The concussion from the explosion threw both Spike and his escort to the floor.
The blonde vampire remained on the ground, lying on his stomach as the world shook and heaved around him.
The screech from the blast was deafening, but his preternatural hearing still enabled him to pick up on screams of fear and rage erupting from both sides of the room.
Spike struggled to his feet but was pulled right back down when one of the vampires Lisandra had sent after him grabbed his ankle. Enraged, and glad to finally be free to retaliate, Spike punched the vamp full in the nose and bashed its head into the concrete floor. Its mate came to the rescue, wrapping an arm around Spike's throat, but the fair-haired vampire tossed it over his shoulder with one deft move. It landed right on top of its fallen comrade. Remembering Angelus' hard-learned lessons, Spike reached down and swiftly broke its neck. Pulling a stake from the twitching demon's belt, he buried the wood through the two vampires' hearts with one downward, powerful thrust.
Spike turned his back on the settling dust and surveyed the mayhem laid out before his gaze.
There was no sign of the First. Angelus had simply evaporated and his latest beating had left Angel barely conscious on the floor.
The Slayer seemed to be doing okay, struggling with the chain pinning her to the ground, while still hovering protectively over the Guardian. Confident that Buffy could take care of herself, Spike took a few steps towards Lisandra.
The vampiress was shrieking angry orders, sending her bodyguards scurrying out the back door to investigate the origin of the detonation. The area of the cells, Spike remembered from Oz' description.
Another crash resounded around the warehouse when the small door on the opposite side of the room gave way. Spike didn't have the time to wonder at it. He jumped when a shot ricocheted between the shaky walls of the building.
In slow motion, he watched Lisandra collapse to the ground without a sound, brain matter spurting out of her skull.
Which was when Buffy's screamed "No!" jarred Spike back to the plot. He looked at the Slayer, then followed her upward gaze to one of the steel support beams.
The gunman who - Spike assumed - had just taken Lisandra down, had now set his sights on Buffy and Morghane.
Roused by his lover's shout, Angel tried to push himself upwards, to reach her.
In a flash, Spike realized that his Sire wasn't going to make it in time. He could already see the commando's finger tightening on the trigger.
Not stopping to consider the consequences of his actions, or wonder what the hell was going on, Spike rushed forward, covering the few feet that separated him from the Slayer too fast for the human eye to see.
He threw himself on top of Buffy and Morghane just in time to intercept the bullet going for the Guardian's head. The deadly projectile gored the flesh of his back before embedding itself between two vertebrae.
He grunted, but did not move.
When Xander followed Giles into the main room of the warehouse - Willow, Oz and Wesley hot on his heels - it didn't take him long to understand that the situation was already going to Hell in a hand-basket.
Giles motioned quietly for his dart gun and he passed it over without question. It was Ripper staring down at him from the Watcher's face.
Without a word of warning, Giles shot an unsuspecting Dunst and the commando dropped to the ground before he could even cry out. Giles extended the dart gun back to Xander without looking at him then turned around swiftly to close the heavy steel door. He took a pair of handcuffs and latched the lock shut.
It would buy them a few minutes.
They heard the first shot and saw Lisandra drop to the floor on the other side of the room. They heard Buffy's scream and watched Spike crumble as the bullet found his back.
Giles whipped around without a word and grabbed a bewildered Wesley by the lapels. "This time, you've gone too far," he growled. "We have the counterspell now. Are you all insane? What if Morghane had been killed before Lisandra was neutralized?"
Wesley sputtered. "I have no idea what is going on. I haven't..."
"Now is not the time," Xander shouted, forging onwards, absent-mindedly recharging his gun. Taking charge, he pointed to the gunman on the beam.
"Willow, think you can take him out?"
"Gladly," replied the witch, with more rage than Xander had ever heard in his best friend's voice before.
He smiled. "Wesley, Oz. See what you can do for Buffy, Spike and Morghane. We could sure use their help right about now." He threw his weapon in Giles' hands again, exchanging the dart gun for the Watcher's more lethal M16. "Giles, knock Lisandra out. She could come around any second... Then set up the spell. We're gonna have to do this on site. Willow, join him when..."
A small cry. A body falling from the ceiling followed by a loud thud.
A dart had found its mark.
"When you're done," finished Xander with an appreciative grin. "Move."
Without another word, Xander himself ran to Angel's supine form.
The souled vampire was sprawled out on what seemed to be a coat of some kind in the middle of the room, obviously incapable of getting up under his own power. He was the most vulnerable of them all - exposed. A likely target of friendly fire.
Xander put one knee down next to the fallen vampire.
And almost tossed his nonexistent breakfast right there.
"Oh, God. Angel."
There was so much blood.
Angel lay on his back, eyes wide open, shivering, straining as if trying to turn on his side yet unable to summon the strength necessary to do so. And Xander could see why. Angel's arms and torso were covered in bruises, open wounds, lashes, contusions and strange burn marks that suspiciously looked like crosses. Blood trickled from his wrists, from the corners of his mouth, and from deep bite marks in his neck, arms, and around his nipples.
After a brief hesitation, Xander lay a comforting hand on the vampire's - burning? - forehead. It was the only exposed part of him which did not sport any obvious injury.
Xander smiled grimly. "It's okay, buddy. We'll get you out of here soon."
"M... Morghane. Buffy..."
Xander briefly raised his eyes away from Angel.
Oz held Morghane against his chest, while Spike climbed to his feet - seemingly shrugging away his injury. Wesley had managed to pick out the lock of Buffy's restraints. The Slayer was up and moving. There was blood on her clothes, but she didn't seem to be hampered by any serious wound.
She took a step towards her lover, but her gaze found Xander's, and she stopped.
Xander nodded tightly. He could be trusted to take care of Angel while the Slayer jumped into the fray. Buffy sent a small smile his way, then ran towards the quaking front door to meet the commandos straight on, randomly taking down the vampires ambushed in her path.
Spike was one step behind her.
"Buffy's okay," Xander murmured, turning his attention back to Angel. "Spike's covering her back."
The dark-haired vampire quieted under his hands, and sighed. "What... what's happening?"
"We broke into the place with the help of some Watcher commandos. But now it looks like they've got their own agenda. They tried to shoot Buffy."
Angel shook his head slowly and gasped.
"Easy," Xander soothed.
"Not... Buffy. Morghane."
"Whatever. The fact is, we're on our own."
Angel closed his hands into tight fists. "Help me up," he ground out between clenched teeth.
"I'm not sure..."
Xander had never heard Angel use that particular tone before. The vampire sounded scared, and in tremendous pain.
Shrugging, the young man slipped an arm around Angel's middle - wincing in sympathy when the vampire hissed an agonized breath. Xander felt broken ribs shift under his fingers. He pulled Angel to his feet as gently as he could, but the vampire still couldn't disguise a strangled moan.
Xander highly doubted that.
No puns intended, but the dark-haired vampire looked like death warmed over. He could barely hold himself up and swayed in Xander's gentle grip, putting most of his weight on the younger man. Xander didn't mind. Angel was heavier and taller than he was, put Xander was still strong enough to keep him on his feet.
Carrying him out would be another matter entirely.
Angel squinted. Angelus had done some damage, and the blood in his eyes from a sliced eyebrow impaired his vision. The world around him kept coming in and out of focus. Yet for the moment, he rather wished he was completely blind.
The situation did not look good.
Spike and Buffy had found furniture to block out the main door, but it wouldn't hold out for long. On the other side of the room, half a dozen vampires fought to keep the commandos out, too busy to worry about their escaped prisoners. But Angel could hear the distinctive staccato of automatic weapons and knew that the Nehemia warriors would be decimated eventually.
They needed Morghane.
With Xander's assistance, Angel made his way over to Giles. The Watcher stood over an unconscious Lisandra. Her gory head wound was already starting to heal, but Angel could see the dart embedded in her neck and assumed that the Scooby Gang had found a way to disable her for a little while.
Giles was in the process of casting a circle, while Willow spread salt all over the area around the vampiress and over the various ingredients - stones, herbs, powders, animal parts and runes - arranged on the floor. The former Watcher raised his eyes towards Angel, and for a brief instant his irises seemed to flash with sympathy, as he quickly assessed the vampire's dreadful condition.
"We've found the counterspell," Giles explained for Angel's benefit. "Morghane must be brought inside the circle with us before I can close it. Xander, go help Oz and Wesley, and carry Morghane over here."
The young man nodded and guided Angel to the nearest the wall. The vampire leaned against the hard surface gratefully. "Go, Xander."
The younger man ran to the other side of the room to assist the werewolf and the Watcher.
Angel's knees gave out and he slid slowly to the floor. The wall was the only thing holding him upright. The unearthly glow returned to his eyes and he gasped softly, not fighting the tremors raking his body as his soul howled in anguish.
"Hurry, Giles. She's letting go."
He needn't explain who he was referring to.
His vision wavered and faded. And then, Angel got his wish.
He was blind.