Life’s But A Walking Shadow

By Maquis Leader

 

 

 

Rated R

Author’s note: I don’t think Buffy would have waited for someone to call Angel and tell him she was alive. This takes place immediately after the BtVS episode Afterlife and picks up in the middle of the Angel episode Carpe Noctem.

 

 

 

 

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

 

Macbeth, V.v.

 

 

 

Their voices hurt her ears. Loud, sharp, and echoing off the ugly gray walls. The sound cut across her already raw nerves. They smiled at her with their white teeth in their gray faces as they laughed their shrill laughs. Standing, she turned to go upstairs.

 

“Buffy? Where you going?”

 

Pausing with her hand on the jagged white banister, she turned and forced her mouth into a painful smile. “Upstairs.”

 

“Come on, Buffy.” Xander got up from the sofa and went over to her. “The party’s just starting.”

 

“I’m – tired.” She turned away from his gray face. “I’ll see everyone tomorrow.” And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

 

“Oh, wait!” Dawn ran up to hug her. “I love you!”

 

“I – love you – too.” She forced herself not to pull away from the coarse gray cheek that pressed against hers. Forced herself not to gag at the sickly sweet scent. “Good night.”

 

Their sharp voices followed her up the stairs and down the dim hallway to her room. Closing the door, she lay down on her bed and pulled the gray covers up over her head.

 

The blankets scraped at her bare arms, and the pillow scratched her cheek. Tears welled up in her eyes and she didn’t try to hold them back anymore. As much as she hated Willow and the others, she loved them as well. They were so happy she was back, and she wanted to scream at them. Curse them. Kill them. But she loved them and she choked those feelings down and tried to act happy for them.

 

They thought she’d been in hell. This was hell. This cold, dirty world. After the warmth, purity, and vibrant colors and scents – this was hell. She felt like Dorothy, only she never wanted to go home again.

 

Maybe she should jump off the roof or step in front of a bus. Would she go back? Or was it one trip to heaven per customer? And would Willow just drag her back again because she didn’t know the truth?

 

Spike was the only one who knew the truth, and she wasn’t sure why she’d told him. Maybe because he knew that bitter bite of irony. Dawn had told her in her piercing little voice how Spike had wept over her death. Confessed his love for her. She sneered at the very idea. A vampire in love with the Slayer? Who did he think he was? Angel? Angel…

 

“Oh, God, Angel!” She peeled the sandpaper blankets back. Had anyone told Angel? Was he still alive? No one had ever mentioned him. Had they even told Angel she was dead? Willow said she went to LA… So he knew. But what had he done? No… She remembered the feeling, the knowing that Angel was okay. But did that mean dead? Or just gone? If he was dead and not suffering any more – what if? Had he killed himself? Did he love her that much?

 

Frantically, she grabbed the phone off the night stand and pushed the sharp buttons. The phone was icy against her face while she waited. Please oh please oh please!

 

“Angel Investigations.” A timid voice said. “We help the helpless.”

 

“Angel – is Angel there?”

 

“No, he’s not – “

 

“Is he – is he – “ Please oh please! I can’t bear it if he’s gone!  “What – “

 

“He’s on a case right now. But I can take a message.” The woman’s voice seemed to gain a little strength. “Angel’s helped lots of folks, he’ll help you, don’t worry.”

 

She hung up the phone. He was alive. “Angel…”

 

Getting up, she left her room and walked down the dingy hallway to her mother’s room – the room Willow shared with Tara now. She heard voices inside and knocked softly on the prickly door.

 

“Hey, Buffy.” Willow smiled, her eyes lighting up in her gray face. “Did you want to talk?”

 

“Did you tell Angel?”

 

“Angel?” Willow frowned. “Oh, oh, you mean that you’re back?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“No, not yet.”

 

The sounds of Willow’s feet shifting nervously on the black carpet crackled in her ears. “Oh, okay.”

 

“We will though, we’ll call.” She reached out to hug her.

 

“Okay.” She pulled away from Willow’s coarse hair as it scratched her face. “Goodnight.”

 

“Night.”

 

She went back to her room, shut off the light, and waited. After a few minutes, her patience was rewarded. Willow and Tara crashed down the stairs. Cautiously, she followed and listened. Their voices were like the screeching of the monkeys she’d seen when they went to the zoo sophomore year, their voices piling over each other until she had trouble making out who was saying what as they whispered. About her. About Angel.

 

“She asked about Angel.”

 

“You knew she would, sooner or later.”

 

“I told her we’d call.”

 

“We can’t let her.”

 

“Why? She’d like that, don’t you think she’d like that?”

 

“Because, Anya honey, Dead Boy will be happy.”

 

“And happy is bad?”...  “I don’t understand.”

 

“Happy for Angel is bad. Happy equals Angelus equals dead people. So, bad.”

 

“I don’t understand. Happy is good – you humans need to make up your minds!”

 

“Hey, watch it with the ‘you humans’ crack! You’re living with a human, remember?”

 

“I’m sorry. Let’s go home and have sex, and I’ll show you I’m sorry.” …  “What? I’m good at sex.”

 

“Okay, eww! And let’s stick to the subject!”

 

“Can I add ick to that?”

 

“It’s simple, Will. Angel turns into Angelus and we stake him. Poof! No more problems.”

 

“Xander!”

 

She had heard enough. Creeping back upstairs, she went into her not-mother’s-room-anymore and rummaged through Willow’s purse, the sharp things inside hurting her hand, until she found the small gray change purse. Pocketing the money, she put the purse back where she’d found it and went back to her room.

 

Sorting through her clothes, she found the black leather jacket Angel had given her long ago. The coat seemed to gleam in the dim light, and the supple leather was soft and soothing to her irritated skin.

 

Unrolling her old sleeping bag, she bunched it up under the covers until it looked like a sleeping body. If they looked in, they’d think she was sleeping. She had heard them in the night that first horrible night, checking on her and whispering about her.

 

At the window, she had a sudden flash of Angel leaning in and kissing her, and her chest hurt. Crawling out the window, she dropped down onto the gray grass and slid silently around the house to the back door.

 

Inside the tarnished kitchen, Willow and Tara turned off the lights and walked upstairs, arms around each other’s waists, gray faces pressed together. Easing open the door, she took the keys to her mom’s car off the hook on the wall.

 

The moon cut into her eyes with sharp gray knives, and she lowered the sunvisior as she turned onto the freeway. “I’m coming, Angel.” She would tell him herself, and if he turned into Angelus with joy – maybe she’d get lucky, and he’d kill her. Kill her so bad Willow couldn’t bring her back again.

 

 

 

 

Lilah moaned as Angel pushed her back on the desk and crawled on top of her. His chest was cool under her hands, not cold like she had expected, and the muscles were firm and hard. That’s not the only thing that’s hard. His cock was digging into her as he ground his body into hers.

 

She was soft and smelled spicy; Marcus couldn’t remember a woman ever smelling so good. There was a sharp scent that he somehow knew was her arousal. It drifted up to him to tell him she was wet and ready to be fucked.

 

Angel’s tongue was plunging in and out of her mouth, and one big hand was squeezing her left breast to the point of pain. Arching up into him, Lilah curled a leg around his thigh and tangled a hand into his thick hair to hold him closer as she fought his tongue with her own.

 

Her free hand slid down his side and along his hip until she could cup and squeeze his ass. Nice and tight! Angel grunted and moved his mouth along her cheek to her throat, humping urgently into her, crushing her into the desk. Big and heavy and strong… yes!

 

The pain in her throat was sudden and sharp, like twin daggers had punched into her jugular. Jesus! Oh… oh… The pain was shoved away by pleasure, and her body shook and tightened as it rushed toward the peak.

 

What the fuck? Marcus choked on the mouthful of blood even as he swallowed it automatically. He jerked back away from her, surprised to see blood on her throat. Did I do that?

 

Lilah shrieked in pain as Angel jerked his fangs free from her throat. He bit me! The son of a – She pushed at his shoulders until he got up off of her. “You son of a bitch!”

 

“Whoa! I’m sorry! It just – felt like the thing to do.” She pulled a cross out of her purse and held it out before her. For some reason it hurt his eyes, and he backed up. “Whoa! What are you, born again all of a sudden?”

 

“I don’t know what kind of sick game this is, Angel, but I hope you enjoyed it because you’re never getting this close to me again.” Lilah pressed her free hand to her neck as she walked out of his office, still carefully shielding herself with the cross.

 

Marcus tried to get close enough to grab her but there was something about the cross that made him want to run away. He ran his hand over his face and stopped as he felt the ridges on his forehead. “What? This is new.”

 

He spent a few moments exploring his face with his fingers, tracing the ridges and the thickened muscles along his cheeks and jaw. His mouth felt funny and he touched his lips; they felt fine but his teeth were – “Ow!” Sharp.

 

Marcus looked at the blood on his thumb, then stuck it in his mouth. The sweet taste made him pull it out of his mouth and look at it again. “Ah… hmm…”

 

“What the hell is with this guy?” He rubbed at his forehead again. The funny ridges were gone and so were the sharp fangs. “Figures I’d find some mutant freak eventually.”

 

Searching through Angel Investigations’ papers had turned up news clippings and other information on his most recent body snatches, and he’d shredded them into pieces and then shredded the pieces.

 

There was nothing else of interest in the office. Just a lot of old – very weird – books and a couple of things that looked magical that he might be able to sell.

 

“Whatever I am, I feel good.” Except for a nagging hunger that wouldn’t go away, he did feel good. Not that he ever felt bad sliding into some young stud’s body, but this Angel guy? “I am so fucking juiced!”

 

His vision was sharper than he could ever remember. He could smell the freshness of the small plants on the desk in the other room, and he had damned sure smelled that Lilah chick’s pussy. This body was powerful. Muscle wise, he looked better than average, nothing like that last guy, but there was a different feel. A sense of danger and power he’d never felt before. And his Johnson… “I bet I can screw all night with this guy!”

 

Marcus was about to head out to the clubs when a pretty little blond thing waltzed in the door. Damn! He’d nearly gotten lucky once tonight, maybe he’d get laid before he went out.

 

“Angel.”

 

“Uh, yeah! That’s me. Angel.”

 

Everything was in shades of gray, even Angel, and she blinked back tears. Somehow, she had thought he’d look different than all the rest. Alive where they were all dead. “I know it’s a big surprise to see me. I’ve been just a little dead.”

 

First a bible thumper and now a nut case. “I… ah…” Jesus, is she an old flame?

 

“I know we agreed to not really see each other anymore. But I had to come tell you myself.” She walked cautiously toward him. “In case you get – all happy. And if you came back to Sunnydale – well, Xander is ready to kill you, you know? I do want you to be happy, I still love you, Angel.”

 

Did she dump him? Marcus decided this ditzy blond needed to learn who was the man around here. “So you think you can just shimmy back in here and I’ll be so overjoyed I’ll take you back? Is that it, honey?”

 

“What?”

 

“Hey, baby, we were hot in the sack together, ah… weren’t we? But ah…” He laughed at her shocked expression. “Get over it.”

 

For a moment, she stood staring. Had Willow already called? Had Angel’s soul been shoved out and Angelus left in charge? Angel looked… different somehow. Like he wasn’t Angel. But Angelus? Angelus would be more tactful than this. In his own cruel way.

 

Stepping closer to him, she looked into his black eyes. “Angelus?”

 

“You’re jealous?” Marcus laughed again. “You should be, chickee, I’ve had two offers already tonight. Almost had some action right here on the desk.” He puffed out his chest and ran a hand down to adjust his Johnson. “I’m a hell of a looker, you know.”

 

The body was Angel’s. The scent of him was there; this wasn’t some shape changing demon. But the creature behind his eyes wasn’t Angel. Or Angelus. “Who are you?”

 

“I’m a man, baby.” He leered at her. “And if you want proof – “ He grinned as she reached for him. The grin faded as she spun him around and slammed him face down over the desk. “What the fuck?”

 

“You know, I really don’t need this.” She twisted his arm up behind his back.

 

“Let me up, you ditzy broad!” He struggled, but she held him easily. How could this little girl be so damn strong? “I’m gonna slap some sense into you!”

 

“Shut up.” She looked around for something to tie him up with. She might have to let him go and risk having to take him down again. Not that he seemed to have any fighting skills. Angel – definitely Angelus – would’ve broken free easily. At the top of her game, she wasn’t. Not yet. “Chains… where are the chains?”

 

Chains? “Listen, baby, if you’re into that kinky S&M stuff – you gotta find another guy.” He tried to push up off the desk with his free hand, but she shoved him back down. “I’m all for a good fuck – but chains and stuff? No way.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

A sudden thought came to him. “Unless you wanna be chained up? Now that I might go for! You got a little gangbang fantasy you wanna play?”

 

“Sorry, Angel.” She picked up the ugly gray paperweight and hit him on the back of the head.

 

After making sure he was unconscious and not just closing his eyes and not pretending not to breathe, she left him laying sprawled across the desk while she dug through the small closet by the door looking for something to chain Angel – or whoever he was – up. He might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he still had a vampire’s strength. She didn’t care if he killed her, but she wasn’t leaving him in Angel’s body.

 

A box yielded up a pair of wrist manacles and several lengths of chain. Using the manacles, she secured his hands behind his back before sliding him off the desk and into the chair. Wrapping the chains around him, she secured them with a large padlock from the chest, tucking the key into her pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

“Oh, jeez, my head…” Marcus rolled his head back and forth to be sure it was still attached. Opening his eyes, he saw the blond broad standing in front of him.

 

“Where’s Angel?”

 

“I’m, Angel, baby.” He laughed.

 

“Whatever. Where’s Angel?”

 

“Right here.” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Come and get it.”

 

She grabbed his t-shirt and ripped it down the front. Picking up a large glass from the desk with one hand, she gripped Angel’s chin with the other, looking deep into his eyes. Hoping to see something besides the black, endless depths. “Angel, I’m sorry.” Nothing. No spark of recognition. “Angelus, if you’re in there, I’m sorry. I think.”

 

This broad is fucking nuts! Marcus stared into the gray eyes as she lifted the glass over his chest. It’s water, what the hell does she think that’s gonna do? Completely fucking nuts!

 

The splash of water onto his bare chest burned like the melted solder he had spilled on his fingers years ago. He cried out as the water steamed and rolled down his chest and onto his stomach.

 

“Where’s Angel?”

 

“What the hell is that?” He moaned. “Acid?”

 

“Where’s Angel?” She drizzled more of the holy water on his chest.

 

“I’m Angel!” He bit back a fresh cry of pain.

 

“No.” She tipped the glass again. “Where’s Angel?”

 

“You fucking bitch!” Marcus snarled. His face felt strange again, and there were too many teeth in his mouth. He jerked at the chains but couldn’t free himself. “I’ll bash your head in.”

 

“Tell me where Angel is first.”

 

“No!” He gritted his teeth as she poured more of the water over him. This time he couldn’t hold back a shriek of pain.

 

She winced and tears burned her eyes. Angel isn’t in there. This is just a shell. She could almost believe it. “Tell me where Angel is.” A beautiful shell that she used to love to kiss and lick down the same path the holy water now burned.

 

“No way.” Panting, he shook his head. He’d seen the weakness in her eyes. “You’re not gonna kill me. Uh uh, you want this Angel guy back.”

 

“True. That’s the upside.” She drizzled holy water on his chest again. “I can’t kill you with this – “ Drizzle. “I can hurt you – “ He twisted and screamed as the water splattered onto his already raw belly. “Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?” She steeled herself as she watched the smoke roll off the burnt flesh. “But you won’t die. Though you may want to.”

 

Marcus growled and snarled, pulling at the chains and arching up in agony as more of the liquid trickled down his chest. “You bitch!”

 

“Don’t worry, you’ll heal – “ She poured the holy water over the raw flesh. “And we can do it again. And again. Until you tell me where Angel is.”

 

Screaming, he thrashed about, held in place by the chains and choking on the acidic fumes pouring off his body.

 

There was a spark of light and Angelus moved toward it, fighting against the barrier that held him in the box. There was the stench of burned flesh. His? Someone else’s? The light was closer, and he forced himself closer. Pain now. Sharp and hot. He grabbed the pain and used it to pull himself inch by inch to the light.

 

 The pain was too much and Marcus embraced the blackness that had been pushing at the edges of his vision. It rushed up and swallowed him with a fierce roar.

 

Angel’s head slumped forward suddenly and his chest fell silent. She gave in to her tears for a few moments, before wiping them off her cheeks and looking through the papers piled on the floor by Angel’s desk for some clue to where he was.

 

She had no idea what she was looking for. “Where the hell is everybody?” There was a pile of shredded paper, and she’d bet her life – the old good one and not this new one – that the information she needed was in that pile.

 

He caught the scent before he heard her voice. Over the putrid stink of holy water and burnt flesh was vanilla. Sweet and pure. And… something else. “Buffy?”

 

Glancing up, she saw Angel – whoever was in his body –  looking at her. “Ready for round two?”

 

“Buffy…” Angelus cleared his throat. It was raw, as if he’d been screaming. Looking down at his bloody chest and stomach, he could see why. “Buffy…”

 

I didn’t tell him my name, did I? Why would I? She got up from where she had been digging in the wastebasket and walked over to him. Still… “Angel?”

 

“No.” He laughed softly.

 

“Angelus?” When he nodded, she bit her lip. “And how can I be sure?”

 

One corner of his mouth curled up in a sexy smirk. “Hello, lover. I missed you.”

 

“Did you?”

 

“Willow worked some mojo, didn’t she? Better watch her.” He tsked. “Magic’s addictive.”

 

She looked deep into the dark brown eyes. There was a wicked sparkle. A cruel gleam that she recognized. “Never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad to see you.”

 

“Me too.” Angelus looked her over critically. “You look good for a dead woman.”

 

“I’m not.”

 

“We don’t have much time. I don’t know how quick he’ll come around.”

 

“I am not untying you.” She frowned. “Unchaining or whatever.”

 

“I don’t want you to.”

 

“Okay… “ She crossed her arms over her chest. “Who are you really?”

 

“Listen to me!” He growled. “He switched bodies with Angel. He’s in this place where old people go to die!”

 

“Oh my God!” Her heart skipped a beat before catching up and slamming into her throat. “A hospital?”

 

“No – some home. An old people hotel or something.”

 

She sagged back against the desk in relief. She’d imagined Angel lying in a hospital bed with tubes sticking out of him. And some evil demon in the room about to kill him.

 

“The dumb sap just stood there and smiled while the old guy did it!” He snorted in disgust. “Figured the spell wouldn’t affect a vamp.”

 

“He didn’t fight this guy?”

 

“It’s a little old man!” Angelus sneered. “You think Soul Boy is going to slap around some old fart?”

 

“Well… no.”

 

“But the moron didn’t seem to realize it wasn’t a body swapping – “ He laughed. “It was soul swapping!”

 

So Angelus was left behind when Angel was sucked out. “And did you warn him?”

 

“Ah… no…” He smirked. He had figured he could overpower the new soul coming into his body. “Not exactly.”

 

“Then shut up.” She smiled and for the first time, it didn’t make her face hurt. “We’ll have to stash you someplace safe while I go get Angel.”

 

“Down in the basement – there’s a cage with my name on it.”

 

“Can we make it before he wakes up?” She pulled the key to the padlock out of her pocket.

 

“Think so. I’ll tell you if he starts coming around.” He looked disgusted for a second. “You took this guy down in a minute. How embarrassing to wake up chained to a chair.”

 

“As opposed to waking up chained to something else?” Kneeling behind him, she unlocked the big padlock. “Why are you helping me, anyway?”

 

“You’re not going to kill me – this body – because you want Angel back.” Angelus turned to look down at her. “And there’s no other way to get this guy out of me.”

 

“And you care, why?” She tugged at the chains around his legs, pulling them off. “This guy seems more up your alley than Angel.”

 

“I couldn’t see.” He said quietly. “Or hear.”

 

Unwinding the chains from around his chest, she thought about that for a moment. Angel had told her that Angelus was awake and aware inside of him. So did that mean that he wasn’t with this guy?

 

“With Angel I can hear and see – feel.”

 

“Feel?” She looked up, startled. “Feel? Like what Angel feels?” Like kissing and touching and oh my God!

 

“Yeah, but like with gloves on, you know? Not the winter-in-England gloves – the sleek-leather-driving gloves.” He winked at her. “You feel… wonderful… by the way, lover.”

 

Okay, not going there. “And you can’t with this guy?”

 

“No. I was in a box or – I don’t know. No sound or light. Nothing!” He growled suddenly. “Fucking nothing!

 

“Angel hears you, talks to you, doesn’t he?” She threw aside the last of the chains. “And this guy didn’t?”

 

“He doesn’t know I’m here. Buffy – “ Angelus looked away, ashamed of his weakness. “I’m afraid – sometimes – “

 

Rolling her eyes, she stood up. “Gimme a break. The only thing you’re scared of is not having a smartass comeback.”

 

“Buffy, I’m afraid sometimes – that I don’t really exist.” He turned to look at her again. “If I can’t see or hear – will I fade away?”

 

She could see that he wasn’t lying. Angelus was genuinely afraid. She shouldn’t feel pity for him, he was a demon and she shouldn’t feel sorry for him. Shouldn’t feel for him at all. “Better the soul you know, huh?” She caressed his cheek.

 

“I thought that was devil.”

 

“That’d be you.”

 

“Good point.” He smirked.

 

She couldn’t resist the sensuous lips. Full and pale pink, way too kissable. Leaning down, she pressed her lips to his, hesitantly at first, then firmly when she found his lips were soft and cool as they’d always been.

 

Angelus returned her kiss eagerly, his tongue pushing at her lips until they parted to let him inside. He groaned as she sucked at his tongue before biting gently. “Mm… baby… too bad we can’t have some fun while he’s out.”

 

“Behave.” She smiled and ruffled her fingers through the soft, dark hair. 

 

“I’ve got the address. Undo my hands and I’ll write it down.”

 

“I’ve been dead awhile.” She picked up a pen and a piece of paper that didn’t look too important. “But I’m not stupid.”

 

“Of course not.” He laughed softly. “You’re not really a bubble headed blonde, you just play one on TV.”

 

“Now there’s the Angelus I know and love.”

 

“Really?” He purred. “Love me do you?”

 

Ignoring him, she held the pen over the paper. “Address?”

 

“Spoilsport.” He filed her slip away for future use before giving her the address.

 

She wrote it down and tucked it in her pocket. “I’ll go get him after we get you locked away.”

 

“Watch out for Ryan. I can’t get into all this guy’s memories – but this guy stands out.” He warned her. “He’s big and mean.”

 

“Worried about me? I’m touched.”

 

“Whatever.” He stretched up to try and kiss her again. “I want to be the one hurting you – preferably while I’m fucking you to death.”

 

“Nice.” She leaned down, hesitated, and then brushed a kiss over his lips. “I’m overwhelmed by such a display of love and affection. You’re going to ruin that image of yours.”

 

“It is love – from my angle anyway.” He nipped at her lips. “Vamps don’t do the candles and wine crap.”

 

“So I noticed.”

 

“We’re into love bites, though.” He snapped at her lips again playfully. “Hey, I gave you a dead body, isn’t that what all girls want?”

 

“Come on, Romeo.” She grabbed the sides of his torn shirt and hauled him to his feet. “Before I’m swept away by mad passion.”

 

Angelus was wobbly, both from the wounds on his chest and stomach and from a tenuous control over his body. He leaned heavily on her for a moment trying to gain his balance.

 

“You going to make it?”

 

“Everything feels funny.” He took a slow step. “It’s like everything’s connected but – far away.”

 

“Maybe because he’s unconscious? But then – “ She slipped an arm around his waist and helped him walk out of the office. “Never mind. I have no clue how this curse thing works.”

 

“Hey, I just live in this body.” He staggered along beside her. “Don’t ask me.”

 

At the elevator, she stopped short as the doors slid open to reveal a young woman sitting on the floor and sobbing.

 

“Fred.” Angelus sagged against the wall next to the elevator. “This is Buffy. Buffy this is Fred.”

 

“Hi, Fred.” She pushed him inside the elevator.

 

“Oh my God.” Fred wiped at her wet cheeks. “What happened? And aren’t you dead?”

 

“It’s a long story.” Pushing the sharp button for the basement, she looked again at the gray faced girl. “Someone hijacked Angel’s body and he’s not here. But the guy – you know, it’s just way too long. Trust me.”

 

“O – okay.” Fred wasn’t sure about this. But she’d heard Angel talk about Buffy and knew he trusted her completely. And she trusted Angel. Even if he was a rat fink.

 

Angelus leaned down and snuffled at the honey blonde hair as the elevator began its descent. “Stop it.” She shoved him back.

 

“You don’t smell right.”

 

“You try being dead for months – “ She frowned. “Uh… never mind.”

 

“It’s not that.” He snuffled along her face and throat again. “Your scent is just – off somehow, Buffy.”

 

“You don’t exactly smell like roses yourself, you know.”

 

Angelus staggered suddenly. “No! No! I won’t go back in there!”

 

“Back?” She caught him as he sagged to his knees. “Back where?”

 

“No!” The light was fading, and he could barely hear her voice. “No!”

 

The body snatcher guy must be waking up, she realized. Angelus was shaking his head and growling. “Fight him! Don’t let him back out!”

 

The elevator stopped and she helped Angelus to his feet. “Fred, he said there’s a cage down here?”

 

“Y – yes. I think so.” Fred got to her feet and followed them out of the elevator.

 

“Show me!” She ordered as she started down the gray hallway. “Open it!”

 

“But – but – “ Fred scurried down the hallway to where she’d seen the cage on one of her exploring trips that nobody knew she took when she did get out of her room. “Why are we locking Angel up? I know he’s been a bit – uh – wild – um – well – but should we lock him up? And did Lilah do that? ‘Cos I mean, we should lock her up, don’tcha think? Instead of Angel?”

 

“She rambles a bit, doesn’t she?”

 

Angelus ignored both of them, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. Things were getting dimmer, fading away, and he shoved at the other consciousness intruding on him.

 

“Just a little farther, baby.” She rubbed his back as they started down the stairs into the sub basement. Angelus was snarling now, and his lips were peeled back to reveal the sharp ivory fangs. “Fight him!”

 

“Buffy – “ The golden eyes turned to her. “He’s getting loose! I can’t – can’t – “ The darkness sucked him under and the light vanished, leaving him trapped inside the dark box. No! No! No!

 

“What the hell – “ Marcus tripped as the light rushed in.

 

She let go of him as they fell down the stairs. The fall wouldn’t kill Angel, though it would hurt like hell, but it could kill her. And she wasn’t opposed to dying, but she wasn’t leaving this guy in Angel’s body. Curling up, she did her best to roll down the stairs, trying to minimize the damage. Angel hit bottom first and she landed on him, cushioning her fall. Somewhat.

 

Fred was still at the top of the stairs, mouth slack and eyes big in her gray face. “Are – are you okay?”

 

“Get down here and open the cage.” She ordered as she got painfully to her feet. When the girl didn’t move, she put more bite into her voice. “Open the cage! Now!”

 

Fred ran down the stairs, edging past her to open the cage.

 

“You crazy broad…” Marcus groaned and shook his head. “First you pour acid on me, then you throw me down the stairs?”

 

“And for my next trick – “ She grabbed his chained wrists and dragged him to the open door of the cage. “Oh hell with it – I’m out of witty repartying, just get in there.”

 

He twisted, trying to pull free from her grasp. When that didn’t work, he pulled his legs up, scraping his knees painfully as he tried to get to his feet.

 

“Here we are – “ She let him get up and then pushed him inside the cage before he could find his balance. “Cage, sweet cage.”

 

The door clanged shut before Marcus could get to his feet again. “You’re not getting him back, sister. I’ll never tell you where he is!” Hatred burned in his black eyes.

 

“You already did.” She checked the lock to be sure it was secure. “Fred.”

 

“Ye – yes, ma’am?”

 

It was obvious the girl was terrified of her. She sighed. “Will that cage hold him?”

 

“I – I think so.” Fred bobbed her head nervously. “Angel said he built it to keep himself in -- just in case, you know?”

 

“I know.”

 

“Oh, of course you do.” The girl giggled nervously. “You’re Buffy.”

 

“Stay here. Keep an eye on him. If the rest of your happy little group ever comes back – tell them that’s not Angel. But it’s not Angelus, either.” She started back up the stairs. “And for God’s sake, don’t let anybody stake him!”

 

“Oh I will!” Fred told her. “Oh, I mean – I won’t! I – you know what I mean. Um… Buffy?”

 

“What?” She paused at the top of the stairs.

 

“Where are you going?” Turning, Fred looked at where Angel was grunting and pulling on his restraints. “And how long ‘till you come back?”

 

“To get Angel and figure out how to put him back. And I don’t know.” She walked out the door.

 

“Okay then.” Fred sat down on the bottom step. “I’ll just wait here.”

 

In the cage, Marcus continued to work on his chains, growling and cursing.

 

“Fred.”

 

Fred jumped up and turned to see her at the top of the stairs again. “Y – yes? He hasn’t moved. I’ve been watching and he hasn’t moved – well, he’s trying to get the chains off but – “

 

“Fred.” She said slowly, wishing the girl would shut up. The chattering made her ears hurt. “Where is Angel’s car?”

 

“In the garage.”

 

She waited for a second. “And the garage is where?” She could take her mom’s car, but Angel’s was bound to have weapons or anything else she might need.

 

“Oh! Take the elevator up one floor and then go left, you’ll run right into it.” The girl smiled wistfully. “It’s a really pretty car. You can put the top down – “

 

“I know what it looks like.” She cut her off. “I’ll take it and – “

 

“Hey sweetie.” The links on the manacles snapped apart. With a grin, Marcus reached into his front pants pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “Looking for these?” He shook them enticingly. “You want ‘em? Come in and get ‘em… ”

 

“There’s another set in Cordy’s desk.” Fred told her. “Just in case.”

 

“I’d say there’s a couple of ‘in cases’ here.” Sticking her tongue out at the man in Angel’s body, she left again.

 

“Let me out, honey.” Marcus smiled at Fred. “Let’s go have some fun.”

 

“I’ll just be upstairs.” She scurried up the stairs and out the door. Slamming it, she leaned against it. “And I thought Pylea was strange.”

 

 

 

Parking the Plymouth, she studied the Monserrat Retirement Community. Compared to some of the places she’d had to break into as the Slayer, this place was a piece of cake. “Guess that kick ass sword stays in the trunk.”

 

Pocketing the car keys, she walked around the edge of the large stone wall until she was out of sight of the street. Leaping up, she caught the edge of the wall with her fingers and easily vaulted over to land on the other side.

 

Walking around the building, she found a side door and with a hard twist of her wrist snapped the lock. She found herself in a dark stairwell and climbed up to the third floor.  Easing the stairwell door open, she peered out. The hallway was empty, the gray doors closed for the night.

 

Reaching up under the back of her jacket, she pulled a stake from her waistband and laid it in the doorway to keep the door from closing completely. Satisfied that it wouldn’t close and lock behind her, she walked quietly down the dim hallway, reading the door numbers as she went. Angelus had told her Angel was in room 316. 322… 320…318… 316. Bingo!

 

Knocking softly on the door, she waited for several moments. Hearing nothing from inside, she twisted the door knob slowly until the lock broke with a quiet snap. She stepped swiftly inside and shut the door.

 

The room was dark, but to her eyes, the knives of moonlight coming in the windows lit everything up like midday. The room was empty, but there was a doorway leading to another room. Crossing the gray room, she paused just inside the doorway.

 

An old man lay curled up on the bed, blankets pulled up to his chin. Slow, steady breaths told her he was asleep. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she reached out and touched his shoulder.

 

Angel jerked away. Someone was in the room. He blinked and saw a fuzzy outline in the darkness. “Get away!” He fumbled for the glasses on the nightstand.

 

“It’s okay.” She reached out to touch his arm. “Calm down.”

 

His hand hit the lamp and he grabbed it and switched it on. The sudden light bathed the person’s face and hair with gold. “Buffy?” Squinting at her, Angel couldn’t make out the fuzzy face. Finally finding the glasses, he put them on. “Buffy!”

 

The body was old and infirm and the voice weak, but she knew it was Angel’s soul behind those faded blue eyes. “Angel.”

 

“You’re alive!” He grabbed her and pulled her into his arms. “You’re alive – how?”

 

“Long story. It doesn’t end well.” She wrapped her arms around him and held him close, conscious of just how frail this body he was in was. “We have to get you out of here.”

 

“It’s so good – I missed you – “ Tears welled up in his eyes and ran down his cheeks. “I wanted to die too – I didn’t think I could live without you – “

 

“You already lived without me.” She couldn’t help the old bitterness that colored her voice.

 

“No – no – “ He cupped her face with both hands. “I knew you were alive – we were apart – but I could still feel you.”

 

“I know.” It should have been strange of him to kiss her, but it somehow felt right. The lips weren’t as soft and full as they should have been, but the feeling was the same. “I could always feel you, too.”

 

“Buffy – Buffy – “ Angel kissed her cheeks. “I’m so glad – so – uh – “

 

“What is it?” He looked startled and a hand came up to his chest.

 

“My heart – his heart.” He forced himself to take deep breaths. His chest felt as if it were being squeezed by an invisible giant. “It’s weak – “

 

“Just take it easy.” She pushed him back on the bed. “Just relax.”

 

“It’s better this way – better – “ He grinned up at her despite the pain. “Can’t lose my soul – “

 

“On the minus side, you may die of a heart attack before I get you back in your own body.” Your slightly abused body.

 

“I’ll be okay.” Reaching up, he stroked her cheek. “You’re sad – why are you sad?”

 

“I’m not sad. Just concerned.” She smiled. “See? Happy Buffy.”

 

Even in this old body with its weak eyesight, Angel could see Buffy was miserable. Her eyes were gray, a bluish shade he’d seen only a handful of times. Like when he told her he was leaving her as they stood in the sewers. Buffy's hazel eyes were a barometer for her feelings, and right now they said that she wished she were dead. Still dead. “In the living room, on the shelves, there’s a conjuring stone and a small spell book.”

 

“I’ll go get them.”

 

Sitting up, Angel watched her walk into the living room. There was no bounce to her step, no vitality. It was if she were drained. At first he’d thought she was a ghost and that he’d died during his sleep. Just his luck to be in some old man’s body for eternity while Buffy was young and beautiful.

 

Angel paused and waited, but there was no smartass remark in his mind. He’d been alone for the last day and it was both wonderful and lonely. Angelus had been inside his head for over a hundred years, and he missed him. A little anyway.

 

“Is this it?” She looked down at the ugly gray-black stone. It scratched her palm.

 

“Yes, that’s it.” Getting up from the bed, Angel found Marcus’ shoes and slipped them on.

 

“Let’s go then.” Putting the stone and the small book into her coat pockets, she held out a hand to him. When his warm, frail fingers wrapped around hers, she led him out of the room and into the hallway.

 

“We have to watch out for – “

 

“For Ryan, I know.” The hallway was deserted, and she moved quickly toward the stairwell.

 

They were almost to the door when a large man came around the corner of the hallway. “Who are you? What do you think you’re doing?”

 

“I’m… visiting.” His booming voice hurt her ears. “Just stopped by to say ‘hi’. Hi!”

 

“Visiting hours are over.” He glared past her at Angel. “Marcus, you know visitors aren’t allowed past the main lobby.”

 

Angel cringed back as Ryan reached for him. She grabbed the man by his collar and spun him around. “You know, it’s been a long time since I got to say this – “ Punching him in the face, she watched as his eyes rolled up and he collapsed. “Nobody picks on my boyfriend.”

 

Taking Angel’s hand again, she opened the door into the stairway and led him into the stairwell. “Careful, it’s dark.”

 

“I can’t see a damned thing.” He gripped her hand tightly. “Being human sucks.”

 

“You’re telling me.”

 

Marcus’ aged body dictated a slow pace, and they had to stop and rest at each landing. She considered picking him up and carrying him but knew that Angel’s ego might take a hit if she did. By the time they reached the bottom, he was leaning heavily on her.

 

“I can’t smell you anymore.” Angel said softly. “Can’t hear your heartbeat. I miss it.”

 

She nodded. After being a vampire for over two hundred years, Angel must feel blind with the limited human senses. Old human senses at that.

 

“I love listening to your heart.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “The sound of your blood.”

 

“You’ll get it all back, Angel.” She brushed a kiss across his cheek. “I promise.”

 

Outside, she led him along the wall to the front gate. There was no way Angel could get over the wall. Not in the body he was in. “Go on, the car’s about half a block to the left.” She kissed his cheek again and gave him a gentle push.

 

“I’ll try to hurry.” He smiled at her, knowing she was going to stay behind and cover his retreat.

 

“Don’t.” She shrugged. “It’s not like I have to hold off a pack of vamps or anything. Just an overweight orderly or two maybe.”

 

Angel walked as quickly as he dared to where his car was parked. He frowned as he saw it was pulled half up onto the curb. The tire had a big scuff mark from hitting the concrete. “Buffy…”

 

“Get in.”

 

He jumped at the sound of her voice. She had come up behind him so quietly he didn’t know she was there. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

 

“Sorry.” Sliding into the driver’s seat, she patted the cool leather next to her. “Get in, let’s go.”

 

“I can drive.” He had let her drive once and had no desire to repeat the experience. Especially not in his car. Never mind that he was in a breakable body. Not in his car.

 

“You can’t see two feet in front of you.” She snorted. “Now get in.”

 

The Plymouth roared to life as he shut the door. He winced as she threw the gearshift into drive and jerked the wheel, dropping it off the curb with a bounce. She lunged out into traffic without checking the side view mirror. There was a honk and screeching of tires behind them.

 

When Angel fastened his seatbelt, she grinned at him. “Scared?”

 

“This body doesn’t regenerate.” He told her as he cinched the belt down tight. “And keep your eyes on the road.”

 

“Coward.” She pressed the gas pedal down as a stoplight turned red. The Plymouth snarled and dug into the pavement in response, as though her touch meant as much to the metal beast as it did to Angel.

 

They made it back to the Hyperion in one piece, though Angel had closed his eyes and started saying his final confession in nearly forgotten Latin after she went around a traffic jam, narrowly squeezing back into her own lane ahead of oncoming traffic.

 

“Here we are.” She threw the gearshift up in park, jerking the car to a stop. “Not even a scratch.”

 

“Uh huh.” He opened the car door and got out. When she started toward the door leading into the hotel, Angel patted the shiny black hood. “Sorry, I won’t ever let her drive you again.” There was a soft ticking as the engine cooled down.

 

“I got – a little rough with your body.” She told him when they got into the elevator to go down to the basement. “But I didn’t know what else to do.”

 

“I understand.” He assured her. “You had to get him to talk.”

 

“Only he didn’t. Angelus did.”

 

“Angelus?” The demon had helped her? “Why would he help?”

 

“I offered him my body.”

 

“You’re kidding.” He stared at her. “Aren’t you?”

 

“Yes.” She smiled slightly. “Though I did give him a kiss. Or two.”

 

“Oh, well.” Jealousy bit him sharply in the ass. “He’s in my body, after all.”

 

“Uh huh.” The door opened and they walked down the hallway to the basement stairs.

 

“And a kiss or two – I can understand.” He didn’t like the smile on her face. “’Cos it’s like kissing me. Right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“So just one kiss or two.”

 

“Yep.” She nodded. “No more than three.”

 

Fred was still sitting outside the basement door. She scrambled to her feet as they approached. “I’m so glad you’re back! He’s really upset – he – he keeps yelling – and – “

 

“Hello, Fred.”

 

“Hello, sir.” She jumped as a loud crash sounded from the sub basement. “It’s not usually this noisy around here. Sometimes it’s so quiet you can hear – “

 

“Fred, it’s me.” Angel smiled at her. “Angel.”

 

“Uh… okay…” Her eyes were wide as she watched the old man go down the stairs.

 

“Jeez, Buffy. What did you do to me?” Angel stared at himself. At the burnt chest and stomach. “Pour holy water all over me?”

 

“Um… can we talk about that part later?” She handed him the spell book and the stone. “And I said I was sorry.”

 

Marcus paced back and forth in the cage, occasionally flinging himself against the bars of the cage door. He was vamped out and more than a little freaked out as well. “What the hell is this guy? I’m hungry!”

 

“I had spaghetti for dinner.” Angel said. “And a baked potato. And there was Jell-O, I think it was. It jiggled.”

 

“Did you like it?” She smiled at the childlike joy in Angel’s voice.

 

“Except for the green beans.” He shook his head. “Oh – but I had garlic bread, Buffy!”

 

“Garlic bread?” A light feeling bubbled up inside her and she laughed a real laugh. Her first real laugh in her new life. “Bet that was a treat.”

 

“It was – it was – “ Angel closed his eyes. “Buttery. And good. Very good.” He opened his eyes again and patted his stomach. “Gave me heartburn, though. But it was worth it.”

 

“Let me out of here!” Marcus grabbed the bars and shook them. “I can smell you! Hear your heart beating!” He stretched  a hand out, straining to reach them, his black eyes burning with rage. “And that sound – rushing – what the hell is that sound?”

 

She arched an eyebrow at Angel. He shrugged. “Takes getting used to.”

 

Snarling and growling, Marcus threw himself against the bars again.

 

“Have a little dignity, would you? For God’s sake.” Frowning, Angel looked through the book for the spell. “You’re supposed to be a deadly creature of the night, not some hyper Pekinese.”

 

Finding the spell, he began reading it aloud. “Alli permutat anima kimota.”

 

“Shut up! Shut up! I’ll fucking kill you!” Marcus screamed at him.

 

“Alli permutat anima kimota!”

 

A bright red light burst from the eyes and nose of Angel’s body, arcing toward Marcus’ body. It dived into his mouth as blue light streaked out from his eyes and nose. The blue light slid in past Angel’s slack lips and disappeared. Both men collapsed to the floor.

 

Picking up the stone, she walked over to the cage. “Angel? Angelus?” She crouched down next to the still form. “Somebody talk to me.”

 

“Ow… ow… “ Angel rolled over onto his back. “That really hurts.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“Me too.”

 

You’re sorry? At least you were loose and walking around! I was trapped in a freaking box! You stupid idiot! Just standing there? Just because we’re a vampire doesn’t mean we can’t get fucked over by magic! Hello? The freaking curse worked fine! Twice! You moron!

 

Ignoring his inner demon, Angel got to his feet and smiled at Buffy. “Anytime you want to let me out…”

 

“Give me the code word first.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

 

“We didn’t make up a code word.” He frowned.  “But if we did, knowing you, it’d be something like smoochies.”

 

I had smoochies. Angelus said smugly.

 

You did? I thought she was… damn!

 

“And that’s bad how?” She looked into the chocolate eyes and saw Angel’s soul shining out at her. “Do you get to remember Angelus kissing me?”

 

“Yes.” He took a moment to savor the memory of her warm tongue in his mouth.

 

Hey! Those are mine! Get your own! The demon paused. Please… get your own and much more…

 

“And may I just say, I’m shocked at your behavior.” Angel pulled her into his arms as she unlocked and opened the cage door and yelped as his burned skin touched her jacket.

 

And another smooth move. Angelus cackled. Tell me why you’re driving again.

 

He hugged her, more carefully this time. “I missed you, Buffy. But you’re free – “

 

“I wasn’t – “

 

“You – you – “ Marcus struggled up from the floor. “What the hell are you? You’re a freak!”

 

“You want to know what I am?” Angel asked, a slight smile curling his lips. There was cruel laughter in his head. “This is what I am.”

 

Marcus fell back as Angel’s face changed. His forehead became ridged and pronounced, his eyes turned a hideous color, and his lips curled back to reveal sharp fangs. “Monster – you’re – get away! Get – “ He clutched his chest suddenly.

 

Lifting the old man up, Angel threw him over his shoulder. “Fred, go call an ambulance.”

 

Why bother? Angelus yawned as Fred ran up the stairs. He’s lived long enough.

 

“Angel.” Reaching up to touch his face, she gazed into the vivid golden eyes. “You’re not a monster. You’re beautiful.”

 

“You’re just a little bit biased.” Letting his game face slide away, he grinned at her.

 

“Maybe.” She crushed the stone to powder and brushed it off her fingers.

 

Just a little?

 

 

Upstairs, Angel laid Marcus on the sofa. The old man was gasping and clutching his chest.

 

I am not giving him mouth to mouth. Angelus said. Mouth to veins possibly. But old people blood is never good.

 

The lobby doors opened and Cordelia came in. “If Julia Roberts ever makes a realistic movie about being an escort, I think she should call it Pretty Skanky Woman.” She stopped and stared. “Oh my God! Buffy! Can’t you stay dead!”

 

“Cordy!” Just when he thought he’d gotten used to Cordelia, she managed to hit a new level of tactlessness.

 

Let’s kill you, bitch, and see if you stay dead. There was an angry snarl.

 

“Well, I mean, jeez!” Cordelia threw her hands up. “This is like twice! So why do the bad guys even bother?”

 

“That was nasty as hell, man.” Gunn came through the doors and into the lobby.

 

“As corpses go, it’s about the worst I’ve seen.” Wes agreed. “Although I was in Cairo once and – dear Lord – Buffy?”

 

Wes rushed to her and hugged her before she could pull away. His cheek scraped hers, and his scent washed over her. She pushed free as soon as she could.

 

“Hey, what’s with the old guy?” Cordelia asked. “Is he going to wet on the couch? ‘Cos I’m not cleaning it up.”

 

“That’s Marcus Roscoe.” Angel told them. “He stole my body for awhile.”

 

“He what?” Wes’ eyebrows shot up. “Good Lord, what happened to your chest? You look like someone poured holy water over you.”

 

Guess Watcher doesn’t translate into observant.

 

“It’s – “ Angel searched through his memories and there were none of how he had gotten the severe burns. A small mercy there. “Don’t worry about it. An ambulance will be here in a minute to take him back to the Monserrat Retirement Community.”

 

“Isn’t that one of the places you checked last night?” Wes asked.

 

“Yeah, and then he was Mr. Strange after that.” Cordelia looked thoughtful for a moment. “More strange than usual, anyway.”

 

“And he did eat that burrito this morning.” Gunn pointed out.

 

Is that what’s in my stomach?

 

“How could you not tell?” She’d had enough. Enough of their shrill voices and their stupidity. “How could you not tell he wasn’t Angel?”

 

“And I suppose you did?” There was a smirk on Cordelia’s gray face.

 

In a heartbeat.

 

The EMTs burst into the lobby, and Angel took advantage of the confusion to lead her away.

 

 

 

 

“Ow… ow!” Angel gritted his teeth as she laid a gauze pad over his chest.

 

“You big baby.”

 

I’d agree, but damn!

 

Angel had showered, washing the holy water carefully out of the burns. Then he had wrapped a towel around his waist and sat on the bed so she could ‘doctor him up’ as she put it.

 

Paging Dr. Buffy! Angelus purred. I think we’ve got a hard… case… here…

 

“Here.” She looped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his.

 

The kiss was sweet and gentle. She kissed and nibbled and sucked at his mouth. Teasing him by sliding her tongue over his lips but not letting him capture it. He smiled as she gave him one last soft kiss before leaning back.

 

“Did that make it all better?”

 

“Much.”

 

More?

 

“Good.” She kissed him again, more passionately this time.

 

Angel grunted in surprise as her hot little tongue pushed into his mouth. Her fingers tangled in his hair, holding his head still while she fucked his mouth.

 

Now that makes it all better!

 

Kissing back, eagerly, he growled softly as she sucked and nipped at his tongue. She fought him for the upper hand, biting his bottom lip and plunging her tongue in and out of his mouth. Panting, she nipped at his bottom lip one more time, holding it and biting hard in a show of dominance, before setting back on her heels.

 

“Wow.” Gasping in air he didn’t need, Angel sucked at his bottom lip. Angelus’ snarl echoed in his head. “Is that payback for the burns?”

 

“Not exactly.” Her grin was impish as she put salve on another bandage.

 

“No?” There’s going to be more?

 

Let’s hope so. Angelus rolled around in an image of fucking Buffy.

 

“That was for Angelus.” She giggled as Angel’s jaw dropped open. “He was helpful, believe it or not. I think I could almost like him.”

 

Of course you can, baby. The demon said smugly.

 

“Seriously?”

 

“I think he could be a nice guy if he tried.” She taped the gauze pad onto his chest.

 

You take that back!

 

“A nice guy, huh?” Angel waited until she nodded. “He was looking down your shirt when you were undoing the chains.”

 

“What?” She smiled. “You’re just jealous.”

 

And well you should be. That was a serious game of tonsil hockey.

 

“Pink bra with little purple hearts all over it.”

 

Pulling out the neck of her shirt, she looked down it at her bra. “Ooh! That – that – pig!”

 

What? The shirt was gaping open! Was I not supposed to look? Angelus smirked. Titties on display and she’s surprised?

 

Angel smiled both at Angelus’ comments and her sputtering. He’d been enjoying the view himself while she bandaged his wounds.

 

“I should’ve known.” Taping the last gauze pad down, shook her head. “I take the kiss back, he can’t have it.”

 

Too late, baby! Mmm…. Nice!

 

Satisfied that Angel’s burns were covered, she put the bandages and other medical supplies on the bedside table. Sitting back on the bed next to him, she laid her head on his shoulder. “You need to rest.”

 

“I think we both do.” Angel put his arm around her shoulders and dropped a kiss on top of her head.

 

“Where was your so called staff? Where were they when he was stealing your body?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“And they all saw you – him – you – whatever! And they left!” She rubbed at her eyes. “How could they not know you weren’t you?”

 

Questions I’d like answered, by the way. I mean, hello? I ate a burrito – did they not think that was strange?

 

“I don’t know.” Angel repeated. “I don’t have any memories of what Marcus did.”

 

I knew! And I’ve been dead for months! How can people who see you everyday not know?”

 

Good point. You should fire them. Or eat them. I’m still hungry, by the way.

 

She was trembling, and Angel could tell she was becoming more and more upset. “Buffy, I’m sure he played it cool – “

 

“No! They should know! How can they – people should know!” Tears scalded her eyes and ran down her cheeks. “People should know when a person is – is – different! When they’re not – not –“

 

Killing them should be an option at this point. Angelus snarled. The only option!

 

This wasn’t about him, Angel realized. “They don’t know that you’re different, do they?”

 

“I wasn’t in hell – it was warm – “ She began to sob. “Warm and safe – “

 

Angel pulled her onto his lap and kissed her wet cheeks. “It’s all gray and ugly, Angel. And cold – “

 

They never could leave well enough alone.

 

Cuddling her, Angel tried to comfort her, kissing her cheeks and stroking her hair. Nothing seemed to help, and she began to cry harder. With a sigh, he rested his chin on her head.

 

“It was dark – I couldn’t breathe – and I dug out – “ She sobbed against his throat. “It was strange – fuzzy – demons and fire everywhere – bodies – I thought it was hell – “

 

Sounds familiar, actually. Angelus shuddered. Poor baby. Rub her back, maybe that’ll help some.

 

“But I was home – and I hate it!”

 

“If I’d known – if Willow had known – “Angel rubbed his hands up and down her back. “I’d have stopped her.”

 

I’d have broken her fucking neck! Meddling witch!

 

“I’m sorry you were torn from heaven, Buffy.” He kissed her forehead. “But I’m not sorry to be able to hold you again.”

 

Wiping at her eyes, she leaned back and looked up at him. Stroking his face, she looked deep into the beautiful chocolate eyes. “You’re the only good thing, Angel. It’s all horrible.” She buried her face in his throat once again.

 

She’s not the same.

 

I know. Angel sucked in a deep lungful of her scent. She was still Buffy, but there was something else. Something not quite the same as she was before. She’s not a demon. He said defensively.

 

No, I didn’t say she was. And you say that like it’s a bad thing!  Angelus gave a mental shake of his head. But a small part of her isn’t human anymore.

 

She was clutching at him, digging her fingernails into his shoulders and sobbing against his throat. “Shh… Buffy, don’t cry, lass. Please…” I knew she was supposed to be a player in the ‘end of days’. I didn’t really believe she was dead.

 

She was but… There was a cynical laugh. Death isn’t always final. Not with our kind.

 

Angel remembered his own reentry into the world after being trapped in hell for hundreds of years. The sounds and light had confused and frightened him.

 

At least we came back to a good place. Torture and torment not being on the menu everyday.

 

Angel shuddered at that. Everything that could be done to him – that wouldn’t dust him – had been done. Over and over for uncounted years.

 

Just kiss her – tell her it’s okay – lie to her.

 

Rocking her, Angel cradled her against him and did his best to soothe her. She cried heartbreakingly, her body shaking with sobs, and cries of grief tearing from her.

 

Tell her – just –  something! Tell her –  The demon was growing agitated. Purr maybe? She likes that – do something!

 

I don’t know what to do! I can’t make it better! He held her more tightly, wishing he could take her pain away.

 

Inside of him, Angelus began to keen softly, distraught at her crying.

 

Thinking that she might be comforted in knowing that Angelus shared her despair – that they both did – Angel laid his cheek against hers and let the sound free.

 

 

In her room, Fred huddled in the closet with the door closed and her hands over her ears.

 

Outside, the EMTs were loading Marcus into the ambulance. They looked back at the hotel and then hurried into the vehicle and pulled away.

 

In the lobby, Gunn and Cordelia looked up. After a moment, Gunn went back to polishing his axe. Cordelia pulled a walkman out of her desk drawer and put on the headset, cranking the volume up.

 

Wes paused, looking up at the ceiling of his office for several moments before going back to his journal.

 

 

While I cannot document Angel’s conversation with Buffy upon her return, I can say that the unearthly wail of vampiric despair and grief filled the Hyperion.

 

As always, Buffy's pain is Angel’s pain.

 

 

 

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