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15 November 2011 @ 10:00 pm
Fic: Rewards (6/8)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Chapter Five: Power
 
She sat huddled on the bed.  The phone call to her mother had been disastrous.  What had she expected?  Hi, Mom.  I’m fine, but I’m not coming home right now.  The doctor had apparently convinced her mother that she was likely to have more seizures without further medication.  It broke her heart to hear her mother crying and pleading with her to come home, to tell her where she was.  But she wanted answers, she needed them, and Angel, Cordy, even that demon guy seemed like the best chance she had to get them.
 
Over the past hour, the dual memories had begun fading away.  She could recall Buffy’s memories if she wanted to, but she felt pretty much like just Liz again.  Somehow that felt wrong, though.  She wasn’t sure she was comfortable as Liz anymore.  And Liz certainly wouldn’t have almost kissed Angel.  She flushed just remembering about the look in his eyes outside her door.  Not wanting to think about that, she buried herself under the covers and closed her eyes.  She had slept more today than in the last week cumulatively, but she just wanted to escape. 
 
Downstairs, research continued. 
 
“Okay, we know Wolfram & Hart is funding the dig,” Angel recapped.  “We suspect that it’s their men who attacked Buffy and Gunn and are watching the hotel.  And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that their reach extends to having a doctor or two in their pocket to manipulate her treatment at the hospital.  But how do we put this all together?  Wes, do you have any leads on what the hell it was that they dug up?”
 
Wesley put aside yet another volume of Slayer lore, shaking his head.  “Angel, all we have to go on is a sketch of the object and an assumed connection to Slayers.  I haven’t found any answers yet.”  At the look on his friend’s face, he hurriedly followed up with, “But we’re not giving up.”
 
“I’m about ready to start mounting an assault on Wolfram & Hart right now, so let’s hope we find something soon.”  The tension was wearing on Angel’s nerves and he would indeed welcome a pitched battle just to give him something to do.
 
They all had books in front of them, occasionally getting up to stretch or wander around and let their eyes rest.  By 2AM, Cordy and Fred were asleep with their heads on the desktops in front of them.  Gunn was nodding off.  Wesley had lost count of how many times he had read the same paragraph without comprehension.  Angel sat lost in thought, trying to recall everything from the dig site, desperate for any lead they could follow up.
 
Then suddenly the words Wesley had been rereading coalesced into coherent sentences.  He sat up, feeling wide awake as he compared the illustration to the sketch Liz had in her file.  Gunn looked curiously at him.  “What’s up man?”
 
Angel stirred when he heard Gunn’s voice and came over to where Wesley was now furiously making notes.  “Just a moment,” he said absently.  Another minute of scribbling and he sat back, an astounded look on his face.  “This is it,” he said, indicating the book.
 
Angel grabbed the volume and looked at it.  He couldn’t read the language, but the illustration was quite detailed and matched Liz’s sketch perfectly.  He looked at Wesley.  “What is it?  What does it do?”
 
“Angel, this is ancient, dating back to the first Slayer.”  He looked back at his notes and translations, comparing them to the original text.  “This was the repository of the Slayer power.  Initially, the power did not pass automatically from one Slayer to the next.  It would return to this stone, the elders would choose the next Slayer and perform the ritual to draw the power from the stone and transfer it to her.  It wasn’t until much later that the Slayer power began making the choice itself.”
 
Gunn nodded.  “Okay, but if Slayer power is out there on its own now, this stone is just a stone, right?  What do evil-lawyers-incorporated want with it?”
 
Cordy and Fred started waking up as the voices echoed through the lobby.  Stretching, they walked over to listen. 
 
Wesley replied, “I can’t really be sure of anything.  We’d have to test the stone, of course.  But I would surmise that it is possible that there could be a residue of the ancient power still lingering.  Of course!” They all jumped at Wesley’s sudden increase in excitement level.  “That’s why she reacted so strongly to it.  She said she was the only one who thought there was anything unusual about it, and then when she touched it...”
 
Angel was silent, reflecting on this discovery.  She was Buffy, but somehow she was also Liz.  Coming into contact with the Slayer stone must have drawn the bit of her that was Buffy closer to the surface.  Did that mean that Buffy wasn’t really gone?  Despite the wonderful thoughts that flooded him at this thought, he forced his mind back to the more immediate concern.
 
“Wolfram & Hart want to harness the Slayer power for themselves.  They already tried to use Faith.  Just think how excited they would be to give that power to a hand-picked... assassin.”  He was disgusted.  He had always hated the cavalier way the Watchers’ Council had treated the Slayers, but he could only imagine that Wolfram & Hart would make the Council look positively beneficent.
 
“Yes,” Wesley agreed.  “You may be right.  The question now is whether Liz being part of the dig was coincidental or planned.  They have the stone already, but still seemed interested in her whereabouts.  Do they need her in some way to activate the stone?” he mused.
 
Angel’s heart dropped.  He strode to the front door, pulling it open and running out into the night.  He returned a moment later.  “They’re gone,” was all he shared as he raced up the stairs to the second floor.
 
Fred started to ask, “But why would they leave?” when the answer occurred to all of them and they followed Angel up the stairs.
 
He was standing in her doorway, looking at an empty room for the second time that day.  He felt chilled and empty inside.  They had taken her right from under his nose. 
 
~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

They had grabbed her so quickly, she hadn’t even had a chance to cry out.  She was aware of a hand over her mouth, a quick pinprick in her arm and then darkness.  Now she was slowly coming back to awareness and really wishing she wasn’t.  She was cold and very uncomfortable.  Trying to pinpoint the discomfort, she finally realized that her hands were tied behind her back.  She was lying on her side with her back against a wall.  She didn’t hear anything or anyone.  Finally daring to open her eyes, she looked around.   
 
She was alone in a room with no windows that she could see.  It was dimly lit by flickering fire torches held in wall sconces.  The walls themselves were decorated with strange drawings and there was some type of raised platform in the middle of the floor.  In the far wall was a closed door.  She slowly managed to raise herself to a sitting position, only to find it not much more comfortable than laying down. 
 
So why was she here?  And where was here? The feeling from earlier that she was just Liz now was persisting, just when being Buffy-ish would be helpful.  She had no clue what to do.  Even when she tried, she couldn’t seem to access Buffy’s memories or ideas at this point. Would Angel or the others even know she was gone before morning?  Feeling scared and helpless, she pulled her knees up and rested her head on them, trying not to cry.
 
A warm woosh of air spread through the room as the door opposite her opened.  She looked up, terrified of what might come through it.  Several people in business suits came in, along with her mentor, Philip Moore.  They were followed by several more hooded figures.  She saw that Professor Moore was carrying the strange stone that seemed to have started all this.  He placed it on a pedestal on the platform and then looked around.  His eyes widened when he saw her.
 
He turned to a younger man beside him.  “What is she doing here?  Why is she tied up?”
 
When the man answered, it was with a pronounced southern drawl.  “She is crucial to ritual.  We didn’t think she’d cooperate without some incentive.”
 
Dr. Moore looked outraged.  “Mr. McDonald, you told me she was only needed to help find the stone.  I demand you release her at once.”
 
An attractive woman walked up, laughing.  “You are really in no position to demand anything, Doctor.”  She motioned to someone and suddenly Dr. Moore was being physically escorted to where Liz sat. 
 
“Sit,” said the escort, producing a gun.  Liz felt her heart pounding in her chest. 
 
All around the room, a type of controlled chaos permeated.  Large books, resembling those that Angel and his friends had been reading, were being set up at the four corners of the room.  Various instruments, some quite lethal looking, were being laid out on a table near the platform. 
 
Liz looked to her professor.  “Dr. Moore,” she said, trying to suppress tears, “what is going on?”
 
He looked at her guiltily.  “It was never supposed to come to this.  They told me you would be helpful in locating the artifact.  But you were never supposed to be here.”  He looked back to the two who seemed to be in charge.  “What are you planning to do with her?”
 
Lindsay walked over, refusing to look at Liz, crouching down to address the professor directly.  “We need her blood to activate the power within the stone; her body will then channel the power as it is pulled back to its source.”  Liz whimpered. 
 
“But she’ll be okay, right?” the professor pressed.
 
“Well,” Lindsay responded.  “Based on how she responded when she touched the stone earlier, probably not.  But here’s the good news: you get your money.”  He patted Dr. Moore on the shoulder and stood back up, walking away.  The doctor looked at Liz to find her looking at him horrified.
 
“Liz, the way he makes it sound, it wasn’t like that.”  His words sounded hollow even to his own ears.  He pleaded with her, “I had so much I wanted to do and I couldn’t get a grant.  Then they approached me, said they would fund my research for the next five years if I just got you to work this one dig with me.  They said somehow you would be drawn to the piece they wanted.  What could that hurt?” 
 
“And you believed them?” Liz asked.  She felt sick.  This man that had taught her so much had sold her out for a research grant?
 
~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

Giles arrived at the address Wesley had given him.  His plane had landed just before dawn.   As he entered the lobby, it struck him as strangely empty. 
 
“Hello?” he called.
 
A tired looking young woman with long brown hair came out of the office.  “Can I help you?”
 
“Yes, I’m Rupert Giles.  I would like to see Angel or Wesley.”  Though exhausted, he was anxious to find out what they had discovered while he was traveling. 
 
“Oh, Mr. Giles,” Fred stammered, looking flummoxed.  “I’m Fred.  They, um, they’re not here right now.”
 
He looked at the nervous girl.  “Has something happened?”  For most of the past day, his thoughts had been filled with the potential of seeing his dear Slayer again.  Despite his best efforts, his hopes had been rising the whole trip.  But looking at the empty hotel and the nervous girl in front of him, he felt those hopes crashing around him.
 
“Well, yes,” Fred offered.  She looked at the devastated look on the older gentleman’s face.  “Please sit down.  Would you like something to eat or drink?  Maybe some tea?”
 
Giles nodded gratefully.  Fred quickly prepared a cup of tea and brought it over to him, along with some crackers.  As he drank, she brought him up to speed through the discovery of Liz’s abduction. 
 
“Now, everyone is out looking for her.  I guess we kind of forgot you were coming in, otherwise I’m sure that Wesley or Angel would have stayed behind to meet you.”
 
“No, no.  It’s best that they are out looking for her.”
 
“Maybe you’d like to put your stuff away.  I can set up a guest room for you.” 
 
“Actually,” Giles responded.  “I’d like to look at the research, see if I can... make myself feel useful.” 
 
~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

Several people had left the room at this point, including Lindsay and Lilah.  Liz began crying quietly, adrenaline, disappointment, and pain all trying to pour out of her at once.  She really wished she had kissed Angel now. 
 
It took a minute for her to realize that Dr. Moore had moved himself much closer to her.  Now his right hand seemed to be slipping behind her back.  She almost gasped aloud when she felt a small pen knife graze her hand, stifling it when she saw the warning in his eyes.  Taking the knife, she struggled to turn it around and started seesawing it against the nylon cords binding her wrists. 
 
Chanting began, echoing eerily in the small room.  Dr. Moore leaned closer to her, whispering, “Get through the door and head down the hallway on the right.  There’s a street exit at the end.”  He looked at her, affection showing in his eyes.  “I never meant for you to be in danger.  I was stupid to trust them, but please believe me.”
 
She nodded.
 
“Are you ready?” he asked quietly.  She nodded again, having no idea how she was going to make it to the door.  She was just about to ask when the professor launched himself up from where he was sitting and rushed the platform in the middle of the room.  Everyone immediately converged on him or tried to cut him off.  For a split second, she sat there horrified and astounded, then realizing that all eyes were on him, she raced around the room to the door, pulling it open.  She started down the hallway. 
 
After a few steps, the guilt became overwhelming and she turned.  She couldn’t leave him behind.  No mistake could be worth that.  Just then, the door was thrown open again and Dr. Moore came barreling through, holding the stone.  He saw her hesitating and screamed, “Run!”
 
She turned and ran.  Even as she did, she heard the door open yet again.  There were shouts behind her and running footsteps.  Then a deafening bang split the air.  She heard a thud behind her.  Looking over her shoulder, she saw her professor lying on the ground, blood already pooling beneath his chest.  She ran back the few steps to where he lay.
 
Gasping, he lay there.  When he saw her, he mouthed, “Go”.  She saw people barreling down the hallway. 
 
“Come with me, I’ll help you,” she begged.
 
“No, Liz. Just go!”  He pushed the stone toward her.  “Take it.  Don’t touch it.” 
 
Tears falling down her face, she quickly pulled off the jacket she was wearing, wrapping it around the stone and took off down the hallway, running as fast as her feet would carry her.  Multiple memories once again seemed to flood her mind, but she just kept focusing on the door that was now in sight. 
 
Pushing through it into the bright light of dawn caused her to stumble and hesitate for a moment.  Then she veered right and started running down the city street.  She heard a vehicle pulling alongside of her, wheels screeching as it braked suddenly.  “Liz, get in!”  Gunn’s voice cut through the chaos inside her head and her heart.  She jumped through the open door, slamming it behind her and Gunn peeled away, several bullets pinging through his tailgate.