Wordcount: This part, dunno really.
Disclaimer: Every morning I wake up still not owning these characters.
I was hoping this part would be longer, but a lot of what's happening right now is just like canon, and I didn't want to add any excess description to that. Things should get a little more mixed up before long. :)
Maddox awoke to a jab in the ribs and rolled over with a groan. He couldn’t believe he’d been able to fall asleep at all, on this cheap little cot in this dirty old abandoned boarding house, but they had been working hard for hours and there was little light to keep him up. The sealed windows and openings made sure of that. He just hoped Burns had received word from the Watcher while he had been asleep. With any luck, they were almost done here.
“Get up, you deadweight,” said Burns, poking him again. “It’s your shift.”
With effort Maddox forced his eyes open and tried to rub the sleep out of them. There were a few lamps flickering around the room, and he could just make out Burns standing over him. He swung his legs off the cot. “Is the Slayer coming?”
“Travers says soon. Enough time for me to catch my forty winks, and then they should be here to take over.” He sat down on his own cot.
“Wait,” said Maddox. “We should check on her first.”
Burns looked displeased with that idea, but he consented, and they both walked across the room to where a coffin-sized crate was standing up against the wall. Maddox inspected the hinges and found them secure before he opened the latches and the door swung out, revealing the restrained and unconscious vampire inside.
“I wish they’d picked a different one,” Burns muttered. “I like the big ugly chaps better. Easier to know what you’re dealing with.” He lifted a hand, as if he were about to reach out and touch the vampire, but he knew better than to actually do it. “The way this one looks now, all fast asleep...she looks like she would be a sweet girl. She’s almost beautiful.”
Maddox had avoided saying such things, or even thinking them, but now he allowed his eyes to sweep over the dark tresses and bone-white skin of the prisoner. “She is Drusilla the Mad,” he replied, the words coming out in the hushed tone that suited them, “prized child of the Scourge of Europe, paramour of William the Bloody, thought to be killed in Prague years ago, lately discovered here in Sunnydale. No mere drone for this Slayer’s Cruciamentum.”
Burns scoffed, though it was evident that he was impressed. “Why d’you bother learning all that? All they want from the likes of us is to keep watch and be scarce when the real business happens.”
“I learn it because it interests me,” said Maddox. “And she is beautiful.” He stretched his arms over his head and sat down on the chair they had placed at a reasonable distance from the crate. “Just don’t get it in your head to give her a kiss.”
He didn’t have to be looking at Burns to know that he was on the receiving end of a stink-eye. He didn’t care. A few more hours, and this would be behind him, whether or not the Slayer was a match for Drusilla the Mad.
The ride to the dock was mostly quiet. Angel was reluctant to speak freely to Buffy when Miss Calendar was present, and Buffy seemed content to just sit in the backseat with him, holding his hand. No doubt they all had plenty to keep their minds occupied, too. Angel certainly did.
He didn’t know much about Rupert Giles as a person, but even before they had met, he had scrutinized the Watcher carefully until he was satisfied that Buffy would be in good hands for her Slayer training. True, this year had seen the darker side of his past, his history as ‘Ripper’, resurface, but it was nothing that made Buffy or Angel question his motives. Buffy trusted him enough to take orders from him—-which was a lot of trust, from her—-and Angel was comfortable with his own role in the arrangement, which was to support Buffy in whatever she decided to do with the orders.
So it didn’t make much sense when Angel had been singled out for Giles’s counsel, delivered in a low voice when nobody else was listening: “It is imperative that you remain at Buffy’s side tonight and see that no harm befalls her. She’s still weakened.”
Angel had simply nodded in response, but he was perplexed that Giles had thought that it needed to be said at all. Of course Angel would be there to protect Buffy tonight. Did he think he had other plans? And while Giles had been known to state the obvious, he usually did it openly.
He was probably just on edge about Buffy’s inexplicable loss of strength, Angel reasoned. They all were, to some extent, Buffy herself most of all. She had been a wreck when she came to see him at his apartment that morning, terrified that her dream meant that he would die as a direct result of her condition, and he had spent so long comforting her, alternately trying to talk and kiss her fears away, that she had been late for school. She had even expressed doubt that he would still want to be with her if she wasn’t the Slayer, which boggled his mind a little.
In the end, though, he thought he could identify where some of her guilt was coming from. She had been thinking about college, and though she claimed that she was already resigned to staying in Sunnydale, part of her was surely still dreaming of going out of state. There were many possibilities open to her as a student, and her mother, unaware of any sacred responsibility to the Hellmouth, had been laying on the encouragement to shoot far. If Buffy lacked the power to protect Sunnydale, there would be no reason for her to stay there, and Angel was certain that she’d feel ashamed if she allowed herself to hope for that.
Angel himself was free to consider it, though, and whether or not Buffy regained her strength, he was prepared to offer to take over Sunnydale for her. He had spent a long time trying to decide if he could handle it—-at the height of his evil reign, he might have had Slayer-calibre power, but that had been squandered by the decades that followed, and animal blood made for a slow recovery. Still, he thought he would be in good enough shape by the end of the year. Then Buffy could have the life she wanted without worrying about the Hellmouth, and they could still see each other in the summer and during school breaks. And who knew? Maybe this would cause another Slayer to be called, and then he could follow Buffy to whatever city she chose.
Of course, now he had a different duty to perform. He winced. It was all too likely that he might return from this trip only to have Buffy leave for college right afterward. Well, that could give her time to decide if she wanted to remain in this relationship in spite of all the time apart.
Prophetic dreams were not the type of spiritual guidance that Angel would have chosen. So Drusilla had killed him? No, just forced him into an errand that took him away from the only place he had truly wanted to be in the last century. Forced him to hurt Buffy. One more night for him to remain at her side, as Giles had put it, and then his presence in her life would be reduced to gifts from Nepal sent with no return address.
He was still going to give her the ring tonight. She had her freedom to leave him if she wanted, but now she just needed to know that he wasn’t abandoning her.
Miss Calendar parked the car a short walking distance from the dock, and wasn’t foolish enough to suggest that she accompany them or that Buffy stay with her. They were effectively alone when they found Angel’s ship, and he set down the box to take advantage of the time they had.
He had a few words ready to explain the significance of a claddagh ring, though he went shy and fumbled it when it came to telling her he loved her—he would have to try that again before he got on the boat tomorrow. She was appreciative of the gift, but still distraught, and soon they were swept up into another negotiation of whether he had to go, and when.
They both knew it was useless, but they still hadn’t reached any actual resolution when they were attacked from above by three very desperate vampires.
It all happened very quickly, but Angel had time to recognize the late Billy Fordham, to curse himself for being so off-guard, and to realize that Buffy didn’t stand a chance in a fight right now and that he couldn’t protect both her and the box. By the time he had thrown off Ford’s first attack, the two others had Buffy held between them, expending as much energy as they thought they needed to take down the much stronger woman that they thought she was. She was struggling against them, but with one wild look in Angel’s direction she told him all he needed to know.
Ignoring both the box and Ford, who was regrouping for another attack, Angel yelled, “Buffy! Hold your breath!” and barreled right into her and her captors, praying that she would follow his instructions without taking the time to think. He picked her up off her feet and kept running, forcing both vampires to let go or be pulled along to the edge of the dock. He half expected them to keep hanging on and be dragged into the water, but he knew he could get away from them either way. With a calculated but awkward leap, Angel and Buffy hit the water as one, Angel’s head and shoulders going in first but both of them dragged down by their weight to a considerable depth.
He kicked out furiously to bring them back to the surface, unable to use his hands for fear that he would lose his grip on Buffy, and within seconds her head bobbed up beside his. She gasped and sputtered, but when she freed her hands to wipe away the hair sticking to her face, he could see she was unhurt. She had held her breath.
“Box,” she coughed, trying to look up at the dock but apparently too disoriented and night-blinded to find it in the darkness.
“No chance of that just now,” Angel replied grimly. “And I think we have other things to worry about.” He hooked his arm around her chest and started to swim them to shore.
Yes, he had plenty of things to worry about. Leaving Buffy, it seemed, was no longer one of them. Rupert Giles, on the other hand, was suddenly at the top of the list.
Start at the beginning.