The car came to a halt but Willow made no move to get out. Even if every cell in her body wasn’t screaming in agony and her head wasn’t pounding, Willow didn’t think she would be moving from this spot anyway.
Moving meant she had to think, had to interact, and Willow didn’t think she had the strength to do that. She had used up the last of it convincing Mrs Summers to leave the hospital grounds, terrified the demons would kill her, and the only way Willow had done that was by going with her.
From the moment the hospital disappeared from sight, her mind had simply refused to think about what happened.
It was all too much.
She couldn’t even comprehend the fact that she was sitting in front of Mrs Summers’ home.
Willow didn’t even know she lived in LA or how Mrs Summers knew where to find her – and she didn’t have the strength to open her mouth and ask. She was scared of what the answer would be…
Willow simply wanted the world to disappear.
Willow wanted to be back at the SGC – a place where this world didn’t exist. She had wondered a few times, over the last seven years, what her life would have been like if she had stayed with Giles, Angel, Cordy, and Faith – and now she knew.
It would have been a living nightmare.
God, she wanted to go home.
“Willow?” Mrs Summers’ voice was as gentle as Willow remembered it to be. “We’re here.”
Willow didn’t say anything; she just stared at the house. It was a nice house.
“Would you like to come inside?” she asked when Willow didn’t say anything. “We can call the others to come and get you. Do you know where they are?”
Mrs Summers had asked that question back at the hospital but Willow had been too frantic to get her to safety to answer. “Caritas,” she replied, her voice hoarse. “I think.”
Willow turned to look at her, surprised. “You know it?”
“I went there last year for the anniver… for a get together.” Mrs Summers hastily corrected herself. “Angel, Cordy, Rupert, and Faith hired out the entire club so it was just the five of us.”
Anniversary, that’s what she was going to say. “You…” She closed her eyes. God her head hurt. “I didn’t know you…”
“I see them once or twice a year, usually around Christmas or Thanksgiving.”
It struck Willow just how much she didn’t know of her friends’ lives. Giles sometimes tried to fill her in, but she usually ran away the second he started talking about anything or anyone related to Sunnydale – including Mrs Summers.
Willow felt Mrs Summers gently touch her hand. “Come on, I’ll get you inside and we’ll call Rupert.”
The lump in her throat stopped her from telling Mrs Summers that there was a chance – a good chance – that Giles wasn’t even alive. She couldn’t tell Mrs Summers that someone else she knew could be dead because of her.
God, she wanted to get out of here. Run. And if she had the strength she would.
Mrs Summers got out of the car and walked around to Willow’s door. Reluctantly, Willow allowed Mrs Summers to ease her out of the car and into the house. The second Willow stepped inside, her eyes dropped to the floor.
She didn’t want to see the pictures that she knew would litter the walls.
Seeing Buffy’s beautiful young face was something she couldn’t deal with right now – or at all.
“Sit down here, Willow.” Willow didn’t fight when Mrs Summers helped her onto the lounge.
Willow closed her eyes the second she felt the cushions beneath her. God, she was so tired. The fight with the demons, using her magic like she had… It had taken so much out of her.
“Are you hurt anywhere?” Mrs Summers asked.
Willow shook her head and instantly regretted it. “I just have a headache. Do you have something – ”
“I’ll get you some aspirin and a glass of water. I’ll be right back.”
Willow was asleep before Mrs Summers even left the living room.
** ** **
Kawalsky ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “Okay, let me get this straight,” he began, trying to reconcile everything in his mind. “Faith ordered Rosenberg’s powers to be stripped?”
Angel didn’t look at him when he nodded.
“WHILE she was using them?” He expected a smart comment from Cordelia but nothing ever came. The brunette was leaning against the car next to Angel, looking devastated. They were parked on a side street, having pulled over when it became apparent that something had gone wrong.
“She was inadvertently drawing power from Tara and Giles because she was linked to them,” Angel explained. “It was killing them. Faith had no choice but to order Annabelle’s coven to strip Willow’s power.”
Kawalsky couldn’t believe it.
How the hell could things go so spectacularly wrong?
Kawalsky let out a curse as he took everything in. This latest development with Rosenberg wasn’t the sole reason for his frustration and fear – it was the whole damn situation.
His Lieutenant was MIA, powerless and MIA, one of the witches was dead, the demon cult Rosenberg had told him about had attacked a whole damn hospital – which was broadcasted on NATIONAL news. Jack was on his back about Rosenberg, Daniel was injured, Rosenberg had almost killed two civilians, and it was an apocalypse.
Hell on Earth.
For Christ’s sake, Kawalsky didn’t even believe in Hell.
At least he hadn’t.
And now he found out that it not only existed, but it was going to exist here – and the only line of defense seemed to be a group of civilians, a Slayer – which Rosenberg STILL hadn’t explained – and a Vampire.
Oh, and he couldn’t forget that his Lieutenant was a witch.
A real witch, one so powerful that she could stop this apocalypse and drain the life out of people from MILES away.
Christ, this was too freaking much.
Kawalsky sighed. “Which means Rosenberg was fighting the demons when they stripped her powers.” It wasn’t a question. He didn’t know completely – or even half of – what was going on, but he had known Rosenberg wouldn’t use something she hated more than the damn snakes unless her life – and the lives of others – depended on it.
“More than likely, yes.”
Which meant… No, Kawalsky didn’t want to think about what it meant. “So is there anyway we can find her?” he found himself asking. “Tara’s a witch, can she create links like Willow?”
“She can’t do links like Willow, but she can do a location spell that will tell us where she is.”
“But?” There was something Angel wasn’t saying – and the fact that he didn’t say pissed Kawalsky off to no end. He was tired of secrets and tired of bullshit. Their situation was too damn important.
“But because Willow almost drained all of her power, she doesn’t have enough strength to do it, and neither does Giles. They were the only ones with enough mystical power to do that spell.”
Giles was a witch too?
“What about Lorne?” Gunn asked.
Angel shook his head. “He doesn’t have that much power on his own, maybe with a lesser witch he could do it but the only ones left with him are Daniel and Faith and neither of them can do magic.”
“So what, then?” Grogan demanded. “We just keep driving around? That could take forever.”
“Maybe not,” Hayes stated, a familiar look on his face.
Kawalsky felt a spark of hope looking at his 2IC; he had a plan. “What is it, Captain?”
“Sir, when we first got to LA, Rosenberg was rescuing Faith from the demon cult with Cordelia and Gunn.”
How could Kawalsky forget.
Hayes turned to Cordelia and Gunn. “If… If the demons did capture Rosenberg, then they would take her back to their, um, base… back where they kept Faith. Both Cordelia and Gunn know the location of the base.”
Holy shit, he was right, why the hell didn’t he think of that?
“IF they captured her,” Cordelia said, breaking her silence. “There’s a chance they… that they…”
She couldn’t say the words and for that Kawalsky was extremely grateful.
Rosenberg was MIA – JUST MIA – and Kawalsky refused to think otherwise.
“But they took Faith hostage,” Angel pointed out. “And they tried to take Giles and only tried to kill him when they couldn’t. Willow pointed it out to me… The demons, they weren’t interested in killing Giles until AFTER they couldn’t kidnap him.”
“They killed Annabelle,” Cordelia argued.
Angel thought for a minute. “Faith told me they killed her when she was stopping the demons from reaching the rest of them. If they were after anyone in particular, like Giles, then they would have killed Annabelle to get to him. The point is, despite Annabelle, I think they’re more interested in kidnapping the people they’re after than killing them.”
“Why?” Hayes asked.
“I used to think it was because they were a threat but… if they were taking out anyone that was a threat they would have gone after me as well. They’re after – ”
“Power,” Gunn interrupted him.
“Power?” Kawalsky repeated.
Gunn shrugged. “Faith is the Slayer and Giles is a watcher – and he’s handy with magic. They’ve both got power.”
And Rosenberg HAD power as well. “Okay, so let’s assume they’ve got her. If they’ve captured her, it’s more than likely they’ll take her the same place they took Faith.” Finally a break.
“All right, they’ve taken Willow to the same place they had Faith,” Cordelia agreed. “So, what do we do now?”
What the hell did she mean? “We get her back.”
“Ah-huh, and how are you planning to do that?” Cordelia planted her hands on her hips. “These demons are from the pits of Hell. We’re not just going to be able to walk in there and take Willow back. They’re stronger, more powerful, than any other demons we’ve ever faced. Angel and Faith have barely hurt then and they’re the strongest people we have. Tara and Giles are both down for the count and even if they weren’t they’re not powerful enough to take them all on, Willow is powerless… The only way a rescue is going to end is with us dying horribly.”
She had a point. “You’re right; we’re in way over our heads.” Too far over their heads for Kawalsky to continue on like this. Out of respect for Rosenberg he had been willing to keep silent but now… “Just out of curiosity sake, where is Rosenberg being held?”
Gunn gave him a brief description of the abandoned industrial area and where it was located. “It’s not exactly the type of place we can sneak into.”
Kawalsky pulled the phone out of his pocket and started dialing Jack’s number. “You might not be able to sneak into that place, but we sure as hell can.”
“What are you doing?” Cordelia demanded.
“I’m calling for backup. You’re right; we can’t do this without… HEY, give me back my damn phone!”
Cordelia snapped the phone shut, disconnecting the call. “Are you INSANE?”
Insane? “What? You think I’m insane for calling for backup?”
“You’re damn right I do!” Cordelia spat at him.
Kawalsky stared at her incredulously. “For crying out loud that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You all but said we can’t beat them to get Rosenberg back, and if we can’t defeat them to get Rosenberg back then we can’t stop them from finishing their apocalypse. Why am I insane for wanting some backup?”
“Just because I said we can’t beat them, doesn’t mean we can’t!”
What? “What the hell kind of twisted logic is that?”
Angel stepped between him and Cordelia. “Kawalsky, what Cordelia means is that while things look bad, we can still win this. But calling in the military will only make things worse. They’re not equipped to deal with things like this.”
Kawalsky begged to differ. “You don’t know what we’re equipped to deal with.”
“Guns don’t work on these things, no weapon we’ve used so far has,” Angel told him. “If the military come in, they’ll try to take over control and do it their way. It’ll get us all killed. You don’t know the entire situation; you don’t really understand what you’re dealing with.”
For the love of God! “That’s because you won’t tell us shit!” Kawalsky shouted. “But even if you did tell me everything right now it wouldn’t matter. You can’t handle this. Rosenberg is missing, one of your men was killed, hell, how many people died at the hospital? You’re not qualified to handle this.”
“We’re not qualified to handle this?” Cordelia repeated in a tone Kawalsky thought was way too calm for the livid expression on her face. She turned to Angel. “Angel, how many apocalypses have we stopped?”
What did she just ask Angel?
Angel hesitated but the look on Cordelia’s face must have been enough to compel him to answer. “Thirteen, maybe fourteen, including the Sunnydale apocalypses.”
Thirteen? Maybe fourteen?
“You’re shitting me?” Grogan exclaimed.
“Oh I shit you not, Lieutenant Grogan,” Cordelia stated almost pleasantly. Her eyes narrowed as she studied the Lieutenant for a minute. “How long have you been with the Air Force? Not including your training at the Academy.”
“About five years,” he replied.
“Well, Giles, Willow, Angel, and I have almost four years of fighting on top of you… Actually, I didn’t start getting actively involved until our junior year so I guess I’m three years and Faith is around two. I’m talking about real fighting, here – death, blood, and mayhem fighting,” Cordelia informed him matter-of-factly.
Grogan joined the SGC in 2001, so that meant Rosenberg and her friends had been doing this since 1997. Rosenberg would have only been … “Holy shit.” They had been doing this as long as the SGC has been running.
Cordelia faced Kawalsky. “What? Did you think that we didn’t know what we were doing?” She rolled her eyes. “Please! Do you think we’d be doing this if we didn’t?”
Kawalsky honestly didn’t know what to think. “But you said there was no we could defeat them…”
“We always say that.” She made a face. “Okay, I always say that, but the world’s still turning isn’t it?”
The Major didn’t know whether or not to believe her.
Cordelia must have read something on his face because her expression hardened. “Demons, vampires, witches, and mayors have been trying to take over this world since the beginning of time and they’ll be doing it long after we’ve died our horrible and painful deaths.”
“Why do you think Willow never called you?” Angel asked him. “Willow loves and believes in the Air Force more than anything; she’s told me that several times since she got here. Her faith in her team and the USAF is absolute. In Willow’s eyes, there is nothing the Air Force can’t handle. Yet she knew the world was going to end and she hadn’t turned to her precious Air Force. We told Willow the first night she got here, she probably knew before she even stepped off the plane, but she never once called you. In fact, she initially wanted you to leave when she saw you.”
Angel was right, Rosenberg never turned to the SGC for help.
“If Willow thought we were in over our heads, she would have called you. She hates the supernatural world more than anything; she’d rather die than come back.” The hurt in Angel’s eyes couldn’t be missed. “If she doubted us for a second, she would have asked for your help.”
Kawalsky couldn’t deny the truth in his words, but he still thought calling the SGC was the best idea. “What if I just call a few teams in to help?” he asked, not sure why he was willing to compromise. There was something in the way Angel and Cordelia spoke; Kawalsky’s gut was telling him they were telling the truth about everything.
Angel shook his head. “It’s too dangerous.”
“They’re highly trained men,” Kawalsky argued. “And they’ll keep silent. Rosenberg has made a lot of allies in the last year, I know of at least a dozen men who would be willing to back her and us up.”
To Kawalsky’s surprise, it was Gunn who spoke. “We don’t need men,” he told him. “We’ve got my crew and there are more that will help us if our numbers get low.”
“I run a crew of vampire hunters; we’ve been doing this for over a decade.”
“We may not have ranks or uniforms, but we’re good at what we do,” Gunn told him. “We have enough to do this. We have these guys, the coven, my crew, the Slayer… If that’s not enough to stop this apocalypse, nothing is.”
The Major’s head swam with information.
Cordelia sighed. “I know things look bad, but trust me. We know what we’re doing. If we didn’t, Willow would have called your entire base in to help us. Calling the military will only get us all killed. They can’t fight this, they don’t know how. WE do.”
Christ, Kawalsky had no idea what do to. He couldn’t believe it, but he was actually contemplating giving them the benefit of the doubt. What if they were right? Kawalsky had the same faith in the SGC that Willow had. If Rosenberg didn’t think they could help… Jesus Christ, this was a mess. “Okay, if I don’t call in back up, then how the hell are we supposed get Rosenberg back from the – ” His question was cut off by the shrill of his phone.
Cordelia gasped and stared Kawalsky’s phone in her hand.
“If it’s a Colorado number, give it – ”
“It’s Caritas’ number.”
What? Oh God, please, please…
“Hello?” Cordelia’s voice held hope and fear. “Rondell? What…”
Kawalsky couldn’t breathe. His heart was pounding furiously in his chest. Please let her be all right. Please…
They all watched Cordelia as she spoke into his phone, neither her words or expression gave anything away.
“Is it Rosenberg?” He asked as soon as Cordelia hung up.
She smiled a brilliant smile that had to mean… “She’s alive.”
Thank Christ. “Where is she?”
Her expression fell. “She’s with Joyce Summers.”
“What?” Angel exclaimed. “How?”
“Joyce saw her on the news and drove out to the hospital. She found her collapsed on the ground next to her bike,” Cordelia told them. “Willow was pretty freaked but Joyce managed to get Willow to go back to her place. She’s there right now, sleeping on the lounge.”
Sleeping? “You sure she’s okay?”
Cordelia nodded. “Joyce would have asked for Kyle if she was badly injured. She’s fine. Giles, Faith, and Daniel are on their way now.”
“We should meet them there,” Angel said, starting towards the car.
Cordelia stopped him. “No. Rondell said to go back to Caritas.” The brunette glanced briefly towards SR-1. “Faith thought the less people around her with Mrs Summers the better.”
“I don’t care.”
And neither did Kawalsky.
“Angel, she’s going to be seriously wigged when she wakes up and Joyce is with her, that’s why they’re taking Daniel even though he’s injured. She’ll need him.”
Wait! Why did Kawalsky feel that he was missing something? “Who’s Joyce Summers?”
Cordelia hesitated. “Buffy’s Mom.”
Rosenberg didn’t talk about Graduation much, but he knew that was the name of one of her friends who had died.
“It’s the first time Willow has seen her since she left Sunnydale and… it’s personal. I know you guys want to help, but trust me. She won’t want you there.” Cordelia silently pleaded him to understand with her eyes. “Besides, by the time we get there they will probably have left.”
Kawalsky reluctantly nodded. “So we head back to Caritas?”
Angel looked like he was going to argue but, to Kawalsky’s surprise, he didn’t. “Caritas it is.”
“Actually,” Grogan raised his hand slightly. “We should run by the hospital.”
“If Rosenberg left with Joyce Summers, she may have dumped the bike at the hospital. If the cops find it, her prints will be all over it.”
Shit, he had forgotten about that.
“We’ll go there, clean them off then head to Caritas,” Hayes agreed.
Gunn shook his head. “I’ve got a better idea for the bike.” At everyone’s look, he went on. “Collateral.”
Collateral? “Collateral for what?” Gunn never had a chance to answer, Kawalsky’s phone cut off any response he had. Cordelia looked down at the phone and held it out to Kawalsky. Kawalsky took it from her, already knowing who was on the other end.
** ** **
Jack hung up the phone, a concerned expression on his face. “They’ve located Rosenberg. She’s with an old friend. Daniel and two of her friends are on the way to pick her up.”
“Daniel, is he okay?” Carter asked.
“Kawalsky hasn’t seen him, but he said he’s fine.” Kawalsky had said a few things in their phone call and Jack wasn’t sure he believed them.
“Did he say what happened at the hospital?”
“They’re still not sure; he’s going to call me back after he talks to Rosenberg.” That was one of the things Jack didn’t believe.
Carter studied the expression on his face. “Is there something else, Sir?”
“You appear ill at ease, O’Neill,” Teal’c pointed out.
Jack hesitated, not sure if what he picked up off Kawalsky was real or not. “It’s probably nothing but…”
“But?’ Carter prompted.
“He sounded weird on the phone and I got the impression he didn’t want to talk to me.” Jack had known Kawalsky for years, he was his best friend and he could have sworn Kawalsky was hiding something from him.
This whole situation stank.
“Did they say on the news what happened yet?” Jack wanted to know.
Carter made a face. “Preliminary reports say a gang dressed up in some sort of disguise tried to kill some patients, but it’s still mostly conjecture.”
Jack sighed, not sure what to think. His mind went back to Rosenberg’s behavior when she asked for her leave. She had looked shit scared, just like she had on the television.
And there was the fact that SR-1 and Daniel flew to LA in the middle of the night…
Something was up.
“Carter, Teal’c? You two look a little tired.”
Carter blinked, surprised by the complete about face. “Sir?”
“You’ve both been working hard. What do you say after I talk to Kawalsky, you two go on a bit of a holiday?”
Confusion marred Carter’s features.
“I hear LA’s nice this time of year.”
“You want us to go to LA?” Carter was instantly suspicious. “Why?”
She knew he knew something.
“I don’t know what’s going on, Carter.”
“But you know something.”
“Not about this massacre but…” He hesitated. “But I know something about another massacre. One Rosenberg and her friends survived.”
And he thought it was VERY strange that they were in the middle of another one.