When Angel arrived promptly the next evening, he entered without knocking, using the passkey that Giles provided. The space was much as it had been the previous evening. He scented four distinct presences, Holtz, Anya, Giles and - Angel smiled - Buffy.
Moving at a leisurely pace, he found Giles and Buffy in one of the roomy practice spaces that branched off of the library. Angel took care to make noise as he walked, knowing how unnerved most humans were by vampiric silence. The Slayer looked up, assessing him with unreadable eyes and Angel nodded in greeting. She returned the gesture, although the expression on her face was guarded. He wounded her the night before, and she was hesitant to extend him any trust. He wanted to kick himself.
Angel watched as Giles, in full pads, attempted to spar with the much stronger and more agile Slayer. It wasn't a particularly successful session, as half the time Giles was too out of breath to do much more than try to stay in one piece. They took a break and Giles removed the headgear, causing his hair to stick up like a porcupine. He was breathing hard as he gulped at the large glass of water.
"This doesn't seem to be too terribly efficient," Angel said quietly.
Giles shot him a wry glance. "No, it's not," he said. "While Riley has been assisting her on patrol, he is unavailable for our practice sessions, leaving only me. Buffy needs to be sparring with someone about twenty years younger."
Angel smiled and said, "Or two and a half centuries older."
Giles gave him a puzzled look but as understanding hit him, his face curled in a happy smile. "That would be a marvelous idea," he said.
"What?" Buffy asked, having just returned from the bathroom.
"I think you should spar with Angel," Giles said. "He's much closer to being a match for you, and it would leave me free to critique your movement."
Buffy looked slightly mortified, but voiced no opposition. Several minutes later, vampire and Slayer were squaring off with one another.
It was invigorating for both of them, facing off against their mortal enemies. Buffy was a raw fighter, powerful and agile, both in body and mind, but she wasn't very disciplined. Angel was stronger than Giles, but still no match for Buffy. He was woefully underfed and long out of practice, but he had two hundred years of training she lacked. That fact alone enabled him to match her fairly evenly - much more evenly than a Council soldier could have managed.
They fought vigorously, but with restraint, neither of them landing any particularly damaging hits. Giles happily gave Buffy pointers throughout the exercise, reveling in the fact that he could critique her form without simultaneously having to evade her advances. Spontaneously, the Watcher upped the ante by directing Angel in a variety of specific attacks. It irritated Buffy to no end that the terse conversation between vampire and Watcher was conducted in a particularly obscure dialect of ancient Sumerian which she had no hope of understanding. Giles smiled gleefully as Angel merely nodded at his directions, understanding the dialect perfectly and executing the moves with a rare grace.
They sparred for nearly an hour when Anya, clearly displeased at having to actually carry out secretarial duties, came into the training space to inform Giles that Holtz needed to speak with him promptly. The Watcher left but Buffy and Angel continued practicing, glad to be pitted against a worthy opponent. They went round and round, becoming slightly more aggressive without Giles' watchful eye. Angel managed to land a rather good hit on Buffy's left knee that sent her sprawling. She bounded up, angry more at herself than him, but advanced in a fury.
Angel didn't stand a chance and he knew it. He was nearing the end of his energy and Buffy was newly invigorated by the force of her emotions. As she grabbed and flipped him, he didn't fight her, allowing her to pin him face down on the mat as she straddled his lower back.
Suddenly, the fight was over.
Despite the pain it caused Angel, they were both breathing harshly, well aware of the awkwardness of their positions. Buffy's deceptively small hands were clasped firmly around his right arm, twisting it up behind his back. She wasn't hurting him, but neither did she release him. And he didn't ask her to.
They were both aware of the fact that her hands were shaking. Buffy screwed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. What was she doing? They were sparring. She needed to move. But she couldn't.
She felt it again, that strange sense of familiarity she'd noticed when she first saw him. She could feel it. Hell, she could almost smell it. Then it hit her. Buffy leaned forward, almost burying her nose in the nape of his neck as she inhaled deeply. Angel didn't move so much as a muscle. "You," she hissed, the word sounding disproportionately loud to Angel, considering where her mouth was in relation to his ear.
Deliberately and cautiously, so as not to alarm her, he pulled his arm free. Buffy released him, rising to her feet and retreating several steps. He rolled over and rose to his feet, facing her. She watched him through slitted eyes.
"Me?" he asked cautiously.
"Last year," she said succinctly, "at Morton's Rock in the Wastelands. You were there."
Angel watched her mutely. He remembered the night at Morton's Rock as clearly as if it were yesterday. Obviously, so did she, well enough to recognize him by scent alone. Cautiously he nodded. "I was," he confirmed.
"I knew you were out there," she said. "I waited. You never showed yourself." Her voice was low, a harsh whisper that tingled along his spine. She was watching him the way a healthy cat watched a wounded mouse.
"Vampires don't live long in the Wastelands by making their presence known to Slayers," Angel noted dryly.
"No," she said with a small smirk, "they don't. In fact, you were the first one to ever get away from me."
Angel took a deep breath, trying to read anything in her expression, but the flicker of amusement had faded, leaving an implacable facade. She was too withdrawn, too guarded. Leisurely she turned from him, heading for the supply room, probably gathering weapons for the nightly patrol with Riley.
"But I didn't get away," he said quietly, staring after her retreating form.
Inside the supply room, Buffy backed up against the wall, her blood pounding in her ears. What had possessed her to do that? She'd been practically nuzzling him. She was losing her mind.
Sinking down to the floor, she cradled her head in her hands. This wasn't happening. Ever since she could remember, her life had been regimented, everything neat and orderly and perfectly by the book. Then last year, that damn vamp had slipped through her hands. Of course, no one else had been aware of his presence, but she had. She had felt the force of his gaze on her, almost as if he had touched her. She stood there for nearly half an hour, waiting for ... for what? She wasn't sure, and in the end, it didn't matter. She turned away and he didn't follow.
But the irritation, the fact that she hadn't hunted him down but simply stood there and allowed him to play voyeur, rooted by the weight of his perusal. It ate at her, both the aggravation with herself for allowing it, and for allowing him to escape.
When she saw Angel in Holtz's office, she knew there was something about him. He set her nerves on edge, causing her muscles to tense in anticipation. But it wasn't the same tension she experienced around other DHSTs. The rush was different, but familiar at the same time. His presence heightened her senses without seeming threatening. It was the same jumbled reaction she had that night at Morton's Rock. The same reaction that caused her to give him a free show rather than hunting him down like she was born to do.
And then tonight, as she pinned him, it all clicked into place. She would know his smell anywhere, the smell that had eluded her for more than a year.
She had to leave, to get away from him before she did something, though honestly she didn't know what. She shook her head, trying to shake off the feeling of connection.
But she wasn't the only one who felt the pull. She heard him clearly as she left the room. "I didn't get away." That's what he said. What did that mean? With a growl of frustration, she pushed herself to her feet. She wasn't going to lose control of this situation. With a burst of energy born of out of annoyance, she began collecting weapons for patrol.
Angel pretended to be distracted by his translations as Buffy left to patrol with that damn soldier. Of course, he wasn't distracted. Every bit of his finely tuned senses were trained on the pair.
A few questions asked of Giles had informed Angel that Riley was a fairly new addition to the Slayer's inner circle and only a temporary one at that. In response to vague rumors of problems within the DHST community, about a month earlier the Council decided that the Slayer needed more backup. Apparently that happened occasionally. Given that Angel was still in training at the time, Riley was the temporary fix. The plan was that as soon as Angel was able to patrol, Riley would be out of the picture.
From Angel's perspective, that couldn't happen soon enough. Though his contact to Buffy and Riley together had been limited, Angel had watched them very carefully. Riley was smitten with the Slayer. Of course, the soldier was a professional, so he kept their relationship strictly business, but Angel could tell. He could almost taste how much the boy wanted to get his hands on Buffy.
That was not going to happen. By the end of the week, Angel would be patrolling and Riley would be back on Council duty. Good riddance.
Angel seriously doubted there could ever be anything between himself and Buffy, but it didn't mean that he wanted to sit idly by and watch her with another male. Of course, if Buffy's reactions to Riley were any indication, Angel didn't have much to worry about. While Riley was definitely taken with the Slayer, she seemed completely oblivious to his attentions. Not uninterested, just unaware. Yes, as far as Angel was concerned, Riley couldn't leave fast enough.
Several nights later, Buffy watched as the feral vampire exploded into dust, leaving Angel gripping the stake. His expression was neutral, more akin to an assassin than a predator. This was a job to him. He found no joy in it. She had a very good appreciation for professionalism in her line of work. Most people, however opposed to vampires, got a bit squeamish about it. Those that didn't tended to be a bit too overzealous for her comfort. She wasn't on a religious crusade, it was simply what she was designed to do.
"Nice work," she said, meeting his eyes in the dim lighting. The lone street light provided meager illumination for the parking lot outside the abandoned warehouse where the rogue vamp had been holed up.
"It's what I'm here to do," he said, his voice betraying none of the elation elicited by her praise.
She shrugged. "Still," she said, "it's good to see someone who can hold their own. I've sparred with lots of Watchers and Council soldiers who come up to scratch on the mat, but in real combat situations freeze. Good to know you're not a liability."
"I take care of me and mine," he said, brushing the dust off of his dark pants and shirt.
Buffy watched him, wondering about the comment, but let it go. He had her back and she was pleased to know that he was up to the challenge. She went through several would-be backups during her tenure as Slayer. Most of them ended up hurt, mentally or physically, sometimes both. So far, Riley had proven the most dependable, but he simply didn't have Angel's strength or speed. Odd as it seemed, she much preferred having Angel with her, both for Riley's safety and her own. Buffy shook her head, not knowing what to think of her reaction. She had expected to tolerate Angel, not appreciate him. Turning, she headed for the sidewalk and their next assignment, Angel fell into step next to her.
Pulling the piece of paper out of her pocket, Buffy double-checked the work order. It wasn't necessary, but it gave her something to do.
"Where to now?" Angel asked, idly flipping the stake over in his hand.
"Wareham district," Buffy said. "There have been some complaints. It might be a Rettoph infestation."
Angel cocked an eyebrow at her. "I thought they were a cold climate species," he said. "I didn't know they could venture this far south."
"They can't," Buffy said wryly. "Some overachieving young Watcher probably took the complaint call and dug out his books. He decided it was a Rettoph infestation and had it put on my roster. Happens a lot. It's probably raccoons."
"You're serious?" Angel asked, slightly incredulous.
"Unfortunately, yes," she replied dryly.
"What a waste," he said. "They expect a Slayer to spend her time checking out pest problems."
Buffy laughed. "Welcome to the life of a civil servant," she said. "That," she motioned to the now vacant parking lot, littered with vampire dust," was a rarity. Mostly, I track down DHSTs that aren't so prompt about reporting to their case workers and remind them to be on time. Once I got to go to the zoo and help track a pack of Yrrahian Ankle Biters that broke out of their enclosure and managed to eat half the birds in the aviary."
Angel stopped walking and gaped at her. "Please tell me you're kidding," he said.
She shook her head. "I'm the Slayer," she said, "but for the most part, our DHST population is very well behaved. Even the ones that go rogue generally don't cause a problem. Why do you think the training is so long? After a year of behavior modification and with a drop rate of 90%, the ones that pass are usually in for the long haul."
Angel shrugged. "I guess you have a point there," he said.
Buffy started walking again. "Don't get me wrong," she said. "I have had my share of nasty run-ins with vamps. For the same reasons I just went through, when we get a bad vamp, they're usually rotten to the core and nasty as hell. We don't get a lot of half measures around here. Plus, I do two weeks in the Wastelands every quarter with Council soldiers. When it's rough, it's rough, but there's a lot of down time."
Angel sighed, somewhat desperate to keep the conversation going. "I suppose it has its perks as well as its benefits," he said.
Buffy laughed. "Yeah," she said, "the drawbacks are that I might pass out from boredom and be devoured by a pack of surly Ankle Biters."
Angel looked at her and smiled and Buffy smiled back before she could stop herself. What was she doing? He was a DHST, her assistant, not her friend. She blanked her face and walked slightly faster, putting her ahead of Angel. She trusted him and that made her distrust herself. She was cautious by nature and it wasn't her style to be so accepting of an outsider. Her natural ease with him, combined with the fact that he was a vampire made her very skeptical of her instincts.
Angel watched her pace herself ahead of him and did nothing. He merely fell into step behind her. It wasn't like he could expect her to treat him like a person overnight. Things were going well, but he didn't want to push it, especially not on their first night patrolling. Time was the one thing he had in spades, and he meant to use it to his best advantage.
"So," Giles asked, as he took a seat at the large table Buffy was sitting on top of, "what do you think of your new assistant?"
Buffy met his eyes and nodded solemnly. "Angel knows his stuff," she said. "And he isn't afraid to get the job done."
Giles nodded slowly. "That's what you told Holtz," he said.
Buffy frowned and then shrugged. She knew Giles was looking for something more personal than a performance review. Holtz only asked about the hard facts, but Giles was often more interested in her insights and instincts. "He's nice," she admitted, "a little out of the loop as far as technology and culture go, but he's not your typical vamp."
"I agree," he said with a nod. "His grasp of preternatural subjects and fields of study would rival those of any Council scholar. I dare say he's probably more educated than a good deal of them, and very well read."
Buffy smiled openly at the Watcher and whistled, long and low. "Wow. Big compliment coming from you," she said with a grin. She was very attached to Giles and she liked that he shared her assessment of Angel's character. It gave her more faith in her own instincts, which she had been questioning of late.
"I suppose so," Giles replied. "But it is a bit of a shock. I know Holtz wanted a DHST who could help us keep an eye on Walsh, but I never expected to find one that could truly be of help to us in other areas."
Frowning, Buffy asked, "Where did Whistler find him?"
Giles shrugged. "I have no idea," he said. "Angel's past is largely a question mark. He answered the questions that were absolutely necessary to gain him entrance to DHST training, but aside from that, he is very tight lipped."
"That's not really a good thing," she said.
"No," Giles concurred, "it's not, but I haven't found any reason to distrust him. Have you?"
Buffy pursed her lips together as she thought about it. "You mean besides the fact that he's a vamp?'"
"Yes, besides that," Giles said seriously. Everyone living in The City knew that vampires could be trained, but never trusted. At least not without careful supervision. While Giles wasn't exactly of the same mind where Angel was concerned, he had to take societal norms into account.
She sighed and shook her head. "Nope," she said. "I'm usually really good at picking up on insincerity. He seems kosher."
Giles raised his eyebrows in question. "So we let him keep his secrets?" he asked.
"For now, I guess," Buffy replied.
[End Chapter 3]
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