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Chapter Seven

"How long ago did you see them?" Oz asked. His normal air of calmness was fraying around the edges.                                        
Sarah raked her hair back from her face. "Ten minutes. Not even!" Her voice cracked harshly as it rose above her normal low tone. "They canít have gone far. How far could anyone get in less than ten minutes?"
"You haven't lived on the Hellmouth," Oz said. "Let's look around the school. Maybe they just took bathroom breaks or something."
They ran into Buffy, Xander, and Cordelia in the hallway, all laden under pizza boxes and cups of soda. Buffy took one look at them, and the back of her neck tingled. "What's wrong," she said quickly.
"It would seem that Willow and Giles got themselves lost," Oz explained.
"Again?"  Cordelia sighed in exasperation.
"All right, let's search the school first," Buffy said. "Xander, you and Cordelia check the gym, locker rooms, bathrooms, that type of stuff. Oz, go check all the science labs and classrooms. Maybe they wanted to do an experiment on that Orb thingie." She stopped a moment. "Wait, where's the Orb?"
Sarah's eyes went a little panicked and she ran back into the library. Buffy went with her, and they found the Orb sitting on Giles' desk. "Do you think it did something to them?" Sarah asked, eying the Orb nervously, her hands firmly behind her back.
Buffy squatted down to look at the Orb at eye level. "I don't know," she said hesitantly. She was also very careful not to touch it. "I think Giles knows enough of what he's doing not to do anything stupid with it. I was afraid someone had come looking for it and nailed them, but here it is, and here they aren't, so that theory is leaking water, too."
Oz leaned in the door, breathing hard. "They're not in the school. We just ran through the entire building."
"Giles's car is still out front," Xander reported.
Buffy's face creased in concern, and she went out into the library to kneel by the fallen chair. "No blood," she said softly. She stood up and glanced at the open book. "And no one made a grab for this, so it looks like whatever it is, is not related to that Orb."
"Unless it did something grotesque and icky to them, and now it's just sitting there waiting for us," Xander said.
"Thank you for that wonderful image," Cordy hissed under her breath. 'No wonder I have so many nightmares."
Buffy looked over at Oz. "Can you smell anything?"
He shrugged. "Not really the right time of the moon for that." He sniffed at the air thoughtfully. "They were here, and then they went out the door. After that, the scents mix too much."
"You can smell them?" Sarah asked warily.
"Oz is a werewolf," Buffy explained absently, ignoring Sarah's take of surprise. She had too much else to worry about. "All right. So they went out the door. So the Orb didn't do anything icky to them. Giles is too obsessive not to leave a note if they were just running out for an errand. So I'm betting someone took them."
"Like that's really a surprise, too," Cordelia sighed. "So now we get to run in an play calvary to the rescue?"
"Right, Cordy," Xander said patiently. "Now, where do we charge to?"
"Oh, I donít know," she said airily. "That's Buffy's line of expertise, isnít it?"
Buffy closed her eyes, fighting a real urge to strangle Cordelia. She needed every person she could get, no matter how tempting it was. "Right. Except that I don't know, either, Cordy," she said sweetly.
"Great," Cordelia threw up her hands in impatience. "So do we just sit around here waiting for someone to magically drop in and tell us?"
"Actually," a strange voice said, "I thought I'd use the door."
No one saw Buffy pull a stake out of anywhere, but she had one in her hand. A vampire was standing in the doorway, leaning against the door frame. She took a step towards it, stake raised, but the vampire shook his head. "If you kill me, dear, you wont find your friends."
Buffy gritted her teeth, but lowered her hand. "All right," she said. "Talk."
"Where's Willow?" Oz asked, almost growling it.
"The Watcher and the useless one are all right," the vampire crooned. "I bring a message. You can have them back, but we want a swap."
"For what?" Xander asked angrily.
"The usual." The vampire smiled, fangs glittering. "The Slayer, of course. You show up, we might release your friends. Either way, you face us. Slayer against Vampires. And a few other things, of course. You might even live through it. So might your friends."
"Or I could just stake you now," Buffy said pleasantly.
"I don't think so." The vampire studied his fingernails, then looked at her. "If I dont show up back there in thirty minutes, your friends die then. Although maybe we'll keep the Watcher a little longer. He might be useful. The other one, though..." he shook his head mournfully.
Oz and Sarah started for him then, with identical growls, but Buffy caught both of their arms as they went past her. She was more than strong enough to haul them back. "Where?" she asked.
"Oh, at the park, in about an hour." He smiled again. "We're all looking forward to it."
"Oh, goodie," she said brightly. "Enjoy it. It may be the last thing you look forward to."
"Perhaps," he said, and walked away.
They heard his footsteps echo for three or four steps, then nothing.
"I could follow him," Sarah said in a low voice.
Buffy gnawed at the knuckle of one finger. "No," she said hesitantly. "We know where they are. There's no point in following him. And if you end up in a fight with him and kill him, Giles and Willow are dead. No, we need to handle this differently."
"We need a plan," Xander said. He loved this part.
"I like plans," Oz said. "Especially the part where we save Willow."
"Well, you always seem to favor the direct approach," Cordelia said. "You know, the one where Buffy charges in and saves the day."
"And gets Willow and Giles killed if we arenít careful," Buffy snapped. "This is not just staking a vamp in the cemetary. There's a little more at stake here."
"So someone needs to be able to sneak in and get them out before the fighting starts," Xander said.
"Yes, getting them out would be good," Oz agreed. "I'll do the sneaking."
"A distraction would be better," Buffy thought out loud. "Something to cover you while you're doing the sneaking. Especially if one of them is hurt. You'll need all hell breaking loose to get in and them out."
"I can take care of the distraction," Sarah said.
"How?" Buffy asked.
Sarah shook her head. "Let me handle that. But I'll need some way to get close enough, and I donít think two of us sneaking in is a good plan."
"Oh, great. Why don't you just walk right in, then?" Cordelia said sarcastically.
"Good idea," Sarah said lightly.
"I was kidding."
"I wasnít." Sarah looked steadily at Buffy. "You get me close enough, and I'll create your distraction." She smiled tightly. "I promise, it'll be a good one."
"Let me think on that a moment longer," Buffy told her. "Now the rest of you..."
"Here's where I come in." Xander clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "Weapons planner. Okay, Buff, you know where Giles keeps the holy water?"
"Yeah, sure. Time to try out those water guns? I've got some vials at home too. We can stop on the way."
"Good. Now, we've got two crossbows, right? Yours and the one here?"
"Three actually," Buffy said. "Giles has one at his place that I'm not allowed to touch. We'll pick it up along the way, too."
"Even better." Xander thought a minute. "Right. Set me and Cordy up with the crossbows and as many bolts as we have. Cordy can reload for me, and I'll pop 'em off, give you enough cover to get in the thick of the fighting. We'll set up those water balloons, too, and hide them. Oz, after you rescue Giles and Willow, get back to the pile of water ballons and start netting those in. We'll have to dilute the holy water to have enough, so be prepared for it not being as effective. What we're trying for is to slow them down so someone can get in a stake them. Whoever's closest. When we're out of bolts, Cordy and I will come down and help. Buffy, you do...." he hesitated for a moment, then shrugged. "Do Slayer stuff. And Sarah will do whatever she has planned for a distraction."
"You have to get me close enough," Sarah reminded.
Buffy paced for a moment. Her eye fell on the Orb, and she stopped to look at it, her head cocked. "Sarah," she said lightly, "how close do you want to get?"

"As close as possible. Right in their faces, if you can do it."

"I think I can." Buffy smiled. It was not really a very pleasant smile. "I think I have an idea."

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