It was three days before he could say anything but her name. She stayed with him as much as she could, but she had to leave eventually, for school, to go home.
Fortunately, he slept through the daylight hours and quite a few of the nighttime ones, at least at first. And he didn't wander, so she didn't have to chain him up anymore. He seemed to know he would be safe if he stayed there in the mansion, that she would bring him food. And she did, every day, quarts of fresh blood that he guzzled like an animal.
And all he could say was her name. Sometimes she found him curled up on the floor, sheened with sweat, in obvious pain, just saying her name over and over again. "Buffybuffybuffybuffy . . ." As if nothing else had any meaning for him.
She thought about what Giles had said--that the time spent in the hell dimension could have amounted to centuries for him. Centuries of torture and pain against which even the strongest mind might not be able to hold. When she looked into his eyes, she saw nothing. She had to do something.
On Saturday, she told her mother she was going to the movies with Xander and Willow, and went instead to Crawford Street with two quarts of blood. She wondered what the butchers in town thought she was doing. Wondered if they cared. She'd bought an inordinate amount of the stuff this week, depleting the allowance she'd been saving for a kick dress she'd seen at the mall. But it was for a good cause.
When she got there, he was hunched on the floor, arms wrapped around his knees, staring at nothing.
She took the plastic container of blood out of the bag and held it out to him. He reached for it but she pulled it back.
"No," she said. "You come to me."
He glared at her, nothing in his eyes but anger.
"Come to me," she said again.
He did. He wasn't afraid of her anymore, as he'd been at first. He at least understood she didn't mean to hurt him. He let her touch him as he scooted closer, let her draw him close until he sat right next to her. She put an arm around him, gentle on his back. Then she lifted the cup to his lips and helped him drink, more slowly than his usual wont.
"I wish I knew how much of this you used to put away," she said softly. "I have no idea if I'm getting you enough." In fact, he seemed to always be hungry. "Here. Finished this one up. There's another."
She tipped the last of the first container into his mouth and picked up the second. "Should I get more next time? Are you still going to be hungry?"
"Buffy," he said, reaching for the second quart of blood.
"Yeah. Buffy. We need to expand your vocabulary a little."
"Hungry," he said.
She blinked in surprise. "There you go. Here." She gave him the second container and he drank it himself, more slowly this time. She watched, surprised at how much it didn't disgust her. It was just part of who and what he was.
"Hungry," he said again when he was done.
"I'm sorry. That's all I bought. I'll bring more tomorrow." He was going to be up to nearly a gallon of blood if he kept this up. It seemed like too much.
He looked at her a minute, as if making sure he understood her, then curled in on himself again, easing down to the floor until his head was in her lap. From that position, he looked furtively up at her from the corners of his eyes, as if afraid she might chastise him. She petted his hair.
"It's okay, Angel."
"Angel," he whispered.
She stayed with him as long as she could, then slipped back home. Crawling silently into bed, she thought again, as she had every night since he'd come back, about how alone she was in this. She needed help. She wasn't too proud to admit it, but she was too afraid to ask for it.
Giles might know something, or be able to find something, that could help Angel. But if he saw Angel like this--after everything that had happened--he might decide to stake him on the spot. Though Angel hadn't done anything to hurt her, he wasn't acting exactly human.
Her sleep was light and restless, and she woke early. It was Sunday, so she snuck out again, leaving a note for her mother.
Angel was asleep when she slipped into the mansion. She sat with him for a time, watching. He had slept uneasily since he'd come back, shaking and twitching. And today, talking. At first she heard only mumbling, then words began to emerge.
"I am no one. I am no one."
Tears pricked her eyelids as she remembered. How could he possibly come back to what he had been, after being there?
"Angel," she whispered to him. "Angel, come back to me."
When she returned in the evening, he had put a pile of sticks in the fireplace and was lying on the floor in front of it, shivering. She knelt next to him. He was awake, staring into the fireplace. Gently, she touched his shoulder.
"Cold." He squeezed his eyes shut and the words came out hard, as if he had to fight for every sound. "I'm cold."
She went to the other room, where she'd found a bed and blankets, and even some of Angel's things, things he must have brought when he'd moved in with Spike and Drusilla. The place had been trashed by rats and raccoons, though, and wasn't fit for Angel to use yet. She needed to find time to clean it up for him. Now, though, she grabbed a blanket and a pillow.
Draping the blanket over him, she settled down on the floor behind him.
"Is that better?" She put the pillow on her lap and maneuvered his head onto it.
"It hurts. Everywhere." He convulsed, shuddering, eyes tight shut, then came back. "I can't . . . I . . ."
"Shh . . ." She stroked his forehead. "It's okay. It'll be okay."
He came back gradually over the next few days. She brought him more blood, as it seemed that the more he got, the more he improved. She even went to Willie the Snitch--something she hated doing--and acquired from him several pints of human blood. That seemed to help, as well, but she only did it once, afraid of giving Angel a taste for it. She was relatively sure he'd lived on stored human blood before without unsavory results, but there was no sense taking chances.
The next weekend she arranged again to be there as much as possible. He had improved quite a bit through the week, and when she came on Saturday he was wrapped in his blanket in front of the fireplace, watching the dancing flames. She hadn't lit the fire; he must have done it himself.
"Buffy," he said when she came in.
"How are you?"
"Warm. It's the first time in a while."
She sat next to him. "Wow. You're stringing words together."
He smiled, then winced. "It's hard."
"Then don't." She put her arms around him. "I'm used to your non-verbal approach."
"I have to." Shifting in her embrace, he settled her against his chest. "Thank you . . . for taking care of me."
"What else could I do?" She nestled closer to him. The vast silence of his wide chest had ceased to bother her a long time ago. "I love you."
He was quiet for a time, just holding her, one hand stroking her hair until his fingers started to tremble and he stopped.
"I remember," he said finally. "Everything. It took time . . . to come back . . . but it did."
Her arms tightened on him as he shook. "Don't, Angel. You're not ready. You're going to hurt yourself."
"No. I need to. Just . . . hold me."
She squeezed him tight, offering what strength she could, and he clung to her, his head sagging down to her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he managed. "I know that's not enough, but I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault. It wasn't you."
"It was me that made love to you."
She swallowed and closed her eyes until the spasm of pain passed. "Angel, you didn't know."
"I knew enough to know it was wrong. You're seventeen years old. Too young. I took something from you I had no right to take." He stopped, shuddering again, unable to hold back a soft whimper of pain as his body convulsed in her arms.
"You didn't take anything from me. I gave it to you. I wanted to."
"It was wrong, Buffy. I should have stopped it."
The heavy pain in her chest had turned to anger. "Don't do this, Angel. Don't you dare do this."
"Do what? Own my mistakes?"
"Don't take what we had and shove it into your little box of guilt. What we did, we did out of love and don't you dare try to turn it into another one of your damn sins."
His body jerked again, and this time the sound he stopped in his throat was a sob. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Stop it. Just stop." Fingers delving into his hair, she held his head against her shoulder. "You need to eat. I brought food."
He nodded silently. She drew away from him carefully. He had pushed himself too hard and just sitting up on his own seemed almost beyond his strength. When she was sure he wasn't going to fall over, she gave him one of the three quarts of pig's blood she'd brought. He took it and looked at it, then at her.
"You should go," he said.
"No. I want to be sure you get enough to eat."
"I'd rather eat alone."
"Sorry, you don't get that choice right now. Drink up."
He did, finally, hunching over the cup so she couldn't actually see him drinking. But when he was done he showed her the empty container.
"Do you want another?"
He nodded. When he had finished the second quart, he refused the third and pulled the blanket more tightly around himself, staring into the fire.
"Are you done wallowing?" she asked after a time.
He nodded, still brooding.
"Then may I apologize now?"
"For killing you."
He looked at her and she was almost certain she saw amusement in his dark eyes. "You just did what you had to do."
"So it's okay for you to have guilt, but not me?"
"I have enough guilt for both of us."
To her own surprise, she laughed. "I don't think I can argue with that."
He smiled a little--a very little. "I feel better now. You can go home if you want."
"I probably should." She stood, looking down at him. "Can I ask you a very inappropriate and potentially painful question?"
He peered up at her and nodded.
"I need to know. I don't know why, but I do. When did it happen? The moment of true happiness, I mean."
His face softened and he looked back into the fire, clearing his throat. "I woke up. You were there curled up against me, asleep, with this peaceful, quiet look on your face. I looked down at you and realized you truly, honestly loved me, in spite of everything you knew, in spite of everything I was." He paused, cleared his throat again. "That was it."
She swallowed hard. "Irony," she managed. "It's a bitch."
He nodded. The orange firelight found tears on his cheeks. Blinking back her own pain, she turned and left him.