Court and Spark - 9
~ The Initiative Command Center, Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.~
“What’s the report, doctor?” Maggie stood outside the conference room where the soldiers were currently gathering.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” Doctor Angleman asked. Dr. Walsh just glared at him. “Right, so the Alpha unit definitely has the Spanish flu, but it seems to be a different variant. For one thing, its progression is going much faster than normal. None of them are contagious any more; in fact by the time they got to base they were already well into the later stages of the disease. As long as they can survive through the next hour, they should be in the clear. In fact, I’d be willing to let Martinez and Gates out now. Miller, on the other hand, is having some complications. We’ve got him on an IV fluid drip and antibiotics so he should pull through, but I’d take him off active duty for the next week or so.”
“Is that all?” Dr. Walsh asked, peeking into the crowded briefing area.
“Yes, ma’am.” The doctor nodded.
“Well, can you release Martinez and Gates and tell them to come to this briefing? I’ve got to have someone there to represent Alpha and Eta. I guess you can leave the others in quarantine for the moment. Let me know when they’re back to normal.”
“Alright. Oh, Dr. Walsh? Should we continue with the treatments? I’m not sure if they would still make proper controls considering…”
“The protocol continues as is. We can’t afford to lose any men.”
“What about Finn?”
“Don’t worry about Finn.” Walsh’s eyes narrowed. The doctor had seen that look before and knew if he didn’t run away now he’d regret it. He ducked his head and took off back to the clinic wing of the compound.
~ Anya’s Apartment, Tuesday, 7:18 p.m.~
“I really don’t think this is a good idea” Willow glanced at Anya nervously.
“Are you kidding me? Come on Willow, this’ll be the party of the century. Compared to this, the Bronze is pfft!” Anya waved her hand flippantly then went back to digging in her closet. With Xander off to rescue Buffy, there was no way she was going to miss this, and if her brief conversation with the vampire in French meant anything, he was up for going to this party too. She was not going to let Willow stand in her way. “I mean, any demon that’s any demon will be there. Ah! Here it is.” Anya pulled out a black halter top with emerald sequins. “What was it I was supposed to say? Oh yeah. Does this make me look fat?”
“No?” Willow glanced at Anya to answer then turned her attention back to the room. Oddly enough, this was her first time at Anya’s place and it was nothing like she expected. Part of her expected a disaster area, with the sort of overwhelming confused messiness that marked Anya’s conversation style. Another part of her feared some kinky den of pleasure, the way Anya and Xander talked. This, this was different. It was boring and perfect, as though Anya had cut out a picture in a magazine and made it real. There was no personality, not even a stray sock on the floor; it was creepy.
“Good, because I would have worn it anyway. Now, what are we going to do with you?” Anya asked, changing shirts.
Willow turned around on the bed, facing away from Anya. “I still think this is a bad idea. I mean, if we were demons it would be one thing, but we’re not. Parties aren’t so fun when you’re the buffet.”
“You know, not all demons eat people.” Anya answered, exasperated. She would not let Xander’s little friend ruin her fun. “Besides, these are my friends. Here, try this on.” She threw a top at Willow. “Xander always has me hang out with his friends. It’s only fair that you guys meet my friends.” Willow felt bad for Anya. Put that way, the ex-demon had a point. Willow picked up the green silky shirt and carefully inspected it. “Don’t look so nervous. I’m on the guest list. Asher is totally invited, being Council and all, and it doesn’t seem so odd for him to have a pet witch.”
“I’m not his pet!” Willow blushed, remembering Spike’s taunts about double standards.
“Willow? You’ve got an incubus in leather pants in the next room that’s willing to act like your master. You can fake it. Hell, I’d act like a pet witch if I had that yummy an accessory.”
“He is kinda cute, isn’t he?” Willow turned an even darker shade of red.
“He’s practically edible.” Anya smiled wickedly. “Now we need to get dressed and get going. I don’t want to miss limbo.”
Willow wasn’t sure if she meant the level to purgatory or the game with the bamboo pole, but she knew she wasn’t up for challenging the ex-demon. “I’m still not sure this is a good idea. Shouldn’t we wait for the guys to rescue Buffy first?”
“And what’s the first thing they’re going to do when they have her? Crash the party. Now, wouldn’t it be a good idea if we had already scouted out the party and could tell them who was there?” Anya tried appealing to Willow’s inner Scooby.
“Alright.” Willow sighed. “Um, can you turn around?” She held up the tank top hoping Anya got the hint.
“Oh! You need a skirt!” Anya dived back into her closet. Twenty minutes later, they were ready. As they left the bedroom, Asher set down the magazine he had been reading and stood up. “Anyanka, you are lovely. And you, ma chaton, are a gem that only now I see has been polished to truly shine.” Asher’s eyes lingered on the nervous girl.
“Um, thanks.” Willow blushed as Anya rolled her eyes in amusement.
“So are we ready to roll?” Anya grabbed her purse and keys.
“Mademoiselle, I would be delighted if you would allow me to escort you.” Asher offered Willow his arm, which she gladly clung to. Anya had declared no wheel chair, and she’d lost her crutches, so Willow was going to have to depend on Asher to be her crutch.
“Not so hard to act, eh witch?” Anya asked with a knowing wink as they left the apartment.
~ Initiative Conference Room, Tuesday, 7:25 p.m.~
“Gentlemen, we have a problem.” Maggie began her speech as Gates and Martinez ducked into the back row. “Something has upset the balance in this area. There have been abnormal activity levels in all types of H.S.T.s and as a result we have faced unacceptably high casualties for all teams. Looking around, I see members missing from every unit.” Dr. Walsh eyed the soldiers as she leaned back against the table in the front of the room. “Now, I understand you have been doing your best. Your capture rates have been higher in the past two days than they have been for the entire month. Your effort is admirable, but we are not getting to the heart of the problem. Now our intelligence operators have determined that the H.S.T.s are all gathering at ground zero tonight. We need to break up this gathering and that’s going to take all units working together as a single team. This is not a drill, this is the real thing. If we run this correctly, we will be able to neutralize the H.S.T. threat. If we fail… well, gentlemen, you’ve seen what these creatures can do. Do you want them running loose in your home town? I’m assigning Agent Brown of Delta unit as the point in this operation. All tactics go through him. Any questions?”
One of Gamma unit’s soldiers raised his hand. “Ma’am, do we have any idea what sort of H.S.T.s, we’ll be facing?”
“Alpha unit was last to scope ground zero. Gates, what is your assessment?”
Gates jerked his head up; he wasn’t expecting to be addressed after the mess his unit had been in. “Um, ma’am, well, all entrances were guarded by ichthyoids, and from what we could determine, there were several in sniper position as well. Remote sensing counted at least a dozen nocturnal haemativorous H.S.T.s inside, as well as several unidentifiable species. Remote sensing also picked up a room full of …kittens.” Forrest finished off lamely.
“In all probability the situation has changed drastically in the few remaining hours. It would be best to prepare for anything. Contamination units will be onsite.” Dr. Walsh finished off. “If that is all, I’ll turn this meeting over to Agent Brown.”
As Maggie made her way to the door, she felt a tug on her sleeve. “Excuse me ma’am.”
She turned to see Forrest looking up at her. “What is it, Agent Gates?” She whispered annoyed.
“Ma’am, I’d like to request that Agent Finn be returned to Alpha unit. We need another man with Miller out.”
“Agent Finn will not be accompanying your unit.” Walsh announced and stormed out before Forrest could reply.
“Man, you sure did screw up.” One of the Zeta squad members whispered from the row in front of Forrest.
“Why, what’s up?” He whispered back, keeping his eyes on Agent Brown who was busy reviewing the maps of Sunnydale that everyone had already memorized.
“Finn went AWOL with the civilians about the time your unit came in. Nobody can find them, but they’re probably still in the building; at least, he hasn’t gone through the elevator, stairs, or back garage.”
“Damn.” Forrest muttered. He thought the coed was trouble, but this was ridiculous.
~ Back Forest, Tuesday, 7:28 p.m.~
“Gentlemen, we have a problem.” Xander announced, stopping the car. Willow’s map had him taking this road into the forest, but right at the forest’s edge was an electrified fence. Sure the sign said ‘nature preserve, no trespassing’, but Xander had never seen a nature preserve with barbed wire, electric trip wires, and a twelve foot high chain linked fence.
Spike hopped out of the back seat. Taking one look at the fence, he ran for it, scrambling up the wire and over. He hopped down on the other side, swearing like a sailor at the sting from the barbed wire. He kicked over the electric control box, causing a small fire as the electricity shorted out. Spike quickly stamped out the fire before it reached the dried leaves. Relying on his vampiric strength, he yanked open the gate, forcing it off its hinges. “I don’t see a problem.” He announced, shaking out his hand still buzzing from the electric shock.
“Okay, there’s that.” Xander shrugged as he started the car again.
“Park behind those shrubs over there. We’ll go on foot from here.” Angel stated.
“How can we get away quickly if the car is halfway down the road?” Xander frowned.
“You don’t have space to turn around or park in that forest. We’re walking.” Angel repeated. Xander just rolled his eyes and followed the directions. If things went bad, at least he could blame it on the vampires.
The three set off on foot, walking in about a hundred yards until they reached a small creek. Angel led them alongside the creek bank, Xander taking the middle place, and Spike grumbling from behind. Xander couldn’t help but feel creeped out. If it weren’t for Spike’s occasional grumblings he wouldn’t have heard any sounds from either of the other two, no leaves cracked under foot, no heavy breathing from the quick pace, no twigs snapped as they walked past.
Finally they reached a cement pipe as tall as the men, with a small trickle of water running out of it into the creek. “So, do either of you guys want to do the honors?” Xander asked, eyeing the large metal grate covering the entrance. Willow hadn’t said anything about welded grates covering where they needed to be.
“Peaches, you can take it, I took the last one.” Spike held up his hand, complete with a black burn scar from the electric fence.
Angel nodded, and studied the opening for a moment before choosing a spot to yank from. The grate bent but didn’t come out. “Haven’t had your Wheaties, eh old man?” Spike taunted. Xander bit his lip trying not to laugh. It was hard to decide which vampire he hated more; was it better to laugh at the one who stole his chance at taking Buffy to prom, or frown at the vamp who ruined his chances with Cordelia by kidnapping him? Angel just grunted and pulled again, this time taking the grate completely out.
“Whoever told you that you had a sense of humor, lied.” Angel simply said to Spike before turning to Xander. “Okay, where to now?”
~ Initiative air ducts, Tuesday, 7:29 p.m.~
“Gentlemen, we have a problem.” Buffy stated, brushing up against the cold cement wall. “We’ve hit the end of the air duct.”
“That’s a good thing.” Riley replied. “All we need to do is find the cap into the pipe. Just tap along the wall until we reach it.”
“What exactly are we looking for?” Giles asked. His head hurt, his eyes back hurt, his knees hurt. He hated to admit it, but he was really getting too old for this sort of stuff.
“Something like a manhole cover for a sewer.” Riley replied, tapping the cement wall.
Tap, tap, tap, thunk. “I think I found it.” Buffy called back.
“Do you need help moving it?” Riley asked hopefully.
There was suddenly a shaft of moonlight, illuminating a small part of the black
tunnels. “Nope I think I got it.” Buffy called out, dropping down into the large water pipe.
“Buffy!” The cry echoed through the pipe, back into the hatch.
“Oh dear lord.” Giles muttered.
“Who’s that?” Riley asked, crawling for the patch of light.
“I believe that’s our rescue party.” Giles mumbled, following Riley through the small opening.
Xander finally let Buffy out of her hug long enough for her to catch her breath. “Xander, Angel… Spike? What are you guys doing here?” Buffy eyed the odd assortment of men standing at the pipe opening.
“We’re rescuing you.” Xander proudly proclaimed.
“That’s great.” Buffy grinned. “Not quite so necessary, but it’s the thought that counts.”
“That’s me, the thinker.” Xander smiled.
“So, I’m guessing someone else came up with the plan?”
“Yup.” Xander admitted. “Giles! Need a hand there?” Xander offered the watcher a hand up.
“Yes, thank you.” Giles muttered as Xander helped him to his feet following a stumbled drop.
“Hostile 17.” Riley said, finally taking a look at the men on the opposite side of Buffy.
“Oh, sodding hell.” Spike muttered.
“Um, Angel, this is Riley. Riley, this is Angel and, I guess you know Spike.” Buffy made the introduction, blushing five shades of red. She wrapped an arm around Riley’s waist, hoping Angel got the message that he wasn’t to meddle with this.
“Oh.” Angel stared at the soldier who had fallen out of the grate with the watcher and slayer.
“Well, I just love a tearful reunion. How about we continue this off the evil army base?” Spike growled, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Right,” Xander nodded and started the trek back to the car, the others following closely behind. “So, um, just to let you know, the demons sort of noticed Buffy’s missing and have been having a little bit of fun.”
“Blasted arthritis,” Giles muttered, rolling his neck to get the kinks out. “Could you be more specific? Are we talking Acathla fun, or just a frolic?”
“Well, I don’t think it’s an apocalypse yet, but Anya got invited to a party at the high school tonight and she was really excited because some demon who caused the potato famine was supposed to show up.”
“Zoltan’s in town? Oh dear lord.” Giles cringed.
“Wait, you mean Zoltan’s throwing a party, and I got stuck on rescue duty? Effin’ hell.” Spike kicked at a pile of leaves.
“Does this mean we have to crash a party?” Buffy asked, “Or can we rescue Willow first?”
“Crash the party.” Angel answered.
“But Willow’s been taken by the vampire Asher. If we don’t get on his trail quickly it may become cold.” Giles replied, weighing out the options.
“Um, actually Asher just took Willow to Anya’s place.” Xander admitted. “When we came to rescue you, we figured Willow would be safer if we left her with Asher and Anya .”
“Huh?” Buffy asked. Her hand had slipped into Riley’s as they walked back along the creek. She didn’t seem to notice, but both Riley and Angel were well aware of the motion.
“Willow is at Anya’s place. Everyone is safe now.” Xander repeated. As the group walked they seemed to split into three rows. Angel and Spike were in the front; Angel brooding about Buffy while Spike muttered about his head. Riley and Buffy walked in the middle, holding hands and acting blissfully unaware of the world around them, happy to be out of the ceiling space. Xander fell back to walk besides Giles.
“So who’s the soldier?” Xander whispered.
“His name is Riley.” Giles answered.
“Come on, G-man, what’s the scoop?” Xander tried again.
“He’s a soldier for the military compound we are currently escaping from. Evidently they capture demons and experiment on them. I believe he is attracted to Buffy, enough to give up his career to help us escape.” Giles replied, turning to face Xander. “Now, it’s your turn to explain. What is Spike doing here?”
“Yeah, see that’s a weird story. So you know this military group; they had Spike, but he got out, but not before they messed with him. He’s got this chip in his head that prevents him from hurting people. As far as I can understand, he and Asher tried kidnapping Willow to see if she could get the chip out.”
“That’s preposterous.” Giles stuttered. “Willow is a very intelligent girl, but she’s hardly a neurosurgeon, and why on earth would she want to help such a monster anyway?”
“Watcher, if I were you, I would quit while you’re ahead.” Giles suddenly found Spike at his right elbow. “We’re not done with Red, yet. She’s going to get this thing out.”
“Right.” Giles stepped a bit faster, unconsciously trying to distance himself from the blonde vampire. “Why should she help you?”
“She promised she’d help if we rescued you lot first. Unlike some people, Red’s the type to keep a promise.” He stared at Angel’s back, evidently remembering the decades of betrayal by both the souled Angel and unsouled Angelus.
“Let’s just get back to Anya’s in one piece. No fighting; Willow wouldn’t want that.”