disclaimer in part one
By the shadows of the night I go
I move away from the crowded room
That sea of shallow faces masked in warm regret
They don't know how to feel, they don't know what is lost
- Sarah McLachlan
by: Rebecca Carefoot
Buffy looked up from the pages of the notebook propped on her knees when she heard the door open. She had been attempting to study in the hopes that it would distract her from the nearness of Angel. At least it was something to do besides stare at him. However, she found it nearly impossible to concentrate, and her head had begun to droop; and her eyes had drifted shut for longer and longer periods of time. Each blink ended up being almost a nap. But when the door opened, she jerked awake immediately. Angel's head snapped up as well, and his lips pulled back into a snarl though he remained where he was, crouching against the wall.
Giles entered the room first and approached her, staying as far from Angel as he could. Willow and Xander followed. Willow held a big plastic bag, which Buffy wondered about for a moment before she was distracted by Faith joining the group. The room seemed suddenly uncomfortably crowded. Angel's head whipped from side to side as if he were unsure of whether to hide or attempt to fight. Buffy felt her jaw tighten at the hard look Faith was giving her, but she tried to relax. Then she ordered herself not to be offended by the wary glances the others were shooting at Angel and at her.
Buffy pulled herself to her feet, trying desperately to pretend this was just any other day and there was nothing strained between her and the others. A quick glance at Angel hunched over on himself across the stone floor marked with a black burn in the shape of a body was enough to remind her this was not "any other day."
"Hi," she said simply. There were several nods of greeting. "Where's the rest of the gang?"
"Oh, Cordy had cheerleading practice," Xander explained.
"Right, and Oz had band practice," Willow added.
"They're practicing fools," Xander said with a grin.
"But they know?" Buffy asked. "About him I mean?"
"We informed them of the situation," Giles confirmed. "But there is little they can do to assist, so we felt it best not to disrupt their lives any more than necessary."
"Good," Buffy said with a nod.
"How'd today go?" Willow asked, glancing at Xander's bruised face.
"It was strangely quiet," Buffy said, then corrected herself when she caught the glance at Xander. "Mostly." He smiled wryly at her, and she continued. "The BloodHound guy never showed up, which I don't get because it's not like I did that great a job when I fought him last time."
"I may be able to shed some light on that matter," Giles answered.
"So you found something?" Buffy asked.
"We did," Giles agreed. "As far as why he did not attack you today," he hesitated. "The BloodHound is not evil. He is not like a vampire, killing for fun or pleasure. He is designed to serve a function, and he attempts to fulfill that function without disturbing innocents." Angel peered at the group warily with glittering, curious eyes, his head cocked to the side as if listening to the information. Buffy wondered if he understood any of what they were saying. She decided hearing human voices couldn't hurt him, even if it didn't actually help.
"So he's just doing his job," Buffy offered.
"Yes," Giles confirmed. "The reason he did not attack is because he was waiting for you to leave Angel alone so he could perform his function without harming innocents."
"No offense, Giles," Buffy said softly. "But I don't see a being from Hell being that concerned about innocents. And he did attack me before."
"Did he?" Giles asked with a raised eyebrow. "Or did you attack him?"
"Okay, I attacked him first," Buffy agreed reluctantly. "And he did come in right as I was leaving. But still...being from Hell."
"He serves a function, Buffy," Giles argued. "Imagine if the people or demons banished to Hell were able to escape that dimension without him there to take them back where they belong. With beings of evil allowed to roam free, this Earth would itself become Hell."
"I get your point," Buffy said. "But Angel's not like those people who should be in Hell."
"Isn't he?" Xander asked softly, not meeting Buffy's eyes.
"Xander, he has his soul," Buffy answered automatically, crossing her arms uncomfortably over her chest.
"A lot of evil humans have their souls too," Faith said coldly. For the first time, Buffy realized the other Slayer had a stake in her hand and was tapping it against her palm. Buffy narrowed her eyes at the slight noise the rhythmic tapping made. Angel seemed to respond to the anger she felt heating her face. He lunged once against his chain, then subsided, seemingly content to continue watching. Faith's hand tightened around the stake when she saw him lunge, but she remained where she was.
"This is different," Buffy said, her voice only slightly strained.
"All I'm saying, is maybe we should let this BloodHound do his job," Faith said, jamming her hands, and the stake, in the pockets of her jacket. "I mean, why should be put our own lives at risk to keep this guy from doing what needs to be done?" Buffy frowned, forcing her anger and panic aside when they surged up to close her throat.
"I'm not asking any of you to risk your lives," she said, her voice sounding tight and forced to her own ears. "I'll do whatever I think is right with my own life."
"We can't let you throw your life away," Giles said as calmly as he could.
"We care about you," Willow agreed.
"Look, I know you guys are just trying to watch out for me," Buffy said, scrubbing at her face with her hands in an attempt to rub out the exhaustion and the emotions threatening to overwhelm her. She briefly considered what they were saying. Just let the BloodHound do what he was meant to, return Angel to Hell, return to the life she was building without him. She dashed the thoughts with a shudder. She simply could not believe Angel belonged in Hell, could not believe he was beyond help, and could not let him go again. "But it's my life, and I will make my own decisions," she continued more forcefully. "I will not stand by and let anyone take Angel back to Hell or kill him or...I am going to protect him." She stared at each of her friends in turn, challenging them with her eyes.
"Your life means more to me than any vampire," Xander said, anger tinting his voice.
"And Angel's life means as much to me as my own," she snapped back. "Anyway, Giles said the BloodHound won't try to take Angel when an innocent is with him, so aIl I have to do is hang around and eventually he'll give up."
"No," Giles said, shaking his head. "The BloodHound will not wait forever. He does not desire to hurt innocents, and as I said he will avoid it if he can. But he must bring Angel back with him, and if he has to hurt others to do it he will. He's waiting for us to leave Angel alone, but if we do not, he will come again. And when he does, we must assume all bets are off. I am quite sure we cannot hold him off much longer simply by waiting." Buffy mulled the words over for a moment then came to a decision.
"I'm going home," she decided. "I'm going to get some sleep and go to school tomorrow. Probably he'll wait that long, right?"
"It is possible," Giles agreed slowly.
"So that way I won't be as tired when he does come, and I won't be too behind on school work because after tomorrow is the weekend; and he'll most likely show up before Monday."
"And if you get killed school won't matter much anyway, huh?" Xander said bitterly.
"I'm not going to get killed," Buffy insisted. "This is a good plan." She hesitated. "But I need someone to stay with him while I'm at home and at school." She looked at the half circle of faces around her. Xander's mouth was set in a stubborn line. She had expected as much from him. Faith looked disgusted at the very idea of guarding a vampire. Buffy wouldn't have trusted her with Angel anyway. It was too likely she would decide to do them all a favor and stake Angel while he was chained up. Willow's face wasn't closed to the idea, but she showed the most fear. The idea of facing the BloodHound obviously did not appeal to her. Or maybe it was just the idea of staying in the same room with a wild Angel. Giles. Buffy looked at him a long moment. His eyes held anger toward Angel, and fear as well. But more than that, they held acceptance of the fact that Buffy would attempt to defend Angel no matter what, and if no one helped her she would attempt to defend him without having slept in two days.
"Giles?" She made it a question.
"I'll stay," he confirmed.
"Thank you," she said, but her eyes spoke of gratitude deeper than words. She stood befuddled for a moment, not really able to comprehend or plan what to do next, even if what to do next was just putting one foot in front of the other. Finally she roused herself when the pressure of the silence was too much.
"So I guess I'll just go," she said, her brow wrinkling. The others began to move, as if her words broke them from a stupor. Willow shifted the bag she held to her other hand, looked at it, then at Buffy.
"We brought this," she said and extended the bag toward Buffy.
"What is it?" Buffy asked.
"A shirt," Xander told her. She felt the beginnings of a smile pull at her lips, but she was too tired to grin. "For him," Xander clarified.
"Yeah, I got that," Buffy said, pulling a white, long-sleeved shirt out of the bag. "I have a feeling it was your idea. But honestly, I don't know if I should even try at this point."
"You just don't want to cover up his naked chest," Xander said, in mock accusation. Buffy dismissed that idea with a wave of her hand.
"How could I get it on him without taking off the chains?" she asked. Xander shrugged.
Buffy studied the vampire, her lips pursed thoughtfully. She had no idea how he would react when he realized she was leaving him. She suddenly felt sure it would be a bad idea to leave him as he was during Giles' watch. The librarian had been greatly wronged by Angel. For his sake, if not actually needed to prevent escape, she would have to chain Angel's other arm up as well. She knew it would make Giles feel safer, and though she did not honestly believe Angel would hurt a human being, it would make her feel better too.
"Hey, Faith," she said finally. "Go look in the trunk in the next room. See if there's anymore chains left." Faith nodded and went in search of chains. Buffy looked down at the wrinkled material of the shirt in her hands, then she folded it and put it on the ground near the wall. One challenge at a time, putting on the shirt would have to wait until later.
"Is there anything else I should know about the BloodHound?" she asked as she gathered up her books and zipped her backpack closed.
"Oh, the eyes," Willow said quickly. The redhead looked to Giles, and he drew himself out of his study of the stones beneath his feet.
"Right," he confirmed. He turned to Buffy. "You noticed they were completely white. The BloodHound is blind. His sight was removed as a way to bind him further to his purpose. He hunts by, by a sort of sixth sense if you will. The impressions he recieves from this sense are greatly detailed, almost as good as sight. But he is limited to his prey and the lives which surround his prey. He cannot 'see' nor 'sense' anything else. The world outside his task does not exist for him."
"So that forces him to be focused on the hunt," Buffy finished.
"Correct," Giles agreed.
"Okay, don't know if that helps with figuring out how to defeat him or not, but it's good to know," Buffy said with a nod. Faith returned from the next room, her arms filled with the bunched links of a chain.
"Want me to put it on him?" she asked.
"Uh...no," Buffy answered. She didn't like the gleam which lit Faith's eyes at the thought of chaining Angel. He was too volatile to risk allowing Faith to provoke him, and Buffy didn't trust her not to be rougher with him than was necessary. "I'll do it."
"I'll give you a hand," Xander offered. He shrugged off the look Buffy gave him. "I promise I don't want to hurt him or anything. I just thought you might want help."
"Maybe I do," Buffy agreed. "Last time I chained him up, he was unconscious."
"Kinky," Xander said with a grin. Buffy swatted him absently, her attention divided between the chain and Angel, who was watching the proceedings suspiciously. His hands were pressed flat on the floor in front of his knees. He looked up at her through heavy lidded eyes. For the first time, Buffy noticed that Angel still had a manacle on the wrist without the chain. The BloodHound had snapped the chain, but she had not thought to remove the manacle from which three of four chain links dangled. She felt a sudden pang of remorse, then shoved it aside. The scrapes on his wrists would heal.
"So do you want me to just run in and grab his arm or something?" Xander asked. He bounced on his heels nervously, shaking his arms and legs like a runner to rid himself of fear inspired excess energy. Buffy nodded slowly, chewing thoughtfully on her lip, then changed her mind.
"Actually...why don't you take this end of the chain and hook it up to the ring? See the ring in the wall behind him?" She pointed to the ring the other chain was already attached to. "And I'll put the manacle on at the same time. That should work, right?" She turned to look at Willow and Giles for confirmation. Willow bobbed her head, not without uncertainty; and Giles raised his eyebrows, but nodded as well. Faith simply watched with her hands on her hips. Buffy took a deep breath and turned her eyes back to Angel.
He seemed to know they were up to something; he growled warningly, deep and low in his throat, when they stepped toward him. He pulled himself up so his feet touched the floor, and his hands were clenched into fists above bent knees. He growled again, backing up a step.
"We're not going to hurt you," Buffy said softly. Speaking to him with the others around made her feel silly, like being caught talking to yourself. Alone with him, she could almost believe he understood her words; but with the others around she had the feeling her words were wasted. She and Xander advanced another step and another. She tensed and saw Xander do the same. "Now," she said, trying to keep from shouting the command. The two of them leapt forward, each holding an end of the chain.
Angel immediately became a flurry of motion. He twisted away from them, avoiding Buffy's grasp; and his fists darted out, sending Xander stumbling backwards. He advanced on Xander, snarling, and his fists lashed out again. One of them grazed the boy's temple with enough force to send him sprawling on the ground. And then Xander pulled himself out of range of the chain. Angel strained against the binding on his wrist, snapping at Xander's foot. Buffy tried to get his attention, yelled his name, but he ignored her. Xander kept moving until his back hit the wall. Then he stared in undisguised fear at the vampire who was almost jerking his own arm out of its socket in an attempt to pull the chain out of the wall.
"Shit," he muttered, feeling his temple gingerly. "Someone else try to help Buffy this time," he said. "I'm done."
"Are you okay?" Buffy asked, dropping the chain she still held and hurrying to his side. She tried to touch his head; but he recoiled, jerking his head away from her hand.
"I'll help, B," Faith volunteered quickly.
"Maybe you should knock him out again," Willow suggested. She knelt beside Xander, and he allowed her to gently probe the knot forming beneath the skin of his temple. Giles joined them, but after examining Xander briefly, he allowed Willow to deal with the wound. It had not been a serious blow, and he was sure Xander would not have a concussion. Buffy moved away from Xander, hurt by his rejection of her touch; but understanding it all the same.
"No," Buffy answered both Faith and Willow at once. "I'll do it myself. He trusts me more than he trusts any of you."
"Don't get too close," Faith offered by way of advice. "And if he won't let you put it on him, a kick to the head should do the trick."
"Do the words excessive force mean anything to you?" Buffy asked wryly.
"They do to me," Xander muttered.
"Everyone be quiet," Buffy ordered. "Try not to move around or agitate him. He was only trying to defend himself." She didn't bother to see how the others were taking her words. She wanted them quiet, and if they were bitter about it then too bad. They weren't the ones being chained to the wall; they could stand a harsh tone of voice.
She advanced toward Angel slowly, her hand outstretched, her palm facing upwards to show him it was empty. He saw she was the only one who approached him and saw that the others, the ones he did not know, remained where they were, a safe distance away. He stopped fighting with his chain, and his growling lessened, softened. By the time she was close enough to touch him, he had stopped moving. He crouched at the end of his chain, trembling, his teeth bared. His eyes were wide, and he rolled them in fear when she bent down slowly to retrieve the chain from the floor. But he remained motionless.
She cautiously reached for his arm, expecting him to avoid her hand or move away from her touch. He did not, instead he extended his arm almost imperceptibly in her direction. She fit the manacle over it, and twisted the screw in to close the metal binder. He shivered under her touch. She was not sure how much of it was fear and how much was desire. His nostrils flared, and he bared his teeth at the scent of the metal. But her scent was the stronger, and he remained still. She stroked the skin of his palm gently with her fingers, touched his arm lightly, traced the curve of his wrist, and removed the old manacle with its links of broken chain. The slight jingle they made as she drew the metal away from his skin penetrated her ears, and she realized with a start that she was whispering to him and had been for some time. His head was cocked to the side, and he was listening to her voice. His lips came down over his bared teeth, and his eyes were not as wide as they had been. Her fingertips lingered on his hand, and then she moved slowly to the wall with the other end of the chain. Again she expected him to pull at the chain, to attempt escape.
He took a tiny step closer to her, his head jutting in her direction. She quickly attached the end of the chain to the ring in the wall and paused. He had taken several more steps. She put out her empty hand, and his nostrils flared again. They stood that way for a moment, and then she stretched her arm to run her fingers through his hair. She traced the curve of his face, and he turned his head in toward her palm, nuzzling her slightly. When she stepped away, he whined his complaint but remained where he was.
Once she was out of his reach, she turned away from him and returned to the others. They watched her with something like unease, and something like awe, in their eyes. The silence she had asked for held. Willow dashed away the tears forming in her eyes, and Buffy felt suddenly uncomfortable. She could not understand why they studied her with such intensity, nor could she stand the idea that she had done something extraordinary.
"That wasn't so hard," she said, her voice deliberately cheerful.
"Indeed," Giles answered uncertainly, and the silence broke. Everyone began to speak in rapid succession, sometimes overlapping one another.
"You should go home and get some rest," Willow said.
"I'm gonna stay with Giles here until nightfall," Faith interjected. "Then I'll head out for patrol."
"I'll come by later and see how things are," Xander added. "Bring you some tea." He grinned, then winced when the smile reminded him how sore he was. "But right now, Aspirin sounds like a good idea."
"I'll walk you home," Willow offered. Buffy strapped on her backpack while the others talked, resolutely denying herself another look at Angel. Xander and Willow moved from their position on the floor.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Giles," Buffy said quietly. Then she hurried from the room before anyone could address her, ignoring the howl she heard when she closed the door behind her. It wasn't as if he needed her with him every second. And he should get used to the idea of her coming and going. There was no need to worry. She wasn't worried at all. He would be fine. And so would Giles. And so would she. Fine.