Disclaimer in part 1

Text enclosed in * * represents thoughts.

High Noon
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part 3: Blood Haze

Buffy strolled through the cemetery, tapping a stake lightly against the palm of her hand. She sighed. There didn't seem to be any vampires out and about. *Which is a good thing,* she reminded herself. *Boring, but good.* She sighed again, trying to focus on patrol, despite the total lack of action. The snap of a twig behind her jerked her out of her stupor. Spinning on the balls of her feet, she raised the stake, her eyes sweeping the graveyard frantically. She let out a sigh of relief as her eyes fell on the figure of Angel approaching her. He raised his hands in surrender when he saw her attack stance and readied stake. She grinned at him, slipping the stake up her sleeve and into her wrist sheath.

"I really should stake you, you know," she said teasingly. "That's what you deserve for sneaking up on people in graveyards."

"Yeah well, I wanted to see if you were on your toes," he answered. "You were looking a little less than alert."

"Are you criticizing me? The Great and Powerful Vampire Slayer?!" Buffy gasped. "Next you'll be telling me I look fat in this outfit."

"Now that you mention it..." Angel said with an evil grin. He chuckled at Buffy's outraged look and grasped her hand in his. "You could never look bad, even if you tried. You're too beautiful." Buffy's expression softened at the compliment as she pulled him closer to her.

"Kiss me," she whispered. Angel was only too happy to comply. He eagerly wrapped his arms around her as his lips met hers. He picked her up easily in his arms and set her atop a gravestone. That gave her the several inches she needed to reach his lips with ease. He pulled away for a moment, worry suddenly replacing passion in his eyes.

"Are you okay?" he asked, studying her face as if the answers were hidden in the bright blue-green of her eyes. She nodded in answer to his question, grabbing his collar to bring him closer for another kiss. He gave in for a moment, his tongue delving into her mouth, tasting her. Her teeth closed lightly on his lip, pulling but not quite breaking the skin. He broke off the kiss, remembering that the last time she had bitten him it had ended up causing her temporary vampire state. "Really okay?" he asked anxiously.

"I'm fine," she muttered, not meeting his eyes.

"Have you been feeling more of the bloodlust?" he asked bluntly.

"Well," she hesitated. "There was this blood drive at school and I kind of had a problem. But what do you expect?! There was just so much of it. It was everywhere..." He stopped her lips with a quick touch of his own, then searched for more information.

"Did you tell Giles?"

"Yeah," she answered. "No help at all. He basically told me that I just have to deal with it." She met his dark eyes with a doubtful gaze. "But what if I can't?" she whispered, letting go of the charade that she had nothing to worry about. "If it gets any stronger, I don't know if I'll be able to control myself."

"You're stronger than it is, Buffy," Angel said, holding her hand tightly next to his chest. "You're the strongest person I know."

"I don't feel very strong right now," she admitted. His arms held her close, and she pressed her face against the slickness of his leather jacket, breathing in its rich scent. "How do you do it?" she asked softly. "How do you stand it? You've been facing this for eighty years."

"I do it because I have to," Angel answered simply, resting his cheek against the top of her head. "There were so many times I thought I'd fail. So many times I almost slipped off the edge and gave in. But I knew I had to pull myself back from the edge, and I did. I think that somehow I knew there was a reason to keep fighting, even when the temptation was almost too great." Angel pulled away slightly to force the Slayer to meet his eyes. "The reason was you." Her eyes widened as she shook her head skeptically. "No it's true. I didn't know it at the time. But you are why I couldn't give in...you're why I kept fighting then...why I keep fighting now.  Even though I am still tempted everyday...I know I can stand it as long as I have you."

Buffy's eyes filled with tears as Angel professed a love deeper than anything she had known before. He was being completely honest. She could see it in his eyes; his words came from his soul. It was a heavy responsibility being someone else's reason for living, a responsibility she wasn't sure she wanted. But looking into his eyes, which shone with love and devotion, it didn't seem like a burden. It seemed like a privilege.

With a soft cry, Buffy ran her hand up to wrap around Angel's neck, then she pulled him to her. In her kiss, she placed all of her love, her trust, and her desire, telling him without words that he was everything to her. When she finally broke away, she tried to express in words what she had so eloquently told him with her kiss.

"I love you," she said, but the words seemed useless. They weren't deep enough to express what she felt. "You make me stronger than I can ever be alone," she told him, trying to explain. "You make me care," she continued. "When I don't want to go on being the Slayer, when I just want a little peace, I can look at you and I remember what I'm fighting for. I've never loved anyone the way I love you. It's like having a third arm." Angel chuckled softly at her choice of words. "But in a good way," she hurried to finish. "It's kind of weird at first. But it's part of you...forever. You're part of me."

"And you're part of me," Angel agreed, understanding. "The better part of me. The part that keeps me sane, the part that keeps me in control."

"If it's true," Buffy said. "If I'm what keeps you sane...I need you to do the same for me. I need you to help me. Because alone I don't know if I'm strong enough."

"I'll be here," Angel promised. "Always." Their lips met, sealing their words, binding them together. A polite cough interrupted them, and the pair broke apart, turning their faces to see the intruder. Giles, Willow and Xander stood a few feet away from them, waiting to be noticed. Giles was uncomfortable as always with public displays of affection; his reddened face proved that. Xander focused his attention determinedly on the invisible squirrels in the tree branches overhead, avoiding the sight of Buffy wrapped in Angel's embrace. Only Willow seemed unembarrassed by the pair's show of affection. She caught Buffy's eye, giving her a broad smile which Buffy returned.

In a flash, the blond Slayer hopped down from the tombstone where she sat, and walked over to join the team with Angel right behind her.

"Hi guys," she greeted them.

"Hard at work patrolling I see," Xander said sarcastically. Buffy shot him a nasty look, and Willow inched closer so she could elbow him in the stomach if the need arose.

"There is absolutely no vampire activity tonight," Buffy defended herself. "It's not my fault that they're all hiding somewhere."

"I see one type of vampire activity," Xander muttered under his breath.

"Well," Giles said, overriding Xander's comments. "Perhaps a little less...chatter from the peanut gallery." Xander shut his mouth mid-comment, and crossed his arms over his chest.

"This peanut is not commenting," he retorted.

"Thank you," Giles responded, turning his attention to Buffy and Angel. "Did she ask you about Spike?" he questioned Angel.

"What about Spike?" Angel answered, suddenly uncomfortable.

"One of the Watcher Diaries mentioned that you and he spent some time together in Europe," Giles explained. "We had hoped that you would have some insight that would help us deal with him."

"Spike's here?" Angel asked, still needing clarification. Giles looked from Buffy to Angel and sighed. He had hoped she would have filled Angel in with the pertinent information.

"Spike's here. From what we have surmised, he and the Anointed One are locked into a power struggle. We will have to intervene and wondered if you have any knowledge from your time with him in Europe that would help us."

"This is not good," Angel said absently, barely above a whisper.

"Yeah thanks, Master of the Obvious," Xander interjected snidely, forgetting that he wasn't commenting. "Even I knew that." Angel swallowed tightly, staring intently at the ground. Buffy grabbed his hand, giving him a worried look.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"I just...why did they have to come here?" he asked rather petulantly.

"This IS the Hellmouth," Giles answered.

"Mystical energy and all that," Willow finished. She looked at Angel, but he seemed not to have heard them. He latched on to Buffy's other hand, forcing her to face him. When he spoke it was as though he spoke only to her, despite the other three members of his audience.

"I wanted to protect you from my past." He paused a moment, gathering his wits. "That was stupid. I can't pretend that my past doesn't exist. And it's not fair of me to try to hide it from you. But it's painful..." Buffy tightened her grip on his hands, squeezing them gently in support. He gave her a ghost of a smile and continued. "It's hard for me to go back...to remember. Because there is so much...so much pain and death. And I'm the one that caused it."

"I don't care about your past," Buffy whispered. "It's part of you, I know that. But it doesn't matter to me. I'll love you no matter what you did before you got your soul." Angel searched her face for a moment, then began to speak again.

"Spike is ruthless, and determined. He won't give up until he gets what he wants. He's strong, and he's a skilled fighter. His only weakness is Drusilla. He loves her, more than anything, more than his own life." *The way I love you,* Angel added silently, as he stared at the hand Buffy held in her own.

"This could be useful," Giles said thoughtfully. He hadn't wanted to interrupt the two of them. But he and Xander and Willow couldn't just stand around and watch them like voyeurs.

Angel barely glanced over at the Watcher when he spoke; his attention was still riveted on Buffy.

"Is there anything else?" she asked him.

"He's very smart. But he's sometimes overconfident." Angel paused thoughtfully. "He's new here so he'll probably have a smaller number of followers. That could make him reckless."

"Well that's more than we had on him before," Buffy said, looking over at the others. "It's a good start, right Giles?"

"Oh yes, quite good," the librarian answered.

Angel pulled Buffy back to him. A part of him wanted to let it go at that, to stop thinking about the past and go on with his life. But there was one more thing he had to say.

"I'm Spike's sire," he blurted out.

"What?" Buffy asked, surprised. Giles and Willow exchanged a glance, swallowing their own questions. It wouldn't help to pounce on Angel with a barrage of questions. He looked more than a little skittish already.

"What's a sire?" Xander asked, puzzled. "A king?"

"I made him," Angel explained with a pained look on his face. "I made him a vampire." Realization visibly came over Xander as he made the connections in his mind. Buffy stared at her boyfriend, trying to see him making another vampire. She remembered how she had been unable to trust him when she had believed he would consider making her a vampire. But this was different. It was one thing to doubt, or suspect. It was another to know. She shuddered a little, but wasn't completely successful in imagining the scenario. That was a different Angel from the one she knew...that's all there was to it.

She realized with a start that he was studying her, judging her reaction. She gave him a reassuring smile, drawing him into a hug.

"Is Drusilla here too?" he asked quietly.

"We don't know for sure," Giles offered. "But we're assuming she is."

"She's clairvoyant," Angel revealed. "She sees things...the future. She sees into people's souls."

"Hey," Xander said, a thought suddenly striking him. "Who made Drusilla? Who's her sire?" He looked at Angel expectantly, and was surprised to see the vampire wince. "You didn't..."

"I'm her sire as well," Angel confirmed. "I destroyed her," he said bluntly. He continued to speak, keeping his voice devoid of any emotion. "She was an innocent. I made her a vampire. But first I made her insane; I killed everyone she ever loved." Buffy shuddered again, and Angel looked at her doubtfully, fear in his eyes.

"So does that mean she and Spike are like brother and sister?" Xander persisted. "That's a little too Jerry Springer-ish for me."

"No," Angel denied. "It's not the same at all."

"Whatever you say, Dead Boy," Xander's jibe was rewarded by a hard elbow in the stomach from Willow.

While Angel was distracted by Xander's taunts, Buffy tried to wrap her mind around the new information. She had known that Angel had a dark past, that he had killed probably hundreds of people. But to have some of his deeds come back to haunt him in the form of Spike and Drusilla. She stared thoughtfully at the ground, wondering what to say, what to do. *It must be so hard for him,* she thought sadly. *How can he move on when his crimes walk back into his life? I have to say the right thing...something to let him know that none of it matters to me...that I'll be here to help him through it.*

Angel watched her closely; her head was bowed, and she chewed her lip thoughtfully, nervously. Her eyes searched the ground for some sort of solace. *She doesn't want to look at me,* Angel thought, his heart filling with shame and self-loathing. *She doesn't want to see me because I'm nothing but a monster.* He removed his hand from her grasp, and before Buffy realized what had happened he was gone.

Angel hurried away from the graveyard. He would talk to her later, after she had some time to think about it for a while. *I should have known that something like this would happen,* he thought, angry at himself. *I should have prepared her. I made it easy for her to pretend that I'm a person. I didn't show her enough of the demon. I should have known that eventually she would see me for what I really am.* Mentally he continued to berate himself. He would gather the strength to face what he was sure would be disgust in her eyes the next time she looked at him. She couldn't pretend that he was normal. And he couldn't pretend that he was good enough for her.

He headed for his apartment. It had a sewer access. He was almost certain that Spike would be hiding out in the sewers, waiting to make his move; and he needed to talk to the other vampire. Maybe there was some way he could take care of the problem and help Buffy out.

Back in the graveyard, Buffy spun in a circle, her eyes searching for Angel. She wasn't certain why he had disappeared that way. But she had a feeling he had misinterpreted her silence as disgust. She sighed. This was ridiculous. He hadn't even given her time to explain.

"I need to return to the library and continue my research," Giles said finally. "We're still far from forming a concrete plan of action." He looked at the three teenagers. Buffy appeared distracted, and the other two simply looked uncomfortably out of place as if they had witnessed am intensely private moment. *I suppose they did,* he realized. *We all did...I should have had her speak to him alone. But if I had she might never have broached the subject.* Cutting off his internal monologue, Giles spoke. "I can drive you home," he offered.

"A ride in the Giles-mobile, hard to pass up," Xander said sarcastically. "But I think I can walk home faster." Giles glared at the boy for a moment before Willow piped up.

"We'll just walk home, Giles," she said calmly. "Buffy said there aren't any vamps out tonight so it should be safe."

"Hey," Buffy interrupted, entering the negotiations. "I'll walk you guys home. I just want to make one more pass through the graveyard, and then you'll have a Slayer at your service."

"Sounds like a plan," Willow agreed. She looked to Xander for confirmation, and he gave her a nod.

"That settles it then," Giles said, hurrying to his car. *I LIKE my car,* he thought, a little hurt by the constant ridicule of his automobile. With a cough and a sputter, the engine started; and the librarian roared out of the parking lot at the heady speed of 15 miles per hour.

Buffy turned to her friends once Giles was gone.

"Let's make this quick if we can...okay guys?" she suggested.

"You have an elsewhere to be?" Xander asked.

"I'm just worried about Angel," she admitted. "I want to go over to his apartment before I head home."

"He did rush out of here like a bat out of hell," Willow agreed.

"A bat!" Xander exclaimed, laughing. "He's a vampire...bat. Get it?" The two girls exchanged a glance and a sigh. "Oh come on," Xander told them. "The dead guy can take care of himself."

"Could you stop with the dead guy stuff?" Buffy asked.

"But it's fun," Xander protested.

"It's stupid," Buffy corrected.

"Agreed," Xander said with a grin. "But it's still fun." Buffy rolled her eyes, turning away from Xander. Her eyes scanned the graveyard for signs of life.

"It doesn't look like there's anything out there," Xander said, also staring into the dark.

"Probably not," Buffy agreed. "But I'm going to do a quick sweep."

"Okay," Willow said, taking her cross out of her pocket. "Let's go." As she spoke, a snarling figure jumped out of the tree above her. It landed on her, sending them both tumbling to the ground. As she struggled to get the creature off her back, two vampires burst from the bushes to attack Xander and Buffy.

Faster than sight, Buffy's stake was in her hand. She discouraged her attacker with a casual punch to the jaw that sent his head snapping back. He staggered, and she took the opportunity to send Xander's attacker flying with a hard kick to his chest. Willow's scream caught her attention, and she rushed to the girl's side, grabbing the snarling vampire from Willow's back and tossing it a few feet away. Willow crawled to the relative safety of the bushes as Buffy was grabbed from behind.

The Slayer seized the hair of the vampire that held her and pulled him over her shoulder. He landed on the floor with a thump, and she quickly plunged her stake through his heart. As the dust settled, Buffy turned her attention to the other vampires. Xander was on the ground, struggling against the vampire that straddled his chest. With a yell, Buffy pulled the vampire off her friend. She stared for a moment in horror at the nasty gash that trailed blood from the side of Xander's neck to his chest. Then her attention was distracted from her friend by the growl beside her.

She gasped as a fist hit her in the stomach but ignored the pain to turn on her assailant. Her fists flew out, smashing the vampire's nose. He reeled back under her attack, and Buffy quickly used his moment of uncertainty to sneak past his guard and jam her stake through his chest.

The threat taken care of, she ran back to Xander, falling to her knees next to his prone form.

"Oh God, Xander," she whispered. "Please don't be dead." A sigh of relief escaped her lips as his eyes flew open.

"I'm okay," he said quickly.

"But your neck..." she began.

"Hurts like hell," he finished. "But will be fine. It looks worse than it is." Buffy looked at him doubtfully but helped him sit up when he extended his hand.

"There's a lot of blood, Xander," she said softly. Her nostrils flared as the scent registered. Warm, rich, earthy. Now that the danger was over, her body began to respond to the scent, the nearness of it. It surrounded her, pressing in on her. A moan escaped her lips as she struggled to stay where she was or to move back. But she couldn't turn away; she was rooted to the spot by the tug of her need.

Despite herself, she saw her hand stretch out, reaching toward the blood that streaked Xander's neck. Her fingertips danced along his skin lightly, tentatively. Xander's eyes widened as he tried to understand what was going on. Was she looking at the severity of the wound or...something else? His question was answered as her hand tightened around the back of his head. She pulled herself closer to him, her mouth hovering over the skin of his neck.

Willow stood up as the vampire that had threatened her ran. Her assault of him with the cross, and his realization that his companions were dead had been enough to send him scurrying off into the darkness. She brushed herself off, placing the cross back in her pocket. Then she searched the graveyard with her eyes for her friends.

Xander gasped as Buffy's breath teased his neck and choked when her tongue slipped out of her mouth to trail up his throat. He shuddered, closing his eyes as she ran her tongue eagerly over his neck. Her eyes closed too as she savored the slightly salty, metallic taste. She knew she should stop; she knew it was wrong, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was the feel of the blood as it passed over her tongue and down her throat.

Xander felt the hardness of her teeth as they pressed against his skin, and the wet, soft caress of her tongue lapping at the blood. He told himself that he should pull away, but he couldn't seem to find the energy. *Just a few seconds more,* he thought, savoring the feel of her mouth on his flesh. She sucked lightly at the wound, then harder, a growl building in the back of her throat.

A scream burst through Buffy's submersion in the bloodlust. She looked up, confused, to see Willow watching the two of them, her eyes opened wide in horror. Buffy shook her head, trying to clear it of the haze that cloaked her thoughts. She watched blearily as Willow's hands clenched and unclenched nervously. Then the redhead spun on her heel and ran. Part of Buffy screamed that she should go after Willow, explain what had happened. The other half of her still longed after the blood that oozed slightly from Xander's wound.

Xander watched Willow run, horror and confusion filling his mind. What did she think had happened? What HAD happened? He rose to his feet, disengaging himself from Buffy's grasp, and ran after her. *Find her and explain.* The thought repeated itself over and over to the rhythm of his heartbeat. *How do I explain when I don't really understand it myself?* he wondered. Then he dismissed the thought, trying to clear the feeling of Buffy's tongue sweeping over his skin from his memory. He shuddered involuntarily, still running. Willow was gone. He couldn't see her anymore. He couldn't be sure where she had gone. But he was betting she had run straight home. Hopefully he would be able to get to her before she reached her house. He continued to run, fear pounding in his veins, fear that she wouldn't listen to his explanation, fear that he had lost her forever.

Back in the graveyard, Buffy crouched alone. She dropped to all fours, willing the world to stop spinning. Her hands clutched desperately at the earth and grass below her. The dirt was real. Her grip tightened as if to assure herself of that fact. Before her eyes the ground lurched and spun, refusing to obey her as she silently ordered it to stay in one place. Unsteadily she tried to crawl forward. She knew she needed to get up, to find her friends, to do something other than sit in the graveyard.

She stopped attempting to crawl as her sight began to fade, grey encroaching on her field of vision until she could no longer see the ground between her hands. She could see nothing but grey, although the feel of the grass between her desperate fingers told her she was still alive, still conscious. That too faded until she could barely feel her body. It seemed separate, as if it were no part of her.

The grey haze that filled her mind, and her eyes, began to dissipate. She squinted, trying to see, expecting to see her own hands and the grass and dirt they rested on. Instead she saw a boy, speaking. He pointed, and pain lanced through her brain and her heart simultaneously. Distantly she felt her arms collapse under her. She tried to hear what he was saying, but it was gibberish, a dull chatter in the back of her mind. She could see a little clearer now. The boy was surrounded by a small circle of vampires. The boy was...Colin. Her sight faded again as grey, cloudy grey, filled her eyes. Cloudy grey streaked with red. The dark grey haze lightened slowly, until she was able to see again. She sighed with relief when her eyes registered the grass that tickled her nose, the dirt grainy against her face.

The world wasn't spinning anymore, she realized. But somehow she wasn't able to be glad. What she had seen worried her. Was it a hallucination or a vision? What had just happened to her? She wasn't sure she wanted to find out.