Title: Outside Humanity
Rating: Teen + (I like to cuss and tear stuff to pieces)
Warnings: Violence, language, some disturbing imagery later. This chapter also has angst, sap, and children in peril. (Sorry for the lack of a detailed warning last chapter, but I didn't want to tip my hand).
A/N: I should be working on my grad school assignments. Or lesson planning. Or I should be grading the huge stack of papers that my students are eagerly waiting to get back. But I wanted to write fanfiction and it's my Thanksgiving vacation, dangit! So, here's a new chapter.
Joyce's SUV and Giles' sports car pulled into the park's small parking lot at the same time. The two exchanged not a single word, but simultaneously walked toward the playground. Joyce would have handed her bat over to the Watcher, but noticed he held a short dagger parallel to the inside of his arm. Neither heard a single noise coming from the playground, eerie in and of itself.
It was Giles who spotted Tara lying motionless near the swings. After a quick glance of his surroundings, the dagger in his hand disappeared into his coat and he jogged to Tara's side. Joyce holds her breath during the seconds after Giles puts his fingers to Tara's throat to check for a pulse. She doesn't breathe again until she sees the Watcher's shoulders relax in a relieved sigh. Thankful for small mercies, Joyce lets Giles take care of the Wiccan while she concentrates on looking for the kids.
Giles ran a hand through his short hair and pinched the bridge of his nose as he rode through his adrenaline rush. He doesn't know what he would have done if the girl had been dead. A moment later, he spotted a handkerchief on the ground near Tara's head. One quick whiff and Giles has figured out the most likely reason Tara is unconscious, but relatively unharmed otherwise. The Watcher pocketed the handkerchief then started to assess the unconscious blonde for any unseen injuries.
A few minutes later, Giles finished his examination just as Joyce returned to his side. "Rupert, I can't find the children anywhere. Their picnic supplies and Dawn's paperback are under that tree. The only other trace of them I found was this," she held up a canvas shoe. "on the grass by the swings. It's Dawn's. She had them on when she left earlier."
Joyce clutched the shoe to her chest. "Who would do something like this? In broad daylight?"
Giles didn't answer right away. That was really the question. Over the years, their group had made more than their fair share of enemies in the demonic world. But out of that number, very few had the ability to go out in daylight much less conduct a kidnapping in the middle of a sun-soaked park. The short list of possible culprits left was not comforting.
"What do we do now?" Joyce asked quietly from beside him. "Should we call the police?"
"The fact that Cordelia was sent a vision warning her of these events tells us that the kidnappers have supernatural ties," Giles reasoned. "In this case, I do not believe the authorities will be about to handle it."
Despite the situation, Joyce snorted. "Not that the Sunnydale Police Department is ever much help."
"Quite," Giles agreed. "But first things first, I believe we should get Tara off the ground. She appears unharmed save being drugged unconscious. Could I move her to the bench seat of your car?"
Joyce nodded and went to unlock her vehicle while Giles gathered Tara in his arms.
"Will she be alright?" Joyce asked as they settled Tara as comfortable as possible.
"I believe she will be fine once she awakens," Giles assured Joyce. He glanced down at his watch. "We'll wait here for Willow and Anya for a couple more minutes."
Giles desperately hoped that nothing had happened to the two young women. They were already short a few members. "Then I suggest we head to my flat."
Joyce shook her head. "We should work at my house," she countered. "There's more room for everyone. You won't have to figure out a way to get Spike there during the day." Joyce took a shuddering breath. "And I've always told Dawnie to call for help, then call home. If she gets a chance, she'll call."
Giles thought the proposal over for a moment then nodded. "Agreed." He didn't mention that Spike was less likely to destroy her house than his flat when he was told Xander and Dawn were missing.
"I'll call Buffy," Joyce told the Watcher. "She and Riley will want to come home and help."
"Gawd, my head hurts," was Dawn's first conscious thought. It was quickly followed by, "Man, this floor is cold," and "Where the heck is my left shoe?"
This was before she notice something warm curled into her side. Dawn tried to shift to get a better look at her surroundings. Her head pounded in time with her heartbeat and she groaned.
The weight leaning into her side moved. "Dawnie?" a small voice whispered hoarsely.
The events preceding her involuntary siesta came back to her in a rush. "Xan? Is that you?" The girl pushed past the pain in her head and pulled herself until she was sitting up and leaning against the side wall of the van.
"Dawnie?" Xander asked again a little louder. He looked horrible even in the dim light. The neck of his shirt was torn from his struggling until it was falling off one shoulder. His eyes were red and puffy, an occasional tear still escaping. An ugly bruise darkened the right side of his face from just below his temple across his cheek and extended to his jaw line.
Dawn fumed. That creep had hit her Xander! He was just a little kid. Looking at him, she knew he had to be scared to death. Well, she couldn't get them out of here at the moment, but she could help with the fear. Dawn tried her best to smile reassuringly at the boy. "Hey, fledge. How are you holding up?"
"They hit you," Xander observed softly. "And they hurt Tara."
Dawn noticed with an internal frown that Xander never mentioned what they did to him even though the physical evidence was staring her in the face. His voice sounded rough, as if he'd spent a long time crying. Dawn didn't know how to summon a vengeance demon, but she thought she'd be forgiven in this case for wanting to do so.
Xander sniffled and another few tears made their way down his cheeks. "They left Tara on the ground. By herself. What if no one finds her?" He wrapped his arms around himself and quaked.
Dawn reached out and pulled Xander into her lap. "Willow, Anya, and Mom were all on their way to the park to meet us. They'll find Tara. And then they'll find us."
Xander's body stayed tensed, but he leaned into Dawn's embrace. "They will?" Xander whispered.
"Definitely," Dawn answered not letting a shred of doubt cloud her voice. "Willow and Tara will work their magic. Anya will help them find all the herbs and ingredients they need."
Xander snuggled deeper into Dawn's lap. "And then Spike will come save us?"
"Yeah, Spike's gonna save us."
Mentally Dawn was tallying the odds in her head as she hugged Xander to her. They had been taken with no witnesses. She didn't know which way the van was going or where their final destination might be. And unless Dawn had been unconscious longer than she thought, it was still many hours until sunset. These guys could take them just about anywhere in that amount of time.
Dawn frowned in thought. If the two of them stood any chance at all, she could not afford to wait for the others to show up and rescue them. Xander was depending on her to keep him safe. For the first time ever, Dawn was the older, responsible one. The realization was daunting. But she knew the best way to look after Xander was to figure out how to get help.
She smiled down at Xander who had calmed down enough to uncurl in her arms. "Hey, how about we save Spike, Tara, and the gang some time and rescue ourselves?"
Xander looked up at her and Dawn was struck by the complete faith in her she saw in his eyes. What she saw in Xander's eyes cemented her resolve. She was going to keep Xander safe and get them out of this.
"How are we going to rescue ourselves?" Xander asked.
"We've got to look for an opening," she explained. "The first time they stop watching one of us, we find a way to get help. We run and call home, or find the police . . . or something. Then we hid. When we get away we can't let them find us again."
"Get out, get help, and hide. Got it," Xander quipped with just a shadow of a grin. "I'm good at hiding."
"Once we stop, start looking for a way out," Dawn reminded him. "For now, let's learn the number for my house."
Dawn and Xander got down to the business of learning the Summers residence number. All the while Dawn mentally repeated the mantra, "We can do this. We can do this."
Tara regained her senses feeling a soft mattress beneath her back and a cool compress on her forehead. What was going on? Why was she in bed? And why did she feel like trying to move would take a monumental effort?
She felt the compress being gently repositioned and despite the effort shifted her head to the side. Tara heard a series of shuffling noises before the mattress she was apparently lying on dipped slightly and a gentle pressure settled on her forehead.
"Tara? Honey, are you back with us?"
That was Ms. Summers' voice. Tara opened her eyes in surprise. The older woman sat on the edge of the bed, a worried expression on her face. The look eased when she noticed Tara looking at her.
"We were getting worried. You've been unconscious for a couple of hours."
Tara blinked. "What?"
"If you hadn't woken soon, we were going to take you to the hospital," Joyce continued. She brushed a few stray strands of hair out of Tara's eyes. "Do you hurt anywhere? You've got some pretty nasty bruises across your arms."
Tara looked down at her arms, still confused. Then with almost physical force, it all came back to her. Her entire body stiffened in horror.
"Oh, Goddess!" the witch sat up in bed, then groaned from the sudden head rush.
"Take it easy for a minute," Joyce chided gently. "You're probably going to be dizzy for a while. It's a side effect of chloroform. Go slow or you could hurt yourself."
Tara looked at the woman beside her. Ms. Summers had moved one of her hands to the younger woman's shoulder, holding her steady. Nothing but concern showed in the older woman's eyes. Tara couldn't hold Joyce's gaze.
"One minute I was watching them swing; the next someone grabbed me," Tara whispered.
Tara dared a glance upward. Ms. Summers' expression had not changed and this made Tara angry. "How can you even look at me?" the younger woman asked harshly. "I l-lost them."
"Stop right there," Joyce interrupted with just a touch of harshness. She ignored Tara's flinch at her tone and met the Wiccan's eyes calmly. "You did not lose them. Someone took Xander and Dawn from you. And from the bruises I saw, I don't think you let them be taken without a fight."
Tara's chin quivered and Joyce's expression softened. "Honey, it's not your fault. You were ambushed. There was nothing you could do."
Tara's expression crumpled. "Why did they leave me behind?" she asked in confusion. Despite her best efforts, a few tears made trails down her cheeks. "Why would someone want to take Dawn and Xander? They're just kids." She sniffled softly. "Why couldn't they take me too? At least I would be with them, see them," She swallowed the lump in her throat with difficulty. "Make sure that they're okay."
There wasn't really much that Joyce could say in response to that. All of Tara's thoughts had also been going through the older woman's head. Joyce did not have any easy answers for Tara and she did not want to patronize the woman by offering empty platitudes. But Joyce knew the pain the girl was in. For the last few days Xander had depended on Tara for food, shelter, and love. Xander was Tara's in a way that only a select few understand. Joyce could not just stand by and not try to help Tara deal with that pain.
"Sitting here, waiting, and not knowing; it's the worst feeling in the world. The only way you can get through it is to never give up hope. The kids are strong, and we will find them."
Joyce clasped Tara's shoulders and made sure the young woman was listening. "We will find them. And no matter what happens we will deal with it. You have to believe that or you'll go crazy."
Tara nodded and after a few moments was able to give Joyce a tentative, but very grateful smile. "We'll get them back."
The Wiccan squared her shoulders and sat up straighter. Joyce watched as before her eyes, the broken young woman pieces herself together. Steely determination shone in her eyes.
"We should get downstairs and see where everyone is in the search," Tara suggested.
"Good girl,"Joyce thought with respect. She gave Tara's shoulders a quick, comforting squeeze and helped the young woman to her feet.
The two left the room and headed downstairs side-by-side, ready to find their kids.
Meanwhile . . . .
"Wolfram and friggin' Hart," Faith muttered as she sat in an empty conference room. "I really should have guessed."
Faith resisted the urge to bang her head on the expensive hardwood table in front of her. Even though the room was empty, she knew she was being watched. The young woman tugged at her blouse unconsciously. Normally, she would be kicked back in one of the chairs with her feet propped on the conference room table, boots scuffing the expensive tabletop. However the understated A-line skirt and blue blouse did little to reinforce her tough-girl image. Sensible pumps didn't make the impression resting on a tabletop as a pair of Docs either.
So, Faith sat properly and patiently and bravely fought the urge to fidget like a schoolgirl sent to the principal's office. Being out of her regular threads in enemy territory was bad enough. Faith would not give these losers the satisfaction of seeing her lose her cool.
As it was, some bimbo personal assistant had shown her to this room over an hour ago. First, the lawyers say they wanted to celebrate. Then, they throw her in the most boring room imaginable and ignore her? What type of games were they playing?
Faith knew she should just walk out. If a certain morbid curiosity over why Wolfram and Hart would get her out of a two decade prison sentence wasn't driving her crazy, Faith would have stormed after ten minutes of being brought here. But by this point, the dark slayer was weighing her continued curiosity against her need to get the hell on with her day.
Almost as if the lawyers knew Faith was losing patience, a woman entered the conference room carrying a slim briefcase. Faith gritted her teeth in distaste. She was a very familiar woman. "Lilah Morgan," the slayer all but growled.
Lilah stopped by the head of the table and smirked. "You remember me? I'm flattered. I must have made a lasting impression."
"Yeah. I was nauseous for days afterwards," Faith shuddered theatrically. "So what's the deal? You guys in the habit of busting your enemies out of the pokey?"
Lilah's smug expression did not waver in the slightest. "Enemy? The last time I recall my firm had hired you as an independent contractor to kill Angel."
Faith stopped from gaping at the lawyer through sheer force of will. With effort, she managed a nonchalant tone. "Yeah, well Angel's still living, as much as a vampire can, anyway. I didn't kill him; guess the deal's off."
Lilah placed her briefcase on the table in front of her. "You have come closer to eliminating Angel than anyone or anything else we have sent against him. And you are a Slayer. You, Faith, are too valuable of a commodity to let rot in prison just because of a slight . . . mishap."
Lilah moved closer to Faith, who still sat at the conference room table. "There are still plenty of opportunities for someone such as you here at Wolfram and Hart." The briefcase was shifted aside, untouched, and leaned into Faith's personal space. "That limo you rode here inside, that was just a taste of what you could earn at Wolfram and Hart. You would have access to all the clothes, weapons, accommodations, and . . ." Lilah's smug expression developed into a leer. ". . . entertainment that a young woman could ever need or want."
Faith was caught between disbelief and disgust. Did these yahoos really think she was stupid enough to keep running with them after she'd failed so spectacularly the last time? Not to mention the fact that Angel was now the only person she trusted to have her back if the shit ever hit the fan.
Lilah, seemingly oblivious to Faith's irritation, shifted away from Faith and picked up her briefcase. The lawyer moved to the door and opened it with a finely manicured hand. "Why don't we continue this discussion in my office?"
Faith was just about to tell the smug bitch where she could stuff her ideas about any type of arrangement between them when a commotion from down the corridor caught her attention.
"Stay the hell away from him, you bastard. Touch him again and I'll find an axe and chop your head off!"
Faith knew that voice. Maybe there was a reason to stick around for a while after all. She gave Lilah a slow grin. "What can I say? You've made me curious."
Faith rose from her seat and joined Lilah at the door. "Shall we?"
Next chapter: Dawn and Xander's continued imprisonment at Wolfram and Hart. What will happen now that Faith is in the game? And what's going on with the gang in Sunnydale?