Fruit Basket

Author: Jo
Feedback : Pretty please, whatever you thought of it. It will feed my muse for the next story – honestly.
Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine. If they were, I’d look after them better. No money will ever be made from this fic.
Spoilers: Post Not Fade Away
Rating: PG
Summary: Why wasn’t Buffy there to help Angel with the Apocalypse? And did Angel survive?

**

FRUIT BASKET

I was here when it happened. Here, in this hospital bed in Rome, instead of with Angel, for his Apocalypse. I’d sent him away from mine, to keep him safe, to keep him there, as humanity’s champion, just in case I failed. And I really thought I would. If not for him bringing that amulet, the world we know would, I’m sure, have gone to Hell.

When it was his turn, though, there were plenty of experienced Slayers left if I should be killed helping him. The world could spare me, and I ought to have been with him. Fate, though, decreed otherwise. Fate, in the shape of Andrew.

I’d been seeing the Immortal. He was the one who knew what was going down; there was no one else willing or able to tell me about Angel, and his stint at Wolfram and Hart. No one. I knew the guy had worked a glamour on me after that first night so, before she went on her search for enlightenment, I had Will do some mojo to give me a defence. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough, and then I did what I had to with the Immortal, to find out what I needed to know.

I never knew that Angel had been here, not until a couple of weeks later. Angel and Spike. I should have done; I should have trusted my senses, because I came home one night and I could feel him on my skin, in a way that was never true with Spike. I thought it was just wishful thinking, but my heart had known.

Andrew is too full of himself and his own stupid fantasies to keep it a secret forever. I was a mess that night. I’d come back from my latest wrestling match with the Immortal, who’d told me that Angel seemed to be turning to the dark side, that Angelus was winning, and that someone in Hell was very, very pleased. I knew what I had to do. I’d already started packing – you know the sort of thing: underwear, spare pair of shoes, jeans and tee shirts, sword, nice sharp stakes. Just the normal stuff. Andrew wandered into my room with his usual complete disregard for privacy and saw what I was doing.

“Where are we off to now? Lisbon? Venice? Paris? Ah, gay Paree! I shall be your guide, mam’selle, and protect you against all those louche Frenchies.”

There’s no point in trying to bring him back to this planet.

“Not us. Me. Angel’s in trouble.” Serious trouble. I might have to kill him again.

That’s when he told me that they had visited, and he had already sent them away. I remember I had the sword under the palm of my hand at the time, and I swear I have no idea why I didn’t use it. I packed, he argued, he threatened to call Giles, and in the end I simply decked him. That felt good, but he’d made me late for the flight, and I was in too much of a hurry to remember that everyone in Italy drives like a maniac, usually on the wrong side of the road. It was a lorry that hit me, as I ran for a taxi.

And so, I was in hospital when the Apocalypse hit Los Angeles. Andrew told me about it and, listening to him, I couldn’t tell fact from fiction. Then Willow came back, well and truly enlightened on the Los Angeles debacle, although because of her hasty departure, not so much enlightened on anything else. He’d stopped the Apocalypse, but Angel, alive and kicking, or as alive as he’s been for two hundred and fifty years, had been carried down to Hell by a dragon, and everyone else was dead. For the second time, I knew what I had to do. He got out of Hell before, and I was going to make damned sure that he got out of there again.

Willow said she would help, but not until I was more…mended. I’m lying here with a smashed hip, shattered thigh, arm broken in four places, seven broken ribs, a punctured lung and some deep internal bruising. Oh, and my neck hurts, but I’ve refused to wear one of those collars. It will all mend. I know it will all mend, because I’m still the Slayer, and I can already feel things knitting together. I can’t stay here much longer, or the doctors will find out how well I’m doing, and that would be very bad indeed. I reckon I’ve got less than a week to find a way out of here. Then Willow can finish the mending process for me, and I can go to find Angel.

There’s not much to do in a hospital bed, with my range of injuries, except think or sleep. Thinking takes me into too many no go areas, and so I’m trying to get some sleep when a nurse bustles in. She’s carrying a basket. When she puts it on the side table, I can see that it is a shallow, round basket, beautifully woven in glossy green whatever-they-are-you-make-baskets-with, edged with deep blackish-purple. It has something in it, but it’s generously wrapped in cellophane, with a large red bow, and the light reflecting off the cellophane stops me from seeing the contents. There’s a card. I ask a question, in my broken Italian, and the nurse carefully unwraps the cellophane, putting the bow on one side and giving the card to me. I still have one working hand, at least, to scuffle open the envelope.

Lying in the basket are three fat, ripe golden-yellow pears. She looks at them disapprovingly, and says I mustn’t eat them until the doctor says I may. When she’s bustled off again, I take the card out of the envelope. I don’t recognise the handwriting, but I guess it belongs to someone in the shop where this was bought. It could have been sent by anybody. It’s a riddle.

My first is in PEAR but never in PREY.

Pear = Affection

(From: Collier's Cyclopedia of Commercial and Social Information and Treasury of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, compiled by Nugent Robinson. P.F. Collier, 1882)



Collier’s Cyclopedia 1882? My heart starts beating a little too fast.

I know how to do a riddle. This is easy. A. My first is A. Oh dear god, has he found a way back? Then another thought occurs. If this is Andrew, I really will kill him. Slowly.

The doctor tells me I can eat one of my pears, provided I peel it, but I don’t know if I can do that. Eat it, I mean. It might be from him.

*************

The next day, Andrew denies all knowledge of the fruit basket, but I’m not sure I believe him. I’m not sure whether I want to believe him, or not. I’m in the no go areas of thought when the nurse bustles in again, carrying a brightly wrapped box. She opens it for me, and inside are three oranges, and a card. The card’s envelope carries my name and the message ‘For your fruit basket’.

When she’s gone, I shuffle open the envelope as quickly as I can, to reach the card inside.

My second is in ORANGE and also in DEMON

Orange = Generosity



Well, this is harder. E, O or N. AE, AO or AN. It has to be AN, surely. It could still be Andrew. Will there be one tomorrow? The oranges shine out of the basket, next to my pears. I did eat one of the pears, and it was sweet, and juicy and perfect. Angelic.

*************

I’m pretty sure I’m recovering sufficiently well not to be hallucinating when I wake up the next morning and see my fruit basket, and the cards lying next to it, with the red bow. I am in a frenzy of impatience, but I daren’t get my hopes up. It could be Andrew.

It’s mid-afternoon before the next little parcel arrives. The nurse seems to have entered the spirit of the mystery, and opens the wrapping quickly for me. Today, it’s grapes. Huge black ones with the purple bloom still untouched. The tiny stem at the top is decorated with a thin and elegant red bow.

My third is in GRAPES but never in VAMPIRE

Grapes = Charity



G or S. Not D. Not Andrew. Thank god, not Andrew.

AES or AEG, or AOS or AOG, or ANS or ANG. Please. Please. I’m getting better. I need to be out of here soon. If I leave, would he (please let it be he) find me again? Would I know where to start looking for him (please, please let it be him…)?

*************

It’s as if the next day will never pass. The doctor is pleased with my progress, although he really doesn’t know how good it is. I’m pretending to be in even more pain that I actually am. He tells me I can eat whatever I want from the fruit basket. The grapes are sweet and juicy, with a perfumed flavour that I haven’t tasted before. After lunch, the nurse peels an orange for me, and it’s sparkling honey in my mouth.

It’s almost evening when the next parcel arrives. I knew there would be another. Why is he teasing me this way? Can he not come himself? Is he hurt? If he is, he won’t be in a hospital, like me, but maybe he’s too badly hurt to come just yet. After all, dragons and Hell…?

They are hazel nuts. I don’t recognise them at first, because all I can see is a box full of pale green leafy husks. The husks each contain a large brown nut, and when the nurse cracks one for me – using a bit of nursing equipment for an entirely inappropriate purpose – the meat of the nut is sweet and milky.

My fourth is in FILBERT but never in SOUL

Filbert = Reconciliation



Too many possible letters. It has to be E. It simply has to be E. He wants a reconciliation. Oh, yes, my love. I don’t care that you walked away from me and broke my heart. I don’t even care about the curse. Willow will find a way to fix that, but I don’t care if she doesn’t. You aren’t dead, and you aren’t in Hell, and I’ve never, ever stopped loving you, no matter how I’ve tried. And I have tried so hard to stop. None of it matters now, just the fact that you must be alive.

*************

On the fifth day, it’s nuts again. Almonds this time, still in their green plush overcoats that make them look like fleshless peaches. They are very fresh and their taste is a balm on the tongue.

My fifth is in ALMOND and also in HELL

Almond = Hope



L. It’s L. ANGEL. Oh, my poor, poor love. I’ll make you forget whatever you’ve been through. I promise. As I look at the one remaining pear, the orange, the half-eaten bunch of grapes and the fat brown and green nuts, a harvest of perfection, I swear to myself that, when I have Angel in my arms, I will never again let him go. Never.

I look at the card again, to reassure myself that the letter is L. Shouldn’t there be something that says ‘My whole is….’? Isn’t that how riddles work? Maybe that will be tomorrow’s gift. I’ll put off discharging myself for another day, then. They can’t stop me going, I know that. Willow will get me home. I’ll ask Giles for help if I have to.

**************

The lights are never quite turned off in a hospital, are they? In my room, they are dimmed for the night, but light comes through the glass from the corridor beyond, making it hard to sleep. And my mind keeps churning with thoughts of Angel. In fact, I’m so worn out with thinking that I’m surprisingly in the shadow of sleep when I feel a weight settle onto the bed next to me, and an arm wrap around me. I’ve fallen asleep with my head turned towards my fruit basket, and as my focus returns I see there are now plums in there, those luscious golden ones that simply invite you to bite into them and feel the juice running down your chin. I’m lying on my back – well, I have to, with all these injuries – but I try to turn a little to see him.

My neck hurts as I move my head, and I’m so slow at what should be a simple movement. But I don’t need to see him. I can smell him, the essential Angelness of him, and feel the slight coolness of his left hand on my midriff, even through my nightdress. He stops me from trying to turn, though, and nuzzles his face into my neck. His voice is like honeyed chocolate.

“I’ve missed you so much. I thought I should never see you again.”

My eyes are hot with tears, and there’s just a lump where my throat used to be. I simply can’t speak. I thread the fingers of my good hand through his, and I feel a tiny sob work its way past that lump.

I can feel him nuzzle against my pulse point, not biting, not sucking, simply resting there, feeling the throb of my blood through those most sensitive tissues of lips and tongue. Then he draws back a little, and I feel his hand move away. I don’t want that. I want the touch of him, wherever I can get it.

He just pulls something from his pocket, though, and places it on the bed, then I feel the weight of his arm over my breasts again, and his leg is thrown over mine. It’s a little uncomfortable – more than a little – with the casts and all, but I don’t care. He’s come back to me, and that’s what matters. I can barely move, and I still have that damned lump in my throat. My sight is blurry from the tears that are just starting to spill onto my cheeks, but I can see what he has spread on the bed. An apple, deep red, the colour of old blood. Three cards, in his own handwriting, dark and bold.

My sixth is in PLUM and also in BUFFY

Plum = Fidelity

****

My seventh is in APPLES and also in SIRE

Apple = Temptation

****

Know who I am yet, Buff?


****

I can feel my heart crack. I try and try to move, but I’m so weak and he has no difficulty in holding me down, his face still pressed into my neck. Suddenly, the lump moves, and I can speak again, although my mind is so full of sorrow and fear for my love that I can’t seem to find anything useful to say.

“You bastard! What have you done with Angel?” That’s the best I can manage.

His voice sounds genuinely surprised.

“Why, nothing. He’s still here. In fact, the Soul is completely bound now.”

I can’t quite comprehend what I’m hearing. Have I misunderstood? Have I hallucinated this whole thing?

“Angel…? Is that you?”

I feel the scrape of fang.

“No, babe, but you won’t miss him, I promise. He’s here. He’s just not the one in charge any more. He’s caged. In fact, he’s in Hell, his own private version, with a ringside view of everything I’m going to do. The Senior Partners got pissed off with him, and made me a deal.”

The fangs scrape a little deeper, and I look around desperately for anything within reach that would serve as a stake. Hospitals don’t have much in wood nowadays – it’s all plastic and steel. There’s nothing. I try to struggle against him as hard as I’m able, but he’s just too strong. Perhaps it’s because of my weakness, but it seems that he’s even stronger than he used to be. Maybe the Senior Partners made him a deal on that, too.

When he’s sure that I can’t fight him, he moves his hand so that he can wipe away a stray tear with his thumb, and shifts so that he can look at my face. My senses aren’t much better than human, but all at once I think that I can smell the stench of Hell rolling off him, mixed with the despair that is MY Angel locked in that flesh. I want to scream and cry, but I won’t. If Angel is there, maybe I can reach him, strengthen him enough to take charge once more. If I survive the night, surely Willow can find a magic that will work. Surely. He seems to know what I am thinking.

“It’s going down tonight, Buff. You’ll join me, forever. The Senior Partners and I have a *special* demon picked out for you.”

He reaches into his pocket again and pulls out something that looks like an Orb of Thesulah.

“Oh, and they’ve agreed to a request of mine. Just to make it all a bit more amusing, your soul won’t go free. You get to be caged the same way that he is. You’ll be in Hell, too, and what fun we’ll all have…”

He smiles at my terror, and I try again and again to scream for help, to shake him off, anything. But he’s too strong. I feel the sting of his fangs, then, and the suction as he takes my life into himself. The last thing I see, this side of the vampire, is that damned fruit basket.

THE END
16 October 2004