She hadn’t said a word
in two days. It was all he could do to get her to eat. He hated
the way she flinched away when he came near her, and he
wished he knew what had happened to her. He also wished he could get in touch with one of the others. He stared at the girl from the darkness of the corner; he knew she couldn’t see him and that she had no idea that he was there. Still, she didn’t move from the couch. She just sat there, her knees pulled up to her chest, her chin resting on her knees. She looked so pale, so fragile. Her hair, always so bright, was a shock of red against her ghostly white skin. Her hair had grown longer since he had last seen her, and it framed her face wildly. She would have been beautiful if she hadn’t looked so haunted. He hated the blank look in her eyes. He’d seen it too many times before on the faces of his victims. He jumped slightly as the phone rang, forcing him out of his reverie. He stayed where he was, knowing the machine would get it. He turned slightly as he heard the beep and waited to hear the message. A familiar female voice met his ears.
“It’s me, damn it. Would you just pick up the phone? It’s daylight; I know you’re there.”
With a sigh of resignation, Angel left Willow alone in the room and went to talk to Cordelia.
“What do we know?”
The brunette sighed, and Angel could practically feel her frustration through the phone line.
“Nothing. Not a damn thing. I still can’t get in touch with anyone. I just called to see how she’s doing.”
“She won’t speak?”
“She won’t even look at me unless I try to touch her. And even then, she just looks through me. I don’t think she really sees me.”
“Look, why don’t I come by... I can stay with her. Maybe she’ll talk to me.”
“Has she talked to you yet?”
Cordelia sighed. “No, she hasn’t. But she doesn’t seem as afraid of me. Whatever happened to her... well, I’m not so sure that it was supernatural.” The girl paused, unsure of how to continue without freaking Angel out.
“What aren’t you saying, Cordelia?”
“She’s as scared of Doyle as she is of you. However, she’ll let me touch her. You two are male; I’m most definitely female. What do you think I’m saying?”
“Oh, God,” was all
Angel could manage.
“How is she?”
Angel jumped slightly at Doyle’s question. He’d been so absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn’t even noticed the other man’s arrival. He sighed, then answered the half demon’s question.
“The same. Cordelia’s with her now.”
Doyle wearily rubbed
a hand over his face. It hurt to see the girl like this, and he didn’t
even know her. He couldn’t imagine how Angel and
Cordelia must feel. “You haven’t reached anyone yet?”
The vampire shook his head.
“Not even her parents?”
Angel snorted. “Yeah, right. Her parents are probably off in Europe or something. They aren’t exactly attentive. What gets me is that no one else seems to be looking for her... not Buffy, Giles... no one.”
“Maybe that’s why we can’t get in touch with them. They’re looking for her.”
“It doesn’t explain why no one’s called me. I know I didn’t leave under the best of circumstances, but this is Willow. If they were looking for her, don’t you think they’d put aside differences long enough to find her? It’s not like they don’t know how to reach me. I gave Giles the number.”
“Maybe he lost it.”
Angel just glared at Doyle, then turned to the door as he heard Cordelia coming up the stairs.
“How is she?” Angel asked, a tension lending an edge to his voice.
“I got her to move off the couch, if that means anything.”
“Where is she now? Did she say anything?”
“A big no to the speaking. She’s asleep now. In your bed, actually, which means you’re Couch Man tonight.”
Movement. Movement was good. The only time she’d left the couch
in the past two days was to go to the bathroom, so going to his bed and
sleeping was a good sign. Hell, he’d sleep outside if it meant Willow
would show some improvement.
The screaming woke him up. At first he thought it was just an after effect of a dream; after regaining his soul, he’d had nightmares about his victims so often that sometimes it had been difficult to gage where a dream ended and reality began. The dreams had stopped when he’d gone to Sunnydale to start helping the Slayer, but Willow’s condition had caused them to resurface. After a moment, however, he realized it wasn’t a dream.
It was Willow.
Angel jumped off his couch and ran to his bedroom. The tiny redhead was tossing and turning in her sleep, and tears were rolling down her face as she cried out. Angel’s silent heart broke at the sight. With tears in his own eyes, the vampire reached out to wake the girl up. Willow lashed out when Angel touched her, but he managed to get a hold of her and shake her awake. The redhead’s eyes flew open, and, for the first time since he had found her, there was clarity in them. Instead of looking through him, she was looking at him, shock evident on her face. After staring at him for what had to be the longest moment of his unlife, the girl threw herself in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably.
He was holding her. After more than two days of her flinching away whenever he even attempted to touch her, she had sought out his embrace. Granted, she was hysterical, but she had still willingly allowed him to touch her. He pulled her closer, trying to comfort her, but not sure how to do it. She was so fragile; he had always thought of her that way. She was someone who needed to be protected. He cursed himself for not being there to protect her from whatever it was that had seemingly broken her. Carefully, without releasing her, Angel climbed into bed with Willow and lay back against the pillows. He cradled the girl in his arms and began rubbing his hand up and down her back in a soothing motion, hoping to calm her down. Her ragged sobs shook her shoulders, and Angel was worried that Willow would cry herself sick. Gradually, however, the redhead’s sobs died down until they were no more than whimpers, and, eventually, Angel felt her breathing even out into the slow, deep breathing of sleep. Angel released a sigh of relief and cuddled the tiny girl even closer, wondering just what was going to happen next.
Angel opened his eyes to find Cordelia standing over him, a rather surprised look on her face.
“It’s not what you think,” the vampire hurried to explain.
The pretty brunette looked at Willow’s tearstained face and gave her boss a slight smile. “How do you even know what I’m thinking, Angel? She looks like she broke, and you tried to fix her. Did she say anything?”
Angel winced as he shifted. For the first time in a century, he’d woken up with a crick in his neck. “Does screaming count?”
“Was it actual words?” When Angel shook his head, a look of disappointment crossed Cordelia’s face. “It doesn’t count then. Oh, well, at least she let you touch her. That’s a good sign, I guess.”
“She looked at me, Cordelia.”
“As in at me, not through me. She was crying, and she looked at me, then... well, this happened,” he finished, gesturing to the exhausted redhead in his arms.
“You mean you think she actually recognized you? Are you sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking?”
Angel sat up, gently disentangling himself from Willow. He gestured toward the next room, and Cordelia followed him out, a rather confused expression on her face. “I didn’t want to wake her,” the vampire explained. “She really wore herself out last night; I want her to sleep as long as possible. And no, I don’t think her recognizing me was wishful thinking. When she looked at me, it was like she was shocked to see me. She knew exactly who I was, Cordelia.”
“So what now? We wait until she wakes up, ask her what the hell happened, then get the bad guy?”
Angel shook his head
sadly. “I’m not so sure it’ll be that easy. She was pretty
much gone for two days; she wasn’t even aware she was here, with us.
And we have no idea how long she was like that before we found her.
Who knows how much she’ll even remember? Besides, she still hasn’t
spoken yet. She still may not be ready to.”
Willow stood silently,
watching the coffee as it percolated. The redhead had woken up an
hour earlier, and she was now standing in Angel's office. She was
aware of Angel’s eyes on her, but it didn’t bother her. She was grateful
to the vampire for... whatever it was that he had done for her. She
couldn’t really remember what had happened recently; she remembered being
grabbed, then... no, she didn’t want to remember that just yet. And
what happened after that was a blur. Things had faded in and out
until... Angel. She’d been having a nightmare, running from the faceless
men, when someone had grabbed her. Angel. Angel had grabbed
her, and he had somehow managed to pull her back from wherever she had
been. Thank God for the brooding vampire. She wanted to know
how long she’d been here among friends, but she was afraid to ask.
She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to know how long she’d been in that
haze. Had it been a day? a week? a month? Dear God, she hoped
it hadn't been a month. Besides, she knew that if she asked, Angel
and Cordelia would start asking questions about what had happened, and
she wasn’t ready for that. With a sigh, Willow pushed at the sleeves
of the shirt she wore, but they just slid right back down. Her clothes
were currently being washed, so she was wearing one of Angel’s shirts with
a pair of jeans from the stash of clothes that Cordy kept at the
office in case of an emergency. Because she was so much shorter than the brunette, the jeans, like the shirt, were rather large on her. Of course, Willow reasoned, they were better than nothing.
Angel looked over at the door as Cordelia entered. The brunette sat down next to him and spoke quietly. “Apparently, Buffy and Giles were out of town killing some demon; they should be back in Sunnydale by this afternoon.”
“You got in touch with them?” Angel asked, shocked. He’d just about given up on them.
Cordy shook her head. “Xander, actually. I’d left a couple messages with his mom earlier, but he never got them.” She shrugged at Angel’s skeptical expression. “I think he was telling the truth. His mom always sucked at relaying messages. That’s why I only called him a few times. The only reason I actually got to talk to him was because he was the one that answered this time. Apparently, Willow’s been missing for about four days. He’s been searching everywhere... Anya’s been helping him. He would have called here, but he didn’t have the number, and he didn’t know how to reach Giles to ask for it.” Cordelia paused, then decided to go ahead and tell the vampire everything she’d found out. “Something really weird’s going on in Sunnydale, Angel.”
“What do you mean?”
“Xander said that Spike was helping him search for Willow. He also said something about Spike not being able to feed off people; it hurts him to even try... I didn’t really understand it.”
Angel opened his mouth to respond to that revelation, but was interrupted when Doyle burst in.
“Hello, hello! So, how’s the girl?” The half demon stopped short when he saw the wide-eyed redhead. Willow was holding a cup of coffee, and her hand had begun to shake the moment Doyle had come in. Angel jumped up from his spot on the couch and reached for the coffee cup, taking it from her before she could drop it. He put his hands on her shoulders, then ran them down her arms soothingly.
“It’s okay, Willow. This is Doyle. He works with me and Cordelia. He won’t hurt you, I promise.”
Willow nodded, then looked at the other man. Doyle offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to scare you. I had no idea you’d be up here. If I’d known, I would have... made a less noisy entrance, or something.”
Willow offered the man a tentative smile, then took her coffee back from Angel.
“Still not talking, huh?” Doyle asked.
The redhead shrugged. She knew she couldn’t feign muteness forever; eventually she would have to talk. She just hoped she could figure out the answers to their question before that time came.
Buffy was not in a good mood. She’d been gone five days, and in that span of time Willow had gone missing, then shown up in LA, and Spike had somehow miraculously joined the said of the good. That was one of the things about living on the Hellmouth; you never knew what it was going to throw at you next. The Slayer slammed her tray down on the table, then jumped when someone put a hand on her shoulder. Buffy whirled around to find herself face to face with Riley.
“Buffy, hi. Did you have a nice trip?” The teacher’s assistant paused, a hint of concern creeping into his voice. “Did Willow go with you by any chance?” He hadn’t seen the redhead since he’d gotten back from visiting his older sister in San Francisco a few days before, and he was beginning to worry about the girl.
“No, she didn’t,” Buffy replied, oddly touched by the young man’s concern about her friend. “She’s in LA.”
“Oh... so, she went to visit a friend?”
“Something like that,” Buffy answered, unable to keep the sadness and uncertainty out of her voice. She wished she knew what had happened while she was gone. She hated that she hadn’t been there to protect her friend. Xander had told her everything he knew, and all Buffy could do was thank God that Angel had found the redhead. She shuddered to think what could have happened otherwise.
Riley watched Buffy closely; whatever had happened wasn’t as cut and dried as Buffy wanted him to believe. Something had obviously happened to the sweet redhead. A rather unpleasant thought pushed its way into his mind, but he tried to ignore it.
“Um, when will she be back?”
“I’m not sure. I think I may go see her this weekend if she’s still up there.”
“Well, tell her hi for me. I’ve got a class in a minute, so I really should go. I’ll see you later, though.”
“Yeah, later,” Buffy
said to Riley’s rapidly retreating back. Sometimes she just didn’t
Cordelia watched, amazed, as Willow levitated one of Angel’s paperweights and began to rotate it in the air. She’d never really gotten to see any of Willow’s magick before. The brunette vaguely remembered hearing something about witchcraft requiring emotional control, and the thought was rather comforting. If Willow could dothis, it probably meant that she was doing better. Of course, she still hadn’t spoken, a fact that was beginning to bother Cordelia more and more. It was different when the redhead had been in that trance, or whatever it was. But now... the girl could talk, Cordelia was sure of it. Deciding to just drop the bombshell, Cordy turned to the other girl.
“Willow, were you raped?”
Forrest could hardly breath. Riley had shoved him up against the wall, and he now had his hand encircling the other man’s throat.
“Two days. I was gone for two lousy days. And when I come back, Willow Rosenberg’s missing, and all of you are extremely quiet about it. What happened while I was gone, Forrest? What was done to her?”
“She compromised us, Riley. She was with Hostile 17. We had to find out what she knew.”
Riley released Forrest, then shoved him to the ground.
“What the hell did
you do to her?”
Cordelia had expected her question to be met with a round of tears, maybe a denial. She wasn’t prepared for the pure disbelief that crossed Willow’s face.
“Okay, apparently that’s a no.”
“Why did you think that?”
The former cheerleader’s
eyes widened as the redhead spoke for the first time in three days.
Without thinking, she pulled the other girl into a
“You talked! Oh, my gosh, this is so great! You spoke to me!”
“I never thought you’d
be so happy to hear my voice,” Willow managed.Cordelia had quite a grip,
and the hacker was afraid that the other girl
might accidently squeeze the life out of her.
Cordelia laughed as she released her friend. “I didn’t, either. I guess I was just worried about you.” The brunette’s face grew serious as she went back to the task at hand. “What did happen to you, Willow? Can you talk about it?”
Willow sighed. She had been dreading this, but she knew it had to be done. She needed their help.
“Go get Angel and Doyle.”
Riley looked at the people surrounding him. He was still reeling from the shock of seeing Hostile 17 again. The others - Xander, Anya, Giles - their presence confused him as well. He’d had no idea what kind of company Buffy and Willow kept.
“Why exactly are we here, mate?” Hostile 17 - < not Hostile 17, his name is Spike > Riley corrected himself mentally - asked.
“It’s about Willow.” He paused, looked at the vampire. He didn’t seem so evil now. Buffy had told him that the blonde had helped look for Willow. What kind of demon went in search of a damsel in distress? Well, Riley reasoned, apparently this one did. “It’s about you, too,” he told the bleached blonde. The vampire’s eyes narrowed in response.
“What do you mean?” Buffy asked, thoroughly confused. Surely he couldn’t mean...
“I know Spike’s a vampire, and I know why Spike can’t feed on, or even hurt, a living creature.”
“You’re one of the commandos,” the Slayer realized. Spike’s gaze turned murderous. Taking a deep breath, Riley continued, prepared to lay out all his cards on the table.
“They’re called The Initiative.”
“...then someone grabbed me. Two men. I don’t know who they were. God, I don’t even remember what they wanted. I was gagged...”
“Did you see their faces?” Angel asked, seething. He was dying to get his hands on whoever had hurt Willow.
“They had ski masks
on... I never saw their faces. I have no idea who they were.”
“Forrest and Graham.”
“Excuse me?” Buffy yelled. “Your best buds grabbed Willow and... and... did whatever it was that was done to her? Good God, what kind of people do you hang out with?”
Riley glanced around
the room at the people he was with. She was berating him for things
he’d known nothing about when she was knowingly hanging out with a vampire?
He raised his eyebrow at her. “Exactly what kind of people do <
you > hang out with?” he countered.
“I’m not really sure
what happened next. They didn’t just gag me, they blindfolded me
as well, so I never saw a thing. They put me in the trunk of their
car. I was so scared; I thought they were going to...” Willow
broke off, not wanting to complete the sentence. She knew that the
others would realize what she had thought; Cordelia had assumed that was
what had happened. Thank God it wasn’t. Willow looked over
at Angel, who was on the couch beside her. The vampire took her hand
in his and gave it an encouraging squeeze to let her know that she was
doing just fine. After taking a deep breath, she continued.
“They took me... somewhere. I don’t know where. I do know that
it didn’t take long to get there, so it had be close to the campus.
It may have even been on campus.”
“We have an underground laboratory on campus,” Riley continued, trying to avoid Buffy’s gaze. The two had been on the verge of a shouting match when Mr. Giles had stepped in and firmly told them to stop fighting before he hurt them both severely. Somehow, Riley believed that the man could and would do it if he was pushed far enough. Riley glanced at the older man; he wished he knew how Giles fit into Buffy’s little world. The others in the group seemed to be near her age; she had probably gone to high school with them. Well, not Spike, of course, but Xander and Anya. Giles, on the other hand, was old enough to be her father.
“What exactly is done in this laboratory?” the former Watcher inquired.
“What the bloody hell do you think they do?” Spike demanded. “They de-fang us, you imbecile.” The vampire turned to glare at Riley. If he didn’t know how much pain it would cause him, he would have torn the boy into bits Unfortunately, Spike knew he’d barely be able to land the first punch before ending up on the floor in agony.
Riley sighed, then looked Giles in the eye. “We run tests on demons. There are also some... experiments done.”
“Experiments?” Giles asked, intrigued. “Like what was done to Spike?”
“If you run experiments
on demons, why the hell did you attack Willow? She is definitely
not a demon!” Xander responded angrily. He was really beginning to
want to hit this guy. Hard. He glanced at Spike, and saw the
same murderous look in the demon’s eyes. Impossible as it may seem,
Xander and Spike had finally found some common ground.
“I’m not really clear
on what happened after that. Everything’s just a big blur.
I’m pretty sure I was drugged. I think maybe that’s what scares me
the most, not knowing what they did to me.” Willow brushed hastily
at the tears that were falling down her cheeks. Without hesitation,
Angel drew the young woman closer to him, resting his chin on her head.
Willow turned into his embrace, accepting his comfort. The vampire
met Doyle’s eyes over Willow’s head, and he knew the other man felt the
same way he did. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on these guys.
“What do you know about what was done to Willow?”
Spike raised his eyebrow at the boy. If he’d had the ability to, he would have eaten him. “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell us?”
Riley looked around, obviously confused. “Hasn’t she told you anything?”
Xander shot the other man a dirty look. “According to Cordelia, Willow hasn’t spoken in nearly three days - ever since Angel found her.”
darkened at Xander’s words. He couldn’t believe that The Initiative
had done this. This wasn’t supposed to happen; innocent people weren’t
supposed to get hurt. Riley wearily rubbed his hands over his face
as he realized that everything he’d believed in for the past three years
was crumbling all around him.
“I need to know what happened to me,” Willow said as she pulled away from Angel. All she really wanted to do was cry her eyes out in the vampire’s arms, but she knew that wouldn’t solve anything. Although it might make her feel better... no, now was not the time to fall apart. Willow resolutely squared her shoulders. “I’ve got to know what was done to me, and why. I need to go back to Sunnydale; that’s where it happened.” The redhead looked at the vampire beside her, an unspoken question in her eyes.
“I’ll go with you.” Angel looked at Doyle and Cordelia, silently asking them to come as well.
“Me, too,” the half demon responded.
“I am so there. Just don’t make me work with Xander.”
Willow smiled at the
others, grateful for their willingness to help, especially since Doyle
hardly knew her. “I guess I should call everyone and
let them know we’re coming.”
Buffy hung up the phone, then headed back to the living room. Giles looked up as the girl entered.
“Who was that?”
“Yeah, who was so bloody important that you had to talk for fifteen minutes? I want to know what the hell blondie’s army friends did to me,” Spike complained.
“Well, you’re just going to have to wait a little while longer. There’s somebody else that needs to hear this.”
“And just who the bloody hell would that be?”
The Slayer looked across the room and met Riley’s eyes. He stared back, unflinching, as he waited for her to answer Spike’s question.
Willow sat perched on the edge of the couch between Angel and Xander. Cordelia was studiously ignoring her former boyfriend, and Xander was returning the favor. Doyle was sitting on the floor next to Buffy, who was trying to ignore the fact that Angel had hardly even looked at her; all his attention was on Willow. She was also trying to ignore the fact that Angel was holding Willow’s hand. Spike was standing, leaning against a bookcase, and he alternated between glaring at Angel and Riley. He really didn’t care for either one of them. Riley sat in the chair across from Willow, trying to figure out what to say to her. He couldn’t exactly open with ‘hey, I’m sorry my friends kidnapped you and nearly turned you into a vegetable... but no hard feelings, okay?’
The single word broke the silence that had gathered in the room, causing nearly everyone to jump. Only Willow and Angel remained motionless. Riley looked at the girl; he didn’t really want to answer her question, but he knew he owed it to her. “You were with him,” he replied, gesturing to Spike.
“Oh, bloody hell. I should have known you would try to blame me. Why does everybody always blame me?”
“Well, Spike, it usually is you,” Cordelia offered tentatively.
Spike glared at the former cheerleader, then ruined the effect with a grin. He had to admit it; the girl had spunk.
“Why don’t you go back a little further, Riley? Start with the reason were you even after Spike in the first place.” Giles suggested.
“He was bagged and tagged on campus...”
“Excuse me?” Angel interrupted. “I think I’m lost.”
“Commando boy here belongs to a group that gets their by jollies chasing demons,” Spike replied.
Doyle and Angel exchanged a glance. They both wondered if Riley had any clue just how many demons he was in a room with. Angel returned his gaze to the boy.
“Okay. I don’t know who bagged him; it wasn’t any of my men, and I never saw the report.”
“Your men?” Buffy broke in. “So you’re not just one of the army guys; you’re one of their leaders?”
“Look, I had no idea they were going after Willow. If I had, I would have never gone to visit my sister. I would have stayed here, and I would have tried to stop them.” He turned to the redhead. “God, Willow, I am so sorry about this. About everything.”
“It wasn’t your fault,
Riley; you didn’t know what they were going to do until after the fact.
I’m just glad you’re telling us everything you can
Riley looked down, not ready to accept the redhead’s forgiveness. He just felt so damn guilty. If only he’d been there... with a sigh, the young man continued. “Anyway, the implant was put in Spike; he can’t feed or hurt any living creature,” he said, glancing at the blonde vampire. Spike sent a wicked grin his way.
“You do realize that this bloody implant is the only reason you’re alive, don’t you?” he asked. “Otherwise, I’d rip you to shreds.”
“Well,” Willow interrupted, “it also happens to be the only reason Spike didn’t eat me a couple weeks ago, so, you know, I’m kind of ‘big yay’ for the implant. No offense, Spike. I’m just not ready to die.”
“Spike tried to eat you?” Angel and Riley exclaimed simultaneously.
“Uh, yeah. But,
you know, he didn’t. Obviously. Because I’m here and everything.
Um, Riley, please keep talking before Angel kills Spike.
“Sure. Anyway, after the implant was put in, Spike somehow managed to escape... not clear on how that happened. We’d never had a demon escape before.”
“Yeah, well, you’d never caught William the Bloody before, either,” the blonde vampire said.
“Spike’s not really like other vampires,” Buffy explained.
“I even helped save the world once,” Spike announced with pride.
“You did have your own agenda, though. I recall something about ‘Happy Meals with legs’ and Drusilla.”
“But I still helped.”
“Uh, guys? Willow,
traumatic experience, Spike de-fanged... bit more important than junior
year, don’t you think?” Cordelia interrupted before
the Slayer and the vampire could really get into it.
“As I was saying, no one had ever escaped before. We went to find him... he was at Willow’s. We went up to the room, and we tried to get Spike back.”
Riley glanced at Buffy and nodded slightly. “Yeah. We. Me, Forrest, and Graham. They wanted to take her back as well, but I said no. I didn’t want Willow to be involved. I figured Spike had known Willow when he was human, and that was why he got invited in... I was hoping that she’d just forget what she had seen.”
“Well, Willow and I have known each other for a bit, but not when I was human. I’m 126 years old.”
Spike smirked at Riley. “That’s nothing. Peaches over there is 246.”
Riley turned his head to look at Angel in shock. Anya let out a derisive snort.
“Oh, please. He’s still a child. I’m 1120.”
Riley looked at Xander for confirmation; Anya was his girlfriend, after all. The teen nodded.
“It’s true. She used to be a man-torturing demon, but she’s human now. No evil testing on her, got that? Of course, I have no problem whatsoever if you want to take Deadboy and Deadboy, Jr. and do terrible, horrible things to them. In fact, I’d pay to watch.”
“Xander...” Willow said warningly. She nodded to Riley. “Please continue.”
“Not really sure what happened next... there was fighting, and someone helped Spike escape.”
Buffy raised her hand, cringing slightly. “I, uh, think that was me. I thought you were after Willow.”
“Um... okay,” Riley replied, deciding to let the fact that Buffy apparently had superhuman strength slide for the moment. He could ask later. “Anyway, that’s all that happened with the Spike situation. I thought it was over and that Willow was in the clear. I was wrong... apparently they decided to wait until I left town to grab her.”
“What exactly did they do to me? I don’t remember much of anything.”
“They drugged you. I managed to get that much out of Forrest. Um, I think they ran some tests... to make sure you were human, I guess. They tried to find out what you knew.”
“The drugs. You’d be, um, easier to control... easier to get information from.”
“How much drugs are we talking about?”
“A lot, especially if you don’t remember anything. Damn them!” Riley stood up and gave the coffee table a kick, tipping it onto its side. “They could have turned you into a vegetable, or even killed you! And then they took you to LA and just let you go. Did they want you to die? God, I want to kill them! How could they even think about doing that?” They young man went to the other side of the room and punched the wall. He was nearly shaking from pent up anger. Willow stood and crossed the room silently, placing her hand on Riley’s arm. After a moment, Riley took a deep breath and turned to face the tiny redhead. He cringed at the tears in her eyes. If only he hadn’t left...
“Riley, I really hate you ask you this right now, but there’s one more thing I need to know... do you know what I told them?”
Riley sighed and sat down on the floor, looking utterly defeated and feeling completely useless.
“I don’t know... and
I really don’t think they’d tell me now. I kind of beat the crap
out of Forrest. I doubt any of them are feeling very friendly
towards me right now.”
“You’re one of them, though,” Xander said. “Can’t you just look at the files or whatever?”
“Walsh keeps those
locked up... very few people ever get to see them. And after what
I did to Forrest... he probably went straight to her. My
clearance has most likely been revoked. In order to find out what you told them, we’d have to find a way to break in.” Riley looked around the room; it was pretty obvious that all of them were more than ready for some breaking and entering on Willow’s behalf. “What exactly could you have told her that was so important?”
“Wait a minute. Did you say Walsh? As in, Professor Walsh, our psych teacher?” Buffy asked, incredulous.
“Yeah. She runs The Initiative,” Riley responded somewhat sheepishly. The young man turned to Willow, silently asking her answer the question he had posed.
Willow looked around at the others, and they nodded their consent. With a sigh, the redhead went back to the couch and sat down next to Angel, allowing him to take her hand. She looked at Riley. “Are you sure you really want to know?”
“Not really. But tell me anyway.”
“Well, I could have told her about Angel, for one thing.”
“That’s another thing I don’t get. Why do you hang out with vampires? I mean, they’re evil.”
“Well... Spike’s usually trying to kill us, so actually, we only hang out with one vampire... Angel. And he’s different than other vampires. Gosh, he’s saved the lives of almost everyone in this room at one time or another: Buffy, Cordelia, Xander... he’s saved me several times. Plus, he has a soul.”
Riley raised his eyebrows at the dark haired vampire, and Angel shrugged. “It’s true. I fed off the wrong person about a century ago, and her people - gypsies - cursed me with a soul. The curse was broken close to two years ago, but, in the end, Willow managed to curse me again.”
When Riley’s stunned gaze moved back to Willow, the redhead smiled slightly. “I’m a witch. Not a very powerful one or anything, but I’m still a witch. But that’s not all I could have told Professor Walsh... I mean, there’s the whole Oz thing. Three nights a month, he’s a werewolf. And then there’s Buffy...”
Riley turned to look at the blonde girl, shock prevalent on his face. “Just what the hell are you?”
“The Slayer. I’m still human, but I have certain advantages... more strength, better hearing, stuff like that.”
“What does a Slayer do? How many of you are there?”
“Usually, only one.
One dies, the next one is called, and so on. Of course, this silly
chit died and came back, so now there are two,” Spike
replied before Buffy could answer.
“You died?” Riley asked.
“I drowned... briefly. I was only gone for a minute...”
“Anyway,” Spike broke in, “as for what a Slayer does... well, she hunts and kills vampires and demons and the like. Or, at least, she’s supposed to. As you can see by the fact that Peaches and I are still alive - well, undead - and kicking, the chit doesn’t always pay attention to what she’s supposed to do.”
“Well, Spike, I could always stake you if you really want me to,” Buffy offered.
“Oh, please. I’d like to see you try.”
“Enough, you two. If Riley is correct about the implant, and I assume that he is, then Spike does not pose a threat, and therefore does not need to be eliminated. The important thing right now is finding out what Willow told these people,” Giles said.
“I’m suggesting some undercover work,” Xander put in.
“Too slow,” Angel replied. “It would take too long to gain access.” The vampire turned to Riley. “Are you willing to help us?”
“In any way I can.”
“Okay. It’s only about a half an hour until dawn... not enough time to get anything done before daylight, and I’d really like to be there when we go in.”
“Then we go tonight,” Giles responded. He knew he’d feel better if the vampire was there. If a fight broke out, Angel’s presence would be most welcome. Besides, he knew Willow would want to be there, and the girl seemed extremely comfortable with the dark haired vampire.
Riley ran his hand
through his hair. “Okay, that sounds good. In the meantime,
I’ll try to figure out the best way to get in... we’ll need to
override the security system. Who here is good with computers?”
Willow and Doyle both raised their hand.
“Okay; we’ll get started on that as soon as I figure out what entrances need to be disarmed. We’ll have to time it... and we shouldn’t have them go off all at once. Too suspicious.” Riley glanced at his watch, shocked to discover that it was nearly six in the morning. “We should split up now, rest, go about our daily business.”
“You think The Initiative’s watching us, don’t you?” Anya asked.
“Me, definitely. If Willow said anything about Buffy being the Slayer, they could be watching her as well, and I’m sure they’re keeping an eye out for Willow... I made the mistake of mentioning that I knew she was in LA while I was... interrogating Forrest.” He turned to the redhead. “You should probably stay out of sight. And, if there’s a chance that they know about Anya, she should probably lay low, too. Same goes for Spike and Angel. I know that they’re still looking for Spike, and I’m sure Angel would intrigue them.”
Angel nodded. “So we lay low until tonight, then we hit them.”
“That’s the plan.”
Cordelia sat at the
kitchen table at the Rosenberg’s house, a rather fascinated and slightly
disgusted look on her face as she watched Spike
drink warmed pig’s blood from a mug.
“How do you do it?”
“Do what, pet? Drink blood? I am still a vampire, you know.”
Cordy gave the blonde an exasperated look. “Duh. Of course I know that. I mean, how do you keep from going grrr?”
“Yeah, you know, all vampy.”
Spike grinned. He’d never realized just how adorable the little chit could be; he’d always considered her to be a bit annoying. “Why do you want to know about that?”
“Well, most vamps are
all demony all the time... but not you. Angel, either. He usually
just does it when he gets pissed. I don’t know about
when he eats; I’ve never actually seen him feed.”
“Well, love, Peaches
and I have been around for quite a while,” Spike replied as he took a seat
next to the former cheerleader. The pretty
brunette had her arms crossed on the table and was resting her head on her arms. Her head was turned so that she could look at the vampire, and her eyes were full of interest. He smiled at her as he continued. “Older vampires have more control over their demon, especially master vampires like myself and the Great Poof. Most of the vampires you’ve seen are either fledglings or minions.”
“Did it take you a long time to learn control?”
Spike shrugged. “Not really, pet. I was a childe of Angelus; I was never a fledging.”
“What’s the difference between the two?”
“A childe gets more of his sire’s blood... it makes him stronger.” Spike watched as Cordelia got up from the table. “What, you’re leaving? All this talk about the ways of vampires grossing you out, princess?” he asked with mock innocence.
“Actually, I was just
going for a bagel,” she replied, grabbing a bakery bag from the kitchen
counter. She got one for herself, then offered the bag to the vampire.
“You want? I’m sure they go great with pig’s blood.”
Angel sat in Willow’s
desk chair, watching the petite redhead sleep. He couldn’t take his
eyes off of her; he was just so thrilled that she was
acting normally again. Besides, as much as he hated to admit it, he just liked to watch her. She was so beautiful. As if sensing that the vampire
was watching her, Willow opened her eyes and turned to look at him.
“I won’t disappear, you know,” she said with a tiny smile.
“I know,” Angel replied. “It’s just... I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Willow yawned and snuggled deeper under the covers. She looked at the handsome vampire with a critical eye. “You’re tired,” she announced with sleepy confidence. “You know, you’re going to be worthless tonight if you don’t rest.” She lifted the covers, offering Angel the spot next to her. She grinned when he raised his eyebrows in surprise. “If I’m not mistaken, I cried myself to sleep in your arms the other night, so I don’t think sleeping in the same bed’s a big deal.”
After a momentary pause, Angel realized that Willow was right; they had slept blameless in the same bed before. And he really was tired; the past few days of worrying about Willow, coupled with concern about what the night had in store for them, had all but exhausted him. With an unneeded sigh, the vampire toed off his shoes, removed his jacket, and climbed into bed with the little redhead. He lay down behind her, and, after debating for a long moment, wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her back against him. He waited to see if the girl would protest, but Willow just settled herself back against him.
“G’night, Angel,” she murmured sleepily.
Angel smiled against the redhead’s silky hair. “It’s seven in the morning, little one.”
“Goodnight sounds more like a bedtime phrase than good morning does... so goodnight, Angel.”
The vampire raised
himself up on one elbow and leaned forward to kiss the girl’s cheek.
“Goodnight, Willow,” he replied softly as he settled himself in.
Xander sat on his bed in the basement, watching as Anya idly painted her toenails.
“Doesn’t it bother you that someone may be after you?” he asked.
“A bit. But where
would they find me? Very few people know me - you, Willow, Giles,
and a few others - and none of them would help The
Initiative. So I figure I’m safe. Besides, one way or another, it’s going to end tonight.” Anya finished her toes and wiggled them slightly, admiring the lavender polish. She’d never had the time to indulge in such things as a demon. Being human didn’t entirely suck. “So,
what do you think of Willow and Angel?”
“What do you mean?”
“Please. You may be male, but you aren’t blind... although the two do sometimes seem to go hand in hand. Didn’t you see the way he acted around her?” At Xander’s blank look, the former demon elaborated. “He was all protective of her, and he sat beside her, and they were holding hands. Not to mention the fact that he went home with her. He could have stayed with Giles, or spent some time with Buffy...”
“Buffy had to go to class. To keep up appearances...”
“Oh, please,” Anya snorted. “Do you really think she would have gone to class if Angel had shown the least bit of interest in spending time with her?”
“No, I don’t,” a rather
stunned Xander responded, his mind racing for reasons for the vampire’s
attentiveness toward Willow. He wasn’t sure he liked what he came
Doyle sat on the floor of Giles’ living room, looking through the older man’s record collection.
“Find anything you like?”
The half demon looked up and smiled at the British man. “A few here and there. So, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Well, I could’ve easily gone over to Willow’s house with the two dead guys and Cordy, but you seemed so reluctant to see me go...”
With a sigh, Giles relented. The younger man was right, and the former Watcher knew it. “It’s Angel... the way he was acting towards Willow...”
“Because of The Initiative, the poor girl’s been through hell for the past few days... not to mention that idiot werewolf leaving and Spike trying to kill her... I don’t see anything weird about Angel being so protective of her.”
“He’s never ignored Buffy before.”
“Yeah, well, if he’d ignored her in the first place, he may have never ended up in Hell. I’m all for him staying as far away from her as possible.”
“Yes, of course; that would be for the best. And you’re probably right, Willow has had so much to deal with lately... perhaps Angel just feels like he knows what she’s going through.”
“Or he just thinks she’s pretty much the sweetest thing in the world, and he wants to protect her from all the bad guys.” The demon paused, then continued. “You didn’t see her, Giles. She was like a ghost... a terrified ghost. Sometimes I was afraid she would just fade away. And the way she acted... it was almost like she was in a trance. Cordelia told me she’d never seen Angel so worried... maybe he’s just happy she’s back. God... I hope I never see someone in that bad a shape again.” Doyle looked up at the older man and held his eyes. “We’ve got to stop these people.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
Buffy studiously avoided Professor Walsh’s gaze; she knew that the woman would see hatred in her eyes if they made eye contact. With a sigh, the Slayer turned the page of her notebook and began a fresh sheet of notes. Her mind wasn’t really on her work, though; it was on Angel.
He had ignored her.
Even as Angelus, he had never done that. But this morning, he had been completely indifferent to her. His sole focus had been Willow. What was going on between them? Was he just worried about her? Or was there something more? Buffy wearily ran a hand over her face as she realized that none of that was important. If something had happened between Willow and Angel in LA, she would have to deal with it later. Right now, she had something else to deal with. As Professor Walsh’s words drifted through her mind, Buffy was reminded of just what had happened to Willow. The pencil in Buffy’s hand cracked in two as the anger began to build.
Nobody hurt a friend of the Slayer’s and got away with it.
Willow’s fingers flew over the keyboard, then stopped suddenly.
“You cracked the codes in less than fifteen minutes?” Riley exclaimed incredulously.
The redhead shrugged. “What can I say? I’m good.”
“Apparently,” Riley conceded as he came to stand behind the girl. The codes had definitely been cracked.
Angel looked up from the blueprints the young man had managed to swipe and smiled. “I don’t think Willow’s ever actually been stumped; you get used to it after a while.”
Riley shook his head in disbelief as he went back to stand next to Angel. “I don’t think that’s possible.”
Buffy snorted as she
stepped between the two men to take a look at the blueprints. “This
is the Hellmouth, Riley. Anything’s possible.” The
Slayer tapped two places on the blueprints. “Are these the entrances we’re using?”
Riley pointed to a third spot on the map. “That one, too. We’ll need to break into three groups... one to clear the way, one to get the files...”
“And the third?”
“After what happened to Willow... we have to make sure The Initiative doesn’t have any other innocent people.”
Angel raised his eyebrows as he looked around the room. Everyone appeared to be ready.
“Let’s get going.”
Giles looked down at the hand drawn map he was carrying. Willow and Doyle had managed to disable the alarms - the retinal scan system had been permanently shut down thanks to a virus Doyle created - and Giles was leading Anya and Xander deep into the lab, searching for the quarantine area.
“This way,” the former Watcher muttered, pointing down the hall.
With a quick glance
behind them to make sure they hadn’t been spotted, Xander and Anya followed
the older man.
Willow, Angel, Spike, and Cordelia made their way quietly towards Professor Walsh’s office. Angel was holding Willow’s hand, determined to keep the redhead close so he could protect her, and Cordelia had grasped onto the back of Spike’s leather duster. A noise coming from the opposite end of the hall had them all freezing in place, and Angel pulled the others into the nearest room. Spike made a movement as if to confront the members of The Initiative, but Angel stopped him with a glare; it wouldn’t do any good to get into a fight before they got the information they needed. Besides, with Spike out of commission for the time being, Angel was the only really good fighter of the group, and he wasn’t sure if he could protect both Willow and Cordelia.
With an unneeded sigh,
the younger vampire nodded in understanding; he wanted to fight, but he
didn’t want the girls to get hurt either. Spike
stayed where he was, but murder was in his eyes. He really wanted to get back at these idiots.
Cordelia saw the look on Spike’s face and reached for the vampire’s hand. Somehow, now that he was helping them, he didn’t seem so evil or scary. Plus, she felt kind of sorry for him.
Spike jumped slightly when he felt the former cheerleader’s hand in his, but, after a moment, he squeezed her hand slightly, accepting the comfort she offered. When he felt a small hand grasp his other hand, he turned his head to see Willow watching him, understanding in her eyes.
She wanted to get The
Initiative back as much as he did.
Buffy, Doyle, and Riley crept silently down the hallway, on the lookout for Initiative members. Their goal was to keep any members from going down to the lower levels and finding the others.
Buffy paused outside a door labeled “Holding Area” and looked at Riley curiously.
“That’s where we keep the creatures we capture,” Riley whispered, trying to avoid having anyone hear him.
Buffy looked at the
sliding door; it, like the rest of the building, was white and gleaming
and looked like it fit in a laboratory. The whole
building had some surreal, villainous, ‘I’m taking over the world’ feeling to it, and the Slayer didn’t like it.
“I want to go in.”
“I want to see the
Giles quickly punched in the vocal override code, thankful Riley had remembered it correctly. There was no telling what would have happened if he hadn’t - Riley had mentioned some type of countermeasures to prevent break-ins. It had been decided that, once they got inside, they would be less likely to be found if they used codes whenever possible instead of disabling the unit. Too many units going off-line at once would most likely end up causing The Initiative to send someone down to check things out, and although Angel, Spike, and Buffy for just waiting for a good fight, Giles preferred to keep things as peaceful as possible.
Giles waited rather impatiently as the door slid open, hoping against hope that he would find the quarantine area empty, that The Initiative hadn’t gotten its hands on anyone else.
He didn’t get his wish.
With a grunt, Spike and Angel broke down the door to Maggie Walsh’s office. Spike looked down at the rather mangled door and grinned.
“That was fun; I’m glad Commando Boy didn’t have the code for the office.”
Willow rolled her eyes at the vampire and headed to the computer terminal. “His name’s Riley, Spike, and he got us in here... so be nice to him. Now check the file cabinets.”
Cordelia immediately headed for the first file cabinet, sliding the top drawer open and glancing at the files.
“What is it?” Angel asked, looking up from his position at Willow’s shoulder.
Spike glanced at the picture Cordelia was looking at. “That’s not an autopsy, pet.”
“What do you mean?”
“If that creature was
really dead, it would be dust. That’s a vampire.”
Buffy walked down the
corridor slowly, unable to believe what she was seeing. The whole
hallway was white, completely sterile. There were
glassed-in cages lining both sides of the hall, and every cage was filled. She didn’t have a clue as to what most of the creatures were; she’d never fought one before. Only a handful of the captives were vampires that the Slayer easily identified as minions and fledglings... Spike was probably the only master vampire the group had managed to catch. The Slayer turned to inform Riley of that fact, but her words froze in her throat as she spotted Doyle.
The man had morphed into his demon form, and it took Buffy a moment to get over her shock. His blue-green skin... the spines that were all over his face... the red eyes... it was quite a contrast to the handsome man he had been just a moment before. Riley stood and stared as well, horror on his features. However, he wasn’t just staring at Doyle; he was staring at the creature in the cage as well.
The creature that looked like Doyle.
Her name was Taryn.
That was virtually all Giles had been able to get out of the terrified
girl in the quarantine. She had no idea how long she’d
been there; she had no idea why she was there. She was so shaky and weak she could hardly stand, and there were bruises on her arms from where he had obviously been repeatedly been injected with something. Anya and Xander were supporting the tiny blonde between them. She was no more than eighteen, of that Giles was certain. The former Watcher walked behind the trio, his fists clenched in rage.
He would give just
about anything to go one on one with this Walsh person.
Willow’s eyebrows furrowed as she looked at the pictures spread in front of her. She didn’t think she had ever seen anything quite so evolting, and that was saying quite a bit. There were dozens of photos documenting the experiments that had taken place. Experiments on conscious subjects. Vampires, demons she’d never seen before... all wide awake as horrible things were done to them. The brunette beside her was obviously affected as well. Cordelia’s hand was shaking as she began to stack the pictures; she just couldn’t look at them anymore. The former cheerleader turned to Spike, distress evident on her face.
“Were you conscious when they did whatever they did to you?”
Spike took the photographs from the his sire’s secretary and sent the girl a reassuring look. “No, pet, I wasn’t. I have no idea what they did to me.”
“But we do know what they did to Willow,” Angel interjected triumphantly, brandishing a slim file he had just retrieved from one of the file cabinets. He walked over to the desk Willow was perched on and opened the file, skimming it quickly.
Willow closed her eyes, not entirely sure she wanted to see what was in the file. After a moment, she sighed. “What did I tell them?”
It was all Riley could say. Doyle, nice, friendly Doyle, was a demon. And the Initiative had captured another demon of his kind.
Buffy walked slowly
over to the Irish man, curiosity on her face. She gestured to the
creature that had been captured. “What is it? What are
“A Brachen demon. I’m actually only half. On my father’s side. I’ve never met an evil one, although, to tell you the truth, I’ve really met very few of my kind,” Doyle replied, returning to his human form.
Riley came to stand
next to the others. He turned to looked at the cages, all the creatures
that the Initiative had proudly captured. That he had
“They’re not evil, are they?” the young man asked.
“Not all of them. The vampires are, of course. As are a few others. But many of them are about as evil as I am,” Doyle answered sadly. He hated to think what these creatures had been put through.
Buffy took a deep breath.
“We have to release them.”
Giles, Anya, Xander,
and Taryn made there way out of the building, blessedly undetected by anyone.
Anya and Taryn sat on a nearby bench while Xander and Giles paced, wanting
to go back in to find the others, but knowing that they couldn’t leave
the girls - especially one as fragile as Taryn seemed to be - alone.
They had no choice but to wait.
The foursome whirled
around to face the intruder. Or, more accurately, intruders.
Two members of the Initiative, in full combat regalia,
accompanied the professor. Angel nearly vamped only at the sight of his foe. Good Lord, he wanted to rip her throat out for what she had done to Willow. For what she had done to Spike.
“Looks like you brought something that belongs to us,” the woman said, nodding in Spike’s direction.
The blonde vampire immediately vamped out. “I belong to no one.”
Walsh shook her head, a condescending look on her face. She glanced at the two young men beside her. “Get them.”
The two men came at
them, and Angel vamped out, snarling menacingly. There was no way
they were going to get their hands on Willow again. He’d go back
to hell before he allowed that to happen.
“Let them out? Are you crazy?” Riley cried, forgetting to keep his voice down.
“What the hell do you mean? They’re not evil, and you people are doing experiments on them. They do not belong here. We have to let them go,” Buffy insisted. She couldn’t stand to see innocent creatures suffer. It was her job to protect them, even if they did happen to be demons.
“Do you have any idea how long that would take? Opening each individual cage?”
Buffy snorted. “Well, you jerks should have thought of that before you captured innocent creatures. You can override the whole damn system for all I care. We are letting these creatures go. I can force you to do it. And I will if I have to. Trust me, Riley, you don’t want it to come to that.”
“If I override the system, all of the creatures will be freed, including the vampires.”
Doyle reached into his jacket and retrieved a stake. He glanced and saw that Buffy had done the same. The blonde girl was obviously aching for a fight. He nodded to the boy.
Spike ducked the first punch, then blocked the second. He knew he could only be on the defensive. If he threw a punch, he’d wind up rolling around on the floor in agony. The idiot boy he was fighting with managed to tackle him, and Spike suddenly found himself on the ground. He could see the boy smile at the thought of taking down a vampire, but then the boy slumped forward, unconscious, before he could do anything about it. Spike looked up to find Cordelia standing above him, brandishing a fire extinguisher.
The vampire smiled
as an idea came to him.
Buffy winced as the
alarm sounded, then crouched into a fighting stance. She grabbed
the first vampire as it escaped its cage and staked it
efficiently. Riley ran over to her and grabbed her arm.
“We don’t have time for this. We have to get out of here. They know we’re here. Come on.” Reluctantly, Buffy turned to follow Riley and Doyle out, then stopped cold as she saw what was in the doorway.
The Initiative had
already found them.
Spike tossed a file
cabinet across the room, knocking a commando out cold. He snarled
as the commandos' backup arrived. Grabbing Cordelia, he began to
make his way to the office’s second exit, making sure Willow and Angel
were following. He took another glance at the room, noticing that
the files had been tossed everywhere. They covered every available
surface. With a wicked grin, the blonde vampire grabbed a random
file and used his lighter to set it on fire. He tossed the flaming
paper into the room, and watched as the fire spread, creating a wall between
the four members of the Scooby Gang and most of the commandos present.
They were outnumbered. Most of the demons had fled for their lives, and only Riley, Doyle, and Buffy were left to face the very pissed off members of the Initiative.
“This way!” Riley shouted as he headed for the only other way out of the holding area. With a sigh, Buffy took Doyle’s hand and headed after Riley, going deeper into the building.
She only hoped that
the young man could get them out of there.
“Not so fast, bitch.”
Cordelia was grabbed from behind, and the brunette whirled around to face her attacker. She glared at him, her fury building to a dangerous high. She’d always wondered what the phrase ‘seeing red’ meant; now she knew . Her mind drifted back to the pictures she had seen; the experiments that had been done. If Spike hadn’t escaped, that could have been him in one of those photographs. Or even Angel... he’d lived in Sunnydale at one time as well. What if they’d captured him? What if they had done those terrible experiments on Spike or Angel? With a strength she hadn’t known she possessed, Cordelia wrenched her arm out of the young man’s grasp, then punched him with all the force she could muster.
She broke his nose.
Spike turned at the sound of breaking bones and nearly grinned at the sight that met his eyes. He knew Cordy’d had it in her. He had to admit it; he was proud of the little chit. He took the girl’s hand and nodded toward the ever-growing fire.
“We’ve got to get the hell out of here!” The girl nodded, and Spike turned to see how the others were doing. His sire had just finished beating two commandos to a pulp, and he was now scooping a rather exhausted redhead into his arms. Spike could see a trickle of blood on the girl’s face, and he fought the urge to rip somebody to pieces. Angel looked up from Willow and met Spike’s gaze.
Without a word, the
foursome headed down the hall.
They were in the damn laboratory. The shiny, pristine, used for evil laboratory. Buffy, Riley, and Doyle made their way through the empty room, and Buffy realized that Riley was leading them to a set of stairs on the opposite side of the room.
A noise from another direction made Buffy jump, and she whirled to find out what it was. Her jaw dropped as she saw Spike and Cordelia - holding hands, no less - burst into the room, followed by Angel carrying Willow.
And the room was now
filling with commandos.
The group fought as a team, trying to force their way to the stairs. There was no way that the seven of them could take all the army guys on at once - there were nearly thirty of them - and they knew it. Willow, on her feet once again, looked around frantically, trying to find a way to help. Her eyes landed on something, and a smile spread across her face as she realized what she could do. She grabbed Spike, pulling him over to where the various chemicals for the experiments were stored. She began to pull them out and stack them, making sure to only grab the ones labeled “flammable.”
“Just what the bloody hell do you think you’re doing, pet? This isn’t a damn chemistry lab.”
“I’m making a bomb, Spike. Now be a good vampire and roll those barrels over here. They’ll explode rather nicely, I think.”
Angel fought with savage force. He didn’t give a damn that they were human. They had captured Willow, drugged her, then hypnotized her to get her to tell them her secrets. They had nearly killed her with the excess of drugs; according to the file, her heart had actually stopped at one point. The only reason they had revived her was because she had yet to tell them anything at that point. With a snarl, Angel broke the arm of the boy he was fighting. He felt someone touch his shoulder, and he whirled around, ready to fight. Willow merely raised her eyebrows at him.
“We have to get out of here before the place blows up.”
Angel followed Willow’s
gaze to the flaming trail of chemicals that led to a stack of barrels that
appeared to have been doused in even more chemicals. Without saying
a word, Angel scooped Willow into his arms and took off for the stairs.
The others, made aware of the impending explosion by Spike, quickly followed.
Xander and Giles jumped as Angel, carrying Willow in his arms, burst into the clearing. The vampire didn’t even seem to notice Anya sitting on the bench with Taryn.
“Get down now! The whole damn place is going to blow!”
Xander and Giles shoved the girls to the ground, and Angel lay down on top of Willow, protecting her with his body. There was no time to get any farther away before the place blew up.
Cordelia screamed as the underground building exploded; the force of the blast knocked her to her knees. Spike grabbed the brunette and pulled her underneath him, determined to protect her from the debris.
Buffy, Doyle, and Riley collapsed together in a rather undignified heap, and Riley sent up a silent prayer that the others had gotten out okay.
After the dirt and metal stopped dropping onto him, Angel raised his head and stared at the girl underneath him. Good Lord, she was beautiful.
“Are you okay?” he asked, gently wiping dirt and a trickle of blood from her face.
“Yeah. Are you?”
“Umm-hmm,” he replied softly, before catching her lips in a gentle kiss. When he pulled away, Willow’s eyes were huge.
“What was that for? Not that I mind...”
“I just wanted to. I’ve wanted to ever since I climbed into that bed with you this morning.”
“Oh... would you mind doing it again?”
With a smile, Angel obliged her.
“Do you think you two could do that later? We should probably get out of here.”
Angel reluctantly lifted his head to find Cordelia and Spike standing a few feet away, twin smirks on their faces. He smiled slightly when he saw that Spike had his arm around the brunette and that she was wearing Spike’s duster. Angel stood up slowly, then pulled Willow to her feet and picked her up. He glanced around and saw that the others rising as well. Xander and Anya, Giles and some girl he’d never seen before. Buffy, Doyle, and Riley were untangling themselves and standing, and Angel could see that Buffy was holding onto Doyle’s hand like it was a life preserver. He could also see others running away, trying to escape the blaze that was spreading. He knew that some of the Initiative had made it out, but he knew that there had still been people in the building when the explosion had occurred. With a sigh, he shifted Willow in his arms and faced the others.
“Let’s go home.”
Riley put the paper back on the coffee table. Somehow, miraculously, nearly everyone had survived the blast the night before. Over a dozen were injured - some rather severely - but only three had died. One of those three had been Professor Maggie Walsh. Riley tried to be sorry about that; it was a human life, after all. But Angel had told them what was in the file: Willow had told the Initiative everything, but only after she’d been pumped so full of drugs she’d almost died. And even then, they’d had to resort to hypnosis to get everything. And then there was Taryn. The Initiative had hurt her, too. Riley’s gaze traveled over to the slight girl asleep in Giles’ armchair. He silently vowed to protect her from now on.
Buffy sat at Giles’
table, listening as Doyle told her his story. His Irish brogue was
mesmerizing; she knew she would be happy to listen to it all
night. He was so sweet... so funny. She’d be sorry when he went backto LA.
“When do you have to go back?”
Doyle paused in his story. He’d seen the way Spike and Cordelia had been acting, the way Angel looked at Willow. He sincerely doubted the four of them would need him in LA. He’d be of much more use here. Besides, he didn’t want to go.
“Who said I was leaving?”
Willow headed outside and walked over to where Angel sat on the stairs that led to the apartment complex’s second level. She sat down beside him, and she smiled as the vampire took her hand.
“When are you going back to LA?”
“Depends on what?” the redhead asked, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“On whether or not I can convince you to come with me.”
“You want me to, uh... to go to LA... with you?” Willow stammered out, astonished.
Angel tipped her face
up, forcing her to look at him. “Yes, little one, I do. When
I saw that file, I realized that I almost lost you... before I
even really found you. I want to see what’s between us... I just can’t force myself to walk away.”
“Like you did with Buffy.”
Angel nodded, then sighed softly. How could he explain things to her? He stood and began to pace. After a moment, he stopped and looked her in the eye. “What I had with Buffy... I did love her. I admit that. But it was wrong. What we had was all about pain and suffering, especially that last year. After I came back from Hell... one minute we were together, the next she was breaking up with me. Again. But you? With you, it feels right. Like it’s where I’m supposed to be. I wanted Buffy... I want you. But the difference is... I need you. I need you as much as I want you. You accept me for who I am, for what I am... you don’t judge.”
Angel knelt down so that he was on eye level with Willow and took her hands in his. “She didn’t mean to. I know that. But she did. You... you accept everyone. Not many people could be best friends with the Slayer... or friends with a vampire... or friends with Cordelia, for that matter,” he added, grinning when Willow laughed. After a moment, he grew serious once more. “I’m falling in love with you, Willow. It excites me... but it scares me as well. I want you to be with me. Can you accept that? Can you accept my love?”
Willow raised her hand to his cheek as tears began to fill her eyes. How could she say no to such vulnerability, especially when she felt the same way he did? “Yes, Angel,” she whispered. “I can accept your love. But will you accept mine?”
Instead of telling her with words, Angel leaned forward and gently captured her mouth with his, letting her know that he would do more than accept her love; he would cherish it. After a moment, he pulled back, and he saw a smile in Willow’s eyes.
“Well, I was just thinking... how do you think Cordelia’s going to react to me moving up to LA?”
Angel smiled, then turned to look in the direction of Giles’ apartment. Through the window, he could see the brunette curled up against Spike on the couch, and the vampire was stroking her hair. It was then that he knew Cordy was in deep. She never let anyone touch her hair.
“I don’t think she’ll mind. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up bringing someone back with her as well.”
Willow followed Angel’s gaze and smiled at the sight of the pair on the couch. “There will probably never be a dull moment with those two around.”
“No, I guess there won’t. Are you up to it?”
Willow grinned again, that beautiful, shining smile that made his heart melt. “Always.”