Running For Our Lives

                           

 

 

Chapter 25: Walking the Path

Wesley started as someone knocked on the door. He sat up, squinting into the sun-yellowed recesses of the room. How long had he been asleep? He looked at the clock on the wall, but he couldn't read it. Damn. It felt like noon though, and by the angle of the sun on the wall, it was nearing that time.

"Wesley?" Fred's voice was muffled by the door. "Are you awake?"

"Did they find her?" He sat up, throwing the blanket off of his legs and padding to the door. He swung it open and looked down at the brown-haired Texan, her mouth turned into a frown. "Tell me they found her."

"They found her!"

"Oh thank God. Where is she?" Wesley asked, a weight lifting off his shoulders and his heart soaring.

"Somewhere downtown."

"Where?"
He pressed, his eyes boring holes in her face.

"They didn't say. It's okay, they'll be here in a few minutes. She'll be fine." Fred attempted a smile and he had to give her credit, nothing brought her down. Of course, she didn't have worry and fear squeezing her heart and making all other thoughts and feelings drip down her spine. And, he rationalized, she didn't even know Faith, she probably didn't really care what happened. That thought almost made him angry and down that guilty path he'd been traveling for too long, it seemed.

"They'd better hurry..." He choked back the anger and pushed past her, but she grabbed his arm.

"I found your glasses. The ones you leave at the office." Fred smiled, handing him the glasses. He nodded, putting them on. Having gone so long without them, everything seemed too sharp, too harsh to his eyes. He blinked and mumbled a thank you.

Wesley turned around once more to walk away, but her voice stopped him dead in his tracks.

"You love her." It was a statement, but he could see the question in her eyes when he turned around. His shoulders stiffened and he looked at the woman he'd once convinced himself he loved. He still felt a tug on his heartstrings as he studied her honest face. But she was lacking something behind those brown eyes, a fire that he'd scorched himself in. Her features were too soft, the smile not sharp enough, the lips meant for someone else. He missed the sensual pout his mouth had molded to, melted against. A faint echoing hollow in his stomach reached out, not to Fred, but to another woman who'd hurt him, just by being near him.

Something had changed and he was almost afraid of what that something was.

"I..." He whispered, unsure of what to say.

"You do. You love her." Fred smiled and nodded, her face lighting up. Wesley couldn't but smile. She was so sure, even when he wasn't.

"We should go." Wesley said softly, changing the subject, his mind flooded with thoughts he'd leave for later. He sighed and then turned around once more and strolled down the stairs to the lobby.

Fred watched him go, a smile wreathing her features. He loved her.

*****

Wesley reached the bottom of the stairs just as Gunn and Lorne burst through the door. Cordelia looked up from her perch on the edge of the couch, her fingers stopping in mid-motion as she rebandaged Angel's ribs. He winced as he looked up, a full glass of blood clutched in his hands.

"Let's go." Wesley said as soon as he stepped off the landing. He strolled straight to the weapon's cabinet and opened it, taking out a big broadsword and a repeating crossbow. His brow furrowed as Gunn disappeared into the office, but he shook his shoulders.

"Whoa, Wes. We need a plan before we get all rescue-y. We can't just bust in there with weapons and..." Cordelia started to say, but he cut her off with a blazing glare.

"She's going to die if we don't hurry. We've already wasted enough time...we...we should have started searching for her as soon as she..." Wesley stopped, a tremoring breath shaking his shoulders. "I can't let her die. She's counting on me."

"I know she is, but you have to calm down, or you're going to get yourself killed." Fred said, coming up behind him and placing a slender hand on his shoulder.

"So? As long as she's safe, I don't care." His voice was hard as steel, his sharp gaze flicking from each of them in turn. With a shrug, he dislodged Fred's hand from his shoulder and strolled to the door. "You coming or not?"

"
Yeah. We're coming, bro." Lorne said, his red eyes shadowed as he picked up his own weapon from the cabinet.

"Hold up. I gotta plan." Gunn said, stepping out of the office, something big and metal slung over his back. The others recognized it immediately and nodded.

"Is it full?" Fred asked, peering curiously at it.

"Yeah." Gunn answered, and without another word, he got his axe out and the others did the same, following the Watcher out the door. Cordelia exchanged a glance with Angel, but the vampire remained quiet. She wondered what he was thinking and why he wasn't beating some sense into Wesley.

"Pull the car around to the sewer." Was all he said, his dark brown orbs giving her no clue to his feelings. She nodded and followed behind Fred, her heart in her throat. For Wesley's sake, she hoped they'd get the Slayer back. And that he didn't kill himself trying.

Fred propped the door open for her, waiting for the Seer to come through. Just as Cordelia's feet hit the pavement outside, something descended on her.

Cordelia hit the ground, pain grinding up through her spine as a booted heel was planted firmly between her shoulder blades. She tried to twist out from under whatever was on her, but she couldn't move. "Angel!"

Her voice was lost in the uproar around her. She squinted up through the short curtain of her blonde hair and caught sight of the others. About ten men, glad in black Kevlar and armed with weapons of all kinds, were surrounding them. Fred and Lorne were backed up into the corner, three mercenaries eyeing the loaded crossbows in their hands. Gunn and Wesley were fighting off four others, swords flashing in the sunlight. They all fell under the swords and two more moved in to take their places.

"Your vampire isn't going to help you!" A British voice said, a gloved hand buried in her hair, yanking her head back and exposing her throat. She grunted, pain lacing through her muscles as the man on her back applied more pressure to her.

"Get the fuck off of me!" Cordelia said, her eyes welling with tears from the pull of his hand at the roots of her hair. Her scalp felt like it was about to be ripped off, but she forgot that as she felt something cold and metal slide up along her throat.

Suddenly, something rushed at her and the weight was lifted from her shoulders and back, the knife clattering to the ground beneath her. She rolled over, struggling to get to her feet and squinted in the bright sunlight. Angel, smoking and blistering in the warm sunshine, was pummeling the intruder that had landed on her. The figure sagged in his smoking hands, blood fountaining from his nose and his ears.

Cordelia ran to Angel, dragging him off the man and screaming at him to get back inside. He blinked, then dived inside, rolling down the steps and back into the lobby. Cordelia followed behind him, shouting back at the others to follow.

Shots rang as Lorne and Fred dived back toward the door, Gunn right behind them. The shots clipped the door, sending glass flying and the wood to crack. "Wes!"

Wesley started at Gunn's rough voice and ran back through the doorway, the commandos flooding in after him. He stopped, his sides heaving, the stitch in his lip bleeding slightly and his eyes blazing. He knew who they were.

"Hello Mr. Wyndham-Pryce." Quentin Travers said, removing his dark mask and smiling smugly at the six companions.

"Hello Quentin." Wesley answered, fingering his loaded crossbow.

"I wouldn't." Armand Patil said, coming up behind Travers and pointing his semi-automatic at Wesley. "Fire that thing and they'll all die."

"You're going to kill us anyway." Angel said, standing up from where he'd fallen, the skin on his face blackened, still smoking from his contact with the sun. Cordelia placed a hand on his shoulder, her heart pounding in her chest.

"That's true." Travers said, smiling widely. "You and that murdering bitch will die and the world will be safe."

"She's not a threat." Wesley growled, moving a step closer. Anger flowed through him, making his skin crawl, shoving all thought from his mind and all feeling from his heart.

"Oh no? Who gave you that broken nose? She's not a threat? Fuck, she taints everything she touches." Patil spat, his dark eyes blazing.

"You don't know her." Wesley insisted, his gaze flicking from one Watcher's face to the next. Disgust welled up in him and he wondered why the hell he ever joined up with the self-righteous bastards in the first place. One glance at Travers told him all he needed to know. The man was a fanatic, not a Watcher.

"And you do? Just because you fucked her?" Patil spoke up, a smirk on his wide lips. Wesley started to speak, but Fred limped in front of him.

"How dare you? Listen, I don't know much about who you are, but Faith saved my life! She saved all our lives and you're going to kill her because of that? You're....just....stupid!"

"Shut up, girl." Travers barked, lifting his own rifle at Fred. Gunn grabbed her arm and placed her behind him, his eyes burning, daring the Watcher to fire.

Lorne, standing slightly behind Gunn and to his left, extended his senses and touched each Watcher in turn. Travers's mind was a bed of sick, rotten power that tainted everyone around him. His eyes turned to the Indian man, whose smile was as bloodthirsty as anyone could have imagined. Lorne shivered and moved onto the next and the next. He felt each of them and saw that some gathered didn't like this plan. They thought it was cruel and wrong, but fear and loyalty tightened their mouths and the hold on their guns.

Finally, Lorne's senses lighted on a blonde woman tucked in the back, her gun to her side, her eyes shifting back and forth between the two parties as they talked and traded insults. Her breath was rasping in her chest and she looked scared to death. No wonder, Lorne thought as he delved into her aura and read her like an open book. This woman was divided straight down the middle and teetering on the edge of making a very big decision.

Across the room, her gaze met his and Lorne's eyes widened, gesturing toward Travers with a flick of his pupils. The woman's eyes widened too and she paled, hand clutched on her gun so hard her knuckles were bleach white. He saw her fear and pleaded with her eyes, his gaze flicking over to Wesley and back again. The woman gulped, teeth biting down on her lip. She shook her head and Lorne closed his eyes.

He couldn't make her do the right thing. He could only show her the path; walking it was the hardest part.

"You don't want to do this." Wesley said, interrupting Lorne's thoughts and lifting his crossbow at Travers. His eyes burned and he felt sweat forming on his upper lip.

"Oh?" Quentin said, his eyebrows arched. "I think you should listen to the men with the big guns, Pryce. Put down the weapons and we'll make it swift."

"I..." Wesley said, glancing at the others. Their mouths were hard, grim, and waiting on him to make a move. Wes's eyes lighted on Angel, but the vampire was a blank wall; nothing showed past his dark eyes and he knew Angel was giving him the role of leader once more. This was his fight.

Instead of shaking under the mantle of leadership as he had so often done before, he lifted his head high, eyes bright with resistance. "No."

"Fine." Travers said in a low growl and raised his hand. Suddenly, something metal and cold was placed along his temple, a delicate hand wrapping in his hair.

"Put your weapons down!" Lydia's command was pushed out through a closed throat. Fear laced up her spine and came out in a tremble of her lips. But she kept the gun steady against Quentin's head. "Drop it." Quentin did as he was told, his mouth tight and small.

"Lydia! What in bloody hell are you doing?" Patil shouted, his gun shifting from Wesley to Lydia. That was all the distraction the group needed. Angel rushed forward, snapping guns and knocking their owners to the ground. Cordelia followed up behind him and leveled her twin crossbows at the fallen Watchers.

Gunn and Fred did the same, holding the others off. A few shots rang out, but went wide of their targets as Gunn slammed bodies to the ground.

"Stay down! Or I'll kill him!" Lydia said, turning her steely gaze on her fellow Watchers. The only one still standing was Patil. His gun was pointed at Lydia and his eyes burned.

"Lydia...put the gun down. You don't know what you're doing." Travers said in a calm voice. Lydia flinched and pressed the gun harder on his temple.

"No, Quentin, you don't know what you're doing. You're taking this too far! These people are innocent and you're just going to kill them? I used to think you knew all the answers, but now...you're sick." Lydia cried, her shoulders shaking.

Wesley, his boots kicking a stray gun out of the way of a reaching hand, stepped up beside
Lydia. "Absolute power corrupts, Quentin, and you've had that for far too long. You sent the Five to kill Faith because you could. You failed."

"We didn't fail, Pryce. Lian is going to kill the bitch and there's nothing you can do about it." Patil spat at Wesley, his sights lined up on him. "You're useless and so is she."

Something broke in Wesley. He shot the crossbow in his hands before he knew he was doing it, all-consuming anger flowing through his body. The arrow imbedded itself in Patil's chest, a rose of crimson blood blossoming around the shaft buried in his lungs. The Watcher cried out and dropped the ground.

"Jesus Christ." Gunn muttered, eyeing the fallen Watcher and then turning his attention back to the others before him. Their eyes widened as they watched their fellow twitch and then lay still.

"Wesley..." Cordelia's voice was soft and it carried across the room to him as he stared at the blood flowing from the wound in Patil's chest. "Wes?" He looked up and blinked, his gaze stony.

"Leave." He forced out from between his teeth. "Go. If any of you ever try to come after Faith again, I'll kill you. She's my Slayer and she doesn't work for the Council. You have a Slayer. Faith belongs to me.
"

"She belongs to the world and we have a..." Quentin started to say, but Wesley pushed his crossbow to his forehead.

"You have sacred duty to protect the world. I know that. And she'll do her job and die doing it. But not now and not by some goddamned assassins sent because you're too cowardly to do it yourselves."

"She's a murderer."

"So am I." Wesley arched his eyebrow in the direction of Patil's body. "And I'm not afraid of doing it again. I promise you that."

Quentin's gaze wavered from the hard blue of Wesley's eyes. He shuddered, feeling the wooden crossbow and the cold metal pressed to his head. He glanced around at the Watcher's on the floor of the hotel, weaponless and.....looking with fear at the civilians around them. These people that should have been dead by now were warriors and noble. They were innocent and they knew it.

Travers was alone.

"Fine, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. We'll leave and you can keep your murderer. Go." His gaze flickered to the Watcher's around him. They stood up, heads cast the ground like they were ashamed of themselves. They filed out the door, weapons still trained to their backs.

"Quentin?" A Watcher turned, his dark eyes searching the group before him

"Go ahead Mr. Addams." Quentin said, his gaze not leaving Wesley's, the crossbow and the gun still pressed to his forehead and temple. Addams frowned and then followed his companions out the door. "
Lydia?"

"Leave Quentin." Lydia's voice was steady as she lowered the gun.

"I...

"I'd listen to the nice lady if I were you." Gunn spoke up, his crossbow still aimed at the door.

"You're making a mistake, Wesley."

"You're the one that made the mistake Quentin. Never try to kill my family." Wesley shot back, lowering the crossbow.

"We tend to take it personally." Cordelia said, her mouth twisting up into a grin.

Quentin sighed heavily and looked at each of them, his gaze finally resting on Lydia. A disgusted snort and the older man turned on his heel and walked away. Lydia watched him go, gulping back the lump in her throat.

And suddenly, as if everything was in slow motion, Quentin turned on them, a pistol that he'd kept hidden in his hands. He leveled it at Wesley and moved to fire. Lydia saw the move and took a deep breath, hands lifting faster than thought.

One shot. Wesley's eyes widened as Travers fell the ground beside Patil, blood pooling around him immediately. Lydia trembled and blinked, as if she couldn't believe what she had just done. The gun clattered to the ground, her numb fingers dropping it with a twist of her guts.

"Oh dear lord..." She wavered on her feet and nearly dropped to her knees, but Lorne supported her. He'd been moving up alongside her and now he grabbed her in his soft hands and steered her to the couch in the middle of the floor. "Is he...?"

"He's dead." Angel said as he exchanged another wordless glance with Wesley. The Watcher picked up his crossbow again and looked toward his old friend.

"I...I've never killed anyone before." Lydia squeaked, her face ashen. Lorne patted her shoulder and she looked up at him. If she was at all disturbed by his appearance, she didn't say anything. Instead, she looked ready to throw up any second.

"You saved our lives." Wesley said, looking at his old schoolmate. "Thank you."

"I had to...do the right thing."

"Of course." Lorne said, his eyes soft. "Walking the path is the hardest thing to do."

"What?"

"Nevermind, honey. You should go." Lorne turned to the others and motioned to the door. "I'll stay with her. I think we need to talk."

Wesley frowned and thanked Lorne with his eyes, then led the way out of the hotel. He prayed to whatever deity was listening that the interruption hadn't cost them too much time. He had a feeling they were running out of it, and fast.

*****

Faith was closer to the blue fire when she woke than she had been when she'd succumbed to the cold. She shifted, muscles screaming, numbed by the frozen surfaces around her. Lian hovered over her, sprinkling something warm on her lips.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Faith pushed out, the warmth unfreezing her tongue and sparking the anger in her chest again.

A sharp piece of steel flashed and Faith felt it burn coldly against her skin as the demon cut her over and over again. "That's what!"

Her voice was gleeful and hard at the same time, blood splashed across her pale blue skin. Faith saw with widened, pain-filled eyes that the child-demon had disrobed and her skin was covered in jagged scales that reminded her of icicles. They sparkled and shimmered from the hard angles of her body, some dipped in her blood as the demon stood.

"Why did you do that?" Faith knew she was going to die and she also felt amusement. This was what was going to kill her? Some demon with icicles hanging off her elbows? She fought the urge to laugh and looked on the demon with a smile.

"Because, I need your blood for the spell. And it was fun." Lian said, shrugging her shoulders and turning back to the blue flames. The demon stuck her blood-dipped hand in the fire and it hissed, licked the blood away and grew higher. Lian turned back on Faith and frowned. "Why are you smiling?"

"Cuz it's funny."

"What is?"

"Oh God, where do I start? First off, I'm about to die at the hands of an ice demon that looks like a Power Rangers reject. I'm in love with my Watcher, whom I tortured once upon a time, thank you very much. I tried to be good and yet I still have people out to kill me and I really have to pee right now. Plus, you have a weird icicle thingy hanging off your ass."

Lian just stared at her, her eyes wide.

"So, are you like, gonna kill me anytime soon? Cuz I'm wicked cold just laying here and you're boring the shit out of me."

"Shut up." Lian scowled at her and turned back to the fire, throwing powders into it and watching it roar higher.

"Uh, if I'm going to die, wanna tell me what you're planning to do? It's not like I can get up!" Faith said, motioning to the thick bands of ice around her wrists and ankles. Tried as she might, she just couldn't break the ice. So she lay back and waited.

"I'm going to peel your skin and eat it. And then I'm going to throw your bones on the fire and make a potion out of it." Lian said over her little shoulder, her voice matter-of-fact.

"What does the potion do?"

"You ask a lot of questions."

"Well it is my skin you'll be munching on and my bones you'll be barbequing, so yeah." Faith shot back, trying to ignore the pain in her stomach from the cuts the demon had made.

"Fine. The potion will make me invisible." Lian answered, her voice distracted. Faith sat silent for a moment and then she burst out with a short laugh. "Why are you laughing?"

"Invisible? That's it? No...'I plan to take over the world with a potion that'll enslave the masses?' Just invisible?" She said, her eyes wide as she smirked.

"It's a great power!" Lian protested, stamping her little foot petulantly.

"It's a lame power! What are you going to do, sneak into a locker room or something? My blood and bones for that? Jesus Christ, now I really do feel worthless!" Faith rolled her eyes, seeing that her ridicule was getting to the demon. Maybe she'd just kill her and that would be it.

"You are worthless." Lian snapped, that childlike mask slipping and the evilness shining through. "Worthless to everyone."

"But not you and your sisters.
You all wanted me pretty damned bad. What would they have done to me, eh? Made themselves into bunny rabbits?" Faith countered, nudging at the demon's temper.

"Mateo would have cut off your head and mounted it. She just loved the kill. Uriah would have made a pelt from your skin. Saris, she would have killed you and then used your body to kill others in turn. Orin would have just eaten you, thinking that she'd be a better fighter for it."

"Wow. Scary. I can see why I killed your sisters; they were dumb as fuck. And you're not much better!"

That did it. Lian turned on Faith and lifted the cold knife once more. The blade flashed in the blue flames and Faith squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the blow that would kill her.

She had time to spare for a thought of Wesley before the knife was driven downward.

Chapter 26

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