Wordcount: This part, 2424
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Time Since Last Update: Considerable.
The circumstances of Buffy's arrival in the factory were informative: the guards had let her in without attacking her, so she must have requested negotiation, and they hadn't taken her crossbow away, so the illusion of her full strength was still intact. Unless she had an especially complex plan, though, Angel couldn't see any possible outcome here that didn't involve her giving herself up for him, and he wasn't about to allow that. There was no chance to communicate. He was going to have to trust her to follow his lead, and hopefully make good use of that bluff. It had worked at the docks, after all.
He processed all of this in the space of a second, while at the same time noting another crucial part of the puzzle: he was holding a very large and heavy object, with no shortage of potential targets for it. The vampires on either side of Buffy noticed it too, but striking down either one of them would have been a disastrous first move when the other one could so easily react by attacking Buffy. They were vastly outnumbered, and every eye in the room was on them. Spike was behind him, an easy shot that would leave the other vampires without direction, but...
Angel spun around and hurled the box as hard as he could—-at one of the television screens hanging from the ceiling, part of Spike's monitoring system. The screen ripped free of its chains and took down the vampire standing directly beneath it, but more importantly, its weight broke through the floor and created an escape route, if he and Buffy could just get to it. One of the other vampires narrowly missed falling into it, and pulled himself away only to find himself grappling with a disembodied arm. The box had broken when it hit the floor, and the Judge was making himself known in the only way he could.
By the time Angel turned from his initial act of destruction, every vampire with two working legs in the factory was headed for him. Idiots. Spike, doubtless, knew that the key to winning this battle was in threatening Buffy, but he had clearly failed to pass that information on to his minions, and now they had missed their chance to use her as leverage. Angel was only too happy to focus on the fight, but he knew he still couldn't let Buffy out of his sight altogether. Ford, for one, might have the presence of mind to gamble on Buffy's disadvantage and try to force a surrender from Angel.
It took one good kick to get his first attacker out of the way and take a look. Buffy had dropped her crossbow and was dashing toward Spike with a stake in one hand and a cross in the other. Spike seemed to be raising his arms in defense while yelling for backup. Ford was nowhere in sight.
The swarm around Angel would have been intimidating if it had lasted, but they were soon distracted by Spike's call, and several broke off to intercept Buffy-—Angel himself included. It looked quite possible that she could kill Spike with this maneuver, but then what?
Just when he was sure that she was going to die in a wheelchair covered in ashes, she halted, just out of Spike's reach, and threw her cross into his lap before veering to the side. She was still too close to him for comfort, but he was occupied with the holy item burning him, and unable to stop her before she set her hands to his chair and shoved, tipping it over and spilling him on the floor. Angel nearly laughed with delight. That was his girl, always opting for the unexpected.
She also had enough sense to run, and run hard. She had seen the hole open up in the floor and knew what she was supposed to do with it, and she didn't stop to look for Angel until she was standing at its lip. "GO!" he shouted over the heads of the last two vampires in his way. The others were either tripping over Spike or trying to help him. None were after Buffy.
The escape wasn't exactly easy after that point, but as far as Angel could tell, it was clean. The hole led into the sewer, and though they were pursued, they were pursued too slowly at first and then down the wrong tunnel. They emerged to a rainstorm, with enough strength left to rush through it to the safety of Angel's apartment.
As if it wasn't enough that the Slayer and her broody lapdog had gotten away. As if it wasn't enough that his mad princess was still missing, and with his only clue to her whereabouts gone away with the escapees. No, it wasn't enough until he was defeated again by that abominable girl, and this time in plain sight of every one of his idiotic grunts. He roared at them to back off as they tried to help him back into his chair-—one would think they at least had sense enough to set the chair right before attempting to pull him into it-—but it was a lost cause. They had witnessed his humiliation, and his helplessness. Each one had become a threat in and of itself.
Once he was off the floor he bought some time by sending half the minions to look for Angel and the Slayer and half of them to renew the search for Drusilla, save for a few of the stupidest ones, who he set to guard the doors. Mutiny wasn't going to come from those who routinely failed at their own hunting expeditions.
That left him time to think, which he hated. He could see that he would now have to assemble the Judge. It was still an unknown quantity, but he had nothing else going for him, and Armageddon was sounding better and better. He glared at the box that held the now-notorious right arm. Watching the severed limb attack the vampires who tried to put it away had given him some satisfaction, but the broken box couldn't properly contain it, and now the whole thing was twitching in a monotonous way that only added to his annoyance with the whole business.
When Drusilla made her entrance, idly fussing with her skirt and gazing up at the ceiling, it was like his unlife was being suddenly and mercifully reforged. "Ducks?" he said, scarcely able to believe his eyes. "Poodle? You've had me out of my mind all night, you naughty girl. Where have you been?"
She sauntered over to him and stooped to kiss the end of his nose. "There were some nasty men. And then there were none."
"Which nasty men, love? Who kidnapped you?"
"Is it time for my party, Spike? I've been waiting, all atwitter, ever so long."
Despite his vast relief at having her back, whole and unharmed, Spike had to grind his teeth a little. Straightforward communication had never been their strong point. "We'll have your party in a blink, but we need to get to the bottom of this. Are you certain you killed them all?"
She twirled behind him like a breeze, caressing his face as she moved. "Left one for you. Still warm. His lips tasted like...home." She was back in front of him, having made a full circle around his wheelchair. "Poor lovesick dear, and he told me such sad things of his Slayer. Such fascinating stories. Shall I have him fetched here?"
"His Slayer?" Spike caught both of her wrists in his hands. "Dru, d'you mean to say you've got the Watcher? And he's alive?"
Drusilla smiled his favorite wicked smile. "I knew you'd be hungry. If you have a nice Watcher to eat, then is it time for my party?"
"Why, we'll start the party this very second, love, exactly as you wish it, if you promise to share these fascinating stories with me. And I'm feeling so generous that we'll save that warm body for your guest of honor. He'll be hungry too, don't you think?"
Clearly she approved of this plan, and clapped her hands together with delight to express it. "I must send the help to fetch him, or he'll be all alone when he awakens." She lifted up her skirts and dashed back to the door much more quickly than she had come in, and Spike watched her go with a peaceful smile on his face.
"Wait," he said suddenly, too late to stop her. "What d'you mean, 'his lips'?"
Giles was not alone when he woke. His consciousness returned first in the form of nausea and a throbbing head, then fragmented memories of fear, and finally he wrenched his eyes open so his swimming vision could behold the faces of the last people in the world who he wanted to see.
"There, he's reviving," said Quentin Travers jovially. "On your feet, good man. You've the devil's own luck, going into that house alone and living to tell the tale."
Giles took Quentin's proffered hand and let the man help him up, ignoring the wave of dizziness that came with standing upright. He was in his own living room, and Quentin and two other Watchers that he barely recognized were standing expectantly around him. Irritably he wondered when he had given any of them the key or the permission to come in here uninvited. Then his memories began to amalgamate, and he gasped out the first pertinent word that occurred to him: "Drusilla."
"Yes, her escape was a surprise to all of us. Quite an unfortunate chain of events. I expect she was the one who did this to you?"
"Yes. She, she was—-where is Buffy?"
Travers raised a disapproving eyebrow. "Well, I'm sure I don't know. Is there any reason she wouldn't be at her own home, given that she wasn't at the site of her Cruciamentum, as she was meant to be?"
"Your vampire escaped and killed two of your men. I'm not prepared to claim exclusive rights to the errors that have been made here." Giles rubbed at his pounding head. There was more that he needed to know, but it was so difficult to concentrate on remembering what it was. "We need to find out if Drusilla made it back to her lair. She may be assembling the Judge as we speak."
"The Judge?" Quentin sounded alarmed for the first time since Giles had woken. "Your reports said nothing of this."
"Until tonight there was nothing of it to report."
There was a silence, in which Quentin seemed to stop noticing the presence of Giles and the other two as he stood thinking with his chin in his hand. "If the Slayer is incapacitated," he said at last, "we can't send her into this situation blind. We'll need to stand down for a few days."
"No. Listen to me. I was—-she had me hypnotized. I told her things. God. I told her everything." It all came back to him as he spoke, all the more horrible because he couldn't erase Jenny's face from his mind and replace it with the truth. "They know what I did to Buffy."
Quentin let out a long breath. "You couldn't help that, I suppose. But it doesn't change the facts. Tonight we don't have the means to attack." The two others made matching sounds of agreement, clearly not keen on the idea of attacking.
Giles grabbed the nearest piece of furniture to steady himself, trying to regain enough focus to turn his raw anger into a constructive dialogue. "You utter fools," he said. Well, perhaps the constructive dialogue was a lost cause. "This cannot wait. You've come across the ocean for the sake of a meaningless ritual and instead found an actual emergency. If you disable your own greatest asset, you'd better have an alternative prepared—-and if you don't it falls to you to take action in her place. Your own hands. Your own risk." He managed to stand up straight enough to level his eyes with Travers'. "I can't find them on my own. Help me, Quentin."
"As admirable as your resolve may be, Rupert, I'll remind you that you have no authority in this matter. And you shouldn't need me to tell you that you can't even stand up straight." He motioned to the younger of the other Watchers. "Willoughby, please stay here with Mr. Giles tonight and prevent him from attempting anything he'll regret later. We'll be back once this situation is under control."
Giles tried to protest, but it was lost in another crash of pain in his head. Travers was right about one thing; he couldn't act on his own. Even Willoughby wouldn't have any trouble restraining him in this state.
Quentin gave him a final, pitying look. "Get some rest. Tomorrow we'll discuss the consequences of your actions."
The rain had soaked right through her clothes and she was worn out from the run. The reality of what had just happened, and what it meant for tomorrow, seemed far too distant to grasp, except in one respect: she had failed.
Buffy waited until Angel had closed the door of his apartment behind them, and then turned to face him so she could speak first. "I know. I know what you're going to say and I'm sorry, okay? You were gone so long and there wasn't anyone I could call. And now they're going to build the Judge and I blew your chance at stopping them and I'm sorry..."
She could have gone on, but Angel interjected by saying her name in a voice he had never used for it before, not angry or confused or afraid, but just astonished: "Buffy!"
Uncertain of how to take that, she dragged her wet hand through her wet hair and waited as he stared back at her. Finally he closed the gap between them and raised his fingers to her cheek with a feather light touch. "You came," he said, still sounding nearly dazed. "You came for me."
"I...of course I came, Angel, I..." Her shivers caught up with her and she abandoned the attempt at speaking, reaching instead for a handful of his soggy shirt and pulling herself closer to his reassuring solidity.
His embrace was no warmer than the rainstorm outside, but his hands were strong and sure, and his lips whispered tenderly at her ear. "You're shaking like a leaf."
Start at the beginning.