Disclaimer: If you recognize it, I don't own it! No cashola either... :) This story is oooooold! It needs a good re-write in places where there's mucho telling not showing, but I still like the plot even if it was Jossed like crazy! :) Also? This was the second fic I ever completed, so you might wanna read it after you read all my other stuff. (And not in a save the best for last kinda deal. lol!!) Another A/N at the end! ;) Remembered Dreams
She put her black boots on, stood up abruptly, and crossed the room to the mirror. Looking at herself critically, she judged everything was in place. She walked over to the nightstand quietly, hoping not to wake him. She fished a couple of fifties out of his wallet and picked up her backpack. She walked into the bathroom and swiped all the soap and shampoo she could find. Even swiping the conditioner, lotion, and a few washcloths, any little thing could help even if she didn't like their brand. A hundred bucks would pay her rent for a week and buy her a few groceries too, she thought. Maybe she could go check into one of those cheap places near where Angel's old office used to be and see if their apartments were any better.
Oz had told her where it had been when he came by to drop of the Ring of Amarra. Thoughts of Oz and how happy and semi-normal (it was the Hellmouth) her life had been at that time brought sudden tears to her eyes. Brushing them aside violently, she slipped out the door. She always took a shower, applied black eyeliner, mascara, lip-gloss, and changed clothes after business. Now she just looked like some angsting teenager instead of the angsting prostitute that she was. It had been a year since she had seen any of the gang from Sunnydale only exchanging a few emails with Giles a month and three letters with Xander, and that was how she liked it. It was too hard to lie to them if she had to hear from them often. Buffy was really too wrapped up in her own life at that point to worry about the redhead.
Her parents had found out that she was spending time with Tara and they disowned her. Tara, that was a laugh she thought, she was only after me for my power and all I wanted her for was some human companionship. Everyone else had dumped me for their significant others and I wanted a friend, someone that would ease the loss that Oz had inflicted upon me because he was too weak to stay and work through his betrayal. When he finally did come back, Tara had me completely blinded with some sort of spell, not that I'd have wanted to take Dogboy back, anyway, but Tara hadn't wanted to take any chances, Willow thought. The redhead had only found out about it when she did that spell for Buffy before the slayer had taken on Adam. The control and energy siphon snapped during the Adam spell. Willow felt the disruption, knew immediately of Tara's deception, and, coincidentally enough, Willow never saw the other girl in anything but a dream again.
Willow had tried to explain to her parents that she and Tara were only friends, but her parents wouldn't listen and told her not to bother coming back. Willow's scholarships had paid for her first year of college but she hadn't had time to apply for more to pay for her second year with all the Initiative stuff going on so she was out of funds. She wasn't going to put anyone else out and vowed to make it on her own. She told everyone in Sunnydale that she was transferring to UCLA and packed her stuff into a cab and took it straight to the pawnshop. She sold everything she had except her laptop, and backpack filled with some magical supplies and a few books. Most of her clothing was sold to a second hand store. She had made enough money to buy the black clothing she was wearing including the boots and the two outfits she worked in.
She couldn't say she was completely unhappy with her life. She still had a few online friends. All she had to do was spend a couple of hours with some unknown person three times a week and she could pay her rent, utilities, and even buy some food. She never took more than fifty dollars an hour. She didn't want to chance that person waking up and following her home to get the money back. She also always put them into a spell sleep once they were done. That way she could shower and take the money and go without having to deal with them afterwards. No one had ever complained about how much she took, so she figured it was a decent enough amount, and kept with her routine. She was lucky this guy only wanted a bit of kink and took her to a room that had plenty of trial size toiletries.
A bit of kink, she smiled without humor, not like the first guy who'd picked her up wandering a few blocks from the bus station. He'd marked her pretty good. He used some sort of leather strap on her back. She didn't get a close look at it, but she knew it had metal studs placed an inch apart half way down by the way it marred her back. She didn't think he'd have used the strap, but after about an hour he found the claw mark scarring and a small uppercase 'D' on her lower back above her right hip. Apparently that was the first letter in the name of the girl he was obsessed with and it set him off.
Willow had no idea he was that crazy, although, she had to admit that anyone that picked her up would probably think she was underage and that would automatically make them disturbed, but she had needed the money. The locker at the bus station didn't cost a lot, but she did have to eat and she had spent most of her money on her clothing and the bus fare to LA. She had been hoping to get enough from that guy to find a place to stay for the night so she could spend a few hours figuring out what to do next. The people at the bus station had found all the places she'd hid while she caught a few hours of sleep at a time.
Who would've thought that a few nights with Angel's insane childe would prepare her for her life to come. She didn't even flinch when her first client had started raving and pulled that strap from goddess knows where. It took her a long time to heal from that encounter though, emotionally as well as physically. She had tried to focus on conserving her energy and somehow ended up noticing the little things. She never did find out his name, not that she really cared, but she would never forget his eyes, his tattoo, or that painful looking scar. He had a deep royal blue heart, the same color as his eyes, with a black 'D' in the center crossed with a silver arrow on his right shoulder just under his collarbone. The heart almost looked like it was beating as he pulled his arm back for another blow. She also spent time studying the scar running down his left side that looked like it was done with something sharp and thick. She didn't think he was a vampire, unless maybe he had just fed because he wasn't cold. He didn't try to drain her, so she figured she must've been right. She calmly took what he gave until he was satisfied, sent him into a deep spell-induced sleep, swiping a hundred and fifty dollars from him before escaping through an open fire escape window. She figured she deserved at least that much for letting him mark her more than she already was.
She'd found an apartment that rented by the week, bought some food, retrieved her stuff, and moved in. After a few days she wrote Giles and told him she was ok and that school was fun and asked how the gang was and said she loved him and hoped everyone was ok. She didn't think Giles knew enough to find out that she really wasn't at UCLA, and didn't think that he'd become suspicious enough to make the effort to learn how.
She'd had many clients both male and female since that first one, and none of them had been as rough as he was. Of course, she'd learned to read their surface thoughts since then too, so that helped her determine if the risk was worth the money they had to offer. Mainly she just looked for older businessmen and women who were bored with their suburban lives gave them a few hours of pleasure and a good nap in exchange for a few bucks they could obviously afford. There was always a willing supply of clients. She was surprised about the women at first though, but they generally treated her better. They always felt like they had more to lose, she guessed.
She kept to the club areas and dressed in the most current party wear she could afford so that she could blend in with the crowds easier if trouble arose. She figured she was almost as good at blending as Angel was now, and if it came right down to it, she could always use a bit of spellcraft to make it seem like she wasn't there. She couldn't make herself invisible, but she could make observers' eyes slide over her as just another nondescript club-goer and not the person they were looking for. She always thought of it as that mind trick in that old space fantasy movie Xander had made her see over and over when they were younger.
She stopped walking when she saw the lighted sign of the convenience store near her apartment. She pulled the door open and blinked owlishly in the sudden brightness of the store.
"Hey, Red! How's it going? You want to hang around until my shift ends and get something to eat?" The man behind the counter grinned at her.
"No thanks, Jarod, I'm pretty beat. I'm just gonna get a can of soup and a soda." She had met Jarod Green about six weeks ago after the old man who owned the store was shot by a couple of would-be robbers. It had really been the nighttime manager who wanted to take over the store and thought the old man was in the way. Jarod had somehow proven the nighttime manager was ultimately to blame for the old man's injuries, sending the greedy employee to prison. Jarod was taking care of the store until the old man was well enough to come back.
Willow thought he reminded her of Angel a little, always trying to help, always with the pain of loss in his eyes, in the world, but not really a part of it. He was always trying to coax her into eating with him. She knew that he had an idea of what she did and how little money she actually had from seeing her place. Maybe she would go to dinner with him again soon, but not tonight. Tonight she just wanted to go home and go to bed. He rang up her purchases.
"Alright, but the offer still stands. I'm still staying above the store. I told Kay you could come up even if I'm not there. Here's some peanut butter cups for dessert, on me! I tried them last week and they're delicious!"
"Have you tried them on ice cream? They're really good." From what he had told her, he'd lived a very sheltered life and every time she saw him she mentioned something else that she thought he hadn't tried yet. Once, he asked what she missed most about being away from home. She told him She would never forget the time she told him about movie nights with friends with junk food and pepperoni and jalapeno pizza with extra cheese. He had gotten her talking about what she missed most about being back home. She had told him about being over at Buffy's with Giles and Xander and how they all watched movies until they fell asleep. Jarod had talked her into a movie night the following night so she could help him experience it for the first time. She didn't think she'd have the money to spend on pizza or renting movies, or even convenience store junk food, but he said he'd buy everything and gave her a smile that reminded her of Xander in the junk food aisle right after payday.
She couldn't resist that smile and even agreed to accompany him on his search to find the right movies and junk food. He had been happy that she wanted to share this with him. He had missed out on so much because of his childhood. She knew he was still searching for his mother, and that his father, sister, and two brothers were all together in hiding. Willow just wished that she had a family that cared as much as his did. Or even just people that cared about her. She knew that Giles did. He was like the father she needed, but never had. Joyce was even more of a mother than her own, and Spike, well, he was a demon and probably didn't care about her the way she came to care about him. The redhead came back from her thoughts, smiled and waved at Jarod and walked out of the store.
He knew there was something different about her. She hadn't told him her real name, just that he could call her Red. She intrigued him. He didn't have a lot of real friends, but he just knew he could trust her. He didn't know what she did with her time or how she really lived, but he had a good idea. The Centre might have sheltered him, but he did know a young girl alone in this city wasn't the best life for her. She seemed so smart.
One day he decided to ask her where she worked, he just slipped it into normal conversation, and her face hardened a little, and she'd said 'here and there'. Jarod had a tough time trying to accept what she was saying without wanting to help her. He stayed well past his little crusade with Jacob Jensen's shooting just so he could find out more about the little redhead that came in with either large bills or change to buy a can of soup and a soda once a day.
She never bought the same kind of soup either, she liked to switch flavors every day. She told him once that variety was the spice of life. He'd never heard that phrase before, but it sounded true from his point of view. Except that she didn't seem to apply that to her wardrobe, she always wore all black. It made her hair and complexion more striking. He imagined she received quite a few second glances.
He clenched his jaw. He really didn't want her doing what he thought she was doing. It was dangerous. He knew he could help her somehow, if only he could find a way for her to accept his help. He remembered his first movie night. She was so sweet to show him what normal people did with their friends. He had a lot of fun and it was all because of her. That night before she left his house, after refusing a ride home she had asked him if he was religious. He had told her he didn't really know. She handed him a chain with a cross on it, told him to wear it at all times, especially if he was out at night. Then she handed him a small glass bottle, saying that if someone came after him with an abnormal face and yellow tinged eyes; he should throw the bottle at them, aiming for their face, running home as fast as he could.
He thought it was strange that she said for him to run home as fast as he could, rather than running to the nearest shelter and hiding. He also took a few drops from the bottle, tested them, but the results were plain water. It made him think her requests were that of an insane mind, but she seemed so lucid and sincerely worried about his well-being. A thought tugged at the back of his mind, but he couldn't figure out exactly what it was so he left it there, knowing that it would come back when he really needed to figure it out. He hoped that by complying to her wishes, she would trust him more.
Willow opened her apartment door, pulled out her key from the lock and closed the door behind her. She locked it and put her stuff in the kitchen. She busied herself with dinner preparations while thinking over her life. Jarod always did that to her, made her think and wish for a better life. She had so many dreams when she came to LA. She had no idea that she wouldn't be able to find any work without experience or a degree. She had thought about working at a topless place, but they didn't like her assets when they could choose from plenty of other girls. Then she tried food service, but all the places in the area didn't need anyone. That software company that had been courting her in high school ended up being a front for the mayor. She had been extremely disappointed. After pounding the pavement for an entire week, she decided to see if she could prostitute herself out again so she could pay the rest of her next week's rent.
The place she was staying at charged her ninety dollars a week for rent with a fifty dollar utility charge at the beginning of every month. She knew that was cheap, but after looking at the place in the daylight, she couldn't see how the owner could charge any more than that. So she pulled out her short skirt and halter top and went towards the club area. She found two clients that night. It was enough to take care of the next week with a little left over so she could eat, more than twice if she was careful.
After about the first ten clients she went home and cried herself to sleep. The only thing she could say is that she was surviving, but she had hated her life then. She even tried to get into UCLA, but since at the time she had just turned twenty and didn't have any military service, they kept asking for her parents' information, and they made too much for financial aid.
Now she couldn't say she hated her life, she only had to work three nights a week most of the time and she could detach herself from the actual work part now. They called her Red and she was no longer Willow Rosenberg, shy hacker/witch. She was Red, the survivor who did what it took to get by. For the longest time, she was in a daze just moving from day to day without thinking of the future or even worrying beyond the next week. Since she met Jarod however, she started thinking about her future again. There was something about him that made her want to really live. She started working four nights a week and even started looking for a real job again.
With all the cheap labor around most places still weren't hiring, but Willow was determined to stop hooking. She saved her money in an old coffee can under the sink and right now she had a little over four hundred dollars. It was really hard not to want to go out and spend some of it on a real meal or new clothes or even some new books, but she was resolved that the money was going to go to getting her back in school and a different job and maybe even a new place, but that was last on her list.
She finished up her dinner and cleaned up after herself. She sat back down on the couch she had found and brought in with Jarod's help. He seemed to think all apartments, even efficiencies, needed a couch. It was nice to sleep on something besides that old egg crate padding she'd used before. She had found it in a dumpster behind a nursing home and hosed it off really well before bringing it in. It was the first and only time Jarod had been to her place. She was embarrassed by it, but he didn't seem to mind, apparently he'd stayed in worse places than hers. She reached over and picked up her laptop off of one of the milk crates she used as a table and berated herself for leaving it out while she worked. She had never been robbed before, but that was partially because her apartment was empty and looked like there wasn't anything worth stealing left out in the open. Anyone who realized the value of her books probably wouldn't be snooping around her apartment in the first place and anyone else would see a couple of empty milk crates with a few books on them, a couch with a pillow, a few blankets and a floor lamp.
She wondered how the gang was doing back in Sunnydale. She wasn't curious enough to risk calling them, but she did wonder. Willow was glad that she set her internet service up through one of her parents credit cards before she had even graduated high school. She knew they wouldn't look at the bill hard enough to notice her monthly payments. Her wireless modem wasn't very fast, but it was fast enough to get her email, and until she could afford something better she was going to be happy with what she had.
She checked her inbox and saw a letter from Giles. She clicked on it and read what Giles had written. It seems that Spike had gotten his chip out two weeks ago after suffering for over a year. Graham and Riley had found a couple of the Initiative scientists who were willing to take the implant out. Spike in return had promised not to kill any of the gang because they had fed him and taken care of him until he could take care of himself again. Xander was still wondering why she hadn't written him back yet. Giles said that he had been over every day with Spike of all people the past three weeks asking about her.
She wondered what the sudden urgency was, it was only, oh, she thought as she kept reading, her birthday was three weeks away. She'd never really had a party before. Her parents weren't around often enough to give her one when she was younger and now Xander wanted to give her one. He thought she should take a break from school and come home. Buffy and Riley had gotten married a few months before and the slayer hadn't even thought to send Willow an invitation until the day before the wedding, and now Xander wanted her to come back for a birthday party. She smiled at the screen. Good old Xander, she thought. I can't believe Spike's still around, its been two weeks since he was re-fanged, and he's still around Xander and Giles both. She sighed and worded a short reply saying she would think about coming back then as long as her studies weren't interrupted. She sent it and went on to her other email when there was a knock at her door.
She couldn't imagine who would be at her door at eleven at night so she waited a couple of seconds and went to the peephole in her door. She couldn't see anyone at her door but a young man was placing a flyer on the doorknob across the hall and knocking. He walked down the hall to her right and she couldn't see him any more but she could hear faint knocking noises every few moments. She waited until she thought he had finished with her hall, unlocked her door, peeked out and picked up the vanilla colored flyer that had dropped on the floor. She shut and re-locked her door.
Self-defense classes, hmmm... maybe I could go to one of these, they're giving them on my off nights, and I could stil have Sunday night to rest! Perfect! Willow had convinced herself to go and continued to read the flyer. The instructor was Liam Keegan and the associate instructors were Wesley Prause and Thomas Gunn. Classes were being held for six weeks from seven until nine Monday and Tuesday nights in the east wing of the community center starting this Monday night. The flyer only had one bit of artwork at the lower left corner. It looked like it was an artistic rendition of an butterfly, or an owl, or maybe even an angel. Anyway, it was kinda pretty in a you can't tell what it really is way, Willow thought. Classes were free and registration was at six-thirty before the first class.
Willow went back to her computer and finished her emails. She closed her computer down, hid it under the cushion where she put her feet and re-checked the lock on her door. Wandering into the bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair had grown out past her shoulders. It was still a little wet from her earlier shower. She took the time to braid it loosely so it would be wavy in the morning. She figured it was time to dip into her savings and buy a pair of black denim jeans that were looser than the ones she already owned and a couple of black cotton tank tops. If she was going to learn to fight she needed to learn in the clothing she'd be wearing normally. She pulled out her spaghetti string top and boxers out that she slept in and was thankful for at least the hundredth time that she kept her underthings instead of trying to sell them. She couldn't imagine who would want used underthings anyway, but she was thankful that she didn't try.
"Angel, are you sure we cannot go pull that Gunn chap, and retrieve the flyers?" Wesley pleaded as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
"No. He's already passed them out around the area. What's so important that you want them all back?" Angel walked across the front office to where Wesley was standing near the coffee maker.
"Look, right here." Wesley pointed to the cream colored flyer. "It says Wesley Prause, when my name is clearly Wesley Wyndham-Pryce on the original."
"Maybe they ran out of room. If it makes you feel any better, you sound less like a pompous loser." Cordelia smiled at the watcher and continued her typing.
"Thank you Cordelia, for your ever stellar insights." Wesley grumbled before grimacing at the cup of poison he was sure he was drinking. The ex-watcher walked over and sat in the chair across from Cordelia's desk. "Delia, didn't I ask you to wait until I came in to make coffee?"
"You weren't here and Mister Sunshine Hater over there is even more growly when he doesn't have coffee first thing." Cordelia snapped closing the file she had been typing into the computer.
Angel listened patiently as Wesley complained for twenty minutes before making the man get to the point, but knowing that the pair were about to get into their daily argument over coffee made the vampire decide that now was a good time to exit stage right. He didn't care if his employees thought he was brooding too much, to be honest he really just didn't have anything to add to the great coffee debate and resulting conversation every morning. He'd much rather skip it altogether. He knew that they started it every morning to allow him to escape to his office so they could discuss whatever it was they needed to talk about without the vampire around. He also knew that they generally talked about one of two things that had come to light six months after the old office and Angel's apartment blew up: Angel's lack of love life even after the PTB's told them that Willow had made Angel's soul permanent three years earlier, or the feelings the cheerleader and ex-watcher had found still existed between them despite their awkward first attempt in Sunnydale.
"Wes, you can correct them at the first class tomorrow night. If you want I'll even find a chalkboard for you to write it on. If you don't like Cordelia's," the vampire grimaced, "coffee, don't drink it. I'm going into my office. Let me know when you're both ready to go home, and I'll drop you off before patrol."
He was glad that he had a mini-fridge and microwave set up in his office, as well as a couch. He was not in the mood to try to convince them of what he wanted or didn't want in a relationship no matter what the status of his soul was. Angel didn't really care about starting a relationship with a new person. The brunette vampire knew that if he stayed for the discussion today he'd want to douse himself in holy water and dance in the mid-morning sun. He walked towards his office thankful they didn't try to stop him.
Wesley hadn't moved out of Cordelia's apartment since their old office had blown up. In the beginning it was only to protect Cordelia while Angel was out, but after the two revived their lost romance Cordelia wanted him to stay. Dennis was jealous at first, but settled down after a few days. Angel was glad he didn't live there. He loved them both like family but also didn't want to live with them every second of every day like family either. He moved into a building, that David Nabbit had started the day after the explosion, two months to the day after the vampire's office and apartment blew up.
The set up was nearly the same except the building only had two stories above the basement level. He hadn't done much to the second floor yet, focusing primarily on the office and his living quarters in the basement. Each floor had a large kitchen and full bath, Angel was thinking of turning the top floor into another apartment, but he hadn't made up his mind yet. The first floor had his office and the front office with connecting doors to the library and the armory where most of their actual work was done. Since the episode with Vocah, Angel made sure that Cordelia and Wesley spent at least an hour and a half a day in the armory practicing hand to hand and weapons training.
He was even thinking of getting Willow to come over from Sunnydale to cast a few protection spells on the building and on Cordelia's place, even though Cordelia had her own built in protection with Dennis being around. No one could enter Cordelia's apartment unless Dennis agreed to open the doors or windows. Thoughts of Willow always made him a bit melancholy. She was one of the two reasons Angel didn't want to go along with any of the schemes Cordelia cooked up to get him to start dating again. It had been almost a year since he'd heard from her or any of the Sunnydale gang. With his apartment blowing up and all the turmoil that resulted from that he had been too busy to try to keep up with Willow or anyone else living in Sunnydale.
The last time he had seen Willow, he'd practically attacked her in the street to keep from catching Buffy's attention. She probably should've recognized me for the monster I am and kept screaming, but she didn't. She was so sweet and pure and innocent and beautiful and I have to stop thinking about her or I'll need a hard workout followed by a cold shower. I've been completely on edge for the past year. I've felt like every night I've had to fight for my very existence. Maybe Willow could make me a charm, or maybe an herbal mixture for my liquid diet. Liquid diet, that's a laugh, always trying to hide behind euphemisms, no wonder she wouldn't give me a second glance, I'm pathetic.
His thoughts were cut off by the phone ringing on his desk. Cordelia must've thought it was important enough to send through to his office and disturb him. Angel got up from his couch and picked up the phone.
"Hello?" Angel sat down on his desk top.
"Peaches? That you?" Angel straightened at the sound of his childe's voice.
"Yes. What is it Spike?" Angel absentmindedly fiddled with the cord.
"I think something's wrong with the witch. You know how the chit said she transferred to the university in LA last fall, right?" Spike actually sounded concerned, which amazed Angel to no end.
"No. You know I haven't spoken to any of you in a year. What happened, and why do you think Willow's in trouble?" Angel growled out the last part. He knew he shouldn't take it out on his chipped childe, but something about hearing that Willow could be in danger set his teeth on edge. If it weren't so damned sunny outside, I'd go find a Sanski demon to fight with, they're always good for a few hours, he thought. Spike continued to explain what had tipped him off to Willow's possible deception.
"Spike, if she hasna been in school fer the past year, where has she been? Why didna any o' ye catch her at it earlier?" Angel knew he was starting to lose the careful control he kept on his speech as well as his emotions.
"Soddin' hell you wanker, you know how smart the chit is! She could make up a bleedin lie that anyone could believe when you combine it with her sweet innocence. The only people that wouldn't believe a word out of her mouth are her worthless excuse for a mum and dad!" Angel knew from past experience that Spike was about to explode into an extremely long tirade and was already long past his own breaking point at the mere mention of Willow being in trouble. The elder vampire decided quickly on the best course of action.
"William." He growled out and continued with a low rumbling in his chest. Spike stopped and listened to his sire intently. "Get in yer motor an be in me office before sundown this e'en. Dinna dally nor try me patience, boy." Angel hung up the phone before allowing his favorite childe a chance to respond. He went to his mini-fridge pulled out a bag of blood and nuked it to human body temperature. Angel didn't even bother with a mug, he ripped into it with his elongated teeth and sucked it straight from the bag. It helped a little, but Angel figured he needed to work the body bag in the armory, skipping the front office completely until his temper cooled.
Willow rolled over and groaned. The one day a week that I actually let myself sleep in and I have nightmares all night. I can't believe Southwest Chicken soup would give me that many. Every one of them had that guy from the bus station in them. Maybe I'll be able to get Jarod to do something fun today. It's his off day, I think. With that decided, Willow got up, folded her blanket and placed it under her pillow on the far end of her couch. She had to admit, she liked seeing Jarod. She didn't have any friends in LA that she spoke to. Angel, Cordelia and Wesley were friends, but they didn't have a clue she was in town. She really missed Angel. They hadn't been all that close before Buffy sent him to hell, but after she restored his soul a second time they had formed a tenative friendship. She always felt that he was beyond her reach and completely Buffy's and tried not to give it too much thought.
She wondered about the rest of the gang in Sunnydale. Well, she was specifically wondering about a certain bleached vampire. She wondered if he was killing people again or if he was feeding and letting them go. She hoped it was the latter, but was pretty sure it was the former. She sighed and went to her bathroom. She pulled out her one towel and went to the bathroom to get ready for her day.
Thirty minutes later she was ready to face the world. She put the outfit she had worn last night for a total of an hour back on. She figured it wasn't too dirty because she'd showered right before she put it on the night before and it was the only outfit she had that looked decent enough to be out wearing during the day. Her make up was simple and understated. She picked up her keys and glanced around her apartment making sure that everything valuable was hidden.
She walked out and locked the door behind her starting towards the stairs. She decided half way through her journey to take a shortcut through the alley between two buildings. She never knew what hit her when someone grabbed her hair from behind and pulled her head back harshly. Her assailant kissed her hard bruising her mouth and cutting the inside of her cheeks on her own teeth. He threw her down hard on the pavement causing her to see stars. She looked up and his unnatural royal blue eyes were the last thing she saw before passing into oblivion.
She came to slowly. Everything hurt. She felt cold and sticky. A hand was gently shaking her shoulder.
"Hey, hey, you ok? He's gone. You're safe for now." Through her groggy gaze she noticed it was the young black man who put the flyer on her door last night. He had a cut above his right eyebrow that was bleeding slightly. He took off his jacket and placed around her shoulders. Her clothing was ripped and torn and her jeans were undone but looked like they were all in one piece. She pulled her clothing together and shivered. Her face felt like it was about four sizes too big for her head and her mouth was stinging. Her left temple was itching near her hairline. She reached to touch it and whimpered. She brought her hand away and saw her own blood and nearly lost last night's dinner. She could taste the coppery tang of blood where her cheeks were cut on the inside.
"You got somewhere to go. Somewhere I can take you? A hospital maybe?" He didn't touch her after giving her his jacket, he simply kneeled at her feet. He could see the bruises starting to form on her arms and face and was really glad he happened to be walking down the alley before the guy could have killed her or worse.
She finally got her mouth to move and thanked him and told him to take her to Jensen's store. He helped her get to her feet after letting her try for herself first. Her right ankle was sprained at the very least and she couldn't put much weight on it.
"It's not very far. Why do you want to go there?" She leaned heavily on his shoulder as they stepped towards the exit of the alley.
"Friend. Jarod." She didn't really have a lot of strength to focus on any of his words, but he nodded like she'd said the right things.
"Do you mind wearing my bandana? It'll look less like I attacked you if you do." Willow nodded and he leaned her against the brick building. He tried to be as gentle as he could tying the bandana around her forehead, but she winced anyway. He knew she was keeping it together by her sheer force of will alone. He had to get her to her friend pretty fast and he hoped the man was a doctor.
He helped the barely concious redhead into the store. He'd spoken with Kay a lot of times before when he happened to run in the store. Old Man Jensen was pretty cool and let he and his gang have food every now and then when times were lean. Kay kept up with the old man's tradition.
"Kay, is there someone named Jarod around? Red here wanted to see him and she's kinda beat." He winced at the really bad pun and he hoped Kay didn't notice the redhead's appearance.
"Yeah, sure Gunn, go through the back, and up the stairs. Jarod's building some sort of model out of strawberry licorice. I don't get him sometimes, but he's sweet enough." Gunn nodded and helped Willow up the stairs. He called out when he reached the top.
"Jarod? Jarod? I got a redhaired girl that wanted me to take her to you. I hope you're a doctor, man." Gunn sat Willow gently on the couch. He untied his bandana and loosened her boot strings. He heard a noise behind him and stood up quickly in a defensive position.
"Who are you?" the man asked as he walked around the room. He sucked in his breath when Willow came into his view and forgot all about being wary of the young man standing in his current living room. He rushed over to her, pulling an eyelid open one at a time, checking her dilation. "Never mind who you are. What happened to her? Who did this?"
"I don't know, man. I was cutting through this alley and this guy was whaling on her. I don't think she's lost any teeth or anything, he was pretty careful of her face, but I ran him off with a bit of a struggle. He didn't seem to want to fight with my police issue. I just wish I could've gotten there sooner. She said you were her friend and didn't want to go to a hospital. I'm Gunn by the way, and you are?"
"Jarod. Did she say anything about who did this?" Jarod paused in his examination to look up at the young man who'd saved his friend's life.
"No, she hasn't said more than ten words since I ran that guy off. Is she gonna be ok, Jarod?"
"Yes. I think so. Nothing seems broken. Her right ankle is sprained and should have ice on it. She mainly has cuts and bruises. She has a knot on the back of her head but her pupils are normal so she probably isn't concussed. She wasn't..." Jarod trailed off.
"No. I know he was thinking about it, but he never got that far. She was out when I got there so I don't think she knows he was gonna do that." Thank goodness, Jarod thought and then had an idea.
"Gunn, if I tell you where she lives, can you go lift her stuff and get her some clothes? I can pay you." Jarod figured if the young man was honest and decent enough to wade into a fight that didn't have anything to do with him, he wouldn't possibly steal Red's stuff.
"Nah, you don't have to pay me. We'll call it a favor. Maybe I'll need one from you some day." Gunn smiled.
"Thanks." Jarod told Gunn where she lived and focused his attention back on the sleeping girl. He would find out who did this to her, and whoever it was would pay very dearly for a long and painful time to come.
Angel spent the next three hours working off his tension and wondering about Willow. He'd even went down to his apartment and pulled out the sketches he'd done of her during his time in Sunnydale, before and after his soulless time. Even Angelus had done sketches of her. They were sitting haphazardly on his desk while he paced around the office. He knew his errant childe would be there soon to explain himself.
There was a knock at the door. Cordelia peeked her head in and watched Angel pace a moment before speaking.
"Angel, Gunn called, he said he had to run an errand before he stopped by, but that he'd be in right after. Do ya need anything? What did Spike want, oh--" Only Angel's vampiric speed caught the seer before she fell from the pain of her vision. He brought her over to the couch and sat down beside her rubbing circles on her back. Wesley had heard her stop suddenly and saw her crumple into Angel's arms and knew the vampire would take care of her until he got her some aspirin and water.
"What do you see Cordelia? What is it?"
"A man named Jarod. April Arms apartments. Apartment 3-B. Four o'clock. Half-demon warlock." She gasped out.
"What kind of demon? Can you describe him, dearheart?" Wesley came back into the room and gave Cordelia the painkillers and water and sat down next to her.
"Thanks. He looked human at first, had royal blue eyes, had a royal blue heart-shaped tattoo with a black 'D' in the center with a silver arrow passing through it on his right shoulder just under his collarbone. He has dark hair and pale skin and dresses like King Brood. What is it with human looking demons and their fashion sense. They either dress badly like Whistler or they dress like they're going to their own funeral like Angel does?" Cordelia leaned back over to Wesley's shoulder and shut her eyes.
"Delia, fashion later. Can you tell me anything else?" Angel continued to pace his office taking notes and trying to come up with a quick game plan.
"He had shiny blue scales when he was fighting with the guy I'm assuming was Jarod. All of his other features were the same. The tattoo was glowing when he was in his demon form." Wesley rubbed her back tenderly and brushed her hair away from her face. He kissed her on the forehead and went into the library to retrieve a book.
Angel stopped sketching and showed Cordelia his drawing pad, "Is this the tattoo?"
"Yeah," Cordelia nodded, "that's it, but the 'D' was uppercase and the heart was fatter and squishier-looking." Wesley pulled a book off the shelf and began reading part of it aloud as he walked back into Angel's office.
"The shiny blue scales make it sound like a Resal demon. They're known to like mild to warm climates and they feed on sex and pain. I've never heard about them breeding with humans before, however, I'll have to research the differences that might make. They don't have any major powers except for being able to fascinate or influence a person that looks into their eyes. I believe if you can cut off his energy supply, you'll be able to incapacitate him long enought to--" Wesley stopped in the doorway, with his book and his mouth open, "Oh, my. We'll have to find a victim of his with spell casting abilities, that can bind him from doing harm. It says here that it won't kill him, only destroying his eyes will kill him, but it will limit its feeding habits and keep the general population safe from everything except sexual excess. Of course we don't know what the binding will do to his psyche, it could very possibly drive him insane."
"Best case scenario, will weapons hurt it?" Angel stopped directly in front of the ex-watcher.
"Yes, but none of the damage will be permanent and would only scar if the damage happened in his human form. You could decapitate the Resal and given enough time, two hours or so at the most, it would regenerate. The only way to kill him is for the binding to take place and then the destruction of its eyes. On the bright side, its fighting skills are minimal, the demon chooses to use its eyes as its main weapon. I believe you'll be able to knock him out and then take him to a place where he's surrounded by thick walls and doesn't have any kind of stimuli to feed from. Once he's been weakened, it should be simple enough to bind him, and then destroy him if he needs it."
"How can you say 'if'? He feeds on pain! Did you breathe in too much dust in the library and short out all your brain cells?"
"Cordelia, we're not in the business to judge. We're only trying to help the hopeless, remember? I have enough time to go over there and be back by sundown. Wesley, could you dig up more of what you can on the Resal demons and Cordelia use the internet to dig up what you can on that tattoo as well as homicides or suicides linked to S&M in the past year. If Spike and Gunn show up before I get back, make sure they don't kill each other. I have a feeling I'm going to need both of them."
He was really glad David Nabbit had taken an interest in their office. Angel didn't even mind the man's occasional awkward visit. He was extremely grateful that David had allowed for underground access to the sewers, as well as a garage for his car and four others. The special tinting for his car windows allowed Angel access to assignments during the day. He was anxious to save this Jarod guy and work off some steam with the Resal demon, before having to deal with his favorite childe and his suspicions about the red-haired hacker.
Less than ten minutes after Angel had left, Gunn came strolling in the office. He saw Wesley walking through the office from the kitchen area back to the library with a large musty book in his hands, while Cordelia was typing furiously on the computer sitting on her desk.
"Vision?" Gunn asked, already knowing the answer.
"Vision." Cordelia answered without looking up.
"What's this one about?" Gunn asked as he walked towards the kitchen area for a soda.
"Angel's notes are on his desk. Its about some guy named Jerry or something and a resale demon and the kinky leather crowd." Cordelia shrugged as she continued her search.
Gunn walked into Angel's office and retrieved his notes as well as a few sketches without looking at them. He sat down on the couch beside Cordelia's desk and flipped through them. He saw the words 'Jarod' and 'April Arms' and got a sinking feeling. He saw the sketch of a rounded heart with a 'D' and an arrow. He knew he wasn't going to like what was next, but nothing prepared him for the shock of seeing the red-haired girl's face staring up at him from the rest of the sketches. She was in various situations, sleeping, laughing, concentrating on a book or computer, even one where it looked like she was casting a spell. In all of the pictures except one she had looked happy. Gunn wondered what had made her so unhappy, and more importantly how she related to this case and Angel. The Jarod that Angel was going to help at Red's apartment complex had to be the same one that lived above Jensen's store.
"Cordelia?" Gunn knew he had to tell the brunette secretary about the sketches and what happened in that alley.
"Yeah?" She glanced up at Gunn, wondering why he looked so anxious all of a sudden, it was almost like he'd seen a ghost.
"I know this girl." Gunn handed her the sketches.
"Let me see them," she glanced over them and looked up in shock, "you know Willow?!?"
Jarod really didn't want to leave Red alone, but he needed to find out more about who would want to harm her. Gunn had brought back her things quickly. She didn't have much, a few books, clothing and toiletries, and money in a coffee can. Jarod had no clue how Gunn would've known to find Red's stash of money, but he knew she'd be grateful. What was surprising was that the girl had a highly sophisticated laptop. Jarod wasn't going to delve into the girl's computer unless the situation worsened and she couldn't give him the answers he needed to help her. He knew she was a very private person and didn't want to hurt their friendship by breaking into her files unless it was absolutely necessary.
He did however glance at the books Gunn had brought back. They were all about witchcraft and the supernatural. Some of the books even spoke of vampires and other demons. He glanced at a few of the bookmarked pages dealing with vampires, specifically three that were captured in a sketch around the turn of the century: Angelus, the one with the angelic face, also known as the Scourge of Europe rumored to have a soul, William the Bloody, also known as Spike for his penchant of torturing his victims with railroad spikes, and Drusilla, the insane and extremely deadly vampiress rumored to have visions of the future. These three caused hundreds, maybe even thousands of deaths in the years they were together.
There was a note in simple handwriting that was a reminder to update the book on the vampires' current histories, that Angel was good, Spike couldn't harm people, and Drusilla was out of the country, in Brazil possibly. Whoever had written that note obviously believed the book as truthful and as outrageous as it was, thought they knew the vampires in question.
Jarod wondered if Red had written the note. It would explain her bizarre requests about the water, which must've been holy water, and crucifix. The medication he'd given her to rest would probably let her sleep another three hours or so, Jarod thought he would go to her apartment and see if there were any clues there for himself. He decided that he would barricade the door and charge it with an electrical shock leaving a note for her not to go anywhere if she could help it, and instructions on how to disarm the door if she needed to get out. He picked up his jacket, rigged the door, and walked towards the stairs.
The walk to her apartment was short and even though it was broad daylight, there weren't many people out on the street; definitely no children playing outside in this neighborhood. He walked up to her apartment and noticed the door was cracked open. He thought maybe Gunn had left the door open in his haste to get back to Red and get to work. He pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped carefully into Red's apartment.
Jarod barely sidestepped the man rushing him from the kitchen. As it was Jarod hit the door jamb heavily and watched the man continue in a controlled roll into the wall across the hall. Jarod ducked and dodged the man's fists and kicks thankful for the Centre's martial arts training for once. Jarod could tell that his assailant wasn't trained in any discipline, but he kept trying to get Jarod's face up. Jarod didn't know why it was so important that he look at his assailant and instinctively kept his eyes down. He finally found an opening and flung his opponent down the hall. What he saw then made him pause. The man, or so Jarod thought was a man, had shiny blue scales and had a glowing tattoo of some sort that was visible through his shirt.
Before the blue man could rush him again, he was picked up by his arms currently being roughly twisted behind his back by another man. Jarod hadn't even seen the man approach and was rather envious of his stealth never mind the strength it took to lift a man a foot off the ground with one hand. The dark haired stranger bent to the shiny blue man's ear and whispered something. The blue man struggled and Jarod heard him shout something like 'she's mine' and 'she can't take her away from me' but he couldn't be sure from his vantage point. The dark haired man looked like he was loosing his patience and shoved the blue man towards the stairs. The blue man took off running as the man walked over to Jarod. Jarod finally took a good look at the man's face and was shocked to see the same face as the one in the drawing of Red's book.
"Are you ok? Did he hurt you?" The man's eyes looked over Jarod carefully, noticing the dazed look on his face, but snapped out of it the moment he spoke.
"Are you Angelus?" Jarod realized how strange that sounded and shook his head, "Never mind, it can't be true. Yes, I'm fine. I'm Jarod. Thank you for getting rid of that guy, you wouldn't have happened to have lifted his wallet would you?" Jarod hoped the man didn't mind being mistaken for one of the most vicious vampires in folklore and hoped that he wasn't up on the same books Red had kept. The man in question studied him a moment before replying.
"I prefer Angel, what do you know about Angelus, and was there any reason that guy was after you?" The man kept his face nearly expressionless which made Jarod wonder if the man was saving him from a predator only to become the prey all over again. Jarod remembered the concern in his eyes before he had mentioned Angelus and decided to take a chance.
"A friend of mine was attacked today, but Gunn didn't say anything about body art." Jarod started his explanation but the man cut him off with a hand.
"Wait a minute, Gunn was attacked? I need to make a phone call."
Angel walked a few feet and pulled out his cellphone. He checked with Cordelia and she said that Gunn had come in a few minutes ago with a cut above his eyebrow, and said he knew Willow from the sketches that were left on the vampire's desk. While Angel was talking Jarod tried to slip away, but was unsuccessful due to Angel's arm shooting out and catching his own in an iron grip. Cordelia went on to say that Gunn wasn't saying anything else until Angel got back to the office. Angel flipped his phone closed and put it back into his pocket and turned to the man he had just saved. Jarod started speaking before Angel had time to form a question.
"Look, I appreciate you saving me, but I really need to look at my friend's apartment, she was the one attacked earlier, Gunn just happened to have stopped the guy." Jarod had shrugged away from Angel's loosened grip and walked towards the askewed door.
"Gunn works for me, I'm a P.I. I need to help you, so we'll take a glance at your friend's apartment and then I'd like for you to come back to the office with me." Jarod understood the need to help people implicitly. He found himself nodding his head in agreement, although he pondered Angel's word choice, Angel didn't 'want' to help him, he 'needed' to help. 'Curious' thought Jarod, entering the apartment in front of Angel. Jarod knew that if Angel did turn out to be another predator; he would get out of any situation Angel put him in eventually, years of avoiding the Centre sweepers taught him that.
Willow watched herself walk over to her window and checked the lock on the door. She saw herself close her blinds and walk away from the French doors towards her bed. She saw herself pull on her Snoopy pj's and climb into her bed. 'Oh no,' she thought, 'I don't live with my parents, I must be dreaming, I don't want to be dreaming about this house, I want to wake up, why can't I wake up?'
Willow was powerless to stop the onslaught of dream-invading memories she kept carefully hidden during the day. The only physical reminder she had was when she looked into a mirror at her back, but the emotional reminders were always there. Her viewpoint changed to first person rather than the outside view she had in the beginning. 'no, no, no, no' she repeated over and over. 'I don't want to re-live this, I want to wake up, please Goddess, let me wake up,' she begged. She knew that her thoughts would direct her dreams and knew that she'd already started her mind on a path she didn't want to follow to the end.
She pulled the covers up over her head like she'd done many times since she was eight. That was when her parents first thought she was old enough to stay on her own. They didn't leave her for long in the beginning. They normally stayed gone overnight three times a week being home the rest of the time. It was only until she turned twelve that they took extended trips. She had thought it was fun the first few weeks, but after that she felt lonely. She was lucky to have Xander though, he came over a lot. It was ironic really, he came over to get away from his parents and she just wanted hers to spend more time with her, but that was then. She heard a tapping at her French doors and sighed. She knew what was coming, cursed her parents once again for leaving her, and couldn't seem to be more than a not so casual observer in her mind.
"Look at me, lovey. Be in my eyes." Drusilla waved her hand in front of Willow's eyes and spoke in that velvety hypnotic voice she had once Willow had moved aside the curtain. "Invite me in Little Tree. The stars are singing a beautiful song. Invite me in." She crooned. She smiled wickedly as Willow unlocked the doors, opened it and invited her in.
"What fun we shall have my Little tree." She wrapped the girls hair around her fingers and pulled the girl gently to her side, "We shall have tea and cakes and invite Miss Edith, she loves tea and cakes. We'll leave the boys out, it'll just be us girls, but not that nasty smelling slayer. She makes the stars sing so horribly, pet. It will be fun, you'll see. Mummy is always right." Drusilla licked the side of her cheek like a six year old child would lick ice cream causing Willow to shiver.
"None of that now, luv. Let's get you to bed, eh, pet? We'll play such lovely games tomorrow." Drusilla walked over to the doors, locked them and pulled the curtains shut tightly so the morning sun wouldn't burn her lovely skin. She pulled off her outer garments leaving herself in a white lacy full slip. 'Don't want to scare my Little Tree just yet, Daddy and my Spikey will love her.' Dru slipped in beside Willow under the covers. Willow whimpered slightly, making her first sound since Dru had tapped on her window. Dru spooned in behind the redhead and wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled the younger girl closer.
"Drusilla?" the redhead looked up from her breakfast plate questioningly.
"Yes, pet?" Drusilla put down her fork with the squishy eggs which were actually scrambled and walked over to Willow's side. "Is there something you need, dearie?" The vampiress stroked Willow's hair until the girl visibly relaxed.
"School, I have school today, no wait, its parent-teacher in-service day, and the gang, they'll expect me at the library and Bronzing, we're supposed to go to the Bronze tonight, and--" Dru shushed Willow's babbling with a cool finger to her lips.
"Breathe my Little Tree, breathe. I'll call the watcher and take care of everything." Drusilla stilled her hand upon Willow's head and Willow could feel her head tingling a little until the vampiress removed her hand. Drusilla walked over to the telephone and dialed a number.
"Rupert, Rupert Giles?" She said in flawless Sheila Rosenburg tones, "This is Sheila Rosenburg, Willow's mother. Her father and I are taking her on a trip this weekend to a seminar on the pysychological adjustment of the adolescent to a more ergonomic environment with the absence of a cinematic presence in Northern California. She'll be back at school on Monday and insisted that I call." Willow looked over at Drusilla in shock. She had no idea the vampiress was that talented with her mind, only seeing the insane babbling before. Drusilla winked at her before continuing.
"Yes. Yes. You'll tell Bunny and Alexander, won't you? Thank you, Mr. Giles. Good-bye." Drusilla hung up the phone and went over to stand behind Willow's chair once more.
"There now, lovey, Mummy has it all taken care of." Drusilla smiled at the redhead stroking the pale column of Willow's neck gently.
"Mummy's pet needs a mark of ownership. I hope Miss Edith isn't too lonely with the boys. I told her to watch over them, do you think she's watching over them Willow-mine? They have to be taken care of properly. I told them I was working on a prezzie for them and would be gone a few days. You'll be a great prezzie. They'll love you, but the moon says they'll have to wait a while. You'll see, pet. It will be so wonderful!"
Drusilla ushered Willow's tired body into the shower and washed and later dressed them both. Willow's mind was in a fog. She knew that she should be worried, but couldn't muster up enough strength to bother with it. So far Drusilla had only pleasured her and nibbled a bit. It couldn't be worse right? Uh-oh, Willow thought, you never say that on the Hellmouth, I just jinxed myself.
Luckily for Willow, her subconscious shied away from most of the pain. She saw glimpses of Dru scratching her like a playing cat, and even the tattoo place where she argued for something more elaborate. Willow settled when Dru said elaborate later, the stars said now was the time for simplicity, that she already had a plaything that had a more elaborate tattoo but he was a disappointment.
So far Drusilla hadn't done anything besides the tattoo that would permanently scar Willow, but you couldn't tell her body that. Willow had to sleep on her left side to avoid the pain of her tattoo. Drusilla had woken up in the night and went out to feed leaving Willow in an exhausted sleep.
On Sunday Willow had woken up hardly able to move. Drusilla had a few more marks in mind for the redhead's back. Drusilla didn't make deep cuts into Willow's back with her claws, just enough to scar and draw the blood she eagerly licked away. After Drusilla had made eight perfectly straight claw marks from Willow's shoulder blades to her waist the vampiress untied Willow and took her back to the bathroom to clean her up. She dressed the girl's wounds, put her back in her Snoopy pj's and tucked Willow into her bed laying her on her tummy to avoid hurting the girl anymore.
"Sleep, lovey. When the false snake bites, and the rivers dry, go to the city of my angel, by the light and dark of night you will find peace. You're perfect my pet. I'll love you always my Little Tree."