disclaimer in part 1

Relief
by Rebecca Carefoot
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PART FIVE


Buffy followed Angel for a while in silence, her eyes absently resting on the expanse of his back, the stiff set of his shoulders. She decided finally that she was making it too easy for him.

"Where are we going?"

He continued to walk, fast, determined, in silence.

She heaved a loud sigh. "Angel, what is the point?" she said. "Why are you doing this? How is giving me the silent treatment possibly going to help you destroy Wolfram and Hart or Darla and Dru or anyone?" She wasn't surprised when he refused to answer. "And for that matter...since when am I in your way? Or a burden?" She frowned. "In case you haven't noticed still the Slayer over here. Still capable of kicking your ass, much less the wonder twins, one of which we practically killed together the first time."

"I killed her," Angel muttered.

"For me," Buffy said. He didn't answer, and she kicked herself for going too far, driving him back into his antisocial shell. She touched his arm gently, then held him, her grip not a threat but a question. He stopped, his head bowed. "Angel, please," she said. "At least tell me why. If you're going to do this, you have to explain it to me. You owe me that much."

Angel's jaw clenched, his eyes on the ground. "I don't owe-" He cut himself off and looked up, his gaze colliding with hers. "Can't you just trust me?" he said. "Trust that I have reasons for what I'm doing. Trust me to do the right thing?"

Buffy searched his face, her fingers inching up to touch his cheek, trace the line of his jaw. He tensed, trembling between the need to pull back and the need to stay. "I trust you with my life," she said. "But not with your own." Her voice grew hard, but her fingers on his arm, on his neck were gentle. "I know you have reasons," she said. "I'm asking you to share them. That's all I asked for."

His eyes rose, his gaze on the curve of the pipe above. "The only way to beat them...Dru and Darla. Wolfram and Hart. Evil. Is to fight them on their own level." His voice was dull, dark, carefully empty. "I can't be tied down by emotions, by conscience, by rules and codes. It's about results," he recited. "And I'll do anything to stop them. Whatever I have to do." His eyes traveled to her hand on his arm. "I can't take you where I'm going. And I can't let them win because you or anyone else tells me I'm fighting them the wrong way. I'm fighting them the way they have to be fought." He softly pulled his arm from her grasp, took a step back. He turned and started down the tunnel again.

"So this is you doing anything to stop them?" she snorted. "Refusing to let me help. I'm a great weapon to have on your side," she said. "If you were really willing to do anything to win, you'd be willing to recognize that."

"You'll only be in the way," Angel said.

"Says you," Buffy snapped.

"You were in my way tonight," Angel pointed out in a monotone.

"We can still find them." She motioned down the tunnel. "We just go back to the hotel. Call Cordelia and Wesley. I'm sure they have resources that-"

"You can call whoever you want," Angel said, cutting her off.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "I can do pretty much anything I want," she smiled sweetly. "Including follow you around until this is settled."

She detected a quick sag of his shoulders. A slight drooping of his head. And kept the smile on her face long after it had grown brittle.

*

In Spike's car, Darla took a long look at the vampire once known as William the Bloody. Or Will. Or idiot boy. She shot a grim glare at Drusilla, who was sitting behind Spike in the backseat, crooning a short melody to herself. Her fingertips twisted and spun through the air behind his head, descending for brief slipping touches to his hair like a bee brushing against a pollen laden flower. They were bad enough separate, wild, uncontrollable, impulsive. But together... Her frown deepened. True. She wanted to bring death to this town, turn it upside down. And the two of them were masters of destruction, able to revel in it as few could. But she wanted more than chaos. She wanted power. Control. And it was impossible to keep these two in check for long. Sooner or later they would screw things up for her. If she let them.

Dru turned to her, eyes blank, lips trembling; and Darla hid all her thoughts behind a smile.

"Isn't it beautiful, grandmother?" Drusilla asked, her voice soft, whispery. "A family again." Her eyes flickered briefly with dissatisfaction. "But we haven't got our daddy," she said.

Darla's smile faltered, but did not fall. "Angel won't forget us," she said. "We'll give him something to remember. Before we're done, this whole city will remember us." Dru laughed, deep, throaty, her eyes going blank again, settling on something in the distance.

"So?" Darla directed her voice at Spike. "What are you doing in town?"

"Followed the Slayer," Spike said. Darla flinched, her smile disappearing. Dru hissed through her teeth.

"What's she doing here?" Darla asked.

"I'll give you one guess," Spike answered.

"That little bitch," Darla seethed, her thoughts flying to the last time she'd seen the young blonde Slayer. Right before Angel had rammed an arrow through her heart. She owed that overly perky cheerleader a lesson. Preferably involving a loss of limbs and a hideous, lingering death.

"Slayer," Dru keened. Her fingers danced toward Spike's head again. They settled against his skull, her nails raking through his hair. She shivered, her hand clenching around the dyed blonde locks. Spike winced. "She's still inside," she said, her voice high, shaking. "She's inside my Spike, like a worm, she brings the rot. Brings it deep." Her hand jerked closed on a handful of hair, and Spike yelped.

"Hey," he said. "Watch out now, Dru. Don't distract the driver. Unless you want me to wreck the car."

She wasn't listening, but she jerked her hand back as if she'd been burned. She keened, a half crying whine, a trembling moan of distress.

"What is it, Dru?" Spike asked, glancing reflexively in the empty rearview mirror. "What's hurt you, baby?"

"It's cold," she said, bobbing and leaning, her hands curled into claws near her face. "It shines in the dark. I can see it. Cold steel. Working. Always working."

"Pull over here," Darla said, pointing to the neon sign of a bar. "I want to get a bite before the auditions."

Spike pulled over, and turned to look at Dru. He touched her chin, pushing her head up, meeting her eyes with his. "What are you on about, Dru?"

"Poor Spike," she whimpered. "My poor Spike. Trapped. Muzzled."

"What's she talking about?" Darla asked impatiently.

Spike chewed his lower lip. "No idea," he finally said.

"You know," Drusilla said, lifting her head, her smile sly. "They chained my bad dog." She growled, clicking her teeth together in his direction. "They bent you inside, made you hurt." Her smile widened. "I know how to let the dog loose."

Spike narrowed his eyes. "You talking about the chip, baby?" he asked.

"What chip?" Darla asked.

"Military boys put it in my head," Spike said.

"He can't taste the dark," Dru said. "And the blood's all stale and cold."

Darla rolled her eyes. "Want to translate that one for me?"

"I can't hurt humans," Spike admitted gruffly. Darla stared at him for a moment, then burst into laughter. Spike scowled. "I can still hurt you just fine."

She snorted. "I'd like to see you try."

"I know how to take it away," Dru said, bouncing in her seat. She giggled, a low, sustained, jittery laughter.

"You can't take the chip out," Spike said gently. "Doc said it's impossible."

"Not take it out," Dru said, her eyes bright with excitement. "I can go inside."

"You know I don't like-" Spike started.

"Oh, what do you have to lose?" Darla asked. "Don't be such a pussy. Or did they take your balls when they put the muzzle on?"

Spike grimaced at her, then turned his gaze on Dru. "All right, baby. I'm yours to use."

Dru's long red finger nails hovered in front of Spike's eyes. He followed them as they moved slowly from side to side almost without realizing what he did. Their white tips floated in front of him, side to side, then up to Dru's eyes, blood, white tips, blue eyes. Such clear blue eyes, like the sunlit sky he couldn't stare into without being burned.

"Be in me."

And he was falling, surrounded by blue, by softness, by the smell of her hair, the curve of her lips as she spoke again, from what seemed a great distance.

"Be in my eyes."

And he was.

*

Buffy climbed into the basement of the hotel and headed up the stairs after Angel. Once in the lobby, he made a beeline for a file cabinet behind the counter, and began to rifle through it. She rolled her eyes and sat down at the cleared off desk behind the check-out counter. After dialing Cordelia's number, she listened to the ringing, wondering if she should call her mom, let the others know what was going on. And that it would probably be a few days before-

"Hello?" Cordelia said.

"It's me," Buffy answered.

"And?"

"I found him," Buffy said. "We're back at the hotel." She looked at Angel's profile, all his concentration on the papers he was searching through. "We missed Darla and Dru at the club. They're going to be holding some kind of demon auditions tonight, but no one seems to know where." There was a pause on the other side of the line. "I thought you or one of the others might have an idea where we could find out."

She could hear Cordelia talking to someone else, portions of the conversation reaching her ears. "Research...Didn't I tell you she'd...Demon version of Fame..." Buffy waited, feeling like that's all she'd been doing since she got to LA. Listening. Waiting. Following. She didn't fit in here. No one wanted her around. Why was she even staying? So what if Angel wanted to go after the vamps or the lawyers alone? She stared at him, his eyes as they flicked over the slip of paper in front of him, the hard set of his jaw, the efficient brush of his fingers as he filed a number. Could she really force him to accept her help? Could she really be any use here, when he seemed so completely uninterested in hearing her? Whatever influence she'd had, whatever she'd meant to him in the past...it didn't seem to... She had the sudden urge to smooth back an errant spike of his hair, to press her face to his chest, draw his lower lip into her mouth where she could taste... She propped her heavy head up with a hand. Her eyelids drooping. God, she was tired.

Cordelia's voice broke into her thoughts. "Okay, Gunn's going to try a couple of his contacts. They're not demons, but they might have heard something. And Wesley's going to-" She stopped, cut off by a sudden gasp. Buffy sat up straight as she heard an almost scream over the line, a loud thunking as the phone dropped, and then a confusing wave of noise, groans of pain, a thrashing, dim murmurs. It quieted, and Buffy held the phone warily.

"Cordelia?" she said, her voice hesitant. "Are you okay?" She frowned at the vague sound of voices, and turned a helpless look to Angel. He was studiously pretending to ignore her and the entire conversation, but she could tell he was listening. His fingers closed too hard on the next file he pulled, crumpling it against his palm. "Hello?"

"Ah- yes," Wesley's voice came across the line. "It's Wesley here."

"What's going on?" Buffy asked. "Is everyone okay?"

"Cordelia will be fine once she takes a few pain killers," Wesley said. He paused. "The girl she's seen in her vision, however, I cannot vouch for so easily."

"The girl?" Buffy prompted.

"Seems to be a victim of a demon attack, or will be the victim if we can't stop it in time." He spoke off the phone, his voice muffled, then returned. "Yes, from Cordelia's description I'm fairly sure it's a variant of a Tarkith. Very large. Very vicious. Very strong."

"You're not going after it alone?" Buffy said.

"No, it would be the three of us," Wesley answered.

"Well, come pick me up," Buffy said. "I'll help you kill it. And hopefully keep you from being killed in the process."

"Are you sure you-" Wesley started.

"It's my job," Buffy said. She looked up at Angel, catching him before he could look away. He returned her gaze.

"We'll be right there," Wesley said. She hung up, her eyes still on Angel.

"Well?" she said. "Cordelia's had a vision." He flipped through a stack of papers, pulling one out of the batch. "Do you care?"

"I'm a little busy," Angel said. "If you're done with the phone, I have a contact who may know where Darla and Dru are going."

"Cordelia and Gunn and Wesley are going to face a demon right now," Buffy said. "They're going to try to do your job."

"I'm not forcing them to do anything," Angel said, picking up the receiver.

"You might as well-"

"What about you?" Angel said. "I thought you said you were going to trail me to the ends of the earth. I thought you were determined to help me whether I wanted it or not."

"There are other people who need help more," Buffy said. "Dru and Darla will still be here tomorrow."

"Not if I kill them tonight," Angel answered. He dialed a number and turned away.

"You're going to let your friends face the fights that are meant for you?" Buffy said. "You're going to let them risk their lives..." She trailed off. "Will it be worth it to kill the people you hate if the people you love die because you weren't there?"

After a short pause, Angel said simply, "Yes." And Buffy could think of no answer for that. She grabbed the sword off the desk and walked outside alone.

continue