Wet and Wild
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Joyce Summers followed the others up the stairs to Michael’s apartment and prayed that she would find her daughter unharmed on the other side of the door. She watched as Forest knocked and stared with wide eyes as he pulled a key from his pocket and let himself in, explaining that the Initiative had master keys to every complex on campus and most of the stores in town.
She was the last to enter the apartment and it took several seconds for her eyes to adjust when Willow found the light switch. The apartment was sparsely furnished; a chair, a table and a thirteen-inch television sat in the living room. What she could see of the floor, through the trash that was scattered all over, was filthy and she shook her head in disgust. Looking across the small area, she saw a bar that divided the kitchen from the living room and it was littered with dirty dishes and papers. Joyce saw the others go into the kitchen and begin rifling through the cabinets and drawers and she moved down a hallway to the right.
The first door was a bathroom and she stepped inside, pulling back the shower curtain just in case something was back there. She cursed herself silently when she realized that she had been expecting to find Buffy’s body curled up there; blood splashing against the white tub and tile like a bad dream. Shaking her head in disgust, Joyce left the bathroom and tried the next door.
Something coppery and rancid assaulted her nostrils the second she pushed the door open. Fumbling for a light switch, her hand connected with something slick and she flipped it on, gasping at what she saw. Bloody handprints littered the walls, some flat and perfect and others runny and splotched. She would have vomited, her stomach already tight and ready, if it were not for the tufts of blond hair she saw sticking out from behind a blanket in the corner. Everything titlted at once and she brought a hand to her mouth, silently praying.
Willing her legs to support her long enough to see if it was her daughter, Joyce pushed away from the wall she had been leaning against and made her way into the room. Her shoes sank into wet spots on the thick beige carpet, but she didn’t care about anything other than getting to the body. Gingerly, she kneeled in front of the blanket and peeled the corner back. The scream erupted from the pit of her soul and shot forth, echoing through the confines of the room.
To the people who were digging around Michael’s belongings in the other room, it was a cry of a tormented mother, but to Joyce, it was a cry of relief and compassion for some other mother who had lost a little girl. Xander arrived first and pulled Joyce away from the body, covering her face by pulling her to his chest to lead her out of the room. Anya and Forest were right behind him and Anya took one look and fled, bumping into Willow, who stumbled into the bedroom.
“What is it? Is it Buffy?” Willow stared at the room, at the blood and gore and began to cry. “No, Buffy can’t die this way. This is a human being. She fights demons, right? Right?”
Forest, still squatting beside the victim, shook his head and cleared his throat. “It’s not Buffy. It’s a little kid.”
“Why?” Willow sobbed now, having had a clear view of the tiny body. “Why would someone do that?”
Forest covered the tiny face quickly and stood, gathering Willow in his arms as he led her toward the door. “I don’t know.”
Willow wiped the tears away and stopped short, staring at a book beside the bed. Forest watched her lift in and raised an eyebrow, “What’s that?”
“It’s his journal.” She started to sit on the bed, saw the blood, and thought better of it. Taking the journal into the hallway, she flipped to the most recent entry and read it aloud. “Today is when the good guy finishes first for a change. Hearing Buffy admit that she was the one who blew up that damn school was the missing piece. That bitch is going down. Riley will be devastated when he discovers that his demon daddy has killed her and I’ll get the satisfaction of watching him go after Hal Walsh and kill him. I will be the one that tells Riley that Hal couldn’t hurt a fly if he had to. I will be the one who tells Riley that I did it all, the dead animals in the sewer, the dead bodies in the sewer, all of it. I’ll be the one to tell him that he murdered his harmless father with his own bare hands the same way Buffy murdered mine with hers. And just when he digests every bit of that and realizes what he has done, I will finish what I started and kill him.” She stopped reading and closed the book quickly. “We have to go back down there and warn Riley.”
Forest shook his head and flipped his walkie-talkie onto channel fourteen. “This is Agent Gates, come in Agent Finn, over?”
Loud static crackled over the small black device and Forest turned several knobs, trying to find a clear signal. He repeated the request several times and then sighed. “Looks like you’re right. I have to go down there.”
“No. *We* have to go.” Willow stated, matter of factly. “Safety in numbers.”
“Someone has to stay here and call the cops.” Forest looked back into the bedroom and closed the door slowly. “I can’t believe he did that. That’s the fourth girl in the paper. Two blondes and two brunettes were missing. Buffy found the two brunettes and one little blond was dead in the sewer. He took the other. God, Willow, I know him. I- he’s been there since the beginning for me.”
“Sometimes you don’t know a person at all.” Willow offered, squeezing his hand lightly. “And even when you do know someone, you only know what they let you know. Everyone has secrets.” She glanced back at the closed door and shuddered slightly. “But not all secrets are homicidal maniac secrets.”
"It doesn't feel real."
"I know." Willow hugged him lightly and added, "But it is real and we're real and the threat that he is posing to Buffy and Riley is real. Later, we can try to figure out why he would do it, but for now, we have to stop him from doing more and we *can*."
“Thank you, Willow.” Forest smiled slightly and looked at their locked hands, one dark and one milky white, that fit together perfectly. "You're amazing."
Anya walked from the bathroom carrying a wet cloth and Willow and Forest followed her back into the living room. Anya handed the cloth to Joyce and kneeled beside her, patting her on the leg. Willow’s heart broke for the woman, who had obviously thought it was Buffy. She cleared her throat softly and said, “Someone needs to stay here and call the police while the others go down into the sewer to warn Riley.” She held up the journal and reread the entry out loud. “Riley is bound to walk straight into the trap.”
"All he sees is Buffy. If he thinks that Hal Walsh did something to her then he'll kill him." Forest shoved the journal into a backpack and waited for someone to volunteer to stay.
Joyce blotted her face and said, “I’ll stay here. You kids go on and help Buffy.”
Anya watched Joyce closely, wishing she could remember what it felt like to have a mother’s love. Xander’s mother didn’t pay her much attention and could usually be found drinking something straight from a bottle and smoking cigarettes. Joyce was the only thing that came close to being a mother to any of the people she knew and she liked that. “I’ll stay here with Buffy’s mother. Xander, you go and help those two find Buffy and we’ll take care of things here.”
Xander’s eyes widened and he smiled a little, not used to seeing her be so helpful or concerned for anything other than her sex life. “Anya, that’s very sweet of you.”
“Well, reward me with an orgasm later.” Anya shrugged a little and turned her attention back toward Joyce. “Can I get you anything?”
Willow and Forest headed for the door and exited quickly. Xander paused and looked back at Anya, who was still tending to Joyce, and smiled. She had said ‘orgasm’ and that wasn’t slang.
But she was the most desirable woman he had ever seen right then.
Angel scanned the tunnel and sniffed the air again. He had picked up the scent of human blood a few minutes before and it was stronger now. “I smell blood. Human blood.”
“I used to be able to smell blood.” Spike announced loudly, directing his attention to Riley when he spoke. “I guess it’s a good thing that we brought our trusty hound along, huh, Soldier Boy? I like to call the old dog Peaches, but if you want to call him Angel, you can.”
Angel glared at Spike for several seconds and shook his head. “You know, you didn’t just become part human, you regressed to a child.”
“That’s what happens when half-wit poofs like you try to play mad scientist. You don’t know how to make something human so it’s all your fault. Therefore, you deserve every single thing that I-“ He paused and sniffed the air as well. “smell dinner.”
“You can smell the blood?” Angel asked.
“No, I smell … “ Spike sniffed deeply and then spotted the McDonald’s bag that was lying directly under a sewer vent. “Fries!”
Angel stopped him from snatching the bag and pushed him away. “That’s disgusting. You are not eating sewer food.”
“You ate sewer rats, didn’t you?” Spike’s stomach growled deeply and he groaned. “I’m going to faint from starvation.”
Riley sighed loudly and continued down the tunnel, wishing that he had sent the two vampires with Forest. Because of their incessant ramblings, he had not been able to think enough about what Buffy had done to him. She used him and that was as obvious as the nose on his face. She had pretended to be interested in him just so she could get inside the Initiative and get Spike out. Willow had indicated that they had been able to access the Initiative’s files for quite some time, so Buffy probably knew all along who he was and what they were doing. What hurt the most though, was the fact that she had gone out anyway, putting herself in mortal danger after he had begged her not to.
“Are you listening, man?” Spike punched Riley on the arm. “Angel says the blood smell is stronger here.”
Angel nodded in agreement and said, “I think that whoever it is that is bleeding is right around that corner.”
“Is it Buffy?” Spike asked, watching his sire’s face closely.
“No.” Shaking his head, Angel stood straighter. “I smelled her blood just a little back there, but this person’s is different.”
Riley stopped walking completely and turned. “How can you tell Buffy’s blood from any other human’s blood?”
“It’s richer, sweeter.” Angel shrugged a little and brushed past him, not wanting to let him know that it tasted the same way it smelled. It wasn't something that he was likely to ever forget and the guilt of how much he enjoyed it caused the demon inside of him to subside and his features became normal again.
“He thinks he’s a fucking connoisseur.” Spike said dryly and began to speak with a French accent, holding up his hands to show that he was imitating wine tasters. “This blood is circa eighteen years. Aged to legal, but just sweet enough to give you the feeling that she’s still a minor. We call it Slayer and you can’t afford it because it’s priceless.”
“Can you shut up?” Riley shouted. “Just for five minutes could you not talk?”
“Am I annoying you?” Spike asked seriously.
“Then no, I can’t be quiet. Being an annoyance to you is the only thing that is keeping me going right now, soldier boy. Sort of like the way you and your friends annoyed me non stop for the past few days. And while we are on the topic of annoying, let me be the first to tell you how annoying it is to get a pain through your head everytime you try to eat something. Let me tell you how annoying it is to be shot with some kind of laser and while I'm still on a theme, let me tell you how annoying it is to be chained to a wall when you are dying.”
"Are you finished?" Riley asked.
"I'm sure I can think of more." Spike began walking when he realized that Angel had ignored them and was several feet ahead of them. "But I'll tell you those later."
Angel was the first to make it around the corner and he squinted, staring at the figure that was lying against the wall. As he watched, one of the person ’s arms shot out and he heard a slight groan. He glanced behind him and said, “Whoever it is, they’re alive.”
Riley broke into a run and arrived in time to see Michael pulling the pin on a grenade. Riley wrestled it free and shoved the pin back into place, then slammed his sneaker into Michael’s side. He cringed when his foot was met with no resistance and the broken ribs gave under the pressure, sinking inward. “Where is Buffy?”
“You know where she is.” Michael rasped, clutching his side while he coughed up blood. “What do you think did this to me?”
“Buffy whipped your ass, huh?” Spike smiled and kicked the boy in the groin. “I guess your private party turned out to be a real pain.”
Wheezing and gagging, Michael gripped his testicles and rolled away. Angel shook his head when Riley and Spike both started to kick again. “He’s almost dead. You want answers, you let me handle it.”
Spike looked at Riley and said, “Angel has to be the hero. He always has to be the hero.”
Angel gripped Michael by the front of the shirt and propped him against the wall. The boy looked at him through glassy eyes and sneered, “I’m not telling you a fucking thing.”
Angel’s face morphed and he saw the way that the boy recoiled, terror replacing the hatred that had laced his features. Smiling and baring his fangs, Angel said, “You will tell me what I want to know. See, there is this code among vampires and basically, it means that when I sire you, you do what I say, when I say. You’ll be a vampire, but you’ll tell me everything I want to know before I stake you.” He gripped the boy’s hair and tilted his head to one side, whispering, “I hope you won’t miss your reflection too much.”
“No!” Michael screamed, struggling against the vampire. “I’ll talk.”
Angel sat back on his heel, but kept his fingers in the boy’s hair, indicating that he would strike as soon as the boy said the wrong thing. “Go on.”
“I brought her here. She woke up right here and started asking me why she couldn’t walk and I explained that I had given her a shot that would paralyze her.” He heard the vampire begin to growl and began to speak quicker. “But it would have worn off. I wasn’t going to hurt her. I wanted to scare her, scare Riley. I was just going to keep her here for a couple of hours, but she wasn’t supposed to wake up and see me. I- I was mad at him.” He lifted a weak hand and pointed at Riley. “It wasn’t supposed to get her hurt.”
“Where is she?” Angel demanded, yanking the handful of hair and slamming the boy’s head against the wall.
Michael yelped loudly. “We were sitting here talking and she seemed okay with it, y’know? She was telling me that Riley would probably treat her like a queen when we went back up top and that she would probably thank me for it later. Then, then-“ He forced himself to get emotional, hoping that they would buy his story. “Then she screamed and I looked behind me and Hal Walsh was standing there, slobbering at the mouth and growling, and oozing pus and goo. I didn’t have time to help her. I didn’t have time to do anything because he grabbed me around the throat and threw me here. I got knocked out and when I woke up, she was gone.”
Angel studied the man’s face and smiled a little. “That was a chilling account of what happened. So chilling, in fact, that you forgot one small detail.”
Spike chuckled and stared over Angel’s shoulder at the boy. “You forgot the part where she saw you before you shot her; the part where you called her a bitch in heat and threatened her. If she wasn’t supposed to know it was you, then why’d you do that?”
Michael looked from one to the other and swallowed hard. They were going to kill him and the emotion that bubbled forth at the moment was not forced, the tears that were streaming were real. “I-I figured that she wouldn’t remember that.”
“He’s lying.” Riley said, shaking his head. “He knows that the targets are fully aware of being shot and what happens to them for at least a few seconds afterwards.”
Angel nodded at Riley and turned back to the man who had harmed Buffy. “So, I listened to you and now you get to listen to me. I’m going to tell you what I think happened. You don’t like Riley. From what I’ve been told, you have a grudge against him for something he had no control over. Riley likes Buffy so you decide to make a play for her and considering that she has taste, she rejected you. Am I getting warm?” He paused and smiled when Michael moved his gaze away. “Yes, I’m very warm. You can’t take rejection, can you?”
“You go to hell.” Michael said quietly. "The whole Initiative will be going to hell in a few more hours."
Angel was recalling everything that Riley had told them about Michael. He hated Riley because his father had been blown up in the Sunnydale High explosion. Playing the trump card, the boy’s father, Angel cleared his throat. “I bet your father rejected you. I bet you couldn’t do anything like Riley could. I bet your father compared you to Riley, telling you that Hal Walsh was lucky to have a son like Riley.” The boy tugged back, trying to get away from Angel. “Oh, I’m getting very hot now. You grew up being compared to Riley and the only thing you had that he didn’t, was you father and your father liked him more. Then one day, BANG, your father is gone and then here comes Riley with something else you don’t have; a beautiful girlfriend and you try to get her away, but she’s not having it. She rejects you just like your father. I’m so hot, I’m burning you.”
Michael looked past Angel and glared at Riley. “You always had to be the best. I scored the highest on the rock climbing and you practiced for weeks and slammed me. You got to lead team one and go aboveground and live a life and I got stuck down here leading my team in the sewers. Everything you do sets the standard and we are expected to live up to it just because you were Hal’s son. Well, Hal’s gone, little man. And he’s got your lover.”
“Lover?” Spike narrowed his eyes and glanced at the boy. “You don’t know that they were lovers.”
“Bullshit. They took showers together and would sneak into the empty rooms for half an hour. Don’t tell me that they were just talking.” Michael smiled and lowered his voice. “And the locker room talk that our man Finn here was providing was more than enough. Seems Buffy got around to Parker and him. So, now you see why I thought I had a chance. She’s not famous for her taste in men.”
Riley pushed Angel out of the way and slapped Michael across the face. “You don’t talk about her.”
“It sure sounds like you did.” Spike shouted, shoving Riley as hard as he could and laughing when he fell onto his side.
Michael beamed, satisfied that he had caused as much trouble as he could have. Angel saw the smile and pointed at him. “Knock it off, you two. Stop giving him what he wants.”
Riley got back to his feet and said, “What do we do now? If my – if this thing does have her then there is a chance she isn’t even alive now.”
“You think we should just give up?” Angel asked, shaking his head in response.
"I don't know what to do, okay?" Riley snapped.
"It won't matter soon. The Initiative is going to be blown to smitherenes." Michael chuckled and grinned with contentment.
"You did this?" Kneeling beside the boy, Riley glared at Michael. "You started Code Blue?"
"That's the one thing I can do that you can't do better or stop." Michael spit at him, his blood and saliva covering Riley's face.
"Can I hurt him now?" Spike asked, trying to be inconspicuous as he stepped on Michael’s hand and twisted his boot around, snapping the boy’s fingers.
Michael screamed and Angel slammed his head back again, knocking him unconscious. “How do we kill this thing that has Buffy?”
“There is no we.” Riley looked at the bag beside Michael, the standard gear that was issued to the commandos, and picked it up, wiping his face as he did. “This thing is mine.”
Buffy figured that she must have become a fool in the past few hours. Hal had led her out of the sewer and into a makeshift system that he had carved through the earth himself. He had explained that in ten years, he was able to create his own underground network by burrowing through the soil. Apparently, his system followed the Initiative’s system and he had access to different areas that had been left open for future renovations. With a lot of coaxing, she had followed him, sliding on her stomach through the mud down the narrow paths he had created.
Buffy grimaced when her hand sunk into yet another slimy crevice and said, “What was so wrong about going the way I came in?”
Hal was a few feet ahead of her and he paused, glancing back at her. “Do you want to get caught or do you want to get in and get it done?”
“I don’t think we’re going to get in, Hal. We’re in dirt. We’re surrounded by dirt that could very easily cave in on us and smother us both.” She inched slowly upward and stopped then her head bumped against his backside. “And could you warn me when you’re stopping? You may be able to see in the dark, but I can’t.”
“Do you always talk so much?” Hal began crawling and smiled a little.
“Yes. Why?” Buffy felt him move again and followed. Every so often, she would catch a glimpse of his red eyes when he looked back to check on her, and every time, she would look away. It was so hard to fathom that this man, who, in the complete darkness was no different than any other man, was so deformed and demonic in the light. “I talk all the time, but I listen too.”
“Riley’s very lucky to have someone who talks to him.”
“Everyone talks to him.”
“No, he’s never had a woman who really talks to him. His mother, for the thirteen years that I was in his life, never had much time to say anything to him. She was actually pretty mean to him.” Hal’s eyes glowed brighter and he locked in on the entrance that he had exposed a few years before. “We’re almost there.”
Buffy breathed a small sigh of relief and pulled herself along, ignoring how gooey the earth was as she slid behind him, “So, why does he stay with Maggie? Why doesn’t he go back to Iowa?”
“I’d imagine she has used all her famous techniques to get him to stay. Guilt, threats, tears, you name it. He loved her back then and I’m sure he loves her now, but the life she has given him isn’t what he has chosen. He was never given the option to choose.” He paused and leaned to one side so he could look back at Buffy. “I’d also be willing to bet that he wasn’t remotely happy until you came along.”
Buffy blushed a little, feeling his eyes on her. Riley had definitely seemed happy with her and that made it even more complicated. “I guess. So, are we going to just stay here until we run out of oxygen and I die or are we there yet.”
“We’re there.” He kept his eyes on her and spoke quickly. “When I open this doorway, we are going to jump straight down and immediately break to the right. There will be lights on and we’re going to go into the first door on the left and clean up some. There will be supplies in that room.”
“How do you know?” Buffy asked skeptically.
“I designed this facility from the floor up. I’ve made it my mission to spend countless hours sitting in these tunnels listening for them to alter anything. They haven’t. I’ve heard them changing things further up, but I still hear the same squeaky door opening and shutting in the room we’re going to.”
“And what if you’re wrong?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Buffy sighed. “You know, I’m all for putting my ass on the line to save the world, but these people are pretty famous for mutating other people and I went through this once. I killed this thing, got an aspect of it, and went around for days worrying that I would grow a tail or horns. I’m not itching to piss them off and, no offense, have them give me a rash that a dermatologist can’t cure.”
“Listen, Buffy.” Hal reached down and gripped her hand with his. “I know that you’re scared. I understand that completely, but I will not let one thing happen to you. Do you trust me?”
“Yeah.” She replied weakly, but honestly.
“Then I want you to keep that in mind, no matter what you see me do, I want you to keep in mind that *you* trust me and *I* trust you and I won’t do anything to hurt *you*.”
“Is this your way of telling me that you might hurt someone else?”
“Yes.” Hal squeezed her hand gently and pulled away, turning the handle on the doorway. “In ten years, my grudge has only gotten stronger. And so have I.”
Angel shook the unconscious boy with the toe of his boot and shoved his hands into his duster. He doubted that the boy would ever wake up. The amount of blood he had coughed up was terrifying and he had not appeared able to move his lower body. Irony, to say the least, considering that he had given Buffy something to paralyze her. Angel nudged Michael again and turned to look at Riley. “Any idea where your father would take her?”
Riley narrowed his eyes, deep in thought, then shook his head. “I have no idea. We’ve covered every single inch of the sewer and have never been able to find out where he stays. We’ve used every flushing maneuver that is within our capabilities and had not luck.”
“And that translates into no, which would have been quick, simple, and to the point.” Spike shrugged when both men glared at him and stared down the tunnel. He nudged Angel with his elbow and asked, “Can’t you pick up her trail? She’s bleedin’ and she’s wearing that vanilla musky stuff.”
“No, Spike. I can’t just pick up her trail. We’re ankle deep in stagnant water and decay so that’s a little more powerful.” Angel scratched the side of his head and pointed the way they had been going. “We’ll keep going that way and if we don’t find something soon, we’ll go back and see how the others have done.”
“I used to be able to smell one drop of blood on a pile of shit.” Spike announced, cracking his knuckles and glaring at Angel. “I was the baddest damn vampire who ever lived, until you came along and worked some kind of weird mojo on me.”
Angel rolled his eyes heavenward. “What kind of vampire goes around smelling shit to see if it has blood in it?”
Riley laughed and Spike shot him a hateful look before he lifted his chin defiantly. “I didn’t go around doing that, you bleedin’ wanker. It was a metaphor. It was me saying that when I was a real vampire, I could have smelled her down here. I was insulting you.”
Riley chuckled again and brushed past the blond. “I think, Spike, that it’s better that you don’t insult yourself in the process.”
“And don’t try to insult me either.” Angel smiled a little. “A shit smelling vampire has no room to talk about anyone else’s sniffing habits.”
Spike growled, but it sounded more like a belch. Crossing his arms angrily, he leaned against the far wall and shook his head. “Yeah, go ahead. Get a laugh at my expense. We’ll see who is laughing when we find Buffy and she comes running to –me-.“
Riley’s jaw clenched tightly, causing it to pop loudly. Turning away from Spike, who was enjoying his reaction, he stared down at Michael. “What should we do with him?”
Angel leaned down and felt the boy’s pulse. “He’s still alive, but it’s weak. I don’t think we have to worry about him.”
“He’s a doctor now.” Spike mumbled, flicking specks of dirt off of his coat. “Hey, doctor? Can you figure out what this big poofy pain in my ass is? It’s Angel shaped.”
The two men ignored Spike, speaking only to one another. It was decided that they would take the weapons and bags that Michael had, as well as anything else on his person, just in case he regained consciousness or anyone stumbled onto him. Spike watched them dig through his pockets and shove everything into a larger backpack. He grew interested when a large red key came out from beneath the collar of Michael’s shirt. Moving swiftly, he wrenched it free from the chain that it was hanging from and held it up. “What’s this?”
Riley turned and stood, eyeing the key in Spike’s hand. “I don’t believe it.”
“What?” Angel had shoved the rest of Michael’s belongings into the pack and stood, slinging it over his shoulder. “What is it?”
Taking the key from Spike, Riley smiled. “It’s the break we need. This is a passkey for the entire Initiative. I’ll be able to override the codes with this and it won’t blow up.”
“What are we waiting for then?” Angel asked, stalking back the way they had come.
Spike watched Riley jog after him and shook his head in disbelief. “Who found the soddin’ key? Who is responsible for saving the Init- wait a goddamn minute! Hey!” He trotted after the other two, waving his arms. “Hey, I don’t want to save that hell hole! Do you hear me? Finders, keepers, you bitches! Give me that key back and let the place look like an atom bomb hit it! Hey! I’m talking here!”
Buffy peeked through the mini-blinds, glancing left to right. They had been inside long enough for her to change out of her wet clothes and into a size extra-small set of surgical scrubs. When she had asked why there were scrubs, Hal had stared at her in shock and asked her how long she had been with the Initiative. When she explained that this was her first week, he told her that the Initiative employed real surgeons and real pathologists to work on the Hostiles and they had basic uniforms.
Scratching a little, Buffy grumbled about the material and whispered, “I think it’s clear. I haven’t seen anyone for a while.” She squinted to see him in the dim light and moved to stand behind him, staring over his shoulder where he was crouched over the floor. “Hal, what are you doing?”
Hal used a long, curved fingernail to pry up a piece of the floor, exposing a small armory, and held a pistol up. Buffy took it tentatively and immediately laid it on the counter. “That’s not a laser gun.”
“Would you prefer a laser gun?”
“I don’t kill people, Hal. I won’t kill anyone in here.” She moved around and squatted beside him. “And you can’t either. It’s wrong. You’re still a human on the inside and the guilt that you would have-“
“Guilt?” Hal stopped what he was doing and looked at her. “Buffy, guilt is something that I live with every day of my life. I’ve seen what these people can do, what they have done, and I helped make it possible by providing the base plans and layout and programs. Sweetheart, I am willing to do whatever it takes to bring it down.”
“Then why not let it blow up?”
“I have already told you.” Hal squeezed her leg and handed her a laser gun, flipping it on to make sure it was charged. “I need time to cure myself. My cure relies on my ability to overpower these people, take control, and treat myself. I am still human on the inside, Buffy. And it’s the human in me that longs to come out at any cost."
Buffy eyed the laser gun and sighed. “This won’t kill a human, right? They shot me and I ached all over, but I’m a Slayer. What will it do to them?”
“Knock them out for about two days.” Hal stood and motioned for her to check the window again. As soon as she turned, he shoved a loaded pistol into his bag and quickly closed it. “I’m so damned clumsy and large that I’ll pull the blinds down.”
Moving slowly and dreading what was bound to come, she got to her feet and scanned out the window again. “It’s still clear. Do we have a plan?”
“Open the door, go down the hall, shoot everyone that moves, stop the Code Blue, find my cure.” Hal shrugged.
It was funny to watch such a grotesquely deformed demon have such human mannerisms, but the knot in Buffy’s stomach prevented her from giggling. She opened the door and stepped out, tightening her hands around the cold metal of the gun. Her finger rested lightly against the trigger as she made her way down the hallway. She remembered something suddenly and stopped, turning to look up at Hal. “Up in the infirmary, they have these people under quarantine. I’ll help you all the way through this, if you’ll help them.”
"Quarantine? That's a lie. That's a really old lie. I uncovered the truth about what they do to the people in quarantine and look what happened to me. They use people, test victims, to see how people become demons or how certain demons kill them. They make monsters, allow it to happen.” Hal shook his head, not believing that Maggie was still telling herself that it was okay to sacrifice humans for her cause. “I won’t let there be another victim to their madness.”
"Thank you." Buffy began walking again; relieved that Hal was carrying a laser gun instead of the pistol he had earlier. The target loomed dead ahead, the main control unit, and she swallowed hard when she heard voices. She heard Hal whispering for her to do it and she moved fast, rounding the corner. Four men walked toward her and she zapped them all, holding down the trigger and moving from one to the other. Within seconds, the coast was clear and Hal came in behind her and handed her a bright red key.
“Now, you have to listen carefully to me. My hands are too crippled to do this, but you can.” Hal motioned at one of the larger machines and said, “Take that key and insert it right under the blue light.” He watched her do as he said and nodded when a panel opened. “Now, pull the key out and type in MAGGIE1970.” Holding his breath, he watched the blue light stop blinking and exhaled loudly. “Good girl. Now, there’s a compartment just off to the left of the keypad there. Pull it open and take out the small toolbox.”
Buffy could feel a line of sweat on her forehead and realized that she was only seconds away from a full-blown panic attack. Her hands shook uncontrollably as she retrieved the tool kit. “Got it.”
“Come here and open it. Let me see.” Hal stared down at the kit in her hand when she pulled it open and smiled. “That’s what we needed. Take the screwdriver out and unscrew the handle.” He put a hand on her shoulder when he saw how hard she was shaking and then tilted her head up to face him. “Don’t be scared.”
Buffy was about to relax when she heard more voices. She grabbed her gun and squatted, taking aim over the tabletop at the corner aisle. Two men walked through and she zapped them, sending them flying back into the hall out of sight. “Don’t be scared? We’re going to get caught, Hal. In case you missed it, this thing is kind of loud.”
“We only have fifteen minutes, Buffy.” He motioned for her again and said, “Now, unscrew the handle and pull out the chain.”
She did as she was told and gripped a chain in her hand, eyeing the tiny gold star on the end. “What’s this?”
“It’s the main key. Get the tool kit and follow me.”
Grabbing her gun and the kit, she moved fast behind Hal toward another room that had an Authorized Personnel Only sign on the door. He used the passkey on the door, pushed it open and motioned her inside. Buffy’s legs went weak when she saw what was inside the room. Wall to wall explosives lines the room and right in the middle of the floor was a round canister with a large clock. It was currently at ten minutes.
“I thought you said that it had several hours from Code Blue.”
“The minute you put the passkey in the mainframe, it starts counting at fifteen minutes.” Hal lumbered toward the bomb and leaned down low, staring at the assorted wires. “Ten damn years and it’s still the same.”
“Is that good?” Buffy fidgeted, staring at the bomb. “Cause I’m seriously having a Wile E. Coyote moment here. You know, where he uses the Acme bomb and gets himself blown up?"
“Wile E. wasn’t a real super genius. I am. All I need is for you to be my hands.”
“Get the screwdriver out of there again and come here.”
Buffy set the kit in the floor, digging through it and then whimpered a little. “We left it out there.”
“Dammit.” Hal growled. “Run get it. I’ve got you covered.”
There were a million things she wanted to say to argue why she shouldn’t run get it. Instead, she nodded softly and cracked the door open. Slipping out quietly, she made a mad dash for the main frame and grabbed the screwdriver. A man in a long white coat chose that moment to come around the sidewall. He stopped walking when he saw her and looked at her closely.
“Hi.” Buffy fidgeted a little, slapping the screwdriver into the palm of her hand. “You’re probably wondering what I’m doing down here, right?”
“Yes.” The man walked closer to her and stared down at her. “You’re Agent Summers, yes?”
“Yep, that’s me.” She dared a glance toward the door and could see Hal peeking out. When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to blast the man, she continued talking. “I’m down here because I forgot my purse earlier and— “
“How did you get in?”
“How did I … uhm … Michael let me in. He’s around here someplace.” Buffy chewed her lower lip and glanced back toward the room. Hal stuck his hand out and motioned for her to hurry up.
“I better call Maggie and let her know you’re here.” The man pulled a walkie-talkie from his pocket and started to speak.
Buffy did the only thing she could think of and knocked the gadget from his hand. He stared at her in shock and she gritted her teeth, punching him as hard as she could. His head rocked back and he fell to the floor. Buffy waited long enough to see that he wasn’t getting up and ran back to the room. Once inside, she turned to glare at Hal. “I thought you had my back.”
“I couldn’t get my finger to fit into the trigger hole.” Hal pushed her toward the canister and said, “Unscrew the back panel.”
Buffy took one look at the clock and decided not to argue. It was at six minutes. She took deep breaths as she worked the screws out and lifted the piece of metal that housed several different colored wires. Hal immediately handed her the wire cutters and squatted behind her. Resting his hand on her shoulder, he gently said, “We’re going to take this nice and slow. We have two wires to cut and five minutes to make sure we do it right.”
“Okay, push that thick black wire to the side and reach around it. Really carefully, and not touching the metal screws on the timer, lift them up.”
“What happens if I touch the metal screws?” Licking her lips, Buffy dared a glance over her shoulder at him.
“Just don’t and we won’t have to worry about it.”
“I don’t like this. I don’t this in movies where the idiot bomb squad guy goes to do this and I don’t like it now.”
“On the bright side, the next time you see a movie like this, you’ll be able to really feel what the actor is trying to express.”
“I also don’t like your logic.” Buffy turned back to the bomb and flexed her fingers. Moving slowly, she pushed the black wire out of the way and steadied herself on her toes before reaching around the timer and tugging on the pile of wires.
“Steady now.” Hal kept his eyes on her tiny hand and nodded. “That’s it. Just push the bundle of wires to the left and pull it upward.”
Buffy’s heart felt like it was going to pound out of her chest. She could feel the blood pumping furiously through her veins and was almost afraid to breathe. The wires did not want to cooperate. “I have to pull harder.”
“Know your own strength, Slayer. If you yank any of them loose, that’s it.”
Closing her eyes, Buffy recalled the day that Spike had been taken and the way she had ripped the pipes out from under Giles’s sink accidentally. Her hand moved on it’s own and she followed the path of the wires, feeling where they were hung beneath a metal rod. She worked it out from around it and the wires fell freely from the side of the canister.
“Good job.” Hal stretched up and looked at the clock. “Three minutes.”
“Which ones do I cut?” Buffy began to count backwards from sixty, trying to estimate the seconds.
"First, put the star shaped key into the timer pad, right there." He waited and watched as she pulled the star off the chain and secured it in place. "Now, press it."
Buffy did as she was told and gasped when a new panel opened in the back of the room, exposing a computer. "I hate this place. Hidden doors, wall to wall demons, bombs and now computers that appear out of nowhere."
"Concentrate." Hal squinted and stared at the wires. “I think it’s the yellow one first.”
“You think!?” Buffy cried, putting a hand over her face. “Hal, don’t think. Know!”
“You’re going to have to peel back the coating on the yellow one and let me see what color the wire is.”
“Oh god!” Buffy lifted the wire cutters and clamped them onto the wire, in the circular part made for peeling the coating. "I hate this! It's so dramatic!"
“Don’t sever it!” Hal shouted.
Buffy jumped and almost squeezed her fist down on the handle. “Will you not do that?”
She gently sliced into the coating and peeling it away, revealing a silver wire. “Silver.”
“Cut it! Quick!”
Buffy moved the wire forward and quickly sliced it into. The bomb beeped and Hal said, “Now, clip the blue one.”
“Which blue one?” She pulled up two blue wires and waited.
“The darker one, I hope.”
“You’re doing this on purpose.” Her hand was shaking again as she placed the cutters on the dark blue wire. Closing her eyes and dragging in a deep breath, just in case it was her last, Buffy clipped the wire and moved away, slumping against Hal. “Are we dead yet?”
“No. Not yet.” Hal helped her to her feet and pointed at the back of the room. “We aren’t done though.”
“We have to override this computer.”
A new voice spoke from behind them. “You will not be going near the computer, Hal.”
Hal turned and stared at the woman in the doorway. “Maggie, it’s been a long time.”
“Not nearly long enough.” Maggie repositioned the laser gun in her arms and looked at Buffy. “Agent Summers, I hereby order you to step away from the Hostile.”
“Order me?” Stepping to the right, Buffy put herself between Maggie and Hal. “It is a general rule with me not to take orders from people that I can’t trust.”
“I don’t know what he has told you, but he is a monster, Buffy.” Walsh stared at the girl.
“No, the monster has a laser gun.” Buffy moved like lightning, throwing the wire cutters in her hand and striking Maggie in the wrist.
Maggie shrieked and dropped her gun, cradling her wounded hand. Buffy grabbed the passkey and moved to the computer in the back of the room, shouting, “Is it the same password?”
“Maggie1970.” Hal nodded and focused on Maggie, who was leaning against the wall. “Isn’t that ironic? I loved you enough to make the year we were married the password.”
Buffy tuned them out and quickly inserted the key and typed in the number. When the blue light stopped blinking, she turned away with a smile on her face. The smile faded quickly when she saw Maggie suspended in the air and blue in the face; her throat clutched in Hal’s hand. “Hal, no!”
Hal turned to look at her and held up his free hand. “Don’t try to stop me.”
Biting back tears, Buffy moved forward. “You can’t! Hal, that’s still Riley’ s mother and he loves her. This is wrong.”
Hal regarded the small Slayer for several seconds and dropped Maggie on the ground. “Thanks a lot. Did I ruin the dramatic climax of the bomb cutting for you?”
Maggie wheezed and stumbled to her feet. Buffy moved to help her, but the woman pushed her away and started out the door. She stopped abruptly and spun, holding a pistol in her hand. Hal’s eyes widened and he shoved Buffy behind him, taking every shot she fired in his chest.
Riley stopped inside the chamber and gasped. They were back where they had started and he had been about to climb the ladder into the lab when shots rang out. “That was gunfire.”
Spike, who was busy glaring at the Marah demon that had caused him to become a half-breed, nodded absently. “You’re so perceptive.”
Angel chuffed the blonde on the back of the head and followed Riley up the ladder quickly. Spike shook his head and stared at the Marah demon. “My sire, or whatever the hell I’d call him now, is an idiot. He just went straight into that death trap.”
The Marah demon made a croaking sound and slumped forward. Spike tapped it on the head and then kicked it in the leg. “You’re dead? I guess it’s all a death trap, but if you don’t mind, I’ll take my chances here.” He sat down in the tunnel and waited, for what he wasn’t sure.
Angel and Riley rushed down a corridor that opened into a larger area and Angel paused, drinking in the sights around him. He stumbled when he realized that he had walked straight into the anti-vampire lab that had poisoned Spike. Reeling dizzily, he shook his head and followed after Riley, hoping that the boy would keep his partners off of him if it came down to it.
Riley saw Maggie back out of one of the restricted rooms, firing a pistol at something and he shouted, “Mom!”
Maggie heard her son’s voice and spun, not thinking about the danger behind her. As soon as she had averted her gaze, Hal was on her again, snatching the gun and tossing it aside. His big hand gripped the back of her coat and he held her off the ground again, intent on finding a cell to put her in.
Riley froze when realized what the demon was and shook his head. “No.”
Buffy was behind Hal and stepped to the side, trying to see how badly he was hurt. She rested one hand on his chest, eyeing the blood and looked up at him. “Hal, are you okay?”
“Buffy!” Angel cried, starting toward her.
Riley blocked him and shook his head. “She’s been exposed.”
Maggie nodded, an idea forming as she heard what Riley said. “Riley, Buffy’s gone. This thing killed her and reanimated her. She came here to try to kill me.”
“That’s a lie.” Buffy turned away from Hal, noticing the way the wounds had closed and shook her head. “That’s not true. She’s crazy or something. She did this to him, Riley. She turned your father into a – thing.” The words were blurted before she realized how it sounded and she stared guiltily at Hal. “I’m sorry. You aren’t a thing.”
Hal nodded and turned his attention to Riley. “I can’t contaminate anyone, son. They’re all lies. They’re keeping people in quarantine for nothing. Don ’t you remember? Don’t you remember what I told you not to forget?”
“You’re a killer.” Riley aimed his gun at his father and gritted his teeth as Buffy moved between them. “All I need to know is that you’re a killer.”
“He saved my life.” Buffy said. “Michael was going to kill me, probably rape me, and Hal saved me, Riley. Michael had poisoned me and Hal gave me a shot of his blood to make me better.”
Maggie’s eyes widened in shock and she played that card. “See? Son! She’s contaminated. Her blood is no longer clean!”
Angel tried to move around Riley again, tried to get to Buffy, but the boy turned the gun on him and said, “Don’t make me use it, Angel. Just stay back.”
“Riley, I have never killed anyone.” Hal reasoned, moving around Buffy and stepping toward his son. “You have to believe me.”
“I don’t.” Riley stated dryly, his eyes back on Buffy as she moved between them again. “Move, Buffy.”
“No.” She shook her head angrily and kept her place in front of Hal. “I can’ t let you hurt him. He stopped the Code Blue, Riley. Does that sound like something a killer would do? Demons get off on mass murder and if that bomb had gone off-"
Maggie interrupted, “I stopped the Code Blue! I caught the two of them trying to set all the demons loose and once we had them contained, we used Hal’s key. Then they broke loose and shot all the technicians. Look around, son.”
Riley glanced left to right, taking in the unconscious bodies on the ground. “Buffy, you did this?”
“You know me better than that.” Buffy replied, hoping she sounded convincing, despite her guilt at actually doing it.
“Do I?” Riley took a step closer and glared at her. “You’ve been completely honest with me?”
“Is that right?”
“Yes!” She answered, louder that time.
“Then how is it that I came to find out the real reasons you joined the Initiative from Willow? How is it that you, in all your honesty to me, left out the part about coming here to save Spike? Why was I the last to know about what your ultimate plan was? Stealing implants, biding your time, pretending to like me … ”
Buffy sagged and felt hot tears well up in her eyes. “I wasn’t pretending to like you. Yes, I came here to get Spike out because I couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering. I thought that I could use you and brush you off and yes, I intended to. I didn’t intend to fall for you. Riley, please? Believe me?”
“Oh, this is pathetic.” Maggie cried. “Riley, shoot the fucking gun.”
Forest and Willow burst through the stairwell door and Forest waved the journal in the air. From his vantagepoint, he could see that Riley had his gun fixed on someone, but he couldn’t see who. “Riley, man! Michael killed those kids. We found a dead girl in his apartment and he admits that he killed the one in the sewer. He plans to—“ He screeched to a halt, causing Willow to bump into him, when he saw Maggie dangling off the ground in a demon’s grip. “frame your father. Is that your father?”
“Yes.” Riley nodded, not registering everything that Forest had said.
Willow rushed to where Angel was and looked up at him. “What’s happening?”
“I wish I knew.” Angel moved toward Riley again. “Let’s just put the gun down and handle this reasonably.”
“Why don’t I just shoot him, save my mother, and then talk reasonably.”
Spike’s curiosity was getting the better of him. The gunshots had stopped and now loud voices could be heard up inside the area. Gathering the nerve to face it like a man, even though he was only part man, he climbed the ladder and peeked out. When he saw that no one was around, he climbed free and headed toward the voices. "If anyone asks, I'll just kill them."
He peered around the corner and his eyes widened. A big scaly demon was holding the woman who ran things off the ground and was apparently holding Buffy in front of him, preventing Riley from shooting him. Everyone was standing around and doing nothing, especially his sire, who should have been doing something.
He glanced left to right and squinted when he saw a sign on a door that read ‘weapons’. Nodding, he entered the room and picked out a real rifle with real bullets, not one of those laser things that they commandos were so fond of. Moving back down the hallway, he peered around the corner again and took aim. He had been a revered marksman in his day and if no one was going to shoot the demon that had Buffy hostage, then he damn sure would.
Through the scope, he could see Buffy crying and alternating between talking to Riley and talking to the demon. The Walsh woman was struggling, spinning slightly as she dangled. He watched for several seconds, waiting for a clear shot.
What happened next seemed to happen in slow motion for him. Buffy moved forward several inches, the other lady moved to the side, and he had a clear shot of the demon’s chest. He pulled the trigger and watched through the scope as the demon moved back a few feet and Buffy turned to look up at him, walking toward him. Spike shouted her name, but it was too late, the bullet struck her in the back. He was aware of Willow’s scream. Even more aware of Angel shouting her name and then the gun dropped from his hands and he backed away, shaking his head. “What have I done?”
Riley saw the blood begin to trickle down the medical scrubs Buffy was wearing and dropped his gun, racing forward to catch her before she could hit the ground. “No! God, Buffy, NO!”
Buffy opened her eyes, not understanding why she had fallen, and stared up at him. “Riley, I – I’m sorry. I can’t help the way I feel about--.”
“Shh, don’t talk.” Riley could feel her blood seeping through his pants and looked at Forest. “Get the truck.” He turned his attention back to Buffy and rocked her gently, brushing the hair off of her face as he sobbed softly. “It’s going to be fine, Buffy. We’ll take you to the hospital and you’ll be fine. You have to be fine.”
Forest grabbed Xander, who had come down with them, and said, “Help me get a stretcher and get it loaded in the jeep.”
The pain hit Buffy at once and she closed her eyes. So much for Hal’s theory on being invincible. She was dimly aware that Angel had moved beside her and was mumbling about keeping her still and she could hear Willow crying and repeating her name. It was almost like she was being forced to go to sleep, as her body slowed against her will. She fought hard to stay awake, fought hard to ask Angel how Spike was, but her vision tunneled down into one small point of light and then all was dark.
“Her body is shutting itself down to heal because of my blood in her. She doesn’t have enough of my blood to complete the process though. She can’t survive that long.” Hal had watched the two boys dart away to find the truck and leaned down, grabbing Riley’s gun. He held it out toward Willow and said, “Please, help me save Buffy.”
Willow took the gun and stared at the demon. “What?”
Hal set Maggie on her feet and motioned at her. “Shoot Maggie so I can save Buffy. Please? I know how to help her, but I must do it now. The gun won’t kill her, only knock her out.”
“Willow, don’t listen to him.” Maggie pleaded, reaching out her hands toward the redhead.
Willow stared at the gun in her hand and then back at Maggie, remembering everything Buffy had told her and what Michael had written about Riley’s father being harmless. Then, her mind replayed the day Maggie had told her off about wanting Oz to remain on role call and she narrowed her eyes. She lifted the gun, aimed and pulled the trigger fast, crying out as the power forced her to stumble. Hal let Maggie slump to the ground and nodded, “Thank you, child.”
Angel, who was still kneeling next to Buffy and Riley, stared at Willow in shock. He saw her knees buckle and jumped up, catching her as she fainted. He held her against him and watched as the demon, a being like nothing he had seen before, lifted Buffy from Riley’s arms and moved through the building.
Riley stared at the blood on his pants and hands and then realized that Buffy had been taken from his arms. He drew his palm over his face, streaking it with her blood, and stood. “What is he doing?”
“Helping her.” Angel lifted Willow and followed the demon, hoping that the thing really could do something.
Riley had no choice but to follow and jogged after them. He found Angel staring through a glass into one of the exam rooms and paused beside him. Hal looked up from the other side and motioned for Riley. Taking a deep breath, Riley let himself into the room and closed the door. “What are you going to do to her? Change her? Make her like you?”
“No. I’m going to save her life, son.” Hal stared down at Buffy and rolled her onto her stomach, quickly ripping open the back of her shirt. “Set up an oxygen tube and get an IV line going to her.”
Riley yanked open the supply closet and did as he was instructed and within minutes, was taping the IV into place on the back of her hand. Hal pressed her hand, making sure that Riley had gotten it into her vein and nodded. “Good. Now, I’m going to roll her and I want you to check under her shirt and see if you see an exit wound.”
Swallowing hard, Riley lifted the front of her shirt as soon as she was on her side and ran his hand over her soft flesh, feeling for any wetness. “There’s nothing.”
“You have to get the bullet out of her then.” Hal pushed the cart of supplies around the bed. “Where is your friend?”
“Forest?” Riley glanced at the window and saw that Willow had woken up and was staring at them intently, as was Angel. “I don’t know.”
"Ask them to come assist.” Hal hoped that the redhead would be able to help without fainting again.
Riley motioned for them and opened the door. “We need help.”
Willow stepped in, drying the tears on her face and nodded. “Anything.”
“We need to get the bullet out. What is your name?” Hal looked at Willow.
“Willow.” She replied, staring down at Buffy’s limp form.
“Go to the cabinet and get a syringe and a bottle of Etomidate, Willow. Riley, you wash up and put on gloves and you, Vampire, you do what I say and get this breathing tube down her throat.”
The three moved fast, Angel nervously attempting to help her breath with a tube, Willow rifling through the cabinets and Riley washing up. Within minutes, Buffy was on her stomach again, attached to a heart monitor and various pieces of equipment and Willow was injecting the measured dosage of Etomidate, an anesthesia, into the IV. Hal watched the clock, hoping against hope that Buffy wouldn’t weaken before it was over. If she could survive the surgery, he could heal her immediately, but the bullet had to be removed. The Initiative didn’t deal in regular bullets, and if this was what he thought it was, then she would be dead before they knew it.
Riley accepted the orders his father gave him, using a scalpel to make the entrance hole larger. Hal commented that she had super healing strength on her own, but his blood had had aided that, which was why the bleeding had stopped and the wound had almost closed. Willow asked why it was still so dangerous for her and Hal admitted solemnly that most of the bullets that the Initiative used were not normal and left it at that.
When the wound was opened and Riley could see, he listened carefully and used long tweezers to pull the bullet from her flesh. Hal stretched his hand out and took the bullet, eyeing it closely. “This is very good. Just a regular bullet with no poison.”
“Poison?” Riley bit his lower lip and looked back down at Buffy. “I should stitch her up, right?”
“No.” Hal glanced at Willow and said, “Please hand me a clean syringe.”
Willow pulled open the wrapper on one of the hypodermic needles and handed it to him, watching with wide eyes as he stuck it into his arm and pulled out a vial full of blood. Without warning, he positioned the needle over the wound in Buffy’s back and expelled the content, then drew more blood. Angel started to protest, but the words died on his lips as the wound closed, leaving nothing more than a large bruise and red welt.
Hal held up the second vial, which contained a small amount of blood, and said, “Put it into her IV.”
“I don’t think—“ Willow started.
Riley took the needle, his eyes meeting his father’s as he stuck it into the IV. “You saw what his blood did to the wound.”
Hal rolled Buffy onto her back and trailed a hand down her face. “Sleep it off, little one. Sleep it off.”
“Who shot her?” Angel finally asked, listening to her steady heartbeat over the monitor, and laying on a hand on her leg. He would have to have a long talk with her about scaring the hell out of him.
“I don’t know.” Riley pulled off his gloves and stared down at Buffy’s pale face. “But when I find out, they’re dead.”
“I don’t get it.” Willow looked up at Hal. “What did your blood do?”
“My blood did what the Initiative was originally created to do.” Hal motioned at the chairs in the corner of the room and waited for them to get comfortable. “Back in the seventies, we were testing animals left and right, trying to find the cures for cancer and parkinson’s and every other fatal disease you can think of. We always knew demons existed, but it wasn’t until I encountered one that we realized the genetic markup of demons was something that modern science had never seen. I was attacked and it was a bloody mess. Out of curiosity, I put a specimen of the demon blood under a microscope and – well – I was stunned. Most demons, vampires included, have healing agents that humans could only dream of possessing. They are immune to all diseases and infection. It isn’t because they are immortal, or because they can only be killed certain ways, it is because they have a component in their blood that makes it so.
We decided to stop testing animals and focused on demons. We trained Agents to trap the different kinds, always searching for one better, one bigger, one more complex. We made amazing discoveries along the way. Alheimer’s Disease can be prevented with DNA from some sea dwelling species. Babies born with water on the brain can be drained without the shunt that hospitals use by injecting a small amount of a certain demon’s bone marrow directly into the head. Liver disease, heart transplants, even people with deformations could be helped. It was amazing and we were on the brink of something unheard of.
We discovered that Sunnydale is a magnet for demons and came here, using all of our funds to make this underground facility. I designed it, programmed it from the floor up and we were doing great. It was during that time that I realized that Maggie had instructed the Agents to bring back any humans in the vicinity of the demons. She concocted some sort of story about humans being infected, contaminated by exposure, and they believed her. See, we employed a method where we only told people just enough to get the mission done. Questions were practically unheard of. I guess most men, even grown men who are trained to be strong, weaken when they realize that demons are real, and can’t think to add two and two together. And Maggie was nothing if not persuasive.
Back then, the infirmary was hers. She had a medical degree and played nursemaid to most of the boys who would get injured. She was in charge of everything hands on and medical and together, we worked the scientific area.” Hal cleared his throat and looked at Riley. “You mother was brilliant, Riley. She knew how to splice genes and mix DNA to get the results she wanted, but that wasn’t enough for her. It wasn’t enough that we had terminally ill patients who volunteered for the project, donated themselves to us for what we wanted to do. It wasn’t enough that we had people who went to rest homes and hospitals and pitched ideas to potential candidates. It wasn’t enough that in the eighties, when we came here, we had over two hundred active recipients of treatment. Maggie had to have an endless supply of humans. For every demon we captured, she wanted a human to go along with that to even the numbers and experiment on both. I couldn’t allow that. I couldn’t allow her to make healthy people sick, just so she could see what would happen. When we entered into this organization, we based it on the fact that we wanted to help people, not take innocent lives.
I realized what she was doing when I saw a friend of mine, healthy as a horse, being led into one of the labs. Maggie tried to tell me that he was sick and had offered himself to the cause, but I knew that wasn’t true. It was the height of the HIV scare, right when it was making headline news, and she had injected him with the virus. I knew this because I hacked through his medical records and saw that he was perfectly fine. She stole his memory, made him rely on machines to live and before long, what he had been, a man, was replaced with something as bad as me.
Oh, Maggie tried so hard to convince me that it was for the greater good, that mistakes would happen and people would suffer damages and mutate, and that was fine. She tried for days to tell me that it was all okay and that taking innocent lives to save more innocent lives was justifiable. The blood of innocents is never justifiable.” Hal looked back at Buffy and moved to stand beside her. “Thank God the Slayer showed me that it’s true. I almost ruined it all and became like Maggie. Buffy wouldn’t let me kill anyone.”
He moved away and continued talking. “Anyway, I overheard Maggie telling some of the other technicians that I was an obstacle. I was standing in the way of everything she had achieved. They made plans to lure me down here and use me as an experiment, make me sick. That whole day, I worked to save files into a secure system, but that’s not all. You see, while Maggie was devoting all of her time to harming people, I had linked a few things together. I swapped the fluids that I knew she would inject me with. I changed labels on bottles and I set about making myself into what –I- had been working toward. A cure. I wanted to have the antidote to sickness and disease inside of me, where I knew Maggie would never look to find it.
That night, Riley, you showed up unexpectedly and almost thwarted them. Do you remember me stopping you in the hallway and hugging you?” Riley could only nod and Hal continued. “Do you remember, son? Do you remember what I said to you that night?”
“You said, ‘Never forget what you just saw and don’t you let her make you proud of what you do.’” Riley spoke slowly, stunned at what his father had just told him about his mother.
“What did you see that night, Riley? Remember what you saw.”
“I can’t.” He closed his eyes, trying hard to recall what it was that had made him so terrified. “I don’t remember.”
“Yes, you do, Riley. It’s in there, in your head. It’s locked away and it scares you, but you remember. Think. Why had you come down into the lab that night?”
“Michael and I were supposed to meet for a late dinner at his house and—,” Riley trailed off as memories began to come back to him, a piece at a time. “He wasn’t there and I thought he was down here helping his dad with some special project he had been bragging about. I came down here and Michael was … “ Putting a hand over his mouth, he shook the image away. “No, that can’t be.”
“Michael was what?” Hal urged, shambling to kneel in front of the shaking boy. “You know this.”
Images flashed through his head. Michael taking injections. Michael always popping pills. Michael submerged in water; wrapped in some kind of cocoon. Michael with jagged scales popping up down his back. “He was down here and he was writhing on the ground and I heard his bones snap while he was changing into something and then they injected him and he came back. He was naked and the demon went away.”
“They caught you, didn’t they?” Hal asked, his hand moving slowly and resting on Riley’s leg. “They caught you and threatened you and were making you leave. You bumped into me and I knew what you had seen and I told you that they had done it, remember?”
“Mom was shouting at them to take you away and I didn’t want to let you go.” A sob choked in his throat and Riley stared at the ground. “They pulled you away and I kept screaming for you not to leave me here with her. I was so mad when you just went and then she was there and locked me in one of the observation rooms. It had to be days before she came for me and she convinced me that I had it all wrong. She kept telling me over and over again that I had seen you change into a demon instead of Michael. She made me believe that you were some kind of beast that tried to kill me. It was never you.”
“Michael had been diagnosed with lymphoma when you were both just ten. Maggie convinced his father to let us treat him since there was nothing medically that could be done above ground. The treatments worked, the cancer went away, but he was given a worse fate than death, Riley. He was given a demon half.”
“It was Michael in my memories and not you. Mom somehow convinced me that I had seen you in his place and that you were a monster.”
“She knows her psychology, son. It’s not your fault. She could convince an Eskimo to buy central air conditioning because it’s too hot at the North Pole. She’s that good.” Hal stood. “After the change, after they injected me and my DNA was altered to this point,” He pointed at himself. “I used an escape hatch that no one knew existed and made my way into the sewers. I tunneled all over the place in there, making routes that would lead me all around this complex and I could hear things. I tried desperately to make a move. I would come so close and then back away. I know what this place is capable of and I was a coward. I saw you all the time, down in the sewers, growing into a man. I longed to reach out to you, but you were always so adamant about finding ‘the thing’ in the tunnels. Someone convinced you that I was a killer.”
Willow piped up unexpectedly and nodded. “It was Michael. He admitted in his journal that he was killing things and putting them in the sewer to make Riley think his father had done it. Apparently, he wanted to make Riley kill you and then he was going to tell him that you were actually harmless.” She looked at Riley and shook her head apologetically. “I’m sorry for telling you that way. But it’s all in his journal and Forest has it.”
“It’s okay.” Riley gave her a small smile and looked back at his father. “Why now?”
“For ten years I waited, too afraid to move, and then the Slayer showed up. Out of the kindness of her heart, she helped me, trusted me when she was so weak I could have killed her in a second. You should have heard her telling Michael off, telling him that you would find him and kill him for what he had done to her.”
“I did find him and he’s dead.” Riley stated with no inflection.
“You beheaded him?” Hal asked, running an EKG on Buffy just to be safe.
“No, but he was coughing up blood and trying to kill himself when we found him and his pulse was weak. He wasn’t even conscious when we left.” Riley stood and stared at the print out of Buffy’s heart. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong with her.” Hal shook his head and sighed. “But we do have a huge problem. Michael is a hybrid type four, capable of conscious thought only when he has medicated. He was ‘doctored’ with a Tralgar demon’s DNA and can only be killed with beheading. And Tralgar demons are not known for their ability to give up once they set their minds to doing something. Maggie never anticipated that her patients would become more and more of what she treated them with and I doubt that she even realizes it now. He didn’t die in that tunnel.”
Spike had somehow made it back down into the chamber before he dropped to his knees. For what felt like an eternity, he sat slumped in the floor, replaying what had happened in the past few weeks. Being kidnapped the first time and showing up at Giles’ house on Thanksgiving had started it all. There she was at the door, arguing with him about whether or not to let him in. Buffy had tortured him, keeping his food from him, tempting him to hit her and he had hated her. Then the witch had done the spell and he knew what it felt like to love her. To push away the demon and love the Slayer. To need her. To need her mouth on his to make him want to smile. To need her arms around him to make him happy. To need her heart, her living heart, to make him feel like his dead one had a purpose. Why couldn’t he have forgotten how good it felt?
The gears shifted and he was slammed with newer memories. He remembered the night in the bathroom with the broken water pipes and how hard he had fought with himself not to laugh at how cute she was soaking wet. He remembered shoving her into the door, trying to knock it in with her and quickly pushed it away; unable to dwell on hurting her. He shook away the image and thought about Buffy kissing him in the sewer, telling him that she wouldn’t laugh at him. Buffy brushing away his tears when he was crying and comforting him. Her lips on his. Her body cupped against his, fitting perfectly. Her body going limp in his arms when the soldier boys shot her.
Her body going limp when he himself had shot her.
The vampire in him was rejoicing that he had bagged another Slayer, but the human was sobbing; wracked with guilt. He reached a hand up and touched his face, feeling the warm tears, then he stared at the moisture on his fingertips. His hand, the hand that Buffy had squeezed that day, the hand that she had held, had pulled the trigger on the gun that had ended her life. It was only fair that it end his own.
As soon as he decided that he had to die, he realized that he had left the gun up in the hallway and got to his feet. Moving in a daze, he climbed the ladder and trudged down the corridor. He lifted the rifle and turned, only to come face to face with Xander, who had a large gash on the side of his head and was leaning against the wall.
Xander wheezed and said, “You got to help me.”
Spike nodded and dropped the gun, wondering why he even cared if Xander needed help. “What happened?”
“I was going with Forest to get the jeep to take Buffy to the hospital and this man jumped us. He knocked me out and I can’t find Forest now.” Xander pulled off the baggy button down shirt he was wearing, leaving him with a ratty T-shirt, and wadded it up, wiping away the blood on his face.
“How bad are you hurt?” Spike eyes the blood on the front of Xander’s T-shirt, wondering if he had been stabbed too.
“I’m okay, ow, I think. We just have to go find the others and let them know that somebody else is down here and they’re pissed.”
“Is Buffy dead?” Spike clenched his jaw, making his cheekbones more prominent.
“She looked pretty bad, but she wasn’t dead.” Xander put a hand on Spike’s shoulder and added, “She won’t die. Buffy can’t do that.”
“She’s only human.” Spike replied, looking at his hands again. The hands that had hurt her. “Humans die.”
“No, she’s not only human. She’s the Slayer.” Xander moved away and limped up the hall. “And we need to find her before my concussion gets worse and I forget who I am.”
Spike picked up the gun again, letting the small thread of hope that Xander was right propel him forward. He wasn’t sure what he was anymore. Vampire, man, neither. But he knew in his heart that Buffy was the only thing he would ever want. He had wanted her as a vampire, and he wanted her now. He wasn’t nothing anymore. He was something. And he was something that would put an end to everything that had hurt her, including himself if she didn’t make it.
Willow realized how much time had passed since Forest and Xander had gone for the jeep and cleared her throat, interrupting the three men who were talking about Michael. “Riley, how far away is the jeep? Shouldn’t they have made it back by now?”
Riley’s eyes widened. “I completely forgot about that.” He whipped out his walkie-talkie and spoke into it. “Agent Gates, what is your position?” He waited a beat, adjusting the various knobs. “Willow, do you know what channel he was on?”
“You told him fourteen.” She replied absently, staring down at Buffy. “And why hasn’t she moved?”
“She has to heal.” Hal stated absently, watching as Riley fumbled with the transmitter. “Try channel nineteen. It used to be spliced to go to every channel. If his talkie is on, he’ll hear it.”
Riley flipped the channel and repeated his request. When it crackled and nothing happened, he looked back at the others and started to speak.
Then it happened.
A voice spoke over the airwaves with a crisp clarity. “Why, Agent Finn. Did you misplace your buddy? That’s not very wise of you. The last time you misplaced something, she wound up kidnapped by your father.”
Riley’s face was devoid of emotion as he said, “Michael, you don’t want to play with me.”
Michael chuckled. “I’m playing with Forest right now. Want to hear?”
There was a loud thud and a scream and Riley closed his eyes, listening as Forest begged Michael to stop doing whatever he was doing. “It’s me you want. Leave him alone.”
“Let’s play, Riley, just like old times. Down here in the compound together again. Hide and seek. Tag, you’re it.”
The story continues..