance. Angel knew Cordy would be glad to hear Lina was going back to New York, out of Cordyís sphere of influence. Although, if Cordelia had seen the check, the hug might have been more genuine. Wesleyís turn at good-bye came next, filled with complex emotions and quite a bit of sub-text. The scene replayed in Angelís mind.
"I - I have a going away present for you - from all of us," Wes stammered. Lina took the gaily wrapped present and began to rip open the paper, but Wes stopped her with a hand pressed to the package. "Open it at home, Lina," Wes requested.
"No, I canít wait, Wes."
Wes withdrew his hand. Lina pulled off the ribbon and tore into the paper like a child on Christmas. Out of the remnants of the paper popped a small stuffed pig with wings and a halo. Angel laughed to himself at Linaís little girl squeal of surprise and pleasure. Lina always did like pigs. The little tag Wes attached was signed by the whole team, but carried Wesí special touch - a few lines he insisted were a meaningful quote. The tag read: ĎHope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.í Lina nodded, wiped away an errant tear, and placed the pig in her bag for safe-keeping. Then Wes gave Lina a hug, too, but it was awkward as hell, and there was a ton of regret behind it; Lina hugged him back and gave him an amiable kiss on each cheek, European style. Wes backed towards the stairs, keeping Lina in sight until the very last moment, almost toppling heels over head on a pile of books he left at the foot of the staircase. He recovered well, Angel gave him that, and he waved, turned swiftly and ran up the stairs.
"Penny for your thoughts," she said to him.
The throaty chuckle that followed the words went right through him, spurred him finally to tell her what he had wanted to for ten years. "I never had the chance to tell you what those few hours we spent together a decade ago meant to me." Angel turned to face Lina. He willed her to see into his soul, that what he was saying was the very truth. She met his gaze almost solemnly, as if she understood what this revelation was costing him. "It was like seeing the sunlight again after nearly 100 years of darkness. You set my feet on the right path." Angel thought about Whistler, Buffy, Hell. Even if the demon had somehow predicted everything that had come to pass ahead of time, he wouldnít have changed a thing. " You made me the man I am today. I just wish you could stay and help keep me on the right path." Lina gave a slight shake of her head, but Angel wouldnít let her avoid the truth. He had to make her understand the role she played in his life. "You gave me hope. Belief that there was still good in the world, in people. Still love." Angel had made Lina cry, and he reached over to wipe the tears from her cheeks. "I didnít mean to make you cry, Lina. I just wanted you to know how I felt."
"I know, Angel. I knew then, and I know now. I read between the lines in that letter you left me." Her eyes widened, as if she had suddenly remembered a nagging question. "Where did you learn to draw?"
"Long time ago. Live long enough you can learn anything."
"Even to forget?" Angel sighed. Lina always cut right to the chase, and her lightning-fast change of moods kept him off-balance. He told her as much. "Iím mercurial," she replied. "My friends tell me it keeps things interesting." Lina picked up a pillow and hugged it to her chest.
"Are you really all right?"
"íI have my dead and I have let them go,í" she told him. The words sounded formal, like a quote, but she was speaking again before he could ask. "Yeah, yeah, I wonít ever get used to the dying part of doctoring. Makes me feel so impotent."
"It hurts to lose an innocent. Iím sorry we couldnít help everyone in time, Lina."
"We were doing our best," Lina assured Angel, but her voice held a note of bitterness. "It wasnít easy explaining that to the grieving parents and family members - how we did our best but their loved ones are still dead. Thatís another part of doctoring I wonít ever get used to."
"And you shouldnít, Lina."
"I know. If I ever get that cold, Iíll go back to administration."
"So thereís a chance youíll be back?" he asked eagerly. Angel gave up the pretense of laconic cool since it didnít ever work with Lina anyway.
Lina chuckled again. "My sister still lives here. Iíll be back for visits. And now that I know youíre here, expect me to be an utter pest." She gave him a saucy glance. "Of course, you could always come visit me in New York. You have a standing invitation."
"You could never be a pest, Li. And I just might take you up on that offer someday."
Her smile was answer enough. Lina glanced down at her watch, and a look of sadness passed across her features. "My flight leaves in three hours. I should get going."
Lina climbed to her feet and stretched, then pointed in the general direction of the bathroom. Angel felt a warmth spread throughout his body as he watched her, and the pressure built until he had to find a release. He stood and was at her side in one long stride. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he stopped her and moved around her in a full body caress. Lina had gone still under his touch, but Angel didnít give either of them time for any doubts. Angel lowered his mouth to hers, beginning a kiss that used every bit of his age old skill, and some improvisation on top. Lina was up to the challenge, and she molded against him; even though her frame was just a fraction of his, their bodies meshed with an intimacy Angel had long since forgotten. They were pressed so close, he could feel her heartbeat through his body as if it were his own. Her lips parted beneath his skillful pressure, and Angel took the opportunity to explore the topography of her mouth. He traced his tongue along her palate, teasing the ridge of flesh right behind her front teeth. Her tongue met his in a mutual dance of discovery, and Angel moaned to a music he had created with his mouth, his body. His hands came up of their own accord to cradle her head, fingers pushed deep into her auburn hair, the strands laced around and between, tickling his palms with softness and warmth. His thumbs traced the tips of her ears. Linaís hands played with the wisps of hair at his nape, one sensation lost among a million others. Lina stirred in his arms. She stirred his memory.
It was one of those perfect kisses where time itself stands still to take note of the perfection, where nether participant cares about anything but the kiss, with no concerns for the outside world. It is in the moment, and the moment is eternity. Romantic and passionate, yet lustful and raw, the kiss drew energy from the couple locked together and became an entity onto itself, live and pulsing with emotion.
Angel couldnít tame the kiss, nor did he want to.
The decision to enter the kiss was made below the level of conscious thought, where want and need existed independent of consequence. But soon, much too soon, doubts - the need to be responsible, fear of triggering the curse - invaded the surface of his mind and penetrated deeply. Angel stirred, shifted in the embrace and gathered his will. Letting her go and stepping back was one of the most difficult things he had ever done, on a par with walking away from Buffy after the battle on graduation day. And from Linaís reluctance to move, he could tell her wants and needs were trying desperately to convince her rational mind that she could remain in the embrace without worry or care.
The entrance to the kiss was graceful and adept, the product of decades of experience, and a depth of emotion rarely plumbed. The cessation of the kiss was awkward and abrupt, with emotions just as deep but overlaid with maturity and rational doubts. In the blink of an eye, there was space between them - several inches and then several feet. The loss of the connection was like a physical blow. He felt the separation keenly in each nerve of his body. Angel put a hand to one of the apartmentís structural columns for support, and Lina backed up until the bathroom door stopped her momentum. She gripped the doorknob and twisted. Angel wanted so much to stop her, but he kept the words from forming. Their eyes met for a brief, intense moment of understanding - the could-have-beens, the should-bes, the what-ifs - before the bathroom door broke the tenuous contact.
Angel made his way to the kitchen, his body on auto-pilot, his mind too full of memories and regrets to even form a coherent thought. He splashed some water on his face, trying to break the spell the kiss had cast on his senses, his heart. His success was only partial, but in reality, he had had his fill of water cleansing away his memories, and he turned off the faucet and dried his face. He took a deep breath, tried to find his center, and that worked well enough to present a calm appearance to Lina when she emerged from the bathroom. Her face was still damp from what Angel suspected was a similar aborted cleansing. Angel opened his mouth to speak, although he had no idea what was left to say. The kiss had spoken volumes.
Lina held up a hand, a rueful grin twisting her lips. "All I ask is that you remember." With a blown kiss, Lina turned and climbed the stairs, leaving Angel with memory and hope.
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