disclaimer in part one
Let me see you
Stripped down to the bone
Let me hear you speaking
Just for me
by: Rebecca Carefoot
Angel's feet pounded against the ground beneath him. It moved and shifted under his feet like loose sand, throwing him off balance as he ran. He slipped and fell so many times he lost count. But each time he fell, he staggered to his feet again; and his legs continued to churn. The ground burnt like fire against the soles of his feet, but Angel did not mind the pain.
The ground was flat, stretching endlessly in all directions without variation. The sky was light grey and empty of any sun or moon. The heat seared him constantly and he wondered vaguely if he ran along the surface of the sun. There were no trees or dwellings or bushes or animals for as far as his eyes could see. There was no prey, nothing to eat, no blood to quench the thirst which grew in him until he thought he would tear into his own flesh. There was only one thing that marred the perfectly straight line of the horizon.
Not food. Despite his hunger, he did not seek her blood. She could never be his prey.
He could just barely see her form outlined against the pale grey of the skyline. It was enough to force him onward despite the pain. Almost enough to erase the pain completely.
His mate. He had thought she wasn't real at first. She shimmered behind the heat rising from the ground. But sometimes he could just barely catch her scent drifting toward him on an acrid gust of wind. Sometimes she was just a few steps away from him. Almost close enough to touch. Other times she was so far away he could barely feel a trace of her. Sometimes he could see her lips pull back into a smile. And his legs kept moving. His whole body was burning, but his legs kept moving.
A whine escaped the back of his throat, and the wind gusted around him, picking up the sound and throwing it in his face with the black grains of sand it lifted to his eyes. Something was very wrong. He should have reached her by now. He should have been burying his face in the curve of her neck. He should have been feeling her fingers on his face. He had been running for years, and she was still so far away.
Angel growled in frustration, but he kept moving. Sometimes on four legs, sometimes on two. Always with an urgency he could not deny.
And eventually he found he could not explain it. He could not remember why he ran toward her. Only that he must. He could not remember how he knew her, or why he loved her. Only that he did. He could not remember his name. All he remembered was hers. Buffy. It sang through him with every stumbling step he took.
After a while he wished he could forget it like all the rest. He wanted to forget her. He was tired of running. All he wanted was to sleep.
But he could not forget. He could never forget her.
* * * * * * *
Buffy entered the mansion quietly. She had run as fast as she could down Crawford Street to the pay phone at the end of the hill. She hadn't wanted to leave Angel alone at all, but she had to get the others to the mansion and there was no phone in the building. At least no working phone.
Giles had been asleep when she called. His befuddled voice had asked her if she had any idea what time it was. But the urgency with which she answered soon caused Giles to forget that it was five in the morning. She had been cryptic, but he promised to follow her instruction and bring Willow and Xander to meet her at the mansion as soon as possible. She had decided to leave Cordelia and Oz out of it for now. It would be hard enough telling the people she was closest to.
Then Buffy ran back up the hill, her heart beating double time as she tried to drive away the thought that she would open the door and find Angel gone. A shiver of relief shot through her when she saw him slumped against the wall...asleep or unconscious. His legs twitched in response to the dream which clutched him, and she flinched as a growl rumbled to her ears.
She resisted the urge to run to his side and shake him awake, instead cautiously approaching the vampire.
She got within a few feet of him before Angel's eyes popped open. He immediately pulled at the chain on his wrist, and fell into a crouch. He growled continuously, low and deep in his throat, then lunged suddenly toward her. The chain cracked sharply as it went from lax to taut, and Buffy's fists flew up to guard against the charging vampire. Then the chain snapped back, and Angel was jerked violently to the floor. His eyes met hers and for a few seconds there was no recognition in them.
Then there was a flicker of realization and some of the blank, unthinking animal instinct receded. Buffy watched him, relieved to see something reachable in him. He had just been disoriented when he woke up. That's why he hadn't recognized her. She was sure of it, and he knew her now. She slowly lowered her fists, mentally urging herself to believe her reasoning. He was going to be fine. That blank fury had only lasted a second.
The growling lessened in volume, then stopped altogether. Angel cocked his head and pulled himself back into a crouch, rubbing distractedly at his cheekbone with the back of his hand. He looked away to the window, then the ceiling, but his eyes always returned to Buffy. He inched forward, a little like a crab on his bent legs. When she didn't back away, he continued to move forward until the chain stopped him. He didn't try to pull on it, just sat back on his heels, waiting.
She grimaced when a low whine escaped his closed mouth. She wanted to order him to speak. She wanted to tell him she didn't know how to interpret the sounds he was making, the way he was acting. Was he hungry? Was it the chain? Did he just want to be near her the way she wanted to be near him? She wanted to yell at him, and let him yell at her, and cry in his arms.
Instead she stood still, watching him watch her, trying to accept the silent gaze he skewered her with, trying to figure out if that gaze meant he wanted to eat her or love her.
The door creaked open, and Angel began to pull against his chain again. Unable to free himself, he slunk back against the wall and shivered, crouching in the shadows. Buffy frowned at his actions, so different from the way he had acted when the big guy had come in. She turned and saw Giles hurry inside with Xander and Willow close behind.
"Buffy, what's all this about?" Giles asked, approaching his Slayer. He looked a bit more rumpled than usual, but other than the minor dishevelment, Buffy could barely tell he had been rudely awakened fifteen minutes earlier. She felt a rush of affection for this man who was always prepared to help her despite the pain or inconvenience, despite the fact that she had left them all without even a good-bye. Dragging herself out of her reverie, she reminded herself that he had asked her a question and opened her mouth to explain.
But he stopped abruptly, his eyes widening in shock, and Buffy knew he had spotted Angel. Xander bumped into his back and muttered something about brake lights. Then he too fell silent as he and Willow noticed the vampire crouched against the wall.
"Angel's back," she said, stating the obvious for lack of anything better to say. She waited for Giles to answer, but he seemed to be having trouble forming a coherent thought. Xander on the other hand, found the words all too easily.
"What's he doing here?" the boy snapped. "How did he get here?" Angel snarled in reaction to Xander's raised voice and harsh tone. The vampire shifted uneasily, but stayed in the shadows, hunching in over his knees restlessly and baring his teeth.
"I don't know," Buffy answered, giving Angel a reproachful look which she hoped would by some miracle keep him under control. "I sent him to Hell. But somehow he got out."
"Send him back," Xander ordered petulantly, crossing his arms over his chest.
"No," Buffy answered simply. "Even if I knew how to, I wouldn't."
"Buffy, he's a killer," the boy insisted. Willow swallowed nervously, glancing from one of her friends to the other. They had been fighting a lot lately. Tempers were already sensitive, and now this... She wanted to support Buffy, but looking at Angel in the corner, she couldn't make herself speak.
"He's not anymore," Buffy answered, her voice dangerously quiet. "He has his soul." She turned to Willow. "Willow's spell worked, remember? He had his soul when I stabbed him."
"Then why is he chained up?" Xander asked.
"Because," Buffy hesitated. "Something happened to him in Hell."
"This is why you questioned me about what would happen if he came back," Giles said. "You told me it was a dream." His voice was flat and hard. Buffy nodded, shamefaced.
"I didn't want to tell you guys until he got a little better," she tried to explain. "Look I know it's hard enough for you guys to accept him at all. I didn't want you to see him like this."
"Buffy," Willow offered cautiously. "He really doesn't seem like your Angel." She refused to meet her friend's eyes, and hurriedly continued. "I mean, look at him. He's like an animal." Buffy looked. He bared his teeth at the others. And moved a little closer, hunching his back, pushing his head forward.
"You can't expect us to just be happy about this," Xander interjected. "He's obviously dangerous. You've admitted that much by chaining him up."
"I admit he's not himself," Buffy agreed, feeling her anger creep into her voice. "But that's not his fault, and I'm not going to let you punish him for it. He's getting better. He knows who I am."
"How do you even know?" Xander said, pointing at the vampire. Angel's teeth gleamed dully in the wan light, and low rumbles slipped past them. He moved restlessly, jingling his chain as he took another step toward them. "He can't even speak, can he?"
"He said my name," Buffy answered defensively.
"He's like a rabid dog," Xander said coldly. "He needs to be put to sleep before he hurts someone."
"He's not a dog, Xander. He's a person for God's sake." Buffy turned to Giles for help. "Giles, you said yourself there are two kinds of monsters. Angel's the kind that can get better. He wants to. I know it."
"I did say that," Giles affirmed uncomfortably. "But I've seen no evidence as of yet which would prove that Angel has any possibility of recovery. He is a danger, Buffy."
"Are you telling me I should kill him?" Buffy asked. She felt flushed, feverish, as she grew more desperate in the face of her friends' inability to support her. She glanced again at Angel. He had moved closer by another few steps, and his growling had grown a bit louder. It rumbled from him in spurts, separated by only a few seconds of silence. She took a deep breath, telling herself to stay calm. The last thing she wanted to do was agitate him.
"Not exactly," Giles said cautiously.
"Yes," Xander snapped at the same time.
"How dare you?" Buffy retorted. Her fists clenched involuntarily, and she took a step toward the boy, her thoughts of staying peaceful zipping from her mind to be replaced by anger. Angel snarled suddenly, snapping at the air in front of him.
"I'll tell you how I dare," Xander answered, his voice rising. "I dare because I haven't forgotten what he did to Miss Calendar. Unlike you, I haven't forgotten the fact that Angel is a cold-blooded killer. I haven't forgotten that we lived in fear for months while he stalked us and tortured us for fun. And I haven't forgotten the way he smiled when he put you in the hospital. I can never forget that. He's a monster, and he deserves to die."
"Shut up, Xander," Buffy snapped. "You've hated Angel from the very beginning. And I'll be damned if I let you cover your personal vendetta with excuses. You self-righteous...pompous...how can you stand there and act as if you're the only one who remembers what Angel has done? You think there's one second when I forget the people he killed? How can you possibly suggest that you're the only one here who remembers Miss Calendar?" She turned to Giles, prepared to ask him to set Xander straight. The look in his eyes stopped her. "That wasn't really Angel," she finished more quietly.
"I'm not saying we should kill Angel," Willow said hesitantly. "But you can't blame us for not being able to easily get past what happened last year...or for being afraid. The things he did were horrible, and we don't know what he's capable of when he's like..well like..." She motioned toward Angel, then suddenly dropped her hand and looked away from him when she felt his eyes boring into her. "Why is he looking at me like that?"
"All I know is that I'M the one who sent him to Hell," Buffy answered. "I'm the one who made him like this." Angel looked up when she focused her attention on him, answering her with a short snarl. "I did that to him, and I am going to fix it. He CAN get better. He knows me. He saved me. When Pete attacked me, Angel was the one who killed him."
"Buffy, your judgment when it comes to Angel..." Giles began.
"Let me put it this way," Buffy interrupted, exasperated. "No one's going to hurt him. If any of you want to try, you have to go through me." The other three stared at her. She clenched her jaw, knowing she hadn't scored any popularity points with the ultimatum. But dammit, it wasn't like they had time to sit and debate it.
"You said you had not planned to tell us so soon," Giles finally said after an uncomfortable pause filled only with the sound of Angel's agitation. Buffy looked at her Watcher in relief, by breaking the silence he stated his tacit acceptance of her decision. "What caused you to change your mind?"
"I need your help," Buffy answered. "He needs your help." She glared at Xander, stopping the retort she knew he was on the verge of muttering. "This huge guy came after him. And when I say huge I mean it. He was at least seven feet tall, covered in tattoos. He could appear and disappear whenever he wanted. And his eyes..." she shuddered. "They were completely white." She looked at Giles. "I don't know how to stop him. Do you have any clue what he was?"
"Unfortunately, I do," the Watcher answered.
"Well?" Buffy prodded.
"If I'm correct, you've encountered what is called a BloodHound."
"Isn't that a dog?" Buffy asked skeptically.
"It's also a being from Hell," Giles explained. "They serve one function. To find and return any souls who escape the Netherworld."
"So this happens a lot?" Willow asked, raising her eyebrows.
"It is...unusual, but not unprecedented," Giles answered. "I'll have to go to my books for the details, and confirmation; but I am fairly certain this is what we're dealing with." Buffy smiled a little in relief when Giles used the word we. Until then she hadn't been sure they would do much to help Angel, despite her threats.
"I don't mean to be the nerd," Willow said suddenly. "But it's almost six. School's going to be starting soon."
"I can't leave him here alone," Buffy said, shaking her head. "There's no telling when that thing, the BloodHound or whatever, will come back."
"Indeed," Giles said, pursing his lips. "We'll have to come up with some sort of schedule or plan for guarding him."
"Until we figure it out, I'll stay with him," Buffy offered. "It's not like I would be able to stay awake at school today anyway."
"Very well then. You will stay here for now. And I will begin the research," Giles said. "We'll meet you back here after school."
"I'll tell your mom where you are," Willow offered. "She can call the school to tell them you're sick or something."
"Can we not mention Angel to her yet?" Buffy asked. "Just say it's Slayer business."
"I guess..." Willow said doubtfully.
"It's just that the last time she saw him he didn't have his soul. And she never really understood the whole situation. And I don't want her to..."
"As much as I dislike lying to your mother, I understand your reasoning," Giles interrupted. "We'll wait to tell her."
"One other thing," Buffy said hesitantly. "Could someone get some blood from the butcher or something." She continued hurriedly to cover her discomfort in reminding them of what Angel was. "Before school or on the lunch break. I didn't think of it before, but he's really hungry. I'd go myself, but..." Xander rolled his eyes in disgust, and Willow gave him a dirty look.
"One of us will do it," Giles agreed. "It's a good idea for us to check in on you anyway."
"Okay. Thank you," Buffy answered softly. "I'll see you guys later then," she continued. Giles and Willow nodded, but Xander only stood with his arms crossed over his chest. She raised her eyebrows at him, and he abruptly turned his back and walked out.
"He'll come around," Willow said softly. "It's just...this is a bit much."
"I know," Buffy answered. "And I can't say thank you enough for the help." Willow's lips curved into a small smile and she ducked outside after Xander. "Giles," Buffy said softly. "Please find something on this BloodHound. He didn't even bleed when I staked him."
"I will, as always, do my best, Buffy."
"I know," Buffy answered. "And I know if you hadn't agreed to help, they wouldn't have either."
"I am not thrilled with the idea of helping him," Giles said honestly. "But I am willing to give him a chance to show some sign of recovery." He hesitated. "You did the right thing in telling us." She smiled at him, blinking away the tears that pricked in her eyes.
"I do appreciate everything, Giles. Not just this." He smiled at her, bobbing his head in acknowledgment. Then he cleared his throat and hurried out after the others.
Buffy turned away from the door to face Angel and sank down cross legged on the floor. It had gone better than she had expected, even with Xander's refusal to accept her decisions. She had known he would be the hardest to convince, although it was Giles she felt worst about dragging into this. Giles had suffered the most at Angel's hand, but he was still willing to help the vampire because she wanted him to. She promised herself she would make it up to him somehow. She closed her eyes for a moment and had trouble pulling them open again. Sleep sounded like an amazing, unreachable heaven to her right then.
She raised her eyes to the vampire hunched in on himself a few feet away. He studied the ground, snuffling and growling softly to himself. He scratched at his neck in irritation, then bared his teeth to the floor. She had thought she would never see him again, yet there he was, so close she could take a few steps and stretch out her hand to touch him. And yet, she couldn't reach him. Just a few feet away and it might as well have been miles. It was almost worse to have him there, than to not have him at all. It was like having a hint of what she wanted more than anything, but being unable to get more than a taste. So close but still too far away to grasp. She knew her Angel was in there somewhere. She could only hope his will to regain himself was strong enough to bring him back to her.