Riley's not drunk.
Given that he's missing a good pint-and-a-half of blood, and he had two beers tonight, he really ought to be. But he's just -- lightheaded, warm, as though he were floating through a dark, safe sea. The only anchor he has is the man who has one arm wrapped around his waist, against whose shoulders he leans as they weave up the stairs of the Hyperion.
"I shouldn't have let you drink," Angel says.
"I'm fine," Riley says lightly. "I haven't felt this good in years."
Angel gives him a look -- dark eyes nonetheless clear in the darker hallway -- but the thing is, it's true. Riley isn't talking about the false high of liquor. He's talking about the strange freedom found within guilt. Finally accepting the blame has given him words to put to his experiences; as awful as it is, as long as it will haunt him, at least he knows what it is that's chasing him. For the first time since the army issued him a number and haircut and olive-green clothes, Riley knows who and what he is, and knows that he and he alone is responsible for that identity. It isn't comforting, exactly, but it's better.
And all this because of Angel --
Now, that must be the beer talking, because heart-to-heart chats and daring rescues aside, Riley's pretty sure he still doesn't like Angel all that much. But he feels a kind of connection, nonetheless. It is both threatening and, when he considers it further, kind of interesting.
Angel steers them both into the room where Riley spent last night; a nice, if old-fashioned, hotel room with dark-plum walls and a bedspread Angel didn't bother to turn back. "Are you sure you're all right?" Angel says, as he unwraps Riley's arm from his shoulders.
"I'm really okay," Riley promises as he sinks down onto the bed. "I'm not even all that drunk. It's just -- getting it all out there, you know?"
"I can imagine," Angel says quietly. He hesitates for a moment, then sits on the edge of the bed. "How's your throat?"
Riley puts one hand to the bandages over the fresh vampire bite on his neck. He's scarcely thought about the wound all day -- of all the various pains he has been feeling, this is the least -- but now that he touches the gauze and the tape he realizes that this, too, is Angel's patchwork. "Still tender," he says. "But I've had worse."
Angel frowns. "We should probably change the dressing. Hold still."
Riley watches him lean down for the first-aid kit that he must have left by Riley's bed last night. A blue plastic box, with a red cross on the label; it's filled with all the usual things, scissors and vaseline, band-aids and tweezers. Strangely ordinary for a vampire. "You need a first-aid kit?"
"Sometimes," Angel says, touching his fingertips to Riley's neck. "I used to need it for my friends, too."
And with a rip, the bandage is pulled away. Riley grimaces, but the pain is past in an instant. Angel puts the gauze pad -- brownish with dried blood -- on the bedstand and checks the wound carefully. "It looks pretty good. I'm going to put on some more peroxide, though."
"Fine," Riley says. Angel's hand is cool against the back of Riley's neck as Angel steadies his head and presses damp cotton to the wound. He is gentler than Riley would ever have imagined possible. All this time, he's thought of Angel as this savage, mysterious creature who ruled Buffy through fear and obsession and the dark thrall of blood. Only now does he realize that what happened between Buffy and Angel might have been simpler, better than that, that it might have come down to something like this -- care given when it was needed, without questions, without complaint.
Before he can think better of it, Riley says, "Were you like this with Buffy?"
Angel only hesitates for a moment, but his voice is cooler, more controlled, when he speaks again. The pressure against his neck is a little greater. "When I could be."
Riley tries to meet Angel's eyes, but Angel is focused on his task. Or is he? Is he instead looking at an exposed throat, bare before him, pulse visible just beneath the skin? A shiver goes through Riley, and it is only half fear.
Before he can think better of it, Riley says, "You still owe me one."
Angel stops, and for a moment they are both silent, shock-still. Then Angel looks up, meets Riley's eyes all too steadily. "You can't want that."
"I don't think you know what I want." This sounds very good, very forceful, and Riley is somewhat proud of it, though it does of course leave out the fact that Riley himself has no idea what he wants.
Before the first vampire bite, this could never have happened. Riley prided himself on being a tolerant person, but the very concept of homosexuality was foreign to him. He could accept it, but he could not understand it -- a lifetime spent in barracks and locker rooms had never once kindled in him the kind of excitement inspired by the slightest brush of Buffy's hand across his back.
But after -- after that first night, that first alleyway, that first set of fangs sinking into his flesh so easily, as though his body had no substance at all -- Riley discovered that sexual pleasure could arise from many, many things beyond sex. He always went to female vampires, but males worked in the suck houses too; Riley could never walk past them without realizing that they could deliver him the same tainted ecstasy.
Perhaps his horizons have been broadened. Perhaps he's been twisted beyond repair. Whatever the cause, Riley can look at Angel now and see what he never saw before.
Angel says, "I think you want to know what I was like with Buffy."
And that hurts, because he realizes that Angel's probably right. For the first time, Riley is sure that they aren't talking about a matter of biting, being bitten. To his surprise, this buoys him; he and Angel are at last on equal ground. "What about you?" Riley whispers. "Do you want to know what I was like with Buffy?"
"Boy," Angel says, scorn twisting his face, "don't push me. You don't know what you're dealing with."
"That's the whole point," Riley says.
And then Angel kisses him.
His mouth is hard against Riley's; he means for this to shock Riley, to scare him off. And though it is shocking -- Angel is kissing me, a guy is kissing me, I'm kissing a guy -- it does not scare him. Riley realizes that Angel is bluffing, and, sensing the challenge, he decides to call the bluff.
No sooner has Angel leaned away from Riley than Riley grabs him, kisses him in return, even more forcefully this time. So far it could only be a battle of wills -- not so different from the alleyway shoving match that marked their first meeting -- but then Angel makes this small sound in the back of his throat. Angel's enjoying this, Riley thinks, and he is unexpectedly thrilled at the rush of power he feels.
Their lips part on the third kiss, and Angel's tongue is cool as it slips into his mouth. This sensation is familiar to Riley -- he would have thought it would be stranger, more different, to be kissing a man instead of a woman. But this is a small difference compared to that between a human and a vampire, and that much Riley grew accustomed to long ago. What's happening now with Angel -- this is known, this is comfortable --
-- this is the way Buffy kisses, this is the way Angel taught her to kiss --
-- and this is as close as Riley will ever be to her again, as close as either of them will ever be to her again. For a moment her presence is so real, so tangible, that Riley can almost imagine her sitting at the foot of the bed, watching. He is not ashamed; he is defying her, defying the power of her memory, and he is stronger for his defiance. He brushes Angel's tongue with his own, explores his mouth, brings them closer yet.
Angel is the one who pulls away. He shrugs off the grip Riley has on his shirt and shakes his head. "You're -- you're not yourself," he says, his voice ragged. "I don't want to take advantage."
"You're not." Riley says, then wonders why he's not taking the out. Angel's the one who blinked first; in this particular game of chicken, Riley can claim victory.
But that's not what he wants anymore. He has spent the past year of his life trying to exile Angel into an oblivion beyond the reach of his fear or Buffy's memory. He has been opening his veins and turning over his body in an effort to know what power it is this man has. Now the means are within his reach -- literally within his reach, as Angel does not pull back when Riley puts his hands on Angel's chest -- and he doesn't want to turn away.
"I'm having a strange week," Angel says. Riley looks at him, questioning, but Angel doesn't seem likely to explain. Then again, it sort of explains itself, doesn't it? Riley decides to push the question and kiss him yet again.
No arguments this time, just kissing -- they go on and on with it, taking things no further, exercising the kind of restraint Riley hasn't known since parking with girls in 9th grade. But this in itself is more arousing than Riley could have imagined. Angel is a luxurious kisser; he takes his time, varies his touch and his approach, can be more delicate than a girl or more savage than Riley has ever been himself. Riley finds himself responding more and more, lowering his guard further and further. He ought to be angry or confused that, after so many months of numbness, his body is again feeling real vitality and pleasure and need, here and now, for Angel. But he isn't. He just wants more.
Riley makes a decision, realizes it's time to ask. He pulls away from Angel slowly, smoothing Angel's hair, caressing him as he moves his hands to the front of Angel's maroon silk shirt. Very carefully, giving Angel time to object or move or do anything else, he unbuttons the first button.
Angel doesn't pull away. Riley breathes in deeply, caught up in the kind of exhilaration he felt during his first paratrooper jump -- the terror and joy of that moment he'd lept from the plane, the knowledge that there was now no turning back. He meets Angel's eyes for the first time in a while. "You've done this before."
"And you haven't."
"I'll figure it out," Riley says. He keeps going, exposing Angel's chest. His cool skin is pale, taut over sculptured muscles. When he puts his palm over Angel's heart, there's no answering beat. He's used to this, too, by now, but he always acknowledges the difference.
It's different for Angel as well, he realizes. "What is this like?" he says. "Being with someone alive?"
Angel shrugs off his shirt easily, but his face is serious. "It's nice. Better than nice. It feels -- so good -- to be touched by someone warm. Just to be near someone alive." Angel lifts up Riley's t-shirt, pulls it over his head. "To take care of someone."
He embraces Riley again, and the feel of skin on skin makes Riley's head swim. "You're gonna take care of me?" he whispers.
With that, Angel lowers them both onto the bed and they start kissing again, more freely this time. They're getting twisted up in the bedspread, kicking off their shoes, not talking, not laughing, going about this with an intensity that belies the strange intoxication that's flowing through Riley's body right now. As Angel pulls him close again, Riley feels a long pressure against his thigh; Angel's as hard as Riley is himself. Again that thrill of power -- until the moment when Angel puts his hand on Riley's cock.
Oh, holy Jesus, that feels good.
Angel's hand is large and square, and even through his jeans Riley can feel the strength in his grip. At this moment, he is totally, entirely within Angel's control. Angel slowly unbuttons Riley's jeans and slides them down, then the briefs, and Riley is caught up in the combined enjoyment and embarrassment of lying naked, of watching Angel's eyes run down the length of his body. Angel moves his hand back to Riley's cock, skin on skin this time. Riley tenses as he arches up to press himself more firmly against Angel's touch.
Perhaps misreading the tension in Riley's body, Angel looks up at him, concerned. "You know we don't have to," he whispers. "We can stop whenever you want."
Riley ought to be grateful for that concern, maybe, or at least glad to see that his lover (oh God) is careful of him. Instead, he actually laughs at Angel. "I told you before," he says, suddenly rolling Angel over so that he's on his back, pinned beneath Riley. "You don't know what I want."
He kisses Angel more forcibly then, and he deliberately unbuckles Angel's belt, pulls it free, begins unzipping his pants. Angel doesn't fight it, just lifts his hips slightly to help Riley tug his pants and boxers down from his waist. They are naked together now, Angel beneath Riley, kissing him passionately, letting Riley take the lead.
Riley finally looks at Angel, sees his body laid bare beneath him. He has a host of conflicting emotions -- arousal, curiosity, a brief start of confusion before he realizes that, of course, Angel's not circumcised. But arousal is definitely winning out.
When he takes Angel's cock in his hand -- cool and thick and hard -- Angel bites his lip, lets his head fall back. He's dropping his guard completely, maybe -- hopefully -- within Riley's power at last. It would help a lot if he knew what the hell to do next.
But then, he does, doesn't he? Angel's doing this for the same reason Riley is, down deep: He wants to know what it is Riley shared with Buffy. He wants to make love to her shadow, too. And Riley is going to let him.
He runs the tip of his tongue the length of Angel's cock. The response is a hiss and Angel's hand gripping Riley's shoulder, hard. It is not a signal to stop. Encouraged, Riley does it again, going more slowly this time. The texture is unexpectedly silky; the taste is familiar, but something he's only known from Buffy's mouth. He does it once more, and Angel twists beneath him. "Please," Angel breathes. "Please."
He's made Angel beg.
Riley opens his mouth, takes Angel inside. Angel groans as Riley begins stroking him there, just there, with his tongue, giving it to him right there at the tip --
-- that's just how Buffy used to do it, just how she gave it to him, just the way Riley knows it's so, so good --
When Angel thrusts, gently, into Riley's mouth, Riley knows what to do. He starts sucking hard, increasing the pressure moment by moment, moving his head to simulate the stronger thrusting Angel would no doubt love to be doing right now. To Riley's surprise, he's enjoying this, not just his control over Angel, but the act itself. The primitive, basic pleasure of it -- touching, tasting, moving in this slow rhythm with Angel, taking his cues from his body --
-- this is what he was like with Buffy, the way he responded to Buffy --
Angel suddenly moves his hand to the side of Riley's face, pushing back slightly. This is a warning, one Riley chooses to ignore. He moves faster, sucks harder, takes Angel so far back in his throat --
And Angel comes, crying out as Riley drinks him down. The sensation is strange to Riley, but this is almost drowned out by the sheer pleasure of knowing that Angel is his at last. When Angel is done, Riley slowly, deliberately, pulls away, giving Angel's cock one good last lick as he goes. He looks up to see Angel staring at him, almost dazed. When Angel can speak again, he says, "You're sure you haven't done this before?"
Riley would like to protest, but it strikes him that it's weird to insist you don't perform blowjobs when the evidence is so literally against you. Besides, Angel knows the truth; he understands how it is Riley knew what to do. And neither of them wants to talk about that right now.
Even though he can still feel her shadowy presence, there at the foot of the bed --
Angel props himself up on one elbow, pulls Riley close for a kiss. This kiss is different than any of the others; Angel's slower, almost lazy. He's in that half-drunk bliss that follows orgasm, and Riley revels in it for a while, lowering himself over Angel, enclosing him in the framework of his arms and chest.
Finally, Angel seems to recover himself. He runs one hand up Riley's chest, across his neck (fingertips pausing just a moment too long at the throbbing of the jugular vein), to cup Riley's face. Then, to Riley's surprise, he is pushed away -- gently, but firmly. Riley falls at Angel's side as Angel turns to the bedstand.
When he sees that Angel has grabbed the tub of vaseline, Riley experiences a sudden moment of shock, of recognition of just what's he's doing, what's about to happen. As Angel's fingers dip in -- soft swoosh of gel against skin -- Riley fights a quick internal battle. His curiosity and desire are at war with the fact that -- think it, think the words -- Angel's going to fuck him. And though Riley might have thought that, after going down on another man, nothing more could shock him -- well, Riley would have been wrong.
And then when Angel turns to him, he is shocked all over again as Angel begins coating Riley's cock.
Oh, Riley thinks. And that's all he can think, for a few minutes, as Angel's strong grip envelops him in cool, slick pressure, moves up and down, brings him perilously close to the edge just from the feel of that hand on him. Oh.
Angel kisses him again, more forcefully than he has before. He's not submitting to anything, not asking Riley for something -- he's demanding it. Through the haze of arousal, Riley can only think, He wants to know what I was like with Buffy.
Riley is going to show him.
After one long look, one last kiss, Angel rolls over, braces himself on hands and knees. "Now," he says. It's a command.
Riley gets to his own knees, locks his hands on the bones of Angel's hips. He can only see Angel's back now -- rippling muscles, shoulder blades splayed like wings, a tattoo of something that looks ancient, a bird maybe. He has seen the image before, sketched in Buffy's otherwise-empty class notes.
-- and she is there again, watching, silent, emotionless, but there --
Riley positions himself and, with one sharp motion, thrusts inside.
Oh, holy hell, this is tight, this is so tight, this is so good --
Angel cries out, and Riley knows by now that this is not only enjoyment, but also pain. Go slow, he reminds himself, though his whole body is now demanding that he go faster and deeper and harder Right Now.
Slowly, so slowly it makes him want to scream, Riley pulls back slightly, then thrusts in again, going a little deeper. This is better; Angel moves against him, helping him with the motion, responding to it. Once more, and then they're moving together, in concert. They find the rhythm almost instantly, their bodies communicating better than their minds ever have. In this moment, Angel's exactly what Riley needs, all Riley will ever need, this enveloping presence, this motion, this pulsing excitement that rises higher and higher with every single stroke --
And whatever it is Riley's doing for Angel must feel as good as what Angel's doing for him, crushing him in pressure and pleasure unlike anything he's ever known or imagined. Because Angel's making a hell of a lot of noise now, and it's all good, and Riley's shouting out with him, and they must sound like --
-- oh, God, who cares what they sound like, who cares about anything but this feeling and yes like that yes --
Maybe Riley thrusts too hard, or maybe Angel just wants it this way, but finally Angel sinks down onto the mattress, stomach flat on the sheets. Riley falls with him, and the movement changes now -- now his hands slide up to Angel's broad shoulders, and it's as if he's pulling himself up, again and again, and Angel's moving differently now, getting him in way in deep, and damn if this isn't even better --
-- the tattoo is beneath his hand, and Angel is beneath him and around him and so tight and so slick that he can't --
-- Angel's body goes tense, and he shouts out his orgasm, and he's suddenly even tighter and Riley's moving even faster and --
Riley comes in a hot rush, gasping as his cock pulses and his heart pounds and his mind vanishes in so much white noise. For a few seconds, he can only let it happen, feel his body taut against Angel's -- then suddenly it's as if he has no strength left. He falls, or melts, against Angel's back, lays his head between his shoulders, expects to hear a heartbeat that isn't there.
Of course not. He forgot, for a moment.
Angel reaches behind his shoulder with one hand and twines his fingers with Riley's. The gesture is so gentle, even tender, that Riley is almost embarrassed to return it. But he does.
They lie like that for a brief, silent time; then Angel gently rolls Riley to one side as their bodies part. Riley shifts himself, then starts in surprise as he sees blood on the sheets, on his thighs. He hadn't realized that he'd hurt Angel.
Before Riley can feel guilty, Angel has laid his head on Riley's chest. He, too, is listening for a heartbeat. The movement isn't a lover's snuggling; it's more like the instinct of an animal, seeking out something needful. Angel wants the warmth, Riley realizes. He wants to be close to something alive.
Buffy never liked to be held after sex. She shrugged off his attempts to sleep with an arm around her; wasn't restful, she'd say. Riley was never sure whether to take that personally or not. But he always thought it was something she learned from Angel.
Now, though, with Angel resting silently, even peacefully, against his chest, there's no denying -- whatever the cause, that habit came from Buffy herself, Buffy alone.
For the first time, Riley does not sense her in the room. She is no longer the shade he's had following him these long months. That shade was something Angel had warped and wounded; Buffy, the real Buffy, is someone else, Riley realizes. An individual, with her own choices, her own reactions. Her own reasons for turning him away.
He breathes deeply. Tomorrow -- or maybe much later -- he'll figure out what all this means. Riley's still pretty sure he's not gay, but he's no longer inclined to take much for granted.
What has happened tonight, whatever else it might be, has put a wall between past and future as almost no other act could ever do. There is absolutely no knowing what his future may bring, but Riley now realizes that he can shape it in ways he'd never anticipated, take directions he'd never have imagined.
I'll heal, he thinks.
Suddenly Riley goes tense, remembering. Angel lifts his head, looks at him questioningly. "What's wrong?"
"The curse," Riley says. "Your curse. Perfect happiness --"
"Don't flatter yourself," Angel says.
Riley gapes at him for a second, then sees the tiny smirk on Angel's face and begins to laugh. Angel smiles more broadly and again rests his head against Riley's chest -- perhaps the better to hear the laughter.
Riley is still smiling when he falls asleep.