Post NFA and Chosen
Prompt: Written for the Lyric Wheel
Disclaimer: Not mine, all
belongs to Joss.
Summary: No fairytale ending: the world is harsh and cruel and post apocalyptic.
Thanks to my good friend and
“The look is new. You’ve gone all desperado.”
He kept silent, watching her.
“So, Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? Is that all you’ve become? Is it all about the hunt?”
Well, damn! “That’s rich, coming from you.”
Her eyes were like flint. “Oh, you’re a hard one.”
He found he cared. “I’m not…I mean, I don’t…sorry.”
“I know that you’ve got your reasons.” Her eyes flicked to his companion. “Things that are pleasing you can hurt you.”
That was going too far. His new-found care evaporated. “No pleasing going on here right now.”
Her hair bounced with the lift of her chin. “And we all know how that ends.”
He counted to three, decided he needed another ten and turned his back on her. Crossed his arms and glared at the wall. “Go.”
His shoulder blades itched long after her footsteps faded away. A tentative hand touched his elbow. He glanced at the woman at his side. Collette looked the worse for wear. Her clothes had seen better days and a week’s worth of grime had hidden the pretty freckles scattered across her face. Her hair hung dark and lank. Judging by the comment earlier, he knew he looked no better. It had been a while since either of them had had the luxury of a bath. He turned and offered her an apologetic smile.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Collette wore a worried frown. “This woman, is she your enemy?”
“No. It’s complicated.” And it was. Angel didn’t have the energy to explain further. “Perhaps it would be better if you went with them.” They had wanted to take her away, and she had fought and screamed and bitten them until they let her stay with him.
Collette got that desperate look in her eyes. Like the one she had been wearing when he had happened across her. She clutched at his hand.
“Please don’t make me. I want to stay with you.”
And that was the problem. He led her over to the small bed standing against the wall and sat down with her.
“They won’t hurt you, Collette. They’re good people.”
“But they hurt you.”
“Because of what I am. They think I’ve hurt you.”
Her eyes travelled from him to the door and back again. “No. No. I’ll tell them no. I’ll tell them you saved me.”
She had saved him, too, in a way. Saving her was what he did. Looking after him was what she did. Collette was damaged goods. She had her way of dealing with her trauma. He had his own methods of dealing with his.
He changed the subject. “Wouldn’t you like a bath? Clean clothes?”
She shook her head. “Not unless they let you too.”
The sound of footsteps announced that they had company. A young lady, a slayer, Angel felt, carrying a tray. The girl was curious, he could see that. She slid the tray through the opening in the cell’s bars, her eyes on Angel the entire time.
“I’ve brought you some food.” Her English was thick with an accent. German, he thought.
Gently, he nudged Collette off the cot. She snatched up the apple and the sandwiches. Clutching the food to her chest, with her other hand she captured the bottled water.
“What about his food?” she demanded. The tray was now bare.
“Blood isn’t something we normally have lying about,” the slayer answered, her eyes unwavering on his.
“You must have a supply for your wounded,” Collette countered, brave on his account.
A sardonic twist of the lips. “We’re all out.” Her eyes left his to focus on the other woman for a moment. “Besides, I hear he carries his own supply.”
Collette ducked her head and scurried away back to the bed. Angel had moved over to the farther corner, giving her space to lay out her meal. The smell of egg permeated the air: the sandwich unwrapped. She ate quickly. She was famished.
The slayer had Angel back in her sights. “I hear that you and Buffy were once lovers.” Her gaze raked his form. “I can see the appeal. But the dead factor is a real turn off. I also know that you guys can put people under a spell. Is that what you did? Was Buffy under your thrall? It must have worn off because she doesn’t even like you now.”
Her eyes moved to take in the barred window. “How do I know this? That way is east.” The slayer left them, then, the twist of her lips triumphant.
“The sun, Angel!” Collette cried, looking up, worried that her guardian angel would be dust in the morning.
“Won’t burn me. The cell is larger than the window. There’ll be plenty of room in shadow.”
“We could hang something up against the pane,” she said, imagining Angel curled up unable to move, in a corner of the room.
He smiled. She was always thinking of him. “My coat has a few too many holes in it these days. I’ll be fine.”
She thumped the bed. “What about the mattress?”
“It’s for you to sleep on. Now finish your meal.”
Collette looked at the apple. Red and delicious it was.
“You’re hungry,” she said before taking a bite.
Head down, chewing, Collette held out her arm. Her flesh was a miasma of twisted scars. From wrist to shoulder a story of abuse and depravity. And because of that appalling landscape Angel was held prisoner, Collette, too, loyal beyond belief. Only Buffy’s name had deterred the stake.
His eyes slid away from temptation. “I’m good.”
Her arm flopped down as if strings were cut. Her smile, though, was warm when her head came up.
The apple disappeared, core and all, masticated and swallowed with relish. When Collette had to use the toilet, Angel averted his eyes. Even if she didn’t mind the lack of privacy, Angel did. He lay on the floor, near the bed, his back to the rest of the room. After a while, Collette’s face peered at him from the bed.
“We can share.”
“It’s okay, Collette. I’ve slept on worse. Go to sleep.”
He listened to her breathing slow. She had been exhausted, he could tell. He lay there, thinking on their situation, thinking on the woman he had given his heart to. The lights went out. He lay in the dark, staring at the wall.
A body was pressed up against his back and a heavier weight lay across his shoulder, arm, and hip when he woke. Warm air blew gently against the skin of his neck. The steady thump of Collette’s heart, reverberating in the cage of her ribs, beat against his silent one. To Angel, if he closed his eyes, he could imagine for a moment the heartbeat belonged to him.
Carefully, he moved onto his back and lifted the corner of the mattress his friend had laid across him. The sun had begun its journey and the cell was beginning to take shape in its rosy glow. As he had known, he was safe where he was. The window was small. The deadly rays could be avoided for an hour or two. By then the sun would be high enough not to be a danger. An ache settled in his chest. Collette had covered him with the mattress, forgoing comfort for his safety. He had been aware of her stealthy movements and had played possum, pretending to be asleep. It had been a long time since anyone had done him a kindness.
Quietly, he climbed to his feet, deposited the mattress onto the bed, and gently placed Collette there. She woke, her eyes wide, afraid, until she saw his face.
She grinned, sat upright and patted the space beside her. “You’re not burning up.”
He smiled and sat beside her, grateful to be up off the hard floor.
“Thank you,” he said.
“The mattress was lumpy, anyway.”
It was her way of shrugging off her good deed and his thanks. He knew that she thought she didn’t deserve to be thanked. It was she that was grateful. After all, he had saved her. Anything she could do for him she would. He wondered who was saving who. And he also wondered what the day would bring.
Before long the sound of running footsteps could be heard. Buffy arrived, out of breath, furious, with another woman in tow. Buffy put the key in the lock.
“Why the hell are they still in here, Isobella?” she growled as she opened the door. “I’m sorry,” she apologised to the two of them. “I told Sigrid to let you out and take you both to the guest rooms last night. She has a problem with vam…me. I would never…” She gestured at the window and the sun streaming through it. Isobella handed Buffy the blanket she was carrying.
“Here!” She shook the cloth out. “It’s only a couple of steps, you’ll be fine.”
He reached for the blanket without a word. Collette shrank behind him and stared at the two women.
“I know you, Angel, even if the others don’t. They wanted to be sure that you weren’t a danger to them… to us, you know what I mean.”
He glanced in the direction of the small camera on the ceiling just beyond the bars. He hadn’t expected anything less. The slayers and their newly trained watchers had every reason to be suspicious. Angel realised that Buffy was staring at him, waiting for him to move.
He turned, smiled at Collette, and nodded towards the door. “We’re going to move to somewhere more comfortable. Are you ready?”
She reached out and touched the blanket, her eyes huge with worry. “Be careful, please.”
Without even producing a wisp of smoke, Angel made it safely out of the cell, Collette right behind him. They were shown up the stairs and along a corridor to a small room at the back of the chateau. It looked to have been a servant’s quarters. And it was almost as sparsely furnished as the dungeon they had left. Collette pointed out that there was only one bed.
“Your room is next door.”
Collette shook her head.
Buffy went on. “The bathroom is two doors down. There’s towels and clothes for you in your room.”
Collette looked down at her tattered clothing. She could do with a bath. She knew she smelled.
“Come with me?” she pleaded with Angel.
“Of course.” At Buffy’s look, he added, “I’ll see her to the bathroom door.”
When Angel got back to the room, Buffy was sitting on the bed. She was stroking the material of the clothing beside her.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a change of clothes. These are for you.”
They shared a moment of awkward silence. Buffy’s former ire seemed to have evaporated. Her voice now carried that quality that Angel had always admired: commanding and soft, all rolled up in one.
“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”
“Only until Collette has settled in.”
She was surprised. “You’re leaving her?”
“She needs to be with others of her kind.”
Buffy’s mouth dropped open in shock. “She’s a slayer?”
A look passed through her eyes. Sadness? Pity? Angel didn’t know which. He hoped neither was directed at him. She looked down at her hands, twisted her fingers together. “What I said…”
“It doesn’t matter.” It came out harsher than he intended.
Buffy chose to change the subject.
“What happened to her?”
“I found her in a larder.” Dead, milky-white orbs staring out. Emaciated limbs, scarred and twisted at rest. Blessed death.
Buffy nodded. It was the only answer besides the one put to her previously.
Lips drawn in a tight line she asked, “How many?”
“A couple of dozen.”
“Two men. They went their own way. Collette was unable to.”
Buffy got to her feet and paced the three steps to the wall.
“How does one survive that? All those mouths…”
She spun around to stare at him. “And she likes you.”
He shrugged, his eyes never leaving her face. She was coiled tight, like a spring.
“She offered you her arm. Have you…?”
“Do you really want to know?”
For a moment he thought Buffy would insist. Then the tension in her eased.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you had. It’s not easy getting blood these days. People living in enclaves, not trusting strangers. Animals behind walls. And what wildlife there is…”
Changing tack again, she said, “If you hadn’t saved Lily’s life you would be dust. It’s stake first these days.”
Comprehension dawned. “Did you wait till Lily was in trouble before you intervened?”
“We were lurking.”
“You put Collette in danger?”
“She wouldn’t be left on her own. I had no choice.”
“You could stay here,” she offered, the invitation in her eyes.
He could drown in those eyes. “No I couldn’t.”
“Even desperados need a home.” She attempted a smile.
“Homes are overrated.”
Reaching out, her hand touched his. “Angel…”
“If you have a book I could read, I’d appreciate it.”
He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, but he had. The loss of her touch when she withdrew her hand was like a blow. She stood there for a moment longer, her throat working as if she had swallowed something unwholesome and it was choking her.
She went past him, stood at the door and said, “I’ll see what I can do about some blood.” Inhaled, exhaled, and then, “It wasn’t your fault, Angel. It was inevitable. You put back the apocalypse a few years only, and those years were precious. You gave us that much.” And she was out of sight, her footsteps light and steady down the hallway.
“It wasn’t enough,” he whispered to her fading presence.