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Chapter 3


Los Angelus, Summer of 2003


"Stakes, check; holy water, check; sword…check…oh Goddess, what I wouldn't do for a good fireball spell right now." Tara surreptitiously wiped the palms of her hands on her coat as she tried to regain control of her tripping heartbeat.

"Deep breaths," Adam's voice said in her ear, "I find it always helps." Tara nodded nervously and inhaled a deep gulp of air as she stepped through the large, open doors of Wolfram and Hart.

The foyer was enormous; a light filled and modern affair which betrayed little of what Wolfram and Hart truly was. She had expected something a bit more…eldritch; with maybe a few skulls artfully scattered around the place to finish off the look. Bewildered, Tara came to a standstill as she tried to take it all in; beside her, Adam raised an eyebrow as a dwarfish, mud-coloured demon scuttled past him, his tail swishing in agitation.

"I don't suppose they all come in that size?" he asked, half hopefully, as the stubby little creature wound its way through the crowd, "Because, if they do, this will be a lot easier than I thought…or maybe not."

Tara's eyes followed his gaze and a lop-sided grin tugged at her face, "F'narl demon," she supplied as she watched the creature lumber across the room, his path hurriedly emptied as it steered its way to the entrance. "Not much brains, but they make up for it in brawn and attitude.

"I once knew an immortal like that," Adam said lightly, but his eyes were still riveted on the demon. "Well, now we've both seen the side-show, shall we move onto the main attraction?"

Tara scanned the room, her eyes coming to a halt as they rested on a scantily clad blonde, doing her nails as she chattered loudly into a set of headphones, behind a large reception desk. "Strange, she seems so familiar …" Tara racked her brains; where had she seen that face before?

"See someone you know?" Adam asked, tilting his head as he examined the receptionist. "Hmm, I didn't think she'd be your type…"

Tara gave his arm a half-hearted slap as she tried to pin down where she had seen the blonde's face; then, in a flash, it came to her. Willow had once pointed out a photo of her in her high school yearbook after that time Dawn had been kidnapped… "Harmony!" she burst out. The receptionist's head snapped up, a flash of yellow showing in her eyes as she searched the room. Oh Goddess, she'd forgotten how good a vampire's hearing was. Quickly, Tara faced Adam; but she had a funny feeling she'd already been rumbled.

"Somebody actually called the poor child Harmony?" asked Adam, amusement showing in his voice, "Poor girl."

"Poor vampire," Tara corrected, "She went to high school with Willow; got turned on graduation day."

"You mean when the…"

"U-huh," Tara murmured. "Is she looking this way?"

"Staring straight at us," Adam confirmed, looking over her shoulder.

Tara's heart sank, "Any suggestions?"

"Well, she is the receptionist," Adam murmured, "How about we make an appointment?"

Tara threw her teacher a look of disbelief. "You're serious, aren't you?"

Adam shrugged. "When in Rome," he quoted, "Look, this may be a den of devilry; but it's still a law firm - and Angelus is their CEO. I say, if everyone else sees fit to pretend this is just another day at the office, we might as well go with the flow. It's either that or we pretend to be the pizza delivery guys. Besides, I don't think they're going to let us wander around the building until we stumble across him - check out the security." Tara looked in the direction Adam nodded and gulped as she saw the burly guards, armed to the teeth. They had an unnerving resemblance to the initiative soldiers back in Sunnydale.

"I see what you mean," she muttered.

"And besides, we might be wrong," Adam said cheerfully, "Perhaps Angelus hasn't lost his soul after all; and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for his sudden defection to the dark side."

"I hope so," breathed Tara as she took a step towards the desk, "Or this might be the shortest appointment in history.

"Look on the bright side;" Adam murmured under his breath as they neared the desk, "What is the worst that can happen? Waking up in a dumpster after having the life drained out of one isn't exactly pleasant, but it isn't terminal either - not for us, anyway."

"Not helping."

"Listen, just let me do the talking," Adam muttered, letting a slow smile spread across his face as he shouldered past her. Behind the reception desk, Harmony looked at them expectantly. "How do you do," he murmured in a low, confidential voice as he stepped up to the desk. "We wish to make an appointment to see Mr. Angelus."

The budding smile on the Vampire's face faded as she looked warily about her. "The boss doesn't like to be called that nowadays," she said aloud, primly, "It's the whole soul thing, you see," she added in a conspiratorial whisper as she waved her hands to dry her nail varnish.

"I'll keep that in mind," he murmured, lowering his voice to match hers, "I don't suppose he has an opening in his schedule today?"

"Well, I don't know," the blonde vampire said unsurely, "He doesn't usually see walk-ins, you see. They're usually passed onto one of the associates."

Tara tried to keep her face straight as Adam's shoulders drooped; she had seen the puppy dog routine before…it usually worked a charm on Joe's waitresses. "Oh dear," he said in his small, little boy's voice, "And I so hoped to see him. It's very important, you see; life and death stuff."

It seemed vampires weren't immune to puppy dogs either. "Oh…well…if you tell me what it's about, maybe I can convince him to fit you in," she said consolingly, patting him on the shoulder.

Adam threw Tara a sideways glance, his eyes questioning. "Tell him it's about Sunnydale," Tara offered softly, coming to a decision, "Tell him we're here about Buffy…"

The expression on Harmon's face would have been funny if Tara didn't feel so nervous. "You're here about Buffy?" she squeaked, tearing off her headphones, "Why didn't you say so before? I'll be back in a moment." With vampiric speed, Harmony leapt to her feet and disappeared from behind the desk. Tara watched with trepidation as the Vampire ran through a pair of imposing doors; despite what Harmony had said, she still had her reservations about Angel. She was a vampire, after all; why would she be working for Angel if he still had his soul?

"I didn't think even a vampire could move that fast on heels," Adam said facetiously, digging his hands into his pockets as he craned his neck to see what was written on the open notepad on Harmony's desk. Absently, Tara wondered which weapons he had secreted in those pockets; the dagger or the gun…or maybe the stake she had insisted he carry? Probably all three, she ruefully concluded. She wasn't thee least bit fooled by his casual stance and throwaway remarks, she had known Adam long enough to recognise the tenseness around his eyes for what it was. She sincerely hoped that nobody made any sudden movements…

With a resounding crash, the doors swung open, bouncing off the walls as Angel swept into the foyer. "What's this about Buffy-" with a snap, Angel's mouth closed as his eyes narrowed suspiciously, "You're dead," he stated flatly, his expression menacing as he took a step forward.

"She got better," Adam interjected; his voice unnaturally even as he stepped in Angel's path.

"Who the hell are you," Angel snorted, pausing to examine Adam's wiry frame. Tara sighed, she had realised exactly two things in the last few seconds; the first one being Angel was still Angel, the second one being Angel had just met Adam in a bad mood; not a good thing.

Putting a restraining hand on Adam's arm, Tara inserted herself between the two, "Um…hi, Angel," she said, smiling shyly.

Angel inhaled, his eyes going round with astonishment. "You're alive," he said in wonderment, "I don't understand….has Willow gone off the rails again?" he added, his surprise turning to disapproval as he folded his arms.

"Oh…no…um, I don't think so…I've been a little out of touch…listen, can we move this conversation to somewhere a bit more private?" Tara stuttered as she eyed the gathering crowd listening in.

Realising they had an audience, Angel glared pointedly at the crowd, "Don't you people have work to do?" he demanded. Turning to Tara as the crowd melted away, his expression softened, "It's nice to see you again, Tara," he said, "Sorry about the not-so-warm welcome. We're a bit on edge at the moment…a lot has happened in the last year."

Tara's heart sank as she saw the shadow pass through Angel's eyes. "It's…it's not Buffy, is it?" she asked, too scared to mention Willow's name. "I mean, I saw the crater and…"

Angel's hand squeezed her shoulder. "Buffy's okay," he said reassuringly, "And so is Willow. Come on, let's go into my office. "

"Yes, let's do," Adam said smoothly, from behind her.

"Angel's head jerked up. "I don't believe we've met," he said, his voice hardening.

"Adam Pierson, at your service; and you, I believe, are Angel. The vampire with a soul," Adam said laconically.

Angels eyes swivelled to meet hers, "Friend of yours?" he asked rhetorically.

Tara smile apologetically, "'fraid so."

"Figures," Angel muttered as he led the way into his office…



Paris, Summer of 2002


"No, no, no," Methos said, lifting his hand to his head in exasperation. "Not like that - first you lunge, then you parry," lifting his sword, he quickly demonstrated. "See what I mean? If you do it the other way around, you'll get skewered."

Tara nodded silently, taking up position; slowly, she repeated the sequence. "Better?" she asked hopefully, lifting the sword point upward.

"Much better," Methos said with relief, "Now, try it from the top…this time with more speed."

Again, Tara moved went through the steps of the kata, her face a study in concentration. " She's getting better," Methos admitted to himself, " But she's a long way from being proficient." Methos ticked off the small errors and hesitations with detachment; she had grace, and a surprising amount of strength and stamina, but her reflexes needed more speed. He made a mental note to step up their sparring practices and, noticing the small dip in her lunges, also decided to look into a lighter blade…maybe something along the lines of what Amanda used. He resolved to call her that night and ask her who her sword smith was; hopefully, he was still alive. If not, well, he was sure Joe could dig up the names of a few good smiths; the watchers kept track of such things.

As the kata came to close, he stepped forward and handed her a towel. "You're improving," he volunteered, "But your speed still needs work."

"I tried to pick up the pace," Tara said, "But then I started making mistakes and…" she finished the sentence with a shrug of frustration.

"It'll come with practice," Methos assured her. "Take five minutes, and then we'll spar."

Tara pouted and Methos raised an eyebrow even as he inwardly commiserated with her, "Five minutes, Tara; the sooner done, the sooner finished." Watching as she laid the sword on its stand and left for the kitchen, Methos dwelled on his student's chances of surviving the game. Despite the occasional protest, she was quite diligent in her training; she didn't even complain too much when he dragged her out of the bed at six o'clock in the morning to go for her run. No, that wasn't the problem; with more time and practice, Tara will become more than capable of defending herself. The question was: would she be willing to take a life in order to save her own?

Methos wasn't so sure she was.

The door swung open, and Methos looked up to Tara re-enter the room, a glass of orange juice in her hand. "I'm ready," she declared, placing the glass on a stool in the corner.

"Let's see how ready you are, Tara" he thought as he raised his blade and waited. Lifting her sword from its cradle, she took up position in the middle of the floor and swung the sword experimentally to reacquaint herself with its weight. Once satisfied, she raised her sword in the traditional salute, then lunged.

"First mistake," Methos told her as he easily parried the thrust; "Never make the first move if you can possibly avoid it, and never reach in that close to your opponent's range. That way, he can't do this-" stepping in, he slid through her defences and nicked her shoulder before bouncing back out of her reach. Tara stumbled back in surprise. As well she might, Methos thought grimly, he'd never drawn blood before. "Sword up," he barked, seeing the tip dip slightly as she skittered to halt, uncertain what to do. "Never let your guard down."

Her eyes narrowing, she lifted her sword, the serious look on her face telling him she knew what was happening. Slowly he circled her, watching as she turned on her feet so to face him. "What do you do now?" he asked.

"I wait for you to make the first move," she answered lowly, her lips a thin, determined line.

"Bright girl-" lightening fast, he needled the tip of her sword, nodding with approval as she twisted her sword away and stepped back; she was learning. Again, he struck, and again she twisted her sword away; but this time he followed through with an undercut, nicking her arm. Wincing she took a hasty step back, but this time she kept her sword up. "Good, good," he murmured, "But what you would do if I did this-" Moving to strike, he waited until she raised her arm to parry, then ducked underneath, coming up behind her. Swiftly, he put his sword to her neck, pressing it into her jugular. Tara froze, trying not to swallow as she lowered her sword.

"Game over," he said softly, lifting the sword from her neck.

Tara exhaled sharply before spinning swiftly on her heels and glaring at him. "Was that supposed to be some kind of lesson?" she demanded angrily.

"Pretty much, yes," he said, propping the tip of his sword on the floor. "Every single time you face another immortal, he…or she…will be older than you, faster than you, more willing to kill than you. The only way out of the game is in a pine box, keep that in mind..." Not trusting himself to say anything else, he abruptly looked away and stalked across the practice room. Today, he had done what he could to show her she had to kill to survive; now all he could do was teach her how to use a sword and hope for the best.



Los Angelus, Summer of 2003


Slowly, Angel leaned forward in his chair, placing his elbows on the table as he made a bridge of his fingers. "So let me get this straight, you are an immortal," he said softly.

"Um, yes," said Tara shyly, her eyes skirting to the tall, thin figure standing by the shelves as she perched on the edge of her chair.

"The living, breathing, human kind of immortal…"

"U-huh."

"Wesley, help me out here," Angel sighed, slumping back into his chair. "Why haven't I heard of these guys before?"

The ex-watcher shuffled in his chair as he cleared his throat. "A variety of reasons, I suspect," he said, "Mostly because there is no discernable difference between a mortal human and an immortal one. Other than the whole coming-back-from-the-dead-thing, that is. And I'm guessing a vampire wouldn't notice this unless they stuck around after they killed one…or tried to turn one."

"That ever happen?" Angel asked, curious.

"Not that I've heard of," Wesley admitted. "And Wolfram and Hart have no record of it either."

"But you've heard of immortals before?" Angel pressed, leaning forward in his chair.

"They were mentioned at the watcher academy, yes," Wesley said, rubbing his eyes. "Primarily because of the presence of the other watcher society…"

"Wait a minute, there's another watcher society; why haven't I heard of them?"

"There's no reason you would have," Wesley said with a shrug, "The only thing the two societies have in common is a name; there is no other connection. Sometimes though, they start keeping tabs on a vampire, accidentally mistaking them for an immortal. Hence the little lecture at the academy. The part line is; if you spot a watcher tracking your target, distract him while you eliminate the vampire."

"So this other watcher society has no idea about the existence of vampires?" Angel asked.

"Not as far as we know," Wesley confirmed, "Of course, Tara and her friend here might know differently…" He looked at Tara expectantly.

"Um, I don't really know," Tara murmured, glancing once more at the other immortal, who was now closely examining the Ming vase he'd picked up from the shelf.

Immortals and their watchers don't exactly socialise," the immortal drawled in his dry, British accent, glancing up briefly from the vase. "In fact, most immortals are unaware of their watcher's existence."

"But you know about them, don't you?" Angel asked astutely. The immortal shrugged as he placed the vase back on the shelf and carefully picked up the Sumerian tablet next to it. Angel suppressed a frisson of irritation. Who was this guy? And why did Tara look to him every time he asked a question? "So who are you really, Mr Pierson?" he asked pointedly.

"I'm Tara's teacher," he murmured quietly as he flipped the tablet over, "You do know what that is, don't you, Mr Wyndham-Price?" he added, shooting Wesley a piercing look before dropping his eyes to the tablet. "By the way, you do know this is a fake, don't you? A very old fake, but a fake nonetheless…"

Actually, Angel did know it was a fake. The tablet's value wasn't in its authenticity, but in what it hid under its thin veneer of clay; a very old and very powerful amulet which could destroy ten city blocks if handled incorrectly. "Thank you for telling me," he said, struggling to keep his voice calm, "Now could you please return it to the shelf."

The corner of the immortal's lips curled up in a glimmer of a smile, but he placed the tablet back on the shelf. Angel let out an involuntary breath of relief. Tara may call this guy a friend, but there was something about him which set his teeth on edge. The phrase 'wolf in sheep's clothing' sprung to mind as the immortal moved onto the next shelf and picked up an Egyptian ceremonial dagger. With difficulty, Angel dragged his eyes away as Pierson tested the point of the dagger, filling the room with the smell of blood. This guy was really getting on his nerves…

"…so you see, I was wondering if you had an address; though a phone number would be good too."

"Huh?" Angel muttered, tuning into Tara's voice as she reached the end of her sentence.

"I asked if you had Willow's address," she repeated helpfully, "If that's okay, I mean…" she trailed off.

"Oh, yeah, sure," Angel muttered as he pressed the intercom, "Harmony, could you track down Willow's current address and phone number?"

"Sure thing, boss," Harmony's voice thrilled through the speaker. Angel shook his head in bemusement. He still couldn't believe Harmony was his secretary; he kept on meaning to replace her from the secretarial pool but, for some strange reason, he never got around to it…

"Bloody hell!"

Angel jumped in his seat, then curled his fingers over the edge of the desk as he bit back a curse. "Spike, how many times have I told you not to do that?"

Spike ignored him as he strode through the desk. "Wicca, you're alive," he said excitedly as he passed a ghostly hand through Tara's arm.

"Spike, you're…not…" Tara answered hesitantly as she got to her feet.

"Saved the world, died, came back a ghost," he said succinctly, "And you?"

"Got shot, died, came back an immortal."

"Nothing new there, then," Spike said with a grin. "So, does Red know? Coz I reckon she'll drop that Kennedy chick like a hot potato when she realises you're still breathing…what? What did I say?"

Angel winced as he saw the stricken expression on Tara's face. "I hadn't gotten around to mentioning that yet, Spike," he said shortly.

"Oh," uttered Spike, "Ooooh…well, how was I supposed to know that? Nobody tells me anythin' around 'ere. Listen, luv, cheer up; the bint isn't even in your league. All you 'ave to do is snap your fingers and Red will come runnin'…"

"It's all right, Spike," Tara interrupted. "I mean, it's been over a year…and I wouldn't have wanted her to pine after me. I'm glad she's been able to move on…"

"Bugger that," Spike snorted, "A year, a century, makes no bloomin' difference…Red still loves you, pet. Nuthin' will change that. This Kennedy bint is just….passin' time." Spike waved his arms in the air to punctuate his words as he began to pace the room, "And who the bloody 'ell are you?" he added, veering off from his course as he noticed Pierson for the first time.

"Adam Pierson, a friend of Tara's. I'd offer to shake hands but…"

"And what kind of friend is that, mate," Spike asked suspiciously

"The immortal kind," Pierson answered evenly, "Why do you ask?"

Angel sighed and buried his head in his hands as he wondered if his day could get any worse.

"BOSS!"

"This better be good, Harmony," Angel snapped as his 'secretary' barrelled into the room.

"Sorry, boss," she said excitedly, "I did mean to knock, honest I did, but I thought you'd want to know about it as soon as possible."

"Know about what as soon as possible?" Angel prompted, attempting to hold onto the last dregs of his patience.

"About the apocalypse, of course."

For a beat, the room was deathly silent.

"Must be Tuesday, then," Spike piped up cheerfully.



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