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Part Eleven

Lilah almost growled as her secretary-of-the-week scurried out of the office after leaving the carafe of black coffee. If Lilah got her hands on Gavin before Linwood did, she would skin him alive - literally. That fool's
pitiful attempt at 'surveillance' had cost them five personnel, two of whom had been with the special security unit. Linwood was livid over the morning news. Instead of discreetly disposing of his hirelings, Gavin had made an amateur attempt to rattle Angel.

She swallowed two aspirin and washed them down with the coffee. It had been a long night and the coffee had been a peace offering from the assistant to cushion the news that the Diva was bored - again. Maybe she could kill two birds and send Gavin to entertain her, if he didn't survive the experience - no harm done.

She had spent most of the wee hours of the morning going over every scrap of information in both the Glorificus project and the Angelus scenarios. The precogs were unsure why a portal would be necessary to facilitate his changing sides but were making dire predictions that Darla's return to L.A. would herald the need to either bring in or remove a major player, and that whoever this random factor was, killing them wouldn't make Angel's fall as probable as sending them to another world.

Lindsey was what was most troubling. He had shown an unparalleled ability to shake every tail that the firm put on him. As whatever information he had left with became less and less timely, his attempts at extorting his own
safety should have failed. Unfathomably, the senior partners were insistent that he be 'persuaded' back into the fold, rather than eliminated. This odd response to his defection from their consortium was definitely not a whim.

Somehow, McDonald must have transformed from a lackey to a major player in the end game. The fact that he was alive and that all of his records were not sealed but nonexistent spoke volumes. A newcomer to the firm would never know he had worked here. If Lilah had not kept her own notes of their time as co-managers of the Special Clients Division she might have conveniently forgotten the smarmy bastard too. It was only through a careful review of petty expenditures that she had been able to piece together the efforts the firm had made to turn McDonald's path away from the city of angels - or would that be, she thought, the city of Angel?

Putting on a headset attached to the jack in her personal laptop, Lilah keyed the first of many files recorded in the Hyperion over twenty-four hours prior to the surveillance cutting out. Maybe there was something salvageable from Gavin's train wreck.

* * * * *

Cordelia dashed toward the sound of the crash, and stopped in the doorway of the lounge. The small television, which normally sat on a counter off of the employee kitchen, had been tuned to the local news, although she
hadn't been listening to the chatter. Angel apparently had been, as he had just hurled it into the wall.

"What is your damage?" she said, to cover her shock at his behavior.

"You saw?" Riley asked as he and Graham came up behind her. Angel's response was to shift back out of game face.

Graham elaborated, "It's all over the news. The guys from last night were found drained down by the wharf."

"What?!" Cordelia whirled to look toward Angel, confusion clouding her face.

"You know I didn't..." he started.

"Of course you didn't," she said. Sitting down on one of the straight back chairs next to the dining table she paled with shock. "I can't believe this."

"Where was Spike?" Riley asked.

"Spike never left his room after we released the captives. And for God's sake, if you want to keep your kneecaps intact, don't even think that question too loud near Xander," Angel said, as he stopped behind Cordelia and stroked her hair.

Graham stepped closer to Riley and placed a hand on his shoulder. He said to Angel, but watched Riley intently, "We knew that whether they talked or not Wolfram and Hart would consider them compromised. This 'message' is only an efficient use of resources."

"What message?" Cordy said.

"That they can frame him at anytime. The Initiative, the Watchers - they're not the only ones who know about vampires. A few strategically placed corpses and we'll have a mob of villagers with torches out side this place."
Graham's frank statement and utter lack of concern in his voice made the words more chilling.

"No," Angel said, as Cordelia grasped his hand and looked up with concern. "This... incident, it's... this doesn't feel right. There's something off."

"It's a new player." Lindsey's soft drawl preceded him into the kitchen area. He was barefoot and shirtless, in a worn pair of soft blue jeans. "Whoever it is knows that you're the target," he continued, leaning his shoulder against the door frame and hooking his fingers in his belt loops, "but they either don't know, or have lost sight of, the objective." He laughed softly, "Lilah must be venting steam from her ears."

"Could you explain to the new guys?" Riley said, indicating Graham and himself with a jerk of his head.

Cordelia seemed much calmer at Lindsey's words and explained, "Wolfram and Hart don't want Angel dead; if they did, he would be. Er, more dead. They want Angelus in the driver's seat and wreaking havoc in the final conflict. Yeah, I know, sounds like some straight-to-video flick, but that's their goal."

* * * * *

Upstairs, Spike lay awake - worried not about Dawn, but about Xander. His mate slept heavily beside him. Xander was all for heading back to Sunnydale as soon as the sun set. The boy had always been a believer in overkill as
the best insurance policy, but he was rapidly surpassing Spike in the 'solving your problems with violence' arena. Before Buffy had died, Xander had made the perfect second-in-command. Unquestioningly loyal, he had still never hesitated to point out flaws in her admittedly limited strategies and offer up ingenious solutions to the threat of the week.

Spike had thought, when Xander had begun to shine after taking up not only leadership of the Scoobies, but acting as Master of the Hellmouth, that the boy was simply growing into his own. More and more though, he noticed the fine cracks that the unimaginable pressure was putting in Xander's iron will. The young man felt so responsible, for all of them. Truth was, no matter how good Xander was at protecting them, they would die - they would all die eventually.

Buffy had understood when Spike had pointed out that eventually the tide of evil seeking to take her down had to succeed. Xander had never accepted that his love wasn't enough to protect his friends. Losing Buffy had almost broken him, and Spike didn't want to contemplate what losing one of the girls would do to his boy.

Last night, Spike has suffered one brief moment in the lobby where he couldn't have said with any conviction that Xander was just playing the part of the crazed, let's-kill-em-all human to frighten the intruders. Spike had
played along. On their patrols where he was forced to act as interpreter, they had often adopted roles, with Spike as the reasonable vampire who acted as if he cared about whatever demon snitch they were roughing up, leaving Xander to be the wild-eyed human with a hard-on for vengeance. He only hoped that the fact that it had been their girl who had been frightened by the intruders hadn't pushed Xander to choose the peace of mind that having them safely disposed of would bring, over remembering he was a white hat.

Speaking of vengeance, Spike had had a word with Angel, vamp detective, about tracking down the demon bint. He knew Red could probably do it with a few keystrokes, since she had been the one to give Anya a paper identity in the human world, but he also knew the witch couldn't keep a secret from Xander, if the news turned out bad. Not that it wouldn't be tempting to string Anya's entrails on their tree this Christmas, but he just wanted
Xander to know she was all right. He wanted Xander to know that where she was, wherever she was, it was where she chose to be. Then, maybe Xander wouldn't feel guilt that he was happy without her.

Xander rolled over, slinging an arm over Spike's thighs, since the vampire was sitting up against the headboard. Xander nuzzled Spike's flank and then opened one bleary, brown eye and growled, "You're up? Why are you up?" He accompanied his questions by stretching said arm further across Spike's lap and attempting to pull him back to the glomping hug which was his preferred position whenever their sleeping times coincided.

"Pet, we have to talk," Spike said.

Xander turned his face back against Spike's thigh and bit him.

"Xander!" Spike pinned the human in the blink of an eye.

Xander smiled, and without one ounce of sincerity said, "Uhm, I slipped."

"You slipped?" Spike said. His hold on Xander's wrist was loose but firm and would have been effective if Xander had made any attempt to be released. Instead his clever human simply faked a yawn, and as he stretched his longer arms out to the side pulled Spike down flush onto his chest.

Leaving his arms out Xander kissed and nipped at Spike's mouth until the vampire began to return his attention. Spike released his hold on Xander's wrists and slowly moved his hands along the warm, tan arms, reveling in the feel of Xander's skin and the relaxed muscles moving under it. Xander smiled into his kisses as Spike began to rub against him. As Xander bucked up into the contact he also tilted his head, offering up a mouth-watering expanse of neck, which Spike licked from shoulder to earlobe, stopping briefly to suck over his binding scar. Xander began to make delicious breathless moans in anticipation of a different sort of climax.

The scent of his mate's arousal hit Spike like a board to the back of the head - not that had ever happened. Err, often. It was overpowering, and he shifted to his demon visage without any conscious effort. The strong man
whimpering underneath him demanded attention. Spike pulled back to appreciate the sight of Xander's passion. Those soul-filled eyes held only desire and love as they steadfastly met his golden gaze. Xander laughed and
lifted his head. Forehead to forehead, his eyes dancing with glee, Xander whispered, "You're such a tease."

Spike laughed through his fangs. Only this man had ever brought him this singular joy. He kissed Xander almost chastely and lay him back on the pillow. With a sudden reverence, Spike slowly lowered his fangs to the mark and sank them into Xander's flesh. Life, fresh and flowing, exploded onto his taste buds as Xander's semen exploded against his flank. The smell of his mate's spent desire mingled with the succulent scent of his blood.
Killing a Slayer, pickling himself in Jack, a thousand high-risk moments in over a hundred years of unlife and nothing - nothing - was as intoxicating as this connection that just seemed to keep getting more amazing by the day.

He only tasted the blood that rose to his mark. It was the taste and aroma he savored, as he had no need to feed. Swallowing Xander's warm coppery blood, Spike came against his panting mate. As the flow quickly stopped,
Spike carded Xander's thick hair and enjoyed the sight of his sated lover. When it seemed as if his favorite work of art would doze off again Spike prompted, "Talk, Pet."

"Talk?" Xander whispered, and pulled Spike down to lie beside him. Opening his eyes, Xander blinked in confusion. Spike mentally slapped himself; he had forgotten rule number seven - 'talk first, sex after'. Apparently sex did something bizarre to human brains and made Xander incapable of being coherent. Not that Xander's odd inability to talk during sex, when he could babble on at during just about any other extreme situation Spike had ever seen him in, was news. It's just that Spike was usually the one trying to initiate sex when Xander was trying to sort through the relevant facts of a blatantly unnecessary conversation. Looking into his mate's uncomprehending eyes, Spike had an idea why, at those times, Xander looked so frustrated.

"Yes, Pet, but it'll wait 'til after our nap," he whispered and snuggled down next to his human.

* * * * *

"I'm bored!" Crash. Water dripped down the richly papered wall on to the pile of drenched lilies and shards of shattered crystal now heaped on the credenza. Glorificus had already turned her attention away from the mess. It no more distracted her than had the fizzling crackle produced when she had hurled the serving bowl full of fruit through the wide screen television.

Gavin smoothed an agreeable expression onto his face. He knew Lilah was punishing him for the unsanctioned surveillance. He had been sure he could show her up in front of Linwood. Perhaps he still could. She had given
rather vague orders to keep the hell god happy. He could use that. If he succeeded he would have major influence over this project, and if anything went wrong it would all be Lilah's fault.

* * * * *

Faith slowly climbed the metal stairs. It was dark, but then it was often dark. There was a feel to the air, a scent of impending violence and the coiled anticipation slaying had always brought her. As she reached the top of the stairs she saw she was on a large scaffolding. Standing at its edge was Buffy. It was then she knew it was a dream. She had never had the ability to control her dreams. Way back, when it had all seemed so new and
as if she were some superhero, her Watcher had told her she would eventually be able to use her dreams. Something about how once she realized she was dreaming she could focus on the prophetic elements, but that had never happened.

Buffy looked so different from the teen queen of Sunnydale High. Different even from the happy co-ed whose body Faith had borrowed. She seemed pared down, honed to her most basic elements. God, she looked thin; not healthy thin or I-work-out-a-lot thin, but the sparse lean frame of a survivor who had shed all but the most necessary elements.

Faith must have made a noise in the dream. Perhaps her footsteps had echoed or she had gasped at the sight of the other Slayer. Buffy turned to look at her. Her eyes were sad and there was an air of defeat about her. Faith started to speak, not knowing what to say, but Buffy gave her a small, understanding smile and turned back to contemplate something over the edge of the metal scaffolding on which they both now stood. Faith moved to stand beside Buffy and looked down into a whirling blue maelstrom. A large portal gaped below them.

"Buffy! No!" The cry came from the stairs that Faith had just come up. Whirling toward the voice, Faith saw a girl, roughly the age she had been when she became had been chosen, clutching tightly to the railing and sobbing. There was something so familiar about her. Faith tried to remember something, like when a word or name was so close that you really understood where the expression 'on the tip of my tongue' came from.

Faith looked at Buffy to see if she knew who the girl was. As their eyes met all the pain and pride, the anger and angst seemed to well up and fall away. "You'll have to help them," Buffy said.

"Wait, B., I..." Faith reached out hesitantly. So often their attempts to understand each other had erupted into violence and that seemed dangerous here above that gaping maw.

"The hardest thing to do in this world, is live in it," Buffy said, and dove off the platform, taking sound and sight with her.

Faith jolted awake. She looked around the rec room. None of the other inmates currently watching Rickie Lake seemed to have noticed she had dozed off. Hard to believe she could, with how vocal they all were while shouting
at some no-good ex, who had just been asking for a bashing being on that show. Slayer strength made her less vulnerable than most; still she didn't normally doze in the public areas. She'd had a dream, and it had seemed
important. She struggled to hold on to the details before they faded.

She wondered about the girl. Was she the next Slayer? Was the dream sent to her to somehow get word to the Watchers on who to look for? She hadn't been impressed when they had stopped by to see her. She had been paranoid ever since. The desperation in their eyes might have been due to not having a Slayer to watch, but Faith had been expecting them to correct that problem at any time.

* * * * *

Lindsey ducked out of the lobby as he heard Cordelia, Fred and Dawn getting ready to leave. Angel had been shadowing his Seer all morning and Lindsey didn't feel like encountering the thick-headed lunk. The more he saw the souled vampire try to interact with the human world the more he could kick himself for how much he had overestimated him in the past. Angel had almost no interpersonal skills, and seemed to rely on standing around looking deep and thoughtful to cover the fact that he really wasn't that bright. Except for the whole 'Scourge of Europe' rep, Lindsey couldn't fathom why the vampire was at all important in how the final battle would swing. Maybe Angel was some sort of idiot savant and would stumble into a fate that would save the world, Lindsey thought, because if this was their best hope, he'd picked the wrong side again. It had been easier back when Angel, merely being a vampire and having a soul, had been enough to make Lindsey stunned at all the implications and possibilities.

Unfortunately, familiarity had indeed bred contempt. Angel reminded Lindsey of far too many darlings of the campus who found that by standing around and keeping their mouths shut, that people would, if not think they were deep at least not realize how truly dim they were. Good-looking men who had never tried to make conversation or turn on the charm, rivals whose only obligation seemed to be to look decorative - they had infuriated him in the days when he was working two jobs and trying to put himself through school. Angel sometimes seemed the embodiment of those favorites of fate. Being a ne'er-do-well had earned the rebellious son eternal life, being the embodiment of evil had earned the vampire a soul; all the pitfalls that destroyed other men seemed to bless this creature, and yet Angel brooded and sighed as his minions danced around, anxious to make it all better.

Lindsey looked up to find Wesley watching him with quiet amusement. The room he had ducked into was lined with mediocre shelving and had a battered conference table covered with notes and books. The Brit sat in one of the armless straight-back chairs that surrounded the table, looking as if he had been up all night studying for a final he knew he would flunk. Of course, being the brains of this operation must be a high pressure job, and quite frustrating given the candlepower of the rest of Angel's staff. Lindsey wondered if Wesley had to break all his thoughts into Angel-sized pieces or if the vamp just trusted him and realized he wasn't the thinking part of the team.

"This secret, forces-of-good information or can anybody take a gander?" Lindsey gestured to the scrolls and notes.

"Gander? Umm, yes, feel free, this may actually concern you," Wesley said. The Brit adjusted his glasses and made a point of lifting the volume he was currently perusing, but as Lindsey pulled up a chair across from him he felt the other man's gaze linger on him. If it hadn't been for Cordelia's off-the-cuff comment the previous night he would have chalked it up to the normal mistrust Angel's staff seemed to have for an allegedly former 'lawyer from hell', but now he was uncomfortably glad he had put on a shirt. Soon though, all thoughts of the ex-Watcher were driven from his mind as he became absorbed in the dark flowing script on a legal pad offering
translation notes on an obscure prophecy regarding the world wrecker.

* * * * *

Cordelia laughed as Dawn gaped at the tiny, ancient woman, who emerged from the long black limo clad from head to toe in red leather. The delicate grande dame wore skin-tight leather pants paired with a bolero jacket and accompanied by calf-high boots and a jaunty cap which sported silver studs. The woman crossed not ten feet from where Cordy, Fred and Dawn were sitting in the sidewalk cafe and walked into the boutique next door as if she owned the place. Given her dubious fashion sense, Cordelia thought, that was highly unlikely. Cordelia had put the morning news out of her mind and was dedicating the day to schooling Dawn on the secrets of appearing haute couture on a limited budget. After the fashion show, they had spent the day prowling the stores of Rodeo Drive, although they had yet to make a purchase.

Once they had refueled on mochas Cordelia would steer her apprentice to the best second-hand and knock-off shops in LA to apply their current research. She was glad that her previous trip with the witches would enable her to weed out the ones without fresh merchandise. They really needed a couple days to get a working wardrobe for the new school year. Maybe Xander could be talked into staying - they rarely got invaded twice in one week.

The waiter was just clearing away their cups when Dawn went silent in the middle of a story about what a member of the audience had been wearing at the fashion show she had attended the day before. At first, Cordelia attributed this to the presence of the waiter, who was cute in a loser/not-working actor sort of way. Yet when she looked at Dawn she saw that rather than blushing, the girl had turned white as a sheet. Cordelia quickly followed Dawn's wide-eyed gaze and saw a stunning blonde on the arm of a well dressed Asian man.

They had emerged from a white limousine, crossed the sidewalk without so much as a glance in either direction and went into the neighboring boutique. The woman was elegantly understated in a simple blue dress that probably cost at least two months' rent on Cordelia's apartment. She could have been an actress or model but was more likely some trophy wife to a balding, fat, inattentive husband. Sour grapes much, Cordy thought, but pushed her uncharitable jealousy aside and tried to figure out what was the matter with Dawn. The girl was almost hyperventilating and was still staring at the door of the boutique.

Cordelia reached across the small table and laid her hand over Dawn's, "Dawnie?"

Dawn blinked and turned her fearful look on Cordelia but said nothing. She then gasped and looked around frantically. Fred, with survival instincts honed from years of hiding, whispered, "Let's go home."

Cordy wasn't sure if Dawn was looking for someone or for some place to hide. "Dawnie, honey, what's the matter?" Looking back at the limo idling by the curb, Cordelia noticed the vanity plate which read WH666.

"We have to go!" There were tears forming in Dawn's eyes as she struggled to communicate through her obvious terror. "I... We... Xander... Take me back. Take me to Spike and Xander...please!"

"It's okay. Come on." Cordelia quickly paid the check and hustled the girl and a wide-eyed Fred to Angel's car. Everything about Dawn's reactions screamed Hellmouth and she didn't feel ready to deal with whatever it was on her own. Rather than set off their brood of overprotective men with a phone call in which she could convey no details, Cordelia engaged her Sunnydale driving mode.

Dawn hugged her knees to her chest the entire ride home and bolted past a startled Angel and up the stairs as soon as she entered the hotel.

"What happened?" Angel was at Cordelia side before she could blink.

"I'm not sure, but it's not good," she said.

Part Twelve

Dawn burst through the door sobbing and practically dove onto Spike. The vampire scrambled to make sure all his dangly bits were covered as his mate shook off his post-coital sleep.

"She's back. She's back. She's back." Dawn's whispered words had an oddly autistic feel to it and Spike feared they were going to lose her to the near catatonia that had claimed her after Buffy's death.

"Hold on, Nibblet," he said, pulling her into his covered lap and stroking her hair as Xander looked at him wide-eyed and helpless. "We're here. I've got you."

"Talk to me, Dawnie," Xander said, reaching for his jeans and trying to dress under the sheet. "Who's 'she'? What's got you scared? We'll take her down together, honey, just talk to me."

"Glory. I saw Glory. She got out of a limousine. Oh, God! I saw Glory," Dawn's voice rose in volume and in pitch.

Xander looked up as Willow and Tara came through the still-open door followed closely by Angel and Cordy. "What the hell happened?" he snapped at Cordelia as he stood and zipped his jeans, wishing he had had time to wash up and put on underwear. While part of his mind catalogued Tara taking Dawn into her arms while Spike dressed, unconcerned for his audience once Dawn's attention was off him and Angel's nose twitching at the musky scent of sex, the bulk of his attention was on Cordelia.

"This blonde got out of a limo, with one of the lawyers from Wolfram and Hart. She walked right by us and didn't pay any attention, just went into a story, but Dawn freaked. Who is she? What's going on?" Cordelia stepped back into Angel's arms and he pulled her back against his chest.

"Glory?" Angel's vampiric hearing had obviously caught every word Dawn had said. "I thought she was dead. Didn't you say Buffy had destroyed her?"

Xander snagged Spike's discarded tee shirt from the night before. "Hey," Xander said, his voice muffled as he put it on, "I saw you dust Darla - these friends of yours have issues with letting dead demons stay that way."

"Then it's a good thing you were planning to leave tonight," Angel said, seeming already lost in thought about what he was going to do.

"No way. You can't run from Glory. We tried that. We're taking her out. It's the only way to be sure." Xander shoved past the stunned vampire followed closely by Spike.

Angel and Cordelia followed, leaving the witches to look after Dawn. Still shadowed by his lover, Xander strode down the wide staircase into the lobby. Ignoring a cringing Fred he shouted, "Hey, lawyer-boy!" As Lindsey emerged from the library with Wesley he continued, "I need a core dump on everything you know about Wolfram and Hart."

* * * * *

Lilah rounded on Gavin, fists clenched at her sides. The boutique was oddly untouched, given the shambles the Diva had left of her quarters. An old woman, dressed expensively and obviously a customer was dead and the shop girl sat drooling in the corner, rocking back and forth, murmuring some nonsense rhyme. The Diva stood like a statue her - a beautiful and deadly work of art. Glorificus had her fingertips pressed gently against her
temples, and had a look of rapture on her face. Not that after the last twenty-four hours Lilah wouldn't like some of whatever it was she was on, but the last thing she wanted to explain to Linwood was a stoned hellgod.

"You said to keep her amused." Gavin backpedaled in the face of Lilah's near-homicidal rage. Around them a cleaner crew from the firm was getting rid of the evidence. Hopefully, by evening the strange and mysterious
disappearance of the two women wouldn't even be a blurb on the news.

"By which I meant anything up to and including your own ritual suicide, but I never gave you permission to remove her from a controlled environment," Lilah snapped.

The cleaners lifted the mindless shopgirl off the floor by her elbows, and as they dragged the limp form past her, Lilah heard her chanting, "Two Slayers, no waiting," over and over.

* * * * *

"Stop sulking," Cordelia said, and handed him a warm mug of blood.

Angel had no time to wonder when the impeccable Cordelia Chase had overcome her aversion to icky bodily fluids to see that he feed. He wasn't sulking, but thought he would sound like a four-year-old if he pointed that out.

He was irritated. Xander Harris had gotten more information out of Lindsey McDonald in the last hour than Angel had gotten in the entire time he had dealt with the lawyer. He refused to admit that it might be because Xander showed no emotional reaction to any answer, he didn't interrupt, and he had an uncanny ability to drill down on important details. Spike was taking notes on everything Lindsey said and making lists of information Xander told him they would need.

When Tara came down to update them on Dawn, Xander gave her the list and told her to have Willow power up the laptop. As she headed back upstairs, Angel felt a strange prickling sensation when Xander added, "Tell her we're going all out, and have her make up a shopping list."

"Xander," Angel said. "You can't declare war on these people. Lindsey, tell him..."

"Tell him what? That they're dangerous? I think he gets that better than you," Lindsey grimaced at the cold coffee he had just sipped.

"Listen, Deadboy, I get it, but you have been doing the whole diplomacy dance with these guys for what? Three years? Fine. You can go right back to dancing once I disarm the hellgod. The lawyers from hell are yours, but
Glory is ours and we are not turning tail and hoping she doesn't hold a grudge." Xander rubbed his eyes.

"Xander?" Willow's voice came down from the gallery. "I started... stuff, and I can get most of what I need delivered 'cause hey, it's L.A., but can you get me five hundred gallons of holy water?"

"I'll make some calls - give me an hour," he said. At Angel's incredulous look he added, "What?"

* * * * *

Cordelia marveled as, true to form, a U-Haul showed up within the hour. "Oh, my God, Aura! How are you!" The former Cordette was a junior at UCLA, but they rarely crossed paths; Cordy had avoided her friend, ashamed to no longer be the Queen C everyone expected. Aura introduced her friends. One was a fellow coed, but the other two were aspiring young actress, one of whom - Janet - Cordy had met at an audition.

"We're part of the L.A. branch of C.O.T.H.," Aura said.

The young women shamelessly ogled Gunn and the commandos as they unloaded the truck and stacked its contents in the lobby.

"This been tested?" Spike asked as Graham sat down a ten gallon jug of Polar water.

"We use it all the time, and it's never failed before," said one of the girls.

"Open it." Spike nodded to Finn, who was putting down the container he had just carried in. Riley broke the plastic seal and peeled it off. "Stick your fingers in, " Spike commanded. Riley complied and Graham stood close. Holding out his forearm, Spike said, "Touch me." Riley extended one damp finger to the vampire's exposed flesh. A sizzle sounded as he made contact.

"Vampire!" The young ladies each reached for one of the large bottles.

"Hold it." Xander's voice boomed from above and he ran down the stairs to his lover. "He's with me," he said putting himself between Spike and the women.

"Oh, my God! You're like, him, right? You're that Spike guy! This is so cool! You killed a dragon and you're like five thousand years old and you killed that hell-god person and... this is so cool! Really, it's an honor," the tiny brunette gushed as her sidekick giggled and nodded.

Cordy looked at Xander, who shrugged. Interrupting Spike's fan club, which had grown to include the two other women now clustering around the blonde - who to be honest looked rather dazed - she said, "Not that I'm complaining, but where did you get five hundred gallons of holy water? Do you know how expensive this is?"

"Oh," Janet dismissed the growing pile of bottles, "Father Juan, down at IC, he's like a hundred and three. He doesn't say mass any more but he'd bless anything, including a truck, for a fifty-dollar donation to the orphans and hey, if the truck is filled with bottled water... "

After the girls left, Cordy lifted an eyebrow and said, "Five thousand years old?"

"Don't look at me," Xander said.

Gunn, Finn, and Miller started to move the water to where Willow had set up her magic lab. Xander dragged Spike up to their room to go over the plan. As they crossed the lobby and walked up the stairs Cordy heard Spike say, "What the hell was that about, Pet?"

"Hey, you were a legend long before you started dating me. You know legends... well, they grow a little with each telling." Xander sounded embarrassed.

"Yeah, not what I meant. I know why all your friends are birds - 'cause you're a nancy boy - but why are they all insane?" Spike drawled.

"Whoa, glasshouse-boy, you dated Drusilla for like a million years. I may have you beat on quantity, but you win, hands down - " Xander said.

"Right, don't go there, luv." Finally they were out of earshot.

* * * * *

Lilah watched Glory. The crew had simply picked her up as if she were frozen in place. The hellgod now stood in the center of her room. She hadn't moved so much as an eyelash since Lilah had burst onto the scene at the shop. This was more than some sort of intoxication brought on from her impromptu meal. After grilling Gavin about just what had sparked this episode, Lilah had determined that the Diva had fed not from hunger, but from boredom.

Gavin had sounded surprised that Glorificus hadn't even looked at the merchandise. The stupid boy had actually thought to amuse a god with shopping. The Diva's minions had most likely procured everything for her in the past, and if the hellgod had thought at all about why they were at the boutique, shopping would not have crossed her mind. Gavin had described the amused look in Glorificus' eyes as she slipped behind the women as they examined a handbag and how she had plunged her fingers into both skulls.

The idiot boy wouldn't live long enough to develop the ability to shrug off the habit of thinking of their clients as human. Lilah had long ago given up any surprise at the actions of the special clients. Gavin had made a fatal mistake in assuming that because the hellgod looked like a beautiful woman that she could be treated as such. Lilah was sure she could use this to get Linwood to terminate the obsequious young lawyer. Now, she just had to find away to cover up a dysfunctional hellgod, should Glorificus not emerge from contemplating her inner beauty.

Her earlier calls had not led to a connection who could generate portals at will, but a rumor that there was a player in town who might be able to deliver Angelus to the firm before the precogs indicated Darla would return, thus negating the need to open the portal. Her contact was going to set up a meeting with the one being who had survived several previous encounters with the souled vampire, and had almost as deep a connection to him as Darla.

* * * * *

Faith rolled over, pushing her sweat-soaked hair off her face. Dim light streamed though the bars of her tiny cell and she opened all her senses to the stillness of the prison's night. There was none of the muffled sobs or
nighttime ravings she had become so accustomed to and she cautiously lowered herself down from the upper bunk. Her cell, for the moment, was private.

The unnatural stillness was broken by the sound of the cell door, all the cell doors, rolling open. That in itself should have set off a multitude of alarms and brought guards running from all directions, but there wasn't a sound. There was a muffled feeling to the air that she had always associated with major magic. Remembering Wolfram and Hart owed her major payback, Faith crouched in the far corner of her cell and prepared for the worst.

The worst came in the form of a tiny bouncing blue spark. The spark zoomed straight for her and stopped instantly an inch above the tip of her nose.

"What the fuck?" She tried to pull back and see the spark without crossing her eyes but it followed.

"Come. Come." It hummed in a genderless buzz.

"What? Why? Would you back off?" She swatted at it, furiously waving her hand in front of her face.

It bounced back and continued bouncing about the cell and sort of giggled, all the while saying "Come. Come."

"I am not going anywhere - especially with you." Faith frowned and began to get dressed. If this thing was setting her up, well, she had fought naked before but no matter what she had told Buffy's little entourage, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The thought of the late Slayer gave her pause. Maybe this wasn't payback from the lawyers. Maybe the Watchers needed a new Slayer. As in brand new. As in whack Faith.

That gave her an uncomfortable feeling, to say the least. On one hand, she really didn't want to die. On the other, there were things out there, and while she was in here, dallying with redemption, people were dying. Maybe she owed it to her destiny to let the bastards kill her, to let another, better suited to the role, be called. The world was a fucked up place and without B. to watch over it, there was no telling how bad things could get.

"Who wants me to come?" she asked the still-humming spark.

"The seer says come. Come. Come." Its hum increased in volume and Faith got the impression that the spark was fond of this seer.

"What seer? Who does this seer work for?" She wondered if it could answer. Anyone trying to set her up would be hiding who they were - wouldn't they?

"The seer of the unbreathing warrior of light. Come. Come. Hurry. Come." It bounced out the door to the cell and back in like a tiny dog trying to coax a walk out of its owner.

Faith knew only one unbreathing warrior of light, but the spark hadn't said Angel sent it. Why would Cordelia want her to come? Glancing around the cell, she grabbed a few personal items - there weren't many - and followed the spark.

The reason for the eerie silence was evident in her trek out though the open doors. Every being in the prison - guards, prisoners, other staff - was stock still in place, like a giant game of freeze tag. Each one was paused
between one instant and the next. All the doors were wide open and as Faith finally stepped off the prison grounds, she heard each and every one swing shut in unison.

"Hurry. Hurry. Come. Come." The spark urged her by zipping around her head and dashing off repeatedly into the darkness. Faith followed the spark at a jog for almost a mile before looking back to see all of the outer lights, which had been noticeably absent, blink on. "Hurry. Not stand - come." The spark began its zipping again.

"All right already, I'm coming." she said with irritation. After another mile she saw it. Sitting in the middle of nowhere, without a light or a building in sight was Angel's great big old boat of a car.


Part Thirteen

McDonald had to admit he was impressed. Angel had invited Lorne over to pick his brain about any rumors concerning this Glorificus. Xander, however, had latched on to Lorne with the same tenacity he had used in questioning Lindsey. Xander asked questions that never seemed to occur to the souled vamp. The human appeared to be better versed in the subtle dealings of the demon world; he not only asked who was doing what and who was talking to whom, but would ask how another, unrelated third party felt about certain recent alliances. He seemed to realize that a single change anywhere could set off a wealth of consequences. The young man would have made a great lawyer.

Xander had, at first, appeared willing to just listen to Angel question Lorne, until the Pylean had mentioned that someone had been asking for Spike that afternoon. The person had been a half-breed from whom the firm occasionally bought information, and had only heard that Spike might have been there the night before. Given that Spike and Xander had left early, the snitch was unaware that Spike had been with Angel's party. The informant seemed to think it had been a chance meeting of Sire and Childe and that only the location -- Caritas being magically-enforced neutral ground -- had prevented one of their legendary dust-ups. Upon hearing this, Xander's eyes had lit with unholy glee and he had started interrogating Lorne about the snitch. He had even somehow co-opted Lindsey to play secretary, since his lover was off on some errand for him.

"Xander, I don't think..." Angel said. The detective was shifting uncomfortably in the doorway of the library as Lindsey, Wesley, Lorne and Xander sat around the conference table. The notes on the prophesy had been usurped by schematics of the firm's office building, detailed charts of the surrounding buildings and underground structures, along with various lists in Xander's nearly illegible handwriting and Spike's precise clerk-like script.

"No, no. I can work with this..." Xander bounced in his chair and clicked the speed dial on his cell phone. "Are you done?" He asked by way of greeting. "Well, what's taking so long?" Lindsey thought that the young man
sounded like an anxious lover rather than someone plotting to invade the devil's law firm. "Well, hurry up... I got an idea! We're gonna have so much fun." Angel groaned and Lindsey smothered his smirk in his hand. "Uh huh," Xander said. "No, go as fast as you can, Angel will understand if you get a ticket. Hurry back."

"Why will I understand..." Angel started and stopped when the young man disconnected the call and batted his long lashes, while giving him an innocent smile. Lindsey lost it and made an odd snorking sound when the vamp said, "Where's my car?"


Cordelia bit her lip and sorted through the pile of clothes. Xander had asked her to put together something stealthy. Of course, being a man, when she had asked him what sizehe needed, he had blinked in confusion and then said, "About your size". Her brief sojourn into working retail had shown her that every man answered that question the same way. She had taken in returns size two through twenty for women who brought in birthday presents she had sold their husbands. Thankfully, Tara and Dawn had donated clothing and spilled the
beans about who would be wearing it. In addition to wondering if there was anything here slutty enough, Cordelia now had to anticipate Angel's reaction - not to mention Wesley's.

Abandoning her task, Cordy decided that although she had promised to let Xander break the news to Angel, it would be best if she had a word with Wesley herself. She left the third-floor bedroom and stopped next door to
see if Fred knew where he was, and ask if she had extras of shampoo and stuff for their 'guest'.


Gunn waited in the cab of his pickup. He had adopted the spy system which had worked so well for the C.O.T.H. when the Initiative had shut down all the cell phones. Miller had been impressed with how the kids had passed
messages via joggers from civilians loitering in the area. Gunn had borrowed the manpower from his crew. He felt a little guilty in disrupting their regular patrols, but as his buddy Carl had pointed out, it all balanced out
in that this way they didn't feel as indebted for all the commando training.

He noticed Carl rounding the corner, and wondered if anyone would notice that this was the third time this evening that this guy had stopped to tie his shoe by his truck.

"They're still lapping the lobby. It's odd - all the foot patrols. All that should be on their monitors. They have a guy checking all the cars - not that any are let into the garage, but he's waiting at the entrance. He sent two away. " Carl took his time, not looking up as he tied.

"Anything else?" Gunn asked.

"Yeah, I just noticed. That upscale bar off the lobby - it's closed, on a Saturday night," he said.


Lilah sank into the chair behind her desk. She was getting too old for this. She lifted her purse out of a drawer and removed a bottle of pills. She had a prescription, so that there could be no question as to her right to have them, but she rarely permitted herself this weakness. It would too easy for someone like Gavin to exploit. But, as this looked to be her second sleepless night, she shook out two of the tiny white tablets and rinsed them down with cold coffee.

It was just possible that all her phone calls would pay off. She had someone working on setting up a meeting, which would be tonight if fortune smiled. Hopefully she could make Glorificus obsolete before upper management realized the expense this defunct project was going to generate. How does one disposed of a used hellgod?


Faith was almost to the car when a light flared in the deepest shadows off to the left. A sharp, aristocratic face was highlighted by the flickering flame of a lighter. Definitely not Angel, but her senses screamed 'vampire'.

"Get in - now," he said. William the Bloody, dressed in black jeans and a tee shirt and looking like a wet dream. She remembered him from her brief sojourn in Buffy's body. He hadn't seemed dangerous that night in the
Bronze; she had even toyed with him. God, she thought, had she really been that stupid or just incredibly naive? She hadn't thought she had much to lose then, but he wasn't some freshly risen minion - she must have been
fucking suicidal.

"Well, don't just stand there," he growled, "get in!" He nodded toward the passenger side. It had been so long since she had been this close to any vamp but Angel. Angel no longer sent her instincts into Slayer mode, but she had no idea how long she could stay near this... creature, without doing something stupid.

He said nothing on the ride into LA. He drove fast but safely and didn't appear to be watching her. Of course, if she staked him going ninety down the freeway she'd be a pile of ash too, or worse. As he parked across from a
creepy old hotel she asked, "What's going on?"

"Innit obvious?" He pinned her with his laser-blue gaze and said, "It's the end of the world."

The vampire followed her up to the hotel entrance in a silent glide. As Faith opened the door she heard raised voice. One she had almost expected, and one which made her want to squirm with guilt.

"You can't just make a decision like that," Angel shouted. From the entryway Faith could see Cordelia pulling on Angel's arm while Xander held a sobbing Dawn tucked under his arm.

Dawn. How could she have forgotten Buffy's kid sister? She was obviously the girl from the dream, but until that moment Faith had somehow completely erased the girl from her memory.

"Made and done, Deadboy - and if not me, who?" Faith was stunned at the aggressive growl in the young man's voice; this wasn't the Xander she remembered.

She hadn't really paid any attention when she was last in Sunnydale. She vaguely remembered a girl hanging on him... Ann? Anna? He looked good in clothes that molded themselves to his body. And what a body; this wasn't the same skinny boy she had known. He stood toe to toe and eye to eye with Angel. His shoulders were just as broad as the vampire's and even though Xander was only human he radiated a restrained violence that was new and exciting.

"Glory is our responsibility," Xander insisted as Willow's quiet girlfriend took Dawn from him and ushered her up the stairs.


Gavin slammed the door to his office, which was six floors below where he deserved to be. Lilah had suggested he go home and get some rest. He knew she was up to something, but with the security system still sporadically on and off line he couldn't bribe a guard to leak any information to him. She had gone so far as to imply she would need his help with Glory tomorrow, which almost guaranteed that something was going down tonight. Using his private line he called his contact at Caritas.


Gunn had left Carl in charge of the surveillance. He had a feeling that Harris was only going to use his own people, but wanted to see if he could get dealt into the game. It was probably smart to stick with faces that
Wolfram and Hart weren't familiar with but he had enjoyed working with the Sunnydale crew and wanted to again.

As he entered the hotel, Gunn noticed a big-eyed girl looking like she would like to bolt right back outside lingering at the doors. Spike was nearby, but it was unclear if he were her guard or just an amused member of the audience. The girl was a pretty, fragile-looking thing that reminded Gunn strongly of Fred.

"It's okay," he said to her, hoping to put her at ease. "They butt heads all the time but it doesn't mean anything."

She turned a stunned look on him and then smiled tentatively. She really was beautiful. Without any sign of make-up and in nondescript gray attire she still radiated an energy. She wasn't the only one startled by his comment. Spike snickered and Angel gaped and said, "Faith?"

"I... I understand that the world's going to end, again," she said. She pushed back her long brown hair and twisted her fingers around a lock in a nervous gesture.

"I can't believe you did this," Angel said to Xander.

Xander ignored him and nodded to the tiny brunette. "Faith," he said.

"Xander," she said, looking down and shuffling her feet.

Gunn tentatively touched her arm and asked, "Are you all right?"

Xander cleared his throat and seemed to shake off whatever tension the girl's presence had added to the room. "Gunn? Cordy has a room ready for Faith, next to Fred's. Would you show her the way? Faith... you may want to clean up; we're going to go dancing. Your kind of dancing."

As they went up the stairs, Gunn noticed that the arguing was much more subdued.


Tara had taken Dawn out of the battle zone. Willow was frantically preparing for the rest of the evening and Tara needed to rest after what they had just pulled off. It was one thing to see the 'Omega Plan' on paper, and quite another to implement it.

Willow had been right; most of the work had gone into the preparation. The actual spells done tonight had mostly involved setting off other spells that had been primed by ritual all through the summer. She was almost grateful for all of Xander's contingency plans. Willow really needed an outlet to stretch her powers and to hone that clever mind of hers, and preparing for the worst kept her busy, and prevented her from meddling with more dangerous magics out of boredom.

Up on the third floor she and Dawn settled into a cozy alcove, much more like a living room than the spacious lobby. She was unsure where to start and Dawn was tensing up in anticipation.

"Ah... Dawn. Willow wanted me to ask you, just... How much do you remember about Faith?"

"Well, Mom liked her. Buffy was jealous at first. Willow used to defend her and then... something happened, besides the Mayor, because Willow was really angry..."

"Yeah, about that... Listen, it's really important that we don't mention Faith and Xander around Spike. Willow... well, I agree with her, she thinks that we should try to leave the past in the past," Tara said.

Tara was twisting her fingers together and focused on her hands in her lap, so she missed Dawn's shocked look until the girl gasped, "Faith and Xander dated!"

"No! Well, not exactly dated. It's just better if Spike doesn't know -" Tara broke off as one of the old floorboards creaked. She was sure that with the luck of the Hellmouth, Spike would be standing there.

Instead, Gunn nodded and smiled. "She's going to shower. I didn't want to hang around outside her room so... if you could just send her down, I'll go see if we have any leftovers. She shouldn't go on whatever Xander has
planned without eating."

As Gunn headed down the stairs, Dawn leaned over to Tara and giggled. "He has it bad."


It had been heaven to shower alone. Faith had changed into a pair of workout pants and a black camisole. She assumed Cordelia had supplied the toiletries. Most were trial-size samples, but she had been grateful for the
mascara and lipstick, even though they were obviously the free gifts offered with a fragrance purchase. She had felt naked without makeup and could now face Buffy's team and their justified hostility.

Faith heard the music as soon as she left her room. She followed the soft guitar and a sweet smoky voice to a small parlor in front of the now-defunct elevators. It had a homey look but she figured Angel spent few of his daylight hours there since wide floor-to-ceiling windows looked down over the front drive. The singer had his back to her and his audience consisted of Willow's girlfriend and Buffy's little sister.

He sang, "Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you

With or without you
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you [1]"

"Faith." Dawn interrupted his song and Faith couldn't have been more surprised when she saw that the singer, who turned quickly, was Lindsey McDonald.

The lawyer looked ten years younger without his corporate suit. He was well-tanned and his sun-streaked hair fell into his eyes. As he pushed it back, she noticed a beaded turquoise bracelet around his wrist.

"Um, hi," Dawn said, with a ghost of her sister's smile. She waved nervously and looked to the blonde beside her.

"You're looking well," Lindsey said. He appeared relaxed as he watched her step further into the room, but Faith could almost see the wheels turning behind his eyes. Apparently she was a bit of a surprise to more than just

"I'm Tara. We met before... when... you weren't yourself," the blonde woman said with a sly smile.

Faith returned the smile. The shy girl had hardly been able to speak to Faith when she thought Faith was Buffy and Faith appreciated Tara's attempt to lighten the atmosphere. The dark Slayer felt awkward and she was
consciously trying not to make fists. Circling around Lindsey, she still hung back, not wanting to appear threatening and unsure of just how relaxed she should try to act. She put both hands behind her and clasped them tightly together so she wouldn't look as nervous as she felt.

Desperate to break the growing silence Faith said, "So... does anyone know what's going on?"

"Being an ex-evil lawyer," Lindsey drawled and winked at Dawn, "I'm kind of out of the loop. But I think that the out-of-town team is planning to take down Wolfram and Hart."

"Oh, no." Dawn bounced. "We... " She looked at Tara and at her nod continued, "That's not in the plan. Xander promised Angel the lawyers are his. We're just going to use the Olaf maneuver on Glory."

"Okay," Lindsey said to the nodding, bouncing teen. He looked at Faith, who was now in front of him and a little to the left of the sofa that Dawn and Tara were on. Faith answered his raised eyebrow with a shrug.

"Glory..." she said. "Angel said that she killed Buffy." Faith winced as she saw pain in the girl's eyes.

Tara put an arm around Dawn's shoulder and said, "No. Buffy defeated Glory - we all thought she was dead. Buffy died to keep the walls between the worlds intact. Glory had already started to lower them and Buffy used her life force to heal the breach."

"But now this Glory is back?" Faith asked.

"Having a hellgod in your debt could be useful in many ways. It looks like the firm has either taken her on as a client or has a client in need of her abilities," Lindsey said.

"So, why am I here?" Faith perched tentatively on the arm of the sofa.

"You and Xander are going to bust Glory out, Spike is going undercover, and once we get her out of their wards, Willow and Tara are sending her to the world without shrimp," Dawn said.

"Huh?" Lindsey and Faith said together.

"Oh, there's a world without shrimp, and a world of perpetual Tuesday, but Willow thought that would be too cruel even for Glory." Tara said.

Lilah stationed the remaining four Anubians inside Glorificus' chamber. There was little danger of her wreaking havoc in her earlier manner as she still stood in the center of the room in almost the same position as earlier. The building was almost as secure as normal so Lilah's biggest concern was that some internal threat would use the hellgod's vulnerability to discredit her. She knew Gavin had remained in the building, so she gave
orders that permitted him to visit but that would prevent the Diva from being taken on anymore unauthorized field trips.

The silent jackal-headed demons had refitted the room after her earlier morning tantrum. It was once again an elegant boudoir filled with frilly amenities. Almost as an afterthought as she left, Lilah ordered the demons to place Glorificus on the divan.

She decided to stay close. Besides, she thought, this floor was much better warded. Lilah ordered a sycophant to set up the conference room for her meeting. Once everything was to her liking, she sent the last of the staff
home. It was hard to train help and she didn't want her 10:30 mistaking anyone for an appetizer - his file said he was impetuous.

[1] With or without you - U2


Part Fourteen

Gunn sat in awe as the tiny brunette polished off her third roast beef sandwich. She licked her fingers and flirted shamelessly, asking if he had said something about dessert. Faith seemed less defensive once she had
showered and changed. Or maybe it was just seeing old friends, although there was something up with her and the Sunnydale crew. He was glad he had overheard Tara briefing Dawn on Faith and Xander's history. It put the
awkwardness he sensed into perspective. Gunn mused that Harris had been really chancing it to send his current to pick up his ex, but apparently no harm had come from it. He still wasn't sure where Xander had sent the vampire, having skirted the muted muttering coming from the library when he had been hunting up some food for their guest. He hoped that Faith was going to stick around once Xander had taken care of this Glory. Since Xander seemed to have gotten custody of the friends after their break-up, maybe Faith could be persuaded to join the agency.


Lorne disconnected the call on his cell phone . He looked at Spike, sitting next to him at the darkened conference table, and said, "She is expecting you at 10:30. Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Spike," Angel interjected before the blonde could answer, "this isn't a game. This firm is made up of, and deals with, demons of all natures, including vampires. The building has unimaginable wards and security systems-"

"Covered, Deadboy," Xander said and nodded to Willow.

Willow set down her mocha and started to tap out a key sequence on her laptop. A wire ran from the computer to a slide projector and schematics appeared on a screen fastened to the front of the far set of bookshelves.
She bounced in her chair as she outlined the information she had borrowed from the firm and added the addendums Lindsey had supplied. "Fortunately for us, they had some sort of accident last night."

"Accident?" Angel asked.

"Glory is notoriously hard on property," Xander said.

"I've been tweaking their system, both magically and software-wise, off and on. It appears to them as if the problems are improving, but I can control the level of surveillance their system will offer and shut it down entirely if you need," she said.

As she reached for the coffee again her hand encountered Tara's. "I think you've had enough for now," the blonde said, having slipped in during Willow's rapid fire lecture.

"How's Dawn?" Willow, Xander and Spike said in unison.

"She fine," Dawn said from her seat near the door.

Angel chuckled and smirked at his Childe. Spike growled and said, "You shouldn't be here, Nibblet. What say the Seer takes you to her place?"

"I'm staying. It's bad enough you're walking right in there... I can't be expected to just not think about it. I want to be here so I'll know... if anything..."

Spike was by her side in a instant. He knelt next to her and whispered, "Hush, now. None of that."

A few tears had slipped out and she wiped them away and said, "I saw what she did... before. You were... God, you couldn't see, you could hardly move... she ... "

Xander left his lists and rose from his seat. He crossed cautiously to Dawn and looked down at the frightened girl. "I swear to you, I won't let anything happen to him... Dawnie, I ... " He cupped her cheek and she threw her arms around him, pressing her face to his stomach.

"It's all right, luv. I'm not taking her on alone this time. Got Red watching my back, " Spike said. "You trust us, Nibblet. We'll make sure the nasty bitch never frightens you again."

"It's just... when I thought about you using the Olaf maneuver on her, I never thought you would be up close and personal. This," she said and gestured to the projection, "all seems too real."


When the time came, there was organized chaos. Last minute instructions from the witch, Xander going over the plan one more time, Spike wrapping Dawn in his duster even though it was almost ninety degrees outside. Gunn pulled back his people and he, Angel, Miller, and Finn each took a compass point one block from the firm and waited. Faith followed Xander and Spike, hoping they had a chance in hell to pull this off without someone dying. Riley hadn't so much as looked her in the eye and his friend looked ready to kill her.

They walked swiftly down the sidewalk. Outwardly, she guessed she looked as if she were being protected, flanked as she was by the two larger men. They ducked down into the entrance of the parking garage. Xander bounced and babbled about calling the Triple A while Spike took the guard out, snapping his neck with a eerie calm. The vampire buttoned up the shirt of the blood-free uniform over Xander's broad chest. While the corpse cooled, he looked deep into the young man's eyes and whispered, "No heroics, eh? Generals're supposed to think up the plans, not die on the field of battle."

Faith got the shock of her life when the lethal blond pulled Xander's face down to his and kissed him with an intensity that could melt asphalt.

Xander laughed and said, "Don't do that - you know my brain shuts down for sex." He was still smiling when he traced the angular line of the vampire's cheek. He sighed and said, "Okay, from here on in it's by the numbers. Give me 20 minutes - that'll make you 10 minutes late for your meeting and she'll expect at least that - then go in the front. I'll be back here in 30 and let Faith in. You stall, be annoying, pretend she's Angel, but keep her talking. Wait for the signal-"

"What signal?" Faith said.

"The scent of my blood. He can sense it... well, pretty far," Xander said.

"I can't give that signal. What if something happens to you?" Faith said.

"Don't let anything happen to him, Slayer," Spike hissed, shifting to gameface.

"Do I have to separate the two of you? Because I will. I mean it, I'll turn this car right around." Xander poked Spike in the chest as he spoke.

Spike gave him a rueful smile and said, "You're not indestructible, Pet."

"I'm a hell of a lot harder to kill than I used to be, and I survived fine before I became your snuggle bunny," Xander said. "I need you two to work together. If I come down here and find one of you dead or dusted, the one
still standing is going to wish Glory was all they had to worry about."

Faith nodded and looked down. Peeking up under her lashes she saw William the Bloody capitulate to please his human lover and be rewarded with a deep kiss, heedless of his fangs. They broke apart, eyes wide and lips kiss- bruised. Spike had shifted to his human guise during the kiss. Xander seemed to waver for the first time since she saw him in heated debate with Angel, but shook off whatever doubts he had and stepped through the service access to the building.

She wished she had more information. Which, when she thought about it, was pretty amusing. She had spent most of her career as a Slayer just wanting to be told what to kill and how. Now, basically that was how she was being treated, and surprise, she didn't like being treated like a weapon.

Patience was not one of the vampire's virtues, if he had any. Spike paced and smoked and whirled on her suddenly and hissed, "Slayer, quit your wool-gathering. You be ready when my boy comes back. Anything happens to him and I'll make you beg to die."

"Some of us have never fought hellgods. I'm just trying to be prepared, okay?" Faith was feeling cornered. In the past, running had always solved that problem, but she doubted she would be able to run from the witches who
had basically erased her existence. Willow's girlfriend had provided the clearest translation of Sunnydale-speak to explain that although everyone in the Scoobies and Angel's little family would remember her, only those
carefully warded would remember any previous encounters. That might cover some of the Watchers; Willow wasn't sure. Lindsey thought it might cover some of Wolfram and Hart's upper echelons.

Spike seemed to be considering her closely. She doubted it was pity. More likely he felt the knowledge would protect Xander, but he began to detail Glory's strengths--she was like Superman in drag--and weaknesses-she had none. He told her how she fed and what the results were.

Soon it was time, and he left to enter the building through the front entrance.


Willow sat in front of her laptop, her hand phased into the keyboard. Images flashed across the screen, reflected in her mirror-like eyes. Her hair lifted in a gentle breeze that blew from the screen. Tara stood behind her. The blond held her palms inches away from her lover's temples and a soft blue-green glow surrounded her fingertips. Wesley turned way from the images frantically flashing across the screen when Willow whispered in an unearthly voice, "They're in."


Xander opened the door to the deserted office with his pass key. He closed and locked it as soon as Faith slipped in behind him. Lindsey had been sure that that the firm's 'guests' would be held on the next floor up. Above that one, only the senior partners had space. After the Darla incident, Lindsey had been sure they wouldn't let any acquisitions out of the building's most secure areas. Which, Xander thought, didn't explain the shopping. He jumped on a desk and removed the air conditioning vent cover. Cupping his hands, Xander silently offered Faith a boost. She gave him an odd look before placing her foot in them and pulling herself up into the vent. Turning around, she had the same puzzled look when Xander handed her up the vent cover. He then climbed up after her and used a few precious minutes reattaching the cover. They followed the vent to a vertical shaft and began the grueling climb up to the next floor. The sides were smooth and slick and the only way to move was by keeping pressure on either side of the vent as they slowly shimmied up. Faith reached the next floor's ceiling long before Xander and when he pulled himself up she was already down at the access a good fifty feet away, laying in a glow of light. He slowly crept closer and heard voices before he reached the light.

"Oy, I am not bleeding Drusilla. You cannot pay me off with dolls and ribbons. If I help you on this, the poof is mine." Spike growled.

"Master...Spike. Be reasonable. The firm can't have you dusting Angel - that would defeat the purpose," a woman's voice said.

"Dust him? Who said I want to dust him? What kind of monster do you take me for? He's my Sire. I'm not some soul-having poofter, nancing about doing good for puppies and children and sugar plum fairies. Just want to tie him up, burn his hair and beat him senseless... 'til he loves me again." Spike ended by putting his feet up on an expensive desk. His back was to the vent the woman who was facing him looked as if she didn't like her job at the moment.

Faith was stifling a snicker. Whether it was at the mental image of Spike beating Angel, or of Angel with burnt hair, Xander wasn't sure, but he nudged her and they moved on down the vent. So far the plan was holding
together - that had Xander worried.

The sight of Spike's lean form lounging with his back to the vent had gone a long way to relaxing Xander's screaming nerves. With a practiced eye he had evaluated the well-dressed lawyer meeting with his lover. She looked old. Older that Lindsey had made her sound, if this was the Morgan woman who had scheduled the meeting with Spike. Not that he would have bet on Lara Croft against William the Bloody, but then Willow didn't look all that dangerous either.


Gavin dismissed the Anubian demons and shut the door. Glorificus lounged on a backless couch, her eyes unfocused and her features slack. She was humming tunelessly. That was new; something was wrong. He wouldn't have been concerned if he could have been certain that Lilah would get the blame, but Lilah had an irritating habit of coming out of these debacles smelling like a rose. After all the time and resources the firm had invested in this project, he shuddered to think what would happen if the senior partners found out they had a malfunctioning hellgod.

When he had stumbled onto Lilah's plan, it had seemed well worth weaseling his way onboard. Although the window of opportunity for Glorificus to return to her own realm was forever gone, her ability to access other worlds was invaluable. From the files he had pilfered it seemed that the cost in keeping the hellgod fed had been deemed a fiscally sound investment. The shopping incident was unfortunate, not in the mundane people who had served as lunch, but in this unexpected result.

The dossier that Wolfram and Hart had on Glorificus indicated that without draining the minds of mortals she would become weakened and disoriented, but after feeding she was strong and in control of her not inconsiderable power. Yet this feeding had seemed as painful for Glorificus as it was for the worthless humans. Glory had neither moved nor spoken since feeding. This deficit was not something Lilah could sweep under the rug, and Gavin was here to make sure he didn't take the fall.

Glory's couch was surrounded by fresh flowers and a fruit basket was on a low table next to it. She showed no recognition of the lawyer and did not acknowledge his presence. She sat, still in the short blue shift from earlier.

"Well now," Gavin attempted to sound unconcerned, "I hope everything is to your liking." He crossed to her and lifted a chilled bottle of champagne from its icy home in an ornate silver holder. "If there is anything you
need, you must let me know and it will immediately be provided." He filled a glass and gently placed in next to her lax hand.

He started in shock when the fingers twitched and for just an instant blurred. The hand that lifted the glass from his was smaller and lacked Glory's red lacquered nails. Gavin looked up, stunned, into now-hazel eyes.
This blond was unexpected. Glory had hidden for years in the mortal she had been bound to, but that one had been male. Confident that the pretty young girl was no threat, he pulled out his phone, intent on informing the upper echelons of this development. The shock of seeing the stranger in place of the hellgod was nothing compared to the astonishment he experienced when that slender young woman's hand moved like a striking cobra to first grab and then crush his phone to fragments in her delicate grip.

"This place..." The woman spoke hesitantly. Looking around with dazed eyes, her forehead scrunched up confusion. "This place feels...bad." She turned hard eyes on Gavin and looked as if she would say more but cocked her head at the sounds of a scuffle outside.


"Er, hello?" A distinctly British voice called out from the lobby.

"Giles!" Dawn jumped up and rushed to the Watcher.

Cordelia turned in astonishment from the show Willow was still putting on and followed her out of the library. "Giles?"

Wesley was in his office and looked up from his phone call to nod a greeting.

"Not that we're not happy to see you, but what are you doing here?" Cordelia asked.

"I called him. He brought the thing. In case, well, it looks like the thing that worked on Glory before... and... I was worried, all right?" Dawn stomped her foot and sat down heavily. Fred crept out from a dim corridor that lead off the lobby and sat next to her.

"Hi," Fred waved. Cordelia did the introductions and was in the middle of bringing Giles up to speed on Xander's plan. It wasn't long before Fred and Dawn brought in a tray of tea.

Wesley joined them and confirmed that the warehouse where they planned to do the transport spell was set up and secure. It was only two blocks away and they would move the witches as soon as they had confirmation that their people had left the Wolfram and Hart's building.


So much for the plan, Xander thought. Faith was in her element, waling away on some dog-headed guard. A slam into the wall had given Xander a nose bleed, which had brought Spike barreling down the hall. His overprotective lover had remembered enough of the plan to bring his lawyer friend with him, but apparently the sight of Xander fighting of one of the dog-demons had Spike embracing his inner demon. He dove into the fray.

The lawyer woman was turning gray. Xander wasn't sure if it was the sight of the carnage, or the fact that until the last second, even Xander hadn't thought Spike was going to let go of her arm before engaging the guards.

The door that the demon-guards had been stationed at was the most likely place to find Glory. The melee left the door unguarded and Xander kicked it open. Pushing the lawyer in ahead of him, he figured that at least it would be out of the bloodbath in the corridor.


Gunn kept the binoculars trained on the entrance to the parking garage. Miller and Finn had a van, rented for the transport to the warehouse. If everything went according to Harris' plan he would call them for the pick up and that tiny girl and the vamp would help shove the hellgod into the back. The witches had put up a field that had contained the god briefly before and they hoped it would work until they could teleport her to another dimension. Xander had mumbled "without the van, please" when detailing that part of the plan since he had rented it with his credit card and was not looking forward to reporting it stolen.


Lilah wished she had time to savor the smug look on Gavin's face turn to shock as she was hurled though the doorway to the floor to his feet. He had no time to enjoy her submissive position before the tall, dark-haired
security guard followed her into the room.

"What is the meaning of..." As Gavin stood, the sounds of fighting in the corridor consisted of low grunts and the unmistakable sound of flesh against flesh. Dark blood splattered the door and continued to splurt in decreasing arcs. A severed limb of one of the demons dropped into view in the partially open door way.

"Sit down, shut up and don't move," the guard said.

Lilah tried to reach for her phone and had it kicked out of her hand by the guard's heavy boot. There was a cracking sound when her fingers broke. Gavin tried to use the distraction to reach for his gun. He fell back onto the couch with a scream of indescribable pain. Lilah had been told once that a broken kneecap felt like your leg from the knee down had been dipped in molten metal. His gun had landed on the floor over by the wall, there was no way she was going to try and get it. She hadn't seen the man kick, hadn't seen that heavily-booted foot connect with Gavin's knee cap, but the result was apparent. As the sobbing lawyer lay on the floor, she idly
wondered if he would ever walk again; provided, of course, he lived though this - whatever this was.

"I thought lawyers were supposed to develop listening skills?" the guard asked.

Gavin could only manage to whimper. Lilah was in pain but she wasn't as afraid of the hard-eyed young man as she was the vampire who strolled into the room. William the Bloody. She had reviewed the file on him - first when they had contacted Drusilla and then again when she had set up her meeting. In the hallway, Lilah had thought that the Lady Drusilla had accompanied her paramour on this invasion. But Drusilla had barely consented to modern fashion, and then only long dresses, and the tiny blood-covered brunette who followed the vampire in from the battle was in skin-tight leather pants and a black camisole.

"Oh, God. Faith," Lilah whispered.

Gavin had thankfully missed the firm's venture into contracting a Slayer, but Lilah was willing to bet he had heard the tales. The night had just gotten worse, she thought, and it took a lot to make a shattered kneecap the
upside of the evening.

"B., is that you?" Faith said.

The tiny blond turned toward the dark slayer. Gavin's crushed cell phone was still in her hand. She held out the remnants, palm up, like a child with a sticky candy. The guard, who was obviously not a guard, took the shattered pieces and stroked the side of the girl's face. "What have they done to you?" he asked, before turning hard eyes onto the lawyers.

The girl moaned softly and was replaced by the Glorificus. The guard drew back quickly and ended up on his ass, swearing under his breath. Glory's eyes were still unfocused. The vampire helped the human stand and the dark Slayer stepped close to them. "This changes the plan, right? What do you want me to do?" Before the man could answer, Lilah watched the god's strong, delicate fingers grab Gavin's head and his face contort with excruciating pain as they slipped inside.

Glory's scream drowned out Gavin's and Lilah tried to crawl away as his corpse hit the floor. This was not in the profile. They had expected have to living beings after she fed on their minds. Her proposal had shown that
Glory could feed off of those individuals scheduled to be deposited into the now-reestablished body bank. The fiscal viability of this venture would change drastically if they couldn't recycle the victims. First the shopkeeper and the old woman, and now Gavin. Not only was her feeding changing styles but it was more rapid than predicted. Glorificus' body convulsed. The 'feedings' were hurting her as much as her prey. Suddenly the
host was back, panting and blinking in confusion.

"Spike, carry her. Do not let her hands near your head, drop her if you have to. Faith, grab the lawyer." The two killers followed the human's orders. As they headed down the service corridors, he continued, "Stealth is out.
Spike, take them both to the pick-up site. Faith, try and keep the lawyer conscious. I want her to deliver a message."

"Xan..." the vampire whispered and leaned into the human, seeming to ignore the almost catatonic host in his arms.

They crowded into a service elevator and the human dressed as a guard used a passkey to control it. Lilah wasn't sure which was more frightening; the fact that William the Bloody was not only obeying but concerned for this human, or the fact that her only hope of escaping Faith's homicidal tendencies was to hope that she would listen to this Xan.

"Let the Slayer take..."

"Once these two are in the witches' care - make sure you tell Wills the change in the plan," he said, pausing to brush back the long hair of the new host, "... just get them out of here and see that Gunn gets everyone out of
the area. Now go, I have a building to level." Lilah didn't have time to gasp as he shoved them out into the parking garage before taking the elevator back up.


Part Fifteen

Despite the Englishman's distaste for him, Angel came close to hugging Giles when he found him waiting at the warehouse. The past thirty minutes, since Faith and Spike had emerged from the parking garage with not only the hellgod but Lilah Morgan, had been like something out of his worst nightmares.

Spike had shoved a limp Glorificus at him with an absent, "Mind her hands," and started back into the building.

Faith had stopped the vampire with a soft, "Xander said to go to the beta site." Amazingly Spike had stomped back to the waiting vehicle with nothing more than a glare

Angel spent the ride from the pick-up point watching his hyper Childe divide his glares between the hellgod and the lawyer, while Faith worried her blood-red lip between her teeth and mournfully watched the vacant expression on Glorificus' face. Finally she whispered to Lilah, "What's wrong with her?"

Lilah, whose drawn face had transformed to the set cast of a superior smirk the moment she had spotted Angel, said, "I'm not telling you anything."

Spike reached over, not even sparing the lawyer a glance, and squeezed the swelling fingers of Lilah's right hand. She shrieked and fell forward off of the bench seat onto her knees. Looking up at Angel she sobbed out, "Help me."

Angel had had it with Lilah. She wanted to dance with the devil but not pay the price. She was willing to do anything for her employers to maintain her career and her lifestyle, but still wanted to call on him to protect her when the monsters she chose to deal with became too dangerous and too threatening.

"He's a Master vampire in his own right. You chose to deal with him. Your prime concern right now should be not pissing him off," Angel said. He turned his attention to Faith. She seemed... concerned for the welfare of
the hellgod.

"She... when we collected her essence, the chosen host wasn't strong enough to survive the spell. We knew that it would diminish the time she could survive in this form, but we didn't anticipate this reaction," Lilah said. Spike had released her broken fingers when she started to answer Faith's question. The lawyer licked her lips and cradled her hand, holding it to her chest. "Feeding... " Lilah's gaze flicked from the impassive face of the souled
vampire to the vacant look of the hellgod. "When she fed, there were unforeseen results. She's been like this ever since."


Lindsey watched the van pull into the warehouse. Dawn hit the switch to lower the door before it had cleared the entrance. The girl made as if to run to the van and was stopped by a firm grip on her shoulder. Mr. Giles
seemed oblivious to her dramatic sigh and rolling of eyes. He absently sent her to where Fred and Cordelia were preparing hastily acquired hibachis with a mixture of magical herbs.

"Xander changed the plan, we're keeping her," Spike said as he stalked out of the van. He only lifted an eyebrow at the sight of the recently arrived Englishman. With a nod of his head he left the cargo with Angel and Faith.

Lindsey was shocked to see a battered and rumpled Lilah step down from the van. He was torn between prodding her for information and seeing if he could eavesdrop on the huddle Spike had pulled the little red-headed witch and Giles into. Since Lilah didn't look as if she were going anywhere he slipped closer to the vampire and his humans.

The musician had had no preconceived expectations on just what form the hellgod would take. His liked to think his tenure with the firm had made him unshockable. He wasn't, however, prepared for the sight of the stunningly beautiful woman who was carried across the warehouse by the souled vampire. With perfect posture, she sat where he placed her, like a living work of art, marred only by the vacant expression on her face.

"Oh, dear," Giles turned away from the vampire and walked slowly toward Glorificus. He walked cautiously over to the hellgod and passed a hand back and forth in front of her unfocused eyes. "Well, this changes everything,"
he said.

"Careful, she ate a lawyer while we were busting her out," Spike drawled. Then, turning to the witches, he added, "You lot get back to the hotel. Red, can you keep an eye on her? I'm going to get Xan."


Thankfully, Giles was the one who would be sorting out the reasons behind the change in Xander's plan, while Angel followed Spike back into the night. Angel had stayed only long enough to confirm that they would all be heading back to the Hyperion, and still his Childe had a wide head start. Scenting Spike's passing on the wind, Angel blocked out all other stimuli and ran through the night hunting his Childe.

He caught up with Spike only because the younger vampire had stopped in the shadow of an abstract sculpture in a courtyard between three buildings. The business district was never deserted but usually quite subdued at this hour. Now, however, the area was painted with the flashing lights of police and EMS vehicles. Less than a block from the burning building, the vampires could have blended in quite well with the crowd of onlookers but chose to remain hidden.

The headquarters of Wolfram and Hart slowly sank into the ground. Lava churned in a perfect rectangle outlining the foundation of the building. The heat given off was tremendous, but suspiciously contained. Trucks parked only meters from the site didn't even have their paint bubble, but the amazed firefighters threw bricks and metal through the sinking windows over the site, only to watch the debris burst into flame at precisely sixteen inches above the foundation.

Angel tore his gaze away from the phenomenon. He turned to Spike and realized his Childe was paying no attention to the melting skyscraper but was concentration on one of the men holding back the crowd. Xander, still dressed as Wolfram and Hart security, was assisting in setting up barricades and taping off the area around the fire trucks and ambulances. Angel marveled as the young man slapped the back of a police officer and shook hands with several of the others.

Jumping the wooden horses used to cordon off the area, Xander strode toward the darkened court yard removing the shirt of his uniform as he walked. He headed straight for the vampires. Spike waited only until the human entered the shadows before pouncing and pinning him to the sculpture. The blond buried his face in his mate's hair and thrust against his thigh. Angel could have sworn he heard Xander whisper 'moonbeam' but dismissed it as unbelievable.Finally, Xander seemed to realize that they weren't alone and chuckled, "If I knew fire got you this hot, I'd destroy stuff more often."

Spike pulled back licking the brunette's neck and said, "I was worried about you, Pet."

Xander smiled softly and brushed back Spike's hair, "And you, Deadboy? Were you worried about me? " Xander asked turning a wicked grin on Angel.

"No, Xander," Angel said. "I was worried about L.A. Think you could leave some of it standing when you go back to Sunnydale?"


Lindsey was relieved that Lilah had given up trying to charm Wesley. Given that efforts the ex-Watcher put into hiding his marked interest in Fred, Lindsey reasoned Lilah didn't have the brains or the virtue that seemed appeal to Wes. Lilah had threatened them with all manner of lawsuits until Lindsey pointed out that she wasn't exactly making a case for them to let her live. When that had failed, she had tried to appeal to Wesley's reason
by pointing out that any harm to her would affect Angel's redemption. Cordelia had ended that line of attack by speculating out loud that they didn't really have to harm her to put her in a Habitrail. Lindsey wasn't sure what the term 'Amyizing' meant, but it had brought a speculative gleam to Willow's eyes.

Although they had been overtly cautious around the hellgod upon her arrival, her inactivity had a hard time competing with the rest of the commotion in the lobby. In addition to Lilah's machinations, the witches and Watchers were huddled around the former reception area, dividing their attention between Glorificus and research. Fred had taken Dawn upstairs as the hellgod made the girl nervous. Lindsey was sure that there was more than even the girl knew, given some of the troubled looks exchanged by Giles and Willow. Lorne was called, although Lindsey was unsure how he could read the unresponsive hellgod. Faith was sitting across from Glorificus, looking frustrated. Lindsey was amused by Gunn's attempts to distract the troubled Slayer, wondering if anyone had filled the young man in on Faith's history with his friends.

His guitar remained propped against a nearby chair. He had been fetched as an afterthought when they were going to the warehouse and he hadn't had time to take it to the case he had left upstairs. He sat and absently ran through a few fingerings. He was tired. Tired of watching Miller shoot Faith hostile and suspicious looks. Tired of Finn looking drawn and whipped. Tired of caring what interest the firm had in a hellgod and just what kind of spin Lilah was planning to put on this situation. Lindsey was surprised that he actually wanted the pompous corpse to come back and take over this circus. He wondered why he didn't just head up to his room and use his music to shut out the world.

As dangerous as Glorificus was reputed to be, she certainly wasn't hard on the eyes. He wasn't sure what Spike had meant earlier when he said that the hellgod had eaten a lawyer. Feeling as if he were tempting fate Lindsey
started to play the song he would have had he been alone, and sang softly.

Call you up in the middle of the night
Like a firefly without a light
You were there like a blow torch burning
I was a key that could use a little turning

So tired that I couldn't even sleep
So many secrets I couldn't keep
Promised myself I wouldn't weep
One more promise I couldn't keep

It seems no one can help me now
I'm in too deep
There's no way out
This time I have really led myself astray [1]

Lindsey stopped abruptly at the sound of Faith's gasp. He looked up, not into the nearly violet-blue eyes of the hellgod, but to warm hazel eyes of a pretty young woman. She blinked slowly and then looked directly into his
eyes. She smiled, a small hesitant smile, before turning a confused look on the rest of the lobby. Her lips parted, as if she would speak and then Glorificus shimmered back into place, still gazing vacantly.

The others had crowded around. They stared unbelievingly at the hellgod.

"Dear God. Spike told us... I just couldn't..." Rupert Giles slowly approached Glorificus.

As he came close, Faith said, "Be careful, Giles. One of the lawyers fell, practically into her lap, and she slipped her hands into his head. He died."

"He died?" Giles looked sharply at Faith.

She nodded and said, "It hurt. He screamed. She screamed too. I think... she was in pain, and Buffy came back, but she didn't stay long. Shortly after Xander went back in, she was replaced by her." Faith finished by nodding at Glorificus.

"What's going on?" Angel's voice came from the entrance.

Lindsey looked over to see the vampire, flanked by Spike and Xander, stepping down into the lobby. Giles and Wesley took him into the library. Xander stopped to talk to Willow before saying he was going up to check on
Dawn. Spike sprawled on the stairs, positioning himself between the hellgod and where his mate was.


Xander came out of the bathroom, the towel slung loosely across his hips gaping wide on the side. Willow averted her eyes and he stepped back, blushing.

"I... uh, I... you seemed like you were in a rush to get away," she said, turning pointedly to address the wall.

"I just wanted to check on Dawn," Xander said.

"Well, I just wanted to check on you," she said. Willow shot a quick look over her shoulder at the sound of Xander pulling on his clothing only to catch sight of his ass as he pulled up a pair of silk boxers. "Erp... I...
Xan, what is it? You're all nervous and it's not the naked thing 'cause you were anxious as soon as you got here and you weren't naked then."

"Officially not naked now," he said. She turned to face him. He held his arms out demonstrating his attired state. He wore an incredibly large, bright-blue short sleeve shirt over a black tank and khaki shorts. He looked
very Xander-like as he looked down at his clothing before peering up through his long bangs at Willow.

"Xander," she said, crossing her arms and meeting his hesitant gaze.

"Will... I," he said as he started to bite his thumbnail.

"It's not the plan. That came off without a hitch, except for the not being able to ditch Glory because it's Buffy. But I thought you would be... Xan help me out here," she said.

"He loves her," Xander whispered.

"He loves you," Willow said.

"I know that... really, more than anything, I know that. But... he loved her first," Xander looked away.

Suddenly he held a warm Willow clasped to him. She squeezed tight and murmured, "Don't be such an ass."

"You tell him, Red," Spike said.

Both humans' reaction proved the Big Bad could do stealth with the best of them. Willow wiped her damp eyes and said, "I'll just check on Dawn. We'll need you both downstairs soon." She shot them a meaningful look before leaving their room.

Spike quietly shut the door and crossed to Xander. He stood right in front of his mate, pinning Xander with an unblinking stare. "So that's what has you clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth," he said softly.

Xander looked away, swallowing uncomfortably. Spike grasped Xander's stubborn chin and gently forced him to maintain eye contact. "You know I can hear it when you're tense. Gonna have to turn you just to keep your teeth from wearing down," Spike whispered.

Xander chuckled, relieved that Spike was willing to tease. He wasn't proud of his jealous nature. He knew his possessiveness had caused more than a few awkward moments with Buffy and Willow. He knew Spike was his. More than the lack of the chip, more than the mark on his neck, the fact that his lover was here, now, sensing his need for reassurance, told him that. He kissed Spike and leaned into him.

Taking a firm grip on Spike's denim clad hips, Xander rested his forehead against the vampire's. "It's just," he said, "she's here, now. I know how much she means to you," Xander started, only to be cut off.

"Us, luv. I loved her. You loved her. She's pack, eh?" Spike offered a wicked smile and ground his pelvis into Xander's. Peppering teasing bites across his lips and nibbling down the human's neck, he paused over the mark. He licked tentatively at first, then struck suddenly, sinking his fangs into the scarred flesh.

Xander moaned and pushed back against his lover until they both thudded against the wall. He swore as he fumbled with the fasteners on Spike's jeans, causing the vampire to chuckle and push back against him until they were both sprawled on the bed. There was a ripping sound as Xander's shorts tore along the zipper. "What is it with you and my clothes? They were neutral, not bright. "

"It was an accident," Spike said. He pulled Xander's shirt off over his head instead of attempting the buttons.

"Yeah, yeah," Xander hissed, reaching for the lube. "It's always an accident - but it's always my clothes."

"Take you shopping, I will," Spike murmured, lifting Xander's knees and positioning himself between the tanned, well-muscled legs.

"Oh, God!" Xander gasped. "Anything but that."

"Anything?" Spike leered.


"Dawn's with Fred. She really needs to get some sleep, but this has her, well..." Willow said, coming down the stairs.

"Xander and Spike?" Angel asked.

"They're... talking," Willow sat next to Tara. "They... might be a while."

"Is everything okay?" Tara asked.

"With them? I think so. What's going on with... Glory?" Willow nodded to the still-seated hellgod.

"Well, while you were gone, we noticed a pattern," Tara said

"Pattern?" Willow asked.

Tara said, "Lindsey. Do it again."

"Pardon?" Lindsey seemed distracted by the fact that Angel was looming over him.

"Sing. Please?" Tara stood up and crossed the lobby and sat next to him. "I just want to test something."

Can you help me remember how to smile
Make it somehow all seem worthwhile
How on earth did I get so jaded
Life's mystery seems so faded [1]

Once again Glorificus blurred and was replaced by the young woman. Her hair was darker and straight, her eyes warm, human and focused on him.

I can go where no one else can go
I know what no one else knows
Here I am just drownin' in the rain
With a ticket for a runaway train

And everything seems cut and dry
Day and night, earth and sky
Somehow I just don't believe it. [1]

"Well. That's... interesting," Giles said.

"Very interesting," Lilah added. She lifted her eyebrow and stood. Instantly, she was flanked by Miller and Finn. "Listen, boys, I know you're not going to kill me and you know you're not going to kill me, so you're wasting both our time with the menacing routine."

Willow looked at Angel and said, "I didn't get her name."

"Lilah. She works for Wolfram and Hart. I'm not sure why Xander... kidnapped her," Angel said.

"Because she is going to tell us everything about Glory, why she was brought back, and what this law firm from hell intended to do with her," Willow said.

"And why would I want to do that?" Lilah asked archly.

"Oh, I didn't say you would want to," Willow replied with a small, self-satisfied smile.


[1] Runaway Train - Soul Asylum