Disclaimer: These characters are not mine. They belong to Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, and their affiliated companies. I make no monetary profit from perverting the characters.

Threnody and Breakdown: Tea and Misery
by Chris (sihaya09 at yahoo.com)

Notes: prequel of sorts to Threnody and Breakdown: Another Time. Second in this miniseries that explores the nature of need. They'll eventually form a complete story, albeit not a chronological one. Notes etc: this is Version 1 of this story for the Wesley Slash contest. As I piece the series together, details may change.

Spoilers: Vague reference to "First Impressions."

Timeline: Briefly before "Dear Boy."

Rated: R for implied m/m slash, a bit of creepy imagery at the end, and lots 'o angst.

Thank Yous: This is dedicated to MazalHamidbar for all her thoughtful replies and help.

"That'll be $18.29, sir." Her chipper voice rises melodiously as she stretches out a hand in supplication.

My glasses slip to the edge of my nose as I hastily dig for my wallet. "Yes, surely," My long, bony fingers free the bulge of brown leather from my back pocket and I leaf through the neatly-ordered bills (smallest to largest, all facing the same way, of course) and pull out a twenty. The price strikes me as absurd for a box of tea, a half-dozen tins of condensed soup, and a few high-carb workout bars. I sigh. This is, after all, LA.

The cashier drops a receipt, a slightly wadded dollar bill, and some change into my open palm. Her fingers graze mine for a moment. They are smooth and cool, like a child's. She cocks her head, flipping her short blonde hair as she attempts a game smile. "You have a nice day."

There is a line forming that could easily stretch to the East Coast if it doesn't start moving, and I will myself to stop fussing with my wallet. I drop the change into the bag and go. Soft loafers padding on glossy white linoleum, I slip out the glass-encased exit of the supermarket.

Free of the sickly yellow overhead glare, my senses spring to life. The slanting brightness of late afternoon sunlight washes my face, the chilled coolness of an early spring breeze makes me draw in a breath of contentedness. The air is free today, moving and playful. My thirsty skin begins to relax and embrace the moisture. Layers of fantastic smells drift by- the cloying sweetness of fried dough in corner vendors' carts, brewing coffee smoothness from overpriced corner cafes.

The sunlight is incredible. Simply being out in it, seeing the world tinted gold like an old photograph, is a rare moment when I'm happy to simply just *be.* It's not the same for him. He can never share such a quiet joy with me.

The sidewalk is uneven. I trace its jagged edges as I traverse the labyrinth of eclectic side streets and byways, through open markets and decaying alleys. The mouth-watering flavors of fresh-squeezed peaches and papayas intertwine with those of closed nightclubs that smell like mud puddles and grain. The clashing tinkle of wind chimes dancing in the air.

I find myself humming pleasantly out-of-tune as I walk the two blocks to the Hyperion Hotel. I nudge aside a crumpled up Whopper wrapper as I jaunt up the stairs, fumbling for my keys as I cradle the sagging brown bag in the crook of one arm. Click, click. I'm in.

The lobby sprawls before me, high-ceilinged and marble-floored. And empty. I glide my hand down the wall, finding the light switch, flicking it on. The abrupt brightness is altogether too much. I decide that I like the lights much better off. The soupy golden sunlight turns dusky as it filters through the front windows. I pull the heavy door closed behind me and drop the sagging bag on the countertop. On goes a tiny lamp, its slightly jaundiced tinge conflicting with the oncoming sunset.

Wes.. Out for dinner. Can you believe it? I'm getting a life! ~C. Cordy's loopy handwriting makes me smile.

I pull the tea from the bag, set it on my desk. Dutifully retrieving my change, I smooth out the wrinkled dollar bill, its texture slightly grimy, and place it in my wallet just so. I grasp the energy bars between my fingers and drop them in a small heap on Cordy's desk. Soup tins in the cupboard, paper bag in the recycling bin Cordelia brought in last week insisting that we "do our part to save the planet, you know." I had merely adjusted my glasses and quirked an eyebrow, knowing that somehow this had to do with earning extra money so she could buy yet another pair of pumps that she'd wear exactly twice in her life. Carefully tearing the box of tea open, I bring it to my nose, tasting the subtle spice of jasmine blossoms.

I pull out a bag, drop it in the mug that I run under the cool tap- put it in the microwave, 2:00, start. I grimace. In England, I never had to use a microwave to make my tea.

I peer up the staircase that leads to Angel's flat. I sense nothing there, but what else is really new? Angel's absence is a quiet buzz, the sound of loneliness and emptiness. I close my eyes and take in a breath. There isn't even a comforting scent anymore to mark his passing in this place. No hint of soap and shampoo reaching its slender fingers to embrace, no breath of patchouli, the herbal-sweet musk like every indulgent fantasy ever broached. Nothing but the buzzing in my ears, the sound of my own blood pumping and surging.

Then the microwave goes off, its wail piercing the thick silence. I pull the steaming mug from the machine, and my palm throbs red with heat. A little cream, a cool blast from the refrigerator.

The sun has set, and the sky is ambushed by the creeping of dusky mauve. Clouds draw together, and it appears that it will rain soon. I brush aside a bandanna left forgotten on my desk- Gunn's- and pull a cracked, leather bound volume from the short stack on my desk. The stagnant air is like a too-warm blanket, and I loosen my tie.

I stir my tea desultorily, and I pretend to pay attention to the painfully-rendered descriptions of such-and-such demons as I thumb through the thin vellum pages.

The first sip is disappointing. The flavor is not rich enough, not creamy-smooth enough to quench the craving.

Bhairaz demons- hmm. I try to be fairly interested. It seems they spend their entire lives in tight-knit clans of three or four, pledging their lives, their services, ((their souls)) to their leader, the eldest of the clan.

((I am your faithful servant, Angel.))

I rub at my closed eyes. No. No I won't.

I set my jaw, I take another sip of tea down my burning throat.

But I'm so weak. I can't help it. Can't help that he can exist without a trace while simultaneously branding his image into the tender tissue at the back of my corneas. Can't help remembering how it felt to have his enraged heaviness atop me as sleep-muddled threats fell from his lips. Can't help how I couldn't stop my hips from arching just so slightly, how I almost begged him then-

Begging for what, exactly? It doesn't matter. In the end, it's all the same. La petite morte... isn't that what the French call it?

Another sip to quench the dryness.

The hurt, the need so desperate for closeness that some nights you just pass out, curled up on the bathroom floor after a shower when you realize you can't even smell the scent anymore. The masochist's paradoxical prayer- smash me, desecrate me, break me, use me- just please make this all stop. Complete me. No, I don't care how.

And an empty buzzing answers you back.

There is a detached whimper, a jagged hitch. I realize that it's me. My lenses are blurred. I remove my glasses and press my palms into my eye sockets. Blast my needful frailty.

My fingertips are damp. I press them to my lips, tasting the bitter saline there, the offering. Rain faintly patters far away and on my face.

How cruel can the man be? How can he know- for he surely must know- the fervently ripped prayers, the starving need to be possessed- and do nothing? But who am I to judge? He walks his own tenuous line, where the boundary between fate and the beast is as gossamer as a spider's strand. How can I ask of him any more?

Still, I want it. My brain is swarming with feverish if-onlys. If only he were here. How one look in those ancient eyes would drive me to silence, how sweet the submission as he would smooth my cheek with the pad of his thumb. How my heart would drown at the cool pressure of his lips murmuring absolving words against mine. The release and friction as deft fingers would untuck my shirttails and flutter against my stomach, tangle in my belt and oh-

The stolen gasp, the quiet shame of solitude. I do believe that need is the most important word in the English language. The wrenching, the repression, the juices, the blindness, the silent pleading.

And the self-pity... The stabbing finger that really is a fate worse than death. Inevitably followed by the realization like vinegar in a knife wound that in the end, none of it matters. That you could die tucked into the fetal position, mummified by your own salt, and nothing would change. That all those hours spent huddled under the stairs were sucked into the hollow void of mocking fate.

The faithless understand it. Me? I'm in denial.

"Wes?" I freeze. I hear his voice, low, the final consonant of my name softly shirring like the crinkle of tissue paper.

"Yes, Angel?" I keep my back to him, no need for him to detect my pain with another of his finely-tuned senses. "I thought you were out."

"Sunlight, Wes. It's only 6:30- I'd rather not get crispy."

"Oh, right." Stupid.

"You okay?" His attempt at acknowledging That Which Is Unsaid.

"Just something in my eye, is all," My attempt at maintaining the illusion for both our sakes.

"Okay, then. I'll be upstairs if you need me."

Oh, dear God. The irony in those words.


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