Silence reigned within the confines of the townhouse after the abrupt departure of Spike and his assailant. Riley looked at the stunned faces of his companions and voiced his greatest question of the evening. "Who was that?"
All eyes turned to him but no one responded immediately. Finally Giles set his glasses firmly on his nose and answered in a hushed tone. "That was Angel."
It was as if Giles expected that simple statement to explain everything. Nothing more was said by the usually forthcoming Watcher. "Okay, I'll bite. So who's Angel?"
Willow raised her head from Tara's shoulder and looked at him, her green eyes huge. "Buffy didn't tell you?"
"I'm very much in the dark here, Willow. Tell me what?"
"That she had a blood-sucking, cradle-robbing creature of the night as her boyfriend throughout most of our high school years?" Xander's fury had been replaced with biting sarcasm.
Riley shook his head, he couldn't possibly have heard that right… "Excuse me? What are you talking about?"
Willow disengaged from Tara's arms and approached Riley. "Hoo boy, do you have a lot of catching up to do."
Giles glanced out the window and nodded with grim satisfaction at what he saw. "I think we have some time to spare, Willow. It looks like Angel and Spike will be awhile."
Xander smirked as he moved towards the window, looked out and winced. "Ow, that's gonna leave a mark….. You're right, G-man. We definitely have time to give Riley the full story, complete with surround sound and digital imaging."
Riley could hear the faint sounds of a struggle outside and grew concerned. "I know Hostile 17's chip is firmly in place but aren't you at least a little worried about….. Angel's the name, right?"
"No need to worry about Angel. He knows every one of Spike's moves. Probably taught them to him." Xander was again wincing in appreciation at the tableau outside the window.
Giles took pity on the confused young man and motioned towards the couch. "Angel will be fine. He's Spike's sire and is currently reminding him of that fact."
"Sire? What exactly does that mean?"
Xander turned away from the window with regret, he really wanted to see the outcome. "Come sit down, Riley. We will tell you the tale of a Slayer and her favorite vampire…."
"Well, that's explains a lot of things I really wish weren't." Riley's head was reeling with the story laid out in front of him by Buffy's three oldest friends.
Xander gave him a rueful smile. "And here you thought dating the Slayer would be so glamorous." "He's a vampire and she loved him. Her mortal enemy and she loved him."
Willow shot Xander a look filled with dire consequences as she sat up in Tara's embrace on the floor. "And he loved her. He loved her even after she sent him to Hell where he was tortured endlessly. He loved her enough to let her go. Unlike some people who will remain nameless." Xander had the good grace to flinch at that shot.
Riley studied Xander for a moment, now understanding the not so subtle jibes he had received from him since he started dating Buffy. The other young man was jealous, probably had a crush on her ever since they first met. Buffy said something about that earlier but he just blew it off.
Xander raised his eyes to Riley's and met him straight on. He had hidden his feelings for Buffy behind his humor for far too long. Now was the time for honesty. "Hard to let go of what you never had a chance at, Will."
"That's not Angel's fault, Xander." The redhead's mouth was set in a very firm line. "And I do speak from experience about never having a chance….. Let her go, Xander."
Xander flushed, dropped his eyes to the hands in his lap. "I got it, Wills. I got it."
"Do you? Do you really? You have Anya now. Let Buffy have whoever she wants and right now, that's Riley." Willow had risen to her feet and reached for Xander's hands. He reluctantly let her take them in hers and looked deep into his best friend's eyes. After a long moment, he sighed and shot Riley a wry grin.
"Guess I have to listen to my external conscience today. Riley, I'm sorry for all the shit I have put you through, man….. Just jealous, I guess." Riley nodded, feeling tension drain away from him. Now they had a chance at being friends.
Willow was eased by his words but not completely satisfied. She raised an eyebrow at Xander and tightened her mouth again. Xander looked at her in confusion, then let out an even louder sigh. "Not the resolve face, Wills. …..Okay, okay, I'll apologize to Angel too." She beamed at him. "But only because you forced me into it…"
Her hand smacked him lightly on the shoulder but she was still smiling. "And Alexander Harris finally grows up. Who would have thought it would ever happen….."
The opening of the front door interrupted Xander's sharp retort. They gasped at the condition of Spike's face as he sauntered easily into the room. His right eye was bruised, his nose trickled blood above a severely split lip and he was favoring his left leg. But his smile was broad and for the first time in three days, full of hope. "'Allo ducks. Didja miss us?"
Willow squeaked in alarm, "Spike, what happened to your face?"
The blond vampire grinned and ducked his head a little. " Me and Angelu…Angel went for a few rounds. Old times sake and all…."
Angel moved into the shadows behind Spike and shut the door. Riley noted that he was without a single mark, not even one strand of his hair had been disturbed. After perusing Spike's condition, he determined this was a very, very dangerous being. Thankfully the earlier discussion had convinced him that he was at least on their side. Perhaps not his side, but Angel would do anything to save Buffy.
Willow rose from the floor, went into the kitchen and dampened a clean washcloth with cool water. She handed it wordlessly to Spike. The younger vampire accepted it and began cleaning the blood from his face. Giles cleared his throat, surprised by the abrupt change in Spike's emotional condition. "Spike, you seem quite cheerful, despite our dire circumstances."
"Well, Watcher.. for the first time we have a plan that might work. Angel here says the chit is still alive…" All eyes shifted to the dark-haired vampire leaning against the hall tree. He nodded slowly, his face not revealing anything further. After handing the used cloth back to Willow, Spike rubbed his hands together in an almost gleeful fashion. "We can use the blood bond to locate her."
Giles adjusted the glasses on his nose and looked sharply at Angel. "Do you think… Is it really accurate enough for you to pinpoint her location?"
"It won't be easy but I'm sure I can find her. As long as she is still alive, I can feel her." Angel could see the man's scholarly curiosity rising. Giles was a man with a mission again. No longer lost, he could make use of this unexpected resource to save His Slayer.
"I had always suspected there was so much we didn't know about the blood rituals……" Giles strode over to a bookcase and pulled several books out. Willow and Xander exchanged hopeful but resigned looks as they move to sit around Giles' table. Research was something they understood, something they could use as a focus.
Giles distributed the books to Xander, Willow, Anya and Tara who promptly dug into their tasks. Riley stood apart from the others, he was not well versed in the intricacies of Giles' library and also not entirely comfortable with the process either.
The Watcher nodded with approval of his students and then faced the two vampires. "My books are well and good as secondary sources. But perhaps it would be best to check with the absolute authority…. What can you tell me about the blood bond, Angel?"
"The blood bond exists mainly between a sire and their childe. We can feel our offspring whenever they are near. It is like a pleasant itch, growing stronger the closer the two are to each other." Angel turned to Spike, who flashed him an intimate look of desire. "It is strongest in a mated pair….."
"Hmm… What constitutes a mated pair?" Giles had the good grace to flush at the heat in Angel's eyes. "Oh, I see."
Riley spoke for the first time since the vampires had rejoined them. "I'm still in the dark. Care to fill me in on this, gentlemen?" The mention of a mate had come up earlier between the two and Riley was positive Angel had been referring to Buffy. He knew he was making a standard territorial move, he recognized his actions from his textbooks. But it didn't stop him from challenging the other alpha male in the room.
Angel's shoulders tightened as he slowly turned towards him. Riley could have sworn this was a totally different man from the one who walked in behind Spike. His features were sharper, paler, more defined and the brown eyes gleamed with a feral yellow light. The voice was even more seductive than earlier, hypnotic in its intensity. "Let me give you a lesson in vampiric mating habits. Riley, isn't it?"
Riley swallowed and nodded slowly, every nerve in his body screamed this was a predator, a sleek dangerous hunter closing in on him. He stood his ground and earned a flicker of respect from the mesmerizing eyes. His body was tightening, preparing for a fight. But the darker man stopped a few feet from him and leaned against the wall with a sardonic half-smile on his lips.
It was a smile that reached no further than his mouth.
"A mated pair in vampire circles is very rare. We are basically amoral creatures." Angel's gaze swept the room, touching on each member with a cold caress. "To put it bluntly, we'll fuck anything that moves."
Spike chuckled and moved closer to Riley as well, subtly backing him into a corner. He had not played this kind of game with his sire for almost a hundred years. Hunting with Angelus was such fun. "And some things that don't, mate. If you catch my drift."
Giles was surreptitiously taking notes while he and the other people flipped through the books. He knew Riley was safe, Spike was still neutered and Angel wouldn't let his own demon slip his restraints. Here was a first-hand chance to observe an older pair hunting without worrying about bloodshed. The language was a bit strong but he was certain it wouldn't shock the children's sensibilities.
Plus, it would give the young man a glimpse at the complex psyches of the demons he had hunted with such careless abandon. Giles was of the firm opinion the Initiative had been meddling with things they could not possibly comprehend. That monstrosity created by Maggie Walsh was a prime example of their blunders.
What were they planning on doing with all of the creatures they had implanted with their chips? Did they really think that they could release them into the world and have them survive? Typical of an academician, all experimentation and no follow-through. He was almost glad that Adam had killed that harridan.
Riley shot glances towards each of the vampires, they had him flanked and were moving him into a corner. He decided it was best to play it cool, not to panic. Angel shifted from the wall, the movement bringing his body closer by a few inches. Spike made a similar move and Riley felt the wall behind him as his back pressed up against it.
Two sets of nostrils flared, testing the prey's scent in the air. Their eyes were dilated in the dim light to catch even the subtlest of movements. Riley chose to ignore Spike, knowing the chip would buy him time if he decided to attack. Angel was an entirely different creature, there was no chip to control him, no safety net to fall back on. His entire focus was now on Angel, cataloging his every move and calculating his chances of survival.
As Angel shifted again, Riley was struck by the similarity of the man's movements to Buffy's. This was the one who had really trained her. Here was the source of her fluid grace, the little head movement that signaled her attack mode. This man oozed power and a wellspring of sensuality that flowed beneath the surface of his skin.
Riley noticed his mouth go dry and his skin felt tight as he watched the tip of Angel's tongue caress his upper lip. He knew it was part of the scent gathering process but it reminded him so strongly of Buffy. She made that particular move with her tongue almost every time before she kissed him. His head started to tilt back, easing the way.
His shock was absolute when his brain registered he was trembling in supplication, baring his throat to their fangs. A brilliant red flush started below his collar as the rest of his condition became apparent to him. He was achingly hard, his loose fitting trousers barely concealed the extent of his condition. *God, I get it now… This is why the victims almost never struggle. A hunting vampire must give off some type of powerful pheromone.*
The vampires shared a look as they caught the scent of his arousal. It spoke of long nights from a century past spent in the thrill of the hunt, the exquisite sensation of sharing a kill. They would stalk the victim, bring them to their shared bed, slide into the willing body from either end, dally with them for many hours and then drain them at the apex of an orgasm. It had been a very satisfying way to spend eternity…….
Angel shook himself out of the reverie, firmly tamped his demon down into place and studied the young man trapped between them. He had to admit the boy was handsome and well made. He was tall, taller than Angel by at least an inch. Broad shoulders, strong arms, big hands. He smiled almost sadly; Buffy had always loved his own large hands, especially when they were on her tiny body.
Short light brown hair and soft hazel eyes, a shade very similar to his beloved's. But it was the mouth that drew him in, it was lush and wide with full lips. Angel mused on how those lips would feel beneath his own, parting to admit his tongue. He felt his cock stir and rise slowly as he imagined the feel of the boy's lips encircling him, that tongue which had just darted out of a suddenly dry mouth lashing over his length. The muscles in that throat working him in deeper with each gentle thrust, tightening on him as the young man swallowed his come.
Spike's voice came from so close to his ear that Riley jumped, his heart pounding in his chest. He hadn't realized the blond vampire was right beside him, his mouth only a foot away from his throat. "Anything with a hole will do, mate…." The voice dropped to a whisper of breath across his skin. "Even you, pet, even you."
A soft groan escaped for Riley's chest. They were so close to him, they smelled so good. His Iowa-bred sensibilities were screaming at him but he couldn't move, couldn't drop his eyes from Angel's. He watched in spellbound fascination as those large hands moved closer to him. He knew instinctively they would feel like heaven on him, much better than his own as they engulfed his erection, stroking him toward a sexual high he had yet to reach in his short life.
Angel's beautiful mouth was inches away from his own and Riley felt himself arching toward his kiss when Giles determined that was enough torture for the young man. The Watcher cleared his throat and all movement ceased. Spike grinned and stepped away from Riley's trembling body.
Angel looked slightly embarrassed as he turned back towards the rest of the occupants in the room. Privately, he was amazed at the depth of his reaction to the boy. He wanted to hate him, his demon did hate him, but his body wanted him. Trust Buffy to find someone they both would respond to with equal fervor…
Giles was watching the trio with mild amusement, especially as Spike rolled his eyes at the other two. The Watcher cleared his throat, "I believe you were explaining the significance of a mated pair, weren't you, Angel?"
Angel recognized the slight tone of disapproval in Giles' voice but caught his amusement as well. "Glad to see you're still in there, Ripper." Giles acknowledged him by a sliver of a smile but brought them back to the subject with a raise of his eyebrow.
Riley was panting quietly, trying to restrain a whimper of regret as the two moved away from him. He shook his head to clear the erotic images that kept flooding through him. Strange, none of the images included Hostile 17, just the vampire called Angel. His internal voice mocked him. *Pheromones, my ass. Try latent homosexual tendencies, Rye.…* He shook his head again, it was time to pay attention, he would deal with the rest of this later…. Much later.
Angel's tone was much lighter than before, his body relaxed as he leaned against the kitchen counter beside Giles. "As I was saying, we are basically amoral. We don't form any long-term attachments…"
"That's mostly because we're playin' with our food." Spike grinned at the shocked looks around the desk, he so loved yanking their chains.
"Umm….. and I think I speak for all of us when I say, ewww!!" Xander was flushed, he stared at the two as if he had never seen them before in his life. Well, actually he had expected such gross comments from Spike but Angel was being much less cryptic than usual and he wasn't sure he liked it.
"Just statin' the facts."
"Try being a little less graphic. I just ate…… Oh God, did I just mention food?" Xander looked as though he was about to lose the dinner he just mentioned. He swallowed loudly and turned back to his book. "Yeah, research, research is a safe topic. Don't think about naked vampires, naked vampires."
Anya rescued him, "Off topic, Xander."
"Right…. Lessee blood rituals…." His head was down as he studiously avoided looking at either of the vampires. Spike gave Angel an unrepentant grin and motioned for him to continue. His sire inclined his head toward Spike as a half-smile flitted across his face. Angel so loved watching Xander squirm, however he knew Giles was waiting for him to speak.
"We do occasionally choose a mate. In most cases it is another vampire, sometimes a demon and in very rare circumstances, a human. The human does not remain so for very long, once a human mate is chosen, they are turned…" Angel shrugged his shoulders at their shocked looks. "Remember, we are demons after all, our morals and perceptions aren't the same as yours. We won't watch a loved one wither and die….."
The group was silent for a moment, dealing with the implications of Angel's cool assessment of the facts. They had never really looked at it from quite the same angle. Giles cleared his throat, "Ah, yes, I can see your point… But how does this type of relationship differ between the standard connection of a sire and childe?"
"The sire/childe bond is very strong but it does not hold a candle to a mated pair. Once a mating has occurred, the partners are inseparable and often choose a monogamous relationship." Angel glanced up at Spike and his heart wrenched at the depth of hurt in his eyes. "Spike?"
Spike sighed, he couldn't believe he was admitting this. "Dru and I were a mated pair…."
"But I thought she left you." Willow regretted the words the instant they were voiced. *Great, open mouth insert foot all the way up to the hip.*
Spike's eyes shut in remembered pain as he turned his face away from the group. "Aye, that she did…. I haven't had a moments peace since that day either, Red."
"Spike, I'm so sorry. Sometimes, I could just kick myself….."
"S'all right. Gotta deal with it sometime." He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and motioned at the door. "I'll be outside havin' a fag. Call me when show and tell is over, Angel."
Angel nodded, silently giving him permission to leave. After the door closed behind him, he continued, "Spike is right, he and Dru are a mated pair. That is why it hurts him so much to be away from her. If it weren't for the chip in his head, he would have gone after her weeks ago. But no one wants a defanged vampire, especially someone as unstable as Dru." His eyes were full of compassion and pain for his injured childe, there was nothing he could do to help him.
Riley felt a moment of guilt as he realized the Initiative's actions had brought this about. There was so much they didn't know about the creatures they hunted. It had always been about the capture, the containment, protecting the public. Never once had he considered how the HSTs might feel about it.
"So, how long does a mating usually last, Angel?" Tara finally spoke, blushing a little as she looked up at him. She had never seen such gentleness in a man's face and now believed everything Willow had told her about the ensouled vampire. This was not a raving demon, this was a man.
"F-forever, as in eternity, forever?" Willow's voice cracked, she found herself staring at him as though she had never seen him before.
"Yes. The mating bond lasts until one of the pair dies…the other follows soon thereafter." He looked past them into the rest of the apartment, not wanting to see their reactions to his next words. "Usually by suicide."
"Suicide, you mean like staking yourself?" Giles was fascinated, he never thought a vampire could form such a deep bond with anything. If he had been still on the Council, this discussion would have generated an impressive new thesis on vampiric behavior.
"There are much easier ways to die, Rupert. Unlike you, all we have to do is wait for the sun to rise." Angel closed his eyes, tears were welling up and he did not want them to see. If Buffy died, he would turn himself to ash on her grave at the very next dawn.
Anya, being the forthright ex-demoness, voiced the question that no one else dared ask. "So, are you and Buffy a mated pair?" Xander spun towards her in his chair, face frozen in a state of shock. He couldn't believe she had actually said it.
Angel dropped his head, cool tears sliding out from underneath the lids, leaving tracks down his face. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and opened his eyes. They were staring at him with mixed expressions on their faces. Willow and Tara regarded him with a mixture of love and sadness, Xander was furious, Giles guarded, Anya curious. Riley's face was shuttered and unreadable, but Angel could sense the tension coiled beneath the surface.
The half-smile on his face was very tender and sad. "Angelus seems to think so…."
No one spoke for a very long time, then Giles cleared his throat. "So why didn't you turn her last May?" His tone was not accusatory, but instead held curiosity and a tinge of sympathy.
"I have better control of my demon that that, Giles… My God, she's Buffy! She's a child of light and belongs in the day. How could I condemn the only person I have ever loved to this… this freak show that is my life?" Angel glared at him, his hands clenched in fists, tears drying on his face. He turned abruptly away and stalked past the table into the living room, keeping his back to the group.
Riley was surprised at how calm he was considering they were discussing the girl he loved. But he understood how Angel felt about her. Buffy was laughter, sunshine and light. If the vampire loved her as deeply as Willow had said, it must have been agony for him walk away, to give her up. He suddenly felt an affinity for this man, something he usually only had for his fellow soldiers.
Angel's voice was raw with pain, he did not turn back around but stared out the windows instead. "It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, Giles. I could have had her with me forever, but the world needed her….. It needed her much more than I did and I would not be the one to take her away from it."
Now he turned and the anguish on his face was heart-rending. His voice was no more than a whisper, but everyone heard him. "I couldn't take her away from all of you….Couldn't let a demon wear her face… So I left, to remove the temptation. I left her here and now… now she's lost. I wasn't here to protect her and she's lost." He couldn't continue, the lump in his throat was too large to allow words around it.
Softhearted Willow sobbed, knocking over her chair in her haste to reach him. She pulled his trembling body into her arms and comforted him in almost mirror-fashion to his earlier actions with her. "Shh, Aingeal. No one blames you for this…. You'll find her, we'll help you find her."
His arms wrapped tightly around her back and for the first time since he had awoken that morning, he let go of the knot of emotions he held in such a tight check. Willow kissed his hair, his cheek, his neck as he shook in her embrace, his silent sobs more telling to her of his abject fear and sorrow than any words. His tears were cold and copious, soaking her shoulder as she stood on her tiptoes. Tara soon joined her, they rocked him in their arms as he wept.
The men looked away, not comfortable with the display of such strong emotion while Anya watched with avid interest. The soothing touch of the two girls eventually calmed Angel, he took several shuddering breaths and murmured his thanks as they moved away to settle on the couch. All eyes returned to his face as he continued, "She's out there somewhere. She's hurting and the only way I can help is to allow Angelus to track her….."
"She's in pain? You can feel that much through the bond?"
"Giles, the closer I get to her, the more I feel. Angelus woke me this morning, telling me she was dying…"
"Dying! " Riley leapt to his feet, adrenaline instantly screaming through his veins. "What do you mean she's dying!"
"The link to her this morning was so weak, he thought she was dying." The vampire regarded him somberly, gauging Riley's reaction to his flat statement. He was not disappointed.
"Well, is she? And if she is, why the hell are we still here?" Riley moved away from the stairs. His hands were clenched in fists, he was ready to take on anything to save her.
"She's not dying, not yet. All I can tell you is that she was very weak this morning but she has been growing steadily stronger. If we patrol Sunnydale, I should be able to locate her...."
"So why aren't we going?"
"Because the sun will rise soon. And I won't be able to do much as a pile of dust." The door opened and Spike slid into the room. Most of his earlier injuries were healed and he looked much calmer, almost back to his usual cocky self.
"Time to go to ground, mate. Want to stay with me in my crypt? I promise I won't snore." His grin was infectious and Angel felt himself responding with a small smile of his own.
"No. The mansion is still open and I have a rather comfortable bed there." His eyebrows raised in an unspoken invitation. Spike gave him an even broader smile. The blond spun on his heel and opened the door.
"Right then. Let's be off."
Angel followed him out but stopped at the threshold. "We'll be back at sunset…. Try to get some rest." With that, he was gone.