It was dark, but he had no trouble making out her form in the alley. She was crying, her forehead pressed to the dirty brick wall. He could taste her grief on his tongue like the finest wine.
He walked up behind her, pressing himself against her back. She didn't flinch away. She trusted him. Blindly, she turned around, burrowing into his embrace. He felt his features shift as the demon assumed control. Lowering his head, he nuzzled against her neck. She smelled so good, like the most exquisite prey. He could smell the blood from the wound on her thigh beckoning him. He dropped to his knees, pressing his face against her stomach. She threaded her fingers through his hair. Carefully, he turned her, pressing his face closer to the vicious wound. His tongue snaked out to taste a drop of her precious blood. He shivered. The power within her was beyond words. If he consumed her, he would be unstoppable. Nothing and no one would ever be able to hurt him again.
He fisted his hand in the denim and pulled, ripping the material away. Without pause, he lowered his lips to her rent flesh. She hissed, but did not push him away. She trusted him, trusted him to never hurt her. He was going to love drinking her innocence dry. He felt his teeth elongate into fangs as he bit into her flesh. Dimly, he heard her gasp, felt her struggle. He drank deeper. He could feel her heart weakening, feel her grip on him lessening ...
Angel woke instantly, sitting bolt upright in bed. The sound of his own breathing was deafening in the perfect silence. He sat there for several minutes, willing himself to calm down. Carefully, he slipped from the bed over to the huge windows. He pulled the heavy draperies apart, bathing the room in warm morning sunlight. Ignoring the pain it caused him, he stood there, letting the light burn away the remnants of his nightmare.
What was wrong with him? He could feel his magicks. They were no longer scattered and unmanageable. They were honed to razor sharpness. He could feel the darkness twisting inside him, looking for a release, a victim. He could almost taste Buffy's blood at the back of his throat.
His stomach clenched tightly and he retched, collapsing onto his knees. He put a hand on the floor, steadying himself as he breathed deeply, trying to stave off his nausea at the thought of hurting Buffy. Half of him wanted nothing more than to protect her, while the other half demanded her blood.
The stone was warm in Buffy's palm. It felt comfortable, natural. Just like Angel. Buffy winced at the thought. Oh, she couldn't be doing this. She couldn't be sitting around thinking mushy thoughts about the most unapologetically evil man she'd ever met. Turning, she watched Willow move around the work area, measuring out herbs. Buffy knew Willow was busy and didn't need to be bothered. But Buffy wanted to bother her. She wanted to give in to her insecurities and pour her heart out to her only female confidant.
But she didn't. What had happened between her and Angel was best kept between her and Angel. Besides, there was a decade of backstory that you needed in order to really understand the full ramifications of what transpired. Buffy frowned. Was she just trying to convince herself of something? What if their past together didn't play into it at all? What if Angel was just trying to amuse himself? After all, it had been almost a week since she'd last seen him. In fact, it seemed like Angel was going out of his way to avoid her.
Looking at the stone, Buffy had the urge to throw it across the room. But she couldn't. She couldn't toss the stone away anymore than she could banish Angel from her thoughts ... or her heart.
"That looks ... interesting."
Buffy sat up on the yoga ball so fast that she tipped over and toppled to the floor. She groaned, silently berating herself for being such a spaz in front of Angel. Opening her eyes, she saw him standing over her. "Hi," she said with a frown, wondering what he was doing in the Hyperion's basement.
Mutely, he offered her a hand up. With his assistance she rose fluidly to her feet. "You must be feeling better," he said, eyeing her leg.
"It's better," she confirmed. "Not great, but definitely healing. Wes won't let me patrol until I'm up to speed again, but since everyone else is out covering for me, I'm stuck here trying to work out by myself."
She absently kicked the neon green yoga ball, her bottom lip protruding in a pout. He was here, showing up without a single mention of the fact that he'd been gone for ten days. She wanted to be angry with him. She'd had it all planned out. If she saw him again, she was going to make him grovel. But now, presented with the reality of Angel standing in front of her, being charming, she found she couldn't do it. She'd spent so much time worried that he'd be distant or worse, mean, that relief flooded her at his wicked grin.
She looked at him warily. His smile was filled with something she couldn't identify. "What?" she asked cautiously.
He spread his arms in invitation. "Spar with me," he said.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Last time I did that, you tried to give me a permanent scar. Remember?"
He smiled wolfishly. "I remember. I also remember that you were fighting cold in high heels and a skirt. And you still won."
She laughed to herself, straightening up to her full height, head held high. "I did, didn't I," she said with obvious pride.
"So, spar with me," he repeated.
Eyeing him up and down, she said, "You're really not dressed for it."
Looking down at himself, he shrugged. He walked to the edge of the practice mat and toed off his shoes and socks before draping his jacket over a chair. Dressed in only a pair of low slung black leather pants and a white button-up shirt, he returned to stand in front of her.
She watched as he undid the buttons at his throat and wrists and then rolled back the sleeves. She swallowed audibly. Suddenly, she was inordinately glad for the fact that she decided to wear the black lycra sports bra and loose black yoga pants that rode low on her hips. Her fashion sense was definitely suffering for her Slayerhood, but she knew she looked hot at the moment.
"Ready, Slayer?" he asked in open challenge.
"You have no idea," she muttered saucily under her breath, but held up her hands and nodded to him to attack.
Angel went easy at first, testing her range of motion, carefully noting the moves that caused her to wince. Buffy circled around him, trying to ignore the pain in her leg and concentrate on her opponent. As she barely dodged a fist, she realized maybe keeping all of her interest concentrated on him wasn't such a wise move. The way he looked in those leather pants should be illegal.
When Angel was satisfied that her leg was indeed strong enough, he became more aggressive. As a rule, he didn't spend a lot of time in hand to hand combat. It was far more efficient to get his point across with political intimidation and magicks, but never one to be outdone, he had studied several different forms of martial arts and he kept himself in top physical shape. For a student of combat, it was a rare pleasure to pit his skills against someone who was such a raw and instinctive fighter. He could tell she was being hesitant because of her injuries and he was actually rather thankful for that. He had no doubt that he was no match physically for Buffy in top form.
But she wasn't in top form, and he didn't get where he was by playing fair. He started attacking on her weak side, causing her to fight for balance, making her work twice as hard as he was. After days of limited physical activity, she was waning quickly. He took the opportunity, swinging at her, knowing she would have to dodge and then sweeping her legs out from under her.
Buffy landed hard and didn't move as pain flared through her wounded leg. Angel stood over her, watching. There was a strong pull to run to her side and assure himself that she was all right, but he held his ground. Buffy was the Slayer and she had to become accustomed to battle. She stayed as she was, laid out on her back on the practice mat. Her eyes were closed and she ground her teeth against the pain.
"You okay?" Angel asked, careful to mask his concern.
"Fine," she bit out. "Just give me a second."
Angel walked around her in a slow circle. "Buffy," he said, trying to take her mind off the pain, "I thought your mother was German."
"She was," Buffy replied, pushing herself into a sitting position.
Angel smiled saucily. "And we already know your father is an English pig."
"Is there a point to this?" she asked wearily.
"Not really," he said. "I was just wondering why you have a Celtic cross tattooed on your hip."
"I don't have a ..." Buffy looked down at her right hip. Her yoga pants had ridden down far enough that there was indeed a tattoo of a Celtic cross visible. Since performing the soulmate spell with Ford many months earlier, Buffy had the strange design on her hip - right where the Celtic cross was now situated. " ... tattoo," she finished lamely.
"Some drunken night you can't remember?" Angel offered.
Buffy shook her head and looked up to see his proffered hand. She took it, letting him help her to her feet. She stared down at the tattoo, pulling her pants far enough down her hip that it was completely visible. "I don't know what's going on," she said.
"You really didn't know you had a tattoo?" Angel asked, becoming more concerned.
Frowning, Buffy said, "No, I have one, it just usually ... "
"Usually?" he prompted.
"Doesn't look like this," she said meekly, her brow furrowing as she looked at it again.
"Let me get this straight," Angel said, "you have a tattoo, it just normally doesn't look like a Celtic cross?"
"Well normally, it's ... " Buffy looked at him, her mouth hanging open. She snapped it shut. "Never mind," she said. "I don't know what's going on."
He stepped closer, his brow furrowed with concern. "Ionuin, if something is wrong -"
"No," Buffy said firmly. "It's fine. I'll deal with it later." She looked at his disheveled form and didn't even attempt to lie to herself about the way his rumpled clothes and worried expression pulled at something inside of her. She stepped away from him, limping across the mat. "I think I'm done sparring for the day," she said, not looking at him.
Angel was quiet for several moments and when he spoke, his voice was soft. "Did you find the Nottis stone?" he asked.
Turning, Buffy met his gaze, trying to keep her expression neutral. "I did," she replied, then tacked on a hasty, "thank you."
He nodded, then shrugged. "See you later," he said and after grabbing his jacket and shoes, left without another word.
Buffy took a few deep breaths and looked down at her hip. Once again, the design returned to the way it had looked for the last eighteen months. The patterns made more sense now, knowing where the odd lines and twists formed the part of the larger design. Still, this was not good news. She grabbed her sweatshirt and pulled it on over her sports bra and headed upstairs to do research.
Buffy stared blankly at the weathered parchment page.
"Like this one," Gunn said loudly, scaring her out of her zone as he held up the new battle-axe. Buffy stared at him with her hand pressed to her racing heart. She had missed the entire conversation, lost in her thoughts. Leaning in, Gunn looked at her closely. "You okay there, B?" he asked. She nodded. He looked down at the book. "Whatcha readin'?"
Buffy snapped the book shut. "Nothing," she said, smiling sweetly.
Gunn didn't look convinced, but he let it drop, returning the axe to the weapons cabinet. Buffy hopped off the stool and limped carefully over to Wesley's bookshelves. She replaced the book she had borrowed. It was a duplicate copy of the spellbook she and Ford had used for their magickal dabblings, Bind's Compendium. Wesley's book had an exact copy of the spell that left the random design permanently embedded in the flesh on her hip. "Soulmates," Buffy said under her breath.
Buffy hobbled back to the stool and resumed her perch next to the phone. Wesley, Gunn and Groo milled around the Hyperion's lobby, taking a moment to regroup from the day's activities before they dove into the nighttime routine. Half hidden behind the counter, Buffy pulled up her sweatshirt and rolled over the waistband of her pants. The mark was still nothing more than a random assortment of lines. Buffy sighed and righted her clothes. She leaned forward, bracing her elbows on the counter as she cradled her head. She had read and re-read the spell for hours. There was no getting around it, she performed it correctly. The seemingly random pattern on her hip was half of a mark. It only completed itself when her soulmate was near.
Buffy groaned and collapsed completely forward onto the counter, pillowing her head on her arms. Liam Roarke ... Angel, the man she couldn't stand, was her other half? This couldn't be happening. She hated him! But even as Buffy thought it, she knew it wasn't true. Angel irritated her, possibly more than any human being on the planet, but she didn't hate him. He merely had the ability to push her buttons like no one else. He knew exactly what to say or do to drive her nuts. But he hadn't been driving her nuts lately - at least not the way he used to. More often than not, she actually looked forward to seeing him, to talking to him. And she couldn't even begin to deny that looking at him was most definitely a pleasure. And then there was the Nottis stone. He wouldn't have gone out of his way to find it for her if he hadn't had some inkling of what it meant. She sighed miserably.
"I think I'm falling in love with him," she whispered to herself.
Buffy shook herself violently, shuddering at the notion. The thought of loving Angel terrified her. Angel wasn't a man with whom to trust one's heart. He was cold, calculating and solitary. She couldn't deny that there had always been a connection between the two of them. Nor could she deny that while she heard stories of his ruthlessness, he had never been anything but brutally honest with her ...
She let her thoughts wander, remembering his scent, the feel of his lips against hers and the concern in his eyes, remembering the unmistakable thrust of his arousal. Buffy had no trouble believing that his reputation as a lover was well deserved, but taking him as a lover and falling in love with him weren't separate for her. She knew that if she ever did give in to him that it would be because he held her heart. And her heart was the one thing she couldn't give him.
Angel took a deep breath as he slid behind his desk at Caritas. He sat stone still, eyes closed. He opened them slowly, looking at his hands. They weren't shaking. But he still felt unbalanced. Since his contact with Buffy hadn't been prolonged, the effect wasn't debilitating. But now that he knew what he was looking for, he could tell.
When he was near her, he wanted to touch her. And when he did ...
Angel knew he was damned. He'd known that for years. But touching Buffy was as close to heaven as a creature like himself was ever going to get. Her scent, her taste, her feel were all addictive. When he was near her, he felt drunk on her. When she was gone he felt empty in a way he had never imagined.
But if he was near her, if he dared to touch her, the fallout was intense. His magicks abandoned him, making him a stranger in his own body. In the wake of their contact, he couldn't concentrate, he couldn't do anything.
And when his magicks did return, they returned with a vengeance. He knew Buffy must have surmised that he was avoiding her in the wake of their physical encounter. And it was true. But he doubted she could even begin to appreciate his reasoning.
The nightmare he had of hurting Buffy, of gorging on her lifeforce until she died was still so fresh, so vivid. It was a backlash of some sort. The dark magicks that had initially receded from Buffy's touch nearly overtook him once they returned. In the wake of that dream, he had avoided all humans for fear of doing something. Something violent and bloody. The nightmare he'd had of Buffy ... He could remember the euphoria of ingesting her power.
He shook the thought away. It was much safer to avoid her. Safer for them both.
But he could only avoid her for so long before he began craving her touch. He'd been weak today. He'd sought her out, made up a flimsy excuse to touch her.
"Dammit!" he cursed, pounding his fist against the desk.
"Earth to Buffy."
Lifting her head from the former check-in desk, Buffy smiled wryly at Willow. "Hey," she said softly.
"Hey," Willow chirped. "Whatcha doin' sittin' here all alone?"
"Recuperating," Buffy said evasively.
Willow frowned, knowing that Buffy wasn't merely taking a break. "Anything you want to talk about?" she asked.
Buffy shrugged. "I don't know," she said. "I'm just trying to get my head straight. I'm kinda confused at the moment."
Leaning against the counter, Willow double-checked that none of the guys were close enough to overhear. "This wouldn't have anything to do with our boss, would it?" she whispered.
Buffy felt her cheeks pinken. "Wow, that obvious, huh?" she asked, her voice thick with self-derision.
"Oh, no, Buffy," Willow assured her. "I live there," she said. Willow smiled gently. "I ... know about the other night."
Blush deepening, Buffy winced. Willow laid a gentle hand on her arm. "It's confusing," Buffy said, "and getting more so by the moment."
Gunn's voice broke up their quiet discussion as he sneered loudly, "Oh look, a lawyer. Just what we need around here. It's always easier hunting vamps with bait."
Buffy turned her attention to the doors and watched as an attractive man entered the Hyperion. Dressed in faded blue jeans and a battered gray t-shirt, he didn't reek of money. But current appearance aside, Buffy knew he would be just as comfortable in Armani. He shrugged off Gunn's comment with a mix of arrogance and self-confidence that Buffy had only seen before on Angel, swaggering down the steps and into the lobby. "He a regular customer or something?" Buffy whispered to Willow, watching him walk across the floor with an easy grace that belied his familiarity with the hotel.
Frowning, Willow turned her attention back to Buffy. "Lindsey McDonald," Willow confided out of the corner of her mouth as he approached the counter.
"Willow," Lindsey said, nodding his head. The bit of twang betrayed his Texan roots. As his eyes landed on Buffy, a smile blossomed across his face, chock full of southern charm. "I don't believe we've met," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Lindsey."
Buffy shook his hand, thrilled that he gave her a firm shake and didn't try any landshark moves like planting a kiss. "Buffy Summers," she said, smiling easily. From the doorway, she had known he was attractive, but in close quarters he was a complete hottie. His ice blue eyes seemed to twinkle with mischief and his hand lingered longer than was absolutely necessary. Buffy also couldn't help noticing that he smelled very nice ... maybe not the same way that Angel's particular scent smelled nice, but definitely of the good.
"So Lindsey," Willow chirped, trying to break up the sudden tension, "what brings you here?"
Lindsey smiled broadly at Willow, completely aware that she was trying to divert his attention from Buffy. "Nothing really," he said. "I'm back in town, decided to check in and see how things are going."
"Does Roarke know you're here?" Willow asked.
Lindsey's smile faded. "You know he doesn't."
"After everything that happened," Willow asked cautiously, "do you think it's a good idea to be here?"
"Here as in Angel Investigations or are you insinuating that Roarke has dominion over the entire city?" Lindsey replied acridly.
"Linds, I wasn't - "
Lindsey shook his head, sighing. "I'm sorry, Willow, I didn't mean to snap. It's just that the muzzle gets old pretty quick."
"I'm not saying that what he did was right," Willow explained, "but I do think that his intentions were mostly good."
Lindsey's lips pressed into a hard line. "I made my own bed," he said. "I know that. It's just a little hard to sleep in some nights." Turning, Lindsey gave Buffy a smile that was a shadow of the former. "Buffy, it was nice to meet you. I'm sure I'll be seeing you around."
As the doors swung shut behind Lindsey, Buffy giggled. "Who was that masked man?" she quipped.
"Trouble," Willow replied dryly, sharing none of Buffy's giddy impressions from the exchange.
[End Chapter 11]
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