Love isn't brains, children,
it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will.
-Spike, "Lover's Walk"
Buffy sighed wearily into the receiver of the Clinic's public telephone. "But they're okay, right?" she asked tautly.
"Yes," Wesley assured her, the tone of his voice conveying his gratitude. "How about Angel?"
"We don't know yet," Buffy said, her voice devoid of emotion. She had to do that or she was going to break down.
"I'm sure he will be all right," Wesley said gently.
"I hope you're right," she said, her voice quavering softly.
"I am," he said firmly. "And we're all going to get through this."
Buffy smiled in spite of her foul mood. "Fine," she said, "I'll see you at the meeting."
"Any news?" Riley asked as the Slayer hung up the phone. His voice was as tight as his expression, but Buffy didn't seem to notice. All of her attention was reserved for Angel which only made Riley more angry.
" Wesley is at Council Headquarters now, trying to get all of the DHSTs reinstated," Buffy replied.
Riley nodded, but didn't relax. He wanted to get back to Council Headquarters, away from Buffy. He couldn't stand the sight of her pining over that animal. The Slayer was visibly tense, her vision couldn't stay fixed on one spot for more than a second and her fingernails were chewed down to the quick. She gave up pacing half an hour earlier, much to the relief of Riley and Lindsey.
It was another half an hour before one of the medics opened the door to the small room in which Buffy, Riley and Lindsey were waiting. The Slayer immediately jumped to her feet, all of her attention riveted on the young woman with long dishwater blonde hair.
"A-are you M-m-ms. Summers?" she stuttered, blushing as she did so.
"Yes," Buffy replied impatiently.
The girl smiled, still blushing with embarrassment at her uncontrollable stutter. "S-subject V73 is fine. We're r-r-releasing him now."
Buffy nodded, smiling gratefully as she noted the name on the badge that was clipped to the girl's shirt, Tara. Looking over her shoulder, she motioned for Riley and Lindsey to follow as she headed out the door to the front desk. Angel was already there when they arrived, looking as amenable as a wet cat. He glared as Riley followed on Buffy's heels.
"Ready?" Buffy asked, clenching her hands into fists to prevent herself from reaching for him.
Angel nodded curtly, his expression softening as he looked at her.
Silently, the four walked to the underground parking garage, toward the large, white, windowless van in which they had arrived. Producing the keys, Riley opened the back doors and stood aside. Lindsey hopped into the back, and quickly took a seat on the bare floor. Angel looked at Buffy, his eyes locking with hers for a long moment before he crawled much more gingerly into the van.
Riley shut the door with a resounding thud that earned him a glare from Buffy.
"Just wait out here for a sec'," Buffy said to Riley, avoiding his gaze.
They were standing in front of the door to Angel's suite at the Hyperion. Angel was already inside and Buffy was standing on the threshold, her expression guarded. Riley's face wasn't so passive. It was plainly evident that he didn't like the idea of her alone in a DHST's private quarters. He settled for saying, "We need to get to headquarters ASAP."
Buffy nodded and walked through the door, closing it behind herself. The room was quiet, dimly lit. On the far side of the suite visible through the open French doors, Angel lay on his bed, one arm thrown over his eyes. His bed wasn't large, a double, and his feet hung off the end. Slowly, he raised the arm and his eyes locked with hers.
"Riley's waiting," he said, his voice betraying much more of his irritation with that fact than he would have cared to disclose.
"I know," she replied quietly, reaching behind herself to lock the door.
Neither of them moved. Buffy was hyper-aware of her too fast breathing and her sweating palms. Was this what other women went through? The confusion, the uncertainty. The fervent kisses they shared seemed like lifetimes ago rather than hours.
"Buffy?" he said quietly, turning her name into a question.
"I just wanted to make sure you're okay," she replied, unable to give voice to all of her concerns. She had to do something to distract herself, and seeing to his physical wounds seemed to be a good place to start.
He smiled warmly, lowering his arm to his side. "I'm fine," he said.
Well acquainted with male posturing, Buffy decided not to take his word for it. All her life she was surrounded by males intent on proving they were tougher than she. Experience taught her not to take their claims at face value. "Humor me," she said, as she made her way across the room with a confidence and detachment she didn't really feel.
Dutifully, Angel pulled his singed and rumpled shirt over his head and lay back again, his arms stretched out at his sides.
"Told you," he said as she looked at the flawless expanse of pale chest. All of his earlier wounds were completely gone.
Buffy didn't stop to think, she crawled onto the bed, running her hands along his skin, verifying tactilely that his wounds were indeed no more. Her fingertips told the same story as her eyes. His flesh was whole.
"How?" she asked. Buffy knew that vampires healed faster than humans, especially well-fed ones, which Angel definitely was. But even taking that into account, his recovery was nothing short of miraculous.
"That girl," he replied, "the one at the clinic."
Buffy's brow creased as her fingertips trailed along his cool skin, tickling over his ribs. "Tara?" she asked.
"Mm-hmm," Angel almost purred, his lips curving into a smile as she continued to touch him. "She's a Wicca. She cast a healing spell."
"Oh," Buffy said quietly. Magic workers weren't common outside of Council employ, but she knew that a small community of them lived in The City. She did wonder, however, why the girl had chosen to spend her powers on a vampire.
Angel opened his eyes and looked at Buffy as if reading her mind. "She did it as a favor," he said, leaving no room for misunderstanding. "I know her girlfriend."
Buffy blinked at him owlishly and Angel smiled. "We were in DHST training together," he said.
Slowly Buffy nodded in comprehension, trying to take everything he said in stride. So, Tara was not only a Wicca and a lesbian, but her lover was a vampire. If he could be so blasé about it, then so could she. Buffy might have been significantly younger, but she was determined to show Angel that she could be every bit as cosmopolitan as he. The fact that she was blushing did belie some of her cool.
As her slight shock wore off, it was replaced once again by fatigue. She yawned sleepily. Angel stared at her, noticing the strain on her features.
"You're tired," he said, reaching up to run his fingertips along her cheek.
She nodded and then glanced over her shoulder at the closed door. Turning back to face him, she said, "I have to go. They're holding up the meeting for me."
Angel nodded solemnly, but rather than letting her go, he gently grasped her jaw and pulled her lips down to his. His kiss was gentle undemanding and as his lips languidly nipped at hers, Buffy sighed in relief. Angel pulled her closer, using one hand to cradle her face, while the other found her hip and eased her body down next to his on the bed.
He broke off the kiss to look at her and ran his fingertips reverently along her brow, then her jaw, and finally her lips. As their eyes met, Buffy's heart ached. What had she been worried about? Angel wasn't like the other guys she knew. He wasn't going to pretend to like her and then brag to his friends that he got to second base with the Slayer. He wasn't going to make her feel cheap or replaceable. He truly valued her, mind and body.
She reached up and stroked her deceptively delicate-looking hand against his stubble roughened cheek. Angel closed his eyes blissfully and nuzzled into her palm. A deep rumbling purr began in his chest and Buffy felt her insides go liquid at the sound. She pulled him close for a hungry kiss.
Angel let her take the lead, surrendering control easily. He would be her willing captive any time. She ran her tongue along his bottom lip, and Angel opened his mouth, allowing her questing tongue entrance. She was gentle and timid, but determined. Her tongue made quick, furtive forays into his mouth, barely daring to brush against his before retreating. Angel's fingers twined through her hair, pulling her closer when he could no longer lay still.
Buffy jumped, breaking the kiss as someone in the hallway banged on the door hard enough to rattle it in the frame.
"Buffy!" Riley bellowed. "We need to go."
Buffy sighed heavily and looked at Angel. He was irritated, but obviously not in a position to do much about it. What could he do? It wasn't like he could admit that he was seeing Buffy, much less demand that Riley back off. Their relationship was against the rules, written and unwritten.
"I have to go," Buffy said quietly. She pressed a quick, final kiss to Angel's lips before rising from the bed. The vampire remained silent and some part of Buffy knew that he did so because he didn't trust himself to speak. Angel wasn't a coward. He wasn't accustomed to having to hide anything, certainly not his involvement with a woman, but that was exactly what he was being forced to do. Regardless of their unfairness, Angel was playing by the rules, for her sake.
It made Buffy feel like a coward. And like a coward, she left the room without looking back.
Riley was silent in the van next to her, but his fury was a palpable force. "How can you treat it like it's a person?" he seethed, no longer able to hold his tongue.
Buffy stared straight ahead. "My relationship with Angel is none of your business," she said succinctly.
"Relationship?" he hissed incredulously. "Humans do not have relationships with monsters."
Buffy turned to face him. "Really?" she asked flippantly. "And how would you know this?"
"I know you're making a mistake," Riley said. "I know you're too good to be involved with a creature."
Buffy snorted loudly, discretion be damned. "Angel does something that no one in my life has ever done. He treats me like I'm normal," she replied.
Riley turned his head towards her, his vision flicking between her and the road. "You've got to be kidding me," he said.
"I wish I were," she countered dryly. "I've had dates with human guys and most of them were one time shots, sort of like they did it on a dare. I have a human boyfriend. And he is embarrassed to be seen with me. He keeps trying to mold me into something I'm not. He makes me ashamed of what I am. Angel doesn't do that. He accepts me for who I am, not what I am, and I do the same for him."
Riley stared at her blankly for several minutes as her confession sunk in. Very quietly, he said, "We're not all like that, Buffy. Ford's an asshole, I'll grant you that, but it doesn't mean that you have to turn to a monster for acceptance. You're an amazing woman, Buffy."
Buffy turned and looked out the window. It occurred to her that Riley's objections to her involvement with Angel weren't simply based on his aversion to DHSTs. Riley was jealous. He was interested in her. A real, live, attractive, intelligent human guy was interested in her. Riley was everything she had ever thought she wanted. He was good looking, charming, dedicated and seemed genuinely nice.
But he wasn't Angel.
The revelation hit Buffy like a ton of bricks. It did not matter if Angel was a vampire. She didn't care if she was compromising herself by being with him. She wanted to be with Angel. Even when she was being offered everything she ever thought she wanted with Riley, he still paled in comparison to Angel.
"I love him," Buffy said quietly.
Riley swallowed harshly at her revelation, keeping his vision glued to the road. The woman he loved was in love with a vampire. He wanted to curse and scream and beat the crap out of something, but he didn't. He maintained his silence.
Riley did a lot of thinking, both while crawling around the abandoned sewer tunnels, and while waiting on Angel to be released. Buffy was young. She was the victim here. He knew that vampires were rumored to have powers over humans. It wasn't Buffy's fault. She couldn't help herself.
Riley felt more sure of himself and his choices. Buffy simply needed help. She needed to be away from Angel. If he could break the vampire's spell, then he and Buffy would have a real chance together. Riley knew that no one would ever really value Buffy the way he did.
With a deep sigh, Riley knew he made the right decision. Calling Quentin Travers with the information he had was the right thing to do. In the long run, it would save Buffy. He would save Buffy.
She looked up and recognition passed over the gruff looking biker's face, quickly morphing into something close to fear. "Sorry," he muttered as he quickly stepped aside and allowed her to step around him and into the alley. Out of habit, she turned up the collar on her jacket, not to ward off the cold, but to help hide her face. She kept her eyes on the pavement as she walked, letting her shoulder length red locks further aid her anonymity.
The word was always uttered with something between reverence and fear. Maybe it wasn't between. Maybe it was the same thing. Humanity both loved and feared its gods. Perhaps in the big scheme of things, the Slayer was a minor deity. The thought brought a wry smile to her face. But the smile quickly faded. She wasn't a person. She was an instrument, a tool, a means to an end. She was forever Slayer and never simply Justine.
Buffy took a deep breath as that particular memory faded to blackness. Justine's self-hatred, her loneliness, all of it had been so palpable, so resonant. She remembered glimpses of the Slayer who was killed when Buffy herself was but a child. She always thought Justine so strong, so impervious to everything. She never would have imagined the pain Justine had carried within herself.
The darkness swirled around, once again taking the form of a memory. Buffy looked down at her naked body. Not hers, Justine's, but it was unnerving nonetheless. But in the dream/memory, Justine was not unnerved. She was at peace in a way she had never known. Slowly, she turned onto her side and placed a lazy, open mouthed kiss on her lover's chest. She giggled and looked up, meeting his intensely blue eyes.
The absolute reverence in his gaze hit her hard. Love. He loved her. But it was not the impersonal affection that everyone else had ever given her, Holtz, the Council, the inhabitants of The City. He truly loved her - Justine. She reached up and ran her fingertips over his brow. "Doyle," she whispered. Her hand traveled down his body until it rested over his heart. She pressed it there.
Buffy knew the sensation. Doyle's body was still, with neither heartbeat nor breath. It was what Angel felt like when she touched him. Her eyes pricked with tears the same as Justine's. She looked at Doyle, at his coal dark hair, at his laughing blue eyes and she smiled sadly. He returned the gesture, but his was as pain filled as hers. He understood her aching, her distress, her absolute loneliness because he lived with it as well. Together they had found some measure of comfort, some middle ground where they were not Slayer and vampire, but one lost soul to another.
Carefully, Doyle pulled her into his arms and cuddled her close. "Forever," he whispered, his brogue thick. "I will love ya forever, Justine."
[End Chapter 14]
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