Buffy frowned as she examined the factory from the shadows. She had tracked Angel here from the mansion, and couldn’t think of a single good reason why he would be at the old factory. It was all burned, threatening to fall down at any moment. There was nothing left, no reason why Angel should be there.
No reason that I know of, anyway. But then, when has Angel been one to share? With a shrug, Buffy strolled toward the factory, her hand resting lightly on the stake in a new leather stake-holster. Giles had made it for her, adapting a dagger sheath for the purpose. She loved it; it was better than shoving the stake into her waistband and getting poked in the back every time she took a step.
“Angel?” she called, pushing open the huge steel door, which promptly fell off its hinges. The resulting crash ruined any thought she might have entertained about stealthiness.
Oh, well. If Angel’s here, it’s not like there’s anything to hide from.
She still didn’t see him, though. “Angel?” she called again.
“Buffy.” Angel appeared from a shadowy room. He was shirtless, and Buffy took a minute to drool. “Is something wrong?”
“No, I was just looking at . . . uh, for you.”
Angel smiled. “See anything you like?”
“Yeah. I mean, what?” Buffy frowned. That didn’t sound at all like Angel. The last time Angel hadn’t sounded like Angel it had ended badly. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” Angel went back into the other room. Buffy followed him cautiously. He picked his shirt up from a conveyer belt and shrugged it on.
“Are you sure? I mean, you seem a little. . . .”
“A little what?” Angel turned to face her as he buttoned his shirt, looking up at her with that puppy-dog look that always made her knees go watery. Or, usually made her knees go watery.
“A little whiny,” said a new voice, a female voice. “God, Angelus, are you going to kill her or simper at her all night?”
Buffy whirled, cursing herself for letting Angel distract her from her usual situational awareness. She stumbled back a step as a familiar figure stepped out of the shadows.
“Darla,” she gasped.
“Hello, Buffy,” Darla said. “Long time no see.” Her arch smile and sassy pose looked slightly out of place in the burnt-out factory, especially since she was wrapped in a black silk bathrobe.
That’s one of Angel’s.
Buffy turned back to look at Angel, who was wearing a familiar smirk. “Angel?” she quavered, hoping against hope that she was wrong. The smirk broadened to an even more familiar, evil smile. “But we didn’t . . . you didn’t . . . there wasn’t any. . . .”
“Not everything’s about you, Slayer,” Angelus replied. “This definitely isn’t.”
He and Darla moved together, Darla’s hand sneaking up to rest on Angelus’ chest.
“But . . . what, then?”
“Oh, yes, let’s tell her all about the plan, so that way she can counter it at the last second.” Darla was too ladylike to snort, but her smile conveyed the same idea. She turned to look up at Angelus. “I’m hungry.”
Buffy didn’t wait for one or both of them to attack her. She took off, back out of the factory and into the alley nearby. The sun was just peeking above the mountains, sending rays through the spaces between buildings. Buffy paused in the alley to catch her breath, watching the factory door to make sure neither of the vampires tried to come after her.
“Oh, bugger,” growled yet another familiar voice from a nearby patch of shade.
“Spike?” Buffy drew her stake from its sheath. “What are you doing?”
“Getting home too sodding late, that’s what.” Spike sighed. “Or, as much of a home as I’ve got anymore.”
“You’re staying in the factory?”
“Yeah. I mean, no.” Spike glared at her. “I won’t have you running me out of yet another hidey-hole.”
“Did you know about this?”
Spike arched an eyebrow at her. “About what?”
“Angel . . . us. And Darla.”
“Darla? She’s dead, ain’t she?”
“Not anymore, apparently. And Angelus is back, too.”
Spike looked disgusted. “Did you and he get naked again?”
“No!” Buffy threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know what happened or why I’m trying to defend myself to you or explain anything!”
Spike leaned forward to look out of the alley, where the sun was making the shadows deeper. He sighed. “Well, I’m stuck here for awhile, anyway. Why don’t you explain it to me, luv?”
“I told you everything I know.” Buffy sheathed her stake and shook her jacket down over it. “I guess I’ll go ask Giles.”
“Or I can help.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Help what?”
“You. And the . . . investigation.” Spike waved a black-nailed hand in her general direction. “They might tell me stuff. You never know.”
Buffy could feel her face squinch up further. “Why are you offering to help me?”
“I helped last time your boy got all evil, didn’t I?”
“Sure. You . . . grabbed Dru and bailed and left me for dead.”
“And look how well that worked out.” Spike leaned back against the alley wall. “If Darla’s back, things are going to be much worse than just . . . ending the world.”
“Worse than ending the world?” Buffy raised her eyebrows at him.
“Damn right. When Darla’s around, Angelus doesn’t do the thinking. She does. And she’s much more conniving and evil than he could ever be. Trust me. I used to run with them. She won’t want to end the world. She’ll want something much worse.” Spike lit a cigarette, his cheeks pulling in as he inhaled. Buffy wrinkled her nose and took a step away from him. Spike just rolled his eyes at her.
“But you like mayhem,” Buffy said. “Why would you want to stop it?”
The corner of Spike’s mouth twitched up. “Because I hate Angelus, that’s why. And Darla, for that matter, though not as much. They ruined my life. Or un-life. Always cramping my style. Getting between me an’ Dru. I like him much better when he’s Angel, as whiny as he is, and her much better when she’s dead.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
Spike pondered this for a minute, taking a long draw on his cigarette. “Guess you don’t, do you?”
Buffy sighed and studied the ground for a moment. The ground was dirty. Trash and cigarette butts and . . . ew. She didn’t want to know what that was.
“Fine,” she said. “See what you can find out. You know where to find me.”
“That I do, luv.” Spike’s smile was predatory. It faded as he checked out the sun again. “Bloody hell. I do not want to spend the day in a dumpster or something.”
“Cardboard box.” Buffy pointed. “Can’t you, like, hold it over your head and make a run for it or something?”
“Not a bad idea.” Spike took another drag on his cigarette. “I might just do that if this alley gets too toasty.”
“Glad I could help.” Buffy’s tone bordered on sarcastic. “I’d better go see Giles. Come see me if you have anything useful to add.” She sounded as if she didn’t believe that was possible.
“Yeah, yeah.” Spike barely acknowledged her, being too busy watching the sun progress across the sky. Buffy rolled her eyes and headed home, not noticing Spike’s attention shift to her as she strode away.
School seemed to take forever. Buffy caught annoyed glances from more than one teacher as she tapped her pencil against her notebook, or sighed loudly, or stared at the ceiling.
As soon as the last bell rang, Buffy made a mad dash for the library. Once she got there, though, she wondered why she’d hurried. How in the world was she supposed to explain any of this to Giles? Or—she shuddered—Xander?
“Buffy?” Giles poked his head out of his office. “Ah, good. I was wondering—”
“Angel has turned,” Buffy said. Might as well get it over with.
Giles stared at her for a long moment, then turned to look at the calendar.
“It’s not April first,” Buffy assured him. “I tracked him to the factory this morning. Angel . . . Angelus was there. With Darla.”
“Darla? But . . . he killed her.” Giles’ forehead crinkled as he regarded Buffy.
“He did. And before you ask, I didn’t . . . Angel and I didn’t. . . .”
“I didn’t think so for a moment,” Giles said. “There is clearly something else at work here.”
“Something’s at work?”
Xander and Willow strolled into the library. Xander made sure to give the checkout counter a hearty smack on his way past. “What’s the what?” he continued as he and Willow took chairs at the central table.
Buffy glanced at Giles, who wordlessly took the lead.
“Angelus has turned,” he said. “And Darla is alive once again.”
Xander and Willow stared at Buffy.
“I didn’t do it!” she protested.
“Do you really expect us to believe that?” Xander said. “You know, Wil here isn’t gonna get her Wicca on every time you feel like getting your . . . uh. . . .”
“Yes, thank you, Xander,” Giles said. “Buffy has assured me that she had nothing to do with it, and I believe her. Let that be the end of the matter.”
“But . . . Darla?” Willow said. “How is she back? There weren’t bones or anything like the Master.”
“Yes, a double quandary,” Giles said. He took his glasses off, pulled a kerchief from his pocket and began cleaning his glasses. “Obviously someone else is involved.”
“Obviously? How obviously?” Xander asked.
“Well, if Angelus is the one who resurrected Darla, then how did Angel turn? And if Darla turned Angel, how did Darla revive?” Giles propped a hand on his hip, his glasses dangling from the other hand. “Or the unknown third person could have done both.”
“How are we going to find out?” Willow asked. Her face was scrunched up from worry.
“Me. Patrolling.” Buffy sighed. “The bad guys always come out to brag eventually. I’ll keep an eye on the factory.”
“So, that’s it?” Xander raised his eyebrows.
“No, that’s not it.” Buffy crossed her arms. “I want you—all of you—” she glanced at Giles—“inside after dark. Safe inside. At home inside.”
“We will need to research this, Buffy,” Giles protested.
“Then research at home,” Buffy said. “The school isn’t safe. They can get in here.”
“Yes, I . . . remember.”
Buffy could have kicked herself. Of course he remembered. And now he had that stricken look on his face, the same look he’d worn for months after Ms. Calendar’s death.
“Anyway,” she said, turning away so she didn’t have to see that look anymore. “Indoors after dark. I will patrol. And guys? Be careful.”
“That’s honestly your plan?” Angelus stared at Darla disbelievingly.
“Not my first choice, but our mutual benefactor wants as much chaos as possible, so it will have to do.” Darla sorted through a rack of dresses, stepping over the sales clerk, who lay dead at her feet. “I would much rather travel. I haven’t gotten to see this New World with you by my side, if you’ll recall.”
“That wasn’t my fault.” Angelus crossed his arms. “It was those damn gypsies and that pesky soul thing.”
“Mm. I like you much better without it. What do you think of this one?” Darla took a dress from the rack and held it up against her.
“I like you better wearing nothing,” Angelus purred, nuzzling at her neck.
“As charming as that would be, it’s not really appropriate while recruiting,” Darla said, pushing him away with one hand. With the other, she untied the belt on the bathrobe and let it slide to her feet. Angelus growled low in his throat and lunged at her, but she sidestepped and he stumbled past her, quickly catching himself and trying to look casual. She stepped into the dress and slid it up over her shoulders. Angelus stepped up behind her to zip the back.
“Shoes,” Darla murmured. “Must have shoes.” She headed toward the back of the store.
“So where do we start?” Angelus asked. He picked up a gaudy scarf, shuddered, and dropped it.
“We get the word out.” Darla ran a hand along the shelf as she examined the shoe choices. “The promise of so much free rein and mayhem ought to draw most of the vampires in the area. When they hear the plan, they’ll fall in line.”
“And if they don’t?”
Darla glanced over her shoulder at Angelus. “Then they miss out on the party, of course.” She slid a pair of low-heeled shoes onto her feet and twisted from the waist so she could see the way the heel slenderized her ankle. “What do you think?”
“You women and your primping.” A snort and the shink of a Zippo flipping open drew the two vampires’ attention to the main door. “Never saw the need in it, myself.”
“So I noticed.” Darla raised an eyebrow at Spike. “Do you ever wear anything else?”
Spike glanced down at his outfit—black jeans, black t-shirt, black leather coat, black nails, black shoes—and shrugged. “Sometimes I wear the red shirt,” he said.
Darla rolled her eyes.
“So what’s the plan?” Spike asked, taking a long draw from his cigarette. “Is it gonna be fun?”
“You’ll find out when everyone else does.” Darla tucked her hand into the crook of Angelus’ elbow. “Midnight at the factory.”
“Well, fine,” Spike scoffed. “Don’t include me. I only ran with you for . . . a lot of years. Should think that would count for something.”
Darla shrugged and led Angelus out of the store. Spike trailed along behind them. “What’s the plan for the Slayer, then?” he persisted.
“Torture. Death. Slow.” Angelus smirked.
“Long time ’til midnight,” Spike observed. “What’re we gonna do ’til then?”
“We are going to find some dinner,” Darla said. “You can do what you like.”
“Fine. Whatever.” Spike flicked the last of his cigarette at her feet and stalked off, coat swirling.
“How did we ever put up with him for so long?” Darla sighed.
“Dru liked having him around,” Angelus replied.
“And you liked having Drusilla around,” Darla said disapprovingly. Angelus just smirked at her.
“What do you feel like for dinner?” he asked.
“Mm, I don’t know. Maybe something young.”
“We’ll check the playground.” Angelus threw an arm over her shoulders and guided her toward the park.
Spike considered taking what little information he had to the Slayer, but decided that the mood he was in would only lead to a fight, which would probably lead to his ass being kicked six ways from Sunday. Instead, he found a young woman at the Bronze who looked lonely and led her out back. He didn’t kill her, mostly because he didn’t want Buffy carping about it if she found out, but she looked woozy when he left her next to the bar in the Bronze.
At midnight, he was in front of the factory with the rest of the eager minions.
Bloody annoying’s what it is, he thought, sticking me out here with the rest of the losers. If I didn’t need to know what was going on so Buffy could kick their asses, I’d be out of here in a heartbeat.
He lit a cigarette and glared at the bumpy faces around him. He was the only one in the crowd strong enough to not be stuck in vamp-face, and it was earning him weird looks. He flipped off the nearest vamp who was looking at him sideways and leaned against a Dumpster.
After what seemed like hours, Darla and Angelus finally emerged from the factory like royalty bestowing a gift upon the populace with their very presence. Spike snorted, blowing smoke through his nose.
Behind the two vampires was a cloaked figure, tall and thin. Besides the cloak, the person—he smelled male to Spike, though he couldn’t be sure of the man’s exact identity—was wearing black slacks and a colorful shirt. The cloak was obviously only in place to hide his face, which the deep cowl did well.
“Greetings, everyone,” Darla said in her smooth, controlled tones. “Thank you for coming.”
“Get on with it!” someone in the back yelled. Spike smirked. At least someone was acting up so he didn’t have to do it and risk getting staked.
Darla shot a glare in the general direction of the voice. Angelus snarled.
“I bet you’re all tired of having to hunt like animals,” the mysterious person said in a cultured British accent. “Lurking around their doors, waiting for them to come out because you can’t go in.”
A rumble of agreement rolled up from the gathered vampires.
“I am here to change all that for you,” the man continued. He pulled something from the sleeve of his cloak. “Gather round, children.”
Mesmerized, Spike moved in with the rest of the vampires. The man began to chant something too low to be heard, then threw a double handful of some sort of dust over the gathered vampires.
“That’s it?” Angelus said. “No glowy lights or sparkling? Just some chanting and some dust?”
“Well, I’m not trying to raise Acathla, my dear Angelus,” the man replied. “I’m just trying to give you the night. All of it.”
“So, what?” Spike said. “We can go into houses uninvited now or something?”
“Exactly.” The man sounded smug as the vampires murmured and shuffled. But when they didn’t immediately move, his tone turned impatient. “Well?”
“Take anyone you want, but the Slayer is ours,” Angelus said. “Anyone kills her, they get the same treatment we would have given her.”
Darla pointed to the alley. “Go!”
The vampires shuffled out, muttering among themselves, obviously unconvinced. Spike stayed right where he was, brushing dust from his leather coat.
“Well, William?” Darla said. “Aren’t you going to join in the fun?”
“Aren’t you?” Spike said.
“We’re after the Slayer, Willie,” Angelus said. “And we don’t want you tagging along and destroying our fun.”
“How?” Spike scoffed.
“By killing her before we want her dead,” Darla said coldly.
“Fine!” Spike flicked the last of his cigarette at them. It bounced off Darla’s shoe. “Do what you like, then!”
He stalked off. Any lingering misgivings he may have had about pointing the Slayer at these two and merrily watching them turn to dust were swiftly fading. Life was more fun with these two gone.
And even if that ridiculous spell doesn’t work, I still have an invite to the Slayer’s house, thanks to Joyce.
Spike found Buffy right where he expected to find her: in the middle of a cemetery. Unfortunately for her, it was far enough away from habited areas that the screaming was barely audible even to his enhanced vampire hearing.
“You’re missing all the fun, blondie,” he said, making his grand entrance from behind a mausoleum.
“Right.” Buffy barely glanced at him. “What kind of fun might that be?”
“The kind where my kind doesn’t need an invitation to enter the abodes of your kind.”
Buffy stopped walking and turned to stare at him. “What?”
“Some sorcerer’s in town, working with the terrible two. He made it so vampires can go into humans’ houses. Invitation-free.” Spike searched in his pockets for his smokes, but found himself picked bodily from the ground and propelled into the side of a mausoleum.
“Explain. Slower,” Buffy demanded. Her fingers, clamped around the lapels of his coat, were turning white.
“Just what I said,” Spike growled. He pushed her backward and dropped the few inches to the ground. “Sorcerer. Open invitation. Smorgasbord.” He twitched at his coat until it fell right and the dimples disappeared.
Buffy stood stock-still for a moment, thinking hard. “Angelus and Darla?”
“Looking for you.” Spike looked amused. “Probably at your house.”
Buffy spat out a vulgar word.
“Slayer! Such language!”
Spike had barely gotten the words out when Buffy was a hundred yards away and still sprinting. He snorted to himself and searched his coat again for his aborted smoke.
Did what I could, he thought. Might as well join the fun.
“Mom?” Buffy slammed the door behind her and locked it, though a well-placed kick from someone with demonic strength would take it right off its hinges. She raced into the kitchen to lock the back door, as well. “Mom!”
“Buffy?” Joyce came down the stairs, a concerned look on her face. “What is it?”
“I need to you pack a bag. Go out of town for a few days.” Buffy began frantically checking the locks on windows.
“Honey, it’s the middle of the week. The gallery’s open.” Joyce propped her hands on her hips.
“Not tomorrow, it won’t be.”
“What? Why not?”
“I don’t have time to explain right now, mom, but I promise I will when you get back. Please just go.” Buffy faced her mother, her hands shaking and heart pounding with a mix of fear and frustration.
“Fine. You will explain?”
“I promise. Plan for a week; I’ll call when it’s safe for you to come back.”
Joyce sighed, but nodded and headed upstairs to pack. Buffy busied herself locking windows in lieu of hovering and fidgeting. As soon as Joyce was ready to go, Buffy rushed her out to the car and watched her pull out. Then she went back inside, relocked the doors, and grabbed the phone.
“Giles? We’ve got an emergency. I’m gonna grab the gang and bring them to the library.”
“Buffy?” Giles sounded typically puzzled. “You very rightly didn’t want any of us in the library tonight. I’m at home.” He sighed. “As you obviously know, since you called me here.”
“Fine, I’ll bring them there. Do not go anywhere.” Buffy hung up. She checked the front window for any sign of Angelus or Darla, then hurried out and sprinted for Willow’s house. She gathered Willow and Xander, taking carefully hidden ways around the town, and they made it to Giles’ having seen neither hide nor hair of a vampire.
Giles’ place looked untouched, and Buffy herded Willow and Xander inside.
“Buffy, what is going on?” Xander demanded. “First you tell us to stay inside, and now you’re hauling us all over town. . . .”
“Grab a weapon and watch the doors,” Buffy replied. She stalked over to Giles and leaned against his table. “Someone’s cast a spell that makes vampires able to enter homes.”
“Dear lord.” Giles took his glasses off and began cleaning them. “First Angelus and Darla, now this.”
“We need to find out how he did it and if it’s all vampires, or just a group of them.” Buffy began raiding Giles’ weapon chest. “If you can find a spell to vampire-proof your house, I’d suggest you do it.”
“The usual de-invite spell probably won’t work this time,” Willow said. “We’ll have to find, like, a magical barrier or something.”
“Great. You guys research. I’m going to make sure the vamps don’t eat too many people for dinner.”
“Buffy . . . your mom?” Willow looked concerned.
“I sent her out of town. She’s a more specific target than anyone else in this town. Angelus and Darla both know who she is.”
“May I just say that this is what you get for letting your secret identity slip,” Xander said.
“No, you may not.” Buffy pushed past him, so loaded down with axes, stakes, and crossbow bolts that she practically rattled. “Be careful, you guys. I’ll come by every hour or so to check on you.”
Giles nodded, Willow waved, and Xander gave her a nervous smile, his fingers turning white where they were clamped around the handle of a large axe. Buffy gave each of them a reassuring smile and headed out into the night.
A few stakings later, Buffy got the feeling that she was being followed. However, she didn’t feel that she was being stalked, just followed. With a sigh, she ducked into an alley and waited. When Spike wandered past the alley, she reached out and grabbed him by the lapel, yanking him into the shadows with her.
“Hey!” Spike pulled himself out of her grip and readjusted the coat.
“What are you doing?” Buffy asked, exasperated.
“Walking.” Spike gave his coat one last violent tweak.
“Following me?” Buffy planted her hands on her hips.
“Walking,” Spike insisted. “Kind of . . . behind you in the same direction.” He glared at her. “Do you want me to help you or not?”
Buffy sighed. “I guess. What have you got?”
Spike felt around in his coat and pulled out a stake. He held it up with a slightly sheepish grin.
Buffy lifted an eyebrow. “That’s it?”
“Well, I probably could rip a vampire’s head of with my hands if I tried hard enough, but do you want to bet on it?” Spike tucked the stake back in his coat pocket.
“I was actually hoping for a little more information about this non-invitational spell,” Buffy said. “But I guess I’ll let you tag along and help.”
“Thanks ever so,” Spike snorted. “But I’ll tell you what I know.”
They headed up the street, rescuing people from vampires, and Spike told her the story.
“So,” Buffy said when he was finished, “a wizard in a hooded cloak threw some dust over a bunch of vampires and now they can enter houses uninvited?”
“Well, you see the results for yourself.” Spike drove his stake into the chest of a charging vamp and dusted the resulting ash from his coat.
“Can you describe the wizard?” Buffy glanced around for more vamps, and, seeing none, trotted on up the street.
“Um . . . guy. About so tall.” Spike held his hand parallel with the ground a few inches above his own head. “Crazy shirt.”
“Crazy how?” Buffy peeked into another alley. It was clear.
“Lots of colors. Weird pattern. Kind of like the seventies all over again.”
“Made you feel right at home, then, huh?” The comment was flippant, but Buffy frowned to herself. Something about that description was familiar. “Think he’s staying in the factory?”
“How should I know?” Spike scoffed. “Those two aren’t telling me a damn thing.”
“Do you know how Darla got back? Or why Angelus turned?”
“Probably that same sorcerer,” Spike said. “Doesn’t make sense, otherwise.”
“Unless there’s yet another evildoer about, and no, thank you.” Buffy relaxed her hyperaware fighting stance. “I think we’ve seen all the action we’re going to tonight. Vamps gone into hiding since they know I’m hunting them.”
“Could be.” Spike looked at the sky and took a deep breath. “Still a few hours ’til sunrise. What are you going to do?”
“Check on Giles. Give him the info you gave me.” She ground her toe into the asphalt. “Thanks,” she muttered. “I appreciate the help, even if I don’t know why you’re doing it.”
“I’ve told you why, Slayer. I hate those two way more than I hate you.”
“That’s good to know.”
Tucking her stake back into its leather sheath, she took off at an energy-saving jog toward Giles’ house.
Angelus paced the factory floor, glaring at the thin lines of sunlight laying across the floor. They were too small to hurt him as long as he moved through them quickly.
“Darling, are you coming to bed?” Darla stood in the doorway to the small room off the main floor they had designated the bedroom. She was naked, wrapped in a sheet.
“Where was she?” Angelus snarled. “We looked everywhere.”
“We’ll get her tomorrow, lover.” Darla tapped her perfect nails against the doorframe. “Come to bed.”
“She knows we’re here. I have to stay awake.” Angelus sent a glance toward the newly-repaired door and continued pacing.
“I never said you had to sleep,” Darla said archly, letting the sheet slip a bit.
“Oh, you are a naughty one.” His Irish showing a bit, he crossed the room to bury his face in her neck. “Perhaps the wizard will keep watch for us.”
“Not a chance,” the wizard said. He was sitting in a dark corner of the factory, a single candle burning near him. “I teamed up with you because there’s no way I can take the Slayer. She’s your problem.”
Angelus snarled. Darla sighed dramatically.
“It is not often that I agree to go unsatisfied,” Darla told the wizard. “But your point is taken. We will guard this . . . abode. . . .” Her disdain for their hiding place was palpable. “And go after the Slayer again this evening.”
“You rutting vampires and your . . . rutting,” the wizard muttered, obviously not intending them to hear. Darla chose to let it go and stopped Angelus from attacking by a death grip on his arm.
“Soon,” Darla murmured to Angelus in a voice the wizard could not hear. “When we no longer need him, we will kill him. But for now, leave him alone.”
Angelus snorted, glaring at the wizard, but went back to pacing, obedient to his sire.
“Guy. About so tall. Crazy shirt.” Buffy threw herself into one of the library chairs. “Um . . . British, wore a cloak so he couldn’t see his face.”
Giles stared at her in disbelief for a second, then groaned and leaned on the table.
“What?” Buffy asked. Giles said nothing, his gaze distant as he thought. “What? . . . Giles!” His head jerked up and Buffy repeated, “What?!”
“Ethan,” Giles sighed.
Buffy stared back at him, then let out a groan of her own and slumped back in the chair. “Dammit.”
“I should have guessed before,” he said. “Only a demon or someone who worships chaos would think of something like this.”
“There’s still a problem, though,” Buffy said. “I can take Ethan. But I don’t think I can take Ethan and Angelus and Darla. We’ve got to split them up. But there’s only one of me.”
“Excuse me?” The faint Boston accent gave away the speaker before Buffy turned around. “Only one of who?”
“Faith!” Buffy shot to her feet. “Where have you been?”
“Out and about. You know.” Faith shrugged and leaned on the table, her posture causing her breasts to strain against the fabric of her shirt. Giles very pointedly did not look at her. “So what’s going on?”
Buffy gave her the short version, continuing to leave Spike out of the equation.
“Damn, B. You have all the fun when I’m not here.” Faith perched on the edge of the table. “So what’s the plan?”
Buffy sighed. “I don’t know. Split them up somehow. Let Willow and Giles take out Ethan and his spell while we take care of Angelus and Darla.”
“A thought,” Giles interjected. “If we defeat Ethan, it may reverse all of his spells. So Angelus may turn back, and Darla be dead again.”
“So we just need to stall while you take care of it,” Buffy said. “That’s a better plan. I know the terrible two are planning to come after me already. I’m sure Faith and I can keep them distracted.”
“Yeah, you bet,” Faith agreed. “And if a couple of vampires end up getting dusty before the spell’s broken. . . .” She thrust her fist into her hand. “Too bad.”
Buffy rolled her eyes but didn’t disagree. She loved Angel with all her heart, but having to constantly worry that he was going to turn evil—even if she didn’t do anything!—was beginning to wear.
“Up for some sparring to get the blood working, B? Get ready for the big showdown?” Faith grinned lecherously at Buffy, who sighed but got up.
It wasn’t the best plan, but it was a plan. Buffy stood in her front yard, feet planted and arms crossed, waiting. Faith was hidden in the bushes, and Giles and the gang were—theoretically—staked out at the factory, watching for Angelus and Darla to depart so they could wail on Ethan. Buffy had no idea where Spike was, nor did she really care. She kept an eye on both ends of the street and both sides of the house in case they tried to sneak up on her from behind—though sneaking from behind didn’t seem to be Darla’s style.
She heard faint rustles from the bushes as Faith got antsy—laying in wait wasn’t really they other Slayer’s style, either. Buffy felt a bit antsy herself, as though her adrenal glands were filling up and just waiting to dump into her bloodstream. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
Come on, she thought at the vampires. Just make a move, already.
Spike watched the Scoobies watching the factory from the top of a nearby building. Seemed the Slayer had gotten together a plan, after all. Good on her. Whatever it was, it didn’t involve coming to the factory herself, though. He wondered where she was, then wondered why he was wondering. His part was finished. He’d given her enough information for them to make a plan.
Probably won’t get any credit for it, neither, he thought. He was still a bit surprised that she’d thanked him last night. And even more surprised that he found helping her almost as fun as slaughtering half of Europe had been.
Going soft, you are, he thought at himself. Great big poof. Pretty girl in the picture, and you turn into a big loser again. Got to watch that.
Angelus and Darla swaggered out of the factory and headed up the street, and the Scoobies sat very quietly where they were until the two vamps were gone. Then they headed for the factory.
I get it, Spike thought. Buffy’s somewhere playing bait for the terrible twosome, and the others are going in to do battle with the sorcerer. Good on them.
He wavered between getting a shot in at the sorcerer himself and going after the other two so he could help Buffy—or watch her die, whichever. He lit up a smoke while he thought. He really didn’t want the Scoobies to know that he’d been helping Buffy; they’d probably start coming to him for stuff like this all the time. But he didn’t want the terrible two to know he’d been helping Buffy either—just in case. So it came down to who he was more afraid of—Angelus and Darla or being bothered by whiny little teenagers and an aged librarian all the time.
With a grumble, he tossed his cigarette onto the roof and ground it out with his toe, then went to help the Scoobies.
Buffy felt as though she’d been waiting for hours when the vampires finally appeared on her street. It had been oddly quiet considering the free-for-all that must be going on in other parts of town. She felt a bit guilty that she wasn’t out taking care of intruding vampires—and neither was Faith—but she tried to assure herself that she had to take care of the duo before she could really do anything about the rest of them.
It didn’t help much.
Neither did the fact that Angelus and Darla made a stunning couple. She was taller than Buffy and looked great next to him. They had a rapport that showed even when they were just walking together.
He chose you, she reminded herself. When it really mattered, he chose you and staked her.
“Well, this might be easier than we thought.” Angelus stopped just out of lunging range and looked at Buffy gloatingly.
“I doubt it,” Buffy replied.
Darla raised her head and delicately sniffed at the air. “There’s someone else here,” she said. “The Slayer has help.”
“Well, you brought a friend,” Buffy said. “I figured it was a party.”
Their cover blown, Faith crashed her way out of the bushes, dusting dirt from her pants. “Well,” she said, looking Darla over. “This is the infamous Darla. She doesn’t look so tough. Bet I could take her.”
“We’ll take that bet,” Darla said. Both she and Angelus slipped into vamp-face. “Come on, girls. Let’s see if every Slayer’s blood tastes the same.”
Willow peeked out from around Giles as the three of them sneaked into the factory. None of them could be sure that there weren’t still vampires inside—though it didn’t seem likely. Give up a free meal and crazy hijinks to guard the wizard? No, the warehouse was probably empty except for Ethan.
A swirl of light and color flared in front of them, and Willow bit back a yelp. Xander wasn’t so quick, and let out a full-on girly shriek. Giles glared over his shoulder for a brief second, then refocused his attention on the apparition in front of them.
A huge, booming voice emanated from the center of the light. “Who dares invade the lair of the—”
“Oh, shut up, Ethan,” Giles said. “You’re not scaring anyone.”
“Speak for yourself,” Xander muttered. Willow stepped on his foot.
The light faded, and a cloaked and hooded figure stood there. “Giles?” He pushed the hood back, revealing the familiar, weasely face of Ethan Rayne. “Oh, damn.”
He turned and ran. Giles, Willow, and Xander ran after him, but he was more familiar with the burnt-out interior of the factory than they were, and he quickly outpaced them. Giles quickly became lost.
“Damn it!” he said, stopping in the middle of a large, open space. “I think. . . .”
The sharp sounds of flesh meeting flesh—violently—met their ears, and second later, Ethan was shoved into the room, a familiar bleached blond figure behind him.
“Hello, kiddies,” Spike said. “Looking for this?”
Buffy ducked under Angelus’ fist and socked him hard in the stomach. He grunted, but didn’t double over the way she’d expected.
Of course, she thought, he doesn’t breathe. Why is Giles teaching me tactics that aren’t going to work on vampires?
She used the momentum from ducking to move into a half-cartwheel, kicking Angelus in the jaw as she swung her legs up and around. That did stagger him, and she followed it up with a few more jabs to the face before he caught her a good one in the side. She staggered back, gasping, and found herself back-to-back with Faith.
“How you doing back there, B?” Faith asked.
“Oh, you know,” Buffy panted. “Five by five.”
“Glad to hear it.” The shift in Faith’s tone and back muscles warned Buffy that she was about to move, and Buffy moved with her as they threw themselves back into battle.
Anytime now, Giles, she thought as she danced out of Angelus’ reach.
“You’ve done some insane things before, Ethan,” Giles said, “but this. . . .”
“I know,” he said. “Brilliant, isn’t it? Must be devastating for the little Slayer to see her boyfriend like this. And with his ex, as well. Not to mention all the damage the town is undergoing.” Ethan took a deep breath through his nose and let it out in a satisfied sigh. “Janus must be very pleased with me.”
“Undo it, Ethan.” Giles took off his glasses and began cleaning them methodically.
Ethan snorted. “No.”
Spike smacked him in the back of the head so hard he fell to his knees. Spike was winding up for another smack, but Giles said, “No, Spike.”
“Fine, whatever.” Spike turned away to light up a cigarette.
“Well, we can’t exactly question him if your vampire strength knocks him out,” Willow said diplomatically.
“Which brings up a question,” Xander said, “and don’t think we’re not . . . confused, but why are you helping us?”
“Same reason I helped Blondie last time her squeeze went evil,” Spike said, blowing out a stream of smoke. “I hate the son of a—”
“We get it. Thanks,” Giles said. He looked down at Ethan as he readjusted his glasses on his nose. “How do we undo this, Ethan?”
“You never want me to have any fun,” Ethan pouted.
“No, we don’t,” Xander said. “Because you’re the only one who has it? Now, is that fair?”
“Angelus and his bint seem to be having fun,” Ethan said archly. “As are all the other vampires in this town.” He looked over his shoulder at Spike. “Except you. You’re a strange one, aren’t you?”
Spike shrugged and took another long drag at his cigarette. “Just let me know when I can smack him again, Watcher Boy,” he said.
“Remember the thrashing I gave you on Halloween?” Giles said to Ethan. “Spike’s a vampire. He’s a lot stronger and nastier than I. Why don’t you tell us how to break this spell and spare yourself a lot of pain?”
Ethan looked doubtfully up at Spike. Spike lifted his scarred eyebrow, pointing the lit tip of his cigarette at Ethan suggestively. Ethan shuddered.
“I’ll have to do it,” he said. “Let’s go back to the main room. That’s where my supplies are.”
“This wasn’t exactly the plan,” Buffy yelled at Faith as they sprinted up the street.
“Well, it’s better than getting our asses kicked!” Faith yelled back.
It turned out that Angelus and Darla didn’t exactly play fair. Just as Buffy had become certain that they’d be able to beat Angelus and Darla, a pack of vampires had broken up the party. Deciding that discretion was the better part of not getting killed and torn to bits, Buffy and Faith were beating a strategic retreat.
Come ON, Giles!
Giles supervised carefully while Ethan drew the pentagram and lit his candles. When he was sure Ethan had engineered no tricks, he nodded. “Carry on,” he said.
A few muttered Latin words later, Ethan indicated that he was done.
“Are you sure?” Giles said. “The curse is lifted? Angelus is Angel? Darla is no more?”
“I told you, didn’t I?” Ethan said.
“How do we tell?” Willow asked.
“I suppose we wait for Buffy and Faith to get here and assure us that all is well,” Giles said. “That, at least, gives Ethan time to consider his actions.” Giles glared down at him. “And be sure that he’s not lying.”
“The two big ones aren’t back there anymore,” Faith panted. “Just the bumpy-faces.”
Buffy glanced over her shoulder. Angelus and Darla were gone, but the pack of vampires was still pursuing them.
“I count twelve,” Faith said. “Think we can take them?”
“Without the two master vampires? Probably.”
“Let’s do it.”
About two hours later, Buffy and Faith strolled into the factory. They were both covered in ashes and streaks of drying sweat, but had hardly a mark on them.
“Everything okay, Buffy?” Willow asked.
“Well, Darla appears to be gone,” Buffy said. “We saw vampires getting kicked out of houses left and right on our way here. We bagged . . . how many would you say, Faith?”
“Oh, at least fifty,” Faith said. She examined her palm. “I think I have a blister.”
“Well, then!” Spike said, too loudly. “All’s well. Want I should kill this one, then?”
“Of course not,” Giles said. “Get out of here, Ethan. And if I see you in town again, I may just kill you myself.”
“Right, got it.” Ethan got to his feet, stripped off the cloak, and beat a hasty retreat. He almost bounced off Angel’s chest as the vampire appeared in the doorway. “Well, hello, tall, dark, and sulky,” Ethan said. “Bye, now.” He ducked around Angel and disappeared.
“Buffy?” Angel said. “I—”
“I know,” Buffy said. “It wasn’t you. No harm done—by you, anyway.”
“What are you doing here, Spike?” Angel asked.
“Being the good guy, since you were all . . . bad guy.” Spike grinned. “Getting to be a habit with you.”
“Shut up, Spike. Get out of here.”
“Right. Gladly.” Spike flicked the butt of his latest cigarette at Angel’s feet. “Bye, Blondie. It was fun.” He grinned salaciously at Buffy and sauntered out the door.
“Buffy? Can we. . . ?”
“Not now, Angel,” Buffy said. “But soon.” She looked at the other four, who were looking at her with various degrees of worry, surprise, and—from Faith—suggestiveness. “Let’s go, guys. It’s late. I’m tired.”
She pushed past Angel, who looked as though she’d just kicked him in the face. Xander followed her, barely concealing a gloating look. Giles patted Angel on the shoulder as he passed him.
“She just needs a bit to get over the Darla thing,” Willow assured Angel as she left the factory.
“I’m aware,” Angel said.
“And, hey, if she doesn’t?” Faith grinned at him. “She’s not the only Slayer in town.” She strolled out the door, close behind Willow. “Hey, B! Wait up!”
Angel studied the interior of the factory, his shoulders slumping.
“She is for me,” he said.