"Changing Seasons"
Damage: Chapter Ten
by indie



"Why didn't you tell me Buffy tried to kill herself?"

Jenny blinked, bleary eyed at the clock.  "Angel," she croaked, her voice thick with sleep, "it's four thirty in the morning."

"I don't care what goddamn time it is, Janna," he spat in Gaelic.  "Why didn't you tell me?"  Though Buffy was asleep right next to him, Angel wasn't worried about his raised voice waking her.  The prescription pain medication she took ensured that she wouldn't hear his half of the conversation.  And even if she did, Buffy couldn't speak Gaelic.

Jenny, however, was not in a similar position.  She put her hand over the earpiece and looked at her husband's still form.  Luckily, Rupert tended to sleep like the dead.  Toeing on her slippers, Jenny carefully got out of bed and headed into the adjoining master bath.  She quietly closed the door and sat down on the edge of the bathtub.  "What's going on, Angel?" she asked.  "Is Buffy in trouble?"

Angel didn't answer, but Jenny could hear his heavy, obviously irritated breathing on the other end of the phone.  When he had himself under control, he said, "There was an accident tonight."

"Oh gods," Jenny gasped, "is Buffy okay?"

"She's fine," Angel answered, his vision traveling over Buffy's sleeping form.  She shifted in her sleep, her hand reaching for him.  As it settled on his thigh, she smiled, sighing as she slipped back into a deep sleep.  Angel's voice gentled and he reassured his sister, "She was hurt, but nothing life threatening.  With her healing abilities she'll be fine in a few days."

"So what's this about then?" Jenny asked, rubbing her eyes wearily.

"I took her to the emergency room tonight," he said, his voice oddly hoarse.  "I saw the scars."

Jenny was quiet for a long time.  This was not a subject that was ever broached in the Giles household.  Angel, especially, had no right to have been informed.  "Nobody knew," she explained unrepentantly.  "Buffy and Rupert both wanted it that way.  Besides, what business is it of yours?"

"Buffy is my business," he said succinctly.

Jenny's lips pursed into a frown that Angel could imagine, even if he could not see it.  "Leave her alone, Angel, "Jenny said.  "That girl has been through more than you can ever imagine and the last thing she needs is you messing with her head."

Angel's jaw muscles clenched and he stifled an instinctive growl at his sister's words.  What right did Janna have to go making proclamations about his intentions toward Buffy?  She didn't know anything about him.  From the ages of four to seventeen, he had no contact with his sister.  Despite their genetic link, Janna did not understand him or his motives.  She never had.  When Janna looked at him, she saw the reckless edge inherited from their mother.  She saw in him the ability to destroy just as their mother had destroyed their own lives.  Angel swallowed harshly, denying to himself the amount of pain his sister's words caused.  His closest relative in this world had no faith in him.  "Nice to know you think so highly of me," he grated.

"I love you, Angel, I always will," she said with complete honesty.  "But I have no illusions about you.  You're dangerous.  You surround yourself with power and pain and you have nothing but heartache to offer a girl like Buffy.  If you have any human decency, you will leave her alone."

Angel was silent for a long moment.  Finally, he said, "I am not human.  And leaving her alone is the one thing I cannot do."

"Cannot or will not?" Jenny demanded.

"It's the same thing."

Sighing, Jenny tried to make him understand.  "You're going to hurt her.  You won't start out to do it intentionally, it's an unavoidable effect of being close to you.  But that won't make it any easier on Buffy.  You will destroy her."

"I won't let her go," he said, knowing he sounded like a petulant child.

"Then you are condemning her," Jenny said sadly.

*****

The sun was high in the sky and streaming through her open curtains when Buffy woke.  Without thinking, she tried to roll onto her side and immediately regretted it.  With a grunt of pain, she propped herself up on her elbows.  She was still lying on top of the covers, still wearing her clothes, but an extra blanket had been draped over her.

She blinked slowly, fighting to acclimate to the bright light.  Taking a deep breath, she turned her head to the side and saw the indentation in the pillow next to her own.  She could still smell the scent of him on the pillow, the sheets, herself.  She could taste him on her tongue.

"Damn," she mumbled to herself.  Her memories of last night weren't hallucinations courtesy of the happy drugs.  Her ... whatever with Angel really happened.  Buffy blushed deeply and flopped back on the bed, pulling the covers over her head.  How could she have done that?  With Angel of all people.  She groaned aloud.  He was probably having a good laugh about it at her expense - if he could be bothered to think about her at all.

She felt nauseated.  And pained.  She pulled the blanket down again.  A quick glance at the nightstand showed that Angel left her pain pills and a bottle of water within easy reach.  Despite her uneasy stomach, Buffy knew she needed to take one.  Blindly, she reached for the bottle of pills, but pulled back unexpectedly when her hand brushed against something warm.  Turning her head, Buffy looked at the nightstand.  Propping herself up on one elbow, she gingerly grabbed the bottle of pills.  Behind the bottle of pills was the Nottis stone.

Buffy popped a pill and took a drink of water, watching the stone warily.  Curiosity won out over caution and she reached for the stone.  Bonelessly, she flopped back on the bed, looking at it.  It was beautiful.   Her mouth twisted into a reluctant grin.  Willow must have told Angel about the stone and he bought it for her.  She curled her fingers around the stone and held it over her heart.

Dammit!  She wanted to hate him.  She needed to hate him.  It kept things simple and it kept her safe.  She didn't want to think about Angel or anything else.  Thinking made her head hurt.  She already had a sore leg, she didn't need anymore misery.  But the strange thing was, thinking about Angel made her anything but miserable.  Thinking about Angel made her feel ... happy.

*****

"Damn, B, lemme help you," Gunn said, vaulting over the counter as Buffy pushed open the doors to the Hyperion.

Her leg was still killing her, but as long as she went slow, she could walk on it.  Hobble on it, actually.  She hated to imagine how bad it would be without her Slayer healing abilities.  Sliding an arm around Gunn's shoulders, she allowed him to help her over to the counter.  She didn't know what had been up with his attitude last night, but she was fairly sure his over attentiveness was his non-verbal way of apologizing.

"Ms. Summers," Wesley said as he entered from the office.  Buffy nodded in greeting and gingerly sat on the tall barstool at the former check-in desk.  Wesley approached her with a frown.  Removing his glasses, he looked speculatively at her wounded leg.  She was wearing a pair of very loose sweatpants.  "May I?" he asked.

"Sure," Buffy replied unenthusiastically.  She honestly didn't want Wesley poking at her, but it was sort of his job to make sure she was okay.  She bit into her lower lip and sucked in a sharp breath as he experimentally applied pressure to her leg with his fingertips.

Nodding in a satisfied manner, he straightened up and replaced his glasses.  "I believe you are healing quite well," he said.  "You should be fine in a few days."

Buffy nodded in reply and Wesley left to take a call in his office.  Buffy looked up and found Gunn leaning on the opposite side of the counter, watching her closely.  His face showed his obvious concern.  "You okay, B?" he asked.

Shrugging, she said, "It hurts like hell, but Wes is right.  I'll be fine in a few days."

Gunn didn't look convinced, but he decided to take her word for it.  "Guess you made it home all right," he said.

Buffy swallowed harshly.  Oh lord, how long until the cat was out of the bag?  Given that she had to hobble over her weapons bag that morning, which was sitting right inside the door to her bedroom, Buffy already knew that Willow was aware Angel spent the night.  Damned office romances.  "Uh, yeah," she said.  "Ang - er, uh, Roarke dropped me off."

Gunn's lips pursed together in an unpleasant expression.  "Boss make you walk up all those stairs?" he asked tightly.

In spite of her uneasiness, Buffy smiled at the thinly veiled threat in his voice.  She knew if she said yes that Gunn would do something stupid like start a fight with Angel.  They both knew he could never win, but it wouldn't stop him from trying.  "Nah," she said lightly, "he was okay.  He looked out for me."

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Gunn nodded.  "If you need anything, you just let me know," he said.

"Will do," she replied with a very genuine smile.

*****

Angel stared at his shaking hands with frustration.  The elevator lurched to life and he abruptly put his hands behind his back, turning to glare at the intruder.

Willow stopped short at the expression on his face.  Any thoughts she had entertained about teasing him about Buffy died a quick death.  "I, uh, can come back later," she said, from behind the metal grate.

"It's fine," Angel bit out, nodding with his head for her to step into his office proper.  "What do you need?"

"Lorne said you were free, if he was wrong I can come back - "

"What do you want?" he snapped.

"I was wondering if you could help me with a casting," she said quickly.  "I'm having some trouble getting it down.  It just feels off and I can't understand why."

Angel took a deep breath.  "Can it wait until tomorrow?" he asked much more calmly.

"I guess," she said, frowning, "but the sooner the better.  The clients are having a problem with a violent poltergeists and I was going to try and bind her before she kills another one of their house pets."

"I'll look at it tomorrow," he said tersely, turning back to his desk.

"Roarke."

He turned.

Willow cleared her throat, working up her nerve.  "Are you okay?" she asked cautiously.

"I'm fine," he said with finality.

Willow didn't look convinced, but she turned, slowly descending in the elevator.  Angel slumped down into his office chair, once again staring at his trembling hands.  His magicks were in disarray and he felt uncomfortable, anxious, like something was trying to crawl out from under his skin.

With a low growl, he sank deeper into the chair.  It had something to do with Buffy, he knew it.  Whatever bond he had with her was affecting his darker powers.  That was unacceptable.

But not seeing Buffy was equally unacceptable.  He growled louder.  All of his darker instincts were telling him to get as far away from Buffy as possible.  But something else inside him knew that was an impossibility.  He needed Buffy.  He had always needed Buffy.  Now that she was within his grasp, there was no way he was going to walk away.

He wrung his hands together, cursing under his breath.

*****

Buffy was leaning against the recently closed front door, still panting hard from her laborious trip up from the parking lot.  Thank gods her "new" car was an automatic.  She couldn't imagine trying to shift gears on her sports car with her leg in this condition.  As it was, driving to the Hyperion and walking up the stairs nearly sapped her completely.  But her day wasn't a total loss.  One perk to being seriously injured on the job was that Wesley let her skip out way early.  Of course given that she was in absolutely no condition to take advantage of the impromptu vacation, this wasn't as fortuitous as it might seem.

As she looked up, she noticed Willow sitting on the couch, surrounded by books that looked more magical and less textbook-ish.  Their eyes met.  "Hey," Buffy chirped brightly, though still out of breath.

"Hey," Willow returned with a smile.  Buffy, at least, seemed in a good mood after her night with Roarke.  Maybe his strange demeanor was related to something else entirely.  "Your stepmom called about an hour ago."

"Jenny?"

"Um, yeah," Willow said.  "That is your stepmom, right?"

Buffy nodded.  "Yes," she said with a frown, "but I didn't give her this number.  Oh well, so my dad's been snooping around again.  What else is new?"

Willow's brow furrowed.  "I'm sorry.  Maybe I shouldn't have said anything."

Buffy waved dismissively.  "Nah," she said.  "Don't worry about it.  I'm used to it.  They're just worried and nosy.  Two great tastes that don't taste great together."

Frowning, Willow replied, "I doubt your trip to the emergency room last night will make them any less worried."

"True," Buffy said, easing down into the overstuffed chair across from Willow.  She picked up the cordless phone and dialed.  Jenny answered almost immediately.  "Hey," Buffy said.

"Buffy, thank gods," Jenny exclaimed, her relief evident.  "Are you okay?  Do you need us to come get you?"

"Uh, I'm fine," Buffy said.  "How did you know anything was wrong?"

Jenny was silent for several long moments.  "Angel called last night," she said.  "He told us that you were okay, but I would feel better if you came home for a while.  I don't trust his evaluation."

Buffy ground her teeth together to silence the bitchy reply that was her automatic response to Jenny's statement.  What was going on with her?  It wasn't like her to defend Angel.  But in light of his behavior last night, she wasn't inclined to view him as the monster.  Angel had issues, she knew that, but he wasn't the unsalvageable creature that her parents chose to see.  Last night, he was a perfect gentleman and she was getting really tired of no one giving him the benefit of the doubt.  "I'm fine," she said.  "I don't need a nursemaid and even if I did, I have people who look out for me."  Unconsciously, she pushed her hand into her pocket and curled her fingers around the Nottis stone.

"Really, Buffy," Jenny said, her voice full of motherly concern with a hefty side of condescension, "just come home and let us take care of you."

"What did Angel tell you?"

"That isn't what's important - "

"What did Angel tell you?" Buffy demanded.

Jenny made an irritated sound.  "He said that he had to take you to the emergency room and that you were okay," she admitted.

"And you don't believe him?" Buffy asked guardedly.

"Buffy, you have to understand a few things about Angel.  He doesn't do anything without an ulterior motive.  I know that he must be intriguing to a girl your age.  He's handsome and tragic, but - "

"I work with Angel," she spat.  "There is nothing romantic between us and if he thinks that I can continue to do my job, then I am going to do it."

"You don't understand - "

"Understand what?  That Angel is dangerous?  I get that, Jenny.  I've always gotten that.  I don't trust him.  He's not my friend.  But as a colleague, I do know that he knows how to do his job and I know that he trusts me to do mine.  He respects me.  And I will not treat him like some sort of demon just because you and dad don't get along with him."

Jenny was quiet for a long moment and Buffy could feel her barely repressed anger.  "He's using you."

The words stung like a slap.  How could Jenny honestly think that she was so blind?  "I have to go."

"Buffy, no please wait-"

"Bye, Jenny."  Buffy clicked off the phone.  She slowly became aware of Willow's presence and turned to look at her roommate.  Her cheeks flamed at being caught in such a blatant lie by Willow.  "They still think I'm ten years old," she said by way of explanation.

Willow shrugged.  "I wouldn't know," she said.  "My parents have treated me like I was thirty-five since the first grade.  I don't envy your fights, but knowing they cared every now and then would be nice."

Buffy smiled gently at her roommate.  Willow's manner was always very reserved.  Buffy had the impression that if Willow would open up they could be very good friends, but she knew that Tara's death had caused Willow to close in on herself.  Buffy felt like a jerk for being so wrapped up in her own problems.  "What are you doing home?" Buffy asked, changing the subject.  "I thought you had class."

"It let out early today," Willow said.  She smiled in a nervous gesture and an uneasy silence descended.

"You miss her," Buffy said bluntly.

Willow clearly wasn't expecting that line of conversation and her eyes instantly welled with tears.  She blinked rapidly, trying to stop them from falling.  It was useless as they streamed down her cheeks unchecked.  Willow blushed, embarrassed and reached for a tissue.  "I'm sorry," she managed to choke.

Buffy smiled gently.  "I didn't mean to upset you," she said quietly.  "I just ... you don't have to put on a happy face for me, I know it has to be difficult."

Willow nodded and finally gave up a pretense of trying to remain calm.  Her shoulders shook as she cried.  Long moments later, her sniffles ceased.  "Tara was everything that's good about me," she said wistfully.  "She was my light, my love.  And without her ... god, sometimes it's so hard.  When I think of all the time I wasted ... of all the mistakes I made.  I swear if I had any idea how limited our time together would be ..."

"I can't imagine," Buffy said honestly.

Willow's expression sobered.  "When Tara died .. things were bad.  Really bad.  I went a little crazy."

"Anyone in your position would do the same," Buffy assured her.

Willow grinned wryly.  "No," she said.  "You don't understand.  I did things.  I called a lot of dark magicks.  I lost myself in their power.  I came really close to hurting a lot of people."

Buffy nodded as she took in Willow's confession.  "But you didn't hurt them," she said.

Shaking her head, Willow said, "No, I didn't.  But not through any will of my own.  If I had found the person responsible for Tara's death, I would have ..."  Willow trailed off and stopped, shuddering at the thought of how far her vengeance would have gone.  She took a deep breath.  "Roarke stopped me.  He's powerful.  Very powerful.  He managed to prevent me from hurting anyone.  I know that a lot of people have problems with him, but he saved me from destroying a lot of other people's lives and that sorta makes me like him."

"Is that how you started working for him?" Buffy asked tentatively.

Willow nodded.  "We knew of each other before that," she said vaguely.  "But after he stopped me ...  He has a lot of power.  A lot.  He could have done any number of things.  He could have stripped me of my power, but he didn't.  He kept me from harming other people and myself.  He helped me learn to control it.  We'll never be great friends, but I owe him."

[End Chapter 10]

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