Where You Lead - 6
~Outside Giles’ Residence, Sunday, 7:00 pm~
“Damn it, another dead end.” Forrest kicked a pebble that ricocheted off the stone fountain in the patio area. “So does that make every place in that book?”
“There’s one more name we haven’t checked, but it doesn’t look too hopeful.”
“And why’s that?”
“It’s crossed out in four different colors of ink, with lots of evil doodles.” Graham showed the page to Forrest.
“Must be an ex or something.”
“Damn, Riley’s in over his head.” Graham shook his head at the violent drawings next to the first name in the address book.
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“Well, I mean, on top of the being MIA for twelve hours.” Graham rolled his eyes. Their radios briefly flared to life as Bambi two reported in to say that his quadrant was empty and he was returning to base. “If I ever outrank Walsh, remind me to ban her from ever assigning radio i.d.s again.”
“That’s a ten four.” Forrest chuckled. “Looks like Beta team is getting off the streets.”
“Well, tonight Beta is off and Delta is on call.”
“I say we check out that last place, then head back to base.”
“Sounds good to me.”
~The Mansion, Sunday, 7:10 pm~
“Damn it, there’s a light on.” Buffy muttered, staring up at the imposing mansion.
“Is it possible that he has returned?” Giles leaned over, panting, resting his hands on his knees. Keeping up with Buffy all day was hard work.
“No, I don’t think so. He would have said something if he came back… wouldn’t he?” Buffy turned to her watcher with a faint trace of desperation. Riley couldn’t help but feel like an awkward third wheel in the situation.
“It is probably either Spike or another vampire taking advantage of the property’s owner’s absence.” Giles rested a hand on Buffy’s back, trying to let her know he was there for her, even if he was too out of breath to express it in so many words.
“You’re right. It probably is Spike. He lived here too for awhile.” Buffy squared her jaw and once again looked over at the building. “So, what’s the best way to go about this?”
“Would you like to create a diversion at the front door while Riley and I go through the back and search the house? I can take the first floor, Riley take upstairs?” Giles offered his suggestion.
“Are you up to that?” Buffy eyed Riley carefully.
“Do you want me to create the diversion? After all, I have more than four years of combat training…” Riley offered.
“Yeah, well, from what I’ve seen, your combat training doesn’t hold a candle to my life, so if you don’t mind I’ll create the diversion.” Buffy replied.
“Fine. I’ll do as you say. After all, I’m the captive, you’re the captor. I will search anywhere you tell me to go.”
“Getting a bit snippy there, mister captive.” Buffy muttered back.
Giles cleared his throat. “Right, well, now that we’ve got that settled.” He headed off towards the back door, Riley following him.
Buffy waited a couple minutes for them to get in position, and then went right up to the front door and rang the door bell.
Surprisingly, someone answered the door. The man was small, greasy, and sporting a jogging suit from the 80s that could never really be considered ‘retro fashion’. “What do you want?” He snapped, eyeing Buffy from head to toe.
“I saw this house was on the market, and I told my snookums that it sounded just to die for! So since I was in the neighborhood, and the lights were on, I figured I’d come by and take a look around. You don’t mind if I invite myself in do you? No? Thanks, you’re a dear.” Buffy talked fast as she pushed her way past the weasel-like man.
“Hey lady, not that I don’t mind your presence,” once again he checked her out, eyeing her cleavage longer than would be considered polite, “but this is a private residence, and last I heard, it ain’t for sale.”
“Do you mean you don’t own this house?” Buffy glanced over the man’s shoulder, watching as Giles and Riley slipped in, and went straight to the stair well. “Then who does own it? When would the owner be available? It’s such a lovely house from the front. If the inside is anything like the outside, I just know my snookums and I would adore it.” Buffy fluttered her eyelashes like a pro-flirter.
“Nah, I’m just watching the place for a friend. He had some business in L.A. if you know what I mean.” He gave her a lascivious wink. “But hey while you’re here, you may as well stay, look around. Would you like a drink? I think I saw some wine around here.”
“Oh, no thanks, but don’t let me stop you.” Buffy commented, glancing around the living room, looking for any signs of Willow.
“Great I think I’ll just help myself.” The greasy man’s face transformed to his demonic counterpart, as he lunged for Buffy’s neck.
Buffy sidestepped his attack, the grabbed his arms and pinned him against the floor. “On second thought, I have a few more questions. Your friend got a name?” Her countenance completely changed in a flash.
“Hey! What’s it to you?” The man shook off his ridges.
“You’ve got three seconds to start talking, before I introduce you to my snookums, Mr. Pointy. One…” Buffy pressed the stake against his back.
“Yeah, my friend’s got a name. It’s Asher.”
“GILES!” Buffy yelled. There was a thump from upstairs before two men came running into the living room. “Recognize the name Asher?”
“Yes, actually.” Giles answered.
“Great. Then you can take over the interrogation, and I can be the one who looks cute holding the crossbow.” She smiled as she shoved the minion into one of the couches and pulled out her crossbow before he had a chance to react.
“So, you say Asher was staying here?” Giles took off his glasses and began polishing the lenses. He hadn’t played good-cop bad-cop with Buffy in quite awhile, and he was determined to play his role right tonight. The vampire nodded. “Have you seen him in the past twenty four hours?” Again the vamp nodded. “Was he alone?” The vampire shook his head, glancing at Buffy warily. “Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.”
~ Just outside L.A., Sunday, 7:30 pm~
“So, human servants?” Willow quietly reminded Asher, as they got settled in the car. This time Asher was driving, and Spike was riding shotgun, singing along to his own little world that thankfully only he could hear.
“Oui, it is quite different than human slaves.” Asher replied, amused by the girl’s curiosity, watching as she leaned forward until she was practically in the front seat. “You see, each vampire is allowed to take only one human servant at a time. The servant retains most of their human traits, but also pick up some vampiric virtues.”
“I didn’t think there were any virtues to being a vampire.” Willow frowned.
“No? Then perhaps I am using the wrong word. The human servants become immortal, they heal faster, they are stronger. How do you say that?”
“Oh, I understand. I guess those are strengths of being a vampire.”
“Oui. So the human servant gains our strengths, and in response, a vampire gains some human strengths. We can think during the daylight; we can taste food; we can feed from our humans without breaking the skin. Also, there are some, how to explain… hmm…” Asher frowned.
“Yes?” Willow leaned forward, intrigued by Asher’s words. She had never read about this in the watcher’s diaries. There was some mention of human servants in the book Dracula, but there was also a lot of wrong information in that book as well.
“There is a sharing of body and spirit between a human and a master.” Asher tried to explain while making sure he merged into the right lane. “When I had Julianna, we could share thoughts without speaking. I could feel through her fingertips, and taste through her lips. It was incredibly intimate, and to make love…” Asher’s eyes blurred slightly as he stared out at the sea of headlights in front of him, desperate to avoid meeting Willow’s eyes.
“If she gained immortality from you, then why is she not here?” Willow whispered.
“To be immortal does not mean you can not die. I suppose the question is not: why is she not here, but rather why am I not dead as well? A master and servant can share pain, and the pain of death for one is often enough to kill the other.”
“So you could feel her die?”
“Oui. It was a terrifying sensation. If I could have saved her, I would have given anything. You can not imagine the sheer horror of being burned at the stake.”
“Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea.” Willow looked slightly ill, and slid back against the cushions of the back seat.
“What have I said that upset you so, ma chaton?”
“I was thinking about my parents. They tried to burn me at the stake once. I should be angry at them I suppose, but when I think of them, I just feel numb.”
“Ah.” Asher nodded. “I have lived so long, my family is but a faint memory any more.”
“So you don’t think of your sire as your family?” Willow asked. Several of the watcher’s diaries had been ambiguous on that topic.
“When I think of my line, I am left feeling lonely and so cold. My line values beauty over truth and power over love. There is no room for affection amongst us.” Asher reflected. “I should not say that. That is not always true. There once was… but now, he is different. We are apart. When I lost Julianna, I lost my family.”
“So you’re saying that it depends on the situation?”
“Oui, as does everything in this world.” Asher smiled wryly. “There is no standard for vampire relations, other than to always respect your elder, whatever form that should take, and even that has exceptions. For example, a hundred years ago, maybe more, there was a line of four vampires, which traveled together as equals, terrorizing most of Europe. They challenged any slayer or master that they passed, and their defense of each other was so strong than none could beat them. The only reason Europe does not live in fear of them today, is that something broke them up from the inside, and they turned on each other. They went their separate ways, and while they are each strong for their age, they are nothing apart compared to what they were together.”
“Who were they?” Willow’s question seemed abnormally loud against the quiet murmur Asher had been speaking in.
“Ah, that is right; you are an historian, aren’t you?” Asher chuckled. “Honestly, I never met the younger two, so I could not tell you anything about them, but the second oldest we are going to see right now.”
“And you say they were all vicious?”
“Oui, but do not sound so worried. He owes me a favor or two; you will be safe in his presence.” For some reason, Willow didn’t find that too reassuring.
~Outside the Mansion, 7:35 pm~
“Well, will you look at that, Summer’s ex used to live in the mansion there.”
“Are you sure it’s a used to?” Forrest followed Graham’s glance up the street to the large white monstrosity that passed as a mansion.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen any sign of life around there since we started patrolling this neighborhood. Look at all the weeds in the front.”
“Yeah, but look at the light on in the left window.”
“Well, I’ll be damned.” Graham muttered, seeing the small sliver of light peak out from behind the thick velvet drapes. “Let’s get closer and see if we can figure out what’s up.”
The two snuck up on the house, trying not to look too out of place in the wealthy neighborhood. The drive way up to the house had that look of faded elegance, where topiaries were allowed to grow untrimmed, and a thin layer of dead azalea blossoms coated the cement. Graham noted the tire marks at the front of the drive, evidence of some rich playboy’s sports car visiting at some point. Squatting under the window, they were able to see four torsos, but the drapes blocked their faces. Leaning their ears up against the glass, they were able to hear the faint muffle of the conversation.
~Inside the Mansion, Sunday, 7:36 pm~
“And you swear that they were going to Los Angeles?” Giles asked irritated.
“I can’t swear anything… but yeah, that’s what I heard.” The vampire glanced nervously at the slayer, completely ignoring the gun Riley was pointing at him. He knew who had the better trigger finger.
“So what do you suggest we do?” Riley asked.
“Well, I would think it’s pretty obvious.” Giles tutted.
“You sure you don’t know where in L.A.?” Buffy asked. “For that kind of information we might consider letting you walk out of here.”
“Look, all I know is he said he was going to see family and said I could use his pad while he was gone. If I had known he was in trouble with you, I wouldn’t have bothered.” The vampire held up his hands in a surrender motion.
“Family? Are you sure about that?” Giles asked, glancing around at the old mansion, trying to stay focused on the present and ignore the past.
“Yeah, how many times do I have to tell you…”
“Well, this is the first time you’ve mentioned family, so obviously we haven’t asked enough.” Giles replied. “Perhaps your memory would improve if you had a glass of water?” Giles held up his small vial of holy water, marked prominently with a cross.
“I swear, that’s everything I know.”
“Okay, so we go to L.A. now?” Riley sighed. He sort of felt guilty that he hadn’t found a way out and called base, but quite frankly, it was much more interesting staying with these two than filling out the paperwork at the base. In a single day he had seen more vampires dusted in more creative ways than he had seen his entire time in the Initiative. Walsh could definitely learn something from Summers and Giles.
~Outside the Mansion, Sunday, 7:37 pm~
Hearing the conversation, Forrest grabbed Graham’s shirt and dragged him away from the window. “Shit did you hear that?”
“Sounded like Riley.”
“Finn and Summers. There’s something serious going down in there.”
“Alright I’m calling for back up.” Graham agreed, radioing to base. Within five minutes, Delta squad was at the site.
“The mission is capture, no casualties, got that? We’re looking at two humans, and possibly two H.S.T.s, maybe more. They need to be neutralized and brought back to base. Wait for my signal then enter. We want to make this fast and we want to make it neat. Any questions?” Graham instructed the soldiers. Quickly they moved into position.
~Inside the mansion, Sunday, 7: 45 pm~
“Slayer, I swear that’s everything. Please don’t.” The vampire whimpered as Buffy pulled her fist back.
“Damn I hate doing this when they aren’t fighting back.” Buffy muttered.
“Please, I’m begging you.” The vampire cowered in the corner of the sofa.
As Buffy lunged forward, there was a thud of the front door being thrown open. Men in ski masks came pouring in. The vampire used the distraction to roll off the couch and head towards the stairs. Buffy ran in quick pursuit.
“They’re making a break. Subdue, subdue!” The captain of the Delta squad yelled over the clamor.
Riley saw several of them aim their tazers at Giles. ‘Leave it to Delta to aim weapons designed for H.S.T.s at civilians.’ He groaned. Quickly, Riley leaped onto Giles, pushing him onto the floor and knocking over the only two ski masks he recognized, just in time to escape three bolts of blue lightening. “Glad to see you could make it, Daisy. I could have used a tail eight hours ago.” He grunted.
Forrest looked up in shock as Riley tried to untangle their feet. “Where the hell have you been?!”
“Talk later.” Riley said. “Stop Delta now!”
Buffy caught up with the vampire at the top of the stairwell. “Oh no, you don’t!” She yelled, hurling her stake at the vampire who was about to jump out of a window. One of the soldiers grabbed her from behind, and she kicked into combat mode.
“Buffy, no!” Giles tried to yell, seeing his slayer go into a fight against the helpless soldiers.
Riley and his group watched as Buffy plowed her way through the soldiers, pushing them over banisters and out of her way, as she tried to make it to Riley and Giles.
“Stop Buffy!” Giles yelled, afraid she was going to seriously harm the human attackers. Buffy froze, and got hit by the blaze of tazer fire right in the back, at point blank rage.
Watching her go down, something inside Giles snapped and he ran straight into the crowd of soldiers, swinging the arm of a chair as though it were a mace. Riley got up to tackle Giles again to stop this fight, but found himself lying flat on his face, Graham pinning his arms behind his back. He glanced up just in time to see the blue electricity hit Giles on the arm, causing him to spasm before collapsing.
“Where’d the fourth one go?” Delta’s captain shouted.
“He was an H.S.T.. Buffy staked him.” Riley grumbled.
“You let an H.S.T. escape?” Graham asked his friend incredulously.
“ ‘Staked’ not ‘escaped’, you idiot.” Riley answered testily. He’d have to give Walsh a serious talk on unit maneuvers in the presence of civilians.
“So where is he?” Forrest glared at Riley.
“Hell probably. He’s dust.” Riley answered, turning his head up at an awkward angle to face Forrest, who was standing above him. “No really, he’s a pile of dust. Oh, for christ’s sake, don’t give me that look.”
The Delta captain came over. “Well, well, well, what have we here? Seems Alpha squad has been consorting with the enemy, or is it just the captain?” He shot a meaningful look at Graham, indicating that he was being watched. He couldn’t afford to let his friendship with Riley interfere with his duty to his country.
“I hereby arrest you, Riley Finn, for assault of a United States Army officer, for conspiring with enemies of the state, and for violating direct orders.” Graham muttered.
“Oh fuck me.” Riley mumbled, letting his forehead bang against the floor in frustration.
“I think we’ll leave that to Ms. Battleaxe over there.” Forrest answered, snapping some handcuffs on Riley and yanking him to his feet. “Didn’t I tell you she’d be trouble?” He nodded towards the unconscious Buffy, being carried to one of the ambulances that had been called. “Not only have you yet to see second base with her, she’s got you spending the next month in quarantine, kissing up to Walsh. Was it worth it, Finn?”
“Forrest, sometimes you’re a real prick.” Graham hit his second in command upside the head. “But I have to admit it, he’s right.” Graham sheepishly told Riley, pushing him in to the Initiative ambulance.
~ L.A., Sunday, 7:46 pm~
“Oh! Turn right at the light.” Willow glanced up from the paper Asher had given her with the
directions. “So, where were we? Oh yeah, you were saying that you had wanted to be a sailor when you grew up.”
“I can not believe I let you ask so many questions. Do not tell anyone what I have said, ma chaton, or my reputation will suffer greatly.” Asher turned off the busy road onto a much quieter side street.
“Don’t worry, I don’t gossip a lot with other vampires, so your secrets are safe with me.” Willow smirked. It was nice to see that after an hour in the car, she had worn down Asher’s walls and hadn’t even resorted to ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall. “Besides, you can always ask me questions too, and you have.”
“Oui, I had no idea paste could be such a delicacy.”
“Yeah, and well, that doesn’t leave the car either. Only Xander has ever heard that story, and that’s the way it stays.” Willow blushed, glancing at Spike to make sure he was still asleep in the front seat, his earphones blaring.
“So when you were a little girl, what did you desire as a future?” Asher asked, enjoying the candid banter. It had been many years since he had been so honest with someone, as he had spent most of the last century at court where every word was carefully guarded.
“I know it’s going to sound horribly common, but well, I always wanted a real home with flowers on the window sill, and a large front yard, with kids and a dog, and a cyborg robot I had built myself in my secret underground laboratory.” Willow smiled. “Those were the days.” She sighed fondly.
“That is quite peculiar. You struck me as more of a cat person.” Asher replied, not quite sure what to make of her response.
“Well, maybe someday, but I’m kind of avoiding all pets for the moment.” Willow answered shyly.
“And why is that?” Asher couldn’t help but asked, intrigued by the change in her voice.
“My fish were killed by a vampire on a horrible reign of terror, and I think the place we’re looking for should be on this next block, so hey how about we start looking for ten story buildings?” Willow said all in one breath.
“Ah yes, I see.” Asher pulled the car up in front of the old hotel. “Well, this is the address. Will you and Monsieur Spike be alright in the car while I confirm it is correct?”
“Sure.” Willow shrugged. It’s not like she could easily get out of the backseat without their help anyway.
“Thank you, ma chaton.” Asher said, slipping into his mask of austere chivalry. Willow could almost see his face deaden as he prepared to meet the vampire that would be hosting them. Suddenly she could feel how incredibly old Asher must really be.
As he slammed the car door shut, Spike jolted to attention, peeling off his headphones and opening his eyes. “Hey Red, why are we stopped?”
“I think this is where Asher wants to stay.” Willow answered, watching Asher walk up to the front door.
“I have a very bad feeling about this.” Spike muttered, turning off his walkman.
“Don’t you have a bad feeling about everything? Isn’t that what being evil is all about?” Willow replied. Spike turned to growl at her, but she just arched her brow. She could handle Spike… as long as he couldn’t bite.
“Fine, don’t believe me. But don’t say I didn’t tell you. There’s definitely some bad vibes coming from there.”
“Taking after Dru with the vibage, are you?”
“If you want to live, don’t you ever talk about Dru again. When I get this thing out of my head, I’m going to hunt you down and…”
“And what?” Willow teased expecting a snappy comeback. Spike was silent, causing Willow to turn her attention from the car window. Spike was clenching his jaw and wincing, obviously in pain but trying not to show it. A pale pink tear ran down his cheek. “Oh, um, I’m sorry?” Willow offered sheepishly.
“No you’re not, but you will be.” Spike hissed through clenched teeth.
“You’re right, just calm down. You can kill me later, okay?” Willow watched as Spike began shaking. “Spike?”
“Just shut the bloody hell up!” Spike growled. Willow shrunk to the corner of the back seat, trying to stay as silent as possible. “And stop with the pity. I’m the big bad, I don’t need your pity.” Spike’s voice cracked as he tried to reign in his emotions and stop the splitting headache.
“I know, you’ll kill me when this is over.” Willow whispered.
“Honey, you know I will.” Spike smirked, relieved that the pain was down to a dull roar now. If only the spots in his vision would go away.
~ Hyperion Hotel, 7:48 pm~
Angel had just gotten home from the store when the doorbell rang. Angel frowned at the pitifully small amount of food, surrounded by pints of blood from the butchers, in the industrial sized fridge. Wiping his hands on a dishtowel, he quickly headed to the front door, crossing the grand marble entry in just a few long strides.
“Mon Ange?” Asher asked as the door opened.
“Asher?” Angel took a long look at the man standing in the doorway.
“You have changed.” Asher tilted his head in careful study.
“You haven’t.” Angel replied, stepping back so that Asher could enter. “I thought you were bringing companions.”
“They are in the car. I wanted to make sure this was the correct address.” Asher stood in the doorway.
Angel took a moment to study the vampire in front of him, leery of making an invitation, even though it was merely a formality. The two stood in silence for a moment, both caught up in broody contemplation. “Right, so do you need any help with luggage?” Angel finally asked, shaking off his thoughts.
“I think we will be able to handle it.” Asher replied. “But, if you are interested in helping, I don’t suppose it would be too much to ask for a drink, maybe two? We were so concerned with getting on the road as soon as possible that my companion and I did not get a chance to feed before leaving.”
“Will bloodwine suffice?” Angel thought for a moment before responding. He didn’t want to admit that he had abandoned feeding on humans. It would be seen as a weakness to any vampire, but especially to the Council. He hoped Asher would not see his refusal to provide a pomme as an insult.
“Actually, that would be preferable.” Asher nodded, taking a careful look at the younger vampire in front of him. “I am impressed with you, mon ange. You used to not go half a minute without a sentence on your lips. Is it possible that you have learned the value of silence?”
“We all have to grow up some time.” Angel answered quietly. He turned towards the kitchen without another word; the less said to the Council, the better. Carefully, he got his crystal decanter down from the shelf where it had been collecting dust. After wiping it down, he filled the bottom third with pig’s blood, hoping the guests wouldn’t take offence at the source. Going over to his wine rack, he selected a local red wine. He knew better than to offer Asher French wine, for whatever he could get in California would never measure up to the bottles they used at the Council’s chateau. He was listening for the door as he added the wine to the decanter, slowly stirring as he went. He carried the wine decanter to the main lounge area, surprised that they hadn’t made it into the hotel yet.
~Hyperion Parking Lot, Sunday, 7:49 pm~
“What has occurred?” Asher asked, opening the car door to find Willow huddled in a corner and Spike covering his eyes as though he was suffering a migraine. “Never mind, I do not care why you tried to kill her. You are young and foolish, that much is understandable.” Asher addressed Spike. “Now, shall we get our luggage and head inside? The night is not getting any younger.”
Spike was thankful to get out of the car and stretch, wiping his eyes in the privacy of the night. Asher extracted the wheelchair from the trunk then carefully helped Willow into it. Feeling collected, Spike returned to the task at hand, and began loading luggage into Willow’s lap.
“Hey! Watch what you’re putting that!” Willow exclaimed as Asher’s heavy duffel landed in her lap.
“Quit your whining, princess, it’s just a bag.” Spike replied, adding another one to the stack, practically covering Willow in luggage.
“Monsieur, I think that is plenty. I can carry the rest, if you will guide the mademoiselle.” Asher said, once again relegated to the role of referee. He held the door open for them, balancing the bag that held both Spike and Willow’s belongings, as neither of them had the opportunity to do much packing. He followed them past the lobby to the front lounge where a decanter of wine had been set up. His host entered carrying three wine glasses.
“Oh bloody hell!”
“Angel?” Willow peeked around the bags.
Asher watched the glasses shatter on the marble floor. “I take it, introduction are not in order?”