THE POWER OF THREE
Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation. I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below. No copyright infringement is intended.
My Website: http://www.dragonwriter17.net/
Feedback: Yes, but only if it’s of the non-flamey variety: DragonWriter17@aol.com
Distribution: The Mystic Muse, Near Her Always (If you are interested in posting my story on your site, please contact me first for permission.)
Spoilers: The end of BtVS Season 4’s “Wild At Heart” and beyond.
Author’s Notes: I have kept to the BtVS/Angel canon in some ways, borrowing directly from aired episodes; however, I have also made significant changes: deleting certain storylines, moving some, changing others, as well as adding some completely original plots. If you haven’t read my backhistory story for Tara, “Out of Shadow into Light,” you need to because it is critical to Book 2.
Number of Chapters: 16
Chapter Summary: As Buffy and Willow and Tara start trying out their powers, Holland Manners begins plans for a pre-emptive strike against the Three, beginning with their unknown ally, Lindsey. Angel makes a trip to Sunnydale.
Xander accompanied a somber Willow to her room in Stevenson. When Willow opened her door, she was greeted by an excited Buffy and Tara.
“Willow, look!” Buffy said. “Anya and Xander cleaned our room for us!”
Willow smiled and looked around the room, clearly impressed. As Xander walked inside to admire his handiwork, Buffy and Tara moved closer to Willow. Tara touched Willow’s arm, and Buffy leaned over to whisper into Willow’s ear.
“You okay?” Buffy asked.
Willow gave a quick nod of assurance, her expression to both of them indicating that they could discuss the matter of her parents later.
“So what’d’ya think?” Xander asked, spreading out his arms with pride.
“It looks great,” Willow said sincerely. “Thank you, both, so much.”
Xander put on a sad expression. “I’m sorry to tell you, though, that the answering machine is...it’s dead.” He picked up the battered remains of the device. “Despite our best efforts at resuscitation, it just didn’t make it.”
Willow and Buffy and Tara gave Xander’s melodramatic display a collective roll of their eyes.
Xander set down the broken answering machine. “Just so’s ya know, we didn’t throw anything away...well, except for the obvious. You know, empty food and drink containers, anything that was broken beyond repair,” Xander continued. “We just cleaned and heaped as best we could. Hence the many stacks of stuff. Unfortunately, Anya drew the line at washing your clothes for you, although I did personally volunteer to do the whites.”
The Three gave Xander a pointed look.
“What?” he replied with an innocent expression. “Anya’s allergic to bleach.”
“Yeah, right,” Buffy chided, before giving Xander a hug. Soon the other two joined them.
“Thank you, Xander,” the Three chimed, embracing Xander in a warm group hug.
Xander giggled happily and returned the hug. When the foursome separated, Xander headed for the door.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then,” he said. “I know you’ve got stuff to sort through and put away. I’m gonna go join Anya and crash for the rest of the day.”
“Tell her thank you for us,” Willow said.
“You betcha,” Xander said with a wink before exiting.
* * *
After Xander had left, Willow turned from the door and hugged herself tightly. She drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly, trying not to let it catch in her throat.
“So, I guess you guys want the scoop, huh?” Willow said, dropping her arms for a moment.
“Only if you feel like telling us,” Tara replied. “A-A-And it’s okay if you don’t.” Tara reached out and touched Willow’s arm reassuringly.
Willow nodded and hugged herself again as tears began to spill from her eyes. Buffy put her hand on Willow’s back.
“Why don’t we sit down?” Buffy offered, guiding Willow to the edge of the bed.
The Three sat on the bed with Willow in the middle. Before she had even been seated for a second, Willow burst into sobs. Tara and Buffy quickly sandwiched her into a comforting hug and just the redhead cry.
* * *
Meanwhile, at Wolfram and Hart, Lilah was meeting with Holland Manners in his office. As Lilah sat in the chair before Holland’s desk, Lindsey stood a respectable distance behind, relegated to taking notes.
“The Senior Partners want the Power of Three destroyed,” Holland reported. “Although they haven’t impacted any of our operations outside of Sunnydale, it’s only a matter of time, especially given the Slayer’s connection to Angel.”
“Is that a wise course of action?” Lilah asked.
“Perhaps not, but it is a necessary one,” Holland answered.
“It’s foolish,” Lindsey interjected.
Both Lilah and Holland gave Lindsey an icy stare. Lindsey ignored them.
“If you think Angel’s been a thorn in your side before now,” Lindsey went on, “try messing with his favorite Slayer.”
Lilah turned back to Holland. “It’s not Angel I’m worried about. It’s the curse.”
Holland smiled enigmatically and chuckled. “Oh, I’ve found a way around the curse.”
Lindsey sighed loudly and shrugged. “It’s your funeral.”
“Lindsey, why don’t you head back to my office and start the research for the Merckson case?” Lilah told her assistant.
Lindsey gave the two executives a curt nod then left the office. Holland watched Lindsey go, a look of deep concern on his face. Lilah watched Holland watching Lindsey and made a decision.
“There’s something you should know,” she began. When Holland met her eyes, she continued. “I found Lindsey making copies of the Power of Three file.” Lilah waited until that information had sunk in, then she went on. “He said he was just closing up his cases as you had asked him to do, but...”
“I don’t trust him,” Lilah said. “I think he’s up to something.”
Holland thought deeply for a moment then spoke. “Have Lindsey watched and keep me informed. I sincerely hope your suspicions are unwarranted, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.”
Lilah smiled her acknowledgement of the order then left the office.
* * *
At lunchtime, Lindsey slipped out of the huge Wolfram and Hart tower and hurried down the sidewalk. He crossed a couple of streets, watching his back as he did so. Seeing no one, he stopped at a pay phone. He pulled out a pre-paid calling card and a slip of paper with a number on it. He punched in the requisite numbers and waited.
* * *
In Buffy and Willow’s empty dorm room, the phone began to ring. With the demolished answering machine next to it, the phone rang multiple times. But no one was there to hear it.
* * *
“Damn it!” Lindsey swore before hanging up the receiver.
Lindsey picked up the receiver again, as if considering making another call. Then he put it right back down. He turned around to head back to the office.
Several yards away on a bus bench, a non-descript man in a brown coat lowered his newspaper and watched Lindsey as he walked away. The man spoke discreetly into a cell phone, then nonchalantly folded his paper and headed in the same direction that Lindsey had gone.
* * *
After they had gotten out of classes that afternoon, the Three returned to Willow and Buffy’s dorm room, determined to get everything back in its place. As Tara hit the books, Willow and Buffy focused on paper sorting.
Willow held up a slightly crumpled stack of sheets from a notebook. The colored writing had been smeared from what looked like a spilled soda.
“No!” she groaned. “My psychology notes!”
“Guess your fancy-schmancy pens aren’t designed to hold up against poltergeist attacks, huh?” Buffy commented.
“That’s it!” Willow stated in a determined voice. “I’m going laminated!”
Tara grinned at her girlfriend, the notes-neatness-freak, and chuckled, before turning her attention back to the stack of books before her. Once she had separated Willow’s magic books from the college textbooks, she began replacing them in the bookshelf. When she had finished, her eyes were drawn to a volume she hadn’t seen before. She slid it out and sat down at Willow’s desk to peruse it. It didn’t take her long to realize that it wasn’t like the others. She turned to the section that was marked and read it carefully.
“Willow!” Tara blurted in shock.
“What?” Willow answered.
Tara had a serious frown on her face as she joined Willow and Buffy on the bed where they were sorting papers.
“Th-Th-This book,” Tara said worriedly, “where did you get it?”
Willow took the book from Tara’s hand. When she saw what it was, her face fell.
“Oh. That.” Willow hung her head and didn’t answer.
“What?” Buffy asked, wondering what was going on.
Tara crossed her arms tightly and stared at Willow.
Willow looked up but didn’t maintain eye contact. “Just some guy that Spike knew. I-I-I guess I forgot about returning it.”
Tara continued to glare unhappily at Willow. Buffy looked back and forth between the two witches, still not following.
“What is it? What’s going on?” Buffy asked.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Tara said. “The two spells you have marked...is that what you used to try to bring us home?”
Willow hesitated then finally answered. “The first one, yes,” she admitted. “But the second one, no.”
“What’s wrong with the spells?” Buffy inquired.
“It’s dark magic...very dark,” Tara replied. “And very dangerous.”
“Willow?” Buffy prodded nervously.
Willow stood up and walked a few feet away. “Look, I didn’t do the bad one, okay? It turned out I didn’t need to.”
“But you would have,” Tara said questioningly.
Willow endured Tara’s glare for a moment. Then she straightened and said, “Yes, I would have.”
“Oh, god,” Tara said, hanging her head.
“It was only to bring you back,” Willow said, hurrying back to the bed to take Tara’s hand in hers. She met Buffy’s eyes. “I had tried everything I could think of, everything Giles could think of, a-a-and nothing worked. I was so afraid I’d never see you again.”
Tara raised her head. Tears were on her cheeks. “Willow, you can’t use black magic like this, no matter how desperate you may be. It’s too dangerous!”
“Will, you could lose your soul o-o-or your life,” Tara said desperately, as she squeezed Willow’s hand. Then she grabbed Buffy’s hand too. “And we don’t want to lose you, so please promise me you’ll get rid of that book and never try anything like that again.”
Buffy looked between the two witches again and then looked into Willow’s eyes. “Tara’s right. No dark stuff, okay?”
Willow reluctantly nodded and said, “Okay. I’ll take the book back tomorrow.” Willow set the book on the corner of her desk as a reminder.
Buffy and Tara sighed in relief.
* * *
Late that afternoon, when he had finished his work, Lindsey said goodbye to Lilah then left the office. As he headed downstairs, Lilah made a quick call. As soon as Lindsey left the Wolfram and Hart tower, he was once again trailed by a man in a brown coat.
After taking a circuitous route, Lindsey finally stopped a few blocks from Angel’s hotel. He looked in his mirrors and out the side windows before finally getting out and making his way toward the entrance.
The man in the brown coat sat inside a dark gray van. When he saw Lindsey approaching, clearly heading for the hotel, he spoke into his cell phone, listened for a moment, then motioned to two other men in the back. They waited until Lindsey was alongside the van, then burst out the side door, and yanked Lindsey inside. Then the van sped away.
* * *
That evening, back in Sunnydale, Buffy took a break from her patrolling and headed down Revello toward her home. When she neared, she saw Giles’ car in the drive and grinned. She adjusted the light pack on her back and walked up to the front door.
Buffy used her key and slipped quietly in the front door. She listened intently for a moment then headed for the kitchen. She eased through the dining room, noting that the candlelit table was set for two. She stifled a giggle and peeked inside the kitchen.
Behind the bar, Joyce tended the stove. She was distracted by Giles, who wrapped one arm around her waist and nuzzled her neck. She laughed at something he whispered in her ear then turned around and swatted him lightly. Their playful embrace led to a passionate kiss, which Buffy interrupted with a well-placed throat-clearing.
Instantly, Giles and Joyce split apart, awkwardly assuming hopefully innocuous yet totally unconvincing poses. Giles immediately began cleaning his glasses, and Joyce turned her attention right back to the food cooking on the stove.
“Buffy!” Joyce cried, while keeping her eyes on the food. “What are you doing here? I, um, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Yeah, I kinda got that,” Buffy replied with a grin, crossing her arms.
“I was just, um, in the neighborhood, and Joyce, she-she...”
“I...saw him...outside, and I, um, invited him to dinner, and—”
“Mom, Giles,” Buffy said, interrupting, “it’s okay. You don’t have to pretend. I know about you two, and I’m cool with it.”
“You do?” Joyce asked.
“You are?” Giles added.
“It was kinda obvious when I was in the hospital. All those times you thought I was asleep...”
Giles and Joyce blushed and dipped their heads a moment before smiling back at Buffy.
“And all this time, we were so worried about how we were going to tell you,” Joyce chided her daughter before hugging her. “You are a wicked, wicked child.”
Buffy chuckled and hugged her mom back. “Well, I have to admit it did wig me out a little at first. I kept having ‘band candy’ flashbacks when you two were all over each other.”
Giles and Joyce blushed again, but recovered quickly.
“So...you, um, you don’t mind, then?” Giles asked.
“Well...I do have one question,” Buffy said with a serious expression.
Joyce and Giles steeled themselves and then nodded their readiness for her question.
“Are you happy?”
Joyce and Giles gave a small laugh then looked at each other, smiling. Then they turned back to Buffy.
“Yes, we are,” Joyce said for the two of them.
“That’s all I need to know,” Buffy answered. “The rest we’ll figure out as we go.” She gave her mother a special grin and added, “A very wise woman told me something like that once.”
Joyce hugged her daughter tightly. Buffy returned the hug then reached out to bring Giles into the hug.
After a moment, Buffy said, “Since we’re talking about being happy, you know what would make me really happy?”
Giles and Joyce pulled out of the hug and eyed Buffy suspiciously.
“What?” Joyce asked.
“Being able to move off campus with Willow and Tara,” Buffy replied. When Joyce rolled her eyes, Buffy continued. “I know what you’re thinking. Too expensive, right? Well, actually, we’ve checked into it, and some places are very reasonable and not a whole lot more than what the dorm costs.”
“Buffy, I don’t know,” Joyce said. “Things are really tight as it is.”
“Can’t you talk to Dad?” Buffy asked.
Joyce shook her head. When she saw Buffy’s disappointed expression, she said, “I’ll give it a try. No promises, though.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Buffy said. “Oh...I will need a new answering machine, though. It kinda got trashed in our last adventure.”
When Joyce got a confused look on her face, Giles interjected, “I think I can take care of that. After all, it was damaged in the course of your Slayer duties, and I do need to be able to get messages to you.”
“Cool. Well, I guess I’ll leave you two lovebirds to your romantic dinner and get back to patrolling,” Buffy said as she headed for the door. “Oh, one more thing,” she said quickly. “Don’t forget about the Honors Program thing. Willow and Tara really want both of you to be there.”
“Of course,” Giles assured her.
“And when are we going to see you on the honors list?” Joyce asked pointedly.
“Ahhh...ummm...I think that’s my cue to leave,” Buffy said. “Bye!”
As Buffy got to the front door, she heard her mother call from the other room.
“Buffy! There’s a package for you on the table by the door!”
“Okay!” Buffy called back.
Buffy moved toward the table and found the FedEx package. She looked at it curiously for a moment, then pulled off her pack and stuffed inside the outer pocket. She put the pack back on and headed out the door, locking it behind her.
* * *
Willow and Tara sat cross-legged on the floor of Tara’s dorm room. They were holding hands, and their eyes were closed. Sweat was beading on their foreheads, and they were breathing heavily, apparently concentrating very hard on something.
They combined their strengths and together reached out with their minds, sweeping through Sunnydale until they found the unique energy signature of their Slayer soulmate.
“Can you hear me now? ” they heard Buffy quip in their minds.
Willow sent Buffy a telepathic groan. “Save the puns for the bad guys, Buffy.”
“Just practicing. Can you tell where I’m at? ” Buffy asked.
“Cemetery,” Willow answered.
“Which one?” Buffy pressed.
“Oakdale,” Tara answered with confidence. “You’re sitting on top of an above-ground tomb, the one with the gargoyle and the angel beside it.”
“Ex-cell-ent,” Buffy said. “This whole getting into each other’s brains is kinda fun, huh? ”
* * *
In the bowels of Wolfram and Hart, in a room from which no sound escaped, Lindsey screamed in agony. He was bound in a medical chair, strong leather straps securing him in place. His face was bruised and battered, his clothes ripped and bloodied. Behind him stood a demon, who held his clawed hands firmly on Lindsey’s head, sending jolts of electricity into the young lawyer’s skull. Holland and Lilah watched impassively.
“Disappointed?” Lilah inquired.
“Yes,” Holland growled. “But I’m finding this final procedure somewhat...gratifying.”
“Why not just kill him?” Lilah asked. “You’ve learned what he was up to, thanks to the telepaths.”
“No,” Holland said slowly, “this is better.”
Lilah gave Holland a skeptical look then shrugged and turned her attention back to the screaming Lindsey.
* * *
Later that night, Angel parked his long black car in the dead-end alley behind the hotel. He got out and headed for the back entrance. A tiny scuffle drew his attention, and he froze. He listened and then crept silently towards the red dumpster in the corner. He eased over to stand beside it, then suddenly shoved the metal bin away from the wall.
There, in the grimy shadows, was Lindsey. The young lawyer gasped in terror and tried to scramble away on his hands and knees. Angel grabbed him and pulled him back, setting him up straight and holding him firmly in place.
“Lindsey! Lindsey!” Angel called to the distraught man.
“No! No!” Lindsey cried, nearly hyperventilating in fear. He tossed his head from side to side, refusing to look in the face of his captor.
“Lindsey, it’s me...Angel,” the vampire said.
Lindsey calmed at Angel’s name. He stopped struggling and ventured a peek at who was holding him. “Angel?” Lindsey asked with a bewildered expression.
“Yes,” Angel answered.
Lindsey relaxed and let out a shaky breath. Then he leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, “The clowns have eaten all the cotton candy.” His face became pained. “And now all the children are crying because the circus is empty.”
Angel stared open-mouthed at Lindsey for a moment, blinking in confusion. Then he shook his head and said, “Say what?”
* * *
In Angel’s apartment, Lindsey sat on the couch with his knees pulled to his chest and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He rocked in place, talking to himself in a low voice while Angel and Cordelia stood nearby in the kitchen.
“What the hell happened to him?” Cordelia asked.
“I don’t know,” Angel replied. “I found him like that.”
“Don’t tell the trees!” Lindsey called out suddenly. “Can’t trust the trees...”
Angel and Cordelia looked at Lindsey sadly then turned back to each other. “It looks like somebody beat the crap out of him,” Cordelia said. “We should take him to the hospital. The way he’s been talking nonsense, he’s probably got a concussion.”
“I don’t think so,” Angel said. “There’s more to this than just...” He trailed off and thought some more. “Something’s not right,” he said finally.
Cordelia raised her eyebrows at Angel expectantly until he went on.
Angel leaned closer, lowering his voice. “When I asked him who did this to him, he wouldn’t answer at first. Then he looked at me, like he knew me...I swear, for a second, he looked like he was trying to speak but couldn’t. Then he just shook his head and started babbling again.”
“Cat’s in the cradle, but mom doesn’t know,” Lindsey said, rocking in place. “Steal your breath away, it will...”
“What are you thinking...that maybe somebody scrambled his brain or something?” Cordelia asked.
“Maybe.” Angel thought a moment and then said, “I think we should take him to Sunnydale. See if Willow can figure it out.”
Cordelia groaned. “Sunnydale? Do we have to?” Cordelia whined. When Angel glared at her, she rolled her eyes. “Fine, but don’t blame me when you come back all moody broody from seeing you-know-who!”
* * *
“Sheila, Ira, how good to see you!” Joyce exclaimed in surprise when she saw Willow’s parents enter her gallery.
“It’s good to see you too,” Sheila echoed with a smile.
“Joyce,” Ira said with a cordial nod of his head.
“You just caught me on my way to lunch,” Joyce said, “but I can wait if you’d like to see the new exhibit.”
“Actually...we’re here about something else,” Sheila said.
Bet I can guess, Joyce thought to herself. “Why don’t we go back to my office?” she suggested, gesturing toward the back of the gallery.
Once they had reached the office and the Rosenbergs had seated themselves, Joyce herself sat down behind her desk. “What can I do for you?”
“We’re here about Willow,” Ira stated matter-of-factly.
“I see,” Joyce said.
“Has Buffy told you about her, um, her—” Sheila struggled to say.
“Yes, I know about Buffy’s relationship with Willow and Tara, if that’s what you mean,” Joyce answered.
“Good, good,” Sheila said with a sigh of relief. “I really didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, as it were.”
“We certainly wouldn’t want you to find out the way we did,” Ira grumbled under his breath.
Joyce ignored Ira and looked at Sheila. “Why would I think it was bad news? My daughter’s in love. That’s a good thing, right?”
“Well, of course it is, of course,” Sheila replied. “Under normal circumstances.”
“Normal?” Joyce asked in an icy tone.
“Look, let’s cut to the chase here,” Ira interjected. “We don’t like this so-called relationship that Willow has developed with Buffy and Tara. We want it to stop. Now.”
As Sheila confirmed her agreement with a nod, Joyce stared in shock and then anger.
Then she directed a hard gaze at the Rosenbergs. “Buffy and Willow and Tara are mature adults who are capable of making informed, intelligent decisions for themselves,” Joyce said. “As a concerned but understanding parent, I refuse to interfere in that.”
Sheila and Ira huffed and looked away, so Joyce softened her approach. “They’re in love, and they make each other happy,” she said with confidence. “Have you even tried to get to know them, watch them together? If you did, you’d see that—”
“You would let your daughter run headlong and thoughtless into danger without making any attempt to save her from herself?” Ira demanded. “And you call yourself a concerned parent!”
“Well, I am certainly more of a concerned parent than you two are!” Joyce retorted, suddenly jumping to her feet. “Traveling six months or more a year, leaving Willow to care for herself...you barely even qualify as parents!”
Sheila gasped and put her hand on her chest. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Ira grabbed Sheila’s hand and pulled her to her feet.
“This conversation is over,” Ira stated. “We’ll deal with this in our own way.”
Before Joyce could say another word, Ira ushered Sheila from the office and out of the gallery.
* * *
Late that afternoon, in Stevenson Hall, Buffy and Tara and Willow were busy studying. Willow sat at her desk, typing away on her laptop. Tara and Buffy were propped up on the bed, pillows behind them and books before them.
As Buffy copied a few lines from her textbook into her notebook, she felt soft fingers trail along her right forearm. She looked up and to her left, where Tara sat beside her. Tara smiled—a small but happy smile, her blue eyes beaming with love. She gave Buffy’s arm a squeeze.
God, I will never get tired of seeing that face, Buffy thought to herself as she smiled back at Tara.
Buffy put down her pen and pulled Tara’s face to hers, kissing her soundly. What had been meant as a brief embrace became more as Tara hungrily returned Buffy’s kiss. The two disregarded papers and books alike as they moved into each other’s arms.
At her desk, Willow looked up from her laptop and sighed resignedly. She turned slowly around and stared at her girlfriends making out on the bed. She sighed again.
“Sulu, shields up!” Willow said sarcastically as she turned back around and donned a set of headphones that had been lying next to her mouse pad. “Aye, Captain!” Then she resumed her typing.
Less than a minute later, the phone rang. Buffy reluctantly pulled away from Tara and flipped over to reach for the phone.
“Hello?” she said testily into the receiver.
“Buffy, it’s Giles,” came the voice over the phone.
“Oh, hey Giles,” Buffy replied as Willow turned around in her chair and took off her headphones. “What’s up?” she asked her watcher.
“I need you and Willow and Tara to come over right away. Something’s come up, and well, you just need to see for yourself.”
“Giles, what is it?” Buffy asked, a touch of fear in her voice.
“We, um, we don’t know,” Giles answered.
“We? Who’s ‘we’?”
“Oh, um, Angel and Cordelia...a-a-and that Lindsey fellow.”
Buffy didn’t answer; she just stared at the wall. Willow and Tara looked on worriedly.
“Buffy? Can I expect you soon?” Giles prompted.
“We’ll be right there,” she said. She hung up the phone and then slowly got up.
“Buffy, what is it?” Willow asked, standing up beside her desk chair.
“Oh, that was Giles,” Buffy answered absently. “He wants us to come over right away.”
“What is it? What’s happened?” Tara asked as she scooted over to the edge of the bed on Buffy’s side.
“Don’t know yet,” Buffy replied flatly. “Guess we’ll find out.”
Willow joined Tara, and the two of them looked at Buffy, waiting for her to continue. Buffy glanced at Willow and Tara, then looked away, moving toward the closet to get her shoes. She came back with them and finally met her girlfriends’ eyes.
“It’s Angel,” she said. “He’s here.” Buffy paused and took a deep breath. “Him and Cordelia. And that guy from Wolfram and Hart, Lindsey. Something big must be goin’ down.”
“Oh,” Tara said.
“Angel,” Willow whispered softly. After a long and awkward silence, Willow went on. “Have you, um, you know, told Angel about—”
“No,” Buffy said instantly. Then she softened and came back to the bed, setting her shoes on the floor. “I know I should have, but it’s just...hard. I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I mean, I can move on, you know? But he can’t and—”
“Buffy, it’s okay,” Tara said reassuringly, taking Buffy’s hand. “We understand. Right, Will?”
Willow nodded and took Buffy’s other hand. “Just tell us what you need us to do, and we’ll do it, okay?”
Buffy nodded. “Well, during the meeting, until I’ve had time to talk to Angel, just keep your distance, and you know, keep your digits to yourselves.” Buffy pulled her hands away, then she gestured at Willow and Tara. “Well, you two don’t have to. With each other, I mean. What I mean is, just do it around me. I mean, don’t do it around me. God, I am not making any sense at all.”
“We get it, Buffy,” Willow said. “Really.”
“We’ll give you your space,” Tara added.
“I’ll talk to him right after the meeting, I promise,” Buffy told them.
* * *
In Giles’ apartment, Angel and Cordelia sat on the couch. Giles sat in a chair nearby. When the front door opened, all turned to look. Willow and Tara came in first, followed by Buffy. Willow and Tara headed immediately for the sitting area, where Willow greeted everyone. Buffy stayed by the bar, setting her backpack on the floor next to the entrance to the hallway. Then she stood by the nearest stool and crossed her arms. Angel glanced at Buffy and then at Willow and Tara.
“Angel, Cordelia,” Willow said, “this is Tara...my girlfriend.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Angel said.
“Yeah, we’ve heard a lot of good things about you,” Cordelia added.
Tara blushed and ducked her head as she smiled. “Thanks, it’s good to meet you too.”
Willow guided Tara to another chair and then perched on the armrest next to her. Finally, Angel turned his gaze to Buffy. There was an awkward pause as the two former lovers looked at one another.
“Buffy,” Angel said simply.
“Angel,” Buffy replied. After another long moment of silence, Buffy said, “Where’s Lindsey? I thought he came with you?”
“He’s, um, in the bedroom,” Giles answered. “He’s actually the reason I called.”
“What? I-I-Is something wrong with him?” Willow asked.
“Ah, yeah, you could say that,” Cordelia said. “He’s had a sudden absence of sanity.”
“We think somebody did something to him, maybe cast a spell on him?” Angel told Willow. “I was hoping you could check him out.”
Willow looked at Tara, who nodded. “Sure, we can do that,” Willow replied.
“I’ll get him,” Cordelia said before rising and leaving.
Within a few minutes, Cordelia led Lindsey into the room. He had been cleaned up, and his wounds had been treated. His face was still battered and his expression crazed as he murmured to himself. As they came through the hallway, Lindsey’s eyes caught sight of Buffy’s backpack on the floor, where the FedEx package was sticking up out of the outside pocket.
Lindsey froze, staring in terror at the package. He began to whimper. Cordelia tried to nudge him forward, but he wouldn’t move.
“Come on, Lindsey,” she reassured him. “It’s okay...”
Lindsey suddenly went berserk, screaming and shoving Cordelia violently away from himself. Then he plowed over Buffy and headed for the door. Buffy flipped over and grabbed him by the leg, tripping him up. Angel leapt over the couch and ran to the door, blocking it. Lindsey fought frantically for a few moments before finally giving up. Angel held him in a tight grip as Buffy got to her feet.
“What the hell was that all about?” Buffy asked.
“I don’t know,” Angel said. “He’s been fairly calm until now.”
“It’s that backpack,” Tara said, pointing. “Something about it frightened him.”
“My backpack?” Buffy asked. “Why would he freak out over my backpack?”
Buffy retrieved her backpack, and as soon as Lindsey saw it, he became agitated once again. Buffy looked at Lindsey, then the package, and finally pulled the FedEx envelope out of her pack. She came toward Lindsey with it.
“No! No!” Lindsey cried, refusing to look at the package at all and trying unsuccessfully to pull from Angel’s grip.
“It’s not the backpack, it’s this,” Buffy said, holding up the package.
“What is it?” Willow asked.
“I don’t know,” Buffy answered. “I picked it up last night when I stopped by my mom’s. I haven’t taken the time to open it.” Buffy turned to Lindsey and showed him the package. “Lindsey, did you send this? Do you know what’s inside?”
Lindsey shook his head back and forth before finally venturing a glance at the package. The veins in his neck and forehead were standing out as he seemingly had to force himself to look at it. He let out a strangled gasp as he clenched his teeth and jaw. For a moment, his gaze seemed lucid as he struggled to speak, but then he shook his head crazily again and started rocking in place.
“Nosy rats get tails cut off, the farmer’s wife with a butcher’s knife...” Lindsey began repeating.
“Get him back to the bedroom,” Buffy told Angel.
While Angel and Cordelia got Lindsey settled into the bedroom once again, Buffy went and knelt in front of the coffee table. She set the package on the table and opened it. She pulled a manila folder full of sheets from the package. Giles leaned over to see.
“What’s in it?” Willow asked as she and Tara knelt beside Buffy.
“It looks like documents from Wolfram and Hart,” Buffy said, passing a few sheets over to Giles and to Willow and Tara.
“Oh my god,” Tara said. “This is stuff on the Power of Three...o-o-on us!”
* * *
An hour or so later, Buffy and Giles, now alone in the living room, continued to pour over the documents.
“This...this is remarkable,” Giles commented. “They’ve got records here I don’t think the Council has ever seen.”
“Well, good,” Buffy said. “We’ll be ahead of them, for once.”
Willow and Tara came out of the hallway and returned to the living room. Angel and Cordelia remained in the bedroom with Lindsey. Buffy and Giles turned to Willow and Tara expectantly.
“So, what’d’ya think?” Buffy asked the two witches.
“Something’s definitely been done to him,” Willow answered as she and Tara once again knelt beside Buffy on the floor.
“H-H-His aura’s extremely stressed and...I don’t know...garbled,” Tara added.
“What happened? How was this done to him?” Giles asked.
“Don’t know,” Willow said, “but I bet I can guess why.”
“He sent the file and then got caught?” Buffy supplied.
“Why would he do that? He works for Wolfram and Hart,” Giles asked.
“I think that whole thing with N’Faius freaked him out,” Buffy answered. “Maybe he decided he was working for the wrong side.”
“But what was he trying to tell us?” Tara asked. “I get the clear impression that he desperately wants to tell us something but can’t.”
“Think you two could get through to him somehow?” Buffy asked.
“I don’t know, Buffy. There may not be anything to get through to,” Willow said. “His brain’s pretty fried.”
“We can try, though,” Tara offered.
“Would it be dangerous?” Buffy asked, laying her hand on Willow’s arm and looking into her girlfriends’ eyes. “I don’t want you two putting yourselves at—”
Buffy stopped when she saw Angel and Cordelia coming back in to the living room. She pulled away from Willow and Tara and stood up.
“So, how’s he doing?” Buffy asked.
“He’s sleeping now,” Cordelia answered. “We thought it’d be best to sedate him for a little while.”
“Good, that’s good,” Buffy said awkwardly, stuffing her hands into her pants pockets. “Um, Angel, can I, um, talk to you for a minute...alone?”
Angel glanced nervously at the group then said, “Sure.”
The two of them walked to the door and stepped outside into the night air.
* * *
Buffy led Angel through the alcove outside Giles’ apartment to a small bench in the side yard. Once they had sat down, Angel looked at Buffy and waited patiently for her to speak. After several long moments of uncomfortable silence, Buffy finally took a deep breath and began.
“Angel, I need to tell you something,” Buffy said.
“I already know,” Angel said.
“About you and Willow and Tara.”
Buffy’s mouth dropped open, and then she said, “How?”
“How do you think?”
Buffy groaned. “Spike?”
Angel nodded. Then he sighed and said, “I wish you had told me.”
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said sincerely. “I was going to,” she said with conviction. “Eventually... someday...” she finished with a sheepish wince.
“You didn’t have any problem telling me about soldier boy,” Angel commented with a touch of annoyance in his voice.
“I know, but...” Buffy trailed off then tried again. “I just didn’t know how you’d take it. I mean, can my relationship get any different from you and I had?”
Angel chuckled at that, and Buffy joined him in a quick laugh.
“Plus...I just didn’t want to rub your nose in it,” Buffy added. “Oh, look at all the people I’m dating! I can be happy, but you can’t!” she said in a sarcastic tone.
“I appreciate the thought, but I’m okay. I want you to be happy, Buffy. I do. That’s why I left, remember?”
“Yeah,” Buffy said sadly, dropping her gaze to her hands.
“You are happy, right?”
Buffy looked back up and smiled. “Yes, I am. Very happy.”
“Then I’m happy for you,” Angel said, putting his arm around Buffy’s shoulders and hugging her.
Buffy sighed and leaned in comfortably against him. “Thank you, Angel. That means a lot to me.” After a moment, she added, “Now, if we can just get this whole Power of Three mess straightened out, things’ll be—”
Angel released Buffy and turned sharply towards her. “Power of Three?”
“Yeah, that’s the other half of what I needed to tell you,” Buffy answered. “It seems that me and Willow and Tara are some kind of special guardian trio for the hellmouth.”
“I’ve heard of it, I think,” Angel said. “A long time ago. Don’t remember much, though.”
“There’s not a whole lot of information about it,” Buffy informed him. “At least not in the Council’s library. It looks like Wolfram and Hart has access to sources we don’t have. Lindsey was here investigating us for the firm when that whole N’Faius thing went down.”
“You didn’t tell me that,” Angel complained.
“Sorry. We weren’t really that sure of our information when we sent Lindsey on his way, and...well, like I said, I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
“What else is there? I need to know everything.”
“That package we think Lindsey sent? It contains some documents from Wolfram and Hart, documents dealing with the Power of Three. We’re thinking he got caught and they fried his brain.”
“Sounds like them.”
“I just wish I knew what they were up to,” Buffy said worriedly.
“I’ll see what I can
find out,” Angel promised.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART