Whose Angel Are You Anyway?

Pamela Thalner
April/June 1998

This one was pretty much dictated to me by Angel. I know there was already a Chaos POV(tm) story about this episode, and I really honestly swear to God tried to find another one to adapt, but he was bound and determined. My apologies. (The Chaos POV Challenge is something dreamed up by the Sunnydale Slayers, a private mailing list, in which the challenge is to rewrite every episode from a viewpoint other than Buffy's. Although I am in no way affiliated with the list, I couldn't resist the challenge.)

All characters are owned by Joss Whedon, WB, and Mutant Enemy, as is most of the dialogue and action in the story below, which is adapted from the episode "Angel". The title is from the song "Jonas and Ezekiel", by the Indigo Girls. Praise and gifts will be accepted, flames ignored at: hutch @ jazmer.com.

Some philosophers say that destiny is a matter of free will, that our lives are determined only by our own choices and decisions. Others argue that everything we do is preordained, and nothing we do can alter our fate.

Myself, I'm not sure what to believe anymore. Was it my destiny to lose my life at the hands - or, more accurately, teeth - of a vampire, only to then be given life of another sort? Was I fated to roam the world, killing for the sheer joy of it, until the wrong choice of victim landed me with my long-departed soul?

I know that I was directed, in part, to the life I lead today by a benign demon who made me aware of the emptiness of the life I had been leading. Yet even then I had a choice. I didn't have to follow his instruction. I could have stayed as I was: pathetic, hollow, alone.

No; as I think back now, it was a choice that was no choice at all.

The path of my life led me here, then, to a small town in southern California. Sunnydale. I came here because here is where the Slayer is. Buffy Summers, to be exact: the Chosen One of this generation. She is a vibrant young woman; at sixteen, hardly out of adolescence. Bright, bubbly, and sweet; yet at the same time she is strong and sure; a steel core overlaid with a silken exterior. In all ways, she is completely suited for her task.

I had known from the first that if she was aware of my true nature, I would never be able to offer the help I wanted - needed - to give her. Though I was sure, many times, that she couldn't but know, somehow she never seemed to suspect.

Until the attack by the Three.

I have been isolated from the vampire community - by my own choice - ever since the night I was cursed with my soul in a dark forest in eastern Europe. Still, one didn't need to listen hard to hear rumblings and rumors. I knew that Buffy's activities had aroused the Master's wrath, and that his inability to fight back in person continued to anger him. But when I overheard a mention of the calling of the Three, I became truly afraid. They were killers, pure and simple. She wouldn't be able to handle them. Not alone.

That night I made my way to the Bronze, the club where she and her friends usually hung out. Sure enough, she was there, sitting at a table with the auburn-haired girl, Willow. I didn't have to look far to see the third member of her group, the dark-haired boy, Xander, attempting to dance on the crowded floor.

The girls were blithely unaware of the danger - at least, from what I could tell; Buffy looked slightly depressed, and the two appeared to be discussing boys and such, typical teenage talk (if there is such a thing). Shortly after Xander joined them at the table, Buffy picked up her coat and bade her friends a good night.

She still looked upset as she moved towards the exit. I slipped quietly through the crowd to the stairs, watching her go. Irrationally, one part of me wanted to comfort her somehow, to ease the sadness in her eyes.

As she reached the door, I headed away again, to the back exit. I would follow her at a discreet distance to make sure that she got home all right. To be sure that she wouldn't notice me, I waited in the shadows outside the Bronze for a full minute before starting after her.

That minute was one I'd soon have cause to regret. When I took off, she was nowhere in sight. I grew increasingly nervous as I paced the way towards her house, unconsciously moving faster in response to some internal signal.

The sounds of a scuffle drew my attention to an alley just ahead. I picked up the pace, running now, and the sight that met my eyes when I reached the entrance made me curse myself soundly for waiting. Three armor-clad vampires had her up against a chain-link fence; two held her arms, while the third was closing in for the kill. I recognized the Three instantly; even if they hadn't been wearing the traditional armor, their vicious countenances would have easily given them away.

I didn't think, just acted, leaping at the one who was about to bite her. My hands closed on his neck and I yanked him backwards; caught off guard, he was too startled to resist. I snarled at him as a rush of anger shot through me.

"Good dogs don't bite!" My words were accompanied by a sharp jab to the face. He stumbled backwards when I released him; I punched him again and turned to check on Buffy.

She had taken the opportunity provided by me to free herself from her captors, and was busily pummeling them. One, having been knocked aside, was rising to attack her again, so I slammed a kick at him to keep him down. She glanced up to me for a moment - I was disturbingly relieved to see her unharmed - and barked a warning: "Watch out!" I whirled just in time. The third vampire had scrounged a metal bar from somewhere, and it swung in a deadly arc towards my chest. I flung myself backwards, but not fast enough; sharp pain lanced through my torso. I clutched the gash over my ribcage with one hand, fighting - and then succumbing to - the urge to stumble to my knees.

Then Buffy was there, knocking my attacker back against the wall with a well-placed kick to the face. Grabbing at my arm, she helped me straighten up and we took off running.

They were behind us almost immediately. The pain in my ribs throbbed dully with every pounding step. It was a quick run down two blocks, but it seemed to last forever. Then a final leap over low hedges, and we were running up the lawn to her house. For a moment, reason started to argue that I couldn't possibly enter her house, despite the fact that the Three would rip me apart if I remained outside. She fumbled the lock open and urged me inside with a quick "Come on, get in!" I followed out of sheer desperation.

The Three almost had us then. One of them even managed to somehow stick his hand in the door, but she slammed it on him hard and he withdrew. She slammed the deadbolt home, then stepped back, still breathing hard, watching their vampiric faces through the windows in the door.

"It's all right," I said from my vantage point by the living room window, where I could see them slowly retreating. "A vampire can't come in unless it's invited."

"I've heard that before, but I've never put it to the test." She took a deep breath and sagged against the door, then glanced over to me. For just an instant, I could see the scared girl beneath the Slayer's face, and ached for her. If I'd been just a few seconds later...

Her expression turned concerned, and I realized that she was looking at the bloody gap in my shirt. "Oh," she murmured, and then, in a normal tone of voice, "I'll go get some bandages. You just... take your jacket and shirt off." She was already moving towards the kitchen, her manner professional and cool, as if she bandaged up men in her house every day. I followed, too weary to argue.

While she found a first-aid kit, I removed my jacket and then the t-shirt, wincing against a new sliver of pain. It had mostly faded to a mild throb, though, and I knew that it wouldn't be more than a day or two before the cut had healed altogether; as it was, it had already stopped bleeding. I leaned on the island in the middle of the kitchen floor, resting my hands on the countertop.

I could feel her eyes on my back for a moment before she approached, and her words were delivered with an almost nervous giggle. "Nice tattoo."

She came around me and set the kit down, reaching for a bandage. I couldn't keep from looking at her then; she was so close to me, and so casual about the intimacy of touching me. "I was lucky you came along," she commented as she spread gauze over the cut and sealed it with white tape. "How did you happen to come along?"

The last thing I wanted to was worry her, so I decided to play it as casual as she had been. "I live nearby. I was just out walking."

The faint smile playing around her lips told me that she didn't believe a word I was saying. "So, you weren't following me?" Then, as if she was trying to cover that up, "I just... had this feeling you were."

Her fingers pressed lightly on the bandage, making sure it was firmly in place. It took all of my self-control not to touch her then; my hands gripped the countertop, and I forced myself to give her an easy smile. "Why would I do that?"

"You tell me," she replied, starting to replace the supplies in the kit. "You're the mystery guy that appears out of nowhere." Despite her matter-of-fact words, something about her tone was playful, as if she was enjoying the banter. "I'm not saying I'm not happy about it tonight, but... if you are hanging around, I'd like to know why."

"Maybe I like you," I said as flippantly as possible. Under the circumstances, unfortunately, it didn't come out right at all. She was even closer to me now, her lips only inches away from mine, as she smiled up at me.


A sudden noise from the front of the house, then; the door was being unlocked. Buffy jumped and disappeared towards the front door. I grabbed at my shirt and jacket, pulling them on in a hurry. Already, I could hear her mother's voice from the front entrance: "Hi! What are you doing?"

I slipped around through the other exit from the kitchen, which led into a dining room, and from there back around to the other side of the stairs. Buffy was reassuring her mom that she was just worried, and apparently also attempting to distract her mom from going into the kitchen so as not to encounter me. I couldn't let her lie to her mother completely, though, so I stepped out of the shadows, making myself visible to Joyce Summers.

She saw me before her daughter knew I was there. A slightly puzzled and proprietary look came over her face; calmly, she said, "Hi."

"Hi," I replied. It was awkward, but then again, it would have been more awkward if she'd arrived home just a minute or two earlier. Something about the ridiculousness of the whole situation made me want to smile, and I fought the impulse with everything I had.

Buffy glanced over her shoulder and saw me then. I could almost see the gears churning in her mind as she rushed to explain. "Oh! Okay. Angel, this is my mom. Mom, this is Angel. Uh, we ran into each other on the way home."

"Nice to meet you," I offered, as politely as possible. I knew then that I should have just slipped out the kitchen door when I'd had the chance, but it was too late now.

Joyce nodded calmly. "What do you do, Angel?" she asked me, a little smile firmly in place on her face, as if she knew something her daughter didn't.

"He's a student," Buffy cut in, saving me the trouble of trying to think of a good cover story. Her mother turned a raised eyebrow on her, and she went on hurriedly, "First year community college. Angel's been helping me with my history. You know I've been toiling there..." Buffy's voice was strained with a forced laugh.

The look in Joyce's eyes clearly said that she didn't believe a word of it, and I was honestly a little surprised when she only replied, calmly, "It's a little late for tutoring. I'm gonna go to bed, and, Buffy..?"

"I'll say goodnight and do the same," Buffy answered in an apparently convincing manner, for Joyce began to mount the steps, giving me a final nod.

"It was nice to meet you." Thus dismissing me, she headed upstairs. Buffy seemed to sag in relief, then quickly motioned for me to move behind the door. It was obvious at this point that she wasn't about to let me leave - not when the Three could very likely still be lurking outside - and I couldn't help but give a sardonic grin as she opened the door, called out a farewell as if I was leaving, and then led me upstairs.

In truth, I was feeling some guilty relief over her insistence that I stay. I didn't want to compromise her at all, and if her mother discovered that I was still here, she'd obviously be in trouble. Just as obviously, I wasn't ready to step outside and face the Three on my own. It felt simple to let her make the decision.

I still wasn't that comfortable with the idea, though, especially when we reached her bedroom. It was everything a sixteen-year-old girl could want in a room: lacy pillows, butterflies on the walls, delicate jewelry boxes and colorful, artistic posters. I felt unclean, somehow, in the place that was her retreat, her sanctuary.

"Look, I don't wanna get you in any more trouble..."

"And I don't wanna get you dead. They could still be out there," she replied in a voice so serious that I finally gave up the argument. She moved past me into the main part of the room, and there her voice faltered. "So, uh, two of us, one bed. That doesn't work."

She looked at me, her face turned up like a flower. "Um, why don't you take the bed? You know, you're wounded."

As if I could. "I'll take the floor."

"Uh, no, that's not..."

I overrode her softly. "Believe me, I've had worse."

She seemed flustered now, and looked down. "Okay. Um, then, why don't you check and see if the Fang Gang is still loitering and... keep your back turned while I change?"

I moved quickly to the window, peering out through the blinds at the yard below. Internally, I was berating myself for not having thought about things like this - and at the same time trying to keep myself from thinking about what she would look like ready for sleep, her hair loose, her face clean and sweet... "I don't see them," I reported, forcing myself back on to the topic at hand.

Her voice drifted from the closet as she changed into her night clothes. "You know, I'm the Chosen One, it's my job to fight guys like that. What's your excuse?"

"Somebody has to." The response slipped out of me without thought.

"Well, what does your family think of your career choice?"

Someday, I swore, I would find out why she had that ability to find the most incisive topic and cut straight to the bone. "They're dead," I replied as neutrally as possible, trying not to think of just how they had died.

She moved, then; came over to the window, standing across from me. Moonlight filtered through the window, dappling her cheekbones in pale silver. She was as lovely as I'd imagined, with her hair down, her shoulders bare, the hollow of her throat exposed by the sleeveless white shirt she wore.

"Was it vampires?" she asked quietly.

My mind wrenched back to a subject I didn't want to pursue. "I-it was." God, was that my voice trembling? I felt like a fumbling teenager around her.

"I'm sorry," she murmured.

"It was a long while ago," I said, and tried not to look at her. Anything to be off this conversation, please.

"So this is a vengeance gig for you."

"Y-you even look pretty when you go to sleep." I had to change the subject somehow, and this seemed to be the best way out. It worked; she colored and stepped away from the window.

"Well, when I wake up it's an entirely different story." She moved over to the bed, taking a couple of pillows from it and tossing them to the floor. Almost as an afterthought, she picked up a woven blanket and handed it to me. "Sleep tight."

We lay down in the uneasy silence, she on the bed and I on the floor. I was already thinking about the necessity of leaving before morning light, and how the window would provide an easy means of escape, since it opened to the slanted roof over the porch.

"Angel?" she whispered.

Unsure whether she was asking me a question or simply confirming my presence, I made a noncommittal noise in reply.

"Do you snore?"

It made me smile; I glanced up at the bed, just able to see the curve of her cheek and a wisp of blond hair. "I don't know. It's been a long time since anyone's been in the position to let me know."

The answer seemed to satisfy her, for she shifted into a more comfortable position and relaxed. The even sound of her breathing as she slept lulled me into a doze; what with the excitement of the evening and my wound, I was also exhausted enough to fall asleep.

I woke up before dawn, acutely conscious of the approaching day. Although I attempted to move quietly in her room, I was stiff from sleeping on the floor - despite my words the night before, I hadn't needed to sleep on such a flat surface in a while - and my side was achy and gave me twinges of pain when I stretched. I quickly realized that I couldn't leave now. It was too close to daybreak. She woke up when I opened the closet door, trying to figure out a good place to hide.

"You're not leaving, are you?" she said in a plaintive tone that I had no hope of resisting.

"No, I just wanted to make sure your mom doesn't see me."

"Oh. Okay." Within a few minutes, we had cleaned out one of the sides of the closet, making just enough room for me to sit. It was close quarters, but not entirely uncomfortable, though I was sure my side would start complaining before long.

"You just wait here," she promised when she came back from changing in the bathroom. "I'll see you tonight, all right? My mom leaves at eight, so you'll be fine until she comes home."

"I'll be here," I said, unable to keep from smiling. It certainly wasn't as if I was going anywhere, not with all the light in her room.

She had dressed in white today, a minidress with a slit down the neckline that demurely hinted at the possibility of cleavage beneath. Over it she had tossed the leather jacket I had given her a few weeks ago; as if the glow in her eyes wouldn't be enough for anyone who knew her to see that something special had happened. When she left, it was with a positive bounce to her step.

I closed the closet door and leaned back against the inside wall, letting my eyes drift closed. I was more or less imprisoned for the day; at least there were some books to pass the time, leftovers from an English class, no doubt. Ah, well, Hemingway never got old...

The day passed in a slow daze. Some of the time I dozed, but the continued dull pain in my side, along with the uncomfortableness of my position, kept me from relaxing entirely. I finished the book in short order and reached for another, but couldn't summon the energy to continue to read.

Inevitably, despite my attempts at distraction, my thoughts kept returning to her. I couldn't keep the image of her from my mind: how she'd looked early this morning, curled up in bed, the white down comforter wrapped tight around her slender body. She'd seemed uneasy, as if bad dreams had gripped her; and my heart had involuntarily clenched as I'd watched her.

It was crazy. I could keep trying to deny my feelings, but my heart didn't seem to care. There were so many reasons that this was a bad idea - foremost among them being, of course, that I was a vampire and she was the Slayer. By all natural laws, we were mortal enemies. And past that, there was an age difference that made most May-December romances pale by comparison; there was the fact that she'd never be able to see me in sunlight, or I her.

Maybe the reason I was so attracted to her was sheer, simple loneliness. By and large, I had spent the last eighty years keeping my own company, deliberately avoiding other vampires. I couldn't stand them now. To my guilt-wracked mind, it was only logical that I remain solitary: why should a vicious killer like myself be allowed the pleasure of a few moments of friendship? (Despite the fact that I hadn't taken a human life since the Romany girl, I still saw myself that way.) I had lived a pathetic, wretched existence. Now, there was Buffy - and her Watcher, and her friends.

I didn't deserve friends. I didn't deserve to be near her. In my mind, she was good, and I was not.

As if anything could be that simple.

As evening approached, I uncramped myself from my sitting position in anticipation of leaving. But I had barely opened the closet door when I heard a vehicle pull into the driveway below, and then the front door was unlocked and opened. It must be her mother, I realized belatedly. I couldn't leave now - didn't want to chance her hearing me, as I was planning to leave through the side window and probably would not be able to make the stealthy exit I'd hoped to. So I waited.

Of course, that was my logical reasoning. Even then, I didn't want to admit that I wanted one more glimpse of Buffy before I walked out of her life.

I had to leave, of course. There was no question that if I stayed, dangerous things might happen. I didn't dare lead her on - she didn't deserve to have her feelings hurt over me. I'd get over her, I'd keep going. Somehow.

With the closet door slightly open, a breeze passed through the tiny area that I had staked out - no pun intended. It felt more comfortable than I realized, and I was beginning to slip back into a doze when I heard her bedroom door open.

It wasn't her, of course - I hadn't heard her come home yet - but from my vantage point, I was able to surreptitiously watch as Joyce Summers entered the room to tidy things up a bit. Not that the place was terribly messy, but I had a feeling Joyce needed to do something, if only to feel needed. I was lucky; she never glanced towards the closet once. A book, bound in floral fabric, had been left out on the vanity, and she moved it to the side, over the drawers.

Watching her, I wondered if this was what Buffy would look like in twenty years. Would she be this calm, this domestic? Would she even still be alive? No Slayer I'd read of had ever passed the grand old age of twenty-four.

That fact was what decided me: I would wait until Buffy returned, talk to her face-to-face. She deserved that much, at least. No matter what, I was determined not to hurt her - or, if I had to, to at least try and minimize the damage as much as possible.

After Joyce left, I pried myself out of the closet, stretching aching muscles and checking the wound, which, as I'd suspected, had already begun to close, the red around the edges fading to normal coloration. As the sun had set, I was free to move around the room. I did slow laps, stretching my legs, careful to move as soundlessly as possible.

Night had fallen before she finally came upstairs. She had come in from school before total darkness settled; I vaguely overheard the conversation as she and her mother ate a quiet dinner. Now, as she mounted the stairs, I moved over by the window, concealing myself in the shadows out of habit.

She murmured my name questioningly as she closed the bedroom door behind her. Thus bidden, I stepped forward, giving a "Hey" in greeting so as not to startle her. Seeing me, she smiled and moved to the vanity to light the small lamp there; then she approached, offering a plastic bag.

"I brought you some dinner," she explained as she handed it to me. "It's a little plateless, sorry..."

I accepted the bag, my gaze drawn to the chunks of meat and vegetables for a moment. I hadn't tasted food in more than two hundred years. Fleetingly, I wondered what it would taste like; then I set the bag down on the bed.

"So, what did you do all day?" she asked in a conversational tone.

She'd provided me with a perfect opening, and since I wanted to get this over with as soon as possible, I plunged in. "I read a little, and just thought about a lot of things. Buffy, I..."

Her eyes had gone wide as soon as I mentioned reading, and her gaze flew to the vanity to alight on the book there. "My diary? You read my diary?!" she exclaimed in an upset voice. "That is not okay!" As she spoke, she darted to the table, quickly opening a drawer and tossing the book inside, then spun to face me, eyes blazing. "A diary is like a person's most private place! I - you don't even know what I was writing about! 'Hunk' can mean a lot of things - bad things."

I tried to interrupt as she stalked back towards me, but she was on a roll. "And - and when I said your eyes were penetrating, I meant to write 'bulging'!"

"Buffy," I interjected. She kept going.

"And - and 'A' doesn't stand for 'Angel' for that matter, it stands for - for 'Achmed', a charming foreign exchange student, so that whole fantasy part has nothing to even do with you at all-"

I had to stop her before this turned into even more of a confessional. "Your mother moved your diary when she came in to straighten up. I watched her from the closet. I didn't read it, I swear."

Her mouth hung open for a moment as she absorbed my words, and then she said, lightly, "Oh." And then, "Oh," again, as she realized what she'd blurted out.

"I did a lot of thinking today," I said again, trying to get back to the original subject. "I... really can't be around you." She looked up at me. It was nearly my undoing. Her eyes were bruised and dark. "Because when I am..."

"Hey, no big," she started to say. "Water, over the bridge, under..."

"...all I can ever think about is how badly I want to kiss you." Now I was the one who couldn't make his mouth stop.

"...the bridge, over the dam..." Her eyes had fixed on the floor; now they flew up to meet mine, realizing what I'd just said - almost before I realized I'd said it aloud. "Kiss me?" she repeated, voice softer and astonished.

I tried to recover. "I'm older than you, and this can't... ever... I better go."

I hadn't read her signals wrong, for all the good that did me. Why was I still here? I was rooted to the spot by the intense emotion in her eyes.

"H... how much older?" she whispered.

"I should..." If my heart could still pound in my chest, it would have been going at triple speed. My feet refused to move.

"Go... you said," she finished the sentence. And stepped towards me.

Any willpower I had remaining fled then. I closed the distance between us, and touched her face as gently as I knew how. Her skin was soft, and she smelled of sunshine and youth. Giving her room to escape, I bent towards her.

She kissed me willingly, responsively. The first moment was hesitant. Her lips were sweet and smooth beneath mine. Then it deepened, and her arm came around my neck, fingers sliding through the short hairs on the back of my neck. Shivers ran down my back as I slid my arms around her, wanting her even closer, and ah, it was so sweet, so delicious, she was so open, giving herself to me with a kiss both innocent and desirous--

I felt the change occurring too fast. Yanked away from her with a growl that I couldn't prevent. Idiot, idiot, you knew this would happen, how could you let it-- I couldn't calm down, couldn't get control over my face.

"What, what is it? What's wrong?" She was tugging at my arm, almost laughing; she pulled hard, and I swung involuntarily towards her.

That was the moment she saw my true face; it's one I'll never forget, God help me, as long as I live. The eyes so full of joy and wonder moments before were now wide and shocked, and her face was full of terror. She screamed.

I dove out the open window, sliding down the sloping roof to tumble to the lawn below. Landing with a grunt, I rolled to my feet and took off running, cursing myself with every pace.

Only when I was several blocks away from her house did I finally slow down. I needed to be sure that she wouldn't follow me, that my passions had cooled and my face had regained its human fašade. Once I was sure of myself again, I eased to a stop, leaning just inside the mouth of an alley to conceal myself from immediate view. I didn't want to be seen right now.

None of it had gone right. I'd barely been able to get the words out, and then I'd flung every caution to the wind and kissed her. It had been one of my worst mistakes. And the worst part was that I'd do it again, in a heartbeat. I'd enjoyed it.

Enjoyed it a little too much, because the constant control I'd always kept had slipped. It wasn't usually too much of a battle to maintain a human appearance, but when my emotions ran high, the demon that burned within me often found it easier to slip free - an escape that manifested in my true face.

I hadn't thought--No, that was the problem. I hadn't thought. No matter that she was willing, that she wanted it as much as I.

As sunrise approached, I remained in the alley, watching the shadows deepen under the gradual gathering of light. For a few brief moments, I actually entertained the notion of stepping out into that light and exposing myself to death. But I couldn't seriously consider it. I was too much of a coward. Or maybe the demon had a sense of self-preservation that was stronger than my own. In any case, I remained in shadow.

Besides, I rationalized to myself, I need to apologize to her for hurting her, for not telling her the truth.

I can't even lie to myself anymore.

In the dubious safety of the shadows, I watched the sun rise. The light crept across the pavement, stealing into the cracks, eroding my sanctuary by slow degrees. It was a painful pleasure; the ambient light tickled my skin, not quite damaging it, only leaving me uncomfortable and ill at ease. But it was worth it to see the golden brilliance of the world by day. The world forbidden to me.

When I could take no more of the prickly light, I ducked deeper into the alley, to the door that led to my basement apartment. It wasn't much to live in, but it was better than the sewers, or, God forbid, the streets I'd once inhabited.

Now, when I look back on that day, only one thing about it surprises me: that it hadn't happened sooner. But then, my sire always did have an unerring sense of timing.

I unlocked the door and entered the dark apartment. As I moved over to light a lamp, something struck me as different. It wasn't overt; just something obscure about the way the air moved. I straightened slowly, my voice low and taut. "Who's here?"

Her voice drifted from the far wall, where the shadows were deepest. "A friend."

I just stared at Darla as she stepped forward. I hardly recognized her with the different hairstyle and the demure clothing, but that bond between us, that of sire to sired, couldn't be denied. It was her, all right; her lazy walk, her breathy voice.

"Hi," she purred. "It's been a while."

"A lifetime," I said when I got my voice back.

"Or two, but who's counting?" She gave me a deceptively sweet smile.

"What's with the Catholic schoolgirl look? Last time I saw you it was kimonos." That's the spirit, Angel, keep it light, even though you know perfectly well why she's here and so does she.

"And last time I saw you it wasn't high school girls." Well, that explained her choice of clothing. Her fingers trailed to the hem of the plaid skirt, flaring it to show off the pleats. "Don't'cha like?"

I ignored her jab, settling on giving her a firm glare. Her smile was saccharine as she moved towards me. "Remember Budapest? Turn of the century? You were such a bad boy during that earthquake."

Great, back to old times again. How long were we going to dance around the subject? "You did some damage yourself."

"Is there anything better than a natural disaster?" She moved away again, approaching the bed. "The panic, the people lost in the streets... it's like picking fruit off the vine." My sire trailed light fingers over the unmade sheets and rust-colored comforter as if assessing something. "Nice," she finally commented, looking back up at me. "You're living above ground, like one of them. You and your..." A slight, disdainful pause. "...new friend are attacking us, like one of them. But guess what, precious? You're not one of them."

Her voice had hardened to steel, and I belatedly realized that she was standing near the apartment's only window, shaded protectively against the sun's harmful rays. She jerked the cord suddenly. Blinding light seared my vision; I gritted my teeth against a strangled cry and stumbled back, away from the burning sunshine.

"Are you?" she queried in a caustic tone.

"No," I snarled at her. "But I'm not exactly one of you, either."

"Is that what you tell yourself these days?" Her tone was patronizing. She moved again, this time to the refrigerator, where she opened the door long enough to expose the bags of purloined blood kept safely cool within. "You're not exactly living off quiche." Closing the door, she approached me once more. Her pace was leisurely and feline. "You and I both know what you hunger for, what you need."

I stood slowly, holding myself taut and ready. She was right next to me now, her eyes narrowed and sultry beneath a fringe of blond bangs; every inch the seductress, she was. "Hey, it's nothing to be ashamed of," she assured me, her hand sliding over my shoulder. "It's who we are. It's what makes eternal life worth living."

I fought for self-control, determined not to push her away though I desperately wanted to. She was giving me her best pouty look as she continued lecturing me. "You can only suppress your real nature for so long. You can feel it burning inside of you. I hope I'm around when it explodes."

"Maybe you don't wanna be," I growled.

"I'm not afraid of you," she informed me with a teasing smile. "I bet she is, though. Or maybe I'm underestimating her." To my relief, she headed for the door. Her last words were delivered over her shoulder in an offhanded manner, as if she were delivering friendly advice. "Talk to her. Tell her about the curse. Maybe she'll come around. And if she still doesn't trust you, you know where I'll be."

Her motivation was fully clear to me: she wanted me back. Knowing full well that I would never willingly be a part of that life again, still she was trying to seduce me to it. And I had an ugly feeling that she'd stop at nothing to force me back into the fold. And she knew about Buffy. This was bad. No, this was worse than bad. I didn't have words for how bad it was.

I didn't move until the door closed behind her; then I locked it, despite the futility the move engendered. I hurt all over from yesterday's confinement, so I took a hot shower to soothe my muscles and clean the now nearly healed wound, which sported only a few minor traces of blood. After sealing the window covering again, I proceeded to collapse into bed, where I sank into unconsciousness until nightfall.

I vaguely recall misty dreams, but they were lost to me the moment I awakened. The thought of Buffy was ever-present in my mind, and the day's rest hadn't done anything to clear matters. I should apologize to her, explain, I thought, and so I dressed and went out into the warm evening air.

I thought to wander for a while before approaching her, since I was sure that she wasn't ready to see me, but my footsteps led me straight to her house. I found myself hesitant as I walked up to the front porch; the urge to keep away from her was still strong. I almost knocked on the door before my logical side started arguing. What if she's not ready to listen to reason? What if she tries to kill you? Feeling suddenly that it would be better to wait, I backed away, heading away from the house.

I wasn't three steps down the sidewalk when a high-pitched scream rang out from the back of the house. Without a thought, I darted around the house to the kitchen entrance.

The door was locked, but that was hardly a barrier to my strength. I yanked it open and burst inside, fearing the worst. I wasn't disappointed.

Darla stood there, Joyce Summers cradled in her arms. The woman was unconscious; blood dripped from the new bite mark on her neck. Darla had shed her human visage, and her fangs glinted in the light as she shook her hair back and looked up at me, grinning. Well, I wondered how far she'd go. I hadn't really wanted an answer to that speculation.

"Let her go," I growled. The smell of Joyce's blood, coppery-sweet, lingered in the room.

"I just had a little. There's plenty more." She licked her lips savagely. "Aren't you hungry for something warm after all this time?"

She knew how badly I wanted it. The scent was overwhelming, rousing the demon in me. Pangs of blood-hunger made me twitch visibly, but I stood rock still.

"Come on, Angel," Darla urged me. "Just say yes!"

She heaved Joyce's body at me then. Without thought, I caught her, carefully holding Buffy's mother in my arms. Fate would have it that the bite on her neck was right below my nostrils. The blood-scent filled my senses, my nose and mouth and throat until all I could see was red. When I looked up at Darla again, I knew that the demon had gained control of my face. She smiled sunnily at me - as sunnily as one could smile around a mouthful of pointed fangs - and stood.

"Welcome home," she said, and breezed past me out the door.

The demon nearly had me then. I fought it with everything in me, pushing with all my willpower to keep from tasting the blood that numbed my senses to anything else. I knew that I had to regain control before something truly dire happened--

"Hey! I'm home."

Her timing couldn't have been worse. Buffy appeared in the kitchen door at that precise moment. Her gaze was on me before I could move. All I could do was growl in frustration and anger - no, not like this! But it was too late. The pure horror registered in her perfectly round eyes.

I remember dropping Joyce, though I had wanted to set her down carefully - I didn't have the time to be gentle. Buffy was on me in a heartbeat. I tried to run, but the effort was entirely wasted. She slammed me across the kitchen into the far wall, and the next thing I saw was the pane-glass living room window, just before my head and shoulder slammed through it.

Glass sprayed outwards in a radiant fountain, accompanied by the requisite noisy crash and splatter. I managed to tuck my shoulders a little so that I hit the front lawn rolling. Tiny shards of living room window embedded themselves in my hair and shoulders and jacket, though I wouldn't have noticed - or cared - if they had ground into bare skin.

As I carefully got to my feet, Buffy appeared in the broken window. She looked shellshocked and hurt, as if her world had been betrayed - which, after all, it had. When she spoke, it was in a tear-choked voice.

"You're not welcome here. You come near us and I'll kill you."

The resolve in her voice brooked no denial. I couldn't explain - what would be the use? She wouldn't believe me, not after everything else - so I only turned and walked away. I could hear her running back to her mother, probably to call 911, so at least Joyce would be all right.

Even if Buffy wouldn't. And that was entirely my fault.

I wasn't surprised, somehow, to return to my apartment to find Darla there. I was beginning to think that the lock was a waste of time. She stood by the door, content as a cat with a belly full of cream. I ignored her, moving into the room to sit down. Her footsteps trailed after me.

"You didn't kill her," she observed wryly, and tsked at me. "You should have fed, precious. You'll need your strength."

"Go away." My defiance was futile, as I well knew; she wouldn't leave until she had whatever she'd come for. She came around in front of me, slowly circling the chair. A determined look had set her face in stone.

"The Slayer knows what you are now. You can't hide from her. And she thinks you tried to kill her mother. She's out hunting you right now. She wants to kill you."

"Leave me alone." My voice grated raggedly; I wanted her gone so badly I could taste it. I wanted... I wanted someone's blood. I didn't know whose.

Darla leaned in close to me, her hands on the armrests of the chair. "What did you think? Did you think she would understand? That she would look at your face - your true face - and give you a kiss?"

I tried to ignore her, but she was in my face, forcing my attention. "For a hundred years you have not known peace because you will not accept who you are. That's all you have to do. Accept it. Don't let her hunt you down. Don't whimper and mewl like a mangy human! Kill! Feed! Live--"

A snarl erupted from my throat. Before I realized what had happened, I had her up against the far wall, my hands clenched around her wrists to keep her pinned there. She'd pushed me one step too far, and the demon in me - no excuses, Angel, you're angry, it's all you - I'd had enough.

"What do you want?" There was a tremble in her voice. I was loathe to admit that it pleased me to hear it.

"I want it finished."

"That's good." She managed a nervous smile. "You're hurting me. That's good, too."

I let go of her then, a roil of emotion swirling in my belly. As much as she revulsed me, there was still a part of me that desired her, that longed for the times we'd shared. Though I had every intention of finishing the business she'd begun tonight, that didn't mean I'd return to her. I left the apartment without another word, and as far as I could tell, she didn't follow.

I knew that the Slayer could be anywhere, so I decided to take the high ground to see if I could spot her from above. Kill or be killed, that was the paramount thought in my mind. The strength of anger in my veins would have scared me if I'd allowed myself to be think about it for one moment.

The roof of the Bronze was the nearest place I could think of, and it was easily accessible, even with the fire escape ladder raised. Once I gained the roof, I made a circuit of the perimeter, keeping an eye out for her. I had to force myself to stop thinking of her as Buffy - I could only refer to her as the Slayer, because otherwise I'd lose the emotional force that was keeping me going.

At one point during my reconnaissance, the thought occurred to me that the club would make the perfect place for a confrontation, since the walls were thick enough to prevent too much noise from leaking; as well, the place was closed for fumigation, so there wouldn't be any innocent bystanders. Even as I came to that conclusion, my gaze was drawn to the far end of the street. She was coming.

I swung down to one of the upper windows and kicked it in. Not only would this allow me access, but it would also give her a good idea of my location. I wanted her to think she was the hunter for a little while longer. Until I sank my fangs into her neck and tasted her rich, salty blood.

I wouldn't regret it, I swore to myself. This was about self-defense.

Making my way to the ground floor, I ensconced myself in the shadows to wait for her. The demon in my blood was agitated, excited: it wanted her now. Fortunately, it didn't have long to wait. I heard her come in through the same upper-level window that I had broken before. Her steps were measured and cautious as she came down the stairs.

I had no desire to be tagged by the lethal-looking crossbow in her hands. I stepped back, deeper into the shadows; she swung around, having somehow sensed my action. Catching her scent, I was lost in bloodlust; I could feel my face shift into its true appearance, and cared not at all.

"I know you're there," she called out. "And I know what you are."

"Do you?" I couldn't keep from replying. She spun to face me, homing on the direction my voice came from. "I'm just an animal, right?" It was an attempt to goad her into a careless move, but she didn't bite.

"You're not an animal. Animals I like." I'd never heard her voice like this, so cold, so full of hurt anger. Before I could stop to think, the demon snarled, and anger washed over me again. I stepped out of the shadows, revealing myself to her.

"Let's get it done."

There was a pool table between us; I ran for it, leaping as she fired the first of the bolts from the crossbow. Her aim was wide, though, and it thunked into the wall behind me while I jumped for the railing above. Okay, her turn, now it's mine. She was looking around to see where I'd gone, moving around the table; I swung down from the catwalk and caught her with a kick to the back, knocking her forward onto the pool table. The crossbow flew from her hands, landing several feet away. She was fast, faster than I expected: flat on her stomach on the pool table, she flung a sudden kick back at me. I didn't have a chance to dodge. The force of it sent me back to the wall, and as I regained my feet, she dove for the crossbow, rolling and aiming in one swift move.

Slowly, I stepped forward, feeling my anger drain away in a sudden rush. She had the drop on me now. It would be better to end this way; she'd never forgive me, but at least she'd have revenge of a sort.

With the anger went my game face. I could see her eyes widen as I regained my human seeming: not the effect I wanted. "C'mon," I said, practically begging. "Don't go soft on me now."

Her finger twitched on the trigger of the crossbow, and then she fired - but she had already pointed the bolt away, and instead of landing squarely in my heart, it went into the wall a few feet away.

"Little wide," I noted dryly.

"Why?" she asked, getting to her feet. "Why didn't you just attack me when you had the chance? Was it a joke? To make me feel for you, and then..." Her voice trembled slightly. I tried to steel my heart against the sound of it. "I've killed a lot of vampires. I've never hated one before."

"Feels good, doesn't it?" I observed. "Feels simple."

Her eyes were chips of ice, her voice hard. "I invited you into my home and then you attacked my family!"

"Why not?" I shrugged, lightly, as if it were nothing. "I killed mine. I killed their friends, and their friends' children... For a hundred years I offered ugly death to everyone I met, and I did it with a song in my heart."

She looked dazed, now, as if she hadn't been expecting this. "What changed?"

"Fed on a girl about your age," I replied. "Beautiful... dumb as a post... but a favorite among her clan."

"Clan?" she repeated.

"Romany. Gypsies," I added when her confused look persisted. "The elders conjured the perfect punishment for me. They restored my soul."

"What, they were all out of boils and blinding torment?" she asked with a flash of the usual sarcasm.

"When you become a vampire the demon takes your body, but it doesn't get your soul. That's gone! No conscience, no remorse... it's an easy way to live." Why I felt like I had to explain to her now I didn't know, but the words were coming without pause. "You have no idea what it's like to have done the things I've done... and to care. I haven't fed on a living human being since that day."

"So you started with my mom?" The tone of her voice hadn't changed, and it nearly made me flinch.

"I didn't bite her," I retorted.

"Then why didn't you say something?"

Now she was the one doing the goading. She still wanted my blood. I didn't blame her. "I wanted to," I fumbled. "I can walk like a man, but I'm not one." And then, the words I hadn't expected to hear myself saying: "I wanted to kill you tonight."

She didn't say anything for a long moment. Her gaze went to the bow and back to me; and then she bent down and set the crossbow at her feet. She stepped up to me slowly, eyes locked with mine. Pausing before me, she bent her head to the side. Her hair was gathered back in a tight ponytail, and her slender neck was completely exposed to me.

"Go ahead," she said.

I just stared at her, floored by her willingness to offer herself to me; astonished by her tenacity, her bravery.

"Not as easy as it looks," she commented, and my lips twitched in the beginning of a smile.

The tentative trust between us suddenly shattered when Darla's voice rang out behind us. "Sure it is!"

We spun to see her strutting up from under the stairs. Her hands were tucked behind her back, and she wore her vampire face, grinning over her fangs. I hadn't expected her to show up, although I should have known that she would have made sure her mission had been accomplished. What she was up to now, though, was beyond me. I know now that I should have realized sooner, but the reasoning part of my brain must have been on vacation.

"Do you know what the saddest thing in the world is?" she asked rhetorically.

"Bad hair on top of that outfit?" Buffy shot back.

"To love someone who used to love you."

She had picked her words well. Buffy glanced at me, the look in her eyes full of disbelief, but I couldn't lie even if I'd wanted to. Buffy looked back at Darla.

"You guys were involved?"

"For several generations." Darla was enjoying herself just a little too much. I started to get nervous.

"Well, you've been around since Columbus, you are bound to pile up a few exes," Buffy observed calmly. "You're older than him, right? Between us girls, you are looking a little worn around the eyes."

Her jibes failed to rile Darla, who merely smirked. "I made him," she retorted. "There was a time when we shared everything, wasn't there, Angelus?"

She had both our attentions now, though I wasn't willing to concede an inch to her. "You had a chance to come home, to rule with me in the Master's court for a thousand years," she went on. "But you threw that away because of her. You love someone who hates us."

I felt, more than saw, Buffy start at that, but Darla wasn't through. "You're sick," she spat at me. "And you'll always be sick. And you'll always remember what it was like to watch her die."

Now I knew her game, God help us.

"You don't think I came alone, do you?" she taunted.

"I know I didn't." Buffy stomped on the grip of the crossbow, propelling it up and into her hands. It was already loaded, with a wooden tip pointed at Darla's heart.

My sire only chuckled. "Scary," she commented, and pulled her hands out from behind her back. In each was a pistol. "Scarier."

She lifted a muzzle and let a bullet fly; but her target wasn't Buffy, it was me. The bullet caught me in the side - great, now I'll have matching scars, I had a moment to groan - and the impact sent me spinning against the same wall where I'd been lately kicked by Buffy. Agony lanced through my gut, clouding my vision in a haze of pain; through it, I heard the Slayer cry out, and Darla reassuring her: "Don't worry, bullets don't kill vampires. Can hurt them like hell, but..." Ringing laughter followed the statement.

Buffy was fumbling with the crossbow. I used the wall as a lever, pushing myself to my feet, hands pressed to my side where the bullet had entered. Before I could shout a warning, Darla started firing. A hail of bullets rained on the pool table, behind which the Slayer had thought to duck for protection.

"So many body parts," Darla contemplated, "so few bullets. Let's start with the kneecaps. No fun dancing without them."

Her sense of humor was really starting to grate on me. But it was Buffy I was worried for; as far as I knew, she hadn't fought a vampire this old, this experienced. Darla would be hampered by her twisted sense of revenge, thought; I prayed it would work in Buffy's favor, since I was out of the fight.

Then my gaze tracked to the bolt buried in the wall - the one Buffy had fired at me earlier, when she'd deliberately shot wide - and I realized that I might not be out of the fight after all.

Struggling to get there took up most of my attention, since I had to focus past the pain of muscles torn and blood lost in the ripped hole the bullet had made of my side. There was a vague realization that Buffy had fired the crossbow again, but her aim was less than true, and the bolt only got Darla in the abdomen - and then I heard the other voices - Willow's calling out that it was Darla who had attacked Joyce, not me - salvation come almost too late to do any good. Darla fired randomly up into the catwalks, then jumped on the pool table to find Buffy. All the while I was moving closer to the bolt in the wall, carefully slow so as not to draw Darla's attention, the fight went on. The pool table suddenly went rolling back against the wall -- ingenious of Buffy to shove it back, I thought, knocking my sire off balance, even though she kept up firing the whole time.

And the lights flashing - at first I thought they were a product of my drained mind, playing tricks on my vision, spots dancing before my eyes with the loss of blood. Then I realized that it was the light system of the Bronze, somehow activated from above. Crashing and more gunfire erupted from the bar: Buffy must have dived back there, and it had become Darla's new target. The lights provided the perfect distraction: I got my hand on the bolt, yanked it from the wall, and staggered towards my sire.

"Come on, Buffy," Darla taunted, "take it like a man!"

She never noticed me until the bolt planted itself firmly in her back, driving straight through to her heart. Even as she fell, she twisted, whispering my name as though she couldn't believe it was me. I could only watch as her body hit the floor. Nothing was left of her then but ancient ash, the remnants of a body that should have died long ago - four hundred years ago - and would have, if she hadn't caught the eye of some ages-old vampire.

Buffy stood up from behind the shattered counter. She was unharmed, I was relieved to see. But I couldn't say anything to her, nor she to me. I looked at her for a long second, wondering if she knew just what it meant for a vampire to kill their sire. The look in her eyes was full of surprise and shock, though, and I thought that maybe she just might understand. The lights flashed and sputtered around us for several moments before I slowly turned and walked away.

I meant to stay away from Buffy after that. Even though I knew that there was nothing more to hide between us - she knew the truth about me, now, after all. Perhaps I was worried, even scared, that she wouldn't want to see me. From now on, our association would have to be on her terms, if at all. And there couldn't ever be anything between us, no matter what. This I swore to myself.

In the end, I only lasted two nights. My excuse was that I wanted to make sure she and her mother were well. I came back to the Bronze; I knew full well that I could have gone to her house, but that wound was still too raw, and this way, if she didn't show, I could at least tell myself that I'd tried...

I had only been there for a few minutes when she and her friends came in. They flanked her protectively, Willow to her right, Xander next to the redhead; they were chatting lightly, and she looked... happy, somehow. More relaxed than the last time I'd seen her, to be sure. She was breathtakingly beautiful, in a simple blue shirt and dark pants; her hair loose around her face; the silver cross I'd given her was around her neck, framed by the straps of the shirt. Then Willow said something, glancing in my direction, and Buffy followed her gaze.

I had been standing by the back door, prepared to leave in haste if necessary. But now I couldn't move anywhere but towards her. She glanced back at her friends once, then came across the floor to me as I approached her. We met in the middle. The light moved across her hair, her shoulders, touching her pale skin.

For a moment we just looked at each other, unable to speak. Then I began to pull out the words with a pair of mental pliers. "I just wanted to see if you're okay, and your mom..."

She nodded. "We're both good. And you?"

"If I can go a little while without getting shot or stabbed, I'll be all right." I rolled my eyes as I made the quip, bringing a smile to her face.

I didn't want to go on, but I felt I had to. "Look, this can't..."

"...ever be anything, I know," she finished when words failed me. She attempted a smile on her own this time. "For one thing, you're like two hundred and twenty-four years older than me..."

That made me smile in response. I wanted to touch her, but kept my hands to myself.

"I just gotta... gotta walk away from this." As if by saying it, I could somehow force my legs to move. She acknowledged it with a slight nod and a weak smile.

"I know. Me, too."

Neither of us moved. Neither of us wanted to. I couldn't leave her eyes.

"One of us has to go here," she prompted in a faint voice.

"I know," I echoed her, even softer.

Around us, people moved, dancing in the soft light that backlit her hair like a halo; the music swirled around us, vaguely registering somewhere in the back of my brain. And then, despite the part of me that kept reminding me what a bad idea this was, I leaned towards her.

She met my lips with her own. The kiss was soft, sweet, and tender, everything a parting kiss should be. Her arms came around my neck, holding me close; then, with a finality, her hand slipped across my cheek and we parted.

"You okay?" she asked, seeing me wince, despite my best efforts to restrain it.

"It's just..."

"Painful, I know," she said, once again finishing my sentence for me. A hopeful look came into her eyes as she added, "See you around?"

Slowly, then, she backed away, letting the distance grow between us. She didn't look back, and I was almost relieved that she hadn't mentioned the mark her cross had left on my chest: a harsh burn, worst where the metal had actually made contact; if my shirt hadn't been open that far, it wouldn't have registered at all. But I didn't mind the pain, in a way; it was a strong physical reminder of the barriers that could only keep us apart.

And I keep my distance, and I watch her from afar. I can do no less, no more. I may be sick, as Darla said; maybe this is my best form of penance, to see that which I can never have, to feel the knife twist a little deeper in my heart every time I catch a glimpse of her face. But it's worth it, the pain.

It's worth it.

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this page last updated on 10 january 2003