“This is the most up-to-date copy available”? Asked Wesley, trying to hide his disappointment behind a blank mask as he gestured at the town plans, spread out on the long kitchen table.
Angel caught it anyway and threw him an irritated glance, “Yeah so? I brought them when I moved here to get a feel for the place- haven’t bothered to keep current since I already knew my way around where I needed to” he defended himself, scowling at the plans as if they were to blame.
“You moved here in 1967”? Asked Willow, surprised and as irrepressibly curious as always; much to the discomforted vampire’s chagrin when he realised he’d been caught out.
Angel might have flushed then if he could, “Er no, 1992” he muttered as low as he could, and then trying for a distraction hunkered over the plans with his palms planted firmly on the stained sheet of paper. Soon enough he was looking engrossed as he scoured the plans for some kind of inspiration of how to achieve the impossible- catch the Master when his guard was down.
Willow caught Wesley’s rolled eyes and shrugged sheepishly. “Where’s Spike”? The red-head asked loudly, trying for a distraction of her own, ever sensitive to atmospheres and not liking where this one was going. Spike had stormed out several hours earlier after a useless argument with an impassive and unmovable Angel. She winced, thinking that bringing up the blonde vampire might not be such a great idea.
“No idea” muttered Angel distractedly, not looking up from the plans, while one long finger traced a line detailing the sewers to the Bronze, one of many since it was a maze of tunnels under the town centre. The line went nowhere except to a well guarded entrance known to all.
“This is impossible” he sighed frustrated and scrubbed a hand over his spiky hair. Then straightening back up with a disgruntled look on his hard handsome face, swiped up the blood Willow had placed next to him earlier. Bad temper always made him hungry and recently it seemed he was feeding the five thousand.
“We need better Intel” he admitted roughly, refusing to look at the ex-watcher.
“Ask and you shall receive” crowed a voice from the back door, just as a jubilant Spike jauntily, if not quite steadily tumbled through it. “Doesn’t Uncle Spike always come bearing gifts”? He finished triumphantly and grabbing a startled, smiling Willow around the waist spun her with surprising dexterity in a twirl with him.
Unimpressed and inexplicably tense Angel simply looked past the grinning pair to stare at the door Spike had left open. “Who are you’re friends”? He asked slowly and darted a look of sharp warning to the blonde.
“Keep your ‘air on” snarked Spike with cocky self satisfaction oozing from every pore, his grin, visible over Willows shoulder widened as the dark thunderclouds on the older vampires face grew blacker. “I’ve been a busy vamp. Got us some fresh recruits; raring to murder, mutilate and whatever else is bleedin’ necessary to get us the hell out of Dodge”.
He’d barely got the last word before the doorway was visibly filled with a bunch of large, intimidating demons. Willow gasped and swung out of Spike’s arms to grab his waistband from behind and hide behind the lean back. “Dodge”? She queried tremulously.
“He means Sunnydale” replied Angel, staring at the new arrivals with an unwaveringly gaze. Then shooting the grinning face of his grandchilde a sardonic look, he added “I hope you were discreet and- selective”? The delicately phrased question was received and understood.
“As a virgin on ‘er wedding night” leered Spike with his hand over his dead heart. “Plus-“, he pulled a sheaf of rolled up paper out of his leather jacket with an exaggerated flourish, “paid a visit to the old town hall and pulled out some plans”.
“Thank god” exclaimed Wesley, snatching them eagerly out of the pale hand and spreading them on the table, on top of Angels own. “And they’re recent too” he declared excitedly within seconds.
“At least someone appreciates me”. Sighed Spike and fell into a nearby chair. Willow instantly took umbrage at that and pouted at him. “I appreciate you” she exclaimed and soon found herself pulled onto his lap. “I know you do, Love”. Spike crooned in her ear and started to nibble on the soft spot underneath the lobe.
Repressing the need to gag, Angel settled for a sideways look and heaving a sigh of his own, motioned the demons inside his home.
“Close the door behind you” he admonished curtly when the fifth and last crowded inside the suddenly shrunken room.
The pace picked up so fast, Wesley was afraid they were moving along too swiftly, but his cautious counsel had fallen on deaf ears. The vampire wanted this over and done with; or more importantly, underway before leaks of the plan could reach Darla or the Master.
Grumbling about the lack of meticulous planning and how fools rush in, Wesley made his way confidently over the daytime landscape of green fields, pot-hole riddled tarmac and past burnt out shells of homes.
The sun beat down on him and not for the first time; Wesley wished it were possible to simply simultaneously rip the roof off every building in Sunnydale and burn the damn vamps to a cinder all at once.
“Such a fitting end, and so bloody simple” the Englishman muttered darkly.
Of course that would leave the other demons but they would soon melt back into the rest of California, seeking new playgrounds. However, the buildings used by the vampires remained distressingly sound and so they were left to depend on one very unstable, arrogant and reckless vampire and his even more insane childe for rescue.
“Marvellous”. The snide aside slipped out without him even noticing as he quickened his pace, seeing the rocky outcrop that hid the entrance to the human inhabited caves.
THE STARTING GATE
“He wants to meet here“? Asked Deidra, thinking she must have misunderstood. The very idea of bringing vampires and.. God forbid another group of mixed race demons into their sanctuary was to put it bluntly, abhorrent to her; as it would be to all of the humans here.
“That’s not possible” she stated firmly with a short shake of her grey head. “It would cause a riot”. Wesley nodded in some sympathy with her reaction but he had no choice but to press the matter.
“The vampire is insistent” he returned with a bland look, not wanting to push too hard. “And once they are here, they will be here to stay. No more coming and going”. He finished knowing it was best to get all of the bad news out at once.
The old woman stiffened and Wesley straightened from where he’d been leaning against the wall. He understood Deidra’s concerns, in fact when he’d first been told his initial reaction had been much the same but- it did make a weird if unpalatable, kind of sense.
“If you think about it; there is much less chance of being seen and discovered”. He pointed out, having seen her mouth open to refuse absolutely and wanting to forestall her.
That wasn’t the only reason according to Angel but it would suffice for now. Deidra didn’t need to know that the demons recruited by Spike were complete unknowns and so a risk. Such a risk that Angel had insisted none of them leave the mansion again; when it was time to move in here- they would all be tagging along or find their heads lopped off.
“You’re a Watcher. You’ve studied these creatures for years and are our best source of information. Tel me, do you think it’s wise to let them in here”? Deidra appealed to his vanity and his common sense at the same time, making Wesley squirm.
Finally he ducked his head before come up to meet her questioning gaze with direct blue eyes. “Wise no! Necessary? Yes I’m afraid it is, in my opinion” the ex-watcher admitted bluntly.
Deidra remained silent, as she did some pacing of her own, wondering with mild hysteria if it was contagious or something when she remembered Cordelia’s agitation of the previous night. Wesley simply watched her, sensing her resistance and patiently waiting for her unusual indecisiveness to disappear.
“I don’t need to remind you that time is running out” he reminded her nevertheless. “Some risks need to be taken if were to win out”. They both know what would happen when they were located by the horde’s roaming Sunnydale. Two vampires and a handful of discontent demons were nothing in comparison.
Deidra sighed and lowered her tired body into a rickety chair. Her hands seemed to have developed a weird fascination for the woman. She stared at her palms wishing suddenly that she hadn’t pushed herself to the forefront in leading and managing this rag tag group of humans. If she hadn’t she wouldn’t be facing decisions like this one.
“Are we right to trust him”? She whispered more to herself than a discomfited Wesley. He shifted his feet and sucked in a deep breath to dispel his own tension. From a distance it had seemed like the only thing to be done, but typical demon that he was- Angelus had turned it around on her and now she wasn’t so sure.
She’d whispered the name without knowing it, making Wesley wish that when he’d made his report on the deeds of Angelus prior to coming to the New World, he’d kept the gorier aspects of them to himself.
“His name is Angel. Not Angelus” he stated firmly, the tone crisp with assurance, as if the name made all the difference in the world.
Stiffening his spine, Wesley kept his eyes on a spot on the wall behind her then reached for every confident bone in his body. “Having never even heard of a souled vampire before. I can only relate to you my own impression. Which is that we can indeed trust him” he declared formally. Then hid his crossed his fingers and sent up a heartfelt prayer to anyone listening.
“Besides if we’re wrong were dead anyway”. It was cold comfort a dish familiar to all of them.
Deidra’s lips twitched in a smile and made her decision. “So be it. I’ll arrange for things this end. You go fetch our monstrous guests”.
Cordelia was so distracted it took Neala two attempts to get those large hazel eyes to focus on her dark smiling face. Cordelia blinked and heard a concerned and amused voice ask, “Are you okay”?
“Me? Yeah sure, peachy”. Cordy denied and then knowing it was lame added, “Sorry I was on another planet somewhere. Did you need something”? She asked feeling guilty for being so useless.
Neala caught the undertone of anxiety in Cordelia’s voice and dropped her voice to a whisper, casting a cautious eye of the silently playing children. “Are you afraid too”?
“Afraid of what”? Asked Cordy just as cautiously, though she was pretty sure she knew. The whole place was fairly screaming with tension and whispered hurried conversations could be overheard anywhere, voices high with anxiety.
“Of them coming” whispered back the other girl. Cordy eyed her with equal parts sympathy and cynicism, sympathy for the real fear and cynicism for the thread of excitement on her wide-eyed and avid face. She could see what was coming.
“No” She half lied, giving her the short answer to try and head off any more questions. She might have known it was a waste of time.
“Oh” Neala replied giving her a puzzled look, then licking her lips tried again. “There are rumours about where you used to live-” she probed with all of the delicacy of a bull elephant thought Cordy with a mental eye roll.
“I bet” She quipped, tossing back her long hair which had pulled from its bobble yet again by curious fingers wanting to play with it. “Look, Neala. Just spit it already. Whatever you wanna know ask and I’ll see if I want to answer- easier ya know”.
A red tide of embarrassment covered the other girl’s face at the bluntness, visible even on her coffee coloured skin. “Well er-” it was obvious she was struggling to put a leash on her curiosity,
“Is it true you lived with a vampire”? She finally hissed and flinched under Cordy’s narrow eyed stare.
“No” answered Cordy slowly, then shrugged with feigned nonchalance. “I lived with two of them”. She got a tiny surge of satisfaction when the other girl nearly choked. Not that she didn’t’ like her, it was just the whole situation that was getting on her nerves- big time.
“I get the big curiosity- I do. It’s just-” Cordy puffed out a sigh and levelled a rueful look at the discomforted girl. “I’m alive as you can plainly see. So whatever your deal is- get over it. He won’t hurt you”.
“Are you sure”? Asked Neala with a shiver, clearly still not reassured.
“Positive” stated Cordelia without hesitation, then crossed her fingers. Pretty sure since it’s not you he’s pissed with. Agony Aunt duties finished, she jammed her hands in the pockets of her worn dark blue pants.
Cordelia was nervous too but had so far managed to shove that to the back of her mind. Talking about it didn’t help in her experience, unless you were talking to someone who knew most of the answers. Head cocked to one side she thought about that for maybe two seconds, then made up her mind.
“Will you be okay on your own for a bit? I need to go see Deidra about something”.
“Sure you go ahead” Neala agreed eager to please. There was something about Cordelia Chase that made you want to give in to her. Whatever charisma was, this girl had it in spades, she thought a trifle enviously.
That settled and not wasting another second the brunette turned smartly on her heel and made good her escape. Carefully stepping over or around sprawled children, she only slowed to swipe up a toppling bottle of water before the precious fluid spilled out onto the floor and placed it on the shelf out of harms way.
After only a few days and several hours getting lost and finding her way back Cordy was learning the layout of this maze she now called home. She headed off sure-footed and confident down the dark tunnel, feeling rather then seeing where she was going.
Deidra’s room lay just a bit further down that the main assembly room- a grand name for the largest cave in the complex and man-made rather than natural, which was mildly reassuring for some obscure reason. Less Betty Rubble and more Lara Croft.
She heard voices coming from behind the curtain just as her hand reached for the cover to push it out of her way. Cordy hesitated and a frown crossed her face when she caught and identified one clipped voice as English. Then dismissing the fact as unimportant she thrust herself inside anyway.
Adjusting from the pitch black of outside to the well-lit interior took a few seconds and the first thing she focused on was a blushing red-head.
“Willow” exclaimed Cordelia and without thinking she dived for the girl to wrap her in a hug.
Surprised and grateful, Willow squeezed back every bit as enthusiastically with a sheen of tears filming her green eyes. “Hey Cordy”.
Later she’d blame her extreme denseness on surprise at seeing her friend, “What are you doing here”? The last word faded as it sank in and her head whipped round fast enough to make her dizzy. They were here.
She latched onto him like a homing beacon and her heart constricted in her chest.
Everyone was crowded inside the cavernous cave, some in avid excitable groups and others simply too scared to do more than find a space to sit and stare. Pockets of mumbling could be heard rising and falling with the occasional whispered exchange rising above the rest to be actually audible.
“Fight the Master…. Got to be kidding…. not possible vamps don’t have souls… How can we trust…shushhh… Will not- they kill us… we’ll be dead in our beds” .
Angel kept his face expressionless and let them look their fill while his restless gaze travelled over the motley crew Spike had gathered together. Spike himself was leaning on the other side of the tense demons, keeping his own watch and every now and then assessing the humans like the succulent meals they were and unknowingly licking his lips.
Shooting the blonde vampire a dark warning Angel stepped forward and motioned for Wesley to come over. “Let’s get this damn show on the road. What’s the hold up”? Ignoring the grinding impatience clear in that sour rumble, Wesley shrugged and looked about them, searching for the old woman.
“I have no idea” he hissed back over his shoulder. He wasn’t too happy with the delay either.
Angel snorted and a frown creased between his brows. What the hell am I doing here? He asked himself for the thousandth time. The answer lay just to his left, out of sight but close enough that he could smell her scent, driving him to distraction and making it impossible to walk away.
The ache she so effortlessly brought him had frustration mounting, cutting into his already strained façade of calmness. “Forget waiting. We start now” he snapped out, searing the Englishman with a look that brooked no argument and turning, faced the crowd.
“Listen up”. His deep voice rang out, filling the cave with electric tension. Silence fell like a blanket, smothering and expectant all at the same time.
“You want your town back, they want to leave” Angel motioned to the demons lined up behind him, and let his dark eyes wander at will over the distrustful humans. “The only way to achieve either is to kill the Master”.
He slid Wesley a look that just screamed, ‘you’d better be right about that’ and then carried on with only a tiny gap. “Killing him is my pleasure. But I can’t do it without some help from them” again his head jerked to the demons, “and you”.
“What can we do”? Called out a male voice. The speaker hadn’t come forward too afraid of standing out; Angel zeroed in on him anyway.
“Dust the vamps and spread the word about the barrier” he answered shortly, then raised his voice again.
“There’ll be many more demons and vamps out there who want nothing more than to get away from Sunnydale too. Tell them how to do and they’ll stop fighting you and start fighting each other”. As far as strategies go, it was almost improbably simple but it just might work.
“Why should we believe you”? Was another shout from the depths of the crowd; instantly there were numerous nods and rumbles of agreement, getting louder as the numbers increased confidence in opposing the intimidating and large figure in front of them.
“Why would they want to leave?”
“They’ve got it made, like shooting fish in a barrel”
Angel crossed his arms over his black leather duster and rocked back on his heels, keeping his face impassive and letting them get it out of their systems. Spike lost patience before he did.
“If you really want to know why vamps like me want out too, then shut up and listen” he roared. In full game face he faced them, pacing along the length separating them from him. “I don’t like me food ‘anded to me on a bleedin’ plate for a start. Vamps like to play, stalk, try out new and innovative little tortures. Not pick a meal from a litter like the farm- where’s the fun in that”?
Angel hid a wince and jumped into the stunned silence following those rather graphic revelations. “He’s right”. Too right actually and the hunger he constantly battled with dug a deeper into his gut. He fought it and was winning until he saw her out of the corner of his eye; then his darker impulses won out.
The crowd gasped and scrambled back, shocked and afraid at having the one they’d sworn to in repeat cajoling promises declaring he was different then the rest; suddenly morph into his demon before their eyes. Spike had been expected. Angel hadn’t been. Angel only heard the one startled expulsion of air and his dark head whipped round to pierce the shadows Cordelia was using to shroud herself.
Even with the half darkness of the poorly lit cave she could see the ridges covering his broad brow, leading to deep set and fiery topaz eyes all framed by the familiar dark hair that seemed to bristle with aggression. Those feral eyes seemed to pin her to the spot as they clashed silently. Then he slowly swivelled round to glare at the tempting array of frightened faces.
His shoulders, rigid and wide were the perfect foil for his thick neck and fierce visage, giving them a glimpse of the notorious demon he’d once revelled in being. Razor sharp fangs glistened, reflecting torch beams and flickering flames as he spoke; each word gravelly with the change.
“Vampires don’t just hunt you for food but for the sheer pleasure of it”. Remembering that pleasure brought a dark, raw edge to his already deep voice; paralysing the humans who were sharp enough to detect it.
“Fear is a potent drug, sweet and intoxicating but there’s none sweeter than the ignorant suddenly faced with their worst nightmare. You don’t have that anymore. Show them the way out and many will gladly take it. Those that don’t will die”.
The last word faded into total silence. There were no more catcalls or arguments, only the shifting of feet and the slow heavy beat of fear stricken hearts.
“If there’s no more arguments, training begins in half an hour. You’re useless to me until you learn how to kill me”.