. . . Fred's lifeless body hit the floor with a thud.
Angelus smirked and wiped away at the trail of blood under his lip. Casually, he tipped his head to the side and took one last glance at Fred's body, smiling in satisfaction. Her eyes were wide open and fearful, even in death. He liked that. He found it more enjoyable than when his victims were left with those vacant expressions, devoid of any of the fear he had so painstakingly inspired in their last moments of life. But Fred here? She was a good sport about it. Her expression was sure to haunt the others once they found her body – good for inspiring a nightmare or two.
Angelus recognized the voice easily, and turned around with a smirk. The familiar woman standing in the doorway was slender; she had an almost perfect figure, with a thin waist and athletic limber legs.
She glanced around the place, and smiled with a feral grin. "Didn't your mother ever teach you not to play with your food? Just look at the mess you've made; all that wasted blood. And you didn't even save me some?"
Angelus licked the blood clean off his fingers, "Fred surprised me and put up a fight. Who knew the girl had it in her?"
She sighed, wearily. "Should we be expecting company soon? Your former buddies aren't going to be dropping by this place, right? Cause, call me over-sensitive, but the last time I got the feeling they didn't like me much. Maybe it was the holy water and stakes that tipped me off."
Angelus shrugged. "It's only a matter of time before they show up, but we've don't need to rush. I figure it'll be a good twenty minutes before any one comes looking for Fred. Plus, they don't know I've suddenly gone un-souled, thanks to you. Poor Fred here didn't have a clue until I started to get rough."
She rolled her eyes. "Why is it you always go for the girls first, never the guys? I mean, I know you love the whole damsel-in-distress thing, but c'mon. I never thought I'd say this, Angel, but I think you might be becoming predictable."
"Predictable?" Angelus repeated, entertained, "I don't think Fred thought I was too predictable. And if memory serves, I had an easy enough time surprising you when we were enemies. Back then I doubt you would have ever called me predictable, Buff."
Buffy smirked, lightheartedly, "You're right. I would have called you a lot of stuff - bloodsucking fiend, monster, jerk, a barrel of decaying dead monkeys - but not predictable. But just for the record, when we were enemies, I was a 17 year old slayer with a broken heart. I've changed since then. I'm not 17. I'm not a slayer. And, oh yeah, don't really need my heart anymore. Since then, losing a soul has done wonders for my outlook on life."
"And can I add," Angelus said, circling her, "your sense of fun has improved dramatically, as well."
"Just don't you forget it, Buddy. Otherwise I'll have to remind you."
Her eyes glinted with promises, and with his blood already boiling with the rush of a good kill, seeing her standing there, slim figure silhouetted by the background light, he felt a flush of desire course through his entire body. He walked across to her without hesitation and swept her off her feet, kissing her passionately. So passionately that when they pulled apart, her lips were bruised, swollen, and bleeding.
He wanted to take her right there.
Buffy grinned, as if reading his mind. "Not here, Angelus. You know how the old saying goes - we have things to do, and people to kill. Honestly, keep your mind a little focused."
"Why?" he asked, moving down to kiss her slender neck in a particularly sensitive spot. "Everything's working as planned."
It took Buffy a moment to respond, mainly because she was starting to become affected by Angel's special attention. "Well . . . duh. It is my plan . . . But let's not celebrate until all your little LA friends are toe-tagged, alright? You have no idea how hard it was for me to get to this point. All the backstabbing. The killings. The manipulating. It wears a girl down."
Angelus smirked, having to give credit where credit was due. If Buffy hadn't planned this to perfection, they wouldn't be standing in Fred's blood right now. Sure, it was a stroke of luck that Buffy had been turned into a vampire a little over six months ago, but everything since that moment was all her doing. If she hadn't torn Sunnydale apart, if she hadn't finished off her friends, if she hadn't decided to take a trip to Los Angelus, mess with Angel's head, and magic him out of a soul, none of this would have happened.
And, particularly for that last point, Angelus was going to be grateful for it. He bit into her neck, sucking lightly, which elicited a gasp of both pleasure and pain. It was still hard to think that it was only this side of two days ago that he had been a self-righteous souled bastard, upset over the news that Buffy had turned evil. So much had changed since then. He had changed and been released from a fate worse than death.
"But it was worth it, right?" Angelus teased, seductively, "All the chaos of the last couple of months. Just to have me unsouled?"
"Cocky bastard," she muttered, lowly. "I just came because Spike lost his sense of fun in Sunnydale."
He suddenly let go of her, irritated at being reminded of that. "I still can't believe you were with him."
"Oh, God. Not again."
Moving away and leaving behind a flushed and somewhat annoyed Buffy in his wake, he glared at her for her seeming transgression. It irritated him to think of Buffy and Spike together. Buffy was his. And Spike was his grandchilde. That was just wrong on multiple levels. What was it with Spike, anyway? Every time he moved in on a girl, Spike was trailing his path not too far behind. First Drusilla, then Buffy. Who next? Cordelia!
"That's just wrong," he muttered, a foul taste in his mouth despite the flavor of Buffy's blood, "He's beneath you."
Buffy glared. "You know, I don't get you. The Scourge of Europe, they called you. Centuries worth of awe-inspiring chaos under your belt, but now, every time somebody mentions the name Spike, your face turns an odd shade of green and you throw a tantrum like a cranky two-year old."
"I do not throw tantrums."
"Would you prefer I use the term hissy-fit?" Buffy replied, annoyed, "Need I remind you that when I came here, you were two steps away from hookin' up with Cordelia. Cordelia! The girl in high school who proved that blond was not a hair color, but a state of mind. If you can hook up with Cordelia, why is it so terrible for me to hook up with Spike, huh? Riddle me that, Batman!"
"I had a soul then," Angelus countered. "What's your excuse? In fact, what's his? Peroxide boy turned on you! But gee, who didn't see that coming? Cause we all know loyalty was always one of Spike's top qualities–"
"Still smarting from the whole Acathla thing, I see."
"–And he turned good? Good! You were trying to have a nice little apocalypse in Sunnydale, and he suddenly decides he doesn't like being evil anymore and tries to stop it. Again. What is it with him and saving the world? He doesn't even have a soul, just some stupid little chip in his head from the government!"
Buffy sighed in irritation, "I should have known better than to bring up Spike, even in passing. You and he are more alike than you think. Jealousy must run in your family. Hell, it practically gallops."
"I am not like Spike!"
She glared. "You don't see me going half-crazed over Cordelia, do you?"
He raised an eyebrow. "You've tried to kill her several times."
"Your point?" Buffy replied. "Newsflash - I'm evil, sweetheart! Have been for the last couple of months. It's what regularly happens with vampires . . . Unless, of course, it's you on one of your souled days, or–"
"–Your precious Spike?"
Buffy glared. "Can we get back to the killings now?"
He glanced down at Fred's lifeless body, and suddenly became all serious again.
Buffy began the effort of mentally pulling herself out of the argument, "So . . . Who do you want to kill next? I was thinking it would probably be a good idea to kill off Wesley now. I don't know about you, but allowing a former watcher to live and, you know, plan some of those crazy magical hijinks seems like a stupid idea to me. He may try to figure out another way to curse you . . . or even worse, curse me."
Buffy shuddered dramatically, as if the thought of being a souled vampire was a fate worse than death. Angelus knew she couldn't imagine the half of it. No vampire knew, except him, the pure torture a monster went through when he was trapped inside a souled body. Waiting. Wanting to kill. But locked and chained like a damn animal.
He got all homicidal again just thinking about it.
"Yeah," Angelus replied, fighting back a growl. "We'll kill Wesley next. They'll be leaderless and confused after that."
"Like they aren't now?" Buffy questioned, dryly. "Fine, whatever. Wesley, next. Then, I wanna kill Cordelia–"
"No," Angelus replied, firmly. "No . . . kill anyone but Cordelia. Cordelia lives."
Buffy raised an eyebrow, a spark of jealousy flashing. "Why?"
He smirked; she still had so much to learn. "Buff, you should know that the golden rule to any massacre is to always leave one alive."
She picked up on his preaching tone, "And why is that, psycho-wan-kenobi?"
" . . . To spread the tale, of course. Every story should always have a survivor."
Los Angelus, California. August 14, 2002.
Buffy and Cordelia's Home-World
Lightning crashed and thunder could be heard from miles away. From nowhere, it seemed, the weather had drastically changed. A storm had arisen, and while the wind howled and the rain plummeted down with a vengeance, everyone in Wolfram and Hart continued with their work without a glance out the window.
If they had simply known about the chaos that would rein against them in the coming hours, most would have been - to put it eloquently - scared shitless. Screaming and panic would the overtaken nearly all of Wolfram and Hart's employees . . . Except, of course, for Lilah. She would have probably found the entire thing incredibly appealing to her twisted sense of humor. Assuming, that is, she wasn't caught up in any of the chaos personally.
Unfortunately, fate wasn't choosing to be kind to her either.
As she pushed open the doors to the garage floor, her mind was whirling with the day's events. Her first day on a new job. She was the brand-spankin' new liaison to the Senior Partners for the Los Angelus branch, which was now being run by her (former?) sworn enemies. People that she spent the better part of four years trying to kill or piss off. And, well, in the end, she was the one screwed over.
Speaking of being screwed over, Lilah thought as she fidgeted with her scarf, she still hadn't seen Wesley yet. She had considered stopping by to see him tonight before she left the building, but after a few minutes of internal debate, she had decided against it. Seeing Angel was one thing, but seeing Wesley was entirely different. Besides, she was going to be working closely with this group. Her presence wouldn't remain a surprise for long, and that meant eventually they would have to have the requisite awkward conversation of ex's.
. . . It's nice to see you again . . .
. . . You look good . . .
. . . How's the inferno depths of Hell been treating you lately?. . .
Hmm, what a fun idea that was.
She didn't want to deal with that right now. There would be plenty of time to stop by and see him later - possible tomorrow. Plus, there was the added bonus of figuring out what to say to him. How to act? Should she play it cool and aloof? Or cold and aloof? The difference was subtle, but the effect was noticeable. After hearing about the fact that he had finally hooked up with brainy brunette, Fred, Lilah had to admit she was leaning towards cold and aloof.
Fred . . . God, what did he see in her? She still had no clue.
Heels clicking against the cement floor so hard it echoed throughout the otherwise silent garage, Lilah made her way towards her new company car. There were some added bonuses to being the new liaison to the Senior Partners, and a brand new MINI Cooper Convertible was one of them. She liked the car a lot . . . but she couldn't help but think she would have liked being alive a whole lot more.
Sighing in annoyance at the old train of thought, she was nearly to the car when suddenly, from the corner of her eye, something attracted her attention. A quick blur of black - there and gone before she could even turn her head.
Lilah stopped dead cold – no pun intended.
She could have dismissed the blur as her imagination, but let's face it - she wasn't some dumb 21 year old co-ed who was naive enough to wander down an eery alleyway all by her lonesome self. She was Lilah F-ing Morgan. Naive wasn't even in her vocabulary.
Instinct told her she needed to get out of here. Quick. And Lilah was nothing if not quick on the uptake. She hastily pulled the car keys from out of her purse and used the keyless entry button to unlock the doors with an all-too-audible-beep from the car. Fantastic, Lilah thought dryly, stealth is highly overrated anyway–
Faint footsteps echoed from behind her.
Lilah found herself quickening her pace. And even as she did, she had the grace to feel slightly foolish about it. Was it even possible for something to attack and kill her - considering she was dead already?
The footsteps got closer.
She didn't care about foolishness anymore.
"Run and catch . . . run and catch . . . the lamb is caught in the blackberry patch."
Lilah recognized the nursery rhyme in an instant, and perhaps more importantly, she recognized the voice - English accent. A graceful and delicate tone, childlike even. And filled to the brim with lethal and psychotic promises. It only meant one person. Lilah swallowed once, and turned around to meet the gaze of the psychotic vampire.
"Drusilla." Lilah greeted, assuming a look of surprise to mask her uneasiness. "When did you get back into town?"
Drusilla smiled, as if she saw right through Lilah's charade. "I smell fear . . . dreadful, covered in lies and thorns . . . no need to hide from me, little lamb."
Warning bells went off in Lilah's head, practically screaming for her to run and not look back. But Lilah knew better than that. After all, running only made things worse with monsters like Drusilla. They liked the chase. Her best bet was to stay put and not make any sudden movements. Wait until the cavalry, or the security guards, came running to her rescue.
She decided to not focus on the part where the security probably had no idea that Drusilla was even in the building. Man, did Wolfram and Hart's security suck.
Vampire detectors, my ass.
"So," Lilah began, trying to recover, "I like your new outfit; I like the way it says I'm here to destroy the world, but with a sense of fun."
"Do I know you?" Drusilla drawled, curiously.
Lilah's attention was momentarily distracted by the sight of the two dead bodies in the corner.
"Yeah," Lilah replied, clearing her throat. "We met about two years ago. You remember? I helped you get in touch with Darla. A nice little family reunion, and sorts."
Drusilla gave her a blank look, "My family's gone all to pieces in the garden. The fishes sing about it often."
Lilah was trying to figure out to respond to that when Drusilla continued.
"We've met? You and me? I don't remember that. But then again I don't remember a lot of things, like waking up this morning. But here I am, awake. It must have happened."
"Yeah, I've had those days myself. So . . . how's it going? Kill anybody I know lately?"
"Probably," Drusilla replied, "I've killed a lot today."
Lilah laughed, slightly nervous. She glanced around the garage, acutely aware that she was in a vacant room with a psychopathic killer of the grandest kind. Lilah guessed it helped that she was already dead and therefore not that appetizing to a vampire, but the funny thing with vampires was . . . well, they hunted for sport, too.
Don't run, Lilah reminded herself, they like the chase.
"So," Lilah tried again, "you . . . you really don't remember me? You and Darla killed off a bunch of my co-workers in a cellar one time. Left me and Lindsey alive. Any bells ringing?"
"Oh yes, I hear bells all the time!" Drusilla exclaimed. "Ringing. Ringing. Ringing in my ears. Pounding like a dirty heartbeat. It fills my head."
"Actually, I was talking metaphorically. But . . ." Lilah was beginning to get desperate. "Are you sure you don't remember me? You and Darla didn't eat me the last time, so I'm assuming you liked me."
"Darla?" she asked, with child-like enthusiasm. "It does sound fun, me and Grandmother together again. I miss her. I miss everyone. The entire family is gone, though, scattered like dust in the wind. Acid rain in the gutter . . . I'm here to get them back."
"Oh," Lilah responded, in comprehension. "You're here for Angel. Right. Should have assumed. Oh, and you probably know that your, ah, ex-boyfriend is here, too. What was his name? Something to do with a sharp instrument?"
"Spike," Drusilla answered, face lighting up.
She'd read files on him. Bleach blonde hair. Leather jacket. Slayer of slayers. Also a pain in the ass to his Grandsire. She liked him already.
"That's right," Lilah said, nodding. "They're both around here some place. Would you like me to call them? Tell 'em that they have a visitor–"
Drusilla tipped her head to one side, "Shh . . . Do you hear that?It's lost in the wickedness, waiting for Daddy and my Spike to come and find them. But they can't, my lamb, can't find them. Not now, not ever. They're hidden too well."
Huh? Lilah thought.
Drusilla's voice suddenly grew grave, moaning in pain as she outstretched her hand towards something Lilah couldn't see. "Do you know the whispers? So many secrets in here. They're pounding my head. They won't stop and I'm getting an awful headache from them."
"Wolfram and Hart is known for their secrets," Lilah said, watching the women with caution, "They hide them well."
"Not from me," Drusilla replied, slowly growing calm and still. "I can hear them. I know."
For a moment, Lilah believed her and wondered what secrets of Wolfram and Hart Drusilla did know.
"Do you know where I could find Daddy? He left me to talk with one of his old friends. He wouldn't let me come, so I followed him. He'll be most upset and I want to make it up to him. I brought him presents."
"Presents?" Lilah questioned.
Drusilla pointed towards the bodies on the floor, "I want them to be fresh when I give them to him. He doesn't like it when they're stale."
"Riiight," Lilah responded, awkwardly. "I'll call up Angel right now."
Drusilla shook her head, and started circling around Lilah like a shark. "Not the Angel-beast. I said Daddy."
She stopped right behind Lilah, whispering in her ear, "You call him a monster. A scourge. Wicked, wicked. But I call him Daddy . . . I call him Angelus."
Lilah froze, and suddenly the thought of facing Drusilla wasn't the worst possible way to spend the evening anymore.
"Angelus?" Lilah repeated anxiously, turning around. "What do you mean? Angelus . . . he's . . . he's here?"
Drusilla nodded, once.
Suddenly, in perfect synch with Lilah's state of mind, the building's alarm went off, echoing throughout the garage. The red alarm lights flashed brightly from the corners of the room, and blinking against its strobe-like effects, Lilah felt an insane rush of relief that the idiots upstairs finally figured out something was wrong.
The relief was short-lived.
Drusilla was behind her in a blink of an eye. Two ice cold hands went around her waist, and before she could even think to do something as unseemly as screaming her head off, Lilah was pinned in Drusilla's embrace.
"Shhh," Drusilla whispered into her ear, "Don't move. I was wondering when they would find the bodies I left upstairs. They'll follow them like breadcrumbs, in that fairytale me mum use tell me about."
Lilah tried to remain her normal glibsome-self. "Hansel and Gretel? From what I hear, that wasn't a fairytale."
"Yes, Mummy had it wrong. She thought vampires were fairytales, too."
"And you proved her wrong?"
"No . . . he did."
Lilah didn't have to ask which "he" she was referring to.
Drusilla moved both of them to the corner of the garage, where it was covered by shadows. Lilah would have protested, but she knew it was useless. She didn't want to think about how easy it would be for Drusilla to snap her head off like a twig. It barely felt attached as it is.
"Are you waiting to get caught?" Lilah asked, after a moment. "They'll find you if you stay here much longer. Get out now and we can keep this little reunion we had to ourselves. I can keep a secret."
"Reunion?" Drusilla repeated, "But we never met before. I'm positive now, and I didn't even need the moon to whisper to me. We've never met, you and I. She was the other one."
Lilah was starting to get annoyed. She never knew memory loss one of the many brain ailments that Drusilla suffered from. But apparently . . . and then, with a type of force that would hit you upside the head, comprehension dawned on Lilah.
Drusilla. Angelus . . .
. . . Buffy. Cordelia.
Lilah felt clarity, "You're not from this reality, are you? You're from the other one."
Drusilla didn't seem to be paying attention to her anymore, because instead of responding, she titled her head towards the entrance door and uttered words with excitement and longing in her voice, completely captivated. "They're coming."
"Who? The guards?"
"No," she replied, face lighting up again. "Angel and Spike. My Spike."
As if on cue, the side doors burst open and in rushed Angel and several other people. She caught glimpses of the green demon, Gunn, and . . . a guy she assumed was Spike (by his physical description, anyway) skidding to a halt, shock covering their faces. She wasn't sure what caused the shock more. Most of them probably still had no idea that Lilah was their new liaison to the Senior Partners. They had no idea Lilah was even in the building. Coupling her surprising presence with the fact that Drusilla was holding her hostage . . .
More people entered through the side door - but her eyesight couldn't get beyond the presence of Cordelia. After all, the last thing Lilah had seen in her still-breathing-life was Cordelia's maniacal face. Lilah was dead because of that annoying cheerleader, and she would have made a biting remark about it, if the situation had been slightly more conducive to such a remark.
"Drusilla?" Angel questioned, surprised.
"Dru?" Spike reiterated, shocked.
"Lilah?" Wesley asked, dumbfounded.
Oh, where did Wesley come from? She hadn't even seen him.
"Hey Wesley," Lilah greeted, tightly. "You're looking well."
And damned if he didn't, Lilah thought annoyed, as she took in his appearance. Besides the whole shocked-mouth-hanging-open-like-a-fish-thing he had going because of her unexpected presence, Wesley still managed to look good. Damn. Why couldn't he have suddenly become a leper?
"Lilah, what are you–"
"I'm you're new Liaison to the Senior Partners," Lilah answered, lightly. "My first day on the job. It seems as if my second doom is imminent. So . . . how you doing?"
Lorne groaned, "I think I preferred Eve."
Wesley tried to form words through his shock, but failed miserably. Nothing like having your dead ex-honey dropping by unexpectedly to mess with your ability to form coherent sentences. Maybe Angel and Spike could give him some pointers . . . although to be fair, in the current situation, they weren't handling the shock any better.
Drusilla's grip tightened around her neck.
"You mind!" Lilah snapped, annoyed. "I wear a scarf for a reason!"
"Let her go, Drusilla." Angel ordered, calmly.
Spike went with a different approach. "Luv, what are you doing here?"
Drusilla giggled in Lilah's ear, "I was suppose to be a surprise. I've been a bad girl. Daddy's going to be very angry with me."
Angel stepped forward, overhearing the remark and misunderstanding. "You're damn right, I am."
Lilah struggled futilely against Drusilla's grip, "Oh, Genius-One. I don't think she was talking about you. Just call it a hunch."
"What?" Angel asked, confused.
"When did you get into town, Dru?" Spike asked, curious. "The last I heard about you, you were still in Europe, dining on the Greek. Rumor had it you were causing a lot of chaos."
"Not me," Drusilla replied, "That was the other one. I'm here to finish this. Finish it the way it began. We'll be a family again."
From outside the building, thunder echoed from miles away.
"Dru, baby." Spike began, "We've changed. We can't be a family again. Not like before."
"Daddy promised me a family. Like before. Before she charred his heart and you with the branding iron. Daddy promised."
Angel looked confused, "I didn't–"
Lilah cut him off, "She means Angelus–"
"Bite your tongue," Drusilla whispered into her ear, threateningly. "No telling secrets."
Lilah shuddered, "Angel, do something."
But Lilah had uttered those words to Angel once before, years ago in a cellar, and that hadn't turned out so well. So, deciding to get herself out of this situation, she fumbled for her car keys and hit the small "Panic" button on the side, sending a signal to the MINI behind them.
As planned, the car alarm suddenly blared with a high pitch screech.
Drusilla, temporarily distracted by the loud noise, loosened her hold on Lilah. Lilah took advantage of it, slammed her right foot against Drusilla's shin, and pushed away with all her strength, casting herself forward to get away from the psycho-vampire . . .
Only to land in the arms of Wesley.
It was a moment of surreal stillness in his arms before she acknowledged the chaos that had broken out behind her . . . Spike, having attempted to launch an attack against Drusilla, slammed onto the rooftop of nearby car when the attack went poorly with the swiftness of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Angel was next, hitting the ground equally hard when Drusilla quickly dispatched his assault. Gunn, Lorne, and Cordelia had no chance against her, and Wesley . . .
Wesley was still holding onto her.
Lilah pulled herself free, and turned around to see Drusilla standing calmly, smiling in victory.
"Not yet, but soon. Daddy promised."
Then, in a flurry of black once again, Drusilla retreated faster than the eye could follow. Over the car tops, sliding past the dead bodies on the floor, and to the exit. She was gone before Angel and Spike could even get to their feet.
In the silent void that followed Drusilla's wake, Lilah turned to the two vampires present and said, "Well, that was a pathetic display on your parts. I believe she just officially made you two her bitches."
Angel ignored Lilah, "What was Dru doing here? When did she get back into town?"
Lorne shrugged, "I don't know. But apparently, she thinks Santa Claus has a good idea. She visits us practically every year."
Angel turned towards Spike, "What do you think she wants?"
"I think it's fairly sodding obvious what she wants," Spike replied, gruffly, "What I don't get is–"
"What did she mean by Daddy promised?" Cordelia asked, anxiously. "Did you talk to her, Angel?"
"Oh, yes." Lilah answered for him, bitingly. "Your powers of deduction are exceptional. I simply can't allow you to waste them here when there are so many crimes going unsolved at this very moment. Go, go, for the good of the city."
"What did you think?" Lilah continued, turning to point to Angel. "That's he's been keeping in touch with his psycho childe behind your backs all this time. When would he have time for that, exactly? Would that be before or after he bangs his dead sire and helps her spurt out his very own hell-spawn."
"Lilah," Lorne began annoyed, dismissing the half-truthful words as sarcasm, "Let me be the first to say, I liked it better when I knew you were in hell."
Angel glared at her, pointedly. "Seconded."
"And who the bloody hell are you?" Spike demanded, annoyed. "And what did Dru want with you? I'd like to know why she didn't kill you right off the bat. Especially–"
"Before you get too much into that sentence," Lilah interrupted, "You might want to check your security. Drusilla had company in the building."
"More vampires?" Gunn questioned.
"Just one, that I know of." Lilah replied, glibly. "And this is where I pause for a dramatic emphasis. We've got the lightning and thunder for the atmosphere, now all we need is little animals scurrying away and we're set."
"Lilah, what is it?" Angel asked, annoyed. "Who was with Drusilla?"
Lilah smiled, "The way I understand it, Drusilla was here with family . . . Angelus."
Right on cue, thunder echoed loudly from outside, adding an ominous effect to the entire moment.
Gunn was lucid enough to comment, "I hate it when it does that."
Lilah continued, "I would usually, at this juncture, point out in some form of sarcasm that Angelus and Drusilla probably came from the same alternate reality to which Cordelia here belongs to, but I think you've got more pressing issues."
"More pressing than Angelus being here?" Lorne repeated, incredulous.
"I don't know," Lilah replied, lightly. "But I just happened to pick up on the fact that two of your people are missing from this cozy little group discussion. You tell me, is that more pressing than Angelus?"
Everybody looked around to figure out what she was talking about, but Angel was the first to pick up on it. And she knew exactly what was going through his head when he did – the Old Seer's words – Two will die within the next week, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
"Bloody hell. Where's Buffy?"
Cordelia, who had turned uncharacteristically silent since the mention of Angelus, snapped out of her daze, "She's, um, she was in the penthouse, resting."
Spike and Angel took off simultaneously towards the nearest staircase without further prompting, while the rest dealt with the other missing member of the group.
"Oh, dear God," Wesley suddenly muttered, paling to sheer white, "Where's Fred?"
Fred stirred, moaning in pain.
She felt weak, lightheaded, and felt pain in places of her body she didn't even know she had. Just opening her eyes was a task beyond exhaustion. Blinking in confusion and pain, it took her a moment before the memories came flooding back to her. She was getting dressed in her laboratory . . . a date with Wesley . . . and then . . . and then . . .
Oh God, no . . . Not Angelus . . . Please, let that have been a nightmare.
But even as she wished it, she knew it was fruitless to hope for such a thing. The pain she was in was too tangible. The memory of it too realistic. She choked back a cry of fear, feeling adrenaline course through her body as she remembered . . . remembered the bite. No wonder she was in so much pain, so weak. She touched her neck and when she brought back her hand, it was coated with a faint trail of blood.
Why wasn't she dead? Why didn't he kill her? She could have sworn those moments would have been her last. The fear had been too real, the inevitability of her death undeniable. It felt too much like the last three years had instantly vanished, and she was alone in the dark; trapped in Pylea again. A slave. A cow. Weak and–
Focus, Fred! Focus! No time to panic. You're stronger than this. You're stronger than this!
. . . But she felt so scared.
Breathing heavily, and choking back the tears that threatened to fall, Fred slowly forced herself to pull together. She couldn't freak out. She couldn't breakdown. That would solve nothing. So, she cleared her throat, and her eyesight slowly began to focus. The blurriness cleared away to reveal a familiar surrounding . . .
She was sitting on the floor of the lobby of the old hotel. He must have . . . he must have brought her here. After he bit her. Why? For what?
"Ah, good! You're awake," Angelus' voice filtered in from behind her. "I was sick with worry there for a second."
She turned around, still half-lying on the ground in weakness, one hand propping her up, and glared with her best intensity. "Bastard," she whispered, knowing he'd hear no matter how softly she said it.
His eyes widened in mock surprise. "Fred, that's not a very nice thing to say. And after I let you live, too. A young lady like you should have better manners than that."
"What would an animal like you know about manners?" Fred replied, voice still wavering with weakness. "You're nothing but a vulture. No, lower than that. You're the carcass vultures feed upon."
Angelus smirked, and walked over until he was completely towering over her. "Oh Fred, you have nothing to fear from my baser instincts." He then crouched, bringing himself eye to eye with her, "It's my finer ones that are telling me to kill you."
Fred turned away and coughed, if only so he wouldn't see the fear in her eyes.
"You alright?" he asked.
He feigned sympathy so pathetically that she felt like an idiot for having been fooled by his performance earlier. If only she'd figured out it was Angelus in the laboratory and not Angel! She should have noticed the subtle wrongness of his behavior, the odd way he'd been acting, but distracted by her own eagerness to see Wesley–
Oh God, Wesley, she thought suddenly, unable to mask the sharp anguish at the thought of him, was she going to die without ever seeing him again? They barely even had a chance to be together. It wasn't fair, dammit! She never got around to telling him . . . telling him that she loved him.
"Oh, hey. Don't cry, Fred," Angelus coaxed, "I haven't even done anything yet."
"I'm not going to cry, Angelus. I'm not going to give you the satisfaction."
He smiled. "You know, you've changed. The last time we did this thing, in my world, you were already balling your eyes out by this point. You were shaking like a leaf, begging to be freed."
She turned around again, finding the strength to look him squarely in the eye, "Liar. I wouldn't do that. I may not be a champion, and I may not have any superpowers. But I walk with heroes. I know what courage is. And I know I would never beg to a scoundrel like you."
"Scoundrel?" he repeated, mockingly. "Brave little Fred is all grown up . . . I just want you to know - the other Fred? She did scream and cry; so much. Hell, I killed her quick just so I didn't have to listen to her whine anymore. But this time? Trust me when I say, it won't be quick."
She sat there, chilled by his words when he suddenly reached out and touched her bite mark. Appalled by the physical contact, she reacted on instinct, pushed his hand away, and attempted to slap him.
As his rough hand caught hers in mid-air, he said in amusement, "Please, Fred, a paper-cut would hurt more."
"I'll never beg," she said, with conviction she knew she probably couldn't hold on to, "and I won't scream."
"That's what they all say . . ."
He backhanded her so hard that shards of pain coursed throughout her entire body. The only thing that prevented her from flying across the room from the force of the impact was his rough hold. She felt dizzy. She felt sick. She felt like passing out. She ended up spitting up a bit of blood from a dislodged tooth.
But, she realized, she never screamed.
He looked suitably impressed, "Well, whataya know? You might be more interesting than I thought. Rest up, Fred. You're not ready yet."
"Ready for what?"
"That's for me to know and you to scream about later," he replied, smugly. "Until then, you'll be my honored guest. Emilio, here, is going to be your caretaker."
Fred turned around, and for the first time, spotted the large behemoth-looking monster with green scales standing in the corner. It was a credit to Angelus' intimidating presence that she hadn't noticed him before.
"I have to tell you, he doesn't talk much, so don't expect any good conversation. No, Emilio's skills are limited. Mostly smash and crash and killings, but I suppose in the end, that's what matters to a dumb monster, right?"
"You would be the expert on that," Fred said, boldly.
"Ouch. That hurt, Fred. Really."
Fred was half-relieved and half-terrified. "So, you're leaving me to your minions?"
Angelus nodded. "I'm expecting some company soon, so there's some arrangements to make. Don't feel neglected, though. I have plans for you. Unfortunately, right now, you're far too weak for it to be . . . worth my attention. So, rest up–"
Before Angelus could finish his sentence, a woman walked into the lobby carrying several shopping bags. She was petit, blond, and walked as if she didn't have a thing to fear from the monsters standing around her. Fred eyed her with surprise, but she received no acknowledgment back.
"Angelus, I need more money."
Angelus grew visibly irritated, "What is it now, Anya? I already gave you money today."
"Yes, but now I need more," she declared, matter-of-factly.
Anya sighed, obviously irritated at having to explain herself. "I have to go ask the sales person at the pet store if their gerbils come in bulk and if they have much white meat on them."
Angelus blinked in bewilderment, "I'm not even going to ask."
"They're for a vengeance spell!" Anya replied, heatedly. "I can't simply grant the wishes automatically anymore, because someone here has my damn power source, so I have to resort to doing magic the old fashioned way. With smelly herbs and dead little creatures. You've reduced me to this."
"You're still doing your vengeance thing?" Angelus asked, annoyed. "You're supposed to be working for me now."
"Why?" Anya replied. "You have plenty of lackeys here to do your dirty work. As far as I'm concerned, you can just contact me when you want to return back to our home-world. Until then, I'll keep doing my own thing."
"So sorry to disappoint, Anya," Angelus replied, sweetly, "but it doesn't work like that. You work for me as long as I've got your precious little necklace! Now, you're going to start earning your keep around here. I have a message for you to deliver. Go inside the office and wait for instructions, I'll meet you there in a second."
Anya scowled at the order. "If I had my full powers right now, I'd punish you with–"
"Ah!" Angelus said exasperated, holding up a halting hand, "I do not want to hear about eviscerations, castrations, mutilations, or any other threat of violations from you! It's getting old. In the office, now!"
Anya intensified her glare, then marched into the office with exaggerated fury.
Angelus ignored her, and turned towards Emilio and handed him something - a necklace. "Keep this safe while she's here. I don't trust her."
"I'm liking her already," Fred muttered, under her breath.
Angelus overheard and turned towards her. "You know, Fred, I wouldn't try to become buddies with Anya there. Unless, of course, you like having your entire life screwed over. She has the uncanny ability of making your greatest wish your worst nightmare. Just ask Cordelia."
"What do you mean?"
He did a one-shouldered shrug. "Nothing, never mind. You wouldn't grasp the beauty of it, anyway."
Fred became curious, despite the circumstances. "What do you have planned for Buffy and Cordelia? Haven't you done enough to them already!"
"You can never do enough," Angelus countered. "Buffy and Cordelia are part of me, you see. Those two women, they just know how to get under my skin. They can push my buttons like no one else. I'm just returning the favor."
"Returning the favor?" Fred repeated, incredulous.
"Well, yeah," Angelus replied. "For one thing . . . Didn't Buffy tell you? She was the one that removed my soul."
Fred swallowed. "So you're going to try and take hers away?"
"I don't have to," Angelus replied. "I just have to wait for the kid to spurt out. The rest will take care of itself . . . I'm still debating on who gets to finish the kid off, though. I kind of like baby fingers."
Bile rose in her throat. "You're despicable."
He grinned, "Only a little."
He turned around and walked away, stopping only a second to speak quietly to the monster named Emilio. When they finished conversing, Angelus nodded once, turned back to give Fred a wink, and walked away.
Emilio walked over to her and roughly pulled her to her feet, dragging her across the lobby before she even had much of a chance to protest. She tried to fight and scream, but she just had no energy. Angelus had taken too much blood. Helpless to do anything but be dead weight, Emilio had to carry her and practically push her down the stairs to the basement. At the bottom, a steel reinforced cage glistened at her in mockery. It was the same cage they had used to lock up Angelus last year during his brief yet terrifying visit. Now, in a role reversal, she was going to be its new inhabitant.
Fate, and its damn sense of humor.
Emilio roughly pushed her into the cage and slammed the door closed behind her. She looked around the small 10 x 12 space, and was simultaneously afraid and relieved once again. She couldn't get out, but the metal bars between her and the vampires gave her the illusion of isolation. And isolation from Angelus was a big plus in her book.
She just had to wait, and hope the cavalry arrived soon.
As Buffy wrapped the towel around her body, she cast a quick glance towards the rain pelting down against her penthouse windows. She was thirty stories up in Wolfram and Hart's building, and it was a unique view to see the storm from such a high angle. Still, without further thought of the storm, she turned away and started to dry her hair with another towel.
The doors suddenly burst open with a force so hard it cracked the wood.
Before Buffy could even respond, both Angel and Spike rushed into the room without warning, leaving Buffy to feel (1) alarmed and a bit angry at their unannounced entry, and (2) slightly self-conscience about her state of undress. She was still only wearing a towel. Either way, they better have a good reason for barging in like this.
Angel was on his cell phone as he walked towards her. "Call security, put 'em on red alert. Nobody gets in this building without clearance from me. I want a guard at every entrance, every elevator, every stairwell. Cover the whole building."
Buffy could hear Harmony's voice on the other end, "OK, but you know how that never works–"
"Harmony!" Angel barked, before hanging up. "Just do it!"
"You alright, luv?"
"Uh, yeah," Buffy answered confused. "Why wouldn't I be–"
Spike immediately brushed past her to check out her bedroom. "All clear!" he announced, as if he should expect anything otherwise.
"Buffy," Angel said from the other end of the penthouse, going through the same motions as Spike, "get away from the windows."
"Why?" she asked, more curious than anything. "Is some big bad gonna come crashing through it?"
"Buffy, just please, get away from the windows!" Angel pleaded, with exasperation.
Buffy sighed and moved away from the windows as asked. Standing in the middle of her living room dressed in nothing but a towel, she crossed her arms and tapped her right foot with annoyance, waiting for Angel and Spike to both finally find the room secure enough to their liking. She noticed with increased irritation that there were suddenly several guards posted outside her door. There was obviously a serious threat behind all this, Buffy figured, probably to her baby. For that reason alone, she cooperated. Still, she didn't like how they were treating her. Like she was somebody incapable of taking care of herself.
"It's not those wacky robots you told me about, is it?" Buffy asked, lightly. "The ones that attacked Wolfram and Hart dressed up as Ninjas and Wesley's dad? Cause I've dealt with robots before. Hell, Spike even made a robot out of me, so I know how to handle myself if it is."
"No, It's not . . ." Angel began, then turned to look accusingly at Spike. "He made a robot out of you?"
Spike sputtered, "To play checkers with!"
Buffy sighed. "Guys, what's with the security up the wazu? And there better be a damn good answer, 'cause in case you haven't noticed, I'm not even dressed–"
"Oh, we noticed," Spike put in.
"–I don't think it's too much to ask for you to give me some info. What's going on?"
"Drusilla was in the building."
"Oh," Buffy said, instantly understanding. "Okay. Now I get why you guys are acting like you drank some blood of suspect origin. But why are you worried about me? Of the three of us here, Drusilla isn't going to be too concerned about me when she can turn her attention to her former sugar-daddy or her former boy-toy."
Angel and Spike traded looks.
"Uh, Buffy, while all that sounds peachy in theory . . . Dru's not from around here. Actually, funny thing, she's from your reality. And word is . . . she didn't come alone."
As soon as Buffy understood his words, she felt her body turn ice cold. "No."
"It's not for certain," Angel attempted to reassure. "Because we're going on the word of someone I usually don't trust - a lawyer, in fact. But I just think its better safe than sorry. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"It's not possible." Buffy replied, in a daze. "Angelus can't be here. He can't. The PTB promised this world would be safe. They said–"
"The PTB are lying buggers that only look out for the greater good," Spike replied, heatedly. "They don't give a piss about you or Angelus. But don't worry, tho'. We do."
Buffy still couldn't pull herself out of her daze. The mere idea of Angelus had a way of effectively blocking out all proper brain functions and rationale. How was she going to deal with him? How was he going to torment her? What did this mean for her baby?
Was a part of her still attracted to him?
"Buffy," Spike goaded, "snap out of it otherwise I'll slap you . . . And I've got the nagging feeling you'll slap me back. So definitely snap out of it!"
She slowly refocused, knowing she couldn't freak out as much as that option was tempting her. Instead, she took one moment to gather herself up; calling on her courage, her strength, her resolve to build the determination she needed to face . . . Angelus.
Oh God, Angelus. He was here, now.
Buffy forced herself to concentrate. "How good is your security?"
"They've already set up positions everywhere in the building," Angel answered. "But don't rely on them. For a supposed top-notch security system, I've lost count of the number of times we've been broken into . . . Not to mention the number of times I broke into Wolfram and Hart before this year. And if I can do it–"
"–So can Angelus," Buffy finished, sedately. "Have you told them that they're looking for a guy who looks just like you? How are they suppose to tell the difference between you and Angelus? For that matter, how are we?"
"Bloody hell," Spike muttered, "we're gonna have to color-coordinate you!"
Angel glared at Spike, then turned serious. "I'm gonna have to think of something to help you guys tell the dif–"
"Not you," Buffy rebutted. "Anything you think of, Angelus will think off as well. It won't work that way."
"I'll figure out a way," Spike cut in. "Me and Angelus don't think alike."
Buffy nodded, agreeing completely. That could be considered the understatement of the century.
Spike cleared his throat, and continued, "And, uh, Buffy, I think one of us should be with you at all times, just in case. If you agree with this plan, signify by getting indignant."
"Oh, like hell," Buffy spat out, outraged, "You guys are not going to go all alpha-cave man on me. I won't allow it–"
"Buffy–" Spike began.
"–might as well start beating your fists on your chest and roaring–"
Angel tried to cut in. "–Buffy, you need protection. I'm serious."
"So am I," Buffy replied firmly, deciding to change the subject. "Where's Cordelia right now?"
"She's downstairs, with the others," Spike answered. "Don't worry about her now–"
"What are you - deficient!" Buffy exclaimed. "You left her with no protection? God, don't you know Angelus at all? He's not gonna go after me now. Not this soon. He's gonna want to make me suffer."
Angel's eyes connected with hers in slow realization. "He's going to go after those you care about . . . Leave you presents to draw you out. I didn't even stop to think–"
"I'm not the one you need to protect, Angel!" Buffy exclaimed. "I can handle myself. But there are others who can't say the same. You need to make sure your friends are safe."
Spike's head whipped around in sudden thought. "The chit downstairs, the lawyer, she said two were missing. Who else wasn't there?"
Angel's looked back at him. "Fred."
Buffy felt a foreboding chill work up her spine, "He always goes after the girls first. Go, make sure she's alright."
Spike looked to her. "What about you–"
"I can take care of myself, thank you. And I'll be right behind you," Buffy answered, forcefully. "Let me change into some clothes first. But don't you waste time. Go, now!"
Even as Spike started making his way towards the door with a sense of urgency at the thought of Fred in trouble, Angel looked back at her with uncertainty. His eyes were clouded with conflict; he didn't want to leave Buffy alone, but Fred's whereabouts couldn't wait.
"Don't take too much time," he advised, making his decision to find Fred.
Buffy nodded, "I'll be right there."
"C'mon, mate! You can play footsie with her later. Fred doesn't have time!"
Spike disappeared out the door, and Angel followed him until he stopped to linger at the doorway. "There are guards right outside your door. They go everywhere you do - no arguments, Buffy! I don't care if they aren't that good. Some protection is better than none."
"I can protect myself."
"I know you can, but humor me. Angelus is gonna come after you."
"He's gonna come after you, too," Buffy replied. "The idea of finally killing off the soul is going to appeal to him just as much as the idea of killing me off."
"He doesn't want you dead," Angel replied, "he just wants you to suffer."
Buffy smiled, woefully. "Wow. I feel so reassured now."
"I'm serious, Buffy," Angel said, solemnly, "watch your back. I don't think I could handle anything happening to you. I don't . . ."
He trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished. For one brief moment, Buffy locked eyes with his and suddenly she felt an ocean away from him. A flare of intense emotion passed between them; mixed with pain, ecstasy, heat, and the never-ending passion and love only they had. She wanted nothing more than to cross the space between them and allow just one stolen kiss to help her gain the strength she needed to fight Angelus.
Because if there was anybody who was capable of making her forget about Angelus, it was, ironically enough, Angel. But instead of giving into her temptations, she went with the high road and found herself urging him to leave with a whisper.
He hesitated . . . eventually nodded, then left.
In his wake, she forced herself to recover. And then, slowly, she could feel a long-forgotten energy charge her entire being, motivate every fiber, focus every stray thought. It was uncanny how easy it was to do this; as if she had never been a killer before, never been a vampire, never been a mother-to-be, she felt herself slip into a familiar form.
Buffy went into a flurry of activity. She raced to quickly change, grabbing whatever clothing was nearby. Dressed in a white maternity T-shirt, black chinos, and one of Angel's large engulfing leather jackets that he had loaned to her, she pulled her hair back in a pony tail as she walked out the door. She was two steps out before she realized that she needed weaponry, but there was none in her room.
She looked at one of the nearby guards, "What weaponry to you have?"
He grinned, apparently very pleased to talk about his gun. "It's called a stakegun, and the name says it all. You can stake enemies to walls, poles, floors, and even ceilings! Or, if you're in our line of work, you can just stake vampires in the heart and be done with it."
It looked too big and massive to be much good to her. She could probably inflict the same amount of damage with a simple stake and sheer force, which was why she only got interested when she spotted his side-satchel with the spare stakes that were peaking out.
"That's nice. Your gun, I mean. You're obviously not overcompensating for anything at all, but how about you give me your stakes?"
The guard looked offended, although Buffy wasn't sure at which part. "What?"
"Stakes, and the satchel, too," Buffy said, sweetly, "please."
His mouth opened and closed in protest, but eventually he did as told, looking very sullen the entire time.
She took the satchel and hoisted it above her head and over her shoulders, "Where can I find other weapons? A broad sword, axe, crossbow - that type of thing."
"We have an armory on the third floor, but the closest place to find weapons is . . ."
"Is . . . well, you'll find all those weapons in Mr. Angel's suite. He has a whole array of weaponry there."
Buffy nodded, looking down at end of the hallway where Angel's room was (which she had secretly dubbed it in her head as the forbidden zone). Sighing, she started walking towards his room and slowly noticed with a tinge of annoyance that the guard was following her. Angel must have given him orders to stay with her at all times. She spared the guard an irritated glance, and continued on her way.
She stopped at the entrance. "I go in alone."
"But Mr. Angel said–"
"Mr. Angel won't know," Buffy cut him off, "and what Mr. Angel doesn't know, can't hurt him."
She opened the door and walked into Angel's penthouse, closing the door in the face of the guard. Pausing, she took in his room with a sense of hesitation and awkwardness. She had never been in here before and suddenly felt like she was trespassing. The place was the same size as her own suite down the hall, but the style was totally different. The style was very much Angel. There was a big king size bed to one side, covered in black satin and silk sheets, sparse furniture, and antiques everywhere. There was even several antique weapons on the walls, but those were more for decoration than anything else.
Her attention was temporarily distracted by the papers near his corner table. Something about them attracted her eye. Even knowing that time was a major issue at the moment and that she was here strictly for weapons and nothing else, curiosity got the better of her and she made her way over to the table.
She stopped short when she found on the table dozens and dozens of Angel's meticulous drawings . . . of which she herself was the sole feature.
In some drawings, she was smiling. In others, she looked pensive. In yet others, it was a full body drawing, showing her stomach plump and swollen from pregnancy. There were so many of them and each must have taken so long to draw in such minute detail that Buffy felt her throat suddenly constrict as she looked at them. They were so beautiful, too beautiful.
Suddenly ashamed of herself for looking at them, seeing them as something as personal as diaries, she quickly walked away. She was not here to snoop around in his room and invade his privacy. She was here for weapons. She was here for pointy sharp objects that helped her kill very bad things; not intimate drawings of the most personal kind. With renewed focus, she cleared her throat and looked for what she came here for.
She finally found it when she pulled open some cabinet doors, an array of shiny weaponry gleaming at her. She didn't waste time debating, but instinctively chose a short sword. Small. Effective. Easy to conceal. She was about to hide it under her jacket, but a sudden noise from the corner of the room attracted her attention.
She whirled around and met the veiny face of a female demon.
"Vampire," she greeted, her tone casual, yet her voice guttural and deep. "I am Anyanka. I believe we have a mutual pain in the ass. And he has a message I've been goaded into delivering."
"Angelus," Buffy gathered, drawing her sword high. "Where is he?"
Anyanka raised a contemptuous eyebrow at the sword. "Is that really necessary?"
"Necessary, no. Fun, yes." Buffy replied, then paused, "Wait . . . Anyanka? As in Xander's Anya?"
The demon immediately bristled, losing her nonchalance. "I am no one's Anya! I am Anyanka, Patron Saint of Scorned Women. A righteous sword to smite the unfaithful. I have nothing but contempt for the whole libidinous lot of the male species–"
"Way I hear it," Buffy cut in, "you were a thousand-year-old capitalist ex-demon with rabbit-phobia. And in love with one of my closest friends."
"That was this world's Anya! She was weak and human, and nothing like me!"
"Alright, alright, keep your veins on," Buffy replied. "So, you're from my reality, too? That makes you, Drusilla, and Angelus. Any other familiar faces I should be expecting? You didn't bring Clem along, did you? Riley? How about Harmony, cause quite frankly, we've already got one over here. We really don't need two–"
"While you continue on with this oh-so-playful banter, Angelus is probably taking great delight in playing with that girl with the absurdly masculine name."
"Who? What? Huh?" Buffy replied bewildered, then her eyes widened. "Do you mean Fred? He has Fred!"
"Is she still alive? Is she hurt?" she asked, then added threateningly, "You better hope she's fine, otherwise I might lose my temper."
"Oh, yes. You are so intimidating; I must buy boots just so I can shake in them."
Buffy's eyes narrowed, and said slowly, "Go ahead. Underestimate me."
Anyanka eyed her for a second, and what she saw must have made her reconsider. "I have no qualms with you. I'm just here to deliver a message. Eleven hundred years of spreading fear in the hearts of men, and I'm suddenly the demon equivalent of a telegram. I don't care about you. I don't care about this Fred. I just want to go home and continue my humble work where humans are known to lose control of their bowel functions at the mere thought of me."
"We've all got issues," Buffy replied, irritated. "Right now, you're standing in my way to eliminating one of mine. What's your message?"
"Angelus sends his regards. Fred is being held at the Hyperion. You want her alive, then come alone before sunrise. He'll be waiting for you."
Buffy didn't hesitate. "Tell him I'll be there."
Anyanka looked curious. "You have to know this is a trap."
"Yet, you're still going?"
Buffy smirked, humorlessly, "Yeah, I'm still going. Why? Because not so long ago in a reality far, far away . . . there was one girl chosen in every generation. And going into death traps, and fighting for those who can't fight for themselves, and marching on when all possible strength and hope is gone - that's what that girl was all about."
"You're not the Slayer, anymore," Anyanka rebutted. "What you are is . . . dead. A vampire. The very thing a Slayer is suppose to kill."
Buffy shrugged. "Yeah, well, I was suppose to do a lot of things, but if you look at my history, you'll see I never could seem to do things the traditional way."
Anyanka rolled her eyes, not understanding whatsoever. "Humans. It's the soul in you that makes you stupid like this."
Buffy's hand tightened around her sword. "Is there anything else? Because I'm starting to get annoyed enough to forget the whole don't-kill-the-messenger thing."
"No. That's it. Make sure to come alone, though. Angelus made it clear - you bring any of your vampire lovers along, Fred dies."
Anyanka teleported out before Buffy could respond. She sighed, and then slipped the short sword under her jacket and walked towards the door. She'd expected to see the guard standing outside when she opened the door, but was slightly surprised when she spotted Wesley there, too.
Wesley didn't look well. In fact, he looked upset. She realized without being told that he must have already known about Fred. But instead of a look of devastation on his face, Wesley looked . . . pissed.
"Who were you talking to?" he asked, curiously.
Buffy schooled a look of innocence on her face. "Nobody. Hey, where's everybody else? You shouldn't be wandering alone when Angelus might still be in the building."
The guard behind him spoke up. "We've got this floor covered, Ma'am. Nothing to worry about here."
Buffy restrained from rolling her eyes.
Wesley peered past her to get of a view of the inside of Angel's room, "I could have sworn I heard voices in that room. You were talking to somebody."
Buffy shrugged. "It must have been the TV."
Wesley's eyes dropped to give her a pointed look. "Angel doesn't have a TV, you know that. Can I ask what were you doing there in the first place?"
Crap. She so didn't need this right now. What she needed was to figure out a way to leave the building without attracting any attention. Losing the guard wasn't anything troubling, but she preferred not to have to knock out Wesley if it came to it.
Buffy cleared her throat. "If you have to know why I was in Angel's room, Wesley, it was because I was getting weapons. Now, if you're done with the twenty questions–"
"Buffy," Wesley interrupted, oddly calm, "I'm just going to ask this one more time. Who were you talking to in that room?"
Buffy narrowed her eyes. "I wasn't talking to anybody. And before you ask - yes, Regis, that's my final answer. Can we please move on now?"
Wesley cleared his throat, visibly holding his temper in check. "You're lying to me."
"No, I'm really no–"
He suddenly brandished a cross from inside his jacket pocket and held it up. A burning sensation immediately spread throughout her entire body, repelling Buffy back a few steps by its sheer unexpected force. After a moment, she forced herself to look up at Wesley.
"I don't like being lied to," he said, in a voice that was calm with controlled rage, "so, maybe you should reconsider and tell me the truth now. It would be in your best interest."
The guard behind him looked alarmed, "Uh, Mr. Pryce, I have clear orders to protect this lady. You need to put down the cross now or I'll–"
Wesley slammed his elbow into the guard's face, knocked him down, and rendered him unconscious without ever taking his eyes or his cross off of Buffy. Buffy had to admit, she was surprised by not only his actions, but the quick and flawless way they were executed. The Wesley she had always known had been a weakling, cowering in the face of danger. Sure, in the last couple of weeks that she had been at Wolfram and Hart, she'd seen a different side of him.
But not this side.
"What, Wesley? Have you lost it completely!" Buffy accused. "I know you're worried about Fred, but beating up innocent people won't help anybody."
Wesley tipped his head to the side, curious. "How do you know that Fred's in trouble? I haven't mentioned a thing about her."
Just for a millisecond, she knew her eyes must have flickered with uncertainty before she recovered with a plausible answer. "Angel and Spike mentioned that she was missing. They had gone down to check on her."
Wesley's eyes suddenly grew vacant and distant, as if he was playing a haunting mental reverie in his mind. "She was in her lab. There seems to have been a struggle of some sort. There was broken furniture and . . . and blood on the wall. Lots of blood. Her blood. We don't know where she is now."
Buffy felt a spark of sympathy for him despite the current circumstances of him, you know, using a cross against her. Deep down, though, she knew he was just freaking out because the love of his life was in danger. For that reason alone, she hadn't already lost her temper and disarmed him of his cross. People in love acted foolishly. She knew that better than most.
Wesley refocused, narrowing his eyes. "Who were you talking to?"
"I told you already – nobody," Buffy said, feeling slightly awful for lying, "and before you decide to feel too secure with that cross in your hand, you should know that won't hold me back worth a damn. Not if I don't want it to."
"I know," Wesley replied, pulling out a stake from his pocket. "Just as I know this item will do just fine."
Buffy eyed the stake, feeling a strong spark of anger. "You have got to be kidding me! You're going to stake me now, Wesley? I don't buy it for one second. You don't have it in you."
"Believe it or not, I'm perfectly serious. If you chose to continue to lie to me, I will not hesitate to hurt you," Wesley said. "Where is Fred?"
"Why do you think I know?"
"Because your lover just came into town and abducted mine!" Wesley replied, vehemently. "Because he did it to get to you. Because you're a vampire on a leash, and I have not trusted you for one moment since you've been here!"
Buffy felt her sympathy quickly start to dissipate, "Y'know, I really fell sorry for you. You're suffering. There's just one thing I really didn't factor into all this. You're a thundering loony! You're not thinking clearly anymore, Wes. Because if you were, you'd realize you can't beat me. With a cross, a stake, or a damn rocket launcher. You seem to be forgetting who you're dealing with."
"I'm the only one here that never forgot," Wesley countered. "The others avoided thinking about it. They denied what you were, even to themselves. But I never overlooked the fact that you were a vampire responsible for ravaging nearly an entire reality. And I clearly never dismissed the fact that you are capable of such things even now."
"Wow," Buffy replied, astounded at his gall, "you know, Cordelia told me that you had changed since Sunnydale, but I don't see any difference at all. Sure, you've lost the 'butler' look and you don't shriek like a ten-year-old girl anymore. But you're still that same clueless boy, aren't you? Still the same watcher-wanna-be that didn't know which end of stake to use."
Wesley tapped the pointed end of the stake in his hand. "I do now."
"Your concern for Fred is touching, but it's starting to piss me off. Are you forgetting that I have a soul now?"
"Your baby's soul. Not your own."
"What difference does that make?"
"To me, right now, all the difference in the world."
Buffy sighed. "This is insane. I am not evil, Wesley! Put the weapons down before I make you put them down."
"Tell me where Fred is," Wesley replied. "Tell me she's safe and we can save her, and I will put down this weapon gladly . . . But if you continue to lie to me, Buffy, - if you continue to tell me you don't know where Fred is, that you weren't speaking to anyone in that room, that you don't know what Angelus is up to - I will show you exactly how much I have changed since Sunnydale."
Buffy looked him in the eyes, and realized he was being perfectly serious. Not that he would succeed, because even with all the weapons Wesley could ever want, he still had no chance against her. But the stark resolution and determination in his eyes sent a chill down Buffy's spine. If he thought Buffy was standing in his way to Fred, he'd try and hurt her. Maybe even try to kill her.
He had changed.
But then again, so had she.
In a whirl of movement before Wesley had a chance to breath, Buffy had him disarmed and his arm twisted painfully behind his back. She shoved him against the wall, dropped the scolding cross from her hands, and twisted his right arm until he gasped a grunt of pain. With his face pressed up against the wall like that, he couldn't even breathe without her permission.
"Listen to me very carefully, Wesley," Buffy said, into his ear. "I don't know what you're thinking. Or if you're even thinking at all. I'm not working with Angelus. I would kill myself before I went back to his side."
"Then you have no reason to lie to me," he replied, through clenched teeth.
Buffy paused for a brief second, then abruptly let him go. A tactical decision had formed in her mind without even thinking about it. When he slowly turned around, massaging his shoulder, she looked him in the eye and handed him back his stake without hesitation.
"Take it," she said, "you'll need this where we're going."
He eyed her, distrustful. "Which is?"
Frustrated, Buffy replied, "Right now you're acting a little too insane for my liking, and I'm probably going to be watching my back with you from now on. But for the moment, there's no reason for us not to work together. You want Fred back, and I want . . . I want Angelus dusted. Our goals have the same destination . . . The Hyperion."
"That's where he has Fred? Is she alright? Is she alive?"
"She's alive. I can't promise anything else."
Wesley exhaled, as if he'd been holding his breath. "The Hyperion?"
She nodded. "Yeah. You were right, I was talking to someone in there. A messenger from Angelus."
"I knew it."
Buffy scowled. "Didn't give you the right to act the way you did."
He raised an eyebrow, defiantly, "If the roles were reversed, would you have acted so differently? I seem to remember a time when you were willing to do anything, including sacrificing your very own blood, to save your lover. Have you changed so much since then?"
Buffy paused, but knew the answer wasn't something she would have been proud of. "She told me that if I didn't come alone before sunrise, he'd kill Fred. That's why I didn't tell you before. I knew you'd want to come along."
He nodded, seeming to accept this answer. "Then, can I ask, what changed your mind?"
Buffy exhaled forcibly. "The way you're acting, I'm not sure I get much of a choice here. Besides, Angelus' instructions mainly applied to Angel or Spike. No offense, but I don't think he'd think much of you coming along."
"Right, of course. No need to consider the boyfriend of the girl you've just kidnapped. Ignore him completely because he can't possibly be of any concern."
Buffy snapped, "Oh cry me a river, Wes."
Wesley sighed, growing calmer. "I don't suppose you have a plan yet."
"Well, I was going to suggest a better plan than 'charge in and allow ourselves to be brutally killed.' That's just a start, though. But let's get one thing strait. I'm in charge. You do as I say. If I say jump, you better ask me where, when, and how high. You got that?"
Wesley hesitated for a moment, but eventually relinquished any debate. "Fine. I'll follow your lead on this one . . . but just know, I'll be keeping an eye on you just as much as I'll be keeping an eye on Angelus. I'll be watching you, Buffy."
Buffy eyes hardened, seeing the distrust reflected in his eyes, "Well, what do you know? After all these years, you're my Watcher again, Wes."
He blinked, a strange expression appearing on his face, "I'll try not to screw it up this time."
She refocused on the problem, "We need to think up a strategy."
"He's no doubt made preparations for you, so we'll be walking head first into a trap. We're going to have to think outside the box for this one."
Buffy gave a short unamused laugh. "Wes, outside the box is where we live."
Wesley couldn't argue with that. "So how do we work around Angelus' trap?"
"I don't think we can," Buffy answered, wearily. "Angelus is the master at setting traps. He always knows the perfect carrot to dangle, and when to pull the rug from under my feet. We can't underestimate him . . . so, we do the unexpected. We give him exactly what he wants."
Wesley eyed her, "And what is that?"
Buffy's eyes grew cold, preparing herself for battle. "Me."
– . . . . . .
Before the flames start coming in, I'm deeply sorry it took so long to put this chapter up. A series of events happened that delayed my writing, also some bad motivation on my part, and the mother of all Writer's blocks all coincided to make this chapter a total headache to write. I know I had said that I was going to post one chapter every month, but . . . . well, that was a big fat lie, wasn't it? All I can say is I'm sorry, and I'll try (no promises, whatsoever though) to write faster.
To those that that reviewed last chapter, convinced I had killed off Fred, I have this to say: GOTCHA, SUCKERS! Mwhahahah! My evil plan to fool you all worked like a charm! Now you know not to trust a thing in this story until I have confirmed it! Cause, you know, knowledge is power, and power corrupts. The moral of this story: Study hard and be evil.
Being evil is fun; trust me on that.
Anyway, I know this chapter didn't have the confrontation you all were hoping for: Buffy-Angelus or Angel-Angelus, but don't worry, it's coming up in the next chapter. Also, I've got more surprises in store for Fred. So until then, here's hoping I get over my writer's block. :crosses fingers:
P.S. The review button on the lower left hand corner is your friend. Pay him a visit on the way out, won't you?