Demon with the Face of an Angel

"Okay, okay, I really don't want to fight all three of you," said Buffy, "unless I have to." She used the holds two of the enormous armor-clad vampires had on her arms to support her weight while she kicked the third one hard in the chest. He fell back, and she drove her elbow into the unprotected stomach of the one on her left and punched the one on her right, but before she could do worse damage to any of them, they seized her upper arms again, this time in grips so tight that her fingers were already losing feeling.

With a thrill of horror, she realized that she wouldn't be breaking free again. The third vampire bore down on her, abruptly reaching out and catching her by the hair, his claw-like fingernails cutting into her scalp. He jerked her head to the right, and before she could so much as scream, sank his fangs into her neck.

Angel could hear Buffy's voice, flippant and confident, the growls of vampires, and then the sounds of scuffling and the much louder rattle of a chain-link fence. He broke into a run, but by the time he reached the alley where she was, two of the Three had her by the arms while the leader's head was bowed over her neck.

Another step forward, and the smell of her blood hit Angel's nostrils. All coherent thought ceased. In an instant, he was on top of them, seizing a fistful of the leader's hair and tearing him away from Buffy, then hurling the other two aside like mannequins. He focused his wrath on the leader, whose teeth and lips glistened with Buffy's blood. He launched a flurry of punches at him that even the added strength of Slayer blood was no match for.

The other two tried to come to his aid, but Angel caught one by the arm and flipped him over on his back, his head smacking the asphalt with a nasty crack, then caught the other in a headlock and twisted sharply, snapping his neck. With no wood available for a stake and nothing particularly sharp at hand, he simply tore the steel breastplate from the leader and used it to behead all three of them in quick succession, feeling a vicious satisfaction in the force it took to shove the blunt metal through skin, muscle, and bone.

When nothing but ashes and empty armor remained, Angel straightened. His mind cleared and he suddenly remembered why he had attacked so violently. Buffy. He turned to see if she was okay—his ears were ringing too loudly for him to hear her heartbeat. She was still sitting where she had fallen after he pulled the Three away from her, one hand over the bleeding wound on her neck, the other clutching a stake. Her eyes were fixed on Angel's face. Far, far too late, he reined in the demon enough for his features to become human again. Her expression was one of shock and, unmistakably, fear.

He couldn't take it. He ran.

Buffy watched Angel disappear into the shadows of the alley. It was a long time after that before she regained enough presence of mind to move. When she could finally stand, she headed home as quickly as her quaking legs would allow.

Mere seconds after she closed the front door behind her, she heard the hum of the Jeep turning into the drive, and she dashed up the stairs and into the bathroom so her mom wouldn't see the souvenir of her evening's activities. She shucked her clothes and got into the shower, turning the water on full blast. It ran cold long before she stepped out, but she still hadn't managed to wash away the feeling of that vampire's teeth in her neck.

She wrapped herself in a towel and stared into the mirror. The bite had closed. By this time tomorrow, there would be no visible trace of it left. Her eyes wandered up to meet those of her reflection. Angel. A vampire. She glanced at the heap of discarded clothes on the tile floor behind her, on top of which lay the silver cross necklace. She thought of the leather jacket hanging in her closet. She felt used, betrayed. Was he working for the Master? Had he been sent to learn everything about her so the Master would know how to take her down? If that was true, then why had he helped her? The Master would be free already if Angel hadn't warned her about the Harvest, and then there was tonight.

She remembered the way he'd torn those three vamps apart. She'd never seen anything so brutal. Had he just wanted her for himself? If so, why had he fled? The game had already been up; she knew what he was now, and she had definitely been in no condition to fight someone of his obvious strength and skill. He could have finished her off right there, but instead he ran. And the look on his face…he'd looked like his heart was breaking.

The physical toll of the fight had caught up with Angel by the time he reached his apartment. Even though the entire battle had lasted less than a minute and he'd been the one doing most of the damage, he still felt like he'd been trampled by a horse. Despite this, he was restless, practically vibrating with excess energy. It had been a very long time since he'd fought like that, and the smell of Buffy's blood had made him ravenous.

Once inside, he threw his jacket and keys onto his desk chair and headed straight to the fridge. Normally, he would take the time to reheat the containers of blood in a water bath on the stove, but he couldn't wait this time, and simply tore into a bag with his teeth.

"Time was, you'd celebrate a victory like that with the blood of your victims. But I guess traitors have to make do with cold leftovers."

Angel put what was left of the bag of blood down, but did not turn to face the intruder. "You were watching," he said. It wasn't a question.

"Did you expect me to miss seeing the Three tear apart a Slayer?" said Darla with silky derision. "Although, with the show I got instead...maybe I should persuade the Master to send assassins after her every night."

Angel was across the apartment in a flash, closing a hand around her throat and slamming her against the wall. She only smiled. "But I don't suppose that would work now that she knows what you are. After all, what Slayer wants a vampire for her champion?"

She reached out a hand to play with the hem of his white shirt. "God, Angelus, it's been so long since the last time I watched you fight that I almost don't care that you were on the wrong side." Her hand slipped up under the material and began to explore his abdomen.

He flung himself away from her with a snarl. "Get out."

"Oh, you want me to leave so you can mope over her?"

He closed his eyes. How was it that Darla could push his buttons so well after nearly a century apart? "It's such a shame," she said with mock regret. "I think she was starting to have quite the crush on you, but now all you are to her is one more thing that goes bump in the night. But, hey, I could be underestimating her. Maybe if you tell her about the curse, she'll come around. And if she still doesn't trust you, you know where I'll be."

"So, said Xander, "Angel's a vampire." It was the next day, and he, Buffy, and Willow were all gathered around the study table in the library while Giles wandered about, pulling various books from the surrounding shelves and thumbing through them.

Buffy didn't respond, but Willow shot Xander a reproving look for his badly concealed glee at this development. "He could be a good vampire, couldn't he?" she asked Giles hopefully.

"I very much doubt it," said Giles. "No matter what Angel's behavior may suggest, a vampire is still a demon at the core—there is no halfway."

"But those other vampires could have killed Buffy if he hadn't gotten there when he did," Willow protested.

"Oh, please," said Xander before the Watcher could speak, "that doesn't mean he isn't evil. In fact, I think it makes him even more dangerous. It proves he's willing to do anything to get to Buffy."

"Risking his own life to save hers while letting her see that he's a vampire counts as 'getting' to her?" said Willow incredulously.

"Duh! If she'd found out any other way, she probably would have just staked him, but now he thinks he has a free pass for saving her life!"

Willow opened his mouth to retort again, but Giles cleared his throat, preventing them from arguing the point further. "Did you find something?" said Buffy.

"Er, yes," he said. "It seems that the vampires Angel killed were known as the Three. Warrior vampires, very proud and very strong."

"And Angel would have to be even stronger to kill them, right?"

"I-indeed he would. The Three were the Master's personal team of assassins. Any vampire capable of taking all of them down as quickly as you described would have to be very powerful. A century or two under his belt, at least. So there's a good chance there'll be a record of him somewhere."

"Good," said Buffy, offering Giles a weary smile of gratitude as she stood up and began gathering her things. "Keep me posted?"

"Of course," he said. "And Buffy," he added when she, Willow, and Xander were halfway to the doors, "I think it's time we step up your training with weapons."

She nodded and departed with the other two.

"So, with the Bronze closed for a few days, where do we take the crazy party tonight?" said Xander, as if they hadn't just spent all their time before class discussing dangerous vampires.

Willow gave him another disapproving look, but Buffy gladly jumped on the topic. "They're showing Liar, Liar at Sun Cinema," she said. "I saw the previews. That could be fun."

"Ooh, yeah," said Xander eagerly. "I'll check the show times after school and call you."

"Nothing before seven," said Willow. "Buffy and I are gonna be studying for the history test until then. Want to join us?"

Xander made a face similar to a vampire upon being confronted with a cross. Buffy stifled a laugh. "I think it'll just be us, Wil."

By lunchtime, Giles had found out quite a lot about Angel—or Angelus, as he was called in the Watcher diaries. He was from Ireland, roughly two and a half centuries old, and had an extremely bloody history, even by usual vampire standards, though there had been no record of him attacking humans since the turn of the century. As far as anyone knew, he'd been living peacefully below society's radar for the last hundred years.

Xander and Willow had continued to bicker, the former advocating staking Angel immediately while the latter remained the voice of stubborn optimism. Giles had been more reasonable than either of them, but his expectations were clearly more similar to Xander's than Willow's. In his view, just because there was no record of any recent misdeeds on Angel's part, it didn't mean he was any different from other vampires. As an added precaution, he began training Buffy to use a crossbow once school ended.

At their study session, Buffy let Willow prattle away about how Angel had to be a good vampire and how it was so romantic the way he had saved Buffy's life like that—like the Beast saving Belle from the wolves. Buffy found none of this helpful. Her heart wanted to believe that Angel could be a good vampire, but her mind doubted the possibility of it.

"Do you know what you're going to do?" said Willow.

"Huh?" said Buffy, mentally shaking herself. "Oh. No, not really. I mean, I know what Giles and Xander want me to do."

Willow made a staking motion with her pencil, and Buffy nodded grimly. "But you don't think you can?"

"He saved my life, Willow. Giles says all vampires are bad, but there has to be a reason Angel hasn't hurt anyone for a hundred years. And if he'd wanted to hurt me, he's sure passed up a lot of good chances to do it."

"Maybe you should try to talk to him before you decide," Willow suggested.

"Yeah," said Buffy, brightening very slightly. "After the movie, I'll see if I can find him on patrol."

"Oh yeah, the movie," said Willow. She'd obviously forgotten. "What show time were we going to?"

"The eight-thirty one."

"Good, we've still got a couple of hours."

"Yeah, maybe we can get some actual studying done."

In the bookstacks, just out of sight, Darla smirked to herself. So, the Slayer needed a reason before she'd be willing to attack Angel, did she?

Angel was just filling the fridge with his new acquisitions from the butcher when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. "What's it going to take to keep you out, Darla? A warding spell?"

"I'm hurt, Angelus. You were the one who came crawling to me last time, and now I'm not even welcome in your home?"

He waited, refusing to play her game. After about ten seconds, she gave up. "The Master isn't happy with you," she said.

"The Master was never happy with me," he reminded her indifferently.

"True," she said, not quite succeeding at masking her annoyance, "but he was never on the verge of sending assassins after you."

Angel let out a derisive chuckle and turned to face her. "Who would he send? Luke's dead. The Three are dead. Who does he still have left that would even stand a chance? You?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Before you get too cocky, you might want to hear what I have to offer. I'm going hunting behind the Sun Cinema tonight. If you want to earn back the Master's favor, all you have to do is join me."

Before he could say or do anything in reply, she was gone.

Angel could have just stayed at his apartment. Buffy knew what he was, so there was nothing else he could do for Whistler's mission. But it seemed the last year had changed him in more ways than merely pulling him out of the gutters and restoring him to some semblance of a functional existence. He found he couldn't sit at home, doing nothing, while knowing the details of Darla's planned hunt. Barely a quarter of an hour after her departure, he was perched atop the roof of Sun Cinema, searching for signs of her impending attack.

It took him a second longer to spot her than it normally would. The girl who was leading a tall young man (who looked as if he couldn't quite believe his good fortune) into the alley behind the theater wore a rather convincing brown wig, and with her jeans and sky blue peasant top, her style couldn't have been more different from Darla's new Catholic schoolgirl look. In the end, it was her flirtatious laugh that gave her away. Angel could have recognized that laugh anywhere.

He leapt from the roof and landed silently in the alley only a few yards away from them. Darla and the boy had started kissing rather passionately. When the boy stepped it up a notch by moving to kiss Darla's neck, she grinned over his shoulder at Angel, fangs and yellow eyes glinting in the dim light of the lamp over the theater's back door.

"Get away from him," said Angel.

The boy stopped kissing Darla (who quickly slipped back into human features) and turned to shoot Angel an ugly look. "Think you could mind your own business, pal?" he said.

Angel cocked his head to the side and let his demon surface. "I think it's your business you should be worried about."

That did the trick. With a shrill scream, the boy sprinted out of the alley. Darla made a noise of exasperation. "Just because you don't want to play anymore, it doesn't mean you can ruin the game for the rest of us."

"Please. You knew I'd come," said Angel.

"Yes," said Darla, flashing an unpleasant smile. "I did." Without warning, she punched him in the jaw. He staggered back, staring at her in bewilderment as he raised a hand to feel his split lip. She threw another punch, which he parried automatically before succeeding in getting in a couple of his own. Before the fight could escalate any further, however, she danced back out of reach and fled the scene.

Buffy was running slightly late getting to the theater. It was five minutes past the time she was supposed to have met Willow and Xander. As they were nowhere in sight, she figured they had probably already gone in and were saving her a seat. She was still about twenty yards from the ticket window when a guy who looked roughly college age came running out of the alley that went behind the building, a look of utter terror on his face.

Alarmed, Buffy hurried over to intercept him. "Hey, what happened?" she said.

"I don't know," said the guy. He shuddered and shot a glance over his shoulder at the empty alley. "I was with this girl back there, and then some big dude showed up, and his face…it changed."

"So, what, you just left the girl there with him?" Buffy demanded. He spluttered incoherently for a moment, and she shoved him impatiently aside and ran down the alley. She made it halfway to the back corner of the building when a girl with long brown hair came stumbling into view, one hand clamped to the side of her neck, her face pale and tear-streaked. She nearly ran into Buffy in her haste to get away from whatever was back there.

"Hey, are you okay?" Buffy asked her.

"Don't go down there!" the girl cried, looking almost wild with fear. "There's a monster—I barely managed to get away."

"Just go home," Buffy said consolingly. "You'll be safe there."

She waited until the girl was out on the main street before jogging the rest of the way to the back alley. Cautiously, she poked her head around the corner to see what she was up against.

It was as if her heart had turned to ice. There, in the light of the lamps over the theater's rear exit, stood Angel. As she watched, his features went from demonic to human and he lifted a hand to wipe a streak of blood from his lower lip. She pulled back sharply, pressing herself close against the cool brick wall.

By the time she had gathered enough nerve to enter the back alley and confront him, he was nowhere to be found.

"Where were you last night?" said Willow as they sat down to lunch in the cafeteria.

"Yeah, we saved you a seat and everything," said Xander.

"I'm sorry," said Buffy listlessly. "I made it to the theater and everything, but I ran into this girl who'd been attacked by a vampire. I went to fight the vampire, and…it was Angel."

"Oh, Buffy," said Willow, reaching out to put a sympathetic hand on her arm.

"So did you stake him?" said Xander. Willow glared at him.

"No," said Buffy. "He was gone before I could do anything. I guess I'll have to find him tonight when I patrol."

"You're really going to fight him?" said Willow, crestfallen.

"I have to," said Buffy. "Whatever he's been doing for the last hundred years, if he's attacking people now, then it's my job to stop him."

"Are you sure you can beat him?" said Xander. "I mean, if he killed those three warrior guys…"

"I can't just do nothing. Even if I only have a slim chance of beating him, that's more of a chance than what anyone he attacks has."

"Just be careful," said Willow.

Buffy had a similar conversation with Giles before their training session, which concluded with another warning for caution. As she had done with Willow and Xander, she assured Giles that she would be careful when she confronted Angel, but he still refused to release her from training until he was satisfied that she had mastered the crossbow.

Angel was just sitting down with his sketchbook and a mug of blood when he heard a noise outside his apartment. Scowling, he got up, strode to the door, flung it open, and seized the vampire lurking right outside it by the front of his shirt.

"Who the hell are you?" he growled. "What are you doing here?"

"P-please don't kill me, Mr. Angelus, sir," he whimpered. "I've got a message from the Slayer."

"The Slayer," Angel repeated, deeply skeptical. "She sent a vampire to deliver a message?"

"She's been looking for you. She caught hold of me at the cemetery and said she'd stake me if I didn't find you and tell you to meet her at that big abandoned mansion on Crawford Street."

Angel's eyes narrowed. "Why does she want to meet me?"

"I don't know," said the vampire. "She just said something about wanting to end it. She'll be waiting at that mansion at midnight."

After three hours of patrolling with nothing to show for it, Buffy reluctantly headed back home. She had gone to all the places she'd run into Angel before, but had discovered no hints of where she might find him. Part of her was relieved. This was not a fight she was looking forward to, and not because she thought she might lose it.

She arrived at the house and, as she was growing increasingly used to doing, climbed up to her window to sneak back inside. Then she saw what was waiting for her on the sill, and goosebumps popped up all over her arms. A folded over note lay there, held shut by a single red rose. With jerky movements, she picked it up and flipped the note open.

Sorry I stood you up at the theater last night, but you caught me by surprise, and I wanted our final meeting to be special. Meet me at the mansion on Crawford Street at midnight.

—A

Buffy crumpled the note in her fist. Any reservations she had still had about fighting Angel were gone now. If he wanted a final showdown, he was going to get one.

When she arrived at the mansion, she saw that the lock on the gate had already been broken. She couldn't be sure it was Angel's handiwork, but the possibility that he had gotten there first and laid a trap made her uneasy. She moved through the weed-infested courtyard and on into the mansion itself, crossbow loaded and ready. Not enjoying the prospect of battling Angel in the dark, she searched for a light switch. When it actually worked, she almost sighed with relief. Whoever owned the mansion might not be putting it to much use, but they seemed to want it ready for whenever that changed.

The architecture of the place was so strange that it was difficult not to be distracted by it. Everything was made of the same gray stone, with many sharp angles. A vast fireplace dominated the great room, and several pillars interrupted the space here and there. There wasn't much furniture, but someone must have been in to clean recently, because there was hardly any dust.

Buffy began to feel the creeping sense of being watched. She spun around to see Angel framed in the doorway, yellow eyes glaring out from under a ridged brow.

"I've been looking for you," she said, trying to sound cool and unruffled.

"So I've heard." His gaze flickered to her crossbow. "I see you're planning to end this quickly."

"I think we've drawn this out long enough already."

"Then go ahead," he said, spreading his arms wide. She took aim, but couldn't make herself squeeze the trigger. "Come on," he challenged, his face becoming human again, "don't go soft on me now!"

The hand holding the crossbow shook. "You could have just let the Three kill me. You didn't. Why?"

"I couldn't let them hurt you," he said, as if he couldn't believe she'd needed to ask.

Buffy laughed, and her trigger hand steadied. "You couldn't let them hurt me, but you came here to kill me. Big mistake."

She squeezed the trigger, and a bolt went flying directly at his chest. In a second, he had swatted it out of the air, bounded to her, and kicked the crossbow from her hand. She let fly a punch, which he blocked and returned with one of his own. She dodged it, grabbed his arm, and flipped him off his feet, but he landed like a cat on her other side. With a low, sweeping kick, he knocked her legs out from under her. She rolled to lessen the force of her fall and found her crossbow, still with the second bolt in it, within reach. She caught it up and took aim again. At point blank range, he wouldn't be deflecting anything this time.

Angel froze, his eyes locked on hers. She got slowly back to her feet, but once again, she found herself unable to pull the trigger. "Why didn't you just kill me when you had the chance?" she said. "All those times you came to give me information. Why hurt your own side?"

"I'm not on the Master's side."

"Then whose side are you on? Some other vampire? Or do you want the Master's throne for yourself?"

"I was sent here to help you," he clarified.

"Sent?" she repeated. "By who?"

"A demon," he said. "A good one."

"There are good demons?" she said scornfully.

"Not this close to a Hellmouth, for the most part, but yes."

"Fine, but even if there are good demons, there are never good vampires, so why would you agree to help me?"

"Because I wanted to."

"Why?!" she insisted, her finger tightening on the trigger. "A hundred years ago, you were just like the rest of them, and then you dropped off everyone's radar. What happened?"

Angel shrugged. "Killed the wrong girl. Romani." Buffy gave him a quizzical look, so he tried again. "Gypsy. Her clan wanted revenge."

"And they didn't just kill you?"

He laughed bitterly. "No. They wanted me to suffer, so they restored my soul." He went on, describing the curse, and Buffy thought she caught a glimpse in his eyes of the mind-shattering horror it was to have a past like his. "I haven't fed on a living human being since that day," he concluded.

"So you started with that girl last night?" said Buffy, her anger returning rapidly.

Angel looked confused. "What?" he said.

Buffy wasn't listening. "Not to mention the incredibly serial killer-y invitation you left on my window sill."

Comprehension dawned on his face, and his expression darkened. "Did you send a vampire to find me with a message tonight?" he asked.

"What? No," said Buffy. This seemed to confirm whatever he was thinking, because he moved closer to her while looking around at each of the entrances into the room. It was her turn to be confused now. "What is it?" she said, keeping her crossbow trained uncertainly on him, though his stance was clearly protective rather than threatening.

"I didn't leave any invitation," he said. "And the girl you think I attacked last night was a four-hundred-year-old vampire."

Buffy's blood ran cold and she immediately moved so they were standing back-to-back. "How can you be sure?" she asked.

"Because she and I were together for a hundred and fifty years," said Angel. "She's the one who turned me. Her name is Darla."

"So, you figured it out." The girl from the theater—Darla, evidently—stepped into view, her hair now blonde, dressed in a private school uniform. It was only then that Buffy recognized her as the vampire she had saved Willow from in that mausoleum on her first night in Sunnydale. She could have kicked herself.

"Well," Darla continued dryly, "this is disappointing. I went to all that trouble to see you dead at his hands, and instead I find a useless lovesick martyr and a Slayer too twitterpated to even put him out of his misery." She glared contemptuously at Angel. "Everything you were—everything you could have been, and you're throwing it all away for her. You love someone who hates us! You're sick, and—"

Buffy pulled the trigger, and a crossbow bolt flew straight at Darla. Angel turned to stare at her. "What?" she said, shrugging. "I thought she'd never shut up."

An enraged growl brought their attention back to Darla. Her face had changed and she was ripping the crossbow bolt back out of her chest. It had hit just barely too far to the right. She laughed mockingly as she threw the bolt aside. "A crossbow? Really? And they say we're the ones stuck in the past." With that, she whipped out a pair of pistols, not giving them time to react before she began to fire. Angel yelled and jumped in front of Buffy. He took at least six bullets to the chest and abdomen before Darla stopped wasting ammo on him and tried to get a clearer shot at Buffy.

Slayer reflexes kicked in, overpowering the horror Buffy felt at seeing Angel's body jerk with the impact of each bullet. She ran for cover behind the fireplace, deafened by the seemingly endless stream of bullets peppering the floor and walls in her wake. She reached the fireplace unharmed, and from this position, she saw Angel collapse in a heap on the ground. Even though she knew now that it would take more than bullets to kill him, she couldn't suppress a squeak of fear for his well-being.

Darla obviously heard this, because she gave another mocking laugh and started slinging taunts again. Buffy closed her eyes for a second, steeling her nerves, then sprang out from her cover and sprinted across the room. Darla fired off round after round, and halfway to the pillar Buffy was headed for, one of them grazed her shoulder. She dove behind the pillar, and two bullets struck the granite exactly level with her head.

"Come on, Buffy," Darla jeered, "take it like a man." Her voice was getting closer and Buffy doubted she'd survive many more dashes between areas of cover. But then there was a noise Buffy knew very well, accompanied by Darla's gasp of pain. She risked glancing around the edge of her pillar in time to see that Angel had hauled himself back to his feet and used one of the crossbow bolts to stake Darla just under the shoulder blade. Darla turned around to look at him and croaked out his name in disbelief, then crumpled to the floor and burst into ashes.

Maybe it was Buffy's imagination, but Angel looked like more than bullets were causing him pain. She didn't have much time to think about that, though, because the effort of staking Darla seemed to have drained all the strength he still had. He groaned and staggered forward. Buffy dashed out and caught him before his knees could hit the floor, then helped him upright.

"Are you okay?" he asked, fingering the bloody tear in her sleeve where the bullet had grazed her.

"Forget about me," she said, half laughing, half crying. "What about you? You must have taken half a dozen bullets at least! And we can't just take you to the hospital. Where can we even go to patch you up?"

"My apartment," he grunted. "I have supplies there."

"Why, do you get shot a lot?" she asked jokingly. His rather sheepish look in reply did not help, and she decided not to ask him anything else until they were out of there.

It took nearly an hour to get all of the bullets out. Buffy had spent a good portion of her time over the last couple of months fantasizing about Angel, but she never would have imagined that she'd be using pliers to pull bits of lead out of him the first time she got his shirt off. He was a very good patient, sitting as still as a corpse and almost (but not quite) succeeding at convincing her that what she was doing wasn't hurting him.

Finally, the last one was out. Angel let out the breath he'd been holding for the entire operation and slumped back into the sofa, while Buffy dropped the final bullet and the pliers into the dish with the first five bullets and hurried over to the sink to wash the blood off her hands. She returned to the sofa a minute later with a washcloth and a bowl of water.

"So," she said as she started cleaning the wounds. "What Darla said back there, about you being in love with someone who hates vampires..." She hesitated. "Was she telling the truth?" She looked up at his face for his reaction, and promptly forgot how to breathe. He didn't say anything, but that made little difference; words had never been less necessary. No one had ever looked at her like that. But the tender expression only lasted a second before he looked away, mouth twisting as if he'd swallowed something bitter.

Buffy's brow furrowed and she reached up a hand to the side of his face, gently coaxing him to meet her eyes again. He seemed both surprised and confused, but before he could voice it, she leaned in and kissed him, then pulled back to see his reaction. She almost had to fight back a giggle; he was gaping at her, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. "Is something wrong?" she asked sweetly.

"I'm a vampire," he blurted.

"Your point?"

"You kissed me."

"I did."

"But I'm not human."

She snorted. "Thank goodness. No human would have survived doing what you've done for me in the last few days."

He still looked rather bewildered, and Buffy couldn't help kissing him again, this time dropping the cloth back into the bowl and scooting closer so that she could wrap her arms around his neck. It took a few seconds before he finally seemed to get the message and began to kiss her back, but his enthusiasm more than made up for it.