Disclaimer in part 1

Text enclosed in * * represents thoughts.

High Noon
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part 5: Blood Stream

Angel woke slowly, trying to clear his head as he realized he couldn't move. His eyes flew open in confusion, and he looked around, half-expecting to find himself tied up. Instead he found that the weight of Buffy's head against his chest was what kept him from moving. He stared for a moment at her head, wondering if it was a dream. *No,* he finally decided. *It's real. She must have awoken, and when she saw me down here she decided to join me.* His heart sang with joy.

*She's not leaving me,* he thought, almost giddy with the realization. *She still loves me...even after everything I told her about my past. She still loves me.* He blinked twice, hardly able to believe what could be the only explanation for her actions. He felt the urge to scream in an attempt to express some of the emotion that was overwhelming him. He had thought he was going to lose her, finding that he wouldn't filled him with amazement and gratitude. It was like being locked in a cage watching the sun approach inch by inch, spending each excrutiating moment with the knowledge that death would claim him, only to find that the cage was unlocked and death would be cheated this time. It was a feeling of utter relief, and a greater appreciation of life, emotion so strong that he felt he would burst if he did not express it somehow.

Screaming would wake her though, and he couldn't bear to do that. He settled for lightly stroking his fingers through her hair, savoring the softness of the strands. He felt his heart catch as he looked at her. "You are so beautiful," he whispered quietly. He was suddenly amazed by the entire world, by her nearness, by the soft sigh of her breath. He could scarcely believe she was real. She was too perfect to be real, yet she had to be for he held her in his arms.

He stared at her silently, drinking her in. He had been sure he was going to lose her. The idea still lingered in his mind, adding an urgency to his study of her. He felt the need to memorize her, to imprint her on his mind so that he would always carry her image with him. No matter what happened, he would remember her this way: peaceful, soft, and warm in his arms.

Buffy stirred slightly, putting her arm around his torso and holding him close to her. He wished that they could stay like that forever, that he could just freeze time and spend eternity in her embrace. She sighed softly, and Angel tightened his grip on her a little as if his grip on her body would drive the rest of the world away. She shifted again, and he turned his gaze on her, watching as she slowly blinked herself awake.

She looked around for a moment in silence, trying to get her bearings. When her searching eyes met his, she smiled.

"Hey," she whispered.

"Hey yourself," he said back.

"This is nice," she said, hugging him tightly. "Floor's a little hard though."

"I don't know...I kind of like it," he grinned. "The only thing that could be better is a bed of nails." Buffy rolled her eyes at him, clearing the sleep from her brain.

"What happened last night?" she asked seriously.

"Before or after you got drunk and did the dance of the seven veils?" Angel asked, grinning.

"Don't avoid the question," Buffy commanded, trying to keep a straight face.

"I just..." Angel began. "I couldn't stay there. I thought that you were disgusted by me...by the things I've done in the past."

"Why?" Buffy asked. "I've told you I don't have any problem with your past." *Besides, I like the way you used to be before you got your soul back,* she finished silently. *Before you became a traitor to your people....wait a second...* She blinked in surprise at her own thoughts. *Angel was evil back then...I don't like the old him better.* She realized that Angel was speaking and tried to focus her attention on his words, rather than on her own odd thoughts.

"I know," he was saying. "But there's a difference between vaguely knowing that I've done some bad things, and having to face those bad things in person. I just thought maybe you wouldn't want me anymore."

"You have a self esteem problem," Buffy informed him. "I'm not some little twit who's going to ditch you at the first sign of trouble." She moved up to kiss him lightly on the lips. "Next time just ask me what I think...you might be surprised."

"I'm sorry I ran out on you like that. I shouldn't have been so quick to assume I knew what you were thinking." When he finished speaking, he pressed his lips to hers, sealing his apology with a kiss.

"Good for us," Buffy said with a smile. "We worked it out. Isn't it fun making a relationship work?"

"It's complicated," Angel answered with a small smile.

"So where did you go last night?" Buffy asked. "I fell asleep waiting."

"I was thinking," Angel said vaguely.

"Can we please not do the cryptic routine?" Buffy asked with a smile. "We're growing as people and reaching new stages in our relationship and all that stuff...so no crypticness allowed." Angel looked at her silently for a moment, then relented.

"I went to see Spike," he admitted.

"That power hungry asshole with a bad peroxide job," Buffy spat angrily as Angel mentioned the vampire.

"Um...yeah," Angel confirmed hesitantly. "He usually just goes by Spike." He paused thoughtfully. "How did you know about his hair?" he asked. "I thought you hadn't seen him yet."

"I haven't," Buffy answered, confused. "I don't know how...it just popped into my head."

"Oh," the vampire said, his brow wrinkling in thought. He dismissed his attempt to solve that puzzle and returned to his point. "Anyway I went to tell him to get out of town..."

"And?" Buffy asked eagerly.

"And he refused. He really wasn't glad to see me."

"Can't say I blame him," the Slayer muttered.

"What did you say?" Angel asked.

"Oh...nothing," she answered. "Well, if he won't go I guess I'll just have to kill him."

"Are you sure, Buffy?" Angel asked worriedly. "He's dangerous."

"He's a vampire," she answered a little irritably. "Vampire equals dangerous...I know the drill. I can handle it."

"He's killed two slayers, Buffy," her boyfriend insisted. "He's not an ordinary vampire."

"What, I'm supposed to be impressed by that?" Buffy sneered. "He's a poser, and I'm going to kill him. I killed the Master remember? I think I can handle the little weenie."

"What's with this attitude, Buffy?" Angel asked. "You're not usually this cocky. And why are you so eager to kill Spike? Why don't you kill the Anointed One...killing him would end the power struggle just as much as killing Spike would."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Buffy asked belligerently, pulling herself out of Angel's arms. "Are you implying that the Anointed One would be easier to kill than Spike? That's a laugh. And why are you so eager to have Spike in control? I should have known you would side with him."

"What are you talking about?" Angel asked. "I'm not taking sides...I'm just worried about you."

"I'll worry about myself," Buffy said coldly. She stood up, and Angel quickly rose to his own feet. "Don't you think it would be better to keep the Anointed One in power?" she asked. "We know him...it's better to stick with what we know instead of bringing in some new guy that could cause a ton of trouble."

"After all the things the annoying little brat has done to us, you're defending him?" Angel asked in disbelief.

"Look...all I'm saying is, better him than Spikey boy," Buffy snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

"You don't know Spike," the immortal protested. "You can't make that judgment."

"And I suppose you can?" Buffy challenged, her anger growing with each statement she made. "You're playing favorites, Angel." *Who the hell does he think he is telling me what to do?!* she thought with disdain. *He's a pathetic excuse for a vampire...weak...* Her thoughts broke off as Angel answered her.

"I never said that!" He tried to keep himself in control, but his irritation was growing. He couldn't understand why Buffy was acting this way...so irrational...so adamant...and so very wrong. He tried to explain himself calmly, holding his hands out to Buffy in an attempt to pacify her. "You're reading things into what I say...I'm trying to tell you that making a decision like this is not a good idea. It would be better to think of some way to get rid of both of them."

"Oh great idea," Buffy said sarcastically. "And how do you propose we do that?"

"Well I don't have a definite plan right now...I just think we need to put more thought into this. You can't just run off to face Spike. It's ridiculous." Buffy glared at her lover, taking a step closer to him.

"Why the hell should I listen to you anyway?" she asked. "You're nobody! You're nothing but a goddamn TRAITOR!"

"What are you TALKING about?!" he screamed in frustration.

"You betrayed your people!" Buffy screamed back. "You kill your own kind...you suck pathetically on cold packets of blood...you reject the hunt...you DISGUST me!" Part of her wondered briefly where this was coming from. She loved Angel...didn't she? Ten minutes ago the answer would have been a resounding yes. But something had changed; when she looked at him all she saw was a creature she despised...a weakling. Beneath the disdain she felt for him, a confused part of her mind screamed in protest. She swept it aside. She needed to focus on the argument, not on her stupid feelings.

"Buffy?" Angel asked, utter confusion and fear in his eyes. "What's going on? Why are you saying these things?" He reached out to grab her arm, but she shrugged him off with an impatient motion.

"Don't touch me," she hissed. "You repulse me. And I'm saying these things because they're true." She quickly slipped on her shoes as she spoke. "I can't stand to be around you anymore...I hate you...I hate everything you stand for."

"You're leaving me?" Angel asked in disbelief.

"Quick on the uptake," Buffy observed sarcastically.

"But why?!" he gasped. "Everything was fine, perfect, just a day ago."

"Well it's not fine anymore," Buffy replied.

"I don't understand," Angel told her. "It doesn't make any sense. You can't leave it like this...you can't..."

"Watch me," Buffy hissed.

"You told me you loved me yesterday," Angel said, trying to bring rational thought back into the situation. "You CAN'T mean this!"

"I can and I do," Buffy answered. "You want me to make it perfectly clear? You're a fool," she spat. "I hate the way you deny your real nature. I hate the way you live. I hate the pathetic excuse for a vampire you have become." Angel shook his head in denial, trying to reconcile what Buffy was saying with everything he knew of her. This couldn't be her; he had never seen her like this. What she was saying contradicted every part of her that was human, every part of her that was the Slayer.

"I should have known you would defend Spike...you snivel at his feet like a good dog. When you go to lick his boots, tell him I'm going to kill him. And if you try to get in my way, I'll kill you too." Buffy shuddered a little as she said those words, part of her denying them, but when she pierced Angel with her gaze he could see that she meant it. "You could have had power," she said, shaking her head. "You could have been one of the great ones...but you're nothing." She brushed past him, heading for the door.

"NO!" he screamed. "I won't let you do this!"

"You don't have any right to LET me do anything," she told him matter of factly. He shook his head in denial, back and forth, the motion making him dizzy. He couldn't stop shaking his head, over and over it swung, as if by the motion he would force this out of control scene to stop happening.

"Tell me you don't love me," he challenged. After only the briefest hesitation, Buffy answered.

"I don't." She slammed the door behind her, leaving Angel alone in his apartment, those two words echoing in his mind over and over again. His fists clenched tight, and his jaw locked as he gritted his teeth. He muffled a scream of frustration and loss, turning and slamming his fist into the wall. He heard a crunch as his fist collided with the solid cement, and he knew that he had probably broken something; but he couldn't bring himself to care.

He was too filled with internal pain to feel the external. She was gone, really and truly. *She hates me,* he thought to himself in disbelief. Hearing her say those words had felt like a blow to his heart, and now that she was gone he felt himself crumbling. He sank to his knees, staring blankly at the closed door. *I should go after her,* he thought vaguely. But he couldn't. He couldn't stand to hear her say anything more to him, couldn't bear to hear again that she no longer loved him.

He closed his eyes, wincing at the memory of her words. He still couldn't understand where her tirade had come from. It didn't make any sense, but he realized that it didn't matter. It didn't matter WHY she had done it. All that mattered was that she was gone.

Angel looked at the door again. It was morning, and the sun was shining outside. He could feel it. He considered running out after her into the sunlight, letting the sun cleanse him, burn him away until he no longer existed. He was already dead to her, he might as well make it official for everyone else.

*But why give her the satisfaction?* he thought, anger beginning to replace the sadness. *That's probably what she wants me to do..* He gritted his teeth with the strength of the anger that washed over him. He repeated her words softly to himself. "Pathetic, fool, traitor..." The anger felt good, it hid his pain under a blanket of fire. He allowed it to grow, boiling in his blood. The heat of it, the power, was so strong that he rose to his feet looking for something, anything, to take the brunt of his emotion.

"I'll show the bitch who's a pathetic fool," he muttered, throwing an antique vase against the wall. It shattered, showering him with shards of glass. The tiny pricks of pain only served to further enrage him. The smell of blood filled Angel's nostrils, and he placed his fingers to the stinging cut above his eyebrow. When he pulled his fingers away, blood was smeared on them, vibrant red. He snarled, his vampire visage appearing as he brought his fingers to his lips.

Too late, he realized the danger, desperately attempting to push the demon and the hunger down into submission. Distracted by his sorrow, and overwhelmed by rage, Angel struggled to keep himself under control. He felt his grip on sanity slipping, his hold over the demon loosening. He struggled, but he could not fight with his usual determination. He had nothing to fight for. Still he battled with himself, a losing struggle. A sudden stab of pain through his heart sent Angel to the floor.

He crouched on hands and knees, his teeth clenched against the pain. In that brief moment he felt himself sink, felt himself lose control of his body. His soul was no longer dominant. He licked his fingers clean of the blood that lingered on them, and rose to his feet, an unusual gleam in his yellow eyes.

He laughed, deep and loud, reveling in his anger. He hurried to the sewer access and dropped through the manhole. He landed on his feet, and took off in the direction of Spike's headquarters. Spike wanted an ally, and he was going to get one. The Slayer had said she would kill him if he got in her way. *Not if I kill her first,* he muttered.

And deep inside Angel's psyche, a part of him struggled weakly against the demon's bloodlust and rage.