*squishes* to Megan for the beta!
Thanks to: Avalon, Just Sue, Dar, Deb, vladt, DreamsofSpike, Marie, Kim and Elizabeth Anne Summers for the reviews!
A/N: The story is going to get more twisty and more characters involved - I hope you like it.
Chapter 17: Tumultuous
Anxiety was not a pleasant sensation. It festered deep in the pit of one’s stomach, building concern and encouraging irrational thought. Like a tumultuous sea it churned and swelled and bubbled, until the pressure grew and pressed upward, searching for an escape. It was well known that a soda can shaken repeatedly would explode upon the opening flick of its tab, dousing the unlucky person holding it. That’s exactly how Xander felt right now, like he was about to explode.
The plane had landed at LAX well over an hour earlier. Some effort had been required to drag a still inebriated Giles from the aircraft and down to baggage collection. As each new bag that was not theirs appeared on the conveyor belt Xander grew more impatient. They were in America, in LA, just a few short hours from Sunnydale. A few short hours from Buffy.
Of course their belongings were in the very last batch. Xander was convinced the universe was conspiring against them.
When the luggage was finally retrieved the next hurdle appeared. Customs. Just as he’d anticipated, the gentlemen working the desk were none too pleased with having an intoxicated customer to deal with. Giles was not his normal model picture of decorum. He was loud. He stumbled, several times. And when he flipped off a businessman, Xander knew they were in trouble.
Xander apologised for his ‘uncle’s’ behaviour, doing his best to smooth over the situation. He embellished the truth—because everyone knows it’s more effective than an elaborate lie—explaining the purpose of their trip was for a funeral. Giles’ daughter had passed recently.
At the mention of Buffy’s name, Giles had let out a well-timed mournful wail, and for once the interruption worked in their advantage. They were ushered quickly through customs, the sympathetic condolences from the officers falling on deaf ears.
Once out the doors the next issue they were faced with was finding a taxi. The que was monstrous but they had no other option but to wait.
“Bloody Americans,” Giles muttered none too quietly. “Can never get a taxi. Give me a black cab in London any day.”
“Giles,” Xander hissed, tugging on Giles’ sleeve. The watcher stumbled forward a couple steps, his glasses falling askew on his face. When he made no move to right them himself, Xander reached for them. “We need to get to Sunnydale and if you keep mouthing off like that no-one’s going to want to drive us.”
“’T’s discrimination I tell yer.”
Xander breathed a sigh of relief when the diatribe didn’t continue.
“Move your ass, Grandpa. I’ve got a dinner I’m late for,” snapped a heavyset man behind them, running his own suitcase into the back of Giles’ ankle.
Xander closed his eyes, silently praying that Giles wouldn’t take the bait. Wheeling their bags further up the line he whispered harshly, “Giles, just forget about it. We really need—”
But it was no good; Giles was far too drunk to care about social etiquette. Wobbling on his feet as he turned around, he glanced over the irate man before commenting, “Your waistline might appreciate a missed meal.” The insult was punctuated with a snort before Giles burst into hysterical giggles, seemingly impressed with his powers of observation and wit.
“Giles!” Xander admonished, turning red-faced toward the insulted man. “I’m so sorry, he’s just lost his daughter and he isn’t coping well with his grief.” He raised his hand in a ‘drinky-drinky’ action, even though Giles’ drunken state was plainly obvious.
“Keep his mouth shut.”
“I’m trying, really, I am.”
Latching onto Giles’s arm more firmly, Xander dragged him toward a cab and quickly pushed him into the back seat. He joined Giles after assisting the taxi driver with the bags.
A moment’s pause and then in a tired, weary voice he replied.
“The Hyperion Hotel.”
All the previous night, Jonathon had been haunted by the conversation he’d overheard. The words had looped, playing over and over like a broken record. The remains…
He’d fought with his decision to speak up all morning, finally coming to the conclusion that if he didn’t do something, the world would be worse off for it. And that was something he couldn’t have weighing upon his consciousness.
Which is how he came to find himself standing in front of a very non-descript apartment leased to a Miss Willow Rosenberg.
Jonathon fidgeted nervously, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Knowing he had to speak up was one thing. Actually going through with it was entirely different. Fortunately, he’d prepared. Jonathon had predicted that confidence would fail him, worried that he’d back out at the last moment, so he’d written a letter. If speaking the words were not possible, delivering a message would be easier. Or so he believed in theory.
It had been twenty minutes and he’d yet to lift his hand to knock on the front door.
Knowing he had to act soon, before he was discovered by a neighbour and reported to the police for suspicious behaviour, Jonathon took a deep breath and balled his fist. He knocked once, softly.
Another deep breath for courage and he tried again, this time more successful—the knock rang out down the hallway and he was certain even the neighbours would’ve heard. Frightened by the noise, he stuffed the envelope underneath the apartment door and scurried away.
He’d done all he could do; now it was up to them.
A knock sounded on the door.
Sirk called out permission for entrance, his eyes never leaving the books before him. The turnover for the last month at The Reliquary had been quite substantial. The Senior Partners would be pleased.
“The team has been assembled, Sir.”
Satisfied with the news, Sirk finally dragged his attention to the little blonde vampire before him.
“Excellent. Send them in, I need to brief them on the details.”
With a nod the young vampiress left the office, closing the door behind her.
Placing the bookwork in one of the lockable drawers of the desk, Sirk prepared for the briefing. The last thing the Senior Partners needed was the return of a Slayer to mess up their plans, especially now when they were nearing the final phase. This Slayer would be dealt with, just like any other potential threat— swiftly.
The door to his office opened once more and the troop of Akarat Assassins filed in. They were a costly bunch but they always delivered. There were five of them: two human, one vampire, one Kungai and a Fyarl. And each was as deadly as the next.
“Gentleman, welcome.” Sirk waved them toward the free seating. “As you’re probably aware, Wolfram and Hart has hired you to deal with a little… slayer problem we have here in Sunnydale. They just don’t stay dead,” he jibed.
A couple of the assassins chuckled and Sirk smiled for a moment before his expression turned serious. “Plans have been set in motion that cannot be disrupted. The intended target is a threat to the success of said plans, hence your employment.”
Sirk reached across his desk and retrieved a manila folder, the inside of which housed a dossier on the target along with a couple of colour photographs. Standing, he walked over to the group and handed it to one of the men assembled before assuming a comfortable leaning position against his desk.
“Inside you will find all the relevant information including a physical description and a list of likely whereabouts. This Slayer has no remaining familial ties to Sunnydale but a few friends still reside within city limits, addresses of which you’ve been provided with.” He paused, eyeing the assassins as the dossier was passed from one to the other. “You will be paid ten thousand each for your troubles and a bonus fifty thousand to whomever is responsible for the extermination, on the delivery of the corpse.”
“You want the body brought back here?” one of the human’s asked.
Sirk nodded. “This is a business, gentleman, and although death is not a new thing within these walls, the identity of the target would create interest and questions. Neither of which would be appreciated. Discretion here is the key.” He considered his answer before speaking. “There’s a service entrance at the back.”
Sirk considered himself a good judge of character, demon and human alike. And he liked what he saw before him. They would deliver.
“What about the other slayer?” the vampire asked. “You want us to do her in too? I’ll gladly give you a two for one special.”
“No,” Sirk warned harshly. “She’s not to be harmed in anyway. We have plans for that one.” He waved off the interested looks with a firm stare. “The deal is for one Slayer. It’s just Ms Summers we’re after. Is that clear?”
The group nodded.
“Excellent.” Sirk folded his arms across his chest, making it clear any further discussion was finished, despite his contradicting comment. “Unless there’s any questions, you’re all free to go.”
The assassins rose from their seats to leave the establishment. “Oh,” Sirk called out. “Be sure to stop at the bar for a drink on your way out. On the house.” He smiled broadly.
Just because they were being hired for a job didn’t mean they were off limits. Having these men and creatures amongst the ‘army’ he was assembling would be quite an advantage.
The door to his office closed and once more Sirk was left in the quiet to continue with his planning.
Willow frowned, hearing the knock on her apartment door. She hadn’t expected any visitors, and the only person who might pay a visit was currently restricted by daylight. However, possible death had never been deterrent enough to keep Spike inside if he really wanted to be somewhere. She just couldn’t figure out why he would come back here, if it were even him at all. Cautiously Willow approached the door, waiting a moment to listen for noise. When she heard nothing she twisted the door handle and opened it a crack.
There was no one there.
Closing the door again, Willow removed the chain before opening it wide. Poking her head out she looked both ways. Then, by some compulsion she couldn’t explain, she looked upward. Nothing. There was no one around.
So absorbed in her search for what wasn’t there, she almost missed what was. Something on the ground at her feet. Whoever had knocked on her door and disappeared had slipped something under the door.
It was a small white envelope with her name on it.
Closing and locking the door behind her, Willow retrieved the envelope from the floor and made her way over to the sofa and sat down. Slipping her finger underneath the seal, she tore it open and unfolded the piece of paper inside. The fold was precisely down the middle and the handwriting was printed small, neat and uniform.
She began reading.
Xander was terrified.
About five minutes ago he’d broken out in a cold sweat. He was on edge, even more anxious now than he had been at the airport. Emotionally he wasn’t prepared for this. Seeing her, seeing them all again.
Xander closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath. She was going to be pissed as hell and the likelihood of her agreeing to help them was slim to none. But he had to try. For Buffy. Receiving the help and information they were going to need was riding on his ability to lay on the guilt. One thing you could say about Cordelia, she was sharp. The years since leaving Sunnydale had wizened her up. She possessed the kind of street smarts Xander had once admired in Faith.
The memory of her death replayed in his mind and Xander snapped his eyes open to wipe it away. But it was too late. It had served its purpose, reminding him of just how futile his efforts would be. He’d left when he’d promised to stay.
Cordelia won’t help; she’s going to kill me.
“That’ll be $25.70, includin’ the tip.”
The driver’s words broke through Xander’s reverie, not having noticed the car had already pulled to a stop.
“Bloody crime, that is!” Giles sputtered. “We’re not payin—”
“Giles, please,” Xander implored. Reaching for his wallet, he removed the money and paid the driver, smiling apologetically for his ‘uncle’s’ behaviour.
The pair exited the vehicle, Xander’s hand on Giles’ sleeve to stop the Brit from tumbling when his feet hit the edge of the curb, and retrieved their bags from the taxi. A moment later the car pulled away and they were left on the street in front of the Hyperion. Where—hopefully—potential help resided.
Where Cordelia was.
Taking a deep breath, Xander led Giles toward the entrance.
It was much the same inside as he remembered from a few months ago. A large ornate—and empty—lobby greeted them, with twin staircases that rose to the multitude of unused rooms. The sprawling red sofa remained off to the side, a scattering of books and paperwork suggesting someone had been busy.
Xander moved toward the reception desk, hesitantly, trying to figure out which approach would work best. Of course Giles immediately ruined his efforts at a quiet entrance, a large belch followed by a snort of laughter echoing throughout the hotel.
“Sorry,” Giles apologised loudly, to which Xander glared.
Footsteps overhead alerted them to someone approaching and both Giles and Xander turned to greet the person.
And came face to face with an enraged Cordelia Chase.
“Xander Harris, what the hell are you doing in my hotel?”
Even though the sun shone brightness and warmth down on the town of Sunnydale, Buffy still felt cold. She was like ice inside. Frozen. The changes to her hometown weren’t helping any either.
The city felt haunted. Ghostlike.
Where once children could be seen playing together, laughing, having fun, there was now silence. The play equipment had been left to rust. Wooden spears sticking out of the ground identified where park benches once stood. And the gardens were overgrown, wild.
It wasn’t just the parks that had changed either. Buffy had never seen so much destruction to property before. Cars—burnt out, houses—trashed, buildings—covered in graffiti. All of it random. One house or building or vehicle could be completely destroyed, while next door was a shining example of pristine condition. There was no sense to it, at least none that Buffy could figure out.
In the town centre it was much the same. Boarded up windows, bars, padlocks, all hinted to an unpleasant change to the daily operation of businesses. Everything was bolted or locked down. It gave Sunnydale a foreboding edge that had not existed in the past. Buffy only made it a few steps along Main Street before she turned on her heel and briskly walked away. She didn’t want to remain in a place that felt so restricted; being alive again was hard enough without the added pressure of being forced to adjust to such drastic changes.
Buffy walked mindlessly, her feet taking her toward an unknown destination, and it wasn’t until she saw the unblinking sign for The Bronze that she made a conscious choice. She paused at the mouth of the alleyway for a moment, clutching the journals close to her chest before she ventured forward.
She made her way toward the door, her hand reaching for the handle as she approached. It was locked but that didn’t stop her, a sharp twist and the metal submitted to her strength, the lock breaking.
Closing the door quietly behind her, Buffy reached for the light switch and flicked it on. Two lamps illuminated the small space. It was just as she remembered it.
Buffy inhaled sharply, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. Who would’ve thought the first place in town she felt even moderately safe in—apart from a certain set of arms she wouldn’t think about—was Angel’s old apartment.
A thick layer of dust coated every surface. It seemed to have been a long time since anyone had ventured inside. Buffy recognised a few personal effects, her eyes briefly flicking over the rumpled bed sheets. It looked exactly like it had that night. And the morning after.
Pushing the painful memories aside, Buffy moved toward the bed and climbed on top of it, scooching backward until her spine was pressed against the wall. The books were placed beside her on a dusty pillow as she curled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them tightly.
This apartment was somewhere Buffy had once felt safe; somewhere she’d felt loved. It was also the site of the worst romantic heartbreak of her young existence. It was kind of fitting that this was where she chose to unwrap the secrets to her life. She was almost afraid to do it, scared of what she might read in those pages. Giles was her mentor, her Watcher, but more significantly he was someone important to her. It was why she’d always worried about disappointing him. His acceptance and approval were essential to her, in a way none too dissimilar to that of a father daughter relationship. She may or may not have ever said it aloud, but Buffy admired and respected Giles. If on opening these journals she read of any feelings of disappointment toward her Buffy knew she would break.
But she needed to know.
Reaching for the first book, Buffy opened the cover and began to read.
Willow dropped the piece of paper and grasped for the phone, knocking it on the floor in her haste. Cursing to herself, she picked it up and pressed the call button before realising she didn’t know the number for the new watcher’s apartment. Retrieving it from directory assistance a few minutes later, Willow punched in the number, hoping it would be answered.
Her prayers were answered a few rings later, the gruff British voice on the line easily and immediately identified as Spike.
“Spike, it’s Willow,” she announced quickly. “I have some potentially not good news about Buffy.”
Willow opened her mouth to explain but was cut off by a panicked series of questions from the vampire.
“Is she in danger? Did you see her? Where’s she been? If someone’s hurt her I’m going to bloody well rip Thompson’s arms off and—”
“I haven’t seen Buffy,” Willow interrupted, a frown creasing her brow when the questions made it apparent Buffy wasn’t with Spike. “I received a letter; it was slipped under my door.”
“A letter?” Spike paused. “About Buffy?”
“Yes,” Willow confirmed, nodding as she reached for the aforementioned piece of paper again, her eyes skimming the words that were already committed to memory. “According to the anonymous tip, someone powerful in town is planning to kill her.”
There was silence on the other end of the line, followed by a thump and the echo of retreating footsteps, and Willow could only assume Spike had dropped the phone.
“Hello? Hello, Spike?”
There was some shouting in the background, threats on Spike’s behalf and calm assurances from another male voice Willow guessed was the watcher. She’d rarely spoken to the man, keeping to herself ever since Giles had left.
A throat cleared on the other end. “Ms Rosenberg, I apologise for Spike’s behaviour. He’s a little—”
“High strung?” Willow supplied.
The watcher was a little more diplomatic with his description. “…touchy, when it comes to matters regarding Ms Summers.”
A noise alerted her to Tara’s presence in the room, so Willow wrapped up the phone call quickly. “I’m afraid I have to go. I believe this threat should be considered seriously. If you wish to send someone over to retrieve the note, I’ll have it waiting.”
Without waiting for a response, Willow ended the call.
A/N: I hope you liked the chapter! Your thoughts would be much appreciated.
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