Court and Spark - 8
~ Anya’s Apartment, Tuesday, 1:45 p.m.~
“Oh I don’t know, Hallie.” Anya glanced back to the living room, where Xander was yelling on the phone.
“Please, please, please?” Halfrek batted her eyelashes.
“What do you need to get?” Anya asked, carefully thinking over her options. She could spend the next hour shopping with Halfrek, or she could be the good girlfriend and try to help Xander rescue Buffy. Hrm, tough call.
“Of course we need plates, napkins, plastic forks, balloons, and confetti. Clem said he would take care of food, so we don’t need to worry about that. I think we can get everything at Party Town. Come on, I know how much you love shopping.” Anya glanced anxiously behind her once again. “I’ve got the boss’ credit card.” Halfrek offered the bait.
“No! You’re kidding! That’s, well, wow.” Anya eyed the Interdimensional Plutonium Visa covetously.
“Come on, I know you want to.” Halfrek smirked.
“Okay, just a minute.” Anya ran inside to grab her purse just as Xander hung up. “Honey, I’m going shopping. Okay?” Anya said quickly, hoping to avoid the inquisition.
Xander looked up in confusion. “Um, okay.” He mumbled; his forehead creased in thought. She almost made it to the door when he cried out. “Wait, Anya, stop.”
Anya sighed; so close and yet so far. He probably was going to make her read the stinky books again. They’d been trying to read demon books all morning, but there was no reference to the US military in any of them. “What is it?”
“Here, take this in your purse.” He handed her a small water gun loaded with holy water. “Can you try to be home by dark? The streets are going to be pretty crazy out there, and I’ll worry about you when I’m at work.”
She looked into his puppy brown eyes and sighed. “Aw, how sweet, thanks honey.” She shoved the plastic gun into her purse and kissed Xander on the cheek. “See ya later!” She shut the door behind her as Xander waved goodbye.
“Is your boy feeling alright?” Halfrek asked as they walked the few blocks to the party supply store.
“He’s fine, just a little shaken up about Buffy.”
“Oh, the poor dear. It must be so hard being mortal.” Halfrek offered.
“Tell me about it.” Anya rolled her eyes.
“I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.” Halfrek apologized.
“Whatever.” Anya shrugged. “So what’s the theme for the party?”
“Well, since Shark won the rights to pick in the kitten poker game this afternoon, I think we’re going for under the sea.”
“Too bad. I bet Zoltan would have had a better theme.”
“Yeah, but he’s really bad at poker.”
“He can’t be worse than you, trust me.” Anya chuckled. Halfrek losing poker was one of the few things Anya knew she could always count on.
“I know. They wouldn’t even let me bet. But that’s okay, I don’t get why they even bother with the kittens.”
“Boys.” Both girls giggled as they entered the store. Luckily, sea themed favors were just as popular with normal folk as with demonic fish so Anya and Halfrek had no problem filling up their cart quickly. “Oh, would you look at that?” Anya gazed adoringly at a disco ball that flashed little rainbow colored fish on the wall. “I bet that would look great in the old gym.”
“Ooh, let’s get it!” Halfrek added it to the cart. Anya shrugged. “What’s the problem, honey?” After two thousand years together, Hallie had gotten good at reading Anya’s moods.
“I don’t think I’ll get to see it.” Anya pouted.
“Xander doesn’t want me to go to the party.”
“Oh, now, that’s silly. You should come without him.”
“I don’t know. Humans have weird ideas about loyalty. I think that’s one of those rules about what I’m not supposed to do.”
“That’s a silly rule. Come have fun.”
“What if he finds out?”
“Why don’t you send him out looking for the slayer? Then when he’s gone, you’ll have the coast clear. Just stop by for a few minutes. Everybody’s going to be there.”
Anya had a devious little grin. “Okay, you talked me into it. I’ll see what I can do.”
“That’s the spirit. Well, we better check out. It’ll take awhile to set all this up.” Halfrek led them to the cash register, the cart overflowing with random things in aqua, sea foam green, and blue.
~ Initiative Ceiling, Tuesday, 5:35 p.m.~
“Riley?” A whisper came from the front of the line. The three had been slowly shuffling through the air shafts for hours. Buffy was getting tired of this and she could hear Giles’ heavy breathing. If they didn’t call a halt soon, somebody would get careless and go through the tiles.
“Yeah?” A whisper came back from the middle of the row.
“Can we regroup for a min?” Buffy called back.
“There should be a place about five feet to the left. It’s the repair hut for the elevator. We can go there.” If his mental map was correct, they should be right over the back entrance to Lowell House. At least this part of the Initiative he knew well, having tested several of the security measures between here and forest himself. At this rate, they’d be out in just an hour or two.
“Is it bugged?” Came a whisper from the back of the line.
“I’ll go ahead and unplug the cameras. They operator won’t be able to tell a black screen
from an off screen.” Riley replied. As Riley said it, he realized how true it was. For a group of special ops trained top graduates, there sure were a lot of security holes in this place. If he ever got reinstated, he’d have to report it. Of course, at this rate, he’d have better luck running away to Canada to live with the moose. He stretched until he could feel the cold metal of the elevator shaft. He carefully inched his way over, sweeping his fingers in search of the video cable. Just as he reached it, a loud siren went off below them.
“Good lord, what did you do?” A voice hissed behind and to the left of him.
“Nothing, that’s the all hands to conference signal. That’s a good thing.” Riley whispered back. “Okay, it’s clear. You can head over, carefully.”
At that moment, the ceiling shook with noise as the elevator dropped from the Lowell house to the second sub-level. Buffy and Giles took advantage of the noise to move over to Riley quickly. He opened a metal hatch and crawled through. The two followed him, and found themselves in a room with a solid floor and full ceiling.
“What is this place?” Buffy glanced around as they all stood up, stretching their aching muscles.
“It’s confidential.” Riley answered automatically before catching himself. “It’s the control room for the automated systems in the elevator security. There’s a lot of computer wiring that goes into it, so they had to build a system separate from the main computer frame to handle it.” Riley answered.
“Could we turn on the light?” Giles asked, his voice indicating he was clearly exhausted.
“No, that would be a very bad idea.” Riley said. “Trust me on this.”
“So how much farther is it?” Buffy asked.
“Right now, we’re under the backyard of Lowell. You know that forest right behind it? This ceiling ends right over the sewer drain that leads into the creek. If we can kick through a tile there, we just have to push through the storm grate and we’re out.”
“Alright. That’s not too far.” Buffy’s voice was clearly relieved. “Can you take point from here on out?”
“Sure.” Riley answered.
“So what do we do after we’re out? I mean, we don’t know where Willow is, we don’t know why Riley’s friend was so freaked out, and we’re going to have the military after us…” Buffy frowned.
“Oh god, I don’t know. I’ve probably just lost my job, if not earned myself a prison term.” Riley voiced his fears.
“One problem at a time,” Giles answered, trying to sound like the voice of reason, despite worrying about the same problems himself. This may have not been the best idea, but they were committed to it now. They stood quietly catching their breath for several minutes, each lost in their own thoughts.
“Well, we should probably get moving. That all hands meeting can’t last forever.” Riley finally stated.
“I guess so.” Buffy admitted, following Riley’s voice to the metal grate by the floor. “Thanks for helping.” She whispered.
“Don’t thank me yet.” Riley frowned, listening carefully for the sound of Giles entering the ceiling crawlspace again.
“When can I thank you?” Buffy whispered, as they went back into the stealth mode.
“When we’ve rescued Willow and saved the world, you can thank me then.” Riley answered in
barely audible whisper.
“Deal,” Buffy replied.
~ Pacific Coastal Highway, Tuesday, 6:27 p.m.~
Willow was having trouble deciding which had been the longer car ride, going to L.A., or coming back. Both trips involved Spike being a royal jerk, insisting on loud rock music. Both trips had her squished in the back seat. Of course this time, she was sharing the back seat with Asher, which made things a bit cozier. She was still debating whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Last time there was the fear of not knowing their destination. This time, Angel was driving which would probably be just as scary if she bothered to look out the window. The deciding factor was probably this time she was stuck trying to read in the car. It was a recipe for a headache.
As if reading her thoughts, Asher’s hands rested on her shoulders and began rubbing. “Kitten, do not worry yourself to pieces over all these papers. We will figure out what needs to be done.”
“Do you really think so?” Willow asked, leaning back into Asher.
“But of course. You have found considerable information already. Did we not find Monsieur Spike’s file? Did we not find the location of their base?”
“Well yeah.” Willow let the stack of papers fall into her lap.
“We will rescue your friends and save Monsieur Spike. Do not worry.” His hands felt so nice against her back that Willow couldn’t help but sigh. Okay, so sharing a seat with Asher wasn’t such a bad thing.
“Not that I mind, but I still don’t see why you’re helping us.” Willow admitted after a few minutes.
Asher leaned into Willow, whispering in her ear. “I was sent to America to observe things. Perhaps I have found something I wish to spend more time observing.” Willow shivered; that voice was just too good to be true.
“Well, by all means then, observe.” She answered, her voice sounding breathier than she had intended. Damn her hormones. She shouldn’t be reacting like this; she should still be hurt about Oz. She froze. Oz. Every other time the name had come up in conversation or her thoughts, she felt an aching longing and emptiness. This time, not so much. Sure there was a pang of sentimentality, but it just wasn’t the same sort of pain.
“Ah, you are looking at the stars, eh?” Asher whispered knowingly, his hands resuming their kneading motion. “And do any of the stars intrigue you?”
“Maybe.” She admitted in a quiet voice.
~Initiative Command Center, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.~
“All units report to base.” Thumper Two stared at his radio in shock. It was Mother’s voice. That couldn’t possible be right. She had just sent them to patrol the forest border half an hour ago. He signaled to what was left of the Beta team to gather around. They unit moved swiftly into positions.
“This is Thumper Two to base. Could you repeat that last message?”
“I said all units back to base. Stat!” Mother’s shrill voice called back.
“That’s a ten-four.” Thumper Two winced. The guys in his unit were already snickering. He was going to get it when they got back. “You heard Mother. Full unit retreat.” Thumper Two ordered. The men set out in a fast march back to the headquarters, thankful to be out of the mosquito-infested forest.
~ Maple Street, Tuesday, 7:02 p.m.~
With Asher calming her down, Willow was able to go back to shifting through the large stack of printouts, and just as Angel passed the Sunnydale city limits, she shouted “Aha!”
“What is it, Red? Did you find how to turn off this thing?” Spike immediately replied. Angel and Asher both raised their brows in surprise. They had thought Spike was all for tuning them out by now.
“Not quite.” Willow answered. Spike groaned. “But I think I found a way in. Look at this…” She held three sheets of paper up in a row for Asher to see.
“Are those the water lines?” Asher asked, puzzling over the maze of squiggles, trying to read the small printed labels.
“Exactly. Look how they have an exposed storm drain that opens up to the forest. It’s large enough for any of us to fit through. We can then follow the water pipe into the ceiling crawl space. I wonder why they designed it like that?” Willow stared at the picture sideways. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter. If you follow this cold water pipe to the first big intersection then turn right, the pipe will go straight to the staff bathroom. If you can get into the bathroom undetected, I bet you can take down some unsuspecting soldier and switch clothes and stuff. I bet it wouldn’t take long to find Buffy and Giles, get them back into the ceiling, and get out.”
“You bet?” Spike asked skeptically.
“Well…” Willow shrugged.
“It is an excellent plan.” Asher said, and that was final.
Angel drove down the quiet city streets heading straight to Willow’s house. “Hey guys, is it just me, or does it seem too quiet?” Angel asked, turning down yet another deserted street.
“What do you mean?” Willow frowned.
“Well, if Xander’s right, shouldn’t the demons be looting by now?”
“You have a point.” Asher frowned. “It probably is a sign that they are preparing something of even a grander scale. Perhaps it would be a good idea to rescue the slayer with utmost speed in that case.”
The car approached a quiet suburban house with an ice-cream truck parked in the driveway. Xander was sitting on the front porch steps armed with a holy water filled super-soaker and crossbow he had borrowed from Giles’ place. “What took so long?”
“Sunlight.” Angel answered abruptly, getting out of the vehicle. Spike got out and slammed the door, leaving Angel to help Willow and Asher out of the cramped back seat.
“Stay away!” Xander held up the cross that was sitting in his lap, waving it at Spike who was crossing the front yard.
“Put that away before you hurt yourself.” Spike sneered and got a cigarette out of his duster pocket.
“Willow!” Xander ignored the bitter vampires and ran for his best friend. “Are you okay?”
“Oof!” Willow got out feeling herself squeezed in a Xander hug. “Air? Please?” She wheezed.
“Right.” Xander let loose. “Oh god, I’ve been so worried. Everyone’s missing, and Anya says the demons are going nuts tonight, and there are army dudes everywhere. I think they went through your dorm room.”
“Oof?” Willow resorted to her previous statement, not quite sure where to start.
“I hope you have a plan, because I’ve got nothing. I’ve been looking through prophecies all day, and this isn’t in there.”
“Well, I sort of have an idea, but it’s a really bad one, and Buffy’s plans are normally better, but if this works then we’ll have Buffy back and she can make the plans.” Asher watched in awe as the two friends spoke rapidly back and forth. He thought he understood English, but these two were a true test. They spoke more words in one minute than he normally said in a single day. He found his thoughts straying from the conversation, and tried to refocus.
“Ceiling tile spaces, eh? Well I guess we can do that, but not like that. I mean, Wills, I’m all for girl power as much as the next guy, but that cast probably won’t do too well in a ceiling crawl space.”
“You’re staying here.” Angel finally interrupted the rapid fire conversation.
“So you’re going to rescue Buffy and Giles alone? You walked out of here months ago pal, I don’t think they’ll be too happy with you suddenly showing up.” Xander scowled at Angel.
“I know. That’s why I’m bringing Spike.” Angel answered.
“What?!” Everyone shouted.
“I’m coming too.” Xander stated.
“Well, somebody has to guard Willow if these army guys are after her, and if you come with us that someone has to be Asher. That leaves you, me, and Spike.” Angel kept his eyes on Xander. He had learned not to underestimate the boy over the years.
“Who said I was going to help you buggers?” Spike growled, blowing a cloud of smoke at his grandsire.
“If you don’t, your head doesn’t stand a chance. Understood?”
Spike swore under his breath loud enough so there was no mistaking his intent.
“Whoa, time out. I’m not going to leave Willow alone with a vampire that’s already kidnapped her once. That’s not cool.” Xander said.
“But Xander, you need to help them rescue Giles and Buffy.” Willow frowned.
“Um, can we have a moment?” Xander glanced around at the vampires hovering in the front yard. “As in, can you guys go over there?” The three moved up to the front porch, leaving Willow and Xander leaning up against the car. “Willow, I don’t trust him.”
“I’ll be fine. Asher’s a good vampire.”
“How do you know that?”
“Look, if he wanted to kill me, he would have done it by now.” Willow offered.
“That’s not exactly a resounding endorsement.” Xander frowned.
“I don’t know what to say, but I know this. We spent a lot of time talking on the way to L.A. It seemed like he read my mind. He saw me mistrusting him, and still was kind. He saw how I worried sometimes, you know how I worry sometimes, and he did his best to make things better. He’s saved my life a couple times now, and he didn’t have to. I don’t think he’s going to do anything. Trust me.”
“Alright. I trust you.” Xander finally nodded. He knew his Willow, and she didn’t make dumb mistakes like he did. “Alright, you guys can come back.”
“So where shall Mademoiselle Rosenberg and I stay while you are pulling off this operation?” Asher stated.
“I don’t think the army guys have started following Anya around. You should be safe at her place. She should be back from the store any time now.”
“She went shopping?” Willow asked in amazement. “What kind of girl goes shopping during a crisis?!”
“I can name at least three- Buffy, Cordy, and now Anya.” Xander answered. “I think it’s sort of like how the kung fu warriors always meditate in the movies before facing the rival dojos of doom, but for Valley girls.”
“That’s nice, can we move this along?” Spike interrupted.
“Why haven’t we staked him yet?” Xander shook his head sadly.
“Now Xander, don’t let him bug you.” Willow offered. “Let’s just get this done.” Willow and Xander exchanged directions and the groups took off; one to rescue the watcher and slayer, the other to lay low for the moment.