Title: One Fear Seven Ways

Author: Kairos

Rating: R

Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me.

Summary: Inside Angel's mind during a few key moments from the first three seasons. This was actually the first story I wrote after "Let Me In", but I wasn't sure what to do with it until I had collected some other short pieces to follow it.


i. gasp

The sunlight engulfed the car like poison gas; the humans walked through it unscathed, like gods. One was sitting on the steps of her school, having the last ordinary day of her life. She had an open heart and a lollipop and some clothes that he guessed were trendy. She was beautiful. She was so, so young.

Before long there was a man there talking to her, and this was how it happened, he had been told. The man was a Watcher, and now, she was the Slayer. Now she was alone.

A girl like that had never had enemies before, but her enemies were about to become her whole life. They were going to come in through the heart she had so carelessly left open, bruise it and tear it and change her forever. They were going to take the brightly colored sugar away from her lips and replace it with the taste of ashes. They were going to rip the trendy clothes off of her body and claim it in any way they could, and she would see what her own blood looked like and she would understand pain and share it with those she hated because there wouldn't be anyone else there.

It wasn't fair (since when is anything fair?). It wasn't right (since when do you care about what's right?). It wasn't her world (then whose world is it?).

...His. It was his world. It was the one thing he had that she didn't, this comprehension of evil, this deeply personal terror of the light that confined him now to a blacked-out capsule as if it were his gas mask. The evil was part of him and it had ruined him, and maybe now it could save her.

Or it could take her down with him. Whistler better know what he was doing.

ii. shiver

He knew as soon as he walked away that he had done the wrong thing. Something had changed between them as soon as she donned his jacket- she was appreciative, charmed even. She let herself like him a little bit. That wasn't the plan at all.

Up until that point he had managed it well, he thought. He could back her up without even being seen for the most part, and when he did have to communicate face to face, he overplayed the mystery and mocked her openly, and of course there had been no reason for her to like him. It could have gone on like that, but no. He just had to see her smile, didn't he? He picked up his pace, wanting to get home, and wondered why he had gone so far as to give her his jacket.

Because she was cold.

Well, it ended there. He was supposed to be protecting her from demons, not temporary shivers. He was supposed to be protecting her from himself. This wasn't rocket science. Trust had to come first, then full disclosure, then, maybe, friendship. Not romance. Why was he even thinking about romance? No romance and no jackets.

But she was cold.

And he was thinking about romance because she was, dammit. He hadn't mistaken that look in her eyes, that sweet scent emanating from her. She was elevating him and it gave him a foothold to the next step if he chose to take it. This had all been part of his routine, long ago. Charm the girls into their own doom. It came so naturally he could have done it in his sleep. It was exactly why he couldn't allow her to want him.

Next time he saw her he would have to say something mean. Her feelings toward him were still tenuous; there was a chance to alter them before they matured into real desire. Nothing he could do about his feelings toward her, how he kept imagining the way her breasts would feel in his hands and her skin under his teeth, but ignoring his own perversions was habit at this point. She was the one with a life ahead of her. Maybe he should just turn around and demand the jacket back.

But she was cold.

iii. sweat

Now that their clothes were gone, she had relinquished her passionate frenzy and turned shy under his eyes, letting him study her bare body and doing the same to his. For the moment there were a few inches between them, space that seemed wider than it was in contrast to the close contact that had preceded it. Closing the gap and taking her back into his arms was more difficult than he had anticipated. They both knew where this was headed, but did she really know what she was offering? Set aside the whole question of whether he deserved it. He knew he didn't. It wasn't about that; it was about her and what she wanted. And he knew and she knew what she wanted, and it could be good, he could make it feel good for her, but there was no way to get there without demolishing a barrier that was so much more significant than he had ever realized. She was so new. Was she even aware of what her first time meant for her?

In a way he was better acquainted with a woman's sexuality than she was. He had taken so many maidenheads, rejoicing each time in the sensation of breaking through, the little cries the girls would make, and the blood, oh God, there was nothing like it. From the chandler's daughter he had met in his teens to the gypsy girl who had died screaming, he had always sought out the virgins, and she didn't know that, either. She didn't know what kind of sin the man she had in bed with her had traversed before coming to the holy land. How could she allow him to touch her?

"What is it?" she whispered. The desire in her eyes was tinged with apprehension: she was waiting to feel him, wondering what was taking him so long. She had been the one to start them on this path, but there was no way she was going to advance it now.

"If we..." He swallowed. If was not the appropriate word to be using here. "It's going to hurt you."

Her voice was affronted. Clearly this was not the response she had

expected. "I know that. Do you really think I care? I want- I need this. I need you." She emphasized her words by taking his hand and pulling it toward herself, then seemed unsure of what to do with it. Her movements would have seemed awkward except that his palm came to rest in the sweeping curve of her waist as if it belonged there, and she placed her own hand symmetrically on him. "I need you," she repeated in a much smaller voice.

Rainwater still clung to her skin like perspiration, erasing the friction and creating the perfect surface for his hand to glide across her hip and down her thigh. There was still a chance to back off...but she had said she needed him. Need. The holy land had made a place for him. He followed the heat of her body to its source between her legs, and touched her there for the first time. His fingers slid between her lips, slick and fiery, and she made a sound that was somehow a moan and a whimper and a gasp all at once, and even so he could hear his name in it.

The chance to back off was gone. His only discernible thoughts at this point involved finding out what other sounds he could draw from her. He was gentle when he nudged her onto her back, and careful to be sure that she could see into his eyes when he raised himself over her, but in the back of his mind he was waiting for the smell of blood.

iv. cower

it's not her can't be her. break it get away from it. more tricks not real nothing's real where where where what's real? last thing: fire. no. can't run, never helps, can't get away because everything's real. last thing: sword. over and over, now holding it at this end, now feeling it from the other, and What's the matter, vampire? Isn't this what you wanted? Your plan, your portal, your woman. Go on, fuck her again, and this time you can keep her. You can keep fucking her for all eternity, if that's your idea of a party. She killed you. Return the favor. and you'll do it, too. you really will. it's all you are. that's why you're here and you're meant to be here and you'll always be here and it's not them it's you. can't run can't fight but you know better than to believe their lies. they want. they want. they want you to think you got away but you never will. same world as the other, nothing's real everything's real. hungry. blood. they always let you kill. just hunt just feed just don't believe their lies. it can't be her. it's her it's her it's her.

v. tremble

The demon thrashed as it fell, but it went motionless before he cut out its heart. He was similarly steady as he mixed the potion- a dead nervous system didn't tend to foster shaky hands. His posture didn't falter even when he stood at the door with just a blanket between himself and the searing sun, though he thought the foundation of the house might have reverberated a little with the force of his knock. When he put the potion to her lips, he tamped down his urgency and poured with controlled precision.

But when she saw him and heard his voice and didn't know him, he flinched. She did more than flinch. Something within her reacted to the medicine even while her mind was still elsewhere, and she flailed in his grasp, forcing him to hold her down. She was as strong as ever, though the frightened cries she was making showed that she didn't know what she was fighting, and soon he began to fear that she could seriously hurt herself despite his efforts.

"GILES!"

She had the whole bed shaking along with her by the time the call was answered just seconds later. Giles and Joyce rushed into the bedroom and did what they could to help him restrain her, but the only kind of assistance that he really wanted was some assurance that this kind of reaction wasn't bad news. He asked Giles and it came out as an accusation.

"I don't know," the ex-Watcher snapped back at him. "I haven't dealt with this specific condition any more than you have."

"You don't know? So it might not even be working?" The idea that the potion may have been no cure at all loomed suddenly in his mind. It might be worse than no cure. It might drive her over the edge. It might kill her. It was made from a demon's heart! What had they been thinking?

"The text was reliable and we've followed its instructions explicitly; this is the only cure that any of us have discovered; you are not the only person here who cares about the outcome; all we can do now is wait."

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the patient stopped shaking, but she was still unconscious and there was still no recovery guaranteed. The others didn't stop him from kneeling beside her and taking her hand. They didn't make him talk. That was good- he thought it would turn out badly if he tried.

I did what I was supposed to, he thought piteously, a prayer that cast no reflection. I found the demon and I got the heart and I gave her the medicine. She's supposed to come back now. Please, please, give her back.

She didn't move.

vi. flee

Joyce- or Mrs. Summers? Someone should tell me which one I'm supposed to use- looked ready to leave as soon as she had said her piece, but he coaxed her to sit down with him, just for a few minutes. Whatever his goal was, and he honestly wasn't sure if he had one, it was an exercise in futility. She met each of his carefully worded arguments with a firm shake of her head and a reiteration of her original points. Different worlds. Just a girl. Choices. There wasn't a lot of detail that needed to be covered, since she already knew he knew exactly what all of the problems were. She was only there to make him hear them from a voice aside from the one inside his own head.

He tried his best to be respectful to her. She was important, not to his life, but to the life that mattered more than his. He couldn't afford to be on bad terms with her. But the more he listened to her immovable stance, the more he threw himself against the iron defenses of motherhood, the more he felt the resentment creeping in. What did she really think she knew about this? She had a fraction of his age, none of his experience. She spoke to him as if he were a misguided teenager.

It crossed his mind to explain to her what she was really asking of him. That it wasn't just a breakup, and he wasn't just in love. If he was going to take Joyce's advice, she ought to know that he was sacrificing everything that had ever meant anything to him, essentially allowing his existence to cease. She ought to know that she was assisting him in his suicide. He looked at her and prepared to tell it as it was-

I'll die without Buffy. She'll die without me.

She frowned as she saw the memory hit him, though he didn't tell her what had given him such a jolt. Whatever he had been about to say died on his lips. Of course he couldn't explain this to Joyce. No matter how fully he could make her understand his agony, it just wasn't relevant. She looked at him and saw what mattered to her as a mother- not Angel, not Angelus, not a misguided teenager, but simply a threat.

His resentment crystalized within him and dissolved into pure, familiar sorrow. He knew there was no malice in Joyce's intentions. She was a protector, like him, and she did what she had to do. For the first time, he let himself recognize her as an authority figure. Yes, he was older than she was, but how much of his life had really mattered before he loved Buffy? And this woman had been loving Buffy since before she even came into the world.

Without describing these revelations to Joyce, he managed to convey his acceptance of her wisdom, and she left shortly thereafter. He wanted to get out of the house himself, and he ended up pacing around it until the sun set. He would have to leave the house altogether, he realized. Without Buffy there was no home for him in Sunnydale. With every passing moment, the reality of it sunk in a little deeper. Leave. Leave her. He tried to concentrate on the idea of removing the threat, as a good protector should, but all he could see when he closed his eyes was her face in tears.

It was bad enough to have to do this to himself. But he had to make the choice because she couldn't, and that meant he was going to make her cry.

vii. break

He had been so afraid that he would succumb to the poison before she returned. He almost wanted to scold her, to ask where she had been and if he didn't deserve to just see her face one more time, but when she finally showed up she was, of course, beyond reprimand. The fear faded away, and the pain almost did too, and he got ready to say his goodbyes.

Then he learned what was really happening. The approaching peaceful death was snatched away from him, leaving a living nightmare with his innocent, loving, sweet girl as the mastermind.

And he knew what was coming next, because he'd been to Hell and these were the games they played with him; they made him kill her and they made him love it, only to pull back and realize what he had done, only to pull back again and find she had never been there to kill.

And he knew it was coming because it had happened on this world too, he had penetrated her body and turned into a monster- or was it the other way around?- and discovered that the true power of her unreasonably strong love for him was her own destruction.

And he knew it was coming because she was too strong for him. She always had been. Whatever she wanted from him now she was ultimately going to get, but he had to try to get away because this was just too much for him. He hauled himself out of bed and across the room, and even that much was more strength than he'd realized he had left in him, but it wasn't enough, there she was, ready to destroy both of them, and it was just too much.

Sheer bewilderment followed her first hit. Terrified comprehension at her second. When her final punch landed, everything fell away except for the thing created in fire, not man not beast not soul not demon, and then it was love blood sex hunger Buffy Buffy Buffy Buffy…

For the first time since the second time he had died, everything made perfect sense.