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Chapter 9


Los Angeles, Summer 2003


Methos prowled the floor of the bedroom, his mind examining the last few days as he took another swig of his beer. “What the hell have I been thinking, ” he thought, worriedly. “First, I let Tara run off on this harebrained adventure, then I spill my guts to Rupert Giles, and now I’m muttering to myself in a hotel room, while Tara’s off chasing demons, and gods knows what…I must be getting soft in my old age.”

Grimacing, he threw himself into an easy chair and debated what to do. What he wouldn’t do to have the Highlander in the room at the moment. “Retreat, my ass,” he murmured discontentedly. “How many mantras does he need to chant before he feels centred enough to rejoin the world? And where the bloody hell is he, anyway?”

He wondered if he pleaded enough with Joe, he’d give up Mac’s location. Officially, the wily old watcher didn’t have a clue where Mac was – and Methos had hacked into the watcher files to verify that – but he’d bet an arm and a leg that Joe knew exactly where Mac was holed up. He just wasn’t telling.

But he needed help, gods damn it, he was useless at this kind of bloody thing. Demons he could deal with; hell, he could even put up with magic, if he had to…but watching Tara rush headlong into a situation that not only put her life in danger, but her heart as well…damn it, weren’t students supposed to do what they were told?

Methos sighed, he had gone and done what he’d promised himself he wouldn’t do; he had gotten attached. “Serves me right, I suppose,” he muttered. “MacLeod would laugh his head off, if he knew.” Cursing under his breath, he took another swig and debated what to do next. He couldn’t stay in this hotel room in the hope that Tara would call; the girl may be a few generations removed from her homeland, but she till had the stubbornness of a Scot.

Strolling back into Wolfram and Hart didn’t appeal to him, either, but he didn’t see anyway around it, not if he wished to protect his student from her own bloody mindedness. Who knew that such a well of obstinacy lurked beneath that quiet exterior?

Methos paused, a thought occurring to him. MacLeod may not be available, but the was one, certain Immortal who was. An Immortal who had professed as certain fondness for Tara Maclay and, as it so happens, was in the States at the moment. Granted, she was on the other side of the country, shopping Fifth Avenue dry, but that’s what airplanes were invented for. Sometimes, he really loved the 21st Century.

Grinning, he dialled her cell. There was no need to suffer this mess alone, misery does love company.

It nearly rang out before she picked up.

“Adam, darling, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Amanda drawled over the line; as the sound of masculine laughter wafted in the background.

Methos raised an eyebrow. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

“Nothing I can’t get back to, once we’ve finished this scintillating conversation.” Another laugh in the background greeted this comment, and Methos rolled his eyes.

“Yes, yes, very amusing,” he murmured. “So, how is New York?”

“Entertaining, as always,” Amanda purred over the line. “But that’s not why you’re calling, is it? Give me moment.” The sound of murmured conversation came over the line, and Methos waited patiently. It wouldn’t do to antagonise Amanda. Not until he’d got her safely ensconced in Los Angeles.

He heard the distant click of a door closing, and Amanda came back onto the line. “There, ” she said, her tone more brisk. “Now, tell me, what’s wrong? Is it Duncan?”

“What makes you think there’s something wrong?”

“How long have we known each other, Methos?”

“Long enough,” Methos said, warily.

“And, during that time, how many times have you phoned me just to make a social call?”

Well…I can’t recall off hand….”

“Try never.”

Methos blinked. “Really?”

“Yes, really; so who’s in trouble? ” Amanda demanded. “I know it isn’t Joe, because I was talking to him last night…oh no, it isn’t Tara, is it? Is she okay?”

Methos allowed himself a smile. “As a matter of fact, no, she isn’t,” he said. “Remember when I told you that Tara wanted to go and to see the remains of Sunnydale?”

“Her old town? Yes, I remember but…oh no, Methos, you didn’t!”

“Yes, well, what can I say? She can be very persuasive sometimes.”

A sigh echoed through the phone line. “Methos, I can’t believe you did something that stupid. The poor child is conflicted enough as it is.”

“It gets worse,” Methos admitted, reluctantly.

“How much worse?” A pause. “No, don’t tell me, I can guess. Of all the idiotic, foolish—“

“Yes, yes, I know,” Methos interrupted, irritably.

“Tell me, old man, how did someone as impulsive as you last so long?”

“I believe the correct phrase to use, at this moment, involves black pots and kettles,” he said, dryly. The silence on the other end of the phone seemed to go on interminably. “Amanda,” he enquired. “Are you still there?”

“Yes, I’m still here,” she said, eventually. “You want me to come to L.A., don’t you?”

“Yes,” Methos confessed, “I do.”

There was another, lengthy pause. “I’ll be on the next plane. What hotel are you staying at?”

Relief flooded through him, and Methos quickly ran off the hotel’s address and phone number.

“I’ll see you tonight.”

“Tonight,” Methos confirmed. “And, Amanda?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”



Paris, Winter of 2002

The girl lay on the spare bed, her stomach now neatly bandaged. Adam had given her a few painkillers as well as some antibiotics, but she still wasn’t fully coherent. Tara shifted in her seat, taking a sip of her tea, as the girl murmured in her sleep. She still didn’t know who the girl was, she had checked her pockets but, apart from a few Euro notes, they’d been empty.

“Bringer…no, don’t let them get you…must get to Sunnydale…Mitchell.”

Tara frowned, as she speculated who Mitchell was. She assumed that the ‘Bringer’ was what had attacked her in the alleyway. She also wondered if Adam had heard the poor girl’s meanderings. If he had, he hadn’t brought it up. She didn’t know if she should be relieved or worried about that.

“Bringer…bringer…NO!”

The girl’s eyes sprung open, and Tara jumped to her feet as she pushed the covers down and tried to get out of the bed.

“ Don’t, you’re injured,” she said, worriedly, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder to push her back into the bed. “You’ll pull the stitches.”

“You don’t understand,” the teenager panted. “I have to—“ She grew still, her eyes widening as they took in her surroundings. “Where am I?”

“Somewhere safe,” Tara said, as reassuringly as she could. “Do you have a name?”

“Elaine…but most people call me Lanny,” she whispered, as she fell back into the bed. “Wow, this hurts.”

“We gave you a few painkillers, but Adam didn’t want to give you anything stronger because he was afraid you might have an adverse reaction, “Tara said, sympathetically.

“Adam?”

“A friend; this is his house,” Tara murmured. “He’s not here at the moment, he’s at work. Where are you from? You sound English. “

She nodded. “Somerset,” she murmured. “I remember you, now. You were the one who stopped them from killing me.”

“Tara,” Tara supplied, then winced inwardly. That was not a name she wanted travelling back to Sunnydale. “Tara Pierson,” she added.

The girl grinned. “That was some pretty fancy sword work, Tara.”

“It seemed the thing to do, at the time,” Tara murmured, embarrassed.

“Where did you learn to do that?”

“There’s a Dojo in town,” Tara said, prepared for the question. “I was on my way back from a class when I heard the fight.”

“Lucky for me, huh?”

Tara shrugged. “I’m just happy I could help.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot.”

“Why did you bring me here? Why not a hospital?”

Tara sighed; she had been expecting this question too. “I didn’t know exactly what had attacked you,” she explained. “And before you passed out, you mentioned Sunnydale. I…I used to live there.”

“Really? When?”

A long time ago,” Tara lied. “Years ago, to be honest; I was still in High School at the time. But I remember that the hospitals weren’t exactly the safest places to visit there, and…well…I had a good look at your attacker’s faces. I didn’t want to chance it.”

Lanny nodded, obviously she was familiar enough with the denizens of Sunnydale for her tale to be believable…and it really wasn’t that far off from the truth, after all. “Thanks, it was a good call.”

“Good to know.” Tara said, relieved.

“Listen, I need to get out of here,” Lanny continued. “I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m supposed to be on a plane to the States at the moment. My Watc…guardian is going to be at his wits end.”

“Tara raised an eyebrow at the slip. She had a Watcher? Remembering how Slayers were called, Tara’s heart sank, did that mean that…no, Willow had said that another Slayer had already been called to replace Buffy, that’s why there was Faith. So it must be Faith who—

Tara frowned, that didn’t make sense, either. She had seen Lanny fight, and she definitely didn’t have Slayer strength.

“Tara, are you okay?”

Tara looked up to see Lanny staring at her, concern on her face. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said, softly, as she wondered how she got so good at lying. “I’m just worried that you’ll aggravate your injuries if you move too soon.”

“It probably will,” Lanna admitted. “But I still need to get out of here, fast, or I’ll have bigger worries…they seem to have a way of tracking me. “The word ‘magic’ hung unsaid in the air.

“What do you need?” Tara said, simply.

“A phone,” Lanny replied, relief lighting up her eyes. “My guardian will take care of the rest.”

Nodding, Tara pulled out her cell and handed it over.

“Great…um, do you mind if I make this call in private?”

No, of course not.”

Thanks, what’s the address, by the way?”

Tara rattled off the address, and left as Lanna started dialling. Worriedly, she wondered who the new big bad was. It must be big if its reach stretched as far as Paris. She made her way to kitchen and looked around for something that Lanny could eat. “Soup,” she murmured, and set about making a light meal.

Twenty minutes later, Tara climbed the stairs with a tray, and knocked on Lanny’s door. “Is it okay, to come in?” she called out.

The voce was muffled through the door. “Sure.”

Tara raised an eyebrow as she found Lanny standing gingerly on her feet. “I don’t suppose you have anything I could wear that’s a little more outdoorsy?” she asked, gesturing at the t-shirt and pyjama pants Tara had dressed her in, earlier. “Oh, food!” she added, spotting the tray in Tara’s hand.

Placing the tray on the side table by the easy chair, Tara gave Lanny a lopsided grin. “I’ll try to scrounge up something for you to wear. Your clothes were ruined, I’m afraid, but your shoes are okay. In the meantime, sit and eat,” she suggested.

Lanny didn’t need telling twice. “My guardian is going to be here in about thirty minutes,” she said, between mouthfuls.

Nodding, Tara hurried to her room and rooted through her wardrobe. Six months of intensive martial arts training had caused her to lose a few pounds, but Lanny was petite, like Buffy. “It’ll have to do, I suppose,” Tara muttered, as she picked out a simple top and a long skirt with an elasticised waist.

She had barely made it back to Lanny’s room, when the doorbell rang. “It’s probably Mitchell,” Lanny said, after a moment’s pause. “He’s always early.”

“Your Guardian?”

Lanny nodded.

“Stay here,” Tara murmured, shutting Lanny’s door firmly behind her, before darting down the stairs and into the study, to retrieve her sword. Cautiously, she approached the door, putting the chain on the latch before opening it. A young man, in his mid twenties, stood on the doorstep.

“Um, Miss Pierson?” He said, nervously. “I’m Anthony Mitchell, Elaine’s guardian. May I come in?”

One moment, “ Tara murmured, taking off the chain. “Sorry about the reception,” she apologised, as she opened the door wide. “Lanny said that the...men following her had a way of tracking her down.”

Oh, yes, perfectly understandable,” Mitchell said, eyeing the sword in Tara’s hand.

“She’s upstairs, second door on the left,” Tara prompted, refusing to answer the question in his eyes.

“Oh, yes,”

Tara watched him climb the stairs, two at a time, before she closed the door and quickly returned her sword to the study. Mitchell was already aiding Lanny down the stairs by the time she made it back to the hall.

Looking up, Mitchell smiled briefly. “I must thank you, Miss Person, for all you’ve done for Lanny. In other circumstances, I might try to answer what questions you must have, but I’m afraid time is of the essence and we must go.”

Tara smiled inwardly. Yes, definitely a watcher. “I understand.”

“Yes, you do don’t you?” he murmured, his eyes suddenly sharpening. “You know, you seem vaguely familiar to me…?”

Heart pounding, Tara managed a smile. “I’m sure I’d remember you if we’d met before, Mr Mitchell, ” she said, opening the door.

“Indeed.”

“Bye Tara, Thank you, ” Lanny said, hoarsely, her discomfort etched on her face.

“Bye, Lanny, good luck,” Tara replied, softly.

Tara watched as the two slowly descended the steps and into the awaiting cab. “Something tells me you’re going to need all the luck you can get, Lanny,” she thought, sadly, closing the door.



Los Angeles, Summer of 2003

Giles was already busy, in Angel’s conference room, when they found him. Apparently, the Wolframs and Hart’s employees had heard a few stories about ‘Ripper’ and nobody dared contradict him when he started ordering them about. Not even Wesley… but then again, Wesley knew what it was to be Slayer’s watcher, and what it felt like when your Slayer was in danger, Tara supposed

“Willow, thank God,” he said, starting to stand before falling into back into his chair with a wince. “Damned stitches,” he muttered under his breath, shooing an employee out of the chair beside him and gestured for Willow to sit. “I though they may have got you too.”

“They nearly did,” Willow admitted softly as she joined him at the table. “It was pure luck I managed to twist the direction of the spell before they got me…I mightn’t be so lucky, if they try it again.

Unsure as to what to do, Tara hung by the door. A year ago, she’d been sure of her place in the group, a place she’d earned. But that was then, and this was now. Time had passed and the ‘Scoobies’ had moved on. They had gotten used to not having her around.

As if sensing her thoughts, Willow looked up and casually grabbed an extra chair. “Time to get to work,” she said, simply, patting the seat. Smiling, Tara sat down beside her.

“So, what have we got so far,” Willow asked, her tone businesslike as she turned to Giles.

“Not much,” Giles muttered. “I have everyone researcher in this godforsaken place looking for a copy of the spell used, but nothing has turned up so far.

“Maybe we should assign a few Slayers to look over their shoulders,” Willow suggested, slyly. “It might help to motivate them.

Giles lips twitched as a quiver of unease spread through the employees in the room. “A capital idea,” he said, amused, nodding at a slayer who was lounging against the far wall. With a knowing smirk, the Slayer swiftly left the room.

“Good,” Willow said, briskly, “So what’s next on the agenda?”

Tara looked on as Willow and Giles talked briefly about the logistics involved in a large scale Slayer operation, amazed at the changes in their relationship. At some point, over the last year, they had gone from teacher and student, to equals.

“Where’s Spike,” Willow asked, suddenly. “Dawn mentioned that he popped out, briefly, before reappearing.

“He’s with Wesley and Fred,” Giles said. “They’re hoping they can figure out where he went by using some king of spectrometer Fred has devised. Arturo went along with them.”

“Who’s Arturo?” Tara piped up.

“Oh, that’s Buffy’s friend.” Willow said, “You know? The other Immortal?”

Tara nodded, unease rising inside her, in all the excitement she forgotten about Buffy’s new ‘friend’. She had never met an Immortal, who hadn’t been formally introduced by Adam, before. This would be the first time she would meet an Immortal who was also a stranger. Images of the Game rose in her mind.

“Relax,” Willow said, smiling as she caught the expression on her face. “I’ll introduce you. He’s the perfect gentleman, and a good friend. Let’s go find them, shall we?” Tara nodded, and smiled nervously as Willow got her feet.

Tara followed as Willow made her way, unerringly, towards the labs. “Wait ‘til you see this,” Willow said, excitedly. “Their facilities are amazing. I’m trying to convince Giles to create a similar set up in Cleveland. No need for the bad guys to have all the cool toys.” They paused before a pair of glass doors, and Willow quickly swiped a card, smiling as the door slid open with a hiss.

Tara had barely made her way through the doors, when the presence of another Immortal shivered up her spine.

“What’s wrong,” Willow asked, seeing the expression on her face.

“It’s nothing, just goose bumps,” Tara said.

“Yes, the thermostatic controls are set very low in here, aren’t they?” Willow said as she made her way towards the far door. “It’s because of all the lab equipment.”

“Oh,” Tara muttered, hollowly, as she cautiously followed Willow into the other room.

“Oy! Would you stop doing that, it tickles!” Spike sniped at Fred, before turning to look at them. “Hey, Red, any leads,” he said, worry colouring his voice.

“We’re still working on it,” Willow said. “How about you?”

“Well, we’ve discovered that Fred’s gadget can tickle ghosts, but that’s about it,” he snorted.

“That’s a good sign,” Fred protested, as she opened up the side of the small device she held in her hands. . “It means that the spectrometer can interact with your molecules. With a few more tweaks, I can probably get it to read them more accurately.”

“Well, hurry it up a bit, luv, we haven’t got all day,” Spike said, irritably.

“I’m working as fast as I can, Spike. Now stop belly aching, I know you’re worried, but don’t take it out on me!”

“I’m just saying,” he muttered.

Tara smiled, it seemed that Fred had got Spike’s number; good for her. A polite cough filled the room, and Tara’s eyes slid to the figure that she’d avoided looking at, since she’d entered the room.

“Arturo De Longi, at your service,” he said, smiling as he got to his feet and held out his hand. “And you must be the lovely Tara Maclay.

“Um, yes, how do you do,” Tara said, shaking his hand as his smile grew wider.

“I had heard that you were travelling with your teacher.” he enquired.

“He’s resting at the hotel,” Tara muttered, ignoring the Willow’s snort.

“Is that so?” Arturo said, softly. “And which hotel is that?”

A sense of foreboding crawled through Tara as she caught the steely glint in his smiling eyes.

“Oh, just some place down town,” she said, vaguely, before hurriedly turning to Willow. “So, what’s next on the agenda?” she said, brightly, hoping the shake in her voice wasn’t noticeable.

Spike’s head jerked up, his eyes narrowing. “You okay, Glinda?”

“Me? I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?” Tara said, grabbing Willow’s arm. “C’mon, let’s go find Giles again.” Before Arturo starts asking more questions, she mentally added.

“Oh, okay,” Willow said, letting Tara drag her out of the room. “We’ll be back,” she called over her shoulder.”

“I look forward to it,” Arturo said, pleasantly.

But Tara wasn’t fooled; she’d seen the intention in his eyes.

TBC



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