This massively sucks, said Hudson blandly as he watched the weather report on the television over the bar in the VIP lounge (people who could afford chartered Learjets rarely were made to associate with the rabble, after all).
So far, he and Angel had lost six and a half hours at Chicago OHare. With a range of only two-thousand nautical miles, the Lear had needed a fueling stop to reach Oregon, and OHare had been conveniently en route. What a disaster. No sooner were they taxiing off the runway than a snowstorm blew in off Lake Michigan, dumping the white stuff on the airport faster than the maintenance equipment could clear it off. Now the news was calling it the blizzard of the decade, predicting up to thirty-six inch accumulations over the next twenty-four hours.
Then, to top it all off, a 767 slid off the runway on its landing rollout, collapsed a main gear, and now sat like some torpid, bloated pterodactyl being tended by a vast array of fire-rescue crews. Fortunately, the fuel tanks had stayed intact and no one had been badly hurt, but OHare was as good as closed. Only one runway and some taxiways were shut down by the mishap with the 767, but the snow and ice had shown themselves to be a major hazard, and no traffic was coming in or out. Everyone in the air was heading to St. Louis or elsewhere. Everyone on the ground was just stuck watching airport CNN or drinking the time away at one of the multitude of bars scattered throughout the mammoth terminals of Chicago OHare.
We cant stay here. What if we rent a car and head down to Indianapolis? asked Angel.
And do what? Storms headed south. Even if we can get there in one piece in this weather, which I doubt, wed still have to get a flight to Oregon. Oregon, Angel. And not even to a big place like Portland, which is hell and gone from Pine Crest. You think Indys gonna have a lot of flights that meet the bill on a timely schedule?
Angel scowled and tried his cellular phone again, but the local cell was still all tied up.
Save the battery, man, said Hudson. Stand in line for a pay phone, you wanna make a call. We sent Willow an alpha page. They know whats up. So just chill. Besides, we got no worthwhile information off the feeds yet anyway. The Crypto boys woulda paged us if we had.
I just dont like sitting around doing nothing, said Angel.
Youre not exactly doing nothing, my man. Youre having a conversation with me. You telling me that aint worth your time?
How the hell can you stay so calm?
Hudson cracked open a pistachio nut and popped it into his mouth. Dunno. Guess I dont think theres a whole lot of point to getting worked up over something unless I can do something about it. Dont got a weather machine, so whats to do? Anyway, I know the Sarge. All we have to do is get him the information, and hell take care of it better than we could.
And if hes the mole?
Hudson shot Angel a harsh look. Thats the last time you say that in my presence, man. Understand me? Theres not a guy on the team who doesnt owe his life to Mick Aston a dozen times over. No way in hell hed sell us out. Id sooner believe I was the rat.
Angel knew when to back off. Whatever you say, Hud.
Hudson relaxed. Dont sweat it, bro. You dont know the guy. No reason for you to trust him. Now, you gonna mellow out and go with the flow, or am I gonna have to slip a Valium into your Coke?
* * *
Please, God, let this be a dream, Buffy pleaded silently as she looked from the bloody knife in her hand to the altar, and to Willow lying on it, dead, a crimson stain spreading across her white silk robe.
The knife fell from Buffys hand, seemed to fall very slowly, and hit the cold, marble floor with a noise that was much too loud.
Why cant I wake up? This cant be real!
Darkness seemed to press in around her, suffocating her with a mounting combination of dread and horror and guilt. It couldnt be true, but she remembered it all, the knife passing through her friends chest and into her heart, the blood running hot and wet over the knife and the hand that held it, the look of shock and incomprehension in that innocent, trusting face
Buffy sat bolt upright in her bed, her hair and nightgown clammy with sweat, the covers twisted and in disarray. Her heart raced, and her conscious mind for a few, terrifying moments had a hard time separating reality from the nightmare.
Seized with an irrational panic, Buffy dashed out of bed, out into the hall, and several doors down to Willows room. She knocked hard.
Cmon, cmon. Be there, she said shakily.
After what seemed like a long, long time, she heard the sound of the door chain being undone. The door opened to reveal Willow in red flannel pajamas, looking a bit befuddled.
Impulsively, Buffy grabbed her and hugged her close. Youre okay. Thank God.
The Slayer felt tears of relief sting her eyes. For several horrible moments, shed been certain Willow had been torn from her life forever, and she had known a despair and terror beyond anything shed ever experienced before. Buffy couldnt bear to imagine losing this woman, who was so much more her soul-sister than Lillith Prophet ever could have been.
Um, Buffy? Not that this isnt a really neat bonding thing, but people are going to get the wrong idea, said Willow when it became apparent that Buffy wasnt about to let go anytime soon.
Buffy found herself laughing through the tears and released her friend.
Im sorry. I had a nightmare. I thought never mind.
Now that she was more fully awake and comprehending, concern crossed Willows face. Maybe you should come in for awhile. You look like you could use some hot chocolate and someone to talk to.
* * *
You killed me? asked Willow, her eyes wide, holding her mug of cocoa between her palms to warm them.
I thought I did, said Buffy. She looked at her friend, then back down at her own mug. It doesnt make sense. Id never hurt you. Never. Id die first.
I know. So there has to be some other explanation, right? asked Willow, always the reasonable, practical one. I mean, it must be symbolic or something.
Except it didnt feel symbolic. It felt real. Too real. Prophetic real. And Buffy knew from experience that when she had dreams like that, they usually came true one way or the other. She felt fear and desperation rise again and tried to force them away. But there were some things that Buffy Summers couldnt be brave in the face of, regardless of whether she was the Slayer or the Dark Hunter.
I dont know. I have a really bad feeling about it. Maybe you should go back to the ops center. Youd be safer there, said Buffy.
And explain to me how going to New Jersey is safer than staying here, said Willow.
You dont sound the least bit bothered by all of this.
Somehow, I really dont think getting stabbed to death by my best friend is very high up there on the list of likely ways for me to buy the farm, Buffy, said Willow. But maybe youd better cut down on the caffeine just in case.
Buffy managed a slight smile at that.
You think it was just my doomsday muses having some malicious fun at my expense? she asked.
Willow had coined that term for whatever forces of the universe produced the Slayers dreams and visions. Buffy liked it.
Maybe. Or maybe its even simpler than that.
Buffy, Ive never known anyone whos carried around more feelings of guilt than you. You shouldnt, but you do. First for Angel and Jenny, then for your mom, and for all those people you couldnt save over the years. And now these girls getting killed. I think these murders are just bringing all those old guilt feelings back, and theyre coming out in your dreams. Nothing more to it that that.
I hope youre right. I cant lose you, Will. I just cant. So you have to be right, said Buffy, suddenly aware that she was clutching her mug much too hard, hard enough that the gash on her arm had begun to throb again.
Of course Im right, said Willow. I had Psych 101 in college. That makes me an expert.
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