"Did you know when you go it's the perfect ending
To the bad day I'd gotten used to spending..."
Cordy closed a book heavily and rolled over onto her stomach. "God, could this be more boring?" she groaned into Giles' carpet.
Buffy made a face at the book she'd been aimlessly flipping through for half an hour. "Possible, but not probable. I thought you were used to doing the research thing in L.A."
"Hello! Computer. Web pages. Databases. Mostly in English. Those I can handle." She shifted her head to stare at the book in disgust. "This? This is boring."
Buffy grinned at her, surprised by how natural it felt. She'd rarely spent any time having an actual real conversation with Cordelia -- with the exception of one really, really memorable phone call that summer -- but it was actually kind of entertaining. For very limited periods of time.
Besides, how often did you get to see Cordelia Chase sprawled out on the floor of anyone's apartment, much less Giles'? She paused, gave a mental 'Ewww' at the place her brain went, and moved on quickly.
"I'm forced to agree, research is a serious dragfest," she said out loud. "Like we'd know it if we found any useful spells or stuff."
"Well, some of us would," Cordelia said with raised eyebrows, then spoiled the display of Attitude by making a face. "But the rest of us get to go out and beat things up as soon as Riley gets back, so I'm thinking they've got the better end of the deal."
Buffy shrugged. "You could come along; it's not like this going to be a big thing. Get in before they start the ritual and Big Ugly Demon comes, beat up stupid people calling Big Ugly Demon, get back out. Apocalypse averted, and we're in bed before midnight. For once."
"Famous last words," Cordelia snorted. "Literally. And yeah, I can totally see Angel and Wesley letting me come along when there's a whole huge gang available. Right. Cue massive over-protective macho routine. I'm surprised Angel's letting Wes go." She sighed and sat up, poking at her book with one perfectly manicured fingertip. The bandage on her hand looked new, and Buffy considered asking her how she'd hurt herself, but didn't. "It's not like I really want to be in on the fighty stuff -- clothing is always ruined -- but I really hate waiting."
"Not something I've got a lot of experience with," Buffy admitted, "and I'm kind of glad about that."
"Thanks for the sympathy." Anya chose that moment to make a fairly loud comment about her and Xander's sex life to Angel, Wesley and Giles. God knew how she'd managed to go there when she was supposed to be telling them about binding demons, but both girls winced. "Plus, being trapped in a room with Anya for hours," Cordelia added. "Oh, the fun."
Buffy snickered, trying not to let the others hear. "Actually, I was expecting lots more of the fighty stuff right here in our little gang. But everyone's getting along scarily well."
"I noticed. You think we're maybe discovering that thing called maturity?"
"I think you guys replaced Wesley with a pod person." Buffy didn't mention the exorcism theory; she was reckless, not stupid.
"Excuse me?" Or it was possible she was stupid too, Buffy thought as Cordelia's eyes flashed. Wow, people actually did that?
But the other girl calmed down surprisingly fast. "Well, no, you're not wrong," she said consideringly. "When he first came to L.A., Angel and I thought the same thing."
Buffy tried to ignore Cordelia's casual juxtaposition of her name and Angel's. "Major change?"
"Leather. Motorcycle. Rogue demon hunter." Cordelia rolled her eyes, with a variation of the 'smile of Xander affection and tolerance' that Buffy and Willow used. "He was such a spaz. It was totally adorable, when it wasn't totally irritating."
"Buffy?" Giles called from across the room. "When is Riley supposed to arrive?"
"In about--" She twisted to check the clock. "--ten more minutes. He said it might take a while to get the fun immobilizing-not-killing type toys for the L.A. crew."
Giles went back to talking to the others, and Buffy flopped onto her back. Give Cordelia some credit, she was right about the boring part. "Hey, Will? Got anything new on whoever owns that office?"
"William Tyler Management Consulting, Inc.," Willow told her without looking up from the computer. Cordy's face did that thing where she looked like she was trying to remember something, but it didn't look like she came up with anything. "Offices in L.A., New York, San Francisco, Denver and Sunnydale; I'm still trying to do a full background check, but I'm having a really hard time tracking down any real information -- it all seems to be buried under shell corporations and figureheads. There's a couple of references to some legal trouble for William L. Tyler, who owns the firm -- some kind of law suit in Los Angeles about three months ago. But the case was summarily dismissed, so there aren't really any details in any of the national papers, and the L.A. Times archive is down."
"I don't care who sued him, except kind of hoping they won and wiped him out," Buffy told her, remembering the crunchy little 'used to be alive' things in the firepit. "I just want to know if he's human or not."
Willow lifted one hand from the keyboard long enough to wave it reassuringly. "I've got it, Buffy."
Cordelia had an expression on her face like she'd get it faster, but for once, she actually didn't say it. Yay for the maturity thing. She went back to paging through her book instead. Buffy drummed her hands against the floor restlessly and ran through her mental list of Ways to Make Humans Stop Casting Spells Without Killing Them. It was shorter than it probably should be, and she made a note to point that out to Giles.
"So, you and Wes aren't a thing?" she asked idly, rolling back to her stomach and opening her book.
Cordelia choked on her Diet Coke. "God, no. Been there, done that, retained the trauma. No plans to revisit."
"Yay, I win the bet; you had Willow and Xander going. You didn't fool Tara, though."
"Willow's taste is improving," Cordelia allowed. "I mean, not that I didn't love Oz and everything, but -- hello, werewolf. And let's not even discuss Xander."
"Let's not." Buffy crossed her eyes at the tiny text in her book, closed it, and rolled onto her back again. "Speaking of trauma."
"Like you were the one traumatized by that."
"Hey, I had to deal with all of your trauma. Well, Will and Xander more than you, but still. And are we forgetting about the black silk spellbound seduction scene?"
"Oh god, we're trying. Bad mental place. Although the image of you as a rat? Not so much of the bad."
Buffy scowled at Cordelia, who didn't look up, but also didn't bother trying to hide her smirk. Buffy's eyes narrowed. "So, since we're on the topic, what did happen with you and the lawyer? I never got to hear anything after the second date."
The smirk faded fast, and Buffy got almost as much satisfaction as guilt out of it. "He's... It just didn't work out. I needed him to be something he wasn't ready to be, and he couldn't deal with what I am."
"You know." Cordelia waved one hand at the room around them. "Vision Girl. She Who Researches. Girl Friday to the Brood Patrol and all of the assorted ickiness that comes with. I wound up in the hospital about five weeks ago, and Lindsey power-freaked. So I thought that proved he loved me, or at least cared, but then he... did something really awful right after and--" She blew her breath out hard, shaking her head impatiently. "It was just a bad idea to begin with and it died a painful and ugly death, not unlike relationships in Sunnydale, so you should be able to relate."
She said the last with a pointed, not-even-slightly friendly smile, and added, "Oh, and speaking of painful and ugly deaths, try and control the snuggling with your life-size GI Joe doll while Angel's around, okay? It wasn't fun cleaning up after you the last time, and I don't want to have to do it again."
"Listen, Cordy," Buffy snarled as she snapped upright. "Your love life may need serious intervention, but mine is--"
"Ladies." Both girls looked up to see Giles standing over them, polishing his glasses and looking disapproving. "As entertaining as your disagreements always are, perhaps you could put them on hold until after we've, oh, averted the upcoming apocalypse?"
Buffy crossed her arms and tried to work up a good pout. Cordelia actually flushed and looked guilty. "I'm going to go see if Wes needs help," she announced, getting to her feet and stalking away.
Giles continued to glare sternly down at Buffy. Buffy abandoned the pout for her best falsely-accused innocent expression. "She started it."
Giles shook his head and put his glasses back on. "Be that as it may, they are our guests, and here to help. Let's try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum." He hesitated for a second than added, more quietly, "And I'd been meaning to have a word with you about Riley myself. Cordelia may have exhibited her habitual lack of tact -- I suppose we should be grateful there will always be some constants in the universe -- but she may have a point."
Buffy wrinkled her nose, but had to admit he wasn't wrong. "Yeah. I know. I'll try to be careful, but... Riley's got issues, you know?"
"He can join the club," Giles returned, not unsympathetically. "There are enough issues currently standing in this room to keep a university of psychologists busy for quite some time."
Buffy followed his eyes over to where the L.A. contingent was now huddled together on the staircase -- Cordelia sitting a step below Wesley with her arm propped on his knees, both of them leaning towards Angel. "It's just weird," she observed for about the thousandth time that day. "Talk about the three people least likely to bond -- and there they are. Running a business together, fighting evil together, having lives together... I don't know how to deal with that."
Giles shrugged. "I shouldn't think you'll have to, for the most part. It doesn't really have a great deal to do with us."
Buffy stared at the trio on the stairs for another second, then got up as Riley came in the front door bearing toys. "Yeah. I guess."
On the very long mental list Wesley maintained of "Places I Hope to Never Find Myself Again", Sunnydale -- home of past lives, past enemies, and past mistakes -- occupied several prominent slots. So he was not unappreciative of the irony inherent in skulking down Main Street, in the middle of the Scooby Gang, with his vampiric friend/employer right beside him.
Said vampiric friend/employer being, of course, the person he'd wanted the least to do with last time he'd been here. Someday, when he had nothing left to lose, Wesley fully intended to find a spell that would enable him to track down whichever of the Powers That Be had the twisted sense of humor, and strangle him/her/it.
But those weren't precisely the correct thoughts for a man heading into battle to entertain, so he refocused his attention on his surroundings just as Angel asked quietly, "Any idea why I've got such a bad feeling about this?"
Wesley shrugged. "Afraid not. Given the mystical and mundane firepower at our disposal, this should, in fact, be relatively straightforward."
"Which always worries me when there's a prophecy involved," Angel muttered.
"I was trying not to think that way." Angel grimaced apologetically and Wesley went on, "I honestly don't know if returning to Sunnydale was such a good idea."
Angel shook his head. "We all know by now that a prophecy is a prophecy. It's got a good chance of happening whether we help it or not. And when it involves Buffy... I needed to be here."
"Yes, but I do worry about bringing old emotions and entanglements--"
"I can handle it," Angel cut him off irritably. "Buffy and I worked all that out, it won't be a problem, so everyone can just stop acting like being back in Sunnydale again will make me fall apart or something."
"Good for you," Wesley responded icily, "but I was actually thinking of Cordelia." Angel blinked, then had the grace to look mildly embarrassed. "Given her current emotional state, returning to the scene of what were at best difficult, and at worst highly traumatic, times for her might not have been the best idea."
Angel shifted guiltily. "It wasn't like she was going to stay behind if we tried to come without her."
"No," Wesley sighed. "She wasn't. No matter how difficult it has been for her." Both of them took a moment to glare balefully at Xander's back, since the Lawyer Who Shall Not Be Named Except to be Cursed wasn't available. The younger man glanced over his shoulder, intercepted the looks, and wisely sped up to put Riley and Buffy between them.
"She can handle it," Angel finally said, sounding something less than convincing. "She's been handling it. And it's, you know, distracting her from the whole lawyer thing."
"Of course," Wesley agreed with an equal lack of conviction. "This trip could, in fact, be very good for her."
"Yeah." Angel tried to look like he believed that; Wesley hoped he was having considerably more success at maintaining his own expression.
Buffy stopped at a street corner and motioned them into an alley. They followed her, huddling together with a minimum of fuss, although Angel bit back a snarl as Xander stepped on his foot and Wesley got the butt of someone's taser in his ribs. Buffy didn't appear to notice.
"Okay, the office is just around the corner," she said quietly. "Angel and Wesley, you go around to the back. Me and Xander will go in the front, Riley, you've got that side door we saw."
They all nodded except Xander, who half-raised his hand. "And we do what when we get inside?"
Buffy shrugged. "Hide and wait for morons. Attack morons when they show up. Commence pummeling."
"That's what I thought. Good plan. Very detailed."
"Bite me, Xand," Buffy told him without heat and surveyed her troops, such as they were. "Okay, guys, here we go."
Riley did a creditable job of melting into the shadows; Buffy and Xander were less stealthy, but quite competent at moving through the near-darkness. Wesley gave Angel an 'after you' gesture; Angel rolled his eyes, but led the way towards the back.
The door was locked, of course; Wesley contemplated attempting to pick it, thought about the ensuing humiliation if he couldn't, and stood aside to let Angel simply break the lock open. Angel opened the door and repeated Wesley's 'after you' gesture back at him.
The office was dark and still, the last vestiges of twilight seeping through the windows and disappearing into the shadows. The huge space was deserted, the firepit in the middle cold and empty, the bulky forms of statues and unnamed equipment still -- there was absolutely nothing threatening there at all. But the entire office seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for... something.
"I don't like this," Wesley breathed.
"Neither do I," Angel murmured back. "Where are the others?"
"I don't--" Something shifted and broke in the shadows near the front, and Xander's voice hissed out an apology. Wesley rolled his eyes. "Two in front."
"And two here." Wesley jumped, Angel didn't, and Riley smiled at Buffy as she and Xander joined the group. "Anything?" he asked.
"Nothing," Buffy shrugged, still keeping her voice down. "Looks like we beat the crowd. Let's find us some good ambush spots and--"
The lights suddenly flashed on, blinding all of them for a moment. When Wesley was able to see again, it took him a moment to speak, but he finally pointed out to Buffy, "It looks as if all of the good ambush spots have been taken."
Then there no more time for talking, only for fighting the twenty or more human forms that emerged from the walls and lunged for them.
Cordelia swore under her breath and slammed a half-full glass of Diet Coke down on Giles' desk. "The Times archive is still down -- how can a major newspaper survive like this? Will, have you got anything yet?"
What Willow had was an expression suggesting the next person to ask her that was going to be turned into a frog. "Not yet. There's a lot of binding spells in Sunnydale, you know. Love spells, prosperity spells... And the energy holding the Hellmouth interferes, too." She shrugged, dangling the pointer over the map of Sunnydale again as Tara tossed down another handful of St. John's wort and sage. "On the plus side, since we can't find anything big and it's past dark, I'm guessing Buffy and the others have gotten the pummeling out their system, and all of this is pretty pointless."
Cordelia made a face at her own reflection in the computer screen. "That would mean that a plan involving us worked. Sorry, I'll believe it when I see it."
"I'd like to tell you you've become overly cynical," Giles sighed from his stack of books on the couch, "but since you're essentially correct...."
"I'm always correct," Cordelia told him absently, making another run at the Times archive and getting another 404 error. "I wish everyone would get used to that."
"They never get used to other people being right," Anya said from the couch. "I think it makes them feel threatened."
"Yes, Anya, that's precisely it." Giles lifted his eyes to the ceiling. Cordelia, who figured Anya was right, didn't say anything.
Everyone jumped a little at the knock on the door; Cordelia, the closest, got up to answer it. "Don't invite anyone in," Giles reminded her.
She rolled her eyes at the back of his head. "Duh, I'm from Sunnydale. We're not buying newspaper, magazines or siding," she said as she opened the door.
"Good," the tall blond man standing there said. "I'm not selling anything."
Her reflexes were usually a little better. But she'd been curled up with books or sitting in front of a computer all day, so even though she saw the blow coming, she couldn't duck in time. His fist spun her halfway around, pain and light exploding in her head as she fell to the ground. Like a vision, only worse, because this was bad and there was nothing she could do to help.
She felt more people race into the room, felt their feet hit her in deliberate and accidental kicks, heard Giles yelling, Anya's shriek of fury, and Willow and Tara's screams. Willow chanted and there was a flash of light, then someone hit the wall next to Cordelia, slumping to the floor in a heap. Yay, team, she thought dizzily, and tried to use the couch to get to her feet. Tara screamed again, sounding more angry than afraid, and someone else crunched into a bookcase.
Someone stumbled into her, and Cordelia abandoned her perilous hold on the couch to grab the laptop and nail him in the head with it. Something crunched and she was just lucid enough to hope it hadn't been the computer case. Then Giles started shouting as the man she'd just hit shoved her away; she saw the corner of the desk coming up at her, and heard Giles cursing before the pain hit and everything went bright, then black.
Buffy slammed the door to the condo open, already shouting "Giles!" as she came through. Riley was right behind her, half-carrying the staggering Wesley; Xander slumped to the ground next to the door as soon as he cleared it. "Giles, we need some help here!"
But it wasn't Giles who came racing forward, it was Tara and Cordelia. They took Wesley's weight and guided him to the couch, the lone island of comfort in the... wreckage? Anya shoved past all of them to fall to her knees beside Xander, cooing over his bruised forehead.
"Where's Giles?" Buffy demanded. "What happened? Is everyone okay?"
"He's gone. They took him. No." Cordelia started checking Wesley over with brisk efficiency, ignoring his attempts to brush her off. A bloody gash on her forehead was starting to swell; she'd have a black eye by morning. She looked up at Riley and demanded, "Any of that blood yours? No? Good. Ice packs and the first aid kit are in the kitchen. Anyone else gushing?"
"Gone?" Buffy interrupted Cordelia's paramedic routine. "What do you mean, gone? They took him? Who?"
Cordelia's mouth was a tight line as she shoved Wesley's pant leg up to get at his bruised and bloody shin. "Stop squirming; it'll hurt more if you keep moving. The people -- and I use the word loosely -- that you were supposed to be taking down took him. At least, I'm assuming from the cloaks and other pretentious wanna-be crap they were wearing that it was the same crowd."
"Shit!" Hearing her own curse, Buffy looked automatically and guiltily around for Giles, before remembering that he wasn't there to disapprove. They had him. Oh God. This could not be happening....
"Where's Angel?" Cordelia asked, without looking up from the cleaning job she was doing on Wesley's leg. "He didn't stay behind to do something heroic and stupid, did he? 'Cause if he did, I'm so going to kick his butt all the way back to L.A. It's not like we don't totally have a situation here, and it's not like Wes couldn't have used the help--"
"Cordelia," Wesley tried to insert gently, through pain-gritted teeth, and the whirlpool of rage and fear and pain and terror inside Buffy suddenly snapped.
"Just shut up, Cordy. They took him and we're gonna have to get him back, so just do us all a really big favor and be quiet for once in your life!"
She stopped screaming the second she realized she was and spun away; Riley wrapped his arms around her, and for just one weak moment, she let herself lean against him.
"Took him?" Cordelia asked finally, her voice smaller than Buffy had ever heard it in the sudden silence. "They... How could they take Angel?"
"We don't know," Xander answered, equally quietly. "We were fighting them and starting to win, and then they bugged out. There was this big flash of light, and when we could see again, it was just us in the room. No Angel."
"No... No dust?"
"No, Cordelia," Wesley said firmly, like someone who was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. He was better at it than Buffy would have thought he could be. "No dust. He's still alive, and probably being held wherever they're holding Giles."
Giles. Angel. Buffy straightened abruptly, pulling away from Riley, Slayer brain finally kicking into gear. Everything else receded behind the reality of getting Giles back. And Angel. "Okay, Wesley's right -- and how much did I never think I was going to say that?" Wesley winced and she gave him an apologetic look. No good getting the troops mad in a crisis. "This Tyler guy has Giles and Angel, and it seems like this whole thing was set-up. The office was totally an ambush, and they timed the attack here way too well for that to have been an accident. They knew exactly what they were doing -- and what we were doing."
"Unfortunately, that sounds right," Riley agreed. "So they must have come here specifically for Giles -- but they couldn't have known Angel would be with us at the office, could they?"
"Possibly, if they were watching the condo." Wesley winced as Cordelia finished bandaging his leg and stood up, her movements sharp and unnaturally graceless. "Thank you, Cordelia. But there's really no way of knowing if they planned to take him, or simply took advantage of circumstances. I'm hesitant to make any assumptions either way."
"But what would they want with an ex-Watcher and a vampire?" Xander asked, still on the floor. "Wouldn't, like, a Slayer be higher up on the mystical mojo feeding chain?"
"I was on the opposite side of the room from Angel," Buffy said tightly. "Maybe they took what they could get? Or maybe they were after Angel all the time, I don't know!"
"Again, it's difficult to make assumptions," Wesley inserted calmly, his jaw set and his eyes very hard. "The only thing I think we can safely assume is that the ritual, whatever it may be, is indeed set for tonight. I can't imagine anyone believing they could hold Giles and Angel prisoner for any length of time, particularly not with the Slayer searching for them."
"They're right about that," Buffy agreed with a teeth-baring smile.
"So where else can we look?" Willow asked from the computer, where she was presumably still trying to track William Tyler to ground. "Where else can they cast this thing? I mean, it'd be nice if they went back to their office and all, but, probably not."
"If it is, in fact, a binding ritual, it would need to be someplace that is, itself, bound to Mr. Tyler, if he is our villain, or to his compatriots," Wesley thought out loud, and Buffy was suddenly mind-numbingly grateful there was someone else here to do the thinking. He wasn't Giles -- oh god, Giles -- but Wesley knew his stuff. "Someplace he owns, someplace he identifies with.... Someplace where he feels at home, and is accepted."
"Great. So we should go find his grade school or something?" Buffy muttered.
"Nah, he probably got picked on by the other kids," Xander said.
Anya offered, "A place he owns is the most likely idea. If he was planning on kidnapping anyone, much less a vampire, he would have needed a place to install, you know, chains or bars, or things like that. Plus having a focus point for the teleportation spells, unless he's a much more powerful magician than he seems to be, since he seems to be summoning demons for power. While it's not impossible to find chains and bars in some locations, such as Xander's apartment, those aren't the types of places where you can hold a demonic ritual without someone noticing."
There was a sort of group blink-and-stare, before they all decided to pretend they hadn't heard the too-much-information part of that sentence.
"Anya is quite correct," Wesley said, fishing his glasses out of his pocket, where they had, somehow, survived unbroken, and putting them on. "Willow, we need to find any property that William Tyler owns in and around Sunnydale."
"I've been searching." Willow didn't look up from the reconnected (and thankfully not broken) computer, where she was typing like the fate of the world rested on her. Her left arm didn't seem to be working right and her face was bruised like Tara's, set in a mask of concentration. "Either he doesn't own anything, which I seriously doubt, or it's all so buried in fake names and shell corporations that I can't find it without a serious search."
Cordelia leaned over Willow's shoulder like she could speed up the searching by force of will; Wesley sighed and looked at Tara. "The teleportation spells... Anya's quite right, to pull off two major spells in such a short time, they must have been preset, bound to foci set to bring them back to a specific place, which rather confirms Mr. Tyler as involved, at the very least. Do you think you could locate such spells?"
"M-maybe," Tara nodded. "I can try."
"Please do so." Tara nodded and moved into a corner to start doing witchy things, and Wesley turned to Buffy and Riley. "You found the office more or less by accident, yes?"
"Kind of," Buffy shrugged. "A lot of people showed up dead there in the last week; we figured there was a nest."
"You figured," Riley corrected noncommittally. "I still think the bodies were weird."
"Weird in what way?" Wesley started to asked, but Cordelia cut him off.
"Willow," she said abruptly. "You said there was information on a lawsuit in one of those newspaper articles. Who represented William Tyler?"
Wesley's head whipped around to look at the girls; he and Cordelia exchanged grim looks. "You don't think--?"
"Who else?" she shrugged. "Besides, I remember something.... Willow, just check."
"Cordelia, I can't waste time on random stuff, I need to find--"
Everyone jumped a little at the unexpected shout; Willow's eyes narrowed, but she typed something into the computer and waited. "Okay, here it is. William Tyler was represented by some L.A. firm. Wolfram--"
"--and Hart," Wesley and Cordelia completed with her. "Now there's a surprise," Wesley added with disgust.
"Not really," Cordelia said grimly. "In fact, I think I even know who had the case."
Wesley froze. "Cordelia, you're not..."
"Do you have a better idea?" Classic staredown, and Wesley held out for longer than Buffy would have given him credit for.
"What makes you think he'll even be interested in helping?" Wesley finally asked, very quietly.
"I don't," Cordelia responded just as quietly. "But if there's even a little bit of a chance, I have to try it."
Wesley shook his head, but finally sat back down on the couch. Cordelia tightened her lips, then fished her cell phone out of her purse, and hit a speed dial number. She waited, then said, "Lindsey McDonald, please."