Chapter 2 – Unexpected Reunion
Buffy blew into the library to find a weary looking Giles reading over an equally weary looking Willow’s shoulder. Both were munching on pizza provided by Xander, who appeared to be doing his best effort to shove an entire piece into his mouth while trying not to get any sauce on the book he was reading.
“What do we got?” she asked, rubbing her hands together.
Giles sighed, chucking his half-eaten piece of pizza back into the box. “Nothing, I’m afraid.” He ran his hands through his unruly hair. It looked as if he had been doing that a lot.
“Okay,” Buffy said slowly, “so now what?”
“We mount up!” Xander mumbled around a mouthful of pizza.
Giles nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. “That does seem to be the logical next course of action.” He looked at Buffy. “We’ll start tonight in the alley where you saw the demons and go from there.”
“So, what do we have?” Artie asked as he, Claudia, Pete, and Myka sat down to an early dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Myka shook her head. “Not much,” she said.
“Except that, apparently, freaky things happen here all the time and it’s considered normal,” Pete added.
“What kind of freakiness?” Claudia asked.
“Grave robbing freakiness,” Pete said in a spooky voice.
“No way,” she breathed, eyes wide.
“Way,” he said, eyes just as wide.
“Grave robbing?” Artie asked Myka, secretly amused by the byplay between the other two.
“Yeah,” she confirmed. “I guess a lot of the recently buried go missing here.”
“Morbid,” Claudia wrinkled her nose, and missed a worried, far-away look in Artie’s eyes.
“Yeah, we thought so, too,” Pete said. “But here’s the really creepy thing. This couple filed a report last night that they were attacked by clowns.” He pulled a face and made zombie hands towards Claudia. She laughed and swatted his hands away.
“Clowns?” Artie asked, suddenly on the alert.
“Yeah. I hate clowns. They’re creepy. Don’t you think they’re creepy?”
Artie waved off Pete’s rant. “What kind of clowns?” he asked Myka.
“Artie?” Claudia murmured, concerned at his suddenly serious demeanor.
He absently put a hand on her forearm, still intent on Myka. “Did the report mention what kind of clowns? What did they look like?”
“Um,” Myka furrowed her brow in concentration. “The report said there were two clowns dressed in black and white.”
“Were they wearing masks?” he asked urgently.
Both his female companion’s eyes lit with simultaneous comprehension.
“You think they’re connected to the artifacts,” Claudia added thoughtfully. Myka nodded, also deep in thought.
“It’s our best lead,” Artie shrugged. “Did the report say where this attack happened?”
Pete nodded. “Yeah, it was in an alley off the main drag.”
“Good,” the senior agent nodded. “We’ll check it out tonight.”
“What are we looking for once we get there?” Buffy asked, twirling her stake in her fingers as the four walked along the darkened streets, alert to any danger.
“Anything that might give us a clue as to where they went. You said they just vanished?” Giles asked as he and Xander walked a step behind the girls, crossbow and axe held comfortably and ready to use at a moment’s notice.
“Poof,” Buffy affirmed with a nod.
Giles rolled his eyes as Willow giggled.
“I think perhaps it might be more efficient if we split into pairs,” the Watcher said as they neared the alley. “Buffy, why don’t you and Xander circle around, while Willow and I see if we can find any traces of mystical energy in the alley.”
“Aye, aye captain,” Buffy tossed of a quick salute before she and Xander trotted down the street and around the corner.
Willow giggled as Giles just shook his head and sighed. He smiled and extended a hand toward the alley. “Shall we?” he asked, bowing slightly.
Willow grinned, dropping in to a shallow curtsey. “We shall,” she answered, taking his proffered elbow, and the two walked down the dark alleyway to see what they could find.
“What are we looking for once we get there, Artie?” Myka asked as the four walked towards the alley mentioned in the police report.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Artie said. “Hopefully these ‘clowns’ left something behind when they vanished.”
“Hey, maybe we should split up. You know, cover more ground faster,” Pete chimed in.
“That’s not a bad idea, since we have no idea what to look for,” Artie said with a rueful grin. “You two circle around and meet us back in the alley,” he instructed Myka and Pete. “And be careful!”
“Yes, Dad,” Pete called over his shoulder as Myka laughed and punched him playfully on the arm.
“For the record, I did not father any of you heathens!” he called to their retreating backs.
“That’s what I keep telling people,” Claudia laughed.
The senior agent smiled back at her and pulled his Tesla out of his bag. “Remember,” he said, handing her the Tesla and retrieving his pistol, “by my side at all times.”
“Yes, Sir!” she said, snapping to playful attention.
“Don’t call me Sir,” he groaned. “It makes me feel…”
“Old?” she finished with a glint in her eye, laughing when he tried to glare at her.
“Devil child,” he muttered, fighting to keep the grin off his lips.
“Geezer,” she shot back, wrapping an arm around his elbow and facing the alley. “Shall we go find us an Artifact?”
“Let’s,” Artie replied, stepping forward with the young lady in tow.
They were almost to a bend in the alley when Willow pulled Giles to a sudden halt, causing him to stumble slightly. He looked at her and she pointed down the alley.
“Someone’s there,” she whispered.
Feeling a jolt of adrenaline, he brought the crossbow to the ready. Willow hugged herself to his back, stake in one hand and vial of holy water in the other, matching his stealthy approach to the point where the alley curved sharply.
Giles turned back to her, silently mouthing, “One…two…three!” Together, they leapt around the corner.
It was only because Artie and Claudia were walking slowly down the alley, alert to anything out of the ordinary, that he heard it. The slight scuff of a footstep followed by a whisper. He pulled Claudia to a stop, holding a finger up to his lips. She nodded, pointing to her ear and down to a bend in the alley.
The two hugged the wall, creeping as silently as they could toward the bend. Artie took up a protective position in front of Claudia, holding the pistol in front of him at the ready and keeping her close behind him with the other arm. They crept to the bend and stopped, staying as silent as possible to listen. Silence was all they got back. Claudia was sure whoever was there had probably been tipped off to their presence by the pounding of her heart.
Artie looked back at her and held up three fingers. He slowly curled each finger down in a silent count down. His companion scraped together all her courage. He made a fist, pointed ahead, and they both jumped around the corner, weapons at the ready.
“Arthur?” Giles asked in bewilderment, looking beyond the barrel of the gun pointed unwaveringly between his eyes to the man behind it.
“Rupert?” Artie responded in an equally bewildered tone, for the moment ignoring the crossbow aimed unerringly at his heart. “What are you doing here?” the Warehouse agent growled, menace creeping into his voice.
“I live here!” Giles rebuffed, a little taken aback by the hostile tone. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”
“You live here? In this alley?” Artie spat, his tone growing increasingly snide and angry. “Somehow that seems completely appropriate.”
“Now see here!” Giles growled, his color starting to rise.
“Hey there!” Claudia chirped a little too cheerfully, extending a hand to the tall Englishman currently holding her boss at crossbow-point. “Claudia Donovan. Nice to meet you.”
Willow grasped the outstretched hand and pumped it vigorously. “Willow Rosenberg,” she said just as cheerfully, staring pointedly at the man holding her mentor and friend at gunpoint.
Claudia cleared her throat nervously and leaned in closer to Artie. “Artie?” she whispered softly, putting a hand on his outstretched arm. She frowned as she felt the muscles in his forearm were tensed rock solid and he was trembling slightly. “Artie?” she asked again, even more concern in her voice.
Willow put her hand on Giles’ shoulder. “Giles? They’re not demons… are they?” At that, Claudia shot her a baffled look then turned her attention back to Artie.
“No,” Giles answered, having calmed himself from the unexpected insults. “In fact, unless something has drastically changed, they are among the good guys.”
“Okay,” Willow said quietly and calmly, as if she were talking to a skittish animal. “If they’re the good guys, then maybe you should put down the crossbow.” She gently put her hand on top of the crossbow to lower it in his grip. It did not move.
“Not until he lowers his weapon,” he replied, his voice deadly calm.
“Fat chance,” Artie ground out between clenched teeth.
“Artie,” Claudia said a little more sharply, trying to gain his attention. His eyes flicked to her momentarily then locked back on Giles. “Are they bad guys?” She could see some kind of conflict raging behind his eyes as he considered his answer. “Do I need to Tesla ‘em?”
“I will not allow you to electrocute Willow,” Giles growled, pulling Willow protectively behind him.
“Don’t you DARE threaten Claudia!” Artie bellowed, pulling her behind him and stepping up so that the barrel of his pistol was less than an inch from Giles’ nose.
“Whoa!” Willow and Claudia made simultaneous ‘time-out’ signals.
“Come on, Artie. No one said anything about threatening me. In fact, if you get right down to it, I was the one doing the threatening. Artie! Please put the gun down!”
Willow, at the same time, was saying, “Easy guys. We’re all good guys here, right? Please don’t shoot him, Giles. We don’t slay people, remember? Please, Giles, put the crossbow down!”
Claudia carefully came up behind Artie and put her hands on his shoulders. His whole body was trembling now. “Artie,” Claudia’s voice shook slightly and she could feel herself fighting tears. “Please Artie,” she whispered, circling her arms around him so she could speak softly in his ear. “No one’s gonna hurt me, Artie. Come on. You’re starting to scare me.” She had begun to tremble as well, and maybe that’s what finally got through to him, because the rage and hatred started to burn away to be replaced by concern and guilt for the distress he was causing her. Slowly, he lowered the pistol until it hung by his side and took a deep, shuddering breath. Claudia took the pistol from his hand and tucked it at the small of her back in the waistband of her jeans. She gave him a gentle squeeze and stepped back to his side, taking a deep, calming breath of her own.
Giles lowered his crossbow as Willow heaved an audible sigh of relief. The four of them just stared at each other for several moments.
Finally, Willow cleared her throat. “So, um, you guys know each other?” she asked awkwardly.
Artie snorted. “How could I forget the man who killed one of my agents in cold blood?”
“He WHAT?!?” Claudia squawked as Giles retorted with, “Amber was already dead, as you well know! I killed the demon who wore her face.”
Willow inserted herself between Giles and Artie before they could go at each other’s throats again. Claudia stood, torn between pulling Artie back and helping him.
“So let me get this straight,” Willow said pointedly, keeping each man at arm’s length. “You dusted a vamp,” Willow looked at Giles, “who had been one of your agents,” she looked at Artie. Giles nodded while Artie just glowered.
“Wait a minute,” Claudia checked back into the conversation with a shake of her head. “Vamp? As in Vampire? Or vamp as in a femme fatale whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations?”
Willow, Giles and Artie turned to look at her, the first two with disbelief and the latter with amusement and something else she couldn’t quite identify.
“Vamps as in Vampires,” Artie said, backing away from Giles once more. “Yes, just accept it like you accept the fact that there are Artifacts.”
Claudia cocked her head and pursed her lips for a moment. “Okay,” she nodded.
“Artifacts?” Willow whispered to Giles but he shushed her, promising he would explain later.
“Giles!” All four heads turned toward Buffy’s voice as she and Xander came trotting in to view. “No sign of our, um, friends,” she reported to her Watcher with a sideways glance at the two Warehouse agents. Xander stood with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath after having to keep up with what Buffy called a jog.
“Who’re your new friends?” the Slayer asked.
“Friends,” Giles replied shortly. “You encountered nothing?”
Buffy looked slightly hurt by his gruff reply, but then chalked it up to having eaten the last jelly doughnut again.
“Naw,” she shook her head. “Just a couple flat-foot, men-in-black agent types. Told ‘em we were going to a play rehearsal.”
Xander hefted his axe in explanation.
Artie and Claudia looked at each other. “Agents?” Claudia asked.
“Flat foot?” an annoyed voice behind Buffy and Xander said, causing them to spin around in surprise.
“All new faces,” Giles murmured softly. “I’m sorry,” he sincerely directed to Artie.
“Comes with the job,” the other man huffed gruffly.
Myka came closer with a cautious smile. “I think some of us might have missed something. Anyone mind filling us in?”
“My thoughts exactly,” Buffy concurred.
Giles sighed. “Do you remember how I told you of my time working at the British Museum?” Willow nodded enthusiastically while the other two gave him blank stares. “Yes… Well, you see, the Council wasn’t the only organization to, uh, require my talents.”
“Council?” Pete spoke up.
“The Council of Watchers,” Artie answered his agent almost reflexively, but never took his eyes off Giles. “I suppose you could say they are another organization like the Warehouse. They try to protect the world from things that most people don’t know exist.”
“But that’s what we do,” Pete chuckled. “How many ‘organizations’ are out there?”
Myka gave him a glare, then turned her attention back to Artie. “So he was your inside man at the museum. I can see how that would come in handy.”
Giles cleared his throat. “There has always been a Watcher on your Board of Regents. When my assignment placed me there, my skills were made available to Artie and his partners.”
“Partners,” Pete whispered to Myka, putting emphasis on the plural.
“You mean Amber?” Claudia spoke up cautiously.
Artie let out a growl, his rage again growing. “I loved her.”
“As did I!” Giles roared, stopping all comments before they came. “At least you didn’t have to learn what it felt like to pierce her heart. You didn’t stand there and watch those hazel eyes fade into nothing right in front of you.”
“That’s because I never would have!” Artie snarled back.
“Whoa! This guy took out an agent?” Pete interrupted, exacerbated. “Gezz, are all British people evil?” At Myka’s astonished gape he added, “Hey, look at our track record.”
“Shut up!” Buffy stepped up, eye-to-chest with Pete. “Giles is so not evil. He would never hurt anyone without a damn good reason.” She looked back, “He had one, right?”
Willow nodded sadly, “Vamp.”
“You Watchers, always having children fight your battles for you,” Artie spat. “God, how I hate you. Whenever I see a flash of copper hair in a crowd, I still look for her.”
Willow and Claudia stared at each other. Both copper heads picking up the light from the street lamp. A set of piercing green eyes going as wide as the soft brown ones. And both lunging forward to get between the men who looked as if they were about to rip each other limb from limb.
As everyone else moved to converge on the impending disaster, a bright light crashed into existence and threw all but the four already in the fray back down the alleyway. When their visions cleared, they saw two black and white clowns dancing around the small group. Giles and Artie immediately pulled the young women between them, standing back to back in order to defend against the new common enemy.
Though they had large, floppy hats on and masks covering half their faces, it was clear to a practiced eye that these were no clowns. The two demons were vicious and strong. They skipped around the trapped prey, staying on either side so as to leave no room for escape. The scepters the carried were more accurately short staffs, used expertly to strike at and tease the humans. Giles blocked as well as he could with his crossbow, having no chance in the onslaught to aim and fire, while Artie used his bag to defend himself and the girls behind him. Both men took any blows they could not block with their own bodies in their need to keep Willow and Claudia safe.
The demons were content to keep dancing around, inflicting slight but stinging wounds on their victims. They began to laugh with unnerving joy and chanted, switching off as they sing-songed the rhyming couplets.
“Two is one and one is two. Master chose who games with who.”
“A treasure from each we’ve come to take. In his hands we rest its fate.”
Giles blocked a harsh blow and swung out hard only to miss the fast moving demon. If not for Willow grabbing his belt, he would have stumbled. A wrong shift left Artie’s shoulder exposed, and he was caught with a punishing strike.
“All here now may game with thee. But any more, you’ll forfeit be.”
“Solve our puzzles and face the pain. Your treasures you may see again.”
Down the alleyway, Xander ran to help his friends, but bounced off a barely visible barrier and was violently thrown back several feet. Having seen this, Myka was just able to stop Pete from doing the same thing.
“It’s some kind of force field,” she shouted against the strange, building wind. “We need to find some way to short it out or something.”
Xander clamored painfully back to his feet. “We need to get in there and help them!”
Buffy scanned along the walls of the surrounding buildings. “You guys try to get through. I’ll see how high it goes. Maybe I can get over it.”
“That’s gotta be close to ten feet up,” Pete caught sight of the fire escape the Slayer was focused on. “I can give you a boost.”
“I got it,” Buffy smiled. “You just get through that shield.” With that, she jumped and easily landed both feet on the metal grate.
On the other side, the two men were tiring from the relentless onslaught. The girls stuck between them wanted desperately to help, but were trapped as much by their protectors as their attackers.
Another peal of menacing laughter came from the demons, and they sang together. “But only one the victor may be. The other, death, a kindness seek.”
On the last word, there was another blinding flash, and the ally was again calm and silent.
Giles and Artie were both breathing hard and trying to regain their equilibrium when the others ran up.
“Giles,” Xander yelled wildly. “Where’s Willow?”
“And Claudia?” Pete was searching just as frantically.
The two men looked to were the girls had been moments earlier and saw only each other.