Disclaimer ~ I don't own them; Joss and Mutant Enemy and all the various other Powers That Be do. If I owned them, I think they'd have been much, much happier.
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Timeline ~ Takes place directly after What's My Line?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She gazed up at him as she curled herself in his lap, her petite form suffusing him with a warmth he'd thought he'd never know again. Her eyes were so beautiful, fathomless depths of green dappled with flecks of sunshine. He found himself smiling back at her, and he raised a hand to tangle his fingers in locks of her honey-colored hair. A shaft of agonizing fire ripped through his hand, and he struggled not to cry out as his dream melted around him, leaving him in darkness and pain.
Pain. The fire in his hand throbbed like the heartbeat he didn't have, and Angel bit his lip to suppress a growl, feeling his features shift with the agony, tasting the coppery, used taste of his own blood. The rest of his body felt weak and unhealthy, but it was all eclipsed by the excruciating torture that was his hand. The pain was like nothing he'd felt in a hundred years, not since his soul had been wrenched from peace and thrust, screaming, back into his body. Thus, he knew the pain came from magick, from a supernatural source. He fought to remember what had happened to him, but the pulsing, white-hot fire in his hand drove all thought away.
He couldn't help the groan that tore from him, nor could he keep it from changing to a growl, and then a whimper. There was a crash somewhere off to his left, and though his mind screamed at him to be ready for an attack, he knew he was helpless to defend himself.
Her voice was tight and worried, but it was still the most beautiful, musical sound he'd ever heard, and another whimper tore jaggedly from his throat when she called his name again.
His senses were slowly returning, though the pain didn't lessen, and he knew when she sat beside him. He could feel the weight of the mattress shift, he could smell her, smell her love and her pain and her fear, and as he struggled to keep his eyes open, he could see her beloved face, taut with anxiety, set fuzzily before the backdrop of his apartment.
He wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, wanted to ask her why they were here and how they had gotten here and what had happened to him, but all that came out was a hoarse, strangled, "Hurts..."
He watched as she bit her lip at his words, a tear breaking free from her bright eyes and sliding down her cheek. He longed to reach up and wipe it away, but he was so weak. Moving slowly, she picked up his uninjured hand, kissing the palm before nuzzling her lips along his knuckles. She briefly tucked it into the hollow between her chin and shoulder, hugging it to her, and he could feel her pulse flutter strongly beneath her skin.
"I know," she whispered. "I know it hurts. I'm sorry."
She leaned away from him to set something on his bedside table, but before he could even register the space between them, she came back to him. She ran a small, warm hand over the ridges of his brow, bending to drop a quick kiss on his lips, and Angel felt a rush of wonder and love so great that it almost overshadowed the agony.
Buffy slid a hand under his back and locked it with the hand she reached over him to place at his side, carefully avoiding the healing burns that covered his chest and stomach. She helped him shift positions to sit against the headboard, and though she avoided his eyes, he saw the tears that slipped from her eyes at his stifled cries of pain.
She gave him a moment to rest before picking up what she'd placed on the table. It was only when she waved it under his nose that his weakened senses picked up the smell of blood. He turned his head away from the glass, desperately not wanting to feed in front of Buffy. Without a word, she turned his head back towards the blood. Angel was too weak to voice his protest, but he threw every emotion he could into his gaze, pleading with her not to make him drink. Not in front of her! Please, anything, but not this! Not in front of Buffy!
Buffy refused to look him in the eye, merely tilting the glass slowly so that the contents slid forward and lapped against his tightly shut lips. The scent of the blood was overwhelming; it sang to him of strength and power, and his hunger and need prevailed.
He opened his lips and let the blood flow into his mouth and slide down his throat, and he could feel his strength returning with each swallow. A growl rumbled deep in his throat, and he gulped greedily, feeling the liquid splash over the rim of the glass and against his chin, where it dripped onto his chest. He felt shame knot itself deep in his stomach, and a tear of humiliation slipped from his eye, but he could not stop feeding. He drank deeply until the glass was empty, and when there was none left, he once again turned his head away.
Her voice was soft, and Angel flinched, unable to look at her, afraid to see what was in her eyes. She shifted away from him, and his soul cried out at the distance, in fear and resignation. It was only when she shifted back that he realized she'd just been putting down the glass, but his feelings of unworthiness didn't diminish.
"More?" she asked again.
"No," he whispered.
"Angel, look at me."
When he didn't obey, she gripped his blood-slicked chin in her hand and turned him towards her again. To his surprise, there was no disgust, no horror in her eyes. Just concern for him and what looked like flinty determination.
"It's a well-known fact about getting better, Angel, that you have to have nourishment. It just so happens that your nourishment comes neatly packaged in little red blood cells--"
"Don't!" he said harshly. "Don't joke about it."
She sighed, cupping his cheek in her hand. He leaned into the warmth of her touch. The blood hadn't been anywhere near enough, but it was sufficient to dull the pain to a low, pulsing ache, and it was enough to let his body begin healing. It allowed him to focus on her now.
"I'm sorry; I won't joke, but... Angel, I know you're a vampire. That means you sleep during the day, you go ‘grr' when you're angry or hungry or hurt, you're allergic to sunlight... and you drink blood. I know that. It doesn't change how I feel about you, okay? You're hurting. I can see that, and you need to drink to get better. I'm not gonna run away from you ‘cos you've got messy eating habits, all right?" She grinned, and before he could say anything, she added, "If that were the case, I'd have told Xander to hit the road a long time ago!"
He couldn't help the tiny half-smile that her grin caused, and at the sight of it, her smile grew, and some of the tense lines around her mouth and eyes smoothed away. He raised his uninjured hand and placed it over her hand, which still rested on his cheek.
"Now, answer me honestly. Do you need more to drink?"
"No," he said earnestly. It wasn't really a lie. He did, but it could wait. "Thank you."
He hoped that his eyes told her he was thankful for more than just the offer of food, and when she smiled at him again, he knew that he'd been successful. There was silence for several moments, and he did his best not to flinch or draw away as she took the cloth that lay over her shoulder and cleaned up his chin and chest.
"I'm sorry," he muttered. "I'm not usually so..." Disgusting? Revolting? Nauseating? He shook his head, trying to control his self-loathing. "...Messy... when I eat."
She smiled at him, the acceptance in her eyes acting like a balm on his injured pride. "You're hungry and weak, Angel, and I fed you against your will. I didn't expect you to be Mr. Manners."
Her fingers trailed over the ridges of his brow and down his smooth cheek, and at that gentle touch, he realized that enough of the pain was gone for him to shift back to his human visage, and he did so. His right wrist itched, and he flexed his fingers, gasping at the pain that resulted. He looked down, surprised to find his hand swathed in clean, white bandages.
He stared at them in shock for a few moments; with his ability to heal quickly, it was rare for him to be injured badly enough to need bandages. He glanced down at his chest and, sure enough, the wounds on his pale skin were already closing and fading. But the pain in his hand throbbed steadily, and it seemed unlikely to ease up anytime soon.
"Buffy," he murmured confusedly. "What happened to me?"
She stared into his eyes, brushing an unruly lock of dark hair off his forehead. "What do you remember?"
Angel closed his eyes, trying to will the memories back. They came in raw, disorganized flashes. Spike chanting. Fighting with the Tarakan assassin. Drusilla. Fighting a girl. Holy water. Being dragged through the sewers. Buffy kissing his vamped face. A church. Sunlight. Being strung up next to his chylde and having Spike drive something sharp and agonizing through his hand. Fire. Pain. Mostly pain.
He opened his eyes and gazed into her face, hoping that focusing on her would help, but after a few minutes, he shook his head. "It's all a mess... it'll... I'll probably remember everything later, but right now it's all jumbled."
Buffy sighed. "Well, Spike and Dru kidnapped you. Judging from the burns, they tortured you for a while and then they got down to business. Spike did some ritual to make Dru strong again, and he needed her sire for it to work. It almost killed you."
He heard the tremor in her voice and turned his head into her hand, kissing her palm. "I'm fine, Buffy. Or, I will be." Her words sank in, and he asked, apprehensively, "Did it work? The ritual?"
She shrugged. "Yes... no... I don't know. It might have, but I don't think it matters... I killed them, Angel."
His eyes widened. "You staked Spike and Dru?"
"I... I didn't stake them. I dropped a burning church on them." She watched him, but he made no response, only staring back at her. "Angel, I know they were your... are you okay? I mean..."
He thought of Drusilla, pretty, confused, unsure Drusilla, as she'd been before Angelus had fixed his eye and his obsession upon her. He thought of her as she'd been after he'd turned her, insane, unbalanced, but also brutal and vicious. He thought of William, the mild aspiring poet, and he remembered Spike. Every taunt and smirk, every hunting or prowling skill, every way to maim and hurt and torture that Spike had ever known, he'd learnt by standing at Angelus' side.
"Thank you," he said after a while, and Buffy looked at him, surprised. "They're at peace, finally. I... I know their souls have been for a long time, but now, they can rest, forever. I don't know if I would have been able to..."
Buffy said nothing, simply leaning her forehead against his. Angel's memories were slowly starting to right themselves, but there was so much that was still muddy. His brow creased in concentration.
"I remember sunlight. That can't be due to Spike and Dru. They're just as... allergic as I am," he muttered, drawing a grin from her as he used her term for his reaction to the light. Her grin disappeared as she remembered what he was talking about, and she growled in anger. Angel stared at her; she'd sounded an awful lot like him. He flashed a quick half-smile at her, but she simply scowled at the floor.
"Kendra. She found you at Willy's, beat the crap out of you, and locked you in the damn cage to watch the sunrise."
"Who was she? I... remember fighting with her. She was strong. Was she one of the Order of Taraka?"
"She's a Slayer."
The look of utter shock on his face made her giggle involuntarily. "Yeah, you can imagine how I took it!"
"I don't understand..."
"Well, you remember that little problem I had with the Master last year, where I kinda died?"
Angel shuddered; his sleep was regularly haunted by the nightmarish image of Buffy lying face down in that pool of murky water, the scent of her blood filling the air. "I'm not likely ever to forget it."
"Yeah, well, one dies, another's called."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, she's strong... and she and Giles make with the book talk so well it's not even funny, but she's not the brightest bulb on the tree."
"What do you mean?"
She grimaced and practically launched herself off the bed, pacing across his apartment. She grabbed the empty glass he'd drunk from and headed towards the kitchen with it, needing to move.
Angel's dismay at her sudden departure from his arms was overshadowed by something else, something that confused the hell out of him. Even with her out of the room, he was surrounded by her scent, much more than he should have been. If all she'd done nearby was sit next to him as she had, her scent should not have been nearly that strong. Gritting his teeth to ignore the pain caused by the movement, he awkwardly bent and inhaled the scents lingering on his pillowcase, vaguely noting that his bed linens were rumpled and ripped, his mattress split open in one place. It should have alarmed him, but he was wrapped up in the enigma of her scent.
Buffy came back to him, still fuming over Kendra's actions. "She tried to--"
"Buffy," he interrupted her. "Why does my bed smell like you?"
He glanced up just in time to see her flush bright red. She wrapped her arms around herself and stared at the floor, and she came no closer.
"I was scared."
He reached his uninjured hand towards her, and she came and sat on the edge of the bed, fidgeting nervously.
"Giles kinda overdid his whole ‘you better watch out, Buffy, the bad guys are after you, and they're really, really bad' speech, and it freaked me. It was like... nowhere was safe. I didn't know where to go. I wanted so bad to see you, so I came here, but you weren't home. I... I broke your lock and I came in. I didn't know where else to go, Angel! There was nowhere else... and even if you weren't here... you were. And I was just gonna sit for a minute, I hoped maybe you'd come back, but it... felt so safe."
She glanced up at him, hazel eyes wide and bright with worry and unshed tears. "I'm sorry..."
"Oh baby..." He pulled her to him, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and ignoring the stinging pain as her clothes rasped harshly against his healing skin. "Oh, Buffy, don't be sorry. I'm sorry, sorry that you were scared and that I wasn't here for you. You can always come here, Buffy. What's mine is yours. Everything I have, it's yours."
She snuggled into him, her breath quick and warm against his neck. After a few moments, she glanced up at him with a worried grin. "That's... um, that's good to know. Since I sorta did a little redecorating."
Angel glanced around, noticing for the first time just how trashed his apartment was. "What happened?"
"She came here?"
"It turns out that after making my boyfriend an offer to see the sunlight that he couldn't refuse--"
"Buffy, I'm a vampire. She's a vampire Slayer. She was just doing what she's meant to do."
"Yeah, well, she was almost a Slayer Slayer."
Angel stiffened. "What do you mean?" he asked in a low, deadly voice.
"She tracked me here, and before we figured out that we're both the Chosen One, we had a nice little battle. She tried to kill me, I tried to kill her, it was all an amusing misunderstanding. It's all good now."
"Why would she... She said she was coming after you. I remember that. That's why I thought she was another Tarakan. Why?"
"She thought I was a vampire."
"Told ya. Not the brightest bulb. Guess her Spidey sense is on the fritz."
"Why would she think you were--"
"Maybe ‘cos she saw me kissing one." When he just stared, she grinned and tilted her head slightly, trying to see if it would come back to him. "She saw us. In the ice rink?"
Angel gasped as the memory came flooding back to him and slotted into place, crystal clear. He felt the terror at knowing she was in danger, the sharp tang of fury, of battle, and the overwhelming joy and peace as Buffy slid her fingers over his transformed face. She'd kissed him softly, and then more deeply, rocking up on her skates to get closer to him, tangling her hands in his hair and sliding her tongue sweetly into his mouth to dance and play over his fangs. She'd pressed herself against him like she'd wanted to climb inside of him, and his body responded now as it had then. He ached with need for her, and he cursed his injuries and the fact that he was too weak to take her in his arms and show her just what she did to him.
"You... you kissed me. Really kissed me. When I was... I mean..." He heard the wonder in his voice and saw her soft smile, and then she kissed him again, a soft, feathery touch. He reveled in the taste of her. Vanilla and purity. "Why?" he whispered.
Buffy shrugged slightly. "I told you, I didn't even notice. It doesn't matter to me which face you're wearing. You're still Angel. My Angel. And you're damn sexy, with or without fangs."
He looked away, awed and embarrassed at the same time, but he saw her mischievous grin out of the corner of his eye. It was interrupted by a sudden, massive yawn. He turned back.
"You should get some sleep, huh? It's been a long day for you."
She snorted. "And your day's been just peachy. Butt kicked by a Slayer, close call with Mr. Sun, dragged through the sewers, chest used as a holy-watercolor canvas, and skewered like so much shish kebab. All in a day's work?"
Angel closed his eyes. "Thank you for that... graphic interpretation of the day's events."
"Glad to be of service." She grinned and cuddled close to him, and then sat up, as if realizing what she was doing. "Oh... I should go... you probably need the bed to yourself... to heal, and all that."
"Stay... I'll feel better if I have you to take care of me in my weakened condition," he said nervously. Buffy smiled wryly at him; he knew it was obvious he didn't want her out of his sight. Not yet. And, as much as he was using his injuries as an excuse to keep her with him, he was right; he was too weak to be by himself.
"You're sweet... have I ever told you you're a terrible liar?"
"Once or twice."
"Are you sure -- "
She got up to turn the lights off, giving him a chance to get settled in the bed, on his back with his injured hand cradled close to his body. She curled up into his side, careful not to aggravate any of his wounds, pressing a kiss to the cool skin of his chest.
"G'nite, Angel," she murmured, and he could tell she was already half-asleep.
"Good night, beloved," he whispered back.
Angel was exhausted, but he lay there, unable to give in to sleep, listening to her heartbeat and the gentle sound of her breathing. His body ached, his hand pulsed with fire, and the demon within him growled and snarled in hunger and pain. He knew that he should disentangle himself from Buffy and make his way into the kitchen to feed again, but there was nothing that would pull him from his love's arms. In her arms, there was peace. In her arms, he was safe.
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