Title: The First Cut

Rating: R

Pairing: BA

Timeline: The timeline for this is somewhat scewed for my own purposes. Technically it takes place sometime in the summer between Btvs season 6 and 7, however the events of Deep Down (Ats s4) have already happened. This occurs perhaps a few days after those events occurred. So just pretend Wes finds Angel a bit earlier.

Summary: Marenfic has a wonderful story called The Deepest I read it and loved it. I instantly had the idea for this story and asked her if I could do a fic that takes off somewhat where hers ends. She was kind enough to agree. The product is this.

Feedback: Good lord please kristiallengames.com

The hotel lobby seems strangely silent. I pace, unconsciously avoiding the pentagram painted on the floor. I steeple my fingers in front of me. My entire being is infused with a sense of dread. There's a lot about my life to dread right now. I let my son get taken to a Hell dimension, my sweet, innocent, baby son. The most important thing I would ever do with my immortal unlife and I fucked it up beyond belief. It seems to be an ongoing theme for me this decade.

Connor had come back from that hell dimension of course. He'd sunk me to the bottom of the ocean and left me there for three months. I'd still be there if it hadn't been for Wes. Wesley Windham Price, the person who betrayed me as completely and totally as a person can be betrayed. Saving my sanity by finding me at the bottom of the ocean had made up for part of that. It's hard to hold a grudge against someone who has literally spilled their life's blood for you.

And then there's Cordelia, who's still missing. She was someone else I was charged to take care of and I failed yet again, miserably. Maybe if I'd told her sooner, made my feelings known, the woman I love would never have left. Maybe she'd be here right now and we'd be living the Ozzy and Harriet life, ok so the Ozzy in my story drinks blood and bursts into flame in direct sunlight but the point remains.

I growl to myself. Fred glances up from the book on inter- dimensional portals she's reading. I shake my head. "I can't get rid of this feeling. It's an overwhelming sense of wrong," I say in explanation.

"Well, it's sort of understandable with everything that's going on. I mean there's nothing right about what's happened," Fred says.

I shake my head. "It's more then that. It's-I can't explain it but there's something wrong. We haven't had any calls, Lorne hasn't read anyone suspicious?"

Fred shakes her head. "The phone's been quiet all evening."

I walk over to the desk and pick the phone up. The dial tone is strong and normal. I hang up the phone and start pacing again.

"Angel, man, you're gonna pace a track in the floor. It'll go good with the pentagram," Gunn says.

I snarl and grab my leather duster out of the closet. I put it on and fish my car keys out of the pocket. "I'm going for a drive. Call me if something comes up."

I snag my favorite broadsword out of the weapons cabinet. I stalk out of the hotel and get in the GTX. I don't have a particular destination. I just need to get out of there. I need to find something to do, something to assail this sense of dread that has come over me. The night air feels good but does little to make this wrongness go away. I tune the radio to the easy listening ballads station, not a popular choice I realize but sometimes the music makes me feel better.

I take deep breaths of cool air as I drive, focusing on the feeling of wrongness inside of me and trying to let it lead. Humans ignore their instincts so much of the time and often instinct is right if we just listen. It's not something I learned as a human, it's something I learned as a hunter, a predator in my days as Angelus. I could pick a thread of fear out of the air and follow it directly to its source. I scent the air, trying to do the same thing with the dread that roils inside of me.

I'm half way to Sunnydale, following the dread, before I realize it. I slow the GTX and pull over to the side of the road. I haven't been back there since Buffy's mother died. It's been over a year since I'd been there. It's been seven months since I've seen her, seven months since she came back from the dead, back from the dead, something that's not exactly standard, even in my world. I grip the steering wheel of the GTX so hard my knuckles turn white. I close my eyes and try to trace the thread of wrongness I can feel. I focus, concentrate and try to banish thoughts of anything else but that little thread. It's drawing me to Sunnydale. If it were taking me anywhere else I'd follow it without doubt, but now, that place, that girl I have to wonder if it's just me inventing reasons to go see her.

I shake my head and put the car back in drive I pull slowly onto the highway, heading toward Sunnydale. Buffy and I have always had a connection. If the thread of wrongness is pulling me to her there's a reason, she needs me. I smirk to myself. I've always been a slave to need when it comes to Buffy. No reason to think that's changed now.

It's just past ten o' clock when I pull into Sunnydale. I drive to Buffy's house by memory. Somehow I know she's there. I could find Buffy with my eyes closed. It's like scent memory but deeper somehow, soul memory maybe. I can't explain it. I never could so there's really no sense in trying to explain it now. I park the car in front of her house and go up the front walk to the door. I pause there, asking myself one more time if I should be here. There's always so much pain when Buffy and I see each other. The sense of wrongness inside of me has been building since earlier this evening until now it almost has a pulse, beating hard and fast and choking me.

I knock on the door softly and wait. I don't know how long but the wrongness is building with each second, threatening to force me to my knees with its weight. I step back and listen with my head cocked to the silence within the house. I scent the air and panic swells up inside of me. I smell blood, Buffy's blood and there's a lot of it. It takes me only a moment to scramble up the tree outside of Buffy's house. Predictably her bedroom window is open. I slip inside and follow my nose.

I've seen so many things in my two hundred and fifty years, horrible nightmarish things. I've caused most of them. None of them has ever brought me to my knees like the sight before me, the sight of Buffy's blood spilled over the pristine white tiles of her bathroom.

I struggle against slipping into vamp face but I can't help it. He wants her blood, he's always wanted her blood. I fall to my knees in that pool of blood and pull her naked body from the red bathwater. I cradle her against me and scent her. I can hear her pulse bare and thready. I can smell her hurt, her pain. I take her wrist in my hand and lick gently at the bone deep cut there. The other wrist has a matching cut. The dagger, Faith's dagger, lies in the pool of blood next to me. Angelus is mewling inside of me. He is on his knees also, licking at her wound, trying desperately to make it better.

I snag a torn bathrobe from the hook on the door and wrap her in it. I can run across yards and alleys to the hospital faster then I can drive across roads and wait on lights. I fold Buffy's body into my duster and push my vampiric speed to its limit. I don't remember when the last time I ran this fast, pushed myself this hard. I slam through the emergency room doors, forcing Angelus back, sliding my human face into place. Angelus cooperates. He knows this is the only chance Buffy has and we have to play human here.

All eyes turn my way and I wonder briefly if I'm still wearing my game face. I slip my tongue over my teeth and feel only blunt, human teeth. "I need some help!" I roar at the top of my lungs and it's a frightening sound.

There is a flurry of doctors and nurses and they take her away from me. Angelus screams at me, rages inside of his cage, to go after her. They won't take care of her like we will, he roars at me. I silence him and pace the emergency room. I can see her through the glass and I can hear what they are saying. The only thing I'm truly listening to is the blip of the heart monitor and underneath that the soft whoosh of her blood, the faint beat of her heart.

I know there are people I should call, Willow, Xander, and Dawn, but I am no longer a big enough part of her life to even know where to start looking. There is also a lot of anger and rage at those three people. They allowed her to do this. They allowed this to happen to her. I'm almost afraid of what I'd do if I saw any of them right now, I'm afraid of what Angelus would do and he's inside of me, closer to the surface then I like to admit.

"Sir?"

I whirl, turning on my heel and coming face to face with a doctor. "Yes?"

"Miss Summers lost a lot of blood. We're still giving her transfusions. I put forty three stitches in her wrists. She's under weight and I suspect suffering from severe fatigue. I want to watch her carefully for a couple of days. She's going to have to talk to a psychologist when she's feeling better. Has something happened recently that would spur this sort of action from Miss Summers?" the doctor says.

I bite back the tears that fill my eyes and shake my head. "I don't know. I live in Los Angeles. I-I just happen to be in the neighborhood and thought I'd see how she was doing."

"She's lucky you came along, a few more minutes and she wouldn't have made it," the doctor says.

I nod. I'm not sure she's going to thank me when she finally wakes up and I don't care. "Can I see her?"

"She's still unconscious and probably will be for some time," the doctor says.

"I don't care. I-I just want to sit with her," I say.

The doctor pauses and maybe he sees the desperation in my eyes. He nods and beckons me. We walk down a hallway and he stops in front of a semi dark room. I can see Buffy lying in bed, so still, so small and fragile.

I move to stand next to her bed. I pull a chair close and sit down. I take one small hand in mine and stroke the back of it with my thumb. She has an IV in the big vein on the back of her left hand because they couldn't get a vein in her elbow. There are a couple of bruises and needle marks where they tried. I kiss her knuckles the way I have a hundred times before a hundred lifetimes ago. I take a deep breath of her skin, scenting her and she still smells like vanilla but the sunshine and strength that used to be there is gone. In its place is hopelessness and despair. She was in Hell, I know that. Willow told me that she had pulled her out of Hell but it's been seven months. She should have adjusted by now. She should have gotten better. I shudder at the thought of her in Hell. The tortures paid upon me during my time there still plague my sleep. I can only imagine in my worst nightmares what they would have done with her in Hell.

I open the blinds and let the moonlight pour in. It's so much brighter here then it is in LA. The moonlight bathes her skin, which is almost as pale as mine now, and makes her glow, makes her appear almost ethereal. I swallow hard and brush a still damp lock of hair off her forehead. She stirs slightly but then falls back into slumber.

I sit back down and I look at her carefully. There are dark circles under her eyes and her mouth is pinched as if she hasn't smiled in so long it has forgotten how. The ridges of her collarbone stand out sharply against the loose neck of the hospital gown. I run my finger over that ridge and touching her actually makes me ache with longing. It is then that it hits me like a ton of bricks. I don't love Cordelia, not like I love the woman lying in this bed so near to death. I've lost Cordy and I miss her but it hasn't brought me to the near blind panic or excruciating pain that the mere thought of losing Buffy does. If I never see Cordy again I will miss her sharp wit, I will miss her brutal honesty and I will miss her companionship but if Buffy leaves this world, for good, I will have lost my reason for fighting, my salvation and my hope for the future. Tears rush to my eyes and I wonder how the hell I have lived without Buffy for the past couple of years.

I run my fingers down Buffy's arm. I can feel the muscles corded under her nearly translucent skin. I pause at the ugly horizontal stripe of stitches across her delicate wrist, such a tiny wrist. I could encircle it with two fingers and they would overlap. She's much, much to thin. Once upon a time I knew Buffy and I remember that when she is worried the first thing she neglects is herself. I used to remind her to eat and sit for hours watching over her sleep because it made her feel safe. She always said she slept better when I was there. I wonder why no one has reminded her to eat and jealous curls in my stomach at the thought of anyone else watching over her sleep.

I can smell the sunrise coming and the pink and orange peeking through and around the blinds confirms it. I step into the corner of the room, away from where the killing rays of the sun will be in a little while. I watch in fascination as the sunlight spills over her and tears flood my eyes, threatening to topple over. She is so beautiful in the sunlight. I'm struggling to catch the breath she just took away. I know I have no breath to take away, and yet I'm still struggling.

She stirs again and squeezes her eyes tighter. I slip along the wall and stop at the edge of the shadow. I pull the cuff of my duster over my hand and stretch my arm out. The sunlight sizzles my fingers as I pull the blinds shut. She wrinkles her nose in her sleep and I'm not sure if it's because of the smell of antiseptic that is natural to hospitals or the smell of my burned flesh. She opens her eyes and instinctively finds me.

"You left the blinds open too long," she whispers.

"I wanted to see you in the sunlight," I whisper back.
She looks away. I sit down in the chair next to her bed. I take her hand in mine and she lets me but she doesn't say anything. I want to yell at her. I want to shake her until her eyes roll back in her head and she understands what she did. I know this is not the time or the place for that. Eventually I'll get around to yelling at her for being so careless with something as precious as her life. Not only is suicide the only unforgivable sin in Catholicism, the religion I was raised with as a human, it is also an unforgivable sin in a religion that I alone participate in, the religion of Buffy. She is my goddess.

We sit in silence for a long time. I finally break it. "Is there someone I should call? There-I left the mess when I found you. They're going to think-"I stop. I don't know how to talk to her about this and I can't think about the pool of her blood spilled across the pristine white of her bathroom floor.

"Xander and Dawn," she says.

I nod and pick up the phone. I look to her in askance.

She gives me the number and then stops me with a tiny hand on my forearm. "Don't tell them-I mean-I don't want to see them, not yet."

"I'll do what I can," I say and I know I will do everything short of and possibly including physically throwing them out of the hospital to make sure Buffy gets what she wants. "Xander, its Angel. Buffy is with me. She's going to be okay,"

"No, she-she was hurt but she's fine now. I'm sorry about all the blood. I would have-I had to get her out of there."

"No. I can't tell you that."

"Because-"I stop and glance at Buffy. She looks away no help at all to me. "She-it's safer if you don't know right now. I'll handle things."

I have to hand it to the boy, he's persistent, like a dog with a bone. "Xander, let me deal with things on this end. She'll call you as soon as she can. Can you take care of Dawn until things are better?"

"Thank you. I'll let her know," I hang up the phone and glance at her. Her head is turned toward the wall, away from me.

'Thank you," she whispers so quietly that I would not hear it if I were not a vampire and I'm not sure if she's thanking me for saving her life or avoiding Xander.

"Eventually he's going to come looking here," I say.

"Then will you take me away from here?" she whispers.

I didn't realize a dead heart could ache so much. "Anytime, anywhere," I say.

"Now," she says and she turns to me, pleading with her eyes.

"Buffy, the doctor wanted you to stay a couple of days, talk with a psychiatrist," I say.

Buffy laughs. It sounds brittle enough to shatter. "What am I going to tell him? I can't handle being the slayer anymore. I can't handle the fact that I shoved a piece of wood through the heart of a little girl that was no more then eight a week ago and she exploded into dust because some sick vampire decided he or she wanted a little girl to play with."

I sigh. She has a point. There is very little in her life she would be able to talk to a psychiatrist about and certainly none of the things in her life that mattered. "One condition, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but sometime we talk about this." "Angel," she starts.

"Buffy, that's not negotiable. I'll take you out of here. I won't tell Xander or Dawn where you're at but we talk about this sometime."

She sighs but I know she realizes this is one fight she can't win. "Alright, sometime we'll talk about it."

"I'll go find the doctor," I stand up and go looking for the doctor.

I return a little while later with him. He checks all of Buffy's vitals and makes some notes in her charts.

"Miss Summers, you've recovered remarkably well but I strongly advise against this. I need to observe you for a couple more days, you need to talk to our psychiatrist. You tried to end your life. That's a serious matter and I don't like releasing you less then twelve hours afterwards with forty three stitches in your arms without a psychiatrist's evaluation."

"I'll be staying with her," I say.

The doctor turns to me. "I'm sorry I didn't catch your name,"

"Angel,"

"Mr. Angel, no offense but that's not terribly comforting. Can you stay with her twenty four hours a day? Can you be certain that while she's taking a bath, alone in the tub she's not going to take a blade to her wrists, or worse?"

"She won't be doing anything alone," I look at Buffy as I say this.

"And how long can you keep this up, Mr. Angel?" The doctor asks like he doesn't believe me.

"Forever," I say, never taking my eyes off Buffy's.

The doctor shakes his head. "I don't like this. I don't like it at all. Someone hasn't been taking very good care of this girl and I don't like releasing her back into that."

"I'll take care of her," I promise.

"Miss Summers, if you insist I'll go get your antibiotics and some pain pills. I'll bring the release papers."

"Thank you, Dr." Buffy says.

He nods and is gone.

"I mean it, Buffy. I'm not leaving you alone,"

"So what, I'm trading one prison for another?" Buffy asks.

"If you want to look at it that way," I say.

"Whatever," she says and that one word holds a disaffection, a hopelessness that I have never heard and hope to never hear again in her voice. The life and vitality has been drained out of her as efficiently as if a vampire had drained her.

The doctor returns shortly with two bottles of pills, one an antibiotic to keep the cuts from becoming infected and another of pain pills. She's been getting pain medication via her IV until now. Buffy signs some papers, the doctor expresses his disapproval again. A nurse unhooks the IV and heart monitor.

"I'll leave you alone and let you change clothes," the nurse says.

I glance at Buffy and then at the closed window blinds, the only thing keeping me from bursting into flames from the bright, sunny, morning.

"I don't have any clothes," Buffy says.

The nurse looks a bit perplexed and then glances at me as if I am supposed to solve this problem. She smiles a little too brightly and says "I'll get you a pair of hospital scrubs, not exactly a fashion statement but they'll keep you covered."

I wait just outside the door while Buffy dresses in a pair of white scrubs that are stamped with Sunnydale Memorial Hospital. The door opens quietly and Buffy steps out. She looks like a little girl in scrubs that are far too big. Her wrists are bandaged and her feet are bare. I wasn't exactly thinking about what she'd wear out of the hospital when I brought her here less then twelve hours ago. I was just praying that I'd get to take her out of it.

"Ready?" I ask.

She nods. "Take me away from all of this, Angel."

My heart catches in my throat because I know she's not talking about the hospital. I take off my duster and wrap it around her. I scoop her up in my arms and carry her down the stairs into the basement of the hospital. We're going to have to use sewers because of the aforementioned bright Southern California sun. I set Buffy on her feet and lift the cover on the sewer access. I climb down into the sewers and lift Buffy down into my arms. She buries her face in the crook of my neck and places her little hands on the nape of my neck.

"You know," she murmurs against my skin. Just that mere contact sends shivers up and down my spine. "Its funny how this spot was made just for my head."

I smile. "I was just thinking that."

She falls silent again and it lasts until we reach the sewer access leading up into the mansion on Crawford Street. I lift the grate on the entrance even though I know as the Slayer Buffy is perfectly capable of lifting the heavy grate herself, even in her weakened condition. I step back down the ladder and help Buffy up the ladder. I follow her and replace the grate. I scoop Buffy back up and carry her up the stairs out of the basement and into the main part of the mansion. I carry her into my bedroom, the only furnished bedroom in the house. I hold Buffy with one arm and pull the dustcover and blankets back on the bed. I sit her down on the bed and pull the blankets back over her legs. She snuggles into the pillows and stares at a spot on the wall just over my shoulder.

I take the rest of the dustcovers off in the room. The silence is as thick as the dust here. I get a glass of water from the kitchen and go back into the bedroom. I sit the glass on the nightstand and open the bottle of antibiotics and the bottle of pain pills.

"Buffy, you need to take your medicine."

She turns over and picks the glass up. She takes the pills from my hand and swallows them without ever actually looking at me. I shake my head. I'll let it go for now.

"I'll be in the great room if you need anything, just say something. I'll hear you," I say as I walk out of the room. I leave the door cracked open and go sit on the couch. I don't even both removing the dust cover. I lay my head back and close my eyes. Dust settles around me. I focus on the sound of Buffy's heart beat, the soft whoosh of her blood in her veins and I swallow the tears that choke me. It reminds me that twelve hours ago her heart beat so faintly and her blood flowed so sluggishly that if she'd been anyone but the slayer she would have been dead.

I clench my fist, digging my nails into the palms of my hands. I feel the blood well up in little half moons. The pain reminds me that I can't break down. She needs me and I'm not going to let her down, not this time. I get up and go into the kitchen. I retrieve a dish towel and wipe the blood from my hands. I take the dust covers off the couch and chairs in the great room and try to straighten things up a little. It's more busy work then an actual need to clean house. It's a moot point, we'll be driving to Los Angeles as soon as the sun has set. Out of habit I've kept the electricity, phone and water up on this place, just in case. I call the deli and order a couple of different sandwiches and a vegetable and fruit plate, even some of that yogurt I know she likes. When Buffy wakes up she's going to eat something, whether she likes it or not.

I peek in the bedroom, even though I know she's asleep from the rate of her heartbeat and the slow rise and fall of her breath. She is curled up into the pillows, one hand under her cheek, the other arm cuddling my duster to her chest like a security blanket. Her nose is buried in the jacket and I know she is breathing in the scent of me, just as I breathe in the scent of her every chance I get. She looks like a little girl with her golden hair spread over the pillows and her shoulders and I want nothing more then to protect her.

I grab a book and drag a chair close to the bed. I could hear her just as well in the great room as I can here but I like to watch her sleep. It occupied a large chunk of my night time hours when I lived here. I watched Buffy sleep way past the point of stalking only I named it protecting, sometimes now I wonder. Buffy moans softly in her sleep and wrinkles her brow as she whispers my name and buries her nose deeper in my jacket. She sighs in contentment and falls silent. If I could keep my eyes from noticing the bright white bandages on her wrists, or the dark shadows under her eyes, I could almost believe she was at peace.

Its late afternoon when Buffy wakes up. I love watching her wake up. She does it in inches, a tiny bit at a time. She wrinkles her nose and burrows into the blankets and pillows, resisting waking up as long as possible. She shifts after a few moments and rubs the back of her hand across her eyes. She furrows her brow and grumbles. She's never been much of a morning person. Her eyes flutter open and she almost smiles then her face falls and a mask snaps into place, almost the way I put on my game face.

"How do you feel?" I ask.

She shrugs and rolls onto her back. She stares at the ceiling and I can see the tears glistening in her eyes.

"I've got a turkey and ham sandwiches, a vegetable and fruit plate and yogurt in the fridge. I'll bring it to you or you can come in the great room," I say.

"I'm not hungry," she says.

"I didn't ask if you were hungry. You haven't been eating and that's going to change right now. I'll bring the food in here," I stand up and go in the kitchen. I make her a small plate with half a sandwich, some fruit and some vegetables. I take a bottle of water out of the fridge and take it back in the bedroom. She's still laying on her back staring at the ceiling.

"Sit up," I say sitting the plate on the night stand.

"Angel," she starts.

"Sit up and eat some of this," I interrupt her.

"Asshole," she mutters as she sits up.

I plump the pillows up behind her and hand her the plate. She gives me a look that could kill but takes a bite of the sandwich. She doesn't say anything but keeps eating. She hands me back a half empty plate. I start to insist she eat more but decide to let it go. I'm going to have to pick my battles with her for a little while. It's not worth arguing over half a plate of food.

"Do you need more pain pills?" I ask.

She nods and I dole them out to her, almost afraid to let her have control of them. I don't want to give her the chance to overdose. I watch her take the pills and settle back down into the bed. She turns away from me.

"Buffy, what happened last night?"

"Wasn't it obvious? I took Faith's dagger and slashed my wrists," her voice is hard and cold.

"Why?"

"So many reasons, which one do you want?" she asks.

"I don't know, the first one that comes to mind," I suggest.

She doesn't say anything, just stares at the wall and lies perfectly still. I know she's not asleep by her breathing.

"Buffy, remember our deal. I take you out of the hospital and you talk to me," I remind her.

"I couldn't do it anymore. People aren't supposed to come back from there. They aren't built that way, it's supposed to be a one way trip," she whispers.

I press my lips together and steeple my fingers between my knees. "It's hard I know. You had to be there, what a hundred years or so. I remember but I came back from Hell-"I start.

"Heaven, Angel. I was in Heaven and Willow ripped me out."

White hot rage accompanied with fiery pain shoots through me. I bite off a scream and my entire being is so contorted with rage and pain that I can't speak, I can't move, I can't even process anything except her words. I've slipped into vamp face and God help me but I can't fight it back. I stand up, my entire body trembling and manage to choke out, "I'll be right back."

Fury and pain propel me through the mansion and into the courtyard sheltered from the last dying rays of the sun. I let out the roar that has been building inside. It shakes the walls of the mansion, it feels like it shakes the very earth itself. I grab a handful of night blooming jasmine and rip it out of the ground. I keep ripping, tearing the flowers out of the ground by handfuls. Tears fall down my cheeks in a never ending stream. How could Willow be so senseless? How could she do such a thing without finding out first? There were spells, artifacts, hell fucking common sense would tell you no one like Buffy would ever be sent to Hell, not in a million years, not if she died a million times. Angels don't go to Hell.

When my rage is finally exhausted I am on my knees in the middle of the courtyard. I'm still wearing my demon face and I'm covered in rich dark earth and pieces of jasmine. The courtyard looks like it was torn apart by some beast, and I suppose that's an accurate description.

She walks toward me and underneath the bitterness and the pain I can see love. She stands in front of me and her fingers trace the vampiric ridges of my forehead. She looks deeper into my demon's eyes then she has looked into my own. Her fingers trail down my cheeks and she touches the sharp point of my fangs. She places a kiss on my forehead and sinks to her knees in front of me.

"I love this face. I understand it now so much more then I did before," she whispers and tugs my face down to hers. She presses her lips against mine, demanding and taking. She snakes the tip of her tongue out across my fangs and my demon face melts away, afraid I'll hurt her.

She pulls back as soon as my demon face retreats. She stands up with her back to me and wraps her arms around herself. "It's good that you decided to do some redecorating out here," she says and if I could ignore the tone of her voice and concentrate merely on the words I'd think she was the girl I once knew.

I stand up. "Let's get cleaned up and go to Los Angeles. If you want to avoid Xander and Dawn for awhile we'll have to get out of here." I walk past her into the mansion and into the bedroom. I rummage in the dresser there and pull out a couple of pairs of sweats, and a couple of light weight sweaters. I turn around, knowing she is behind me. I hand her one pair of sweats and a charcoal sweater. "You take the shower first. I tend to use a lot of hot water."

"Thanks," she whispers and makes her way into the bathroom.

She emerges from the bathroom fully dressed except for her bare feet. "I used your toothbrush. I hope that's okay," she says.

I smile slightly. It's a very intimate thing to do, using someone's toothbrush. "It's fine. That's the one I left here. I didn't think to bring another."

"It's okay. You weren't planning on staying I assume when you-why were you here, Angel? I mean how did you just happen to stop by?" Buffy asks.

I sigh. "I felt wrong. I felt wrong and I followed the feeling to your house."

"I haven't seen you in seven months," she says.

I shrug. "Apparently that connection doesn't care." I turn and walk into the bathroom. I crank the hot water on full blast and strip. I step under the spray and let it pound on the top of my head and my neck. I take a deep breath of the steamy air. She was in Heaven and she's here now. No wonder she drew a dagger across her wrists and let her life spill out on the floor. She wanted to go back home, where she belongs. It seems so incredibly selfish now to be grateful that she's sitting on the bed in my room less then a hundred feet away but I can't help it. I am grateful and I ache for her at the same time. I can only imagine what she's lost.

I can feel the water turning cooler on my overheated skin. It's not that the cold water would bother me but it's nice to get out of the shower with a body temperature that's somewhere around normal. I quickly shampoo my hair and scrub the soap over my body. I get out of the shower and put some gel in my hair. I brush my teeth and a sudden fear shakes me all the way to my toes. Buffy's been alone long enough to do something. There are weapons in the mansion, there are her pain pills...I gulp and quickly get dressed. I throw open the door to the bathroom with enough force that it smacks back against the wall. I breathe a sigh of relief and my body melts. I catch myself on the door frame. Buffy is lying on the bed, her face turned away from me but her chest rises and falls normally. Her heartbeat is strong and the air holds no scent of blood.

I sit down in a chair and slip my boots on. "Ready to go?" I ask her.

She nods and sits up.

"I left my car at your house. It was faster if I ran, cutting across yards and alleys," I say.

She nods and we walk through the devastated courtyard. The silence between us is complete and a bit awkward. She's so drawn into herself that sometimes I wonder if I'll ever reach her and then I remember the moment in this courtyard where she kissed my demon face. It strikes me as odd that she would feel more comfortable with that face then with my human face but it's obvious she did. She pulled away as soon as I dropped the demon face. At least I know she can connect with me in some way. I'll wear the vamp face for the rest of her life if she feels more comfortable with it.

I glance down at her bare feet as we walk out onto the sidewalk. "Do you want me to carry you?" I ask and look pointedly at her feet.

She shakes her head. "It's okay, as long as we stick to the sidewalks."

I nod. "I'll carry you across anything else."

The silence returns and wraps around us. I watch Buffy out of the corner of my eye. She's wearing a pair of my black sweats. The cuffs pool around her ankles and over the upper half of her feet. I can hear the material dragging the sidewalk with each step. She's got on one of my light weight charcoal sweaters and the sleeves fall over her fingertips. Her golden hair falls loose around her shoulders and obscures her face from my sight. I don't have to see her to know that she wears that awful look of despair and pain. I can feel the weight of it. I reach out and search for her fingers underneath the cuff of the sweater. She unclenches her fist and lets her fingers tangle with mine.

Somehow we make it to her house much too soon. She stops at the street and glances up at me and then the house. I nod and take a deep breath, scenting the air.

"No one there. We can go grab you some clothes if you like," I tell her.

She nods and I am a little disappointed. I like seeing her wrapped in my clothes and once she's gone I'll have something new that smells like her to sleep with. We walk into her house and up the stairs. I follow her closely. She walks into her bedroom and pulls a small bag from the closet. She fills it up with clothes and Mr. Gordo. I smile at the sight of the small stuffed pig. I spent a lot nights talking to that pig, waiting for Buffy. Between my confessionals to him and Buffy's, he probably knows more about our relationship then we do.

She grabs a hair tie from her dresser and quickly twists her hair into a messy ponytail. She picks up the bag and I take it from her silently. She holds on to it briefly and then surrenders the bag without saying a word. We walk back down the hall and she pauses at the bathroom. I try and sniff the air without being obvious. No one has cleaned up the blood yet. I shake my head at her. She nods.

"Go downstairs and wait. I'll be right there," I tell her.

"Thank you. The cleaning stuff is under the sink," she says.

"I'll find it, just-I'm trusting you, Buffy, don't-"I stop and start.

"I know. I won't," she says and starts toward the stairs. I wait until she has disappeared from sight and then open the bathroom door.

The white tiles are crusted with the brown of dried of blood. Faith's dagger still lies on the floor. The water is even still in the tub but the bright red blood there has settled to the bottom. I pull the drain and open the doors under the sink. I grab rags, disinfecting cleaner and a sponge. I try to focus on anything and everything except for the fact that I'm cleaning up Buffy's blood. It could be so much worse, it could be-I stop. I won't let myself go there. If I do I'll collapse under this weight and I can't afford that right now.

The last thing I clean up is the dagger. Part of me wants to hurl the thing out the window so far that it'll never be found. The other part of me wants to tuck the dagger away for all time. It is a sacred object now, it spilled her blood, and it nearly took her life. I tuck the wickedly sharp dagger up into my sleeve and get the things Buffy will need from the bathroom, deodorant, tooth brush, tooth paste and a clear plastic bag that holds various kinds of makeup and hair ties. I add all these things to her bag and zip it up. I pause at the door and look back at the now pristine white bathroom. I can still smell the blood underneath the citrus smell of the cleaner. I bite my lip hard enough to feel blood well inside my mouth and then I go downstairs. She's been waiting on me long enough.

The drive back to LA is done in silence as it seems we have done so much. I pull up in front of the Hyperion and Buffy arches an eyebrow at me. "A hotel?"

I shrug. "I always did like a lot of space."

"Well, you've got it now."

I nod. "There's an entire wing I keep closed because I haven't found any use for it." I get out of the car and grab her bag. I take her hand in mine and help her out of the car. She pauses in the court yard, tugging me to a stop. She looks at me with eyes that are impossibly big and sad. She glances toward the hotel and then up at me.

"It's just Gunn and Fred. We can go in another way if you'd feel better about it," I say knowing instinctively what she's asking with her eyes.

She pauses a moment and then shakes her head. She pulls the sleeves of my long sweater firmly down even though they trail past her fingertips. I pull her close, ignoring the fact that she tenses just slightly at my touch. I place a light kiss on her temple and whisper in her ear, "They don't have to know why you're here."

She nods and I thread my fingers with hers again and let her drape the sleeve over both of our hands. I smile slightly at her, hoping for a smile in return. I don't get one. I open the door and normally I would let her step inside first. I know she won't want that this time so I go through the door and let her hide slightly behind me.

"Oh! Angel, we were sort of getting worried because of the-oh, hi, I'm Fred," she says as she walks out from behind the reception desk. She holds her hand out and Buffy takes it hesitantly. As she shakes Buffy's hand the sleeve falls back and a bit of white bandage peeks out. Fred's eyes widen slightly but something keeps her from saying anything.

"I'm Buffy," she whispers.

"Oh! Oh!" Fred says.

Gunn steps forward and shakes Buffy's hand. "What Fred means, is we've heard a lot about you, good things. I'm Charles Gunn, nice to meet you."

"Is everything okay here? No pressing cases?" I ask.

Gunn shakes his head. "Lorne is upstairs doing a reading and we took care of a small colony of Erakrae hatchlings last night but other then that things have been quiet."

"Okay, Buffy and I have had a long day, night-"life, I think, "we're going to go upstairs. If you need me don't be afraid to knock."

"Will do," Gunn says.

I lead Buffy up the stairs. She steals glances at the hotel as we walk. I am bitterly reminded that at one time she would have bounded up these stairs, exclaiming how cool this place was and Angel how do you always find the neatest place to live and did you really stay here in the fifties and what was it like then? I can hear sixteen year old Buffy's questions and comments in my head just like I can hear Angelus'. I mourn for that sixteen year old girl and I am in awe of the twenty one year old woman I tug along. How did she get so far from there to here and then I admonish myself for being so foolish. She's died twice, driven back more apocalypses then any movie heroine and lost more loved ones then any 21 year old should and she was ripped out of Heaven. I know exactly how she got here and it crushes me.

I shut the door to my suite of rooms and set her bag on the chair. She stands in the center of the room with her arms wrapped around her. "Buffy,"

There was a time that her automatic response would have been to sigh my name. She doesn't do that anymore. Maybe it hurts too much. I walk up behind her and slide my arms around her waist. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to comfort her and its killing me.

She turns in my arms but doesn't look up at me. "Put your face on, for me," she whispers to my chest.

I let my vamp face slip into place, "Okay," I say around fangs.

She looks up at me with tear glossed eyes. She splays her hand over my cheek and I close my eyes, leaning into her touch. Angelus is taunting me, reminding me she prefers his face to mine. I ignore him, sometimes he goes away if I do that.

"Bite me, drink me, please," she begs.

My eyes snap open and I look down into her eyes. Tears streak her face. I shake my head. "No, Buffy, you lost so much blood last night. I can't, I won't."

She pleads silently with me and bares her neck. I shake my head. She slaps me hard across the face. The crack echoes in the room and she whirls away from me.

"Then get the hell out and leave me alone," She spats.

"No, I won't touch you, I won't speak to you if you want, but I'm not leaving you alone."

"Why? Are you afraid I'll take that sword over there and impale myself on it?" Her voice has turned hard and bitter.

"I would, if I'd been ripped out of Heaven," I say.

"Oh, God, you're such a fucking boy scout. You know, if it were just that maybe I could handle it. Maybe I could live in this fucking Hell if it were just that I'd been ripped out of Heaven, but it's not," she says.

"What else, Buffy?"

"I fucked Spike. Did you know that? Not once, not twice but more times then I can count."

I swallow my rage. She's talking and if I give into the fury that mounts inside of me she might never say anything about it again. Not that I want to hear about the love of my life fucking my childe, the vampire I made, but she needs to talk about why she tried to kill herself. It's the only hope she has of ever healing.

She turns again and she's in my face, yelling, "What? I don't get a roar, or a growl, not even a snarl over that. You're not gonna grab me by the shoulders and growl Mine and point to the mark on my neck? You could hit me that might make you feel better. Slap me hard enough to knock me across the room, let out a little bit of that rage I can see in your face. Go ahead, hit me, Angel, you'll feel better." She taunts.

I shake my head. "No, I won't. It would make you feel better but I'm not Spike. I don't go around hitting the woman I love."

"The woman you love so much you left me so I could have a one stand with an asshole, break a really nice guy's heart because he wasn't you, watch my mother die, die myself, come back to life, if that's what you call this, and fuck Spike and then try to kill myself not so I can go back to Heaven. I know I don't get to go back there but so I can find a Hell that doesn't hurt quite as much as this one does. Damn, you really should love more women this," She spats.

I shake my head. She wants to hurt me. She wants anyone to hurt as much as she does. "It's not going to work, Buffy. You can't make me mad enough to leave you, not this time."

"Awww, and I'd gotten so used to seeing your fucking back walking away from me," she says.

"I love you, Buffy. I'll love you until the end of time," I say and retreat over to a chair in the corner of the room.

She walks to the window and peers out the crack in the curtains. "Forever, that's the whole point," she whispers to the darkness.

Part Three

The silence smothers us. If I weren't still afraid of what she'd do I'd leave the room. She hasn't had an outburst since the night we got here two weeks ago. She doesn't leave this room and she doesn't talk to anyone. She refuses to call Xander or Dawn even though I've talked to both of them on the phone. Xander called looking for her.

I sit in the dark and read a book. She stands by the window in a shaft of sunlight that streams through the parted curtains. She doesn't open them fully, which is comforting because she may hate me right now, but she doesn't hate me enough to turn me to ash.

"It's creepy you know," she says.

"What is?" I ask. She could be talking about dozens of things from something that happened years ago to something that's going on inside of her head.

"You, reading in the dark," she says.

"My night vision is good. I don't need a light," I say.

"I know," she says and jerks the curtains shut, plunging the room into darkness. She walks over to the bed and lies down. We've been up all night and its bedtime now. I don't go to her though. I never go to her unless she asks. I've slept a lot of nights in this chair.

"Come hold me please," she says.

I stand up and place my book on the side table.

"Put it on first," she whispers.

I sigh. I know she's talking about my vampire face. I've asked why she wants me to wear it every time I get close to her she won't answer but she insists. The only time I'm allowed to touch her, hold her, kiss her is when I'm wearing the demon's face. I oblige and slide into the bed next to her. She turns on her side and runs her fingers over my face. I sigh in contentment. Being touched by Buffy is amazing, no matter what face I wear. She kisses my forehead, my closed eyelids, my nose and finally my mouth.

"You are so beautiful," she whispers and I wonder how she can say such a thing when I look the way I do.

She eventually falls asleep, her hand resting on my cheek. I shift faces and take her hand in mine. I kiss the palm and smooth back the hair from her face. The dark circles under her eyes are diminished and the ridges of her collar bone aren't quite as sharp as they were two weeks ago. I press a kiss to her wrist. Gunn took the stitches out for her two days ago. The scar there is angry and red and it will never go away. I kiss that scar. It is precious, only less so then the one I put on her neck. I can see the gnarled end of the matching scar on her left wrist, which is tucked under her cheek.

Her breathing is even and her heartbeat is strong and slow, just the way it should be. I close my eyes and listen to my lullaby. She's healing but it's so slow and so painful and sometimes I wonder if she's reached a point where this is the best it's ever going to be. I wonder if my girl is lost and this woman lying next to me is the closest I'll ever get to her. I can handle that, I'd walk over a thousand fires and spend a million years in Hell just to have the woman lying next to me, but somehow I know right now, the curse wouldn't be a problem.

She's been here a month and a half. She's not really getting much better. She spends most of her time staring out the window, brooding. I have to admit she's doing such a good job my brooding championship may be up for grabs. I walk up behind her and nuzzle her neck. She pulls away because I don't have my game face on. I sigh.

"Why?" I ask.

"Why what?" she says.

"Why won't you let me touch you unless I've got the demon face on?"

She sighs and shrugs.

"No, you're not getting out of this that easily. I know you love me, Buffy so why the fetish all the sudden?"

She laughs. "Maybe it's just that, maybe it's a fetish, maybe I like being fucked by a demon."

"We haven't fucked and we never will. If and when we ever have sex again, we will make love." I am quickly losing patience with her.

"Just words, Angel, they're just words," she says.

"No, they're not and you don't believe that anymore then I do. What did Spike do to you? How did he damage you so badly?" I ask, not sure I want to know but I have too.

Buffy shakes her head. "You really don't want to know."

"No, I don't but I have too. We're not going to get past this unless I do and I can't live the rest of my life not being able to touch you unless I'm wearing the vamp face or watching you hide away in this room," I say.

"You don't have to watch, you could leave," she says.

"That's not going to happen, Buffy."

"Really? Because the way I see it, I get better, we get groiny, you get scared and spout this bullshit about me needing to walk in the light and have kids and make love and then you leave me," she says.

I groan. She's got a point. "I know that's what happened before but I was wrong. It didn't help. You didn't walk in the light, you didn't fall in love and you-there was no one to make love to you."

"And the curse?" she asks.

"I don't know about the curse anymore. Is it even remotely possible for me to get anywhere near perfect happiness now? Not with you making me wear my demon face, not with Connor not-"I stop. I've never told her about Connor. I should have but I didn't.

"Your son, I wondered where he was, when I was going to meet him. I heard about him I guess sometime last year. I was in Willy's and there were these demons talking. I overheard them talking about Angelus and his son and so I grab one and pounded it out of him. The gist of it was a living, breathing, human baby had been born to 2 vampires, one of them with the soul. It took a little more beating to get out of him that Darla was the mother. I sorta lost it. That was the first night I fucked Spike," she says and her voice is so matter of fact it is worse then if she had been crying.

"Buffy, I'm sorry. I-Darla-there was a point where I didn't know if I was going to make it. I was really low I'd lost the reason, the mission and it just happened. Darla was rock bottom. It was only one time. There was a prophecy. It-it was supposed to happen. I would have told you but I didn't- we weren't talking and after you came back from Hel-Heaven we'd agreed to not stay in touch."

"No, I just figured you know, you were moving on with your life. It wasn't your fault that I couldn't," she says.

"Buffy,-"I start to tell her I haven't moved on but to all appearances I guess I have. "It doesn't matter. He and I-it's a long story. Wes found a prophecy that made him believe I was going to kill Connor. He gave him to a guy who was going to raise Connor as his own. That guy took Connor to a Hell dimension, Quar-toth. You remember time moves differently there, he's back but he's about 17. He hates me. He-well, we don't talk."

"And Darla?" Buffy says.

"Darla is dead. She staked herself so our son could be born. It was the only unselfish act she ever committed in her entire existence," I say.

"Oh," she falls silent.

"Buffy, Darla, Connor, our future, isn't the issue here. I want to know what happened to you. What did Spike do to hurt you so badly?"

"Angel, please don't make me talk about it," she whispers.

I step closer to her. "You have too. You're never going to get better unless you talk about it."

She takes a deep breath and her body trembles. I want to take her in my arms so bad I ache. "Can I-will you let me hold you?"

"No," she answers.

She might as well have stuck that sword back in my gut and twisted it, in fact I'd rather she had. It hurt less.

"He-I ended it with Spike. To say it wasn't a healthy relationship doesn't even touch it. We were abusive and mean to each other. He tried to tell me that was where the passion came from. It wasn't, the passion came from a place born only because I was so numb after being pulled out of Heaven I was grateful to feel anything, even pain. I guess pain is passion to Spike. It passes for something like love with him. Anyway, I broke it off with him. He couldn't-wouldn't accept it. He came into the bathroom one night, the same one you found me in-I was drawing a bath and he was professing his love for me. He tried-he wanted me to feel. He thought he could make me love him, feel something. He-"She stops.

Tears fill my eyes and rage twists my insides. I have an idea of what Spike did but I have to hear her say it. "What did he do, Buffy?" I will my voice to be calm and somehow I manage it.

She shakes her head and I can smell her tears. I dig my fingers into the footboard of the bed to keep from scooping her up in my arms and hold her tight.

"Spike tried-he tried to rape me and for one minute I forgot I was the slayer. I forgot I had the strength to stop him. For one minute I was terrified, I was so scared, Angel, I was so scared." She collapses into sobs and I can't do it anymore. I scoop her into my arms before she falls to the floor. I cradle her into my chest and run my hands in long smooth strokes over her hair and back. I whisper sweet Gaelic words in her ears and tell her how much I love her. I'll kill Spike. I will run a stake through his heart and watch his dust settle around my boots but right now I have to be here with her.

Buffy cries herself to sleep. I pick her up and tuck her snuggly in the bed. I walk downstairs and pick up the phone to call Lilah Morgan.

"Lilah,"

"Angel, to what do I owe this pleasure?" She purrs.

"I need you to do something for me," I say.

"Why would I do anything for you?" Lilah asks.

"It's in your best interests because I'm going to be really cranky if you don't," I say.

"So what's your pleasure big guy?"

"I want to put a hit out on somebody," I say.

"Okay, but don't you usually do your killing all by your lonesome?" Lilah asks.

"Usually, things are kind of hectic here and I can't get away. I don't have the time hunt the person down."

"Oh rawr, we get hunt and kill. It is my lucky day," Lilah purrs.

"I need a vampire by the name of Spike, dead and I need it done right. No mistakes Lilah. If I have to hunt this guy down myself I'll start by hunting and killing you," I promise her.

"I love it when you talk dirty to me, Angel," Lilah chuckles.

"I'm not kidding. Let me know, discreetly, when it's done." I hang up the phone and run into Fred, almost knocking her to the floor. "I'm sorry, Fred," I say taking her shoulder and steadying her.

"Oh, it's okay. Is something wrong? Where were you headed in such a hurry?" She asks.

"Fred, are you and Gunn going to be here a little while?" I ask.

"Sure, I mean we didn't have any plans," Fred says.

"I'm going to go for a walk. Buffy is asleep but could you keep an eye on her for me?" I ask.

"Oh, sure," Fred says.

"Thanks," I grab a couple of stakes from the weapons cabinet and hit the streets. I need to find something to pummel.

I'm there when she wakes up. I spent all night out working out my issues. I feel better and Los Angeles has a dozen less vamps then they did the night before. I watch her wake up, delighting in all the little things. I scoot over and sit on the edge of the bed so when she opens her eyes I'm the first thing she sees. She smiles just slightly, the corners of that perfect, pouty mouth turning up and then her eyes fill with tears and the smile falls. I reach out and brush my thumb across her bottom lip. That seems to bring more tears.

"What's wrong?" I ask quietly.

She shakes her head. "How can you even stand to touch me?"

"How can I not stand to touch you? Every time I see you I want to touch you. I want to feel your skin underneath my hands. I want to feel your heart beating against my chest. I want to feel your breath on my neck. I want to run my fingers through your hair. I want to make love to you. I can't stand it when you're not touching me," I say.

"Angel, you're-you're so beautiful I can't stand to look at you and know how dirty I am. The things I did-the things I let Spike do and I'm not talking about rape I'm talking about the things I gave permission for. You shouldn't have to touch me, "she says looking at me with painful eyes.

I brush a tear away with my thumb and kiss her mouth softly. "You're a miracle, Buffy, a miracle, don't ever, ever forget that."

Epilogue

I sit on the blanket in the moonlight and watch her dance in the waves. She laughs as a particularly high wave catches her mid thigh, thoroughly soaking the lower half of her pale pink dress. She beckons to me and yells "Come on lazy bones! It's just water."

I grin and stand up. I run toward her and sweep her up in my arms. I twirl her in a circle. She throws her head back and laughs. I nuzzle at her neck, that bare expanse just too big a temptation. She wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me, nibbling at my bottom lip the way I taught her and then slipping her tongue into my mouth. I gasp at the collision of hot and cold and somehow stumble over to the blanket. We both fall on soft sand in a fit of laughter and giggles.

She sighs contently and lays back boneless on the sand. "This was a good idea. Can we just stay here for the rest of our lives?"

"Sure, I've got forever," I quip.

"Har har, very funny," She says rolling onto her side. I pick up her hand and kiss the knuckles and then turn her hand over to place a kiss on the palm. I slip my tongue out and just taste her skin. She purrs. I glide my lips over her palm and place a reverent kiss on the thick, gnarled scar there. A shadow passes over her eyes.

"You always do that," she whispers.

"It's proof of a miracle, however horrible it was, it brought me back to you, it brought us this,"

She smiles and whispers, "I never believed in miracles until I met you and now, you, this, it is a miracle."

I continue placing kisses along her arm, pausing at the bend of her elbow. I work my way up to her neck and tickle her there with my breath. I listen to her laugh and a wave of perfect happiness washes over me. I remember one time wondering if I'd ever be able to approach perfect happiness again. I can and I do. She showed me the way, just like she showed me the first time.

And the curse, not even an issue anymore, Lindsey mailed me a package several weeks ago from Romania. Inside was a vial of herbs and a spell. He had included a note saying Thanks for showing him his true mission in life. He thought this might even the debt. Willow, just back from England cast the spell for me, it was a good re-introduction to magic and she felt comfortable with it since the soul curse had been one of the first spells she'd ever done.

Since then, nothing but perfect happiness.