The angel chronicles vol.., p.12
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       The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 3, p.12

           Nancy Holder
 
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  “Yes, yes,” he said. He gazed at her. “You could stop by my house.”

  Her smile was mildly flirtatious. “Okay.”

  “Good.” He broke into a wide grin, ducked his head, and took his leave. In the doorway, he turned back to look at her once last time.

  Jenny smiled after him, and went back to her work.

  * * *

  The proprietor of the Dragon’s Cove magic store had just turned off the neon Open sign when someone came in through the door.

  Damn, he thought, barely glancing at his female prospective customer as he blew out some of the burning candles. “Sorry, honey. We’re closed.”

  Then he turned and really looked at the vampire who stood in the glare of the streetlights with a wriggling white dog in her grasp.

  She glided into the store. He thought he was going to wet his pants.

  He stammered, “Wh-what do you want?”

  “Miss Sunshine here tells me you had a visitor today,” she said pleasantly, quietly. Staring off into space, she added, “But she worries.” And then she turned her full attention on him, and his blood ran cold. “She wants to know what you and the mean teacher talked about.”

  He knew in that moment that one way or another, he would tell her.

  * * *

  Like any good computer person, Jenny lost track of time as she continued working on translating the annals for the Rituals of the Undead. She sat in the darkened room, oblivious to everything except her keyboard and her screen. As she hit Select All and pressed Save As, she fiddled anxiously with a pencil and talked to the screen.

  “Come on, come on,” she murmured.

  The right-hand side of screen began filling up with new text. She skimmed it and, in that moment, she knew she had it. “That’s it!” She allowed herself a joyful laugh as she copied her achievement onto a diskette. “It’s going to work. This will work.”

  Can I code or not? she thought happily, as she started a printout. She rolled on her chair over to the old-fashioned tractor-feed printer and watched the characters printing.

  Then she raised her line of sight just slightly and jumped up in sheer fright.

  Angelus sat at a desk with a smile on his face, watching her.

  “Angel.” She struggled not to panic as she slowly backed away. I’ll just get to the door, she told herself. I’ll make it to the door. “How did you get in here?”

  “I was invited,” he said innocently, shrugging as if it were obvious. “The sign in front of the school? Formatia trans sicere educatorum.”

  Jenny said breathlessly, “ ‘Enter, all ye who seek knowledge.’ ”

  He chuckled and got to his feet. “What can I say? I’m a knowledge seeker.” Holding out his hands, he started walking toward her.

  Her panic level rose, but she kept herself composed. “Angel,” she tried, “I’ve got good news.”

  “I heard.” He sounded as if he were speaking to a child. “You went shopping at the local boogedy-boogedy store.”

  The glow on her desk attracted him. He picked up the crystal sphere and his voice dropped. “The orb of Thesulah. If memory serves, this is supposed to summon a person’s soul from the ether, store it until it can be transferred.”

  He held it up. “You know what I hate most about these things?” he asked pleasantly. Then he hurled it against the blackboard, shattering it dangerously close to her head. Jenny ducked and screamed.

  He laughed. “They’re so damned fragile. Must be that shoddy Gypsy craftsmanship, huh?”

  She made herself move, made herself glance over her shoulder, in search of the doorknob. Oh, God, he’s going to kill me, she thought. Then, I can’t panic. I cannot.

  He turned his attention to her computer. “I never cease to be amazed how much the world has changed in just two and a half centuries.”

  She reached the doorknob. It was all she could do to keep from screaming.

  The door was locked.

  “It’s a miracle to me,” he told her, wide-eyed. You put the secret to restoring my soul in here . . .” Savagely, he flung the computer to the floor. The monitor smashed against the linoleum and burst into flames. “And it comes out here.” He ripped the printout off the printer. “The Ritual of Restoration. Wow.” He chuckled. “This brings back memories.”

  He tore it in half.

  “Wait! That’s your—”

  “Oh. My ‘cure’?” He grimaced an apology as he kept ripping. “No thanks. Been there, done that. And déjà vu just isn’t what it used to be.

  “Well, isn’t this my lucky day.” He held the pages over the burning monitor. “The computer and the pages.” He set them on fire and dropped them. Then he crouched low over the flames and made a show of warming his hands. “Looks like I get to kill two birds with one stone.”

  Her heart was thundering. She was so terrified she was almost blind. Go, go, she told herself, and she started edging toward the next door, which was parallel with Angel. But then he turned to her, in full vamp face, and drawled, “And teacher makes three.”

  I have to make a run for it now, she thought, racing for the door. He sprang up and caught her easily, and she screamed. With the supernatural strength of his kind, he flung her toward the wall. With bone-crunching force, she hit the door, and slid down it even as the momentum of the impact pushed it open.

  She was momentarily dazed, but the adrenaline in her system propelled her on. Slowly, he advanced. Her forehead bleeding, she got to her feet, panting with fear, and flew down the corridor.

  “Oh, good,” Angelus said dangerously. “I need to work up an appetite first.”

  She raced for her life, her heels clattering as she reached the first set of swinging doors in the corridor. Then she ran to the right, past the lockers, and to the exit.

  The door was locked.

  She doubled back and saw his shadow looming through the panels of glass in the double doors. She took another exit. Down the breezeway she ran, arms pumping, looking back to see him shortening the distance between them. Light and shadow played on his monstrous features.

  Like a quarry run to ground, she was forced to another entrance into the school. For a few horrible moments, she thought that door was locked too, but it finally gave way under her frantic pushes.

  She lost time and he was practically on top of her by the time she got the door open. He growled like an animal, anticipating the kill. She slammed the door in his face and ran on.

  The bright overhead fluorescents cast an eerie, cold blue glow over the two of them as she lost more ground. Then she saw the janitor’s cleaning cart and pushed it at him. It slammed into him and he was flung over it, landing hard on the floor.

  While he was down, she took the nearby flight of stairs. On the landing, gasping for breath, she looked over her shoulder as she darted past a semicircular window—streetlamps and passing cars, the unsuspecting and uncaring normal world of suburban night—and ran right into him.

  How? she thought, but then all other thoughts fled. Her eyes widened as he put his chilled fingers to her lips, urging her to silence. His laughter was inhuman. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t blink. Couldn’t breathe.

  Rupert—

  “Sorry, Jenny. This is where you get off,” he said in a low, gentle voice. And then he grabbed her head and twisted.

  * * *

  Her neck made an interesting crack.

  Her lovely body tumbled to the floor.

  A little winded, Angelus took a couple of deep breaths, and then he cocked his head.

  Invigorated, he said, “I never get tired of doing that.”

  Without another glance at the dead woman, he moved on.

  CHAPTER 3

  There was a chipper rap on the Summers’ door, and Willow quickly answered it. It was Giles.

  “Willow,” he said with brisk British pleasantness. “Good evening.”

  “Hi. Come on in.” She was cheery because she had just seen firsthand that the ritual worked. Angelus can’t
hurt any of us anymore. “Here’s the book.” She held out the volume that contained the de-invitation ritual.

  “Right. I guess I should do my apartment tonight.” He glanced down at the book, then up at Willow. “Did the ritual go all right?”

  “Oh, yeah. It went fine.” She made a little face. “Well, it went fine until the part where Angel showed up and told Buffy’s mom that he and Buffy had . . .” She trailed off and looked away, a bit embarrassed. She tried again. “Well, you know, that they had . . . you know.” She still couldn’t come right out and say it.

  And then she thought, Uh-oh, did I just spill the beans? She asked hopefully, “You do know, right?”

  He blinked and said, “Oh, yes, sorry.”

  “Oh, good.” She heaved a sigh of relief. Then she went on to explain, “Because I just realized that being a librarian and all, you maybe didn’t know.”

  He seemed just the tiniest smidgen indignant. “No. Thank you. I got it.”

  “You would have been proud of her, though. She totally kept her cool,” she informed him. There was a silence. She moved her shoulders and smiled. “Okay. Well, I’ll tell Buffy you stopped by.”

  He glanced up at the ceiling, gesturing in the direction of the stairs and said, “Do you think perhaps I should intervene on Buffy’s behalf with her mother? Maybe, say something?”

  How nice, Willow thought. “Sure. Like what would you say?” she asked helpfully.

  He mumbled around for a few seconds. Willow realized he was stuck, so she opened the door to give him a graceful exit. For which he appeared grateful.

  “You will tell Buffy I dropped by?” He sailed through the door.

  “You bet,” she assured him, and shut the door.

  * * *

  The tension in the room was thick and jumpy. Buffy sat on her bed while her mother paced.

  “That stuff with the Latin and the herbs, he’s just real superstitious.”

  “Oh.” Looking thoroughly unconvinced, and disappointed that Buffy would even say such a thing, much less believe it, Joyce crossed her arms and slowly sat on Buffy’s vanity bench.

  So Buffy tried again. “We just thought if—”

  Joyce put her hands on her knees and took a deep breath. “Was he the first? No. Wait.” She got to her feet and paced again. “I don’t want to know. I don’t think I want to.”

  “Yes,” Buffy said heavily. There’s too much here to explain. It’s so much more than what other girls have to talk about . . . “He was the first. I mean, the only.”

  “He’s older than you.”

  Buffy was too upset to laugh at the irony. “I know.”

  “Too old, Buffy. And he’s obviously not very stable. I really wish . . . I just thought you would show more judgment.”

  It hurt badly not to be able to defend herself. To explain what they had gone through. Almost dying. Knowing that the world might soon be over.

  “He wasn’t like this before.” He wasn’t a demon. He wasn’t evil.

  “Are you in love with him?”

  “I was.”

  “Were you careful?”

  Buffy reeled. That was so much a question for another kind of life. Not my kind. “Mom, this is no time—”

  “Don’t ‘Mom’ me, Buffy,” her mother said sharply. “You don’t get to get out of this. You had sex with a boy you didn’t even see fit to tell me you were dating.”

  Almost by rote, Buffy said flatly. “I made a mistake.” “Well, don’t say that just to shut me up because I think you really did.”

  “I know that.” She was about to burst with the unfairness of it. “I can’t tell you everything.”

  “How about anything?” Joyce said, frustrated. “Buffy, you can shut me out of your life. I am pretty much used to that. But don’t expect me to stop caring about you because it’s never going to happen. I love you more than anything in the world.”

  She took a breath and sat down next to Buffy. In a sad, uncertain voice, she said, “That would be your cue to roll your eyes and tell me I’m grossing you out.”

  Buffy’s eyes were welling. Mom, I’m so sorry. I wish I could tell you. I so need to tell you.

  Quietly, she murmured, “You’re not.”

  They both struggled for a moment. Then Joyce lifted her head slightly and said, “Oh, well.” She considered. “I guess that was the talk.”

  Buffy took that in. “So how’d it go?”

  “I don’t know.” Her mother smiled faintly at her. “It was my first.”

  * * *

  There was a long-stemmed red rose angled between the knob and the jamb of Giles’s front door. The corners of his mouth twitched slightly.

  She’s here, he thought, warming with anticipation.

  He lifted the rose and inhaled its lovely scent, his smile growing. Then he opened the door, poking in his head and called, “Hello?” He shut the door and set down his briefcase. “Jenny? It’s me.”

  To the passionate strains of Puccini’s La Boheme, he took off his coat. That was when he saw the bottle of wine cooling in the bucket and the note on parchment paper.

  Upstairs, it read. He smiled, a bit flustered, and looked upward, in the direction of his loft bed. He put down the envelope and took off his glasses. Smoothed back his hair. He felt years younger, lighter; he felt himself to be a man quite in love with a beautiful young woman, who wanted him.

  Unable to give voice to the emotion rising within him, he let the soaring opera music do it for him.

  He took up the wine and the two glasses that were beside the bucket. On each step which led to his beloved, a votive candle glowed. The stairs were strewn with roses. Softly, he ascended, as the opera duet crescendoed, the full, throaty voices rising in desperate yearning.

  There she is. She was lying on his bed, her dark hair piled on the pillows like a filigreed frame, her exquisite features a study in heart-stopping beauty.

  His heart rose; he felt the glow of the candles in his skin. So beautiful, lying so still . . .

  So still . . .

  Her eyes, staring, as if she were . . .

  As if . . .

  The wine bottle crashed to the floor.

  * * *

  So still, Giles stood against the wall. His eyes staring, as if he were dead.

  The blue and red lights of the police cars flashed across the walls of his apartment; the dispatcher’s crackling voice buzzed crazily, like a hornet.

  He did not look as a police officer and a man in a blue jumpsuit marked Coroner wheeled the loaded body bag past him.

  Then the officer in charge said, not without compassion, “Mr. Giles, we’re going to have to ask you to come with us. Just to answer a few questions.”

  It was then that he felt a flicker of what might pass for life. Rousing himself as best he could, he murmured. “Of course. Yes. Procedure.” Giles looked at him. “I need to make a phone call, if that’s all right.”

  * * *

  Through the window that looked into the Slayer’s dining room, Angelus watched.

  The Slayer was walking with Willow through the room. Willow asked, “So, was it horrible?”

  “It wasn’t too horrible,” the Slayer replied.

  Passion is the source of our finest moments, Angelus thought. The joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief.

  The phone rang. The Slayer ran back through the dining room to grab it. Upbeat, she lifted the receiver and put it to her ear. Her lips moved to say, “Hello? Giles.” She leaned against the wood and plaster wall. “Hey, we finished the sp—”

  And then, as she listened, she went slack. Angelus bent eagerly, observing each shattering moment as she limply handed the phone to Willow.

  Which is more fulfilling? the vampire pondered. The utter shock of the Slayer as she slides to the floor or the frightened, grief-stricken weeping of her little redheaded companion?

  Summoned by the sobbing, Joyce Summers ran into the room, embracing Willow as Buffy buried her head against
her knees.

  With a smile, Angelus faded into the night.

  It’s all so perfect. It couldn’t be better.

  My work here is done.

  * * *

  While Willow and Buffy waited numbly at the curb outside the Summers’ house, Cordelia and Xander finally pulled up in Cordelia’s garlic-and-cross-laden car.

  “Where’s Giles?” Buffy asked as soon as Xander got out.

  Xander said, “No luck. By the time we got to the station, the cops said he’d already left. I guess they just wanted to ask him some questions.”

  Buffy looked down, frowning. Then she said, “Cordelia, will you drive us to Giles’s house?”

  Cordelia inclined her head. “Of course.”

  Willow looked at Buffy. “But do you think maybe he wants to be alone?”

  Buffy gazed back at her. “I’m not worried about what he wants. I’m worried about what he’s going to do.”

  They climbed into the car.

  * * *

  Giles’s wooden weapons chest was open. He drew a sword and tested its strength and sharpness. He decided against it. Then he loaded the gas can on top of an open sling bag crammed with weapons, from a crossbow to a mace to an old dueling pistol to wooden stakes.

  His eyes were filled with icy rage. His face was stony, impassive.

  He picked up the bag and left.

  On his desk, a brown parchment drawing lay in the diffuse light of an Arts and Crafts lamp: Jenny, her head lying on Giles’s pillow, her eyes open.

  In death.

  CHAPTER 4

  There was yellow police tape across the door. Buffy stood just behind Xander as he opened the door and called steadily, “Hello? Giles?”

  He ducked under the tape. Willow followed, then Cordelia, and last, Buffy. Xander noted the wine bucket. “I guess Giles had a big night planned tonight.”

  Buffy picked up the sketch of Jenny Calendar. “Giles didn’t set this up. Angel did. This is the wrapping for the gift.” She handed the sketch to Xander.

 
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