"That Which Does Not Kill Us"
Angel yelped as the beam of sunlight singed his hand, pulling it back under the safety of the stiflingly warm blanket. There was a reason vampires stayed in during the day, he noted grouchily to himself.
"Are you all right?" Giles asked over his shoulder.
"Fine," Angel grumbled. Buffy was clearly upset by their conversation and left the hospital, intent on walking home alone. Given that it was daylight out, Angel had no choice but to watch her go and then call Giles for a ride.
"We're here," the Watcher said as he pulled the car to a stop.
Angel threw off the blanket and sat up, thankful that his boarding house had an underground garage and entrance for just such an occasion. He ran a hand through his hair, trying to calm some of the unruly locks. It was a futile attempt. Though he couldn't see himself in the rearview mirror, he knew his hair was sticking up everywhere. He sighed heavily.
"I have coffee upstairs if you're interested," Angel said.
Giles twisted around in the seat, watching the vampire. "Sure," he said, killing the car's engine.
"Thank you," Giles said as Angel handed him a steaming cup of coffee.
Angel's home was small, but neat, if conspicuously lacking in natural light. Luckily, Angel had a multitude of lamps throughout the space. Rising from his seat, the Watcher ventured around the room, paying special attention to a table stacked with books. "Interesting," he said, flipping through the titles.
"Pardon?" Angel asked, then realized to what Giles was referring. "Yeah," he said, "I've added a few titles to the collection recently. Willy's pretty good at finding just about anything."
The Watcher nodded appreciatively.
"Was she all right?" Angel asked abruptly.
Giles nodded, once again taking a seat near the vampire. "She was ... distracted," Giles said truthfully, "but apparently unharmed."
Angel nodded. "She isn't too happy with me."
"What happened?" Giles asked seriously.
To his own shock, Angel related the night's events to the Watcher with brutal honestly, omitting only the conversation he and Buffy shared over John's ashes.
He watched Giles' face for some clue as to what he was thinking, but he was his usual, unreadable self. "Does it sicken you?" Angel asked.
"The idea of a human and a vampire together?" Giles asked.
Solemnly, Giles shook his head. "I think that happiness should be sought out wherever it can be found," he said with a wry smile.
Releasing a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, Angel sank back in his chair. "It upset her," he said, staring off into space.
"I doubt that," Giles responded.
Angel looked at him in question.
"Buffy had a very regimented upbringing," Giles explained. "She was taught to see the world in black and white. Knowing you is causing her to question a number of long held beliefs. I'm sure it is not comfortable for her, but Buffy has a gentle soul. If anything, I'm sure it was the vampire's grief that affected her. Not being close to anyone, Buffy has never before lost someone she cares for. She is well acquainted with misery, but grief is somewhat of an unknown."
Angel was watching Giles carefully, noting how the man's face seemed to soften when he spoke of the Slayer. He had never seen such an expression on Holtz's face. "Were you ever married, Rupert?" Angel asked.
Swallowing heavily, Giles answered, "Yes, I was, once."
"What happened?" Angel prodded.
Giles smiled sadly. "My wife di- ... " he stopped, taking a deep breath. "After we lost our little girl, I don't think Joyce saw much point in going on. She learned to dull her pain in a multitude of ways. I wasn't much help to her in the intervening years. I could have supported her, worked through it, but it was simply too painful for me to deal with. I buried myself in my work. I was gone for several weeks, doing field work with Holtz. I was completely without any means of communication. When I returned home, I was informed that she had gone missing. Several people saw her near the Wasteland gates. It was too unthinkable to me that she would ever hurt herself. And then one day she was simply gone. They never found her body."
It was Angel's turn to swallow harshly. "I'm sorry," he said.
Giles shrugged. "As I said before, I now believe that one should find happiness where one is able."
"Are you happy now?"
The Watcher sat in contemplative silence for several moments before answering. "For a long time after my wife's disappearance, after our little girl was taken, I never thought I would be happy again. But then a year passed, and another year, and so on. I resumed my position with the Council. I never thought it possible, but yes, I am happy now."
Angel watched him intently. "What was your daughter's name?" he asked.
"Buffy," Giles replied, with a smile, "but I assume you already discerned as much."
Angel nodded. "Does she know?" he asked.
"No," Giles said firmly. "It would only make things more difficult if she knew. This is the way it has been done for centuries. At least I can spend time with her. Most parents are not even allowed that much when their daughters become Slayers."
"I'll make sure she's safe," Angel pledged.
Giles smiled. "I'm counting on it," he said.
It was shortly after dusk, the time which the Buffy and Angel generally set aside for taking care of routine, menial tasks. They were seated at one of the large, wooden tables that were the centerpieces of Holtz's library, in companionable silence, each of them intent on their task.
"Angel?" Buffy asked, not looking up from the ancient sword she was cleaning, mindless of the fact that the task was leaving her with dirty hands and clothes. The battered, gray sweatshirt she wore was smudged with a plethora of grime and dirt as were her black cargo pants, though they camouflaged it better.
"Yeah," he replied, equally distracted as he reassembled a battle axe, on which he recently replaced the handle.
"When you were ... " she began, looking up from her task to watch him across the table, "when you became a vampire, was it during the plagues?"
Angel set down the ax he was working on and gave his full attention to the Slayer. "Yes," he replied evenly, "I was turned in the plague's first wave."
Buffy nodded and then meekly asked, "What was it like?"
Angel felt something inside him that had been tightly coiled begin to loosen with her timid question. Buffy had definitely been upset by their conversation about his past, and he had feared that she would go to significant lengths to distance herself from him. Her question was a sure sign that she wished to continue the somewhat personal turn their relationship had taken.
"How much do you know about the plagues?" he asked.
Buffy shrugged. "Not much," she said. "The instructors only touched on them in history class. I know that some particularly nasty vamp came up with the plagues as a way of increasing demon numbers. I know that those infected were driven out of human society."
Angel nodded. "That much is true, but it leaves out a lot of the specifics," he said quietly. "A demon named Varkesh engineered the plagues. Through a series of spells, he and a cluster of warlocks were able to create a sickness that preyed on the human population. It worked like a cold, airborne and highly contagious."
Buffy frowned, "People caught it without reason?"
"Yes," Angel replied. "It attacked indiscriminately. Entire pockets of human population were wiped out. But the plague had problems. It was designed to take a normal healthy human and turn them into a vampire."
"I thought that's what it did?" Buffy asked, confused.
"Not always. Sometimes the sickness would kill the victim, other times the conversion to vampirism wasn't completely successful. A human soul would be left in a vampiric body."
Buffy looked at him closely. "That's what happened to you, isn't it?" she asked, knowing that all DHSTs admitted to The City had to have a soul.
"Yes," he replied. "I have always had a human soul. But it didn't matter to those in power at the time. Medical science had no way of combating the plagues and the Watchers' Council wasn't powerful enough, at the time, to fight it with magic. In the interest of self-preservation, humanity isolated itself. All those infected were driven out of society and into the Wastelands. It was a crude method, but effective. It eliminated the outbreaks. Those in charge of preserving society had no way of knowing that the plagues were only contagious for a matter of months."
An appalled expression crossed Buffy's face. "But you weren't dangerous," she said.
"No," he mused, "I wasn't. Or at the very least, I wasn't malicious. I suppose I would have been a danger to some extent. My vampiric status came with a lot of physical attributes I didn't possess as a human. It took some time to adjust to my new strength. But lack of malice didn't matter to those in charge. I was driven away from my home and my family. At the time, I only wanted to die."
"You didn't," she noted.
"I'm glad," she said and turned her attention back to the sword.
Just over a week later, Holtz unceremoniously dropped a garment bag on the library table in front of Angel. Cautiously, the vampire looked up and met his gaze. "Sir?"
"There is a social engagement this evening. It's being held at Council Headquarters and will be rather large. I hadn't intended for you to attend, but I was just informed that Maggie Walsh will be there. It should be a very good opportunity for us to see if you're everything Whistler assured us you would be," Holtz said, smiling mirthlessly down at the DHST.
Angel nodded curtly. Holtz's suspicions were understandable. Whistler had "sold" the leader of the Watchers' Council on Angel's merits, claiming that he would make a valuable and virtually undetectable spy within the ranks of Walsh's DHSTs. So far, though, Angel had done little more than tag along behind Buffy and help Giles with research. The party would be the perfect chance for him to prove that he was worth the risk that Holtz was taking on him.
"Inside the bag is a suit. All black, of course," Holtz added. "You will attend with Buffy. Do you know how to drive?"
The question took Angel somewhat by surprise but he nodded.
"Good," Holtz said dryly, "Buffy has a car she never drives. You can be responsible for getting the two of you there in time."
"Yes, sir," Angel replied dutifully.
Turning on his heel, Holtz left abruptly, leaving Angel staring at the garment bag. Several minutes later, Buffy walked in and gave him a strange look. "Going somewhere?" she joked.
"Yes," he replied truthfully, "apparently, I'm your escort for the evening."
Buffy went pale. "You're going tonight?" she asked incredulously.
"Wonderful," she said dryly, flopping down into a chair next to Angel as she grabbed several case files and began rooting through them in search of distraction.
"Is there a problem with that?" he asked cautiously.
"Not really," she said, without looking at him, "it's just that going to those stupid things is embarrassing enough. I don't really want any more of an audience than I already have."
Angel frowned. "Why do you think they're embarrassing?"
Shooting him a withering look, she said, "They're formals."
Angel shrugged, still confused.
"I have to wear a dress," she explained.
"Oh," Angel finally said, still not understanding why that should be such a huge deal.
Contrary to what Holtz intimated, Buffy picked Angel up for the evening. He was running late and was still in the bathroom getting dressed when he heard Buffy knock on the door. He yelled for her to enter and when he heard the door open and close, he knew she had.
Angel checked himself over as well as he could without the aid of a reflection. The suit was expensive, probably from the same tailor that made Holtz's formal attire. Every piece of material utilized was black, from the coat to the shirt and tie. Still, it had obviously been tailored to his body, probably with the aid of the measurements that had been taken while he was tagged several months earlier. It would have been ordered at the same time as the rest of his clothing, with the assumption that a DHST working for someone as powerful as Holtz would have occasion to need formal wear.
That noted, it was a little snug. Not uncomfortably so, but still, he could tell that he filled out quite a bit after Buffy upped his rations. The suit was tailored to fit an emaciated body that he no longer possessed. Thankfully, he had always been on the lean side, so it wasn't a problem. His normal DHST uniform was so loose fitting that he hadn't had any problems. Deciding that it was as good as it was going to get, he opened the door and stepped out into the apartment.
He was only able to take one step before he stopped cold, spellbound. Buffy was absolutely ravishing. Angel watched the petite Slayer day in and day out, wearing worn t-shirts and faded cargo pants, all the while thinking she was beautiful. Buffy in full formal dress, however, was a truly awe-inspiring sight.
She wore a pale pink sheath dress that reached almost to her ankles. He fixated on that for a moment. She had fantastic ankles. He had worked next to her for weeks on end, and this was the first time he had ever seen them. Forcing his gaze upward again, he noted how flawlessly the dress hugged her curves, which were deliciously evident. Her long blonde tresses which were customarily braided or in a ponytail, hung loose down her back, reaching almost to her waist. She was stunning.
"What?" she asked nervously, shifting her weight on the balls of her feet - which were tied into a very sexy pair of strappy high heels.
"You look very ... nice," Angel finally managed to say.
"Oh," she said, somewhat relieved that he wasn't going to laugh at her. "You too."
"Yeah," he said, "the suit is really nice, but it's a little too small."
She looked him over and frowned. "Holtz said he it had been custom tailored."
"It was," Angel replied, "but it was custom tailored to the body I had when I finished DHST training. With my new improved rations, I've put back a lot of the muscle I lost from starvation."
"I noticed," Buffy said and then stopped herself, mortified that she let the comment slip. Yes, she definitely had noticed that Angel's body had filled out. When they sparred, he often did so without a shirt. He went from thin to very well defined right before her eyes.
"We should probably get going," Angel said, changing the subject to avoid further embarrassing her.
"I thought ... maybe ... first we could," Buffy stuttered, pointing to his neck.
Angel had no idea what she was talking about, and then he realized she was looking at the stained skin that still circled his neck. He took his tags off before hitting the shower, leaving them lying on his night stand.
Nervously, Buffy fumbled for the small purse she carried. Angel watched as she extracted a small glass jar. "I thought maybe ..." she said unevenly.
Angel cocked an eyebrow. "What is it?" he asked warily.
"The taggers use it when they accidentally dye themselves," Buffy replied. "It should remove all the stains."
"Oh," Angel said, shocked.
An awkward silence descended between them for several long seconds.
"Do you want me to put it on?" she asked, blushing slightly.
"Um ... sure," Angel replied, unable to think straight. Buffy had actually gone to all the trouble of getting the dye remover. He had difficulty making his feet move as he walked over to the bed and sat down so she could reach his neck.
Buffy swallowed harshly and moved to kneel on the floor in front of his seated form. She was determined to finish what she started without making a fool of herself. She wasn't exactly sure why she was doing this and she was too scared to question it very closely. For some reason, it bothered her deeply to think of him marked as someone's property, even hers. And his skin was so beautiful, it was almost a sin to see it marred by the dye.
Keeping her concentration on her task, she opened the jar, revealing an icy blue cream with a faintly minty smell. Careful not to get any on her dress, she daubed a bit of the cream on her finger and slowly reached for his left wrist. She rubbed the cream into the skin carefully, making sure to coat all of the gray areas.
Angel tensed under her gentle contact, but made no effort to pull away, transfixed by the feel of her touch. The cream tingled slightly, but didn't burn. She rubbed his flesh slowly, her tiny fingers unable to span his large wrist, and Angel was extremely thankful that he hadn't fed recently. A blush would have been very not suave. However, a second thoughts hit his brain about two seconds after it hit another part of his anatomy.
Frantically, he tried to think about anything other than Buffy's warm little fingers gliding over his skin.
Buffy continued, blissfully unaware and by the time she was working on the second wrist, the first was already showing signs of bleaching back to the normal alabaster white of his flesh. Taking a deep breath, she rose to her feet. He didn't move a muscle as she pulled her long skirt up above her knees and knelt on the bed beside him.
With as much care and attention to detail as she had shown his wrists, she started with the back of his neck, rubbing the blue cream into the discolored flesh. She could see the grooves from where the collar bit into the flesh of his neck and did her best to massage them out with her strong fingers.
She worked for a long time, and was almost finished when she realized that Angel had been absolutely silent the entire time. Buffy prayed she hadn't embarrassed him with her gesture. It wasn't that she thought he looked bad with the stains, far from it. Still she felt slightly mortified at the thought that she might have offended him.
Buffy chanced a peek at his face, searching for any indication that he was unhappy with her actions. His jaw was clenched tightly, the rigid muscles standing out prominently. His eyes were screwed shut, but his nostrils flared as he breathed. Breathed? Buffy noticed that he was indeed breathing in ragged gusts. Was she hurting him?
The entire time she was studying him, her fingers had never stopped their work, industriously smoothing out the grooves and massaging the bleaching cream into his skin. He was evidently unaware of her perusal, too caught up in some internal monologue.
Buffy took the opportunity to look at the rest of him. Perhaps there was something else bothering him that she hadn't noticed. "Oh my gods," she whispered, dragging her gaze up his body with alacrity.
Unfortunately, her little outburst betrayed her assessment of his body and when she brought her eyes up, they locked firmly with Angel's. Buffy blushed furiously. She knew that guys got ... well that they could get excited when a girl touched them, but as far as she knew, she never had that effect on one before.
And there most definitely had been an effect.
Angel swiftly grabbed her hands in his, stilling their motion. They were face to face, mouths mere centimeters apart due to the fact that he had twisted his torso towards her.
Buffy couldn't help herself. Unbidden, her vision once again flicked down to his groin. The front of his pants were still tented with the obvious force of his arousal. Slowly, she met his gaze. He didn't seem to be embarrassed, making no protests at her glances. On the contrary, he sat perfectly still, his hands clasped tightly around hers.
Slowly, she sat back and he released her hands. She held the jar of bleaching cream out to him. "Maybe you should finish the rest of it," she said quickly.
"That's probably a good idea," he replied, his fingers brushing hers as he took the jar.
Angel finished applying the bleach with some difficulty, given that he had no reflection, so he could not use a mirror. Buffy wandered restlessly around his suite of rooms as he rubbed in the cream, trying to look busy or distracted. She idly flipped through the stacks of books lying here and there.
Angel felt like such a goon. Where had his self control gone? By the time he was finished, he had his body reasonably under control. Buffy was on the opposite side of the room, avoiding looking in his direction. Quickly, Angel grabbed his tags and secured them in place, hiding his newly flawless skin. "You ready?" he asked.
"Sure," Buffy chirped, heading for the door without glancing in his direction.
[End Chapter 6]
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