“I don’t like this.”
Willow looked at Faith, smiling gently at the tense set to the younger girl’s face. In the back of her mind, she wondered if the Slayer had ever gone on a real date. Not that this would be anything of the sort, of course. If everything went accordingly, the hellhounds would be dead long before this little ruse could go too far. Wesley was supposed to send a code from his cell phone to hers when the hellhounds were dead.
Goddess, she hoped this worked.
“Why can’t you do this part?”
Arching an eyebrow, Willow’s smile turned into a full-faced grin. “Come on, Faith. Everyone knows I’m with Oz.”
She snorted softly. “I promise, it won’t be that bad. I mean, Xan and Wes went ahead of us to ‘infiltrate the lower level’,” she said, deepening her voice at the end in a gentle mockery of her best friend. With a pointed expression on her face, Willow reached up to knock on the door. “It’s okay to be nervous.”
Faith’s expression collapsed into a relieved smile. “Sorry, it’s just…”
“Habit. I get it.”
Just then, the door opened to reveal a slightly plump woman with graying blond hair. When she noticed Willow, she smiled disarmingly. “Willow! And you brought a friend.”
“Mrs. Wells, this is Faith Lehane. She’s a good friend of mine and her prom date ditched her…” Willow’s eyes slid down and then over to her dark-haired friend, a planned expression that signaled the Slayer’s next statement.
“Got my dress before he ran off with my money,” Faith told the older woman softly.
“Oh, you poor child,” Mrs. Wells exclaimed, her lips pursing to form a sympathetic expression. She turned to smile brightly at Willow again. “And you thought of Tucker? You’re such a sweet girl.” Suddenly, as if someone shocked her, she pulled back from the doorway, a slightly pinched look on her face. “Oh, my. Come in and make yourself at home. I’ll go get Tucker. He’s probably bothering his brother again.”
“Right,” Willow murmured. “Andrew.”
As the woman disappeared down a nearby hallway, Faith arched an eyebrow at the redhead. “You know her, Red?”
Willow shrugged sheepishly. “I barely remember the boys. Mom used to throw all these dinner parties for PTA members before she joined the conference circuit. Mrs. Wells always thought I was ‘the cutest thing’. She probably wished she had daughters. I’d only seen pictures of Tucker and Andrew. I never noticed them at school.”
The Slayer glanced at the darkened hallway. “So, she’s normal?”
Nodding, she replied, “Oh, totally. Probably doesn’t even know about the hellhounds in the basement.” She looked down when she felt her pocket vibrate. She pulled out her cell phone, quickly opening the text message. “Crap,” she whispered harshly.
Faith leaned slightly, glancing quickly at the screen. ‘Tell Faith one got away.’ She frowned deeply. “I thought you said Wes was gonna tranq ‘em and then Xander would behead them.”
“That was the plan.” Willow frowned, her eyes darting as she tried to figure out the problem. “Maybe it clawed its way out before we even got here.” She shook her head, clearing it slightly. “Doesn’t matter, though. You’ve gotta go slay it.”
“You sure?” But she was already walking back toward the door, the pace of the hunt clearly showing in the line of her body.
Willow laughed. “Go. I can handle this. Oh! Tell the guys to go too, if you can manage it. Don’t want them to get caught.”
No sooner had the door made that soft click as it shut and Tucker and his mother walked back into the living room. Willow swallowed past the quickly forming lump in her throat and smiled apologetically. While Mrs. Wells fumbled in confusion, the redhead took the time to study Tucker’s face. His eyes and mouth were set in an expression that conveyed both anger and frustration. She knew he probably didn’t dare go down to the basement too often while his mother was cognizant. She wondered idly if he dosed her with something to make her more distracted, more tired.
With a mental sigh, Willow shook herself of the paranoia. That kind of attitude belonged to Slayer and government agents, not her. She wanted to stay as positive as possible, at least in comparison to her not-memories where everything was dark and powerful and made her want to cry.
“Where did Faith go?”
“Sorry, Mrs. Wells. Her dad called me.” She held up her cell phone to indicate the how. “There was an emergency.”
“Oh, well then. Does she still want…?”
“Oh, absolutely!” Willow could feel herself grinning for all she was worth but she couldn’t stop. “She hates going stag.” She watched curiously as Tucker’s eyes continued to pinch in an unflatteringly manner. Wait, was he glaring
Mrs. Wells just smiled at Willow, not noticing any interaction. “Good. Tucker, this is Willow Rosenberg.”
He scoffed in return. “Duh, I know, Mom.” He raised his eyebrows. “I go to school with her.”
Before the older woman could begin to feel the discomfort caused by her son, Willow spoke. “You know, Mrs. Wells, I’ll just talk to Tucker about what Faith’s expecting. Besides,” she continued, the new steel in her voice directed at the teenager, “I’d like to meet Andrew.”
Mrs. Wells leveled a glare at her son and pointed back down the hallway. That one expression alleviated the fears that had settled deep inside her, causing Willow to smile slightly. The redhead nodded and pulled Tucker in that direction, her grip tight on his arm.
“No wonder no one will go with you to the prom,” she hissed at him darkly. “What were you thinking? Hellhounds?”
At first, the confusion held dominant on his face but it broke into defiant anger after a couple of seconds. “How would you know? You have that—that musician.”
“Wait a second.” Willow stared hard at him, trying to gauge the emotions on his face. He was angry and frustrated and contemptuous. “You don’t get it, do you? You think they’re pets, vicious and fierce but just animals, don’t you? They’re demons, you idiot! After they killed everyone at the prom, they would have killed everything in sight until they died.”
“He didn’t research the hellhounds,” a voice said softly. Willow turned her head and saw Andrew, definitely younger than the other Willow remembered him but still the same dorky blonde hiding in the closet. “Just summoned them outright. I tried to warn him, told him hellhounds need to be strictly controlled if you don’t speak their language, but he said they had to pay.” He smiled halfway, almost like he was afraid to make the expression. “How’d you know, anyway?”
Willow let herself smile, things like the curiosity of average student Tucker having the know-how to summon a demon sliding into place. “You have all the demon summoning knowledge, don’t you?” Andrew ducked his head, the smile turning shy. “My friend, she’s a Slayer.”
Now, she wasn’t surprised when he took that bit of information at face-value. “That’s cool,” he exclaimed. “I’d love to meet her. It would be like meeting… Xena!”
“God, Andy, you’re such a dork.” Without seeing it, Willow knew that Tucker had rolled his eyes.
“I told you not to call me Andy!”
Willow laughed, the stress of several days finally releasing from her chest, and Andrew joined her, though he wasn’t entirely sure why.
Faith circled the house at a sprint, quickly finding the cellar door entrance to the basement. A pile of thick chains sat to the side, a mangled lock tossed on the top. She smirked; apparently, Wes had made himself useful with some bolt-cutters. She opened one of the doors and leaped into the darkness, the Slayer predator a very live animal within her.
Her eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly and she soon found herself in a smallish room containing three cages, a chair, and a television set. Based on the size of the house against the size of this room, she hazarded a guess that most of the basement was a den or a study and not many people came in here. She strode over to the empty cage, only sparing a glance at the other hellhounds and her accomplices.
Xander was holding his axe in a way that indicated that he’d just beheaded the last hellhound. Faith had to admit, Willow’s divide-and-distract plan was pretty cunning and efficient. As long as she didn’t lose herself in a babble, Tucker wouldn’t know about his dead demons until sometime that evening. Even if she did, it wouldn’t matter much.
She examined the empty cage, her eyes darting between it and the structure of one of the dead hellhounds. They were mostly animalistic but their paws had an almost humanoid look to them. However, Faith figured it had frenzied, as wild animals do, especially if what Willow had said was true. “Do we know the trigger?”
As he was closer to the television, Xander walked over and turned off the static-snowy screen, squatting to look through the rental movies on the ground. “Carrie, Prom Night… These are all horror movies at proms.”
Faith nodded. “Now, for the real work. Where are the formalwear places in town?”
“Well, there’s two.” Xander stood, shifting the axe around in order to brush possibly nonexistent dust from his pants. “There’s this thrift shop a couple blocks from the super-seedy motel.” Faith just rolled her eyes at his comment, as he knew very well she used to live there. “Then there’s the nice place on Main. It’s closer to here.”
“That’s where I’m going. And Red says to skedaddle, so check out the other one, okay?” Wesley inclined his head in acquiescence. “Don’t die on me.”
She was already almost through the cellar doors when she heard Xander’s comment to her Watcher. “See, Wes, didn’t I tell you? If Willow’s friends with her, then Faith’s really and actually changed.” She smiled but didn’t let herself slow down, forcing herself to go faster in fact.
On the walk to the Wells’ house, Willow had given Faith the lowdown on hellhounds. She had done some quick research on them before the trip. These demons were ferocious but mostly mindless. They craved flesh and blood and this conditioning of Tucker’s made it so they were more likely to attack James Bond than Joe Dirt. However, Willow had been sure to stress that it would eventually kill them both.
The dark-haired Slayer rounded a corner and burst onto Sunnydale’s main street, immediately finding the clothing shop that boasted the town’s best formalwear. Her attention had been brought to it by the musical tinkle of breaking glass. Growling a curse word at herself that she wouldn’t repeat even to Red, Faith poured on more speed, zigzagging through the light traffic and finally diving through the already broken window.
The hellhound was already hard at work, his claws tearing into some guy, said guy screaming loudly. Kinda like a girl, the Slayer thought with a smirk. Without another thought, she maneuvered through the store and jumped a divider, landing like a panther on the demon. It reared up instinctively, trying to buck her off, but didn’t relinquish its current victim.
Beheading worked; maybe a snapped neck would too. She reached under its jaw, grasping firmly there with one hand and bracing her other hand on the back of its head, and jerked hard. The force of the action nearly turned the demon’s head all the way around but it slumped immediately and the bleeding guy beneath them finally stopped screaming. She looked at him in concern, afraid that he had died, afraid that she had been too late again, but his eyes were open and his shallow breathing was characterized by wheezing whimpers.
“Someone, call 911!” Faith called out. She pushed the demon to the side and carefully moved next to the victim, arranging him slowly into a prone position for the paramedics. She’d been with her mother too many times after a bad night with the boyfriend to not know how emergencies had to be handled. “Hey, guy, it’s gonna be okay. Just breathe and the ambulance will be here soon.” He opened his mouth and she could hear a gurgling noise, subtle but clear to her ears. Damn it, she hoped that was some other fluid and not blood. Please let this one not die.
The Slayer glanced over her shoulder to see another tall brunette, a nametag neatly clipped to her left breast. Someone she knew this was important and would ask Willow about it later. “Cordelia?”