The angel chronicles vol.., p.2
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       The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 3, p.2
 

           Nancy Holder
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  “Okay.”

  This kiss was the last for now; they both knew it, and there was a calm finality to it that allowed Angel to savor it without worrying about going too far again.

  “This is nice,” Buffy murmured, more at ease now. “I like seeing you first thing in the morning.”

  “It’s bedtime for me,” Angel reminded her.

  “Then I like seeing you at bedtime,” she countered. She blinked, as if she realized how that sounded. And again, she was a young girl, blushing and stammering, “I—you know what I mean! . . .”

  He took it upon himself to smooth over the situation. “I think so.” Then he realized he was not that noble. “What do you mean?”

  “That I like seeing you.” Her face lost all shyness, if not its heartbreaking sweetness. “And the part at the end of the night where we say goodbye, it’s getting harder.”

  Angel looked deep into her eyes. “Yeah,” he admitted. “It is.”

  They gazed at each other. Neither spoke again.

  They were both too afraid to.

  * * *

  Willow could not contain her amazement. She stared wide-eyed at her best friend, her eyebrows hidden by her large purplish-blue felt hat as they walked toward school.

  “ ‘I like seeing you at bedtime?’ You actually said that?”

  Buffy shrugged, but she was embarrassed and excited and well, a little proud, too. Her cheeks were very warm. “I know. I know.”

  Willow wasn’t finished. “Man. That’s like . . . I don’t know. That’s moxie or something!”

  “Totally unplanned,” Buffy assured her with a wave of her hand. “It just came out.”

  “And he was into it?” Willow persisted. “He wants to see you at bedtime, too?”

  “Yeah,” Buffy said. “I think he does. I mean, he’s cool about it.”

  “Well, of course he is,” Willow said brightly. “’Cause he’s cool. He would never, you know—”

  “Push,” Buffy finished for her.

  Willow nodded. “Right. He’s not the type.”

  Loyal Willow. Buffy was so glad she had someone she could really talk to.

  “Willow, what am I going to do?”

  “What do you want to do?” Willow asked back.

  “I don’t know,” Buffy answered, trying to be honest. It would be easy to pretend she was so virtuous that she wasn’t even considering her options. But Willow wouldn’t judge her; of that she was certain.

  The two sat down at the same time and faced each other. “I mean, want isn’t always the right thing to do. To act on want can be wrong.”

  Willow considered. “True.”

  “But to not act on want.” Buffy frowned at the thought of never being with Angel, really being with him. Her life was not the same as other girls’. Didn’t that mean some of the rules were different, too? “What if I never feel this way again?” What if I die without knowing love?

  Willow smiled. “Carpe diem. You told me that once.”

  Buffy was bewildered. “Fish of the day?”

  Willow’s smile grew into a chuckle. “Not carp. Carpe. It means ‘seize the day.’ ”

  “Right.” Buffy hesitated. Her heart was racing. Her entire being sang as she realized she had made her decision.

  “I think we’re going to,” she admitted finally. “To seize it. Once you get to a certain point, then seizing is sort of inevitable.”

  She looked for Willow’s reaction—shock? disapproval?—but as she had anticipated, Willow was clearly on her side.

  “Wow,” she said, a bit wistfully, obviously very impressed.

  Buffy smiled, feeling a little shy, a little excited, and very relieved. “Yeah.”

  “Wow,” Willow repeated, in the same awed tone.

  The school bell rang. Buffy groaned and stood up. Willow did the same, trailing after her.

  “Wow,” she said again

  She caught up with Buffy.

  “Wow.”

  Buffy said, more happily, “Yeah.” Then she glanced over at the concrete picnic tables—more specifically, at a guy sitting on top of one of them, strumming an electric guitar. A large black amp sat beside him on the table. Now it’s Willow’s turn to think a few things through.

  “Hey,” Buffy drawled coyly, “speaking of wow potential, there’s Oz over there. What are we thinking? Any sparkage?”

  Willow glowed. “He’s nice. I like his hands.”

  Buffy was delighted. “Ooh, fixing on insignificant details is a definite crush sign.”

  “I don’t know, though,” Willow added humbly. “I mean, he is a senior.”

  Buffy was unimpressed, although, in theory, she understood Willow’s hesitation. “You think he’s too old ’cause he’s a senior? Please. My boyfriend had a bicentennial.”

  Willow’s voice rose. “That’s true.” Then she began to lose her nerve again. “I guess . . . I just . . .”

  Buffy sensed it was time to push. Willow was so good. She deserves a nice boyfriend to go out with and have fun with. Okay, he doesn’t know about my secret Clark Kent identity and all the rest of that—he’s not a Slayerette, as Xander would say, but we’ll figure out how to keep him out of the loop without making it weird. And speaking of old, unrequited loves . . .

  “You can’t spend the rest of your life waiting for Xander to wake up and smell the hottie. Make a move,” she prodded. “Do the talking thing.”

  Willow was not thoroughly convinced. “What if the talking thing becomes the awkward silence thing?”

  “Well, you won’t know unless you try,” Buffy reminded her. Then she moved on ahead, leaving Willow to do just that.

  * * *

  Gulp.

  Willow gathered her courage and walked up behind Oz. He was still sitting on the picnic table, strumming his guitar.

  “Hey,” she said, coming around to his side.

  As soon as he heard her voice, he stopped strumming and looked up at her. “Hey,” he said back, giving her his full attention. That was one of the things she really liked about him. He knew that listening was more than waiting for your turn to talk.

  But here it was her turn to talk again, already! Which I know how to do, she reminded herself firmly.

  “Do you guys, uh, have a gig tonight?” she asked, aiming for hip, knowing she was falling oh-so short.

  “No. Practice,” he answered. “See, our band’s kind of moving toward this new sound . . . where we suck. So, practice.”

  “I think you guys sound good,” she said, smiling. I’m talking to him. Even better, we’re talking to each other.

  “Thanks,” he replied, looking genuinely complimented.

  Suddenly she felt a little shyer. “I bet you have a lot of groupies.”

  A smile flickered over his features, flattered and touched. “It happens. But I’m living groupie-free nowadays,” he assured her. “I’m clean.”

  “Oh.” As he looked down at his guitar, she bit her lip. She was running out of steam. Argh. Time for the awkward silence thing.

  Then he gazed at her and said, “I’m going to ask you to go out with me tomorrow night, and I’m kind of nervous about it, actually. It’s interesting.”

  Wow. She reeled. Wow.

  “Well, if it helps at all,” she breathed, “I’m going to say yes.”

  Oz nodded seriously. “Yeah, it helps. It creates a comfort zone.” His smile returned. “Do you want to go out with me tomorrow night?”

  Willow winced and clapped her forehead through her hat. “Oh, I can’t!” Tragedy! Frustration!

  Oz appeared unfazed. “Oh, see, I like that you’re unpredictable.”

  And unbelievably bad timing. “It’s just that it’s Buffy’s birthday and we’re throwing her a surprise party.”

  He was still unfazed. “It’s okay.”

  “But you could come,” she realized. “If you wanted.” Giving him an out.

  He hesitated. “Well, I don’t want to crash.”

  “No, it’s fin
e,” she urged. “You could be my . . . date.”

  Oz smiled his Oz smile again, warm and slightly amused and very charming. “All right. I’m in.”

  She kind of lost it there for a moment. This had never happened to her before. She made as if to leave; he lowered his head as if to show that he understood that she needed to get going. Breathlessly, grinning, she walked away, murmuring to herself, “I said ‘date.’ ”

  Wow.

  * * *

  Cordelia had a lot to do, including remembering her new copy of Allure to read during study hall. As she fished it out of her locker, Xander Harris stood closely behind her, trying to look like he wasn’t hanging around.

  “So. Buffy’s party,” he ventured. “Mañana.”

  She was a little irritated by the interruption, more so by where he might be going with that opener, so she said, “Well, just because she’s Miss ‘Save the World’ we have to make a big deal. I have to cook.” She faced him. “And everything.”

  “You’re cooking?” Xander repeated carefully, as if he couldn’t quite believe his ears. She heard the mockery in his tone.

  “Well, I’m chips and dips girl,” she announced, feeling a little defensive.

  “Horrors,” he teased. “All that opening and stirring.”

  “And shopping and carrying,” she reminded him, not letting him get to her. At all.

  “Well, you should have a person who does such things for you.”

  “That’s what I’ve been saying to my father,” she said, returning to the serious business of going through her locker. “But does he listen?”

  Xander was still not going away. He leaned in toward her and said, “So. You’re going. And I’m going. Should we—maybe—go?”

  “Why?” she asked in utter astonishment, even though of course by now, she wasn’t astonished. When you’re a veteran dater like me, you rarely get ambushed.

  Xander shrugged. “I don’t know. This thing with us? Despite our better judgment, it keeps happening. Maybe we should just admit that we’re dating—”

  Oh, yeah, right. Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase, an official couple. As if.

  “Groping in a broom closet is not dating,” she informed him. “You don’t call it a date until the guy spends money.”

  “Fine. I’ll spend. Then we’ll grope.” He was all intensity and she was not loving it. Guys who wanted to be with her were usually much suaver about the whole deal. For one thing, they don’t make fun of me most of the time they’re around me.

  He must have gotten the message. “Whatever. I just think it’s just some kind of a whack that we have to hide it from all our friends.”

  She got in his face. “Well, of course you want to tell everybody. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I, on the other hand, have everything to be ashamed of.”

  Xander blinked. “You know what? ‘Nuff said. Forget it. It must have been my multiple personality guy talking. I call him Idiot Jed, glutton for punishment.”

  He huffed at her and walked off.

  Good, she thought. Thank God. Fine.

  But way down deep, she was a little impressed with him for standing up to her. Not that she would ever admit it. Not to anyone, especially herself.

  * * *

  Rupert Giles, officially in America as the librarian of the Sunnydale High School library, was walking through the school lounge with his briefcase and a few copies of some archeology magazines when he caught sight of Buffy’s good friend, Xander.

  Giles was Buffy’s Watcher, the person charged with mentoring her and training her in her capacity as Slayer. Part drill instructor, part guidance counselor, and, in his case, a friend, though the Watchers’ Council frowned on that sort of thing. The Watcher’s job required that he or she be willing and able to send the Slayer to her death, if that was what was necessary to win a battle—not the war; that had been going on for centuries—between good and evil.

  The war would continue on, long after he and Buffy both were dust.

  But these morose thoughts were the furthest things from his mind as he greeted Xander.

  “Good morning,” Giles said pleasantly. “Everything in order for the party?”

  “Absolutely,” Xander replied, but he seemed a little downhearted. “Ready to get down, you funky party weasel?”

  Just then, Giles spied Buffy and Miss Calendar coming down the stairs. Jenny Calendar was a wonder to him—young, lovely, clever, and a “technopagan,” of all things. She had instantly grasped Buffy’s role in the scheme of things here on the Hellmouth without so much as a blink. And Giles’s role, as well. Twice now, she had pushed her sleeves up—figuratively speaking— and pitched in to thwart the forces of darkness.

  As she and Buffy drew near, Giles leaned toward Xander and whispered. “Ah. Here comes Buffy. Remember—discretion is the better part of valor.”

  “You could have just gone, ssh,” Xander shot back. “God, are all you Brits such drama queens?”

  Buffy and Miss Calendar came up beside them. The young man shifted his attention and said, in a sweetly teasing voice, “Buffy, I feel a pre-birthday spanking coming on.” He rubbed his hands together in mock anticipation.

  Buffy gave him a look that would melt steel as Miss Calendar said, “I’d curb that impulse if I were you, Xander.”

  “Check,” he said, pretending to talk into a lapel microphone. “Cancel spanking.”

  Buffy and Miss Calendar sat at a round table. Giles and Xander joined them. Giles frowned gently at Buffy. She looked pale and drawn.

  “Are you all right, Buffy? You seem a little fatigued.”

  “Rough night,” she admitted. “I had a dream that Drusilla was alive. And she killed Angel.” She made a face, as if even saying the words upset her. “It just really freaked me out.”

  Giles moved into Watcher mode without even thinking about it. After all his time in the role, what had once felt awkward and artificial was what he now considered to be “the real Giles.”

  “So you feel it was more of a portent,” he observed, picking his words carefully.

  She moved her shoulders as she sighed. “See, I don’t know. I don’t want to start a big freak-out over nothing—”

  “Still. Best to be on the alert. If Drusilla is alive, it could be fairly cataclysmic.”

  And that’s putting it mildly, he thought. Were she alive, her singular goal—her mission, as it were—would be to avenge herself against my Slayer.

  “Again,” Xander reproved, “so many words. Couldn’t you just say we’d be in trouble?”

  Giles had painfully learned the value of patience, through his dealings with Xander, and he mentally thanked him again for another small lesson as he said tiredly, “Go to class, Xander.”

  “Gone.” Xander stood and turned to leave. Then he looked back at the group. “Notice the economy of phrasing. ‘Gone.’ Simple. Direct.”

  And he made himself gone.

  Buffy rose from of her chair. “Maybe I should get gone, too.”

  Giles also stood. Attempting to act unconcerned, he said, “Don’t worry yourself unduly, Buffy. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

  “I know.” She tried to look less nervous. “I should keep my Slayer cool. But it’s Angel, which automatically equals maxi-wig.”

  Giles smiled at her as she left to start her day as a high school student.

  But his day as a Watcher had already begun, and as he stood there, his smile fading, he sincerely hoped Buffy’s dream meant nothing.

  Yet I cannot be certain of that, not at all. And God help us if that monster is alive. God help us all.

  * * *

  Dalton, the shy but loyal vampire scribe, arrived at the factory and stepped into the expansive, candlelit room with the iron box in his arms. His previous leader, the young boy called the Anointed One, had brought the local vampires to this lair after the Master died. When they had followed the Master, they had dwelled underground. The Master had been mystically imprisoned inside a sunken church. Those d
ays were long gone, as were the days of the Anointed One.

  He called into the shadows, “I have your package.”

  A familiar voice replied imperiously, if wearily, “Just put it on the table. Near the other gifts.”

  Looking weary, Dalton’s boss, Spike, rolled his wheelchair into view. It was Spike who had destroyed the Anointed One, grabbing him off his seat of honor and imprisoning him in a cage, then hoisting the cage through the factory roof and into the sunlight. The small but immensely powerful vampire had burned to ash.

  Now Spike, too, had been burned. While trying to restore Drusilla to health in an old Sunnydale church, he had been attacked by two Slayers and that turncoat, Angel. And a handful of humans, but Dalton mentally dismissed them. People were for eating, and not much else.

  Spike was deathly pale, and scarred from the fire. It was a miracle he was still alive—a testament to his strength.

  As Dalton moved to obey him, he caught sight of Drusilla walking up behind the wheelchair, healthy and vibrant, dressed in a tight red sleeveless dress. Spike’s sacrifices had not been in vain: he had succeeding in curing his beloved, and now their roles were reversed. It was Drusilla who took care of Spike.

  “Are you dead set on this, pet?” Spike asked Drusilla in a world-weary tone. “Wouldn’t you rather have your party in Vienna?”

  Trying not to eavesdrop, Dalton put his box next to two similar boxes. Two other vampires were decorating for the party, one twining red flowers into the backs of tall wooden chairs.

  Pouty, Drusilla said, “But the invitations are sent.”

  Spike looked more frustrated than anything. He would never deny Drusilla anything she really wanted. Although sometimes it was admittedly difficult to figure out what was a fleeting whim of hers and what she was serious about having.

  “Yeah, but, it’s just, I’ve had it with this place. Nothing ever comes off the way it’s supposed to.”

  Truer words were never spoken, Dalton thought glumly. His boss looked terrible. Strong and vigorous before the battle in the church with the Slayers, now he was stuck in a wheelchair.

  Drusilla lovingly put her arms around Spike and said, “My gatherings are always perfect. Remember Spain, Spike?” With a huge, knowing smile on her face, she crouched down beside him and walked her fingers seductively up his thighs and chest. “The bulls?” The look she gave him was filled with secrets—and promises—meant only for him.

 
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