Willow and Anya sat on the concrete steps, matching expressions of dejection marring their features. They'd rushed down the passage, away from the blocked pool room, only to find that the door they'd originally entered was closed. No amount of effort had forced it open, and several trips back and forth between the two barred exits had revealed no other escapes. They'd been sitting for what seemed like hours, though it was barely thirty minutes after they'd given up when the door at the top of the stairs slid partially open with a click.
Anya shot to her feet.
"Wait!" Willow hissed. "We don't know what's out there."
"Well, what are we supposed to do, hide here in the stairway forever?" Anya snapped back.
"No, but maybe if this door is open, the other one is too, and we can get Ta-get the others."
"And what if while we're checking the other door, this one closes again?"
Willow frowned at the thought, her mind instantly puzzling through their options. She could wedge the flashlight in the opening, but then they wouldn't be able to see their way back down the dark hallway. She glanced at her canvas sneakers and Anya's Manolo pumps...either would easily be crushed by the steel door.
"You go; I'll guard the door."
"Are you sure?" Willow asked, hesitant to separate. As little comfort as Anya was, her presence was still preferable to solitude.
"Just make it quick," Anya replied.
Willow nodded and sped down the stairs before pausing at the bottom. With a last glance back at Anya, who was peeking through the open slit in the doorway, she turned the corner. Halfway down the hall she could see the steel plate still firmly in place, but she crept up to it anyway and tapped out ‘hello' in Morse code with the flashlight. She waited several minutes and repeated the call, but no reply came.
Maybe they got out and are waiting upstairs, she hoped; the comforting thought not quite reaching her stomach, which churned with worry as she retraced her steps to Anya.
"No luck," she called out from the bottom, but when she looked up, Anya was not in sight. "Dammit!"
Willow took the stairs two at a time, slowing only when she reached the top, where the door had been slid halfway into the wall. She pulled back the tapestry slowly and inched her way out into the manor, which now seemed blindingly bright after the darkness of the basement. The sunlight streaming in through the front windows was almost comforting in its cheerfulness, but the silence that greeted her filled her with dread.
"Willow? Is that you?"
The redhead laughed out loud at Anya's voice, coming from the Great Room. She wiped the tears that had sprung to her eyes and joined the other woman, who was standing behind the bar inspecting bottles.
"The door could have closed. You were supposed to wait," Willow argued, but her happiness at finding Anya diminished her anger.
"You're fine," the blonde replied distractedly, her eyes lighting up as she found what she was looking for and triumphantly set the bottle of amaretto on the bar top. She sniffed an empty shot glass and filled it to the brim with the amber liquid. "I just realized the time; I need to take my medication."
Willow absently glanced at her watch, which read 11:45, and back to Anya. "That's your medication?"
"Don't be silly," Anya said, waving a prescription bottle at the redhead and palming two pills.
"Are you sure you should be mixing those with alcohol?" Willow asked, even as she decided that a drink wasn't such a bad idea and joined Anya at the bar. "Any ice back there?"
Anya nodded, leaning down to open the mini-fridge and scooping several cubes into a tumbler that she placed before the redhead. Willow grabbed a bottle and splashed a generous amount of scotch into the glass. Anya slipped the pills onto her tongue and raised the shot glass.
"Cheers," she slurred, tossing back the drink.
"To your health," Willow toasted in response before taking a more modest sip of her beverage and turning back toward the hall. "Do you think we should look for the others or wait here in case they get out on their own? I guess we could write a note and leave it, but then they might come looking for us and we could keep missing each other. What do you think?"
Willow looked back when Anya made no reply. The blonde had a hand raised to her forehead and was clutching the bar with the other.
"Anya? Are you okay?"
Anya swayed, nearly toppling over before Willow got to her side and guided her to the couch. The redhead raced to the bar and read the label on the prescription bottle.
"You mixed Valium with alcohol? Are you insane?"
"I don't...feel...," Anya mumbled, her voice thin and wavering as she tried to stand. She clutched her chest and fell to the floor in convulsions.
Willow was crouched at her side in an instant. Anya gasped for breath, her chest rising and falling rapidly, panic etched on her face.
"You're going to be fine," Willow soothed unconvincingly. "Anya, you need to calm down and breathe."
Anya's eyes rolled back in her head as she slipped into unconsciousness. Willow grabbed the prone woman's shoulders and shook her forcefully, but Anya lay limp. Willow tilted the blonde's head back and began CPR. She lost track of time as she alternated between blowing breaths into Anya's mouth and pumping her chest, counting out each push. Her throat was raw with suppressed sobs when she finally sat back on her calves in defeat.
Willow gently closed Anya's lifeless eyes and struggled to her feet, grimacing as tingling pain shot down her cramped legs. She looked nervously around the cavernous room and sniffled, her lips trembling as she hugged her arms around herself. She heard a heavy muffled sound, like metal scraping against stone, from the bowels of the house. Glancing in the direction of the front door, she contemplated making a break for it.
Giles said there'd be a boat on Friday. I could hide out in the woods until then. It's only one night. Or is today Wednesday? No, it's Thursday, I'm positive.
Willow took a shuffling step toward the door and stopped.
I can't just leave. I promised Tara...and she wouldn't leave me. Unless she's already...no. Not gonna think that. She's fine. I just need to find her.
The redhead grabbed the flashlight she'd placed on the bar and steeled her resolve. She walked back to the hall, ripped the tapestry from the wall and started down the steps. It came as no surprise when she found the barrier to the pool room again raised and little more when her flashlight beam fell on Oz's body, lying next to another open door. She focused on crossing the room, eyes locked on the door, looking neither right nor left, afraid of what else she might see.
Shining her light down the darkened passage, she stepped inside. The door predictably slammed shut behind her, and she did not so much as twitch at the noise. However, in the next breath came a sound that chilled her to the bone.
A single gunshot reverberated through her ears.
Willow ran toward the sound.