Title: Chapter 4: Twenty-Five to Life
Characters: Angel, Anya Jenkins, Charles Gunn, Cordelia Chase, Faith Lehane, Fred Burkle, Rupert Giles, Spike, Tara Maclay, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris
Word Count: 4,178
A/N: Though I list a lot of characters, and some of them actually do get dialog, some of them just pass through.
"I just want to make sure we're all on the same page here. The one with the insane writing that tells us bringing a convicted murderer back into town is a good idea."
As much as she loved Xander, he really did not know when to quit. Giles, unlike most times, was doing nothing to dissuade his ranting. Willow listened with only half her attention as Tara explained –for the third time that night alone—why they needed to bring Faith back to Sunnydale. The rest of her attention was focused on the bag she was packing. Granted, she wouldn't need much in the way of clothes since she was only planning on being gone for a few days at most. The rest of her bag was full of various spell ingredients she might need.
When Anya had protested taking the items, Willow had tried to explain that she might not be able to find them in Los Angeles. That hadn't worked either, but before Willow could even draw a breath to argue even more, Spike had thrown down a wad of cash on the counter which put a smile on Anya's face and silenced her. Willow didn't even bother to ask where he'd gotten the money –she probably wouldn't like the answer—and only sent him a silent thank you.
As she zipped up her bag, she could hear Xander's condescending reply, "Perhaps you missed the part where she killed a man and is now in prison."
She could see Tara ready to once again explain something that should have been unnecessary to explain in the first place while Giles continued to stand silently by, staring at the floor. Something in her just snapped. She barely recognized her own voice.
"Enough. Buffy is gone. Bringing her back would be too cruel. We need a slayer for the Hellmouth. The spell I put on the town yesterday will only hold for a little bit. After that it would have to be redone."
When Xander made to argue some more, Willow interrupted, already knowing what he would say, "The spell may keep demons peaceful, but it would only take someone vaguely interested in magic to find out what the spell is and they could break it. We need the Slayer. We need Faith."
He stared at her mulishly, so Willow tried softening her tone, "I understand why you wouldn't want to be around her, Xander. I get that it can be hard being around someone who tried to kill you…"
Xander didn't look mollified at all when he said, "Maybe you forgot, but she tried to kill you, too."
Willow had managed to downplay any danger that Faith would pose to her from Tara until now. By the nasty expression Xander wasn't trying to hide from her, he realized it and was all too happy to change that.
"Honey, are you sure you should be going to get her? I mean, if she's tried to kill you before…"
Willow faced Tara with her best reassuring smile. "Faith turned herself in. She's not the same girl who accidentally killed a man." The last was said with a pointed look at Xander who looked unrepentant.
"Besides, Red won't be going alone."
Willow glanced at the door to her room where Spike stood, a small bag of his own at his feet. She wasn't sure if she was relieved or upset that he had joined in the conversation. Tara's expression said she was more than sure she didn't like the situation.
"If Faith really isn't a threat, maybe I should go with you."
As much as Willow would love to spend time with Tara –they really hadn't had a lot of quality time lately—this just wasn't the right time for it.
"I'm not sure we'll get back before the spell needs redone. If we can't, I need you and Giles here to cast it. Besides, Spike isn't going because of Faith. There are demons in LA"
Tara –and Xander—had nothing to say to that, and followed her and Spike to the front door. As she stepped off the porch, Willow turned back to face her girlfriend.
"While we're in LA, you should start packing up your stuff."
While Tara seemed to know exactly what was going on, Xander seemed lost. With a sad smile, she explained, "With Buffybot gone, we're going to have to report Buffy missing. After a while, her dad is going to probably want to sell the house."
She could see the same grief on Xander's face that she had experienced when she had realized that Buffy's home wasn't really Buffy's home now. Perhaps sensing that she didn't want to talk about it anymore, Giles chose then to walk up to her and wrap her in a warm and much-needed hug.
His voice was soft and understanding when he whispered, "Take care of yourself, Willow."
Without saying anything more, she turned and walked to the curb where Spike was waiting by her by her parent's car. He held his hands out for the keys, but she shook her head, causing him to roll his eyes and make his way to the passenger seat. Her parents may have left the car for her use while they were out of town, but she was sure they wouldn't want her driving to LA with it. No need to add the offense of letting someone they didn't know behind the wheel as well.
Willow made it a point to pay close attention to her driving until the house on Revello Drive was out of sight so she had an excuse not to see Tara staring after her. More and more, she was getting the feeling that her girlfriend was not happy with their situation. She just didn't know how to fix it. And, so, she was being avoidy girl.
Spike, for his part, was more than ready to let the ride go by in silence. Though he would kill for a smoke. It's not that he was afraid of seeing Angel, he just really wasn't too keen on the notion that the gelled wonder would find out about his little electronic leash. Theoretically, he could have stayed in Sunnydale –Willow was damn well capable of taking care of herself— but he just couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend some time with just the two of them.
Unfortunately, he had already agreed to go before he dawned on him that their time alone would be spent with Angel and his hapless band of do-gooders. He held his peace for the whole two-hour drive, right up until they pulled in behind the hotel where his absentee grandsire was making his home.
"Angelus always did have a taste for the dramatically gothic. Right then, Red, here's the plan… we roll in, throw a jab or two at Angelkins, then nab the slayer. No need to go bringing up my pesky little chip."
Willow just looked at him for a moment in obvious confusion before he could see understanding slowly come to her. Shaking her head, she tried to reassure him.
"I'm sure Angel's friends wouldn't…" She quickly lost steam as his eyebrow raised. As she looked toward the hotel, he could see the moment when she gave up. Her shoulders dropped along with her expression and she gave a resigned sigh.
"Maybe we should just avoid talking about all things Initiative and their experiments."
When he only hummed in agreement, she nodded her head and climbed out of the car. Knowing he didn't really have a choice since he'd foolishly agreed to come, he climbed out after her. For Willow's sake, he really hoped Angel didn't make things difficult. Though, he would love to see her put the old man in his place.
While he was aware that Willow knew exactly where she was going –she'd been there before after all – she still looked nervous and unsure. However, just before they got to the doors where any of Angel's little merry band could see them, she squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. He could still hear her slightly elevated heart rate, but she could probably fool someone who wasn't paying attention. Maybe.
When they walked into the lobby – leave it to Angelus to decide he needed an entire hotel to live in – the four people at the front desk off to the right didn't notice them at first. While he only knew three of them through Willow's detailed babblings from the other night, he easily recognized the cheerleader and couldn't resist the urge to rattle her a bit.
"Cordelia! Still as smashing as ever."
Cordelia looked tense but not ready to go for a weapon, so he could only assume that she at least knew he had been working with the Sunnydale chapter of the white hat brigade. The other three only looked mildly curious. Honestly, how people with such shoddy instincts managed to not only survive but also slay a few demons was beyond him.
"Spike, still trying to bring back the Billy Idol look, I see."
He could see Wesley's panic clearly written in the man's eyes and he looked on the verge of scrambling for a weapon when he heard Spike's name. Gunn, though he tensed up, looked far more calm and ready for a fight if it should come to that. Angel at least had one good fighter on his team. Fred looked relaxed though extremely curious. It could be she had never heard of him or those years in the demon world that Willow had told him about made a vampire seem like a small threat.
While he was assessing her crew, Cordelia seemed to finally notice that Willow was standing there with him.
"Willow. Oh, no, who died this time? Is it Xander?"
He could hear Willow's heartbeat beat just a bit faster as she hurried to reassure Cordelia, "No, no. No one's dead."
Spike tuned out Willow's explanation and focused on Angel who had come out of what looked to be the hotel's office. Angel, in turn, was focused on him. There was a strong urge in him to simply attack the vampire he'd both hated and… liked on and off for nearly as long as he could remember. However, he'd made a promise to Will, and he was going to stick by it. Angel's expression was unreadable which irritated Spike to no end.
Both vampires were broken from their silent staring contest by the sound of Cordelia's less than dulcet question.
"Why the hell would you want to get her out of prison? What kind of brain damage do you have that makes getting Psycho Slayer out of jail sound like a good idea?"
Her little tirade seemed to help the baby watcher grow a spine and he pipped in with a condescending, "We simply cannot allow you…"
There was a sense of dread that started to well up in the pit of Spike's stomach and he took a step closer to Willow, ready to try and calm her down if necessary. Her voice was cold and hard when she answered and it didn't put him the slightest bit at ease.
"We didn't come here to ask permission, Wesley. We were simply paying you the courtesy of letting you know that Faith would no longer be in jail. Now, if we're through here, I need to find a place to stay so I can get some rest before I talk to Faith tomorrow."
Before she could turn to leave, however, Angel tried to salvage the situation. His voice was soft and in no way confrontational. If Spike didn't hate the bastard so much, he'd almost be grateful. Dealing with a cranky Willow was not how he wanted to spend his night.
"Just, hold on a minute, Willow. We're all just in a bit of a shock. How bad is it?"
Like she so often did when no longer feeling attacked, Willow reverted to her sweet and accommodating self. Though, she didn't bother to sugar-coat what had happened.
"Hellions attacked the other night. They had us all cornered. We lost the Buffybot and we almost lost everyone."
Angel, of course, latched onto the one part of Willow's explanation that Spike didn't want him to. His brow furrowed and Spike could see the question before he asked it, so he interrupted, hoping to quickly move past it.
"Three geeks, good with electronics, long and boring story."
Nodding his head, Angel let it go and turned his attention back to Willow.
"There's no reason you have to go somewhere else for the night. We've got over sixty rooms here, we can spare a couple."
He could barely tell what Wesley and Cordelia were trying to say as they spoke over each other. He could only tell they didn't like the idea of him staying there.
Angel's voice was brooked no arguments when he said, "Cordy, Wes, Gunn, you guys go ahead and take off for the night. Maybe take tomorrow off as well."
While both Cordelia and Wes stalked off the way he and Will had come in, they still gave him wide berth. He had to admit, it did his ego good. It had been a while since any humans he encountered were afraid of him. Gunn held back, giving Angel a serious look.
"You sure about this, Angel."
When Angel simply nodded, Gunn turned and left the same way his friends had, though he didn't go out of his way to go around Spike and even tipped his head to Willow, giving a little wave. Honestly, he could start to like the bloke.
When it was just the four of them left, Angel gave some ridiculously cheesy smile and told Willow she could pick any room she wanted. Spike was only half listening as he prattled on about making sure it had a bed and wasn't falling apart. He rolled his eyes and followed Willow when she turned back and headed up one of the sets of stairs by the door they entered. Before he could set foot on the first step, however, he felt his arm grabbed.
The better part of a year living with a chip in his head had trained Spike to not randomly strike out before knowing who he was he was attacking. Instead, he turned and found Angel, though the older vampire was watching Willow continue up the stairs with a serious look. Before he could ask what the bloody wanker wanted, he heard Willow's asking, "You're not planning on starting a fight with him, are you?"
He recognized that tone in her voice. It was the same one she used when she had lost all patience with Xander's picking and Anya's whining. Apparently, Angel was smart enough to know that tone wasn't one to be messed with.
"No fighting, Willow. Promise."
When Willow was out of sight, instead of the fight he expected –he didn't put any weight in his sire's promises – Angel only asked, "How bad is it?"
Spike didn't bother to hide his disbelieving huff when he answered, "Bloody Hellions showed up. Did you miss that conversation, Peaches?"
Angel didn't rise to his bait, only said, "No. I mean, how bad is it with Willow?"
As much as Spike wanted to tell him to fuck off and that they didn't need him to come riding into save the day or any such nonsense… he was tired. He was damn well tired of being the only one who saw how close Willow was to cracking.
"I caught them about to go against any sort of natural order and bring Buffy back from the dead. I managed to convince Willow to at least check that the Slayer was in some sort of Hell and that they wouldn't be yanking her out of paradise or some nonsense.
"She's drowning, Angel, and she's desperate for any sort of lifeline. Her useless friends and dishrag of a girlfriend keep expecting her to have all the answers and barely even raise an eyebrow at all the red flags she's sending up."
Angel looked troubled. Or maybe hungry. It really was hard to tell with this souled version of the vampire he knew. Either way, seemed to reach some sort of decision, if the firmly nodded head was any indication.
"If Faith turns her down tomorrow, I'll have a talk with her. Maybe she'll listen to me."
Angel opened his mouth to say something probably pathetic and sappy by Spike's estimation. However, he was interrupted by a soft and solemn voice.
"It's a good thing she has you to look after her. It's hard enough to try and lead a normal life, I mean if she's still going to college and all like she said the last time she was here. If you add on fighting off demons, and vampires, and whatever Hellions are, I can't imagine anyone being able to handle that all on their own. And the way you tell it, the rest of her friends aren't really the best at supporting her either."
Spike could only stare at her wide-eyed for a beat or two. It was more than possible she could give Willow a run for her money in the babble department. Though, unlike his witch, she was apparently as silent as any vampire when she wanted to be. Perhaps it was too much time spent with white hats, but he couldn't bring himself to snip at her, instead just replying, "I try my best, pet."
When he turned a questioning look on Angel, he only gave a small smile and said, "She's Fred. She does that."
Not bothering to wish them goodnight, he walked up the stairs and followed Willow's scent. He was stopped in his tracks halfway down the hall however, when he heard Fred ask Angel, "So how long has your friend been in love with Willow?"
He didn't bother to stick around to hear whatever Angel would say after he got past his shocked stuttering. He heard Willow moving around behind one of the doors as he came upon it. He knew that she'd want to go over tomorrow's plan just one more time. Part of him hesitated out of some irrational fear that she'd take one look at him and somehow be aware of what Angel's newest little pet had said. Bollocks. If she hadn't bloody well figured it already, she wasn't going to do so now. Making up his mind, he knocked on her door.
Willow was grateful that Spike was there to listen to her go over her plan for the millionth time without complaint. Granted, it's possible he tuned out whatever she was saying, but he made it so she could think out loud and not have anyone look at her strange. People really overlooked how important that could be. In the pre-dawn hours, as she made the roughly five-hour drive to the prison in Stockton, she found herself wishing Spike was there with her so she could go over the plan at least one more time.
Not that she was nervous.
She kept telling herself that as she parked in the visitor's lot at the prison. She almost believed it by the time she had convinced the staff there that, not only was she Faith's lawyer, but that she actually had an appointment to see her. Willow was sure that Tara wouldn't approve of the bit of magic she used to do so, nor would she approve of her plan to use magic to alter people's memories to get Faith released.
Honestly, though, it was either that or a jail-break with Faith hiding out as a wanted fugitive. That wouldn't really work for their plans seeing as Sunnydale would probably be one of the places they'd look for a runaway Faith. If Tara asked, she would calming explain. Willow was sure her girlfriend would eventually see that it was necessary.
As she saw Faith walking toward her through the prison bars, she suddenly realized that, in all her planning, she had never actually come up with a conversation. She looked confused but not angry, which Willow took as a good sign. She picked up the phone on her side as the slayer sat down across from her on the other side of the glass. Once she had picked up the phone, Faith didn't bother with small talk.
"They told me my lawyer was here to see me. I don't remember hiring you."
Her voice, while still a bit husky and sarcastic, lacked the anger that Willowed remembered from their last encounter. Well, the last encounter when it had been Faith in her own body. Oh, and look, there she was just staring through the glass, waiting for Willow to say something.
"Well, uh, Faith…"
Apparently, her time in prison had not given her infinite patience. Looking for all the world like this was a conversation she didn't want to have, she interrupted, "Look, Red, if this is about Buffy, you're about five months too late. Angel already filled me in."
While Faith may have been wrong about why Willow was there, it still provided just the opening she needed.
Keeping her voice relatively quiet, she began, "No, actually, this isn't about Buffy. It's about Sunnydale. Without a slayer, the demons are getting out of control. We need a slayer, Faith. We need you."
Looking less than moved, Faith leaned back in her chair and shot back, "Well, I'm about one year in, so why don't you check back with me in twenty-four years. A little less if I'm a really good girl."
As she had been doing a lot recently, Willow lost her calm. There went her Zen right out the window. It also might have been the more than likely bullet or shatter proof glass between them giving her a bit of courage.
"You know, Faith, coming in here I knew you were a lot of things. A probable boyfriend stealer, a best friend stealer, and a murderer. I just figured you'd gotten past that whole 'running with your tail between your legs' phase after Kakistos. Guess I was wrong."
Suddenly Willow could see a bit of the old anger in Faith. Maybe that's what they really needed. At least, she hoped that's what they needed and not just a sign that she'd chosen the wrong tact.
"You wanna run that by me again, Willow?"
Since she had already started, Willow couldn't really find it in her to even want to stop. She might have a bit of resentment still built up from when Faith had tried to kill her that one time. Two, if you count graduation.
"I was more than happy to let you sit in your little cell and hide away while you did what you needed to pay for your sins or whatever. But you're the slayer, and now you're the only slayer. Me and you don't have the luxury of you sitting pretty while the world burns."
Fight back tears and struggling to keep her voice lowered, Willow leaned in and continued, "Hellions rode into town, Faith. They had all my friends chained up and we were all going to die. It's a miracle I managed to throw enough magic to get them to run. I don't know what's gonna happen the next time. Just… We need you, Faith."
Faith looked very uncomfortable as she looked everywhere but at Willow. Finally, eyeing up the glass between them, she asked, "So, what's the plan then? I just bust through here and we take a dive through the window and make a run for it?"
Willow could feel her eyes go wide and she held up her hands almost as if that could prevent Faith from doing just what she'd said.
"N-no, no! Tonight, I'll do a little work on the computer and a little spell, and tomorrow we'll come to pick you up. You can walk out of here free and clear because, as far as anyone will know, tomorrow will be your release day for a far lesser charge."
She could actually see Faith physically relax before she said, "Cool, 'cause I wasn't looking forward to going full on fugitive."
Willow could see her mentally struggling with something before she leaned in closer and looked Willow in the eyes.
"You doin' okay, Will? Like, really."
It was on the tip of her tongue to give the standard 'right as rain' type of answer, or maybe even shoot Faith's own 'five by five' at her. What came out, however, was the truth. And possibly a few tears.
"Not really, no. I think I'll get there, but right now it's hard."
Faith appeared as emotionally drained from their visit as she was, so Willow told her she'd be back to get her tomorrow and quietly said goodbye. She could only hope she'd been telling the truth when she'd said that she'd get there because, right about now, she would really love to be doing okay again.