disclaimer in part 1

Relief
by Rebecca Carefoot
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PART TWELVE

The warehouse was engulfed in flame.  Orange, yellow and blue ate at the building, having climbed the walls, run up across the rooftop.  A section of the roof fell inward.  Angel kept his eyes open.  This would be the difficult part - making sure none of them escaped as the fire started to burn openings in the building.  He could hear them pounding on the door, but the chain was holding.  They would try to break through a disintegrating wall, or find a way up through the holes being burned in the roof.  It would be harder for the vampires to escape through the flames than some of the other demons, but he couldn't let his guard down.  All three of them had survived this long for good reason.  He tightened his grip on the ax.  If the fire wasn't enough, he was ready.

He glanced behind him as a truck roared up, registered that it was Gunn's, and returned to scanning the warehouse, looking for demons, but mostly for Darla.  For Dru.  For Spike.  Wesley grabbed him by the shoulder.  He kept his eyes on the building.

"You idiot!" Wesley screamed.

"This is what I have to-" he said. 

Wesley spoke over him, his voice breaking.  "Buffy is inside that building."  His voice came faster, rising as he said something else about Darla, and traps and Lindsey.  Cordelia joined in shouting about his cellphone.  And Gunn ran to the door, trying to break the lock with his ax, the flames making it hard for him to get close enough.  Angel couldn't hear any of it, couldn't understand the words.  All he heard was Buffy inside.  Buffy was inside that building.  The building he'd torched.  The building crumbling before him.  Killing everything inside.  Buffy was inside.

His brain shut down, and he moved on instinct.  He growled, low and threatening. Wesley stepped away from him.  He moved forward and pushed Gunn away from the door.  He swung his ax once.  Twice.  Three times.  The handle on his ax broke, but the chain fell apart.  He left the ax on the ground.  Gunn grabbed him, patting out the flames on his shirt.  His face was scorched, but he couldn't really feel it.  He shook Gunn away again.  He was going to kill Darla with his bare hands.

He kicked the burning door in, and tossed aside the roasted demon carcass that fell against him.  His eyes flicked over the interior of the warehouse.  Demons everywhere.  Several dead, but at least a dozen still alive.  Most of them were gathered around the door with weapons in their hands.  Darla and Spike stood at the back of the pack, directing them.  He looked past them, at the burning support beams holding up the roof.   Fire dripped from the ceiling.  Thick smoke filled the air.  More weapons were stockpiled in the corner, some of them burning.  A few of the demons were, as he'd predicted, trying to break through the walls.  His eyes found Buffy through the smoke on the other side of the room, tied to a chair.  Dru was beside her, a knife in her hand.  She laughed as the knife flicked out, cutting Buffy again, then she screamed as small pieces of the burning roof fell down into her hair.  She ran for Spike.  Buffy's clothes were soaked with her own blood.  He could smell it through all the smoke and flame.  He filled his lungs with the scent of her blood, and felt his vampire face slip into place.  Her head drooped to the side.  She looked unconscious. 

He started toward her, and he heard Darla yell for the demons that surrounded the door to stop him.  He kept moving.  He barely glanced around him as the demons surged forward.  They chopped at him with axes, with swords, a few of them had crossbows.  One a gun.  He had no weapon.  He knocked one ax to the ground as it slashed toward his face.  He kicked out at another demon.  But there was no way to stop them all.  There were too many.  The blades came at him too fast. 

None of the weapons hit him.  Blades slashed the air around him.  He heard the crack of gunfire.  Nothing touched him.  He didn't ask himself why. 

He could hear Darla screaming orders.  He kicked a demon out of the way, used his burned hands to snap a neck.  Finally something struck him, not a weapon, but one of the demon's fists.  He staggered under the blow, and continued, throwing the demon back.  He pulled a sword from one green-scaled pair of hands, banging the pommel against a green-scaled head with stunning force.  He slashed a horned demon in half.  He watched a slimy yellow demon drive at him with a spear.  The spear was aimed at his heart, and it had a killing wooden shaft.  He didn't have time or space to move.  The spear's point stopped two inches from his heart, and slid to the right, as if on a slick invisible wall, until it was beyond him.  Then as if the wall abruptly ended, the spear stabbed forward with all of the demon's strength behind it, and imbedded its shaft in the chest of a slimy grey looking thing behind him.   Angel quickly beheaded the yellow demon while it hesitated.  They were all putting their useless weapons down now, and raising spiked tails, claws, fists.  Angel broke through the last of them, and into the open, running for Buffy.  He heard the whiz of crossbow bolts being loosed, but nothing touched him.

He slashed through the ropes on Buffy's feet, on her wrists.  She fell forward, and he dropped the sword to catch her.  He eased her into his arms, where she lay limp.  He could hear the faint beat of her heart, and it was the only thing that kept him from flying apart.  He felt a surge of relief, anchoring him to this place, keeping him sane enough to look around him, take in the warehouse again.

Most of the demons were trying to escape.  Wesley, Gunn and Cordelia stood in the doorway.  He watched Gunn slash into a demon with his ax.  Saw Wesley take a punch.  His arm already bleeding from the cut of a blade, he answered the punch with a hard smashing mace against a demon's face.  Cordelia put another bolt in her crossbow, took aim, shot.  A demon rushed past them, knocking Wesley down. Another tore at Gunn, trying to bypass his whirling ax with claws.  Another broke Cordelia's crossbow with a whip of his tail, and rushed into the night.  But Wesley rose to his feet.  Gunn held his ax firm.  Cordelia grabbed a fallen sword.  All three still standing, ready to take on the rest.

Angel spun, Buffy in his arms.  Spike was enlarging an opening in the side of the warehouse with one of the discarded maces.  He beat at the flames on his coat, then stepped through it, offering a hand to Dru.  She shrieked as the fire flared around her, but he pulled her through.  They were escaping.  Darla followed.  She turned her face to Angel.  Blood dripped down the side of her face where something had fallen and hit her.  There small burns on her arms, her head.  But she was alive.  And she was getting away.  He looked down at Buffy, helpless in his arms.  He could put her down just for a second, just long enough to finish this, to kill Darla.  He could put Darla's soul to rest, defeat evil.  It would just be a moment.  Buffy was badly hurt.  She could be dead already.  There was nothing he could do for her.  And Darla was right there.  Darla was responsible for this.  For Buffy.  There was no one between them to stop him.  This was his purpose.  His whole existence.  This is what he had trained for.

Everything he'd painstakingly frozen, every feeling, every friendship, every human part he'd tried to burn away.  Everything he'd had to leave behind to make himself a weapon with one purpose.  It was all for this moment.  All so he could finish what he'd started, be strong enough to choose to end this.  There could be nothing, no abstract greater good, no personal emotions, no human connections allowed to come between him and his one goal.  Killing Darla.  Destroying Wolfram and Hart.  This was a war.  He was the weapon.

He tensed.  He could still hear Buffy's heartbeat.  Weak, soft, but enough to stop him.  It held him where he was.  Her life, in his arms.  He couldn't put it down.  He couldn't let her go.  Not even for the seconds it would take to grab Darla.  He wouldn't take the risk. 

He watched Darla duck through the opening, the fire flaming all around her.  He knew it wouldn't be enough to kill her.  She was gone.  Because of him.  He'd lost.

He looked down at Buffy's closed eyes and couldn't regret the decision he'd made.  Her blood was all around him, on him, filling his lungs, filling him.  It filled the emptiness he'd created inside himself.  He had turned himself into a vessel, for vengeance, for violence, for what he believed was justice.  But she filled him for a moment, drove the hatred and the anger underneath the enforced blankness away.  She filled him with each unneeded breath, until he ached with the pain of becoming something more than a weapon.  Something like a man.  He brushed at the blood on her pale face with fingers blackened by demon blood and soot.  He heard a crack and glanced up as another piece of the roof caved in.

Cordelia was yelling for him, and he hunched over Buffy, running for the door as a flaming support beam crashed down behind him.  More of the burning roof crumbled.  Something hard and heavy bounced off his shoulders, burning the back of his neck.  He didn't feel it.  He didn't stop.  He held Buffy tight, covered her with his arms, his head and burst through the small lessening of flames that was the door to the warehouse. 

Behind him, it continued to collapse, falling in on itself.  There were sirens in the distance.  Cordelia and Wesley were beside him.  He could smell Gunn's blood, faint over the heavy blanket of Buffy's that coated his throat.  He didn't turn to look at the others.  He only stared into Buffy's face, at her closed eyes, and prayed.

Her eyelids flickered.  His hold tightened on her, then immediately relaxed as he remembered her injuries.  She opened her eyes, looked up into his face.  He saw the recognition, and then the fear.  She moved weakly against him, trying to escape.   He didn't let her.  He didn't understand the terror in her eyes, but he knew the only place she was safe was here, with him.  She tried to scream, but her voice was too hoarse, scraping his ears with pain.  Consciousness faded, and she was limp in his arms again.

The sirens screamed.  An ambulance, fire truck, police cars.  They were surrounded by noise and flashing lights.  The firemen hustled toward the warehouse, some of them screaming questions.  Cordelia and Wesley answered them, but Angel wasn't listening.  Paramedics put Gunn on a gurney.  Cordelia was talking to the boy, walking beside him as they wheeled him away.  They turned her away from the ambulance at the door.

"We'll drive behind," she said. 

"Don't you dare drive my truck," Gunn said.  "You either, English.  Stay away from my baby."  He smiled weakly, and they closed the doors to the ambulance.

Someone was pulling at Angel's arms, trying to take Buffy from him.  He bared his teeth, growling.  The hands backed off for a moment.  He looked at Buffy's face, waiting for her to open her eyes again.  There was blood soaked through her clothes, some dried, some fresh.  Her shirt hung off her in shreds.  He brushed the side of his face against her head.  He could still hear the weak thump of her heartbeat.  It couldn't be as bad as it looked.  But there was so much blood.  He could feel it, taste it, smell it, everywhere.

There were hands again, and then he heard Wesley beside him.  "Angel!" he was yelling.  "They have to take her to the hospital."

Part of him knew in an intellectual, abstract way that this was true.  But that was only abstract.  Hospitals.  Doctors.  Sterile white rooms were not here.  And what he knew with his whole soul, in the parts of him that predated x-rays and computers and sterile white rooms, was that the only way to keep her safe was to stay.  As long as he could hear her heart beating, she was alive.  If he couldn't hear it, she was gone.  He couldn't let her go.  He growled again. Wesley stood with the paramedics for a moment, but he couldn't hear them.  He was concentrating too hard on waiting for the next beat of Buffy's heart.  Each time it came.  Relief.  Another second when the world was in its right place.

He felt Wesley's hand on his shoulder, and twitched the man away.  "They're going to let you ride in the ambulance with her," he said.  "But you have to let them take her."  He gripped Angel's shoulder again, putting his face close to Angel's.  "If you don't let them take her, she could die.  Do you understand?"  He tightened his grip again, until the pain registered slightly.  "They're not going to let her die.  They'll take her from you if they have to.  Do you understand?"

Angel nodded slowly, and turned to the ambulance.  He walked toward it, growling at a paramedic who came too close.  Inside the ambulance, he set Buffy down on the gurney.  The two paramedics immediately swarmed inside and started to do tests.  Her pulse.  Her blood pressure.  They pulled open her eyelid and shone light into her eyes.  They spoke to each other in medical code.  Angel managed to let them.  Just barely managed to let them touch her, and prod her, and poke her.  They shut the doors, and the sirens started as they roared toward the hospital.

He held her wrist in his hand, and felt her pulse beat weakly against the palm of his hand.  He concentrated only on her pulse.  He closed his eyes, and filled the world with only her.  And the fact that she was alive. 


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