The angel chronicles vol.., p.9
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       The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 3, p.9

           Nancy Holder
 
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  “Okay,” Oz said calmly.

  “Be careful,” Willow added.

  Xander and Cordelia got out. In her vision of trashier, she wore a metallic headband, large, loud earrings, and a silvery jacket. Also, nice, tight black pants and black gloves, which Xander found kinda kinky.

  Xander cut a swath in the chain-link fence that bordered the street. He pulled it back and ducked under easily. Cordelia followed after.

  “Security here is really a joke. I really should report it.”

  “Who am I supposed to be again?” Cordelia asked nervously.

  “You’re supposed to be a girl. Think you can handle it?”

  She smacked him.

  “Halt!” someone ordered. Xander and Cordy froze and raised their arms. “Identify yourself right the hell now.”

  Xander tried not to stammer. “Private Harris, with the, uh, Thirty-third.”

  “Thirty-third is on maneuvers,” the guard said suspiciously.

  Uh-oh. “Right. I’m on leave.” He and Cordy turned around. “From them.” The guard had on cammies and rain gear, and his rifle was pointed straight up in the air.

  “You always spend your leave snooping around the armory, buddy?” The guy was trying to sound tough. He was good at it. “And who is she?”

  “Hi. I’m not a soldier,” Cordelia said brightly. She looked at Xander. “Right?”

  Xander walked up to the guy, a little more up close and personal. “Look, I just want to give her the tour. You know what I’m saying?”

  The soldier wasn’t getting it. “The tour?”

  Xander moved into man-to-man mode. “Well, you know the ladies. They love to see the big guns. Gets ’em all hot and bothered. Can you cut me some slack, give me a blind eye?”

  “And why should I?” tough guy asked.

  “Well, if you do, I won’t tell Colonel Newsome that your shoes ain’t regulation, your post wasn’t covered, and you hold your gun like a sissy girl.”

  While he was talking, Xander grabbed his rifle and thrust it into the guy’s hands the way he was supposed to hold it, across his chest.

  The threat worked. The guard said, “You got twenty minutes, nimrod.”

  “I just need five,” Xander assured him. Then he thought better of that. “Uh, forget I said that last part.”

  He opened the brown door marked Secured Area for Cordelia.

  On the other side, they wandered in dim light among dozens of weapons of all shapes and sizes.

  “Okay, what was that?” Cordelia asked. “And who are you?”

  Xander closed and locked the door. “Remember Halloween? I got turned into a soldier?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Well, I still remember all of it. I know procedure, ordnance, access codes, everything. I know the whole layout for this base and I’m pretty sure I can put together an M16 in fifty-seven seconds.”

  “Well, I’m sort of impressed,” she conceded, smiling. “But let’s just find the thing and get out of here.”

  “Okay.”

  She sat on a crate. “So looking at guns makes girls want to have sex? That’s scary.”

  “Yeah, I guess.” Xander scrutinized the supplies.

  “Well, does looking at guns make you want to have sex?”

  “I’m seventeen,” he said flatly. “Looking at linoleum makes me want to have sex.”

  * * *

  Willow was anxious. “I wish they’d hurry.”

  Oz was curious. “So, do you guys steal weapons from the army a lot?”

  “Well, we don’t have cable, so we have to make our own fun, “she told him.

  “I get you.” He smiled faintly.

  Suddenly, she blurted, “Do you want to make out with me?”

  “What?” He was a bit taken aback.

  “Forget it. I’m sorry.” She looked away, embarrassed. Then she looked back at him. “Well, do you?”

  He thought about his answer. Then he said, “Sometimes when I’m sitting in class, you know, I’m not thinking about class, ’cause that would never happen. I think about kissing you and then it’s like, everything stops. It’s like, freeze frame. Willow kissage.”

  She glowed.

  “Oh, I’m not going to kiss you,” he added.

  “What? But freeze frame—” she protested.

  “Well, to the casual observer, it would appear you want to make your friend Xander jealous. Or even the score, or something. That’s on the empty side. See, in my fantasy, when I’m kissing you, you’re kissing me.”

  He paused. “It’s okay. I can wait.” She looked charmed, with her fuzzy-collar coat and her sweet little dangling earrings, and he was glad. All he had wanted was to be honest, but this girl was worth a lot of effort. If in addition, she found something else to like about him, that was on the plus side.

  “We’re up,” he told her, as the window opened.

  * * *

  Miss Calendar led the way into her uncle’s room, followed by Buffy, and then Giles.

  Miss Calendar saw the body first, and gasped, “Oh, my God.”

  Buffy stared, and Giles almost lost it. His hand hovered near his mouth.

  Then they saw the message on the wall, written in blood, and in Angelus’s handwriting: Was it good for you too?

  “He’s doing this deliberately, Buffy. He’s trying to make it harder for you.” Giles said, obviously trying to soothe her.

  She kept her eyes fixed on the words. On the cruelty. “He’s only making it easier. I know what I have to do.”

  Giles looked at her. “What?”

  “Kill him,” she said simply.

  CHAPTER 4

  At the factory, the Judge was all duded up in a coarse brown robe. Angelus wished he’d thought to buy the big guy a corsage.

  “I am ready,” the demon intoned.

  “ ’Bout time,” Spike grumbled.

  Dru sat on his lap and made sorry-you-can’t-come little moans as she tenderly kissed him goodbye. He sat stoically, “Have a good time.”

  “Too bad you can’t come with,” Angelus whispered in his ear. He patted his arm. “We’ll be thinking of you.”

  “I won’t be in this chair forever.” It was a bit of threat. Angelus repaid him for it by lifting Dru’s hand away from Spike’s face and possessively grasping it.

  Spike attempted a tit-for-tat, which Angelus found less than impressive. “What happens if your girlfriend shows up?”

  “I’m going to give her a kiss,” Angelus said breezily.

  He came up next to the Judge, while Dru looked over her shoulder at Spike.

  “Don’t you look spiffy,” Angelus said merrily.

  The Judge muttered, “Spiffy?”

  * * *

  In Giles’s office, Xander and Oz deposited an oblong wooden crate on his desk. Back in the library, Cordelia and Willow were loading weapons into a gym bag.

  “Happy Birthday, Buffy,” Xander said. “I hope you like the color.”

  Buffy stepped forward, observing while Giles took a crowbar to the lid.

  “Giles, we’ll hit the factory first, but we may not find them. If they’re on the offensive, we need to figure out where they’ll go,” Buffy strategized. Adrenaline was coursing through her. She was ready to fight.

  “Agreed,” Giles said, prying open the lid. He threw it back.

  Buffy gazed at the contents. “This is good.”

  Hovering in the doorway, Miss Calendar took an uncertain step forward. “Do you . . .” she asked tentatively, “is there something I can do to—”

  Buffy didn’t even look at her. All she said was, “Get out.”

  Giles looked across the room at the teacher, as she said softly, “I just want to help.”

  Giles looked down slightly, then turned his back. “She said get out.” No joy there, no anger. Just siding with his Slayer, that was all. But Buffy scrutinized him, both touched and saddened that he had been forced to pick sides. That any of this had happened.

  Miss Calendar wit
hdrew. Xander approached, and asked Buffy, “Do you want me to show you how to use it?”

  “Yes, I do.” She was all business, and no heart. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a heart again.

  I hope not.

  * * *

  Then they went to the factory.

  It was deserted, the party favors gone, the high-backed chairs stripped of flowers and vines.

  “I knew it,” Buffy huffed in frustration.

  Giles looked around. “And we haven’t a bead on where they would go?”

  “I don’t know,” she answered.

  No one noticed the vampire in the wheelchair, lurking in the shadows, and Spike was determined to keep it that way.

  “Somewhere crowded, I guess. I mean, the Judge needs bodies, right?” She joined Xander, Cordy, and Willow, preparing to go.

  “The Bronze?” Willow suggested.

  “It’s closed tonight,” Xander told her.

  “There’s not a lot of choices in Sunnydale,” Cordelia pointed out. “It’s not like people are going to line up to get massacred.”

  Oz spoke up. “Uh, guys? If I were going to line up, I know where I’d go.”

  * * *

  The Sunnydale Mall.

  More specifically, the mall multiplex.

  And here they are, Angelus thought, very pleased as he, Dru, and their minions escorted the Judge to the upper level. All the walking, talking battery chargers my Eveready guy needs.

  As if on cue, an oblivious businessman carrying a briefcase walked up the stairs, directly into the Judge’s line of fire. The Judge stretched out his left hand, shooting energy at the man. The man began to burn, just as Dalton had. Fire blazed from his eye sockets, and then the flames flared out from inside his body. Within seconds, he was entirely consumed.

  Satisfied, Angelus said to his minions, “Lock the exits, boys.” And to the Judge, “It’s all yours.”

  The Judge looked pretty darn happy about that.

  * * *

  The elevator doors opened, and Buffy led the way. Giles came up behind her, the oblong box on his shoulder.

  “Everybody keep back. Damage control only,” she ordered, as they marched down the mall. “Take out any lesser vamps if you can. I’ll handle the Smurf.”

  * * *

  The Judge took up position on the stairway, flanked by Angelus and the lovely Dru. Not so surprisingly—to Angelus, anyway, because he had lived among the cattle—the shoppers continued on their way, no one having noticed the annihilation of the businessman. Ants, Angelus thought derisively, half-witted blood bags.

  The Judge opened wide his arms. Fiery pulses emanated from him, connecting to the humans closest to him, then shooting directly through them to others, and to others. It was a connect-the-dots web of energy. The Judge was loving it. Angelus was loving that he loved it.

  Dru bounced on her heels and cooed, “Oh, goody.”

  Then someone shot an arrow directly into the Judge’s chest. He winced, stumbling backward, which turned off his power. The people he had attacked staggered and gasped, but for the most part, were alive.

  He pulled the arrow from his chest, breaking it off in the process.

  “Who dares?” he bellowed.

  Angelus turned, his eyes wide.

  * * *

  Buffy kept her position on top of the popcorn machine. She was about fifty yards away from the Judge, who was standing at the top of a double set of stairs. As Buffy had expected, Angelus and Dru were with him.

  “I think I got his attention,” she said with grim satisfaction.

  The Judge addressed her directly. “You are a fool. No weapon forged can stop me.”

  “That was then.” She handed Xander the crossbow. “This is now.”

  She took the rocket launcher from Giles.

  She put it on her shoulder, and aimed. It made a whining noise as it armed itself. The shoppers started screaming and scattering.

  She flicked the switch, took aim.

  Across the building, Angelus looked at Dru, and she at him. They both knew what was up.

  Hurtling themselves forward, they abandoned the Judge, who asked, with mild curiosity and a touch of concern, “What’s that do?”

  Angelus and Dru leaped over the stairway balcony as Buffy pulled the trigger. The package screamed straight for the Judge, made impact, and blew him to bits. His vampire companions were thrown forward by the blast. Drusilla and Angelus both landed hard, as tiny fragments of the Judge rained down on them like a scattershot of rock.

  Angelus got to his feet and disappeared. Dru was left behind, completely wigging out, scurrying away in a paroxysm of whimpering. Her henchmen trailed after her.

  Buffy took a moment to register the kill as smoke from the blast billowed toward the ceiling. The others peeked from behind the concession stand.

  “My best present ever,” she said to Xander, handing him the rocket launcher.

  Xander took it from her. “Knew you’d like it.”

  “Do you think he’s dead?” Willow asked.

  “We can’t be sure,” Buffy answered. “Pick up the pieces. Keep them separate.”

  The others moved to obey. But Cordelia grumbled, “Pieces? We’re getting pieces? Our job sucks!”

  Buffy ignored her. Her job was not finished.

  It had barely begun.

  * * *

  Angelus ran.

  Then he saw the Slayer staring after him, and ran faster. He threw people out of his way in an effort to get the hell out of there.

  Buffy jumped off the popcorn machine in hot pursuit.

  Meanwhile, the burning debris of the Judge created a lot of smoke. The smoke set off the overhead sprinklers. Soon the interior of the mall was soaking with water with more cascading down.

  Then there she was, confined in a cul-de-sac containing a pastry counter and little else, searching for him. Angelus seized the advantage and attacked her from behind. She went down, and he thought, Maybe this will be easier than I expected.

  “You know what the worst part was?” he asked roughly, glaring at her through the sprinkler downpour as she got to her knees and faced him. “Pretending that I loved you. If I’d known how easily you’d give it up, I would-n’t have even bothered.”

  She got to her feet and gave him that sad, mad look of hers. He knew she was fury in a bottle. Oh, I know this Slayer, inside and out.

  “That doesn’t work anymore,” she said coldly. “You’re not Angel.”

  “You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? Doesn’t matter.” He grinned at her, savoring her pain. “The important thing is, you made me the man I am today.”

  That got her. She kicked him in the face, then punched his arm. He did her one better and belted her in the face, then the stomach, grabbing her head and whirling around, laying her out with a sharp side kick to the head.

  She went down again.

  * * *

  They were picking up the pieces, the Scoobs, when Oz stopped, raised his hand, and pointed at quite a large part, not quite daring to touch it.

  “Uh, arm,” he announced.

  * * *

  In the mall cul-de-sac, Angelus was gaining the upper hand. As Buffy leaped to her feet, he picked her up over his shoulder and flung her back down to the floor. She sprang back up, but he blocked her blow and got in a sharp undercut to her chin, whipping back her head. Then a left, and then a right.

  And then she was down again.

  “Not quitting on me already, are you?” he said, reveling in the fear on her face. Those enormous eyes are so expressive. They tell me everything I need to know. She’s tired, and she’s scared. Just the way I love her best.

  “Come on, Buffy,” he sneered. “You know you want it, huh?”

  The fear galvanized into anger. She flung herself at him, and the kicks and punches came so fast and furious he couldn’t keep count of how many times she’d connected. She used him like a punching bag, and then she dragged him forward, ramming his head through a glas
s case, then back up through the glass top. She pummeled him. A front kick, a roundhouse. He was thrown backward and landed on the floor.

  When he jumped up, she had a stake in her hand.

  They looked at each other.

  He saw her waver. Her face was a study in pain.

  He smiled as she lowered her arm.

  “You can’t do it,” he said triumphantly. “You can’t kill me.”

  Her pain hardened into anger. Before he realized what she was doing, she kicked him with all her Slayer’s strength right between the legs.

  He groaned and doubled over, mouth open in a silent scream of pain. He couldn’t make another sound as he gagged and fell to his knees.

  Buffy turned her back and walked away in the water-sprinkler rain.

  She said, almost too softly for him to hear, “Give me time.”

  * * *

  Giles drove her home. They sat in front of her house in his Citröen, and she was so ashamed she couldn’t even look at him.

  She could feel him looking at her, but she stared straight ahead. He turned off the rattling motor and said, not without kindness, “It’s not over. I suppose you know that.”

  She nodded slightly, and looked down.

  “He’ll come after you, particularly. His profile—well, he’s likely to strike out at the things that made him the most human.”

  In a hoarse, tight voice, she rasped, “You must be so disappointed in me.” Finally, she looked at him.

  “No. No, I’m not,” he said sincerely.

  “But this is all my fault.” Tears welled. Giles, I’m so miserable, she wanted to say. I almost wish I’d died.

  He turned in his seat and shook his head. “I don’t believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you you acted rashly? You did, and I can.”

  She looked down, preparing herself for words that she knew would hurt.

  “But I know that you loved him, and he has proven more than once that he loved you.”

  She glanced back at him, hungry for forgiveness, starving for his gentle words of comfort. “You couldn’t have known what would happen. The coming months are going to be hard, I suspect, on all of us. But if it’s guilt you’re looking for, Buffy, I’m not your man. All you will get from me is my support and my respect.”

 
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