The angel chronicles vol.., p.8
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       The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 3, p.8
 

           Nancy Holder
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  “Forget about that. I’ve got something to show you.” He gestured toward the closed doors behind him with his shoulder.

  “Show us?” Willow sounded as puzzled as Xander.

  “Yes. Xander, go get the others.”

  Xander moved into action. “Okay.”

  He took off.

  “And Willow, come here,” Angel said.

  Willow walked toward him. “What is it, Angel?”

  “It’s amazing,” he promised.

  Willow kept walking.

  * * *

  Further down the corridor, beyond the set of doors, a strange feeling passed through Xander. Something’s not right.

  He turned, frowned, and started back toward where he had left Willow with Angel.

  * * *

  Willow had almost reached Angel.

  “Willow, get away from him.” It was Miss Calendar.

  “What?” Willow faced her. The dark-haired teacher was holding a large wooden cross.

  “Walk to me,” she said firmly.

  Willow didn’t get it. Hesitating in midstep, she said, “What are you talking about?”

  Then Angel growled and grabbed her up, one hand around her neck, the other clenching her shoulder. She struggled, completely freaked, as he practically choked the breath out of her.

  Xander ran through the doors and skidded to a stop beside Miss Calendar.

  “Don’t do that!” he shouted.

  “Oh, I think I do that,” Angel said viciously.

  Willow looked up at him. He was in full vamp face, his eyes glowing golden. “Angel . . .” she pleaded.

  “He’s not Angel anymore. Are you?” Miss Calendar asked in a cold, hard voice.

  “Wrong. I am Angel.” Even his voice was different— mean, savage. “At last.”

  “Oh, my God,” Xander breathed, getting it.

  “I’ve got a message for Buffy,” Angel continued, squeezing harder.

  “Then why don’t you give it to me yourself?”

  Angel pulled Willow with him as he whirled around to face Buffy, who looked hard and fierce and thoroughly ready to kill him if he didn’t let go of Willow. Willow allowed herself to hope that she was going to live through this. But Angel was gripping her really, really hard.

  “Well, it’s not really the kind of message you tell,” Angel informed Buffy. “It sort of involves finding the bodies of all your friends.” He gave Willow another hard squeeze. She cried out hoarsely, terrified.

  * * *

  Buffy was trying to be strong, but she was shaking. Angel was inches away from strangling Willow right in front of her.

  “This can’t be you,” she said, staring at the wild creature who was menacing her friend.

  “We’ve already covered that subject,” he flung at her.

  She couldn’t keep the pain from her face and her voice as she fought to get through to him. “Angel, there must be some part of you inside that still remembers who you are.” Please, Angel. Please, stop this.

  “Dream on, schoolgirl,” he sneered. “Your boyfriend is dead. You’re all gonna join him.”

  Behind Angel, Xander took the cross from Miss Calendar and began advancing on the vampire.

  “Leave Willow alone and deal with me,” Buffy ordered Angel.

  “But she’s so cute.” He pinched Willow’s cheek. Willow gasped. “And helpless.” His tone grew husky, insinuating. His claddagh ring caught the glint of the light, and Buffy was almost sick. “It’s really a turn-on.”

  Xander made his move. He darted around Angel’s right and shoved the cross in Angel’s face. Angel roared with fury and flung Willow at Xander. They both slammed into the wall and collapsed to the floor.

  Furious, Angel advanced on Buffy, grabbing her, looming over her. He brought his face close to hers and whispered, “Things are about to get very interesting.”

  Then he kissed her hard, a kiss filled with contempt and loathing, then threw her away from himself. Buffy hit the floor as her back smacked the wall. In shock, she stared while Angel backed through the exit doors, obviously savoring his handiwork, and left.

  Xander and Willow ran to her. “Buffy,” Xander demanded urgently, “are you okay?”

  She made no answer. She only kept staring.

  Xander tried again. “Buffy?”

  She couldn’t speak.

  CHAPTER 3

  After Angel split, everyone convened in the library. Giles paced around the study desk as Miss Calendar looked on. Buffy and the others were seated at the table, staring down, miserable and afraid. Buffy felt very far away. She could hardly concentrate on what they were saying.

  “And we’re absolutely certain that Angel has reverted to his former self?” Giles queried.

  “Yeah, we’re all certain. Anybody not feeling certain here?” Xander asked very seriously.

  “Giles, you wouldn’t have believed him. He was so . . .” Willow took a breath as it all sank in. “He came here to kill us.”

  Cordelia grimaced at Willow. “What are we going to do?”

  “I’m leaning toward blind panic, myself,” Giles muttered.

  Miss Calendar frowned at him. “Rupert, don’t talk like that. The kids.”

  “I’m sorry.” He struggled to compose himself and rubbed his forehead. “It’s just, things are bad enough with the Judge here. Angel crossing over to the other side . . . I just wasn’t prepared for that.”

  Miss Calendar murmured, “None of us were.”

  Buffy held her claddagh ring and slowly turned it in her hand. Across the table, Willow rose and came over to her.

  She gently asked, “Are you okay?”

  Buffy shook her head.

  “Is there anything I can do?” Willow tried.

  Again Buffy shook her head. “I should have known,” she said mournfully. Tears streaked her face. “I saw him at the house. He was . . . different. The things he said . . .” She couldn’t continue.

  Giles leaned forward, ready to take notes. “What things?”

  Buffy looked away. “It’s private.”

  “But you didn’t know he had turned bad?” Miss Calendar asked her.

  Willow looked from Buffy to the teacher. “How did you?”

  “What?” Miss Calendar said.

  “You knew,” Willow said slowly. “You told me to get away from him.”

  Miss Calendar shrugged. “Well, I saw his face.”

  Giles was still analyzing. “If we only knew how it happened.”

  That caught Buffy’s attention. “What do you mean?” she asked, looking at him as he sat at the table.

  “Well, something set it off,” he explained. “Some event must have triggered his transformation. If anyone would know, Buffy, it should be you.”

  Oh, God. Oh, God, no. Please, no.

  “I don’t,” she blurted. “I—”

  “Well, did anything happen last night that—”

  “Giles, please,” she said, distraught, “I can’t . . .”

  Blindly, she got up and ran out of the room.

  “Buffy, I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to . . . Buffy!” he called after her.

  Willow’s gaze locked on Buffy’s retreating back as she realized what had happened. What had triggered the transformation. She knew.

  “Giles, shut up,” she said levelly, watching Buffy retreat through the swinging doors.

  “This is great.” Cordelia counted their many anti-blessings on her fingers. “There’s an unkillable demon in town; Angel’s joined his team; the Slayer is a basket case. I’d say we’ve hit bottom.”

  “I have a plan,” Xander announced.

  “Oh, no,” she chirped sarcastically. “Here’s a lower place.”

  Xander continued, perching on the desk beside Cor-delia. “I don’t know what’s up with Angel, but I may have a way to deal with this Judge guy.”

  “What do we do?” Willow asked.

  He took a breath. He didn’t want to widen the chasm between them, but as Willow herself
had said, there were more important things to deal with now. He had to be honest, and he had to get everybody to move forward.

  “I think I may need Cordelia for this one.” A look passed between him and Willow, and he knew he had hurt her again. Oh, Will, forgive me someday. “And we’ll need wheels.”

  Cordelia shrugged. “Well, my car is—”

  “It might need to be bigger.” Xander looked again at Willow.

  She was steely-eyed. “No problem. I’ll get Oz. He has a van.”

  That information—and the harsh way she delivered it—was not lost on Xander. It wasn’t that he had a van; it was what they could do inside a van. She was putting him on notice that she was moving on. It felt awful that she felt the need—and, he had to admit, he also felt somewhat jealous—but he had to ignore it for now.

  “Good,” he said to Willow, silently thanking her. “Okay.”

  “Care to let me in on the plan that I’m a part of?” Cordelia asked.

  Xander shook his head. “No.”

  “Why not?” She got out of her chair.

  Willow rolled her eyes at their typical bickering, which was also not lost on Xander. But he said to Cordy, “’Cause if I tell you what it is, you won’t do it. Just meet me at Willow’s in half an hour. And wear something trashy—” He gave her a once-over, “—er.”

  Insulted, Cordelia opened her mouth in protest and followed him out.

  “I’m not sure what we should do about Buffy,” Giles mused.

  Miss Calendar spoke up. “Assuming they don’t attack tonight, I think we should let her be.”

  Willow glanced at Miss Calendar. “I agree.”

  “I can imagine what she’s going through,” Giles said sympathetically.

  “No,” Willow countered, “I don’t think you can.”

  * * *

  I gotta crow . . .

  Angelus was counting coup, telling his story, savoring his victory. Cradling her doll, Miss Edith, Dru hung on every word. “You should have seen her face. It was priceless.”

  He hopped up on the storage table and sat on the shelving. “I’ll never forget it.” In sheer contentment, he crossed his legs at the ankles and sat back.

  “So, you didn’t kill her then?” Spike sounded less than thrilled.

  “Of course not,” Angelus shot back, not loving Spike’s attitude.

  “I know you haven’t been in the game for a while, mate, but we do still kill people. It’s sort of our raison d’être, you know.” He spoke as if he were talking to a moron.

  “You don’t want to kill her, do you,” Dru guessed. She extended her two fingers and rammed them into Miss Edith’s eyes. The doll, gagged, did not appear to mind. “You want to hurt her. Just like you hurt me.” She grinned brilliantly at him.

  “Nobody knows me like you do, Dru,” he said warmly, laying it on thick for Spike’s benefit.

  “She’d better not get in our way,” Spike said firmly, bringing the conversation back to the present.

  Angelus waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it.”

  Spike was giving no quarter. “I do.”

  “Spike.” Angelus flared. He slammed his hand down on a large wooden box. “My boy.” Sent the box sliding down the shelving. “You really don’t get it, do you?” He stood up, gestured toward Spike in his chair, and laughed at the skinny, white-haired vamp. “You tried to kill her and you couldn’t. Look at you. You’re a wreck. She’s stronger than any Slayer you’ve ever faced.”

  He hopped down a step, toward Spike. “Force,” he explained, “won’t get it done. You gotta work from the inside. To kill this girl,” he leaned forward in delicious anticipation, “you have to love her.”

  * * *

  Buffy moved quietly into her room and shut the door. She walked to her dressing table, tears still welling, as she touched the silver cross Angel had given her when they had first met. It had become a cherished gift. Now it was a source of protection.

  From him.

  Trembling, she let go of it, walking away, blinking back the tears, twisting her ring.

  She looked down.

  It was the ring he had given her.

  The tears started spilling down her cheeks as she slipped it from her finger; by the time it was off, the tears were streaming down her face. She carried the claddagh ring to the bed and lay on her coverlet, her resolve crumbling, grief-stricken. She sobbed into her pillow, more alone than she had ever been in her entire life.

  * * *

  The crimson sheets undulated; silk and satin, smooth, melting like warm candle wax. Angel’s hand stroked Buffy’s hair, his lips trailed along her skin, his lips found her closed eyes, the side of her nose, her earlobe.

  Her fingertips traced his tattoo; her ring glinted against his flesh; his ring gleamed as he rang a finger down her chin. Their sighs mingled, their moans deep with longing. Muscles tightening, hearts pounded . . . the fires of their passion rose, and yet he was so gentle for her, so careful for her.

  Angel, oh, my Angel . . .

  “I love you,” he whispered.

  Then Angelus the demon roared at her—

  And walked toward her in a daylit cemetery, where she stood with other mourners before an open grave.

  Angel looked straight at her and said, “You have to know what to see.”

  Bewildered, she looked at him, then slowly swung her gaze to the veiled woman beside her. Dressed all in black, Jenny Calendar pulled her veil over her head and stared with sad eyes at the grave.

  Buffy opened her eyes.

  She had been dreaming.

  And this dream meant something.

  * * *

  She was dressed in black. She was on a mission.

  Buffy marched to Sunnydale High, completely ignoring the students milling around her. Without missing a beat, she strode into the main building, down the corridor, and into Miss Calendar’s computer science classroom.

  Students were taking their seats. The teacher was chatting softly with Giles. Buffy brushed past her Watcher, as he said, in mild surprise, “Buffy . . .”

  In one swift motion, she grabbed Miss Calendar around the neck and slammed her back onto the desk. Pencils and diskettes flew everywhere.

  “Buffy!” Giles cried, grabbing at her arm. Buffy completely ignored him, a calm, deadly purpose in her eyes as she glared at Miss Calendar.

  “What do you know?”

  As the students looked on in shock, one of them took off his earphones, half-rising as he called out, “Should I get the principal?”

  Giles glanced at him. “No. I’ll handle this.”

  Buffy let go of Miss Calendar, allowing her up as she backed away, but pinned her with an unrelenting stare.

  “You’re all dismissed,” Giles said to the class.

  As the kids filed out, Buffy never took her eyes off Miss Calendar. “Did you do it? Did you change him?”

  Miss Calendar was catching her breath, and did not speak.

  “For God’s sake, calm down,” Giles ordered Buffy.

  She ignored him. “Did you know what was going to happen?”

  “Buffy, you can’t just go accusing people around you of—”

  “I didn’t know . . . exactly,” Miss Calendar said.

  That caught Giles’s attention. He stood stunned beside Buffy, who waited for Miss Calendar to spill the rest of it.

  Miss Calendar looked to Giles first, maybe because she couldn’t face Buffy.

  “I was told . . .” Then she ticked her glance at Buffy and looked away, murmuring, “Oh, God,” under her breath.

  Buffy didn’t let up.

  Miss Calendar took a deep breath and met Buffy’s eyes. “I was sent here to watch you. They told me to keep you and Angel apart.” She rushed on, shaking her head slightly, “They never told me what would happen.”

  Giles was stunned. “Jenny—”

  “I’m sorry, Rupert.” She looked down again, as if she didn’t quite believe what she said next. “Angel was supposed t
o pay for what he did to my people.”

  “And me?” Buffy demanded. “What was I supposed to be paying for?”

  Guilt splashed across Miss Calendar’s features. “I didn’t know what would happen until after. I swear I would have told you.”

  The two women were silent for a moment. A silent understanding passed between them.

  “So it was me,” Buffy whispered. “I did it.”

  “I think so,” the teacher said sadly. “I mean, if you—”

  Giles stepped forward. “I don’t understand.”

  “The curse,” Miss Calendar said to him, rising. “If Angel achieved true happiness, even just a moment of it,” she glanced at Buffy, “he would lose his soul.”

  “But how do you know you were responsible?” Giles asked Buffy.

  Buffy glanced up at him. Something in her look must have communicated itself to him. “Oh.” Looking uncomfortable in the extreme, he took off his glasses. Buffy was humiliated.

  Miss Calendar began, “If there’s anything—”

  “Curse him again,” Buffy said at once.

  The teacher shook her head. “No. I can’t. Those magicks are long lost, even to my people.”

  Buffy didn’t believe her. “You did it once. It might not be too late to save him.”

  “It can’t be done,” Miss Calendar repeated. “I can’t help you.”

  Without hesitation, Buffy said, “Then take me to someone who can.”

  * * *

  The smoke from Enyos’s pipe wreathed his head as the door to his flat opened. He smiled grimly. He had been waiting for Janna and the young Slayer to arrive.

  “I knew she would bring you. I suppose you want answers,” he said.

  “Not really.”

  Enyos the Gypsy jumped to his feet and whirled around.

  The evil one, Angelus, stood before him in all his vile glory.

  “But thanks for the offer,” the vampire said.

  * * *

  Oz’s van was in the shop, so they had had to wait until tonight to implement Xander’s plan. The tension had mounted all day, and finally, they deployed.

  It was a dark and stormy night. Oz’s van pulled up to the curb just outside the armory. Willow was in front across from Oz. Xander, in casual clothes and a corduroy jacket, sat in the back next to Cordelia.

  Xander said to Willow and Oz, “Wait here. When you guys see that window open, get out the ladder, come up, and we’ll pass you the package. Okay?”

 
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