Title: Let Me In
Rating: PG-13 (violence, some language, some sex)
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Boss Whedon and his merry band of Mutant Enemies. There are also a few characters of my own creation; you'll know them when you see them.
Warnings: May contain character death and pairings you don't favor. Read at your own risk.
Setting/Spoilers: Takes place near the beginning of Season 5 BtVS, Season 2 AtS. However, it drifts off canon earlier, when Oz returns to Sunnydale in New Moon. In my version of events, Willow's friendship with Tara was platonic, and it never triggered the chain of events that led to Oz leaving again, so here he is. Also, no Dawn, as she and Glory are part of a plot that doesn't happen here.
Reviews: Everyone loves feedback. I will smile pretty at you if you give it to me.
They had been out for hours before their sensors picked up a hostile. The beep of the alarm was tiny, but the four of them were being so silent that it was audible to everyone, and they met each other's eyes in the darkness without a word. Finally, Riley put them into an impromptu formation with a few hand signals, and they headed in the direction that the alarm indicated.
There was just one vampire, a tall dark-haired male, but he was carrying something or someone in his arms and moving at a dead run. Fortunately, Riley's team came up ahead of him, and they were able to dart out in front of him and block his path. "Freeze!" Riley shouted, and the vampire did, but Riley's heart was already pounding. He couldn't be sure about the dead or unconscious human in the hostile's arms, wrapped up in some big black garment as it was, but he had the increasing feeling that he recognized the hostile himself.
By that point the team had surrounded him, each one with a weapon aimed right at him, but of course they couldn't shoot while there was an innocent person in the line of fire. The standoff was brief, though. As soon as the vampire had sized up the situation, he turned right to Riley, heedless of the guns and the burden he was carrying, and said, "Riley Finn."
Riley inhaled deeply. "Angel."
"Find Giles, tell him I found her and to meet me at the hospital." He gestured down at the human. Riley could now see that she was a girl, and the covering around her was Angel's big black coat. A lock of blonde hair was visible though her face was hidden, and it was more than enough to confirm that Riley's worst fears had been realized.
The rest of his team had started up a low murmur of shock-- this was not the kind of dialogue they expected to hear between their leader and a hostile. He didn't know if they could tell if it was Buffy. He didn't know nearly enough. Not enough to tell them to stand down, that was for sure. "You can tell him yourself. I'll take her to the hospital."
"The hell you will," Angel all but snarled. "I can get there faster. Call your boys off."
"I don't think I can do that." It wasn't easy to say that. Of course Buffy needed prompt medical attention, but how could he leave Angel in charge of that? Dammit, why couldn't the vampire detectors come with soul detectors? With Angel there was no other way to tell. "For all we know you're headed somewhere else entirely. Or maybe you only found her because you're the reason she was missing in the first place?"
Angel's face changed then, his fangs protruding and his eyes burning yellow even in the darkness, and everyone on Riley's team cocked their weapons. "If I have to," said the vampire, "I will take down you and each one of your lackeys, and break your toys, and leave you here on the ground, but I'll do it without letting go of this girl because you are not going to lay a single unworthy finger on her. If you care about saving her life, you can help by staying out of the way, so I suggest"-- there he broke off and looked down at Buffy, clutching her tighter and then sinking to his knees as his face returned to its human guise.
Evidently she was coming to, though Riley from his vantage point could neither see nor hear any sign of it. "Buffy? Buffy!" Angel cupped her face in his hands, ignoring everything else around him, and the team looked at Riley for direction. Torn, Riley hesitated momentarily, then waved at them to lower their guns, doing the same with his own.
"Angel?" It was Buffy's voice, weak and beautiful and heartbreaking. Her face was showing now, just clearly enough for Riley to see the terrible shape she was in. "Angel, what-- where are-- oh God, Mom! Angel, I...I..."
"Shhh. I know. I've got you. Buffy, listen to me, I need you to remember." Angel's manner had changed entirely; now he spoke softly and stroked her hair with soothing motions. "Can you remember how many there were?"
Buffy shook her head, her eyes squeezed close. "Five," she said. "Six. Seven. There were seven."
"Seven is how many I killed," Angel answered. "So you're safe now. It's over."
"Where are we?" she asked in a barely audible whisper.
At this, Angel looked away from her for the first time to glare up at Riley and the other men, still standing over him in a circle. "I'm taking you to the hospital," he said firmly, an answer clearly meant for Riley as much Buffy.
There was nothing left that Riley could do. He stepped back and gestured at his men to do the same, and as Angel gathered Buffy into his arms again she caught sight of him for the first time. "Riley?" she said, sounding more confused than anything, and then Angel was running away with her again and there was no chance to even explain.
"What do we do now?" asked Carter. A man who needed something to follow, that one.
Riley threw up his hands in frustration. "I guess we go find Giles."
Angel carried Buffy into the emergency room with an incredible sense of deja vu. At least this time, he thought, he wasn't the one responsible for what had happened to her, but no, this was worse, this was a new low and it was going to continue to plunge before it began to get better. Every time he even began to process his gratitude that he had found her still alive, it would be crushed by the realization that she still had to be told what had happened to her mother. She herself wasn't out of danger yet either, though Angel knew enough about blood loss to feel confident that she was at a point from which she could fully recover. One thing at a time.
He had kept her conscious on the way there by talking to her, and though she spoke little, her eyes stayed open and fixed on him. When the staff brought out a cot for him to lie her down in, she grabbed his hand and wouldn't let go, and he walked alongside as they wheeled her away. He tried to fill them in on any information that would help, though there wasn't much about the actual facts that they would have believed, and they nodded and conferred with each other and moved quickly. Their professionalism calmed Angel somewhat, though he was wondering what he could do if they told him he had to leave the room. He couldn't just walk away from her now, but this was no time to be making a scene, either.
When they reached the operating room, though, Buffy was the one who addressed that problem. "Please let him stay," she said suddenly to the nearest nurse, her eyes wild and desperate. "I need him to stay with me." Angel squeezed her hand.
"He can stay," the nurse assured her. "Don't you worry about that."
It was an unexpected and gratifying answer, and Buffy and Angel both fell over themselves thanking her until she shushed them gently. "Just stand where you are," she instructed Angel, and then made way for a doctor with a syringe.
As soon as Buffy registered that they were going to put her under she began objecting, but the staff and Angel together managed to convince her that it was for the best. The medication took effect quickly, and her breath soon came more evenly as her hand loosened its grip on Angel's. At that point, the same nurse who had allowed him to stay came over and asked him to leave.
Seeing his confusion, she explained, "We didn't want to frighten her while she was still conscious, but now we need space to do our work. You can be back at her side by the time she wakes up, and she'll never know you were gone."
It was a reasonable approach and Angel didn't want to fight it. He leaned down to kiss Buffy's hand, found out which room they'd be taking her to after the operation, and wandered out to the lobby.
He had hardly taken a few steps before he saw the crowd: Giles, Willow, Xander, Oz, Anya...and Riley. They had apparently just arrived, all out of breath and clustering around the reception desk, and when Willow saw him she exclaimed out loud and they all turned as one and hurried over to him, various expressions of concern painting their faces.
Overwhelmed by the number of Buffy's loved ones and the distressing news he had to give them, Angel focused on their leader-- Giles-- and spoke directly to him. "She's going to live. She's going to heal. But it's bad."
Giles took these words in grave silence, but Xander spoke up. "But what happened?"
"She was bitten by vampires," Anya informed him. "Riley told us, remember?"
Angel nodded wearily. "Attacked by vampires, bitten by vampires, chained by vampires..."
"...Rescued by vampires..." Riley muttered. He looked up to see everyone staring at him, and wisely closed his mouth.
"But Buffy kills vampires all the time!" Willow wailed. "What was different? How come they got her this time?"
Giles placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke gently. "Willow, I'm not sure there's much use in looking for that kind of answer. Even Buffy could be overwhelmed by facing too many enemies on her own, and it only takes one mistake..."
"No, she's right," Angel interrupted. "Buffy said there were seven of them, but I fought all seven and won, and that was after they were powered up. If I beat them she should have been able to, too. There has to be something more to this."
Oz cleared his throat. "Powered up?"
"On Slayer's blood. It can heighten a vampire's strength for a while, and some of the ones I fought...well, they were stronger than they should have been." He had realized this in the middle of the fight, and the terror that it had ignited in him flared up again as he explained. He hadn't been able to see her, and he hadn't known if she was still alive, and for a moment he hadn't even been sure that he was going to win the fight...
Nobody seemed to know quite how to take the information about Slayer's blood. Willow had started crying quietly, and Oz pulled her towards himself so she could bury her face in his chest. Xander crossed his arms and turned away, and Anya looked anxiously around at what everyone else was doing.
"How do you know that?" Riley's voice was cold, and he stared right at Angel. He was making an accusation and he knew it.
"Connections," Angel replied, just as coldly.
"Right, of course," Riley said. "So you killed seven of them, huh? And some were powered up? Gee, I wonder how powered up you must have been to even those odds..."
It was more than Angel could take. He grabbed Riley by his shoulders, pushing him away from the others and against the lobby's wall. There were few strangers around at this hour, and the Scoobies, for whatever reason, made no move to stop him. He at least restrained himself from going into his vampire face, but he made no other attempt to conceal his fury. "I came when she needed me. I found her. I went in there and I fought for her life and I got her out, and where did I find you? Still out with your buddies, playing war games. You want to know what your great accomplishment in all this was, Riley? You delayed me. You held me back while I was trying to get her to the hospital, and you did it because you didn't want to believe that I could be trusted. Now that was just a few minutes, and as it turned out, those few minutes didn't cost her life. But there wasn't any way you could have known that at the time, was there?" He loosened his grip and stepped back a little. Riley actually looked a little scared, or at least stricken. Angel finished his piece before letting up completely: "Right now I have a few very good reasons to not harm you." He gave Riley one last murderous look. "But don't make me question them."
"...And some of my clothes...No, I should have enough weapons here. Listen, I'll also need some books, do you have a pen? Okay, Aurelius and Other Orders, the first three volumes of Blood Chronicles, Catherine's Life and Death....because it has a passage about a Slayer's healing abilities. And talk to Wesley, he might have a few other ideas...Good, I'll meet you tonight at the mansion. Oh, I have to go, I think she's waking up. Thanks, Cordelia. See you later."
Buffy kept her eyes closed for a few minutes after she woke. Pain was waking up all over her body at the same time, but otherwise things weren't so bad. She was in a soft bed, and as long as she couldn't see anything, she could live in a world which was just a soft bed and that dear, familiar voice. He was there and nothing else mattered. Eventually, though, she had to take a look at him to be sure, and she slowly forced her eyes open.
"Hey." He smiled down at her, though his eyes were sad.
"Hi, Angel." Her voice came out as a croak, and she tried coughing it back to normal, but that hurt her throat. He understood her anyway. He touched her fingers lightly, and she curled them around his hand.
"You don't have to talk if you don't feel up to it. I'm not going anywhere."
"No, I do." She coughed again, but her voice was getting stronger as she spoke. "I do have to talk. Angel, I think I remember...there was a thing in the house, and we were attacked outside, and, and I remember my mom..." She looked into his eyes as she trailed off. "Did...did that really happen?"
When he replied his voice was full of compassion, but he didn't flinch. "Yes," he said. "She was killed. Buffy, I'm so sorry."
For a long time, she didn't have to talk anymore. For a long time, nothing else mattered.