He hurts. His head is pounding and every muscle in his body screams.
Angel coughs, and spits out blood. He is lying on his side in the mud and he can smell fire.
He tries to move, pushing on the ground with bruised hands but it's agony and he cries out. His instinct is to stop and rest again but he hasn't time. He can feel the heat on his skin increasing and he forces himself to push, dragging his ravaged body up to his knees. The ground crackles under his legs, and bits of twig stick to his dark jeans. Panting, he struggles to stand; he forces himself to ignore the pain and he staggers like a drunken man to his feet. His hand reaches out to steady himself and closes round the roughness of scales. He ignores the pain in his fingers; he pulls himself upright and looks around to view the danger. The torrential rain from earlier has kept the damage down but it is now dropping to a fine drizzle, and the fire is spreading through the vegetation at an alarming rate. He's in a dangerous position. The dragon's hide is currently offering him some safety but he doesn't know if it is fireproof or how much shelter it will be able to give him; he knows help is on its way. The forest has fire lookouts stationed in towers at various locations, and they will have raised the alarm by now.
He yanks off his sodden coat and begins beating at the flames in an attempt to stop the fire spreading too far, but he knows he might as well piss on it for all the good he's doing. Where is the pouring rain now that he needs it?
A sound from above tells him that a helicopter is flying over the scene, and coming closer, the sirens of the fire engines speeding toward him. But the fire is closing in, too. He's bruised and battered from the fall and he wonders if he can outrun the fire but he doubts his ability now that he is injured. He continues to battle with the fire but he's losing, and if he doesn't find cover from the fire he isn't going to be around when they arrive. He hasn't much strength and even less time. He starts to move, using the dragons' body to support him and he staggers forward. He struggles over the thickness of the scaly tail and uses the fallen dragon to protect him against the searing heat of the flames. There… The dragon has fallen in such a way that its broken wing is resting on its front leg, and Angel stumbles toward it. He's hoping the body will be able to protect him, and he has to trust that it will be enough. He has nothing else.
He slips on the mud, grabs an overhanging branch to steady himself and causes rainwater to shower off the leaves and down on his head. He growls in frustration, and limps toward the welcome safety that the dragon's wing offers him. He slides underneath, biting his lip as the pain shoots across his back, and squirms under the scaly limb. He pulls his legs up as best he can and huddles as close as he can to the cold body. Rain has run down to the lowest point and pools under the dragons' wing, and he has no choice but to curl up in the muddy puddle. He reminds himself he's had to endure much worse as he listens to the swift approach of the County's brave firemen.
While he waits, he remembers.
"Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon."
The rain is torrential. It falls in thick sheets of water and obscures everything. It's hard to see the demon horde bearing down on them, and Angel thinks that might be for the best. His crew don't stand a chance against the swarm of evil descending on them, but he knows they will fight to their last breath, and will take a good few of the fearsome mob with them. He steps forward, knowing he must lead them into hell and the swooping beast descending from the sky quickly grabs his attention. He has some vague notion that if he can get to it, he might be able to steer it into the horde and maybe even the score for their side. He resists the urge to laugh insanely at that. Nothing would even the score against this lot. It's a suicide mission and he knows it.
"Let's go to work."
He swings his sword and rushes forward. His crew are with him and he feels an immense surge of pride in them all.
The world becomes a blur of noise and motion. He spins, stabs and gouges. He slices anything in his way as he beats a frenzied path toward the snarling dragon. He doesn't know how many demons he kills on his way, or how many times he's received hits himself but he keeps going because he must. He's bleeding by the time he reaches the dragon and swings the sword in a desperate attempt to slice it across the jugular.
The sword misses, and the dragon turns on him angrily. Four more swipes miss the flurry of scales before the dragon's teeth rip the shoulder off his jacket, and a fair bit of flesh with it. The dragon's breath on his face is hot and fetid and makes him want to retch. He forces himself to focus and brings the sword down across the dragon's neck. Brown blood spurts outward, drenching his jacket, and he tries to withdraw the sword but it's stuck fast in the glittering scales.
Knowing he won't last thirty seconds without a weapon, he thinks fast and scrambles up the side of the dragon, using its scales as handholds on his way. The dragon thrashes wildly. It can't reach him with its wicked jaws, and its efforts to dislodge him are frantic. Angel just manages to swing himself on top of the dragon's back when it does exactly what he'd been afraid it would do. Spinning round, it flaps leathery wings and takes to the skies and he can do nothing but hang on for dear unlife. They rise above the demon mass and he looks down, trying to get a brief glimpse of his people. His eye is drawn to where the demons seem to be heading, and he sees a hint of blue hair moving in a blur of speed. Illyria still stands, then. He's glad about that. And then his attention is dragged back to the present as the dragon turns, heads away from the carnage below.
No. He won't leave his crew alone, and he tries desperately to steer the dragon back again, but it is hopeless. He contemplates jumping down, but they are so high now, he can't even see the ground. Squirming round, he tries to get some bearing of where they are and sees the glint of the sword jammed in the dragon's side. It's too low, and he slithers down to reach it just as the dragon tilts sideways and he almost slips off. His grasping hand slides down the blade of the sword and he shrieks in pain. Trying to decide whether it would be better to jump or try to hang on, his flailing foot suddenly finds purchase on the dragon's flapping wing. Using the wing for balance, he pushes up, grabs the sword with both hands and yanks. It pulls free, causing the dragon to roar with pain and throw its head back. Angel falls backwards, uses the upward motion of the wing to fling him up unto the dragon's back and jams the sword through its neck.
The dragon screams as it writhes in agony and Angel tries to hang on with one hand while holding his sword with the other. The sound it makes is unearthly, and it's losing height; Angel glances down and sees lights underneath them. They're flying over the freeway, and the thought of the dragon plummeting down onto the busy road is horrifying. He needs to try and steer the dragon away from populated areas and he's pretty certain that Angeles National Forest lies to the east but he doesn't know how to get the dragon to turn. Pulling at the head makes no difference and he raises the sword, in the hope that the dragon will turn away from the pain. Then he remembers the earlier sword wound and he kicks at it as hard as he can. The dragon rears back, screaming in pain, but it does the trick because it starts turning toward the darker area beyond the highway. The dragon speeds up, maybe it is lured by the promise of darkness, and as soon as the freeway slips away from underneath them, Angel lays into the dragon. He has to bring it down soon, or god knows where it will take him. He needs to get back to that alley and find out what's going on.
The dragon coughs, and breathes flame from its open mouth. Damn. He hadn't realised it was a fire-breather, and heading over the forestry is a really bad idea. He tries to turn the dragon again, but it's sluggish and weak, and he doubts he will be able to change its direction. Maybe the dragon has a limited fire capacity, and if he can extinguish that, it will be safer.
He kicks the dragon under the head, hoping to catch the throat, but whatever he did was one thing too much, because the dragon just drops out of the sky. He realises then that he ought to have considered what would happen to him if he did kill the dragon, and thereby remove his mode of support, but it's too late now, and the ground is rushing to meet them.
He waits until he sees that one of the fire engines is standing temporarily unattended and he sprints toward it, scrambles into the cab and starts the engine. Although the fire is under control everybody is so busy they don't immediately notice his escape with the engine but he hears shouting as he pulls away and speeds off.
He's never driven a fire engine before, but he's always wanted to. There is an abandoned yellow hat on the seat next to him and on impulse he pops it onto his head. He'd be enjoying himself if he wasn't desperately worried about his friends back in the alley and he makes it back to town in record time.
There are demons spewing out of the alley and sprinting down the street. They're fired up and excited and take their frustrations out on the buildings they pass and leave disruption in their wake. Angel pulls the fire engine round and it spins, sliding forward and covering the entrance of the alley with a crunch as it crashes into the walls of the nearby buildings.
He's out of the cab the minute it stops and his plan is to use the water hose to help push the demons back into the alley. But creatures are already swarming over the top of the engine and he has no weapon; he just has time to yank the axe out of the side of the vehicle before the first wave of monsters reach him. A crazed hunk of green fur bashes him over the head and he's glad of the fireman's helmet he forgot he had on. The axe cuts off the creature's head and the yellow helmet gets thrown at another. He fights until his arms are so tired he can hardly hold the axe up. The never-ending swarm of demons exhausts him but he keeps going. He has no choice, and he knows there is no hope but he's determined to take as many of them down with him as he can.
The ground is slippery from all the demon blood and he loses his footing. A scaly heel crunches his ribs and he lashes out. He’s beyond tired, and he knows if he doesn’t get up fast he will die. He struggles, but he can’t seem to muster the energy and he hears movement close by. His skin prickles and he waits for the final blow but it doesn’t come. There is somebody moving and he hears the clang of steel on steel and he tenses. There is nobody left to fight with him and he wonders why the demons are fighting each other.
He’s hallucinating. He has to be. She can’t possibly be here and he’s sure now that he’s dying. Well, he can think of worst things to imagine in his last moments.
A hand touches his shoulder and he flinches. That had felt real. Then she is leaning over him and trying to help him up but he can’t move. Too much has happened; too many good people have been lost and fighting the good fight is just too damned hard. Why can’t they let him die?
“Dammit, Angel!” she’s angry and he tries not to feel bad. Why can’t he hallucinate something pleasant? “You’ve got to help me!”
Something in her tone makes his stomach turn over. If she’s here, is she dead too? He hears the clang of steel and a feminine grunt and he forces himself to his knees. If she’s alive she won’t be for much longer. Hallucination or not, she’s going to need him and he damned well isn’t going to let her down. Shoulder to shoulder, he’d promised. Right now, he’s on a par with her knees.
He forces himself to stand and the world slips sideways. Buffy suddenly appears at his side and uses her body to support him. But she’s distracted and a tall red demon pushes forward to skewer her and Angel dredges up enough energy to push her to one side and take on the much taller demon.
He’s no idea where the strength comes from. He just knows that he must continue to fight, and he’s amazed when he senses Buffy moving in behind him to protect his back and it feels like the years slip away and they’re fighting evil together the way that they used to. It feels good. They have always been strong together and for the first time he thinks he might just get through this.
The world slows. There is nothing except blood and pain and demon after demon after demon and then, finally, there are none. He’s panting hard and feeling exhilarated and the world feels surreal. The idea of demons pouring through the alley to ravage Los Angeles is appalling; Buffy should not be standing next to him and his friends should still be alive. Was he in some kind of bizarro world?
He hears a moan from Buffy and spins round. She is holding her shoulder, and he can see blood seeping between her fingers. He reaches her side immediately.
“Are you all right?”
“Just a scratch,” she assures him.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, seeing her properly for the first time and he can’t help noticing the flush to her skin and the shine in her eyes.
She shrugs. “You tell me,” she says, just as Angel staggers and reaches for the stability of the fire engine to keep him upright. “More to the point, are you all right?”
“Yeah….” He starts to say but he the world spins again and he slams himself up against the side of the truck. Buffy moves to his side.
“You need to listen to me,” she says quietly. “There are demons rampaging over the city and you will need to be strong to take care of them. Like this, you will be useless; you need to drink.”
“No.” he suddenly understands what she means and he turns his head away.
Her bloody fingers are under his chin and she forces him to look back at her. Her fingers are warm against his skin and he’s disorientated by the scent of her blood. Slowly, she brings her hand up to his lips.
“Drink,” she says softly. “Just a taste, and maybe some more later…”
A taste. Yes, that sounds wonderful. He can do that. He takes her finger into his mouth and sucks on it gently. Oh, yesss… blood and Buffy – what more could he possibly want? Involuntarily, his hands come up to hold hers and he laps at the blood on her palm and takes great delight in cleaning every trace of the crimson fluid she has offered him. His head is spinning. Slayer blood is strong, and powerful, and already he can feel the life force in his veins but it isn't enough if he's going to be strong enough to face yet more demons.
Her eyes are bright, and he suddenly realises how much he's missed her. Her lips curve, and instead of waiting to see what she was going to say he leans down and kisses her. She feels real, she tastes real, and god - she smells real and abruptly, he's tired of being alone. He pulls her close, revelling in the way her arms go round his neck and the passionate way she responds to him. Time slows down. Her body moulds against his, urgent and demanding and he makes love to her up against the red fire engine, pinning her arms high above her head and her mouth devouring his. When he releases her hands she draws his head down and makes him drink, and neither of them notice the gentle patter as the rain starts falling again.
She wakes sluggishly, birdsong filtering in through her bedroom window. Her head hurts and last night's dream still pounds in her head. She's glad the Immortal couldn't stay with her last night; she doesn't think she could stand to be close to him this morning. She's hot and feverish, and as she pushes the linen cover down she notices spots of blood on the sheet. She stares at it, heart hammering, and she raises tentative fingers to her neck where she feels the crust of dried blood. She's out of bed in a flash and goes to the mirror in the bathroom. There is no mistaking what she sees - two perfect puncture wounds on her neck; hands trembling, she pulls at the neckline of her nightdress and stares at the wound on her shoulder. She has an injury there that didn't exist when she went to bed last night.
She takes a deep breath. There's an army of demons loose in the City of Angels and she needs to be there with her girls. By the time she reaches for the phone she's already planning what she needs to pack and she's on the plane within the hour.
She's going home.
Feed Dark Star Visit Dark Star
Summary: It's always about the blood.
Notes: Thanks to Jo, Ares and my husband for their ideas for this story and to Jo for her beta. I couldn't have done this without them