“Mr Giles, do you have a moment?”
Rupert sighed and wished for the millionth time, since he regained consciousness, that this was some sort of coma induced nightmare. It certainly had the markings of one. Every one of his worst fears had come to fruition since waking: They had not yet found a way to stop the seemingly unstoppable demons. Willow was actively helping in the apocalypse. Her untrained power had almost killed people and it had endangered many others but, most of all…
Willow’s team and boyfriend knew demons existed and that she was a witch.
This was the very thing he had feared since the day Willow announced she was joining the Air Force. Now that it was here, he was hardly surprised. Truth be told, he had expected Willow’s secret to be exposed long ago. Though, he thought it would be because of her power, not because Angel and Cordelia had decided to involve Willow in their fight against the cult.
There were no words to describe his anger and frustration.
Both Angel and Cordelia were aware of his… feelings in regards to the situation. He had warned both of them, countless times, that involving Willow in any supernatural situation was dangerous. Not just because of her job, or because of her fear…
But because of her loyalty.
Rupert knew – or at least – suspected, that if Willow’s secrets were ever exposed, she would confess everything she knew. Willingly. Perhaps not to the more senior officers of her command, but to those she trusted – like her team. Her faith in the Air Force was blind to everything else. If she thought it was the right thing to do, he had no doubt she would admit it all. Since Willow had spent hours locked in Lorne’s bedroom with her team, Rupert believed that was exactly what had happened.
The fact that Major Kawalsky and Captain Hayes were standing in front of him, watching him expectantly, only reinforced that theory.
“Major Kawalsky, Captain Hayes,” Rupert greeted them, lowering the book he had been reading onto the table. He noticed, in his peripheral vision, that Faith was making her way towards them. It was good to know he wasn’t the only one who had been dreading the moment the two senior officers of Willow’s team joined them. “If this is about Lieutenant Grogan or Dr Jackson, Angel has escorted both of them to the hospital. I can’t imagine they would be too much longer.”
“Actually no,” Kawalsky didn’t surprise him by saying. “I wanted to talk to you about the Demon Cult.”
“What do you want to know about them?” Faith asked, coming to join them. “They’re big, they’re scary and, when we figure out a way, they’re dead.”
While that wasn’t exactly what he would’ve said, Rupert found that he had very little to add to Faith’s statement.
“Lieutenant Rosenberg mentioned that you would more than likely be researching the demons.” The Major’s eyes went to the books that were scattered on the table. “Have you had any luck trying to find a way to kill the demons? Or at least stop them?”
The question irritated him. If they had found a way to kill the demons, Rupert would hardly keep the information quiet. Everyone in Caritas would know. “Unfortunately, our research hasn’t uncovered anything that we didn’t already know.”
Kawalsky seemed disappointed by his reply. “So we’ve still got five days before the demons try to take over the world?”
Well, that confirmed that Willow had told her team everything she knew about this apocalypse. All he wanted to know now was whether or not Willow told her team everything about them, about Sunnydale. He prayed that she hadn’t. While Willow’s team had already witnessed a great deal, they didn’t know the enormity of their situation. Not this apocalypse, but what they did. Rupert didn’t want them to know how often they fought for their lives and the lives of everyone on the planet.
Most of all, he didn’t want the military to know any more about Slayers than they already did.
“Three days, actually,” he corrected him. “There was a ritual last night, and there will be one in a few hours.”
He took very little satisfaction from the look of horror on the Major and Captain’s faces. “We have seventy-two hours before the world end?”
“More like seventy-seven,” Faith said helpfully.
Kawalsky shot Faith a look, one that said how much he appreciated her input. With a sigh, the Major motioned to the two empty chairs at his table. “Do you mind?”
Yes, he did mind. “No, please…” The two officers sat down directly across for him while Faith continued to stand. He sent a small prayer of thanks that Cordelia was with Gunn. This conversation would have been considerably more painful if the brunette was present. More interesting, but definitely more painful.
“Mr Giles…” Kawalsky began.
“Please, call me Rupert or Giles.”
He nodded. “Kawalsky.”
Faith let out a loud – and not so subtle – sigh.
“I was hoping that we had a bit more time,” Kawalsky muttered more to himself than to them. After a moment lost in thought, he looked up. “Giles, I’m interested to know exactly what your thoughts about this situation are.”
His thoughts on the situation? While the question sounded genuine, Rupert had a feeling he wasn’t going to like where this discussion was going to end. “In what regards?”
He hesitated a moment before answering. “Do you think we’ll be able stop the Demon Cult?”
Immediately, Rupert knew what Kawalsky was asking. He wanted to know if they could defeat the demons on the own, without military assistance. The Major was trying to find out if he needed to call for reinforcements.
Rupert resisted the urge to sigh. Nothing he could say was going to convince the Major they had everything under control. The fact was, they had very little control over anything. He could only think of one other apocalypse where things seemed equally as dire, when he had two Slayers.
“Nothing has beaten us so far,” Faith replied, somewhat defensively.
“That wasn’t what I was asking.” Kawalsky said. “Rosenberg told us everything she could about the Demon Cult and about this apocalypse. I just want to know if you have the means to stop the demons.”
“Not as yet, but I don’t doubt that we will. As Faith said, there hasn’t been anything we’ve been unable to defeat.”
The Major nodded. “ Rosenberg has been quite adamant about your team’s ability to contain this situation. In fact, she’s the reason I haven’t called the General for reinforcements.”
His confession caught Rupert by surprise. A part of him had believed that Willow had more faith in the Air Force than in her friends. In all honesty, Rupert believed Willow had stopped believing in them at Graduation. It touched him more than he could say to hear this.
“She believes that we can do this without military intervention. Which is why I’m curious as to your thoughts on the matter,” Kawalsky said, somewhat formally. “I don’t mean to imply that you’re not capable of handling this, it’s just… You understand the kind of situation this puts me in.”
Oh yes, they were all more than aware. “We’ve done more on less time.” Rupert was fairly certain his words did little to assure the man.
“Yeah,” Faith agreed. “We’re not ready to roll over, yet.”
“I know and I admire that but, like Rosenberg, we…” He motioned to himself and Captain Hayes. “…have sworn to protect the people on this planet. As much as I would like to believe that we’re going to succeed in saving the Earth, I can’t just sit around and do nothing. Especially not now. If we had more time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I promised Rosenberg I’d hold off calling for help but, after hearing how long we have, I’m not sure I can keep that promise.”
“A military presence wouldn’t necessarily increase our chances,” Rupert said honestly.
“They wouldn’t exactly hinder it, either,” Kawalsky argued. “You’ve had your asses kicked by the demons twice, three times if we include what happened at the hospital. We’ve lost two witches, Annabelle and Rosenberg, and we’re no closer to stopping the demon. At what point will you be ready to ‘roll over’?“
Rupert saw Faith stiffen out of the corner of his eye. “So you suggest we call in the military?” he asked before Faith said something they would all regret. “While I understand where you’re coming from, I still think involving the military would be a mistake.”
“By the time they organized themselves, it would be over.”
To Rupert’s surprise, it was Captain Hayes who spoke next. “Perhaps not. We haven’t cleared this with Rosenberg yet, but we’re thinking about involving the Air Force unofficially.”
“Unofficially?” he repeated, unable to curb his curiosity.
Kawalsky nodded. “I can call two teams in our command that would be more than willing to come here and help. I can guarantee their silence”
That was… interesting. He wondered if this team was the one Gunn’s contact had overheard in Colorado. ‘Lou’s’ team.
“They’ll also keep Rosenberg connection in all of this to themselves. No brass will ever know they were here.”
“Do you have the authority to do that?” Rupert asked.
Kawalsky made a face. “I wouldn’t be ordering them here, if that’s what you’re asking. They owe Rosenberg – all of us – some favors.”
“As tempting as that offer is, Major, I still see no point involving the military more than they already are.” Rupert motioned to Gunn’s men who were wondering around the bar. “Man power is something we don’t lack. If, however, you have several witches in your command, I will be willing to consider your offer more carefully.”
Rupert wasn’t at all surprised to realize that he was actually serious. Not so much about accepting the offer, but the comment about witches in his command. He had not forgotten what they all overheard Willow tell Joyce and, while he seriously doubt Willow was involved in something supernatural with the Air Force, he did believe Willow when she had said it was something equally as serious.
He had every intention of asking her what it was the moment he was alone with her.
It only seemed fair. More than likely Willow’s team knew everything there was to know about them and their lives. It was logical to assume that the young Lieutenant would grant them the same respect.
“Unfortunately, the only witch that we had in our command was Willow.”
“Then I’m afraid there is nothing you can do.”
Judging by the look on the Major’s face, he didn’t agree. “I think there is.”
And now they were at an impasse. There was nothing Rupert could say to him that would sway him from his thinking. Within a day, without a doubt, there would be two teams from Willow’s command here.
“I’m sorry, Giles, but unless someone comes up with a plan in the next two hours, I’ll have no choice but to make the call.”
Willow’s excited shout cut off any reply he might have had. Rupert looked over to the redhead. She was racing towards them, with Tara close behind. Both girls looked… excited.
“Sirs.” She nodded the two officers. “We need to get everyone together. We have a plan.”
“You have a plan?” Cordelia asked eagerly.
Willow nodded, feeling a little nervous. With the exception of Daniel, Angel, Grogan, and the owner of the bar, everyone with sitting in a circle in the centre of the karaoke bar. All of them looking eagerly towards her and Tara. The fact that everyone had assembled here in less than five minutes told Willow that no one else had come up with anything to fight the demons.
Which was a little bit concerning. After all, their ‘plan’ wasn’t really a plan. It was more of an idea with potential to become a plan. It was by no means complete, but that was why Willow had called a Scooby – Fang Gang – meeting. With everyone’s input, they should be able to come up with something.
“All right, Rosenberg,” Kawalsky said. “We’re all here. Why don’t you tell us what you have?”
This was a lot different from an impromptu meeting at the SGC. For some reason, Giles’ presence was making her feel a little nervous. It wasn’t so much that Giles himself was making her nervous, but the way he was looking at her. Scrutinizing her.
She cleared her throat. “Well, sir, Tara and I were talking in the bedroom and we came up with something that will give us an advantage when we next confront the demons.”
He nodded encouragingly.
“As you know, when I was draining power from Giles, Tara, and the demons, I managed to gather enough power to kill one of them. Well, we were –”
“Whoa! Hold up!” Faith interrupted, jumping to her feet. “You KILLED one of the demons.”
Willow had the grace to wince. In her excitement, she forgot she hadn’t told to her friends about her… achievement. “Right before my powers were drained,” she said Just like she expected, her friends were NOT happy. Though, she had a feeling it was because they had been kept out of the loop as opposed to her killing one of the demons.
“When were you going to tell us?” Cordelia wanted to know, offended.
“I was planning on telling you as soon as I finished talking to my team and Daniel,” she said. Really, she was. “I just…” Her eyes went to Tara. “… got distracted.” To Willow’s surprise, and confusion, the blonde witch blushed.
“You guys can argue about when she was going to tell you after she’s finished here,” Kawalsky said. “Rosenberg, continue.”
She dragged her eyes away from Tara and focused on her CO. This was so much easier when she focused on him and not her friends. “Like I was saying, we were talking about my power, where it is now.” Okay, so she was leaving a little bit out, but she didn’t want to get them to get sidetracked by telling them everything. Besides, she wasn’t exhibiting any ‘side-effects’. “My power is currently being stored inside a heavily warded crystal.”
“Did you two work out some way for you to get them back?” Kawalsky asked. He didn’t seem too happy at the prospect.
Willow shook her head. “No. I can never gain my powers back. They’re trapped inside the crystal until I die.”
Only she noticed the flash of relief in his eyes.
“But the crystal that holds my power has to be maintained.” She looked to Tara. “Tara was nominated to take care of the crystal. You have to maintain the wards, make sure no one is trying to get at it?” she directed the question directly to the blonde witch.
Captain Hayes leaned forward in his seat. “This is all great, Rosenberg, but how does this help us?”
“Crystals can be used as a power source.”
Giles sat up in his seat. “That’s right. A witch can use a crystal to increase her powers, to focus them…”
Willow nodded. “And since Tara will be maintaining the wards, she’ll be able to access them.”
The Major was quiet as her words sunk in. “Tara will be able to access your power?”
“I’m not sure to what degree, but, yes sir.”
Kawalsky looked to Tara. “Is that possible?”
The blonde witch nodded. “I’ll need to go over the spell used to strip Willow of her powers, and then I’ll need to look at the warding and alter it where necessary, but it should be possible.”
Tara faltered under Kawalsky’s gaze. “It’ll be tricky but…I can do it.”
The Major didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t argue the point. “Where’s the crystal now?”
“In New York,” Tara replied. “When we’re done here I’m going to call the coven in New York. They’ll arrange to have it sent here.”
“How long will it take you to set it up?” Hayes asked.
“About two days, maybe a little longer.”
“All right,” Kawalsky conceded. “So the plan is for Tara to drain your power from the crystal?”
Willow nodded. “Not drain, access and only temporarily. We haven’t worked out all the details, but the potential is there, sir.”
“Tara’s a trained witch,” Hayes said. “That means she’ll be able to use your powers more…”
“Correctly?” Willow finished for him. “Yes, sir. I know I almost killed her and Giles when I was fighting them, but with Tara’s knowledge, that shouldn’t happen again.” There was that word ‘should’ again.
“Sounds like a good plan,” Faith agreed. “But we still gotta get close to them.”
This was where their ‘plan’ came to an end. “Giles said the final ritual was when the demons are at their weakest. Right now, we’re no match for them.”
“If we wait until then, we’ll stand a chance.” It was Gunn who spoke.
“The timing works,” Cordelia said. “By the time Tara’s finished with the warding on the crystal it’ll be time for the final ritual.”
They would be cutting it close. “Giles can help her with that.” Willow looked at her former mentor. “You can help her with that, right?”
He nodded slowly. “There are a few books that I kept back at the hotel that I think will help. They’re kept in the safe in my bedroom.” He turned to Cordelia. “You didn’t bring them here by any chance, did you?”
The brunette shook her head.
“I can call Angel, get him to pick it up on the way back from the hospital.”
Willow frowned. “Will that be safe? The demons won’t be hanging around there, will they?”
“Angel can get them,” Faith said confidently. “He knows ways into that place the demons wouldn’t be able to think of.”
Kawalsky nodded. “Grogan can escort Dr Whitwood and Daniel back here while he does it.”
Willow vaguely heard the telephone ringing in the background, but she didn’t pay attention as Gunn went to answer it. Her excitement was too hard to ignore. They had a plan, a viable plan they would work with. There were still some details to be worked out, but they stood a chance.
For the first time, Willow had hope.
Her head snapped up at the sound of Gunn’s voice.
Telephone? The call was for her? No, that couldn’t be right. “On the landline?” A sinking feeling washed over her. No one should be calling her on that phone. Everyone who knew her – who wasn’t in this room – had her cell or Kawalsky’s cell.
“It’s some guy named Percy.”
“What is it?” Kawalsky demanded, pushing his way through Rosenberg’s friends to stand by her side. The last time he had seen her this pale was when she’d gotten the call about Giles. She hadn’t said a damn word when she was on the phone to Percy. Whatever the guy had told her was bad news.
Christ, couldn’t they cut a break just this once?
“Lieutenant!” His shout had the effect he’d been after. Rosenberg seemed to snap out of the shocked state she’d falling into. She looked at him – at all of them – with anguished eyes. Kawalsky was a little tempted to tell her friends to back off, to give her some space, but he didn’t think they would listen – or appreciate it. “Rosenberg, what’s wrong?”
“Percy had a visit.”
“We went to Sunnydale High together.”
“Is he okay?” Cordelia asked. “Was it a demon?”
“No, it wasn’t a demon.” Willow looked directly at him. “He had a visit from some people who claimed to be friends of my boyfriend.”
Oh Shit. “Who?” Kawalsky wanted to know, his mind racing. He was already thinking the worst. The fact that the ‘friends’ of Daniel had visited someone Willow went to school with REALLY worried him. It meant that whoever they were had done some checking into Graduation. To Kawalsky, it could only be…
“Colonel Carter and Teal’c.”
His eyes closed involuntarily. “Shit.” They were in deep shit. So much so that Kawalsky didn’t even get upset at Rosenberg’s slip of Teal’c’s name. Without a doubt Jack had sent them here and when his best friend found out what they had been keeping from him… It wasn’t going to be pretty.
Though, on the other hand, Kawalsky also felt the urge to kiss his best friend.
“Colonel?” Cordelia repeated. “One of your colonels went to Percy and pretended he and this Teal’c guy were friends of Daniel?”
“Colonel Carter is female,” Hayes corrected her. “And they are friends of Daniel. They’re his best friends. I guess General O’Neill didn’t believe us when we said everything was okay.”
No shit. “Did he tell them anything?” There was no need for Kawalsky to ask Rosenberg why they had gone there. He knew why. Information. They hadn’t been able to get any from them, so they went to another source. He should have known Jack would do this.
“He didn’t know they were in the military when they arrived.” Her eyes closed. “He… He told them everything.”
“Oh God!” Cordelia exclaimed. “We’re screwed.”
“No we’re not. It was only Carter and Teal’c, right?” Kawalsky asked. “He didn’t send Lou’s team or anything.”
“Just the Colonel and Teal’c.”
It was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. “That means the secret is still contained. More than likely, they’re here unofficially.”
“Unofficially?” Faith repeated. “That doesn’t mean shit.”
“Yes, it does,” Kawalsky told them. “It means that Jack was worried about Rosenberg and Daniel. It’s personal. I’m going to call Jack now.” Rosenberg hadn’t broken any regulations by keeping this quiet. None of them had. But that didn’t mean they didn’t do anything wrong.
He was going to have to do some serious damage control.
“Are they still with Percy?” Hayes asked.
Rosenberg shook her head. “No, he kicked them out when he found out the truth.”
That wasn’t good. “Did he know where they were going next?” How many of Rosenberg’s high school friends were on their list? Christ! He couldn’t believe Jack had done this.
“He didn’t say, but more than likely they’ll be on their way to…see us! Sir, they’ll be heading to the hotel!”
Okay, things were turning out to be as bad as they could be. “We’re going to have to go meet them. Rosenberg, Hayes, arm up. We’ll head out to the hotel immediately.” Kawalsky took one step away from Rosenberg before he was stopped by Faith.
“No way in hell,” she said, hand on her hip. “If the demons are staking the place out, you’re dead.”
“We’re not going to let our friends walk into an ambush,” he told her.
“Even if you leave now, it’ll be too late,” Cordelia told them. “I know where Percy lives; they’ll get to the hotel long before you will. We’re too far away, but Angel’s not. At least not as far as us. You never know, if they make another detour, Angel could get there before them.”
“I have a suggestion…Couldn’t we just call her?” Gunn asked.
Kawalsky shook his head. “Not until after I talk to Jack. I don’t have her cell number.” And of course, he couldn’t actually tell Jack on the phone why he needed to get in contact with Carter so urgently. He planned to tell his best friend everything, but NOT over an unsecured line.
Christ, this was a mess. Why the hell didn’t Jack just ring and demand answers? Anything but send Carter and Teal’c into a dangerous situation. As much as he hated to admit it, Cordelia did have a point. Angel was their best solution. Kawalsky still didn’t exactly trust the vampire, but if he could get there before Carter and Teal’c, then maybe he could stop them from walking into a trap. “Make the call.” Cordelia nodded and headed towards the phone. He turned the remainder of his team. “He’ll still need back-up. We’ll…”
“Stay here like good little soldiers,” Faith told him. “I know you’re worried about your friends, but if the demons are there you’re all dead. You can’t fight these demons with hand to hand combat. Angel will get them, and the books, and then he’ll bring them back here. You go walking in there at the wrong time and you’re gonna get everyone killed.”
He REALLY didn’t like this plan.
“I’m not going to let you get Red killed. If you try to leave, I’ll stop you.”
He was tempted to see if she was bluffing, but the memory of the last time they had fought Rosenberg’s friends came to mind. Even if Hayes and Rosenberg fought with him – which he had no doubt they would – they would still get their asses handed to them.
“Faith is right, Major Kawalsky,” Giles agreed. “Angel is the best person to handle this situation.”
Christ, he hated this.
“Tell me you’re not serous.” Jack couldn’t believe his ears. Christ, he had known the situation was tenuous at best, but he didn’t think…Well, he had hoped like hell that this could be avoided. “Jacob, I’m begging you, tell me this is a joke.”
“I’m afraid not, Jack. The Tok’ra High Council is insisting that we finish the treaty negations on the Tok’ra home-world.”
Strangely, THAT wasn’t what bothered him. “Yeah, I get that, but why do they insist we do it TODAY?” Saying that the timing sucked would be an understatement. Jack didn’t want to leave the base. It wasn’t that he didn’t think Reynold’s could run the place while he was gone, it was just that…
He didn’t want to leave until he knew what the hell was going on in LA.
Carter and Teal’c hadn’t called him yet and the longer it went without word, the more uneasy he was feeling about all of this.
“More than likely, Jack, because the High Council was insulted when you ended the last treaty meeting so abruptly. They know how you feel about them. They’re beginning to wonder whether or not a treaty with the Tau’ri is in their best interest.”
Oh. THAT. “So, basically, they want me to jump because I ticked them off by cutting the meeting short.” Short so he could send Carter and Teal’c to LA.
The former General and Tok’ra operative studied him. “It wasn’t just that. You didn’t seem interested in the proceedings. Neither were Sam and Teal’c, for that matter. It also didn’t help matters that Daniel wasn’t there.” Jacob sighed. “If you don’t agree to this, I’m not sure there will be a treaty to negotiate.”
“Just out of curiosity, Jack, where was Daniel? Walter told me he took some personal time… as did Sam and Teal’c. Everything all right, Jack?”
The knock at the door couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Sorry to interrupt, General, but you said to let you know the moment Major Kawalsky phoned… He’s on line two.”
Sam switched off the engine and stepped out of the car. This was the place, the Hyperion Hotel, home of Angel Investigations. She stared at the massive hotel, a slight frown on her face.
“There’re no lights on.”
Call it her gut instinct, but something about the absolute darkness of the hotel made her very uneasy.
“Indeed, Colonel Carter,” Teal’c agreed, coming to stand next to her. “It appears as if there is no one here.”
Which was odd. This was where Willow had gone; it was the address of her next of kin. This was where she would have expected they all be after whatever happened at the hospital. A cold chill ran over her.
What if something else had gone wrong after they had spoken to the General?
“Teal’c,” she began, taking a step towards the hotel. “I think we better…”
The words came to an abrupt halt when she saw something move out of the corner of her eye…