Edge of Eternity
Author Dark Star
Summary: Supposing Buffy and Angel undertake a mission to another dimension… knowing that they can’t come back?
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon is creator and owner of all things Angel
Timeline: The end of Buffy’s Season 5, Angel's Season 2
Notes: There’s no threat from Glory at the beginning of this story, and consequently no Dawn.
Rating: NC 17. (Adult) Please note that a PG 15 version of this story also exists, and can be found on our sister site, here: http://roses.darkstarfic.com/generaledge.htm
Distribution: Just ask, please
Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg arrived at the double doors leading into the library at Sunnydale High. Before they could push them open, a thin man wearing a grey suit burst through them, elbowed the girls out of the way, and hurried on down the corridor.
Frowning, Buffy said, "Hello to you, too."
"So rude," Willow agreed.
The girls entered the library, Buffy still frowning after their encounter in the hallway.
The librarian, clearly agitated, emerged from his office.
"Hello girls." He tried to appear nonchalant. "Free period?"
"What’s going on?" Buffy demanded immediately. Her whole body was screaming ‘Danger!’ to her, but she didn’t understand why.
"Nothing’s going on." Giles said awkwardly, and Buffy was instantly certain that he was lying.
"If it’s something I need to know about…" Buffy began, but Giles cut her off sharply.
"It’s nothing at all. Just a tiresome salesman." He said briskly. "Now, I really have things to do, so if you’ll excuse me…"
Without another word, Giles retreated back into his office and closed the door firmly. Stunned, both girls looked at each other.
"Well," Willow ventured. "That was strange."
"Yeah." Buffy agreed. And really, really scary.
The following day, Buffy received and urgent phone call from Giles, asking her to meet him in the library, but not giving her any details. Something was very wrong, she could feel it; but she pushed her anxiety aside, and made her way apprehensively to the school.
Giles was not alone in the library when she arrived, and somehow she wasn’t really surprised to find pushy suit guy sitting at the table with him. This could not be good.
Nor were the grave expressions on both men’s faces.
"Who died?" Buffy asked softly. That was always a good bet, what with this being Sunnydale, and all.
"Nothing like that." Giles assured her. "Come and sit down, Buffy."
Now this is getting downright scary.
Silently, Buffy took a seat opposite the two men and waited. Giles cleaned his glasses nervously, mustering his thoughts. He cleared his throat, glanced conspiratorially at Suit Guy, and began to talk.
"Mr…ah… Jeeba came to see me yesterday with a serious problem, and he needs our help." He indicted the visitor as he spoke, and Buffy glanced at him as Giles continued. "He’s from another dimension."
"And?" She prompted, apparently not impressed with the origin of the visitor, and instead wondering what all this had to do with her.
"I’m sure that you’re aware of the concept that dimensions exist simultaneously with each other, and that events in one can effect another?"
Buffy considered this and nodded silently.
"Our visitor comes from one of these co-existing dimensions. A spell was cast there that malfunctioned; it’s causing a rift between the universes that will, if left unchecked, tear a hole in the fabric of our own reality."
A chill went down Buffy’s spine. "It can do that?"
Giles didn’t reply but his expression told her it was very serious, and that more was to come. "They want you to go over there and neutralize it."
"Why me?" Buffy shot back. "I’m not a witch. Why can’t they use their own mojo guys?"
"They’re dead," Jeeba said, speaking for the first time. "The spell killed them."
"Someone else then," Buffy tried.
"There is no one else," he replied.
"Look," Buffy said. "I appreciate that you think I can help, but I have the Hellmouth to look after. I can’t go with you."
"You must," Jeeba stressed. "The dimensions are already breaking down. If you won’t help, then your world is in as much danger as mine."
"But why me?" Buffy said again.
"The spell is strong, and must be closed by a supernatural being. There are none available on my world."
Buffy looked helplessly at Giles, who seemed to be having difficulty in returning her look. Somehow that worried her more than anything else.
"Okay. So, say I go with you… turn off the evil-tap-thingy… then what? Back home for dinner?"
"There is no back home," Jeeba chillingly replied.
"It’s a suicide mission?" Buffy whispered.
"Oh, no," Jeeba said hastily. "If all goes well, you will survive. But in order to travel through the portal, your body has to be altered so that you can survive in the new world. It cannot be changed back."
"I can’t help you." Buffy said abruptly. "I’m sorry, but I can’t."
"You must…" Jeeba began, but Giles cut him off.
"That’s enough. I think Buffy has enough to process right now." He held out his hand to the visitor, effectively dismissing him. "I’ll contact you later."
Jeeba reluctantly retreated from the library, leaving behind a subdued Watcher, and a frustrated Slayer. When he had gone, Buffy glared at Giles.
"Nothing but a salesman, huh?"
"I’m sorry, Buffy. I just wanted to be sure."
"And now you are?"
"I’m afraid so." Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them again with a cloth. "I’ve researched as much of his story as I can. I’ve conferred with The Watchers Council, Mystical organisations, and as many official bodies that I can think of. It all pans out, Buffy. I’m sorry."
"You’re sorry! " Buffy retorted, her voice rising by a couple of octaves. "I can’t go, Giles. I’m the Slayer. I have to be here. Who’s going to defend The Hellmouth?"
"Faith." Giles replied uneasily.
Giles fidgeted slightly, and explained, "The Council are arranging to have Faith released from prison. They have decided that you must undertake this mission as your last duty to this world."
"I…" Buffy collapsed heavily into the chair, defeated. When she spoke, her voice had a little girl quality to it. "I don’t want to go, Giles."
"I know," Giles replied with compassion. "And I wish that you didn’t have to. But this is serious Buffy. If the spell isn’t neutralized, everything we know will be destroyed."
"Great." Buffy said sullenly. "Why can’t Faith go? She doesn’t have all that many friends or ties here. She won’t care about going somewhere new."
"When you died Buffy, you passed the… baton… on to Faith. Officially, she is the current Slayer. Only she can continue the Slayer line."
"And if she goes, this world gets no more Slayers," Buffy finished. She shifted uncomfortably. "Giles, Jeeves said that when I go through the portal, I would be changed. Will I… you know… grow a second head, or something?"
"I’m assured that any changes are internal," Giles confirmed. "They consist of altering your body to cope with such things as atmospheric and gravitational differences."
"I’m scared." She admitted. "The thought of leaving everything and everyone behind…"
"There is something Jeeba didn’t tell you." Giles said quietly, and Buffy looked up expectantly.
"You can take as many provisions as you can carry – though be aware that certain things won’t endure the journey through the portal – and if you wish to take a companion, it can be arranged."
"Buffy, our visitor is well aware that he is asking for a huge commitment from you." Giles said sympathetically. "They want to make the transition as easy as possible for you. If you wish to take a travel companion, it is allowed."
Buffy gazed at him; feeling overwhelmed by yet more information. Did she want some company, and if so, who? Would any of her friends want to go through all that, and should she even ask them? This was her gig, after all. She couldn’t put this burden on the others, could she?
Giles watched the conflicting emotions play out on her face, before saying gently, "Take a little time over this, Buffy. You don’t need to decide right away, and I expect you have a lot of things to take care of. Go home and we’ll sort things out later."
"Angel?" Giles exclaimed. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes." Buffy said defiantly. "If he’ll come, I want Angel."
"Are you certain this is a good idea?" Giles said, worriedly. "Your history with Angel has been… chequered, to say the least…"
"It has to be Angel." Buffy shrugged. "Maybe I’m selfish but I really don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone."
"Have you really thought about this, Buffy?"
Buffy smiled sadly. "I don’t even know if Angel will agree to come with me, Giles. I’m hoping he will, but…" she broke off, a painful memory clouding her face. "…I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t have him in it. I tried it once, and frankly… it sucked."
Giles stared at her; he’d always thought that her love for Angel had waned a little over the years, but seeing the pain on her face he now realised what an erroneous assumption that was.
"But still…" he said, choosing his words very carefully. "Perhaps another person would be better?"
"Like who?" Buffy snorted. "I can’t ask anyone else, Giles! Who else would give up everything to come with me? Who else would be willing to give up their whole world for this?"
Giles watched her agitated pacing across his room and said softly, "I would."
Buffy stopped her pacing abruptly and stared at him.
"I couldn’t ask you to do that."
"But I would go with you, Buffy." He smiled slightly. "I realise I don’t have Angel’s… attributes… but if he isn’t available, the offer still stands."
Buffy moved toward him, her eyes glistening as she looked up at him.
"You’re a good man, Giles. But I can’t ask you to forfeit your life here."
"I’m your Watcher," Giles said, seriously. "My place is with you." He shifted uncomfortably, and went on, "And since I’ve known you, seen the trials you’ve had to face, it would be an honour to accompany you."
"Thank you." Buffy said, emotion making her voice ragged. Giles swallowed, before turning away to busy himself with his stack of paperwork. He took several minutes to compose himself and then said, "Would you like to call Angel from here?"
Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god…
"No time like the present," she said brightly. What the hell am I going to say to him? What if he’s not there? What if he won’t come? Oh god, oh god, oh god…
"Would you like some privacy for this?" the Watcher said kindly. Buffy nodded mutely, unable to trust her voice, and Giles gathered up his papers and retreated out into the garden.
After Giles’s polite exit, Buffy sat staring at the phone for what felt like hours, trying to summon the courage to call Los Angeles. Eventually, feeling very much like somebody heading for the gallows, she took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
Buffy’s hands shook as she dialled Angel’s number, wondering how on Earth she was going to explain this to him. She heard the phone ring, and ring, and the thought occurred that he might not be there, when the receiver was picked up and she heard his familiar voice.
"Angel…" was all she could manage before her voice dried up.
"Buffy?" She could hear the concern in his voice, and he added "Is anything wrong?"
"Everything." She exclaimed with feeling. "Angel, I’ve got this mission…"
Angel listened silently as Buffy told him what she had to do, and she finished with, "I don’t know what the portal will do to us, or even if we’ll ever be the same again. It’s going to be real dangerous, Angel. I know it’s a big thing to ask you, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to come or if you have too many obligations there in LA…"
"Buffy…" Angel began, but Buffy interrupted him.
"Before you answer, I just wanted to be certain that you understand that this trip is one way, Angel. We go in, we don’t come out."
There was silence on the other end of the phone, and Buffy held her breath while she waited for Angel’s reply. Finally, he just said, "Do you need me?"
Buffy hesitated, knowing her answer would influence him.
"Yes," she said, simply.
"Then I’m on my way."
Following his phone conversation with Buffy, Angel had a manic couple of hours preparing for his trip. In truth, it hadn’t been that hard a decision. He couldn’t allow Buffy to face such an uncertain future alone, and he wouldn’t have been able to rest, not knowing what had happened to her.
He didn’t really have much to pack, just some clothes and other personal items. He selected his favourite broadsword and axe, some smaller weapons, and on a whim, picked a couple of favourite books and packed those too.
Wesley had been very ‘British’ and very efficient, liasing with Giles over supplies and rushing about purchasing camping equipment. Cordelia was another matter, because he had grown genuinely fond of her. She had insisted on hugging him when he left for Sunnydale, and that had meant a lot to him, given the recent events that had transpired between them.
It was with some regret that he was forced to leave without saying goodbye to Lorne or Gunn, but he had no doubt that Angel Investigations would continue efficiently without him. They had, after all, been managing it in his absence, and that knowledge only strengthened his decision to go.
Wesley travelled with him to Sunnydale, partly because he wanted to assist Giles, and partly to bring Angel’s car back to LA. No attempt was made at conversation; Wesley had not forgiven Angel for abandoning them and Angel’s thoughts centred on the coming mission, the crew he’d left behind, and being with Buffy again. Would things go any better this time round?
The lights were on in Giles’s apartment when they arrived, and Giles let them in to a scene of bustling activity. Buffy and Willow were seated on the ground, surrounded by camping supplies, and attempting to load as much into Buffy’s pack as possible.
Both girls looked up as the visitors arrived, and greetings abounded, except for the fact that Angel had apparently been struck dumb at the sight of Buffy.
"Angel…" Buffy’s version of his name always sounded like a caress, and when he found his voice his reply was just as reverent in its tone.
"Yes… well…" Giles cleared his throat awkwardly, feeling absurdly like a voyeur. "…It’s good that you’re both here. There’s a lot to arrange."
Buffy smiled slightly. There couldn’t really be that much left to do, but she knew that Giles felt better for fussing over her. She was really going to miss him.
Angel saw the sadness shadow across her face, and he went over to her.
"Are you okay?" he asked softly.
"I guess," she replied uncertainly. She stood up, brushing the creases from her skirt, and nodded her head towards the garden. Angel nodded, and followed her outside. Buffy breathed in the cool night air, a welcome change after the stuffiness inside Giles’s apartment. "Are you all right with this mission, Angel? If you want to back out, I won’t think any less of you."
"I’m good," he assured her. "What about you? Are you ready for this?"
"I don’t have much choice, do I?" she replied ruefully. She seated herself at the table, watching Angel as he sat next to her. "I’m… okay now, but tomorrow…" her words trailed off sadly as she thought about the next day. Angel’s hand found hers across the table, and she smiled as the simple gesture bought her some comfort. They sat silently together for a while, both lost in thoughts of the following day.
"Angel… I’ve been wondering about us." Buffy said slowly.
"Yeah. Our history has been… difficult at times. Will we be able to make things work over there?"
Angel’s immediate instinct was to say no, that their relationship was going to cause them huge problems. But that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She was anxious about leaving her friends behind, and apprehensive about going into the unknown. She needed his support, not his concern.
"We’ll make this work, Buffy," he promised her, gently squeezing her hand.
"It’s not going to go smoothly, is it?"
"No," he agreed. She might want his support, but he wasn’t going to lie to her. "But that’s life for you. Whatever happens, we’ll face it together."
There was a movement from the house, and Giles stepped into the garden. He came to stand in front of Angel, and said matter-of-factly, "You and Wesley are welcome to stay with me tonight."
Angel swallowed, intensely touched by the Watchers’ gesture, given their unfortunate past. "Thank you."
"It might be an idea to get some sleep," Giles suggested. "It’s likely to be a big day, tomorrow; you’ll need to prepare."
"That’s an understatement," Buffy murmured. "How the hell do you prepare yourself for living in another dimension?"
She said it lightly enough, but Angel heard the tremor in her voice, and tightened his grip on her hand.
"You leave at dusk tomorrow," Giles informed them. "Wesley and I should have everything arranged by then."
"Only a few hours to see the world," Buffy muttered, standing up, and gazed wide-eyed up at Angel. "I’ll see you tomorrow, Angel. Sleep well."
"You too, Buffy," he replied, but she was already on her way back into the apartment to say goodnight to the others.
For Buffy, the last few hours were surreal; she managed to get a few hours sleep, but there was so much to do, and she was up early, going through the house to make sure she had everything. Angel rang and told her he had some spare room in his pack, and she was welcome to make use of it if she wanted; he probably regretted his offer later when she loaded up every available space in both packs with clothes, toiletries and equipment.
Xander and Willow spent most of the day with her, helping when they could; but, in the back of all their minds was the knowledge that this was the last day that they would ever spend together.
The atmosphere in Giles’s apartment was charged with expectation when Buffy and her friends arrived. Giles and Wesley were in their element with all the organising that had to be done. Angel was quietly cleaning his weapons before carefully stashing them into their protective carriers for the journey.
Wordlessly, Buffy gravitated toward Angel. He looked up from his task, and saw the unspoken fear in her eyes. He took her hand, and said, "It will be all right, Buffy. You’ll see."
Buffy nodded, unable to trust her voice, and her emotions hovering very close to the surface. Angel gave her a small smile of encouragement, and she drifted away to hear Giles’s final briefing and spend the last moments with her friends. Angel hung back as Buffy said a tearful goodbye to Willow and Xander, and his own parting from Wesley was no less difficult.
Giles drove them as close to the tunnels as he could, and Buffy and Angel gathered up all their equipment from the car. Angel and Giles shook hands, and Angel tried not to notice Buffy’s emotional farewell with her Watcher; but the intense emotion in the air still brought a lump to his throat.
The Slayer gathered up her share of the heavy equipment, taking a moment to adjust her stance into a confident pose. She led Angel into the cold tunnel, without another glance at her Watcher and friend, or the world they would never see again.
The tunnel led downwards, torches lighting the way through the meandering darkness. Buffy had regained control of her emotions, but she was tense and edgy. Her mind was in a whirl; if they survived the journey through the portal, nothing would ever be the same. They would be different people, changed in some way, and she would never see her friends or Sunnydale again.
They became aware of a crackling sound ahead of them, and they snapped off the torches and stashed them away, because the whole cavern was now awash with light.
An ancient and ornate archway greeted them; inside the arch a shimmering syrup glittered and twitched. Buffy had the fanciful notion that it was angry, and that was why it moved with such vehemence. But it was the sound that overwhelmed them, a forlorn howling moan, deafening in the confined area.
"Oh, shit," Buffy murmured.
She exchanged a wary look with Angel, took a deep breath, and together they stepped up to stand before the Gateway.
Buffy stared at the swirling maelstrom in awe. And fear. She knew that once they went in, there was no coming back.
"Here we stand," she said softly. "On the edge of…"
"Forever?" Angel suggested when she faltered.
"Sounds like a Star Trek episode," Buffy grimaced. "What’s another word for forever?"
"Always." Angel replied promptly, automatically searching for more. "Infinity. Eternity. Etern…"
"Eternity," Buffy repeated. "I like that. ‘Standing on the Edge of Eternity’." She grinned at Angel. "Classy, huh? Real literary."
"I didn’t know you had a yearning to be a writer," Angel teased, staring quizzically at her.
"Oh, yes," she replied enthusiastically. "I’m gonna write ‘How To Kill Things and Influence People. Should be a best seller."
"Without doubt," Angel agreed.
Buffy fell silent, well aware that she was babbling because she was afraid to make the next move.
"We really have to do this, don’t we?" she asked rhetorically.
She took a deep breath, her hand instinctively searching for Angel’s. He took it, gripping her hand a little tighter than was really necessary, and for the first time Buffy realised that he was scared too. Somehow it made her feel a little better.
"On the count of three, okay?" she smiled at him. Angel smiled back, and on the count of two, they jumped.
It was like jumping into a bath of cold water; they slammed against a wall of ice that took Buffy’s breath away. Her body felt tight, as though it was being squashed and stretched, drawn out. She was aware that she was screaming, and every part of her hurt…god, it hurt…and she was pulled toward a tiny speck of nothing. Then she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything except feel the agonizing pain that squeezed her through nothing and coughed her out the other side.
She landed heavily on her hands and knees, realising that she was free, but wondering why the screaming hadn’t stopped…she knew it wasn’t coming from her. Realisation dawned, and her eyes snapped open as she frantically searched for Angel.
He was on his hands and knees next to her, his fingers cramping as though searching for purchase. But he was screaming, completely lost in the pain that had torn her apart.
"Angel," she cried, slithering to his side. "Oh, god, Angel…"
She wrapped her arms round him, feeling helpless but not knowing what else to do. He didn’t react to her, and she wasn’t certain that he even knew she was there. Abruptly, the screaming stopped and he collapsed. Buffy wriggled so that his head was pillowed in her lap, and she carefully stroked his brow - alarmed by the heat radiating from his body, and the tremors that shook his frame.
"Don’t die," she begged him. "Please, please, don’t die."
She hugged him close to her, silently repeating her plea over and over, like a mantra. The thought of Angel leaving her alone filled her with terror. She waited for his body to stop shaking, gently rocking to soothe him, and finally took time to look around at the new surroundings.
The portal had deposited them in a grassy clearing. Three sides banked the clearing with trees and bushes, and the fourth side opened out onto fields. Across the fields stood a white tower, and Buffy guessed that was where they had to go.
She returned her attention to Angel. He was lying very still, and on a sudden impulse, Buffy reached across him and placed her hand against his chest. All that pain, maybe… but there was no heartbeat, and Buffy felt foolish for thinking that it might have made him human again. He didn’t seem to have a tail either, and she gently rubbed her fingers in his hair.
"What are you doing?" Angel croaked.
"Looking for horns," she admitted sheepishly.
"Oh." He opened his eyes. "Find any?"
"No," she replied. "How do you feel?"
"Like crap," he admitted. "You?"
"The same." She agreed as they unsteadily helped each other to their feet. "Do I look okay, no tail or anything?"
Angel cast a quick glance over her.
"Fine," he confirmed. "Apart from the green hair."
"What?" she shrieked, her hand flying to her hair where she pulled it forward to reveal blonde tresses.
"That wasn’t funny, Angel," she glared at him.
"Sorry." He replied distractedly, staring across the fields. "That our destination?"
"I guess." Buffy shrugged. "They said they’d put us down at the nearest point."
"Do you want to rest before we go up there?"
Buffy shook her head. "Let’s get it done."
Much of the long walk to the tower was conducted in silence, as Buffy and Angel tried to take in their new surroundings. Occasionally they stopped to examine a strange creature or an unusual plant, and to Buffy, the whole thing felt surreal. She couldn’t shake the feeling that at any moment a white rabbit would trot across their path and announce that it was late.
On one occasion they found a large clutch of eggs, and Angel leant over for a better look. Buffy shivered; she had the horrible feeling that something nasty would burst out of one of the eggs and attach itself to his face. Been watching too many films, She told herself when the eggs were revealed as nothing more sinister than belonging to a frightened orange-brown lizard that scuttled away on seeing them.
As the tower loomed above them, Buffy and Angel could already feel the distorted pull of the reality shift. The air was charged with electricity, and quickly they shed their packs and weapons and stashed them safely. They were going to need full mobility for this, and the packs would just slow them down. Carefully removing the binding powder and chalks for marking the symbols, they skirted the building, and drew the symbols that would contain the energy inside the protective circle. When it was done, they entered the massive building and made for the stairs.
Buffy reached them first and bounded up; adrenalin had restored her energy levels, and she was psyched for action. Angel followed close behind her, a strange sound setting his teeth on edge.
"Can you hear that?" he asked.
Buffy stopped her ascent and listened. A buzz was coming from up ahead, as though a swarm of bees was lying in wait round the bend for them. It was not a comforting thought.
"Unfortunately, yes." Buffy shuddered. The sound was making her ears tingle and her skin prickle. She took a calming breath and rounded the bend. The sound of buzzing trebled, increasing her discomfort dramatically. She tried to ignore it, and focus properly on the anomaly. It was a mistake. The sudden onslaught of shifting and conflicting sensory experiences interfered spectacularly with her body’s perceptions of the world around it. Her mind absorbed all the information but didn’t know how to process it, and rebelled accordingly.
Buffy dropped to her knees and retched, felled by a wave of staggering dizziness brought on by severe sensory overload.
Angel circled round her, ignoring his instinct to check on her. If this rift wasn’t closed soon, they’d both be in dire trouble. His own body was protesting at the nearness of the reality shift, but not as drastically as Buffy’s had done, and he was still able to function.
Shaking the powder just ahead of the expanding rift and shouting the words that he had carefully memorized, Angel commanded the abomination to cease its creeping advance. A ragged finger of reality flashed forward, catching Angel in its tendril, and hurled him backwards.
Buffy was groggily pulling herself to her feet, and muttered, "I guess it didn’t like that."
"Guess not," Angel agreed, rolling to his feet. "You okay?"
"I’ll let you know when my head stops spinning."
Angel shook out another handful of the binding powder and began the chant all over again. Buffy staggered to the other side of the reality split and mirrored his actions. She waited for the angry fly-swat that never materialized. A pair of reality flashes jerked toward them, but weaker, as though it couldn’t decide which of them to go after.
The creeping menace was slowing down, and finally stopped just inches from their feet. The chanting went on, becoming a comforting drone over the buzz of the nauseous danger. Buffy had regained control of herself after the initial traumatic beginning, and was now chanting strongly by Angel’s side.
The rift was shrinking, recoiling slowly back on itself, until finally, the thing disappeared completely with a loud wet slurp. The silence was staggering after the awful din, and Buffy was almost afraid to make a sound.
For a long time they stood gazing at the place where the rift had vanished, half-expecting it to reappear at any moment. Finally Buffy said, "Is that it?"
"Looks like it," Angel replied, his voice sounding gravely with the strain of maintaining the spell.
For a long moment, their eyes caught and the same thought travelled between them. What the hell do we do now?
Buffy went back to the stairs and slowly descended to ground level. She hesitated, not knowing where to go, and sat herself down on the rough steps. She could hear Angel coming down the steps behind her, and he sat down next to her.
"What do we do now?" she asked him.
"We can stay here tonight, but tomorrow we’ll need to figure out how to survive here, and where we want to go."
"I want to go home," Buffy muttered sadly.
Angel’s arm found its way to her shoulders, where he let his fingers rub her arm comfortingly.
"Our home is here, now." He told her deliberately. "It feels strange to us, because we don’t understand the rules. It won’t always be that way, and we have each other. We’ll sort something out."
"We don’t really have a choice, do we?" she asked, snuggling closer to Angel’s body and resting her head against his shoulder.
Angel didn’t answer, and Buffy didn’t expect him to. She felt drained; the fight had taken a lot out of her, but she felt lost, as though she had been cast adrift. She supposed that she ought to be excited; they had a whole new world to explore, after all.
Instead, they sat huddled together on the steps for most of the afternoon, until it became apparent that it would be dark soon. Buffy went outside to fetch their packs and bring them inside, while Angel hunted round for as many lanterns as he could find.
Buffy wanted to stay on the lower levels, perhaps because she feared the reality shift would come back, and the lanterns provided them with beautifully soft illumination. They unrolled their sleeping bags and laid them side-by-side, seeking comfort and companionship from each other as they spent the first night wrapped together in a restless and uncomfortable daze.
Buffy woke very early, to find that Angel was already awake and observing her. It was comforting to know that he was watching over her, and she realised that since night would be ‘his’ time, it wasn’t surprising that he was still alert. She didn’t want to talk, and instead she wriggled closer and buried her face against his chest, allowing him to reassure her with tender kisses against her hair.
They spent the next day planning what they were going to do. The view from the top of the tower was impressive, and allowed them to see for miles. A river ran alongside the base of the tower, leading off into places new, and they decided to use it as a guide. For want of a better plan, they would follow the course of the river, and see where it took them. Since they had no idea what was ahead of them, or where they wanted to go, it didn’t really matter in which direction they went.
Because Angel couldn’t travel by day, most of the journey would have to be undertaken at night. They would need time to make camp and allow enough leeway before dawn for Angel to hunt; and, since he only needed the blood, he offered to cook the meat for Buffy while she slept.
Once night fell, they gathered up all their belongings, and prepared for the journey. They decided to take some of the lanterns, carefully wrapping them up for safety, but since they had no idea where to find fuel for them, they chose not to use them while walking, opting instead to save them for use in the base camp.
At first, they attempted to keep up a flow of chatter in an attempt to keep their spirits up. Not surprisingly, Angel was the first to abandon small talk and Buffy fell silent a while after. They noticed a few small animals, the size of rodents, sniffling on the edge of the riverbank, and here and there something larger rustled in the leaves or shuffled out of their way.
Buffy tripped over an animal carcass in the darkness, and grimaced in disgust when she looked down to see what she’d fallen over.
"Euw," she squealed.
Angel looked over her shoulder to see what was wrong, and saw that the animal remains were infested with a seething mass of maggots.
"You don’t like maggots?" he asked curiously.
"No." She said sharply. "I’m strange, okay? They just give me the wiggins."
Angel took her hand and led her away from the offending body. He decided he didn’t understand her at all. He had seen her face an abundance of monsters and demons without a second’s thought…but maggots freaked her out?
Buffy chose a grassy verge to put up the tents and they began the chore of erecting them, side-by-side. Finally, it was done, and Buffy realised how tired she really was. She gave Angel a peck on the cheek, and retired to bed.
Sleep refused to come. So much had happened in so little time, and a great deal had changed. The floor was hard and uncomfortable to sleep on; she lay there for a long time listening to the insects in the long grass by the river, and to Angel moving about and preparing to go hunting.
She heard him leave, and she suddenly felt very lonely. Perhaps she should have gone with him, but she knew that he was still a little uncomfortable feeding in front of her, and she figured he probably needed a little alone time. In spite of the fact that she knew she could look after herself, she was still very relieved when she heard Angel return from the hunt, and reassured, she drifted into a fitful sleep.
She was abruptly torn from her troubled sleep by all hell breaking loose. Instinctively alert as a loud growling rent the air, she was on her feet and out of the tent in seconds. The sight that met her momentarily stopped her in her tracks.
A huge ball of white fluff that could only be described as a Yeti, had shredded the fabric of Angel’s tent and was attempting to haul him bodily outside. The beast had him in a tight bear hug or rather, a Yeti-hug, and holding him so close that Angel was unable to move enough to dislodge it.
"Hey!" Buffy shouted, and when it half turned toward her, she added chidingly, "You should really wait to be introduced before you start with the smoochies!" Moving rapidly forward, she high-kicked the Yeti in the back of the neck, making it growl angrily.
Angel cried out as the Yeti’s grip tightened round his chest, and Buffy kicked the Yeti hard in the ribs. It roared in pain, releasing its grip on Angel just enough for him to get a firm grip round the neck and twist it. A sickening crunch filled the air, and the Yeti toppled over, dragging the remains of the tent with it.
Angel crumpled as well, dropping to his knees as pain seared his ribs. Buffy stretched out a hand to help him up, and he let her pull him to his feet. "Angel?"
"Smoochies?" he questioned with a raised eyebrow.
"Looked like you were pretty close to me," Buffy grinned at him.
He grimaced, and Buffy wasn’t sure if it was from pain or her joke. She took in his tousled appearance and her grin got wider. Angel normally looked pretty well groomed, but right now he looked a mess. His hair was in tangled disarray; he had a grubby line across his cheek, and his clothes were bloody, crumpled and torn.
"Rough night, Angel?"
"Yeah." He replied, completely missing her humour. "I wasn’t… expecting company, and I think I must have dozed off. The next thing I remember, I was getting acquainted with my dinner date."
"Got caught napping, huh?" she said sympathetically. She scanned him for injuries, lifting his shredded sweater to get a better look. There was a lot of blood, but it looked pretty shallow. "Want me to dress these?"
"No, they’re just scratches, they’ll be gone by the morning."
"Okay," she said softly. A large part of Angel’s chest was undamaged, and she found that she couldn’t tear her eyes from him. She had an overpowering urge to kiss the smooth skin, and lay her head against him for comfort. Swallowing, she forced herself to recover his chest with the remnants of his sweater, and looked up to meet his eyes. He was watching her with an expression somewhere between amusement and smugness, and she found herself wondering if he could read her thoughts.
She jerked away from him awkwardly, and focussed on the tent instead.
"You’re not going to get much sleep in there," she told him. "You’d better sleep with me instead."
She blushed when she realised what she’d said. "I meant… ah… not…"
Angel took pity on her at that point and said, "I get it, Buffy. It looks like we’re going to have to share now."
"Yeah," she said brightly. "But that’s okay, right? We can be grown up about this, can’t we?"
"Of course we can," he agreed, bending down to heave the Yeti out of the tent.
Keep saying it and I might actually believe it...
Buffy went to help him, and they carried the uninvited visitor back into the woods. Angel inspected the tent, but it was beyond repair. He suggested they saved what parts of it that were any good, in case the surviving tent needed repairs at any time; then they could patch it up to be as good as new. He also reasoned that if they had stopped to build a fire, the beast might not have attacked them, and since it was fairly cold anyway, it would have been better for Buffy.
Buffy washed the blood off of Angel while they talked, but he was right. She had been very cold, and the extra security of the fire would have been comforting.
Most of Angel’s wounds had already healed themselves, and when he was feeling better, they stashed the second sleeping bag in the tent, and he settled down to sleep. It was nearly dawn, and Buffy decided to stay up. She didn’t want to admit that Angel’s closeness was making her think some highly inappropriate thoughts.
That night, after packing up the temporary base camp, they resumed the task of following the river as it wound its way through fields and trees, and eventually they found a place to make camp along its fertile banks. The night was pretty cool, and all the while they had been moving, and setting up base, Buffy had been warm. The chill air made her shiver, and she was looking forward to the heat from the campfire that Angel was building. As the flames licked upwards, Angel looked up and saw her shiver as she reached toward the fire.
"Cold?" he asked.
"Freezing," she admitted.
Angel moved toward her, stripping off his duster, and draped it round her shoulders, his hands lingering for longer than was really necessary. Buffy was just about to refuse his gallantry but remembered that he didn’t feel the cold and she probably needed the coat’s warmth more than he did.
"No problem," he replied. "Buffy, I’m going to see if I can find some food. Will you be okay here?"
Buffy began to get up to help, but Angel motioned that she stay.
"I can handle it," he told her, and she sank back, secretly pleased. She felt exhausted and knew that she should really be getting in the tent to sleep. But in truth, she didn’t want to leave the heat of the fire, or its comforting glow behind. She pulled Angel’s duster tighter, and that was comforting too, because it held his scent and she could pretend that she was cocooned in his arms. Buffy stretched out on her side, pulling up her legs into the warmth of Angel’s coat and laid her head on the bedroll. As she listened to Angel’s retreat into the trees, and the crackle of the open fire, her eyes slowly shut, and she allowed sleep to claim her.
She awoke to a wonderful smell; her stomach growled in protest and she realised how hungry she was. She opened her eyes, it was still dark and she could just make out Angel sitting cross-legged next to the fire.
"Hey," he smiled at her.
"Hey yourself," she replied, studying his handiwork. He’d been busy in the night, because he’d rigged the frame up over the fire, from which something – a four-legged dead something – slowly roasted.
"Hungry?" he asked.
"Starved," she confirmed, struggling to sit up despite the protests from her aching limbs. "What is it?"
"Haven’t a clue," he shrugged. "It tasted okay, though." He held up the skin that had covered it, and Buffy thought that it had looked a little like a striped rabbit.
"It’ll be ready soon." Angel gestured at the night sky. "But you’ll probably have to help yourself. It’s almost dawn."
Buffy pulled the coat round herself and watched as Angel poured out two coffees and brought one round to her.
Damn, he looks good this morning. Crumpled clothing and all…
"Thank you," she said, accepting the coffee, and adding seriously. "I don’t deserve you."
Angel crouched down beside her, some emotion she couldn’t identify crossing his face. He leant forward and planted a soft kiss on the top of her head.
"I’d say it was the other way round."
Buffy was suddenly very aware of Angel’s closeness, and she found that she was holding her breath. Angel hadn’t pulled back after kissing her hair and his face was just inches from hers. He was looking wistfully at her lips, and more than anything at that moment she wanted him to kiss her. Slowly, painfully slowly, his lips inched to hers, and the touch, when it came, made her stomach tighten and lurch in a reaction that had nothing to do with food.
Buffy’s tongue flicked out, almost of its own volition, and touched against Angel’s lips. He hesitated for a brief moment and then allowed her access. His mouth was cool and soft, and Buffy wanted to explore his hidden depths. Angel gently responded to her, following her lead, and allowing her to set the pace.
The kiss ended, and Angel leant forward so that his forehead was pressed against hers, unwilling to give up contact with her so soon.
"It’s almost dawn," Buffy whispered, dreading that he would leave her.
"I know," Angel replied equally quietly, but making no move to get under cover.
Eventually, Angel reluctantly released her and stood up. As he gathered up his coffee and retreated to the safety of the tent, he asked, "What are your plans for today?"
"Breakfast," Buffy said promptly. "Take a look around and get the lie of the land. And I want to wash my hair and get cleaned up."
"Good luck with the river," Angel replied. "It was really cold earlier when I washed up." He caught her expression and added swiftly, "But perhaps it’s warmer now."
"Doubt it," she grinned at him, deciding to pretend good humour. Since they were stuck here, she was determined to make the best of things. She had Angel, after all, and she had food and shelter. Things would turn out all right.
Breakfast was marvellous, mainly, Buffy suspected, because she was so hungry. The rabbit thingy had a sweet and chewy taste; Buffy wasn’t about to complain over the texture if it saved her reserve food. Afterwards, she wiped her sticky fingers and felt brave enough to go down to the river. She slipped into the tent as quietly as possible in case Angel was asleep, but he opened his eyes when she entered.
"Need my stuff," she told him. "Go back to sleep."
He couldn’t have been quite awake, because his eyes drifted shut again. Buffy couldn’t help thinking how cute he looked all drowsy, but she suspected that he could be alert in seconds if the need arose.
Buffy pulled a towel from her pack and caught a little glimpse of the package that contained her photographs. She had a sudden wave of homesickness, and an overwhelming urge to see her mother’s smiling face again. She reached into the pack to pull it out, but the moment her fingers closed on the parcel she knew something was wrong. The firm packet had crunched under her fingers, and with trembling hands she opened it up and delved inside. The photographs were gone, turned into brittle and blackened fragments during the horrific journey through the gateway.
Buffy gasped in horror, and Angel’s eyes flew open.
"What is it?"
Buffy waved the damaged parcel in Angel’s direction, too upset to speak, and he scrambled up to kneel behind her.
"My pictures," she finally managed to get out. "All gone."
"I’m sorry," Angel sympathised, resting a tentative hand on her shoulder.
"It’s all I had. My friends…" Buffy continued, struggling to swallow down the tears that threatened to fill her eyes. "I’m gonna forget them."
"You won’t forget them," Angel promised.
"I will," she wailed, knowing that she sounded like a spoilt child, but feeling the loss of her loved ones so acutely.
"You won’t, Buffy," Angel said again, trying to keep his tone soothing. "You remember them, and I remember them. I won’t let you forget."
I’ll never forget, I’ll never forget…
"You won’t?" Buffy asked hopefully.
"No," Angel confirmed, his voice sounding hoarse and thick from the sudden onslaught of memory. "We’ll talk about them…often." He added, stroking a gentle hand down the side of her face.
"Thank you," she said, making a visible effort to control her emotions. "That would be good."
Buffy straightened up, and he could feel that she wanted to distance herself from his support. She had slipped into what he sometimes thought of as her ‘Slayer mode’, where she would draw on her instincts and reserves of strength. He released her shoulder, but idly wondered how much reserve she really had left.
"Well, it’s no big," Buffy lied, gathering up her wash things, and Angel watched as she withdrew from the tent and went down to the river. He was worried about her. Buffy was gregarious by nature; but here, she only had his company, and he was well aware that he wasn’t exactly a sociable person. She was really going to miss Willow and Giles, and even Xander in her day-to-day existence; especially as physical contact between them was so difficult.
Another thought occurred to him, and he reached over to his own pack and undid the straps. He found one of the books that he’d brought with him and opened it up. Like Buffy’s package, the books’ cover was intact, but the pages had disintegrated into blackened dust.
He sighed, and thrust it back into his pack, to dispose of later. He didn’t want Buffy to see it and get upset all over again.
He lay down again, trying to sleep, but he found he was listening out for Buffy to return, and stirred restlessly until he heard her approaching the tent. Her hair hung limp and wet over her shoulders and he could smell the soap and shampoo that she’d just used. Her eyes were rimmed red, and he knew that she had been crying. She obviously didn’t want to talk about it though, and she attempted to grin at him.
"See what you mean about the water," she said cheerily.
"Like ice," she shivered at the memory. "You should see the size of my goose bumps."
She laid his duster over the end of his sleeping bag, and said, "Thanks for the loan."
Buffy leant over and kissed his forehead.
"I’m going exploring. I’ll see you later, okay?"
"Okay," he replied reluctantly, his hands instinctively settling on her waist. "Be careful."
"Always am," she smiled, and withdrew from the tent.
Angel watched her retreat with growing apprehension. It was going to be tough for her here; her strength and courage were not in question. But as a modern woman what she would find difficult was the lack of amenities – no hot water or sanitation, for instance. Still, she was resilient, his Buffy. He just hoped she was resilient enough.
Buffy backed slowly out of the tent and made her way carefully along the riverbank. She knew that she’d bailed on Angel but she was still feeling unsettled, and she hadn’t wanted him to see it. The cool breeze plucked at her damp hair, making her shiver. She could almost hear her mother telling her that she ‘Would catch her death’.
Thoughts of her mother sent her spirits plummeting again. It wasn’t just the photographs that were upsetting her; it was the whole feeling of not belonging. Since she was fifteen she’d had a ‘Sacred Duty’ and had gotten used to being ‘The Chosen One’. What was she here? Was she still the Slayer? Would her powers fade away? She sighed; right now she needed to find out where they were and she began looking for something to climb. She made for the tallest tree that she could find, and began ascending the gnarled and twisty branches. She could have jumped to the lower branches and made the task easier, but she had plenty of time and needed something to occupy her. At the top of the tree, she swung onto a thick branch, where she straddled the wood and settled back against the trunk of the tree.
The view that stretched before her was impressive. Back the way they’d come, she could see the tower in the distance, and ahead of her the river carried on through the countryside, leaving a lush green band meandering beside it.
Below the tree, she could make out the top of the tent, and her errant thoughts immediately strayed to Angel. She couldn’t believe that he was really here with her, that he had agreed to accompany her on this mission. She’d missed him so much when he left, and the intervening years without him had been hard to endure.
Buffy relaxed back against the tree and idly scanned the area.
What on earth am I going to do to pass the time?
Some bushes nearby caught her attention, covered as they were with an abundance of fruit. When she’d descended from the tree, she decided to go and collect some; at least it would supplement her food supplies.
For some time, Buffy languished in the tree, studying the view and pondering her options. But she wasn’t one to sit still for long, and she swung herself easily out of the tree and started on the tasks she had set herself.
For the next couple of hours, Buffy kept herself as busy as possible. But eventually, she just ran out of things to do. After all, there were only so many things that needed washing, repairing, tidying or gathering. There were still several hours of daylight left, and again Buffy found herself thinking of Angel. All day she had tried to ignore the fact that he lay sleeping just feet away from her, and she had a sudden urge to see him. Damn it, she thought, crawling into the tent and appreciatively studying his sleeping form. On an impulse, she kicked off her shoes and slithered onto the sleeping bag next to him.
Angel sleepily opened his eyes when he felt the press of her body on his. She snuggled up against his chest and his arms automatically encircled her, pulling her close, and together they slept.
When Angel woke up, Buffy had already gone but her scent lingered on, and he allowed himself to luxuriate in the olfactory experience she had left behind.
Emerging from the tent as the first tendrils of darkness crept across the camp, Angel was rewarded by the pleasing site of Buffy bending over the campfire and making coffee. She faced away from him, and he allowed his gaze to sweep down over her back and linger on her rear.
"Coffee?" she asked without turning round.
"Please," he replied, tearing his attention away from her lithe form, and the way her…
"Thanks," he forced himself to say as she handed him the welcome drink. He carefully avoided touching her skin as he took it, and tried to ignore the fact that he badly wanted to kiss her.
Buffy’s eyes met his for the briefest of seconds before she looked away and began packing up the camp. It was early, and she knew that they didn’t have to move on yet, but the raw hunger in Angel’s eyes had unnerved her. She needed to distract herself, and find an outlet for her own mutinous thoughts.
Angel helped her in dismantling the camp, and by the time he’d finished his coffee, they were ready to go.
The following night followed much the same as the one before, and they set up the pattern of events for the next few weeks. By necessity they were only able to travel at night, and were forced to camp during daylight hours. Every so often they would stop in a particular location to regroup, catch up on the washing or other chores. But they were never smitten by a place enough to stay permanently and boredom – or the ever-present sexual tension between them - would force them into motion again.
Over this period, the supplies that they had brought with them dwindled alarmingly. While food wasn’t really a problem – they had no trouble catching small wildlife on a regular basis – and since Angel’s requirements were liquid, there was always plenty for Buffy. The abundant fruit population supplemented her diet and she had hardly had to touch her food reserves at all.
However, in spite of the seeming profusion of food, Angel was worried about the lack of essential nutrients in her diet and he knew that she was losing weight. So, when they noticed a large bird fly out of a tree one evening, Angel couldn’t resist climbing up to pilfer some of the eggs for her. Buffy’s pleasure at the change in her diet and her delighted, "My hero," made it all worthwhile.
The only food casualty was coffee. Buffy had reluctantly gotten used to drinking it black, and weak, to make it last, but the stock had inevitable expired. They were currently experimenting with various leaf infusions in a forlorn attempt to make an acceptable substitute. So far, their experiments had been unsuccessful, and often with disgusting results.
The other supplies hadn’t fared well either, and it was the loss of these that caused Buffy the most distress. Much of her makeup hadn’t fared terribly well on the journey through the portal and all she had left was a couple of sad looking lipsticks. These Buffy steadfastly refused to abandon, even to the extent of scraping out the last dregs with her finger.
Buffy’s vocal protests when yet another of her ‘girly supplies’ dried up were becoming an almost daily occurrence. She and Angel had already pooled together any stuff that they could share, and even these meagre supplies of shampoo, toothpaste and so forth, were in danger of becoming extinct.
Another casualty had been their clothing. Given their physical lifestyle, wear and tear on clothes had been heavy. Angel insisted they keep all the skins from the animals they’d caught, in preparation for the time when their apparel gave up the ghost altogether. Buffy’s horrified reaction to ‘wearing smelly skins’ had been explosive, impressing even Angel with her creative use of language.
Medical provisions were only used when strictly necessary, but since they both healed quickly the strain on them wasn’t as great as it might have been. Angel tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Buffy using the first aid kit when he was injured, saying that he wasn’t likely to get an infection; but Buffy insisted on dressing his wounds although she compromised by using tiny dabs of antiseptic.
One afternoon, several weeks after arriving in the new world, Angel awoke to movement in the tent and a vague sense of unease. He opened his eyes and saw Buffy sitting close by, her knees pulled up and she was resting her head on her arms.
Buffy looked up slowly, and Angel was shocked by how ill she looked.
"What is it?" he asked, sitting up quickly to get a better look at her.
"I don’t know," she replied, sounding a little afraid. "I just… I feel awful."
"Have you eaten?" Angel asked with concern.
"Nothing unusual," she shivered, hugging her legs tighter.
Feeling horribly helpless, Angel said, "Can I get you anything?"
Before Buffy could answer, Angel watched the colour drain from her face and she scrambled to her feet and bolted from the tent. It was daylight outside, so Angel was unable to follow her, but he heard her crashing through the bushes, where she stopped and retched violently.
When she eventually returned, looking more like death than he did, Angel silently handed her the water bottle.
"Thanks," she said, weakly taking a cautious sip. She looked so lost, so utterly miserable, that on a whim Angel pulled back the covers and said, "Come here."
He settled back as she crawled toward him. She wrapped her limbs round him and curled gratefully against his chest. He pulled the covers closely around her, alarmed by the shivering in her small body, and encircled her in his arms until she fell into a restless and troubled sleep.
Twice during the afternoon Buffy repeated her dash from the tent, where Angel could hear her heaving into the bushes. Each time she returned to the sanctuary of Angel’s embrace she looked more and more wretched, and Angel grew steadily more worried about her.
In the evening her condition worsened, and she slipped into delirium. Angel sat with her, attempting to calm her frightened whimpers, and wondered what kind of horrors her fevered brain had conjured up that was enough to scare the Slayer.
Her skin had switched from cold to fire, and Angel used a damp cloth to try and bring her temperature down. As he wiped around her throat, trying to ignore the crazed pulsing of her heartbeat, he noticed an inflamed redness on her neck. Pulling her shirt back to get a better look, he was puzzled by an angry v-shaped rash that ran round her throat, over her collarbone and disappeared somewhere over her shoulder.
Angel returned to his task of cooling her down. The rash was very odd and like nothing he had ever seen before. But it was the fever that was worrying him, and all night long he stayed by her side, unable to shake the absurd notion that if he left her she would die.
He did his best to keep her cool and comfortable, but it distressed him that she was in a great deal of pain, and he could do nothing for that. Often, she cried out in her delirium, sometimes calling out his name, but he had no idea if she was seeking comfort from him or if he was hurting her in the hallucination. But given their unfortunate history, he had a nasty suspicion as to what the true answer might be.
All day long the fever raged, and several times he had to hold her down, but it was alarming to him at how weak she was becoming. Her temperature kept escalating, and nothing he did would keep it down – he even resorted to stripping her down to her bra and panties. It still wasn’t enough and in desperation he stripped off his own clothing and lay beside her, hoping his lower body temperature would help her. Instinctively, she curled round him, wrapping her limbs round his and snuggling closer to him.
Whether she sought his cool skin or was looking for comfort, he couldn’t tell. For the rest of the day they lay wound together; Angel refused to leave her and in the early evening he realised that her fever had broken. Tentatively he stroked her fevered back in what he hoped was a comforting fashion, and waited. After what seemed like forever, her eyes slowly drifted open; they settled on him, and he could see her struggling to focus.
"It’s me," he confirmed, aware that he was grinning like an idiot. "I’m here."
Still drowsy, Buffy’s eyes closed again and she curled closer to him, her hand running gently up his chest. Her hand encountered bare skin and she froze. She forced her eyes open again and found that she wasn’t imagining things. She stared at her arm suspiciously when she realised that was bare too, and she pulled it back uncertainly. She had been dressed, hadn’t she? She couldn’t remember. Restlessly, she changed position, shifting her leg, and felt it slide along Angel’s naked thigh.
Wide-awake now, she pulled back to get a better look and her strained muscles twisted in protest. She discovered that both she and Angel weren’t actually naked but were clad in their underwear; she was nonetheless nonplussed at how they had gotten like this.
She looked up at him and asked uncertainly, "You want to tell me why we’re both lying here almost naked?"
"You were… hot?" he offered.
"Always am, honey," Buffy quipped, unsteadily pushing herself up to a sitting position.
Angel smiled. Well, he couldn’t argue with that, could he?
Feeling exposed, Buffy grabbed a crumpled shirt and pulled it on. It turned out to be Angel’s, but she wore it anyway.
"So," she said, trying to sound businesslike and failing miserably. "What’s going on?"
Angel explained about the virus, and Buffy commented, "Must have been some bug."
"To knock out the Slayer?" Angel replied. "Yeah, serious stuff."
"Not that I’ve done much slaying lately," she replied sadly.
"Do you miss it?" Angel asked, reaching over to tuck a wayward wisp of Buffy’s hair back behind her ear. She winced as his fingers closed over the damp strands, but he didn’t seem at all disgusted by her matted locks.
"I guess," she replied, considering. "Back home, I knew who I was… the Slayer, Chosen One." Her words trailed off and she rocked slightly. Angel realised she must be exhausted and moved behind her to allow her the support of his body, and she sank gratefully back at him. "But here, I don’t know who I am any more. I’m not the Chosen One, and I feel… ordinary." She glanced at him ruefully. "Shallow, huh?"
"Of course not," he replied, slipping his arms round her waist. "We all have perceptions of who we think we are. Your perceptions have changed, that’s all. Your whole worlds changed, Buffy. It’s not surprising that you see yourself differently."
Buffy’s gaze was fixed on him with a fierce intensity.
"When you look at me, " she asked. "What do you see?"
"I see you." He smiled at her, aware that the moment was becoming more intimate. Her gaze didn’t waver – she wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily.
"I see…" he hesitated as he chose his words carefully. "…The Slayer, a warrior of great strength and bravery. I see… a beautiful and compassionate woman. And sometimes, I see a little girl, who just wants to be looked after."
Buffy’s gaze hadn’t left his face at all during his discourse, but she did have the grace to blush a little. The moment was so intense, and Angel was so close to her, that she was afraid to move lest she break the spell.
Kiss me, her eyes begged. Kiss me.
Angel swallowed, completely aware of what she wanted him to do. Somehow, his hand had found a home against her soft breast, and he rubbed his thumb across her lacy bra, making her gasp and drawing his attention back to her lips. He forced his gaze away from her oh-so-inviting mouth, and again noticed how pale she looked. He pulled his hand away from her, and sat back, suddenly awash with self-loathing.
Jeez. The girl’s ill and you’re thinking about jumping her? What are you, a pervert?
Buffy stared at him in puzzlement. She could tell that the moment had passed, but she didn’t understand why.
"You should rest," Angel said, his voice a little rougher than he had meant it to be.
"Rest is good," Buffy agreed, allowing him to ease her back against the covers. Angel shuffled back to give her space, and Buffy looked a little alarmed.
"You’ll stay, won’t you?"
"I’m not going anywhere," he promised. "Sleep. I’ll be right here."
She curled up in the covers, already missing the comfort of Angel’s body, but smiling as he wrapped the second sleeping bag round her and tucked her in.
Tired but contented, Buffy watched drowsily as Angel moved around the tent pulling his clothes back on. She smiled when he drew another shirt from his pack, remembering she was wearing his old one. It felt cosy, and she was so tired…
Dressed again, Angel sat cross-legged watching her sleep. She looked very young and very frail, and it was easy to forget that she was the Slayer; his wandering gaze came to rest on her face.
Thank you. He wasn’t entirely certain who he was thanking for giving her back to him. God? The Powers That Be? Did God even listen to him?
‘No matter how good a boy you are, God doesn’t want you.’
He winced as Darla’s words drifted back to haunt him; at the time he hadn’t let her see how much her words had hurt him, as much because he knew she was telling the truth as anything else.
Why did it matter that God turned him away? It did matter though, and it hurt when he tried so hard to make amends.
Yeah, but what about all those things you did before you got your soul back? You don’t deserve His Love.
He closed his eyes, trying to ignore the sudden rush of memories – all those acts of violence, torture and death that he had been responsible for, over a hundred years of mayhem to make up for.
You don’t deserve His Love. He thought again. And you don’t deserve hers, either.
He opened his eyes and let his hungry gaze explore her. He smiled sadly, thankful that she was now on the road to recovery, but it had been touch and go there, for a while.
Later that day, Angel managed to persuade Buffy to eat something. To Buffy’s immense amusement – and surprise – Angel had made her some weak soup from his latest catch. Afterwards, he brought her a bowl of hot water to wash with, but it was such an effort for her that Angel rolled up his sleeves and did it for her.
At first Buffy was embarrassed, but his touch was efficient and businesslike, and she was able to relax and let him help her. The warm water made her feel much better, and it was nice to fresh and clean again. Afterwards, Angel asked her if she wanted help to wash her hair, but she told him she couldn’t face that, and so instead he took ages gently smoothing out the tangles with her hairbrush. Buffy leant in to his touch, and by the time her knotted tresses were looking smooth and sleek, she was almost purring with contentment.
The following day, Buffy felt stronger and asked if they could move on; she didn’t want to stay in the present camp any more.
"Give it another day," he suggested, and she reluctantly agreed. Her strength was returning, but was not up to her normal level. Angel made sure she was comfortable, and then took his wash things down to the river.
Laying his things on the side of the riverbank, he stripped off his shirt and ducked his head in the water. He was just lathering his hair with the smallest amount of shampoo that he could, when he froze.
Was that a sound? Was something lurking out there?
Instantly alert, all senses tensed, Angel stayed absolutely still, listening to the night sounds. Finally, he allowed his taut muscles to relax, feeling a little foolish. He really ought to be used to the night by now.
He cast about once more, just to be certain. Then he began to lean forward to wash the shampoo out of his hair… just as something huge erupted from the water and stapled its jaws into his bare shoulder.
He screamed, struggling to pull back, but the creature was extraordinarily strong and hauled him to the centre of the river. Angel fought with everything he had, but the thing was long and sinewy and he couldn’t get a grip on the slippery skin. His struggles only made the thing bite harder into his shoulder; he tried to ignore the searing pain as best he could, as the creature wrapped a long tail round his waist and pulled him under the surface of the water.
With renewed vigour, and fear, he frantically searched for a weak spot on the huge beast. Eyes, he thought frantically, go for the eyes. His fingers scrambled up the beasts’ long body, over a ragged flap at the neck and settled on the head, but he couldn’t find any eyes, ears, or anything else to get a purchase on.
He was tiring, and he wondered how much longer he would be able to keep it at bay. Perhaps it was tired too, and suddenly, he knew what he had to do.
Abruptly, he allowed his body to go limp, biting his lip from crying out at the pain in his shoulder. The thing shook him, and he still forced himself to stay still. The creature’s modus operandi probably worked by drowning its prey, and Angel was banking on the fact it had never encountered a vampire before, and didn’t know that you couldn’t drown them.
For a long time, the beast lay motionless on the riverbed, making sure its prey was dead, and Angel debated his next move. All was silent here at the bottom, but Angel was convinced the thing had damaged his hearing, because he could hear a rhythmic thump-thump-thump.
Frowning slightly, he realised that the sound was external, and not in his own head as he had first thought. He tuned into it… and found it was emanating from the creature. Now that’s interesting… abruptly realising what he was listening to, he tried to stem the rush of excitement. It has a heartbeat…
Slowly, he allowed the current of the river to move his good arm closer to the creature’s body. Trying not to make any sudden movements, he listened carefully to the beat… sensing the exact location of the heart.
Apparently happy that its prey was incapacitated, the creature loosened its grip on his shoulder… and Angel rammed a fist straight through its chest, grasped hold of the pulsating heart and tore it right out of the body.
The creature roared, jerking away from the pain; the flaps on the side of its neck flared open, and Angel dug both hands into the sensitive skin underneath, and hoped it wouldn’t slam them shut and chop his fingers off. The beast shrieked, deafening him. The tail flashed round, knocking Angel away from it, and he took the opportunity to swim for the bank.
The creature made no attempt to follow him, and when he looked back he saw it floating immobile in the water, and he knew it was dead. Dragging himself out of the water, he collapsed exhausted on the riverbank, retching up the water that occupied his lungs. He might not be able to drown, but it didn’t mean that having his lungs full of water was a pleasant experience.
Eventually, feeling stronger, he sat up, and winced at the pain in his shoulder. He looked around for his things, but all he could find was his shirt and some soap. The shampoo, his towel and other things were nowhere to be seen, and he guessed that they must have been swept away by the current. Shit.
He staggered a bit withdrawing back up the bank. As he beat a hasty retreat, he reflected on the unfortunate events of the evening.
That had been an awful thing to happen, just awful. He grimaced as pain stabbed through his chest. Buffy was going to be real mad about that shampoo…
Buffy heard something crashing through the trees toward the camp. She came out of the tent, and finally realised the commotion was coming from Angel. Well, he’s not being very stealthy tonight, is he?
He appeared in view, very wet, and Buffy guessed that he must have fallen in the river.
"You ought to get undressed when you have a bath," she teased, her smile fading when the rest of him came into view. "And alone would be good."
She rushed to his side, diving under his arm and supporting him. She grunted when she ended up supporting more of his weight that she was expecting, and that worried her. The fact that he was allowing her to help him at all when she had been so ill was cause for concern. "What’d you share with?"
She helped him sit down on a log, and, gritting his teeth, Angel said, "Something big. Serpentine."
"You get it?" she asked, breaking out the first aid kit. "Or should I go looking?"
"No, I got it," Angel said gruffly as Buffy examined the wound.
"This is deep, Angel," she said in awe.
"No kidding," he grunted.
Doing her best to distract him while she cleaned the wound, she asked, "How did you kill it?" he’d clenched the muscles in his arm to minimise the discomfort, and Buffy thought that she was probably wincing more than he was.
"Ripped its fucking heart out," he growled, but seeing her flinch, he added more gently, "Which is about a hand-width under the neck frill, if you ever need to know."
"I’ll bear that in mind," she said as she finished dressing his wound. "Do you want me to get you something to eat?"
"I’ve already fed," he told her, and Buffy nodded with satisfaction. That was good; it meant he would heal faster. Fetching a towel, she helped dry him off, and then escorted him into the tent. What he needed now was rest.
They were forced to keep camp for a while longer, as Angel took the next day to heal. The following day they broke camp and moved off. Buffy wasn’t sorry to leave, too many unpleasant things had happened there, and she had the silly notion that maybe the place was jinxed.
By the time they had chosen a suitable place to make camp, they were both starting to feel the strain. Neither of them had completely recovered, and the sheer effort that it had taken to travel onward had left them feeling tired and tetchy.
After erecting the tent, Buffy crawled inside, and left Angel to go and find some food. Buffy curled up inside the tent, her arms wrapped tightly round her legs – too tired to even take off her shoes. Resting her head on her knees, she let herself doze a little. A soft shooshing sound brought her instantly alert. Was that Angel coming back? She listened carefully. There it was again. A thump on the roof of the tent just above her head made her jump, and she grabbed a knife and headed outside.
There was another thump on the roof as she crawled out, and grasping the knife tightly she scrambled up to look. She was just in time to see a large black-and-brown beetle – the size of a dinner plate – slither off the roof and skitter onto the ground. She looked down; several beetles ran about on the floor, and with a little squeal she stepped back in disgust.
Another beetle landed on the roof of the tent and galvanised her into action. She jerked forward, spearing the beetle on the knife, and flicked it off into the bushes. More beetles landed on the tent. Where the hell were they coming from? Looking up, all she could see was the breeze ruffling at the leaves of the tree. But, as she watched one of the leaves drop down and turn into a beetle, her blood ran cold. It wasn’t leaves she was seeing; the whole tree was a churning infestation of beetles.
"Angel!" she shrieked as she stabbed at the disgusting little creatures. "Angel!"
It occurred to her that she should move the tent to safety and she ducked down to untie the guy ropes. A beetle ran across her hand and she jerked it away with a cry of pain. Another beetle ran across her shoulder, and she slapped at the thing to knock it off, but not before it had taken a tiny bite from her neck.
"Great." She grumbled to herself, untying the ropes and trying to fend off the creatures. "That’s all I want… vampire insects."
Beetles were now crawling all over her back, her head, even her face, taking tiny little nips from her, and she couldn’t reach to knock them all off. Then Angel was there, pulling the creatures off her and throwing them on the ground where he squashed them by stamping on them. He pulled her to her feet, and then went round to untie the ropes on the other side.
"Ouch!" Buffy shrieked as a beetle latched onto her little finger and refused to let go.
Angel looked up in concern as she smashed it against the tree and killed it. He could smell blood, and realised that Buffy was in a lot of distress.
"Get back!" he yelled at her. "I’ll deal with this."
"I’m not leaving you," she shouted back.
"Go!" he said again. "They’re not biting me, anyway; get away!"
She glanced over, but he was right. The beetles were largely avoiding Angel, and her body was so sore from all the bites that she had received, that she retreated gratefully to safety. But she couldn’t just stand by and watch, so she snatched up a sword and went back to keep as many of the creatures away from Angel as she could.
Finally recovering the tent and their things, they gathered the lot up unceremoniously and beat a hasty retreat. At a safe distance, they stopped to catch their breath.
"Are you okay?" Angel asked her.
"Do I look okay?" she snapped at him. Frankly, no, she didn’t. He put the camping things down and went to get a closer look at her. All exposed areas of skin were covered in dozens of tiny little bites, and even the areas that had been clothed had blood seeping from underneath. Angel lifted her chin and made her look at him.
"It hurts, Angel," she said softly. "So many bites, and they really hurt."
He pulled her into his arms and held her close. The smell of her blood slammed hard against him, and he was torn between his need to comfort her and his desire to push her away so that he couldn’t rip her throat out.
Buffy held him tightly, trying to draw strength from him. When she stepped back, Angel said, "We should clean those bites, Buffy."
Buffy shook her head. "It would take ages, Angel. We don’t have time. We need to find somewhere to make camp before the sun comes up… and it was pretty difficult to find somewhere to make the last one."
That was true enough. There had been very few open spaces that would have been large enough take a tent that they had been beginning to wonder if something was going to turn up at all. Now they were going to have to do it again – and soon.
Buffy sighed, and bent down to begin organising the equipment into neat packages so that they would be able to carry them. Reloading themselves with the repacked goods, they set off again.
For the next couple of hours they trudged through the darkness, settling into silence because neither had the energy to keep a conversation going.
"Do you have to walk so fast, Angel?" Buffy grumbled.
"Sorry." He slowed his pace to allow for her shorter legs. She must be really tired, because she normally kept up without any problems, and he glanced surreptitiously at her. She looked dog-tired; the flesh on her face and neck looked sore from where the beetles had nipped her. He couldn’t see her hands but figured they were in a similar painful state.
"Do you want me to take some of those packages?" he asked tentatively, and was rewarded with a glare.
"I’m not helpless. You don’t need to baby me."
"I was just..." he began but she swept past him, her head held high. He followed, rather relieved that she hadn’t wanted him to carry extra because his shoulder was giving him hell. But her manner worried him.
Buffy couldn’t keep up the pace, and began to drag behind again. Were they never going to find somewhere to camp? The journey seemed to take forever, and she hurt everywhere. She allowed her thoughts to wander while she trailed behind Angel. The last few days had been horrendous, full of pain and illness; she didn’t think she liked this world any more. Mentally she chided herself, she wasn’t pessimistic by nature and she realised that her gloomy thoughts were probably brought on by tiredness.
Come on, Buffy! Things aren’t that bad. You and Angel heal really fast, and in a couple of days you’ll be fine. In a little while, you’ll find a place to camp and after good nights sleep you’ll feel great. See? Things will work out…after all, what else could possibly go wrong?
And that was when it started to rain.
Had to ask, didn’t I? Buffy sighed, doing up her jacket and pulling up the collar.
Rain did not begin to describe the deluge that fell from the sky. Thousands of tiny little icy pinpricks, stinging the skin, and opening up all Buffy’s partially closed bites. She looked down; her jacket was stained with blood where the rain had washed it down from her face.
Angel turned round at the fresh scent of blood, but he said nothing and Buffy shrugged. "No big," she tried to say, but the water filled her mouth and made her gurgle. No talking, then. They had never seen rain like it. In minutes they were saturated, the water running down their necks to soak them right down to the skin.
Instinctively they both lowered their heads to protect their faces, but the harsh hammering of the freezing water on the tops of their heads made their skulls go numb; and every time they tried to raise their heads and look up, their eyes filled with water and it became impossible to see anything.
Buffy gave up trying to see; she just trudged behind Angel and hoped he would be able to see where they were going. She was seriously pissed off. Her head hurt, the bites stung, and she was cold and wet. Her thoughts strayed to Sunnydale, and a wave of deep longing swept through her. She thought about all the wonderful comforts of home that she had taken for granted. She wanted to be warm and dry. She wanted a hot meal, something tasty like her mother used to make. She wanted indoor plumbing, huge bars of chocolate and some comfortable clothes. But she wasn’t going to have any of them. What she was going to get was wetter, hungrier and more uncomfortable; her skin was going to get drier and sore because she had nothing to put on it to keep it soft.
Angel suddenly veered off the track and Buffy followed. He had found a little clearing, not quite big enough for the tent but he motioned to her and she nodded. Together they began hacking at the vegetation to make more space.
"I’ll do it," Buffy said, much of her words drowned by the downpour. "Get the tent up."
Angel glanced at her, and Buffy thought he was about to argue, but then he moved forward and began erecting the tent. The ground was muddy and slippery, and he was having trouble securing the ropes. Buffy went to help him, but it was difficult to get purchase and, already tired and irritable, they found themselves shouting crossly at each other.
By the time that they finally crawled into the sanctuary of the tent, they were both in a foul mood. A lot of mud and water made it inside with them, and attempts to dry themselves were awkward in the cramped surroundings.
Buffy grumbled that Angel was taking up all the room, and shaking water all over her. Angel retaliated by saying that if she hadn’t insisted on packing so much in the first place, they would have more room anyway.
"Right," she shot back. "Because you’re so organized with your packing? And just why does a guy who hasn’t got a reflection need so much hair gel anyway?"
"What’s that got to do with it?" Angel exclaimed. "Hair gel hardly takes up any room compared to all the clothes you insisted on bringing. You must have hundreds of panties in there!"
Buffy gaped at him. "You’ve been rummaging through my underwear? What the hell do you think you’re doing?"
"I don’t need to rummage," he growled. "The damn things are everywhere! You know Buffy, it gets pretty tiresome finding them spread all over bushes and…"
"I have to wash them! What’s your problem anyway, Angel? Is this your 18th Century upbringing coming out?"
"There’s nothing wrong with my upbringing, or good manners," Angel snapped. "Something you modern kids might like to learn about."
Stung, Buffy snapped, "I’m not a kid! You’re just old!" her voice cracked a little as she added, "You think I’m a kid?"
"Right now?" he snorted. "I think you’re a…"
He broke off when she looked away suddenly and made an odd sound. He’d seen the hurt in her eyes, and hesitantly he said, "Buffy?"
She didn’t answer, but her shoulders were shaking, and he reached over, took her chin and made her look at him. She was crying, and he suddenly felt like a heal. Damn. She looked terrible. Her saturated hair dripped down over a face that was bruised and swollen with dozens of tiny bites, and they had to be hurting her. He looped the wet hair back behind her ears, and, careful to avoid her damaged skin, he used his thumbs to wipe away her tears.
"I’m sorry," he said softly. "Tact not my strong point, is it?"
Buffy smiled sadly at that. "Or mine, I guess."
She looked so miserable, that on impulse he pulled her closer. She snuggled nearer, grateful to finally have some comfort in this hostile world. Angel wrapped his arms round her, wanting only to comfort her – yet gaining comfort himself from the closeness.
"I don’t like it here," she confided to him. "This place is horrible… cold and harsh. I want to go home."
The tears started again, and he hauled her onto his lap and held her tightly. She curled into his embrace, feeling so small and frail that she felt like a child. Angel held her as she wept, stroking her arms and back, and soothing her with nonsense words.
Buffy finally uncurled from Angels’ arms, feeling horribly self-conscious and aware that she probably looked ghastly. She was still cold and wet, and she shivered; Angel frowned, thinking that she would be ill again if she didn’t soon get some dry clothes on.
"Sorry," she mumbled uncomfortably, wiping at her wet cheeks with her hand. "Like you need more water in here."
Angel warmed her with a smile. "That’s okay," he told her. "What’s a little water between friends?"
Friends? Buffy thought. Is that all we are, just friends? But she understood that Angel was trying to make light of the situation, and she pushed her hurt aside and smiled back at him.
After a while, they changed into dry clothing as best they could, with both exhibiting good manners and averting their gaze as the other undressed. Then Angel cleaned her wounds, and she kept her clothes strategically draped round her body for the sake of modesty. But she wouldn’t allow him to put dressings on the wounds. There were too many for one thing, and with her accelerated healing abilities she said they would be gone soon anyway.
Finally, after a day that seemed to have lasted for weeks, and with rain still pummelling the roof, they curled up side-by-side, and slept.
The rain lasted for days, and Buffy and Angel tried not to go out any more than they had to, because each time more water and mud found their way into the tent, and little pools of water were forming all over the interior. Angel had stopped hunting, because they were unable to cook the meat for Buffy without a fire, and she had to use up some of her rations. She didn’t like doing that, knowing that Angel wasn’t eating either, and she worried about his rapidly darkening mood.
The enforced rest helped them to recover, and for Buffy’s injuries to heal. But the imposed close proximity did nothing for their temperaments, and Angel found it particularly hard.
He had always liked to surround himself with a lot of space; the tight confines of the tent made him feel immensely claustrophobic. Nor did he normally allow the company of humans for any length of time, and when that human was Buffy, the distress was ten times harder to bear. If all this wasn’t enough for him to deal with, Buffy was about halfway through her period, and the enticing aroma of her blood was so rich, so powerful that he was constantly fighting the urge to taste her.
Buffy wasn’t a fool, she knew exactly why Angel kept himself as far away from her as the small living area would allow. The forced intimacy was proving hard to cope with, and they both dropped back into taking out their frustration on each other. Buffy was only too aware that being ensconced with a vampire at such a time was definitely not a good idea.
"This must be really hard for you," Buffy said sympathetically, after watching Angel’s anguished expression, the tight fisting of his hands, and the edgy clenching of his jaw.
"You could say that," he said, his voice tight. "Usually, I get out as much as possible but right now…"
"You’re stuck with me," Buffy finished. "Nice to know you want to be with me."
"It’s got nothing to do with you," Angel snapped. "If you knew what I was thinking right now, you wouldn’t even want me here."
"So talk to me. Tell me what I can do?"
"Stop being human?" he suggested. "Stop being so desirable?" he closed his eyes briefly. "You have no idea, Buffy… you really don’t get it."
Buffy stared at him, seeing the worry in his features.
"Angel…" she said, leaning toward him and stretching out a comforting hand.
"Don’t touch me!" he barked, and Buffy yanked her hand away at the fear in his eyes. He stared at her for a moment and then scrambled up, shrugging on his wet coat. "I can’t stay here," he told her. "I’m a danger to you."
"But…" Buffy began, but Angel ignored her and was gone, disappearing into the downpour.
Buffy spent an uncomfortable night worrying about Angel, and she was concerned that he was leaving his return so close to the dawn. Eventually, just before the dawn crept across the sky, Angel returned to the tent, looking more sheepish than anything else.
Buffy watched him expectantly, waiting to see what he was going to say. He knelt down in front of her.
Buffy pulled her knees up and hugged her legs. "Have you fed?"
"Yeah." He looked away, embarrassed. "I’m safe now."
"That’s more than I am," she replied ruefully, and Angel chuckled softly. "Angel… I know what you are… you don’t have to be ashamed."
"It’s not that," he replied carefully. "Buffy, you have no idea how strong the urge to feed is. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to control it. I’m a danger to you, and if I hurt you…"
"You won’t," Buffy said, taking his hand. "I trust you." Angel began to speak, but Buffy held up her hand. "I know it’s hard for you. But I’m not naïve, I know what urges drive you, Angel. It’s my job to know – and I still trust you. And as I recall, I’ve even used those urges against you."
Angel glanced sharply at her; the memory of what she had made him do to save his life still haunted him. She was right though. If anyone knew his weaknesses, it was Buffy, and he sank back on his haunches defeated.
Buffy squeezed his hand, but they sat together in silence.
Finally, Angel moved, his hand disappearing into his coat pocket, where he withdrew something and held it out to her.
"Peace offering," he said sheepishly.
Buffy looked at the item clutched awkwardly in his hand. It was a spiky oval orange fruit, her favourite from the new world and one she affectionately referred to as a ‘Prickly Orange’. But the image of a wet Angel kneeling before her clutching the fruit was just so… silly, that she began to laugh.
For a moment, Angel looked hurt that his gift had elicited such a response; but then he began to smile too, apparently infected by her mirth.
"Thank you," she giggled, taking the offered fruit and wrapping her arms round his back, and ignoring his drenched clothing. Angel pulled her closer, thankful that he was able to touch her for the first time in days.
"I’m sorry…" he began, but Buffy cut him off.
"Don’t," she said softly, "I understand."
Angel pulled her tighter against his chest. He didn’t deserve this; he didn’t deserve her love, or her trust. She curled easily against him, and let his arms envelope her, wrapping her in a protective cocoon. It was where she belonged, and she basked in the warmth of the love that she felt.
The rain lasted for two more days. By the time it finally stopped, the tent was wringing in water, and nearly all their clothes had fallen victim to the constant damp. There was nowhere to dry anything, and a lot of their things were beginning to rot, and mildew had appeared on many of their clothes and personal items.
Buffy spent another couple of days stringing lines at every available space to dry out their clothes. But there was no soap left to wash anything with, and although she tried to rinse things out in the river and dry them properly, everything was left with a musty and unpleasant aroma.
After they had done all they could, eventually they decided to move on. Buffy was fretting at how high the water level on the river had become anyway, and she was afraid that they would be flooded out of the camp site.
The ground underfoot was still slippery after so much rain and progress to the next stop was slow. After several days, they saw a rocky ridge ahead, and decided that it was a good a destination as any and proceeded towards it. It took another day to reach it, but it was nice to feel firm and dry ground under their feet. Buffy loved the view, too. She could see for miles, and she liked to sit up there in the sunshine and watch the birds and lizards.
One morning, she sat on the ridge scanning across the horizon. A strange noise caught her attention, and she shuffled backwards, to make sure that she was out of sight, and watched.
A wagon of some kind rumbled into the canyon below her, and Buffy caught her breath. People. There are people here. She watched as the beautifully carved wooden wagon wound its way through the canyon. A man, a woman, and a small child – Buffy thought it was a girl – sat at the front, controlling the movements of a pair of powerful looking brown and white horses. Why do they have real horses in Other Universes, anyway?
When the wagon disappeared from view, Buffy scrambled back down to the campsite. Angel. I have to tell Angel about this.
He was kneeling restlessly just inside the tent entrance. They always tried to position the entrance away from direct sunlight so that Angel could hide just inside and talk to her sometimes. If they used the remains of the old tent as a canopy, it expanded his living area, and made the long days easier for them to bear.
"What’s happening?" he asked, relieved when she appeared in view.
"A wagon just went by. It had people, Angel… real people… they looked just like us!"
Angel smiled in spite of himself. He didn’t want to remind her that he wasn’t actually people, but she was very excited and he liked seeing her like that.
"Tonight we follow them?" he guessed.
Buffy nodded, wriggling into the tent and snuggling against him. "Yay." She said with enthusiasm. "I wonder where they were going? A village, perhaps?"
"Guess we’ll go find out," he agreed, wrapping his arms round her waist. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and his mood felt lighter than it had in days.
She wriggled back so she was sitting in front of Angel, facing forwards, and her shoulders resting snugly against his chest.
"Real people, Angel," Buffy mused. "I wonder what they will be like?"
"Like people?" Angel teased.
Buffy twisted her head to retaliate to him, but he leant forward unexpectedly and planted a soft kiss on her lips.
"That’s nice," she said, when his lips moved downwards and settled on her neck. He nipped gently at the scar there, making her giggle, and kissed as much of her throat as he could reach. He could feel her heart rate speeding up in anticipation, and he kissed a lazy path back up to her lips. Her lips parted expectantly, and his tongue ventured forward to explore her. She moaned, raising her arms to wrap round his neck, and inadvertently pushing her chest out.
Angel’s hand slid upwards to cup her breast, and he felt her shiver as he brushed against the hard nipple. She arched instinctively toward his hand, wanting more of his touch, and trying to catch his tongue with hers. His other hand crept up, pushing her shirt up with it, and his hands rubbed and caressed her bare breasts, feeling their weight against his skin.
"Angel…" she moaned, squirming against his cool fingers. "Please…"
Please what? He wondered. Please, more… or please stop? He chose to believe the former, and he increased the intensity if the kiss, making them both moan with pleasure.
One hand crept down her firm stomach and squirmed under the elastic of her underwear. Buffy whimpered at the invasion, anticipating the journey that his fingers were making on her body, but the consequences alarmed her.
"We can’t…" she began.
"Yeah, we can." Angel whispered in her ear. "This is for you, Buffy… just for you."
His mouth reclaimed hers, and his hand found their goal; he slid two fingers inside her, mimicking the movement of his tongue as it mated with hers. He fingered and kissed her until she came, screaming his name as she spasmed in his arms.
He waited for her to regain her sanity, and said gently, "Feel better?"
"Yes." She frowned. "How did you… oh, right. Vampire senses, huh?"
Angel gave her a rather smug smile, but she couldn’t be really angry with him, considering the pleasure he’s just given her. Angel’s arms tightened on her as she leant back against his chest. He nuzzled in her hair, and reflected on her changed sexuality. When they were together before, she was just a young girl, naive and inexperienced. It wasn’t so hard for her to accept a sexless relationship because she had no idea what she was missing. Now though, she was a woman; she’d had other partners and god knows what she’d done with them. The thought of her with other men was like a punch in the gut, and it hurt him that he hadn’t been the one to teach her, when there was so much that he’d wanted to share with her.
"I should go," Buffy said reluctantly.
"You should." Angel agreed.
She shifted a little to look at him. "But what about you…?"
"I’m fine." He groaned as she squirmed against him, the evidence of his lie pressing into her back.
"But you didn’t…"
"No," he agreed. "So, perhaps you’d better leave so that I can deal with it."
Buffy’s eyes widened. "Oh… I could help you with that?"
"I don’t think that’s a good idea," he replied sadly, giving her a final kiss. "Go. We’ll want to make an early start this evening."
"Okay." She squirmed out of the tent. "Sleep well, Angel."
When night fell, they packed up and followed the route taken by the wagon. The trail wound through the rocky canyon and, and coming out the other end, they looked down.
At the bottom of the canyon stood a pair of large wooden shacks. The one at the back was partially open, and they could see an animal’s legs as it paced restlessly to and fro. The shack at the front was bigger and there was a large sign in front of it.
Buffy and Angel made their way down to the shack, approaching cautiously from the rear. They had not seen the wooden wagon that had led them to this place, and Angel figured it had long gone.
Stealthily they crept round the back of the shack, and headed toward the front. They froze at the sound of a man’s voice from inside; but when they heard a woman moaning and the man begin grunting, they moved forward again.
"Guess nothing changes," Buffy mumbled quietly to hide her embarrassment.
Angel didn’t reply, but he continued his stealthy approach, and Buffy fell silent. At the front of the building a horse stood tethered to a wooden rail, and they located the sign at the front and went to read it. Except it turned out to be a gibberish assortment of symbols.
"Helpful." Buffy said.
But underneath the symbols they found some pictures of food, blankets and other equipment.
"I think it’s a store," Angel said speculatively. "Or maybe a trading post." He smiled at her. "Want to take a look?"
"A store?" she grinned back. "Do you really need to ask me?"
She pushed open the door and stepped inside. Angel followed, hesitating slightly as he reached the threshold. But no barriers stopped him and he too stepped in. Either this was a public building, or the invitation rule didn’t apply here.
Inside, the room was crammed with goods. Every available shelf was packed with large tins, sacks and tools. At the back of the building was a long counter, and behind this a man stood sorting through some glass jars with unidentifiable contents, and on the counter a little boy of perhaps three or four played with some wooden beads.
The man looked up expectantly when they came in, and then his gaze swung to Buffy, and a leer spread across his face.
"How much for your woman?" he asked Angel.
"She’s not for sale," Angel said, grabbing Buffy’s shoulder as she started forward. To his utter amazement, she stopped meekly, and smiled at him sweetly; but he knew that she was seething. He suspected that it was only the fact that she didn’t know the local customs that stopped her from pummelling the storekeepers face into the counter.
"She’d get a good rate," the man continued, oblivious to the danger he was in. "I’ll give you a good cut," he assured Angel.
"She. Is. Not. For. Sale." Angel growled. "What part of that did you not understand?"
The keeper paled at the threat in Angel’s voice, and Buffy turned away to hide a smile. Your Woman. Her smile grew wider; she really liked the sound of that. Some boots caught her eye, and she went to have a look at the goods on display. She knew it was a waste of time since she didn’t have any local currency, but it was fun to look, just the same.
She looked up when a door next to the counter opened and a middle-aged man came out. He hurried past everyone without a word, and went outside to where Buffy could see him untying his horse and mounting up. A few minutes later, a woman came out and gave Angel a visual once-over. Buffy moved into view, ready to protect Angel if need be; but the woman moved smoothly away and went to pick up the child.
"Look, mama," he proudly showed her his little stacks of coloured beads, and Buffy went back to her browsing. Angel was deep in conversation with the keeper, and she saw him pile their animal skins on the counter. She guessed he was attempting to trade them, and she left them to it. Perhaps they would have some currency after all.
When she returned to the counter, Angel was appreciatively studying a knife, sliding it carefully from its sheath and holding it firmly to check the weight and balance of it. The storekeeper was putting a bar of something down next to a white bag, which Buffy guessed contained salt, and she remembered that Angel had told her that salt held both antiseptic and preserving qualities. But what was the bar?
"Soap?" she exclaimed. "We have real soap?"
Angel smiled at her, and Buffy turned to the keeper, apparently having forgiven him for his earlier comments.
"What kind is it? For washing clothes, or people?"
The keeper stared at her as if she was insane. "Just got the one," he said carefully. He looked at Angel. "Want anything else?"
Angel looked to Buffy for guidance. Stores really weren’t his territory.
"Got any coffee?" she asked the keeper. At his puzzled look, she added, "It’s a drink. You have it hot… maybe from a pot?"
"Got some Grak," he told her, putting a bag on the counter, and Buffy said they would give it a try. She returned to the shelves and selected a round loaf and put that on the counter too. Then she picked up Angel’s purchase and took it from its sheath to look at it.
"Nice Knife." She grinned at him.
"It’s sharp," he agreed. "The handle’s got a good grip."
"Yeah, I noticed that." She nodded at the counter. "Do we want anything else?"
"Probably," he said. "But we can always come back."
Angel paid for the goods using some metallic discs that Buffy figured he must have got from the sale of the skins. Then they packed up the goods and went outside.
"Sleazebag." Buffy grumbled when they were out of hearing. "Imagine! Do the women not have any status here? He wanted to buy me! Then what? Sell me as a slave to the highest bidder?"
Angel glanced at her, frowning slightly. "He didn’t want to sell you as a slave, Buffy."
"He didn’t?" she said, confused. "Then what was that about a good price and…" Her words trailed off and her eyes widened as she remembered the sounds coming from the rear of the shack. "He wanted me to whore for him?"
"Euw," she shivered. "But that’s disgusting! What kind of man pays for sex anyway? Would you pay for it?"
As soon as the words were out of her mouth she wanted to take them back. Angel was the last person she should have said that to, and the look he shot her was so sad, that she felt awful.
"I’m sorry," she said, sheepishly.
"It doesn’t matter," he said, and Buffy could tell that he was a little distracted.
Angel gazed at her thoughtfully. "I was thinking about that trading post. You know, it would give us an income."
Buffy glared at him. "If you think I’m letting some sweaty old guy…"
"No, I didn’t mean that," he said quickly. A thought occurred to him and he added, "You have a problem with old guys?"
"Yeah," Buffy grinned. "Especially the dark brooding ones. So, what did you mean?"
"We could do quite well on the animal skins. Up to now, we haven’t really bothered with them, because we only need a small animal at a time. With both of us hunting, we could go for bigger animals."
"I’m a Slayer, Angel… not a hunter."
"You’d learn, Buffy. It isn’t that much different, and you’ve already got enhanced senses to help you. What do you think?"
"Why not? If hunting gives me more money to buy stuff, I say go for it. We can spend our spare time shopping."
Angel grimaced. "I was afraid of that."
"We’re really going to have to work on your people skills, Angel."
Buffy giggled at his sour expression, and slipped her hand into his. He squeezed it affectionately, and together they went off to set up a new camp.
They stayed close to the trading post for a couple of weeks, using the time to hunt and replenish their stores. Angel taught Buffy to hunt, and as he’d expected, she turned out to be a natural. Her slayer abilities were easily utilised for hunting, though she tended to be a little impetuous at times.
The animal skins mounted up quickly, and they made enough money to restock their supplies and buy some local clothing so that they didn’t look so out of place. The clothing was functional, but not particularly appealing or comfortable to wear, as most was made out of drab, heavy and course fabrics.
When it came time to move on, they did so with a new sense of purpose. It turned out that the trading posts appeared every so often on the main thoroughfares, and because they had kept to the river and uninhabited areas, they had missed them all.
Hunting together became a regular nightly event, and they had picked up many interesting skins of different types.
One night, on the trail of a four-legged beige animal that resembled a large dog, Angel watched Buffy’s attempts to track their prey. He was meant to be studying her technique, but in fact, he found himself watching her.
She was so graceful, and he watched appreciatively as she crouched in the bushes, waiting for just the right moment to attack. Her face was alive with the thrill of the hunt, and he was reminded of how vivacious she used to be.
The dog-thing ambled into view and Buffy tensed, the knife clenched in her right hand. The creature approached, and she launched herself at it. Angel sighed. Too soon, Buffy. The animal took flight, and Buffy went off in pursuit. Too late, though; crestfallen, she returned to Angel.
"Sorry," she shrugged. "I got excited."
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "So I noticed."
"It’s okay, though… isn’t it?"
Angel stepped toward her, entranced by the shine in her eyes and the glow to her skin.
"It’s fine," he assured her.
Buffy looked up at him expectantly. He lifted his hand and ran a finger along the line of her jaw, and Buffy swallowed nervously. Her skin tingled where he had touched her, and she said softly, "Angel…"
Without any conscious thought, they stepped closer together until their bodies were almost touching. Buffy licked her dry lips, and managed to capture Angel’s attention with the movement. He leant forward slowly, pressing his lips against hers; Buffy moaned, moulding her body against his, and pulled him closer. The kiss began softly, growing stronger as their excitement grew, and Angel slipped a hand inside her shirt.
Buffy shuddered, wrapping her arms round his back as the kiss became even more intense. Angel had both hands inside her shirt, caressing the cool skin of her back, and holding her firmly against his body. She moaned as the passion grew, trying to feel as much of him as she could; she was very aware that touching like this was all that they were allowed to do.
A low growl made her pull away from Angel and stare quizzically at him. But he was looking around, just as a man-sized bundle of mottled brown fur hurled itself out of the bushes and rushed toward them.
Parting instantly, the pair attacked the beast in unison, ducking oversized paws that wanted to tear them apart. Buffy attacked from the back, slashing through skin and muscle, making the creature roar in pain. Lunging from the front, Angel drove his knife into the throat; the creature howled, spinning round so fast that its claws gouged a bloody groove through Buffy’s left arm.
Buffy screamed, backhanding the beast as it tried to follow through, and as it stumbled backwards, Angel leapt on it, jamming the knife into the throat a second time and ripping through the main artery.
It fell like a stone, blood sprayed across them both in a fine arc, and pumped from the ruined throat; the creature shuddered and convulsed as it died. Angel sidestepped the fallen body and went over to where Buffy steadied herself against a tree, her damaged arm held protectively against her body.
"Let me see."
Buffy let Angel peel back the fabric of her shirt and examine the deep gash that travelled the length of her forearm. It was still bleeding, and Buffy yelped as Angel used both of his hands to pull the edges of the wound together and applied pressure to stop the bleeding.
"This needs dressing," he told her. It probably needs stitches too, he thought unhappily.
"I’ll be okay," she muttered. She turned to look at the fallen beast, and said, "We made a mess of the coat. Won’t get much for that."
"That’s not important," Angel snapped, worry making his tone harsh.
"Wow," Buffy murmured. "That’s some bedside manner you’ve got there."
Removing his hands from her arm, he noted with satisfaction that the bleeding had stopped. She seemed to be okay, and he bent to sling the carcass of the beast over his shoulder. Buffy carried the smaller prey back to camp, and Angel kept a furtive watch on her to make sure all was well. At times like this, he wanted to forget that she was the Slayer and fuss over her; but he knew she wouldn’t thank him for that at all.
Back at the camp, Angel dressed Buffy’s injury. It was nasty, already looking inflamed and bruised. With Buffy’s accelerated healing abilities, it was worrying that the wound was looking so grim.
When he was sure she was looking good, he went down to the river to wash up. He was covered in blood, both from Buffy’s wound and from slicing the beast’s throat, and the smell was making him feel damned hungry.
As he stripped off his jacket, he caught a glimpse of his hands, bloody with the intoxicating aroma of Slayer blood. Unaware that he was doing so, he brought a hand up to his face to smell her; before he could stop himself, he touched a digit to his lips and licked the blood from it. He closed his eyes and moaned, the taste of her blood rich and strong, exhilarating; he lapped at the blood frantically. It had been so long since he’d tasted human blood, and he didn’t stop licking at the wonderful taste until his fingers were clean.
Panting, he sat back on his haunches, the blood haze clearing, and he realised with dawning horror what he had done. He sat there, on the edge of the bank for a long time, disgusted and ashamed of his behaviour. How could he face Buffy after this? How could he trust himself with her?
Finally, he stripped off his blood-soaked clothing and washed them in the fast moving water. He stared at his hands again. The blood was gone, but he could still smell her. Unclean. He took the soap and scrubbing brush and scrubbed frantically at his hands until they bled. Unclean.
Buffy looked up with relief when he returned to the tent, but frowned when she caught his expression.
"I was getting worried," she told him. "What’s wrong?"
"Everything’s fine," he growled at her.
"Sounds like it."
Angel seemed to be trying to keep his hands out of her line of vision, so before he could move she snatched at one of them and studied it. She gasped when she saw the state of his hand, and she looked up and saw the shame in his expression. She knew what had happened.
"Don’t," he growled, snatching his hand back, suddenly angry. "I don’t want your pity."
Unable to look at her, Angel grabbed a clean shirt and retreated from the tent. He couldn’t be with her tonight, not when the demon was so close to the surface. Buffy followed him outside, his behaviour worrying her.
He sat on a log next to the campfire, hunched over and with his head buried in his hands. Buffy went over and sat beside him, careful not to brush against his body. She wanted to comfort him, but she knew that he wouldn’t want her touch just yet.
Angel didn’t move when she sat next to him, and Buffy wished that she could think of something really clever that would make him feel better. But she couldn’t, and they sat together in awkward silence until Buffy tentatively said, "We all do things we’re not proud of, Angel. We all slip sometimes."
Angel lifted his head from his hands and stared silently at her.
"You’re a good man, Angel…"
"I’m not a man at all, am I?" he replied viciously. "I’m a thing, a monster in a man’s body. How can you even bear to look at me?"
"The demon isn’t you, Angel."
Angel gave a grim chuckle. "You’d like to believe that, wouldn’t you? But it isn’t true, Buffy. The demon is with me all the time. It was my hands that killed Jenny Calender. . It was my hands that tortured Giles. My body that took helpless women and…"
"Don’t," Buffy shuddered. "Why are you saying these things to me?"
"Because I have to make you understand," he replied harshly. "You can’t let your guard down with me, Buffy. Ever. And you have to realise that you aren’t only in danger from the demon."
Buffy frowned, not understanding what he was trying to say.
"Being with you…" Angel hesitated, gathering his thoughts. "It’s so difficult being with you all the time. The man in me wants to fuck you, and the demon wants to drain you." He saw her eyes widen at his revelation, but he continued doggedly on. "I can’t do either, and it tears me apart." Angel ran an anguished hand through his hair. "Sometimes… I need you so badly I want to forget all the rules, and just take you."
Angel stood up, and began to pace restlessly; Buffy stood too, and tried to calm him.
"We can fight this together, Angel," Buffy reasoned, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. "We can beat this."
Angel stopped pacing and faced her. Without warning, he reached out and caught the back of her neck, pulling her roughly toward him and leant in to kiss her harshly. He held her there while he forced his tongue into her mouth, bruising her lips with his abrasive actions. His other hand went round her back, hurting her when he pulled her tightly against his body and ground himself against her; Buffy whimpered, suddenly afraid. Angel let go of her back and yanked at her shirt; he had it halfway down her arms by the time she pulled free of his aggressive behaviour, and glared angrily at him.
Angel glared back at her, and for a moment she was sure that she saw the glint of the demon’s golden eyes; then it was gone, and Angel held her gaze unflinchingly before backing away from her and disappearing into the night.
Buffy pulled her shirt back on with trembling hands. She was shaking as she watched Angel’s retreat into the darkness. Her injured arm throbbed painfully, hurting her almost as much as the ache in her heart.
Knowing that she would have to keep herself busy so that she didn’t dwell on how things were turning out with Angel, Buffy took herself over to where he had left the creatures that they’d caught. She busied herself with the skinning, it was an unpleasant job but Buffy wasn’t squeamish and she tried to remember what Angel had shown her.
When it was all done, and she had washed and put on clean clothes, she crawled exhausted into the tent. But tired as she was, she couldn’t sleep, too worried about Angel. She was half-dozing when he returned shortly before dawn. Wordlessly, he slipped into his sleeping bag, turned away from her, and went to sleep.
The following day, Buffy tried to behave as though nothing had happened. But Angel was decidedly off with her; he was polite enough, but he was very careful not to touch her at all.
Buffy hadn’t realised how many times during the day that she normally felt the pleasure of his touch. A brush of his fingers when he passed her something; A gentle hand on her arm in response to a joke she told him; an affectionate pat on her rear as she passed him. It all stopped, and she missed it terribly.
On top of this, her arm showed no sign of healing up. A couple of days later, Angel approached her. Buffy watched him expectantly, excited that he was near her again. He still hadn’t touched her, and her body ached for contact with him.
"How’s the arm?" he asked.
"No better." And then, because she needed a response from him, she added, "I’m worried, Angel."
"I know." He hesitated, and then added, "I have an idea that might help. It’s a little drastic, though."
Buffy studied his sober expression. "Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like it?"
"Because you aren’t going to like it," he replied bluntly.
Buffy swallowed nervously. "Go on."
Angel drew an oblong tin from his pocket. He carefully removed the lid and held it out to her. She flinched when she looked inside and saw the squirming contents.
"Euw," she exclaimed in disgust. "Maggots…so?"
Angel said nothing, just watched her and waited for her to get it. He knew the exact moment that she understood, because her expression changed from confusion to one of horror.
"You have got to be kidding me!"
"I think it might help."
"No! You are not bringing those things near me!"
Angel replaced the lid on the tin before saying, "I can’t make you, Buffy. But you know that it should have healed up before now, and we’ve tried everything else that we can think of."
"But they’re so… gross."
Angel heard the change in her tone and knew that she was wavering. "Your choice. How worried are you?"
Long moments passed before she reluctantly mumbled, "Okay. But… will you do it, please? I don’t really want to…"
Angel agreed, and Buffy watched with trepidation as he pushed up her sleeve to work on her arm. Buffy shivered at his touch, aware that it was a sad state of affairs when she craved him even when he was doing something horrible to her.
Angel moved round, using his body to block her view of what he was doing. He removed the dressing and tidied up the wound; he then took off the lid from the tin. Buffy tensed at the sound, the muscles in her arm going rigid with fear.
"Easy," Angel told her. "This won’t hurt."
"God, I hope not. You will count them won’t you, Angel? I don’t want to lose any of them in there."
"You won’t lose…" he sighed. "I’m counting them now."
Buffy held her arm rigidly as he finished what he was doing and bound the wound up with a clean dressing.
"What now?" she squeaked, desperately trying not to think about the maggots crawling and wriggling all over her arm. Her stomach lurched in disgust, and she fought the urge to violently expel her breakfast.
They waited forty-eight hours, and Angel repeated the process in reverse. Buffy fidgeted as he removed the bandage and extracted the maggots. He figured that she probably hated him at that very moment.
"Make sure you’ve got them all," she begged. "What does it look like?"
Angel’s face was expressionless. "Take a look." He said.
Slowly, fearfully, she bent her arm to examine the injury. All the nasty inflamed flesh was gone, replaced by healthy new skin, and Buffy stared at it in amazement.
"But that… Oh, Angel, thank you!" Smiling happily, she threw her arms round his neck and hugged him tightly. Angel froze. Then, just as Buffy began to feel uncomfortable and started to pull back, Angel’s arms encircled her and he held her tightly.
Buffy buried her face in his neck as she hugged him. "God, Angel… I’ve missed you."
"I haven’t been anywhere," he replied, a little stiffly.
Buffy pulled back sadly. Things were still not right between them then. Angel’s eyes met hers for a brief moment, before he looked away.
Much to Buffy’s disappointment, the bug interlude had not helped the tension between them. Angel still kept his distance, but apart from that, life carried on as usual with the normal round of moving the base camp to a new location and hunting for both food and skins.
Buffy was fed up, and while hunting one night she tried to coax Angel out of the dark mood he was in. Deciding that the best way was to distract him, she dredged up all the things she could think of to say and chattered to him. His mood got darker. Buffy decided to admit defeat.
"Okay," she announced. "I’m shutting up, now."
"That would be good," Angel said tightly.
Buffy glared at him. "Does my talking bother you, Angel?"
"Does someone actually speaking annoy you?"
"Because, you know, I think it’s way better than sulking."
"I don’t sulk," he said defensively.
"Brood then. ‘Cos you’re a real master at the brooding… you’ve got it down to a fine art. Angel The Master Brooder. My very own brooding pain in the ass."
"That can be arranged," Angel muttered darkly.
Angrily, Buffy snapped, "Oh wow… that’s some threat…"
"It wasn’t a…"
"…from you, Angel. You can’t even…" Buffy stopped, her eyes widening with horror when she realised what she had almost said.
"I can’t even what?"
"Nothing," she mumbled uncomfortably.
"No. If you have something to say, say it."
"I have nothing to say," Buffy retorted. "I talk too much, remember?"
Angel rolled his eyes. "God, Buffy. Are you trying to be annoying?"
"You think I’m annoying? Well, it’s nice to know what you think of me!"
Pride made Buffy turn away; tears prickling uninvited at her eyes, and she didn’t want Angel to see them.
Angel instinctively reached out a hand to stop her, and, feeling under threat, Buffy retaliated in the only way she knew how, and lashed out with her hand. But it was a clumsy punch, born from hurt rather than a need to hurt. Angel blocked it calmly, and held on to her wrist firmly. When he didn’t release it, Buffy was forced to look at him. The connection their eyes made was electric; Buffy launched herself at Angel, flinging her free arm round his neck and joining with him in a passionate kiss.
Angel released her arm, and spanning his hands across her back, dragged her toward him in a crushing embrace that would have left a normal woman with serious internal bruising.
Angel moved forward, steering Buffy backwards until she found herself sandwiched between a convenient tree and Angel’s broad body… and all without breaking the kiss.
Buffy gasped; she had been without his touch for so long that her body ached for him. Angel’s lips slid from hers, kissing her throat, her neck, her ears and everywhere that he could reach in a frenzy of passion.
Buffy moaned loudly, everywhere that Angel touched left her skin burning with want. It had been days since she’d had any contact with him at all, and her soul yearned for completion. Angel surrounded her, invading her senses with his arms, his scent, his urgent kisses that scalded her lips and inflamed her.
Pulling away from the searing kiss and making Angel grunt with frustration, Buffy lowered her head and latched on to the soft skin of his neck. He muttered something unintelligible, instinctively gripping the back of her neck to hold her in place, and forcing her to suckle at his throat.
Shuddering, Angel yanked Buffy’s head from his throat and kissed her savagely. Too excited to think of anything except being inside her, he pulled impatiently at her skirt, hoisting it up and out of his way.
Buffy wriggled out of her underwear and kicked them away. While she did that, Angel unlaced his new pants, moved forward and bent at the knees to kill the height discrepancy. He entered her and pushed in to the hilt in one swift movement, making them both gasp with the sensation of being together again after so long.
Angel pulled back and rammed home repeatedly, making Buffy whimper with each brutal thrust. He didn’t give a damn about technique or finesse, he just wanted to bury himself deep inside her, and Buffy ground herself against him as best she could.
Finally, Angel’s head went back as he gave a long drawn out moan, and came violently inside her. For long moments they stood together, wrapped in each other’s arms, and Angel buried his face against her neck, just so that he could smell her.
When they pulled apart, it was with awkwardness, and they were unable to meet each other’s eyes. Angel knew that he should apologise to her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that, because he just wasn’t sorry.
"Are you all right?" he asked instead.
"Just peachy," she replied sadly.
Angel hesitated, not certain what he should say to her. In the end, he said uncomfortably, "We should get back to the hunting."
Buffy looked as though he’d slapped her, and he figured he had probably said the wrong thing.
Stupid. She told herself angrily. You think that because he had sex with you that it meant something? That he cared? He’s a man, isn’t he?
"I guess so," she replied defiantly, desperately trying to hide her hurt. She pushed past him to continue with the task at hand. The hunt was conducted in strained silence, as was the trip back to camp. Buffy excused herself, washed up and went to bed. Angel said goodnight in a gruff tone, and Buffy was glad to escape the tense atmosphere between them.
As Angel went past the tent later that night, he paused outside when he heard the sound of gentle weeping. Crap. His instinct was to go to her and offer his comfort. But he realised that it would be a huge mistake; that it would probably make things a whole lot worse. He returned to the woods, far enough away that he couldn’t hear her, and berated himself for the appalling way that he’d treated her.
The next day Angel tried to ignore the fact that her eyes were red and swollen, and that she looked spent from spending half the night crying her eyes out. The time that they had to spend together was a nightmare, and it was a relief for both of them when Buffy took herself off to bed.
Against his better judgement, Angel found himself drifting toward the tent. He could hear her again, and it broke his heart; especially since he knew that he had caused her pain. He knew that he should retreat to the woods, but he couldn’t seem to make himself move, and when his body finally activated itself, it was to go toward her.
He crawled in beside her anguished form, and wrapped his arms round her.
"Ssh," he crooned. "It’s okay, Buffy. I’m so sorry, sshhhh…"
He rocked her against his chest, rubbing her back and kissing her hair. She raised her face up to his, and before he knew what was happening, he was kissing her, a desperate kiss, full of passion and tears.
He groaned, easing her back against the bedroll, and moving closer to cover her body with his. His knee pressed between her thighs, pushing them apart, and his hands wrestled with her clothing, pulling away the barriers to her body. A voice in his subconscious, insistent and damned annoying, began to argue with him.
This is wrong.
You can’t do this.
You can’t treat her like this.
Using all his strength, he wrenched himself away from her, and sat back heavily on his haunches, breathing hard.
Buffy was looking at him in confusion, and Angel shook his head. He began edging backwards, putting distance between them; shame and frustration making him angry.
"Where are you going?" Buffy asked, not understanding his sudden departure.
"To kill something," he replied savagely, and withdrew from the tent.
Buffy watched him go, and said sadly, "Make that two somethings."
After that, Angel avoided her completely. They stopped hunting together, and although he still cooked her food for her, they kept contact down to an absolute minimum. He was pleased that she had apparently stopped crying herself to sleep, but she did start to become very secretive.
One night, he caught her guiltily slipping a little white parcel under her pillow. He didn’t ask what it was, and she didn’t tell him. The little parcel made several furtive appearances but was always gone by the time he commandeered the tent for the daylight hours. It began to rankle him; it was so unlike her, and she was so secretive about it that he found himself wondering what the hell it was.
It’s a sex toy. He thought. She’s going in there every night and… Jeez. Get your mind out of the gutter! He told himself irritably. She’s not doing that. Probably. So what did that leave? Why was she trying to hide it from him? The answer was glaringly obvious, and he didn’t like it one bit. It’s a gift from someone who wasn’t you. His back tensed up jealously at the unwanted thought. Riley Finn. His gut clenched in anger. Whatever the gift was, it was important enough to her that she brought it with her on this mission. And just why are you surprised that she’s turned toward the memory of someone who probably hasn’t hurt her as much as you have? She must think you’ve rejected her.
Angel growled resentfully at the thought of her gaining comfort from another man. Even if the man wasn’t actually there, he was still upset at the prospect. The little package was driving him nuts, and he really wanted to know what it was.
Late one evening, Buffy had turned in, and he was sitting close by the tent carving some wooden spears to use for the hunting. Buffy was restless, and eventually took off into the woods to answer the call of nature. That left the tent – and hopefully the package – unattended. Moving vampire fast, he was inside the tent and sliding his hand under the pillow to where he hoped that she had stashed it.
He knew damn well it was stupid, that he should respect her privacy. But he was so jealous at the idea that another man comforted her when he couldn’t, that he just had to know. What was it that she valued so highly?
His hand closed on the soft parcel, and he cautiously drew it out. He carefully peeled back the edges of the white cloth, and slowly unwrapped the contents. There, with a frayed ear, mildewed foot and revealed in all his pink and grubby glory, was Mr. Gordo.
Angel stared at the stuffed pig for several moments before carefully wrapping it up again and placing it back exactly where he had found it. He returned to his carving, so that when Buffy returned a few minutes later he looked for all the world like he hadn’t moved an inch.
He watched her approach with new eyes. She looked worn down, and he realised that he hadn’t seen her smile in a very long time.
Christ, did I do that to her?
As she plodded wearily past, Angel said quietly, "Good night, Buffy."
She didn’t look up, but she did mumble something incoherent and scrambled into the tent. Away from him.
Angel stared after her in concern.
I’ve really messed things up this time. I have to make things right with her… I just wish I knew how.
The following morning, Buffy slowly surfaced from the welcome oblivion of sleep. She stretched, smelling the breakfast that Angel was preparing her, but she wasn’t really very hungry. Again.
She turned over, and her eyes widened. A delicate white flower lay on the edge of her pillow, and she pushed up on her elbow to get a better view of it. As she did that, her gaze fell on the pile of orange fruit that lay next to her bed. She reached for one of the Prickly Oranges with a bemused expression on her face. A smile suddenly appeared, and she scrambled out of bed. She pulled on her pants and a shirt and wriggled from the tent.
Angel was pegging some of his clothes up in the line to dry, and he looked round when she emerged.
"Hey," he said warily.
"Hey yourself," she grinned. "Thanks for the flower… and the fruit."
"You’re welcome," he replied. "Buffy… we need to talk."
"So, talk," she said. "I hear people do it all the time."
Angel winced. He took a deep breath, and said, "I’m sorry."
"For being an asshole," he replied bluntly, and was gratified to see Buffy’s mouth quirk into a tiny smile. "I never meant to hurt you, you know."
"You never do," she said sadly. "So what do we do now?"
Angel shifted uncomfortably, and said, "I thought… maybe it would be best if I moved on."
Buffy stared at him in horror.
"That’s your answer? Leaving me again?" She glared at him. "Is it what you want to do?"
"It might be for the best."
"Is it what you want?" she said sharply.
"No," he admitted.
"Then stay, work with me on this. Angel… you can’t run off every time things get a little tricky."
"I don’t call wanting to kill you ‘a little tricky’," he replied dryly
"For us, it is," she replied. "You have to trust me, Angel. You have to let me help you."
"I do trust you, Buffy," he said, soberly. "It’s me that I don’t."
"Angel… before we came here you promised that we would work together. Didn’t you mean it? I…. I understand that you don’t want me but I can help you."
Angel blinked. "What?"
"I can help you with…"
"Not that," he broke in. "You think I don’t want you?"
"It…it’s okay," she mumbled, blushing a little. "I can’t really blame you, considering…"
Angel moved toward her. "What are you talking about?"
Buffy looked up as Angel arrived in front of her, and squirmed a little under his penetrating gaze. She took a deep breath and said, "You don’t have to pretend that you still love me."
"My god, Buffy," Angel said in horror. "You doubted that?"
Buffy gulped as Angel closed the distance between them, his arms tightly encircling her. "I never stopped loving you, Buffy. I’m sorry if you believed that."
Buffy clung to him, her arms wrapped so tightly round him that if he’d been human he figured he would probably have lost a rib or two. Gently, he rubbed her back and rubbed his face against her hair, waiting for her to extract herself from his arms. When she pulled back, he said, "What made you think I didn’t love you? I’d have thought my recent behaviour proved otherwise."
Buffy swallowed. "You haven’t been near me in ages; you’ve made no attempt to touch me, or kiss me… and I…I thought…"
"It’s because I wanted you that I’ve kept away." Angel told her. "I thought you understood that."
"But, I… I’m… dirty…" Buffy mumbled.
Angel stared at her. "Do you want to explain that?"
Buffy looked sadly up at him. "Look around you, Angel. How am I supposed to keep myself clean in these primitive conditions? I don’t have any of the things I want to feel good, my skin is dry and sore; all I have to put on it is the oil we use for cooking, and then I just smell like a fast food place. My hair’s like straw and it’s got loads of split ends, and…"
Angel held up a hand in mock surrender. "Whoa," he interrupted her. "It doesn’t matter, Buffy. None of that matters."
"It matters to me," Buffy grumbled.
Angel tucked a wispy strand of hair gently back behind her ear. "It feels fine, Buffy. And you aren’t dirty, either. I’ve seen you struggle to maintain your standards here when many others might have given up. I’ve seen you wash your hair in freezing water that made you cry with the cold; I’ve seen you scrub your clothes down by the river for hours to get the blood and dirt from them, and your hands have been so sore that they’ve bled. I don’t call that dirty."
Buffy shrugged. "Right, and bleeding skin is so sexy, isn’t it?"
So, that’s what this is about…
Angel took hold of one of her hands and looked at it. He could smell the oil that she had used to make it supple, but her knuckles were still dry, and the palms of her hand had become toughened by the lifestyle that she had.
"This…" he informed her, lifting the hand to his lips and kissing it, "…doesn’t matter, Buffy. Nothing can detract from how beautiful you are to me, nothing. I once told you that even if you were covered in slime I would still love you. I meant it, you know."
All the time he was talking, his lips caressed each of her fingers in turn, his eyes fixed steadily on hers. When he was done, he leant forward and planted a soft kiss on her lips.
Overwhelmed by his nearness, and by his declaration of love when she had been so afraid that she’d lost him, Buffy wrapped her arms round his neck and buried her face against his chest. Angel could feel the tremors in her small body, and he gently raised her face to his and kissed her again. He could feel her love reflected in her desperate response, and he could tell how much she needed him. He knew that he’d hurt her, and he wanted more than anything to prove to her that she was still a beautiful and desirable woman.
He took her hand again and stepped back. He wanted her to go with him, but suddenly apprehensive, Buffy said, "What’s going on?"
"I’m going to do what I should have a long time ago," Angel told her with a small smile. "I’m going to make love to you."
Buffy froze. "But… we can’t…"
"I can’t," he corrected her. "There’s a difference."
Buffy stared at him with an expression that was akin to wonder; and Angel glanced wistfully at the sky. He would have preferred to do this outside, but it was too dangerous, too close to the dawn, and he led her to the tent. He paused for a moment to move Buffy’s roasting breakfast back from the heat, and at her enquiring look he explained with a knowing smirk, "This could take a while."
Buffy followed him into the tent with a bemused expression on her face. Angel’s words had excited her, and her mind ran through a dozen possible scenarios as they knelt close together on Buffy's bedroll.
The touch of Angel's fingers as they traced over her cheekbone made Buffy sigh with contentment. The fingers trailed back, sliding through her hair, and Angel gently drew her forward, caressing her lips with his own. She opened her mouth immediately, searching for him with her tongue; but Angel pulled back just far enough to murmur, "Let's take this slow…"
"Want…" Buffy moaned, "I want…"
"I know," Angel assured her, carefully laying her back against the soft sleeping bag, his mouth still joined with hers in an endless army of smooth kisses.
"Oh, god, Angel…." she breathed; her fingers curling in the hair at the back of his neck, as her body shivered in appreciation at the way his gentle kisses aroused her.
It seemed as though Angel's lips were everywhere, nibbling at her throat, sucking on her earlobe, stroking her skin, and caressing her face. When he unlaced her shirt and pulled it slowly from her body, his mouth was there too, worshipping each little piece of exposed and deprived skin.
He kissed her everywhere, trailing kisses down her limbs, her shoulders, and her torso. By the time he reached her breasts, she was urgently arching her body toward his intrepid mouth and tantalising tongue.
"Please," she begged, "Oh, please…."
But Angel refused to be hurried. He lapped round the sensitive underskin of her breast, tracing the womanly curve and tasting every inch of her. When he took the swollen nipple into his mouth, she cried out with the sheer sensual pleasure of it. She convulsed against him as he suckled at the swollen peak before moving to the second breast and claiming that one, too.
He moved slowly down, peeling off her pants and underwear, even her boots, until she lay naked and vulnerable underneath him. Buffy was almost incoherent with passion, pushing at his head and trying to make him go where she needed him. He ignored it all, taking the same meticulous care with her stomach and legs as he had with the rest of her.
Finally he worked his way back up her legs to end up at the nest of curls at the top of her thighs. Using his thumbs, he gently opened her, lapping at the moisture that lived there, and carefully exploring all her little sensitive and secret places. Buffy convulsed again and wrapped her thighs round his head, effectively keeping him prisoner. But he was so caught up in giving her pleasure, and so aroused himself, that he hardly noticed what she was doing.
When Angel reached the hard bundle of nerves, he swirled his tongue round the sensitive tissue before taking it in his mouth and sucking gently. Buffy screamed as her body found sweet release under Angel's experienced administration. He brought her to a fierce climax, over and over again, until he was finally left with an exhausted mass of jellified Slayer in his arms.
He scooted up her body, taking her in his arms and holding her close. Stroking her bare arms gently, he leant forward and nuzzled playfully at her neck. Buffy moaned happily, and Angel raised himself up to observe her.
"I really do love you, you know," he told her, his attention focused on the soft curve of her mouth; but he hesitated to kiss her, not certain if she would want to taste herself on his lips.
"I guess you just proved that," Buffy replied, when a mischievous grin spread across her face. "But maybe you’d better apologise some more."
More than happy to oblige, Angel captured her mouth with a kiss that stole her breath away. Afterwards, not wanting her to get dressed again, he pulled his bedroll across them and covered her up. Sated, warm and happy, she curled herself round his frame and drifted into a deep and contented sleep.
Angel watched her sleep, his emotions knotted and complex. More than anything else, he realised how much he’d missed her. He hadn’t wanted to cut her out, but he had been so afraid of hurting her that he hadn’t known what else to do. What would happen now? Would things go back to the way that they had been, or had this morning changed everything?
Buffy stirred, and opened her eyes. She looked confused at first, but then her gaze settled on Angel and her relaxed smile warmed him.
"I thought I’d dreamt you," she said in wonder.
"I’m real," he assured her, lazily stroking a hand down over her stomach. Buffy sighed, squirming in his embrace.
"Hmm?" he replied absently.
"I think… maybe we’ve been going about this curse thing the wrong way."
That got his attention, and his hand froze. "In what way?"
"Maybe… instead of trying to avoid each other, we should… do other things."
"I don’t know, Buffy." Angel frowned. "It’s still dangerous for us."
"Well, " Buffy said, "Abstaining didn’t work out too well either, did it?"
"No, but… there’s a difference between making love to you once and incorporating sexual activity into our daily lives."
"I think we should try," Buffy explained. "It would help relieve tension for both of us."
"It might also release Angelus," he said bluntly.
Buffy sighed. "I’m talking about a blow job here, Angel. It’s not going to give you perfect happiness."
Angel was silent for a very long time, and Buffy was beginning to wonder if he was going to answer her. Then, he reluctantly said, "All right. But on two conditions."
"That you do just enough to relieve me, Buffy. No frills, no extras."
Buffy pouted. "That sounds boring."
"I mean it." He warned. "I won’t consider it otherwise."
"Okay," she agreed. "What’s the other thing?"
Angel hesitated. "There’ll be times when one of us will be weak, and want full penetration. It will then be up to the other one to be strong for them." He studied her serious expression before adding, "Can we do that?"
"I can be strong," she promised. "If you try to make me, I’ll kick your ass."
"We understand each other, then," he said with satisfaction. "That’s good."
Buffy sealed the deal with a kiss, for the first time excited about their future. But would they be able to restrain themselves?
The arrangement worked better than they had anticipated. By allowing some interaction, it lowered the severity of their sexual tension, though of course didn’t eliminate it altogether. It helped that Angel was experienced, and he was able to introduce Buffy to several new variations. Her favourite of these was mutual oral sex, especially when she had the upper position and could control how deeply she took him. Angel told her that the French referred to it as soixante-neuf, but because it could be very intense it wasn’t something he would allow them to do very often.
They were both relieved to be back on good terms again, and the general pattern of life resumed.
One night they came upon a small village; Buffy and Angel debated whether to visit or avoid it. In the end, they decided on a compromise and made their camp on a rocky hill close by, and watched what was going on.
At night there was little activity, but during the day Buffy watched the day-to-day happenings in the small community with interest. She began to realise how much she missed seeing people. As much as she loved Angel, he wasn’t really the best of company in some ways, and she particularly missed interaction with others of her own age.
They stayed close to the village for a couple of weeks, and one day Buffy’s curiosity was aroused by unusual activity in the village square. Wagons and people began arriving, and setting up tables and flowers out in the open.
What’s going on? A festival perhaps? A wedding? Perhaps it’s a…
"It’s a market." She told Angel later. "They’re setting up stalls and goods and everything. Loads of people are coming from all over, and it looks real exciting."
"Are you going?" he asked.
"I want to," she said enthusiastically. "Do you think it’ll be okay? I don’t want to gatecrash a private party."
"I don’t know, Buffy. I don’t know any more about this place than you do. But… just be careful, okay?"
"You know me."
"That’s what worries me," he replied deadpan, and earnt himself a slap on the arm. "Take the skins and the money with you, perhaps you can trade them."
"Okay," She agreed. She gathered up several of the skins, and stashed the currency in a small purse that she’d bought from home. When she was ready, and Angel was amused that she insisted on washing her hair before she went, she kissed him, listened impatiently to his lecture on being careful, and departed.
Angel wasn’t happy that she was entering strange territory without him. Who knows what she might find down in the village? He knew that she was very able to take care of herself, but it still didn’t stop him worrying that if she got into trouble, he wouldn’t be able to reach her until nightfall.
Buffy was away for hours. Angel tried to sleep, but he wasn’t very successful due to his concern for Buffy. Finally, he heard her familiar approach to the tent and he breathed a sigh of relief. Thank god.
Buffy crawled into the tent and Angel was instantly aware of the change in her. She was smiling.
"Hey." She grinned at him, wrapping her arms round his neck and kissing him passionately. What has she been eating?
"Did you have a nice time?" he asked, when she came up for air.
"Yeah, " she confirmed, sitting comfortably next to him, and Angel noticed all the packages that she had with her. "It was amazing."
She tried to describe everything that she had seen so that Angel would feel a part of the experience that she’d had. She explained that they sold all kinds of goods at the market and that the people were very friendly.
"It was like an open air trading place, only cheaper. I think those places really ripped us off, you know?" she said indignantly. Angel had suspected as much, but they’d had no other way of obtaining goods.
"Looks like you’ve made up for it," he smiled, indicating the parcels.
"Er… yes," she said uncomfortably. "Angel, I… think I spent all our money."
"We’ll make more," he replied, entranced by her excited demeanour. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her so animated. "You’d better show me what you’ve bought."
The gorgeous smile was back, melting his heart, and if she got to look like that, he didn’t give a damn what she bought.
Diving into her purchases, Buffy eagerly showed him all the goods she’d bought, a lot of standard stuff like salt, oil and soap; a coffee substitute, which Buffy hoped was going to be better than the vile Grak, and a sweet smelling jar that apparently held shampoo – and this, Buffy was very excited about. She had bought other food items, too. Several soft round loaves of bread, that she assured him tasted much better than the stuff she usually had to eat, jars of herbs for cooking, odd looking vegetables that she’d had to ask the stallholder how to use them, and a scrunched bag that she produced with a flourish.
"And these." She grinned, diving her hand into the bag and pulling out a small reddish square. She insisted on popping a piece into Angel’s mouth, and he recognised it as the taste he’d noticed on her earlier. "It’s called, Tai. Isn’t it wonderful?"
"Wonderful," he agreed. In truth, he could hardly taste it at all, but Buffy was well aware of his limited taste buds. She wanted to share her happiness with him, and he wasn’t about to spoil her good mood over it.
Buffy ate a piece herself, then wiped her hands and opened another parcel. All of the parcels were wrapped in very thin gauzy fabrics or large leathery leaves. Buffy carefully unwrapped another package and held the contents up for him to see.
"I got a dress," she explained. The sand coloured dress appeared to be made of very soft buckskin, or similar, with long sleeves and beautiful flower embroidery down the front. Beige laces decorated both sides of the waist, to give shape and definition.
Buffy hugged the dress to her and said, "They said that they have these markets every couple of months, Angel, and some of them are even at night, which means you could come too." She hesitated, and added, "Could we stay here? Just for a while? I really want to see some more of those markets…"
"We can stay as long as you want to, Buffy," he assured her.
"Great." She hesitated again, and then reached for the final parcel. "I got something for you."
Angel took the offered parcel awkwardly. He wasn’t comfortable with people giving him gifts, not that it happened that often. But Cordelia used to surprise him sometimes, and he always found it embarrassing, believing himself to be unworthy of any token of affection. Slowly he unwrapped the thin gauze and held up the garment that lurked inside. It was a shirt, made of the same soft skin as Buffy’s dress, but a dark tan in colour, and with lacing down the front.
"It was the darkest colour they had," Buffy apologised. "I don’t think they use black here."
Angel swallowed. "It’s lovely, Buffy… thank you."
Buffy smiled at the obvious emotion in his voice, and she could tell that he liked it. She suddenly stripped off her shirt and slipped her new dress over her head. Angel was pleased that she was no longer shy with him, and she turned toward him, carefully seating herself on his lap, and raising her arms up.
"Will you do my lacings?"
Due to the lack of modern fastenings, all the local clothing were fastened by leather or fabric lacings, and most of the clothes came in basic sizes. Tightening the laces to snuggle and contour the body attained a good fit, but it was usually necessary to get a second party to help with the fitting process.
Angel pulled the lacings firmly against her body, she didn’t like them too tight, and by now, he was experienced enough at the task to achieve it quickly.
"Looks good," he told her, appreciatively running his hands down over her waist and hips. Buffy leant forward, deliberately squirming on his lap, and kissed him deeply.
"I’ve had a wonderful day," she confided in him when the kiss ended. She was still rocking her hips against him, making him grunt as he held her hips firmly to keep them still. Buffy grinned; she knew exactly what effect she was having on him. "And now, I want to make yours wonderful as well."
I like this village. Angel thought as she shimmied backwards and deftly untied the lacings on his pants. And I haven’t even been there, yet.
In between the markets, they busied themselves with the hunting. They were able to obtain a better price for their skins at the village, and the goods they bought were also much cheaper and had more variety than at the trading post.
When it became clear that Buffy was in no mood to move on in the foreseeable future, Angel suggested that they build themselves a small cabin to replace the cramped confines of the tent. Buffy was thrilled with the idea; she felt it would be like having their first place together, and they began the hard work of building it.
On the third day after work began Buffy woke to find her muscles protesting at the unaccustomed activity.
"I hope it’ll be worth It," she grumbled sleepily to Angel. There was no reply, and Buffy’s eyes snapped open as she rolled over to see if he was all right. His bedroll was empty. Her gaze flicked towards the outdoors… it was daylight outside
"Angel!" she shrieked, pulling on her clothes and heading outside. Angel always cooked her breakfast for her, but he hadn’t even started it yet and there was nothing roasting over the heat. "Angel!"
Buffy searched for hours, but there was no sign of him anywhere.
How will I know if he’s dead? There won’t be any body… how will I know? She was panicking, but part of her was convinced that she would know if something had happened to him.
She returned several times to the tent in case he had returned there somehow. He was nowhere to be found, and Buffy didn’t know what to do. In the afternoon, she had an idea and made her way down to the village for help. It was the first time she had ever visited it without a market in progress, and she was apprehensive.
She passed through the village largely unnoticed by the native inhabitants. One or two nodded politely, but on the whole they kept to themselves. Buffy didn’t know where to go. She had no idea if they had law enforcement, or rescue services; but then, did Angel need rescuing? What she wanted was to find him, and she fought down the inappropriate urge to giggle at the foolish thought of him turning up in lost property.
Buffy spun at the sound of the voice, and recognized the dark haired girl from the market. "Neenha, isn’t it?"
"Yes." The girl gave her a friendly smile. "What brings you down here today? Supplies?"
"No…" Buffy hesitated, not certain how much to reveal. "I have a bit of a problem."
The other girl looked concerned. "Is there anything I can do?"
"My… partner didn’t come home last night, and I’m worried that he might have had an accident or something." Or be a huge pile of dust… "You haven’t seen any strangers about, have you?"
"I’m sorry, no. Did you have a fight?"
"Oh, no…it was nothing like that," Buffy hastened to assure her. "It’s just that he’s never done it before… and I…"
"You’re worried," Neenha supplied, considering the options. "It will be dark soon; if he has not returned by tomorrow I will see if I can organise a search for your man. Don’t worry Buffy. He will turn up."
"Thank you." Buffy felt out of place in the village and her instinct was to look for Angel now. But it was comforting that these people might be persuaded to help her.
"Come," Neenha said, placing a friendly hand on her arm. "Sit for a while, and I can bring you food… or a drink?"
Buffy wasn’t at all hungry, concerned as she was by Angel’s disappearance. But she was thirsty, and she allowed Neenha to take her into one of the buildings that stood close by. This turned out to be a sort of communal meeting place, and Buffy watched as her new friend poured a hot liquid into some earthenware beakers.
Taking the beakers to an empty wooden table, the girls talked for a while, and to Buffy it was nice to speak to another girl, albeit one from another dimension. Neenha explained that the drink was a herbal infusion, designed to enhance well-being, and Buffy both enjoyed the taste of the drink and the boost to her senses that it gave her. She dawdled a little with the drink, waiting for night to fall, knowing that it was her best chance of finding Angel.
"Well," Buffy said when the beverage had gone. "I’d best be getting back… maybe Angel’s come home."
"You shouldn’t go out by yourself at night, Buffy." Neenha said worriedly. "I think you should stay in the village until morning."
"I’ll be fine," Buffy insisted, amused by the notion of having to stay in at night. "I can look after myself. But, thanks for the concern."
Both girls stood up and made for the door. As they stepped outside, there was a commotion from the other side of the village. Judging by the look on Neenha’s face, she had no idea what had caused it, and together they hurried over to have a look.
A large gathering of villagers had something cornered behind one of the buildings. The something was huddled against the wall, and growling angrily at its audience. Several of the men held sticks, swords and other weapons and were lunging and poking at the trapped beast.
Buffy pushed past the gathered villagers, and forced a path through the armed men. One of them tried to stop her, but she shook him off easily, snatching his sword on route, and found herself out in front of them, facing the beast. It was Angel.
He was pressed hard against the wall, glaring and growling warningly at anyone who tried to approach him.
"Angel?" Buffy said softly, taking a step toward him. He glared at her, and for the first time she realised he was in full vamp face. "I won’t hurt you."
He growled menacingly at her; he looked wild and confused, and one of the men tried to stop her draw near him.
"I can handle him," she told them with more bravado than she felt. "Just don’t interfere. Whatever happens."
She took a tentative step toward Angel. He glared at her, and took a sideways step along the wall and away from her. He was looking suspiciously at her sword, and Buffy realised that he was afraid of it.
Very slowly, she held the sword away from her body, making sure it was pointing away from Angel. Then she dropped the sword to the ground; some of the men started toward her but Buffy held up her hand and said, "Don’t."
The men stopped uncertainly. Angel relaxed visibly when she dropped the weapon, and Buffy took another step toward him. He didn’t move, but he was tense as he watched her slow approach. He made a sudden lunge toward her; Buffy could have evaded it easily, but she let him twist her round and slam her against the wall.
Angel held her still, and stared curiously at her.
"Don’t leave me here," she said softly, making no attempt to stop her silent tears. Things had been going well for them lately, and Buffy couldn’t bear the thought that she might still lose him. "Angel… what happened to you?"
Angel maintained his grip on her. She was making sounds, but he didn’t understand her. He wondered why her face was wet, and she smelled so… what? He was confused, but he wasn’t afraid of her. In some way she belonged to him, but he couldn’t quite grasp how. Her face was wetter, and she was trying to touch his face. He let her, though he wasn’t sure why.
Buffy was sobbing openly now; Angel was making no attempt to hurt her, but all her muscles were ready for action if necessary.
Some deep instinct made Angel trust her. Her scent was strong, and… familiar, and it tugged at something inside him. She was sad, and he wrapped his arms round her and pulled her closer.
"Angel?" she asked hopefully.
"B…Buffy?" he didn’t know where the name came from, but it was familiar, and his rattled subconscious grabbed hold of it and held on. I know her… she’s Buffy…my Buffy…
Looking around, Angel tried to understand what had upset her. Lots of people surrounded them, holding weapons, and Angel growled at them to stay away. He would not let them hurt her.
Buffy looked up at him and continued to stroke his face. "It’s okay," she told him. "They won’t hurt you."
As she watched, Angel’s vampire visage slowly receded, and left his smooth human face behind. A stir went through the crowd when they observed his transformation, but they made no move toward them.
"What happened?" Buffy whispered.
"I… don’t remember," Angel replied uncertainly, a frown marring his features.
"It’s okay," Buffy reassured him, and caught a glimpse of the frightened villagers. "Guess I’d better introduce you."
Taking Angel’s hand carefully, and moving slowly so as not to startle him, she led him toward the villagers.
"My name is Buffy," she told them slowly, choosing her words carefully. "I’ve met some of you before, when I’ve visited your markets. I’m not a resident here, I only came today because I was looking for my partner." She glanced at Angel, and was pleased that he looked more like his usual self. "Guess I found him."
"He’s a monster," one of the men shouted, waving a stick at her.
"He’s a man," Buffy contradicted him. Angel stirred, and Buffy clasped his hand tightly to keep him quiet. She smiled a little ruefully. "He’s not normally so… angry."
Buffy hesitated, not knowing what to do next. Someone began pushing through the crowd, and Neenha arrived at the front of the throng.
"This is your partner?" she said, a little incredulously.
"This is Angel," she confirmed. "Look, do you think we can sit down for a bit? He’s not really himself right now."
Neenha took them to another of the communal meeting places, and presented them with some more of the pleasant herbal tea. Buffy shooed most of the villagers away, but allowed Neenha to stay with them. She watched as Angel picked up his tea, and noticed that although he appeared to be calm, his hand trembled and the tea lapped at the edges of the beaker.
"What’s the last thing that you remember?" Buffy asked.
Angel frowned. "I… was… hunting." The confusion on his face was evident, as he added, "I caught my prey, and then… I was here."
"What were you hunting?" Neenha asked.
Angel shrugged. "Not something I’m familiar with. It had four legs, dark brown coat, and had a tiny horn over the nose."
"Did it have red eyes?" Neenha asked.
"I believe so," Angel replied, sipping at his tea. "Is that relevant?"
"It sounds like a Kervak," the girl said.
"Okay," Buffy said. "I’ll play. What’s a Kervak?"
"For most of the year, a Kervak has a white coat and brown eyes, and is good for eating. This time of year, the colour of the eyes and coat changes, and the meat is inedible, tainted by bad blood. It can have serious side effects, but I’ve never seen anyone react like you."
"Is it permanent?" Buffy asked.
"Oh, no, the effects wear off after a few hours. But they usually consist of sickness and stomach pains, not… uh… changing into something… uh…"
"It’s okay," Buffy said, taking pity on her new friend. But she wondered how much she ought to reveal, and how would Neenha take it? "The Kervak didn’t do that. All of Angel’s… people can… change. But he doesn’t usually lose control like that."
The girl stared curiously at Angel. "Forgive my curiosity, but… does it hurt to change like that?"
"This time it did." Angel grimaced. "But, usually no. It’s just something my people can do when necessary."
"Can you do it?" Neenha asked Buffy.
"No. I’m… from a different tribe. My people don’t change." Buffy glanced at Angel, who looked uncomfortable and weary. "We should be getting back."
Buffy stood up, and the villagers stirred uneasily. Neenha hastened to reassure them, and Buffy and Angel started to leave. As they passed the locals, Angel stopped, looking horribly self-conscious.
"I’m sorry if I scared you," he said quietly. Faced with a monster that was, apparently, repentant, the villagers weren’t certain how to react. They stirred restlessly, but made no move to stop Buffy as she steered Angel outside.
They began the long walk back to the campsite, acutely aware that the villagers watched their retreat with suspicion. When they were out of sight of the village, Buffy stopped to pull Angel into her arms.
"God," She said with feeling. "I was so worried about you, Angel."
"I’m sorry," he replied, hugging her tighter. "Maybe I’d better steer clear of Kervak blood in future."
"Are you feeling better?" Buffy asked, laying a hand on his forehead. She knew it was a useless gesture, given that vampires don’t have a circulation, but she wanted an excuse to touch him.
"I feel cold," he told her. "And tired. I don’t remember anything about what happened after I fed from the Kervak."
"I’m just glad you’re you again," Buffy commented, taking his hand as they continued on toward the camp. By the time they reached it, Angel was looking shattered, and his body trembled with fatigue. Buffy settled him into the tent and then went in search of fresh blood to nourish him and restore his strength.
After Angel’s somewhat unorthodox introduction to the villagers, Buffy found that many people asked after him when she went to the markets, albeit with wariness. She became very friendly with Neenha, and enjoyed her visits to fetch supplies. Angel seemed not to have suffered any lasting effects from drinking tainted blood, but Buffy knew he was upset at losing control of the demon. Work continued on the cabin, and it was beginning to look like a proper dwelling.
Buffy carried two hot mugs of the coffee substitute, which had actually turned out to be an acceptable alternative, towards where Angel worked on the new building.
The construction was looking good, and Buffy was excited about living in the new cabin. There was still a way to go, and she circled the building as she looked for Angel. She could hear chopping on the other side, and she carefully carried the drinks round to him. She paused when the darkness finally revealed him, and she took a deep breath to calm herself. He was unaware that she watched him as he stood chopping wood for the building; his shirt had been discarded, and Buffy was mesmerised by the rippling of the tattoo in his back, and the soft sheen that covered his upper body.
He looked up as she approached, genuinely pleased to see her. Buffy placed the drinks on a nearby log and curled her arm round him. The dark eyes appraised her, before he rested the axe against the log and took her in his arms.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"Wonderful," she mumbled, her thoughts scattering as Angel kissed her gently. "How long before we can move in?"
"A few days… a week maybe." He turned to look at his handiwork with pride. One hand draped over Buffy’s shoulder, and the other idly played with the handle of his axe. Buffy leant in to his shoulder, feeling warm and content. She had never really thought that she could ever have a proper life with Angel; yet, they were together here, and still very much in love.
The day dawned that the cabin was finally finished. The last part of the roof went on with great ceremony and excitement. Buffy and Angel stood just outside the door, and Buffy asked, "Which of us gets to go in first?"
Angel rewarded her with a grin, swept her up in his arms and carried her laughing into the building. Buffy playfully slapped his arm, pretending to be angry, and he set her down gently on the floor.
The cabin wasn’t huge, just consisting of one fairly spacious area, but after living in a cramped tent for months, it felt almost palatial. Angel took her hand and they walked round the empty cabin deciding where they wanted to put everything; or rather, where Buffy wanted to put everything.
"That would be a good place for our bed, Angel, and maybe we could have a little screen in front of it? And in front of that, could we have a table and chairs?"
"Have to be benches," Angel corrected. "I don’t have the faintest idea how to make a chair."
"Benches then. I’d like a big rug in front of the fireplace and shelves or something for storage. Can we do all that?"
Buffy cast eager eyes up at him, and it pleased him to see her so animated.
"I’ll see what I can do," he replied. "But I’m not a carpenter… I don’t know how good they’ll be."
"Doesn’t matter," she said softly, reaching up to pull his head down into a gentle kiss. "Just as long as I have you."
"Always," he replied breathlessly before tangling his fingers in her hair and deepening the kiss.
When Buffy went down to the village for the next market, she decided to look for some soft furnishings for the new cabin. They had wooden shutters on the windows, so didn’t need any curtains, but Buffy was contemplating putting some up anyway. She enjoyed buying things for the new place, and it was nice to have somewhere to put things.
She was excited, too, because her first night time market was looming, and for the first time Angel was able to go with her. The market had a different feel to it, not just because of the darkness but because the atmosphere was more like a festival. There was music, and dancing, and with food and alcoholic beverages on sale.
Many of the villagers knew Buffy, and she stopped to talk to several of them. All of them welcomed Angel shyly to their midst and although he sensed an undercurrent of tension, most responses to them were positive.
Buffy revelled in being able to show Angel everything, and she pointed out all her favourite stalls, decorated with pretty flowers and bright colours. There were a lot of new stalls too, and an abundance of goods of all sorts. Once they had bought necessaries, she particularly wanted Angel to browse at places that would interest him, and showed him the tables that carried tools or interesting weapons.
The shopping took a long time, both of them aware that this was probably the closest they would ever get to ‘going out together’. They purchased some food and tea, and Buffy insisted that Angel also taste the local beer; she declined any for herself though, saying that beer for her was very ‘bad’.
They also bought some new clothes, rugs and blankets for the cabin, and when Angel noticed Buffy’s surreptitious interest in a gorgeous bracelet, he bought that for her, too.
All in all, the trip was a huge success, and finally, laden down with a vast array of packages and groceries, they began the long walk back to the cabin.
Buffy reached their destination first, hurrying in to lay their purchases on the table. Angel hovered outside, and Buffy glared at him impatiently.
"Stop messing around, Angel. It’s been a long night. Just get in here, will you?"
Angel joined her, but he was wearing a bemused expression.
"Do you know what just happened there?" he asked.
Buffy sighed. "You decided to act like a moron?"
"No… I wasn’t…" Angel shook his head. "I couldn’t get in, Buffy. Physically… I couldn’t come in."
Buffy frowned. "But that…?"
"Yeah," he agreed, a small smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
"Then… I must have… thought of this place as home," she said in wonder.
Angel’s arms encircled her, bringing her closer, welcoming her home. "You must have," he agreed.
Buffy’s body pressed eagerly against his broader one, as she reached up on tiptoe to kiss him; Angel’s arms tightened on her waist as he tasted her, sucking gently on her lower lip and making her moan.
Buffy sighed with contentment. She ran her fingers along Angel’s cheek, the depth of emotion in his eyes drowning her, drawing her in. As the kiss deepened and grew more intense, Buffy revelled in the feeling of completion that settled on her. This was where she was loved: where she belonged; this was home.
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