A/N: Thanks for all the reviews. They honestly help my writing, except when my muse exits my brain for a more temperate region. And now that I say that, it seems a bit naughty. *retrieves mind from gutter* Also, sorry for the slow update. I try to spread my updates as evenly as I can manage. If you're tired of waiting, I recommend my other fanfics or possibly those of RivanWarrioress, whom I beta for. Again, many thanks!
“I think it’s best that I talk to him alone this time,” Willow told Faith as they approached the Mayor’s office.
“You sure about that?” Faith asked, her body language asserting her clear discomfort.
The redhead gave the Slayer a genuine grin. “Hey, he’s gotta know I trust him.”
“But you don’t,” she whispered softly. Willow found it simultaneously amusing and fitting that Faith got quieter the closer they were to the Mayor’s office. Well… he did have eyes and ears everywhere.
She softened her grin to a smile. “Go ahead and wait out here so you don’t have to worry too much.” She raised her fist and rapped swiftly on the wood of the office door. “Okay?”
Faith nodded and settled herself on a nearby bench, her body taut as a wire with Slayer instincts. As she did so, Mayor Wilkins’s voice declared, “Come in.” Willow opened the door, wondering idly why he didn’t open it himself. After all, that was the image he projected – always there for the people, a courteous shining example of humanity. That’s when she noticed the massive paperwork scattered across his desk. That was good – the slight distraction would help. “Ah, Willow, it’s good to see you. How was your trip to the Capitol?”
She grinned at the Mayor and took a seat in front of him. Not for the first time and probably not for the last, here was a man that would listen to her for no other reason than to hear about her life. Sure, he was a conniving snake and manipulated everyone he interacted with… but he listened! “It was… eventful,” she told him, the curve of her lips becoming sardonic.
Leaning forward, the Mayor’s steepled his hands and grinned, being sure to show all of his very white teeth and yet still coming off as sincere. “Do tell.”
“Well, Gibbs – my biological father, I’m sure Faith told you about it – nearly got to be a vamp snack. D.C. isn’t really a hotbed of supernatural activity, so I guessed it was our presence. A witch and a Slayer together? We had to have attracted him like a moth to a flame. But Faith dusted him. There was some complications and we went to a Sanctuary and then we spent the rest of the night going over this hellhound thing.”
“I had heard about that. Faith had quite a tussle with a demon but not before it managed to bleed that young man, is that correct?” He leaned forward, only slightly but enough that Willow had to stamp on her urge to press herself into the chair. “How was it you were even aware of it?”
Willow’s eyes went wide. It was almost as if he could see inside her mind… Shaking her head, she knew that was unlikely – he may be an evil sorcerer but she could see that even his power was limited. “The ritual,” she told him softly. “The vision was a batch of memories sent from a future me. The ritual helped to make everything clear.” She smiled at him gratefully.
“That’s fascinating,” he admitted. “How far?”
“How far in the future?” Willow asked rhetorically. “About five, maybe six years. But I want to stress that I’ve already changed some things.”
The Mayor finally leaned back in his chair, gratified at her answer, and Willow felt her hidden tension ease. “Very interesting,” he drawled. “I take it that my plan wasn’t successful then?”
She ducked her head slightly. “Sorry.” Twisting her hands, she finally looked up at him. Just as she guessed he might, the news of his demise in an alternate future only intrigued him and he was in no way agitated or in denial. It was both good and bad for her position. Good because it demonstrated how outrageously arrogant he was and arrogant people often made mistakes; bad for many reasons, not the least of which her own worry of their impending loss of control over the whole situation.
“And as you said, things have already changed. Just by knowing, you have changed the future. I find that very promising.” The Mayor had a snakelike quality to him now that Willow just couldn’t dismiss. “Besides, I’m sure you wouldn’t leave Faith outside just to tell me the ritual worked.”
She smiled bashfully. “Yeah, um, my cover’s blown? That’s probably the best, most concise way to put it.”
“Picking up mannerisms from the Marine already?” A genuine flash of a smile preceded a shutdown of his overall expression, telling her exactly how serious he was. “How did they find out?”
“Chance, as far as I can tell,” she answered, sure to crinkle her forehead in worried confusion. “Xander called me while we were at the demon bar, Contego. Angel showed up at the library, telling them about he’d seen me with Faith – probably when I patrolled with her the night before we left. I don’t know that Angel meant any harm but Buffy kind of ran with it. Now she thinks I’m possessed.”
The Mayor frowned, the lines around his mouth and forehead clearly identifying the expression. “But the boy – you call him Xander – he’s on your side?”
Willow shrugged, trying to make the movement as nonchalant as she could manage. “I guess twelve years of friendship trumps Slayer. He even convinced Wesley – he’s the official Watcher now, not Giles – that I was fine, that I should be trusted. Wes never trusted Buffy’s judgment anyway.”
“Really?” he mused. “Faith never mentioned that.”
She smiled in a way that suggested she loved Faith but there were some things that she would never get, the kind of friendly but slightly condescending smile her mother used when speaking to her own daughter. “She probably never noticed. Their big fights about Buffy’s judgment have mostly been recently and before that, well… My mother, being who and what she is, always made sure I knew how to read people.”
“That’s a very valuable trait.”
Willow inclined her head in agreement. “Also, I recently befriended a demon summoner.”
“Not the boy that summoned the hellhounds?” The Mayor cringed slightly, though she wasn’t sure whether it was at what kind of boy that was or the thought of her having disreputable company.
“His brother, actually. Andrew is the real demon summoner of the household. He knows the ins and outs of summoning better than I do and has a good grasp of the danger too. He helped me eject Buffy and Giles from my house today when I returned to find them going through my stuff.” She immediately clenched her mouth shut, both to stop the oncoming babble and to bottle the fury that still gripped her easily enough to see.
There were very few situations where the apparent rage that boiled inside her could be seen and fewer still where seeing it was to her advantage. Fortunately, this was one of those times. No matter how suspicious she might have seemed or may seem in the future, this moment of blazing fury seen in a usually deceptively naïve face would cement her position in the Mayor’s mind. She let the anger gain control over her thoughts like a conflagration, consuming her emotion until her anxiety had vanished and all she could think was… they all would pay.
“In due time, Willow.” The redhead pulled herself back into the careful mold erected by her parents’ guidelines to realize the Mayor stood in front of her, a hand on her shoulder and something like worried regret painting his face. “I can tell that you are like Faith, trapped and in need. I want you to know that you are as much of a daughter to me as she is.”
Willow sat very still, not knowing what to say. On the one hand, this was the man that planned to gobble most, if not all, of her classmates on their foremost day of achievement as something she didn’t even want to think about. On the other hand, he was sincere almost to the point of cloying and she could feel the campaign slogan he wore like a form-fitting cloak – “Above all, I care!” – winning her over little by little. It was why she didn’t want to spend more alone time with the man as possible.
The moment finally passed into oblivion and he released her, leaning against the edge of his desk. “After all, as with good, one bad turn deserves another.” He reached into a nearby metal mesh cup, the kind you use to hold writing utensils, and removed a small syringe filled with a ominously clear substance, the needle protected by a plastic cap. “A sorcerer friend I call Rafe sent this to me to deal with our vampire champion. He called it Interfectoris de Mortuum.”
“Killer of the dead,” Willow murmured softly. Even as she said the words, memories of the intense research to find the mysterious poison that weakened Angel almost exponentially every hour and how she could only think of her new intimacy with Oz when watching over the vampire for Buffy. That circled her back to Oz, which was a problem she had been avoiding. Quickly, she forced her focus back on the Mayor.
“You speak Latin?”
She offered him a half-smile. “Not totally. Mostly, I remember.”
Handing her the syringe with one hand, he gestured broadly with the other. “What exactly do you remember?”
“I was the one who found it. Chemistry is my area of expertise,” she admitted with no small amount of pride. “It’s probably why potions and magic bags come easy to me.”
“Do you remember how I was defeated in this other timeline?” The Mayor looked at her with his serious eyes, eyes that probably didn’t know why she was so opaque to him.Buffy taunted you with Faith’s blood and lured you into a dynamite trap,
she thought automatically. However, she shook her head sadly. “I was helping with the vampires. After that, it’s mostly a blur.”
He nodded in understanding. “I’m sure you know what to do with that.”
Willow turned the syringe in her hands, remembering vaguely yet another secondhand story from Buffy. “You probably want Faith to catch him off-guard with it. Something like coating an arrowhead or crossbow bolt and getting him from a distance.”
“As much as she may dislike it, it might be the best way. Otherwise, he is likely to sense her approach.”
“She won’t like it. Faith tends to like the up-close kill.”
“Looks like you know my Faith pretty well.”
She inclined her head. “I think I might have a better idea.”
“I think it’s a bad idea.” Faith trailed back a little, glaring at the sun as it dropped lower on the horizon.
Willow rolled her eyes. “So you’ve said every two minutes since we started this way. Don’t worry – Angel owes me. Again.”
“For blabbing?” the dark Slayer asked rhetorically. “For all we know, he could have meant for it to happen that way.” She turned her baleful gaze to the mansion that stood before them, feeling suspicion thrum in her veins at the proximity of a vampire.
“I’m so sure,” Willow drawled, affecting a Valley Girl accent.
“I mean it, Red.” She paused as Willow knocked on the door. “He’s known B for over two years. It’s a little impossible that he thought she would take it differently than she did.”
“I hoped,” Angel said softly, the slight squeak of the hinges making his words a bit more ominous than he had likely intended. “I always hope.”
Faith turned her hard brown eyes on the vampire, Slayer instincts and the belief that this situation was completely and knowingly all his doing making her itch for a stake… or maybe just the leg of a chair. “Yeah? And how far has that gotten you lately?”
He didn’t answer, those chocolate brown eyes just reflecting how guilty he really was, and stepped aside to allow them entrance. “How bad is it?” he asked Willow.
“Nothing I can’t handle,” she answered breezily. Shooting both vampire and Slayer a look, she led them into another room, something Drusilla might have termed a sitting room but her own mother called a day room. She walked to the center of the room and faced them. “It’s still a hassle and it’s your fault.”
Angel stepped forward, the same eyes that so readily reflected his soul now beaming the same twisted and superior concern Faith witnessed in the other Slayer earlier that day. “Willow, this isn’t like you.”
Before Willow could reply, the brunette Slayer interjected her two cents. “Like you would know! You said you’d keep quiet and you couldn’t do it for even a week. Red said it was what she did for you during the… the, uh…” She floundered and looked over to Willow.
The redhead smiled gently at Faith. “The Ford thing.”
“Yeah. She didn’t even say anything about returning your soul. You owe her even more now.”
“I’ve saved her life many times.” It was the one argument that could halt Faith’s inertia. She knew there was a way to battle him, she just didn’t know how.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do, Angel,” Willow sighed. “You’re a champion. Saving lives is part of that. If I truly thought you cared about that, I never would have performed Miss Calendar’s ritual.”
Angel’s shoulders drooped slightly and Faith fought the urge to grin. In the absence of her very strong emotional responses, trust Willow to find the very logical, unimpeachable argument. “But…”
Willow raised a hand, interrupting what would have been the vampire’s likely somewhat weak response. “I’m just very angry, that’s all. If Xander were here, he would tell you the same thing. He and Jesse are the only ones that have seen me this way before.”
Angel sighed. “I’m sorry. It’s just… With Buffy…” His voice faded after a moment and he passed a hand through his hair.
“I get it.” Willow set her green eyes on Angel, the gaze pinning him in place. “If I ask you for something again, can you keep to it?”
“You know,” Angel started, “I just wanted them to realize that Faith had been compelled. I didn’t do it to hurt anyone.”
“You know what they say,” Faith commented, snark vaguely present in her tone. “The road to hell and all that.”
“So?” Willow asked again, a single eyebrow arched to press the question.
“Of course,” he answered. “Buffy told me what she did today and she was… proud of herself. And she gave me the description of what sounded like a young scamp. Aren’t they harmless?”
“Completely,” Willow answered. “Faith, a glass of water, please.”
“I still think it’s a bad idea.”
“Better than the alternative,” Willow answered quickly. That said, Faith exited in the direction of what could have been a well-stocked kitchen, if the mansion hadn’t been inhabited by vampires.
“What exactly is it I’m doing?” Angel asked.
“Angel, smart as you can be, I imagine you guessed we’re double-crossing the Mayor,” Willow started.
“Yeah, I just don’t understand why.”
The witch moved to sit in a nearby lounger. “I have mastered a single passive spell that happens to protect anyone in my vicinity from the Mayor’s magical compulsions. Because of its passive nature, the sorcerer himself can’t feel its existence. Thus, Faith’s need to be around me so much. But this stuff…” Willow then pulled a stoppered vial out of her pocket, into which she had poured the contents of the Mayor’s syringe. “This stuff is toxic to you.”
The vampire eyed the vial suspiciously. “What is it?”
“Interfectoris de Mortuum, the killer of the dead. It’s a mystical compound built specifically to kill vampires very slowly. Its antidote is usually the blood of a champion, preferably a Slayer. Not even the blood of your sire could cure it, even if she was still alive.”
“I’m going to drink that?!” Willow laughed at the girlish shriek-like quality to Angel’s exclamation.
Faith walked back into the day room and handed Willow a glass that was exactly half-full with water. The redhead immediately unstoppered the vial and poured its content into the clear liquid. “You’re such a baby, Angel,” the Slayer commented mockingly.
Rolling her eyes, Willow continued. “Direct contact with the bloodstream is fatal. Wham, bam, vampire ash, so to speak. But the vampire digestive system is unique. It can’t take an undiluted dose of the stuff but one part vamp poison with at least three parts water will dull the effects.”
Angel took the glass with a large amount of trepidation. “So, I won’t die?”
“No,” Willow confirmed. “But you will be sick, very sick for about a week. Possibly a bit more if the water a little less.”
“And the point?” Angel asked. “Of this. Of me in a semi-dead state.”
“If B’s got her mind on you, then she won’t screw up Red’s plans,” Faith told him.
Angel nodded, silent as the grave as he stared into the glass. “I trust you.” Willow nodded, her Resolve Face firmly in place. “Okay. Bottom’s up.”