liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
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Water Hold Me Down (Part 22)

Bah. Still sick.

I had hoped to post this part Friday night, but I was too sick to even try. You'll notice no download for this part. That's because Parts 22 and 23 were meant to be one part, but they were too long to post as a single post. (I've noticed the absolute limit for a single LJ post is 25 pages. The fact I know this says something troubling about me, I think.) So, the download for the next part is actually for 22 and 23.

God. I just read the above paragraph something like five times and it still doesn't make any sense. The Dayquil and Tylenol Flu is really messing up my brain. That and the fact my body has decided that food is baaaaad. Urgh. Would like to eat something more solid than broth and tea, but not going to happen, I think.

Sooper sekrit message to ludditerobot: I haven't forgotten your download request, it's just I can't wrap my flu-addled brain around digging out the CD. I'll get '2541' to you on Monday night. Apologies for the delay.

Previous parts here.

Continued from Part 21.

 

Faith yawned and scratched her way to the kitchen for coffee before heading over to the library. Now that the threat of nightmares meant for other Slayers had gone by the wayside, she finally felt safe getting some real sleep.

She felt sort of guilty snoozing in for the entire day, but then again, she pretty much gave up on sleep after that creepy-ass Slayer dream full of dead Xanders, a dead Anya, a dead kid, and a very live bitch with her face. Nobody seemed to hold her spectacular crash against her, so that meant everyone figured she needed the shut-eye.

The kidnappers were still under guard and under lock-and-key, which meant that Tweedy hadn’t felt the need to call them in yet. Willow had waged the information war with her laptop and the Internet as her only weapons, but wiped out early, which meant she was still on the recovery list. Robin’s bookish care packages finally arrived, although everyone was taken a little bit by surprise by the sheer number of boxes.

Turned out her ex had managed to find some of the Council’s emergency stashes in Europe. He had been planning to surprise Giles with the haul, but the sitch in Cleveland meant that the pleasant surprise was now an urgent need. The end result was that the expected trickle of help ended up being a flood

As for Buffy, she pretty much spent the day helping Giles organize the boxes and playing cheerleader for both the Watcher and the witch.

All of this news was relayed to Faith by various Slayers as she wandered through the house on what she jokingly called her “I’m up and I want to be entertained patrol.” By the time she finished with her shower, getting dressed, grabbing coffee, and breaking up two minor squabbles among the baby Slayers, she was fully informed about the day’s doings.

Hunh, so that’s how Cyclops keeps track of everything, Faith thought with amusement as she sipped from her cup and made her way to the library. And here I was thinkin’ he picked up the ability to read minds.

She was halfway down the hall when Buffy poked her head out of the library doors. Upon seeing Faith, the rest of B’s body popped into view and pounced forward.

“I have to lead patrol,” Buffy began.

“Which is why yours truly is here and reporting for duty. Didn’t think I was running so late,” Faith cheerfully responded.

Buffy winced. “You’re not. I was actually going to say you’re early, which is of the good. I mean the really good. I have to get out because in there is not so good.”

Faith raised her eyebrows and didn’t say anything.

“It’s not that Giles is cranky. Well, actually, he is cranky. Cranktastic, even,” Buffy barreled forward. “A cranky Giles is not a fun Giles. Not that what we’re doing is fun, but…well, it’s less fun than it usually is.”

“You sound like Willow,” Faith commented.

“It’s been that kind of day.”

“Trouble in paradise?”

Buffy blinked at her. “Hunh?”

“You and G still bickering under the stress?” Faith clarified.

“Pfffft,” Buffy waved a hand. “That is so five minutes ago. And an hour ago. And two hours ago. And—”

“Think I got the picture, B.”

Buffy slumped. “I mean, it’s great that Robin came through with all those of books. It really is. But first we have Giles complaining that Robin could’ve at least weeded out the books that were totally not fitting our needs. Then he was complaining that the manifests were too detailed about what book was in what box. Then they were not detailed enough.”

“Oooookay,” Faith ventured.

“Yeah, meet Mr. Contradiction,” Buffy nodded. “So I kinda pointed out that he was making the sense of the not, which meant I got a lecture about how the manifests were overly detailed about the wrong information instead of the right information. So I’m like trying to point out that Robin couldn’t exactly write the kind of information we needed on the manifests because there must be something Custom-y that happens, even though he hired a firm that specializes in couriering rare antiques out of countries. And can I just mention? Those guys Robin hired? From Rome? Totally don’t trust them. Way too friendly. And Dawn’s convinced one of them pinched her ass. Which she didn’t tell me until after they were long gone, because if I knew about it, I would’ve kicked their—”

“Breathe, B. Take a breath. This ain’t hard.”

“Sorry. This is frustrated Buffy talking,” Buffy sighed. “Giles is pretty much on my last nerve. I’m afraid if it snaps, I might rip it out of me and strangle him with it.”

“I think it’s time you gave up caffeine,” Faith said as she sipped her coffee. “Tweedy is probably just overwhelmed on account of the fact that Robin scored a treasure trove instead of a pile of gold. Once it gets all organized in alphabetical order by title, or author, or however he organizes his books so he can find what he needs, it’ll be all good.”

“About that,” Buffy shuffled. “Do yourself a favor. If Giles starts complaining about how Robin should’ve weeded the books we didn’t need, do not point out that he would’ve complained even more loudly if Robin didn’t send everything he had. Because then he gets cranky. And a cranky Giles—”

“—is not a fun Giles. Heard ya the first three billion times, B,” Faith said. “Get out and go kill something. You’ll feel better.”

Buffy rolled her eyes to heaven as she turned and shouted, “Giles! I’m on patrol now. Faith’s gonna help with sorting and weeding.”

“Good!” Giles snipped back.

Buffy whispered. “See?”

“Well, this is gonna be fun,” Faith sourly responded.

Buffy threw a worried glance at the library. “About Giles. I think what Willow said got to him, but you know Giles. You’d think he’d lose that stiff upper-lippedness after all these years with me as his Slayer, but no. Try to, I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. Keep him company I guess. And try to get him to go to bed and get some sleep at some point. The last thing we need is for Giles to work himself to death.”

***

Haley wasn’t even done leaving the clearing before Xander’s mind began ticking off the things he needed to do.

First thing? He needed shelter for the night. Staying on the streets when he knew there were vampires around was asking for trouble, especially since he had a look-alike who was known to go vampire hunting. He wouldn’t be any help to anybody if he ran into the local vampire population with only two stakes to his name and no backup.

A hotel room was out. He had no credit cards and no cash. The best he could hope for was to find an empty or underused building and barricade himself in with his back to the wall. If nothing else, it would give him some breathing room so he could plan his next step.

“Waterfront,” he nodded to himself. There were always underused or abandoned warehouses on a waterfront, at least in his experience. It was his best bet to get cover for the night. Lord knows he wouldn’t be getting any sleep, but that was fine. He would at least feel relatively safe if he stayed alert. He could always catch a nap in the park during daylight hours if he needed to.

He shoved his way out of the clearing in the opposite direction from Haley’s exit, and landed on a sidewalk right in front of an older guy walking his dog. Xander wasn’t all that surprised that he practically stepped on a local. There was a very good chance that whatever hallucination or limbo dimension he was in had been created just for him. So, in his mind, it made perfect sense that when he needed to ask directions, he’d find someone who’d be able to give him those directions.

He was delighted when he was told that he’d have to go through the center of town to get to the waterfront. It increased his chances of running into a friend or acquaintance of other him and maybe getting a “loan” of some cash for “a cab.” Well, he’d have to work on the right sob story to get the dough, but the plan had the benefit of putting other him on the hook for paying it back.

Hmmmm, maybe I can promise to pay it back with Citibank-level interest, Xander thought with amusement as he cheerfully waved at the dog-walker and went on his merry way.

The town center was a good five miles away. Plenty of time to think about his situation before he got there and it was full dark. He had a vague plan to get himself tucked in safely. Now he had to figure out what to do about Haley.

Was he one hundred percent sure that everything wasn’t real? Haley felt “off” to him from the beginning. That might be a sign she was as real and as lost as he was. Of course, she could’ve felt off because she was supposed to feel off, kind of like something was shining a spotlight on her so she’d draw his attention.

So was he facing a test, maybe? Could be. Either way, Haley’s Slayerness was an unexpected element that he’d have to deal with.

“All I know for sure is that I have a young girl who’s an untrained Slayer in a town full of vampires,” Xander ticked off on his fingers. “Her mom knows about the Slayage, but is doing something to keep her off the radar. Meanwhile, her dad’s playing with fire, but is hiding the fact he’s a pyro. Can you say, ‘This is a bigger train wreck waiting to happen than I thought,’ boys and girls? I bet you can.”

Even considering that none of this was real; even considering that this was happening in a hallucination or some sort of limbo dimension where his soul was trapped, he couldn’t just let the train wreck happen. If he let this situation slide, he might as well turn in his driver’s license and change his name because he wouldn’t be him any more. Standing back and doing nothing would be the nail in his coffin.

Or maybe a second nail in his coffin. Possibly a third. God knows he pounded quite a few of them into it over the past few days, so he could be on nail one hundred for all he knew.

“Right. So. Asking me what I should do is not going to work. I know. How about, ‘What would Giles do?’” Xander asked quietly.

That was easy. Send up a flare to attract the Council’s attention, assuming the Council still existed.

Xander knew just who had the direct line.

“Well Faith, looks like this asshole is about to give you another call,” Xander nodded to himself. “Wonder how many hang-ups it’ll take on your end for me to get a message through to you that I found a Slayer.”

Xander brain screeched to a halt on that and he gave his head a hard shake to clear it.

Wait a second…Faith’s alive and I got a Slayer here.

Since Willow supposedly went off the deep end after killing Buffy and Dawn, at least according to the rules of wherever he was, Haley’s Slayer status was not the result of a spell empowering all those Potentials. In real life Willow did that and, according to everything he knew, Willow was the only one who was powerful enough to pull that spell off.

Xander began to giggle, “Well there’s an opening statement. ‘So, Faith. Did you die lately? Even for a second? Because if you did, I knew who your replacement is.’”

Sure, it’ll piss fake Faith off, but it would definitely get her attention if she was anything at all like real Faith.

Right. One call to Cleveland coming right up. He might not be able to do anything about what was happening in the real world, but he definitely could do something about this. Finally. He could make a positive difference somewhere, even if it was an illusion. Sure, it had the real potential for blowing up in his face, but if he managed to pull it off, he’d get help for Haley and for himself. The potential benefits definitely outweighed the risks.

“Oh, crap,” Xander slapped his forehead, “I just thought of something else. That call to Cleveland is going to have to be a collect call. There’s no way fake Faith is going to accept.”

There was only one way around it that he could see. He needed a cell phone. Maybe he could steal one off someone, preferably a drunk someone who might not miss it until tomorrow. Hell, while he was at it, maybe he could steal someone’s wallet and use the credit card for a hotel room for the night.

Great. He was reduced to stealing, which couldn’t possibly be a good sign for his plan. But since this wasn’t real, it didn’t really matter. No real people were going to be hurt and he, the real person, was going to benefit. Worked for him.

“Looks like I better hit a bar first.” Xander’s stride became more purposeful. “I’ve got a plan, now it’s time to bring it together.”

***

Willow cheerfully hummed off-key as she as she poured herself some tea. She paused a moment to raise her cup in a silent salute to the people watching her on the other side of the one-way, enchanted glass, and capped it off with a slight, knowing smile.

As she brought the cup to her lips and actually sipped the liquid, she seemed to radiate amusement, as if she could hear the gasps of surprise from her hidden audience.

It was impossible, of course. The wards around Willow’s cell did not allow sound to penetrate, or at least so everyone believed. In truth, no one knew for sure. For thirteen years, Willow had given very little sign she was aware of her physical surroundings or the bare stone walls of her cell.

However, they were well aware that sometimes Willow managed to break through the multitude of binding spells, all culled from every magic tradition in the known universe and some that came from other dimensions, and invade the dreams of whatever Slayer had taken her fancy.

While Cleveland-based Faith wasn’t her primary target, Faith did tend to get Willow as a ‘mind-guest’ more often than most. Why? They were unsure. The popular speculation was that Faith was someone Willow knew, although Giles highly doubted that Willow considered anyone, let alone Faith, as a even worth acknowledging as an acquaintance.

Whenever Willow’s magic trickled through the cracks, a new layer of binding spells was laid on Willow’s prison and the castle in which she was kept. Another witch or wizard was added to each shift to guard their captive. Another drug was added to the list of medications designed to keep Willow physically helpless.

Giles counted it as the one certainty in his life that all of the effort was nothing more than a temporary measure. Sooner or later Willow would again manage to break through and terrify some Slayer, thus inspiring a new round of spells, medications, and added guards. He also knew that one day the Council and the Coven would run out of tricks and everything they had put in place would simply stop working.

He knew on that day he would be forced to face the consequences of his weakness in failing to kill Willow when he had the chance and for failing to kill her for thirteen years running. He had imagined this day as a sort of Waterloo, a time when he’d take his last stand and pay for his failures. He had prepared for this day. He had in place a series of magical options, all the equivalent of setting off a nuclear bomb right over Willow’s head, ready and waiting for this day, even as he hoped it would never come.

What he never expected, not in a million years, was that when this day arrived, Willow would demand not his head, but a pot of tea and pancakes made in funny shapes. Actually, she didn’t demand the tea or pancakes, either. She asked. She said ‘please’ when she asked, and she said ‘thank you’ when her request was fulfilled.

Such politeness contrasted with her sharp physical angles, black hair, coal dark eyes, and the swirl of mystical ink tattooed into her skin, all signs that if she had half a mind she could simply take rather than request. Although Giles wondered if his eyes might be deceiving him as he watched her. Her angles were slightly rounder, her hair seemed to have red highlights in the cell’s electric light, the ink seemed to be slightly faded, and her eyes held expression instead of emptiness.

Willow picked up her plastic fork and studied it a moment. Her face scrunched, as if she was trying to remember how to use something so mundane as a fork, before she gave up and dropped it on the table. She then picked up her syrup-covered stack of pancakes in both hands and ate it like a sandwich.

“We’re rather at a loss,” Lady Haversham said. Giles could hear the tension in her voice.

“As am I,” Giles replied, not taking his eyes off Willow. “She hasn’t eaten since Buffy died.”

Lady Haversham raised an elegant eyebrow, but had the good manners not to point out that Giles’s statement might lead one to believe that Buffy fell on her own stake, as opposed to being murdered by the woman now so tightly wrapped in a magic cocoon that she couldn’t move.

Make that shouldn’t be able to move, because here was Willow moving about her cell quite freely. If anything, she carrying on as if life her life was perfectly normal and that she was eating her meal in a small bistro. It was an odd contrast to the sight of her eating that stack of pancakes with both hands in a cell that consisted of a bed, stone walls, and a hastily set-up table and chair.

“She is playing with us,” Lady Haversham finally said.

“Without a doubt,” Giles agreed. “That larger question is ‘why?’”

“My people tell me she hasn’t said anything with respect to that,” Lady Haversham said.

Giles wondered if the email from Faith and the follow-up from Kalindi were somehow related to this turn of events. The email had little detail: only that Faith had a Slayer dream that sent her to Zihuataneo, a town in California, and that Willow had invaded that dream. That email also contained a name he thought—he’d hoped—that he’d never see or hear again.

They once were close, he reminded himself. Goosebumps rose along the back of his neck with the force of near certainty. Faith going to California to help a man neither one of them would ever forgive and Willow’s sudden return to full wakefulness could not be put down to simple coincidence.

Although what Willow would possibly want with him, Giles simply didn’t know. It was beyond the realm of possibility that she still cared about him and was only acting to keep him alive.

The game was to find the answers, provided he could discover the questions that should be asked. He would have to confront Willow. It was not an idea he relished. The next move in this game of chess could spell disaster. The best he could hope for was a return to the status quo. He long ago realized that Willow returning to herself was simply never going to happen.

“Have you tried to sedate her again?” Giles tried not to think how the word ‘sedate’ couldn’t even begin to cover everything they did in the battle to keep Willow insensate.

The tension quotient in Lady Haversham’s voice increased. “She woke up this morning, despite our latest measures in light of your warning. Before you arrived, we threw everything we had at her, magically speaking. We’ve even laced the tea and pancakes with every drug in our formulary.”

Willow shoved the last of the pancakes in her mouth and stared at her sticky hands. She didn’t seem to consider the napkin placed on the table as a possible solution to her conundrum.

“Clearly it’s working as you planned,” Giles drolly remarked.

“Clearly,” Lady Haversham echoed dryly.

Giles turned and left the observation room. Lady Haversham regally followed. Although he didn’t look over his shoulder, he could imagine the woman deliberately sweeping her way past the whispered knots of worried keepers. They knew better than to look to him for answers and he could see people pause and look past him to the Coven leader. He suspected she was slightly shaking her head in the negative, to judge by the way they quickly looked away.

He supposed that it should bother him, but then again, they all knew that his Achilles’ heel resided in the heart of this castle. In his twelve years as Council head, he rebuilt the Council into something bigger, better, and more responsive to modern times than its fading predecessor. Using guile, wit, and hard-won street smarts flavored with considerable book smarts, he built a network of Slayers that functioned as a well-oiled army against the forces of darkness.

No one on this or any other sorry old world could say the Old Man lacked nerve, a spine of steel, or a heart he could harden to stone when necessary. Only very few could even suspect that a secret like Willow Rosenberg existed as a chink in his armor. His troubled past and present connection with the witch was a twisted version of Rapunzel made flesh, although he kept her locked in a stone room beneath the ground without windows instead of a tower with a commanding view of the countryside.

And he knew damn well that no white knight would be coming to her rescue, even if she had long hair made of spun gold.

The two of them didn’t speak until they left the shelter of the castle. Giles thought it very appropriate that they’d be grappling with Willow’s return to wakefulness in the darkness of the early morning hours. He wondered how much his world was going to change by the time the weak winter dawn broke over the countryside.

“Not to sound unduly harsh,” Lady Haversham began without preamble, “but this cannot be allowed to continue.”

“Agreed.”

Lady Haversham closed her eyes and sighed. “You say it, but you still will do nothing about it. Clearly your tactic to do more of the same has broken down.”

Giles did not miss the fact she was laying the whole business at his feet with the ‘you’ and ‘your.’ Although he was fully responsible, her verbal tactic still rankled. “If you believe that I have been wayward in my duties, why did you not take action yourself?”

“Promises were made. You know I cannot take action without your express say so,” Lady Haversham simply stated.

“You could’ve acted to have me replaced.”

Lady Haversham gave him a sharp look. “Aside from this unpleasant situation, you have not been remiss in your duties. I prefer the devil I know. I understand that you feel indebted to her for—”

“She allowed us to tap into her power to activate the Potentials in the hour of our greatest need,” Giles harshly interrupted. “Without her consent, that power would have been beyond our grasp. I remember those days. Do you remember? Do you remember how we kept getting defeated at every turn? I would’ve promised anything to defeat the First.”

Lady Haversham’s famous resolve wavered, although she didn’t completely back down. “I do remember. I also remember I lost half my Coven to insanity or death in the process of tapping into her power and casting that spell. Being grateful is one thing and I agree, placing a geas on all of us to spare her life until the day comes that you decide to end it, seemed a small price to pay at the time.”

Giles waited.

Lady Haversham took a breath and ploughed ahead, “I have worked with you for years to keep that promise, but I have also always believed that you’d come to your senses and end this charade.”

Giles made a disbelieving sound. Lady Haversham was being selective with the truth at best.

Lady Haversham smiled, a silent acknowledgement that she may have followed the letter of the geas, but she never did so quietly. “I believe I may as well break out the flash drive with the recording of this argument.”

Giles felt himself relax. “It isn’t that I believe you’re wrong, it’s simply that I’m loathe to lose access to her power. You can’t deny that tapping into it may have saved us all.”

“Agreed. But it was once. Twelve years ago,” Lady Haversham pointed out. “Since that time, keeping a lid on her power has progressively eaten an ever-greater portion of our resources. While it is not putting an undue strain on the Council, it is putting a tremendous strain on my people. We are bearing an unequal burden for a decision you made. The price for that access is getting too high. Furthermore, she poses a far greater threat than any benefit we can hope to possibly glean from keeping her alive. You can end this, right now, and you know it.”

Giles’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve never argued quite this forcefully before. Is there something I should know?”

The expression on the witch’s face indicated that she was, indeed, hiding something.

“Betina,” Giles pressed, “what is going on?”

Lady Haversham winced. “This is the third time in three days she’s woken up.”

“What?” Giles yelled the question. “Why was I not informed?”

Lady Haversham swallowed hard. “I made a decision—”

“—that was not yours to make,” Giles snarled. “Of all the idiot—”

“Watch yourself, Rupert,” Lady Haversham snapped.

“What the bloody hell were you thinking?” Giles demanded.

“I was looking for a way around the geas,” Lady Haversham admitted. “I had hoped to find a way to deal with this situation without informing you.”

Giles staggered back a step. He had always trusted Lady Haversham to be his strong right arm. To find out that she was willing to betray him and potentially put them all at risk of vengeance fueled by the Erinyes was a shattering blow.

“I had good reason,” Lady Haversham calmly continued. “My seers have been sensing that mystical energies have been knocked off balance. Nothing necessarily evil, mind, but the feeling that something or someone has stumbled into the web that binds all living things together and is tangling the threads of fate hopelessly beyond restoration or repair.”

Giles irritably muttered under his breath about blasted seers. “Can you be slightly more specific than funny feelings in big toes? A pricking of a thumb perhaps? A twitching of an eye? That might be marginally more useful and forgivable.”

“No. Whatever this creature is, it is not connected to anything or anyone in the web.” Lady Haversham looked troubled. “It acts more like a force of nature. For the past five days, it’s been destroying established patterns, but we are uncertain what new patterns will emerge.”

“That sounds rather destructive to me,” Giles pointed out.

“Creative destruction,” Lady Haversham sniffed, “is not the same thing as destruction.”

“But it can be equally devastating, sometimes even more so,” Giles argued. “And I have not heard any assurances that what we will get will be greatly improved over what we’ve lost should this situation continue unabated. Furthermore, I have not heard an explanation on how this connects to Willow.”

“When the seers first picked up the disturbance, we dismissed it as something minor. It was certainly on our list of things to look into, but I must admit that it was on the backburner,” Lady Haversham said. “We simply had no idea that it would turn out to be so disruptive. Whatever its initial intentions, its actions were so subtle that we didn’t realize there was a problem until it was too late to do anything about it.”

“Can you find it?” Giles interrupted.

“No,” Lady Haversham said. Giles could see she was worried. “As I explained, it is not tied into the web. It’s not connected to anything. We’ve even tried following the broken and tangled threads, at least find out where the web is the most destroyed, but the damage has rippled out so far that it defies belief. We have more than two-dozen possible ground zeros worldwide. What’s more, the number of possible ground zeroes are expanding exponentially the longer this creature is allowed to act unmolested.”

Giles fought to keep the irritation out of his voice. “When did it finally become a source of worry?”

“Three days ago,” Lady Haversham answered.

“The very same day Willow woke up the first time, I take it,” Giles said.

Lady Haversham sighed. “Yes. Which I was getting to before you interrupted.”

“Please, do go on.”

“Willow woke up laughing a mere few hours after we realized that the disturbance could pose a threat. Well, as you can imagine, the people on duty panicked. It’s one thing to prepare for the day when she would return to consciousness, it’s quite another to actually see it,” Lady Haversham continued. “She kept saying that ‘he’ was here and that she had found ‘him.’ She repeated these statements over and over. Thankfully she was so wrapped up in whatever she was seeing with her inner eye that we were able to wrestle her into bed and sedate her.”

“Him?” Giles asked.

“Him,” Lady Haversham confirmed. “She also kept repeating a word. ‘Zihuataneo.’ None of us know what it means. Although one of my people remembered hearing the word a movie, The Shawshank Redemption, in fact. But I highly doubt that there is a connection.”

“California,” Giles said numbly. “It’s also a town in Southern California. Faith is en route to that town, if not already there. She was sent there by a Slayer dream that—”

“Yes. That Willow invaded.” Lady Haversham started clenching and unclenching her hands. “Southern California is one of our possible ground zeroes.”

“Dear Lord,” Giles breathed.

“That is a lot of coincidence for a town none of us have ever heard of,” Lady Haversham agreed.

“Did you get any more information out of Willow the second time she woke up?” Giles asked.

Lady Haversham bit her lip. “The second time she woke, she sounded like she was arguing with herself. First she was laying claim to this ‘him,’ then she was demanding that we leave ‘him’ alone, then that we leave her alone, and that we leave ‘us’ alone. She kept screaming both sides of this argument and she got physically violent when we tried to calm her down. She magicked one of my people against the ceiling and let him drop.”

“Is your man all right?” Giles asked.

“Broken ribs, a broken leg, a broken arm, and a broken jaw and nose. He’ll heal, but it’ll take time. Given her abilities, it could’ve been so much worse.”

“You managed to calm her down?” Giles asked.

“That’s just it. We didn’t. She simply…she just collapsed back into her comatose state.” Lady Haversham shuddered.

“Do you believe she’s responsible for the disruption?” Giles asked.

Lady Haversham glanced back at the castle and shook her head. “Much as I would like to say yes, I don’t believe so. But I would bet quite a lot that she knows something about it.”

“Then there’s nothing for it then,” Giles said quietly.

Lady Haversham tensed.

“We’ll simply have to ask her.” Giles fixed Lady Haversham with a stern look. “Aren’t you glad that you weren’t able to find a way around the geas?”

Never one to let someone else get the last word, Lady Haversham said, “That remains to be seen.”

***

Awwwww, fuck! He’s gone!

Faith scowled at the darkening sky. It was her own damn fault. The guy was clearly a pro, and as a pro he would know to get the hell off the streets before dark with a vampire army strutting around. Hell, an army that size? She’d be thinking of calling in reinforcements. Since Junior had already proven he had brains, she didn’t blame him for doing the duck and cover. He had to know that he and an untrained Slayer was no match against that many vampires.

Let’s assume that Junior knows what he’s doing. What would be the smart thing to do?

Find shelter. That was a given. Step two would be to look for the Council. Granted, a Harris had called her, but she had no way of knowing which Harris. She couldn’t assume Junior was the panicked guy at the other end, even though she couldn’t imagine Harris finding the balls to contact her.

So, Junior could be starting with zero information, or he’d try to call Cleveland since he had tried it before.

Faith stomped angrily in a circle. Why couldn’t Junior be a little less smart and stick around? And why couldn’t she have been smarter and let Haley go home without a tail? Girl didn’t even run into a sniff of trouble. So, she wasted her time and lost her quarry.

The only good news was that there were slim pickings in the off-season on the motel front, so she had only had a couple of places to check. Tops. She debated whether she should go back and grab the car, but finally decided against it. By the time she got it and turned it around, she’d waste an awful lot of time.

Hell of a lot faster if she just run her ass through the center of town to the motels on the waterfront. If she got really lucky, maybe she’d spot him in her travels.

Continued in Part 23.

I have to crawl back to the couch now. Need to snooze.

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