Disclaimer in part 1

Text enclosed in * * represents thoughts.

High Noon
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part 7: Apart

Drusilla skipped along the sidewalk, her skirts sweeping across the dark grey pavement. She twirled, arms raised above her head, her eyes turned up to the silvery moon. With a giggle, she glanced back at her two male companions, extending her hand to Spike. A few long steps brought him to her, and he grabbed the offered hand, pulling her body close to his. She purred softly into his ear, clicking her teeth together with a snap.

Angel smiled indulgently, walking a few paces behind the couple. His thoughts roamed freely, wandering from the light brush of wind against his skin to the anticipation of having his hunger sated. He ran his teeth over the sharp points of his fangs, loving the idea of sinking those teeth into human flesh, of human blood flowing down his throat. It had been torture waiting for the sun to set, but it finally had; and now they were on their way to find a warm meal. He realized with a start that Drusilla and Spike had stopped moving. Immediately he slowed his pace and crept silently up to join them.

"I can hear their heartbeats," Drusilla whispered. "Three heartbeats...thump, thump, thump." She smiled, her eyes gleaming with a feverish light.

"One for each of us then," Spike agreed. He peered down the side street in the direction that Drusilla had indicated. His sharp vision penetrated the darkness of the alley as he studied their victims. "Two girls and a bloke," he observed. "Which one do you want, sweet?" he asked Drusilla.

"I want the tall girl," she demanded. "I can tell she tastes good."

"Then you shall have your treat," Spike replied, kissing her hand lightly. He turned his eyes to Angel. "You've been out of the game for a while, old man," Spike teased. "You'd better take the other girl." Angel sneered at the blonde vampire for a moment before agreeing.

"I always enjoyed the blood of a girl," he stated. "It's sweeter somehow."

"Come on then," Spike prodded. The three vampires ventured deeper into the alley, heading towards the humans in no hurry. When they were within speaking range, Spike called out a greeting.

"Excuse me, " he said politely. "We're a bit lost. Do you think you could help?" The girls exchanged a glance, then shrugged uneasily.

"Sure," the shorter girl said. She nodded at the guy, and he responded by addressing Spike.

"Where are you trying to go?"

"We're hungry," Drusilla told him.

"Some sort of restaurant," Spike covered. He didn't want them to panic yet. "Preferably one that serves meat." He chuckled softly at his own wit.

"Rare meat," Angel added, and they exchanged a grin. The humans had continued to walk closer, and they were now within a couple feet of the vampires.

"So you want a steak house?" the guy asked. "I think there's a Longhorn a couple blocks over." He pointed off to the left, and Spike took a step closer.

"We don't want steak," he said nonchalantly.

"We want something whose blood will be warm in our mouths, dearie, something that will scream," Drusilla said sweetly. The girls exchanged another glance, this one very worried, and the guy looked at Dru in confusion. His confusion was replaced by fear as Spike's fist connected with his stomach, forcing him to double over in pain.

"Stacy," he gasped, looking at the shorter girl. Her eyes met his, and she took a step forward.

Quicker than sight, Spike attacked his victim again, his face transformed by the frenzy of feeding. He used his body to keep the boy hunched over and sank his teeth into the side of his victim's neck before the boy could recover from the original punch. The girls stared in horror, frozen for a second between fear and the desire to help their friend. Stacy turned to run, and Angel sprinted after her.

Drusilla turned her gaze on the tall girl, who was standing still, trembling with the urge to run. Despite every impulse in her body ordering her to flee, her feet would not move. She watched Drusilla with anxious eyes, not daring to blink. Drusilla placed her hand gently over the girl's heart, feeling the accelerated pattering of her heartbeat. She smiled, tapping her finger against the girl's chest.

"So fast," she muttered to herself. "It races," she smiled, and the girl flinched. "Don't worry, sweetheart," the vampire cooed, as her face changed. "It won't hurt a bit." She buried her fangs in her victim's neck and drank deeply, her arms embracing the girl in a parody of a hug. The girl fainted, sagging in Drusilla's arms, but Dru continued to drink as she held the girl upright.

Angel snarled, the adrenaline rushing through his body. It had been so long since he had experienced the thrill of chasing an innocent, so long since he had inspired fear thick enough to taste. She screamed as he grabbed her from behind. He turned her to face him, and she screamed again at the sight of the vampire ridges standing out in broad relief on his forehead, the fangs in his open mouth. Stacy struggled weakly, drawing her fingernails down the side of his face. Angel growled at the stinging sensation as blood welled up in the scratches, then tightened his hold on the girl's arms. He drew her to him. Ignoring her attempts to free herself, he wrapped his arms around her body. With a swift motion of his head, he sank his teeth into the smooth skin of the side of her neck.

She whimpered softly in his ear as his fangs entered her. Angel felt a twinge of guilt as he realized the pain she was in, but the guilt was soon swept away under a wave of pleasure. Her blood, warm and metallic, flowed into his mouth. He shuddered as it coursed through his veins, setting every nerve ending on fire. Again and again he swallowed, losing himself in the hunger. He could feel each drop as it entered him, rushing through him, leaving him wanting more. Dimly he became aware that Stacy was sagging in his arms, limp and lifeless. *Lifeless.* Fear shot through him, cleansing some of the hunger that still gripped him. *I killed her...oh my God! I killed her.* His teeth were still latched to the girl's neck, his tongue playing over the wound. *There's still some blood left,* he thought, tempting himself. He lowered his eyes to the bloody puncture marks and began to suck again. *NO!* he ordered himself. *STOP!* He threw the girl away from him, turning quickly away as she landed on the floor of the alley. He stared at the wall before him, studying each tiny crack in the plaster, each ridge and bump with frightening intensity.

After a moment, Angel turned back to the girl. He studied her curiously. *She's dead, big deal,* he thought, trying to convince himself that it was true. He brutally bashed the softer side of himself, the soul, into submission. *Who cares about the stupid girl? She's just food.* Still, he couldn't completely submerge the rush of relief that swept through him when he saw her chest rising and falling slightly. Before he could change his mind and finish her off, he found himself quickly striding back to the other two vampires.

"Was it as good as you remembered?" Spike asked sarcastically.

"Better," Angel replied with a cocky grin. Drusilla sidled over to him and traced her fingers over the blood from the almost completely healed scratches on his face. She popped her fingers in her mouth with a mischievous smirk.

"Yummy," she said softly. Spike's jaw clenched as he looked between her and his sire. He pulled her close to him, away from the other vampire, and placed his arm possessively around her waist.

"The little girl a bit much for you?" he sneered at his sire.

"You know I like to play with my food," Angel replied with a shrug.

"Riiiight," Spike responded, shaking his head up and down exaggeratedly.

"Don't push your luck," Angel said simply. He stared deliberately at Dru, catching her eyes with his own. Spike glared at his sire challengingly for a moment, then abruptly changed the subject.

"Tomorrow night," he said shortly.

"We'll be ready," Angel answered, removing his gaze from Drusilla. He stared up at the dark sky thoughtfully. Tomorrow he would face Buffy...and kill her. Then maybe he could stop the incessant whining in the back of his head, stop the thoughts of her that popped up unbidden at odd moments. If he killed her, it would shut his stupid soul, his conscience, up for good. It was a worth a try anyway. And if it didn't work, at least it was one more Slayer down.

* * * * * *
Willow lay on her bed, snuggled under the covers despite the fact that it was now technically the afternoon. She stared intently at the ceiling. It was white. She had established that after half an hour of study. Sighing, she rolled over on to her stomach. *Why can't everything be so easy?* she wondered. *The ceiling is white...that's simple. It's a fact, and it doesn't cause anyone any pain. Life should be simple that way.* Her lips jutted out a little into a pout. *But it's not. If life were simple I wouldn't have to worry about whether Xander loves me; I wouldn't have to worry about whether I should really be with him; I wouldn't wonder if it were all worth it. I would just love him, and he would love me; and we'd live happily ever after.*

*I'm obsessing,* Willow informed herself. *Obsessing, when I should be thinking about tonight,* she admonished. *Buffy needs our help, and my depressed thoughts aren't doing her any good.* It was hard to believe that Buffy was the one that needed their help in being saved, rather than the other way around. She was so used to Buffy being the strong one. But from what Xander had told her the day before Buffy wasn't the all-powerful hero at the moment, she was out of control.

Willow knew that Buffy wasn't going to be much help in the upcoming confrontation. She would be too busy trying to kill Spike. So that left damage control to Willow and Xander and Giles. Willow had opened her eyes that morning knowing that there were things to do. They needed to prepare. Her research session the day before had been successful. After checking the property records of the Sunnydale real estate company, she had narrowed the choices for the Anointed One's new lair to three possibilities. The abandoned warehouse on the *bad* side of town had turned out to be the best prospect. The sewer system had tons of access tunnels near and under the warehouse; it would have been easy to get there from the underground caverns.

A quick check into the Sunnydale police records had proven her theory. There were numerous reports of disturbances of the peace and strange nocturnal activities in close proximity to the building. One man had even claimed that the building needed to be quarantined, because he had encountered a man with *rabies* who had tried to bite him. A tiny, ironic smile turned the corners of Willow's mouth up. She still had a hard time understanding the deep denial that most of Sunnydale's citizens were emersed in. *I used to be afraid that people would wake-up to the truth if the evidence kept piling up,* she mused. *That doesn't even seem like a real possibility to me anymore. They'll never see the truth. The Hellmouth opened and no one even noticed.*

Willow sighed. It was a little depressing to realize just how dense most of Sunnydale's residents really were. Although it did make Buffy's job easier. *Which brings me back to Buffy,* Willow observed. She rubbed her eyes tiredly. *Everything in my life brings me back to Buffy eventually. And exactly when did I get so bitter?* she wondered. *Buffy's my best friend, well, best friend along with Xander. Which brings me back to a place where I do not want to go right now.* She rolled her eyes, propping her head up with one hand. *Just concentrate on the plan.* It was now almost noon and big things were going to happen in a few hours.

*Buffy said that the confrontation would be soon, and Giles' research suggested that it would be tonight. So we're going to stake out the warehouse, and try to keep everything from getting out of control.* She chewed her lip thoughtfully. *Seems simple enough...yeah right, about as simple as climbing Mt. Everest wearing nothing but a pair of stilleto heels.*

Still, no matter how hard the challenges of being part of Buffy's team were, Willow wouldn't have traded it. She couldn't have borne it if she had been forced to stand idly by while the others got involved. She wouldn't have been able to respect herself if she had gone into denial like so many people had. She would have hated herself if she had crumbled under the pressure. Saving the world was Buffy's duty, but now it had become Willow's too. She was going to be involved in the saving of the world....again. And more importantly, the saving of her friend. She wouldn't have had it any other way. *We'll make it work,* Willow decided. *It doesn't have to be simple to work....I hope.*

* * * * * * * * * *
Giles put down the book he had been reading, and began to polish his glasses anxiously. It was almost 3 o'clock, and the sun would set around 8. That only gave him a few more hours to prepare what he could and gather the necessary weapons and supplies. He and the others were meeting in the library at 6. They would be outside the warehouse as the sun set. Once the sun set, events would begin to move quickly.

Giles had spent all of the day before, and most of the night, searching through any ancient prophecies even remotely related to the Anointed One that he could find. Unfortunately there was nothing in the Codex. Instead he had been forced to rely on more obscure, and more vague, volumes. He could not say anything with certainty, but several of the books had mentioned a confrontation between two great powers. He could only assume that the two referred to the Anointed and Spike. The time frame, once he had calculated it with as much precision as possible, pointed to tonight.

Giles shuddered; he hated going into a fight with so little information. He had attempted to translate and cross-reference the prophecy with several others, but time was the one thing he needed and one thing he did not have. He had hoped to gain clarification on one point in particular. The prophecy spoke of the two powers becoming three. It then suggested that one of the three would die. Giles assumed that the third power would be himself and the other Slayerettes, and hopefully Buffy as well. He could only hope that Spike or the Anointed would be the one to fall, but he could not stop the sinking feeling that he was leading his little team into a death trap.

*If any of them die,* he realized. *It will be on my head.* He had tried to convince Xander and Willow not to come with him tonight, but they refused to let him go alone. A part of him was grateful for their refusal to be stay behind. It meant he would not be marching into a vampire war with absolutely no backup. But the gratitude he felt for their support was mostly buried under a burden of fear for their safety. It was hard to allow civilians, as it were, to participate in the Slayer's life; but he had to admit that they had proved their worth again and again. That fact, and the fact that it was their own choice to get involved, did not lessen his guilt. As Watcher and Slayer, it was his and Buffy's duty to fight evil. Xander and Willow, on the other hand, fought not because of a sacred birthright; but because they wanted to help. That made them braver than anyone he knew, and more likely to die than anyone else he knew.

*Except for Buffy...* He cut that thought off sharply, as he always did. Slayers died young. That fact was always in the back of his mind, every time he sent Buffy into danger it was there. He tried to ignore it, to tell himself that she was the strongest Slayer he had ever heard of. But every time a vampire landed a punch that sent her reeling, every time he trained her, every time he read a new prophecy, his heart caught in his mouth and fear nearly overcame him.

Sighing softly, Giles rose from his seat and entered the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. Going through the familiar motions failed to calm the panic that lurked beneath the surface of his thoughts. His Slayer was in trouble, such deep trouble that she would not be the one fighting the evil this time. For the first time, she was part of the problem instead of being the solution. *Is it my fault?* Giles wondered.

*I'm supposed to train her for every possibility. I'm supposed to give her the knowledge that will protect her. Instead I'm sitting here uselessly. My books can't help her fight the Anointed One's hold on her. She had to break that hold herself. And if she can't...* Giles shuddered again. It was his duty to kill her if she could no longer fulfill her obligations as the Slayer. *But to kill Buffy...* He hesitated. He would do it if he had to, but he prayed to any god that was listening that it would not come to that.

* * * * * * * *
Xander dialed the phone number, and listened as it rung. Slowly, he counted off the rings. One...Two....Three. He had been calling Angel all day and getting no answer. He was supposed to tell Angel about Buffy's possession, but the vampire was making it hard to tell him anything.

He didn't understand it. Angel couldn't just run out to catch a baseball game in the park or something. So where was he? *Maybe he's dead,* a tiny part of his mind whispered. He wondered for a moment if it would make him sad to find out that Angel was dead. He wasn't sure. *If Angel killed himself when he thought Buffy didn't want him...* Xander cut himself off angrily, and concentrated on counting the rings. *Eight...Nine...Ten.* On the tenth ring he hung up. *He's probably just too depressed to answer the phone,* Xander rationalized. He felt a tiny stab of pity. *The poor guy is in love with Buffy, and she goes and dumps him out of nowhere.* He buried the pity next to the part of him that almost hoped Angel had taken his own life. Neither of those parts would be any help at the moment.

"Well, one thing's for certain, we won't be getting any help from Angel," he muttered out loud. Even though he was not, and never had been, a fan of the vampire he had to admit that Angel would have been a useful ally to have along. Xander glanced at the clock. It was almost 6. He had to get over to the library.

His stomach began to flutter as he headed out the door. Some of his nervousness was the fact that he was about to go head to head with some very strong vampires, and this time he wouldn't have the Slayer to protect him. Part of his fear was for Buffy herself. He had no idea if they would ever get their Buffy back. She was acting like a psycho, and could easily get herself killed if she went up against Spike in a frenzy of anger. On the other hand, maybe getting killed would be better than being the Annoying One's puppet. But those weren't the only things that were making his heart race. Willow would be at the library.

He jammed his hands into his pockets as he walked, ducking his head and frowning at an errant leaf skittering across the sidewalk. As if it weren't enough to worry about the fact that he could die that night, or the fact that Buffy could die that night, he had to worry about Will. *If only she would just forgive me,* he thought. *But do I deserve to be forgiven?* He was fairly certain that the answer to that one was a resounding 'no.' *I'll make sure she comes out of this alive,* he promised himself. *And I'll worry about whether I deserve her later. Maybe I can change...* He shook his head as a thought insinuated itself into his mind. *Maybe I should let her go...let her find someone who does deserve her.* He tried to banish the thought, forcing himself to concentrate on the task at hand.

Xander slipped inside the library and walked over to where Willow and Giles stood packing vials of holy water into a bag. Without a word he picked up a crossbow and began to load it. They had work to do, and if he was lucky, he would come out of this alive with plenty of time to worry about relationships later.

* * * * * * * *
Buffy watched from her window as the sun slowly sank below the horizon. She checked the laces on her boots to make sure they were tight and pulled the sleeves of her leather jacket down over the stakes strapped to her wrists, then she threw one leg over her window sill and climbed out on to her roof.

She quickly scrambled to the ground and took off towards the Bronze at a fast walk. She wondered vaguely if Giles and the others would show up tonight. She had a feeling that they would. Giles never trusted her plans, and he was too stubborn to see that she was right.

*They'll get themselves killed,* she realized, dread creeping up her spine. *Well it's their own fault if they do,* she rationalized. *They should have listened to me, should have let me handle it.*

*Maybe I can protect them,* she thought hopefully. *No,* she decided. *My first priority is to protect the Anointed One and get rid of Spike. It's not my job to keep the mortals safe. They all have to die eventually anyway. What am I talking about?*

Her internal debate subsided as she neared the Bronze. She quickly darted down an alley and headed in the direction of the warehouse. She wasn't sure how she knew which direction it was, but she decided it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was protecting the Anointed. The only thing that mattered was getting there before Spike.

Suddenly obsessed with the idea that she would get there too late to stop Spike from fighting the Anointed, Buffy broke into a run. Her heart thudded against her chest as her feet slapped out a rhythm on the pavement. Hu..rry. Hu..rry. The word pounded in her brain until she thought she would scream. And just when she thought she could no longer stand it, the warehouse came into view.