The angel chronicles vol.., p.5
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       The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 3, p.5

           Nancy Holder
 
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  She knew this place. It was an abandoned factory, the lair of Spike and Drusilla. When they were alive.

  She moved on. In the distance, a shadowy female figure passed by, perhaps leading her, perhaps eluding her. Buffy followed her as best she could . . .

  And found herself crouching over a box like the one the arm had come in.

  Then she saw that there were several boxes in a circle.

  “Now, now,” said a voice.

  Drusilla. So she is alive.

  Buffy whirled around.

  “Hands off my presents,” the mad vampire chastised.

  At the top of the stairs, on the catwalk, Drusilla looked triumphantly down on Buffy. Her thin body was draped in a white gown much like Buffy’s, and in her hand she held a sharp, sacrificial knife . . . leveled across Angel’s throat. As she clasped his back against her chest, the knife gleaming wicked sharp against his flesh, Angel stared at Buffy with the look of someone who knew he was going to die.

  “No!” Buffy shouted. “Angel!”

  * * *

  Then she was awake, in the library, and Angel flew into her arms.

  “Buffy, it’s okay. I’m here. I’m right here,” he comforted her. She shut her eyes tightly, but in her mind’s eye, she could only stare with helplessness and horror.

  * * *

  She stared with wide eyes in joy and anticipation.

  “More music!” Drusilla commanded, clapping her hands.

  Descending the staircase in a truly stupendous scarlet satin gown, she swayed to the drone of a demon ballad. She smiled at a guest and touched his shoulder, noted that Dalton was being good about serving the punch, and picked up her long scarves. She made them ripple as she undulated to the rhythm, supremely happy.

  “Look what I have for you, ducks,” Spike crowed, as he rolled up with another box on his lap.

  Dru posed, spreading her scarves like bat wings, then went to him and lifted the treasure from his knees.

  “Ah! The best is saved for last.” She handed the box to two minions.

  With great care, they walked it over to where the boxes had been assembled into a vaguely human shape—two big, square legs, a torso, two arms. The last box was clearly the head.

  As soon as they put it into place, the joints of the boxes flared with brilliant light. The sound of energy crackled over the music and Dru cooed in anticipation.

  As the light strobed, the front panels of all the boxes opened, revealing a massive, blue-skinned demon. His flesh was leathery and cracked, his face broad and chunky. He was enormous, and crudely put together, as if there had been no need for niceties or details. Energy sizzled all over him, from his armored feet to the four horns on his head. He was absolutely enormous.

  His eyes opened. They were completely black, completely soulless. He was a like a machine. A killing machine, that would mow down anyone and everyone in his path.

  “He’s perfect, my darling,” Dru murmured, as she and Spike looked on in awe. She went to her lover and took his hand, adding darkly, “Just what I wanted.”

  CHAPTER 4

  Right, then. Here comes the Judge.

  The blue demon was a truly impressive sight, crude in a machine-like way, and extremely solid—just a bloody, huge, towering Frankenstein monster of a demon. Fabulous horns on his head, four of ’em, growing out in a sort of organic melange of elegant postmodernism and funky eurotrash. The creature oozed death and evil; he was just totally charismatic that way. If you were a good guy, you’d probably wet your knickers just looking at him.

  Spike was ever so delighted that they were both on the same side.

  The Judge lumbered out of his coffinlike box.

  Baby’s first steps, Spike thought, admiring the demon’s deadly indifference to the fact that it had been reassembled after centuries of lying about in the muck. It was a killing thing, and it existed solely to fulfill its function. So here it was, reporting for duty.

  Which is . . . neat.

  The Judge looked at him and Dru, and raised his hand as he lurched toward his poodle like he was going to burn her. “You . . .”

  Uh-oh. Better nip this in the bud.

  Spike rolled forward. “Ho. Ho. What’s that, mate?”

  “You two stink of humanity.” The Judge was not so pleased about that. “You share affection and jealousy.”

  Spike raised his chin. “Yeah. What of it?” he asked defiantly. “Do I have to remind you that we’re the ones who brought you here?”

  That seemed to give the old boy pause. Then Dru sashayed toward it in that right fetching way of hers and batted her lovely eyes at it.

  “Would you like a party favor?” she asked temptingly.

  The Judge looked around. Focused on the wanker, Dalton. It pointed at him and said, “This one is full of feeling. He reads. Bring him to me.”

  A couple vampires brought Dalton forward. The wanker started to struggle.

  Spike was suspicious. “What’s with the bringing, mate? I thought you could just . . . zap people.”

  The Judge looked eagerly at Dalton. “My full strength will return in time. Until then, I need contact.”

  It moved in on the terrified little clerk, who was pleading, “No, no!” to Dru’s delight. The Judge reached out its hand.

  Contact.

  Dalton started to shake. And quake. And smoke. And sizzle. Then he burst into a sort of negative blur of himself, flames shooting from inside him, until the fires ate him up and he vanished.

  Dru jumped up and down like the charming little girl Spike knew her to be.

  “Do it again! Do it again!” she shouted, clutching Spike’s hand with glee.

  The Judge exhaled, rather like a burp. He looked rather happy, too.

  * * *

  Full of purpose, Buffy crossed the library and picked up her Slayer’s bag.

  From the landing, Giles called, “Buffy? What’s happening?”

  Angel followed her. “She had another dream.”

  She said, “I think I know where Drusilla and Spike are.”

  “That’s very good.” Giles came down the stairs while Angel put on his duster. “However, you do need a plan. I know you’re concerned, Buffy, but you can’t just go off half-cocked.”

  “I have a plan. Angel and I go to the factory and do recon. Figure out how far they’ve gotten assembling the Judge. You guys check any places the boxes could be coming into town. Shipping yards, airports, anything. We need to stop them from getting all the boxes in one place.”

  Giles looked abashed, as if he had underestimated her. “Yes, well . . . actually, that’s quite a good plan.”

  She was very focused on her purpose. “This thing is nasty and it’s real, Giles. We can’t wait for it to come get us.”

  She grabbed her bag, and she and Angel left.

  * * *

  Angel and Buffy moved together through the night. They moved well, coordinating their movements without speaking. It was as if they had trained together, or knew each other so well they could anticipate the other’s next action. It was exhilarating, like being in combat, and Buffy found herself glancing at him now and then as if to assure herself that they really were as in synch as she thought.

  They reached the factory from the skylight overhead, and Buffy and Angel crept along the second-level cat-walk. The candles around them were nearly melted down, which was good. They were able to keep pretty well to the shadows.

  Below, the monster mash was in full swing. It was like some kind of strange old horror film: vamps in their true, demonic faces, drinking punch, chatting, milling just like the kind of ordinary people who went to the exhibitions Buffy’s mother arranged for the art gallery.

  “I saw this,” Buffy told Angel, as images from the terrible nightmare she’d had in the library took form in the stark reality before her. “The party . . .”

  She stopped speaking.

  Below them, a towering, ugly blue demon walked into their range of vision, flanked by Spike, in a wh
eelchair, and Drusilla, who walked behind the creature.

  Buffy’s blood ran cold as she gazed down at the trio. Riveted, she watched in horrible fascination as they moved through the room. That has to be the Judge. And Drusilla and Spike are both alive.

  So not the news I was hoping for.

  The demon began looking around, as if searching for something.

  “What?” Spike asked it. “What is it?”

  It looked straight up at Buffy and Angel and growled.

  Angel pulled at Buffy. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

  But as they began to run, they were surrounded on either side by vampires. It was no use even trying to fight. They were outnumbered.

  Spike’s men dragged them down the stairs, to stand before the Judge, and Spike and Dru.

  “Well, well,” Spike said jovially. “Look what we have here. Crashers.”

  Buffy gave him a sarcastic smile, but inside she was very scared. She wasn’t giving up hope, but things were not looking good for birthday number eighteen. “I’m sure our invitations just got lost in the mail.”

  “It’s delicious,” Dru said, licking her long, pale fingers. “I only dreamed you’d come.” She growled prettily at Buffy.

  Angel struggled and shouted, “Leave her alone!”

  “Yeah, that’ll work,” Spike drawled, taking a drink from a large brown bottle. “Now say pretty please.”

  The Judge appraised Buffy. “The girl.”

  Buffy held her breath and worked to keep her cool. I’m the Slayer, she reminded herself. What’s impossible for other other people is not impossible for me.

  “Chilling, isn’t it?” Dru chirruped, her eyes filled with hatred even though she was smiling. “She’s so full of good intention.”

  “Take me,” Angel demanded, jumping in front of Buffy.

  “No!” Buffy shouted.

  “Take me instead of her,” Angel demanded, as his captors yanked at him.

  In his wheelchair, Spike raised his arm. “You’re not clear on the concept, pal.” His voice was deadly and cruel. “There is no ‘instead.’ Just ‘first’ and ‘second.’ ”

  “And if you go first,” Dru pointed out, “you won’t get to watch the Slayer die.”

  Angel renewed his struggle, fighting to work himself free. But he was held fast. Furious, he watched as the Judge slowly extended his hand and walked toward Buffy. As frightened as she was, she was keeping her cool, and for that Angel was grateful. If I could just find a way to stop it . . .

  Then he spied a cluster of TVs chained overhead, like some kind of avant-garde video hookup in a dance club. The whole thing was held in place by a couple of cogs attached to chains. If I can just get loose for a second . . .

  The Judge reached Buffy and held out his hand. Angel knew what he could do to her. He had never seen any of the Judge’s handiwork, but it was still whispered of in the darkness, by creatures who feared nothing else on earth or in hell.

  Buffy, Slayer-born and Watcher-trained, reared back and kicked the demon’s armored chest. The Chosen One would no more willingly submit to a death sentence than she would allow anyone else to die in her place.

  “Don’t touch him!” Angel bellowed, but she already had. For one terrifying second he assumed she would burn into nothing. But she was still alive, and apparently uninjured.

  In the confusion that followed as the vampires also waited for her annihilation, Angel broke free. Before any of them had a chance to react, he raced to the wall where the chain that suspended the TVs from the ceiling was attached. He unfastened it; as the counterweight was thrown off, the TVs came sailing down like a cascade of granite boulders.

  Sparking and sizzling, they crashed down in front of the Judge with such force that they broke through the trapdoor in the concrete floor.

  Chaos reigned, and Buffy seized the advantage. She flung her guards away from herself. She ran into Angel’s arms, indicated the escape route, and cried, “This way!”

  Without a moment’s hesitation, they both leaped into the hole while Drusilla, livid, yelled to her minions, “Go!”

  * * *

  Buffy and Angel landed in a sewer. They slogged through the muck until they found an opened utility door. Moving fast, not needing to speak, they darted inside and shut the door behind them. Two of Spike and Dru’s lackeys splashed into the wastewater soon after. The two were hot on their trail, but as they raced past, they didn’t see the closed door, and moved on.

  As soon as it was safe, Buffy and Angel reemerged into the tunnel. There was a ladder nearby, leading to the street overhead.

  A driving ran soaked Buffy to the skin as she pushed the manhole cover out of the way. By the time Angel got out behind her, she was shivering.

  “Come on,” he said over the thunder. “We need to get inside.”

  They ran to his apartment. She waited while he let her in. The muted light made her feel colder as she stood trembling in the center of the room.

  He pulled off his duster and turned to her, stroking her shoulders. “You’re shaking like a leaf,” he said.

  She nodded. “C—cold.”

  “Let me get you something.” He went to his dresser and got out a bulky white sweater and a pair of sweats. Handing them to her, he told her. “Put these on and get under the covers. Just to warm up.”

  A little hesitantly, she walked toward his neatly made bed. Stood in front of it for just a second before she sat down on the mattress with the bundle of fresh clothes. The coverlet and pillow cases were scarlet. The rain made a drizzling pattern on the wall. Distant thunder rumbled.

  Angel faced her. When she looked up and him, he must have realized he was staring at her. He said, “Sorry,” and turned away.

  Still, he was near. And she was self-conscious as she unbuttoned the drenched cardigan of her twin set. As she drew out her left arm, she winced as something burned across her shoulder.

  “What?”

  “Oh, um. I—I just have a cut or something,” she said, as she finished taking off her sweater.

  “Can I . . . let me see.”

  “Okay.” She arranged the sweater across her front so that she was covered.

  Then Angel sat behind her on the bed as she turned to show him her back.

  His fingers touched her shoulder as he pulled the strap of her camisole aside. His touch was gentle. Both hands moved over her upper back.

  “It’s already closed,” he said hoarsely. “You’re fine.”

  Neither moved. Buffy felt herself trembling harder. She heard Angel swallow hard. She was certain she could hear his heartbeat, or was that her own pulse racing, as his arms cradled her?

  She turned, leaned into him. Breathed him in. Tears welled. She was overcome by his nearness, by the fact that she had almost lost him. That tonight, she had thought she might never see him again.

  “You almost went away today.”

  His fingertips stroked her arm as he held her, tension in his body. She knew he was being careful of her; he was struggling against what was taking them both over: the fear and the need.

  He said, “We both did.”

  She started to cry. “Angel, I feel like . . . if I lost you . . .” She caught her breath. “You’re right, though. We can’t be sure of anything.” She moved her lips to the side of his face and wept.

  “Sssh. I . . .”

  She opened her eyes, waited. Moved to face him. “You what?”

  “I love you.”

  And when he said it, her eyes brightened in wonder, though the tears were still there. Angel loved her. It was what she had longed to hear, for such a very long time; and yet, there was tremendous sorrow in his words, and in knowing what she had barely dared to dream. Angel loved her, and now, knowing that, she had so much more to lose.

  “I try not to, but I can’t stop,” he said brokenly.

  “Me, too.” Her voice cracked as she was overcome with emotion. “I can’t, either.” She pressed her nose against his.

  T
hey kissed. The kiss grew. They were crossing a bridge; they were going somewhere together they had never been before. Buffy’s heart pounded with the knowledge that this kiss was the beginning of something much bigger; this was a seal and a promise, and a first step.

  Their passion grew. Buffy was starving for the taste of him; she shook with the need of him.

  Panting, he pulled away. “Buffy, maybe we shouldn’t.”

  “Don’t.” She touched his face, held it. “Just kiss me.”

  Their lips met again, and again.

  * * *

  Angel drew Buffy down into his bed. She’s so beautiful, he thought. She feels so amazing. Her skin, her hair . . . He breathed her in. The scent of her, the satiny softness of her neck, her shoulders. Her hands, caressing him.

  Oh, Buffy, Buffy, let me lose myself in you.

  Love me.

  As they melted into each other, Angel soared with joy. For the first time in 242 years, he had hope of heaven.

  * * *

  The thunder rumbled, and crashed.

  Angel bolted awake, unbelievable pain ripping through him. White-hot agony seared him, body and soul.

  He panted, fighting it. It was an ancient pain, and he knew what it meant. He knew what was coming, and he was desperate to stop it. He clutched the sheets, heaving, as Buffy slumbered beside him.

  No, no, not now . . . it can’t be . . . Buffy . . .

  Everything was shattering. As he convulsed, he clung to one thought: he had to put as much distance between her and himself as possible.

  Protect her . . . oh, my darling, oh, Buffy . . .

  Angel dressed and stumbled out into the storm, into the wildness of the night. He clung to the hope that it would stop, that it would not happen. But as he fell to his knees, he knew: his soul was being torn from him once more.

  “Buffy!” he shouted.

  She was the last thought of the man who loved her.

  THE SECOND CHRONICLE: INNOCENCE

  PROLOGUE

  Spike rolled his wheelchair along the factory floor. The shadowy, cavernous building had been empty of party guests for quite a long time. Funny how a gate-crashing Slayer and a double-crossing, back-stabbing Judas of a former mate and grandsire could take the fun right out of an evening—if they got away. Now there was that cloud that comes after the music dies, that melancholy that comes over one when they’re cleaning up the ashtrays, throwing out the empties, and burying ’em in unmarked graves.

 
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