When In Disgrace

AUTHOR: D. L. LePage aka Rehatha

DISCLAIMER: Joss Whedon owns all.

TIMELINE: After the ep Killed By Death

SPOILERS: everything up till Killed By Death,

SYNOPSIS: Buffy lies in bed ill with Fever, do we really believe Xander could have stopped Angelus from seeing her?

DISTRIBUTION: You want, take it. Let me know.

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

FEEDBACK: Please. The more I get, the more I seem to write.

RATING: NC-17

WORKS CITED: at the end of the chapter as needed.


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Chapter 1 - Fever


Buffy lay quietly on the narrow hospital bed. She had to get up. She had to get out. It was nighttime and he was out there… and she wasn't.

She started to get up, to go to him, but her body shrieked in defiance. Her muscles were stiff and her joints ached. She lay back. She'd go in a moment. She just needed a moment and then she'd be able to go.

She moaned softly. She was so hot. She felt as if her blood was boiling…her internal organs burning… Her skin was on fire.

But Angel was out there alone.

… alone.

Up. UP. She couldn't leave him out there alone.

She sat up.

A plastic tube was taped to her arm and her wrist; there was a sharp pain in her hand just above her pinky. She blinked, surprised at the annoyance then grit her teeth in irritation. They'd stuck another needle in her hand.

The young Slayer cursed softly and ripped the offending metal sliver from her flesh. Blood spurted a little when the needle left her hand, and dribbled sluggishly out of the wound.

Buffy ignored it. She would heal…She always healed. She healed from broken bones. She healed from concussions…She even healed when her heart was ripped out of her chest. What was a little piece of sharp metal?

She yanked the cold plastic tube from her arm, the tape sticking stubbornly, pulling on the little hairs that covered her skin in a fine down.

The room spun but the Slayer clung to her consciousness stubbornly.

Angel was out there. She couldn't leave him out there alone…And Death was wandering around in here. She probably shouldn't leave him alone in here any more than she should leave Angel alone out there.

~

Angelus stalked calmly down the hospital corridor, the flowers in his hand bobbing their heads in milky pale camaraderie. He whistled a few bars of "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th symphony as he walked.

He passed the police officers with a slight smirk, unconcerned with their presence. Constables, police officers, they had never had any impact in interfering with his fun.

Angelus' dark gaze narrowed as he noticed the watchdog posted to protect his lady's door. Although if he were to choose a dog to guard a treasure, he wouldn't choose a rat-terrier: a mouthy, ineffectual mongrel.

Xander stood up to meet him, obviously confident with the nurse's station and witnesses so close by.

Angelus halted and let the pup come to him.

"Visiting hours are over,"* the pup yapped.

Angelus smiled and rubbed his finger over the cladaugh wedding band on his finger. "Well I'm pretty much family.* I just came to see my girl," he offered innocently, holding up his floral tribute.

"I don't think so," Xander growled. "Why don't you come back during the day? Oh gee, no," the boy said with an air of just realizing something. "I guess you can't."*

The scent of fear was heavy in the air and the boy's heartbeat thundered like a rabbit's, but he held firm.

"You don't really think you can stop me, do you?" Angelus exuded menace in gentle waves. No need to make a public scene…yet. "If I decide to walk into Buffy's room, do you think for one microsecond that you could stop me?"*

Xander's pupils shrank to pinpoints; he was in mortal danger. The mental image of having his throat torn out and having his life's blood spilling on the pale tiles was a brilliant crimson picture.

The teen's chest ached and for a moment he wondered if his heart would give out from the terror that stiffened his muscles.

Angelus smirked as the fear scent of the boy flooded the area, a delicate aroma of food…and behind it was the blood scent of his lady. Not much, just a trickle, but the ambrosial scent was more tantalizing than anything he had ever scented before.

The vampire with the face of an angel loosened his jaw muscles and inhaled again, allowing the exquisite scent of Slayer's blood roll across his taste buds.

"Maybe not," Xander conceded. "Maybe that security guard standing there couldn't either. Or those cops…or the orderlies…But I'm kinda curious to find out. You game?"*

The tall vampire refocused his attention back to the annoying boy. "Buffy's White Knight. You still love her." He leaned in close, allowing his aura of death to brush Xander.

The boy had no idea how close he was to a death so agonizing that the Watcher's journals would record it in gory illuminated calligraphy. One did not lightly come between a vampire and his chosen victim…or his chosen passion.

Angelus controlled his jealousy, knowing that his lady had never looked at the teen with even the slightest interest; his memories as soul-boy let him know in no uncertain terms that the Slayer was his.

He sneered cruelly at Xander's unrequited love. "It must just eat you up that I got there first."*

Xander flushed and Angelus could smell the terror-tainted rage that suffused the boy. But there again was the whiff of his lady; it called to him like a spell he could not resist.

He thrust the flowers into Xander's chest. "Tell her I stopped by."*

He turned and walked away. There was another more private way into his baby's room, a way that would allow them a little privacy. More privacy than he would gain by ripping through the boy, the police officers and the orderlies, much as that would please him.

Ah, the things that one sacrificed in the name of passion.

~

Buffy struggled to her feet. She flinched slightly at the touch of the icy floor beneath the heat of her soles, but after a moment, the coolness felt good.

She looked around the room, reeling slightly as it continued to spin after she stopped rotating. Where were her clothes?

The hospital gown slipped on her shoulders; one size definitely did not fit all.

She shivered, her feet starting to chill on the icy floor. How was it possible to be so hot and so cold at the same time? Well, only her feet were cold, the rest of her was still so hot.

"Hello, lover."

She turned and staggered slightly as the room again continued to spin.

Angel sat on the windowsill, partially in and partially out. His dark gaze flickered over her, taking in the hospital gown that fit her no better than, quite literally, a burlap bag. Her fingers fluttered self-consciously to smooth her hair.

Angel. She blinked and all the panic she had felt earlier dissipated. He wasn't out there.

He smiled at her and it wasn't one of his normal smiles; this smile was laughing at her.

Buffy glanced down at herself, at the white and blue pok-a-dot hospital gown that tied at her hip like a robe. She snorted wryly; it was funny. Fashion-keen Slayer caught in completely awful outfit and despite all comments to the contrary, despite numerous 'I wouldn't be caught dead in that's, she had been caught in the most unattractive outfit of her life, and by the man to whom she never wanted to appear unattractive.

Angelus continued to smirk at her and her helpless situation. She glanced down at herself and then surprised him.

"Pretty bad, huh?"

Angelus' brows winged up; her tone sounded wry, not frightened. "You've definitely looked better, baby."

Buffy lifted her hand to her forehead. She was so hot; she felt as if she'd been suspended over a volcano, held captive in merciless heat.

Angel didn't look hot, she thought. He looked very comfortable in his dark leather pants and his dark black silk shirt. He looked cool and unconcerned about the stifling heat that seemed ready to smother her.

…But then heat didn't affect him. He was always cool.

Angelus eased further into the room, lured by the ambrosial scent of her…lured by the trickle of blood on her hand and the droplets she had smeared on her forehead when she had put her hand there.

His golden haired girl looked ready to faint…She looked helpless…She looked deliciously delectable.

"You don't look at the top of your game, baby. That's not good."

Buffy stared at the throat of his shirt, at the cool expanse of pale skin exposed there. With every move he made, she could see muscles ripple beneath cloth and leather.

Her skin tingled and somehow the heat of her body seemed to shoot up several more degrees. He looked yummy. He looked delicious. He was the cool water of an oasis, come to rescue her from the burning heat of the desert.

Angelus sighed in disappointment. No sign of self-preservation; she wasn't going to defend herself. She didn't even look as though she'd scream for help. This wasn't going to be nearly as fun as he had thought it would be.

Buffy moved to him, throwing herself against his hard body.

He caught her, silk and leather rustling, and he wondered whether he had just witnessed the most clumsy and pathetic attack that a Slayer had ever attempted.

"I'm so hot," she breathed, pressing against him, pushing the heat of her face against his cool throat. "I'm burning up. Touch me," she crooned, her lips brushing where the big pulse in his throat should have been.

Angelus froze in shock.

The Chosen One plastered herself against him, letting the coolness of his body radiate through the thin silk of his shirt and the thin cotton of her hospital gown.

"You feel like a breath of cool air," she moaned approvingly. She raised her hands to his shoulders and traced the breadth of them. She followed the musculature to his biceps and squeezed a little. "You're so hard."

She had no idea. Her cradle-robbing-creature-of-the-night lover closed his eyes and savored the unlooked for caresses. The hunt and the kill were often sexually stimulating for vampires, but Angelus used mortal women for foreplay and not sex, for too often they died before his passion was slaked and unmoving bodies were not…arousing.

After a moment, he opened his eyes and stared down at the top of her head. Her golden curls were tousled and when she turned her burning gaze up to him, she radiated sensuality.

He recognized that look; it had been turned on him…soul-boy…many a night. It had culminated in much kissing and much petting…and finally into a night of passion that had blown his soul away.

Buffy smiled sweetly, her head tilted back trustingly, offering him her lips…or her throat, whichever he cared to take.

Heat roiled off of her in waves, but the offer was hotter than her skin. His unneeded breath caught at the thought of feeding off of her willing flesh.

Buffy's hands smoothed back across his shoulders and caught at the lapels of his shirt as his lips came closer to her. Where would he kiss her? Her breath hitched in anticipation until she couldn't bear it anymore.

The Slayer fisted her hands and jerked at his shirt, ripping it open; buttons clattered to the floor, exiled from their privileged proximity to his body. She stroked her palms over the muscles of his chest and unable to wait to meet him…unable to wait to find out where he would choose to kiss her, she reached up and pulled him down to her, taking possession of his mouth with hers.

Angelus stiffened and then growled in throaty pleasure as her lips parted his and her tongue crept in to tangle with his. She pressed herself to his chest, his new second skin, and he moaned at the feel of her unconfined breasts pressed against him.

Allowing himself to be pulled into the heated rapture, he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her against him.

Buffy parted her thighs and clasped him about his lean waist. She pulled away from his lips and rained tender kisses over his brow, his cheeks and jaw as she whispered raggedly. "I can't stop thinking about you."

Well that was as it should be; he couldn't stop thinking about her either.

While he'd been ensouled, she had scalded him with her humanity, capturing him in the sticky web of love and then scalding him again with the heat of her passion. When he was free it all should have gone away, but it hadn't.

She was in him now: in his blood, in his bones, and in his cold heart. She burned there in his heart, inflaming his passions hotter than they'd ever been and he desperately controlled it, trying to smother that flame before he became carried away and courted her in a manner that would terrify even a demon. He had held himself strictly back, trying to go slow.

His small tokens of affection had been accepted.

She had accepted his messenger, Theresa, who had carried his words of love on her dead lips.

She had accepted his flowers, clutching them so hard in her hands that even through the windows he had seen the thorns pierce her fingers. She had read his promise of "Soon" and she had stared out into the darkness looking for him.

Of course she had cast the Un-invitation spell, but that had been a punishment for involving Willow in their courtship. Willow was lovely but she was no rival for his golden goddess and he understood that the punishment had put him back a step in his courting. That was as it should be; possible rivals could not be tolerated.

Buffy had only balked at the death of Jenny -- it was just knee-jerk. He knew she had hated the woman as only one can hate another who has cost them their love. Besides, Jenny had been a danger to his freedom.

Buffy licked and nibbled at his mouth, moving steadily down his flesh until she clamped her blunt human teeth to his throat. He purred beneath her onslaught of affection and as the opportunity had presented itself, licked the blood from her forehead in a slow raspy caress.

She tasted of golden sunlight and innocence. She tasted of sweet peaches and passion. She tasted of struggle, capitulation, desire and sweet, sweet, surrender. She tasted like she belonged to him.

He rumbled in pleasure, aware of her little fingers kneading in his hair and on one shoulder. Her thighs trembled with the effort of sustaining her weight and he shifted one hand over her hip to cup her butt and support her.

Buffy released the flesh of his neck and blazed a trail back to his lips. "I keep remembering that night…our night," she whispered.

"What do you remember, baby?"

"I remember trembling. I was wet from the storm, soaked, but I was even wetter from wanting you. I was shaking because I was afraid you wouldn't touch me." She rested her hot cheek against his cool one, soaking in the cool relief of his skin. "I was even more afraid that you wouldn't let me touch you."

Angelus held her pliant body against his own, luxuriating in the heat that radiated from her. He enjoyed the feel of her hands gliding down his chest and then sliding over his ribs and around his back. The heat of her palms blazed a trail up between his shoulder blades and then up to his shoulders.

The gentle exploration was nothing compared to the carnal acts he had indulged in during his bloody career but the hunger behind it was staggering and felt very good. "What else do you remember?" he murmured against her flushed cheek.

"Your mouth on me. So many kisses I felt breathless. The feel of your mouth as you seemed to get hungrier and hungrier, demanding more and more of me until my whole body screamed with the desire to feel your lips…and your tongue…and your teeth…to satiate your hunger."

It was not crude sex talk but it was definitely getting to him. He shifted, grinding his aroused flesh against the heated core of her. No greater aphrodisiac to a man, he thought wryly, than knowing that he was desired.

"My skin prickled with goose bumps, not from the cold, but from anticipation."

A new scent filled the air and his predatory instincts howled at the presence of it -- feminine desire. Her memories and his body were reawakening her hunger.

"When you took my shirt off, my breasts felt achy and swollen. My nipples," she caught her breath and Angelus realized that he'd slid the hand not supporting her around her rib cage to cup her breast. She arched against him, her nipple already pebbled in his palm. "My nipples were so tight from wanting your attention that they almost hurt."

Angelus traced his thumb over her hungry flesh enjoying the soft moan of encouragement she gave him.

Perhaps he had been acting too hastily. Perhaps he had forgotten that there was more to courtship than death, more to hunger than blood. He took a step back, carrying his clinging prize with him, and sank into the room's guest chair, gently rearranging her so that she straddled his lap.

He tugged open the bow that secured the hospital gown and spread the material apart, baring her body to his burning gaze, all save for the apex at her thighs which was still shielded by white pristine cotton.

He trailed his palms over her pretty breasts, tugging on her hardened nipples.

"Where else did you want my attentions?" he rumbled. He could smell where but wondered where else his little virgin would guide him next.

She reared back and looked into his dark intent gaze; he looked carnal and knowledgeable and infinitely patient.

She caught his hands in hers and he ceased his caresses, watching her calmly.

"Where?" he repeated.

She guided his right hand from the tip of her breast to cover her heart.

Angelus smiled derisively. "You already told me you want me here," he reminded her sternly, tugging sharply on her nipples.

Buffy smiled gently, a siren's song rich with bewitchment but kept his right hand over her heart. "My heart thunders and my lungs constrict and I feel as if I'm caught in a web and I'm never going to break free. And I feel that I've caught you up too. But it pulls downward." She guided his hand down over the curve of her breast, over the delicate wall of her ribs and to the tight muscles of her belly.

Angelus felt the muscles fluttering beneath his fingers.

"My stomach's tight. I want your touch so bad but my muscles shrink back, the sensations are too much. But I'm still not satisfied. I'm needy and empty."

"Not satisfied??" he asked softly, staring hard into the moss green eyes that were focused on him as if he were the only thing in the world.

She shook her head.

"And what would satisfy you? What would make that emptiness go away?' he asked his voice thick with his own growing desire.

She guided his hand down to the waistband of her panties and then beneath it to the moist curls that shielded her femininity…and then to the aching emptiness between her thighs.

"Only you," she whispered. "Only you can satisfy me."

Angelus' jaw tightened as his lust threatened briefly to overwhelm him. He fought back his body's eager demands for immediate fulfillment and parted her moist flesh, pressing a knowing caress.

Buffy arched as the pleasure arced sharply through her and a cry burst from her lips.

Angelus pulled her swiftly to his lips and smothered that cry before it could completely escape her lips. He silenced her passionate murmur before it could summon the pup from where he waited down the hall, standing guard over the precious Slayer, unknowing that she was not sleeping peacefully in her virginal sickbed.

"Here," he queried softly against her lips, even as he pressed another knowing caress into her weeping flesh. Her hips eagerly followed the dance that his talented fingers led.

"Yes," she whimpered against him. "Oh God, yes. I want to feel you inside me. Just as I can feel you in here." She guided his left hand, still toying with her breast to cover her heart. "I want to smell you on my skin, feel you at my womb, feel my muscles ache because you were inside me, carry your passion in me until I feel I'm going to burst…but it's still exquisite because it's you."

Angelus felt himself lose it there, felt himself shift to game-face. His fangs lengthened and he felt his brow ridge up as his predatory nature became completely evident. He watched her, waiting for the desire that kept her writhing after his fingers to lessen, if not still.

Her eyes had darkened to a brilliant green sheen, her lips parted with her passion and Angelus caught his breath as both of her delicate hands trailed tantalizingly up his body until her fingers caressed his face. She traced his brow, his nose, the curve of his jaw and finally his lips.

"I love you when you're like this," she moaned, arching achingly against his attentive fingers. Her breath caught on a soft groan then she caught her breath and continued to whisper her soft words of passion. "When you've shifted like this, I know I've reached you. When your eyes are gold and your fangs have lengthened I know you want me as much as I want you."

Her injured hand trailed close to his lips and he flicked his tongue to taste the ambrosia she so unknowingly offered.

Her breath caught again and his eyes flashed dangerously, daring her to withdraw her caress and her blood. But rather than pulling away, she shifted her hand and pressed the wound to his lips.

He suckled the ragged puncture just above the vein in her hand, relishing the taste and the fingers she fluttered against his cheek as he sipped.

"I like knowing that you hunger for me here," she moaned, leaning forward to lick his lips as he kept his mouth firmly over her wound. "And I like knowing that you hunger for me here," she whispered as her other hand cupped his leather covered cock firmly.

The blood from her hand spilled into his mouth sluggishly, flooding his senses with her desire and the hot encompassing devotion for him that she felt at the core of her being.

More, Angelus thought, releasing her hand. He caught hold of her lips, still hovering so close and pressed his thumb firmly against the swollen bud of her clit, shattering her. She trembled against him, mewling into his mouth even as her inner walls grasped greedily at his fingers.

He released her mouth, sucking at her lower lip as he did so. He put his free hand to the back of her head and pulled her close so he could whisper into her ear. "Take my cock out," he ordered her softly. "And I'll do it again." He stroked her softly, knowing that the sensitized flesh would eagerly respond to his ardent caresses even more swiftly than she had the first time.

Buffy's muscles trembled violently but she eagerly obeyed. She fumbled with the fastenings but finally managed to open his pants and ease his hardened flesh from within. She stroked him with untutored arousing motions.

Angelus shifted his hands to her hips and ripped away the offending pristine cotton that had shielded her feminine core. He stroked her again, parting her weeping flesh and sank eagerly into her warmth.

Buffy clutched his shoulders and keened into his mouth as the unbearable pleasure of being filled by him shot through her body.

"Keep it quiet, baby," he warned her. "You don't want your friend to come and catch you writhing on my cock, do you?"

"No," she moaned. "Don't want anyone here but you."

He surged powerfully into her, gently nuzzling her parted lips. "You don't want to be rescued?"

"Only want you," she panted, her nails digging into his shoulders.

Angelus thrust up into the moist hot glove of her body, guiding her hips on him. She followed his every move, surging back against him.

He caught her hair and forced her to look at him, waiting until her eyes opened and he could see that her irises had been all but obscured by her pupils. She was lost in her pleasure, completely bespelled by his possession.

"Are you going to remember this?" he asked softly, amazed at the heat that roiled off of her and warmed even his cool skin. "Are you going to remember that for all intents and purposes you seduced me? Are you going to remember and think that I took advantage of your delirium?"

She moaned and shook her head as she rode his body.

"Cause you know what baby?" He trailed his fingertips up her rib cage then back down to her hips and pulled her more forcefully into him.

Her breath escaped her in a sharp whoosh.

"I think this is as honest as you've ever been. You don't care if I have a conscience or a soul or not. You don't care about the world outside. You love me."

"Yes," she panted leaning forward to capture his lips in a deep kiss. "Love you. Love only you…only you."

He gave her several of the deep passionate kisses that she so obviously wanted. "And you belong to me?" he demanded.

She nibbled at his lips, tracing her tongue delicately over his sharp fangs. "Belong together."

The slick feel of her body clasping him was beginning to take its toll on his control. Her humanity scalded him even as her flesh clenched on him insistently. She whimpered softly, making lovely crooning noises as she neared her crisis.

Angelus clasped her hips and halted her, holding her at the precipice.

"Angel," she whispered pleadingly, raining delicate kisses over his face. Her fingers slid through his hair pulling him to her hungry mouth again and again.

"Angelus," he corrected her, holding back the demands of her body and his own.

"My angelus Angel."

"Angelus," he whispered sternly.

"My Angelus," she moaned.

"You want me?"

"Yes," she entreated, nibbling persuasively at his lips. "Always."

His eyes flared. Always. "Say my name again."

"An..Angelus."

He wrapped his arms around her and covered his mouth with his, surging into her, sending her careening over the edge so powerfully she screamed into his mouth.

He rose from the chair and pressed her against the wall.

Buffy crooned into his mouth and wrapped her legs around his hips, bracing herself eagerly for his invasion.

"Always, Buff," he growled. "You promised and I'm going to hold you to it." He thrust in her stirring her desire again until she was writhing wildly against him. "I slew my sire for you…my consort. Angel slew my consort for you." His hips pistoned powerfully in her and she sobbed against his mouth, whimpering as the pleasure vibrated through her. "I accept you in trade," he rumbled. "You're mine."

"Yours," she affirmed breathlessly.

"For how long, Buff?"

"Forever," she moaned.

"That's right, baby, forever." He drank her whimpers and swallowed her cries, slamming into her with a force that drove the breath from her body as he shoved her to orgasm again, finally submitting to the driving needs of his body.

Angelus bent his head to her neck as he surged within her and sank his fangs into the cord of muscle at her shoulder. She keened coming again and he pressed her face to his shoulder, trying to muffle her cries of satisfaction. Incredibly, she sank her blunt human teeth into his flesh above the jugular and he came, the feel of her body, the grip of her teeth and the taste of her blood sending him into his own orgasm.

Buffy eased her arms over his shoulders and cradled his head against her.

Her vampire lover sipped, satisfied with the ambrosia of her blood even though it wasn't gushing into his mouth. He hadn't been sure if he could have stopped himself from draining her if he had fed from her throat.

"Love you," she whispered. "Love you so much." She dropped her head to his shoulder, nuzzling his jaw.

Angelus released her and licked the wound on her shoulder closed. He shuddered in the aftermath of his pleasure, his face morphing back to his beautiful human countenance.

Minutes ticked by and he sighed, letting the moment pass and pressed his lips to her moist forehead. "I think I broke your fever, baby."

He turned and walked carefully to her bad, then eased out of her body and reluctantly set her on her feet, holding her steady when she started to topple. Her head fell back bonelessly and she watched him with such a soft slumberous look that he had the brief and insane urge to carry her back to his lair: to just steal her from the light that very night.

He set her gently on the bed and shrugged out of his ruined shirt, pressing the soft silk between her thighs to clean away the sticky residue of their passion.

She weaved in his arms, looking up at him docilely and letting him do as he pleased.

Angelus tossed his shirt to the side and drew the thin and very ineffectual protection of the hospital gown around her nakedness. He secured the flimsy robe at her hip then pressed her firmly back down to her bed.

"Not yet," he whispered. "You won't cross to me yet. You're a Slayer and you think it's your sacred duty to protect a world of cowering sheep that can't be bothered to save themselves. Don't worry my love; I'm going to take care of that pesky little detail for you. If you don't have a world to save, then you won't mind crossing over to my embrace. You'll be my golden goddess of the night. Sleep," he instructed. "I'll take care of everything."

Buffy caught hold of him with a plaintive cry and pressed herself up against his chest. "I can't sleep," she denied, laying her head to his bare chest. "Stay. You'll be different tomorrow if you don't stay."

The tall vampire smiled coldly, aware of just how badly he'd wounded her. He tucked her hair back. "I assure you baby, I'm not gonna change from the man I am tonight."

He pressed her back to a supine position and brushed his fingers over her eyelids, encouraging her to close them. "Sleep. Try to remember tonight, baby. I know I will." He pulled her left hand to his lips and kissed her naked ring finger. "And the next time I stick my ring on you baby, it's going to stay there even if I have to melt it onto your flesh."

He left her then, leaving nothing of their encounter to be found by the morning light save for a single unnoticed button.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 2 - Love Does Not Alter


Buffy stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She carefully held the collar of her long- sleeved pajama top from her shoulder and stared at the bruise that still had not completely healed.

There, on her shoulder, along the muscle, and unable to be hidden by most of her spaghetti- strapped tops were two delicate punctures. The holes were neat, with absolutely no sign of tearing, and the flesh surrounding the bite was a pale purple, obviously from being sucked upon. To still be bruised now, it must have been very dark in the beginning.

She shuddered. It was the darkest hickey she'd ever had in her life…a vampire's passionate love- bite.

Her mind flashed briefly to lips devouring hers, to cool hard flesh pressed against her breasts, her belly and hips, and the even harder flesh that had been buried in her body. She remembered growls and rumbling purrs, punctuated by soft cries that must have come from her own throat.

Buffy gasped as her body clenched in sudden hunger and she shuddered at the feeling of emptiness that resided between her thighs. Unable to resist, she reached up and traced the delicate holes, pressing against the wound cautiously. Her skin tingled and without knowing why, she pressed hard to the mark and bruise; her body spasmed in a sharp arc of pleasure.

The young Slayer sighed in distress. She had accounted her body's aches as part and parcel to her flu; obviously it had not been. She had had a late night visitor during her stay in a public anybody-can-come-in-at-anytime building. She had been taken advantage of by some vampire…She had been taken advantage of by Angel.

The thought of her demon lover enjoying her flesh while she was delirious and helpless was not comforting.

"Buffy?" Willow knocked softly on the bathroom door. "You okay?"

Buffy flushed in embarrassment and snatched her hand from the wound on her shoulder. She stared into her reflection's bright green gaze then at her pink cheeks.

"I'm fine," she replied in a high-pitched voice. Was she? She felt as though she'd just been caught with her hand between her thighs. "I'll be out in a minute, Will," she said in a more steady voice.

"Okay."

Moments ticked by and Buffy took a deep breath. It was the past. There was nothing she could do about it and it was in the past.

Hot skin against cool…the brush of silky hair against her cheeks…Firm lips against hers, bestowing sweet sharp kisses…and fingers against the pearl of flesh that was hidden between the folds of her sex. Buffy moaned.

She turned on the cold water and splashed her face, cooling her heated flush. She couldn't go through this now. Not while Willow and Xander were here. Hell, she wasn't sure she ever wanted to piece through her flashes of memory and know the whole picture of what had gone on that night.

The young Slayer patted her face dry then pulled a strip of toilet paper free from the roll. She dabbed at her wound, making sure that she hadn't reopened the punctures by fiddling with them; blood would too quickly soak through the white satin of her pajama top and then her secret would be out.

She paused. Why a secret? It wasn't her fault that Angel had raped her while she'd been delirious.

Touch me…I want to feel you inside me…Want you…Love you…

Buffy trembled. That was why it had to be a secret: it hadn't been rape. She didn't remember everything but she knew he hadn't raped her. He didn't have to. Nobody could know that she had submitted to her demon lover, and nobody would know. She wouldn't tell anybody and Angel was highly unlikely to be sharing stories in the library anytime soon.

She took a deep breath and resolutely left the private safety of the bathroom and returned to her sickbed.

Xander was still settled on the right side of her bed; Willow was still comfortably ensconced on a pile of pillows; and the Princess Bride was still rapidly unfolding.

Buffy slid beneath her covers for once glad of the modest yet comfortable satin pajamas her mother had gotten her. She pulled the duvet up to her chest and settled back to pretend that nothing was wrong.

Mr. Gordo peeked at her from across the room, his plush piggy form offering solace. She remembered Angel holding the stuffed toy and realized that she hadn't actually picked up her childhood confidant since Angel had placed him down there on her dresser.

She blinked and looked determinedly at the movie, wanting very badly to lose herself in a story where true love indeed conquered all. She watched quietly as Wesley and Buttercup traversed the dangers of the Fire Swamp then glanced at her window and the darkening sky outside.

"Umm, guys, it's getting kind of dark. Maybe you ought to head home since I can't escort you safely to your doors tonight."

Willow smiled beatifically. "Oz is going to pick me up. He and the band are doing a bit of rehearsal so the next time they play they'll be more - rehearsed."

"Yeah. And the lovebirds can give me a ride home," Xander commented around a mouthful of cheesy chips.

"Oh," Buffy muttered. Well when would that be? She tried to turn her attention back to the romantic farce but the window kept drawing her attention. Her curtains fluttered against the open portal and twilight melted rapidly into the inky shadows that vampires preferred.

She was extremely aware of Xander sitting next to her, on her bed, shoulder to shoulder. It was completely asexual. It was completely innocent but she felt uncomfortable, as though she'd done something wrong.

Xander was too close. His scent was wrong; his presence was wrong. She wanted to shove him off the bed. She remained still and pretended that nothing was wrong.

Buffy stared at the window, her throat dry. The UnInvitation spell was in full effect. He wouldn't come; she was safe. Of course, after having her flesh invaded, four walls, a roof and home turf did not provide any measure of comfort. Spell or no spell, home no longer felt safe because she did not feel safe in her own skin.

What if she'd invited him over while she was out of her mind…did that count? If she said come to me did that give him access to wherever she was? Would they have to do another UnInvitation spell? How would she explain it if they did?

The doorbell rang and Buffy flinched. What if her mother invited him in? No, she told herself sternly. After Angel's stellar performance - or rather lack thereof - as a psycho ex-boyfriend there was absolutely no way that her mother would invite him in.

Home. Home was safe. Her bedroom was safe.

"Buffy, honey. Look what arrived for you."

Buffy looked up as her mother entered the bedroom, cradled in her arms were two dozen roses whose petals were such a deep red that they looked like fresh blood.

Joyce carried the vase to Buffy's dresser and eased it carefully down. "Aren't they lovely?" she commented as she stood back to admire the bouquet.

"Wow!" Willow exclaimed, impressed by the number of expensive long-stemmed blooms and the heavy cut-crystal vase that they were contained in.

Buffy stared at the thorny floral offering: they were exquisite. Their perfume swiftly filled the air in her small bedroom, already weaving a spell of romance between the giver and the receiver.

"Did they come with a card?" the blond girl asked, her eyes never leaving the lush gift.

"Oh yes." Her mother tugged a heavy cream envelope free from amidst the blossoms and handed it over to Buffy's outstretched fingers. "Maybe it's from your father," Joyce commented. "I told him what had happened and he knows how much you hate hospitals."

Buffy glanced at the note in her hand then back at the plethora of roses, some opened some still buds but all spilling their fragrance so generously in the air. She sincerely doubted that her father, if he even thought of her at all, would get her roses of such a passionate color. White, yeah. Pink, sure. Regular red, maybe. But not these deep bloody hues.

"Oh, maybe it's a secret admirer," Willow gushed eagerly, leaning forward to watch as Buffy read the note.

Admirer? Ummm…

She looked at her name written in bold calligraphic slashes then flipped the envelope over to stare at the red melted wax that held the missive shut; a stylized A was branded into the pool of tallow.

Nope, she almost burst out. It's not dad and it's not a secret admirer. It's just my demon-lover dropping me a note to taunt me about bedding me in the hospital.

"Well, open it," Willow encouraged.

Buffy glanced at her audience and gave up her brief hope for a moment of privacy to see what Angel had to say. She grit her teeth, unsure whether she could take another dissertation of just how bad she was in bed.

The wax popped free of one side of the paper without breaking the sigil; it left a red stain on the creamy vellum.

Buffy unfolded the thick paper and stared at the words written within, so neatly, so carefully. She didn't notice the flash of silver metal as it slithered from its paper prison to her lap.


"Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken, It is the star to ever wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come, Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved I never writ and you never loved."

Exquisite. Do you remember, my love?

-- A


Buffy stared hard at the exquisitely scripted lines. Her breath caught. It was a love-letter. Her cradle-robbing-creature-of-the-night ex-boyfriend and demon lover had sent her a love letter and a soft worded reproach.

Was it true? Was real love pain with the pleasure, bad with the good? If she wasn't true all the way to the end did that mean that there had been no truth to the beginning?

"What's this?" Xander asked as he plucked up her present from her lap and held it up, suspended by a fine chain.

The pendant was about the same size as the cross he had given her when she'd first come to Sunnydale. It was shaped similarly too except at the top, which was shaped in a tear shaped loop. The metal had no flat edges but had been carefully rounded to give the piece a liquid and flowing look. The odd-shaped cross glittered in the light of her bedroom, the silver untarnished and pure.

Joyce smiled. "Oh, Buffy, how lovely."

"Funny looking cross," Willow commented uneasily.

"It's not a cross," Joyce corrected her. "It's an ankh. An Egyptian symbol."

Xander's fingers tightened on the chain as he peered over Buffy's shoulder to read the penned love note and to glower at the 'A,' which identified his hated enemy all-too-obviously.

"What does it mean?" Buffy asked softly, staring at the beautifully worked piece of jewelry.

"It's the symbol for ever-lasting life."

Ever-lasting life…It was an invitation…or a statement of his intentions.

Buffy reached up to take the suspended pendant just as Xander whipped it away.

"Xander," Buffy objected.

He ignored her and wadded the delicate chain into his fist. "What? You're going to accept his presents? His flowers?!" He turned and hurled the pendant out the window.

"Should I have given you the bouquet he brought you at the hospital?" Xander demanded contemptuously. "Or maybe I just should have let him into your room while you were helpless!"

Buffy grit her teeth, biting back the urge to screech that Xander hadn't protected her from anything at the hospital.

"That will be enough, Xander," Joyce quietly interrupted. Xander ignored her. "Angel. Angel! ANGEL! You don't care do you? You don't care what he is or what he does as long as you get your rocks off! You just want to be that demon's whore!"

Buffy flinched.

"I SAID THAT'S ENOUGH!" Joyce snapped furiously.

The three teens froze and looked at her in instinctive child-to-adult-authority wariness.

"How dare you say that to her?" Joyce snarled, advancing swiftly on the screaming boy and grabbing him firmly by the ear. "I think Buffy has enough anguish over the way her relationship with Angel turned out without your jealous, vicious and judgmental temper tantrum. She's realized she made a mistake and she's dealt with it as best she can. She doesn't need you and your sanctimonious rant to make her feel worse."

Buffy and Willow watched with huge eyes as Joyce hauled Xander out of the bedroom by his ear.

The cowed teen went docilely, too shocked at the intervention.

Buffy got out of bed and trailed her mother to the staircase, watching her enraged parent escort Xander roughly to the door.

"You go home and think about your behavior," Joyce instructed furiously. "Don't come back until you have a suitable apology to offer my daughter regarding your behavior and your language!"

She opened the door and shoved Xander out.

Oz, fist raised to knock, dodged the human missile as if it were an every day occurrence. He glanced from Joyce, to Xander than back to Joyce and gave her a very slight Oz smile. "Mrs. Summers, I'm Oz. I'm here to pick Willow up."

Joyce smiled graciously. "Of course. Why don't you come in and wait while she gets her things together."

Oz obeyed the summons with alacrity, wiping his feet on the front door mat to stay on the good side of the parental virago.

Joyce looked out to the front door at the boy standing uncertainly on her lawn. "Go home, Xander, I'm sure a walk will do you good." She slammed the door and turned to Oz who had been watching the proceedings with interest. "I'm sorry about that."

Oz shook his head. "No, it's all good," he stated matter-of-factly.

"Willow mentioned that you're in a band…about six times."

~

The glittering silver pendant flew through the air, the chain trailing behind like a kite's whipping tail. Angelus snatched his gift mid-flight, his cold dark gaze never wavering from Buffy's bedroom window where Xander Harris stood.

So close, yet so far away. The window was open, not that glass could stop him, but the house barrier was in full effect, protecting the boy from his wrath. The interfering mongrel had hurled his present, his invitation, out the window before his lady had been able to touch it, much less accept it. The boy had flung the silver pendant as if it were so much trash.

Angelus growled; the rage that had been steadily building since he'd arrived and seen the pup sitting next to Buffy on her bed had reached its zenith.

"Should I have given you the bouquet he brought you in the hospital?" the boy demanded. "Or maybe I should have let him into your room while you were helpless!"

Angelus watched his girl flinch and grit her teeth, a very faint flush tinting her cheeks. Yes, she remembered at least some of that night.

Xander advanced, obviously with the intention of taking hold of the note and ripping it to shreds; Buffy held the note protectively to her chest.

"Angel, Angel! ANGEL!" the boy screeched. "You don't care do you? You don't care what he is or what he does as long as you get your rocks off! You just want to be that demon's whore!"

Angelus snarled as the boy yelled at his woman. Now was not the time for her to have challenges regarding their relationship; she was only just beginning to realize that soul or no they still had one. There were tears in her eyes; if she were going to weep, it would damn well be from either the pleasure or the pain that her demon lover brought her, not the words of a worthless puling infant like Xander Harris.

Oh yes, Xander's time had come; he would not survive the night.

The master vampire watched in satisfaction as Joyce brought the boy's screaming tirade to an end. He tucked the pendant into his pocket as Buffy's mother grasped Xander by the ear, intent on ejecting him from her house.

Good.

He dropped from the tree branches and silently edged around to the front of the house.

Angelus rumbled in anticipation. With no Slayer to escort him safely home, Xander would be easy pickings. The boy needed to be taught a brutal lesson in the respect that Buffy was due. No man, no boy was allowed to make his baby cry; that was a privilege reserved solely for him.

The vampire watched with cold eyes as Xander was thrown ignobly out of the Summers residence even as the werewolf was allowed in.

One final rebuke from Joyce and the front door was slammed.

Angelus grinned: all alone. He eased out of the shadows, allowing the boy to see him.

Xander's attention shifted from the closed door to Angelus with an alacrity that was flattering. His nostrils flared and his pupils shrank even as a fear scent began to exude from him in gentle tantalizing waves.

The tall vampire inhaled but knew that he could make that fear all the sharper with the little additions of a hunt and a chaser of pain.

"Dead Boy - "

"I wouldn't say any more right now, Harris," Angelus growled. "No Slayer here to protect you. My girl is tucked up all nice and tight in her sick bed. And unlike the hospital, there are no witnesses here to bother us. I can focus all of my attention on you."

Xander flinched and started to shake. He opened his mouth to scream.

"Call out for help and I'll rip your intestines out before anyone arrives," Angelus promised.

Xander snapped his mouth with an audible click.

The vampire laughed softly and stepped between Xander and the retreat of the front door and the safety of the house. "I was thinking that we needed to have a little discussion on the etiquette of behavior around another man's woman."

Xander took a step back and Angelus took a step forward.

"That, and the proper respect due my woman." Angelus cocked his head to the side thoughtfully. "I can see that you don't want to have this conversation. Not that I blame you. It's going to be a knock down drag out of our innermost selves and I don't think you're going to find it pleasant. Now, I don't have an invitation to your house, Harris. Why don't you run for it? I'll even give you a head start."

Xander took another hesitant step back his gaze shifting beyond the vampire to the home of the only person who could match the evil predator in a battle.

Angelus shifted to game face. "Run," he snarled.

Xander ran.

Angelus laughed softly and set off in pursuit.

~

Willow looked uncomfortably at Buffy. "I'm sure he didn't mean - "

"He meant it," Buffy stated flatly.

"Well on Monday he'll apologize - "

"And I should just pretend he didn't say it?" Buffy demanded, tears in her eyes as she clutched Angel's note tightly to her chest. "You should remember this, Will. Remember that when Xander doesn't get his way he's intentionally cruel."

Willow blanched at the cold look in Buffy's eyes. Xander had stepped over an invisible line. He trod upon it several times when Buffy and Angel had been together but tonight, whether the vampire and Slayer were still a couple or not, Xander had invaded a private moment and tried to turn it dirty, Willow didn't think there would be any forgiveness forthcoming on this already festering wound.

"Are you…Do you want to talk…"

"No." At Willow's fallen expression the young Slayer reluctantly amended, "Not right now."

Willow nodded and trailed down the stairs to her boyfriend. "I'll see you in school on Monday."

Buffy nodded and watched as Willow and Oz left. She didn't see Xander, but he was probably lurking by Oz's van hoping for a ride home. At the moment she just didn't care.

The blond girl turned and walked back to her bedroom. She hesitated by the controversial roses and inhaled their scent deeply before she went over to stand by her window, searching. Whether she was searching for a glimmer to show where her necklace had landed or some sign of her demon lover, she was uncertain.

Joyce walked into her daughter's room and stared at her thoughtfully. "Get back in bed sweetie. I don't want you to have a relapse. It scares me when you get so sick you not only have to go to the hospital but also want to stay there for an extra night."

Buffy smiled a little sadly but obeyed her mother without protest. She kept Angel's missive tightly clasped in her fingers.

Joyce sat down on the edge of her daughter's bed and looked down into Buffy's sad eyes. The older woman smiled and tenderly stroked her daughter's hair. "It's from Angel, then?"

Buffy nodded, blinking rapidly in an attempt to dispel the tears that stung her eyes.

"What did he say?" Joyce asked softly. She had scolded Buffy already regarding Angel and had realized belatedly that it had been the wrong tact. Buffy had perhaps jumped into a sexual relationship too quickly, but there was no way she could have known that the young man would turn on her. And lacking her mother's support, Buffy hadn't dealt with the pain of her shattered relationship and moved on. Instead, she had bottled up her sorrow until it seemed to radiate from her pores.

Buffy surrendered the note and Joyce scanned the penned lines with pursed lips.

"Talk to me honey," Joyce pleaded. "I can't stand to see you hurting like this. Please talk to me."

"He's sick," Buffy whispered. "It's like some sort of multiple-personality thing," she said, giving her mother an explanation that if not completely accurate in terms of souls and demons, was at least accurate in regards to the personalities inhabiting her lover's body. "I keep hoping that the man I fell in love with is in there some where…but he's not."

Joyce rocked her daughter comfortingly. Seventeen was a painful age as it was without the added burden of having your heart broken and by such a handsome young man.

"I love him still," Buffy whimpered, pressing her face into her mother's shoulder. "He used to listen to me. Really listen to me like I was more than just a vapid little girl. He walked me home at night to make sure I was safe. I used to feel so safe with him. I felt like the whole world wasn't really real, only him. I love him. I miss him. And he's different now. He's cruel and sarcastic and cold and I - I - "

"Keep seeing echoes of the man you loved," Joyce finished softly.

Buffy sniffled and nodded; her tears sliding down her cheeks unchecked.

Joyce rocked her and sniffled herself. "Oh, baby, this is why I wanted you to stay my little girl forever. So you'd never have your heart broken."

Buffy took a shuddering breath and tried to stop her tears.

"No, sweetie," Joyce crooned. "Cry. It's okay to cry when you get your heart broken. It's okay to be sad for what you've lost. And it's okay to take as much time as you need to grieve. Men often hide their darker selves during the dating period and only later show all the ugly things you didn't know were there. It's not your fault you didn't see the dark parts of him that he was hiding. I didn't see it either with Ted - of course he was a robot. And when I was your age I had a couple of boyfriends who turned out to be real toads despite their prince getups."

Buffy sniffled and wiped her hand ineffectually at her eyes. "I don't know what to do," she whispered.

Joyce sighed. No easy answers there. "Breathe, baby. Breathe in and out all day long. Do that again tomorrow. And the day after until it gets easier. Don't ever let anyone make you feel ashamed of how you feel. There's nothing wrong with being in love." Joyce hesitated and then continued, knowing that this next part was very important to her daughter's burgeoning confidence as a young woman. "Making love with somebody that you're in love with can be the most profound and beautiful experience and there's absolutely no way to do it wrong so long as your desire to please and love each other is sincere. Do you understand? You did nothing wrong. It's just tragic that Angel is sick."

Buffy nodded, enjoying the comfort that her mother's warm embrace brought her. For this moment, with her ear pressed to her mother's breast, with the sound of her voice reverberating inside her chest, and her hands softly stroking Buffy's hair, Buffy felt safe again. And even though it was illusory at best and the next night Buffy would be back in the cemeteries killing the vampires again, for now, she felt as though her mother could protect her from the whole world.

"But honey," Joyce continued firmly, "he is sick. Don't talk to him. Don't see him. He's obsessed and dangerous."

"Ignore him and he'll go away?" Buffy asked dryly, repeating the advice that Giles had given her so recently on how to deal with Angel.

Joyce stroked through her golden girl's golden hair. "Don't feed his obsession. Your emotions, your pain, your distress could only encourage him."

Buffy nodded but she still reached for his note; Joyce reluctantly surrendered the missive, but stood and walked over to the flowers.

"Mom," Buffy hesitated then continued softly. "Can I keep them? - Just for tonight?"

Joyce looked down at the innocent blooms, their brilliant hue giving her an inkling of just how passionately, for good or for ill, the young man felt about her daughter.

She sincerely hoped that his obsession faded. She would hate for her daughter's first love to go so badly that it was necessary to call the police on the young man, but she wouldn't tolerate him harassing or frightening her daughter. "I don't think it's a good idea - "

"Just for tonight."

Joyce hesitated then withdrew from the bouquet. "Just for tonight. You should go to sleep soon. You need your rest. Tomorrow's Sunday and my girl gets breakfast in bed. Sleep until you wake up, baby. You need the rest."

Buffy nodded and watched as her mother left the room and closed the door behind her.

~

Angelus stalked quietly through the cemetery, scenting the air for his frightened prey.

Thus far the hunt had been hugely entertaining. He had given the boy his head start, but it had made no difference since he had cut off Xander's seeming progress and forced him back down different roads, across and around the apparatus of the park and finally right where Angelus was certain they could be assured of some meaningful, private quality-time: the cemetery.

He jumped silently and landed on top of one of the mausoleums. He paced its length, scanning the headstones for the furtive movements of the terrified boy.

There. Right next to a headstone where Angel had once pinned a very aroused Slayer and ravished her delicious mouth.

Oh yes, that was a perfect place to beat the boy senseless at.

Angelus hopped down from his perch and moved in to end the hunt.

"Going some where?" the vampire demanded abruptly.

Xander wailed in fear and sprang to his feet, a broken tree branch clenched in his fist.

Angelus laughed in derision. "You think you're actually going to manage to stick me with that, pup?"

Xander lurched forward, bringing the makeshift stake down in an arc towards Angelus' chest.

Mildly amused at the boy's temerity Angelus caught hold of Xander's wrist and squeezed; the branch fell to the ground forgotten. The crunching noise was audible and Xander screamed at the pain of it.

"Don't scream yet," Angelus hissed. "We're just barely getting started here. And this," he shook Xander's fractured wrist brutally, wrenching a whimper from the boy, "this is nothing. Buffy gets this and worse on a regular basis. You don't hear her whimpering like a little…boy do you?"

Xander clutched his arm and trembled in shock. He'd been hurt. Nobody had ever intentionally hurt him before. Sure, there had been the bullies at school pushing him around, but nothing serious. And sure, there had been the preying mantis lady who had been going to kill him and he'd of course been properly frightened, but Buffy had rescued him in time and the incident had never coalesced from theoretically horrifying to horrifyingly physically real. And of course he'd been knocked out a couple of times, but hey, knocked out meant unconscious: no fear and no pain.

Angel had just broken his arm. Angel who had never been a legitimate physical threat before had just transformed from hypothetical boogeyman into an all too painfully and physically real threat.

He was really here, in the dark, in the cemetery, completely alone with Angel, and there was truly no mercy to be found in those cold soulless eyes.

And if he didn't save himself, he was really going to die on the cold moist earth of a Sunnydale graveyard.

Xander struck at the vampire with his other hand, landing a clumsy open-handed blow against Angelus' cheek.

The vampire laughed wildly. "What are you? A Victorian maiden?" He picked Xander up by his shirt and shook him like a rag doll. "I've had housemaids that could fight back better than you." He flicked his wrists and sent the dark-haired teen flying into an unforgiving headstone.

Xander landed against the stone painfully, his hip screaming with the agony of impact. He staggered to his feet and backed clumsily away from the advancing predator. "Buffy will kill you if you hurt me," the boy threatened desperately, hoping against hope that the threat of the absent Slayer's future vengeance would give the fiend pause.

Angelus did not hesitate; he stalked forward and slammed a fist brutally into Xander's stomach.

The boy collapsed to the ground and wheezed loudly for the air that had just been driven forcefully out of his body. He wheezed even more against the dread that was slowly seizing up his lungs, constricting his chest painfully.

Xander scrabbled weakly in the dirt, trying to crawl away, but the vampire grasped a fistful of his unkempt hair and lifted the boy's face from the cemetery soil. "Do you really think after your remarks tonight that she has any degree of fondness for you?" Angelus asked conversationally.

Xander moaned in distress, wondering whether the vampire was right. In his attempts to shatter her link with Angel had he gone too far and alienated her? No. NO. Buffy was the Chosen One, the Vampire Slayer. He twisted his face to spit defiantly into Angel's frighteningly ridged and predatory face.

Angelus calmly wiped the spittle away then smiling, in an almost friendly manner, backhanded the boy.

Xander's head flew back and struck a nearby headstone, cracking in an onslaught of nauseating pain. He gasped and choked on something for a moment before managing to spit out a back molar that had been knocked loose by the force of the blow. Blood from the tooth socket and from his split lip dribbled down his chin.

The pain was terrible. It consumed him, grinding in his bones and pouring through his body in powerful waves.

The world went grey and indistinct, then grey darkened to black and for a blessed moment, Xander disappeared beneath the blanket of unconsciousness. He awoke seconds later, the impatient vampire shaking him like a rag doll.

"Do you know what you smell like boy?" Angelus hissed, leaning close to the trembling youth's battered face. "You smell like fear."

Xander sneered through his blood, trying to maintain his bravado before the man he hated more than anything in the world. "Why should I be afraid of you? Who do you think pulled your coat over your head and kicked you in the face three nights ago?"

Angelus scowled, remembering that that particular interruption had come right when he'd had his golden girl pinned beneath him and helpless, then he shrugged it aside. The night had culminated with Buffy being pinned against him and helpless anyway, and the hunger slaked had been for more than just blood.

But, in keeping things fair, one blow to the head deserved another. He jerked Xander's face down to his knee.

The moist crunching sound of the boy's nose breaking was almost abnormally loud in the bandoned silence of the graveyard.

Xander's eyes teared at the pain. He felt as if he were going to throw up. His body felt cold and clammy and he knew that his endurance for the shocking sensation of being hurt for someone else's entertainment was nearly done, while Angel's was obviously just getting started.

He blinked rapidly and from the corner of his eye saw his dropped stake. He scrabbled his hand through the dirt, searching blindly for the sharp broken branch, knowing that tonight no one was going to save him. And wondering, in the back of his mind, whether Angelus was right.

"That bother you Dead Boy?" Xander snapped, trying to shake his doubts away. "That I protected Buffy from you? Two times in one night."

The vampire's golden-green eyes glowered down at the fragile mortal. "Do you actually think that you're in competition with me for my girl? Do you actually believe that she could ever turn from my arms to yours?"

"She doesn't seem to be in your arms much of late," Xander sneered.

Angelus smirked, his eyes holding some secret delight.

"When you're dust who knows what could happen," the boy roared, grasping the roughened wood in his left hand and striking outward, needing to strike the vampire dead as much to save his own life as to restore his dwindling faith in Buffy's worthiness to carry the mantel of Chosen One. If Angel were dead, her faltering in her duty would be over. She would never hesitate to dust another vamp; she would never be the cause of another's death again.

Angelus negligently slapped the wood from the pup's hand, sending the branch spinning away into the night's gloom. He grasped Xander's left hand, shifting his own for the primary angle and twisted sharply, dislocating one of the fragile filangees.

Xander screamed, his body shaking in shock. The agony ripping up his hand was more intense than anything he'd ever felt in his life.

"Yes," the demon crooned. "Now you smell of blood, pain, and fear. I bet we can sharpen that tang just a little."

"Fuck you," Xander groaned despairingly.

Angelus smiled and snapped another finger so that two were now pointing perpendicular to the knuckles.

Xander wailed at the fresh onslaught of agony, sobs tore at his throat even as pain ripped at his nerve endings.

"More?" Angelus asked softly.

Xander gasped and glared impotently at his tormentor. "You're not going to kill me. You're afraid to."

"Now why would I be afraid to kill a mongrel like you?"

"Even if Buffy's mad at me, she's the Slayer. She'll kill you for it."

"Who are you trying to convince? Yourself or me? Her duty is to kill me anyway," Angelus whispered against the boy's ear. "Whether you live or die is immaterial to that duty. Of course we both know that she was actually glad I killed that bitch, Jenny. Oh yes, you smell of rage now. You know that Buffy wanted that bitch dead for failing her precious soul-boy. You blame her for Jenny's death as much as me. Not that you cared about precious Ms. Calender. It's just another weapon to stab into Buffy's bleeding heart, isn't it? Another way to punish her for loving me and not you." He snapped another finger.

Xander shrieked raggedly, his voice breaking at the onslaught of pain. His eyes rolled up into his skull.

"Xander? Xander," Angelus purred softly.

The youth did not respond.

"Shit. Lost him."

The demon pressed his fingers gently to the boy's carotid artery, monitoring his pulse rate; a little shocky, but nothing life threatening…yet. He stroked Xander's hair idly, waiting for the pup to wake back up Minutes ticked by and the vampire waited..

Xander opened his eyes. He felt so cold. He looked at the man leaning over him and his mind provided a name for the face.

"Angel?"

Angelus grinned. "Nope. Still me. It's going to be hard to continue our conversation if you keep passing out on me Harris. With your mouth, I would think that you would've had plenty of experience getting beaten up."

Xander panted. "She should've staked your ass the night she killed the Judge. Ms. Calender would be alive - "

"And what? You'd be the consoling shoulder she turned to, to mourn her lover's loss." Angelus laughed. "And you call yourself her friend. Do you have any idea how much stronger she'd be without you pathetic lot to be used as leverage against her? I could get her to do anything I wanted just by holding one of you worthless brats hostage."

That wasn't true, Xander thought. She needed them. They weren't liabilities. They weren't just hostages that could be used against her. They fought the good fight too. They were just as worthy as the Chosen One. More so. At least they didn't fuck the enemy.

"You should be kissing her feet that she deigns to protect you," Angelus hissed, "but instead you call her a whore."

The vampire snarled in rage and slammed his fists into Xander's gut and ribs.

There was another audible crack and at the sound Angelus stopped his assault, mollified slightly by the sound of cracking bones. He took in a deep breath and continued his casual conversation with his victim. "How often do you taunt her boy? How often do you rub her nose in her boyfriend's demise?"

"I don't - "

"No?" Angelus queried softly. "You, a worthless nothing don't presume to lecture the Chosen One on her duty? You don't console her for her loss but encourage her that it was all for the best? All her fault? You don't sneer at her pain and tell her to just murder her lover? Yes," the vampire crooned. "There's that jealousy. You stink of it. What would you do to make my golden Slayer love you and forget me?"

No. He wasn't like that. He wasn't vicious like that. He would never intentionally hurt Buffy. He just told her like it was. He just told her the truth. And he wouldn't capitalize on her pain just to satisfy his own wants…would he? Had he? Is that what he'd been doing?

Xander bared his blunt unthreatening teeth. "Maybe she loved you when you had a soul, but no way is she going to want a beast like you. She'll want a man not a soulless creature like you."

Angelus growled softly in displeasure "I have wanted to do this for months. Even as soul-boy I hated you and all your derisive comments to make Buffy feel like a pervert for preferring me to you."

A pervert, he thought hazily, the bitter taste of vomit rising in the back of his throat. Had he really been doing that? Had he really been trying to make Buffy feel like a necrophiliac or something? Had he really been so cruel in his taunts that a soulless fiend had taken exception to his remarks?

"Oh yes, Harris. I think we have issues to work out between us. And I've got hours until the dawn to bare your insides."

Xander stared into the brilliant gold-green eyes and knew that he wasn't going to live to see the dawn.

His heart stuttered a beat. He was really going to die. Buffy was at home. Kendra, the other Vampire Slayer, was long gone from town. Giles was probably at home having a cup of tea. No one was going to save him. No cavalry was going to arrive in the nick of time.

"I'm a little out of practice," Angelus confided, slipping a knife free from his boot, "but I'm reasonably sure that I can slit you open, pull out your entrails and still keep you alive while I skin you. Shock might be a problem, but I'm willing to chance it if you are."

Xander trembled, unable to turn away from those soulless eyes. His fear rose higher and his heart thundered as he grimly thought of what the coming hours held in store for him. Hours where no one would hear him scream and the Slayer that should have been out to rescue him was probably at home dreaming of her demon-lover.

An acrid smell suddenly overwhelmed the smell of blood and fear and Angelus glanced down at Xander's urine soaked pants in surprise. Unable to help himself the vampire laughed.

"I take it you're not looking forward to our time together," the demon chortled. He stared down into Xander's pale face, cocking his head as he read the emotions that flashed over his face and over his scent. Fear, yes, but humiliation and despair as well.

How entertaining, the vampire mused. His ridged and predatory face morphed back into his angelically handsome countenance.

"You've lost your bluff boy. Your game of chicken is over and you blinked. However," Angelus continued, "I'm suddenly feeling magnanimous. Besides, you threw my gift out the window. How can my courtship proceed unless I leave my love a little token of my regard? And I don't think she's ready to appreciate the time and effort I would have to put into eviscerating a victim. Not quite yet anyways. Maybe later."

He picked Xander up by the scruff of his neck and dragged him from the cemetery.

The beaten boy slipped in and out of consciousness as his body desperately tried to cushion his mind from the damage.

"Where are you taking me?" the boy demanded woozily. "Are you going to leave me dead on Buffy's doorstep? Are you going to snap my neck like you did Ms. Calender's?"

"I'm going to give you a chance to live," Angelus commented, traveling along until he came to an intersection. He glanced contemptuously down at Xander's wet crotch. "After all, we could always pick up this little discussion another time and when you're in more control of your…faculties."

Xander blinked, trying desperately to concentrate on the vampire's words but the only thing he could concentrate one was the ribs that seemed to poke inside him as they never had before. "You don't actually think that leaving me on her doorstep is going to advance your cause, do you?" he panted weakly.

The vampire grinned light-heartedly. "By leaving you broken and bleeding on her doorstep, she'll know that my interest is very sincere. You're an important token Xander. One mustn't leave just any old dead thing at a lady's door. It has to be something that she'll realize was just for her. And after tonight's explosion, she'll know that this, that you," he shook his futilely struggling prey, "are my response to how seriously I take our relationship. She's already my consort, my wife. Soon, she'll be my queen."

"Wife?" Xander parroted in weary confusion.

"Oh yes. We're…separated at the moment, but it's not…forever," the handsome demon purred ironically. "Your body lets my girl know that I take exception to anyone treating her badly. It lets her know that I take my husbandly duty as protector very seriously. Wife and consort or kill, she's mine."

"Body," Xander repeated. If he had more strength, he would be aghast at the almost indifferent tone. "I thought you said you weren't going to kill me."

"I said I'd give you a chance to survive. And I am." Angelus smiled charmingly. "All you have to do is survive the car."

"What car?" Xander asked nervously.

"That one," Angelus jerked his chin at an oncoming car. He remained in the bushes by the side of the road, keeping the two of them out of the driver's sight.

"You mean you're not going to bite me?" Xander squeaked.

"Oh, I'd never pollute myself with your blood. Now don't tense up. Vehicle impacts hurt worse when you tense up."

If he hadn't already lost control of his bladder, Xander knew he would have lost it right then. I'm so fucked, he thought despairingly.

The master vampire threw Xander into the road just as the car started to pass. The boy struck the grill, bounced into the windshield and then completely over the car to land on the asphalt.

The car screeched to a halt.

Angelus sighed. Good. Dinner. He needed a little repast before he dropped Xander off back at the Summers' home.

The driver, a delightfully squirming young woman was a feast of horror and terror. She also donated a pen and scrap of paper to his courting cause.

Angelus left her and her car in the middle of the road as he dragged Xander back to Buffy's porch.

"Treat my girl more respectfully," Angelus ordered as Xander finally passed out from the pain and terror.

For Buffy, to ensure that she understood his night's activities fully, he left a note curled in Xander's broken fingers.


Xander tenders his sincerest apologies for his conduct.

- A

~


Buffy sat in front of the mirror at her vanity and slowly drew a brush through the length of her hair. Bristles parted the golden tresses, pulling the thick waves into a smooth silky waterfall. Her movements were automatic, her attention focused on the bouquet of roses that took up a third of her vanity's surface.

The roses bobbed their heads, their petals and leaves rustling an amiable conversation

Buffy listened to the flowery discourse, vaguely aware of the familiarity of their dialogue.

"You're not like other girls," a rosebud observed in a soft masculine tone as a crimson dewdrop slid slowly down its lip, trickling down the long stem, past wicked looking thorns, to settle in the crimson stained water that filled the lower eighth of the cut-crystal vase.

"You do everything wrong," a second flower reproached her in the exasperated voice of her first Watcher. A second crimson droplet welled up from the depths of the brilliantly hued open bloom, slipping down the petals to gather on the point of a sharp thorn.

"Sorry," Buffy murmured, her eyes stinging.

"No," the flower sighed in amusement. "Do it wrong."

The droplet slipped from the thorn and plopped into the crimson hued water, setting off ripples that were visible despite the numerous stems that rested in the liquid.

Buffy sighed softly.

"You are destined to die," a third flower hissed, its petals drooping on its stem. The wilting bloom bled a single tear of moisture into the vase reservoir.

"This isn't a fairytale. When I kiss you, you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after."

"Your fault," the other flowers whispered in a mournful chorus.

The young Slayer turned away from the bouquet, determined not to let their whispers disturb her.

She inhaled deeply, enjoying the heady perfume and pretended that she didn't notice the metallic tang in the air.

In the reflection behind her she could see Mr. Gordo sitting on one of her pillows, waiting for her to come to bed and snuggle his piggy plush body against her.

Done brushing the shining waves of her hair, the young Slayer plucked a red ribbon from the surface of her vanity and carefully tied her hair back.

"Your fault," the flowers continued to rebuke her.

She ignored them and brushed the light switch and enclosed her bedroom within the veil of nighttime.

She walked around the edge of her bed and sat down; she paid no attention to the angelically beautiful man who reclined against her headboard, one booted foot on the floor, the other tucked up on her mattress. Instead she contentedly leaned back against his silk covered chest and shifted slightly until her head rested above where his heart should have beat.

He brought his arm around her shoulder and settled Mr. Gordo into her arms and Buffy smiled as she accepted the plush pig.

"Your fault," the flowers scolded over and over.

She rolled to her side, tucking her legs into a fetal position and rested her cheek above his silent heart. Tears escaped and trickled over her cheeks to fall on his chest.

He cuddled her to him, tenderly stroking her hair. "Don't listen to them."

"Angel," she whispered painfully, glad that he and not the memory of Lothos had invaded the sanctity of her dreams.

"Your fault," the flowers wailed their remonstrations in soft repetitive tones.

On the nightstand beside her bed she could see a penny spinning slowly, so slowly it should have toppled yet it didn't. The copper coin had two faces: one on each side.

Buffy looked tiredly up at her lover. His dark eyes glittered down at her, their depths aglow alternately with an aching tenderness that made her heart hurt and with a passion that was at once both exhilarating and frightening.

"I love you," she whispered.

"Kill me," he instructed.

She looked back at the spinning coin and away from the sorrow that lit his dark eyes.

"Kill me."

She bit back a sob and pressed closer to him. "I can't. I love you," she whispered.

He cradled her against his cool body and she drifted contentedly, comforted by his presence. He stroked her shoulders and back, running his fingers through her shining hair in long languorous possessive strokes.

"Kill me before I claim you, my love."

She didn't reply.

"I love you," he whispered. "Kill me."

"I can't," she sobbed brokenly.

She dropped Mr. Gordo to the side and turned more fully into her vanquished lover's chest.

"If you don't kill me," he warned, lacing his long fingers in the heavy silk of her hair, "I will make you mine for eternity."

She gripped him to her in silent desperation and in desperate denial. "I can't."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 3 - Tainted


Angelus knelt on the roof outside Buffy's now-closed bedroom window.

He remembered balancing in just this spot when his girl had been grounded, forbidden to venture forth from her room beyond the requirements of school or the bathroom.

Forbidden to come out to play, she and Angel had bowed to the letter of Joyce's interdict: the young Slayer had stayed obediently within her room, but Angel had perched at her windowsill, leaning in to his imprisoned love.

They had feasted on each other's lips in the portal that opened their two worlds to each other - the window that led to his shadowed world of night and to her warmly lit realm of the modern teenaged girl.

Even diluted through the soul's perceptions, Angelus had shuddered beneath the exquisite onslaught of passion and hunger. Buffy, sweet virgin that she had been at the time, had already learned how she could drive her lover nearly wild with desire by nipping and then sucking on his lower lip before drawing his tongue into the heat of her mouth.

On previous trysts between the two, Angelus had desperately tried to snap Angel's control of their body, but despite his passion for the young Slayer and his ever-growing affections for her, Angel's control had never wavered. Certainly there had been instances when his vampiric nature had been aroused, but not moments that released the demon imprisoned within.

Resignedly accepting that there was no release in sight from the hell that was his existence, Angelus had concentrated on enjoying the sensual torture of…making out?…necking?….seducing a young lover.

That night, amidst the sensual carnality of mating lips and tongues, there had been the tempting scent of flesh.

Buffy often smelled of vanilla and jasmine, scents left on her skin and in her hair by the lotions and shampoo she used. But that night she had smelled of feminine desire, a heady tantalizing musk that let him know just what effect their heated caresses had on her, and while that feminine musk was exquisite, he had smelled it other nights. No. What made that night special had been the other scent…the intoxicating scent of Slayer blood.

And then Angel had had a thought - an erotic fantasy that had shocked the demon Angelus before he too was entangled in the idea.

That evening, Buffy was the most female that she was all month and her menstrual blood mixed with the scent of her desire.

Angel fantasized about crawling through the window and laying his young lover down on her bed. He envisioned tugging her cotton pajama shorts and her panties down her sleek trembling legs and then stroking that silky flesh until she moaned his name.

He fantasized about sipping from his innocent girl, parting her sweet, tender folds and pleasuring her with his lips and tongue so that frenzied feminine entreaties for more rained upon him even as he was able to drink exquisite and powerful Slayer blood mixed with honeyed feminine desire. He wanted to feast from the delicate flesh between her thighs until she thrashed and moaned beneath him, all without ever once having to pierce her flesh.

Angelus was, to say the least, stunned at the idea. It had simply never occurred to him. Certainly he had pleasured his lovers that way before, but it had never once occurred to him that at the proper time of a girl's cycle, he could feast upon that blood, without ever once sinking in a fang…and the idea had come from his souly-self.

The dark-haired vampire shifted uncomfortably. He stared through the thin glass into the room where his mortal lover slept. The fragile shield forged from the mysterious alchemy of molten sand was no impediment to his strength; if all it took to gain access to his lady was brute force, then there was nothing on earth that would have halted his progress. What held him back from entering his girl's bedroom, when no physical obstacle could ever have dissuaded him, was the mystical house barrier.

What held him back from claiming her as his golden goddess were her moral inhibitions. She would be his. There was no doubt in his mind that with lips and flesh, whispers and blood, he would lure her away from the unfeeling righteousness of light, but to lure a champion would take time. And in the meantime, while he waited, he was trapped on the other side of the window.

He clenched his teeth grimly, loathing the fact that he, the Scourge of Europe had been reduced to the role of Peeping Tom at his own woman's window.

Fool, he berated himself. Only a few weeks ago he had had free reign to her home and unperceived access to her person. And how had he used his Invitation? He had sketched her while she slept. He had stroked her hair while she dreamed, blissfully unaware of his presence, brushed fingers over her petal-soft cheek and been bewitched by the unfamiliarity of the…tenderness that accompanied his passion and been enthralled by the sight of her turning more fully into his caress as she slept.

Looking back now, he could see that he had wasted the advantage her ignorant vulnerability had afforded him. If he hadn't been so intent on making her feel that vulnerability, if he hadn't made her realize it existed by leaving her the sketches he had done of her and her oblivious mother, then she would never have rescinded his invitation. Without that arrogant bit of idiocy he would still be free to enter her room whenever he pleased. He could have entered her room this very night, joined her in her innocent's bed, and drowned her senses in his passion…or had his senses drowned in hers.

He growled in frustration. Truthfully, how could he have known that they would be able to retract his Invitation? Hell, he hadn't even known that an Invitation could be revoked. Then again, he had never had a victim that he'd afforded time to counter his moves.

Perhaps it was just as well. Until three nights ago, he hadn't truly decided how best to deal with Sunnydale's Slayer. The idea of killing her had held a familiar rightness: Slayers kill vampires, vampires kill Slayers. The fantasy of bringing her mortal warmth to his bed had also been an erotic titillation, but one that was unlikely to bear fruit. And now, that forbidden fantasy had been his briefly. Angel's beautiful and dangerous love had taken Angelus into her arms and body and given him ideas that he never would have dared consider before.

Angelus wanted what Angel had had. He wanted her innocent passion, but more than that, he wanted those glowing looks that told him that he was the only male in her whole world. He wanted that biting tongue and the teasing coquetry that had brought Angel to his knees with jealousy. He wanted her enraged protectiveness, her tender concern for his health and the silent love that lived in her eyes. He wanted everything with a newborn hunger that alternately enraged him and terrified him with its intensity.

He rumbled softly in his throat as he scanned her bedroom; the surface of her dresser was empty. He descried his flowers and note on her vanity and sighed in relief. She had not thrown them away; progress had been made.

She was confused, unable to differentiate between him and his soul: good.

Her devotion and love would transfer to him. Her passion three nights ago proved that her desire endured his change. Physical lust, although sweet, was, however, just a tool to gain access to the citadel of her heart.

Buffy still lived in the realm where sex was indistinguishable from love. Sex, for her, was an ultimate expression of love. If he could just maintain his possession, literally and figuratively, of her body, her heart would follow. What her body desired, her heart would desire; what her body loved, her heart would love: a plus b equaled c. Her innocence left her weaponless in this arena of their battle.

He closed his eyes, remembering. He remembered his soul-dominated body taking possession of hers, guiding the delicate innocent over the precipice and into womanhood. He remembered her breathy moans and her mewling whimpers as she arched into his every thrust, clasping his hips tightly between her sleek thighs and raking his back with her nails as she hoarsely demanded more of his ardent attentions.

He also remembered the night at the hospital, when she had guided her demon lover's hands over her lithe body and in a throaty whisper, described how he had made her feel the night he had possessed her…and for a time, the dainty virginal girl had taken possession of him.

He, Angelus, one of the most brutal fiends ever unleashed upon the Europe, possessed by a diminutive mortal girl. He would tolerate it. If the only way to possess her was to be possessed by her, then he would tolerate it. He would simply so befuddle her, so dominate her senses in every carnal act known between heaven and hell that she would never realize the power she held in her small hands.

It was all the damn soul's fault.

When he had first taken possession of young Liam, the boy's experiences had consisted of drinking, wenching and carousing. There had never been an experience of love left imprinted on Liam's memories to taint the purity of the demon's complete lack of humanity.

Other vampires, such as William and Drusilla or James and Elizabeth were infected from their first night of existence, their cold and cruel hearts contaminated from the start by their human host's memories of the ambrosial poison known as love.

Angelus had been blessed by young Liam's dogged pursuit of self-indulgence. The hedonistic lifestyle, further heartened by the boy's father's disgust with his offspring and then spiced by early memories of abuse at that father's fists had made a perfect birth place for a demon. Oh, yes, pleasure-seeking, cynical and embittered Liam had been an ideal and pure repository for a demon's appetites for carnality, cruelty and death. The boy had wanted such things himself, in a dark hidden corner of his mind, he'd simply lacked the fortitude to pursue his less than convivial desires.

When those damned gypsies had cursed him, young Liam's soul had been returned from the aether, the limbo a vampire's human host's soul resided in until the True Death of the body, and been reborn in Angelus.

Just as Angelus had been born amongst the memories of Liam, the boy's passions and desires providing the foundation for the demon's existence and future growth as the Scourge of Europe, so the returning soul was reborn in the cauldron of Angelus' memories. The demons passions and desires had provided the same foundation for the newly embodied soul, but rather than being guided by the memories, Liam's soul had been horribly traumatized and scarred by the century and a half of rapine, torture and murder that he had and had not done.

The soul's rebirth in the undead body redefined Liam and reforged him as Angel.

As if that rebirth was not bad enough, unlike Angelus' conception where Liam had been expelled from his undead body, leaving the demon as the sole tenant, Angelus was not exiled from his corporeal being. Still trapped in his body, Angelus had been dominated and subjugated by a weak, guilty and ultimately repentant human soul.

For nearly a hundred years the demon had resided as a passenger in his own immortal body, unable to express his growing rage and humiliation as the soul Angel made a mockery of his existence. And worse, Angelus had shrunk beneath the soul's dominance, aware that while his memories and demonic presence might infect the spirit, its proximity might also taint his demonic purity.

Now, nearly a hundred years later, when Angelus again held sway over his own body, he was all too aware that the soul Angel had not been expelled back to the aether where he belonged.

Damned gypsies.

Angel now existed in subjugation, his soul in shock and in a state of near catatonia from the trauma of recent events.

Things had changed, but not back to the way it had been. He would never again be completely free from the soul's presence, not unless the soul itself was destroyed.

The demon was all too aware that the damned human soul had contaminated him. Now he, like other vampires, was susceptible to the pernicious ambrosia of love. Now the sweet passion and intoxicating devotion of a girl called him, dominating his thoughts as no infatuation or obsession ever had before. Now he, after centuries of immunity, had at last been infected by love - and hell help him, he was never going to recover.

Angelus laid his palm against the cool glass.

Buffy slept peacefully, her hyper-perceptions quiescent at the familiarity of his presence. She held a stuffed pig tightly to her, tears trickling from beneath her lashes.

She grieved for his loss.

The handsome vampire curled his lip in helpless fury: bloody soul. He may have to share the body with the damned spirit, but he would be damned if he would share the girl.

Angel may have seen her first. Angel may have paved the way for Angelus' affections with his love, but Angel was out of the picture and Buffy would be his.

Aside from the fact that he, Angelus had his own agenda with Buffy, Angel owed him reparation for the decades of restraint and abstinence of both blood and sex. A demon needed passion, he needed hunger and pleasure to infuse him with vitality; sensual denial had nearly driven him mad. For decades he had hoped for a moment when instinct and passion would overcome Angel's control so that he, Angelus could slip his leash and be free, if only for a moment. But there had been nothing; nothing to inspire any powerful hunger or desire in Angel until L.A. two years ago.

Angel had seen and Angel had loved an untouchable girl bathed in forbidden sunlight. He had loved with an all-consuming and nearly worshipful passion that the demon had wallowed in, grateful for even the poisonous affection after the decades of apathy and self-loathing.

These last few months had been the best…and the worst. They had been filled with exquisite torturous moments: moments of sleeping on a floor when a willing girl slept inches away in a virginal bed; moments of staking his ravishing Sire in defense of a succulent plum of a girl who was the arch enemy of his species; and memories of nights when he'd pressed her unbearably ripe body against tall monuments and ravished her mouth while pressing his loins into the warm cradle of her hips. A thousand kisses and caresses: there should have been an instant when the soul's control over his vampiric instincts to possess and ravish her mortal body should have slipped. Those moments had all passed by while Angelus had been unable to act, unable to claim, unable to defend and unable to possess. No more. No more would he be denied.

Within the confines of the bedroom, Buffy dropped the pig off of the side of the bed as she rolled to her stomach and clutched her pillow tightly.

Angelus growled as he watched in bitter jealousy; her slender shoulders shook as she wept, even in her dreams, for his damned soul. It would not always be thus, he comforted himself. She would eventually turn to him.

He removed the ankh from his pocket and laid it carefully on her windowsill.

Roses, a necklace, and a broken boy: three tokens of his regard in one night. Yes, she would eventually realize that his intentions were in earnest and turn to him.

The demon muttered several profanities to himself when her remembered his girl throwing herself into his arms the night after his rebirth. Idiot, he though, jumping lightly to the ground below. If he'd just taken her then, if he'd just carried her back to his bed, stripped her clothes from her and brought her to pleasure using his lips, his tongue, his hands, his cock and yes, even his teeth. If he'd just brought her to orgasm after orgasm until she was too tired to move, too tired to think, he could have brought her across while she'd still trusted him.

But no. He had been sure that his disgusting love-sick thoughts were a temporary residue of the soul's domination. He'd been sure that his hunger for her touch would dissipate. It would dissipate and he would no longer crave the silken glide of her skin against him, he would no longer yearn to hear her breathy moans of encouragement, no longer ache to hear her whisper his name - any variation of it she damn well pleased to utter.

Idiot.

He'd gone to the hospital with every intention of burning her out of his system. She had been weak and it was entirely possible to do whatever depraved carnal act it took to force her out of him. He'd planned to rip off that ineffective hospital gown and tear into her near-virgin body with his cock and teeth. He was going to pump into her brutally until she begged and pleaded for him to stop, and then he was going to spill his dead seed into her warm body as he drained every drop of her powerful Slayer's blood.

He was thankful that she'd seduced him instead. He would never have realized until it was too late that his cold heart was already in her keeping; Angel had placed it there for both of them and killing her was no way to regain possession of it.

Forever was what he wanted. Centuries of hunting together, a millennia of nights to lose himself in her arms and passion.

Forever. That was the whole point.

>>>

A soft breeze ruffled his blood-matted hair, bitingly cold despite the fact that it was Southern California

Xander shivered.

The bushes and trees swayed softly, leaves whispering, branches creaking. Insects clicked and night birds trilled and hooted their eerie nocturnal cries.

Xander trembled.

Consciousness returned to him slowly, fuzzily. Instantly he wished that it hadn't returned to him at all. He hurt everywhere, from his hair to his toes, his head ached and he was afraid that he was going to vomit. Not that vomiting was a major fear, because after a year of demons and vampires, his definition of fear had definitely changed, it was just that he didn't think he had the strength to move away from it if he did.

Things moved in the night, indistinct bodies flashing, atavistic eyes glowing red as they watched, but they, whatever they were, stayed away from the porch, illuminated as it was by the street lamp.

Blinking blearily, he tried to lift his head, but the pain that rippled through his body signaled that that was a very bad idea. His eyes shifted, taking in as much of his surroundings as he could.

He was laid out on a concrete porch. Had he been there for minutes?…or maybe hours. The cold surface was like ice beneath him, slowly, but steadily, leeching the warmth from his body.

A door was only about a foot and a half away from him, but that foot and a half looked so far away.

The dark-haired boy inhaled slowly, every breath agony as he felt sharp things poke inside his chest. His face and head throbbed. His right wrist ached and the index, middle and ring fingers of his left hand hurt with a pain so intense it brought back his earlier reflections of tossing his cookies. The dull grinding pain in his hip didn't bode too well either.

He blinked, studying that door for a moment, or at least the bottom half of it as he was unable to shift his head to look at the rest. His gaze flicked to the right of the door and the three ferns lined up in a row. They blurred for a moment and he blinked again to bring them back into focus. Just behind the pots, he could make out a green goo encrusted sneaker.

Green goo. Buffy's door.

Why was he laying at Buffy's door? How did he get here?

Ah yes. Now he remembered. Angel. Buffy's soulless, blood-sucking evil creature of the night boyfriend had beaten the living hell out of him and left him as a lover's gift on Buffy's doorstep. A gift for Buffy….And a lesson in how to treat Angel's girl to Xander.

Unless he wanted the soulless bastard to return, he had better keep his tongue tucked behind his teeth and never tell the young Slayer just what he thought of her failures to himself and Miss Calender.

Rage burned in the pit of his belly. How could she love that monster?

Pain rippled along his nerve endings and into his throbbing skull. Unable to contain it any longer, Xander vomited on the ground next to him; the acrid stench wafted to him and he moaned, unable to shift away from it.

She loved the bastard still. After all that the soulless beast had done, she still loved him. Xander could see it in the pained expression of her eyes.

The Chosen one, the one girl in all the world loved a monster. Well that was just too bad. She would have to get over it and do her duty by sending that bastard to hell. And regardless of just how much pressure he had to bring to bear, Xander would make sure that she did exactly that.

The pain in his body called his attention back to the fact that he would not be doing anything if he didn't get some medical attention soon.

"Help," he whispered soundlessly.

His pants felt cold and damp and he distantly remembered why.

It hurt. Everything hurt so bad. He was bloody and broken, a sick care-package left for the Slayer by her demonic ex-honey. Considering Sunnydale's multitude of roaming predators, he hoped that he was still there in the morning.

Xander shivered in the night air and didn't know whether he should be worried or relieved when his body began to go numb.

He drifted, sleep pulling at him...

His eyes snapped open Slowly, his muscles quivering, Xander stretched his broken throbbing arm toward the front door of the Summers' residence. Weakly, he tapped on the wooden panel.

"Help," he whispered softly, the burning in his chest not allowing him to scream.

His head ached and he closed his eyes as he continued tapping on the door.

Buffy did not open the door. Buffy did not hear him.

What was wrong with her he wondered angrily. She was a super-hero, she was supposed to rescue him.

Superman would have rescued him by now. With his super-hearing Superman would have heard him and saved him. As a matter-of-fact, the Man of Steel would have heard him screaming…across town in the graveyard, while Angel was kicking his ass and would have flown to his rescue.

So where was Buffy? She was Sunnydale's super-hero? Super strength and all that.

…Superman was way better than Buffy.

Hell, even Spiderman or Batman would've rescued him by now. Spidey had super hearing and that sixth sense thingy. And Batman had…things.

C'mon. Super-strong, super-healing, super-hero. Where was she?

He was bleeding in the dark while she was snuggled up safe in her bed.

That's not how it was supposed to be.

Xander faded out and forced his eyes open again. He had stopped tapping on the door, he realized. If only they had a screen door he could open and let go; that would make more noise than his weak SOS. He went back to tapping.

Not how it was supposed to be, he thought resentfully. Not how it was supposed to be. He was the one who was supposed to be safe in bed while she…

What? Should be bleeding in the dark?

His mind flashed to her laundry pile, focusing on the rips and blood stains on her clothing.

Bleeding.

He thought of the rolls of gauze, the bandage tape and the basket of antiseptics hidden behind the toilet paper underneath her bathroom sink.

Bleeding…and broken.

He thought of the numerous bruises he'd seen her show up to school with, but had discounted because by lunchtime they were usually gone. And hadn't she shown up limping one day but had been better by the time they went to the Bronze?

Super-healing. He had never really bothered to put it together that super-healing went hand- in-hand with often-wounded.

No, he wasn't supposed to be broken and bleeding in the night; she was. She was supposed to be there, bones broken in fights with demons, wounds bleeding from talons or knives or fangs.

He had never given her much thought after he went home. Well, much thought beyond his illicit fantasies and his all to often and all too embarrassing wet dreams.. He'd just assumed that since she'd shown up at school, everything was hunkey-dorey, that the vamps were dust and that the Buffster - the Buffinater, as he'd called her before, was as immune to pain as the cyborg assassin from Terminater

Xander blinked, arrested by the sudden realization: while he slept, she bled.

Perhaps it was simply poetic justice that now the tables were turned.

>>>

Joyce opened her eyes for the hundredth time and glared impotently at the glowing red numbers on her alarm clock: 2:30.

She groaned. Two thirty in the morning and she couldn't sleep.

Wearily the Slayer's mother rolled out of bed and tugged on her robe. Perhaps a mug of hot chocolate would help, and if not, well there had to be something on Late, Late, Late TV.

She walked quietly down the hallway, nearly tip-toeing past Buffy's bedroom before continuing downstairs. No point in waking Buffy up. After her nasty bout with the flu, Angel's flowers and note, along with Xander's vicious treatment, her daughter needed all the sleep she could get.

The honey-haired blond woman yawned again as she padded into the kitchen. She set about making her mug of hot chocolate absently, heating the milk and then stirring in the chocolate.

Sunnydale was not turning out to be the white-picket-fence perfectly normal life that she wanted for her daughter.

After the whole arson nightmare, Buffy's arrests for fighting and then hers and Hank's very messy and nasty divorce, Joyce had sincerely hoped that the quiet small-town atmosphere would allow Buffy to return to the sweet, popular cheerleader she had once been.

Somehow Sunnydale didn't seem any better than L.A. Buffy still cut her classes, always seeming to have a good excuse for her truancy and always appearing wounded when Joyce punished her.

It wasn't that Joyce wanted to punish her daughter, she was just trying to nip the bad behavior in the bud before Buffy went out and joined another gang, returning to the brawling arsonist she had become in L.A.

The psychiatrist had said that Buffy's acting out was all a cry for attention.

Joyce could certainly concede that she and Hank had been lousy parents, the both of them more concerned for their cocktail parties and fundraisers than in raising their daughter. To her shame, Joyce knew that there was many a night that she and Hank had been walking out the door while Buffy had been snuggled on the living room sofa eating popcorn with young man. What was his name…Bobby? She had never even bothered to find out.

To top it all off, she'd been indifferent to the hours that Buffy had kept, completely uncaring if she had arrived home at ten o'clock or two o'clock regardless whether it was a school night or not.

All that had changed when her marriage had started to fail. Buffy was all she had left and she would not allow her broken marriage to mar her perfect daughter. Buffy had been the epitome of the perfect, blond, cheerleading teenaged girl and she would be again.

Rules and discipline were the answer for Buffy's delinquent cries for help, but she always looked so betrayed whenever Joyce put her foot down.

Joyce flinched.

She could bear anything so long as Buffy never again looked as betrayed as that one time.

It had been a terrible mistake to handle it the way that they had, but what were they to do? Buffy had come home from another fight, she had been hysterical, babbling about vampires and sacred duties.

It had frightened her to see her beautiful, self-possessed daughter talking about monsters as if they really existed, but in retrospect, she should never have agreed with Hank to have Buffy committed.

It had only been two weeks. Two long and painful weeks before Buffy had recanted every unbelievable thing she had said and the doctors had okayed her to come home, but in those two weeks, something in her daughter had changed.

Buffy had never looked at her mother with complete trust again.

Joyce could always see her daughter carefully weighing what she told her. Tonight had been the closest in two years that Joyce had been to knowing her daughter's heart, but despite Buffy's confidences, Joyce knew her daughter was still holding something back. Bitterly she wondered if she had waited too long to bestir herself to try and form a relationship with her daughter and then betrayed too quickly for her daughter to ever trust her again.

She only had Buffy's best interests at heart. She only wanted her baby to have a happy, normal, white-picket fence, 2.2 kids kind of life.

Joyce sighed and sipped her tepid cocoa, staring blankly ahead.

Slowly, the sound of a repetitive tapping noise began to penetrate the fog in her brain. She frowned and sat up straight, searching her thoughts for what so soft a tapping noise could be. Not the refrigerator…didn't sound like mice…God please, not the plumbing.

She stood and walked around the kitchen, trying to identify where the noise was coming from. Step by step, she was drawn through the kitchen to the living room and then to the front door.

Joyce frowned as she unlocked the door and opened it.

"Oh, my God!" she cried out.

Xander lay on his side, sprawled on her porch like a broken doll.

She quickly snapped on the porch light and knelt to feel for the boys pulse. There was one.

"Buffy!" she yelled up the stairs. "Buffy, wake up!"

Joyce rushed over to the telephone to call 911.

>>>

"It's not your fault," Angel whispered, cradling her to his quiet heart. "No matter what he's done or what other people say, it's not your fault. We didn't do anything wrong."

"Buffy!"

She looked over her shoulder at the distant voice and Angel clenched his fists in her hair to turn her back toward him.

"I love you. It's not your fault. Do you understand baby? It's not your fault."

"Buffy! Wake up! Bring some blankets, now!"

She snapped awake suddenly, displeased to have been dragged from dream-Angel's arms.

Bemused, the young Slayer rolled from the warm cocoon of her bed and began to quickly move to the hallway linen closet. From one step to the next, her mind snapped from dream- fogged grogginess to highly alert emergency mode.

She jogged down the stairs, seeing the front door open and her mother on the phone, kneeling at the open door.

"Mom?"

Joyce shifted to the side, glancing back at her daughter, giving Buffy an unobstructed view of Xander laying on her front porch.

Buffy froze in horror. "Oh my god," she whispered. "Is he…" Had Angelus decided that in the absence of a dog, Xander would have to do?

"He's alive. Get the blankets over here."

Buffy rushed over and shook the blanket out to cover Xander.

"At last," Joyce muttered. "This is Joyce Summers at 1630 Revello Drive. I have a young man on my porch. He looks like he's been badly beaten. Send an ambulance."

Buffy knelt next to her friend, carefully tucking the blanket around him. Paper crinkled under her knee and she curiously picked it up. She recognized Angelus' handwriting immediately and she shoved the paper into her pajama pocket to read later.

"Yes, he's breathing," Joyce was saying into the phone. "I don't know. Xander? Xander, can you hear me?"

The boy blinked and looked up at them.

"Xander," Joyce repeated. "Can you understand me?" A minute ticked by. "No, he's not responsive."

Xander ignored Joyce and focused instead on the green-eyed Slayer who was kneeling next to him.

Buffy stared into Xander's pain glazed eyes and swallowed past the thick lump in her throat. "Xander," she breathed. "Oh, god. Oh god. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Is it always like this?" he whispered.

The young Slayer leaned close to her friend, tears stinging her eyes. "Like what?" she asked.

"Does it always hurt?" Xander moaned. "When you slay - "

Buffy cast a wary glance at her mother to make sure that Joyce couldn't hear.

" - does it hurt? Do you get hurt? Do you feel pain?"

She blinked in surprise and slowly lay down next to him so he could see her clearly. "What kind of a silly question is that?" she scolded him softly. "Of course I hurt. Of course I feel pain."

"Superman doesn't," the boy murmured. "Super-heroes don't feel pain."

"I'm not a super-hero," she whispered. "I'm just a girl. One girl in all the world."

Tears began to fall from Xander's dark eyes. "I'm sorry."

She smiled slightly, surprised that he would be thinking of their fight and his cruel words right then.

"I'm sorry you're out there bleeding while I sleep."

Her smile slipped. He wasn't apologizing for their fight. He was talking about something else.

"I'm sorry. Thank you." His eyes fluttered and he didn't respond when she softly called his name.

The paramedics arrived moments later and Buffy backed out of the way as they bustled around the beaten boy.

"I should have walked him home," she whispered.

Joyce cuddled her daughter against her.

"We should go with," Buffy stated flatly. "Let me get dressed. I'll call the others from the hospital."

Without waiting for a response, she ran up the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door. She pulled the note from her pocket and stared at the bold, slashing script of her lover turned demon boyfriend.

"Xander tenders his sincerest apologies for his conduct. - A."

Buffy sighed painfully. Well, it was settled: Angelus was officially stalking her.

>>>

Angelus stalked impatiently through the alleyways toward the lair.

The lair…he snorted in disgust. There wasn't much left to the Factory that Spike and Drusilla had claimed as their home, not after the fire that had run rampant during his and Buffy's altercation, but quite honestly, there wasn't that much to the lair in the first place.

He and Darla would never have lived in such a hovel, both of them preferring quarters with views, vistas of their hunting grounds. Of course that description could no longer apply to the both of them, not just because Darla was dead and dust, but because since she'd returned to her bat-face Sire's side she had returned to the sewer's to dwell. Well, what could one expect from a prostitute? Blood would out.

Angelus growled softly at the thought of his deceased Sire. He truly wished that his resplendent bitch of a Sire hadn't died the True Death the year before at his hand, because he wanted to kill her again. Imagine that bitch, abandoning him to imprisonment beneath that filthy soul for nearly a century and then just showing up again to seduce him back into the fold.

Her death had been far too quick.

Although it was amusing that she died at Angel's hand while soul-boy defended Angelus' future mate.

The universe did indeed have a sense of humor.

The mater vampire softened his footsteps as he approached where his perimeter guards were supposed to be. After the previous shambles of security that had marked Spike's reign, Angelus had no intention of sloppy security allowing an irate Slayer within their sactuary.

He found the two that he'd left to stand watch watching no more than a pocket Gameboy that one of them held.

Angelus flashed forward and slammed his fist into the miscreant's chest.

The second guard cried out and sprang away as Angelus pulled the still heart from his disobedient minion. The cold, dark tissue remained cupped in his hand long enough for its owner and the second minion to see it before the heart and the Gameboy-playing guard both exploded in a rain of ash.

Angelus turned his dark gaze to the remaining minion. "Do you know what you did wrong?" the master vampire queried softly.

The goon, yet another mindless childer acquired from the local hunting ground of the Bronze nodded frantically.

Maintaining his pleasant human façade, Angelus brought his heel down upon the electronic game that had fallen into the ash of the dead vampire. The plastic crumbled beneath the force of his blow, nothing remaining of the hi-tech gadget but colored fragments.

"If you ever ignore the duties assigned you again, I'll take my time cutting you to pieces. I'd like to see how long a vampire paraplegic could survive and whether you'd grow your limbs back."

The underling swallowed and nodded again. "It won't happen again, sir."

Satisfied with the cowering submission of the underling, Angelus continued forward through the Factory and into the remnants of the lair.

Dru lay on the charred remains of a table, singing softly to herself as she stared at the ceiling. Spike in his wheelchair were parked close by, ever at the side of his princess.

Spike turned his wheelchair to watch as his grandsire entered the room. "Well," the blond vampire drawled insolently. "What a lovely perfume you got there mate: fear, pain, blood and urine. Somebody's been having fun."

Drusilla rolled from the table top and raced toward him eagerly, like a small child greeting a long absent parent.

"My Angel," the dark-haired vampires crooned.

Angelus allowed his mad childe to embrace him, savoring the tightening of Spike's jaw, the narrowing of his eyes and all the other tell-tale signs that showed that the younger vampire was jealous of his consort's devotion to her sire.

"Oh, Daddy," Drusilla purred, leaning forward to smell his clothes. "Why didn't you take me to the party?"

Satisfied with Spike's helpless fury, Angelus looked down into Dru's crestfallen features.

"It was a private tete-a-tete, Dru."

Not responding to his comment, the mad vampiress lifted his hands to her face. She inhaled deeply; scenting his fingers like a dog, then ran her cool pink tongue over the droplets of blood that had dried on his skin

"Did the naughty boy learn his lesson, Daddy?"

Angelus rumbled at the remembered pleasure of breaking Xander's bones. He wasn't surprised that Dru recognized what he had been about; the stink of Xander's fear and blood clung to him like a cloying perfume. "Oh, he learned a lesson."

Drusilla smiled slyly up at him. "Did he die screaming? Did you leave the Slayer a lovely present?"

He brushed her dark hair from her face, tucking it back. "Oh, yeah, I left her a present."

Spike rolled his wheel chair closer to the two. "But did you kill 'im?" the bleach-haired vampire questioned.

Angelus looked from Drusilla's mad gaze to Spike's challenging one. He turned toward his grandchilde and leaned menacingly into Spike's face. "Tell you the truth roller-boy, I don't know whether he's dead or not."

"You didn't kill him?" Spike sneered incredulously.

"Daddy?" Drusilla whined in confusion.

"I did far worse than kill him. I broke bones, I shed blood and I opened his heart and sowed seeds of discord. If Harris lives, I don't think he's ever going to completely believe that the Chosen One is worthy of her calling or genuinely interested in stopping me."

Spike blinked at this pronouncement, clearly unimpressed with the more subtle forms of destruction. "What do you mean if he lives?"

"Internal bleeding, exposure, the human body can be a tricky, delicate apparatus. In either case, live or dead, Buffy will get my message."

Dru wrapped her arms around Angelus' waist and leaned into him. "I'm so glad."

"And just what message are you sending Angelus? Or do you even know? How much longer do we have to sit around listening to your grandiose plans before you kill the stupid bint? Just how long is it going to be until you 'love her' to death?"

Rage flared in Angelus' dark gaze for a moment, stirred to life by Spike's disrespect of his future mate.

Spike grinned up at him waiting eagerly for the explosion but the tall vampire, but the tall vampire tamped it ruthlessly down . "What's the matter Spikey? Feeling cranky? Did mummy forget to bring you something to snack on? I know how she is with her pets."

Spike grit his teeth then ignore the comment, even as he tried to ignore the way Drusilla clung worshipfully to Angelus' shoulder. "I must say, mate, blood and fear is a better scent than what you had on you the other night. Eau de Slayer wasn't it?"

Drusilla whimpered as Angelus shrugged her off.

The older vampire leaned down to Spike's chair, bracing his palms on either side of his crippled grandchilde and smirked into Spike's cool blue gaze. "What's the matter Spike? Jealous? She's a hot piece isn't she? All golden and vital, delicate but deadly. You were inches from her throat when she was a sweet helpless lamb and you couldn't even manage to sink a fang in. Did you know that the only thing better than spilling Slayer blood is spilling yourself inside her? But you're never gonna know Spike, cause you don't have what it takes to take this one."

Spike ground his teeth together. "And you do?"

"Oh, yeah. I got what it takes and she's gonna be mine, for a long, long time."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 4 - Hurt


Buffy sat quietly in one of the hard plastic chairs that lined the hospital corridor; the seat was painfully uncomfortable and she wondered if it was the hospital's subtle way of discouraging visitors from crowding up their halls. Not that she needed any discouragement; she'd be all-to- happy to leave hospitals as Buffy-free zones, but her life just kept bringing her back to the glaringly white hell holes.

Damn, she hated hospitals. Nothing good ever came from them.

She tucked her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms securely around her calves and rested her forehead on her jean-clad knees.

Why had he done this? Was it because Xander had called her a name? Or was it really for the insults that Xander had hurled at Angel over the last year? Maybe it was for something else? She didn't have any insight as to how this new and unimproved Angel's mind worked. He was so moody - not that he hadn't been moody before, but now, his mood swings were accompanied with bodies and blood.

The young Slayer shook herself. It didn't matter why Angel had done it. What was important was that he had. What was important was that Xander was in his room, swathed in bandages to cover his cuts and lacerations; he was immobilized by casts, on his right wrist and right ankle; and by the tape that was wound around his chest to help his broken ribs heal. What was important was that he was here, heavily sedated so he wouldn't feel the pain of his injuries. It didn't matter why Angel had decided to stick her friend in the hospital; it only mattered that he had.

So now she sat outside Xander's hospital room, watching his door when only three nights ago he had done the same for her. He hadn't done it very well, but he had done the same for her. She was grimly amused by the thought that she might even be sitting in the same seat that he had sat in during his ineffectual guard duty.

The silence in the hallways and the dim lighting attested to the fact that it was somewhere around 4:15 in the morning, deep in the graveyard shift.

Her mother, who had a short time ago begun to fall victim to her lack of sleep had gone in search of the cafeteria and barring that, then a coffee machine.

Buffy waited, her senses extended for super-natural danger as she watched Xander's door.

"I would have been safer in the Master's Lair."

The young Slayer turned at the sound of her Watcher's sarcastic comment and saw Giles, Willow and Cordelia walking down the hall toward her.

Giles and Willow looked as though they'd dressed in a hurry, but Queen C was dressed as fashionably as always, never sparing appearance for time.

"Well then," Cordelia retorted to the scolding British man, "then next time you can't get that clunker you call a car going, don't call me."

Giles stared down his aquiline nose at the haughty cheerleader. "It is not a clunker," he enunciated carefully. "It is a classic machine."

Cordelia snorted, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "It's a clunker."

Willow walked a little faster and Buffy rose to greet them, leaving her denim jacket in her seat.

"How's Xander," the redheaded hacker asked anxiously.

"Resting," Buffy replied. "The doctors say it looks worse than it is. He's got a few broken bones and a lot of bruising and a few lacerations. He'll be sore and laid up for a few days, but he'll be okay."

Willow and Cordelia breathed identical sighs of relief.

Giles rubbed his forehead wearily and looked at his young charge. "What happened?"

The blond girl pursed her lips and held up her ex-lover's note in a trembling hand for Giles to read. "Angel."

Cordelia planted her fists on her hips. "Angel did this? This is so all your fault. If you hadn't gotten all groiny with him, we wouldn't be in this mess and Xander wouldn't be laid up in the hospital."

Buffy flinched, hunching her shoulders guiltily. She knew it was her fault. She knew she'd hurt Xander and killed Theresa, Miss Calender and most importantly, she killed the man she loved with her selfish demands. She didn't need the queen bitch of Sunnydale telling her it was her fault when she knew it was her fault.

"Xander tenders his sincerest apologies," Giles read. "Apologies for what?"

"Oh!" Willow blurted, turning her blue gaze to her friend. "Is this because Xander called you a demon's whore?"

"He did what?" Giles demanded incredulously. "When?"

"Last night," Buffy informed him. "In my room."

"Angel must have been lurking," the red-haired hacker concluded wisely. "Probably wanted to see how you liked the flowers."

"What?" Cordelia exclaimed. "You're taking flowers from him?!"

"Oh, and the necklace," Willow added.

"Presents too!"

Buffy scowled at her best friend. "Willow, you're not helping me here."

"Sorry."

Giles sighed as he sternly faced his Slayer. "Buffy, I think you need to tell me what's going on."

"I'm trying to," she reassured him. "But everybody keeps interrupting."

"So explain."

Buffy absently played with one of the rings on her fingers. ""Last night, Angel sent me flowers. And a necklace - an ankh."

"The symbol of everlasting life," Willow interjected helpfully.

Giles cast the young hacker an annoyed glance. "Yes, I know what it means. The question is why has Angel stepped up his courting. I thought after - after Valentines his passions - his intensity toward you had cooled."

"What'd you do?" Cordelia sneered. "Get all pelvic and relight his fire?"

Memories of her skin sliding against his, of his lips brushing over hers and his hard flesh pressing between her thighs flashed through her mind. Buffy blushed.

"You did didn't you?" Cordelia hissed. "You really are a demon's whore."

Buffy glared at the snobbish brunette and briefly wondered why she had ever bothered to save her life all those times. She could've left her for the invisible girl, she could've let Daryl and Eric cut off her head and then stopped the zombie Frankenstein team, she could even have let the giant reptile thingy under that frat house eat her before she stopped the demon, nobody could've blamed her, she'd been chained up. But no, she had to save Cordelia, queen bitch of Sunnydale High every time. Perhaps that was overachieving…

"Uh, Cordelia," Willow cleared her throat anxiously. "The last person who said that to her wound up in the hospital."

Buffy uncomfortably glanced away from their accusing stares then turned back to meet Giles' hazel gaze. "Maybe I could talk to you alone."

"We're your friends," Willow murmured with a wounded expression. "You can trust us."

The Slayer met the hard topaz stare of the May-queen and set her chin determinedly. "I felt safer in the Master's Lair," she commented.

Cordelia's lip pulled back into a sneer. "That's right. Xander's in the hospital, but you make it about you."

"Well who else would it be about, Cordelia?" Buffy drawled insultingly. "You, you, you?"

Giles caught hold of Buffy's elbow and gently escorted her away from the other two girls, stopping when they were standing next to Xander's room door.

The blond-haired Watcher pulled his glasses from the bridge of his nose and polished the lenses absently, and then placed them back on to peer seriously at his young charge. "Just how often are you hearing those…'groiny' remarks?"

She looked away, shrugging one shoulder sullenly. "Just about every time Angel's brought up in conversation. Maybe every other day."

Giles sighed, knowing that he had no power over the other children to force them to stop this cruel form of taunting. "I see. And Cordelia's…accusation, does it bear weight?"

"Sort of," Buffy confessed in a soft tone.

"Buffy," Giles scolded in a firm tone. "You cannot be ambiguous in your treatment of Angel. He strikes without warning, provocation or purpose - " "Actually he doesn't," Buffy interrupted. "He probably killed Miss Calender because he found out she was from the gypsy tribe that cursed him in the first place. He probably thought she could curse him with a soul again. And Xander, well two hundred years ago, wasn't this type of display in the ballpark of defending his girlfriend's honor - and I can't believe I'm defending him. I'm going to shut up now."

Giles took a deep bracing breath. "And you two? He's a very experienced man Buffy. Realistically speaking it wouldn't be that surprising - "

"It was the night I was here, Giles," she whispered in embarrassment. "You know how feverish I was that night. I - I thought it was a dream."

Giles frowned disbelievingly. "Xander was watching your door. He said that Angel left."

Buffy looked at him in disgust. "Giles, we both know that doors aren't the only way into rooms."

"I…see," the Watcher sighed sadly. It was the only time that Buffy had been dependant upon them to save her and they had failed. It was painfully apparent that she still lived because the demon had chosen to allow her to do so.

Buffy swallowed, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment and shame. "I don't…remember everything clearly. Just…flashes…feelings. I thought it was just a dream until last night."

"The flowers?" Giles asked softly.

"And something else. I put all the - achiness as part of the flu but - "

"But?"

She sighed and admitted in pained humiliation, "He drank from me."

Giles hazel gaze shot to her unblemished neck. "Your throat - "

"There's a bite on my shoulder. How much is that going to change his strength Giles? Slayer blood is like spinach to Popeye to vampires. According to the Watcher's Journals it turned Spike into a Master Vampire about fifty years before he was mature enough to actually possess the power. And Angel, we sparred together, fought together. He knows my moves. Is it a permanent increase in strength or temporary? Cause the last few fights we had - except during my fever - I haven't been holding back. We're evenly matched."

Giles stared blankly ahead, horrified by her confession. "Slayers grow stronger as they age," he commented faintly.

Buffy glared at him. "That doesn't help me now. The strength increase, permanent or temporary?"

"It depends on how much he drank. Do you…know?"

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall. "It's fuzzy. It couldn't have been very much. I was fine the next morning."

Giles removed his glasses and polished the clean lenses again. "…Buffy, if this hadn't come up, if Angel hadn't attacked Xander, would you ever have told me that he'd raped you?"

She shrunk into herself. "No."

He grasped her shoulders and shook her gently. "Buffy, why not? I'm your Watcher. I'm here for you."

Tentatively she turned her face up so she could meet his gaze. "Because," she whispered, almost too softly for him to hear, "It wasn't rape."

"Mr. Giles."

Buffy and Giles jumped and turned to face Joyce Summers and she walked up to join them.

"Did you come down here to check on Xander?" the Slayer's mother asked.

"Umm, yes. Yes I did."

Joyce smiled. "That is such an amazing school. Everyone there is so concerned about the students…well, except for that nasty little principal. He seems to be eaten up by bitterness. He's in the wrong line of work."

Giles smiled reflexively. "Yes. I think I suggested that to him myself, once."

Seeing that the private discussion had been broken up, Cordelia and Willow walked over to join them.

"So," Joyce glanced from her daughter to the pale-haired librarian. "What were you two discussing?"

"Xan - "

"Probably how Buffy's psycho ex-honey beat the crap out of my boyfriend," Cordelia snapped, talking over Buffy.

Joyce stiffened. "Buffy, is this true?"

Buffy gave her mother a haunted look then glared at the smugly triumphant cheerleader.

Willow and Giles exchanged a nervous look.

Joyce sighed. "I had hoped - I knew that he wasn't taking the breakup well, but I never dreamed he'd escalate to this. Well," she sighed again. "There's no hope for it. We'll have to get a restraining order."

"A restraining order?" Buffy repeated in shock. What good was that?

"Yes," her mother confirmed. "A restraining order. And we'll need to talk to the police when they arrive to investigate Xander's assault."

Buffy flinched and glared at Cordelia. "You want me to file a report against Angel?"

"I realize you still love him honey," Joyce said in a compassionate tone, "but he's sick and has to be taken care of before he does more harm."

"I - " the young Slayer froze has her senses jangled into overdrive, warning her of nearby danger. She opened Xander's door, checking to make sure that he was still alone in the room and that her demonic boyfriend hadn't decided to finish the job.

Xander lay in his bed, pale, thickly swathed in bandages and sedated.

Buffy closed the door, her nerves jumping, signaling of nearby danger. She glanced at the others, aware that all eyes were on her. "I have to go to the bathroom," she blurted, and pushing past her mother and Giles, rushed quickly down the hallway toward the staircase.

Willow moved to follow her but hesitated when Buffy's mother spoke again.

"No, Willow. Let her go. It's ugly and it's painful, but she needs to face the facts. I love my baby, I really do, but she can't stay in her rose-colored glass fantasy anymore. Bad things happen, sometimes for no reason and she needs to grow up and realize that happily-ever-after isn't real life. She'll cry it out, and when the police get here, for once she can deal with reality with responsibility and maturity."

Maturity. Happily-ever-after isn't real life. Giles stared incredulously at the oblivious woman. Never in his months of knowing the young Slayer had he ever been more aware of just how isolated she must be from her parent for her mother to think that her child was incapable of dealing with reality. Sadly, he wondered whether that distance between mother and daughter had existed before Buffy had been Chosen.

>>>

A restraining order. Jesus, a restraining order! That sounded about as effective as "ignore him and he'll go away." Worse. It was going to be like waving a red flag under a bull's nose; it was going to piss him off.

Buffy forced her mind away from her personal problems and concentrated on the tingling of her Slayer senses.

She didn't have time to think about her psycho boyfriend now - ex-boyfriend…whatever the hell he was these days. She didn't have time. She had a job to do.

The young blond rushed down the stairs and paused near the emergency room, her eyes tracking the various people waiting for medical attention. Satisfied that no danger lurked there, she hurried down the next flight of stairs, going down toward the morgue and the garage.

She found them.

If her keen Slayer sensory perception hadn't led her to them, she was certain that her keen sense of smell would have, because the smell they gave off was absolutely rank.

Buffy leaned against the wall across from the staircase and cautiously peered around the corner at her chosen prey.

The unsuspecting demon stood watch outside the hospital morgue, periodically glancing down the hallway for intruders, but for the most part, it was content to look through the door windows at whatever was going on within.

The Slayer took in the details of its appearance, noting the leathery ash-gray skin, the sharp talons that tipped both fingers and toes, and the lean muscular body, bare of anything so humane as clothing.

She wrinkled her nose in revulsion: Kada'ere, or cadaver demons as she liked to call them.

While she'd lived in L.A., she'd had a few run-ins with the carrion-eaters after her first Watcher Merrick had died. Nothing like a girl looking up big, nasty demons in big musty books - that were not in English - all by herself, to make a girl remember its actual name rather than throwing a couple of similar sounding syllables together.

The Kada'ere were carrion-eaters. Their dietary preference for rotting meat was hindered by embalming, a modern practice that made many of the bodies they dug up unsuitable. In L.A. an ambitious group of Kada'ere had begun to stage raids on the local mortuaries, hoping to acquire the bodies before they were prepared for burial. She had put that group down. She supposed that the hospital morgue was the next logical step. She would have to put this group down before they decided that the only way to guaranty a supply of decomposed flesh was to kill and store it themselves.

Buffy scanned the hallway for a weapon, smiling slightly when her gaze alighted on the fire extinguisher bracketed to the wall. This was probably not quite the emergency the fire marshal had in mind, but it would simply have to do.

The blond Slayer lifted the red canister and tugged it firmly from its cradle. She hefted the weight experimentally, and then glanced around the corner again, to make sure that the demon hadn't heard her.

Judging by the fact that it didn't look her way but continued to peer eagerly through the door windows, the Slayer was certain that it hadn't.

Buffy took a deep bracing breath and then whipped around the corner. She strode down the hallway, closing in on her prey quickly. Hard and fast, she told herself grimly. Don't give them a chance to sink their bacterial-infested teeth in. With Angelus about, being moody, romantic and brutal, the last thing she needed was to descend back into the poisoned delirium that had once gotten her committed. Hard, fast, killing blows.

Not hearing her soft-footed approach, the demon on guard duty turned to glance down the hallway. It had a brief glimpse of the Slayer's set expression before she rammed the bottom of the extinguisher into its face hard enough to cave in the entire front half of the skull.

It slammed back against the wall, then slowly slid down to the floor, yellowish goo oozing from its crushed cranium.

One down, she thought grimly.

She pushed through the swinging doors and into the morgue. Her green gaze flicked over her surroundings, swiftly taking in the office furniture on the wall to her right, including a wooden coat rack, then noting the steel table bolted to the floor in the center of the room, the refrigerated drawers on the wall adjacent to her left and the back, and the demons presently raiding those drawers.

Five more to go.

Startled by the disruption, the Kada'ere halted and peered over the body-piled gurneys at her, then at each other.

Two of the five were pulling bodies from the left wall drawers and had already draped three limp bodies over a hospital gurney they had stolen for the purpose. The other three were loading their gurney from the far wall drawers; the steel table in the center of the room and the two gurneys was between her and them.

Buffy smiled in a feral bearing of teeth. "I've had a really bad night. So I'll tell you what, you guys make nice and put the bodies back and I won't kill you today. So what do you say? Easy way, or hard way?"

The two closest demons rushed towards her.

"Right," the Slayer sighed irritably. "Hard way."

Experienced from her previous bouts of fire, Buffy deftly twisted the hose mechanism and sprayed the chilled mixture of white foam at her attackers; she aimed at their faces, blinding them. Both of the cadaver demons halted their approach, scrabbling at their eyes as the roared in pain.

Taking advantage of the situation, Buffy kicked the closest Kada'ere in the belly.

The demon grunted and crouched over to protect its stomach.

The Slayer swung the canister over the back of its head, crunching the dome of the skull with a moist thunk.

The other demon managed to scoop the chilled foam out of its face and glared at her with red- rimmed yellow eyes.

Buffy grinned and spinning, to give the impact more power, she threw the fire extinguisher into the demon's chest; the carrion-eater flew back at the impact, knocking the gurney and its morbid booty to the floor. It landed in the corner and slumped to the ground, the bone of its collar misshapen beneath its skin.

She cocked her head, momentarily admiring her handiwork, then turned and looked at the other three demons. "Next."

The three Kada'ere glanced at each other, their fallen fellows and then at the bodies they had been stealing. Two went around the obstacles of steel table and occupied gurney, the middle one went over it. They all rushed eagerly at the diminutive blond.

Buffy back-flipped away from the onrushing demons and stopped by the door, where she helped herself to the wooden coat rack she had noted earlier. She grasped the polished wood securely, levering it like a spear and then thrust the four-pronged clothing antler completely through the torso of the on-coming middle demon.

"Not quite a stake," she observed as she studied the demon's impaled torso, "but in a pinch, I think it works just fine." She twisted the rack ripping up whatever internal organs she might have missed. "Just to be sure," she whispered.

The two remaining Kada'ere leapt at the human girl who had single-handedly destroyed their raiding party.

The flurry of blows exchanged between the three antagonists was dizzying as the young Slayers dodged slashing talons, struck at vulnerable areas and prevented the two demons from landing any really damaging blows.

The blow that finally managed to land on her nose was shocking, knocking her off her feet and on to her back. Her eyes watered as she blew through the blood that trickled over her lips. The pain faded quickly and she flipped back to her feet, and clenched her small hands back into fists as she circled with the two demons.

One of the Kada'ere lunged forward and Buffy spun to meet it as its partner suddenly grabbed her from behind. It wrapped its arms securely around her torso, pinning her arms, and lifted her off the ground.

Buffy struggled with the demon.

The second Kada'ere approached, and judging by its widening jaws, it looked like it wanted to bite her.

The young Slayer stopped struggling and lifted up her legs, closing her feet on either side of her enemy's head; she twisted sharply, snapping its neck before either demon could shift to break her hold.

The approaching Kada'ere dropped to the floor, its head lying at an odd angle.

The demon froze hesitantly, shocked that even while restrained she'd managed to kill its brethren.

Buffy kicked it hard in the knee with the heel of her shoe.

The beast roared in rage and pain and flung the young blond several feet and into the steel table.

The young Slayer landed on the edge of the table, the impact driving the breath from her body and immediately bruising her stomach. She wheezed momentarily, trying to catch her breath, but the demon gave her no time.

It grasped her by the hair, pulled her head back and slammed her face into the cold metal of the table.

Dizzied by the impact, Buffy staggered weakly as the tall demon grabbed her brutally by the arms, sinking its fingers and talons so deep into her skin she could almost feel them leaving imprints on her bones beneath skin, tendon and muscle.

The beast shook her furiously as it roared down into her face, blasting her with its fetid breath. Then it threw her back against the refrigerator drawers.

She hit the freezer drawers with a solid thumping sound and dropped to the ground. Pain spread like wildfire across the muscles of her back. Buffy glared at the demon through the bedraggled lock of her hair.

The Kada'ere strode forward to slash at her with its talons; the diminutive blond blocked its blows.

She backhanded it and then spun into a roundhouse kick, landing a solid blow across its jaw.

The Kada'ere staggered back.

The Slayer moved forward, continuing to land hard blows and forcing the creature back further.

Behind her, unnoticed by either the blond Slayer or the Kada'ere, the demon that had been knocked into the corner earlier slowly opened its yellow eyes. Its vision narrowed to the slender blond who was presently raining blows on its fellow, forcing it further and further back.

Shaking with pain, the fallen demon reached for the nearby red canister that the blond girl had flung at it.

The fighting Kada'ere and Slayer fought near the fallen demon that she had impaled with the coat rack.

Buffy kicked out, striking the demon hard in one knee joint and then the next, shattering both joints.

The Kada'ere fell to the floor with a wordless bellow of pain.

The Slayer slammed her foot down on the shaft of the rack, cracking the furniture into two pieces; swiftly, she grabbed up the makeshift spear and slammed the sharp broken end into her opponent's chest.

The Kada'ere's bellow's gurgled to silence and it collapsed to the floor, twitching slightly as it died.

Panting slightly, Buffy reached up to feel her tender nose; painful, she concluded after a moment, but not broken.

A slight sound of movement alerted her to the fact that the danger was not quite over. She turned in time to see one of her previously fallen opponents standing weakly at her back and bringing the fire extinguisher she had used to fell him down toward her. She dodged to the side.

The fire extinguisher flew from the weak demon's hands and into the refrigerator drawers; it bounced off the steel wall with a loud clang and ricocheted back into the Slayer's right knee.

Pain exploded along her nerves and Buffy cried out as her leg gave out beneath her. Gasping in shocked agony, she tried to force herself back to her feet, but her injured joint could not sustain her weight and she went down again.

The weakened demon walked over to the fallen heroine and drew back its foot to kick her until she moved no more.

Buffy rolled to her back and glared determinedly up at her leathery opponent. As it kicked, she caught the taloned foot securely in her hands and brought her good leg up in a sweeping kick that brought the demon sprawling to the ground beside her. She twisted sharply to her knees over the beast, whimpering slightly as she tried to put no weight on her damaged leg.

The Kada'ere wiggled beneath her.

The Slayer grasped its head and whipped her hands, snapping its spine in a motion so fast her hands were a blue to her own vision.

The demon died.

Buffy allowed herself to collapse next to the dead demon. She stared at the ceiling, panting as she tried to absorb the pain that throbbed in her leg.

"Just ride it out," she whispered softly. "I'll heal enough in a few minutes that it won't hurt so badly. Just breathe and ride it out."

She breathed slowly, waiting for the pain to subside to a more endurable level. Long minutes ticked by, but the searing agony did not abate.

"Fine," she muttered. "Just suck it up. Walk it out."

The injured girl braced herself against the wall of refrigerated drawers and forced herself to her feet - or at least she tried to. The wrenching pain in her knee knocked her back to the ground harder than any blow she'd ever taken.

Buffy grit her teeth, holding back a soft moan. Sweat prickled on her brow and between her shoulder blades. She didn't have time for this. Somebody could walk in at any moment and she had to take care of all these bodies; she needed to get the humans back in the drawers and she needed to get the demons outside - maybe into a dumpster.

She tried again, using the wall to lever herself up. She balanced on her left leg and then tentatively stood on her right. A sharp cry escaped her before she could stop it and she sank back to the ground.

What to do? What to do?

"Don't panic," she whispered, arching her fingers into claws as she bit back another moan of pain. "One thing at a time. Get the body out of the hall."

Gritting her teeth in determination, Buffy slowly and painfully crawled toward the swinging doors. Every inch of distance was agony and she sobbed softly with each movement. Sweat dribbled down into her eyes and she blinked it away.

In a journey of pain she didn't think she'd ever be able to forget, the Slayer managed to get the doors open and slowly, pain-stakingly, pulled the body of the first demon she'd killed into the relative privacy of the morgue.

The doors swished shut as the demon's feet finally cleared the entrance, signaling that for at least a moment, she could rest.

Buffy curled herself around her crippled leg. She knew it must be bad. Slayer's had a higher tolerance of pain than most. It wasn't that they didn't feel pain, just that their physiology made it possible to ignore it longer than most humans were able to. Now, the pain filled her until she'd thought she'd burst, until at last, unable to hold it all in anymore, she wept softly.

>>>

Joyce, Giles and Willow waited outside of Xander's room while Cordelia sat with the boy inside.

"Any word on when he'll wake up?" Willow asked plaintively.

"He's been given morphine for the paint," Giles informed her. "He'll be very sleepy but they'll probably wake him periodically because of the concussion."

Joyce glanced at her watch. "I wonder where Xander's parents are."

"Oh," Willow looked up, happy to help with something, even if it was only information. "They're alc - well, they're usually pretty out of it by 11pm. To hear Xander describe it, a cannon could go off right next to them and they'd never hear it."

"Poor boy."

The three of them sat together awkwardly.

Giles glanced at his own watch, wondering where his Slayer had gone in such a hurry? Had she truly withdrawn to the bathroom to cry?

>>>

Get up baby.

She felt gentle fingers sift soothingly through her tangled hair.

Come on baby. Get up.

Buffy tried to focus beyond the mind-numbing pain. Was Angel really here or was she hallucinating?

C'mon Buffy. You've got work to do. Get Giles to help.

Hallucinating she decided blurrily. Her evil creature-of-the-night stalker would never tell her to call Giles for help.

She opened her eyes to the morgue filled with - ironically enough - dead bodies, except for her. She looked around and on the desk that had been miraculously untouched during the battle, she saw the item that was going to pull her but out of the fire.

The young Slayer took a deep breath and then steadily, determinedly crawled to the phone.

>>>

Giles glanced again at his watch. Forty-five minutes. Surely that was too long.

"Paging Mr. Slade Watcher to the morgue, Mr. Slade Watcher to the morgue please."

The Watcher stiffened and stood up abruptly, horribly certain that he suddenly knew exactly where his Slayer was. "If you'll excuse me, I think I could do with a cup of tea - or coffee. I'll be back soon."

Joyce watched him walk down the hallway.

Willow shot to her feet, putting Giles' departure and the previous page together. "I'm gonna go to the bathroom."

Joyce shook her head disapprovingly. "Don't be evasive Willow. You're going to go check on Buffy. Remind her that the police are going to be here soon and like it or not, she's going to do what has to be done."

"Umm, yeah," Willow agreed, and then hurried down the hallway herself.

>>>

Giles rushed down the stairwell toward the garage level, where the morgue was. He paused at the echoing patter of sneakered feet and glanced back at Willow hurrying to join him.

"Something must be terribly wrong for her to page us like that," the red-haired computer geek commented nervously.

The bespectacled Watcher nodded.

They strode quickly down the hallway.

Giles halted in front of the morgue doors, staring at the yellow ooze that stained the wall and was puddle on the floor. The puddle itself was smeared towards the doors, indicating that something had been dragged.

He pushed open the swinging doors of the morgue and stared at the chaos within.

Two gurneys were turned over at the back of the room and the floor around the gurneys was littered with naked human bodies. Amidst the surreal quality of that vision were the six gray- skinned demons alternately crushed, impaled and broken.

His Slayer sat in a rolling office chair, the only survivor of what had obviously been a gladiatorial event. A fine sheet of sweat covered her brow and she trembled slightly. "Guys," she greeted in a strained tone. "They say that real friends help you move dead bodies. Help."

Giles and Willow stepped fully into the room, allowing the doors to shut behind them.

"What happened?" he asked his shaking charge.

"Cadaver demons," the she piped. "Sorry, Kada'ere."

Giles' brows shot up in bemusement. "And just what would you know of Kada'ere?"

"What are Kada'ere?" Willow asked.

The tiny blond rolled her eyes. "Come on Giles. I was a Slayer for like a whole eight months before I got to Sunnydale. Seven of those months, my Watcher was dead and I had to look up stuff myself."

"Kada'ere?" Willow repeated plaintively.

"Carrion eaters," Giles explained succinctly.

"W - What are they doing here?" the young hacker asked.

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Filling up their grocery carts."

"Oh. Eww."

Giles glanced around at the wreckage. "Well, let's get this over with before somebody finds this mess. Humans to lockers, demons on gurneys."

Willow and Giles stepped toward the mess, ready to begin the grisly task.

Buffy grimaced. "Well, that's sorta the problem. I…can't. I can't stand. I've hurt my knee."

The Watcher frowned and went to kneel in front of his young charge. He glanced at her for permission then ran his hands knowledgably over the joint.

She whimpered very softly, clutching the arms of the chair.

Giles sighed. "It's dislocated."

Willow stared at Buffy's knee in horrified fascination. Buffy never got hurt; she was the Slayer. Sure she got sick, but she never got hurt.

Buffy swallowed. "Well, just pop it back in and we can get to work."

The older man sat back on his heels and pinched the bridge of his nose thoughtfully. "It either needs to go back on its own when the swelling goes down or it could require surgery. It may in fact be an injury that would normally require surgery and your metabolism will need extra time to heal it.

"So, what do I do?"

"Stay off of it. We'll ice it and hopefully your metabolism should at least let you walk before the end of the day. We'll find you a wheelchair as soon as we," he paused, examining Willow's nauseous expression. "Willow why don't you go find an unoccupied wheelchair while I take care of things in here. Some ice packs too, if you please."

She nodded jerkily. "Right. That…that'll fix you right up."

Buffy and Giles watched the flustered redhead leave.

"Will it?" Buffy asked softly.

"Will it what?" Giles answered absently as he went to start returning the bodies back to the refrigerated drawers.

"Fix me right up? Is this," she took in a jerky breath, "is this going to cripple me? You and I both know that the world can't afford a crippled Slayer - especially now."

Giles slung a blond woman on to a drawer tray. He pushed the tray into the wall and closed the door. Panting softly, he turned to look at his Slayer's frightened green eyes. "Let's not borrow trouble just yet. Normally your injuries heal quickly enough for you to keep mobile. That is not the case this time and I believe that that is exasperating your fears. But this is not the first time you've been hurt, is it?"

She thought back to previous broken bones, pulled tendons, dislocated fingers, burns, slashes, bruises, bites and lacerations. "No. It's not the first time I've been hurt."

"Well then. You'll probably be fine by the end of the day. Let's not worry about…about ugly contingencies unless we have to. Alright?"

"Okay."

Satisfied with her answer, Giles turned back to his morbid task.

Buffy watched guiltily as her Watcher lugged bodies from the floor, ferrying them to the refrigerated drawers.

Giles studied the bodies of the demons, proudly noting their injuries.

"Sorry I can't help."

"Hmm? Don't worry about it Buffy. All-in-all, I'd say that you did the lion's share of the work, so I'll forgive you." He slung one of the demon bodies onto a gurney he'd righted. He hesitated before picking up the next corpse and looked at the forlorn girl. "As for the rest," he paused meaningfully, "that's not really your fault."

The tiny Slayer watched her Watcher sling another body to the gurney and whispered softly under her breath, "Except for Jenny."

"Did you say something?" Giles asked as he examined one of the clawed fingers of the Kada'ere.

"No."

"Buffy, there's blood on this creature's claws. Do you have any other injuries? Did you get bit?"

"No. I did not get bit. And as for the rest, it's nothing that some band-aids can't take care of. And lots of antiseptic," she added with a shudder.

"Hmm. Quite. How's the pain?"

She grimaced. "Terrible. But it's much better when I don't move."

Giles smiled tenderly. "When you get home you should return to bed. You just got over the flu, defeated der Kinderstod, were - Angel - well…and now your knee. Normally that would be a very serious injury."

"Lucky me, " she sighed glumly. "I don't know how I'm going to patrol tonight. I was so stupid. You never throw your weapons unless you can guarantee a killing blow, otherwise your enemies have your weapon."

The librarian lifted the other gurney back to its wheels and set about loading the last three demon bodies. "Buffy, you are not to patrol tonight. You must stay off of that knee. And in your present condition, you'd be easy prey for any vampire that came across you."

"I have to be out there," she protested. "Angel's more…violent when I'm not."

Giles halted his grisly task and walked over to kneel in front of her. He caught her chin and forced her to meet his gaze. "Buffy, you don't need to prove to me that you're trying. I know you are. And I know precisely how difficult a Master Vampire can be to slay, especially one with whom you once had a personal relationship. The others have only really seen fledglings. They have no concept of just how difficult a Master can be and so they think that Angel should physically be no worse than any other vampire you've faced. We both know better. But you won't completely recover from the flu or from this injury if you don't take care of yourself. Now, with school, Angel, your other Slayer duties and whatever else Snyder has been tossing at you, just how many hours of sleep are you getting?"

"The later I'm out the safer - "

"How many?" Giles demanded sternly.

"Four hours," she admitted grudgingly. "Sometimes I catch another in study hall…and sometimes a nap after school."

The Watcher tenderly brushed his Slayer's golden hair out of her eyes. "You must give yourself time to heal if you're going to be a match for him. Especially after he's…so, tonight, no patrol. I want you to take care of yourself. You are to rest, relax and stay off of that knee. That is an official order."

She grinned wryly. "Yes, sir."

"Now, let me finish this. I'm sure there's a dumpster in the garage where I can unobtrusively dispose of these…things."

>>>

Joyce yawned as she glanced irritably at her watch. She understood that her daughter was upset, but this was ridiculous. She looked helplessly at the handsome dark-skinned police officer sitting next to her. "I'm terribly sorry, Detective Morris. I'm sure you're busy. I'll just go get her."

The young man smiled. "It's no problem Mrs. Summers. It's not easy for anyone to realize or accept that they're involved in an abusive relationship."

Joyce stood up and walked down the hallway toward the restrooms. As she neared the elevator, the doors opened, revealing Mr. Giles, Willow and her young daughter, sitting in a wheelchair with ice packed around her right leg and bloodstains on the front of her shirt.

"Buffy?" Joyce gasped. "What happened?"

Giles pushed the wheelchair out of the elevator car and Buffy winced as the wheels rattled over the door lip.

"Did - did Angel do this to you?" Joyce demanded in a strangled croak.

"No," Buffy answered calmly. "I fell." "Oh, Buffy," Joyce moaned, tears filling her eyes. ""Oh, god. How could he - "

"Mom. I really fell. I tripped going down the stairs. I hurt my knee and gave myself a bloody nose."

The older woman sighed in broken relief. "Oh, thank god. I thought Angel had - well, never mind. The police are here. A Detective Morris needs to take your statement about Angel."

Buffy grit her teeth, knowing that there was no way out of the upcoming hell. "Fine."

>>>

Morning sunlight filled Xander's room as Buffy watched over her injured friend. The solitude - other than the unconscious Xander was a blessed relief.

Her mother, after torturing her with an hour and a half interview with the good Detective Morris, had finally succumbed to exhaustion. She had gone home around eight o'clock, promising to return around noon to pick Buffy up.

Cordelia and Willow had departed together. The May queen had decided that she wanted real coffee and a croissant, while Willow had gone home to get her laptop and homework.

Giles, meanwhile, was sleeping the hallway. He didn't want to leave until he was assured that Buffy had gotten home, especially since it was likely that he would have to help her in and out of the car, so that her mother wouldn't realize just how bad the untreated injury was.

Buffy grimaced: her leg still hurt like hell. She couldn't even get any drugs for the pain since if she called attention to herself, the doctors would want to examine her and then during the course of the day, realize just how quickly she healed.

Still, the leg was nothing to the nightmarish fiasco her mother had forced her through. Angel now had an all points bulletin out for him; he was wanted for felony assault and stalking.

The young blond groaned in disgust. An arrest warrant for a vampire. Damn Cordelia and her spiteful big mouth; now there was the possibility that some cop would attempt to make an arrest and Angel would rip out his throat.

"Buff…"

She looked up at Xander's weak voice and rolled her wheelchair closer to the bed.

Xander frowned, his bruised and swollen face pulling strangely. "What happened to you?"

Buffy smiled. "Did you forget? Hospitals are dangerous places." Her smile slipped away and she reached tentatively to touch his hand. Not wanting to jar his wrist, she settled for gently hooking her index finger around his. "How are you?"

The brown-eyed boy snorted and then grimaced at the pain that caused. "Not bad for somebody who was run over by an outraged - and did I mention jealous vampire? He's worried I'm gonna make a play for you."

The blond Slayer shook her head sadly. "Like that's going to happen. You're like my brother."

Xander's last lingering fantasies of Buffy ever loving him drifted away at her comment. "…Yeah. So, how come you never told me Dead Boy was jealous?"

"You've answered you own question."

He blinked. "Huh?"

Buffy smiled bitterly, her green eyes sad and shiny with unshed tears. "Dead Boy. I think it came across to him like 'chink', 'wet-back', or maybe 'nigger.'" She made a moue of disgust. "He flinched - ever-so-slightly every time you said it. I didn't want to give you any more ammunition to hurt him."

Xander scowled. "Well, incase you hadn't noticed, Dead Boy is no longer batting for the home team. So, what are you going to do about it?"

"What I have to," she answered simply.

"What's the matter with you?" he demanded, outraged at her flat, almost impersonal tone.

"What's the matter with me?" she repeated. "What's the matter with you? You're my friend! You're supposed to be supportive. You're supposed to be happy I'm happy. Glad I found someone I'm in love with. Supportive and comforting if it falls apart. Why is it the only words out of your mouth ever are 'he's evil', 'I told you so', and 'it's all your fault.' I never once said anything snide about Impata. I never said anything about your being with Cordelia either. But every word out of your mouth is hurtful!"

"Hel-lo," Xander drawled, slurring between his swollen lips. "He's a soulless demon."

"He is now. He wasn't then."

"He was always a monster, Buff," Xander snapped callously. "You just didn't see."

"No. You're the one who didn't see. You don't get to choose who you fall in love with. That's just the way it works. I love Angel. He was the kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful man I ever knew. I didn't choose to love Angel, it just happened and I won't let you make me ashamed that I did."

Xander breathed heavily, grimacing at the pain in his chest. Here he was in a hospital bed and she was picking a fight over that monster? "Lose the 'tude, Buff. He's just a demon. He's not worth fighting over."

"He was. And don't be so righteous on the monster remarks, Xander. Everybody's got something ugly lurking in the black spaces in their hearts. Everyone has a beast that they hide from themselves and from others. With vampires, the soul is gone and the beast it loose with no inhibitions. Just because we have souls doesn't mean that there isn't a beast inside, Xander. In you. In me. Even in Willow. The potential is there. Even with souls we can be just as monstrous. You could be just as monstrous. Just because it's hidden doesn't mean that you don't have a monster in you too."

A long awkward silence stretched out between them.

Buffy rolled her wheelchair back toward the door. "Cordelia and Willow will be back later. I'm sorry you were hurt. But this whole situation doesn't make me forget that you hurt me too. And we're not okay. Just remember, we're none of us innocent."

Xander watched her leave and rolled his eyes. Self-righteous, little martyr. He was the one hurt.

And she needed to accept facts regarding her bestial boyfriend.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Chapter 5 - Reluctance


Cordelia turned off her car engine and glared at her two unwanted passengers. "I am not your personal taxi service, you know," she bit out resentfully.

Buffy sighed from the back seat as she met the May Queen's irritated gaze in the reflection of the rearview mirror. "I'm sorry Cordelia. My mom has a sudden business trip and she didn't have time to come back to the hospital to get me."

"And Buffy's knee isn't healed yet," Willow pointed out. "She couldn't have made it to a bus stop. And since you were already dropping Buffy off, it seemed kind of silly not to drop me too. After all, if I wasn't here, you'd have to help Buffy to the door."

The irritated brunette scowled impatiently at the two girls. "Giles could have driven you," she snapped.

"Dead alternator," the Slayer informed her sympathetically. "But on the bright side, he didn't come crying to you; he sent us instead."

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Fine. We're here. Let's get you inside before anybody sees me with you two losers." She swung out of the car and waited impatiently as Willow opened her door and sprang to help Buffy out of the back seat.

Willow eased Buffy's arm over her shoulders, supporting the wounded Slayer as they slowly headed up the walkway and then carefully up the porch steps.

Buffy hopped, each movement a sharp jolt through her injured joint, but she grit her teeth and kept silent.

The brunette cheerleader trailed behind them.

"You can give me more of your weight," Willow assured her best friend. "Unless you don't trust me to support you," she added in a reproachful tone.

Buffy sighed wearily, knowing that the redhead was still hurt from being excluded during the earlier discussion with Giles, but geez, every word out of Willow's mouth made it seem as if Buffy was planning on lying to the Watcher. Cordelia's catty remarks certainly hadn't helped the situation either.

Buffy pushed open the unlocked front door and the three girls went inside.

"Buffy, honey," Joyce paused as she settled her suitcase and leather portfolio down by the desk next to the staircase. "Are you still having trouble walking?" she asked in a surprised tone. "Are you sure you're okay? It's nearly one o'clock; that's almost eight hours since you fell. You should really be able to put your weight on that leg by now."

Yeah. Buffy thought so too, but she still couldn't. Had she still been a normal human girl, the young Slayer had no doubt that she would have been tucked up nice and tight in a cast by now, but as the Slayer, she was allowed as little hospital attention as she could get away with, lest the good doctors discover her increased supernatural healing.

The honey-haired woman glanced at her watch then looked at her limping daughter, who was leaning heavily on her redhaired friend. "Maybe we should go back to the hospital and have them x- ray your knee. It could be broken. I can delay my flight until tonight: take a red-eye."

"Kind of makes my giving you a ride home pointless," Cordelia muttered under her breath resentfully.

"It's fine," the young Slayer responded as she painfully made her way into the living room, holding tightly to Willow's shoulders. "It's just a bad bruise."

Joyce stared doubtfully at her. "Sweetie, now is not the time to put on a brave front. I've got a shipment of art being held in New York City Customs until I show up with original documentation to prove that it wasn't smuggled out of it's country of origin, and I have a plane to catch - in L.A. no less, in about four hours. If you're hurt bad, I need to know now."

"Mom," the blond girl interrupted firmly as she and Willow hobbled closer to the oasis of the couch. "I'm fine."

The older woman continued to eye her daughter with misgiving. "No," she decided reluctantly. "It's probably broken. It's bad enough I have to go so soon after your flu and after this whole nightmare with Angel, but I absolutely cannot leave you alone for five days with a broken leg. I know Willow's mom said it was alright for her to stay here while I was gone, but now your knee...I can't leave you until I know for sure that you're going to be alright. If that knee's broke, we have to get it taken care of before it starts to knit improperly and you're crippled for life."

Buffy gritted her teeth, knowing what she was going to have to do. She broke into a cold sweat just thinking about it, but she was going to have to convince her mother that she was just badly bruised and being a baby about it. Thank god she was wearing blue jeans and the older woman couldn't get a good look at the actual extent of the swelling of her joint.

She took a deep breath. The only way to look like her leg wasn't badly injured was to stand on it. She just hoped she didn't fall to the ground in a weeping heap and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was bad. Slowly the young Slayer shifted her weight from her left leg and Willow's shoulders to her injured leg; agony arced through her in an excruciating onslaught. She felt the blood leave her face as she turned cold and clammy with perspiration, but she remained standing and didn't crumple.

"See," Buffy said in as steady a tone as she could manage. "I'm fine. The knee's fine. It just hurts a lot."

That was an understatement. It hurt so badly she would rather beg a piggyback ride off of her worst enemy than put her weight on it ever again.

Joyce looked at her watch again then looked at her daughter's pale face. "Okay," she said hesitantly. "I should be back on Thursday, Friday at the latest. I want you to take it easy." She hurried over to kiss Buffy on the cheek. "If Angel comes around, don't talk to him, just call the police. There's plenty of food in fridge, the numbers are on the counter. Call if you have an emergency. I love you sweetie and I'll see you in a few days."

Buffy remained on her feet, unobtrusively shifting her weight to her left leg as her mother gathered up her bags. As the front door closed behind the older woman, the blond girl collapsed to the couch with a whimper.

Willow knelt anxiously at her friend's side, watching helplessly as the pain contorted her features. "Buffy?" she asked worriedly. She glanced uncertainly at Cordelia who watched the proceedings with an almost annoyed look.

The stylish brunette sat in the rocking chair and waited calmly for Buffy to get over herself so they could talk about the emergency they were faced with.

The diminutive Slayer waved her hand at Willow and breathed deeply. "I'm alright. I am alright. Just...just give me a minute." She panted softly as she laid back on the fluffy cushions, staring up at the textured surface of the ceiling. "Has she driven away yet?"

The red-haired hacker leaned over to peer out the gauzy curtains. "Yeah. She's driving away now."

"Thank god," Buffy whispered. "Pretending to be normal for her is killing me."

Long minutes ticked by as the slender blond girl got a handle on the pain throbbing relentlessly in her knee.

"Are you going to be okay?" Willow asked uncomfortably.

"Yes," Buffy lied, certain of no such thing.

"Okay," the redhead sighed in relief. "That's good, because it's like only six hours until sunset. Maybe you'll be healed by then."

"Yeah," Cordelia snapped shortly. "It would be nice if you took care of Angel tonight,"

The injured girl lifted her head and stared at the bitchy May Queen in disbelief. Was she being willfully blind to the situation? Did she truly not get the fact that Buffy had taken a serious injury that day? "Well, I can't take care of Angel tonight."

"Look, I know you don't want to kill your blood-sucking demon honey, but what you want doesn't matter," Cordelia stated unsympathetically. "You have to take care of him tonight. I think you'll agree that with what's happened to Xander that you've put if off too long already. It's all real simple. Xander's in the hospital - a public place. Angel put him there. And Angel could just walk in and kill him anytime. You can't let him kill Xander like you did -"

"Like I did Ms.Calndar?" Buffy interrupted in a flat tone.

Willow swallowed painfully. "She didn't say that."

"No," Buffy muttered bitterly. "But she meant it. You all mean it. And I didn't let," she cut herself off. She would not make excuses for what happened. Making excuses wouldn't alter the fact that Jenny Calendar was dead. "I can't take care of Angel. Not tonight."

"Well, you're the Slayer," the brunette stated coldly. "You're going to have to."

The injured girl glared at her friend's snooty girlfriend. "I can't do it tonight."

"Buffy - "

"Cordelia," Buffy rebuked sharply. "In case you haven't been paying attention, I can't even stand without wanting to throw up from the pain. I'm hurt bad enough that Giles, Giles, made me promise to stay in tonight and heal. There is absolutely no way I could fight. If I go out tonight, it would be suicide."

Willow swallowed again, her eyes filling with fear. "But - but what about Xander? He's in a public place? He's going to be stuck there for at least a weak. Angel could just walk in and - and kill him."

The blond girl sighed. "He won't."

"How do you know?" Cordelia demanded shrilly.

"He just won't."

"Buffy," Willow said in a reasonable tone. "You can't just sit there and arbitrarily say that Angel won't kill Xander tonight when he's helpless in a public place. He's already hurt him. How can you possibly think he won't go back to finish him off?"

"Because if Angel had wanted Xander dead he would have killed him last night," Buffy informed them calmly. "No," she went on in a more pensive voice. "Angel's done with Xander. He said what he wanted to say."

"What he wanted to say?" Cordelia repeated incredulously.

The blond girl nodded her head. "To me and to Xander."

Cordelia stared at her, horrified by her apparent indifference to Xander's precarious position.

Buffy looked from Willow's worried expression to the judgmental glare of the May Queen. "Look, I'll do what has to be done. When the time comes, I swear I'll do what I have to. But I can't do a thing tonight. Xander should be safe. I swear Will," she looked at the frightened hacker intently, "if I thought Angel had any more interest in him, I'd sit in Xander's room with a crossbow for the next week, but I'm positive that Angel's done with him. If everybody just stays in tonight, we should all be safe. If anything, Angel will be by here to see how I liked my 'present.' And the house barrier will keep him out, so you'll - we'll all be safe."

"The house barrier," Willow repeated thoughtfully. If she could cast a spell to protect a house and cast an Invited vampire out, why couldn't she cast a spell to protect Xander's hospital room? Buffy swore up and down that Angel was through with Xander, but what if she were wrong?

"Willow?" Buffy called the red head's wandering thoughts back to the present.

"What if I do a protection spell over Xander's room?"

"Oh, puh-lease," Cordelia sneered.

"No, really," Willow defended excitedly. "It could work. I cast that spell here and it keeps Angel, who was previously Invited, out of Buffy's house. So, why couldn't it work for Xander's room?"

"It's a public place," Buffy pointed out dampeningly.

"Not really. Hospital rooms are assigned to individuals, that makes them sorta private."

Like hotel rooms, Buffy thought. And look how well that turned out for Jenny's Uncle Enyos.

"So," Willow continued, "we bless the doors and windows, sprinkle some holy water and hang a couple of crosses and voila, Xander's safe."

"Yeah." Cordelia nodded, slowly getting into the idea. "Yeah," she said more firmly. "And then you can Un-Invite Angel from my car."

Buffy raised her brows as she looked at the two girls and sighed. It probably wouldn't work, but what would be the harm in letting them try? If nothing else, just having something to do would make them feel better.

"The Magic Shop should be open," Willow commented as she stood up. "Cordelia and I can drive down to get supplies. Oh, and we need to go by the library to get the book. And my house to pick up my stuff." The excited hacker paused in her plans to look at her injured friend. "Will you be okay by yourself for a few hours?"

"I'll be fine," Buffy reassured her, relieved at the idea of having some alone time to heal and to process everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. "You guys be careful. Stay away from dark places with sewer access, don't be out past nightfall and don't leave each other alone in any isolated places."

"I thought you said Angel wouldn't be looking for trouble tonight," Cordelia sneered at the delicate blond.

Buffy ground her teeth and forced herself not to react to Cordelia's spite. "He won't be," she stated evenly. "But that doesn't mean that if he sees you he won't take stupid behavior on your part as an Invitation to cause harm, and vampires never pass up Invitations."

"Stupid behavior?" Cordelia repeated in insult.

"Sewer access, out after dark and being alone," Buffy repeated in her best mom-tone. "Don't. Be. Stupid."

"No worries," Willow reassured the crippled warrior and cut off another argument before it could ensue. "No stupid behavior here. We'll get this done and be back before you know it."

~

Bufy heard the front door slam shut behind Willow and Cordelia as the two girls left on their mission to magically protect Xander's hospital room. She sighed in relief and flopped back on her bed, grateful that they had helped her upstairs to her room before they'd left; the last thing she'd wanted was to have to manage those stairs on her own.

The delicate blond stared tiredly up at her ceiling, enjoying the rare moment of non-movement. She wasn't obliged to be anywhere and she wasn't obliged to do anything; there was no homework that had to be completed, no house-hold chores that needed to be done and no obligation to go out and haunt the cemeteries in search of beasties to slay. For the moment, all she had to do was lay there and breathe, and hopefully heal.

Buffy inhaled deeply, enjoying the heady perfume of the roses that Angel had sent her the night before.

She knew that she should throw them away, but it was only the second time in her life that a man had ever sent her flowers. How pathetic was that? Seventeen years old and the only man to ever bother to send her flowers was a souless, murdering demon.

Well, she sighed. At least he had good taste.

She really didn't want to throw this bunch away. They were more beautiful than the last bouquet he had sent her and the note had definitely been better too.

The blond girl glanced over at her vanity to admire the lush beauty of the expensive long-stemmed red roses her souless ex-boyfriend had sent her, but the surface of her vanity was bare.

Buffy sat up, glancing around the room for her flowers, but the lingering perfume of their scent was the only sign that they had existed in the first place.

There was little doubt as to what had happened to her roses; her mother had thrown them away. She had given Buffy the one night requested and then tossed them out the next morning.

The Slayer scowled, angered by her mother's high-handed behavior. Sure the roses should be thrown away, but that wasn't her mother's decision to make, it was hers. The longer she thought about the decision that had been taken out of her hands, the angrier she got. The angrier she got, the more she wanted the forbidden velvety blooms her demon had sent her back.

Buffy got off her bed and gingerly limped out of her bedroom in search of her lost flowers.

She found them in her bathroom trashcan, half the stems broken, some of the petals mashed and the exquisite cut-crystal vase lay in fragments, shattered beyond repair at the bottom of the plastic container.

Buffy gingerly picked the damaged blooms out of the trash, shaking the slivers of glass free of the petals and leaves as she rescued each flower, and then dropped the precious long-stemmed beauty into the basin of her sink.

She hesitated, staring at the roses, knowing that she should just drop them back into the bin and forget that she had ever received them. They weren't from the man she loved, and neither was the note; they were from a demon.

The blond beauty ran her fingertip over a crushed bud. She had so few pleasures these days, she wanted to keep just one. And even if they came from a souless demon, the flowers were beautiful and they smelled good. She could pretend they were from Angel, her Angel.

No one had to know.

No one would know.

She turned on the light in the darkened room, the small window above the tub providing little illumination and then closed the door, locking it

Buffy hobbled to the bathtub and twisted the faucet marked H; she stoppered the drain in the tub. The hot water poured into the deep fiberglass basin in a glassy stream that quickly turned the small bathroom humid and steamy. She checked the temperature with her fingertips and adjusted the scalding water to a more tolerable temperature by adding cold water to the mixture.

She limped from the tub to her bathroom sink and knelt awkwardly to pull several items out of the cupboard. The cotton balls, rubbing alcohol, band aids and ace-bandage she dropped on the counter next to the sink; the vanilla scented bath oil she carried back to her filling bath and poured two full caps in.

As the tub filled, the young Slayer slowly stripped her torn clothing from her body, examining her wounds as she did so. She whimpered as she managed to get her shoes and socks off, then wanted to cry as she struggled to get her jeans off without banging her knee.

Her arms were covered in dark bruises in the shape of elongated fingers, the tip of each print culminating in a deep purple-hued puncture; Giles' earlier insistence in cleansing the wounds at the hospital had probably kept them from becoming infected. More bruises from fists and impacts decorated her ribs and belly, with a particularly dark one radiating over her hip and up her back. The hands-down worst of her latest round of war wounds though, was obviously the knee.

The knee joint was swollen to the size of a grapefruit and was, at present, the brilliant purples and blues of a midnight sky. On the plus side, despite her limp and the truly colorful quality of her blemishes, she was now able to put a little weight on the leg again without collapsing into a weeping pathetic ball.

The moist heat in the room was soothing, almost sauna-like and she sighed in enjoyment, already looking forward to sinking into the hot water.

The young Slayer moved to gingerly enter the tub but paused as her gaze fell on her roses. She froze, her mind filling with what she wanted to do with the roses.

It was wrong. She should throw them back in the trash.

She limped to the sink and gathered the flowers in her arms, using her sweater to protect her from the thorns. She carried the roses back toward the tub. She sat on the rim of the tub and rose by rose, pulled the buds from each stem and sprinkled the petals into the rippling bathwater.

No one would ever know. Her mother was gone, Willow wouldn't be back for a couple of hours and even if it were nightime, Angel's Invitation had been revoked. It was just a small secret indulgence.

Once the flowers were completely stripped, Buffy carried the naked stems back to the sink. She hid the naked greenery in the cabinet under the small basin and traded the antiseptic and cottonballs for tea candles and a lighter. Moments later, she turned off the bathroom light and allowed her forbidden decadence to be illuminated only by the soft glow of the candles.

Taking a deep breath, Buffy limped back to the tub and eased gingerly into her fragrant bath. The water was near to scalding, its heat seeming to reach through her pores and into her bones, slowly easing the tension from her muscles. The petals of her demon's flowers lapped against her skin like a thousand forbidden touches.

"Angel," she whispered longingly.

She closed her eyes and gave herself over to the heat of the water; it soothed her aches even as the perfume of the roses and the vanilla bath oil filled her senses. She sank deeper into the moist heat of the bath, submerging all but her face beneath the hot water. Her every breath echoed in her inner ear loudly, then that sound was drowned out by the rhythmic pounding of her own heartbeat.

Her mind drifted until she was almost in a trance, bewitched by the erotic decadence of her scented bath.

~

"Buffy."

A smile curved her lips as his soft whisper reached her.

"What are you doing?"

"Thinking of you," she murmured softly. She kept her eyes closed, concentrating only on the soft cadences of his voice, the soft tones that had always made her spine tingle with heightened awareness.

"This is an acceptance of the gift, my love," he warned her softly. "Do you understand? You've accepted his gift."

She pouted softly. "He is you."

"Not like you think. Buffy, look at me," he ordered sternly.

The young Slayer opened her eyes and looked up into her lover's dark gaze. She smiled, so very pleased to see him.

He was beautiful - as always. He towered over her bath, tall, broad and unbearably sexy, still wearing the leather pants that his darker half wore, but once more wearing the white cotton shirts he had favored. He was the dark god her heart ached to worship. He was the man she loved.

Angel looked at her cream and gold skin like a man starved.

She was surrounded by the scarlet petals that floated so thickly about her, erotically framed by the lush bounty so that only her raised knees and shoulders and head were visible.

"This," he swallowed thickly, as though he were having difficulty speaking. "This is an acceptance of my gift. Of his gift. The stems may be in the trash but these petals..."

Buffy dropped her head back on the rim of the tub, arching her throat in a seductive offering. "He'll never know," she purred. "You won't tell him and I won't tell him, so he'll never know. It'll be our secret." She reached out toward her dark-eyed lover and clasped his hand, drawing him down to kneel next to her and the tub full of rose petals. "Angel." His name was a prayer, a plea and a demand all rolled into one breathy syllable.

The delicate blond drew his hand to her lips, nipping at the long supple digits before she drew his fingers one by one between her moist lips to suck on them.

Angel's unnecessary breaths grew ragged, but he allowed her to continue with the subtle torture.

Buffy smiled bewitchingly and drew his hand down the vulnerable flesh of her throat, down past her collarbones, over the sensitive tips of her breasts, along the soft skin of her belly and down to the silky flesh between her thighs.

"I ache for you," she moaned.

Her lover groaned and bent to taste her lips as he pushed his fingers into the hungry chasm of her feminine flesh.

"I'll know," he growled softly as he stroked her moist flesh knowledgeably. "I'll smell it on your skin."

He plundered her lips demandingly and the Slayer bent willingly beneath his onslaught, pliant and eager for whatever her lover wanted from her.

Angel stroked the soft folds of her feminity gently, slowly, drawing out her desire until her hips were lifting to his every caress, demanding that he bury his fingers deep into the hungry core of her.

"Please," she whimpered against his lips, a soft prayer for his mercy.

He had no mercy, only an unending generosity as he slid his long fingers in and out of her grasping channel. The walls of her slick opening clenched at him, trying desperately to hold his invading fingers deep within her.

Buffy moaned and lifted her arms from the heat of her bath to twine around his neck. "Please," she entreated.

The vampire's only mercy was to circle her swollen clit with his thumb as he sped up the force and depth of his penetration.

She gasped, arching hard against his hand. Her nipples tightened to diamond hard tips that stabbed against the cool cotton of his shirt, rasping against the cloth; the smooth buttons tantalized her hungry flesh.

"Angel," she breathed.

The water in her bath churned. The rose petals slid against her in a thousand perfumed touches, clinging to her skin erotically.

Her body trembled with the anticipation of the incipient explosion. The tension gathered in every nerve of her body until she was drawn so tight with the hunger and the need to drive herself down on Angel's knowledgeable fingers she felt she would shatter.

The explosion rolled over her, pulling her further under the ensouled vampire's spell and she clutched him desperately, digging her polished pink fingernails into his shoulders as her entire body shook from the aftermath of her pleasure.

"Angel," she whispered raggedly, kissing his lips worshipfully.

Her dark lover stroked his fingers soothingly in her hot silky flesh, then withdrew his hand from between her thighs; she whimpered softly at the loss. He drew his hand up along her still trembling body, flicking the jewel-hard tips of her breasts before he grasped her hair in his fist, drawing her up to his lips demandingly.

Her dark Angel kissed her deeply, his tongue stoking in and out of her mouth in the same powerful rhythm that he had used so recently to shatter her lithe body. "Leave the window open," he ordered her in a soft growl. "So we can smell you..."

~


Buffy jerked awake with a soft cry, water splashing as she shifted in the now luke-warm bath; the climax she had experienced in her erotic dream still danced along her nerve endings.

"Angel," the young Slayer whimpered softly, missing his comforting presence. She sat up and twined her arms around her legs, burying her face against her knees.

The ensouled vampire had been her light, her sun. Her world revolved around him, the warmth of his presence inspiring her, nurturing her into becoming the heroine worthy of his respect and devotion.

Her light, her sun had been eclipsed and now she dwelt in darkness, unhappy, alone and cold without his presence to warm her.

She wept in the rapidly cooling bathwater, pretending that it was only the water from the tub dripping down her cheeks and not tears.

~

Willow scanned the spell and held up each item as she came to the ingredient required, making sure that they had all the supplies required to seal Xander's room.

She glanced up as Cordelia slowed the car and turned into the parking garage below the hospital.

"What are you doing?" the young hacker asked.

"Park-ing," Cordelia informed her sarcastically.

"Whoa. The garage has sewer access. Buffy said stay away from places with sewer access."

The stylish brunette glared at the frumpy redhead in contempt. "It's sprinkling outside. Rain makes my hair frizz. Besides, it's like in the middle of the afternoon. Don't be such a worry wart, creepy- freaky is asleep."

Willow made a non-committal noise as the May-Queen parked her car. The two girls got out of the vehicle and headed into the hospital, determined to make Xander's room safe from the undead things that went bump in the night.

~

Angelus opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of his room. For a moment, he was almost disoriented. He missed the cool tones and privacy of his basement apartment, a much more pleasant atmosphere than the burnt out husk of the factory. He really needed to find them a better lair, but he had been distracted.

Perhaps later he'd scout out that abandoned mansion he'd noticed on Crawford Street.

Drucilla cuddled against his side, stroking her cold hands along his bare chest and then lower, trying to illicit his darker attentions. The tall vampire shoved her away irritatedly, uninterested in his mad childe as anything other than a means to torture Spike. How could he possibly desire the maddened and child-like vampiress when somewhere out in the night was a warm-blooded girl whose very heat and passion scorched him?

He rose from his bed, stretching with a panther-like roll of his shoulders, before he strolled to the shower. The night was just beginning. He needed to clean up and find a kill quickly so he could focus the rest of evening on courting his golden goddess.

Doubtless she would still be at the hospital, doting on that worthless mongrel Xander.

~

"We have to hurry," Willow told the May Queen as she jogged into the garage. "It's already seven o'clock. We were supposed to be home by now?"

Cordelia scowled. "It's not my fault we couldn't start the ritual until after the nurse had given him his medication and then after he'd gotten his dinner."

"Well I couldn't very well explain what we were doing," Willow defended. "Oh, nevermind. Let's just hurry and go."

"What about my car?" the brunette demanded imperiously.

Willow glanced at her watch anxiously, then around the dimly lit garage. "I don't think now is the time."

"Just do it," Cordelia demanded. "We've got the ingredients, you've got the spell right there."

The red-haired hacker sighed, then decided to just do it. It would take less time to complete the ritual than to argue with Cordelia that it was safer to wait until tomorrow to do the spell.

"Oh," Cordelia muttered, checking her purse. "I must have left my keys on Xander's bedstand. You go ahead and get started. I'll be right back."

"But - " Willow watched as the May Queen disappeared quickly back into the hospital, leaving her alone in the isolated garage. "Crud."

She pulled out the Holy Water and began the spell quickly. She intoned the Latin carefully, sprinkling the blessed water over each door until she was back at the passenger door. Her voice rose and fell as she rolled the difficult intonations of Latin off of her tongue.

Slowly, she became aware of chill discomfort. She froze.

Willow closed her eyes and prayed softly. "Please don't let anybody be behind me," she whispered. "Please, please don't let anybody be behind me."

Trembling, she reached slowly behind her, trying to deny the fact that she felt a menacing presence. Her fingers touched the cool leather of a long duster.

"Please don't let it be Angel," she amended her prayer. "Please, please don't let it be Angel." Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to spin around and then plastered a sickly smile on her face as she faced the vampire with the angelic face. "Hey, Angel," she squeaked.

"Willow," he drawled softly, "Buffy around?"

The red-haired hacker flinched slightly. She didn't want to lie. If she lied and he caught her, he'd be upset. On the other hand, she didn't want to tell the mercurial demon that Buffy was at home and no where near her endangered self. "Ummm."

The handsome vampire smiled in mock concern. "Dark deserted place like this...pretty girl like you...something awful could happen to you. That would just destroy Buffy...If something happened to you."

She swallowed and her sickly smile slipped away. "Is - is something going to happen to me?" she asked weakly.

Angelus cocked his brow and inclined his head in a very uninformative way.

Willow cleared her throat and began to sidle slowly around the dark-eyed predator. "I've gotta go upstairs now."

"To get Buffy?"

She flinched again. "Buffy's...at...home."

"How unfortunate," he purred.

"I've - I've got Holy Water!" she said threateningly, holding the glass vial up.

The tall vampire glanced at the clear container. "Which you've already used."

"Oh," she said, tucking the ineffective weapon behind her. "Well, well, I've got a cross!" She tried the handle on the car, trying to get at said cross.

"Which is apparently in Cordelia's car. Which is apparently locked," he observed.

"Oh." She reached into her pockets, hoping to find something, anything which could be used to defend herself from the handsome vampire. "I've - I've got a pencil!" She yanked out the writing instrument and brandished it at him.

Angelus smiled, "It's mechanical." In a movement too fast for her mortal eyes to see, he snapped the writing instrument in two. He grasped her throat, then spun her around and pressed her against his chest. "And I've got a Willow. Shall we wait for Cordy?"

He backed up into the shadows of a nearby support pillar and waited with his trembling hostage for the egotistical brunette to make her appearance.

Cordelia pulled open the door and stalked across the garage. She pressed the button on her car keys, unlocking the doors of her vehicle. "Willow," she called absently as she opened her car door. "Willow are you done yet? I want to get home. You've delayed me long enough."

She slid into the car and inserted the keys into the ignition, waiting impatiently for the geeky little hacker.

Tap, tap, tap. The soft rapping on the passenger window annoyed her.

"Willow, it's unlocked. Just get in."

TAP, TAP, TAP.

"Willow," Cordelia snapped turning toward the passenger side.

Angel hunched over next to her car, Willow pressed to his chest as they peered in. The tall vampire lifted Willow's arm and waved a greeting at the May Queen.

Cordelia shrieked and lunged for the button to lock the car doors; Angel opened the door before she could reach it.

"Willow," Cordelia whispered sickly, already resigned to the young hackers death. "I'm sorry...Did you finish the protection spell?"

Willow nodded against the captivity of her throat cradled threateningly in Angel's right hand.

Angel sat partially in the car, pulling the redhead onto his lap as he grabbed hold of Cordelia's wrist, preventing the brunette from starting her car. "Cordelia," he drawled. "Two Invitations for a bit of fun in one night. How lucky can a vampire get?"

Neither girl responded to his question, both of them sickly aware of just what this vampire considered to be fun.

"Now, I'm going to let you choose how we proceed," he informed them calmly. "Do you want to live?" He waited for a moment. "Nod your head if you do."

Both girls nodded.

Angelus smiled and bent his head tenderly toward the captive girl in his lap. "Not you, Willow."

She whimpered.

"Cordelia," Angelus snapped authoritatively. "Fetch me Buffy. Bring her to the Bronze. Did you get that Cordy? Nod your head "

Trembling so hard she could barely do as he ordered, the May Queen managed to jerk her head in a semblance of a nod.

"Excellent." Angelus stood, maintaining his hold around Willow's throat. "Go now." He shut the door and stepped back as Cordelia started the engine and screeched away without a second glance back at the young hacker he held in his grasp. "So, Willow, it's just us. Would you like to get a drink? I'd like a drink."

~

The piercing ring of the phone broke through her slumber and the young Slayer slowly opened her eyes.

Her room was dark, signaling that night had fallen quite some time ago.

The ringing continued and blearily, Buffy rolled to her side and picked up the cordless telephone she had brought into her room after she had finally gotten out of her bath.

"Hello."

"Buffy!" Cordelia screamed. "Where the hell have you been? You're supposed to be at home, healing!"

Buffy frowned and rubbed her head, trying to wake up from her very deep nap. "I am home. You called me, remember?"

"The spell didn't work!" Cordelia exclaimed hysterically.

The Slayer snapped awake. "Is Xander okay?"

"Screw Xander!" Queen C snapped. "He was in my car!"

Buffy frowned. "Why was Xander in your car?"

"Are you even listening to me?" Cordelia shrieked. "Willow's spell did not work. Angel was in my car!"

"Oh. Where's Willow?" she demanded.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you! Angel has Willow!"

"In your car?" Buffy asked trying to make sense of the brunette's hysterical ranting.

"No!"

"So, Angel has Willow?" Buffy queried. "They are not in your car. They were in your car, but they're not now. So where are you?"

"In my car, a block from the hospital, coming to get you. I live if I get you."

Buffy blinked, tracking the brunette's agitated explanation carefully. "So, you're trading me for you?"

"And Willow!" Cordelia added indignantly.

"Did he say that?" Buffy demanded.

"No. He said to fetch you to the Bronze."

"Uh-huh." Buffy flipped the covers off of herself and stared grimly at her still swollen joint.

"Should I call Giles?"

"I call Giles," the Slayer told the panicked girl calmly. "How long until you get here?"

"About fifteen minutes."

"I'll be ready."

Cordelia inhaled, trying to regain her calm. "Buffy, you should have come to the hospital with us," she reproached her and then hung up.

Buffy glared at the phone resentfully. "And you shouldn't have stayed out after dark," she muttered.

She dialed her Watcher's number and quickly explained to her mentor what had happened - or at least what she understood to have happened.

"Giles," she whispered softly. "I don't know if I'm strong enough for this."

"The alternator to my car doesn't come in until tomorrow. Come and get me," he ordered her.

"Willow doesn't have time for that. I'll send Cordelia after she drops me at the Bronze. It's better if it's only Willow and I at risk rather than all four of us."

She hung up before he could protest.

The injured Slayer dressed carefully in stretch pants and a white long-sleeved sweater, not wanting her demon-lover to see the dark bruises that covered her arms. She bypassed most of her heeled shoes and picked out a pair of flat black boots so she wouldn't make her knee injury worse with the demands or a pair of heels and grabbed out her new red leather jacket.

She tossed the jacket on her bed and went to her weapons chest. The crossbow and quiver of bolts she slung over her shoulders. She placed at stake up each sleeve, then tucked one into the back waist band of her pants.

Satisfied with her arsenal, she tugged on the butter soft leather of her new coat. She stood in front of the mirror and arranged the crossbow so that it rode across her back under the jacket, hidden from prying eyes.

Hopefully she would get the drop on him with the crossbow and not have to fight him hand to hand. There was no question in her mind that tonight, he'd win any fight between them.

Cordelia honked from the driveway and the Slayer limped downstairs, trying to save her joint until the moments when she confronted Angel; the moments when she need to pretend like she wasn't crippled.

~

Cordelia dropped her at the front entrance of the Bronze and took off again with a squeal of tires before Buffy even got to the entrance of the club.

She opened the door and stepped into the crowded night spot. Music pounded and bodies swayed and pressed against each other. The aromas of bitter coffee, strong perfume and cologne assailed her.

Buffy walked through the club, searching for her best-friend and her psychotic ex-boyfriend.

~

Angel leaned against the wall in the alley behind the Bronze and kept his hand closed securely around the young red head's throat. "You don't think she stood me up, do you Willow?" he asked casually. "She's been rather distant lately."

"Uh. She's had a lot to deal with," the teen replied nervously. "What with Xander in the hospital and you turning evil and all."

"Hmm. Did she like the flowers?" he asked softly.

"She liked them."

"Why'd you change the locks Willow?" he murmured reproachfully. "I used to be able to watch my girl sleep, until you changed the locks. I miss that."

His tone of voice was deeply mournful; Willow reached up and comfortingly patted the hand wrapped threateningly around her throat. "She'll be here."

Buffy opened the door that led to the alley behind the Bronze and stood in the doorway, staring at her frightened friend and her handsome demon lover. "Willow," the Slayer sighed. "What did I tell you about nightfall?"

"Sorry," Willow squeaked.

"Hello, lover," Angelus purred, drinking in her presence. "Come out and join us."

Buffy stepped out into the dark alley and allowed the door to swing shut behind her. She walked carefully, forcing herself not to favor her aching knee.

The handsome vampire looked her over, his dark gaze roving over her possessively, as he took in her rather sedate choices in clothing. "Although I love to see you in leather, baby, I prefer you in my leather. Lose the jacket."

Buffy cursed under her breath and slid the red leather off of her shoulders and draped it over a nearby stack of pallets.

"Oh, lover," Angelus grinned as he took in the weapon she had strapped to her back and the quiver of arrows that peeked over her right shoulder. "Lose the crossbow and the quarrels."

She obeyed, laying the weapons next to her jacket on the pallet.

"And whatever stakes you've got up your sleeves."

Willow watched in despair as her friend extracted two stakes, one from either sleeve and placed them with the rest of her discarded arsenal.

"C'mon, Buff. I know you always carry three."

Buffy hesitated, all too aware that if she dropped that stake she had no way to protect either herself or Willow.

Angelus' hand tightened threateningly under Willow's chin. "Are you forgetting what we're negotiating here?"

"Angel, no!" Buffy protested, her voice thick with fear.

The vampire held the small redhead firmly against him, cradling her face gently in his palm. "So fragile, so brief," he drawled, stroking the soft skin over Willow's carotid artery with his thumb. "It's so easy to snuff out a mortal life."

Buffy took a step closer to him. The handsome vampire watched her carefully, his dark eyes glittering with hunger. She shook slightly, wondering what type of hunger, then took another step closer to him, and then another. She walked slowly, as if she were approaching a wild animal.

"You don't have to kill her to make sure that my mind's on you," Buffy murmured softly, her green gaze caught in the velvety chocolate of his eyes. "You're constantly in my thoughts."

"That last stake, if you please," he reminded her firmly.

"You can't possibly expect me to be completely weaponless," she retorted.


Angelus' glanced down the length of her body, his eyes pausing at her breasts and hips before continuing to her booted feet. "Oh, you have weapons, Buff," he reassured her, his eyes focusing on her soft lips. "You just haven't figured out how to use them yet. Now, the stake."

She removed it from the waist band of her pants and tossed it back to the pallet, not looking to see where it landed.

Willow watched the drama unfold in sickened fascination, aware that her carelessness may have cost both Buffy and herself their lives.

"Please," Buffy cajoled. "This is between us. It's private."

Angelus grinned coldly. "You mean no witnesses?"

Willow gasped as his hand tightened signaling her impending death.

"I mean no outside influences," Buffy clarified quickly. "Just us."

"Nice try, baby."

The red-haired hacker felt him tense to kill her; Buffy couldn't stop it.

"I'm wearing your scent," Buffy blurted, hoping the confession would distract him from his cruel purpose.

The handsome vampire froze, intrigued by the statement.

"I threw away the stems," the Slayer explained, moving slowly closer. "Not the petals. I filled a bath tonight, lit some candles and bathed with the petals from your flowers sticking to my skin."

Willow blinked in shock. She did what?

Angelus smiled, pleased with the thought. "Come closer," he ordered.

Buffy took a few steps forward, her knee throbbed painfully, but was still not beyond the bounds of her tolerance.

"Closer," he sing-songed.

Buffy eased close enough so that Willow was sandwiched between her heat and Angel's cool body.

"Let me smell," he instructed.

"You can smell me already and we both know it," she retorted as she pushed up her sleeves. She extended her arm over Willow's shoulder and lifted the vulnerable crook of her elbow to his inclined head, baring her veins before him.

Angelus inhaled deeply, taking in the heady scent of the vanilla perfume she favored and the dizzying aroma of rose petals crushed against soft skin.

He shoved Willow to the side and snagged hold of his diminutive golden goddess. "Go inside, Will. Buffy will be along later. Curtis?"

The door to the Bronze opened and a minion appeared in the doorway, having obviously waited for his master's signal. He was a lean golden-haired creature of the night.

"Take care of Willow," Angelus ordered, already uninterested in the fate of the young hacker now that he held his golden girl in his arms.

Buffy braced herself against his chest and glared up at him. "No. I know what 'take care of' means."

Her lover smiled tenderly down at her, his dark eyes alight with cold amusement. "Fine. Curtis, buy the lady a drink. No harm is to come to her."

Willow hesitantly stepped toward the blond vampire that had opened the back door of the Bronze. She glanced back at her friend who was being held in a travesty of a lover's embrace.

"Buffy?"

"Go, Willow."

Curtis and Willow disappeared inside the club; the door swung shut, sealing the lovers back in the darkness of the night.

"Now," Angelus purred. "Let's talk about us." He turned and pressed firmly against her, pinning her lithe little body between the rock of the building and the hard place that was him. He pulled her wrists above her head, pinioning them with one hand.

Buffy trembled, all too aware that she was weaponless and unable to physically fight her demon lover. She balanced her weight unobtrusively on her left leg and wondered whether she would survive the night. No. That was unimportant. What was important was that Willow now had a chance to survive the night.

She was still beneath his grip, waiting tensely to see what he would do.

The tall vampire bent his head and nuzzled her temple, inhaling the fragrance that perfumed her skin and hair. He brushed his lips softly against her skin, neither kissing nor biting, just exploring before he trailed cool open-mouthed kisses along the curve of her cheekbone and then down to her neck; he paused when his lips were poised over the vulnerable arch of her throat.

Buffy gasped as he fisted his hand in the trailing locks of her hair. He abruptly pulled her head back, forcing her to offer that vulnerable pulse for his delectation; it was a startling repeat of the position that the Angel of her earlier erotic dream had held her in, slightly tantalizing in its familiarity.

His unneeded breaths fell across the pulse that throbbed beneath her jaw and Buffy panted, feeling more vulnerable than she had before. It was as if when he had smelled the flowers on her skin, he had gotten a peek into the sensual dream she had experienced during her bath and was now looking to enact it. She pulled weakly at his grip and then stilled as he growled warningly against her throat, letting her know that he would not tolerate refusal to his pleasures. Frightened, she waited to see just what his pleasure would be.

A pleased rumble vibrated in him, a vampiric purr that sounded both frightening and arousing. "Sensuality," he breathed against her pulse. "Touch." The tip of his cool tongue brushed over her fluttering pulse in a moist caress. "Tactile sensation can be a form of feeding."

His voice rolled over her skin like a sensual spell and her fear slowly ebbed away, replaced by a drugging lassitude and against her better judgement, she listened to the words that a demon whispered in her ear.

Satisfied that she would not struggle, the vampire released her wrists and her hair, freeing his hands for other far more interesting occupations.

Pinned by more than just the strength of his hard body, she remained as he had positioned her, with her arms stretched above her head and her body pulled into an offering curve.

"All the anticipation," he continued in a soft tone. "All the luxurious bliss and all the purring satiation of touch. To run my fingertips - my hands over your soft skin," he suited action to words, trailing his fingertips along her arms, just above the veins that throbbed beneath her flesh; her skin was more sensitive than it had ever been before and every brushing caress caused a tingling sensation that rippled through her slender body.

Her soft breaths soughed against his temple, rustling the dark locks of his silky hair. She trembled.

"To rub my cheek to yours and bury my face in your hair, near your pulse. To just wallow in the exquisite bliss of sensation. To listen to your heart pound for me."

Buffy listened to the soft hypnotic pull of his voice, feeling herself being drawn into his spell. It was nothing like the vampiric thrall that she had experienced with both Lothos and the Master; this spell was all Angel and she bent like a reed beneath his presence, content to be overpowered by his passion.

"He starved me for a hundred years before he met you," Angelus growled, allowing her to feel the vibration against her skin.

The diminutive Slayer moaned and quickly bit her lips, trying to repress the telling sound. Slowly, shaking, she lowered her arms. She grasped his shoulders, her pink painted fingernails digging into the hardened muscles of his biceps as she held onto to the dark predator for support.

The handsome demon smiled and then continued to weave his spell over the responsive girl that rested in his arms. "A hundred years of deprivation. But now, now I can see you. Touch you," he slid a large hand around her waist and trailed it up the arch of her spine, slipping his fingers beneath the soft fabric of her sweater. He drew his fingertips across her rib cage and then over the soft skin of her midriff, pausing beneath her breast.

Buffy breathed in ragged pants, her eyes closed as sensation rippled over her young body.

"And to taste you."

He slid his cheek along hers to take her lips in a deep, moist kiss, before he released her trembling lips to return his attention to the bared arch of her throat and her vulnerable artery. "Your skin is like velvet, smooth, warm....maybe even like a peach. All that firm flesh with a slight down to add texture." He caressed her stomach and trailed his left hand along the length of her right arm, his thumb following the path of the pale blue veins that ran beneath her skin. "Do you know what blood is, Buff?" the tall vampire paused and continued to murmur against her throat. "Do you know what blood tastes like?"

"Copper right?" she replied, trying to sound flippant though she was sure she sounded more desperate for this seduction to continue. "You could suck on a roll of pennies and it would be about the same."

"Every drop of blood has your whole life in it," he explained, ignoring her attempt at sarcasm. "It's not just food. It's how I feel life." He leaned closer and pressed an open-mouthed kiss to her pulse.

She moaned and shocked herself by rising up on her toes, pressing her pulse more firmly into his mouth.

"To taste your blood is to know your soul: to know everything about you, every secret and if you let yourself go during the draw, sometimes, you can know all my secrets too."

Buffy tightened her fingers on his shoulders, digging the ovals of her nails into the fabric of his burgundy shirt.

"Everything you know, everything you are is transferred into touch and taste in the alchemy of your blood," Angelus continued. He closed his eyes, inhaling the drugging scent of her, amazed at how perfectly she seemed to fit against him. "And it's only in you that I can taste the most rare of all elixirs, the taste of love."

Her breasts rose and fell with her heaving breaths, pressing against him.

Angelus lifted his head and gently turned her face so that her lips were beneath his.

Buffy opened her eyes, her green gaze glazed with hunger at his carnal description. She met his intent stare, the velvety darkness of his eyes holding her spellbound.

"And to know that all that succulent sweetness is just beneath a thin veil of flesh. And taste...there's more to taste than just blood. There's flesh, there's the saltiness of sweat, the scents that perfume you that's nearly a flavor of its own and beneath that is the fountain of your life, the river of your body."

He bent and took her lips in a plundering kiss and she opened for him, unable to deny his powerful hunger, a hunger that was so obviously just for her. "Ambrosia," he muttered between kisses. "Nectar of the gods and all there for me to feast upon if I just sink my teeth into your quivering flesh."

She rose up on the tiptoes of her left leg, clutching at his shoulders for support. She offered her lips supplicatingly, waiting for her dark demon to generously ply her with more of the drugging pleasure of his lips.

"I want you so bad I ache with it," he growled, pressing her more firmly between himself and the rough brick at her back. "I ache in my teeth," he nipped her lips. "In my cock," he thrust the hardened flesh of his arousal into the warm cradle of her hips. "But I know it can get better if I can wait. And it's alright to wait now, because the touch and scent of the feast of your flesh nourishes me just as much as blood," he kissed her, thrusting his cool tongue into the heat of her mouth.

Buffy moaned deep in her throat, feeling drunk as she clutched him more tightly to her. She lifted her right leg tentatively to curl around his thigh, keeping the joint curved gingerly as she wrapped her arms around him, tugging the lean predator that was making love to her with both his voice and his lips deeper into her embrace.

"More," he demanded roughly, devouring her mouth with his. "The sensuality reawakens dormant hungers and I remember that there's more than blood and death. There's hunger. There's desire. And there's passion."

He wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her hard against him.

Buffy whimpered against his mouth and pulled away slightly to nibble on the sensual curve of his lips.

Angelus growled. He had reached her. She arched against his every touch, eager for more, and this time she was not lost in a haze of delirium. He pulled away from her lips, blazing a trail back down to the pulse that had fluttered so temptingly against his lips as he had whispered his blandishments to her.

She gasped, arching her throat into his mouth, her nails digging so hard into his shoulders that he knew there would be crescent marks left on even his skin.

He sank his teeth over that pulse, maintaining his handsome countenance. His blunt human teeth closed over the throbbing artery and he held her with that masterful bite as he sucked strongly on her sweet flesh.

The lithe Slayer whimpered and tightened her arms around him, entangling her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck.

Hunger pulled at him, needling him for more and Angelus slid his hands down her thighs and roughly picked her up. He pulled her legs around his waist and pinned her hard between his aroused body and the solid brick.

Buffy cried out, a ragged scream of pain and froze in his arms, all earlier traces of her arousal gone in that one blinding and stomach turning wrench of agony. Whimpering, she pressed her face hard into his shoulder, unaware of the tears that spilled from her eyes as she shook from the anguish of her still-damaged joint.

Angelus released her throat, aware that her cry had not been from pleasure. He felt the trickling warmth of her tears soaking into the fabric of his shirt and was still, taking a quick inventory to try to figure out what had gone wrong. Then he noticed it.

The knee joint that he supported in his right palm was hot and swollen beneath the soft cotton of her pants.

Slowly, gently, he shifted his grip higher to her thigh, still holding her high against him.

"I can't fight you," Buffy whimpered into his shoulder. "Not today."

He pressed a kiss into the tangled locks of her golden hair.

"Just get it over with," she whispered raggedly.

Her lover lowered her gently to the ground, still supporting her injured leg by her thigh, keeping her stabilized with the arm wrapped securely around her waist.

"Who did this to you?" he growled, enraged that someone, anyone had dared to harm her. She was his; his to hurt, his to protect.

Buffy grasped his shoulders and kept her face buried in his shirt, unwilling to look up in his eyes and see the pleasure she was sure he felt at her pain reflected there. "I need to know how I can get Willow home safe," she stated, ignoring his question.

"She is safe."

"At home," she repeated. "Safe at home, tucked up in her bed, breathing, unbruised, unmolested, safe."

He cradled his fiesty warrior against him, luxuriating in her warmth and scent. "I'll have Curtis walk her home," he promised. "Who better to protect her from the creatures of the night than Curtis?"

She snorted in disgust. "This does not inspire confidence."

"He's completely obedient."

"I don't - "

"Take it or leave it," the Master Vampire snapped, bringing the argument to a close. "Curtis."

The blond vampire opened the back door of the Bronze, as if the minion in question had been waiting on the other side of the door for his master's call.

"Curtis, see that Willow gets home unharmed."

The blond vampire disappeared and Buffy peeked out of the familiar comfort of Angel's shoulder.

"Now for you," the tall vampire released her thigh and carefully lifted his wounded lover in his arms, cradling her possessively against his chest. "I'll carry you home."

She gave him a mutinous look. "I can walk," she muttered proudly.

"Don't push it," he warned. He walked by the pallet pile, snagging her cherry red leather jacket, but leaving her weapons behind on the wooden stack.

Buffy curved one arm over his shoulders as she took her jacket from his supporting hand.

Angelus stalked out of the darkened alley, unaffected by her slight weight. "So," he murmured into her ear. "Shall we make out on your porch swing?"

She flushed and glared up at his handsome visage. "Don't push it."

He chuckled and kissed her roughly, pleased to have her in his arms again, even if she was wounded.

The screech of car tires filled the air and the pair looked up to see Giles getting out of Cordelia's car, holding a crossbow. Willow got out of the backseat, brushing ash from her clothing as she watched.

"Oh look," Angelus muttered dryly. "The cavalry." He lowered her gingerly to the ground, keeping her between himself and the frightened Watcher.

Buffy balanced on her good leg and watched in stunned bemusement as her dark-eyed lover raised her hand to his lips and laid an open-mouthed kiss on her knuckles.

"See you soon," he murmured. "Think of me. I'll send more roses."

He walked away, leaving her for her friends to take home.

The young Slayer blinked, bemused by the gentleness and the passion he had shown her that night. "Angel?" she whispered questioningly.

Angelus glanced back at her confused expression. "Still me, lover," he reassured her, then walked away before Giles came to his senses long enough to try and shoot a crossbow bolt into his chest.

Tears trickled down Buffy's cheeks.

He wasn't her Angel. The demon was courting her. The demon wanted her and he wanted her enough to act like Angel to get her.

Giles jogged up to her side and crouched to peer into her saddened features with concern. "Buffy? Are you alright? Did he hurt you?"

She thought of the confusing and frightening desire that had throbbed within her veins and deeper in the core of her body as she had responded to his every persuasive word.

As Angel, he had been her light, her sun and her entire world had revolved around him accordingly. As a souless echo of the man she had loved, he was now a black hole, the gravity of his presence pulling her towards him, irresistably sucking her down into the darkest recesses of his existence.

Had he hurt her? His mere existence hurt her. He whispered words of sweet passion, words that every woman wanted to hear, words that even Angel, the man she loved with all her heart had never said to her. Did he hurt her? More with every breath she took.

"Yes," she whispered.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Grimlockes* are demons created for the show Charmed and are only borrowed here. No infringement on copyright is meant.; the lyrics Buffy sings are from the song Crush by Garbage.

RATING: NC-17, WARNING, mentions of rape and torture.

Chapter Six: Corruption


Buffy walked slowly past the headstones, her gaze tracking the night's shadows carefully for predators. The wind whispered softly, rustling the leaves on the bushes and she paused to listen, her head cocked. She'd already dispatched three fledglings, but just because three were in the wind, it didn't mean that there weren't more in the ground, especially since Angel and Drusilla had expanded their hunting territory to include the local college.

She turned slightly, her shoes squeaking softly on the freshly watered lawn. The young Slayer shivered as the moisture on the grass seeped in to the seams of her shoes and chilled her toes.

This was not the life she'd set out to live. Haunting cemeteries, fighting for her life on a nightly basis, getting busted for truancy and constantly disappointing her mother, these hadn't been her life- long dreams. Once upon a time her dreams had been quite simple. What was it she'd once told Merrick? 'All I want to do is marry Christian Slater, move to France and die.'

She snickered softly at her previous ideas of bliss. They were so juvenile. Naive even. Innocent. Then again, maybe her ideas of bliss hadn't changed all that much. Maybe now it was as simple as marrying Angel, moving away from the Hellmouth and then dying - much, much later, after a long life of happily-ever-after. Of course happily-ever-after was long gone, along with Angel's soul.

…And she didn't feel so innocent anymore.

Buffy slipped over the cemetery wall and landed lightly on the other side. It had taken two full days for her knee to heal completely, but now that it had, she was back in the cemeteries looking to put a stake through her lover's heart.

No, she reminded herself sternly. He was not her lover. Despite what had happened that night in the hospital when she had been out of her mind with fever, he was not her lover. He was the demon that had murdered her lover and taken over his body. He was the soulless fiend that had broken into her hospital room and taken advantage of her. He was the ruthless beast that had only a week and a half before held Willow hostage, threatening to snap her neck unless Buffy had agreed to come to him weaponless and helpless. But sometimes…when they met and fought, she thought she caught a glimpse of the man she loved, of her Angel peering out from the depths of the demon's intense regard.

Buffy cursed herself as a fool. He had toyed with her the other night behind the Bronze. He had whispered sweet flattering lies into her ear and like a stupid swoony schoolgirl; she had fallen for his every word. He had told her how much he wanted her, he'd done everything in his power to seduce her and like an idiot, she had believed him. He probably would have snapped her neck like Jenny Calender's once he'd gotten her home, but she had wanted so badly to believe that some part, any part, of her Angel still existed, that she was even willing to believe that Angel's love for her still survived in a soulless, murdering demon.

Pathetic. That's what she was. Pathetic.

The shadows clung to the young Slayer as she moved silently through the burial grounds, quickly and efficiently dispatching the unquiet dead. She exchanged blows, plunging her stake into their unbeating hearts and moving on before their ash even settled to the ground. She had no time for quips or banter; she wanted only to get her sucky duty over with and stake the man she loved, so she could look her Watcher in the eye again. Then she would retreat to her bedroom to wallow in depressing music and suicidal despair uninterrupted - at least until the next apocalypse.

A frisson of awareness skittered over her skin like the brush of a chilled feather and Buffy halted. He was near. She had always somehow been aware of Angel's presence and his turning evil hadn't changed that.

"'She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that's best of dark and bright meets in her aspect and her eyes.'"

His voice was resonant and powerful, feeling as though his words were echoing in her bones; her body tingled with awareness.

Buffy turned around to face the dark-eyed demon that had once been the man she'd loved; he leaned against a nearby marble crypt. She swallowed nervously and gripped her stake tighter in her hand. It wasn't the first time since that night behind the Bronze that she'd seen him, but it was the first night that Giles, Willow and Cordelia hadn't been sticking to her side like glue, making sure that Angel had no further opportunities to be alone with her, no further opportunities to seduce her.

It would all be much easier if he didn't say nice things, in fact it would be so much easier if he'd just stick to attempts on her life: those she understood. As for his courting games, she wished he'd stop playing, they were confusing and painful; she hated herself for liking the flowers he continued to send. "You keep reciting me poetry and the other vampires are going to start making fun of you," she taunted.

"Not for long they won't," Angelus growled. "But never mind that. I brought you something."

The tall vampire smirked, obviously pleased with himself and with a quick heave, he threw the large item she hadn't noticed him holding in his right hand. The dark bulk flew across the several yards distance between them and landed at her feet with a heavy bounce.

Buffy stared down at the body in shock. "Gee," she uttered in bemusement. "You...shouldn't have."

The dead man at her feet was dressed in unrelieved black, from his boots, to his pants and shirt, to the gloves that covered his hands. His head was narrow and bald and his skin was a pale bluish- white that made her think that the he'd never seen the sun before. His mouth was open and the tongue within was black as were his filmed eyes. He wasn't human, she realized distantly. She glanced up at Angelus in stunned amazement.

"Girl's gotta know it's just for her," the vampire drawled softly. "For Dru, it's a human heart. For a discriminating girl like you, it's something that demands a little more exertion on my part."

Buffy glanced back down at the dead demon at her feet, blinking as she tried to assimilate the fact that evil Angel had killed a demon for her. Evil Angel, the Scourge of Europe and nasty vampire extraordinaire had killed a demon for her. She said the only thing that came to mind in her present state of stupefaction. "You gave Dru a heart?" She didn't mean it to, but the comment sounded jealous even to her own ears.

"Did you want his?" Angelus asked as he straightened abruptly, pleased that she would ask for so grisly a task. "I'd be happy to pull it from his chest for you."

Buffy took a step backward. "No. I...uh. No. I've gotta." She stopped and looked into his intent chocolate gaze, the passion burning within him frightening her. "Did you wanna...maybe we should just fight."

"Hmmm," he purred, amused at her confusion. "As much as I love trading blows with you baby, cause let's face it, it's just another form of foreplay, I bumped into that present of yours before I had a chance to eat, and I'm feeling a bit peckish."

The Slayer scowled, unpleasantly reminded of why she really needed to put the sharp pointy object in her hand through his chest. And why did he have to compare their fighting to foreplay? Now she was going to think about that every time they fought. Now she knew that he was thinking that every time they fought. "I know you don't think I'm just going to let you happily skip off and kill somebody," she stated fiercely.

"I never skip," he stated softly. "And you have things to do."

The fledgling jumped her from behind, sending the both of them rolling to the ground.

Annoyed with the interruption, Buffy smashed her fist into the vampire's distorted features, crushing his nose and brow ridges before she slammed her stake through his chest. She turned back to where Angel had stood, but as expected, her dark-eyed ex-boyfriend had already disappeared into the night.

"Crap," she muttered.

~

Buffy and Willow weaved through the crowd of students who were all eagerly headed toward the exits; the last period bell had rung and the escaping inmates of Sunnydale High were letting no one stand in their path to freedom.

The girls shifted out of the way of a stampede of football players and resumed their leisurely stroll against the flow of traffic, heading toward the school library.

"So, he killed a demon for you?" Willow repeated in a shocked whisper as she leaned closer to her friend. "A demon?"

"Yep," the slender blond nodded. "Dropped it at my feet and everything. Even offered to rip out its heart and hand it to me."

The redhead wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Eww. That's just so...so..."

"If you say romantic, I am hitting you over the head with a club."

Willow shook her head. "Not romantic. It's so..."

"Stalkerish? Obsessive? Just plain freaky?" Buffy supplied helpfully.

"Yeah," the hacker agreed, still at a loss for words. "So, what did you do?"

The young Slayer shot her friend a puzzled glance. "What do you think I did? I jumped up and down, screamed 'thank you, thank you' and threw myself into his arms, raining him with kisses."

"You didn't?" Willow said in a scandalized tone.

"No, of course I didn't," Buffy replied exasperatedly. "I told him...he shouldn't have."

Willow halted and caught the blonde's arm. "Buffy, that's like girl-speak for 'I love it' and 'you're so wonderfully thoughtful, it's just what I've always wanted.'"

Buffy stared at her aghast. "It is not," she refuted.

The hacker nodded emphatically. "It is."

Frowning, the blond Slayer resumed her walk toward the library. "Well, not the way I said it, it wasn't," she explained distressfully. "And besides, judging from the number of times he has obviously not understood me, Angel does not speak girl-speak."

"He's like two-hundred and forty years old," Willow whispered. "How could he possibly still not understand girl-speak?"

"Attention deficit syndrome? Language difficulties? I don't know. Angel does not get girl-speak."

"Hmmm," Willow vocalized non-commitally. "So, what'd you do with the body? You didn't just leave it there did you?"

"Threw it into the nearest crypt. Giles said he was going to go down after lunch so he could check out my creepy Valentine. I'm sure we'll research it endlessly. What is it? Where'd it come from? What did it want before Angel killed it? And are there more of them out there? At least the flowers didn't require research," she mourned the impending loss of her afternoon.

Willow patted the Slayer's arm supportively. "Did he send more?"

Buffy smiled wryly. "Only every time they start to wilt. If I throw them away, he replaces them the very next day."

"That's so sweet," the redhead sighed, and then stiffened self-consciously under Buffy's raised brow glare. "In a stalkerish, my ex-boyfriend is a fiend from hell and trying to murder all my friends kind of way - and what'd you end up doing with the ankh?"

" It's in my jewelry box with my ring and the cross Angel gave me. I am gaining quite the collection of jewelry I can't wear because my ex would take it as a sign of…something."

"You could probably still wear the cross."

"Yeah. Cause look, I still use the gift you gave me to protect my throat from the things that go bump in the night. It would probably come under some sort of weird possessive territorial male translation of 'when do we get back together?'"

Willow wrinkled her nose in silent agreement.

The two girls pushed open the swinging doors and entered the library.

Xander glanced up from where he sat at his usual space at the library table. "Hey," he said tiredly.

"Hey, Xander," Willow greeted him, bouncing across the library floor to set her book bag down on the table in front of him. "How was your first day back? How was sixth period? Are you feeling okay?"

"Great. Aside from the whole school and lecture thing. Oh and Amber Hardy and Leticia Bronson kept kicking my foot every time they moved. Yep. Sixth period sure was great."

"I'm sure they didn't do it on purpose," the hacker comforted him.

Xander nodded in consideration. "Yeah. I'm sure that's exactly why they kept saying 'oh, I'm so sorry did that hurt?' all thirty times they kicked me. Thirty. Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Thirty times is a planned assault. Damned bitches. Is it wrong to hope that the local fang-boys turn them so that it's okay to stake them in their cold inhuman hearts?"

Willow pursed her lips and cleared her throat as she patted him comfortingly on the shoulder. "Technically…yeah."

Buffy leaned against the book checkout counter and watched the pair. She felt like such an outsider these days, but she couldn't quite bring herself to completely forgive Xander for his spiteful remarks; her first time had been traumatic enough without Xander turning it into something dirty. For the moment their friendship existed in limbo, each trying to pretend that the other hadn't said something that the other either disagreed with or found unforgivable. The pretending would probably continue straight into attempting to forget, and in time, maybe they'd succeed.

Willow pulled a squat thermos out from the inside of her backpack. She opened it and poured a frightening green liquid into the cap and then handed it to Xander. "Here. Drink this."

The brown-eyed boy peered at the concoction with dismay. "What is it?"

"Just a little potion I looked up. All natural ingredients and it's supposed to promote faster healing," the hacker boasted proudly. "Drink it."

He looked up into her encouraging gaze and then, taking a deep breath to brace himself, took a tentative sip. "God, Willow. This tastes awful!"

"Resolve face," she stated pointing at the named expression she wore.

"One of these days that card won't fly," he warned her, but he wrinkled his nose and obediently gulped the potion down.

The doors to the library swished open and a man in a delivery uniform holding a bunch of gaily- colored balloons looked around at the young teenagers. "Is a Mr. Giles here?"

Buffy's eyebrows shot up with interest. Balloons? For Giles? "Umm, no. He should be back soon."

"Could you sign for these? I've got other deliveries."

The young Slayer glanced at Willow and Xander uncertainly then stepped forward and signed the delivery roster.

The man nodded absently and without even thanking her or wishing her a nice day, left the balloons to float over the check-in counter.

"Well," Xander muttered in interest. "Giles has been holding out on us. Maybe he's got a new girlfriend…Kept it mum so Buffy's creepy-freaky wouldn't find out and kill this one."

The blond Slayer flinched, but held her silence.

The dark-haired boy heaved himself to his feet and with an odd thunking noise walked over to the counter to inspect the gaily-colored floating helium-filled spheres.

Willow followed him to the counter. "What are you doing?" she asked as he dug through the curling ribbons for the white envelope anchored to the hovering bouquet.

"Just seeing who would be sending G-man this gaily colored package of latex levity," Xander answered as he opened the envelope and pulled out the card.

"Those aren't yours," Willow scolded.

"You shouldn't open it," Buffy added.

He looked at the two girls mockingly, raising his brows. "What? You mean you're not the slightest bit curious as to who sent these? This is Giles - Giles, stuffy tweed guy. Who would possibly send him a bouquet of balloons? Come on. Come ooonn." As the Pied Piper had once lured hundreds of children to their doom, Xander cajoled the two girls closer. "Giles won't know we looked," he reassured them softly. "We'll just take a little peek."

They stepped closer, as curious as he to see who would send the staid Watcher anything so frivolous as balloons. They leaned in closer to read as Xander opened the card; a yellowish-grey powder exploded outward, enveloping their faces in noxious fumes.

They coughed and waved at the air, their eyes burning and tearing.

"Is that rotten eggs?" Buffy croaked, coughing and gagging, as pain like a hot knife stabbed up her nasal passages and behind her eyes. She put her hands to her face, trailing the path of the heated pain over her skin and sighed in relief as the burning inside her sinus cavities subsided.

Xander grimaced as the burning shot up through his nose all the way up to his temples. "Yuck," he complained. "That is the nastiest perfume I have ever smelled! And I think I'm allergic to it."

Willow waved at the air, her face feeling like the worst sunburn of her life. "It's not perfume; it's sulfur."

"Oh that can't be good," Buffy muttered, tears trickling down her cheeks. "Who's it from?"

Xander blinked and peered blearily at the card in his hands. "Ethan."

The Slayer flashed back to the thin Englishman who had only a few months ago turned them into the characters they had dressed up as for Halloween, nearly killing all of them in the process. Then she flashed to the sleep demon and the ugly tattoo that Ethan Rayne had put on her body in order to get the demon to go after her instead of him; it had cost her ninety bucks to get that thing removed.

"Oh," the young blond groaned in disgust. "Him. This definitely can't be good."

"We should wait for Giles," Willow stated, sighing in relief as the burning in her face slowly subsided.

Xander dropped the envelope to the ground and scrubbed his hands though his hair, shaking with pent up tension. Wait for Giles? Wait for that obnoxious, annoying Englishman who was always looking down his nose at him? "And get caught for snooping?" he snapped. "No thanks."

Willow watched as he limped toward the door and scratched irritably at her scalp. She felt as if a thousand insects were crawling all over her skin, burrowing into her flesh; it made her jumpy and irritable.

Buffy blinked and rubbed at her eyes. Why was she in this room? She hated wasting what little free time she managed to wrest between school, her homework, her household chores and her patrolling in here, in this dank, boring, room. "This could be important," she forced herself to say, already not caring if it was.

Xander turned around to face the two girls, disgusted by their 'Teacher's Pets' type of attitudes. "You know something?" he sneered. "Rea-lly don't care. Got better things to do with my after school time than to hang in here." He glanced at the redhead who was his life-long bud, and then at the blond that preferred an undead boyfriend to a living one. "Willow," he said, purposefully excluding the Slayer from his invitation. "Let's hit the Bronze."

The redheaded hacker took a hesitant step after him, and then another as the idea of playing at the Bronze began to take root. He was right. Why should they waste their time waiting to get in trouble? Trouble found them enough as it was. She paused and glanced back at her friend. "Buffy? You coming?"

The dark-haired boy scowled but decided that for the time being he could ignore the Slayer's presence, just as she had ignored his romantic affections.

Buffy stared at the young hacker, responsibility warring inside her before it sank below the more immediate and more important impulses of her own desires. Besides, it was daylight. Nothing end- of-the-world-y would happen during the day. "The Bronze sounds good," she drawled.

The three stalked out the doors, Willow walking between the other two and both girls automatically slowing their stride for the injured Xander. Almost immediately they came face-to-face with the bespectacled librarian whose privacy they had just violated.

"Ah, Buffy!" Giles exclaimed, eager to share his news with the Slayer. "Excellent. I've been to look at that demon and it looks as though it may have been a Grimlocke*. This is simply amazing…and worrying."

The three teens paused.

"What's so amazing about it?" Buffy asked skeptically. She wasn't overly concerned about running into one of the Grimlocke thingies; it had looked fairly human-ish and probably wasn't too much stronger than her, but she did want to know whether or not Angel had, how did he put it? Exerted himself on her behalf.

"Don't forget worrying," Willow added in a dry tone.

Giles pushed his spectacles up onto the bridge of his nose and focused his attention on his young charge. "We-well, the Grimlocke* is a very dangerous species of demon. Like nothing you've ever faced before."

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest irritably. Why did he always have to make such a big production out of supplying her with the littlest amount of information? "What's so special about it?"

"It's a magic based demon. A parasite."

"Aren't they all," Xander muttered in a resentful tone.

Buffy shot him a hard glare and the boy sneered back at her.

Giles glanced at the three teens curiously, noting their almost sullen expressions and the slight stench of sulfur that clung to them. "Yes," he continued uncertainly. "Well. Grimlockes are a subterranean demon. They travel from city to city, killing powerful forces for good."

"How would they be able to tell who was good and who was bad?" Buffy asked.

"I believe they can see auras," Giles frowned thoughtfully. "But I'm not entirely sure how. They're not an easy kill for Slayers because they can attack from a distance, choking their prey magically."

"So…it was a good present," Buffy concluded.

The Watcher blinked in surprise. "Well…yes. I suppose you could say that, but we'll need to research - "

"Bored now," Willow intoned impatiently.

"Right there with you, Will," Xander muttered.

The diminutive blond smiled coolly and patted Giles on the chest. "You go ahead and do that; you're the Watcher after all. But thanks for the info. Now, if you'll excuse us."

Giles staggered slightly as his Slayer pushed him to the side and out of their path. He scowled at the backs of the three retreating teens as they stalked away. "Buffy? Where are you going?" he demanded.

The blond glanced over her shoulder and grinned smugly. "Anywhere I want."

The Watcher watched in dismay as without another word his Slayer turned and strolled away along with her two friends. "Willow?" he called desperately. "Xander?"

They ignored him and kept walking down the now nearly deserted hallway, disappearing around the corner.

Frowning thoughtfully, Giles pushed into the library and froze at the residual stink that perfumed the air. He wrinkled his nose in distaste and glanced around the room, his gaze halting on the balloons and the yellowish-gray powder littering the counter.

Foreboding filled him as he walked over to the counter and pressed his finger into the powder; it was gritty against his skin. He rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger, testing the texture of it; it felt like powdered salt. He lifted his fingers to his nose and smelled the concoction carefully; it smelled of sulfur.

"What is their damage?" Cordelia snarled as she and Oz entered the library. "I can't believe Willow called me a slut. And Xander didn't even defend me. I'm like his girlfriend and he didn't even defend me. Who do they think they are?"

"Actually, Willow called you a whore," Oz corrected her. "Buffy called you a slut."

The brunette glowered at the brown-haired guitarist. "Who do they think they are? Giles, Willow, Xander and Buffy are possessed. Fix them."

"Yeah," Oz agreed softly. "Willow doesn't use that type of language. It was very disturbing."

Giles ignored the outraged May Queen and tentatively touched the powder to his tongue.

"Oh," Cordelia groaned in disgust. "You put that in your mouth. Do you even know where that's been?"

He searched the ribbons of the balloons, then glanced down to the floor, where the card lay, white and innocent looking. He picked it up and held it aloft. "Yes, Cordelia, it came from this." He opened the festively decorated greeting card and scowled. "'Ripper, see you soon. We've things to do. Ethan.' Bloody hell," he muttered and pulled off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Cordelia looked at Giles' worried expression and then at the card. "Is that not good?"

~

Buffy stared carefully at the balls spread out on the red felt-covered table and scanned for her most likely shot. She wasn't bad with a pool cue, but she typically did better sinking the chalk-tipped stick into a vampire's chest than she did using it to sink a ball without sending the white ball right after it.

Willow, with her affinity for math, played better, having a good eye for angles and both girls managed to do better than Xander, who was lucky if he could hit a ball, much less sink it.

Spotting the ball and angle she was most likely to succeed in sinking, the slender blond shifted around the pool table to line up her next shot.

Willow cocked her head and watched as Buffy bent over the table, sliding the smooth cue stick over her fingers; behind the svelte Slayer, several boys craned their necks unsubtly, some trying to peer down her black camisole, others content to leer at the amount of thigh left bare by her skirt and at her butt.

The redheaded hacker's lips twisted into a contemptuous sneer at the sight of their pathetic teenaged lust. She turned toward Xander to make a cutting remark regarding the drooling audience and froze, outraged; Xander, like the rest of the gibbering teenaged boys in the Bronze was leaning to the side to get a better look at the body part of his choice: namely Buffy's breasts.

Willow glowered at her childhood friend; he had never looked at her like that. He had never once spared a glance to even notice that she had breasts, much less tried to peer down her shirt for a better look at them.

She cast a glance at Buffy's provocative attire, taking in the silk top and the short black and red miniskirt that barely came down to the Slayer's mid-thigh, and then the hacker glanced down at her own not only un-provocative but downright demure attire…Well no wonder nobody ever noticed her.

Buffy watched the solid green ball drop neatly into the corner pocket and growled in annoyance as the white cue ball dropped in right after it. No doubt about it: she was definitely better at staking vampires with pool cue sticks than shooting pool. Probably put too much strength in her follow through; sometimes restraint was hard.

"Nice shot, Buff," Xander crowed mockingly.

The diminutive blond ignored him, as she had ignored every comment made by him during the afternoon. She was getting more than a little tired of his mouth…and truth to tell, more than a little tired of him. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she thought that Angel may have been on to something when he had beaten the ever-loving shit out of Alexander Lavelle Harris: at the moment she couldn't think of anything thing she would find more amusing than doing that very thing herself.

She nearly shook with the desire to hurt him. For weeks he had been leveling potshots at her regarding her lover, her sex-life and the consequences of sex with a demon. For weeks she had taken it like some sniveling weakling, unwilling to give as good as she got and in some ways believing she deserved the silent the censure of her Watcher and the not-so-silent censure her friends heaped upon her. She'd had enough; she fairly hummed with the desire to break him into so many pieces that he'd be nothing but a pulpy mass beneath his flesh.

Buffy swayed dizzily. She shouldn't be thinking like that, she thought dizzily. She was the Slayer. She was supposed to protect humans, not contemplate beating one to death. She dropped her cue stick onto the table. "Be back in a few," she muttered and stalked away toward the ladies room. Maybe a few minutes privacy would help her regain her control.

~

Xander watched the slender blond walk away from the pool table and stood up. Haughty bitch, he thought angrily. First she ignored his romantic attentions and now she just plain ignored him. Did she think that she was better than him? Did she think that she - a whore to a soulless demonic corpse was too good for him?

Angel had had it all wrong a week and a half ago. It wasn't Xander that needed a lesson in how to treat a demon's whore. It was Buffy who needed to be reminded of her new status. If she was all right servicing the undead with her tight little body, then she should be just fine servicing him too. After all, after a monster like Angel, she ought to be grateful that a man like himself would even spit on her, much less deign to fuck her.

The dark-haired boy laid his pool stick on the table and started after the arrogant blond. "I'll be back in a few minutes," he told Willow absently.

She watched him walk away, her lips tightening in silent fury as he trailed the path of the blond Slayer. He wouldn't even notice that she had breasts or that she'd loved him for years, but he would pursue a girl who had already rebuffed him and he made out with a girl he had claimed, over the last ten years, to hate.

~

Xander stalked through the crowd, the weight of his cast making his progress awkward and slow. He clumped along, swinging the added weight forward, annoyed at the off-balance feel of the walking cast that encased his right ankle.

It was all that holier-than-thou slut of a Slayer's fault he'd been hurt. Well, hers and her evil undead honey's.

Rage for the blond beauty pounded in his temples and it throbbed in his stiffening cock as he pushed through the door that led to the women's bathroom.

Buffy held him in contempt. Well before he was through with her, she would hold him between her luscious thighs. She wouldn't be so proud after he had ground her face into the tile and fucked her like the whore she was. And as for that piece of shit Angel…well doubtless his vampiric senses would be able to inform him that his sluttish girlfriend had been had by another man.

Xander sat on the counter next to the sink and waited, nearly trembling with rage and anticipation for Buffy to exit one of the stalls. He had waited nearly a year for her to even notice him and he was tired of waiting.

The slender blond flushed the toilet behind her and opened the stall door. She hesitated slightly at the unexpected sight of the brown-haired boy, her irritation with him surging back in full force. "Get lost?"

Xander smiled and turned on the water in the sink beside him.

The diminutive girl glanced down at the streaming water and then walked forward to wash her hands. "Such a gentleman," she mocked him softly, lathering her hands up and then quickly rinsing them off. She turned away from him and walked toward the paper towel dispenser. She was the Slayer, she told herself firmly. She wasn't supposed to want to pound a human being into a sticky paste.

"But you don't like gentlemen," the dark-haired boy sneered. He hopped down from the counter and stalked after her. He grabbed hold of her wrist, spinning her around and quickly slammed his cast- covered fist into her face.

Buffy staggered slightly, the hard blow from the plaster casing dazing her and Xander pressed his advantage, shoving her against a sink and bracing his cast against her throat.

The pain in her cheek throbbed and the Slayer glared at him. She wrinkled her nose in disgust as he placed his undamaged hand on the outside of her thigh and began to trail his fingers upward toward the hem of her skirt.

"You should get off of me," Buffy warned him in a soft conversational tone.

"Or what?" Xander drawled, pushing the soft fabric of her skirt up slightly. "You'll scream? You're not that type of girl."

"Xander," she warned him again, her muscles already tensing with the desire to kill him. "You should really get off of me. NOW."

His breaths accelerated into excited gasps as he curved his fingers around the cool flesh of her butt cheek; she was so soft. "You gonna sic your undead boyfriend on me again?" he hissed. "Maybe I should at least have taste of your pussy since I've already paid for it." He pressed his cast hard against her throat, to cut off her air as he snaked his fingers around to the front of her panties.

"You were warned." Buffy grabbed his hair with one hand, yanking him back and off balance and then caught his wandering hand with the other, twisting the fragile wrist joint sharply and bringing the aggressive boy to his knees.

Xander cursed as the Slayer locked his wrist into a painful hold, effortlessly immobilizing him.

"So," the diminutive blond drawled. "What did you think you were going to do? Cop a little feel? Just how far did you think I'd let you go? Or is that the issue?" She tightened her grip over his joint, wringing an angry wail of pain from him. "You don't think. When are you going to get it through your thick skull? I'm not your girl. I never will be. Or do I need to beat that into you? Is that the problem? You need me to hurt you? You want me to hurt you?"

"Bitch," Xander growled. "Cock teasing cunt."

Her gaze narrowed and her lips tightened as her hunter's senses focused on him. She could hear his heartbeat pounding. She could smell his lust and his hatred. If he could, if he had the strength to overpower her, he'd doubtless be forcing his way into her panties at that very moment, but he didn't have the strength.

This was the second time that Xander had tried to rape her. Perhaps the incident with the Hyena possession had had less to do with the possessing entity and more to do with Xander's inner desires than she had realized. And if this attempted assault was going to be added to Xander's other irritations, perhaps she should simply cut the aggravation and kill him; Willow would forgive her eventually…maybe.

And there she was, thinking about killing again. She wasn't supposed to be thinking that way…at least not about non-demon-y warm-blooded types.

Willow watched from the bathroom door as the delicate blond forced another whimper from her childhood friend's lips. She smiled, enjoying his pain and wondered what Buffy would do to punish Xander for his transgression and then realized that Buffy probably wouldn't bother to punish him; she would simply kill him.

"An-gel's here," the redhead interrupted in a singsong voice, seeing her blond friend's eyes narrow on Xander's bent neck speculatively.

Buffy released the boy's wrist, allowing him to drop to the tiled floor. She glanced at herself in the mirror, combing her fingers anxiously through her hair. "Where at?"

Willow cocked her head to the side, amused at how Buffy went from the stone killer that was about to snap Xander's neck to the giddy schoolgirl anxious to see her boyfriend. Even more amusing to see was the cold rage that burned in Xander's hate-filled gaze as he was once again forgotten because of the presence of the dark-haired vampire. "He was headed toward the back with a skanky little blond clinging to his arm."

The diminutive blond paused her anxious grooming and scowled with sharp displeasure.

Xander burst into a fit of high-pitched laughter. "Well that's nothing new," he sneered. "Of course, if he's not with his skanky blondes, he's always got that brunette nut-bag, Drusilla to comfort him during the long, lonely days."

Buffy glanced down at the kneeling boy and backhanded him, sending him skidding across the tile and crashing into a nearby wall; he slid down to the floor and sat there, shaking his head to clear his vision.

The Slayer smiled coolly at her red haired friend. "Guess I've got some business to take care of."

"I guess you do."

Both girls flashed each other knowing smiles as the blond Slayer strolled to the door and exited in search of her straying lover. Willow turned her attention to her own respective and somewhat straying man.

"Bitch," Xander snarled. "Go ahead and run to him! Corpse-loving whore."

Willow scowled and pulled several paper towels out of the dispenser. She tossed them to the boy she had loved since she was five years old: the boy that would rather fuck the meanest bitch in school, Backseat Cordy, than give her even a second glance; the boy that would rather pursue a girl who was obviously already in love with somebody else than be with her.

"Clean yourself up before you drip blood on your shirt," she snapped.

She looked into the mirror at her calf length jean skirt, her white tights and the long-sleeved shirt with a sunshine wearing sunglasses on it that she wore; no wonder boys never paid attention to her…except for Oz.

Perhaps it was time to make a few changes. She bent over and ripped the slit in her skirt so that it went to her thigh rather than stopping at her knee.

~

Buffy exited the Ladies' Room and pushed her way through the throng of gyrating teenagers toward the back of the Bronze.

Xander's snide remarks regarding Angel's possible daytime activities stung more than she liked and jealousy burned hot and acidic in her stomach.

He had better not be whiling away the daytime hours nibbling on that bitch Drusilla. In fact he had better not be touching anyone in an intimate manner. He was not seeing her. She wasn't seeing him and he wasn't seeing her. Theirs was a mutually exclusive and strictly monogamous not-seeing- anyone-else-while-not-seeing-each-other sort of ex-relationship.

Perhaps she should get rid of the ex part. It would be far easier to keep tabs on him if they were not- seeing-each-other while they were together. It would be even easier to make sure that Drusilla wasn't in his bed if she was in his bed, while still not-seeing him of course.

She pushed open the door that led to the alley and went in search of her straying soon to be ex-ex- boyfriend.

He wasn't hard to find.

Angel was backing his unwary prey up against an alley wall in a move that Buffy might have found sexy, if he hadn't been doing it to somebody else. The bastard. He had been seducing her in that very spot only a week before.

The jealousy that had been stewing in her stomach flared hot and she struggled to control it. Wanting to slay the girl and not the vampire was wrong. It was wrong. She was the Vampire Slayer…but for good or for ill, Angel was hers.

She breathed slowly, forcing her jealousy back. The girl was nothing but food, she told herself. The girl meant nothing, she was just food.

Buffy leaned her shoulder against the wall and examined her glossy pink fingernails; why had she lacquered her nails with such an insipid creamy-pink color? She needed something like Carnage Red or Trespassing Whore's Blood; those would be good colors. She glanced at her dark lover and then at the teenaged slut that thought she was competition.

"Just what do you think you're doing?"

Angel and the girl looked at her, the girl surprised at the interruption, the vampire impatient for it.

Angelus smirked, pleased at his lover's presence. She was alone, and she looked absolutely scrumptious in her cherry-red leather jacket, a silky black spaghetti-strapped camisole and a very short red and black plaid skirt. It would be so easy to slide that short little skirt up and invade all the territories that miniscule amount of cloth attempted to protect. He'd wrap her sleek legs around his waist...and they looked very tempting in those knee high black suede boots. "Slayer," he purred in greeting.

"Don't you Slayer-me," she snarled. "In case it's escaped your memory, we are not seeing each other."

The tall vampire blinked as he processed that information. He was fairly certain that he'd gotten that part of the memo. Not a couple: check. He was trying to change it, now wasn't he?

"We," she continued firmly, "are a mutually exclusive, strictly monogamous not-seeing-each-other couple."

Angelus blinked again. Huh? A not seeing each other couple? What the hell was that?

"After all, what's really changed? I hang at the Bronze, you lurk in the shadows and watch, we meet later on in the graveyard for calisthenics."

He grinned leeringly, glad to finally have something to contribute to the bizarre conversation. "If you want calisthenics, I'm happy to oblige."

She glared at him in irritation. "Don't be cute."

The girl looked uncertainly between the diminutive blond and the tall dark-haired man who had lured her from the club with whispered promises of forbidden passion; her cork-screw curls bounced as she shifted her gaze back and forth between them. "Uh, excuse me. Incase you didn't notice, we were busy."

Buffy's attention snapped to the little tramp clinging to her man's arm. "I'll deal with you later," she growled at her wandering lover with a glower. "And as for you, Happy Meal….Yeah, you were busy. Just how stupid are you?"

The tall vampire blinked in surprise. Happy Meal? But then he focused on the more important thing: she was jealous. She was snarling frothing at the mouth jealous. Over him. How delightful. He settled back to enjoy the show of his little golden love ripping into his food.

"So," Buffy looked at the girl through the heavy strands of hair that fell over her eyes. "How long have you known tall, dark and deadly here?"

"Awhile," the girl hedged, wondering whether or not she had somehow gotten mixed up with a fighting couple or even worse, one that was into kinky threesomes.

The Slayer cocked her head to the side, her lip pulling back into a disgusted sneer.

Angelus' gaze narrowed on the hard expression in his lover's eyes, trying to interpret her mood.

"By that, I take it you mean ten minutes," Buffy said sarcastically. She laughed incredulously, amazed at the girl's stupidity. "Ten minutes and you leave a public place for an alley with a guy you've just met." She crossed her arms over her stomach and leaned more comfortably against the

brick wall. "He could be anybody. He could be a rapist. He could be a serial killer." The diminutive blond paused as Angel shifted from his handsome human visage to his predatory ridged-brow and fanged countenance behind his prospective victim. "He could be a blood-sucking creature of the night, looking to tear out your spine and dance on your intestines."

Angelus grinned at the description, pleased with his love's way with imagery.

The girl lifted her nose into the air derisively. "I think you're exaggerating."

Buffy brushed her hair from her eyes. "I hope stupidity doesn't spoil the blood," she commented to her dark-eyed lover.

The demon froze and stared at her cruel expression in amazement. She was actually going to let him kill without making a single move to even try to stop him?

"Bitch," the girl snarled. "This is none of your - "

"Nope," the Slayer decided. "Definitely don't feel like saving you. Bon appetit. And Angel, don't play with your food."

Not one to pass up an invitation, Angelus sank his fangs into the girl, wrenching a startled scream from her lips. He gulped her down in greedy swallows, ignoring the possibilities of a slow languorous feed. Slow draws were for savoring the blood, possessing the donor, impassioned sex; this wasn't anything important. Just food.

Buffy turned and walked away without a backward glance, uninterested as Angel ripped into his Slayer-free meal. Why should she bother? Anybody that stupid deserved to die. And as long as it was just food, what did she care what girl he grabbed? Food was food and love was love, and there was still a greedy-handed psycho vampiress to deal with.

Angelus looked up and dropped his dead meal to the ground at his feet. His golden goddess was no longer in sight. She had disappeared into the shadows as he had so often done to her.

"Well," he murmured, bemused, "that was new."

~

Willow tossed her white tights into the trashcan and turned to stare critically at her reflection. She looked better, but the shirt absolutely had to go.

She turned her attention to the dark-haired boy in the reflection that continued to nurse his bloody nose and wounded pride. "You're never going to get her," she stated coolly. "She's never going to love you."

"I don't want her to," Xander retorted, dabbing delicately at his nostrils.

The redheaded hacker turned and went to kneel before her childhood playmate. "Then what's the point of your continuing pursuit?" she demanded heatedly.

Xander's lips twisted into a cold smile. "It's just a game, Will. I just want to fuck her. It doesn't mean anything. It's just a fuck."

Her blue gaze narrowed on him in disbelief. "And Cordelia?"

The dark-haired boy snorted in cynical laughter. "Well, she said 'no' too, initially. Now…she's just a whore with pom-poms. Really nice pom-poms. But the most popular girl in school is going down on me and let me tell you something, Will, that does something for a boy's self-esteem, especially after so many years as low-man on the totem pole. I'm no longer the last man on earth for her. And I won't be for Buffy either."

Willow cocked her head to the side. "But it's just a fuck?"

He finished wiping the blood from his nose and crumpled the paper towels into his fist. "That 'no' makes me dumping them later on all the sweeter. They get to be Xander Harris' castoffs."

"So it's just one-upmanship?"

"Yeah," he sighed with a touch of a growl. "All those bitches are finally going to pay."

Willow pursed her lips thoughtfully. She rather thought she understood where he was coming from. For years, she and Xander had been termed "losers" and the popular girls had gone out of their way to insult them, harass them and otherwise make their lives a living hell. What better way for a guy to get even with them than to use them and publicly dump them as undesirables? But where did his quest for vengeance end? "And me?"

"Willow," Xander scolded her softly. "You're my best friend, my buddy, my pal, my amigo. Where you go, I go."

The door to the bathroom opened and two girls stumbled in, giggling. They halted at the sight of Willow and Xander, glanced at each other and then back at the redhead and the dark-haired boy before bursting into a fresh spurt of high-pitched laughter.

The brunette placed her hand on her hip and stared down her perfect narrow nose. "In case you two losers can't read, this is the Ladies' Room, not a broom closet."

Willow stared at their clothes consideringly and then turned her attention back to her best friend. "Okay, amigo," she murmured. "Let's say we put your plan into action."

"My plan?"

The redhead smiled, her expression cruel. "Making some bitches pay. Come on. I've got a plan."

Xander shoved himself to his feet. "I like plans."

~

Buffy walked calmly away from the alley. It was nothing to worry about, just food…but who did that stupid girl think she was anyway? None of her business? The bitch had her hands all over her man and the little bimbo said it was none of her business.

She hoped Angel ripped her throat clean out. Heck, he could rip out her entire spine if he wanted to.

The Slayer abruptly halted. She wasn't supposed to be thinking like that. She was the one girl in all the world, chosen to stop the vampires; she wasn't supposed to be hoping that her vampire ex- boyfriend ripped out a girl's throat and tap-danced in her blood. She wasn't supposed to hope that her death had been horribly painful and that he'd killed her with a song in his heart.

She was supposed to stop him.

Buffy pursed her lips thoughtfully. Something was wrong with her…and yet she had never felt better. She felt as though a great and terrible weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

She was free. She had been a slave to destiny and now…now she was free. Free to live as she pleased. Free to do as she pleased. Even free to love as she pleased.

Angel…was still Angel…wasn't he? A soul was the living force of a human being and life and memory was what made an individual. The demon - as Giles and Merrick had explained it to her - was the animating force of a vampire, but the demon had no memory other than those of the human host, so, in essence, wasn't it the same person? And if it was the same person, then he was still her Angel…still her love…wasn't he?

…And that skanky, psychotic vampires was spending her days groping Buffy's ex-boyfriend…

That did it. The ex-thing definitely had to go…and so did Drusilla.

Buffy turned and started moving again, following the darkened streets toward the Factory. She hoped that they hadn't found a new lair yet, because she'd hate to spend the evening searching for Drusilla when she just wanted to stake her and get to work on her reconciliation with Angel.

She paused again. What if he didn't believe that she was serious about reconciling? It was a total 180 of her earlier position. He could think it was a trap and that she was just out to trick him and stake him. She grit her teeth and resumed walking determinedly; she would just have to think of something that would prove her sincerity.

"Ssslayer."

The sibilant hiss echoed against the brick and aluminum walls of the warehouse district and the wind rose, as if it were the breath of the demon breathing its threat upon her.

Buffy rolled her eyes in annoyance. God, not now. Couldn't a demon ever pick a time to attack her when she didn't already have plans? No. They had to interrupt her dates, interrupt her parent- teacher's night, and had even interrupted her birthday. She was getting damned tired of it. As a matter of fact, it would all be much more convenient if they just made appointments, so that she could kill them without interrupting her personal life. Killing by appointment; she could get used to that.

"Slayer," it repeated.

Buffy sighed in irritation and stopped walking. There was no help for it. It was just going to dog her steps like some stray mongrel until she killed it. She could hardly show up at Angel's lair to get him back with some slimy, horny, leathery creature in tow; it would ruin the mood.

"Following me typically just annoys me," she stated to the darkness around her.

"And you think I should worry about annoying you?"

"I think you should worry about it a lot," she growled. "Now, be a good little whatever you are and scurry on home and the big nasty Slayer won't have to kill you."

"Slayers can't kill my kind, girl. We kill you. You can't even get close enough to touch us."

"Is the small talk going to last much longer?" she sniped sarcastically. "I have other things to do tonight. And as for the not touching, it's probably because you hide."

"I'm here, girl."

Buffy turned around.

The demon stared at her its eyes black within black and flat and empty as a shark's. "Not much of a Slayer, are you?" it growled.

She shifted, raising her fists to a defensive position. "What are you talking about?"

"You have the glow of a Champion, but it is riddled with shadow. You're corrupt and selfish. You smell like a Slayer, but you're unworthy of your calling."

The diminutive blond cocked her head to the side, studying his narrow hairless skull and the bluish paleness of his skin; he looked like the demon Angel had so thoughtfully tossed to her feet last night. "You're one of those Gridlock thingies aren't you?"

"Grimlocke."

"Whatever. You're one of those prissy magic demons that's afraid to get his hands dirty."

"Prissy?" he snarled. "I'll kill you slow."

"You know, everyone always says that to me, yet I'm not the one blowin' in the wind or fertilizing flowers. How about this," she growled, stepping closer to him. "I'm gonna' kill you slow. And after I'm done killing you, I'm not even going to bother to remember that your blood ever stained the soles of my boots."

The Grimlocke's lips pulled back from his discolored teeth. "Your tune will change when you're gasping and begging for your life."

"I never beg," she stated in a throaty tone. "Well…not for my life."

He lifted his gloved hand toward her and his fingers curled as if he were grasping something.

Buffy watched him interestedly.

The Grimlocke frowned and stared bemusedly at his hand and then he stretched it toward her again, curling his fingers tensely.

The golden Slayer looked at him askance. "Is that it?" she sneered disgustedly. "You're going to point at me?"

He glared at her. "I see your aura girl. I will steal your life - "

"Alright, that's enough," Buffy snapped, annoyed with his little song-and-dance. She stalked forward.

The demon took a surprised step backward and for the first time in three millennia, a Slayer slammed her fist into a Grimlocke's face, knocking him on to his ass.

"I hope you fight better than you point," she snarled. "Cause otherwise you are a lousy gift and my lover will know exactly what I think of his stinginess."

The pale-skinned demon swung his legs into the air forcefully, lifting himself off the ground and then brought his feet back down beneath him to stand upright.

The two combatants circled each other warily.

"So you're Angelus' woman."

She tilted her head proudly. "Maybe it's more along the lines that Angelus is my demon."

"You would make a lapdog of the Scourge of Europe?"

Buffy grinned and twisted sharply to land a roundhouse kick to his chest. "Bet you wouldn't say that to his face. Or maybe your brother did and that's why Angel snapped his neck and dumped him at my feet as a present."

The Grimlocke bared his teeth. "I will avenge him with your flesh. And then I will kill Angelus."

The Slayer smirked. "We'll see."

~

Cordelia yanked open the door of the Bronze and stalked in, Willow's boyfriend Oz right behind her. "Why are we here again?" she snapped at the red-haired guitarist.

Oz looked at the temperamental May Queen expressionlessly. "To see if Willow, Buffy and Xander made an appearance. Giles is worried that that powder may have been some sort of hallucinogenic...or worse."

The tall brunette rolled her eyes irritably. She so didn't need to be chasing after the freaky threesome. She wasn't supposed to be doing any chasing at all; Xander was supposed to grovel in her wake, thanking her for deigning to date him.

She glanced around the crowded club, looking for Willow's red hair or Buffy's blond mane. "I don't see them. Should we ask somebody? Who should we ask?"

Oz rolled his eyes and walked toward the bar, leaving the tall brunette to follow. He paused at the crowded counter, taking in the bartender's pained expression and the bag of ice he was holding over his bruised wrist.

Sam looked up and jerked his chin in a greeting to the guitarist. "Hey."

Oz nodded back. "Hey. What happened?"

The brawny bartender shrugged. "Bit of a ruckus at the pool tables earlier. Two girls and a guy in casts jonse'ing for some eight-ball."

"Casts," Cordelia repeated. "That's definitely Xander."

Sam, the bartender, looked at the May Queen in consideration. "Friends of yours?"

"Cute redhead?" Oz asked, confirming the identities before they committed to the friends question. "About yay tall?" He held his hand up to illustrate. "Blond with an attitude?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah."

"Yeah," Oz returned.

The brawny bartender shifted his injured arm slightly out of his way and slapped at slip of paper on the counter in front of the two teenagers. "They have a tab."

"Which way did they go?" Cordelia demanded eagerly.

Sam smiled, his pale blue gaze shifting from the guitarist to the brunette. "You have questions," he observed softly, "I have answers. I have a bar tab and you have?"

Cordelia glared at the muscular bartender in outrage. "You mean you're not going to help us unless we pay that bill?" she demanded incredulously.

"My wrist really hurts."

Cordelia glowered. "Oz, pay him."

Oz glanced at the May Queen in surprise. "I don't have money; I'm in a band."

She growled softly in annoyance. "Fine," she snapped. "How much?"

"One-hundred dollars," Sam replied with a smile.

"For drinks?" she screeched shrilly.

"Hey, they damaged the pool table when they ran out of quarters. I could be charging you for every free game that's going out now instead of just parts and labor."

Cordelia gnashed her perfect white teeth together. Damn Buffy. This was all her fault. "You take credit cards?'

"Yep," Sam confirmed.

She reluctantly surrendered one of her precious cards and waited impatiently for the bartender to run the bill through the machine. She tapped her nails and quickly signed the tag when the husky servant returned it to her. "Fine. I've paid the bill. Now where'd they go?"

"Don't know. Didn't really see."

"What?" she demanded in outrage. "I just paid you a hundred dollars."

"Redhead talked to Dillon, while casts bought a couple of drinks for some college girls. Didn't see him or the girls go. Blondie followed that ex of hers and a girl out back. Red left about two minutes before you got here."

"That's it for a hundred bucks?" Cordelia hissed.

Sam nodded amiably. "I could make something up if you like, but I'm not much of a talker."

The outraged May Queen snapped up her credit slip copy. "I want a receipt on those repairs."

Oz grabbed hold of Cordelia's arm and ushered her out to the front of the club before the scene could denigrate into a full-blown argument. He glanced up and down the street, trying to catch a glimpse of his redheaded girl friend. "We got problems."

"What?" Cordelia demanded, pulling her arm from his hold.

"Dillon deals Ecstasy."

Cordelia rolled her eyes in annoyance. "Great. Can this night even get worse?"

~

Xander guided the two girls through the shadows of Restfield Cemetery and to the privacy of the DuLac crypt. The ground was uneven, making walking in his cast more difficult than it already was, but the two giggling girls with him staggered along slowly, ogling the headstones as they passed, making it easy for him to keep up with them.

The dark-haired boy sneered silently at their interest in the tall headstones and monuments that surrounded them; they acted like tourists. Graveyards were nothing new to him.

His brown gaze tracked the two tightly clothed bombshells greedily. His anticipation was riding him hard, making him tremble with need; he wasn't sure if he could wait.

A craving had filled him the moment he had laid eyes on Tammy and Ruth back at the Bronze. It had grown stronger the moment he realized just how much the two girls resembled Amber and Leticia, the abusive bitches of sixth period; now, the craving had grown so strong it had turned into a knotting tension that made him feel weak with nausea and yet powerful at the same time.

He had been aroused before. He was a seventeen-year old boy, of course he had been aroused before, but it had never felt like this. He wanted so badly, the balled tension inside him coiled tighter and tighter until his hands itched with the desire to be laid upon their flesh.

"I can't believe we're actually doing this," Tammy - or was it Ruth? - giggled as she leaned against a marble cherub. "I've always wanted to bust into one of these old places and see if the corpses are actually still wearing the jewels they were buried in."

Ruth - or was she Tammy? - laughed uproariously, bending over to lean against her knees for support.

Xander peered interestedly down the gaping neck of her leopard print shirt at her lace-covered breasts.

"What were you going to do if they were, Tam?" she asked, staggering on her impractically high- heeled sandals. "Rob the dead?"

"Yep," Tammy confirmed proudly, shaking her short platinum colored hair from her eyes.

The two girls burst into a fresh round of giggles and staggered toward the dark-haired boy who'd brought them out on their adventure. They each tucked an arm around his, Tammy tapping her nails absently against the plaster of the cast on his wrist.

The three continued through the maze of headstones, the boy in the cast making steadier progress than the two inebriated girls.

Xander grinned, pleased with the effect of the alcohol and the Ecstasy that he'd slipped into their drinks earlier. The two college girls had been well on their way to plastered before he and Willow had found them, and after Buffy's aggressive display with the bartender, that dealer, Dillon had been all too eager to surrender a couple of doses of E to avoid having the dangerous blonde sic'd on him.

After that, it had been all too easy to get the girls out of the Bronze. The two co-eds had actually moved to Sunnydale to get their education - something about their mothers not wanting their precious baby daughters getting murdered in the big bad city of Los Angeles, so Sunnydale had been a compromise. And now, after seven months of living on the Hellmouth - seven very lucky months, though they didn't realize it, the two ditzes wanted to go explore one of the thirteen small town cemeteries…at nighttime.

"It's just in here," Xander told them as he shoved open the door to the DuLac crypt. The three of them paused in the doorway, taking in the wall of sealed resting places and then the two slots that had been broken into months before when Spike had been intent on saving that psycho bitch Drusilla.

Tammy and Ruth oohed over the cracked and dismantled resting places, but still, they hesitated by the door.

"It's so dark in there," Tammy whined. "You can hardly see a thing."

Xander grinned craftily and pulled a lighter out of his pants. "No light switches, but there are torches. Wouldn't torches add just the right ambience?"

The two girls looked at each other again and fell into a fresh spurt of giggles; the dark-haired boy ground his teeth together in annoyance. They were stupid and shallow and their giggling was driving him crazy, but their bodies were proportioned in all the right places. And best of all, they were here.

The dark-haired boy flicked the lighter until fire glowed above the flint and then he led the way into the darkened chamber; Tammy and Ruth followed him closely, holding tightly to each others arms as Xander found the remnants of a torch on the floor. He lit it and then slipped it triumphantly into a tarnished brass bracket on the wall.

"Voila!" He turned back to them and held his arms out, gesturing grandly at the dank and musty interior. "I think that calls for a little appreciation, ladies."

The two girls glanced at each other and giggled wildly. They saw no harm in playing around with the boy, as he seemed young, inexperienced and quite frankly, with those casts, harmless.

Ruth approached him and snuggled into his chest and Xander grinned, wrapping an arm around her waist, while Tammy cautiously looked around at the nooks and crannies of the darkened burial chamber.

The brunette kissed him lightly and Xander ran his tongue across her lips, grateful to Cordelia for their numerous forays into the utility closet; he'd become rather good at kissing since he and she had gotten together.

Tammy completed her inspection of their surroundings, and walked over to the kissing couple.

Not taking his attention away from Ruth's lips, Xander reached out and wrapped his other arm around the slender blond; he hugged both girls to him in greedy delight. He could feel the weight of one of the girl's breasts against his chest and it was making him dizzy with lust. Whoever would have thought that he - Xander Harris - would have two girls at once? He almost laughed aloud, giddy at his masculine triumph. The only thing that could possibly make the moment better was a video camera so he could not only view the evening's triumphs later, but also so he could prove that this ultimate man's fantasy had happened to him.

He alternated light close-mouthed kisses upon their lips and Tammy and Ruth continued to giggle slightly.

"Let's make ourselves comfortable," he suggested in an attempt at suave sophistication as he turned them toward the back corner of the crypt.

Tammy smiled at Ruth meaningfully and the brunette shrugged drunkenly as they decided to have a little fun; it wouldn't be the first time they'd shared a boy. Choosing to humor him for the time being, they followed him toward the back of the room, the golden glow of the torch giving the dank chamber a slight romantic glow. The trio, made awkward by the girls' drunkenness and Xander's casts sank to the ground, with the dark-haired boy in the middle.

Xander turned toward the pale-haired Tammy first and bent to kiss her, while Ruth wrapped her arms around him from behind, laying her cheek against his back; neither girl was sober and the world appeared in a dimly lit, pleasurable haze. When he cupped her breasts through her shirt, Tammy only smiled and pulled him closer, seeing no harm in letting the injured boy cop a few feels.

He could hardly believe his luck - he was finally getting his hands on some honest to goodness real breasts. Cordelia, despite her somewhat tarnished reputation had not allowed his hands to wander into any forbidden areas and despite his earlier comments to Willow, his seventeen year-old cock was still as innocent as when Natalie French, the she-mantis had locked him in her sights.

Clumsily, he pushed Tammy's shirt up to continue his groping exploration on her bare skin; Ruth twined her arms around his waist and caressed his chest with long slow strokes. Xander pulled away from Tammy's lips; he craned his neck and turned to kiss Ruth, his tongue probing into her mouth. As Ruth sucked it teasingly, Xander squeezed Tammy's breast tightly in excitement.

Willow pushed open the old wooden door and paused in the entrance, her blue gaze focused on Xander wrestling on the ground with two half-naked college girls. She scowled in annoyance; Xander was hers. He had been hers since they were five years old together in kindergarten. He had been hers all through grammar school and he would have remained exclusively hers all through High School if Buffy hadn't shown up. She had tolerated his

infatuation with Buffy because it was obvious that the Slayer wasn't going to give him the time of day, but then there was Cordelia and now, this. It was time that Xander understood that this was an activity that they did together, just as they'd done everything together the whole of their lives.

The red-haired hacker leaned against the doorjamb, glowering at the writhing trio "You started without me," she murmured in a scolding tone.

Xander gathered the dark-haired girl in his arms and rolled Ruth beneath him, eagerly pushing her skirt up her thighs. "Will," he exclaimed with a delighted smirk. "Where've you been?"

"I didn't get a ride in a car. I had to walk over."

Tammy looked at the scowling redhead and stood up, straightening her clothing uncomfortably. She looked at the cold smile on the redhead's face and then at the strange gleam in the eyes of the young man who had brought them to the cemetery. Was this some sort of weird foursome thing? She and Ruth sometimes shared their boyfriends, but this was too much.

"I'm not into this," the platinum blond stated, shaking her head to try and clear her mind of the haze that continued to fog her senses.

Willow closed the door of the crypt firmly casually sauntered slowly toward them. She held her hands behind her back as she approached them, hiding the objects that she carried from their view and then, as she got closer, she held them out proudly displaying the objects she carried: a partially full bottle of wine and an empty beer bottle. With her eyes trained on the girl standing next to her, the young hacker set the wine bottle down.

Tammy glanced down at her friend, still pinned beneath the injured boy. "C'mon Ruth, we should get going."

Willow struck quickly, grabbing hold of Tammy's arm and swinging her around to pin the blond against the wall.

Tammy struggled briefly, but froze when the harmless looking redhead broke the bottle she still held against the wall next to her.

Willow pressed the sharp edges of the broken bottle to the pretty blonde's face. "A

ménage a trois is fine but a ménage a quatre is too much? Or is it me?"

Xander looked up from his position over Ruth and smirked. "Sorry but she doesn't take rejection well. She took an axe to me," he offered informatively.

Tammy swallowed nervously and looked at the bottle with wide frightened eyes. "It's not that. I just…don't feel well."

"Awww," Willow crooned sympathetically. "That's too bad." Her tone changed as she traced the sharp glass along pretty blonde's cheek. "You're gonna feel worse."

"P-p-pl-please don't kill me," Tammy gasped, the fear sobering her despite the drugs and alcohol in her system. "My boyfriend thinks I'm in LA."

The hacker cocked her head to the side, her expression innocent though her words, frighteningly enough, were not. "So you won't be missed."

Ruth, feeling the same nervousness as her friend now that the threatening redhead was in the room, joined the conversation. "I'll miss her."

Willow cast a nasty smirk down at the brunette pinned beneath her best-friend's weight. "And who's going to miss you?"

Ruth shifted slightly, trying to move the dark-haired boy's weight off of her. "They'll look for us."

"In LA." Xander taunted. He laughed wildly, pressing his groin hard into the vulnerable notch at the apex of her thighs.

Ruth began to cry in real fear, the harmless looking boy they had left the club with no longer looking so harmless. "Please!" she whimpered brokenly. "Please don't rape me."

~

Buffy cradled the Grimlocke's chin in her palms and stared at him with wicked delight, relishing his surprised expression.

"I must say," she conceded with a friendly smile, "if your brother was even half as good as you, he was a wonderful present. In fact, if he was anything like you at all, he was probably the best present anybody has ever given me."

Actually, if the demon Angel had killed the night before had been anywhere as skilled as his brother, Angel had exerted himself quite a bit to please her. She smiled, beaming joyously: how sweet.

The pale-skinned demon stared at her silently, his black eyes wide and his mouth opened in a silent O.

The blond Slayer grinned. "Well," she murmured regretfully. "I hate to fight and run, but I've got plans. You take care now." She dropped the Grimlocke's narrow-boned head next to his still twitching body and strolled away, leaving bloody footprints in her wake.

She rolled her neck and shoulders, stretching luxuriously and then dusted herself off, removing any fragments of windshield glass that might still be clinging to her clothing or hair. True to her word, by the time the film of blood on the soles of her boots had thinned enough to no longer leave prints, she had already dismissed the demon that she had spent the last forty minutes fighting from her mind.

She had more important things to occupy her thoughts: namely making sure that her evil creature of the night ex-boyfriend knew that the ex part of their relationship was over. She had tried the single Slayer life and it just wasn't working out for her; she missed him. She missed talking with him; she missed kissing him; she missed him. Besides, he wanted to get back together with her; she wanted to be with him, so who cared what her dried up old Watcher wanted? Or what her friends thought?

Buffy hummed softly as she stalked briskly through the shadowed warehouse district of Sunnydale. "Ahhh, ahh-ah," she crooned. "'I will burn for you, feel pain for you, I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart, and tear it apart.'"*

She paused as her earlier uncertainties returned. What if he didn't believe that she wanted to get back together? What if he thought it was a trick? What if he thought she was lying just so she could get close enough to put a stake through his heart?

The thought that he wouldn't believe her was distressing to say the least. Here she was, tossing aside her sacred duty, her Watcher's respect and her friend's support and he might not even believe that she was sincere.

How could she possibly make him believe her?

An arm wrapped around her throat, pulling her hard back against the lanky and somewhat smelly body of a denim-clad man. There was a soft snicking sound and the man pressed the cool steel of a knife against her throat.

"What's a pretty little girl like you doing out all by herself?"

Buffy arched her neck away from the blade and shifted her gaze to the bristly face of the man who held her. "I was just going to see my boyfriend," she answered softly.

The man chuckled softly and leered at the cleavage revealed by her silky camisole. "That's too bad, cause you ain't never going to get there. I'm your boyfriend now, and you, you're my old lady."

She narrowed her gaze on him speculatively. Perhaps the answer to her dilemma had just been dropped in her lap. Angel had brought her a present to show her his sincerity; maybe she just needed to return the favor.

"I don't know," she drawled to the human being that thought he could hold her captive. "Angel gets awfully jealous."

"Shut your mouth sweet cheeks," the man growled, stroking the blade of the knife against her cheek. "I'm the only man you gotta concern yourself with now."

The diminutive blond widened her eyes in what she hoped looked like fear. "Oh please don't hurt me," she wailed, already wondering whether or not she was laying it on a bit thick.

"You just do what Daddy says, little girl, and you won't get punished…much."

She snapped her hand up and clamped her fingers hard over his wrist, already bored with the game.

The man grunted in surprise and then groaned as her tiny little fingers locked around his bones and sinew like steel.

Buffy twisted out from beneath his arm and squeezed a little harder; the switchblade dropped from his nerveless fingers and spun away from the two combatants.

The lanky male glowered down at the blond beauty, already promising himself of the many and varied ways he would punish her for struggling against him. He swung his free fist towards the smooth line of her jaw.

The delicate Slayer caught his fist in her own and squeezed, bringing the smelly human being to his knees. "Daddy? Let me just say 'Eww.' Now, I'm on my way to my boyfriend's place and I don't think I should go empty handed."

How easy it was to bring a human to his knees. She didn't know why vampires liked it. It was too easy, not requiring any exertion or skill on her part, just the slightest flexing of her muscles.

Angel was right: they were so fragile; how easy it would be to snuff out a mortal life.

~

Xander felt his cock pressing hard and insistent inside his underwear and jeans. The tension inside him coiled tighter and he suddenly knew precisely what it was he wanted: he wanted to hear them beg. He wanted to humiliate them. He didn't just want to break their hearts; he wanted to break them. Girls like this had snubbed and humiliated him and Willow for the last ten years of their lives, and now, finally, the shoe was on the other foot. It was going to be music to his ears to make them beg.

"What's that? What did you say?" he asked sarcastically, pressing the weight of his cast against her throat - with better results than when he had tried it with Buffy. With his left hand and knees, forced Ruth's legs apart and made himself at home between her splayed legs as Willow and Tammy watched.

Tammy flinched away from the bottle and began to sob softly.

Ruth gasped and clutched at the plaster pressed against her throat and wiggled. "Please," she whined, begging frantically. "I won't tell anyone if you stop this."

Xander thrust his hips against the girl and groaned, loving the feel of her against him. "Did you hear that Will? She won't tell anybody if we stop. Did you want to stop? Or did you want to give the princesses the royal treatment their kind deserves?"

"Keep going," the hacker told him coldly. Years of abuse and now she got to be the instrument of a lesson in humility. Stop now? No way.

The brunette trapped beneath the dark-haired boy wept in broken gulps and her tears trickled down her cheeks, streaking her makeup and giving him an additional thrill; unable to resist, he bent down to kiss her again.

The weeping brunette turned her head away, avoiding his lips.

"Aw. She doesn't want to look at you." Willow chuckled derisively. "Open your eyes, little slut, or I'll have to hurt your friend."

Ruth opened her eyes and stared past the boy humping against her crotch to her friend.

Xander shifted his arm off of her neck and grabbed a fist full of her hair, shaking her head ruthlessly. "What?" he snarled. "You didn't come here to fuck? Were you just going to play around then leave me high and dry, weren't you, you little cock-tease? Weren't you?!"

"N-n-n-o," she stuttered, shaking with fear.

Further aroused by her terror, he reached between their bodies and pushed her bra up, pinching her nipple; he pulled hard, tugging on the sensitive peaks.

The trembling brunette cried out. "You're hurting me!"

The dark-haired boy smirked up at his friend. "I'm hurting her," he wailed mockingly. Nearly giddy with the feeling of power that was flooding him, he slid his hand between the girl's legs, trailing his fingers over the cotton of her panties.

Ruth tensed, holding herself absolutely still. This could not be happening to her. This could not be happening to her.

"Beg me to take them off."

"Fuck you," she snapped. Maybe she could brazen her way out of this mess. Maybe if she fought back, he would let her go.

Xander shifted his weight onto his knees and smacked her with the hard surface of his cast.

Ruth's head cracked against the concrete floor and pain throbbed in her cheek and the back of her skull.

Willow laughed and watched as the brunette princess struggled, twisting and writhing beneath her friend, but she was unable to escape from Xander's looming weight.

"Don't!" Ruth cried.

Tammy watched, frozen in terror. How could this be happening? They weren't in the big city; they were in a worthless little burg called Sunnydale.

Willow ran the bottle along the girl's face, loathing her perfectly made up features and her perfectly styled hair. "Hey, Tammy, isn't it? Are you lonely? Want a taste of what your friend's getting?"

Tammy looked away from the frightening redhead and tried to ignore the sharp edges of the bottle she traced along the outline of her own bust line. She thought briefly about shoving the girl away from her, but the jagged edges of that bottle poked into her threateningly.

"You asshole," Ruth shrieked, spitting into Xander's face.

Tired of dealing with her squirming when he wanted to move on to other things, Xander slapped her hard across the face with his cast again, smashing her again and again until she gave up her struggles, and collapsed weakly on the ground beneath him, blood running from her nose and split lip.

He gripped her panties and yanked them downward, pulling them off her crotch, completely exposing her for the first time to all the occupants of the crypt.

Ruth moaned in pain and in shame as the cool air touched her flesh.

"Fuck!" Xander cried out excitedly, pulling back to stare. It was his first look at a naked woman up close and he found the sight unbelievably arousing. So much so that he nearly came in his pants. "Shaved too!" he chortled, his eyes greedily drinking in her bare flesh.

Ruth was silent, humiliated past anything she had felt before. She was exposed and vulnerable to anything Xander and the girl he called Will chose to do to her. She shuddered, feeling the boy's breath against her skin, and she tensed, tightening every muscle in her body in silent rejection as she anticipated his touch.

Tammy watched in horrified fascination as her best friend was brutalized.

"Take of your shirt."

The platinum haired girl looked at the redhead in shock. "What?"

"I said take off your shirt. I don't want it to get dirty."

"No - "

Willow flashed the bottle forward, nicking Tammy's cheek with a sharp edge. "The shirt."

Weeping, Tammy slid the black lace wrap top off over her shoulders and then over her head.

Willow tossed her shirt to the side and then, with a sweet smile, she grabbed Tammy by her short blond hair and forced her brutally to the ground next to Ruth and Xander. She sat on the girl's back and wrenched her arms up behind her, pinning her as effectively as a butterfly on a pin.

Ruth sobbed softly as Xander's roughly explored her nether regions, his inexperience in the task obvious, leaving bruises on her vaginal tissues to join those he'd inflicted upon her thighs.

Willow watched him fumble for several moments, quickly tiring of his continued ineptness. Perhaps letting him practice on other girls was in her own best interest. "Lick her," she suggested.

Xander reared back and met his best friend's steady gaze with widened eyes. "Really?"

Tammy struggled suddenly, her terror of the two growing to uncontrollable proportions.

The red-haired hacker leaned forward, grinding Tammy's face into the dirty floor and straining her arms nearly to the breaking point. "Now, now. You behave, or I'll have to cut you again."

The dark-haired boy turned back down to the naked flesh before him and stared consideringly. Well, Willow was a girl, she'd know. He pushed Ruth's legs up and back and then lowered his face between them; with no skill or finesse or even consideration for her pleasure he started sucking and licking her pussy lips into his mouth. He probed inside her with his tongue and after about 30 seconds or so of exploration, he sat up and licked the tangy juices from her off of his lips, making an exaggerated smacking sound.

Ruth whimpered beneath his assault, but didn't struggle to free herself. She was afraid that he'd bash her head in with his cast if she struggled again.

"That's not bad," Xander muttered.

Willow watched him with cold eyes, keeping Tammy pinned beneath her. "Go ahead," she encouraged. "Don't stop now. Fuck her."

Xander looked up at her and grinned, his lips shiny from the girl he'd just abused. "You are my bestest friend in the whole wide world, Will." He opened the fly on his pants and pushed them awkwardly down his hips before he settled himself between Ruth's splayed legs.

Ruth wept softly as he pressed his cock against her unprepared body. "Please, don't rape me. Please. I'm not on the pill! I'll suck you. I'll suck your dick. Please."

The brown-eyed boy laughed softly. "You can suck me off later." He rubbed his erection against her again and then, unable to wait any longer, pushed forward, forcing himself into her dry and tight channel. "Oh," he groaned. "This is going to be a tight fit."

"Want to watch Xander fuck your friend?" Willow asked sweetly. She leaned hard against Tammy's arms and then grabbed her head, turning her and forcing her to watch.

Xander shuddered and shoved his hips forward, pushing himself hard into Ruth's body; she screamed with the pain and pushed at him weakly.

"Please stop," she sobbed. "It hurts."

"God!" Xander shouted and rapidly began to seesaw back and forth. "You're so fucking tight."

Tears streamed down Ruth's cheeks as Xander forced himself in and out of her, faster and harder until, in another few minutes, it was over and he spurted his seed inside her. She mewled, crying softly and he pulled out of her.

"Was that fun?" Willow asked, looking at her best friend and then at the girl who hadn't enjoyed a minute of his attentions.

"Hell, yeah!" Xander grunted. He reached forward and jammed a finger into Ruth's sore cleft and pulling it out, he made a face - it was coated with his slimy and sticky cum. "Look how messy and gross you are now, Ruth." He leaned over and shoved his fingers into her mouth. "You should clean up."

Willow stared at Xander's exultant face and then at the broken girl beneath him. Was that all it took to break a princess? It looked remarkably easy.

"You got a face there ,Will," Xander said softly. "Whatcha thinking?"

She pointed to the wine bottle. "I'm think I'm gonna fuck my little doll too."

~

Buffy stepped into the burnt shambles of a room and paused at the doorway, surveying the damage that she and Angel had wrought during their last altercation. What little furniture there had been was singed and all the boxes that had still lingered from the Factory's shipping days were burnt to ash, but since a majority of the inside was of brick and steel, there really wasn't that much damage to the integrity of the structure. In other words, still safe to lurk…if you didn't mind the local Slayer knowing where you lived.

Spike and Drusilla were in the lower level of the room, their pseudo-family room. The maddened vampiress was lying on the singed dining table, humming a nursery rhyme while Spike sat close by in his wheelchair, watching over his dark princess.

The slender girl wrinkled her nose at the sight of the couple, her early jealousy of the brunette vampiress rekindled.

Even ensouled Angel had hesitated to kill the maddened vampiress, not only allowing Drusilla to leave a playground unharmed after a failed hunt, but also lying to Buffy about even meeting up with the sickly vampire. And after losing his soul and returning to the dark side of the force…well Angel's first priority then had been to return to the loving bosom of his undead family and retake his role of iron-fisted patriarch.

Spike and Drusilla…They were Angel's vampire family and a major pain in her ass, what with Spike's repeated macho attempts to bag himself another Slayer and now, Drusilla tended to cling to the tall vampire like a bitch in heat. All in all, Buffy would rather stake the odd couple than have them forever hanging at hers and Angel's elbows, but she rather thought her demonic lover would be upset with her if she arbitrarily staked his children - or whatever Spike was…but perhaps he would get over it.

Drusilla looked up at the blond intruder standing on the staircase above them and her blue eyes widened as she took in the Slayer's calculating stare; she stopped humming. The mad vampire sat up and moved warily off the table, never taking her gaze from the predator that had come to pass judgment on herself and her mate. "Naughty Slayer," she scolded. "Daddy's not home."

Spike turned his gaze up to see the blond girl at the top of the steps. Bloody hell! The bint didn't normally come to the lair. What the hell had Angelus gotten up to, to bring Miss Goody-Two-Shoes to the nest?

Buffy smirked at the brunette vampiress. "Naughty Slayer?" she repeated, already looking forward to the evening. Oh yes. Angel had been right all those weeks ago: things were definitely about to become very interesting. "How'd you know?" she taunted.

The blond vampire tilted his chin arrogantly. Oh this was going to be so fun. Here he was, all better and ready for action and the Slayer didn't know what was in store for her with two Big Bads just waiting to drink her down like the nummy treat she was. "Look, Dru. Delivery."

The diminutive blond grinned and stepped closer to the staircase, for the first time revealing that she wasn't alone: being dragged behind her, in her delicate, tiny hand was a tied and gagged biker of impressive dimensions.

Spike's eyes widened as the Slayer walked sinuously down the staircase, carelessly dragging her futilely struggling prisoner with her and letting him thump painfully down each step.

"What were you expecting?" Buffy quipped sarcastically as she eyed his wheelchair. "Drive thru?" She heaved her hostage forward, letting him tumble the last seven steps of the steel staircase.

The jean-clad gang member grunted and groaned as he bounced down the steps, landing hard on the concrete floor at the bottom. Whimpering, he rolled fearfully out of the path of the young teenaged girl who hadn't turned out to be as easy a victim as she had looked. She had taken his switchblade from her throat, snapping his bones as she had done so and then had driven him to the ground with two crushing blows from her tiny fists. The raging hard-on that had encouraged him to attack the helpless looking blond in the first place was long gone.

Buffy sauntered down the last steps and her prisoner flinched away from her feet with a satisfying whimper of fear. She smiled, enjoying his terror of little old her.

Drusilla cocked her head to the side as she stared at the golden heroine. "World is topsy-turvy," she moaned, swaying back and forth. "Doesn't make sense. Doesn't make sense. Slayer is bad. Sky is falling and smells of fire and brimstone." She lifted her hand to her ear and wiggled her fingers, imitating mouths moving. "Whisper, whisper. Slayer is mad. Mad, bad and dangerous to know."

Spike stared down at the human man who was lying bruised and whimpering on the floor of their lair. A bruised and whimpering human being that had been delivered by the Slayer's own slender hands. He shifted his gaze from the man to the girl who was poised in front of them on the bottom step, a very cruel twist on her lips.

"Thanks for the info, luv," the blond vampire muttered to the swaying madwoman. "But she's here now and it's a bit late to know."

"Nasty Slayer," Drusilla hissed. "Daddy's heart stinks of you."

Buffy grinned in delight. "And here I was worried that his flesh would stink of you." She lunged toward Drusilla and in a swift move, she planted her fist hard in the brunette's face, crushing her nose.

Drusilla cupped her hand to her face, staggering back from her attacker, but the Slayer twisted gracefully around in a roundhouse kick that sent the brunette vampire flying to land on the floor several feet away.

"Nothing personal Dru," the Slayer commented conversationally as she approached the fallen vampiress. "But your presence in Sunnydale is really starting to annoy me. I think it's time you blew town."

Drusilla scrambled to her feet, backing away from the golden predator that was closing in on her. She whimpered slightly, her blue eyes glazing with fear. "Daddy will be cross," she whined.

Buffy shrugged one shoulder, unconcerned with Angel's supposed ire. "He'll come around."

"Right then," Spike muttered. "Straight to the fighting, just the way I like it." He launched himself out of the chair towards the golden haired girl's back.

The diminutive blond twisted, dodging Spike's lunge and slamming the heels of her palms into his chest; the vampire flew back several feet and crashed to the ground. He stood up quickly, ready to defend his mad sire and ready to gulp down another Slayer.

Buffy smirked arrogantly. "Should've stayed down Spikey," she purred menacingly. "I was gonna go easy on you…Or maybe I wasn't. Hadn't really decided yet."

"No need to hold back pet," he growled. "I can take you."

She laughed wildly, gleefully, feeling more alive than she ever had. "In your dreams."

Free. She was free from all those pesky rules of morality. She was free from any innate sense of fair play. She was free from the veneer of civilization that had been holding her back from being the most efficient killing machine that demon-kind or humanity had ever seen. The Slayer fell into the most brutal fight she'd ever conducted in her life. Every blow she landed cracked their immortal bones. Every kick sent them flying, into walls, into furniture and into each other. Slowly and systematically she beat them, letting them know in no uncertain terms that neither of them was a match for her, either alone or together. They were nothing; she was the Slayer.

Drusilla crawled out of the range of the combat, whimpering as her Spike and the golden predator still circled each other.

Spike growled, the noise barely recognizable beneath the multiple broken bones of his face. His jaw was so fractured that he couldn't even open it to sink his fangs into her throat even if he did manage to gain the advantage.

Buffy laughed lightly as she danced around the injured vampire, having more fun than she'd had in a long time. "Sorry," she crooned with false sympathy. "I forgot to make it quick and painless."

The blond vampire bared his broken teeth. "I'm really gonna make this hurt, little girl."

She grinned gleefully. "Not as much as I'm going to." She arched her back sensuously, stretching out her muscles, feeling powerful. "I'm going to break your back and put you back in your chair. And Dru? I'm going to pull your pretty little fangs before I shove a chair leg through your little black heart. And Spike, after I've dusted Dru, I'm going to make you eat her ashes before I dust you too. On the plus side though, I've found that I really love those breaking noises your bodies make when I hit you and ash just doesn't have the same satisfying sound, so you both have about as long as it takes for me to stop enjoying this."

Spike felt a slight frisson of wrongness. This was not how the world was supposed to be. She was supposed to be his enemy. Well, she still seemed to be, but she was supposed to be the Slayer, representative of all that was cute and cuddly and nice, not standing in a vampire's lair telling him how good breaking his bones sounded. That was too…too…demon like. She didn't act like a champion of good, more like an encroaching demoness trying to take over their nest…or establish herself in their hierarchy.

He snarled. There was no way in hell he would tolerate the humiliation of a Slayer joining their cadre. He lunged towards her, intent on ripping out her golden throat.

Buffy laughed gleefully as she met him mid air

~

Giles peered at the powder beneath the microscope, then flipped through the book at his side, still trying to identify the compound that was the cause of all their present difficulties. It was undoubtedly sulfur based, but what else was in the powder? Would it wear off or did it require an antidote? Knowing Ethan, it undoubtedly required an antidote.

Cordelia leaned against the railing of the staircase and crossed her arms over her chest. "She like beat him up. And I practically had to twist his arm to get any information," the May Queen continued to complain, glowering at the apparently inattentive Watcher.

Oz sat next to Giles, watching the librarian calmly. "It was a sprained wrist," he stated calmly, not letting the temperamental cheerleader exaggerate.

Giles paused in his studies and looked up at the brunette in amazement. "You sprained the bartender's wrist?"

"No," Cordelia snapped. "Buffy did. I think it's a safe assumption that that powder did something bad. She's being way more freaky than usual."

"Hmmm. Yes, well, any word on where she may have gone?" the Watcher asked, worried as to what else she might get up to. If she was purposefully injuring humans, it might not be too large a step for her to start killing them if they annoyed her or attacked her.

"Sam said she'd followed Angel and some chick out back," Oz commented, his usual monosyllabic comments set aside for the emergency of finding Willow before something happened to her.

Giles looked at Cordelia intently. "And there was no sign of Buffy, Angel or the girl?"

Cordelia shook her head. She and Oz had checked the alley briefly and there hadn't even been signs of a struggle back there, much less a body or a pile of ash.

Oz glanced at the two, puzzled by their concern. Angel and Buffy had been quite the item for awhile there, surely if something were wrong with the young blond, even if they were no longer dating, he'd take her to the hospital or make sure she got home safely. Heck, the couple might even talk out their issues. "Maybe the girl hightailed it out of there and Buffy and Angel got back together again," he offered reasonably.

Good lord, Giles thought in horror. He hadn't thought of that. What if while under the influence of this drug she joined Angel and his nest? No. No it wasn't possible. True demonic vampires would never allow a Slayer amongst them. Not as anything other than a meal.

The guitarist looked from Cordelia's stunned expression to Giles' horrified face curiously. "Why'd they breakup anyway?"

Cordelia and Giles glanced at each other uncertainly.


~

Buffy yanked brutally, enjoying the piercing wail of the vampiress beneath her; Drusilla's second primary fang gleamed wetly in the teeth of the Leatherman pliers she had found on the biker.

Drusilla whimpered weakly, blood pouring from her defanged mouth. "It doesn't matter what you do," she hissed at the golden Slayer that loomed over her, a stake now in her tiny hand. "He will always be mine."

Buffy lips curled in disgust. "No part of him is yours unless he gives it to you," she retorted sharply, raising the stake to bring it down into the mad vampire's chest and finish it once and for all. She hesitated, her own words echoing in her mind.

No part of him was hers unless he gave it to her.

If she did this, if she staked his vampiric family, he would not simply stop caring for them or even remembering them. Indeed, if she killed Drusilla now, the mad vampiress would always hold a part of Angel's heart that the Slayer would never be able to claim.

No. Angel would have to kill Drusilla himself. That was just the way it was. He had only completely released his ties with Darla after he had staked her and it would have to be the same with Dru.

Buffy sighed disgustedly; she had so wanted to stake the wild-eyed vampire and get it over with, but she wanted complete possession of Angel's heart more than she wanted Drusilla gone.

She would wait…but that didn't mean she wouldn't hurt her.

The delicate Slayer pushed away from the broken vampire and grabbed a fistful of her dark hair. "Come on Dru," she growled. "Bad little vampires spend their time in the corner with a cross in their mouth."

Drusilla whimpered and crawled awkwardly as the golden predator hauled her toward the corner. "Daddy," she cried.

Buffy laughed mockingly.

~

Angelus stalked into the lair enraged. After dropping his Slayer-blessed meal into the nearest dumpster, he'd taken off to find his golden girl, but she had completely disappeared. She hadn't returned to the inside of the Bronze, she hadn't gone home and she hadn't been patrolling at any of the thirteen cemeteries. Where the hell could she have gone?

The dark-haired vampire walked down the steel steps and halted, frozen by the unexpected sight of his thoroughly thrashed offspring lying broken on the concrete floor.

Spike lay on his side several feet from his wheelchair and from the appearance of his back, the blond vampire had been freshly broken; it could be several more weeks, even months before Rollerboy was able to make a foray out of his chair.

Drusilla knelt in the corner of the room, like a naughty child placed in a time-out, though she was not facing the wall. A silver chain hung from between her bloody lips, her mouth smoking and sizzling, indicating that there was a cross at the other end of that metallic rope. She whimpered and rocked, but she did not spit out the object that was causing her distress.

On the floor was a human, tied hand and foot and gagged with his own clothing. The mortal was bruised and judging from the angle of one of his restrained arms, a tad bit broken. The lean man curled into a fetal ball, his impressive size looking very unimpressive in that protective huddle.

And amidst all that chaos was his future mate. Buffy was lying on the table staring up at the ceiling; the most delectable meal ever spread out on that piece of furniture he was sure. She arched her neck in an erotically submissive display as she shifted to see him prowl down the steps. "Honey," she drawled, in a sensuous purr. "You're home."

She watched him, her eyes riveted to his masculine beauty. He was both the man of her dreams and the man of her worst nightmares. He held the lead roles in both her idyllic daydreams and in her most erotic fantasies. He was everything to her, love and hate, death and life and she was no longer afraid to admit it to herself or to him. That was the point of her being here, invading his lair, and abusing his childer…she was here to prove to him that she belonged to him and that he belonged to her.

She rolled to her side, a dreamy smile curving her lips and propped her head up to look at him directly. Her moss green gaze flicked admiringly over him, taking in his tight leather pants and the deep burgundy silk shirt he wore, the color emphasizing the pale cast of his aristocratic features. He was the most exquisite creature she ever seen in her life and he was hers, she would make sure of that.

Angelus studied her, amazed at the scents that clung to her: human fear - not her own, most likely that of the offal she had dropped on his floor; vampiric fear - not an easy scent to inspire - and blood - the blood of his childer that stained her slender hands; demonic fear and death, a little something she must have run into on her way to his home and beneath all those other scents was her own sweet and intoxicating arousal. She was a veritable feast of aromas. Pain, terror and suffering and now that he had arrived, those aromas were being spiced by her interest in him. Oh, his baby had been a very busy girl in his absence…something was most definitely up with her…

"All I need is some slippers and a pipe to make this scene complete," he commented wryly, walking down the rest of the steps. "What a homecoming."

She watched him, her smile unchanging as he walked to his smoking childe.

Angelus grasped the trailing ends of the silver chain hanging out of Drusilla's mouth and gently pulled the cross from between her lips.

Drusilla spat out the painful holy object and wrapped her arms around Angelus' leg, pressing her face into his thigh. "My Angel," she whined. "Mummy's mean. She pulled my teeth and broke my Spike."

"Mummy?" Angelus breathed, impressed that the Slayer had managed to wring such an accolade from his maddened childe while still a human being. Oh yes, she was going to be an absolutely perfect vampire.

He turned towards the Slayer and shook Dru irritably off his leg. "Picking on crips, Buff?" He shook his head mockingly, tsking at her. "That's not like my sunshine."

Buffy waved his comment away irritably. She didn't want to talk about Spike or Drusilla; she wanted to talk about them. "I did you a favor. He was out of his chair."

Angelus' brows shot up in interest. So, Spike had healed while he'd been out? About damn time. "So you decided to put him back in it? Wouldn't have been my first choice."

She chuckled and shrugged, her red-leather jacket creaking softly. "I figured I should begin as I mean to go on. You may be my equal, but those two," she jerked her chin contemptuously as his childer. "They are not. It's best if Spike learns to respect my authority now."

Angelus strolled over to his crumpled grandchilde and knelt. He turned Spike from his side so he could see the damage that his mate had wrought and was impressed despite himself: every bone in Spike's sharp-featured face was shattered. It wasn't subtle and it didn't have a lot of artistic finesse, but as a beginning to torture, it was very effective, especially since vampires often healed quickly. Lengthy convalescences were rare indeed and it looked like it would be another several months before the blond vampire was healed enough to return to 'raising a bit of hell.' Yes…she was very effective.

The tall vampire stood and turned back to face his golden mate. He should punish her for usurping his authority, he knew he should, but he was just so damned pleased to have her there, trying to fit into the nest with her inexperienced brutality that he couldn't bring himself to be angry with her: perhaps another time.

"Spike doesn't respond too well authority," he informed her, remembering the many lessons of respect and discretion that he had attempted to beat into the boy himself.

Buffy smiled sinisterly. "Then I'll just keep breaking him until he does."

Why not? Angelus mused. It was exactly what he did himself. And it could only thrill him to watch his sweet, innocent girl perform such brutal acts. Soulboy had never once admitted it, in fact he'd hid it damn well, but the demon and the soul - much to his shame - had both been wildly aroused when Buffy had tortured that female vampire for information regarding the Master's resurrection. This was even better. She wasn't out to save anybody, she wasn't out to prevent great evil from rising, and she had just tortured his childer to prove that she was in charge.

This was everything he had wanted. She was exactly how he had fantasized she could be…And not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but just why had this all so suddenly and so perfectly occurred?

Drusilla watched her sire talk with the nasty Slayer and slowly stood. Her Spike was all broken again…and Daddy had a new Mummy. She wasn't sure if she liked the new development, but Mummy had been most firm that she wasn't to interfere. In fact she wasn't to touch Daddy again and another punishment could well be in store for her for breaking that rule already. She took a step towards her fallen mate.

The movement of the slender vampiress drew the Slayer's attention, distracting her from the visual feast of her sleek lover and the throaty flirtation that had been passing back and forth between them. Buffy glowered at the brunette vampiress, her lips tightening with displeasure and she lifted her hand from her hip, snapping her fingers loudly at the slinking madwoman.

The angelically handsome vampire watched as at the sound his childe instantly dropped to her knees and crawled the rest of the way to her broken lover. "You've taught them new tricks," he murmured thoughtfully.

Buffy sat up and swung her legs over the side of the table, letting her toes dangle. She smiled as she watched Drusilla continue to crawl even as she pulled Spike slowly from the room to their bedroom in the back. "You've been too soft," she scolded her lover accusingly.

Angelus shrugged his broad shoulders. "I've been distracted." He walked toward the head of the table and pulled out a chair, sitting down in it. "Now. Not that I'm not pleased to see you baby, but what are you doing here?" he asked curiously. "Last night you were a bit…less enthusiastic about

our relationship."

How could things have changed to such perfection in the space of one day? What could possibly have transpired to turn his shy, moral lover into this exquisite femme fatale? And what did he have to do to keep her this way?

"I was a little surprised at your gesture last night, but tonight, I've decided to return the favor," Buffy stated.

"Favor?"

The diminutive blond hopped off the table and grabbed a pewter goblet from the scarred surface before she strode over the bound human on the floor.

Angelus leaned forward to watch her, spellbound by the aggressiveness and barely restrained violence in her every step. This was an act wasn't it? This was all an act to throw him off balance so she could kill him. There was no way that she could have changed so drastically from his bashful and hesitant lover of last evening into this wicked beautiful virago…was there?

"Stating my intentions," Buffy answered. She pulled the switchblade she had liberated from the biker out of her skirt pocket and knelt next to her prisoner. Smiling sweetly at her demon lover, she slit the biker's throat in a sudden and brutal move that made Angelus jerk with surprise, and then she held the pewter goblet beneath the gushing wound, filling the glass.

The dark-eyed vampire stirred, unable to take his eyes from the sight of her filling a wine goblet with the blood of the man she had just killed.

She had killed. She had killed a human being.

He listened carefully, focusing on her tempo of her powerful heart, for a moment frightened that somebody else had had the privilege of turning her, but no, she was still deliciously and temptingly human.

The blond Slayer dropped the body carelessly to the floor and carried the full goblet to the table. She placed it before him and cocked her head to the side, gauging his reaction to her gift.

Angelus stared at the blood-filled goblet and then looked at her bloodstained hands. It was no trick. She had killed a man before his very eyes and she had carried the man's blood to him.

Buffy sat edge of the table and watched him stare at the goblet, a pleased smile on her pink lips. "I'm proving my sincerity," she purred. "I was thinking we should get back together." She lifted her blood stained fingers to him, offering him the vitae that stained her flesh. "What do you think? Do we have a shot?"

The vampire leaned forward and took her index finger between his lips. He sucked the blood from her skin, curling his tongue around her supple flesh and then probing for any moisture that remained beneath the perfect oval of her painted nail. Finished with one tempting digit, he slowly suckled her next finger and then the next, maintaining eye contact with her as he cleaned her hands of the blood that she had spilled.

Buffy's lashes fluttered as she watched him suckling on her fingers. Her hands wasn't where she wanted his lips, but the pull of his mouth seemed to reach beyond her fingers and tug on her nipples and at that hidden place between her thighs where only he had ever touched her. She moaned beneath his ministrations, freely enjoying the sensuality of his touch.

Angelus smirked, pleased with her responsiveness. He cleaned the last bit of blood from her smooth flesh and released her hands to sit back and stare at her contemplatively. He glanced at the wine goblet then back to her partially glazed green gaze. "Not to seem ungrateful lover, but why the sudden change of heart? And why did you let me kill that girl earlier tonight?"

She leaned toward him tilting her head invitingly, offering him her lips. "To say thank you for the flowers. And thank you for beating up Xander. And to admit I should've jumped into your arms last night and showered you with kisses and praise for killing that demon just to please me. And to tell you I didn't know what I was missing and swear that I'm done hiding from what I feel for you."

Her lips hovered close to his and unable to resist her invitation, he caught her lips with his. He clenched her hair in his fists and held her still for his possession, licking and nibbling at her lips before plunging his tongue deep into the heat of her mouth; he wanted to devour her; he wanted to be devoured by her.

Buffy purred with pleasure, and when he pulled back, she whimpered slightly at the loss. She blinked and put out her lower lip in a charming pout. "Aren't you going to drink that before it gets cold?" she asked. She tenderly reached forward and brushed the soft locks of the vampire's hair from his forehead. "I killed him just for you."

Angelus nearly groaned at the pleasure of it all. The world could not be more perfect. Whatever it was that had happened, it had made Buffy completely willing to at last be his. No more hesitations, no more withdrawals and no more refusals. He no longer had to hold back for fear of frightening her. She was here and she was willing. Tonight…tonight he would claim her and tonight he would bring her across to the night.

"Drink," she encouraged him softly.

The dark-eyed vampire lifted the goblet to his lips and drank. The blood wasn't particularly fine, nor was it still as hot as that taken fresh from an artery, but it was still flavored quite nicely with the man's pain and terror. It wasn't a perfect meal, but it had been sincerely and tenderly provided by the Slayer's own loving hand; and that made it perfect unto the moment.

Buffy watched him, his pleasure in her offering her reward for the bloody task. His throat muscles worked and she leaned toward him to press her lips to those contracting muscles.

Angelus swallowed the last drop in the cup and set the goblet back on the table, keeping his head tilted back to enjoy the ministrations of his sultry-eyed mate. The heat of her open-mouthed nips and caresses was sweet, but he forced himself to push her back gently. He looked at her, his dark gaze intent as he studied the vibrant green of her eyes. "And where do we go from here?" he asked her.

The blond Slayer smiled slightly and slid off of the table. She eased one knee onto the chair, next to his hip and then, grasping his shoulders for balance, settled herself astride his lap.

The handsome vampire trailed his fingers up the long muscles of her tanned thighs, tracing her smooth golden skin teasingly. Then, as he'd wanted to do since the first time he'd seen that miniscule skirt, he slid his palms beneath the hem of the flirty black and red cloth and cupped her butt. He pulled her more tightly into his lap, groaning as the heat of her feminine core rested directly above his quickly rousing flesh.

Buffy tightened her hands over his shoulders, digging her nails into his flesh as she bent to nuzzle his throat, nipping and kissing her way along his cool flesh, moving unerringly toward the heaven of his lips. "I thought I'd worship you," she whispered hoarsely. "You don't mind if I worship you, do you?"

She took his lips in a hungry kiss, sweeping her tongue in to explore the cool recesses of his mouth. The faint coppery taste of blood still lingered on his tongue and it annoyed her, not because the taste of blood repulsed her, but because it distracted her from the taste of him. She licked and nibbled at his lips, sinking herself into the mindless pleasure to be had from his talented mouth.

After several minutes, Angelus pulled back from the heated splendor of her lips, astonished at her initiative. His unnecessary breaths fell against her ear as he whispered against the petal softness of her cheek. "What type of worship are we talking about?"

The Chosen One smiled blissfully, luxuriating in the feel of his powerful body beneath her. No greater heaven could she find than where she already was, crouched hungrily over him, with his large hands pulling her more tightly against him.

"Sacrificial," she murmured, enjoying the tickling sensation caused by the hairs stirred by his unneeded breaths. She rubbed her face against him in a feline-motion. "Devoted," she breathed, trailing delicate kisses from his temple down to the strong perfection of his jaw. "Body and blood," she whispered, arching her back so she could continue down the line of his throat.

The soft silk of his shirt brushed against her cheek and she glanced up at him from beneath her lashes with a mischievous smile. "And did I mention oral?" She sank her teeth onto one of the buttons of his shirt and yanked it sharply free; she wiggled her eyebrows suggestively and blew the button to the side. The plastic fastener bounced on the floor with an unnaturally loud ping.

Angelus groaned, the leather of his pants abruptly too confining and thrust upward against her soft body.

Buffy laughed softly with delight and bent to the open throat of his shirt, breathing open-mouthed kisses over his cool flesh. She found the next button and snapped it free of the cotton threads that held it anchored to the shirt and then spit that one to the side as well.

His pale chest was sculpted with hardened muscle and she fell to it with a croon of delight, nipping at him and soothing those love bites with her tongue. Button by button she freed him, inch by inch she revealed him and kiss by kiss she praised the beauty of his body as she slowly slid off of his lap to kneel between his legs.

Angelus breathed in heavy unnecessary gasps, wondering whether his little near-virgin would go through with her insinuation or if she would back out at the last and most frustrating moment.

Buffy nipped along the belt line of his leather pants, swirling her tongue into the indentation of his navel before she raked her nails down his chest to the fastenings of his pants. The handsome vampire stared down at her golden crown and watched her ease his hardened flesh out of his confining pants. She studied the hardened muscle, trailing her fingertip over the bulbous head and then down the sensitive seam along the front of his shaft.

Angelus shook with the force of his restraint, allowing her to explore and study as his cock hardened to nearly painful proportions before her fascinated gaze. Her green gaze flickered up at him coquettishly and he knew he couldn't take too much more of her teasing: he'd been too hungry for her for too long. He opened his mouth to demand that she suck it, but the words were strangled in his throat when the wet heat of her mouth closed over the head of his cock.

She wrapped her fist around the base of his shaft and held the throbbing muscle still for her ministrations as she slid her mouth further over his straining member, swirling her tongue over the head and into the little indentation at the front.

The vampire quivered slightly as his inexperienced lover made up for that lack of experience with a good deal of enthusiasm and curiosity.

Buffy slid her free hand up his belly and trailed her fingers over his nipples, flicking them as she continued to suck voraciously on his cock. Her head bobbed and she bent forward, allowing the golden locks of her hair to trail across the bare skin of his belly, the fine strands tickling him.

Angelus groaned and concentrated on the wet heat of her mouth, trembling when she began to pump his shaft in time with her suction. At that rate he knew he wasn't going to last very long, and then he lost track of time as the daze of pleasure flooded his brain, leaving him mindless to anything but the wet suction of her hot mouth.

She breathed him in, reveling in the clean spicy scent of him, enjoying the taste of him in her mouth and most of all loving the fact that she could make him quiver with delight.

He didn't know how long it lasted, how long her tongue swirled over his sensitive flesh, how long her soft fingers pumped him or how long she pleasurably hummed over his engorged cock, all he knew was that she had tipped the scales of his control and his release was powerful.

All he knew was that he snarled as he arched into her, his balls tightening almost painfully as he shot his cool dead seed into the warm haven of her mouth; he nearly came again when he saw that she swallowed him down.

She felt him quiver beneath her and she kept her mouth over his quiescent flesh, sucking the last of his emissions down her throat without thought. Slowly, she released his cock from the prison of her lips and laid her cheek upon his thigh, her warm breath caressing his softened flesh as she looked up at him, studying how the pleasure had softened the arrogance of his features.

Buffy smiled softly; she had done that to him. She, an inexperienced teenaged girl had brought that look of carnal fulfillment to this experienced man's face.

If his heart beat, he was sure that it would have exploded. He had expected pleasure. It was a blowjob; even the worst blowjob was still fantastic, but he hadn't expected her to take to it so enthusiastically, nor had he expected her to react so attentively to each of his responses.

Damn. He felt his demonic visage smooth back down to his human countenance and looked down to meet the golden Slayer's pleased gaze. He scowled, embarrassed by her pleasure at his lack of control.

"Well you've improved," he sneered, knowing that the stupid remark was more trouble than it was worth, but unable to stop his mouth from saying it. He had lost control like an untried youth and he hadn't been an untried youth in over two hundred and fifty-five years. Hell, by the time he had taken possession of the body, Liam was no longer an untried youth, and he had been brought to climax in a matter of minutes by an inexperienced seventeen year-old girl.

Buffy chuckled softly and slid up his body to perch astride his lap again. She leaned against him, pressing her breasts against his chest and stroked her fingers lazily through his hair. "Don't be like that baby," she cajoled. "Besides, that won't play this time. You already showed your cards on that one, lover."

He scowled, bemused by her confident answer. "What do you mean?" he demanded.

The golden Slayer lifted one of his large hands in her own, pressing her palm to his, comparing the disproportionate sizes of their fingers before she laced them together. She smirked knowingly and with her free hand, traced the curve of his lower lip. "Your lips said all the right hurtful words, and at first," she admitted, "I was crushed. I wept and sobbed my little heart out into my pillow, just like you wanted me to. I kept going over and over every detail, wondering what I could have done wrong, how I could have disappointed you, but then your hand betrayed you."

The pleasant afterglow of orgasm was still pulling at him, trying to sink his mind into dull lassitude, but Angelus forced his still shaking body to still, so he could concentrate on what she was saying. His beloved raised his hand to her face, stroking her cheek against the backs of his fingers. "What the hell do you mean?" he repeated.

She laughed again, a soft teasing note. "'Was it good for you?' You wrote. You're the king of double messages. That was there to ask me if killing Jenny's Uncle Enyos was as good for me as it was for you. But you also wrote it to put in one more dig about my performance in bed. One more dig to let me know just how unmemorable I was. Except…One. Little. Word. Changes. Everything. I was inexperienced, that's part and parcel with the whole virgin thing, but let's not pretend, okay baby?" She leaned against his chest and pressed a tender kiss to his stern lips. "You had a good time," she stated without doubt. She raised his right hand to her lips and pressed several open- mouthed sucking kisses to each finger and digit as she spoke. "Your hand, your talented, beautiful hand wrote 'too', T-O-O, meaning also, and revealed the truth behind your beautiful," she lifted her lips from his knuckles and turned instead to place a gentle kiss on his mouth, "lying…lips."

He blinked in shock. Too. Had he really written 'too' on that stupid wall? He looked down into her amused gaze and sighed in resignation. Yes, he had. He had been so busy trying to prove that the passionate encounter had meant nothing to him that he had let slip that it had meant a great deal and his normally not-detail-orientated girl had caught it. Ah well, even demons had off days.

Buffy leaned back on his lap and gave him a sexy leer. "Now, are you going to pout all night, or are you going to make me glad I'm here."

Angelus laid his hands on her hips and squeezed the muscled fullness of her curves appreciatively. "Demon's don't pout, we brood."

She grinned. "You don't brood. You scheme…you plot…you scourge."

He laughed softly and pulled her in to kiss her, the languor of his climax already fading as a new hunger began to build. He shifted his hands to her silk covered breasts, palming a plump mound and flicking his thumb over her nipple.

The delicate blond moaned as her lover tormented her mercilessly, tugging at her nipples until they stiffened beneath his insistent touch.

The delicate perfume of her growing arousal filled his nostrils and Angelus growled softly, pleased at her response. "Are you wet for me?" he crooned, already knowing the answer.

Buffy arched her breasts more fully into his hands; they ached, her nipples throbbing in time with the ache that was steadily building between her legs. "You know I am," she panted, pressing her satin-covered crotch down hard against his cool naked groin.

"Check for me," he ordered. "Slide your fingers between your legs and tell me what you feel."

She moaned in distress; she didn't want to feel her fingers there, she wanted to feel his.

"Do it," he ordered her firmly, bending to take one of her engorged nipples into his mouth. He wet the silky cloth of her camisole and sucked the tight little bud between his lips.

Obedient to his will, the delicate blond slid her hand down to the flirty material of her skirt. She lifted the fabric to the side and slid her fingers into her panties, pushing into the moist folds of her sex. Her core ached for the full press of him inside her and she pressed down hard against his

lengthening cock, trying to alleviate the emptiness inside.

Angelus arched her back over his forearm, lifting her away from his cock. She would not steal satisfaction from him; she would beg for it. "Tell me," he reminded her as he released one turgid nipple and turned to give its mate equal and ardent attention.

"I'm wet," Buffy groaned. "I'm wet, and slick and hot." She traced her fingers through her own plump folds, trying to give herself some relief from the hunger he so effortlessly and so powerfully aroused. "I'm swollen…"

The dark-eyed vampire growled warningly and caught her hand, preventing her from delving deeper into her hungry flesh. "What do you want?" he demanded tauntingly.

"You," she sighed. "I want you."

Pleased with her answer, he released her wrist and delved beneath the black satin of her panties himself. He combed through her nether curls and stroked her throbbing flesh skillfully.

"Yes," she hissed, arching more fully into the caress, wanting him deeper, wanting him inside where she was empty. "Please."

Always happy to oblige such sweet requests, Angelus sank his middle finger deep into her slick core, wringing a wail of startled pleasure from her lips. "Like this?" he purred, easing the long digit in and out of her heated channel. "Or this?" he asked as he pushed a second finger into her slick folds, pumping his fingers in and out of her moist heat, building her hunger for fulfillment higher. The vampire circled his thumb over her clit, flicking the stiffened bud of her pleasure as he pumped his fingers inside her.

"Yes," she mewled, arching her breast against his moving lips and pressing down harder into the hand that moved between her thighs. "Yes...Ohh…Yes. Oh God, Angel."

Angelus snarled at her murmur and stood abruptly, lifting her with him and then slamming her down on the surface of the dining table; the pewter goblet bounced away with a metallic clang.

Buffy opened her dazed eyes and focused on the irritated features of her lover, knowing that she had done something to anger him, but not quite sure what it was. She arched against the fingers still within her core. "Please," she whispered.

"Angelus," he told her.

She gasped, lifting her feet up to the table to give herself leverage to move against his still hand. "Wh-what?"

"Angelus."

The diminutive blond moaned and whimpered when he clamped his teeth over an aching nipple firmly.

"Say it," he demanded, plunging his fingers deep within her channel.

"Angelus," she wailed, arching high against his talented fingers.

The master vampire crouched over her, paying devoted attention to her swollen breasts as he sent his other hand down to join the first in tormenting his passionate lover. He ripped the satin protection of her panties from her, giving himself free access to her moist femininity and plunged three fingers into her grasping core as he teased her outer folds with his second hand.

"Oh God," she whimpered breathlessly.

"No," he scolded thickly. "Not God. Me. Angelus. Say it. Say it."

"Angelus." she cried, arching her hips up hard.

"Again."

"Angelus." She said it. "Angelus." She sobbed it. "Angelus." She keened it as he continued to ply her body with his skillful caresses. She chanted it, gasping the syllables out in time with her ragged breaths and her thundering heart beats.

The angelically handsome demon kissed her passionately, delighting in the way she continued to breathe his name against his lips. Pleased with her responsiveness, he nipped her passion-swollen lips and built her desire higher until she was clawing at his shoulders, desperate for the release only he could give her.

He paused and she arched, frozen at the pinnacle just before climax, whimpering beneath his masterful hands.

"Now scream it," he ordered her hoarsely, pinching her swollen clitoris skillfully and spinning her into the overpowering explosion.

"Angelus!" She screamed it.

He continued to stroke her, shoving her into one rippling climax after another until she trembled uncontrollably beneath his slightest caress, clawing wildly at his shoulders.

"Please," she whimpered raggedly, clutching at him weakly. It was too much. Too much pleasure and she needed a respite.

He slowed his fingers to a soothing caress, letting her come down from the peak of her pleasure, waiting for her to return to her senses. Long minutes ticked by as she shivered beneath him, quivering in the aftermath of her climaxes before she slowly opened her vibrant green gaze.

Languorously, Buffy looked up at him, her gaze partially glazed in shocked pleasure. Her breaths came in short bursts and her heartbeat thundered so wildly in her ears she briefly wondered whether or not he was listening to it.

The Master Vampire smirked down at her, at the blond beauty sprawled across his dining table like a succulent meal, her sleek thighs spread wantonly apart and his fingers deep within her moist sex. Masculine triumph speared sharply through him and with his left hand he gently smoothed her sweat-dampened hair from her face.

"You're a bad, bad man," she whispered in a shaky tone, digging her nails into his shoulders as she searched his dark gaze intently.

Angelus chuckled softly, pleased with the dazed expression in her eyes and leaned over her, a looming predator over his helpless prey. "Tell me more, baby," he rumbled. "Tell me just how bad I am."

Buffy moaned as his movement changed the position of his fingers in her sensitive core and pressed the thick length of his cock against the portal of her body. He nipped her beneath her chin and she tilted her head back, baring her throat submissively. Her body tingled, the pulse points in her throat, her wrists and between her legs beginning to throb with renewed hunger. Would it never stop? Would she always need more of him? Would she always need more of his lips, more of his hands and more of his sleek powerful body between her legs?

"Bad," she panted raggedly. "Very, very, bad. Big, bad, evil man."

The vampire grinned and curled his left fist into the lapel of the soft red leather jacket she wore in lieu of the one he had given her and jerked her closer to him. "Just accept it, baby," he crooned. "You strayed from the path, Little Red, and now the Big, Bad Wolf's got you."

Her breath hitched anxiously. "Are you going to eat me up?"

The dark chocolate of his eyes lit with fiendish deviltry and his gaze shifted down to the vulnerable flesh bared by her spread thighs. Angelus grinned wolfishly. "Oh, yeah, baby," he drawled. "I'm definitely going to eat you."

Her heart skipped a beat as the dark predator pressed a hard ruthless kiss to her swollen mouth, nipping her sharply on her lower lip before he began to slide down her body.

"Angelus," she moaned.

He rumbled softly and nipped the curve of her clavicle before he slid down to capture a pebbled nipple between his lips. He suckled on the jewel hard tip of her breast, lashing his tongue over the sensitive point and Buffy moaned at the sensations, shifting against the long fingers that rested unmoving within the hot channel of her body.

Angelus grinned against her breast and curved his fingers as he slowly withdrew them from her body, tickling her inner walls and brushing against the bundle of nerves beneath her mound.

She arched hungrily against his withdrawing fingers, her core already moist and achingly empty. "Please," she whimpered.

The demon ignored her soft plea and traced his lips down over her ribs and the concave firmness of her belly, pausing to nip sharply above her hip.

The diminutive beauty allowed her fingers to slip from his shoulders and trailed them to his dark hair. Restlessly she shifted beneath him, stroking and clenching his hair in her fingers.

Angelus pressed a kiss beneath her navel, nipping that soft flesh as well before he shifted away from her arching body. He pushed her skirt up until it was little more than a band of fabric wrapped around her waist and feasted his eyes upon the inviting lushness of her moist sex.

His unneeded breaths fell across the plump folds of her femininity and Buffy moaned as he placed his lips not on the her slick femininity, but on the inside of her thigh, licking and nibbling on her smooth skin.

"Angelus."

He ignored her and turned his attention to her other thigh, rubbing his cheek along her flesh and pressing cool open-mouthed kisses along her tense muscles.

Buffy groaned and bracing her booted feet on the scarred surface of the table, arched hungrily toward him. He had done this act the night she had lost her virginity, rendering her so mindless with desire that she had never felt a moment's pain at the breaching of her hymen. There had only been the lashing pleasure of his lips and tongue, the ruthless pleasure he had plied her with until she had begged him to be inside her and end the empty ache of her body clenching upon itself when she needed him.

Angelus pressed her firmly down to the table and then lifted her right foot. He eased the knee-high boot down her calf and then completely off, revealing a white ankle sock; he grinned at the Nike swoosh and the little stenciled words that encouraged his relentlessly slow exploration: 'Just do it.' He slid the sock off of her foot and dropped it with the boot and then lifted her tiny foot and her crimson-painted toe nails to his lips.

The Chosen One sighed as her vampire lover pressed his lips against the soft arch of her foot before sliding an open-mouthed kiss to her ankle and nipping gently at her Achilles tendon. Her skin tingled and his every brush against her skin shot violent shivers along her spine.

His hands smoothed up and down her thighs, his fingertips brushing just against the lips of her weeping core and then sliding away.

Her second boot and sock followed the first to the floor and he pressed ardent kisses against her soft soles and ankles before he slid her legs over his shoulders.

"Angelus…please."

The angelically beautiful fiend slid his hands along her legs, tracing her sleek musculature and following his lazy exploration with his lips.

Buffy clenched her thighs over his shoulders, attempting to use her calf muscles to force him where she wanted him; Angelus pressed her hips ruthlessly back down and sharply nipped her inner thigh as punishment while growling a warning at her.

"Little Red Riding Hood does not force the wolf to her," he scolded, his lips caressing her legs and drawing closer and closer to the apex of her thighs. He trailed his fingers over her, combing her golden curls and then tracing the slick folds of her sex. "Nor does she attempt to force the wolf to eat her. She is simply eaten, despite her screams, despite her clawing and despite her cries for mercy."

He slid his fingers against her slick femininity, trailing his long fingers against her until her hips were churning restlessly against him,

"Oh, God Angelus," she whimpered. "Please. Please."

"That's right baby," he growled, his dark gaze lighting with the saffron gold of demonic passion. "Scream for mercy, but you shall have none."

She panted raggedly, a breathless but willing victim to his carnality and keened in delight when he at last placed his lips at the lips of her sex.

He licked her along the moist cavern of her body, his broad shoulders widening her thighs. He explored her with his tongue, dipping in to investigate her every fold and crevice. He trailed his fingertips lightly along the outer lips of her pussy and swirled his tongue around the bundle of nerves that fueled the height of her pleasure.

Buffy shifted until the soles of her feet rested on his bare shoulders and arched hard against the heaven of his mouth. Desire lashed at her with every stroke of his tongue, shoving her higher and higher in the maelstrom of her hunger for him. She curled her toes into his shoulders, whimpering softly.

"Please."

As he had promised, there was no mercy to be found. He ate and licked at her until her muscles quivered and her hips churned anxiously against his mouth. Delicately, he slid a finger into her hot channel and she wailed, sliding her legs back down over his shoulders to clutch him tighter to her.

"Oh God…oh…yes…Please. Angelus. Angelus. Angelus."

A delicious roll of her hips accompanied every utterance of his name as she tried to lure his fingers deeper into her, but he denied her, forcing her hunger and the ache of emptiness to nearly unbearable extremes. No more satisfaction would she have from him until he was inside her, and he would not come inside her until she begged him.

He ate her and she wailed. He licked her and nibbled her and she screamed and writhed against him. He ignored her pleas for more and ignored her entreaties for him to stop. He kept going until she sobbed weakly, keening his name over and over again.

The emptiness inside her hot slick channel became over powering and Buffy reached down to grab the loose flaps of his shirt pulling him desperately up her body. "Inside me," she begged. "Come inside me."

Angelus growled and caught hold of her wrists and pinned them roughly to the table, his eyes blazed demonic gold as he stared triumphantly at the writhing girl beneath him.

"Don't stop," she begged him. "Don't stop. Inside me. Please. I need you."

He held her pinned against the scarred surface of the table and bent over her, his larger body easily pinning her smaller more delicate one. "Do you accept me as your mate?"

"Yes. Yes," she panted mindlessly.

The vampire tightened his grip over her wrists. "Who am I?"

"Angelus," she whispered.

He impaled her with a hard, sure thrust and she screamed, her body bowing into an arch as her orgasm rolled over her. Giving her no time to recover, he thrust forward until he was sheathed to the hilt in her heat. He growled low in his throat, snarling possessively.

She gloried in the fullness, in the ecstasy of being filled by him again; he began to move, his hips pistoning in and out of her powerfully. The violent throbbing between her legs increased and despite the climax that had just claimed her, another exploded through her system. She slammed her hips up to meet his every thrust, whimpering helplessly as climax after climax exploded along her nerve endings.

Satisfied with her supplicant cries of bliss, Angelus released her wrists and gathered her close to him, pounding into her hot silky depths with near mindless ferocity.

Buffy wrapped her arms around him, digging her nails into his shoulders and wrapping her legs tightly around his waist. She panted and cried out her encouragement into his ear, arching high against his every thrust.

He plunged into her over and over again, the violence of his possession shocking him. He heard her cry out, a thin wail, and wondered whether or not he had pushed her past the resiliency of Slayers and into the fragility of mortals, but despite her high, piercing wails, he could not bring himself to stop. She was his. He would make sure she never doubted that she was his again.

"More," she demanded, digging her nails into his skin so deeply she drew blood.

The vampire snarled in ecstasy.

"Harder," she cried out.

Her heartbeat thundered in his ears. The exquisite scent of her and him filled his nostrils. Her breaths fell like warm mist against his skin.

Driving harder into the searing heat of her body, he kissed her passionately, sucking and biting at her petal soft lips. She pulled reluctantly away to breath and denied her lips, his atavistic gaze fell to the throbbing pulse beneath her jaw.

"Want you," he snarled, burying his face against her neck as he pounded into her.

"Yes," she breathed.

Unable to resist, Angelus felt his brow ridge up and his fangs drop as the driving passion between them escalated beyond his control. He must have her, all of her. Knowing that he would never be able to stop himself if he sank a fang into her artery, he forced himself to her shoulder and sank his fangs into the cord of muscle that led to her beautiful throat. Blood burst across his tongue and he swallowed greedily, the rich power of her blood and the taste of love flooding his senses.

The ferocious pace continued until he could no longer hold his climax back and their mutual pleasure exploded within them, hot and intense.

Buffy arched hard into his downward thrust and screamed ecstatically as she was impaled on both cock and fang, her orgasm rolling so powerfully over her she felt the world slipping away into darkness.

The master vampire released his bite and collapsed weakly against his mortal lover, his unnecessary breaths short and erratic. He licked delicately at the neat wound he had place on her shoulder and he purred in bliss. There was no greater ecstasy in the world than this delicate woman's fervent embrace.

Her arms slipped limply from his shoulders and her thighs slid slackly away from his hips.

Angelus jerked back, worried that he had taken too much from her in his near-mindless passion and had killed her, but her heart beat on, its rhythm strong, and her breaths were slow and even.

The only death he had offered the golden Slayer was the Petit Mort - the Little Death, and true to his tradition, he thought with a smug grin, he had offered it with a song in his heart.

He stroked her hair tenderly, a deep satisfied purr rumbling softly in his throat.

Long seconds ticked by until at last her eyes fluttered open. Buffy looked up at him, her gaze partially glazed in shocked pleasure and smiled languorously up at her demon. Pleasure thrummed through her body and she felt dizzy with delight. She was eternally lost beneath this man's spell and there was no use pretending that she wasn't.

"I love you," she breathed.

What? She what? Angelus froze as he stared down at her passion-flushed features in disbelief. It was what he had wanted, what he had set out to accomplish, but now that she had said it, he didn't know if it was just the heat of the moment or whether she meant it. She was human - she was the Slayer, he was a demon, how could she mean it?

"What?" he asked, pulling back from her.

"I love you," she repeated.

"Me?" he demanded roughly.

"You," she whispered. She twined her arms around his neck and quickly clamped her thighs around his hips, preventing him from moving away from her. What she was about to say could enrage him, but she needed him to know it. "I loved Angel."

Angelus snarled, angered by the mention of the soul. How could she even mention the choirboy after the rapture he had just shown her?

Buffy held him tightly. "No," she breathed. "Listen. I loved Angel with all of my heart and soul. He was the kindest, bravest, most thoughtful and loving man I'd ever known."

"Brave," Angelus sneered. "He was afraid to go with you to face the Master."

"But he came anyways," she defended. "Brave is not being without fear. It's still going forward even if you're afraid. I loved him. No other man ever treated me like he did…as if I were - infinitely precious to him."

She had been.

Now she was infinitely precious to him too.

The vampire ground his teeth together trembling with rage, resentment and - yes, hurt - that she would dare utter that abomination's name after he, Angelus, had brought her to such uncontrollable rapture.

She turned his face gently with her palm, forcing him to look down at her. She searched his gaze imploringly, begging him to understand what she was saying. "The very nature of a vampire deems that the possessing demon - you - is imprinted upon the memories of the host - Angel. You have no memories previous to being inside of this body, do you?"

The demon was silent and stiff within her embrace, arching away from her angrily, but the golden Slayer pulled him insistently back down against her. She pressed gentle kisses against his hardened jaw.

"That makes you an echo of the personality that was," she continued determinedly. "You are an echo, a dark reflection of the man who was Angel. And he was so wonderful, so worthy a man that the demon who is his echo is worthy of my devotion. You are the demonic incarnation of the man I love and as such, I can't do anything other than love you too, because I loved him so much. My darkling," she kissed him persuasively. "Mine. I love you."

"I am not the echo," he snarled resentfully. "He is the echo of me. You would never have loved that worthless drunkard Liam and your 'precious' Angel was imprinted and born of me. That makes him the echo."

She cradled his glowering face and pulled him insistently down to her lips. "Whoever was the echo of whom, does it really matter when I love both? You're here now. You're with me. You're the man that just made love to me. You're the man who just made me scream. You're the man who defends my honor and kills demons to please me." She tightened her internal muscles over the softened flesh of his cock. "And you're the man who's still inside me."

Angelus closed his eyes as he listened to her impassioned plea, allowed her to place tender, persuasive kisses along his the line of his jaw. His plan had been to go through her affections for soul-boy to win her heart and it had worked, but he wasn't certain whether it was enough.

Did she love him in his own right or could she see that that weakling soul was still trapped inside of him? No. She didn't love the pure aspect of the demon, but he no longer even was a pure aspect of a demon; he hadn't been since the moment he had been born in Liam and he had become even less so during the decades of incarceration within the ensouled Angel. He was a tarnished demon, but it was that very tarnishment that the woman in his arms loved.

It was enough…for now. She was here willingly. She was in his arms willingly. In time, she would prefer him to that weak soul. In time, she would find out that of the two of them, he was the more worthy of being with her. He was the more loyal and committed of the two men, for in the end, when things got tough, Liam still ran.

Besides, that loser Angel was the one who was banished into obscurity beneath Angelus; the demon was now the dominant personality and that weakling soul would never control the body again.

"Angel?"

The lilting, little-girl voice of the maddened vampiress was a jarring and unwelcome interruption that shattered the fragile emotional moment between the two lovers.

Buffy sighed and drew her hands away from Angelus' jaw as the Master Vampire growled in irritation.

He shifted to rise from his position over her, but she tightened her intimate clasp on his hips, preventing his withdrawal.

Angelus glanced at her challenging expression then mentally shrugged and turned his head to look at his cowering childe. "What is it, Dru?"

"Angel, my tummy is all rumbly and my Spike won't wake up. You have to take me out for the crimson dance."

The handsome vampire stared down at the beautiful girl beneath him, stretched out like a forbidden offering, her muscled thighs gripping him tightly to her. Leave this? Now?

"I'm done dancing that song tonight, Dru. Take the biker and drain what's left in him. If that's not enough, you'll just have to go out alone."

"Daddy - "

"Go," he snarled, his face shifting.

The brunette whimpered softly and went to grab the dead man by the wrist. She dragged him from the room, trailing his body behind her like a sullen child dragged her favorite blanket when sent to bed.

As the dark-haired vampiress disappeared back into her bedroom, the Slayer looked up at her predatory-featured lover and raised her eyebrows inquiringly. "How come she gets to call you Angel?"

Angelus bent down over her, a low rumble building in his throat. "Because Dru knows exactly who she's talking to." He lifted her arm and pressed a kiss against the crook of her elbow, the points of his teeth pricking her skin. "Before this night is over, you'll know too."

"Will I?" she asked breathlessly, trembling in anticipation as his brow ridges thickened and his fangs lengthened.

His golden eyes flared brightly and he grasped her shoulders, pulling her roughly up to kiss her fervently. "You'll never doubt it again," he vowed thickly.

Buffy curled her fingers into his shoulder, her nails digging into his flesh. "Really? How are you going to manage that?"

The golden-eyed vampire smirked, his sensual lips pulling into a faintly cruel smile. He withdrew from her body and backed up a pace, pulling her upright and off the table with him.

Her thighs slid slowly down his legs until her toes rested on the floor. She staggered and clutched his shoulders for support, her legs feeling rubbery.

"Well?" she taunted him softly.

Angelus growled softly, a vibrating vocalization that was somewhere between a warning and a purr, and bent to pick her up in his arms. This dominating the Slayer thing was apparently going to require effort; a master vampire like himself loved challenges.

He carried her out of the common room and into the privacy of his own bedroom.

~

"Bloody hell," Rupert Giles mutter explosively as he pulled away from the eyepiece of the microscope. "Cordelia, this would go a good deal more quickly if you would stop hovering at my shoulder."

The brunette May Queen shifted away from his side haughtily. "Well you're taking too long. God only knows what those losers have gotten up to. I mean please! Willow bought Ecstasy."

"I am quite aware of what's at stake. Now, I believe I've identified the last compound in the powder," Giles took off his glasses and polished the lens carefully. "It's lilies - or to be more exact, dried lily petals."

Cordelia dutifully noted his conclusion down on the note pad. "So, sulfur, mistletoe and lilies? Kind of a weird combination."

"Yeah," Oz agreed in a bemused tone. "Two out of the three are poisons."

Giles nodded absently. "Yes, but I believe their physical toxicity has somehow been shifted to magical toxicity."

"So they're still a poison of some sort?" the brown-haired guitarist asked.

Giles picked up several books, glancing at their spines briefly as he searched for his herbology resource. "I do believe so. But with the poisons shifted to the magical plain, there's no telling precisely what this concoction does until I've researched the mystical qualities of the items in question."

Cordelia dropped into one of the chairs surrounding the library table and drummed her fingertips impatiently.

"And do stop that irritating patter," Giles muttered, flipping open one of his botanical books.

The doors to the library suddenly swung open and the tall lean form of Ethan Rayne entered. He grinned triumphantly at Giles and strutted toward the trio. "Ripper," he greeted in a gloating tone. "There you are. I hope you're feeling like your old trouble-causing self again. I need your help." He glanced at the beautiful brunette then the short brown haired boy. "Why don't you kiddies run along so we grownups can have a little chat?"

Giles clenched his teeth as the cause of all his troubles strutted arrogantly forward. The bespectacled Watcher set aside his books and slowly stood up. "Ethan," he smiled as he approached his old disreputable friend. "I didn't think you'd be back in town so soon after I last kicked your arse."

The brown-haired sorcerer smiled in an ingratiating fashion. "Well, you know me. Never can stay away from what promises to be a good time. And I'm sure the Ripper I know and love is back." He glanced at the floating bouquet meaningfully. "I see you got my balloons. Are you ready to take care of some business? I've found the Scrolls of Aberjaan. Even have a client already chomping at the bit, eager to buy, but I thought that since they regard the End of Days battles, it wouldn't hurt to have a bit of a translation of my own before I hand scrolls over to those backstabbing lawyers. You translate and I'll go…say 30/70 on the sale."

"Really," Giles lifted his hand to stroke his chin, pretending to contemplate the offer. "And why would I be agreeable to that?"

"Well, becau - "

The staid Watcher slammed his fist abruptly into Ethan's supercilious face, knocking the slickly dressed sorcerer to his back.

Ethan clutched his hand to his bleeding nose and glared accusingly at his attacker. "Didn't you read the card?" he demanded indignantly.

"Yes," Giles commented, quickly closing in on his friend-turned-enemy to plant a solid kick in his ribs. "But I didn't open it."

Ethan groaned and curled into a ball to protect himself. "Well, bugger," he grunted.

"Yes, quite," Ripper drawled with false sympathy. "Now, what did you use Ethan?"

The chaos worshipper grinned up at the Watcher through his blood. "What's the matter Ripper? Your girl open your card? Is she out backing the forces of darkness?"

Giles turned his gaze to the shocked expressions of the May Queen and the young guitarist: no point in them witnessing this, especially since Oz still didn't know about Buffy being the Slayer. "Cordelia, Oz, why don't you two go and locate Willow and Xander before they get into any mischief. Ethan and I," he paused to walk to the weapons cabinet in the cage and withdrew a double-bladed knife, "will have that little chat."

Cordelia shoved away from the table and headed toward the exit, Oz right behind her. They cast several interested looks over their shoulders, but apparently decided that Giles was about to reveal some depths to his character that they didn't want to know about.

The Watcher turned his attention back to his guest and called out a last instruction to the departing teens. "Call when you find them."

Ethan rolled to his back, watching the knife that his adversary held. "This really isn't necessary…"

"What did you use?" Giles asked pleasantly.

~

Willow placed her hand on the bruised face of the platinum-haired princess she had been playing with and tilted her face toward the light, her gentle movement at odds with her earlier brutality.

The blonde's grey eyes were fixed and dilated, her once pretty features now bruised, lacerated and quite slack.

The red haired hacker scowled petulantly and firmly pinched the princess' chin between her fingers as she shook her head. "This one's broken. She doesn't cry anymore." She got up from her broken toy and wiped the spatters of blood off of her face with the torn shreds of the girl's skirt. "Bored now," she sang irritably.

Xander pulled his pants back up over his hips and fastened them. Using his foot, he shoved sweet writhing Ruth over onto her back and stared at the broken bones of her once pretty face. "Not much to work with over here either," he sighed. "Well, why don't we go back to the Bronze?"

"Sounds good," Willow replied, tossing the shreds of cloth she had cleaning her face and hands with to the ground. Carefully she stripped off her shirt, letting the grinning sunshine drop to the ground and with a sigh of satisfaction, she pulled on her new shirt: a black lace wrap that emphasized the swells of her breasts and made her skin look pale and flawless.

The dark-haired boy watched his best friend as she changed and then stepped away from the broken girls, careful to not put his cast in any of the pools of blood that now stained the floor. He grabbed up the torch from the wall and calmly set fire to the bloody rags and Willow's old shirt. Stepping closer to the two sprawled and catatonic girls, he paused to admire the blond. "Nice work, Will. You do that with a beer bottle?

"Uh-huh. Let's go." She turned and walked toward the door of the crypt, pausing to glance back at her friend. But before we do…Kill them for me."

Xander smiled cruelly "Anything for you, Will." He lowered the torch toward their bodies and paused when a sudden wind from the crypt door caused the fire to flicker violently. He looked toward the now open door and at the slender brunette that stood in the entryway.

Drusilla peered interestedly at the two broken women on the ground. "You were having a tea party," she observed but then added sadly, "I never get invited to parties anymore."

Willow and Xander peered back at the vampiress, taking in the blackened flesh around her bloodstained mouth and the dark bruises that marred her pale skin.

Xander snorted with laughter. "Hey look Will. It's the looney-toon and it looks like she got her ass kicked."

Drusilla turned her gaze to the dark-haired boy and the redhead, her lip stuck out in a little-girl pout. "Mummy was cross. Daddy was pleased."

"Mummy?" Willow repeated in interest.

The wild-eyed vampiress nodded forlornly. "Slayer threw me through the looking glass, has bewitched my Angel and broken my Spike." She whined softly, like a dog, whimpering over her injuries and then pointed to the two girls lying on the floor of the crypt. "I must bring the oysters home for dinner. You've spilt your tea. Clean cup, clean cup, move down."

Xander stepped forward between the mad brunette and his kills, brandishing the torch threateningly. "You move down."

Willow grabbed his arm and gently restrained him "No, she right. The party's over." The redhead grinned cunningly. "Let her have them."

Drusilla smiled radiantly, revealing that the charred flesh surrounding her lips continued inside of her mouth and that several of her teeth were missing. "Thank you for the pastries, Red Queen."

Willow nodded graciously as she and Xander cautiously circled around the injured vampire to the door. She waved gaily as they walked away into the night. "See you at the ninth square!"

The mad vampiress watched them leave and then stooped to pick up her prizes, tucking one injured and non-struggling girl beneath each arm.

~

She curled around him languidly, her body feeling boneless and pleasantly numb from their wild sexual marathon. She wasn't quite sure how they'd ended up in their current position, with her the crossing top to his T, but all in all despite the fact that she couldn't wrap her self around him like a clinging vine at present, she had no complaints. She rested her left cheek on her out-stretched arm and smiled blissfully, content to have her natural enemy use her stomach as a pillow. She enjoyed the silence between them, enjoyed the soft hazy afterglow that clung to them and unable to stop touching him, she ran her fingers tenderly through his hair.

Angelus turned his head slightly and looked at his golden lover; she had the appearance of a woman who had been recently - and thoroughly - loved: her skin was flushed, her hair was wildly rumpled and her lips were swollen from the ferocity of his kisses.

"What are you smiling about?"

Buffy curled her fingers in his hair and tugged gently. "Pierce Brosnan."

The master vampire blinked at the unexpected answer. "Who?" he rumbled.

"Just an actor," she sighed.

"And just why," he growled, "are you thinking of this man when you're in bed with me?" Surely she hadn't been fantasizing about this Brosnan character while they'd been -

"My mom went on a real Pierce Brosnan kick a few months ago," she explained, continuing to stroke her fingers through his hair. "I think we must have watched every movie he ever made. Anyways, there was this poem in one of them. I was just thinking about that poem."

He rolled slightly to look at her more directly. "You're going to recite poetry to me?" he asked skeptically.

"Hey, you get it from books, I get it from movies, but poetry is poetry. Now, do you want to hear this or not?"

His brows arched in amusement. "Tell me," he invited, wondering whether he was about to be subjected to some bubblegum pop version of "Roses are Red and Violets are Blue."

Buffy stroked her fingers down his face, tracing his brow to his cheek and then the sensual curve of his lips. "'Because thou lovest the burning ground,'" she intoned softly, "'I have made a burning ground of my heart, that thou the keeper of the eternal flame, may dance thy eternal dance.'"

He thought about it: thought about the barely leashed violence within her; thought about the man she had killed to please him; and thought about her vicious brutality to his childer. Somehow, for some reason, the Slayer had made room in her heart for a demon to burn, and to make sure he was comfortable, she had turned up the heat within herself.

Angelus rolled to his side and cupped her jaw, tilting her head back to meet his kiss. No more raging inferno tonight…or rather, no more raging inferno at the moment: just the hot, slow heat that simmered between them.

Buffy moaned softly in delight, sliding her fingers from his hair to his shoulder as the pleasure of his lips and carnal caress curled her toes.

He pulled back from her lips to look at her, his young lover. His young mortal lover. She was so terribly young, but he knew that it was not time that would try to steal her away from his arms. No. Time was the least of her dangers. Brutal destiny was the problem. Those vicious fucks that were the Powers That Be would not be satisfied until his golden goddess lay bleeding and broken on a pile of rubble, her beautiful green eyes glassy and empty with death.

No matter what side she fought on, good or evil, the Powers were never satisfied until their Champions and their Swords were broken and a new innocent was ripped from her life and forced into divine servitude.

Well, he would not lose Buffy to their self-righteous cruelty. She would not be stolen from him…not by conflict…not by time.

"You look unhappy," Buffy murmured, stroking her fingertips along the furrows of his brow. "Didn't you like it?"

"I did," he replied, sitting up. "But it touched on something that we should deal with."

"You're spoiling the mood," she pouted.

"We'll have others. Other nights. Other days. In fact we could have an eternity of them."

She stiffened and sat up slowly to face him. "What are you saying?" she asked him carefully.

Angelus combed his fingers through her hair and then let his fingers trail down the naked length of her body, from her shoulder, to her breast and down to her hip. "Eternity. I want to spend eternity with you. You're mortal, and though as the Slayer you're stronger than most mortals, you're still so very fragile. Let me make you. Come across to me. Cross into night and leave daylight behind. Be with me, always."

Buffy closed her eyes and clenched her fists, the pain of his request striking deep into her heart. How could he? After all that she'd done to prove herself, how could he ask her this?"

"Buff?"

Unable to stop herself, her hand flew out and cracked hard against his cheek with a resounding smack. "How dare you?" she hissed, springing off the bed.

The vampire snarled, enraged and baffled by her response. He stood up from the bed and stalked after her, catching her by the wrist and spinning her around to face him. "What?" he demanded. "What's wrong?"

She whirled around, hand raised to strike him again and he caught hold of her wrist; feminine punctuations of ire aside, slap or no, she was still the Slayer and she had quite a bit of punch to smack.

Buffy struggled in his hold, shoving hard against his chest and pushing him away. "How dare you? How dare you ask me to surrender you to some demoness whore!"

Angelus blinked. What?

"You just want the body? You just like the way the package looks? Then get Dru plastic surgery and some bleach!"

She lunged toward him and slapped at him, open handed feeble blows that were meant to communicate her displeasure rather than be any form of punishment; she managed to land a few before he caught hold of her again, tightening his grip over her wrists so she couldn't break away again.

"Are you Angel?" she demanded. "Are you the soul I fell in love with? No! You are an echo of him because of the curse, because of the hundred years you two spent in the same body. But that's not the way vampirism works! It won't be me!" A sob burst from her lips, and then another as tears began to spill from her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. "How dare you. How dare you ask me to turn my lover over to some whore along with my body?"

Angelus caught her against him and held her tightly. He didn't want to admit that she was right, but he knew she was. That was the way that vampirism commonly worked. He was different because of those damned gypsies. And Buffy? Well, the demoness would have her memories and her mannerisms, but the eyes that looked up at him would be flat and empty, the love that burned inside her now, gone, replaced with automatic and empty responses.

He could not give her up. He adored her beautiful, radiant soul. But her body was mortal and destiny or not, time was ticking against him.

Buffy sobbed against his chest, struggling half-heartedly but her demon lover held her firmly.

"Shh," he soothed, rocking her against him. "I want you. You. Not some demoness. I'll find a way. I've done the impossible and won a Slayer's heart, I'll not lose her to destiny or time."

Her tears trickled down his chest and slowly she allowed him to calm her. She tilted her head up to look at him, her eyes wet and searching his intently, seeing within him a distant fire that reassured her that this demon was different from all others. "I can't lose you, Angelus."

"You won't," he promised, cradling her head in his palms. "I swear you won't. And I won't lose you. I'll find a way."

She rocked up on her tiptoes and twined her arms around his neck, taking his lips in a soft kiss.

He could taste the salt of her tears and feel the soft puffs of breath she blew against his mouth. No more tears. She was not alone any more; there was the two of them now. There would always be the two of them. He deepened the kiss, nibbling on her lips and pulled her tightly to him, pressing her hips firmly to his groin.

The Slayer sighed and her belly gave a long loud protest of neglect.

Buffy and Angelus froze in shock.

Embarrassed at her body's inopportune complaint, Buffy pulled away as Angelus' gaze slipped down to the taut muscles of her slender waist.

"Hungry?" he asked with a smile.

Flushing, the delicate blond nodded.

"Crawl back into bed, baby," he murmured with a soft laugh. "I'll order something in for you."

"Chinese?" she asked hopefully.

"Anything you want," he promised her softly, stroking his thumb over her bottom lip.


~

Cordelia shoved open the door to the Bronze and entered the crowded club, Oz trailing in her wake. She scanned the gyrating dancers, craning her neck as she searched anxiously for some sign of her missing boyfriend…and Willow.

"Uh, Cordelia, we already looked here," Oz commented as he glanced at a girl walking by wearing a textured shirt that looked as though something were ripping its way from inside of her.

"It's either here or the library - Oz. Oz, can you pay attention here. I swear, all you guys are the same. Some girl walks by in a short skirt - "

"What? That was a nice shirt. And contrary to popular belief, when a guy looks at a girl, the first thought in his head is not always sex. It's within the top ten, but it's definitely not always the first."

Cordelia stared at him, in bafflement. "Why couldn't Devon be more like you?"

The brown-haired guitarist looked at her in surprise. He would never have guessed that Cordelia Chase would be interested in a guy like him, but then he also would never have guessed that she'd have been interested in a guy like Xander Harris either. He turned and walked away from her, "C'mon, we'll see better from the catwalk above."

Minutes later they perched by the steel rails of the second floor platform and scanned the lower level.

Cordelia sighed impatiently. "Where the hell else do those losers hang?" She spotted a familiar sight of a brilliant pok-a-dot dress amongst the crowd below. "And I cannot believe she is wearing that Todd Oldham knock off again."

Oz nodded absently, his attention not on the fashion faux pas in question.

The door to the Bronze swung open and Willow and Xander walked in.

The May Queen watched as the couple headed toward the dance floor, her eyes sharp on Willow's new and less innocent appearance. "That's not the shirt she was wearing earlier. Oh my god. Is that blood on Xander's temple?"

The pair above watched as the pair below stepped close to each other to dance; Willow ran her fingertip over the blood streak on Xander's temple and licked the crimson liquid.

Oz flinched slightly, "Well, that was gross." He watched her wrap her arms around Xander's neck as they began to sway to the music and he remembered that not so long ago, Willow had been hopelessly in love with the boy she was now dancing with.

Cordelia's lips tightened as she watched the little redheaded nobody wrap her arms around the dark- haired boy. She pulled her cell phone out of her purse and agitatedly punched in the number for the library; the phone rang several times before Giles answered. "We found Willow and Xander. And Willow is all over my boyfriend. What do we do?"

"Stay out of sight. Be careful. I'll be down as soon as I have the antidote."

The connection was broken and helpless to do anything else, Cordelia put the phone back in her purse.

The music changed from one song to another and the pair above watched the pair below unhappily.

~

Giles stared coldly down at the man who had once been his friend, unmoved by the damage he had wrought. He would do far worse than bruise the chaos worshipper if anything permanently damaging had happened to his Slayer. If anything happened to Buffy, he'd bloody well take a chainsaw to Ethan.

"Had enough?" the bespectacled Watcher asked calmly.

Ethan Rayne rolled onto his back and ran his tongue experimentally over his teeth, checking to make sure that they were all in tact and not loose. He sneered through the blood that still oozed from his nose. "Only if you've come to the end of the enjoyment you receive when you kick me when I'm down."

Giles kicked him again.

The wiry sorcerer groaned, curling slowly into a fetal ball to protect his bruised - and perhaps cracked - ribs.

The blond-haired Watcher stared thoughtfully at his nemesis aware that he was running out of time. The longer the children spent under the spell, the higher the likelihood that they would do something irreparably and irrevocably bad; once they had done that, they would not thank him for releasing them from the insidious spell they were under. There was, he realized grimly, only one way to assure that he got the information he needed before it was too late. He had sworn never again, but needs must when the devil drives.

Ethan blinked blearily and frowned when he realized that Ripper had grabbed a piece of chalk and was quickly and methodically sketching a conjuration circle around him.

"You can give me the antidote and I'll let you run away," Giles stated in a flat tone as he completed the outer ring of the circle and began to quickly draw protective runes, "or we can do this the hard way."

The dark-haired sorcerer sat up slowly. "The hard way? Rip-per," he muttered uneasily. "What are you doing?"

"I haven't done this in so many years," Giles commented conversationally. "Do you think a demon would give me the antidote before or after it ate you?"

Ethan stared hard at Giles' implacable features and realized in sick fascination that the staid Watcher wasn't bluffing. He had wanted to bring Ripper out to play and here he was, but not the way he had wanted. "I've had enough. I give."

Giles cast a basiliscan stare in his direction as he opened as ancient and bloodstained book. "'I give' is not the answer."

"It's the Umbra Labes - the Shadow's Corruption," Ethan squeaked out quickly. "Blow some baking soda in the girl's face to counteract the sulfur and say 'Dis-pel-ler-e.' After that and a bit of vomiting to get the toxins out of her system, she should be right as rain and ready to once again fight the forces of darkness."

Giles tossed the book on to the library table with a resounding thud and then smudged the conjuration circle with his toe, opening it to allow Ethan to leave. "She had better be. And as for those scrolls, the Aberjaan Scrolls, they deal primarily with the role of a souled vampire in the End of Days battles. Since there no longer is a souled vampire in existence, I'd say they're worthless. Now get the hell out of town. And if you come back again, Ethan, I'll kill you."

Without another word, Giles walked quickly out of the library, leaving the man he had tortured laying weakly on the floor.

Ethan panted and shivered slightly; he was fairly certain Ripper had actually mean that last remark.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

AUTHOR'S NOTES: thanks to Barbara Alexandra for her French translation in Buffy's dream. Thanks to Dark Rhiannon for her bribe of Beholder, I live in hope of another chapter. And thanks to my beta and sounding boards Gia and Gloria.

I am aware that head injuries that cause lengthy unconsciousness can also cause brain damage and/or death: artistic license has been taken. Deal with it.

WORKS CITED: references made to the Grimlockes - Grimlockes are from the television series Chramed, also on the wb. It is a Spelling production and is doubtless owned by Aaron Spelling. No infringement on copyright priveleges is intended.

Scary." "Scarier" used in this type of context in Buffy - The Vampire Slayer: TV series, ep. Angel.; Hollywood, 1998

Chapter 7 - Abandon


Angelus sat on the side of the bed and watched his young lover sleep, as he had watched her dozens of times before - granted, of late, most of those occurrences of nocturnal voyeurism had been from his exiled perch outside her bedroom window rather than inside the comfortable interior of her domain, but despite the fact that his obsession had not changed, his view had improved vastly. His dark gaze followed the sleek lines of her body, admiring the cream and golden skin that gleamed with pearl-like luster against the deep scarlet of his sheets; that luminous flesh lured him back to her, inviting him to take a sensuously decadent lick. He inhaled deeply, the intoxicating scent of her, the vanilla and peaches, the tantalizing aroma that was uniquely Buffy, made dizzyingly perfect now that his own scent had been added to it. Her hair was fanned out like a golden halo, veiling her sleeping face and her passion-swollen lips from his view.

His lover. He had waited weeks to win her back into his arms and into his bed. He had waited to have her come willingly and consciously back to him and now that he had won, now that she was here and he had experienced the delightful depths of their mutual passion, he had no intention of ever losing her again.

She shifted beside him, stretching her limbs with feline-like luxuriousness before she again settled with boneless abandon amongst his crimson sheets.

His lips twitched with silent amusement and he was amazed at just how much space her delicate five foot three body could claim on his king-sized mattress; she lay on her stomach, his red sheets tangled at her waist, revealing the exquisite curve of her spine. Her arms and legs were outstretched and she lay at a diagonal, hogging more space than one would expect a diminutive creature like herself to take.

The Scourge of Europe reached out and gently brushed several strands of her golden hair from her brow; Buffy smiled, turning, even in her sleep, more fully into his caress.

This was the way it should be, he mused. Them. Together.

No guilt, no responsibility and no sacred duty to separate them. No Watcher to disapprove of her, no friends to browbeat her, and no mother to censure her. Just them.

Angelus didn't know what had transpired during the day to break the shackles of righteous nobility that had imprisoned his love, but he was grateful to it and he would ensure that those restraints were never placed upon her again. Chosen or not, she belonged to him; she belonged in the shadows with him, hunting, killing and mating for eternity, not as some slave to divine destiny.

The dark-eyed vampire stretched out beside the diminutive Slayer and propped his head up on his fist, content to watch her sleep.

She was so beautiful. So fucking beautiful. And now she was his. His. Not the soul's, but his, Angelus'. His mate. His beautiful, golden, deadly mate. Beautiful…and fragile.

Mortal.

He flinched slightly at the word, but grimly forced himself to face it: mortal.

That precarious state could not be allowed to continue for long. Demons and vampires alike came gunning for Slayers, simply for the bragging rights of having killed one. Hell, he himself had slaughtered a few in his day, as had his idiot grand-childe Spike - although, judging from the beating she had dealt the boy tonight, Spike would not be even attempting to bag this Slayer any time soon.

Mortality.

She needed to be transformed into an immortal soon, before some enterprising demon managed to succeed where all others had as yet failed and before the accursed Powers got her killed in their endless and pointless struggle against evil. The mere thought that her Slayer's lifespan, because of the inherent dangers of her calling, could only last for a few more years was unbearable. The very thought that the average Slayer's life ended at 18 or younger was intolerable; going by that math, she had less than a year left to her.

To turn her would be easiest, but she was right, he did not want to replace her with a possessing demon; he wanted Buffy. Only her. No demon, just transformed, immortal Buffy.

So how did one go about turning a mortal into an immortal - aside from the usual?

Immortality spells were uncertain and dangerous, quite often actually killing the individual seeking to be preserved…too risky.

Perhaps infecting her with another species of demon, something that's transmitted aspect would extend her life...but then the problem with so many demon species was that even if infection by them didn't contaminate a mortal with a possessing entity, the altered individual was often unable to control the new instincts, hungers and abilities that came along with the aspect. Ultimately many infected mortals went mad, unable to adapt to their new demonic nature.

Which brought him back around to the fact that turning her was probably the only way to successfully save her.

So it was all a matter of maintaining her soul.

But how did one seal a soul into a vampire's body? A hundred years ago, the Kalderash gypsies had done it to him, but their secrets were long since dead, lost with the deaths of their most powerful Clan Elders…and one day soon, he'd return to Europe and make sure that the rest of that damnable clan joined their forebears in forgotten graves.

Jenny Calendar had found the secret. She had been ready to use it upon him again before he had snapped her pretty neck; for the briefest of moments, Angelus regretted the death of the gypsy woman and the destruction of the curse. Then again, he reflected, the gypsies' spell held a loophole that could lead to unwanted repercussions, repercussions that although he was personally grateful for, he was not interested in repeating with his girl; there would be no happiness clause on her, no surprise demoness showing up to attend his party.

Angelus considered the problem carefully.

There had to be some spell. There had to be a way. There was always a way. Where there was a will, there was a way, and he was nothing if not willful. Perhaps a protection spell to prevent demon possession while the vampire virus transformed her body, but then there was still the matter of her soul. Without a soul or a possessing demon, a transformed body was a Revenant: a mindless beast that would attack anything and everything it came across, human, vampire or demon, it knew only the need to feed.

Until he solved the matter of soul, he could not transform her, and if he could not transform her, he ran the risk of losing her. And the thought of losing her caused an uncomfortable ball of tension to clench in his belly as he was assaulted by the vision of her laying broken on the ground, her green eyes filmed with death.

He growled softly, distressed by bloody visions of her possible demise.

Buffy frowned in her sleep, disturbed by his distress and shifted to curl against him. She wrapped her arm securely around him, her fingers stroking his back in a soothing motion. After a moment, his growls were replaced by soft deep-throated purrs and she smiled, falling back into the depths of her dreams.

Her demon watched her pensively.

~

It was the emptiness of her arms that signaled to her that something was wrong and she opened her eyes with a soft gasp. She was alone in her bed. Slowly she rolled to her side and sat up, holding the red sheets that had never before been on her bed tightly in her fists.

Angel? He had been here when she had gone to sleep hadn't he? Hadn't they just made love? Hadn't he told her he loved her? Or had he been holding her…begging her to kill him? She couldn't remember which.

Confused, and a little frightened, Buffy rolled out of her bed. The long silk nightgown she wore slipped down her legs to brush against the tops of her bare feet in a whispering, ticklish caress. She glanced at the white negligee, momentarily stunned at its elegant beauty and fingered the cool material: it looked like something a bride would wear on her wedding night. She owned nothing like this, where had it come from?

She shrugged, dismissing the beauty of the gown. She had to find Angel before something terrible happened to him. She walked across her bedroom, passing the vase of roses on her vanity.

"I love you," a bud whispered. "I try not to, but I do."

"Maybe we shouldn't," another rose murmured in a masculine tone.

Blood seeped down the long stem to the slowly rising pool at the bottom of the vase.

Unable to resist their beauty, the golden Slayer paused to inhale their intoxicating fragrance before she continued to her bedroom door.

She pushed the door open, revealing the dimly lit interior of the Bronze beyond; she stepped into the nightclub, not in the least surprised to find it on the other side of her bedroom door.

Buffy walked through the club, pushing into the crowd of coffee purchasing patrons as she searched desperately for a particular familiar and beloved face.

Angel.

In the background she could hear two violins being played at a wild tempo and the primal beat of a drum; it was odd music for the Bronze, but compelling and passionate.

The diminutive Slayer weaved through the crowd, craning her neck to see above the swarm of teenagers as she headed slowly toward the tables by the dance floor; she halted at a shocking sight.

Willow sat at one of the tables, a monkey in a red jacket again sitting on the table surface next to her, but she wasn't alone this time; this time Oz sat with her…as did Spike and Drusilla.

Buffy raised her brows uncertainly and approached the table. The monkey might have been unusual, but it was really the two vampires sharing the table that made the petite Slayer pause.

Willow and Oz were leaning together in a lover-like fashion, rubbing their noses in what Buffy remembered her mother once calling Eskimo kisses while the monkey appeared to be deeply involved with a box of animal crackers, pulling the little cookies out one at a time and devouring them briskly.

Drusilla, strangely enough, sat with a large bowl of fortune cookies in front of her; there was a pile of broken cookies and discarded fortunes on the floor beneath the table. Cookie after cookie was opened and the mad vampiress growled at the slip of paper she had pillaged from within before she dropped both to the floor, obviously displeased with the fortunes revealed.

Spike on the other hand, sat unmoving, with his arms crossed over his chest; he glared at a white cowboy hat that sat in front of him, his loathing for the item clear. He turned abruptly, facing Buffy with a resentful sneer. "I won't wear it," he growled. "I don't care about the whole enemy of my enemy is my friend bullshit, I won't wear it."

Drusilla patted him gently, if absently, on the arm. "The Mad Hatter gave it to you, my pet. When the music stops, you will wear it."

"Buffy," Willow chirped, with a gay little wave. "Angel veut danser avec toi."

Buffy raised her brows at the unintelligible babble that came from her best friend's lips. "Huh?"

Oz jerked his chin, indicating she should look behind her.

Curious, she turned.

The tall handsome man who had captured her heart walked slowly toward her and she smiled radiantly up at him. Her heart thundered in her chest as she allowed him to take her hand and lead her to the dance floor.

She twined her arms around his neck, pressing firmly to the hard length of his body. As they began to sway together, the wild pounding rhythm of the gypsy music slowed to a sad, almost bittersweet melody that made her eyes burn with unshed tears.

Angel wrapped one arm about her waist and clenched his fist in her hair, holding her tightly, almost desperately to him and Buffy rested her cheek against his shoulder as they danced, more content than she had been in months.

To their right, she could see a robed and hooded figure sitting alone at one of the tables, an alarm clock sitting next to a day planner and his foamed cappuccino. In his long, thin, bony hands he held a scythe, calmly sharpening the gleaming curved blade in graceful sweeping motions. Occasionally, the hooded head turned toward the alarm clock, before the inky shadows of that cowled face turned back toward them.

Buffy turned away from the chilled regard of the shadowy figure and pressed deeper into Angel's embrace. His arms were the only place in the world where she felt safe, sheltered from the dark storms of judgmental mothers eager to believe the worst of her, friends that demanded that she pretend to be happy and fearless for their comfort, and Watchers who watched her with embittered and disappointed eyes. His arms were the only place in the world where she felt truly loved…truly safe. This was bliss.


She sighed contentedly, turning slowly and following her lover's movements.

Angel.

Jenny Calendar and her Uncle, Enyos, watched the Slayer and her vampire lover with shrewd dark eyes, never hesitating over the notes they wrung from the violins they played; the melody had been set over a century before and now waited only for the harmony to give it full dimension. Behind the two sly gypsies, but still sharing the stage with them, Kendra beat a tall narrow drum, tapping her fingers and the heels of her palms against the percussion instrument.

Angel slowly released his grip on her hair, stoking his fingers through the tangled locks before he pulled one of her hands from around his neck and twined his fingers with hers, holding their laced hands against his silent heart. With a soft smile, he guided her into a graceful twirl and then back into the shelter of his embrace.

Buffy smiled dazzlingly up at him, her eyes brilliant with love.

"I believe this is my dance."

The couple paused slightly at the sound of that husky purr, their gazes shifting to the tall man standing next to them, Angel's expression resigned and Buffy's shocked.

Angelus smirked as he waited, every line of his features set in a mask of arrogant expectation.

Angel shifted his tender gaze from the woman he loved to stare loathingly at the demon he was ashamed of. His lips tightened with displeasure as he noted the covetous stare of his mirror image, but knowing he was unable to interfere, he gently pulled back from his lover.

"Angel?" Buffy asked uncertainly.

The ensouled vampire met the demon's burning gaze and growled threateningly.

The demon bared his teeth in a silent taunt.

The glow of happiness dimmed from Buffy's eyes as her lover abandoned her to Angelus' guiding embrace.

The tall demon folded her possessively into his arms and she followed his steps stiffly, awkwardly, the feel of his strong hands upon her making her nervous.

Jenny and her Uncle slowly increased the tempo of the music from the bittersweet lament to a compelling dervish. Angel stepped back and watched helplessly as his demon held his girl, guiding her gently, but firmly through the dance steps; her movements were stiff and reluctant, but his demon persevered until she slowly became more relaxed and more assured, abandoning herself to his guidance. They spun and whirled, a taunting - and teasing - give and take between them and he could see Buffy slowly becoming enraptured by the passionate and demanding movements of the dance.

Angel growled again, watching as his twin guided her into a submissive arch that bared her throat to the dark-eyed predator and then the demon bent to whisper softly in her ear.

"They say that a demon cannot love," Angelus uttered softly, "that we are incapable of it, but they're wrong. Come be my love, mo chroi. Let me prove it to you."

Buffy's shocked gaze flew up to meet the burning dark eyes of the demon who held her. Her cheeks flushed, and slowly, her shock faded to bemused wonderment. "Really?"

"Yes," Angelus answered.

Angel watched grimly and cursed under his unneeded breath as she allowed the demon to capture her tiny hand in his and press it to his silent heart.

"Maybe it won't be so bad," she whispered.

~

Willow hummed happily as she danced in Xander's arms. The night had held a number of revelations and she would have to say that they had all changed her life.

Revelation number one: Xander didn't love her as anything more than a friend, and never would, but considering his agenda with the girls he did claim to love, namely Cordelia and Buffy, he didn't really care for them either. So, Xander's love wasn't any prize to have.

Revelation number two: despite her long-standing relationship with dark-haired boy, she most assuredly did not want her first time to be with him. Xander couldn't seem to control the speed of his ejaculations and he had absolutely no finesse. Very discouraging. He needed a great deal more practice before she would even consider letting him cop a feel, much less have sex with her, if she ever did.

And as for her last realization, it was the one that made her feel the happiest: princesses, for all their innate cruelty and arrogance, were extraordinarily easy to break. A lot of pain and a lot of horror and even the haughtiest of princesses crumbled to nothing.

The redhead tilted her head back blissfully to stare at the ceiling when a couple of figures on the catwalk above caught her attention: Oz and Cordelia.

Oz. Perhaps Oz could help her deal with the problem of her virginity. She liked him. He was funny and sweet, and best of all, geek clothes or no, he liked her. Oz thought she was beautiful. Better than beautiful, Oz thought she was wonderful.

But then there was Cordelia. Cruel, vicious Cordelia who had, with her flunkies, spent the last ten years making Willow's life miserable.

It was time to return the favor. Now she would make Cordelia's life miserable, right up until the moment she killed her.

"I've found my next toy," Willow commented to her dance partner.

Xander glanced up to the catwalk, following her gaze to the fashionable brunette and the laid-back guitarist. He grinned as he admired his girlfriend's sleek figure and thought that the night had finally come when he would get to drink his fill of that figure without Cordelia slapping his hands away - not that she did that very often. "Glad to see that you'd no longer rather see me dead."

Willow turned her cool gaze to her childhood friend and considered her actions during the love spell that he had blackmailed the witch, Amy, into casting so he could get back queen bitch Cordelia who had dumped him prior to Valentine's Day. "Her dead is good enough," she drawled. For now, but that axe was starting to look pretty good again. "Let's play."

~

Buffy curled against his chest, her head bowed forward and her nose buried against his throat.

The dark-eyed vampire bent a little to inhale the sweet fragrance of her hair and trailed his fingertips wonderingly along the sleek lines of her body. He traced the curve of her shoulder, the dip of her waist and the inviting contours of her hip and butt; she was a veritable feast of silky cream and gold skin, her flesh nearly as sweet as her honeyed desire, and her feminine dew nearly as intoxicating as her powerful and ambrosial blood. And she was his.

Angelus purred contentedly. He twined a lock of her hair around his finger, bemused at his pleasure in the quietness of the moment. He wanted her…he always wanted her, but holding her pressed against him, as she slept trustingly in his arms, for the moment it was a pleasure in and of itself, and one that he didn't want to rush.

Love. The infection in him had grown worse as every day passed. His night could not properly begin until he had seen her, it could not properly end until he had, at the very least, heard her voice, and everything between sunset and sunrise was lessened without her presence to share it with. Her lips, her sighs, her kisses, her eyes, they fed his hunger and yet made it worse. Lovesick was what he was, and her his only cure.

Damned gypsies.

He, the Scourge of Europe had been brought low by love and a seventeen-year old girl.

She pressed more snugly against him, a warm, curvy bundle of feminine delight and then pressed a sleepy open-mouthed kiss to his chest.

…Maybe it wasn't so bad, he grudgingly admitted. It certainly hadn't felt bad when he'd been buried between her thighs and she'd been screaming his name in ecstasy.

He purred softly and wondered when the hell the delivery boy was going to get there; her stomach was continuing to growl softly. He wanted to refuel her lithe little body and then tire her out again…and again, and maybe again.

The sound of a door opening in the main room caught his attention, as did the scent of blood.

Drusilla had obviously danced her crimson dance and brought home a snack for Spike.

Angelus inhaled again and stiffened as he identified the other smells that accompanied the blood: Willow and Xander.

Perhaps Drusilla hadn't been pleased with 'Mummy's' disciplinary action and had decided to get herself a little bit of revenge. Not that Angelus had any objections to killing either Willow or Xander - especially Xander - but doing it right under the nose of the Slayer when her temper was so mercurial might not be the best of ideas; if Drusilla wasn't careful, his minions could be sweeping up her ashes before Angelus was able to stop his golden mate from punishing his childe.

The dark-eyed vampire gently disengaged himself from his warm lover and slid out of bed. He dressed quickly in his leather pants and glanced back at his sleeping beauty; certain that she was still deeply enough asleep for him to deal with the mess before she awoke, the Master Vampire exited his bedroom and went out to deal with his maddened childe.

Drusilla, despite being covered in the scents of the Slayer's best friends was not carrying the two annoyances under her arms. Instead of the dark-haired boy and the redhead, she carried two half-naked and bloody women.

From the sounds of their heartbeats they were still alive, although they were each somewhat paler than their California tans allowed, doubtless from some blood loss. Both sets of eyes were open and blank, the vacant stares of torture victims that had been pushed too quickly past their limits and who would be unlikely to ever return from wherever it was in their minds they had gone. Most intriguing of all, these tortured broken girls beneath Drusilla's arms stank of terror, of pain, of sex and of Willow and Xander, most especially Xander.

"Dru," Angelus purred. "Where did you get the midnight snacks?"

The brunette smiled at her sire. "The Red Queen and the White Knight said I could have the oysters. Their tea cups had already broken and they were done with the party."

"Really?" Angelus stalked closer to the vampiress and her two captives. He inhaled slightly: definitely Xander and Willow. "That was nice of them."

So…whatever had happened to free Buffy from her moral inhibitions had also freed the bobsy twins…intriguing.

"Go," he murmured. "Feed Spike. You'll both need several kills to heal from the damage you took tonight and you know I hate taking care of you."

Drusilla whined softly, hanging her head in shame. "Yes, Angel."

Angelus watched her carry the two women into the bedroom she shared with Spike, her lower lip stuck out in a pout as she cast beseeching glances over her shoulder at him. Interesting. Buffy not only allowed him to kill in front of her, but she also came to his lair to deliver another kill to him personally. And Willow and Xander were out raping and torturing girls. Just what had occurred today?

A soft knock at the door of the factory caught his attention and Angelus stalked over to open the door. Before the delivery boy could even get out a demand for payment, Angelus closed one hand over the bag of food and the other around the boy's neck; he pulled both into the Factory, before kicking the door shut.

The boy choked and grasped weakly at the vampire's hand, digging his short nails into Angelus' skin, but despite his struggles, he could not break the tall predator's grasp.

Angelus kicked open the door to Spike and Drusilla's bedroom, revealing the brunette vampire holding one of the half-naked victims over Spike's broken jaw; as blood trickled into his open mouth, Drusilla gently stroked his throat, forcing him to swallow.

"There, there, my pet. Mommy has just what you need."

"Here's another Dru," Angelus shoved the boy back into the wall, cracking his head loudly against the hard surface; the boy dropped to the floor without another whimper. "Thank you, Daddy."

Angelus nodded tersely and began to pull the door shut. He paused. "Drop the bodies in the sewers. I don't want the police tracking these kills to the Slayer's friends and from them track the Slayer. I want them all immersed in sewage, understand?"

Drusilla nodded obediently.

"Good." He closed the door and returned swiftly back to his own room. He had much more pleasant things to be thinking about than bodies and sewers.

Angelus closed his bedroom door and walked over to his sleeping lover. He set the bag down on the floor and sat on the bed, leaning over her. He stroked the fall of her hair gently and then trailed a finger over the pouty bottom of her passion-swollen lips. "Wakey, wakey, lover," he purred.

Buffy inhaled deeply and slowly stretched, fluttering her eyes open to look at the angelically featured demon that loomed over her. "I was dreaming about you," she murmured, her voice husky with sleep.

"A good dream?" he asked teasingly.

She smiled and reached out for him, twining her arms around his neck to pull him down to her lips. "We were dancing," she purred, kissing him hungrily. "To violins and drums. It was…primitive."

Angelus chuckled softly and kissed her, parting her lips to tangle his tongue with hers for several heated moments. "You know that dancing is just a euphemism for sex, don't you?"

Buffy stared up at him, her green eyes dancing with amusement. "So dancing means sex, and fighting is foreplay. Is there anything that doesn't mean sex to you?"

The dark-eyed demon considered her question carefully and then answered her in a serious tone. "Chaos demons. Antlers. Slime. Not pretty."

She laughed in delight and sat up into his embrace. "Right. Antlers are a turn off. Got it. Horns too? Or just antlers?"

"Antlers and slime. Definitely. And on that note," he kissed her soft lips lingeringly. "Food has arrived."

Hearing its demands about to be met, her stomach let out a loud grumble. Buffy poked her belly with annoyance. "You better hurry up and give it to me before my stomach decides to crawl out of me and fend for itself."

They both paused as a mental image of her stomach doing that very thing filled their minds.

"Gross," she muttered.

Angelus nodded and scooped up the bag filled with her dinner, setting it on her lap.

Buffy delved greedily into the bag for the food cartons and was pleased to pull out a can of Diet Pepsi along with her dinner. "You think of everything," she praised. She eyed the food cartons before her, opening them and inhaling the steaming dishes within. "Yum."

"Your friends have been quite busy this evening," he informed her, watching in amusement as with little care for her nudity, she tore into the food.

"What do you mean?" she asked curiously.

"I mean that Dru came back a little while ago with a couple of girls who'd clearly been raped and tortured a bit. And whose scents should be all over them but your best friends,

Xander and Willow. Amusing isn't? For all of his sanctimonious ranting about what monsters and murderers vampires are, at heart he's little better." Angelus chuckled softly at the irony of it. "But," he sneered, "he has no finesse…no artistry. He's a garden variety thug."

Buffy snorted in derision and quickly devoured an egg roll, licking the crumbs from her fingers. "Did you say thug? Or slug?"

Angelus cocked his head to the side and observed his Slayer carefully. "You don't seem surprised by this," he commented musingly.

"Hardly," the diminutive Slayer sneered. "Let's just say that Xander Harris having to force someone to have sex with him is no great shocker. In fact it's probably the only way he could get a woman to touch him."

"Hmm. You sound very knowledgeable with that opinion." He leaned forward and dabbed a napkin against the corner of her pink lips. "Did he ever try anything with you?" his tone was very casual.

Although Harris raping two unknown girls was mildly amusing, especially considering the boy's self-righteous attitude, if the mongrel had ever dared to lay an intimate finger on Buffy, Angelus would have little choice but to make Xander pay for it, in every bloody currency he could devise.

Buffy glanced at him and raised her brows archly. "Are you asking me if I've cheated on you with that creep?"

Angelus caught her chin in his hand and rubbed his thumb over her jaw line. "No baby," he purred. "I'd be able to smell if you had. And I know you'd never betray me - much less with that mongrel. I believe what I asked was if he'd ever tried to force himself on you."

The golden haired beauty pulled her chin from his grasp. "Yeah," she drawled. "A couple of times; once last year when he was souped up on uber-hyena mojo and earlier tonight. And I kicked his ass each time. So don't get all beat your chest, knuckle-dragging primitive with me. I can take care of myself."

The Master Vampire narrowed his gaze, wondering why he had ever decided that he liked her biting sarcasm. Mouthy women. A modern wonder that at times left a man longing for the good old days, when women knew their place. Then again, simpering non-mouthy women were boring, so what was a man to do but bear up under the strain of it all? "It is my pleasure to protect you. And kill whatever and whomever threatens you."

"Protect me? You? Yeah," she chuckled. "When you're not trying to kick my ass yourself."

He eyed the rounded bit of anatomy with some proprietary interest. "It is a nice ass. Perhaps in need of some periodic discipline."

Buffy cast him an arch look. "Don't even try it. And as for things threatening me, Xander Harris is not one of them. He's an annoyance. Don't give him a second thought, lover. I don't."

She wiped out the rest of the egg rolls in short order, clearly signaling her preference to close a subject that no longer interested her. After the egg rolls, she devoured the steamed vegetables just as quickly.

Angelus watched her with a narrowed gaze. In deference to her pride and temper, for the time being, he would not seek out the pup, but if Xander ever came within his line of sight, he would re-explore his earlier notion of slitting him open, eviscerating him and keeping him alive while he skinned him….Perhaps a pair of genuine Xander Harris leather boots were in his future…On the other hand, there were demon brothels that catered to demons with a taste for…human flesh; perhaps turning Xander over to be sodomized by the various and sundry minions of hell on a nightly basis would be apropos as well…

In the mean time, he had a warm and willing woman who loved him in his bed; bloodletting - fun as it was - could wait for later…as could dealing with Harris.

"You were very hungry," he observed.

Buffy grinned up at him charmingly, pleased that the other subject had been dropped. "Starved. I've had a busy night. Built up quite an appetite."

He stroked his fingers through her hair and caressed the nape of her neck; she shivered. "Better eat it all," he advised her huskily, watching her pink nipples. "The night's not over."

She ate dexterously with the chopsticks, quickly assuaging the hollowness in her belly. She definitely had things she'd rather be doing than eating, but after the Grimlocke, Spike, Drusilla and then the wild exertions with Angelus, she couldn't pass up any of the delicious dishes her demon had gotten for her.

How could her life have changed from abject despair to perfect bliss so quickly?

Buffy halted mid-bite as realization settled upon her and her appetite fled before her dread that her bliss could be taken away as quickly as it had been granted.

"What is it?" Angelus asked, seeing the frown that had come across her face so suddenly.

"I'm under a spell," she stated softly, dropping the chopsticks into the box and setting the food aside. "That's why I'm different tonight. I'm under some sort of spell."

A spell? That would certainly explain things. It would, in fact, explain a great many things, but did that mean that the spell could suddenly end? That she could return once more to his reluctant and sad-eyed, not-going-out-with-him girlfriend.

"What spell?" Angelus growled softly.

"I'm not sure. Something…not good. I know - Giles told me that the demon you killed for me, the Grimlocke thingies strangle people, good people from a distance."

"Yes," the dark-eyed vampire nodded. That was why he'd killed the bald demon when he'd come across it the night before; there was no way his young Slayer could possibly survive an encounter, much less kill one of the Grimlockes herself. She wouldn't even be able to get within twelve feet before the Grimlocke choked the life out of her

"I killed one tonight," she whispered softly.

"A Grimlocke?" he asked incredulously.

Buffy nodded. "It bragged about how it was going to kill me slow. Said I was unworthy - riddled with corruption. Then it pointed at me and nothing happened."

"Nothing?" he repeated.

"Nothing. He looked surprised and frustrated. We fought - he was pretty good, but I ripped his head clean off of his shoulders with my bare hands. I'm not," she hesitated as she looked at him. "I'm not good anymore. Am I?"

Angelus paused to think over her question carefully. He considered the facts: she had let him kill without even making the slightest attempt to rescue his victim; she had arrived at his lair and beaten his progeny, but made no attempt to stake them; she had slit a man's throat to give him blood as a token of her affections; and she willingly, even joyfully shared his bed, proclaiming her love for him without hesitation or inhibition. Granted this was what he had wanted, but these were not signs of a good Slayer.

"No," he replied. "If you were, the Grimlocke would have killed you and there would've been nothing you could've done to stop it."

~

Willow staggered slightly, bumping into her brown-haired boyfriend as he returned from fetching a cup of coffee.

"Oz?" she asked in a shaky tone.

"Willow!" he exclaimed, automatically curving a supporting arm around her. "Are you okay? We've been so worried."

The wily redhead leaned heavily against him, playing up her non-existent weakness and resting her head against his shoulder as she tracked Xander's progress with Cordelia. "I don't feel so good," she whined,

"Right. That's - that's the toxins. Sit down." He guided her to an empty chair and helped her into it, pressing the backs of his fingers against her forehead. "Stay right here. I'm going to get you some water to drink. It'll dilute the poisons and then we'll go to the hospital."

Willow nodded weakly, smiling as he headed hurriedly back to the bar. What a sweet guy. So worried about her welfare. Loving the unappreciative and oblivious Xander Harris was like a bad habit and the more she thought of the enigmatic guitarist, the more she realized she wanted to break that habit…and then maybe the boy too.

She could see Xander pulling Cordelia toward the exit. She didn't know what lie he had told the May Queen, but she'd undoubtedly fallen for it, hook, line and sinker.

Willow stood up and quickly followed, leaving Oz and his tender concern behind. It was time to break another princess and she wanted to really get creative with this one: Cordelia had a lot to pay for.

~

Xander tugged Cordelia insistently behind him. "Hurry up," he urged her. "Giles needs our help."

"You saw Giles?" the May Queen asked excitedly. "Did he cure you? Are you still possessed?"

"Yes, yes and no," he lied, opening the door that led out of the club. He stepped forward and halted abruptly, shocked at the sight of the Watcher on the other side of the door, about to open it himself and come in.

Giles recovered before either teen and swiftly blew a handful of baking powder into the dark-haired boy's face. "Dis-pel-ler-e."

Xander coughed, his eyes watering as he and Cordelia stepped completely out of the Bronze and into the shadowed street with the Watcher, allowing the door to swing shut behind them.

"Xander?" Giles asked. "Are you alright?"

Xander stared at the Englishman, his mind flashing through everything that had happened since he'd read that card: from attempting to rape Buffy in the bathroom, to the two rapes he had committed in the cemetery and then to what he had planned to do with Cordelia.

Nausea knocked him to his knees and he didn't know if it was what he had done or something he'd eaten, but he felt more ill than he ever had in his life. He vomited against the building, spilling out everything inside him in painful, gasping heaves.

"Eww," Cordelia muttered, dancing away from the splash of bile.

"It's alright, Xander," Giles comforted him. "Don't fight it. This is just a side effect of the spell you've been under. Once the nausea passes, you should be as good as new."

Xander closed his eyes and ears against the sound of his own retching, but he couldn't close his ears against the echoes that screamed in his skull.

A girl writhing beneath him, weeping and sobbing as he shoved into her unwilling body, and the more he hurt her the better it felt.

Oh, God. What had he done?

Willow pushed open the door and stepped out into the chill night air. She glanced up the street in the direction Xander was supposed to be walking, but saw no sign of her childhood friend or the self-absorbed cheerleader.

With a sigh of impatience, the redheaded hacker turned to check the other way; he had better not be planning to kill Queen C all on his own. She had big plans for that vicious tongued bitch.

She took a step back in surprise as her revolution brought her nose-to-nose with Giles.

"Dis-pel-ler-e," Giles intoned, blowing the powder into her face.

Willow staggered back and coughed spasmodically.

"Willow, dear," Giles murmured. "Are you alright?"

She panted for air for a few seconds and then dropped to her knees before him and spilled the contents of her stomach onto his shoes.

~

"Evil," Buffy murmured thoughtfully. "It doesn't…feel bad," she said with an air of wonderment. "Being bad…it actually feels pretty good. Liberating."

Angelus grinned, pleased with her conclusions. As long as she was happier being wicked than she ever had been being good, she would be amenable to making sure this spell lasted forever; she would be amenable to staying with him forever. He caught hold of her wrists, rubbing his thumbs soothingly over her pulse points. "What else can you tell me about this spell, baby?"

She frowned thoughtfully, tracking her emotional freedom back to the beginning, back to the moment she threw off her divine chains. "I think it was the smoke," she said thoughtfully.

"Smoke?"

"Xander opened a note for Giles and this yellow smoke exploded in our faces. Smelled terrible, like rotten eggs. Ever since…then…I've felt…free."

The dark-eyed vampire cradled her face in his palms, meeting her gaze intently. "Think carefully. Who was the note from? Did you see?"

"Yeah," she snorted in disgust. "It was that creep, Ethan Rayne."

"The one who nearly got you killed by Spike on Halloween and then again with that sleep demon?"

"Got it in one. Yep. Him. And you know something," she muttered. "I'm getting pretty tired of good old Ethan blowing into town, raising a bit of hell and blowing back out - Not that this experience has been bad," she added quickly. "Actually, as nefarious evil plots go, this one's been pretty cool."

Considering that it had landed her back in his arms and into his bed, he had to agree with that assessment. On the other hand, what magic had in one evening given him, it could, just as swiftly and just as unexpectedly, take away in the next.

Angelus considered things carefully, drawing on his previous experiences with spell- craft. Once magic like this was placed in motion, it typically required a counter-spell or a potion to counteract its effects, otherwise the magicks in motion stayed in motion; the spell would not wear off.

His wicked love would remain with him and he would not lose her to either her guilt or her morality. Relieved that one worry could be dismissed, he clutched his golden girl to his chest and grabbed a fistful of her hair to angle her lips for his kiss.

"It's alright, my love," he growled against her lips. "It won't wear off. It will need an antidote." He kissed her hungrily, but with a soft tenderness that was very new to him; she was precious, so very precious.

But no sooner had the relief from one problem, namely the wearing off of the spell, set in, than it dissipated as he remembered his other pressing concern: her mortality. He could still lose her.

With one fist still clenched in her tangled hair, he cradled her jaw with his left hand and devoured her mouth, sliding his tongue in to tangle with hers.

Buffy arched pliantly beneath his hands, meeting his hunger with her own and when he tipped her backward on to the rumpled sheets, she clutched his shoulders, pulling his weight down on top of her.

"Good," she sighed blissfully. "I don't want to go back."

The diminutive Slayer bared her neck for her vampire lover, gasping slightly at the pleasure of his cool kisses and the gentle nips he trailed over her soft skin. He continued on his sensual journey, over her collarbone and down, tantalizingly close to her already aching breasts; he nipped and suckled, avoiding the stiffened peaks as he teased her.

Buffy gasped arching beneath him, her eyes fluttering shut, then they snapped open abruptly. "Giles," she gasped.

Angelus reared back, in affront. "What did you say?" he growled.

"Not like that," she hissed impatiently, pushing him back off of her. "Giles will find the antidote. He'll find it, if he hasn't already, and he'll come for me. He'll come for me and make me go back."

"No," he growled. "That won't happen."

"He will," she insisted. "I want to leave Sunnydale," she demanded abruptly. "Tonight. And I don't ever want to come back."

~

Giles stared down at the children's miserable faces; they were pale and shaking, their lips moist from the saliva and bile they kept spitting to the side. Silent tears crept like scars down Willow's face and Xander stared blankly ahead, his lips pressed into a hard line.

They leaned against the side of the building, too weak to stand and seeing no point in moving away from their gastric rejections since it was obvious from their periodic retches that they weren't finished.

"Are you alright now?" Giles asked softly, concerned about the haunted look in Willow's eyes.

She nodded jerkily, sniffling. "What happened to us?"

Giles knelt in front of the young hacker, his blue gaze filled with compassion. "You were infected by the Umbra Labes, a magical powder that brings out the evil hidden within."

Willow flinched. That evil…that cruelty was hidden inside of her? She twisted to the side and vomited again, the spasms in her belly making her feel as though she were being turned inside out.

"What happened?" the pale-haired Watcher asked compassionately.

Evil within. Everyone has a monster hidden inside. Within. Inside.

"Nothing," Xander snapped, turning his gaze to his best friend; two girls screamed between them, two additional statistics that a murderous town like Sunnydale would probably not even notice. "We don't remember anything."

Giles glanced at the boy in careful consideration. He remembered another time Xander had claimed amnesia in order to avoid dealing with the ramifications of his actions - coerced or no. Then, he had agreed to keep the boy's secret, giving him his tacit approval of both the lie and the shirking of his responsibility at facing his own inner beast. Evil didn't create its own agendas; it worked with what was already at hand. Was this yet another incident when Xander would rather sweep it under the rug and pretend nothing had happened rather than deal with the fact that, like every member of the human race, he had an ugly seed of evil within him?

"Willow?"

The red haired hacker swallowed. "I think I'm going to be sick again."

The staid Watcher dodged nimbly before another gastric deposit was made onto his shoes.

"Maybe we should get them to the hospital," Oz commented, not liking his girlfriend's color.

"Yes," Giles nodded. "Yes. That's an excellent idea. Oz, you take them. Cordelia and I will search for Buffy."

Cordelia glanced up from where she knelt at Xander's side. "Ex-cuse me? Why am I relegated to searching for freak-girl - who's probably off getting groiny with her psychotic ex- boyfriend - instead of taking Willow and Xander to the hospi - Eeww!"

In the middle of her diatribe, Xander hunched over helplessly and retched weakly.

"You're right," Oz said agreeably. "You can drive my van down to the hospital and handle any messes."

"No. That's okay," Cordelia denied quickly, stepping away from her currently disgusting boyfriend. "You can do it. I'd be really uncomfortable - driving on the wrong side and all those blind spots. Giles and I can search for Buffy."

"Well, if you're sure?" Oz asked with dry mockery.

Giles hid a smile behind his hand and cleared his throat.

"Quite sure," the May Queen snapped.

The three of them gathered the two wretchedly ill teens and helped them slowly into Oz's black and white striped van.

The brown-haired guitarist swung an empty trashcan into the van as well, settling the empty metal container between them. "Here. No offense."

~

Buffy stroked her fingers over Angelus' lips and then leaned against him. "We should go now, " she whispered anxiously. "We can be out of here and long gone before sunrise and he'll never find us or catch up to us then."

He cradled her against his chest, stroking the silky skin of her back. "Be easier to just kill him," he suggested in a soft rumble.

If she thought it would help, if she thought it would protect the new life she was building for herself, she would kill her Watcher in a heartbeat, but she knew that Giles was only the tip, figuratively speaking, of the iceberg.

"Guess it all depends on just what you call easier," she contradicted, "one Watcher or a council appointed hit squad."

"Hit squad?"

"Yep. I found it in one of Giles' musty old journals when I was looking up," she glanced up at him and flushed, "something. Anyways, when a slayer goes rogue, the Council sends a hit squad after her and takes her out. At least with Giles we've got a devil you know thing."

"Unless he tells them," Angelus commented.

"No," she shook her head, her mind racing through the possibilities. "If he tells them, it's back to scenario one, with the Terminator goon squad on the way but I don't think Giles will give up on me quite so quickly, not if he's got an antidote."

"I won't let him give it to you," the demon growled.

"And you preventing it all depends on just what the antidote is," she argued. "If he can cure me in a matter of seconds, next thing you know I'll be all sweetness and light again, protecting him. And just like that, we'll have lost."

"It won't be like that," he stated.

"No?" she demanded. "We won't go back to only seeing each other when I'm supposed to kill you? When I'm supposed to shove a stake through your heart? We won't go back to me barring you from my house and bed? Not talking, not being with each other. I don't want it to be like that again. I hated it. I hated every minute of it. I hated everyone telling me to kill you. I hated you being with Dru and Spike again and not with me. I hated my mother making me feel ashamed for being with you. And I hated my so-called friends offering me pity even as they're trying to get me to date somebody else, cause of course if I'm dating somebody else, I won't mind shoving a sharp stick into your chest so much."

"Shh," he caught hold of her and held her to him, stroking her hair soothingly, trying to calm her.

She listened to the silence of his heart, allowing his stillness to soothe her. "I don't want to leave you," she breathed. "And I don't want to be taken either. Please, we should go. Running is our best option now; Sunnydale is too small to hide in."

Angelus tugged her hair, tilting her head back to look into the green of her eyes. The fates had smiled upon him and delivered his golden beauty back into his arms; he would not spurn their gift by ignoring the danger the Watcher could pose.

He considered the amount of time it would take to pack up the bare essentials of his household: clothing, the few mementos he'd kept over the centuries and then there were the more cumbersome components of his household. "Dru and Spike aren't strong enough to travel and they're too weak to be left here alone."

The diminutive beauty shoved away from him angrily, rising from the bed. She stalked several paces away and then whirled back to glower at him. "You care more about those damn parasites than you do me!" she accused half-hysterically. "In case you've forgotten, just a couple of months ago Spike tried to kill you. He tried to suck you dry of all your power just to cure that pathetic looney he calls his consort."

The dark-eyed demon growled warningly. "That was Angel that happened to."

"And what? You weren't sitting in there as well? Bleeding out? Dying? Just leave them! If they can't survive on their own, tough! Or put them in the fucking trunk!" She paused to breathe deeply, trying to control her impending dread, after a moment, she continued more calmly. "Giles - and the others - they won't just leave me with you. Kill or cure, they can't afford to have a Slayer allied with the Scourge of Europe. We have to go now. Tonight. Any later is too late." She clenched her small hands into fists, her green gaze intent. "Angelus, I won't allow myself to love you, if I am cured."

Angelus stood up and paced to her, catching her shoulders and pulling her roughly to him. "I won't lose you," he vowed.

She clutched him tightly, digging her nails into his back and pressed her face hard against his bare chest. Her breaths fell across his cool skin, warming the flesh above his still heart and she rested her forehead momentarily against his skin, before slowly tilting her head back to look up at him.

He cradled her face in his palms and gently stroked the bones of her cheeks with his thumbs. "We'll be fine," he reassured her. "Get dressed. I'll send a few minions to keep Giles occupied; he'll be so busy with them, he won't have time to interfere with us. And while he's busy, we'll take Spike's car and blow town."

The tall vampire rested his forehead against hers for a moment and Buffy drew comfort from his confidence.

After a moment, she drew back and smiled up at her dark lover with a renewed sense of calm.

They would be fine. Without her there to protect him, Giles would have a hard time taking on two minions, so there was no need to panic and no need to run from her home with only the clothes on her back.

"Now get dressed," he ordered with a light smack to her posterior. "I'll send out a couple of my men to deal with Giles now."

The languid hours of lovemaking were set aside as the predatory duo moved to the more immediate issue of escape. As Angelus exited the bedroom, Buffy quickly slipped into the wrinkled clothes that had somehow managed to survive their passionate encounter of a couple of hours ago. She had barely pulled the black camisole back over her head before her tall lover re-entered the room with a self-satisfied smirk.

"No worries," he reassured her again, and confident in his abilities and his judgment, Buffy, had none.

Angelus packed a bag briskly, wincing as his clothes were crushed in his hurry. "We'll head straight for L.A.," he informed her. "We'll be in a hotel before dawn and in a couple of nights, we'll look for a new lair. We'll disappear into the city while I figure out how to make you immortal."

"Straight for LA? Hello? Some of us needing a few changes of clothing of our own here."

The tall vampire smirked at her wrinkled, but still intact clothing. "I'll buy you a new wardrobe in LA."

Buffy planted her hands on her hips. "That's nice, really, but I since Giles is going to be well occupied, I have a few things at home I want to grab." Several things actually: clothes, weapons, jewelry, and Mr. Gordo.

"Like what?"

"Stuff," she said indignantly. "Not much, just a couple of things. And if I should happen to grab a couple of changes of clothing until my new wardrobe materializes, more power to me - did you say you'd buy me a new wardrobe?"

Angelus zipped his bag shut. "I did."

"Buy?" she repeated in bemused shock. "Is this one of those 'I've put a little away for a very long time' things and all this time you've been like frighteningly rich?"

Her dark-eyed demon glanced at her and lifted his brows with ironic amusement. "Quite wealthy, but I wanted to make sure you loved me for myself."

"Uh-huh," Buffy commented. "Well, fooled you," she muttered proudly. "I…knew you were rich all along."

Angelus chuckled and swept her into his arms to kiss her. "Did you? Fine, you want me for my money, I'll find some way to live with it," he conceded mockingly.

"And your body," she added grudgingly.

"Right," he drawled indulgently. She loved him; he knew it without a doubt. He had experienced it in her embrace and tasted it in her blood. Love without doubt…what a fascinating concept.

"So, in this new lair, and with my new wardrobe, just how much room am I going to have with a clothes-horse like you?"

Angelus nuzzled her lips, growling softly as his hunger for her lithe, sweet body began to grow again. "I'll give you a drawer or two," he promised. "And a mirror."

"Don't go all out on my account," she teased.

He smirked wickedly. Of course he went all out on her account; he always did. He took her lips, sweeping his tongue in to tangle with hers, pressing her tightly against his growing arousal and she arched against him, twining her arms around his neck. He swept his hands down the length of her spine to her bottom and then slid them under her skirt to caress her naked flesh.

Buffy gasped, her insides already turning warm and liquid to accept him within her. She sharply nipped his lip and smiled up into his leering smirk. "We have to go," she said regretfully. "Sex later," she promised.

"Damn right later," Angelus muttered, reluctantly releasing her from his embrace. Leaving his lair now, when there were so many things he would rather be doing with her was annoying to be sure, but it would be more than annoying to have her grim-faced Watcher burst in on them together in bed and hit her with and much undesired antidote.

They would be on the road in less than fifteen minutes and in a little more than two hours, they could disappear into the population of Los Angeles, safe from her enterprising Watcher, her nosy friends and that unwanted antidote.

The tall vampire escorted her out of his bedroom.

Buffy walked quickly over to the dining table, to the chair that had contained so many of their earlier amorous activities and she slipped into the socks and boots that he had earlier slipped off of her feet.

"Ready?" Angelus asked.

She glanced up at him with a teasing smirk and stood up. "And willing."

He growled softly, deeply inhaling the feminine musk that told him that despite her teasing smile, she wasn't lying about the state of her body. If anything, the sound of his growl increased the scent of her desire.

"Stop that," she scolded, pressing her thighs tightly together.

The dark-eyed demon smirked. "You started it lover. I'm just playing along."

"I started it? Who grabbed whose butt here?"

Angelus cocked his head and arched a brow at her as she approached him. "You could have copped a feel baby, I wouldn't have objected."

"Yeah, and then we wouldn't escape but be caught in bed by my Watcher. Thanks but no thanks, sex can wait until we're safe. Now you want to get your tagalongs or can we leave without them?"

He tapped her nose lightly, a soft rebuke. "Behave."

"You first," she purred.

The tall demon growled again, smirking at her body's response to him and then shoved open the door to Spike and Drusilla's bedroom, revealing the burnt husk of a chamber. Other than the vampires, the only thing within the darkened chamber that had survived the fire was the steel frame of their four-poster bed, the rest of the furniture had burnt down to blackened sticks and most of the porcelain faces of Drusilla's dolls had cracked from the heat.

Spike lay motionless on the new lacey coverlet that was spread over the bed, his face still misshapen and his body still obviously broken from his and Buffy's earlier altercation. Drusilla cuddled against his side and crooned softly to her unconscious mate. She looked up warily as her sire and the Slayer pushed open the door and leaned against the doorframe.

"Daddy," the dark haired vampiress whined, "my little lamb is broken."

"He'll be fine Dru," Angelus murmured.

"Did you teach her the daddy thing or did she pick that up on her own?" Buffy asked sarcastically.

The dark-eyed vampire shot her an irritated look and the diminutive Slayer raised her palms in mute surrender before looking away from his childer with a moue of silent disgust. She saw no reason to drag the broken vampires with them, but would not push since Angelus seemed to be unwilling to break his familial bonds as yet. She could only hope that his attachment to the annoying pair was based more in familiarity than true affection.

"Dru, get Spike's chair, no doubt in his current condition he's going to need it for awhile more." The tall predator cast another irritated glance at his mate.

"What?" Buffy asked innocently. "I came to beat up Dru. He started it. He could have just stayed in his chair playing possum and I might never have touched him, but oh no, Spikey wanted to fight. So it was his own fault he got his ass kicked." She glanced at the misshapen and swollen features of his sharp-boned face. "I only broke him a little."

Angelus grunted and stalked over to the bed; broke him a little? Spike would be lucky if he could walk within the month.

Buffy watched as the dark-eyed demon lifted Spike up in his arms, cradling the younger vampire in a way that was almost tender; it didn't bode well for ditching the moron twins any time soon. Not that she really had any great objection to Spike; aside from trying to kill her a couple of times, the bleach-haired vampire was actually kind of fun. It was Drusilla rubbing all over her lover like a bitch in heat that Buffy objected to.

"Grab your things Dru," Angelus instructed. "We're leaving Sunnydale tonight."

Drusilla shifted her dark blue gaze from her sire to the Slayer and back again. "Is the party over then?"

"It is here."

He turned and walked out of the bedroom and Buffy walked at his side.

The brunette vampiress snatched up Spike's black duster and trailed in her sire's and his mate's wake. She grabbed hold of the abandoned wheelchair as she walked, following Angelus outside of their burnt lair and to the beat-up old Desoto she and Spike had arrived in town in so many months ago.

Buffy opened the trunk and watched in silence as Drusilla folded Spike's wheelchair and slid it into the large compartment.

After putting the wheelchair into the trunk, Drusilla opened a back passenger door and waited for Angelus to slide Spike into the back seat. To her surprise, her sire leaned down and gently tucked Spike into the trunk along with his wheelchair.

"Daddy?"

"Spike's too broken to risk being seen in public," the tall vampire informed her.

The brunette vampiress rocked from side to side, her blue gaze focused on her injured mate. "But if my lamb wakes up alone in the trunk he'll be confused and disoriented."

Angelus smiled coldly at his maddened offspring. "That's a good point, Dru. Which is why you'll both be traveling in the trunk."

She whined sadly, pitifully even, but wilted beneath her sire's stern stare and then crawled into the trunk with her broken lover.

Buffy closed the trunk and smiled up at her tall lover. "Alone at last," she drawled, trailing her fingertips over the hardened muscles of his chest.

Angelus curved his hand around his golden girl's nape and drew her in for a brief hungry kiss. "Get in the car. You keep teasing me like this and you're going to find yourself bent over the hood and me pounding away between your pretty thighs."

She grinned up at him. "You sweet-talker you."

He chuckled throatily and kissed her again before giving her a shove to the other side of the car.

Moments later, they were settled in the dirty, cigarette smelling car and ready to go; unfortunately, the car was not.

"Fuck," he growled.

"What is it?"

"Sounds like the battery." The master vampire swung out of the car and snapped his fingers imperiously, summoning a shrinking minion from the shadows of the building. "You."

Stewart approached his master with downcast eyes and hunched shoulders. He cast nervous glances at Angelus and then more nervous glances at the golden predator that swung out of the parked vehicle to lounge next to her mate.

"Master?"

"Battery is dead. Get a new battery. Fix this car. I want you and…Ray to take Spike and Drusilla to LA. to the Artzeche. We'll find alternate transportation and meet you there."

Stewart stared at the dead car and then at the Master Vampire. "Master, all of the auto shops are closed-"

"Are you arguing with me?" Angelus snarled at the string-haired henchman.

"No, of-of-of course not master!"

Buffy watched the altercation with sneering amusement. It was simply amazing how the other vampires in town slunk around her lover, with their figurative tails between their legs, like they were all whipped dogs.

"I suggest," Angelus rumbled threateningly "that you find a match from a parked car somewhere in this sleepy little town. And you'd best do it quick, because you will be in L.A. before sunrise, is that clear?"

"Yes, Master."

"You want your bag?" Buffy asked. "We may get in too late for you to grab it from them before bed time."

"It'll be fine. Let's get moving baby." Angelus held out his hand and laced her fingers with his.

Stewart and Ray watched with fearful and near-worshipful gazes as their Master walked away, hand in hand with his lover, the Slayer. No Slayer had ever been turned to shadow before, but their sire's sire's sire had done it. It was only a matter of time before she was one of them.

~

Giles ground his teeth together in an effort not to lose his temper on the drive back to the Sunnydale High library; Cordelia complained non-stop, prattling on and on about Xander's treatment of her, his earlier attentiveness to Willow and then about each and every physical flaw that she perceived the red-haired girl possessed that made her in every way less than Cordelia Chase and therefore, unworthy.

He rather wished that Oz had accompanied him instead of the shallow and self-absorbed brunette, but Willow and Xander had been too ill from the toxins of the potion to chance Cordelia being unable to drive the guitarist's van.

"And can you believe that shirt Willow was wearing?" Cordelia continued to complain. "Can we say sluttish?"

Giles paused; truthfully it hadn't looked any more revealing than any number of the low cut items he'd seen the brunette cheerleader parading around school in.

"I mean, puh-lease. Know your limitations I say."

In his opinion, Cordelia tended to say too bloody much.

"And that slit in her skirt! Anyone could tell she'd ripped it higher. How trampy can you get?"

The annoyed Watcher prayed for some silence in which to think. He needed to plan their strategy for the upcoming battle; he needed a plan to defeat his Slayer and the three Master Vampires she was most likely holed up with.

He had no doubt that Buffy was with Angel, just as he had no doubt that the Master Vampire would sooner rip him limb from limb than risk losing what he had gained that night with the be-spelled Slayer. Umbra Labes: the ultimate evil in the Slayer's young life would be to cast aside her sacred duty and run off with her demon lover. Giles would be damned before that happened to his Slayer; she would not go down in the Council's Chronicles as the whore of Angelus, the Scourge of Europe.

"This is so Buffy's fault," the brunette griped, barely taking a breath to separate one speal of complaints from another.

Giles glanced at her in irritation. "What?"

"I'm sure it's totally her fault that this entire nightmare even happened," Cordelia stated in annoyance. "It's always her fault. I mean please, bad things always happen to the people around her. If she wasn't so selfish, she'd take her jinx-y self off to a cave to live in isolation so innocent bystanders wouldn't get hurt, but oh no, not Buffy. She's got to be right here, getting people killed, turning nice guys evil and getting people's girlfriend's murdered.

He shook his head in disgust at her venomous conclusions. What Xander saw in the spiteful girl he would never understand.

"You know it just figures that Buffy would completely ruin my weekend like this - not just my Friday night, but my entire weekend. Instead of a nice evening out with my loser boyfriend, he's on his way to the hospital to get his stomach pumped, I've got vomit stains on my two hundred dollar Italian leather pumps and I'm going with you to rescue freak-o girl from her demon boyfriend. Can't she ever do anything right?"

Giles pressed a little harder on the gas peddle and rolled through a stop sign.

"I mean she totally ruined Angel. I always knew Buffy was a skanky little tramp. I mean puh-lease, the very first opportunity she gets she just spreads 'em and lets a demon between her legs - turning him evil no less. I mean total gorgeous demigod to bloodsucking homicidal freak in one night. Can we say therapy?"

The confused Watcher frowned in confusion. Was she complaining that Buffy was sleeping with Angel before he was evil or after he was evil? He couldn't tell.

"She must be one lousy lay. No wonder he went nutso. I mean really, what does Angel see in her? It's not like she's attractive or anything. Have you seen her hair? More often than not she's got that street urchin thing going on. And that thing on her face? She should get that fixed so the rest of us don't have to look at it. And her skin! I don't think she even moisturizes anymore. A guy like Angel could do way better. Or he could have before selfish Buffy turned him evil. Nothing ruins a man faster than a bad woman, Buffy just took it to new extremes."

So was this entire tirade because Buffy was with the demon? Or was it because Cordelia had been jealous before Angel had turned evil? Giles sped around another corner.

"Now my weekend is ruined. I mean, I have a 4:00 with Renaldo tomorrow for a wax and a facial and now I'm simply too traumatized. But does she think of my pain? No. Off she goes on one of her little attention-getting stunts and completely ruins my weekend. And now I'm stuck with you to go off and rescue her. Why are we going to rescue her? She's probably happy screwing her evil undead ex-honey - you don't think he has blood under his fingernails when he touches her do you? Cause - eww."

Perhaps he should have followed Oz and left the brunette at the hospital?

"This type of activity is unhealthy! I mean," she flipped down the passenger visor and peered into the mirror, "am I getting wrinkles? I'm too young for wrinkles. This kind of trauma can't give you like premeditated wrinkles can it?"

How did this vapid spiteful and vain girl manage to get boyfriends? What moron of a man or boy couldn't see the reptilian coldness in her eyes or the utter selfishness of her much- to-be-desired personality?

"You know," she continued confidingly, "the world would be so much better if Buffy had just never come to Sunnydale. We never had freak monsters, invisible girls, and students eating the principal - ye-uck! - Or vampires until she came to town. I wonder if it would get better after she left?"

Giles pulled the car into the high school parking lot and slammed on the brakes, halting the vehicle behind Cordelia's parked car.

Cordelia glowed at the Watcher resentfully. "A little warning would have been nice and why are we stopping here? I thought we were going to look for Buffy."

He turned to face her, aware as never before that her incessant complaints would only distract him from the things he needed to get done if he was to reclaim Buffy from the Umbra Labes and from Angel. It would not be easy going into the vampire's lair alone, but with Cordelia and her loud and unstopping mouth, it would be suicide; the vain May Queen would doubtless require rescuing and protection as well as alerting every vampire for miles of their presence, making a sneak attack all but impossible. Why couldn't Jenny be here when he needed her cool, levelheaded assistance?

"Cordelia," he said, trying to find a more tactful way to get rid of her rather than simply shoving her out on to the asphalt. "We don't know precisely where Buffy is and even if we did, we don't have the strength to overpower her as well as three master vampires. I'm going into the library to gather weapons and other things I'll need to give me the advantage during a confrontation."

"You?" she repeated uncertainly. "What - what about me?"

"I'd like you to continue searching for her as you were earlier while I make some necessary preparations."

"You want me to search for Buffy alone?"

The blond Watcher reached over and opened the glove compartment, pulling out a slim and often forgotten cell phone. "I certainly don't want you to face her alone, but the longer she's with Angel - if she indeed is - the more likely the possibility that she's going to do something she will later regret. If you could, please do a drive by of all the places she normally frequents, the cemeteries, the Bronze, her house, whatever else you can think of and then call me on this," he raised the high-tech gadget, "if you find her. We would certainly save time if you could locate Buffy while I get some weapons ready."

"Weapons?" Cordelia repeated skeptically. "Why do you need weapons? All you had to do was blow the baking powder in Willow and Xander's faces and everything was fine. Why is Buffy different? Why is Buffy always so difficult?"

"Because," Giles said patiently, "she will undoubtedly not want to be cured, and Angel will not want her cured either. She will be in hiding to avoid my administering an antidote and I'm going to have to give it to her while she's fighting me. No doubt she, Angel and his childer will try to stop me as well. So I will need spells to allow me to incapacitate the vampires, the tranquilizer gun, to incapacitate Buffy without harming her, holy water to throw on Angel and - "

"Alright, alright," Cordelia snapped raising her hands in surrender. "And why am I not staying with you?"

"If you could simply drive around and try to locate Buffy and then call me and tell me where she is, we should be able to save time."

"And that's it?" The brunette asked curiously. "Just find her?"

"That's it. Check the Bronze, drive by the cemeteries, and her house wherever. Do not under any circumstances get out of your car and try to face her alone. Call me if you find her, I should be prepared by then."

"Right," she nodded, copying down the cell number taped to the back of his phone. "You can count on me." She slid out the car and slammed the door behind her.

Giles watched her get into her car and then pulled out of the way for her to set off on her search. He didn't expect too much in the way of results from the self-absorbed May Queen, but her being out of his car and out of his presence was help enough.

Now he could hear himself think again; it had been the longest twenty minutes of his life.


~

It had been the longest twenty minutes of her life.

The bouncing and jouncing of the van as Oz had navigated his way to the hospital, the smell of the french-fries left to go stale and hard on the floor wherever they had dropped and the echoing screams and pleas of the two girls she and Xander had tortured to death - or not quite to death but close - had all served to heighten her sick misery.

Willow groaned and huddled over the metal trashcan Oz had placed between her and Xander and retched miserably into the container. Stomach acid burned in her throat and in her sinuses; she sobbed helplessly.


They were at the hospital, parked outside of the emergency room; when would Oz return for them with help?

Not that she deserved help, Willow thought contemptuously. She didn't. After what she had done to that girl - Tammy? Or had it been Ruth? Oh god! She couldn't even remember the name of the girl she had tortured with a wine bottle! She deserved to suffer. She deserved to live in agony, deserved to die at the hands of a monster…she deserved to go to hell.

Please don't hurt me. Please just let us go, we won't say anything. Please. Please. Oh god! Somebody help us!

One last horrible wrench twisted her stomach and then Willow collapsed weakly on the van bed next to Xander. Tears burned in her eyes, even as her throat and nose burned with vomit. "God," she whispered, staring blankly up at the scarred ceiling of the van. "What did we do?"

"Not out fault," Xander groaned, his face pressed into the mattress. "It's not our fault. Notourfaultnotourfaultnotourfault. It wasn't us it was a spell. We didn't do anything."

"We hurt them," the redheaded hacker whispered, tears trickling over her fevered cheeks.

"No."

"We….we raped them."

"No."

"We - "

"No. NO. NO!" he denied, turning to glare at her as he twisted the old coverlet in his fists. "We aren't responsible. It's not our fault. It was a spell. It wasn't us. That wasn't us. It's Ethan's fault this happened. Ethan hurt those girls, not us….That wasn't us."

"Xander," Willow whispered. "We have to - "

"Nothing," he snarled at her, his brown eyes wild. He moved suddenly, grabbing hold of her wrist in a hard, painful grip. "Nothing happened," he enunciated carefully. "Nothing. We don't remember and we didn't do anything wrong."

"We killed those girls," Willow wailed, pulling weakly in her wrist.

"Drusilla killed them. Drusilla. Angel's crazy bitch of a child. She killed them. Not us. It's not our fault. We didn't do anything, Willow. It's not our fault. Forget it happened. It's over now and we'll - we'll just forget it happened."

The two women shrieked and pleaded in Willow's mind, begging for mercy, begging for their lives and begging for her to not rape them with a wine bottle.

She lurched forward to vomit again, sobbing into the trashcan brokenly; her heartbreak echoed hollowly back to her, accompanied by the sour stench of her sickness.

The cool air that brushed her fevered flesh when the van's door slid open was a blessed relief; the underserved compassion and worry in her boyfriend's concerned gaze was not.

~

Buffy tightened her grip around Angelus' fingers and glanced up at the tall predator that stalked at her side. Her heart lurched in her chest; it never failed to skip a beat at the sight of him, just as her lungs never failed to seize up as she drank in his masculine beauty; he was a veritable vampire god, this demon with the angelic face, and he was hers. As Angel, he had been breathtaking, the warmth of his soul lighting his dark chocolate eyes and revealing him for the gentle man and the brave hero she knew him to be at his core, but now, as dark and dangerous Angelus, the deadly Scourge of Europe, he had lost none of his allure, his presence still drawing her irresistibly toward him.

She walked silently, enjoying his presence at her side. For too many nights she had patrolled alone. For too many nights he had not been there at her side and at her back, supporting her in her battles, protecting her from her enemies…and comforting her in the cold shadows. She had missed him, missed him so bad it was like a knife in her heart, a raw and aching wound that bled and could not heal without him. And now? Now it was gone. The pain, the sorrow, the guilt, it was all gone. There was only the glowing bliss that filled her to near-bursting, bliss because she was no longer alone in the shadows.

Angelus glanced down at his diminutive mate, taking in the small smile that curved her lips and the warm look in her eyes. "What are you thinking?" he murmured softly.

"Tender, maudlin, soulful emotions," she answered with a teasing grin. "You'd be disgusted."

"Would I?" he purred, deftly spinning her around so that she was walking backwards in front of him, with one of his hands on her hips, guiding her. "You know how willing I am to indulge you," he reassured her. "Are you sure I'd be disgusted?"

"Uh-huh. Big bad powerful demon like yourself," she traced one finger over the muscles of his chest flirtatiously, "it would only sicken you to know just how much I - "

"Well, well, well," a loud voice interrupted her flirtation. "Take a look boys: a sweet young thing out at night on the arm of her boyfriend."

Buffy sighed in irritation, displeased to have her teasing interrupted. What the hell was she doing wrong? She saved the world, it interfered with her dates; she let the world go rot and it interfered with her dates; what did she have to do? Destroy it? She glanced to the right, taking in the gang of leather and denim clad men who watched them with leering interest.

The group of ten grungy looking men alternately leaned against the wall outside of Baja's, the lowest dive - outside of Willie's - in Sunnydale, or lounged on their parked motorcycles, with beers or cigarettes parked in their meaty fists. They watched the slender blonde with lascivious grins and eyed her tall boyfriend appraisingly, before glancing at each other with comraderic cunning.

The diminutive Slayer wrinkled her nose in disgust as the stench of cigarette smoke, unwashed bodies and alcohol wafted to her. Actually, when she considered it, Willie's had a better clientele, despite their horns, scales or oozing secretions. She turned her attention back up to her tall dark escort. "Boyfriend," she drawled. "It just doesn't carry the same menacing meaning without the cradle-robbing-creature-of-the-night part involved, does it?"

Angelus bared his teeth in dark amusement, keeping his gaze on the group of men that were slowly coming to their feet. "I prefer Scourge of Europe myself. I earned it."

"Trust me, baby, you earned the other title as well. You are definitely robbing a cradle."

"Well baby," he commented dryly, "you can suckle on me for comfort anytime you want to."

Despite the numerous carnal acts of lovemaking they had shared during the evening, her cheeks flushed slightly at his innuendo. "Maybe later."

"He don't look man enough for the likes of her," one of the bikers observed in a loud tone, dismounting his motorcycle and flicking his cigarette to the side.

Buffy glanced up at her deadly predatory boyfriend with grim amusement. Not man enough for her? Him?

The tall demon drew his delicate lover closer to the protection of his body, not liking the stench of lust that was beginning to permeate the air, overpowering the scent of alcohol. He shifted his gaze along the greasy-haired rabble, noting the stiffening of postures, the alert tenseness of a pack of dogs getting ready to attack.

A lanky blond-haired man shoved away from the wall, his face hardening with cruel intent. "Pretty boy like that's got no staying power," he observed in a sneering tone. "Real waste of her time and those luscious legs. What do you say darling?" he grabbed his crotch lewdly and stroked himself. "Want to feel something real powerful between your thighs?"

The diminutive Slayer rolled her eyes. "Is it me?" she asked her dark eyed lover. "First Xander, then that other biker - Is it the way I'm dressed? My perfume maybe?" She smelled her arm experimentally.

"Oh, baby," a pockmarked bald man eyed her from the crown of her golden head to the tips of her boots. "You're going to look a whole lot better undressed, with us humping between your pretty legs."

Angelus growled softly, a deep demonic signal of impending carnage. "Get behind me," he rumbled. "This won't take long."

The Master Vampire glowered at the filthy rabble that dared to eye his woman: jackals, the lot of them. Filthy scavengers, who no doubt required their full pack at their backs to feel dangerous - and who no doubt thought that he was just a clean-cut college boy walking his pretty young girlfriend home. Without a doubt, if he and Buffy had indeed been the nice normal guy and his nice normal girlfriend that they appeared, the leering bikers would at best beat the crap out of him and at worst murder him, likely while making him watch as they gang-banged his innocent young lover into an early grave.

He shifted his gaze, noting each member of the group, automatically sizing him up and identifying weaknesses. Granted he and Buffy were in a bit of a hurry to get out of Sunnydale, but they would just have to make the time for him to deal with these vermin.

Nobody looked at his baby like that. Nobody….Well, nobody but him.

Buffy pulled away from Angelus' protective grasp and shifted to his side stubbornly. She clenched her fists and raised them into an aggressive fighting stance. "I can take them," she hissed indignantly.

The pockmarked biker grinned, baring his tobacco-stained teeth. "Yeah, pretty boy," he drawled insolently. "She can take us. All of us."

Angelus growled louder at the thought of any of these vermin touching Buffy's smooth golden skin. He didn't want them near her. He didn't even want her fists in contact with them; he didn't want the smell of their blood, tobacco or lust to linger on her knuckles.

Buffy gasped as Angelus spun abruptly to her and forced her back to the dumpster at the opposite side of the alley. He settled his hands on her hips and lifted her; startled at his action, she placed her hands on his shoulders for balance as he settled her easily atop the metal garbage receptacle.

She slid forward immediately, to hop off of the steel bin; he halted her.

The golden Slayer glowered at him.

The dark-eyed demon grasped her ankles and crossed them firmly into a lady-like pose. "You better keep your dainty little ankles crossed and your feet off the ground lover. You're not dressed for this kind of action," he reminded her with a meaningful glance at her short skirt.

Remembering her state of undress, she flushed brightly and glared at him. "Would be if you hadn't ripped them off," she muttered rebelliously.

He held up his index finger imperiously, silencing her objections. "I'm going to be real upset if anyone gets a flash of what's mine," he growled warningly.

Buffy's eyes glittered with indignation at his high-handed treatment.

"You hear that?" a gang-member hooted. "He'll be upset if we get a flash of what's his."

Several leering guffaws met this comment.

"You mean there's nothing beneath that short, short skirt but naked schoolgirl pussy?" The low vibration of the demon's growl deepened, as did his rage.

The bald-headed leader of the gang snapped his fingers at the two largest members of the gang; both were six and a half foot giants of lean muscle and identical features. "Rosco, Bull, why don't you entertain the pretty boy while the rest of us keep the lady company."

The diminutive Slayer glowered down at her mate in affronted pride. "I can handle this."

Angelus turned away from her; the decision was made as far as he was concerned and the subject was now closed. "You're just going to have to deal with it while I get - how did you put it earlier? - 'Beat my chest, knuckle-dragging primitive.' I don't want their smell on you. Now sit out," he ordered in a hard tone that brooked no further argument from her.

"Fine," she relented ungraciously, crossing her arms over her chest. "Want me to hold your coat for you?"

The two Viking-like bikers approached the shorter man, cruel expressions on their blunt- featured faces.

Angelus shrugged out of his leather coat, tossed it to his golden lover and stepped toward the two Viking-like men that were closing in on him.

Buffy eyed the combatants while she folded Angelus' jacket neatly over her lap. She had decided earlier that when it came right down to it, humans were no great challenge to kill, not compared to the demons and other supernatural beasties she fought on a regular basis, but just because she thought it would be like shooting fish in a barrel - wherever the hell that phrase came from - that didn't mean that she wouldn't fight her own battles and kill the occasional human that got in her way or threatened her safety. Self-defense was always a perfectly good reason to kill and it offended her independent pride to allow her lover to fight her battles for her.

"Don't take too long," the irritated blond growled. "We don't have time for you to indulge your inner artist tonight."

Angelus glanced back at her mulish scowl and smirked at her. "I wouldn't waste myself," he retorted.

He knew exactly why she was in a bad mood, but as his mate, she would just have to learn to sit out the occasional battle, leaving the fun - and the showing off - to him. He turned back to the two large thugs that were cracking their knuckles as they eyed him the sadistic intent.

"Don't worry sweet thing," the pockmarked leader reassured her with an unpleasant smile. "This won't take long at all. And then we'll have all night."

"Anxious isn't she pretty boy?" Bull - or was it Rosco? - sneered at him. "You must be starving her"

The Master Vampire snarled softly, his own lips quirking into a cruel smile. Starving her? With the amount of screaming she had done that night? Unlikely.

"Maybe when were done," the leader taunted him again, "and if there's anything left of her when Bull's done we'll give you a few pointers."

Buffy glanced at her watch impatiently. "Can you get to the fighting already? It's nearly midnight."

Angelus grinned. Bitch, bitch, bitch. His little darling really hated to be benched.

Rosco - or Bull - bared his teeth as he and his twin circled around the lean vampire. "She sure is eager," he grunted before lunging forward and slamming his large fist towards the demon's face.

The Master Vampire caught his opponent's fist easily, halting the blow with little effort; his lips quirked into a half smile at the biker's surprised expression before he crushed the mortal's hand into a meaty pulp.

The tall blonde behemoth screamed shrilly.

The other biker rushed forward to punch the predator that held his twin but Angelus deftly twisted his grip on his screaming opponent, using one brother to block the attack on the other.

Buffy cocked her head and watched her lover as he sinuously twisted in the deadly dance of brawling men. He slammed his foot in his uninjured attacker's chest and even where she sat, she could hear the ribs break beneath the force of that blow; his attacker flew backward, hitting the ground where he skidded to a halt and groaned, gurgling desperately for air.

"Rosco!" the man Angelus held cried out just before her demon lover slammed his elbow into the blonde giant's face hard enough to snap his head to the side; the sickening crunch of bone signaled the deadliness of the blow and the tall biker sank to the asphalt.

Angelus laughed gleefully, "I never get tired of doing that."

The Slayer grinned, her green eyes glittering with sadistic pleasure as several of the gang members knelt to check on their fallen comrades. "And I do love those breaking noises," she purred.

"Bull?"

"Rosco?"

The shocked gang members gingerly touched the fallen giants, shaking their shoulders; one of Angelus' victims gurgled again and then released a long broken sigh, signaling his death.

The bald leader turned away from his fallen boys to glower at the dark-haired man and his pretty little girlfriend. "You're dead," he hissed, jabbing a finger towards them. "And don't you worry about this taking too long sugar," he snarled at the lounging blonde. "We're gonna' have plenty of time to fuck you until you cum blood."

Unimpressed with the threat, Buffy raised her brows. "Sorry boys," she drawled. "But you just won't do it for me. I like a little monster in my man."

Angelus glanced back at her, lifting his brows in amusement.

The diminutive blond smiled at her demon lover and leaned forward, offering him - and the others - a glimpse of cleavage. "I love when he's got a bit of bite," she snapped her teeth together in demonstration, "to him."

His gaze flickered to the inviting swell of her breasts pushing against the black silk of her camisole and scowled as he realized the bikers had to be staring at the exact same thing. "Baby's going to get more than bit, she's going to get her ass tanned if she doesn't. Sit. Back," he snarled.

Buffy pouted, but leaned back. "Happy?"

"Ecstatic," he grunted turning his attention back to the biker that had decided to take advantage of his momentary distraction with his Slayer to try and rush him. The demon snapped his leg forward, planting a solid kick into the man's solar plexus and when the gasping biker bent over, Angelus kicked him again, this time landing a hard blow to the man's chin that lifted him clear off the ground and sent him flying back over several parked bikes and into a wall; a loud cracking noise accompanied the blow.

"Two broken necks," Buffy observed. "Perhaps a little variety?"

"This from the woman who stabs her every enemy through the heart."

Angelus shifted his gaze back and forth between the two denim-clad thugs that approached him from either side, obviously hoping to divide his attention. They circled him and he let them, knowing that he had the advantage.

"Little else works on you guys," the diminutive blond complained, watching her lover's fluid and lethal grace with interest. "And hel-lo, decapitated one guy and slit a throat tonight."

The two bikers lunged towards him at the same time and Angelus twisted into a series of punches and blocks, allowing his opponents to move closer in on him.

"My love wants variety," he stated cheerfully, "Then variety she shall have."

He ducked and twisted sharply under another blow and as he did so, ripped out his attacker's throat.

"Fuck!" several of the bikers muttered.

"Kill this fucking freak."

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest again, unimpressed. "You can do better than that. Necks are hereby off limits."

Angelus grinned. He had never had so demanding an audience before and while he was certainly showing off for her, he was rather glad she wasn't easily satisfied. He shot his arm forward and punched through a bare-chested biker's ribcage, jerking the fist-sized heart back out through the hole.

The golden Slayer applauded wildly as Angelus shoved the still beating heart into its owner's mouth just before the man realized he was dead and dropped to the ground. "Bravo!" she cheered.

The tall demon laughed gleefully, enjoying himself as he spun to face another two bikers. His newest opponents pulled knives.

"You may think you're all hot shit with that fucking kung-fu pretty boy, but kung-fu won't save you from steel."

The Master Vampire glanced at the gleaming blades being brandished in his face and

forced himself not to shift to his true face. If he changed, the last five might run, and he really wanted to kill them all.

"Yeah, pretty boy," Buffy laughed. "Kung-fu won't save you from steel," she mocked, mimicking their low tones. She burst into a wild spate of giggles. "Oh, Angelus," she chuckled, wiping at the tears that leaked from her eyes, "show them what steel won't save them from."

Angelus chuckled, scenting her growing arousal on the air. "You're really enjoying this aren't you baby?" he asked, gracefully dodging the knives that whipped at him from both sides.

"Oh lover," she breathed. "I've always loved to watch you move. This is just sound effects."

He slammed his fist into one of the knife wielders' faces, the loud crunching of bones emphasizing Buffy's observation as Angelus' attacker flew back against a wall, his head cracking open like a splattered melon.

The second knife wielder lunged forward, hoping to use Angelus' momentary distraction to plant the glinting steel in the vampire's back; the dark-eyed predator turned and smoothly caught his attacker's wrist during the downward arc.

~

Giles shoved open the library doors and paused at the sight of the streaks of blood on the floor and the decided lack of Ethan Rayne. "True to form Ethan," he muttered. "You stroll into town, stir up the pot and then slink out to avoid the fall out. Next time I'm really going to kill you."

He crossed to his darkened office and slapped on the light. For a moment he hesitated, uncertain of what he should grab first, weapons or spells, but as quickly as his uncertainty had come over him, it just as swiftly fled.

He had hoped to have backup going after Buffy since it was likely that she would be with Angel - Angelus - who, according to lore and his own experience, was formidable enough without adding in a Slayer to back him up.

The blond man set his jaw firmly. There was no hope for it. He was going to have to run this rescue alone, and since Buffy, on even her worst days could put him down, he was going to have to do things a little crassly.

He would need the tranquilizer gun to drop his Slayer. Of the four of them, herself, Angel, Drusilla and Spike, Buffy was the most dangerous; she was stronger, she was faster, she wasn't inhibited by sunlight, crosses or holy water, and at the moment, she had the most to lose.

Once Buffy was down, drugged to incapacitation, he would be able to administer the antidote without her fighting him, but holding Angel and his hellish progeny back with his crossbow and some judiciously applied holy water was going to be chancy at best.

He was certainly a capable sorcerer and he certainly had any number of books with some fairly effective spells in them, but he was hampered by the issue of spell components, and while he might be a capable sorcerer, he was also a non-practicing one; his stores of herbs and powders were likely to be limited, thus limiting what he'd be capable of doing.

The anxious Watcher lunged forward and unlocked the drawer where he kept his most private collection of magic books. He needed something to hold back Angel, perhaps something to even force him back. A spell of protection, perhaps a charm of invisibility to allow him to sneak up on them…

Giles glanced at his watch: 12:18.

He cursed under his breath. He was running out of time. He sensed it. Every minute he lost was a minute that Buffy became more and more enamored of her newfound freedom. A life without sacrifice, a life without pain and heartbreak, how could she not become enamored of that?

When Buffy wanted something she took measures to protect it and only an idiot would be unaware of the fact that for good or for ill, she wanted Angel.

He knew she wasn't as flighty as she portrayed herself. He knew she wasn't as inattentive or vacuous as she came off. She was the Slayer, and whether she allowed others to see it or not, that meant she was a cunning, dangerous predator, and under the influence of the Umbra Labes, she was the ultimate consort for a fiend like Angelus: uninhibited, unrestrained, and completely abandoned.

…That undead piece of garbage doubtless had his hands all over Buffy at that very moment.

~

The two men vied for control of the steel, the biker's muscles quivering with strain as he attempted to bear the blade down on his opponent; the vampire held the mortal in check easily.

"I'm going to kill you, you fuck," the dark-haired biker grunted, struggling against Angelus' implacable grip.

The demon with the angelic face smiled pleasantly and allowed his eyes to flicker to amber as he forced the man's wrist and the contested knife back to the biker's own belly in a quick slashing movement.

The thug squealed in shocked pain but gamely continued to try to regain control of his weapon.

Angelus casually held firm against his struggles and then smiled with cruel amusement. "Is that your entrails slipping out? Or are you just glad to see me?"

The dark-bearded biker glanced down at his slashed belly, his eyes widening in shock and horror as he realized that his intestines were indeed sliding out of his slashed open belly and onto the filthy alley floor. He released his grappling hold on the pretty college boy and cupped his arm over his stomach, trying to hold the shiny pink viscera inside him where it belonged.

Laughing with vicious delight, Angelus brutally shoved the mortally wounded biker away from him, keeping hold of one of the moist ropes of intestine; as the mortal flew backwards, the coils of his internal organs fed out of his body, like a macabre tightrope, anchored by the demon's fist.

"Woah!" Buffy exclaimed in revulsion, her wide eyes focused in horrified fascination on the rope of bloody intestine. "And may I just say 'Eww.' Extra points awarded for shock value and gore."

The smirking vampire dropped the viscera to the ground with a moist plop. "Creative enough for you baby?" he purred smugly.

"A plus in creativity lover," she praised, "but you are so not touching me until after you've washed your hands."

Garrick Stone stared at the freak that had murdered more than half his club in shocked horror; to add insult to injury, the crazy fuck seemed to be having a grand time showing off for his girlfriend as he turned the Blood Takers into a red smear on the alley floor.

The pockmarked leader ground his teeth together as his stomach clenched in both rage and fear, but his hatred over rode any instinct he might have to run. He would kill this psycho; he would kill him and mutilate him, maybe even taking some body parts as trophies, and as for the girl, she would pray for death before he was done with her.

"Course I'm going to be touching you after this is done lover," Angelus rumbled, turning to face the last three shocked and stupid mortals that had dared to come up against him. "You're the spoils of war, and to the victor, goes the spoils."

Buffy snorted in outrage, her gaze tracking his lethal grace with a greedy avidity that would have pleased her demon. "Spoils?" she sneered. "What type of word is that anyways? Who would want something spoilt? Something ruined. Gone bad and rotten?"

The angel-faced demon grinned with dark humor, thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to show off his deadly skills for his beautiful golden goddess. "Technically speaking, my love, you kind of have, but in this context it's to loot and seize," he paused to glance at her meaningfully, "by force."

Her breath caught as his dark chocolate gaze glittered golden for a moment, speaking volumes of his intense hunger for her and his primitive desire to take her lithe body over the cooling corpses of his enemies.

Garrick growled softly. The fuck and his bitch were making jokes while his brothers cooled on the filthy alley asphalt. The pockmarked leader did what he now knew he should have done when the freak had managed to kill Rosco and Bull; he pulled his gun.

"You wanna laugh, mother fucker?" the biker growled furiously. "You think this is a good time?"

Angelus turned his attention back to his last three victims and chuckled with amused condescension as he stared at the snub-nosed handgun being aimed at him. Now why hadn't the fool human pulled it earlier?

The two greasy haired, gap-toothed ruffians closed behind their leader, their beady eyes gleaming bright with bloodlust.

Angelus glanced from the six-shooter clenched tightly in the gang leader's fist to the pockmarked man's pale eyes and then to the two lanky followers. "Do I think this is a good time?" he repeated softly, lifting one hand up to lick at the blood that coated his fingers. "I know this is a good time."

Garrick bared his tobacco stained teeth in a snarl. "Enjoy this mother fucker." He unloaded four bullets in rapid succession into the belly of the psycho-clean-cut college boy.

Angelus grunted at the impact of the four steel-jacketed invaders as they penetrated his body, ripping through flesh, muscle and his own unused intestines. The agony of bullet wounds was just as bad as his souled self remembered and the master vampire crumpled painfully to the ground.

The gang leader watched in sadistic satisfaction as the college boy buckled around his wounds and collapsed in a broken heap on the alley floor.

"You're gut shot boy," he hissed gloatingly. "It's a real slow and real painful way to die, and there ain't nothing nobody can do to save you." He stalked over to the boy that had killed so many of his brothers and kicked him hard in the belly, taking pleasure in the grunt of pain he gave. "And while you're dying, you just think about how I'm gonna make your bitch suffer."

Garrick snapped his fingers at his two remaining men, signaling for them to help themselves to his downed victim, while he strode over to the little blond beauty who had been the cause of the whole fracas.

"You hear that college boy?" one of the flunkies snarled as he planted a solid kick in Angelus' ribs. "You died for nothing. Little bitch is still going to get fucked."

Buffy watched as the two thugs kicked her injured demon, remembering that although bullets weren't life-threatening to vampires, they were damned painful. She wondered briefly whether he'd mind if she jumped into the fray now, but with a pout came to the conclusion that he probably would. Nothing got a man's ego all riled up faster than having his girlfriend rescue him, especially when he probably didn't need to be rescued. One thing was for certain though; he was going to be pissed when he got up.

"What are you smirking at girlie?" Garrick demanded, walking up to the dumpster where she was perched, ankles still demurely crossed. "You're in for a world of hurt."

The golden Slayer glanced at the gang leader disinterestedly before turning her attention back to her lover.

The pockmarked man scowled at her and used the barrel of his .38 Special to turn her face back toward him. "Forget him, bitch. I'm what you've got to be concerned with now. I'm the one you've got to please."

Buffy's green gaze flicked back to her handsome boyfriend just as his visage shifted at last to the amber eyed, ridged forehead predator that he was. Her breath caught at the beauty of his lethal countenance.

"You think so?" she asked the biker mockingly, watching as Angelus turned a sadistic sharp- toothed grin up to the two men who had thought that they'd had the power over a broken victim.

"Oh I know so," Garrick growled, eyeing the sleekly toned musculature of her thighs. "You cost me seven men. You better be one spectacular fuck."

The two men's gasps of startled shock went unnoticed by their leader.

In a move almost too fast for her to see, Angelus kicked out, knocking both of his assailants onto the ground. He grabbed the closest and brutally snapped his neck before quickly snatching the other and covering his mouth so he couldn't scream.

Garrick smiled at the pretty little blond and caressed her legs with the barrel of the gun. "Careful boys," he ordered his men without looking back. "We don't want to kill him just yet. Pretty boy was so obsessed with protecting this sweet schoolgirl pussy, it's only fitting he see that he failed."

The Slayer watched with gleaming green eyes as Angelus sank his fangs into the second biker and gulped him down, using the stolen blood to heal his injuries.

"So, pretty little bitch," Garrick studied her curves. "Why don't you part your legs and give me a flash of what's his."

She ignored him, instead watching Angelus drop the dead biker to the ground.

The pockmarked biker aimed the gun between her pretty green eyes. "You do what you're told, missy," he hissed. "You ain't got a choice here."

Buffy shifted her attention away from her lover and finally deigned to give the man holding a gun to her face her full attention. She glanced at the gun and then at his pale bloodshot eyes. She smiled coyly and glanced down at her legs.

Garrick's gaze followed hers and his breaths sped up as she slowly uncrossed her ankles.

Her attack, when it came, was so fast and so shocking, he never had a chance to prevent her from grasping hold of his hand and twisting the gun out of her face. Her grip tightened brutally over his, crushing his fragile finger bones around the barrel of his weapon and Garrick cried out in shock as she abruptly grabbed his neck in her other hand.

Bracing her uncrossed heels against the side of the dumpster, Buffy slowly lifted the vermin off of his feet and hoisted him so that he was level with her.

"I always have a choice," she drawled softly.

Garrick kicked futilely, trying to break her grasp on both his neck and on his gun.

With a contemptuous grin, Buffy twisted the gun out of the biker's grip and released him.

The pockmarked gang leader landed back on the asphalt and stumbled slightly before he straightened to find the pretty blond schoolgirl pointing his own gun in his face.

"Scary," she informed him with a wicked grin.

"I thought I told you to sit this one out," Angelus growled, the deep big-cat-like sound raising the hairs on the back of Garrick's neck.

Not able to believe his ears, the gang leader slowly turned around to look up into the glowing golden eyes of a demon from hell.

"Scarier," the girl purred behind him.

Angelus cocked his head sternly at his disobedient lover, "What did I say about your ankles?"

"He had a gun," she replied defensively. "And he was touching me with it. I had to - "

"What," he snarled, "Did I say about your ankles?"

"You're being unreasonable."

"Buf-fy."

With an exaggeratedly innocent look, she demurely crossed her ankles. "Happy now?"

Garrick stumbled to the side and away from the quickly advancing predator.

"I dislike being disobeyed, Buff."

"Yeah well, I dislike obeying. If you wanted obedience, you should have stuck with Dru - and by the way, your victim is getting away," she informed him gesturing toward the retreating biker.

The Master Vampire snapped his fingers imperiously and with a sexy one shouldered shrug, she tossed him the gun she had taken from the gang leader.

The angelically handsome demon advanced on the mortal that had dared to point a gun to his mate's face, snarling softly with rage as he closed the distance between them.

Garrick stumbled and tried to dodge away from the fang-toothed monster, but the tall beast caught him up in an unbreakable grip.

"What the fuck are you?" he gasped, staring at the glowing gold eyes, the mouthful of fangs and the heavily ridged brow.

"Your worst nightmare," Angelus growled at the same time Buffy said it with a mockingly deep tone.

The demon glared at his amused lover and with an irritated sigh, shoved the revolver into the thug's mouth and down his throat.

Garrick screamed as his teeth shattered under the unrelenting pressure of the steel firearm and then choked and gagged as the snub nosed barrel was shoved down into his throat blocking his windpipe.

"Don't ever point a gun at my woman again," Angelus hissed at the flailing mortal before pulling the trigger and firing the last two shots down Garrick's esophagus and directly into his chest.

Buffy watched with an admiring smirk as the last of the bikers sank to his knees and then flopped to the side, twitching like a landed fish.

"That," she praised admiringly, "was an impressive bit of ass-kicking."

Angelus didn't respond. The handsome demon stared down at the body of the gang leader for several long moments, grappling with his intense rage and with the sickening churn of fear that clenched in his belly.

The bastard had held a gun to Buffy's face. The son-of-a-bitch had held a .38 Special, with two bullets still loaded in the chamber and had pointed it directly between Buffy's green eyes.

A soft growl or residual fury vibrated in his chest and the angelically featured demon forced himself to take several unneeded breaths.

There were more things than vampires and demons that could take his golden queen from his side. Bullets, cars, natural disasters, diseases, there were a thousand mundane things that killed mortals every year…every day. Cholesterol killed mortals!

"Angelus?" Buffy asked softly, her brow furrowing in confusion. What had happened? A minute ago he'd been strutting off his lethal best for her pleasure, thoroughly enjoying himself as he ripped a group of humans apart. Now…now he was practically…brooding.

He released a slow controlled breath, forcing his tensed muscles to relax and turned to face his golden beauty, his stolen sunlight.

"I can see I'm going to need some new lines," he commented wryly, trying to distract himself from the horrible image of her lying on the ground with half of her beautiful and loving face blown off. He shook himself away from the horrid vision.

"Oh puh-lease," Buffy muttered. "You guys all figure since your previous audiences are dead, you don't need new material. It's always the same. 'I'll have you beg, split open like rotted fruit.'; 'I'll send you screaming to the pits of hell.'; 'I'll kill you slow.' And of course the ever popular 'I'm your worst nightmare.'"

Her voice rose and fell with each quote, falling into lower tones as she mimicked the masculine voices that had obviously uttered the various threats to her at one time or another.

Unable to help himself, Angelus grinned at the thought of the various and sundry demons and vampires who had come up against his girl in the past, and now, all that remained of their blustery arrogance and their battles with the slayer, was her mocking rendition of their threats.

Buffy cocked her head to the side and stared at the remnants of Angelus' once casually elegant black silk shirt; the four gaping holes over his belly completely ruined the fall and look of the silk. "Your shirt's ruined," she observed.

The angelically featured demon, who had often prided himself on his fastidious and fashionable attire, pealed the blood-soaked shirt from his itching and still healing wounds. As a vampire, he didn't mind shedding a little bit - or as the situation called for it - a lot of blood, and he didn't mind getting his hands dirty, but he did dislike being covered in blood, especially his own. He debated it briefly before he shrugged out of the soft material of his shirt and then used the remains to wipe his hands and torso clean or the sticky evidence of his bloody battle.

The diminutive blond watched him with a hungry look in her eyes, unconsciously leaning forward and toward the object of her desire. She licked her lips, admiring the pale sculpted beauty of his chest. "Good thing you brought your jacket," she teased. "Otherwise, you'd be shirtless all the way to L.A. And while I must admit, you shirtless is always a toe- curling pleasure to see, you are a shining beacon of pale gorgeous splendor in the night."

He looked at her chidingly, his golden eyes gleaming beneath his ridged brows.

Buffy grinned, unable to resist needling him a little bit more. "Of course it's not like you have a fresh shirt handy to change into. Not like you had any reason to carry a bag of clothes with you."

Angelus growled softly at her, then gave up the stern warning to chuckle softly, allowing his fearsome visage to smooth back into his handsome human countenance. "You're a real pain in the ass, you know that, baby?

"Moi?"

"Hmm," he grunted. He turned to survey the row of parked Harley Davidson motorcycles. "I like that bit about the rotted fruit,'" he commented casually.

Buffy chuckled softly. "Figures. You master vampires are all about high drama, carnage and destiny."

Satisfied for the time being with the cleanliness of his hands, Angelus dropped the ruined shirt to the alley floor. He arched his brows inquiringly. "Destiny?"

The diminutive Slayer shrugged one shoulder negligently. "Yeah. Lothos insisted I was his destiny. He went on and on about how 'we were one.'"

Angelus' lips tightened with displeasure at the thought of any vampire even thinking to lay an intimate finger on his girl, much less contemplating calling her his 'destiny.' She was his. Only and always his. A low growl vibrated in his chest and he stalked over to her, pulling her down off of the steel dumpster and into the hard, unyielding line of his powerful body.

Buffy gasped as she fell against him, sliding down the hard contours of his body until her toes touched the ground. She inhaled shakily and looked up to stare into his angry dark eyes as he gripped her masterfully by the nape of her neck.

"'One what?'" he snarled. "Cute couple? You're mine."

He kissed her passionately, claiming her petal soft lips with a desperation that was as much about his jealousy as it was about his earlier fear for her safety and his ever burning desire for her perfumed flesh.

Buffy moaned softly and twined her arms around his neck, allowing him to maintain his aggressive and dominant hold on her nape; a primitive part of her gloried in his physical dominance, just as she knew that that part of her gloried in it because she allowed it. She yielded in his embrace, accepting the thrust of his tongue and the sharp nips of his teeth; the drugging pleasure of his kisses quickly intoxicated her.

Several minutes passed, the silence broken only by her soft moans and by his hungry growls. At last mollified by her unstinting generosity, Angelus released her lips to rest his forehead against hers, staring down intently into her jewel bright eyes. "You're mine," he repeated throatily. "Mine alone. Nobody sees you, nobody touches you, and nobody smells you but me. Ever."

She searched his heated gaze, her lips curving into a teasing smile. "So, 'we're one'?"

The tall vampire grinned and traced his thumb over her swollen lower lip. "Cute couple? Definitely." He turned and strode through the pooled blood and over the collapsed bodies, pulling her along behind him. "Come on, let's get a move on, you've delayed us long enough."

"I've delayed us?" she asked indignantly, settling herself behind him after he'd picked one of the large machines.

"Of course you," he muttered. "They weren't interested in what's between my legs."

He started the loud engine of the motorcycle, and shifted, kicking up the stand, before he put the bike in gear and started off.

Buffy laid his leather jacket across her lap and settled her arms around his lean waist. "Don't know why not," she purred softly, knowing that with his acute hearing he could still hear her, even over the loud rumble of the Harley. She shifted her hands lower over his hips, scraping her nails along his thighs as she leaned forward and pressed her lips to the flesh between his shoulder blades. She kissed and nipped at him, making love to the bare flesh of his back with her mouth even as she sensuously cupped her hands over the hardened flesh beneath his leather pants; she was well aware that the combination of her, blood and an enjoyable fight had all put him in an amorous mood. "I know I'm always interested in what's between your legs."

Angelus bit back a groan as she teasingly caressed him, stroking him through the confines of his pants. Blood, mayhem, and death: all things to rouse the most passionate and carnal of a vampire's appetites. He was aching for her and the little tease knew it. He groaned; if she kept this up, he'd have to make a little time to seize the moment before the drive to L.A. "Buffy - baby, we still gotta blow town here."

"Okay," she murmured. "So drive." The mischievous blond smiled as she felt his back vibrate against her breasts, and whether it was a growl, a purr or a groan, she knew in either case that he didn't necessarily want her to stop doing what she was doing, so she didn't.

~

Spell ingredients…Spell ingredients…

Surely he must have something on hand. Surely after the incident with Amy's witch mother Catherine, and Xander's misfired love spell he would have learned to keep some bloody supplies on hand.

Giles glanced around the cluttered workspace of his office, finding papers, books and pencils, but nothing organic beyond an old apple and a half eaten bag of nuts.

"Well that's just bloody perfect," he snarled in frustration. "And if I needed to perform some sort of fertility rite, things would be just dandy!" He picked up the bag of nuts and hurled it across the office; the cashews spilled out as they arced into the bookshelf, clattering to the floor.

Nothing. Nothing but himself, a tranquilizer gun and a crossbow; he'd never get close enough to give her the antidote.

No. No there must be something here. There had to be something.

The lean Watcher ripped open the drawers to his desk and fumbled through the contents: paperclips, pencils, staples, erasers, nothing. Files, journals, notes, paper, nothing!

As each drawer offered him nothing that could be useful as spell components, Giles slammed it shut, the force of his movement shaking the desk and rattling the sphere shaped glass paperweight on his desk out of position and sending it rolling toward the edge.

Before the orb could roll off of the desk and crash to the floor, Giles closed his fist over it. He held it in his hand, his frustration beating painfully in his skull and his anxiety twisting nauseatingly in his stomach. He needed something, anything he could use.

He ripped open the last drawer: tea bags, crackers, gum, Jenny's little velvet clutch purse. Nothing.

Giles drew back his arm to hurl the fragile Orb of Thesullah away and then halted mid swing, his fingers tightening reflexively on the sphere.

The tea bags. Of course, the tea bags. He set the delicate paperweight back onto its small brass stand and reached into the drawer to pull the tea bags out. Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Orange Pekoe, which Buffy had given to him.

They were generic protection at best, but still better than nothing.

He paused for a moment, his hand hovering over the black velvet clutch purse he had appropriated from Jenny's desk drawer as a memento. Well what the hell? She had been a witch.

He opened the feminine purse and spilled out its contents onto his desk. Small plastic baggies of neatly labeled herbs fell into a jumble and as Giles read the labels he knew someone had heard his unspoken prayer. Anise, rose petals and lavender were all for protection, calamus was for healing, as were the rose petals…Nothing much in the way of anything useful for offensive magic…but perhaps the yew, which could assist in raising the spirits of the dead could be useful.

Yes. Perhaps a mobile protection circle, so that once he got Buffy he could simply walk her and himself to safety.

~

He could smell it on them. He could smell it on her.

He'd only been a werewolf for a couple of months, but during that time his senses - especially his sense of smell - had all heightened.

In the van, as Willow and Xander had huddled together, shaking and retching in shared misery, the stench had been nearly overwhelming: a rank fetor of blood, of sex and of bile. Their scents had commingled and conjoined, as they clung to each other, overlapping and mingling until it was all but impossible to tell who carried which scent.

Blood. His Willow, his innocent, sweet and kind Willow stank of blood - and not her own. His gentle, thoughtful and compassionate Willow reeked blood, the stink alcohol saturated sweat, and the stench of stale sex.

Oz calmly waited for the doctors to give him an update as to Willow's and Xander's condition as he tried to force the disquieting forebodings from his thoughts.

Whatever the hell had happened tonight with that spell, he had a distressing feeling that he, Giles and Cordelia had been too late to stop Willow and Xander from doing something horrible and with lasting harm. He briefly wondered whether or not they'd be too late for Buffy as well.

Potion or no, magical corruption or freewill, the night's events would have repercussions. It remained to be seen just how far-reaching the magical poison's reach would extend, but extend it would.

The brown-haired guitarist glanced up at the white-coated doctor that approached him, bracing himself by the grim expression on the doctor's face to hear the worst.

~

Willow stared blankly ahead and blinked. She wished she'd wake up. If she'd wake up, then that would mean she had been asleep. If she had been asleep, that would mean that the evening's events would have been a nightmare. But she was already awake, and the nightmare wasn't a nightmare at all, it was real. It was all real.

She'd killed somebody.

Well, not technically. Technically Drusilla had probably killed them, but she had planned to kill somebody. She had tortured two some bodies and then had wanted to set them on fire to round the evening of "fun" out. Then after ditching her victims with a psychotic vampire, she had gone for coffee and picked out another victim to torture - a friend! Well, okay not a friend, but not precisely an enemy anymore either.

"Miss Rosenburg can you hear me."

Willow blinked her stinging eyes at the white-smock-wearing woman leaning over her.

"Miss Rosenburg? My name is Doctor Lewis. You've ingested some sort of poison. We've inserted a tube into your mouth and down into your stomach and we're pumping the toxins out. You're in for a real uncomfortable evening, but you're going to be alright."

The red-haired hacker closed her eyes, blocking out the bright hospital lights and the compassionate gaze of the doctor. Tears trickled from her eyes, trailing down over her temples and into her hair.

Gentle fingers stroked the tears from her eyes. "You're going to be aright, Miss Rosenburg."

All right? How could she ever be all right again? How could she ever deserve to be all right again? She swallowed the lump in her throat, wincing as she was painfully reminded of the cold tube that had been inserted into her body. She had never felt anything so unpleasant as that hose being forced down her throat and down her esophagus She swallowed again; she deserved pain. She deserved to suffer; she was horrible; she was a monster.

God, what had she done?

…What had they done?

How could she live with it?

~

Nothing.

They hadn't done anything wrong. It wasn't their fault. They had been under the influence of an evil spell and they weren't responsible for what had happened.

It wasn't like they could have stopped themselves from turning evil. Buffy was the Slayer, and she had turned evil too, so it wasn't like two normal people like himself and Willow could have fought what was happening to them.

Tammy and Ruth whimpered and cried, begging him to stop, pleading with him not to hurt them. His own voice taunted them cruelly; his own hands hurt them viciously.

He wasn't like that. He wasn't a monster. He was a nice guy. He was a nice, kinda geeky, periodically brave, sometimes kinda chicken, normal guy. Sometimes he was a jerk, sometimes he wasn't, but he wasn't a monster. He was a decent guy - a good guy. He fought apocalypses and helped destroy evil blue demons that wanted to vaporize humanity and he wasn't responsible for the actions of the monster he became when a bastard like Ethan Rayne sent a "go evil" spell with a bunch of balloons.

This wasn't his fault and his life shouldn't be ruined just because Giles' enemy was casting "Come to the Dark side" spells with party balloons.

They weren't responsible. It wasn't their fault.

Their shrill voices screamed in his inner ear and he ruthlessly closed them out, unable to bear the screeches that he had so carefully and gleefully elicited only hours ago.

It was not their fault.

No, that wasn't enough. It never happened. It didn't happen and it never happened. Nothing had happened. There was nothing to regret and nothing to be ashamed of.

And those girls…there was nothing he could do about them now. It was done and over with. They were dead. Drucilla had taken them away and they were dead, never to be seen or heard from again, just two more statistics in the Guinness book of world records that was Sunnydale's mortality rates.

Dead. Gone. And best forgotten because it wasn't his fault and ruining his life wouldn't bring them back, wouldn't take it back. There were no do-overs, so nothing happened.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

~

Buffy pressed her aching nipples hard against Angelus' back and continued to make love to his shoulder with her mouth. She moaned, tightening her thighs around his hips and slid her hands back down into the open fastenings of his pants. With a small smile, she caressed him intimately.

She had set out on the ride back to her place with the simple and mischievous intent of teasing him. She wasn't quite sure how it happened, but her plan had backfired. Oh not completely. He was aroused; his cock straining into her hands and his inadvertent thrusts in time with her pumping caresses more than proved that teasing him had been a success. No. The backfire was that she felt a similar fever.

The feminine flesh between her legs that he had filled again and again during the evening was again aching; aching with the emptiness that she knew from experience only he could fill.

The diminutive Slayer shuddered softly and pressed her cheek against her demon's shoulder, sliding one hand out of his pants and up along his belly to clutch into his naked chest muscles; her fingernails scraped his flat male nipple.

Angelus chuckled softly at her feminine sound of hunger, aware of both her intent and her predicament. His voracious darling was still new to these carnal games, but his intensive ardor of earlier was already training her body to hunger for his. So now here she was, hoping to flex her feminine muscles, hoping to exert her feminine wiles to tease and torment him to near- frantic urgency, but because her lithe young body knew the pleasures his could bestow, it readied itself eagerly to receive his attentions and his rampant erection.

He groaned as her nails bit into his flesh and moaned again as her hot little hand fisted around his cock.

Not that her original plan of teasing him to near madness wasn't successful. It had been; he was. He was aroused - painfully so and he had every intention of assuaging that lust in the very near future.

She pressed forward against him, no doubt trying to give some easing pressure to her swelling clitoris.

Angelus rumbled in reciprocal hunger and held on to his rigid control as he turned down Revello Drive.

Buffy blinked and attempted to force the hungry haze from her thoughts long enough to remember precautions. "Park in back," she murmured.

At her behest, he steered the motorcycle behind the house and parked next to the kitchen porch, well out of sight from the main street. He cut the engine and shifted, nudging the kickstand into place.

Buffy shuddered as the mechanical purring of the vibrating machine cut, removing the added stimulation to the sensitive flesh between her legs. She wanted him. She wanted him so badly she was crazy with it, but she wanted him to want her more. She wanted him to be crazy with it. Bestial. Masterful. Predatory. She smiled softly, giving his muscled back one last lingering kiss and before her demon lover could turn around and grab hold of her, she hopped off the motorcycle.

The tall vampire reached forward to grab hold of his golden mate, eager to ease their mutual hunger. He would take her there on the motorcycle, with her straddling his lap. All he'd have to do was push her short skirt up…

His golden eyes glimmered at her in the night, flashing with his near-feral lust and her womb clenched in primitive hunger. With a near-giddy happiness, she tossed his jacket into his face and dashed toward the kitchen door; half hoping he caught her before she reached it.

Angelus snarled, batting his leather jacket to the ground and lunged after her, her fleeing before him rousing the predator within him to primal pursuit. On the ground, with her flat on her back on the thick grass, pressed up against the tree he climbed to gain access to her bedroom, or bent over the railing of the kitchen porch, he didn't care where he had her, but he had to have her now. He needed to be inside of her, thrusting into her wet feminine heat, claiming her as his own. He had to have her strong hot hands caressing his cool flesh, her sweet lips breathing life into him and her scalding sheath wrapped around his rampant cock as he warmed himself in the fire of her love.

The diminutive Slayer giggled madly as she heard her demon in hot pursuit and fumbled the door open. She darted inside, nimbly dodging his grasping fingers and fell back against the island counter to stare at the snarling hungry fiend at her doorway.

The tall demon growled low, sexual heat fogging his brain as he moved forward to continue the pursuit inside the privacy of her house, but the replaced mystical barrier bounced him back away from the open doorway and away from his teasing lover.

He glared impotently at the door frame and then snapped his attention to the flushed blond leaning against the counter less than four feet from him. Four feet, when he couldn't go forward another inch because of the damn barrier.

"Invite me in, baby," he ordered softly.

Her heart thundering in her chest, Buffy smirked. She stood away from the counter and stepped closer to the door, her movements slow and sultry. She shrugged her shoulders, allowing her cherry red leather jacket to slide down her arms and drop to the floor.

"Invite you in?" she asked, letting her gaze travel over his ridged brow, his golden eyes and the fangs that gleamed from between his lips. "But you could be dangerous," she pronounced in an exaggeratedly innocent little-girl voice. "You could be a bad man," she told him confidingly, with a slight pout to her lips. "And if I let you in," she stroked the tops of her thighs suggestively, "all the way in, you could do unspeakable things to me."

"Could?" he repeated, watching her delicate hands trace her body, trailing over her thighs, then up her rib cage to brush provocatively against her breasts beneath the silky camisole. "There are a great many things I'm going to do with you, baby. Unspeakable is the least of them," he promised in a deep rumble. "Now invite me in."

She smiled, a siren's teasing bewitchment and stepped closer to the door, so close to the barrier that he could feel her warmth radiating off of her lithe body, but no part of her passed that magical protection. No part of her was vulnerable for him to seize.

"Big bad demon like you," she breathed, her gaze trailing down his body to his still unfastened pants and his rampant cock. "Big bad demon like you," she repeated, "helpless little me all alone in my house, why whatever could I do to defend myself if you got in?"

Angelus growled softly and inhaled the sweet fragrance of vanilla and arousal that perfumed her body. "You could scream," he suggested.

Buffy gripped the doorframe and sank slowly to her knees before him. Her lips parted; as if she were going to take him into her mouth and her breath fell hot against his erection. "For help?" she asked, tilting her head back to look up into his fiercely golden gaze. "Or for mercy?"

"Doesn't matter which," he said thickly, watching her little pink tongue flick forward to touch the head of his cock. "You won't get either." For a dizzying second, he wondered whether or not his cock would make it past the barrier if it was inside her teasing little mouth, but knew that finding out that technicality of Invitations and the lack thereof would drive him completely insane.

"You think anybody would come?" she asked suggestively, breathing hot moist air against his throbbing shaft.

He growled/purred at the exquisite teasing and wondered how long she was going to draw this game out. "Yeah," he muttered. "Someone will come."

She smiled wickedly and holding the doorframe arched upward, standing slowly, with her breasts thrust toward him and her throat bared, careful, oh so careful not to allow any part of her beyond the barrier.

Angelus watched her, his nostrils flaring.

"Well if somebody's coming," she teased, tilting her head up as if for a kiss. "Perhaps I should wash up first. It's been a very, very hard night. And I'm feeling very, very dirty."

His erection throbbed painfully with the need to be buried in her tight heat. It had been well over an hour since he'd made her scream his name. Well over an hour since she'd clawed his back and wrapped her sleek muscled thighs around his hips. It was time to claim her again. Time to remind her of just who could bestow her pleasure - or deny it, as the mood struck him. And it was more than time to remind her of just who was in charge here. He rumbled threateningly. "Game's over Buff. Invite me in."

Buffy smiled smugly, secure behind the mystical barrier that denied him rights to her home. "No," she breathed her denial softly. No. Teasing him was much too fun to give it up just yet.

He rested his hands against the barrier, breathing deeply, becoming intoxicated on her scent. Even more arousing was her gaze, wild with wickedness, but at heart still innocent of just what game it was she was playing. He wondered if she had any clue just how it was going to be when he finally got his hands on her.

She turned away from him and walked slowly to the kitchen sink. She turned on the water, painstakingly adjusting the temperature until it was warm but not hot. She took a clean washcloth from the drawer and soaked it beneath the running water before adding soap.

Angelus watched hungrily as she carefully lathered her hands and then her arms, mesmerized by the glistening soap bubbles that clung and slithered on her cream and gold skin. Then, just as carefully, she rinsed the cloth and slid the little square of fabric over her arms to rinse herself.

His gaze was heavy. She could all but feel his hands on her beneath the weight of that predatory stare. Her nipples tightened and she caught her breath, aroused almost past bearing just knowing that she had this heavenly fiend nearly insane with need for her.

She rinsed the washcloth again and then added soap before she turned to face him. She tossed the newly soaped cloth toward him. "You have to be clean before you can come in here," she taunted.

He raised his eyebrows as he caught the wet cloth and grinned exultantly. It was the strangest conditioned Invitation he'd ever received, but an Invitation was an Invitation. The lady had set the rules; all he had to do was abide by them. He washed his hands, carefully removing the evidence of his earlier gladiatorial triumphs and then ran the square of soapy fabric over his chest, picking up any blood he might have missed earlier when he'd wiped himself off with his shirt. There: all clean.

Buffy bit her lip and wondered just how much longer she could deny them. She wanted him so badly she ached with it. In fact she was sure her moisture was all but slicking her thighs, but this power, this heady and forbidden delight of teasing him was so…exhilarating.

Angelus stepped quietly into the house, the mystical barrier no longer effective against him and stalked quietly up behind his golden tease.

She rinsed her hands, watching the water bead on her pink nail polish and then reached to turn the water off.

The dark eyed demon stepped against her and closed his arms brutally around her, wringing a gasp from the startled Slayer as he linked his hands with hers. She arched instinctively; whether to break his hold or get more contact, he didn't care which and he thrust his hips against her behind.

"Don't turn it off yet, Buff," he drawled against her temple, putting their linked hands under the pouring water. "Although I'm clean, I haven't rinsed."

His pants were unfastened and his cock free from the confines of the leather; all that separated him from the heaven of her tight pussy was her short red and black plaid skirt.

"How did you get in?"

"You invited me, baby." He transferred both of her wrists to one hand and reached down to lift her skirt out of his way.

Buffy moaned softly as his hand caressed her hip in his quest to move her skirt.

Angelus growled softly, the scent of her wet pussy driving him feral with lust and he bent her ruthlessly over the sink and sheathed himself in her wet heat in one hard thrust.

Pleasure speared through her so hard for a moment she thought she'd die and she arched against his imprisoning hands and his imprisoning body desperately. "YES! God, yes!"

The demon held her impaled on his body and spun to slam her face down on the island counter. Their hands splayed on the counter, hers curled into claws and his laced dominantly over hers as he covered her body with his own.

He snarled against her ear, thrusting hard into her quivering depths. "You're mine. Mine. Mine to fuck any time I please. Never deny me. Never!" In and out, invasion and retreat, his cock stretched her tight sheath and she moaned thrashing beneath him. He slammed into her, all but pounding her into the corian of the counter and she screamed beneath him.

The cool counter pressed against her from below, the edge almost, but not quite giving her the pressure her swelling clitoris needed. She spread her thighs wider, and moaned as her lover dominated her, ruthlessly shoving her past all thought to be anything but his.

"Harder!" she begged and despite having been teased himself, her screams, her thrashing satisfied him; he thrust harder.

Buffy whimpered, desperately trying to get the leverage to thrust back against him with the type of force she wanted, but she was helpless, relying totally on his good will.

And his good will was to pound into her slick sheath until the friction drove her mad with unfulfilled lust.

"Deeper!" she demanded, pressing her forehead against the counter top. "Oh god deeper. Harder. More!"

Angelus growled, rolling his hips as he thrust into her, and bent over to press his face into the curls at the nape of her neck. He bit into that fragile cord, a delicate display of power, holding her with his fangs yet not piercing her flesh. She froze beneath him, instinctively subservient to that bite.

"Whose are you Buffy?" he growled, releasing his hold to bury his face against her neck.

"Yours," she moaned. "Only yours."

"Who's sliding inside your hot pussy right now?"

"Ahhn-gel-uss," she moaned, her fingers clawing at the smooth counter top.

He sank his fingers into her tangled hair and tugged her head back. "Beg me baby. Beg me for what you need. Just like you wanted to make me beg a little while ago."

"Please," she whimpered.

The thrusting continued and then he hit a spot inside. Her eyes widened. There. And he did it again.

"There! God! Yes! There! Please! Fuck me harder! There! Theretherethere!"

The dark eyed demon slammed into her one more time and she wailed, thrashing beneath him, quivering.

"YES!" The explosion washed over her, hot despite the coolness of his seed, and then kept on exploding, filling her vision with white light until she was all but blinded, seeing only their two hands laced on the counter top. Orgasm after orgasm washed over her, and she whimpered beneath the intensity of it, knowing that he had some how forced her past some invisible barrier within herself and forced a surrender far more complete than she had ever intended.

Angelus blanketed her back and enjoyed the rippling spasms of her sheath gripping his cock. So good. His Slayer had muscles that no other woman had ever even contemplated having, and in her pleasure she milked him in almost painful spasms.

Buffy collapsed bonelessly over the island counter, trembling slightly in the aftermath of her mind-blowing orgasm. She luxuriated in the feel of his cool hard strength pressed against her, drifting on the daze of pleasure.

The phone ringing finally penetrated the gelatinous mush that her mind had become and Buffy turned her head so that her lips were pressed against his cheek. "Angelus," she whispered hoarsely.

"Hmm?"

"I know it's not a dulcet choir of pretty little birdies, or fireworks, but I do hear bells ringing."

The dark eyed demon listened to the jangling tones of the telephone and then laughed softly, a deep, rumbling expression of mirth. "Me too, baby. Me too."

~

Cordelia stepped on the gas and pealed away from the Double Meat Palace. She'd checked Lover's Lane, she'd checked the Bronze again and now this grease pit. Where the hell else could a loser like Buffy have gone?

The dark-haired May Queen tapped her nails on the steering wheel.

Maybe she shouldn't be looking for Buffy. Maybe she should be looking for Angel. Although aside from the Sam the Bartender's sketchy eyewitness account, they really had no proof that Buffy was even with Angel.

Cordelia frowned. If she were an evil loser on the make where would she go?

Home to fix her hair, her make up and change out of her skanky clothes and into something fashionable. Evil tramps on the make had to look good for their psychos.

She slowed down and took a right hand turn, heading toward Revello Drive.

~

She basked in his presence, enjoying the feel of his weight, and the power of his body still covering hers so dominantly. Her Angelus. Her demon.

Shivers of pleasure still lapped at her nerve-endings and she trembled ever so slightly, feeling buzzed. She felt as if she should have died of pleasure.

She blinked languidly, disappointed as the dizziness of heavenly delight began to slowly ebb. Her panting breaths slowly evened out.

Buffy chuckled softly as a thought occurred to her and Angelus nipped her softly on the cheek.

"Something funny lover?"

"Are you sure you're a demon?"

The tall demon scowled in insult as he withdrew from the warm haven of her body and pulled her up, spinning her to face him. "What did you say?"

"Are you sure you're a demon?" she teased, ruffling her fingers through his dark hair. "Cause you sure do make me feel heavenly."

Angelus clasped her by the shoulders and pulled her hard against his chest, lifting her up onto her toes as he cocked his head to the side and glowered down at her. His brow ridged up and his lips pulled back into a snarl as he brandished his demonic features at her. "You calling me an angel?" he asked threateningly.

"No," she replied innocently. "Just saying that you make me feel heavenly."

His face smoothed back to his handsome human countenance. "Good," he purred, his good mood restored. "Cause the only angel in this relationship is not me."

"You calling me an angel?" she drawled. "Cause I'm kind of lacking things. Wings, a halo, a little harp."

Angelus cupped her cheek and ran his thumb over her pouty lower lip as he chuckled. "Actually, sweetheart, angels tend to carry savage weapons, like swords. You do that, baby. They're not wimpy little musicians, they're warriors, celestial murderers, with one beautiful wing dipped in the blood of the unrighteous. And a halo?" he stroked his fingers through her thick mane of golden hair. "This could qualify. The only thing you're missing are those wings."

Buffy glanced over her shoulder at her missing wings and then turned a coy smile up at her tall lover as she pulled his head down to nip at his lips. "Well since you make me fly," she purred, "I don't really feel like I'm missing out, but feel free to console me for my loss any time you like."

He chuckled softly and traced his fingertips over her shoulder blades where heavenly appendages would not have been amiss. He'd be happy to console her, and he'd be sure to do it frequently too.

Unable to resist the sensual delight of his lips, Buffy kissed him again and then reluctantly pulled away. She was enjoying playtime so much, but they really had to get out of Sunnydale before something went wrong - as on the Hellmouth things frequently did. "We should go."

Her demon smiled, his dark gaze smoldering with renewed hunger. "Yes," he agreed. "I've taken care of Giles, but the rest of your cavalry or your mother might show up at any time."

"Not Mom," Buffy snorted in disgust as she turned away from him. "Mom's not home," she proclaimed as she determinedly walked away from him and through the dining room, headed toward the staircase.

"Is she ever?" Angelus growled in disgust, prowling in her wake. If the oblivious woman wasn't out of town, she was at her gallery. If she wasn't at her gallery, she was out of town. On the rare occasions that she was home, it was obvious that she wasn't paying attention to the daughter that was out fighting and almost dying every night, otherwise she might have asked some pertinent questions about the frequently ripped or bloodstained clothing. No. Respect was not a thing he held for Joyce Summers.

He really should have killed the bitch when he had the chance, but an orphaned Buffy would have been vacated from the Hellmouth and sent to her neglectful father's care. Which when he thought about it, wasn't such a bad thing; she would have been away from her precious and interfering little friends and only Giles would have been able to follow her to a new city. But despite the fact that the simultaneous blows of losing her mother and her friends on top of losing soul-boy would have broken her spirit, Sunnydale had been the best place to keep her unbalanced in regards to their own relationship. It was here that her memories of soul-boy were, and only here where the past could affect the present to his advantage.

The golden haired Slayer shrugged one shoulder in response to his comment as she started up the stairs. "It's not like it's anything new," she replied. "Her affections have always blown hot and cold, depending upon her sobriety. She'd be into cocktail parties one week and then me the next. But it's hard to compete with whiskey sours."

Somehow the news that Joyce was a drunk was not all that surprising. It explained her neglect and her periodic bouts of over-protectiveness. It also explained the emotional abuse that was couched in terms of parental concern. As soul-boy, he had wondered at her frequent business trips, trips that left her teenaged daughter at home alone in a town with such a high crime rate, but the realization that those business trips likely hid alcoholic benders was enlightening.

Buffy paused on the landing and glanced back to face him, her brow furrowed in consideration. "Although I don't think she's really concerned about me. She's obsessed with this image of the 'me' that she wants. Her perfect cheerleader daughter, with the perfect grades, and the perfect friends, it's a very conditional love. The day I fall too far below her standards of 'perfection' will probably be the day she throws me out."

Angelus cocked his head as he studied her. "And that's love?"

"That's her love," Buffy shrugged, unconcerned. It was just the way her mother was, the way her mother had always been, swinging from screaming rages that bordered on physical violence in one moment to gentle maternal tenderness, filled with concern and motherly wisdom in the next; she never did remember her actions on the evenings of whiskey sours. "It's not my love. When I'm looking at you, I see you. I see the man I love."

His brow cocked upward in challenge and he reached over, turning on the light. "Even now?" he demanded, shifting into his demon countenance. "Even in the light?"

She stared at the ridges of his brow, at the thickness over the bridge of his nose and at the sharp fangs revealed by his parted lips. His eyes were gold, nearly glowing with feral danger, and his long lean form was tensed with predatory stillness, a panther waiting to pounce. Yet despite the demonic countenance and the aura of death that followed him, he was hers. As much as he'd ever been with a soul, so too, this aspect of him was hers.

"Even now," she confirmed. "Now turn off the light."

Surprised at her request, Angelus brushed the switch back down and followed her up the stairs. "Why do you want the light off?" he asked curiously.

Buffy glanced back at him, her brows lifted with amazement. "So no one will know I'm home."

He nearly sputtered in amusement as he followed her into her bedroom. "Lover, no one with a brain larger than the size of a flea would assume that just because your lights are out, especially at this time of night, that you aren't home."

"Actually," she returned dryly, "most humans do tend to think that if the lights are out, nobody's home. They also think that if you don't answer the phone, you're not home then either."

"Like I said," he reiterated, "brains the size of fleas."

Buffy grinned. "Well, now that you've established your racial feelings of superiority, how about a very quick shower before I pack? Ahm feelin' stick-ay."

"Stick-ay?" he repeated, amused at her bad Southern Belle accent.

"And dirt-ay. And if you're good," she offered, glancing down at his healing gunshot wounds, "I'll take those bullets out for you."

Angelus glanced down, realizing that he'd been scratching absently at his wounds. "I thought I was better than good. I thought I was heavenly."

"After the bikers and the kitchen, we probably don't have time for heavenly, we'll have to settle for good and get to heavenly later," she purred, catching hold of his hand and backing toward the bathroom, drawing him with her.

The irritating, bell-like tones of the jangling telephone rent the air and Angelus stared down at his diminutive Slayer, his lips curling into a questioning smirk.

Buffy smirked back up to him as she led him into the shadowed bathroom. "I'm not home," she murmured, ignoring the shrieking demands of the phone.

~

Ring.

Ring.

Ring.

"Hello, you've reached the Summer's residence. We're not available to - "

Sighing in aggravation, Cordelia stared resentfully at the darkened house and pressed END on her cell phone. "Right," she muttered. "Not at the Bronze, not at the cemeteries and not at home. Where the hell are you?"

She moved the gearshift to reverse and without glancing behind her, backed out of Buffy's driveway and into the street. The brakes squealed as she came to an abrupt halt before she shoved the gearshift back down to Drive and pealed out.

"Well I'm out of ideas."

She sped down Revello Drive, glancing away from the road as se dialed in Giles' cell number.

~

Giles took in a deep steadying breath. This was it; his Slayer was depending on him - Buffy was depending on him. Only he could save her from this hell that Ethan Rayne had brought down upon them.

He stared down at the supplies he had painstakingly packed into his leather satchel. Was he forgetting anything? Crossbow. Arrows. Crosses and stakes. Herbs for his spells. Spells for his spells….Holy Water!

"Where the bloody hell is my head?" Giles muttered disgustedly, stuffing several vials of the blessed liquid into his satchel. The small vials were delicate and unthreatening looking, and the amount contained within did not look sufficient enough to halt a substantial vampire like Angelus in his tracks. Not on a good day and especially not when he was in a rage.

Giles took another deep breath. There was no choice. It had to be done. If he didn't save Buffy, then the Council would deal with her, and not kindly.

He checked his pockets, making sure he still had plenty of backing powder in the zip lock baggie in his right pocket, then felt in his left for the case filled with extra syringes of Phenobarbital; if it worked with werewolves, it should definitely work on his Slayer.

That was everything. No more delays. He had to find Buffy before she did something she'd never forgive herself for.

He grabbed up the tranquilizer gun and slung it over his shoulder, then grabbed up the leather satchel and headed quickly toward the door.

Ring.

"Bloody hell," he cursed softly, fumbling for the inside pocket of his tweed jacket and the accursed technological gadget that shrieked insistently in his pocket.

The distracted Watcher shoved his shoulder against the swinging doors of the library and staggered back as they abruptly exploded inward, slamming into his head.

Giles flew backward, dropping both the rifle and the satchel to the ground as he fell into the book checkout counter in an ungainly heap. Darkness swallowed him, a relentless, fell thing that didn't even give him time to comprehend the pain erupting in his skull.

The phone continued to ring shrilly in his breast pocket.

~

Cordelia pressed END and glared impotently at her cell phone. Well damn. Where had "Mr. Fuddy-duddy Call Me" gotten to?

The brunette May Queen sighed in irritation and unable to think of any other place to search for the missing Slayer, headed toward the hospital to check on her vomit-y boyfriend. Speaking of which, he so better not have ruined her new shoes either.

~

The candles flickered, their incandescent glow offering more than enough light for the two nocturnal predators to see details by in the dimly lit confines of the bathroom.

Angelus watched with interest as his diminutive lover, kneeling before him, inserted a set of long tweezers into the wound she had reopened with an exacto knife and carefully rooted for the bullet still lodged within his abdomen. The pain and her suggestively submissive position worked on him like an aphrodisiac, stirring desires that should have been more than placated for the time being by their activities of the evening, but despite his numerous orgasms within his Slayer's hot lithe body, he was once again aroused and hungry for her.

Buffy jumped slightly as the previously quiescent flesh between his legs hardened into new life and tapped her impatiently on her breasts. She glanced down at the twitching muscle and then turned her disbelieving gaze up to meet her boyfriend's smoldering stare. "You," she chuckled softly, "are such a pig."

The tall vampire smirked and took in a hissing breath as she closed the tweezers over the metal lodged in his body and tugged it free of muscle and sinew, carefully extracting it from his body. "I'm a demon baby," he growled. "Sometimes nothing says love like a little pain."

The golden haired Slayer dropped the misshapen bullet onto the counter, next to the previous two she'd already removed; the lead slug made a soft clinking noise as its red stained casing rolled against the other two. She laid the tweezers on the counter and picked up the bloodstained exacto knife.

Angelus watched her, his dark eyes hot with rising sexual hunger.

Buffy grinned mischievously up at her lover and then sliced open the last partially healed gunshot wound with one abrupt flick of her wrist.

The demon groaned, clenching his fists in her golden hair as the sweet pain danced tantalizingly along his nerve-endings; the scent of his own blood and lust perfumed the air, building his rising desire to greater heights.

The slender blond leaned back over to the counter to exchange the exacto knife for the long tweezers, brushing his eager cock with her soft breasts.

The dark-eyed vampire growled again.

Buffy smirked smugly and rose straight on her knees, trapping his throbbing muscle between her breasts as she carefully inserted the tweezers inside the wound, searching for the last bullet. Miraculously enough, the last bullet was easier to find than the previous three had been and she closed the tweezers hard around the lead invader. Confident that she had a good grip on the bullet, the golden haired Slayer looked up into Angelus impassioned face.

"If a little pain says love for a demon," she commented softly, "what does a lot of pain say?" She gave the bullet a hard twist and Angelus snarled, arching his hips tight against her breasts. She rubbed against him, fucking him with her breasts, turning her face down to breath her warm moist breath over his straining cock even as she twisted the bullet again, grinding the tweezers against his ripped tissue.

"That's right baby," he rumbled, thrusting between her soft rounded breasts in a slow steady pace. "Like that. You're so good. So warm and soft."

Buffy grinned impishly and abruptly pulled away from his thrusting hips. Before he could growl a rebuke, she bent and closed her lips over his cock, sucking in him into the depths of her mouth hard.

Angelus roared, his primal face erupting from his handsome countenance and arched into the wet suction of her mouth.

He was always so controlled, she mused, sucking him in as deep as she could and humming against his straining flesh. Well no more. She twisted the bullet again, shoving it deeper into his belly.

Pain and pleasure blinded him, the sweet agony that rippled through his wound, the hot ecstasy of her mouth. Control was lost in a blinding haze of sharp lust and he thrust deep between her lips, fucking her mouth wildly.

Buffy's eyes widened at his girth and size but she determinedly swallowed, easing his hard flesh down her throat and hummed as she sucked him, rubbing her tongue along his shaft, scraping him with her sharp little teeth.

He growled, his fingers tangled in her hair as he guided her mouth over him, thrusting again and again into the warm haven of her mouth and Buffy twisted the bullet harder than she ever had before and sucked him so hard she was sure she'd leave a dark purple hickey on his cock.

Angelus roared and slammed hard into her mouth, shaking uncontrollably as his orgasm arced through him and he shot his seed down her eager throat. He trembled, flinching with a soft sigh as Buffy at last pulled the last bullet out of his torn flesh and dropped it negligently onto the counter with the others.

The golden haired Slayer pulled away from her demon slowly, giving his softened flesh a reflexive lick as she looked up at him. It was funny how an orgasm reduced this fantastically powerful creature to the simple definition of 'hers.'

Her dark-eyed lover stared down at her and traced a cool fingertip tenderly over her swollen lips.

Buffy grinned up at him, gleeful in her power, but well aware that the power he wielded over her was no less strong. She glanced at the sluggishly bleeding wounds on his belly that were already slowly closing. "You're going to need more blood to heal those up."

"I'll grab someone on the way," he murmured, tugging her to her feet. "We better get that shower. At this rate, we're not going to make it out of town tonight if we don't exert some self control."

The diminutive Slayer smirked up at him innocently as he guided her into the tub. "I'm all about control."

He narrowed his gaze on her and turned the cold water on high, eliciting a high-pitched shriek of indignation from her lips.

Buffy wrenched the hot water on and shuddered beneath the cool shower until the temperature slowly warmed. "Sore loser," she muttered, dipping beneath the warm stream.

Angelus chuckled softly as he climbed into the narrow stall next to her, his tall lean form and broad shoulders taking up a majority of the space. "Somehow, I don't think I lost," he countered, handing her the soap as they exchanged places beneath the heated shower.

She smiled indulgently, content with the knowledge that she had made him cum faster than he was want to do, and poured a generous dollop of soap into her palm. She scrubbed herself with the loofah from toe to tip, removing all traces of her night's exertions from her flesh.

~

Cordelia slung the strap of her Prada leather purse over her shoulder and jogged up to the emergency doors of the Sunnydale hospital. She grimaced in irritation as the glass doors slid open too slowly and sidled into the Emergency Room.

She stalked over to the counter and waited impatiently for the nurse behind the admittance counter to look at her. After several minutes of waiting, the tall brunette rapped her hand ruthlessly over the bell sitting to the right.

The steely-eyed nurse glared at her. "What's your emergency?"

"I'd like information regarding Xander Harris and Willow Rosenburg. They were brought in earlier this evening."

"Are you family?" the platinum-haired woman demanded coldly.

"I'm a friend."

"Then I can't help you. Only family - "

"Cordelia, over here."

She turned around, finding Oz standing behind her.

"They're down this way," he informed her, turning and walking down the hall.

Cordelia jogged a couple of steps to catch up to him, her heels clicking loudly on the hospital tile floor.

The brown-haired guitarist walked down the hall and stopped before a window that had the shades closed on the other side. "They're in there."

She glared at the impenetrable blinds and then turned to watch as Oz sank into one of the chairs that lined the hall. She frowned uncertainly at the sight of his reddened eyes and then paced over to sink into the seat next to him. "What's the matter? Aren't they okay?"

The brown-haired guitarist nodded. "They got their stomachs pumped awhile ago. Poison's out."

The brunette May Queen nodded, not liking the strained look around his mouth. "So that's good, right? What's the problem?"

"The problem is the type of poison," Oz replied. "Lilies are kind of like digitalis."

Cordelia blinked without comprehension. "And just what does that mean?"

"It means that they've no where near out of the woods yet. They've got them both hooked up to machines to monitor their hearts and their potassium levels. They're both being injected with potassium chloride every hour, unless their kidneys stop working."

"What?" she breathed. "Giles said that Ethan said a little vomiting and they'd be okay."

"Well, Ethan lied!" the brown-haired teen snapped. "They could both have heart attacks. Kidney failure. They could die tonight from this. Even if they make it through the night without having a heart attack, either or both of them could still develop arrhythmia - permanent heart damage."

"You're saying that they could die from being cured?"

Oz nodded morosely. "At least when the spell was in effect, the physical poisons couldn't affect them."

Cordelia leaned back in her chair. "Is…what are the doctors doing?"

"Waiting."

She glared helplessly at the flat blinds that shielded Xander and Willow from view. Stupid Buffy; she was such a jinx.

~

This was her life now.

Giddy at the thought, Buffy chuckled softly to herself as she rolled several pairs of jeans into a tidy bundle before tucking them into the duffel bag she'd pulled out of her closet.

Not the graveyards. Not the fighting. Not the death. Not the disapproving mother or the disappointed Watcher or the judgmental friends. Never that again.

Love. Passion. Freedom.

The rest of her life was going to be just like this. No more isolation, no more fate-of-the- world responsibility and no more worries. From now on things would be love, laughter and lovemaking.

It would be a good life. Better than the one she was leaving behind, and certainly better than the one that she'd had before she was Chosen. And in a way, perhaps better than the one she'd lost when she'd accidentally killed Angel - for although she'd been wildly in love with Angel, her existence as the Slayer had tainted her every waking - and sleeping - moment; eventually that duty would have consumed her, taking away what little personal life she had managed to keep for herself thus far. Being the Slayer would one day have driven Angel away from her, just as it had driven Tyler and Pike from her…or worse, as it had taken Merrick.

Eager to start that good life, she packed quickly and economically, trying to fit as much as possible of her seventeen years into her limited amount of space, because once she was gone, she was never coming back.

"Women."

She slanted a glance over her shoulder at her elegantly lethal boyfriend; he was lounging against the doorframe and watching her with indulgent masculine amusement.

Unable to help herself, Buffy cast an appreciative look over his lean physique. Even more delicious than the wicked decadence of him in those leather pants was the naked splendor of his pale muscled chest, and the defined musculature of his biceps. Beyond drool- worthy, she decided, licking her lips approvingly; she could almost taste the cool perfection of his skin against her tongue and shook herself as her hungry gaze at last rose from his chest to his smirking lips and all-too-knowing eyes.

Buffy stared into that mesmerizing gaze, her mind filling with erotic images. She could all but feel his powerful body moving over her, inside her again. Her nipples tightened at the remembered feel of his lips and between her legs, where she was pleasantly sore from all the unaccustomed amorous activity, she felt a sudden clenching of hunger. Would she always want him like this? Would they always be so wild and out of control?

Somebody found the hair-gel, she thought to herself absently, taking in the sexy spikes of his styled hair.

"Excuse me?" she asked archly, attempting to sound cool and unruffled, not like she was ready to risk their future together because she was suddenly desperate to throw him onto her virginal schoolgirl bed and ride him into submission. What am I turning into a nympho? Later. Escape Sunnyhell and then later…

Angelus pushed away from the doorframe and strolled over to her bed as he eyed the bulging canvas of her bag. "Women," he repeated in a soft rumble, sprawling lazily back onto her bed.

Buffy watched, momentarily spellbound as her beautiful, sexy, cradle-robbing-creature-of- the-night boyfriend lounged back on her bed, arms behind his head and booted feet crossed at the ankle. His hard masculinity was in sharp contrast against the very feminine floral print of her comforter, and far from appearing effeminate against the girlishness of her bed, the surroundings only made him appear more masculine, more dangerous and more tempting than ever.

The handsome vampire grinned, enjoying her lustful perusal. "I promise you an entirely new wardrobe and yet here you are, trying to pack up the old one so you can keep it as well."

Buffy glanced guiltily down at the bag. She really had meant to just grab the bare essentials, and yet when she'd started packing, everything had just seemed so…essential.

Shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, moisturizer, make-up, hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a razor: all were absolutely necessary to be a girl. Oh! She'd forgotten the nail polish, the nail polish remover and the nail nippers…and the nail file. She quickly grabbed several polish colors and the other items from her vanity and stuffed them into the makeup bag, before tucking it back into the duffel.

And as for clothes? Well, it wasn't as if she was trying to put her entire closet into the bag, just the best parts of it…and a couple of practical things too.

She had some outfits that she really liked. So what if she packed her leather mini-skirt along with a few pairs of black jeans; the skirt made her legs look great. And so what if she packed her favorite black sweater, the one that was lace-like and see through; it made her skin look creamy and pale. Besides, she'd included t-shirts and camisoles.

And a girl had to have underwear and socks and stockings and shoes - and she'd only packed three pairs of shoes (not including the pair she was going to wear out.) She was being very restrained: a pair of sneakers, a sexy pair of black heels, her knee high suede boots and the black half boots she was going to wear out.

She'd been very restrained in her opinion.

"I'm only packing the essentials," she defended herself.

"Really?" he purred. "I don't suppose you have any sexy lingerie in there?" he asked with interest.

As a matter of fact there was; jewel-toned swatches of sheer lace and silky satin that she'd purchased with the sole intention of turning her experienced boyfriend into a gibbering lust-crazed fiend. Unfortunately, as always, the Hellmouth's timing had ruined her various opportunities with Angel. Heck, the night of her 17th birthday, her carefully selected black lace drive-the-boyfriend-wild underwear had been taken cleanly out of the picture by her dunking into the harbor; the replacement underwear in her locker had been plain, white, demure cotton, and her camisole had had a built in bra: very un-sexy. Although, thankfully - or did she mean unfortunately? Whatever. - not un-sexy enough to turn Angel off. And as for Angelus, well until tonight, giving him a flash of her ultra-sexy underwear just hadn't seemed like a very good idea.

"Maybe," she temporized coyly.

The dark-eyed predator leered at her, enjoying her teasing even as he admired the curve of her hips beneath her black jeans and the thrust of her young breasts beneath her long- sleeved white cotton shirt. "Don't bother with any nightgowns. You won't need them."

Her breath caught at the hunger in his eyes and she swallowed. "No?"

"No. I don't want anything between your skin and mine when we're in bed."

Buffy smiled, pleased with his throaty demand, and turned away from him toward the closet. "Any other requests?"

Angelus narrowed his dark gaze on her, his attention arrested. "Do you still have the little black dress that you wore to the frat party?"

"Yes."

"Pack that."

The golden haired Slayer found the requested item and tugged it out of the closet. She held it in front of her and glanced at him, raising her brows questioningly. "Any particular reason you want this dress?"

"Baby," he growled, "you have no idea how sexy you looked in that dress, with those chains hanging off your wrists. I wanted to toss you over my shoulder and carry you away somewhere private, where I could beat your ass for lying to me, before I tossed you down on my bed and fucked you breathless."

Her breath caught slightly and she carefully packed the requested item of apparel, wondering whether or not she would find herself in some newly acquired chains at a future date. "You sweet talker you," she murmured breathlessly.

He grinned smugly and tucked his arms behind his head, enjoying the view of his delicate little beauty bending and maneuvering as she packed her belongings. Her fragrance, a sweet blend of vanilla, jasmine and the sweet heady scent that was innately Buffy wreathed his senses like a siren's spell, and he breathed it in, enjoying the subtle intoxication.

Angelus lifted his head and reshaped her pillow to better enjoy his view before sliding his hands beneath his head again. Beneath her pillow, his fingers tangled in a soft, filmy material and curiously he tugged on the cool fabric. A swath of black silk emerged, undulating forth from beneath her feather pillow like a shadow as he pulled the cloth completely free from the feathered weight.

A man's silk shirt. Bemused, the handsome vampire sat up on the bed and shook out the fabric, before holding it up for his inspection: and just his size too.

He cast a speculative glance at his golden lover, her back to him as she industriously searched the hangers in her closet for some specific item of apparel. His lips curled into a sensual smile of amusement and he tugged on the somewhat worse-for-wear, wrinkled shirt; a timely find considering that his previous shirt of the evening was nothing more than blood soaked rags in an alley.

Now just when, he wondered, had she started absconding with his wardrobe? Typical woman. A whole closet full of her own clothes, and still she made off with a man's favorite shirt.

The mingled scents of himself and her lifted from the fabric, though his own was fading. Had she worn it while she slept? Or had she simply held it - and the scent of him - in her arms as she dreamed?

Her back was still toward him, the search for whatever item she was looking for not going very successfully. "What was it that got to you?" He purred, picking up the conversation where he'd let it lag momentarily as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. "The part about me beating your butt? Or was it the fucking you breathless bit?"

Buffy rolled her eyes and shifted her clothes on their hangers, searching for the little blood-red silk dress that she had purchased with him in mind. "How quickly it goes," she lamented. "One day it's blood, woman and poetry, the next it's beer - "

"Whiskey."

"The old lady - "

"You'll never be old."

"And butt beating."

He grinned. "If I apply myself correctly, I can make you like it."

The innocent Slayer whose innocence was quickly falling to the wayside flushed pink and turned to glare at him. "Perv."

The dark eyed demon laughed softly, enjoying the flush of embarrassment that stained her cheeks. "If you like, lover, I can recite some poetry while I cherry your ass."

Buffy bit her lip and wondered if she could turn any redder. "Can we please stop talking about my ass?"

Angelus rose from the bed and walked over to his diminutive lover, pulling her hard against his chest. Purring softly, a deep resonating sound reminiscent of a large jungle cat, he nuzzled her temple and slowly trailed his lips down to her fluttering pulse.

She swallowed, unable to resist pressing herself to the partially naked splendor of his torso, the silken feel of his skin over hardened muscles luring her to nuzzle against him even more than the silky fabric of his shirt.

The tall vampire cupped a hand around the piece of anatomy in question and gave it a gentle squeeze. "For now," he crooned, nipping her throat gently.

Buffy nearly moaned at the pleasure of his touch and then shook herself determinedly. She was never going to make it out of this bedroom if she didn't stop touching him soon, otherwise, she might as well strip herself down, crawl into bed with him and just wait for her Watcher to catch them naked.

Reluctantly she pulled away from his light embrace - and stared in shock at the shirt she hadn't really realized that he'd put on. "Hey," she objected indignantly, staring at the silk stretched across the breadth of his shoulders. "That's my shirt."

Angelus stared at her calmly and didn't reply to her outrageous claim.

"Sort of my shirt." She crossed her arms over her stomach and fidgeted for a moment, before re-crossing her arms over her chest. "Okay, big deal," she blurted after the silence had stretched out. "I stole it from the apartment a few weeks ago."

He raised a brow at her defensive tone and said nothing as he buttoned the shirt.

"Well it's not like you were using it," she continued.

The tall vampire was silent, enjoying her discomfited babble of excuses.

"I mean, lately you're all leather, velvet and…silk," she finished guiltily, looking at the silk fabric. "Well, you weren't wearing it at the time," she continued lamely.

"Why'd you take it?" he asked softly.

"I mean, you never even really went back to the apartment after that…one time, so what did you care -"

"Buff," he interrupted sternly. "Why did you take it?"

Buffy turned her attention away from the knowing gaze of her lover and stared blankly down at the bag in front of her. "You know why," she murmured. "I missed your scent. I missed a lot of things, but this way I could at least get your scent back." She blinked, embarrassed to reveal such soft sentimentality before her demon lover and forced herself to focus on the jumble of clothes she'd stuffed into her bag.

Angelus watched her silently, pleased with her confession, and yet, not. Now that he thought about it, it was Angel's scent she had missed…yet they both smelled the same. It was still his scent she missed even if the memories she had of it had been of that whimpering waste of existence.

He brushed the thoughts away before the jealousy could spoil the evening. Her memories of Angel were irrelevant; from now on they would make new memories. Memories that had nothing to do with his cowardly whimpering soul.

"Have everything you want?" he asked, staring down at the bulging canvas bag with no little amusement.

"Just about." She turned back to her closet and searched quickly for a sweater to pull on over the long-sleeved white shirt she wore; the ride into L.A. on the back of a motorcycle was bound to be chilly. The soft fabric of the chenille gray sweater was just beneath her fingertips when Angelus spoke again.

"The pink."

Buffy blinked and glanced at the pink sweater, a soft cobweb knit that was just as lace-like and see through-ish as her black one, if not more so.

"Pink?" she repeated doubtfully. "Isn't that a bit…girly?"

"Pink," he confirmed in a throaty tone. "That pink."

The golden Slayer pulled the requested sweater off of the hanger and slid into it, adjusting the fabric to lie smoothly; the lace-like knit of pink yarn was just enough to be flattering without being overpoweringly girly.

"Pink," Angelus purred, sliding his hand around her waist and pulling her to his chest. "When you wear this," he murmured softly against her temple, sending goose-bumps skittering down the nape of her neck and down her arms, "I think of cotton candy."

"What do you know about cotton candy?" she asked a little breathlessly.

He nuzzled down her cheek toward the delicate arch of her throat. "I know it's sweet," he murmured in a throaty tone, squeezing her hips gently. He fingered the snap on her jeans and then traced the zipper meaningfully. "I know it's sticky and gets all over your fingers and lips when you eat it."

She leaned her head back on his shoulder, her heart thundering in her chest at his erotic insinuations. "And I know it melts on your tongue," he purred, turning her slowly to face him. "Just like you," he breathed before kissing her passionately.

Buffy moaned, leaning into his masterful caress and then whimpering softly in disappointment when he pulled away.

Angelus laid his finger over her swollen lips and caressed the full pouty curve of her lower lip. "It's time to go."

"Hokay," she breathed.

She glanced around the room, trying to remember if she was forgetting anything and then headed over to her jewelry box, realizing that she had. She lifted the lid of the wooden box and stared down at the array of costume jewelry, the opal ring her grandmother had left her, the amethyst earrings her father had sent for her birthday (late) and then the three pieces of jewelry that actually meant something to her: two pendants and a ring.

Angelus reached past her and lifted out the ankh, carefully avoiding the gleaming lines of the cross that his other self had given her. He opened the delicate catch of the pendant and lowered it around his lover's throat, and fastened it, allowing the silver ankh to lie against her golden skin at the base of her throat, inches away from the frantically throbbing pulse of her carotid artery.

The diminutive Slayer looked down at the remaining two pieces of jewelry: her cross and her claddaugh. Her hand hovered hesitantly over them; should she take them or not? Would Angelus consider them his gifts as well or solely Angel's?

The decision was made as the Master Vampire reached into the box again and drew out the delicate silver band.

Buffy turned to face him as he slid the ring over her left ring finger, the point of the heart facing her, telling the world that she belonged to him. She looked up into the heated intensity of his chocolate gaze.

"Forever," he intoned, caressing the metal that was already warming to her flesh.

"Forever," she agreed softly.

He laced his fingers with hers and pulled her away from the jewelry box. "Leave the cross," he muttered. He grabbed up her bag and slung it over his shoulder, tugging her toward the door.

Buffy hesitated and did a final sweep of the room, before pulling away from him to go back to her vanity to pull a stake out of the top drawer. She tucked it automatically into the waistband of her pants; she might be a retired Slayer, and she might be the lover of a Master Vampire, but that sure as hell didn't mean that members of Club Undead weren't going to get on her nerves, and when they did, she would have to stake them. She turned around and was brought up short by the sight of her demon lover holding the plush piggy form of her childhood friend.

"Is Mr. Gordo coming with us too?" he asked in an impatient, almost mocking tone.

The golden Slayer lifted her chin proudly and snatched her plush friend from the clutches of the fiend from hell. "Yes."

"Right," he muttered. "Let's go." He grasped hold of her wrist and pulled her down the stairs after him. "And no, you can't bring the bathroom sink with you."

Buffy tucked Mr. Gordo into the open bag slung over her evil boyfriend's shoulder and playfully whined. "But Ahn-gehl-us, whatever will I do without the sink?"

He slanted a mock-stern look at her. "I'll steal another one for you. Women," he muttered, in a long - centuries-long - suffering sigh. "Now, grab your jacket and let's go" ~

Cordelia glanced at her Tiffany diamond-encrusted gold watch, a recent Christmas gift from Daddy, and sighed irritably as she noted the time. Beauty sleep was out of the question now. Nearly 1am on a Friday night and here she was, not out on a date, not being worshipped and not having any fun at all. Her entire weekend was ruined.

Damn Buffy Summers. Why did she ever have to move to Sunnydale?

The pungent aroma of disinfectant assaulted her nose and the May Queen scowled up at the florescent lights above; doubtless not only unflattering for her complexion but also detrimental to it. Why did these things always have to happen to her?

The faint noises of the machines that monitored both Willow and Xander's hearts beeped discordantly, irritating her. Stupid things. Why did they have to be so loud?

And again, Buffy's fault. Before Buffy came to town, nothing like this would ever have happened to a couple of nobodies like Willow and Xander. Also, before Buffy, there was absolutely no way she, Cordelia Chase, would ever have been insane enough to date a scruffy- looking loser like Xander, but here she was, dating Xander Harris, and keeping a vigil, along with Willow's tolerably cool boyfriend, Oz, while they waited to find out whether or not the pair would recover from the poisons that had run rampant in their systems.

The dark-haired May Queen glanced at her watch again and sighed again. Where the hell was Giles? He really needed to know the result those noxious plant extracts were having on Willow and Xander; from what she understood, worst case scenario, it could be fatal if not handled immediately. Had he decided to go after Buffy and her psycho boyfriend on his own? So not a smart thing to do, but then Giles was Watcher-man and Buffy was his responsibility, so who knew how he'd want to handle things?

"I'm going to try Giles again," she announced, reaching into her purse for her cell phone.

"Hospital zone," Oz informed her with scarcely a glance at her designer phone.

"What?"

"Hospital zone," the brown-haired guitarist repeated. "No cell phones."

Cordelia rolled her eyes and shoved her phone back into her bag. "Like it would kill somebody if I made one itty-bitty phone call," she muttered resentfully. "Fine. I'll use the payphone."

She stood up and stalked down the hallway to the nurses' station, annoyance twisting her features into a haughty scowl and her heels clicking in rapid staccato.

The floor nurse looked at the fashionably dressed brunette and raised her eyebrows in question. "Can I help you?"

"The payphones?" the cheerleader demanded shortly.

The steely-eyed nurse sniffed her nose in disapproval at the revealing clothes of the May Queen and jerked her chin toward the payphones down the hall by the elevators. "Down there."

Cordelia looked down the hallway at the public phones and wrinkled her nose in disgust. No telling who had handled these phones, or leaked what fluids on them. She reached out and, much to the outrage on the floor nurse, plucked several tissues from the Kleenex box on the counter. "Thank you."

Fastidiously armed against the diseases no doubt infested in the public utility, the brunette cheerleader approached the chrome and black plastic phone and gingerly picked the handset off of the cradle.

With several tissues protecting her hand from the filthy plastic of the handset she used another to protect her from the filth on the buttons as she dialed in the number for Giles' cell phone.

"So disgusting," she breathed with a soft shudder, holding the handset an inch or two from her face; there was absolutely no way this disgusting piece of public filth was touching any part of her skin.

The line rang.

And rang.

And rang.

"Damnit Giles," she growled. "Where the hell are you?"

~

The door of the library lending-cage clanged shut, the noise, loud in the silence of the library did not waken the unconscious librarian.

The two vampires peered through the bars of the cage at the helpless blond man. It went against their natures and against their inclinations to let helpless prey live, but orders were orders.

"Are you sure we can't eat him?" the blond vampiress, yet another vacuous, but attractive female addition to the local vampire population, all but drooled as she looked at the unconscious tweed-clad man.

Curtis backed away from the cage and dropped the cell phone that he'd pulled from the Watcher's jacket pocket onto the counter. "Angel was real specific. No nipping was one of the specifics."

The blond pouted petulantly, but obediently moved away from the cage. While Spike was fairly lax in maintaining control over what remained of the Order of Aurelius in Sunnydale, when Angel bothered to rule, it was with an iron fist - one that periodically ripped out disobedient hearts. Her heart, though no longer used for pumping blood, was just fine where it was. She most definitely did not want the Scourge of Europe giving her an attitude adjustment.

"Waste of blood," she growled, but that, was that, as far as she was concerned. "We done here? I'm hungry."

The tall blond Adonis of the undead kicked the weapons that they had removed from the cage out of reach of any stretching hands and nodded. "The note is in his hand, and he's knocked out, just as ordered. We can leave."

"Oh goody," she cooed, bouncing over to his side. "Maybe we can get take-out at the drive- thru."

The pair left through the swinging library doors, though with considerably less force than when they'd first exploded into the room, knocking the door into the hapless Watcher's face.

Behind them, on the lending counter, Giles' cell phone rang shrilly.

The Watcher did not stir. ~


Buffy leaned against Angelus' back, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist as they roared down the darkened highway.

The night air whipped at them as they sped along the asphalt, combing its chilled fingers through their hair and nipping at the bare skin of their hands; the dark-eyed demon that drove the rumbling Harley was impervious to the whims of the element, and the delicate blond at his back was protected from the worst by his broad-shouldered form at her front and the canvas duffel-bag at her back.

A motorcycle. Buffy smiled to herself in amusement, her eyes closed and her cheek pressed against the leather jacket that once again covered her boyfriend's back. It was a little cold with the wind attempting to whip up the sleeves of her jacket, but all things considered, it was all pretty romantic.

A motorcycle was pretty damn close to a horse - or at least it was as close to a horse as the average person got these days, and here she was, on the back of a noble steel steed, behind her dark prince and riding away into the night for their happily ever forever after.

Who ever would have thought that the Scourge of Europe had it in him?

Doubtless he'd growl in denial if he knew what she was thinking. Buffy mentally shrugged; he was her handsome dark prince - who was sometimes not so charming, but was a keeper none-the-less - and whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was sweeping her away to a new life.

Angelus glanced into the rearview mirror of the motorcycle of the bike, peering through where his reflection should have been to the reflected profile of his lover's face; Buffy was nestled against his back, a soft dreamy smile curving her pink lips and an incandescent glow of happiness about her.

He wondered briefly what it was she was thinking at that moment, and then turned his attention back to the highway ahead, just as they sped by the "You are now leaving Sunnydale" sign.


tbc...???


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