Chapter Ninety One
A boundless fury surged through Angelus as he gazed at the fossilized demon before him. His rage had been growing unchecked since he’d been informed by the Watchers Council two nights before that they’d lost Cordelia when the slayer had attacked them at the airport. Not that he’d needed them to tell him something was wrong. As soon as he’d felt their bond flare briefly to life he’d known that the watchers’ plans had somehow gone awry.
Those all too short moments when he could feel Cordelia once more had been a double-edged sword. Having her fill him again, knowing that he was filling her had created an ecstasy he hadn’t felt since he’d last been buried deep within her. Unfortunately experiencing that rapture once again only emphasized the terrible emptiness that was constantly clawing at his insides.
There was a sort of hollow joy in threatening the watchers who had delivered his property into his enemy’s hands. Though a part of him feasted on the fear he could feel, even through the phone line, he knew his words were wasted. He had, at his fingertips, the resources of the entire demon population of the Hellmouth; if he couldn’t find his wayward pet it was unlikely that the bumbling group of men who’d lost her to their own slayer would be able to make any headway in her recapture.
His frustration was growing in concert with his outrage as every lead resulted in a dead end. Without the bond to follow he’d been forced to resort to tracking down the large spurts of mystical energies that would surround the casters of such a massive spell. It was a relatively easy concept, and theoretically he should have had Cordelia back before the sun had risen. But in the last forty-eight hours there had been more than a dozen upsurges of magickal power spread out across town. He was fairly certain he had good ol’ Rupert to thank for the overabundance of false leads, and on their next meeting thank him he would.
But even thoughts of bloody retribution were not enough to stave off the pain and longing that were slithering through his mind like twin serpents spitting a poisonous venom at each other that was little by little dissolving his tenuous hold on reason.
Sometimes, when the fog in his head thinned, he wondered if madness was contagious. Lately any being with a modicum of sense avoided being in his presence and in the resulting quiet he could swear that he heard Acathla calling to him; whispering his name, like a siren to a hapless sailor, as Dru had claimed.
The sounds scorched through him like a rain shower of holy water and the longer he was kept from Cordelia the more he was drawn to the petrified demon in her place; and if absolute love were to be denied him he would have nothing less than ultimate hate.
Angelus wasn’t the only vampire searching for the lovely brunette. Slipping silently through the darkened alleys of Sunnydale, Spike was questioning and killing informants as he went; not merely to conceal the proof of his returned mobility, but also to work off some of the roiling temper that had consumed him ever since he’d learned what the slayer’s little gang had done. All their endless struggles to save the world and for once the solution was not only simple but right at their fingertips and they were going to let an entire planet die just to have their own way. Self-righteous pricks.
Worse, he’d seen Angelus skulking around Acathla more and more with a nearly maniacal look on his face. The white hats had made this a contest in the older vampire’s mind and Angelus wasn’t one to settle for second place, no matter the cost, even to himself. Spike knew, with an almost unnatural certainty, that they were all down to the last grains of sand in their collective hourglass.
Chapter Ninety Two
Another scream echoed through the cavernous room, and a malevolent smile cut into Angelus’ face. The relief he felt was so heady that it was almost smothering him in an intoxicating cloud of delight.
His head, formerly laden with desolation, was now brimming with the beautiful agony of Acathla’s vast power.
Another shrill scream pulled him from his thoughts and turned his attention back to the vampire before him. He was rather unfamiliar with the fledgling he faced and bore no personal grudge against him. It was simply the young vampire’s misfortune to be sent by the older, wiser minions to deliver the disappointing message that they’d hit another wall in their search for Cordelia.
His sanity, stretched progressively thinner as the hours without her drug on, had finally given way, unable to withstand the emptiness of the bond interrupted. As the mental dam had broken, the abyss left in its place allowed, near instantaneously, the presence of the sleeping demon to rush in, filling him completely.
In the mood to celebrate his newfound sense of peace he had decided to indulge in a little ‘me time’ and had proceeded to chain his unsuspecting follower to the wall. Having sent for his entire clan, he had nothing but time and a minion to kill and he used them both wisely, entertaining himself by carving breathtaking murals of the upcoming apocalypse into the young demon’s flesh.
Angelus frowned as he realized that his hard won cries had dwindled to muted whimpers which were hardly satisfying to the demented vampire. With a vicious wrench the chains snapped in his hands and, grasping the jagged links, he pulled the barely conscious underling across the room, regretting that his hideously frightening smile was wasted on the pathetic being at his feet. With one modest heave he lifted the flaccid form and flung it into the large, stone fireplace.
Ahh, there were the screams he’d longed for.
Sighing, he took a moment to mourn the loss of such an ornately adorned canvas; but disfiguring vampires generally cursed one’s art to impermanence, and seeing the minion well and blemish free would only serve to remind him of all his hard work lost, so really, it was all for the best.
The noise behind him alerted him that his orders had been carried out. The frightened whimpers of the terrified human being unfortunate enough to have been randomly chosen to be the sacrifice for their little dimension opening filled the room.
“My friends – it’s time.”
Chapter Ninety Three
Spike definitely didn’t like the sound of that. Although he really hadn’t liked the sound of much since Angelus lost the soul that, frankly, the blond was beginning to miss.
As far as he could see the situation was impossible. First, even with the element of surprise that his healed body would provide he would never be able to overwhelm the sheer number of vampiric lemmings that would follow Angelus literally to the end of the earth. Second, even if he could clear out the minions he’d never be able to take on his sire and grandsire. Especially given that, while he was perfectly willing to dust Angelus, he would never be able to seriously hurt Dru. And last on his list of why they were all going to die; if he could somehow manage to eliminate everything that stood between the two of them and face him man to man, figuratively speaking, he knew with utter conviction that he would fail.
Since the last time he’d seen him, Angelus had move past hatred, beyond evil, and now he’d settled into that dark and squalid recess of the mind where madness lived; and somehow, in the brief span of a single day, the zealotry that gripped seemed to make him near invincible.
With a horror that had no place on the face of a master vampire, Spike watched as Angelus reached forward and with the light of the righteous burning in his eyes, recited some ancient gobbledygook, killed the sacrifice, and with the man’s blood on his hand, grasped the sword and –
Spike forced his muscles to relax enough to allow him to pry one eye open.
His first thought was that hell looked an awful lot like Sunnydale. That didn’t actually surprise him all that much, but he honestly didn’t believe that even evil was evil enough to leave him to suffer in the same hell he’d been living in for months, so he disregarded that theory.
His next guess was that hell was so truly hideous, like infomercials for spray on hair or a Barry Manilow concert, that his mind had literally shut down to allow him a brief respite from the new and torturous reality. But as the seconds became minutes he realized that something had gone wrong…or right, depending on how many of your marbles you still had.
Although, seeing Angelus’ expression in the face of his failure he began to wonder if they might not have been better off being sucked into hell. It wasn’t the wild look of minutes before; rather it was the calm and serene conviction that only fanatics can ever truly know.
“Well, I can’t say that this isn’t disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world. Of course, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Well, you know what they say – ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself.’ ‘Cause while there may be no I in ‘team’, there’s definitely one in ‘kill’.”
The words were not the acceptance of failure Spike was hoping for, and as Angelus continued he questioned whether things were going from bad to worse. Or, as was more common in his life, from immeasurably horrific to equally immeasurably horrific.
“So if Acathla doesn’t want in on the fun then we’ll just have to let sleeping rocks lie. We’ll bring death to every living thing on this earth even if we have to go door to door to do it. My friends, the Hellmouth is our playground and tonight I feel like breaking some toys!”
Since the focus of the room was on Angelus’ overblown melodrama Spike felt safe in rolling his eyes. Sometimes he felt trapped in an endless episode of Dawson’s Creek…only with more disembowelings. Although he was never a demon given to prolonged bouts of self-deprecation even he could appreciate the sad state of affairs that had led to him somehow becoming the voice of maturity and reason in any given situation. It was disgusting, that. He wanted to enjoy a night of wanton homicide with the rest of the gang. But it seemed that love had decided to share its bitch with fate, and destiny was decreeing that it was his night to serve as the designated demon.
The worst part was that frankly he didn’t give a flying fuck about the good folks who were stupid enough to homestead on the mouth of Hell. But what apparently only he was able to appreciate was that a rampaging mob of demons burning down an entire town and feasting on the human rats that scurried out of the flaming wreckage might, possibly, in the right circumstances, attract the attention of oh, say…everybody!
He understood Angelus. He’d never run on more than a one cylinder engine and right now Spike could see that even that one wasn’t firing. But what he couldn’t figure out was the rest of the morons surrounding him. True, minions were rarely the yellowest bananas in the bunch, but he was beginning to think that Angelus had a special talent for finding the stupidest people to turn. Of course the promise of a virtual smorgasbord of victims and violence that their master was offering them was tempting, but could he alone see that one of the chief benefits of being a demon of eternal evil was the eternal part. If they brought this kind of attention down on their heads, forever, for them, would be about a day and a half.
There was little love lost between Spike and the Watcher’s Council, but that was because he thought that it was made up of middle aged gits with stakes up their asses, not because he thought they were powerless. The Council, no matter how inept its members might be, had their fingers in many a pie and their influence extended well past the realm of the supernatural. It wouldn’t surprise him in the least to learn that they had managed to subtly infect various governments with their demon phobia. The overnight leveling of an entire city wouldn’t go unnoticed and even people’s overwhelming need for denial couldn’t possibly stretch far enough to sweep the rubble under the rug.
The heavy doors hit the wall as two vampires came in, a body between them. The sight interrupted both Spike’s hopeless thoughts and Angelus’ sadistic ramblings to his clan; and while he was glad to shake off his despair and doubly so to hear Angelus finally shut the hell up, his stomach dropped to see the price of his peace.
Chapter Ninety Four
Consciousness tiptoed its way back into Giles’ head and yet it might as well have barged in like a charging rhinoceros as he was certain his head couldn’t possibly have felt any worse. As one eye cracked open, letting in the muted light of the room, he realized how truly wrong he was – apparently his capacity for new pain was infinite.
“Have a nice nap, Rupert?”
And apparently his capacity for appallingly bad luck was still at full force too, Giles thought as he finally opened both eyes, already knowing exactly where he was.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much trouble you’ve caused me recently. Well, I could, but we’d be here all night and I have more pressing business to attend to.
Speaking of which, how much do you know about our good friend Acathla? I’m guessing quite a bit. I mean let’s face it, you have the kind of knowledge that only a guy who never gets laid has the time to gather. So tell me, what’s the secret to convincing our slumberous friend to join our little party here.”
A rusty sound that could loosely be called laughter pushed from Giles’ throat.
“Please, I wouldn’t even tell you the secret ingredient in my grandmother’s bread pudding.”
With a good natured sigh Angelus shrugged.
“That works, too.”
And with those words Giles felt blood spew out of his mouth as Angelus’ fist slammed into it. And so it began.
Spike quietly left the room. He could swear in seventeen different languages, including eight of the demon variety, and yet he couldn’t think of one word foul enough to fit the situation in which he found himself – he needed the slayer. Feeling vaguely ill at the thought he realized that he might actually prefer being sucked into a hell dimension.
Spike sighed as he slipped past the minions guarding the perimeter of the mansion. Apparently demon swear words weren’t enough to ease some of the tension twisting his insides. Pausing for a moment he tried to think of where the slayer might be found.
If I were a slayer, where would I be…
Russian profanity was a bust too as it certainly didn’t wash away any of the considerable taint of trying to think like a slayer. Deciding to go with the oldies but goodies, he resigned himself to the tedious task of making the rounds of Sunnydale’s oh so many cemeteries.
Spike would have been pleasantly surprised as that particular word seemed to be somewhat effective in venting his spleen if it hadn’t been prompted by his being unceremoniously thrown against a tree.
Oh well, he thought encouragingly, at least he’d found the slayer.
Buffy took a step closer to the prone figure of the blond vampire. Her body was shaking with barely leashed tension that had little to do with Spike’s sudden appearance.
They were fast running out of time. Over the last couple of days Giles had been going to different locations around town and preforming rituals that would cause spikes of magik to be felt across the Hellmouth. It was their best plan for disguising the location of the safe house. But they knew they were working against the clock; that kind of outpouring of magic couldn’t be sustained indefinitely. And now, to make matters worse, he hadn’t returned from performing the last spell.
Then, as Buffy had finally come to accept that matters in the life of a slayer could never stop at ‘worse’, Jenny was back at the house preparing the ritual that couldn’t be preformed if she didn’t find her watcher soon.
Even though she was prepared to do what needed to be done, a part of her had been hoping that they could just restore Angel’s soul and it would all be over; that she wouldn’t actually have to kill the last chance that he’d ever come back. But if what she feared was true, if Angelus had Giles, then the spell wouldn’t matter; she’d dust him in a heartbeat to save her watcher.
Of course, even if none of this mess with Angelus had been happening at all, it was never a good thing for a person to go missing on the Hellmouth. And that’s why, for once in her life, she was happy to see Spike. Grabbing his leather duster, Buffy lifted him from the ground and slammed him back against the large oak.
“Hey! Hey! Hold up, slayer. I’m on your side, remember?”
Spike wasn’t remotely surprised at how quickly the girl could wear out her welcome. Barely three seconds before he’d been pleased to have found her and now he just wanted to kill her. Which he wouldn’t; although he tried to console himself with the thought that that decision was based entirely on his attempts to stop Angelus and not on the fact that she was on the verge of successfully kicking his ass.
“Spike, you’ve never been on anyone’s side but your own.”
He almost laughed as she sneered at him as if she’d expected better.
“Yeah, well – vampire here. But it just so happens that your side and my side seem to be one and the same.”
From the roll of her eyes Spike could see that he was going to have to convince her. He bit back a growl at the time that would be wasted with these idiotic recriminations when it could be much better spent introducing Angelus to the sharp end of the slayer’s stake.
“Is that why you tried to send us on a wild demon chase the other day?”
Now that was one decision Spike actually stood firmly behind.
“That was for all of our benefit, slayer, as time is clearly showing.”
He felt himself pulled forward and then pounded once more into the rough wood behind him to emphasize how strongly she seemed to disagree with his assertion.
“Somehow I don’t think Cordelia would agree with you.”
“Well she’s not gonna get a chance to agree with much of anything ever again when your ex kills us all.”
Spike braced himself, expecting more violence with the mention of Angelus, but instead, he found himself stumbling forward as she suddenly released her hold on him.
His mouth dropped open slightly. She’d had enough? She’d been the one blathering on and wasting their all too precious time.
“I’m not going to argue about this with you, Spike. You say you’re on our side – prove it. Where’s Giles?”
“Well if you’d let me get a word in edgewise. You know you hero types have the worst manners that -”
“Spike! Where – Is – Giles?”
“Where do you think? He’s with Angelus. And if I know my grandsire, and unfortunately I do, your watcher will be spilling his guts any minute now – figuratively; and then Angelus will be spilling the man’s guts – literally.”
Realizing that there was nothing more to gain by wasting time with Spike, Buffy turned to leave. Knowing that she wasn’t lucky enough to have that be the end of their unpleasant interaction, she was unsurprised to hear him call out behind her.
“We’re going to get the cheerleader, right?”
As frantic as she was to get to Giles she couldn’t seem to stop her body from pausing and then turning to face the clearly mental vampire in disbelief.
“Are you insane?” Realizing that she was once more wasting time she resumed walking, knowing that he’d be following close behind. “What am I saying? Of course you are if you think that I’m going to give Angelus anything, much less Cordelia. So be useful or be somewhere else!”
Having believed that she’d made her intent clear, Buffy picked up her pace hoping he’d take the hint that she was through with this pointless discussion when she refused to respond to his further calls. But peace was apparently not to be had as Spike rushed past her, turning to jog backwards so that he could convince her with what she assumed he thought to be the earnest look on his face.
“Don’t be so bloody stubborn, slayer. For all we know the watcher’s already blabbed the entire Acathla owner’s manual. Just give back the girl. You saved her once; you can do it again – after you’ve gotten the demonic garden gnome out of the picture.”
“It’s not happening, Spike. He’s not getting Cordelia and he’s not keeping Giles; and if it sends us all to Hell well, welcome to my world.”
“Just great. So no matter which side I’m on I’m helping someone send everything to Hell in a handbasket.”
And that was it for the nearly nonexistent reserve of patients Buffy had left after endless months of dealing with the damned Aurelius family. Her arm flew back before she knew what was happening, but once she realized that it was poised to strike it seemed like the best of ideas. Putting all her frustration into the forward motion she connected with Spike’s face with a sickening thud.
Her enjoyment at the sight of the vampire’s form hurling backwards through the air before being halted, abruptly, by the asphalt was interrupted by the clearing of a throat behind her. Grabbing the stake conveniently tucked into her waste band, she spun around prepared to attack.
“Whoa, whoa, Buffy! Here to help.” Xander raised his hands and motioned to the threatening wooden shard. “Which I can do much better without the added ventilation; but thanks for the offer.”
As she was stashing her weapon once again, Xander took the opportunity to peer over his friend’s shoulder, smiling at the sight of Spike struggling to his feet. His grin widened as he watched blond vampire trying to stem the flow of blood from his nose while moaning loudly.
“Far be it from me to interrupt you from your spiking Spike, Buffy, but we’re sort of in a time crunch here. So if you could hurry up and kill him we can get on with the world saving portion of the evening.”
A look of confusion replaced the anticipation on Xander’s face.
“Hey, where’s Giles?”
The young man took no comfort in his friend’s anxious expression. No good could ever come from anything that worried a slayer.
“Angelus has him.”
Xander hated when he hated being right. He was right so rarely that it seemed grossly unfair when the universe conspired to keep him from enjoying it.
“Yeah, Xapper; the watcher’s gone and gotten himself hijacked; so if you’d stop puttin’ a twist in the slayer’s knickers we could go and get him.”
Xander discounted Spike’s words as per usual but took a step around Buffy to spit out, “Ha! Like Buffy would ever buy that you’re really going to help us.”
His words dripped with scorn as he finally basked in the joy of being right…until he noticed guilt and then embarrassment flit briefly across Buffy’s face.
“You’re not, right Buffy? No, no, no! Come on; how many times are we gonna fall for the whole “vampire with a heart of gold” routine?”
“Hey now!” Spike cried in outrage at the slight against his nature. “Don’t be spreading malicious rumors like that. My heart is, and always has been, black – like the darkest night. There’s just a big, inky void – ”
“Much like your head.”
Before Xander could build his initial insult into one of his entertaining but at that point far too time consuming tirades, Buffy grasped his arm and pulled him back, placing herself between the two once more.
“Guys, take your interpersonal relationships to couples therapy. We actually have more important things happening tonight, remember?”
Seeing that she finally had their attention she pushed her feelings aside and let the slayer take control.
“Spike, you go and stall Angelus. If Giles doesn’t come out of there alive neither will you and your girlfriend. Xander and I have to make a quick stop but we’ll be right behind you.”
Giving her a hard, assessing look, Spike was satisfied that her natural instincts were driving her instead of her girlish sensibilities. And while he didn’t care for the threats he didn’t balk; instead taking off for the mansion at a run, never doubting the slayer’s words.
Xander also recognized the shift in Buffy’s attitude and, without another word, followed her lead as she spun on her heal and headed off in the direction of Giles’ house.