The angel chronicles vol.., p.6
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       The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 3, p.6
 

           Nancy Holder
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  Now it was just him and Dru, and their big blue baby made three.

  Irritated, Spike frowned in the direction of the Judge. The bloke had been kneeling with his back to the room for quite a long time, and that didn’t make Spike any happier. You ate Spike’s crisps and drank his liquor, you did a lot more than pretend you were a bloody door stop, as far as Spike was concerned.

  “I’m not happy, pet,” he groused to Drusilla, getting angrier because she was flouncing about instead of taking this crisis seriously. “Angel and the Slayer are still alive, they know where we are, they know about the Judge. We should be vacating.”

  Still dressed in her scarlet party best, his peaches took his hand. “Nonsense. They’ll not disturb us here.” Then she had to go and ruin the moment by adding, “My Angel is too smart to face the Judge again.”

  Always with the “my Angel,” she was. Okay, right, he made her. He was her big daddy, her sire. But Angelus had left that all behind, while he, Spike, put up with the tantrums and the mood swings and the rest of Dru’s high-maintenance schedule . . . and did it with great patience and understanding, if he did say so. Where she got off cooing and rolling her huge, lovely eyes at the very utterance of the syllables of his name—the first two syllables, like Angelus had become some very cool rock star—was bloody bewildering. He would never, ever parade a rival for his affections around Drusilla. Not that there were any. But still, the point has been made.

  “What’s Big Blue up to, anyway? He just sits there,” Spike grumbled.

  The Judge spoke. “I am preparing.”

  “Yeah,” Spike huffed and let go of Dru’s hand. She stayed where she was as he wheeled himself toward the demon. He couldn’t give her what for—her bloody insanity got her off scot-free every time—so he decided to take it out on their houseguest. “It’s interesting to me that preparing looks a great bit like sitting on your ass. When do we destroy the world already?”

  “My strength grows,” the Judge informed him. “And with every life I take, it will increase further.”

  Spike supposed it was time to state the obvious. No one else in the bleeding house seemed to show the slightest bit of initiative in the whole affair. “So let’s take some! I’m bored.”

  Behind him, Drusilla suddenly let out an agonized moan and crumpled to the floor. He jerked his head toward her in alarm.

  “Dru?”

  She stretched out on the floor, making a terrible weeping, keening like she’d just lost every single thing she’d ever cared about. Spike wheeled toward her.

  “Angel,” she wept.

  Oh, blimey, he thought, but knew he had to keep a lid on it until he found out what was happening. Dru’s visions were an integral part of their survival strategy, and as valid as his jealousy of Angelus might be, it was more important to find out what Drusilla meant by sobbing out his name like a dying maiden in an Italian opera.

  Spike leaned forward intently. “Darling, do you see something?”

  Her eyes lost their focus; she looked dreamy and glowing. Then she broke into smile and began to softly laugh.

  * * *

  The rain poured down. Buffy snuggled cozily against her pillow and reached for Angel.

  He wasn’t there.

  She opened her eyes, remembering where she was, and slowly sat up pulling the sheets across her chest.

  Lightning flashed outside as she glanced across the room.

  “Angel?” she called, almost a whisper.

  But he wasn’t there.

  * * *

  The rain poured down, needle-sharp and icy. Lightning crackled; thunder rolled across the black night, mirroring the battle taking place inside Angel.

  Outside his apartment, sprawled helplessly in the frigid storm, Angel struggled with the pain, fought to keep himself from flying apart inside.

  “Buffy,” he rasped, panting, and then it began to happen; he could feel it; and he knew he could not stop it. “Oh, no.”

  He was losing it all . . . it was like watching someone behead you or brainwash you, only it was much worse. He was becoming everything he loathed. There was nothing he could do about it. No way to stop all the tragedy that would surely follow.

  Better I die now, he thought wildly. Let me die now.

  Buffy, my darling, my love, my life.

  If he held on to her name, maybe he could save himself. Maybe he could tread water until the moment passed.

  But it was too late. Sinking below the surface of his awareness, he felt his soul tear away and head for the surface, leaving him to be washed in evil, rebaptized into the community of the damned.

  He lowered his head in defeat.

  Across the alley, a world-weary blond in a leather jacket took a drag on a cigarette. She was the kind of woman who drank whiskey straight around her girlfriends and had an ex-husband back in Westbridge.

  She stepped from the doorway where she stood smoking and came toward him, filled with concern and some common-sense bit of caution.

  “Are you okay?” she asked. “You want me to call 911?”

  There was a silence. Then he got to his feet, his back to her. “No,” he replied in a strong, firm voice. “The pain is gone.”

  She was still concerned, and now less cautious. “You’re sure?”

  Without warning, he whirled around, displaying his vamp face. Savagely, he buried his teeth into her neck before she had time to react.

  Ah, warm, human blood laced with fear. My favorite.

  Exhilarated, he lifted his face to the cold, dark night and exhaled her cigarette smoke.

  And finished off with a dollop of tasty unfiltered tar and nicotine.

  “I feel just fine,” he confided to her corpse.

  CHAPTER 1

  Buffy had snuck into her house a hundred times, on days more brilliant and sunny than this one. She had had such close calls back in Los Angeles they had been the stuff of legend.

  But today was the day her mother had to be waiting for her.

  She was about a third of the way up the stairs before Joyce called out, “Good morning.”

  Busted.

  As her stomach did a flip, she darted back down the stairs like she had absolutely nothing to hide—which, if she thought about it, was a most unnatural attitude to take with her mother, since she had made it a habit to hide just about everything since holding the big ticket in the Slayer lottery. A little breathless, she said, “Good morning.”

  “So, did you have fun last night?” Her mother rounded the corner from the dining room into the front hall.

  Buffy’s eyes widened and she took a step back. Or rather, up, the stair. Don’t retreat. Don’t act weirder than usual.

  “Fun?” she echoed shakily, keeping those windows to the soul as big and round and free of guilt as she could manage.

  Her mom stayed pleasant, which was a good sign she wasn’t noticing Buffy’s discomfort.

  “At Willow’s,” Joyce said.

  “Yes, yes, fun at Willow’s.” Nervously, she looped her hair around her ears. She was no longer wet, but she was definitely rumpled. She kept her eyes wide, her smile innocent. “You know, she’s a fun machine.”

  “You hungry?” The perennial mom question, when all Buffy wanted to do was escape her scrutiny.

  “Not really.” She gestured toward the second floor of their house, where she most desperately wanted to be. “I’m just going to take a shower.”

  “Well, if you hurry, I’ll run you to school.” Her mom smiled again.

  “Thanks,” Buffy said quickly.

  Now Joyce took a closer look. She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest, cocking her head as she studied Buffy.

  “Is something wrong?”

  Go for wide eyes. Go for innocence, Buffy told herself. She doesn’t know. She can’t tell.

  Can she?

  “No,” Buffy assured her. “What would be wrong?”

  “I don’t know. You just look . . .”

  Innocent. I look inn
ocent.

  Her mother shrugged, gave her head a little shake, and walked back into the kitchen.

  Buffy turned and walked back up the stairs, the rip in her sweater the only visible evidence of what had happened last night.

  * * *

  Giles was standing behind the checkout desk when Xander swung into the library. Cordelia was seated fetchingly on top of the counter, a big book on her lap.

  “Well, the bus station was a total washout, and may I say what a lovely place to spend the night,” Xander groused. “What a vibrant cross-section of Americana.”

  “No vampires transporting boxes?” Giles asked.

  “No, but a four-hundred-pound wino offered to wash my hair,” Xander informed him. He turned around and saw Miss Calendar and Willow standing by the book cage. Two very gloomy women. And Cordy makes three.

  Alarm bells went off. “What’s up? Where’s Buffy?”

  Willow said glumly, “She never checked in.”

  Giles looked up from a notebook. “If the bus depot is as empty as the docks and the airport—” He sounded very weary, and very worried.

  “Come on. Do you think this Judge guy’s already been assembled?” Xander asked.

  “Yes.” Defeated, Giles capped his pen.

  “Then Buffy could be . . .” Can’t go there, Xander thought. Won’t go there. “We’ve got to find them.” Don’t panic. How can I not panic? This is Buffy. Okay, where did she and Angel say they were going? She had the dream about the party. Giles got all dissy that she didn’t have a plan, which she did, and then they split.

  To the factory!

  “We’ve got to go to that place, that factory. That’s where they’re holed up, right?” He turned to Willow and Miss Calendar. “Let’s go.”

  Cordelia gazed at him in bewilderment. “And do what? Besides be afraid and die?”

  “Nobody’s asking you to go, Cordelia,” Xander retorted. “If the vampires need grooming tips, we’ll give you a call.”

  She lowered her eyes as if she were ashamed.

  Yeah. As if.

  Giles spoke up. “Cordelia has a point. If Buffy and Angel were . . . harmed, we don’t stand to fare much better.”

  Xander was too pumped to even consider what Giles was saying. Rescue was the only thing on his mind. “Yeah, well those of us who were born with feelings are going to do something about this.”

  Miss Calendar reproved him. “Xander.”

  “No. Xander’s right,” Willow blurted. “My God! You people are all . . . well, I’m upset and I can’t think of a mean word right now, but that’s what you are and we’re going to the factory!” She led the way.

  “Yeah,” Xander added, trailing behind her.

  At that moment, Buffy walked through the library’s double doors.

  “Buffy!” Willow cried.

  Thank God. Xander told her, “We were just going to rescue you.”

  “Well some of us were.” Willow looked pointedly at Giles.

  “I would have.” He sounded defensive.

  Miss Calendar walked up beside Willow. “Where’s Angel?”

  Buffy looked stricken. She turned to Giles. “He didn’t check in with you guys?”

  “No,” Giles told her.

  Cordelia slid off the counter. “What happened?”

  Giles took a breath. “The Judge . . . is he?”

  “No assembly required,” Buffy confirmed wearily. “He’s active.”

  “Damnit.” Giles pulled off his glasses.

  Buffy continued, “He nearly killed us. Angel got us out.”

  “Why didn’t you call?” Giles asked more gently. Like a worried dad. “We thought—”

  “Well, uh, we had to hide,” Buffy said to the group. “We got stuck in the sewer tunnels, and with the hiding, we split up—and no one’s heard from him?” Her voice was little-girl-lost, and as much as Xander was jealous of Dead Boy, he felt for her.

  Willow came forward and said soothingly, “I’m sure he’ll come by.”

  “Yeah. I’m sure you’re right.” Buffy sounded not at all convinced.

  “Buffy, the Judge.” Giles hesitated, like he didn’t want to sound callous. “We must stop him.”

  “I know.” She went right into Slayer mode. Man, she’s cool.

  “What can you tell us?” Giles asked, all ears.

  “Not much,” she admitted. “I just kicked him, and it was like a sudden fever.” I didn’t tell Angel that. He assumed I wasn’t affected. That was why I was so woozy when we got to his place. “If he got his hands on me . . .”

  “In time he won’t need to,” Giles said anxiously. “The stronger he gets, he’ll be able to reduce us to charcoal with a look.”

  “Also?” Buffy added. “Not the prettiest man in town.”

  Giles sighed in frustration “I’m going to continue researching, look for a weak spot. The rest of you should get to your classes.”

  “I better go, too,” Miss Calendar said, moving toward the door. “I’ll go on the Net and search for anything on the Judge.”

  “Thank you,” Giles said sincerely.

  Xander paused at the door. “After classes, I’ll come back and help you research.”

  Cordelia began to sweep by him, then stopped for one last arrow. “Yeah, you might find something useful . . . if it’s in an I-Can-Read book.” She patted his chest.

  Xander was taken aback. Always with the insults. Then he shrugged it off and went on his way. The Judge could definitely do a lot more harm than Cordy.

  Willow walked with Buffy down the corridor as students bustled around them. She asked, “You don’t think Angel would have gone after the Judge himself, do you?”

  “No. He’d know better than that. Maybe he just needed . . . I don’t know.” I can’t tell her I slept with him, Buffy thought. I can’t tell anyone. What would they think? What is he thinking? Where is he? “I just wish he’d contact me. I need to talk to him.”

  They went up the stairs, unaware that Miss Calendar lingered behind them, listening and unconsciously tapping her fingers against her mug of herbal tea, deep in thought.

  * * *

  In the factory, Dru was reclining on a long shelf, dreaming, smiling, moaning with pleasure.

  “Are we feeling better, then?” Spike asked her.

  She sighed and put her hand to her forehead. “I’m naming all the stars.”

  “You can’t see the stars, love,” he said, trying to sound patient. She knew her Spike. He’s so . . . earth-bound sometimes. It comes from being an earth sign “That’s the ceiling,” he went on. “Also, it’s day.”

  She smiled a secret smile. “I can see them. But I’ve named them all the same name, and there’s terrible confusion.” She rolled seductively toward him. “I fear there may be a duel.”

  He leaned his head toward hers. She saw his lovely scars and wanted to reach out and touch them, name them, too.

  “Recovered then, have we? Did you see any further? Do you know what happens to Angel?”

  “Well, he moves to New York and tries to fulfill that Broadway dream,” Angel boomed as he sauntered into the room. Dru raised her head, mesmerized, delighted. “It’s tough sledding, but one day he’s working in the chorus when the big star twists his ankle.”

  Oh, blimey, Dru thought. He’s here, my Angel. My dear sire, who let me make Spike for a playmate. And then, perhaps, he got a bit jealous before he turned into such a little “angel.” Oh, but they were like two great stags when we ran together, two bucks, just knocking horns constantly. They were both so macho.

  I so adored it.

  Then we lost Angel to goodness and good deeds. Despite all their rivalry, Spike was more disappointed than I. He really looked up to Angelus, tried to copy his barbarity. Never quite managed it.

  No one could ever compare to Angelus for barbarity. It was his passion.

  Rather, one of them . . .

  Spike said in his wonderful cold, deadly voice, “You don’t give up, do you?”


  Angel became very grave. “As long as there is injustice in this world, as scum like you is walking—or well, rolling,” he laughed, “the streets, I’ll be around. Look over your shoulder. I’ll be there.”

  “Yeah, uh, Angel. Look over your shoulder.”

  The Judge was the one doing the touching. He splayed his hand over Angel’s chest. Dru looked on, fascinated, thrilled, getting on her hands and knees like a lioness.

  “Hurts, doesn’t it?” Spike taunted.

  “Well, you know, it kind of itches a little,” Angel tossed off, wincing. But nothing else happened. Dru kept waiting for the immolation, recalling nights of cheering on fireworks displays with just the same amount of anticipation.

  Her Spike was angry. “Don’t just stand there. Burn him!”

  Angel made a face. He was obviously enjoying himself. “Gee, maybe he’s broken.”

  “What the hell is going on?” Spike demanded.

  Dru got it. She knew.

  “This one cannot be burned. He is clean,” the Judge said, vaguely disappointed.

  “Clean? You mean he’s—” Spike said, slowly coming along to the notion.

  “There is no humanity in him.” The Judge turned away, losing interest.

  Angel preened. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

  “Angel,” Dru breathed, awash in delirious joy.

  Angel grinned at her. Looked deep into her eyes with a sinister, wonderful gleam. They were connecting right here, and right now, and she could barely contain herself.

  “Yeah, baby,” he said, “I’m back.”

  CHAPTER 2

  Angelus—for that was his original name, after all, and who he really was now—so loved the looks of astonishment on the faces of Dru and Spike. They’re almost speechless. They really don’t know what to think.

  “It’s really true?” Spike asked, all jazzed up like a kid who’s just seen Santa . . . lying in the gutter with two holes in his neck.

  Angelus preened. “It’s really true.”

 
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