RATING: R for violence and some sexual content.
PAIRING: B/A, S/D
SPOILERS: Everything up to Redefinition, Reunion and Into the Woods is fair game, but mainly those three episodes.
TIMEFRAME: Takes up right where Into the Woods and Reunion left off, and diverges into an alternate timeline. It basically starts with an alternate version of Redefinition.
SUMMARY: Buffy goes to LA to pull Angel out of his downward spiral, but he doesn't want help. And trouble follows her from Sunnydale.
DISCLAIMER: Not my characters. The WB, UPN, Joss, and Fox own them. Unfortunately <g>
THANKS: Dare, cause beta.

Relief
by Rebecca Carefoot
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PART ONE


Buffy sat on her bed, her back propped up against a stack of pillows, staring into the darkness. She pictured Riley's helicopter lifting off the ground, herself just a few seconds too late to stop it. She pictured herself screaming after him and tried to feel a pang of loss. She wanted to feel it. If she could feel pain over Riley's leaving then she'd know there was a chance she would one day open herself up to someone. To really love someone again. Wrong as Xander was about a lot of things, he had been right about one. She had shut Riley out. What he hadn't understood was that she was being completely honest when she told Riley she had given him all she had to give, that he had gotten the whole package. Apparently the package was damaged. She chewed on her bottom lip and was glad when her eyes filled with tears.

She *should* be crying over this. Her boyfriend was gone. She should be crying for Riley. But she wasn't. She was crying for herself. Because all she felt when she pictured the helicopter, when she heard her scream too faint to be heard over the chopper blades, all she felt was relief. She had tried her best, but she'd been too late. And she was glad, because Riley was gone and she wouldn't have to go through with it, through with trying again, forgiving him, really consciously trying to love him this time. If she'd stopped him she would have had a relationship on her hands, and it would have been hard, and she didn't think she could honestly deal with it. She'd watched him go and she'd been glad she'd failed, and it worried her. What kind of person did that make her? What kind of ice had frozen her heart so deep that she could feel nothing?

The phone rang, and she blinked hard. She looked blankly at the clock on her bedside table. On the second ring she gathered her wits and hesitantly picked up the receiver.

"Hello?" she said.

"Buffy," a man with a refined British voice said, half questioning.

"Yes," she said. "Who is this? Do you realize it's 2:30 in the morning?"

"I do apologize for waking you," the man continued, and she began to recognize him now.

"Wesley?" she said, not bothering to explain that she hadn't been asleep.

"Yes," he confirmed, and her heart skipped a beat.

"What's wrong?" She sat up straight, leaning forward slightly.

"It's Angel," he said, and now she could hear the tension in his voice. Fear began to claw, hot and tight, at her insides, and she wanted to scream. She took a deep breath instead.

"Is he-" she hesitated, then continued, "Is he hurt?"

"Not exactly," Wesley said. "But it's bad. He's- He's on the edge, Buffy. And he won't let us help him. He fired us."

"You and Cordelia?" Buffy asked. "What do you mean he's on the edge?"

"And Gunn. It's a long story." Wesley's voice was tinged with weariness. "But the gist of it is he's heading into the darkness. And I think you may be the only one who can bring him back."

Buffy stared at the wall, waiting for the ex-Watcher's words to sink in. She shook her head. "What the hell is going on down there? What did he do?"

"It's been building for a while," Wesley said softly. "Darla's back. Wolfram and Hart brought her back as a human. And now Drusilla's turned her."

"Darla is alive and no one thought to tell me?" she said, anger now adding color to her confusion. "Drusilla's there too and no one picked up a phone until now? Don't you think I had a right to know?"

"I'm sorry," Wesley said. "We were dealing with it. We didn't-"

"Never mind," Buffy interrupted sharply. "I'll be there in a couple hours. The last bus to LA leaves from here in 20 minutes. Be at the station to pick me up." She slammed the phone into the cradle, not waiting for an answer. She stared at the wall for a long moment, seething quietly to herself. Then she picked up the phone and slammed it down again, this time hard enough to break the receiver. She rooted wildly underneath her bed, pulled out a bag and her purse, and tossed them onto the bed. She threw a couple outfits into the bag along with a crossbow, a small ax, and a few stakes. Muttering angrily to herself, she zipped the bag shut and wrote a short note to her mother. She grabbed her toothbrush on the way down the stairs and forced herself not to slam the door as she left the house.

Spike watched her from behind the tree underneath her window as she started toward the bus station, her shoulders tight, stiff. He stamped out his cigarette, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he considered what he'd heard her say on the phone. Drusilla was back, and the Slayer was about to go drag the great poof's ass back in line. Both were sure to offer some amusement. It seemed a road trip was in order.

*

Buffy fought a sense of deja vu as she stared at the blue, red and grey fabric of the seat in front of her. She wondered if it was the same bus. She tried to close her eyes and rest, as she'd tried several times during the trip from Sunnydale; but her heart refused to slow its pounding, and her mind refused to stop whirling and bubbling. The bus' brakes broke the air conditioned silence with a long high-pitched squeal. She peered out the window into the sickly fluorescent light of the LA Greyhound station. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed her bag off the seat beside her and stood up, exiting the bus with the small number of other passengers.

She stood alone under the cement overhang and waited. Her face calm, her arms relaxed by her side, bag in hand. People walked by her as if she were not there and she laughed to think that they couldn't feel the anger radiating off her in waves. She refused to look at her watch. The rest of the passengers disappeared, leaving her alone in the quiet of the deserted parking lot. The rumble of an engine motor broke the silence, and she watched impassively as a large truck pulled up next to her. The driver, a young black man, stuck his head through the window.

"You Buffy?" he said. She nodded. "Gunn. Wesley sent me."

"Where is he?" she answered.

"Angel's the only one besides me with wheels," he said. "Unless you wanted to catch a ride on a British dude's motorcycle."

"You've got to be kidding," she said.

Gunn shook his head. "Hop in." Buffy shrugged, and climbed in on the passenger's side, putting her bag at her feet. "You can put that in the back," Gunn said, indicating the bag with a nod of his shaved head. Buffy shrugged again.

"I've got room."

"Your call." Gunn put the truck in gear and backed out of the parking lot, glancing surreptitiously at the petite blonde in the passenger's seat.

"What?" Buffy said, catching the look.

"You're just tinier than I expected," Gunn said. "No offense. You hear Slayer you think, I don't know, big, scary. But I can see Angel's got a type now."

He noticed the hard set of Buffy's jaw and the way her gaze stayed locked on the corner of the dashboard. "I do something to piss you off?"

"Not you," the words emerged from her mouth clipped with suppressed anger. Gunn nodded, checking behind him in the rearview mirror. He passed the lone car on the road with a swift turn of the steering wheel.

"Not a Darla fan," he said. She raised her eyebrow. "And I'm guessin' not too happy with Angel right now either." Buffy's chest hitched as she gave one understated chuckle. "I'm not much of a fan right now either," Gunn said. They sat in silence for several minutes.

"You got any weapons in there?" he asked, indicating the bag again.

"Ax, some stakes," Buffy said. "Crossbow."

"My kind of girl," Gunn said with a smile.

"What are you packing?" Buffy asked.

"Mace and sword under the seat," Gunn said. "Just got stakes on me. Figured I wouldn't need much if I got the Slayer to protect me." Buffy smiled, and the curve of her lips was almost natural.

"How did you get..." Buffy hesitated, "involved with Angel and the evil fighting anyway?"

"The evil fighting is how I got involved with him," Gunn said with a grim smile. "Me and my boys tried to kill him. I've found that's the best way to deal with demons."

"But now you work for him?" Buffy asked

"Worked," Gunn corrected. "Hang around Angel and you get a chance to kill some pretty nasty stuff." He glanced in the rearview before a turn. "It's a perk." He snorted suddenly. "But I guess having a soul don't change the fact that deep down he's still a vampire."

Buffy glanced at Gunn, then stared out the window and watched the streetlights whip by. "You don't know the half of it," she said.

"And I get the feeling you don't want me to ask," Gunn said.

"You can ask," Buffy said. "I just won't tell." She met his gaze with serious eyes. He shrugged before turning his eyes back to the road.

"I just hope he'll listen to you," he said. "He sure as hell wasn't listening to us." Buffy directed an unseeing gaze out the window, trying not to think, not yet. After a long moment Gunn spoke again. "It's not far now. Shouldn't take too long."

Buffy nodded, her empty gaze still fixed on the window.

*

Spike pulled into the parking lot outside a rundown, seemingly deserted building. There were a couple other cars in the lot, but the windows were dark. He turned off the engine, and climbed out of his car, game face on. He knocked twice on the door, and a small panel slid open. Two glowing red eyes stared at him for a long second, then the panel slid shut, and the door swung open. Spike smiled, his tongue flicking over fangs, and entered the bar.

Several scaly green beasts sat at a table in the corner nursing drinks that were too red to be beer. In the middle of the room, a pair of slimy looking grey guys were throwing small knives at a dart board. The tentacles on the bartender's head perked up slightly, wriggling, as Spike walked across the room. It was the only sign that any of them had seen him. He noticed a vampire alone at a table near the bar, his head resting on the dingy surface where he slumped, asleep or unconscious.

Spike reached the vampire with two long steps, grabbed the back of his neck, and jerked him up out of his seat. The vampire's eyes flew open, and he shook shaggy black hair out his eyes. He twisted in Spike's grip, growling.

"Shut up," Spike said. The other vampire continued to struggle, too drunk to be very effective with his flailing fists and feet.

"What is this?" he asked, turning his head awkwardly against Spike's grip.

"A simple search for information," Spike said. "Unless you don't stop wiggling about like a worm on a bloody hook."

The man stilled, still growling faintly.

"Better," Spike said. He dropped the vampire, and its knees crumpled as it landed unexpectedly back on the floor. It regained it's balance and turned on Spike. Spike raised a scarred eyebrow, and the vampire stopped, just waiting. "Two women," Spike said. "One blonde. One brunette. Big teeth. Bigger appetites. Go by Darla and Drusilla. You seen them?" he asked, cocking his head.

"Who are you to-" the vampire started to say.

Spike's fist shot out, and the vampire's nose broke with a crunch. "Shit, man!" the vampire exclaimed, grabbing his streaming nose. "You didn't have to do that," he whined. "I was going to tell you."

"Tell me now," Spike said, his voice cheerful, hiding the promise of pain.

"They came around here a couple nights ago," the vampire said. "Seemed like they were looking to build an army." He shrugged. "They said anyone interested in working with them could tryout at this warehouse by the docks." Spike narrowed his eyes. "Midnight tomorrow."

"Any particular warehouse, or is there just the one?" Spike asked.

"I don't know," the other vampire answered with a slight whine. "I didn't even see the card they left. I wasn't going to go, so I didn't-" Spike's hand shot out and grabbed him by the throat, black tipped nails digging into the pale flesh. "I swear!" the guy squealed.

Spike released him, and he stepped back, massaging his neck. "They'll probably be at another bar later, the Crypt or Randy's." He swiped at the blood still trickling from his nose. "I heard they've been making the rounds. Lots of buzz."

Spike crossed his arms over his chest, and cocked his head, watching the other vampire squirm under the scrutiny. He turned on his heel with a sudden movement, and headed for the door. "Thanks," he muttered over his shoulder, "I'd ask your name before I go, but I really don't care," and the door shut behind him.

Outside, he grinned. He turned his face up to the sky, spread his arms, and chuckled. He took a deep breath of unneeded air and dropped his arms. Still smiling, he slipped behind the wheel, and peeled out of the parking lot. He could feel the city. Feel violence in the air. Plots and plans. Thousands of heartbeats. And Dru. His smile faded as he remembered the chip, remembered that the heartbeats, the blood and bodies that kept the city warm were safe from him. He shook the thought away and pressed down hard on the gas. Nothing mattered but the fact that he was back in the thick of it. He wasn't going to stand on the sidelines or wait for Buffy to throw him a scrap, a demon to pound, a bit of kindness. Whatever Dru and Darla had planned, he was going to be part of it. And the city would scream.

*

Gunn took a hard left turn, and glanced over at Buffy, who hadn't spoken in a long while. "This is Cordelia's street," he said. "Her place is about two blocks up."

"Cordelia's?" Buffy said, rousing from her stupor to send him a surprised look. "I thought you were taking me to him."

Gunn shook his head and stopped at a nearly deserted intersection. "Wes said bring you back to Cordy's. He wants to give you the full story." The light changed, and he stepped on the gas. "Besides which, we don't even know if Angel's still at the hotel."

"Hotel?" Buffy said.

Gunn studied her with a raised eyebrow. "The Hyperion. Big, old ugly building. Home of Angel Investigations. Or what used to be..." He saw no recognition in her eyes, and shook his head with a wry grin. "You're out of the loop."

"That's an understatement on an epic scale," Buffy said, crossing her arms over her chest. She closed her eyes.

"It's probably none of my business," Gunn said. "But phones do work both ways. They both dial and ring."

"Yeah, well if I *had* called I would have gotten operator assistance since he moved without even telling-" she started. She took a deep breath and stopped. "You're right. It's none of your business."

"We're here," Gunn said with a bit of relief as he pulled to a stop outside an apartment complex.

Buffy grabbed her bag, then stopped. "I'm sorry," she said. "You're not seeing my best side." She shook her head as she opened her door. "I'm usually not-"

"Hey," Gunn said. "I work with a tortured, kind of psychotic vampire. A," he used his fingers to make air quotes, "rogue demon hunter. And Cordelia. You're like sweetness and light to me."

"Wow," Buffy said. "I can't believe you work with Cordelia. How are you not running for the hills right now?" She grinned, and he spread his hands in mock puzzlement. "Wait," she said, her brow wrinkling, as she stepped down out of the truck, "what's a rogue demon?"

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