Before the Dawn
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Summary: Prior to the start of the TV series, Angel watches Buffy.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. Sadly, they never were. I just sneak them away from the big guy every so often for a little fun. And, as usual, I'm quick to suggest that I treat them a lot better than their *cough* actual owner ;) The dialogue used from "Welcome to the Hellmouth" and "The Harvest" belong to Joss and Mutant Enemy." It just occured to me that I didn't even mention having used his dialogue verbatim. Ooops! Thanks :).
Author's Notes: This takes place in the 'normal' BTVS timeline, prior to the start of the TV series, and having nothing to do with the movie at all.
Feedback: Thanks for reading! Feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated :)
Dedication: For my best friend - Sunshine :)
She was light. From the depths of his dark existence, he loved her. Her golden hair was his sunlight. Her soft voice was his dawn. Her smile was the heat of the noonday sun.
And she didn't even know he existed.
As always, he began the evening outside her house, waiting for her to leave on the hunt. Concealed in the bushes, he made himself as small as possible, crouching against the moist earth. Her parents had been growing suspicious lately... getting new dead bolts on the door, an alarm system - all kinds of new security. He half feared they would buy a dog - he wasn't quite sure what he would do then. Whistler would saying he was borrowing trouble, but that simply wasn't the case. Angel never borrowed anything... it simply latched onto him - permanently.
He was shaken out of his thoughts by the front door opening and closing as the Slayer left the haven of her home to face the undead. She apparently never realized how close she passed by one of them every night as he hid, watching her... protecting and adoring her from afar.
Quickly, he followed. She was walking at a particularly fast pace tonight. He knew her parents were fighting again - and knew that it always upset her. He wanted to comfort her, to shield her from their harsh words and their anger. But he didn't have the right. Whistler had told him time and time again that it wasn't the moment yet.
The Moment. That ideal, diamond flash in time when he would meet her - face to face - for the first time. He'd had so many fantasies of how it would be. He wanted it to be perfect. He wanted her to feel exactly what he had the sublime instant he'd first seen her - that sensation of inevitability... that willful, exciting plunge into a world of want and admiration and caring... and love. For a long time, after his soul had been so brutally returned to him, he worried that he'd lost the capability to love at all. Then he'd seen her - as he squinted through the harsh sunlight - and he'd wondered. When she'd cried alone, frightened of her new destiny... that had been the moment he'd found his own destiny as well. Loving her.
He realized that in his musing he'd fallen behind her. He quickened his steps, moving as quietly as possible, always alert for other threats in the night. He could just see the pale green flash of her jacket up ahead of him. She was still striding along confidently, looking for kills. Hurrying to catch up with her, he almost stumbled over someone else. Stunned, he leapt out of the way, knowing it was another vampire. A vampire who'd been watching her, stalking her.
Rage grasped him, directing his actions. Quickly, he tackled the male, looking around feverishly for a way to kill him. He'd never actually staked a vampire before, though... and his inexperience showed. The youngling threw him off, scrambling in the direction the Slayer had disappeared. Shit. Angel heaved himself to his feet and gave chase. Sliding around the corner that the other vampire had just disappeared past, he saw another fight: the Slayer and his former adversary. Cursing again, he threw himself back against the shadows on the wall, hoping she hadn't noticed him. Whistler said it wasn't time, he reminded himself in the fifth such repetition in as many minutes. It was so hard for him to do this... to watch her fight and not help... not protect her, as his emotions demanded.
The object of his love didn't seem all that concerned. She was snapping a few kicks at the vampire's head as she darted around, but didn't really seem to be in any danger. Angel wondered if she might just be playing with her kill tonight - somehow working out her depression over her parents' impending divorce.
"Slayer," the vampire hissed, trying to keep up with her jabs, her punches. "Your stupid watchdog almost got me back there."
"WhatEVER," Buffy replied flippantly, plunging a stake effortlessly into his chest. He exploded into ash suddenly, violently... and the tiny Slayer dusted her hands together smugly and continued on her way. "My watchdog," she repeated, scoffing. "Where do they get this stuff?"
After Angel had seen her safely home, he moved towards his own place. He couldn't really call it a home - it really wasn't one - just a hotel room that Whistler had set up for him. On the short walk there from her house, he thought about the vampire that night. Almost gave him away. Would that be so bad? Had he even maybe let the male go so he might mention him to the Slayer? No, Angel decided. His own desire to be known by her would never interfere with his need to protect her. Never. She'd been so beautiful tonight, he thought, her hair glimmering softly in the lamplight from her bedside table. He tried not to watch her... but it was impossible to deny himself. He comforted himself with the idea that he was a gentleman at least - conscientiously turning away while she changed clothes. But he could never force himself to leave her completely until she finally fell into a restless slumber.
Every night it was the same routine... she'd creep into the house through the front door, and he would stealthily climb the tree outside. By the time she'd make it up to her room, he'd be hidden completely, tucked in the crook of one gnarled branch. Sometimes she would appear quickly, her expression neutral, or happy even, a small smile toying with the corners of her lips. Other times it would take her longer to reach the room, and he would hear her parents yelling at her - asking her where she'd been - and she would finally appear, biting her lower lip to keep the tears inside until she could close the door softly behind her and give in to the trembling, quiet sobs. It was then that he most wanted to comfort her, to pull her into his arms and stroke her hair, drying her tears with his fingertips. If only he could just force himself to move away from the tree branch enough to reach her windowsill... to see her turn towards him, his name on her lips, her arms open to him lovingly. A perfect dream.
As he pulled the hotel room key from the pocket of his jeans, he sighed. If only. Shaking his head firmly, he unlocked the door. The 'if only's were part of what kept him going these days. He lived for her... to protect her... but he found himself constantly wanting more. Why couldn't she see him? Why couldn't he let her know that she had him for an ally? 'Ally'. The word mocked him, because he yearned - despite the impossibility of it - to be so much more.
He froze abruptly in the act of pushing the door open, seeing a familiar figure seated casually in one of the chairs near the television. Whistler. He greeted the demon warily. Whistler had left him largely to his own devices for the past several weeks since showing him the Slayer and after helping him to get cleaned up and situated. He hadn't explained his absence, and Angel hadn't pried. It was too much easier to watch the Slayer to his heart's content without the demon around, asking difficult questions.
"Hope you're packed. It's time to leave," Whistler said flatly, tilting his jaunty little hat further forward on his head.
"Leave?" Angel repeated in a tiny, shocked voice. Then, "I don't want to leave." There, that sounded stronger. "I won't leave. I want to be with her."
Whistler smirked. "What'd I tell you? Anyway, you stay here, and you're going to get awful lonely awfully quick. She's moving. To Sunnydale. We're gonna get you there first."
A flood of relief made Angel feel weak. For a moment he'd been so afraid that... willing the thought to the back of his mind, he crossed the room, sitting down on the edge of one of the beds. "Moving? Why?"
Whistler shook his head, and Angel knew better than to press further. Either the demon wasn't allowed to tell him what was going to happen... or he simply didn't know. "She just is. With her mother, I guess. Like I said, we'll get you there first - an apartment and everything, this time - and you'll have some instructions. Things you gotta tell her."
"Tell... her?" If his heart had still been beating, it would have been pounding fiercely in his chest. "Tell her? You mean...?"
"Yeah," the little demon drawled, sipping at a half-empty soda that had been resting on the table at his elbow. "I guess it's time you earned your keep around here. You can give her that little trinket you've been carrying around for the past few weeks, too."
Angel's hand flew to his jacket pocket... how had Whistler known...? Pushing that question aside, he fought to contain his excitement - not wanting to appear too eager. He deliberately looked away from Whistler, hoping his voice wouldn't give him away. "When?"
"Geez... you're still quite the talker, ain't you?" Whistler commented, then, "Tomorrow. We'll leave at midnight. I'm driving."
Angel swallowed hard. Well, at least he would get the chance to see her one last time... just in case Whistler's driving ended his pathetic existence. "I'll be ready."
"So we're set? Good," Whistler sighed, propping his feet up on the other chair. "Ya got any beer in this dump?"
Angel was up before the sun set, impatiently pacing the small confines of the hotel room, wondering how the sun could possibly be moving so slowly through the sky. It seemed like every time he checked the clock only a minute had passed. He would have packed to pass the time, except that he'd taken care of that little detail before dawn, knowing that he'd want every minute he could have with her before midnight. Of course, she would be following them shortly - but it suddenly occurred to him that Whistler hadn't told him how long it would be. He bit his lip. Surely it wouldn't be long. Surely.
The moment the sun set he was out the door, the faint tingling on the surface of his skin telling him that he was pushing the envelope of safety. Ignoring it, he ran through the streets, traveling the well-remembered path to her house. She should be home from school by now - just sitting down to a tense, unhappy dinner with her parents.
When he reached the house, it was dark. His eyes widened in disbelief. No. This couldn't be happening... he was leaving for who knew how long... they were going to be separated... and she wasn't home? How could he leave without seeing her? How could he...
A lone, faint light flickered to existence in her bedroom window. Sighing with relief, he realized that she must have been taking a nap after school. She still wasn't used to keeping such odd hours as the Slayer. Her parents must be out tonight for some reason - alone or separately he didn't know... and didn't care. All that mattered to him in this moment was that he'd get to say his silent farewell to her. These last memories of her soft smile and her gentle eyes would have to last him until they met again in Sunnydale This time... met for real. Again, he had to fight down the surge of elation at the thought. It was really going to happen...
The kitchen light came on while he was lost in his fantasy, catching his attention. He crept closer, thirsty to see her. When he had a clear view through the kitchen window he watched her move quickly around the kitchen, apparently making herself something to eat. She looked so beautiful in even sweat pants and a tanktop that his heart just ached. She finally sat down at the little table to eat her sandwich with apparent gusto, a little smile on her face. She was probably enjoying having dinner alone for once - without the oppressive presence of her parents. He knew they thought she was getting mixed up with the wrong crowd - ditching class, getting into fights, failing her classes. He wished for not the first time that life could be easier for her.
She bounced up quickly when the phone rang. Angel moved even closer, counting on the inky shadows to cover his approach. He sidled right up to the window finally, close enough to hear her prattling on the phone with one of her friends, talking about the day at school, and how unfair it was that her parents had grounded her. Grounded her? Unsure what exactly that meant, but assuming it was a punishment of some kind, he was upset. She shouldn't have to be subject to these rules. She was the Slayer - a brilliant, radiant sunburst that bettered the world simply by existing in it. He almost grinned at the romantic, very trite thought, then frowned, realizing that as such, he could never have any place in her life. He could never be in the sun with her... if she wanted... if she wanted to be near him, she would have to come into the shadows, and he didn't want that for her. His thoughts took an even more bitter turn. Why would she want to, anyway? What was he to her? Practically a stalker. And a vampire, as well. Not exactly happily-ever-after material.
Easily, comfortably, sinking into the well-worn grooves of despair, Angel pressed himself miserably closer to the cold earth. He barely listened to the dulcet tone of her voice that usually soothed and teased him simultaneously. Only the unusual sound of a giggle renewed his interest. Wrenching himself away from his brooding, he tilted his head, trying to catch what she was telling her friend now.
"Okay, okay... I'll tell you... but it's not anything huge, so don't be..." she listened for a moment, then giggled again. "Ha ha. Premonition? As if. Anyway..." her voice lowered a bit, as though the information she was relaying was of the utmost importance. Angel watched her sit down slowly in the chair once more, pulling her knees up to her chest, hugging them with one arm. "I just had a weird dream is all. No... not THAT kind of dream!" she squealed into the telephone. "Just... the kind of dream where everything just kind of flashes at you? And later, you just remember little bits of it?" She tilted one soft cheek against her knee while holding the receiver to her other ear. "Yeah - and I've forgotten a lot of the stuff in it already. But one thing that I can see... it's right there, every time I close my eyes, is this cross. It's a necklace - this beautiful silver cross..." her voice drifted off for a moment as she smiled. "I know, not my usual style, right? But it's just so..." she sighed. "I can't explain it. It must sound silly to you, I just..." she laughed this time, out loud, her whole face lighting up. "Really? You did? Tell me more!"
Angel barely registered the ongoing conversation as he reached into the pocket of his leather jacket. When he withdrew his hand, he held a box. Opening it slowly, reverently, he saw a plain silver cross glimmering in the moonlight. A silver cross. Though it wasn't touching him, or even close to it, the cross still made his skin shiver. Ignoring the sensation, he studied it with the fragile beginnings of a smile on his face. Whistler had told him he could give this to her. It was going to happen...
Hours later, he watched her still, his large form crouched, motionless, in the tree outside her bedroom. She was doing her homework, snapping her gum every so often and humming a little. He thought it was adorable. She leaned her head to the side finally, rubbing at tired eyes. Glancing at the clock next to her bed, she sighed. "Eleven-thirty. Yikes. I get one lousy night off of Slaying, and I spend it studying for a big test... so I STILL don't get enough sleep. Great." She stood up, heading for her closet. Knowing she was going to change for bed, Angel cast his gaze down towards the ground, firmly reminding himself that he wouldn't invade her privacy... any more than he already was, that is. When he thought he'd given her enough time, he looked back up - to see her small body already disappearing beneath the white bedspread. Clicking off the bedside lamp, she relaxed on her back for long moments, her eyes fixed on the ceiling - or some point far beyond. Sleep overtook her slowly, with aching tenderness, it seemed to him. He realized on some level that the minutes were ticking by, and Whistler would be expecting him... but he couldn't leave her now. Couldn't. Not when just the sight of her eyelashes sweeping down to dust her cheekbones as she blinked sleepily made his heart clench painfully. And then he thought he couldn't leave her at all. He bit his lip, conflicted. He knew he had to go - had to go with Whistler to this 'Sunnydale' - but he wanted with all his soul to stay.
Finally her eyes closed softly, her body relaxing into sleep. He watched lovingly as her breathing slowed and deepened, her heartbeat thumping soundly and methodically in his vampiric ears. Closing his eyes as well, he steeled himself to go. "I'll miss you," he whispered, wishing he could brush his fingers through her soft hair... just once. "I'll be waiting for you." Swallowing hard to keep his resolve, he climbed down from the tree and walked away, fighting not to look back. Once away from her house, he broke into a run, darting through the night with startling speed and grace. He arrived at the hotel room just as Whistler was locking up.
"Almost gave up on you," the demon commented casually. "Your stuff is in the car already. You ready to go?"
"No," Angel replied with a wistful glance back in the direction he'd come from.
Whistler groaned in distaste. "Yech. You know, if you insist on mooning about her the whole way to Sunnydale, I'm gonna to kick you out of the car."
Ignoring him, Angel moved around to the passenger side, seating himself in the sedan without comment.
Swinging into the driver's seat with a scowl, Whistler cranked the ignition. "I guess that means you're going to, huh? Great. It's boring, man!"
Angel just gazed out the window.
Throwing the car into drive, Whistler stomped the accelerator, squealing out of the parking lot on what felt like only two tires. Angel clutched the edge of the seat with both hands, and wondered if he'd ever get to Sunnydale at all.
Nerves. That's all it was... just nervous tension. Angel squared his shoulders as he crept along the sidewalk behind her. So close... he was so close to her once more. It had been an eternity since he'd last seen her face, wondered at her secret smile, or caught just the barest hint of her scent on the breeze. He'd been depressed and listless for a long while, until Whistler had mocked him about turning back into 'stink guy'. That had turned his frustration on the little demon. He was angry at Whistler - furious at him for separating him from the Slayer in the first place - not to mention for so long. It had been months. In the late hours, when Angel roamed the street, looking for vampires with information from outside of Sunnydale, he heard stories about how she fought desperately against a huge vampire uprising in Los Angeles. Alone. He'd argued heatedly with Whistler about rushing to her side.
"What are you gonna do?" Whistler had finally demanded. "She can finish this by herself - I told you that a hundred times! If you go off half-cocked and get staked by some nobody vampire, what's she gonna do later? When she really needs you? You willing to risk that?"
It was only the idea that he might be failing her by going against Whistler's advice that kept him in Sunnydale. Even so... his skin felt too tight. He was restless, worried. He fretted about her constantly, driving Whistler to distraction with incessant questions. "When will she get here? How will I know? What do I say to her?"
Whistler's response to all those questions and more was: "I'll tell you later." Angel was so tired of that refrain that he'd eventually stopped asking... until tonight.
"When?" he'd finally demanded of the demon once more, pacing the confines of his apartment like a ravenous beast.
"Now. In a few hours."
Spinning around in shock, Angel froze, his mouth gaping open.
"Oh yeah... that's the look you want, Angel... she'll think that's attractive," the demon taunted good-naturedly.
Angel paid it no attention, his mind racing. "Tonight? But... but I'm not ready..."
"Cold feet?" Whistler asked with a snarky grin. "I'll bet. Didn't expect it so soon, did you?"
"No..." Angel murmured, then shook his head, hard. "Are you sure?"
"Course I'm sure. Am I ever not sure? She'll be leaving her house - I'll show you where that is in a bit - and all you have to do is follow her. Give her the..." the demon gestured at Angel's jacket pocket - which always contained the cross necklace - "and then tell her that the Harvest is coming. Just like I been tellin' you to."
Now, fearful with anticipation, he followed her. She was getting closer to the Bronze - a local teen hangout - and he needed to catch up with her before she went inside. He rounded a corner... only to find an alley. He paused in confusion... hadn't she just walked in there? Peering into the dark shadows crouched sullenly against the brick walls, he wondered if she might have been ambushed, taken unaware...
Feet hit him powerfully, squarely, in the back, sending him rolling heels over head onto the hard pavement. He was about to jump up to face his adversary... when he saw Her. Standing over him, in all her predatory glory, was the Slayer.
He felt the world narrow to this pinpoint of time and space - this was the Moment... and he should be saying something. Especially since she now had him pinned to the cement with her dainty foot on his chest. And she looked suspiciously like she was ready to stake him. 'Remember what Whistler said,' his brain prompted his sluggish mouth. 'She needs to know about the Harvest...'.
Her eyes narrowed, and he finally fully realized the imminent danger he was in. He needed to convince her he was harmless. And not a vampire. He didn't dwell too long on the instinctive desire to hide that knowledge from her anyway. He'd seen how she dealt with vampires... and he'd seen the disgust, the revulsion, in her eyes. Swallowing hard, trying to focus, he decided it was time to play weak.
"Is there a problem, ma'am?" There... that sounded suitably cowed. On the other hand, she didn't look fooled for a moment.
"Yeah, there's a problem. Why are you following me?" Her voice was hard, and his heart sank. Not only was he likely going to fail in his duty to Whistler, but she was angry with him. It hurt. Time to reassure her. "I know what you're thinking. Don't worry, I don't bite." He didn't flinch at all at the lie. For him, literally, it was the truth. Especially where she was concerned.
She appeared to consider his words, taking her foot off his sternum and letting him struggle to his feet. He tried to focus on what Whistler had told him... tried to focus on anything but how soft the skin of her cheek looked, and how sweet she smelled. He wanted to groan in frustration as he remembered one of the points that Whistler had repeatedly drilled in to him: she couldn't know that he'd been watching her. She couldn't be suspicious. Confused, Angel had asked what he should do - after all, he would obviously be aware that she was the Slayer... Whistler had been uncertain. "Thing is," he'd told Angel, "You have to act tougher than her - and she's pretty damn tough - to get her respect and her trust." "Get her to trust me by lying to her?" Angel had objected. "Not lying," Whistler had emphasized, "... just roughen it up. A lot. What did you think she'd be like the first time I told you about her being the big, bad, scary Slayer? Before you actually saw her and got all whipped, I mean," the demon had sniped.
His mind attending once more to the problem at hand, Angel wanted to grit his teeth. Tough. Act tough. "The truth is, I thought you'd be taller, or bigger muscles and all that." He almost winced... it hadn't come out sounding very natural. He rubbed at the back of his neck to cover his uncertainty, then realized he actually hurt where she'd kicked him. She was so strong... "You're pretty spry, though." There... that was better. But she was still looking at him like she was sizing him up for shish kabob-ing.
"What do you want?" Her voice was clipped, impatient.
"The same thing you do..." Whistler had badgered him on this one, too. "You don't want her to think you're stalking her," the demon had counseled repeatedly. "Ya gotta be mysterious. Aloof. You hunt vampires, too." "But I don't..." Angel had protested weakly, uneasy. "But you'd stake one if it threatened her, right? So you do. Just say what I tell you."
Angel was brought quickly back to the present by the very welcome sight of Buffy lowering her fists. "Okay. What do I want?" she challenged.
He took a step towards her, lowering his voice. A vampire hunter... make the connection with her... "To kill them. To kill them all."
She looked taken aback for a moment, then angry. "Sorry, that's incorrect. But you do get this lovely watch and a year's supply of Turtle Wax," she mocked. He wanted to just tell her... to explain why he was really here - but Whistler had been adamant about him not telling her the truth. "What I want is to be left alone!" She turned and walked away from him.
No. This couldn't be happening! This was all wrong, and she was leaving... panicking, Angel remembered what he had been charged with telling her. If nothing else, he had to give her that information. It would supposedly save her life. Trying to shove his personal feelings aside for just a moment, he said harshly "Do you really think that's an option anymore? You're standing at the Mouth of Hell. And it's about to open." Relief poured over him as she turned back to him, her eyes wide with curiosity. He felt his hand tremble as he pulled the small box from his coat pocket. He could almost hear her voice soft with wonder as she recounted her dream to her friend... a dream about a cross necklace... did she remember? "Don't turn your back on this," he cautioned, tossing the box lightly to her, knowing she would catch it easily. "You've got to be ready."
"What for?" Now she seemed captivated with him and his message, and he silently thanked Whistler for the words to tell her of the danger... he just wished he could tell her more...
"For the Harvest."
She was confused by his terse answers, and her backbone stiffened once more, suspicion blooming once more in her beautiful eyes. "Who are you?" she demanded.
Someone who loves you. Your protector... please God... let me be your protector at least... Fighting to keep the pathetic, needy words from escaping his lips, he settled for, "Let's just say... I'm a friend." He forced himself to turn away from her, moving slowly back down the alley, knowing that Whistler was waiting for him to report back...on his fabulous success.
Her next words stopped him in his tracks. "Yeah... well maybe I don't want a friend!"
So cold. Bitter words. His heart - silent for so long - seemed to ache dully. He turned back to her, forcing a hard grin to the fore. "I didn't say I was yours." Swallowing his hurt, he turned away, unable to face the fear and suspicion that marred her lovely features.
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