Touched

Touched

By Esmeralda


DISCLAIMER: They are at Joss' whims permanently. Mine only when I sort myself out and write something non-profit-making, like this. Some dialogue is taken from 'Untouched', written by Mere Smith and copyright to her (or possibly Mutant Enemy. Or possibly Fox. Not me, anyway. I only nicked it).
TIMELINE: Spins off during 'The Replacement' and replaces 'Untouched'.
SPOILERS: Just those eps, and in general.
IMPROV: #20 mild - twin - deaf - asleep
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is my first challenge fic, answering bulletproof. Challenge details are at the end.
FEEDBACK: Think of it as your good turn for the day!
THANKS: Serena, Trix - thanks as always for the wonderful beta! *hugs*
RATING: R, last part NC-17

 

 

PART ONE - A Natural Perspective

 

 

One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,
A natural perspective, that is, and is not.

~ William Shakespeare, 'Twelfth Night'

 

 

 

 

~Who you?~

Fuzzy face above. Mirror face.

~Who we?~

Lack of pain. Absence of power.

~What happen?~

Remembrance of fear, tall-lightning demon.

~Answer!~

Oblivion.

* * * * *

"I want her gone, Lindsey," she insisted calmly. "She's a barrier."

You're jealous of her, he wanted to say. He didn't understand... Darla or Angel. How could a being as strange and wonderful as Darla feel threatened by a teenaged girl? How could Angel prefer that same girl over her, to the extent that he would sacrifice one to protect the other's short life?

He didn't say any of what he thought, of course. Darla was unpredictable on her best days. Sometimes she spoke of Angel with love, adoration shining softly in her eyes... and sometimes she exhibited rage which Lindsey, who thought he knew the darkest, ugliest reaches of anger, had never even imagined.

"The demon has been sent," he reassured her, raising his hand unconsciously to his tight, irritating tie.

Odd, how even now he tried to grip with fingers that weren't there. The phantom hand taunted him more than the plastic one.

He knew Darla noticed by the sudden curve of her lips. She found pleasure in his pain, he knew... evidence that the demon she so hated to be restrained was still screaming inside Angel.

"He will succeed," Lindsey said with certainty. "She'll die."

"And I'll taste his grief," Darla said with satisfaction, rolling the words out, licking her lips languidly.

Lindsey stared at her, aroused... whether by her actions or the promise of Angel's pain, he wasn't sure.

* * * * *

She waits, lurking with preternatural skill outside the window. Inside, She can feel the Other, the girl with whom She was bonded. She does not know what happened to split them apart, but She feels, knows them to be bonded still. What happens to one, will happen to the other.

The Other is inside with the poisonous ones, the ones the Other loves. She hisses angrily at the thought. The previous Others - and the second Other, with who She feels Herself yet - this emotion did not infect them, affect Her, as it does this one. She fears it is permanent, for She has come to know this Other well, the fire of the Other burning brighter from the time She was recalled into its body. She does not usually notice the body of the Other She inhabits. It is Her body, for they are one, and they are all the same, for She makes them one. Death does not, cannot trouble Her.

She is eternal, eternally assisted by a succession of faces with one name: Watcher.

And now, She is alone. The Other is not there to temper Her, tame Her as she is used to being controlled.

There is only one who may dominate Her now; the vampire who dared to mate and mark Her. She will take herself to him, and he will protect Her and the Other. She can feel a Master vampire across a continent, attuned to the spread of their evil as She is, and with this one... his blood flows in Her veins, Hers in his. His body is Hers, while his soul cries out for the Other.

She may kill him yet, the vampire She loves without understanding love and hates with knowing little else. But for now, he can help Her, and She somehow knows She can find an unfamiliar ease in his presence.

But first, She needs to wait for those the Other has gathered around her to disperse.

There may be one who stays, the man who thinks to challenge the vampire's claim. She will not allow it. He may leave, save his own life; or he may be dealt with this night.

* * * * *

Buffy lay back on her bed, festooned with ice packs and bandages. Toth hadn't hurt her as much as the fall into the garbage had - harming her pride not the least - and yet she had been quite happy, for once, to take the sympathy her friends offered; not too much, as they'd found her unconscious and she'd had to play down the many ouchies she was feeling to avoid a hospital trip.

Plus, Slayer healing had yet to kick in, and the aspirin she'd taken weren't working much better.

A pair of loving arms might have helped, but she'd dispatched Riley with the rest of them, citing tiredness and guaranteed general grumpy behaviour. She hadn't mentioned the sudden chaos inside her regarding him: the simultaneous weary affection, pull towards him to assuage the equally sudden emptiness she felt and the revulsion at his gentle touch on her body and silent pleas to her soul... she couldn't explain that to herself. How would she describe it to him? How could she?

She almost hoped she was concussed - at least that would explain the weirdness towards Riley, the gush of warmth she'd felt for the friends she was really still rebonding with, the startling loss of physical condition she felt instinctively, the face identical to hers at her window.

Buffy reconsidered the last and squinted. The face remained exactly where it was, apart from the part where it was climbing into the room with an easy, familiar grace. Buffy had *made* those movements. They *were* her movements.

But then, it looked like it was her, so that was understandable.

She examined the figure detachedly. It wore the same outfit she did. It had the same rumpled hair she did. The make-up was as messed up on it as it was on Buffy, but the smeared mascara of the figure framed eyes that made Buffy draw in a surprised, harsh breath.

Hazel, as her own were, but showing a bloodthirsty, wild gleam that Buffy had felt - more and more often, the longer she Slayed - but had never, ever betrayed to her friends... or admitted to herself.

* * * * *

The essence of Slayer was not talkative, Buffy remembered. No words, Tara had said in the freaky dream. And yet, she and the mirror image of her slouched with fluid, deadly elegance in the passenger seat of Joyce's car could communicate, in a way. Mind to mind - but not like the experience of mind-reading Buffy recalled.

The First Slayer *literally* had no words. She thought in colours, shapes, feelings, and though Buffy translated them into words in her own mind, every time the Slayer sent her something, she reeled from the purity of it. Words weren't enough for what the First Slayer had to say.

Buffy had never wanted to relish the kill as much as she knew she always would in the future. The First Slayer lived for it, had conveyed to Buffy with a perfect, horrifying clarity the pleasure she felt as strong vampire flesh cleaved beneath her driving stake.

There was very little in the Slayer's mind that didn't concern the kill. Buffy could feel her anxiety at not being out, free in the night to hunt its creatures, and could identify, though she no longer felt it as anything more than a dim memory, a sense of duty that she was *supposed* to be out there... she didn't feel as if she *had* to be, didn't need to be.

There was one thing she did share with the First Slayer. She wanted to get to Angel, had almost drowned Buffy in desire and physical ache and a love that confused the First Slayer even as it soothed her. *That* Buffy felt as considerably more than a dim memory... dim, yes, because she had taken pains to train herself, over that lonely summer and the time afterwards, to put away what she felt for Angel in a little box marked 'Do Not Go There', to let the pain subside into a manageable ache that she could sometimes trick her body into forgetting.

The First Slayer had no such restraint, saw no such need for it, and she had allowed it to swamp Buffy, tinged with a faint feeling Buffy had recognised as remonstration and disapproval that Buffy had allowed herself to forget the one the Slayer thought of as her mate.

Buffy only wished she'd been able to.

* * * * *

Darla sat silently in the little room of the Hyperion she had appropriated for her use, carefully replacing in the fancy jar what little remained of the Calynthia powder she'd used to keep Angel's body asleep and mind assaulted by memories of her.

She smiled, again reliving the memories she'd fed to him that night... visions of the first, wild time she'd taken him, lying flat, confused and hungry - for blood, for her - on the damp, disturbed earth of his grave.

She'd schooled him well after that, the little he hadn't already found out over a dozen years of lechery with any girl of the village, all the girls of the village, but still... there wasn't quite anything to beat the first, voraciously primitive surgings of the newly powerful body of a just-risen Childe.

She suppressed a growl. It had never been the same, after, with him because of his almost-immediate tries for independence... rebelling against her Blood domination of him before he even understood what it was. He'd stayed with her, of course - Darla knew pleasure, and she chose for her consorts those who would remain bound to her because of it - but he'd never quite gotten used to being her property.

He would, she thought, trailing the last of the purple, almost glowing powder between her fingers. He would return to her, not as her consort, not at first... he had killed her and he would pay for it under lash and whip and chains. She would have him kneeling, begging at her feet, and when he was ready - no, when she was ready - she would allow her dear boy to stand beside her again, and he would understand and be grateful for the power she handed him.

She heard the two dreary humans he worked with arguing and rolled her eyes. She would have him kill them among the first. It was dangerous, to still be in the hotel, with the residual cloaking properties of the powder effective for only a few minutes more... but she found it so difficult to tear herself away from him, to lift herself off his straining body (denial. She would certainly make use of that in her punishment) which cooled the detestable warmth of her own, to bring them both out of the lovely, dirty, bloody moments she brought him back to.

She placed the jar safely in the small purse she carried and slid out of the door, keeping to the shadows. Vampiric she might no longer be, but she remembered perfectly the gifts and tricks of that state and used them to the best of her ability. She risked a slight move forward to peer over the balcony into the atrium. It was a fine place, really. She might let him keep it on; she could imagine, a human in every room, feeding she and Angel on their delectable fear and confusion until their bodies nourished them...

But now, she had to get out, and so she took one last glance at Angel, mediating the argument, and slipped quietly out of the back entrance she had found easily.

As she left, she rolled her eyes at the sound of that Cordelia girl in the throes of a vision.

* * * * *

You're not getting the big picture here. I-I have *no* strength. I have *no* co-ordination. I throw knives like... like I'm not the Slayer.

~ Buffy, 'Helpless'

* * * * *

"This! Was! Such! A bad! Idea!" Buffy panted, running as fast as she could after the First Slayer. She didn't understand it - okay, she didn't have the Slayer speed anymore, but she was still fit.

Of course, the cut over her right eye from where her head had hit the steering wheel wasn't helping any... and added to the injuries she'd suffered from Toth...

She was pretty lucky she was still standing up, she decided, and pulled on the First Slayer's hand. She'd been reluctant to fight the men, for what reason Buffy couldn't imagine, but she was just going to have to. Buffy tested her own muscles, praying for a positive response: they didn't have the smooth, supernatural elasticity anymore, but she was still a martial arts expert.

She should be able to do some damage. She hoped.

The First Slayer crowded Buffy behind her. Buffy almost wished the First Slayer had gone after Angel without her, but a bigger part of instinctively knew the truth of what the First Slayer had communicated to her, that if either was harmed the other shared the same fate... and an even bigger part objected possessively to the First Slayer getting anywhere *near* Angel while not still residing in Buffy's body. Being with her was the next best thing.

They rounded the alley corner, and Buffy felt something she hadn't known for over four years, not when faced with humans: fear.

"What you making us run around for?" One of them asked, moving closer. He was bearded, scruffily dressed. Solely human, Buffy was less sensitive to the auric emanations that often signalled danger to her... but completely human, completely female, she was even more conscious that this guy was a Threat.

The other guy, a balding, slightly older but no less dangerous man, came out from behind his friend, who stopped him, his mocking eyes never leaving Buffy's.

"Hey, I choose first. You think I want your seconds? You pig. Guy's a pig," he said to her, and for a moment Buffy was amazed at his matter-of-fact tone. Slaying never brought her many human monsters - she remembered Faith was in jail in this town - but they were easily most difficult to face.

In the Buffy lexicon, humans were supposed to be okay.

There was a momentary silence in the alley, and Buffy became aware of her own breathing, rough and hitching with threatened, frightened sobs, a harsh contrast to the deep, measured breaths the First Slayer was taking. Buffy tried to modulate her breathing to match. She had to stay calm.

There was a low rasping as the bearded guy withdrew a long, gleaming knife from his pants.

Buffy's breath stopped altogether.

The men smiled.

The knife turned over, reflecting the dim streetlight, showing a small, old bloodstain on one side of the wicked blade.

The First Slayer smiled.

And a dumpster on the other side of the alley suddenly flew across it as if pushed by avenging angels, crushing the men behind it, giving them no time to yell before its unforgiving weight was on them.

//She looks on, taking no pleasure in the kill, for humans are not Her prey and their killing gives Her no satisfaction but the prosaic vanquishing of a threat.//

Buffy started breathing again, torn between relief and shock. The cold-blooded way the First Slayer had done that was chilling, not born of anger or fear as Buffy's attacks would have been... just - death. Simply and without warning. That of humans, even the scum of which she was meant to protect.

Was this what she could be? Would be?

She didn't know. And she also didn't know...

"Hey, did I know I could do that? No one ever told me about that."

The First Slayer took her by the hand and led her away. Buffy followed, confused, tired and hurting.

* * * * *

Angel snagged an abandoned cup of coffee off the top of a squad car, walking purposefully into the alley. Cordelia's vision had been vague, even by the usual standards; the place and the attackers. Very little of the lost soul he was meant to help; all Cordelia had been able to say, gasping through the pain, was that the feelings she felt were... divided somehow. As if the person had dual feelings. His first thought had been schizophrenia... but how was he qualified to handle that?

Unless, of course, it was a demonic-possession kind, in which case he definitely had the qualifications. Now, with his Darla dreams, more than ever. He rubbed his side uncomfortably... he distinctly recalled her fingernails digging cruelly into his flesh, extracting her pound and more of it as she rode him. It had been so *vivid*. He had clearly seen the expressions crossing her face, smelt the animal scent of her and of her body joined with him, tasted the stolen blood running through her veins - his blood - and the delicate, pale skin that covered her small frame.

Not even his hideous, dark dreams after killing her had been so clear; not even his fuzzy dream memories of hell so unwelcome.

Or not. He kept going back to bed, back into it. That scared him more.

But right now he had to hijack a case and detect it. He hated having to do that.

Directly ahead of him was a young, green-looking officer. All the better.

"So, what have we got here?" he asked brusquely, coming up behind the officer.

"Uh - you're not..."

Angel stifled a grin - this was illegal and dangerous and kind of immature... but at least he was on a divine mission. "Hey, you wanna get behind the tape?" he called, gesturing at the massed ghouls at the alley opening. "You wanna gawk, go home and watch a high speed chase on Fox." He abruptly turned his attention to the officer, "You want to think about keeping the tourists off my crime scene?"

The kid looked confused, and Angel felt sorry for him. "But I-I'm..."

"I'm out of vice three weeks, I've seen enough amateur night crap to fill a mini-series." Walking further into the alley, looking carefully about him and extending his other senses as well, Angel swung back to the kid and gestured with his purloined coffee. "You wanna pretend that's not a cub scouts uniform and tell me about dead people?"

The officer stumbled to answer his superior, "Uh, well, detective, what happened is we had to scrape them off the wall. Guys got pinned by a two ton dumpster."

"It fell on them," Angel said, taking a sip and swallowing the disgusting coffee with difficulty.

The officer looked uncomfortable, "Ah, no. They were actually pinned to the wall. Looks like somebody might have shoved the dumpster from the side."

Angel walked further down the alley, reaching his cup back towards the officer, who hurried to take it from him.

"Have to be somebody pretty strong," Angel said, more to himself than the other guy. Increased, unnatural strength... demonic possession looked likely.

"Yeah. You're telling me," the officer said, feeling himself to be building up something of a camaraderie. He pointed at a small pool of blood on the ground. "Splashed those guys all the way up here."

Angel crouched down, and reflexively held back the demon while he sniffed the blood, "It's not their blood," he answered, quietly, suddenly absorbed. Ignoring the officer, he walked to the other end of the alley. Yes, he could smell her now. Feel her, if he allowed himself that luxury.

It was Buffy's blood.

* * * * *

She felt the vampire minutes ago and now, as he nears them, She can barely restrain Herself. She prowls restlessly, watching over the Other dozing fitfully, Her gut going crazy, screaming at Her to fashion a stake, to hunt, to kill. She ignores it, because stronger is Her need to have him close to Her, to know of his safety and reassure him of Hers.

She knows he is scared. Scared for the Other, whose blood he smells as well as She does.

It does not bother Her. The Other is safe, will live. For Her there is life and there is death, and they are the same. She does not notice Herself in the first because She does not experience the second. There is no time She can remember where She has been anything but the huntress, most alive of any being that thinks itself so; She deals with death everyday, but never has She dwelt in its soft embrace.

Apart from when She and the Other were in the deadly, carnal feeding embrace of the creature who now walks through the door, moving with a purposeful anxiety. She smells his fear. He is afraid the Other is hurt.

He sees her, lying prone on an uncomfortable makeshift bed of cardboard boxes, and his features crease with worry.

He is rushing over when She attacks, leaping on him from Her hiding place, knocking him over with a combination of pure Slayer strength, fettered only by the human body, and surprise. They roll over and over. He is only partly fighting; he understands he is being attacked, but he also feels that She is the assailant.

It goes against half of what he is to harm Her.

Eventually, She has him pinned, and straddles him at the waist, holding his arms above his head. He goes still... his eyes flicker over to the Other.

She growls down at him, demanding he pay Her attention. The hoarse, primal sound gets it; he looks up at Her, and then he shrinks back. She growls again, pleased. He understands Her power over him.

She leans down, sniffs him gently, nosing the cold, pale skin at the bottom of his throat. He gasps, and She would laugh if She had laughter... as it is, She enjoys his submission as he bares his throat to Her. She almost sinks in blunt teeth, but She holds it back. It is hard - She is not used to denying Herself, She is used to only the Other denying Her - but ultimately, instinct wins. He is Her mate, but he is a vampire. And She is the Slayer.

She is suddenly jerked backwards, off him, and growls Her anger, wheeling to attack... the Other. The Other glares, steps towards the vampire in a gesture both of warning and pleading. She can tell that he is confused, so She allows it.

They are speaking together. She does not understand their words, but She can feel what the Other is feeling: hope that he will help them, will understand; her worry at how to explain something she does not understand; a screaming need, now that she is close to him, to be closer.

The Other does not allow herself to betray her emotions, but She has no such guards and fits Herself closely against Her mate's side. He is awkward, remembering Her earlier show of domination, remembering his history with the Other, thinking through a haze of the demon's fear. She always knew about the fear he hid to be with the Other... now, the purity of Her power as the Slayer, undiluted by the Other's humanity, teaches the demon about terror.

He puts an arm around Her, holds Her to him, and She becomes easy against him. He reaches out his other arm, and the Other steps gladly into the circle of his embrace. The link between She and the Other is silent and content, for the moment. They are with their mate, and he will take care of them.

She hears the demon roar from where it is trapped, confused by the sudden distinction between scents it had always thought of as lover (dangerous love, of obsession and possession and bloodlust), now split definitely into prey and enemy.

She vaguely feels the blurred distinction between it and the soul, which wants only one of them.

* * * * *

Angel guided Buffy gently into the lobby of the Hyperion, a watchful half step behind her in case she stumbled. He was worried about her injuries; she'd demurred firmly when he asked her to go to the hospital, stating that she only needed some rest, but the cut on her forehead still bled sluggishly and she was in obvious pain.

And of course, her Slayer healing wasn't going to kick in anytime soon.

He could feel her behind him. He didn't know what was going on - Buffy's explanation had been sketchy at best - but he could attest - the demon in him could attest - that the woman in front of him was pure human, and the woman behind, pure Slayer. Not really a woman at all.

From the first moment Angel had laid eyes on Buffy, he'd felt two of the strongest emotions he'd known every time he looked at her: love, and fear, and sometimes it was difficult to know which was more powerful. Occasionally, in the early days, it had been the fear, and he'd walked away without letting her know he was close.

Occasionally, the love had been the most powerful and he'd walked away anyway.

Gradually he'd come to associate that dual rush with Buffy even as he learned to disregard it. Having the source of each separate was disconcerting; not only the eerie silence of the other Buffy (and the eerieness of her being at all) and the demon's reaction to the First Slayer, but realising for the first time that those emotions were not as separate as Buffy's two sides obviously were.

When the First Slayer had pinned him earlier, he had known that it wasn't exactly Buffy... and yet he'd reacted to her in the same way. Physical, certainly: the effect of her slim, lithe body, of the hint of the elixir that was Slayer blood, of her animalistic actions. But it had been emotional, too - the love he was letting himself begin to feel for his friends and had always felt for Buffy.

And when he'd seen Buffy, the real Buffy (though which was the real Buffy, when for so long he'd thought of her as a whole who was the sum of her parts, girl and Slayer?), he'd felt the same physical reaction because it was the same body, though the stronger tang of blood from her was solely human, if no less tantalising. Seeing Buffy again had forced him to remember the love for her that he laid aside to get through the day, coupled with a powerful tenderness due to her injuries and newly fragile frame. And still, despite the fact that now she was no match for him, no longer his predatory equal, he'd felt fear when he looked at her.

Both of them had the power to kill him, though only one could turn him to dust.

He was interrupted from his thoughts by Wesley's startled exclamation, "Buffy! What are you..." he looked past Angel to Buffy's doppelganger, "and who is..."

"She was the one in the vision," Angel said crisply, "they both were." He indicated the Buffy before him as he showed her over to the large couch, "This is Buffy. The other one," he settled Buffy and walked back over to the restless First Slayer, "is the First Slayer. Somehow they were separated."

Wesley's expression betrayed nothing, but Angel could sense the former Watcher's excitement at his words.

"When you say 'separated'," he said, rummaging below the counter for the First Aid kit they kept there, "do you mean..."

"We used to share a body and now we don't anymore," Buffy snapped tiredly from her inert position on the couch. "Clear?"

Wesley fumbled with the book he was reaching for, and Angel felt a thread of irritation. He picked up the First Aid kit, leading the First Slayer behind the counter, where he installed her on a chair and said a quick, unheard prayer that she'd stay. She was completely docile, almost childlike; but looking into her eyes, he saw the hunter's gleam there and reminded himself that no matter how much she looked like Buffy - like a younger, more innocent Buffy - she was a danger, and not only to him as a vampire. He hadn't forgotten the men in the alley.

Wesley was already in full research mode as Angel walked past, with six or seven thick, old volumes and a notepad in front of him. "How did this happen?" he called to Buffy, preparing to make notes with one hand while leafing through one of the books with the other.

"I don't know," Buffy said waspishly. "I don't remember. I remember pain and suddenly having an evil twin and crashing my mother's car on the way here, alright?"

Wesley sighed, and turned again to take a look at the First Slayer. It must have been a part of the spell that she look like Buffy, but the differences were palpable. She watched him with an intent, almost feline attention, and it both attracted and repelled him.

"Lay off him," Angel said quietly, trying to make allowances for her being injured and tired. She looked at him inscrutably, then down at her lap, curling her legs up onto the couch.

"Where's Cordelia?" Angel asked Wesley, opening the box and taking out disinfectant, cotton wool and Band-Aids.

"Hmm? Oh, she's asleep upstairs," he replied.

Angel didn't miss Buffy's tiny groan at the mention of Cordelia, and the irritation flared again. It hadn't escaped his attention that he'd somehow surrounded himself with people whom Buffy had more or less rejected, but he'd hoped, even though he'd had no expectations of seeing her again, that she could be civil to people who were important to him.

Of course, Cordelia's reaction to Buffy - two Buffys - wouldn't be any better.

"It was a... what did Giles... um, Toth? It was 'unusually sophisticated' and stinky," Buffy said to Wesley. Her gaze met Angel's, and he gave her a half-smile for the tacit apology. He tilted her face towards him and dabbed at her cut gently. She hissed at the sting and he murmured an apology of his own, cleaning the blood away carefully and examining the gash. It wasn't serious, and he applied a Band-Aid.

"It had this thing like a lightning stick," Buffy went on. "I got shot by the fire out of it and when I woke up, well..." she gestured to herself and then to the other Buffy helplessly. Angel captured that arm and went to work on the scrapes on it.

"Mr Giles saw it?" Wesley said, checking the clock. Too late to call.

"More than me," she said, wincing and flexing her arm, "it came looking for me."

"When was that?" Wesley said, interested by the implications of premeditation. Most demons were spontaneous to the point of stupidity. He scribbled down what Buffy had said; he wasn't familiar with the name Toth, but one of the books would be.

Mindful of Angel's caution before, Buffy shot him a pleading look.

"In the morning, Wes," he said, and she relaxed. "I'm going to make beds up for them upstairs."

He put the finishing touches on a cut on Buffy's leg, and then his hands stilled, cool against her slightly feverish flesh. Their gazes met again, and he hesitated for a moment; while he'd been in Sunnydale, she'd often come to him with her minor hurts after patrolling. It had been one of the only ways they felt safe touching, so he'd bandaged her and comforted her, coddled her, with light kisses and hugs.

Buffy very badly wanted a hug at that moment. As he shuttered his gaze and looked away, getting up, she had to be content with the promise of really good hospital corners.

* * * * *

He's not sleeping. You understand how this puts a crimp in Lindsey's project.

~ Holland, 'Untouched'

* * * * *

"She's not only alive, but *here*. In the city. *With* him."

Lindsey winced at the suppressed rage behind Darla's liquid, sibilant tones. He could only be glad it wasn't directed at him, giving him the chance to appreciate her fiery beauty in the throes of fury.

He allowed himself a bitter smile. This woman had reduced him to thinking in clichés and hyperbole... had him questioning his loyalty to the firm against his loyalty to her.

He knew she had none to him. Never would. Darla was loyal to herself, and, when she got him back, to Angelus; that was the kicker. Lindsey was working his damnedest to bring a man he hated together with a woman he loved.

A woman presently furious at the interruption to her plans.

"And," she concluded with a smile that showed all her teeth, "he's not sleeping. Not now, and not for the foreseeable future while he's still cohabiting with a pure SLAYER!"

She punctuated that with a heavy, angry slap to the table. Lindsey winced for her; his desk was solid, polished oak. He knew from personal experience that that gesture hurt. She didn't show a thing, placing her other hand squarely on her hip and glaring at the large, placid demon sitting silently on the other side of the table.

"I am sorry for the error," the demon - Toth - replied, low and smooth.

"Good," she spat, "then I'm sure you'll waste no time in remedying it."

Toth rose, with unusual grace for a creature of his size. He looked down at Darla.

"It shall be done."

Lindsey waited until the demon had swept regally out before picking up the phone to inform security to let him out. Then he turned his attention to Darla, who had collapsed into his own leather chair behind the desk. She was, by now, as familiar with his office as he himself was. Usually ferocious about his privacy and his belongings - it came of growing up in a large family where, in poverty, nothing was sacrosanct - it gave Lindsey a thrill to watch her handle his belongings as her own. To treat him as her own.

"Is this necessary?" he ventured, taking the lower, client's seat on the other side of the desk.

She looked up, and now the glare was focused on him; though the glittering fury was reduced to a vague irritation, as if he were a fly buzzing around her or a puppy following her with devotion.

"You're questioning what I need to get to him?"

"I'm questioning your reasons," he answered, treading carefully. He in no way wanted to get taken off this project; though he knew Darla was nothing more than a pawn to Wolfram and Hart, just a measure they needed to win the prize, they *did* need her. Lindsey wasn't even a pawn.

"Well, don't," she snapped, the fury back; Lindsey felt a brief flash of pleasure that he could provoke that from her, could make her feel something for him, because of him.

"I have a score to settle with that Slayer," she continued, calming a little. "If Angel's pain is something to gain from her timely death, that's a bonus."

She gave him the beautiful, cold smile he'd become accustomed to and got up, arranging her long, scarlet skirt around her hips.

"She will die. And I will be there to watch it."

He watched her go.

* * * * *

"I'm risen and unshining," Cordelia announced, with as much of a lack of cheer as her statement suggested. She leaned heavily on the banister as she walked down the grand main stairs of the Hyperion. She took a moment to enjoy the princess-like feeling; she had precious little opportunity these days to feel like she was making an Entrance.

Except no one was looking at her, or appeared the least interested, or appeared at all. She checked the counter first, her gaze finding Wesley engrossed in a dusty tome, Angel stationed with yet another, dustier tome a little way behind and - hanging all over Cordelia's boss as if she couldn't possibly separate her skin from his - Buffy Summers.

Great. Problems from Sunnydale, or problems coming to Sunnydale, and major problems for Cordy in the form of much Buffy-face and extended brooding when the Slayer left. It took Cordelia a moment to paste a pleasant smile onto her face.

"Buffy!" she called out cheerfully when she got close, "What brings you to LA?"

The other woman didn't even glance at her.

"Hello?" she said, irritated, "paging Miss Manners?"

She rated a look, this time... Buffy turned her face slightly and her cool gaze swept appraisingly over Cordelia before returning to focus closely on Angel's profile.

"It's not Buffy, Cordelia," Wesley said without taking his attention from his book.

"It looks a lot like her," Cordelia snapped. She was trying, but she was still tired and she could vividly remember the fear that had been in the unfortunate subject of her vision earlier. She frowned at Buffy's back. If she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes...

"You're kidding me," she protested, "yet another Slayer incapable of looking after herself? What's the point of it?"

She watched in disbelief as Angel rose, obviously intending to come over to her, and Buffy grasped his arm possessively, pulling him back down and nosing into his hair and, as if that wasn't weird enough, growling lightly.

"What's going on?" Cordelia cried, crossing her arms over her chest and assuming an annoyed stance.

Angel, occupied with calming the unsettled Slayer, threw Wesley an apologetic, pleading look. He answered it, "Cordelia, somehow Buffy has become split into her elemental parts - that is, of the woman and the Slayer. They were what you saw in your vision. The Slayer is what Angel is caring for now."

"Oh," Cordy said, only momentarily appeased. "So she's being Buffy the Dog Girl because she's not-Buffy the Slayer?"

Wesley paused, simultaneously working out Cordelia's meaning and throwing a concerned glance at the First Slayer in case she reacted badly to Cordelia's words; the Primal was watching them closely, keeping in skin-to-skin contact with Angel, but she seemed deaf to their words. Or, more likely, they were incomprehensible to her.

"Yes," he answered Cordelia. "Try not to emit - threatening or hostile vibes to her. I believe she must be far more sensitive to body language and odour than to vocalised language."

His theory was confirmed when the Slayer half-dropped into a fighting stance at Cordelia's indignant exclamation, "I do *not* have body odour!"

"Calm, Cordelia," he instructed, his tones purposely modulated. The Slayer relaxed, but her attention was almost fully on Cordelia now. Wesley winced inwardly. Cordelia was, without doubt, an alpha female by nature and experience, while the Slayer was by instinct... when Buffy, used to being dominant under all three, woke he hoped he could be far away from the resultant scenario.

At least at the moment there could be no arguments aloud.

"So where's Buffy?" Cordelia said, glaring at the Buffy-double.

"She's upstairs, sleeping."

"And we're doing... what?" she looked expectantly at the books surrounding Wesley, and he obligingly pushed two or three over to her.

"Research," he answered succinctly. "A demon named Toth and methods it has to effect such a separation. I'll be calling Mr. Giles when it's a more polite time, hopefully he'll be ahead on his own research."

"Sooner the better," Cordelia mumbled, taking the books readily.

"What?" Angel said, turning around and fixing her with a piercing gaze. The Slayer hissed softly, reacting to his tone, and he placed a soothing hand on her abdomen, waiting until she subsided.

Cordelia's eyes flicked from one to the other. Okay... he wasn't going in for any criticism to his precious Buffy right now, and his new pet wasn't going in for anything he wasn't going in for... plus, possibly rabid Slayer, so...

"Well, I'm sure Buffy's eager to be whole again," she said, smiling insincerely and bending diligently to her books.

"Quite," Wesley said.

"Humph," Angel said, then closed his book with a resounding snap. "I'm going to bed, see if I can get some sleep before Giles and probably the troops come."

"The troops?" Cordelia said in dismay, her head flying up. She wasn't ashamed of what she had in LA - of what she'd built, for and around herself - but she wasn't eager to share it with Buffy's little Scooby Gang, let them see only the material depths she'd been forced to. She especially wasn't keen on sharing it with Xander... though maybe he was the one who would understand that most of all.

"What about..." Wesley said over her, nodding at the Slayer.

Angel looked at her for a moment, considering. She probably wouldn't take being separated from him, given her firm, silent refusal to sleep while her other half did, and he wasn't a match for a pure Slayer.

Even one he was mated to; and that was what decided him.

"I'll take her to bed," he said, and then felt the familiar feeling that in a human would have translated to a blush. "I mean... in the sleeping together sense rather than... that's sleeping together as in, in the same bed, not..."

"Just go!" Cordelia said, pointing in the direction of the stairs.

"Okay," he said gratefully, heading that way, leading the suddenly mild Slayer behind him, her small hand warming his.

* * * * *

She follows him, for the moment obedient. A touch of humanity has remained in Her, and She understands that, in public, She may not indulge in the behaviour She so desperately wants to.

There have been others around since She first saw him again. The Other, a jealous presence even while she sleeps, is always there, but She can disregard that. The man, and later the woman, She could not. The first took too much covert interest in Her for Her to let down Her guard; the second was simply too noisy. She tolerated them only because of the unmistakable protectiveness the vampire has for them.

Now, they are alone, and Her blood is hot.

She moves ahead of him, knowing by scent which are his rooms. He has placed the Other some rooms down, wanting her close... but not close enough to be more of a temptation.

She favours him with a feral grin. She is well versed in how the demon's preferences go for sleeping, vulnerable young women with delicate white throats.

The demon might taste Her blood tonight. She will decide.

Relatively few of the Others have ever shown interest in males, and those only puny human specimens. Even so, She would watch, the tiny part of Her that was truly separate assessing the boys who dared think themselves worthy of Her, and scrutinising the Other's response to them. She came to Her conclusions long ago, and tried as much as She could to push the Other into Her own methods when dealing with the vampire; the first offered who might provide Her with a suitable mate.

The Other was not often amenable. That is no longer a problem.

They are barely over the threshold of the vampire's lair when She turns with heated precision, trips the vampire, and immediately advances on his surprised, prone body. They are sprawled, gracelessly - but with the utmost grace, for they are who they are - on the carpet, door closed by Her well-placed kick, when she kisses him, ferociously and without skill. Kissing is human, and She is not. Kissing is human, and he is not, and so it is the demon at the fore when they mate animalistically, surrounded by the threads of the clothes they have ripped from one another.

He is Her mate, and yet Her enemy, and part of Her rebels at sharing flesh with him. The rest recognises that in him, in the restrained demon, She has found Her equal, and so She delights in his sure touch even as She mentally catalogues possible weapons. The vampire keeps a lot of wood around him; She curses that disregard for his safety, for it mars their balance. Life is all, to Her. Hers, and his, and then that of the world. They do not, should not, fit together, and yet he finds Her flawlessly, fills Her perfectly and matches Her effortlessly.

It is half-sex half-battle, for neither is prepared to submit to the other. She claws at his back while he dominates Her, and at his chest while She rides him. She squeezes him hard enough to break, were he human. In return, he bites at Her skin, leaving faint red tracks that he licks up with greedy slurps, meets with Her with a strength that would injure a human woman. When it is over and they shift instinctively away from each other, there are two messy holes at the base of Her throat where his fangs slid unchallenged into Her, and marks on his skin where Her blunt teeth returned the bloodlust.

She lies sore, satiated, and confused. Her natural instinct, She who needs no man, is to rise and walk away. Her mate has renewed his claim. She has what She wanted.

And now, She finds She wants more. The lust has faded and She is overcome with human feelings, and a fine human trembling.

He is overcome with guilt and fear, She can smell it, among those same human emotions. He lifts Her up, gently, afraid She will protest. She doesn't, curls into him instead, wondering what She is doing.

She sleeps in his bed, though not in his arms.

* * * * *

Along the hall, Buffy was woken by a sudden, powerful orgasm. As she came down, her mind filled with a jumble of ill-defined images, and her eyes with tears.

* * * * *

"Mr. Giles? Wyndam-Pryce here."

"Good very early morning."

"I apologise, but we have Buffy here."

"Excuse me?"

"Cordelia had a vision, rather late last night; some time later, Angel brought back Buffy, split into two."

"Slayer and girl. Yes, I was afraid of that. When we only found one, I assumed Toth had missed."

"Buffy mentioned Toth. Only survivor of the Tothric clan, yes?"

"Quite. The device he used is called a ferula-gemina."

"Really! Which reference did you use?"

"Lanarch's Compendium. There's a rather useful guide."

"Wonderful. Angel has a copy of that. The spell is reversible?"

"Oh, yes, entirely. I believe Willow will be able to cast it... unless you have..."

"No, no. I mean, yes, both Angel and I are perfectly capable, but... perhaps best not to take chances."

"Certainly. We'll join you tonight."

"Tonight?"

"I did ask Willow about this spell yesterday. She insists she has an important class this afternoon, and as Buffy is in no immediate danger..."

"Yes, fine."

"If either Buffy is harmed, both will be affected. Buffy might like to... take this time to reflect. Relish a fleeting moment of normality, as it were."

"How enjoyable."

"Yes. We'll see you later, Wesley."

"Of course, Mr. Giles."

* * * * *

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