TITLE: Angels & Ashtrays
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never was, never will be.
SPOILERS: BtVS, Season 7 "Showtime"
SUMMARY: He was no stranger to pain.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please
EMAIL: flotternzyahoo.co.nz

He's no stranger to pain, had been wrought with it throughout his life - mortal and immortal. It had shaped him, moulded him, twisted him, into the man that he is now.

This is different though. The cold intermingles with the abnormal burning that wracks his body. It's the cold that drags him screaming into consciousness as it appears and disappears tantalizingly. Cold and wet, he realizes as something is pressed gently against his cheek.

He feels every point of pain separately and acutely. The swelling on his face, eyes, all over his body. His left cheek, broken and torn, the three broken ribs, right forearm. Then there's the cuts and gashes, the bruising. He wonders if there's an inch of his body that isn't damaged in some way. It doesn't feel like it.

The mattress under his back, yielding only slightly under his weight, comfortable and soft, is nothing like the cot he's become accustomed to sleeping on in the basement. He's not down there, but he takes a moment to breathe in deeply despite the sharp stab of pain in his chest, and his senses tell him everything he needs to know.

Head pounding he tries to force his eyes open, grunting with the effort. One eye is swollen shut, but the other he manages to crack open the merest slit. It's enough, though, to see the delicate hand dip into view clutching a damp face cloth.

The pain forces his eyes shut, but for a moment a smile touches his lips before the pain forces it away.

He thought it was a dream, a fruitless hope in the midst of his insanity. The vague memory of her cutting away his bonds, her tiny form supporting his weight as she helped him out of the tunnels, is misty, like a dream would be, like a hollow hope for a desperate man.

He doesn't remember anything after the tunnels but black, darkness and pain, complete and absolute. The pain should have been enough to convince him it was real, but he'd been through so much madness lately, what if it had been yet another delusion?

This though - the gentleness of her touch, the soothing sensation of damp cloth on burning skin - is real. He knows it with a certainty that he hasn't experienced in a long time.

Another delicate hand touches his forehead softly, sliding up to settle in his hair. He wants to say something, but his mouth won't form the words. Instead a tiny, pathetic, whimper issues from his too swollen lips as he forces his eye open again.

Her fingers stiffen for a moment in his hair, then her face hovers into view, full of concern and relief. "Hey," she says, too brightly, a little too bubbly and squeaky.

He can't recall ever seeing that worry on her face for him. Seen just about every other expression, but never that alone. Concern married with pity was the closest she'd ever come, and he'd never subscribed to pity, it didn't count in his books. It was there though, in front of his face, clear as day.

She's worried about him.

It's not like he's going to die, not like he can die by any other means than decapitation or wooden stake, both things he really doesn't want to think about at the moment. It warms him though, that expression on her face, so open and honest. He wishes he could say something to her, respond, but all he manages is a pitiful whisper that sounds more like a whimper than anything resembling words.

Biting her lip, she combs his hair back gently. "Don't talk," she murmurs, her voice losing its fake perkiness. He can hear the edge in his voice, her exhaustion. "Just rest."

Managing a slight nod he lets his eye slide shut with a soft sigh. He wonders what it means, being here, her looking after him. All he knows without a doubt is that something has changed, and it isn't with him. He just has to find out what it is before she takes it away.

She's not sure why she's doing this, hasn't been sure of anything in the last few days other than getting him back, making sure that he was safe and out of the clutches of the First.

She wanted nothing more than to fool herself into believing that her obsession with getting him back was all about their cause. That they needed him because the First obviously needed him was reason enough. But she couldn't. It wasn't true; it wasn't all noble and cut in black and white. It certainly wasn't as clear cut as us and it.

It was her and him. Nothing more and nothing less.

It wasn't about feeling pity or responsibility either. If it was trying to define her feelings would have been simple. It was anything but simple, and her emotions were far from being separated into those two things. Yes, she felt responsible. Yes, she felt pity for him. But it was more than that. It was a stirring of emotions, dark, twisted, unfathomable, that she couldn't even begin to decipher beyond saving him, keeping him close, protecting him every way she could whether it be from himself or from everything else.

She had no doubts that it was misguided and foolish. Her friends hadn't understood, and they'd made that clear to her. How could they understand something that she couldn't and probably never would?

Her eyes drift back down to his still form, sleeping fitfully, but sleeping nonetheless. The peaceful, immobile, sleep of the dead.

With a sigh she sits back in her seat, stretching a kink out of her neck. She hasn't moved from the seat in nearly twelve hours. He's only woken once, but she feels the need to stay, to be here in case he needs anything. His wounds have been cleaned to the best of her abilities. Not that it was necessary, given a couple of days and some decent feedings, he'd be back to his normal, abrasive self in no time. But she'd had to do something.

She wasn't entirely devoid of blame either. Things could have been different if she'd acted sooner after finding him in the basement. If she hadn't followed him into the church, after realizing that the cause of his madness was his soul. The soul that he'd gotten because of her.

The distinction between what was his or her fault was blurred so much that she didn't know any more. She could feel responsible for one thing but ultimately it was a culmination of both of their actions that had brought them here. They'd been stupid, reckless, so caught in the here and now to give the future more than a passing thought.

It didn't matter now though. All of their previous missteps, mistakes, indiscretions had happened and there was nothing that they could do about it now but move on. She hadn't entirely forgiven him, just as she knew that she wasn't entirely innocent either. She'd messed with his mind, he'd messed with hers, and they'd paid the price in blood and pain and misery.

He had changed because of it, become a new man. She… hoped she had changed. Her feelings had. They'd solidified, become something more tangible than the twisted, wretched, feelings she'd felt the year before. While she couldn't define her feelings as this, that or the other, she knew without a doubt that she didn't hate him, but neither could her feelings be described as love.

All she knew with any sort of certainty was that he was a part of her life, that she wouldn't, couldn't, give him up with out a fight. That she wasn't prepared to let him go, nor was she prepared to open herself to him like she had in the past.

For now she was content with being his friend. There was too much on her plate for her to have to worry about something deeper, something that was more than she could handle. She needed him by her side for the coming battle, he was the only one she trusted to protect her, to be with her until the very end.

And it wasn't because of his strength and agility.

It was because he was dependable and loyal. He was the only person she truly trusted with her life. Maybe one day she could do the same with her heart.