Riley stared down at what was left of Council soldier Forrest Gates. His friend had been grappling with Buffy when she stepped on the Hellmouth, and the brilliant burst of bright white light blinded all of them momentarily. Now, all that was left of Forrest was a smoldering, desiccated, blackened corpse.
Angel roughly pushed past Riley, dropping to his knees beside Buffy. She lay on the mountain of kindling, unmoving. Giles hurried over and dropped down next to Angel. The Slayer was still as death. Angel held his hands out, palms hovering millimeters over her body, feeling. She was alive, despite the fact that he couldn't see her chest moving with breath. "She's alive," he whispered, answering Giles unspoken question.
Gently, Angel wrapped his arms around her, pulling Buffy into his embrace. The others looked at him, holding their breath. They waited anxiously to see if he would turn into a crispy critter like Forrest. Nothing happened.
Looking over his shoulder, Giles watched Council soldier Graham Miller handcuff former Council member Travers. The soldier's actions were none too gentle, but Travers didn't seem to notice. The man was nearly catatonic. Travers had just seen his existence crumble before his eyes.
Giles, however, could not spare even a moment on thoughts of vengeance. His gaze traveled helplessly over Buffy as tears welled in his eyes. He could not lose her, not again, not after coming so close. He trembled as he watched his baby's unmoving body clasped so tightly against her lover, looking as fragile and insubstantial as a dream. The tears that had been threatening to fall streamed down his face.
Wordlessly, Angel rose to his feet, holding Buffy cradled against his chest. Riley's expression was one of abject misery, but the soldier was not foolish enough to try and reach out to the Slayer. Slowly, Angel trudged away from the Hellmouth, heading for home. Giles followed as the crowd parted, making way for the fallen Slayer and her protector.
"The oldest girl, Faith, was called," Holtz said, his voice low out of respect for the grieving father. Giles didn't bother turning around to face his longtime friend. His attention was riveted on the delicate creature unconscious on the makeshift bed that had been assembled in the library.
Angel's large form was curled around her small body, protecting her as he had been for the last three days. The three days she had spent unmoving and unresponsive. Buffy's wounds were serious, but not life threatening. The gash on her neck was stitched closed and healing quickly. Unlike the bite mark on her throat, it showed no signs of scarring. None of the doctors or mystic healers were able to find anything else wrong with her. But she wouldn't wake up.
Since bringing her home, Angel never left her side. He held her while they stitched her wounds. He held her while she slept, hour after hour the constant sentinel. He hadn't rested or fed in days. He showed no signs that this behavior would change. He was still in game face with his nose buried at the nape of Buffy's neck, his arms wrapped around her. When anybody other than Giles dared to venture close he would growl and snap, sending them scurrying for the nearest corner.
Giles blinked back tears at the thought of what he might be forced to do. He didn't relish the idea of prying his daughter's dead body from her lover's arms. But even as his heart rebelled at the idea, his mind felt the icy certainty creep in. Faith was the next Slayer. There was only one way to get a new Slayer. The old one had to die. He looked at Buffy and broke down sobbing.
"She's not going to die," Angel growled harshly, looking at neither Watcher as he cuddled Buffy closer.
No one believed him, not even Giles.
On the sixth day, Angel finally succumbed to exhaustion, drifting off to sleep as he held the ever still body of his lover.
It was dawn when Buffy woke, her head fuzzy, but not disoriented. Taking a deep breath, she carefully rolled onto her back and looked at Angel's sleeping face. She instantly knew that he hadn't been feeding. There were dark circles under his eyes and the bones in his face were too prominent. She slowly raised her hand and gently traced along his cheekbone with the tips of her fingers.
Angel's eyes fluttered opened and he focused on her face. She smiled warmly at him. His expression was blank, but tears welled in his eyes. He pushed himself up on one elbow as he looked at her in wonder. Grabbing her hand, he held it to his cheek as his eyes screwed shut. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He opened his eyes and looked at her.
"You're awake," he said softly.
Leaning forward, Buffy pressed a warm, languid kiss to his lips. She pulled back, looking in his eyes. "You're not gonna get rid of me that easy," she said with a smile.
"This is inconceivable," Holtz said as he paced back and forth in front of the library table.
"You keep using that word," Buffy said with a smile. "I do not think it means what you think it means." Buffy laughed at her joke, which no one else got and finally fell silent with a frown.
Buffy was seated on Angel's lap, much to the chagrin of Giles and Holtz who shot the vampire murderous glares which were completely ignored. Angel was not letting Buffy out of his sight or smell or touch for even a second.
Also at the table were Wesley and the newest Slayer, Faith, a spirited brunette several years younger than her sister Slayer. After regaining consciousness, it was determined that Buffy retained her powers although another was called. Two Slayers. This was a source of endless confusion. There was no precedent for such a situation.
This seemed to bother everyone save the two Slayers. "I don't see the problem," Buffy said. "You need two Slayers now more than ever."
Holtz smiled wryly but didn't question the veracity of her statement. They did indeed need all the help they could get. The City was in the midst of a social upheaval at the moment. DHST laws were being abolished as the Watchers' Council and the newly formed Order, the Council's vampiric counterpart, struggled to redefine themselves.
"You're right, Holtz said wearily. "We do need help."
Buffy smiled, leaning back against Angel. "Don't worry," she said. "We will all get through this. Together."
Angel hugged her tighter, letting her know he was with her. Across the table Faith smiled, as did Wesley. It was scary, and yes, it was a brave new world ... but it was theirs.
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