"Objective A completed. Subject is sedated and currently being transported to Sector C12. I'll make a final sweep for potential witnesses, then report to Stefanovitch for debriefing."
The girl's voice was professional and crisp. She was wearing a short, metallic green skirt, a black tank top, and a clear plastic jacket. A pair of knee-high boots completed the hooker look. The clothes were all part of the costume devised for the mission. She was walking down the dark streets of Sunnydale, her stride long and confident.
"Copy that, Rosenburg. The van will rendezvous near the Bronze in a maximum of three hours. You will perform a perimeter search as well as the sweep." The voice softened, "Then enjoy your time in Sunnydale, Willow."
"Thanks, Benchley. I will. Over and out." She pulled
off the earpiece and put it in her purse. She would never have got
to play with such high-tech toys unless she had been recruited by the Agency.
her participation at the start wasn't voluntary, but she'd come to love it over the year she had been with them.
With the Agency, she felt that she had more of a place than she did with the Slayerettes. This was her first time back in Sunnydale since she had been taken, though, and she was worried that she would be recognized. Then she looked down at her clothes and smiled. She doubted that anyone would recognize her even if she came face-to-face with him or her.
She finished her sweep and came near the Bronze. She stopped when she could hear the music and pulled out a phone. She called Sector C12, dialing the 14 numbers with an expertise born of much mandatory practice. A mechanical voice came through the phone. "VOICE RECOGNITION."
"Courage. Discipline. Pride." She heard a click, then another command. "CODE."
Willow punched in the 7 numbers then waited. "Sector C12. State your business."
"Hey James, its Rosenburg. Did you receive the subject yet?"
"Hey Willow. Yep, we got her…prime condition, as is your quota. You've finished your sweep?"
Yeah. I'm gonna do a perimeter check, then go to the Bronze. I'll be back tomorrow morning, after debriefing."
"All right, just get yourself home before noon, the way Benchley has been working you, I hardly get to see you anymore."
Willow smiled. "Yes, sir." The man was like a father to her. James had taken her under his wing when she first came, defenseless and scared. He had turned her into what she was now, a fighter…strong and focused. She loved him like any daughter would love a beloved dad.
"OK, Willow. Have fun, then. Over and out."
Willow put away her phone and straightened her clothes. She pulled out a mirror and touched up her makeup.
She strolled confidently up to the doors, knowing she looked far better than anyone there did. The way she lived now had instilled a certain amount of confidence in her heart, but at the core, she was still shy.
Willow entered the bronze and sat in the back, blending with the shadows and scanning the crowd. She saw her old table and her heart twisted painfully at the sight of the familiar faces that surrounded it. Buffy, Xander, Oz, and Angel were sitting around it, talking softly.
Willow used magic to enhance her senses and managed to catch some of the conversation.
"No sign…everywhere…possible leads…" Angel looked sad.
"Have to find…she'd do the same!" Oz also looked upset. Xander looked dead. When he spoke, all heads turned to him, as if no one had expected him to. Willow focused hard on him.
"I have to find her.
She's…I…I just can't take this anymore." Xander sounded close to
tears and Willow's heart melted. Her curiosity was piqued, though;
she wondered who it was they were looking for. They couldn't still
be looking for her. It had been over a year.
The door opened behind her and a group of teens walked in. A breeze blew in from the closing door and Willow shivered. She turned her eyes back to the group. Something was happening.
Angel stood slowly,
a puzzled look on his face. The looks on everyone else's faces told
Willow that they hadn't the slightest idea what he was doing. He
seemed to sniff the air and his eyes widened a little. His head turned
sharply to the corner where Willow sat, trying to see through the shadows that cloaked her.
Willow gasped and stood. She hurried for the door. Angel saw this and telling the others to stay put, he walked after her.
Willow ran as fast as she could down the street. She didn't know how, but Angel had recognized her scent. She had expected him to smell it, but she didn't think he knew her well enough to recognize it. Damn!" Willow swore. If he didn't already know who she was, he was at least suspicious. A quick glance confirmed her fears: Angel was following her.
<Oh, Damn. > She thought. <Now what? >
As he chased the girl, Angel's mind raced. He wondered why he was chasing some girl he didn't even know. He chastised himself for being so foolish. <Just because a girl has red hair doesn't mean she's Willow. If it really was her, she wouldn't have run away.> He was disappointed that he allowed his hopes to be raised. Yet, he still ran after the swiftly retreating girl.
When he had smelled that scent in the Bronze, the blend of Jasmine and danger, sweetness mixed with menace, his mind had associated it with Willow. Minus the danger and menace, of which Willow had never smelled, the scent was reminiscent of Willow.
He was getting tired. Whoever the girl was, she sure as hell could run! To Angel's surprise, he felt the demon lending some strength and urging him on. <What the hell? > Angel could feel it, the demon in him wanted him to catch the girl also. He took advantage of the truce between man and demon and began to gain on the girl.
He watched her running, fascinated by the sight of her vermilion hair flowing behind her and her feet pounding the pavement. Her gait was smooth and quick, someone had taught her the best techniques for running. Suddenly, she stopped short and cocked her head to the side.
Angel continued to run, determined to catch up. <I've got to see who she is! > Angel concentrated on the scene in front of him.
The girl was standing stock-still, her back to Angel. Suddenly, twelve vampires stepped out of the trees near her and made a line blocking her path. Angel was just barely able to hear the conversation.
"I'm in a hurry. I suggest you boys move out of my way."
Hearing her voice, Angel was again struck at how familiar she seemed, though he had yet to see her face. The Willow he knew was never menacing or icy, though. He knew that the woman wouldn't be able to defend herself against twelve vampires, no matter how fit she was. She wouldn't know what hit her.
"Don't think so, girlie. We're hungry, and you look good enough to eat…literally." The leader sneered. "You'd think humans would learn to sense their deaths."
"I warned you." The girl's voice was devoid of expression, and Angel shivered at the sound. It was familiarity, twisted into some vaguely recognizable, yet completely different form. Angel's eyes widened as the girl grabbed the edge of her skirt and pulled it up higher. <What the hell is she doing? >
Angel groaned as she
pulled a gun out of a thigh holster. <How'd she hide that under
her little skirt? > While the gun would slow the vampires down, they
wouldn't kill them. Angel knew it, the vampires knew it, but the
didn't. She would get herself killed with her false sense of security. "No!" He yelled. The girl ignored him.
The vampires looked at each other and nodded. They didn't want to be shot and decided to finish off the meal. The girl dropped into a squat and swept her legs under the feet of the nearest vamp, effectively knocking him to the ground. Angel was surprised at how fast she moved. As she stood, she pulled a clip out of her bag and pushed it into the gun.
She cocked the gun and pointed it at the nearest vampire and pulled the trigger. Her aim was immaculate and the bullet passed right through the heart. <Too bad it won't do any good. > Thought Angel.
His jaw dropped as the vampire exploded into dust. As he watched, five more vampires were dusted under the assault of the gun. Angel was frozen in place less than twelve feet away from the girl. All he could think was that the girl somehow knew of the vampires here. She didn't seem at all surprised when the vampires were dusted. In fact, she had seemed to expect it. <Who is this?!?! >
When Angel heard the unmistakable click come from the gun, he was jerked out of his stupor. The girl shoved the gun back in the thigh holster and pulled a stake out of her purse.
She dropped into a defensive stance that mimicked Buffy's and prepared to engage the remaining five vampires.
As the vampires surrounded her again, she lashed out with her foot, catching the nearest vampire squarely in the chest. While he was off balance, she punched him in the jaw, knocking him off his feet.
She dropped to one knee and plunged the stake through its heart, pulling it out quickly so it wouldn't dust with the vampire.
Without waiting to
watch the vamp explode into ashes, she rolled to her feet to meet the next
assailant. She was just in time to see the leader's fist coming for
her face. She blocked it with her forearm and launched a vicious
right hook at his jaw.
His head whipped to the side and he stumbled back a few steps. She jumped into the air, and turning around once for momentum, she connected with the side of his head with a crushing roundhouse.
The vampire fell to the ground and she staked it, lightly coating herself with the ashes. She jumped to her feet, ready for more, adrenaline pumping through her body. She looked around, but couldn't find any more vampires to kill.
In all the ruckus, she had completely forgotten about him.
Now he was standing just a few feet behind her, no doubt waiting for an explanation as to who she was. She had carefully kept her back to him, but now decided to show him that she was OK.
Sighing, Willow turned to her friend.
Angel's jaw was working furiously, but he couldn't get the words out. All he could do was stare at the person before him. He had never thought he would see her again. She had changed. Her hair had grown and now flowed down her back in gently curling waves that touched her back.
Her eyes were just as green as he remembered, but gone from them was the innocence that had once resided there. Replacing them were the eyes of one who had seen far too much for someone her age.
Angel looked up sharply, realizing that Willow was waiting for him to say something.
"Uh...um...oh, wow! Willow!"
Willow smiled, "Yes Angel, I believe we've been over that."
Angel's fingers ached to touch her face, if only to see if she was real, not just another frustrating dream. Yet, he didn't, for fear that it was just a dream and she would dissolve.
"Why? Why did you leave?"
Willow sighed, "Well, you certainly don't beat around the bush," Willow grumbled. She picked up her gun from the ground where she had dropped it and proceeded to load it, not even glancing at what her hands were doing.
Angel eyed the ease with which she handled the weapon. It seemed to be an extension of her body. "You didn't answer me. Why did you leave?" Angel was getting frustrated and wanted answers.
Willow looked down at the gun. "Well, it's not like I wanted to. They didn't happen to ask my permission before they kidnapped me."
Angel growled at the thought of someone grabbing her, taking her away from her friends. His game face threatened to escape, and only through a Herculean effort was he able to keep it from surfacing.
"Who is 'they'? Did 'they' hurt you, Willow?" Angel's voice was low and threatening, promising death.
The tone made her angry. For some immature reason she was angry at himangry at all of them for not protecting her, for not caring until the damage was already done. She struggled to keep her anger covered, though, and looked up at Angel, straight in his eyes.
Her face was completely blank, showing no emotion whatsoever. Angel visibly flinched at the emptiness of her eyes. She spoke a single word:
"What!?" He roared, his game face now making a full entrance. He hadn't expected her to be honest. He was ready to wheedle it out of her, bit by bit. He certainly hadn't expected this. He was furious. Both that someone had hurt her, but that 'they' had changed her so much that he simply didn't know what to expect.
"Yeah, Angel. They hurt me, at first. But guess what I survived." She continued to look him in the eye, that damnable blank expression on her face. Angel wanted to look away, so frightening was the expression on her usually animated face. Angel knew that it took extraordinary effort to maintain an expressionless face for too long. Only the most disciplined could hold it.
He realized that she was still speaking.
"Look, I'm made of tougher stuff than you, Buffy, Xander or even I knew. I'm stronger than anyone used to give me credit for." She glanced at the piles of dust to make her point. When she looked back up, Angel was looking back at her with the saddest expression she had ever seen on his face. While she watched, a single blood tear rolled down his cheek.
She finally let the mask drop from her features. She looked mournfully at Angel.
"I'm so sorry Angel. It's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault." Angel reached for her, and she let herself be pulled into his arms. He hugged her for a minute, before he noticed that she was motionless. He looked down into her face and almost swore when he saw that her face was blank again.
He let her out of his embrace and she stepped away, sliding the gun smoothly back into her thigh holster, then pulling her skirt over the leather strap. She dug in her purse for a moment, then pulled out a tissue, which she passed to Angel, and an earpiece, which she slipped in her ear.
She turned her back to Angel, seemingly forgetting for a moment that he was there.
"Benchley...it's Rosenburg. Sweep for potential witnesses produced zero subjects and the perimeter search has been completed. Requesting rendezvous at the corner of Elk and Main in two minutes. Over and out."
She slipped the small earpiece out of her ear and put it back in her bag before turning around to face Angel. His jaw was a little slack and she almost giggled at the sight of the flabbergasted Angel. It was an expression she had never seen on a vampire.
Angel's mind was racing. <Rendezvous? But that means.> "No!"
Willow jumped at the explosive outburst.
"You can't leave...I won't let you leave again! Please, Willow. Don't just disappear." More tears were flowing now, but Angel couldn't stop. To find her now then, lose her five minutes laterunthinkable. He wouldn't allow it to happen.
Willow looked at him with sad eyes. "I really am sorry, Angel. I have to leave. The Agency would never let me stay, I know too much. Please just let me go. Give my love to everyoneespecially Xander."
She turned around and began running. Angel took off after her, shaking his head. Did she honestly think she could outrun him with no head start?
She reached the end of the street and threw a backward glance over her shoulder. Angel was about to reach out and grab her arm when he saw a van racing down the street.
<She's going to get hit!>
The van sped by without slowing, the door flew open and Willow, in one graceful movement, threw her body inside. The door slammed closed and drove away quickly, leaving an angry Angel standing in the middle of the road.
"NOO!!" Angel yelled to the stars, the moon, whoever would listen.
Angel looked up, his eyes fixating on the retreating lights with an expression that dwarfed Willow's 'resolve face.'
All was not lost. Now he had a name.
Angel spun on his heel, heading back toward the Bronze.
*Knock. Knock. Knock. *
Expecting the three sharp raps on the door, the man turned and sat down behind his desk, so lacquered it looked perpetually wet, and straightened his tie. He took a sip of water from a frosted glass on the desk and opened a manila file folder before him.
"Come in." Benchley bid, his voice clear and commanding.
The door swung open and a girl stepped into his office. Willow's eyes traveled around the room, noting each available exit automatically before coming to rest on the man behind the desk. A genuine smile stretched her mouth, "Hello, Benchley. You asked me to meet you in your office?"
Benchley stood again, acting as though he had been sitting there for a while rather than pacing his office anxiously. He waved a hand toward the chair across the desk. "Yes, yes, Willow. Have a seat."
Willow sat down in
the hard chair then shifted around a bit, trying to get comfortable.
Benchley lifted one eyebrow and watched, amused, as Willow squirmed around
in the chair. Willow finally ended up perched on
the edge of the chair, leaning far back. Benchley had to suppress a laugh, but managed to look grave. "Willow, if you're quite finished, I have something to say."
"Oh, sure, boss. Sorry." Willow smiled brightly.
Benchley stepped behind the desk and pushed the file across the desk with the tips of his fingers. Willow opened the folder and scanned the contents quickly, Her eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up. Her gaze flew to Benchley's.
"This is some kind of joke, right? You're not serious." She closed the folder and pushed it back, as though dismissing the possibility. Benchley stopped her hand.
"Unfortunately, this is quite serious." He sat behind the desk and began drumming his fingertips on the table. "Open the file and look at the third page."
Willow did so, the looked up at Benchley with an expressionless face. Benchley rolled his eyes and scoffed. "Cut the crap, Rosenburg. I was the one who taught you the 'expressionless' glamour! It doesn't work on me, you know." Willow let the glamour fall away and looked down at her lap, refusing to meet his eyes. "Sooo…what do I have to do with this?"
"Willow, look at me." Willow shook her head. "Look. At. Me." Willow reluctantly looked up and met his eyes slowly.
"Good." He said. "Now I know that you're just as scared as I am. Look Willow. I'm not promising you anything, not even that we will make it through this, but I can tell you that it will be a hell of a fight."
Willow smiled a bit. "OK, boss, but where do I come into this?"
Benchley looked a little
sheepish. "Well, Willow…it's like this…"
Willow's seat lurched forward…again. Willow cradled her aching head in her hands for a moment, then turned to the man on her left. The man who was currently trying not to laugh…and failing miserably.
"James, I swear to God." She ground out between gritted teeth. "If that child kicks my seat one more time, I'm going to throw him out the airplane window!"
"Woah, Willow! Tense, are we?"
"You know I hate flying! And that little beast in the seat behind me is so not helping!! Plus I don't wanna go to Sunnydale! You know…the land of memories? Nostalgia be damned…I never wanted to see that literal hell hole again!"
"Hey, Willow, relax.. You know you don't mean that. You're just nervous-and not without good reason, either. Here…take this pillow, and try to get some sleep. We've still got three hours of flying to do."
Willow relaxed against the back of her plush seat and closed her eyes. <Everything is going to be fine…I'll just run in, kill the demon, and leave again. No seeing of anybody…right? Right. > Thus self-reassured, Willow began to slip into sleep.
Willow groaned. It was going to be a long flight.
"Finally! Oh…blessed solid ground! I'd kiss it…but I just put on lipstick."
James laughed at Willow's silliness then extended his hand to her. "Come, daahhling." He said in an outrageous accent," Let us hold hands and play the roles of the rich, elder gentlemen, " He offered an elegant bow, the lowered his voice and whispered," And the scandalously younger mistress."
Willow giggled then took his hand. "Shall we?"
James and Willow strolled out of the airport, their noses firmly in the air, playing their roles to the hilt.
"You know what?" It was near midnight and Willow and James were walking through the park, just like any other unsuspecting meal.
"What?" James was distracted, looking furtively behind a tree they had passed.
"I'm glad we came." James looked at Willow in surprise.
"Yup. 'Cause If I didn't, I would've been scared forever. That, of course, does not mean that I'll ever come back once this mission is over. It just means I won't avoid it anymore."
Well, good. I'm glad to hear it, Willow. Now, what do you say we find us a place to stay for the next month."
Willow nodded, and they started walking across the park toward the commercial section of town. They were so engrossed in their conversation about the best kind family pet that they failed to hear the tell tale noises until too late.
Willow heard an obscenely loud cracking sound, then James crumpled to the ground, the back of his head a bloody mess. Willow cried out and dropped to his side. He was out cold…she hoped.
Willow turned around to face his attacker, then almost laughed out loud. Holding a bloody board was a fledgling vampire. He was grinning foolishly at her, his fangs cutting into his lower lip. He threw the board to the ground and lunged at her, his bloodlust making him clumsy.
Willow stepped to the side and the vampire stumbled to the ground. Willow pulled a stake out of her purse and staked the vampire quickly. She rushed to James' side and kneeled over him, checking his head. Thankful tears ran down her face as she found his weak pulse. She rubbed the tears off with the back of her hand and grabbed James' shirt.
"Ok…um. I have to get you to the-to the hospital. Um…"
She knew that she couldn't carry him there…someone was bound to get suspicious of a girl carrying a man twice her size and age in her arms.
Oh God, James. Please- please be OK? I'll figure this out, I promise…"
"Excuse me, miss? Can I help you?" Willow felt a hand on her shoulder, then a sharp gasp as James' body came into view.
Willow turned to the
voice. "Yes, please sir. I need to get him to the…um…Angel?"