Chapter Seventeen:

"I-I choose Tara," Buffy finally whispered, her voice barely hearable.

"Are you sure, Buffy? She has been nothing but trouble since I picked her up." He told her again. He stepped behind her, forcing her to her feet, his hands moving over her body with a familiarity that made her skin crawl and shrink away from him. "But little Cassie has proven herself to be quite the little cock sucker. I think she might even grow to like it after a while."

Buffy ducked her head down, refusing to look anymore at the three women, especially the two that she'd just condemned to death. She couldn't, guilt and horror were eating at her. As well as the grief she felt, grief for the loss of Angel.

"Oh well, if you insist." Ben pushed her into the chair, forcing her in hard enough to knock the air out of here. He turned and went to his shelves, reaching into a small white box and drawing out a length of red ribbon. With a careful hand, he cut it then held the two ends together, trimming them neatly. He drew out another length, repeating the process before tucking the edges of the ribbons into his front pocket. The ends hung down the front of his beige pants, a striking contrast like lines of blood, marring the material. He settled a few things onto a metal tray, humming as he worked.

Next he walked to the door of the cage, opening it and wiggling his fingers at Cassie. "Come out, come out wherever you are," he chuckled. "It's too bad we just don't have more time, I might have let you prove to Buffy what a wonderful addition you could be to our little love nest. But, I'm expecting company so come on out little Cassandra."


Ben looked at her in consternation for a moment as if he'd never have expected her to argue with him. "Cassandra, this is not the time for you to prove you have any balls. Get your little ass out here!" he roared, his anger billowing in sheets of rage.

Cassie stood with her back to the very back of the cage, her head shaking even as terror made it impossible for her to speak. Her legs felt like jello, fear making her bowels feel like water as she watched him. His eerie eyes seemed to glow, his face turned red and he stomped his foot.

"If I have to come in there and get you, you will regret it with every scream I wrest from you before I finally kill you," he screamed at the girl, his voice hoarse. "Now get your cunt out here!"

"NO!" she screamed. "NO!"

Tara watched with a disassociated detachment that made her feel as if she were somewhere else, watching this through someone else's eyes. The expression on Ben's face struck her as funny and she let a little giggle slip past her lips.

She couldn't help it, he had a look of such surprise on his face. It was almost as if he actually believed that they would calmly walk out of this plastic prison that had become their haven in these last moments and cheerfully put their heads in his hands so that he might kill them. How foolish could any man be?

"Do you actually believe that any of us are just going to allow you to kill us?" she asked him slowly.

"Shut up, Tara. This doesn't concern you. Buffy has given you a reprieve."

"But for how long? How long before you tire of the two of us and decide to get rid of us? How long before you tire of having broken toys? We hate you. All of us, even your dear Buffy that you profess to love. We hate every rancid breath you suck into your evil lungs."

"Tara..." he began, his tone of voice going beyond warning and into rage.

"No! You're going to listen. You've fucked us, you raped us all in horrible ways. You've tried to break us, and you failed. You FAILED!"

"Tara, be careful," Faith hissed from her post beside the girl. "We want him pissed, not homicidal."

"You are nothing but a pathetic little boy." Tara took a step forward, her eyes glued to Ben's face. "A little boy with a truly pathetic little cock who has to rape women to get it up. You can't do it any other way, can you? You couldn't have a regular relationship with a woman. You can't get it up unless you are threatening and hurting, can you?"

He took one step into the cage, his eyes set upon Tara. His hands clenched into white knuckled fists at his sides.

"You don't scare me. You don't scare me at all. You are nothing, less than nothing." Tara turned her back, refusing to look at the man. He would attack, she knew that. She just had to hope she could provoke him past his control point. She had to give Cassie time to do her part.

With a hideous roar, Ben rushed her, taking the five steps he needed to get his hands on Tara in three. His hands closed around her throat, strangling her, his thick fingers digging into her flesh brutally.

Cassie raced from the cage, almost too panicked to do her part of the plan. She hesitated for a moment, hearing the sounds of the struggles behind her, seeing the way to freedom in the long staircase that was so close. But then she heard Faith cursing, heard Tara gasping for air and couldn't forget them. She rushed to the shelves, her shaking hand scattering the metal tools before grasping a handful of scalpels. Turning, she ran to the cage. Faith was fighting with him, struggling to get his fingers from around Tara;s throat. Tara was almost unconscious, her body limp in the strong man's hands. She struggled feebly, her fingers pulling impotently at the thick fingers dug so cruelly into her throat.

"NO!" Cassie screeched, rushing at his back, her arm raised with the bladed ends of the scalpels pointed out. Not even thinking, only feeling the horror of what he was doing to her friend, she brought her hand down hard, feeling the slight pop the skin made as the scalpel slipped through, sliding deeply into his flesh. Beyond that first pop, the blades went in easily, like slicing through warm butter.

Ben screamed, his eyes growing wide as he realized what was happening. He turned, letting go of Tara, his hands flailing. He knocked Cassie down even as she tried to stab him again, running out of the cage.

Faith went after him, her pale body almost a blur as she raced after the injured man. She was past thinking like a cop; she'd been through things in the last twenty four hours that no cop should ever have to deal with. Now she was thinking like a woman. She was thinking like a woman who'd been brutalized, beaten and raped. She wanted revenge. With a shriek, she leaped at him, grabbing one of the scalpels that had been left in his body and yanking it out. She knocked him to the ground, stabbing him over and over.

Ben fought her, rolling on the floor with her, roaring every time the blade struck home. He could feel himself weakening, feel his life's blood draining away to the floor of his basement retreat. "No," he whispered, finding himself upon his back, Faith on top of him, her hair a mass of mussed snarls, her eyes full of hatred.

"Die you pathetic piece of shit," she hissed, sinking backwards, the scalpel she still held in her cut hand hanging loosely at her side as she watched him suffer. She was breathing heavily, her flesh quivering from the effort it had taken her to stop. "Go to goddamn fucking hell!"

He closed his eyes, pain assaulting him from all the wounds she had inflicted. With one last effort, he rolled, knocking her to the floor, grabbing the loosely held scalpel from her hand and dragging her head back. "You first," he hissed, even as he heard the screams from the other women. His hand shook as he dragged the lethally sharp blade across her throat, opening the skin and severing her jugular before he dropped the blade, crawling away.

Buffy dropped to her knees beside Faith, turning her onto her back, her hands pressing against the wound that was spurting blood into the air. "NO!" she screamed even as her hands grew slippery with the thick fluid that was draining away the life of the woman under her. "You fucking bastard! Why?" Buffy looked at Ben whose own wounds were killing him. "Why did you do this, why kill all these women? Why?"

"B-be-cause I-I l-love you," Ben managed to gurgle, then he was still, his eyes staring at her even as they glazed with death.

Buffy screamed as the door at the top of the stairs burst open, heavily armed and armored men thudding down the stairway. Two hands grasped her arms, pulling her from the puddle of blood that had formed around Faith's body. A blanket was draped around her shoulders, pulled tightly around her and then she found herself in a pair of warm arms.

"It's okay," Angel's voice crooned softly from above her head. "It's over. I got you, baby."

Buffy stared up and into his handsome face with a sense of surrealism. "You're dead. He killed you," she whispered. "He told me he killed you. Am I dead to?" she asked, her bloody hands coming up, the blanket dropping from off of her shoulders.

Angel caught it, wrapping her in it once more. "No, baby, you're not dead and neither am I. He gave me a good bump on the head. But other than that, I'm fine. Did h... did he hurt you?"

"No," she said, emphatically, shaking her head. "He killed your cop."

Angel heard the sound of hysteria in her voice. "It's okay, Buffy. You're fine now. You, Tara and Cassie, you're all fine now." He rocked her in his arms, watching as the paramedics came down.

Tara was taken up first, her throat swollen and bruised from Ben's fingers, her body raw and black and blue from his beatings and rapes. She would live, and grieve for her own lost love. Cassie shied away from everyone that tried to touch her, hanging on to Tara's hand and following her up the stairs. She would ride to the hospital with Tara for the older girl's presence kept her calm.

"I want you going to the hospital, too, Angel. You can ride in with Buffy," Giles said, his eyes stern. "Don't even try to argue, detective. I'll wrap this up and do your paperwork for you this time."

Angel nodded and then helped Buffy towards the stairs.

The phone seemed to ring nonstop. She'd had to change the number and somehow they still got a hold of it. Buffy finally had to resort to taking it off the hook, unable to handle the constant noise.

She'd been back in her apartment only two days, having spent three in the hospital before Angel was assured she was okay.

She thought to come home to the peace and quiet of her house, only to find the press camped out on her doorstep, their flashbulbs going off like too bright fireflies as she hurried up the front steps and into the shuttered interior of her house. Nina and Eve weren't due home for a couple more days, enjoying their vacations from real life.

She was alone.

Buffy wandered around the rooms, touching things as if being able to feel them would make them more real to her. She still was in that half surreal stage finding it hard to believe that Ben Wilkinson was dead and was no longer a threat to her or any other girl. It seemed like forever since she'd first ran into him that late night, running in to buy chips to satisfy her craving for something salty.

A soft meow broke the silence, a plaintive cry followed by a rusty sounding purr as a big orange body rubbed up against her. She bent over, picking up the huge Tom cat that she'd rescued from being taken in by animal rescue. It might seem weird to some people that she adopted Ben's cat. But it wasn't the cat's fault. He was just a big, loveable orange fur ball that loved to be petted and to eat.

"Are you hungry?" she asked him softly, nuzzling her nose into his fur.

"Yes, I am," a male voice said.

She whirled, dropping the cat with a small scream. "Dammit Angel!" she hissed at the man who stood in her living room. "You scared me."

Angel walked closer, pulling her into his arms. "I missed you," he said, bending his head to find her lips.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, hanging on to him. He felt so real, so stable, so safe to her. When he lifted his head, she was smiling. "I've never seen you in uniform," she said softly, smoothing her hands over the dark blue coat that was buttoned up the front with brass buttons. He had a slew of medals and badges on his chest. "You look fantastic."

"Thanks. Faith's funeral was today," he said slowly, not wanting to upset her. "She was sent off with all the pomp and glory of a hero, baby."

"I wish I had known, I would have gone."

"The press were all over it, Buffy. They'd have mugged you before you'd gotten anywhere close to the cemetery." He pulled the clip out of her hair, running his hands through the silky strands.

She sighed and then moved from his arms, grabbing his hand and pulling him to the couch. Curling up against him, she traced abstract patterns over the material that covered his thigh. "So what happens next? There won't be a trial or anything. With him dead, it just ends, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, kind of anticlimactic isn't it?"

"After all the people he killed, yeah, it's very anticlimactic. There should be a way to bring his soul back from hell and ... I don't know, hurt him somehow. But nope, he's dead and the city is safe once more and you get stuck with a desk full of paperwork." She tried to smile but it was hard.

Angel held her gently, stroking her hair. He hadn't tried to make love to her or to do much more than the gentle kiss he'd given her earlier. She seemed ... brittle, as if she might break if he put to much pressure on her. He missed having her beside him, knowing she was right there in the middle of the night, being able to make love to her. But that was okay. They had time now, time to get to know each other, time for her to see how much he loved her, time...

"My parents want me to move back home, Angel," she said softly. "They don't like me being alone and so far away. I guess this thing scared them too."

"What? What did you tell them?" he said, all his thoughts of time seeming to pop like a balloon on a pin. He waited anxiously for her reply.

"Well," she said, biting her lip to hide the smile that wanted to spread over her face at the sound of worry in his voice. "I told them that I really wasn't alone. I mean, I do have Eve and Nina and all."

"Your roommates? Well, yeah, I guess so." He shifted, his eyes narrowing.

"But they weren't convinced about that at all. Daddy even said he was going to come up here and get me if I didn't decide to move back myself." She felt him take his arm from around her, crossing it over his chest. His eyes grew even more narrow, reminding her of a cat studying its prey.

"Fuck it!" It just burst from him, those two words, like a ball from a cannon. "And fuck that. You aren't alone,Buffy. You have me. I may have fucked up and let that creep get his hands on you, but ... that won't ever happen again. I love you, Buffy. I want you to move in with me."

Buffy rose to her knees on the couch, her leg slinging across his lap until she straddled him. "What did you say?" she asked breathlessly.

"I said I want you to move in with me," he said, looking a little nervous.

"No, no, before that."

"I fucked up?" he asked slowly.

"Dammit, you know what I want to hear," she growled at him, grabbing the lapels of his coat.

"I love you, Buffy Summers. I think I've loved you since I saw you in that restaurant making silly faces at a two year old to make him laugh. I can't stand the thought of you living across the city from me much less across the country." He took a deep breath, his hands coming up to frame her face. "I love you so much I was willing to give us time, time to heal and to forget Benjamin Wilkinson and the things he did to you. But I can't let you leave me." He kissed her lightly, surprised when she took the kiss deeper, licking at his lips with her wicked little tongue until he sucked it into his mouth.

When the kiss ended, they were both breathing hard. Buffy brushed her lips over his again and again, unable to break the contact, feeling for the first time since waking in that horrible chair as if she were really alive. Her body seemed to tingle, to vibrate against his, emotions and sensations swarming through her but the most important of all ... was love.

Angel grabbed her arms, more than willing to let his pretty girlfriend seduce him out of his uniform, but first he wanted to hear her say it. He needed to hear her say how she felt also. "Well?" he asked, his voice a raspy growl.

"Well ... what?" she chuckled, knowing what he wanted to hear her say. But she wanted him to work for it.

"Buffy..." he warned, his voice not in the least amused. "I've been walking on egg shells for five days just to walk in here to hear that you father wants you to move home where I'll never see you again. You'd better have something to say to me."

"I'm not going anywhere, well I am, but it's not as far as my daddy would like. If you meant it, Angel, I want to go home with you. I love you."

His smile was brilliant, taking her breath away. He kissed her slowly, lifting his head finally to stare down at her swollen lips and passion closed eyes. "Did you want to leave right away?" he whispered.

She laughed huskily. "Hmm, I think it could probably wait a few hours," she sighed, reaching down to unbutton the big brass buttons that kept his coat closed.

He rose, lifting her easily and tossing her over his shoulder then walked to her room with her squirming and laughing.

Dropping her on the bed so that she bounced, he slowly stripped out of his coat, laying it neatly across the chair that sat in the corner. The tie came next and then his shirt, pulled slowly from his uniform pants. He stood in front of her, his chest bare.

"Don't stop there," she ordered, scooting further back on the bed so she could lie down comfortably. "You were doing so well."

Angel chuckled, kicking off his shoes and pulling off his socks. His hands went to the buttons on his pants, enjoying the look of anticipation in her eyes. Slowly he pulled them open, taking both the pants and his boxers down together and stepping out of them, naked.

"Nice," she breathed, her eyes gazing at the hard length of his cock. "Very, very nice."

"Glad you approve," he said, climbing on the bed and heading toward her, a very big, very naked predator, stalking his mate. Buffy tried to dash away, wanting to tease him a little more but he grabbed her ankle, pulling her down the bed until she was under him. He wrapped her leg around his lean waist, leaning down to kiss her, his lips as demanding as his body. There was a desperation inside of him, an urgency to claim her once more as his own, to erase the images he had in his mind of Wilkinson and the things he'd done to her.

With a growl, he lifted his head, long enough to pull her top over hers. His hands went to her back, easily flipping open the hooks that held her bra, sliding it down her arms and off before pressing his chest against her. His growl of pleasure was barely heard over her gasp as emotions and sensations merged. He felt so damn good against her, so right. It was almost as if she'd been born his other half, not feeling whole unless they were together.

"You feel it too, don't you," he growled in her ear, demanding a response as his hands roamed over her body, pulling at the snap on her jeans and yanking down the zipper. "It's like a connection, isn't it?" His hand slipped inside her jeans, finding the thin silk of her panties and pushing under those. He wiggled his way between her spread thighs, finding her wet slit with ease and sinking his fingers into lush, sleek flesh.

Buffy wriggled under him, anxious to feel him inside of her. "God, yes, baby," she moaned. "Don't stop."

His lips found her breast, sliding over skin that felt as soft and smooth as down, finding the hard tip with his tongue and teasing it. She shifted under him, her hands going to her jeans, yanking on them, trying to pull them off without dislodging him.

"In a hurry?" he murmured around her nipple, his teeth nipping at the tender tip.

"Please Angel," she whimpered. "I want more."

He suckled her hard, his finger twirling around her clit, playing with that little button while her cries grew louder, loving the way she felt, the heat of her juices as they coated his fingers, the scent of her arousal, so musky and vibrant in the air around them. His cock felt like steel, so hard, so full and throbbing with his own need to be inside of her, he couldn't wait much longer.

"Come on my hand," he ordered her, yanking down her jeans enough to give him more room to move. "I want to feel your come on my hand, baby."

Her hands were in his hair, drawing him back to her breasts, her head was tipped back and into the pillows as her hips danced under him, fucking his hand desperately. Then she was there, riding on a cloud of heat, flying toward the sun as pleasure spun her around into a swirling vortex.

Before she could recover, he'd pulled off her jeans and panties, pushing her thighs open and thrusting inside of her. Her sex seemed to suck him in, the sleek walls convulsing around him, caressing his cock with every tiny quiver. "Fuck, baby," he groaned as she captured him, wrapping her legs around his waist, her arms around his big body. "You're so damn tight."

"Fuck me," she whispered, her eyes still starry. "Make me come again," she begged. Her nails scoured lightly down his back, digging into his hips, urging him on to a faster rhythm.

He rolled, putting her on top of him, never once breaking contact with the soft flesh of her sex. "Ride me. You fuck me this time," he hissed. His hands were on her hips, sliding up to her breasts, cupping the firm mounds as she began to move on him. Her head fell back, her long hair sliding around her body, emphasizing the silkiness of her skin, the pale glory of her body.

He toyed with her nipples, rolling them between his fingers, squeezing them gently and then more firmly. She was so beautiful like this, her eyes half closed, emerald sin, her mouth parted, their lushness wet from her tongue. Her cheeks were flushed with color, her body lithe and rounded, rising and falling over him with a determination that had him clenching on to his restraint with everything he had.

He wanted to wait, wanted to feel her come again, wanted to come with her.

She bent down to kiss him, finding his hands with her own, entwining their fingers together. "I love you," she whispered against his mouth, feeling that familiar tightening that signaled her release. "I'm going to come again, baby," she managed to hiss.

Angel let loose his restraint, groaning in relief. With four hard thrusts up into her he was coming, feeling her body clamp down around him as she joined him riding with him into bliss. When it was done, he held her close, her hair falling across his face, their hearts beating hard against each others. He sighed, smiling as she snuggled even closer. "You'll move in with me?" he asked her quietly.

"Yes," Buffy said, smiling against his chest. "On one condition."

His hands reached for her, lifting her to face him. "Condition?" he asked confused.

"Yeah, it's just a little thing, Angel. I mean, a man who can face down killers everyday for a living shouldn't have any problems with this one."

"What is it?" he asked finally, staring up at her distrustfully. "Who do you want me to kill?"

"It's nothing like that. You just have to meet my mother and my father." Buffy stared down at him for a minute when he didn't say anything, her smile quickly turning puzzled. "Angel?"

"I'd rather face serial killers," he said, dead panned.

"Wha..." she began only to stop as a smile spread slowly across his face. "Oh, you..." She went after him, her fingers merciless as she found every spot she knew to tickle him. He squirmed, grabbing for her wrists and throwing her back on the bed, his body following her down, capturing her hands above her head as he nuzzled her neck. Then his mouth found hers and every thought of fathers or revenge disappeared in her happiness at being with him.

Outside, a solitary figure dressed in dark gray sweats, the hood pulled up and hiding all features, finished a final act before turning away from the window and walking slowly away.

A single red ribbon, tied into a dainty bow, blew in the wind, a solitary witness to an act of love too intense for the figure to watch.

A single word floated back, the voice too distorted to be recognizable as male or female. A single word that spoke volumes. A single word...


Author's Note: This is the final chapter and the end of my Ribbons story. Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed.