DISCLAIMER: Not mine, which is a shame because usually we're nicer to them than Joss was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy tried talking to Dana, only to walk away convinced that the girl is frightened of something; Wes took Faith back to his apartment to tend her injury and discovered older ones, only to learn that Robin died in Cleveland; and Lindsey broke into Dr. Guerrero’s office to read Dana’s file and got caught by the doctor…
She looked younger than he’d anticipated, more like a college student than a psychiatrist. Dressed in a t-shirt and cut-off sweats, it looked like she’d just come in from a run, her skin glistening from sweat, wispy white-blonde strands escaping her ponytail to cling to her cheeks. If he hoped to take advantage of her being out of breath, though, Lindsey was disappointed. She looked primed for a fight, not ready to topple over.
Slowly, he straightened, taking the flashlight out of his mouth and turning it off. “Well, now, this is a little awkward,” he said with an easy smile.
His light tone did nothing to relax her. “Not for me. And you’re still not telling me what you’re doing in my office.”
Lindsey never took his eyes from her as he stepped carefully around the desk. “You have a patient I’m interested in,” he said. “I tried arranging a meeting with your secretary today, but she wouldn’t have much to do with me, I’m afraid.”
A single brow arched, and when she spoke, her voice was laced heavily with sarcasm. “Gee. I can’t imagine why.”
“But seeing as you’re here now…” He didn’t let her continued attitude defer him, and he took a few more steps closer. “…maybe we could have that meeting now.”
“I only have one patient here,” Dr. Guerrero said. “And you have the wrong body parts to be involved in her case.”
His eyes twinkled. “That’s not gender discrimination I hear, is it? Huh. I guess I thought you wouldn’t be the type to sabotage Dana Jameson’s treatment plan just because I’m not a Slayer.”
He bandied the terms with a casual confidence, hoping to throw her off-guard, but it failed to garner any type of response. If anything, her calm demeanor pushed his respect for her a little higher. He’d only had a day to get information on the doctor, and it had been cursory at best. Graduated top of her Yale class at the age of nineteen. Gained her medical degree only a few years later. Extensive work with trauma victims over the course of her brief but focused career. Her qualifications matched Dana’s needs almost perfectly. The only part Lindsey hadn’t figured out was her connection to the Watcher’s Council.
“Considering I don’t know who or what you are,” Dr. Guerrero was saying, “I think I’m doing the right thing to protect my patient. Which means I’m calling Security now.”
When she began to back up to use the phone on the secretary’s desk, Lindsey’s hand shot out and grasped her wrist. “That’s a mistake,” he said, tightening his grip enough to give her an indication of his strength.
She froze. Slowly, her lashes ducked as she glanced down at the fingers wrapped around her arm. “So was that,” she murmured.
He never saw it coming.
One moment, he was standing there, wondering how far he’d have to go to get the file. The next, he was flying back through the air, slamming into the wall behind the desk.
The force of the crash dazed him for a brief moment, but Lindsey shook it off, hopping back to his feet. Dr. Guerrero no longer stood in the doorway, but her voice trickled from the outer room, her sharp words to Security all too clear.
There was no time for debate. He’d come unarmed. He might be stronger than Watts’ security personnel, but they’d have guns. He’d survived too long to be stubborn about this now.
Pushing all his power into it, Lindsey made a break for the outer door. Dr. Guerrero saw him approaching, but she was still in the middle of barking directions to her office, and her attempt to stop him without losing the phone was futile. He shoved her out of his path – harder than he would have normally shoved a woman, but since she’d thrown the first swing and knocked him across the room for it, he figured all bets were now off.
His feet pounded down the hall, outside, through the parking lot toward his truck. It wasn’t until he saw the dark shape looming against the city’s horizon that he heard the echoing footsteps behind him. He didn’t look back. Every second was precious, and if he dared to hesitate, he’d be caught. Lindsey only caught sight of the white-blonde hair as he slid behind the steering wheel, the keys already in his hand.
The truck roared immediately to life. Slamming his foot on the gas, Lindsey shot forward, over the raised strip that ran down the middle of each row, and winced when he heard the undercarriage scrape across the concrete. The truck was going to pay for his recklessness, but at least he’d still be free.
And he’d be able to find out what the whole story was behind Dr. Gemma Guerrero, once and for all. Because next time, she wouldn’t take him by surprise.
Perhaps if he hadn’t so many calls to make, Wesley would have worried about how long Faith took in the shower. She had clearly been upset when she’d fled the room, and though his first instinct was to attempt to calm her down, he knew that doing so would invite disaster. Faith was like a feral cat, constantly on the prowl and aware of her surroundings, waiting for danger to strike at any moment. When hurt, she would retreat and lick her wounds, and only dare to approach others again when she felt capable of defending herself. He didn’t wish to lose what little ground he’d gained by forcing her any more than he already had.
Besides, he had work to do.
His first call was to Angel, but when he was bumped to voice mail, Wesley disconnected and dialed Angel’s flat directly. There was no answer there either, and he was compelled to dig out his cell phone and try ringing Angel’s cell as well.
That, too, yielded no results.
With a sigh, Wesley tried the office line again, this time leaving a vague but urgent message that Angel would – hopefully – get that evening. He left the specifics out. Considering how little they knew of Lindsey’s purpose in town, and that Lindsey had had far too much information about Dana’s condition, Wes couldn’t be sure that he didn’t also have access to Wolfram & Hart’s phone system. It was better to be safe than sorry. He just had to wait for Angel to retrieve his messages.
His second call required a bit of finesse before he reached the party he was interested in. But when Rupert Giles’ sleepy voice came over the line, Wesley decided it had been worth it to rouse his parents for the new Council’s information.
“I’d like to say this is unexpected, but considering Buffy’s determination to confront Angel, I’m afraid it’s not,” Giles said around a yawn.
Wes glanced at the closed bathroom door. The sound of the shower was still going strong on the other side. “I’m not actually calling in regards to Buffy.”
Giles sighed. “What has Andrew done now?”
“No, it’s not about Andrew, either. I wanted to talk to you about Faith.”
“Faith? Why? Has she been hurt?”
“No, well, yes, superficially. I was attacked at Wolfram & Hart today, and she intervened. I’ve tended to it, though, and she should heal normally.”
“Oh.” There was a pause. “And you rang at four in the morning to tell me this because…?”
“When I was cleaning her injuries, I noticed she had a rather nasty bite mark along her side. Not a vampire. Something larger, with thicker canines. She said she got it in Cleveland. What happened?”
He heard the squeak of bedsprings and imagined Giles rising from bed. “Have you asked Faith about this yet?”
“She told me Robin Wood was killed by the same demon that attacked her,” Wes said. “But I was hoping to get a less…emotional account from you.”
“I don’t know specifics,” Giles admitted. “We have only Faith’s story about what happened, and as you can imagine, those were…sketchy, at best. I do know that it was a routine patrol, and that the demon in question was a Rhavros. As far as I’m aware, she killed it with her bare hands.”
Wesley frowned. Rhavros demons were notoriously brutal, their venom poisonous. It was no wonder her wound had grown infected. “Did she tell you it bit her?”
“No. If she had, I would have insisted she stay here instead of going on to Rome to see Buffy. But she claimed to be fully healed from the incident, and when I watched her training with some of the younger Slayers, she was in top form. Why, how is she? Are there signs of irrational behavior that might indicate she was poisoned?”
In spite of his concern, Wes chuckled. “Might I remind you, this is Faith we’re talking about here?”
Giles’ answering chuckle filled the line. “I blame the early hour.”
The water turned off in the bathroom, making Wesley stiffen. “I’ll have Faith treated as soon as possible,” he said. “As a precautionary measure. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Keep me updated, would you?”
He hung up just as the door opened. Faith paused in the doorway, billows of steam leaking out around her. Her wet hair left damp streaks down the t-shirt he’d put inside for her to wear, molding the upper half over her full breasts. With her face scrubbed clean of make-up and her shirt hanging long over her hips, she looked unexpectedly innocent, and it struck Wes hard in the gut. He forgot sometimes just how young she really was. Only her large, dark eyes betrayed the age of her experience.
“So? You get the dish from Giles?”
At least he kept from glancing guiltily at the phone. “How do you feel?” he asked, avoiding her question.
Faith shrugged. “Cleaner.” She paused, and her gaze slid sideways to the broken jamb for a fleeting moment before she added, “Calmer. So much for not wrecking your place this time.”
“It’s to be expected. From what I gather, you’ve been under a great deal of stress since leaving Cleveland.”
His comment triggered her into moving, and she sat down in the nearest chair to start slipping on her shoes. “All the more reason to go hit the sack,” she said without looking up. “Thanks for the shower. I’ll—”
She jerked when he crouched in front of her, barring her easy path to the door. “You didn’t tell Giles the Rhavros demon bit you,” Wes said, keeping his tone as even as he could. It was pointless trying to continue the charade that he hadn’t called. Faith was too astute to play such games.
“Yeah? So what? A demon’s a demon, and it wasn’t any of his fucking business.”
“It is when Rhavros venom is poisonous.” Though she blanched, Wes didn’t pause, refusing to give her the opportunity to argue with him. “I’ll have to look up the antidote, but considering the fact that your injury is infected, I think you should stay here tonight and let me take care of it.”
“But I’m five by five, Wes. If it’s such a hardass, I would’ve been affected by it by now.”
He shook his head. “Its venom alters brain chemistry. Your Slayer healing powers have likely slowed it down, but it’s still there, Faith. And eventually, it will get you killed.”
His wording made her frown, though she stayed rooted in the chair. “Get me killed? So it’s not going to actually kill me itself?”
“It loosens inhibitions,” he explained. “Makes people reckless. For the Rhavros, it means their prey is easier to catch. Have you noticed anything different about your…moods lately?”
Faith’s laugh was a short, sharp bark. “You’re fucking kidding me, right? Robin’s dead. I thought me mourning him was supposed to be a good thing. But hey, if you want me to go back to not caring—”
He surprised both of them by placing his hands on her shoulders and forcing her to look at him. “Your problem has never been about not caring,” he said. “It’s because you’ve always cared too much. You’re simply allowing yourself not to be afraid of that, for the first time in your life. And that’s not a bad thing.”
Her muscles tensed beneath his palms, every movement telegraphed through his skin. Though he had long ago wondered if he would ever understand this Rogue Slayer, in those long seconds where Faith simply stared at him, Wes realized he could read her thoughts as clearly as if she’d spoken them aloud. She wanted to run, but even more, she wanted to hear him out, like he’d offered her a special gift and she was eager for more. It was a trifle heady to know.
“You can have my bed,” he said when she didn’t speak. “I’ll likely be up a good part of the night looking for the antidote anyway, and I’ll feel better knowing you’re resting well. But first, I insist that you let me bandage your stomach and lance that bite mark. Buffy and Angel need you in peak condition. You won’t be doing anybody any favors by playing the martyr here.”
Her mouth twitched, though she visibly fought the urge to smile. “And here I thought you were over being bossy. You’re sliding, Wes.”
“Perhaps.” He let her go, but when he straightened, he couldn’t resist adding, “But you’re staying anyway.”
Her ensuing complaints were loud and colorful, but they lacked the angry passion that he remembered from years gone past. Even when she stretched back out on the couch, her shirt rolled beneath her breasts, and kept up the commentary, Wes returned the banter until doing so was effortless. By the time he was ready to re-open her old injury, any sense of tension between them was gone.
Faith’s hand touched his as he turned back to retrieve his small scalpel from his first aid kit. “I was getting headaches,” she said, her voice suddenly small. “In Cleveland, after…after. I couldn’t get rid of them except by going out and killing something. Oh, and a wicked amount of Tylenol. Do you think that’s part of this poison business?”
Wesley considered it for a moment before answering. “It’s possible. It could also be a manifestation of your grief, Faith. Giles said…you didn’t talk very much about what happened. Is it safe to assume you haven’t talked to Buffy about it either?”
“She doesn’t need my shit. She’s got her own problems to worry about. This thing with Spike knocked her into next week.”
“She’s your friend. She wouldn’t have allowed you to stay with her in Rome if she didn’t care.”
“I didn’t give her much of a choice.”
“Somehow, I think if Buffy hadn’t wanted you there, she would have found a way to get rid of you.”
They both became aware of Faith’s fingers still over his at the same time. Wesley watched her reaction, waiting for her to move, but when she did, it almost seemed in slow motion, like she was reluctant to break the contact.
“Not that I’m part of the brain trust,” she said, “but an extra set of eyes can’t hurt when you’re looking through your books tonight. We’ll find this antidote faster then, yeah?”
Though he doubted she would be of any genuine help, the gesture unexpectedly touched Wes, and he gave her a soft smile. “I’m sure we will,” he said.
It could have been the smell of the place. Even in the private wing she and the other Slayers had taken over, the lingering scent of ammonia clung to every corner, and nothing Buffy did could banish it. She showered, and she used her own shampoo instead of the Institute’s, and she even spritzed her perfume on the blankets, but as she laid in bed, trying to go to sleep, her eyes refused to close.
She kept seeing Spike. And Dana. Then Spike again. And there was that lawyer guy Faith recognized. Hell, she saw Faith, and she was the least of her concerns right now. Everyone and everything seemed to have taken up residence inside her brain, and not even the antiseptic that made her nose itch burned them away.
With the red digits of the clock glaring at her, Buffy pushed back the blankets and got up, changing out of her pj’s and back into her clothes in record time. She had thoughts of sneaking out to do a quick patrol, but with this many Slayers around, she knew there wouldn’t be any vampires in the vicinity. It was likely the demon community were already alerted to their presence and steering clear. It would make exhausting herself so that she’d drop the second her head hit the pillow a little more difficult.
That familiar sense of dread crawled over her skin as she navigated through Watts’ dim corridors. It felt like a hospital. It smelled like a hospital. How could people be expected to get better in such an environment? They needed familiar surroundings, and warmth, and the support of friends. Here, it was all white coats, and cold walls, and doctors who didn’t even know your name without checking a file.
The exception to that, she thought, was Dr. Guerrero. Buffy liked her. She didn’t know why, because they really hadn’t much of an opportunity to interact, but something about the woman begged her trust. Part of it was probably her obvious dedication to helping Dana, even if she had pulled Buffy out of the room earlier than she would have liked. Part of it, too, could be that she just seemed insanely normal. Put together without being showy about it. Like she knew who she was and it didn’t matter what anybody else thought.
Buffy admired that. How many years had she struggled to find a balance between slaying and her everyday life?
So lost in thought, she didn’t realize she’d gotten turned around until she looked up and found herself facing a blank wall. Frowning, she took a step back, searching for any type of signage that would tell her what department she was in. There were none. There wasn’t even a nurses’ station nearby for her to go and ask how to find an exit. Which, come to think of it, probably wasn’t the smartest thing for her to do. With the way her luck had been going, they’d think she was a patient trying to escape, and she’d spend the night hugging herself in a little white jacket.
She backtracked several yards, trying to look like she belonged without looking conspicuous. It was at a junction of hallways that the first tingle sizzled down the back of her neck, and Buffy stopped dead in her tracks.
It was probably looking for an easy meal, she thought as she crept along in the direction the tingles led her. Hospitals were notorious for that kind of thing, and it made sense that a psychiatric hospital wouldn’t be any different. Who would believe inpatients blathering on about dangerous vampires? It was practically a smorgasbord.
It took passing a door to realize that the tingles were growing fainter. Buffy stopped and turned around, going back to where the sensations were strongest. Pressing her ear to the door, she heard nothing from within, and when she tried the knob, it didn’t budge.
Well, it didn’t until she snapped the lock.
It was loud, much louder than she’d wanted. Whoever was inside was going to know she was there, so the stealthy approach was now officially kaput. Pulling her stake out of her waistband, Buffy readied it in her palm as she took a deep breath, then pushed the door open.
The quip died on her tongue as soon as she saw the unconscious figure on the bed.
To be continued in Chapter 7: Standing on the Corner of Civilization…