Title: Flowers on the Razor Wire

Author: alee

Rating: NC-17 for non-consensual sex, violence, and other unpleasant things; take note, this is NOT for the faint of heart.

Disclaimer: They're not mine. Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox own them all. Also, the title is borrowed from Sisters of Mercy; it's from a song called Ribbons, and you can find it on their Vision Thing album. Please don't sue; other than a fairly interesting essay on visual imagery in the poems of Emily Dickinson, I have nothing of value...

Distribution: Please ask first, but unless I've been taken over by the pod-people, I'll probably say yes.

Timeline/Spoilers: It's season 4, same timeline as the show, with a couple of major "revisions": namely, Parker never existed and Buffy and Riley were never more than friends.

Feedback: Yes, please :) Even if it's just to say "this story stinks", please send the comments my way: GothPhyle@aol.com

Buffy stood by the grave, the loamy scent of the freshly turned dirt sharp in the night air. Gazing sadly at the inscription on the headstone, she wiped a lone tear from her cheek, her eyes liquid with sorrow that weeping wouldn't ease. Kneeling, she placed the bouquet of lavender and lilacs on the ground, a fitting ornament for the final resting place of the gentle soul shrouded below.

"I'm sorry", she whispered, "so, so sorry", as her finger traced the chiseled words, the final testament to the man who, more than anything else, had been a friend.

Riley Finn
Beloved Son, Faithful Friend,
and Gentle Warrior.
Gone, but not Forgotten.

It still didn't seem real to her, still hard to fathom how Riley, gentle, thoughtful Riley, could have been the one to die, cut down in battle, fighting the fight that was not his to win or lose. After the debacle with Maggie Walsh, and her subsequent death, Riley had been summarily discharged from the Initiative, his contact with the organization completely severed, and his weapons confiscated. It was a measure of his nature that, even without the advantages and fail-safes afforded him through the Initiative, he was unable to turn a blind eye to the evils that lurked in every shadow, and continued to fight nightly, sometimes with Buffy, sometimes alone: a de-facto member of the 'Scooby Gang'. Buffy always thought that at least some of his motivation for continuing the "good fight", as he phrased it, was loneliness and the desire to forget what he had lost. For with his alienation from the Initiative came not only the loss of his identity, but of close friendships built over the years. Buffy ached to see the sadness in his eyes, the melancholy pain of isolation she could identify with all to well; it hurt even more to realize that she was at least partly to blame, for without her influence in his life, she was sure Riley would have been happily ensconced in his life as "Agent Finn", hunting 'hostiles', and joking around with Graeme and Forrest... but such was not the case. Most sad of all, she saw a yearning in his eyes, an unspoken love for her that she could never return, not in the way he wanted. How tragic, she often thought, that he should have given up so much for someone who could never love him in return.

Then, a few nights ago, the truly unthinkable had happened; Buffy and Riley had been patrolling together, when they had come upon an unexpected nest of vampires. The conflict had been short and fierce, leaving several piles of ashes and one savagely battered body in its wake. Still unused to fighting demons with only mortal strength as back-up, but desperate to aid Buffy, Riley had jumped into the fray, and after sustaining countless bone-crushing blows before Buffy was able to reach him, he died in her arms, blood running from his ears and mouth, his pleading gaze locked with her own for short, agonizing moments, before they dimmed forever.

Startled out of her reverie by the sound of drunken voices, Buffy rose to her feet quickly. Glancing uneasily about, she saw she was surrounded by a group of commandos, led by Forrest and Graeme. Taking a step backwards, eyes darting around to seek the cause of their patrol, she was even more unsettled to sense no paranormal presence, only the menacing tide of humanity that blocked her
every route.

"What's up, guys?" she asked warily, "Something big on the loose?"

"Nothing but the cunt that got my friend killed", Forrest snarled in reply.

"I know you're upset, so I'm going to overlook the fact-" Buffy said, the beginnings of anger stirring within her, only to be cut off by the enraged soldier.

"We're not gonna 'overlook' the fact that you got our friend killed", he said dangerously, taking a threatening step towards her, "or the fact that if it hadn't been for you, he never would have left the Initiative. You led that boy around by the dick until he couldn't think straight, and you still didn't let him go. You had Riley wrapped up in knots, and he was too blind to see that you were just stringing him along. Well, I think it's time to see if you were worth the wait" he leered, drawing closer as he motioned with his hand, and the other soldiers tightened their ranks, flanking Buffy on all sides.

Realizing too late their intent, Buffy's heart began to pound as she sought to break free from the feral crowd, but there were simply too many off them, and within moments she was pinned to the ground, two men holding each wrist and ankle spread-eagled, a knife at her throat.

"Let's see what the Slayer's been holding out", Graeme smirked, as he took the razor edge of a nine inch blade, and sliced the clothing from her body. "Well, well, VERY nice" he sneered, "and I think it's time for us all to enjoy." What followed next was unbearable, a never-ending nightmare of pain and degradation. Graeme went first, slamming his erection into dry, protesting, virginal tissue that had only know the touch of one man, on a night long ago. Feeling the tender flesh tear, and hearing Buffy whimper in pain, he smiled cruelly, and thrust himself into her roughly, delighting in her torment. Finishing quickly, he roughly withdrew, further abrading the already abused passage, and stood aside, his member stained with her blood, as Forrest took his place. On and on it went, the soldiers alternating their places at her hands and feet, until eight of the twelve had spent themselves between her thighs. When the ninth took his place, finding her passage slick from the blood of countless lacerations and the cum of those before him, he sent a quick question to Graeme, who smiled darkly.

"Might as well break her in good", he chuckled.

Realizing what they intended, Buffy began to fight weakly as they turned her over onto her stomach. But, just as before, her struggles proved ineffective, and she was forced to lie there, trembling in horror, face pressed into the dirt, and the soldier spread her legs and took his place. Bracing herself for what she knew was to come, she tried desperately to escape within herself and flee from this nightmare, but was forced back to reality with the first wave of agony, as he thrust into her. Mewling and gasping, she endured as the last three men ripped into her. Finally, it was over, and Buffy lay trembling as Graeme flipped her over onto her back.

"Thanks for a fun time, Buffy" he leered, "we'll have to do it again some time. But, in case we don't get the chance, I'd hate for you to forget..." he said, trailing the knife menacingly down her torso to just below her breasts "... so, I thought I'd leave you with a little something to remember us by." Buffy screamed at the first slice of the knife, and the next, before mercifully passing out. It was a sad irony that on this night, no-one came to answer the cries of the girl who had saved the world.

Buffy swam towards consciousness, the pain in her body throbbing with every breath. Whimpering, she sat up slowly. Disoriented she raised a trembling hand to her ribcage, gasping as fires of agony shot through her. Glancing down at her hand, she saw that it glistened wetly, the dark blood almost black in the moonlight. More blood pooled between her thighs, and clumps of clotted blood decorated her abdomen and legs. Dazedly taking stock of her surroundings, she was puzzled to find herself naked, her clothing on the ground beside her. She struggled to her feet, her only instinct to get away from this place. Dimly, in the back of her mind, a voice whispered of things, terrible things that had happened... recoiling in terror, the part of her mind that was still functioning shut down even more, back into the comforting cocoon of darkness, her only thought to leave. Shaking her head in confusion, she tried to organize her thought, her mind filled with half-completed thoughts, jumbling together in random chaos. Mustn't let Giles see... can't go to Willow's... don't let mom... no hospitals...

Staggering, naked, each step a painful exercise in endurance, she made her way to the only haven her shattered mind could conceive; the mansion on Crawford Street. Creeping through its musty corridors, she at last reached her destination; the quiet dark room with its velvet curtains and large bed. Burrowing amongst the pillows, she collapsed once again in unconsciousness, her only thought the softly whispered name that drifted through the room.


Angel drove towards Sunnydale, his mind filled with dread, and his heart heavy with concern. Since the call from Giles, stating that Buffy had been missing for 24 hours and all they had to go on was a pile of shredded clothing they found at Riley's grave which Willow identified as Buffy's, he had been seized by a desperate sense of urgency to find her, to hold her in his arms, to know that she was safe. Throughout the interminable drive, Angel had reflected on Buffy, and his love for her, and had come to the conclusion that he could no longer live without her. He vowed that if they found her alive, and if she still wanted her life to be with him, there would be no more leaving for her "own good". It was sad that it had taken this turn of events to make him realize that Buffy had been right all along; Slayer's could never have a "normal" life, and she should at least be allowed whatever happiness he could offer. Once again cursing himself for his stupidity, he pulled to a stop in front of Giles' house, and leaped out of the car, frantic to learn more about Buffy's strange disappearance.

Thirty minutes later he left, having no more to go on than when he arrived, and with the grim memory of the tattered clothing ricocheting through his soul. Very much afraid that where ever Buffy was, she was hurt, he made his way to the mansion, arriving just as dawn's first rays brightened the sky. Hurrying indoors, he was brought up short by the strong scent of blood that assailed his nostrils. Though the powerful odor of blood mixed with the essence of sex would have been enough to set his senses on edge, it was the fact that the blood was unquestionably Buffy's that raised the hair on the back of his neck. Frantically calling her name, racing through the mansion towards the source of the scent, he stopped in horror when he reached the bedroom, confronted by the sight of his beloved crouched on the bed, naked and bleeding, shivering in terror as her blind gaze met his.


The sound echoed through the empty halls of her mind, gently piercing the safe isolation of her world. Dimly, the sense that this word was familiar filtered from deep inside, but nothing could penetrate the haze clouding her thoughts. Slowly rocking back and forth, she crooned to herself, low, wordless sounds of comfort that failed to truly reassure. Gazing blankly ahead, she saw a figure silhouetted in the doorway. No recognition flared within her, only the sickening sense that here was strength, and danger. Fresh waves of horror rolled over her as the primal knowledge of "man" sank within her soul. Mewling in terror, short gasping cries breaking from her throat, she scrabbled backwards, off the bed and into the corner, too weak to stand but desperate to escape. Her cries escalating to keening wails, she saw him come towards her, a slow relentless stalking she knew she could not evade. Curling tightly into herself, wrapping her arms about her legs and burying her face against her knees, she waited in exhausted resignation for his attack.

That's when she felt it; a cool, gentle hand stroking softly down her back. The whisper-light caress continued, never deepening into the callous blows her body anticipated. Gradually, her shudders lessened in intensity, and she heard the gentle voice coming from the man at her side. Warily raising her head, she gazed intently into his eyes, their sable depths clouded with concern, and so familiar. A single thought struggled through her shattered consciousness, holding the promise of safety, and love.

"Angel?" she breathed, not fully knowing the meaning of the word, but sensing that it offered her only sanctuary.

"Yes, Buffy, it's Angel" he replied, his voice breaking with the crimson tears he could no longer contain.

Sighing softly, she leaned forward until her head rested against his chest. As his hands continued their gentle benediction, she relaxed her vigil, closing her eyes and succumbing to the inviting embrace of oblivion, her last impression that of the soft melody of wordless reassurances he crooned against her hair.

Angel sat motionless for long moments, her delicate form supported against him, frightened to move lest he wake her and rouse once again the mindless terror he had witnessed in her eyes moments before. Shifting slightly, he nestled her in his embrace before rising to his feet and bearing her carefully to the bed. Stopped short by the pool of blood anointing the place where she had been crouched atop the spread, he pivoted quickly and made his way from the room, not stopping until he reached the plush sofa near the fireplace. Laying her tenderly on its surface, he froze in panic as he beheld the injuries his soul so desperately sought to deny. Bruises marred her pale flesh, the imprints of cruel hands and fingers decorating her wrists and ankles. More dark marks adorned her arms and thighs, and both breasts bore the unmistakable marks of several human bites. A small trickle of blood had dried against her throat, the remnants of a shallow knife wound, and several long slashes still bled freely from her torso, spelling the word *WHORE* in crimson letters. The blood from the knife wounds trailed down her abdomen, and mingled with the seepage from between her thighs, the source of the blood he had seen on the bed. Reaching out with a trembling hand, he carefully shifted her legs, viewing with horror the torn and lacerated flesh between. Stifling the urge to collapse in a grief stricken mass by her side, knowing that he had to keep it together for her sake, he desperately tried to marshal his thoughts. Knowing that she undoubtedly needed medical attention, and knowing too that he would never send her to the hospital alone in her terrified state, he cursed the daylight that kept him locked within the walls of the mansion. Swiftly reaching a decision, he hurried to the bedroom and returned with a blanket. After wrapping her battered body in its folds, he called Giles, telling him only to come immediately. Then he waited, his love cradled in his embrace, weeping.

Giles sat exhausted within the dim shadows of the mansion, emotionally numb after the events of the day. He had thought his years as a Watcher had prepared him for every challenge, inured him to any evil, but the sight of his Slayer, the girl whom he loved as a daughter, broken and bleeding, terrified of even him, had proven just how false those confidences were. Removing his glasses, wearily rubbing his eyes, he remembered the sick rage that had filled him when he arrived early that morning in answer to Angel's cryptic summons.

For long moments he had stood transfixed, desperately trying to deny the evidence before his eyes, until the bitter reality of the situation could no longer be disputed. Ironically, it was his concern for Buffy, his need to comfort her, that had inadvertently worsened matters, bringing them all to the current state of affairs. When Angel had met him, standing aback from the sun-filled doorway with her sleeping form clutched tightly to his chest, Giles had instinctively rushed to her, calling her name and reaching a trembling hand to push the tangled strands of hair from her face. Whether it was the sound of his voice or the unsolicited touch which acted as the catalyst, they would never know; what they were all too painfully aware of was Buffy's reaction. Screaming hoarsely, she shrank from him, thrashing wildly in Angel's embrace as she tried to flee. Despite all of Angel's attempts to soothe her, the murmured endearments bathing her brow, she didn't quiet until he carried her deep within the shadowed corridors of the mansion. Hoping against all odds that her initial hysteria had been a fluke of fortune, Giles approached the couple; once again, Buffy reacted with mindless terror, scrambling frantically to get away, held only by the gentle strength of Angel's arms.

His apprehension growing by the moment, Giles called both Joyce and the emergency services, only to be met with the awful truth that is was not merely his presence that disturbed Buffy's fragile mental state; anyone other than Angel elicited the same terror. Poor Angel, Giles sighed, of all of them, he had to have suffered most when the EMS medics had to take Buffy away, drugged but not sedated, strapped to a stretcher and screaming his name. In the eerie silence that descended after Buffy left in the ambulance, accompanied by her mother, Giles had looked into Angel's stricken gaze, veiled by crimson tears, and promised him that they would take care of her until sunset allowed him to be at her side. Sadly, it was a promise he had not been able to keep. He had arrived at Sunnydale General scant minutes behind the ambulance, and been shown immediately into the ER waiting room. Joyce was soon ushered in by two orderlies, and Giles felt fresh stirrings of alarm. His apprehension proved justified, as the weeping mother related the fact that the doctors had been unable to sedate Buffy, no doubt an unlucky benefit of the Slayer's constitution, and that she had been escorted from the treatment room, her last image that of her baby, held down on an examining table, screaming for Angel. Feeling nauseous, sick with rage and fear, Giles paced the waiting room, waiting impatiently for news of Buffy's condition, and trying futiley to figure out a way to get Angel to her. After what seemed like hours, a grave faced doctor emerged to speak with them about Buffy's condition. Following a long report on her injuries, which were serious but not life threatening once the knife wounds and vaginal lacerations had been sutured and the bleeding stopped, the physician stated that his most pressing concern was for his patient's mental state. After a lengthy discussion in which Giles and Joyce informed him of Buffy's hysterical fear of hospitals, and after giving their pledge to call immediately if her condition worsened, they were reluctantly given permission to take Buffy home. After promising the police officer who had arrived in response to the injury report that they would contact him when Buffy was able to give a statement, they were finally allowed to leave the hospital.

The ride back to the mansion was short and tense. Although Buffy no longer lashed out when Giles and Joyce approached her, she made it very clear that they were not to touch her. Huddled in the far corner of Joyce's backseat, she flinched violently and whimpered in agitation whenever one of them turned to look in her direction. Arriving at the mansion, Giles panicked momentarily, wondering how they would coax her inside without breaching the boundaries she had so clearly established; he need not have worried. Whispering Angel's name, she limped painfully towards the entrance, instinctively recognizing the haven she sought. Now, hours later, Giles sat on the sofa, his gaze drawn through the doorway to the poignant sight within the bedroom; the Slayer, at last in peace, cradled in the arms of her Angel.

Buffy existed in limbo, her thoughts cocooned safely within the comfortable numbness surrounding her mind. Her world had narrowed until it was comprised solely of him. His hands, which bathed her like a babe, dressed her tenderly in soft cotton shirts that carried his reassuring scent, brushed her hair with a slow, sensual rhythm, and soothed her fears in the night with gentle caresses on her face. His lips, which sipped the tears from her cheeks and delivered nourishment from his mouth to hers when panic overwhelmed her, and the cup or spoon or bowl was too frighteningly unfamiliar to allow so near her face. His voice, which crooned to her, soft words of comfort and love, and wordless melodies that calmed her, reminding her that she was not alone, that safety was near. His arms, those strong limbs which shielded her from the world and immersed her in quiet, promising protection, forever. Most of all his eyes, which showered her with tender concern, shining with delight at the smallest things-- her gaze meeting his, focused and clear even if only for a moment, the fleeting ghost of a smile, his name, the only word to cross her lips-- and clouding with pain at each whimper, each flinch. It was that pain which called to her, tempting her from the warm nest of safety to which she had retreated. The desperate need to offer succor, to ease his anguish, touched her as nothing else could. So, climbing slowly through the fog that had blanketed her soul for weeks, she at last surfaced to full awareness, and to him.


Angel turned at the first sound of her voice, ready to offer whatever comfort he could, to soothe those fears within his power to calm, and stopped short at the lucid awareness in the hazel gaze that met his. Swallowing, hardly daring to believe the miracle before him, he closed his eyes tightly for a moment, expecting this vision to disappear like the mirage it doubtless was, an illusion conjured forth by his exhausted mind. Instead, he found blessed sanity, and a small, trembling smile. Flooded with an overwhelming sense of relief, and joy, he reached a shaking hand to touch her face and wipe away the slow tears which tracked their way down her alabaster cheek.

"Buffy", he breathed hoarsely, "oh, Buffy... thank God. I-" His voice broke, words not adequate to express the roiling emotions raging within: delight, that she had returned from the dark world where she'd hidden, sorrow, that now she would have to face the memories of that awful night, but most of all love, and devotion, to this girl who still held his heart in the palms of her hands.

Compelled by the mute appeal in his eyes, driven by her desire to reassure him and her own need for comfort, Buffy closed the small distance between them, astonished at how weak she felt, as if just the effort of shifting her weight was a herculean task. Reaching up to slide her arms about his neck, she winced at the pinching pull originating from the wounds transversing her torso, before settling comfortably against his chest, her head pillowed in the hollow of his neck. Sensing her discomfort, Angel hastened to assure her comfort, asking if she needed another pillow, or medication for the pain.

"Just you," she replied, "just hold me..."

"For as long as you want, love, as long as you want", his rich voice murmured softly, promising rest and solace.

With a tired sigh, Buffy once again closed her eyes and drifted into a natural, healing sleep. It was scant minutes later that Angel joined her in slumber, at peace for the first time in weeks, his face cradled against her palm.

The next day, Buffy made the call that Angel had been dreading since she returned from the hospital. Despite his misgivings, and his suggestion that they wait a few more days, Buffy insisted that enough time had been wasted already, and that this was something she had to do. So it was that Angel found himself seated in the mansion's great room, a frail, blanket-wrapped Buffy atop his lap, listening with barely leashed fury as she gave her statement to the police. The demon in him howled with primal rage to hear how his mate had been violated, and his soul writhed in agony to think of his beloved suffering such a fate. Time seemed to crawl as he was buffeted with each scalding detail, and he carefully tightened his embrace, fighting the urge to crush her to him and end this painful revelation. Finally, the ordeal was done, and he settled her gingerly on the soft cushions before escorting the officer to the door. After securing his promise to inform them as soon as arrests were made, Angel secured the lock and returned to find Buffy staring sightlessly into the fireplace, where orange flames danced merrily. Walking silently to stand behind her, he reached out a hand to touch her shoulder softly, startled when she shrieked and flung herself away, turning to face him, half-crouched, hands raised to ward off this new threat. Dropping to his knees in front of her, he extended his arms towards her, palms up in supplication, as he spoke softly to her.

"It's just me, Buffy. It's Angel. No-one else is here. It's just us, just you and me. You're safe here..."

Long moments passed until, after what felt like an eternity, the panic cleared from Buffy's gaze, and the tension in her posture relaxed. Realizing what she had done, she sank to the floor, her face buried in her palms, fragmented apologies barely discernible amidst the cathartic sobs which shook her frame.

Gathering her to him, his movements slow and deliberate lest he send her into another wave of terror, Angel led her into the bedroom. After a quick trip to the bathroom, he returned with a mild sedative which he insisted she take. Wrapping his arm about her shoulders, he urged her into the bathroom, where she sat motionless while he ran steaming water into the large tub. Adding several handfuls of bath salts to the warm pool, he turned to face Buffy, noting the drowsiness already clouding her eyes. His only thought to relax her, he knelt in front of her, hesitantly asking if she minded him being there while she bathed. Her slumberous eyes met his uncomprehendingly for a moment, before she blinked, smiling sleepily as she shook her head no. Reverently unbuttoning the oversize shirt she wore, a task which her leaden arms were incapable of, he slipped it from her arms, lifting her and carefully lowering her into the delicious warmth. With her head pillowed against his strong forearm, laid across the back of the tub, Buffy closed her eyes and gave herself up to the soothing sensuality of the water. At the first touch of his cool hand against her throat, her eyes flew open in alarm, but the sight of his dear, familiar face and the quiet concern in his dark eyes reassured her. Her gaze locked with his, she luxuriated in the love reflected there as his hand traced slowly down her body, his chilled flesh a unique contrast to the heat of her liquid bed. His movements slow, he paused at each new territory, silently asking her permission to continue. Finding no refusal, he continued his tactile journey, caressing each wound, each hurt, with fervent artistry. Quiescent beneath his familiar touch, Buffy relaxed into a tranquil lassitude, lulled by the soft lapping of the water against her flesh, and the silken glide of Angel's soap slicked hand gliding over her skin, his touch whisper-soft, guaranteeing no hurt to her still healing wounds. She tensed when his hand slipped between her thighs, her eyes flying open to meet his, but stopped his movement when he made to withdraw, pressing her hand against his, holding against her tender surface. After a whispered assurance that she wasn't afraid, she deliberately closed her eyes, relaxing her thighs, offering her complete trust. Humbled by the gift she offered, Angel blinked the tears from his eyes, and bathed the battered, but unbroken form of his soul-mate. Giving herself fully to the sensuality of the experience, she luxuriated in Angel's tender ministrations, designed not to arouse, but to soothe, and soon drifted into sleep, a small smile playing about her lips. Placing a soft kiss against her sleep slackened mouth, Angel drew her carefully from the water, dried her thoroughly with a soft towel, and carried her into the bedroom, where he situated her amongst the blankets. Gazing down at the purity of her profile, he allowed himself to believe that maybe, just maybe, she was going to be all right. Checking the locks on the doors one last time, he returned to join her, pleased beyond words when she roused slightly and turned to him, nestling against his side, an arm flung over his chest and one leg draped across his thighs, his name uttered on a yawn, followed by a soft kiss to his chin before she drifted back to sleep.

The following days became a test of love, and friendship, and conviction. The first battle began two days after Buffy had given her statement to the police, when Angel received a call from Giles, telling him that no charges were likely to be pressed against Graeme, Forrest, or their accomplices; it seemed that the Initiative really did hold itself above the law, and all the commandos had airtight alibis, backed by the word of no less than 3 colonels and one general. Somehow managing not to reveal the true purpose of the organization, this testimony cloaked Buffy's attackers in the mantle of military respectability, and insured any further attempts to bring them to justice would accomplish naught but further discrediting their accusers. The thought that these monsters, whose actions continued to torment Buffy in her dreams and filled her mind with dark memories that clouded her waking hours, would go free enraged him, and he could feel the demon straining at his bounds, yearning to break free and dispense "justice" in his own way. Angel laughed mirthlessly to recall his words to Doyle months earlier; it was true that you "never know your strength until you've been tested". The difference was that, while he had thought living with the solitary memories of his erased day with Buffy was a difficult test, allowing her attackers to go unpunished was infinitely worse. Knowing that killing them would surely cost him his soul, and knowing that his loss would likely destroy her, it was still all he could do to resist the voice shrieking in his mind, telling him to rip them limb from limb, emasculate and eviscerate them, pay them back in spades for daring to harm his mate. He could almost feel their flesh rip, their limbs break, could nearly taste their blood, hot and ripe with fear and pain, as it slid down his hands and throat. Revenge would be sweet indeed, he thought grimly, but her safety and sanity were far more important than the fleeting satisfaction of watching them die.

So it was that he devoted himself to her, beginning to coax her out, tempting her beyond the safe confines of the mansion. First, for a quick stroll in the early evening, to listen to the soft cricket song and admire the crisp beauty of the stars, silver drops twinkling in a sea of indigo. Then, for a short patrol, her skills having been preserved with the soothing ritual of tai chi and light sparring in which they immersed themselves just before bed. That maiden voyage back into the night had been difficult, with Buffy attuned to every noise, every presence, in an anxious way that had never marked her ventures as Slayer. The appearance of two young fledglings, both male, their faces twisting in the macabre visage of the demons within, had proven a stumbling block, a sudden danger from behind. But Buffy, though momentarily frozen, had quickly shaken herself from memory's embrace, and made short work of them. Angel could still feel the pride, the joy, in that step towards recovery, heralding the stirrings of the strong, self-confident identity so cruelly stripped away.

One obstacle loomed, however, and it was to be tackled tonight. Since the attack, Buffy had lived in a cocoon of isolation, her only contact with Angel save for occasional short visits from Giles, Joyce, or Xander and Willow. Despite her ability to patrol, to slay, the presence of other human males, even Giles and Xander, was enough to set her on edge. Finally deciding that the only way to conquer her fears was to face them, Buffy announced to Angel that the time for hiding had passed. Tonight, she was facing her demons. Tonight she was going to stop hiding. Tonight... they were going to the Bronze.

Angel stood near the door, waiting for her to emerge, dressed in black leather pants and a wine silk shirt. He had been a bit taken aback by Buffy's request that he wear this particular ensemble, but her explanation that she hoped maybe the clothing would help distract her melted any argument he might have made. One corner of his mouth lifted in a slight smile as he ruefully acknowledged that the discomfort of the clothing Buffy had described as "so sexy they're drool-worthy" was a small price to pay if it would give her peace of mind. Glancing up, his attention caught by the slight sound of rustling fabric, he saw his goddess, dressed in a long black skirt which drifted and flowed about her ankles and a simple white peasant style blouse. Low heeled ankle boots laced across her slim feet, and her hair was piled loosely atop her head with a few golden tendrils teasing her shoulders. As always, he stood absolutely still for a moment, stunned by her beauty.

"Does this look OK?" she asked softly, one hand nervously smoothing the skirt from waist to hip.

"You look lovely Buffy", he replied. "But then, you always do". The smile she loved so much graced his face, calling an answering grin from within her.

"Guess I'll just have to take your word for that, since there are still no mirrors around here..." she teased.

"Well, if you want another opinion we could swing by Willow's on the way."

"Nope, I think I'll just go with your opinion. Which, considering you're age, may be fashion suicide."

"Yeah, but don't forget, I've been working with Cordelia for months. I have an entirely new appreciation for the finer points of women's fashion."

Her tinkling laughter, music to his soul, trailed off abruptly as her expression turned serious.

"Mom's clothes aren't usually my style, but everything else just made me feel so... exposed. And I didn't really think wearing jeans was the way to go, so I thought maybe this..." she trailed off, glancing down and gesturing at the skirt.

Understanding flooded him at once, mingling with aching compassion. Stepping forward until her breath brushed softly against his throat, he cupped her chin in his palm and turned her face to meet his.

"You've never looked lovelier, but if you would be more comfortable in pants, then go and change. Whatever you decide, just know I'll be at your side, and this stops whenever you say."

Resolve hardening her gaze, and driving the ghosts of uncertainty from her eyes, she smiled and shook her head.

"No, I'm fine like this. You know, for a quiet, broody guy, you sure know what to say." smiling impishly, she headed for the door, her hand safely ensconced in his.

The music was throbbing, a driving syncopated beat that shook the walls and made the tables vibrate, when the arrived. Willow, Oz, Xander, and Anya were supposed to meet them later, but for now it was just the two of them, adrift in a pulsing, sweating sea of humanity. Buffy was on edge, her senses tingling, stomach roiling with sick awareness of the people around them. Attempting to distract her, Angel began regaling Buffy with tales of life in L.A.; Cordelia's toxic coffee, the ghost in her apartment, his utter failure to "mingle" at her party. Sensing that she was only half listening, tension drawing her tighter with each passing moment, he finally gave up, content to stand behind her, a bulwark whose arm draped casually about her shoulders provided a fortress of security. After a few moments, the music shifted from frenetic techno to hypnotic instrumental, and Angel coaxed Buffy onto the dance floor. As they swayed to the melody, Buffy stood within the circle of his arms, her cheek against his shoulder, hands draped about his neck, her passive posture belied by the nervous anxiety trembling through her body. Suddenly, a couple brushed against them, too involved in a passionate kiss to notice mundane things like their proximity to other dancers. At the unexpected feel of a human form pressed to her back, Buffy panicked. Gasping, she froze, her eyes dilating with stress. Angel quickly maneuvered to a dark corner, where they would be unobserved as he tried to calm her. Placing himself between her and the crowd, he cupped her face in his hands, urgently calling her name, the soft, breathless sounds coming from her throat lost in the din of the club. Finally, her eyes focused, and a steady stream of tears began to trace down her cheeks.

"Angel, I just couldn't handle it. That guy, he bumped into me... and all I could feel was his body crowding in on me. He was so hot, and that smell... God! I can't even handle the smell of human sweat!! What am I going to do? Angel, what am I going to do?" she asked desperately.

"You're going to go back out there. I'm going to be with you, and we're going to get through this."

"No, I can't!! What if some other guy bumps into me? What if next time I freak even more? I hate it when I freeze like that; it's like I can't even breathe, and every time I'm afraid I won't come back. God, Angel, that scares me most of all... What if I just snap? What then?"

"That's not going to happen, Buffy, I'm here with you, and you're stronger than you think. But even if you do "snap", I'll still be here, and you'll come back to me when you're ready, just like you did before." With those words, he turned to lead her back to the floor.

"Angel, I can't!! There's too many people, and--"

"Shhhhhh. Just trust me, just close your eyes."

Staring into his eyes, reading the love there, Buffy gave a tired sigh and lowered her eyelids. Humbled by her trust, Angel placed a tender kiss on her forehead before guiding her forward. Blind to her surroundings, Buffy was surprised when Angel inverted their earlier position, coming to stand behind her. Opening her eyes in startled reflex, she found herself facing the throng of fellow dancers, able to see everyone around them, with Angel's cool reassurance flush against her back. Sighing in relief, she relaxed into him, moving slowly to the sensuous rhythm. As the minutes wore on, she calmed further, again closing her eyes, giving herself to the pleasure of dancing with the man she loved. His touch was sure on her waist, one hand resting softly against the nearly healed wounds on her torso, the other pressed against her abdomen. The chill of his flesh seeped through her clothing, providing a seductive contrast to the air surrounding her, charged with the heat of mortal desire. Tipping her head back to rest against his shoulder, she shivered voluptuously at the feel of his lips pressing sweet, unhurried kisses from the delicate flesh behind her ear to the inviting hollow where neck met shoulder. Pausing there, he suckled softly, his talented tongue spreading cool fire. With a start, Buffy recognized the first stirrings of desire as her nipples peaked beneath her blouse and soft flutterings of tingling heat blossomed in her abdomen. Pressing his hands more firmly against her, she leaned more heavily into him, a low moan of arousal breaking from her lips. They continued their erotic dance for many minutes, until the music stopped and they were left alone in a dark, hazy corner.

Staring into her face, hardly daring to believe the want he saw there, Angel stood transfixed.

"Buffy, are you OK?" he whispered, hoping against hope that he had not misread the lambent sensuality in her gaze.

Raising her slumberous eyes to meet his, Buffy smiled dreamily.

"For the first time in a long time, I think I am. I never thought I would feel this way again, but with you..." she trailed off, suddenly realizing the truth of her words.

The thought of being this close to another man, filled her with revulsion. She could almost feel the suffocating panic of months before at the thought of sweaty hands and harsh breaths, a hot form pinning her down... But with Angel, all she noticed was the delicious chill of his touch, the wonderful skill of his lips, the love in his eyes. That was the difference; with anyone else it was just lust, and act that left her heart cold, too easily confused with the cruel violation she had known. With Angel, it was the physical expression of a soul deep bond, as far removed from fleshly lust as the luminous moon was from the garish day.

Stroking his face softly, she kissed him, her tongue darting quickly between his lips and teeth to duel with his. Thrusting within his mouth, she licked the slick surface of the roof of his mouth, then thrust her tongue repeatedly, an erotic imitation of the mating act. Growling softly, he cupped her head in his hands, and returned the kiss measure for measure. His tongue entered the warm confines of hers, and traced slow patterns in the humid moisture there. One hand trailed slowly down her neck before curling around her waist, drawing her slight form tightly against him. Eagerly following his lead, Buffy snaked her arms bout his neck, pulling him closer as she began to rub suggestively against him, wickedly aware of the solid length of aroused flesh pressing against her stomach. Suddenly aware of how far things had gone, Angel abruptly broke the kiss.

"Buffy, I'm so sorry, I don't know what-" Buffy stopped his apology with a finger against his lips.

"The only thing you should apologize for is stopping" she said, a wicked gleam in her eyes. "But, I'm sure you can make it up to me if we leave now..." she said suggestively.

"What about the others? Won't they be worried if-" again Buffy stopped the conversation, this time with the aid of a hot, wet kiss.

"I think this is a little more important that cappuccinos with the gang, don't you?"

"Are you sure? Really sure? Because if you're not..."

"I've never been more sure of anything. Angel, I don't want them to win, I don't want to let them destroy me. The thought of another man sickens me; I couldn't be with anyone else after you left, it just felt wrong. Now... it's all I can do not to scream at the thought of someone else's hands on me. God! Even Giles! I can't even accept a hug from the man who's been a father to me without feeling like I'm going to crawl out of my skin. But you... when you touch me, all I feel is love. I don't know if I can go through with this, but I have to try. Please... take me home, make love to me."

"It would be my honor" he whispered in reply, his eyes glistening with emotion as they headed for the door.

Arriving back at the mansion, Buffy paused only long enough to call Willow, and leave a message for her, pleading a headache as the reason for her early departure, before making her way to the bedroom. What she saw there took her breath away: Angel stood in the dark room, illuminated only by the two large candles on the nightstand, their flickering warmth filling the room with soft light and heady fragrance. Walking slowly towards her, Angel held out his hand in invitation. Without hesitation, she placed her palm in his, and followed him to the bed. Sitting her on its edge, he dropped to his knees on the floor in front of her. Earnestly he held her gaze.

"Buffy, whatever happens tonight is up to you. We do what you want to do, we stop when you want to stop. If anything frightens you, or makes you uncomfortable, tell me. That's all it will take; one word from you, and we stop."

Swallowing nervously, Buffy nodded. "I know. I know you'd never hurt me, but there's this part of me... I'm OK as long as I don't think, you know? But then, the memories creep in, and I... I just freeze. I'm sorry." she whispered, her head lowered in shame.

"You have nothing to be sorry for. We do what you want, when you want. That you would trust me enough to even attempt this humbles me, and I will gladly spend the rest of my life loving you... which, you know, could be a pretty long time." he teased weakly.

Laughing softly through her tears, Buffy leaned forward to press her lips against his, a gentle kiss of apology and affection that soon flared into passion. As their mouths fused in a wet, probing kiss, Angel surged closer until his torso was wedged firmly between her thighs. Stroking his hand down her back, he licked his way down her neck, suckling at her throat as her head fell limply backwards. Feeling her nipples peak against his chest, he purred softly as he nuzzled his way further down until he could envelop one turgid bud in his mouth.

Sliding Buffy closer to the edge of the bed, he tilted her backwards until the weight of her body was supported in his hands, arching her forward so that her breasts thrust sharply into the air. Transferring his attention to her other nipple, Angel licked and laved the aroused flesh, causing it to tighten painfully further, and Buffy to moan with need. Moving from side to side, he caressed and suckled until her blouse was wet through, and her dusky aureoles were clearly visible through the transparent cloth. Pressing soft, open mouthed kisses down her torso, he reached the hem of her shirt, his nostrils assailed by the intoxicating scent of her arousal. Nuzzling his way beneath the offending fabric, he licked a cool trail from her navel to the undersides of her breasts, tenderly tracing the still-red lines of the healing cuts across her ribcage. Reaching a hand from beneath her to unbutton the shirt and peel the edges away, he bared her to his gaze, a work of art in cream and mauve. Kissing his way back up to her neck, he laved short, sharp kisses around her breasts, nibbling and tasting the pillowy softness, while studiously avoiding the throbbing peaks aching for his attention. He smiled, his expression one of primitive male satisfaction, and felt himself harden even more at her moan of frustrated protest, and the flood of warm moisture he could feel between her thighs.

Drawing his hand down to her waist, he began the arduous task of unbuttoning the numerous tiny closures holding the skirt together. Never ceasing his loveplay against her breasts, he flushed with pleasure to hear her breathy cries as he freed the last button, leaving her clad only in white cotton panties. Returning his mouth to hers, he rubbed his chest sensuously against her nipples as he eased his hand between her thighs, finding her mount already bathed in humid warmth. Stroking her swollen labia through the thin barrier, he stopped short at her panicked cry, accompanied by an instinctive attempt to close her thighs to his invasion. Instantly he removed his hand, cradling her face in his palms and meeting her passion-clouded gaze with his own.

"Buffy, what's wrong? Do you want to stop?" he asked softly.

"Yes.. No... I don't know!" she cried. "It felt so good, and then... you were above me, and I was here on my back, and all I could think about was..." she trailed off, her eyes welling with tears.

Moving to sit beside her on the bed, Angel cradled her against his chest, tamping down his own raging desire to comfort her, pressing soft kisses against her temple as he rocked her like a babe. Finally, the tears stopped, and she lay against him exhausted.

"Angel, I'm so sorry" she breathed "I thought I could do this, but-"

"Shhhhh, love, just relax. Everything's all right now. Just rest." Turning so that they lay stretched on the bed, Angel situated Buffy so that she lay on her side, facing outward, snuggled beneath the covers. After hurriedly doffing his shirt and slacks, Angel joined her, spooning his naked flesh against her back. Her mind exhausted by the events of the evening, the solid reassurance of his cool form behind her, Buffy drifted into sleep.

Buffy awoke the next morning, dim trickles of sunlight visible through the open doorway from the hall where dark shades failed to completely block the sun's rays, bathing the room in a muted glow which posed no direct threat to the vampire at her back. The soft kisses which had first roused her continued, as the cool strength of one palm cupped the weight of her breast, his thumb softly rasping the nipple from soft relaxation to swollen awareness. Gently nipping her shoulder, he continued to manipulate her nipples, plucking and pinching the distended flesh until her breath caught in sobs of frustrated arousal with each touch, and her thighs shifted restlessly against his, seeking relief from the aching need that blossomed there. Growling in approval, he slid his hand down to her thigh, raising her leg to lie atop his hip, leaving her open to his caress.

She stiffened for a moment, but their position offered her complete freedom to escape, and she relaxed back against him as one long finger traced the hot, wet center of her desire. Delicately rimming her opening, he probed gently, seeking any sign of lingering discomfort, but finding only melting welcome. Trailing his finger higher, he searched amid her honeyed curls until he found the tight jewel of sensation at the apex of her thighs. Moistening her with her own dew, he began an easy rhythm with his thumb, causing her to twitch and moan with mounting ecstasy. Feeling the tension in her limbs which signaled her impending climax, he slipped two fingers inside, never stopping his stimulation of her nubbin as he massaged her slick channel from within. Buffy hung, suspended on a tortuous rack of pleasure, until, with one last, lingering brush of his thumb, he hurtled her over the edge of the precipice, into a long, throbbing orgasm.

Before she could come down from the heights of languorous pleasure, Angel shifted upwards, placing the broad crown of his erection at her entrance. Continuing to brush her clit with feather light touches, he slowly entered her, gasping at the tight, scalding heat. When he was fully embedded, he wrapped his arms about her, and they nestled motionless for long moments, content merely to be joined, reveling in the closeness. Eventually, however, need overwhelmed them, and Angel began to rock slowly back and forth, a gentle ballet of thrust and withdrawal that sent them spiraling into oblivion. When it was over, and they lay entwined, their bodies melded by the fine sheen of perspiration from her flesh, Buffy turned to face him, her eyes filled with emotion.

"That was beautiful" she whispered. "thank you."

"No, thank you. For your beauty, and your love, and your trust, thank you" Angel refuted, each declaration punctuated by a soft kiss.

Snuggled together beneath the quilt, they shut out another day, content to bask in each other's presence. Each knew there would be difficulties ahead, obstacles and terrors to overcome, but together they would succeed, each strengthened by the other's love. And as Buffy's glorious eyes closed, and she drifted into slumber in his arms, Angel thanked the fates that he had been given this flower to cherish.

Next - Ribbons by Alee

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