All of Me
Picture by the incomparable Bent.
He held her as she cried.
Cried not for what she’d done, not for the censuring looks those around her cast, even now, upon her fragile form. For herself. Those who looked at her with contempt meant nothing, those who fought with her were little more than vague memories at this moment, this precious, precious moment when he could hold her.
He’d curse himself later; apologize with words and gestures, with kisses and caresses. He knew why she’d done what she’d done, why she lashed out at him. He’d make her understand the sheer terror that gripped him when she ignored him, mocked him, taunted him. The dread that squeezed his heart when he thought she didn’t care, that she hated him as she did all his kind. That whatever blossomed between them before she left for the summer had withered and died with distance and tedium. With disinterest. That his love was as unrequited as he believed it to be.
But then she turned in his arms, sobbed against his chest, and let him hold her. Just hold her. Let him wrap his arms around her small, delicate body, let him be strong for her, let him take her anger and grief into himself. Felt her tears soak his shirt, warm something within him. With a quick glance at Giles, Angel picked Buffy up and carried her outside.
The rest of them could find their own way home. Could manage for an hour without their superhero. And maybe Giles could explain, even briefly, that Buffy’s death at the Master’s hands had shattered her confidence in herself. Maybe they hadn’t understood, and, as with all children, took every barb Buffy threw out to heart, never realizing that their hero hurt, too.
Angel didn’t care. No, his sole concern was for Buffy, for her health, her heart, her soul.
Sliding against the wall, he shifted her until she curled comfortably in his arms, quiet now but still shaking. She settled her head on his chest, just under his chin, and sighed softly. One hand rested on his, and Angel took the chance to entwine their fingers. She didn’t flinch away, and he relaxed, holding her securely against him.
Eventually she stilled, undisturbed and peaceful against him. Her heartbeat was even, her breathing slow, and he knew she slept. With a small smile, Angel kissed the top of her head and let her sleep. He wasn’t moving for the world.
Her rest didn’t last long, less than a quarter of an hour. Angel wanted to tell her to go back to sleep, wanted to continue to hold her until the sun rose, wanted to see his first sunrise in over two hundred years with her. And if he died doing so, he firmly believed it was worth it.
Buffy’s head moved from under his chin to his shoulder, shifting her warmth, but not taking it completely. Another absent smile crossed his mouth, and he tightened his hold on her hand. How had he lived without her for so long?
When did he turn into such a romantic sap?
He loved her, needed her with something he’d never felt before. At least he’d given up writing poetry long before he’d ever met Darla in that dark ally. No, that was Spike’s…but he hadn’t seen Spike in decades. These days he stuck to other people’s words, though he felt them, believed them, no less because they were not his own.
“Where are we?” Buffy asked, bringing him back to the beautiful girl in his arms.
Sap or not, there really wasn’t any other place he’d rather be.
“In an alley a few blocks from the warehouse.” He hadn’t wanted her to see that scene again, fully intended to go back and torch the place so she never had to relive any of that. If he could burn the library – Hellmouth or no – he would. If he could destroy the cave the Master killed her in without taking out the whole town, he’d do that, too. Might still do that if he could convince her to leave Sunnydale – with him.
“Thank you.” But she still didn’t move.
There were things he should probably say. Like how she had to talk about this, about her dying. His heart turned cold at that, and even if it didn’t beat, didn’t actually live, the thought of her dead tore a hole inside him that nothing could ever repair.
(Don’t say that, Angelus growled inside him, and Angel gave a start. In the hundred years since the soul was returned to his body and the demon was forced to share space with soul, they’d agreed on maybe two things. One was that they weren’t going to give the gypsy bitches the satisfaction of greeting sunlight. The second was that living off the streets was about as bad as digging out of a grave. You better not let her die, buddy.)
But then the demon was silent. And Angel wondered if he imagined Angelus saying that.
“Any time, Buffy,” Angel said instead. “I’d…” do anything for you. But he said, moving her so he could see her, “I only want you safe.”
God, he loved looking at her, just looking. So bright and full of life and energy, so passionate, so loving. Now, she just looked drained. Tired, beaten. Unable to resist, Angel leaned forward and kissed her, soft, gentle, eyes watching hers as their lips met. It was a quick kiss, none of the hunger he felt showing in that brief touch.
“I’m sorry,” he said suddenly, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear when she looked at him. “I knew what happened, what you were going through, but I let my own emotions…I should have realized and not hounded you. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, Buffy.”
She swallowed, the tension suddenly leaving her body, eyes dark in the dim overhead light.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to stop the Master, and I’m sorry you had to go through that alone. I’m sorry you ever had to know what really went on in this world, Buffy. You’re the strongest person I know, but if I could…I’d protect you from the darkness.”
He was also sorry Xander was the one to revive her, that he hadn’t been able to, but he didn’t know CPR. Breath he had, he could breathe, though if the air moved through his body or merely expanded his lungs because he thought it should, Angel didn’t know. Another unknown was what air he expelled – from his tainted and dead body to hers – would do to her. It wasn’t a chance he’d been willing to take. Xander never need know that.
Angel cupped her cheek, hoping she knew how serious he was, how sincere. There was more to say, so much more, but he, who had hundreds of years of experience and knowledge behind him, had no words. Not his or another’s.
Eventually, she put her head back on his chest, and sighed. “You’re the only one who understands, then.”
Angel wanted to protest, wanted to say he was sure her friends understood, too, but didn’t. He didn’t know if they did, knew nothing about them, didn’t much care, either. Rupert should, but Angel wasn’t sure even the watcher fully grasped what had happened. Or what it did to a person, dying. The life you led afterwards was changed from the life you could have led.
“Let me walk you home.”
The house was dark when they walked up the drive, despite it being nearly eleven. Buffy, for reasons she’d never understand, turned from her normal route to the tree where she'd sneak through her bedroom window, and unlocked the front door. Angel was right behind her.
Buffy stopped, leaned awkwardly against the doorway between foyer and living room, watching Angel lock up, flick the bolt, turn out the light. It was strangely domestic, cozy, but she shook that thought off. Cozy? Domestic? She was losing her mind was what she was doing, not thinking weird thoughts about Angel and home.
What was she supposed to do now? Invite him to stay? Offer him a drink? Did he drink? Thank him? Yes…yes, thank him. How? How do you thank someone for saving your life, for helping you through something you, yourself, don’t understand? For just being there, holding you, comforting you.
For just being.
“Mom’s probably still at the gallery,” she said haltingly. Her mind was frantically trying to come up with a way to thank Angel for being him, but she couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound stupid or childish. Or childishly stupid. “I know she’s trying to make it work, to bring in enough money to support us, but…”
“But you’d like her here once in a while?” Angel guessed.
Buffy nodded, felt tears well in her eyes once more. God, when was the last time she’d cried so much? In her other life? When her parents got divorced. When she first learned the secrets that haunt the night. When Merrick died.
“Just for someone to be here,” she admitted. But then realized… “Like you’re here.”
Meeting his eyes, cursing her weakness and tears, Buffy leaned against him as Angel once more wrapped those strong arms around her. She’d never been held so gently, so lovingly, never felt so safe before. She’d read, in those romance books her mom would probably faint over if she ever knew about, a line about strong men.
How they were gentle as only those well aware of their strength could be. Angel was that way. He was strong, preternaturally strong, nearly as strong as she. And yet when he held her, Buffy never felt endangered. No, she only felt safe. Protected and loved in his arms, as if she was his entire world, and he wouldn’t let anything happen to her if he had to destroy the world to protect her.
She liked that.
He pulled back, cupped her cheek again, thumb soft on her skin as he traced her cheekbone. Her heart flipped, stomach fluttering, and suddenly it was hard to breathe. The way he was looking at her…but then Angel took her hand and led her into the living room. Dazed, Buffy meekly followed, suddenly drained from the night.
From the day, from the week, from the months since she left this town, and Angel’s arms.
He took off her shoes and patiently loosened her hair from its many clips, combing his fingers through the locks. Stretching out on the couch, Angel brought her with him, and covered her with the afghan, waiting until she was comfortably settled.
“Just lay your head, lass,” he whispered. “Tonight, nothing will harm you.”
Stroking her hair, Angel waited. Tension still twisted through her, stiff and wild with the panic that gripped her since her return. Or maybe it was the fact that they were entwined so intimately on the couch, and Buffy had never…
(She damn-well better never have! Angelus injected hotly. No, he added after a moment, a moment in which Angel, too, took a deep breath of her scent, spicy and wild. Power, God there was so much power coiled inside her body, but untouched by another. She’s pure, he purred. My girl is pure, and I’m so going to enjoy being her only teacher. “Mine,” Angel hissed back, snarling within his own head at the demon he shared space with. “Buffy is mine.” Angelus laughed arrogantly at that, but said nothing more.)
He hated that he’d fallen into the trap the others had and hadn’t supported her, knowing what she went through. Hated that he tried to make nice with the Watcher, thinking the experience Giles had would be better than going directly to Buffy; better than putting both her and himself through his feelings. Feelings he wasn’t sure she returned. Hated that he’d nearly reneged on his vow – not to the Powers, not to Whistler. To Buffy herself. To help her in her Calling, to help her stay alive. He’d never asked why this slayer needed help, why she and not the hundred Called since regaining his soul and before Buffy.
Again, he vowed to make it up to her.
Eventually, she drifted off, pliant against him, head on his shoulder, leg thrown innocently across his hips. Innocent, yes, but all too intimately. She moved closer, murmured something in her sleep.
Swallowing, Angel used his considerable control to keep from taking her. From seeking her warmth and burying himself in her incredible depths. He wanted her, had from the moment he saw her, and now, with Buffy so comfortably sprawled across him, his body could easily imagine making love to her.
(Think she’s a screamer? Angelus wondered. Angel automatically snarled back, but the question was already asked. And he wondered, too. Angelus, however, wasn’t finished. She’ll beg so nicely, think of everything I could teach her…)
Angel could easily imagine all he could teach Buffy, and didn’t need Angelus’ comments to imagine it. Buffy, hot and needy beneath him. Buffy wild, erotic, passionate above him as she slammed onto him. Buffy taking him deeper-
Cutting those thoughts off, they certainly weren’t helping him keep his hands off her, Angel went back to stroking her hair. And just enjoying the chance to be this close to her. His hands shook, his body ached for hers, but he didn’t move. He wasn’t going to do anything, wasn’t even going to remind her of what happened, and was most probably going to sneak out before the sun rose.
Except her mother came home.
The second the car pulled into the driveway, Angel tried to wake Buffy. By the time her mom opened the door, the loud click of the lock echoing through the quiet house like a gunshot, Buffy was most definitely awake.
It was too late.
Joyce had seen them.
“Mom,” Buffy said lamely. “Uh…hi?”
A beat of dead silence that did nothing to help either of their nerves.
“Buffy Anne Summers,” Joyce said in a surprisingly even tone. “I’m sure you have a perfectly good explanation for this…?” Her arms were folded across her chest, and the light in her eye reminded Angel very much of her daughter’s.
“I was…studying,” Buffy began with a faint smile. “History. Mom, you remember Angel, don’t you? He’s my…history tutor?”
“And your books are…where?” Joyce made a show of looking around the room, one eyebrow raised in disbelief. Then, “Since I assume you did very little actual studying, Buffy, why don’t we try again. I’m sure you have a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why you’re asleep on the couch with your much older ‘tutor’. And this time…try the truth.”
Sitting up and promptly getting tangled in the afghan Angel had covered her with, Buffy stalled. With very little of her slayer grace, she tried to untangle herself, and ended up falling against Angel in the process. Looking down at him, hands warm on his chest, she sighed.
“This isn’t going how I’d thought it would,” she mumbled.
“I could leave,” he offered, standing to do just that.
“No.” Buffy frowned, looking confused as to why she just said that. But then she turned, looked at her mom, and slowly shook her head. “No, Angel, don’t go. Because, mom, there are a few things you need to know.”
Joyce sank into a chair, luckily nearby or Angel thought for sure she’d collapse right onto the floor. “Oh, God, you’re pregnant.”
Buffy snorted with laughter. “Mom! What? No! How could you think that?”
Joyce said nothing, but glared at Angel. Shaking his head, seeing the definitely offbeat humor Buffy had, but not letting it show, he smiled. “Mrs. Summers, no. I assure you, I have in no way compromised your daughter.”
The relief was all too apparent, and Buffy frowned – was it because he hadn’t compromised her? Or at her mother? Squeezing her hand in reassurance, Angel watched her struggle with how to explain this situation to her mom. His thoughts, however, were on anything but Joyce Summers.
Compromise Buffy? Oh, the ways…but that wasn’t what this was about. No, he had a feeling that Buffy was about to tell her mother just who he was, what she’d been doing the past few years, and who she really was.
“Are you sure?”
Buffy nodded. “No.”
“Sure about what?” the thread of panic was back in Joyce’s voice. “You’re not eloping, are you?”
“Mom!” Buffy said in exasperation. “Where do you get these ideas? Sheesh. No. I’m not pregnant, you don’t need a shotgun wedding. I’m not eloping, and no to whatever else it is you think you're thinking. I’m…” she faltered.
“Just tell her,” Angel said quietly, and offered her a smile. Well, at least Joyce Summers didn’t know how to stake a vampire. And it was still night, so she couldn’t forcibly make him walk into sunlight. It was doubtful she knew where Buffy kept her supply of holy water. Think she knew about fire…?
“Mom,” Buffy said slowly, then tore her eyes away from Angel’s and looked at her mother. “I’m the slayer.”
There was another beat of silence. “Like in a band?”
“Uh…no. As in Vampire Slayer.”
More silence. “Like that bit you tried when your father and I were divorcing?”
“Uh, kinda. See, that was true. Okay,” she admitted, hunching over and curling closer to Angel. “Maybe the timing there wasn’t the best. But really. Vampires. And I slay them with my trusty stake.”
Joyce didn’t seem amused, and Angel couldn’t blame her. But that was another thing he noticed about Buffy. When she didn’t now what to say or how, she either lashed out, or tried to joke her way through it. This particular conversation wasn’t going to work either way.
“Buffy,” he ran a hand down her hair. “This isn’t the way. She doesn’t know what you’re talking about; she doesn’t know what’s out there.”
For a moment, a flash of anger crossed her lovely features. Was it directed at him for telling her how to inform her mother of this? Or was it at her mother for not realizing sooner? Either way, it didn’t matter. Buffy was hurting, and Angel hated that. Dropping a kiss to her forehead, he nodded in what he hoped was encouragement.
He couldn’t remember his mother, let alone trying to tell her anything. (You don’t remember how she tasted? Angelus taunted. Ignoring him, this was neither the time nor place, Angel forced the sensory images away. Yes, he could remember. Her screams, her horror. The blood squirting from her neck. He remembered all of that. He just didn’t remember anything else about her, and surely there should be something else.)
Taking a deep breath, Buffy rose. She didn’t pace, but she did fidget. Her fingers knotted themselves over and over with each other, and she rocked back and forth from foot to foot. She sat. Then she stood. Then she looked at Angel for help.
“Can you just…show her?” she asked hopefully. “Then I’ll explain, and she’ll already have a point of reference?”
Expecting this, Angel nodded. Facing Joyce, he waited until her complete attention was on him. Her heart beat slightly faster, her eyes focused. He didn’t need to use any of his thrall to capture her attention; it had always come naturally to him, even as a human. Ignoring all that, however, Angel’s senses caught Buffy’s fear. She needed her mother to understand what she went through every night. Why she did what she did, the trouble, the reports.
Seamlessly changing his face, Angel waited. There was no screaming. There was no shouting, or jumping up and running. No, Joyce did none of that. She fainted.
“Oh, for the love of-” Buffy bolted to her side “Mom!” She patted her cheeks, took her hand. “Mom,” she repeated. “Mom, come on. Angel’s not going to hurt you. Really.”
(Ha! Angelus crowed. Did you see that? Can you do that again, it’s the most fun you’ve given me in the damned century I’ve been stuck with you. “Shut up,” Angel growled, hoped the rumbling wasn’t aloud and Buffy heard. Angel didn’t, unfortunately, have anything else to say to his demon, and Angelus continued to laugh.)
“Buffy?” Joyce murmured, eyes not on her daughter, but on Angel. “Okay,” she said slowly, nodding as if she was agreeing with something. “Tell me. Slowly. From the beginning. Don’t leave anything out. And get me a drink, please.”
It was nearly two in the morning, Joyce was upstairs in bed, after drinking two glasses of whisky, and listening to everything Buffy had to tell her since her Calling in LA. She hadn’t liked it. But she had, much to Buffy’s surprise, accepted it.
“Really,” and she knew she was repeating herself. “That wasn’t how I expected that talk to go. Not that I ever planned on telling her, not if I could help it, but…”
Angel silenced her with a kiss. “Buffy, relax. She’s not fine with it,” he conceded. “But she is adapting. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Slowly she nodded, let the nervous tension drain, and sagged against Angel’s cool, hard form. She shivered against him, but didn’t pull back. Couldn’t, no matter what was probably right and proper. This was Angel. The rules changed when he was with her.
“Yeah,” she whispered, “yeah, it’s what I wanted.”
“Then just accept it. Sometimes,” he added, and Buffy smiled when his hand took hers, his lips brushed the back of her fingertips. “Sometimes things just happen for the best.”
“Like you helping me?”
Her heart shuddered when he smiled at her, and Buffy wondered how twisted the Powers were to accept a vampire and a slayer…together. In love? Did she love him? Did she even know what love was?
Yes. Yes to all of it.
It was more than lust or infatuation, Buffy was sure of it. If all she felt towards Angel was that, she was certain, or mostly so, that she’d have forgotten him over the summer. Especially with all that’d happen, or hadn’t and she’d felt. She would’ve forgotten Angel because he wasn’t with her, and wasn’t that how those things worked?
Yawning, she figured she needed sleep, not more thoughts chasing each other around in her overtired mind. Besides, she still has school tomorrow. Oh, joy.
“You should get to sleep,” Angel whispered. “You still have school in the morning.”
Buffy looked at him, confused. Had she said that aloud, or had he read her mind? Weird.
“Yeah,” she nodded, instead. “School. Fun.”
Pressing another kiss to her forehead, Angel stood to leave. “I’ll patrol with you tomorrow night. There might be a few more followers left.”
Again, Buffy nodded. Tomorrow night. She was a silly schoolgirl, wasn’t she. At least when it came to Angel.
“I’ll see you then.”
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