As far as Angelus was concerned, that state of affairs suited him just fine. It'd been a long trek down here and he was in a bad mood. If some idiot hadn't slashed his tires while he was in the bar, he could have driven, which would have taken far less time. Then he might have caught the Beast where the vampire from the bar had said he'd seen him and wouldn't have had to spend half the night hunting through downtown Los Angeles,
If he'd driven, he definitely wouldn't have had his run in with Buffy and her crew. Oh, it might have been worth it if he'd actually been able to sink his fangs into her neck. Maybe it wasn't the leisurely scenario he'd considered earlier, but he'd take what he could get.
Problem was, all he'd gotten was a sore foot from and a punch in the nose. She was going to pay for that, along with Spike, Wesley and the others. It was quite an enemies list he was acquiring and they needed to be dealt with soon. If he didn't, the white hats would keep coming after him, trying to find a way to shove his pesky soul back in. Angelus had no intention of letting that happen.
If the Beast was so set on an alliance, maybe he could be convinced to perform a little favor as a gesture of good will. Nothing much; just get rid of the gnats. Again, not quite as entertaining as some scenarios but certainly efficient. Hell, the big guy might even be able to disable a few and keep them alive for Angelus to have a little fun with.
With that thought lighting his heart, Angelus headed into the next warehouse.
With Angel out of commission, Angel Investigations had no head or direction, Buffy realized. Gunn and Wesley were struggling for control and while Cordelia hadn't made any more overt efforts to undermine their plan, who knew what she might be whispering to Connor.
It'd been difficult to get everyone into the vans and on their way. Lorne protested he never went out in the field, but quieted when Buffy insisted. Then there'd been the squabble over who would ride in which car, neither Wesley nor Buffy's vehicles being large enough to carry everyone at once. In the end, Willow and Kennedy went with Wesley, Cordelia, Connor and Lorne, while Buffy and Spike took Gunn and Fred. A bit reluctantly, Buffy accepted Gunn's suggestion he drive given his knowledge of the area, which left Spike and Fred in the back seat while Buffy kept in touch via cell phone with Willow, trusting the locator spell would lead them in the right direction.
As they followed Wesley's SUV, Buffy heard Fred ask Spike, "So, how did you two meet?"
"Me and Buffy? I rolled into Sunnydale one night and went looking for the Slayer. Moment I saw her on the dance floor of the Bronze, I knew it was her. Strong, slender with gorgeous moves, this was a girl who could kick butt." Buffy felt her cheeks grow a bit warm as Spike's voice took on a note of fond remembrance. "Watching her move as she staked a vamp...pure poetry."
"Then it was love at first sight?"
Spike laughed. "Hardly. Lust, maybe, but not love. Not then. She and Angel were an item and I was with Dru. No, love came later and it's been a bit of a struggle. After all, we started out as mortal enemies trying to kill each other."
"But love triumphed and here you are together, like one of those stories where the hero has to overcome impossible trials and great odds to win his lady love."
There was a long pause before Spike answered. When he did, his voice was soft and gentle. "Something like that."
"Buffy, are you there?" Willow's voice crackled in her ear, giving Buffy the chance to ignore any further discussion between Spike and Fred.
"I'm here, Willow. Do you have a fix on him?"
"I think I do. There's some interference, so either something's trying to cloak him or there's another magic at work that's messing up the currents. We're heading east, though, straight into downtown."
"They're heading into downtown," Buffy told Gunn. The SUV was just ahead of them, the only two cars on the street it seemed.
"Ask her if he's actually in downtown or just east of it. It's always possible he's heading for the teen center. Damn it, we should warn Anne. She doesn’t know not to let him in. Here, give me the phone. Willow, it's Gunn. Tell Wesley he needs to call Anne, let her know not to open the door to Angel. Yeah, he knows who she is. Now, are we heading to the other side of downtown? Okay. Yeah, here's Buffy."
Buffy took the phone back. "Willow?"
"Looks like Wesley and Gunn have an idea where we're going, which is good, because I'm getting more interference on that spell."
"Hold as long as you can; the closer we can get before things fritz, the better."
"For someone who acts like he's eager to see me, you're playing hard to get," Angelus said as he strolled into warehouse number six. "I mean, you leave me these clues, your master sends me mental messages -- which feels kinda freaky, by the way -- letting me know Buffy and her little band is after me, and yet you make me search all over downtown to find you. Do you really think this will put me in a good mood?"
The Beast chuckled, a low rumble that filled the empty expanse of the warehouse. "It is all part of the journey."
"That's another problem." Angelus drew near, but not too near. "I'm not one of those 'the journey is more important than the end' guys. I don't mind if it's someone else's journey and I get to orchestrate the pain, but in general I'm not a big fan of getting jerked around."
"You have not been pleased with everything that has been done on your behalf? Fire rained down upon Los Angeles to create chaos and confusion..."
"Which also gave me the opportunity to watch my potential girlfriend boning my son."
"...The sun was blotted out, allowing you to move and feed freely."
"Creating a new wave of idiot tourists who've decided LA's just perfect for their vacation, figuring there's plenty of free meals."
"My master engineered the removal of your soul and the return of Angelus." Was it his imagination or was the Beast starting to sound just a tiny bit peeved?
"Don't have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the fact that there's someone who knows how to put the damn thing back and she's in town."
"My master has your soul in safe keeping. There is no worry that it will be returned."
"Perhaps, but I'd feel a whole lot better and probably more amenable to considering your offer if I wasn't looking over my shoulder to make sure they weren't coming after me."
The Beast smiled, a long, slow grin. Oh, yeah. This was going to be good.
"It's quiet," Wesley said once they'd piled out of the two vehicles before a group of warehouses. "Too quiet."
"Know what you mean, man." Gunn was keeping both hands on his ax, looking about him as if he expected something to jump out of the shadows. "If nothing else, you'd expect someone to be lurking in the shadows, waiting to jack these cars. But there's nothing."
"Possibly because everyone's figured out the vampires are getting hungry and it doesn't pay to be wandering around here at night." Buffy scanned the row of bland-looking brick buildings. "Will, any way you can figure out which one he's in?"
A few murmured words and a light flickered, then died within Willow's hands. "It'd take a lot more power than what I'm currently using."
"Save it then; we need you to be ready to perform that binding spell." Buffy hefted the sword she'd pulled from the weapons cabinet at the hotel. "Let's go find him."
It wasn't until they'd gingerly peered into four warehouses that Buffy started to get a vague tickling at the back of her neck. Instead of heading for the fifth one, she followed the feeling toward the sixth warehouse in the row. "He's here," she told the others.
Spike was at her side almost instantly. "Pity the windows are high up. It'd be nice to get a look inside before we barged in."
"Which is probably why he chose it." Buffy turned back to Willow. "I know you need to save your energy for the binding spell, but I'd like you to try to conjure up something that will flash, maybe blind him for a few seconds when we head in."
"I've got the sunlight spell," Willow said hesitantly. "I don't have supplies for anything else on hand."
Buffy sighed. "Sunlight probably not a good idea. Just have that binding spell ready to go."
Willow nodded and closed her eyes as everyone else took up position. Lorne and Cordelia hung toward the back, while Connor and Kennedy pushed up front. The air was thick with tension, attention focused on Buffy, waiting for her order. It wasn't until Willow looked up, eyes growing dark, and said, "Now," that they actually breeched the door.
They fanned out as they moved in, weapons at the ready. Buffy barely had time to register where her people had positioned themselves before all of her attention was taken by the creature who stood at one end of the warehouse. He was big. And ugly. And Angelus was standing next to him, grinning. "So glad you could make it."
A surge of power flowed out from just behind Buffy's left shoulder, triggered by a single word from Willow: "Bind."
The flash encircled Angelus, nearly knocking him off his feet but holding him tight in rings of mystical force. Step one accomplished.
Step two looked to be a hell of a lot harder.
"Any idea how to kill it?" Buffy asked Wesley, her hands tightening around her sword.
"None. It was one of the things we'd hoped to learn from Angelus."
"Oh. Just...great." She was about to suggest they rush him when the Beast held out a hand. Light streamed forth and they all dived to get out of the way. All except Willow. She caught the brunt of it, slammed backward from the force of the blow.
At the instant Willow hit the wall, the rings around Angelus disappeared, setting him free. He appeared stunned for a moment, but then shook his head and laughed. "Willow. Is that any way to treat an old friend?"
"You bastard!" Kennedy's voice tore through the stunned silence and before Buffy could stop her, the girl lunged forward, stake in hand. It wasn’t certain whether she was aiming for Angelus or the Beast, but it was Angelus who intercepted her, easily parrying her blow. With that, there was no choice but join the fight.
There were times Buffy could see each move in a fight, as if she was at a distance, considering each move, weighing each pun before she it dropped on her opponent. This wasn’t one of those times. This was a struggle to keep moving, to land a blow on the Beast, who'd managed to insert himself between them and Angelus. She could see Kennedy fight fiercely, every move driven by anger...and Angelus playing with her like a cat with a bug. This wasn't going to end well, but there seemed to be no way to get to her. Buffy would wade in, only to be pushed back and wade in again, trying to find a way around her opponent.
Then it happened. Angelus grew tired of the game and he let Kennedy think she had an opening, only to catch her as she moved, sinking his fangs into her neck. The sight made Buffy push all the harder, struggle to get to the potential. She could hear Spike shouting something, but the words didn't register. Nothing did except the struggle and a growing feeling of hopelessness as she watched Angelus drink.
Suddenly, Willow's voice was heard again, screaming this time, rough with power. "Release!"
Angelus released. Angelus flew backwards much as Willow had only a short time earlier...and to their surprise, the Beast did so as well. Buffy looked behind her to discover Willow back on her feet, her eyes glowing black. "You. Will. Pay. For. That."
"Don't kill him!" Buffy shouted. She was about to tell Spike to grab Kennedy while he could, but Connor was already moving to snatch her up and bring her back. "We're trying to capture him, remember?"
Willow was breathing hard, hot anger in her face but she didn't move, her eyes focused on the two figures at the other end of the warehouse. Come on, Willow. Hold it together...
"Interesting. The blow should have killed her," the Beast said as he picked himself up.
"Should have? Oh, that's a great help. Maybe you should try again and figure out why later."
The Beast ignored Angelus' complaint. "There is something of interest here. Perhaps she might be of use to my master."
Angelus looked real unhappy at this. "She can put my soul back. I'd feel much better if she wasn't around."
Lorne and Fred huddled around Kennedy as Connor returned her to the relative safety of their group. "I think she'll live," Lorne announced. "But we need to get her out of here."
A retreat would mean letting Angelus go once again, but Buffy had to consider Kennedy's condition and their other opponent. Willow's power showed no sign of diminishing, but was it enough to stand against the Beast?
Angelus wasn't having an easy time of it either, his voice growing louder and more strident at the Beast's refusal to simply wipe them all out of existence. With a growl, he turned and headed straight for the group. Wesley, Gunn and Spike stood at the ready, weapons in hand, but before he could get too near, Willow casually flicked her wrist. "Block."
Angelus slammed into an invisible barrier. "Yes, very interesting," the Beast said. "Such power could be of great use."
"So you see something new and exciting and I don't count anymore? Since when do minions get to make such decisions? Which raises the question..." His face darkened and he grabbed Kennedy's stake from where it had fallen. "What the hell good are you?"
The stake moved upward in a swift motion, Angelus shoving it into the top of the Beast's throat with the last words. There was a horrible gurgle and he shoved it further up, so deep that his fist followed the stake into the wound. "My God," Wesley said, his voice nearly a whisper. "I wonder if that's how..."
Wesley's words were cut off by an unearthly scream. The Beast sank to his knees, mouth open and head dropping back. Light began to stream from mouth, eyes, ears and other openings Buffy didn’t want to contemplate. The screaming went on, lasting until the last of the light vanished.
Angelus kicked at the corpse and turned to face the group. "Happy now, Wes? Got what you wanted? Enjoy it while you can, boyo, because I am not done with you. You still don't know where my soul is and..."
The sun came up.
It wasn't gradual, but sudden, as if a dark heavy cloud had simply disappeared. Light came streaming in the warehouse's high windows, turning night into day. And the vampires began to smoke.
"Shit!" That was the last Buffy heard from Angelus as he dived for the shadows, running for a door at the end furthest from them. On their side, Spike was also making for cover post-haste.
"Willow, drop the barrier! Wesley, Gunn, follow me!" As soon as she could, Buffy ran for the door, wondering if he'd managed to trap himself. That the door led to the basement seemed promising, until the moment Wesley pointed out the entrance to the sewers and the covering grate hastily pulled aside.
"He knows the system like the back of his hand," Wesley told Buffy as she knelt by the entrance. "The sewers, where they connect to the old Red Car tunnels; it's his main mode of transportation during the day. I wouldn't advise going after him at the moment."
Reluctantly she stood up. If it were the Sunnydale sewers... "You're right. We need to see to Kennedy."
As they climbed the stairs back to the ground floor, Wesley chuckled. "At least we managed to solve two of our problems. The sun is back and the Beast's dead."
"Yeah, but we still don't know who's the Beast's master or where Angel's soul is," Gunn reminded him.
"We capture Angelus," Buffy told him, "and Willow thinks she has a way of tracking it."
"I'll believe the girl can do it." Gunn shook his head. "She's got some serious mojo going."
Just as they reached the ground floor, he asked in a somewhat more tenuous voice, "Uh, they told us you were dead. Did Willow...?"
Buffy chose not to answer, heading instead for the shadow where Spike had retreated. "You okay?"
"Just a little singed around the edges. Nothing I can't handle." His eyes were skimming over her, looking for any injuries, smiling when he found none.
Reassured he wasn't hurt, Buffy turned her attention to the others. Willow was kneeling by Kennedy, all trace of power gone, her face white and scared. Lorne was talking to her, soft words of comfort meant for no one else.
"We still haven't gotten Angel," Cordelia pointed out.
Buffy knew she should have expected that. Didn't make her want to slap Cordelia silly any less. "We will. For now, let's get everyone home."
Continued in Chapter Twelve