Where You Lead - 5
~ Pacific Coast Highway, Sunday 6:30 pm~
“Spike, can you turn it down?!” Willow yelled over the blaring music pumping through the back speakers.
“Can’t hear ya, Red!” Spike yelled back, smirking to himself as he drummed against the steering wheel.
“I said turn it down!”
“Can’t hear ya!”
“Shut the damn music… off.” Willow’s rant was cut short as Asher turned off the radio.
“Hey! What’d you do that for? I was just getting her blood boiling.” Spike pouted.
“I must make a phone call now. You may resume your debate after I conclude my call.” Asher answered, ending any complaints with an icy glare. Ignoring Spike’s hand gestures, Asher pulled out a sheet of paper with a list of phone numbers on it, and dialed one near the top. “Bonne nuit, monsieur.”
~ Hyperion Hotel, Sunday 6:31 pm~
Angel had been sitting in his armchair with the same book for four hours straight. Four hours, and he had yet to turn the page. He would look at the first line, and get lost in memories. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Such a great opening line, if only he could condense everything he felt into those two phrases. The incidents of Sunnydale certainly were landmarks, but only in a long series of incidences, and now that he was away from the excitement, he had some time to think about it, and one thought coursed through his mind. He was old.
He was old enough so that everything seemed déjà vu of some sort or another. What was there left to do? He had been evil, and he had been good; both sides were painful in the long run. He had gone by so many different names- Liam, Angelus, Angel- were any of them really him any more? There had been so many lovers, allies, and enemies in his life, and where were they all now? It seemed like at any point in his life, it could have been the best of times or the worst of times. Now, though, there was nothing but time, an eternity of nothing special.
He had set up a home in an old hotel that was nearly condemned. It, too, had seen better days; he could recall back in the fifties when starlets would clamor to be seen in the elegant lobby here. Almost half a year he had poured into the rebuilding and exorcising of the old structure, waiting for some sort of divine calling, and now the building and his life were no more habitable than when he had first arrived in this city. He knew he was wasting his time, but time was something he had in spades. Humans weren’t meant to live forever.
His brooding was interrupted by a phone ringing in the lobby. It took him three rings before he reached the reception desk. “Hello?”
“Bonne nuit, monsieur.”
“I’m afraid you have a wrong number.” Angel answered.
“My mistress, Belle Morte, gave me your number.” The thick French accent rolled over the words.
“Belle Morte?” Angel winced. It had been nearly a century since he had any dealings with the Council, and that was how he liked it. In fact it was one of the reasons he had spent so much time in the New World. “Who are you?”
“Ah, you do not remember? But then, you were so young.”
“Who are you?”
“I need your assistance. I am near your location, on a mission from Her.”
“Jean-Claude?” Angel asked. Belle Morte had few French childer, and even fewer who would set foot in “the colonies” as they were still called over there. There was silence on the other end, as though the speaker was contemplating hanging up. “Who are you?”
“Surely, mon ange, you would have a better memory than that.” The voice sounded bitterly insulted.
“Asher?” Angel whispered.
“Oh god.” Angel cringed. Too much history was wrapped up in that voice. He should have remembered it, but he had spent years trying to forget it. “What do you need?”
“I am on my way to Los Angeles with two companions, and we need a place to stay. One of my companions is human. Do you have accommodations available?” It was not so much a request as a command.
“I will make accommodations available. Your sire knows that I will obey, all you have to do is call my name.” Angel cringed. The last thing he needed was a visit by the Council. He had been Darla’s pawn, and Whistler’s pawn, and Buffy’s pawn for so long; he wasn’t ready to be manipulated again. Unfortunately, no vampire lived long after resisting the Council, especially a member as strong as Belle Morte. “When will you be arriving?”
“I can pick you up at the airport.” Angel offered.
“We are in a car, already.”
“Well, if you’re out on the road already, I can give you directions if you tell me where you are.”
Angel could hear some whispering in the background. “Ma chaton says we are on the Pacific Coast Highway about forty minutes from Santa Monica.”
“Oh, well, do you have pen and paper? This may get complicated.” Angel sighed.
~Pacific Coast Highway, Sunday, 6:40 pm~
“Um, can we stop now?” Willow asked, as soon as Asher hung up to phone.
“We’re not stopping just for you to try to escape at a rest stop.” Spike snapped back.
“It’s not that…”
“Mon dieu, you have not eaten today, have you?” Asher asked, feeling slightly guilty for being a poor host.
“Well yeah, but…”
“Are you going to use that ‘when you gotta go’ line again?” Spike teased.
“The out of gas light has been on for the past two minutes.” Willow replied smugly.
~ Sunnydale High School, Sunday, 6:45 pm~
“Any luck?” Buffy was waiting at the crack that ran through the center of the library, sitting on the remains of a bookshelf in what was the science section.
“We ran into a young vampire.”
“And? What did he say?”
Giles coughed nervously. “We didn’t have a chance to ask.” Buffy just nodded, knowing better than to press the issue.
“So where do we go now? We’ve tried all of his old hideouts.”
“I’d rather not search the sewers unless there are no alternatives.” Giles frowned, joining his slayer on the bookshelf. “I don’t suppose you have any suggestions, Riley?” Buffy raised her brow at that. Since when was Giles on a first name basis with army-boy?
“I don’t know. Honestly, I’m still confused by what happened in the hall back there.”
“What happened in the hall?” Buffy asked, suspiciously.
“Evidently, in all of his extensive experience with the demonic elements of our society, Mr. Finn had never seen a vampire staked.”
“Wait, you mean you think you can capture Spike and you didn’t even know how to make them go poof?! That’s unbelievable.”
“Well, I…” Riley blushed.
“And that’s why we’re looking as well. It does us no good to pick each other apart while Willow is still out there.” Giles interceded. “Now let’s think. Where would Spike go if he needed a space that was isolated enough to hide Willow successfully, protected from the sunlight, and familiar enough for him to defend? Are there any abandoned lairs we’ve forgotten about? Balthasar’s perhaps?”
“Angel’s.” Buffy whispered.
“Whose?” Riley asked, frowning at the new expression on Buffy’s face.
“Come on, I bet that’s where they are.” She strode towards the door, a woman on a mission.
“Where are we going?” Riley followed Giles out.
“Are you familiar with the large white mansion on the hill?”
“Of course, but that neighborhood is too nice for hostiles. Why are we going there? Why is Buffy acting so weird about it?” By now the men were nearly half a block behind Buffy.
“Really you’re better off not knowing in this case. Just trust me on this point, the last thing you ever want to do to win a woman’s heart is bring up her previous boyfriend.” Giles replied, breaking in to a run to catch up with his slayer.
“Thanks, that answers everything.” Riley shook his head then began to run, surprised to be outpaced by a retired librarian.
~McDonalds, Exit 183, Sunday, 6:50 pm~
Willow lazily dipped her fry in ketchup, not really hungry, but not quite willing to get back in the car. Across the street, Spike was filling up the car at the small gas station. Asher was sitting beside her in the booth watching her eat her chicken nuggets meal, reminding her silently that she was still the prisoner.
“What is bothering you, ma chaton?”
“Well, I think it’s pretty obvious, don’t you?” She answered bitterly.
“Not at all.” Asher replied thoughtfully. “You do not strike me as the melancholy type, and yet when I watch you, you hover on the brink of tears. What has made you so sad?”
“It’s not really your business, okay?” Willow answered testily. How dare this vampire kidnap her and then try to act all nice and understanding.
“Ah, I see. What was his name?” Asher replied.
“Asher.” She snapped back sassily.
“I would have been honored if you had loved me so much that I could cause you such pain. However, you had that look of sadness before I met you.”
“Look, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“If it’s any consolation to you, I think he made a mistake to let you go.”
Willow closed her eyes and took a deep breath, promising herself that she wouldn’t let this vampire drive her to tears. “It wasn’t like that. If you’re so set on conversation, then you do the divulging.”
“Very well, what would you like to know?” Asher replied, casually glancing around the fast food restaurant.
“Was Spike right? Did you get sent here because you were in trouble with your sire?” Willow decided to be equally as intrusive.
“Not in your lifetime.” Asher replied.
“But you were in trouble?” Willow continued to probe.
“Mademoiselle, you are asking dangerous questions.”
“Funny, they don’t seem any worse than what you were asking me.”
“Touché.” Asher looked at her carefully. She looked tired and lonely. They sat in silence for a minute, trying to avoid noticing how the girl at the counter was gawking at Asher as though he was the best thing since sliced bread. Willow’s thoughts got bleaker and bleaker the more she toyed with her fries. Spike was right; it was going to be much harder to be rescued if she was out of Sunnydale. She’d probably be killed by the end of the week whether or not she cured Spike. She was damned either way; if she failed Asher would kill her and if she succeeded Spike would.
Asher saw Willow’s eyes get glassy as though her mind was closing in on herself, and he worried that she would completely shut down if he didn’t say something soon. “Monsieur Spike is very perceptive.” He murmured, watching the blonde enter the gas station.
“Huh?” Willow shook her head to clear out the thoughts that were plaguing her.
“He was correct when he said I must have left my sire for a human. It was centuries ago, and yet my sire will never trust me completely again. Even if I didn’t bear the scars to remind me, she constantly throws it back in my face.” Asher sighed. “But if I had to do it all again, I would still have left for her. She was…” Asher stared off into the distance, not even noticing Spike leaning against his car, lighting a cigarette.
“Julianna?” Willow whispered.
“Oui. Julianna. How did you hear about her?”
“She was mentioned in the books. They said she was your human slave.”
“Servant. She was my human servant.” Asher replied closing his eyes.
“Slave, servant, whatever.”
“No, there is a considerable difference.” Asher replied, turning to look at the redhead. “You are very confusing for me. You know such odd facts, but you do not know their contexts. One moment you sound like a scholar, the next like a schoolchild.”
Willow turned bright red in shame, she was supposed to be the know-it-all, and yet here she was sounding completely sophomoric. “Well, I only have books to go by. It’s not like I can just stop and ask for details from the friendly neighborhood reference vampire.” She shrugged.
“Why not?” Asher watched her carefully put her leftover fries in the bag, brushing all of her crumbs into a napkin before folding the napkin into perfect quarters and adding it to the bag of trash.
“I know you may find this hard to believe, but I don’t really have a death wish. Asking stray vampires random questions isn’t a good way to stay breathing.” She answered.
“Well, I know you can not ask any vampire any question, but I am here, and we have plenty of time to exchange knowledge.” Willow looked into Asher’s eyes, and found that they were completely sincere.
“Okay, that might be nice. I could use the diversion.” She quietly admitted.
“Ah, it appears Spike is done with his cigarette, shall we get back on the road?” Asher offered Willow a hand to help her out of the booth.
“Sure, so how much longer is it?”
“I am not quite sure, but the night is still young, eh?” He offered Willow a weak smile. “I would guess we have another hour to go, but I think we will find the hour to go quickly if we converse.”
“Over Spike’s noise?” Willow looked at Asher incredulously.
“I requested that he buy headphones.” Asher replied as though it was a done deal.
“You requested?” Willow knew Spike well enough to know how he reacted to polite requests.
“Oui, I requested he buy headphones before I was tempted to remove his brain myself, and save him the cost of surgery. It seemed a reasonable request. Now, shall we retire from this fine dining establishment?” Asher wryly remarked, finding the irony in the sign above the menu board.
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Willow wrapped her left arm around Asher’s shoulder, and let him act as her crutch as she hopped to the door.
“I’m sorry mademoiselle, I know you Americans enjoy your independence, but it would be much faster if I were to carry you.” Asher spoke as they reached the doorway.
“Fine.” Willow sighed, knowing Asher was right.
“Thank you, ma chaton.” He smiled, whisking her up in his arms, enjoying the slight increase in her heart rate as he held her close.
“Oh Charlene, why oh why can’t that be me?” The girl at the counter sighed watching them go out the door.
“Honey, would you really want to spend your life with a man who spent more time on his hair then you did?” The woman working the drive-thru answered.
“If he looked like that, oh yeah.”
“Me, too.” Charlene sighed as the two watched the Fabio look-a-like carry the petite redhead across the street to the gas station.