"How to call overseas...." Buffy pawed through the hotel phone book. Her hands were shaking.
She talked for a while with a clueless operator, finally managing to get a faint ring. It only rang once.
A crisp, deep brogue assaulted her from the phone.
"Where the hellaya been?"
Buffy was speechless for a moment.
"We called ya last night! Didya not hear it was an emergency?"
"Ya listen to me now. Ya pack up, ya get the hell outa there. I called your Watcher. Your backup should be there any time now. You're in grave danger,"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Where have I heard that before? Who the hell is this?"
"If you'll do as I say, darlin'," the voice sank to a low volume, "And God willin', you'll live to find out,"
"I need to know who this is,"
"Ya need to get outa that hotel. Out of LA Now. And don't forget The Record. Ya leave that, we're sunk altogether." There was a click, a series of clicks, and then a dial tone.
Buffy hung up and stared at the phone. It rang. She nearly jumped out of her skin.
Buffy's heart seemed to halt in her chest.
"Don't leave the room. Are you packed up?"
Buffy was always ten seconds away from packed.
"We're coming up for you. Don't open the door until you hear my voice," he hung up.
Buffy was irritated. She was the Slayer. Everyone had seemed to have forgotten that little tidbit of information. She was in patrol gear and had slung her pack over her shoulder just as she heard Xander's voice at her door.
"Buffy, it's me,"
Buffy's eyes widened when she opened the door.
"Nice suit," she said.
"Where's your crossbow?"
Buffy lifted it. It was loaded.
"Good. My car's out front. We'll cover your back. Oh, here," he took her pack and tossed something heavy over her head, and wrapped the Velcro straps tightly around her.
"Guns, Buff. Blacked-out car windows. The real gangs," he handed her pack to her and checked the silencer on his Glock.
"I thought you'd never say that to me," he smirked, "C'mon," Buffy stepped sideways into the hallway and paused; there were two men in suits. She didn't know them.
"James, Kyle, meet the Slayer,"
The men nodded respectfully and fell behind Xander and Buffy as they went toward the elevators.
Three vampires stepped into view; they were in full day-gear: ski masks, sunglasses, gloves, turtlenecks. They had their guns up, commando-style. Xander and his friends worked behind her with beautiful efficiency, pumping neat bullet holes through each of the vampire's foreheads. Buffy staked them quickly, leaving piles of dust in the hallway, and the four of them jumped into the elevator.
Buffy reloaded her crossbow. "How many?"
"Xander, I thought you were working security," Buffy had pictured him in a cheap uniform with a flashlight and a pot belly.
Xander and his two companions snickered. "We do," said one of them.
"Of course not," Xander gave her a pained look.
"How many helpers did you bring, Xander?"
"Enough. I hope,"
The elevator door opened. All four of them had stepped sideways against the walls of the elevator, and Xander's friends stepped out first, crouched, guns sweeping the room. It looked empty. It was an ambush of some kind, Buffy knew it. They crept toward the front entrance. A very large vampire in day gear stepped out from behind a corner and promptly dissolved into dust, leaving an open view of Rupert Giles holding a stake.
"This way!" Giles made for the elevators.
"Giles aren't we leaving?"
"Now, Buffy!" his voice held the old imperious Watcher authority. She knew better than to question him anyway. She felt a rushing behind her and turned, falling under a vampire. She slid a stake into her hand from a compartment in her sleeve and dusted him. She was grabbed by Xander and hauled into the elevator. The doors were sliding closed as a vampire leaped in with them. It was staked by Buffy and Giles simultaneously. The vampire exploded in a shimmering cloud. There was a small silence, broken by the sounds of sneezes and spitting.
"West exit!" Xander said, to someone. Buffy had just enough time to shoot him a puzzled glance before the elevator door opened and they all skulked out; Buffy realized at this point that she was surrounded by Xander, his team and Giles. They headed down the back stairs. Two glistening black cars were waiting, doors open. Buffy was shoved inside one of them and it sped away, ripping around corners, screeching out into the street. Xander was practically laying on her.
"Keep your head down!" he hissed.
Buffy's heart leaped at the sound of a rapid series of sharp thumps along the side of the car. She cursed. She was face down on the back seat and Xander's body covered hers; his arms were wrapped around her head. The car careened sharply around several corners and she and Xander were thrown around. She heard another series of thumps, this time higher, but for some reason the glass in the windows wasn't breaking. She heard gun fire behind them.
"Keep south!" yelled Xander.
"We're on track," someone yelled back, probably the driver.
"What's it look like?"
Buffy heard a thunderous crash behind them.
The driver laughed gleefully, "Got `em!"
Xander inched his head above the seat. Buffy tried to follow, but he shoved her head down.
"Sorry, Buff. This is my job. You'll do yours later."
The car zipped around a few more corners, then hit the smooth freeway. Buffy bolted upright. Xander seized her by her shoulders.
"Listen to me," he said.
"You listen to me-" she shot back.
"No, Buffy. This is what I do. When you're with me you do what I say. When I say it. I know you're not used to it, but deal. This is my area. Tell me you understand,"
"When it comes to paranormal activity, you're the boss. You make the rules and I jump. When it comes to any kind of urban combat you listen to me. Tell me you understand what I'm saying,"
Buffy shook off her irritation.
"Xander, what is it you do, exactly?"
His eyes softened with regret.
"Sorry, Buff, I'm not at liberty to talk about that,"
"Is this the company car?"
He grinned at her and suddenly turned his head, alert.
"Good," he said to someone. "O.K.....let's go with the primary. Make sure team two is in position; Cole," he addressed the driver, "Take the primary route. We're clear for two,"
"My God," said Buffy, in wonderment, "You're James Bond or something," she glanced around her and saw the spidery, dented windows of the car. "This is bulletproof glass, isn't it?"
"None of this happened, Buffy. It's important,"
"Have you completely forgotten who you are talking to?"
He laughed. "Not likely," there was a shrill ring in his jacket. He pulled out the tiniest cell phone Buffy had ever seen and handed it to her, "Should be Giles,"
"Buffy, are you all right?" Giles voice was breathless.
"Yeah, I'm ...totally intact,"
"And The Record?"
"Why didn't you tell me, Giles?"
"It's...it's...a promise I, I made a while ago,"
"Promise to who?"
"A promise to Angel?"
"He wanted to protect you-"
"I can't believe you made a promise to him to lie to me," Buffy suddenly felt a dangerous welling of emotion. She shoved it back.
"I'll explain, later. At least you're safe."
"Giles," Buffy was confused again; she looked at Xander. "Where are we going?"
"San Diego" said Xander.
Buffy had a sudden desire to sit and talk with him. It had been four years; of course he'd called, and she'd seen him on holidays with Willow occasionally, but the transformation was startling. He was obviously the youngest member of the team, and obviously in charge of it. The trademark Xander courage had grown into confidence, but when he looked at her she saw the same caring look she'd always seen, that little flame in his eyes that had always been there for her.
"Uh-yes, San Diego...of course they'll already have marked out the museum," said Giles. Buffy slowly put together what was happening. She seemed to be doing that a lot lately, always one step behind everyone else. She suddenly felt tired, and frightened. The museum? This was a big, organized hunt. Vampire gangs. Buffy took a deep breath.
"Then they'll- they'll just station there and wait?"
"Of course. They know everything, Buffy. Well, almost everything,"
"What about the Codex? All your books?"
"My friend in Oakland has taken care of that,"
"How did they get onto us?"
She could feel Giles struggling on the other end.
"You know I never intended to put you in any danger, Buffy. I wasn't told the entire story. I do believe that this whole thing was beyond his control, and that he couldn't have foreseen-"
"Where is Angel?" Buffy heard anger creeping into her voice but she couldn't stop it, "Why did you lie to me? How the hell did we get ambushed like this? What is going on, Giles?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Xander held a hand up, "Slow down, Buff,"
"I want explanations. NOW,"
Xander took the phone gently from her hand, "You'll get them," he said.
"Do you have everything from San Francisco that you need?" he asked Giles. Buffy couldn't hear the reply. She was trying to control herself.
"All right," Xander put the phone back in his jacket and faced her, "I don't know it all, Giles will have to fill you in. But I know the reason we got you out," he paused; a strange look came over his face, almost as if her were swallowing something bitter, "The reason you got out, the reason we got there in time, is because Angel went to a lot of trouble. He was the one that contacted me. He's not even in the States,"
"Ireland," said Buffy.
"Did he call you?"
Buffy looked at him. "I-I don't know. Somebody did,"
"Anyway, this has been coming for a while. I guess Angel or one of his buddies got a hold of a very important vampire record somehow, and then the vamps tried to steal it back. This friend of Angel's was on the run, and he had to dump it somewhere,"
"The last place they'd look, if they'd already searched Angel's place a few times," said Buffy.
"Right. The vamp gangs thought Giles had it. But this particular friend knew that you were going to come looking for Angel,"
Of course, thought Buffy, Angel would be able to predict that I'd do that.
"So it was left where I would find it,"she said.
"The only other thing I know is, this record or whatever it is, comes in pretty handy on the big hunts, and the vamp gangs are seriously peeved about loosing it,"
"You need it to bring down a big Clutch," said Buffy, staring into space.
"Vampire families....if you can kill an elder they all loose power, they scatter without leadership and it's easier to take them out. And they're weaker, too...."
"Sounds like a good thing to have around," said Xander.
"Yeah....." Buffy stared out the cracked window. Of course. This was organized. Really big. Elders...the old country, so many of them would still be there, the British Isles were a real power center. If Angel went back and passed himself off as Angelus, he would instantly be respected and feared. He'd have power. He could get to the real elders, the Ancients. And kill them. She would have wanted to go, and he would never have allowed it. That was why he disappeared...plus....imagine another scene on the deck of a ship, saying goodbye for who knew how long? Buffy winced. Neither one of them would be up for that.
Xander's phone rang again. He glanced at it before answering; he turned away from Buffy.
"I'll foreword you to Giles......yeah, yeah......right here, yeah.......O.K., I'm forwarding you," Xander was dialing on the tiny keypad when Buffy made a lightening snatch for the phone. Xander's reflexes had improved. Buffy shot him a poisoned glare.
"Who was that?" she challenged.
"Buffy, you'll get all your answers. I'm just not the one to give them to you,"
Xander settled beside her and they rode south in silence, Buffy mulling over what had happened. He must already have pull in Ireland; somebody had called her for him, and to arrange a complicated thing like stealing The Record, he must have powerful friends here still, as well. But who had kept those letters, the letters that told Buffy of Angel's true heart, that gave her eyes into his soul, into all the things that happened then, from his side? She shouldn't be thinking like this; there were more important things at stake. Literally. She missed him suddenly with a sharp ache; she wondered if he still missed her, too, or if all those letters were past tense. She thought of the mountain of writing on the hotel room floor, Angel's letters, and the handful of Angelus' horrible script, all stuffed hurriedly back in the box. She looked at her pack on the floor of the car; it had been tossed around a bit, but she still had it. She stuffed it protectively under her knees. She had a lot more reading to do.
She turned to Xander. It was going to be a long drive.
"So," she said with a sigh, "How ya been?"