Special thanks to Taaroko for all her awesome reviews and insights – it’s certainly given a lot to think about! (grins)

xxx

Angel felt his box drift, first forward and then backward. His first thought had him wondering if it was wishful thinking that his box was moving. He had dreamt this many, many times – hope that his box was moving because someone had finally found him and was rescuing from the hellish situation that he was in. But then he would always wake up to find that it wasn’t the case, that he was still stuck at the bottom of the ocean with fish and the occasional shark and octopus for company.

Almost suddenly, there was a bright light shinning in at him and Angel instinctively shut his eyes against the harsh beam. A minute passed and he slowly tried to open his eyes, only to see a figure in a dark, black suit in front of him. He felt his heart drop. Someone was there! He tried to move, tried to speak but found it impossible. The tingling felt down his spine alerted him to who it was, but as he twisted trying to get free, the figure disappeared.

He blinked and all he could see was water.

He felt tears come to his eyes. Another hallucination. But this one had felt so real! That feeling… But he should’ve known better. His imagination was getting too good for his tastes. Angel was so busy wallowing in his misery that he didn’t hear the noises of what sounded like chains outside and he missed seeing the figure float by once more.

He felt the box move again and he pitched forward, his head banging against the tiny window and he let out a gasp of pain. He felt himself move from side to side as the box shifted along the ocean floor, sand clouds all around him. Angel felt his stomach shift and knew he would’ve vomited had his stomach not been so empty. He blinked again, wondering if this was another trick his mind was playing on him. It wasn’t so dark anymore and he could swear that there was some noise in the distance.

His head banged against the window once more and then he blacked out.

--

Angel?”

There was a voice in the distance.

Angel?”

The voice was more frantic now.

Angel!”

He knows that voice, he’s sure of it. His dreams used to be filled with the angelic sound, years and years ago. The musical sound of bells and laughter haunting his mind and he wonders once more if he was dreaming because hadn’t he learned this lesson time and time again? He is afraid to open his eyes. Afraid for the voice to go away because he doesn’t want it too. There is no way she would be near by; there is no reason for her to be but he’s willing to succumb to the dreams if it means seeing her again.

The chains that had bounded him tight were suddenly loose and he thinks he can smell fresh salty air. He can feel himself being lifted and then cradled lovingly against someone’s chest. He knows better than to hope for her, but can’t help responding to the soft touch that was so familiar – wishful thinking, perhaps. He feels his lips being parted and something cold pressed against it. Liquid is forced down his throat and he knows instantly that its blood. He gulps greedily and chokes in his haste to drink it all.

It was moments before he hears her speak again and he smiles. This was a pleasant dream compared to some of the ones he’s had so far.

Is there anymore blood?”

None. He just drank the last jar.”

There is a new voice, a man’s voice and he frowns. He doesn’t want this dream to turn into another nightmare and he knows that seeing her with another man is enough to tear his heart into two. Had she found someone else? Did she love him? He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer.

Angel? Honey, can you hear me? Angel, please wake up.”

There was someone rubbing his arm and he felt fingers combing through his hair. He leaned in, wanting more contact and wanting more than anything to answer her, to comfort her. He tried to open his mouth.

Buffy, we need to get to shore. The sun is going to rise soon and we need to get him more blood.”

Okay, go start the boat and hand me that knife.”

Buffy, are you sure? It could very well kill you. I can’t imagine he can control himself in the state he’s in.”

Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. I trust him, Wes. And besides, my blood is powerful. It should be enough to tide him over until we can get him more blood.”

Alright, I trust that you know best.”

He smelled blood and didn’t hesitate to suck when the warmth of someone’s skin was placed at his mouth. His instincts kicked in and he grabbed at the wrist and brought it closer. The salty, coppery taste was delicious and he knew instantly whose blood it was that he was drinking. He can tell the difference between demon and human blood. Human and Slayer blood. It tasted as exquisite as he remembered and he could feel his limbs and injuries beginning to heal twice as fast.

Memories began filtering through his mind of the last time he had tasted the slayer’s blood and with great effort he wrenched the wrist away from his mouth, not wanting to drain her life force anymore than he already had. He groaned and gasped and forced his eyes to open. His eyes focused and the sight before him made him want to cry with relief and joy. She was here. She was really here!

Her eyes were warm and trusting and she cuddled him close to her chest. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispered as she pressed her still bleeding wrist to his mouth again. Automatically, his mouth opened once more, letting her blood drip through. Her blood flowed through him, powerful and addicting, awakening his body and bringing him back to life. He suckled for a few more minutes before she gently removed her wrist from his mouth and wrapping it with a cloth that looked suspiciously ripped apart. She pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead, wrapping her arms around him and for the first time, he noticed a blanket covering them. “You’re going to be okay,” she whispered into his ear, her words making him feel warmer than any blanket ever could.

“Buffy…” Her name was the first word he spoke. It was comforting, saying her name and he loved the way it rolled off his tongue with familiarity. And she looked absolutely beautiful, her green eyes shinning looking down on him with love, her hair falling across her face like a curtain. There was a bright smile, one that he loved and wished to see on her face for all time. It had been so long since anyone had looked at him like that… had been so long since she had looked at him like that… he felt safe, wanted and loved.

“I’m here, Angel,” tears sprang to her eyes as Angel looked up at her, unaware that he was feeling exactly the same way she was. It had been so long since Angel had looked at her the way he was looking at her now. She hadn’t realized just how much she had missed it, how much she needed it and she felt it down to the very depths of her soul. At that moment, Buffy knew with certainty that Angel still loved her as much as he ever had. She pressed another kiss to his forehead.

”Rest now… you’re safe. I promise, I’ll protect you.”

He shook his head, a million questions racing through his mind. “How…?” he croaked, unable to get out the rest of his sentence.

Another smile on her face, her eyes kind. She ran her fingers through his hair and stroked his forehead lovingly. He felt his eyes grow heavier and he was suddenly exhausted. “I feel you inside, Angel,” the answer came and his eyes began to close, her voice soothing him to sleep. “I will always be here when you really need me.”

He slips into the most peaceful sleep he’s had in a long while.

xxx

Fred would always remember it as the summer of questions. Where were Angel and Cordelia? Were they hurt? What happened to them? How much longer would she and Charles have before they succumbed to the same fate? What were they going to do? Why did Wesley betray them? How was Connor feeling? Would things ever be okay again? Questions, questions, questions and no answers. It was so frustrating.

Months of worrying, anxiety at every turn and doubt when it should have been filled with sunshine (or rather night time) activities, fun and fighting the bad guys. Instead, she and Charles had spent the entire summer trying to keep Angel Investigations running as best they could, while trying to keep an eye on Connor and on top of all that, trying to locate Angel and Cordy’s whereabouts – that was the biggest stress of all. It was a lot for only two people.

Contacting Lorne had been a pain and had been no help at all. The friendly demon was being all cryptic and it seemed that he wouldn’t leave Las Vegas for any reason, not even to help a friend in need. Something about Fluffy… or whatever. That thought alone was enough to her in a bad mood tonight. Worrying after Connor had also taken its toll. Growing up, Fred had always thought of herself as maternal person. Wasn’t it a woman’s right to take care of children, love them and give them a sense of security? Granted, Fred had never really taken care of a child before but she never thought that she wouldn’t be good at it. She hated how sometimes Connor would disappear without a word and she was left worrying frantically until he returned. And when he returned, it was just as hard trying to get him to understand that running out into the dark of the night was dangerous, even if he could take care of himself and hold his own. As much as she told herself to be patient with Angel’s son, it was beginning to wear thin. Charles’ patience with the boy was already gone, these days he could barely keep his anger in check and it was all she could do to hold the three of them together.

And tonight. Oh, she could rant about tonight for a good long while. For once they had a lead, but of course, seeing as how much had bad luck they’d had this summer, the one vampire that could’ve possibly led them to Angel’s location had turned to dust. And on top of that, they had almost died tonight. Would’ve been vampire food if it hadn’t been for that mysterious blonde woman…

Fred didn’t want to think about what might’ve happened if it hadn’t been for her.

And it also ironic that the moment Fred had started thinking about their mysterious savior, she happened to be strolling through the Hyperion Hotel doors with Wesley, carrying an extremely battered Angel between them. She stood there in shock for several moments, staring at them, before letting out a gasp and rushing towards them. She reached them just as Wesley and the blonde woman were laying Angel down on the couch.

“Angel!” Fred leaned down in front of her friend and laid a hand on his arm. Even through the blanket, Angel felt ice cold. “My god… look at him!”

Moments later, she felt Charles at her side. Gunn had a troubled look on his face as Angel groaned in front of them, looking dazed. “He’s out of it. What now?”

Fred looked up at everyone around her, meeting Charles' eyes. “What do we do?” She turned, only to see Wes heading towards the front doors. “Wesley…” she trailed off as the former watcher turned around to look at them. “Where are you going?”

He stared at them, his gaze piercing right through her. It was several moments before he spoke. “I’m done here.”

Anger washed over her and she stood up, realizing that Wes had known what was going on all along. The fact that he hadn't alerted them hurt more than she had expected it too. “What took you so long to tell us what was going on? All those months worrying… how could you not tell us that you knew something?” She held Wesley’s gaze as her voice grew softer. “You really don’t care anymore, do you?”

Their staring contest went on for a few more minutes. It was Wesley who looked away first. He turned back around, his intention of leaving clear for everyone to see.

“Wes!” The blonde woman spoke sharply from where she sat next to Angel. "Please Wes, stay." Wesley shook his head at her before pushing the doors open and leaving them alone. Silence fell over the room.

“He needs more blood,” the woman spoke first. Her gaze was focused on Angel but Fred suspected that she knew everything that seemed to be going on. Just what was going on anyway? The woman looked up at her and for the first time, she realized the state the blonde was in. Her hair was limp and damp and she was wearing a wetsuit as if she had just gone swimming in the ocean. There was a blood stained cloth tied tightly around her wrist and it suddenly dawned on Fred that this woman had fed Angel some of her blood. “And you’re wrong, you know,” the blonde added. “Wes cares a lot. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have spent the last three months helping me.”

Before she could respond, there was a crash and Fred turned to her right, only to see Connor rushing down the stairs towards them with a stake in his hands. His eyes were blazing with hatred and anger and she knew with sudden certainty that Connor had been behind Angel’s disappearance. Exchanging a brief glance with Charles, she knew that he had just come to the same conclusion as she did. They both stood up, ready to interfere as Connor came at them.

But before they could do anything, the blonde woman was in front of them and was blocking Connor’s attempt to stake their vampire friend. She and Gunn could only stare as they watched the fight unfold right before their very eyes. Connor was an amazing fighter and strong, but it was clear that he was no match for the woman. They punched and kicked at one another and within minutes, she had Connor pinned face-down on the floor with his arms behind his back. Connor struggled before giving up.

“Are you going to behave?” The woman’s voice was like steel. “Cause I’d hate to have you all tied up.”

“What are you?” Connor spat. He tried to look up at her from his position on the floor. “Are you human?”

“Why, yes I am.” A humorless laugh escaped her and for a second, she looked amused. Then her gaze turned serious once more. “I’m the slayer.”

Both Fred and Gunn looked startled at her confession. The vampire slayer was the last person they had ever expected to see their mist but still, they were grateful.

“What’s a slayer?” There was still anger in the young boy’s voice as he renewed his efforts to get free.

“Chosen one? She who hangs out a lot at cemeteries…? ‘In every genera--’” The blonde woman shook her head and continued to hold him down. “You know, I really don’t feel like doing the routine. Ask around. Look it up under, ‘Slayer comma The.’ You’ll find a picture of me.”

“Why would you protect that thing?” Connor struggled some more and finally the slayer relinquished her hold on him. He stood up, anger still evident on his face. “How can you protect him when you know he’s a monster?”

She shook her and looked at him with an expression that was almost close to pity. “You just don’t know…” she turned away and walked back towards Angel. By now, the vampire was struggling to sit up; pain was evident on his features. “Angel,” the slayer said softly, bending down to sit next to him, all thoughts of Connor forgotten. She glanced back at the still standing Gunn and Fred. “Can someone please get him some blood?”

Gunn snapped back to reality. There would be time for answers later. “I’m on it,” he said as he rushed towards the kitchen. He returned a minute later with a few bags of blood and without another word, handed one to Buffy, who immediately opened it and began to offer it to Angel. He observed the scene in front of him, noticing the delicate way she cared for his boss, stroking his forehead lovingly and with a soft smile on her face. It was as if none them existed and there was only Angel as far as she was concerned.

He took a small step towards them and cleared his throat. The slayer looked up at them, curiosity shining in her eyes. He smiled at her. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Gunn,” he motioned to the woman standing next to him. “And this is Fred.”

The blonde’s smile widened. “I know who you guys are,” she told them before pausing. “I’m Buffy.” She turned back to Angel as he finished feeding and she placed the now empty bag on the floor. “How are you feeling?”

Angel blinked and smiled the half-crooked smile that had always managed to melt her heart. “Better,” he responded.

“I’m glad,” if possible, Buffy’s smile became even wider. “Do you want some more blood? There’s plenty.”

The vampire shook his head.

“Alright, let’s get you out of those wet clothes and put you to bed,” Buffy glanced over at Gunn. “Can you help me get him to his room?”

“Sure thing,” Gunn moved forward and Buffy then glanced at Fred.

“Do you think you can get him some dry clothes? I have no idea where anything is.”

“Of course!” Fred turned and ran up the stairs, glad to have something to do.

Busy with helping Angel, no one noticed the swinging front doors as Connor left the Hyperion Hotel.

xxx

Please review! It totally motivates me! As always, constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.