Disclaimer: For full disclaimer see Chapter 1. Not mine, not making any money.
Ranger was silent as he and Stephanie made their way back up to the 7th floor apartment and so was Stephanie as she tried to process all the new information.
They entered the apartment and Stephanie headed for the couch, sat down and picked up the remote. She flipped through the channels absently, not really seeing what was on the screen.
A beer in Ranger’s hand entered her field of vision. She looked up at him, took the beer, and turned her attention back to the TV.
“Babe.” Ranger said, settling onto the couch beside her with his own beer.
Stephanie decided to listen to what he had to say; she could go back into denial later.
“Tell me.” She said, looking him in the eye.
“Everything they said was true.” Ranger told her, holding her gaze.
“No, tell me about California.”
“I can’t tell you everything.” Ranger said.
“Then tell me what you can.” Stephanie huffed. “I’m not asking for national secrets.”
“In a way, you are.” Ranger countered. “It’s not common knowledge and the government works hard to make sure it stays that way.”
“Why?” Stephanie asked.
“People would panic.” Ranger said and took a swig of his beer. “The general population couldn’t handle the knowledge.”
“What happened there?” Stephanie demanded.
“It was a secret facility.” Ranger said. He didn’t say anything else and Stephanie could tell he was deciding how much to tell her. “Things went wrong.” He finally said. “Soldiers died and my team was called in for the clean up. Until then I’d never been involved with that part of the military, but things were dangerous enough in that place that they needed my team’s special skills.”
“Can you tell me the name of the town?” Stephanie asked.
“I’m not supposed to, but I guess it doesn’t matter now.” Ranger said with a shrug. “The town was completely destroyed by an “earthquake” a few years ago.”
Stephanie heard the quotations around the word earthquake. She remembered hearing about that on the news but she couldn’t remember the name of town. Something to do with the sun.
“I remember.” Stephanie said. “The entire town sank into the ground.”
“That’s the one.” Ranger said. “I can’t tell you most of what went on there. It was, and still is, top secret information.”
“I understand.” Stephanie said, and she did. She knew Ranger would never be able to discuss a lot of things with her. That he was sitting here telling her what he could meant a lot to her.
“I can tell you this.” Ranger said in a tone that frightened Stephanie. “There are things out there even more dangerous than the crazies you’ve had stalking you before. Things that are just evil.”
Stephanie suppressed a shudder. She had trouble imagining anyone or anything any more evil than Ramirez or Abruzzi or Junkman or, she put a stop to that line of thinking before she scared herself even more.
“Yes, more evil than them.” Ranger said, his ESP working perfectly.
“Tell me about them.” Stephanie said.
“That went better than I expected.” Xander said as he flopped down on the bed in Buffy’s hotel room.
“It helped that Ranger already knew.” Buffy said as she sat down at the computer.
“The chick seemed pretty freaked though.” Faith said, sitting down beside Xander.
“She’ll learn to deal.” Buffy said as she started typing. “After everything she’s been through, it won’t take long.”
“You talking to Red?” Faith asked.
“Yeah. I thought she had us clear to enter the building.” Buffy said.
“What’s she saying?” Xander asked.
“She doesn’t know what happened. She was in their system and had all of the alarms turned off and the cameras were set to play the tape on a loop just like when you got in.”
“These guys are good.” Xander said.
“But are they going to be good enough?” Faith wondered.
“We’ll soon find out.” Buffy said as she logged off the computer. “I sent an email to Riley. If Ranger was in Sunnydale, Riley’ll know something about him.”
“What’s the next move?” Faith asked.
“I think we should patrol tonight and see if we can get some information from the locals.” Buffy said. “Brianna, one of the new slayers, is from around here and Willow asked her if she knew any of the local hot spots. She gave me a couple of leads that I want to check out. Then, in the morning, back to Rangeman for the war council.”
Stephanie opened her eyes to find herself alone in Ranger’s bed, again. She looked at the bedside clock and saw she’d been asleep about two hours.
She dragged herself to the bathroom and stifled a shriek when she looked in the mirror. Her hair was plastered to her head on one side and her mascara was smeared giving her raccoon eyes.
After a quick repair job, Stephanie left the bedroom and found Ranger watching TV.
“Feel better?” He asked.
“Not really.” Stephanie replied honestly. She really didn’t know how to feel. All the things Ranger had told her about vampires and demons had really rocked her world.
Stephanie started to speak but whirled around toward the kitchen when she heard a familiar squeak.
She went into the kitchen and found Rex running on his wheel.
“This isn’t going to happen, Ranger.” Stephanie yelled as she stomped back into the living room. “I’m going home.”
“You need to stay here.” Ranger replied calmly.
“There’s been no threat.” Stephanie pointed out.
“Besides, if this is a vampire, he can’t get into my apartment according to you. He has to be invited and I’m not dumb enough to invite a vampire in. So actually, I’m safer in my apartment with a vampire after me than I was with any of the other crazies.”
“Would you invite Dillon, the super in?”
Stephanie was sure this was a trick, but she just didn’t know how. “Yes.”
“What about someone wearing a Rangeman uniform? Would you invite them in?”
“If I knew them, yes.”
“Then your apartment isn’t safe.” Ranger was still talking calmly and had his blank face on. “You never, ever, invite anyone in. You never know who you’re inviting into your home.”
“Okay, I can do that. No inviting.”
Ranger gave a small sigh. This was important enough that he had to win. “What if they had a hostage and demanded you let them in. Would you?”
Stephanie worried her bottom lip with her teeth. “No.” she lied.
“What’s your point?” Stephanie demanded.
“You don’t know what these things are capable of.” Ranger said through gritted teeth. He kept telling himself he had to stay calm and rational, but the thought of a vampire getting his hands on Stephanie was pushing him to the limits of his control.
“Are you going to keep me here by force?” Stephanie asked.
Ranger wasn’t surprised by the question. “If I feel it’s necessary.”
“I wouldn’t be happy.” Stephanie warned him.
“I would rather you be alive to be mad at me, than dead.”
Okay, Stephanie could see his point, but she wasn’t giving up just yet. “It’s still daylight.” She pointed out. “I’m safe during the day.”
“Babe, why are you fighting me on this?”
“I just don’t think it’s necessary to keep me locked up here.” Stephanie told him.
“A compromise then.” Ranger suggested. “Take one of my men with you during the day whenever you go out, but you spend nights here.”
“Here as in your apartment, or here as in the building.”
“Ladies choice.” Ranger replied with a smile.