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03 November 2011 @ 11:44 am
Fic: Out of the Dark (3/13)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter 3
 
When Angel returned, around 9 AM, he fully expected her to be still sleeping.  No matter what she had said, her exhaustion had been quite evident.  He knocked softly on the door and was surprised when a moment later, he felt her stare through the peephole, followed a moment later by her opening the door.  As he walked into the room, he saw a selection of weapons laid out on the floor.
 
"Sorry about the mess," she said.  "I thought this would be a good time to do some inventory and repair work.  Do you have anyone here who can repair a crossbow?  It got kind of dinged when I ran out of bolts and had to…" here she pantomimed bashing someone about the head with it, then shrugged.  
 
Angel nodded.  "Yeah, we've got some of the leading experts in weapons.  Why don't you set aside anything that needs to be repaired, serviced, or sharpened, and I'll have someone look at them later.
 
"Thanks, I appreciate that.  Now, I guess you're here about the blood suckers."  At Angel's confused expression, she continued.  "The lab tests.  I assume they're gonna want my blood."

~)O(~
 
Buffy looked warily at the throng of people crowding the otherwise relatively spacious 'hospital room' to which Angel had led her.  Angel, Fred, and Wesley had conferred earlier in the morning and decided to pursue physical, technological, and mystical avenues in researching the threat against Buffy.  This apparently entailed lots of people and machines of varying sizes.
 
Buffy took a deep breath, hopped up on the bed and rolled up her sleeve, saying, "Ok, let's get this over with."
 
Wesley looked concerned.  "Buffy, we would like to do a little more than just a simple blood test.  We'd like to observe you for a couple of hours, we have some questions for you, and I believe the doctors would like to give you some IV fluids, to help prevent any disorientation from the blood draw."
 
Buffy looked incredulous.  "You have got to be kidding me!  I didn't sign up for this."  She prepared to get down from the bed.
 
"Please Buffy," Wesley stepped in front of her.  "And, if you cooperate, afterward I'll give you a cookie." He grinned.
 
Buffy only just stopped herself from grinning back.  She hadn't taken the effect of human interaction into account when she considered coming here.  It had been so long since she had bantered with someone, shared a history (however brief) with someone.  It made it that much more difficult to maintain distance.  Wes's comment brought back the day she had met him; he being the stereotypical prissy Watcher, she sitting mutinous next to Giles as he gently urged her to work with Wesley.  She could almost hear Giles now in her head.
 
"Ok.  I'm your guest; I'll play by your rules."  She sat back in the bed and stuck her arm out.  "Hook me up."
 
After the medical technicians had finished drawing blood, and hung the IV bag, Wesley and Fred pulled up chairs by the side of the bed.  Angel was already seated on the other side. 
 
"So, Buffy, in order to help us interpret the test results accurately," Fred began.  "We'd like to ask you some questions about your daily life.  That way we can see what environmental factors may be influencing your healing."
 
Buffy nodded.  Fred continued.  "Angel said you didn't get much sleep last night.  Is that normal for you?"
 
Buffy replied, "Yes.  I usually only get a couple hours a night."
 
"Do you get any sleep during the day, then?" Wesley followed up.
 
"No."
 
"You must be perpetually exhausted then.  I don't see how you can function."
 
Buffy shrugged slightly.  "I just don't really feel like sleeping much."  Angel felt that she was being rather evasive, but waited to see how the rest of the questions went.
 
Fred jumped in again.  "What about food?  What do you do for meals?"
 
Buffy grimaced.  "Whatever I can.  A lot of smaller towns have churches that will provide people with some food.  Bigger cities have soup kitchens.  If I feel it's safe, I might do some odd jobs here or there to make some quick money.  Then I might buy some food to carry with me for the lean times."  She yawned and blinked her eyes.  "What were you saying?"
 
"So if you don't spend a lot of time eating or sleeping, what do you do all day?"
 
"Mostly train, try to keep in shape.  Travel." Another yawn.  "That's pretty much it.  I don't go diving into toxic waste dumps or anything if that's what you're looking for."
 
"Is there anything you can tell us about the demon pursuing you?"  Buffy yawned as she shook her head no.  "At least you can describe the creature for us."
 
"No, I've never seen him."
 
"But what about your injury?  Surely, you must have been close enough to see it at that point?"
 
She paused as if collecting her thoughts.  "He… It… surprised me while I was sleeping.  I… woke up when he stabbed me.  I didn't stop to take notes.  I just ran."
 
Angel interrupted.  "Buffy, you said last night that you were injured fighting it."
 
She looked oddly at Angel, as if trying to figure out a puzzle.  "You're right.  We did fight.  But I can't see it.  It's like a big blur is in front of me.  And then I'm running.  And then he stabbed me…"
 
She stopped as a gigantic yawn overtook her.  "What the…?" she trailed off.  Then, looking from the IV to Wesley, she said, "What did you put in this?"  She weakly brushed her free hand against the line, but couldn't dislodge it.  Slowly, her eyes closed and her head dropped back against the pillow.
 
Angel looked at Wesley.  "You drugged her!?" he exclaimed. 
 
"Look at her, Angel.  She's exhausted.  She needs sleep, badly."
 
"So, you drugged her?  That's gonna help a lot in the gaining her trust area," Angel grumbled. 
 
Fred broke in at this point.  "We also need to get some cultures from the wound itself.  It's really best if she's not awake for that.  It's just a light sedative.  She'll be up in a couple of hours."  Fred stood up.  "Can someone help me kinda, turn her on her side?"
 
Angel gently maneuvered Buffy's body to the most advantageous position for Fred to examine the wound.  She gently lifted her shirt and removed the gauze bandages.  When the wound was exposed, Fred stepped back, looking kind of green.
 
"Oh god," she said.  "I mean, I've seen some nasty stuff but… she's had this for months?"
 
Angel looked over Buffy's shoulder from where he was holding her body steady.  The wound was livid and seeping a mixture of blood and pus.  He shook his head.  "I must have been really tired last night.  I didn't think it looked this bad.  I would have insisted she come in here right away."
 
Fred, having controlled her revulsion, took several photos of the wound, as well as some swabs from both inside and the edges of the injury. 
 
Angel walked out in to the hallway while Fred was finishing her work.  Wesley followed him out.
 
"I spoke to Faith this morning," he said.  "She verified Buffy's story."
 
"Buffy's story?" Angel repeated.  "You didn't believe her?"
 
"Angel, we have been infiltrated before.  And you have to admit that this Buffy is a far cry from the one either you or I last saw.  I simply thought it best to confirm what she was telling us."  Angel nodded reluctantly.  "Not to mention, that Faith was able to provide details of the original killings that I would rather not ask Buffy to relive."
 
"So, what happened?"
 
"It began a little over two years ago.  Dawn was the first victim.  She had been on her way to meet a date.  She had been very secretive, but very excited.  The police wrote it up as a mugging gone bad, but according to Faith, her torso had been sliced open."
 
"Poor Dawnie.  Buffy must have been devastated."
 
"She was quite beside herself.  But within days of the funeral, Xander was killed.  They found his body floating in a river."
 
"His body?" Angel questioned, catching the strange inflection in Wesley's voice.
 
"Yes, just his body."  Wesley grimaced.  "The head had been left on Buffy's pillow."
 
"Please don't tell me she was the one who found it."
 
Wesley nodded gravely.  "It was then that they became sure that something was stalking them.  The Slayers kept reporting feeling as if they were being watched.  Two mysterious deaths in the core group of Scoobies confirmed that something was amiss.  Faith indicated that Buffy became withdrawn from everyone, only speaking with her, Willow, or Giles.  The four of them decided to attempt to find out who or what was behind all this by use of a spell to trace evil intent.  Willow and Giles were to perform the spell, and, as they felt the focus was probably Buffy, she was present as a kind of focal point from which to start the trace."
 
"I'm guessing that didn't work?"
 
"It did work.  That was the problem.  The path they traced back must have been booby-trapped.  There was, well, Faith only saw the tail end, but I would venture to say it was something similar to feedback along the magical lines.  Willow and Giles were essentially burned from inside."
 
Angel felt sick.  "In front of Buffy." 
 
Wesley nodded.  "This is Angelus-level torment.  I'm not sure how she's even still functioning."
 
Wesley gave Angel a moment to assimilate the information.  "Within an hour of Willow and Giles'… deaths… Buffy had packed and left.  She told Faith to take charge of the girls, that she believed the creature would follow behind her.  And that was the last Faith heard from her."
 
"And the creature?  Were they bothered by it anymore?  Any more feelings of being watched, surprise presents in their house?"
 
"None.  It is after Buffy with a singular intent, it would seem.  I have my staff researching all police records and Wolfram & Hart records throughout Europe and North America, looking for similar instances of brutality.  But I doubt we'll find any."
 
"Why didn't they call us?  Faith has been alone in charge of those girls for two years and…" Angel trailed off.
 
"Faith said that it just didn't occur to her.  She also pointed out that she's not alone, Andrew is there with her."  Angel groaned at the thought.  "Don't worry, Angel.  We have agreed that we will contact each other at least every other week to compare events.  She is also open to the idea of some assistance in ideas for the training regimen."
 
At that point, Fred stuck her head through the doorway.  "Uhhh, guys?  Sorry to interrupt, but I thought you might want to see this."
 
Wesley and Angel hurried into Buffy's room.  Fred explained as they entered.  "While I was finishing up, the shamans started a ritual looking for trace signs of mystical energy around Buffy."  She nodded toward where Buffy lay, still unconscious.  "That's what they found."
 
Two dark cloudy masses hovered above Buffy's body.  The larger and more amorphous of the two was situated directly over the wound in her abdomen.  A smaller, more concentrated mass hovered over her chest in the general vicinity of her heart.  
 
One of the shamans approached the three.  "I think we can say with certainty that the persistence of the wound and its complications are due to a mystical influence, probably some potion or blessing invoked on the weapon itself.  I am not certain as to what the heart cloud would indicate, possibly congestion of the heart chakra…"
 
Wesley nodded.  "She suffered some severe personal losses, in part due to magic, that she did not have an opportunity to deal with.  I believe that may be what is causing the chakra backup."
 
The shaman did not look totally convinced, but said, "Lacking other evidence, we will proceed on that assumption for now.  But we will keep it in mind while researching."  With that, he withdrew to research the potential spells and potions that could be involved.
 
Wesley mused, "Given Buffy's sketchy memory of the event coupled with this indicator of mystical influence, I would believe that something may be preventing her from being able to remember the entire attack.  The blurring that she referred to may in fact be some sort of mystical mask placed over the memory in her mind."
 
"Well, if we assume that the core memory is intact, that the blur is an overlay, maybe Lorne would be able to read her and access the original memory.  Maybe give us some of the details that she can't," Fred filled in.
 
Wesley nodded, looking thoughtful.  "I'll ask him about it later.  He said something about being absolutely swamped with A-listers this morning and he would check in around lunchtime."
 
Fred gathered up her supplies and samples, and said, "Well, guys, y'all might as well head back to your offices.  It'll be another coupla hours before she wakes up."
 
Wesley nodded.  "Yes, I'd better check in on the Donnelly case.  They have been quite anxious the last few days."
 
Angel was silent, looking at Buffy.  Fred and Wesley exchanged glances and, after a moment, headed out without him.
 
Angel walked over the bed and looked down at her.  He touched her cheek, his thumb soothing the dark skin under her eyes.  In his mind, he tried to reconcile this woman with the girl he had fallen in love with a decade ago.  Was she still in there?  Did it matter?  Three years since he had last seen her, last heard from her.  He had been so angry at her for giving him hope for them and then, nothing.  No word, no communication.  Yet, when she had shown up in LA, he found himself in the throes of those feelings once again, no questions asked.
 
Leaning over, he kissed her forehead softly.  "Get better, my love," he whispered.  With one last look, he turned and headed for his office.
~)O(~
 
It was dark all around her.  She held her breath, listening.  She didn't know how it had caught up with her so quickly this time, but it had been hot on her trail for the last hour. She looked around at the industrial complex she had fled into, trying to figure out what direction it'd be coming from.  Maybe it was time to make a stand, stop running.   Her head spun with anger, rage, grief, and exhaustion.  There were very few options left. 
 
Suddenly she heard footsteps on her right.  She spun and assumed a defensive stance.  Slowly a figure moved toward her out of the darkness.
 
"What are you doing here?" she said, with surprise and relief.  "How did you know?  Never mind, I’m just so happy…"  Why wasn't he responding?  His eyes were so…
 
Her eyes widened.  "It was… you?" she faltered.  "No, you couldn't…  Why?"  Her throat felt as if it was closing, her heart was clenched in an icy grip.  "How could you?"
 
His eyes flickered from her to the weapon he held in his hands.  She looked at it, numbly.  I know that, she thought.  It has a name.  What was its name?  But, no, she thought, as he raised it, moving closer.  This one is different.  Custom.  She looked back up at his empty eyes.  Made for me.
 
Suddenly, she snapped back to reality.  Run! her brain screamed at her.  She turned, took a step, felt the searing pain in her back.  This is it, she thought as she fell toward the pavement.  Darkness surrounded her.
 
In the W&H infirmary, Buffy's body shuddered.