* * Chapter 30 * *
Raul Frocetti used all his assets to their fullest capabilities, but he wasn't infallible. Three men dead on the Carmichael raid, and the boy was still in Las Vegas. He growled low in his throat – pathetic. It had taken nearly a week to relocate the boy working at the youth shelter. Surveillance on Rupert Giles in Sunnydale told him all he needed to know – though the idea of a demon after his boy made him spitting mad. "He's a trouble magnet. I want that boy watched, but keep it low key. I don't want him spooked into running. No telling what would happen then."
* * Chapter 31 * *
Laura von Patton glared coldly at her husband's assistant. "And why have I not received any deliveries of late? I was told I would be able to take possession a week ago. I don't like waiting, Mr. Wegner."
"Unfortunately, Mr. Garner and his associates were arrested and unable to send the package. There's nothing we can do."
Chips of slate cut into him. "Payment was accepted, Mr. Wenger. I want my package. Collect it for me."
"As you wish, Mrs. Von Patton."
The Shelter held self-defense classes three times a week and Xander soaked the lessons up like a sponge. He built on to what he'd learned through Slaying as well as awakened some skills that Cheshire Cat and Kingugwa had access to. Soon, he'd have to find another teacher. Within two weeks he was one of the class's assistants.
Aware of a vampiric presence, he patrolled a few blocks around the Shelter, trying to keep his new home safe. Occasionally, Drusilla joined him, delighting in hunting with 'her kitten'. Xander wasn't sure he trusted her, but he know he couldn't afford to upset her. She was a good ally as long as she didn't revert to her more bloodthirsty ways. "Don't go out this week, kitten. Somethings stirs. Miss Edith isn't happy."
David and Goren both noticed the near constant state of paranoia and awareness the teen exhibited. The other kids attributed it to living so close to L.A. But they knew differently. "What's going on, Xander?"
"I'm not sure. Just got a feeling, is all. Hairs on the back of my neck are standing on end. Something's going to happen." Instincts screamed that malign eyes watched him and the Shelter's guardians.
Smoke filled the building, thick and choking. Shouts of panic, screams, and sobbing all vied for position over the crackling of the flames, groans of supports giving way, and sirens echoed up the street.
When everything was said and done, the Shelter was a wreck and Xander was gone.
The fire chief commented on the likelihood of the teen being the cause of the fire, but was quickly shouted down by two kids who saw Xander get snatched by a couple guys in black. "And they weren't after just any kid, 'cause they shoved by two of us to get to him." They showed the adults where it had taken place. "He put up a struggle, too. Nearly took one guy's head off with an elbow strike. They covered his mouth and nose with some thing and he collapsed. Me and Kevin tried to help, but the dudes pulled a gun. They got into a late model Honda Civic – black or dark green. Couldn't see the license plates, though."
An All Points Bulletin was called.
Alex lay his head on the table forlornly. "So who has us now?"
Cheshire Cat responded, "Well, Brass said Carmichael had sold us to Garner. And Garner mentioned a new master. Guess they came to collect."
Xander paced angrily along the inside perimeter of the Willow Tree, unconsciously echoing the Jabberwock's snarls, who matched him step for step outside the shelter. "Enough's enough already. What? Do we have 'Please Torment Me' on our forehead?" He glanced upwards at the sky. "Stop screwing around with us."
The other three exchanged concerned glances. "Don't you know that in every good story there must be conflict or the readers lose interest?"
Xander blinked at Cheshire Cat in confusion at the non-sequitor. "What?" he'd stopped pacing and turned to face the feline.
The cat grinned, a glint in gold coin eyes. "How about some mirror travel?"
Again thrown off, but derailed from his ranting, Xander sighed heavily and slumped at the table next to Alex. Cheshire Cat and Kingugwa perched on the other side. The Jabberwock, calmer, stood nearby, the Willow branches pulling aside to allow access to the side of the table.
The young man ran a hand over his face and just breathed a moment. Steadier, Xander studied the feline, nodding in appreciation at being brought back on track. Succumbing to anger wouldn't help them a bit. He gave some serious thought to the offer. "Are we capable of that?" He asked at last, the last of his rage vanishing.
"I don't see why not. Since we're not constantly battling Jabberwock we've got more energy to devote to other things."
"Tired of being chased by stupid humans," Kingugwa groused. She yawned, showing off impressive canines. "Can't we hunt them in return?"
"But not hurt them," Alex chimed in. "Can we scare them? Then let the cops get them? They did kidnap us. But if we kill them, they won't learn anything."
Xander closed his eyes and shuddered as the phrase echoed within their memories: Dad had constantly threatened them with death, but then how would they learn anything? It always proceeded some of their more severe beatings.
A slow, dark grin grew on his face as he thought of the possibilities. Opening his eyes he faced four matching grins. "Here's what we do."
* * Chapter 32 * *
They were on a private jet to Miami. Laura von Patton was admiring her latest acquisition, looking forward to installing her new purchase in the special rooms she had prepared specifically for the occasion. "You're young, strong and healthy. I'm sure you'll last longer than the last one." She ran a suggestive finger down his cheek as she gauged his response. Most of her toys either responded with fear or anger: two emotions she was equipped to deal with considering how she acquired them – a quick injection with a sedative and she'd wait until they were at home to play. But when her latest toy grinned at her. Grinned! She felt a faint stir of uneasiness, that quickly washed away in a flood of warmth as he leaned into the caress.
"I'm sure I will."
The slow, honeyed tones warmed her cheeks and the look in his dark chocolate eyes, as if he knew a secret she didn't, sent heat straight to her core. At last. "So, you like to play?"
He leaned back, giving her a slow once over that had her nearly squirming in her seat. "Oh, I know all sorts of interesting games we can play."
"Promise?" she smiled in glee, none of her other toys had ever intrigued her so.
Xander flashed a wickedly sexy grin. "Promise."
Von Patton acted a lot like Dru, Xander mused. Girlishly gleeful at receiving a new toy, but quick to fly into a rage if things weren't going her way. A storm raged around their destination and the pilots were directed to land at an alternate airstrip. She spent twenty minutes screaming at the pilot and copilot – not that they could do anything about the weather. While she was gone he turned an emotionless stare upon the man that had accompanied them thus far. He could tell it made the older man uncomfortable. The man fidgeted in his seat after only a few minutes. Good. He allowed a touch of the predator to reach his eyes and the man began to sweat, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and mopping his brow. Even better. A weak link.
As he was "escorted" within, it took all his will power to not turn on the two and slaughter them where they stood. The room was done up in a parody of a honeymoon suite and looked immaculate, but thanks to Kingugwa, he could smell sex, fear, hopelessness, and death permeate from every corner of the place. Several teens, mostly boys, but some girls as well, had spent the ends of their lives within these walls and had died ugly.
Nearly a dozen full length mirrors lined the walls of the room, and he smothered a grin.
Though Laura was all for breaking in her new toy, Xander managed to beg off for the night. "It's been an extremely active evening. I'm sure you'd be much happier with your results if we began after we've both rested."
The suggestion, with just the tiniest hint of a leer, had the older woman instantly agreeing and wishing him pleasant dreams. He ignored the man, Wenger. No sense in antagonizing the man. Yet. He leaned against one of the mirrors as the woman closed the heavy wooden door firmly, with a lustful smile upon her face. The sound of three bolts being thrown echoed with finality and he allowed a shudder to run through him. Tragic eyes gazed at him from his reflection. "No – my life isn't complicated. No siree."
He took a deep, calming breath and instantly regretted it. The scent of death was even stronger closer to the wall. Eyes wide, he paced the room slightly, casting out his senses. Behind the mirrors, there were bodies within the walls.
Drusilla absently licked blood from her fingers. She'd found the two men who'd attacked Xander at the Shelter and though she wished to make them pay with their deaths, Miss Edith told her to make them talk to the nice policeman who had been hanging about lately.
She sighed, there was no way to get to Miami in time to help Kitten scare the plastic woman. She sighed sadly, then brightened, "Kitten is ever so clever, though. I'm sure he'll come up with some fun party games to play."
Laura spun in a circle, giddy with happiness. "Oh, he's going to work out wonderfully, Wenger. I can just tell. And did you see his scars? He's no stranger to pain. I'll bet we can break out the props even earlier with this one then any of the others." She crossed over to her vanity to begin her nightly rituals.
Wenger stood by the door, a frown creasing his brow. "I'm not so sure about this one, Mrs. von Patton. He's different from what you're used to."
"I know. He's perfect. The ones Garner usually send were either timid mice who did nothing but cry, or angry, uncooperative fighters who I had to drug to near insensibility. It's so irritating to have to do all the initiating in a relationship. But this one – I can tell – is going to be a real tiger."
"I still feel we should have sedated him for the evening. Like the others."
She stared coldly at his reflection. "When he's willing? I told him the rules and he agreed. I'll not ruin that by drugging him." She shrugged, "At least not right away, anyhow." She turned her gaze from him, "You may go now."
Wenger felt a chill go down his spine as he nodded in acquiescence. He had a bad feeling about all this. He took his leave and headed for his own room.
* * Chapter 33 * *
Shadows danced on the walls. Something slinked down the halls, stalking him. Spooked, Wenger turned. Nothing. But an itch between his shoulder blades told him he was being watched. Passing the numerous mirrors was worse – flashes of color and movement where there shouldn't be paced him. By the time he made it to his room, he was covered in a cold sweat. Shaking hands secured the locks behind him. He stared at his pale reflection for a moment, then tossed a blanket over the mirror. As he did so, he would have sworn he heard a mocking chuckle. He quickly readied for bed and practically dove beneath the covers.
Brushing out mousy brown hair, Laura inspected the strands for gray. Slate blue eyes gazed upon herself in critical analysis. Not a classic beauty by any means, she still retained her moderately youthful looks through numerous skin care products and high-charging plastic surgeons. She was pleased with her appearance, unaware that her perverse predilections had stamped themselves upon her very soul, keeping her from ever being beautiful.
The large three story house was empty save for the three of them. Mr. von Patton was in Maryland on "business" with his secretary. She smirked to herself, her husband had his mistresses and she had her toys – as long as neither was brought to the public eye, each were satisfied with the arrangements.
Movement in the mirror caught her attention. "Wenger? I thought I'd dismissed you for the night?" Irritated, she turned, only to find herself alone. Confused, she turned back to the mirror. She stifled a shriek as, for a split second, her image was replaced by a nightmarish monstrosity that glared balefully at her with red eyes and a maw of razor sharp teeth. Her own image – pale, eyes wide, mouth open in shock – stared back at her. With careful, precise movements, she put the brush down and eased herself away from the vanity, never taking her eyes from the image. "Sleep. That's what I need. Too much excitement, that's all." A strained, high pitched laugh escaped her as she quickly dressed for bed and retired for the evening.
* * Chapter 34 * *
"Oh, my God," Miami-Dade CSI Agent Calleigh Duquesne murmured as she took in the room. Nearly a dozen mirrors were neatly stacked upon a bed with black and red silk sheets. Where the mirrors had hung, holes had been kicked all along the walls, and visible through most of the holes were bone and bits of cloth.
Agent Timothy "Speed" Speedle nodded in agreement. "Kid said he thought the walls sounded hollow and was hoping to kick his way out. Surprised he kept going. Shit, one body is bad enough, but this?"
"Kept his head, though," Eric Delko commented as he opened his kit and pulled on a pair of gloves. "Even after all this, he managed to figure a way to send out a distress signal."
Lieutenant Horatio Caine closed his cell phone with a 'thank you.' "Well, it seems our kidnapped victim is doing well. Yelena mentioned that, on the teen's request, she contacted Detective Jim Brass from Las Vegas. Apparently, he'd been taken from the locale while recovering from a prior kidnapping."
Speed looked over from where he was examining the ceiling – one of the tiles was out of place, probably where the kid had located a power source to send his distress signal. "Prior Kidnapping?"
"Taken from Sunnydale, California, beaten, and almost sold before being rescued. From what Detective Brass says, it appears Mrs. von Patton had bought him and wasn't willing to let the matter go when the broker had been arrested before delivery."
All the CSI agents looked stunned. "Poor kid."
Delko shuddered at the collection of items found neatly arranged in the closet. "I've got evidence of blood on practically everything in here." He glanced at the walls and shuddered, expression one of mixed sadness and disgust. "These were some real sick people, H."
"And it looks like they gave themselves enough rope to hang them with."
Detective Yelena Salas studied the teen. He looked tired. "You've quite an ordeal, haven't you?"
"Definitely not one of my 'Top Ten Fun Things To Do In Miami'," Xander acknowledged.
"We spoke with Detective Brass," Lt. Caine leaned forward, his soft voice carrying a note of interest and concern. "He mentioned you were under protective custody which is why you hadn't returned home?"
Xander shrugged and sighed simultaneously, "'Parently, there's a psycho back home who wants to sacrifice people to his god and I fit the profile somehow. His only chance is the upcoming new moon, so whether they catch him or not, it should be safe to return after that."
The two adults exchanged glances, "You seem awfully calm about all of this, "Salas stated.
"No point in getting all panicked about it. If I freak, I won't be able to do anything should something happen."
"Like when you found those bodies?" Caine offered.
The kid shuddered, eyes filled with sorrow and rage. "She mentioned I wasn't her first, but ... I guess I was just praying that any others had been let go when she was tired of them. Stupid, huh?"
Salas shook her head, curly black locks brushing her shoulders at the movement. "Normal reaction in such a case."
"So what happens next? Am I going to have to testify?"
"No, we'll enter your statement, but since you're a minor, and there's plenty of evidence of other wrong doings, you won't have to testify."
"They've been extremely nervous while in interrogation, jumping at shadows. Looks like they'll come clean on their own."
A dark grin flitted across the teen's face. "Good." He glanced between the two. "Any chance I can go back to Las Vegas anytime soon?"
"We can have you on a plane as early as tomorrow. We've got some processing to do of evidence and may need to ask you a few more questions, though. In the meantime, we've got a hotel room for you to stay in and one of my agents said he'd be happy to give you a tour of the Miami nightlife while you're here."
Xander grinned, "Sounds like fun."
* * Chapter 35 * *
Xander spotted Detective Brass as soon as he stepped off the plane two days later. "Hey, Detective," he gave a shy grin. "Thanks for picking me up."
"Hey, kid," Jim smirked at the teen. "Not a problem. Souvenirs?" he nodded at the backpack slung over the young man's shoulder.
"Yeah. Gotta have something for my girls at home. Plus, some outfits the guys in CSI bought for me."
Jim raised a brow at that.
"They were nice enough to show me around the last two evenings. Wouldn't let me pay for anything." He shrugged, "Miami's nice, but I'm actually looking forward to going back to Sunnydale. Scary, huh?"
Brass had to agree. The two had several conversations over coffee and hot chocolate the past few weeks about what went down in Sunnydale – wanting to return to that hellhole was a scary thought. "Well, I got a call from Giles yesterday – it was the new moon and apparently they caught and dealt with the demon before he could complete the ceremony." He shook his head, sometimes it was hard to believe that he'd been so blind to the supernatural. "The kid being used as a sacrifice – Parker, I think was his name – flipped out completely and moved out of town before dawn. He studied Xander a moment, then smirked, "I had to tell him where you were and why. Giles mentioned a long talk about leaving out pertinent information."
Xander sighed, head back against the headrest. "I just didn't want to worry him anymore. He needed to focus on what was happening there. I didn't want him distracted with something he couldn't do anything about."
"Admirable, but let me tell you as someone who knows, those who care for you are going to worry anyway, but it's ten times worse to find out things after the fact. All the 'what if's' come into play. Trust me, it's better to get it all out into the open."
* * Chapter 36 * *
Xander faced the other four within the comforting embrace of the Willow Tree and he prayed this would not be the last time they'd be here.
"What do you guys think? Brass has a point and if what we are can help in any way, we should let them know."
"I don't want to lose Willow," Alex sniffled, tracing a finger over her name on the table.
Xander wrapped an arm around the boy. "She's been our best friend since we were five. Do you really think she'll abandon us?"
Alex looked up at Xander, sadness clear in his eyes. "We've lied to her."
Xander nodded, "Yes, we have. But Willow is smart and she loves us. I'm sure she'll understand why we lied and will forgive us." He rubbed Alex's back and glanced at the other three. "So, what do you guys think?"
"Tell Pack. We can help them and not have to hide anything," Kingugwa placed paws upon the table and cleaned the tears from the cub's face.
Jabberwock said nothing, but it's body language agreed with the hyena.
"Full disclosure to Giles first," Cheshire Cat stated. "He knows most of it and may have suggestions on how to break the news to the girls."
Giles, Buffy, Willow, Dawn, and Joyce threw a Welcome Home party for Xander – complete with home baked cookies and cake, and a mini movie marathon. Xander described his adventures – edited only slightly for the benefit of Dawn and Joyce.
It was late when the girls left, all promising to drop by the next day. Xander helped Giles collect the dishes and take them into the kitchen. The teen started washing, glad when his mentor stayed to dry.
"Giles? Can we talk?"
Maven Alysse 2/3/2007