Under Pressure - 5
~Angel’s Mansion, Wednesday, 8:25 p.m.~
“Hello? Willow, are you okay?” Buffy called out loudly as she entered the mansion.
“Hi Buffy.” Willow replied looking up from the living room couch where she and Clem were playing a game of go fish.
“Where is everybody else?”
“Oh you know, here and there.” Willow shrugged. “Xander and Anya are in the back bedroom, doing I don’t want to know what, and there’s been no sign of the vampires.”
“That’s not good.” Giles frowned. “They shouldn’t take that long just to help themselves to the clinical supplies.”
“Who knows, maybe the truck was running late?” Willow offered.
“Still, it’s peculiar.”
“So, how was your meeting?”
“It went well.” Riley said, just as Giles muttered. “We’re in serious trouble.”
“Okay?” Willow glanced between the two men.
“Graham’s willing to help us out from the inside. That will make the next move considerably easier.” Riley started out. “Also, the physical structure of the Initiative seems to be having considerable problems. If the facility is not up to standards, the units will have to spend more time maintaining internal security and less time patrolling. After the botched stake-out at Revello, I’m guessing McNamara and Walsh are going to have to seriously reconsider their priorities, and I think we’re going to drop off the radar.”
“Oh, yes, that actually is good news. I was more concerned with the other tidbit we learned.” Giles admitted. “There’s a new master vampire in the neighborhood.”
“Oh? You mean other than Asher?” Willow asked.
“He means El Lobo.” Asher answered, watching the humans jump slightly at the sound of his voice.
“Hey! How long have you been there?” Willow scowled at the three vampires standing in the doorway to the living room.
“Not very long.” Asher shrugged. “Tell me, how did you find out about El Lobo?”
“We had a run-in with his minion. If I see another little yappy dog before I die, it’ll be too soon.” Buffy answered, shuddering at the memory of the chihuahuas out for blood.
“I trust you dispatched the vampire.”
“Yeah, you could say he’s just dust in the wind now.” Buffy smirked.
“I didn’t realize Padma’s minions had minions.” Angel muttered lost in his own thoughts.
“You have been away from the Council for a long time, friend. Our line is not the only one that has been growing.”
“I assume you know El Lobo, then?” Giles asked.
“That is a safe assumption.”
“And do you know why he is here, now?”
“The vampires of the Hellmouth asked the Council for assistance in dealing with the soldiers. By doing so, they appear very weak. Honestly, it is surprising that only one master has sent a minion to test the political situation here.”
“You mean two masters.” Buffy looked Asher straight in the eye trusting that her slayer powers would keep her from being rolled under. “Last I checked you weren’t here because of the sunny California weather.”
“Ah, my dear, there is a difference. I came at the behest of the entire Council to investigate the soldiers. El Lobo has no such mandate. I have no desire to rule this town; I can not say the same about El Lobo.” Asher was not about to admit that he did have a desire to train Spike to rule this town, in Belle Morte’s name.
“Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter. We have to deal with the Initiative first before we figure out what to do about this other vampire.” Willow reasoned.
“I don’t think El Lobo will give us the time to handle the soldiers first. He seemed rather insistent, and if he’s already sending his childer after you…” Angel tried to say more to Buffy through his eyes, but she didn’t seem to get his warning.
“I get that, and believe me, I’m all about taking him down, but not right now. We don’t even know where he is right now.” Spike choked on a laugh. “Something to share with the class, Spike?”
“Not really.” Spike said, catching the glare from Angel and Asher.
“Alright then, first things first. I need to change.” Buffy announced.
“Actually, before you do that, we should do the cleansing spell.” Willow said, glancing at Riley who was leaning against the wall as though he couldn’t stand up on his own. “It would be best for you to be here, in case we need to carry him to a bed afterwards, and it might get kinda messy. It doesn’t make sense to ruin two shirts in one night, if you know what I mean.” Willow told her best friend.
“There you go, being all reasonable again.” Buffy smiled. “Okay, so spell time. Can we do it here?”
“Sure. Clem already helped me out with the set up.” Willow smiled at the friendly demon who blushed. “Okay, Angel, can you move the coffee table over there? Clem, can you put the candles where I showed you?” Willow went into her bossy mode, relieved to finally have something useful to do.
“Is there anything I can do, ma chaton?” Asher offered.
“Can you go to the kitchen and get a bowl? A big one, preferably with a lid? Thanks, dear.” Willow grinned endearingly at the blonde vampire before turning back to the spell space. “Okay, Riley, I need you to sit down in this circle, across from me.”
Riley moved to the correct position, quietly questioning his sanity. If he told any of his friends in Iowa that he was letting a witch perform magic on him to cure a demonic infection given to him by a mad scientist, they would have laughed then found a nice white padded room for him. On second thought, he realized he had already done time in a white padded room this week.
“You know, you could relax. I know what I’m doing.” Willow squeezed Riley’s hand in a friendly gesture. We’re just going to say a few prayers, anoint you with some smelly stuff, and then you’re going to cleanse yourself.”
“By cleanse yourself, you mean…?”
“Honestly, it wasn’t really clear on that point.” Willow admitted, “But, I’m pretty sure that’s what the bowl is for.”
“Yes, the larger the bowl the better.” Giles commented. Riley shot him a curious look. “The few times I’ve actually made use of the spell, I’ve ended up throwing up the toxins.”
“You’ve tried this spell before?” Riley asked hopefully. If Mr. Giles had tried it and survived, there was hope for him yet.
“A friend of mine thought it would be a good solution for hangovers. Sadly, the drain on the magic is correlated with the amount the toxin removed, so the drinking hangover was just replaced with a magic hangover. Still, it was an interesting idea at the time.”
“Ah yes, tales of your misspent youth.” Buffy teased. “Are you going to tell us next about the time you and Ethan…?”
“Actually, it reminds me of an event earlier this semester, in which you…”
“Fine! I get it, no teasing the watcher.” Buffy cut Giles off before either Riley or Angel could hear the embarrassing beer anecdote.
“Okay, I think we’re all done here. Everybody back away from the circle, and turn off the overhead light.” Willow put the bowl in between her and Riley and lit the candles around the protective circle. Once the dozen candles were burning merrily, Buffy hit the light switch, sending the room into a pleasant twilight. Willow used the orange oil to paint some protective runes on Riley’s face and muttered several phrases in a language Riley couldn’t recognize. Finally she called out, “All that is foreign and not meant to be, leave from Riley, and come to these.” She finished the chant and sprinkled several smelly herbs into the bottom of the large bowl. When she finished, she watched Riley expectantly.
“Um, I don’t think it worked. I don’t feel…” Riley’s denial was interrupted by the sensation of his stomach contents boiling. He felt Willow place her hands on his knees and shove her magic towards him, feeling like a mystical Heimlich maneuver. He retched into the large metal bowl and was surprised to see a black tar-like substance leave his mouth. Again and again, Willow’s magic pushed at him, each wave dragging more of that black substance out of his mouth and into the bowl.
“That’s got to be one of the grossest things I’ve seen.” Buffy muttered.
“True, it looks like Walsh was dosing him with something significantly stronger than beer.” Giles admitted.
“Is it supposed to be going on this long?” Buffy asked her watcher.
“The spell will continue as long as Riley is still contaminated and Willow’s magic will hold.” Giles watched the scene with growing concern. He had never needed more than three shoves to clear out Ethan’s system, and he had already counted ten waves of energy coming from Willow.
“I don’t think she can take much more of this.” Asher murmured.
“The spell has fail-safes. It won’t kill her.” Giles replied.
Before anyone else could express their doubt, the candles suddenly flared high and then extinguished themselves. “I don’t suppose anyone is standing by the light switch?” Giles asked in the darkness.
Buffy hit the switch, to reveal Riley and Willow lying on the ground. She ran to Riley’s side and felt for a pulse. “Are you okay?”
He groaned as he opened his eyes. “I could really use a toothbrush.” He muttered, still tasting the taint of chemicals in his mouth.
“Oh thank god.” Buffy smiled at Riley’s comment. If he could joke, he would be okay. “How do you feel?”
“I’m tired, but the headache’s gone.” Riley muttered.
“Buffy, why don’t you take Riley to a bed? He’ll need to sleep for a few hours.” Giles instructed his slayer, but his main attention was on the redhead lying on the floor. Willow hadn’t moved when the lights went on, and as he got closer he could see a thin trickle of blood coming from Willow’s nose.
Before Giles could kneel by his protégé’s side, Asher had taken the position. “Chaton, are you well?” Willow’s eyelids flickered, but she didn’t say anything. Asher picked Willow up, muttering several expletives in French.
“Now wait a minute, where do you think you’re taking her?” Giles tried to get in front of the vampire, but Angel held him back.
“He’s not going to harm her, and you’re not in a position to take him on right now.” Angel advised the watcher. “Give him a few minutes with her.”
Asher ignored the people in the living room and carried Willow into his bedroom. He placed her tenderly on the bed before fetching a wet washcloth from the bathroom. Tenderly, as he used to do for Julianna, he wiped Willow’s face with the cool cloth, cleaning the blood off her cheek. “Come on my dear, do not let this be the end.” He whispered.
“Asher?” Willow whispered.
“Yes, ma rouge?”
“Did it work?”
“Yes, already Monsieur Riley is feeling better.”
“Good.” Willow’s eyelids fluttered as she tried to decide whether she should try waking up from this dream state. “Why am I on a bed?”
“I carried you to my room when you passed out. I am afraid the magic has drained you.”
“Well, it wasn’t the nicest spell I’ve ever cast.” Willow muttered. “But, this is nice.” She reached up to touch Asher’s hand on her cheek.
“Shall we rest here for awhile? I am sure the others won’t expect you to be active for a few hours.”
“That would be nice.” Willow sighed. “I feel so empty, like someone took a vacuum and sucked out my insides.”
“Monsieur Giles assures us that you will recover from this.”
“I know. I just don’t want to feel empty and alone.”
“You are not alone.” Asher kicked off his shoes and laid down next to Willow, wrapping his arms around her. “I would not leave you alone.”
“Thanks.” Willow muttered, letting herself fall asleep in the vampire’s arms.
“Anything for you, darling.” Asher muttered, slowing his heart to meet her beat.
~Room 314, Wednesday, 8:45 p.m.~
“I thought I told you no interruptions.” Maggie Walsh barked out at the soldier guarding her door.
“I ordered him to stand down.” Maggie’s head shot up at the sound of General McNamara’s voice. “You don’t need a guard just for one laboratory when we have a potential breach on level three. I sent him to join his unit on hall patrol.”
Walsh didn’t particularly care what McNamara was doing with the soldiers. Lately their command had just been a nuisance to her anyway. She was concerned however about McNamara remaining on base. She thought he was supposed to be on his way to Washington by now. “What are you doing in the lab? You never come into the lab.” She quickly threw a sheet over Adam, covering her latest work from the general.
“Well, it seems the lab is the only place anyone can find you nowadays. We need to talk.”
“So talk.” Dr. Walsh turned to her computer and began entering numbers on a meaningless spreadsheet, hoping that the McNamara would get the message and leave.
“As you know, I’m supposed to be heading to Washington to give the Joint Chiefs my report on the Initiative. I’ve decided that I can not recommend continuing the program.”
“What?!” McNamara was pleased to see he finally had gotten Dr. Walsh’s attention. “What about all that talk about H.S.T.s being the single greatest security threat to Americans? How can you possibly question that given the specimens we’ve accumulated in this project?”
“Oh, I still believe the H.S.T.s represent a great threat.”
“Then how can you possibly discontinue the Initiative? Our research is groundbreaking.”
“Your research is a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve gone back through your files, Walsh. After uncovering your sources of ‘nutrient serum’ and ‘biotic supplements’, it’s clear your experiments are far beyond what you had originally proposed and been approved for. You have no informed consents for any of your studies.”
“Well you can hardly expect me to ask the H.S.T.s to sign an informed consent.”
“No, but if you are operating on U.S. soldiers, you are required to maintain a level of ethical and moral conduct, which you have flagrantly disregarded. Your experiments are so far beyond the original protocol scopes that any review board would shut you down the moment you tried to publish the results.”
“Fine, we’ll discontinue Project 214, but I still think it would insane to stop the other programs. I’m making so much progress.”
“I don’t doubt your progress, doctor, but I don’t think the American people are willing to pay in money and lives for your results.”
“If you cancel this project, nobody will be equipped to deal with the H.S.T. threat.”
“Then I guess I’ll have to accept that risk.”
“And have you told anybody else of your decision to end the Initiative, or are you making that decision all on your own?” Maggie Walsh had a cold gleam in her eyes that General McNamara found slightly off-putting.
“I came to tell you first as a professional courtesy. Also, I had to tell you that I need you to develop an exit strategy for taking down your research. I need you to be prepared to cease your operations in six months, three months, or one month’s time. Please have these plans on my desk by the time I return on Monday.”
“Wait, before you leave, let me show you just one more project to help you make up your mind.” Walsh jumped in front on the general.
“This better be quick. I have a flight to catch.” McNamara grumbled.
“Oh it will be quick.” Walsh pulled the sheet off of Adam, revealing the man-demon-machine hybrid. “This is Adam, a prototype soldier created through the efforts of Project 314. Adam this is General McNamara.”
“I am aware of that.” The general was shocked to see the amalgamated corpse sit up and talk.
“Walsh, what the hell were you thinking? This is precisely the kind of nonsense that is absolutely out of the question. Project 314 was designated as physiological autopsy and cremation. Nowhere in your protocol did it mention prototypes.”
“Adam, Terminate General McNamara.” Walsh calmly gave the order.
“As you wish.” The hybrid shoved his hand forward, into the general’s chest before he could react, and with a click, the new polgara wrist attachment expanded into a long spike, puncturing the general’s heart and lungs. “Now, place him on that gurney next to you.” Walsh instructed, watching her creation load the general onto the gurney. “Go back to sleep.” She ordered, watching with pride as her creation laid down on his table and pulled the cover up over his face.
“You stay there and rest. I just have a small delivery I have to take to the morgue.” Maggie wheeled the gurney out into the hall, thankful that for once she didn’t have soldiers guarding her entrances.