DISCLAIMER: Not mine, which is a shame because usually we're nicer to them than Joss was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Wes and Angel are working at Wolfram & Hart to try and figure out what happened to Spike, while Buffy has gone to Watts to talk to Dana’s doctor, only to be approached by someone Faith identifies as Lindsey…
When it came to thinking about Faith’s time in LA, Buffy chose the path of least resistance. Ignorance was bliss. It was bad enough remembering Angel getting between them, protecting Faith when all she’d done was hurt people, when she’d done everything in her power to steal Buffy’s life. Considering what Faith had done before Angel had swooped in for the rescue, however, was more than she needed to know.
Or had needed to know. Because apparently, something was going on here between Faith and the cute not-a-doctor. What had she called him? Some girlie name. By the time Buffy looked back to Faith, it came to her.
“All water under the bridge,” he said with that easy smile. “Didn’t you hear? I got to wear a white hat for a little while there, right next to Angel. He even let me walk away afterward without cutting off another body part.” His gaze flickered to Buffy when her eyes widened. “And yeah, I do mean that literally.”
“So, you’re telling us, this is all official Wolfram & Hart business.” Faith snorted. “Not even B’s going to buy that line of bullshit, and she doesn’t even know you.”
“Now did I say this had anything to do with Wolfram & Hart?”
“Then why don’t you tell us what this is about,” Buffy said.
He smiled. “I think I already did that.”
As he spoke, he took a step backward, clearly getting ready to make a run for it. Faith flew past to grab and stop him, but he backhanded her before she could make contact, sending her flying back to crash into Buffy. The girls crumpled to the floor, and in the seconds it took for them to regain their footing, Lindsey broke into a run, racing for the glass doors at the end of the hallway. They took chase, but by the time they made it to the sunshine, he was gone.
“I thought you said he was a lawyer,” Buffy complained, twisting around to scan the vicinity for where he might have gone. “Lawyers don’t get the drop on Slayers, let alone two of them at the same time.”
“Last time I checked, he was a lawyer. It’s not my fault he decided to upgrade.”
The distant roar of an engine came to life and both Slayers turned simultaneously to see an old Ford truck squeal out of the parking lot. Frowning, Faith rubbed at her jaw, and while her body was still poised for a fight, she didn’t run after it. There was no point. They both knew they couldn’t catch him on foot.
“The hotshot really learned how to hit,” Faith said.
“He also learned a hell of a lot about Dana,” Buffy added. “And I think he was trying to learn even more. He was in there, trying to get in to speak to Dana’s doctor. Something’s not right here.”
Faith stared off into the distance, large eyes lost in thought. “Hate to break it to you, B, but something hasn’t been right ever since you got your little present back in Rome.”
Sighing, Buffy sank down onto the step, running her hands through her hair as she tried to clear her head. She needed sleep. She needed a hot meal. She needed a lot of stuff, like Spike being there to answer her questions, and Willow and Giles to take care of all the brain work while they aimed her at whatever wanted killing next, and for somebody to try and explain to her how this new arrangement of Angel’s was in any way a good thing. Hell, she’d settle for a cappuccino and some good news. Any news, really.
“How bad do you want that shower?” she asked.
Faith frowned. “Why?”
“Because I want answers. And I don’t think we’re going to get them from Angel.”
It took a moment, but Faith nodded in understanding. “You want me to hit up Wes about what the suit could’ve been doing here.”
“Yeah. You okay with that?”
“Sure. But how come you trust what Wes might say and not Angel?”
“I don’t. But I think Wes is a worse liar than Angel is, and if they’re covering something up, that’s how we’re going to find out.”
The explanation seemed to satisfy Faith. She took several steps, heading out to the curb before stopping and turning back. “For what it’s worth,” she said, “I think you’re making a mistake not trusting Angel with any of this. I don’t care what Lindsey said. Him and Angel have been after each other since the beginning. No way would Angel get him involved with something like this.”
Buffy let the words sink in and then nodded. “I hope you’re right.” She held her chin high until Faith disappeared around the corner, sagging in exhaustion when she was alone again. It lasted only seconds before the door opened behind her, and she glanced back to meet Andrew’s gaze with weary eyes.
“Dr. Guerrero just called Deb back,” he said. “She wants you to come to the ward to talk to her. Something’s going on with Dana.”
Dr. Gemma Guerrero was not what Buffy expected. Psychiatrists were supposed to be old, with pinched noses and tiny glasses they had to squint to see through. They weren’t supposed to be barely thirty, with white-blonde hair and warm brown eyes that smiled even when their mouths didn’t. She wasn’t even dressed like a doctor. Instead of a white lab coat, Dr. Guerrero wore faded blue jeans and an even more faded t-shirt, both visibly wash-softened. Her long hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, and only the faintest hints of make-up polished her face.
She met Buffy outside the ward entrance, her hand extended in greeting as she approached. “I’m sorry I made you come all the way up here,” she said after introductions were made. “I meant to make this as easy as possible for you, but Dana’s behavior has taken a radical shift within the last two hours, and I thought you’d want to see it for yourself.”
Buffy’s heels echoed on the tiled floor, but it was a welcome distraction from the initial panic that had set in her bones at navigating through the white-walled corridors. They didn’t look familiar, but knowing what building she was in was half her problem anyway, and she had to fold her arms across her body to keep the nerves at a minimum.
“Andrew said you set up shop here pretty quick,” she said.
“Andrew?” Dr. Guerrero’s brows wrinkled together for a moment as she mulled over the name. “You mean that guy who keeps trying to boss around all the Slayers like he’s the King of England?”
“Well, I would’ve said queen, but yeah, that would be the one.” Buffy smiled. “I think you scared him a little bit.”
“God, I hope so. He was annoying the crap out of me. He kept comparing the meds I was prescribing for Dana to some movie I’ve never heard of, and then I caught him in a wheelchair race with one of the other patients. If he’s too chicken to come up here again, all the better for everybody.”
“You’re going to have to tell me your trick. I’ve been trying to get rid of him for a year now.”
Dr. Guerrero smiled as she stopped in front of a closed door, sliding a card key over the pad at its side. “And give away my trade secret? Not on your life.”
She led Buffy into a small room, cluttered with furniture stacked along its walls. It had clearly been earmarked as storage, but it was the glass window opposite the door that caught her attention, drawing Buffy close in order to gaze through.
A girl crouched in the middle of the adjoining space, her disheveled dark hair falling over her face to hide her features from view. At one point, a bed had been bolted to the floor, but that was now ripped from its moorings and shoved into a corner, its sheets spread out beneath the girl in question. The mattress had been shredded as well, and the broken springs ringed the edge of the sheets. Splotches of color stained the fabric, and Buffy had to peer at it for long seconds before realizing it was blood.
“What is she doing?” she asked.
Dr. Guerrero sighed. “If she was five, I’d say she’s playing shipwreck and made herself a lifeboat.”
“And since she’s not five…?”
The doctor’s gaze didn’t waver. “I think she’s playing shipwreck and made herself a lifeboat.” She reached for a dial next to a speaker on the wall. “Listen.”
Immediately, the sound of soft muttering filled the room. “Going down, going down. Won’t go. Won’t. Have to…have to…” It became unintelligible for nearly two minutes, either too slurred to make out or so indiscernible as actual English that Buffy wondered if this was more of the Slayer visions manifesting themselves. Hadn’t the reports said something about her speaking in other languages at the other asylum? But then, Dana lifted her head and stared through the lanks of her hair, looking right at the window. Another phrase came through the speaker, this time loud and clear. “Ask me again why I could never love you.”
Ice settled in Buffy’s veins. These were words she only heard in her nightmares; the last thing she ever expected was to hear them fall from another Slayer’s mouth. That was when it dawned on her. “This isn’t one-way glass,” she murmured. “She can see me.”
Dr. Guerrero looked at her and frowned. “How did you know that?”
“I know.” She stifled her shiver as she locked gazes with Dana. “I know.”
“…know what you’re goin’ to say.”
Spike’s baritone sounded thin coming from the tiny speakers in Security’s surveillance equipment, but the words were clear, his annoyance almost tangible. Angel’s broad back blocked a good portion of the bed, the hunch to his shoulders as he folded his arms across his chest instantly recognizable, and Wesley narrowed his eyes as he watched the sequence for the tenth time since first viewing the recording.
It started with Spike’s comment, dry and irritated.
Angel didn’t reply. He simply shoved his fists into his armpits and listened to Spike for the next fifteen seconds without interruption.
Then Spike lifted his arms, slowly, looking away from Angel to scowl at the bandages.
That was when Angel shifted. He moved so quickly that Wesley had to play the recording in slow motion in order to see him pull the stake from inside his jacket.
Spike never even saw the stake coming.
Armando, the surveillance expert, glanced at Wesley out of the corner of his eye, his hand poised over the mouse. “You want to see it again?” The tone of his voice conveyed more than the words. It said, “You don’t really think it’s going to change from the last ten times you watched it, do you?”
Leaning back in his chair, Wesley stared at the frozen image of Angel standing over the dusty bed. “He never said a word,” he mused out loud.
“Well, it’s not like Spike gave him much of a chance.”
“Perhaps. Except it’s not like Angel not to rise to Spike’s bait. In some fashion, at least.”
Armando barked in amusement. “I’d say he rose pretty far.”
Wesley held his tongue, his gaze still intent on the screen. The reaction was extreme, but even seeing it with his own eyes, he didn’t believe it. Spike had said far worse and walked away unscathed. Why would Angel have snapped with this particular encounter? It didn’t make sense.
As he regarded the video, the phone on the desk rang, and Armando reached to answer it. After a moment, he held it out to Wes. “Ms. Burkle for you.”
“Wes?” Her voice was high and breathless, as if she had just made a mad dash for something. “What did you find with the camera footage?”
“Not what I was hoping for. You? Were you able to analyze the dust?”
“I was. It’s definitely vampire, but I ran a DNA comparison with what I have on Spike, and it’s not him. It’s not even male.”
The announcement made Wes sit up straight. “Are you certain?”
“Positive. I ran the test three times, and then I asked Knox to run it, just to doublecheck. We got the same result, every time.”
“I’m sure Buffy and Angel are going to be quite relieved to hear that.” A fresh idea came to mind. “If I sent you the footage from Spike’s room, could you analyze it for authenticity?”
“You think someone’s trying to set Angel up?”
“Considering what you’ve found and what I’ve seen, I’d say it’s a distinct possibility.”
Armando rose from his chair as Wesley hung up the phone. “If you’re wanting copies made, I need different gear,” he said. “Be right back.”
Wes stood as well. “Have it sent to Ms. Burkle in the lab when you’re done,” he said. “I’ll be in my…Faith.”
She leaned against the door jamb, a thumb hooked in her jeans pocket that pulled the waistband down and exposed a line of taut skin. “They said I’d find you down here.” She didn’t move as Armando tried to push past her without touching, instead deliberately cocking her stance wider to force the man to make contact. By the time he went scurrying down the hall, she was grinning, her dark eyes dancing in amusement in spite of the exhaustion he still noted there. “This place is a fucking maze. No wonder you guys lost Spike.”
His brows shot up. As surprising as it was to see her again, it was more so to hear her vote of confidence for their side. “Does Buffy believe Angel now?”
Faith shrugged. “There’s no telling what goes through B’s head these days. But Angel said he didn’t. That’s good enough for me.”
Wes couldn’t help but smile at Faith’s comment. It was a relief to know that some things never changed, in spite of all the other things that did. “What can I do for you?” he said. She fell into step at his side as he headed down the hall to the elevator. “I thought you were looking forward to that hot shower.”
“I was. Then I got leveled by Lindsey McDonald, and that plan got shot to hell.”
Faith stopped when he did, meeting his shocked face with a lifted brow and a silent dare to defy what she claimed. The best he could manage was… “Did you say Lindsey McDonald?”
He listened as she described what had happened at Watts and Buffy’s subsequent reaction. By the time she was done, a sense of clarity had permeated his thoughts, putting them into a fresh order that eased his worries.
“So you want to tell me why Wolfram & Hart put its golden boy on this?” she finished. “’Cause gotta say, you guys are making it a hell of a lot harder for me to convince B you haven’t gone over to the dark side. Especially when your suits are packing a bigger wallop than Slayers.”
“We didn’t,” Wes said. “Lindsey McDonald hasn’t been an employee here for nearly three years now. In fact, he left town. But if he’s back…” It explains a lot, he thought. All the strange events surrounding Angel, including the parasite, now had an understandable context. They had suspected Eve, but obviously, their general distrust of her anyway had blinded them to other possibilities. Still, nobody could have predicted that it would be Lindsey behind it all.
“We have to tell Angel.” At the end of the hall, the elevator whispered open, but he was too lost in thought to even glance up. “If Lindsey’s done something to enhance his strength—”
His breath was knocked from his lungs as Faith shoved him into the wall. His head slammed against the plaster, but before he had the chance to demand what she was doing, a scaled creature crashed past him, taking Faith down in a flurry of limbs and snarls.
The fight was bloody and brutal, but blessedly brief. The demon that had attempted to attack Wesley had a foot and a hundred pounds of muscle on Faith, but its size compromised its speed, allowing her to pummel it before it had time to take a swing. When it did, though, it was powerful, its clawed hand raking across her midsection to tear through both fabric and skin. She hissed in pain, twisting as if to run away. At the last minute, her body twisted back, and she lashed out with a booted heel to snap the demon’s head to the side.
Its neck broke with an audible crack.
Wes ignored the dead creature to rush to Faith’s side. Taking her gently by the shoulders, he helped her lean against the wall, wincing with her when the movement caused her pain. “Let me look,” he said softly, grasping the hands she had covering her bleeding stomach.
Her arms were still tense from the fight, and for a moment, he thought she was going to argue with him. Then she exhaled, a long, shuddering breath, and allowed him to push away her arms.
The slashes were deep, the free-flowing blood indication of how badly she’d been hurt. As carefully as he could, Wes pulled her torn shirt up and away from the injury, but that only served to make it bleed even more, and he let it fall again to try and staunch the flow.
“We need to get this wrapped,” he said. “I’ll call—”
He was stopped from going to the phone by her sudden grip on his arm. “Something just tried to get a piece of you,” Faith said. “Not to mention, your patients either disappear or dust. No offense, Wes, but I’ll take my chances getting back to Watts.”
“You won’t make it that far,” he argued. “And Fred is right here.”
Her gaze was unwavering. “Is that how you sold it to Spike, too?”
He didn’t blame her. Not really. And he owed her for saving him from the unexpected attack. The question of why she’d thrown herself so willingly – and viciously – into the fray flitted through his mind, but Wes dismissed it as unimportant in the grand scheme of things. They had come a long way from being the ineffectual Watcher and the renegade Slayer, and he had no desire to return to that animosity by pursuing a line of interrogation that would prove fruitless in the end.
“My flat isn’t far,” he said. “Will that suffice?”
Her nod was immediate. When she pushed away from the wall to follow him to the elevator, he slipped his arm around her back to give her additional support, an action that made both of them pause.
“You could always let me take a shower at your place,” she said with a ghost of a smile. “Saving your skin’s worth a little hot water, right?”
It was impossible not to smile back. “I suppose that can be arranged.” They had taken a few steps when he teased, “Just promise not to leave it in pieces this time.”
Faith chuckled. “Small price to pay.”
He’d call Angel from his flat, Wes decided. The sooner they tracked down what Lindsey McDonald was doing in town, the better they would all be.
The room was silent, unearthly so. No whisper of electronics, no rhythm of breath disturbed the air, and not even a sound emanated through the locked door. There were few ingressions for stray noise to worm its way in, the door fitted tight to its hinges, no windows for people to see in or out of. Only the faintest of vibrations from movement elsewhere in the building made it to the cold floor, and those went unnoticed, as the room’s only occupant was stretched out on the single bed.
Thick leather straps bound the form to the mattress, one around the chest, another at the hips, with narrower lengths at both ankles and elbows. The hands were free, but there was no immediate threat of those being used to liberate himself. They were wrapped tightly in white bandages, and rested at the man’s side as he slept.
A key turned in the lock, and the door swung open to allow a white-coated figure to slip inside. She went straight to the end of the bed and picked up the file hanging there, flipping it open to scan its contents. “Well, that won’t do,” she murmured. “You’re going to wake up before I’m ready for you.”
Replacing the file, she walked over to a cupboard bolted to the wall, unlocking it and extracting a vial and syringe. It took only a moment to fill the needle, and even less time to return to the side of the bed, pulling back the blanket to expose the pale, muscled arms. Pushing up the sleeve of his hospital gown, she injected the drug into his bicep with an economy of movement.
“Sleep well, Spike,” she said, covering him back up. It also hid the stamp burned into the leather straps, the one denoting the restraints as the property of the Watts Institute. “You’re going to need it.”
To be continued in Chapter 5: See My Heart, It’s Black and Blue…