"Are you sure you know what you are asking?"
Xander nodded sharply, "we have a missing man and are asking you to find her using witchcraft. Plain and simple."
"Not so plain and simple, there is always a…"
"Price of some sort," he shrugged, "this is the hellmouth, it is unlikely to be a nice price. We'll deal with it when it happens. Right now I need you to find Willow."
She sighed, gazing wearily over the supplies and oddments scattered around the magic shop, "I'm not sure…"
"Oh?" Xander asked sharply.
"I…" she shrugged, "it's not my speciality. If she were dead, I could find her no problem. If she's alive it won't even register for me."
He frowned, then his eyes widened and it was Xanders turn to be wary, "necromancy?"
She nodded, "its why my family rejected me. Magic in the family is normal but the unnatural arts?"
His eyes softened for a moment, recognising in the witch a part of himself. The mark of one who as been rejected by their blood but in the case of the witch had not yet found a new family.
Then his eyes hardened again, "try anyway. Just in case."
She glanced around, her eyes taking in the four hard faced soldiers at the exits. She didn't say it, but Xander got the message. It was the one he had been trying to send in the first place.
You don't have a choice.
"The signal is being interfered with," Carter noted, frowning, her hands dancing over the Tel'tac's controls, "I'm trying to isolate but…"
Sighing, Sam glanced across at the Colonel, "there is an unusual energy field blanketing the entire area, I've not even been able to pick up the fully active suits of Buffy and Xander and I know where both of those are."
O'Neill grimaced, "no go?"
She shrugged, "I'll keep trying, but between the energy field and the mild sensor absorbency of the armour… if the suit is powered down I may not pick it up at all."
"Great," he grimaced, "I'll let Hammond know."
She was floating now.
She knew she should feel pain, knew that that fact that she didn't feel pain should matter to her, that it was somehow important and dangerous that she didn't feel pain.
Yet, she couldn't rouse herself enough to hold onto why it was important.
She knew this was the end somehow, and yet… in a deep part of her, a part of her that was still trying to get her to wake up, to move, to fight, knew there was one last thing she could try.
She could try to shout.
But not with her voice.
That sounded as if it should make no sense whatsoever, but nothing really made sense so that was okay.
Something that she had, something that Halloween had submerged temporarily, something waiting to be reborn anew.
Something dangerous, but powerful.
Something that she could somehow use to shout and then it would be made alright and all would be explained to her somehow, the cotton wool would be taken from her mind.
She gave into the persistent, annoying voice that called itself Thorn and screamed.
Xander bolted to his feet, gasping, hands grasping at his head as both pain and a strange disorientating lack of pain and clarity filled his mind for just a moment.
It brought with it a scream in a voice he knew all to well.
A voice he never wanted to hear make quite that sound ever again.
Shaking his head for a moment to clear the grogginess, he single-handedly pushed the desk out of his way; the wood cracking under the pressure exerted by the armour and dived from the room, pausing only to grab his helm and combi-bolter.
His Willow was hurt, and those who did the hurting would pay. But she had to be safe first… and that also meant dealing with those who meant her harm.
Those who forgot that signal intercepts could be done by both sides. As he moved, he began to make his orders over the radio.
He didn't notice the loud clamping his armoured feet made as he ran across concrete and tarmac. Didn't notice the large divots he made as he dived across grass and gardens.
He wouldn't have cared much if he had. His mind was only on the life of his friend and how to ensure she remained alive.
Nor did he notice the abrupt closing of doors, of curtains, the few adults who were outside suddenly finding reasons to be indoors; the children that gaped for a moment before heading inside themselves.
The priest that blessed him as he passed, then deliberately left the door to his church open as he went inside, the veteran that saluted and then stayed on his porch. The police officer who grimacing, gave a simple codeword over the radio, calling more ambulances onto stand-by and alerting Sunnydale General that tonight may be busy.
When he found her however, Xanders heart stopped for just a moment and were there was worry, now there was cold fear.
"Problem?" Xander asked, his expression dark as the medic ran into the room and came to an abrupt stop.
"Yeah," he shook his head, dropping to his knees as his hands began to dance across Willows battered form, "real problems. Sunnydale General isn't up to this."
"We can't go elsewhere with the armour," Xander replied sharply, "No-one at General is going to talk, in LA they might."
"Yea," came the hurried reply, "but even with the kickbacks we've been giving them they still don't have a major trauma centre. This is going to require the varsity."
Xander grimaced, "I'll call Hammond and Brent. See if we can get into a military hospital, more likely to keep their mouths trap shut and less likely to be clogged with other major cases."
"Right," came the hurried reply, "just do it quickly ."
"Eagle one is on the move, I say again, Eagle one just pegged it out the building."
"Copy, ditto for Eagle Two. Man, are they moving!"
"If they get their first, Maybourne will have our heads."
"Judging by the radio calls, they just figured out where the subject is. If that's true, we don't have to search. Just take them out and retrieve."
"Three sets of armour to study, not just one,"
"Heh, may even be worth a payrise."
"Eagle One has requested immediate medical support on Twelfth Street, warehouse nine. Medic one please respond."
"You know, that medic will have to go right past us."
The NID soldiery waited in their vans, sweating slightly with the anticipation of action, eyes strained for the whispered words of their spotter over the radio. Then; mere moments later, the word came that the target was moving into the engagement area.
A pause, then tires squealing, the two vans rocketed out of the side roads, one in front, one behind the target. In an efficient move that spoke of serious practise, the NID troops unloaded from the vans, guns tracking the white, unmarked panel van that had screeched to a stop between them.
A van from which grenades suddenly rolled, appearing from the underside of the van. Flash bangs, momentarily startling and disorientating the soldiers, followed swiftly by gunfire, not from the van but from the surrounding roofs.
Two minutes later, that fight was over, the survivors gazing upwards with a pained grimace as a helicopter, an old single-engined Huey raced overhead, a clear red cross visible on the side, heading not into town, but outbound towards LA.
They'd been had.