Buffy had a lot to think about on her walk back home, so when she opened the door to her home and hung her coat, she wasn't concentrating much on things that went around her. Which was why she nearly shrieked when she saw Angel in her hall.
*I'll wager he'll be here soon.* she remembered Wesley saying.
Angel had other people with him. An angry-looking African American, Giles and Willow.
Her eyes widened. "Willow!" Her first instinct was to run to her and hug her. Which she did.
Caught off guard, Willow placed her arms hesitantly around her best friend. "Hi, Buffy."
"Are you okay? Are you ..." what? Not crazy? Not evil? Not bent on destroying the world anymore?
Willow seemed to understand. "I'm fine. And hey, look, it's Angel!" she said with false enthusiasm. She probably thought to lessen Angel's pain at being ignored, but Buffy had to choose -- it was her just-returned-from-being-evil best friend or ex-boyfriend-vampire.
"Angel," she said in what she hoped was a warm voice. At the back of her mind, she hoped that Spike was nowhere around. When he had returned from Africa, he barely recognised her. He grew better over the months, but he still had the tendency of spouting the weirdest things. And ... she still did not know what she felt for him, now that he had a soul. Spike was a complication that neither of them needed.
"Did you see Wesley?" he asked abruptly.
"I see you're going to answer my questions." At Angel's confused look, Buffy said. "He said to expect you."
Angel's expression darkened at that.
"And he was throwing off weird vibes ... obviously something happened in LA. Something that he wouldn't tell me."
The African-American sighed. "So, who's going to start this round of story-telling?"
"Make it quick," Angel said gruffly.
"Cindy! Are you in bed?"
Cindy served her china doll tea and said, "Now, you be good today and I'll give you more tea tomorrow."
The six-year-old blonde girl quickly hid her toys in the box, closed it, scampered to her bed and scooted under the covers.
The door opened and her mother ... her foster mother ... peeked in. Mrs Robinson smiled brightly at the sight. Cindy, for all appearances, appeared to be asleep.
"What a little angel," Mrs Robinson murmured. She closed the door.
After a while, Cindy giggled, carefully climbed off her bed and ran to her toy chest near the window. She loved the toys that Mommy got her. She just wanted to see them one more time before she fell asleep.
When she opened the toy chest, she caught a look at something at the window.
She frowned. She could only make out a dark shape.
Mommy said there was no bogeyman.
She just stared.
The two glowing green eyes flared in the darkness.
Cindy's eyes widened.
Buffy sat down with a thump.
"Whoa," Dawn said for her.
"Double whoa," said Xander who sat beside Buffy in bewilderment. "Why must we have an apocalypse every year? It's like a sitcom."
"What are you talking about? It's Giles The Next Generation-"
Giles looked pained at the reference.
"-going postal." Dawn finished with a flustered wave of her hands. "I mean, who would've thought that he could go all bad on us?" Her eyes went wide when she realised what she just said. She turned to Willow, ready to apologise, but Willow was doing some magic thing with her hands, oblivious to the reference Dawn just made. White clouds swam around her hands as she turned them around.
"What are you doing?" asked Gunn.
"I figured something out. A tracking device. Just magicked something to detect mass concentrations of green fire element."
Suddenly, the ball flared green. They jumped, edging away from Willow.
"It's on the scent," Willow murmured, concentrating. Buffy frowned. She wasn't really comfortable with Willow using magic so soon, but she trusted her. Hopefully, that was enough.
The green ball floated around them for a while, then moved away, eventually phasing through the door. Wordlessly, they followed it. Eventually they had to quicken their steps because it began to move faster and faster. In the end, they had to run to keep up.
"It's getting stronger!" Willow yelled. "The concentration of green fire element must be humongous to make it run like-"
She was so intent on following the tracker that she didn't look where she was going. She ended up bumping into something hard and solid.
Angel. Colouring with embarrassment, Willow was about to apologise when she realised that he was looking at something intently. Actually, so was everyone else.
She followed their gaze and gasped.
It was Wesley. He stood calmly on the roof, his eyes glowing green. But that's not what was scary. What was scary was that he was holding up a little girl by her nightgown. And it looked like he was ready to strangle her.
*I knew they would come.* Wesley mused, staring at the group below.
He saw Buffy walking tentatively towards the house. "Let her go," she said levelly, her eyes calmly watching his. Curious. There was no hate there or hostility -- unlike Gunn's and Angel's. He found that refreshing.
Wesley didn't bother to answer. Since they did not bother to find out why he did what he did, why give the pleasure of an answer? Instead, he turned and looked at the deceptively innocent girl.
"Where have you hidden it?" he demanded, his voice guttural with the Element's influence.
Cindy, for that was her name (how cute), shook her head wildly, her petrified eyes staring up at him.
"I can see through your act. Why bother staging it?"
Cindy's eyes scrunched up, then she began to cry -- great choking sobs of fear that made her shake.
Ordinarily, Wes would've been aghast at eliciting such a response from a child. But now, he was more concerned about the bigger picture. And the bigger picture was --
He looked at the crowd below, who was discussing heatedly among themselves.
He turned back to Cindy. "Very clever. The act is for them. So here they are, here to rescue you."
He turned to look at Buffy.
"Don't do this!" she begged. Angel stepped forward to say something, but she restrained him with a hand on his chest.
Atta girl, Buffy.
"Why are you doing this?"
Wes rolled his eyes. The old-fashioned way to stall for time. He wasn't buying it.
Quickly, he encircled Cindy's frail neck with his hands, ready to-
He wasn't buying it. She knew that the moment she let the words out. Whatever psychosis he was under, it didn't imbue him with added ego -- a fault so many baddies had -- or diminish his intelligence. So he was obviously going for the kill.
She hoped that Wes, however, bought the distraction.
Without a sound, Willow suddenly disappeared, only to reappear on the roof. That surprised Wes, who brought up his hand to-
Well, no time to think. Just act, Buffy.
Together, Buffy and Angel leapt to the roof, which distracted Wes further. He removed his gaze from Cindy, just in time for Willow to encircle the little girl in her arms. Together, they teleported away -- goodness knows where -- Willow said that it would be better if they didn't know. She didn't want the Elemental to force it out of them later.
Wes roared with fury. How could they? He was so close!
Annoyed, he backhanded Buffy and reached out instinctively to where Willow was. Perhaps if the trail was fresh enough, he could follow --
But obviously, Angel thought the same, so the vampire threw his weight on Wesley. The force sent Wesley flying off the roof with Angel. When they landed on the ground, it knocked the breath out of him for a while but he got up quickly. With a peevish gesture, he pushed Angel away from him, hurtling him yards away and into the wall of Cindy's house.
"Is that what you were looking for?" Buffy demanded, her tone icy. "Little girls to kill? What kind of sick quest are you on?"
Wes turned in time to see a long something -- a bat? -- head for his face. He turned fast enough for it to graze his forehead.
It stung, but it didn't hurt as much as he thought -- thanks to the strength he got from the Elemental.
Buffy swung again, but this time he caught the tree branch she wielded easily.
"You don't know anything," he growled, green eyes meeting blue angry ones. He pushed her back. Buffy rolled on the ground for a few yards before coming to a halt. She got shakily to her feet.
"You're like Angel. You don't want to know. You just judged. I'm hurt."
"You're hurt?" she asked incredulously. "You were going to kill an innocent girl!"
At that, he laughed. "What makes you think she's innocent? Oh, Buffy. After all these years fighting evil ... don't you realise that evil does not wear a convenient face?"
That made her pause -- obviously, that remark hit a note in her.
"Shut up!" Angel came from nowhere, his fist meeting with his jaw. The force barely snapped his head back, but it made him lose his train of thought. Angry now, Wesley grabbed Angel's neck and lifted him high up, staring up balefully at him.
All he need now is to twist his wrist, and Angel would be a few inches shorter.
But Angel's look of surprise at being handled so easily stopped him ... strangely enough, Wes felt a twinge of guilt. He looked at Angel's eyes uncertainly, his brow creasing in a confused frown. Angel saw that -- his eyes narrowed with equal confusion.
Have we come to this? That I will snap the neck of my best friend without a thought?
Resigned that they would never understand what he had to do, Wesley let Angel go, watching him fall in a surprised heap at his feet. He turned to walk away but Buffy wouldn't let him.
She came to him in a flurry of kicks and fists -- all which he easily avoided. Finally he saw an opening and lightly pushed her away. The 'light' push made her fly a few yards.
Angel roared in reaction at what he did. And typical Angel, he charged at Wesley blindly, stupidly, carelessly, hatefully ...
The last word made him mad. He returned Angel's action with a roar of his own. He leapt and met Angel in midair. This surprised Angel so much that he didn't fight back when their collective weight plunged them to the ground with a painful thud.
"What does it take?" he growled at the vampire. Blinded by anger, he slugged him in the chin, quickly knocking him out. Fed up, he got up and walked away. All he felt was frustration -- frustration at being so close to his goal and denied by the very ones he was trying to save.
"Angel!" Buffy yelled. Angel groggily tried to sit up, but he still looked winded.
He felt depressed when he saw Buffy rush towards Angel to help him. The looks on their faces said that they were ready to rush him again. Damn it, didn't they know that he wasn't their enemy? Is that how much they hated him?
*I suppose my friendship with Angel wasn't enough.*
"Enough thinking," a voice barked. Another Wesley appeared at his side. This time, it wasn't the stuffy Watcher of earlier years -- this time it was the ex-Watcher who lay dying in the field with a slit throat. He stared morbidly at the weeping wound.
"Thinking will get us nowhere," said the apparition in a scratchy voice. "The girl is running. The Mother is gone. The time is drawing near."
Wesley watched with fascination as blood ran down the wraith's shoulder. Then he laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, stumbling away from Angel and Buffy.
Wesley disappeared in a cloud of fire, leaving Buffy staring in shock.
Willow felt a twitch of sympathy when Cindy began to cry. They had just rematerialised from the teleport, and it was making Cindy more than winded. Willow also suspected that she was still terrified from her near-death experience.
Bending down to the little girl's level, Willow smoothed her blonde hair and whispered reassuringly, "It's okay, Cindy. Everything will be alright."
Cindy didn't look as if she believed her a bit. Her blue limpid eyes stared unblinkingly at Willow.
"Au contraire, mademoiselle," came a smooth, mocking voice.
Shocked, because Willow thought she had covered her tracks so well that it is impossible anyone could've followed her trail, she met the eyes of a tall brunette woman dressed in a smart, corporate suit.
But it wasn't her that interested Willow. It was the four, tall indentical-looking demons in robes behind her.
"Okay boys. Take care of the witch."
As one, the four demons advanced on them, chanting something under her breath. Willow started to chant something in return, but a huge force pummelled her from nowhere, pinning her to the ground. She couldn't move.
"Cindy!" she cried out helplessly, trying to crane her neck up to see the girl.
Lilah Morgan strutted towards Cindy, who stared with huge eyes, a big smile on her flawless face.
"Now, why don't we go somewhere ... fun?"
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