Summary: Sequel to Devil’s Truth. The Scooby Gang and Angel Investigations try to heal the wounds opened by Belial as they hunt a rampaging Angelus through LA.
Rating: R (Violence, language, adult situations)
Spoilers: Devil’s Truth
Disclaimer: I don’t own Buffy, Angel, or anyone else. Joss does. If I did, this is what I would do with them. I don’t own any of the songs mentioned in here, either. I give credit to their owners in the story.
Notes: This timeline diverges after BTVS Season 4 and Angel Season 1. It is mid-season 5, but not Joss’s. Riley does not become a self-destructive moron (Sure, I would let vampires chew on me if I thought that my girlfriend still loved her ex. No, wait, I wouldn’t. That would be fucking insane.). Dawn (may she dissolve back into the primal energy from whence she came) doesn’t exist, and Joyce doesn’t die…of natural causes, anyway.
Kate Lockley stumbled for the phone in her darkened apartment.
" ‘mcomin’, ‘mcomin’," She muttered.
She grabbed it and hit the ‘Talk’ button. "H’lo."
"Hi, Kate! How’re you doing?"
She snapped awake. "What do you want, Angel?"
"Whoah, grouchy! Did I interrupt something? No, wait a second, look who I’m talking to. Of course I didn’t."
"I asked you what you want," She demanded.
"Me? I just want you to come out here and meet me in this nice, dark alley beside your building."
"That’s real funny, Angel."
"So that’s a no?"
"That’s right. That’s a no. And you’re still not invited in." She hit the ‘off’ button, but the phone was only halfway back to the cradle before it rang again. She snatched it back to her ear and jammed her thumb down on the ‘talk’ button. "Listen, Angel—"
"No, you listen," He snarled. It was a bestial sound. Shocked, she fell silent. He hadn’t sounded like that even when she was trying to prevent him from visiting his friends in the hospital. "And you’d better consider it a little more carefully, because I’m not the soul-whipped wuss you’re used to antagonizing."
"The reason I called you this late is because I’ve been working on your building all night. Believe me when I say that I have some experience with arson, and I know how to block exits. If you don’t come out, then all those pretty young couples and cute little babies that you live with burn. Call for back up, and they burn."
"Can you take the chance? See you in a few minutes. Oh, and when you get here, call me Angelus."
Five minutes later, Kate was in the appointed alley.
She’d never liked this alley. No city dweller would have, but most of her neighbors were so accustomed to it that they didn’t even notice any more. This was a good neighborhood, and nothing had ever actually happened in that alley. There had been no muggings, no rapes. No bodies had been found in the dumpster that half-filled it, no needles or crack vials mixed with the trash that littered the ground. But Kate was a police officer, and a highly dedicated one at that. She looked at all things and all situations and assessed them in terms of the potential for a crime to be perpetrated. She looked at the alley, and the potential actually scared her. It was dark, of course, but there was more to it than that. Between the dumpster, the fire escapes, and the trash cans, there were too many places to hide.
Too many angles of attack.
She was dressed in blue jeans, a denim shirt, and a leather jacket—the closest things to armor that she owned. In one hand was a cross with its handle whittled into a stake. In the other was a squirt bottle full of holy water.
"Alright, Angel," She called. "I’m here."
A dark, hulking shape stepped out from behind the dumpster. It struck a match, then raised it to the cigarette he held in his lips, revealing the vampire’s familiar face. " ‘Bout time," he muttered around the cigarette. He removed it from his lips and blew a stream of smoke into the air. "And I told you to call me Angelus."
"You can relive you glory days on your own time," She retorted. "Don’t expect me to indulge you. Now what do you want?"
"I’d like a snack," he said frankly. "I ate a hooker in Chinatown, but you know how it is—an hour later, and you’re hungry again."
Kate felt bile rise into her mouth. She remembered her father, and all the times that she had helped this thing. "So you’re finally showing your true colors, are you?"
"Well, you see, it’s not actually that simple," Angel said. "The fact is, I’d been in this relationship that had been holding me back for a long time—"
"You know what?" She snapped. "I really don’t care. I’ve heard it before, down at the precinct, and I’m sure I’ve heard it better."
His grin didn’t falter. "Oh, now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings. I was just going to kill you, but now I think I’ll keep you for a month or two. Use you as a snack around the lair. Try out some torture techniques that I’ve just been itching to use since electricity was discovered." His grin grew broader and more feral, and he began to stalk toward her. "Sound like fun?"
She thrust her cross out at him, and began to advance on him. She wasn’t one of the helpless innocents that he was used to terrorizing, god damn it. It was time for him to learn some fear. "Know what sounds like fun to me? Staking you like I should have long ago."
Angel backed away, but he didn’t lose his grin. "Oh, dear," he said in a high, mocking, old-lady’s voice, laying his free hand on his cheek in a ‘Well I Never’ pose. "She has a weapon. Whatever shall I do? Oh, wait." The smile dropped from his face, and he flicked his cigarette away. "That’s right." He pulled a nine-millimeter out of the depths of his leather jacket. "I have a weapon, too."
Kate barely had time to gasp in shock before one bullet shattered her left knee, and the other slammed into her right shoulder. She crashed to the ground, and her cross skittered away from her strengthless grasp. She kept her grip on the holy water, but Angel was on her in an instant, and he kicked it away.
"You’re not dealing with Soul Boy this time, you arrogant little sow," he snarled, his demonic face showing through.
"Who the hell…" She gasped. "Is Soul Boy?"
He waved the question away. "I’ll go into the details of just how stupid you are later."
He grabbed her uninjured leg and dragged her to a manhole cover halfway down the alley. The pain was searing, and it left her too weak to try to escape when he released her to pry up the cover. Once he had done so, he crouched on the edge and peered down into the darkness. Then he reached over and spun her around, then rolled her over so that she, too, was looking down into the sewer.
"Think you can make it down there?" He asked.
"I can’t walk, you moron."
"You know," He said mildly, "You need to learn some respect. But don’t worry," he reached over and patted her injured shoulder. She bit back a scream. "I’m just the one to teach you."
He stood, struck another match, lit another cigarette, shook the match out, and took a long drag. "You know what?" He said.
"What?" She snarled.
"Remember how I said that I’d burn your neighbors if you didn’t come down here?"
"Yes I do, and believe me, I never would have—"
"Well, I’ve thought about it, and I don’t recall ever promising to let them live if you did come."
With that, he picked her up by the wrist of her uninjured arm. She wasn’t a short woman, but when he stood to his full height and extended his arm, her feet couldn’t touch the ground. He turned and swung her out over the open manhole. "Wait, what are you doing? No!"
With a grin, he let her go.
There was an eruption of exquisite agony at the bottom. Bright spangles of color burst behind her eyelids, then everything went black.
Standing back up at the top of the ladder, Angelus looked down and grinned. Then he took another deep drag off his cigarette and flicked it into the window he had broken out of the basement of Kate’s building.
Still grinning, he leaped down into the dark tunnels below.
The Benton Arms apartment building exploded at 11:42 PM, April 23, 2001. Witnesses on the street described an explosion that eviscerated the lower three floors of the seven-story building. The fire was first attributed to a gas leak, but that verdict was changed to Arson—and murder—when it was discovered that the fire escape had been carefully sabotaged.
Of the building’s one hundred fifty six residents, sixty-eight made it out alive.
Getting Some Air
Eight hours earlier
When the far-flung members of the Scooby Gang had been kidnapped by the fallen angel Belial, they had apparently been transported to Sunnydale in their own vehicles. This made their necessary exodus to LA that much simpler.
After a few hours of sleep to avoid exhaustion-related car accidents, they had all piled into their fleet of vehicles and taken to the freeway in a convoy. The only safe place for Angel and Spike was the back of Oz’s van, so that was where they sat, along with Willow, Tara, and, of course, Oz himself. Joyce and Xander rode in the Summers family car, joined only by Anya. Meanwhile, Cordelia and Faith rode with Giles—"Hey, nice wheels, G." "Yeah, when did you get rid of your toaster oven with wheels?"—leaving Wesley to drive Angel’s car home, accompanied by Buffy and Riley.
"Never tell him that I said this," Riley had said the first time he’d seen the car. "But that is just about the most incredible motor vehicle I have ever seen in my life." Then he had frowned. "But a vampire driving a convertible in a city famous for its sun? Doesn’t that reveal a certain degree of self-hatred?"
Buffy and Wesley had just looked at each other uncomfortably.
"Angel? Where are you? What happened to you guys? I got to the hotel and the place was all shot up—Wesley and Cordelia! Are—"
"They’re okay. I’m the only one who got shot. We were captured."
"I figured that. What happened?"
"Well, we won—I guess—and everyone lived, and we’re on our way home."
"Bringing any guests?"
"About a dozen."
"Don’t do anything halfway, do you?"
"Listen. There’s something more important. One of the bad guys escaped. He’s an impostor of me, and he’s headed your way."
"That’s bad. How do we know when it’s the real you?"
"Well, it’s a long story, but I aged a few years while I was here. I have a few silver hairs now."
"That’s a bit hard to notice from a safe distance at night."
"Right. Uh, how’s this: don’t let me come near unless I have Cordelia or Wesley with me, and they’re holding a cross in their hand, so you know they’re not vamped."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Good. Meet you at the Hyperion?"
"I’ll be there."
"Good. See you then."
"See you then."
Angel hit the off button on his cell phone, and started to put it away, but Spike stopped him.
"Hold on a mo’. Aren’t you forgetting something?"
Angel took a deep breath. The mere presence of his childe was enough to make him want to throw the van door open. "What do you want, Spike?"
"The Slayer’s dad lives in LA, ya bleedin’ ponce. Better check with mum to see if he’s in harm’s way or not."
Angel held out the phone. "You do it, Spike. Joyce and I have some issues to work out, and the less we talk the better."
Spike stared at the phone, then at Angel, then back at the phone. Then he rolled his eyes in disgust and took it.
There was silence in the Summers car, and there had been since departing Sunnydale. Joyce kept her eyes on the road and said nothing, while Xander sat in the back and alternated between staring silently out the window and clinging tightly to Anya. Suddenly, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida began playing from the front seat.
Joyce picked up her phone. "Hello?"
"Yeah. Listen, do you know if the Slayer’s dad is in town right now? ‘Cause if he is, we better call and warn him if we don’t want to find him on the floor of the nancyboy’s HQ. Angelus knows everything the poofter knew until they were separated, and that’s just the sort of thing he likes best."
"No, he’s on a business trip to New York." She paused. "This Angelus—he’s really that vicious?"
"Mum, I hate to say this, ‘cause I have a reputation of my own to uphold, but he’s about the most vicious there ever was. Other vampires were afraid of him. Even old, powerful ones. Even his own Sire. We’re in for a right nasty tussle, mum, make no mistake about it."
Faith and Cordelia sat on opposite sides of Giles’s back seat. They had been silent since the trip began, breaking the silence only to argue with Giles over the choice of radio station. Despite some truly inspired pestering, the radio had stayed on the oldies station where it began.
He had turned it off entirely when "Eve of Destruction" came on.
"Hey, Queen C," Faith spoke up, breaking the long silence.
Cordelia smiled sadly. "No one’s called me that for a long time."
"I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about…you know…"
"The elbow in the face?" Cordelia said. She watched Faith squirm for a moment before saying "Don’t worry about it. I’ve had worse."
Cordelia looked at her sternly. "Wesley is the one you need to apologize to. Me, I was satisfied when you went to prison. If I’d still wanted revenge—which I didn’t—I would have called it got when I saw you on those crystals. I’ve been there myself—"
"Impaled on crystals?" Faith asked incredulously.
"No, a rebar."
"So I know how it feels, and it more than pays back for one punch in the face."
Faith smiled. "Thanks. Now, did that rebar thing happen when I knew you?"
"Oh, it was senior year," Cordelia said. "It was a real…mess…" She trailed off into thoughtful silence.
"As for my part," Giles said from the front seat. "I agree with Cordelia. You never did anything to me, personally. And if you need to talk to someone in what is sure to be a trying time for you, then I am here to listen."
"What about Buffy?" Faith asked. "Won’t she need you?"
Giles caught the undercurrent in the question. Perhaps there was some resentment left. More likely, Faith still didn’t feel quite secure in her new place in the Scooby Gang. Surely it must seem to her like such affection could be taken away at any moment. Most likely, it always had been before. The thought broke his heart. Suddenly, he could barely remember her as the Slayer, a being of lethal power. Suddenly, she was just a girl who had been hurt, betrayed, and abandoned too many times. "Buffy is like a daughter to me," he answered carefully. "But a father can have more than one daughter."
She laid a hand on his shoulder, and when he glanced into the rear view mirror, he saw her wiping at her eyes. "Thanks, G," she said softly.
"Giles," Cordelia interrupted sharply. "There’s a rest stop up ahead. Could you pull in?"
Giles sighed. "Yes, Cordelia."
It turned out that several other members of the Scooby Convoy also had calls of nature to answer. Joyce, the last one out of the Ladies’ Room, commented on how quickly the younger women had been in and out.
"We spent years hanging out in graveyards fulla monsters all night, Mrs. S," Faith explained. "How long would you want your pants around your ankles?"
"Although I think those bathrooms might have been scarier," Willow added.
"Agreed," Oz said as he joined the group.
"What’re you complaining about, wolf-boy?" Faith scoffed. "You can stand up."
"And I’ve never been more grateful for it."
It turned out that most of them, not having eaten since the previous evening, had other needs to be taken care of. The one restaurant that the rest stop had to offer—a McDonald’s—suffered an immediate, if minor, rush. There was a momentary problem when Tara was told that this particular McDonald’s didn’t sell Garden Salads, but Oz offered to eat the meat bits out of a Chef’s Salad, and all was well again.
They all decided to eat outside—if the two vampires sleeping in the van were any indication, Angelus probably wasn’t causing any immediate damage at the moment.
Buffy, the first one out, had sat down at a table with her legs stretched to the other side to save at least one seat for Riley, when Cordelia approached.
"Can we talk?" Cordelia asked.
"No," Buffy snapped. "I know that I owe Angel at least three or four different apologies, and I’ll do it. But right now, I’m still trying to get my head straight, so I don’t need a Cordelia Chase ‘Somehow This Is All Buffy’s Fault’ lecture."
"That’s okay," Cordelia said, sitting down. "You’re getting an entirely different lecture."
"The word ‘no’ means nothing to you, does it?" Buffy said. "It’s a good thing you’re not a man."
"Just listen, will you?" Cordelia said. "I only need a minute."
Buffy subsided, settling back and glaring. "Go on."
"Look, no one says you don’t have a right to be angry," Cordelia said. "Hell, no one could really fault you if you never forgave them."
Buffy’s glare started to fade. "But…" She prompted.
"Remember Senior Year?" Cordelia said. "I refused to even listen to Xander’s apologies for months. I wouldn’t even come near you guys unless the world was at stake—and sometimes not even then. I didn’t find out about the Sisterhood of Jhe until Angel told me about it sometime last year. And when I did come near you, I tried to hurt you as much as I could."
"That’s true," Buffy agreed. "I do remember some bystanders getting caught in the crossfire."
"And I’m sorry about that, but I’m trying to get to my point."
"I spent Senior Year alone. My Cordettes didn’t want me back, and I rejected all of you. Because Xander and Willow hurt my pride."
"And your gut."
"And my gut. Look, my point is, they were genuinely sorry, but I wouldn’t accept their apology, and it cost me. I spent senior year alone, rather than with some of the best friends that a person can have. People who would have stood by me even when I lost my money. I don’t want the same thing to happen to you."
"Don’t worry, it won’t."
"You should talk to them now."
Buffy shook her head. "I can’t."
"In case you don’t remember," Cordelia said sternly, "We’re going up against Angelus. We don’t know if everyone’s coming out."
"Then I’ll have to live with the regret," Buffy said. "Right now, I am thirty-one flavors of messed up, and if I try to talk to them, I’ll probably say or do something that I’ll regret even more. But I will accept their apologies when they give them "
Cordelia considered that for a moment, then nodded. "Fair enough," she allowed. Then she glanced over her shoulder and noticed that the rest of the convoy was starting to filter out of the building in twos and threes. "Oh, no!" Cordelia leaped to her feet. "I can’t be seen like this! I have a reputation to uphold!"
"A reputation for what?" Buffy smirked.
"Hating you," Cordelia retorted tartly as she turned toward another table.
She turned halfway back. "Yes?"
"Thanks for caring."
Cordelia smiled, just a little bit sadly. "There are things that make you care, Buff. And some of them have happened to me since you knew me. Still, you’re welcome."
With that, she sat down at another table as the other members of the Convoy began to arrive.
Two Hours Later
Six Hours Until the Blast
Gunn was pacing the Hyperion lobby with his homemade axe in hand when Wesley and Cordelia led the Scooby Gang through the doors.
"So here it is," Cordelia was saying. "Base, sweet base."
A cloud of "Ooh"s, "Ahh"s, and "cool"s came from the Scooby Gang.
"Cordelia!" Gunn called, striding across the room, not quite allowing himself to run. "Wesley!" He looked them over carefully when he arrived. "Are you okay? What happened?"
"Quite all right," Wesley assured him. "As to what happened, it’s quite a long story—"
"Taken hostage by a true devil." Cordelia said. "But we beat him."
"Maybe not so long," Wesley said as Gunn goggled at them both.
"You’ll have to give me the details later. Where’s Angel?"
"He had to take the sewer route," Wesley answered. "He should be here any minute."
Giles cleared his throat.
Wesley started. "Oh! Yes! I’m sorry. How rude of me. Everyone, this is our associate, Charles Gunn."
"Just call me Gunn."
Wesley then proceeded to introduce the others, and most returned the greeting politely. One, however, saw something that interested her. As the rest of the Sunnydale contingent dispersed to find seats in the lobby, Faith stepped up to Gunn."
"Where did you get that axe?" She asked. "I’ve never seen one like it before."
"Oh, this?" He held it up, looking surprised, as if he’d forgotten it was in his hand. "Some of my boys made it for me."
"They did a good job."
It was then that Angel and Spike came up out of the basement. Spike surveyed the lobby, then barked out laughter. "Nice set-up, Peaches," He said. "How many rooms do you have here to brood all alone in?"
"Spike, your chip would let you fight back against me, so I’m not honor bound to not kill you. Now shut up."
Gunn pulled out a cross and handed it to Cordelia. Perplexed, she took it, and her confusion only heightened when he watched her for a moment, then nodded in satisfaction. "So that’s the real Angel?" He asked, pointing.
"In the pale, room-temperature flesh." Cordelia answered.
Angel and Gunn met each other in the center of the room. Gunn looked Angel up and down. He was right; he had aged. Not much, just a line here and there. A silver hair mixed in among the dark-brown spikes. Not much at all. Except that Angel was supposed to be ageless.
"Man, what happened to you?"
"Shot. A lot. Then beat up. Bad. Had to heal really fast, and it taxed my system a little."
Angel raised his voice "All of the rooms are unlocked," He said. "Why don’t you all go settle in, and meet back here?"
Angel turned back to Gunn as the Sunnydale group dispersed. "Did you give all of your people the message about identifying the impostor?" He asked.
"Sure, sure. Now what’s this ‘impostor’ thing all about?"
"What message?" Cordelia asked as she and Wesley joined the huddle.
Angel explained his method of signaling to allies that it was safe to approach.
Cordelia looked at Gunn. "So that’s why you—"
"Brilliant," Wesley said. "Who thought of it?"
Angel rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Wes." Then he turned back to Gunn. "You’d better get your people rallied and armed. Angelus—"
"Now he’s the impostor, right?" Gunn interrupted.
The other three looked at each other. "I think it’s time to give him those details now," Cordelia said.
Taking turns, they explained all that had happened during their ‘trip’ to Sunnydale, with Wesley throwing in a few explanations about the true nature of vampires.
"So," Gunn said when they were done speaking. "This Angelus is a pure-demon version of you." He pointed at Angel.
"That’s right." Wesley said.
"That sounds bad."
"Doesn’t get much worse," Cordelia agreed.
"And he’s going to start collecting followers," Angel added. "An army, if he can manage it. We may or may not need their help, but your people are definitely going to need to be ready to defend themselves."
As Gunn departed, the other members of Angel Investigations turned back toward the lobby, to find Riley Finn sitting at the foot of the stairs.
"I think I’ll go see if my books have any information on pure vampire demons," Wesley said quickly, heading for their makeshift reference library behind the checkin desk..
"I’ll—uh—help him!" Cordelia said, taking off after him.
"Cowards," Angel muttered as he crossed the floor.
Riley was leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees. "Hey, Big Man," he said as Angel arrived.
"Nice hotel you have here. How much did it set you back?"
Angel grinned. "Careful. That’s the second nice thing you’ve said to me. It might get to be a habit." With that, he sat down on the stairs beside Riley. "And it didn’t cost as much as you might think. It was run-down and abandoned and haunted by a Pseulak paranoia demon. The owner was glad to be rid of it."
They sat in silence for a moment, then Riley spoke up again. "Neither of us knows what’s going to happen, or what we should do, do we?"
"Not a clue."
"So what now?" Riley asked. "Shake hands and may the best man win?"
Angel looked at the floor. "I think we both know who the best man for her is," He said.
Riley looked up at him sharply. "Who’s that?"
Angel didn’t look up. "I left so she could have a chance at a normal life. And if I’d had any say in it, you’re just the kind of man I would have chosen for her. You’re brave. Honest. Compassionate. You’re a good man, and you can even fight at her side."
"Thanks," Riley murmured.
"You can give her sunlight, and children, and everything else that a normal life is supposed to have. All I can give her is darkness and—"
Angel’s head snapped up. He stared at in shock at the young man beside him.
"How old are you?" Riley demanded.
"Um…counting my time as a human, 274," Angel answered, dumbfounded.
"Then that’s your excuse. But it won’t work again. You run away or chase her off this time, she’ll come after you with a stake. And you’ll deserve it, too."
"Look, boy," Angel bristled. "I’m just trying to do the right thing, here, and—"
"It was the right thing when you had that demon inside you, waiting to get out if you ever..." Riley winced. "If she ever made you perfectly happy. But now it’s time to reassess the situation."
"What’s to reassess?" Angel asked "Most of my reasons still stand. I can’t give—"
"Will you stop thinking about what you can and can’t give her and start thinking about what she wants?" Riley snapped. "Bulletin, Big Man, but ‘normal’ isn’t one of Buffy’s options. Whatever gave you the idea that her life with me was ‘normal’? She still sees more moonlight than sun, and as to children—can you imagine how vulnerable a third-trimester Slayer would be? How ‘bout the Slayer’s children after they’re born?" He paused, waiting for an answer. Receiving none, he continued: "She’s twenty. That’s a grown-up in any era. In your day, she’d already be married with kids, running a household. Time to let her make some of her own decisions."
"Why are you encouraging me like this?" Angel asked. "If you succeed, I become your rival."
"Part of it’s the psychological training," Riley said. "I like to talk sense into people."
"Good." Then Riley sighed. "The other half is that I love her, and I want her to be happy. It would make me happy if it was with me, but if it’s with you, well, I’ll find some way to survive." He smiled. "Just like you."
"What a mess."
"You said it."
"What are you two talking about?"
Both looked over their shoulders to see Buffy standing there, her hands on her hips.
"Oh, just trading death threats," Riley answered.
"And insults of each other’s ancestry," Angel added. "Which is where I have an advantage, because I met most of his ancestry."
"Right," Riley said. "I just threatened to cut his limbs off, shove a red hot iron up his ass, and post him on the west side of a wall so he can watch the sun coming for him all day."
"And I just told him that his great-grandmother tupped every man and most of the horses in three parishes."
Buffy sighed and sat down on the steps above them. "You forgot to mention anything about crosses, or holy water, or cutting off his ears, nose, tongue, and dick," she said to Riley. "And you forgot to mention that his great-grandfather was known as ‘He-Who-the-Sheep-Fear’." She said to Angel. She got up and stepped between them, down the stairs, and into the lobby. "Honestly. Amateurs."
Oz heard the shower running in the room as he knocked on the door. Assuming that only one of them was showering, that gave him a fifty-fifty chance.
He was in luck. Someone on the other side of the door turned the knob, and swung it open.
"Hey," he greeted her.
"Oh, Oz. Hello. I’m sorry, Willow’s in the shower."
"That’s okay. I wanted to talk to you."
"Oh," She looked surprised. "Okay."
"Mind coming out in the hall?" he asked. "I’m not at a place with Willow where I can see her naked anymore."
She nodded and stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind her.
"Sorry I tried to eat you the first time we met," he said without preamble.
"Oh, that," She said, a bit stunned by his directness. "That’s okay. You weren’t entirely yourself."
"Kind of the whole problem."
She smiled. "Seriously, it’s okay. You did your best, and no harm came of it, and now it’s in the past."
He smiled back. "You’re quite the human, Tara."
It was then that he heard the water stop running in the shower. "She’s done," he said. "Better go."
"Oz?" She asked as he turned to walk away.
He looked back over his shoulder. "Hm?"
As always, her nerves showed in her speech: she couldn’t control her stutter. "Wh-when I f-first heard about you, I st-studied up on w-werewolves, and I r-read th-that in s-some ways, you’re like real wolves. Is th-that t-t-true?"
Oz nodded. "More now, since I moved out of Sunnydale. The Wolf didn’t like it there too much. I think it knew how bad a place it was."
She swallowed hard. "D-d-does th-that m-m-mean th-that you m-m-m-" She couldn’t force the word out.
"Mate for life?" He finished. "Yes. But since its still not safe for her to be with me, I’m glad she’s with you." With that, he walked off.
Anya dragged Xander into the hotel room, slammed the door behind them, and immediately began to attack his belt buckle.
"What are you doing?" He demanded, shocked.
"We are having some form or another of sex. Right now." She said in grim determination, moving from his now-open belt to the button of his jeans.
"This is neither the time nor the place," He argued, his temper starting to rise at her insensitivity.
"Too bad." She unzipped his zipper, and he grabbed her shoulders.
"Anya, I don’t want to."
She looked up at him defiantly. "That’s why it’s going to happen."
He straightened his arms and held her out away from him. "No, Anya. That’s wrong. No means no, no matter who says it."
She brought her arms up between his and knocked them away from her shoulders. "I’m not going to sit here and let you wither!" She yelled. "Don’t you think I noticed how little you ate at that McDonald’s? You’re acting like you’ve lost every friend you have!" Xander opened his mouth, probably to answer that he had, but Anya just continued on. "Sure, what you did was bad, but Buffy said she’d forgive you if you apologized."
"Maybe," Xander said. "Maybe she will, but it’ll never be the same between us. There’ll always be something broken." He started to slump in on himself, but Anya reached out, gently pushed him against the door, and held him there.
"Maybe," she allowed. "I think you’re wrong, but I really don’t know. That’s why we’re going to have sex."
"Do you know what a non sequitur is, honey?" Xander asked tiredly.
"I was a demon for more than a thousand years," she said. "And I’ve been a human for less than two. I don’t get the subtleties yet. But I know someone whose heart is broken when I see one, and I am damn well going to show you that I still love you. The only way I know how."
Xander could only stare in shock as she dropped to her knees in front of him.
Knock, knock, knock
"Just a moment," Joyce called as she sat up on the bed and grabbed some tissues out of her purse to wipe her eyes. "All right, come in," she said as she tossed the tissues into the wastebasket.
Giles opened the door, a concerned expression on his face.
"Hello, Joyce," he said nervously. "I just thought I should, ehm, check in on you. See if you’re all right."
She opened her mouth and drew in breath to lie, but the words evaporated with a sigh, and her head dropped. "No. I’m not."
"Would you like to talk about it?"
"I guess so."
He nodded, stepped into the room, and closed the door behind him.
"I don’t know what there is to talk about, though," she said as he sat down on the bed beside her. "My daughter hates me. Really hates me. I can’t dismiss this as a temper tantrum over a missed curfew. I may have lost my daughter, and it’s my own fault."
Few people ever heard such a declaration of utter defeat and misery. Giles was all too used to it. He’d been there himself, and he’d seen it in each of his charges at least once.
At least he knew how to handle it.
Giles reached out and patted Joyce’s knee. "You haven’t lost Buffy, and she doesn’t hate you. She’s furious with you, that I’ll grant, but she still loves you very much, and she will forgive you."
"How do you know that?" Joyce asked, still speaking into her own lap.
"Because Buffy has the most remarkably forgiving heart that I’ve ever encountered," he said. "She’s forgiven Faith, who she did hate. She forgave me for a crime far worse than yours, and she has never mentioned it again. I have no doubt in my mind that she’ll forgive you."
"Are you sure?" She asked
"I’m sure. She’s forgiven us all, mostly for sins that were far less well-intentioned than yours. But I think she’s grown tired of being the first, and often the only one to apologize or forgive. I think you’re going to have to make the first move."
Joyce sighed. "I just don’t know where or how it all went so wrong. I was always just trying to protect her, to be a good mother."
Giles chuckled bitterly. "Welcome to the family, Joyce. We can’t turn around without hurting each other, and our best intentions always seem to get us in the most trouble." Then he patted her knee again. "Come now. I think we’d best get back downstairs."
Wesley jumped, nearly dropping the book he was holding. He managed to suppress his yelp of surprise, however, and he took a moment to regain his composure and set the book down calmly before he turned to the speaker. She was leaning across the check-in counter. "Hello, Faith."
"Sorry about that. I thought you knew I was here."
"Quite all right."
"Was whatever you were reading that fascinating?" She asked.
"Yes, actually," he answered. "But I’ll discuss it when everyone is together." He fixed her with a shrewd glance. "And I suspect that’s not what you wanted to talk about, in any case."
"You got me, Wes," She said. "Mind if I step into your office?"
"Certainly," he answered. "Come have a seat."
She vaulted over the counter, landed smartly on her feet, and sauntered over to a chair.
Wesley paused for a moment to count the number of people he knew for whom such physical feats weren’t even showing off. It was a depressing thought, and he quickly dismissed it. "So what was it you wanted to talk about?" He asked.
"Well," she began, "It’s no secret that we’re gearing up for a fight that some of us might not come out of, so I was just hoping—"
"To make your peace?" Wesley finished.
"Yeah." She agreed. "See, I figure I hurt you more than anybody except maybe B, so I wanted to make sure I talk to you while I had the chance."
Wesley sat down in the chair across from her with a sigh. "Once a month," he said. "I have a nightmare about what happened in that apartment. That’s down from several times a night right after it happened."
Faith looked stricken.
"Yesterday, when Belial started singing, he sent me back there. That was my Hell."
"Wes, I’m so sorry. I know I can never make it up—"
He leaned forward and put a finger to her lips. "Hush. I’m not finished. What made it my hell was knowing that I deserved it." He withdrew his finger, but she still said nothing. She was left staring at him and gaping. "I failed you in so many ways, Faith. The Watchers’ Council as a whole did—leaving you in that cheap hotel by yourself when we could, at the very least, have provided decent lodgings and supervision for you. But no, the Council doesn’t see the Slayers as teenage girls or even as soldiers, merely weapons. And I was too blind to even think of it. Then you had your accident with Deputy Mayor Finch, and I was more concerned with enforcing the Council’s edicts and proving myself a better Watcher than Mr. Giles than I was with you at all. And I managed to interfere at just the moment when someone might have been able to help. So, in a way, everything that followed was my own fault."
Faith stared at him for a long moment after he finished. "Are you completely ape-shit?" She demanded at last. "I was a big girl. I made my own decisions. I screwed it all up on my own. Ask B: I was all ‘Want, take, have’ even before the shit went down. Even if you did screw up, nothing you did deserved what I did to you. That was just plain wrong."
"And you redeemed yourself last night," Wesley said. "Any debt that you had to me is paid."
"Well, you don’t owe me nothing, either," she said. "If it’s up to me, we’re five by five."
Wesley held out his hand. "All debts are paid and we start at even: five by five."
Faith spit into her own hand and held it out.
Wesley hesitated, quickly drew his hand back, spit into it, and held it out again.
Cordelia, who had been watching from the shadows of the shelves, turned away. "Ewww," she said. That was gross.
Still, she couldn’t help but smile.
"So where do we go from here?" Buffy asked.
It had taken a little over an hour for the group to settle in and reconvene in the lobby. Now they sat about on the couches and chairs, looking expectantly at the Angel Investigations group. This was, after all, their territory.
"The first thing we need is information," Wesley said. "We have no idea where Angelus is, or what he’s doing."
"Merle?" Angel asked.
Wesley nodded. "Merle."
"Caritas?" Angel asked, wincing.
Wesley nodded again, firmly. "Caritas."
"You mean Angel’s going to have to sing?" Cordelia asked, grimacing.
Wesley took a deep breath. "He may. The problem of Angelus is, after all, a deeply personal one for him."
"Is he really that bad?" Giles asked, amused.
"He once sent a Rinmak demon fleeing from the room," Wesley responded.
"Rinmak?" Anya said. "But they kill people by screeching so loud—" She paused, then turned to Angel. "Wow. You must be really awful."
The group burst out laughing and Angel, glad of the tension breaker—even at his own expense—let it ride for a minute or two before waving it down. "Okay, okay, enough, enough."
"What is a ‘Caritas’ anyway?" Buffy asked.
"It’s hard to explain," Angel said. "You’ll see when we get there."
"Yeah, that’s brilliant," Spike scoffed, lighting a cigarette. "All of us run off and leave the place all empty. Interested in finding out what neat traps Angelus leaves for us when we get back? That the plan?"
"That’s true," Riley agreed. "We can’t leave our base unprotected."
"We can’t split up our forces, either," Buffy said.
"We may have to," Riley said.
Buffy shook her head vehemently. "No. That’s just what he’s waiting for." She’d been tricked that way one too many times. She wasn’t going to leave her friends unguarded again. Not for any reason.
"Actually, I agree with Buffy," Wesley weighed in. "We dare not divide our strength. Angelus would be dangerous enough if he was still just a vampire—"
"But he’s not," Giles continued, straightening in his seat, his face growing grim as he realized what Wesley was getting at. "He’s a pure vampire demon. And of all the pure demons, the vampire demons—"
"Were the last to be driven out," Wesley finished grimly. "And they inflicted a curse on humanity that has lasted from that day ‘til this."
There was a moment of silence as the group considered this.
"Wow," Anya said finally. "And back in my demon days, I always thought of you guys as weak, pathetic half-breeds," She said to Spike and Angel. "I never considered your heritage. I’m sorry."
The two vampires stared at her, utterly at a loss.
" ‘Salright," Spike said at last.
"We may have a solution," Willow said, raising one hand and taking Tara’s with the other one. Everyone turned to look at them. "We found—actually Tara found—this spell." She grinned. "Tell ‘em, honey."
Tara blushed. "It’s a protection spell for travelers," she explained. "It allows someone to just declare the place where they’re staying to be their home."
"That way, vampires need to be invited in," Willow finished. "Maybe Angelus is too strong, but even if he breaks it down, we’ll know." Her face fell. " ‘Cause we’ll both get really big, nasty, excedrin-written-all-over-it headaches, but that’s better than coming home to find him waiting for us."
The rest of the group looked around at each other. There were nods and murmurs of "that works" and "sounds like a plan."
"All right then," Buffy said. "Let’s do it."
Wolfram & Hart
"My boy is coming."
Lindsey looked up from the paperwork on his desk to the couch across the room where Darla was lounging. "What’s that?"
"My boy. He’s on his way here. Right now."
Lindsey hit a button on his intercom. "Special case number 368-BK is on his way to my office for a personal interview." Good. Let the self-righteous bastard try to sneak in. He’d find them ready for him.
"Hey, Lindsey—or should I say Lefty?" Angelus said as he strode into the room a few minutes later. "I have a job for you." He stopped short. "Hm. Looks like you’ve got some company."
It did, indeed. Lilah Morgan and Bryce Hammond had joined Lindsey in his office, as had roughly half a dozen security guards.
"Your co-workers can stay," Angelus said. "I’m here to make a proposal, and they should hear it, too. But get rid of the rent-a-cops before I kill them all."
Bryce Hammond smiled his gentle old man’s smile. "Angel, I don’t think you quite understand the situation. Each of these men is trained to deal with supernatural intruders, and they’re armed with stakes, crosses, and bottles of holy water. They’re not the ones whose lives are in danger here."
"Crosses. Hm." Angelus began to pace, stroking his chin. "Stakes. Holy water. You humans have such faith in your crosses, stakes, and holy water. As long as you have them, you think you’re safe. It’s an understandable mistake, of course. All of the vampires you’ve encountered are stupid, primitive beasts, and you think we’re all like that. You’re wrong, of course. I’m planning to work with you, so I’m going to give you one last chance. Get them out of here, or you’re going to have to hire and train six new security guards."
"Take him," Hammond said negligently.
The guards took a step forward, pressing the buttons on their batons to release the spring-loaded stakes. Angelus’s hand blurred as he snatched something from his trench coat. The room suddenly exploded in sharp blasts of sound and light. The three lawyers threw themselves to the floor behind Lindsey’s large oaken desk.
The explosions ended as suddenly as they began, and all that remained was a sharp-smelling smoke hanging in the air.
Lindsey peeked out from under his desk. The six security guards lay on the floor, their blood soaking into his expensive carpet.
Angelus stood in the midst of them, blowing the smoke away from the barrel of a handgun. "I love this thing," he said gleefully as he holstered it back under his trench coat.
Clap. Clap. Clap.
Angelus turned to the source of the clapping, and his eyes and his mouth both gaped. "Darla?"
"Quick, efficient, brutal—I’m impressed. Maybe there’s more hope for you than I thought."
"I was," she said, honey dripping from her words. "Now I’m back. These helpful little humans brought me back so I could see my boy again." She traced her fingers along his jawline. He stiffened at her touch.
"I’m not your boy anymore, Darla," he said, staring straight forward.
"I know, but you could be again. You’ve just shown that my boy’s still in you, closer to the surface than you ever—"
"Touch my mind, Darla. Then you’ll see why your boy is never coming back."
Lindsey had cautiously risen to his feet, and Bryce and Lilah were crouching, peering over the desk, so they all saw what happened next.
Darla touched her fingertips to both of Angelus’s temples and frowned in concentration for a moment. Then her eyes flew wide and she stumbled back away from him. "So-s-so dark!" She moaned. "S-so cold! What are you? What are you?"
"I am what is to come," Angelus said, spreading his arms grandly. "I am the Alpha, and the Omega. I am the beginning and the final product of the vampire race." Then he grinned coldly. "And I don’t need you anymore"
A gleaming black tentacle punched through Angelus’s wine-colored silk shirt and struck like a snake, spearing into Darla and hurling her across the room, pinning her to the wall.
Darla’s eyes bulged and her mouth opened and closed like a suffocating human, desperately sucking at air that won’t come. "Guchh…ughh" She gagged.
"Oh, yes," Angelus shouted in rapture. "I’ve had humans since I got free, but this—a master vampire—a twice-born, 400-year-old demon—this is…ambrosia! This is magnificent!"
Darla clutched spasmodically at the tentacle, hunching and gasping, trying to pull it free. Her face came up, and it was withering, aging, as if the lost 400 years were finally claiming her. The flesh melted off her bones and her dress flapped and billowed like a sail. Her limbs became skeletal and her eyes sunk into her skull.
"Yes!" Angelus cried. "Yes! Give it to me!"
Darla’s skin turned a dry, brittle gray and cracked. "No," she gasped. "Please. Don’t send me back there…not again."
Angelus laughed. "Pathetic. You heard those very words so many times yourself, and you laughed each time. I’d hoped that you’d show a little more guts when it was your turn."
She stared at him, across the room, stared into those burning cold eyes. "No…"
With a grin of pure, demonic hunger, Angelus lunged forward. The tentacle bit deeper, and Darla’s wail trailed off into forever as her dust crumbled to the floor a second time.
The three lawyers looked helplessly at each other. Darla had been their tool, their bargaining chip, their weapon. Now they were defenseless.
Angelus turned toward them. His shirt hung in shreds, and they could see what had been hidden beneath it.
"Oh, my God," Lilah gasped weakly, stumbling backward and staring in blind horror.
"I think it’s a bit late for you to call on Him, don’t you think Lilah?" Angelus said, as he started to advance.
"Y-you’re not Angel," Hammond said. "What the hell are you?"
"The name’s Angelus," he replied.
"Well, then," Lindsey said, stepping forward. "When you came in here, you said you had a job for us. Far be it from us to turn down a client. What can I do for you, Mr. Angelus?" He stood fast as the thing that looked like a larger man arrived and leaned across the desk toward him. Angelus was a predator. He could smell fear, and it excited him to the hunt. Be strong, and we just might live through this.
Angelus grinned in his face. "I like you, Lefty. You’ve got guts. They’ll take you far in the world." Two tentacles suddenly lashed out. Lindsey swallowed hard and steeled himself against Lilah and Bryce’s screams, and the hideous sucking sounds. He knew his own life depended on it. "See?" Angelus continued. "It got you the job while your two compatriots there were eliminated." He reached out—with a hand this time—and patted Lindsey on the cheek. "Now, there’s no need to stand on ceremony between us. Angelus is fine. The job is simple: I just need you to make a few phone calls while I run out real quick and send a message."
"This is Caritas?" Buffy exclaimed. "A karaoke bar?"
"That was my first reaction, too," Angel muttered.
"It’s a sanctuary," Wesley explained. "There are spells laid on it to make violence impossible. That makes it a good place for us to meet our informant."
"I think it looks neat," Willow chirped, taking Tara by the hand and leading the way down the steps.
"The karaoke serves another purpose," Wesley explained as the rest of the group followed the two witches down the steps. "The proprietor of Caritas is a demon named—well, actually, he prefers to simply be called the Host—and he can read people’s auras and help guide them toward their destiny. But they have to sing first, so the soul will be open."
Buffy shuddered. "Sounds like fun."
"Might come in useful, though," Riley said. "I think we have a few things we could use some guidance for."
"That we do," Angel sighed. "That we do."
Gunn was waiting for them when they entered the bar, as was the Host. The spell had taken some time, and the group had decided to walk/patrol their way over, so they’d probably been waiting for a while.
Gunn drew the Angel Investigations group aside as the Host effusively greeted the Scooby Gang and guided them to a cluster of tables in a back corner. He seemed genuinely concerned with their welfare, offering them free food and (non-alcoholic) drinks. It was only when they bothered to look around that they found they’d been placed in a relationship counselor’s version of assigned seating. Buffy sat at a table with Riley and one empty chair. Willow sat with Oz and Tara , while Giles, Joyce, Anya, and Xander all kept each other company. Faith was sat by herself at a table with three empty chairs, a basket of buffalo wings, and an assurance that "they’ll be here in a minute, honey."
Spike refused to be visibly associated with the Sunnydale crew in any way. He sat down at the bar and was delighted to discover that they served his all-time favorite, a concoction he referred to as an Irish Red: high-test whiskey and type AB positive.
"I already talked to Merle," Gunn told the other three members of Angel Investigations. "He doesn’t know anything."
"How sure are you of that?" Angel asked. "He’s tricked us before."
Gunn smirked bitterly. "I asked him about Angelus, and he looks at me like I’ve asked him where my house is. After he finishes explaining to me that I work for Angelus, I explain to him what’s happened."
"How did he take that?" Angel asked, a grin of grim satisfaction on his face.
"Looked real scared, suggested that I leave the city, and bolted for the door," Gunn replied.
"That actually would be the course of wisdom," Wesley said.
"Well, no one ever accused us of being wise," Gunn shrugged.
"No, they never did," Cordelia agreed.
"I guess that leaves us with whatever guidance Lorne can provide," Wesley said.
"Which means Angel’s going to have to sing," Cordelia groaned, covering her eyes.
"Will you knock it off?" Angel complained as they started back out toward the tables. "It’s not like it’s fun for me either, you know!" He called after them. He started to follow, but Gunn caught his arm.
"Wait a second," he said. "Before you go, what can you tell me about—what’s her name—the brown-haired one who liked my axe?"
"Faith?" Angel said, surprised. "Why, are you interested?"
Gunn shrugged. "We seem to share some interests, and it’s hard to find a girl like that."
"There’s only one other like her in the world," Angel agreed.
"There you go, getting cryptic. What does that mean? A straight answer, if you can manage it."
Okay, Angel thought. A straight answer you want? A straight answer you get.
"She’s a Slayer," He answered bluntly.
"A Slayer?" Gunn asked.
"Like English told me about? The one girl in all the world?"
"Well, one of the two, right now. Buffy’s the other. It’s a little complicated."
"And she really has, what, superpowers? The strength and all that?"
Angel nodded. "She really does."
Gunn grinned. "Cool."
Angel scowled. "Yeah. She’s powerful, and she’s dangerous, and that’s right up your alley. But there are some things that aren’t cool."
Gunn looked at him, his grin gone. He could tell when The Situation Is Now Serious. "Done some bad things, huh?"
Angel nodded. "That, and she has a few things to work through."
Gunn shook his head and grinned. "Do either of us even know anybody who isn’t messed in the head or doesn’t have a dark past to make up for?"
Angel thought about it for a moment. "Well—no, well maybe there’s—no."
"Would we even know how to deal with someone who had their head straight?"
Angel grinned ruefully. "Probably not."
"Still, thanks for the 411. I’ll watch my step."
Angel patted him on the shoulder as they started toward the tables. "That’s all I was trying to accomplish." Then he spotted the tables where the rest of their group was seated. Cordelia and Wesley had joined Faith, leaving an empty seat beside the secondary Slayer herself. The other empty chair was beside Buffy.
"I’m going to kill Lorne," Angel muttered as they started across the room.
"Ladies and Gentleman and everyone else out there, we have a special treat for you tonight," Lorne announced from the stage. "Some celebrities from out of town. They come from a little town to the south of us, I’m sure you’ve all heard of Sunnydale, and we’ve got kind of a Broken Hearts club on tour from there with us tonight. Could all of you welcome the Slayers and the Sunnydale Slayerettes!"
The response was mixed, but enthusiastic all around. A group of Brakkens and Anomovics, apparently out for a bachelorette party, clapped and cheered. Any vampires present, of course, booed.
"Well, our cover’s blown," Faith muttered to Wesley.
"Stealth wasn’t really an option," He replied. "You can’t take two Slayers, a werewolf, two powerful witches, and the world’s only vampire with a soul anywhere and hope to sneak in. Our presence was detected the moment we entered the city."
"Glad to hear that," she muttered, settling back into her chair.
"Think one of you could step up here and grace us all with a song?" Lorne invited from the stage.
The Scooby Gang and Angel Investigations all looked at each other in blank panic.
"Don’t look at me," Angel grumbled, settling into his seat on the opposite side of Buffy from Riley. "I’m not going first."
"Thank you," Cordelia said.
"I thought I told you to knock it off."
"Giles," Buffy hissed. "Think you could go up there and buy us all some time?"
As Giles took the stage to polite applause and launched into Pink Floyd’s "On the Turning Away," several of the Scooby Gang’s tables clustered into tight huddles.
"I need both of you to sing," Buffy said.
Angel winced. "Are you sure, Buffy? It’s really not pretty."
"Then I need you to join Spike at the bar," she said. "I need at least a few minutes alone with each of you."
Riley and Angel looked at each other. Then they looked at the bar, where Spike had started on his second Irish Red. Then they looked back at each other.
"Does he have any Garth Brooks?" Riley asked.
"Yeah, I think so," Angel said. "And I think there’s a few new songs I can try that might not go so badly…"
Giles left the stage to much more enthusiastic applause.
Riley sprang up almost as soon as the watcher was done singing. He was not a man given to long contemplation. A decision had been made; best to act on it before any sign of stage fright set in.
It turned out that the Host had several Garth Brooks songs. Riley decided against "Friends In Low Places"—maybe later. He almost went with "The American Honky-Tonk Bar Association", then decided that he didn’t want to announce "Hello, I am a hillbilly" to the LA supernatural underworld.
He decided on "The River". A bit sappy, perhaps, but not as difficult as "Standing Outside the Fire", and he really didn’t feel up to "Two of A Kind, Working On a Full House" right now.
He took a deep breath as the music started to play and the text started to scroll on the screen. He didn’t need it.
"You know a dream is like a river…"
Angel turned away from the stage, back to Buffy. "He’s not bad," he admitted.
Buffy smiled, a bit sadly. "You know, the two of you are starting to make a regular habit of saying nice things about each other."
"Uh-oh. Can’t have that. I’ll have to start insulting his lineage again right away."
She chuckled and they sat in silence for a moment, but just a moment, before he said "This song isn’t really that long—what was it you wanted to talk about?"
Buffy nodded. Best cut to the chase—there wasn’t enough time to lead up to anything. "First of all, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for last night. It was crazy—I was crazy. I know there’s no excuse, but—"
"Don’t even worry about it," Angel interrupted. "Those weren’t your natural reactions. Oh, I’m sure you would have been furious, but you wouldn’t have been trying to kill anybody if it weren’t for Belial’s influence."
She looked up at him doubtfully. "Are you sure?"
He laid his hand on hers. "I have witnesses who’ll back me up on this—he put some mystical additives into your tranquilizer dart. It was really subtle, but he was controlling you." He gripped her hand more tightly. "And you broke loose to save me. That’s not just love, Buffy. That’s a miracle."
"Love is a miracle."
He smiled. "Yeah. I’d agree with that."
Her own answering grin was rueful. "Then I have too many miracles in my life. Who would’ve thought it was possible?"
He remembered Riley up on the stage, and released her hand. Strange how, even after all this time, the rest of the world vanished whenever he was with her. "Was there anything else?"
"Yeah," her voice hardened slightly. "Yeah, actually there was. All of that stuff Belial was saying—how much of it was true?"
For the second time that night, he decided that bluntness was the best policy. "He had the facts right," he confessed. "But he gave it Satan’s own editorial spin."
"Okay," she said, her voice hardening further. "Here’s your chance to explain." She glanced up at the stage. "Better hurry. I think Riley’s wrapping up."
"It’s like I said last night. Every decision—and every screwup—I’ve made has always been because I love you. I can tell you the whole story of the day I was human some other time, but during that day I discovered that you would die if I didn’t have my strength. If I wasn’t a Warrior."
"And let me guess: you just went ahead and took care of it. You had whoever you had undo the day, undo it without even talking to me. Without hearing me mention Xander, Riley, Giles, and Wesley—none of them have super strength, and they help. You just had a day of my life unmade without even consulting me."
Angel held out his hands. "I’m 274 years old, Buffy. For about 250 of those years, that was the kind of thing that was expected. All I can say is I’m sorry."
"Sorry?" She sighed and deflated, her shoulders dropping. "For giving up everything you’ve ever wanted to protect me? Yeah, I have a right to be angry."
"You have a right to feel any way you want."
"Oh, stop." She stared into her Coke for a moment. "And you’re my husband," she said after that moment had passed, not looking up.
"I guess I am," he said.
Riley had finished, and he was descending from the stage, accompanied by yips and yeehas from the bachelorette party.
"What are we going to do?" she asked, shaking her head.
"I don’t know," he said, patting her hand as he rose to his feet. "But I talked to Riley this afternoon, and we both love you enough to want you to be happy, even if it can’t be with us." He grinned. "He also pointed out that my age excuse will only work once, and it’s time to let you make some of your own decisions. So whatever you decide. That’s what we’ll do."
"Great. No pressure at all."
He shot one last rueful grin at her as he headed for the stage. "Sorry."
Angel was a little surprised, but pleased, that Lorne had both of the songs he was hoping for.
When he pointed at the song list, Lorne put his hand over the microphone. "Are you sure?" He said. "Don’t you want something…shorter?"
"Just trust me on this one," Angel replied. "I think I may be on to something."
"But aren’t they a little—I don’t know—close to home?"
"That’s the point. I need some answers on both issues, and I need them fast."
"Okay, big guy, it’s your funeral." He took his hand off the microphone. "Ladies and gentleman, we have tonight one of our semi-regulars. You’ve all heard of him: Angel, the vampire with a soul. Tonight, he wants to make a little change-up from his usual repertoire." With that, he stepped out of the way and handed the microphone to Angel.
"Thank you," Angel said. "Some of you here have heard me sing before. Before I started, I just wanted to thank you for not fleeing the room. But something occurred to me as I was sitting out there in the audience tonight: maybe the reason I have so much trouble is because I’m trying to sing outside my style. Tonight, I’m going to correct that mistake."
He nodded to Lorne, who hit a button. The first notes of Meatloaf’s "Original Sin" began to growl out of the speakers.
"I’ve been lookin’ for an original sin…"
Riley sat down in the seat that Angel had just vacated.
"You did great," Buffy said by way of greeting.
"Thanks," he said. "I didn’t think you were paying that much attention."
"Not that much," she admitted, looking guilty. "But I did look up once in a while, and you were doing good then."
He chuckled, then turned serious again. "So what were you talking about."
"Oh, things. Stuff. I apologized for beating him up last night, he explained what Belial was talking about. That kind of thing."
"Apologized?" Riley said. "But Belial said he was controlling you."
"So Angel told me," Buffy said, pleased to have independent confirmation. It would be just like Angel to lie about something like that to make her feel better. Then she leaned forward, meeting Riley’s eyes. "He also told me that you gave him a little talking-to today. Something about his ‘age excuse’ only working once, and letting me make my own decisions."
He nodded. "Yeah, that’s true."
He shrugged in a way that she had long since learned meant ‘Shucks ma’am, ‘tweren’t nothin’.’ "I’m a psychologist. It’s my job." He paused. "So. Have you made any decisions?"
She heaved a deep sigh and looked down at the table. "No."
He sighed, too, and joined her in contemplating the table.
They sat like that, unspeaking, through a verse of Original Sin. Finally, Buffy spoke up again. "I don’t throw away lovers like old shoes, Riley. I’m not going to just forget everything we’ve been through together, and everything you’ve done for me."
"I didn’t do those things to obligate you."
"I know. That’s why I love you."
She looked up, then, and he raised his eyes to meet hers. The tears he saw standing in them tore his heart, but he realized that nothing he could do would help. He was, after all, part of the problem.
"But he’s my husband, Riley. Belial wasn’t lying about that. And I love him, too."
With a gusty sigh, Riley sat back in his chair, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples. "Mexican standoff," he sighed.
"Mexican standoff?" she asked, looking at him quizzically.
He pointed at his temple, cocking his thumb. "Guns to each other’s heads. Safeties off, finger on the trigger. A no-win situation. It’s probably racist, but I’ve watched too many old Westerns."
"What do you do in the army when you have a no-win situation?" she asked, leaning on the table.
"Call for evac."
"Sounds like a good idea," she said, sitting back in her chair.
He opened his eyes. "Huh?"
She pointed up to the stage, where there had been a pause while the Host stepped up to announce that Angel would be doing a second song, Meatloaf’s "Bat Out of Hell". "Let’s just relax and watch the show. Tearing our hair out won’t give us the answer. Especially when we have more important things to worry about."
Riley nodded. "I hope this…Host fella can get us the intel we need."
Buffy’s eyes lit up. "Maybe I should sing," she said.
Riley chuckled. "You’ve got a while to wait. This is Meatloaf. The man doesn’t have a single song less than ten minutes in length."
After a verse worth of listening, Buffy remarked "You know, he’s not half bad. I don’t see what all the fuss was about."
"Look at the shock on Cordelia, Gunn, and Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s faces," Riley said, pointing at the Angel Investigations table. "I’m betting that this is a bit of a change."
Nearly fifteen minutes later, Angel descended from the stage to thunderous applause and the hoots and whistles of the half-drunken brakkens and anomovics. Rather than returning to the Scooby Gang’s seats, he approached the bar, where Lorne was standing with a glass of bourbon on the rocks pressed to his forehead.
"I have never seen lovelines as tangled as yours," Lorne moaned as Angel leaned against the bar beside him.
"We can talk about our love lives later," Angel said impatiently.
"Maybe if the little lady would get up there and sing," Lorne mused.
"Later," Angel interrupted. "Did you get anything about Angelus from the first song?"
Lorne’s face turned serious. "Yes, I did. In fact—"
Across the room, Cordelia shot to her feet, clutching her head, and screamed.
Angel was only halfway across the room when she started to collapse, but Faith had already caught her and gently lowered her to the floor as the rest of the group leaped to their feet. Riley and Buffy immediately started to handle crowd control, keeping the sudden press of curious demons back.
Faith, the only one present who was uninformed about Cordelia’s powers, was almost in a panic.
"What is it?" She asked, desperately trying to hold the thrashing visionary down. "What’s wrong?" She looked desperately up at Wesley. "Is Angelus doing this?"
"No," he said, dropping to one knee at Cordelia’s other side and pulling his jacket off. "She’s having a vision." He shoved his rolled jacket under Cordelia’s head. "Just hold her, she’ll be better in a moment."
"What’s that?" Wesley asked, looking down sharply. Cordelia had stopped thrashing.
"Fire," she repeated.
That was the moment Angel arrived, Lorne close on his heels.
"Is she all right?" He asked.
"Fire!" She said again, reaching out to Angel.
He knelt and took her hand. "Just take it—"
She grabbed his hand and used it to pull herself into a sitting position. "Fire, Angel, fire! He’s going to blow up a building!"
"Got an address?" Gunn asked.
"I do," Lorne answered, scribbling on a cocktail napkin. "I got this from your aura," he said, handing it to Angel. "It was during the first song, and there was a feeling of imminent disaster. This is probably it."
Angel looked at the napkin. "Oh, merciful Christ," he gasped. Then he jumped to his feet and pulled Cordelia to hers. "We need to move," he said, whirling toward the door.
"Long way?" Gunn asked as the group fell in behind him.
"Across town," Angel said. He tossed the folded napkin over his shoulder.
Wesley caught it and opened it. "Dear God," he said.
"What is it?" Cordelia asked.
"This is Kate’s address."
Gunn’s truck roared through the city. Cordelia and Joyce were crammed into the cab with him, while the rest rode in the back and cursed the fact that they’d chosen to walk to Caritas.
Most of the people in the back sat or crouched, holding on as best they could, but the Warriors were standing. Buffy stood between Riley and Angel at the front of the truck bed, where all three of them held onto Gunn’s roof lights. Angel’s face was grim and determined, and he leaned down low over the cab, ready to pounce. Buffy, on the other hand was almost smiling, and she was standing straighter, letting the wind blow in her face and whip her hair behind her like a banner. Riley was smiling. Broadly. It had been too long since he’d done this. There were no pick-ups in that Gucci-lined suburb he’d been living in, and he hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed them. Funny what reminds you of home. Hell, there was even a gun rack, even if that was an axe hanging from it. If this business wasn’t so serious, he would throw back his head and whoop.
Faith and Spike didn’t bother to hold onto anything. They simply stood in the middle of the truck bed, riding the swerving vehicle like the Banzai Pipeline, passing a bottle of Jim Beam back and forth between them and howling.
Suddenly, Angel started to growl. His lips skinned back from his teeth, and with each snarl, those teeth lengthened and sharpened. His brow grew more and more ridged, and his eyes shone a brighter shade of wolf-yellow.
Buffy noticed. "What is it?" She called, shouting to make herself heard over the engine and the wind.
"We’re getting close," He growled. "I can feel him again. I can see what he’s doing—oh, God, I can see what he’s planning!"
Gunn crested one final hill, shot across an intersection and screeched to a halt in front of the Benton Arms. Angel vaulted the cab and landed on the sidewalk in a hunting-panther crouch, his demon face fully manifested. He swung his head from side to side for a moment, as if trying to catch a scent, then his head snapped toward the alley beside the building.
The other Scoobies followed his gaze, and Gunn flipped on the lights in the overhead rack, just in time to reveal Angelus dropping someone into an open manhole. He turned toward them, grinned, and took a drag on a cigarette.
"No!" Angel shouted, launching himself toward the pure demon. Buffy and Faith were over the cab and only a few steps behind him, with their less athletic comrades pouring out of the truck behind them.
Still grinning, Angelus flicked his cigarette away and dropped into the manhole after whoever he’d thrown.
Angel abruptly reversed direction, spinning on his heel and running back toward the rest of the group, waving his arms and shouting "No! Run! He’s—"
That was all he got out before the basement of the Benton Arms exploded, sending up a fireball that engulfed the bottom three floors.
Most of the group was still in or around Gunn’s truck, so they either dropped to their bellies in the truck bed, or threw themselves to the ground behind it.
Angel was lifted and thrown by a searing blast of air. He went limp and let it carry him, rolling when he landed. He came to rest on his belly, covering his head with his arms. Glass, wood, and bits of brick rained down around him.
Faith and Buffy allowed the same blast of air to knock them over, falling backward and shielding their faces with their arms.
Miraculously, none of the Scooby Gang or Angel Investigations were hit by any large debris. Pieces of the building, the furniture and appliances within it, and even its inhabitants rained down into the street, but the worst any of them suffered were a few bruises or a nick or two from flying glass.
Angel was back on his feet as soon as the initial blast was over, racing back toward the fire. Unfortunately, he was helpless to approach any closer than thirty feet or so before the heat drove him back. He tried to push against it, but he felt his skin begin to sear, and he had to back away.
Then Buffy and Faith were there, pulling him back.
"What are you doing?" Buffy yelled over the roar of the fire. "You can’t go in there!"
"There are people in there!" He yelled back. "He’s blocked the exits—they can’t get out!"
"Oh, shit," Faith cursed, staring in horror. Then an idea hit her. "Look," she pointed. "The buildings are close together. One of us can jump that alley easy. We could go up the building next door, jump across to the roof, and get whoever we can out that way. "
Buffy nodded. "Good plan." She then turned to the arriving Scoobies. "Has anyone called 911 yet?" She asked.
"Cordelia," Wesley answered, pointing to where the visionary in question stood beside Gunn’s truck, her cell phone pressed to her ear.
"Good," Buffy said. Then she turned to Willow. "Can you summon water?" she asked.
"Yeah, I can, but not enough to put out something like this," Willow said, staring helplessly.
"I know. But can you hose us down?"
Willow stared at her in disbelief for a moment before saying "Yeah. Sure. I can do that."
Spike was a step behind Willow. "What do you need that for, Slayer? What’re you doing?"
"We’re going in," Angel announced. "And we need everyone without superpowers to stand back."
"You’ll need more than just three people, Big Man," Riley said, pulling a bandana out of his pocket and wrapping it around his face as he stepped forward.
"I’m in, too," Gunn agreed, pulling out a bandana of his own.
"Anyone got some handkerchiefs?" Buffy asked. "Faith and I need to breathe, too."
Giles and Wesley immediately offered theirs.
"Hey, Gunn, got that cool axe with you?" Faith asked. "We might need it."
"It’s in the truck," he answered, turning and dashing for it.
"Okay," Angel surrendered. "Riley and Gunn, but no others."
"No others?" Riley asked, looking at Spike. All other eyes turned to the blond vampire.
Spike backed away, shaking his head. "Uh-uh. Put it out of your mind, mate. I came here for the violence, and I’ll join you for that, but I’m not running into a fire. Bugger that."
Most of the humans looked disgusted, but Angel just nodded. He understood. His own demon started howling in terror whenever he even looked at the burning building. All vampires are afraid of fire to some degree.
Buffy took Tara by the shoulder as Willow prepared to summon the water. "I need you and Willow to keep an eye out. We may need to go out a window or something, and even if we don’t, there’s liable to be jumpers. You’re our safety net."
"Ok-k-k-" Tara paused, took a deep breath. "Okay. We can do that."
Then Buffy did a strange thing. She took Tara’s head in her hands, pressed the larger girl’s forehead to her own, and heaved a deep, shuddering sigh. "We’re counting on you," Buffy said.
It was then that Tara realized that this young woman, this girl that she’d always thought of as so brave, so righteous, so powerful, so raging; this blond-haired force of nature; was afraid. And she was really a very tiny girl after all. "We’ll be there," she answered softly.
Buffy straightened, nodded her understanding, and turned back to where the other Warriors stood. Willow had just finished her preparations. "Alright," Buffy barked, the fear gone from her voice and the general back. "Let’s move."
The five Warriors who rushed into the seven-story pyre that had been the Benton Arms apartment building were very brave people. But courage is not the absence of fear. It is doing what must be done in spite of one’s fear. All of them were used to fighting enemies: other beings that might strike and hurt them, but could be struck and feel pain in their turn. Fire felt no pain. It felt no fear. Fire raged and hungered and devoured more thoroughly than any monster. They could fight demons and monsters and even fallen angels, but they couldn’t fight fire. Not with the weapons they had; not at all. They could only hope to survive. They knew this as they leaped across the gap from the safety of the roof of the nearest apartment building, and they were afraid.
There are times when fear grows so great that the mind throws its circuit-breakers, shutting off all but the most necessary functions in the hopes of avoiding total shutdown and collapse. So it was that, although the five Warriors descended into the blazing hell that had once been people’s homes with a kind of emotionless clarity, later on they would remember little.
They remembered a moment or two of silent horror, like the moment when Angel kicked in an apartment’s door and was already a few steps in before he realized what his ability to enter meant, and he emerged with blood-tears streaming down his face.
They remembered a few moments of screaming panic, like the moment that the fifth-floor hallway collapsed beneath Faith’s feet. She caught herself, and her feet hung for an eternal moment in the crematorium that was the fourth floor before Buffy pulled her to safety.
For its sheer unexpectedness, Riley remembered the moment when he emerged onto the roof with a child under each arm and found Spike standing on the roof of the building they’d jumped from, holding out his arms and shouting "Throw the little beggars to me! Hurry, Cornbread!"
The moment when a burning piece of debris struck Angel and knocked him down, setting his coat on fire, and Riley and Buffy pulled the debris off and smothered his back.
The moment when Gunn had to chop his way through a wall to where Faith had found a little girl hiding in a closet, but was trapped when the apartment behind her filled with fire.
Outside, Willow and Tara stood at the forefront of the Scooby Gang, hand in hand, catching and hoisting as many to safety with their magic as they could.
The moment they would always remember would be the moment that they saw a young family pressed against a red-litten window. They lifted the wife to safety, then lowered the baby gently from his father’s arms to his mother’s, but then they heard a crash and the mother started to scream, and when they looked back at that window, there were only flames billowing out where a young man had been just a moment before.
The other members of the Scooby Gang stood behind them, watching and praying.
Except for Oz. Oz was across the street, curled into a ball, holding his hands over his ears in a desperate attempt to keep out the screams. But he couldn’t close his nose, and what he would always remember would be the smell of burning flesh.
The fire department arrived fifteen minutes after the initial explosion. By then, it was already over. Everyone who was going to get out alive already had. The five soot-stained Warriors were across the street. Angel had cast his ruined coat into the fire as he fled the building, and now he paced back and forth, staring at the ground and punching his fist into his open hand. Over and over again. Gunn and Faith sat leaning up against the wall of a building, leaning against each other. Riley had taken a solid swallow of smoke, and Buffy was helping him walk around and catch his breath. Though none of them noticed it, all five of them were weeping.
Tara was, too. As soon as it had become patently obvious that there was no one else to rescue from the furnace that the Benton Arms had become, she had turned and begun sobbing like a child into Willow’s shoulder.
Willow was crying, too, and she had little comfort to offer. Then she felt an arm wrap around her. She looked, and it was Oz. He pulled them into himself and she reached out to both and Tara was held in between them like a crying child being comforted by her parents, and for the second time in as many days there were no old and new lovers. There was just love, and fear, and pain, and comfort.
You’re the brother she should have had, Oz was Willow’s thought as all three of them clutched each other tight.
It was Giles who finally suggested that they return to the Hyperion to recover, regroup, and plan their next move. Not even the Mayor’s Ascension had cost this many lives. It was the greatest defeat they had ever suffered.
Wolfram & Hart
Angelus strode into Lindsey’s office, covered in soot and sewer-muck, but grinning. "Message received," he gloated. "Did you make those phone calls like I told you to?"
"Yes, sir," Lindsey answered. "They’re on their way.