A heart reaching out
Offering tokens of trust
Seeking a return
Revelations lost and found
Speaking from the heart.
Love for the asking
Desire burning brightly
Driving across town in the Plymouth drew gawkers standing on the sidewalks, but the speeding car didn’t pause long enough to give them confirmation of what they thought they had seen. Or not seen, in Angel’s case, as he remained invisible.
Willow grabbed onto the dashboard as they rounded a curb, cringing as they got a little close to the corner, g-forces tossing her from one side of the seat to the other. Who woulda guessed Angel could take on Mario Andretti?
“Maybe I should drive,” she called out with the wind in her face despite having told him the idea scared her so soon after the accident that left Dawn injured. “I’d like to get there in one piece.”
“You will,” Angel promised answering back, but he wasn’t about to stop now. Every second counted. He had no idea if the Trio had contacted the interested parties or who those people might be. Holtz topped his imagined list.
The convertible screeched to a halt three houses down from their destination, the Meers residence. No cars in the driveway, Angel observed silently as he made his way across the lawn, automatically sticking to the lengthening shadows despite his invisibility.
“Angel?” hissed Willow as she closed the car behind her knowing that the vampire was already on his way. With a sigh, she made her way directly down the sidewalk taking a second to smile at a woman power-walking on the other side of the street.
Then a strong hand clamped over her wrist and tugged her behind the large oak tree on the edge of Warren Meer’s front lawn. “What are you doing? You’ll be seen.”
“By who?” Willow shrugged looking around at the now-empty street. Other than a pair of squirrels frolicking in the neighbor’s yard, there was nothing going on. “Looks quiet enough to me.”
“They’re here. Connor, Cordy, all of them,” Angel’s senses flooded with scents and sounds confirming it.
Willow had gotten used to hearing about the advantages of being a superior vampire from Spike. “Guess those vampy senses are working.”
Missing the tinge of sarcasm in her chirpy voice, Angel was too busy contemplating the method by which he would pulverize the three young men inside that house. He felt his fury raging again now that their scent surrounded him.
One problem barred his way, preventing any personal attempt at a rescue or reaping revenge.
“Know any spells to get me inside the house?” he asked Willow having not thought about the fact that as a human, Warren Meers possessed the same protection from vampires as everyone else when inside their own home.
Looking paler than normal, Willow gulped down hard as she realized Angel couldn’t get in the house and there was no way she could help him do it. “Uh… no. Actually, um, I’m kinda not doing the magick thing for a while.”
Confused at Willow’s refusal, Angel didn’t know what to think, his anger at the three kidnappers unintentionally turning on her, “You’re a powerful wicca. I’ve seen you jump into a fight to help Buffy when you had nothing more than a desire to help. This is Cordy. This is my son. Willow, you can end this here and now.”
Wide-eyed and trembling from her own inner struggle, Willow admitted that it would be easy to let go and do what he asked. “I want too. Really. But I can’t do it.”
“The hell you can’t!” Willow jumped as the oak tree creaked; bark flying off of one spot as Angel’s invisible fist connected hard. She’d never known Angel to lose his temper; he was always subdued and in control.
“If you can bring Buffy back from the dead, you can damn well get me in that door.”
Even if she couldn’t see his face, Willow knew this went far beyond anger. “You don’t understand.” He’d dragged her along assuming that she had the power to get him inside knowing that she possessed the ability to invoke magick that could counter any scientific traps that might be in their way. To help him save…
“My son and the woman I—,” Angel broke off at the startled look in Willow’s eyes as she dragged her gaze away to stare at her shoes. His thoughts echoed hers, though neither one confirmed it. Just the direction his words were taking forced Angel to refocus and demand an explanation, “Just give me one good reason.”
Tearful, but determined, Willow looked up staring forward at the space she figured Angel occupied. “There’s a demon inside me, Angel. Not like yours, just my own addiction to magick. Once I start again, bad things will happen. It’s like… like giving Angelus free reign with the ones you love.”
A curse sounded followed by a harsh laugh that was in no way funny. Angel could hardly argue when effectively slapped in the face with his personal struggles. It was something that never went away, always there beneath the surface.
Swamped by a wave of self-derisiveness, Angel clamped down on his anger and within a few silent moments had himself back under the cool embrace of control.
Reaching out for Willow’s hand, “Take my cell phone,” he said placing it in her palm. “Make the call.”
Almost as soon as she felt his grip loosen, the small silver and black phone appeared visible. Flipping it open, she automatically began to punch in the numbers for Buffy’s house. Then realizing he could have made the call himself, “Where are you going? Angel…Angel?”
Planning to examine all of the exits and possibly block off any alternate escape routes, Angel moved across the lawn, but a movement amidst the thick growth of roses in one brick-ringed flower bed caught the vampire’s attention. Angel headed directly toward it. A flash of the waning sunlight caught on something glinting back into his eyes.
Close now, Angel saw a metallic cylinder sticking up from beneath the flowerbed pointing in the direction of the oak tree.
“They know we’re here.”
“It’s her,” dread sounded in Warren’s voice as he peered through the end of the makeshift periscope.
Groans sounded from his two cohorts, but Cordelia reacted with an instant smile of relief. “Buffy’s here?” She’d take a rescue from her any day, especially today.
Warren yanked the periscope down to its resting position. “You’d just love that. No, it’s not the Slayer.” Reluctantly admitting, “It’s Willow,” he knew that if the witch was here, her best friend wouldn’t be far behind.
The Trio stood in a close triangle talking over options. Jonathan pointed out, “That’s just as bad. Maybe worse considering Willow’s power,” he added now wishing they had conducted some testing on her like they had on the Slayer.
“She’s on a cell phone. You know what that means,” Warren told them grimly.
“The Slayer,” Andrew’s hushed words were full of awe and fear.
Pointing out again that they already had enough trouble; Jonathan wracked his brain for a way out. “Willow can stop us if we give her the chance. We need a distraction.”
Andrew agreed, “Yeah, a distraction,” then looked toward Cordelia who had inched toward the stairs while they were busy.
“Let us go,” Cordelia offered up a solution though doubting these three would take her up on it. Larry, Moe and Curly over there might be geniuses, but they were just dumb enough to be dangerous. “Nobody will follow you as long as Connor and I are safe.”
“Guys, that’s a good idea. We might get out in one piece,” Jonathan sounded hopeful and took Cordelia at her word.
Scoffing, Warren shook his head as he snapped back, “Forget it. The kid is still worth a lot of money.”
Strategizing, Andrew suggested, “We could take one and leave the other behind to draw Willow off.”
“Then take the damn kid and let’s get out of here,” Warren pushed hard at Andrew’s shoulder sending him stumbling toward Cordelia.
Cordelia reacted on instinct, racing for the stairs and clutching Connor close to her breast as she ran. Halfway up, Andrew lunged forward grabbing onto her ankle. A startled, “No!” sounded from her lips as she gripped onto the handrail to stop her inevitable fall.
“Get back down here,” Warren shouted angrily turning red in the process. Both Jonathan and Andrew turned their heads in his direction, puzzled looks on their faces at his seemingly contradictory order.
“Not you two. Get the brat,” he pointed directly at Connor and hobbled toward the stairs.
Shaking her foot until she wriggled out of Andrew’s grasp, Cordelia stomped hard on his hand causing him to screech in pain. Girly cry, much? The thought no more popped into her head than she saw Jonathan barreling up the stairs practically stepping all over Andrew to follow her.
Bracing herself for what might happen, Cordelia reached the top of the steps, turned the doorknob and darted out into the hallway. Now darkened by shadows as the sun sank behind the clouds on the other side of the house, the hallway light was just dim enough to momentarily confuse her as she looked for the front entrance.
Calling out to her friend, Cordelia shouted out her name hoping that she would hear, “Willow!”
Jonathan saw Cordelia close in on the front door. Taking a deep breath, he focused on what he needed to do. Part of him wanted her to make it out, but the other part was just as determined to go through with the plans the way they’d been set up.
He was supposed to be evil, dammit, and these twinges of sympathy didn’t go with his new image.
Words of magick came to him as he concentrated and before Cordelia could get to the door, a pine console scraped across the floor blocking her path. Even he was amazed at himself, exclaiming, “Wow! It worked,” then found himself face to face with Cordelia whose only path out of the house now seemed to be through the back door and she had to go through him to do it.
“Get out of my way, Jonathan,” her eyes pleaded even as she saw Andrew appear in the hallway behind him.
“Sorry, Cordy. I told you I’d stop you if I had too,” Jonathan stepped forward slowly and for every step he took, Cordelia backed into the living room.
Connor was awake and alert, his bright eyes open, but without a peep sounding; his little ear pressed up against Cordelia and hearing the rapid lub-dubbing of her heart. Soft hands clutched his tiny body, holding him close, holding him as safe as could be.
The familiar scents and sounds were all he needed at the moment being completely innocent of the danger.
Backed against the edge of a chair, with Jonathan standing before her holding out his arms for the baby, Cordelia looked disappointed for a second, “I’m sorry, too…NOT!” Jonathan’s eyes crossed as her knee connected with his groin. He squeaked in pain, grabbing his crotch and falling to the floor.
Unfortunately, Andrew was right there at her side, his wiry body snaking around and his hands latching on to Connor. Warren clamped down on Cordelia’s arm and in a moment, the baby was wretched from her protective hold. “Connor!”
Almost simultaneously, the front door flew off its hinges, the power behind the kick that opened it splintering the wood and pushing the console out of the way. It slid to a halt at an angle right in front of the entrance to the foyer door leading out to the garage.
The struggling and movement inside the living room paused as shocked eyes turned toward the door to see Willow Rosenberg stepping into the foyer.
Here goes nothin’, Willow thought. Looks like Cordelia’s not the only one with Oscar aspirations.
With a stage-whisper to Angel who had heard Cordelia’s alarmed cry and decided it was too late to wait for the others to show up, “Thanks for the ticket inside.” Louder, she threatened, “Make one move and you’re all rats… except for Cor and the baby, of course.”
Jonathan struggled to his feet, still grimacing in pain, “Go! I’ll do what I can to stop her.” Assuming that Willow had used magick to break down the door, he was quite certain that she would go through with her threat if she could, but the nature of that kind of spell would take more time and concentration than he figured possible.
Though it occurred to Andrew that it might be funny to see Warren as a big rat, the likelihood that he would be next wasn’t as amusing.
Panic set in as Andrew saw the blocked door to the garage. He wavered for a moment between attempting to shove aside the console and racing down the hallway that was now the only clear path out of the house.
Pulling Cordelia in front of him as a shield despite her struggles, Warren watched as Andrew darted toward the back door. “Not that way, moron,” he called out as their things were all in the van.
“Plan C,” Andrew yelled back over his shoulder as days of strategic planning finally kicked in.
“Idiot,” muttered Warren realizing that Andrew would have to run for nearly half a mile in the woods behind the house to reach the cave that served as their emergency hideout. As for Jonathan, if he wanted to be the martyr and stay behind… let him.
Watching Cordelia forcibly held by her stronger attacker, Angel pounded an invisible hand against the barrier, unable to get in. Calling out her name now might only give Warren an added advantage, so he forced himself to stay silent. No matter his own futile desire to save her, Angel knew there was nothing he could do.
Connor might be another story. The little punk who had his son was obviously trying to escape and the moment he set foot out of the house, Angel was determined to be there to stop him. With one last look at Cordelia, who was sounding off at Warren as she tried to pull free, Angel raced from the front entryway around the corner of the house.
“I told you not to move,” Willow put her hands on her hips in a stance she’d seen Buffy take a hundred times when facing off against an enemy. Looking tough was a little easier when you could actually use the powers you possessed.
The thought of turning these weasels… aww that could be cute… into rats was very tempting. “Now that Amy’s all human again, I have a cage sitting empty just for you. Free rent, too.”
Warren heard Amy Madison had turned up again after her sudden disappearance, but that didn’t mean Willow had anything to do with it. Adam’s apple bobbing as Warren swallowed reflexively, “She’s bluffing.”
“Nope, not bluffing. Hope you like cheese,” Willow smirked as she calculated the time remaining until reinforcements would arrive. “Let Cordy go.”
“Forget it, witch.” Warren wrapped one arm around Cordelia’s waist, holding her up against him as he also kept a tight grip on the Invisibility Ray. He wasn’t about to put it down. Shielding his body with hers, he pulled them toward the hallway while hearing Jonathan start to chant something. “Try anything and Queen C is gonna get it first.”
Twisting her body, Cordelia tried to escape Warren’s clutches, but was too intent on what had happened to Connor to focus on the defensive techniques Angel had taught her. “Willow, go after Connor!” She settled for a jab of her elbow.
A whoosh of breath followed as Warren released her, doubling over just long enough for Cordelia to grab the ray gun and send it sliding across the hardwood floor. It came to a halt halfway between Willow and Jonathan who both looked at each other for several seconds before lunging for the weapon.
Jonathan figured they could use the invisibility to escape. Assuming he could get his hands on it, which was difficult with Willow practically doing a belly flop on top of him. “No you don’t,” Willow shouted out as she wrestled with him for supremacy.
Hearing signs of the struggle from the living room, Andrew stared back down the hallway seeing silhouettes grappling in the distance. “No way are we going back there,” Andrew commented to Connor whose little face immediately scrunched up into frown at the sound of the stranger’s voice. “We are definitely going with Plan C.”
Flinging open the back door, Andrew was about to step outside and then realized the baby’s diaper bag, powdered formula and the extra bottles they had prepared were still sitting on the kitchen counter.
Andrew decided that if he was going to have to take care of a baby for whatever length of time it would take Warren and Jonathan to meet him at the rendezvous point, he was going to make sure he had what he needed.
Angel stood at the back door… waiting. He could see his son just a few feet away, but still couldn’t get to him. He’d never felt so frustrated over anything in his long existence and started to pace in front of the doorway until he realized that he was wearing a visible path into the lawn.
“C’mon, little vampire baby,” Andrew settled Connor into the infant carrier that Cordelia had earlier set in a safe spot, “be really, really quiet. We don’t want any nasty Slayers after us, do we?”
Down the hall, Warren grabbed Cordelia by the hair as she started to run toward the back of the house in the direction Andrew had taken Connor. “Bitch! That’s two you owe me,” he raged in her ear. Despite a few moves that nearly set her free, Cordelia couldn’t break loose of his hold, anger seeming to make him stronger.
Dragging her toward the door that led to the garage, he pushed her against the wall as he shoved aside the console blocking the entry, leaning his body against hers for a moment longer than he needed to.
“Hope you said goodbye to your little brat. If I don’t catch up with Andrew again, you’ll have to forget the reunion. It’ll be just you and me.”
Pushing her into the garage, Warren made the mistake of changing his hold on her so that she faced him. Cordelia immediately threw a punch in his direction and felt the hard contact of her knuckles against his nose. His head snapped back followed by a gush of blood and a grunt of pain.
“My friends will hunt you down,” Cordelia promised him. Thinking, Right after they rescue Connor, she hoped Willow wasn’t as alone as it seemed. “You’ll be sorry you ever set foot in Los Angeles.”
Holding onto his nose with one hand and Cordelia’s wrist with the other, Warren reassessed his situation. This whole project was a huge bust. Here he was with no Invisibility Ray, no baby to sell to the highest bidder and only one classy bitch to keep him company on the long road to wherever.
Cordelia Chase might be beautiful and everything he wanted and deserved to have in high school though never got, but she was too much trouble to manage on his own.
That didn’t mean Warren was going to let her get away with shooting him in the leg and breaking his nose. Both still hurt like hell. Curling his bloodied hand into a fist, he sent her flying back against a brick column, her head hitting hard just before her body crumpled to the floor.
“Oh, crap!” Warren hadn’t planned on that. He took one look at the blood seeping across the cement floor of the garage and nearly gagged at the sight of it. Why did this always happen to him? Turning sharply, he limped toward the van.
Andrew took one step out the back door and within the space of a second, the carrier was snatched from his hand. “Aaaaah!” A high-pitched scream followed as he felt a large hand grab the collar of his shirt an instant before he was yanked up onto the toes of his shoes.
“Guess who?” Angel snarled in his ear resulting in a whimper from the now quaking smaller man.
Answering the redundant question anyway, Andrew squeaked, “A-Angel. You really are invisible. Cool.”
Feeling the urge to shake him, Angel suppressed it in order to take a closer look at Connor. The baby appeared to be fine, which was fortunate for young Andrew. “You are going to get me into this house,” Angel shoved him back toward the door while maintaining his hold.
“It— it’s not my house,” Andrew pointed out. He knew the drill about vampires and invitations.
Angel knew there was a slim chance of it working. This might not be the place where Andrew lived full time, but he certainly had ownership of their basement lair. “Invite me in anyway.”
The gravelly demand had Andrew glancing over his shoulder. He could hear Willow and Jonathan squalling in the background, but not Warren or Cordelia. Inviting the vampire into the house would end any chance his friends had of making it to the van before the Slayer arrived. Assuming she wasn’t already here.
“No?” It came out like a question, Andrew looking back and forth at the blank space before him.
“Do it, now!” Angel’s raised voice only caused Connor to let out a startled cry and his father growled low in angry response.
Sniveling now, Andrew agreed to try. “Umm…okay…I invite you in, I guess.”
Discovering that the barrier remained intact, Angel decided he’d wasted enough time on Andrew. He needed to get back out front and see how Cordelia and Willow were doing handling the other two.
Dragging Andrew along behind him would have taken too long, so Angel simply grabbed him by the waist and carried him. Andrew was too whiny and caught up in self-pity to remember to struggle.
A car pulled up directly onto the sidewalk just as Angel rounded the corner. Xander emerged from the driver’s side, barely noticing the fact that Andrew and the carrier were seemingly suspended in midair. From the front lawn, he could see Willow and Jonathan standing just inside the front doorway, each with their hands on the large metallic ray gun pulling it one way and then the other.
Fred was also on the driver’s side of the car, back in the passenger seat. Letting out an excited whoop, she ran toward the baby carrier understanding immediately that it was Angel with his son and one of the kidnappers. “Connor!”
“Take the baby, Fred,” Angel handed off the carrier. Gunn was approaching at a rapid pace with Anya trailing behind.
“Where’s Cordy?” asked Gunn as soon as he reached Angel.
“Still inside,” Angel nodded toward the house forgetting for a moment that Gunn couldn’t see him. “I need you to—”
“On it!” Just as Gunn moved toward the front door, a loud crash sounded as a black van with the Death Star painted on one side burst through the garage door. The van bounced complainingly across the shards scattered across the driveway, rubber tires squealing as Warren maneuvered it onto the road at full speed.
Gunn took off at a sprint, darting after the van. Thinking only that Warren was trying to escape with Cordelia, Angel unceremoniously dropped Andrew to the ground at Anya’s feet just before he followed, his vampiric speed allowing him to quickly catch up.
“Hello, I am Anya,” the blonde smiled down at Andrew appearing quite cordial. “You are now my prisoner and will refrain from any attempt at escaping.”
On the ground, crawling up to his hands and knees, Andrew glanced toward the road and calculated his chances of outrunning a woman wearing sandals. He’d barely even conceived of the notion when Anya’s smile turned into a frown.
Stomping on his sore hand, she then dug her heel into his back, “Stay down, you little pipsqueak.”
With another screech of tires, the back of the van swayed as Warren momentarily lost control. But he had it back on course a moment later, moving at a pace neither Angel nor Gunn could match. Three houses down, Angel pulled up and stopped Gunn before he got any further down the road.
“You’re driving,” Angel tossed the keys to the Plymouth to Gunn just before hopping into the passenger seat. “Pull up right behind him.”
A glance in the rearview mirror told Warren he might have just escaped the arrival of the cavalry, but he now had a car on his tail. The black convertible was approaching fast. There was one man behind the wheel, someone Warren didn’t recognize.
With luck, Warren hoped to lose him now that the sun was barely more than a slit of light across the horizon.
Focusing on the road in front of him, Warren caught a glimpse of Buffy Summers appearing from a side-street. One moment of eye contact was enough to tell Warren he was in deep trouble. As she was already running at a fast pace, Buffy moved with an incredible burst of speed at an angle intended to intercept him.
Stepping on the gas pedal, Warren floored it. His heart beat a rapid thump in his chest and sweat beaded across his forehead.
What speed was it they’d clocked the Slayer at again? He couldn’t remember. The speedometer blurred a little. Surely he was going faster than that, he thought just as he zoomed past Buffy.
A clunk sounded at the back of the van, followed by another. Warren tried swerving in the middle of the road, but went too far managing to sideswipe a parked car. The sounds were getting closer now, on the roof of the van.
Something was up there. Warren let out a jerky laugh, almost an insane giggle, as he told himself he was just denying the truth. What was that again? Every hero needed an arch-nemesis, he thought. Every evil-doer needed a champion to make the odds more interesting.
Looked like the Slayer was going to win this one, after all.
The passenger door opened and Buffy slipped into the seat, shutting the door, and taking a moment to smooth her flaxen hair as she turned to look at Warren. He sat there, still speeding down the road as she gave him a perky little smile that told him he was toast.
As if seeing the Slayer sitting calmly in his passenger seat wasn’t enough, the back door of the van was suddenly ripped away. “What the hell is that?” Warren gaped and drove even faster as if he could simply drive away from whatever was coming his way.
Equally startled, Buffy wondered the same thing. Then her Slayer senses kicked in and she instinctively knew it was Angel.
“Don’t worry,” Buffy quipped as she grabbed Warren from his seat leaving the van momentarily driverless. “First, you’ll deal with me,” she pulled him into a headlock against the dashboard.
Not exactly what Angel had in mind when he jumped into the van, he made a grab for the spinning wheel as the van veered off the street and into a small park.
“Where is Cordy?” Angel demanded as he turned the van around heading back the way they came.
Warren was too busy yelping in pain to answer. “Oww! Not so hard.”
“Oh, sorry,” Buffy squeezed him a little tighter and knocked his forehead against the dashboard hard enough to leave a large bump. “Want me to kiss it better?”
Angel gripped the steering wheel tighter, suddenly thinking that it was probably a good thing that it was Buffy’s arm around Warren Meer’s neck and not his own. He wasn’t certain he would stop squeezing. “I asked you about Cordelia.”
“That’s your cue, dweeb,” Buffy prompted him while sending Angel a silent query with her eyes. She’d come here directly from the cemetery. It was closer than going back to the house and honestly, Buffy figured she could handle things on her own. If it looked like something bigger, then she had planned to find a phone and call for reinforcements.
Looked like the action had started a little ahead of schedule. Warren refused to say anything, clenching his jaw tight and pressing his mouth into a defiant line of hate. Buffy asked Angel, “What about Connor?”
“Safe,” he answered distractedly, his thoughts already moving ahead, back to the house and to Cordelia.
Angel turned the van into the driveway with Gunn pulling up along the sidewalk just behind them. As Buffy looked up, she saw everyone gathered together in the garage and quickly surveyed the group.
Willow stood beside Jonathan, both of them scruffy looking, though Jonathan’s hands were tied up behind his back with cords from a Venetian blind. Anya and Andrew stood side-by-side, the scrawny nerd appearing rather subdued and staring at his feet. A thin brunette held onto a baby, which Buffy assumed had to be Connor.
Then she saw that Xander was kneeling on the ground… next to Cordelia. Turning to look toward Angel, despite his invisibility, Buffy saw that the door was already open. He was already on his way. The tall black man she assumed to be Charles Gunn ran past the door at a fast pace.
“We’re getting out now, Warren,” Buffy told him just before tossing him through the door and onto the lawn. She hopped down, grabbed him by the arm and twisted it behind his back into a steady grip that kept him completely under control. The loud curses that sounded in the air caused her to groan in disgust, “Shut up.”
Angel scented blood in the air as soon as he had opened the van door; his head was spinning at the realization that it belonged to Cordelia. He could see her lying still as death amongst the crowd, and it was too difficult to filter out all of the pulsing hearts surrounding her to tell if hers still beat.
At a run, he smashed into the invisible barrier that had kept him apart from her from the moment of his arrival. “Cordy?” The crowd turned at the anguished sound. Just as he was about to ask them if she was alive, Gunn accidentally knocked into him as he headed into the garage.
Buffy’s arrival with Warren went unnoticed as everyone was focused on the form of the fallen seer and the tormented voice of the invisible vampire. They didn’t need to see Angel to understand his feelings because they resonated from him with every syllable he uttered.
Propelling Gunn that final step into the garage, Angel stayed as close as he could get. Rasping thickly, “Bring her to me.”