"One Small Comfort"
Gruffly, Holtz cleared his throat. "I didn't come alone," he said.
Buffy stared at him, but didn't say anything. She wasn't sure she wanted to see her adopted sisters. They had never been close and it would just be awkward. "Do you think that's a good idea?" she asked.
Holtz smiled wryly. "Probably not," he said, "but I am not in a position to do anything to change your fate. This one small comfort I can give you ..."
Holtz turned and nodded to someone down the hall. Buffy's brow furrowed as she looked on. What was Holtz up to? She watched as two Council soldiers stepped into view. Between them they supported Angel's limp, shirtless form. Buffy's breath caught in a sob. He looked terrible, even more mangled and bloody than she had seen him the last time. His head lolled forward so that his chin rested against his bare chest. She covered her mouth with a shaking hand.
"I know it is painful," Holtz said, "but I thought ... I thought it might be better than nothing."
Buffy nodded frantically and pressed herself against the bars, reaching out to touch Angel. He stirred as her fingers skimmed along the swollen and bruised flesh of his face.
"Open it," Holtz barked. A Nihil prison guard appeared with a set of keys. The door swung open and Buffy stepped back as the soldiers moved Angel into the cell and deposited him on the small bunk.
"You know this is against policy," the guard said to Holtz.
"You are being well compensated for your blindness," Holtz replied dryly. He had no illusion about what his actions could cost him. He bribed the grunts in charge of carrying out executions for Angel's life. Although Angel was at the center of an enormous controversy, he was essentially nothing more than another vampire. Buying his life had not proved exceptionally difficult. Of course, when the Council soldiers arrived to retrieve Buffy for the execution, they would find Angel. But by that time, it would no longer matter. Nothing would matter after the execution.
The Council soldiers hurried from the cell, but Buffy was oblivious as she crouched next to Angel, sobbing quietly. She turned as the cell door swung shut loudly. Her eyes met Holtz's and held them for long moments. "Thank you," she said quietly.
He smiled, but his expression was tight, pained. "Please know, Buffy, if there was anything else I could do ... "
"I know," she said. "But this is enough."
Holtz's boots clicked loudly on the stone floor as he left, but Buffy was too preoccupied to notice. Her face was pressed tightly against Angel's chest, her arms wrapped around him as she sobbed.
"Buffy," he murmured, wrapping his arms around her. He tugged on her, urging her onto the bunk with him.
"You're hurt," she said, protesting as he tried to drag her on top of his abused body.
"Don't care," he managed to say though his split lips.
With a sharp sob, she crawled onto the bunk, her knees on either side of his hips, trying to spare him even her meager weight. She buried her face in the crook of his neck and cried, clinging to him. He wrapped his arms around her, rubbing her back lightly.
She pulled back, pushing herself up on her arms and looked down at him miserably. "I'm sorry," she said. "You shouldn't be the one comforting me. You're the one who's hurt."
He tried to smile closed-lipped at her, but his face was so puffy and bruised it didn't really work. One of his eyes was almost swollen shut, blood dried across it from his split eyebrow had left a trail down his cheek that looked black in the shadow shrouded cell. Her bottom lip trembled as she reached out and lightly stroked his cheek. He turned into the contact searching for more, though she knew even her gentle touch had to cause him pain.
She had to make him better. She had to. She couldn't bear to see him like this, broken and pained. How did you make a vampire better? Blood. She needed blood. Watcher's blood. But she didn't have any. "Dammit!" she cursed, another tear trailing down her cheek.
"What?" he asked, touching her arm lightly.
"We need blood," she said, "but I don't have a Watcher."
Angel smiled sadly and furtively looked away. Buffy knew the expression. It was the one he gave her when he was trying to hide something. "What?" she demanded.
"Nothing," he mumbled, his mouth too damaged to articulate clearly. "It doesn't matter."
She gripped his shoulders and he winced. She immediately let go, but pled, "Please, Angel, tell me. If there is anything that can help, please tell me."
"Legend has it that Slayer's blood is the best for healing," he said. Her face lit up, but he stopped her, "But it doesn't matter."
"Yes it does!" she said. "I can make you better."
He shook his head. His expression defeated but firm.
"Angel, please," she begged, "just take some. I don't mean for you to drink me dry, but anything has to be better than this."
He shook his head. "I can't."
"Dammit, Angel!" she raged, tears streaming down her face. "Just do it!"
Closing his eyes, Angel took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He opened his eyes and looked at her calmly. Slowly, he opened his mouth, drawing back his swollen lips as much as he was able. The movement was awkward and painful, his broken jaw still in the process of healing. At first Buffy couldn't figure out what he was trying to do. The lighting was dim, but as the torchlight flickered, she went stone still.
"No," she said, her voice a near whisper. Angel was literal when he said he couldn't take blood from her. The flesh of his gums where his teeth should morph into fangs when he slipped into game face looked like so much ground beef. Someone ripped the fangs out and parts of the gum as well, ensuring that he could not feed from her or anyone else.
Everything was suddenly hot. She leaned over the edge of the bunk, retching violently. She hadn't eaten in days and there was nothing for her stomach to expel. She dry heaved several times and then broke down sobbing again. Angel gathered her against his body, his hands tracing circles on the small of her back.
Buffy allowed Angel hold her for several moments, but then broke out of his embrace, springing to her feet as she paced frantically around the cell. She possessed no weapons, nothing to use to draw blood except her own teeth and she couldn't bring herself to do that. She ran her fingers over the walls, the cell bars, everything looking for something to use. There was nothing.
"Buffy," Angel said quietly, propping himself up on one elbow as he looked at her.
She turned and met his gaze, her expression driven. Angel saw the idea wash over her as she looked at him. In an instant, she was on all fours on the cold stone floor next to him. Her hands explored underneath the mattress, probing the wire mesh that supported the bunk. She smiled in triumph. Her nimble fingers unwrapped one of the rigid wires. A second before Angel fully realized what she intended, Buffy gripped the wire in one hand and drove it into the wrist of the opposite hand.
Angel stared at her, eyes wide. For a moment, the hole was simply that, a hole in her otherwise perfect skin, but slowly, deep red blood welled in it, glistening in the meager light. It wasn't flowing freely, but it was there, her sharp essence clinging to it, making it a living thing.
Cradling her wounded wrist in the opposite hand, Buffy carefully held it out to Angel, offering him the nourishment that only her flesh could provide. His breath came sharply as his entire being fixated on her life's blood, watching as a crimson rivulet crept down the tender, milky-white interior of her forearm. He could not quell his reaction, his hunger; ravenous not simply for the blood, but for Her blood. Leaning forward, he carefully grasped her arm, gripping her with the bare tips of his fingers. He inhaled deeply, reveling in her scent, in the decadent relish her willingness imparted to her offering. Ever so slowly, his cool tongue touched her heated flesh, savoring her gift. Buffy gasped, her head falling back with their contact. Languorously, he lapped at the trail running down her arm, following it back to the source. Her wound was not deep and did not bleed appreciably. Angel laved the area with his tongue, but did not suckle. In mere moments, the wound was closing. Angel groaned, a sound of pain as he lay back on the bunk, still clutching Buffy's now healed wrist.
"No," she protested, knowing the wound was already closed. He hadn't taken enough to cause any discernable healing. His face was still swollen and bruised. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice thready and quiet. Defeat caused her shoulders to slump.
He rolled his head to the side, watching her carefully. A smile crept across his bruised features. Buffy was spellbound as his teeth came into view. His perfect teeth. He hadn't taken enough to heal his entire body, but the interior of his mouth was flawlessly mended.
"How?" she asked breathily.
"I told you," he said, his voice more fluid, "Slayer's blood is the best. I have read historical accounts of vampires being healed by it, but I have to admit, I never dreamed ..."
Buffy looked at him quizzically. "Why did you act like it hurt?" she asked.
"Because it does hurt," he said seriously. "Healing at this rate is painful. It's like my flesh is burning, but - "
"But?" Buffy prompted.
He looked at her sheepishly. "It's also ... exhilarating," he said in awe, unable to meet her eyes.
When he was with Buffy, part of him loved to pretend he was human, that they were both human. He liked to imagine that they could have a normal life. Getting a rush from drinking your girlfriend's blood was decidedly not human, not normal. But if they were normal, they never would have met. He would have been dead centuries before she was born. Maybe being normal was overrated.
Angel lifted his eyes and met her intense gaze. His unnecessary breath caught in his throat. Predatorily, she crawled on top of him on the bunk, straddling his supine form. Her eyes held his as she lowered her head and flipped her hair, baring the left side of her neck. Angel swallowed harshly, unconsciously running his tongue over his newly reformed teeth.
"Drink," she said, "drink me." It wasn't a request.
Angel's hesitation melted away at her command. He held her gaze with his own and slowly slid the velvet caress of his hand around to the back of her neck, fingertips barely brushing against her skin. She shuddered at the contact, her eyes fluttering shut. His fingers tunneled through her hair until he could grip her luxurious locks. Buffy hissed as he sharply flexed his hand into a fist, pulling her hair taut in his grip while his other hand found her hip. Cautiously, he used his hold on her hair to draw her head down, elongating her neck, stripping her of any means of defense. Done quickly, his move was a predatory strike - one meant for killing, not for feeding. It afforded him the perfect angle from which to rip out her throat. But Angel's movements were not hurried. They were achingly slow, allowing Buffy every opportunity to read his intent, to retract her offer. She did not hesitate, collapsing forward so that her elbows rested on the bunk next to his ribcage, supporting her weight.
Buffy's fingers kneaded the muscled flesh of his upper arms like a kitten sharpening her claws, but Angel no longer seemed to notice any discomfort. In one languid, fluid movement, he drew her head down until her forehead rested against his shoulder. She was breathing rapidly, her pulse pounding as she crouched over him. The interior of her knees rubbed against his lean hips in a delicious friction that made her thighs quiver and her insides go liquid. His hand on her hip gently massaged.
The cool puff of his breath brushed against the flesh where her neck curved into her shoulder, dragging a needy whimper from her throat. Goosebumps raised on her skin as her entire body tightened in unbearable anticipation. She panted openly, waiting for him to move, hungering for him to move. When his tongue finally snaked out to lave the vulnerable column of her neck, she moaned, rocking forward, pushing into both his mouth and the hand on her hip, pleading with him to deliver what he promised.
Angel pulled his mouth back mere centimeters. His lips parted as he took a harsh breath, drawing the air over his teeth and tongue so he could savor the taste of her skin. He could hear the blood pounding beneath her skin, see her pulse beating frantically. The clawing pressure of her fingers on his arms, her rigid posture above him as she waited for him to strike, all of it testified to her readiness. He could almost taste the flavor of her need as she panted against his shoulder.
She moved restlessly, trying to push her neck against his mouth in wanton invitation. Her own blunt little teeth found his shoulder, biting down on his flesh in an effort to quell the desperate whimpers issuing from her throat.
Her tentative, gentle bite was his undoing. With a rumbling snarl, he sank into game face. Curling back his lips, Angel pressed the razor points of his newly reformed fangs to her flesh, easily pricking through the creamy perfection of her skin. Buffy moaned through her bite on his shoulder. Open mouthed, Angel panted harshly, his cool breath rushing past the points where his fangs shallowly penetrated her flesh. Only the tips had entered, causing tiny amounts of blood to bead around his fangs. Slowly, he sealed his lips around the bite and ever so tentatively sucked. Buffy shuddered, collapsing on top of his body. His body may have been abused, but not to the point of unresponsiveness. He was aroused, his body hard beneath her as their pelvises sealed together. Buffy moaned again and bit down harder, bruising the flesh of his shoulder as his fingers on her hip dug insistently into her flesh, holding her near.
Angel couldn't take it anymore. The taste of her blood in his mouth, the scent of her need in the air, the scalding heat of her body against him as she mindlessly rubbed against his hardness ... He tightened his grip in her hair, wrenching her neck to the side, baring her even further to his assault as he bit violently into her flesh, glutting himself on the scalding heat of her blood. Buffy's fingers clawed into his arms as she let go of her bite, screaming even as she pushed herself further into his mouth, ground down harder against his erection.
She could feel the absolute power of her blood as it ripped through his body. He released his bite, throwing his head back with an agonized howl of pleasure and pain. His body corded, his back bowing so violently, it thrust them both up off of the bunk so that only his heels and shoulders retained contact. Both of his hands found her hips, pulling her roughly against him as he bucked underneath her. Her body was already aroused to a fever pitch and his movements were enough to tip her over the edge, moaning in release.
Ever so slowly, the world once again took shape. Buffy's eyes were open and she watched the torchlight play on the far stone wall. She lay heavy against him, boneless and limp, feeling the fire of her blood sweeping through him like a living flame eating at his bruised and broken flesh. In its wake, his body was perfect and whole, pristine. He did not breathe, but was still and serene as death.
She panted raggedly, stunned by her actions, feeling vulnerable and vaguely embarrassed. He hadn't even kissed her and look how she had responded. Her face burned with a crimson blush. After what seemed like an eternity, Buffy braced her arm and shifted her weight, intending to crawl off the bunk, hoping she could sink into the floor.
Angel grabbed her wrist and in the same fluid motion, twisted their bodies so that they were both lying more or less on their sides, her back pressed against the cold stone wall, her leg thrown over his hip. He took a deep breath, his first in several minutes and released it slowly in a rumbling purr as his game face slid away. He snuggled close to her, his arm circling her waist to hold her near. His lips rested against her temple and he pressed a long, tender kiss there.
"I love you," he said on a purring sigh.
Tears pricked Buffy's eyes and
she burrowed into the strong frame of his body, feeling the delicious vibrations
of his purr. "I love you too," she said, pressing a kiss over his heart.
[End Chapter 17]
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