A/N: Two quick notes. One, super mondo thank you for the reviews. They make me happy and inspired. Two, Willow is gonna seem a little out of character in this chapter. Just combine nervous Willow and fed-up Willow and you get something close to what I wrote in this chapter. Happy reading!
To put it bluntly, the silence was uncomfortable.
Or, Willow thought as she watched Gibbs and Faith easily ingest their food between suspicious glares, maybe it was just her that was uncomfortable. She pressed her lips together, determined to not be the first person to say something. If it meant waiting to eat until one of them said something, she could starve. Feeding her anxiously rolling stomach wasn’t high on the list right now, anyway.
“You gonna eat, Red?”
The dam inside Willow’s mind burst. “This is ridiculous!” Hellfire and damnation!
Gibbs cleared his throat softly. “I’m trying to come up with a logical explanation.”
Willow frowned at the older man. “There is a logical explanation.”
Faith snorted. “Yeah. Vampires. Or, you know, blood fetishist with a nasty set of fangs.” She glanced over at the redhead, her expression oddly serious. “That amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it?”
Willow hung her head and stared at the jumble of noodles, chicken and vegetables on her plate. “I thought we’d be able to put this off for a while. Preferably, for all time.” She sighed roughly. “But no, some dead Army guy had to try and bite my dad.”
Gibbs tapped the table with the edge of his fork, attempting to get Willow’s attention but deciding to overlook the fact that she’d just referred to him as her father. “Not Army. He was Marine.” He shrugged after a moment, thinking it odd that his mind wanted to correct her on the military branch even though his mind had yet to find a really good argument to prove that the man that had almost attacked him and then dissipated into a cloud of ash wasn’t a vampire… per se. “Because that’s the important part,” he murmured softly to himself.
Faith laughed openly, spearing a chunk of broccoli with her fork. “We’ve gotta talk about it, big guy. If only just so Willow can calm down enough to eat.”
For her part, the witch pinned her friend with a hard look. “You know me so well,” she commented dryly.
Gibbs pushed the food on his plate around with his fork, glaring morosely at the steel utensil. “It is ridiculous,” he said firmly. “Vampires don’t exist.”
Faith stuck her tongue out at the solid-looking former Marine. “Do so.”
Willow hid her eyes behind her hands and groaned. “This is insane. This is not how this visit is supposed to go.”
Glancing sideways at the redhead for a moment, the Slayer pinned Gibbs with a hard look only to see the same look returned. Did he blame her? She was only doing her job, unlike some other Slayers that she could name. “This is your fault,” she hissed at him fiercely.
Gibbs opened his mouth, obviously with some type of rejoinder, when Willow slammed her hands down on the table. The loud, surprising sound shocked both the Slayer and the former Marine enough that they both dropped their fierce expressions. Faith was even more cowed by the slight mania obvious on the other girl’s face.
“I know what to do!” Willow looked her friend in the face. “We can take him patrolling.”
“Oh, thank God.” Faith placed her head in her hands and grinned sardonically down at her plate. “I thought you were gonna suggest a demon bar, like Willie’s.”
Willow’s grin broadened but Faith wasn’t aware of danger that she wasn’t seeing. “That’s a good idea. I’m going to call Angel.” Without further ado, the witch stood and walked away from the table, removing her cellular phone from her pocket in a fluid movement of which only teenagers are capable.
Faith slowly lifted her line of sight and stared at Willow’s retreating form until she stopped against the opposite wall of the restaurant. “We are so screwed.”
For his part, Gibbs arched an eyebrow at the young girl in front of him, trying to ignore the little voice in his head that was telling him he was screwing up maybe the one chance he’d ever have with the girl across the room. “What in the world is a demon bar?”
Angel looked up from his reading at the ringing noise. Was that… a telephone? He stood, eyes roaming corners of house as he trailed predator-like through the house. Eventually, he found himself in an area of the mansion that he tried to avoid. It was in a room on the second floor that overlooked the garden that he found the source of the incessant ringing.
Aware that the ringing was important even as a part of him was already growing numb, he strode across the room and picked up the clunky earpiece connected to an older model rotary telephone. His eyes followed the cable to a phone jack embedded in the wall. His brain was bombarding him with ghost memories of Spike and Drusilla but he pushed it back in favor of the present.
“Hi, Angel, I need a favor. Do you know any demon bars in D.C.?”
Angel frowned at the phone in his hand. “Willow?” He paused at the question. “Why are you in D.C.?”
He was surprised at the low sound the girl made, probably the closest thing to a growl she could manage. “Does she not tell you anything?”
“Who?” Angel could hear the desperate sound leaking into his voice and hated how weak he sounded, how just a little confusion could bring that weakness out.
Willow scoffed. “Buffy, of course.” She sighed. “My real father lives here. My parents brought me here to meet him. And, before you ask, Faith is with me so I’ll be safe in a demon bar.”
“You mean, your dad’s not your dad?” Shaking off the debilitating confusion, he focused on her question. “Well, in the bigger cities, there are really demon bars. You’re more likely to find a sanctuary club for the hidden communities. There’s a place just off the Georgetown Reservoir in D.C. called Contego.”
“Protect?” Willow echoed its translation in question. “Is it a no-bloodshed place?”
Angel frowned again, this time at the level of knowledge implied in the girl’s inquiry. “How do you know about places like that?”
She made the low sound again and he knew that it was directed at him this time. “You know, I’m getting tired of this. Willow’s too weak, her magic is too erratic, Willow can’t handle herself. I’ve doing this as long as Buffy. If you count last summer, I’ve been doing it longer.” She laughed bitterly. “I’ve had more than a lifetime of everyone expecting me to be less and needing me to be more. I’m done, okay?”
Angel heard the click of her disconnecting the call and responded only by setting the earpiece back on its receiver. He slumped sideways onto the bed, his brown eyes glazed in memory and worry. The latter would have to wait, for he had already been putting off this particular memory for almost ten minutes already.
They hadn’t been in the mansion for a week when Drusilla had started babbling about needing a telephone. Angelus hadn’t gotten it, had burned in fury when Spike had nodded as if he understood, but had bought the damn thing anyway. He had almost bought one of those newer models, a cordless phone with a built-in answering machine. A voice sounded in his head, a memory of something Spike may have said once.My Dru, she likes old-fashioned things.
Spike had arranged for the telephone company to set up a wall jack and thread a line to the house. The bleached-blond vampire had always been better at those things – if not for his overly brazen attitude, he could have integrated himself back into the human community with little to no effort. He was more caring as a demon than Liam had ever been as a man.
A part of him wished things had stayed that way. Everything had been low-key and they had been happy and together for the first time in over a hundred years. But Spike’s jealousy had reared its head and Angelus’s megalomania had returned with a vengeance. Then there was that damned statue and what came after…
Angel stopped his musings cold there. His memories concerning events between his journey through the portal and his mystifying return were locked down hard. The nightmares were memory enough. He didn’t need to seek out those particular recollections.
Turning his mind away from painful memories, he returned to the almost equally painful present. The rapid changes in Willow were worrying. But the way she talked about it, it was as if she wasn’t changing so much as growing tired of hiding herself. In addition to that, there was the way she had lost her hero worship of Buffy, bonding instead with Faith.
Angel smiled but there was no humor to be found in the expression. It was grim determination that one would have seen there. He would find out what was going on with Willow when she came back and maybe everything would fall back into place.
One could hope.
The next twenty minutes passed in something of a blur for Gibbs. Not that the moments prior to their current excursion were much better. Having a night begin with an attack wasn’t something completely outside of his range of normal but having the attacker’s face shift into something almost unrecognizable and terrifyingly feral just before he dissipated into a harmless cloud. Both Faith and Willow insisted that it was a vampire and he prided himself on the ability of spotting a lie.
Despite all of that, what bothered him the most was the way every time his daughter looked at him, he could literally see herself distancing herself emotionally. Was his belief in her that important? Or was it something else entirely?
Finally, the cab let them out at a bright-looking club less than a mile from the Georgetown Reservoir close to the canal. A neon sign declared, “Welcome to Contego!”
Gibbs followed them into the club, feeling somewhat out of his depth. The only time he’d ever entered a club was usually at a crime scene and it was mostly cleared out by that time. However, the girls leading him seemed almost comfortable, though he could sense the tensed readiness in Faith and the seemingly everpresent anxiety in Willow.
“You sure about this, Red?”
Willow chuckled and Gibbs could see some of the nervousness flow off her shoulders, giving her body a slightly more relaxed line. “Angel said it was a sanctuary. Just don’t slay anything while we’re inside, okay?”
Faith laughed in response. “I don’t have to check my stake at the door or anything, right?” The joking tone was obvious but somehow the question seemed serious to Gibbs.
A petite brunette checked their identification at the door and then let them through. Once they were through the door, Willow glanced over at her friend. “Vampire?” she inquired softly.
Faith nodded. “Vampire.”
Gibbs glanced back at the check girl as she flashed a bright smile at the next set of patrons. How could they tell?
“Welcome to Contego,” a deep congenial voice said suddenly. Gibbs returned his gaze forward to see a man in a deep blue pinstripe suit. However, there was something about the man’s skin, something that didn’t seem quite right. “Are we all human tonight?”
Odd question, Gibbs thought. Willow was the one that responded. “Can’t you tell?”
The man cocked his head slightly, the smile never leaving his face. “I’d have to shift,” he warned right before… something rippled across his skin. All of the human features melted away, revealing deep tan scales covering his body in a facsimile of his human skin tone. “Ah, so mostly human.”
Faith scoffed. “Speak for yourself, Scaly.”
The man laughed softly. “Oh, but you’re a brazen one, aren’t you?” He then looked at Willow, worry clear in his bright blue eyes. “Sweetling, you need a better shield. You got waves of magic coming off you.”
From the moment the man had shifted into something else, Gibbs had been trying to reach for his gun. It was an automatic reaction – any level of fear made him need the comforting feel of his weapon. It seemed that he couldn’t move, no matter how hard he tried. In fact, when he attempted to push his will against whatever this was, the less he could feel his own limbs and there was some kind of pressure on his chest.
“Oh, dear.” The demon stepped around the girls, shifting back into his human form in the same movement. “Is this his first time?”
Willow turned around to look at her father. He was having problems breathing, it looked like. Another brief moment and the host of Contego was holding an unconscious Gibbs in his arms. “What happened?”
“Come with me.” The host lifted Gibbs into a more comfortable hold easily and walked across the club. “Troy! Cover me.” Behind the bar, a large spiked demon nodded his head once and walked out to the bulk of the club to become the temporary host.
Willow and Faith followed close behind the demon through a door on the other side of the bar. “What’s going on?” Faith hissed at Willow. In turn, the redhead just shrugged.
On the other side of the door was a suite of rooms and the demon led them to a bedroom, laying the older man on the bed gently. “It was the Sanctuary spell,” he told them finally. “I think he was trying to draw a weapon.”
Willow smacked herself in the forehead, drawing a slightly shocked look from Faith. “I should have known. He’s a government agent.”
The demon looked over at the man, who seemed to be breathing normally again. “Ah, so what brings a Slayer and a witch to my club?”
Willow nodded at Gibbs. “Him.” At the demon’s arched eyebrow, she clarified her statement. “He saw his first vampire.”
The demon grinned sardonically. “Awkward. My shift must have set him off.” He sighed. “Tell you what, I’ll help you integrate Mr. Manly Man here but you have to promise me something.”
Willow breathed a sigh of relief. Gibbs struck her as the stubborn type and Faith wasn’t the most patient person to try to explain the supernatural to someone who didn’t want to believe. “Thank you. Whatever you want.”
“Get some training and stay on this path.”