Title: Isolation
Rated: PG
Summary: Takes place during Earshot (Btvs S3) What if it had taken a few days to for Giles and the gang to find a cure? Thanks to the guys at the Blood Roses Community for the idea on this. Thanks to Ashley for betaing this. I made her work overtime on this one.
Feedback: Please! kristiallengames.com

I knock franticly on the door from underneath the heavy wool blanket. My skin is starting to smoke. Joyce opens the door just in time for me to dart in. I sweep the blanket off and drape it over the stair banister. My skin is still smoking and Joyce is looking at me like I've grown a second head. I don't really blame her. I can count the number of times I've knocked on her front door on one hand.

"I apologize for barging in like that" I say.

"No, it's-well I understand. How can I help you Angel?" Joyce says. She's had some time to regain her composure.

"I wanted to check on Buffy" I say.

Joyce arches an eyebrow at me in a gesture that is so reminiscent of her daughter that I would chuckle if the situation weren't so dire.

"I lurk." I shrug.

Joyce looks angry for a moment and then the angry gives away to stress and fear for her daughter's health. She beckons me to follow her through to the kitchen.

"Would you like some coffee?" Joyce asks.

I shake my head. "No thanks. How is Buffy? I know she collapsed at school."

Joyce sighs and sits down on the barstool. Her hands flutter around her coffee cup and I want to tell her the caffeine in the coffee is probably making her coping ability worse. It doesn't seem the time though.

"Mr. Giles, Willow and Xander are doing research, trying to find a cure for Buffy. She's in her bedroom. I'm-I'm afraid to go up there and look after her. I'm afraid my thoughts are hurting her" Joyce says. Her voice is fraught with strain.

I nod. "My thoughts don't cause a reflection in her. If you'd allow me I'd like to go sit with her."

Joyce glances at me, her brow furrowed. I can smell her fear, her concern. "What do you mean your thoughts don't' cause a reflection?"

"She can't read my mind, even if she tries. It's like the mirror. The thoughts are there but they don't cause a reflection" I explain.

"So you can't hurt her?" Joyce asks.

"Never" I answer.

"Then please go check on her, see if she needs anything. I've got juice and ice cream and soup, anything she wants. I just don't want to do more harm then good by checking on her constantly" Joyce says.

I smile slightly at her. "I'll come back down and let you know how she is."

"Thank you. Oh, there are extra blankets and pillows in the closet in the hall if she needs them" Joyce says.

I nod and start up the stairs. It seems odd to be entering Buffy's room through the door. I'm so accustomed to coming in through the window. I wonder if Joyce would feel better or worse knowing that I spend most of my nights perched on her daughter's window sill watching her sleep.

I close the door softly behind me and Buffy shifts in her sleep. I walk over and kneel beside the bed. I take her hand in mine and kiss her knuckles softly. Her brows are furrowed and her eyes twitch back and forth nervously underneath her lids. A slight smile graces her lips when I kiss her hand and her eyes slide open.

"Angel" she whispers.

I smile at her. "Buffy." She does something to me. Two hundred and forty three years old and you'd think I'd gain some sort of composure around an eighteen year old girl, not if that eighteen year old girl is Buffy. She makes me feel like Xander Harris.

"How did you-"she starts.

"I skulk in the shadows. After yesterday I was worried. I saw you collapse and wanted to see if you were alright" I say.

"None of my friends or my family can stand to be around me because they're always thinking the last thing they want me to know and my mom slept with Giles, twice" she says.

"It's a natural reaction. If someone tells you don't think about an elephant, it's almost impossible not to think about an elephant" I say.

"So if I could hear your thoughts, what's the one thing you wouldn't want me to hear?" She asks.

I bow my head giving the question some serious thought. There are so many things in my mind that I wouldn't want Buffy to hear. "There are so many things, Buffy. Angelus for one" I say.

"What do you mean?" She asks.

"He's in there always, screaming at me, taunting me, encouraging me to do things, say things. Things I wouldn't want you to hear or know" I say.

"What else? You said many things" she says.

I chuckle softly. That's my girl, never letting things rest when she should. "Things I've done in my past, things I've thought, but mostly how desperately I love you" I whisper.

Tears rush to her eyes and she squeezes my hand tightly. She swallows hard and I know she's trying to work past the tears. I know because I'm doing the same thing.

"This is bad, isn't it?" She asks.

I hesitate. I don't like to lie to her. There has been so much of that in our relationship that there doesn't need to be anymore. "If Giles doesn't find a cure, it could be very bad" I say.

"Am I going to die?" She asks.

It breaks my heart to look at her eyes. Buffy's eyes are truly windows to her soul. Whether she wants to or not, she shows every emotion in her eyes. They change color with her moods, gray when she's sad, blue when she's content, sparkling green when she's happy. Right now her eyes are a filled with calm, cool acceptance. They are a gray blue shade that I've become all to accustom to seeing this year. I can not help but compare the look in her eyes I see now to the wild, frightened look she had merely two years ago when she found out about the prophecy of her death. It is heart breaking that in two short years that a girl has become so comfortable with the idea of her own death.

"No, Buffy. This won't kill you but-"I pause unsure of how much to tell her.

"Angel, please, don't lie to me just because you can" she says.

"If Giles doesn't find a cure you'll have to find some place to live away from everyone" I say.

Buffy bites her bottom lip. It's a gesture she uses for many things. Right now I know it denotes contemplation. She's turning that option over in her brain, thinking about what it means. Buffy pretends to be a dumb blond. She is probably one of the cleverest people I have ever met.

"Could I take you with me?" She asks plaintively.

I want to tell her that she can take me to Hell and back if it will make her smile again. I don't. We've been down that road and once the trip is over things are just that much harder. There is no safe way to respond to her so I don't.

"I promised your mother I'd see if you needed anything. I believe she offered soup, juice and ice cream" I say with a smile.

She shakes her head and furrows her brow again. She raises her fingertips to her temple. I run a hand over her hair and stand up.

"Getting crowded in there?" I ask.

She nods and looks up at me pitifully.

"They'll find something. I'll be right back. I'm just going to let your Mom know how your doing."

She nods. "Angel, don't tell her..." she trails off.

"I won't" I say. I walk out of the room and down the stairs, carefully avoiding the patches of sunlight in the foyer. I go on into the kitchen where Joyce sits at the bar with some paperwork. She is on her feet the instant she sees me.

"She didn't want anything" I say.

"How is she though?" Joyce asks. Her voice is thick with concern.

I am torn between my promise to Buffy and the knowledge that Joyce needs to know what a dire situation this is. "We need to get in touch with Giles, see if he's found anything."

Joyce nods. "He's supposed to call when he finds something."

"I've got an idea. I'd like to talk to him" I glance at the window where blinds are drawn against the sun for my benefit, "before dark."

Joyce nods. "The phone is there" she nods to where the phone hangs on the wall.

I swallow hard. I can not help but remember watching Buffy on this phone the moment she learned that I had killed Jenny Calender. I had reveled in that moment. I had enjoyed her pain. I had tasted it and touched it and cherished it for days. The only thing Angelus loved more then causing Buffy pain was Buffy herself.

I call Giles at the school library and tell him I'm at Buffy's house and that I'd like to talk to him about something. He agrees to come over shortly. I go back up the stairs to check on Buffy. I open the door and am seared with a square of sunlight. Buffy is standing at the window looking down. I jump and roll over to a shadowed corner. Buffy tugs the drapes shut.

"Sorry," she says sheepishly. "Usually I feel when you're getting closer to me. I guess I missed it with everything else in my head."

I stand up and grin at her. "I'm fine, not even smoking. How is your head?"

She looks at me with tears in her eyes and shakes her head. "My mom is worrying about the gallery and it hurts her because she can't check on me herself. She's also worried about you being up here alone with me. The guy next door thinks his wife is cheating on him and he's afraid he's about to lose his job. The lady across the street thinks her son is on PCP and she doesn't know what to do. The mailman has Yellow Submarine stuck in his head..." she trails off.

I walk over and fold her in my arms. I feel her smile against my chest.

"How do you do that?" She asks.

"Do what?" I respond.

"Make the world go away, even when it's all inside my head clamoring for attention" she whispers.

I smile at her and brush a strand of hair off her forehead. She will never know how lovely she is to me. I place a light kiss on her forehead.

"Come on, you need rest and Giles will be over in a little while to discuss some options with us" I guide her back over to her bed and help her under the blankets.

"What kind of options?" She asks.

"They've been researching for a cure all day. They're sure to have found some or at least have some theories by now" I say. I don't want to mention taking her away for a lot of reasons. I don't want her to have to contemplate leaving her life behind. I don't want her to realize how hopeless finding a cure is looking.

She nods and closes her eyes. She opens them again and looks up at me retreating from her room. "Will you be here when I wake up?" She asks.

"I promise." And it's one I fully intend to keep.

Giles, Willow and Xander are already sitting in Buffy's living room on the couch. I glance into the kitchen and see Joyce preparing drinks.

"Joyce, could you join us? I'd like you to hear what I want to speak to Giles about" I say.

"Oh, of course" Joyce says. She picks up the tray of drinks and carries them into the living room. I follow her and sit down on a chair.

"How is she, Angel?" Giles asks.

"I think its worse then she wants to admit to me, or anyone else. She can hear what the man down the street is thinking" I say.

"As long as he's not thinking about sex, because trust me the Buffster knowing your thinking about her naked, not of the-ignore me. Everyone does most of the time" Xander says.

I stare him, my eyes flashing golden for just a second and an unsolicited growl comes to my throat. I bite it back before it gets too loud and draws attention. I clear my throat. "What have you come up with in the way of cures?" I ask.

Giles steeples his hands in front of him and then stands to pace. He's got his glasses off and cleaning them before he has the first sentence out. "I'm afraid there aren't any instances of this being cured. The only infected person on record is now a hermit. He lives his life in complete isolation" he says.

"But Buffy can't do that! She has school and the slaying" Willow says.

Joyce is wringing her hands and shaking her head. "But it would save her sanity?" Joyce asks.

"In theory, the other case it seems to have worked. The man is an absolute hermit but at last reports he was sane" Giles says.

"I've got a suggestion" I speak up. I glance from Giles to Joyce. This isn't going to be easy.

"Please continue. We're open to almost anything at this moment" Giles says.

"You'll continue researching for a cure of course but we don't know how long that will take. It could be days, weeks, for all we know. Buffy's mind can't handle that. She will break. She's so close to the edge now it's frightening and she's trying to be strong, eventually a girl breaks" I pause and swallow hard. I learned this lesson in the bloodiest way possible. Angelus taught me a century ago that the girl always breaks.

I shake my head to clear the thoughts and continue. "She can't read my thoughts, even if she wants too. I'd like to take her away to an isolated place until you find a cure. I think it could save her mind."

"No, this is a bad, bad idea. Have I mentioned this is a bad idea?" Xander says, standing to punctuate his point.

I glare at the boy. He gets on my nerves, well that's an understatement. I'm not exactly sure why Angelus didn't pick him to kill first instead of Jenny Calender and I'm not gonna say it wouldn't have been a death I could live with.

"Angel, I don't know if that's a good idea" Giles says.

"If you've got a better one, I'm open to listening to it" I say.

Joyce takes a deep breath. Her heart rate increased slightly when I made my suggestion. It has leveled out now. I glance at her and my next words are for her benefit then anything.

"What happened before won't happen again. Buffy and I know the risks. If anyone else could take her and not hurt her with their thoughts, I'd be the first to suggest that they take her. I'll do anything to keep Buffy safe" I say.

Joyce nods slightly and stands up. She walks into the kitchen and returns shortly with a set of keys. She hands them to me.

"Hank and I have a cabin up in Big Bear National Park. It's small and hasn't been used in awhile but it's on five acres of wooded area. We keep the electricity, phone and water turned on just in case either of us decides we need a weekend away. I'll call ahead to the caretaker and have him stock the place with some groceries" Joyce says.

"Thank you, Joyce. I'll take care of her for you" I say.

Joyce nods.

"You can borrow my car" Giles says.

"Thank you. I'll run to the mansion and get an ice chest with blood and I'll be back in just a little while" I say.

When I return with an ice chest and a duffel Joyce has already packed a bag for Buffy. Dusk has fallen and the sunlight is thankfully no longer a problem. Giles, Willow and Xander are still gathered in the living room.

"I can't believe we're letting Buffy go off with Dead boy"

I hear Xander say before I walk into the room.

"We don't have a lot of options here, Xander" Giles responds.

I step into the living room, effectively stalling their conversation. Giles stands and fishes in his pocket for his keys. He hands them to me.

"I've just filled it with petrol" he says.

"Here in America, we call it gas, Giles" Xander says.

I nod. "I'm going to get her."

Giles takes the ice chest and duffel from me. Xander grabs Buffy's bag and they take them to the car. I walk up the stairs to Buffy's room for the second time in one day. I open the door and slip inside her room. She tosses fitfully on the bed. I walk over and kneel down, brushing my knuckles against her cheek. She turns toward me but doesn't wake up. There seems to be a permanent worry line between her eyebrows. She moans softly. I scoop her up in my arms and carry her slight weight down the stairs and outside. Joyce watches us from the porch. I can only imagine how difficult this is for her.

I settle Buffy into the car and shut the door. I turn to Giles. "You have the phone number. Call as soon as you find something."

"I hope it will be soon" Giles says.

I nod. "So do I."

Joyce's directions were clear and I made the drive to the cabin easily. Buffy whimpers and whines in her sleep most of the way. The dark in the woods is complete and thick. The quiet is endless and if the circumstances were different I can't imagine a better place to spend a few days with Buffy. I unlock the door the cabin and go back to the car. I gather Buffy in my arms and take her inside, laying her gently on the couch.

"Angel," she says waking up. She glances around, confusion marring her face.

"Buffy," I answer.

"Where are we?" She asks.

"Your father's cabin in the woods" I say.

She pauses a moment and then smiles. "It's quiet here."

That causes me to smile. "That was the point. I'm going to get the things out of the car. I'll be right back" I say.

She's sitting up, still dressed in those ridiculous cow print pajamas she has, when I walk back in. I set the bags on the floor and transfer the blood from the cooler to the fridge. It is stocked with fruit, milk and juice. I'm willing to bet if I open the freezer Joyce will have been sure to include ice cream on the grocery list. The cabinets are stocked with cans of chicken and stars soup, bread and crunchy peanut butter.

"Are you hungry? Your mom had the caretaker stock the kitchen with some things" I say.

Buffy shakes her head. "No, just come sit with me. Please?"

As if I could deny her anything.

It turns out there is a video store within driving distance of the cabin. Buffy sends me with a list of videos. She also begged me to pick up a pizza. I return with a sack full of movies that I've never seen in one hand and a box of pizza in the other. Buffy attacks me at the door, throwing her arms around me and squealing. I'm not objecting to the greeting, although the squeal a bit high pitched for me.

"Buffy, pizza falling" I manage.

She steps back and I safely place the pizza on the counter in the kitchen. She takes the bag of videos from me and starts pawing through it.

"Ok, I think we'll watch Armageddon first" she says.

I knit my brows together and turn to her. "Buffy are you sure? I can't imagine that would be a very entertaining movie."

"Oh, it's totally entertaining. It's got Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck in it. There's this comet and they're deep sea oil well diggers and they save the world. Trust me, it's one of the summer blockbuster classics" she says.

Buffy's sitting beside me on the couch eating her pizza and watching the movie. She holds up a piece of pizza to me.

"No thanks" I say.

"It's pizza. Everyone likes pizza" she says.

"Buffy, I don't eat" I say.

"But you can. Try it. It's extra yummy" she says and waggles the pizza in front of me.

"To satisfy you" I say and take a bite. It's okay. I'm sure it's better with human taste buds. I've never really gotten the point of pizza but then it became popular long after I was a vampire.

She beams a smile up at me and I take another bite of pizza.

"Hey now! You don't eat remember" she teases me.

I grin at her. She's got pizza sauce on the corner of her mouth. I take her head between my hands and lean forward. I lick the pizza off the corner of her mouth. I suddenly get pizza. Buffy wraps one arm around my neck and pulls me closer deepening the kiss I sort of intended to be innocent. I back off, teasing her lips with my own, promising a thousand things I can't ever say. She arches up into me and moans softly. It's that little sound of pleasure that rockets me back to reality. I pull away and scrub my hands over my face. I stand up abruptly.

Buffy stands up and takes a couple of steps away from me. "Sorry, the no touching rule sort of slipped my mind" she says.

"No it's my fault" I say.

"Angel, let's not do this. So far this has been a perfect vacation. Let's just pretend while we can that we're a normal couple without any of the pain that accompanies us" Buffy says.

I nod and I don't bring up that we aren't normal. We aren't here for normal reasons and this isn't a vacation. This could be our lives if they don't figure out how to cure Buffy and while that looks like a good prospect, in the long run it would kill us both.

"So ice cream, ice cream would be good now because of the cold and- yeah, ice cream" Buffy says and walks over to the freezer. She opens it and stands in the chilly air for a few moments. I watch as she takes deep breaths of cold air as if she were trying to quench the fire that I know burns inside of her. I know because she starts a fire in me too.

We sit back down and watch someone else save the world for a change. Buffy feeds me ice cream and cookies and a thousand other things Joyce had brought up. I don't ever tell her that if I kiss her, or lick the ice cream off the corner of her mouth, that I can actually almost taste the food. It would be too big of a temptation and temptation already hangs in the air heavy and alluring.

She falls asleep against me sometime during 'Shakespeare in Love'. I smile down at her and forgive the horrendous characterization of Shakespeare that I've endured. She looks peaceful, even happy with a smile playing around her lips. I scoop her up and carry her into the bedroom. I pull the covers over her and smile at the silly pajamas she's wearing. This time it's a pair with little shoes all over it. I start to leave and she wakes, grasping my fingers just before I slip out of reach.

"Stay with me" she whispers and her eyes carry such want and longing that it makes me groan in response.

"Buffy, I don't-"I start.

"Please, I don't want to be without you. I know they're going to find a cure and then we'll have to go back to the real world. Let me have some good memories of this little isolation bubble we've created" she says.

Have I mentioned I can't deny her anything?

The phone wakes me up and I untangle myself from Buffy's limbs. She has her arms wrapped around my neck and waist, her leg is thrown across mine, almost as if she was preventing me from leaving even in her sleep. I ease out of bed and slip into the living room where the phone is.

"Hello" I answer.

"Angel, its Rupert, we've found the cure. We'll be bringing it up there within an hour" Giles says.

The heart I don't have falls. This is it then, our last day in the isolation bubble I've come to like as much as she does.

"Good, we'll see you in a little while then" I manage.

"Buffy is doing alright?" Giles asks.

"She's doing great up here, occasionally a camper wanders through within her range and she reads their thoughts but there's not enough of them to even give her a headache" I say.

"Very good then. We'd best get on our way" Giles says.

I hang up the phone and turn around. She's standing in the doorway of the bedroom in her silly pajamas looking at me. She knows they've found a cure. The sadness in her eyes conveys it.

"I was beginning to think we could just stay here forever" she says.

I walk to her and fold her into my arms. I kiss the crown of her head and she buries her nose in the crook of my neck. Warm tears creep down her cheeks and pool on my cool skin.

"Don't cry, Buffy" I say even though I am close to tears myself.

"I shouldn't. I know I should be happy that they found a cure, that I'm going to be able to go back to my friends and my mom and school and slaying and all that entails but" she trails off.

She doesn't have to finish her sentence. I know how it ends, maybe better then she does.

When Giles and Willow walk into the cabin Buffy and I are sitting a respectable distance from each other on the couch. No one would ever guess we'd just spent the last four hours and five minutes clinging to each other, crying, like we were going to our deaths.

Buffy pastes on a bright smile that never reaches her eyes and stands. She starts to hug Willow, forgetting about the thoughts she can read. She steps back, almost as if touch makes it worse.

"Xander, your mom, Oz and Wesley wanted to come. We thought it might be better if it was just Giles and I, not to bombard you with thoughts" Willow says.

Buffy nods her thanks. Giles sets his bag on the floor and pulls out a clear jar filled with thick, chunky glowing liquid.

"Do I wanna know what that is?" Buffy asks.

"In all probability not, but it will cure you" Giles answers.

"Kay, big yay for the curing" Buffy says with a false eagerness.

Giles passes the bottle to her. Buffy pinches her nose and drinks deeply. She starts gagging and convulsing as soon as the liquid is down. I catch her before she falls to the floor and hold her down on the couch.

"What was that?" I snap at Giles.

"The demon's heart, liquefied. The text didn't mention a reaction of any sort, nor did it mention side effects" Giles says.

"I'd call this a reaction" I snap. I lever my body over Buffy's and slide my fingers over her face making soft shushing noises. She quiets down after a few moments and slips into sleep.

Its nightfall and Buffy's awake. Our isolation has officially ended. Willow and Giles are packing up Oz's van with some of the perishable food and our bags. Buffy and I are standing awkwardly across from each other.

She surprises me with a tackle that knocks me slightly off balance. My arms go around her instinctively and pull her closer. She nestles her head over my heart and sighs. I kiss the crown of her head and bury my nose there.

"Its okay, Buffy its going to be okay" I whisper.

"Promise?" She asks.

"I promise" I say. Honestly I don't know if that's a promise I can keep but I'm going to try.