Tenebrae
by Sienna

E-MAIL: sienna_tainted@email.com
RATING: R, for now.
DISCLAIMER: I think it's pretty obvious by the way things are going on the shows that I DO NOT OWN ANYTHING.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thank you to everyone who has sent me feedback and encouragement for this, and for 'Living Space'. You're all wonderful.
SYNOPSIS: Set in Wishverse; Buffy and Angel don't make it out of the basement.

--

prologue

He sensed her as soon as she stepped foot into the Bronze. He knew the club was dead and deserted, the ground floor eerily silent above him. The thumping beat of music and the stench of fear and blood was unusually absent. A dizzying blend of confusion, excitement and anticipation filled his being as her sweet scent permeated the air. He prayed that she would find him.

His thoughts became startling reality when she entered the dimly lit basement, her form poised and wary, taking in her surroundings with alert eyes. She moved with silent fluidity, her feet soundless against the concrete. He couldn't speak as she walked towards his cell, eyeing him expressionlessly. He stared back at her, noticing the changes within her immediately. A scar cut her lips in half, and her cold, hard facade was well-worn. As she turned away, her name forced its way from his throat; a desperate call.

He kept speaking, knowing he needed to convince her to free him. She was finally here, and he wasn't going to let her leave.

"It's you. I mean... you don't remember. How could you?"

Buffy stared at him suspiciously. "How did you know my name?"

Her sudden popularity unnerved her. There was the dead chick whose fault it was that she was in this bleak town. The Watcher. And now this man who was obviously in poor shape. She'd seen clubs such as the Bronze before; a mecca of human suffering and vampiric perversion. But it was empty -- an uncommon occurrence. They couldn't have been tipped off about her approach so quickly, and vampires were always stupid enough to stick around for a big showdown. She could tell that the club had been recently occupied.

"I waited. I waited here for you. But you never..." he stopped. "I was supposed to help you."

She looked at him through the bars of the cell with disdain. "You were gonna help me," she said, wholly unconvinced.

"The Master rose. He let me live....to punish me. I kept hoping maybe you'd come -- my destiny."

She quickly grew angry. "Is this a get-in-my-pants thing? You guys in Sunnydale talk like I'm the Second Coming."

He was instantly contrite. "I'm sorry. I just meant--" he struggled to think of a way to make her understand.

Buffy interrupted him, impatient. "Look, I don't have time for stories. Where's the Master?"

"They're at his factory. It starts tonight," he said.

"Factory?"

He attempted to stand, groaning at the pain caused by Willow's earlier attentions. "I-I can take you there."

Buffy considered him warily for a few heartbeats. A flicker of concern shot through her chest and she felt herself relent, hoping, detachedly, that his injuries wouldn't slow her down. When -- *if*, her mind supplied -- she destroyed the Master, she'd have to free him later on. He could help her.

She kicked open the door to his cell and reached for his chains. He swallowed, responding to the vibrant heat emanating from her body, feeling warmth for the first time in years -- her cross flashed in front of his face and he flinched instinctively.

She sensed it immediately, jerking away from him with disgust and dropping his chains. "Oh, you gotta be kidding me!"

A vampire. How could she be so foolish? She was off her game lately, she knew. With the difficulties in Cleveland and the constant arguments with her Watcher, the Slayer life was rough, to say the least. But to be tricked by a vampire...She sneered at herself. She had been so willing to help him, particularly because of what he said. He seemed to know her, and she had hoped for some kind of...

What? *Connection*? What could she possibly hope for with anybody?

It seemed he only knew her because she hunted his kind.

She turned to leave and he called out quickly. "Wait, I won't hurt you."

"No. You'll leave that to your Master," she said icily.

"You don't believe I want to help you?" he said, standing up against the wall, wincing with the effort and pain it caused. He opened his shirt to reveal his extensive wounds, fury towards the Master colouring his voice. "Believe I want him dead."

Buffy stared at him for a long moment, feeling an unexpected glimmer of compassion, suddenly uncertain. She shoved it back within her, letting a familiar mask of indifference settle over her features.

"Oh, Puppy shouldn't say naughty things like that," an innocently teasing voice said from behind her.

Buffy whipped around, instinctively moving into fighting stance. She had already acknowledged the various torture instruments against the wall to her right, deciding that they would be of help. She didn't look away as the redheaded vampire toyed with a dagger, sliding her finger smoothly down the blade, a hollow smile on her gleaming red lips.

Buffy swiftly kicked her in the face, backhanding her when she came up again. Willow punched her back, then dug cruel fingers into her throat, plunging the knife into her abdomen before the Slayer could react. Buffy's mouth opened in shock and profound pain, crying out in agony when Willow viciously twisted the knife before ripping it out with a triumphant grin. She stumbled, falling to her knees dizzily as her trembling hands felt the wound, her fingers coming away bloodied.

"Poor Slayer, giving up without a fight," Willow cooed, running her tongue along the flat side of the dagger, licking bloodstained lips as she savoured the feel of slicing through living flesh. "And tasty, too..."

Buffy vaguely heard someone shout her name, before something slammed into the side of her head and she slumped to the ground.

Angel growled warningly when Willow approached, his true face slipping comfortably into place as his rage escalated and the scent of Buffy's powerful blood hit his senses.

"She was too easy," she taunted, running her hand down a bar. "The Master will have so much fun breaking her. You've been fun, too, Puppy."

"I'm going to rip your head off," he said furiously through gritted teeth.

She only laughed. "No, Angelus, you've been very, very bad." She sauntered into the cage. "You must be punished."


1:. caecus

The air was still and damp when I awoke.

I tried not to think, wanting to numb my nerves, hoping that my mind wouldn't completely wake and crawl back into the inviting arms of sleep instead.

A knife. There was a knife. An empty voice, dripping with derision. Red.

Red everywhere I looked.

There was a painful pressure on my stomach and I swatted at it, coming in contact with a cool hand that was not my own and I immediately grew alert, sitting up.

Or I tried to until a stabbing pain erupted from everywhere all at once, causing me to groan as I fell back.

"Don't move," a velvety voice soothed. A man. Male. I slowly grew aware of his arms around me, his knees drawn up to support my weight, my head resting comfortably against his chest. My legs were limp on the floor, and his lap was soft and safe. I was instantly wary.

Trust was a weakness, and there was no one to trust but myself. I learnt that lesson a long time ago.

I opened my eyes, then tried again before realising they were wide open. The room was pitch black, the air a dense charcoal. I blinked rapidly, vainly trying to get used to the darkness. Everything hurt. It felt like someone was bulldozing my brains, jackhammering my skull. There was a stinging, piercing throb in my stomach, which seemed to force pain through the rest of my body.

My first real thought was that I wasn't dead and the sudden realisation slammed through me like a blow. Then the usual detached disappointment accompanied it. I felt tears borne out of frustration building and burning and grew angry at them.

"Let go of me," I said, trying to muster all the self-control I had to hide the quiver in my voice.

"You're hurt," he said, pressing on my abdomen again. An image came as I recognised his voice -- the vampire in the cell. "You need to stay still."

I tried to sit up again but he tightened his arms around me, locking me into place. "There's nowhere to go."

I glared at him through the darkness and he pressed on my stomach a little harder, as if he knew. I bit my lip sharply, forcing myself to relax. His shirt was gone, presumably used to hinder my bleeding for reasons I was still confusedly unaware of. I grew nervous at this unfamiliar proximity -- to a vampire, no less. I hadn't been this close to anyone in four years.

Four years was going to be a considerable fraction of my lifetime. I'd learnt that quickly, too.

A voice deep within urged me to kill him, the one I realised belonged to that part of me that intrinsically breathed and lived for the hunt. I couldn't work up the energy or the will to listen. In my state, I couldn't have killed him if I tried.

I hated this feeling of helplessness, the darkness, the unfamiliarity. I was wounded, imprisoned with a vampire, lacking weapons and the strength to fight. My body ached, a bone deep ache, wearied and pained. Battered and bruised. It seemed that there was no limit as to what it could handle. It would not give up; would not rest despite my desperate need for peace.

"We're in a confinement room," he said finally, breaking the silence. I didn't reply. "There are blades, glass, spikes embedded into the walls. It can only be opened from the outside."

"When they come, I'll be ready," I said simply.

We were silent for a long while, its awkwardness testing my limits. It was too quiet, too still for my liking. The air was dank and reeked of death. He didn't move a muscle, feeling like stone against me. My heart was thumping madly against my chest, his nearness...this vampire -- this half-naked vampire -- I couldn't see, causing my senses to work on overdrive.

Why he didn't just kill me was a mystery to me.


2:. vigil

Her heart was pounding powerful blood through thick veins, staining my hand. My already perceptive sense of smell had become more acute in the darkness, and her intoxicating scent tantalised...seduced...whetting my appetite for a taste.

But I would not dare harm her; not the girl I had waited for, and dreamed about, for years.

She was different, now. She was not the same girl who cried alone when her parents would argue, or during the nights after her calling. She didn't wear high heels or skirts or flimsy tops that showed hints of golden cleavage. Instead, her small feet were encased in black army boots, her supple legs hidden in loose cargo pants.

Her hair was still long, I noticed, plaited loosely down her back. While she was asleep, I couldn't resist touching my nose to her hair, realising that this was the first time I had held her, thrilling in her feminine softness and warmth. I dared to kiss her temple once, my lips tingling from the warm contact.

Her heartbeat became a steady rhythm that did not cause the demon to rise in hunger, but rather, recede into a rare calm. I listened to every weary breath, awed by it...by her existence.

I wanted to run my hands over her, needing to ease that part of my mind that repeated over and over again that now I had found her, I was going to lose her.

Willow had shoved me into the room with more brute force than she usually bestowed, my back hitting a glass-imbedded wall with the slice of flesh. She threw Buffy carelessly in behind me and it hurt to hear her body thud heavily to the ground. I gathered her up against me quickly, painfully aware of the blood seeping from her and trying to ignore the demon inside me that whispered incessantly to take her then and there and be done with it.

The cuts on my back were mostly superficial and I knew they were closing. A few seemed deeper than the others, stinging and raw, and I concentrated on them.

I tried not to think about her wound. The blood.

I had stayed in Los Angeles after Whistler's fateful visit, watching her almost obsessively. I feared for her safety every night she patrolled, ready to jump into the fray when it seemed that her adversary had the upper hand.

But Buffy was powerful, despite her lack of formal training. She thought quickly on her feet, her body moving fluidly during a fight. At times I found myself simply gazing in reverence at the way she moved, her form so lithe and graceful. She could execute a flawless roundhouse kick and I would be rendered speechless. She sensed me on several occasions, glancing around curiously as I watched her from the shadows, and I felt a thrill surge through my system as she looked for me.

Most nights I followed her home, aching to do more than simply watch from afar. I would stand by her window and watch her sleep, studying her beautiful face, longing to comfort her when she was in the clutches of a nightmare. Being near her, watching over her, gave me a sense of profound peace, easing the pain in my soul.

I knew Whistler had good reason to seriously doubt my rationality when it came to Buffy, but he didn't breathe a word to me. Being around her was too risky, and I had a feeling that we were part of something much larger than I could comprehend and I was this close to screwing it up completely.

But she gave me clarity, a feeling of self-worth my ancient soul had never experienced. Her life gave mine meaning, for I existed purely for her. Whistler would not tell me how I would help her and I had to wait until he said it was time. Impatient.

She had slept only an hour before waking, and I was anxious about her wound. She could easily bleed to death and I would be helpless to stop it. I had hoped for her to rest longer. She was so bitter, my Slayer, so angry and frightened. I wanted to comfort her but didn't even know where to begin. She didn't deserve to be locked up in darkness, in pain. She thrived in sunlight, as all creatures of the light did.

Her body felt small and fragile in my arms, causing me to want to protect her even more. She was just a young woman, at the centre of two worlds. She had to exist in both light and darkness, and it was taking its toll.

She was a warrior, one who had seen too much death, instinctively hunting it.

Buffy was lying in my arms, silent, burdened with responsibility and sacred duty to protect others before herself. Not even in my nightmares had we been trapped here, this prison I loathed of all the ones the Master had trapped me in.

In the darkness, alone only with tortured thoughts and empty despair, one could go insane. I knew she was strong, stronger than me, but I still held the foolish notion that I had to save her.

Because she had already saved me.

-----

Giles had already prepared the summoning ritual to invoke the demon Anyanka, but he was still wary of performing it. What world could have possibly existed before Cordelia Chase wished it away?

It was better, she had said.

The Slayer, Buffy Summers, had been there to protect the town. It was quite possible that the same Slayer had just walked into her death, so determined on destroying the Master.

He had called both Oz and Larry at their homes and received no answer. He could only assume that something must have happened to them, as they all made a point to be on alert for any emergency calls and had never missed one before. It was a likelihood he tried to keep his mind off, just as he tried to keep his mind off the Slayer. There had already been so many losses in one day, including Cordelia and Nancy.

If he failed with Anyanka, and Buffy failed with the Master, there was no doubt that the end would be horrifyingly swift.

Giles read the passage, quickly committing it to memory. Drawing in a breath, he dropped a herb into a smouldering goblet.

"Anyanka, I beseech thee, in the name of all women scorned. Come before me!" His voice rose into a command, and he felt the magick crackle and spark in the air immediately, the room becoming warm.

There was no movement in his apartment, but he felt a presence and squinted at the shadows.

Anyanka appeared from the darkness, her demonic countenance contorted with fury, and he had barely moved when her arm shot out and wrapped an brutal hand around his neck, lifting him several inches off the ground.

"Do you have any idea what I do to a man who uses that spell to summon me?" she hissed, driving him against the wall with ferocious strength.

Giles choked, struggling to speak. "Cordelia Chase. What did she wish for?" he gasped, trying to pull her hands from his throat.

"I had no idea her wish would be so exciting. Brave New World. I hope she likes it," the demon taunted.

He swung a tightly clenched fist and hit her left cheek, causing her grip to loosen on his neck. She recovered quickly and threw him against a bookshelf, hearing a satisfyingly loud crack as his head slammed into a sharp edge and he slumped to the ground, bleeding from the temple.

Anyanka smirked, looking down at his crumpled form. "This is the real world now."


3:. insperatus

"You could try to kill me right now if you wanted to," I said dully, disrupting the quiet between us.

There was a beat, and then he said, "I know," without the arrogance I expected.

Something wasn't right. This whole situation wasn't right. He was holding me too tenderly, like I could break at the slightest unexpected touch, and I realised too late that I had relaxed into him, leaning against him like a trusting fool.

I stiffened -- always the well-trained Slayer -- and tried to feel that familiar anger and hatred. "It would probably be in your best interest to do it now. But don't think I'm going to give up without a fight."

I waited for him to retaliate with violence, to say something malicious, or to just get on with it and bite me.

"I'm not going to kill you."

"Don't think you'd get very far," I sneered, pumping confidence into my voice. He didn't respond, so my threat fell flat. He was too quiet, too...composed. It unnerved me.

I shifted uneasily against him, acknowledging his cool skin more than ever. He was the undead. He was a vampire. An unusual vampire, but a vampire, nonetheless.

I felt a warm trickle of blood slide down my waist and dug my nails into my palm. I wasn't going to show weakness, which is what he wanted. On the other hand, I didn't want to lie here helplessly while I bled to death.

I opened my mouth to say something, but at that moment he put more pressure against my wound. Of course, he must have sensed it. I still didn't understand. I didn't understand why he was helping me.

I've been stabbed before -- twice, once quite literally in the back -- and they had healed after a couple of weeks. I knew this was bad, but the fact that I was conscious was enough reassurance for the moment.

"How do you feel?" he asked, his voice causing my heart rate to rise again as I realised how close his face was to mine. I shut my eyes, trying to slow it down despite the futility, wondering what he was doing to me. Why I was even affected by him at all.

"Fine," I replied, blinking in the darkness. "Maybe you should be trying to find a way out of here instead of just sitting on your ass."

"If there was a way out, we'd be out by now," he said tightly, sounding irritated.

I snorted. "You probably knew this was going to happen. I bet you were even bait."

"Right. I willingly put myself in this situation. How clever of me."

I fumed silently.

Bastard.

Bastard. Bastard. Bastard.

The room was stale, reeking of decay and pain. I could almost hear the screams echoing off impervious walls.

I didn't want to die here.

I felt him drop his head a little, and he said almost apologetically, "I don't want to fight with you, Buffy."

A thousand biting responses flickered in my mind, but I couldn't bring myself to say one aloud. He pressed the material against my wound and I grimaced slightly, unintentionally gripping--

I instantly let go of his arm, feeling embarrassed and disgustingly girly, like a teenager clinging to her boyfriend during the scary part of a movie. I meant to mumble a "sorry", but my vocal chords had shut down, leaving me silently mortified.

He just smiled -- I was certain he smiled -- but didn't lighten the pressure on my stomach, murmuring, "It's okay."

It's okay.

I almost snorted in disbelief at his words. It wasn't okay. It wasn't even close to being okay. In fact, we weren't even on the same planet as okay. He was breaking all the most basic rules as if they were a house of cards, the very rules that I could swear my life on. Vampires don't help Slayers. Vampires don't keep Slayers alive. Vampires don't say, "It's okay," to Slayers to make them feel better and smile and drive them crazy with his voice and his perfect fucking composure and his skin and scent and solid strength and...and vampire-ness.

I stopped thinking. Just...blanked...as fast as I could, and let out a deep breath. It was loud and out of place in the darkness, but it calmed me and I didn't quite feel like I was falling apart.

"Are you tired?" he asked at the sound of my weary exhale.

I wanted him to stop talking. When he talked, another piece of me panicked and flashed big question marks in alarm. He was stripping me of my certainties. My life was black and white, the way I liked it, the way I was used to. I was sure about what I did and thought and felt; I was driven by a single pure purpose.

He wasn't shades of grey, but hues of rich colour. It was overwhelming.

"Buffy?" he said, concerned.

I blinked, remembering his question. I swallowed, my throat closing up as if it refused to tell any more lies.

"No," I answered. Yes, I was tired. Worn out. Worn down. I wanted to sleep and never wake up. "I'm fine."

"All right," he said softly, not believing me. Funny, how that part didn't surprise me anymore.

I licked my lips, feeling like something heavy and choking was pushing against my ribcage, struggling to get out. I was restless and dizzy and lethargic all at once, suddenly unable to get enough air in my lungs. I took uncomfortable, shallow breaths.

"Can we...Can we not talk for a while?" I said unthinkingly, the words spilling out of my mouth.

He didn't reply and I wondered if I'd hurt him -- no, I knew I hurt him. It wasn't intentional this time but I let it be, shutting my eyes and trying to tamp down the muddled brew of emotions and anxieties that were bubbling to the surface.

What did he want from me and why was it now, of all times, that my seemingly bottomless pit of anger was suddenly seeping away? Anger was the easy emotion. It was the others I was afraid of.

-----

Willow couldn't take the grin off her face. The pure exhilaration she felt was like a satisfyingly bloody hunt and a nasty romp with Xander combined. The small sample of Slayer blood she took from the knife had her craving for more, wanting to gorge herself on the girl, yet drink her leisurely to savour it. She wanted to make Angel watch, sensing that it would hurt him even more than all the times she had tortured him, and that was enough incentive to kill her then and there. The Slayer's blood and body would be hers, sweetened by the fact that he wanted it.

But she had resisted.

The Master would be proud of a Slayer's death at her hand, but also disappointed. By giving him the Slayer, he would give her anything she wanted in return. There were infinite benefits as the Master's favourite childe, as she had seen from his treatment of Darla. The vampire would return to find she had been replaced, and Willow was going to relish the look of enraged shock on her face.

As she gave the unconscious Slayer a last kick to the ribs for good measure, she had turned to find Angel snarling against the bars of his cell, his chains taut as he fought to get out. When she stepped into his cage, he stared at her as she drew near, his eyes flashing with rage.

She had smiled sweetly. "Are you going to be good, Puppy?" She approached and he did not move to attack her, though his muscles were taut and he trembled with a rage that excited her. "If you're bad, I'm going to have to eat that juicy Slayer right now, and neither of us want that. Yet," she added, grinning wickedly.

He had fought when she unlocked his manacles from around his wrists, lunging at her, but she had been prepared. He was weak and unfed and overcome with anger, so it was easy to dominate him -- as always -- and throw him into the Master's favourite confinement room.

With the Slayer slumped at her feet, she was unable to resist throwing her in the room as well. Angel wouldn't have expected it. No one would, and that was why it was even better.

She had left the plant's opening only because she had wanted to take Angel with her, so that he could watch all the people he had tried to save die. She found unending delight in tormenting him at every opportunity. He had an old soul, a soul she yearned to keep on the edge of breaking. It proved harder than she expected; she was used to the humans, their weakness satisfying her sadistic tendencies less and less. The Master had laughed when she told him she was returning to the Bronze to get his abominable grandchilde.

"Not even I had thought of that," he had said, before telling her to return quickly.

The redhead re-entered the factory triumphantly, and the vampires that had gathered for the proceedings parted to let her through. She felt the Master's booming voice fill her as she walked towards the platform.

"Undeniably, we are the world's superior race," he said, gazing down upon his followers. "Yet we have always been too parochial, too bound by the mindless routine of the predator. Hunt and kill, hunt and--"

He stopped when he saw Willow standing below him, his audience no longer paying attention to his words but to the vampire that had so rudely interrupted.

"Kill?" she finished, a large grin on her face.

The Master didn't speak as she leapt up onto the platform like a cat, whispering her news to him privately as her cohorts murmured amongst each other in surprise and annoyance. Xander strained to hear what was being said, wondering what his lover had done that was the cause of the Master's growing smile.

The Master turned back to the vampires below him, and announced the capture. Their murmurs of annoyance turned to those of appreciation and hungry anticipation. The Master had left the opening, and no one dared question his actions.

Willow's eyes followed the Master's movements as he paced his sitting room. Xander stood next to her, a cold smile of pleasure on his face at the wake of such good news.

"What an unexpected delight," the Master intoned, his hand smoothing over the back of his chair.

He had not killed a Slayer in decades. After the Harvest, he easily dominated the entire town, triumphant in his control over the Hellmouth, drawing demons and vampires to his presence in droves. They eagerly followed him; he was a leader of great vision and power. He commanded and they simply obeyed.

"Will you take her for yourself?" she asked.

"If that were the case, I would not have closed the plant," he said, as if surprised by the stupidity of the question. "No, she will be the first. Imagine, a Slayer to bless our new creation."

Xander's smile grew broader, his fangs glinting in the dim light. Slayer blood was legend, and his curiosity had piqued. Plundering the bland, feeble humans of Sunnydale was almost insulting.

"I left Angelus with her," Willow added, a touch of amusement in her voice.

The Master turned on her, eyes narrowed. "He has not been fed in over a month! How could you be so foolish as to put a wounded Slayer in his vicinity?"

Willow stared at him unflinchingly, the small smile still lingering on her lips. "He won't do it," she answered confidently. "His pathetic conscience won't allow him. Her presence will merely torture him as his will torture her." She stepped up to the Master, her eyes glimmering. "I do so love the pain of wretched souls."

A dangerous smile spread over his face, and he looked at her affectionately, touching her cheek. "How beautiful you've become."

Xander swung an arm around around her shoulders, a hungry grin on his lips. "How much longer?"

The Master sank into his chair, his grotesque features twisted into a mockery of satisfaction. "I will need two days to prepare. We will open the plant and drain her blood so the world will know not even a Slayer will hinder our imminent rule."

"And Angelus? The Slayer was helping him escape," Willow said, pressing against Xander's side.

The Master twisted a ring on his finger. "Angelus. So much potential wasted on a soul. He'll be dealt with. I'm sure you would like the honour."

The corners of her red mouth lifted coyly.

"I feel the need to celebrate," he said, mirthful. He gestured to a minion standing by the doorway. "You. Kill her." He indicated a girl chained to the far wall, her head hanging in exhaustion. "And do it slowly."


4:. accende

He had this uncanny ability to sit motionless for hours. He was so still. I guess it was easier that way, so we wouldn't have to go through the awkwardness of shifting to accommodate the other. I wondered if he was angry with me, and if I had just destroyed whatever unspoken truce was between us.

We didn't say a word to each other for what seemed like hours. My muscles began to strain from sitting in one position without moving, and the part of me that always ignored the fact that I was exhausted wanted to pummel as many vampires as I could find.

I found myself self-conscious about breathing too loudly. He wasn't breathing at all.

Alone with him in the darkness, I had become hyper-aware of his cool body against mine, his arm wrapped around my back to support my weight, my own arm pressed to his bare abdomen.

Being the Slayer, I had excessive amounts of these quiet moments. If I wasn't travelling during the day, then I was waiting for night to come so I could get out and do what I was born to do. I knew it sounded really fucking depressing, but...that was my life. So I was used to the long moments alone. I was used to being stuck with myself for stretches of time, with only my thoughts.

But this was different. We weren't speaking, but there was this tension, like I was *supposed* to be saying something, like something was supposed to be happening. It wasn't easy to be angry at him, either. That's what bothered me the most.

"I can sit up," I said, breaking the heavy silence in a sort of apology for my earlier words. He had to be uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable. I tensed in preparation to move out of his arms, which caused those arms to tighten.

"You're wounded," he said simply.

"I'm fine," I lied, and how many times had I already said those words to him? "It's not bad."

He was quiet for a moment, and I frowned, wondering what he was thinking. He shifted me slightly, which helped him get a better hold on me and I thought that perhaps he was preparing to release me, but I was wrong.

"You shouldn't move. You'll make the bleeding worse."

"I'm the Slayer. I heal fast," I said coolly.

"You better hope so," he muttered. "If they're keeping us in here, they obviously have plans for us later."

I didn't answer, and yet another silence reigned. I could feel my body pounding with the force of my heart beat, and the air was thick and tense. I wanted to inspect my wound but his hand was there, so it was clearly off-limits. It had been throbbing, irritatingly so, and I wondered if it was worse than I thought. How ironic it would be for a Slayer to die bleeding in a vampire's arms. Bleeding from the torso, not the throat, locked in the choking darkness. Unsure whether to pray for death or battle it.

I was quickly growing tired, my body and head feeling heavy. I desperately wanted to succumb to blessed unconsciousness, but the thought of putting myself in his hands -- which I had already done literally -- was one that made me wary. He might not have hurt me, but who was to say he wouldn't?

I leaned forward suddenly, to see whether it would hurt, and knocked my forehead against his chin.

"Sorry," I mumbled. There was a twinge of pain around my middle, but it was minor for the moment. When I was injured this badly, eating usually helped speed up the healing process, but the thought of food turned my stomach. I think I was beyond hunger, at this point.

"Why weren't you here?" he said softly, and for a moment I thought I'd imagined those hushed words.

I frowned. "What--" my voice was barely above a whisper and I tried again, "What do you mean?"

"You were supposed to be here three years ago. I was..."

"What?" I urged, though none too gently.

He hesitated. "I don't know," he said finally. Liar.

"You said before that you were supposed to help me. What makes you think I need help?" I said sharply in half-hearted indignation. I tried to feel that pure, self-assured fury, missing its simplicity. "I can handle myself."

// Right. Handle yourself. Lovely stab wound you've got there, Buffy. You're trapped with a vampire, bleeding all over those trusty cargoes. You always knew red went with khaki. Those stains will never come out but it doesn't matter because you probably won't live through the night anyw-- //

I physically turned my head away from such sepulchral thoughts.

"Besides, I'm here now. Not that it's gotten me very far," I said bitterly. "Maybe I am your destiny. Maybe you were supposed to kill me."

I closed my mouth quickly, feeling the end drawing, racing, upon me at that accidental admission. I had promised myself that I would not show weakness. I couldn't give him any leverage. But it seemed, now, that it was too late.

"No. Don't say that," he said, his voice strained.

I opened my mouth to speak, confused by his words. Frowning, I turned to look at him, only seeing the inky darkness that enshrouded our forms.

"If I wanted you dead, I would have done it already," he said, his voice low. "I want the same thing as you. To kill them."

"You're one of them!" I spat, and I realised just how startlingly true that was. He was their blood, their kind, and sitting on him wasn't going to make the monster go away. "We're trapped in here and you expect me to believe that you're not here to finish me off? Just fucking do it already because I don't know how long I can just lie he--"

"I'm their prisoner," he interrupted. "You know. You saw."

"I don't know what the hell I saw," I replied coldly.

"You saw the truth. They're punishing me for what I did, for who I am."

"Who you are?" I asked harshly, though the question betrayed my curiosity. I had never met a vampire who spoke so quietly, so...carefully. Then again, I didn't allow much opportunity for conversation while patrolling. There was always a mutual agreement: fight to the death. "What makes you any different to them?"

He didn't answer for a moment, and I wished that I could see his face. I couldn't discern his thoughts, gauge his reactions. I couldn't see his eyes.

"I'm...cursed," he said eventually. "Cursed with a soul."

"So....what? You have a soul and suddenly this makes you a good guy? You're still a vampire."

"I didn't say I was good, but I can't kill," he said, louder this time. It sounded strange in such an empty room. "I can't kill humans," he said, like an afterthought. "When you're turned, your soul -- that's gone. That's why they can do it."

"And you can't," I finished.

"I can't," he said, the words pressing down on both of us. "It's so easy when you don't have to feel anything. I remember everything I did, and it...hurts...to feel remorse for a hundred and fifty years of slaughter and ruthless cruelty."

A hundred and fifty years.

"I'm merely...eternal."

I didn't answer, his words causing a spark of recognition in my chest. Hadn't I thought the exact same thing so many times before? It was as if he were speaking my mind, as if he knew my intimate thoughts. I was so isolated from the world, slaying demon after demon, feeling nothing, only gaining one more day to risk my life for the next one. It wasn't life. It was survival.

But I contented myself with the knowledge that I saved life, while he suffered for destroying it.

Which didn't change the fact that my existence would be cut short, extinguished like a small flame in the darkness. Without even the slightest wisp of smoke.

"Maybe we should just kill each other," I murmured finally, turning the idea over in my mind. I was exhausted. "To end it. At least we wouldn't be giving them the satisfaction."

He was quiet for a moment, his muscles tense around me. It made me wonder if it would actually be so easy to read him, if he let his guard down. Sometimes it felt like I was able to predict his movements, like right now, when he shifted the muscles in his upper back to relieve the tension.

"You don't want to die," he said softly, certainly, like he knew me so well. Honestly? I don't think I'd be so surprised anymore.

I shrugged minutely and looked down at nothing, saying quietly, "I have to believe in something better than this."

The Watcher's words had come back to me, and though I had answered him coldly, they rang painfully true. He had to believe in a better world, just as I had to believe in a better life. There had to be more than killing demons and dying when one overpowered you.

"You should rest," he said after a while.

"I am," I said. Lying passively in any environment was considered rest, nowadays. I hadn't slept in two days and it was a blessing to just sit.

But I needed to be out there, destroying the legendary Master and thwarting his villainous, evil, ghastly scheme. Maybe not in that order, just so I could gloat.

God, I couldn't even take myself seriously anymore.

We had been locked in this room for hours and simply waiting was slowly driving me crazy. I desperately wanted to move. I imagined that he felt worse, with my weight resting on him.

"All those people...." he murmured, his voice tight. I realised, then, that I didn't even know his name.

I frowned, then understood. "The factory." I swallowed. "What's happening tonight?"

"The Master -- he's opening the plant. He created a machine that drains humans of their blood, dispensing it efficiently. He called it 'mass production'."
The thought made me sick, and afraid. We simply became the specialty in a fast food chain, which felt worse than when we were hunted. At least there was a chance of escaping, of lying half-conscious in an alley feeling like you had passed out from too much drink, not realising that you were the fruit of the vine. We had become cattle.

Something clicked inside me, and I felt the steel of resolve slide down my spine. I had a goddamn sacred duty to fulfil. I *existed* for this and I was the only one who could stop the Master. I could complain and rage and cry about it, but it never changed, no matter how much I felt like I couldn't go on. The Slayer in me didn't know how to do anything else.

I drew in a deep breath, digging short nails into my palm. "I'm going to live for them. I'm not going to let them die."

He turned his head a small distance towards me, and when he spoke, his mouth almost touched my cheek. I closed my eyes instinctively.

"I never doubted it," he whispered.


5:. scintilla

Larry looked at Oz before his gaze slid to the vampires that held them captive, the message in his eyes clear. The van stumbled over a speed hump and the street was silent, the houses quiet and unlit, seeming more like tombs.

Oz shook his head minutely, squeezing the hand of the girl beside him who was sniffling and cowering against the side of the van. She gripped his hand gratefully with icy fingers, letting out a muffled sob.

They had been ambushed on their way home from Sunnydale High, reacting too late to the van that was speeding towards them when they realised that they were the targets. Two vampires jumped out and tackled them roughly, sending them sprawling to the ground. They had fought for several minutes, landing hard punches and fumbling for stakes.

Yet here they were, trapped with six other people.

Oz vaguely remembered that they had been talking about Larry's grandmother, who had had a heart attack on the weekend. Oz had planned to visit her the next day but Larry reminded him about hospital curfew.

He had one more stake.

His fingers itched to use it but he restrained himself, knowing he had to wait for the right moment.

Larry gave him a pointed look again, and he shook his head. Not yet...it was too risky, too many things could go wrong in a split--

Larry lunged at the vampire sitting opposite him, taking them both by surprise, and launched a series of violent punches.

"Shit," Oz muttered before attacking the second vampire, kneeing him in the stomach and bringing both fists down on his upper back. He heard a frightened cry from someone behind him and felt a hard blow to his face. The van screeched around a turn, sending them all off-balance onto the floor. Oz recovered quickly, slamming the vampire head-first against the side of the van.

"Run! Get Giles!" Larry yelled, ducking a punch and tripping over a guy who was rocking back and forth, his hands over his ears. Oz belatedly recognised him from their English class. It was so hard to keep track of people that he didn't know whether to stop trying, or try even harder.

Oz took in the chaos before him, torn between going for help and staying with his friend.

"GO!" Larry shouted, slamming the vampire's face down onto his knee.

Oz tamped down the panic inside him and tossed his friend the last stake, taking a deep breath before opening the double doors and jumping out of the moving van. He landed hard on his feet and fell, rolling before looking up to see red taillights careening into the night.

He dropped his head onto the ground, his body bruised and exhausted. No one else had followed.

-----

I took a deep breath and shifted on his lap, feeling him tense beneath me at the sudden movement. I hated the unrelenting tension between us and more than ever, I just wanted to get out. Anything but sit here and pretend I was fine, that sitting with him wasn't affecting me in the slightest. Every minute was awkward and every movement analysed within the second. Each time I stretched a limb or turned my head or drew in a breath, he'd be aware of it, just as I was constantly aware of any part of his body that was in contact with mine.

I was beginning to regret the way I had spoken to him, because even though he could very well kill me at any moment, even though it was in his nature, he didn't, and I didn't expect him to any more. He hadn't said anything to make me doubt him, and I suddenly felt very ungrateful, when I realised that I was anything but. He was taking care of me, in his own way -- I could feel his worry -- and no one had done that ....ever.

"I'm sorry," I said, the words coming out rushed and nervous. He was quiet for a moment, a moment that seemed to go by in slow-motion. I felt the need to fill the silence. "I'm sorry for the way I acted. Before."

Then he seemed to understand and relaxed. "Don't be sorry." He paused, and I felt the thump of my heart beat with more clarity than ever before. "You don't have to apologise to me."

I tried to think of something appropriate and impartial to say but came up empty, so I didn't say anything. It was better to just leave it the way it was. And forget about my apology, because it was probably a stupid thing to do.

"The bleeding is starting to stop," he said, but didn't lighten the pressure on my wound, keeping his hand there. It was almost comforting, as if he wouldn't let my body betray me.
"What's your name?"

I had been thinking about it and the question left my mouth before I had the chance to stop it. I bit my lip in the darkness, squeezing my thumb. I didn't even know his name. It felt all wrong, somehow, like when you looked at the sky and couldn't find the moon, even though its beams still cut through the darkness.

"It's..." He seemed surprised, his arms tightening for a moment. "Angel."

It wasn't what I was expecting, but then I didn't know what to expect. I wanted to say it out loud, test how it felt in my mouth, but was too timid.

Timid. Me.

"Oh," was all I could think of to say. Angel.

There was something about him that set off something inside me. The more I became aware of his presence, the more I felt that he was familiar. I knew it was impossible that I knew him, but there was that...feeling...like my body somehow recognised him or remembered something from long ago. It confused me; I wanted to know where the sensation came from.

"Have we met before?" I asked suddenly. His words came back to me.

// You don't remember. How could you? //

"Once," he said, his voice a little rough. I was surprised. "In LA. You were in a fight and you hurt your arm." He shifted a little. "You killed the vampire and turned around...you looked straight at me."

I vaguely remembered it, but it seemed like a forgotten dream from long ago. I thought I imagined the man who vanished the moment I set eyes on him and let it slip from my memory. It's funny how things catch up with you, how they can suddenly change everything.

"You were watching me?"

There was a beat before he answered. "Yes."

I felt a sliver of heat stream through my spine at his quiet admission. "Why?"

"I...I always watched you," he confessed, and then, "To make sure you were all right."

I wondered how I had never realised that someone was following me. Sometimes there was a sense of warmth...sparking and igniting in my bones and blood, causing me to become restless and my body to throb and pulsate with something unknown and not altogether unwelcome. I tried to ignore it when I couldn't identify the source, knowing there was no need for alarm. Back then, I used to feel incredibly hungry after slaying. I told myself it was because everything was still new, still foreign.

And then it just stopped, and it was all pushed out of my mind by real life. And god, living it hurt...

It made me wonder about what else he had seen.

I used to cry sometimes on patrol, alone.

I'd cry about how utterly crap life was, or my parents' constant arguing, or slaying, or being unable to save people. Sometimes it was all of those at once and more and I just wanted to die.

I remember making out with Pike on patrol, and breaking up with him there, too. That seemed like a lifetime ago and an entirely different person. I wondered if Angel had seen that as well.

All these scenarios weaved themselves in my mind, starring him and me, with me finding out he was there and the things that might have happened between us.

Would I have killed him? Would we have become friends?

Or was this the way it was supposed to be and was I a fool for imagining otherwise?

"I wasn't always all right," I said.

"You're strong," he said, and his softly spoken words gave me something warm to feel.

"Sometimes," I responded dimly, remembering all the times I was weak.

I've had to grow up in the past few years. You have to harden everything on the outside to protect what's inside, or the risk of being hurt magnifies until suddenly you're the victim and you're falling apart and you're dying.

I was tired of being hurt. I was tired of feeling everything that hit me, because in the end, that was what would kill me, and in the end, it would only be the Slayer in me fighting to live.

I had come too close to that already.

"You are. You don't know what it's like to see you--" he stopped, and I was suddenly aware that I hadn't let go of a breath. "You're stronger than you think. Inside."

I didn't have the words to respond, too confused by what he had said and too afraid to say something back. He knew how to throw me, and I...god, I *liked* it...I liked the things he said to me and the way he said them. I liked that he was here with me, because I knew I would have gone crazy by myself.

I...I even liked that he hadn't let go of me yet. Not once.


6. fragilitas

The most vivid dream I ever had was on a night Willow let me be, and the full moon penetrated every corner and shadow of my cell. It wasn't vivid in the sense that I remembered every detail of it, but I felt every intense pulse of feeling, and it seemed both too painful and soul-wrenching to be a dream. It was wishful and beautiful and it helped me stay adrift through the coming months. The slice and scorching of dead flesh was dulled, which only made Willow angrier and more forceful than usual.

It was one of *those* dreams, of course, the ones I took refuge in when the darkness seemed to penetrate more deeply in that cell. It wasn't a perverted fantasy, but almost sacred.

The first thing I knew was that Buffy was terrified. Desperate. I felt warm tears on my skin, the kind of tears that are bitter and sweet, and that familiar scent of vanilla permeated my senses. I remembered inviting lips, inches and inches of the softest skin, and the clatter of rain on the windows. I don't think I had ever loved her as much as I did then, because suddenly it washed over me in encompassing waves, pulling me under, until I felt small, strong hands grip my back to hold me against her tightly. I was anchored to her, but we were still cast adrift, making love to one another as if it were the last time, when I knew it to be the first.

She was burning, inside and out, pulling me into her and wrapping herself around me. I had never felt so safe, and alive, and content.

I awoke, warmth filling me for the first time in years, and despite being slammed back into cold reality, I felt a strange sort of hope I hadn't known before. At the same time, I felt the most incredible loss.

Buffy let her head touch my shoulder and stopped, just resting there tentatively, as if testing my response. I smiled inwardly, and she shifted against me slightly before exhaling softly, like she had wanted to do that for a while.

My muscles were tense and stiff but I didn't want to move in case I hurt her. Her healing abilities were amazing, she amazed me. There was tremendous power beneath her skin that both daunted and fascinated me at the same time. I pressed against her wound with my shirt, keeping a firm pressure on the ebbing ooze. I knew the material was soaked with her blood.

Her blood. It scared me to realise how much I wanted to taste it.

For a long time I thought about why she was never here, what I had done so wrong in those few years that the Powers changed Their minds and sent her away. In my cell, I was tortured with thoughts of her dying in countless gruesome ways. The mere possibility that I would never see her again was unbearable, let alone her final death. Not knowing was the worst part of all.

"It was the Harvest."

My voice sounded rough and unused. She didn't speak and for a moment, I didn't think she was going to.

"What was?"

My thumb swept against her arm, unthinkingly. "When it all started. When I knew you weren't coming."

"Who said I was coming?" she asked, the smallest of cracks in her voice. "You keep saying that I was supposed to be here, like it was foretold."

"It was a demon. A good demon," I added quickly. "He knew Sunnydale would become worse, and I was going to help you stop it from happening. It wasn't always like this."

"And the Harvest?"

"The Master took over. This used to be a popular club, until he killed more than half the people inside and kept the rest in chains." I didn't raise my voice but simply stated the fact. Retelling history. It seemed so long ago, like a distant dream. Or perhaps this was a dream, this very moment, because she was lying in my arms without fear, and a part of me couldn't believe it to be true. "I was trying to get people out when he found me. He locked me in that cell as punishment."

"What did they do to you?" she asked, her voice firm and lacking hesitation.

I swallowed. I couldn't answer her. I didn't want her to know about the torture, and the fire, and the feel of metal tearing through flesh. Willow's propensity for pain, of all kinds, wasn't a mastery I wanted her to be so well-aquainted with. Buffy was already a casualty.

Suddenly realising it, I said, "That was three years ago."

Buffy was quiet again, accepting that I wasn't going to respond to her question, her cheek sliding against my skin. Something pure shot through my spine.

"My mother died three years ago," she said softly, the sorrow in her voice blatant to my ears, and I desperately wanted to take it away.

I didn't know how to respond, knowing nothing I could say would be the right thing. I never knew about it. It seemed ironic, that after trying to look after her for so long, I hadn't known about something as important as this.

"It was vampires," she continued, her body tense against mine.
Without thinking, I wiped away the tears I knew would be on her cheekbones, and my fingers came back wet with salt.

"You don't have to say anything," I said softly, aching for her and the despair she carried without solace. I ceased the pressure on her wound to grasp the small hand resting on my chest, her fingers curling around mine.

I stroked the back of her hand with my thumb, needing to comfort her. She was pressed warmly against me, but there were so many barriers between us, too many obstacles to overcome. It was enough that she trusted me enough to tell me this, and from the way her emotions were still so raw, I knew she had not told anyone.

After a while, she sniffed and forced a laugh. It was filled with so many shades of hurt, and I felt it as my own. "It was a long time ago," Buffy said with an unconvincing carelessness.

I shook my head, lacing our fingers together so that my palm fitted against the back of her hand. She didn't pull away.

"I'm sorry," I said regretfully.

Merely holding hands with her brought comfort to me, and I wondered if there was anything she could do that wouldn't make me feel better. I could feel a single touch from her all over my skin. How could I not love her? She had become the shining light in the darkness that was my entire existence.

Now it was her that needed comfort, and I wasn't sure how to provide it.

"Your hands are cold," she said, and I hated myself and our differences all over again, but more because I couldn't even give her simple warmth.

"I'm sorry," I said, ashamed, already letting go of her hand.

"No," Buffy said quickly, almost stricken, catching my hand in her own. "I'm sorry. There's nothing wrong."

I almost laughed at her innocent words. Somehow, everything was wrong and I was a slave to it, helpless against the overwhelming feelings I had for her and whatever she would do to me.

"I just...I just want..." She tried to find words. "The fact that you're here...it makes me feel better." She sounded hesitant, stumbling like the words were unknown to her, like I would use them against her.

I swallowed. "I'm a vampire."

I didn't know why I said it. I didn't know if it was to remind her of whose arms she was wrapped in, or to warn her, or simply because I couldn't believe she had said that.

"I know," she said softly, and she sounded so...sure, for once. Like for a second, maybe it didn't even matter, when it would always be the most important thing between us.

I wanted to see her face so much at that moment. My eyes strained in the darkness, but I couldn't even discern her form. For a terrifying moment, I thought I had forgotten what her eyes looked like.

Hazel. They were hazel and wide and beautiful. Sometimes they were green. Other times, they tricked you into thinking they were blue. But they were uniquely hers, and I loved them.

But maybe if I did look at her and saw an expression I feared, I would lose my courage.

In the darkness, our facades were peeled away like the slip of a mask, our insides vulnerable and exposed to any assault, and perhaps that was the most frightening thing of all.

I didn't want her to see what was inside me -- the vicious, depraved animal that languished and festered in the depths of my being.

I didn't want her to see that the man in me was never good or strong or admirable.

What worth would she see in me then?

"Angel?"

I realised that it was the first time she'd spoken my name, and the way she said it was more of a caress than a word. I felt it touch my every nerve.

She didn't wait for me to speak.

"I don't want you to worry about me," she said, her voice firm. She was trying so hard to be strong, she was the strongest person I knew. "I take care of myself."

I could only think that what she asked was impossible. More than anything, I wanted to protect her, and more than anything, I cared about what happened to her.

White light exploded in my eyes and I shut them instinctively. I felt her hand clutch mine in a tight, startled grip.

I squinted as my eyes tried to adjust to the light, nearly blinded by the sudden brightness, and saw four silhouetted figures approach through the open doorway. Suddenly, she was being hoisted roughly away from me and there was a sharp kick to my ribs. I grunted in pain, trying to pull her back. They had a limb each as she twisted and strained to release herself.

Buffy screamed my name in panic and I leapt on them, pushing one out of the way and grabbing her around the waist. I knew she was in pain from the struggle and felt my face slip into its true form.

Someone backhanded me and I stumbled back, losing my grip on her. They were pulling her into the light, her darkened form lashing out at her captors, yet they held fast.

"NO!" I felt the word erupt from my lips as I made another attempt to grasp her when the stone door slammed shut, and I was trapped in the darkness once more.

--

to be continued.

Feedback is always appreciated :)

sienna.