Title: Fracture
Author: Snowpuppies
Genre: Angst/Dark
Highlight for Warnings: ***gore, character death (not Buffy or Angel)***
Summary: Angel follows one of Cordy's visions...and finds the last thing he expects.
Word Count: 4,797


A/N: Beta'd by the wonderful Velvetwhip.

Fracture
"Angel!" Wes's panicked voice floats down from the lobby to the basement. Angel's weapons clatter to the ground as he bolts for the stairs, climbing three at a time to follow the sound. He skids around the corner and enters the office; Cordy is on the ground, palm placed to her forehead, while Wes and Gunn try to help her up. Fred is hiding behind the water cooler. Cordy grimaces, her eyes locking with his as she struggles to her feet. She slumps against his desk, looking exhausted. "It's Sunnydale."
***

He drives with a lead foot; Sunnydale's been without a Slayer for over three months and although Willow assured him they could handle things, there's no telling what mischief might be happening on the Hellmouth.

He speeds down the familiar roads. It's all the same, and entirely different; he feels as if he's lived a lifetime between his last year in Sunnydale and where he is now. He has a family of sorts—Wes, Cordy, Gunn and Fred; a rag-tag mop of misfits if he ever saw one, but good people all the same.

Still, Sunnydale holds a piece of his heart that he'll never get back.

He pulls into the driveway at 1630 Revello.

He can smell the blood from outside.

He bolts from the car and slams through the front door. It's chaos, an abstract painting of the macabre, a medium of blood and limbs with the Summers' living room as the canvas. His stomach lurches—even the scourge of Europe wasn't this…violent, this messy.

It's Xander, there by the sofa, and two more. Women. He inhales, just a bit. He thinks one must be Xander's girl and the other…Willow's.

There's a fine layer of dust in the entryway.

Footsteps thunder down the stairwell. He turns, fists and fangs ready for a fight.

It's Willow, black-eyed and furious. Her hair's turning black from the root, the red tips catching the light as she clambers down the stairs. She's pulling Dawn, wide-eyed and pale, along behind.

"Angel." Her voice is off—modulated, gravelly, as the magic flows through her body. "You have to—" She chokes as her eye catches the mess in the living room, covering the sob striving to burst from her mouth with her free hand, pulling Dawn close and tucking Dawn's head into her shoulder so she can't see. "You have to…I can't…"

"Willow?" He doesn't understand.

"We're leaving. We can't…we can't stay."

"Okay." He doesn't know what monster ripped apart over half of the Sunnydale contingent into bite-sized pieces, but he knows this is no place for Dawn…or Willow, for that matter. "Go to L.A. You can stay at—"

"No."

Her reply is forceful, and the small part of his mind that isn't trying to catalogue the signs and come up with some idea of what kind of demon is involved is wondering when Willow grew up.

"We're going…away. We have to go away."

"That's fine. Whatever you need." He reaches into his pocket and withdraws his key ring. "Take my car—it's in the drive, tank's almost full—and…call when you can."

She hesitates—only a moment—before snatching the keys from his hand and storming past him, intent on walking out the front door. She halts, hand on the doorknob, and turns back.

"You've got to…She…," he almost recoils from the grief and fear in her eyes as she continues, "She came back, but she wasn't…and I just can't…you have to."

"Willow, what—?"

"Goodbye, Angel." Hugging Dawn even closer, she steps out into the night.

***

He does a cursory search of the house, but nothing turns up. He detects the usual scents: Willow, Xander, their girls, Dawn…Buffy…and even the lingering scent of Joyce, but nothing particularly reeking of the Hellmouth. There's very little damage to the house: a bit of crumbling sheetrock where something (or someone) hit the wall during the scuffle, some overturned furniture and a broken coffee mug near the TV. There are no strange marks or sigils, no spell components—apart from those in Willow's storage chest in her room…

It's a big pile of nothing, from an investigative standpoint.

But he's not giving up; Buffy can't care for her town anymore, so he'll just have to do it for her.

***

His next move is to hit the nearest demon hotspots. Stop number one: Willy's.

If Buffy's house is a crime scene, Willy's is a slaughterhouse: bits of flesh clinging to the brickwork, limbs strewn about, furniture upended and torn apart.

He finds one demon still clinging to life, little more than dark eyes boring out of a crumpled skull.

It utters a single word with its death rattle.

He doesn't believe what he hears—it's been years since he's brushed up on his Mowgligsh, anyhow, and he's sure to be mistaken.

***

He scours the city, hitting his old haunts left and right.

Most of the places he visits are splattered with blood. The others are disturbingly silent.

He's not sure which ones frighten him the most.

***

He turns back to 1630 Revello more confused than when he left.

He smells her from a mile away and begins to run. Crashing through the front door, he's unprepared for what he finds.

She's covered in blood, head to toe, hair plastered against her scalp, little tendrils curling around a face streaked with crimson.

Her eyes meet his and for a moment he freezes, feeling for the first time in more than two centuries like prey. There's something dark and dangerous in those green eyes that he's never seen before and something deep in his gut trembles. He has to fight to keep his legs from running.

Then she blinks and a film of wetness covers her eyes as a tear falls across her cheek.

"Angel?" Her voice breaks his heart. He can't believe what he's seeing, because she's dead. She's dead and gone and not here and covered with blood, crying. She can't be, because she's dead.

But she's not.

His legs still don't move. She breaks eye contact and begins sorting through the wreckage, her hands visibly trembling as she examines an arm—female, Xander's girl, he thinks—then tosses it toward the stairwell like garbage.

"Where—?" She hiccups, the tears falling freely from her eyes, painting her cheeks in stark white streaks as the caked layers of blood are washed away. "Where?" She begins sorting through the parts more frantically.

Xander's head rolls away like a lopsided bowling ball.

He thinks he's going to be sick.

"Angel." His gaze is drawn back to the mess. Her eyes are piercing, almost glowing, as she begins to speak, her teeth clenched in anger and frustration.

"Where. Is. She?"

"Who?" His legs work again and he stumbles forward a step. Two.

She glares at the lump of flesh in her hand, curling her lip before launching it straight at his head. He barely ducks in time.

She screams. No, it's more like a howl, feral and bright and full of venom.

It's the kind of sound he hears in his nightmares.

"Dawn!" she cries, crumpling to the ground in a heap, fingers sinking into blood-soaked carpet and ripping the fibers from the floor.

"Willow—" He rushes forward, but she slips through his grasp, shoving him away. He falls into a heap against the sofa.

"No. Not Willow. Dawn. Dawn! Where's Dawn?" She's sobbing, screaming, pulling at her hair and gnashing her teeth like a rabid animal.

"Dawn's with Willow. She's safe."

"Safe?" She meets his eyes again, and for a moment, she looks human again.

"Yes. Dawn's safe."

"Safe." Her gaze softens, as if she's looking into her memory for the definition.

He crawls forward. This time she curls into his arms, head falling against his chest.

"Safe," she mutters against his shirt.

"Yes. Safe." He sighs as he looks around the chaos that was once the Summers' living room. He doesn't want to ask. He really, really doesn't, but he can feel the question slipping up his throat to land on the tip of his tongue, and he knows he must. "What…What did this?"

Her body shudders as a pained yelp comes from her mouth. He knows what's coming, and he still doesn't believe it.

"Me." She sobs against him, jerking and twitching in his arms. Her head is buried in his coat, so she doesn't see the lamp coming as he swings it toward the back of her head.

Unconscious, she slumps in his arms.

"Buffy." He brushes a kiss against her forehead; covered in grime and muck and blood and flesh and tears, she's still the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.

As for her confession, well, he can hardly cast stones.

She saved him once. Now it's his turn.

***

"Angel, is that...?" Wes's voice trails off as he barges through the door, Buffy's unconscious form slumped in his arms.

The clatter of his arrival draws them all into the lobby, Fred peeking through the banisters on the stairwell, Wesley gaping stupidly, Gunn charging across the floor and ready for action.

"Wes, I need you and Gunn to go down into the basement and start clearing out the weapons. Actually, clear out anything that could be used as a weapon, anything metal, wooden, just...everything."

Wes's expression is still puzzled, but Gunn nods and grabs Wes's arm, pulling him away.

Angel continues his trek across the lobby toward the office. Cordelia steps out of the kitchen and gasps.

"Is that...?" Her eyes flicker up to catch his gaze before returning to the unconscious girl lolling against his shoulder. Her eyes widen and her hand flies up to touch her temple. "She...Angel, no."

"We've got to help her." He places the body on the cabinet and turns on the faucet.

"Angel, we can't. Do you even know...?" Cordy blinks, and he knows she's reliving the vision. If her vision was even half as gruesome as the sights he's seen, he knows she has to be terrified.

"Yeah. I know." Grabbing a cloth from the drawer, he wets it and begins mopping at the mess on Buffy's face. "But we've got to help her."

"No. Look, I know I'm usually last in line for the 'we love Buffy club,' but I hope you know by now that I would do all that I could to help,

but....Angel, this isn't Buffy." He continues to scrub at the grime, flakes of dried blood and ichor falling into her hair and onto the granite countertop.

"Cordy, she's in there."

"Angel, I saw what it did. I saw...I know...I know what it did to Xander, to the others...I mean, a saint she's not, but that can't be Buffy."

Buffy's brow twitches under his ministrations and he gentles his touch—he doesn't want her to wake before he's ready.

"Cordy, I know what this looks like."

"Like hell you do!"

"Cordy..."

"I thought we were done with this. This...'oh, woe is me, anything for true love' bullcrap. It's the same thing, every time. She comes into the picture and the upstairs brain just goes on auto-pilot."

"That's not—"

"You know, getting out of Sunnydale was about the best thing you could have done, and I thought you were over this—that you were getting better—but it's all the same thing."

"Cordy, listen. This isn't about...Buffy and I. This is about her. I know what she did. I know. I was there. But she reached out to me. She knew me. She...she was looking for Dawn, she cared. And it was for a moment, only a moment, but I know that a moment is all she needs."

"Angel..." she trails off, her expression equal parts understanding and defeated.

"If anyone can come through this, it's Buffy."

"She's got spunk. No one will argue. But Angel, this is one you're gonna have to do on your own. I...I just can't stay and watch this again."

It hurts to hear those words from Cordy—in the past few years they've become friends, and sometimes he thinks it could be even more—but he knows in his heart he has to go through with this.

"I understand."

She brushes a manicured hand across his cheek as she turns for the door. "Goodbye, Angel." Buffy frowns in her sleep and a furrow appears between her brows.

"Goodbye," he whispers, before turning his eyes back to Buffy and smoothing the wrinkle away.

***

He beds down on a cot in the basement, across from where she's tethered to the wall.

After Wes and Gunn finished clearing the space out, he had them take Fred out for tacos so the place would be quiet.

Then he locked the basement door.

He doesn't attempt to sleep, just watches her shallow breathing from across the room.

He can hear her heart rate change the moment she wakes. She fakes it well, however, not visibly changing her breathing pattern for more than a minute before she springs up, crouched against the wall with bared teeth. Golden-green eyes peer at him through the darkness, almost glowing in the shadows.

"Buffy?"

She flinches, a short snarl curling out from her throat as she hunkers down defensively. Otherwise, it's as if she doesn't know her own name. He takes a deep breath—whether he needs it or not, he needs the calming effect it has on his psyche, if not his body—and sits up.

"Buffy, it's Angel. I don't know where you've been, or how you're here—"

She prowls along the wall as he speaks, the soft clink of the chains following as she tests the extent of her bonds. Her eyes never leave his.

"But I'm here," he continues, curling his body forward and inward to appear as non-threatening as possible, "and I'm not going to let you down. I'm here, Buffy. And I'm going to help."

She curls up in a corner and stares.

He's never seen so much hatred and distrust in her eyes.

***

He gets an email from Cordy the next evening. Or, at least, that's when he finally remembers to check for one.

He spent most of his morning figuring out how to feed and water a Slayer bent on ending his unlife. It's the first time in all his years he's had to duck to avoid a flying chicken carcass.

Cordy sends him what she remembers from her vision, augmented by what was surely a stilted telephone conversation with Willow.

He's glad he doesn't have to call himself.

He isn't sure what he'd say to the girl, dragging her best friend back from the dead and leaving him to clean up the mess.

Still, he can't say he's sorry to have Buffy back, no matter what shape she's in.

***

She's crying the next time he goes below, body-shaking, heart-rending sobs that threaten to strip her voice away entirely.

"Angel," she croaks as he closes the door behind him, her expression etched with sorrow.

"Buffy." He strides across the floor to close the gap, pausing only when she scrabbles away, eyes cast toward the floor, hands visibly trembling.

"I'm sorry." She pulls to the end of the chain, fingers reflexively clutching at the links holding her in place. "Sorry, sorry, sorry," she mutters under her breath, curling herself into a ball and ignoring him entirely.

When he crawls forward and touches her, she comes back to life and skitters in the opposite direction, limbs loose and hanging, eyes dull and devoid of life.

She doesn't make a sound for the rest of the day.

***

After seven days of bunking down in the basement, Wesley manages to convince him to join the upstairs world and help them with a case.

Wes and Fred have done most of the research, and Gunn's gathered the weaponry needed to terminate a nest of G'nargla'a eggs, as well as the firepower to take down one pissed-off, protective mother.

He doesn't speak as they all pile into the car, driving in awkward tension to the address Wes provided. They exit, weapons in hand, and approach the run-down townhouse.

He doesn't knock, just kicks the door in. He can feel Wes and Gunn on his heels.

He storms through the dilapidated living room without pause. He can smell the G'nargla'a's stench; it fills his nostrils and brings the beast inside to life.

He's been needing a fight, and he relishes the thought of getting lost in combat. No moral decisions, no ethical dilemmas, no worries, no carefully balanced plans, just fang and claw and the clash of steel.

The G'nargla'a doesn't stand a chance.

He whirls into the backroom a flurry of movement, sword slicing through the tough skins of the eggs like butter, clouds of foul-smelling dust rising from the leathery sacs as they begin to deflate, the young inside shriveling as they're exposed to the world too soon.

The mother roars.

His fangs slip into place.

They collide.

Later, after the eggs have all been ruined, the mother's corpse burned in the back yard, he's glad Wesley thought to bring a tarp to cover the car on the ride home.

He was a little...enthusiastic with the mother G'nargla'a.

"Hey, Wes?" he asks as they exit the car and head toward the hotel entrance.

"Yes, Angel?"

"Thanks. For...you know, this." He shrugs, tilting his head toward the car.

"Not a problem." Wes smiles. "Get some rest tonight, yes?"

He sighs, rest sounds good.

***

The phone wakes him at three in the morning.

"Hello?" he grunts into the phone.

"S—sorry. I woke you. I—I just thought you'd be awake, vampire and all."

"Who is thi—Dawn?" He sits up, suddenly more awake than he's been in a week.

"Yeah."

"Did you...I mean...are you okay?"

"I—I'm fine. I didn't know...before. What she—" Dawn's voice falters; he clenches the bedsheets in his fist in impotent anger. "I didn't know what she'd done...before. With...B—B-Buffy. She told me. Today."

"Dawn, it's alright. I've got her, she's going to be okay." He prays he's not lying.

"No!" her voice is startlingly loud in his ear. "No. You've got to...to...take care of it. You have to...I...well, I...before, you know, I...brought her back, Mom. And B-Buffy, she said...said it wasn't. Wasn't her."

He closes his eyes against the image. He doesn't want to think about everything Buffy went through alone. Alone, because he wasn't strong enough...

"And you've got to," Dawn's sobbing voice cuts into his thoughts. "You've got to take care of it. You have to...to end it. Because, it's n-not her. It's not B-Buffy. It's not. And she...she wouldn't want this, you know it."

"Dawn...," he begins, only to be cut off again.

"No! It's not. And s-she wouldn't want it this way. I know it. S-she's in Heaven, and she's happy and this, this thing, it's not her. She wouldn't want..." The voice dissolves into gulping sobs.

"Dawn, I'm going to take care of it."

"Y-you loved her. P-promise me. Promise you won't let it hurt anyone else."

"I—"

"Promise." The strength in the voice surprises him. For all that she'd been a whiny, bratty pre-teen when he'd been in Sunnydale, he can hear the same steel in her will that first pulled him toward Buffy. He simply can't say 'no' to a Summers' woman, it seems.

"I promise." The words are out of his mouth before he can think.

"Oh—Okay."

She hangs up.

He stays awake the rest of the night.

***

"I hurt them." Her voice is a welcome sound as he descends the stairs, even if the tone makes him want to weep.

"Yes," he answers, knowing she won't appreciate a lie.

He watches as she absorbs the information, thoughts and memories turned inward as she re-orders her fractured mind. She paces, tucking errant strands of dark-honey blonde hair behind her ear—a touch-up wasn't really on her agenda, after all—and fiddles with the hem of the hoodie Gunn loaned him when he'd been cleaning her up.

She looks more human than she's been in a month.

She pauses in her tracks, attention suddenly drawn back to his face.

"Why am I here?" she asks, genuine puzzlement in her voice.

"Because you need help."

"But I—"

"And when I'd been dragged up from the depths of hell, you believed in me."

"Angel...," she begins to shake her head in denial.

"And I believe in you."

"No. Nonononononono..." She falls to the ground, fists balled up and thumping against her temples in time with her chanting.

He's there just as she hits the floor, arms wrapped around her thin waist as he draws her warmth against his chest.

"Yes. Yes.yesyesyes..." He repeats it over and over, rocking their bodies together to the rhythm of their words.

Inside, his heart is blazing with light.

Buffy is in there, after all.

***

"What's it like?" he asks one evening during one of her more lucid moments.

She's crouched near the wall, as always, but she pauses in her gentle rocking to glance at him.

"What?"

"When you're..." He shrugs, unsure how to tactfully say what's on his mind.

"Oh." She pulls a strand of hair from her messy ponytail and flops the end around. "Jeffrey Dahmer Slayer?"

"Uhm. Yeah." It amazes him how...uniquely she puts things, even when she doesn't use complete sentences.

"Wiggy. Swirly clouds—not angel-harps—black. Storm. Menotme. Scared. Angry. Menotme. Like movies, but...stuck. Weak."

"Huh." He'd wondered for a moment about possession—although that was the first thing Wes checked for when he brought her back to L.A.—but listening to her speak, it sounds similar to being a vampire. At least in the first few days.

He smiles. Even though she's far from being herself, he has hope for the first time since Cordelia's vision.

***

When she has a full day with no outbursts, he gives her free reign of the basement.

After a week, he invites her to join the team in the hotel proper.

She stays glued to his side, her body trembling as they approach the office; Wes is inside scowling at a thick stack of books while Gunn wads up sheets of Wes's scratch paper and shoots them toward the trash can.

"Hey, guys." They look up at his call, Wesley's eyes full of pity, Gunn's full of curiosity.

Buffy leans closer to Wes's desk, her gaze sharp as she watches his every breath.

"Watcher," she snaps out, cocking her head in consideration.

Holding his body very still, he gives her the slightest nod.

She blinks, then looks away dismissively. Turning her attention to Gunn, she sniffs the air, nostrils flaring ever-so-slightly. She regards him warily for a moment, then seems to relax into Angel's side.

Angel glances up at Wes, then Gunn, and shrugs.

***

Buffy becomes oddly attached to Fred.

She still doesn't let anyone but Angel touch her, and she has yet to utter more than a few syllables to Wes, but she takes to following Fred around the hotel as she rambles about string theory and pancakes and Texas, always a few paces behind.

As far as Angel can tell, Buffy never responds to Fred's rambling.

Then again, he's not always sure that Fred realizes there's someone there to listen.

Sometimes he wonders if the fascination is due to Fred herself, or if Buffy's just drawn to the long, shiny, brown hair and slight frame.

Still, Fred doesn't seem to mind, and he's glad to see Buffy make a friend. Sort of.

***

He wakes in the early morning to the rustle of sheets. A warm hand slides across his chest, small and delicate, nails trailing down his abdomen to take him into hand.

His eyes pop open as she squeezes.

His gaze traces her features; her eyes are cloudy and focused on the mattress, almost as if her body and mind are in two different places.

He feels like he's in a dream.

When he's hard, she knee-shuffles across the bed and crawls over him, sinking down on his cock in one wet-tight push. His hands slip to her hips automatically, toes curling to brace himself as she begins to rock, head thrown back, eyes closed.

He thinks he should say something, and then her muscles clench and his brain shuts off and there are no words.

She bounces enthusiastically, and it's so hot and wet and perfect that his muscles lock up and he can't move, but his soul's in no danger. Their bodies are joining in the most intimate way, but Buffy's lost in her own mind and he doesn't know if she will ever come back completely.

She comes with a cry, slumping onto his chest gracelessly. Her breath puffs moistly against his skin.

When she catches her breath, she slips away.

He stares at the ceiling until he softens, then turns over and tries to sleep.

***

Angel goes with Wes and Gunn on another case, this time a Konagh beast living in the alley between a department store and a twenty-four hour dry cleaner's who's been snacking on customers for the past few weeks.

Their intel is good and Wes's spellwork holds the beast in place while he and Gunn take turns hacking at the demon's thick armor to behead it.

Unfortunately, Konagh beasts are full of a dark purpleish fluid, most of which lands on Angel's sweater.

When they make it back to the hotel, he heads straight for his bedroom—Konagh blood is sticky and stinks like fetid garbage.

As he strips out of his coat, he hears Gunn calling out for Fred from the lobby and her answering giggle as she clamors down the stairs.

And then he hears a familiar feminine growl.

"Buffy!" He dashes out of the room and slip-runs down the stairs, his eyes glued to the scene in the lobby: Gunn's eyes are wide as he stumbles back from Fred, hands up in placation. Fred ducks behind the sofa as Buffy vaults over her, hair streaming behind her like ribbons as she whirls closer, her foot slamming into Gunn's face before he can move.

"No!" He can see what's coming, but even his preternatural speed can't cover the distance before she grabs Gunn by the chin and twists.

Fred screams.

Wes runs into the lobby from the kitchen, eyes wide as he takes in the damage.

Buffy turns and snarls.

Angel launches from his place on the stairway.

He tackles Buffy to the ground, using his weight to pin her momentarily as he raises his fist to knock her out again.

***

Wes and Fred leave for good twenty minutes later.

After securing Buffy in the basement, he buries his friend.

When he returns from the grave, he can hear her sobs from the lobby.

***

Angel doesn't go downstairs for three days.

He's stuck, wedged in between what he knows Buffy would want, what he knows is right, and what his heart wants, what it knows to be true.

Wes leaves four messages, Cordelia two.

He deletes them without listening.

***

She's back against the wall when he returns, almost as if no time has passed at all.

He locks the door behind him before he approaches.

When she looks up, her eyes are dead.

"Finish it, Angel."

He can't speak.

Her eyes well with tears and suddenly he understands how she felt years ago, sword in hand and the world in jeopardy, and he knows once and for all that she's stronger than he'll ever be.

"No."

The tears fall from her eyes as she turns away.

Crouching in the corner, she begins to rock back and forth.

***

He retrieves three sacks of groceries and one discreetly brown-paper packaged supply of blood from the doorstep, pushing the door closed and locking it, even though it's a moot point since the containment spell went live. He carries the supplies to the kitchen, where he silently puts them all away.

He takes a tray from the counter and navigates his way up the stairs and into her room.

She's staring out the window—magically reinforced by Willow when he called in his favor—and doesn't look up as he places the meal on the dresser.

She'll eat, or she won't.

On days when the other is closer to the surface, her willfulness disappears and she gulps down every bite.

Other days...

"Having a good evening?" he asks, pausing in the doorway.

She doesn't answer.

It's not unexpected; she hasn't spoken since he turned down her request two and a half years ago.

Still, he has time.

And he'll wait as long as she needs.

Forever, if necessary.


FIN

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