Old Debts

Part 3

by Gem

"He has to be here. He has to be here."

Buffy chanted her mantra over and over again as she moved rapidly along the edges of the clearing. She thrust aside tree branches and peered under bushes, but all to no avail. She barely heard Giles and Xander searching further away in the park, beyond the clearing where the battle had taken place. All her energies were focused on finding Angel herself. And all she could see was the dusting of fine ashes that covered the tops of her new boots.

Vampire ashes.

"Buffy, stop." Giles' voice was gentle, as was the hand he laid on her shoulder when he came up behind her. "We've looked all over the surrounding area. He's simply not here."

He could only imagine how deep her sorrow ran, but somehow he would see her through this latest tragedy. She was the strongest person he'd ever known, and she would survive; of this he had no doubts.

At least not until he saw her eyes.

He barely recognized Buffy in those wild eyes that locked onto his own. He felt a stab of fear, but he honestly wasn't sure if it was for her or for himself. The Slayer was a white-hot mass of agony about to be released on an unsuspecting world.

"He's not dead." Her tone left no room for argument.

"Buff..." Xander tried to step in to help, but he fell back a pace when he felt her burning gaze fall upon him. Marshaling his courage, he tried again. "Buffy, we've been looking for ages. He wouldn't have chased them without telling you, and he's nowhere in sight." He looked around the quiet park, normally such a romantic spot by moonlight, and he had the feeling that his starry night strolls through the greenery with Anya had also died this night. This park would never look the same to him again.

"He's not dead. I would know." If she was sure of anything, it was that.

"Then where is he?" Xander tried to control the anger in his voice, but he felt an urgent need to break through to the Buffy he knew. The one hiding behind those terrible eyes.

"Xander, please." Giles slid his arm around Buffy's shoulders, giving her a gentle squeeze. "I think we should find Willow and Oz and get Buffy home before we discuss this any further."

"Where the hell are they, anyway? They should have come running when they heard the fighting." He wanted to add, 'They should have stopped it,' but he knew there was no point. If the combined forces of Buffy and Angel couldn't fight off the commandos without loss of life, then a werewolf and a witch wouldn't have added much fuel to the fire. He just wanted someone to blame for the great swamping waves of pain he felt emanating from Buffy.

A sudden flash of memory made Buffy pull herself free of Giles' tender restraint. "Willow and Oz, we have to find them. You have to find them, and together you all need to look for Spike." She looked wildly from Giles to Xander and back again, trying to communicate the urgency of the situation. They had already wasted so much time.

"Spike." Xander's voice dripped with disgust. "This never would have happened if Spike hadn't been so hot to rescue Valium Barbie from the clutches of GI Joe. I agree, we should find him and a tree branch and make some fertilizer for the flowers."

"Now is not the time..." Giles' lecture was interrupted by a frantic Slayer stomping her foot on the ground.

"Listen to me! Both of you!" She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. Panic wouldn't save Angel now, only cool rational thinking could make the difference. "Angel is not dead. I would know it." She held up both hands when Xander and Giles started to protest in unison. "Even if I wasn't sure because of that, and I am so sure like you wouldn't believe, the commandos don't kill their prey. We've seen how they suck at fighting, and even Spike told us they'd rather experiment than exterminate. They couldn't have killed him, but if they realized he's a vamp, they might have been able to grab him. We can get him back, but we have to hurry."

They still looked skeptical. She tried one last argument, the one that never failed. "I had a dream, Giles. In my dream, they took him away from me."

"She may be right," Giles said thoughtfully. He found it hard to believe he was actually hoping Angel was still alive, but somewhere in the last year a wound had sufficiently healed. Whatever the sins of Angelus, Angel was a friend in need. More importantly, Buffy needed Angel.

"Okay, so they have him and we need to get him back. But, Buffy, there's no need to wig now. He doesn't hunt anyway, so even if they...well, it's not like he's going to miss it." Xander reminded himself this was a predatory instinct they were talking about, not...anything important. Still, he felt an overwhelming urge to hold his tranquilizer gun just a little lower.

Buffy stared at him in disbelief. Xander could be a little childish sometimes, but deep down he was one of the most rational people she'd ever known. Except where Angel was concerned there he had a mental block the size of Soviet Georgia.

"Xander, he wouldn't be able to fight," she explained slowly, trying to quell the urge to beat his stubborn head against a rock. "He doesn't hunt, but he uses the same skills to protect others. And if you think he would stop just because it gave him a headache..." She dropped her head briefly to contemplate the ashes on her boots once again. "He really would get killed, in no time flat."

Xander gave in with a reluctant sigh. If anyone knew Dead Boy, it was Buffy. "Fine, we'll find Willow and Oz and Spike. Let's go." He turned to leave, but suddenly realized Buffy wasn't following.

"What's the deal?"

"You two find the others, and bring Spike to me. He's the only one of us who knows where to find the entrance to the right tunnel." Buffy suddenly felt a calm presence within her, focusing her energies. She wasn't sure if it was actually Angel, or just her need for him, but she wasn't about to question help from any source.

"And you will be where?" Giles wasn't sure he actually wanted to know, but he had to ask.

She smiled at him. The only frame of reference Xander's suddenly frozen mind could access was the Grinch's smile as he cut out his Santa suit. Buffy's face, the face he had worshipped in some of his best daydreams, was contorted by a smile that would give him nightmares for days.

"I'm going to the only other person I can beat the truth out of. And I bet he screams like a girl."

"Willie?" Now Xander was scared and confused.

* * * * *

Riley was not prepared for the spectacle of his door flying across the room. Nor was he ready for the sight of the stylish boot that sent the door to meet the opposite wall.

"Buffy?" He could barely get her name out.

"You have roughly three seconds to tell me how to get into that lab." There was no smile now, just deadly sobriety. She stood in his doorway, her hands on her hips, and waited for him to decide his fate.

"Buffy," he tried again, sliding off the bed and getting to his feet.

"One."

"I don't understand..." A tiny worm of fear crept into his mind, but he tried to subdue it. This wasn't a psycho killer; it was his girlfriend. Well, ex-girlfriend, but it was still Buffy. She of the frivolous clothes and nervous babblefests. Little Buffy.

"Two." Her voice was implacable.

"What lab?"

She was across the room before she finished saying "three."

"Buffy! Stop!" Any further speech was made impossible by the hands clenched around his throat, inexplicably lifting him off the ground as they tightened.

"Don't play games," she said through gritted teeth. "Tell me where the lab entrance is and you get to live. Keep it a secret and I'll make you wish the vamps got you tonight." She shook him slightly as he dangled a few centimeters above the ground. With the differences in their height, it was the best she could manage, but it seemed to make an impression. Or maybe it was just the strength of her grip that made his eyes bulge like that. She couldn't say for sure.

Riley suddenly realized he was in deadly danger. Whatever drugs Buffy was on, and they were no doubt courtesy of her low-life new boyfriend, they had given her incredible strength. They had also caused her anger to focus on him and his people. He couldn't allow her to find the lab, but he needed to be very careful to deflect her attention without drawing it all onto himself.

His brain was starting to fog over from lack of oxygen, but he managed a feeble kick at her legs. The next thing he knew, he was flying across the room to join his door. He slid bonelessly to the floor and stared up at her.

"What..." Riley croaked. Rubbing his throat, he tried again. "What are you on?" Instinctively, he pulled his legs up to protect his chest while he tried to summon the strength to stand up.

"Where is the lab, Riley?" Buffy didn't care that Riley thought she was on drugs. If that helped him justify being beaten up by a girl, then fine. All that mattered was finding Angel before it was too late.

"What..."

"And don't say 'what lab' anymore, or the next time I throw you across the room I'll make sure to aim at an open window." She took a few steps closer to him, and noticed his flinch with grim amusement. "Your soldier boys took my boyfriend tonight, and I want him back before they use him as a lab rat. You can either help me or..." she paused to consider, "no, there is no 'or'. You will help me. Now."

He decided it was too late to pretend complete ignorance. She obviously knew something about the Initiative and his part in it. If nothing else, he needed to know how much she knew.

"Why would they take him?"

Buffy backed up a pace and turned away. Riley took advantage of her momentary distraction to rise to his feet. He still kept his distance, however.

"He's a vampire." She said it softly, but it seemed to echo.

"He's a what!"

Buffy turned back to face him defiantly. "He's a vampire, okay? His soul has been restored; he's a good person. He helps me fight the bad guys. But he's a vampire, and that's why they took him and I want him back before they hurt him." She advanced on Riley again. "If I'm too late, you are all going to learn a whole new definition of pain."

"I can't believe this. My girlfriend dumps me for one of the hostiles." Riley ran a hand through his perpetually unkempt hair. "I will never live this down."

"You won't live period if you don't help me," Buffy snapped. "Focus, Riley. How do I get into the lab, and how do I get him out?"

"He's a demon," Riley explained patiently. "Why would I help you rescue a demon?"

"Because that's the kind of dumb thing you do when you care about someone."

She never should have come back to Sunnydale. She should have grabbed Angel by the hand and taken the first flight to Tahiti, or maybe Seattle so he could go out on cloudy days. They never should have let work get in the way of their relationship again.

Riley chanced taking a step closer to her. "I do care, Buffy. I don't know how you know about vampires, or how you got mixed up with this guy, but I want to help you." He put his hand up to touch her cheek as hope flared in her eyes. "The Initiative will take care of him and I will take care of you."

It was back-to-the-wall time again before he knew what was happening. This time he was pretty sure she'd broken at least one of his ribs, if not more.

"I am the Slayer."  She spoke very slowly and clearly, leaving no room for confusion or argument.  "You can't beat me in a fight, and you won't get me back by eliminating him. I spend most of my life fighting evil to make the world safe for creeps like you, and all I ask in return is a little time with the man I love. If you want to take care of anyone, make it yourself by helping me."

She was standing over him as he huddled against the wall. Her hands came down, ready to haul him up once more, when they were suddenly interrupted.

"Are we too late for all the fun?"

She whirled around to face Xander and Spike in the doorway. "It's about time," she complained. "Where the hell were you?"

Spike correctly assumed the question was meant for him. Gazing appreciatively at the hinges dangling from the doorframe, he explained he'd gotten lost in the unfamiliar park. He was not pleased with Buffy's loud expression of derision.

"It's an effing big park!" he protested, leaning into the room without thinking. He couldn't enter without invitation, but his change of position allowed Riley an unobstructed view of him.

"Hostile Number 17!" Riley was stunned, and not for the first time that evening.

Spike waved from the doorway. "Hey Sarge! Having a little trouble with the Slayer, are we? I'm right there with you, man."

Xander shook his head. "Poor Spike. Here you always made yourself out to be such a badass demon, and you don't even make the top ten in Sunnydale. Seventeen, huh? Bummer." He ducked out of the way of Spike's punch, then grinned when Spike grabbed his head and moaned.

"Buffy, why are you hanging out with all these demons? Is Xander some sort of demon too, and what about your friend Giles? I can't believe all this. I feel like I don't even know you." His blue eyes were wide with confusion, and his voice rang with hurt. It was a performance worthy of an Iowa farm boy, if not a demon-torturing commando.

"I don't have time for this." Buffy turned her back on Riley, both literally and figuratively. "Spike, can you get me to the entrance?"

"If you can get this baboon to stop baiting me," Spike grumbled, rubbing his forehead. "All the way over he kept trying to make me take a swing at him, or a bite. I'm only human, you know."

"No you're not." Buffy glanced swiftly at Xander. "Game time is over, Xander. We need Spike's help and we need his strength. No more teasing."

The grin melted away from Xander's face as he crossed his heart. "I promise, Buff. I know this is serious."

"Dead serious." She motioned Spike and Xander to leave, and started to follow them. She paused in the doorway to look back at the man who was supposed to have been her escape from this life. He was still slumped against the wall, shaking his head and clutching his chest. "And I do mean dead, Riley."

"Buffy, wait!"

His cry was useless she was gone. He slowly got to his feet, checking himself for open wounds. Satisfied none of his injuries were visible he headed for the hall mirror that guarded the entrance to the lab.

* * * * *

This time they took Oz's van to the park. There was little point in stealth, since Buffy was certain Riley would head straight for his comrades to warn them. No one talked much on the way, except to check weapons and ammunition. If the knowledge of what could be happening to Angel hadn't been enough to sober them, the determination on Buffy's face would have done the trick.

Spike directed them to a secluded section of the park. After unloading the van, Buffy split them up into teams.

"Okay, Giles is the last line of defense, Xander covers my back and Spike will take point. Willow and Oz, you cover the exit. Once we get in, Xander and Spike are in charge of carrying Angel out if he can't walk."

"Why do I have to do the heavy lifting?" Spike grumbled. He glanced over at Xander, then back at Buffy. "Come on, you know I'm the one who'll carrying most of the weight."

"If you can manage to do some damage to these guys without your head exploding, then go for it." Buffy glared at him, furious with the unnecessary delay. "Since I figured that was kind of on the impossible side, I thought you might make yourself useful by helping Angel. The only reason he's there is because you came to him for help, you know." She laid her crossbow over one arm and grabbed a battle-axe with the other hand. Not bothering to see if anyone was following, she lifted the lid of the tunnel and dropped down.

One by one, her companions climbed down after her, leaving Willow and Oz to guard the escape route in their wake.

* * * * *

Riley strode through the stark white hallways of the Initiative's compound, trying to ignore the pain he felt in his chest every time he breathed. He needed to find this Angel person, scratch that, this Angel thing, before Buffy and her friends tried to penetrate the lab's defenses.

"Forrest," he called, seeing his best friend walking with another one of the commandos at the end of a corridor. "Wait up a sec."

The other commando went on his way while Forrest waited for Riley to catch up. When the two friends met, Forrest looked him over carefully.

"What the hell kind of a truck ran you over?"

"Long story," Riley replied tersely. "Are there any new arrivals? A vampire, specifically." He didn't know whether to hope Buffy was right or that she was crazy. Either way, their chances for reconciliation were not looking good.

Forrest looked puzzled, but answered quickly. "Yeah, sure, about an hour or so ago. Big guy; took a lot to sedate him. Why? Did you used to know him?"

Riley shifted his eyes to the floor. "No. A friend...a friend of mine did. I need to see him. Now." He prayed Forrest wouldn't hear the desperation in his voice.

"I don't think Dr. Walsh wants him woken up just yet," Forrest said uneasily. Something weird was going on here, even weirder than usual. "I think she wants to do the procedure right away, before he takes out any more of us."

"Did he kill someone?" Riley asked eagerly. He exulted silently; this was good, very good. If this guy was homicidal, Buffy couldn't possibly want him back. Good vampire my ass!

"No, but some of the patrol got roughed up pretty good. He went down okay, but he woke up kind of fast, and then he skunked us. He played it real nice until we got near the cells, then he went wild. There were barely enough of our guys left to drag him into the cell. I don't think the doctor wants to trust his good manners to the taser any longer than she has to."

"Forrest, man, I have to see him." Riley grabbed his friend's arm and shook it. "I can't explain why, but I need to see him before they do the procedure."

"Okay, okay." Forrest held up his hands in surrender. "They've got him in Holding Cell B, I think. I'll try to get the guard out of the way so you can take a peek."

Forrest was as good as his word. He speedily sent the guard on a wild goose chase, then melted out of sight himself, leaving Riley alone to stare at his rival through the plastic cell wall.

Riley had spent most of the last twelve hours or so imagining this meeting. But he hadn't pictured it quite this way, and he also hadn't imagined feeling quite so intimidated. He had envisioned someone more like...well, more like Parker, actually. A pleasant-looking, but shallow, boy; the 'love 'em and leave 'em' type.  Or perhaps a bad news biker guy, who offered the maximum in parental aggravation. In all his hopeless what-ifs, he hadn't pictured a vampire who looked like a male model.

"So you're the one," he murmured, squatting down to watch the unconscious vampire lying on the cell floor. "You're the one she's willing to give up everything we had for." He suddenly remembered Buffy's words from this morning. "And we did have something," Riley continued indignantly. "I made her happy, and I bet that's more than you can say. She was a wreck at the beginning of last semester, but I didn't give up on her. I hung in there and kept pitching. I finally won her over, everything was great, and then you come back!" He rocked back on his heels as he warmed to his subject. He didn't notice Angel's eyelashes begin to twitch.

"You dumped her; she told me. She didn't give me details, but I can imagine. You're an older guy, probably a hell of a lot older, and you're bored with a nice, normal girl. So you dump her, but then you can't stand the idea of her being happy with anyone else, so you come back." He looked down at his hands for a moment. "Great, well she's yours again...for now. But you should know that I'm not the type to give up easily. I'm going to get her back because sooner or later she'll realize you're nothing but an overgrown mosquito in an expensive leather coat." He faced his unconscious rival again, only to find himself the object of intense scrutiny.

The compassion in those dark eyes unnerved him.

"I'm sorry," Angel said softly. "Not enough to walk away from her, but I am sorry." He had hated this boy, truly hated him, for being able to give Buffy the normal life she deserved. Now he pitied him, because Angel knew what it was to have a dream just within reach and then lose hold.

"I don't need your sympathy, hostile. You won't have her long enough to remember what it's like." Riley stood up, wincing with pain. "Even if she gets you out of here, which is not going to happen, do you really think she's going to want you if you're...fixed? You're not going to be much use to her, are you?"

Angel briefly closed his eyes against the idea of watching Buffy fight and being incapable of helping. He wouldn't mind not being able to feed; it wasn't like he could do it without guilt as it was. But to be unable to fight, unable to protect those he'd been brought back to save, unable to truly be Buffy's partner in all things...this he could not bear to envision.

"She won't forgive you." It wasn't a threat, just a simple statement of fact. "If anyone knows how much she can forgive, it's me, but she's never forgiven anyone she knows tried to hurt me." Angel smiled slightly as he propped himself up on one elbow. "She's funny that way."

The certainty in his voice chilled Riley. He wanted to defend his actions, his purpose in life, but he was afraid even if he convinced this man, he couldn't convince Buffy. Not if he allowed Prof. Walsh to hurt her lover.

"Agent Finn, why are you here?"

Riley whirled around to see Prof. Walsh staring at him. "Professor, I was just...checking on the new hostile. Forrest says he was a handful to bag." He avoided any eye contact with the vampire slowly rising to his feet in the cell. He was a vampire, a hostile, and somehow Riley had to make Buffy understand those facts.

Prof. Walsh glanced sourly at Angel, noting the already healing bruises. "He was a tough one, all right, which makes it all that more urgent to get him permanently subdued." She turned around and motioned to two guards standing a few feet away. "Keep your tasers up and hit him the moment the cell door lifts. I don't want anymore bloodshed tonight."

Angel looked steadily at Riley. He wouldn't beg, but he needed to appeal to this boy's sense of honor. If Riley let them alter him, Buffy would be the one most hurt by it. Angel sensed the boy truly cared for Buffy, at least as the woman Riley perceived her to be. To knowingly hurt her would negate everything he professed to feel.

"Don't do this. It will only get her killed in the end."

"I'm...I'm going topside," Riley said unwillingly, turning away from the cellblock. "I have a feeling the action's not over yet tonight."

"Don't let them hurt her!"

Riley steeled himself to walk away from the cry that seemed to echo endlessly down the corridor.

* * * * *

Spike came to an abrupt stop at the end of the tunnel. "Okay ducks," he whispered to Buffy, "this is it." She peered around him to look through the grating that separated it from the lab.

"Which way now?" she whispered, motioning Giles and Xander to lean in closer as well. "We can't just walk out into the open lab."

"Guess what, that's the only way," he replied sourly. "If it helps, the place looks deserted." He waved a hand to indicate the deathly silent room.

"I cannot believe this is the great plan," she grumbled, ripping the grating from the wall with one swift tug. "Walk into an open room which could be filled at any moment by gun-crazed frat boys. You were with Custer at Little Big Horn, weren't you?"

"Your boy needed a way in and I provided the only one I knew. It's not my fault you couldn't pound a better one out of Bachelor #2."

"Enough!" Giles couldn't speak as loudly as he wished, but there was no mistaking the authority in his tone. "We need to focus, and we need to be quiet. We can still surprise them if we're careful."

"Okay, Giles, you're with Spike, and Xander, you're with me. First priority is Angel," she continued with an icy glare at Spike, "but grab Dru too if you find her. We need to get in and out fast, before they can assemble an assault force. Bottom line: I'd rather do this cleanly, but we'll do what's necessary. Let's go."

Spike led them along the edge of the lab, just beyond the video cameras' range. When they reached the holding area of the facility, the sheer number of cells and cellblocks they would have to search stunned Buffy. She forced her panic deep down inside of her, and concentrated on feeling for Angel with her sixth sense. A sudden noise in the open corridor overhead made them all back up against the wall.

"Come on, come on," an impatient female voice could be heard saying. "This one wakes up faster than any I've ever seen. I don't want him trying to bite me on the table."

When the footsteps died away, Buffy took a few steps away from the wall and looked up, her eyes wide with fear. "That was Angel they were talking about," she whispered. "I could feel him."

"Then we need to follow immediately." Giles motioned to Xander to check his tranquilizer gun. "Wait, where's Spike?" He looked around, but there was no sign of the blond vampire in the corridor.

"Dammit!" Buffy swore quietly. "New plan. Xander, you go after him. Giles and I will take care of Angel's escorts." She hefted the battle-axe to get a better feel for its weight and power.

"Are you sure you guys can handle it alone?" Xander shifted his wait from foot to foot, unsure of where his duty lay.

"Go!"

"Gone." And he was, at a run.

Buffy and Giles moved quickly down the corridor, keeping an eye out for guards and an ear out for the mysterious female voice. Buffy had a teasing memory of where she might have heard it before, but she dismissed it as unimportant. She didn't care if Angel was being held captive by Mata Hari or Mother Goose, as long as he was back in her arms within the hour.

She quickly realized they were headed back to the same lab where they entered the facility. One look at the torn grate and they would know there were intruders present.

"Giles," she whispered, "we have to go in shooting. It's the only way." Her eyes begged him to understand why she would risk killing humans to save a vampire.

Giles didn't answer he only nodded sadly and lifted his weapon.

* * * * *

Xander had never seen so many different kinds of demons in his life. He thought he'd become a trifle jaded over the past few years, spending week after week battling, or at least outrunning, the best that the hellmouth had to offer. Apparently, he'd only tried the sampler platter.

The demons seemed curiously uncaring regarding his unauthorized presence. They watched him silently, reminding Xander of old photos of POWs. He was unnerved by their silent regard, but there wasn't time to stay and make nice. He heard the distinctive sound of a Cockney accent up ahead.

"Hector, man, I can't believe they got you too," Spike had called out upon seeing his old minion in the last cell of the cellblock. He stood outside the clear plastic wall and tried to remember if the vampire was a good enough fighter to make it worth rescuing. Of course, it also depended on whether or not Hector had had the 'Big O' yet.

"Spike, I heard you escaped," Hector whispered, nervously trying to see around the flat edge of the plastic wall. "What are you doing here?"

"Drusilla. It always comes back to women, you know." He shrugged in defeat. Even death couldn't quell hormones.

"Drusilla? Too late, man.  She's history.  In more than the usual sense, that is."

"They killed her?"

Hector quailed in the face of Spike's frozen-faced rage.  "No, no!  They let her go.  She was being her usual self, only a little more so, if you know what I mean.  And the humans, they thought she was harmless.  Too loony to hurt anyone and no good for studying, that's what I heard one of them say.  So they let her go."

Spike was suddenly excited. "Are you sure?" The one thing he did remember about Hector was his love for, and facility with, gossip. If anyone in this hole would know if Dru were a captive, it should be Hector.

Hector looked indignant. He might not be quite the vamp he used to be, but he was still a formidable gossipmonger.

"She kind of stands out in a crowd, Spike," he drawled. "Last I heard, she was headed to Spain. It'll be time to run the bulls before you know it."

Spike grinned with relief. "She always did love blood in the streets, even if someone else started it." He straightened his leather duster and raised his hand in farewell. No point in rescuing Hector now. "Right then. Guess my work here is done. Best of luck to you."

A hand gripping his shoulder stopped him. He turned his head slowly to face his would-be captor, and found only Xander.

"Not so fast, Blondie. Buffy still needs your help to rescue Angel."

"Oh, come on," Spike protested as he pulled away from Xander's pathetic human grasp. "I got you in, now let me out. You know the rest of you just have to worry about dying if you get caught. Me they'll keep like an animal for centuries."

"Damn! And here I forgot to bring my violin. Move, Spike, or I'll tell Buffy you set Angel up. That should make you hope Riley keeps you as a pet."

"But I didn't set him up." Spike was in the rare position of being completely innocent. It felt...wrong.

"And who do you think she'll believe, Fang Boy?" Xander turned and started to walk away, leaving Spike to make his own decision about his future.

Spike carefully weighed his options, for about ten seconds. "Coming," he said glumly, trudging after Xander.

* * * * *

Spike and Xander let the shouts and buzzing taserfire echoing down the corridor guide them back to the laboratory. They came in at a full run, to discover a battle zone.

Buffy had abandoned her crossbow and axe in favor of hand-to-hand combat. She was fighting off three commandos in an attempt to reach Angel, who lay unconscious on a gurney. Giles had the crossbow, but he was trying to aim for legs and arms to avoid lethal injuries. Not an easy task in a room filled with so much confusion, but he was managing to keep several of the guards at bay.

"Spike, you get Angel," Xander called as he aimed his tranquilizer gun at the nearest soldier. "I'll cover you."

"There's a comfort," the vampire muttered as he ducked to avoid the grasp of another commando.  "Simply bloody marvelous. Spike, show us the tunnel. Spike, lead the way. Spike, get Angel." He dove under the gurney to elude a guard and came up on the other side. "When did I join the Scooby Gang?" he shouted as he began to undo Angel's restraints.

Buffy was almost limp with relief when she realized Spike had reached Angel and was in the process of releasing him. A sudden kick to her left knee reminded her they weren't home free yet. She turned to face her assailant, borrowing a growl she learned from Angel. She might not have intimidated a demon with it, but it sure seemed to scare the hell out of Riley.

"Buffy, what the..."

She didn't hesitate. He was the enemy now, and he needed to be eliminated, one way or another, to save Angel. She grabbed an IV stand and swung it at Riley's head, connecting with a solid thump. He fell to the floor and slid several feet before coming to rest at the base of the gurney.

Buffy looked around the wreckage of the laboratory. Despite the commandos' advantage in manpower and weapons, they had been vanquished. The floor was strewn with unconscious and bleeding bodies, including, she was puzzled to note, her psychology professor. There went that A-.

"Do I have to send out a global e-mail or what?" she complained as she stepped over the bodies. "How many times do I have to tell people not to mess with my boyfriend?"

A sudden groan from the gurney wiped away her self-congratulatory mood. She hurried over to help Angel as he tried to get to his feet.

"Easy, big guy," she said as she slid an arm around his waist to support him. "You're more doped up than Spike at Woodstock." But blessedly restored to her, and for that she would be forever grateful.

"Are you okay?" He raised a shaky hand to touch her cheek as he checked her over for injuries. The worry in his dark eyes was almost palpable. "There were so many of them. You're sure you're not hurt?"

"I'm fine. Piece of cake," she said patiently. "You're the one who was about to be declawed." She glanced up at his face, wanting reassurance they had reached him in time.

He saw the look, and he knew what it meant. "I'm okay, Buffy. The procedure they were going to do takes time, and you didn't give them any." He shook off Spike's grudgingly offered support and leaned more heavily on Buffy. "What about Dru, though? Do we know?"

"Already gone," Xander said quickly. "And I suggest we make a run for it while we can." He began to gather up the weapons with both hands.

Buffy was shaking her head as they slowly stumbled to the grate in the wall. "I cannot believe you get captured, beaten up, drugged and almost lobotomized, and you're worried whether we got Drusilla out."

Angel quickly looked down at her face, but she didn't seem angry. If anything, she seemed amused.

"I like to finish what I start," he explained simply. He grunted as he bent over to fit through the hole in the wall. Buffy's arms were around him again almost immediately, steadying him as always.

She breathed a sigh of relief once they were in the tunnel. She knew she'd be even happier when they had Angel out of sight, and reach, of the commandos. Suddenly UCLA was looking like a pretty good school.

"Well, it's finished. Your debts are paid, as much as they can be, and the ghosts have been flattened. Can we just go home?"

In the darkness, his lips softly brushed the top of her head. "I'm already home, sweetheart."

"Good answer." She stretched up to kiss the base of his throat, and felt his arms tighten around her in response.

Xander's voice floated back from the end of the tunnel.

"Jeeze, can't you two keep your hands off each other for ten minutes?"

The End