She knew better than to underestimate them because they were human—these guys were serious, and if they were nothing more than common criminals, well, they were still armed criminals. Defeating them would take a little less brute force and a little more life-sparing finesse, but that didn’t mean she was going to let her guard down.
But somehow she underestimated them anyway. She had seen that they were carrying guns, but she had never honestly expected either one to fire. Not without a warning. Not without being attacked first.
There was no dead end to mark the end of the pursuit, nothing but the mouth of another long alley, but it was there that one of the two men turned and fired every round in his pistol. Then he kept running. His goal had been achieved; nobody was following him and his partner anymore.
Buffy felt the white-hot sting of the first bullet over her breast, but before her mind could choose fear or anger, the rest of the shots were echoing in her eardrums and none of them had reached her. She was suddenly behind Angel, who was groaning in pain and lowering his arms from where they had been protecting his face, and yet she recalled with perfect clarity that he had been at least ten feet away when the gunman raised his weapon.
Angel didn’t so much as glance down the alley; his wild eyes fell first on her face and then her shoulder. While her own eyes were busy taking in the pattern of red blotches his chest had just gained, he reached for her and took her balance so that she had to lean on him as he lowered her down with him to the ground. Without speaking he seized the fabric of her shirt with both hands and ripped it away from the spot that the bullet had penetrated. It was right beneath her collarbone, far from any crucial organs but still fiery with pain, and he showed no hesitation before lowering his face and setting his mouth on it.
The suction that she felt at the wound had such force that her whole body would have been pulled along with it if he hadn’t been holding her steady. She only had a few seconds to marvel at how she could feel the movement within her before something small and hard passed from her skin and the pain subsided. Angel pulled his face back and swallowed, then spat a clean bullet into his hand. “Let’s go,” he said as his fist closed around the offending object.
She scrambled to her feet, refusing to let him even try to help her up, and waved helplessly at his damaged chest. “But you…”
“I can walk. There might be more coming. Come on.”
They made it back to the Hyperion without incident, but Buffy was still hurting from the single bullet she had taken, and she couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling with five. As soon as they had staggered inside, she sat him down on the couch and ran for the medical supplies.
He had stripped to the waist when she got back to him, and she ran a hand lightly down his chest, finding each point of entry. Every one of the shots had remained lodged in his body, and what was worse, the mouthful of her blood that he had taken earlier had accelerated his already fast healing process. Now the skin had closed over each bullet, leaving only a scar or a hard bulge. Buffy cringed. There was no way around it; the bullets had to come out.
With trembling hands she reached for the surgical knife, but when she tried to begin sterilizing it, Angel stopped her with a hand on her wrist. “Don’t bother with that.”
Of course. He couldn’t get infected that way. Still, he was usually so hygienic that his hurry to go on without that step must have meant he was in a lot of pain. He met her eyes for the briefest second and then took the knife from her and handed her a pair of forceps. Without any need for discussion, he turned the blade on his own body and cut a slit over one of the bulges, which instantly began to ooze blood. Buffy held her breath and put her own tool to work, digging into the newly opened wound until the forceps clasped onto her little metal enemy. Angel was cutting into another spot almost as soon as the bullet dropped into the medical kit’s metal tray with a tiny clink.
The first one turned out to be the easiest. The others were in deeper, one so much that she could neither see it nor reach it. By that point Angel was emitting a steady growl, an animalistic sound that she heard rarely from him, and his face, while still human, was drawn into a strained grimace. Buffy put down the forceps and reached into the wound with her bare fingers. This way would hurt him even more, she knew, but they both wanted this over and his flesh had become her territory as much as her own was.
Indeed, he gasped as her thumb and forefinger disappeared beneath his ribcage, but indeed, she felt the bullet almost immediately and channeled all of her Slayer’s dexterity into maneuvering it out. When it had joined the others in the metal tray, Buffy glared at it for a few seconds and then just slumped beside Angel, panting along with him. He was a canvas for blood, his chest like a crime scene, but he was cleansed. There were no more foreign objects trespassing on her territory.
It didn’t take long for him to direct his attention once again to the single wound just under her collarbone—the left side, fortunately, or she would have had a much harder time wielding the forceps. “I know,” she said as he reached out to caress her shoulder. “Needs bandages. You first, though.”
Washing and covering their wounds was a messy ordeal which left smears of blood on the floor and furniture, but neither of them made any move to put things back in order afterward. The medical kit was still open and its contents still bloody and strewn about when they went upstairs to the suite, leaning on each other in the elevator and staggering arm-in-arm down the hall.
Buffy managed to peel off her ruined clothing and help Angel out of his pants before they both went horizontal on the bed, but she had no illusions about summoning enough energy to get them into the shower first. Fine, so they would ruin the sheets. Worse than that was seeing him there, looking so beat up and worn out, and she knew she looked no better to him.
The only way to evade that problem was to close her eyes, but first she propped herself up on an elbow and looked him over one last time. He would be okay, she knew, but she couldn’t cuddle up to his chest as she usually did, for fear of hurting him. For a moment she hovered over him in indecision, and he opened up one eye and then slid his arm beneath her and pulled her down onto him, hugging her tightly without regard for his injuries.
Her frayed nerves finally reached a breaking point as she held her lover, and she released one long shuddering sob. She hated it that their time together had to be this instead of Sunday picnics and making love on the beach. She hated it that ordinary humans could get the best of them and escape without consequences on top of it. She hated it that Angel had been too fast for her to stop him from taking the bullets for her, and she hated it that she would have let him anyway because she knew he could survive what she couldn’t.
“Buffy,” he whispered, a plea for permission to calm her down, but the misery she felt was too evenly distributed between them to use his support as a way out of it. She wanted him right where he was, but she wanted him unharmed, safe.
“I hate guns,” she answered, and kept on crying.