Buffy squirmed, missing the big tables in the Sunnydale High library and the Magic Box. At the Hyperion she had a designated war room for sitting down as a group and spreading out papers and pictures to pore over, but here they were confined to Faith’s kitchen. It was surprisingly clean, but not designed for more than two chairs to be pulled up around its little square table.
Right now there were four, though, and nobody else was complaining about it, so Buffy kept her focus on their work. Faith and Spike had already been busy collecting information on the murders which had happened so far, and Angel had gone into detective mode, speculating about possible connections and asking questions that Buffy wouldn’t have thought to ask.
Profiles on the victims were all over the place, with no clearly noticeable trait shared by more than any two of them. But Faith had spoken to a few of the victims’ relatives and found they had been perhaps overly paranoid about werewolf attacks, and Spike’s queries in the underworld had given him the same impression. In addition, three of the victims had been quoted in articles about Cleveland’s residents and their dismay over the supernatural entities now revealed to be living among them.
“Look here,” said Spike, pointing to a news clipping and reading from it. “‘I hate it. I’m afraid I’ll get eaten if I even go outside at night.’ Could be someone reading didn’t like the sound of that.”
Buffy frowned. “A disgruntled werewolf? Doesn’t really jive with what we’ve got so far on the Wolf and his toxoplasma.”
“Yeah,” said Angel, staring intently at the article, “which would work in his favor. People getting killed for being too vocal about werewolves sows chaos, and puts us on the wrong trail. Not to mention he could infect a werewolf to use as his weapon as easily as he could anyone else.”
The last time Buffy had talked to Giles, he had told her the same thing: anyone who was human or had once been human was vulnerable to the Senior Partner’s influence. His pawns might be forgotten after completing their tasks, like Howell seemed to be so far, or they might keep hosting the Wolf, unaware, until he had disposed of or wholly corrupted them.
“Most of these people died in their own homes,” said Faith, pointing to some of the dots scattered around the map. “But there are a few locations we can take you to if you think you can sniff anything out of them.”
Before Buffy could ask Angel, or answer for both of them, everyone looked up as a voice behind her said, “I get first sniff, okay?” Buffy swiveled out of her chair: the voice was Willow.
Four voices greeted her in various shades of enthusiasm, but Willow held up her hands and said, “No time for hugs. Also I’m intangible.” As if to prove it, she waded directly into the table through the chair that Buffy had just vacated, so that the map was at her stomach.
“Yeah, about that,” said Faith. “I didn’t even think you knew where I lived. Is this just a thing that’s gonna be happening from now on?”
“Oz gave me your address. Doorbells are not so much at the moment.” She peered down at the map. “Okay, everyone start taking notes. You see this?” Her finger traced a path that connected each of the murder locations in a wide arc. “Not random. The killer is setting up a Fibonacci spiral.”
Spike grumbled low, “It’s worse than we thought. Maths are involved.”
Willow ignored him. “I’ve seen spells based on this sequence before. It doesn’t have any power on its own, but it can be used in a ritual, like material ingredients, or planetary movement. So what you can assume is that the victims were picked for where they were, not who they were. And I didn’t get the full list of dates and times but I’d bet large sums that Fibonacci applies there, too.”
“So they were all sacrifices?” asked Angel. “What kind of ritual is it?”
“No idea, but if you’re sure it’s the Wolf, you can expect the den mother of all bad days. Now, ready for the good news?”
Buffy perked up. “Oh how I love you, Will.”
“Mutual, sweetie.” Willow traced the curve on the map again, but this time continued it past the marker dots. “We can predict the exact place and time of the upcoming murders, and the final stage of the ritual, and prevent the everloving heck out of them.” Her fingertip stopped, dipping slightly beneath the table’s surface, at the spot where the coil had completed.
Faith half-rose from her chair to get a better look. “Hang on. That’s Satellite 3.”
“What’s that?” asked Angel.
“Bar,” Spike answered, with the same perplexed expression as Faith. “Down on Rye St., not far from here. Good fried pickles. You mean to say that’s where the ritual will go off?”
“I just came from there,” Willow confirmed. “Werewolf hotspot, Oz says.”
Buffy leaned on her elbows and inspected the unfamiliar place names on the map. “So how do werewolves tie in?”
Willow shook her head regretfully. “Figuring that one out is going to have to be your job. But remember, even if the Wolf is the one responsible for the killings, he’s doing it by infecting humans. You’ve still got a culprit to find.”
“A werewolf culprit would kinda make sense, yo,” Faith pointed out.
“We’ll sit down with the Cleveland pack leaders as soon as we can,” said Angel. “Willow, can you tell us anything else about how this infection works? Is there a cure?”
Willow raised an eyebrow at him, as if surprised he would ask such a dumb question. “It’s not a biological condition. It’s not magic, either. It’s a Senior Partner Special, so if anyone has a cure, it’s a Senior Partner. Get one of those guys on our side and we’ll see what we can do.” She took a step back, so that she appeared to be standing around the table with them instead of fused with it. “The best thing to hope for is that it flushes out naturally after the host performs whatever go-fetch the Wolf wanted done. And it shouldn’t affect the memory, so anyone who’s killed someone knows they did it.”
Buffy glanced from Willow to the others, and ended up directing her next question mostly at Angel. “What’s more likely? That the Wolf picks a different killer each time to throw off the investigation, or that he puts it all on one person so they’re less likely to confess?”
Angel was silent for a moment, then rubbed his chin and looked up. “Howell hasn’t even done anything that bad, and he’s already a potential wrench in the works just by cooperating with us. I don’t think any strategic overlord would allow too many like him to walk free. Willow, what could the Wolf be working right now? Aside from the human sacrifices?”
Willow seemed to be putting some effort into maintaining a neutral tone. “Yeah, that’s the other thing. He’s going to want a body. A permanent one.”
The idea of an innocent man being possessed by a Senior Partner for the rest of his life seemed to spread through the group, one by one. Nobody voiced any questions, but Willow filled up the silence anyway, saying, “Any of his targets could become his host. And, honestly, probably already has, although it may take time to manifest. If your Howell guy keeps doing stuff without knowing why, or if the stuff gets worse and he starts finding ways to justify it...he’s probably the one. I’m not telling you what to do about it, but: no cure. Just keep that in mind.”
It wasn’t going to be hard to keep that in mind, Buffy thought. She doubted she’d be able to think about anything else for a while. “Can you point us to the next murder?” she asked.
“I’ll have to get the exact times and places of the other ones and do some calculations, but give me the approximates right now.”
“Three days ago and twelve days before that,” Angel answered promptly.
Willow nodded. “Good, then you have at least four days. I’ll be in touch.” Her projected form flickered, just enough to be noticed by someone who was looking directly at her.
Faith cleared her throat, sounding vexed. “Yeah, hey, Willow. Is this not worth hauling your actual body out here to help us?”
Even Spike looked surprised that she would venture there, but Willow only glared a little and said, “Look, you don’t have an arcane disaster monopoly here. I’m doing what I can but I’m stretched skinny. Email me.” She faded and vanished almost instantly, and Buffy couldn’t tell if she had meant to say goodbye to them first or not.
After that, there wasn’t much left for the four of them to discuss without her. Buffy and Angel volunteered to patrol, and Faith and Spike left the house with them, locking the door behind them. “Got a few more sources to check with,” explained Spike. “Most of ‘em folks you’d scare away if you came with us.”
He and Faith set off down the street together, and Buffy slipped her hand into Angel’s as they went walking in the other direction. It was a pleasant neighborhood, the street lined on each side with houses that were small, but well-kept. “They seem to be doing well,” said Buffy, the only positive commentary she could come up with at the moment.
“Mm,” Angel agreed. “That doesn’t bother you, does it?”
“No. Not anymore. They didn’t get this for free.” She sighed deeply. “Willow looks worn out. She hadn’t told me much about what she’s up to lately. If she’s going to keep doing everything over astral projection anyway, I wish she’d at least leave her body with us.”
Angel hesitated, then said, “Sounds like she talked to Oz before us. I’ll ask him about it when I see him.”
“Thanks.” Buffy smiled, genuinely. Talking to someone about something personal was an offer that Angel didn’t make lightly.
Ten minutes’ walk took them out of the neighborhood and into an area where they were more likely to find a vampire if any happened to be out tonight. It was a rare advantage to be hunting in a place where they wouldn’t be recognized, and Buffy kept her eyes and ears open, hoping for the satisfaction of a good slay. Before long, though, they fell back into conversation, and unusually, Angel was the one who started it.
“When I went to see Lorne before we left, he accused me of making other people do my dirty work. At Wolfram & Hart it was always about the lesser of two evils, every single time. I don’t think anyone’s ever really forgiven me for the choices I made.”
Buffy didn’t have to stop to consider her response. “I have.”
He squeezed her hand. “Coming back to you is the one thing I know I’m doing right. From now on we make these choices together. If Howell is hosting the Wolf, you’re the only one I trust to decide what to do about it.”
“Angel, don’t elevate me like that. I don’t always know what to do. I’ve got a long log of my own mistakes to dwell on.”
“Then I forgive you for those,” said Angel, “so talk to me if you think you’re about to make another.”
For the briefest moment, Buffy felt like everything had fallen into place. If she could hold onto it a little longer, she might begin to understand how to live.
There were more people on the street now than they had been seeing so far, and Buffy realized that many of them were clustered around the only building on the block still lit for business. Overhead was an old-fashioned neon sign with a cosmic design and the name “Satellite 3”.
“This is the place that Willow was talking about,” Buffy realized out loud. “The center of the spiral.”
“Well,” said Angel. “Let’s go in.”