A/N: Thanks to those who reviewed – since I'm so new at this, it's nice to get some encouragement. And since I'm so lazy, it's good motivation to keep going!
Okay, so about this chapter. I just wanted to throw it out there that I love and adore fierce, angry, protective, grrrr Angel as much as anyone (whew boy do I) but he's not in this story. It's about comfort, remember? So it's all tender, not growly and possesive, as much as I enjoy that.
Angel raced into the mansion. She was here – he could feel her. Tearing through the place, he finally found her in the bedroom. His heart would have stopped, had it been beating.
She lay on the bed, wrapped in his shirt, curled into the tiniest ball her body could form. Her eyes were closed, and for a moment, he thought she was asleep, until he saw the tears still streaming down her cheeks. Her hand clutched one of his old knives as if it were a lifeline.
"Buffy!" he cried, as he ran to her and seized her by her shoulders, shaking her roughly. "Did you…?" he couldn't bring himself to say it, so he settled for checking her all over to see if she'd used the knife on herself and finding only cuts and bruises that most likely came from her earlier fights.
Then, he noticed her struggling against his hands, crying "Stop! Stop! Don't touch me!" He backed up immediately, holding his hands up in surrender, his eyes wide.
She just stared at him in shock. Her tears had stopped flowing, but he could see them still gathering in her eyes. "Angel?" she whispered.
He nodded. "Can I, uh, sit on the bed?" he asked cautiously. His heart broke again as he saw her stiffen. "I…" he swallowed a lump in his throat, "I promise I won't touch you."
Buffy hesitated, then nodded. He walked around to the other side of the bed and sat down silently, careful not to touch her at all. He gripped his hands and waited.
"I don't want to talk about it," she said after a minute of silence.
"Okay," he said.
They sat in silence for another minute or two before- "Angel?"
"Could you…" she swallowed. "Could you hold me?" she asked in a quivering voice.
Angel said a silent thank you to God, the Powers, or anyone else who was listening as he opened his arms to her. She climbed over and settled herself across his lap. He cradled her in his arms, alarmed by how thin she felt.
She broke out into heaving sobs against his chest and before long, she was talking – spilling her guts and pouring her heart out about absolutely everything. He asked few questions, mostly letting her talk. He held her; he rocked her; he stroked her hair; he soothed her, but most of all, he listened.
Her words ran out. Then, her tears dried up. Not long after that, her breath evened, before settling into a deep, steady rhythm. She had fallen asleep against the hard wall of his chest.
Angel scrubbed a hand over his face a few minutes later. Part of him wanted to just stay there, holding her forever. Another part of him seethed in fury, wanting to get up, tear out Spike's spine and beat him with it, before pummeling this Warren guy and maybe even roughing up the Scoobies a little.
He knew he should call his office and call Buffy's house so they didn't run off looking for her or something.
He looked down at a finally peaceful Buffy. He didn't want to wake her. She looked like she needed a good rest badly. But he didn't want her to wake up alone either. The dilemma was seemingly taken out of his hands as his phone rang loudly. It took him a minute to find and silence it. Buffy groaned and stirred. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
"Hey," he said, "I need to make a phone call or two, but I'll still be here."
She raised her head, sleep still in her eyes. "Promise?" she mumbled, still more asleep than not.
"Promise," he said. She grunted something that sounded like "Good," but her head dropped back onto his chest and her arms didn't move from around him.
Chuckling slightly, he eased himself away from her, giving her a pillow to cuddle in his place. He stood, looking down at her for a moment before unbuttoning his shirt and draping it over her. He loved the way she smiled as she breathed in his scent.
Going into another room, he first called L.A., telling his people that he found her, that she was okay, and that he still didn't know how long he would be staying. Next, he called her house, telling a very confused Willow that she was with him, she was okay, and she was sleeping off the battle.
Angel opened his packet of blood and thought again of how thin Buffy was. Picking up his phone again, he ordered what he hoped was still her favorite Chinese dish. He hung up the phone and heard movement behind him. Turning around, he saw a very rumpled looking Buffy in the doorway, still wearing his shirt over her clothes.
"I'm sorry, I tried not to wake you," he said.
"No, it's okay," she said. "I just woke up and I-I wanted to be sure you weren't a dream."
He gave her one of his half smiles. "No, it's me. How you feeling?"
She groaned. "Like I've been hit by a truck. Repeatedly."
His lips quirked. "I ordered some Chinese for you, but while we wait, why don't I draw you a bath? Will and the others know you're okay, so there's no rush to get you back. I mean, if you don't want to."
Her eyes almost filled up with tears again. She latched on to the first part of his statement. "You ordered Chinese?"
"Beef and broccoli without the broccoli, 2 spring rolls, wonton soup, and fried rice for you to snack on later. And I'll be watching to make sure you eat enough."
Angel shrugged. "I remember everything," he said. He wrapped his arms around her and they stayed that way, until he ran his hand down her back and felt her wince in pain.
"I'm going to get that bath started for you," he said.
When he came back, he found her standing in the exact same position he left her in. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
"Why are you being so nice to me?"
His brow furrowed in confusion. "Is there a reason I shouldn't?"
"Well you heard the way I've been feeling, the way I've been acting, what I've done, what's happened. I'm- I'm damaged goods, and you're acting like it's the most normal-"
"Wait a second. Damaged goods? You know who you're talking to, right?"
"But, with Spike-"
Angel stepped closer to her, his calm, gentle demeanor belying the dark fire in his eyes at the mention of Spike. "You make absolutely certain you understand this. You are not to blame for Spike's actions – not in any way. You made your intentions clear. The responsibility for his actions lies with him and only with him."
"Angel, it's not just that," Buffy said, needing him to understand. "I'm…I'm not the light, happy Buffy you knew."
"Hey," he said, his hand coming up to cup her face. "I love you. All of you. Light, happy Buffy, dark, angsty Buffy, standing on her head Buffy – even covered in slime Buffy."
She smiled a little.
"So you're at a bad point right now. Maybe you've done some things you regret. That just makes you human. The fact that, after all you've been through and regardless of how low you felt, you were still out there tonight, fighting the good fight, even if - no, especially if you didn't want to – that's part of what makes you extraordinary. Part of what makes you Buffy."
Buffy ruminated on his words as she soaked in the deliciously hot water. She knew how he would grimace if he knew how closely his speech resembled Riley's words not too long ago.
The fact that he had seen her at her lowest and still believed in her – still loved her, despite all of the changes she's gone through, made her feel. For so long, her only feelings had been pain and self-loathing. Now she felt a small part of her old strength – her old sense of self. It wasn't much, but maybe she didn't have to be so lost anymore.
The door opened and Angel came in, his arms full of towels and his eyes squeezed shut. She felt the now-unfamiliar urge to laugh.
"To the left," she directed him. He crashed into the sink and vanity and she couldn't help but chuckle as he let out a growl. "Sorry. My left," she said.
He was elated to hear her laugh again. She shifted in the tub and his eyes flew open of their own accord as she hissed in pain. Her back was to him as she reached for soap on her other side. Deep bruises were forming across her mid to lower back, but it was the set of her shoulders that told him how painful it was.
He dropped to his knees by the tub, not thinking until he saw her tense up. "I promise I won't touch you in any inappropriate way, but I want to help you with your back. Is that okay?" he asked, mentally slapping himself. Laying a hand on Naked Buffy was a terrible idea.
"Of course," she said, relaxing. "Sorry, it was just the sudden movement. Of course I trust you."
Mentally berating himself for following through with this terrible idea, he dipped a washcloth into the steamy water and gently tended to her back. Watching the play of her muscles to see where it hurt and what soothed it away.
"What happened?" he asked, partially to distract himself from her nudity.
"Well a vamp cracked it over a gravestone on patrol, then Spike cracked it over the tub when… later. Then Jonathan jumped on my back as I was getting my ass handed to me by Warren."
"All in one night? Jeez," he said, putting his hand on her shoulder in sympathy. Her naked shoulder. Oh God. She turned to him and looked into his eyes. Buffy was naked in a tub. He was not going to kiss her.
He stared at her lips. The lips that he was emphatically not going to kiss. Terrible idea. He looked back to her eyes, because he was definitely not going to kiss her lips.
She was staring at his mouth. Oh God.
Against his will, he started drifting closer to her, like a moth to a flame. Or a bug, to one of those bug zappers. Except that wasn't a very flattering analogy to either of them, and he'd obviously been spending way too much time with Cordelia and, oh God, his lips were just a whisper away from hers.
They both jumped as they heard a knock at the door. He started to back away as if she were a wild animal.
"That's probably the food," he said, still backing up. "I should…"
He didn't even finish his sentence as he fled the room.
Some time later they sat in front of the fireplace, Buffy looking tiny, wrapped head to foot in both his shirt and a towel.
Angel sat with his mug, watching, as promised, to be sure she ate enough. He told her about his team in L.A., about how well she would get along with Gunn, how Fred reminded him of Willow, and she wouldn't even recognize Cordy and Wes.
Afraid she would only stay as long as the conversation was going, he took a huge risk and told her about Darla and Connor. He saw the pain flash across her face at the news of baby Connor, but only grabbed her hand across the table, urging her to eat with her other as he continued the story.
Much to his relief, she smiled a little at the end of his tale. "Who'd have thought 3 years ago that we'd both be single parents of teenage kids who hate us?"
He chuckled a bit at the absurdity before sobering. "Dawn doesn't hate you, Buffy."
"I think it depends on the day." She looked at him. "Thank you for not shielding me from that."
"I was worried about telling you."
"I know," she said. "And while I'm sorry you had to go through all that, it feels nice to connect with someone who understands the… the dark place."
He nodded. "All too well."
"So, I guess you need to go back to L.A.?" she asked.
"Not if I'm needed here."
She smiled at him. "I think I can take it from here, if you can promise not to wait for an emergency to call me."
He smiled. "I'll call you once a week if you call me once a week."
"Deal." She touched his cheek. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
"Of course," he said. "You're still my girl."
A/N: I added a few parts as I was typing it up, so it may not flow as nicely as it originally did, but I tried to keep the flow as natural seeming as I could while hitting all the points I was trying to hit. I think it's only spotty in a few areas.
Please read and review – it's just nice to hear something, you know?