disclaimer in part 1

Text enclosed in * * represents thoughts.

High Noon
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part 4: Blood Rage

Buffy pulled herself unsteadily to her feet, trying to regain some of her composure. She staggered to a convenient gravestone and leaned against it, the cool marble against her cheek serving as a reminder that she was still alive. Gradually the nausea and the dizziness faded. As soon as she felt she could walk again, she started toward Angel's. *I really screwed up,* she realized once her brain began to function again. *Willow's mad at me, Xander's mad at me, and Angel's...well I don't know what he is.* She couldn't blame her friends for being angry. She was angry with herself, with her lack of control.

*I'll just apologize like crazy tomorrow,* she thought with a sigh. *And hope I didn't hurt Xander and Willow's relationship permanently.* She frowned worriedly, then her lip curled in disdain. *But after all, they're just...humans.* She caught herself as she thought it. *What the hell am I thinking?* she wondered, angry with herself. *I'm human...human is a good thing.*

She rubbed her eyes tiredly, wishing that she could just snap her fingers and make the last few days disappear. *Just get to Angel's,* she told herself as she continued her slow progress through the streets. *He always makes me feel better.*

* * * * * * *
When Xander finally reached Willow's house, his chest was heaving with exertion. He didn't stop running until he reached the glass door that led to her room. Beside her door, he doubled over, trying to regain the ability to breathe normally. His hands rested on his knees, but his head quickly turned to the right and the left, searching the street for signs of Willow. When he didn't see her, he returned his concentration to his breathing.

Slowly his panting receded, and he straightened up. He turned around to peer into Willow's room and realized that he was an idiot. She had somehow beaten him home, and was lying face-down on her bed. She still wore her clothes, so Xander assumed that she hadn't fallen asleep yet.

Taking a moment to strengthen his resolve, Xander knocked cautiously on the door. The face that Willow turned to him was streaked with tears, and he felt a stab of pain as guilt skewered him. She took a long look at him, then turned deliberately away, obviously intending to ignore him. But Xander couldn't accept that. He continued to knock on the glass pane until, with a sigh, she rolled off the bed and approached the door. She opened the door a tiny bit, refusing to meet Xander's eyes.

"I don't want to talk to you right now," she muttered. "Please go away." She moved to close the door again, but Xander shoved his foot into the crack.

"I can't," he said desperately. "I have to talk to you right now." She looked up at him then, and he felt like crying. The look in her eyes was something he had never seen in Willow's eyes before. The face that was usually filled with laughter and wide-eyed wonder, was now filled the pain of betrayal and mistrust...of him. He had never thought he would see anything other than trust in her eyes when she looked at him. He was her best friend for God's sake.

"I'd rather not do this tonight," Willow said calmly, her voice rough from the tears she had shed.

"But it's not what you think," Xander protested. "I got bit, Buffy was looking at the wound, and then the next thing I know I'm a lollipop."

"Don't joke," Willow said solemnly. "And don't try to lay this on Buffy."

"But I'm not the one that started it," Xander protested, his voice growing louder despite himself. "It must be that vampire thing. She couldn't help herself when she saw the blood." Willow's hand shot out, and she grabbed a handful of Xander's shirt. Using the shirt as leverage she pulled him out of her yard and into the street.

"If we're going to fight tonight," she said calmly, "we might as well try not to wake up my parents."

"Why do we have to fight?" Xander asked. "It was just a stupid thing. It meant nothing to either of us. It was something that just...happened. And now it's over." The words burbled out of Xander's throat, and he suddenly had the feeling that he had lost all control of his mouth. "Buffy got hungry, she saw the blood, she went for it. Why do we have to fight?"

"It's not about what Buffy did," Willow spat coldly. "It's about what you did and didn't do."

"What are you talking about?" Xander asked cautiously.

"So, Buffy starts licking your neck. That's kind of odd isn't it?" Willow continued in a deceptively calm voice. "So why didn't you stop her, Xander?" She looked at him challengingly, her cheeks flushed with repressed anger.

"It happened so fast," Xander tried to explain as an embarrassed blush crept into his cheeks at the memory. "I barely knew what was happening..."

"Gimme a break, Xander," Willow interrupted. "I've known you for practically your whole life, and you think I can't tell when you're lying?" She took a step closer to the taller boy and hissed up at him. "You LIKED it, Xander. That's why you didn't stop her. You've probably been dreaming she would do that since you first saw her."

"That's not true," Xander protested.

"Isn't it?" Willow challenged.

"Yeah, my fantasies don't involve licking. At least not the neck," Xander said, giving his best friend a goofy grin. She didn't even show the hint of a smile.

"I told you not to joke," she whispered.

"I'm sorry. I just..."

"Shut up, Xander," Willow ordered forcefully. He shut up. "Just listen," she continued. He nodded without speaking, his eyes wide. "I know you've had feelings for Buffy since the moment she first walked up the steps to Sunnydale High School. That's never been a secret." Xander opened his mouth, but she silenced him with a look. "I can understand that. She's beautiful, and strong, and exciting. And if you have feelings for her that's fine. But I'll tell you what's NOT fine." Willow placed her hands on Xander's chest, staring up at him, making sure he caught every word. "It is NOT fine for you to pretend that you care for me in that way when you really care for her. It is NOT okay for you to pretend you love me, when you really love her. I am NOT your whore, Xander Harris, and I never will be!" As she spoke, her voice had risen louder and louder. The last words she said were punctuated by the strong push she gave him.

Xander staggered back as her hands shoved him, stunned more by her words than by the push. She whirled angrily and headed back towards her house.  Xander grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back.

"How can you think that?" he asked. "How can you think I'd use you that way?"

"Because it's true," Willow told him tiredly. "I am sick and tired of it, Xander. You don't even try to hide it. You're always talking about her; you're always staring at her."

"She's my friend, Will," Xander said softly. "I care about her, yeah. But there's never gonna be anything between us. She made that perfectly clear."

"But if she came up to you tomorrow and said she'd changed her mind....would you go with her?" Willow asked quietly.

"I don't know," Xander replied honestly. "But it's not going to happen!"

"Don't you get it?!" she asked, her voice rising slightly again. "It doesn't matter if it won't ever happen! The fact that you would consider it is what's important. You still have feelings for her, and I am not going to be your second best. I refuse to be with someone who wants another girl. When I kiss you, I don't want you wondering what it would feel like to have her lips on yours. And I'm not about to waste my time on a relationship that's fake."

"But I love you," Xander protested.

"You know nothing about love," the redhead answered, pulling her hand out of his grasp. "I love you. But that doesn't mean I'm going to hang on your arm as you drool over her. You're my best friend, Xander...but I don't know if I've met a more selfish person. You remember to care about me when you have the time, or you've got nothing else to do. That's not good enough, and I'm not settling for it anymore." She blinked angry tears from her eyes impatiently. "I don't know if I'll ever stop loving you, but I refuse to deal with your bullshit anymore." He watched her silently as she turned away again and hurried back to her house.

Her words slashed at his heart as they echoed in his mind over and over again. *Am I really that selfish?* he wondered. His mind dredged up all the times he'd deserted Will to chase Buffy. All the times he'd put her second. The years and years of obliviousness, when he had not noticed, or refused to notice that she loved him. He winced as he thought of all the crushes he'd talked to her about. He couldn't even imagine how much that must have hurt her, to hear him talk about other girls. But she'd never said anything. She's just listened to him, and helped him, and supported him. She'd always been there for him, and he'd taken her for granted.

*Stupid,* Xander berated himself. *You are so stupid, Harris. You're so lucky to even know a girl like that, and you blew it. You knew you shouldn't try to go out with Willow! You knew it would probably screw up your friendship! Damn it! You can't lose that friendship.* But even as he beat himself mentally, he couldn't shake the sick feeling that if Buffy ever did anything like that again, he wouldn't be able to stop her. *I'm weak, and pathetic, and mentally disturbed,* he admitted to himself, dragging his eyes away from Willow's windows.

"So now what?" he wondered out loud. "How do I get her back?"

* * * * *

Buffy approached Angel's door slowly. When she reached it she simply leaned against it for a few moments, gathering her strength. After a second she knocked wearily, already envisioning the welcome sight of Angel opening the door. There was no answer to her knock. She tried again, banging loudly with the heel of her hand. No answer. She sighed deeply, and muttered to herself.

"Great, this is just great. Make this horribly crappy day even worse. I wouldn't have thought it was possible." She hesitated in front of the door. It was decision time. She could go home or wait for Angel to come back. *He'll have to be back by sunrise,* she thought. *But do I want to wait that long? And where the hell is he anyway?!*

Making a snap decision, she pushed down with all her strength on the door handle. With an audible crack, the lock broke; and she pushed the door open. *I'll pay him back for the cost of fixing the lock,* she thought to herself a little guiltily. She closed the door quietly behind her and ventured farther into the apartment.

She had never been here when he was away. Even though he was gone, the room still held his essence. It was in the stacks of books Buffy knew she would probably never understand, in the leather jacket that was draped across the back of a chair, and in the oriental touches like the delicate rice paper screen and the beautiful ivory sculpture she knew he cherished.

She stood for a moment in his domain, feeling a little lost. Then she took a few more steps and found herself at the bed. Letting her weariness speak, she sat gingerly on the edge of the bed and slipped off her shoes. Her shoes removed, she swung her legs up and snuggled under the covers.

His essence was there in the bed, even more so than the rest of the apartment. His scent lingered on the smooth sheets, and Buffy smiled a little, savoring the familiar smell of him. There was a little bit of her here too, which made her feel as if she were a part of him somehow. *It's good to be part of someone,* she thought to herself. *It's a bit of sanity...a bit of happiness.* She closed her eyes, and she could almost feel him next to her. It felt like home, like safety. The Slayer put her arm around the pillow, pretending it was him, and fell asleep.

* * * * *
Angel hurried through the sewer tunnels, his eyes darting from left to right as he tried to get his bearings. *Spike is not one to sit around in the sludge,* Angel thought, looking down at his own sewage covered boots in disgust. *He'd go to the abandoned sections, the _dry_ sections. Which means there's really only one part of the sewer system that would do.* That narrowed it down. He had feeling he knew exactly where Spike would be. Or at least a general idea.

With a grimace, Angel continued down the tunnel, picked his turn-off and headed in what he hoped was the right direction.

After walking for a few minutes in silence, Angel noticed that the various plops and drips from the ceiling had stopped. The passage he walked along was gradually growing dryer. Now sure he was heading in the right direction, Angel's thoughts turned elsewhere.

*What am I doing?* he wondered silently. *This is not a good idea. Spike won't want to see me...and he definitely won't want to listen to me. Especially not if he knows I've been romantically involved with the Slayer. This is definitely not a good idea.* Angel shook his head absently. He had no real plan. He had just rushed down here half-cocked, hoping to help Buffy by getting rid of his former companions, his former friends.

*Former being the operative word,* he thought ruefully. *And I haven't seen them for almost a century. So what do I say...long time, no see?* He closed his eyes for a moment tiredly, but continued to walk. *Buffy...If this can help Buffy.* He rubbed his eyes with his fingers, trying to stop himself from thinking about her, about the fact that he might be losing her. His thoughts scattered away from him as he turned down a passage and realized that he was about to run into what he assumed was a sentry.

The vampire was tall, well muscled, but he was practically screaming with inexperience. He stood uncomfortably in the middle of the tunnel, his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes occasionally darted back and forth down the tunnel. He was trying very hard to do his job. *Too hard,* Angel thought dismissively. He emerged from the shadows and was unsurprised when the sentry challenged him.

"Who are you?" the unfortunate vampire asked.

"You mean you don't recognize me?" Angel asked flippantly. He continued to advance slowly on the vamp, who looked at him uncertainly.

"Just stop right there," the vampire ordered, holding out his hand.

"Or what?" Angel asked. "Your name was?"

"Henry," the vampire answered, thrown off balance by the out of place question.

"Or what, Henry?" Angel asked again, still advancing.

"Or I'll be forced to kill you," Henry said with all the bravado he could muster. His voice barely shook. Angel was proud of him.

"Won't that be a shame," Angel answered sadly, shaking his head. His feet continued their steady pace. Henry the sentry hesitated a moment, then he leapt forward, attacking with all his strength. Angel calmly turned his body to the side and stopped Henry's flight through the air with a kick of his leg. The vampire crashed to the ground, but he wasn't done yet. He pulled himself to his feet and attempted to throw a punch at Angel's head. Unfortunately for him, he was too slow. Angel stopped the punch with his hands, grabbed Henry's fist and twisted his arm up behind his back.

Angel's thoughts flew to the stake he had hidden in the inner pocket of his jacket, but he dismissed the notion. He was coming here to impose on Spike. Killing one of Spike's men would probably not be a good way to obtain Spike's good will. Not to mention the fact that it would be rude.

Henry growled angrily at the pain and attempted to pull out of the more skilled vampire's grasp. His attempt failed, and Angel pulled the arm he held up until he heard the shoulder dislocate. The dull pop was followed by a scream. Angel released his hold on the sentry, and Henry crumpled to the floor whimpering.

"Nothing personal, Henry," Angel said, trying to hide the small smile that threatened to lift the corners of his mouth. He stepped over the sentry and continued walking. The tunnel widened, and he found himself in the midst of a group of about twenty vampires. Growls rose in many throats as he walked through the group, but no one moved to stop him. Past the group of miscellaneous vamps, he saw the object of his search. Spike.

The platinum-haired vampire stood alone, facing his sire. A cocky grin lifted his lips, and his hands clapped out a slow rhythm of sarcastic applause.

"You always did know how to make an entrance," he told Angel flippantly. Angel watched the shorter vampire warily. His appearance had changed. Angel took is his cropped hair, made white-blonde through the wonders of peroxide, his black leather trenchcoat, his nail polish. Under the modern trappings Angel could still see the Spike he had known. William the Bloody. His protégé and for many years his closest companion. His appearance might have changed, but Angel could see that his personality had not.

Angel had continued advancing steadily closer to Spike as he took in the sight of the other vampire. Spike refused to take a single step backwards, instead watching his sire's approach with an amused detachment. Angel stopped walking once he was about a foot from Spike.

"It's been a while," he said dryly.

"A lifetime," Spike confirmed. "Or more."

"So why are you here, why now?" Angel asked, trying to keep the belligerence out of his voice.

"What...not happy to see me?" Spike asked with a sad shake of his head. "Dru'll be so disappointed. She's been looking forward to your visit."

"Cut the small talk, Spike," Angel said curtly. "Just answer the question."

"We heard the Hellmouth was lacking in the decent leader department. And I figured I'd be as good a leader as any...better than most. Better than that anointed brat, that's certain. Whoever anointed him deserves to be staked as painfully as possible."

"He's got more followers than you do," Angel observed.

"He's got a pack of morons," Spike countered.

"So do you," Angel responded with a meaningful look towards the tunnel where he was sure Henry still lay.

"True enough," Spike confirmed. "But now I've got a trump card." His eyes locked with Angel's as he pronounced the name. "Angelus." He watched Angel's reaction, judging that reaction shrewdly. What he saw didn't seem to please him, but all he said was, "Dru's waiting." He turned swiftly and entered the little room off the side of the tunnel, not bothering to look back and see if Angel would follow.

Angel watched Spike push aside the curtain that covered the entrance to the modified cavern. The tall, dark haired vampire tried to steady himself, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. He didn't want to see Dru. He felt almost overwhelming guilt just thinking about her. But there was no other way. He pushed past the curtain, and entered Drusilla's domain.

Drusilla looked up from the satin covered mattresses where she lay languidly. Spike had joined her on the bed, and he was propped up on one arm, his mouth hovering near the delicate skin of her neck as his fingers traced lightly over her bare arm.

"Angel," she whispered. "I knew you'd come." She stretched a long, pale arm toward him. "It was all dark, and you came to bring the light." He went docilely to her, unable to resist, and allowed her to grasp his hand. She clutched him eagerly, desperately, her fingernails like claws digging into his skin. As she stared up into his eyes, she drew back suddenly as though she had been burned. His first instinct was to comfort her, and his hand stretched toward her tentatively.

Whimpering she winced away from him, huddling against Spike's comforting form.

"What is it, baby?" her lover asked, turning angry eyes on his sire, who had quickly withdrawn the offered hand when he realized how distasteful it was to her. "What did he do?"

"Poor Angel," she muttered, her eyes not really seeing Spike's face as he stared at her worriedly. "Poor, poor Angelus. Trapped." She blinked, focusing on the face of her lover as he gently stroked her hair. "He can't help us, Spike. He's trapped...screaming on the inside. My Angel is trapped...and this one stinks of the Slayer." Spike turned his eyes from Drusilla to Angel, standing awkwardly beside the bed.

"I heard you had a thing with the Slayer," his voice was angry and accusing as he continued, "I heard you were killing vampires, drinking cold blood..." Spike trailed off, shaking his head. "I didn't want to believe it. Not Angelus, not my bloody sire!" His jaw clenched and unclenched deliberately as his anger grew. "I respected you, man! And now look what you've become. It's pathetic!"

"Look, Spike," Angel tried to interrupt, holding his hands out in a gesture of peace. Spike disentangled himself from Drusilla and circled the bed, coming face to face with the vampire he had hoped could help him.

"Why the hell did you come down here?" he spat. "You aren't going to help us...maybe we should ask that Slayer girl-friend of yours instead."

"Leave her out of it," Angel ordered, his own anger beginning to grow. "I came down here to tell you to leave Sunnydale."

"Oh, and you're going to make me?" Spike challenged. "You know you haven't got the balls...not anymore." Angel's hand shot out, grabbing a handful of Spike's black t-shirt in his hand. He twisted the shirt in his fist, pulling the shorter vampire closer to him.

"You leave here, Spike," he demanded threateningly. "Take Dru and get out...or it will end badly. For all of us." With an angry motion, Spike's fist flew out and hit Angel in the face, connecting solidly with his chin. Angel staggered a little under the force of the blow, letting go of Spike's shirt in the process. A growl rose from his throat as anger overtook him. His glare held the promise of murder, his muscles tensed; but he shook his head, trying to keep his vampire face from emerging. *I can't let myself get drawn into a fight,* he thought, *...not now...not here.*

"Don't touch me," Spike hissed. "You stink of humanity. You stink of her. Go back to her." He paused a moment, anger choking off his words. "She kills us...she hunts us for God's sake. And you're fucking her! How could you?"

"Don't you EVER talk about her like that," Angel commanded, stepping closer to Spike, his eyes furious. "I just thought I'd warn you that you're getting into more than you can handle. But you never were bright enough to take good advice." Spike's fist clenched, but something in Angel's eyes made him stop the punch he longed to send into Angel's face. Somehow he knew that if one of them threw that first punch, things would get out of control; and one of them wouldn't leave the fight alive. His fist clenched again.

"Get out," he ordered through clenched teeth. "Get the hell out before I change my mind." Deciding he didn't want to fight Spike tonight, Angel backed out of the room. Quickly turning, he hurried back the way he had come.

Drusilla watched as he left, her eyes still aglow from the excitement. She knelt on the bed, rocking slightly. Exhilaration thrilled through her, singing in her veins. "Violence," she muttered happily. She turned fever-bright eyes on Spike, holding her arms out to him.

He buried his anger, moving to join her on the bed. Her lips crushed against his, her teeth grazing his lips, breaking the skin. They shared the blood that filled both their mouths, and thoughts of Angel faded from Spike's consciousness. He was consumed by her, his mind and body entwined in her.

* * * * *
Angel reached his apartment, a tired ache permeating his bones. He wanted to sleep, just sleep until it was all over. He reached for the keyhole and realized that the door was already open.

Alarm bells rang in his head. His senses alert to the slightest clue, he cautiously pushed open the door a fraction. His eyes darted frantically around the apartment. He didn't see anything. With a gentle push, he sent the door easing farther open. He moved into the apartment, ready to attack if necessary. His nerves were stretched taut, and he knew they were close to snapping.

His eyes traveled the apartment again nervously. When they reached his bed, he relaxed. *Too many late night visits from the enemy,* he thought. *It's made me jumpy.* Buffy lay under the covers, asleep. Her cheeks were flushed, and her face peacefully still. *She looks younger when she's asleep,* he realized. When she was awake, she was the Slayer. She had responsibilities and the constant pressure of being the one person who could save the world from destruction. It gave her some sort of stature. Made her look taller, older. Asleep she looked like a normal sixteen year old girl.

Angel approached the bed slowly, wondering why she was here, why she was in his bed. She had been disgusted by him when she had learned about his past deeds; he was sure of it. How could she not be? *I'm a monster, and it was only a matter of time before she realized it,* he thought bitterly. *But then why is she here...in my bed?* he asked himself.

Angel knelt beside the bed and traced his finger along her cheek gently. She stirred a little, snuggling deeper under the blanket. The vampire drew back, not wanting to wake her. *She probably came to tell me she can't be with me anymore,* he decided. *And she got tired waiting for me, so she went to sleep. That makes sense.* Still a part of him held on to the tiny shred of hope that maybe she had forgiven him for who he was...maybe she still loved him. He dismissed the idea, and turned to look around the apartment. *I can't sleep in the bed with her...not when she probably never wants to see me again except to tell me she's leaving me.*

He glanced at the hard floor, his mind traveling to the first time he had slept beside her bed. He slipped off his shoes, grabbed a couple blankets from the closet, and settled himself on the floor. *At least I'm close to her,* he thought. *Maybe for the last time.* He closed his eyes, trying not to think about how empty his life would be without her. Luckily, his exhaustion saved him from his thoughts. A few seconds after his head touched the wadded up blanket he was using for a pillow, he forgot about Spike, Dru, Buffy. Everything was gone but the peace of dreamless slumber.