disclaimer in part one
And if I can't sleep, can you hold my life
And all I see is you
Take my hand, I lost where I began
In my heart I know all of my faults
Will you help me understand
And I believe in you
You're the other half of me
Soothe and heal
When you sleep, when you dream, I'll be there if you need me...
take me down
by: Rebecca Carefoot
Buffy entered the library the next day with her stomach in knots. She felt a little better after having slept, but her nerves were strung too tight. She felt as if she were walking on the tips of her toes, her muscles tensed to face some threat she couldn't identify. She eased herself into one of the chairs situated around the table, but after a few seconds she stood up again and began to pace. Her skin was prickling as if someone were following her, or she was walking into some sort of danger. She shook her head. There was no danger here, and Angel should be fine for a few more hours.
Willow pushed open the doors of the library and called a greeting to her friend.
"Hey, Will," Buffy answered, rubbing her hands roughly up and down her arms.
"Did you get some sleep?"
"Yeah, my mom talked to me for a little while, but it's all a little blurry. I think I fell asleep in the middle of the conversation."
"Well, that's one way to get out of talking to your parents," Willow said with a smile. She perched on the table, watching the Slayer pace the floor. "Worried about Angel?" she asked.
"I'm sure he's fine," Buffy said. "But I guess I am worried. I just have this feeling...like something's going to happen."
"A bad something?"
"I guess so," Buffy agreed. "I mean I didn't really analyze it. But now that you say that...I suppose it would be a bad something. Otherwise I wouldn't be worried, right?"
"Well, if it helps...a lot of times when I leave the house I'm sure I forgot something, but nine times out of ten I'm just being paranoid."
"You're right," Buffy said, stopping her pacing. "I'm sure it's just that I didn't totally get caught up on sleep or something."
"And of course you're going to be worried," Willow said with a wave of her hand. "You have all this stress that suddenly fell into your life."
"Yeah, exactly," Buffy said, resting her hands on the back of the chair. She was still for a moment, then began to strum out a rhythm with her hands. Willow smiled, and Buffy stopped herself, smiling back. "I'm just jittery today."
"Look, Buffy," Willow started. "I hope you know that some of us are glad Angel's back." She hesitated, playing with the sleeve of her fuzzy peach sweater. "And by some of us, I mean me. And by Angel being back, I mean...I know it's not really Angel, exactly." She lifted her gaze to meet Buffy's, and her voice grew more certain. "But I was the one who did the spell. I wanted him back, and we all agreed that we would try to get his soul back. Well, except for Xander but he doesn't count."
"But this isn't what you planned."
"Maybe not, things obviously got royally screwed up. But Angel IS back, so in a roundabout way what I wanted to happen with the spell did. So why should I be unhappy about that?" Buffy opened her mouth to protest, but Willow quickly cut her off.
"I admit to being a little scared and shocked at first. But I am glad you got him back. Really." Buffy stared at the smooth surface of the wooden table for a moment, her hands frozen on the back of the chair while she tried to blink back the tears filling her eyes.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"I want you to be happy," Willow answered. "You're my best friend, and I know lately there's been a lot of stuff between us. But this isn't going to be part of that stuff. I'm with you on this one."
"Thank you," Buffy said again, taking a step toward her best friend and enfolding her in a hug. Her hands clutched at the material of Willow's sweater, and tears began to roll down her cheeks. Willow returned the hug and brought her hand up to stroke Buffy's back soothingly. "You're my best friend, Will," Buffy said quietly. "And for the first time since I sent Angel to Hell, I don't feel like I'm alone." Willow tightened her embrace and drew in an unsteady breath as she tried to fight her own tears.
"You don't have to be alone," she said. "You know you can tell me anything."
"I know now," Buffy agreed. She pulled back a little and wiped her eyes, then stepped away from Willow. She smiled shakily. "I always like to have a good cry before school starts. It really gets me ready to face the day." Willow laughed, brushing away her own tears.
"Tell me about it. Who needs this breakfast crap?"
"So do you have any big tests or anything today?" Buffy asked. "And are you really, really okay with the whole Angel thing? Because if you aren't I would understand and I would still love you, but I..." She stopped miserably, silently telling herself to stop spazzing and take Willow at her word.
"I really am," Willow reassured her. "Okay with it I mean. I am so okay with it that it amazes even myself." She smiled again, then grew serious. "I think he's got a long hard road ahead, and you do too for that matter. But I think you guys are going to make it."
"I hope so," Buffy said, clenching her hands. "I mean I DO believe he's going to recover. But at the same time..."
"You know what convinced me?" Willow asked. "When you put the chain on him, and he knew who you were, and I swear watching you I could SEE how much he still loves you. And if he loves you when he's like that...then I can believe that the old Angel is in there somewhere, and he will come back to you."
"God, Will," Buffy said with an embarrassed shrug. "You always know exactly the right thing to say, don't you?"
"Well, I am practically a genius," Willow said, smiling.
"Practically, my ass," Buffy exclaimed. "You are totally a genius. Now if you can just convince Xander of all the stuff you said..."
"I'm a genius not a miracle worker!" Willow laughed. The bell jangled loudly, and Buffy jumped at the sound. She scooped up her backpack, then impulsively hugged her friend again.
"You are the best person ever," she whispered.
"So are you," Willow replied. She smiled into her friend's hair and returned the hug, then they broke apart to head to their respective classes.
* * * * * * *
Buffy's anxiety returned during her first class period. She tried to take deep breaths and remain calm. She told herself it was paranoia, but she still got reprimanded twice for the annoying tapping noise her pencil made as she repeatedly whacked her desk with it.
Finally the bell released her, and she hurried down the hall to her next class. Halfway there she changed her mind and went to the water fountain, hoping a drink would calm her nerves.
She heard a voice call her name and turned her head to see Scott hurrying down the hall toward her.
"Hey, Buffy," he said when he reached her. She noticed absently that his backpack was slung over just one shoulder and wondered if she should tell him that he could damage his spinal column that way. Instead, she smiled weakly.
"Hi," she replied.
"So were you sick yesterday?" he asked, grabbing her hand. "If you were, you look like you're feeling better. And by that, I mean you look amazing. Come on, I'll walk you to class."
"Oh," Buffy said brilliantly. She took her hand gently of his grasp. "Look, we need to talk."
"Uh oh," Scott said warily. "This can't be good."
"Maybe we should talk about it at lunch or later today when we have more time," Buffy suggested.
"No, it's okay," he said, shaking his head. "If you have something to tell me, you can say it now."
"This is really hard for me to say," Buffy started, taking a deep breath. "Because you're a really great guy, and you've been so sweet."
"This is definitely not good," Scott decided.
"I think we should break up," Buffy finally blurted out, rubbing at the back of her neck nervously.
"Why?" he asked. "Did I do something?"
"It's not you. It's just there's a lot going on in my life right now..."
"And there's no room for me," Scott finished.
He nodded seriously. "I can't really say I'm surprised. You've always seemed like you were distracted by...something." Buffy guiltily stopped fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. "I don't mean it's your fault or anything. I just mean that I knew from the beginning this might not work out. I hoped it would, but like I said, this isn't exactly a surprise."
"I'm sorry," Buffy said miserably. She stood awkwardly facing him for a moment, unsure of what to do with her hands or where to look. "Well, I have to get to class."
"Yeah, me too," he agreed.
"Okay, I guess I'll see you around," Buffy said, backing away, then turning on her heel and hurrying down the hallway. She shook her head, wishing she had been able to do that with some sort of finesse. She knew neither she nor Scott were going to be crying into their pillows all night over this one, but she couldn't help feeling bad about the whole situation. She had basically used him as a substitute for what she really wanted, and dropped him as soon as Angel came back. Which was pretty unfair, especially since the fact that Angel was back didn't mean she couldn't see other guys once he was better. She wasn't even seeing Angel, romantically. Okay so she had kissed Angel briefly, sort of, but it was barely even a kiss. And yes, she had fallen asleep in his arms. But like she had told Xander, Angel needed that kind of support right now. It didn't mean she was seeing him, so rationally she could have kept seeing Scott. But that was a lie. How could she have explained to Scott that she had to take care of her ex-boyfriend? She bit her lip, admitting to herself that she didn't want to see any other guys anyway, ever. With a grimace, she told herself she had bigger problems to deal with, pushed it all as far from the front of her mind as she could, and entered her class.
* * * * * * *
By lunchtime, Buffy thought she was going to scream or run screaming down the halls, or climb the walls while screaming, or do something else that was just as drastic and also involved screaming. She couldn't shake the feeling that there was danger threatening, that something was going to happen. In fact, the feeling had gotten worse. The hair on the back of her neck was standing at attention; she jumped at every noise. Her muscles felt like they were going to cramp up, they were so tight.
She entered the library where Willow and Xander sat at the table in the center of the room. She looked at them for a second, her eyes too wide.
"What's wrong, Buff?" Xander asked.
"I'm going to the mansion," she spat out from behind clenched teeth. "I can't take this anymore."
"You still feel like there's something going to happen?" Willow asked.
"I feel like my skin is going to crawl away from me," she said, rolling her eyes. "Maybe there's nothing to worry about, but I have to go. If I stay here any longer, the something that happens will be me going insane."
"By all means, go," Xander said with a shudder. "And may I say, thanks for the lovely skin visual."
"We can come with you," Willow offered.
"No," Buffy said. "No offense but if there is something happening I don't know how much help you'll be. And if there isn't I don't want to drag you on a wild goose chase."
"No offense taken," Xander said with a smile. "I didn't want to go with you anyway. I like the company of my sandwich much better than the company of a skinless Slayer."
"I'll see you guys later today," Buffy said.
"We'll come by after school and make sure everything's cool," Willow said.
"Great. Bye." Buffy backed out of the library and walked as fast as she could off school grounds. Then she started to run, the prickling of her skin driving her pace.
* * * * *
Angel snarled as the man scraped the cold blade of a knife over his chest. Blood spilled from the wound, vivid red. The smell penetrated Angel's nostrils and he gasped, his eyes rolling back. He jerked against his restraints, but could not move. He couldn't even see the restraints. They did not feel like chains, or rope. It was more like he simply could not move his limbs, no matter how hard he struggled to move, his body stayed where it was.
A burst of pain stopped his struggles as the boy smashed him across the back with something hard. A piece of metal, a piece of wood. He couldn't tell. He growled, trying to turn his head so he could see his attacker. But even this small movement was too much. He was helpless, utterly and completely.
He screamed, gnashing teeth and fangs; but it did not stop the next blow from smashing into his face. He blinked back blood and pain, staring into the faces of the forms that tormented him. They were familiar faces, and yet he could not place them. He howled again in frustration, betrayed by both mind and body.
The one who attacked him this time was a girl, and the power with which she hit him belied her small size. Her eyes blazed with rage, and Angel tried to shrink from it but could not.
He did not understand the torture. He had tried at first. He had wracked his brain, trying to remember how he knew these people who surrounded him, trying to remember what he had done to deserve this. He could never manage to grasp anything more than the fact that he had known them once, cared for them. And that he had hurt them in some way. He knew he deserved this torment. They told him that much again and again. He only wished he could remember why.
He screamed, squeezing his eyes shut as a blade sunk into his shoulder and more blood poured from him. He could not remember how long this had been going on. Nor did he care. One day was the same as the next; an hour was the same as a year. He did not know how much blood he had lost; he only knew it was not enough to kill him. And his wounds healed only to be reopened.
He opened his eyes with a snap when a new scent overpowered the smell of blood and hate.
He breathed it in as deeply as he could. It always came just when he thought he could stand no more of the pain. Or when he had almost given up on trying to remember, trying to escape, trying at all. It was like a breath of new life. He had not seen her yet. Her scent was all he had of her, but he opened his eyes to look for her every time her essence entered his nostrils.
His eyes widened in surprise, and he did not feel the blow that fell across his legs. She was there. Not just the sense of her, but the body, the sight. He suddenly felt no pain, felt no despair. He would have been content to remain frozen in place, content even to suffer the pain, if only he could look at her that way forever, a small smile on her lips.
"Buffy," he pleaded. "Stay."
"Close your eyes," she said softly. And he did, though he wanted only to look at her, keep looking at her, reassure himself that she was there, really there.
And then his eyes flew open as metal slid through him, pain exploding in a rush of blood. And he knew what he had felt before this was not pain, not compared to this. And he drank in the sight of her even as she slid the blade deeper into his stomach. And he did not question her because he knew he deserved it all.
* * * * * * *
Buffy entered the mansion at a run, banging the door open so hard it slammed against the wall. Giles jumped in his seat as the sound brought Angel out of the dream he was having. The Watcher had found it mesmerizing, watching the emotions play across Angel's face while he slept, his muscles jerking in reaction.
"Buffy?" he said in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"I just had this feeling," Buffy said, rubbing anxiously at her arms. Angel looked a bit worse for the wear. She wondered how bad the dream had been to affect him that way. He was sitting with his arms wrapped around his legs, whimpering softly to himself, rocking back and forth. But he did not seem to be in danger. "I can't explain it, but I was so SURE something was happening here. Or going to happen."
"It's been quiet," Giles said doubtfully. "He fell asleep, and I read. I haven't seen any hint of the Hound."
"I know I'm probably just being paranoid," Buffy said, unsure of what to do with herself now that she was here, and nothing was happening. "But it's like I'm being eaten alive. I can feel danger coming. It's like something's stalking me, and it's getting ready to pounce. My hair is standing on end."
"I'm not doubting your instincts, Buffy," Giles said hesitantly. "But honestly, there doesn't seem to be anything happening here, and you can't afford to be caught skipping your classes.
"I know," Buffy agreed. "I just, I couldn't concentrate at all and I have all this nervous energy." She looked again at Angel, and stopped talking. He was still rocking slightly, but his head was lifted. His nostrils flared as he tested the air for a scent, then he growled sharply, pulled desperately at his chains twice, and then backed up against the wall. His growling grew louder, and he ducked his head down as if trying to hide.
"What is he doing?" Giles asked.
"I'm not sure, but last time the BloodHound came, Angel freaked out like he could sense the thing coming. He seems more scared this time though," she said with a grimace. "This is not cool."
"Could it be something else that's scaring him?" Giles asked.
"Of course it could, Giles," Buffy said in annoyance. "I'm not a mind reader, I'm just telling you that this is sort of what happened before. And I've been having this feeling. And I think we'd pretty much better brace for impact here."
"Ah, I see," Giles confirmed, reaching into his bag and pulling out a loaded crossbow. "Fully braced."
"You know that's not going to work," Buffy said, raising an eyebrow.
"It can't hurt," Giles responded, raising his own.
"Okay, just try not to shoot me or Angel with the thing by accident," Buffy said with a grin.
"Right, thanks for the advice," Giles said sarcastically. He stood behind his chair, ready to use it to provide at least minimal cover. Angel moved about in agitation, never straying from the cover of the wall, lifting his head to catch the scent, then attempting to hide again. Buffy approached him, staying out of the range of his chain, but close enough that she could reach him quickly if she needed to protect him. She raised her fists and took a fighting stance, muscles taut. They waited.