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Chapter 4


Los Angelus, Summer of 2003

Tara watched bemusedly as Angel swung into action. "Wes, find Gunn; see if he's heard anything on the grapevine," Angel said grimly, jumping to his feet, "You'd better find Fred too, see if she has anything in the lab which would pick up any strange vibrations in the air… oh, and get Lorne to speed up his 'auditions'. I don't want to comb the city looking for a big bad , only to find our apocalypse-happy demon is the guy down in filing-" Frowning, Angel distractedly looked at Harmony, who was waving her hand in the air impatiently. "Yes, Harmony, what is it?"

"What shall I tell him, boss."

Angel looked at her blankly. "Tell who, Harmony?"

"Giles, of course, he's still waiting for an answer."

"Wait a minute…Giles is the one who told you there's going to be an apocalypse?"

"This means its going to be a bad one," observed Wesley.

"Better get out the big guns," agreed Angel as he picked up the phone. "Which line is he on?" he asked, looking at Harmony pointedly.

"He's not on the phone, silly," said Harmony, hands on hips.

Angel sighed, "Did you at least get a phone number?" he pleaded.

"Why would I do that?" asked a bewildered Harmony.

Angel closed his eyes and counted to ten. "So I can phone him back, Harmony," he eventually said through gritted teeth.

""But why would you phone him when he's standing right in the…ah, I left that bit out, didn't I?" she said sheepishly, taking a step back.

"Let me see if I understand this correctly…you left Giles standing in the lobby." Angel bit out the words slowly as, with deliberate care, he placed the receiver back on the phone

"Should I have given him a chair…I know should have given him a chair…I'll just go and do that now, shall I?" Harmony babbled, making a break for the door,

"HARMONY!"

Tara jumped in her seat as Angel slammed his palms flat on the table. Harmony froze mid-step, smiling nervously as she slowly turned around. "Yes, boss?

"Just show Rupert in, will you?" Angel asked, visibly struggling to keep his anger under control. Hurriedly, the vampire fled the room and a momentary lull fell. "Find the others," Angel said urgently to Wesley, "Tell them to get here quick." Wesley nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him.

As Harmony's words hit home, Tara nervously got her feet and faced the door; Giles was here.

Harmony's voice drifted into the room as the door slowly swung open. "…I mean, how was I to know I was supposed to show you through. I'm not a mind reader, am I? It's always 'do this, do that, where is my mug of blood'..."

"Harmony, please shut up," Giles' voice irritably answered. "You're giving me a headache."

"I'm just saying…"

"Bloody hell, woman," pushing past her, Giles strode into the room. "Angel we've got to talk…Tara?" His step faltered, the blood draining from his face.

"Hi Giles," Tara said, wincing as she heard the shake in her voice. "How've you been?" "How've you been? " she said to herself incredulously, "He just seen a dead woman and that's the best you can do…"

"Tara…" taking a hesitant step forward, Giles stared hard at her face. "Tara!" A slow, joyous smile spread across his face as realisation dawned. In three long strides, he crossed the room and swept her up into a hug, "It's good to see you, child," Giles said softly, squeezing her tight. "It's so good to see you…"

"Giles," she said hoarsely; she couldn't believe it. Giles was hugging her. Good, strong, dependable Giles; Tara closed her eyes and savoured the moment.

"'Allo Rupes, long time no see."

"Spike," Giles voice became several degrees cooler as he loosened his hold on Tara and eyed the blonde vampire, "Still alive, I see."

"Still dead, actually," the vampire corrected him with a sniff, "Unfortunate side-effect of being burnt to a crispy crisp."

"Indeed." Giles muttered dismissively. Giles never did have much time for Spike, Tara thought sadly.

"Um…Rupert…I hate to bring this up right now but Harmony said you mentioned something about an Apocalypse?" Angel asked.

"Oh, yes, quite," Giles glanced briefly at Angel before smiling back at her. "We have a lot to talk about," he said, "You're not going anywhere, are you? There is so much you have to tell me…like why are you still alive?"

Tara's eyes slid to the quiet figure leaning against the bureau in the corner, Adam hadn't spoken since Harmony's announcement. "It's your life," he said with a shrug, Tara felt a moment of misgiving. Did she have the right to swoop into Willow's life after she had finished her grieving and moved on? Doubt crept in as she remembered Spike's words. Willow had met someone.

As if understanding Tara's doubt, Giles smiled reassuringly. "Everything will be okay, Tara, I promise," he said softly, "I know you've probably heard a few things but…just give a few hours of your time so we can catch up."

Sharply, Tara looked up to examine Giles's face. Why did she get the impression he wasn't talking about Willow's love life. Reluctantly, she realised this wasn't the time to talk about it. "Of course," she murmured, smiling softly, "It can wait…I can wait…the apocalypse comes first." Her smile turned wry as she realised what she'd said. A good, old fashioned apocalypse; it was as if the last year never happened!

"Good!" said Giles, his tone turning brisk as he looked at Angel. "You better sit down for this," he declared as he took his own advice. "I've a few things to tell you about your new place of employment you're not going to like."

Angel grimaced. "I'll just add them to the long list I already have," he said sardonically as he eased back into his chair.

"Hey, it's not my fault they sent me 'ere in the mail," Spike protested, "Blame that on whoever's yankin' you chain 'round 'ere."

Tara's mouth twitched into an involuntary smile. "The mail?" she enquired softly.

"Long story, luv," muttered Spike, "One that definitely involves a bottle of Bourbon."

"Can we please get back on track here, guys," muttered Angel. "We have the world to save, you know."

"Yes, please continue, Mr Giles," said Adam as he strolled up to the desk and grabbed himself a chair.

"I don't believe we've met," Giles said, his eyebrow rising enquiringly.

"This is Adam Pierson, Giles," Tara said hurriedly, heading off Adam. "He's a friend of mine."

"Charmed, I'm sure," Adam said as he stretched out his legs and folded his arms. "You mentioned something about an Apocalypse?"

Tara sighed as she saw the glance Giles exchanged with Angel. As the souled vampire shrugged, Giles began to speak. "The closing of the Hellmouth in Sunnydale had a few repercussions we didn't expect," he muttered, "Not least of them the fact it erased a lot of Wolfram and Hart's competition. Most of the more powerful demon factions kept their headquarters in Sunnydale - despite the high mortality rate among their employees because of Buffy. It gave then a certain standing amongst their brethren, you see."

"But what has this got to do with the apocalypse," Angel asked.

"Well, as you know, the dream most demons hold close to their heart is to have the earth returned to him. The problem is, every species of demon has their own slant on how it should happen, as each sect wants be the one left standing on top of the pile. The majority of apocalypses have been averted because of this. Infighting, you see; nobody wants to be beaten to the punch." Giles explained. "The Watcher's council tended to ignore this fact. They find the whole thing rather embarrassing, I assume; but now there is a rather large vacuum in the power struggle between factions and it seems Wolfram and Hart have stepped in to fill it. Once they've consolidated their takeover bid, we're in big trouble."

"In what way, exactly," asked Angel, leaning forward.

"It seems Wolfram and Hart have their own dream of an apocalyptic future too, and they've already started to put their plan into play. In fact, we suspect they had a hand in First's appearance in Sunnydale last year; speeding up the inevitable and all that. Tell me, would I be wrong in assuming it was Wolfram and Hart who gave you the amulet?"

"No, you wouldn't," Angel said quietly.

Hearing voices from outside the door Tara stopped trying to make sense out of what Giles was saying and turned to see Wesley re-enter the room. "Sorry I took so long," the ex-watcher said apologetically as he stood aside to let the others in.

"It was my fault, really," said an attractive, slender girl with long brown hair as she walked into the room, "I was in the middle of a delicate experiment. " Shyly, she pushed her glasses up her nose.

"Well, there certainly was a lot of smoke," joked a tall, athletically built African-American as he strolled up to a chair and sat, "And I'm certain that one of the beakers began to hiss!" Opening his briefcase on his lap, he produced a large sheaf of papers. "This is the report on all unusual occurrences in the last week," he pronounced as he handed the papers over the desk.

"Children, children," drawled a voice from the door, "Not in front of the guests," Tara's head swivelled back to the door and she swallowed a gasp. Seeing her expression, the demon smiled knowing. "It's the suit, isn't it?" he asked laconically as he entered the room, "I did tell my tailor that lavender wasn't my colour but he insisted it brought out the green tones in my skin."

"That's Lorne," the bespectacled girl said softly as she pulled up a chair beside Tara, "Don't worry, he's a pussy cat…I'm Fred, by the way."

"Tara," Tara supplied.

"Yeah, I know, Wesley told me on the way here," Fred said, "Hello?" Turning her head, she gave Adam a shy smile.

"Hello," drawled Adam, "I'm Adam Pierson…but Wesley has probably told you that, too."

"He mentioned it, yes," Fred murmured, "So…you're an immortal?"

"That would be the technical description, yes," Adam said teasingly. Behind the desk, Angel sighed and gave Giles a meaningful look. Quietly, the watcher took off his glasses and began cleaning them as he continued.

"Yes, well, to make a long story short, the closing of the Hellmouth paved the way for Wolfram and Harts version of the apocalypse," he said with a sigh. "And over the last few weeks they've put their plans in motion - fortunately for us, they hadn't counted on Buffy's rather daring plan to awaken the slayer powers in all the potentials," he added with grim satisfaction as he settled his glasses on his nose, "A fact which has bought us some time."

"How much time?" Tara asked worriedly.

"Four days."

Angel groaned, "When, where and how," he asked abruptly.

"Los Angeles, midday, and it involves something called the 'white room'…our information is rather sketchy, I'm afraid."

The gathered remnants of Angel Investigations groaned collectively.

"Something I said," Giles asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You could say that," Fred said, with some aspiration.

"The white room is…well, I don't exactly know what the white room is but if you take the main elevator in the hall, you usually end up in it," Angel grumbled. "Kinda came with the property."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Giles, "You mean its right here, in this very building?"

"It and its furry feline occupant," Angel confirmed as he played with the pen on the desk. "Let's go and have a chat, shall we…"

Wesley cleared his throat. "Actually, that might be a problem," he said. "Nobody has been able to get into the white room all morning."

"Please don't say what I think you're going to say, Wes," said Angel.

"It's gone," Wesley said, shrugging his shoulders, "And it's not the only thing missing. All our shamans, witches and warlocks have called in sick."

"Why am I only hearing this now," asked Angel, frustrated.

"I only got the report a few minutes ago," Wesley admitted, "And I've a funny feeling I wouldn't have found out for a few hours more if Rupert hadn't turned up. Guess they realised the jig was up."

"And I guess it's a good thing the others are on their way, then" Giles observed.

A nervous flutter rose in Tara's stomach, "The others?" she repeated.

"Oh yes, didn't I tell you? Willow and Xander are taking the first flight out from Rome tomorrow - and Buffy will be following on the afternoon flight after she's gathered up a few of the more proficient slayers."

"Oh," Tara muttered hoarsely, "I see."



Paris, Autumn of 2003


"So, do you come here often?"

Tara looked up to see Lucy standing by the table, canteen tray in hand, and smiled as she saw the smirk hovering on her lips. "Monday to Friday, one o'clock sharp," she joked.

"Yeah, its getting to be a bit of a bore isn't it," Lucy said with a grin as she sat down. "I swear, if I have to conjugate another French verb, I'm going to scream." Tara smiled shyly as she took another sip of her coffee. Lucy was one of the many American students who were on the French language course with her. "So…what are you doing tonight?" Lucy asked once she'd picked up her fork, "Only there's this gig on at the Olympic tonight - wanna come along?"

"I don't know…" Tara said unsurely, "I'm kinda busy…"

"You're always busy," Lucy said expansively, "Come on, live a little. I don't bite - promise." She added, crossing her heart.

Tara sighed; she liked Lucy, really she did, but she knew her fellow wanted to be more than just friends. "Sorry Lucy, I'm just not ready to…"

"Hey, hey, hey, stop right there," Lucy interrupted, "I'm not asking you out on a date or anything; I got the message the last time. I'm just talking some good music, some bad beer…you know, fun."

Tara shook her head in amusement. "Maybe some other time," she murmured, knowing there wouldn't be another time. She wasn't ready yet and, by the time she would be, Lucy would have long left Paris and returned to her home in Ohio.

Lucy smiled at her knowingly. "Hey, can't blame a girl for trying."

Embarrassed, Tara ducked her head pretended to be absorbed in her meal as her thoughts wandered to where they always inevitably went…Willow. In her mind, she conjured up her face; her bright smile, her lovely hair…a wave of loneliness washed over her as she tried to blink back the tears.

"It's okay to be sad you know, Tara," Lucy said softly, and Tara looked up to see her usual grin absent from her face. "I hadn't realised you were hurting that bad, honey; or I wouldn't have come on so strong. How about we start out again? Hi Tara, I'm Lucy, and if you ever need a friend to talk to, I'll listen; no strings attached." Solemnly, Lucy stuck out her hand and, with a wobbly smile, Tara reached out and shook it. "There that's that settled," Lucy said briskly as the grin returned to her face, "By the way, have you seen the desert tray? It's scary, I tell you. They've got this green wobbly confection that I swear looked back at me when I stared at it…"

Tara laughed, and the rest of the meal passed in amiable chatter as they discussed their classmates and the Parisian weather…



Los Angelus, Summer of 2003


Methos was not happy. In fact, Methos was very unhappy indeed. With a sinking heart he watched as Tara avidly listened to Giles and Angel discussing their war plans. So much for picking up a phone number and leaving, Tara wasn't going anywhere. She was as incapable of walking away from the 'good fight' as the Highlander was. Sighing, he let his eyes wander across the room, hoping to see something which would distract him from his current problem. Seeing the book Wesley had held on his lap earlier lying on the desk in front of him, he picked it up and casually looked through the pages. Funny, all the pages were blank…

Shrugging, he placed the book back on the table. In a day where he'd chatted with a vampire, met a demon and found out there was going to be an apocalypse, a blank book was on the bottom of his list of peculiar thing he'd seen that day. Absently, he wondered if the old Christian superstitions had some truth in them. What was the old saying again? Ah yes, 'If you don't believe in demons, they won't bother you'. Well, he was a believer for less than twenty-four hours and he was already up to his neck in them.

He wished Willow would hurry up and get here; maybe that way he might have a chance of convincing Tara to split this crazy town… Methos snorted, who was he kidding? Tara wasn't going anywhere. For all her gentle ways, there was a stubborn streak in her student a mile wide. Sourly, he tuned back into the conversation. He had a funny feeling knowing what their plans were might come in useful.

"…you see, the 'first' only appeared in the guise of dead people," Giles was explaining to Tara, "I suppose that, more than anything, should have tipped us off. When it appeared to Willow, it didn't use your face but that of some poor girl called Cassie. Of course, we realised when your body disappeared that…" Methos sat bolt upright in his chair. An entity which could take on the faces of dead people? He racked his brains for what Duncan and Joe had told him about Ahriman. With one glaring exception, all the people who'd appeared to Duncan were dead. Methos thought back to the day Richie died, everything had happened so fast…could it be that Duncan hadn't killed Richie after all? That he was already dead when Duncan 'killed' him…

"…you'd thought I'd been what? " Adam's eyes narrowed as he heard the distress in Tara's voice.

"Only for a moment, dear; I mean this is Sunnydale we're talking about. We knew that Warren shot you, of course, but when a body disappears from the morgue, one's first thought is vampires. For a while, we thought Spike may have…

"Oi!" The blonde vampire spluttered, "I'd have never done that to Wicca and you bloody well know it!"

"Yes, well, be that as it may; once Willow…calmed down we discovered the true sequence of events."

"So Willow knows my body…"

"No, dear, we thought it best not to upset her. As far as she is concerned, you're body was laid to rest in the university cemetery. Not a hard thing to arrange in Sunnydale; quite a lot of the coffins were buried empty there."

Adam studied the watcher's face, why did he get the feeling there were a lot of things the watcher was leaving out. Things he didn't want to tell Tara for fear of upsetting her. Methos quietly resolved to have a few private words with Rupert Giles when he got the chance. Abruptly, he straightened up in his chair, "This…apocalypse," he asked softly, "How bad of an event are we talking about."

"We're talking world-wide annihilation," Giles said carefully, "Of humans, that is. The demons will feel quite at home in the brave new world, I assume."

"I don't think I would, though," Methos muttered under his breath. Noticing Angel's face twitch slightly, he realised he'd been overheard - damned vampire hearing. He decided to forge ahead with his questions. "So, what will happen, exactly," he enquired, struggling to keep his voice pleasant. "Are you expecting an invasion of demons or something a little more…abstract."

"A little of both, actually," the watcher admitted. "From what we understand, this 'white room' is some sort of nexus between dimensions. I'm sure Angel could explain it to you in more detail."

Methos turned his attention to the souled vampire, who glowered back. "Well?"

"Wolfram and Hart use the white room to talk to 'upper' management" Angel said reluctantly, "As far as we can make out, these guys don't live in this dimension; or, to be more accurate, they can't live in this dimension…not without becoming vulnerable…help me out here, Wes…."

"Well, I suppose the best way of describing it is as a room between dimensions," the young Englishman explained, "A kind of neutral ground which is nowhere, yet everywhere."

"I got to hand it to you, watcher," Spike said sarcastically, "You've got a lovely way of makin' a difficult idea totally indecipherable - could you try that again in plain English, mate."

Wesley threw the smirking vampire a dirty look, "As I was saying," he muttered, "The white room is the only place where the 'upper' management can meet with their subordinates, as they can't manifest themselves on this plane in their true form."

"Hold on a moment," Methos interrupted, "Which one is it - dimension or plane? Maybe I'm wrong here, but isn't there a big difference? I mean, if they come from another dimension, its one thing, but if they come from another plane, then we could be dealing with something a lot larger…I mean, if my understanding of mystical philosophy is accurate…I read a lot," he finished lamely, aware he may have said too much.

"You're right, of course," Wesley said, giving Methos a thoughtful look. "But the truth is, we're not exactly sure; so we'll do what we always do."

"Which is?"

"Hope for the best, plan for the worst."

"Not exactly what I hoped to hear," Methos muttered.

"It's the best I can do, I'm afraid."

"We're still trying to figure things out, you see," Fred piped up helpfully.

"Okay, enough chit-chat," Angel declared, "Time to come up with a plan."

"Maybe the 'Powers-That-Be' can help," Fred suggested, "I'm surprised we haven't heard from them already."

"Their presence on this plane has been greatly weakened since the whole mess last month," Wesley explained, "Its doubtful we will be even to contact them; the usual doorways haven't functioned in weeks."

"Oh," said Fred hollowly, "Scratch that plan, then."

"Scratch what plan?" Methos wondered to himself as he listened bemusedly. It was as if he'd slipped into an alternative universe…or maybe he was dreaming…no such luck.

"We could track down some of the witches and warlocks," suggested the young lawyerly type in the expensive suit, "I'm guessing it isn't a coincidence they didn't turn up for work today. So they must know something."

"Good idea," Wesley said, nodding, "I'll get a list of their home addresses."

"At last, a plan," Angel declared, "Once we have the list, we'll start kicking in doors."

"Insane, " thought Methos as he slumped into his seat, "They're all totally insane. "



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