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Chapter 2


Los Angelus, summer of 2003


Absently, Tara moved the food around the plate with her fork as she waited for Adam to get off the cell phone. They had arrived in L.A. less than two hours ago and they'd already run out of leads.

The first place they had checked was Angel Investigations. Luckily, they were listed in the phonebook as Tara didn't know the address. But, as they pulled up in front of the building, Tara realised she'd just used up her luck quota for the day. A 'For Rent' sign was taped to one of the windows.

"It seems your vampire has closed up shop," Adam had said, reading the sign. "Do you have any idea where we should look next?"

"No…I didn't know him very well…I met him only once, at Buffy's funeral."

"Hmm…watch the street, would you?" Puzzled, Tara had turned to watch the passers-by, only to hear a sharp click a moment later. She glanced over her shoulder and found Adam slipping in through the now open door. "Stay here, I'll have a quick look around and see what I can find."

He had found nothing; the place had been swept clean of Angel's presence. So now she sat in the restaurant of a Hotel, playing with her food as Adam made a few phone calls. She wasn't sure what he expected to find, but Adam had insisted that everyone left a paper trail - even an ensouled vampire.

Tara wondered what else had changed over the last year, her mind dwelling on the crater that was once Sunnydale. They were alive…she was alive…she'd know if Willow was dead, wouldn't she? Sighing, Tara admitted to herself she wouldn't. Like her magic, her ability to sense her lover's wellbeing had been severely affected by her first death. The power was still there, she could feel it if she concentrated; but her ability to tap into it had disappeared as surely as her previous life. It was if her inner pathways had been realigned when she died and they now flowed in a different direction.

She had once cautiously breached the subject with Adam, careful not to go into too much detail about her previous powers. She had swiftly found out that, although Adam could accept the idea of vampires existing, he was very sceptical about her insistence that other demonic creatures existed as well. And when she brought up the Hellmouth…well, he stopped laughing eventually.

Surprisingly, after a lot of humming and hawing; Adam had eventually admitted they were a few immortals who could be termed as witches. Excited, she had questioned him but quickly found out that Adam's idea of what a witch could do and hers were vastly different. Nevertheless, she kept on prodding him for information; who were they, did he know him?

Tara's heart had sunk as she saw the shutters go down on his face. "I've met three that I've known of" he muttered distantly. "One I don't get on with, the other two are...dead."

Seeing the flash of pain in his eyes, Tara decided to drop the subject.

But she had continued to investigate the problem without Adam; turning to his friend, Joe, for help. She swiftly found out a few things she wish she hadn't. She found out about Cassandra. She knew Joe had left out a lot of the details, and he had been suspiciously vague about when Cassandra and Adam first met, but he did give her the general gist of the story. It was then she realised Adam had been less than forthcoming about his past. She had her suspicions before, of course; but never in her wildest dreams would she have guessed the scope of his deception. One thing was for sure, he was a lot older than the two centuries he had admitted to.

Needless to say, Joe's revelations had left her shaken. Even Joe's censored version made a horrific tale. Adam could sometimes be a little cold and unfeeling, but never in a million years would she have guessed he was capable of such an evil act. It definitely caused her to examine Adam's cynical and pragmatic nature more closely. This was the man who was her teacher, could she trust him?

Not for the first time, Tara had questioned her decision to leave Sunnydale with Adam. Who was this man in whom she had entrusted her life? Every time she thought she'd him figured out, he said something which made her realise he was a stranger to her; and now this… Quickly she had gone over her options. The first thing that had sprung to mind was confronting him and demanding the truth, but she had spent enough time with Adam to know he wouldn't react very favourably. With a sigh, she had come to the conclusion she was more than a little afraid of her teacher.

Tara smiled ruefully as she remembered those few days. By the time Amanda had arrived in town, she was ready to pack her bags and flee to Sunnydale; her fear of Willow's reaction to her newfound immortality momentarily overridden by the disturbing new revelations about her teacher. Even now she wondered if she should have; at least would have been at Willow's side when whatever happened…happened.

But she hadn't of course. Instead, Amanda had swept into town and, seeing Tara's distraught state, took her out for lunch.

"So…are you going to tell me what's on your mind, or shall I have to pry it out of you?" Amanda had asked as their plates were cleared away and coffee was placed on the table.

"Oh…it's nothing, just wondering about things in general."

"Adam giving you a hard time?" Amanda had asked astutely, "Don't worry, dear; his bite is worse than his bite. You just need to learn to stand up for yourself a bit more…"

And then it all poured out. She had told Amanda everything. About Willow, about Sunnydale, about how she wasn't sure if she made the right decision when she left. She even ended up telling her about her conversations with Adam and Joe. She also told her about Cassandra.

"Aaaah," Amanda had sighed knowingly. "I see. Well, darling, I don't know what to say except that was then and this is now. People change, Tara, immortals change. The Adam you know and the Adam Cassandra knew are two different people. I'll tell you a little secret, I am over a thousand years old; and the person I am now bears very little resemblance to the young woman I was when I met my first death. An immortal changes with the centuries, they have to in order to survive; it's as simple as that."

Tara recalled with amusement her stunned reaction to Amanda's age. She had known Amanda was a lot older than she looked; she was an immortal after all - but a thousand years. "How old is Adam," she had blurted out unthinkingly.

Amanda had smiled knowingly, her voice filled with gentle reproof. "That is for Adam to tell you, not I, Tara."

Taking the hint, Tara had changed the subject. "I don't suppose you know anything about immortal witches?" she had asked wistfully, not really expecting an affirmative answer. She was pleasantly surprised.

"As a matter of fact, I do." A sad smile lit up Amanda's face as she spoke. "Her name was Rebecca and she was my teacher…" In a soft voice, Amanda had told Tara about her teacher; about Rebecca's life, her death, the Methuselah stone and, because one thing always leads to another, Amanda told her about Alexa.

As Amanda explained about Alexa's illness and Adam's last, desperate bid to save her life, Tara began to realise what Amanda had meant when she said Adam was now a very different person to the man Cassandra knew. Which was what Amanda intended, of course; Tara had seen the watchful look in her eyes as she spoke. But it didn't matter because, as Amanda told her more and more about those faithful few days, Tara began to understand; for all Adam's faults; he was still very, very human…

"Earth calling Tara MacLay."

"Huh?" Glancing up from plate, Tara caught the amused glint in Adam's eyes.

"Are you worried there might be something hiding under those carrots?" he asked teasingly, "Your errant vampire, perhaps?"

"Nah, not Angel's style," she said lightly, "Personally, I suspect he's lurking in the coffee pot; somewhere nice and dark to brood…"

Adam quirked an eyebrow, "Is this brooding thing habitual?" he asked as he poured a cup from the aforementioned coffee pot. "Because I have to tell you; the more you tell me about this guy, the more I'm beginning to suspect Mac is leading a double life."

Tara grinned; she had never met Duncan MacLeod but between what Adam, Joe and Amanda had said, she had formed a clear picture in her mind of what he was like. "Let's put it this way," she said, "My friend Xander used to call him 'brood-boy - when he wasn't busy calling him dead-boy, of course!"

"Oh lovely," Adam grumbled, "I can't wait to meet him. I can already feel the angst ridden atmosphere. Tell me, have you ever heard of a law firm called Wolfram and Hart?"

"Why? What have you found out?" asked Tara, sitting bolt upright in her chair. "Have they hurt Angel? Is he okay? Oh goddess, have they killed him?"

"And from that, I will presume you have," Adam said dryly, "Relax, he's okay. But, from you've just said, I'm not sure if this is such a good thing."

Puzzled, Tara frowned worriedly. "What do you mean?"

"Well…according to my sources, Angel Investigations pulled up stakes a couple of weeks ago and moved into Wolfram and Hart. Your vampire friend is now the CEO of their L.A. branch."

"That's impossible," Tara gasped, "Wolfram and Hart are evil, he would never…oh."

"Oh?" Adam prompted. "What is it you're not telling me, Tara?"

"His soul, he must have lost his soul," Tara said softly, her mind reeling with what that might mean. Shuddering, she remembered what Willow had told her about the last time he'd lost his soul; it wasn't pretty. If Angelus was back, things could get very nasty. Did he have something to do with what happened at Sunnydale? Tara felt a cold ball of anger rise inside her, "If he's touched one hair on Willow's head…"

"How on earth could someone lose a soul?" Adam demanded incredulously, "It's not as if he could leave it behind him on a bus…or could he?"

Tara sighed; she had deliberately played down certain aspects of her previous life once she'd realised Adam wasn't too enamoured with her tales of the supernatural. After the little incident when she described the Hellmouth, she began to censor what she told him. But because Adam knew of the existence of vampires, she saw no harm in telling him about Angel and his uniqueness among the undead; that he was the only vampire who had a soul. With some difficulty, he had wrapped his mind around the idea of a vampire with a conscience; begrudgingly taking her at her word when she insisted it was true. "Well, I suppose there is always one to disprove the rule," he had muttered.

Tara hadn't been able to summon the courage to tell him there was a little bit more to the story That would mean explaining the gypsy curse and she was more than slightly convinced that Adam was humouring her half the time. She had once overheard him speaking to Joe on the phone, voicing aloud his worries about her mental state.

"Sometimes I don't think she's all there, Joe," he had said, "I think her experiences in that blasted town have left her with some severe psychological problems. You should have seen the place; it was practically overrun with vampires…" There was a short pause as Adam listened to Joe on the other end. "No, Joe, just because they are vampires, it does not necessarily follow there are demons and Hellmouths too!" Having heard enough, Tara had quietly shut her bedroom door.

Now, as Adam stared at expectantly, she wondered where to start. "It was a curse," she said haltingly. "He killed a gypsy in the nineteenth century and her tribe cursed him with a soul so he would suffer with a guilty conscience."

"Okaaay," Adam drawled as he slouched back in his chair and folded his arms, "You've got my attention, what else?"

"The curse had a clause," Tara explained, "One moment of perfect happiness and puff, no more soul."

"And you're thinking Angel has been a very happy boy recently," Adam murmured thoughtfully.

Tara nodded silently

"So what do you want to do now?" he asked.

"I still want to see him," Tara admitted, "It'll be dangerous but he's our only lead."

Are you sure you want to do this, Tara?" Adam asked gently. "You can change your mind anytime you want, you know. All you have to do is say the word and I'll book the first flight out of here."

Tara smiled sadly. She knew what Adam was really asking; did she really want to know what had happened to Willow and the others. "Yes, I'm sure," she assured him.

"Right, then," Adam muttered. "Well, their offices will be closed by now so we'll wait until morning. It'll probably be for the best, anyway; daylight will give us an advantage."

Tara sincerely doubted it, Willows description of Angelus still burned in her mind. "Um, I did mention he was a master vampire, didn't I?" she said.

"And what, exactly, is a master vampire when it's at home?" Adam asked impatiently. "Don't tell me he's able to turn himself into a bat or something?"

"Oh no," Tara said hastily, "That's a myth - well, sort of a myth. Willow told me she once saw Dracula do it - but Angel can't do anything like that. When I say he's a master, I mean he's older, stronger and smarter than the usual vampire…oh, and he'll probably have minions. We'll need stakes and crosses…and lots of holy water…" her voice trailed off as she saw the expression on Adam's face. "What?"

"Dracula," he asked, his face a picture of disbelief.

"Don't ask," Tara sighed. "It's a long story."

Muttering something undistinguishable under his breath, Adam got to his feet. "I'm going to get some air," he murmured. "I'll be back in a few hours."

Tara watched silently as he stalked out of the room, a rueful twist to her smile. She should have seen that coming. Adam had taken a lot of these 'walks' since they'd met. Signing the bill for the meal, she stood; she'd wait for him upstairs. Hopefully, he will have cooled down enough to listen when he returned



Paris, Summer of 2002


"What do you mean he's gone?" Methos hissed, glaring at Amanda as she draped herself on the barge's couch.

Amanda shrugged. "I mean he's gone, Adam" she drawled. "As in absent, away, not here - aren't you going to introduce me to your new friend?"

Methos looked over his shoulder and saw Tara still standing in the doorway. "It's safe to come in, Tara," he said, waving her in, "This is Amanda, an old friend of Duncan's."

Shyly, the young woman stepped into the Barges main living area and Amanda got her feet, flashing a warm smile. "How do you do, Tara; my name is Amanda Darieux," she said, taking Tara's suitcase from her hands. "Take a seat; you must be tired after your long journey…"

Methos glared at Amanda suspiciously. "How did you know her journey was long?" he demanded. "I haven't even told you where I was."

"Joe phoned me," Amanda said simply. "Or should I say he phoned Duncan and got me instead."

"I told him not to do that," Methos said irritably.

"Well, maybe he felt it wasn't fair to let you shanghai Duncan like that," Amanda said with a shrug. "Its all academic now, he's not here."

Methos threw himself onto the couch and irritably gestured at a seat as he noticed Tara hovering at the edge of the room. She perched on the edge of an armchair and quietly looked around, her intelligent eyes taking everything in. Turning his attention to Amanda, he frowned as he saw her poking her head into the fridge; surely she wasn't about to attempt to cook? He breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled out three bottles of beer from the fridge; a narrow escape from Amanda's cooking skills - most of her concoctions ended up stuck to the bottom of the pan. As she rooted around for the bottle opener in a drawer, Methos found himself wondering what the hell she was doing here. The last he'd heard, she was running a club in Canada; where was it again? Toronto, Quebec, Vancouver…

A bottle slid into view and Methos grabbed it out of Amanda's hand. "What are you doing in Paris, Amanda?" he asked before taking a swig.

"I felt the need to see the city again," she murmured, handing Tara a bottle before taking a seat beside Methos on the couch.

Methos smirked. "You mean you felt the need to see Duncan again," he corrected, "Who's after you this time?"

"What makes you think…"

"Because day comes after night and water is wet, Amanda," he murmured, sarcasm dripping off every word. "Who is it?"

"It's not an immortal, if that's what you're thinking," she said with a sigh, "Just your normal, mundane hood."

"He can't be that mundane if you left the country to avoid him," Methos pointed out.

"What can I say, he has a mean streak," Amanda admitted. "I thought it would be a good idea to disappear for a few weeks while the local police take care of him….I've a friend on the force."

"Handy," Methos said, raising an eyebrow.

"It can be," she said with a shrug. "So…how's life? I see you've acquired a student…"

"She's not my student, " Methos interjected quickly. "I'm just….keeping an eye on her until I find someone willing to teach her."

"Like Duncan," Amanda concluded, "I think you might be out of luck, Adam."

"Tell me about it," Methos muttered as he eyed Tara sitting in the armchair. She was studiously pretending not to listen to their conversation as she took a polite sip of her beer; smart kid. Sitting back in the couch, he looked at Amanda speculatively…

"The answer is no," she murmured.

"I didn't ask a question," Methos protested.

"But you were going to!" she countered. "You found her, she's your responsibility."

"Last time I looked, there were only three rules to the game, Amanda. There wasn't a clause which said 'Oh, by the way; if you come across any new immortals on your travels, they're your problem'."

"I said responsibility, not problem, and I don't see why you're making such a big deal about this. She seems to be a nice, intelligent girl - aren't you, Darling," she added, throwing Tara a wink, "It's not as if you have a busy schedule, Adam. Taking on a student won't kill you!"

"I wouldn't bet on it!" Methos grumbled.

Tara, silent until now, cleared her throat. "I'll be fine by myself, honest," she murmured, "I know you think I need a teacher but I don't. I've been thinking about this on the flight here and I've decided I'm not going to participate in the 'game'."

Methos and Amanda sighed in unison. "I've already explained this to you, Tara," Methos muttered. "You can't opt out of the game, its part of being an immortal."

"I can't see why not," Tara protested, "I mean, you said Holy ground was safe…"

The image of Darius' dead body sprawled over the altar of his church rose in Methos' mind. "Even Holy ground isn't totally safe, Tara; they're ways around that rule. Trust me on this."

"But its murder," Tara said, distress showing in her voice, "I don't think I could live with that…and my friends…"

And there lay the true crux of the problem, Methos realised; her friends. His mind flew back to their discussion in the motel in Sunnydale. At first, Tara had insisted she should go home; saying that her friends would take her immortality in their stride. They had seen stranger things in their life, after all. But when he explained the mechanics of the game, she suddenly fell silent. Without a word of protest, she quietly accompanied him to L.A. and, after he had acquired a false passport for her, onto Paris. Now, for the first time, he gained an insight into her sudden change of mind. She didn't think her friends would have a problem with her immortality, but she did think her friends would have a problem with her being a murderer.

Amanda nudged him discreetly, "Say something," she whispered under her breath.

And, at that moment, Methos knew he was doomed. Whether he liked it or not, he had just acquired a student.

"I'm going for a walk," he said abruptly.



L.A., Summer of 2003
BR>
Once out of Tara's line of sight, Methos made a beeline for the lift. He fully intended to leave the hotel for a few hours, but not without his laptop. Hurriedly, he stabbed at the button and shuffled his feet impatiently as he waited for the lift to arrive. After what seemed an age, the doors eventually opened and Methos slipped inside. Mercifully, the elevator was empty so he didn't have to bother holding in the tirade going on his mind. "This is it, old man," he muttered, as he pressed his floor's number. "The moment you were avoiding for the last year. I knew we should have stayed in Paris." Cursing under his breath, he stepped onto his floor and hurried to his room. He knew Tara wouldn't linger in the restaurant and he didn't want to see her until he was ready. He needed a few hours to think.

Grabbing his laptop, he rushed to the elevator and cursed once again when he noticed it was on its way up from the ground floor. Knowing his luck, Tara was probably in it; if he didn't move quickly, she would sense his presence. Not stopping to think twice, he ran to the stairs and took them two at a time.

It was with a breath of relief he stepped onto the pavement outside; at last, a moment alone to gather his thoughts. Weaving his way through the pedestrian traffic, he searched for a place to grab a quiet beer. He eventually spotted the perfect spot a few blocks from the hotel; a little pub called McGovern's. Stepping inside, he let his eyes adjust to the dimmed light and, seeing that all the tables were taken, made his way to the bar. Taking a stool, he ordered a Guinness and opened his laptop. Connecting it to his mobile, he typed his enquiry into the search engine and pressed return.

They were 278 entries.

Ah well, he supposed he should start with the official website. Clicking the link, he scrolled down Wolfram and Hart's homepage. Near the bottom, there was a small paragraph detailing how their L.A. office was under new management. Alongside it was a small photo of a serious but looking young man staring confidently at the lens. A quick glance at the photo's caption confirmed his suspicions. This was Angel.

At the end of the paragraph there was another link and, with a quick click, he followed it. A new page opened up on screen and Methos found himself staring at yet another photo of the vampire, this time flanked by a number of other people. The young man certainly wasn't camera shy. He scanned the caption under the picture and quirked an eyebrow as he recognised one of the names. Tara had mentioned a Wesley Wyndham Price when they were discussing Angel Investigations earlier. Quickly, Methos examined the photo again, his eyes shying away from the green skinned creature standing to Angel's left; one supernatural entity at a time, than you very much.

Sighing, he scrolled down the page. Apparently the new management were taking the L.A. branch in a whole new direction; how delightful. Cynically, he read the contents as he recalled what Tara had told him. He didn't know what to believe; perhaps things weren't as black and white as she thought. Again, he looked at the photo. If he'd lost his soul, as Tara believed, it would explain his sudden turn to the dark side, but it didn't explain why Wesley Price had joined him…maybe he'd been turned. Would that be the sort of thing a soul-free Angel would do? And what exactly was so evil about Wolfram and Hart anyway? He knew it was a law form…but still.

Frowning, he took a sip of his beer and looked at the search engine's page once more. Scanning the list of sites, he eventually settled on one entitled 'The Wolf and the Hart: Enter the Darkness'. It took him a matter of moments to realise he had stumbled across a conspiracy buff. Some of the stories bordered on the crazed. The claim L.A. had spent a week under darkness, for instance; if something like that had actually happened, surely it would have been all over the international papers…

On impulse, he did a quick search on sun eclipses in California, and his eyebrows rose in disbelief as the page filled up with hundreds of entries. Uneasily, he sifted through them. Some of entries were personal web pages, some of them were online journals; but all of them spoke of the week the sun went dark in Los Angelus. There were also a number of disturbing references to a woman called Jasmine.

What had he gotten himself into?

Closing his laptop, he finished off his pint and left the money on the counter. For the last year, he had avoided talking to Tara about her past. Partly because he thought it wasn't a good idea encouraging her to dwell on her life before her first death, and partly because he wasn't sure he'd like what he would hear. Now, he wondered if that had been such a good idea.

He shook his head as he remembered the little she had told him about her life in Sunnydale. Some of the stories had been so outrageous he hadn't known what to think. At first, he'd believed the trauma of her first death had seriously unhinged her mind. But, as he spent more time with her, he revised his theory. Tara was probably one of the most well adjusted people he'd ever met. She was a little on the shy side, but that was hardly a sign of insanity.

As Methos walked down the street, his mind flitted back to his visit to Sunnydale. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't quite forget the unearthly scene he had witnessed on Sunnydale's high street. The black clad figure levitating in mid-air as she toyed with the local police constabulary. He had tried to dismiss the incident as smoke and mirrors, an illusion like those Cassandra was so good at; it didn't work.

It seemed, after five thousand years, they were still a few things he didn't know. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. He thought of Mac, and how he had lost his student as a result of battling something he didn't understand; the entity that called itself a demon, Ahriman. Then, too, he had questioned his friend's sanity rather than believe what he had said. Now he found himself questioning why he so stubbornly held onto his disbelief.

Methos sighed; Duncan would have been the perfect teacher for Tara. Not only did they have a similar ethical outlook, but he also had a lot more patience and sympathy for a new immortal's plight. His own first death was so far in the past, he only had a vague recollection of his mortal life. Methos could teach Tara one end of the sword from the other, but he couldn't instil in Tara the willingness to kill in order to survive. The concept of the game horrified Tara, her gentle nature repelled by the idea of chopping someone's head off. And it only got worse when he eventually described to her a quickening. Try as he might, he couldn't convince her that a quickening wasn't the immortal's equivalent of a soul. She had once, in a fit of pique, described immortals as a race of soul eaters. The thing is, he wasn't so sure he disagreed with her; it just didn't bother him as much as she thought it should.

Looking up, he found he'd arrived at the hotel. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped into the lobby and made his way up to the suite. He felt her presence even before he exited the elevator. Tara wouldn't sense him until he reached the door, it was one of the few advantages of being old; he could always sense them coming first - not that he would admit it. Letting himself in, he saw Tara calmly reading a book on the couch. She quietly laid the book aside and Methos glanced at the cover - 'A hundred years of solitude'. His lips quirked; sometimes Tara displayed a twisted sense of humour. "We need to talk," she murmured quietly, fixing him with her large, serious eyes.

"That's putting it mildly," he said lightly, heading for the mini-bar.

"You drink too much," she observed as he pulled a beer from the fridge.

Methos shrugged. "I can never drink too much," he declared as he sprawled in an armchair, "One of the many disadvantages of being an immortal. The best I can hope for is a slight buzz."

"I don't seem to have that problem," Tara said, throwing him a puzzled look.

"Wait a few years," he advised, "You'll find out what I mean if you live long enough."

Tara shrugged his words away. "I need to tell you about my life in Sunnydale," she said, "All of it. Otherwise you won't be prepared for what you will find at Wolfram and Hart."

"I'm all ears," Methos drawled, cradling the bottle in his hands.

"You're not going to like it."

"I didn't think I would, Tara," he said. "But you're right, I need to know everything. I've put off this moment long enough."

A flash of surprise crossed Tara's face and Methos smiled grimly as she sat forward in the couch. "Well, it all started during my first year in college…"

The story began.



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