Chapter 3

"Naiveté"

Temptation almost always assails us at the point where we thought no defense necessary.--Elizabeth Elton Smith (Three Eras of Woman's Life)

Certain people really have a gift for finding exactly the right quotes and including them in their works *cough*tango and shayla *cough*.  I, obviously, am not one of them.  And look!  Horrible title ahoy!  See what I mean about the titling? It's just sad.  So very sad.

When Angel arrived promptly the next evening, he entered without knocking, using the passkey that Giles provided.  The space was much as it had been the previous evening.  He scented four distinct presences, Holtz, Anya, Giles and - Angel smiled - Buffy.

Moving at a leisurely pace, he found Giles and Buffy in one of the roomy practice spaces that branched off of the library.  Angel took care to make noise as he walked, knowing how unnerved most humans were by vampiric silence.  The Slayer looked up, assessing him with unreadable eyes and Angel nodded in greeting.  She returned the gesture, although the expression on her face was guarded.  He wounded her the night before, and she was hesitant to extend him any trust.  He wanted to kick himself.

Angel watched as Giles, in full pads, attempted to spar with the much stronger and more agile Slayer.  It wasn't a particularly successful session, as half the time Giles was too out of breath to do much more than try to stay in one piece.  They took a break and Giles removed the headgear, causing his hair to stick up like a porcupine.  He was breathing hard as he gulped at the large glass of water.

headgear.  bad choice of words there.

"This doesn't seem to be too terribly efficient," Angel said quietly.

Giles shot him a wry glance.  "No, it's not," he said.  "While Riley has been assisting her on patrol, he is unavailable for our practice sessions, leaving only me.  Buffy needs to be sparring with someone about twenty years younger."

Angel smiled and said, "Or two and a half centuries older."

Giles gave him a puzzled look but as understanding hit him, his face curled in a happy smile.  "That would be a marvelous idea," he said.

"What?" Buffy asked, having just returned from the bathroom.

When exactly she left for the bathroom, I'm not sure.  Geesh.

"I think you should spar with Angel," Giles said.  "He's much closer to being a match for you, and it would leave me free to critique your movement."

Buffy looked slightly mortified, but voiced no opposition.  Several minutes later, vampire and Slayer were squaring off with one another.

And on to the Buffy and Angel sparring scene.  Yes, I love them.  No, I'm not ashamed.

It was invigorating for both of them, facing off against their mortal enemies.  Buffy was a raw fighter, powerful and agile, both in body and mind, but she wasn't very disciplined.  Angel was stronger than Giles, but still no match for Buffy.  He was woefully underfed and long out of practice, but he had two hundred years of training she lacked.  That fact alone enabled him to match her fairly evenly - much more evenly than a Council soldier could have managed.

They fought vigorously, but with restraint, neither of them landing any particularly damaging hits.  Giles happily gave Buffy pointers throughout the exercise, reveling in the fact that he could critique her form without simultaneously having to evade her advances.  Spontaneously, the Watcher upped the ante by directing Angel in a variety of specific attacks.  It irritated Buffy to no end that the terse conversation between vampire and Watcher was conducted in a particularly obscure dialect of ancient Sumerian which she had no hope of understanding.  Giles smiled gleefully as Angel merely nodded at his directions, understanding the dialect perfectly and executing the moves with a rare grace.

The whole Giles directing Angel section was murder to write.  I had a terrible time trying to convey what I meant.  This is probably the fifth or sixth draft of it.  I think it still may be confusing.

They sparred for nearly an hour when Anya, clearly displeased at having to actually carry out secretarial duties, came into the training space to inform Giles that Holtz needed to speak with him promptly.  Why exactly Anya is mad I don't know.  In retrospect, it looks like she and Holtz have something going on.  She's the mysterious half-demonic secretary who resents being the secretary yet is kept around.  Sorry folks.  Nope.  I just wanted Anya to be surly.  There is nothing with her and Holtz.  The Watcher left but Buffy and Angel continued practicing, glad to be pitted against a worthy opponent.  They went round and round, becoming slightly more aggressive without Giles' watchful eye.  Angel managed to land a rather good hit on Buffy's left knee that sent her sprawling.  She bounded up, angry more at herself than him, but advanced in a fury.

Angel didn't stand a chance and he knew it.  He was nearing the end of his energy and Buffy was newly invigorated by the force of her emotions.  As she grabbed and flipped him, he didn't fight her, allowing her to pin him face down on the mat as she straddled his lower back.

Suddenly, the fight was over.

Despite the pain it caused Angel, they were both breathing harshly, well aware of the awkwardness of their positions.  Buffy's deceptively small hands were clasped firmly around his right arm, twisting it up behind his back.  She wasn't hurting him, but neither did she release him.  And he didn't ask her to.

Small hands.  And let it be known that even that was murder for me to write.  Buffy of the Tiny Hands gets under my skin faster than anything.  It is one of my biggest pet peeves.  Yes, I get that he's the big burly guy and she's the itty bitty little girl, but give me a break.   The continual talk of tiny hands makes Angel seem like a pedophile.

I'm now deathy afraid that there's a "tiny hands" somewhere in this fic.  ::bites nails::

They were both aware of the fact that her hands were shaking.  Buffy screwed her eyes shut and took a deep breath.  What was she doing?  They were sparring.  She needed to move.  But she couldn't.

She felt it again, that strange sense of familiarity she'd noticed when she first saw him.  She could feel it.  Hell, she could almost smell it.  Then it hit her.  Buffy leaned forward, almost burying her nose in the nape of his neck as she inhaled deeply.  Angel didn't move so much as a muscle.  "You," she hissed, the word sounding disproportionately loud to Angel, considering where her mouth was in relation to his ear.

Yeah, I'm big with them smelling each other.  It works for me.  I'm sure it doesn't work for other people.  I just like it because it's fairly animalistic and I think it emphasises how much they aren't human.

Deliberately and cautiously, so as not to alarm her, he pulled his arm free.  Buffy released him, rising to her feet and retreating several steps.  He rolled over and rose to his feet, facing her.  She watched him through slitted eyes.

"Me?" he asked cautiously.

"Last year," she said succinctly, "at Morton's Rock in the Wastelands.  You were there."

Angel watched her mutely.  He remembered the night at Morton's Rock as clearly as if it were yesterday.   Obviously, so did she, well enough to recognize him by scent alone.  Cautiously he nodded.  "I was," he confirmed.

"I knew you were out there," she said.  "I waited.  You never showed yourself."  Her voice was low, a harsh whisper that tingled along his spine.  She was watching him the way a healthy cat watched a wounded mouse.

"Vampires don't live long in the Wastelands by making their presence known to Slayers," Angel noted dryly.

"No," she said with a small smirk, "they don't. In fact, you were the first one to ever get away from me."

Angel took a deep breath, trying to read anything in her expression, but the flicker of amusement had faded, leaving an implacable facade.  She was too withdrawn, too guarded.  Leisurely she turned from him, heading for the supply room, probably gathering weapons for the nightly patrol with Riley.

"But I didn't get away," he said quietly, staring after her retreating form.

*****

Inside the supply room, Buffy backed up against the wall, her blood pounding in her ears.  What had possessed her to do that?  She'd been practically nuzzling him.  She was losing her mind.

Sinking down to the floor, she cradled her head in her hands.  This wasn't happening.  Ever since she could remember, her life had been regimented, everything neat and orderly and perfectly by the book.  Then last year, that damn vamp had slipped through her hands.  Of course, no one else had been aware of his presence, but she had.  She had felt the force of his gaze on her, almost as if he had touched her.  She stood there for nearly half an hour, waiting for ...  for what?  She wasn't sure, and in the end, it didn't matter.  She turned away and he didn't follow.

But the irritation, the fact that she hadn't hunted him down but simply stood there and allowed him to play voyeur, rooted by the weight of his perusal.  It ate at her, both the aggravation with herself for allowing it, and for allowing him to escape.

When she saw Angel in Holtz's office, she knew there was something about him.  He set her nerves on edge, causing her muscles to tense in anticipation.  But it wasn't the same tension she experienced around other DHSTs.  The rush was different, but familiar at the same time.  His presence heightened her senses without seeming threatening.  It was the same jumbled reaction she had that night at Morton's Rock.  The same reaction that caused her to give him a free show rather than hunting him down like she was born to do.

And then tonight, as she pinned him, it all clicked into place.  She would know his smell anywhere, the smell that had eluded her for more than a year.

She had to leave, to get away from him before she did something, though honestly she didn't know what.  She shook her head, trying to shake off the feeling of connection.

But she wasn't the only one who felt the pull.  She heard him clearly as she left the room.  "I didn't get away."  That's what he said.  What did that mean?  With a growl of frustration, she pushed herself to her feet.  She wasn't going to lose control of this situation.  With a burst of energy born of out of annoyance, she began collecting weapons for patrol.

*****

Angel pretended to be distracted by his translations as Buffy left to patrol with that damn soldier.  Of course, he wasn't distracted.  Every bit of his finely tuned senses were trained on the pair.

A few questions asked of Giles had informed Angel that Riley was a fairly new addition to the Slayer's inner circle and only a temporary one at that. Could I have been wordier?  ::cringe::  In response to vague rumors of problems within the DHST community, about a month earlier the Council decided that the Slayer needed more backup.  Apparently that happened occasionally.  Given that Angel was still in training at the time, Riley was the temporary fix.  The plan was that as soon as Angel was able to patrol, Riley would be out of the picture.

From Angel's perspective, that couldn't happen soon enough.  Though his contact to Buffy and Riley together had been limited, Angel had watched them very carefully.  Riley was smitten with the Slayer.  Of course, the soldier was a professional, so he kept their relationship strictly business, but Angel could tell.  He could almost taste how much the boy wanted to get his hands on Buffy.

That was not going to happen.  By the end of the week, Angel would be patrolling and Riley would be back on Council duty.  Good riddance.

Yes, Angel's reaction to Riley is completely juvenile, but I think that's canon, so I don't see a problem.

Angel seriously doubted there could ever be anything between himself and Buffy, but it didn't mean that he wanted to sit idly by and watch her with another male.  Of course, if Buffy's reactions to Riley were any indication, Angel didn't have much to worry about.  While Riley was definitely taken with the Slayer, she seemed completely oblivious to his attentions.  Not uninterested, just unaware.  Yes, as far as Angel was concerned, Riley couldn't leave fast enough.

*****

Several nights later, Buffy watched as the feral vampire exploded into dust, leaving Angel gripping the stake.  His expression was neutral, more akin to an assassin than a predator.  This was a job to him.  He found no joy in it.  She had a very good appreciation for professionalism in her line of work.  Most people, however opposed to vampires, got a bit squeamish about it.  Those that didn't tended to be a bit too overzealous for her comfort.  She wasn't on a religious crusade, it was simply what she was designed to do.

I felt it was necessary to include that part.  Buffy does what she does because she has to.  There is no joy in it.  She sees the same in Angel and appreciates that.

"Nice work," she said, meeting his eyes in the dim lighting.  The lone street light provided meager illumination for the parking lot outside the abandoned warehouse where the rogue vamp had been holed up.

Okay, so I contradict myself here.  Obviously they're out staking vamps, yet in other parts of the fic I say that rogue vamps don't tend to be a problem.  It's a continuity issue.

"It's what I'm here to do," he said, his voice betraying none of the elation elicited by her praise.

She shrugged. "Still," she said, "it's good to see someone who can hold their own.  I've sparred with lots of Watchers and Council soldiers who come up to scratch on the mat, but in real combat situations freeze.  Good to know you're not a liability."

"I take care of me and mine," he said, brushing the dust off of his dark pants and shirt.

Buffy watched him, wondering about the comment, but let it go.  He had her back and she was pleased to know that he was up to the challenge.  She went through several would-be backups during her tenure as Slayer.  Most of them ended up hurt, mentally or physically, sometimes both.  So far, Riley had proven the most dependable, but he simply didn't have Angel's strength or speed.  Odd as it seemed, she much preferred having Angel with her, both for Riley's safety and her own.  Buffy shook her head, not knowing what to think of her reaction.  She had expected to tolerate Angel, not appreciate him.  Turning, she headed for the sidewalk and their next assignment, Angel fell into step next to her.

I thought that worked.  Buffy's initial appreciation of Angel is based on his ability to do his job.  Everything else comes in time, but that has to be the first step.

Pulling the piece of paper out of her pocket, Buffy double-checked the work order.  It wasn't necessary, but it gave her something to do.

"Where to now?" Angel asked, idly flipping the stake over in his hand.

"Wareham district," Buffy said.  "There have been some complaints.  It might be a Rettoph infestation."

More with the horrid names.  Okay, the Wareham is a froo froo restaurant I went to once and Rettoph is H. Potter spelled backwards. I was reading all the Harry Potter books as I was writing this fic.

Angel cocked an eyebrow at her.  "I thought they were a cold climate species," he said.  "I didn't know they could venture this far south."

"They can't," Buffy said wryly.  "Some overachieving young Watcher probably took the complaint call and dug out his books.  He decided it was a Rettoph infestation and had it put on my roster.  Happens a lot.  It's probably raccoons."

"You're serious?" Angel asked, slightly incredulous.

"Unfortunately, yes," she replied dryly.

"What a waste," he said.  "They expect a Slayer to spend her time checking out pest problems."

Buffy laughed.  "Welcome to the life of a civil servant," she said.  "That," she motioned to the now vacant parking lot, littered with vampire dust," was a rarity.  Mostly, I track down DHSTs that aren't so prompt about reporting to their case workers and remind them to be on time.  Once I got to go to the zoo and help track a pack of Yrrahian Ankle Biters that broke out of their enclosure and managed to eat half the birds in the aviary."

Boring shop talk, but I think it works.  Right now, it's really the only plausible way for them to relate.  Also, Yrrahian is Harry spelled backwards with a 'ian' at the end.  See, creative names I tell you.

Angel stopped walking and gaped at her.  "Please tell me you're kidding," he said.

She shook her head.  "I'm the Slayer," she said, "but for the most part, our DHST population is very well behaved.  Even the ones that go rogue generally don't cause a problem.  Why do you think the training is so long?  After a year of behavior modification and with a drop rate of 90%, the ones that pass are usually in for the long haul."

Angel shrugged.  "I guess you have a point there," he said.

Buffy started walking again.  "Don't get me wrong," she said.  "I have had my share of nasty run-ins with vamps.  For the same reasons I just went through, when we get a bad vamp, they're usually rotten to the core and nasty as hell.  We don't get a lot of half measures around here.  Plus, I do two weeks in the Wastelands every quarter with Council soldiers.  When it's rough, it's rough, but there's a lot of down time."

Angel sighed, somewhat desperate to keep the conversation going.  "I suppose it has its perks as well as its benefits," he said.

Buffy laughed.  "Yeah," she said, "the drawbacks are that I might pass out from boredom and be devoured by a pack of surly Ankle Biters."

I am unaccountably fond of that line.

Angel looked at her and smiled and Buffy smiled back before she could stop herself.  What was she doing?  He was a DHST, her assistant, not her friend.  She blanked her face and walked slightly faster, putting her ahead of Angel.  She trusted him and that made her distrust herself.  She was cautious by nature and it wasn't her style to be so accepting of an outsider.  Her natural ease with him, combined with the fact that he was a vampire made her very skeptical of her instincts.

Angel watched her pace herself ahead of him and did nothing.  He merely fell into step behind her.  It wasn't like he could expect her to treat him like a person overnight.  Things were going well, but he didn't want to push it, especially not on their first night patrolling.  Time was the one thing he had in spades, and he meant to use it to his best advantage.

*****

"So," Giles asked, as he took a seat at the large table Buffy was sitting on top of, "what do you think of your new assistant?"

Buffy met his eyes and nodded solemnly.  "Angel knows his stuff," she said.  "And he isn't afraid to get the job done."

Giles nodded slowly.  "That's what you told Holtz," he said.

Giles establishing himself as the more cuddly of the two Watchers.  Not that it would take much, mind you.

Buffy frowned and then shrugged.  She knew Giles was looking for something more personal than a performance review.  Holtz only asked about the hard facts, but Giles was often more interested in her insights and instincts.  "He's nice," she admitted, "a little out of the loop as far as technology and culture go, but he's not your typical vamp."

"I agree," he said with a nod.  "His grasp of preternatural subjects and fields of study would rival those of any Council scholar.  I dare say he's probably more educated than a good deal of them, and very well read."

Buffy smiled openly at the Watcher and whistled, long and low.  "Wow.  Big compliment coming from you," she said with a grin.  She was very attached to Giles and she liked that he shared her assessment of Angel's character.  It gave her more faith in her own instincts, which she had been questioning of late.

"I suppose so," Giles replied.  "But it is a bit of a shock.  I know Holtz wanted a DHST who could help us keep an eye on Walsh, but I never expected to find one that could truly be of help to us in other areas."

Frowning, Buffy asked, "Where did Whistler find him?"

Giles shrugged.  "I have no idea," he said.  "Angel's past is largely a question mark.  He answered the questions that were absolutely necessary to gain him entrance to DHST training, but aside from that, he is very tight lipped."

"That's not really a good thing," she said.

"No," Giles concurred, "it's not, but I haven't found any reason to distrust him.  Have you?"

Buffy pursed her lips together as she thought about it.  "You mean besides the fact that he's a vamp?'"  There is no sarcasm intended in that line.  She means that completely.

"Yes, besides that," Giles said seriously.  Everyone living in The City knew that vampires could be trained, but never trusted.  At least not without careful supervision.  While Giles wasn't exactly of the same mind where Angel was concerned, he had to take societal norms into account.

She sighed and shook her head.  "Nope," she said.  "I'm usually really good at picking up on insincerity.  He seems kosher."

Giles raised his eyebrows in question.  "So we let him keep his secrets?" he asked.

"For now, I guess," Buffy replied.

[End Chapter 3]
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter 4

"The Responsibility of Possession"

This is the last time I'm going to bitch about the title thing because it will get really redundant.  But see??  Horrid.

Angel kicked the door to his suite shut behind himself as he flicked on the lights.  He was exhausted, fighting to keep his eyes open, but he knew sleep wouldn't come in this state.  He had to feed.  He grimaced at the thought, but in blatant rebellion, his stomach growled loudly.  I actually thought that was really gross, his stomach growling at the thought of blood.  But yeah, it stayed.  It works if you don't think about it too much.

He was going to have to talk to Willy.  The near starvation level rations he was being kept on weren't doing much to sustain him.  Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't have been a problem.  He was an elder vampire, and as such, needed substantially less blood than most of the fledglings that compromised the DHST population.

But these weren't normal circumstances.  He had been working with Buffy for just over a week, and she was running him ragged, patrolling the streets of The City relentlessly.  When she wasn't patrolling, they were sparring or inquiring into leads that Holtz assigned them.  He simply couldn't maintain the level of physical activity without larger rations.

I don't know about the whole thing with the starvation.  It seemed like a really easy way to have Buffy reach out to him.  He's literally working himself to death for the Council.  I guess I thought that her concern over that would seem normal as would her remedying the situation.  It also made for a really convenient way to loosen the tags.

He pulled open the door to the antiquated refrigerator that hummed loudly in the small kitchenette.  He was down to two small bags.  With a sigh, he pulled them both out and not bothering to warm them, sank into game face and bit into the bags, draining them both in seconds.

It took the edge off, but it didn't sate his appetite.  He threw the empty bags into a nearby biohazard container and headed for the shower.  Maybe Willy would be able to get larger rations, but he might not.  Angel felt something inside himself wither at the thought.  He hadn't survived for two and a half centuries without learning the tricks of the trade.  He was being supplied with rationed, bagged, Council-regulated, human blood.  But he knew there were other ways.  Livestock was always an option, vampires could subsist off of any warm blooded animal, but it was a last resort.  Human blood was infinitely more potent and satisfying.

There were a lot of DHSTs living in The City and Angel knew without being told that there had to be a black market.  In the Wastelands they were known as 'hosts', humans willing to let vampires feed from them for a price.

Angel shuddered as he pushed open the bathroom door.  He didn't want to have to do that again, especially not within The City.  In the Wastelands, warm feeding had been an unsavory, but accepted part of life.  He himself had been driven to it at times, trading possessions, sex or even physical protection from other demons for a warm human neck.  But here, being caught feeding off of a human, no matter how willing, would be a reason for instantaneous termination.  He didn't know if he was willing to risk it.  Also, he had the definite impression that Buffy would not approve.  Angel had a past filled with things he was not proud of, but he was working hard to change, to make amends for his mistakes. More of Angel's backstory that was truncated.  There was this whole section where he'd hooked up with Faith out in the Wastelands years ago.  My betas made me take it out, which is just as well because now Faith plays a really big role in the sequel.

*****

Buffy shot a glance behind herself to be sure that Angel still followed.  She almost jumped when she realized how close he was.  He smiled sweetly at her and she scowled in return.  An accomplished predator, he was almost completely silent as he moved carefully through the dense underbrush.  This was actually one of the very first scenes I ever wrote for this fic.  Don't know why.  It happens.  I never write in a linear fashion.

Two weeks of working together and their relationship was ... odd to say the least.  Buffy sighed as she took a seat on the ground outside the nine foot tall, barbed wire topped, chain link fence that surrounded one of Nabbit Industries' labs.  More and more frequently, the leads they gathered brought them back to Nabbit Industries, specifically to those labs headed by Maggie Walsh.  But they had been unable to come up with any substantial evidence that she was behind the DHST unrest.

"We're not going to find anything," Angel said in a low whisper she could barely hear.

Buffy grunted.  For an assistant, he was very pushy.  She wasn't sure if she resented that fact, or enjoyed it.  Angel wasn't like any other DHST she had ever been around.  He had ... personality.  Most vamps she met were about as cerebral as 'blood good.  sun bad.'  Angel, however, had proven himself indispensable time and time again.  By virtue of age, he possessed insight and experience that let him make logical leaps that even a highly trained Slayer would have been incapable of making.  But it wasn't just his knowledge that made him different.  He was educated and experienced without being condescending.  Unlike most of his kind, he gave as much as he took.  His comments were laced with small glimpses into the amazing life he had led and Buffy found herself making up excuses to pick his brain.

But she wasn't about to admit that she enjoyed his company.  And she couldn't afford to think about the jumble of emotions he caused inside her.  Out of sheer stubbornness, she sat outside Walsh's labs for nearly two hours.  Her butt was numb from the cold by the time she admitted that Angel was right.  They weren't going to find anything.  Slowly, she rose to her feet and silently trekked back to the winding city streets.

Angel looked at her smugly as he noticed her limping.  He silently hoped that her pride, as well as her posterior, was slightly wounded.  He loved being right, mostly because she was so damn cute when she was angry.

"Shut up," Buffy said, although he hadn't uttered a single word.

Angel's grin grew wider.  "I didn't say a thing," he said in a harsh whisper.

Buffy scowled.

*****

She started walking and didn't stop until they reached The Bronze, a local after-hours hangout that catered to a rowdy, youthful crowd.  She and Angel could be reasonably anonymous there, though it was decidedly odd for a DHST to be seen in a social setting.  Of course, no one was going to say anything to them.  She was the Slayer and had a lot more leeway than most.

As Angel procured a table for them, away from the loud garage band that was massacring old Rolling Stones songs, Buffy ordered them both a quadruple espresso.  She may have been working nights for the last six years, but it was still in direct opposition to what her body thought was right.  Caffeine helped to even things out, and she was usually in too much of a rush to brew any coffee at her apartment before she headed to work.  As the bartender handed her the two paper cups, she made a move to get out her wallet, and he stopped her.  "On the house," he said, with a knowing smile.

In retrospect, the guy working the counter probably should have been a DHST.

Buffy returned the gesture and headed for the table.  While Slayers a couple hundred years ago would have been forced into a secret life, slaying demons under cover of night, that was no longer the case.  Open warfare between humans and demons had negated the need for separate lives.  Two and a half centuries earlier, The Watchers' Council superceded all existing human governments, dissolving the arbitrary boundaries that had divided countries before the plagues.  They ruled and protected all human cities scattered throughout the world.  Consequently, the Slayer and all Watchers were openly acknowledged, though still a separate class of citizen than your average human.

Slowly Buffy sank down into the chair across from Angel, careful not to spill her drink or his as she pushed it across the table to him.

"Told you," he whispered smugly, still gloating over the fact that he was right about Walsh's lab.

"Why do you do that?" she demanded grouchily, the caffeine not yet elevating her mood.

"What?" he whispered, frowning.

"Whisper," she snapped.  "You're always whispering.  It's driving me nuts.  Did you used to work for a phone sex line or something?  Because if you did, let me tell you, it's not sexy, it's creepy."

Angel sobered at her little outburst and cleared his throat loudly.  "I whisper," he said clearly, followed by a pronounced wince, "because these damn collars are too tight and it is extremely painful to speak or breathe or drink."

Feeling appropriately chastised, Buffy looked at him meekly.  "Oh," she said lamely, "I didn't realize."

"Of course not," Angel said, reverting to his habit of whispering, "I'm just a vampire.  Why would you care what I feel?"

Buffy sank down a little lower in her chair as she sipped at her coffee in silence.  She was embarrassed that she accused him of trying to be overtly sexy, and at the same time, licking her wounds at his scolding.

Angel sat back, staring blindly at the band on stage.  He hadn't meant to snap at her, but he wasn't thinking clearly.  Willy wasn't able to up his ration quantity and he was reeling from the effects of prolonged starvation.  The constant hunger gnawed at his insides.  Combined with the continual physical pain caused by the tags, it was driving him closer to the edge.  Angel forced himself to calm down.  Closing his eyes, he wrapped his hands around the cup of coffee Buffy brought him, relaxing somewhat as the heat radiated through the Styrofoam, warming his cool flesh.

"You're not drinking," Buffy said timidly, still stinging from his earlier snap.  "Is that because it hurts to drink?"  Buffy didn't really have any friends and Angel, DHST or not, was the closest thing to a companion she ever had.  Even if he did make her crazy.  The knowledge that she insulted him and had been oblivious to his pain was not easy to take.  While she did think of him as an animal of sorts, she also thought of him as an ally and she was uneasy with the idea of him being discomfited unnecessarily.

Slowly, Angel opened his eyes and looked at her, still slouched in the chair, her tiny hands wrapped around her coffee cup.  He sighed heavily and gave her a weak smile and shook his head.  Pain in swallowing was not what was keeping him from drinking.

"Don't you like coffee?" she asked.

"It's okay," he replied quietly.

"Just not in the mood?" she surmised.

"You could say that," he replied cryptically.  Buffy cocked an eyebrow at him in question and Angel leaned forward.  Pulling on the cuff of his shirt, he inched the fabric upward so that his arm was bare to the elbow.  He flipped his hand outward so that the vulnerable flesh of his inner arm was exposed.

Buffy gasped.  His flesh was pulled taut, the veins straining prominently beneath the perfectly white surface.  As she watched, they twitched and shifted under the skin in tiny convulsions.  "What's wrong?" she demanded.

"I'm starving," he replied dryly, rolling his cuff back down and buttoning it securely.  "The rest of my body looks the same way, but I think I'll spare you the horror."

She stared at him blankly.  "Why didn't you say something?" she snapped.  "I thought you were supposed to be on rations."

"I am on rations," he countered, "but what the Council thinks I need to survive and what my body thinks I need to survive are two different things.  I've been underfed since I started DHST training, but now that I'm working with you, with the increased physical activity I am starving to death."

Buffy was quiet, obviously trying to assimilate the information.  After nearly a minute of silence, she pushed her chair back and stood up forcefully.  "Go back to the library," she said, the power in her voice leaving no room for argument.  "I'll meet you there in an hour."  That's it, their first real non-work related conversation.

*****

True to her word, just over an hour later, Buffy bounded into Holtz's library, a large duffel bag thrown over her shoulder.  Angel watched her silently from the worn leather sofa, curiosity gnawing at him.  She walked to the sofa and dumped the bag at his feet.  Immediately, she dropped into a squat, crouching over the bag as she pulled the zipper open and methodically emptied its contents.

"Where did you go?" he asked, unable to remain silent a moment longer.

"To collect on a few overdue debts," she replied without looking at him.  When the bag was empty, Buffy pushed it away.  Angel watched as she grabbed a large silver thermos and handed it to him.  He looked at it, shocked beyond reason.

"Not yet," she said abruptly, rising up on her knees so she could root through the pocket of the faded denim jeans she wore.  Triumphantly, she pulled out a set of keys.  Angel stared in disbelief.  In her hands, Buffy held a set of keys that he knew would unlock the tags he wore.

"Lean forward," she directed.  Too stunned to disobey, Angel did as she commanded.  The heat of her hands shocked him as she fought with the lock on his collar, but the moment was over before he had a chance to react.  He watched dumbly as Buffy turned the collar over in her hands, studying it carefully.

She took his collar off.  He was floored.

"Drink up," she said expectantly when she noticed he was watching her.

"Excuse me?"

"The thermos," she said, "is filled with blood.  If you're starving, eat."

Angel continued to stare at her, a slightly scandalized expression replacing the blank one that had been there before.  Gradually, comprehension dawned on Buffy.  Angel refused to act like a DHST in every other situation, why should this be any different?  "I've seen vamps eat before," she said seriously.  "It's not going to gross me out."

Realizing that she had no intention of leaving, Angel relented.  Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't dream of feeding in front of her, but his body was screaming for the liquid inside the thermos and he couldn't ignore it any longer.  With deft efficiency, he unscrewed the lid and raised it to his lips.

I like the awkwardness here, especially the fact that she wasn't prepared for it to be awkward.  It's Buffy's first real reaction to Angel as person rather than as a vampire.

Buffy watched in blatant fascination as he fed.  She hadn't been kidding about watching vamps eat.  She witnessed the process many times in the past, but none of them had looked even remotely the way Angel did.  First off, he didn't vamp out.  If she hadn't known what the thermos contained, she would have believed it could be something as innocuous as water.  There was none of the pointy teeth, yellow eyes, growling and gulping that she associated with a DHST being fed.  He simply drank it with the grace with which he performed every other activity.  No streaming crimson rivulets escaped from the corners of his mouth to stain his shirt, regardless of how quickly he drank.  In less than thirty seconds, he set down the now empty thermos and regarded her silently.

Feeling color rise in her cheeks, Buffy realized she was staring at him.

"That wasn't human," he said quietly, licking his lips in a manner that made her stomach feel funny.

She shook her head, pushing away her earlier embarrassment.  "No, not exactly," she said, shocked that he had noticed.  Most DHSTs, especially in the grip of starvation wouldn't have been sentient enough during feeding to realize the difference.  "It was Watcher."

Angel nodded.  He could still feel the burning in his throat from the power of the blood.  It was far more potent than your average human fare.  He never tasted anything quite so satisfying.  He could feel it working in his system.  The bone deep sense of hunger was gone, replaced by a warm feeling of satiation.   He sighed in relief.  "Thank you," he said gratefully.

"You're welcome," Buffy replied.  "I made a few calls.  Willy shouldn't have any problems getting you larger rations in the future."

Angel was humbled by her obvious concern.  The thought that she had gone out of her way to get the keys to his tags and made arrangements for his sustenance was unbelievable.  He could not, however, get past one thing.  "Where did you get Watchers' blood?" he asked.

"It's public law," she explained, trying to make light of her actions.  "Everyone living in The City has to donate blood twice a year.  It's a public tax for the free labor the DHSTs provide.  Only the Slayer is exempt.  Even Council members have to make the allotted contributions."

Slayers were exempt.  Angel had heard legends of what a Slayer's blood could do to a vampire, but for the first time he truly wondered if they were more than just fiction.  He could feel the Watchers' blood coursing through his veins.  What would Slayer's blood do to a vampire's system?  Legend held that it was nothing short of a cure all, but he had never put any stock in that myth before now.  If it was true, the Council had good reason to perpetuate the idea that it was just a myth.  They also had good reason to hoard the Watchers' blood.  "Council member donations aren't put into regular circulation, are they?" Angel asked, easily reading between the lines.

"No," Buffy replied, "they're not.  The Council keeps them, to use for other things."

"Like payoffs?" he surmised.

Buffy nodded.  As Angel had quickly realized, Watchers' blood was infinitely more powerful than standard human.  The Council used their store of blood to buy information from vampires living in the Wastelands.  It was a very effective tool.

"Gimme," Buffy said, holding out her hand expectantly.  Angel was puzzled, but then realized she meant to remove the rest of his tags.  Dutifully, he held out his wrist as she removed the leather, the warmth from her hands once again seeping into his cold flesh.  He held absolutely still, watching her tiny fingers wrestle with the obstinate locks, fighting the urge to curl his fingers around hers.  fuck! tiny fingers.  I knew I jinxed myself earlierEventually, the lock gave way and the tag on his left wrist slipped free.

As he knew it would be, the skin underneath the leather was already a dark gray.  Given time, it would undoubtedly be stained black.  Buffy frowned as she looked at the marred flesh, but remained silent.

He watched as she gathered up the tags and then picked up a can of aerosol spray.  Careful not to touch the leather too much, Buffy sprayed them, front and back with the liquid.  Judging from the writing on the can, it was a fixant that would presumably keep the dye from bleeding any further into his skin.

*****

Sated and sleepy, Angel took off his collar and wrist bindings and laid them on the table next to his bed.  With Buffy's help, he rigged up a system that would keep the tags on without actually having to lock them again.  They were loose enough to allow him to breathe and speak freely, something for which he was intensely grateful.

He didn't know why Buffy helped him, but she had.  Angel smiled.  She was a tough girl.  A Slayer.  Someone who was used to being on their own, to doing the things that no one else wanted to think about.  She was hardened by the viciousness she was forced to witness day after day, by the viciousness she was forced to mete out.

But not too hard.

She had a soft streak in her that Angel doubted many people ever got to see.  Odds were that Holtz didn't encourage her to be overly sympathetic.  She didn't have any comfort in her life.  She was alone and lonely.

He understood that, all too well.

[End Chapter 4]

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