"Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!" Buffy cursed, pounding her fist against the concrete pillar.
Gunn came running around the corner and skittered to a halt several feet behind Buffy. His harsh intake of breath was loud in the relative quiet of the alley. "Shit," he said under his breath. Twisting around, he yelled over his shoulder. "Over here."
Buffy rested her forehead against the cool concrete, not bothering to turn around. She heard Groo and Wesley arrive. Her cell phone fell limply from her fingers. For a very long time, no one spoke.
"You defeated Mr. Trick," Wesley said, bending down to retrieve her phone.
"Yeah," Buffy muttered. "I got the vamp."
Wesley reached out to touch Buffy's shoulder but stopped before he made contact. He didn't know how to make this better. Cassie Newton's body was scant inches from Buffy's feet, the young girl's eyes staring blankly into the night. Her death was recent. Very recent. Mr. Trick had a reputation for being flashy. No doubt he had waited until Buffy's arrival to kill his prey.
It didn't take a genius to figure out that Buffy blamed herself for not saving Cassie. Wesley knew the score. Sometimes you won and sometimes you lost. It didn't make it easier, but it was the cold truth. Buffy tried, she killed the vampire. It wasn't her fault the girl died first. They had all been scouring the area for the missing teen. Buffy was simply the one who got to her first.
Wesley bent over to grab the dead girl's feet and Buffy stopped him. "Don't," she ground out.
Straightening up slowly, Wesley met her gaze.
Tears stained her cheeks, but her expression was deadly. "Don't touch her," Buffy said.
"Ms. Summers," Wesley said as calmly as possible, "I know it is difficult, but we must ensure she does not rise as a vampire."
"I know that, Wesley," she snapped. "I'll do it. Leave her alone."
"What's going on here?"
Buffy and Wesley both turned to see Angel watching them with slitted eyes. No doubt he knew when Buffy had the others paged out to her location, though why he felt the need to check up on things was a mystery. He was dressed for the club in tailored black slacks and a long sleeved black button up shirt over a white wifebeater. His attire looked very out of place among the muck and mire of the seedy alley. The sharp contrast of Angel and his environment snapped Buffy back to reality.
She dropped her gaze, studying the weathered concrete. She was all too aware of how much things had changed. Three months ago, she would have been at a party, exerting obscene amounts of energy to outdo Sunday. She would have been dressed in clothes that cost more than her monthly rent. She would have been happily oblivious to all the horrors that went bump in the night. No longer. Now it was Saturday night and she was standing in an alley in the worst part of town arguing over a dead body.
Buffy laughed shrilly to herself. The others stared blankly. It wasn't funny. It really wasn't. But it was. What the hell was she doing? One minute she was the most popular girl in high school, the prom queen, the cheerleader, the perfect princess that every guy wanted to date and every girl wanted to be. Now she was covered in dirt and blood and vampire dust, breaking her father's heart, fighting over the rights to decapitate a corpse.
A corpse that shouldn't have been a corpse. Buffy wasn't a princess any more, but she was definitely a long way from being a real Slayer. A real Slayer would have arrived in time. A real Slayer would have taken out Mr. Trick weeks ago and avoided this whole situation. A real Slayer would have won. She was supposed to save people, supposed to make a difference. She was a failure. Again. She slumped against the pillar.
"Take care of the body," Angel barked to Wesley.
Buffy didn't argue and neither did the others. Wesley grabbed the girl's legs as Gunn got her shoulders and Groo lowered the tailgate on the truck. Buffy didn't look as they hefted the body into the bed. Cassie Newton's parents would never know what happened to their daughter. They would never have closure. They would never be able to put flowers on her grave or mourn her properly. Buffy heard the engine roar to life and listened numbly as they drove off.
Tentatively, Angel stepped in closer. "You did your job," he said quietly.
Turning, she looked up. His expression was oddly gentle. Buffy laughed. "Oh yeah," she spat, "I did a wonderful job. Gee, look how Buffy finds the dead bodies. I'm like a fucking spaniel or something."
Frowning at her sarcastic comment, Angel said, "You dusted the vamp. That's your job."
Dusted the vampire. Ha! Buffy was certain that Cassie's parents couldn't care one way or the other if the vamp was dead. Buffy broke her own father's heart already this night and now she had to go break Cassie's father's heart as well.
It was more than she could take. She screamed. Planting her hands in the middle of Angel's chest, she pushed him backwards several feet. Her expression was feral as she faced him. "My job is to save people," she snarled. "Killing vamps is an added bonus, but the big picture is that the Slayer protects lives. I didn't do my job! I'm a joke."
Angel watched her warily. There was so much rage and pain on her face. He honestly hadn't imagined that she would take her first failure this hard. Slowly his vision ran over her and he hissed. "Jesus Christ, Buffy," he said. "What did you do?"
Following his line of vision, Buffy looked down at her leg. She stared at it mutely, like it wasn't part of her. Most of her pant leg was soaked with a fluid that looked almost black in the dim lighting. "Oh yeah," she said, "I forgot about that part. Before I dusted the vamp, he managed to get me with my own stake."
Mindless of the dirt on his expensive pants, Angel knelt in front of Buffy, grimacing as he looked at her upper thigh. There was a hole in her jeans on the outside of her thigh and the wound looked very bad. "You were stabbed," he said.
"That's what I just said," she replied dryly.
He glared up at her. "This is serious, Ionuin," he snapped. "It's deep. We have to get this bleeding stopped."
He grabbed the material of her jeans and Buffy lurched backwards, out of his grasp. "No," she said, slightly hysterical. Her hands were splayed over her jeans, like she was afraid he was going to try and wrestle her out of them.
Angel was rather bewildered by her reaction. He didn't really think that Buffy was afraid he was going to try and take advantage of her while she was bleeding to death. Her actions weren't making a whole lot of sense. Then again, she could be going into shock. "Buffy," he said very slowly, "you're bleeding a lot. If we don't get it stopped quickly, you're going to be in trouble. We need to get you to a hospital."
She shook her head. "I'm fine," she said almost hysterically. "I'm fine."
Rising to his feet, Angel advanced on her very slowly. He reached forward and grasped her chin gently, forcing her to meet his eyes. "If I don't get this bleeding stopped, you are going to die," he said very seriously.
Buffy blinked up at him numbly.
"Puncture wound to the upper thigh," the doctor read. He shifted his gaze to his patient. "What happened?" he asked, handing Buffy's chart to the waiting nurse.
"Boating accident," Buffy answered without meeting his gaze.
The doctor turned his attention to Angel. He shrugged. "She was like that when I found her," he said evasively, not about to contradict Buffy's version of events.
The doctor was obviously nonplussed; working the night shift in the ER in a very bad part of town, he was used to getting the runaround from his patients. They could lie about the circumstances, but there was some information he needed. They were both pale, smeared with blood. "You two been doing drugs?" he asked Angel suspiciously.
Angel bristled, glaring mutely at the doctor.
"You want her to be okay, you better be straight with me," the doctor continued, undaunted.
"She's clean," Angel growled.
The doctor's expression remained skeptical, but he shrugged. Pulling on latex gloves, he looked at the black shirt tied around Buffy's upper leg. Angel sat next to the bed in only his wifebeater. The white fabric was smeared with blood from where he held her against his body while carrying her from his car into the ER. As the doctor untied the makeshift tourniquet, all Buffy could think was that Angel's ruined shirt probably cost more than the entire bill for this trip to the emergency room - which he would also be footing.
The doctor probed the wound experimentally. The flow of blood had diminished to a sluggish ooze, but it still looked horrible. At least what was visible through the hole in her jeans looked bad. It was impossible to assess the situation as long as she was still wearing the jeans. The doctor picked up a pair of shears and Buffy stiffened. "Is there any other way to do this?" she asked.
Frowning, the doctor replied, "I'll take your modesty into account, but this pant leg has to come off. I can't see to close the wound."
Buffy stared at the doctor for several heartbeats, but finally acquiesced, lying back on the bed. She turned her head away from Angel and stared at the wall as the doctor and a nurse cut off the pant leg almost high enough that her underwear showed. Once the material was out of the way, the doctor flushed the wound with water. Buffy waited for the inevitable. The doctor's hands were firm but sure as he worked.
She knew the second he saw them. His hands went still and then concentrated on the inside of her thigh, rather than the outside where the wound was.
"Well," he said quietly. He took a deep breath. "Miss, may I see your hands please?"
Without bothering to look at him, Buffy rolled back the sleeves of her ever-present long sleeved shirt and did something she never did under any circumstances. She bared her wrists.
"I see," the doctor said grimly.
Buffy closed her eyes shut tightly.
The doctor turned to Angel, Buffy's wrist still held loosely in his grasp. "You're sure tonight was an accident?" the doctor asked. Angel stared dumbly at the scars. They were on the insides of both wrists and high on her inner thigh, along her femoral artery.
He went pale as he sat back in his chair. He didn't want to think about what this meant. The scars were obviously years old, but he had never been so terrified in his entire life. He swallowed thickly and looked at the doctor. "Tonight was an accident," he said firmly.
The doctor reluctantly accepted the explanation and finished his task in relative silence. It took quite a while to close the wound, and when he finally finished, Buffy was the proud owner of forty-three stitches. The doctor gave Buffy a tetanus booster, a pain pill and a prescription for antibiotics and more happy drugs. He also included a strict order to stay off of her feet for at least four weeks, with the added tidbit that she might need physical therapy. Buffy nodded mutely and the doctor made Angel promise to see that she followed his instructions.
Angel helped Buffy into his car and stopped by an all night pharmacy to have her prescriptions filled. The entire trip was in perfect silence. Buffy didn't speak even as Angel lifted her out of the car to carry her up the two flights of stairs to her apartment. She was exhausted both mentally and physically, otherwise she might have noticed that he held her a little too tightly. As it was, she was oblivious, resting her head on his shoulder, breathing in the achingly comforting scent of him, letting it wrap around her.
Hands full, Angel kicked twice on the heavy steel door of Buffy's apartment. The various locks made loud thunking noises as Willow flipped them open. Her eyes went perfectly round as she stared at the huge mass of gauze and sterile tape covering Buffy's thigh.
"She needs to lay down," Angel said evenly.
"Oh, oh yeah," Willow said, shaking herself out of her shock. Frantic, she preceded Angel through the apartment, flicking on lights and opening the door to Buffy's bedroom. She hovered as Angel gently lowered Buffy onto her bed, propping her up with pillows. "Is there anything I can do?" Willow asked, wringing her hands in the doorway.
Slowly, Angel turned. "Buffy's weapons bag is still in my car," he said, handing her the keys. Glad for something to do, Willow nodded and disappeared.
Buffy stared blankly at the wall. Gently, Angel clasped her jaw and made her meet his eyes. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "Cassie died because of me," she whispered hollowly.
Angel took a deep breath. "You're the Slayer, Buffy, not a god. You don't have control over life and death. You did your best. You're still learning. It will get better."
Buffy snorted, twisting out of Angel's grasp. "Still learning," she echoed, her voice thick with self-loathing. "I shouldn't still be learning. I was Called years ago. I should know how to do my job. But I don't. I'm still a failure. It's just like before."
Buffy lifted her gaze, staring into the near blackness of his eyes. "Like when I was first Called," she said bleakly. "I couldn't save them either. Cassie ended up just like that little boy."
Angel closed his eyes as understanding blossomed. Slowly, he reached for Buffy's wrist and held it gently in his grasp. "Is that when this happened?" he asked, his fingers playing over her scars.
Buffy smiled, but it was merely a baring of teeth.
Angel shook his head, disgusted with himself for being so blind. "I knew when the new Slayer was Called ... I knew it shouldn't have been possible. But I didn't dare think ... Your father is a powerful man, I assumed he did something."
"You only get a new Slayer when the old one dies," she said bitterly.
"Ionuin," Angel whispered harshly, pulling Buffy against his chest.
She wanted to fight. She wanted to hate him and hate herself, but instead, she let him wrap his arms around her and pressed her face tightly against his shoulder. Once again, the smell of him surrounded her, making her feel safe in a way she did not deserve. She sobbed so violently that her whole body ached. He held her, mutely rocking her as she cried out all of her rage, her fear.
She eventually calmed, and Angel laid her back on the pillows, gently brushing her tear damp hair out of her face. Now that she was somewhat more under control, Buffy was embarrassed. She wasn't a child and here Angel - of all people - was babying her. What must he think? She was so pathetic. She ruined his evening, ruined his shirt and probably the interior of his BMW. He ended up carting her all over town, sitting in the emergency room, getting her prescriptions and then carrying her up two flights of stairs. And to top it all off, he got to be the victim of her emotional outburst. She had never felt so humiliated.
But while she would have expected Angel to be angry, or at the very least, annoyed, he seemed neither. On the contrary, he seemed ... worried. The expression on his face was a muddled mixture of emotions that she hadn't seen since the first time they met. Fear, pain, tentative hope, need; all of it meshed together into something that pulled at her very soul.
He looked down at her with gentle eyes. Ever so slowly, he raised his hand and pressed the tips of his fingers to her forehead. He used his free hand to guide her much smaller one over his heart, holding it there so tightly she could feel the reassuring thud. "We are the same, Ionuin," he whispered.
Tears glistened in Buffy's eyes. Never in a million years would she have dreamed Angel was capable of such behavior. But at the same time, it was so absolutely right. She felt something inside of herself, the part of her that was being crushed under the weight of guilt and pain, spark to life. He understood. He knew the darkness that ate at her soul because it ate at his too. He was her ally when no one else could be.
Before Buffy could stop herself, she reached out and touched the tips of her fingers to his forehead. Her fingers trailed lightly over his skin, tracing down the side of his face with one finger. His eyes fluttered shut. Gently, Angel's fingers left her forehead and circled around her wandering hand. Ever so slowly, he turned his face into her palm, kissing it. She watched with an odd sort of detachment as he kissed her palm, down her wrist to her scar. Ever so tenderly, he ran his lips along the raised, shiny skin.
Languidly, he opened his eyes and looked at her. Buffy swallowed hard enough for it to be audible. Maybe it was the horrific day she had, maybe it was the blood loss or maybe even the pain pill, but she didn't pull her hand out of his grasp. She didn't sit up or push him away or yell at him. She didn't try and turn the situation into a joke. At this moment, she needed him with an intensity that terrified her.
He leaned over her, watching her, lips parted slightly. Buffy's vision fixed on his lips as her tongue snaked out to wet her own. Angel's mouth covered hers, soft and warm. A small moan escaped her as she kissed him back, twining her arms around his neck.
Angel traced the seam of her lips with the tip of his tongue, silently begging for entrance. Curling her fingers into his dark hair, she sighed, opening her mouth for him. His kiss wasn't like anything she had ever experienced before. The part of Buffy's brain that wasn't completely lost realized that Angel's physical reputation was well earned. The thought should have sobered her. It should have reminded her of the myriad women who paraded through his bed. It should have reminded her that she swore - both to herself and to him - that hell would freeze over before she became another one of his conquests.
But none of those thoughts could fight their way through the decadent haze of pleasure that his kisses brought. He whispered her name against her lips before kissing her yet again, harder, deeper, with more desperation than skill. He was still sitting on the side of her bed, huddled over her supine form like a freezing man around a fire and still it wasn't enough for her. Buffy whined plaintively and pulled at his shoulders. Angel broke off the kiss long enough to stretch out on the bed next to her, mindful not to jostle her injured leg. And then he was kissing her again.
Buffy nearly purred as he kissed his way along her jaw, down her neck. His upper body was angled over hers and she could feel the delicious heat of him through their clothes. She trailed her fingers over his bare shoulder, her short fingernails biting into the flesh as Angel pressed kisses beneath her ear. She arched her upper body against him, pressing the hard points of her nipples into his chest. But he ignored the blatant invitation, instead settling for another round of long, deep kisses. His hands caressed her face, her neck, her collarbone. They disappeared into her long blonde locks. But they never ventured lower.
Not that Buffy wasn't very distracted and very pleasured, but some part of her noted that for as horrific as his reputation was, Angel was doing an awful good job of minding his manners. For some reason, this irritated her immensely. Was she not bad enough for him? Here she was having her great breakdown and he didn't even have the indecency to take advantage of the situation. He was supposed to be the insatiable letch, completely lacking in any sort of scruples.
Angel was lying on his side, his upper body touching hers, but below the waist, there was no contact. Buffy wasn't really in a position to be able to wrap herself around him. The pain pill was good, but the lidocaine from the stitches was wearing off and she had no desire to move her left leg. But she needed to know if this was some sort of game for him, if he was merely toying with her.
Twining her fingers through his hair again, she brought his lips to hers and kissed him deeply. He let her lead, patient while she explored his texture. She suckled on his tongue and then nipped at his lips. Laying flat on her back, Buffy didn't have much leverage, so she made him move. Using her fingers curled through his hair, she pulled him over her so she could reach his neck. Imitating his earlier actions, she kissed along his jaw to his ear and then down his neck, all the while carefully noting his reaction. The muscles in his arms were taut and his hands fisted in the covers. She broke the kiss long enough to peek at his face. His eyes were shut and his lips were open in a pant. As she resumed her ministrations on his neck, the idea occurred to her that maybe he wasn't pretending. There was one sure way to find out.
Careful not to move her injured leg too much, Buffy scooted her hips closer to Angel. She twined her good leg through his. His leg automatically wrapped around hers, insinuating itself between her legs. The change in position pushed his hips into her uninjured upper thigh. Buffy blushed furiously against his neck as he rubbed against her lightly. He so was not playing. He was quite seriously aroused.
Realizing what he was doing, Angel pulled back. He was still panting, his face slightly flushed. They looked at each other for several long moments. Buffy bit down on her bottom lip nervously. What was she going to say? What did you say when you suddenly found yourself making out with a man you spent the last three years avoiding?
The answer was ... nothing. Buffy half expected Angel to make some caustic remark and leave her feeling like an idiot, but he didn't. He didn't say a word as he settled completely onto his side next to her, his head resting on the pillow inches from hers. Strange as it seemed, laying there looking into his eyes was somehow more intimate than their shared kisses. Buffy found herself unable to maintain eye contact. She closed her eyes and settled back on the pillow. Angel leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss against her temple.
Moments later, he got out of bed and Buffy forced herself not to open her eyes or stupidly reach out for him, regardless of how much she itched to do so. As it turned out, he was simply switching off the light. She couldn't disguise a sigh of contentment as he resumed his earlier position, possessively wrapping an arm around her waist.
"Sleep, Ionuin," he whispered.
Buffy smiled, snuggling into his embrace. For reasons she couldn't fathom, she felt safe there, protected. In moments, she was asleep.
[End Chapter 9]
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