Buffy stirred and blinked in the bright fluorescent light, then almost passed out as the pain hit her. The back of her head felt like someone had used it as a football. Her forehead burned with the pain of whatever they'd done with that knife, her left arm throbbed from the rough puncture in the bend of it, and her wrists burned. And she was so weak...
All she wanted to do was get up, but it was so hard…
She struggled to focus, to block out the terror, and succeeded enough to struggle to one elbow. Her clothes had been taken and she was wearing some kind of diaphanous, see-through white negligee over tiny white lace lingere. The implications of that horrified her almost as much as her injuries. The room was pure white, but it didn't seem much like a bedroom, despite the fact that she was in a bed, or a least a table made up like a bed. She bore with the pain to turn her head to look around.
Her eyes widened in horror when they stopped at a white, satin draped trolley next to the bed. On it was a magnificent white-lacquered coffin with gold handles, surrounded by white flowers, which looked like they'd been deliberately spattered with blood. Next to it was an ice bucket with a bottle of expensive champagne cooling in it.
There was no doubting whom the coffin was for, but the champagne? Buffy forced herself into a sitting position and reeled from the pain and the nausea. She didn't leap out of bed so much as slither off it, her legs like un-set jello and her head spinning like a demented dervish.
In a tortured pantomime she half staggered, half dragged, half crawled her way past the coffin, toward the only door in the room. She was almost there when it opened.
"Giles!" she cried, looked up and froze.
Standing over her, dressed in pure white, was a tall, powerful half-naked man carrying a champagne flute and grinning with feral glee.
"I'll die first," she spat.
"Please yourself," he shrugged and picked her up with one powerfully muscled arm. She struggled futilely until she almost passed out, but to no avail. He threw her back on the bed and turned to the champagne. Buffy moved to roll off the bed again, but he thrust out a hand and clamped it on her wrist, turning with the bottle in the other.
"Enough of your games. It's my turn now."
Buffy shivered with terror as he popped the cork, and filled the glass. She watched as he saluted her, drained it and smashed it against the far wall.
And then screamed when he turned and tore the negligee from her body with terrifying force…
Angel moaned and stirred as Giles turned into Barton Drive, where he knew the Heaven's Rest funeral home had not long since opened. By the time the car stopped Angel was sitting up.
"Buffy?" he demanded.
"Here, hopefully," Giles replied, the depth of violence in his tone shocking the vampire.
Then he flipped on the light, eased him forward to look at his wound, visible through the rip in his black shirt, and then flipped it off again. "Your wound is healing, as expected. Stay here and wait for me."
Giles was out of the car and gone before he could argue, but Angel had no intention of staying behind. A vampire's accelerated healing did not diminish the pain of the wound, but it did allow him enough strength to get himself out of the car and to follow his friend.
Inside of the home a receptionist in cult robes leaped up to intercept him, but Giles blindly knocked her to the floor without slowing down. He'd opened and closed a half a dozen doors by the time Angel caught up.
"I told you to wait," he snarled.
"Go to hell," Angel retorted. "In there," he nodded toward a door at the end of the corridor.
"How do you know?" Giles demanded as he forced his battered body into a run.
"I know," Angel yelled after him. "Wait!"
Giles heard both the word and the warning but didn't slow in his flight. All he could think of was Buffy, lying broken, silent, cold, like Jenny. All a part of him wanted to do was kill…
He wrenched open the door in time to see a white, frothy piece of fabric billow in the air as it flew across the room and Buffy struggling with a hulk of a man, who was already near-naked and obviously aroused. As he crossed the room Buffy scratched his face and was caught a bone shattering-blow across the face for her trouble.
"No!" Giles screamed in a voice that would terrify the dead and threw himself on the creature.
"Giles!" Angel staggered in as the watcher grappled with Buffy's attacker and when the librarian was thrown across the room, lunged forward trying valiantly to hold him off until Giles could get to his feet.
After a second of struggling with the pain, and a moment to shake the fog from his eyes, Giles dragged himself up again and joined the fray. He had to stop Angel from being throttled unconscious. He tore at the other man's arms, kidney punched and kicked without success. Then he remembered something.
He drew the gun from his pocket and thrust it into the man's face.
The man released a nearly unconscious Angel and reeled backward, not from the gun but from the chain that had caught on the barrel.
Giles looked from the crucifix to the hulking male in the undone white pants. Revealed, it transformed.
"It is a bloody vampire! And there's absolutely nothing to kill it with," he shouted over his shoulder. The gun was useless. Recovering, Angel looked around the room as Giles fended off their foe. Then he went to the casket, closed the lid and drove his palm through it martial arts fashion.
He picked up a long, thick splinter from it. "Now there is."
The big vampire seized his opportunity when Giles looked over his shoulder to see what Angel had. The Watcher went sprawling across the floor after being crash-tackled, and the vampire kept going toward the exit. His escape was blocked, however, by the arrival of Eva, alone, thankfully, and also dressed in white.
She shrieked. "Geoffrey!"
Angel seized the vampire's split second of distraction to lunge forward to drive his makeshift stake into its back, but it turned and knocked the splinter from his hand before crossing with a massive backhand. Angel flew across the room like a rag doll, slammed into a wall and slumped on the floor, motionless.
Giles, silently and unsteadily back on his feet, snatched up the stake as the vampire closed on the exit again and Eva descended into hysterics.
"Geoffrey, oh Geoffrey, what have they done?" she wailed as he loomed over her.
Geoffrey, more interested in cutting his losses, looked at her creamy neck, then at the door. "What the hell," he muttered and bent to bite.
Eva screamed as her partner exploded into dust fragments and then she fainted.
Giles dropped the stake and staggered to Buffy. She was moaning softly and trying to sit up.
There were half-formed bruises over her arms and legs, and a horrible, deep one on her cheek. Blood had dried on her forehead where it had oozed from the symbol cruelly carved above the bridge of her nose, and down her arm from the wound where Eve had drawn the sacrifical blood. What was left of her underwear hung in tatters.
He didn't know what to say, or what to do. After a beat, he reached out and drew the bed sheet around her.
Buffy jumped back like a frightened bird, looked up with traumatised eyes; eyes which leaped at the sight of him. She tried to speak and sobbed, reached out instead to touch his torn sleeve.
"It's all right," he said softly, his voice cracking. "I'm here."
She reached up tremulously and touched the drop of moisture on his cheek with one finger, her eyes filling with tears.
"Giles…" she managed, finally, rested her head against his shirt and clung to him like a small child.
Giles, who knew the soul destruction of violation, swore and drew his battered arms around her.
Buffy stirred as the warm refuge of Giles' arms drained what little energy she had left and she felt herself sliding into unconsciousness. She was about to draw back and say so when she felt his weight go dead against her.
"Giles?" she cried, alarmed, panic driving off the grogginess. The sound roused Angel, who'd been drowsing for the last ten minutes on the floor.
"He's out cold," he told her, easing the Watcher away from the bed and knocking the coffin and flowers off the trolley with one sweep of his arm before lifting Giles and laying him on it. He took his pulse. "His pulse is strong," he said, coming swiftly to her side, "but I have to get him to a hospital."
His eyes widened in horror at the damage done to her, then glittered with pain when he looked into her eyes. "We failed you," he whispered.
She shook her head painfully, looking at the Watcher. "I'm okay," she lied, already losing ground again to her injuries. "We have to help Giles."
Angel nodded, wrapped her more tightly in the sheet and carried her to Giles' car. In a concussion-induced torpor, she watched him stride back into the building, then return, struggling to carry the unconscious Watcher in his arms.
Angel made a poor fist of driving, but he did enough to eventually get them to the hospital and into the ER with a story about Buffy being attacked in an alley and their violent rescue of her, well supported by the visible bruises they all sported.
The ER staff, well used to street violence, particularly at night, got on with it without equivocation, arguing only when Angel refused treatment. He shook his head when the ER nurse persisted after Giles and Buffy had been taken away. His back would heal in time, and he couldn't let them touch him. "I'm only bruised. Just help my friends."
He knew he should've left, but he couldn't. Instead he called the library and told Xander and Willow what happened and asked Willow to bring clothes for Buffy. Less than thirty minutes later they were in the waiting room with him.
Xander shrugged. "At the library."
"You didn't tell him?"
"Did you really want us to?" Xander asked dryly.
Angel gave a tired half laugh and shook his head.
Xander smiled half-heartedly. "Truth is he turned into action man. Called the hospital, organised some teacher to cover at the library tomorrow for Giles, and now he's holding the fort, by the phone in case we need anything. Who knew?"
The minutes turned to hours. There had been a lot of sirens. ER was having a busy night. Xander was pacing and Willow was asleep on Angel's arm.
"If there was anything wrong they'd have told us," Angel pointed out.
Xander stopped. "And if they're still working frantically?" he snapped back just as a very tired intern came into the waiting room.
Angel gently eased Willow down on to his seat and stood up.
"Miss Summers would like to see you," the intern told him. "She's responding well to treatment. She's been through a great deal, but she has no serious injuries."
Angel closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. "And Mister Giles?" He demanded, before Xander could even frame the words.
"Resting comfortably. He has a heavy concussion, contusions and a hairline fracture of his right shoulder blade, not to mention a long list of minor wounds. We don't yet know if the head injury has caused any permanent damage. He really is very lucky to have escaped more serious injury. We took stitches in his scalp and his arm. We're keeping him in overnight, at least."
"He's coming around," the intern allowed reluctantly.
"Take me to him."
"Now!" Angel said in a tone far more dangerous than any shout.
Giles looked pale and exhausted. Angel closed the door behind him, shutting the intern out, and crossing to the bedside.
For a long time he stood silently, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of the Watcher's chest as he breathed, afraid he would not open his eyes, and more afraid of what he might find in them if he did.
Giles' eyes did open, however. He blinked, and focused on Angel's face. For a split second Angel saw blinding terror in them, and his heart constricted with guilt.
Then reality caught up, and, Angel saw, lucidity.
"Angel. Is Buffy—?"
"She's fine…as good as she can be, right now."
Angel's eyes locked with his. "Do you want me to go?"
Giles closed his eyes again. "I want the pain to go away…"
Angel knew he wasn't talking about his wounds. He turned to leave, but the other man's hand closed around his wrist. Angel could feel it trembling.
"Promise me…promise me you'll never again let him come back," he begged.
Angel's back went rigid. Then he turned and took the hand in both of his, his eyes brimming with moisture. "With my life," he promised hoarsely. "With my life..."
Buffy was still in a cubicle in the ER. Her head wound and arm had been cleaned and dressed, she'd been washed and put in a hospital gown, and an almost empty drip was running into her arm. But it wasn't her appearance that brought tears to Willow's eyes as Angel brought them to her. It was the haunted look, the sheer fragility in her eyes.
She tried to grin. "Hi guys."
Willow held up the parcel she was carrying. "I brought clothes." Her voice cracked, but she managed a watery smile.
Buffy smiled back, wincing at the pain in her swollen cheek. "Just what I need to blow this joint." She turned to Angel. "How's Giles? They wouldn't tell me."
Angel swallowed. "Stable. Lucid. I think he's going to be okay."
"I want to see him," she announced.
"Not now," said a female doctor stepping into the cubicle. "You're being kept for observation overnight, and the orderly here is taking you up to a ward now. A Mister Wyndham-Price organised for private rooms to be provided for both you and Mister Giles in the event that you might be brought here, and need to be admitted. And you are being admitted."
"Wow, old Wesley thinks of everything. Maybe there's hope for him yet," Xander mused.
Buffy's eyes flew to Angel, but he nodded agreement with the doctor. He turned to the others. "We'll come back in the morning."
She looked mutinous but the orderly looked just as stubborn. She glared up at him as he tucked her back in and the others said their goodbyes and filed out.
"Shame you're not a vampire," she muttered under her breath as he wheeled her out, then had to lay back on the pillow before her head exploded.
She slept like the dead for several hours before the nightmares started and she woke wet with perspiration and shaking uncontrollably. It took several minutes for it to stop. She put the bed light on.
She reached for the bedside phone. "Hello, admissions? I'm coming to the hospital to visit a friend in the morning. What? Oh. Rupert Giles. Can you please tell me what room he's in?"
The jeans and lambswool sweater Willow brought were in her bedside cupboard with her trainers. They made her feel marginally more in control, but only marginally. Standing up kind of set that back, though. She waited for the nausea to pass and for her legs to turn back into legs, then gingerly slipped out of the room.
Giles was in a deep sleep. Buffy crept unsteadily across to his bedside. He was a mess, bruised and battered, his bare, stitched arm lying across his body and the small dressing on his head was bloody.
For a long time she watched him, comforted by his presence; by the small things: the faint herbal scent of his hair, the last hint of the subtle after-shave he wore…she frowned, which hurt. Something was missing… tweed, for one thing, she mused.
For all that, he looked so alone, so vulnerable, so un-Giles-like, in repose.
Two droplets of moisture trickled over her lashes and meandered down her cheeks.
Giles opened his eyes. Someone had wheeled a clanging breakfast trolley past his door. He lifted his arm, winced and the frowned. His watch was missing. He turned to look at his alarm clock and realised it wasn't his bedroom. Luminous numbers on the LED display on the phone told him it was 5.30am. He needed to go to the bathroom, but he wasn't sure he could even move the lower half of his body, much less get out of bed. It felt like he'd done seven of Buffy's workouts without a break, and his head felt like it had been used as a football. Every muscle, every pore of his body hurt.
He scanned the barely lit room for the bathroom door, and stopped on a sudden intake of breath. There was a velveteen armchair in the corner for visitors.
And he seemed to have a visitor: Buffy…
He tried to prop himself up to use the phone, and swore silently at the pain. He squinted at the list of numbers on it, lit only by the luminescence of the LED readout for its clock and radio components. He couldn't focus on the small print without his glasses and they weren't anywhere to be seen.
He looked across at her again and sighed. He had to go to the bathroom, and if he could get out of bed, perhaps he could get Buffy back to her room by himself…
It took several minutes of concerted effort to ease his body over the side of the hospital bed. He'd never been so stiff and sore and his head now felt more like a Halloween pumpkin. Buffy didn't stir as he hobbled to the bathroom fighting rising nausea, nor when he crept back a few minutes later, grateful to find his pants in his side cabinet. There was something terribly undignified about a hospital gown. By the time he got his pants on he knew he didn't have the strength to take Buffy back to her room without waking her, tiny as she was.
He was about to do just that, when he heard the door opening. He turned, his finger to his lips, and then exhaled. "Angel," he whispered, and swayed. "What on earth are you doing here at this hour?"
When he swayed again, Angel helped him silently back to bed. "Looking for Buffy. I came to check on her before daylight and she was gone. I thought she might be here."
"Of course." Giles nodded, easing his legs onto the sheets. "Look, I suspect she hasn't slept much. Will you take her back to her room and put her to bed?"
Their eyes held for a long moment, a question asked and answered. Angel nodded.
Giles watched him lift Buffy as gently as a babe and slip away in that panther-like way of his before letting his throbbing head fall back against the pillows. A moment later he turned his face toward the velveteen chair.
The room was suddenly very empty and very quiet…