“Wake up, Wesley,” Cordelia tried once more to rouse her unresponsive friend, then turned wide, frightened eyes on her boyfriend. “Angel?”
The vampire moved away from the weeping slayer’s side to squat next to the unconscious ex-watcher. Wesley’s heart was racing, the smell from the coagulating blood leaking from the open wounds on his torso, thick and strong.
“Did I kill him?” Faith’s voice was raspy from lack of use.
Angel glanced back over his shoulder at the slayer, noting how pale she was, and how her skin was covered in a sheen of clammy sweat.
He shook his head. “He’s lost a lot of blood, but I don’t think his life is in any danger. We should get him – and you – to a hospital though.”
“I’m fine,” Faith protested, shaking her head violently at this suggestion.
“You were in a coma for months, Faith.” Buffy pointed out to her fellow slayer.
“I know, but it was a mystical coma, not a physical one. I feel okay, I just…”
Faith broke off and looked beseechingly at Angel. “I feel okay,” she reiterated, her brown eyes pleading with him to understand.
The vampire nodded, recognizing the slayer’s reluctance to face the barrage of questions likely to be asked about her condition – and Wesley’s – at the hospital.
He fished in his jacket pocket for his car-keys and handed them to Cordelia, then looked over at Buffy and Riley. “Go with Cordy and Wes to the hospital – Lorne, Willow, and I will take Faith back to Caritas. It’s only about thirty minutes walk from here.”
His instructions imparted, Angel effortlessly lifted Wesley off the damp cobblestones and strode over to the Plymouth, carefully depositing the injured Englishman in the backseat. Riley walked around the front of the car to take the passenger seat, while Cordelia passed the keys to Buffy, before she climbed in besides their friend and gently lifted his head to cradle it in her lap.
“Drive safely,” Angel told the slayer, as she slid into the driver’s seat and inserted the key into the ignition.
Gripping the doorframe in his hands, the dark-haired vampire then leaned over into the back to press a kiss to Cordelia’s upturned lips.
“Call me,” he told her, reaching out to cup her cheek in his hand. He traced the outline of her full, pouty lips with his thumb, and smiled when she softly kissed the digit’s callused tip.
“I will,” the seer replied, then looked worriedly over at Faith. “Take care of her, okay? I know she says she’s fine, but…”
“I know,” Angel softly interrupted, his voice low. “I think her problems are going to be more physiological than physical though, so pushing the hospital issue wasn’t worth it. We don’t want her to retreat inside herself.”
The seer nodded solemnly in agreement, and the vampire bent to kiss her one last time before he stepped away from the vehicle. Buffy gunned the engine, and the car trundled down the alleyway towards the junction that led onto the main road.
Twisting around in her seat, Cordelia looked back at Angel, giving him a tiny wave goodbye as the Plymouth disappeared off into the distance. The vampire lifted his hand to acknowledge his girlfriend’s farewell, before turning back to the others with a heavy sigh.
He was exhausted, the events of the past few days – and weeks – finally taking their toll on him. The soreness from his stab wound had subsided to a dull ache, but now it itched like mad. This was a good sign in itself, because it meant that his injury was on the mend, but Angel hated this part of the healing process with a passion – he’d much rather endure the pain, than put up with this infernal prickling sensation.
Lorne stood with one arm around a drooping Willow’s waist, while the other supported the still dazed slayer, and Angel quickly moved forward to relieve the happy-go-lucky demon of his second burden. Wrapping a firm arm around Faith’s back, just under her shoulder blades, he felt the tremors of shock and exhaustion that were shaking her body.
“Err – he is green right?” the slayer asked, a little befuddled.
She blinked owlishly, trying to clear her vision, but the jade colour remained.
Angel laughed, “Yeah – but don’t worry, he’s as soft as a baby’s bottom.”
“I religiously moisturise three times a day,” Lorne quipped, with an impish grin in the confused slayer’s direction.
“I remember you – you’re the Karaoke guy,” Faith said slowly, her voice slightly slurred. Her foggy memory had taken a while to inform her of where she’d seen the green-skinned demon before.
“The one and only, sweet thing,” the Host replied with a gentle smile.
The brightly dressed demon then shot a quick glance up at the bluish-grey sky, noting the rapidly approaching dawn.
“Well folks – I think it’s about time we got going, don’t you? We don’t want Angelcakes to go *poof* now do we? My profits would go right down the crappa. Some of the demon-girls only come in hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr Tall, Dark and Devilishly-Handsome here.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily mention that to Cordelia if I were you,” Willow commented dryly, as the four of them began to walk in the direction of Caritas. “I gather from some of her emails, that she can be rather vocal about other women lusting after her boyfriend.”
“Ahh yes – the princess sure is a feisty one.” Lorne declared, voicing his agreement with the witch’s summation of Cordelia’s likely response.
Angel was about to add his two cents worth to the discussion, but was prevented from doing so when Faith suddenly stopped in her tracks, clutching frantically at his arm. Her grip was vice-like and he winced as her strong fingers dug into his flesh, the nails piercing his skin.
“Wesley!” she softly exclaimed, looking about her, all wild-eyed. “Oh God – what I did to him…”
Releasing her iron-hold on the vampire, the slayer lifted her hands up in front of her face, studying her bloodied palms in horror. Angel’s stomach lurched as he recognised the familiar gesture.
The vampire had inflicted untold agony on thousands of innocent victims in his time, and he often found himself examining his own hands in the same way. It was extremely difficult to connect what he’d done in his Angelus days, with the person that his restored soul had shaped him into, and his body sometimes didn’t feel like it belonged to him.
Taking hold of Faith’s trembling hands, Angel pulled them down and away from her grief-stricken face, cupping her chin gently between his fingers.
“*You* didn’t do anything to him, Faith,” he told her, looking down into her deeply tormented gaze. “It’s important that you try to remember that.”
The shell-shocked slayer didn’t seem to hear his quietly spoken words though, just stared straight through him with stark, unseeing eyes.
“Wesley,” she repeated in anguish, salty tears escaping to run unchecked down her smudged cheeks.
Realising she was still extremely disorientated; Angel slid a supporting arm around the slayer’s shaking shoulders, and gently urged her onwards. “Come on – let’s get you somewhere where you can wash up and get some rest.”
Heeding his soft instructions, Faith absently began to put one foot in front of the other again, but remained pretty
much out of it as they meandered their way back to the Karaoke Club.
While they waited for news of Wesley, Cordelia and Buffy sat awkwardly, side by side, on the uncomfortable plastic chairs, not really knowing what to say to each other.
On their arrival at the hospital, they had denied all knowledge of what had happened to the ex-watcher; simply claiming that he was a friend, who had turned up unexpectedly on their doorstep in his current state. The seer felt a bit guilty about that, knowing that Wesley would probably have to answer all the interfering questions when he woke up.
“Here – I brought you both some coffee.”
Cordelia looked up at the sound of Riley’s voice. “Thanks,” she said, gratefully taking the steaming polystyrene cup from the soldier, and lifting it to her lips.
She grimaced as the artificial taste of the hot, bitter liquid hit the back of her throat. “Ick! Do you think they purposely set out to make hospital coffee taste as yucky as possible?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
“I believe it’s an unwritten rule – thou shalt not provide good cups of coffee in medical establishments.” Riley replied with a quick grin.
The seer’s lips curled up in a faint smile at the soldier’s quip, but her overwhelming concern for Wesley’s well-being soon returned. She glanced down at her watch. “What’s taking so long?”
“I’m sure they’ll let you know as soon as they’ve got anything to report,” Riley said soothingly. “I was thinking I’d go and get some sandwiches from the canteen – either of you want any?”
Both girls nodded in the affirmative, then shook their heads in response to his subsequent question of “Any preference on what type?”
“Riley seems nice,” Cordelia commented to the blonde slayer, as the soldier strode off down the corridor in search of food.
“Mmm.” Buffy’s reply was non-committal.
Now that Faith was safe and the Orb defeated, the slayer was trying to make sense of the turbulent feelings that this trip to LA had stirred up within her. Cordelia was right – Riley *was* nice – her boyfriend was loving, caring, and she enjoyed his company. The sex was good, great even, but he just didn’t make her heart race, and her breath quicken, in the same way that Angel had – and still did, if she was honest with herself.
Unfortunately, Buffy could not remain oblivious to the deep ties of affection that existed between her ex-boyfriend and Cordelia Chase either. The couple’s recent kiss goodbye had been one such light-bulb moment for the slayer – the vampire had seemingly done it without thinking, but the farewell embrace hadn’t been perfunctory in the slightest. The gentle kisses were brief, but also extremely heartfelt.
Moreover, the almost savage clinch that the two had shared before Angel had gone into the Gauntlet, revealed the more passionate side of their union. Therefore, try as she might, Buffy could not escape the fact that the vampire and seer’s relationship appeared well balanced, seemingly having the right mixture of love, friendship and fiery sexual chemistry.
One thing did stand out though, and it was this, which gave Buffy the impetus not to give up hope of a reconciliation with the souled vampire. To her mind, Angel did not revere Cordelia in quite the same way that he had her, which to the romantically inclined slayer, meant that his feelings couldn’t be as strong.
She was simply unable to comprehend that the vampire’s more relaxed and down-to-earth attitude towards his current relationship was, in fact, a sign of the complete opposite – an indication that he felt totally comfortable in Cordelia’s company, and therefore didn’t feel the need to be subservient with her.
Well that was ringing endorsement,*not* Cordelia thought, cold anxiety gripping her stomach. She had relaxed when Buffy had turned up with a boyfriend in tow, thinking it meant that the slayer had moved on. Now though, her unease returned with a vengeance.
The seer liked Riley – he was kind, good-looking, if… well… a little staid. She was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt over his seriously bad attitude towards Angel; recognising that it took a while to get your head around the idea of a vampire with a soul. The fact that his girlfriend viewed her first love through rose-tinted glasses probably didn’t help either.
It still amazed Cordelia that, while Buffy had refused to accept the vampire for what he was, she looked upon him as her perfect, happily-ever-after love. It was a dichotomous outlook – the two opposing halves not able to connect to make a seamless whole, and therefore ultimately an attitude that had rent the Romeo-and-Juliet relationship apart.
Will she try to come between Angel and me? She’d better not if she knows what’s good for her health!
As soon as the words sounded in her brain, Cordelia laughed inwardly, realising how empty her silent threat probably was. She couldn’t deal with Buffy in the same way as the other women, who had dared to encroach on her territory – the slayer was a whole different ball game.
The seer’s train of anxious thought was interrupted then, as a white-coated doctor entered the waiting room and looked around, asking for, “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce’s next-of-kin?”
Cordelia rose quickly to her feet, and crossed to speak to the medical expert, her concern back on Wesley’s condition and prognosis.
Faith stood under the hot spray, still feeling like she was wading through a sea of molasses. The powerful jets of water made the cuts and bruises that she’d gained during her – no, the Orb’s – fight with Angel sting like hell.
The slayer looked down at the shower-stall’s white-tiled floor, and gagged at the crimson colour of the water circling the drain. It wasn’t all her blood, she knew, and the sight brought back the awful memories of tonight’s events with startling clarity. Covering her mouth with her hands, she sank to the floor and began to weep in distress.
“Faith – are you okay?” Angel knocked on the bathroom door – she had been in there far too long for his comfort.
Tentatively pushing open the door, the vampire ventured into the steamed-up room, not really wanting to invade the slayer’s privacy, but too worried about her fragile state of mind to wait for her to come out. His keen eyesight swiftly took in her crumpled form behind the frosted glass and, grabbing a couple of towels from the heated rail, he immediately sprang into action.
Drawing back the shower screen, he quickly shut off the water, hooked one hand under her arm and urged her to her feet, keeping his eyes respectfully averted from her nakedness as he did so. Once the slayer stood, shivering and dripping water onto the bathmat, he swathed her in the larger of the two towels, then gently led her through into the bedroom.
Faith sat gingerly on the end of the bed, whilst Angel carefully blotted her hair with a hand towel, squeezing out the moisture from the dark strands until her thick mane was almost dry.
“I think C might have my guts for garters for this,” the slayer commented, as she took the brush that the vampire offered to her and began to pull it through her wild tangle of hair.
“What?” Angel asked, puzzled.
Faith pointedly glanced down at the towel tucked securely over her breasts, and he caught on to what she meant.
“Oh – she won’t mind,” he added, then grinned at the slayer’s subsequent raising of an eyebrow.
“I meant she’ll understand the purely platonic circumstances,” he elaborated. “Besides it’s not like I looked – I’m a gentleman.”
Faith looked away, her eyes welling up with tears again. “How do you do it?” she whispered brokenly. “How do you live with this?”
The vampire sighed and reached out to engulf her hand in his. “You take it day by day, one step at a time. Some days are harder than others, but you just keep going.”
“Listen to me though. I cannot claim the same, but in your case, none of it was you – it was all the Orb’s doing. You have to find a way to separate yourself from its actions.”
“But I didn’t do anything to stop it,” the slayer sobbed in broken-hearted anguish. “I just sat back and watched… Oh God Angel, I just watched.”
“Because Wesley asked you to save your strength, I take it,” the sympathetic vampire surmised, tenderly brushing her damp hair away from her neck.
“Yeah,” Faith nodded miserably. “I shouldn’t have listened to him though.”
“Yes, you should,” Angel told her firmly. “God knows, I wouldn’t have wished what happened to Wes on anyone, least of all one of my closest friends. In the end though, he made the right decision – without you, we might never have overpowered the Orb enough to get it to drink the exorcising potion.”
“I wish that made me feel better, but it doesn’t.”
“It will – in time. It’s just too much for you to handle right now, what with everything still being so raw.”
While he spoke, the vampire had risen to his feet and crossed to the chest of drawers. He rummaged around in the middle drawer and produced a pair of thin sweatpants and a vest-top that belonged to Cordelia.
“Here,” he said, handing the slayer the comfy garments. “I’ll go and sort you out a hot drink and some toast, and then I think you should try to get some rest.”
“Okay.” Faith acquiesced.
Angel’s cell trilled loudly then, and they both jumped out of their skin at the sudden noise.
The vampire quickly retrieved his ringing phone from his jacket pocket, and punched the green call button. “Hi baby! You still at the hospital?”
Yeah – I’m using the pay phone in the ER.
“So how’s Wes?”
The doctor says he’ll be fine. They’re going to keep him in for observation but – all being well – they should discharge him tomorrow some time.
“Good, that’s good. Are you staying there with him then?”
No – he’s sedated, and he apparently won’t come round for a while yet. We’ve decided to head back to Caritas for a few hours kip. They said they’d call us when he wakes up.
“Sounds like a plan – I’ll see you in a bit then.”
“We can talk about that when you get back.”
She’s there with you, isn’t she?
Make sure you tell her Wesley’s gonna be okay.
“I will, I promise.”
All right, gotta go. Buffy looks like her head is about to explode.
“Okay – I’ll see you soon.”
Yeah – love ya, by the way!
“Love you too. Bye.”
Angel shut off the phone with a smile, and then looked over at an expectant Faith. “He’s going to be fine – so quit worrying.”
The brunette slayer sagged in obvious relief, her tears overflowing again. “God – how pathetic, am I?” she said, swiping angrily at her wet cheeks.
“You are not pathetic. You’ve just been through one hell of an ordeal, so stop giving yourself such a hard time for reacting to it. It is okay to be needy sometimes, you know.”
Faith smiled through her tears, despite herself. “Just get lost and let me get dressed, will ya?” she demanded with fake aggressiveness.
“All right – I’ll be back in a bit.” Angel dropped a friendly kiss on the top of her head before he turned to leave the room. “We missed you, Faith.”
“Is your arm all right?” Buffy asked Riley, as they entered the bedroom that Lorne had set aside for their use at Caritas.
“Yeah – it’s throbbing a bit, but otherwise it’s fine.”
The soldier un-buttoned his torn shirt and shrugged it off his broad shoulders. “I think Cordelia must have been a nurse in a former life,” he said, studying the neatly applied bandage with admiration.
“Among other less noble occupations maybe,” the bitter slayer muttered under her breath.
“Nothing – doesn’t matter,” Buffy answered with false brightness.
Crossing to stand next to her boyfriend, her blue eyes swept over his bare muscular chest in feminine appreciation, and she felt her loins stir in response. Maybe he wasn’t the man she dreamed of, but he was still a hottie, and he was hers.
“You tired?” she asked seductively, trailing a finger over his exposed tanned flesh. “I’m still kind of wired myself.”
“Buffy…” Riley protested half-heartedly, a low groan escaping his lips when her teasing finger curled into the waistband of his combats.
The slayer ignored him, unbuckled his belt and slid down the zipper of his pants, before she pushed her hand into his cotton boxers. Stroking the soldier’s rapidly hardening sex, her searching lips attached themselves to his collarbone, her panties growing wet in anticipation.
“I want you,” she murmured throatily against his skin, nipping lightly at his shoulder with her teeth.
And she did – the erotic fantasy of Angel in the car, the thrill of the Gauntlet challenge, the excitement of the battle with the possessed Faith, and the satisfaction gained by the defeat of the Orb – all of it combined together in one heady mix, making her hotter than hellfire.
Riley pushed her back a step, hooking his fingers into the wide neckline of her sweater and tugging it down her arms, so that it bunched up under her cleavage. Roughly pushing the peach satin cups of her bra aside, he bared her small breasts to his hot-eyed gaze, and then pulled up her suede skirt so that it gathered around her slim waist.
Backing her over to the bed, the soldier kissed and nibbled at the slayer’s arched neck, spurred on by her passionate cries of encouragement. They sank down onto the yielding mattress together, exchanging frantic kisses while their hands roamed over each other’s half-dressed bodies.
“God Buffy – you are so beautiful. I love you so much.” Riley groaned against her lips, before he bent his head and drew one of her tightly puckered nipples into his mouth.
Buffy felt a stab of guilt at that – she wasn’t really sure of her feelings for him anymore. She cared about him a lot. She lusted after him – I mean, who wouldn’t? But love? She didn’t know anymore. Her craving for Angel still existed – Riley was second best, a substitute.
The soldier’s hand crept possessively up between her thighs and he stroked her through the material of her panties, making her insides clench despite her confusion. He bit and sucked at her breasts until she clutched at his hair, holding him to her and pushing her hips up into his with a low moan.
God, she wanted this, needed the physical and emotional release with an unexplainable urgency.
“Riley please – I want you to…”
Buffy pushed his head away from her breasts, and reached down to tear off her panties, using her slayer strength to rip the cotton material. With her fingers threaded through his short sandy hair, she encouraged Riley lower, wanting his mouth against her moist folds, his tongue teasing her throbbing clitoris.
“Oh yes, that’s it baby!” she breathed as he obligingly licked up the length of her slick sex.
Glancing downwards, she briefly flashed on the image of a dark – rather than blond – head buried between her thighs, and almost came there and then. Screwing her eyes tightly shut and fisting the sheets in her hands, Buffy concentrated on the pleasure her boyfriend was affording her, trying to banish all thoughts of her ex from her mind. It wasn’t fair to Riley to think about Angel in this way – she knew it wasn’t right; she just couldn’t help it sometimes.
As the soldier’s tongue continued to coax her to new heights of arousal, the slayer surrendered to her body’s demands for sexual relief, and stopped worrying about the rightness, or wrongness, of the situation. She would deal with the intricacies of her complicated love life later.
Angel looked up from his book as the bedroom door creaked open. A world-weary Cordelia stepped into the room and quietly pushed the door shut behind her.
“Hey you,” he said softly.
“Hey,” the seer returned his greeting, wandering over to stand by the armchair that he was sitting in. She looked down at the sleeping slayer. “How’s she doing?”
“Not so good at the moment,” the vampire replied gravely. “But she’ll get through it – she’s strong.”
“I see she’s also a bed hog,” Cordelia observed with a smile, noting the way that Faith was sprawled face down, her long legs and arms reaching out to every corner of the mattress.
Angel laughed, “Seems so – I thought it best to keep an eye on her tonight. We’ll be able to reclaim our room when the shock wears off a bit. I’m fine here – you take the sofa.”
“We’re not going home then?”
The vampire shook his head, “No, not yet – Lorne said he didn’t mind if we stayed a bit longer. Wes and Faith are both going to need taking care of, and there’s not really enough room at our place for all of us.”
“No, I guess not.” Cordelia agreed.
She stretched her arms high above her head and yawned. “Well, I’m going to take a shower. Hot and sweaty doesn’t even cover it – I smell like a vagrant.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Angel smiled, his brown eyes dancing with amusement.
“Care to join me?” the seer asked coyly, lowering her gaze and peering at him through her dark eyelashes.
The vampire glanced once at the dead-to-the-world slayer, and then rose to his feet, reaching out to take his girlfriend’s offered hand.
“Don’t mind if I do,” he replied, and the two of them retreated into the private domain of the on-suite bathroom, their fingers locked firmly together.