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03 November 2011 @ 11:11 am
Fic: Out of the Dark (6/13)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter 6
 
After seeing Buffy to her room, Angel met up with the others in his office for a progress report. Judging by everyone's expressions, it would be a short meeting.
 
Fred went first. "We don't think any technological devices were used on Buffy. No nanotechnology, no medical devices, nothing. I'm afraid I'm not going to be much help to you, Angel," she finished unhappily.
 
"Actually, Fred," Angel replied. "I'd like to talk to you before you leave tonight about something I think only you can help with." Her mood perked up at that.
 
Gunn went next. "I've had my people checking police and D.A. reports all over the US. Nothing is showing up with the M.O. of Buffy's attacker." There was a look on his face that made Angel think he was holding something back.
 
"What else?" Angel asked.
 
Gunn cleared his throat. "Well, there have been clusters of cases that might fit the definition of… I think Buffy may have made a splash in a few places," he finished quickly.
 
"Buffy?" Angel repeated.
 
"Not anything in the mass murder sense." Angel noticed Wesley relax slightly and knew he had been picturing Faith's rampage when she had first come to LA. "Mostly some burglaries, food, sporting goods stores, like that."
 
"Mostly?" Angel inquired.
 
Gunn wished he were anywhere else, even fighting that horrible demon from last year that had acid-ridden snot and had ruined his best Armani. "There have been some cases of personal injury, which in all likelihood were caused by someone with extreme strength."
 
"Gunn, if you don't give me the whole story right now, I am going to," Angel thought for a moment. "I will play the video of the Christmas party two years ago with you singing to Lorne's karaoke machine. I will play that for every new hire in your department forever."
 
Rock and a hard place, Gunn thought. "Okay. It was mostly lowlifes, as far as the police can tell, but they are looking for a serial, well not murderer, but maybe a serial maimer. Probably these were junkies, pimps, street toughs that gave your girl a hard time. She gave them a hard time back. Pretty severe beatings, broken bones, internal injuries in some cases, one broken neck. Nothing to conclusively link it to Buffy, but if you know what you're looking for, the pieces fit."
 
Angel exchanged concerned glances with Wesley. A Slayer on her own, without the advice of a Watcher, without the structure of Council rules or the evening influences of friends and family, could turn into a terrorizing force. The power, combined with the decisions that had to be made nightly, could evolve into a belief that she was apart from the people she was entrusted to protect. Buffy had always considered human life sacrosanct, going out of her way to not physically engage humans. If she had indeed perpetrated these crimes, she may be well on her way to crossing that line. Or already across it, Angel thought with an inward shudder.
 
"There was one anomalous case. Probably wouldn't have connected it to her except there was a photo attached to the police report," Gunn continued, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "A group of four college kids, 3 boys, 1 girl, were found in an alley in Cleveland."
 
"Buffy didn't…?" Angel interrupted, but was unable to bring himself to vocalize his fear.
 
"No," Gunn answered. "Wild animal attack is the official ruling."
 
"Then why…?"
 
"They are looking for Buffy as a 'person of interest.' The kids all worked or hung out at this bar. Buffy also worked there at the time. And she hasn't been seen there since that night."
 
"Well, maybe she," Wesley began, but Gunn cut him off.
 
"That's the official report. However, as Cleveland seems to be a demonic party spot, we have some underground informants in the area. The word went out in the demon community that the Slayer had stood there and watched those kids get killed; she didn't lift a finger to help them."
 
There was silence in the room for a minute. Finally, Angel said, unconvincingly, "I'm sure, if that is accurate, that there was a reason we don't know about."
 
"Yeah," Gunn replied. "Like the reason you had when you locked Darla and Dru in with a room full of our predecessors."
 
"No, that was… I…" Angel stammered, and then fell quiet as he realized that he had indeed had a reason that had seemed perfectly rational at the time, but when he looked back at it, didn't stand up under scrutiny.
 
Angel sat back heavily in his chair. "Is that it?" he asked Gunn. Gunn nodded. Angel was silent for a moment, then speculated, "Maybe this spell that's weakening her is affecting her behavior? Wesley?"
 
Wesley began his report. "Unfortunately, Angel, I believe that the behavior issues are the result of extreme emotional distress. Many of the incidents Gunn found happened prior to the attack on Buffy, which is where we believe the spell effect was transmitted." Angel nodded unhappily. He hadn't really expected a different answer. Wesley continued. "I believe we may be looking at more than one spell or charm. One to obscure the memory of the caster and another to delay physical recovery. However, we can't counter either spell until we know the exact one used."
 
"How hard is that to find out?" Fred asked.
 
Wesley sighed. "In this case, it seems to be rather difficult. The obscuring spell is quite powerful. Spells of that level often involve particular artifacts that would be difficult to get a hold of. We are trying to determine if any of those artifacts have surfaced or gone missing recently. Maybe give us an idea of where to look. Also, we've been contacting any of the major players in the magickal community to see if they have designed or cast such a spell in the last year. I am also researching our own archives looking for ideas for the counterspell."
 
"Well," Angel remarked darkly. "She's only staying here a few days, at best. We've got to find something out that will help, and we have to find it soon. Go home and get some sleep. Especially Fred, you've got a big day tomorrow."
 
"Oh," she exclaimed. "Do you need help setting things up for Nina's party?" It would be a relief to concentrate on mundane tasks for once.
 
Angel shook his head, then said, "Well, in a way." At Fred's questioning look, he continued. "I'd like you to take Buffy out for the day. Try to remind her of the life she used to have – do the girly thing."
 
"Angel, you know I'm not overly girly. I wouldn't know what to do."
 
"Just say you want company getting primped for the party tomorrow night. Go get your nails and hair done. Get her some new clothes." Seeing Fred's expression was still hesitant, Angel followed up with, "Use the company credit card." He thought Cordelia would have been proud at how quickly Fred went from reserved to enthused with just that one sentence.

~)O(~
 
The next morning, Fred nervously knocked on the door to Buffy's suite. She had no idea how Buffy would take to this idea.
 
Buffy answered the door, and was surprised to see the science girl, Fred, standing there. "Umm, can I help you?" she asked guardedly.
 
Fred stuck her hand out. "Hi Buffy, I'm Fred."
 
Buffy shook her hand briefly, commenting, "Yeah, I caught your name before."
 
"Oh, yeah," Fred tittered nervously. "I just, well, I have no idea why I said that. I mean, of course you met me… the other night with the meeting in Angel's office. And yesterday, what with the drawing blood. I just get nervous sometimes and then I start with the babbling and…"
 
Buffy cut her off before she ran out of oxygen. "That's all right. Was there something you needed to talk to me about? Do you need more blood for the tests or anything?" Involuntarily, she remembered Willow talking about how much she had liked this girl; Buffy had believed she had had quite the crush on Fred. Now, seeing her in person, Buffy understood the attraction. She was quite intelligent by all accounts, and very much like Willow in the nervous babbling department.
 
"Well, the thing is, I was hoping to go out today and do some girly type things to get ready for tonight's party. And, it's always nicer to have company along. So, I was thinking, it would be really neat if you and I went out and had a girls' day and I could get to know you and, well, I think it would be really fun," Fred sounded embarrassed. Really fun? she thought. How lame.
 
"Girly type things? Like manicures and hairstyling?" Almost without noticing, Buffy had pulled her hair forward, glancing at the mass of split ends that it had become. This was the last thing she wanted, to go spend a day with this sweet, endearing, Willow-like girl.
 
Seeing her reticence, Fred continued. "I mean, there aren't really a lot of girls around I can go do these things with. There's no way I could ask Harmony, cause when she and I go out, things just get weird and then with the death and all." Buffy raised her eyebrows and Fred shook her head. "Don't ask. Please. Plus you wouldn't have to pay for anything. It's all covered."
 
And the pieces fall into place, Buffy thought. "Angel asked you to do this, didn't he?" Without even waiting for an answer, she went on, "Man, he is unbelievable! Does he play puppet master with you all too, or is it a treat reserved only for me?"
 
Fred giggled. "Funny you should mention puppets. Did Angel ever tell you about the time he was turned into a puppet?"
 
This was sufficiently unexpected to shock Buffy into momentary silence. "A puppet?" she finally stammered.
 
Fred got a sneaky gleam in her eye, as she reached to hook her arm through Buffy's and lead her down the hall. "I'll tell you all about it while we're getting our nails done."
~)O(~

Fred was shocked as the day went on. Buffy had mentioned on their way to the day spa that she 'wanted to exercise Angel's credit limit.' Fred had no idea how very literal that goal was. Buffy was rivaling Cordelia in the taking advantage of pampering opportunities category. She had her hair cut, lightened, styled; her legs and brows waxed; bought a ton of makeup; as well as having a manicure, pedicure, facial, and massage. It was as they were making their way to the clothing store that was their final stop that Fred brought up Angel's secondary objective.
 
"So Buffy, you know that we are having some problems getting to the root of what's happening to you."
 
Buffy tensed. For a while today, she had felt some semblance of relaxation. While not totally letting down her guard, she had stopped glancing over her shoulder every other minute. The reminder of her situation was somewhat unwelcome. However, it was probably best not to get too comfortable. She gestured to Fred to go on.
 
"Well, we have one more avenue that we'd like to try out. You met Lorne the other night?" Buffy nodded. "He's an empath demon, which means he can read you. He can kind of see what your path is supposed to be and where you are on it. We were thinking if you let Lorne read you, he might be able to see what happened to you."
 
Buffy shrugged. "Why not? It seems a lot less painful than hypos and IVs." She didn't understand why Fred seemed so uncomfortable bringing it up.
 
"Yeah, there's just one thing about it. You, um, well, he can only read you if you sing for him."
 
Buffy's eyebrows shot up. "Sing?" she repeated.
 
Fred answered quickly. "We've all done it at one time or another. Even Angel. It doesn't have to be a lot, just a line or two."
 
Buffy wasn't sure about that. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd listened to music, let alone sing. Fred was looking at her anxiously, waiting for an answer.
 
"I'll think about it." With that she turned into the store.
 
As they browsed, Buffy casually asked Fred, "So are there gonna be any available men at this thing?"
 
"Available," Fred repeated. "Oh! Available, as in…"
 
Buffy nodded. "Nothing serious, but I could use a little distraction," she said.
 
"Distraction." That sounded bad. "Buffy," she began tentatively, "If you're worried about things being awkward with Nina and Angel, you really shouldn't be concerned. They're not really into PDAs; well, Angel's not."
 
Buffy laughed. "No, it's not about that. I'm happy for Angel, really. I just was looking for a little release, if I can find someone…"
 
"Available," Fred finished for her. "Really, I pretty much can only speak to the core gang. I think you've already met everyone." Buffy looked up from the top she was examining and motioned Fred to continue. She swallowed, feeling very uncomfortable. These were her friends and she didn't like the idea of anyone using them for 'release.' By this time Buffy was just staring at her. Soon Fred's babbling filled the silence. "Well, Wesley and I are seeing each other, so he's, you know, not available. Ummm… I know Gunn had been seeing someone, but I'm not sure what the status of that relationship is right now. He tends to get real serious though and is a really good guy. And, well, there's Lorne, but I've never really been sure what or who he's attracted to. He really is the sweetest being you'll ever meet and always so friendly and …"
 
Buffy cut her off. "I get it," she smiled. "You don't want me messing with your friends' heads. Don't worry. I won't make anyone do anything they don't want to."

~)O(~
 
Nina arrived back at the Wolfram & Hart offices a little after 4:00 PM. She immediately made her way up to Angel's office, smiling when she opened the door and saw him staring intently at the papers spread out before him on his desk.
 
"You work too hard," she said as she closed the door behind her. He looked up, startled that he hadn't heard her enter, as she walked over to him and pulled his chair back from his desk. Sitting in his lap, she wound her arms around his neck and kissed him. She pulled back when his response was, at best, half-hearted. "I could hear it in your voice the last few days. You're exhausted." She stood up and took his hands in hers. "Now, you're going to take the rest of the day off and we are going upstairs and going to… relax," she purred.
 
Angel grimaced. Not only was that not a possibility because of the welcome home celebration starting in less than an hour, but he wasn't even sure that it was a particularly appealing prospect at this point. And he really didn't feel like delving into the thought processes surrounding that idea. "Nina," he began gently. "I really need to get back to this research." She started to pout. "Plus, we have planned a 'surprise' welcome home party for you." He shrugged. "Not so much a surprise now, I guess. But everyone's going to be here around 5:00 to celebrate your big New York debut."
 
Nina suppressed a groan. Angel and his friends. They were always there. It didn't help living in the office building where they all worked. But really, sometimes, she just wanted to get away from the freaky lives they led. "That's so sweet of all of you. But we've got a little time. Why don't you come up and help me change my clothes?" She gently tugged him toward the elevator.
 
Angel disengaged his hands from hers. "I really can't. I need to work on this research," he said, indicating the piles of papers and books on his desk.
 
"You always have to research. I know that your job occasionally entails actual world ending responsibility, but nothing's going to happen in the next 45 minutes."
 
"Nina, this is really important."
 
"It's always important to someone, Angel. That's why you have to take time away from it." Nina couldn't believe that they were already having the same old fight. She'd only been back five minutes!
 
"Not just someone. It's important to me, personally." Angel bit back a growl of frustration. He had hoped to be able to tell her about Buffy in a relaxed, off-the-cuff kind of way. Now was pretty much the opposite of what he had envisioned. "It's about Buffy."
 
"Buffy." Nina's heart skipped a beat. Buffy. The only person from Angel's past that he would absolutely not talk about. Not that he was overly forthcoming about any of his past, but aside from her name and that he had had a relationship with her in Sunnydale, he wouldn't say a word. All she knew about their relationship came from second- and third-hand accounts and bits of gossip around the office. So, great, the superhero ex-girlfriend was now back in the picture.
 
"The high school girl?" she asked, trying to buy time to form a coherent response to this news.
 
"Well, she's not in high school anymore. She graduated in '99."
 
"Of course. So she brought you a case? And you have to drop everything for her?"
 
"That's not exactly it. It's more… well, Buffy is the case. She's being stalked by something very powerful and very tenacious. She's been injured and needed a safe place to stay for a bit. So, she came here."
 
"Of course she did," Nina smiled. At least she didn't have to worry about romantic competition. This 'Slayer' wasn't coming in all powerful and great and making Angel think about what he had missed out on. No, she was coming here all needy and beaten. "You always take care of the helpless. When did she get here?"
 
"A few nights ago. We've been working on this case pretty much 24-7 since. And she's not helpless." Something somewhere deep inside would not let Angel allow such a slight to pass unnoticed. "Whatever is after her is extremely powerful, both physically and mystically. Yet she has still managed to stay alive for close to three years with it on her tail."
 
Nina noted the defensive tone in her lover's voice and a cold chill passed through her. Maybe Angel was more attached to this warrior woman than she had suspected.
 
"OK, baby," she cooed, changing her tactics. "I'm gonna go take a hot shower and change for the party. Maybe I'll get to meet Buffy sometime?"
 
"She'll be there tonight," he replied, already distracted as he turned back toward his desk and his research. He therefore missed the dark look flash across Nina's face as she turned to take the elevator upstairs.