Title: Dying With Dignity
Author: Starla
Email: fuzzylittlepackrat@hotmail.com 
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt own all.
Distribution: Take it, but let me know.
Rating: PG - swearing, talk of violence in sex.
Timeline: s6/3 - except I haven't actually seen the new seasons, so this is kinda vague. I'm putting St. Cordy to my own uses.
Author's Notes: If you have a fondness for B/S in the 'I love you' sense, you might not want to read this. If you truly can't stomach the concept of Cordy/Angel, even from a B/A angle, pass it by.
Feedback: Ooh, yes please.

I crept softly up the stairs to my lover's bedroom; I wanted to surprise him, catch him unawares as Mr. Stealth Man so often did me.

When I reached the landing, I heard muffled murmurs floating through the door, which stood slightly ajar, a slice of pale golden light escaping to flood the plush burgundy carpet.

*She* was there, and it took me a moment to recover from the paralysis before I moved closer to the door, needing to see them more clearly, to watch them, to let my heart break within my bones.

Her hair was darker, shorter, hiding her face, but Angel's manner...

It was undeniably Buffy Summers.

She was shirtless, and for a moment bile rose in my throat before I saw them... the bruises, purpling and vivid against the paleness of her skin, the cuts, and scrapes, and bite marks, as if she'd been beaten, torn down and crushed whimpering beneath the feet of her foe. The bruises that Angel traced gently with his hands, his long fingers sliding gently along her spine.

Her legs were curled against her chest, her face resting upon her knees; her arms shaking a little as she bound them around herself.

"I didn't mean for it to get this far," she said dully to Angel, who I saw had tears glistening in his eyes as he took a washcloth from the bowl sitting beside him and wiped away some of her blood. "I didn't mean..."

A muffled sob escaped her lips, and I saw Angel shudder at the sound, moving closer and pressing his cheek against her shoulder.

"Buffy..." he whispered, his voice hoarse.

"I came back and I just didn't know - I can't - Oh, god, Angel, I don't want this any more," she rambled, more fear in her words than I'd ever imagined she could feel.

I didn't know what was wrong, exactly, but I felt like I'd intruded on something incredibly intimate, personal. I felt like I was treading on sacred ground.

But still, I didn't make myself move, because I remembered, barely, that Angel was supposed to be *mine*, now.

At least, that's what I'd thought, what I'd told myself, what I'd wanted so desperately.

Was it possible for Angel to ever really belong to anyone but Buffy Summers?

She'd always been the one thing that he wouldn't let anyone touch. If you so much as spoke her name in the wrong tone, he'd flinch, bundle himself away in broodzone, and you wouldn't be able to reach him for hours, and when you did, you could still see the hint of bitterness and resentment he held towards you, just for some imagined insult against her.

I'd asked him, once, long before I ever entertained the idea of joining him in his bed, what it was about her that made everyone so crazy. He'd stared at me, lost for a moment, sad and bewildered and alone, and then just told me I wouldn't understand. That I couldn't understand.

I understood this, the people who sat before me, who knew intimacy I'd never touch... the intimacy of fear and protection and love and devotion, eternity.

Intimacy was more than flesh, more than friendship, and I suddenly knew why Angel had never worried about his soul, during the whole span of our sexual relationship.

"I wanted to know what it was like to fall," she told him, voice rolling and wavering and shuddering throughout the room. "To fall and not have to get up. Not be... strong."

"I know," he told her, and pressed his lips to one of the cuts on her back.

"Everyone thinks I'm strong... have always thought I was strong... but I'm not."

"You are," he said firmly, "but you're not invincible, Buffy."

"Spike said I thought I was invincible," she told him, and I saw his flinch, and I knew there was something up, there. "He was wrong. I've been waiting to die for so long, and I hadn't even realised it yet." He rested his head against her shoulder again, and she must have felt his tears, because she spoke in a sad, regretful voice. "I'm sorry."

"I love you," he murmured to her, and I could barely hear his voice. "I don't want you to be in this much pain."

This was a side of Angel I hadn't seen in a while... serious, and brooding, and not smiling and goofy and joking everything away... this was a side that was real, and honest, and raw. This was a side he'd started to hide from the world, from us, when he found out that we were afraid of it.

Apparently, he didn't have anything to hide from her, any more.

"I just wanted to rest," she said. "Everything was so fucked up... there was nothing left to hope for."

He shook, and his arms slid all the way around her, over hers, clasped around her knees. The wounds covering her back must have stung, but she didn't even flinch, just turned her face to bury it in his neck.

"I'm so sorry, Buffy," he whispered, again and again, and again, his fingers sliding around hers, rocking her a little.

"How did I get here?" she asked him brokenly, even though she had no answers. "Why did they do this to me? Why do I do it to myself?"

"I don't know, love."

"They're mean."

I realised she was talking about the powers, and felt rather inclined to agree, having seen in full technicolour smell-o-vision all the pain in the world.

"Spike looks as bad as I do, you know," she told Angel, then laughed, with no joy. "I fucked him like an animal."

Angel flinched, his lips pressing into a hard line.

"I hurt him, too," she tells him, "and I liked it."

God, never thought I'd hear *that* coming out of Buffy's mouth. Spike! SPIKE!

I wondered if she knew that Angel was sleeping with me.

"I've felt it inside me," she said, "more and more. I don't want to be Buffy any more... sometimes, there's just the hunter."

"That's okay," he said, "It's a part of you."

That's something I know Angel understands.

"I don't want to be someone who gets off on hurting other... people."

"Spike's not a person," Angel replied, probably a little more harshly than he intended.

"And, what, that makes it better?" she said incredulously. "I'm fucking a filthy, soulless, *demon*! I may as well have the blood of his victims on my hands."

"Don't say that," he begged, "Buffy... I know you don't feel it, but you're still just as innocent as you always were." He pulled back, and drew her around to face him. His hand slid down to her heart, and he murmured, "You're the same, in here. You're just looking for a way home."

I saw her eyes for the first time, saw the bruising and dark circles under them, and around her mouth, on her neck. "You're wrong. I don't even know where home is, any more."

He kissed her, then, and I couldn't help the hot jealousy that flared up in my gut.

When he pulled away, her hand came up to rest on his cheek, and she pressed their foreheads close. "Or, I know where it is, but I'm not allowed to go there, any more."

"One day," he murmured wistfully.

"I can't live for some day, any more." Buffy's voice was thick with tears. "I need something to live for, now."

He kissed her cheeks, her eyelids, her brow, and said, "Live because your friends need you to. Live because *I* need you to..." his eyes didn't meet hers, "I know it's selfish of me..."

"You're sleeping with Cordelia," she reminded him, and I shrank back a little guiltily. "You don't need me any more."

"I always need you," he promised her, "I always miss you, and I *always* love you... Cordelia..."

I waited, holding my breath, waiting for him to say I was just an easy lay, something to keep him warm on cold nights.

"Cordy is my best friend," he said simply. "I'll love her forever, because of that simple fact alone..."

My heart fluttered with affection for him, even as I realised that his love for me... and mine for him, was far from passionate, far from the desperate need that draws these two together at every crossroad... and eventually, forces them apart.

"...But my heart... my soul, Buffy, they belong to you. They've *always* belonged to you. You're more important in my life than *anyone*."

"Let's go away for a few days," she said suddenly, "Please? Just you and me, and Connor..." He hesitated, and he didn't give in til her bottom lip trembled, and she said, "I need a break... I need to remember how to live my life... but I'm scared to do it alone."

"You're never alone," he promised her... "Remember? Whatever happens..."

"You'll always be with me."

I left, then, understanding, but still hurting, and went home, where Phantom Dennis drew me a bath.

When Angel broke things off with us the next day, I pretended to be surprised. I hugged him, and I told him that he was my best friend, and that I would *always* love him.

After all, sometimes, a girl's gotta die with dignity.



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