“Figures. Another locked door.” Claudia yanked on the handle, but it held fast.
They had escaped their original cell, but this new room was not much bigger, and even emptier than the first. Willow climbed up on the table, the only piece of furniture in the room, and rubbed at a tiny, crud-covered window.
“We must be in some kind of basement. I can see dead grass and dirt out there. And the sun’s really bright, like late afternoon.”
“We must have been stuck in there longer than we thought,” the Warehouse agent muttered, scanning the room. “I just hope the guys are still okay.”
“They’ll figure it out.” Willow jumped down. “We have to keeping hoping. And, like you said, they’ll do what they have to in order to rescue us. Even if it means working together. Besides,” she smiled, “I think Giles likes it when he gets to play the hero.”
“Yeah. Swoop right in to save the two little redheads.”
The young witch leaned back against the table. “You’ve been thinking about her, too, huh?”
Claudia shrugged defensively. “How can I not? I mean, copper hair and hazel eyes… Can’t get much closer to that than the two of us.” She slumped against the wall. “They both said they loved her. Is she what they see when they look at us? Is that the only reason Artie’s been letting me stick around?”
“Giles has never mentioned anyone named Amber before. But then, he usually doesn’t share much about his past. Especially the painful parts. And believe me, when someone you care about is turned into a vampire, it doesn’t get more painful.” Willow’s hands flew up to her mouth. “Ohmygosh. That must be why he got so freaked when… A little while back they thought I’d been turned. He must have thought he was going to have to do it all over again.”
“Like when he had to stake this Amber chick?”
“Artie seems to think he wouldn’t have had to do it.”
Willow nodded sympathetically. “That’s one of the biggest dangers of vampires. They still look and act like the people you loved. But that person is gone and there’s only a demon left. One of my best friends was…”
Claudia walked over and touched her arm, letting her know she didn’t have to finish the obviously painful story. “This world of yours can be pretty crap sometimes, huh? Ours too, I guess. At least, most the time, when someone gets wammied, we can fix it.”
“I’m sure he loves you, you know,” Willow whispered. The other redhead looked confused. “I mean, you were wondering if Artie only cared for you because of her. But, I’m pretty positive, if that were the case we wouldn’t be here. These demons can read men’s hearts to find their treasure. And they would know if the guys didn’t actually care about us. But, here we are, their treasures.”
Claudia gave a small, crooked smile. “I’m not sure that should make me feel as better as it does. With the being kidnapped part and all.”
“Just think of the proud look he’ll get when he rescues you,” Willow grinned.
“Who Artie? I’m not imagining proud so much as that normal cross between grumpy puss and indigestion.” She turned and headed back toward the locked door. “Which will slowly turn into a little ‘don’t hurt me for making demons come after you’ pout. But, I admit, I do find that one cute.”
Her new friend shook her head, laughed, and followed her. “And you say I have a crush on my geezer.”
“Never denied. Just don’t tell him. Old man would have a heart attack.”
Willow laughed. “And I can just see Giles blushing and stuttering himself into a frenzy.”
“Yep, like we said before… hopeless. Good thing I just found the electronics panel for the security system on this door so we can go help ‘em out of their mess.” She popped a small square of metal off the wall as she spoke.
“Oh, here.” Willow pulled paperclip out of her pocket. “You can use this to help cross the current and activate--” She stopped when Claudia started Laughing hard.
“It really is like looking in a weird mirror with you.” When the other redhead’s nose wrinkled in confusion, she continued, “Come on. This looks like your standard L200 control system. We’ll have it begging for mercy before it knows what hit it.”
Pete poured himself a cup of coffee and settled at the kitchen table across from Myka.
“How’s he doing?” his partner murmured.
“You know. Lying in there, staring at the ceiling, worrying about having to face some extra ugly demon things and getting Claudia and himself killed… Pretty much normal Artie stuff.” He sighed and shook his head. “So what’s our plan this time, Myks? ‘Cause I’m a little freaked here.”
Before she could answer, they were joined by Buffy, and Xander, who was carrying a large box.
Myka gave a small nod to acknowledge them. “I think there’s only one plan we can have right now. We have to get them to wherever these monsters are. We know how Artie is, and I think I’ve seen a lot of the same from Mr. Giles in the last day. We get them there, and they’ll do whatever they have to, to get Claud and Willow out.” She added with a worried frown, “Even if they don’t come back themselves.”
“Your right,” Buffy muttered. “Giles has been willing to lay down his life for me more than once. He would for any of us. God, I don’t want to lose any friends to these Cher’s Koalas.”
Both Warehouse agents blinked, as Xander distractedly corrected, “Char-Qualkn.” The young man was sorting the contents of his box.
“What is all that?” Pete asked when he noticed.
“Oh,” Xander looked up at them. “It’s Giles’ first aid kit. I figured, if what Myka said is true and we’re gonna get separated… These guys know there’s only one way to make any of us get left behind. Some of us are gonna end up getting hurt. So I’m making a little med-pack for everyone. That way, even if we’re alone, the others will know we can at least patch ourselves up and not have to worry so much.”
“Good thinking,” Myka nodded, and began helping to sort bandages. “Look, I know we all want to keep our friends safe. But I really think the best idea is to keep the guys from using up all their strength before they have to face whatever’s at the end of this by themselves. That means, however evil and painful it is, it’s up to us to do it. And, Pete, I know you’re worried about Claudia and Artie, but if one of us gets to stay with them, I think we should send Buffy.” She held her hand up for the inevitable protest from her partner. “Pete, she knows a lot more about this kind of stuff than we do, and we’ve seen how strong—“
“Myka… Myka!” Pete finally got her attention. “I agree. She is, after all, the Slayer.”
“I am,” Buffy agreed. “Slayage is what I do. Sounds like as solid a plan as we can hope for right now. And, trust me, these things are going down hard.”
All agreed, they turned their attention to helping Xander prepare.
Claudia slid along the wall of a dimly lit corridor with Willow pressed in close behind her. No matter how similar they were, the Warehouse agent still felt it was her responsibility to keep the younger student as safe as possible. They carefully approached a door and Claudia quickly shifted to its other side. Both girls nodded an agreement on a silent plan before she held out a hand and began counting down.
At zero, she swung the door open and they both jumped through.
The room was bright compared to where they had just come from. Light spilled from a bank of monitors, all showing different rooms. Including the cell they had escaped from. A high-backed chair faced the screens.
The chair swiveled around to reveal a man wearing a Harlequin mask and holding a scepter. He gave them a wide grin of welcome.
Willow clenched her fists at the sight and growled, “Ethan!”