Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
The ride to the flat where Oz and Elise were staying was tense and silent, punctuated only by the occasional dull thumps and muffled curses from Spike, who, due to the lack of space in the Mini-Cooper, was forced to ride in the trunk.
Angel stared out the window with bleak, red-rimmed eyes, alternately cursing those who had conspired to take Buffy from him, and praying for her health and safe return. To think she had been locked away in a prison – and worse – suffering there for over a year and a half was unendurable to him. A knife was twisting in his heart, the pain made more unbearable by the guilt that he hadn’t done more to find her; that someone at Wolfram & Hart had been involved in this… he’d find them, and he’d destroy them, and he’d destroy the Watcher’s Council too, no matter how long it took. But first, and most importantly, he wanted Buffy back.
In the cramped back seat, Wesley was mentally reviewing the contents of the files on Bjoutan. He was frantically trying to recall any clue or bit of information that he might have come across that could be helpful or relevant. He would go through them again in detail once they arrived at their destination, profoundly grateful now for the impulse that had prompted him to grab the files and bring them along. Though never once had he actually thought he’d have a reason such as this to need them.
Elise, sitting next to Wes, was leaning wearily against the window. Oddly, she was thinking about a writing class that she had taken in college. The class had been on writing and ethics. Professor Tierney had been an adamant proponent of writing the truth, no matter how distasteful you, the author, may have found it. In particular, Elise recalled a quote by Nadine Gordimer that Professor Tierney had written on the white board in permanent ink: “Truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.”
At this moment, neither the truth nor the hunger for it seemed particularly beautiful.
Angel attempted to curb his impatience as he followed Oz up the stairs to the flat. Pausing at the door, Oz invited them all in and pointed out the various facilities, but Angel was only interested in one thing. Without hesitation, he went straight to the cage in the corner where the half-demon was reclining nonchalantly on the floor and reading a magazine.
“Tell me what you know about Bjoutan, and about Buffy,” Angel demanded as their gazes met and held.
Rhys glared contemptuously at the dark haired stranger as came to his feet. “Yeah? Why should I?” He tossed aside the copy of ‘Tatler’ magazine that he had conned Elise into letting him have to pass the time.
“Because I asked nicely,” Angel replied smoothly as he took the keys Oz handed him. Unlocking the door, he swung it wide in one quick motion.
“Hey, you!” the half-demon barked as Elise came into sight. “I told you I wasn’t talking to no one else about this. What’d you go and shoot your mouth off for? Dumb bitch.”
Ignoring the rude remarks, Elise continued on her way through the apartment, disappearing into the bathroom and closing the door firmly behind her.
Reaching into the cage with one hand, Angel jerked the demon out roughly by the front of his shirt. “You’ll talk to me.”
“Yeah? Why’s that? And who the hell are you?” Rhys groused as he stumbled forward, freed from the taller man’s grip.
“Ah, he doesn’t recognize you, Angelus,” Spike chimed in helpfully as he came to stand next to the elder vampire. He scrutinized the half-demon critically. “Probably hasn’t been around long enough to remember your reign of terror.”
“Angelus?” The half-demon questioned as he looked up at the scowling countenance of the dark haired man in front of him. “You’re Angelus?”
“Close enough.” Angel affirmed coolly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Look, I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.” Rhys backed up a step.
Angel advanced forward. “You know about Bjoutan.”
“Only what I heard through Freddie, and he don’t always tell the truth.” The half-demon wiped his mouth on the back of his arm and took another step back only to bump into the wall.
“And what was that?” Angel asked softly.
“Why should I tell you anything?” Rhys spat, drawing himself up to his full height. He never liked vampires; he refused to bow down to one now – even one as renowned for his maliciousness and cruelty as the one standing in front of him.
“So that I might let you live,” Angel calmly said.
Cracking his knuckles, the half demon assessed his interrogator for a long moment. The vampire was taller, but he was lean by comparison. In terms of brute strength then, Rhys figured he would have the advantage. Still, he was trapped between the two vampires, the cage, and the wall. His potential escape routes were effectively blocked. At least, they were blocked right now. That could change at any time; he just needed to stall a bit. And taunting the vampire might be fun in and of itself. “I guess what you is interested in hearing is that it’s a prison of some sort.”
“How much is there to say about that?” Rhys shrugged indifferently, rocking side to side on the balls of his feet, and debating his chances of succeeding with a direct attack. He might be able to take the vampire by surprise… “A prison’s a prison. Only this one’s got a better selection of pillow biters than most.”
“Who’s in there?” he asked very quietly.
The half-demon blinked, his lips curling in a sardonic smile. “Slayers, mostly. Drugged to keep ‘em in line, though they’re tuned up often enough from what I’d heard.”
Angel closed his eyes for a moment. His jaw clenched as he fought the urge to shift to his demonic visage. His eyes, when his eyes opened again, were filled with something dark and unfathomable. “What else do you know about it?”
Spike, who was watching the exchange interestedly, quirked a brow upward. He’d seen that look from Angelus many a time in the past, but never from Angel. And if past history was any indication… the look indicated that things did not bode well for the half-demon.
“And what?” Rhys snapped mockingly. His gaze moved from the two vampires toward the door and back again, measuring the distance.
“You know what I what to know.”
Rhys inched to the right. “I guess you want to hear that your little bitch is in there? That right, Angelus?”
A savage light glinted in the vampire’s eyes. He shifted right as well, effectively blocking the shorter man’s escape path. “Is she?”
The half-demon stroked his chin and contemplated his response. Despite Angelus’ reputation, the vampire didn’t look like much of a fighter. Cockily, Rhys began to think that he could take him. Kicking the infamous vampire’s ass would make a hell of story down at the pub; no demons would ever fuck with him again once the word got out. Or, at the very least, he could knock the taller man aside and make for the door. Either way, his escape was practically guaranteed. He grinned slyly. “Yeah, I heard her name a time or two. Buffy ain’t one of those names that you tend to forget once you hear it.”
“She’s there? You’re sure?” His countenance shifted and his fangs lengthened, Angel no longer attempting to restrain his demon.
“Yeah, she’s there. And I heard she was a damned fiiiine ride too,” the half-demon taunted belligerently. “But then, I guess, you’d know that already have tasted that cunt and all.” His chance for escape was now or never. With a sudden lunge he threw and uppercut with his left, the followed it immediately with a right jab. Neither blow actually connected with their intended target.
“I guess the interrogation’s over then.” Spike said calmly, watching the half-demon crumple to the ground, his neck broken.
Running a hand through his hair, Angel ran his tongue over his fangs. The anger and impatience that had been simmering under the surface had gotten the best of him.
Nudging the body with his foot, Spike looked the creature over disinterestedly.
“While I can’t deny that he probably deserved it and that I would’ve done the same, you did just do away with the best lead you’ve had in over a year.”
Casting the blonde vampire an irritated look, Angel turned and snapped at Wesley. “How fast can you get me to Bjoutan?”
“Us. I’m going along,” the blonde vampire declared matter-of-factly, glancing past Angel to where the former Watcher was leaning over the table, his straight arms braced on the paper-strewn surface. Paper covered the entire surface as Wesley poured over all of the documents in search of something, anything that could validate what the now dead half-demon had claimed.
“No, you’re not,” Angel countered, turning back to look at Spike as he shifted back to his human visage. “I don’t need your help.”
“You don’t know that. And I’m not going to help you anyway, I’m going to help Buffy,” Spike stated determinedly, jutting out his jaw.
“I’ll take care of Buffy,” Angel retorted heatedly.
“Oh, like you’ve taken care of her so far?” Spike sniped back, his eyebrows lifting mockingly.
Closing his eyes, Angel gritted his teeth. “Wes…”
“Besides, in your current frame of mind you’re more than likely to kill any and everything in your path, which for the record, I might say I’m normally not opposed to that approach, in this case it might mean that you do away with someone that can lead us to this prison, and to Buffy,” Spike stated matter-of-factly, “Which means that you have to take me with you.”
“I don’t have to take you,” Angel replied, guilt softening his tone. He had failed Buffy, and he hated the reminder.
“We’re going to need some pretty powerful magic to open the portal to Bjoutan,” Wes said thoughtfully, as he once more read through the narrative that Morgana, an apparently powerful Wicca, had ostensibly written. “And a copy of the Avesta, if we want to verify the translations.”
“If we need any magic supplies, there’s a great shop over on Union Street,” Oz suggested as he filled the kettle and put it on the stove. “Just let me know.”
“Hm. We will need a few things… a coin, of course, and a key. Your standard objects to open a gateway. It’s less the… things… if you will, as the magic that is needed to command them.”
“But if the Watcher’s Council can do it… and they must if they send…uh, people, there,” Elise commented as she rejoined the group. Upon seeing Rhys crumpled on the floor near the corner, she paused and glanced between Spike and Angel wondered what she had missed. She didn’t think she had been out of the room that long, nor had she heard any commotion… “Wouldn’t they have a way in?”
“Indeed,” Wes replied distractedly, his attention focused on the specifics of the spell.
“Good point, that,” Spike acknowledged. “So how do we find it?”
“Magic, maybe?” Elise suggested, taking a seat on the couch. “Wouldn’t a portal be detectable, if there was one somewhere?”
“Seems likely,” Oz agreed.
“Hmm…indeed,” Wesley murmured in polite acknowledgement, though he still didn’t appear to be fully listening to their conversation.
“Willow?” Elise repeated, looking over at Angel.
“She can do the spell. We need to get her here, now,” Angel demanded, fumbling in his pockets in search of his phone.
“Willow?” Wes finally tore his gaze away from the paper he had been studying and glanced up at Angel.
The vampire sighed impatiently. “She can find the portal. Or open the portal. Either way, she can get us to Bjoutan.”
“I thought she wasn’t practicing magic anymore,” Elise asked.
“She doesn’t, but she was quite power-” Wesley began. He hadn’t finished his sentence when he was interrupted by a voice coming from the doorway.
Everyone turned in the direction of the voice, and stared at the man now standing on the threshold.
Wes found his voice first. “Mr. Giles?”
“Well, well. Hello there,” Spike murmured, his expression betraying his astonishment at the former Watcher’s appearance.
“But I don’t think you want to call her,” Giles continued, though he had yet to move from his position at the door.
“Why not?” Angel demanded, though he halted in his dialing.
“Because quite frankly, I’m not sure you should trust her,” Giles returned calmly.
The dark-haired vampire studied the former Watcher for a long moment, his fist clenching and unclenching. “I’m going to need a little more than that.”
“Willow has been dabbling with magic since she’s been working with you at Wolfram & Hart. The sisters have been watching her, and have said that her powers have been growing stronger.”
“That’s all the more reason to call her,” Angel countered insistently. He was single-minded in his quest to get Buffy back; nothing else mattered just now.
“And darker,” Giles added grimly.
“What do you mean, darker?” Spike asked.
“Some of the spells that Willow has attempted to cast… they aren’t harmless glamours or protective spells…” Giles explained. “She’s tried to resurrect the dead.”
Spike shrugged dismissively. “She brought Buffy back and that turned out all right.”
“She has cursed those that would have spoken out against her… Kennedy, Willow’s former lover, is now catatonic and we can only speculate as to why,” Giles told him gravely. “Willow may even have committed murder, though of that we are not completely certain.”
“Why didn’t you say something about any of this before?” Angel snapped, his temper rising.
“Would you have believed me if I had? Would it have mattered?” Giles inquired circumspectly. “Willow was under your roof, working at your discretion. For all I knew you condoned her practice of the darker arts.”
Angel looked at Giles with reproach, his dark eyes hard and unblinking. For several long moments tension lay heavily in the air as the two men simply stared back at each other.
“You’ve said yourself that someone at Wolfram & Hart was involved in Buffy’s disappearance,” Oz suggested, breaking the silence. “If you call anyone else now, even Willow, you risk tipping your hand.”
Angel turned his gaze to Oz. “And if I don’t, I risk not getting Buffy back.”
Giles’ brows lifted in surprised. “You’ve found Buffy? Is she alive?” he blurted, his tone both anxious and concerned.
“He has a point…” Wes added thoughtfully. “We know for a fact that Wolfram & Hart were working with the Council on the purchase of Bjoutan. We also know that Buffy was last seen in a Wolfram & Hart limo, so it’s no stretch to assume that someone at the office was in collusion with the Council to arrange her abduction.”
“We think that she’s in this Bjoutan dimension, wherever in the hell that is,” Spike offered. He jerked his thumb in the direction of the dead demon on the floor. “Or so that guy said. Which is why there’s such an interest in getting there.”
“And that it’s a prison, set up by your friends at the Council,” Angel said harshly, turning back to pin Giles with a look that would have cowed a lesser man. “Did you know about that too? Is that something else you decided not to tell me?”
Shocked, Giles retorted angrily, “Of course not. I would never condone such a thing, much less… for Buffy. To think so is simply preposterous.”
“You’re not in touch with the Council?” Wesley inquired curiously. He openly surveyed his former colleague, searching for some sign of the truth. He too was disappointed that Giles hadn’t told them about Willow practicing magic. He was also chagrined that they hadn’t known it themselves, given that they see her almost on a daily basis.
“No, not at all,” Giles answered firmly. Gravely, he added, “I’ve heard a few rumors that attempts have been made to reform the Council in some fashion, but I never knew by whom or to what purpose. No one contacted me directly, and if they had, I never would have consented to such a thing. Twice, in fact, I’ve relocated the girls, to avoid the possibility of being taken over by any such effort – my assumption being that they would, of course, want the Slayers.”
“All that aside, Red may still be our fastest, if not our only, hope to get to this Bjoutan,” Spike said, glancing at Angel.
“Some of what Willow said… when I talked to her… it didn’t seem to be quite in sync with what Buffy had written in her own journal,” Elise spoke up, her voice touched with trepidation. “I know she’s Buffy’s best friend, and I know I can’t quite explain it, but my instincts are telling me that something’s not quite right there. Maybe she knows something, and is afraid to speak up… Maybe someone threatened her, or… something.”
Turning to Elise, Angel stared at her coldly. “You took Buffy’s journal?”
“No… I mean, yes,” Elise answered sheepishly. “I found it in the Wolfram & Hart library, mixed in with a stack of books that I had been using for reference. I don’t know who put it there, or why, but I took it home and I read some of it…”
Angel studied her. For a moment, she thought he would soften, that he would speak. He did neither.
“I don’t know how it got there, I swear,” she pled, stricken by the look of disbelief on Angel’s face. With a defeated sigh, she added, “It’s in a safe deposit box in LA, along with some of my other notes. I didn’t want to leave it lying around, and I didn’t want to bring it with me. I was going to return it, when I finished the story.”
Raising his hand, Spike interjected, “I gave it to her.”
Angel swung around in a fury. “What?”
Undaunted, the blonde vampire explained with a shrug, “I stole it out of your apartment and slipped it in between the books she was rummaging through. I thought maybe she’d be able to find something in there that we didn’t, something that would lead to Buffy. Besides, because she’s always snooping around, so I figured no one would think anything of it.”
Elise gazed at Spike with both gratitude and indignation. She wasn’t always snooping around.
“Oh, I believe you stole it, but not because you thought it would help find Buffy. I think you stole it for other reasons, like maybe you were hoping to find out if Buffy wrote something in there about you,” Angel ground out angrily. “Did you take anything else while you were at it? Her panties? Some of her other lingerie?”
“What if I did?” Spike countered belligerently.
“Guys. Guys!” Oz cut in loudly, the exclamation uncharacteristic for the normally quiet werewolf. Five pairs of eyes swiveled in his direction. “This isn’t going to help Buffy.”
“He’s right,” Wesley murmured.
Giles nodded his agreement.
Spike dropped his gaze.
Chagrined, Angel inhaled deeply searching for calm. Was it risky to involve Willow? What was the best option? After a moment, seeming to come to some sort of decision, he said, “The Council has a way in, and we know how to find the Council. Let’s start there.”