"A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings"
"Buffy, would you please come here? I need your opinion," Giles called toward the Slayer who was lounging on the couch with a book over her head.
"Buffy, really, we're talking about weapons," Angel chimed in, trying to curry favor.
"Would you two shut up before I die of boredom?" Buffy groaned.
Angel and Giles, deciding she would not be swayed, ignored her, continuing with their debate. On the surface, it appeared to be a serious dispute, but Buffy was able to recognize it for what it was, some disturbing male nerd bonding experience. In spite of the whole tall, dark and handsome thing, Angel was quite the geek. He and Giles had been arguing for the last hour over which dead guy's translation of some stupid ancient text was more accurate.
It was excruciatingly dull, even when they were yelling.
Buffy was fairly sure that she had never seen either of them quite so talkative. They were both so quiet most of the time, but when they got together, they would "debate" one boring subject or another for hours. She would have gotten really annoyed if they didn't seem to enjoy it so much.
Considering how much time she had to spend with both of them, she would rather they be happy and arguing, than quiet and withdrawn. Still, it could get seriously annoying.
The lobby of the Hyperion was crowded with DHSTs and down and out humans. It was payday and ration day in The City, which meant that everyone was figuring out how to best blow the money and sustenance they recently acquired.
Willy was arguing over back rent with a particularly nasty looking human who worked down at the docks. The heavily muscled man was bald and missing a few teeth, his clothes stained and tattered, but Willy didn't seem intimidated. He argued his point and threatened eviction until the dockworker relented, stripped a few bills off of his recently acquired wad of cash, and paid the manager.
Glancing up quickly from counting the bills, Willy said, "Be wit' ya in a sec, Angel."
The vampire nodded and idly thumbed a rip in his shirt that he acquired the previous night while sneaking around a few of Nabbit Industries' labs. Unhappily, he resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to spend some of his meager, hard earned cash on a new shirt. He was hoping to spend the money on a few art supplies, but that apparently wasn't in the cards.
"You're the one that helps the Slayer, right?"
Angel turned abruptly towards the voice and found himself staring at a vampire of dubious age. He appeared to be young, turned before he was quite fully a man, but looks were deceptive with his kind. However, from his lax attitude and posture, Angel wouldn't have been shocked to learn he was a fledgling.
"Who wants to know?" Angel growled, his voice thick with warning.
Angel had to stop himself from smiling. His voice was indeed a fearsome tool once again, thanks to Buffy's loosening of his collar. He was fairly sure it would have undermined his authority if he cringed in the middle of being menacing. Of course, as far as Angel could tell, he was the only DHST with that problem. Almost all of the other tagged vampires, this newest fledgling included, seemed to have little trouble speaking. Undoubtedly, they did not find it comfortable to speak while collared. Idle chitchat was not something in which most DHSTs engaged, but they did not seem to have the same pronounced reaction he had. Of course, none of them were anywhere near Angel's age. After nearly three centuries, learning a different way to speak was not easy.
"Whoa there," the boy said, holding his hands up in surrender. "I didn't mean to step on any toes. My name's Xander. I just thought you might have a little information."
Angel nodded in greeting, but ignored the outstretched hand. "What kind of information do you want, Xander?" he asked pointedly.
The boy blushed, a decidedly rare feat for a vampire. Oh, he had to be young. Angel determined Xander wasn't a threat, merely an annoyance, and turned away. As he did so, Willy caught his gaze and pulled a cooler out from under the counter.
"I don't know what you did, but I gotta give ya credit, I didn't think it was possible to get this kinda payday," he said with a clearly envious note in his voice. Willy credited himself on being able to get anything, but he failed Angel. The vampire was forced to find another - and more successful - route.
Angel nodded, but remained silent. He wasn't about to tell Willy where his new suppliers had come from. Efficiently, he popped open the lid on the cooler and made sure the contents were as they were supposed to be.
Angel turned and found Xander staring over his shoulder, nearly salivating at the sight of his rations. Quickly, he snapped the lid shut. Angel wasn't an idiot. He knew his rations were at least four times the size that most DHSTs were allotted, and much more potent to boot. He didn't want to make any enemies. "Why don't you come with me," he said quietly to Xander, the threat clear in his voice.
The boy swallowed harshly and nodded.
"Looks like working for the Slayer really paid off," Xander said nervously, pacing around Angel's suite.
"How do you know I work for the Slayer?" Angel asked.
His assignment was known within the Council and he was regularly out in public with Buffy, but Angel hadn't realized that his employment was common knowledge to his peers.
"I saw you," Xander said plainly.
"At Holtz's house," Xander replied and then quickly caught himself.
It was too late. Angel advanced, pinning the boy to the wall and vamping out. He growled loudly as Xander cowered. "Why are you watching the Slayer?" Angel ground out, enraged at the idea of anyone keeping tabs on Buffy.
"I'm not! I'm not!" Xander yelped.
"Then what are you doing?"
"I follow Anya sometimes," Xander explained quickly.
Angel released his grip and stepped back. "Anya?" he asked, confused.
Xander nodded, straightening his shirt. "Anya Emmerson, Holtz's secretary," he explained.
"Why are you keeping tabs on Holtz's secretary?"
"Because I ... like her," Xander admitted.
Angel's scowl slowly melted away into a grin and he laughed. Xander wasn't a spy, he was some lovesick kid who happened to be hot after Holtz's money-minded secretary. "Xander," he said, "I'm afraid you don't have enough cash to date her."
The boy looked dejected. "I know," he said.
Angel opened the cooler and threw Xander a bag. "Maybe that'll take some of the pain away," he said with a smile.
Angel walked several steps behind Buffy. Being considerably taller, he could follow her at his normal pace while she was stomping as fast as she could, muttering to herself under her breath. In the month he had worked with the Slayer, he came to know several things about her, foremost being that she hated wasting time. She was convinced that their mission for the evening, given to them by Holtz, was a waste of time. Consequently, she was very unhappy.
"This is total *bullshit*," she grumbled, as she stalked down the street.
"What exactly are we doing?" he asked, half wondering if he should have just stayed silent.
She stopped walking and turned to look at him. "Busy work," she groused. "We're doing busy work." Cocking an eyebrow, Angel waited for the real answer. Sighing heavily, Buffy said, "We're going over to Mercy hospital to back up Animal Control."
Angel's confusion was clear. "Excuse me?"
"There's a Pet problem at Mercy. We need to go over and make sure that none of the Animal Control guys get hurt trying to get rid of it."
Angel frowned. "Someone took a pet to the hospital?"
"It happens every now and then," Buffy said, resuming walking, albeit at a more leisurely pace. "Pets aren't that common. It takes a hell of a lot to get a license for one. Most people wouldn't bother."
Comprehension dawned, and this time it was Angel who stopped walking. Noticing he wasn't following, Buffy stopped and turned to look at him. "Do you mean a vampire?" he asked incredulously.
"Well ... yeah. What else would I be talking about?" she asked, feeling oddly embarrassed by the chastising expression on Angel's face and not understanding exactly why.
He glared at her. "I thought you were talking about a dog," he bit out.
Buffy shrugged. She opened her mouth, and then stopped. She was about to say 'they're both animals', but she halted the words. Angel was a vampire, and as such, he probably wasn't of the same opinion. She closed her mouth. She had never personally known a member of the undead before and while she still viewed the species on the whole as animals, she would not categorize Angel as a beast. "Orders are orders," she said blandly. "The Pet is causing a problem at Mercy. We have to get him out of there without hurting anyone."
Angel looked away from her, as if he couldn't stand the sight of her, and continued down the road towards the hospital. Buffy stared at his back unhappily. She tried to shake off the unwanted emotions. Why should she care what Angel thought? He was one of them. Of course, not even she believed her words. Sullenly, she hurried after him.
"So why is this one a Pet?" Angel asked, breaking the silence for the first time, as he and Buffy entered the stairwell. When they arrived at Mercy, it was in security lockdown because of the unruly vamp. The elevators were out of commission as a precaution, and consequently, the pair had to climb ten flights of stairs.
"His owner wanted it that way," Buffy explained. "99% of the vamps in the city are classified as DHSTs. Like you, they have work assignments. They're monitored closely, registered living quarters, weekly check-ins with case workers and such."
"I don't have check-ins," Angel said.
"Your job assignment is to the head of the Watchers' Council and the Slayer. I think they figure you're monitored closely enough," she said wryly.
"So what's the difference with a Pet?" Angel asked, getting back on topic.
"Exactly what it sounds like," Buffy said. "They live with their owners as members of the household. They aren't checked up on other than a yearly physical exam. They don't have to wear tags unless they're taken out in public. But it's a lot of trouble to get a Pet license. They're *very* expensive and ... "
"And? " Angel prompted.
"It's frowned upon."
Angel laughed deprecatingly. "Society doesn't like the idea of a vampire being part of the family?" he asked.
"They're not part of the family," Buffy said, "at least no more than the family cat or dog. They're possessions."
"Whatever you say," Angel replied dryly.
"What's the sitch?" Buffy asked the Animal Control officer, a man by the name of Bates.
Bates nodded, glad to see the Slayer had finally arrived. "He's in there," he said, pointing to the lone closed door on the wing.
The officer automatically handed Buffy a write up on the Pet. Given the Council's love for documentation, the registration was several pages long. Buffy quickly scanned them, then folded them up and placed them in her back pocket. "Is he armed?" she asked, eyeing the door.
The officer nodded. "Tazer. He already zapped two of my guys."
"Guess that makes it easier for us," Buffy said.
"What makes it easier?" Angel asked.
Turning, the Animal Control officer noticed Angel for the first time and jumped slightly. Buffy shook her head in dismissal, knowing full well that if Angel had meant the man any harm that he would have already been dead.
"It's a kill situation," Buffy said. "The Pet attacked two officers. It's broken Domestication laws and must be destroyed."
Angel was stunned by the coldness in her voice.
Stealthily Buffy toed open the door with Angel close on her heels. The overhead light in the room was off, but a small lamp on a table beside the bed was lit. In the bed, a very elderly woman, clearly dying, was cradling the head of a distraught vampire in her lap. Unaware that he was being watched, the vamp was sobbing openly as the woman gently stroked his hair, rubbing his face against her abdomen.
Buffy must have made some noise, because suddenly the vamp's head shot up. His expression was one of abject misery, but when he focused on the intruders, his eyes immediately turned golden and he sank into game face, growling loudly at the Slayer. Buffy's body went rigid, preparing for a fight. She jumped slightly as Angel's hand closed around her wrist, dragging her back out of the room and closing the door as the vamp continued to growl.
"What the hell are you doing?" Buffy demanding, twisting to confront the vampire as she wrenched her wrist free of his grasp.
Angel looked over his shoulder at Bates and his cronies who were intently listening to their conversation. "Can I have a word alone?" he asked tersely.
With a grumble, Buffy walked into one of the other rooms which had been emptied when the conflict started. Sitting on the bed, she glared at the vampire expectantly.
"Leave him," Angel said succinctly.
"What?" Buffy asked, incredulous.
"Leave him," Angel repeated.
"He's a wild animal. He's a danger to everyone in this building," she shot back.
"He's a grieving lover," Angel clarified evenly.
Buffy was shocked into silence. She gaped at him for several moments. "W-what did you say?" she asked.
Angel took a deep breath and looked at his reason for living. Her world was so rigid, so full of rules, that she was blind to the obvious. "You have his registration," Angel said. "How long has he been with her?"
Buffy reluctantly pulled the papers out of her pocket, quickly skimming through the data. "Sixty years."
"Was she ever married? Ever have kids?"
"No," Buffy replied, having some idea of where he was heading. "She was never married, never had children. She lived alone."
"I assure you," he said, "she may not have had a human companion, but she did not live alone. And she did not sleep alone either."
Buffy swallowed harshly.
"Whether you and society approve or not," Angel said, "they were lovers, most likely for her entire adult life. Now she's dying."
Buffy remained silent.
"I don't think he wants to hurt anyone," Angel explained seriously. "But he won't let them take her away from him, and he won't leave her side."
Buffy stared at her hands, still clasping the print up on Miss Gillian Miles and her Pet, John. "We have orders," she said quietly, unable to meet his gaze.
"She's dying," he replied just as quietly. "She won't last the night and neither will he."
Meeting his eyes, Buffy gave him a quizzical glance.
"The room has an eastern exposure, Buffy."
She swallowed again and nodded. She hadn't missed the fact that the blinds had been pulled up. John would die with the sunrise. "I'll talk to them," Buffy said. "Sunrise is only a couple of hours away. We can secure the room until then."
Buffy ran her fingers across the blanket that had until very recently covered Gillian Miles. She turned her hand over and looked at it, the tips of her fingers were coated with ash. Angel watched her silently.
"How did you know?" she asked without looking at him.
"I just did," he answered. "Relationships like this are not too out of the ordinary in the Wastelands."
She turned her head, meeting his gaze. "Did you ever have a human lover?" she asked, shocked by her own bluntness.
The silence hung in the air for nearly a minute before he spoke. "John and Gillian were more than lovers," he said. "They were mates. Bound for life, dedicated to one another."
Buffy continued to hold his gaze. "You didn't answer my question."
"I've never had a mate," he replied evasively, turning away from her to face the window, which was once again covered by blinds to block out the sun.
"Did you have a lover?"
"I had lots of lovers," he said dryly, neither ashamed nor proud of his actions, merely stating them for what they were. He took no satisfaction from his past, but he knew better than to deny it existed. He had learned from his mistakes and that was something to cherish.
Buffy flinched. She didn't know what she expected his answer to be, but his brutal honesty caused a twinge of jealousy. She didn't like the idea of Angel having lovers. "Were any of them human?" she asked.
Reluctantly, he met her gaze again. "Some," he replied evenly.
She recoiled and turned her attention back to her hand, rubbing the ash between her fingers. "But you didn't die for any of them," she mused.
"As I said," he replied, "they were lovers. I've never had a mate, human or otherwise."
"What about now?" she asked, shocked by the catty quality of her voice. "Do you have any lovers at the moment?"
He watched her for several drawn out moments and slowly a smile crept over his features. Buffy was upset by the idea of him having a lover. "You're the only woman I spend any time with, Buffy," he replied firmly.
She glared at him, well aware that she betrayed herself with the last question. She couldn't deal with this, not right now. Abruptly, she headed for the door. "Call Giles," she called over her shoulder. "He can give you a ride home."
[End Chapter 5]
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