"Giles has sent Xander to London," Willow repeated the words Buffy had just spoken. "Okay, what's the punch line?"
"There isn't one!" the slayer laughed. "It has something to do with whoever is after you."
"Sending Xander to London? How?" Angel asked.
"I can't go into the details just yet," Giles answered as he entered the room, carrying a cup of tea. "All I can tell you is that I was contacted by the council early this morning."
"I thought they gave you the boot," Spike said.
"They did, but it seems a--situation--has arisen which may be directly related to Willow's problem. I'd have gone myself, but my presence would have been generally unwelcome, and I need to be here to keep an eye on things."
"So you sent Xander to play mercenary," Willow stated.
"The council has been known to work with intermediaries from time to time, and Xander knows the situation here," Giles nodded.
"Remember a couple of weeks ago when I said this couldn't get any weirder?" Willow asked Angel and Spike. "Well, scratch that."
"I have to admit I can't picture Xander cavorting with a bunch of stuffy old council members," Buffy agreed.
Giles shot her a pained look, "They're not all stuffy and old. And Xander can be a very resourceful young man. He'll do fine."
"When can we expect some answers?" the slayer asked.
"Unfortunately, it could take awhile. I know I'm not giving you much information, but I think it's best if I wait until I know exactly what the situation there is. If it's what it appears to be, Willow is in mortal danger."
Angel's eyes darkened, "I thought you said they weren't out to kill her."
"She'll be safe enough, for now, as long as you keep her out of public reach. Xander and I will be in regular contact. As soon as I know what's going on, I'll tell you. I promise." *** "Is she all right?" Buffy asked Angel quietly as she watched Willow from across Spike's living room.
The redhead was sitting in an armchair, her feet tucked under her, staring with unseeing eyes out the window. Two weeks had passed since Xander's departure, and the only news from Giles had been that the young man had been involved in some sort of fight and come out of it with a mild concussion, two broken fingers, and the council's grudging admiration. Whatever else had transpired, Giles was being maddeningly silent about it.
Spike had returned to the apartment one night nearly a week ago and informed them that someone was watching the apartment. He had sensed the stalker's presence, but when the vampire had gone to investigate, whoever it was had quickly vanished into the darkness. After a brief phone conversation with Giles, Angel and Spike had refused to let Willow out of the relative safety of the apartment at all.
"Angel?" Buffy asked, placing a hand on his arm.
He shook himself from his thoughts and said, "I really don't know how she is. She's been like this all day. I don't think she's spoken three complete sentences in 24 hours."
The slayer stepped around him and went to Willow, and the redhead's dull green eyes looked up at her friend.
"We'll get whoever this is," the slayer vowed. "Don't let it get to you, Will."
Willow shook her head slightly, and her gaze lowered to her hands. Buffy looked over at Angel. The vampire dragged a hand through his hair and knelt in front of Willow. He brushed her hair away from her face and placed a kiss on her forehead.
"She'll be okay. It's just frustrating. Isn't it, baby?" he asked softly.
Buffy squeezed Willow's shoulder as the vampire stood up.
"Cordelia telephoned this morning. She's coming back here to help," he told the slayer.
"What does she think she can do that the rest of us can't?" Buffy's voice was mildly defensive.
"She's changed, just like the rest of us, Buffy. Between Doyle and her, I think they could track down just about anyone. You have to admit, with Xander away and Giles in mute mode, we could use the extra help."
"I suppose," she conceded. "As long as she doesn't break a nail or put a run in her nylons, she should be okay."
Angel grinned and let the jab slide.
"I'd better get back to patrolling. See you guys later," Buffy cast a concerned, lingering glance at Willow before letting herself out of the apartment.
Angel pulled the redhead up out of the chair and held her close to him. He ran his hand over her hair as her arms slid around him, and he lowered his head to brush his lips over hers. He captured one lip between his teeth and nipped gently, sliding his tongue between her teeth as her lips opened up to him. The tension in her small body slowly abated, and her arms twined around his neck as she responded to the feel of his cold tongue exploring the warmth of her mouth.
Angel stepped back and slowly unclothed her before lifting her up and carrying her to the bathroom. Turning on the shower, he undressed and pulled Willow with him under the warm spray. His lips captured hers, and this time it was her tongue that sought his as she clung tightly to him.
Turning her and placing her back against his chest, he grabbed up the shower gel and lathered her body. His hands traveled down her arms and up her waist to cup her firm breasts. He massaged them, and a soft moan issued from Willow's throat as he rolled the pink buds of her nipples between his fingers. One hand slid down to the folds of her sex, and he parted them and rubbed his finger along her opening. Willow trembled, and he held her firmly against him as he slipped one finger then another, into her channel. She thrust into his hand as his thumb teased her clit. She turned and put her arms around his neck, taking his lips in a deep kiss as his fingers continued to dance inside her.
"I love you, Willow," he murmured against her mouth. "I promise everything will be okay."
She nodded and smiled softly before her mouth covered his once again as her hands traveled over his muscled back. One hand moulded around his buttock as the other encircled his shaft. She rang her fingers from its base to its tip, stroking him as he hardened under her persistent ministration.
Angel lifted her up and pressed her back against the wall, and her legs wrapped around him as he slid into her heat. He remained still, allowing her to adjust to him as the kiss increased in urgency. Willow moved her hips against his, and Angel began to thrust into her. His hand dipped to their joined sexes, and he rubbed her clit, plunging harder into her as she moaned and her walls tightened around him.
"Please, Angel," she whimpered as his mouth left hers to travel along her jaw and down to her throat.
He nuzzled against her warm, wet flesh and slammed into her as his fangs carefully sunk into her skin. Willow's fingers clutched his hair as he shot his seed into her. He withdrew his fangs and crushed his mouth to hers as his fingers pinched her clit. Her scream was muffled by his lips, and she bucked wildly into him as she flew over the precipice of her climax.
Angel's strong arms held her upright as her legs slid down him to return to the floor of the tub. He turned off the water and lifted her out, wrapping a thick towel around her, and carried her down the hallway and into the bedroom. Willow's eyelids fluttered wearily as he gently toweled her off. He backed her up until her knees hit the edge of the bed. Gently lowering her down, he slid onto the bed and folded his arms around her as she drifted to sleep against his chest.
Spike returned to the apartment to find his sire and his lover still entwined in sleep. He grinned and quietly left them to take his own shower before returning to the bedroom and laying down at Willow's other side. She stirred as his arm moved over her waist, and he smiled as she turned to look at him.
"Was everything okay out there tonight?" she asked softly.
"I didn't find anyone lurking about outside, if that's what you mean," he answered.
"I'm trying not to let this get to me. I really am," she said. "But, I can't help it. Spike, I'm scared."
He brushed her hair away from her cheek and cupped it in his hand, "Who could blame you? Even I'm beginning to see shadows where there aren't any. But I swear to you, baby, no one will touch you. I'll rip out the heart of anyone who so much as tries."
"Mostly, I just kind of want to stay locked up in here forever. I don't understand what's going on, and apparently, nobody else does, either. I'm thinking of becoming a professional recluse."
Spike chuckled and brushed his lips over hers, "That's going to be a bit difficult with the two of us here."
"Okay, I'll be a semi-recluse," she grinned.
He drew her body closer to his and nibbled her earlobe, "I've never shagged a semi-recluse before."
Willow nuzzled against him as his lips brushed along her neck, stopping to place a kiss at the hollow of her throat before moving down to suckle one soft, perfect nipple. Angel awoke beside them as the scent of Willow's arousal broke through his sleep. He turned and ran his hand down her body, pulling her onto her back and capturing her lips as Spike moved over her. The blonde vampire placed a knee between her legs, spreading them open to run his tongue over her soft, sleepy clit. She gasped as he grasped it between his lips and gently rolled it between his teeth.
Her need to cry out was stifled by Angel's demanding mouth, and her hands buried themselves in Spike's hair, holding her to him as he lapped at the juices that spilled from her core. His tongue plunged into her opening, and she writhed underneath him. He gripped her arms and pinned her down as he continued to work her into frenzied incoherence. She whimpered in protest as his mouth left her sex, and Angel's hand delved to her moist opening as Spike raised himself up and buried his shaft to the hilt in her willing channel. She moaned as he withdrew fully from her, brushing the tip of his cock along her slit before slamming into her again.
Ripping her mouth away from Angel's, she cried out and bucked up to meet Spike's thrust. She dragged his mouth down to hers as their bodies danced together, and Angel massaged her swollen nub. Willow gripped Spike's ass, driving him deeper inside her, and the vampire growled and dropped his mouth to her breast. His fangs pierced the skin above her nipple as his body became rigid, and he filled her womb with his cold seed. His mouth suckling at her breast, his still-rigid shaft filling her, Angel's persistent fingers, sent her over the edge, and she babbled Spike's name repeatedly as brightly colored lights burst behind her closed eyelids.
Spike gathered her into his arms, rolling her over on top of him, and whispered soothingly into her ear as her walls twitched around him, and her breathing came in soft pants. Angel stroked her back and placed soft kisses along her throat and shoulder as their redhead gradually relaxed between her two lovers. She nuzzled closer to Spike, mildly surprised at the comfort of having him still inside her, and Angel's arm traveled around her waist to encircle both his redhead and his childe. Spike raised her head to place a slow, soft kiss on her lips before settling her back against him, and she drifted to sleep between her two vampires.
Angel's hand came down over Willow's as she reached for the doorknob.
"I know," he nodded. "And you're not answering."
Gently nudging her out of the way, he waited until Spike had clamped onto her arm before pulling the door open.
"Took you long enough," Cordelia teased as she brushed past him and stepped inside. "Two vampires here, and neither one heard me knocking?"
"We heard you," Angel smiled. "We just weren't sure we wanted to invite you in."
"Very funny," she replied with a little grin. "So, Willow, you're looking--"
Her eyes widened as she looked at the redhead tucked under Spike's arm. She had thrown on one of Spike's trademark red shirts when they had awakened earlier in the evening and left it untucked over her jeans. The shirt set off the fire of her hair and curved gently around her slender hips. It was unbuttoned just enough to give a brief glimpse of cleavage, and combined with her barefoot appearance, the young woman looked soft and utterly feminine. Willow looked self-consciously from Spike to the brunette who was staring at her.
"Actually, you're looking pretty great!" Cordelia declared and eyed the arm wrapped around Willow's waist. "Although you could do with different accessories."
"I'm permanent," Spike told her.
Willow nodded, "He's had himself surgically attached."
"So I've heard," Cordy grinned and shot her a look that brought a soft blush to the redhead's cheeks.
"Where's Doyle?" Angel asked.
"I sent him to find a hotel, and I told him not to come back until he finds something luxurious," she answered.
"Angel laughed out loud, "I'll bet you did. Poor Doyle."
Willow hesitated, reluctant to break the light mood, before asking the question at the forefront of her mind, "Have you found out anything?"
"Not yet," Cordy answered, her expression turning serious. "But we will. Angel sent us the names of everyone on campus you associated with, but nothing turned up. I think, whoever this is, it's someone you don't know."
"I don't know how to thank you for--"
Cordelia brushed aside the statement with a wave of her hand, "Don't be ridiculous. We've known each other too long to let a stupid mistake get in the way of your safety. Besides, I've met enough people in L.A. who have _real_ problems to know ours was actually pretty small. Stuff happens. You get over it, and go on."
"Wow," Willow breathed with a dazed expression.
"Scary, huh?" Angel grinned.
"We were getting ready to head over to Giles' place. Want to ride along?" Willow offered.
"In that death trap of his?" Cordy asked, gesturing at Spike. "I'll call Doyle and tell him to pick me up."
She dug around in the cavernous bag slung over her shoulder and fished out a cell phone.
"I thought he worked for you," Spike commented, looking at Angel.
"I just like to pretend he does," Angel chuckled. "He'd listen to her over me any day. I think it's the legs." *** "You're looking good, Cordelia. L.A. must agree with you," Buffy stated as they sat around Giles' living room.
"Or the people in L.A. agree with her," Doyle spoke and dropped his hand onto Cordy's shoulder.
She lifted his hand by its index finger and removed it from her person as she grinned, "In your dreams, half-breed. I guess it took getting out of Sunnydale to help me understand there are things more important than trivial grudges and material possessions."
Buffy eyed the expensive designer dress draped sensuously over the tall brunette's form.
Cordelia grinned brightly, her eyes following Buffy's gaze, "On the other hand, no one says you have to look like a bargain basement bimbo while you're helping the poor, huddled masses."
Giles laughed softly and brought the conversation back to its original purpose, "Xander will be back at the end of the week."
"Then he's gotten some answers?" Buffy asked.
"Yes, with Wesley's help, believe it or not," he nodded.
"Which explains why it took almost a month," the slayer smiled.
"As a matter of fact, the council offered Xander Wesley's position," Giles said, chuckling to himself.
"You're kidding! Xander?" Cordelia's eyebrows shot up.
"He turned it down, but they are going to keep him on retainer," the watcher answered. "Anyway, he's bringing the information back with him. Neither of us felt comfortable discussing it over the phone. Until then, Willow must be watched carefully. The people behind this know what Xander has found out. They also know they're in serious danger of being discovered. Take her home, and keep her there. Don't bring her here or anywhere else. When Xander gets back, we'll meet with you at the apartment." *** Angel grabbed Willow and shoved her behind him as someone banged impatiently on the front door. He nodded at Spike, and the blonde vampire flung open the door and planted himself, in full vamp mode, in the doorway.
Cordelia's eyes met and held the amber orbs of the vampire, and she reached up and playfully patted his cheek.
"Very impressive," she assured him as she stepped around him with Doyle at her heels.
Spike closed and locked the door as he resumed his human form.
"Is Willow okay?" she asked Angel, her voice carrying a note of urgent concern.
"She's right here," Angel nodded, stepping aside to reveal the redhead. "Why? What's happened?"
"We were driving over here and discovered some guy lurking around at the end of the street," she explained. "We found this in his pocket."
She extended her hand. A small locket dangled from a broken chain between her fingers. Willow took it from her and clicked it open to reveal a picture of herself and her parents.
"I lost it the night I was attacked outside the video store," she said.
"Where is this guy now?" Spike asked, walking over to stand beside Willow.
"I got out of the car and called out to him, but he took off," Doyle answered. "I went after him, and he ran out into the street and was hit by a car. He's dead."
"Oh," Willow whispered, and Angel slipped his hand in hers and squeezed it.
"I checked the guy's pockets while the driver went to call for help. He wasn't carrying any ID, but he was carrying the locket and this--"
Doyle pulled a thin object from his back pocket and flicked it open to reveal a sharp, slender blade.
"The ambulance came and took him to the morgue," he continued. "We'll hack into their computer and see if they've identified him, but I wouldn't count on it. He looked like he spent most of his time on the street."
"Let Willow and me do computer duty," Cordelia told him. "That guy came from somewhere. There must be other characters as greasy as he was walking around. Considering what he looked like, I'd suggest checking out the bars--the sleazier the better."
"Yes, Sarge," Doyle clicked his heels and gave her a mock salute.
"Well," she barked after he stood grinning at her a moment. "Don't just stand there looking useless. Go mix with the riff raff!"
"She likes me," he winked at Willow. "She really likes me."
He backed away from Cordy's oncoming swat and headed out the door. *** Spike walked up behind Willow and kissed her neck as she turned on the burner under the tea kettle.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Fifteen minutes later than the last time you asked," he smiled close to her ear.
"I'm sorry," she grinned and turned to look up at him. "I just want this to be over."
"I know," he nodded, playing with a lock of her hair. "Just don't get your hopes up, sweetheart. The watcher may be bringing your friend from the airport, but that doesn't mean he'll have all the answers we need."
"But it'll be a start, which is more than we've had up to this point," she replied. "Xander's been gone for almost a month. He must have something useful."
"I'm sure he will," Spike agreed.
"But things may get worse before they get better," she said, lowering her eyes to his chest.
He cradled her head against him and rested his cheek on her hair as they held one another. Angel appeared in the entryway, and Spike pulled away and turned to look at his sire.
"Giles' car just pulled up," Angel told them.
Spike placed his hand on the small of Willow's back, and Angel reached for her hand and gave it a light kiss before leading her into the living room.
Cordelia opened the door on the first knock and stared out at Xander. A wide grin crept across the young man's face as she gaped at him.
"Hey, Cordy," he smiled as he led Giles inside the apartment. "Giles said you'd be here."
She whisked back a handful of long hair from her face as her warm eyes took in the young man's well-toned physique," Geez, Xander, if I'd have known you were actually going to grow up after graduation, I'd have stuck around."
He grinned and reached out to take her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, "You look pretty great, too."
Her gaze followed him as he walked over to give Buffy a hug. Then, realizing she was staring at him, she pulled herself together and sat down on the sofa, crossing one shapely leg over the other.
"What happened to the geek clothes?" she asked as her eyes traveled over the perfectly tailored shirt and khakis he was wearing.
"Ah, Cordy, don't ever change," he chuckled and bent to place a soft kiss on her forehead.
She scooted over a bit, and Willow and Buffy shared an amused glance as the young man plopped down next to her.
"Well, you look like you're all in one piece, Xander," Buffy spoke. "You must have recovered from your stay in the hospital."
"Hospital? You were in the hosptial? Why?" Cordelia asked.
"I ended up on the wrong side of a fist," Xander answered and turned to look over at the redhead, "Will, maybe you'd better sit down."
She nodded and sat down in an armchair across from him. Angel perched on one arm of her chair and placed his hand on her shoulder.
"The men who are after you are all working for this guy," he began, reaching for a file folder he had given to Giles.
He opened it and pulled out a photograph. Angel took it and looked at the man before passing it over to Buffy.
"Is he a demon, or what?" Willow asked. "Can you photograph demons?"
"He's human, pretty much," Xander told her. "Those other men answer to him, and he answers to a demon. I landed in the hospital the first time I got too close to three of his goons."
"Well, if they're all after Willow, what are they doing in London?" Buffy asked him.
"Just because the council tossed Giles out on his British rear end doesn't mean they haven't kept an eye on him," Xander answered.
"They've kept tabs on what we've been doing since Wesley returned to London, through various sources," Giles explained.
"Some of those sources have been of the unhuman variety," Xander added.
"Wait a minute. You're saying the council has been working with demons to find out what we've been doing here?" Willow asked.
Giles nodded, "It wouldn't be the first time. I've been known to work with demons before."
"Anyway, the council's alliance with this particular demon is how this whole problem got started," Xander said.
He paused for a moment and studied Willow, unsure of how to explain it to her.
"Just say it, Xander," Willow smiled softly. "This demon the council has been working with is after me? Why?"
"They thought they could trust him. Then again, this is the same group of people who thought Wesley ought to be a watcher. The demon came to Sunnydale and followed us around until he decided he wanted you for himself."
"So, why hasn't he come after her instead of sending a bunch of his flunkies?" Cordy asked him.
"Because he didn't want to risk being found out, especially by Buffy. Willow, he's put a price on your head. He's recruited humans because he was afraid another demon--or vampires, for that matter--would kill you. He's offered immortality to whoever brings you to him."
"That's one hell of a bounty," Doyle whispered. "No wonder they've been so obsessed with getting to her."
"Bloody sod," Spike snarled. "When do we kill him?"
"You can't just go after him," Giles warned him. "He's got too many people working for him. And you can't place Willow in such a vulnerable position. She needs you here, with her."
"Then, what the hell do you suggest we do?" the blonde vampire hissed. "Wait until they've dragged her off before we go after him?"
"Giles, what exactly is he planning to do with me once he gets me?" Willow interrupted Spike's frustrated tirade. "I mean, if he's just going to kill me, anyway--"
"Willow," Angel spoke and gripped her hand in his. "We're not going to let that happen--"
"He doesn't want you dead," Xander said to the redhead.
She waited for him to continue, but he fell silent, refusing even to make eye contact with her. Willow dragged her hand out of Angel's and stood up. Spike reached for her arm, and she shrugged him off with an angry sigh.
"Would someone just tell me what the hell he wants with me?" she demanded.
Xander rose from Cordy's side and took her hand, "Will, he wants you alive, for now, anyway."
Her confused green eyes stared steadily up at his, "Why?"
He looked over his shoulder at Giles, silently pleading for help. The watcher looked reluctantly at Willow.
"You two are worse than Angel!" Cordelia snapped. "Just tell her, already!"
Giles nodded, "The council discovered--long after they'd asked for his help--that he has the ability to breed with a human female."
Angel raised himself from the arm of the chair, his eyes boring into the watcher's, "Breed?"
"For lack of a better word," Giles nodded. "Though not in the same sense that humans procreate. The demon's offspring is actually carried to full-term within the demon, but he requires a human host to birth it. He takes possession of the human--they actually become one being for a brief period of time--allowing the offspring to be transferred to her body. The demon then leaves the human host. Willow, are you sure you want to--"
"I have to know, Giles," she nodded, though her voice shook slightly.
"The offspring claws its way out, through the host's body," he spoke softly, his eyes holding hers.
"Oh, Goddess," she whispered, prickles of terror running down her spine.
Cordelia rose from the sofa to stand beside Xander and looked around at each of them, "Is anyone else finding this too gross to even think about?"
"Absolutely," Buffy nodded. "But we have to. Willow, I swear to you; this is _not_ going to happen."
Angel saw the shudder that shook the redhead's body, and he moved behind her and gripped her shoulders.
"How do we stop him?" the slayer asked Giles.
"The council has no idea, and I haven't had a chance to research it myself," he answered.
"Then you'd better get started," Spike's suggestion carried with it an unspoken threat.