"Amazing how big of a difference a slight variation on a theme can make," Buffy said with a grin, crossing her arms over her chest as she admired the view.
Angel narrowed his gaze at her. "What are you talking about?" he asked coyly.
She grinned even wider, slowly pacing around him in a wide circle, her demeanor more than a little predatory. Angel had walked into the library only moments earlier looking particularly sumptuous. As usual, he wore black from head to toe. Black boots, black leather pants and a black silk button up shirt that molded to his chest in an absolutely delicious manner. The fact that she had seen him in - and out - of a very similar outfit since the moment she first met him hadn't dulled her appreciation in the slightest. "Even without the regulations, you wear a lot of black," she said mischievously.
He smiled wickedly. "I like black," he said evenly.
Buffy winked. "And it likes you," she replied saucily.
Angel gave her a mock glare and using his preternatural reflexes, reached out before she could react and grabbed her forearm, pulling her hard against his chest. She could do little more than yelp before his mouth melded to hers, kissing her deeply. She gave up her feeble faux protest and kissed him back.
Loudly, Giles cleared his throat. Rather reluctantly, Buffy and Angel broke the kiss and turned their attention to him. His admonishing expression did little to dull their happiness. They were well used to his mild censure after six weeks of openly dating. Grabbing Angel's hand, Buffy led him over to one of the large tables where she directed him into the chair next to hers.
Walking to the table, Giles set down a large box of files. Both Buffy and Angel frowned. Giles gave them a withering glare that practically dared them to say something. Neither of them were that brave.
The box contained applications for asylum in The City from non-humans living in the Wastelands. There was no shortage of them going around. They arrived by the score daily and it fell upon their shoulders to review the cases. Lacking enthusiasm, they each pulled a file from the box and opened it.
Before long, the rest of the Integration Committee arrived. The Committee was populated by representatives from both the Watchers' Council and The Order. The Committee's job was to try and create some sort of peace out of the turmoil that raged through The City. In the meetings that followed the failed execution of the Slayer, DHST regulations were dissolved and all vampires living in The City were given citizenship.
In theory, at least, that is what had happened. In truth, things were far from smoothed over. There was a lot of upheaval in the wake of the changes. Violence, riots and hate crimes perpetrated by both sides of the argument were still prevalent. Everything from the legality of turning someone into a vampire to whether or not a vampire could sue to regain property lost upon death were up for debate.
Buffy sighed heavily, sinking back in her chair. She loathed these meetings, but as a Slayer, she was required to attend, as was Faith. Giles, Holtz and Riley Finn rounded out the Council's representatives.
The interests of The Order were looked after by Lindsey, Fred, Wesley, Willow and Lord Aurelius. The Order was the vampiric equivalent of The Watchers' Council, but its inner structure was much different. It was organized according to ancient vampiric law. It was a pack structure with a rigid hierarchy. The Order was actually short for The Order of Aurelius, named such because that was the vampiric clan from which its Lord and Master was descended. The Order's Lord was the oldest, most powerful vampire living within The City.
To vampires, he was Master. To the Watchers' Council he was Lord Aurelius. To Buffy he was simply Angel.
Turning her head, Buffy looked at her lover. He hadn't wanted the leadership of The Order, but Wesley prodded him mercilessly, convincing him that there was no one else fit to lead. Angel's wisdom and leadership abilities were not the only reason he was the first choice. Relations between vampires and humans were only as good as the relations between The Watchers' Council and The Order. Given that Lord Aurelius and the elder Slayer shared a bed, relations were pretty phenomenal.
Clearing his throat loudly, Holtz brought the meeting to order. "The moratorium on Turning will remain in place indefinitely," he said firmly, wasting no time on pleasantries.
"Michaelson is filing motions with Council offices tonight," Lindsey said with a frown. With his reinstated citizenship, Lindsey returned to his profession as a lawyer, specializing mostly in groundbreaking vampiric law. His big case at the moment was David Michaelson, a human fighting for the right to be Turned.
Holtz stifled a growl. "This is not the time for this," he said angrily. "We're busy trying to prevent this society from collapsing into utter chaos."
Lindsey tapped his pencil on the table top. "He doesn't have much time," Lindsey said seriously. David Michaelson was dying of cancer. He and his former Pet - now wife - Jessica were fighting for the right to have him Turned as a vampire before he expired of natural causes.
"So now every human who is afraid of death is going to be reborn as a vampire?" Holtz spat.
Lindsey sighed, slumping back in his chair. "Not every one. Most humans still view vampires as some sort of vermin, but there will be some, yes."
Holtz shook his head. "It is a matter of balance," he said seriously. "How many humans does it take to support one vampire? I know how many it took before, but now that we're no longer starving them, I need realistic figures."
Lindsey looked expectantly at Fred. Quickly, she leafed through some of her papers. "It depends," she said.
"On?" Holtz prompted.
"Supernatural ability for the most part," Fred replied. "The more supernatural affinity a person has, the more sustenance a vampire can glean from them."
"Numbers," Holtz said impatiently, "I need numbers."
Fred shrugged. "For a human with no supernatural ability ... four of them to support a healthy vampire. With Watchers the ratio is about one to one. Most people fall somewhere between the two. The majority of humans have some supernatural ability."
Holtz took a deep breath and looked around the table. "So, worst case scenario," he said, "The City can support a vampiric population that is a quarter of the human numbers?"
"In theory," Willow concurred. "But like she said, there are exceptions. Vampires can feed from livestock or mixing the Watcher donations in with general donations can make it go further."
Holtz shook his head. "No more Turning and no more immigrants from the Wastelands until we get an accurate headcount on the vampire, human and demon populations in The City. That is final."
Lindsey took a drag off of his cigarette, staring up into the night sky. "David Michaelson is going to die before this gets resolved," he said morosely. He, Wesley, Fred, Riley, Buffy, Angel and Faith were sitting in Holtz's enormous backyard, enjoying the early summer evening, trying to unwind after the trying meeting.
"You can't save everyone, Lindsey," Fred said sadly. She crossed her arms over her chest, leaning back against the tree she was sharing with Wesley. They were all spread out in a loose circle, Fred and Wesley against the tree, Lindsey lying on the grass, Riley sat on an old stump, and Faith stood staring out into the night sky. Angel sat on the ground with Buffy between his legs, leaning back against his chest.
Lindsey shook his head. "I know," he said, "but it's just so damn frustrating. When David dies, Jessica will go with him. She's a strong voice within The Order. It is really going to hurt us to lose her."
"So what can we do to speed things up?" Riley asked. He was slowly warming to the concept of vampires, mostly out of guilt. Despite his personal reservations, when Holtz asked him to serve on the Committee a month earlier, he accepted the challenge gladly. He was committed to finding a speedy, amenable resolution. And, of course, it gave him an excuse to stay close to Buffy.
"Not much unless you can find a way to feed vampires something other than blood," Lindsey said in jest.
Riley frowned. "What about Slayers?" he asked.
Everyone went oddly silent.
"What do you mean 'what about Slayers'?" Fred asked nervously. Her eyes darted to her Master, who was clearly unhappy. Angel's arms tightened on Buffy.
"According to you, the greater supernatural punch the donor packs, the more vamps can be fed, right? Well surely Buffy and Faith could support a few vamps without much effort," Riley explained.
A low, malevolent growl threaded through the warm night air, raising the hairs on the humans' necks. Lindsey and Fred instinctively dropped their eyes to the ground, cowering. Riley's vision shot to Angel's and even in the dim lighting he could see the yellow tinged irises.
"That's not an option," Fred whispered quickly.
"I cannot speak for Faith, but Buffy doesn't donate," Angel said, his words slightly lisped around the mouthful of fangs.
Riley swallowed harshly, but refused to be intimidated into silence. He and Angel managed to work together, but there was no love lost between the two. "You're off rations," Riley said boldly, "that means Buffy has to be donating to you. Why are you the only one who should get that honor?"
Angel made a move to get up, but Buffy pressed back against him, keeping him in place. She had no desire to see the two of them get into another fight. Angel wanted to go after the soldier, but he was going to have to push Buffy out of the way to do it. There was no way he was doing that. Eventually, he relented, relaxing again.
"I don't donate, Riley, not the way you do," Buffy explained once she was certain Angel would behave.
A frown creased Riley's brow. "What do you mean?"
Buffy took a deep breath and released it. No doubt everyone else knew what she was talking about, but Riley was being intentionally obtuse. "When you donate, you go to the clinic and a tech sticks a needle in your arm. I don't do that," she said.
Riley swallowed harshly. "What do you do?" he asked. Riley was already fairly certain of her answer, but he wanted to hear her say it. He didn't want Buffy to have any illusions. Her lover was nothing more than an overgrown leech.
With a flick of her wrist, Buffy untied the scarf that had become an integral part of her wardrobe, baring her throat. Given that her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, everyone had an unrestricted view of her neck. Angel's original bite had scarred, but it was almost impossible to tell at the moment given that he had re-opened the wound only the night before. Riley looked at the bite and then turned away in disgust.
Faith took a deep breath, looking at her sister Slayer. "He ... bites you?" she gasped.
"Yes," Buffy answered bluntly, "he does."
"Angel feeds from Buffy because she is his mate," Fred explained to the shocked Slayer. "Vampires do not share their mates, under any circumstances. It is not done. Feeding is a very ... personal event." Fred's emphasis on "personal" left little question as to what exactly was usually going on when the Slayer got bit.
Turning his head, Riley looked at Buffy again. She regarded him placidly, her silence speaking volumes to her agreement with Fred's assertions. And she didn't seem the least bit embarrassed or uncomfortable with the state of affairs. Riley shook his head in frustration. He just didn't get it. Apparently, neither did Faith.
Pressing a gentle kiss to Angel's jaw, Buffy silently bade him wait. He did so, somewhat reluctantly. Wesley turned his head to appreciate the view of The City from Holtz's back yard as she approached.
"Does she know?" Buffy asked quietly.
Arching a speculative eyebrow, Wesley said, "Beg pardon?"
Buffy smiled gently. "Fred," she said. "Does she know that you did all of this for her?"
Even in the dim lighting, Buffy could see him blush. He opened his mouth to deny it and then apparently thought better. He closed his mouth and stared at the ground for several long moments. "No," he said seriously. "She does not know."
"Do you think maybe you should tell her?" Buffy asked. It had taken her a while to figure out Wesley's motives, but seeing him around Fred, it had become apparent. He was enthralled with the lovely young vampire.
Wesley shook his head sharply. "Absolutely not," he said.
Buffy frowned. "How will you ever find out if you don't risk anything?" she asked.
"Fred is a very gracious, kind hearted soul," Wesley explained. "If she had any inclination as to my true motives, she would feel obligated to return them whether or not she truly shared the sentiment. I may hold great affection for her, but I do have my pride. I do not wish to be pitied."
"Wes," Buffy said gently, "she doesn't pity you, she just doesn't know. How can you expect her to reciprocate if she has no idea?"
Wesley shrugged. "I do not expect anything," he said seriously. "My actions were my own and done for my own reasons. They were not a means to an end."
Buffy sighed deeply and said, "Okay." She couldn't force Wesley to admit his feelings to Fred and she wouldn't betray his trust, no matter how much she felt it would be in his best interest.
Buffy hadn't bothered retying the scarf around her neck after the meeting and it was driving Angel crazy. Languidly, she wandered into the kitchen of the new house she now shared with her mate. He followed, leaning back against the cabinets as he watched her predatorily. She puttered around, pouring herself a glass of juice, very aware of the attention he was paying her and doing her best to ignore him. She took a drink, knowing that his vision was fixated on her throat as she swallowed. Deliberately, she set the glass down next to the fridge and looked at him. "Enjoying the view?" she asked.
His only answer was a wicked smile. Buffy watched something pass through his eyes and all of the hair on the back of her neck stood up. His eyes flickered golden for just a moment. She shivered, biting down on her bottom lip as she watched him, her eyes bright with anticipation. One of the perks of being involved with a mortal enemy was that you couldn't stop your body from responding. Not that she wanted to stop.
He stalked towards her, watching her as hunter to prey. Buffy's body screamed for her to respond, her adrenaline spiked and yet she held herself still. It was a hell of a rush. He walked around her until he stood behind her, trapping her between his body and the refrigerator. Silently, he dropped into a crouch.
She trembled as his hands hovered just above her ankles, almost touching but not quite. It was like she could feel tiny sparks of electricity flowing between his body and hers. She was hot and cold at the same time, her body primed for fight or flight. She giggled. They were quickly adding another "f" word to the short list of options when tensions ran high.
With wicked precision, he moved his hands upwards, almost skimming along her skin, but not quite. It was exquisite torture. She shook with the need to do something, anything, but she fought it. It was all part of the game. How much could she take before it was too much? His hands traveled over the bare expanse of her legs, left vulnerable by her scandalously short miniskirt. As he encountered clothing, he switched to her arms, the feather light press of his hands causing the tiny hairs on her skin to stand at attention. He stood behind her now, looming but not touching. She could feel him with her Slayer sharp senses, but it was maddening. To almost touch him, but not quite, to not be able to see or hear him. To not feel any heat from his body.
A fine sweat broke out on her skin and her mouth fell open in a pant. Her trembling was more pronounced, almost a shaking as she waited for him to do something, anything.
She screamed as his bit down on the nape of her exposed neck, his hands pulling her violently back against him. He wasn't in game face and his blunt teeth didn't break the skin, but it was exhilarating none the less. She was pinned to his hard body, his erection pressing insistently into the small of her back. She fought against him, trying to get free, to turn around so she could touch him, but he held her still. Months ago, he wouldn't have been able to do it, but with regular infusions of her powerful blood, he was an even match for her physically.
"Angel," she whined plaintively, still panting.
She could feel him chuckle, the soft puffs of cool air against her nape. He released his bite, pressing a long, hard kiss to the skin before spinning her around in his embrace. Her arm instantly wound around his neck, pulling his head down for a kiss as he pressed her backwards into the refrigerator. She used the appliance to lever herself upwards, wrapping her legs around his waist. He groaned, thrusting against her as his tongue swept in her mouth, tangling with her own. She tightened her grip around his waist and he was lost. Twisting, he pulled her against him and took a sidestep to the small breakfast table. One sweep of his hands sent the box of case files crashing to the floor.
Neither of them gave a damn.
Hours later, they were curled together in bed. She smiled goofily at him. "I love you," she said. He tightened his grip on her waist, pulling her close. His response was a kiss so long and deep it staggered her senses. She pulled back, gasping for breath and quickly burst out in laughter.
"What?" he asked warily.
"I'm just happy," she said giddily. "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to this."
"Used to what?"
"You. Me. Us. I had no idea life could be this good."
"Well, get used to it," he said. "Because you're stuck with me." He nuzzled against her neck, his cool tongue laving the brand on her neck. "That's what this means," he said, pressing a kiss to the scar. "Forever."
The moon was still full in the sky when Angel ventured into the kitchen. Running on autopilot, he retrieved the glass Buffy had used earlier and filled it from the bottled water dispenser humming quietly in the corner. He leaned back against the countertop, taking a deep drink.
He couldn't remember ever feeling such a sense of contentment, of bone deep happiness in all of his long life. For the first time ever, human or otherwise, he was at peace. He had found a home, a mate. Love. He smiled at the thought, unable to stop himself. Yes, life was good.
He set the now empty glass on the countertop and moved to return to Buffy and their warm bed when something caught his eye. He stood stock still in the middle of the kitchen as a fine trembling came over him. Very slowly, he turned his head back.
The files he and Buffy had knocked to the floor with their earlier amorous actions remained as they had fallen. One of the files lay open. Angel looked at the picture stapled inside the file.
Very slowly, he advanced. It couldn't be. It wasn't possible. His brother died almost three centuries ago. Before the demonic plagues. There was no way. Colin hadn't risen as a vampire after the attack. He hadn't. Angel would have known.
With shaking hands, he lifted the file, studying the picture. He knew the face. Every curve, every dip and hollow was etched indelibly in his psyche. Colin. His older brother, killed while still in his teens. Their father's pride and joy.
Frantically, Angel leafed through to the beginning of the file. As he read the words, a sense of stark unreality settled over him. It was an application for asylum filed by a vampire named Darla. Angel swallowed harshly. Darla had been his lover for a very long time, but they had broken it off almost two decades ago.
Darla had filed the application on behalf of herself ... and her seventeen year old human son, Connor.
The file fell from his boneless fingers to land in a heap on the floor. He didn't know how or why, but he did know who. His son. His human son.
"Oh gods," Angel whispered.
"Bloody hell," Giles said as he pulled open the door, trying to put on his glasses while still holding his robe shut. Didn't these people have any decency? It was nearly three o'clock in the morning.
Giles stared open-mouthed at his wife. She was older, fine lines etched the corners of her eyes, but she was still radiant. "J-j-joyce," he managed to stutter, a look of absolutely bewilderment on his face. "I thought ... I thought you were ... dead."
She nodded slowly, guilt etched on her features. "I know, Rupert, and I'm truly sorry, but I couldn't stay. I couldn't let it happen. Not again."
"Couldn't let what happen again, Joyce? What are you talking about?"
Joyce turned and beckoned to someone standing around the corner. Slowly, a teenage girl with long, brown hair came into view. She smiled hesitantly at him. Giles jaw fell open.
"They took Buffy, Rupert.
I couldn't let them have Dawn as well."
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