Begin A New Day
By Maquis Leader
Author’s note: This is the sequel to The End Of Days, which you’ll need to read for this to make sense. The story picks up roughly one week later.
“This is the last of it.”
“Set it in the backseat.”
Wes set the box in the back floorboard; the seat was already stacked with boxes full of Angel’s belongings. “Are you sure you want to keep all these things?”
“No.” Buffy ran her fingertips over the velvet shirt that peeked out from under the edge of the box flaps. “I just can’t – I just can’t bear to give them away.”
“I understand.” He patted her shoulder. “It’s hard to believe he won’t be back for them.”
“He’s been through so much.” She wiped away the tears that threatened once again. “He came back from Hell, even.”
“Perhaps it’s best – “Wes shook his head. “Sorry. Proper British upbringing makes me say useless things like that. Heaven forbid we should show our emotions and rail at the unfairness of life.”
Buffy smiled despite the pain in her heart. The past several days had been the hardest of her life. Even her mother’s death hadn’t left a hole this big. But then, she’d had Angel to lean on for support. Now he was gone.
With Willow’s help, she had carefully packed Angel’s things for the trip to Sunnydale. Fred had tried to help but couldn’t stop crying and had finally left to help Wes sort through Angel’s books.
Cordelia had locked herself in her room and refused to come out. Buffy had taken the boxes of Connor’s things to her, hoping to pull her out of the depression she’d fallen into. Cordelia had taken the boxes and shut the door without a word.
“And I’m telling you that I cannot be held accountable for fireballs falling from the sky!”
Buffy smiled as she walked into the lobby. The rental company was determined to make Giles pay for the car he had rented, and he was equally determined not to.
“Well then, I suggest you sue me. I am not paying for it!” He slammed the phone down. “Bloody idiots!”
“Still fighting it out?”
“It seems that apocalyptic conditions aren’t covered by the insurance.” He told her. “They’re saying it was an act of God, and therefore my responsibility.”
“And after you just helped save the world, too?” She tsked. “Ungrateful much?”
“It’s not like we can tell them ‘hey, we saved the world so don’t charge me for the car’, though.” Willow quipped as she came around the end of the counter.
“True.” Giles smiled ruefully. “No discounts for the heroes.”
“What’s up in Sunny D?” Buffy asked.
“All clear.” Willow told her. “Since the Beast went poof, everything’s been quiet. Oh, and they found Spike.”
“Where was he?” The First had kidnapped Spike from her basement before she had left for LA with Angel. There was a fresh twinge of pain at the memory of Angel sitting on her bed, fresh from the shower.
“He’d been chained up in one of the caves by Deadman’s Point. Clem found him and brought him home.” The redhead wrinkled her nose. “He’d been tortured, and Xander was way too much Mr. Details.”
“Typical Xander.” Willow agreed with a smile.
“How’s Dawn?” As bad as it had been for her to accept Angel’s death, it had been a thousand times harder to tell her sister. Dawn had always had a crush on Angel, had practically worshipped him. She had cried and sobbed hysterically until finally Xander had taken the phone away from her and carried her upstairs to her room. Buffy could only hang on to the phone and say she was sorry. Endlessly, numbly, until Willow had pried the receiver from her fingers.
“She’s still – you know?” Xander had told her Dawn was still laying in bed, barely eating anything and refusing to talk, but Willow didn’t want to add to Buffy's own grief.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Hey gang!” Lorne called as he hurried down the stairs. “Have I got some news!”
For a moment, Buffy felt a surge of hope that Angel had come back. Seeing only a small, weasely looking demon following Lorne, she crushed it back down. There had been too many false alarms. Too many vampires that turned out to be just that.
“Something big is going down.” His green skin was flushed with excitement.
“I don’t care.” Buffy brushed past him and headed upstairs. “I’m going home.”
“Sweetie, listen.” He caught her arm. “Word is that someone is going to be tortured and killed in front of a paying audience – a very large and bloodthirsty paying audience.”
“So?” She shrugged. All her do-gooding had gotten her nothing but heartache. “Let someone else save the world for a change. I’m tired.”
She froze. “Angel is dead.”
“That’s what I thought.” Lorne said softly. “But can we take the chance?”
Looking past him at the short, tan skinned demon, she asked. “How reliable is this guy?”
“Leo, honey, the name is Leo. And hey, Angel is my buddy too, you know?” He said defensively. “He’s helped me out a time or two, you know? It ain’t easy being a demon sometimes. People don’t check to see if you’re a vegetarian before they try to cut your head off, you know?”
He seemed sincere, and Lorne was nodding in agreement. Buffy wanted to believe Angel was alive, wanted it desperately, but she’d learned the pain only grew worse with every false hope.
“Buffy.” Giles stepped up beside Lorne. “It can’t hurt to check it out. If it’s not Angel, we’re no worse off than before.”
Aren’t we? “Fine, we’ll check it out. Then I’m going home.”
“I got a time, but I’m not sure on the place, you know?” Leo waved his hands. “Just a general area. They’re keeping it hush hush until the big event, you know?”
“And it looks like it’s gonna be strictly SRO, kid.” Lorne grimaced. “Tall, dark, and broody isn’t exactly Mr. Popular with the demon kin. Well, not alive anyway.”
“When is this event?” Buffy asked.
“Midnight?” She rolled her eyes. “How original.”
The black convertible cruised slowly down the dimly lit street. The boxes of Angel’s things had been moved into the hotel again to allow room for Willow, Lorne, Gunn, and Leo to sit in the back.
In the front seat, Buffy sat between Giles and Wes, trying her best to keep her hopes down to a minimum. A movement in the street caught her attention just as she felt the familiar tingle that alerted her to a vampire’s presence. Scanning ahead of them, she pointed out a figure by a street pole. “There.”
Wes floored the accelerator and the Plymouth roared to life, bearing down on the startled vamp before he could react. The body bounced off the hood and onto the pavement, papers fluttering around him like rain.
Climbing out over the windshield, Buffy grabbed him as he scrambled to his feet. “Holding a rummage sale, ugly?”
“Get off me, bitch!” He snarled at her.
“That’s Slayer bitch to you.” She thumped his head onto the hood of the car.
“Oh wow!” Gunn looked at one of the papers the vamp had been putting up. “This is not good.”
“I don’t know nothin’ about those!” The vamp squirmed in Buffy's grasp.
Wes looked at the flyer. There was a drawing that looked like Angel underneath the caption “Traitor’s reward! From midnight till dawn ritualistic torture and degradation of Angel the souled vampire. Ending with the traitor chained out to see the sunrise. Audience participation welcome.”
Lorne shivered. “And I thought wrestling was bad.”
“Oh, look!” Leo was reading one of the flyers. “Free food and drink!”
“Where is it?” Buffy pulled the vamp’s head back.
“I dunno nothin’.”
She slammed his head into solid Detroit steel once again. “Where. Is. It?”
“I’m telling you – “ His face hit the black metal once again with a resounding thud.
“Would you like some holy water?” Giles asked conversationally. “I have some if you’d like.”
“They stink when they burn, man.” Gunn waved the paper in front of his face. “I keep telling you that.”
“And your method of cutting off their hands and feet is better, I suppose?” Giles grimaced. “Messy, that.”
Buffy bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Talk.” She slammed the vamp’s head down again. “Or I let him cut your feet off and him pour holy water over the bloody stumps.”
“Oh, I could do some witchy stuff!” Willow said eagerly, and her hands lit up. “Though burning does bring in that stinky factor, you know?”
“Wow.” Leo bobbed his head. “She’s good, you know?”
“Warehouse – dock 15!” The vamp snarled. “But you can’t stop it – “
Buffy brushed the dust off of her hands. “Let’s go.”
“Sucker.” Willow switched off the small flashlight she had in her hand as Leo opened the car door for her. “He was way too easy.”
Giles slid his arm around Buffy's shoulders as they got back into the car. “It’s a good likeness of him, don’t you think?”
She nodded silently, still trying to be Ms. Skeptical. But Ms. Hopeful was bludgeoning her to death, and her heart was about to burst open.
“The grammar is awful, however. And the punctuation – “Giles kept up an inane chatter as the car sped them through the night.
“Looks like the crowd is already gathering.” Lorne peered around the corner of the warehouse.
“They aren’t lettin’ ‘em in though.” Leo pointed to the two big guards at the front door. “Probably trying to build anticipation – get ‘em agitated before the big show, you know? Get that blood fever going. Or maybe the hors d'oeuvres aren't done?”
“There’s only a couple of guards at the back.” Wes crept back to where the others were hiding. “I think we can take them.”
“You think?” Gunn asked skeptically. “Do they look like those two?”
“More or less. Mostly more.” The former Watcher shrugged. “Nothing we can’t handle.”
“How about a little distraction?” Willow grinned. “A little Wicca wonder?”
“Excellent idea, Willow.” Wes smiled at her. “Why don’t you and Lorne make a bit of noise while we slip in the back?”
“Hey, what about me?” Leo asked. “Angel’s my buddy too, you know? Come on, I can help too, you know?”
“You can ah… watch the car.” Wes told him.
“All right!” The small demon scampered off to stand guard over the ebony Plymouth.
“Give us a couple of minutes.” Buffy hugged Willow before turning and heading for the back of the warehouse.
Crouching beside Wes, Giles, and Gunn, Buffy waited impatiently for the promised distraction. It’s not Angel. It can’t be. She told herself firmly. But what if it is? What if it is? Her mental argument ended with a blast of light and sound from the front of the warehouse.
The two guards immediately abandoned their post at the back door, running toward the possible threat. Or toward a possible fight. With demons it was a toss up.
“Well, that’s no fun.” Gunn muttered as they opened the back door and crept inside the warehouse.
“Perhaps there’s plenty of guards inside you can play with.” Wes slipped a spare stake under the door to keep it propped open for a quick escape.
The warehouse was dimly lit and Giles blinked several times trying to get his sight adjusted. Beside him, Buffy tapped his shoulder and pointed. Squinting across the large room, he saw what looked like an animal cage with someone standing beside it.
Buffy motioned Wes and Gunn to go to the left of the cage. Tapping Giles’ arm again, she jerked her head for him to follow her. Carefully, they approached the cage.
Pacing around the cage, a vampire in an ugly yellow suit poked at something inside. There was a weak growl in response. And Buffy's heart beat faster.