The First Touch
The Other Half::celeste::Chapter 11
The First Touch
Shocked was not a term easily associated with Buffy Summers. She’d generally seen and done too much to be shocked very often. And not the sort of flitting strike, but one that sunk down deep into the gut, languishing there until it was so difficult to process it the body eventually goes numb.
Buffy had that sense now, like she hadn’t had in a very long time, and she found it no easier to deal with at twenty two then it had been at sixteen. It was an altering of her; a defining moment that was so outlandish she could only deny it. Even after her first vampire had been dust on her expensive jacket and even managed to get under her cherry-painted manicure job; it had taken a long time to accept she was the Slayer.
Sitting beside her sister Slayer, Buffy’s head bowed as she ran both hands through her hair. She felt lost, mixed up, and was whipping herself into a pretty good fit of denial. Add a pinch of anger that even this choice had been taken from her, and Buffy was stewing.
Sirius Black, the spirit guide sent straight from what he called the After, had told Buffy everything. Her first reaction was to laugh, not outlandishly but with a quiet sort of chuckle, the polite sort after hearing a terrible joke and not wanting to offend the teller.
But Giles, who had pestered her with questions until she snapped, hadn’t laughed. He’d looked somber, nodding as if what Sirius had said made perfect sense. It might have, if the person who was supposed to be her soulmate wasn’t a sour faced wizard with hygiene problems, shouting at the nurse and doctor loud enough for everyone present in the waiting room to hear. Buffy had simply tossed that story right out the window knowing damn well the sort of man who she would pick as her soulmate. Severus Snape was definitely, definitely
not it with a special emphasis on Not and It.
“Then why are they after him?” Sirius had countered, handsome face set in serious lines. “Why assume his form?”
Buffy had said there were easily a hundred different explanations for that. She couldn’t think of any just then (maybe the demon had a thing for huge noses and greasy hair), but that didn’t mean the dot of clone connected to soulmate.
Not until Sirius upped the ante and asked some harder questions. Did she feel wrong? Was the earth colder and more alone than before? Did she ache in quiet moments so greatly it was hard to sleep at night? Did she feel hollow, incomplete, missing, torn asunder, searching, wishing, and pining? Was she waiting for something she had no idea what to call it, except she’d found it and now sought it again? Did anything, yet, possibly ever meet those expectations?
Of course, she reasoned, that could be normal after death depression. Who knew? Wasn’t like she could ask a shrink about it. She’d dealt, she’d moved on, and overall she was peachy.
“I’m okay, right?” she asked Faith quietly, even though the other woman couldn’t possibly answer. Yet, it still seemed good to say it aloud and get it out of her head where thoughts just pounded back and forth. “It’s a Slayer thing, being alone. You know that. And coming back from the dead isn’t a walk in the park, you know.”
Straightening up, she felt more into her groove now. “So I haven’t dated. So what? Is there a rule or something that I have to? I can bake. I’m allowed a preheat time. Spike was a thing,” she waved her hand dismissively. “Coping. And I care about Angel. I’m not ready to move to L.A. and crash his party or anything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.”
Because she did want to, especially when all the Slayerettes were asleep and the house was silent. Lying awake, gazing up at a dark ceiling and wishing there was someone warm beside her, because the nights could get awfully cold. True, Angel wasn’t the best source for body heat, but he was better than nothing at all. It was the nothing at all part that got kind of difficult.
Than again, she could have been stuck in some fantasy world of the past. There was a tiny uncertainty, a piece of Buffy wondering if she and Angel were even compatible anymore, because five years was a long time. Lots of things changed in five years and some failed to mesh. Angel would be the same brooding vampire hanging his head, and Buffy wasn’t certain if she wanted to go through being his rock… his perpetually sexually frustrated rock.
Spike. Spike was far too dependent and misguided in his love. To accept her for all she was, it was all good in theory, but she had seen where the fire lay. No relationship could be built on the basis that most of the time they had to beat the hell out of each other before getting to smooches.
And they were vampires. Big minus. Angel had been right, the Mayor had known what he was talking about. Eventually growing old and wrinkly with an immortal at her side was going to shove a huge wrench into the works.
Riley—normal, handsome, and dependable Riley. Normalcy didn’t mix, not even when the normal guy in question was part of secret ops and could kick ass. She couldn’t be there constantly, and she couldn’t stand something that didn’t ignite a spark of something deeper inside.
There was a fine line and no one had been able to walk it, thus her loneliness. Buffy would rather have no one at all than the wrong person; drive them to Vampire bordellos or soulless rampages. It was a danger all around to associate one’s self romantically with Buffy Summers, even if she ignored the fact some baddy was always trying to kill her or destroy the world.
“Better to be alone,” she finally admitted to Faith. “I’ll be dead again from some big baddy saving the world, and then what? Leave more people to grieve? No thanks.” She leaned back in her seat, her mind already firmly decided. “Just have to tell Sirius he’s way off target.”
They could keep this Snape guy around for a while, make certain he wasn’t crushed to oblivion before he had a chance at finding the real lady love, and thus ensure the safety of eternity. Till then, Buffy and the gang had more research to do. With that thought in mind, Buffy nodded to herself and decided a cup of coffee wouldn’t go astray.
“Be back,” she promised the unconscious Faith before leaving the room and heading for the Kitchen. Soon she reached the sanctuary of her destination. Or so she thought. Giles ruined it by already being there, looking up from his piles of books. The expression ‘we need to talk’ was written all over his face.
“No,” she said, cutting him off at the proverbial pass. “There’s nothing you can say that’s going to change the fact this is all one whopper of a misunderstanding Giles. Nothing. Don’t even bother.”
If only he could be so easily dissuaded, she thought miserably. He spoke in a manner that suggested she ought to listen and use rational. That tone was a gift. “All the signs, all the events of the last few days, Buffy, corroborate what Sirius told us.”
“Everything except a couple of huge problems. One, relationships and me? Not so good. Second, that guy—Snape? Kind of opposite of what I’d ever have in mind for Mr. Right in that meant for me way.” She paused, one hand resting on her hip. “Let’s review, shall we?” She held up a finger. “Angel. Dark, mysterious, and sweet in his shy and tortured soul gig. Let’s not forget really, spectacularly yummy. Riley. Home grown Iowa beef. Sort of boy a girl takes home to her mother. Also yummy. Spike.” At Giles pained expression, Buffy lifted her chin and barreled onwards. “Before soul, he had the ‘I’m naughty’ thing going for him. Plus the yummies. After soul, he was Mr. Sensitive with a capitol S, and still yummy.
”All able to combat the forces of darkness. All okay with my Chosen One-ness. All could have modeled. There we have it. Now, when we compare His Greasiness with all three, we find a whole bunch of short fallings that are more like diving off a cliff. Nothing is there, Giles. And, hey, I hate to sound shallow- but not really into Dude could be my Dad. It’s ick. If you didn’t notice, he’s your age.” When Giles’ mouth opened, Buffy knew what was going to come out and jumped the gun on him. “Yeah, but Angel and Spike were immortal. They didn’t look turn of the century. Big difference.”
“Buffy, I understand your hesitation, and—quite frankly—share it. However, it doesn’t change what we know. Everything points to Severus Snape. Everything. I believe Mr. Black has nothing but the best intentions in mind, and that includes saving the world, not just fixing up his friend.”
“He is not my friend.”Perfect
, Buffy thought, slowly turning to face the doorway. It was like a bad sitcom situation, and she had to suppress the urge to ask the tall guy with a fondness for basic black how much he had heard.
It was kind of hard to tell if he was pissed at anything said, or if the squinted and pinched expression on his face was due to the wound in his shoulder and the myriad of black and blue bruises coloring his swollen face. Was it her imagination, or had his nose gotten even bigger thanks to Robin? “Black is an irritating spirit who has apparently found new amusements in haunting the sanity out of me. Alive, his temperament was not any better… worse really. We were only too happy to toss hexes and curses back and forth, rather than chum about. If I had to label our acquaintance, bitter enemies would fit the bill best.”
Even though one eye was firmly closed from the swelling, he still managed to glare at Giles. “Never, ever
, refer to that moron as my friend
,” he spat with distaste.
There was really nothing that could be said other than check
. Buffy was even tempted to glance at the floor by his feet to see if the vile had burned another hole through it.
Clearing his throat, Giles nodded a few times before trying an obvious change in subject. “Ah. Yes. Um, how is your shoulder? Better?”
Buffy snatched a styrofoam cup from the counter and made a beeline around the injured man for the coffee pot. “They sewed my skin together. How do you think I feel?”
“Yes, well, if you hadn’t pulled the arrow free—“
“I would be dead. If you’re implying the stitches are my fault, I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree. Vehemently.”
Buffy glared over towards Snape. “You could say, ‘a little sore’. Or maybe, ‘can I have some more painkillers?’ Even a ‘fine, thanks for asking’ would work. Rudeness isn’t required.” She picked up the pot and began pouring. “Didn’t know grown men could whine so much.”
“Buffy…” Giles warned.
“Please excuse me for feeling a bit brassed off. Given the fact my face feels like it was under a meat grinder, and my shoulder has a patched up hole, I think a bit of irritation isn’t unfounded.” His good arm extended around her, taking another cup. “Additionally, I would say calling a person ‘his greasiness’ is not the paragon of a polite turn of phrase, Miss Summers. Quite the opposite.”
“The hygienically challenged work better for you—with the big words and all?” she asked as sweetly as she could, slamming the coffee pot down so Snape could pour for his own damn self.
Picking it up, his lips curled into a positively sinister smirk. “Much better. Assuming your flighty little mind doesn’t injure itself coming up with them.”
She had to keep her fist from clenching by reminding herself she held a cup of hot liquid in her hand. Instead she turned her own spiteful hazel eyes to Giles. “Oh yeah. We’re destiny.”
Snape snorted, pretty elegantly expressing his thoughts on the soulmate biz.
“See?” She waved a hand at him. “He doesn’t like it any more than I do. Obviously Casper the Obnoxious Ghost is way off.” Giles just shook his head, looking troubled, and turned back to his book. Seeing Giles was intent on following through with his theory, Buffy frowned and turned to Snape. “So what did
She thought he grimaced, but it was tough to be certain with the already pained twist of his mouth. He found the little red stirring straw, and stuck it down into his coffee before cautiously sipping through it. “Information,” he finally told her, “on the bastard who took my face.”
Though Giles readied himself for a longwinded explanation, Buffy broke in. She could handle this one. “In a nut shell? He’s some sort of demon from way back before we took over the world. Demons used to rule, and they really want to rule again, so they send emissaries to try and wipe out humanity every so often. Looks like he’s the newest one to take a crack at it.”
Giles’ gusty sigh was not lost on Buffy.
“From this Hellmouth?”
“That’s the theory. My contact says it roared and all the creepy crawlies down there took off. Not good. Vampires are like canaries, and when they start relocating to new zip codes it usually means trouble.”
“There would have been a seal,” Giles submitted, standing and walking over with his trusty book open. He twisted it around so Buffy, and Snape, could peer down at the inking. Unlike the gateway to Ubervamp Land underneath Sunnydale, this seal looked more like a mold for a human shape, flipped open. The inking below it showed the same hunk of rock closed, now looking like a huge sarcophagus. The funky symbol it sported resembled the one she had seen before, the one they’d opened with blood. “The First must have broken it.”
“Blood?” Buffy asked.
“According to the texts, this one uses dark energies. Psychic imprints, shadows, black magics.” Giles turned thoughtful. “The creature didn’t bleed red, he seemed to have the same substance that makes up the… ah… boogeymen. Apparently Darkness doesn’t use human flesh for his own body, only fashions it after a human.”
“Which would explain the energizer bunnyness.” At Giles and Snape’s blank stares, Buffy shrugged. “It keeps going and going and going… am I the only person who ends up watching commercials?”
“And he controls shadows,” Snape murmured thoughtfully. “Curious. I once tried out a spell to call the shadows forth, but the result was nothing so spectacular. They weren’t made solid. Didn’t have much function, actually. More like a Dark Arts spell for tots.”
“The point would be?” Buffy asked, sure she was completely missing it.
“That this creature can manipulate not only the physics of your world, but the magical aspects as well.” His lip curled. “Not that the magical forces here make any sense.”
While Snape had gotten his shoulder stitched up, Sirius had given them a brief history. Buffy knew he was a wizard of some kind, and originally from another dimension where wizards and witches had their own little world hidden among the normal people. Sort of a secret club. At the time, she was more worried about Willow’s disinterest in a society of magical people than the implications of a person living his entire life around magic. Someone who performed spells with as much regularity as she flipped the light switch, without going all wonky from it.
Now it was pretty obvious they had another brain to go to on the magics aside from Willow, not the most reliable source at the moment, and Giles, who only dabbled. Not that his dabbling wasn’t note-worthy, he had held off veiny Wills for a while, but this guy obviously lived and breathed the magics. Even if they were different magics, Buffy felt better having another ally who could toss fireballs.
Apparently Giles was thinking along the same lines. “Could this spell be modified?”
While Snape appeared to consider it, Buffy jumped in. “That would be a big advantage if my hands weren’t tied up every time he shows his ugly mug on the scene.” Snape sent an icy glower that nearly froze her into a Buff-cicle. “Uh, his… coffee mug. An evil coffee mug?”
Since there were more important things to focus on, she was given a free pass. Yet, Buffy had the feeling this was the sort of guy who found grudges and held them not only close to his heart- but used them to keep it beating. “I could try, but magic- here- is not the same as where I’m from. It’s far less predictable.”
“There are rules,” Giles replied. “Willow could assist you in learning them, but unfortunately she’s busy watching over Faith.”
Buffy jumped. “Faith!” Placing her cup back on the counter, she raced back out of the kitchen with a, “my watch!”
Severus watched her go. His chest unclenched and an immediate wave of relaxation came over him. Information? More like Black threatening to play horrendous music if he didn’t leave the room he’d found to hide in.
After the traumatic, first hand experience of a muggle hospital and their doctors
, he’d been placed under their protection. Whatever that meant. Apparently this Rupert Giles fellow held quite a bit of pull in the house, though from what Severus could see everyone followed the Summers girl’s lead. Sirius had explained the situation, much to Severus’ annoyance, and succeeded in convincing Mr. Giles of its seriousness. Everyone else remained, by and large, in the dark.
Sirius was, in a word, wrong. While they wasted their time here the forces that were all for disrupting the eternal bliss of the After were out there searching for him. Severus hadn’t gleamed much about the girls around him other than the fact they were mystical warriors of some sort, but from the state of the house he hardly felt any safer being surrounded by them. After all it was because of them, not the creature wearing his body, that he was swollen and bruised in more places than he cared to think about.
Only the promise of the imminent arrival of potions ingredients made things any better. He’d whip up a few healing elixirs and go on his way, Black be damned. He was not going to waste more time than necessary trying to woo the wrong woman. Not that he had been trying.
“I’ve a few books you could read. Beginners, mostly, but it does have the basics.”
Severus glanced over at Giles, noting the almost painful way he was attempting to be polite. Here was the father figure of the household, told that the very jewel of his eye was destined for a man he didn’t know, a contemporary. Severus couldn’t imagine himself being half as gracious had their roles been reversed. “Fine.”
“I’ll collect them,” Giles replied, making his way out of the kitchen. His shoulders fell slightly, as if far too much were resting on them.
Sitting down with his cup in hand, Severus was simply grateful that the gaggle of children fit for his classes were at school. In the interest of hospitality, he refrained from his more… sadistic natures when it came to them. Snape had held his tongue, and feared his head would explode if he couldn’t snap at one of them soon. They lacked discipline, chatting and babbling back and forth freely about anything, exercising appalling behavior when addressing the ‘seniority’ of this training camp.
Of course, that the seniority was not much older likely had much to do with the free reign the girls flaunted. Severus was walking on pins and needles to keep from snapping at many of those in charge as well. Including the boy Harris, who looked as if he wanted to kick Severus out of the house himself. The man Robin, a former Headmaster for Merlin’s sake, was more likely to pal around with these children than offer any sort of substantial leadership.
It was, in short, a mess. And he, stuck in the middle as long as Black refused to allow him to leave. Severus was reduced to sleeping on the sofa, pounding on the bathroom door when a line of chits were applying their makeup. Coupled with the fact he ached like hell, it was a wonder he hadn’t exploded in a very good impression of Pompeii. He chalked it up to the pills.
He nearly preferred taking his chances with the creatures hunting his soul.
In this state he was supposed to be romancing a girl who, very clearly, had no interest whatsoever? One who had tried to kill him? Black was simply wrong
.Speak of the devil
, he thought unkindly as she came bounding back in. That was truly the only word for her manner of walking, a sort of bounce that made it seem as if springs were hidden in her shoes. Her hair swayed lightly with each step, unable to keep still, and he realized she had let it down. The light brown coloring the very top, like a line of dark mocha against the lighter blonde, made it clear she was no natural summer-wheat.
Black was right on one account, she was quiet lovely. If one were drawn by the youthful ripeness of early twenties, which he certainly was not. Far too close to adolescence for his comfort. All marked with impulsive, rash, dramatic, shortsighted, small-minded, and inexperienced judgment and behavior, to name a few problems with youth. Merlin knew he had been all such things, though he hardly moved with such grace.
And when he caught himself trying to get a hint of what was hidden beneath the low cut jeans, Severus decided it was time to remind himself, firmly, how long it had been since he was that age.
“Willow is not up to tutoring,” she said, obviously unaware of the direction of his thoughts or gaze. Picking up her cup she frowned. He was momentarily taken aback by how, even while expressing something other than sunshine and cheer, she still managed to be radiant.
That observation prompted a vicious mental smack. Repeating to himself why such a woman was not meant for sour faced and ill-tempered dungeon dwellers such as himself, he eventually dove back into the hard and cold waters of reality. “It’s of no consequence.”
Buffy paused. “Do you always talk like that?”
“Like what?” he returned, readying himself for whatever scathing retort he might find necessary.
“Like a dictionary, from the eighteen hundreds, is stuck in your mouth,” she returned glibly, taking a sip afterwards. Retort ready to fly and hit its target, he was thwarted yet again as American speed kept the mouth moving far faster than the brain could provide sense. “Even if Willow wasn’t wallowing in the land of grief, she’s pretty busy with keeping Faith from joining the casualty list.”
He supposed he should have tried for sensitivity to a loss, but he had seen too much war to be concerned overmuch with such trivialities. “Your Watcher is providing me some novice material.” The sneer that curled up at ‘novice’ could have frightened away a rabid dog. “I’d hate to bother your friend in her time of mourning.” More sarcasm. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Her eyes burned for a moment, and he was assailed with the idea that this look was familiar somehow. “Don’t trouble yourself.”
“Hardly.” Severus affected the pose of a man who really couldn’t give a damn one way or another. “After I receive my potions equipment and take care of my wounds I’ll be on my way. Wouldn’t want to overtax your wonderful hospitality.”
That look was definitely familiar. Defiant, up to task, and a gleam he usually had in his own eyes just before bestowing a cruciatus on someone. “You know, I’d love nothing better. But,” here the frown deepened, “can’t let you.”
His brow climbed the peek towards his hairline. “Oh? And what makes you think you’re in any position to tell me where I may and may not go?”
“I could force you to stay if I wanted to.” She treated him to a sweet smile. “But, eternal reward for all good little boys and girls hanging in the balance translates to me putting up with you. You’re not going anywhere. Not until I kick Darkness’ butt back into the void he crawled out of.”
He felt his eyes narrow, and his neck heating. “You could force
“Mhm.” As if she’d already dismissed any problems in that area, she took another sip.
Severus felt in danger of reaching out and grabbing the girl’s throat. Slamming his cup down, and ignoring the liquid that burned his skin, he found himself advancing on Buffy, a girl who barely stood as tall as his shoulder. Glaring down his nose at his most intimidating, he said very softly and distinctly, “I used to do horrible things to muggle girls. Girls just like you, Miss Summers. I’m reasonably certain, despite the sudden change of the rules, I could still find a way to make any attempt to pin me
anywhere an unpleasant one.”
She did not back away. With a casual move, she set her own cup down. Tilting her chin, her head leveraging backwards so that she could meet his glare, her lips turned upwards. As if the thought of any such attempt would not only be fun, but welcome. “You could try.”
“Try?” he hissed.
“Yeah. Gonna let you in on a little secret.” Her height climbed to his chin as she stood on the tips of her toes. “I’ve taken down things a lot bigger and a lot scarier than you. And I killed them without breaking a sweat.” She glanced downwards before turning her eyes up again, and he bristled at the dismissal he found in them. “I don’t think I’ll have much of a problem.”
The slight humming of the walls and clinking of dishes as they rattled on their shelves failed to register. All Severus could see was red. How dare
she! A muggle
defeat him so easily? Vampire Slayer or not, he was still a dark wizard. Severus Snape was a force to be reckoned with, a prominent figure in the nightmares of wizards and witches all over Britain.
He had not spent years learning the Dark Arts only to have some fake blonde muggle bitch trying to intimidate him! Temptation was too great to resist, and in his fury at her cheek he gave into it and went for the throat, certain that he could still summon the will for a good cruciatus.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite that way. Before he could fully realize what was happening, he was pinned against the wall. Blinking, he found that instead of her throat being squeezed, her arm was pressing into his throat, crushing his Adam’s apple. “I don’t know what a muggle is,” she said with a levity that was only betrayed by the spark of anger in her eyes, “but I know what a bitch is. And I really don’t like being called one.”Noted
, he thought hazily.
“Now. I’m going to let you go, and you’re going to play nice and say you’re sorry. Your eyes are going to go back to normal. You’re going to stop with the two point five under the house, because I moved out of California so I wouldn’t have to deal with quakes anymore. Got it? Or things are going to start getting unpleasant
Slowly she drew her arm back, and he gulped down air. The logical part of his mind told Severus he was in no shape for this. That he still wasn’t able to properly control his magic. However, Severus also had one hell of a temper, and it didn’t back off so easily. Not after being humiliated by a small girl.
So instead of calming down, the hand not in a sling found its way to her belly. A blast of magic had her sailing back into the china cabinet.
Any normal person would have been knocked unconscious. A normal person would not be brushing the broken bits of glass off her shirt and jeans, shaking her head and pursing her lips as if disappointed. “I should have expected that,” she muttered. Then, spying the damage, her fingers pinched at the scorch mark in the middle of her shirt, one that looked exactly like Severus’ hand. Her chin snapped back up, and he found himself receiving the glare of a very unhappy Slayer. “I liked
He had time for a short buggar
before rounding the table, moving back towards the counter and thrusting chairs in her path to slow her down. Buffy wasn’t deterred so easily, knocking those chairs aside or just leaping over them. Severus found himself at one end of the table, Buffy at the other, and the two did a very odd sort of dash side to side.
Suddenly she had vaulted up and was sliding across the long wooden surface. Severus didn’t have time to back up before her foot glided into his chest. Knocked by the force and wind milling with his good arm, his back was caught by the countertop. Now she was right in front of him, pinning his arm with her hand, and his body with hers. Severus ended up bent awkwardly backwards, trying to force her away, but unable to do much on account of the new round of pain flaring from his shoulder.
Buffy must have recognized the grimace, and as his vision slowly swam back to normal, she sighed. “Sev,” she tried gently, “I don’t want to hurt you. But you’ve got a thick skull, and its kind of hard getting anything through it. You’re not going anywhere until Darkness is no longer an issue. Then, hey, go skipping off with my total blessing.”
“Get off me,” he growled.
She didn’t seem to care for that idea very much. “Are you going to be a good boy?”
Severus felt his blood boiling again. “A what?!”
Rolling her eyes, she pressed down harder to stop him from struggling. “Stop with the magic and I’ll let you go.”
“Yes, I bloody well promise!”
Nodding with satisfaction, she backed off entirely. Severus felt each and every disc in his back crack as he straightened up. Panting, and trying not to show it, he immediately went to hold his arm, glaring spitefully at her. “Thank you,” he sneered.
“Your welcome,” Buffy replied brightly. The amused sparkle faded a moment later after noticing the spots of red dotting his bandaged shoulder. Frowning, she offered a sheepish, “Sorry. See what happens when you rough house?”
“So you can beat up an injured man. How impressive.” He made to move past her, but suddenly found the same iron grip on his arm again. Glaring down once more at her, he barked out, “I’m not running out the front door!”
“Good, but you still need those bandages changed.” Somehow he found himself shoved into a righted seat. “I’ll be right back. Up with Faith.”
With that baffling non-sequitur statement, she had done her little bounce/jog/walk out the door. Perplexed, he wondered what sort of individual would offer medical treatment after nearly breaking a man’s back. Who were the girl’s parents?
To his disappointment she soon returned. Resigning himself, he gave up posturing in favor of slumping wearily in his seat as she began sorting through all the first aid equipment. The slump didn’t last, because when she went for his buttons he flinched away as if she’d tried sticking a hot poker at him. “What are you doing!?”
“Bandages are under the shirt,” she explained carefully, as if addressing a skittish animal. “That means I have to get under the shirt to get to your bandages. Wonky, I know, but I didn’t make the rules.” Shaking her head she went back to the task of unhooking all the little pearly black buttons. “No more caffeine.”
“Perhaps if you hadn’t tried smashing my head through a wall I’d be less objective to having your hands near me,” he shot back.
“Deserved that,” she said nodding. “But I was the one blasted through cabinetries.” Finally she reached the top button of his collar, and carefully pulled his shirt open. At the sight, she winced. “Ow.”
“Sorry,” she repeated, eyes roaming over the discoloration of muddled blacks, blues, yellows, and greens. The ones she could see from under the crisscrossing of muslin, in any case. “Did I do that?”
“No. It was the other Slayer who tried to chop my head off that did it,” he answered back snidely.
“Did you know it’s possible to abuse the privilege of sarcasm?” she returned without missing a beat. The sling was pulled off. It was a good thing the pills were still swimming through his bloodstream, because he was pretty sure the stiffness in his shoulder would have been more painful without them.
He was quite capable of lowering his own shirt, and made himself useful by doing so. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite manage it quick enough, and she caught a hint of the Mark. He saw the curiosity nearly brimming out of the seams, but he didn’t say one word to alleviate it. Far as he was concerned, Buffy could swim in her curiosity until she drowned.
The bandages were simply cut off with scissors, and soon she was peeling back the final bit of gauze that had begun to cling to the wound as if glued. There are few things in the world that hurt more. By the time the crisscross stitching was revealed, Severus was silently begging for her ministrations to be finished.
All such hopes were ruthlessly smashed. “This is going to be the painful part,” Buffy revealed to him as she unscrewed a cap atop some sort of cream. “Sorry, but it has to be done.”
“Then stop wasting time and do it.”
Nodding, she scooped out a generous dollop. He steeled himself as that slim hand moved forward, expecting the antibiotics to hurt like hell.
Therefore, when there was absolutely no pain as she touched him, he blinked. He wasn’t alone. A similarly confused expression had settled on Buffy’s face. There was a very odd sensation flittering through the room, he realized—something that was causing the hair all over his body to rise on end. It was thick and hard to breathe through. It was electric.
As if he had somehow tapped into his Legilimency, little things started flashing through his mind. Alien, and at the same time familiar. He knew this sensation, he realized with rounding eyes. He knew it all too well. He had been longing
to have it again.
It was the sensation of breath catching in lungs that were not his own. Of the sweet melody that skimmed the edge of consciousness, a soft and soothing one that was welcoming. It was an understanding that, at the same instant, the other was as surprised as he was. It was an awareness of the fact she hated the smell of the cream. That Xander was going to be pissed about repairing the china cabinet again. That Dawn had to be picked up in an hour. That the hair on the chest thing wasn’t so bad—kind of rugged.
But below all the things she had to remember or just occurred, was something deeper and sad. A resignation and weariness born of seeing too much, too young. A blasé view of what would eventually come, nearly welcoming of it. Just saving the world again, right? Someone had to do it. She’d picked the short straw, and now it was time to leave again.
The notion was so dark and devoid of any sort of hope that he resented the fact it was there at all. It shouldn’t have been in the same place as the little girl figure skating, the one who didn’t know what she wanted to do after high school, only that she would survive it all somehow. She would have her friends no matter what the council thought. She would find a way to stay with Angel. She knew one day she wouldn’t be alone any more.
The present and past. The light and the shadows. Severus took a deep breath, feeling his eyes shut as he reached out and touched her cheek lightly just to reassure her. There shouldn’t be such dark thoughts in a creature so lovely. Those were only for him.
He knew when it had come to an end, when he had pushed too far. He had heard, quite clearly, no they’re not
with such a naked appeal to hope that it had frightened her. The scrape of chair legs against linoleum told Severus the touch was gone even while the warmth of it was still absorbing through skin thirsting for more.
“What was that?” Buffy demanded, her voice shaking.Interesting question
. Severus drew in another steadying breath, willing his heart to calm down before it pounded its way out of his chest. He had to work very hard to keep from reaching forward for her, since he was thrumming to learn more. Go deeper. Go completely.Needs
“No idea,” he finally replied when he was reasonably sure he could trust his voice again. “I can finish up.” Go. Before I do something stupid
It was clear Buffy didn’t want to leave. She hesitated a moment beyond what she should have. Finally she turned without a word and left the kitchen. Only after her footsteps faded from hearing did Severus finally let the implication crash down atop his head.