Angel slowly pushed his head out from under the desk and looked around—the science lab was empty. He rolled completely out and stood up, brushing dust and “ash” from his clothing. He walked briskly over to one of the counters along the wall and cleared a place on it for him to stand. The science lab was set lower than the rest of the building, meaning the only ventilation came from long but narrow windows set near the ceiling—students in the lab could view only the feet of other students standing outside on the lawn. Extending to his full height, he pushed one of the windows opened and hoped he could squeeze through. He had heard gunfire just outside the room in the hallway, and knew the vampire-hunters must be close.
He was pleasantly surprised Giles’ plan had worked so well. It seemed like such a cheap ruse, but the librarian had made it run without a hitch—pretending to attack Giles, Giles melodramatically scrambling for a weapon, Angel falling to the ground with a scream. “Ash” and “blood” were created from simple ingredients in the chemistry cabinets of the lab. The hardest part was the end—lying silently under the desk as Michael approached, and then rolling towards the door when he came around to the far side of the desk, and then back under the desk when he and Giles turned to leave. If the hunter had caught him then, it would have all been over. But the terrible illumination provided by the emergency lighting made the difference.
Angel pulled himself towards the window but paused midway up, listening to the gunshots again. Just what are they shooting at? he wondered. They wouldn’t attack one of their own, and with me “dead,” what is left? He thought for a second, standing on the counter. Giles! How could I have forgotten—vampires were after him too. I was thinking so much of myself that . . .
He jumped down from the counter and lurched towards the doorway, seeing that Giles and Michael were in the hallway, face down on the ground just a few yards away. Wooden bullets flew all around them. It took Angel a moment to realize Giles was not being aimed at—at least not yet. Instead, the high-tech vampire-hunters were shooting at another group of vampires on the opposite end of the hallway. Angel recognized them instantly as Spike groupies and hoped that their master really had died in the collapse of the church. They had torn off locker doors to use as shields and darted from doorway to doorway to avoid the shots.
Giles was safe now, but the two groups of vampires were rapidly advancing on each other, and would meetjust about where he and Michael were laying. I’ve got to help him. But if Michael sees me, he’ll keep coming after me and we won’ t fool him twice.
Angel didn’t hesitate to make a decision—Giles was worth the risk. Angel tried to find a lull in the gunfire and then rushed out into the hallway, the pain in his leg still bothering him. The shooting started again just as he reached the pair.
“Come on, get up!” he shouted to Giles. He crouched low to the ground as the projectiles continued to fly. When the Watcher did as instructed, the pair awkwardly ran while trying to stay low to the ground and reached the doorway. Angel pushed Giles through and turned back. Angel had been grazed in the shoulder, but it wasn’t a serious wound.
But now that the vampire-hunters knew he was there, a second such stunt could be deadly. Michael was still laying on the ground, with his hands around his head—apparently his exoskeleton increased strength, but did not provide any protection against projectile weapons. I can just leave him—we’re free and clear now, Angel thought. He tried to kill me. But . . . he is an innocent—even if hopelessly confused. Still . . .
Angel shook his head from side to side and rushed back out into the hallway. This soul is really going to get me into trouble someday, he thought. He dove towards where Michael was laying. Out of the corner of his eye Angel saw one of Spike’s vampires disintegrate from a well-aimed shot. They weren’t stupid though—they had sent some of their number around the school to flank the vampire-hunters, who would be in for quite a surprise as the others distracted them.
He shouted Michael’s name twice, but the figure didn’t respond. Angel noticed his eyes were closed. Is he dead? No, he’ s breathing. Must be in shock or something. Angel crawled over to Michael, grabbed his wrists, and began dragging him back towards the science lab door. We need a miracle, Angel thought, as a bullet whizzed just inches from his ear.
It came in the form of a thick cloud of smoke that filled the hallway, making it impossible to aim accurately. “Angel, this way!” he heard Giles shout. Angel continued pulling in the direction of Giles’ voice until suddenly Michael’s hands grabbed hold of the vampire’s wrists as well, and began pulling in the opposite direction.
“Let me go!” the human growled. “I won’t let you . . . do to me . . . what you did to them!” With a powerful jerk, Michael pulled Angel off of his feet and slammed him into the wall.
Angel hit hard with a thud before scrambling to his feet. The smoke was rapidly starting to clear, and he could see the other vampire-hunters taking aim at him. He looked around desperately for Michael, only to see the door to the basement swing shut behind him. He wanted to go after him, to explain, but there just wasn’t time. Asa fusillade of wooden bullets screamed through the air, Angel dove into the science lab doorway and Giles slammed it shut.
“I tried,” Angel said simply. “Where’d that come from?” He pointed to a few tendrils of smoke emerging from underneath the door.
“A rather simple concoction really,” Giles said, “mainly water and a little sod—“
“Never mind,” Angel interrupted. “We need to get out of here. That door won’t hold them if they decide to come through.”
“It appears that our, ah, guest is mobile again,” Giles said.
“We did what we could. He’s on his own now.” Angel walked over to the counter and lifted himself up to the window.
“Come on,” he said, bracing himself on the ground and reaching his arms through the window. He was strong enough that he could pull Giles up easily.
Sirens began wailed in the distance as they reached the parking lot. I was wondering if they would ever show up, Giles thought. One would think that with everything that happens at Sunnydale High, they would build a police station across the street.
They walked wordlessly until they reached Giles’ beat-up Citroen. Across the parking lot, they saw a handful of the vampire-hunters jump into a waiting black car, while a small army of Spike’s gang made their way to a manhole cover, ripped it out of the ground, and jumped down.
“I still don’t understand what that was all about,” Angel stated. His clothing was rumpled and dirty, but he still held his head high.
“Death . . . can make people do strange things,” Giles observed. “Pray that we never have to face the tragic loss of a loved one as Michael did.”
“You think he’ll come back?”
“Most certainly. But not for a while. And perhaps then we’ll be prepared.”
Buffy’s eyes were wide and she was scared—very scared. The motorcycle almost flew down the mountain road, as Castillo took turns at breakneck speed and did not slow down, no matter how much ice was on the pavement. She swore he was a maniac, but somehow, every time it looked like they were going to crash, he kept the bike on its wheels and continued going even faster. What’s he have to worry about—vampires can’t die from car crashes, Buffy realized angrily.
As soon as he finally started slowing down, Buffy tensed to make a jump for it, but Castillo kept an arm tightly around her shoulders. He finally pulled over near the guardrail on a section of a narrow, one-lane road. He removed his jacket and draped it over the handlebars. The mountain continued to loom up above them, while only the guardrail stood between them and an almost six-hundred foot drop to a rocky slope below.
“Now, was that not exhilarating?” Castillo asked, keeping a firm grip on Buffy and walking over to the guardrail. He smiled broadly and was clearly in a good mood. “It is one of the few worthwhile inventions of this century. The wind in your hair, the –“
“Bugs in your teeth?” Buffy interjected.
“Ah, yes. Uncooperative to the end—an admirable quality. However, it is just you and me now—let us dispense with the formality, shall we? Now, as I was saying, the brooding vampire characters in your silly American novels are just that—fiction. Who would ever yearn to be ‘human,’ when one has an eternity to sample all of life’s pleasures with none of the pains?”
“You know, right about now, I so do not care,” Buffy said.
“Well.” He turned her around so she was leaning against the guardrail and had to look at the rocks below. “This is more cinematic, don’t you agree? A cold windy, winter’s night—the moon casting the slightest hint of shadow as the stars flicker—an isolated mountain road—a cliff awaiting. Indeed, did you know that this was how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle portrayed his great hero, Sherlock Holmes, perishing in mortal combat with his arch-enemy, Moriarty?”
He sighed and turned her around so her back was to the guardrail. “I regret that you do not appreciate it. But, you are no Holmes and I am no Moriarty,” he said, almost wistfully. “Still, I must apologize. I was hoping that I would have something very memorable or witty to say to you to memorialize your last moments, but I fear that I cannot think of anything. The simple fact is that you are about to experience a very long fall onto some very hard rocks. Good-bye Ms. Summers—it was not as I had hoped, but still a pleasure.”
He leaned over almost nonchalantly to push her over the guardrail. Buffy reacted instantly and twisted the chain from her handcuffs around his left wrist and tugged hard—she thought she hard something snap. Castillo cried out in pain and slammed into her, knocking Buffy over the railing. The handcuffs were still twisted around Castillo’s wrist, however, and Castillo was jerked off of his feet and tipped over the railing as well. He managed to grab one of the metal supports of the guardrail with his one free hand, though he felt he was being torn in two.
Buffy’s legs dangled in the air—there was no way her feet could reach anything to get a grip on. She heldon tight with both hands as Castillo tried to shake her off, and then she dodged frantically as he kicked at her. She caught a glimpse of the cliffside below and had difficulty drawing her eyes away—it was so far down! There was no way she could try to climb—if she dared untwist the chain, he was strong enough to shake her off easily.
She pulled her legs up and back and began to swing, slowly at first, and then faster, like a pendulum. Castillo’s face contorted into a picture of agony as he was torn between holding on to the guardrail with one hand and Buffy with the other. The bitch is trying to wrench my arm from its socket! “Stop it, girl--you’re going to kill us both!” he exclaimed, the first time Buffy had ever seen him sweat.
She continued swinging faster and faster and then, when she reached the highest part of her arc, she suddenly relaxed her grip, untwisting the handcuff chains. Before Castillo could even realize what was happening, her momentum had lifted her up in the air, and with a mid-air tumble worthy of an Olympic gymnast, she had landed on top of the guardrail itself. She stepped down onto the road and then turned to face the vampire, who was still holding onto the guardrail and swinging slightly.
“I have a question,” Buffy said. “Was this dramatic enough for you?”
She aimed carefully and planted a kick at his hand, breaking several fingers. She heard him cry out one last time and then watched his body plummet several hundred feet before crashing into the jagged cliffs below.
Xander crashed through the cabin door and shouted “Guys! There’s vampi—“ before realizing he was staring two vampires right in the face. Behind them, in a corner, Willow and Cordelia were sitting handcuffed. “Why does this always happen to me?” he said dryly before sprinting back out the door.
“Follow him!” shouted one of the vampires to his companion. “I’ll watch the prisoners.”
Xander ran out into the snow, knowing a blood-sucker was following close on his heels. He ran around the corner of the cabin trying to think desperately of a plan—one didn’t come to mind, so he kept running around the building and before he knew it, he was back at the front door. He decided to continue running and bounced off the chest of the vampire which had chased him and then doubled-back. He landed on his rump right in front of the doorway. Both vampires advanced on him, licking their fangs.
“Willow!” he shouted. “I need you to think up a plan for me really fast!”
“I’ve got one!” she yelled back instantly, her eyes fixed on the portion of the road she could see through the doorway. Soon everyone could hear the low rumble of an approaching motor. “Keep them occupied while Buffy stakes ‘em!”
“Angel has returned, and soon the party begins,” one of the vampires said to Xander. They were so confident that their leader had returned that they didn’t even turn to look in the direction of the approaching motorcycle. They heard its engine stop and continued smiling at the captives until a leather jacket flew through the air and landed at their feet.
They turned and looked around then and saw that the Slayer was standing in front of them, her hands free and holding broken but sharp tree branches.
“Okay, scumbags,” she said. “I’m tired, so we can do this two ways. You can either a) jump on the bike and ride far, far away, or b) stand there politely while I jam these through your hearts.”
The vampires were shocked—Castillo had never failed before. But after all the warnings they had heard about the Slayer, they were too intimidated to risk fighting her when even their master had failed. They backpedaled slowly and then ran for the bike, taking off down the snowy road in a cloud of smoke. Buffy unlocked her friends’ handcuffs with the key she had found in the jacket.
“I knew you’d come through,” said Willow, hugging Buffy.
Cordelia rubbed her wrists. “Anyone else notice how she always saves the day after my hunk gets gored by the vampires? I think there’s a pattern or something.”
“I’m glad everyone’s okay,” said Xander. “Man, you wouldn’t believe what Amara and I just went through.”
“Amara?” said Buffy.
“Yeah. You know, the pretty girl I was with all day on the slopes. We waved to you, remember?”
“Xander, I remember seeing you once or twice, but I didn’t think you were with anyone. We waved at you, but I wondered why you were spending so much time alone. I thought maybe you just wanted some time to yourself.”
“But—” Xander looked perplexed and then cold fear hit him in the gut. “Oh no! Not again . . .” he said, rushing out of the cabin.
He jogged over to Amara’s cabin. It was still dark, but Xander tried the door—it was unlocked and opened easily. Inside, the cabin was empty and held no signs it had recently been inhabited. It doesn’t look like its even been used--but I was just here a few hours ago! The rumors about the owner’s dead daughter. I guess it makes sense. The ever-present Xander curse. He sighed and put his hands on his hips, kicking the bed frame desultorily. He walked back slowly to the others’ cabin and resolved not to tell them about it. As much as they tease me about women now, just think what they’d do if they knew I spent the entire day hitting on a ghost.
It was early on Sunday afternoon when Cordelia pulled her father’s SUV into the high school lot. They had jumped into the car as soon as they could cram it full of their gear—no one could sleep after the night’s excitement, and no one wanted to explain to the authorities how the lodge burned down and the resort’s caretaker died. Plus, Buffy was worried about Giles—Castillo had mentioned something about eliminating the Slayer and her Watcher.
Giles pulled into the lot from the other direction just as Buffy and the others were getting out. The librarian had intended to spend the day cleaning up his office and was surprised to see his ward had returned so soon.
“Giles!” Buffy called out and ran to him.
“Ah, hello everyone,” he said. “Finished your vacation early, I see. Was . . . there anything wrong?” he said, a worried look on his face.
“Wrong? Us? Of course not,” Buffy said innocently. She knew that if she told him of the vampire attack, he would feel guilty for letting her go and not being there when she was in danger. Fortunately, the others had agreed to keep her secret. “Just boring was all. How about you? Anything pop up here while I was gone?”
“Ah, no. No, nothing ‘popped up,’ as you say. A very quiet weekend, actually,” Giles said, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. He worried about Buffy’s emotional state enough as it was, and if she found out that a small army of vampires had come to town and that Angel was almost killed, she would blame herself—she might never relax again. Fortunately, Angel had agreed to keep his secret. “I’m, ah, sorry your vacation did not turn out as you hoped,” he said.
“It happens,” said Buffy with a shrug. “You know, sometimes Sunnydale isn’t really as bad as it seems.” This is my place, she thought. It may be a literal hell hole, but it’ s where I belong. And maybe that’ s not so bad after all. “Anyway,” she said, smiling, “I’m glad to be back.”