Text enclosed in * * represents thoughts.

Part 8

Buffy ran down the street with the speed born of panic. Her mom was going to kill her. *How could I have been so stupid?* she wondered. *Especially now, why is it that I always get grounded right when the world most needs saving?* Her heart thudded loudly in her chest as she cautiously opened the front door. She briefly considered sneaking up the stairs to her room and saying she'd been there the whole time. But even HER mom, the queen of cluelessness, wouldn't fall for that one. She decided the best thing to do at the moment was just to announce herself and face the consequences.

"Mom?" she called loudly.

"Buffy, is that you?" her mom answered. *No, it's your other daughter,* Buffy thought sarcastically. But she restrained herself from saying it out loud. She was in enough trouble without giving her mom an attitude. "I'm in the kitchen," continued her mother. So Buffy slowly trudged to the kitchen to meet her doom.

"Buffy, you do realize that when I said you were grounded, I meant you weren't supposed to go out?" asked her mother. "I almost called the police, but then I realized that you were probably just playing out your teenage rebelliousness. You had me worried sick!"

"Oh Mom, I'm REALLY sorry. I swear I just totally forgot. As soon as I remembered I ran all the way home. It's just that there's a sort of crisis, and it totally slipped my mind."

"What kind of crisis?"

"Um, I can't really tell you the details of it. It involves Xander and Willow though."

"Are they in trouble?" asked Buffy's mom, beginning to feel worried for her daughter's friends.

"No, no...mom that's not the point. The point is I'm sorry, and it won't happen again." Buffy kissed her mom on the cheek and turned to go upstairs.

"You mean you're not going to argue?"

"It doesn't do any good," said Buffy bitterly. "You don't listen to what I say. You think I'm too young to know what I'm talking about. So I'd rather not scream into a vacuum again tonight, if you don't mind. I'm too tired to fight." Buffy's mom began to feel the stirrings of guilt. She had doubted herself since the moment she lost her temper and grounded Buffy. *I'm being awfully quick to judge that poor boy. I've barely even met him,* she told herself.

"Buffy, wait," she finally said. "I know it was kind of unfair of me to ground you just because I don't like your boyfriend. But can't you find a boy your own age?"

"I could find a boy, but I wouldn't be in love with him like I am with Angel."

"I guess," her mom began, "I guess I should really meet him before I decide whether I should forbid you to see him." Buffy kept her mouth from dropping by a supreme effort of will.

"Who are you and what have you done with my mother?" she asked teasingly. Then she rushed at her mom and squeezed her tight in a huge hug. "Thanks, Mom. You'll really like him," she said enthusiastically.

"So you'll bring him over tomorrow?" asked her mother.

"Umm, tomorrow's no good. But the next day I promise."

"Go to bed."

"Mom? Am I still grounded?"

"You're on probation, now get outta here." Buffy bounced up the stairs. She had no idea what had come over her mother, but if this worked out then things were looking up. Provided of course that they managed to kill the extremely strong, evil vampire, which was a big if.

Buffy woke early the next morning. This was it, the last day before the big showdown. Doubts began to pound against her skull, as she lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. There was so much that could go wrong. There were so many holes in their plan that she could barely believe that she had agreed to it. *Angel is going to suck my blood, how much blood? Giles neglected to mention that, and I was so caught up in getting Angel to agree to the plan that I forgot to ask. What if he does lose control? What if the demon takes over and I die in his arms? Well, there are a lot of worse ways to die, but I don't want to die at all. And then say that the sucking part works, what if it doesn't give Angel enough of a boost and he loses the battle.* She sat up and walked to the bathroom to throw cold water on her face.

*This is not a good attitude,* she decided. She'd just have to believe that everything would turn out all right. It would have been easier if she had been the one going into the fight. Then she would have known what to do. She might have lost the fight, but at least it was something she was slightly in control of. Waiting for someone else to fight and letting them suck her blood, that wasn't her style. She needed the pumping of adrenaline, the use of her own strength to beat back the evils of the world. But this time someone else would be using her strength. She shivered a little. She never would have guessed that she would one day willingly let a vampire suck her blood. Her very nature screamed against it. But then she never would've guessed she'd fall in love with a vampire either.

She hopped into the shower and then dressed herself in a pale green dress. It shimmered in the dim morning light of her bedroom, and her eyes suddenly filled with tears. She didn't want to do this. She didn't want to let him bite her. She quickly blinked the tears away and grabbed the leather jacket. She pressed it to her face, letting the rich smell of the leather calm her. She would do it because she had to. If it didn't work they were all dead anyway. So it had to work, it would work. Angel loved her; he wouldn't hurt her. She had to believe that.

Angel felt the dawn under his skin as the sun rose. He was safely hidden from the sun's rays but he could still feel them as they fell against the blinds of his apartment. When they were ready, Giles would call. Until then, he would wait. The waiting was the worst, the doubts became more and more real as each minute passed. He had promised to do it, he had to do it. Buffy's face invaded his mind and he closed his eyes tightly, thinking of her. She had asked him to do it, and he would. He would do it for her.

But his soul screamed against it, even as the hunger beat in his veins. His mind knew that if he didn't try they would both die. His soul refused to respond to the logic. She trusted him, but she didn't know how close to the edge he could get. Only he knew how dangerous this was. Only he knew how loudly the demon roared in the locked vault of his mind. He was alone. And never alone. His demon had him trapped, and he knew it would take everything he had not to kill her.

He put on the tiny gold cross that he sometimes wore to tame the urges, and to remind him of what he was. He would need all the help he could get. Faith and love, he had both; and he knew that she had faith in him too. They all did. He could feel the urges calm as the cross touched his chest. The pain was nothing; she was everything. He would fight to save her. It wasn't Lily he worried about. If they got that far, he thought he could win. It was himself that he feared more than anything.

Buffy, Xander and Willow were all gathered at Giles' house again. It was beginning to be their new center of operations. They talked softly, the mood subdued as the day wore on. Giles had explained more of the details of the blood transfer. All that was really needed was a taste. Less than the pint that they took from you in the bloodmobile. She would feel weak, he explained. But her regenerative powers made it a relatively riskless procedure. Relatively riskless until you factored in Angel's demon. If all went according to plan, she would be fine within half an hour. If Angel lost control she would probably die.

Finally the sun began to sink below in the afternoon sky. Giles called Angel. They were ready. He would meet them at the old mausoleum in the graveyard. He could reach it without facing sunlight by using the sewers. Most likely the rest of the vampires would be resting or readying themselves for the confrontation tonight. No doubt Colin and Lily would bring a large number of the other vampires with them to meet Angel in case he failed to deliver Buffy's body. It seemed so long ago that Daniel and Lily had delivered the warning to him. Could it really be only three days?

The little group was already there when Angel finally reached the mausoleum. Their faces were as grim as he felt. Xander and Willow stood a little apart. They weren't part of this. But they each had a stake hidden in their pockets. If things got out of hand there might not be much they could do, but they would try. Giles stood next to Buffy his hand on her shoulder. His face was a stoic mask, hiding the fear that this might not work, that his plan would be the death of both Buffy and Angel. He sighed, they had to try.

Buffy looked up as Angel entered the mausoleum. He was so beautiful, she felt a rush of love and trust. She walked over to him and whispered the words "I love you." Then she wrapped her arms around his waist and exposed the side of her neck to him. He stared at the flesh, feeling his hunger take control. He felt the vampire face emerge, and he didn't fight it.

"I'm sorry," he whispered and kissed the top of Buffy's head. *This is it, no stalling, no waiting.   Just me and her, and her warm blood.* He bent his face to her neck, kissed it lightly and sunk his fangs into her vein.

* * * * * * * *

Part 9

Buffy gasped as Angel’s fangs sank into her neck. The sharp pain brought tears to her eyes. But soon the pain faded and reality began to shred. She was suddenly completely focused on his ear. Each tiny detail assaulted her senses. Her vision swam, and she began to panic. This wasn’t right, he needed to stop. Her fist beat futilely against him, but she had no strength behind the blows. She could feel her life drifting away, drifting into him and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Calmly, dreamily she realized that she was going to die. "Angel," was her last thought as she slipped into unconsciousness.

Angel tasted the sweet coppery blood as it entered his mouth. The raw power electrified him with an overwhelming burst of pleasure. Vainly he fought against the hunger and was swept underneath it. The pleasure, the hunger, the demon took over. He silently screamed her name as he felt himself overwhelmed. The power surged through him, causing each nerve ending to explode with feeling.

He felt her heart beat weaken as his grew stronger. He felt her life, her strength seeping into him. He felt them become one, and he felt her begin to die. With each drop of blood, the hunger grew stronger. With each heart beat ,the power flowed though him like a giant wave, dragging him underneath. He wanted more than anything to give in to it. To let the power, the pleasure sweep him away. He held on to her name like a drowning man, repeating it over and over to himself.

The blood throbbed through his body, filling his ears with a dull roaring. Dimly, as if from a great distance he could hear voices. Screams. Slowly he fought to regain control. Her name echoed in his mind like an accusation. It took all his strength to pull his teeth from her neck. He grimaced in pain as he denied himself the satisfaction of her blood. Before he could lose control again, he lay her on the ground and turned away. The hunger beat against his brain, the power sang through each of his veins, setting each nerve-ending on fire. He smashed his fist against the wall until the wall crumbled a little, until the pain began to drive away the haze of hunger. He shook his head, trying to clear the last vestiges of the demon's control from his body. When he was sure that he could keep from attacking, he turned to face the others. They were crowded around Buffy's body, and his heart stopped. He hadn't regained control in time.

"Is she dead?" he asked, his voice breaking with anguish.

"Actually, she's not," said Giles a little warily. "Are you sure you are under control?" Angel nodded silently. "She's lost a lot of blood. If she were anyone but the Slayer...she would be dead."

"I lost it," said Angel, "when I felt that blood on my tongue, in my veins. It's like no other feeling on earth. I was so close to killing her." He covered his face with his hands, feeling the ridges. Feeling the shame of his beast.

"But you didn't," said Giles. "That's the important thing. Right now you need to focus on the fight. You need to be able to concentrate. You need all your strength."

"Did it work, though?" asked Xander peering at Angel for some evidence of change. Angel could still feel the power as it flowed through his veins, as it swept him along on a wave of energy.

"Oh yeah, it worked," he said. "We'll just have to see if it's enough."

"You don't look any different," said Xander.

"A vampire's strength doesn't come from muscles. Our strength is in direct relation to our power. It's the same for a Slayer. Buffy doesn't look that strong, but she has enough power to tear you apart."

"So can you beat Lily?" asked Willow, looking up from where she sat on the floor, cradling Buffy's head in her hands.

"I don't know." Angel answered dully, his eyes locked to Buffy's still form. He inhaled sharply as her eyelids fluttered and she worked her way back into consciousness. She groaned and opened her eyes.

"Is Angel...?" she began to ask.

"I'm here," he said, wanting to hold her but afraid that she would rather he stay as far away from her as possible.

"Come here," she whispered. He slowly approached her body as she lay on the floor. He hovered uncertainly over her body, unsure of what she wanted from him. "Hold me," she said. He knelt beside her and lifted her easily in his arms. She rested her head in the curve of his shoulder and draped one arm weakly around his neck. "Take me with you?" she asked.

"Buffy, you're too weak. If I lose.."

"If you lose they'll hunt me down, Lily's not one to mess around. And she's not trapped underground like the Master was. If you win, they won't threaten me tonight." She tilted her head up to look into his face. "Please?" she asked.

"All right, " he sighed. He wanted her near him, wanted to reassure himself that she was alive. That he hadn't killed her after all. "I love you," he whispered softly into her ear.

"I know," she whispered back.

Angel looked at Giles, and the librarian nodded. It was time. Gently Angel carried Buffy through the graveyard, as gently as a husband carrying his wife to bed for the first time. Lily and Colin were waiting in the center of the graveyard. A dozen vampires formed a half-circle behind them.

"I'm surprised you came, Angelus. I didn't think you'd be able to kill her. I thought your feelings would get in the way." said Colin mockingly.

"Isn't it past your bedtime?" Angel asked. "I didn't come for you, little boy. And I didn't come to bring the Slayer to you." He pointed to Lily. "I came for her." Lily responded with a hiss, but Angel wasn't finished. "I challenge you, by my right to fair combat," he screamed. Lily growled deep in her throat.

"You don't know what you're getting into," she spat. "You're not ready to take me on."

"Do you refuse the challenge?" he asked.

"I accept," she hissed angrily. He nodded grimly n response, and lay Buffy's body down under a convenient tree. Then he turned to face his opponent.