Chapter 7

"Under A Darkened Sky"

Buffy's car wasn't exactly a car, but a mix between an SUV and a mini-van.  She none too lovingly called it the 'geek machine'.  She didn't protest in the slightest when Angel asked for the keys, all too happy to turn the reins over to him.  She hated driving.

The trip to the Watchers' Council Headquarters passed quickly, neither of them saying much.  Contrary to their usual state, the silence wasn't comfortable, but rather nervous and strained.  Angel almost let out a sigh of relief as Council Headquarters came into view.

The party, as Holtz had called it, wasn't a party, but rather a ball.  It was large, with nearly a thousand people on the guest list.  Angel was relieved to see that there were a large number of DHSTs in attendance, even if most of them were the wait staff.

The event consumed several of the Council's large, formal ballrooms.  The opulence was somewhat staggering.  Compared to these rooms, even Holtz's expensively decorated home was left in ruin.  Angel thought he understood why Buffy had been so reticent to attend.  The event seemed designed to allow members of the Watchers' Council to outdo one another with their attire.

Buffy's dress, while undeniably beautiful, was definitely one of the more conservative outfits being worn that evening.  Angel, still clinging to some of his eighteenth century sensibilities, was somewhat scandalized by the amount of flesh women were flashing in public.  In the Wastelands it was one thing, but here in Council Headquarters it seemed somewhat obscene.

Angel couldn't help but notice that Buffy's attention fixated on a voluptuous brunette.  Angel had the distinct impression that Buffy knew the young woman, but that she wasn't expecting to see her at the ball.  The brunette was facing away from them, completely unaware of Buffy's visual assessment.

Angel stifled a snort.  The brunette was wearing crimson red dress that might as well have been a second skin, flirting with an attractive young man but making sure that she was the center of attention.  She was definitely aware of her body, holding herself so as to make the most of her ample breasts and long, tanned legs.  She was laughable.  Angel well knew that women like her were a dime a dozen, trading on looks that would soon fade, leaving them with nothing.  He was not, however, pleased to notice that Buffy seemed to shrink as she watched the other woman.

This is pretty close to Cordy bashing and for that I apologize.  Like Kate, Cordy really serves no purpose in this fic except to see how Holtz treats his biological children in contrast to Buffy.  You get Buffy's whole inadequacy issues where Cordy is concerned, but she definitely isn't a legitimate rival for Angel.  Angel wouldn't even be on Cordy's radar.  That was intentional.  I didn't want this fic where I say vampires are less than human, but then all the human women go around drooling over Angel.  He really is off their radar.

"You okay?" Angel asked, lightly touching Buffy on the arm.

She quickly turned her attention to him, trying to look bored.  "Fine," she replied evenly.

"You know her?" Angel asked, cocking his head towards the brunette.

Buffy laughed lightly, and somewhat hysterically.  "That's my sister," she said, "Cordelia.  I didn't know she was going to be here.  She usually avoids the Council, but I guess she made an exception because it was a party."

Angel looked back to the young woman.  Cordelia was definitely attractive; however, he simply couldn't stomach the idea of Buffy feeling like an ugly duckling.  He shrugged and looked away in disinterest.

"What?" she asked incredulously.  "Tall, dark and beautiful isn't your type?"

Angel shrugged again and met her gaze.  "I prefer Bu - ... blondes," he said, catching himself.

Buffy swallowed visibly and averted her vision, pretending to watch the brightly dressed throngs of people.  Angel noted, with some satisfaction, that a slight blush crept into her cheeks and she fought a small smile that was tugging at her mouth.  She obviously knew just how much he preferred her.

"Do you want to say hi?" Angel asked.

"No," Buffy answered quickly.  "I'm sure Cordy has better things to do than talk to me.  I'd like to just sit down somewhere."

Angel nodded and led her to a small sofa situated in the corner of one of the ballrooms.  She was seated so that he blocked her view of the room - and vice versa.

"I take it you're not close to your sisters," Angel said quietly.

Buffy shook her head.  "No," she said, "we're not close.  We're not enemies or anything, we're just different."

"How old were you when you went to live with Holtz?" he asked.

"Fourteen," Buffy said, confirming his earlier suppositions.  "They were all very nice, and they did their best to make me feel like part of the family but ... "

"It didn't work?" Angel surmised.

"Not really," Buffy admitted.  "It wasn't their fault.  Holtz's wife, Diana, died when Cordelia was really young.  Kate, the oldest daughter, was twelve at the time and she just sort of took over, became a mom to Cordy.  They're really close."

"And you feel like an outsider," Angel added quietly.

"I am an outsider," Buffy said dryly, her gaze holding his for several moments.  "But then again, you probably know what that's like."

"Yes," he said, "I do."

Buffy shrugged.  "Holtz has been the Council Leader for the last twenty years.  I'm the eighth Slayer that has lived with his family.  I can't really blame him for not wanting to get attached.  Justine, the first Slayer that lived with them, was killed, put to death by the Council for misconduct.  Holtz blamed himself.  They were really close to Justine, went out of their way to make her part of the family.  I think they learned their lesson. It's better for them not to get too emotionally involved."  and more with the bleak Buffy.

Angel didn't respond.  He did understand Holtz's actions to some extent, but it also enraged him.  Buffy deserved so much more.

*****

Throughout the night, Buffy made it clear that she had no desire to socialize with other members of the Watchers' Council.  Angel made concessions to her anti-social mood by occupying her with conversation and shooting hostile, yet not openly aggressive, looks at any people dumb enough to venture close to her.  They talked shop while they kept an eye on Maggie Walsh.  Despite all the hype focused on her by Holtz, the researcher was making the social rounds, but not really doing anything too interesting.

Walsh was exactly as Angel had imagined her.  She was an attractive woman in her early forties who radiated power.  It was easy to see that she was used to getting what she wanted and that she wasn't afraid to use all of the social influence that came with her position.

While the Council was undeniably the governing force over all of the human cities, its days of free rein were over.  During the plagues, the Council was catapulted from relative obscurity to the top of the social, political and financial food chains all over the globe.  They were the only ones capable of doing battle with Varkesh and single-handedly dragged the human race back from the brink of extinction.

But that had been more than a century ago.  In the years following the creation of protected cities over the globe, people became acclimated to their ways of life.  It was absolutely normal to live behind reinforced concrete walls, which no human with an ounce of self-preservation would dare venture beyond.  As people became comfortable with their way of life, the Council's power began to wane.  With that waning, there was a resurgence in the power of the private sector.

The Council was still powerful, the ruling force in a worldwide government, but money was also powerful.  The largest of the private sector corporations, with its headquarters in The City, was Nabbit Industries.  It was a company built on the computer boom, but it steadily diversified its interests over the last decade.  So far, Nabbit Industries devoted the most of its monetary attention to its genetic engineering labs, headed by none other than Maggie Walsh.

It was rumored that she had an annual budget somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars but so far, Nabbit Industries had been very secretive about the type of projects they were funding.  There were rumors and a lot of wild speculation, although no one outside of Nabbit Industries had ever seen any of Walsh's deliverables.  That alone was cause for concern.

Maggie Walsh would not take kindly to the Council's interest in her projects.  So far, all of the Council's inquiries had been politely rebuffed by an army of lawyers.  They had made it clear that short of a court order, they weren't saying a word about Walsh's projects.  The Council wasn't about to declare war on Nabbit Industries; such a move could force Walsh's hand, making her even more dangerous than before.  However for the last three years, they had ceased supplying her with DHSTs - whom they controlled fully - for her lab studies.  Undoubtedly related was the fact that more and more "accidents" had been happening in her labs where Guardian City citizens were being turned into vampires through manipulated strains of the original plague.

And now, Maggie Walsh was attending a Council function, flaunting what she thought to be her own invincibility.  An ego that size was dangerous indeed, especially when backed up by Nabbit Industries' financial might.  They invested far too much in Walsh to let the Council step in and destroy her "research".  Angel wondered if anyone inside Nabbit even had the slightest clue what Walsh was up to.  She didn't strike him as the type to play well with others, even if they were the ones backing her projects.

Angel turned his vision away from Walsh, lest she suspect he was keeping tabs on her.  He concentrated on much less unpleasant subjects, namely Buffy.  She was obviously bored and wanting to be anywhere but where she was at the moment.  She would still blush if he forced her to look him in the eye.  He contented himself with merely watching her, satisfied that they would discuss things later.

Quite abruptly, he became sharply aware of someone standing directly in front of him.  Angel's head snapped up and he met Holtz's gaze.

"During these functions ... they ... congregate in the alley off of the kitchens.  Perhaps you should make yourself useful," the Watcher said, his displeasure evident in his voice.

Angel nodded curtly and rose.

*****

Lindsey.  That's what Holtz said was the name of Walsh's DHST.  His sources indicated that she rarely went anywhere without the vampire in tow.  Whether it was because he was a loyal ally, or because she was reluctant to let him out of her sight remained to be determined.  Apparently Lindsey was a native of The City, a lawyer employed by Nabbit Industries who was accidentally infected by plague contaminants while working with Maggie Walsh.  Angel had his doubts about how much of an accident it was.

There's a whole subplot with Lindsey as well that really never gets explored in this fic.  I don't know how much of it will come to light in the sequel, but yeah, there's much badness betweeen Lindsey and Walsh.

Angel made his way through the kitchens teeming with people, largely ignored by everyone.  He saw a few DHSTs he knew from the Hyperion, but they did not exchange pleasantries.  Much to his surprise, he found that Xander was working the ball, washing dishes in the stiflingly hot kitchen in hopes that he could acquire enough money to attract Anya.  He spoke to the boy for several minutes, giving him an update on what Anya had been doing at work, before searching out Lindsey.  With a nod of his head, Xander pointed Angel towards the alley.

This was evidently before I sorted out my whole pronoun issue.  I switch from Xander to Angel mid-paragraph.  Bad indie.

The space was large, but cramped with several dozen DHSTs.  Most of them took the event as a rare opportunity to let their proverbial hair down.  Regardless of the collars, the DHSTs were smoking and speaking with others of their kind in a free manner which usually wasn't allowed within The City.  Angel did his best to blend in, though he was markedly better dressed than most of the DHSTs in the alley.  Still, he bore the standard issue set of tags and that spoke volumes for his credibility within the group.

Holtz gave Angel a physical description, but he doubted that he would have needed it.  Lindsey's body language and anti-social behavior set him apart more effectively than a name tag.  Lindsey sat alone on the sidewalk away from the rest of the DHSTs, smoking.  Angel took a seat next to him.

Lindsey looked at him, meeting his gaze evenly, but remained silent.  He turned his vision back to the dirty pavement.  Angel looked at the former Lindsey McDonald, now known only as Subject K178.  He was a DHST, just like the rest of them, his age unreadable.  He would always look as he did now, a young man in his prime.  Angel, however, had read his file and knew that Lindsey was only slightly older than he appeared.  He had been a DHST for just over two years.

From the bleak look in his eyes, Angel would have guessed they were close to the same age.  His respect and fear of Maggie Walsh shot up several notches.  Torturing a vampire was one thing, but doing it to someone you used to know as a human was an entirely different matter.

"Can I get a smoke?" Angel asked evenly.

Lindsey grunted noncommittally but reached for his pack of cigarettes.

*****

Xander was laboring over a huge pan, scrubbing vigorously when Angel found him about thirty minutes later.  So caught up in his work, the boy didn't notice Angel's approach and he yelped and jumped as the elder male laid a hand on his shoulder.

'the boy', 'elder male'.  I'm not fond of that terminology anymore.

"Angel," Xander gasped, holding his hand over his unbeating heart, "man, you almost scared me to death."

"You're already dead," Angel replied dryly.

Xander frowned.  "You know what I mean," he said.

Angel nodded.  "I need some help," he said quietly.

Face lighting up, Xander said, "Sure, anything, just so long as you drop a good word on me to Anya."

Smiling, Angel said, "Yeah, I could probably do that."

"Then shoot.  Any information I have is yours."

In spite of his annoying qualities, Angel decided that he rather liked Xander.  The boy was genuinely nice and luckily for Angel, rather perceptive.  He saw Angel talking to Lindsey and while he didn't know Walsh's favorite DHST, he was able to introduce Angel to another vampire who was working in the kitchens that evening.  Fred shared a lot of qualities with Xander.  They were both young and sweet and entirely too naive for their own good.  Angel liked Fred immediately.  She was bookish and shy, but those qualities hid an extremely agile mind.

Angel also noticed, somewhat uncomfortably, that Fred was attracted to him.  He hadn't been a saint before his arrival in The City, and he was well aware that his looks appealed to women.  In another time and another place he might have been attracted to Fred, but there was no room in his heart or his head for anyone other than Buffy.

But he wasn't above a little harmless flirting.  Fred knew Lindsey, though apparently not well.  He was a regular at a club called Caritas, a sanctuary for DHSTs.  Fred frequented it, being close friends with the proprietor - whom she conspicuously omitted naming.  She saw Lindsey there often, but he mostly kept to himself, drinking heavily in a darkened corner.

Angel felt like he hit the jackpot.  For weeks, he had been looking for an 'in' like this into the DHST community.  He didn't know if Caritas had any connections to Nabbit Industries or Walsh, but it seemed a very good place to start looking.  Without much pressing, Fred gave him directions to the club.  Angel promised that he would see her there.

With a wide grin on his face, he went off in search of the Slayer.

*****

"Buffy," he said softly, as she grabbed the car door handle intending to bolt for her apartment building, "we need to talk about this evening."

The expression on her face as she turned around was amusing.  Obviously, she thought she would be able to make it to the safety of her apartment without having to rehash what had happened in his suite before the ball.  With all the enthusiasm of someone heading for the gallows, Buffy sat back in her seat.  She sat rigidly, not meeting his gaze as she waited for him to speak.

"I apologize if I offended you earlier this evening in my rooms," he said bluntly.  "I haven't been touched by another person for a very long time."

I don't know why, but I really liked the idea of them just having a very straightforward conversation about what had happened.  Of course, they're both so socially skewed that it sort of works from that perspective.  Two social morons in love.

Buffy nodded quickly.  "No problem," she said nervously, "I totally forgot about the whole vamp neck thing."  A vampire's neck was extremely sensitive and in any sort of a sexual context, it was most definitely an erogenous zone.

Angel surmised, however, that Buffy knew about it because it was a very effective place to wound a vampire.  I liked that bit, him knowing why she possesses that information, thought it was really fucking cold. "That was part of it," he admitted.

"Part?" Buffy asked, confused, turning to face him.  She had liked her theory: it was nice and neat.

Angel shrugged, uncertain of how much to divulge.  "Having someone massage my neck was nice," he said baldly, "but there was more to it than that."

Buffy was ashamed of herself, but she couldn't quell her curiosity.  She never had anyone openly respond to her in a sexual manner, and she was dying to know why.  "How much more?" she asked, mortified at her own aggressiveness.

More of Buffy coming out of her shell.  She isn't innately introverted, it is by design.  She's never been in a position where that type of curiosity was relevant, so much so that she is now woefully out of sync with other women her age.

Angel smiled with self-deprecation.  "I'm almost three centuries old, Buffy," he said.  "I have enough control that simply having someone touch my neck shouldn't give me an erection."

The pit of Buffy's stomach tingled at his candid, sexually charged words.  No one had ever spoken to her like that before.  She was very afraid that she liked it.  "Then what was it?" she asked, her voice sounding hoarse in her own ears.

Angel swallowed harshly.  He had expected her to shy away, to hide behind her innocence.  Clearly, she wasn't doing that.  And the sound of her curiosity tinged voice was beginning to elicit the same response that her hands had gotten earlier.

He leaned in closer, watching her carefully.  She licked her lips out of nervousness and his attention was immediately riveted to the wet trail her tongue left.  He lifted his gaze back to her eyes and couldn't help but notice that her pupils were beginning to dilate.  Gods, she was amazing.  He was close enough that he could feel her warm moist breath against his face, coming in short little bursts.  She was so close, he could just reach out and touch her ...

"You're extremely beautiful," he said, his voice low and soft.

Abruptly, the feeling of intimacy was shattered as Buffy sat up straight, her back pressed tightly against her door.  A slightly hysterical sounding bark of laughter tore its way out of her throat.  "That's a good one," she said, clearly upset.  "If you're going to lie to me, you might try to make it somewhat believable.  Those lines might work on my sisters, but they won't work on me."

Angel frowned, disconcerted.  He wasn't feeding her a line.  He wasn't a saint, and could admit to himself that on several occasions he had paid women meaningless compliments to get them into bed, but there was no need with Buffy.  She was a goddess, beautiful beyond reason.  There was no need to lie about her attractiveness.  "I'm not lying," he said harshly.

Buffy glared at him, clearly wounded, her mouth pursed tightly. She had no intention of talking about her own private insecurities, but he was her only confidant.

"Buffy, why would you say something like that?" he pressed.

"It's just ... " she said, gesturing wildly with her hands.  "Cordy and Kate ... they're both ... beautiful."

Angel looked at her dumbly.  "And you're not?" he asked, confused.

She snorted.  "Look at me," she said derisively.

"I am," he assured her.

Buffy sighed.  "They're all tall and beautiful with all the things women are supposed to have, like hips and breasts.  And they're *normal*."

Angel nodded.  "Is that what this is about?  You don't think you're normal?  Because, trust me, you do look like a woman.  I thought I proved that quite effectively a few hours ago."

The pit of Buffy's stomach dropped out once again at his direct words, but she couldn't meet his gaze.  She twisted her hands nervously in her lap.  "Holtz treats them like girls," she said quietly, sounding terribly young.  "I'm just this ... thing.  I'm the Slayer."

"And you're a woman too," Angel said

"I'm a Slayer," she said harshly.  "I also happen to be female.  Trust me, that's the order of things.  Holtz has told me that often enough."

"I don't buy it," Angel said.

"Buy what?"

"That guys don't notice you.  You're very attractive, they have to be swarming all over you."

Angel's own naiveté here.  He's too busy hating himself to take a real assessment of Buffy's situation.

Buffy laughed.  "Not hardly.  They sort of part like the Red Sea when I get near.  They all whisper behind my back.  Even Ford gets weird about it."

Angel went absolutely still.  "Ford?" he asked slowly.

She gave him an irritated look, and then remembered that he hadn't ever been around when Ford had stopped by.  She shrugged.  "Ford's ... I don't really know what he is ... what we are. He hangs around a lot, we do things together."

"Why?" Angel asked sharply.

Buffy looked at him incredulously.  "You sit here telling me that I'm attractive and then when I tell you that there's a guy who pays attention to me, you look like it's beyond comprehension."

Angel shook the stupor off quickly.  "I just ... " he stammered, "you've never mentioned him before.  We've been working together for a very long time.  That's the kind of thing that people mention."

With a shrug, Buffy said, "It's not worth mentioning most days. I don't know if that works or not.  I needed Ford to be a curve ball, but I think it may be too contrived.  He works for the Council.  I'm fairly sure he's only dating me because he wants to get in good with my father.  Ford has a lot of aspirations for making it big in the Council.  He's been out of The City for several months, patrolling the Wastelands with scouts.  He'll do anything to get what he wants."

Angel scowled.  "Then why do you bother?" he demanded.  He couldn't stand the idea of Buffy being with someone who didn't appreciate her.  It was clear to him, as well as Buffy, that Ford was merely using her for her connections.

Giving him her 'duh' look, Buffy said, "Because I don't want to be a total freak.  Dating a guy who really doesn't like me is better than being Buffy the Social Leper.  You're the only male I've ever managed to excite, and you're not even human."

Ouch.  Yes, so regardless of the fact that they're friends, she still has a lot of issues with his vampirism.

Angel remained silent, stinging from her last blow.  He tried not to take it personally; he knew she was wounded and lashing out.  He understood her logic even if he didn't agree with it.  He spent enough time alone to know that some contact was often better than no contact, but still, he couldn't abide the idea of some stupid boy pawing at Buffy.  He glowered.

"Good night," she said, opening the door.  "Just take the car to work tomorrow.  I'll pick it up there."

[End Chapter 7]
 
 

Chapter 8

"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."

Snarky Holtz.  Works for me.

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.

I really liked that mental image, Buffy letting Giles baby her.

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.

If you've read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett, you'll get the next reference.  There is somewhere in my private files, a "Bugger Ye All Bible" version of Domestication.  Trammie and I went round and round about the fact that Giles says he's going to get Angel a new shirt, yet we never see Giles return with the shirt.  You just have to assume that he did.  Lol.  I wasn't bothered by it.  Trammie was.  So when I finally finished the fic, she sent me the real finished version which included an extra paragraph about Giles bringing Angel that damn shirt.

*****

"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.

The purpose of that scene is two fold.  One, we get Angel's backstory.  Two, it gives Buffy a very immediate connection to Angel, through her powers as a Slayer.  I thought that was kind of interesting, considering what he is, that her Slayer powers would be the link.  I don't know if it works for everyone.  It is fairly contrived.

*****

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.

That moment is one I don't see explored much:  the idea that Angel, as a vampire, knew greater happiness than he ever did as a human.  Yes, there was infinitely more misery as well, but at certain times, espcially in the time leading up to the consummation of his relationship with Buffy, I think he was much happier and more content than he was as a supposedly carefree human.

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.

Ah, the big pink apartment scene.  Yes, it is very overdone, but I still liked it.  I like the idea of Buffy grabbing on to the most obnoxious, overblown symbol of feminity available and just running with it in this vain attempt to make herself seem softer.  It's completely futile, of course, but she refuses to acknowledge it.

"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.

Angel's complete inability to keep his mouth shut when he should.  I've always thought it to be one of his most endearing qualities.

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."

"Why not?"

"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."

And yes, I'm a big fan of confessions at the most inopportune time.

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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