She loved to dance. She loved to let the throb of the music fill her mind until it was all that was left, to let her body move to its rhythm; it helped her stop thinking. She looked over at her partner with a smile. He danced well - he did everything well. And he was so beautiful; she still got a kick out of the envious glances from other women. Tall, well muscled, latin-black hair and smoldering brown eyes - exactly what she wanted. Exactly what she wanted because he was the complete opposite of… she pushed back the thought and concentrated hard on the music. No thinking. Dance. He looked up and flashed her a perfect smile. Dance and look at the pretty man smiling just for you. Dance and let it touch you. Try to let it touch you.
His eyes wandered across the room, scanning the other dancers and the people at the bar. He was ever watchful, always on guard. A man in his position needed to be. He paused and a slight frown creased his perfect forehead. She looked quickly in the direction of his gaze. Nothing to see – a crowd of gyrating bodies, sweating in the Italian heat. But then… she felt her heart freeze in her chest. A sudden flash of platinum blond in the dimness, a hint of a slim body and a flowing black leather jacket, gone in a second among the crowd. She pressed her eyes shut and swallowed hard on the pain. She kept hoping she would get over this, that she’d stop seeing him everywhere, catching heart-rending half-glances across crowded rooms, in the street, in her dreams.
London had been the worst. There were reminders on every street corner – a word, a gesture, an accent that made her heart leap with hope despite herself. She’d mastered the hope, eventually. He’d gone and she’d accepted that – mostly. She’d had to, because too many days spent half-searching and nights broken by dreams of burning hands and falling walls were beginning to destroy her. So she’d worked hard on putting it behind her, and eventually Giles and Dawn had stopped whispering in corners and watching her every move with concern. Rome had been Giles’ suggestion and he’d been right. No memories here, no links, fewer reminders. But occasionally, just occasionally…
When he looked back over at her the frown was gone and she forced her frozen features into a smile. When he suggested that they should maybe go somewhere else, find a little quiet space, she agreed readily - anything to take her mind away from her memories. He took her arm and led her out of the room to the sound of a brawl starting in the background. The thought that he had always enjoyed a good fight surfaced in her treacherous brain.
Later, in the tastefully expensive hotel room he’d chosen – well, Andrew in the next room kind of killed the mood – she tried to lose herself in this perfect man with his perfect body and perfect technique. He played her like he played the piano, gentle fingers, perfect control, perfectly pitched passion, each note mastered. He knew exactly where to touch her, what to do, how to bring her to the climax her body craved, and didn’t seem to notice, or at least to mind, her single-minded pursuit of oblivion. He was good - but he didn’t really know her. He didn’t really know the dark little secrets she held inside, couldn’t bring her to the mind-numbing, shuddering heights that she had reached at someone else’s hands. But he was good, so she had to be careful; she couldn’t lose herself too much. It wouldn’t do to cry out someone else’s name.
Later still, resting against him, body relaxed and mind calmed, as he called her cara mia and spoke of love in purring Italian – she didn’t believe him; whatever this was it wasn’t love, she knew about love – she could pretend she was over everything, that the memories of fire and pain and the agony of loss were becoming bearable. That she could, maybe, find someone else who might rekindle the spark in her empty heart and touch her soul like he had. Maybe not yet, but someday. She sighed and kissed his perfectly sculpted chest. She was moving on, putting the past behind her, making her new life. And still it hurt.
He drove her home in the small hours, the red Ferrari growling softly through the almost deserted streets. Ever the gentleman, he opened the car door for her and took her arm to guide her to her apartment. Part of her liked this being treated like a piece of delicate porcelain, but mostly it was beginning to annoy her.
She scanned the shadows for her watcher. She’d known for months that she was being watched. Difficult thing, watching a slayer and staying hidden; slayer senses were hard to avoid. She had told the Immortal about the lurking figures and he had set one of his men to find out, discreetly, who was sending them. Wolfram and Hart, he told her, on Angel’s orders – did she want it stopped? No, she’d shrugged, let them watch. She was perfectly happy for Angel to know what she was up to. She gave a brief smile as a shadow shifted in a dark doorway, then frowned. The tingle at the base of her spine told her this time it was a vampire. First time they’d sent one of those. Whatever – Wolfram and Hart being what it was, they had all sorts of low life working for them. She turned to her partner with a smile and drew him down into a deliberate and lengthy kiss. There. Go tell that to Angel.
She let herself into the apartment quietly. Andrew was back, snoring softly in his makeshift bed on the sofa. Buffy smiled at the lingering smell of an unknown perfume - he’d been out with a girl. He was resolutely dating girls at the moment, ever since that cute little Italian guy had turned out to be an Incendo-demon who had torched his flat. She wondered how long this spell of blatant heterosexuality would last. He shifted in his sleep, muttering to himself – random Italian and English, senseless words except… a name. So, Andrew dreamed of him, too. Well, she’d always thought he had a bit of a hero-worship thing going, maybe even a crush. Andrew tried to be subtle, tried not to mention his name in front of her as Giles had asked, but subtle wasn’t always Andrew’s strong point, and actually, she’d rather have his innocent slips than Dawn’s careful avoidance of the subject. He’d been worse since he brought Dana back – the slips happened more often, as if the trip back to the US had reawakened his memories. There had been secretive telephone calls with Giles, over-loud changes in subject when she came into the room, over jolly exchanges about nothing in particular. She had eyed him suspiciously and he had bolted from the room. So, something had happened in LA that she wasn’t to be privy to, but frankly? She didn’t much care. There was nothing in LA to interest her any more.
The shower was cool on her overheated skin. She let it play over her body, washing away the sweat and smell of sex – she frowned. Did he sweat? She wasn’t sure, even in the heights of passion, she had ever seen him do anything as inelegant as sweat. In the mornings, despite any excesses the previous night, his hair was always just charmingly ruffled, the perfect amount of stubble on a perfect chin, breath fresh, bright-eyed and smiling. Had no-one ever told the man how annoying that was? She smiled to herself. But then – it did make him kind of nice to wake up to. She stepped out of the shower and picked up her towel.
She had put on weight – a lethal combination of less exercise and a love of pasta and real Italian pizza – but she was happy with her new shape. Hey, she even had breasts! Kind of nice ones too - she admired her new curves in the mirror and turned to look back at her reflection over her shoulder - and a bum, she gave a wiggle, slipped on a robe, and wandered into her bedroom. Her skin had taken on a golden glow now she was spending more time in the daylight and less stalking night-time graveyards. She was looking good, everyone told her, and yes, generally she was. But the smile was less easy, the green eyes more introspective and shadowed. She’d changed.
Despite the lifting of responsibilities, her relieved acceptance that she could, at last, step down and let others take up the good fight, sometimes she felt weighed down, weary beyond her years. She’d stopped training, stopped patrolling, stopped feeling the pull of the dark. When she felt ready, Giles had said, the reforming Council had work for her – a slayer of her experience was rare, a valuable asset, and sharing that experience would help them all. But she wasn’t ready – not to relive her past for the chroniclers who didn’t know her and could never understand. She knew what they thought of her – the slayer who loved the vampire… vampires… and who went against all she should be. She leaned her forehead against the window looking out into the dark square. They really didn’t understand what they were asking her to do.
Night was the hardest, the time when the memories were strongest, and when, alone in her room, she would allow them to come. She could conjure up his image in the moonlight reflecting on the glass, in the play of candlelight on the wall, in the folds and hollows of her pillow; sometimes so real she felt she could touch him. But as time went by she began to worry. She had nothing of his. No keepsake, no picture – all of what he had been was buried at the bottom of the Hellmouth. And what if… what if her memory, her picture of him, began to fade? What then? The others refused to talk about him, had wiped him from their world to save her pain. Would she lose him? Would he fade away? So sometimes at night she would let the pictures come, because although they hurt, she couldn’t bear the thought of losing them forever, for all he did to fade to nothing. She blinked back a sudden tear, and leant forward to shut out the night.
The watcher in the shadows saw the shutters close, and then slipped quietly away, leaving the broken, drained body of Angel’s agent in the doorway.