And No Good Thing Ever Dies
Hope is a good thing,
A sexual energy arced between them, sudden and shocking. Angel opened his arms to her and Lina was enfolded in his tight embrace before the thought registered that he was before her. She reached back in time to that moment on the roof as if the intervening years were mere seconds. Their lips met and she opened them to receive his questing tongue. Lina felt her body sigh in release, and his posture relaxed to match hers. A decade ago, Lina had been the one to break the embrace and step back, afraid of the consequences of loving again. This time Angel was the one to break free. He moved his hands to her upper arms and pushed her gently away. Angel shoved his hands into his pockets, though it looked to Lina as if he wanted his hands free to explore her once again.
"I canít," he whispered, though longing weighted his voice.
Embarrassed at the reckless intensity of her emotions, Lina backed away. "Is there someone else?"
The pain in those two words drew her eyes up to meet his. "Iím so sorry, Angel. I wasnít thinking. Iíve been leading with my emotions lately." Lina turned, intending to give him even more space, but Angel caught her arm as she took her first step. Ignoring the spike of renewed passion and focusing only on his pain, Lina spoke sharply to her libido and managed to get her heart back to a regular rhythm.
"Lina, wait. Please."
"Itís alright. I understand."
"No, no you donít." She let him draw her around. "I canít," he repeated.
Her brows furrowed as she considered the special emphasis he placed on canít. "You mean, youíre impotent?"
Angel turned away, unable to face her. It was his turn to be embarrassed. "No, thatís not it."
In her experience, men - no matter the species - would never admit to their performance issues, but his voice held anguish, not evasion. "Angel, just tell me. Iím a doctor. Iím your friend."
He walked deeper into the dark apartment and Lina followed in his footsteps, using his path to guide her around the obstacles she couldnít discern with her human vision. He stopped at the bed and turned to face her. She was squinting, fighting to see him in the gloom.
"Light coming," he warned before clicking the switch on a small bedside lamp.
"Thanks." Lina joined him on the bed. "So?"
He was silent a moment, gathering his thoughts. "Remember I told you a Gypsy curse gave me back my soul?"
She nodded, thinking back to that conversation of a decade ago. "I remember."
"The curse guaranteed Iíd suffer through all eternity. If I experience...true happiness, my soul is forfeit."
She tested the phrase out on her tongue. "True happiness? You mean orgasm?" The look on his face was answer enough. "Angel, weíre never going to get through this if you canít say what you mean." She let a bit of the exasperation show in her voice. "Weíre two adults talking here."
Lina watched Angelís face as he considered her words. "No, I donít mean orgasm. The sexual fulfillment is only part of it, maybe not even the most important part. I suppose I mean the contentment, the peace..." He groped for the right words, but came up short.
"True happiness of being fulfilled and uplifted by a soul mate," Lina finished. "I remember what that was like."
Angel nodded; Lina could nearly read the vivid memories of his own that played across Angelís features. "Casual sex may not break the curse," Angel told her, speaking slowly, still thinking it through, "but it wouldnít be casual with you, Lina." He watched that statement hit home. "With you, I know I could find comfort, contentment and fulfillment. True happiness."
"I donít know how one statement could make me so happy and so miserable at the same time." She shook her head. Sadness bowed her back for a moment, and then she straightened her shoulders to relieve the tension and got back to the subject. "So, how did you find this out?"
His legs pinioned him from the bed and into the shadows beyond the dim circle of lamplight. His voice was low but in the silence of the apartment each word was clear, sharp. "I fell in love. I tried to deny it - we both did. I knew it was wrong somehow. We made love one night and fell asleep in each otherís arms. She woke up to a nightmare. I had lost my soul and the demon controlled me again." Angel gave her the facts calmly, strangely detached, as if any emotion he let out would break a dam he wouldnít be able to rebuild.
"Did you kill her?"
"But you did kill again."
His pain rippled in the space between them, a palpable presence Lina felt she could touch. She nearly swallowed the rest of her questions. Repressing these emotions was dangerous, unhealthy, especially in light of the face he now wore. She had to help Angel, and not only because he had to help her. She patted the bed. "Come sit." When he made no move to join her, she offered her hand. "Please."
Angel took the few steps back to the bed, gripping the offered hand like a lifeline as he sat beside Lina. "What Iíve said hasnít sickened you?"
Lina chose her words with care, yet gave him the honesty he deserved. "Itís frightening, Angel, but I feel more sadness than fear or revulsion. I know how hard you try to keep the demon in check. I can only imagine what it was like having it take over, using your face and body to do evil." She leaned close and cupped his cheek with her free hand, her palm a brand against his cool skin. Angel took the hand from his face. Both of her hands were trapped in his now, but she had no doubt he would release her if she tugged. She didnít want that release. He needed this connection, and sheíd stay in his grasp as long as that need existed.
"Howíd you get from there to here?"
"Long story," he said evasively.
"So give me the Readersí Digest version."
"I forgot how tenacious you are, Li."
She smiled away the criticism. "Yeah. Drives my friends crazy." Angel smiled in return. "Now thatís a thing of beauty." Even though it shows a bit too much fang for my peace of mind, she added mentally.
The good humor faded as he reminded her, "Not a lot to smile about these days."
Lina let that comment pass, but shook his hands, prompting him to continue the story.
"Wait a sec. Buffy?"
"Buffy," he emphasized, refusing to defend her name. "Sheís The Slayer, the one girl chosen in her generation to fight evil. We had a showdown and she won. Sent me to hell along with the demon I was trying to raise."
"Hell? A literal hell? It really exists?"
"It really exists," he confirmed, the horrors he had seen still evident in his trembling voice and hands; there were definite shadows in his eyes.
"But how did you regain your soul?"
"Buffyís best friend Willow is a Wicca. She did the Gypsy ritual and restored it just before Buffy..." Angel drifted off, lost in the memory.
"Oh, God," Lina mouthed, the words more a prayer than a curse. "She sent you to hell knowing you had regained your soul? How could she?"
"The demon was about to suck the world into hell. I was the key to close the door. She had to."
"This Buffy must have one hell of a will," Lina murmured after a moment of thought.
"Sheís strong, Lina. Stronger than I am."
"Donít sell yourself short, Angel. You survived hell." Angel felt the shudder ripple through her body. "My brain refuses to wrap around that thought. So, next. Obviously, you escaped or were released."
"Released, by the First Evil."
Lina tugged her hands free and formed a ĎTí. "OK, time out. I feel like Iíve fallen down the rabbit hole."
"You look like you can use some tea."
Lina felt like she could use some tequila, but she settled for the tea. "A vatís worth."
Angel filled a Japanese tea kettle and settled it on the stove, then readied a tea ball. Seated at the kitchen table, Lina observed, "You seem to know your way around a kitchen."
"Camouflage." Angel turned in time to catch Linaís widened eyes; she was surprised by his admission. "I mean - um - damn," he stammered. "I shocked you."
"No," she rushed to assure him before taking a breath and nodding. "Yes, Iím sorry. Weíve always been honest with each other, Angel. Donít stop."
"Iím flattered you feel so comfortable with me."
"Itís nice, Li." He busied himself at the sink, speaking just above the sound of the water. "Before, on the bed, when you touched my face..." He glanced over his shoulder at her. "This face..." He let the statement hang, unwilling or unable in to put his emotions into words.
"I didnít even think about it. I told you. I trust you. I got in the car with you." Lina let her eyes roam over his vampiric features, and even though they were fierce, they still made up a face she felt she could trust. "The core of you is good, Angel. This face is just the outward manifestation of the demon, but itís not really you. Just like everyone else, youíre the sum of your parts." Turning back to face the sink, Angel gripped the edges of the cabinet. His unnatural stillness hinted at his inner turmoil. "Angel?"
He moved to the stove to fetch the kettle before joining Lina at the table. Her hand lit on his wrist, bird-like, then with greater pressure when he remained silent. They both watched the tea as it swirled into the jadeite cups. Angel picked up his cup and deeply inhaled the unique aroma before setting it before him on the table. He kept his hand around it, absorbing some of the heat.
"Iím sorry if Iíve said something to hurt you. I only meant--"
"Li, donít be sorry." There was apology in his own eyes. "I still donít know why you trust me."
"Donít you think you deserve to be trusted?"
"Cordy asked me the same question recently. Iíll tell you what I told her: I donít know anymore. Things have happened recently. And now this." He pointed to his face. "I have doubts."
"Well, I know. The answer is yes." She frowned in mock annoyance. "Donít make me repeat myself. It wonít be pretty." She shook a stern finger under his nose, barely containing her humor.
Angelís look in return was so serious that Lina had to burst out laughing. His lips spread in a slow grin, and he laughed along with her. He remembered his human half so well that the demon dissolved away, leaving his handsome, young face in its wake.
"Welcome back, Angel."
Angel raised an exploratory hand to his face. "Thank you, Lina."
"See, told ya laughter is the best medicine," she quipped.
"Doctor knows best," he agreed equably.
Lina took a few small sips of tea, growing more thoughtful. "So, where were we? Um - first evil."
"Some force released me, Lina," Angel picked up the story, "but it was for its own evil purpose. It wanted me to..." Lina knew he was giving a fleeting thought to substituting a euphemism, but she had asked for honesty, and the word he used was blunt "...drink her." Angel paused and glanced up.
"Drink her. As in, drain her blood?" Angel nodded. "Well, you didnít do that, so what happened?" She watched his face go through some startling emotional acrobatics, finally settling on amazement. "Angel?"
"You always think well of me, Li."
"That night I fell asleep on your chest - I know you had a little fight with the demon - and you won. Why should I assume youíd lose with someone you deeply love when you held the demon in check with a virtual stranger?"
"Were you afraid?"
"Itís in the past, Angel."
"Are you afraid now?"
"Take a sniff," she invited.
He complied, though his doubts were evident. "Youíre not." The words were almost an accusation.
"No." Lina gathered her thoughts before giving them voice. She wanted to keep up the honesty, but she didnít want to hurt him. "Listen, I canít let myself be afraid of you. I wouldnít be able to sit here and speak rationally. I have to trust you, Angel, because the alternative is never to see you again. I donít want that."
"Now that I know youíre alive, I donít want that either, Li. I donít want you to be afraid, but..."
"But?" When he didnít answer, she completed the sentence for him. "But itís a big responsibility, right? When you were alone all those years, with virtually no human contact, you didnít have to worry about hurting anyone. Now, Cordelia says she trusts you with her life. Thatís a big hairy deal. Part of you needs that trust to stay human, but the demon likes it because it brings prey close, and theyíre unsuspecting." He turned stunned eyes to her. "Was that too blunt?"
"No, Lina," he replied after a momentís contemplation. "You understand it perfectly. You sure youíre a pediatrician and not a psychologist?"
"Every doctor is a bit of a psychologist, but I read more than many, and of a different variety, as you know." Angel released a scoffing laugh. "Yeah, so many people feel that way. Those authors have no idea vampires really exist, but some of them hit the mark. Itís all human and animal psychology. Iíve tried my hand at writing, too. Fascinating subject."
"Get out the microscope," he muttered.
"Oh, God, Iím sorry. I guess that was a little too honest, huh?"
"Donít ever stop. Cordelia has only recently learned the meaning of tact, but the honesty helps."
"Itís a deal." Lina freshened her tea, offering to top off Angelís as well, but he covered his cup with his hand. "You care for Cordelia, donít you?"
"We care for each other," he replied without hesitation. "We were both alone in a city of millions and we just drifted together."
"Like the two of us."
Angel nodded. "Yeah. Cordy is like no one you ever met, Li."
"Whatís her story?"
"She grew up privileged, the leader of her pack. Sheís fashion conscious, haughty, superficial, egotistical." Angel narrowed his eyes, as if studying Cordelia with inner vision, then continued. "Painfully honest, straightforward, compassionate, brave, resourceful."
Lina raised an eyebrow as she digested Angelís description. "How did she end up with such a disparate set of traits?"
"Sunnydale is quite an education for a teen, every day a different adventure courtesy of the Hellmouth. That, combined with her fall from grace after her parents were arrested for tax evasion, and having visions thrust upon her, adds up to one hell of an eye-opening experience."
"I donít pretend to understand half of that, but the half I do tells me that Cordelia could have no better friend."
Angel took Linaís hand in his, and kissed the palm. He released her after only a fleeting touch of his lips. The demon flickered briefly into view but was gone so quickly, Lina thought it was a trick of the low light. "Your scent... Iím sorry. Iíd never - No, thatís not true. I might."
"I donít believe that, Angel."
"God, Lina. Earlier you told me you didnít think Iíd drink Buffy. I did."
"While you were evil?"
"Tell me." He shook his head, refusing to meet her eyes. "You can tell me anything."
His voice was choked with pain as he related the events. "I was dying of a rare poison. Only a Slayerís blood could cure me. Buffy offered her blood and I refused. I couldnít hurt her. But I was weak, and she hit me until she evoked the demon." His voice broke, but he cleared his throat and went on. "She pulled me to her throat, and I fed. If she were anyone but the Slayer, sheíd be dead."
Lina felt her muscles stiffen and her throat closed until no sound would emerge. This was fear, finally, and she didnít like it. He sat across the table from her, expectant, but she had no words, nothing that wouldnít sound falsely reassuring. Her faith in him had been shaken, and so soon after that lofty speech that she trusted him, that he wasnít a demon in her eyes. Still, Lina had told Angel once upon a time that she judged him not by past events or how he treated others, but who he was now and how he treated her.
"She must love you very much, Angel." His eyes widened with shock, and maybe just a bit of anger. "I told you. You wonít frighten me away. Youíre stuck with me as a friend."
Angel sat back, taking some time out to think about everything she had said, then nodded. "Lucky me, Lina, lucky me."
"And donít you forget it, buster."
They shared a moment of laughter, until Linaís curiosity overrode her mirth. "So," she continued, "whatís the story with Kate?"
A melancholy stole over Angel. "Sheís just a friend, or was a friend until she found out Iím a vampire, and her father was killed by vampires."
"And thereís nothing you can do? I like her, Angel."
"Really?" Angel cocked a skeptical eyebrow. "Seemed like anything but."
"Sheís very straightforward," Lina explained. "From your description of Cordelia and the brief encounter with Kate, seems like the detective could be an older, wiser version of Cordelia."
"Iím not sure Kate would appreciate that distinction, and I know Cordelia wouldnít. Iím working on it, but Kateís had it rough. Sheís thrown up some tough barriers."
"Youíll get through. Keep trying." Lina stood and stretched, then went to the sink and poured herself a tall glass of water. "No more tea for me. Even though itís caffeine-free, some of the roots are natural stimulants. Iíll be a crazy person soon." She ran another glass full and took it back to the table. "Now that weíve exhausted every other subject, how about the one youíve avoided? What the hell is going on at the hospital?"
All business, Angel gave Lina a concise rundown. "Near as Wes and Cordy can figure out, itís a demon - a Lethe demon."
"Lethe? As in, the forgetful waters of Hades?"
Angel blinked, impressed. "Yeah. Howíd you know?"
"I told you. I read a lot. If I wouldíve known Iíd need a grimoire, Iíd have brought mine along from home. I have extensive notes."
Angel couldnít quite keep the amusement out of his voice. "You should meet Wesley."
"Then I will." Lina glanced down at her pager and noted the time. "But not tonight. I need to get home. I have a consultation at nine."
"Youíre going back to the hospital?"
"I have to, Angel. Itís the reason Iím here."
Lina placed two fingers across his lips, silencing him. "Itís what I do, Angel. You stop the supernatural demons so I can stop the medical ones." Angel let out a resigned sigh. "Thatís better."
"At least let me take you home."
"Thanks." Arching a brow, she told him, "I think those fins are sexy, you know?"
"Right here, Angel."
He gave the place the once-over. The house was Mediterranean in style, a sprawling ranch in pale apricot stucco, red clay tile and exposed oak beams. "Nice."
"My sister and her husband are both software engineers. Good salaries."
"Looks it. Brentwoodís a pricey neighborhood."
Angel gave Lina a hand out of the car and followed her up the drive to the front porch. Two wrought-iron lanterns hung on either side of the entrance provided a flickering, uneven glow from bulbs made to mimic real flame. Lina dug in her messenger bag and came out with a set of keys attached to an enameled Pooh Bear. She unlocked the door and backed in, only a few inches over the threshold.
Angel looked over her shoulder. "Itís dark inside. Youíll be alright all alone?"
Lina read between the lines, knowing full well Angel expected - maybe even needed - an invitation. "Iíll be fine," she responded, choosing to misinterpret his concerns.
"You sure?" I could, you know, look around," he offered.
The hope that painted his face with expectation was exactly as she remembered, and it spiked her nerves. "Angel, I canít give you an invitation," Lina told him, acknowledging his need. "Itís my sisterís house. Itís not my right." His closed expression spurred her to explain. "My sister and her family have no idea anything supernatural exists. By inviting you in, I open their lives to the monsters. I just canít do that, Angel."
The silence stretched between them, but Angel responded at last. "I understand."
"No, you only think you do." Lina stepped back out and took a hold of Angelís forearm. "I trust you with my life. And I donít think of you as a monster. Iíd hoped you knew that went without saying." She tugged on his arm when he turned his face away, and waited until she once again had his undivided attention before continuing. "You will always be welcome in any home of mine, no matter where I go or how long I live."
She was rewarded with a direct look, sharply appraising. "Lina."
Her look in return let him know she realized the import of her words. "Angel, you earned my trust and itís yours forever. If this were my home and not my sisterís, we wouldnít be standing out here." She returned his gaze and held it. "Do you understand?" Lina was gratified by his nod. "Good." Her face lit by an impish grin, she told him, "Now youíd better go, before my resolve weakens, I throw you to the ground and ravish you." His mock horror made her laugh and amend her statement. "OK, ravish myself." The humor faded to a worried frown. "You know Iíd never do anything to jeopardize your soul, Angel," she promised, removing her hand from his arm.
"I know, Li," he answered, then leaned in to give her a kiss on the forehead. Angel took her hands and kissed each palm in turn. "I can do this, Lina. Besides, kissing you is..." His eyes filled with pain, but he turned aside, trying to hide the sudden emotion.
"It hurts to kiss me?" She made a moue. "Thatís not exactly what a woman wants to hear."
He shook his head. " I want to kiss you, but thereís always a base of pain to temper the enjoyment -- a reminder of my isolation." He must have realized how bad that sounded. "Donít worry about me, Li."
Lina reached up, a plan in mind to salve the hurt. Guessing her intent, Angel loosened his grip, freeing his fingers to caress the bare skin of her shoulders. The moonlight painted her face in shades of soft blue, enhancing the sea green of her eyes while hiding their depths. Angel was half-concealed by shadow, yet Lina had a clear view of his eyes. She cupped his chin then traced the outline of his lips with the pad of her thumb, all the while holding his gaze with her own. Lina rose up on tiptoe and brushed his lips once and then again, tempting him until his hands dropped in a silky journey from her shoulders to her waist. She was trapped against him, full contact from lips to knees, his arms enclosing her in a tight yet comfortable embrace. Despite the difference in their heights, their bodies meshed with intimate closeness, like two pages in a book. The kiss was unhurried and filled with a desperate longing and loneliness, but also with the promise of love and acceptance. They broke apart as though theyíd arrived at some prearranged time limit, but Lina allowed herself to linger a few moments longer. She had forgotten how safe his arms felt, still, even after almost a decade. Tears threatened to spill, and she let them flow unheeded. Angel cupped her face, his large hands soft and gentle, and wiped the tears away from her cheeks and eyelashes. His own eyes were bright with tears he could not release.
"Why are there always tears between people who love each other?" His voice kept the intimate mood of the moment. "Thatís not how it should be."
"I know," Lina murmured. "Maybe suffering is programmed into our genetic code."
They shared a chuckle, and though the laughter petered out, both Angel and Lina managed to keep some measure of their good humor.
"I understand, Lina," Angel repeated. This time the words reflected his true feelings. He glanced upwards, gauging the time by the position of the moon, measuring it against his innate time sense. "I have to go."
She nodded. "See you later."
As he settled himself in the convertible, he called back, "But if a monster eats you, donít say I didnít warn you."
Lina let a bark of laughter escape her; he could always make her laugh. She waved at him. "Go!"
Angel lifted his right hand over his shoulder, returning the wave. Lina watched him until the shrubs lining the driveway obscured her view. She entered the house, swinging the door to close it behind her.
"So, thatís Angel, huh?"
"Ack!!" Lina spun around and slammed back into the door, hand coming up to block a would-be attacker, or maybe that monster Angel warned her about. Her raised hand blocked only the sudden light. "Rick, are you trying to give me a coronary?"
Rachel joined her husband in the foyer, stifling a chuckle. "We were just curious. Why didnít you ask him in, Lina?" Her eyes flashed, filled with mischief. Teasing her sister had been lifelong hobby. "Afraid weíd give him the third degree?"
Lina took a deep breath, then placed a hand on her chest, as if she could slow her heart with the pressure. "If heís not home by midnight, heíll turn back into a mouse." Her own eyes twinkling, Lina turned to seek her bed, leaving the couple to find their own answers.
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