Part Twenty-Three


"At ease, Lieutenant."

At ease?

He was kidding right?

Willow didnít think sheíd be at ease ever again.

They were here, at the Hyperion.

Sweet Jesus, things just got infinitely worse.

What the hell were they doing here?

Willow slowly lowered her arm, trying her best to cover her pain. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Angel take a step towards her, but she shook her head. She didnít want Angel rushing to her side, not with her team here.

She needed to thinkÖ work out what to do. God! They were here!

ThisÖ this was bad. So very bad.

"Sir, what are you doing here?" her voice shook as she asked the question and she mentally kicked herself.

No matter what she did or said, they werenít going to buy it. She was standing in front of her team looking like death. Her entire body hurt from the rescue, she was exhausted beyond belief, and she had to somehow convince them to leave without giving anything away.

She had more chance of being beamed up by the Asgard.

This was her team. SR-1 and Daniel. Four of the most honourable men she had ever worked with. It didnít matter what she said, her fate was sealed the second they set eyes on her.

There was no force in this world, or any other, that would convince them to leave.

God! How could this be happening? What were they doing here? Willow didnít understand it. They werenít supposed to be here, not like this, not ever! Shit!

Daniel.

They were here because of Daniel, they had to be.

There was no other explanation. He had been on the phone to her when the alarms went off. Shit! He must have called them as soon as he heard it. They would have flown like bats out of hell to get here so fast. There was no way they could go by commercial airlines this time of night, er, morning.

Willow wanted to cry and she would have if she wasnít so exhausted or if her team wasnít here. Just their presence held her together. She wanted nothing more than to throw up, scream, shower until she was raw, but she forbade herself to.

She refused to lose it in front of them.

These people trusted her to keep it together in the worst situations and she didnít want to give them any doubt about her ability.

Losing it was something to be done in the privacy of her own bathroom.

"Willow, are you all right?" Daniel pushed past Kawalsky and Angel.

"Oh, hey, I wouldnít touch her if I were you," Faith called out to Daniel. "She doesnít likeÖ"

Faithís words trailed off when Daniel reached her, slipping his arm around her in a way that allowed Willow to lean on him.

"Ö never mind," she finished.

Willow inwardly winced, doubly so when she found someone on the other side of her. It was Kawalsky. He wasnít touching her, just hovering nearby in case she needed his help. It was a familiar action, though this was the first time Daniel had been there to help her like this. Usually it was Grogan and KawalskyÖ not that she was injured often.

Most of the time it was just exhaustion.

"Adrenaline gone?" Kawalsky asked her knowingly as they led her to the lounge.

Mutely, she nodded.

Grogan and Hayes were at the lounge, clearing a spot for her to sit. "One to ten, Rosenberg?" Hayes wanted to know.

He was asking how bad her injuries and exhaustion were. It was a ritual they had all gotten into over the last year. After a mission they would assess how bad off they were, on a particularly bad mission shock was a danger, especially when they were injured or traumatized.

One to ten was the range.

It was also was why Kawalsky had asked if the adrenaline had worn off, that was taken into consideration as well, in case she went into shock. Wait a second! WHY was Kawalsky asking her that? He only ever asked her adrenaline levels when she was on a mission, when he knew exactly what she had been doing.

"Rosenberg, one to ten?" Kawalsky asked the question a second time.

Well, not asked, more like ordered. "Five."

Grogan snorted. "Thatís a nine."

Ok. She was confused.

Where was the yelling? The outrage? Why hadnít her team asked, no, demanded to know what had happened, where she had been, and any other question they could think of?

Why was she the only person who was surprised here?

"Is anyone else hurt?" Angelís question distracted her from her thoughts.

"Only Faith and Willow. The rest of us are all right," Cordy answered, shell shocked.

Yep, Willow knew exactly what being shell shocked felt like.

It was what she was feeling at that very moment.

She was thrown completely off balance.

"Willow, can you tell me where youíre injured?" Danielís arm moved from around her waist to her leg, his hand resting on her thigh gently, careful to avoid any injuries.

The feel of his hand on her made her falter.

Daniel was really here.

It wasnít a dream or a wish.

"Willow?" there was a hint of panic in Danielís voice.

Willow blinked. "Iím fine, Sir."

Hurt flashed in his eyes at the use of the title, then his eyes moved from her to Kawalsky and the hurt disappeared. "Will, where are you hurt?" he used a tone that was all too familiar. It was a gentle tone, a calming voice that he had used back when they first met.

God she'd missed him.

A small smile crept on his lips. "I missed you too."

What? OhÖ she had said that out loud.

"Sir, I donít like how pale she is," Hayes announced. "I think Dr Whitwood should take a look at her as soon as he finishes examining Faith. Rosenberg, can you wait that long?"

Willow nodded.

The more people spoke around her, the more she lost her ability to speak. None of this was making any sense, and she was wondering how much of this was her exhaustion.

Maybe this wasnít real.

If it were real, then Kawalsky would be demanding answers.

Instead he was sitting next to her looking like he did whenever they were on a mission - while Angel looked furious.

Something was seriously wrong with this picture.

"Willow canít wait," Angel told them. "Faith?"

The brunette smiled. "Iím five by five."

Angel raised a disbelieving brow.

"Almost. I can wait. Redís worse off than I am. Iím just bruises, already healing," she nodded towards her. "Redís bleeding bad. I tried to take a look at the scratches in the car but she wouldnít let me."

"Iím ok."

No one was really believing that.

"We can check her wounds out while Dr Whitwood looks over Faith," Hayes argued. "Faith was kidnapped, sheís more in danger of going into shock."

They always looked after the missing firstÖ.WHAT did he just say? "Faith was kidnapped?" Ok, the question was kind of dumb. SHE knew Faith had been missing, but she was wondering why HE knew that.

Hayes regarded her with an expression Willow had never seen before. There was an understanding she wasnít sure she liked. "We figured that was one of the reasons why you and Cordelia never came back."

Whoa! Hold it! What the fuck?

Danielís hold tightened on her when her breathing became slightly erratic. "I donít think she can wait, Hayes."

What? Hang on! STOP! "Sirs, how did youÖ"

Did Angel tell them Faith had been kidnapped? No. He wouldnít do that. He didnít trust the military, with the exception of her, and even now Willow wasnít sure she was an exception. But still, there was no way he would have told SR-1 about Faith, especially since there were demons involved.

"What? No, I wasnít kidnapped," Faith declared, panicked. "It was just some gang messing around and they had this really bigÖ dog, thatís why Redís back is scratched."

Cordelia nodded in agreement. "They ran off the second we got there and then the dogs attacked Willow."

Dog attack?

Willow had to say that was better than anything she would have come up with, which was currently NOTHING.

Her brain had settled into a permanent state of confusion.

"Cordy, Faith, itís ok, they know about the demons," Angel told them.

THEY KNOW?!?

Her heart stopped dead.

Two words a person with a deadly secret never wanted to hear.

Willow jumped off the lounge and away from her team, grimacing in pain. They knew. They. Knew. Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god. "HowÖ How? What?"

Panic flooded her. How long till the rest of the Stargate Command came here? Was the rest of SG-1 already on their way? General OíNeill, too? This wasnít a military situation but demons werenít something that her superiors would consider a civilian matter.

She was in deep, deep shit.

Willow felt the blood draining from her face once again.

Now it made sense why they werenít demanding answers when she arrived looking like hell.

They knew!

"Willow," Daniel stood up slowly. "Itís ok, youíre not in any trouble."

Willow heard movement from behind, she spun around to see Angel and Dr Whitwood heading towards her. "DonítÖ" she held her hand up, making it clear that she wasnít quite in the frame of mind to receive medical treatment.

Right now, all Willow wanted was to run like hell.

What the HELL was going on here? How could they know? Angel would NEVER tell them. No one from Sunnydale would, it was the one thing Angel and Giles always feared more than anything.

She didnít understand!

Angel stopped a few feet from her. "You didnít know." It wasnít a question. His eyes darkened with fury and he glared at her team. "She didnít know that you knew, did she?"

Faith waved a hand around. "Ah, someone want to fill in those of us who just tuned in?"

Willow wasnít sure she wanted to be filled in. TheyÖ they couldnít know. No. It had to be a misunderstanding. She was always so careful. She never talked about Sunnydale or her friends here, she made sure no one ever knew about anything.

Bile rose in her throat and her head swam with emotions.

Guilt, fear, reliefÖ

It was too much.

After nearly being demon food, this was WAY too much.

She was torn between worry for her friends here and fear of losing SR-1 because of her lies. God, did it seem stuffy in here? Willow tried to take a deep breath, but all it seemed to do was make her feel like there was even less air in the room.

"You know?" Willowís words were almost an accusation. She wanted them to tell her no, but the response she got was four nods. "How?"

It felt like her world was falling apart around her.

"Yes, how?" Angel wanted to know.

Willow closed her eyes and tried breathing.

All she did was sway on the spot.

She was going into sensory overload.

"Willow," Dr Whitwood voice was closer than it should have been. "Iíd really like to take a look at you. Faith has superior healing powers, she can wait. You canít."

"Superior healing powers?" Grogan repeated.

Her entire body was tense and the room seemed excessively warm.

Angel let out a low growl.

"Iím fine, Sir," Willow opened her eyes moved away from everyone. Each step she took made her body ache. There was only so many surprises a person could deal with in a day, and Willow had just reached her limit. "How do you know? HowÖ"

"Iím from Sunnydale."

Hayes wasÖ he wasÖ what? Sensory overload was beginning to be an understatement. "Youíre fromÖ oh god, you knew all along didnít you?"

"I suspected."

"Ah, guys, as important as this is, I think Willow needs a doctor," Cordelia pointed out. "We can go over the who knew what while Kyle takes a look at her."

No one was touching her. "Iím fine."

She didnít know how she felt about it. Hayesí support had always been so constant in her time during SR-1, she always put it down to her saving his life. Now she knew that he had suspected something, knew about demons.

He would have put two and two together and worked out the truth about Graduation.

Daniel took a step towards her but Willow didnít counter it. "Youíre not in any trouble. WeÖ no one aside from the four of us know the truth."

"I wouldnít have told them anything if I thought youíd get busted for it," Hayes assured her.

She was getting a headache. "So you came hereÖ why?"

"To watch your six," Grogan told her.

"You came to watch her what?" Cordelia was outraged.

Kawalsky sighed. "We cornered Daniel after you spoke to him your first night here," he explained. "We made him tell us and Hayes filled us in when it was clear you were in trouble. You are in trouble, Rosenberg, just not with us. When we realised that, we decided to come here. Our trip was brought forward a little bit when Daniel heard the alarms."

Why did they corner Daniel? They didnít know the two of them were close.

Oh god, her headache was gettingÖ

"Daniel?" Cordelia repeated. "Daniel as in Willowís boyfriend? How did he hear the alarms?"

Ö so much worse.

"We were talking on the phone last night, or this morning," Daniel confessed.

"Youíre Daniel," Faith studied him. "Ok, that explains a lot."

Did it? Because right now Willow was still confused.

"Thatís the story, Lieutenant," Kawalsky addressed her. "Now, can you please let the doctor have a look at your back and you can tell us what happened."

It was that easy, was it? "Sir, Iím fine. Really. I just need a little space."

"Lieutenant," the authority in Kawalskyís voice could not be mistaken. "You are going to let Dr Whitwood examine you. Thatís an order."

Willow opened her mouth to reply but to her horror, it was Cordelia who beat her to the punch.

"Hey! Does this look like a military base to you?" The former cheerleader stormed over to where Kawalsky stood. "You canít just walk in here and order Willow around. Sheís off duty, that means she doesnít have to do a single thing you say."

Donít do it, Cordy. "Cordelia - "

"Itís ok, Willow," the brunette assured her, her eyes never leaving Kawalskyís. "I donít know who you think you are, bucko, this isnít the military so your rank means jack to me. You canít use it to force Willow to do something she doesnít want to do, not here. No one bullies my friend."

Oh dear god.

"Except me."

Grogan choked with laughter. "Oh I like her."

"Willow," Cordy planted her hands on her hips. "Let Kyle examine you."

Willow pressed her hands to her head, she could feel the pressure beginning to boil inside of her. "Iím fine, Cordy. All I need is a shower."

"Bullshit - "

Something snapped inside her. "NO DAMNIT!" Willow yelled. "Youíre right, Cordy. This isnít the military. Kawalsky has no authority over me right now but neither do you. None of you do! If I say Iím fine, Iím fine. I do NOT need people treating me like Iím going to break. All I need is a shower and time to think. I just want to wash the fucking demon scent off me. Thatís all! Iím not mortally wounded, itís just a fucking scratch. Iíve had worse dirt bike riding with Grogan."

She just needed to be away from them.

This was too much for her to cope with and she was beginning to lose it fast. She had to get away before she lost it completely. She couldnít let her team see her break down.

"Lieutenant - "

Willow didnít give Kawalsky a chance to get out his next order. "With all due respect, Sir, Iím not going to let Dr Whitwood examine meÖ at least not until Iíve had a shower. So donít bother ordering me to."

Oh boy, she had to calm down.

She had NEVER spoken to her CO like that.

Her entire body was trembling and she was beginning to wonder how long it would be until she was no longer able to stand. She took a deep breath. "Iíll go for a shower, Sir, then Iíll come back down."

She didnít wait for approval, Willow headed towards the stairs.

"Willow!" Danielís voice stopped her in her tracks. "Willow, IÖ"

She turned to Daniel who was standing right behind her. The anger left her completely just looking at the pain and guilt he was in.

SheÖ she couldnít deal with him, any of this right now. "Daniel, Sir, you shouldnít have come. None of you should be here. Go home. Now."

It was too dangerous, too much.

The look on Danielís face cut right through her more successfully than the demons claws had. "You want us to leave?"

No. She didnít want him to leave.

She didnít want him to stay eitherÖ god, she was so confused. Willow couldnít answer his question, all she could do was stare in his eyes.

After a long minute, Daniel nodded, as though he had understood what she was thinking, feeling. Knowing the way they often communicated, Willow could say that he probably had read everything she was feeling.

"Go for your shower," he reached out and touched her arm. "Did you need someone to help you?"

Him.

She needed him.

"Iíll bring up a first aid kit, just in case you need it."

She could have said no, told him that she was fine, and Daniel would have respected her wishes and stayed away.

But the thing was, she didnít want him to stay away.

He knew that.

She turned and left the room.


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