Part Four "The Moment of Truth"
LYRICS: All lyrics are from Barenaked Ladies
RATING: PG-13 (for now anyway)
you...you're the last thing on my mind.
Angel was more nervous than he had ever been in his life. Nervous wasn't really even the right word. Terrified or maybe gut twisting horror would be closer. He had an hour before it was time to go the gallery and he was slumped in his armchair looking at the picture he had hung on his wall - Buffy's painting of Ireland. Funny how it kinda became her painting. Before it always reminded him of home and now it reminded him of her.
The past month had been spent mulling over whether he had the right to sell any of the pieces that contained her image. All of his previous models were aware that they were being painted and realized that he would eventually sell the painting. Buffy didn't even know she was a model. He knew there was some rule that was being broken here and was certain that once she recognized herself in any of the paintings it would be over. The mere dislike she must hold for him already would nudge its way to full blown hatred. He sighed as he headed for the shower. There was nothing he could do about it now. All the paintings were already hanging in the gallery, ready for the show. He was fairly certain Buffy had already seen them.
There were only a couple of paintings in the show that were definitely her. Most of them were abstracts of a blonde woman who could be someone else. He threw in a couple of other paintings he had done to mix it up, but he could already see the anger on her face. He could already hear Spike laughing at his folly.
your brain stops ticking
Buffy walked slowly through her gallery, looking over Angel's paintings before the show started. She hadn't hosted very many of these and she was already nervous about that without the whole crush on the artist situation coming into play. She paused before each of his pieces and looked over them intently. She couldn't help but feel like they were speaking to her. Not just as art usually spoke in its dainty way, but these spoke directly to her.
She brushed off the feeling as she continued to wander around her gallery, thankful that Anya had run off to get a few last minute things. She had the whole building to herself and felt enveloped in him, not just his paintings. Many of them contained an unrecognizable blonde woman and she found herself envying the woman who had caught his eye. She was usually looking away or given in a side profile and although she was never nude, she seemed to exude an innocent sexuality that made her blush.
The last painting was a sunset given through a wall of windows. It was the most beautiful of all them and captured sunrise, almost personifying it. The colors blended into one another, raining want and need on the canvas. In the lower corner, the blonde woman stood looking out of the windows at the display. Her face was reflected in the glass and Buffy leaned in to study the girl's face. Her hand flew to her mouth as she recognized her own smiling lips, her own hazel eyes studying a view she had never seen.
dropped your arms to the sides and said, i'm sorry.'
Angel held his breath as he crossed the room. He knew what painting Buffy was staring at before he even looked up. It was the one he felt he had to put in the gallery. It only seemed right that the first real painting he had done correctly with her in it be in this show. He stood behind her for a moment as she stood there, poised before the painting as if she was about to run away and her hand was covering her beautiful mouth in shock.
"Hi," he said quietly, causing her to jump in surprise and turn around to face him. He saw tears in her eyes and he wanted to beg her forgiveness, ask her for one moment of her life to allow him to explain. Only he didn't think he could.
"Hi," she answered. She looked over him, standing there in tight leather pants and a white button down shirt. It would be helpful if he didn't look so perfectly munchable right then.
"You're upset," he said, nodding at the painting. He looked away from her and up at the painting trying to see its faults but this one, unlike his others, didn't seem to have any. He always could find flaws in his work. He always knew later what he should have done differently. For this one painting, he saw it as complete.
"No," she said, shaking her head and speaking slowly as if she didn't trust her voice, "It's beautiful. I just..."
"You just what?" he asked, after a moment of silence had passed between them.
"I just don't understand why you painted me."
"I like you," he said, searching his mind for a better statement and coming up empty. Finally, he just decided to spill it. If she broke his heart, hopefully she would do it quickly and release him from this prison of emotions he had been trapped in."I wanted to capture your beauty on the canvas. I hope you're not upset that I didn't ask your permission first."
"No, I'm not," she said, glancing back at the painting and then at the gorgeous man before her, humbling himself for reasons she really didn't understand, "My beauty?"
"Yes," he said, reaching out involuntarily and touching her cheek, "You're beautiful."
"Buffy!" Anya's voice rang out as she tromped in the gallery door with her arms loaded with a box of miscellaneous last minute items.
"I'm here," Buffy said, walking over to help her employee with the box. Angel crossed the room, his long strides allowing him to make it there sooner. He took the box from the girl and she looked up at him in surprise.
"Thank you," Anya said, "That thing is really heavy."
She watched as Angel effortlessly lifted the box and set it on the counter. Anya smiled appreciatively over his firm body and added, "Although not to you. I'm Anya."
"Angel," he said, introducing himself and holding out his hand to her, "Spike told me about you."
"Spike told me about you," she echoed, "He's an asshole."
"Yes," Angel said, laughing, "He is that."
"But he's a sex machine."
"Anya!" Buffy said, in shock.
"What? He is. Did I say something wrong?"
"I'll just take your word for it," he said good-naturedly. Anya and Buffy began setting up the tables as the caterers and waiters arrived. Anya ordered them around with ease and Angel found her amusing. Equally entertaining was Buffy's flustered apologies for her employee's curtness and bossiness. Anya even ordered Angel to help her move things around and he found himself happily obliging if only to have something to do other than wait for Buffy to remember that she hated him.
As much as Buffy wanted to remember, she couldn't seem to. Every time she passed the painting that she already thought of as hers, she saw that smile on her face. She didn't think she had ever had that sort of happiness before, even though it was definitely her lips, her eyes, her face. The blissful reflection captured a moment she had never had and emotions she had never felt.
make me think the wrong thing
Buffy watched as Angel worked the room, speaking to people and laughing occasionally while keeping that stoic beauty and mystery. He seemed shrouded by it and it was intriguing. Buffy didn't even notice Spike strutting across the room to her, even though he was almost in her direct line of vision, until he spoke.
"Hey there cutie," he said, leaning against the wall beside her.
"Hello," she said, "Are you...um...enjoying the show?"
"Not really," he said honestly, "I think these things are boring as hell, but I came to support my friend."
"You've known Angel for a long time?"
"Seems like forever," he said. He had a way about him that always made Buffy think he was bored. It was as if he was always looking for a thrill but never really found it.
"Oh," she said. She began to wonder if he was an orphan too but decided it was probably not appropriate to ask.
"You know they're all of you," Spike said, waving his hand around the room, which happened to be holding a glass of wine.
"N-no," she said. She hadn't had time to think about the reoccurring blonde in all of the paintings. Had she had time to think about it, she probably would have talked herself out of the idea, but now that Spike was pointing it out, she wasn't sure what to think.
"They are," he said, "Don't you see yourself in them?"
"They can't be."
"You should see the ones he decided to keep out of the show. He thought maybe they were, what's the word? Inappropriate," Spike said, smiling. He hoped the obsessiveness and stalker-like quality would chase her away. Or at least send her running into his own arms.
"What do you mean?" Buffy said, "There's more of me?"
"Oh yeah," the blonde Englishman said, "There's a lot more."
"He'd give his right arm to get between your dimpled knees, pet," Spike added, leaning in so his breath scraped her ears.
"Are you saying that this is his way of trying to get in my pants?" Buffy said, moving away slightly, "Please. Why should I believe you? Seems like overkill, don't you think?"
"Don't know," Spike shrugged, "That depends."
"On if it's working," Spike whispered, "Not many women would refuse him. I'm just wagering on how long it will take him to get...inside you."
"Anya's right," Buffy said with a sneer, "You are an asshole."
"Sure I am, pet," he said as he walked away, "Doesn't change the truth though."
Buffy watched as Spike strolled away, sipping his wine with a smile playing on his lips. He found Anya talking to a customer and he kissed the nape of her neck before wrapping his arm around her trim waist. Buffy shuddered as she watched him pull her into his side, his hand moving over her abdomen in an overly intimate way. Just the small stroke seemed obscene.
She crossed the room and retrieved a glass of wine, gulping down half of it before making her rounds, greeting visitors and helping them to admire the artist's work. She felt eyes on her. Not just Angel's but other people's, as if they all knew she was the woman in the paintings. She blushed furiously as she studied the canvases, lost in her own confusion. None of it made sense. She nursed glass after glass of wine, chatting with a person here and there, but mostly she just stared at the swirls of paint, at the colors blending into one another until they no longer formed images, until they were just hues.
"Buffy," Willow said, coming up behind her breathless and giggling from too much wine. Xander stood next to her, looking happy and flushed with alcohol as well.
"Hi Will," she answered, sipping on her third glass of wine. She could already feel the alcohol reaching her head. With her slight frame and the fact that she rarely drank, it wasn't hard to tell that it wouldn't take much to inebriate her, "Xander! I didn't even know you were here."
"We got here about a half hour ago but you didn't notice," Willow whispered, "Mostly due to the fact that you've been staring at yourself all night."
"Yeah, Buff," Xander said, pulling her into a hug and then keeping his arm over her bare shoulders, "You seem to be the belle of the ball."
"Who do you mean?" Buffy said, shifting her eyes from Xander to Willow and back again.
"Angel's been staring at you," Willow said, "And you've been staring at his paintings of you."
"Guy's got it bad," Xander said, smiling and nodding his head briefly at the artist, who was frowning at him. Xander could almost feel the jealousy radiating off him, "Look, he thinks I'm putting the moves on you."
"Xander," Buffy said, not really having a rest of a sentence to go with that. Instead, she downed the rest of her glass.
"And look," Willow said, steering her friend's gaze to the corner where Cordelia and Darla were huddled together speaking in hushed and angry tones, "They're jealous too. The show's success is partially due to all the scandal here."
"Scandal?" Buffy said, a shade too loudly. She lowered her tone and set her glass on table beside her, "Don't you think you're making this into more than it really is?"
"Buffy," Xander said, looking down at his longtime friend, "I think you should check out the library's stalker manual because that guy is seriously freaky over you."
day this embarrassment will fade behind me
Angel was fairly certain that every woman he had ever slept with, dated, or talked to showed up at the gallery. He was flanked with ex-lovers and the only one he wanted was the unreachable girl across the room, currently in the arms of some dark haired guy he had never seen before. He tried not to look over there but he was not the boyfriend she had before. She seemed comfortable there, tucked into his side, swaying slightly from too much wine.
He liked the way her skin pinkened from the wine and the little smile that almost crossed her lips when she spoke. Barely an hour into the showing, he felt crushed by the weight of what he had done and now that it was nearing to the end, he was sure he was sinking into the floor. Everyone there quickly figured out that the gallery owner was also the model. He wanted to scream in rage that everyone kept looking at her. He felt as if he had cheapened her somehow, as if his obsession had marred her in a way that couldn't be erased. They all thought he had slept with her. He heard whispers about them keeping away from each other during the show for appearance sake and he growled under his breath. It took all of his willpower not to storm from the building and leave his paintings there, hanging alone without his support. The only thing that kept him there was Buffy.
"Angel," a male voice said and he turned to face the dark haired man that had just been holding Buffy. He braced himself for the inevitable confrontation but the man held out his hand, "I'm Xander."
"Nice to meet you," Angel lied, accepting the offered hand and shaking it firmly. He wanted to shake it more firmly. He wanted to break every one of the fingers that had touched her, followed by the arm that had been draped over her narrow shoulders. He forced the frown from his face even though he couldn't manage a smile.
"Yeah," Xander snorted, "Look, we both know that's a big lie."
"Okay," Angel said, nodding as he crossed his arms, "I know you're not here to chat about paint, so what do you want?"
"I want to talk about Buffy," Xander said, knowing his answer was not surprising, "She means a lot to me. I don't want to see her hurt."
"Neither do I."
"Your reputation proceeds ya, buddy."
"Buffy can make her own decisions," Angel said, feeling testosterone overloading his brain. What if he just hit him? Just once.
"Whatever," Xander said, "I just wanted to let you know that I'm back in town after being gone for a while. I'm going to be staying and I'm going to protect my friend."
"Friend?" Angel echoed, thanking God that word was used without the "girl" prefix at the beginning.
"She's not my girlfriend," Xander said, answering his unasked question, "But maybe it would be better if you pretended she was."
"You're in love with her," Angel said, sizing up the mannish boy speaking to him.
"Aren't you?" Xander said. A weighted pause in the conversation was hovering over them until Buffy stepped between them, filling the small space.
"Xander," she said, touching his arm. She could have been touching Angel's arm the way the gentle gesture sent chills down his spine. Xander looked down at her, losing most of the protectiveness in his eyes.
"I'm just talking to him," Xander protested.
"I beg you not to help me," she said with a sarcastic edge to her already slurred voice.
"Fine," he said, backing away, "I was just trying to help."
"I know," she said, nodding. She watched Xander walk away and since she hadn't moved and neither had Angel, his breath was almost caressing her neck from the small space between them. She turned after a moment, taking a deep breath as she pivoted and faced him. The crowd was beginning to thin and most of the pieces had sold for outrageous prices. She couldn't help but feel proud, for him and for her gallery, that the event had been so successful.
"I want to see them," she said quietly, meeting his piercing gaze and melting under it. She stood up a bit straighter in an attempt to add strength to her words, but she seemed small next to him, dwindling underneath his large shadow.
"The other paintings," she said, "If there are more of me, I want to see them."
"Spike," he muttered under his breath, but loud enough for her to hear.
"I think I have a right," she said, taking another sip of the golden courage in her wine glass, "Don't you?"
"Yes," he said, nodding slowly, "Just tell me when."
"Tonight," she said, "When the show ends."
Part Five "Old Friends"
*****RATING: NC-17 for VIOLENCE.*****
By the time the crowd had disappeared entirely and Anya had let herself out, after flashing a knowing look to the pair huddled in the corner, Buffy was officially intoxicated. She refused to lean on the arm that Angel offered as they headed for the door, claiming that she was perfectly capable of walking on her own, thank you very much. When they reached the doorway, he asked her to wait while he went to get his car, which was parked a couple of blocks away.
She agreed to wait but he was worried about leaving her standing in the gallery alone. Not because he thought she wasn't safe, but because she was wobbling unsteadily on her high heel shoes and he was afraid she was going to fall over before he came back. She dropped her keys as she was trying to put them in the door to unlock it again since Anya had locked them in.
"Oops," she said, giggling and bent over to pick them up. As she did, her dress rode up enough to show the tops of her thigh high stockings. Angel held his breath as his groin tightened and reminded himself that he didn't want to sleep with her...tonight. She couldn't unlock the door quick enough for Angel to bolt out, needing to separate himself from the object of his dreams before he did something he knew he would later regret.
Buffy stumbled out of the gallery doors, even though Angel insisted that she relock the door and wait inside. She needed fresh air and felt perfectly safe even though it was close to one in the morning. She fumbled with her keys and took several moments to slip the key in the lock, but finally was able to successfully lock it and drop the keys into her purse. She turned around to look for Angel and found a large body slamming her back into the glass door.
A calloused hand covered her mouth as her head slammed against the door, cracking the glass behind her head and blurring her vision even more than it already was. She released a muffled scream as the front of her dress was ripped away. She could barely make out her attacker's face in the dark doorway, but he was nearly as tall as Angel with a slimmer build. His hair was blonde, she caught that, and he reeked of whiskey and cigarettes.
"Shut up, bitch," he said in his bland American accent as he pushed her down to the concrete walkway just in front of the door. Buffy squeezed out tears and tried to shake him off, pushing and punching at his shoulders. He punched her in the jaw, removing his hand from her mouth to do it, which gave her the opportunity to scream, "ANGEL!"
"Nothing's going to save you tonight, baby," he grunted as slapped her into silence and ripped away her bra and panties swiftly. He took a second to look over her lithe body and soon found himself on his back with a large boot crushing in his teeth.
Angel saw them before he heard her scream his name and was already out of his car, leaving it double parked and running in the street. He sprinted the few remaining feet to save the woman he now knew he was in love with. Spending his life in orphanages and on the street, he had more than his fair share of fights. He used every move he had ever learned to crush her attacker into the sidewalk. Anger and rage that was usually foreign to the artist became a living beast inside of him as the man tried to crawl away. Angel kicked him in the side and enjoyed the gurgled grunt of pain that sprayed from his mouth with his blood. He pulled the blonde man to his feet and prepared to punch him again when he said, "Angel. Stop."
He didn't stop. He hit him as hard as he could even as the man's identity was realized. He looked down at the bleeding man and stomped on his chest, feeling several ribs crack inside his chest.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Angel asked, wanting to kill him with his bare hands.
"Just give me a second," he answered, struggling to breathe.
"Did you give her a second, Penn? What are you doing trying to rape girls in the street, you horrible fuck?"
"I was paid to do it," he wheezed. He tried to scoot away but Angel pressed his boot harder into his chest. He could hear Buffy sobbing in the doorway and he looked over to see her trying to gather bits of her dress to cover her exposed body.
"Who hired you?"
"I don't know," he said. Angel bent over to punch him hard in the face and nearly growled out his next words, "Wrong answer."
"I swear," he gasped. Angel looked down at the man he had been friends with in boyhood and stared into his eyes for a moment, searching for the truth. He moved his foot off of his chest and Penn started to sit up, only to fall back again when Angel kicked the side of his head, contacting with his temple and knocking him unconscious. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed 911 as he hurried to Buffy's side.
He knelt before her and looked down at her tearful, mascara streaked face. Blood was seeping from her full lips from where she had been struck and he felt the most abominable feeling he had ever known trickling into his soul. Someone he knew had to have hired Penn to do this to her. This was his fault. He gave the police the address and then shoved his phone back in his pocket before slipping off his leather jacket and gently wrapping it around her shoulders.
"I'm sorry," he said, feeling tears in his eyes for the first time since he was a little boy, "This is all my fault."
Much to his surprise, she laid her head on his chest as she continued to cry. Her shoulders shook violently with her sobs and it was all Angel could do to not go over and kill Penn before the police arrived. Instead, he pulled her into his arms. She allowed it and clung to him as he cradled her, smoothing his hand over her hair and sending a deadly glare at the unconscious former friend on the sidewalk.
and in the mist our hero stands
Detective Kate Lockley looked suspiciously over the tall, dark and extremely sexy man who claimed to know the attacker. He claimed to have no real relationship with the victim, Buffy Summers, other than a business relationship, but he loomed over her, watching every person who got near her. He was so protective over her that the other police officers were inclined to think of him as hostile.
"He said he was paid," Angel said, keeping a hand on Buffy's shoulder. She remained silent, wrapped in his leather jacket and feeling more naked with each passing second. Angel kept glancing down at her bloody knees and torn nylons and every time he did, he felt a rare, acutely defined fury rise in his chest. He should have killed that fucker when he had the chance.
"But he said he didn't know who, is that right?" Kate asked.
"That's right," Angel said, nodding.
"Did he say how much he was paid?"
"I knocked him out before he got that far," Angel answered honestly.
"Okay," she said, "Thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to answer our questions. We would like to take Ms. Summers' statement now. You are free to go. I'll have someone take her home."
Angel was frozen, unable to think of how to deal with the situation. He couldn't stand the thought of leaving her there alone and frightened. He looked down at her and she looked back up. Her eyes seemed to plead for him to stay and when he started to remove his hand from her shoulder she reached up and caught it, holding his hand tightly in hers. He lowered himself to one knee next to her chair and looked in her eyes for a moment before asking, "Buffy, I can stay...if you want."
He had to wait for a long time before she managed to whisper hoarsely, "Please don't leave me here alone, Angel."
"Okay, love," he said, touching the unbruised side of her face gently, "I'll stay."
Kate watched as he stood and turned his eyes back to her. The gentleness and love pouring out to Buffy disappeared completely as he looked back up at her. Instead they were now filled with anger and determination.
"I'm staying with her, detective," he said firmly.
"Fine," Kate said, nodding. She initially thought that the mysterious Angel had something to do with the attack, especially since he was once close friends with the rapist, but now she wasn't so sure. He was going to remain near the top of her suspect list, but he was slipping lower as they went along. Kate took a deep breath and continued, "Please have a seat over there while I get her statement alone."
Angel started to step away but Buffy held onto his hand and actually pulled him closer to her, unwilling to let him go. He looked down at her again and squeezed her hand.
"I'm not going to leave you, Buffy," he said quietly, "They think I'll influence your statement if I'm standing here. I'll just be over there, okay?"
Kate raised an eyebrow in surprise. She hadn't expected that reaction and as a cop, coming from a long line of cops, she was rarely surprised. Reluctantly, Buffy released his hand and turned her head to watch him walk away. She watched him until he settled in a chair on the other side of the room and waited.
Buffy didn't get to see Angel's paintings of her that evening and it was the furthest thing from her mind as he walked her out to his car at close to four in the morning. She gave him directions to her apartment and sat mutely in the seat, holding onto her seat belt for dear life even though Angel drove overly slow and cautiously. She was glad he was driving slowly because she didn't want to go into that dark quiet apartment and finally be alone. Even the thought of sleeping there by herself made her start to shake again.
He pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex and parked in front of her building. She looked over at him, still trembling, waiting for him to tell her that he was leaving her there, that he was going to go away. He didn't. He turned off the car and walked around to open her door. Extending a hand with a sort of gentlemanly gesture he had never done before, she accepted his hand. He walked her to her door and took her keys from her after she tried several times to steady her hands.
When he opened the door, the first thing they both heard was breathing.
"Someone's here," he growled, stepping in ahead of her. Angel stood still in the darkness for a second, allowing his eyes to adjust. Buffy saw a familiar outline of a body on her couch and opened her mouth to stop Angel but he was already across the room, pulling the bulky weight from the couch.
"Angel!" Buffy shouted, "It's Riley. Stop. It's Riley."
She flipped on the light and looked over cloaked in shame of her violation. Angel had his hand around Riley's surprised throat and didn't bother letting go. Riley pushed him away and stared at his girlfriend for a moment. Was she his girlfriend anymore? He wasn't sure exactly but the condition she was in made him want to scream and cry and attack someone.
"What happened?" he shouted and turned back to Angel, "Did you do this to her? I'll fucking kill you!"
"Stop," Buffy sobbed, unable to stand another moment of violence for the evening, "He didn't do this to me."
"What happened?" Riley asked quietly, crossing the room to her. He reached out to touch her and she flinched, closing her eyes as she stepped away.
"I...can't..." she whispered, cringing.
"She was attacked outside the gallery," Angel said, his voice rumbling with checked anger.
"He saved me," she whispered.
"Are you okay?" he asked, feeling guilty for keeping his vigil on her couch while he waited for her to come home. He had been convinced that she was cheating on him, if cheating was even the right word for a woman he wasn't sure he was dating anymore. Now he felt the same jealousy twisting into something else.
She didn't answer but the pained look in her eyes answered the question.
"Do you want me to stay tonight?" he asked, wanting so badly to touch her, to pull her into his arms but knowing that he couldn't. Somehow the line had been drawn now and he wasn't sure if it would ever be erased again. A feeling of loss came over him as she shook her head.
"No," she said, "I just need...I need some time, Riley."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," she said, opening the door again for him. Riley looked over at Angel, who didn't look as if he planned on leaving.
"You coming?" he asked with a little more fierceness than he meant. Angel looked over to Buffy, questioning her silently.
"I need him to stay," she answered for him.
"He's staying but you want me to leave?"
"Please don't," she said, feeling a new set of sobs rising in her chest. She wasn't even sure why she wanted him to stay and for Riley to leave. It didn't make sense. All she knew was that he was the only one she felt safe with right now. She knew that she was probably asking too much of him to stay with her for a while longer, but she needed it.
"Call me if you need me," Riley grumbled, giving a hard look to Angel, "And I'll come back."
"Thank you," she said before closing the door behind him.
you realized it's not my fault not a moment too soon
Angel stood guard as Buffy took a shower. The trust she felt for him was strange, to say the least, but she knew that if nothing else, he would protect her. She dry heaved under the spray and wished her stomach wasn't empty. Not that she would be able to eat. She wouldn't. Right then she wasn't sure how she was still breathing.
As she was getting dressed, she heard Angel pacing in her living room. She still felt dirty and had to resist the urge to get back in the shower and wash again. Instead she dressed slowly, choosing a pair of sweat pants and a sweat shirt. It was warm outside but her apartment was freezing. She was sure it was her nerves since the temperature was fine when she left.
She hugged her body as she went into the living room to face her visitor. Now that she had made him stay there, she wasn't sure what to do with him. She did know that she didn't want him to leave. She wasn't sure she could face the rest of the night, even though there wasn't much left of it.
"Here," he said, holding a towel filled with ice in his hand, "Sit down. We have to get the swelling down."
She obeyed, curling up on the couch. He sat down next to her, careful not to touch her. After she had shied away from Riley's touch, he thought it was a good idea to keep his distance. He held the ice lightly against her face and flinched when she hissed in pain from the contact.
"Sorry," he mumbled, holding the ice there for her until she reached up to take it from him.
"S okay," she croaked out. She felt like crying, but there weren't any tears left. It took a long time for her to look over at him and meet his eyes. She was surprised to see more anguish there than she expected.
"Do you want me to leave?" he asked, "I mean, I'll stay with you for as long as you need me to, but I can't see why you would want that."
"Why would you say that?" she asked, pulling the ice away from her face.
"This is my fault," he said, "Penn was my friend. He had to have been hired by someone I know, someone trying to get back at me."
"I don't understand," she said, "Why would they attack me to get at you?"
"Because..." he said, searching his mind for the right way to explain it, "Because...dammit."
"Still not understanding, Angel."
"I think I'm in love with you," Angel said, "I know I'm not good enough for someone like you and I've tried to stay away from you but I can't. All my friends know that I've...changed since I've met you."
"I've been with a lot of women, Buffy," he said, standing up to look out her sliding glass doors at the predawn sky, "I'm not a very good person."
"People keep telling me that," she said, "But you don't seem so horrible to me."
"You're not looking close enough," he said, turning back to her, "You don't know me."
"I know enough," she said, standing up, "I know you saved me tonight...How have you changed?"
"I haven't seen another woman since I met you. I broke up with the women that I was seeing."
"Because the only thing I want is you," he said. He waited for her to say something, to have some sort of reaction but he was met with stunned silence. He took a deep breath and looked down at her wounded face, "You can kick me out any time now."
"I don't want to," she whispered.
"What do you want?" he asked, clenching his hands to keep from touching her.
"Hold me until I fall asleep?"
He nodded silently and allowed her to lead him to her bedroom. She laid down on the bed, uncertain of what to do. He slid in behind her and pulled her back against his chest, wrapping his arms around her narrow waist. Carefully brushing her hair away from her face, he kissed her forehead and listened to her breathing. Just before she fell asleep, he heard her whisper, "It's not your fault."
Part Six - "Falling"
perfect must be lying
Angel wanted to stay in that warm bed and hold onto Buffy for the rest of the night and into the following day. He wanted to sink into a deep sleep and dream of the future in her arms. But he couldn't close his eyes without seeing Penn ripping her clothes from her body, the tears in her frightened eyes. He heard her screaming his name over and over again in his mind. He was certain that if he remembered anything for the rest of his life, it would be the desperate rattling scream for echoing off the empty street.
He looked down at her, finally asleep. One whole side of her face was bruised in deep purple and blue, a shattering reminder of what had happened. Her lip was split and although she had washed the blood away, he could still see it. It was almost as if it were still on his hands.
After he was certain she was sound asleep, he carefully slipped away and went into her living room. Picking up her cordless phone, he opened the sliding glass doors and went out onto the balcony. He sat on the edge of one of those wicker chairs that he had seen on a dozen other women's verandas and dialed as the sun was rising in front of him.
"Whoever this is better get a fucking watch," the gravely voice said when he answered.
"Gunn, it's Angel."
"This had better be an emergency man," Gunn complained, "I just got to bed."
"It's an emergency."
"Someone tried to rape...my girl. Someone hired him. I need you to find out who," Angel said, letting the words come of his mouth in a stream of something as close to panic as Gunn had ever heard in his friend's voice.
"Okay," Gunn said, slowly, sitting up in bed and wiping his eyes, "first of all, you say girl' as if there's only one and from the sound of your voice you aren't smiling."
"There is only one," Angel said, "...now. And I'm a far cry from smiling."
"Wow. Need to digest that thought for a second."
"There's no time for that. Remember Penn? He tried to rape her in front of her gallery tonight. He said someone hired him. This isn't a favor. I'm hiring you. I want all of your people on this until it's resolved. I want someone outside of her apartment and someone at her gallery 24/7. I want every fucking person you have at your disposal on this case."
"I have other cases, Angel," Gunn said calmly, "I can tell you're upset and hell, I would be too, but you need to think rationally for a second."
"This is me being rational. I'll pay whatever it costs. Find that bastard and I'll take care of it from there."
"Whoa, man. You need to calm down. You're talking crazy. You can't be thinking about doing what it sounds like you're thinking about doing."
"Find out who is responsible for this," Angel said slowly, enunciating every word.
"Alright, alright. Give me the details," Gunn said, reaching for a pad of paper and pen. Angel filled him in on everything that had happened in overly specific detail, including sounds, smells and goddamn pigments. He had known Angel for a long time. He had even seen him possessive of certain women, but this girl, this Buffy Summers, was something completely different. It was almost as if Angel was actually in love with her.
Angel hung up the phone and dialed again. He listened to the ring and groaned when the answering machine picked up. He listened to Spike's voice saying, "Leave a bloody message or hang up."
"Spike, it's Angel. If you're there, pick up," Angel said and paused for a second, "It's important. I need to talk to you as soon as poss-"
"What do you WANT?" Spike grunted, "Did you get Betty home and forget how to get in her in the sack since you've been a monk for the last coupla months?"
"Buffy," Angel growled, "Her name is Buffy, dammit, and Penn tried to rape her outside the gallery after the show tonight. What do you know about it?"
"What you just told me," Spike answered, "I'm into shagging em, not raping em, mate. What the bloody hell would Penn be doing raping someone anyway? He's a sadistic bastard, but he never had a problem getting a girl before."
"He said someone hired him," Angel answered.
"Paid rapist? That's new."
"You're not funny," Angel warned, "I need you to ask around. Find out if anyone knows anything."
"Call Gunn. I'm not a detective."
"Already called him and now I'm asking you too. You're going to help me and if I find out you had anything to do with this-"
"Jesus, Peaches," Spike complained, "You can't threaten someone this early in the morning."
"Just ask around, okay?"
"Fine, but you owe me."
"Keep that shit up and I won't be helping you at all."
never felt so small
Buffy woke up alone and her bed never seemed so large. She curled up and stared at the window that she couldn't see out of. She didn't want to get up and face the day. She didn't want to see that Angel had left her. She wasn't even sure if she wanted to find out if he left a note or not. It just seemed hopeless and she felt helpless. It made her angry to feel that way, that someone could make her so afraid and weak, that one man, one stranger could have that much power. If Buffy Summers was ever anything, it was never helpless and weak. Whoever Penn was, whoever hired him, she couldn't let him destroy her peace of mind.
Trying on a slip of determination, she forced herself to get out of bed. She stood on her own two feet and saw the lush green tree outside of her window. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining. It was a depressingly beautiful day. Too beautiful to feel the way she did. The sun seemed to know that as it pressed against her, making her feel hot in the bulky sweat shirt she had put on the night before. She slipped it off and made her way to the kitchen in her sports bra and sweat pants.
She stopped just outside the kitchen door as she saw him standing in front of the stove, breaking an egg into her frying pan. His hair was still wet from the shower he must have taken, sticking up haphazardly in the most adorable way. He was barefoot and shirtless, wearing nothing but those incredible leather pants.
"Hey," he said when he noticed her standing there. He tried not to stare at her body, reminding himself that the furthest thing from his mind should be how delectable she looked in that little top. She crossed her arms over her chest uncomfortably, confirming his suspicions. He crossed the room to her, against his better judgment, and placed a kiss on her forehead.
"Hey," she echoed numbly.
"I borrowed your shower," he said, turning back to the eggs, "I hope you don't mind. I thought I'd make you breakfast."
"It's fine," she answered, "About the shower, I mean. It's sweet of you to make me breakfast but I'm really not hungry."
"You need to eat something. You'll need the energy."
"For what?" she asked, tracing her finger on the counter.
"For your first lesson."
"Yeah," he nodded, scrambling the eggs artfully as he spoke, "You're going to learn self-defense. I'm going to teach you how to fight and we're not going to stop until you can kick my ass."
"What? Are you joking?" she asked in surprise.
"No," he said, setting the spatula down before facing her and looking into her eyes to let her know just how serious he was, "I want you to be able to protect yourself. No one is ever going to hurt you again."
"I don't get you," Buffy said, shuffling away from the kitchen and back into the living room. She curled up on the couch and looked absently out the sliding glass doors, wishing they would just seal her up inside there.
"What's not to get?" he called from the kitchen as he turned off the burner and then followed her out, "I want you to be safe."
"You don't even know me," she said, "Why do you even care?"
"I care," he said, sitting down next to her, "And you're right, I don't know you. But I will, if you let me."
up your mind and stick it out or start again
"Why didn't you call us?" Willow asked, hiding her shaking hands under Buffy's kitchen table as she looked over her friend's split lip and bruised face.
"The better question here is how do you trust Angel, or whatever his real name is, when it was his friend that attacked you?" Xander demanded, just barely keeping himself from pounding his fist on the table in frustration.
"This wasn't his fault," Buffy answered, sternly. If there was anything in this situation that she was sure of, it was Angel's innocence.
"You've known him for what? Ten minutes? It's pretty damn convenient that you get attacked by his friend and he just happens to be there to save you and then ends up in your bed!"
"I asked him to stay, Xander," Buffy said, keeping her voice steady, "And this is none of your damn business. Leave Angel out of this."
"Wake up and smell the seduction, Buffy!"
"So," Willow said, clearing her throat and sending a dirty look in Xander's direction, "He's teaching you self-defense?"
"Yeah," she said, nodding, "I spent the morning learning how punch correctly, how to make a fist, getting out of holds, that sort of thing. It was interesting, actually. I didn't think it would be that, you know, fun."
"Fun?" Xander asked, a shade too loudly.
"Maybe you should show Xander how to punch correctly," Willow offered with a grin.
now you're out from under the gun
Three weeks passed and Buffy was starting to think that she had imagined the part where Angel said he was falling in love with her. He taught her self-defense three nights a week, took her out to dinner a couple of times and hired some people to follow her around, but he never even tried to hold her hand. His protectiveness was as endearing as it was annoying. She thought originally that she was just being paranoid when she felt like she was being watched. Then she started to notice people following her all the time. It took almost two weeks to get the little "Gunn Investigations" tidbit out of him and initially she was pissed as hell that he hadn't bothered to tell her she was being followed. Did he think that she wouldn't notice thug types hanging around all the time?
But it was hard to stay angry with him. He had this soothing quality about him that made her forget within moments what she was supposed to be upset about. She thought it was his eyes. They more than penetrated, they took root, set up camp and started fires. But he kept his distance physically if his gaze didn't. She was getting that itch that she thought Riley must have felt when she refused him. She began to think about him touching her and kissing her. Every time he touched her, she leaned in, waiting for the more that didn't happen.
With the multitude of women she heard about him sleeping with, she couldn't understand what was taking him so long. Maybe he had changed his mind about her after what happened. She shuddered when she thought about that night, naked and bleeding in front of him, sobbing on his shoulder. Every time she looked in the mirror and saw the bruises that were taking an excruciatingly long time to heal, she was reminded of what she was desperately trying to forget.
That particular evening, she was sitting at home, staring at the wall and trying to think of something to do. Xander took Willow out of town for the weekend to a secret destination that he wouldn't even tell her. Anya was out with Spike and Cordelia had somehow hooked up with the bartender at Spike's club. That one was a little confusing, since she usually went for rich, no-necks and that guy was neither wealthy, nor a jock. Still, she saw the attraction. He had a worshipful way about him when he looked at her with those pretty blue eyes. He called her "Princess" which made the snooty Queen C turn into a rubber kneed schoolgirl. It was cute. It was frustrating. Why was everyone else getting smoochies? Everyone seemed to be happy with someone except for her.
Picking up the phone, she dialed Angel's number from memory and listened to the empty ring. He picked up just as the answering clicked on and sounded busy as he said, "Hello?"
"Hi. It's Buffy. Um...am I calling at a bad time?"
"No, of course not," he answered. She had a horrible picture inside her mind of him in bed with some beautiful woman. She could only hope that he was exercising. Maybe he was painting. It was a much more attractive image than the in bed with some other woman one, although he was just as naked in that vision as in the other.
"I was in the shower," he added after a moment of silence.
Even better mental image, she thought as she said, "Oh. I'm sorry. I'll let you go."
"No!" he said, "Hold on one sec while I grab a towel. I'm dripping all over my floor."
Dear God, he was completely naked. She covered the mouthpiece of the phone while she tried to make herself breathe. Mr. Dark, Gorgeous and Overprotective was naked and covered with little droplets of water...
"Kay," he said, picking up the phone again, "Is everything okay?"
"Sure," she said, "I was just wondering, since I never got to see your other paintings of me, that you might want to...but I'm sure you probably have plans since you were showering and it's Friday night, so I can just let you go-"
"Buffy," Angel interrupted and smiled into the phone at her nervous babbling, "I'd love for you to come over and see them. Do you want me to come pick you up?"
"No," Buffy said, grinning, "I have a car. Besides, Gunn or one of his buddies will be following me anyway."
"Uh, right," he said, guiltily, "They have liked all the snacks you've been giving them. You're their favorite assignment."
he already knows he's forgotten all he knew before
When Angel answered the door, he had to make himself not stare. Buffy was wearing one of those little black camisoles that hugged her chest and left her torso delightfully bare. She wasn't wearing anything under it, he was certain of that. Her jeans were worn and faded, hugging her hips seductively. He hid the fact that he was taking a deep breath to calm himself as he stepped back to let her in.
He had set all of the paintings up around the room, leaning against the furniture and the walls. In fact, he was glad she came right over because he had resorted to moving them around in different positions as if the lighting and location of each canvas would make all the difference. He mulled over hiding a couple that he wasn't sure of but in the end, he decided not to hide anything from her. He leaned against the closed door after letting her in and let her wander around the room to look at them. It was better to stay there, since he was sure he would be opening it again within minutes to let her back out.
Buffy had braced herself for the viewing of the paintings. After seeing his other ones of different women, she thought for certain that she would be nude in some of them. She was shocked to see that she wasn't. She guessed it made sense that he wouldn't know what she looked like underneath her clothes, before she was attacked anyway, but she was sure he could imagine it pretty accurately. If he did imagine it, he didn't paint it. They were seductive and surreal, dreamy and beautiful. She always thought herself sort of plain but he made her seem more exotic somehow, more interesting.
"Is this all of them?" she asked, staring at herself over and over again, silhouetted, shaded and abstracted. Some of them were just a hint of her and others were so real she almost expected her image to step off the canvas. There were so many it was almost too much to handle.
"Those are all of paintings," he said, crossing the room to his desk. He pulled out a sketchbook and handed it to her, stilling the tremor in his hands. The moment of truth was taking an unbearably long time. Buffy sat down on the couch and opened the book. The first thing she saw was a sketch of Darla done in charcoal. She was in the center of a bed, nude and inviting.
"Keep going," he said, clearing his throat nervously, "Yours are more towards the middle."
He cursed silently as she flipped each individual page, looking at what he had done before he met her. Some of them were a little more risque than others and he wished he had flipped to the first page with her on it instead of giving her free reign of the drawings. Eons passed before she reached the first one of herself. She turned the pages slowly and he wanted to speed up the process, make it to the finish and get his judgment. The waiting was torment.
When she finally closed the book, he waited for moment while she held the book in her hands, looking around the room again.
"What do you think?"
"This is going to sound conceited," she said quietly, as she stood up from the couch, "But I think they're beautiful. It isn't that they're of me, it's what you see in me, what you've made me into. It's almost like...you see more than there is."
She reached out and touched a reproduction of her face, half of her lost in the shadows, "You make into more than what I am."
"No, I don't," he said. She jumped when she heard him speak. She didn't realize he was standing right behind her until he spoke softly in her ear. She turned and faced him, tilting her head to look up at him.
"These are more full of life than I am," she whispered.
"They're pathetic attempts," he whispered back, "You're much more than this."
He leaned down, inching toward her face, waiting for her to shy away from him. She didn't move away but toward him. He kissed her gently and felt his heart thumping in his chest as she responded to him, parting her lips as the kiss deepened. Pulling her into his arms, he threaded his fingers through her silky hair with one hand and spanned her lower back with the other, relishing in the feel of the bare skin between her shirt and jeans.