: Part Oneby Mhalachai
The spell of the candlelight lingered, as they walked together out of the church. Buffy kept her fingers entwined with Rafael's as they walked, still not sure of the other's pace yet. A cold wind swept around the corner, driving the breath from Buffy's lungs.
She must have gripped Rafael's hand tighter, for he looked down at her and touched her cheek with his free hand. "Are you cold?" he asked, his voice soft in the darkness.
Buffy shook her head. "I'm fine." She covered Rafael's hand with hers. His fingers were so long, so strong; her skin was a pale contrast to the dark tan of his.
"We should get going, then," he murmured. He hesitated. "Are you still certain you wish to go with me?"
Buffy nodded. "If you want me to."
A smile ghosted across his face. It held a deeply seductive knowledge that he couldn't possibly have yet, of skin and touch and whispered promises in the dark. How could he look at her like that, as if he knew every inch of her body and soul?
Buffy found herself smiling in return. She let him guide her along the deserted sidewalk, while the November wind blew bits of snow around in the gutter, white flecks scattered over the dark pavement.
Up ahead, Buffy noticed a man leaning against a car. Just a man, just a car, but her Slayer senses suddenly kicked into gear. It was past midnight, the street deserted. The guy was short, but the way he stood, the set of his features, screamed danger.
Buffy took a deep breath and stepped away from Rafael, feeling the cold space at her side like an aching tooth. She tried to untangle her fingers from Rafael's, but he squeezed her hand.
"It's okay," he said when Buffy looked up at him. "He's with me."
"Like your ... driver?" Buffy said. She looked back at the guy. He was staring at them. More specifically, at her. She knew that look. Was she a threat? Was she dangerous? If he only knew
"In a way." He made a movement of his head, halfway between a nod and a shake. Buffy watched as the guy nodded back, then pushed himself off the car and walk away down the street. "What were you going to call him?"
Buffy licked her lips. "Your bodyguard," she said softly.
Rafael drew her closer to him, so close that the fronts of their bodies touched. "How did you know he was a bodyguard?" he asked.
Buffy smiled wryly. "That burn I saw doesn't mean you're the Wererats' errand boy," she said as she slid her hand over his arm.
Rafael looked down at her, so solemn. Unbidden, Buffy remembered that Riley used to hold her like this, looking at her with sorrow in his eyes. She never knew what that look meant until he was gone. Now he was gone for good, and there would be no witch to bring him back from his grave. He's in a good place now,
Buffy tried to reassure herself, for what felt like the millionth time. If they let me in, they'd take a good guy like Riley.
Buffy let out a shaky breath. It was all moving so fast. Not just with Rafael, although ironically that was the only thing that felt safe. Dawn, kidnapped and hurt. Willow in trouble with the cops. Kennedy almost skewered. And she hadn't been there to stop any of it.
That thought brought another unwanted image to mind. In West Virginia, the cops had kept one of the demon-attack scenes intact while she flew out from Oregon. A dead child, no more than a baby, lying ripped part in a pool of blood on the ground. No matter how hard she tried, the thing she remembered most was the child's small teddy bear, covered in bile and blood.
"What is it?" Rafael asked, cupping her face in his hand.
"Nothing," Buffy said firmly, trying to push back the feeling, the smell of that room. "It's nothing."
"You're not changing your mind?"
Buffy raised herself up on her tiptoes. "If you don't stop asking me if I've changed my mind, I'm going to change my mind." Sliding her fingers into his short silky hair, she gently pulled his head down for another kiss.
She wouldn't have thought it possible, but this kiss was even more amazing than the last one. If the kisses kept getting better, she thought hazily, she wouldn't be able to speak after a few more.
Rafael was the one to break off from the kiss. "It's cold out," he said, brushing his cheek against Buffy's. "We should get you inside."
"Does getting inside mean getting naked?" Buffy asked, putting everything she could into making her voice seductive. She didn't know if she'd come off as sexy and mysterious, or if he'd start laughing.
He didn't laugh. In the dim glow from the streetlights, Buffy saw Rafael's eyes widen, heard his soft intake of breath. "I hope so," he whispered.
"Then let's go." Buffy licked her lips, something occurring to her. "Where are we going?"
Rafael wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her along with him toward the car. "My place. Unless there is somewhere you need to be?"
Buffy thought about Dawn, in her hospital room, with Willow and Faith to watch over her. They didn't need her. "No. I don't need to be anywhere."
Somehow, Buffy managed to keep herself from touching Rafael on the drive to his place. This is crazy,
she thought. I've known him for less than an hour, why do I need his touch so much?
Somehow, she knew. After she came back, when it was hard and painful and no one understood how could anyone understand?
, being with Spike was the only time she felt anything worth feeling. Yes, there was pain, mostly because their idea of foreplay involved a great deal of violence, but at least there were hints of something good.
Nothing since had lasted. It always fell apart, sometimes them but mostly her. She just couldn't bring herself to care enough to work hard enough at to keep things from breaking.
She wondered how long it would take for her to break this thing with Rafael.Rafael.
Even his name was sensuously sweet on her tongue. She turned in her seat to watch him while he drove. His features were strong, almost arrogant, but there was something about his lips that made Buffy think that he'd be as good, if not better, at kissing and muttering deliciously provocative things in the dark, as he would be at giving whatever kinds of orders a wererat alpha would give. Wererat
. That was new, ever for her. At least on the plus side, this guy had a pulse and was warmer than her average boyfriend. She didn't know what kind of rat-like things he did, but maybe he'd think her penchant for slaughtering demons and rampaging vampires would be off-putting.
And that brought her to the whole matter of lycanthropes. She and her Slayers hadn't gone after a rampaging lycanthrope in over two years, and even that had been a one-time occurrence. Would it make any difference that it had been a werewolf? Maybe... maybe I shouldn't mention the Slayer thing just yet.
Buffy was so lost in thought that she didn't even realize when the car came to a halt. She jumped when a hand was laid on her knee. "We're there," Rafael said. "What were you thinking about?"
Buffy looked out the window at the large brownstone house. The small lawn was immaculate, the place tidy. If Buffy hadn't been looking for it, she wouldn't have seen the security cameras on the porch. "Just work stuff," she answered.
She let him open her door, and took his offered hand to help her stand. The beating she'd taken earlier that day from the West Virginia liver-eating demon was beginning to settle down into a gigantic ache in her bones.
The neighbourhood was dark and quiet, with everyone tucked into their warm homes behind glass. When was the last time Buffy felt safe in her home? Not since her first Watcher, Merrick, had told her about the creepy crawlies in the dark.
Rafael put his arm around her shoulders, so gently, as if he was scared she would break. Buffy stiffened for a moment, then let herself relax into his body. She could feel his heat through his jacket. Are all lycanthropes this hot?
she wondered. Then her mind slid down into the gutter with the snowflakes, and she thought about how his skin would feel against her, minus all the clothes, all of him pressed against all of her.
Just the thought of it made a wave of heat rush over her, making her all tingly. Damn this stupid post-carnage lust crap,
Buffy told herself. I'm not my urges. I'm not a bundle of reaction.
The source of that reaction slid his hand down her arm, pulling her tighter against him, his hip bumping against her waist as they walked up the brick path to the front door. He's not like Angel,
Buffy thought. Not going to turn evil if I take comfort in his warmth. Not like Spike, in any sort of way. Not like Riley, watching me like a tragedy. I don't know him and he doesn't know me.
As Rafael opened the front door, Buffy took one last breath of the cold air. It was bracing and clearing and all that. It was also painful and cold. At least some things never change.
Rafael pushed the door open and guided Buffy inside, before closing the door behind her, never taking his eyes from her face. The heat in his eyes, the yearning... was she looking like that him?
A hint of movement in the room caught Buffy's attention and she spun on her heel, putting her back to the wall.
It was just another guy, standing there in the living room. Tall, though not as tall as Rafael. Black tangled hair, black glittering eyes, black leather jacket. The way the jacket fell told Buffy that he probably had knives tucked away out of sight. So who's the rat behind door number two?
The look the new creep was giving her was seriously starting to piss her off; his gaze moving over her body like she was up for sale. When his eyes moved up to meet hers, Buffy's anger boiled over and she took a step toward him.
He straighten up, his hands moving to the opening in his jacket.
"Fredo." Rafael's voice wasn't loud, but the barely-restrained power in the word stopped both Buffy and the creep in their tracks. Rafael moved around in front of Buffy, almost blocking her view. "This is my guest."
Fredo slowly held his hands out from his body. "I did not know."
Rafael stepped back against Buffy. The way their bodies pressed together had to be an accident, but it felt so right. "Is there anything wrong?"
Buffy leaned out around Rafael so she could see Fredo and the rest of the room. The unfamiliar man shook his head. "Nothing."
"Then leave us."
Fredo tilted his head to the side and gave Buffy a look so similar to the one the guy outside the church gave her, she shivered. "Do you think that is--"
Fredo glared at her, suspicion in his eyes. Then he bowed his head slightly. "Sir."
Buffy watched as he walked past them and down the hall, deeper into the house. After a moment, she heard a door open and close.
Rafael let out a breath as he turned around. "Sorry about that," he said with a smile that wasn't as reassuring as he probably wanted. "I didn't know Fredo would be here." His hands drifted up the sleeves of her jacket.
"What just happened?" Buffy asked, not letting herself be distracted by his closeness. It was more difficult than she liked.
The smile on Rafael's face slid away. "I asked Fredo to leave."
Buffy took a step back. "Don't do this," she said. "Don't try and protect me. Just tell me."
Rafael reached up and touched a strand of her hair. "Maybe I'm protecting me."
"What?" Buffy pulled her head away, leaving Rafael standing alone, his hand hovering. He rubbed his fingers together, as if he was still feeling her hair.
"You know I am a wererat," Rafael said heavily, "But has that knowledge sunk in? Will you stay when you finally realize that no matter what I may look like on the outside, there is a rat under this skin?"
Time seemed to stretch out for a moment, as Buffy understood the meaning of his words. No matter what had happened back in the church, he didn't know how she would react to his true nature. She understood that; she hadn't exactly been free with the information on her secret identify.
The concept of dating a wererat was new to her, and unfamiliar. But after all, only going on external appearances alone, she'd dated worse. A lot worse.
It wasn't just the external she wanted, no matter how much he stood there looking like... well, like that. What she wanted was the man behind those dark eyes full of pain, anticipation, desire. She wanted all the promises he hadn't made yet.
Buffy stepped back against him, so close but not touching. "I get that you're a wererat." She put on her pretend smile, that Buffy smile she used to have before she died the second time, and the one she used nowadays to reassure Willow or Xander or Dawn. For some reason, Giles never fell for it. "Sometimes I don't look particularly human either, especially when I get out of bed in the morning, but I'm still me inside." She placed one hand over his chest, covered by shirt and jacket, but she fancied she could feel his heartbeat. "You're you, and that may not be as human as you pretend sometimes, but at least it's real."
Rafael frowned down at her. "How do you..." He shook his head. "You are a very perceptive woman."
"Does that get me another kiss?" Buffy whispered.
He nodded, looking at her as if he was drowning again. "Another, and another, from now until forever."
Somehow, they made it into his bedroom, although Buffy couldn't really say how many flights of stairs they had taken, or what colour the walls were. She knew she should be paying better attention than this; all-alone little Slayer in the wererat's den.
The man distracting her, though, was busy touching and caressing and stroking so skillfully Buffy was half surprised that her clothes weren't just flying off of their own accord.
Rafael's mouth was on her throat, teeth nibbling oh-so-gently, when he pressed Buffy back against a wall. She opened her eyes long enough to take in the room. A dresser, a bookshelf. A bed. A really big bed.
While Buffy's attention was momentarily elsewhere, Rafael undid the lower buttons on her shirt and slid his hands around her waist. Buffy shivered at the sudden coolness of his hands and arched into his embrace. His hands moved up, over her ribs, and he squeezed.
Sharp pain stabbed through Buffy's chest. She gasped and pushed Rafael away from her. He stumbled back a few steps, confusion on his handsome face. "What is it?"
Try as she might, Buffy couldn't help but curl a bit over her injured side. He couldn't have squeezed too hard
, Buffy thought as the pain started to subside. Just in the wrong place at the wrong fucking time
. "Nothing. It's nothing."
The silence hung in the air. The first lie. "That wasn't a 'nothing' gasp," Rafael said, cautiously moving back toward her. "What happened?"
Buffy desperately wanted to lie some more. It was so easy, she'd done it so often. That's just ketchup on my clothes, I got hit in the face during dodge ball. The library was really dusty again.
When she didn't stop him, Rafael slowly unbuttoned the rest of her shirt, his fingers almost dancing over the cloth.
Buffy searched for something to say, something to stop him from seeing. A simple 'stop' would probably have sufficed. But, as Buffy watched those gentle hands pull back her shirt, to reveal the huge bruise that wrapped all the way around her ribs, she found that she didn't want to hide from this man.
She heard him hiss, as he took in the extent of the injury. "Who did this to you?" he demanded, his rage hot. His dark brown eyes bled to solid black in his anger. "How did this happen?"
"I took care of it."
Buffy's statement wasn't what Rafael was expecting, and it drew him up short. "Took care of what? The bastard that hurt you like this?"
"I told you, it's taken care of." Buffy touched his arm. He was almost vibrating with emotion. Why did he react this way over her? "What did this isn't going to hurt anyone else again. Ever."
Rafael cocked his head to the side, a motion that wasn't human, but that went so well with his rat black eyes. "How did you encounter such a thing?"
Buffy shrugged, feeling the pain in her ribs flare up a bit at the movement. "Work."
"Work," Rafael repeated. "What kind of--" He stopped mid-sentence and stepped back. "I will take you home."
"What? Why?" Buffy demanded. She stood there with her shirt open, her hair disheveled, and all she could think about was why he was suddenly making her leave.
He gestured vaguely at her torso. Although she couldn't see anything, she felt him rein in his beast until his eyes went back to normal. "You are injured, you should be resting--"
"No, no," Buffy protested. "Don't turn me out, please, not now."
"But you're hurt!" Rafael said. "I want to..." Rafael's gaze traveled down, over her neck, over her breasts, and the heat was suddenly back in his eyes, injury or not. "I want to be with you, but I can't think of any way to do that without hurting you."
Buffy ran her tongue over her lips, remembering how his kiss tasted. "I'm sure we can work something out." She held out her hand, and after a moment's pause, he took it in his, brought it to his mouth. "I need this, Rafael. Please don't make me leave."
"What do you need?" His breath tickled the skin on her hand as he spoke.
"I need a chance at something new." Buffy stepped closer, putting her body against his. "Something that's mine." She tilted her head back to look up at him.
He swallowed. "You don't know what my life is like, I can't make you any promises," he whispered.
She put her arms around his back, not willing to let him go. "I don't want promises," she replied. "I just want you."
He hesitated for a moment, then bent down to kiss her. "Then you can have me."