Chapter Fifteen:

Buffy drew her pistol, slipping off the safety as well and holding it with her elbow cocked, the barrel pointing toward the ceiling. Her heart was racing as she followed Riley and Angel down the long hall of curtained rooms towards the end. God, she knew there was a reason she hated hospitals.

Behind the curtain, they could make out the shape of an individual standing close to where the curtain parted. Angel pointed and then stepped back, wanting badly to grab Buffy's arm, make her stay with him while Riley took care of whatever was to take care of. But he couldn't do that to her. It would be like her telling him not to practice medicine because the man he had to treat was a psychotic killer. He had to do his job, no matter the peril, she had to do hers. But it was hard, damn hard.

Riley parted the curtain, staring at the figure of the man standing just far enough outside of the main light to keep him from being easily recognizable. He was in uniform, standing at parade rest, his eyes on the form lying quietly on the bed, her body swathed in bandages, her face swollen beyond recognition. Riley stepped through the curtain, swearing loudly as he finally could put a name to the face. "Dammit, Mears, who told you to come out here?"

Buffy slipped through the curtain, Angel just behind her. She stared with stunned disbelief at the man standing there. Warren Mears, not in uniform though his badge was displayed on his belt, stood just in jeans and western style shirt, his gun on a shoulder holster like hers but not covered. "You're out of uniform, officer," she snapped at the man, seeing the hostile glare in his eyes. That glare doubled when he saw Angel behind her.

"You didn't send him to guard the patient?" Angel asked again.

"No, I didn't. So who did, Mears? As far as I knew, this was hush hush. I was the only officer responding to the scene, and the only other cop who knows anything about this is the chief." Riley glared at the man and Buffy moved between the two, using her elbow to force Riley back a step.

"Give him a chance to answer," she hissed.

All three pair of eyes were on the tall man. "I don't know what his game is," Warren finally said, nodding toward Riley. "He called me a little while ago and told me to come out here, that I should stand guard until he arrived with you," he said, staring at Buffy.

Buffy turned and looked up at Riley. He shook his head, shrugging his shoulders.

"What reason do I have to lie? He told me not to worry about uniform, just to get my ass down here. He didn't want the lady over there to be left alone for one minute, even if they had to take her into surgery." Warren turned a hostile glare on Riley. "You're just trying to make me look bad again, like you did before. I got a week off without pay because of you."

"That wasn't because of him, Mears," Buffy said. "That was because of you and your shoddy police work. And it wasn't him that reported you, it was me. Which you would have known if you'd looked at the report. Riley didn't sign it, I did." Buffy felt the heat of his glare and glared right back. But there was something in his eyes, something black and cold. It sent a shiver through her that just down right irritated her. It also unnerved her a little, because he was looking at her as if he knew a secret. As if he knew the secret of her soul.

Angel spoke up, staring over at the still figure on the bed. "You three need to take this out of here," he said, holding open the curtain.

"I figured as much," Warren grumbled, ignoring Angel and pulling his hands from behind his back.

Buffy took a step back as she saw what was in his hand, her eyes going from confrontational to wary in that single step. "Whoa, Woarren," she said, her hand coming up. "Just because we have problems dealing with each other doesn't mean there is any reason for this."

Riley stared at the pistol clasped in the man's hand, the pistol that was pointed at Buffy. He heard Angel gasp at the sight, saw him reach for Buffy, a protective gesture that he could appreciate because he'd probably have tried it himself before he'd gotten to really know her. But Warren saw it too, and he shook his head.

"Nope, doc, me and lady super cop here have stuff to discuss. So, if you don't want to see her bleeding on your nice shiny floor, step back real slow."

"What do you think you're going to get out of this, Mears? You'll end up in prison wearing an orange jumpsuit. You know what they do with ex cops in prison?" Riley asked him slowly, holding his hands well away from his own pistol. "You put that down and we'll set you up with the department shrink instead. What do you think?"

Warren snorted, glancing up from where he was staring at Buffy. "Shrinks? The whole lot of them are useless. They couldn't help me before, they couldn't stop me from ... Well, they just didn't stop me."

"So what do you want?" Buffy spoke up.

"What I've wanted since this whole thing started. You."

"Wait a minute," she said, stepping forward only to be waved back by the pistol. "What do you mean, since what whole thing started?"

"As if you don't know," he said. "Ask your partner there, ask him who's killing these women. He knows." Warren turned the pistol on Riley as he spoke, then back to Buffy.

"What could I possibly know? If I knew who was committing the murders, don't you think I'd haul their asses in before they could hurt someone else? Come on man, we're cops here. We uphold the law, not break them."

At that, Angel wanted to snort at that statement, just glancing at the bruises still visible on Buffy's throat. Instead he looked back at his patient, worried that she might wake and start a whole new problem with this sort of situation.

Buffy glanced up at Riley, feeling his eyes on her. His narrowed as she looked at him, reading the question in her eyes and hating that she even doubted him. "And anyway, what does she have to do with this?" he asked.

"She's the reason these murders are happening. She's the reason this guy keeps killing. This guy, you," Warren said, lifting his gun and pointing it at Riley. "You want her but she wants the doc over there. And since you can't have her, you're going after women who look like her. Why the fuck you're killing them, well ... that's your own deal."

"You're crazy," Buffy said, staring between the two men. "He's been my partner for years. Why the hell would I believe you over him?"

"Because I have proof. That lady, right there in that bed, she's the proof. When she wakes up, she'll tell you that he's the one that assaulted her." Warren pointed with his gun.

"So, what? You're going to keep us in this area until she can wake up and start pointing fingers? And how do we know it isn't you that's done all these attacks?" Riley stepped forward, only stopping when he felt the barrel of Warren's pistol press into his stomach.

"No. I don't care if you want to kill women. I'm tired of being treated like shit in this piece of crap town. I'm leaving. And I'm taking super cop here with me." Warren gestured at Buffy, smiling lewdly down at her. "I want to get a taste of what everyone else is getting."

Angel growled, his body tensing. Buffy stared at him for a minute, her eyes telling him to calm down, though it barely got through his anger. "Over my dead body," he snarled, his hands closing into fists.

"I'd hate to do that, doc. You ain't done me no harm. Not like these two have. But if I had to, I would. Now, you two shuck them weapons. I want them on the floor and kicked over there, under that bed. Real gentle like, two fingers," he warned as Riley began to reach under his shirt for his weapon. "Now, turn around and lift your shirts, don't want no back up weapons going off on accident now do we," he added with a chuckle.

"I need to know, Mears," Buffy said softly. "Why do you suspect Riley here?"

"The woman, each in their own way, some more than others ... they looked like you. He's got a huge hard on for you. You put two and two together."

"How do we know it's not you?" Riley said, tamping down on his anger and the rest of the emotions coiling inside of him. He had to stay calm. He couldn't let this psycho out of here, not with Buffy. He finished his circle, dropping his shirt back down so it hung over his jeans. "From what you're saying, you've got just as big a hard on for her, and she's caused you grief. How do we know you aren't killing them to take out your aggravation with her?"

"For Christ's sake!" Mears exclaimed, waving his hands, his arms rising. "Who the fuck cares? I'm taking her and leaving no matter what."

"You're bleeding, Warren" Buffy said softly, staring at the bloody patch of shirt that showed on his left arm.

He looked down at the spreading patch and swore. "Fuck, shit, damn. Thought I got that to quit, the damn bitc..." He clamped his mouth shut, staring daggers at Buffy as he realized what he'd said. "Never mind that, it'll quit."

"Why'd you do it, Mears? Why'd you kill those innocent girls?" Buffy asked him, moving a little closer, her voice pitched low and intimate.

For a minute she didn't think he would answer, then suddenly it seemed to almost burst out of him. "Because of you, you fucking bitch. All those years, you never even saw me. All those letters I sent to you, all the nights I spent alone because of you. You're the reason my wife left me. You're the reason that I could never get it up with anyone else. And then I'd take you, over and over and it wasn't you!" He reached out, grabbing her arm and pulling her close, the pistol all but forgotten at his side.

Riley saw his chance, and he took it. Leaping forward, he grabbed Warren's arm, hoisting the pistol up. He let go of Buffy, pushing her backwards. She fell against some machinery in the corner, hitting her head hard. Her teeth clicked together with a noise that sounded huge in her spinning head and she couldn't see for a minute as the pain caused everything to swim in front of her.

She heard it though, the noise of two men fighting, grunts and blows, the woof when someone took a hit to the stomach. She heard Angel let out a grunt, felt a body fall next to her as she tried to shake off the pain.

And then she heard the shot. Putting her hand up to her head, she watched in painful shock as Riley, his eyes glazed with disbelief, fell to the floor, blood welling to flow over his shirt from a wound in his chest.

The room spun around her, she stared at his body, watching it fall in what seemed like slow motion. She could smell the fresh metallic scent of blood and the burning smell of a gun blast. And then her backup weapon was in her hand, the Velcro shook off, and she pointed and fired.

Warren Mears jumped as the bullet struck him, staring at JBuffy with eyes filled with hatred. He lifted his gun, pointing it at her and she fired again, this time striking him in the shoulder of his gun hand. He dropped his gun, his arm falling nervously to his side before he sank to the floor.

Buffy forced herself up, kicking the gun away from him before he could think of grabbing it again. He stared at her, his teeth gritted, a snarl on his face. She could only think he looked like a mad dog. They put mad dogs to sleep. The itch to put her gun to his head was strong, but she was a cop, first and foremost. And cops don't take the law into their own hands. With a strength she didn't know she possessed, she turned him on his face, little caring about his wounds. Cuffing his hands behind his back, she left him there, turning to Riley.

Angel was on the floor next to him. He had his hands inside his shirt, had ripped the tank top he'd been wearing under it off of him, using it to press against the wound to staunch his blood. "Get me some help in here," he yelled at her.

She opened the curtain, amazed at the sea of curious faces that stared back at her. "We need help in here," she said, turning to watch as nurses burst through the curtain. A gurney was rushed in and two men picked up Warren, seeing the blood on him, they got another gurney and another doctor was called.

They rushed the two men out of the room, taking them to their own curtains while she stood there, her head still spinning. She had to call it in. She had to ... she sank down against the curtain.

"You okay?"

Buffy looked up to see a blonde nurse staring down at her. "Yeah, just a bump on the head made me a little dizzy. Do you know how my partner is?"

"Your partner? Is he the tall blonde or the one in cuffs?"

"The blonde. And is there a phone I can use around here, I have to call this in."

"911 got called when we heard the ruckus. I don't know anything about your partner but I think we should get you on a gurney and have you looked at."

Buffy was shaking her head as soon as she heard the word gurney. "I've got a hard head. I'm fine. If you could find out something about my partner for me, I'd be thankful." She managed to get up on her own, fighting the dizziness that threatened to send her spinning.

"I'll see what I can do." She turned after sending a concerned look at Buffy, hurrying down to one of the curtained off rooms. Buffy went to follow her, stopping when she heard the sirens coming, knowing she would have to explain what went down.

The first team of cops came rushing in, guns drawn. Buffy waved them down, holding up her badge. "Detective Buffy Summers. I've got things under control here."

"I don't know about that," said a booming voice from behind her that had her flinching in more than pain.

"Ahhh, chief, just the man I needed to see."

He took one look at her pale face and the trickle of blood that was running down her neck now and grabbed her arm. "Nurse, you got a free bed?"

"I don't need a bed," Buffy said, trying to back away, but the chief held her arm in an iron grasp.

"And I don't need my detectives falling down on me while they report. Shut up, Summers and do as you are told."

"Bravo," Angel said, coming up from behind her and parting her short, blonde curls to see the lump that was steadily oozing blood. "I got her from here, chief. Your other detective is heading to surgery. He has a bullet lodged next to his lung but it missed all vital organs. Barring complications, he should be fine."

"Mind if I tag along?" the chief asked. "I'd love to know why my detective has a bullet lodged next to his lung and my other one is roaming around the hospital with a concussion."

Angel held aside the curtain for the chief, then grabbed JBuffy's arm a little further when she tried to duck out. "Behave and I'll give you a sucker when I'm done with you," he ordered.

"Just slap some ice on it. I got reports to write," she urged, hating the sound whining in her voice. "And I'd like to see my partner."

"I might slap something on you, but it won't be ice, now behave. Or do I have to get some restraints put on you?" He cocked his brow at her, letting her know that he was serious.

"Dammit, I tapped my head on a piece of machinery," she groused as he parted her hair once more, pulling out bandages and other assorted things she didn't want to know what he was going to use for.

"Summers, suck it up and be a man. Now you want to tell me what in the hell happened here?"

She did, occasionally sucking in a breath as well as Angel probed too hard or when he stuck the needle in to numb her for the "couple of stitches" he decided she had to have. She also managed to remember to put in a request for search warrant for both Warren Mears' home and his locker at the station as well as his car.

"How did you know we were down here, chief? You showed up kind of fortuitously." She winced as the needle went into her flesh even though he'd numbed it. She felt the push on the bruise and knew what was happening.

"I was on my way down to find your partner. He'd called about the girl, after he'd gotten a call from one of the uniforms responding to the scene. We wanted to keep it quiet so we've got plains clothes out there watching the scene now. I haven't even sent in crime scene yet. We wanted to keep it quiet that the girl was still alive." He stood from where he'd been sitting on a little stool and stretched. "I'm going to go check on SFinn and make a few phone calls. I want you to stay here and rest for a few, unless the doctor here is going to recommend you stay put?"

"I could," Angel said, "but I know she'd just sign herself out anyway. So instead I'll just have to pay her a house call and make sure she's behaving herself. But I am going to say, absolutely, no driving. Find someone to take you where you need to go." He finished his last stitch, snipping it off and then laid a piece of gauze over it and began to wrap it gently.

"I'll be back after I call in for those warrants. And then we can go over to his place together." The chief started to head out the door but a noise from Buffy stopped him. "What?"

"Together? Chief, I thought I'd get a uniform to take me over..."

"Are you doubting my police skills, Detective?" he asked in a low voice.

"Uh, no sir, but it's been a while since you've been out from behind the desk, respectfully sir," she said, knowing she was on thin ice.

"I still know how to do a search. I'll make sure we got a wide scope on the warrant and I'll call in the crime scene techs. We'll have it covered. Right now, just let the good doctor patch you up and I'll find you in a bit."

She was quiet after he left, her mind whirling with bits of pain mixed with the things she had to do. Angel finished, sitting quietly behind her for a minute before he startled her by taking her in his arms. He didn't say anything, just sat with her against his chest, her back to him, his face buried in her hair. She felt him inhale, felt the little hitch in his breathing before he let it out in a long sigh.

"Are you okay?" she asked, turning her head up to his, grimacing a little at the pain the move caused.

"I think I aged twenty years in the past hour but, yeah, I'm okay. Do me a favor, no more getting banged up for a while, okay?" he stared down into her pretty eyes, eyes that were shadowed by pain and fatigue.

"I'll do my best, Doc. But I think I'll keep your number handy just in case." She leaned forward, finding his lips with hers, inhaling herself when he captured hers, his mouth hot, his tongue dipping into hers. He pulled away, his chocolate brown eyes studying her face.

"I had an epiphany last night, Buffy Summers. And you may think it's too soon but I gotta tell you. I love you."

She turned to face him, waiting for the small flicker of panic that usually accompanied a declaration like his. But there was nothing. Nothing but a wonderfully warm glow that seemed to suffuse her with warmth. She smiled up at him, her hand going to his cheek. "I..."

"Come on, Summers," the chief groused from the edge of the curtain. "I got the papers; let's go finish nailing the lid on the case."

Buffy was at home, finally, after a long day. She'd gone to Warren Mears' home, going through it with the Crime Scene techs. They had enough on him to put him away for a long time. There was more in his car and even in his locker at work. He had pictures of her, taken in different places at different times, on work and off. They were hidden, under a loose board in a creepy little room. The room looked like a child's room, with ancient wallpaper down with cowboys and Indians. There was a small dresser, also a child's and a small bed that couldn't have fit his body.

There was also an older woman's clothing there, a set of dentures in a glass on a stand. The apartment smelled of old musty clothes and ancient papers, and it was dark, light coming in dimly through old roll down blinds. They found Social Security checks made out to a Mrs. Abigail Mears, and mail addressed the same name. But no one could remember seeing her or anyone other than Warren coming and going from the residence. Buffy figured the woman was dead, another of his victims. She wondered if her body would ever be found.

The chief had stopped to see Mears, and the doctor had given him a glimpse of the scars on his body, the burns and the whip marks that told of either sexual deviance or a very sad upbringing. He'd also been told about the scars on his thighs, marks that were self made. Marks that just screamed that the poor man needed help. But then again, so did the single earring they'd found, and the small necklace that had belonged to his first known victim. In his car, they'd found a blonde wig. And Buffy remembered what Warren had said about Mrs. Ash knowing her attacker and being able to pick Riley out.

The hardest thing for her to figure out was why. She didn't know him, not the way he said she did. She hadn't seen him at all except for the day she'd gotten into it with him at the crime scene.

There was a knock on her door and she hoisted herself off the couch, going to the door. Peeking through the peep hole, she smiled. Angel.

He came in, holding a huge bouquet of yellow roses. "Hi," he said, leaning down to kiss her before letting her have the flowers.

"Hi yourself," she said, burying her face in the wonderful scent and soft petals of the flowers. She was a sucker for roses, but she wouldn't tell him that.

"I thought you could use a little pick me up after today." He watched as she went into the kitchen and hunted up a vase, arranging the flowers and filling the vase with warm water before putting it on her table.

"They are beautiful, Angel, but you didn't have to do that."

"I wanted to. I figured that if a man can't buy the woman he loves roses, then he ain't much of a man. How bad was it?"

"Bad. We've got him, there's no chance of him escaping. He'll probably end up in some mental hospital for the next, oh, hundred years or so." She walked over and took his hand, pulling him over to the couch and pushing him down on it only to follow him down. Cuddling next to him, she took his hand in hers and put her head on his shoulder, sighing gratefully.

"How's your head?" he asked, bending down to kiss her forehead gently.

"Painful, but I'll live. Poor Riley though. When I stopped to see him, he didn't look so good."

"He'll be up and chasing nurses in no time," Angel promised. "He's got a wonderful surgeon and some of the best care money can buy."

"I believe you," she said, still remember his pale face and the bandage wrapped around his chest, looking so strange in the hospital bed with all the tubes and stuff. "At least I get to pick on him when he gets out like he did me."

"You know, we were interrupted earlier today."

"Yeah," she said, looking up at him and smiling, "we were, weren't we?"

"And I believe you were about to say something to me," he hinted, lifting her hand and bringing it to his lips.

buffy shivered, there was just something about a big strong man who could do such a graceful gesture as kissing a woman's hand and make it look manly that made heat well up inside of her. Or maybe it was just this big, strong man? Yes, it was just him, she decided, seeing his eyes narrow as she still didn't say anything.

"Buffy..." he said, his voice dropping into a warning note.

"Yes, Angel," she said innocently, chuckling when he bit her finger. "Okay, okay, don't rush me. I mean how often does a girl tell the man of her dreams that she loves him?"

"You do?" he breathed, dropping her hand and pulling her over so she sat astride him.

"Yes," she said nodding.

"Say it," he urged her.

"I love you, Angel McKenna," she said, whispering his name against his lips.

His lips were warm and then hot as passion flared. Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck, her lips parting under the demand of his, doing some demanding of her own until his breathing grew heavy and she could feel a heavy bulge pressing against the crotch of her jeans. He moaned when she moved, rubbing against that bulge.

Then he tore his mouth from hers, putting his forehead against hers for one moment, trying to regain some semblance of balance in the hazy world of desire she was creating around him. He reached out, grabbing the bear he'd given her on their first date and bringing it between them. "Hmmm, since I love you, and you love me," he said glancing up at her. "What do you say to moving this little guy and all his friends to my house? Of course, you'd have to come to. I mean, who knows what these guys could get into without your calming influence."

"Are you asking me to move in with you?"

"Yeah, so..." he lifted one bear paw and waved it up at her. "What do you say?"

She pulled the bear out from between them, kissing him again. "I'd say that's a yes," she said, laughing as he picked her up and started walking with her down he hallway, the bear tumbling from her now busy fingers.

Author's Note: That's the end of the story. Hope you all enjoyed. Thanks for reading and the reviews.