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03 November 2011 @ 10:32 am
Fic: Out of the Dark (9/13)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter 9
 
Lorne had set up a little pseudo-Caritas in the one of the basement levels of the building.  Chairs and tables were scattered around, there was a 'stage' area with a piano and a karaoke machine, and some clear dance floor.  He also kept a fully stocked bar, to which most of the gang seemed to be helping themselves enthusiastically, including Buffy, Angel noticed. 
 
As the party wore into its second hour, Buffy removed the sweatshirt she wore and was now dancing with Gunn and Knox in just a light tank top, her cargo pants, and combat boots.  Nina, sitting with Fred away from the noise, snorted.  "Look at GI Barbie," she said.
 
Fred gave her a sideways glance.  There was definite jealousy present in her voice.  "Well, it is hot in here," she ventured. 
 
"Oh, please," Nina replied.  "Look at how she's dancing all over your ex and tell me you don't think it's the least bit sordid!"  Nina took another gulp of her drink.
 
Fred had been watching them dance.  While she enjoyed dancing, she had never been as into the club scene as Charles.  She kind of wished she had been now, because watching him dance was a very nice pastime.  Not that she would ever think of leaving Wesley, but a girl could look.  Fred grinned.  "Actually, I think he's having a really good time.  There's nothing sordid about it.  And you don't need to get mad on my behalf.  Charles and I split a long time ago.  He deserves to have fun, and I really can't say anything about it, even if I wanted to."
 
Nina looked at Fred as if she was speaking Latin and shook her head.
  ~)O(~
 
The dancers decided to take a little break to get more drinks and sit down for a bit.  They wandered over to where everyone was clustered at this time and flopped down on whatever surface was handy.  Drinks and conversation flowed easily, although Fred noticed that while Nina was enjoying her drinks, she wasn't participating much in the conversation. 
 
Connor's phone beeped a few minutes later.  As he read the text message, a grin crossed his face.  He looked at the assembled group.  "It's been fun guys, but I've got to go."  He started gathering his things, fairly humming with excitement, waved to everyone and left.
 
Nina raised her glass.  "Here's to young love.  So… cute, yet so fleeting."  Everyone except Buffy drank the toast.  Then Nina looked at Angel and raised her glass to him.  "And here's to the real thing."  She put her glass down and kissed Angel, wrapping her arms around his neck. 
 
Buffy got up, refilled her drink, and wandered slightly unsteadily back over to the dance floor, turned the music up and started dancing again, soon followed by Gunn and Knox.  Lorne sat on the piano stool watching the dancers, and Wesley, Fred, Nina, and Angel remained in their seats talking.

  ~)O(~
 
Eventually, Knox gave up for the night and said his goodbyes.  Buffy and Gunn refilled their drinks and sat on the stage area talking with Lorne.  Angel couldn't help but notice how closely together they were sitting.  He knew he had no right to be jealous, but it ate at him.  The easy camaraderie they shared, the laughter, but more than that, he saw the looks exchanged between them and wondered if it wasn't a serious possibility that they would end up in bed together that night.  The thought made him sick but he couldn’t look away.
 
Nina noticed her lover's attention wandering for longer periods of time as the night drew on and was about at her wits' end.  Purring in Angel's ear, as he gawked at the pair up front, she drew his attention back to their conversation.  She would be thrilled if the little cheerleader would sleep with Gunn; maybe that would get Angel's mind off her once and for all.
 
None of those in the back had notice the stereo music stop, but they all noticed when Buffy's voice rang out, occasionally joined by Lorne's, as he played the piano to accompany her.   Angel stood and met Gunn toward the middle of the room. 
 
"Girl's got her drink on and is ready to be read, she said," he chuckled at his rhyme.  Then they silenced to pay attention to the song.
 
The power of orange knickers
The power of orange knickers
The power of orange knickers
Under my petty coat
 
The power of listening to what
You don't want me to know
 
Can somebody tell me now
Who is this terrorist?
Those girls that smile kindly
Then rip your life to pieces?
 
Nina harrumphed quietly in her seat next to Fred.
 
Can somebody tell me now
Am I alone in this?
This little pill in my hand
And with this secret kiss
Am I alone in this?
 
A matter of complication
When you become a twist
For that latest drink
As they're transitioning
 
Can somebody tell me now
Who is this terrorist?
This little pill in my hand
That keeps the pain laughing
 
Can somebody tell me now
A way out of this?
That sacred pipe of redstone
Could blow me out of this kiss
 
The power of orange knickers
Under my petty coat
The power of listening to what
You don't want me to know
 
Shame shame
Time to leave me now
Shame shame
You've had your fun
Shame shame
For letting me think
That I would be the one
At this point, Nina stood up and stalked out of the club.  She couldn't believe the gall of that girl for trying to make her out to be the bad guy, and Angel for letting it happen.  Fred and Wesley glanced at each other as the door closed behind her.  Then looked at Angel who didn't seem to notice it at all.
 
Can somebody tell me now
Who is this terrorist?
This little pill in my hand
Or this secret kiss
 
Buffy trailed off, looking a bit embarrassed.  To cover, she turned to Lorne and said, "Well?"
 
Lorne stood up and led her over to the tables.  "Let's have a seat, honey-bun.  And maybe a Sea Breeze?" he threw over his shoulder to anyone willing to get him a drink.
 
While everyone was shuffling into place Fred and Wesley held a hushed discussion regarding Nina's abrupt exit.  Wesley was disputing Fred's interpretation of Angel's unawareness as a sign of disinterest in the relationship.  "Buffy represents a case right now.  She's his job, in a way."
 
Fred shook her head.  "You know it's not about a job.  Just look at how he looks at her."
 
Wesley noticed Gunn finishing up mixing Lorne's drink and said, "Dear, we can discuss palace intrigue later.  Right now, we should hear Lorne's reading."
 
Buffy took a seat at a table with Lorne, while everyone else pulled chairs up, careful to stay far enough back to allow for the illusion of privacy, but close enough that all could hear.  Gunn slipped a Sea Breeze in front of Lorne and took his seat. 
 
Buffy looked around with an amused expression, shrugged her shoulders at their blatant interest and said, "And again, Well?"
 
Lorne took a long sip of his drink with a pleased expression.  He looked at Buffy and shook his head.  "How you got so far off track, honey-buns, is a mystery even to the Powers.  Not sure what we can do at this point, but I'll tell ya what I know.  You should have been here years ago."
 
"What?  What do you mean?"
 
"All this time wandering lost in the desert hasn't helped anything, sweet pea.  You were meant to come straight here after Sunnydale."
 
"But…  Angel and I… things are just better when we're apart."
 
"The curse isn't an issue, turtledove," Lorne blithely said.  Everyone in the room swiveled their heads to look at him.  Buffy paled and shook her head. 
 
Angel was the first to be able to speak.  "What do you mean, isn't an issue?"
 
"I mean, that when the red witch re-ensouled you last time at the Hyperion, there was no clause in the curse."
 
Buffy shook her head, dazed.  "She would have told us."
 
"I'm not too sure she knew.  When the young teacher had written the translation, she reworked the curse to eliminate the clause, but she never got a chance to tell anyone.”  Angel grimaced at the reminder of Jenny’s death.  “When your witch first went to perform the curse, she was still very young, and rather susceptible due to her physical injuries.  The Rom who originally cast the curse was able to channel herself into Willow and reinsert the clause language.  But when she visited us at the Hyperion, Willow was quite the mystic force herself and performed the curse as Jenny had written, therefore curse without clause."
 
Buffy felt as if a weight had landed on her chest, each breath a struggle.  No curse.  Despite the years apart from Angel, it still felt like those two words were realigning her whole foundation and she couldn’t get her balance.  What did this mean?  Would she have come here sooner if she had known?  Maybe even before going to Europe, maybe even instead of Europe?  But then, it would be Angel and his friends who were killed instead of Giles and the Scoobies.  No, Angel’s curse wasn’t the problem anymore.  Hers was.  Besides, he was with Nina now; it didn’t do any good to think about might have beens.
 
She was pulled out of her reverie as Angel bellowed, "Why the hell didn't you tell me this before?" venting his emotions of the past day or so into this one tangible fact.
 
Lorne shrugged.  "I'm talking about Buffy's destiny, not yours.  The Powers reveal what they want to."
 
"How can it not be part of my destiny?  It's my soul!!"
 
Wesley quietly ventured, "Maybe it's only part of your destiny when Buffy is involved."  He looked at Angel, who seemed stunned into silence. 
 
"Well, curse or no curse, I believe Columbus here," Buffy thumbed in the direction of Angel, "has already sailed that ship."
 
Angel stopped, looked puzzled.  "What?  Columbus?"
 
Buffy laughed.  "You know.  Explorer who didn't discover America… sailed the three ships: the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina."
 
An uncomfortableness settled over the group.  Buffy looked around.  "Guys, I'm okay with it.  Just pointing out the obvious.  It's not like, 'Hey my soul is bound, let's go boink Buffy!'"  She shrugged, and then looked at Angel.  "It's not like that… right?"  Something in his eyes made Buffy think that maybe it could have been like that.
 
Angel just looked at her as he tried to sort out his already jumbled emotions.  But now was not the time for personal angst.  "Lorne, did you see anything else?  Anything that might be helpful to the present situation?"  Anything to get this conversation off of my sex life?
 
Lorne took pity on his bewildered boss.  "Well, getting down to the meat of things, more like the gristle.  No images, no memories, no nothing friends."
 
"What do you mean?" Fred asked. 
 
"I mean folks, whatever mojo is working on lovely Buffy's memories doesn't stop there.  Even the Powers can't show me what happened; or won't, it's sometimes hard to tell where the line is."
 
"You mean, this spell is powerful enough to affect even the Powers that Be?" Wesley asked, intrigued. 
 
"You got it in one," Lorne nodded.
 
"That's very interesting," Wesley mused.  "Puts a whole different spin on things.  Only a very few people would have access to that level of…"  He trailed off, a strange look crossing his face.  "Excuse me, I think I just found a new avenue of research.  Fred, would you like to come assist?"
 
They hurried from the room.  Gunn smiled.  "I think they are actually going to research this time," he joked.
 
Lorne left shortly after, leaving only Buffy, Angel, and Gunn.  Buffy and Gunn were talking animatedly about some celebrity Angel had never heard of, joking and laughing.  Gunn made attempts to include Angel in the conversation, but he really had no interest.  When it became apparent that they weren't leaving anytime soon, Angel bid them good night and reluctantly left them alone.
 
Retreating to his office, he continued his contemplation of the Nina vs. Buffy issue.  Things definitely hadn't been going that great with Nina before Buffy's arrival and with Buffy around, well, everything was even more tense.  He had been comfortable in his relationship with Nina; a date for office functions, a warm body to slide into bed with, someone to share his days with.  Only he didn't share.  He didn't talk to her about the moral dilemmas he often faced walking the tightrope between good and evil.  Nor did she ask.  He didn't discuss the intricacies of living among humans with a demon constantly inside you; her demon nature did not allow for the duality he lived with.  And never had she asked.
 
But Buffy… even after he had left Sunnydale she had remained his closest friend and confidant, even if it was only in his mind that they spoke.  Her smile, even only in photographs, brightened his day like nothing else could.  And that night he had returned to Sunnydale to give her the amulet, to offer to fight by her side once more, she had been vibrant and beautiful, her kiss making his heart nearly explode in his chest.  Even now, not quite broken but most assuredly bowed, just looking at her could make his world seem to stop turning.  But she made it quite clear she wasn't interested in him anymore.  And he had his suspicions that either she or Gunn or both had something more than talk on their minds right now.  And it crushed him.
 
So what was he to do?

  ~)O(~
 
Buffy giggled as she tilted from her semi-seated position on the floor next to Gunn.  She had definitely surpassed her alcohol limit, especially given that she hadn't been drinking much lately.  She rested her head on his shoulder, which seemed to moderately dampen the spinning of the room.  His shoulder felt nice, warm and solid.  It seemed like it had been so long since she had been close to anyone, since she had taken comfort in anyone.  These last few months had been all about hiding and running, leaving no trace to guide her pursuer to LA.  Maybe it wouldn't hurt to just…
 
Gunn watched the thoughts crossing her eyes and waited.  There was no doubt that he was attracted to her, she was pretty and fun, physical and witty, and had been sending out signals all night.  The conversation had stopped and this was decision time.  He steadied her as he turned his body to face hers.  She slowly, slightly unsteadily, leaned in toward him. 
 
Their lips met softly, and again.  Gunn raised his hand to her face, brushing his fingers along her cheek.  Buffy pulled back and looked at him sadly.  She slowly stood up and walked over to the bar, where she got a glass of water.  "Being around you guys must be giving me a conscience," she muttered, half to herself.
 
Gunn sighed and pushed himself to his feet.  It was not fun being the guy babysitting during the maudlin phase of the evening.  He walked over and took a seat next to her at the bar, grabbing a bottle of water for himself.  "From what I hear, you always had quite the moral compass."
 
Buffy gave a half shrug.  "Last few years, conscience really hasn't been my guiding force, I guess." 
 
Gunn waited a moment, but she didn't volunteer any details.  "You know, I get that.  Before I was this posh lawyer you see today, I had my misguided youth smack in the LA's main vamp feeding grounds.  Conscience takes a back seat to survival.  But what brings your conscience up now?  In case you hadn't noticed, I wasn't exactly an unwilling participant back there."
 
Buffy chuckled mirthlessly.  Her life, especially when it came to romance, was annoyingly complex.  She took a swig of water and looked at Gunn.  He deserved the truth.  "Because as much I as want to tell you to take me home right now, I can't do that.  Not to you or to Angel.  Even if Angel isn't interested in me anymore like that, he does tend to be rather possessive, or maybe obsessive, about certain people in his life."
 
Gunn smirked and nodded.  "I know; I caught the Darla show."
 
Buffy mentally shrugged off the clenching of her heart that had always accompanied mentions of Darla ever since she had found out about Angel having a child with his Sire.  She cleared her throat.  "Then you know why we can't do this.  Angel would know and it would put a strain on your friendship and… that's not right."  She groaned.  "Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have cared.  I knew it was a mistake to come here."
 
Gunn decided to try to make the best of the situation seeing as Buffy was in a chatty mood.  He searched for a way to fish for information about the events they had uncovered in her background search.
 
"So it's been pretty bad out there for you?"
 
Her face darkened as she thought over the last couple of years.  "It's been bad on the good days," she replied. 
 
"You had any problems from the human element?"  Buffy looked at him suspiciously.  "I just mean, you've been out there trying to avoid the public side of life and that usually tends to be where some of the nastier humans, as well as demons, stay as well."  She was nodding slowly with a knowing look in her eye as he stammered out his explanation. 
 
Gunn gave himself a mental smack on the head.  He always had fared much better with the direct approach.  "Okay," he held his hands up in mock surrender.  "You got me.  We were doing some research to see if we could identify any places where your pursuer might be, and I came across some human attacks that seemed to point to, well, you."  He tensed as he tried to discern what her reaction was before he ended with a broken nose, or worse.
 
To his surprise, she didn't lash out.  Instead, her eyes glistened with unshed tears.  She smiled weakly.  "Back in Sunnydale, I never would have hurt a human.  I thought it was beyond me.  I never really understood how Faith had gone down that road so easily."  She shook her head.  "Now I know."
 
"Hey, Buffy.  I didn't mean that we think you did anything wrong.  I read the police reports.  These guys were mostly pimps, rapists, guys with rap sheets longer than my arm.  I really believe you were defending yourself."  She sat silently, waiting.
 
"But there is one incident we were concerned about."  She nodded, a faraway look in her eyes.  "A group of teenagers that were killed, quite obviously by vampires.  But the demon underground reports that…"

"That I led them into a trap and didn't lift a finger to help right?"
 
Gunn nodded.
 
Her breath hitched a little as she began to talk.  "I was working in some dive bar.  It was the first time in months that I had been able to stay in one place for more than a few days.  It was so nice to have some money, be able to sleep in an actual bed, you know?  These kids came in because the place couldn't have cared less about legal age.  Anyway, somehow they were tuned into the demon world, at least as far as knowing that it wasn't all ghost tales. 
 
"They found out I was the Slayer and thought it was the coolest thing in the world.  They started asking me if they could come out on patrol with me.  Since… England, I swore that I would never, ever take anyone out with me again.  I told them no, but they kept asking.  Then a few days later, they came in and said they'd heard someone was looking for me, and that if I didn't show them the 'real deal' they'd make sure that everyone knew where I was."
 
"Man, that's… stupid kids."
 
Buffy nodded.  "I wasn't sure if they were even telling the truth.  I mean, anyone with an ounce of reason could figure that I probably had someone on my tail.  Maybe they were just guessing."  She took a deep breath and continued.  "Anyway, I decided I couldn't take the chance.  I was going to leave that night.  They had left earlier, but were waiting for me when I left.  I told them to go home, but they followed me."  She laughed.  "I wasn't even patrolling; I was just going back to my motel.  Then we turned a corner and there they were; a whole cadre of vamps just hanging out."  Memories filled her vision. 
 
"They set on all of us at once.  They were young; I didn't really have any trouble with mine.  And then I looked around at these kids being massacred and…  I didn't feel anything.  All I could think was that they had threatened to kill me, or turn me over to be killed."  Tears were silently falling down her cheeks as she spoke.  "And I just stood there and watched them torn apart.  These stupid, selfish kids that just wanted a thrill.  And I couldn't care."
 
Buffy straightened and wiped her face with a napkin from the bar.  "So," she said.  "That's the story.  What are you guys going to do?  Am I a danger to society?"
 
Gunn looked at her.  "Not in my book.  And with that, my fair lady," he stood up.  "I bid you adieu."
 
Buffy raised her water glass to him as he left. 

 ~)O(~
 
Angel lay on the couch in his office in the dark, brooding.  He couldn't stop thoughts of Buffy and Gunn running through his head, although he gladly accepted them as punishment for his allowing himself to get into a relationship with Nina when he never intended to follow up.  The one girl he ever wanted was, even now, the one girl he could never have.
 
He heard footsteps in the lobby.  Concentrating, he detected only one heartbeat.  He saw Gunn pass the office door left slightly ajar and return a few minutes later with his briefcase on his way back to the elevator.  He couldn't help the satisfied smile that crossed his face briefly.  Gunn was going home alone.  Then he frowned a little, as he realized he was sleeping alone himself… on a couch for the second night in a row.