disclaimer in part one
hold me for goodbyes and whispered lullabyes
and tell me I am still
the man I'm supposed to be
I won't deny the pain
I won't deny the change
and should I fall from grace here with you
will you leave me too?
by: Rebecca Carefoot
Buffy removed the ice pack from her knee and cautiously stood up. She gingerly placed her full weight on her bad leg and breathed a sigh of relief when she felt only a brief twinge of pain. She moved the ice pack to her temple, but the bruise there had already faded. Tossing the pack aside, she kicked out to the side a few times, hoping the movement would calm her as well as reassure her that she was capable of fighting.
She admitted to herself that while she was anxious, she was not as nervous as she should have been facing her own death. Whether it was because she had been through so much that nothing could touch her the same way again, or whether it was simply because the fact of her own death seemed unreal, she didn't know. The BloodHound and the danger he presented added a tinge of desperation to everything she did, every movement she made. But it seemed less immediate than the vampire who kept her company in the old mansion.
She walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside, peering out into the night. Willow had gone to tell Xander it was time for his shift. He was the next in a series of Slayerettes who had been staying with her all day. Giles had gone back to the library to continue his research after Faith appeared. And the other Slayer had gone on patrol as soon as Willow and Xander showed up with an ice pack, food for Buffy, and a cup of blood for Angel, all sent by the Watcher. Unfortunately, Giles had no new information to send with them. After a brief discussion, Willow had volunteered for the first shift. A few hours later it had taken a lot of convincing to make her leave Buffy alone in the mansion even for the short time it would take her to find Xander and send him over.
Instead of sharing Willow's nervousness at leaving her alone, Buffy felt a vague sense of relief. As much as she appreciated the willingness of the others to help, she knew they would be useless when the fight began. Their presence was a heroic, but ultimately impractical, gesture. Buffy preferred being alone to worrying about their safety.
She closed the curtain when she was sure Xander wasn't currently nearing the house and bit her lip. She turned slowly around and crossed the room to Angel. Standing just outside his reach, she admitted to herself that her concern for the others wasn't the only reason she preferred being alone. She bowed her head, then raised it again.
"If I'm going to die, I might as well be honest with myself," she muttered. Angel cocked his head, but continued to jerk against his chains. He had been struggling to free himself for hours, as if he knew what was coming. His determination was almost frightening. His wrists looked horrible, the makeshift bandages she had put on them fallen away, and the wrists themselves bruised and bloody, the skin torn and abused. But he didn't seem to feel the pain, and Buffy found she was so used to the constant tug, relax, tug again, that she barely even noticed it.
She extended a hand, stepping closer to the man before her. Her fingertips stretched, tracing over his collarbone, feeling the muscles flex under his skin as he strained toward her.
"I've been kidding myself," she said quietly. "I've been pretending I didn't tell you I loved you yesterday. I've been pretending my body doesn't demand to be near you every time I'm around you. I've told myself that just because you're back doesn't mean I can't see other people." She smiled bitterly. "I've been trying to convince myself that I'm helping you because you're my responsibility." She moved her hand over his chest, then up his neck. She twined her hand in the hair on the back of his head, and for the first time in hours he stopped moving, his eyes meeting hers. "I still love you," she said. "Not as a friend or a brother. As a lover. I can't stop. I won't ever." He shoved his head forward, lifting his hands, and she stepped into the circle of his arms. "And I don't think there's any point in pretending right now. I just want to spend the last moments as we wait together." She nestled her head against his chest, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth.
"Buffy," he whispered into her hair. She smiled again, tracing his backbone with her fingers. He shivered, then reached down to lift her face to him. He bent his head, and she strained upwards until their lips met briefly for one moment of contact. His brow furrowed, and he tightened his arms around her as he searched for something locked deep inside his mind. She rose up on her tiptoes, interrupting his thought process with another kiss. He gently caught her lower lip with his teeth, and she deepened the kiss, slipping her tongue inside his mouth. He shuddered again when they parted. "Mate," he growled, then continued in a whisper. "Love you."
Her face twisted as she tried not to cry, then his lips captured hers; and his hands roamed her back, drawing her ever closer as if he could make them one person. Somehow, she didn't want to cry anymore. And she wasn't afraid of anything.
Abruptly Angel growled, his head snapping up, his eyes glittering yellow. Buffy twisted in his arms, then stumbled back when he released her and began to pull on his chains again. She rolled her head to loosen her muscles, then took a fighting stance, feeling a surge of gratitude that the others wouldn't be caught in the crossfire. Almost before she noticed the shimmer in the air off to her side, the Hound appeared.
He held the wicked blade of his knife naked in his hand, and Buffy knew he would use it on her with no hesitation. She gritted her teeth and moved to place herself between him and the vampire.
He came at her, moving faster than she would have guessed possible for a man of his size. The knife flashed toward her, and she twisted to the side, barely avoiding it's deadly edge. As she turned, her fist flew out into his kidneys. She gasped at the burst of pain that shot through her entire arm, then dismissed it and ducked under the slash of the knife. Distracted by the weapon, she didn't dodge the punch he threw at her in time; and it slammed into her eye, knocking her to the floor.
She blinked away the blood dripping into her eye from her split eyebrow and tucked her foot under the Hound's, jerking to trip him. He staggered, and she pulled herself to her feet. While he was off balance, she swept the knife out of his hand with a roundhouse kick. The heel of his hand smashed into her chest like a sledgehammer, driving the breath from her lungs. She wondered if her ribs were broken. Taking a shallow breath, she launched a series of punches and kicks at the larger man. He only blocked half of them, but he seemed less hurt by the blows than she was. It was like smashing her hands and feet against a giant chunk of iron. He blocked a punch, grabbing Buffy's fist, and held her trapped while he landed a powerful blow to her head. She used all her strength to pull her hand from his grasp, and nearly fell down as she was released.
She tried to kick him in the chest, but she was weakening and he easily caught her foot in his grasp, then used the leverage to throw her several feet away from him. She landed hard on the floor, cracking the back of her head against the stones; and before she could rise to her feet he was beside her. He knelt on top of her, immobilizing her with his knee, then drew back his fist. Having felt his strength during the fight, Buffy knew he could kill her with the blow he was preparing to deliver. She tried to throw him off her body, but was pinned too completely to free herself. He drove his fist toward her, and she threw up her hands to block the punch. He was too strong to stop, but her hands diverted the killing blow enough that it only grazed the side of her face. She heard the sharp crack of the stone breaking next to her head, and she gritted her teeth, pulling the Hound's arm in an attempt to throw him off balance. He pulled back, unmoved, and she quickly released the arm, bracing for the next blow.
She turned her head briefly, wanting one more glimpse of the man she was sacrificing everything for. She wanted him to be the last thing she saw. Her gaze fell on him, and she smiled a little at the sight of him, no matter what the circumstances. He lunged against his chains, his face fully vamped, his mouth agape; and her eyes flew wide as his momentum caused him to sprawl on the floor when the ring that held his chains flew violently free of the wall. His chains swung forward, clanking against the stones, and he scrambled to his feet.
Buffy turned her eyes back to the BloodHound in time to see that he had scooped his knife from the floor and was driving it toward her chest. She brought up her hands, but knew she was too late to stop the final blow. Time stretched, slowing to allow her to watch her death approach. She closed her eyes, then she opened them again, wanting at least to watch the inevitable if she could not stop it.
Then Angel's body covered hers, and the knife protruded from his back, blood streaming from the wound onto his flesh and hers. She blinked, shifting under the weight, panicked hands brushing at the blood and trying to reach the knife's hilt. She screamed in anguish, but Angel did not move. She screamed again, turning her eyes to the BloodHound. His eyes gleamed white as they met hers, and she knew that he was seeing both her and Angel despite the blindness. She was sure he could SEE the bright red of the blood that clung to her skin and her clothes, that he could see the pain too deep for tears in her eyes. For one instant she was sure he could see it all.
And then he spoke softly.
"I do not hunt this one." Buffy stared, her brain unable to make any sense of the phrase. Then her eyes were filled with nothing but the brightest of whites, and she thought she had fainted or that the Hound had struck her blind. As suddenly as it had come, the light was gone, and the Hound was gone, and the knife was gone; and she was alone with Angel.
She lay still under his body, finding comfort in its weight though he still had not moved. She felt the warmth of tears as they streamed from her eyes to her hair, dropping helplessly into the golden strands, mingling with the dirt that layered the floor. Her hands stroked Angel's arms unceasingly, rubbing and touching the cool skin, memorizing the texture of the tissue and the grit and the stickiness of the blood.
And then his arm shifted under her hand, and she choked on a scream. Quickly, she scrabbled out from underneath the vampire and knelt beside him, holding her hand to the wound in his back. It wasn't bleeding anymore, but she wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not. There was so much blood covering his skin, her hand, the stones beneath him. Had she imagined his movement? She whimpered, using one hand to cover his wound and the other to run through his hair over and over.
His eye popped open.
Her wide-eyed gaze met his, and as they met she felt she was seeing him for the first time. Knowing him as she never had before, despite everything they had been through. His dark eyed stare tore at her and soothed her at once. And she saw in his eye a glimmer of the man she loved, her Angel. His lips curled back from his teeth nervously, and his chains clanked when he shifted his body. But behind that, behind the dirt and blood, she saw understanding.
"Lover," he whispered. His voice weak, barely above a whisper. "Hurt." She swallowed, her mind traveling immediately to the still open wound on his back.
"I'll get Giles to help fix it," she promised, somehow unable to tear her gaze from his. Unable to study the seriousness of the wound in depth as her brain urged her to do. He shook his head slightly, negatively, his brow furrowing.
"Not me," he denied. "Slayer. Hurt." She raised her eyebrow, in confusion. "My," he hesitated, his face intent as he searched for the word he needed. "Fault," he finished, in a voice still unused to language. She began to understand and shook her head helplessly.
"No, it wasn't your fault," she said, and reached out to stroke the side of his head. He shifted again, turning so he was on his side, and she scooted closer, pulling his head gently into her lap. Her eyes never left his, and he allowed her to move him without a sound of pain or protest. Looking up into her face, his eyes filled with tears.
"Sorry," he said uncertainly. "I'm sorry." She brushed the backs of her knuckles over the side of his face, then traced the planes of his cheekbones with her fingertips. She bent over and kissed him lightly, her lips tasting the salt of his skin, the softness of his lips.
"You don't need to apologize," she whispered. "You don't need to say anything." Her lips curved up, and she kissed his forehead. "I already know."
He reached toward her and cupped her face in his hand, which shook slightly with some excess of emotion: relief, exhaustion, pain, or simply the need to feel her skin under his fingers. He twisted a strand of her hair between his thumb and index finger, then slowly ran his hand over her head, her neck, her shoulder, her back, her arm. Her body ached with the need to touch him, but she allowed him to continue his exploration of her, his claiming of her as his own.
"My Buffy," he said, with a note of certainty in his voice as well as a hint of fear. She hesitated, unsure of what to say, if anything. He smiled at her cautiously, and she smiled back, answering him in one word.
Her eyes broke away from him when the door creaked open, and he reluctantly removed his hand from its resting place on her stomach. Xander peered into the room, his breath catching sharply when he saw the two of them on the floor together. He snapped his open mouth shut and hurried to them, his breath catching again when he saw the nasty wound that marred Angel's back, the blood that soaked the stones and Buffy's clothes. He dropped to his knees, his hands probing the outer edges of the wound gently.
Angel's lip curled into a snarl when the boy touched him, but he stayed still, his body trembling with the urge to attack. Xander's fingers touched a sensitive spot, and Angel growled warningly. Immediately Xander crawled backwards, away from the vampire, as he suddenly remembered the incident earlier; and he noticed that Angel had broken free of his chains. Buffy placed her hand gently over Angel's heart, and he stayed where he was, not even looking at Xander to learn his position.
"What happened, Buff?" Xander asked quietly, when he saw Angel was remaining docile.
"He saved my life," she said, her hand moving restlessly over the vampire's chest.
"And the Hound?"
"Gone," she said softly. "I think for good."
* * * * * *
Xander called Willow and Giles at the library and they promised to come over immediately. While they waited, Buffy used some material Xander found in the next room to bind Angel's wound. She unlocked the manacles from Angel's wrists, although Xander disagreed with that decision. After she finished with Angel, the boy insisted on helping her clean the deep cut that marked her eyebrow. Angel growled unhappily at the sight of Xander blotting at Buffy's face with the cloth. Despite his obvious displeasure, he continued to lie on the floor, unmoving.
As soon as Xander had finished cleaning her wound, Buffy pulled herself back over to Angel and sat next to him. Her fingers constantly played over his skin, and his eyes never left his face.
When Giles and Willow pushed the door open and hurried into the room, Xander had to call Buffy's name to draw her attention away from the vampire lying beside her. She lifted her head and smiled tiredly at the two newcomers. Angel shifted his head to observe the conversation.
His eyes darkened when he saw the Watcher, and he whispered a word to himself, too quietly for anyone but Buffy to hear.
Buffy brought his hand to her mouth and kissed it in response, but conveyed no other sign of having heard him speak.
"Xander said the Hound is gone?" Giles said immediately, a note of doubt in his voice.
Buffy nodded. "He came, and almost killed me; but Angel saved my life. He threw himself in front of the knife." She traced the curve of his arm with her hand, then slipped her hand into his. He held it tightly, twining his fingers with hers.
"Are you sure the Hound isn't coming back?" Willow asked.
"He said something about Angel not being the one he hunted," Buffy offered. "And he could have taken Angel or killed me, or both. But he just left instead."
"I believe he will not return," Giles agreed. "Perhaps Angel's selfless act caused the Hound to believe that he did not belong in Hell." Buffy raised her eyebrows, studying her Watcher's face. "Perhaps it convinced us all," he finished softly.
Xander opened his mouth, then looked at Angel sprawled on the floor, clutching Buffy's hand, and closed it. Finally he opened it again. "And he's been a lot calmer this time than when we saw him before," he said. Willow smiled at him, grabbed his hand and squeezed it encouragingly.
"He does seem to be improving," Giles agreed. "I think the chains have become unnecessary."
"And he's speaking a little more," Buffy added. "I think he's starting to recognize all of us."
"He may indeed recover, Buffy," Giles said. "As much as one can recover from the sort of trauma he has experienced. It seemed that Hell had driven all sense of who he was from him. Perhaps he forgot in order to protect himself from the pain." He gazed at the vampire holding so tightly to the small hand of the Slayer and smiled briefly. "But I believe he has found a reason to change, and that he has the desire to become himself again, to face the past...if he can."
"He can," Buffy said softly. "I know it." And holding Angel's hand in her own, seeing the faint light of understanding in her eyes, she believed her own words fully.