Magic in Numbers
Willow carefully walked through the cemetery, with Charlie a few steps behind her. She knew that Buffy was bringing a group of students here to stop a couple of newly risen vamps from getting much farther than their graves' surface.
"You brought me to a cemetery?" Charlie asked, noisily trying to keep up with Willow.
She nodded. "Yes, there are a couple of vampires rising tonight."
"V-vampires?" Charlie repeated.
"Yes, vampires," Willow agreed. "Just be quiet, I know that they're around here somewhere." She paused as she heard the sounds of fighting a little off to the right. "This way."
Charlie was helpless but to follow her as she took off towards the sounds of a fight. What he saw when they found it had him stumbling back to lean against a tree. There were four girls fighting in hand-to-hand combat against five people with grossly disfigured faces. He stared in disbelief as a blonde girl, a little older than the others, thrust a piece of wood into the heart of the man she was fighting and he exploded into dust.
He blinked. His eyes must be playing tricks on him. But when he focused on the fight again, another of the disfigured men turned to dust. Then another.
He was so enthralled with the fight that he didn't hear anyone coming up behind him. Too late, he found himself being yanked around to face one of these...things...in the unnaturally yellow eyes.
"Willow," he yelled, before a very strong hand was around his throat, cutting off his air supply.
"Charlie." He heard from behind him. "Close your eyes."
He did. A second later a bright light flew past his ear and the hand was suddenly gone. He collapsed to the ground, coughing as he struggled to catch his breath.
Willow was at his side a moment later. "Are you okay?"
"Wh-what was that thing? And where did he go?" he panted.
"Vampire," she simply stated. "And I threw a fireball at him, and he went poof."
"What are you people?" Charlie asked, wide-eyed, taking in the girls standing a short distance behind Willow.
"Well, as I said at the restaurant, I'm a witch. They," Willow said, gesturing behind her, "are slayers."
"I think that I'm just going to..." Charlie passed out before he could finish speaking.
"Well, that went well," Buffy said, looking down at the unconscious mathematician. "What were you thinking bringing him here, Willow? He could have been killed."
"I know, but he needed to see for himself," Willow said. "I know his type. He wasn't going to let up until he knew the truth. Even if it wasn't a truth he wanted to know."
"So you could have taken him to the school and asked Angel to go all grr for him. He wouldn't have liked it, but he'd do it before putting an innocent in harms way."
Willow shook her head. "Charlie still wouldn't have believed it if it was just Angel. He needed to see all of it. Don't worry; I know what I'm doing. Now, can you help me get him back to the school?"
"If you just wanted to get him into your bed, I'm sure there was an easier way," Buffy chided her friend.
Willow blushed as she gasped, "Buffy! That so wasn't my objective."
Buffy laughed as she bent down and picked Charlie up, placing him over her shoulder in a fireman's carry. "Hey, I'm not knocking your choice. He's a hottie."
"Isn't he though," Willow sighed, then coughed. "I mean, for a man. A very intelligent man."
With a chuckle still in her voice, Buffy turned back to face the junior slayers. "Come on. Time to get back and report on a successful mission. Great job, girls. And as Willow was so kind to demonstrate, it's not a good idea to bring your date to scheduled slayage. It's one thing if you're out and get attacked, but it's not a good idea to pick up your date on the way to wait for vamps to rise. Got it?"
The three newbies all nodded their heads with smiles on their faces at how uncomfortable Ms. Rosenberg looked.
Charlie opened his eyes slowly. He glanced around the unfamiliar room, wondering how he got there. Then he felt the bed dip and looked up to find Willow sitting next to him.
"Oh, good, you're awake," she said, relief clear in her voice.
"Where am I?" Charlie asked, slowly sitting up. His head hurt a bit, but he managed to sit back against the headboard.
"Um, this is my room, at the school," Willow said, a faint blush tinting her cheeks.
Charlie raised a hand to the back of his head, feeling a slight bump from when he'd passed out. "How did I get here?" he distractedly asked.
"I don't know how much you remember, but you passed out after the fight, so we brought you home with us."
"Fight?" Charlie quietly questioned, furiously trying to remember what had happened. In a flash he saw the fight in the cemetery, the vampires, dust, fireball, then nothing. "You're a witch," he said, meeting Willow's eyes.
"Yes, I am," she agreed. "How are you feeling?"
"I think that I must have hit my head really hard," Charlie said. "It can't be real. It just can't."
"Why not?" Willow asked, giving in to the urge to brush the hair away from his face.
"Because there is no such thing as the supernatural," Charlie insisted.
"You've just seen for yourself that there is," Willow pointed out.
"My eyes must have been playing tricks on me," Charlie said.
"I really don't like using magick for frivolous things, but for your sake..." Willow took a centering breath and closed her eyes. When she opened them she met Charlie's eyes.
"What are you talking about?" he asked. Then he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw a wooden hairbrush floating towards the bed. He scrambled back, away from it. "How are you doing that?"
The brush stopped, hovering in front of him. "I telekinetically lifted it off of the dresser and brought it to the bed. Go ahead and take it. Feel the air around it, if you'd like. No strings are attached."
Charlie slowly raised one hand and moved it around the brush. Nothing. He lifted his other hand and moved them in alternating patterns around the suspended brush. Finally he wrapped his hand around the handle and was able to pick it up. He noticed that Willow had relaxed her shoulders, now that she wasn't keeping the brush levitated. He dropped it to the bed.
"And the girls... are they witches too?" he asked.
"No. They are slayers; girls born to fight vampires, demons and the forces of darkness. That is what this school is for. We find the girls destined to be slayers and we bring them here to teach them about their powers. We teach them how to fight and how to survive."
"How many are there?" Charlie asked in awe.
"We currently have 300 students at this school, but we aren't the only one. There are so many slayers now that we have another school in Cleveland and one in London. But this was the first, and largest," Willow said.
"You make it sound like all of these slayers are new," Charlie observed.
Willow raised an eyebrow in surprise. "They are. Until two years ago there was only one; well, two, but that was due to other circumstances. Traditionally there has only been one; one girl in all the world who was destined to become The Slayer. When one slayer died the next was called, which is how we had two, because Buffy was resuscitated after she drowned, but her momentary death still activated the next slayer."
"So what happened to make so many?"
"Um, I did," Willow admitted. "We were fighting an enemy greater than anything we'd ever faced before. It was trying to wipe out the slayer line so that there would be no one left to fight evil. I did a spell, the biggest of my life, and I activated all of the potential slayers. Now we're in the process of tracking them all down and bringing them to one of the schools to teach them."
"No wonder I couldn't find anything with my analyses," Charlie said. "This isn't something that would show up on any records. On anything that I could track."
"Exactly," Willow agreed. "Since I was the one who activated them, I have a small link to each and every slayer out there. Through meditation, I am able to concentrate on one link at a time and locate the girls. It's a long process though. And exhausting."
"Can't you use that link to find the missing girls?" Charlie asked.
"Not yet," Willow said. "I tried after the first girl was taken, but whomever kidnapped her must have her in a protected place. Like she's in a vacuum. I can't reach her. And I just haven't had the time to try again. I doubt that my luck will change any though, if the girls are being kept in a warded space."
"Is there anything that I can do to help?" Charlie asked.
"I don't think so. Except maybe keep your brother off my back. As I'm sure you've noticed, this really isn't a matter for the FBI. We'll be able to find the girls faster if we are able to use all of our contacts. We believe that someone is after the untrained slayers for some greater purpose. Maybe to train them to fight against us. We're the good guys, after all."
"I'll see what I can do, but Don doesn't give up easily. He may take my advice when it comes to math, but I doubt that he'll back off on investigating the school simply because I asked. You're right; I can't tell him about this being a school for slayers. He'll never believe it. I'm not even sure that I fully believe it. But I do believe that you believe all of this, and I'm willing to risk believing in you."
"Thank you so much," Willow gushed. Before she could think about it, she pulled Charlie into a hug then pulled back enough to give him a quick kiss on the lips.
Charlie was stunned. He'd automatically wrapped his arms around Willow when she hugged him, but then she kissed him. Granted it was just a friendly peck, but it had been so long! He met her eyes and despite her embarrassment, he thought he saw desire too.
Maybe Don was right, maybe she was interested in him a little, as a man, and not just a man of science. Keeping eye contact, he slowly leaned in again. He waited for her to pull back, for any sign that she didn't want this. Instead he only felt her breathing increase the closer he got, until he pressed his lips against hers again, kissing her in earnest.
Willow couldn't believe it. She was kissing a man. And not just any man; she was kissing Charlie Eppes! On her bed, no less. Her hands slid up his back to run through his long, curly hair. She held his head as she kissed him back, eagerly parting her lips when she'd felt his tongue tentatively seek entrance.
As Charlie rolled Willow onto her back, still kissing her, he marveled at his actions. He could hardly believe that he was being so forward, making out with a girl that he'd just met, when he'd been dancing around Amita for years, working up the nerve to ask her out. Yet here he was, lying on a virtual stranger's bed, kissing her like he couldn't get enough of her. Which, frankly, he couldn't.
When they paused for breath, Charlie wonderingly asked, "Am I under your spell?"
"No," Willow answered, tracing his face with her fingers. "This is simple physical attraction; hormones and pheromones doing what they do best. Do you not want this?" she nervously asked.
"Oh, I want this. More than I should," Charlie said. "This is just so unlike me."
"Nothing more has to happen," Willow assured him. "U-unless you want it to?"
"D-do you want to?" Charlie nervously asked her. His body was practically vibrating with the lust he felt for Willow.
Willow ran her eyes along his body, causing Charlie to flush slightly under her heated gaze. "Most definitely," she breathily answered.
Charlie swallowed hard, all of the blood in his body rushing south at the desire he heard in her voice. He leaned back in and passionately kissed her. Their bodies shifted on the bed so that he was lying partially on top of her, letting her feel how much he wanted her.
Willow gasped at the press of his erection against her hip. The sound was caught by his mouth, and she began to work at the buttons on his shirt. Once he was free of the shirt, Charlie broke the kiss only long enough to pull his undershirt over his head, before reclaiming Willow's mouth.
Charlie groaned at the feeling of Willow's silk blouse rubbing against his bare chest. Knowing that her skin would feel even better, he set about removing the soft material. Willow sat up enough to help him slip the garment off of her, removing her bra herself, before lying back down.
Charlie's eyes dropped to the two perfect breasts staring up at him. Moving on instinct, he leaned down to kiss each puckering nipple, drawing one into his mouth. Willow's sigh was all the encouragement that he needed.
It wasn't until he felt Willow's hands trying to open his belt that he had a sudden realization. Sitting back, he blurted out, "I don't have anything."
"What?" she asked, confused as to why he'd stopped touching her.
"Protection. I don't have anything. I never expected this to happen..." he said.
Willow's eyes widened in realization. "Oh! I don't have anything either. I haven't had a male lover in a long time now," she dejectedly admitted. "Wait!"
Willow closed her eyes, a look of intense concentration falling over her face. With an audible pop a box of condoms dropped onto the bed. She opened her eyes and grinned.
"Where did those come from? You didn't steal them, did you?" Charlie asked suspiciously.
"They're, um, Xander's. I'll buy him new ones. He'd have given them to me if I'd asked, but this way I don't have to get dressed again," Willow said, grinning.
"That's definitely a good thing," Charlie had to agree, reaching for Willow's skirt. "I'm starting to like this magick thing."
Willow giggled. "In circumstances like this, it certainly is handy." Returning to opening Charlie's pants, Willow slipped a hand inside, circling his erection. "Hey Charlie?"
"Yeah?" he gasped, bucking into her hand.
"Talk time is over." Willow kissed him, making her point very clear.
Charlie strolled into the FBI offices, a dopey grin on his face. He and Willow had spent the night making love. He'd woken late this morning to find himself spooned behind her warm, naked body.
"Mornin' Charlie," Don greeted him when Charlie reached his desk.
"Weren't you wearing that yesterday?" Megan asked.
Don looked up at Megan's question and noticed that Charlie was still in the same clothes. They were a little dirty and rumpled, but definitely the same. Realization dawned on his face and before Charlie could answer, he said, "You spent the night with her. The redhead."
"Her name is Willow," Charlie reminded him. "And not that it's any of your business, but yes, I did."
"Way to go, man," Colby said in admiration.
"Can we not talk about my personal life, please?" Charlie asked, clearly uncomfortable having his sex life be a topic of discussion.
"It's just that we so rarely have the opportunity," Don joked. At Charlie's pained expression, he relented. "Fine, have it your way. So what did you find out?"
"I'm not some kind of spy," Charlie said, bristling at the implication.
"I thought the point of taking her out last night was to try to get some information from her," Don pointed out.
"Okay, it was. But things are different now," Charlie said.
"So you think that just because you slept with a suspect that she's now off the hook?" Don asked. "Sorry, brother, but it doesn't work like that."
"She isn't involved in the kidnappings. She took me to the school and explained some things to me and I believe her. She wants to find the girls as much as we do," Charlie said.
"So she's going to help us?" Megan asked.
"There really isn't anything that she can do. The methodology that she used to find the girls in the first place won't work now, as they are no longer in their own homes," Charlie pointed out.
"She wasn't able to give you any information about who might be after these girls?" Don doubtfully asked.
Keeping a blank face, Charlie said, "No, none."
Willow walked into the staff room with a silly grin on her face. She felt fantastic, a little sore, but so happy.
She didn't even notice the others until Buffy began to sing, "Willow and Charlie sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G."
"Buffy," Willow admonished her friend. "Stop that."
"Willow's right," Xander said, crossing the room to her side. "It was much more than kissing."
Willow's blush spoke volumes. "Xander," she chided.
He leaned over to whisper in her ear, "I believe that you owe me something from last night."
Willow felt her blush deepen. "I hope you don't mind, but we were kinda desperate. I'll pay you back."
He chuckled. "Don't worry about it. I'm glad someone had use of them." He gave her a quick hug before returning to his seat.
"What did you tell him?" Robin asked, all business.
"Tell him about what?" Willow asked, still recovering from being put on the spot.
"Tell him about us," Robin clarified.
"Oh, that. I told him the truth," Willow said, moving to grab a muffin from the snack table.
Exclamations of surprise assaulted her as she took her usual seat at the table. Finally she had to wave her hands to get everyone to stop talking.
"Okay, now one at a time," she said, once they'd quieted.
"I can't believe you told him the truth," Buffy said.
"What was I supposed to say after he saw the slayage last night?" Willow countered. "He's not FBI even though he sometimes works with them. He won't tell them the truth. He's going to try to get them to back off so that we can find the girls."
"You don't honestly believe that the Feds are going to back off, do you?" Angel asked.
"No, I don't. How naive do you think I am?" Willow said.
"But you just said..." Xander started to say.
"I said he's going to try. I didn't say that he'd succeed. Look, I know what it means to have exposed us like that, but I trust him. He's a mathematician, a man of logic and science. He needed to see with his own eyes what this school was about and why I couldn't be more honest with the FBI. I'm hoping that they'll believe it when he says that there isn't anything more that I can do. Now, have we had any luck in figuring out who is taking the girls?"
Everyone was quiet for a moment before Angel admitted, "No. I've checked with all of my regular contacts and no one seems to have heard about anyone collecting slayers."
"Same here," Buffy said. "No one's admitting to having any knowledge about what's happening."
"I need to try the locator spell again. I've gotten items from each of the families who have had girls taken, so I'm hoping that will make the spell stronger. I have a feeling that they're being kept in a warded room somewhere, and if that's the case, then the spell won't go anywhere."
"Is there any way around the ward?" Robin asked.
"It would depend on the ward. We wouldn't want to accidentally make it stronger by using the wrong deactivation spell," Willow said, shaking her head.
"I'll check with Wesley, see if he has any ideas on that front," Angel offered.
"Angel actually had an idea about how they're finding the girls," Xander said. All eyes turned to him. At Angel's go-ahead gesture he continued. "What if they're not tracking the slayers per se, but they're tracking you, Willow. I mean, face it, all anyone who is after untrained slayers would have to do is see who you're visiting to recruit. Then bam, kidnapped slayer."
"Is there a way to check to see if you are being tracked some way?" Buffy asked Willow.
After thinking for a minute, Willow said, "I haven't noticed that I've been tailed by anybody. Then again, I also wasn't looking for a tail."
"Well, something long and hairy should be pretty obvious to most people." Xander's joke was met with resounding groans.
"What about a magical trace?" Buffy asked.
"Those are usually pretty hard to detect. I've never heard of the person being sought knowing they were trying to be located."
"So there's no way to stop them from tracking you," Xander glumly stated.
"Unless..." Buffy started.
"Unless we set a trap," Angel finished, meeting Buffy's eyes.
Buffy nodded. "We could send Willow with her arsenal of materials to a home of our choosing. Then when they go to kidnap the daughter, they'll find one of us instead."
"But we can't use one of the students. For one thing, they're not ready for something like that. The kidnappers would also probably already know who all of the students are."
"Oh, I think that I have the perfect girl in mind," Buffy said. "Will, think you could manage to get us a little professional back up?"
Willow grinned, pulling out her cell phone. "Oh, I think I might be able to."
She quickly located Charlie's number. "Hey Charlie. I have a favor to ask."
"So, you and Charlie, huh?" Colby asked as he and Willow sat at the dining room table of the sting house.
"Uh, yeah," Willow said, blushing, as she always seemed to do when someone mentioned her and Charlie.
"Gotta say, I'm impressed. I've never seen him move so fast with a girl."
"Really?" Willow asked, oddly pleased that this wasn't a usual thing for him.
"Really," he confirmed. "Are you going to tell me what's really so special about the school?"
"No. I know that I'm not carrying a bug, and I doubt that the people who are following me would be able to hear what we're saying. Just look like you're looking over the information and agreeing to send your daughter to the school."
"Is this how you always recruit students?" Colby laughed.
"No, usually I actually tell them about our program," Willow said. "But that's because it's where their daughters should be. Your 'daughter' wouldn't exactly fit in, but they don't need to know that."
Colby stood, gathering the materials spread out on the table and set them in a neat pile. Then he escorted Willow to the door.
He clearly said, "Thank you Ms. Rosenberg. I'll look over the materials with my daughter and let you know if she's interested later this week."
Willow shook his hand. "I look forward to hearing from you."
She crossed to her car and slid into the driver's seat.
"How'd it go?" Charlie asked, looking up from the papers he was grading. He leaned over to give her a kiss.
"Don't know yet. That was the easy part. Now we have to see if they take the bait," Willow said, pulling out of the driveway. She studiously ignored the van sitting a short distance up the street as she drove past.
"Now the fun part begins," Don said, inside the van.
Around midnight, Don noticed movement across the street. He checked the monitors and was able to make out three people dressed all in black silently approaching the house.
"Hey guys, we've got movement," he said into the comm.
"Copy that," Colby quietly said, keeping his eyes on the television in front of him. He was glad that his part of this assignment at least let him watch the game tonight. It was difficult though, resisting the urge to get up and patrol the house. He knew that 'his daughter' was protected in her room, but he still felt a little left out of the action.
A minute later Colby heard a thud coming from upstairs followed by a loud, "Dad!"
He was up like a shot, running towards the commotion. He turned on the light as he entered the bedroom, stepping over the body still convulsing with shocks from the taser. Gun raised, he stated, "FBI. Step away from the girl."
The black-clothed figure pushed the girl into Colby's arms as he dived out the window.
"You okay, Dawn?" he asked the girl, quickly.
"Yeah, I'm fine, but he's getting away."
"Don'll get him. My job is to keep you safe. Nice work with the taser," he said.
"Thanks, it's kinda my thing," she said, with a smile.
"C'mon, let's get this guy down to the van for questioning," Colby said, pulling out his handcuffs.
While he knelt to cuff the unconscious man, he missed the figure come up behind Dawn, close one hand over her mouth and the other around her waist, and pull her from the room. She tried to call out, but the sound was muffled by the thick black-gloved hand.
Colby turned back around, saying, "All set," when he saw that Dawn wasn't there. Cautiously he stood, raising his gun again, and stepped out into the hallway. "Dawn," he called out. He was answered by silence. "Dawn, honey, this isn't funny." He heard the front door open and close and ran for the stairs.
By the time he got outside, Dawn was standing on the front stoop and her kidnapper was lying on the ground with a broken nose.
Buffy was standing next to him and Colby heard her say, "Nobody gets away with attacking my sister."
Don and David came up from around the side of the house, dragging the man who had jumped out the window with them.
Buffy knelt next to the man with the bloody nose. "Who do you work for?" she demanded, hitting him again.
"Buffy, let us handle the questioning," Don said.
"I need to know," she insisted. "These men are kidnapping girls, my potential students, I want to know why."
"We all want to know why," Don agreed. "But in order for it to be legal, I need to take them in to headquarters."
"Alright, fine. But I want to be there," Buffy reluctantly agreed.
"Of course," Don said.
"What did you want with the girl?" Don asked, for what felt like the tenth time.
"I already told you," the man sitting at the table said, his voice distorted from Buffy breaking his nose, "I don't know what they wanted with her."
"And who are 'they'?" Colby asked. He turned around the chair on the other side of the table and straddled it.
"I. Don't. Know." The kidnapper enunciated. "I just do what I'm told. I don't ask for details and I don't care. It's none of my business who they are or what they want the girls for."
"Girls?" Don questioned. "So you admit that you were involved in the other kidnappings?"
"I want my lawyer," the kidnapper stonily said.
"How's it going in there?" Lindsey asked, joining Buffy, Willow and Charlie in the observation room.
"Jerk's not talking," Buffy said. "I tried to get them to let me do the questioning, but they have some rule against using physical violence to get people to talk."
"Buffy, you know that a coerced confession isn't admissible in court," Lindsey pointed out.
"I know. But I also want answers. We're so close to finding out where the girls are. You know how much I hate waiting."
"Looks like you're going to be waiting a little longer," Don said, entering the room. "He's asking for his lawyer."
"You want me to go in there and pretend to be from legal aid?" Lindsey offered.
"Nah, he's already got one coming from Wolfram & Hart. They're on their way," Don said.
Lindsey, Buffy and Willow all stiffened at the law firm's name.
"You know them?" Charlie asked, picking up on the sudden tension in the room.
"You could say that," Lindsey said. "I used to work for them, a long time ago. Bet you anything that these guys work for them."
"Of course," Willow groaned. "I don't know why we didn't think of it before. It makes perfect sense for Wolfram & Hart to want to kidnap the sl-- girls."
"Why's that?" Don asked, suspicious of this new information. "What would a bunch of lawyers want with a group of teenagers?"
Willow glanced at Charlie, knowing he would understand why they were lying to his brother. "Let's just say that we've had problems with them before. They are probably interested in using the abilities our girls possess, and not in a nice way."
"You still haven't told me what is so special about these girls," Don pointed out.
"Can you trust me that it doesn't really matter?" Charlie requested. "If Willow is right, then we know where the girls are. Or at least the people who know where they are."
"I don't like this. I don't like questioning these suspects blind," Don fumed.
Just then, David knocked on the door. "Sorry to interrupt, but there's a Gail Pendleton here to see the kidnappers. She says she represents all of them."
"Thanks, David. I'll be right out," Don said. Turning back to the others he said, "When this is over you are going to tell me everything." Then he left without giving them a chance to respond.
Charlie took Willow's hand and gave it a squeeze of reassurance. "You're probably going to have to tell him. Stubbornness is kind of a family trait."
"Yeah, I figured. We'll find a way to tell him as much as he needs to know," Willow assured him. She leaned over and gave him a quick kiss before they refocused their attention on the interrogation room.
"My client has already told you that he isn't able to tell you who his employer is," Gail was saying when Don entered the room.
"Can you at least tell us where you took the girls?" Megan asked.
"Sure," the guy smirked. "Took 'em to a safe house in Glendale. But I doubt that they're still there. My employers aren't that dumb."
"I thought that you didn't know who your employers were," Don pointed out.
"I, uh," the guy dared a glance at his lawyer, but Gail's face was a mask. "Well, I don't know who they are by name, but I'm guessing that if they're smart enough not to do the dirty work themselves, they wouldn't leave the girls at the drop spot."
"Forgive us if we don't take your word for it," Don said, dropping a notepad and pen in front of the kidnapper. "I want the address of anywhere you delivered a kidnapped girl."
With a nod from Gail, he began writing.
"The kids aren't there," Lindsey said. "No way Ms. Pendleton would have let him give out that information if they were."
"But we can at least go check it out," Colby said from behind them. "If we can verify that the girls were there, it'll give us something to go on."
"I can also use that information to try to predict the most likely place that the girls are being kept," Charlie offered.
"Wolfram & Hart prides itself on being unpredictable," Lindsey warned him.
"Nothing is truly random," Charlie said with a grin.
Willow and Charlie sat in her car across the street from the house Charlie was certain the girls were being held in. They watched as the team of FBI agents advanced on the house, bulletproof vests in place and guns raised.
"Can you sense anything?" Charlie asked, still doubtful that she could 'sense' the location of another person.
Willow concentrated and a small smile spread across her face. "It's faint, but it's there. This is it. There are wards in place to shield the girls from detection, but with so many in one place, it's strengthened their combined signal."
"You do realize that I don't fully believe you, right?" Charlie asked.
"What? Do you want to play magical Marco Polo?" Willow teasingly asked. "You go out in the city and I'll sit at home with a map and a locator spell, then call you on your cell to tell you where you are."
"And how would I know that you're not just hooked up to a GPS monitoring system?" Charlie teased back.
"I suppose you're just going to have to take my word for it," Willow said, grinning. She leaned over to kiss Charlie and he eagerly kissed her back.
The shout of "Open up, FBI" coming over the police radio sent them jumping apart.
"That's my cue," Willow said, moving to get out of the car.
"Where do you think you're going?" Charlie protested.
"The girls are going to be frightened. They'll need to see a familiar face, and that'll be me," Willow said.
"Okay, but just wait for the All Clear. Please," Charlie requested.
No sooner than he spoke several confirmations of "Clear" came over the radio. Willow grinned and hopped out of the car, running towards the house.
"Willow, what are you doing in here?" Don asked as he spotted the redhead.
"I need to assure them that it's really safe," she replied, moving into the room where six teenaged girls were huddled together.
"It's okay, it's over," she assured them. "Come on, we're going to take you home."
Slowly, they got up and one by one they gave her a hug. She had to quietly remind some of them, "Careful, remember your strength."
"Is that why we were taken?" One of the girls, Madelyn, asked.
"We'll talk about that later," Willow said, nervously eyeing Don, who was watching her closely.
The last girl was just leaving with her parents, after having agreed to come to a meeting with the other kidnapped girls at the school the following day.
"So what was that comment Madelyn Bennett made to you back at the house?" Don asked Willow. "About them being taken because of their strength?"
Willow flinched, wondering when Don was going to call her on that comment.
Charlie stepped in and said, "Upon reexamination of the data, it would appear that I had missed the fact that these girls have all shown an increased level of strength in their physicals recently. It would appear that they all have a genetic trait that enhances certain characteristics - strength, agility, balance, etc."
"And that's what your school specializes in?" Don doubtfully asked. "Strong girls?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," Willow agreed, grateful for Charlie's quick thinking. "In a regular educational environment, the girls can accidentally hurt their classmates due to this inborn additional strength. By attending a school where everyone has this same...ability...they are safer; not only from harming others, but also from getting into trouble for such accidental actions."
"Uh huh, right," Don reluctantly acknowledged, still not sure he believed her. "Well, good luck with that."
Don left the room to return to his desk, but Charlie caught up with him just outside the door. "Will you be coming over for dinner tonight?" he asked.
"Probably, why?" Don answered.
"No reason. It's just that I'm going to bring Willow over, to meet Dad," Charlie said.
"This is serious?" Don asked.
"I really like her, Don," Charlie said. "So please, now that this case is over, go easy on her."
"I'll do my best," he said with a wink.
Charlie went back to where Willow was waiting for him. "You ready to get out of here?"
"Yes, please," Willow eagerly responded.
Charlie laughed. "Do you have plans for dinner?"
"Not yet," Willow answered, looping her arm through his. "Why? You asking me out?"
"Well, I, uh, I was, um, hoping that you'd like to come back to my house, for dinner," Charlie nervously suggested.
"I'd love to," Willow said, loving the idea of them being alone for the evening.
"Great. That's great. I can't wait for you to meet my dad," Charlie said, stepping onto the elevator.
"Y-your dad?" Willow questioned. "You live with your dad?"
"Technically, he lives with me. I bought the house from him last year, but we both still live there. Don will most likely be joining us too. Is that okay?"
"Wow, a real family dinner," Willow said, trying not to sound disappointed.
"If you'd rather go out, we can do that," Charlie suggested, seeing her disappointment.
"No, I'd love to meet your dad," Willow said. "Besides, it'll be a nice change, eating in a real house."
"And what about the possibility of sleeping in one?" Charlie hesitantly asked, hoping he wasn't being too forward.
Willow grinned. "If you play your cards right."
"Have I ever mentioned that I am an excellent card player?" Charlie asked as they walked out of the building.
Copyright© January 2007