Out Of Africa - Chapter 2
written by Pythia

"Can you give me a description of the assailant?" The police officer sounded more bored than bothered, but he had stopped to collect statements, which meant he was conscientious, and couldn’t just be fobbed off with vague and non-specific evasions. It was her own fault, of course. She’d needed an excuse when the paramedics asked what had happened – and she’d hastily blurted out something about being mugged before she could stop herself. Neither they, or the emergency room doctor had questioned it. In fact the doctor had nodded sagely, patted her hand and assured her they’d do everything they could. But he must have reported it, because once she and Angel were seated in the hospital waiting area – actually, he was seated, she was pacing – the policeman had appeared and started asking questions.

Difficult questions.

Like what a high school student was doing walking past the cemetery at that time of night, and what relationship did she have with the assault victim, and who exactly was Angel, and what was he doing when all of this happened?

Fortunately, Angel had managed to turn on the charm, convincing the man that an astronomy tutorial session was a perfectly feasible excuse for why she and her school librarian might be out so late. Of course, Mr. Giles had walked Buffy home afterwards. What sort of responsible adult would he be if he let a vulnerable girl wander about on her own, so late at night? Hadn’t he put himself in harm’s way, when the mugger had leapt from the shadows? And as for Angel himself, well, he’d been on his way home from the late night grocery store when he’d seen the incident happen. His intervention must have scared the mugger, because he’d fled from the scene – leaving his victim battered and bleeding on the ground.

All of which had convinced the policeman that this was probably just another of those late night incidents that filled his life with paperwork and were rarely solved. But he’d asked his final question anyway, needing the answer for his files.

"Male," Angel announced straightfaced. "Caucasian – slender build, mid - late twenties, short, bleached hair, black leather coat … lots of attitude I guess. I didn’t get a real good look."

Buffy blinked. That was a new one. Blame Spike? Actually, it wasn’t such a bad idea. She could hardly tell the officer that the attacker had been a female vampire with African antecedents and weird tribal tattoos. For one thing, he wouldn’t believe her – and for another, she didn’t want Sunnydale’s finest out combing the streets for a creature that would undoubtedly kill them without a seconds thought if they ever found her.

Spike had long since left town – but he’d been around long enough for the police to have his description on file. He probably had a couple of unsolved murders against his profile. Attributing this attack to him would simply add a minor entry on his overall score sheet.

If they were keeping score, that is …

"That right, miss?"

She nodded, not needing to fake looking shaken. She was shaken. She’d been blind-sided by a vampire – one with enough self assurance to attack a Watcher right under his Slayer’s nose. That took confidence. Too much confidence. And laxity on the part of the Slayer, who ought to have recognised the danger and acted on it – instead of wasting her time on the diversion, who should have been smart enough to run away in any case.

"Okay. Well, I’ll file the report and we’ll add it to the list. We’ve been chasing incidents like this all week. Your teacher was lucky. You were lucky. The last two didn’t even make it to the hospital."

Buffy stared at him. "Last two?" she asked warily.

The policeman nodded. "Yeah – some guy got his throat ripped open two nights ago. Near the museum. And there was another one yesterday. Outside the zoo of all places." He snorted. "Those were animal attacks though. There’s something on the loose out there. When I got the report I thought you and your teacher might have run into the thing – but muggers? They’re two a penny. Don’t hold your breath about us catching this guy."

"I won’t," she said, sinking to the seat next to Angel and feeling a shiver run down her spine.

"Wild animal?" he questioned softly, watching the policeman stride away. "I doubt it. There’s something very old and very nasty on the loose. As old – or older than the Master, maybe."

Buffy’s shiver became a heartfelt shudder. The officer had been right; Giles had been lucky. Very lucky. "I guess she - doesn’t go in for the clean kill," she winced, and he gave her a wary look.

"Doesn’t sound like it. But – ah – I don’t think she was trying to kill Giles."

"What? Angel – he nearly bled to death. Surely – "

"Mmhuh," he shook his head, frowning thoughtfully as he did so. "If she’d wanted him dead, she’d have never wasted the blood. I think she just misjudged her appetite. Struck deeper then she intended. From what you said, she had time to drain him dry – and she didn’t. That was meant to be a love bite. Stealing a taste because she could. Making a point, I guess." He drew in an unnecessary breath, using it to heave out a quiet sigh. "Done it myself."

Buffy didn’t quite know how to react to that. "I don’t get it," she said. "Why not kill him? What’s she trying to do, trying to say?"

He smiled, but it was a grimace without any humour in it. "That she’s the one with the power. That you – the world – are nothing but playthings for her. That she’s the one who gets to decide. Who lives. Who dies. Who suffers most. Buffy – " He turned to her with anxious eyes, trying to make her understand the twisted, sadistic logic of his kind. "If she’d - killed him, you’d have got mad, right? So angry that you’d have faced her down there and then."

Her face creased into angry lines. "You bet I would. She’d have been dust before he hit the ground."

"Exactly. This way – she thinks she’s weakened you. Threatened someone you care about, shown you that she could strike whenever and wherever she wants – and that you could do nothing to stop her. This was a taunt. A challenge. She’s trying to blind you with fear and grief, attack your heart, and undermine your confidence. This is how Slayers die."

She still didn’t get it. Not quite. "Because their Watchers don’t?"

"No." His answer was patient. "Because their Watchers are human. And they love them. She sees that as a weakness. She’s trying to exploit it."

Now she got it. Even hard as nails Faith had struggled to come to terms with her Watcher’s death. She’d never forgiven herself for letting it happen. Buffy knew – knew with heart sinking certainty – that if Giles had died, a part of her would have died with him. She’d known that for a long time. But somehow she’d had this weird conviction that it never would happen. Bad things had happened – to him, to her friends, even – she glanced at the vampire sitting next to her with bittersweet comprehension – to her soulmate. But they had survived. She'd survived.

She’d thought she always would.

The truth is a hard thing to face when it demolishes all your hard won illusions. There were no certainties in life, no guaranteed happy endings, no absolute constants on which she could depend. In the greater pattern of things, no-one was indispensable. Not even her. Angel was right; this vampire, this she-demon, had effectively demonstrated how fragile and vulnerable her world could be. But that didn’t mean she was going to give up in despair. If anything, it merely fuelled her determination to protect the people that she loved, to defend the world against the dark and to make sure that – if one died, the sacrifice of their life would not be in vain.

"My emotions are my strength," she murmured, reaffirming the words she’d once shared with Kendra, knowing them to be true. "I need my emotions."

Good and bad; she knew that, despite its harrowing, unbearable anguish, the heartache Angelus had wrought had strengthened her. Had strengthened all of them in a way – although some wounds had run deeper than others, and some would never entirely heal.

"I know." Angel was watching her with sympathy. "That’s why you’re going to win. Besides," he said, attempting to lighten the tone a little, "Giles is too damned stubborn to die." He paused and looked away, adding, half under his breath: "I ought to know. I tortured him for long enough …"

Buffy had begun to respond to his words with a smile - one that froze on her face. She swallowed something that had started as a laugh and ended as a choked back sob. That wasn't fair. It was certainly true, although the physical pain Angelus had inflicted had been nothing compared to what he’d already done to the man. The death of Jenny Calendar had wounded her Watcher to the soul – and he’d not yet forgiven Angel for that deed, despite understanding the difference, despite a grudging acceptance of his return.

Of course, tonight, the vampire had probably saved his life …

"Miss Summers?" A Doctor in a white coat and a carefully cultivated neutral expression was walking towards them. Buffy stood up and met him halfway, unable to help the sudden churning in her guts. She couldn’t tell if the news were good or bad.

"How is he?" she asked, trying to sound adult and contained, trying to be calm and controlled. Angel’s hand curled over her shoulder, offering support and comfort. The Doctor looked from her to him and back again.

"Mr Giles is – stable," he said eventually. "He lost a lot of blood, and the shock has hit his system hard. The majority of the damage is minor – his wrist is sprained but not broken, and the bruising on his throat … well, there was a worrying moment or two, but the swelling hasn’t totally constricted his breathing. It’s the concussion I’m more worried about."

‘Concussion?’ Buffy mouthed bemusedly, a half aside to Angel. The vampire frowned.

"I – uh – only came in on the end of the fight," he said warily. "I wasn’t aware that Mr Giles had been struck on the head. Is it – bad?"

The Doctor sighed. "We’re not sure. There’s a bruise right here – " He pressed his palm to his forehead to demonstrate. "- and some tenderness around his nose and mouth. I suspect his assailant slammed his face into the ground. Soft ground, probably, but not soft enough to avoid some internal trauma." He paused, running a weary hand through his hair. It was late, and he’d probably been on duty most of the day. "He’s – ah – demonstrating a poor response to stimuli. Pupils slow to respond to light, suppression of the pain reflex, that kind of thing. He’s dazed and he’s very disorientated. We just need to keep him in for a couple of days – make sure there’s nothing to worry about. We’ll move him upstairs in the morning." He finally remembered to smile reassuringly. "I’m sure he’ll be fine. An assault like that is always traumatic. Better to be safe than sorry, you know?"

Buffy and Angel exchanged a glance. She hadn’t seen everything that had happened, but she didn’t think Giles had been able to put up much of a struggle. There hadn’t been time for one. Perhaps the vampire had hit him before she grabbed him – or perhaps she’d done it afterwards. A flat handed slap perhaps. That might explain the bruises on his face …

"Can we see him?" she asked, needing to do just that, to have the reassurance of his survival assuage the anxiety in her heart. It would be easier to tell the rest of the gang if she knew he was all right. To laugh it off as a close call and not burden them with the horror of just how close it had been.

The Doctor hesitated. They weren’t relatives and it was extremely late. Buffy offered him an anxious smile, and he acquiesced with a sigh. "Just for a moment," he agreed. "Only a moment. He needs to rest. And – make sure he doesn’t try to speak. His larynx needs to rest, too." He glanced up and down the empty corridor. "Five minutes – and then you come back tomorrow. All right?"

She nodded, smiling with gratitude. "Thank you," she said and practically flew towards the relevant door. Angel followed with wary steps, sliding into the room after her like a reluctant shadow. She understood that. He wanted to be with her, but he didn’t want to intrude. He still couldn’t be certain of his welcome – and neither could she. Especially since he’d tasted blood that night. Necessaryblood perhaps, but all the same …

She threw him a sympathetic glance and paced across to the side of the bed, looking down at its occupant with anxious concern. Giles lay cocooned in white sheets and cream bandages, the trophies of his experience painted across his pale skin with vivid clarity. There was, indeed, a purpling mark on his forehead, almost like the imprint of a hand. And there were faint tracks of bruising running down his face that mingled and merged with the darker, angrier mottling on his throat. Below that, there was a wrapping of bandage and dressing – a distinct improvement on the raw and ragged wound that she’d last seen there. One of his arms lay across his chest – his left, strapped and bound with more of the cream bandaging. The other was down at his side, an IV tube taped to it, just below his elbow. They were still giving him whole blood by the look of things.

Perhaps it was just as well Angel stayed hovering by the door.

"Hey," she offered softly, managing a warm if slight wan smile. Giles opened his eyes with noticeable effort; he blinked and wrestled for focus as he turned his head towards her.

‘Buffy?’ he mouthed, his face creasing into a vaguely anxious frown. ‘Dazed and disorientated’ the doctor had said. It was an understatement. She wondered how many of her he was actually seeing.

"The one and only," she affirmed, as brightly as she could manage. "Except that - it’s now two and only," she realised, frowning a little over the thought. "I mean, two Slayers and two Watchers, although it’s only one official Watcher and there is only one of me, so I guess I was probably right the first time …" She was babbling. She knew she was babbling, but somehow she just couldn’t stop herself. "Anyway," she continued, the words bubbling out of her as if she were trying to bare her soul - except they emerged as inane chatter, driven by a desperate need to say something. Anything. Everything. "The doctor says you’re going to be fine in a couple of days and I just thought I’d look in on you before I went home and, god, Mom’s gonna kill me, because it’s nearly midnight and I promised I wouldn’t stay out past eleven on a school night …" A breath and the words tumbled on, heading towards disaster like a freight train. "You think she’ll understand? I mean I was with you, and patrolling and stuff like that, and I hope she does because I really can’t afford to be grounded right now, especially with this new vampire – well, she’s not new, because Angel says she’s really old and dangerous – but she’s around and we don’t know anything about her and that’s bad, and I need you to do the research thing …"

Words and emotions finally collided inside her head, one choking the other into a gulp of silence. ‘I need you’ was the phrase that tripped her up. It was glib and it was trite, and it was unbearably true.

He’d been watching her with wary consideration, his lips slowly curving into one of those patiently indulgent smiles. The one that acknowledged he’d simply have to wait until she ran out of steam before he’d be able to get a word in edgeways.

"I’m - sorry," she said softly, offering an apology – not just for her babbling idiocy, but for everything that had led up to it as well. The patient smile lapsed into an equally patient frown, and he opened his mouth to say something – and then closed it again with a grimace of pain. She winced in sympathy. "No - don’t try and talk," she advised. "You can – lecture me later. Right now … Right now," she decided, pushing her guilt to one side in order to deal with more pressing issues, "you have to rest. Do the whole ‘get well’ thing. And do it soon, because – I just know Wesley is going to make big issueness about doing things his way because you’re not around, and if he tells me one more time that I’m unorthodox and undisciplined, I swear I’m going to end up kicking him straight into the hellmouth. If Xander doesn’t murder him first, that is."

Giles tried to give her a stern look, clearly feeling he should express disapproval at this decidedly disrespectful speech – but since he was also trying very hard to smother a grin, the whole effect was somewhat spoiled. There was admonishment in his eyes, but there was sympathy and understanding and a hint of affection in there too. He had very expressive eyes – always had - and she was getting the hang of reading them now.

He was also having trouble keeping them focused – which probably had little to do with the loss of his glasses and a lot more to do with the concussion thing the Doctor had mentioned. She hoped that wasn’t anything to worry about. She knew Giles had something of a glass jaw, since he could be taken down with one clean Slayer punch if you packed just enough ‘oomph’ into it. But he had a hard head and had never taken much harm from being knocked out before. He hadn’t even been knocked out this time round.

Just half strangled, his throat ripped open and his life’s blood left to spill into the night …

"Well," she said, struggling to keep the tightness from her voice, "I guess - I can work with Wesley if he helps me find the bitch that did this to you. You’re gonna have to stop picking up strange women in cemeteries, you know? Those kind of relationships never last. I – I gotta go," she realised, picking up on the way Angel was glancing through the door. The doctor was probably coming to tell them their five minutes was up. "Mom really is gonna be mad at me – and you need to get some sleep. I’ll – I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?"

‘Okay,’ he mouthed, backing it with a knowing smile. His eyes were busy telling her to go home and not to worry. She knew she could do one – but she wasn’t so sure about the other. She hesitated for a fraction, then – before self-conscious embarrassment could stop her – she hastily dipped down and planted a butterfly farewell kiss on his cheek.

* * * * *

Well, *that* was unexpected …

He sighed, letting his eyes close and darkness replace his current fuzzy, washed-out view of the world. He didn’t know what the strange vampire had done to him, but he knew it wasn’t good. He also knew it hadn’t been Buffy’s fault. Angel was right; this new player in town was very old and extremely dangerous. She’d picked her moment very carefully and had known exactly what she was doing.

Well - right up to the point where greed had overwhelmed her intentions and she’d taken that little more than he’d been able to spare. He suspected that she hadn’t intended to kill him – not given her actions before the bite – but it had been very, very close. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Angel …

He shivered, not wanting to go there, but needing to all the same. The kiss of a vampire touches the soul as well as the skin. The wound she’d made was throbbing softly, echoing – not just her attack, but the deed that had followed it. There had been a time when he’d lived with the expectancy of feeling Angelus’ teeth in his throat. Even – very briefly – a time when he might have welcomed it. The anger and the madness of his grief still haunted him, tainting his perceptions and twisting his heart every time Angel came near. He’d always known – intellectually, that is – that the demon who’d killed Jenny and tortured him with such relish was not the same as the troubled, soulful creature that his Slayer loved. That hadn’t meant he’d been able to deal with the difference emotionally. His acceptance of the situation, of the vampire’s return, had been both reluctant and bitterly begrudged. Tonight, though – through that fleeting moment of contact - he had somehow been able to sense the depth of Angel’s remorse, the true agony of his curse. It was an uncomfortable revelation and the memory of it lingered, a disturbing counterpoint to the hungry impact of the earlier assault. Where she had found nothing but pleasure in his pain and his resistance, Angel’s gift had been a torment for them both.

He shivered a second time, emotionally overwhelmed by the events of the evening. He felt weak, battered, bruised and violated. It hadn’t been the first time he’d come face to face with his own mortality, but there was a big difference between knowing you risked your life for a worthy cause and having it taken from you with such casual and contemptuous ease. There was no comfort in knowing that he’d been more than a casual victim of the vampire’s hunger. She’d taken whatever it was that she’d wanted and left him feeling like roadkill, crushed beneath a thundering juggernaut.

One that Buffy was going to have to face, one way or the other …

Keep her safe, his heart entreated, addressing his prayer to higher powers, to fate - and to the tormented soul whose love for his Slayer was as deep, if not deeper than his own. He’d trusted Angel once. That trust had been shattered; he’d thought beyond recall. He realised now that had to change, for Buffy’s sake, if nothing else. And that meant examining his feelings with a little more honesty than he really liked. What was it that had stabbed at his heart as they had left together? Fear? Or a little jealousy?

Maybe Travers had been right. He had got too involved, too close to his Slayer. He cared about her. Wanted, sometimes, to be the arms that gathered her up and protected her from the evils that beset her on every side. She was still so much a child, so innocent and vulnerable behind the tough façade she offered to the world. But he wasn’t her father, and he had no intentions of trying to be. The relationship they had was a lot more complicated than that. Besides, even if he were, it wouldn’t be right for him to stand between her and her destiny. She was the Slayer, the chosen one. The only thing he could do was stand beside her, as long as she needed him.

And she had said she needed him.

The thought – and the comforting remnant of her parting kiss – remained with him as he sank into the inevitability of an exhausted sleep. It was a sleep filled with disturbing dreams, with struggle and with overwhelming terror. Tawny, gold flecked eyes transfixedhim, held him, trapped him in their depths, bound by her words, imprisoned by her will. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

Couldn’t even scream …

Read: Chapter 3