Angelus was beginning to think eternal night might not be such a good idea after all. The humans stupid enough to roam the streets had all been eaten and the rest were locked up tight in their homes. That left him with a choice of corpses and half-dead victims who'd had all the best stuff sucked out of them or a demon bar where he could indulge in his other favorite liquid vice, alcohol. It wasn't really a choice.
The bar wasn't really his choice, either; merely the only one he could find with open doors and activity. No human, just vampires with a smattering of other demons, but his cash was still good at the bar. He considered ordering blood, but looked around and decided that might not be the brightest of ideas. Lord knows where they got it...if they even had any. Whiskey was much safer and he'd always enjoyed a bit of a buzz when he went hunting.
At least he was able to drink undisturbed, which was a relief. He'd been half-expecting -- half hoping for -- one of the vampires to challenge him on his presence. After all, that's what happened to silly soul boy when he walked into a bar. Angel, Champion of the Powers that Be, cursed to brood through the centuries. Helper of the helpless. What was that Spike had said once? Oh, yeah. Vampire ballerina. Suited the souled git down to a "t".
The thought of Spike brought to mind unpleasant and unwelcome developments. He should have followed his instincts years ago and staked him when the irritating fledgling had first opened his mouth. But, no, he had to give in to Drusilla's pleadings about how she needed her "brave knight." At the time, it seemed easier to let her have her way, leave her with something to occupy herself and simply take a harsher hand disciplining weepy William, try to turn the boy into something that wouldn't be an embarrassment.
His first instinct had been right. If he'd staked Spike then, Drusilla would have wept and cried for a few weeks, perhaps even a month, but Angelus could have found her a new plaything. He hadn't, though, and now Spike had gone and gotten himself a soul in what was undoubtedly a grand, sweeping romantic gesture. And it had definitely been Spike, none of this "two separate beings" crap...although Angelus had to admit he and the soul didn't share the same agenda.
Angelus signaled the bartender for a refill. Now he had a problem. He wasn't foolish enough to think Buffy would stay quietly in Sunnydale with the knowledge of his presence. Despite her whining about duty and responsibility interfering with her "real life", the girl had an irritating devotion to her calling. She was likely on her way down to LA, if not here already and Spike would be trailing in her wake just as he'd always trailed after Drusilla.
Buffy he could handle; it was unlikely she'd find allies within Angel Investigations given how fractured the group was. He'd just have to find a way to keep her off balance. Pity Angel hadn't paid more attention to reports from Sunnydale; the information would have come in handy. The thing with Spike must be relatively new. Angelus couldn't imagine Cordelia passing up the chance to blacken Buffy in Angel's eyes. The stupid girl didn't realize how transparent she was in her efforts to knock Angel's shining love off her pedestal...or that the big lug was already besotted with her.
Visions of what he could do to the two women danced through his head, adding its own delightful kick to the whiskey. Slayer blood was sweet and if he had his way, Angelus fully intended to taste Buffy again. Oh, there was a scenario with possibilities. Spike had decided he could move in on Angelus' territory, start fighting for the right along side his lady love? Good. It'd make his suffering all the more amusing as he watched Angelus at play.
Angelus was about to drink to this most satisfying plan when his space was invaded by a vampire bellying up to the bar. "Another beer with blood chaser," the arrival called out with an annoying Midwest twang.
Beaming broadly, he decided to include Angelus in his good humor. "Is this town great or what? I mean, I always though of coming to Los Angeles, but never dreamed I'd actually make it."
"So you're a tourist?" Angelus cast a glance at the clotted remains in the shot glass the vamp had dropped on the bar. He'd been right to choose the whiskey.
"Yeah, I was in Las Vegas, doing a little gambling, a little hunting, when I heard about the sun getting swallowed up. That's when I said, 'Herb, you've always wanted to see Hollywood. Here's your chance.' Now that I'm here, I think I may settle. Beats the hell out of Wichita, especially in February."
Angelus set his glass down with a bang. "Just great. It's not enough that every year the people freezing their asses off back east watch the students at the Rose Bowl dancing around with their tops off singing 'Tequila' and decide they have to move out here. No, now we've got to get vampires saying, 'Gee, there's no sun in LA at the moment; let's go!' The freeways are too crowded as it is."
Herb looked a bit surprised. "Uh, well, sorry you feel that way..."
"Aw, hell. Now you're apologizing? What is wrong with the younger generation? When I was sired, the first thing I learned was that you didn't apologize for anything because it was a sign of weakness. Unless you pissed off your sire, in which case you'd better grovel fast or she might..."
Quick as lightning, Angelus reached out and twisted off Herb's head. There was a "pop" followed by a shower of dust. A silence settled over the room. The bartender sighed, picked up the beer and blood chaser he'd just set down and moved on to another customer.
Satisfied he could finish his whiskey in peace, Angelus settled back onto his stool. "Stupid tourists."
Slowly, the noise level returned to normal as conversations resumed. Angelus was about to flag down the bartender for a third whiskey when a snippet of conversation caught his ear. "Big thing it was, all horns and...well, I wouldn't call them scales, more like some type of crust that serves as skin."
Angelus joined the group without waiting for an invitation. "And where did you see this beast?"
The vampires drew back, fear written across their faces. "Downtown," stammered out the one who'd spoken. "Near Los Angeles and Fifth."
Fear was good. So nice to see he hadn't lost his touch. "How long ago?"
"Not long, maybe an hour or so." The vampire looked nervously about him. If he was hoping for help from his companions, it didn't look like it'd be forthcoming soon.
For a moment, Angelus considered tearing off the vampire's head on general principles, but decided not to exert himself. Instead, he headed for the door, intent on paying his "old friend" a visit.
Tensions had only gotten worse as they made their preparations for the hunt. Wesley and Gunn were busy ignoring one another (except for the occasional quick glare) and Fred wasn't looking at either of them (save for worried glances each time one glared). Cordelia would talk to Gunn, Wesley and Willow, but not Buffy or Spike (Kennedy didn't seem to even appear on her radar). Connor kept his eyes on Cordelia and answered any question with monosyllables. Lorne did his best to act as Switzerland, neutral and friendly to all, but his smile quickly thinned each time Connor wandered near.
When Buffy found herself wishing for the potentials, she knew the situation was bad.
Willow came out of the office, notes in hand. "I've got everything set up for the locator spell," she told Buffy. "Wesley got me a good area map."
Glancing around to make certain no one was listening, Willow stepped closer and lowered her voice. "I'll work on the other thing while you're gone. I'm pretty sure we'll need him for it to work, though."
Buffy nodded. "Do what you can while we're gone. Keep Kennedy with you."
"Who are you taking with you?"
"Wesley and Connor. That leaves you with Fred, Cordelia, Gunn and Lorne."
"And I should see if they act, oh, evil?" Willow glanced over to where Cordelia was poring over some books. "At least, more evil than normal?"
Buffy tried to suppress a snort. "Do what you can, but don't go out on a limb. You're too valuable. Concentrate on figuring out how we get that soul back in place.
Satisfied Willow knew what to do, Buffy went to check how the rest of the preparations were going. Wesley was busy loading up the tranquilizer gun. "It's a fairly hefty amount," he explained, "and the clip holds more than one dart in case he needs it.
"Good. I want to make certain he goes down and stays down. We may not have a second chance."
Wesley slid a final lever into place and set the gun down, looking pointedly toward where Spike was experimentally hefting a wicked looking axe he'd found in the weapons cabinet. "I should probably mention that is one of Angel's favorite weapons and he likely wouldn't be pleased to see Spike with it."
"Then it should annoy Angelus as well. We might be able to use that to our advantage, because he's not going to hesitate to use our weaknesses against us."
"I've read just about everything written on Angelus and it's difficult to find a weaknesses to exploit."
Buffy couldn't help smiling. "Ah, but we have someone who's made a rather specific study of those weaknesses. Spike?"
Spike made a final pass with the axe then brought it to rest on his shoulder. "Yes, o slayer mine?" he responded cheerfully.
The lilt in his voice made her heart feel light, happy that for once she had actually managed to avoid screwing up the tricky waters of a relationship. The look on his face when she'd uttered the words "our room" had signaled the crossing of a hurdle she'd been so busy dreading she hadn't actually noticed it was upon them. "I was hoping you could share some pointers on Angelus' weaknesses."
"Let me count the ways." He set the axe down when he joined them. "The main one, the one that will likely do us the most good is to piss him off. Angelus loves being in control of a situation. Piss him off, he loses control and starts making mistakes."
"You sound pretty certain of it."
Spike shrugged. "The closest I ever came to beating his sorry ass was when I got him mad. Unfortunately, he's also bigger and stronger than I am, so the balance didn't really tip in my favor and he nearly staked me a few times. But he'll try to do the same to us, punch our buttons so we're off balance. It's going to be unpleasant."
Wesley looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I've already experienced some of that. All of us have. I'm just not sure what might put him off balance."
"Why don't you leave that to us?" Buffy suggested. A quick glance at her watch told her it was just past midnight. The preparations, compounded by the difficulty of who wasn't talking to whom, had taken far longer than she'd anticipated. "Connor, are you ready?" she called out.
Connor appeared from the office where he'd been with Cordelia, headed for the weapons cabinet and grabbed a small crossbow. "I'm ready."
Great. She was going to have two jobs this evening: defeat Angelus and make certain Connor didn't dust his father. She'd prefer to leave him behind, but they might need his physical strength. "Just remember, we're trying to capture him," she said, doing her best to not to let annoyance creep into her voice. "I didn't come down here to sweep up dust."
The kid didn't even offer up a monosyllable this time. Kid? He's what, a couple of years younger than I am?
Pushing the thought back down, Buffy told Willow to get the locator spell going. Most everyone stood back as Willow settled herself on the floor in front of the map she'd laid out, sprinkled her powders and began her chant. Everyone except Lorne and Cordelia, both of whom hovered closer than Buffy would have liked. Slipping over to Kennedy, she said quietly, "Watch them while we're gone. If they do anything suspicious..."
"Kill them?" was Kennedy's response. It was tempting, but probably a little too hasty.
"Let me know. When we get back if it's small, right away if you think it's major. I have to trust your judgment on this one."
Kennedy nodded, a slightly smug look on her face. Buffy had no doubt she'd be vigilant, possibly even too vigilant, and the bestowing of responsibility always seemed to give her a thrill. There'd be a full report when Buffy returned, along with numerous suggestions as to a course of action.
The light swirled over the map, coalescing into a point before settling. Willow stopped chanting and opened her eyes. "Looks like he's not that far from here, down by," she peered at the map, "Alvarado and...I think it's Maryland. It's between Sixth Street and Third, anyway."
"Which direction is he heading?" Wesley asked.
"East, it looks like. I think he's on foot, given the way he's moving."
"Maybe he couldn't get through with the car," Gunn suggested. "There's a lot of debris and mess out there in some places."
"Which means it might take us a while to get to him." Buffy knelt down by Willow. "Can you keep it going, follow him? We can keep in touch by cell phone."
"Assuming the network doesn't go down," Fred said. "That's been happening a lot since the sun disappeared."
"Mystical happenings tend to do that to wireless networks." Willow concentrated on the map for a moment. The light continued to move east. "I think I can do it. No problem with keeping track, but the cell phone."
"If it gets too much, hand the phone off. The main thing is to keep tracking him." Rising to her feet, she headed for the door. "Let's go."
The mood was tense in Wesley's car as they headed through the darkened, empty streets. Here and there, streetlights still glowed, but the destruction they revealed was far from appetizing. Eager for an excuse to occupy her attention with something else, Buffy dialed Willow's cell. Her minute usage was going to suck this month.
Willow must have been holding her phone because she answered almost immediately. "Buffy?"
"It's me. Has he changed direction? Wesley says we're just a couple of minutes away."
"Still heading down Sixth Street. It looks like he knows where he's going."
"So he may be meeting someone. Sixth and what?"
Buffy looked over at Wesley. "Willow says Sixth and Lucas. Are we near that?"
"Very near." He pushed his foot down on the accelerator. "We'll be there in a minute."
The SUV lurched forward through the empty streets, picking up speed. Ahead of them lay a large building, a beacon of light in the darkened neighborhood. "Do you see him?" Wesley asked. "That's Good Samaritan, so we're at Sixth and Lucas."
Buffy put the phone back to her ear. "Willow? Has he moved?"
"No, still there."
"Great. We'll call you back."
Wesley had brought the car to a halt. "There's nothing to prevent his entry to the hospital and given that it's clearly open for business..."
"He might have decided it was time for fast food." Buffy climbed out of the car and stood on the sidewalk, staring at the building. "Damn it, he likes doing this, taking the fight places where we can't use our weapons."
"He's always done this," Spike said. "We'd get ourselves invited to some fancy party and he'd find a way to get a girl alone, put her in a position where she didn't think she could scream and..."
His voice was somewhat flat, his face bearing a strange and far away expression, caught in memory. She shivered at her own memory of a shared dream years ago and a scene much like the one Spike described. "We need to stop him."
He frowned as he looked at her. "I wasn't trying to make you...we both did it, luv."
She knew he was trying to make it easier, but the words didn't help. "That's not the point. The point is that we need to find him and we can't take our weapons with us, which means we have no way of knocking him out."
Her voice was sharp, sharper than she meant it to be and she couldn't miss his slight flinch. She didn't need the lover at the moment, worried about her feelings and trying to make certain all was right with her; she needed tough Spike, the one who was willing to wade into a fight and keep it going until the end. They'd deal with the hurts and uncomfortable memories later.
"We still have our fists," Connor suggested as if it were a simple solution.
"Which is probably what he's hoping for," Spike said. His face has gone hard, though whether it was because of her words or Connor's, she didn't know.
Connor gave Spike a challenging smirk. "Do you have a better plan?"
Without saying a word, Spike reached into the car and grabbed the tranquilizer gun. "I don’t think they're going to let us bring that inside," Connor said skeptically.
"Not going to bring it inside." Spike opened the chamber with ease, pulled out a dart and dropped it his jacket pocket before closing it and passing it to Wesley. "You're going to wait outside. If I get close enough, I'll stick him. If not, we'll try to herd him in your direction."
He gave Buffy his old familiar smirk. "That solve your problem, luv?"
She nodded. "It'll do."
They headed for the main entrance, but as they drew near, Buffy stopped. Something was...no, it was gone or just a trick of her imagination. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, trying to reach out, but it was hard to put herself in the necessary place so she could reach out and sense him. She was about to give up when she felt Spike's hands on her shoulders, fingers kneading, searching for the sore points. "Just relax," he whispered, his voice close to her ear.
It was easy to do as he asked, let herself go as she had the other night, knowing she could with him there to support her. She let her mind fall into the patterns that allowed her reach out and...
Buffy's eyes snapped open. "Found him."
Without hesitating, she was on the move again, leading them around the side of the building. Behind her, she could hear Wesley murmur, "That was interesting." Oh, come on, Wesley. Didn't they tell you slayers could sense vampires?
Now that she knew he was there, Angel's presence was blinking brightly in her mind, guiding her straight to him. Within moments he was within her sight...and he wasn't alone.
Hoping surprise would give her the advantage, Buffy reached out and up to pull him off the woman in his arms. He came away with a roar, the demon in full possession. "Can't a guy have someone to eat in peace?" he demanded.
"Not when you've got an appointment to keep." Buffy didn't hesitate but threw a punch at his face. She'd likely be able to get only one in, two at the most, before the advantage was lost.
As he reeled back, Buffy was vaguely aware of Spike grabbing the woman she'd just rescued and shoving her toward Connor. "Get her to the emergency room! Don't argue, just move!"
She needed to give Wesley a clear shot, as she didn’t relish the idea of spending the next several hours unconscious. Problem was, Angelus didn't seem inclined to oblige. "Should have known you'd come running down here," he complained as he swung. Buffy dodged and spun into her own offensive move.
"Did you really think I'd let you run free?" The words took some effort as she tried a sweeping kick, only to have him catch her heel and flip her.
"I figured you'd be shacked up in bed with your new boy-toy." He smirked. "Wait. It's Spike. You felt the need for something better, so you came running to me. I'm touched."
"Not even close." Buffy was on her feet again. "Spike's got stamina, staying power...not like some vampires. He can go for hours..."
She knew she'd regret the remark later, once Angel's soul had returned, but now it was another weapon and it hit its mark. His face darkened and he lunged. If she'd had a stake and the inclination, she could have dispatched him easily. As it was, she simply sidestepped and let him stumble with his own momentum. "Wesley, now!"
The gun fired, but Angelus twisted at the last moment and the dart missed its mark. Before he could recover, Spike was on him, back from wherever he'd gone. Buffy didn't hesitate, but waded in as well. If she could pin his arms, then Spike might be able to stick the dart in.
They were quickly a tangle of arms and legs and for a moment it looked as if she and Spike might actually get the upper hand. Buffy managed to grab hold of one arm while Spike grabbed the other. Angelus struggled against the hold, but their combined strength was enough to keep him from breaking free. "Hold still, Grandad," Spike said through gritted teeth. "Won't hurt anywhere near as much as I'd like it to, but it'll be good for you."
"So that's your brilliant plan? Have Willow do a tracking spell and then talk me to death?"
"How did you...?" Buffy began, but shut her mouth. She wanted to know how he knew about Willow, but she had no intention of giving him any ammunition. Besides, he could have guessed that's what Buffy would do.
It was still enough for Angelus to latch onto. "Didn't expect that, did you? Thought you'd catch me by surprise. Someone's telling secrets, though, so I'd watch my back. Got to admit she's getting better; it takes skill to keep a spell like that going and talk on the phone at the same time."
"Wesley, get that dart." Now it was Buffy who gritted her teeth.
Wesley was even now digging in Spike's pocket, albeit gingerly. Suddenly, Angelus used his captors for leverage and kicked out at Wesley with both feet, knocking him into Spike. Caught off guard, the two men went down and the only thing restraining Angelus was Buffy. Before she could react, he used his suddenly free arm to grab her, lips drawing back over fangs. "I've been waiting for this, lover."
She hunched and twisted, trying to avoid giving him a clear shot at her neck. Even so, his fangs grazed her throat, breaking the skin and drawing blood. That was before she drove one of her heels directly into the center of his foot as hard as she could. The heel snapped, but not before he yelped and let her go.
"You bitch!" The backhand was hard, knocking her to the ground. For a moment it looked as if he'd go for her, but Spike's attempt to disentangle himself caught his attention and he took the time to deliver a kick to the chin, which gave Buffy the chance to roll and get to her feet.
For a moment they hung there, facing off as they had at that movie theatre in Sunnydale, when he'd taken the Judge out for a spin. Then he'd taunted her that she couldn't do it, she couldn't put a stake through his heart because she was weak with her love for him. She doubted he saw that weakness there now.
Wesley was starting to move, though Spike hadn't risen from the ground yet. Buffy wished Connor would make himself useful and come flying out of the bushes to tackle his father. It'd be a really good thing at the moment. But no Connor and Angelus began to back away. "Later, babe. Got places to go, beasties to see."
With that he was gone, loping across the hospital lawn, down the street and out of sight. Buffy considered following for a second, but considering the lack of one heel was going to make even walking difficult, she wasn't about to attempt running. Instead, she turned her attention to Spike, who was propping himself up on his elbows. "You okay?"
"I'd forgotten how much his kicks could hurt." The weak grin he offered to let her know he was alright disappeared when he noticed the scratches on her neck. "I'll kill the bastard. He hurt you, I'll kill him."
She tried shushing him, sensing he was ready to go charging off half-cocked. "It's just a scratch. I get it cleaned up, it'll heal."
Spike didn't look convinced which she found perversely sweet, but they couldn't linger so she could enjoy it. "Let's get you up. We need to regroup and..."
Buffy stumbled as she tried to help him stand, kept from falling by a quick move on Wesley's part. "You are hurt," Spike insisted.
"I'm fine. I don't think my shoe will recover, though. We'd better go back to the hotel and at least let me change my shoes. Wesley, find Connor."
"He took Angelus' snack to the emergency room," Spike said. "Must still be there."
"Either that or he's gone tracking Angelus on his own," Wesley suggested.
Buffy shook his head. "I doubt it. There were plenty of chances for him to join the fray, so he's probably still with the woman. But Wesley, when we get back to the Hyperion, we need to talk. You, me, Spike, Willow. Without Connor. You definitely have a traitor in your midst."
Continued in Chapter Ten