Wordcount: This part, 2758
Disclaimer: I'm not getting paid for this. Life is tough.
Buffy had sworn to herself that she wouldn’t watch the clock. She was just going to check it every once in a while to see if Angel was late, and in the meantime, she was going to study the books, since she happened to have them all here. Thirty seconds had gone by when she first looked up to check the time after opening the first book. She bit her lip and commanded herself to concentrate. She held out for forty-three more seconds.
The pattern held, but there was little she could do about it except worry, so worry she did. The book stayed on her lap the whole time, and once or twice she even thought she managed to comprehend an entire sentence. It wasn’t helping.
Eventually she was no longer able to tell herself that she was being paranoid. Too much time had passed; there was no rationalizing it away. Angel should have been back by now.
It wasn’t difficult to make her choice after that, though she forced herself to ponder it long enough to go in with a working plan. Her preparations had to be precise. She opened her chest and chose the weapons most effective for a human of average strength, then zipped them into a duffel bag which could be easily discarded if she had to move quickly.
Angel was all she had. Angel was coming back from the factory, or neither of them were.
The front door of the boarding house was still open, which meant that Maddox and Burns were still in there, waiting for Giles to deliver Buffy and give them the nod to release the vampire. It was better for everyone, he thought, that he was here to tell them in person that it wasn’t going to happen that way. It probably wouldn’t save his job, but he didn’t want to seem as if he were trying to conceal what he had done. In fact, he wanted a good long chat with Travers about it, no holds barred.
But for now he just wanted to dismiss the Council’s toughs and eliminate the vampire. He stood still at the entrance just inside the door, listening. He wasn’t sure which room they were in, and they probably weren’t using much light at this hour. It was silent inside, though, so he tentatively stepped further in and began to look around, stake held tightly in his left hand.
This house had been chosen not only for its convenient location and the easy matter of purchasing it, but for its size and overcomplicated design. In the dark it was a maze, full of bulky furniture and rotten places in the floorboards, all meant to challenge the Slayer further as she tried to navigate it while fighting for her life. Travers had answered his objections on this point with, “A smart Slayer will be able to use the terrain as an asset. It gives her a chance to confuse her foe.”
Giles suppressed a surge of fury as he remembered that conversation. Why had nobody ever implemented the tradition of locking the head of the Watchers’ Council in with a mad vampire?
He set his free right hand down on the banister as he headed toward the kitchen, and found it unexpectedly sticky. For a moment he felt only disgust at the unmitigated mess of the derelict house, and then he saw the dark liquid on his hand and his restrained unease roared into full-blown fear. There was a trail of blood leading into the kitchen, and against his better judgment, he followed.
Maddox was on the table, not only dead and drained but ripped apart, no part of him left whole. His blood was streaked around the entire room, a foul spectacle that could only be the work of...a mad vampire.
“Terrible, isn’t it,” came a melancholy voice behind him. “Just ghastly.”
Giles whirled around, his stake upraised in the reaction to being surprised that had become automatic for him, and faced Burns, who was leaning in the doorway with his arms folded against his chest. “What is this?” he asked, his voice no more than a gasp.
Burns shrugged, the gesture immediate confirmation for Giles that it was not truly Burns. “Nature takes its course?” He glanced at the body on the table and then back at Giles. “You were supposed to bring us a girl,” he complained.
There was less than a second of time after that before Burns straightened up to come closer, and Giles knew that it was the only opening he was going to get. He moved first, swung the stake with all his strength, and hit the heart squarely. Burns looked down at the wood protruding from his chest, looked up angrily at Giles with a word forming on his lips, and then burst into a cloud of ashes.
Giles didn’t pause to register the shock of the two deaths that had now taken place in this room. He ran for the door, stumbling in the darkness, hating Travers all over again for the comment about using the terrain as an asset. There was only one unlocked door, only one way out. Which way was it? Had he gotten himself turned around?
He found himself back at the stairwell. Disregarding the blood still smearing the banister, he clutched at it for balance as he tried to get his bearings. After a few heavy breaths he remembered that he only had to follow the corridor to the exit, and some of his composure returned as he lifted his head and looked that way.
There was a woman standing in the corridor, black hair trailing past her shoulders, hands clasped innocently together. Drusilla. The Council had captured Drusilla the Mad. Not only had Giles betrayed Buffy, but he had been an accessory to unleashing the most dangerous vampire in Sunnydale, when she could have been destroyed.
How fitting that he was about to die by her hand.
He closed his eyes, letting himself succumb to the hopelessness that had come down on him so suddenly. All he could do now was meet his fate with courage and forgiveness would follow it.
As he opened his eyes and poised himself for a fight, the vampire raised her hand, two fingers crooked at him. “Be in me,” she purred. Then, after hardly a pause, she tilted her head to the side and said, “Rupert?”
The voice she used to say his first name was as unexpected as it was familiar. The stake fell from his hand. It wasn’t Drusilla standing before him at all; it was Jenny, dear, lovely Jenny. How could he ever have mistaken her?
Swiftly he closed the distance between them and took her in his arms, needing her solid form to anchor him before he could do anything else. She responded in kind, embracing him firmly before stepping back to look up at him. “Rupert, what’s going on?”
“We have to get out of here,” he said in a rush. “There’s a vampire—-killed Burns and Maddox—-I think it’s still inside—-“
She placed a fingertip on his lips. “Shhh. I took care of that. We’re safe here, everything’s okay. Just tell me what you were doing.”
All of his own incredulity and confusion at the absurd turn that the night had taken was pushed down as he seized the opportunity to unload his guilt on Jenny. “Buffy’s weakness was, was my fault. The Council ordered me to drug her, ah, to bring her here. It was a test. She could have died. I came h-h-here to end it, but the vampire...”
“A test?” Jenny sounded calm, and oddly curious, despite his frantic jumble of words.
“It’s a tradition that takes place on the Slayer’s eighteenth birthday. I never should have cooperated. She’ll never accept me again, Jenny, not after this.”
She took both of his hands in both of hers, a comforting gesture. “You never know. Give her some time. But what happens now?”
“They’ll send her a new Watcher. And—-oh dear. The Judge. Spike may already have all the pieces to it.”
“And Buffy won’t be able to fight them.”
The full impact of this side to the catastrophe finally hit him. “I need to, to, to find Drusilla. Angel said she was the one who would want to activate the Judge. If I can stop her before she returns to the factory...”
Jenny laid her hand on his face, sadness in her eyes beneath her full black lashes. “Oh, Rupert, but that’s just it.” She brought his lips to hers and kissed him passionately, and then pulled back again and said simply, “You can’t.”
He had no time to see her fist approaching his face, let alone witness her reversion to the vampire he had meant to find here. He was out cold when Drusilla left the boarding house.
Five minutes went by without anyone talking to Angel. He didn’t know where Spike had gone, and was hardly in a position to look for him. He tried not to think about time slipping by—-as long as the Judge wasn’t put together, he still had hours of darkness left to run his errand and get back to Buffy. This was no time to show any impatience in front of the enemy.
He was concentrating on building a plan for Drusilla’s retrieval when he heard a chair being set down next to him, just out of reach of his legs if he had wanted to kick at it. A young vampire sat down without a noise, elbows on his knees, and looked down at Angel with a small smile playing about his face.
“I’m gonna be guarding you for now,” said Ford. “Not like you could do anything.”
Angel looked him over. The last time they had met was during the battle at the dock, and before that, he had been human. It was always disturbing to meet a new demon in a body that had once held only a soul, especially because the difference was so hard to pinpoint or even identify. Ford’s appearance and mannerisms hadn’t changed at all, and Angel was well aware that it was only his supernatural sense for his own kind that distinguished this boy from the one who had claimed Buffy’s friendship. Even vampirism couldn’t make Ford any more sinister, in Angel’s eyes, than he already had been.
“So,” he said at last. “Is immortality everything you dreamed it would be? Running away from Slayers? Stealing a box?”
Ford shrugged, still in his casual pose. “Eh, Spike told me how it is. Everyone starts out as a minion.”
It was close enough to the opening that Angel had hoped for. “I didn’t,” he replied.
“Yeah? Look where that got you, o fearsome one.” Ford sounded genuinely curious as he continued, “What’s your deal? This is really all about Buffy for you? I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s a babe, but I’ll still take the minion role over being tied to a post.”
Angel leaned his head back against the post in question. “They didn’t really tell you anything about me, did they?”
“They said you had a soul.” Ford delivered the word with the same unexamined contempt for it that Darla had once expressed. “And Spike went on for a while about hair gel. Sorry, pal, so far you’re worth a couple yawns.”
“Spike’s afraid,” Angel stated in a low voice. He had the disadvantage of not knowing whether or not Spike was nearby and listening, but it was mostly Ford he wanted to hear this, anyway. “Look at him. He’s crippled. Any one of you could take him out. Without Dru behind him, he’s got nothing, and the more you learn about him, the more of a danger you are.”
“Oh yeah?” Ford answered in the same conspiratorial tone. “Well, here’s something you ought to know about me.” He switched back to a normal voice. “I watch TV. I know an escape gambit when I see one.”
Angel didn’t press the point. It would be helpful if he could manage to turn Spike’s minions against him, yes, but it wasn’t going to happen in a single night, so all he was aiming for at the moment was to plant the seed. Ford might not be ready to take matters into his own hands yet, and he couldn’t be counted as an ally even if he was. Still, Angel was certain he was right about one thing: Ford, and any other fledglings in the factory, weren’t being kept informed. They never were.
“I don’t need an escape,” he said. “I’m headed out of here to get your real leader as soon as Spike stops spinning his wheels and gets down to it.” He raised an eyebrow at Ford. “What do you think is taking him so long?”
“Maybe he’s trying to decide how bad he wants her back,” Ford smirked. “Heh. ‘Real leader’...”
The extent of the young vampire’s ignorance was an eye-opener. Members of the same nest turned on each other all the time, but Spike and Drusilla were a team; there was no competition between them. His feelings for her were enough on their own to make him do whatever it took to get her back, but his current condition was just extra incentive. Vampires had no respect for weakness. If Drusilla’s support for him was no longer in evidence, it wouldn’t take the minions long to see their opportunity, and Spike would be in serious danger.
“I hope I get picked to guard you on the way there,” said Ford. “I want to see if she decides the best way to thank you is with killing.”
Angel chuckled. “Tell me one thing. Which one of them made you?”
“Why’s it matter?”
“For you, it doesn’t. I just want to know how closely related we are.”
The surprise on Ford’s face was enough for Angel to count it as a small victory. He could almost see the wheels turning as Ford tried to work out the line of descent in his head. It was one of those subtle parts of vampire culture that the fledglings never really understood, though they always assumed it was important in one way or another.
Any further response from Ford was cut short as Spike wheeled himself back over with his thugs in tow. “Well, Peaches, we have a deal. Dru for the box of tricks.”
“All the boxes,” Angel reminded him as one of the vampires bent down to untie him from the beam.
“Right, right,” said Spike with a tight smile. “But for that I’ll need one small alteration to your cunning plan. Drusilla gets home safe first, and then the boxes leave here. You’ll want to sure it gets done, naturally, so you’re welcome to escort her back here.”
“What?” Angel got to his feet as soon as the ropes were loose enough to allow it, shoving the minion away from him and finishing the job himself. “If I come back you’ll just kill me. No deal.”
Spike looked childishly pleased with himself. “Oh, I wouldn’t dream of that. Scout’s honor.” He pretended to consider. “But if you truly don’t trust me, just send Dru on her way and let us take care of our dismembered friend without you.”
Angel shook his head in frustration. If he left Spike and Drusilla alone in the factory with the Judge, Armageddon would soon be on the menu. If he killed Drusilla—-he winced at the thought—-Spike would go through with the Judge’s assembly on his own, for the sake of revenge. Saving himself at that expense just didn’t agree with Angel, even if this new plan wasn’t giving him any reliable way to stop the Judge through either option.
“Give me one of the boxes,” he said finally. “I’ll take it along with me. Dru gets sent home, I keep the box. Later on we can negotiate for the rest of them.”
It was Spike’s impatience, he thought, that finally made him agree. Angel selected the box holding the arm which he had so recently carried to the docks, and Spike ordered a few minions to accompany him (including Ford, to his annoyance). They were about to leave the building when the doors were flung open by the two vampires who had been guarding them from outside, and a solitary person stepped up between them.
Angel squeezed his eyes shut and whispered a prayer. Standing in the doorway, crossbow in her hands, was Buffy.
“Well,” chuckled Spike, “this changes everything, doesn’t it?”
Start at the beginning.