The Unchosen One
TITLE: The Unchosen One - Episode: 'Angel'
SUMMARY: AU S1. Merrick was wrong; Buffy is not the Slayer. She is a Potential, but one who still has a destiny... on the Hellmouth.
A.N. Some dialogue has been taken from the episode 'Angel'.
THANK YOU To Destiny for the mini-beta. To Maria, Ashes and Courtney for the pre-read and suggestions. And to everybody on Facebook who sympathized with my 'Dear ___' notes. :)
"This way!" Buffy yelled, veering down a smaller alley.
Angel looked at her in confusion, half pointing straight down the street even as he followed her. "But your house..."
"Your place's closer," she told him, not pausing in her race.
For that matter, neither had he.
The two of them together could fight off the run-off-the-mill demons and vampires, but these were the Three. The best warriors the vampire world had created. He still couldn't believe that Buffy had become enough of a thorn at Nest's side to have him sic his best hunting dogs on her.
If he hadn't caught them by surprise, he doubted he and Buffy would have gotten away. It had been too close, in his opinion. But if they reached safety before the Three caught up…
Somehow, they managed it.
"Come on," Buffy said, pushing open the main glass doors of the building and turning toward the basement stairs. She froze mid-step, whirling around to throw a puzzled stare behind him. "Why aren't they following?"
Indeed, the vampires were watching them from the sidewalk, their anger at having lost their prey so palpable that Angel repressed a shudder. "People live here," he explained, nodding to the old elevator that led to the apartments above ground. "A vampire can't come in unless it's invited."
He didn't tell her that, if one of his neighbors invited them in, then his apartment would be unprotected. Good thing that most people in the building were retired with little taste for the nightlife. He'd made sure of that when he chose this place.
"Oh." Relief coursed through Buffy as she realized the worst part of the danger was over. "I've heard that before, but I've never put it to the test." She caught sight of the blood on his shirt. "Right. This time you better take care of it right away," she said, her tone brooking no objections, as she led the way to his door and waited for him to unlock it. "Good thing we came this way. You've got the better first aid kit."
Only because she had claimed that large bottles of disinfectant and packages of bandages would tip her mother off.
Once inside, Buffy moved straight to retrieve the kit from the bathroom, talking as she did, "When you said you were going to keep an eye on me, you have to admit it sounded a lot more like stalking than... you know, saving my life." He could imagine her expression at that precise moment, the fear of the last half hour giving way to reluctant acceptance that he'd been right. Perhaps even a bit of contriteness at having accused him of not trusting her to keep herself safe. "Now I'm feeling bad about yelling at you."
Small noises announced her return to the main room. "Perhaps you should-" Angel heard her say as he lifted his t-shirt over his head, his jacket already draped on the back of the closest chair. "-um, take off your clothes. Here." She showed him a clean shirt she must have grabbed from his closet.
It was moments like this that made him realize how comfortable they'd grown around each other.
Buffy hesitated a little where she was, subtly gazing over his body, as she was prone to do when she thought he wouldn't notice. The spike in her heartbeat gave her away every single time, though. Not that he intended to enlighten her. It would only serve to embarrass both of them - not to mention that he shouldn't be able to sense such minute changes in her.
She would know to change her behavior if she knew the truth, and he wouldn't feel like a lying bastard every time. But how to tell her now?
Playing human had seemed necessary at the time. Vampires had destroyed her life; she wouldn't want anything to do with another of them, no matter how harmless, and why make it complicated? Whistler had explained that Angel would only need to act when necessary; that Buffy wouldn't see much of him. Why give her such a solid reason to distrust him? Her doubts had been palpable enough when he’d been a stranger who had come to her aid unasked, with only his word that he was on her side. Angel doubted that his word alone would also have been proof enough that his soul had been given back.
And trust was essential.
Tonight he would never have been able to extract her from the Three's grasp if Buffy had not believed without question that he would fight on her side.
"Okay. Here we go," he heard Buffy say as she started cleaning out the wound and wrapping the bandage around his torso.
Her touch was careful, yet decisive. She was getting a lot of practice at first aid care, and only some of it on him. Her healing rate was accelerated, for a human, but nowhere near a Slayer's. If Sunnydale's hellmouth had been meant to have a warrior stand against its evil, Angel still couldn't understand why it couldn't have been the current Chosen One. He heard through the grapevine of her deeds in Cleveland, in Portland, even a couple hours away in Los Angeles. Didn't someone realize how much they needed her here?
...or how much they would have, had Buffy not stepped up.
It had been impossible not to follow her lead, even as she insisted that she was no leader and kept pushing him into the role instead. Act only when necessary? Obviously, nobody in Whistler's sphere had taken into account the very active and very temperamental hellmouth that seemed to delight in making a single girl face everything from giant bugs to Darla's sire.
It had taken him a couple weeks to realize that to keep his distance was to sign her death warrant. She was good, but she still needed training... and someone she could trust to cover her back. How had he been supposed to reveal then that he was not human, that he had deliberately misled her during that first meeting? (For, what vampire would carry a cross?) Like every lie, it had grown with every encounter. Now, two months later, they met at least three time a week to practice together - without counting their joint patrols at the most dangerous spots - and every time he surrendered to his fears and kept his silence.
A hundred years ago, a woman had cut him off from everything he knew for the great crime of not being what she demanded of him. Angel was aware that Buffy was as different from Darla as day was from night. He told himself that Darla throwing him away had been the greatest favor his sire could have done for him. That he had chosen- inasmuch as he'd been able to choose anything in those days - to walk away.
Despite his self-assurances, the fact remained: every time he thought of Buffy's reaction, of the contempt that she was sure to show, something very akin to terror gripped him. He refused to slide back to that useless life he'd led before being brought to Buffy; but he was sincere enough to himself to admit that, without her, that would be his likeliest choice.
"There," Buffy's voice brought him back to reality. She tapped his side right below the bandage and looked with obvious pride at her work - and with barely less obvious curiosity at the rest of him. "You're full of surprises, aren't you?" At his confused look, she pointed vaguely at the area below his right shoulder. "The big 'A' kind of explains itself, but what kind of freaky bird is on top of it?"
He chuckled. This was Buffy. While he was probing deep into his worst nightmares, she was puzzled about his tattoo. It should worry him that she wouldn't recognize a mythical creature unless it was attacking her, but why should she? Until last year, she'd been another Californian high school girl without a single care for the supernatural. "A griffin."
The space between her eyebrows crinkled a little. "Is it like some protection spell? Because Amy says she can make one work."
Angel shook his head. "No. It's..." A joke. That was the truth of it. The griffin had stood front and center on countless coats of arms, a symbol of strength and courage. How proud he had been of his own version of it, how the girls had praised him, even William had thrown in a begrudging compliment. "It's just a drawing I made," he finally said. "Some friends insisted it became me."
"Good friends," Buffy approved, moving on to tuck back the antibacterial cream, medical tape, and leftover bandage strip in the kit.
He barked a laugh, then shrugged on the t-shirt she had brought over in order to block her curious glance. “Never mind,” he mumbled from beneath the fabric.
"Aaaaanyway," she started after a somewhat awkward pause. "Back to opening that bag of surprises doubling as my favorite punching bag - that is, you." He gave her the eye roll her comment deserved; she knew as well as he did that they were pretty even on the training mat. She closed the lid and started her way to take it back to the bathroom. "I didn't know there was an artist in you. Color me..." Mid-step, she halted in the middle of the room and looked around his place, this time taking in the variety of pictures hanging on the walls, the stylised statue in its display cabinet. A grin appeared on her face as she looked back at him. "No. Wait. Somehow I'm not that shocked."
He smiled back.
It hadn't been until recently that he'd felt inspiration tug his fingers to grab pencil and paper. Nothing redeemable had come out of it, not yet. But as this precise moment, as he watched Buffy in the middle of his apartment with the talk of mythical beings fresh in his mind, he could picture in clear relief the one that would match this girl: a young phoenix shooting out of her nest, wings extended as it soared toward the highest skies.
Buffy's smile dimmed and turned a little uncertain - a little... longing?
Angel realized that he'd been staring.
The moment broke when she stepped forward.
He wasn't half as brave. Straightened and in three long steps reached the nearest closet. Luckily, it was the one that held what he needed for the night. He heard her back away, and at her return he'd already finished building a makeshift bed on the floor with his extra blankets.
"Oh." Buffy spoke up guiltily. "Two of us, one bed. I didn't think that through when I trapped the both of us here."
"We would have been just as trapped at your place," he answered. "The Three won't give up until dawn."
She gave him the look she reserved for when he was underestimating her. "I kind of got that from the snarling at us from outside the building."
It was more than that. If the Three had gone hunting on their Master's request, they couldn't go back without their prey. Their very existence depended on it.
"That makes no sense," Buffy said after he explained. "Not that I'm against the wasting of strong vampires - in fact, it saves me a stake - but wouldn't it be smarter to keep them around?"
How to explain a process that went down hundreds of years? The Three existed to serve their Master, their strength was one more weapon at the disposal of the Order of Aurelius - and what was the good of a failing weapon? Without their reputation, the Three were useless, less than nothing, just broken tools to be eventually replaced. They wouldn't even try to escape their fate. "It's tradition," he tried, knowing it was a lame explanation.
It was more than that. So much more. It was in their blood to bend their knee before their maker, to put his wishes above their own. He still considered himself lucky to have held so much sway over Darla's passions that she'd left Heinrich for him. Even in his worst moments, he'd never wished to have ducked the curse by staying in the Master's court.
If he had to lose himself, better to have done it as a consequence of his own actions.
"Well, tradition sucks," Buffy retorted, moving to sit on his couch. Realizing that she would have to step over the laid out blankets, she changed direction to the chair where his jacket still rested. She sat sideways, her shoulder against the back of the chair, and traced the edge of a sleeve absently as she continued, "Okay. I guess we're not the ones stuck with it this time, so"-her grin came as suddenly as his foreboding-"I am just going to make the best out of it."
The time spent with her easily translated that into Interviewing Angel Time.
He took a step backwards.
She followed his move with her eyes.
"I'm taking a shower," he answered her unasked question. "Then I'm going straight to sleep. Long day." He made a show out of yawning, even though he'd been up since shortly before sundown.
"I guess..." Buffy sounded disappointed, but she would have to live with it. The last thing he needed was to slip somehow, and have a Potential feel trapped between the Three outside and the lying vampire in the apartment. He didn't think his furniture - and probably the building - would survive her exit maneuvers.
"Guess I'll be heading to bed too. Thanks for making it." She nodded to the pile at the floor.
Angel gave her a look. "That's for me. You take the bed."
"But you're wounded." Buffy looked surprised. "...and it's your bed."
"I noticed." He didn't bother to insist. She might grumble at his old-fashioned ways, but she let him open doors, place himself between her and danger (all right, she might do more than grumble then), and had never mentioned giving back his other jacket. "Just toss a pillow over here and we'll be even."
She nodded. "At least we're not sharing a room, technically speaking. My mom would --- My mom!" It was almost comical, the way her eyes widened. Then she was rushing past him on her way to the phone, and moments later he could hear Amy's voice on the other side of the line, promising that she'd call Buffy's mother and tell her that Buffy was spending the night at her place after the Fumigation Party - and was already too dead to the world to pick up the phone.
"Hope that's not literal, little one," Amy added, not sounding worried in the slightest. "I'd hate to use you as a target."
Buffy scowled at the receiver. "Just try, you old cow."
Angel would have warned her not to antagonize the mentally unbalanced witch, but Amy's laugh crackled down the telephone line.
"Sleep well, dearest," said the voice of the sixteen-year-old in the tone of a mother well into her thirties. Angel often wondered whether another reason Amy kept in touch with Buffy was because that meant there was one person for whom she could drop the teenager act. He didn’t doubt she could throw a spell that erased the memory of her real identity. "Tell hi to Angel," Amy added a little too gleefully, "and do try to get that boy to stop being a gentleman."
Buffy blushed and hurried to hang up. "She's creepy," she muttered to herself, and then louder, "Amy said hi."
He nodded in acknowledgement. "Shouldn't you be calling your mother yourself?"
"I suck at lying to her."
Angel gave her a disbelieving look. He'd been present when she claimed that Willow, Xander, and Jesse were in her living room because of an emergency study meeting for a History test the next morning, and that Angel was - of all things - their tutor from the local college.
If he hadn't been too busy staring the two possessed boys into reluctant submission, he'd have rolled his eyes at her dubious creativity.
"Okay, okay. I do fine," she admitted now. "But Amy does it so much better, and mom adores her." She gave a little shudder. "Must be some kind of subconscious mommy-bonding thing. It's..."
“Creepy,” he echoed.
"Very." She moved to stand up, but stopped herself and looked around her, apparently taking in that she was sitting on his bed already. He saw her consider her options, and finally sit back down and bend to take off her shoes. "Okay, that's better." She looked down at her ensemble and winced. "If I'd known I would get jumped by the bump-faced Stooges, I wouldn't have bothered to dress up." She tried to straighten her rumpled blouse. "Who dresses up to stomp on cockroaches, anyway? Small towns are so strange... no wonder this is where hell takes a vacation."
He said nothing, having learned enough to understand that when Buffy rambled it was because she was building up to something.
Indeed, she let out a long sigh and finally asked in a rush, "I don't think you've got something I could borrow to sleep in?"
He was tempted to offer one of his t-shirts, but the sight of her swallowed in his clothes would be a treasure better left undiscovered. "No need." He pointed at the lower drawer in his stand. "There's a set of workout clothes. Your size"
Buffy gave him an amused look. "You seem awfully ready for our little sleepover."
"I like being ready," he responded, then felt his lips curl into a teasing smirk. "After you forgot bringing an extra set that time..."
"Right." She stopped him quickly, her face flushing. "What about we forget about that and let my pride survive?"
Angel chuckled. Few times had it been clearer that he was dealing with a sixteen-year-old than when she was throwing a tantrum in the middle of his living room after realizing she would be forced to wear her sweaty clothes back home.
It had been... an enlightening experience.
"You're laughing," Buffy accused him, her cheeks slowly returning back to their normal hue.
He sucked in his shoulders, unwilling to tell her that he was more amused tonight at her reaction than that other evening at her behavior. "Can you blame me?"
She made an affronted sound and whirled around, keeping her back turned to him as she scooted across the bed to get the clothes. He turned on his heel, heading toward the bathroom door, but her cold shoulder thawed enough to let her say, "Make sure to save me some hot water."
His snort went ignored.
"Here. Before I forget."
He grabbed the pillow inches before it hit the back of his head, and turned around.
Buffy was now sitting up against the wall that doubled as his headboard, her bundle on her lap. Her eyes were a picture of complete innocence. "You said to give you a pillow."
He laughed aloud this time, and tossed her latest weapon onto the center of his makeshift bed. "You're such a brat."
"But I'm a brat who can recognize an evasive when I see it," she answered easily. "I'll still be here when you come back. We'll talk then."
Angel looked over her, at the way her legs flexed a little closer to her body and she sank into the remaining pillow. It wasn't every day that she escaped a death sentence; he doubted she'd remain awake longer than a few minutes. "Of course," he agreed.
Buffy's eyes peered at him. "Seriously?"
What was one more lie between them? "Sure."
She smiled. "Okay."
But she was already arranging herself across the mattress, her fresh clothes now a limp bundle at her hip. In fact, as he tiptoed back into the main room a little later, he did it to the sound of her even breathing in the background. Angel glanced at her, and not for the first time wondered how he'd managed to earn this girl's trust when she trusted so little else.
"Good dreams," he whispered, aware that he would remain awake through the night.
He should have used the hours ahead in a more productive manner. Not only would Nest retaliate in the near future, but this time he would send forces less likely to rely on their own fame and underestimate Buffy. Angel knew that their escape tonight was owed in great part to the Three's utter certainty that a mere Potential would be no real challenge, and their inability to adapt when they realized their error.
Whatever Nest's next move would be, he and Buffy needed to prepare.
But not tonight.
Tonight, he indulged in the heartbeat across the room, learning its cadences and the rhythms of her body.
Just for one night, he gave in to the pretense that Buffy was staying under his roof with full knowledge of his history, that his chapter as the Scourge of Europe had been closed with her blessing.
Even without falling asleep, Angel decided, that was the best dream he could get.
End of scene.