The angel chronicles vol.., p.7
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       The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 3, p.7
 

           Nancy Holder
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  Dru crouched. Her eyes were shining, her teeth glittered. Every movement invited him, welcomed him. Yeah, I’ll be there, Angelus thought lustfully. Asap.

  “You’ve come home,” she cooed.

  “No more of this ‘I’ve got a soul’ crap?” Spike pressed, as if he was still not sure about this new deal. As if the emperor’s clothes might just fall off.

  Dru would like that, wouldn’t you, baby?

  “What can I say?” Angelus said, taking out a match and running it down the length of the tabletop. “I was going through a phase.” He lit a cigarette and put it in his mouth.

  “This is great!” Spike cried. “This is so great.”

  Dru tottered along the length of the table like a tightrope walker.

  “Everything in my head is singing,” she rejoiced. Dreamily, she moved her head in a slow circle. Then she darted toward Angelus and extended her hand. He clasped it and helped her off the table, chuckling as she said, “We’re family again. We’ll feed.” At the exact same time, they snapped their jaws at each other.

  “And we’ll play.” She leaned toward Spike and kissed the space between them. I’m still yours, my darling, she thought.

  Mostly.

  Spike chuckled, savoring her attention. “I gotta tell you, it made me sick to my stomach seeing you being the Slayer’s lap dog.”

  Angelus flared with anger, growling, grabbing Spike’s lapels. For an instant or two, his thought was to kill his friend. Then he got control and made a show of kissing his old hunting partner on the forehead.

  Spike burst into high laughter, a bit grating, truth be told. Dru’s amused reaction was more like honey, thick and amber-sweet.

  “How did this happen?” Her eyes shone. She was so very, very happy to have him back.

  And I will be happy to have you, as well, he thought.

  “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I only slept with the enemy, that’s all.

  “Who cares?” Spike crowed. “What matters is now he’s back. Now it’s four against one, which are the kind of odds I like to play.”

  “Pssst.” Dru leaned forward and said to Angelus in a happily guilty, hushed voice, “We’re going to destroy the world. Want to come?”

  Spike laid a possessive hand on her belly. She liked that, put her own hand over it. Angelus took it all in, making up his game board, planning his moves. You don’t get to be the Scourge of Europe unless you stay a few steps ahead of your pawns.

  “Yeah, destroying the world. Great.” He casually examined his cigarette, looked back at their proud, shining little faces. “I’m really more interested in the Slayer.”

  “Well, she’s in the world, so that should work out,” Spike said dryly, with just a soupçon of hostility thrown in to keep things interesting.

  Angelus said, “Give me tonight.”

  “What do you mean?” Spike asked.

  “Lay low for a night.” He flicked his cigarette. “Let me work on her. I guarantee by the time you go public, she won’t be anything resembling a threat.” He grinned in anticipation of the torture he would inflict on Buffy Summers.

  Spike was delighted. Maybe until I said that, he didn’t believe I was really myself again, Angelus guessed.

  “You’ve really got a yen to hurt this girl, haven’t you?”

  “She made me feel like a human being.” Angelus lost his lightheartedness as hatred seethed through him.

  “That’s not the kind of thing you just forgive.”

  Dru glowed at him. Positively glowed.

  * * *

  In the Sunnydale High School library, Willow was on the phone with Buffy. And Buffy was wigged.

  “Okay . . . no, he didn’t,” Willow said on her end. “But I’m sure he’ll . . . Buffy, he probably has some plan and he’s trying to protect you. Well, I don’t know what, I’m not in on the plan, it’s his plan. No. Don’t even say that. Angel is not dead.”

  But we can all hope, Xander thought. Whoa, not bitter. And it would break Buffy’s heart if someone dusted Angel.

  Xander looked up from his assigned research book. “Say hi for me.”

  Willow frowned at his extreme tackiness. “Yes, we’ll be here. Of course. Okay. Bye.”

  She hung up and looked askance at her best friend since childhood. “ ‘Say hi for me?’ ”

  Xander let it go by. The I’m-jealous-of-Angel bit was theoretically of the past, especially now that he was making out on a regular basis with a real, live girl. “What’s the word?”

  Willow was worried. “She’s checked every place she could think of. She even beat up Willy the Snitch a couple times. Angel’s vanished.”

  Behind her, Giles said from his office, “But he does do that on occasion, no?”

  “Yeah, but she’s extra wigged this time,” she told him. Then she turned back to Xander. “I guess ’cause of her dreams. God, what if something really happened to him?”

  Xander kept his gaze on his book as Giles asked, “Is she going to join us here?”

  “Yes. She’s just stopping at home first.” Frowning, Willow returned to the big, thick book she was slogging through.

  “Nada,” Xander groused, slamming his book shut. He slid off his stool and went to get another.

  Here she is, Miss Cordelia. The ice queen was in the stacks, reading.

  Xander said, as neutrally as possible, “Did you find anything?”

  “This book mentions the Judge, but nothing useful.” She sounded discouraged. “Big scary, no weapon forged can stop him, took an army to take him down, blah, blah, blah.”

  “We need some insight. A weak spot,” he ventured.

  “Well, we’re not going to find it here.” She shut the book and put it back on the shelf. Then she smoothed back her hair, perhaps not realizing just how incredibly sexy that was.

  Xander came up behind her and she turned around to face him. “I’m sorry I snapped at you before.”

  She grimaced. “Well, I’m reeling from that new experience.”

  “I was crazed. I wasn’t thinking.” And I’m being honest here, Cordy, which is the kind of thing you claim as your own.

  “I know. You were too busy rushing off to die for your beloved Buffy.” She sounded hurt. “You’d never die for me.” There was a question mark on the end of that declarative statement.

  “I might die from you.” He gave her an intimate grin. “Does that get me any points?”

  She blinked. “No.”

  Harsh. “Come on,” he cajoled, just a tad, because as a rule, Cordelia was not cajoleable. “Can’t we just kiss and make up?”

  She closed her eyes. “I don’t want to make up.” She looked very stern, and then grabbed his arm. “But I’m okay with the other part.” And wrinkled her nose.

  They smiled at each other, dropping the feisty thing, and she cupped the side of his face as they kissed. She giggled a little, very softly, and Xander lost himself in the softness of her lips. Ach, du lieber. We’re haben der smoochies. Cordelia, when yielding, was gentle and sweet. Her arm draped over his shoulder, her hand now on the back of his neck—this was a very different Cordy.

  One who needs another kiss from me. And another.

  She smiled at him as they broke apart, both of them grinning.

  And then, Xander realized they were not alone.

  Willow was watching them, and she looked as though he had socked her in the stomach.

  “Willow! We were just—” He chased after her.

  Cordy stayed behind, thinking, Oh, no, it’s out.

  * * *

  Xander dashed after his best buddy, the first girl to see him cry—well, okay, the only girl, when he lost his G.I. Joe—the girl he had nearly drowned when they had bobbed for apples on a long-ago Halloween.

  “Willow, come on!”

  She screeched to a halt beside the trophy case in the main hall and whirled on him. “I knew it! I knew it!” She shook her finger at him. “Well, not ‘knew it’ in the sense of having the sl
ightest idea, but I knew there was something I didn’t know. You two were fighting way too much. It’s not natural.”

  Xander helplessly held out his hands. “I know it’s weird.”

  “Weird? It’s against all the laws of God and man! It’s Cordelia!” Willow was so angry she was sputtering. “Remember the ‘we hate Cordelia club,’ of which you are the treasurer?”

  “I was going to tell you—”

  “Gee, what stopped you? Could it be shame?” she sniped.

  He lowered his voice a half-octave. Things are getting too shrill. Which means our voices may carry. All the way back into the library.

  “All right, let’s overreact, shall we?”

  She gestured angrily. “But I’m—”

  “We were kissing. It doesn’t mean that much.” Which is bizarre, but true. At least, I think it is.

  And then she deflated. Her face filled with pain. “No,” she said miserably. “It just means you’d rather be with someone you hate, than be with me.”

  Her voice cracked on the word, “me.”

  So did Xander’s heart.

  She turned and ran away.

  He thought to run after her and try to make things right.

  But why? It’s true.

  * * *

  Buffy trudged to the front door of her house. She stood and stared at the three rectangles of glass. Her heart pounded. She was numb with fear and dizzying confusion.

  She would not go in. She would not allow herself to be safe when she had no idea if Angel was alive or dead.

  Resolutely, she turned and walked back into the night.

  * * *

  A short time later, she let herself into his apartment. As always, it was muted. The soft lighting gave an antique sheen to the objects in the room—the statue in the case, the chair that reminded her of old movies about New York.

  Then she saw the crimson pillows, the coverlet. The things he had given her to wear, which she had neatly folded and left on his bed.

  His bed.

  Where he . . .

  Where we . . .

  She turned at a noise and saw him shirtless, emerging from behind a screen, in black leather pants, putting on his chain.

  “Angel!” Joyfully, she ran to him and threw her arms around him. It was almost like a dream, she was so glad to see him. It made her feel like she was spinning.

  “Hey,” he said pleasantly.

  “Oh, Angel, oh, God, I was so worried.” Held him so tightly she would never be able to let him go. Alive. He’s okay. He’s okay!

  “Didn’t mean to frighten you.” He gave her a little smile.

  “Where did you go?” Tears of relief streamed down her face.

  “Been around.”

  She hugged him again. Alive. Safe. Thank God. “I was freaking out. You just disappeared,” she reproved him, unable to keep the happiness out of her voice, managing just a touch of possessive lecture mode. Which I get to do now that we’re, um, together.

  “What? I took off,” he said, with a distinct lack of concern.

  “But you didn’t say anything,” she said, puzzled. “You just left.”

  He started putting on a gray silk shirt. He smirked at her and said, “Yeah, like I really wanted to stick around after that.”

  Buffy blinked, as stunned as if he had slapped her. “Wh—what?”

  “You’ve got a lot to learn about men, kiddo. Although I guess you proved that last night.” He made a little face, as if he was embarrassed for her.

  She went completely numb. This can’t be happening. He couldn’t have said what I think he just said.

  “What are you saying?”

  “Let’s not make an issue out of it, okay? In fact, let’s not talk about it at all.” He shrugged. “Hey, it happened.”

  “I don’t understand.” She could barely get the words out. She had come to him in trust. In love. But the way he was acting . . . it was . . .

  “Was it me?” she asked in a small voice. “Was I . . . not good?”

  He laughed heartily. “You were great. Really.” He leered at her. “I thought you were a pro.”

  She clenched her jaw to keep from bursting into tears. Her stomach was clenching. She was shaking.

  “How can you say these things to me?” she asked brokenly.

  “Lighten up. It was a good time.” He rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t mean we have to make a big deal.”

  “It is a big deal!” she cried. “It’s—it’s—”

  “It’s what? Bells ringing? Fireworks?” he mocked. “A dulcet choir of pretty little birdies?” He sniggered. “Come on, Buffy.” He leaned into her, reaching to chuck her under the chin. “It’s not like I’ve never been there before.”

  She took a step back. “Don’t touch me,” she whispered.

  He smirked. “I should have known you wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

  “Angel!” She stared at him, her heart reaching out to him one more time. Unable to capitulate to his cruelty. Unable to accept that it was her boyfriend acting like this. “I love you.”

  “Love ya too,” he drawled. He went to the door, opened it, his back to her. “I’ll call you.” He sauntered out. He didn’t even look over his shoulder at her.

  Staring after him, she trembled with pain and shock.

  In the cold, dark room, the world had just ended.

  * * *

  Jenny sat in the overstuffed armchair in her uncle’s furnished room. She was there to look for answers. Thus far, he was the one asking the questions.

  “Do you know what it is, this thing called vengeance?”

  “Uncle, I have served you,” she said urgently, “I’ve been faithful. I need to know.”

  He ignored her. “To the modern man, vengeance is an idea, a word. Payback. One thing for another, like commerce.” He raised his finger. “Not with us. Vengeance is a living thing. It passes through generations. It commands. It kills.”

  She tried again. I have to make him see, she thought. We need his help.

  “You told me to watch Angel. You told me to keep him from the Slayer. I tried. But there are other factors, there are terrible things happening here that we cannot control.”

  “We control nothing,” he said incredulously. “We are not wizards, Janna. We merely play our part.”

  She looked up at him, willing him to be reasonable, to really listen to her.

  “Angel could be of help to us. He may be the only chance we’ve got to stop the Judge.”

  “It is too late for that.” His lined face was sad as he sat on his narrow bed.

  She was chilled. “Why?”

  “The curse. Angel was meant to suffer. Not to live as human. One moment of true happiness, of contentment . . . one moment where the soul that we restored no longer plagues his thoughts—and that soul is taken from him.”

  “Then somehow if . . . if it’s happened . . .” She lowered her eyes as she processed her thoughts . . . if he has found happiness with Buffy . . . “Then Angelus is back.”

  “I hoped to stop it. But I realize now it was arranged to be so.” His voice was hollow with resignation.

  “Buffy loves him.” It was a plea.

  “And now she will have to kill him.” It was a fact. Jenny jumped to her feet. “Unless he kills her first! Uncle, this is insanity!” She gestured with her hands, unable to believe the way he just sat there, just looked at her. Just let this happen. “People are going to die.”

  “Yes. It is not justice that we serve. It is vengeance.” He said it calmly. She could see there was no dissuading him. The path had been chosen generations ago, and he would not stray from it.

  She exhaled, angry and defeated. “You’re a fool. We’re all fools.”

  She grabbed her purse and left.

  He made no move to stop her.

  * * *

  Xander came out of the bathroom as Willow was walking slowly down the corridor, toward the library.

  “Will!” he called.

  She hu
gged herself and faced him. “Hey,” she said coolly. He inclined his head, accepting the distance she was putting between them.

  “Where did you go?”

  “Home.”

  “I’m glad you came back,” he said honestly. “We can’t do this without you.”

  She didn’t smile. “Let’s get this straight.” Her tone was determined and he could tell she was still angry and hurt. “I don’t understand it. I don’t want to understand it. You have gross emotional problems and things are not okay between us.”

  He accepted that also. He didn’t like it, and it hurt.

  “But what’s happening right now is more important than that,” she finished with resignation.

  “Okay.” Oh Will, he wanted to say, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I never meant for it to happen.

  But she became all business, and the time to speak like that was past. For now, he promised himself. We’ll talk about it later.

  “What about the Judge? Where do we stand?” Willow asked.

  “On a pile of really boring books that say exactly the same thing,” he admitted.

  “Let me guess. ‘No weapon forged . . .’ ”

  “ ‘It took an army . . . ’ ”

  “Huh. Yeah, where’s an army when you need one?” she asked, rather bitterly.

  Xander blinked. Hard. Army?

  “What?” Willow asked.

  “Whoa. Whoa.” His mind was racing. “I think I’m having a thought. Yeah. Yeah, that’s a thought. Now I’m having a plan.” Cool. And possibly—

  The lights in the hallway went out.

  Xander said, “And now I’m having a wiggins.”

  “What’s going on?” Willow asked anxiously.

  He took her arm and they both started down the corridor as Xander said, “Let’s get back to the library.”

  “Willow? Xander?” a voice called softly behind them.

  They turned. The muted silhouette of a tall guy stood beside the illuminated trophy case.

  “Angel,” Xander said, relieved that it was a friend. Sort of a friend.

  “Thank God you’re okay!” Willow cried. “Did you see Buffy?”

  “Yeah.” Angel sounded calm and collected. He looked around. “What’s up with the lights?”

  “I don’t know,” Xander said, gesturing for Angel’s attention. “Listen I have an idea—”

 
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