disclaimer in part 1
"What's the word?" Buffy asked as Gunn hung up the phone. They were back at Cordelia's apartment, which had been turned into research central as they tried to decifer the lastest vision.
"The word is something's going down tonight at this abandoned restaurant on 7th. Used to be a seafood place, Captain McAllister's, but now it's just sitting there. Lots of ritual sacrifice ready space just an easy break-in away."
"Sound like a match?" Buffy asked Cordelia.
"Yeah," she said, and nodded stiffly, her back ramrod straight. "That's got to be it."
Buffy looked over at Wesley. "Any luck on figuring out why the sacrificing is going on tonight? Are we looking at a random religious thing, like evil Christmas with people instead of turkeys, and without the eating..." She stopped. "I hope." She shook the thought away. "Or are we looking at maybe a big fat demon god getting called out of hell." She frowned. "I've already got a god down in Sunnydale trying to kill me, so I'd really prefer option number one. If you can swing it."
"I can't find any supernatural or occult significance for tonight," Wesley said frustrated. "Of any kind. Neither option one nor two."
"Well, there's only like 2 million different religions in the world, right?" Gunn said. "So every day's gotta be a religious holiday for somebody."
"I suppose you're right," Wesley said. "I just wish I could find some concrete indication. The ritual Cordelia described isn't one I'm familiar with. I couldn't tell you what is being accomplished."
"And no idea if these guys are human or demon?" Buffy asked Cordelia.
Cordelia shook her head. "I couldn't really tell with the robes," she said. "They could have been either."
Buffy nodded. "Okay, so I'll just have to be sure to stop them before they get the ritual started. That way, we never have to find out if there's a worse bad on the other end." She picked up her weapons bag and Angel's sword, then moved over to the window and peered out. "I've still got some time before sunset. But maybe I should go ahead and set-up now. I think I'd rather be in position before they get there."
"That's what I'm talking 'bout," Gunn said. "What say we get with the killing?" He grabbed his ax off Cordelia's coffee table and hefted it over his shoulder.
Buffy shook her head. "I'm doing this one alone."
"The hell you are," Gunn said. "This is our thing. We get the visions." Cordelia cleared her throat. "She gets the visions," he amended. "We kill the evil."
"Not this time," she said. "I'm not bringing a bunch of warm bodies into a ritual sacrifice situation." She stepped between Gunn and the door. "If this is about calling up some bigger, badder demon, the last thing I need is to free whoever they plan on sacrificing, only to hand deliver one of you as a replacement."
"You're not giving us a whole lot of credit," Gunn said. "We can take care of ourselves."
"Maybe so, but right now I'm taking care of you. And the easiest way to do that is for you all to stay here." She looked at Wesley. "I'm the Slayer. This is my job."
"Bull," Cordelia said. She started to cross her arms over her chest, then stopped gingerly and dropped them to her sides. "I'm not hype to being sacrificed, but sitting around here on our asses isn't okay. This is our job too." She added, "Even if we did get fired."
"Yeah," Gunn said, tucking his ax against his chest as he crossed his arms stubbornly. "We're professionals."
"Surely backup can't hurt," Wesley said. "There's no reason for you to go into this alone."
"Did you not catch the part about any one of you being used as a human sacrifice?"
"Did you not catch the part where you don't get to tell us what to do?" Cordelia asked.
"Look," Buffy said. "I appreciate the fact that you guys want to fight evil." She turned her eyes on Gunn. "And I get that you're not civilians. You've got your very own weapons that you know how to use and everything." Her eyes flicked to Wesley. "But you don't have the training or the experience I do. I don't want to pull rank. But the Chosen one here is me. That means you stay. I go."
"And what about the Scoobies back in Sunnydale?" Cordelia asked. "They're not Chosen either, but they're out there in the field fighting with you."
"Sometimes," Buffy said. "But if they were here right now, no. I'd be telling them to stay too." She heaved a tired sigh. "This is just common sense. You don't give the other side extra ammunition." She stared at Wesley. "You know this is how it has to be."
He hesitated. "If you're sure you can handle-"
"It would be unfortunate if one of us were captured and sacrified," he said. Cordelia rolled her eyes.
"Man, whose side are you on?" Gunn dropped the ax from his shoulder.
"Yours," Wesley said. "I'd rather all of us remained alive."
"Right," Buffy said. "Exactly. Now I'm out of here. I'll keep you updated." She headed for the door, tossing a "don't worry," over her shoulder.
"Who else feels like we're working for Angel all over again?" Gunn said raising a hand. Cordelia lifted one as well. They both turned to Wesley. "What's a brother got to do to be allowed to kill a demon around here?"
"It's for the best," Wesley muttered.
Gunn snorted and hurled his ax onto the couch. "Now what?"
Cordelia picked the remote up off the coffee table. "Knock yourself out," she said as she tossed it to him.
Lindsey pulled into his spot in the Wolfram and Hart parking garage in a bad mood. He turned the car off and yanked on the parking brake. He reached for a stack of briefs and swore as one of them slipped to the floor, bumped by his clumsy, useless hand. It was ridiculous. He was ridiculous. And everyone knew it. The firm. Darla. He might as well start wearing a sign that said, "I am not important." He felt a movement behind him, and his eyes flicked up to the rearview. Nothing. He turned instinctively to face the backseat, and jerked.
The handsome vampire smirked. Lindsey stared at him, feeling like a mouse watching a snake, waiting to be eaten. His heart, his stupid heart, was giving him away, giving Angel the satisfaction of his fear. But fear was something he lived, a constant when he ran the risk of execution every morning he came to work. Fear was something he could face. Even smile at most of the time. He turned around to face the windshield, putting his back to Angel, and threw his paperwork down in the passenger's seat.
"Some days it's just not worth getting up in the morning." He raised his arms and rolled his eyes to the heavens. "What next? Is the seat of my pants going to split? Will they be out of my favorite gorgonzola at the market?"
He expected the hands that wrapped around his neck and pulled him back, tight against his seat. He didn't even bother to reach up and try to break Angel's hold on his throat. He was braced for the pressure against his windpipe, the soft, rough brush of words against his ear. When it came, it was no surprise.
"Shut up, and listen hard, boy," Angel said. "Darla may have spared you, for God knows what reason. But if you don't give me what I want, I won't be so kind." He tightened his grip, then loosened it, and Lindsey sucked in a deep breath.
"Empty threats," he said with all the sarcastic bravado he could muster. "Aren't we getting tired of those yet?"
"Who says they're empty?" Angel's fingers twitched.
"Come on, big guy," Lindsey said. "We both know you're not going to kill me. Because you're the hero, and heroes don't go around murdering people."
Angel's grip closed, and Lindsey's lungs began to burn as his air supply was cut off. "Don't be so sure," Angel whispered in his ear. "Things change. Rules change. And I'm nobody's hero." He loosened his grip just as Lindsey's vision started to cloud and fog to grey. Lindsey took a raspy, tortured breath, Angel's hands making it impossible for him to pant and gasp for the air he needed. A sliver of uncertainty pierced him. There was somehing different about Angel, something harder. He wondered for the first time in a long time if the Senior Partners could possibly be right, if there was a chance that Angel could be turned, would be on their side when the end came. But the thought was fleeting as Angel's grip and the struggle to breathe consumed him.
"You know what I want." The voice was soft, but so rough, so cold, it was more terrifying than a shout.
Lindsey choked out an answer he didn't expect Angel to believe. "I don't know where they are." One of Angel's hands dropped away from his neck, and he felt the press of fangs, just barely puncturing the skin, the same skin Darla had teased with her tongue. With his other hand, Angel maintained a grip on his windpipe, finger to throat, holding him as Darla had. Like mother, like son. Only, Angel had never really been a son to her. Angel had been all the things to her that Lindsey was not, would never be. He took advantage of the extra air to catch his breath.
Angel's tongue swiped the pricked skin on his neck; so like Darla. Lindsey watched in the mirror as two fat drops of blood disappeared, invisible, like magic. "Wrong answer," Angel growled.
"I haven't seen them since-" Lindsey started. Angel shook him with one hand, and his teeth rattled in his head as pressure against his throat deepened.
"I'm going to kill you," Angel said. "And maybe you don't care. Maybe that's what you want. Maybe that's why you're still sitting there lying to me."
The thing was, in that moment, all of a sudden Lindsey didn't want to die. Most days, he thought he wouldn't mind it too much. But sitting there, feeling the purpose in the hand that could so easily snuff out his life, he didn't feel relief, or even resignation. He wanted to take his next breath, and have tomorrow to maybe get up and do things differently, even if he never would make the change. But it was too soon. He couldn't tell Angel the truth, not now, not yet. Not if he wanted to live. Which just at that moment, he did. If he kept lying, he was dead. If he told the truth now, and betrayed the Senior Partners, he would be just as dead.
Grey started to fade in from the sides of his vision again, and he struggled to breathe as he turned on the car, slipped the gear shift into reverse, and peeled out of his spot, going as fast as German engineering could. The tires squealed, and Angel said something, but Lindsey was having a hard time hearing, as if with the vision all other senses were slipping into grey. He slammed into another car, and Angel's hands were dislodged slightly as the two of them jerked forward. When he found his grip again, Lindsey could feel the change in him, and he knew that the warnings were over. This time Angel was going in for the kill. Lindsey swerved out into the lot, swerved again, and hurtled through the lowered barrier over the exit to the garage, snapping the wood, and denting the hood of his car before careening out into the sunlight.
He said a quick thank you that he had opted against tinted windows, as Angel threw himself from the car and rolled out of the sun, back into the shade of the concrete overhang. Lindsey didn't look back as he sped off down the street, not taking any chances that Angel would find some way to follow him. He couldn't go to Darla. Or home. Or to his office. Angel could find him anywhere that was familiar.
He'd have to find a place to hide out, just for a few nights. But first he needed cash. He wasn't sure if Angel had the means to trace his credit cards, but he wouldn't put it past him. And he wasn't taking any chances.
He had to contact the firm. Not that he expected any protection from them, but he had to keep them informed. They would have seen Angel on the video monitors at the exit of the garage, and now was not the time to be caught keeping things from them. They'd want everything to go smoothly when the rest was set in motion.
But before all that, he needed a drink. Or two.
He took a left, then a right, and kept going until he saw a bar that was open. He pulled his Benz over, and stepped out, his plastic hand chaffing at his abraided throat.
Buffy entered the abandoned seafood restaurant, her eyes flitting around the empty dining room. It was all just as Cordelia had described, anchors on the walls, empty tables, some of them overturned, empty lobster tank, a thick layer of dust over everything.
"I have a reservation," she called into the silence. "Hello?"
The only thing missing was a bunch of guys in robes and a girl being cut open on one of those tables. So she'd beaten them there, which meant the whole operation should be a piece of cake. She'd just settle in, surprise them, and take out half of them with the crossbow before they even knew what hit them. With any luck the rest would run.
She turned in the center of the room, scanning for the best vantage point to set up. The bar over in the corner could work if she....
There was a cracking noise, and the ceiling fell in all around her, pelting her with acoustic tile fragments. Bodies followed immediately after as robed figures landed on the ground in a haze of dust, surrounding her. A trap.
*Or maybe,* she thought, as she hefted Angel's sword, *I spoke too soon about the piece of cake.*
There were six of them, all hooded. She couldn't see what type of demon they were, if they were demon at all, but she wasn't waiting for an ID match. And neither were they as they each pulled a gleaming silver knife, and closed in around her. She whirled into motion, the sword arcing in a deadly blur of metal, slicing through a hand that reached to stab her. She slammed the pommel into a face and heard a crunch that told her, whatever these guys were they had noses, breakable ones. She tried to spin away from a knife slash, but there was little room to move, and the blade nicked her arm. She ignored the sting, kicked away another knife and ducked a fist. She pulled a thin stake from her boot and plunged it into an exposed chest. The robed figure exploded into dust.
So they were vampires.
She put the surprise away, and concentrated on keeping her sword in motion, slamming it into a solar plexus, then bringing it up with a whirl to slice through a neck and send another vampire crumbling. Two down.
But the remaining four were too close to her. She couldn't break out into the open where she could move freely. Another knife slipped past her guard, and she just barely managed to turn before it could plunge into her torso. It sliced through her shoulder instead. The sting was worse this time, but she couldn't concentrate on that yet. She chopped at one of her attackers, missing, but driving him back a step, giving her time to block a stab, and kick up, connecting with a chin. She shook her head as a throbbing buzz started in her ears. She kept the sword spinning as the remaining vampires regrouped and came at her again from all sides. Her vision blurred. She blinked twice to clear it, and another knife slashed toward her. She stumbled away, and it only scratched her cheek. Her balance was off; she shook her head again.
She was barely hurt. She hadn't lost much blood. So why was she seeing about ten vampires instead of four as her vision blurred again? They were hesitating around her, so she moved on one of them with the sword. The stinging where she'd been cut was worse now. In fact, her whole body was burning. She swung the sword and missed, almost losing her balance. She tried to heave the blade back up. It was so heavy. Her hands weren't working. She dropped it, and she barely heard the clang over the buzzing in her head. Something was very, very wrong.
She tried to move, and her body was sluggish. All she could feel was heat, stinging through her. It had to be the knives. Poison. She felt herself sway, and barely managed to keep her feet. The vampires moved in all around her, and she tried to brace for the attack, for the knives she knew now she couldn't stop. Her arms were so heavy. Her vision blurred, spots floating in front of her, electric orange streaks.
She didn't even realize she'd fallen until she hit the ground. Hands. She could barely feel them grab her through the burning. They dragged her up, and her vision swung and spun. Another robed figure stalked toward her, and Buffy tried to focus, her eyes half closed, on what had to be their leader. The head vampire leaned in close, and her face came briefly into focus.
Then all Buffy saw was black.
Cordelia plucked a chip out of the bag on the table and popped it in her mouth. "See what I don't get," she said, "is how come the popular kids let Screech hang out with them." She gestured with another chip at the TV. "I mean, I wouldn't have been caught dead talking to that kid in high school. But look at Kelly, treating him like a human being." She shook her head. "So unrealistic."
"What do you care?" Gunn grabbed a handful of chips himself. "There's like ten people go to this high school. It's obviously not a show overly concerned with realism."
"True," Cordelia said. "But kids watch this. Kids are impressionable. The Screeches of the world shouldn't be given the false hope that maybe the cool kids'll invite them to be a part of the group." She frowned at the TV disapprovingly. "There are reasons for the separation of cool and geek. If geeks are allowed to hang out with cool people, then cool loses all-" She caught the eyebrow Gunn was raising at her. "What?" she said. He just shook his head. "I'm not shallow! I'm trying to prevent anarchy!"
He laughed, then grimaced. "What I want to know is, why are we sitting here watching stupid teen shows when there's fighting going on?" He sighed. "We should have gone to the restaurant. So what if she didn't want us there? Why should she get to hog all the demons?"
"She's a slay hog," Cordelia agreed.
"Well, she is the Slayer," Wesley pointed out. "It does give her a right to hog- " He stopped himself. "To fulfill her destiny. It's her birthright after all."
Gunn waved that aside with his hand. "So that means she's the only one that gets to have any fun?"
"Okay, maybe getting killed by a demon. Fun. Now you're losing me," Cordelia said. She shrugged. "I'm sure she can handle your average demon sacrifice on her own. But, you know, even the Lone Ranger has a sidekick. She didn't have to look down on our demon fighting skills. We're better than that Tonto guy!"
"Yeah," Gunn backed her up. "We can contribute valuable...stuff."
"If you two want to contribute, you could try to assist me with my research," Wesley put in dryly. "Rather than simply complaining. Or rotting your brain watching programming you admit is ridiculous drivel."
Cordelia and Gunn exchanged a look, then both spoke at the same time. "Nah." Gunn grinned, and Cordelia started to smile in return. As her lips turned up, her smile became a grimace of pain, and she tipped forward, then back. Her hands clutched the side of the couch, the material of a cushion next to her. She gritted her teeth against the pain, and tried to focus on the images that slammed into her head like lightning flashes. Her mind had been full before the vision started, but the vision slammed, stuffed, forced more inside her skull. Filled her until she had to stretch or choke on it. But she couldn't choke, there was too much at stake. She had to absorb it all.
"Warehouse," she said, as she registered the first image, the feeling that came with it. "Cold." She could see rope. Then more as the vision swooped back, dizzy, sickening. "A girl," she said. She was tied up, tied to a chair. The bonds were too tight, cutting into her wrists. She was unconscious. The warehouse's rafters. Something moving. Cordelia tried to make sense of the blurs. Color hurt her head. Darkness left her blind. And then she could see the girl's face.