"To Sleep Perchance to Dream"
-from Shakespeare's "Hamlet"
"Well?" Holtz demanded from behind his desk the next evening.
"He didn't say much," Angel replied.
Angel could tell Holtz about Caritas, but with everything else that had happened the previous evening, he hadn't yet mentioned it to Buffy. He had no desire to have her find out about his information second hand. He wouldn't have her thinking that he didn't trust her.
"Bravo," Holtz said dryly, his humor obviously more acrid than usual, "you're a wonderful spy."
Angel scowled at the slight and said, "He didn't need to say anything. He's running close to the edge."
Holtz leaned forward in his chair, taking a much more active interest in the conversation. "How so?" he asked.
"His look, the way he carried himself," Angel explained. "I've seen it before, in the camps. I don't know what Walsh is doing to him, but it's bad."
"Torture?" Holtz asked baldly.
"Definitely emotional and mental," Angel answered, "probably a lot of physical as well, though the wounds weren't anywhere visible."
Holtz nodded and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "We were always under the impression that she was using force to coerce compliance from her DHSTs."
Angel scowled again, clearly displeased with the matter-of-fact nature with which Holtz was explaining the routine torture of vampires.
"It's all perfectly legal," Holtz explained pointedly. "There are no laws concerning the treatment of vampires within The City walls."
"Perhaps there should be," Angel said through clenched teeth.
Holtz regarded him quietly for several long moments. "Angel," he said, addressing the vampire for the first time by his given name, "according to Council tradition and law, a vampire is little more than a pack mule. Your kind are indentured labor, allowed to exist through the benevolent generosity of the Council."
Angel growled deep in his chest and Holtz smiled.
"Nice to see that there is some fire inside of you," the Watcher said. "You passed all of your training with such flying colors, I know you have a soul, but I was beginning to wonder if you had any heart."
Angel swallowed harshly, not sure whether to be relieved or irritated that Holtz had been pushing his buttons. "Whatever Walsh is up to," he said, "it's not good."
The Watcher nodded. "I know," he said seriously. "I knew the woman was power hungry and an egomaniac, but I never took her for a sociopath. Unfortunately, what she is doing is not illegal and we cannot step in until we have hard evidence. If we want to stop her, we need to find a way to obtain information from her loyal followers."
Angel nodded, somewhat mollified that Holtz wasn't the unfeeling monster he had originally thought him. It appeared that there was some basic human decency buried in the man, even if it was hidden behind the political shrewdness necessary to lead the Watchers' Council.
"Here," Holtz said, handing him a file, "we had reports of some rogue DHSTs nesting in the Brookside area. You and Buffy should check it out."
Nodding, Angel turned to leave.
"Angel," Holtz said.
The vampire turned, regarding the man evenly.
"Whether I personally condone it or not," the Watcher said, "you are, under Council law, an animal."
Angel looked at him blankly.
"Most of the inhabitants of The City view vampires as either the evil menace, continually threatening their existence, or as the animals who pick up their trash. You have no rights and no voice."
"I already know all of this," Angel replied dryly.
Holtz nodded, his expression grave. "Just make sure you do not let Buffy forget it," he said pointedly. "She thinks you are a person. She is terribly naive in some respects. You are an animal. The people would expect you to be attracted to innocence. She, however, is the Slayer. She cannot afford to make a mistake. The Council does not forgive and forget."
Angel kept his face an inscrutable mask as he bowed to Holtz. "I am but her humble servant," he replied evasively.
Angel limped into the library behind Buffy, looking much worse for the wear. The Slayer wasn't faring much better, clutching her wounded arm to her body as she walked. Angel hovered near her, despite his own wounded state. Mentally he knew that Buffy was perfectly capable of protecting herself, but his concern for her pressed him to stay close.
"I trust you found something interesting," Holtz noted, taking in their very disheveled appearances.
"Not much," Buffy said, wincing as she shrugged. "Found the nest of rogue DHSTs in Brookside. They were holed up inside an old warehouse under the Seventeenth Street Bridge. They were pretty tough, and good fighters, but as far as we could tell, it was just them."
Holtz frowned deeply. "You didn't find any evidence of ties to Walsh?"
"Nothing," Buffy said, shaking her head. "They seemed to be a self-sufficient group."
"Damn," Holtz cursed, heading for his office.
Buffy sighed wearily watching her father leave without so much as a question about her welfare. Angel wanted to shake the man until his teeth rattled. From their conversation several hours earlier, it was obvious he was concerned about Buffy's well being, but he never let her know that.
Angel turned his head as Giles walked into the room, his nose buried in a book. He cleared his throat loudly to announce their presence to the Watcher. Giles looked up and blinked owlishly at them for a moment. "Oh dear," he gasped, heading quickly for the first aid kit.
Buffy smiled brightly as the Watcher, supplied with band-aids and Bactine, patted the couch cushion next to himself. Walking gingerly over to where he sat, she sank down into the cushions and let him tend to her wounds, her bottom lip sticking out in a pout that made her look very childlike. Giles used expert care as he patched her up, talking to her all the while in a low, soothing voice.
Angel watched with a slight
smile on his lips, as the gentle Watcher took care of his beloved charge.
Buffy might have been oblivious, but Angel knew that Giles' care for her
was born out of more than a Watcher's care for a Slayer. He loved the
girl deeply, as was befitting a father's concern for his child.
Before long, Buffy yawned deeply and rubbed her eyes, looking like the little girl Giles was treating her as. The Watcher put the last band-aid - which looked like a crayon - in place, and she curled up on the couch, resting her head on one of the heavily padded arms. Angel couldn't help but smile at the sight. He knew that Buffy would not have allowed anyone else to plaster her with cartoonish bandages.
"Your turn," Giles said to Angel, pointing to the remaining space on the couch.
Not seeing any point in arguing, Angel let the Watcher tend to his wounds. Resetting the dislocated finger was the most painful by far. Angel tried to assure Giles that given his non-living status that he couldn't get an infection, but the Watcher insisted on disinfecting his multiple abrasions as well. Angel managed to escape without any Crayola band-aids.
Standing, Giles looked at the tattered remains of Angel's shirt. "I'll see if I can find you something to wear," he said, leaving Angel alone on the couch with the now sleeping Slayer.
Angel smiled as he watched her, unguarded in sleep. He stretched out, leaning back in the soft cushions and propping his feet up on the coffee table. The shift in weight on the couch caused Buffy to stir, trying to get more comfortable. She rolled over, groping with her hand for something soft. She found Angel. With a sigh, she curled up next to him, pillowing her head on his chest and draping an arm around his waist.
Angel was too nervous to move. He waited for Buffy to wake and push him away, but she merely let out a little snore and drooled on his chest. Angel smiled but felt the familiar aching pain in his chest. Unable to stop himself, he nuzzled against the top of her head, breathing in lungfuls of her particularly sweet scent. She made a tiny, kittenish sound and burrowed deeper into his sturdy frame. Gently, he kissed the top of her head and allowed oblivion to claim him.
"No!" she screamed so hard it made her cough. "He's not dead, papa!" She was crying, her vision blurred by tears as she clutched the large warm body against hers, protecting him from the sure death he faced at their father's hand.
"Katie, girl, don't do this," a man's gruff voice said. He was pleading. He had tried to order her to release her charge, but it had failed. Now he had resorted to begging.
She clutched him tighter, guarding over him. Regardless of the fact that they thought she was wrong, none of them would dare try and take her precious cargo from her. She was secure in her power. Times were bleak and the Slayer was ever so important, precious. Even if they could have overpowered her, they would not have tried. They needed the Slayer and she needed the unconscious body she cradled against her own.
Buffy flexed her hands. She felt the warm human flesh through the layers of rough clothing. The pungent scent of death and misery clung to everything in this place and time. It wasn't real. Or at least it wasn't really happening. It was a memory, a sense memory from another time, another Slayer. She had them before, when she was first called, the night she killed her first vampire, but it had never been this intense. She didn't fight the dream because it was no use. It was like watching a movie, or maybe being part of a movie. Nothing she did would change the outcome. It was best to just let it wash over her, to go along for the ride.
"He is cursed," the man spat. "We must destroy him."
Tears burned her eyes and she shook with the force of the sobs. Papa didn't understand, didn't care. He had never understood their bond. Carefully, she brushed her brother's dirty and matted hair back from his face. "Liam, my angel," she said softly.
Buffy would have gasped if she had been able, but she wasn't, so she went through the motions, tenderly touching the face she herself had memorized long ago. Liam, that was his name, but she knew him, she knew him as Angel. Her Angel. He was filthy and sick, but alive, warm with human heat, not stolen blood. He was so hot it almost burned her hands to touch him. He reeked of death.
Angel's human death.
When the Other Slayer sobbed this time, Buffy sobbed with her. "He may live, papa, please," the girl pled.
"Kathy, your brother brought this upon himself. He's a disgrace, worthless. Let us be done with him."
Buffy shook her head in tandem with the Other Slayer, clutching Angel tighter. His father, the father of the Other Slayer, clamored for his death. Logically, Buffy knew it was hopeless. She knew Angel as the nearly three hundred year old ensouled vampire. She knew there was nothing from this time, this memory that could forestall those events, but she was driven to try. Just as the Other Slayer was driven to try.
The darkness swirled around them and when it reformed, she was in a tiny closed room, ragged pieces of cloth covered the windows to keep out the sunlight. Weeks had passed since the first scene, but Angel still clung to life. Buffy knew it was hopeless because the Other Slayer knew it was hopeless. He was weakening more every day, growing more sensitive to the sunlight, his body growing colder by degrees.
The Other Slayer never left this room. She couldn't. She couldn't bear to look at her father. He forbade her to try and save her brother, but she did it anyway, she brought him home - and with him, Death. Liam's sickness spread quickly throughout their town, despite her efforts to the contrary. Their mother was dead now, a victim of the plagues. She hadn't risen as a vampire, but it didn't make her any less dead. The sickness was sweeping through the town, bodies littered the streets. As the Slayer, she was immune to the sickness. The same was true for her father, Head of the Watchers' Council. They were supernatural beings, but it seemed the sickness would take everyone else, Liam and his mother included.
And it was all her fault. She hung her head and wept. Her own weakness, her inability to be parted from him had cost them all so dearly. And she knew in the end that she would lose him. She had always known that.
She turned and the little room was gone. It was night, winter. She could feel her body weak from starvation, numb from the cold. Angel stood across the clearing, looking distant and wild as a wolf. He was now immune to the human frailties that bothered her so severely. He watched her, his eyes so dark they seemed almost black.
"I am so sorry," she whispered.
In spite of the distance, he heard her and tilted his head, his posture mournful. He hadn't wanted this. He would have preferred a human death to being forced to be one of the walking dead, forced to feed on blood for sustenance. But she had been too weak, too weak to let him go. When he rose, their father cursed him, called him a demon, tried to cast him out with prayer and crosses. Liam was immune to them, but he had no such immunity to the hatred and loathing in the man's voice. He had been despised by his father as weak while still human, but as a walking corpse, he was nothing more than a demon. She knew that he was leaving her forever, going to the Wastelands where others of his kind existed. But it would not be living. It would merely be surviving.
"It is I who failed you, Kathleen," he said softly, hanging his head.
She closed her eyes tightly shut, causing tears to stream down her face. She knew he wished he would have died, spared them all the horror of his sickness. But he hadn't. And he now lived when so many others lay dead and buried. His beloved mother, his protector had gone to her grave because of him.
"No," she whispered. "It wasn't your fault ..." But she opened her eyes and he was gone. Forever.
Buffy came awake slowly, tears streaming down her cheeks as she choked back a sob. She was wrapped so tightly around Angel, hugging him to her. He was asleep, looking for all the world like he had not a care. She blinked in the dim lighting of her father's library for several moments, reacquainting herself with her surroundings, brushing off the remnants of her shared dream-memory. She sat up gingerly, careful not to wake him. She dried her cheeks with the backs of her hands and took a deep, steadying breath.
She could still feel Kathleen's pain in her chest, but as she looked at Angel now, some of it eased, as if Kathleen was somehow watching over both of them and approved of the change. Though Angel had not aged a day since those memories were made, he was no longer the same man. Time had both hardened and softened him. His head was lolled towards her, a tiny grin pulling at the edges of his mouth. He looked ... content, peaceful.
He sighed in his sleep and shifted, pulling her close. Buffy allowed it and he snuggled down against her, nuzzling his nose into the hollow behind her ear. He was warm from being cuddled against her for so long and Buffy relaxed into his embrace, relishing the sensation of closeness. Had he been awake, she would not have allowed it, but he wasn't, so she enjoyed her forbidden fruit.
Angel had always spoken so little and so clinically of his past, she had no idea the pain he had experienced. She could almost taste his father's disdain from the dream. He survived a lifetime of insensitivity at the man's hands. For the first time, Buffy felt like she found someone who understood what her life was like. She did not fight sleep as it caused her eyes to flutter shut, still held in his strong embrace.
His rap on her apartment door was answered quickly by a rather flustered looking Buffy. Angel smiled somewhat nervously. They fell asleep together on the sofa the night before. She was gone when he woke, so he had no idea what she thought about what happened. Giles relayed her message that she wanted him to meet her at her apartment before they went on patrol.
"Please come in," she said formally inviting him into her home for the first time.
She stepped aside, quietly allowing him to enter. With a nod, Angel stepped over the threshold, proceeded a few steps into the room and stopped.
"What?" Buffy asked defensively.
"Um, nothing," he said, trying lamely to recover.
She eyed him warily, but finally turned away, heading through her large apartment. Angel followed dutifully, trying to keep his jaw off the floor. Her apartment was unbelievable, and not in a good way. In a million years, he would never have figured that she would live in a place like this. It made no sense. Angel wasn't the most perceptive being on the planet, but he had somewhat of an artist's eye.
Buffy and her apartment did not match. Buffy's style was clean, minimal. She liked elegant cuts and above all, it had to be functional. This apartment was not functional. It was inordinately large, especially for just one person, but nothing out of the ordinary considering she was the Slayer.
It was, however, cluttered and startlingly ... *pink*. He worked next to Buffy for more than two months and the only time he ever saw her wear pink was the night of the ball. There, it had been appropriate and stylish, but here, it was overwhelming. The furniture was oversized and cushy, upholstered in soft fabrics. There were pictures and knickknacks everywhere. Thick, plush carpet was underfoot and the walls were covered with busily patterned wallpaper.
In her own home, Buffy looked completely out of place ... and nervous. Working next to a Slayer day in and day out had forced him to get to know her body language. At the moment, Buffy was very tightly wound.
Angel stared at her back as she led him through the sprawling apartment. She was wearing a gray tanktop and a pair of loose, black cotton drawstring pants. Her long hair was pulled up in the usual, functional bun at the nape of her neck. Her feet were bare. It was obvious she was working out before he arrived and she kept fidgeting with her attire, clearly uncomfortable in it. But why? Angel had seen her in similar outfits every day for the last six weeks. It didn't make any sense.
As they entered her office and training space, Angel relaxed. In this setting, Buffy looked at home. The rooms were large and airy with bare hardwood floors and white walls. Everything was structured and tidy. Weapons hung on the wall, each in their designated place. Her desk was in perfect order.
"Buffy," he said quietly, "about last night ... "
She twisted around quickly, fixing him with a mortified glare. She shook her head, almost imperceptibly in a silent plea for him to remain quiet.
"Hello," a young male voice drawled.
Angel turned quickly, coming face to face with a young man significantly shorter than himself. The boy laughed. "So this is your new Pet," he said to Buffy, with obvious amusement.
"He's not a Pet," Buffy said lightly, her face drawn into a tense smile.
Angel glared at the boy, unimpressed with his barbs. "Who are you?" he bit out acridly.
"A-Angel, this is Ford," Buffy stuttered.
Angel's glance shot to the Slayer. What the hell was going on? Buffy was nervous, and she *never* got nervous. Obviously, it had to be the boy's presence that was setting her on edge.
Ford smiled broadly. "He's awful lippy isn't he?" he mused.
Angel growled deep in his chest, repressing the urge to bare his fangs to the idiot human. Quickly, Buffy stepped between them, pulling Angel behind her as her grip on his wrist tightened to the point of pain. The growling stopped.
"Ford," she said with a nervous giggle, "we really need to patrol. It shouldn't take long. How about I meet up with you at the club later?"
The boy frowned, but seemed to think it over. "All right," he said, "but hurry. I don't want to hang around there all night."
"I'll hurry," she said.
"What was that?" Angel demanded after they were safely away from the apartment.
Buffy flinched and glared at her companion. "What?" she bit back.
"Why were you acting like that?" he asked in confusion. "I've seen you be a lot of things, Buffy, but meek was never one of them."
She walked towards their normal patrol route, ignoring him.
"Buffy," he seethed after her retreating form.
Stopping, she twisted abruptly to face him. "What did you want me to do?" she asked. "Should I have discussed the fact that we fell asleep on the couch together in front of the guy I'm dating?"
"I don't know," Angel blustered.
"Let me clue you in," she said, her temper barely under control, "Ford has a hard enough time being with me most of the time. He doesn't need to know just how friendly you and I are."
"Because he already thinks I'm a big enough freak," she yelled, tears standing in her eyes.
Angel watched her mutely for nearly a minute before saying, "You're living a lie."
Buffy flinched, but shot back, "What about you? You're a vampire living in a human city. You hunt your own kind at night. You're the one living the lie."
Angel shook his head. "I've never once denied what I am," he said gruffly. "I am a vampire, yes, but I have a soul. I've never taken a human life for food or pleasure. You, on the other hand, are completely denying your nature."
"I'm not denying anything," she retorted.
"The hell you aren't. Have you ever looked at your apartment? Probably not. I know that you live in your training rooms, Buffy. They're the only rooms in the whole damn apartment that smell like you. You probably avoid the rest of it like the plague."
Buffy swallowed harshly, but didn't answer.
"Do you think that all the pink and feminine overkill is going to fool them?" he demanded. "Do you think that being meek and shy and caving to their every whim is going to make Ford and Holtz treat you like a girl? You're not a girl, Buffy, you're a *woman*. You should never be ashamed of that. If they can't deal with the fact that you're strong and smart and demanding and sexy as hell, then tell them to piss off. Don't you dare pretend to be a shadow of your true self simply in the vain hope that they'll like you if they can control you."
Angel's eyes glittered with cold fire as he looked at her. Much to his surprise, tears shimmered in Buffy's eyes. Immediately, his demeanor softened and he instinctively held a hand out to her. She backed up quickly, avoiding his touch as she nearly hissed at him.
"I have to go," she said acridly, "my boyfriend is waiting. Don't bother waiting up. It'll be a late night." She turned on her heel, flipping her hair over her shoulder in a universal sign of feminine dismissal. Angel watched her walk away, fuming with impotent rage.
[End Chapter 8]
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