Blame Canada by Joanna C


Summary: Sequel to Growin' Up (Karaoke Kids Series). The final, epic showdown: Lilah is up tp no good, and the fate of the world, as usual, hangs in the balance. Will good triumph over evil? Will justice triumph over lawlessness? Will Lilah EVER sleep with Spike? All your questions, and more, answered here...


Spoilers: None specified.


Notes: The role played in this story by the city of Kingston, Ontario, is in no way intended as an insult. It's just that I've lived there (and have lovely memories of the time) and know my way around the place... Fic title courtesy my little brother Nathaniel, who loves all things South Park and feels that if I must write fanfic, I should write it for THAT and not waste my time on this whole Buffy/Angel thing...


Cordelia Chase cast a squinty eye to her watch, then to the gate of the airport terminal.

"Where are they, already?" she whined. "We'll never make our flight if they don't get here soon."

Angel did not even glance up from his book. With a grunt of half-attention, he reached into his pocket, snatched out a bundle of quarters, and pressed it into Cordelia's palm. She pushed him aside with an irritable whimper.

"I've already DONE vending machines," she told him. "I'm not HUNGRY..."

He glanced up briefly from his intent reading. "Um hmmm."

He said nothing else. The book was one of Cordelia's relationship ones, and had, a mere three chapters ago, explained to him that sometimes women Got That Way---and when they did, there was Nothing You Could Do. He had wisely resolved to keep his mouth shut until Buffy and Giles arrived. Perhaps seeing Giles again would ease Cordelia's travel stress...

"They should BE here," she said again. "Angel, why aren't they here?"

Finally, he put the book down. "Cordelia, our flight doesn't leave for another hour."

"I know, just...we've been here for over an hour already. It's hot. It's crowded. There are too many sticky children, and people who didn't shower, and at least four especially pungent ethnic food vendors. I may have my demon temper under control, but my vampire sense of smell is driving me crazy!"

"I know," he said, not unsympathetically. "But you can never be too early for these kinds of things. If there had been traffic...."

"There wasn't."

"But there could have been. It's a lot to juggle, Cordelia---getting us all on the same flight on such short notice, finding a connection from Sunnydale that would get them here in time to meet us for's a lot to juggle. But we still have time, and they'll still get here, and it'll be fine."

She narrowed her eyes dangerously. "Don't get smug on me, unflappable boy. YOU had nothing to do with this brilliant scheme. Why I ever agreed to let the Watcher's Council tell me what to..."

"You know why," he interrupted. "Cordelia, we talked about this..."

"Yeah, yeah, world's gonna end, too bad, very sorry, I know. Angel, I KNOW. Just wish it could blow up on a weekend for once...."

Ah. There it was. He closed the book and tucked it into his bag. "Is that the problem? It's only a few days, Cordelia. You can make up the classes."

"I know," she pouted. "But missing classes in the first week...well, Professor Tsuji was kind of a pain about it, but at least Ivany was okay. When she heard about my poor, dead Aunt Petunia..."

Angel smothered a chuckle.

"What?" she huffed. "I wasn't gonna tell her we're going to prevent some evil lawyers from opening a Hellmouth and bringing about the end of life as we know it, was I? And it's not like the watchers gave us much time to come up with a proper cover story for those of us with actual lives..."

He sensed a tunnel of adrenaline beneath the rising flush in her cheeks. "Why don't we practice our deep breathing for awhile?" he suggested.

Her nostrils flared. "You don't breathe! And don't treat me like a baby."

"Don't act like one."

He winced slightly at her withering glare. He was ready to cut her some slack for the shock of another watcher visit and resulting Bad News, and for the sudden, disrupting trip, and the overload of her souped-up senses. But still...they had a long day ahead of them. She had to manage, didn't she?

"Look, I'm not the best traveler either," he began carefully. "And I know the watcher's council tends to...well, they..."

"Freak me out? Heck, yeah. But can you blame me? They swoop in all mysterious and go here, do this, and they run experiments on innocent people just because they happen to be human/vampire hybrids, and then they..."

"Shhhh," he soothed. "I was saying, I know they make you feel that way. But I also know how much progress you've been making at keeping your demon attributes under control. You're really going to let them get you mad enough to cause a relapse?"

Her frenzied pacing slowed microscopically. "Angel..."

"And it's not SO bad, is it?" he pressed. "I mean, free vacation---and one American dollar is, like, a dollar-fifty there. There could be shopping. Who can say?"

She was nearly still again. "I guess..."

"And hey, Giles is coming..."

She broke into a grin. "He is! And Buffy too."

"So why don't we sit down and do our breathing for a few minutes," Angel said calmly. "And before you know it, their plane will be here, and we can get this show on the road."

She took a deep breath and slowly breathed out, body slackening and eyes drifting closed. "Okay," she said. "Okay."


Alamo Summers had been cruising along for his morning walk and stopping occasionally to sniffle at some especially interesting leaves, so his mistress Dawn had let the leash slacken, and was caught off-guard when he suddenly burst into a trot.

"Alamo, come," Dawn commanded, tugging on his collar. "Alamo! Alamo, what are you..." They rounded the corner, and she suddenly broke into a grin. "Did you see your little friend? Is that what has you all excited? Well, we're almost home. Go on, then." She unhooked the leash and sent him running straight for the front lawn of Kate Lockley.

Bruiser was nosing in the bushes, but shook off the leaves and went tearing after Alamo with an enthusiastic bark. Kate was otherwise occupied, and didn't even look up.

Several open boxes lay scattered at her feet. On her one side lay a half-filled garbage bag, and on the other lay her car, parked crookedly, trunk open. Kate was humming along with the radio and reaching randomly into the boxes, pitching some items into the trunk and others into the cavernous bag. Dawn took in the scene with resigned curiosity.

"Cleaning house?"

Kate looked up. "Oh, hi. Want this?" She waved the belonging in question, a moldy-smelling novelty rubber chicken, at Dawn.

"No. Um, Kate, what's going on here?"

Kate pitched the rubber chicken into her garbage bag. "Exactly what it looks like. I'm leaving this dump, and going back to L.A. I turned in my resignation this morning."

"You didn't!"

"Did too. I," said Kate grandly. "Am unemployed. At leisure. Between jobs. Pursuing new opportunities." She dug a grubby hand into the nearest box, and pulled out six assorted pairs of scissors, bound together with a grubby elastic. "Want these?"

"No. Kate , what's going on here? What are you DOING?"

"I'm DOING nothing," said Kate breezily. "Which explains the whole unemployment thing. Want these?"

"Again, no," said Dawn, not even dignifying the item in question with so much as a glance. "But Kate, are you...look, are you okay?"

"Fabulous," said Kate. "Wonderful. And I'll tell you why, Dawn. I had an epiphany."

Dawn frowned. "Oh."

Kate nodded. "I did. And do you know what I realized? I realized that I had no effing idea what the hell I was doing with my life. I mean, sure, I was a cop, fighting the fight and all that, and that's good, I guess. But how did I get there? I'll tell you how I got there. My grandfather was a cop. My father was a cop. And if Mom had lived long enough to have a son, HE would have been a cop. Do you see what I am saying?"

"It's a family business?" Dawn guessed.

"Damn right," said Kate. "A family business. I just got INTO it. I never CHOSE."

"And now you're saying you've had this epiphany or something, and you realize you want to choose something else?"

Kate shrugged. "Maybe not. Maybe I really am meant to be a cop. But maybe I'm meant to be something else, Dawn. Maybe I'm meant to be a Spanish teacher. Or a social worker. Or a waitress at Caritas, for all I know. I never really thought beyond...But I need to figure it out. I need to figure out what in this world I'm meant to do."

"And right now, you feel like you're meant to pack up and just...leave?"

"Only one thing I do know for sure," said Kate, slowing her excited pacing just long enough to toss some rusted barbecue tongs into the trunk of her car. "Whatever it is I'm meant to do be doing, I want Lorne to be there. Kind of ironic, isn't it? All these normal, awful men who love me and leave me, and it would be a demon who would finally get it right?"

She reached into her box again, and pulled out a stuffed toy that was shaped like Elvis Presley. " want this?"

"Alamo!" Dawn shrieked. Her loyal puppy reluctantly drew himself away from a vitally important twig, and ambled happily into her embrace. "How do I get myself into these messes?" she asked him. He slobbered her with oblivious doggy kisses, betraying no answer.


Cordelia slowly unclenched her fists, eyes sharp with the faintest beginnings of panic.

"It isn't working, is it?" she said.

Angel shrugged evasively, and looked away. He had no idea what to do with her. They had worked through all of her exercises, and her breathing HAD slowed a little---but it was shaky and strained, and her heart was still beating too fast. She was managing, but she was working much too hard at it.

"Why can't I relax?" she pressed. "Angel, seriously. I'm starting to wonder if this isn't something more than just tired and travel-stressed . I'm all tense and ick and I just feel...weird, you know?" She looked at him expectantly.

"I know," he said after a long silence.

"You know? You KNOW? God, stop that! I see what you're doing, and it isn't helping, Angel. You're keeping your mouth shut because you don't want to freak me out, but it's only making it worse! God, what's WRONG with me?"


"And don't tell me that getting upset will only make it worse, I know. Angel, I KNOW. It just drives me crazy when you get like this! And no, I don't want to eat something. And no, I don't want to practice my breathing exercises. I just want you to STOP that!"


"This isn't helping!" she whined. "God, Angel, just shut up!"

She slumped breathlessly beside him, utterly exhausted by her tantrum. He gave her a moment to collect herself.

"I WAS shutting up," he said quietly. "THAT'S what got you upset in the first place."

She closed her eyes. Clenched her fists. Then suddenly sprang to her feet and tore away from him.


She launched herself down the corridor and threw herself into the arms of the arriving watcher.

"You're here! Finally!"

Giles staggered slightly, reeling from the collision. "Yes," he managed. "Hello, Cordelia. Good to see you..."

"Hi Giles," said Angel shyly. "Buffy..."

Buffy, loaded down with Giles' bag as well as her own, trundled over to the nearest bank of chairs, where she set down her burden.

"You guys been waiting long?" she asked.

That, finally, set Cordelia off. Still wrapped tightly around a nearly suffocating Giles, she burst into tears. Giles looked questioningly at Angel.

"She's tired," Angel said.

Giles nodded, and gently began to stroke Cordelia's hair. "It's all right, love," he soothed. "Hush now..."

"That's quite a tantrum," Buffy observed.

Angel shrugged. "It's been a long day."

Buffy watched the display impassively. "Probably best she gets it out of her system now, isn't it? BEFORE the big holy mission?"

"Probably," Angel agreed.

"And this is exactly what I was saying," sobbed Cordelia. "I don't know what's WRONG with me!"

With an unbearably comforting smile, Giles gently lifted her chin. "Would it surprise you very much to learn that I do know?"

The blubbering slowed to a watery trickle. "You do?"

"You DO?" goggled Angel.

"What, did you think that ponce Zabuto was the only one who was doing a little research?"

They stared back at him, stunned.

"They tell me we're delayed again," said Giles. "We've got some time..." He gently pried Cordelia off of him. "So why don't you go with Buffy right now and get yourself cleaned up a little, hmmm? And when you come back, Angel and I will have some juice and some cookies and all sorts of pretty answers, all right?"

She snuffled noisily and pulled herself together. With a nod of encouragement from Giles, she allowed Buffy to lead her away.


Lilah Morgan backed slowly into her hotel room, carelessly waving her hand behind her.

"Yes, over there," she commanded. "That's right..."

Jenny Calendar's arm flopped to the floor with a thud as Spike released his cargo.

"She's not a bloody couch, Lilah."

Lilah rolled her eyes. "I know that. Just...fine, put her anywhere, I don't care, just keep her out of my way!"

"But she's your little pet, love. Don't you want to play with her?"

Lilah gave Jenny a thoughtful once-over. "Well, it WOULD be a little more fun if she were interactive. But then...if she can move, she can bolt, can't she?" Lilah shrugged. "She's harmless this way."

"Maybe. But even more harmless once you've put her through the paces and made sure she's as out of it as you think."

Lilah shook her head. "You just want an excuse to play with her."

"Maybe I do. But being horny don't make me a dunce, pet. I know her type---do-gooder through and through. If she's pulling the mojo on us...well, Just want to make sure it all goes off okay..."

Lilah thumped Jenny with her boot and studied the witch's face carefully for signs of a reaction.

"There!" crowed Spike. "She winced, did you see?"

Lilah smirked. "Really?" She leaned forward, mouth inches from Jenny's face. "Is somebody waking up in there? Hmmmm?"

The eyes looked perhaps a tiny bit more watchful than they previously had, but Jenny Calendar remained, on the surface at least, impassive. She was already mentally kicking herself for that reflexive show of life---but they had been away from a computer going on three days, and without the exhaustion of spellcasting to keep her drained and dazed, she was finding it harder and harder to keep up the act. And to keep up her composure...she hoped Lorne was all right. She hoped the kids were all right. She hoped she was ready for them...

"Fine," snitted Lilah. "Find a doctor, get her checked. I need to stay here though---I'm expecting a delivery and I need to be here in case it..."

"Right," scoffed Spike. "A delivery."

"Well, opening a hellmouth's a tricky thing, Spike. There are supplies involved..."

"Thought you already had your bloody supplies," he complained.

"Well, most of them. But some of it has to be sourced locally, you know. When you open a hellmouth, you do need some things from...well, the actual hellmouth...look, I'm giving in, Spike. You win. Have fun, do you want, see you at dinnertime. Take Harmony, take the witch and go do whatever it is you think you have to. You are completely in charge of this section of the plan."

He puffed up importantly. "In charge, am I?"

"Oh, yes," she said, nodding seriously. "Completely. As long as she comes back alive and un-sampled-from, you can do whatever you want with her."

With a slight inward cringe, Jenny steeled herself for the day ahead. She really needed to get on-line.


"I hope you've got money," Giles remarked to Angel. They were standing in front of a bank of vending machines, which he was studying intently.

Angel regarded him dubiously. "You didn't bring money?"

"Well, why should I? I brought the supplies, and Buffy brought the money. And I believe she still has it with her. Ah, there we go." He stopped before the right-most concession. "Oatmeal cookies," he pronounced, poking the glass display to show Angel. "This is what we want. I was starting to worry that they only had those horrid creamy fudge things."

Angel frowned. "What, Oreos? Cordelia loves Oreos."

"Oh, yes," muttered Giles. "Loves them, does she? You don't think that would be a little much, in her present condition? I daresay we have enough to handle without getting her sick on top of it, Angel. Oatmeal would be a far, far better choice."

Angel clamped his mouth shut and held out a grubby stash of quarters.

"Ah. Thank you. There we go." He made his selections, then drifted over to the bank of chairs.

"That's quite a state she's in, isn't it?" Giles remarked casually.

Angel shrugged.

The watcher's eyes went suddenly flinty. "You need to take better care of her."

A stunned Angel stared back at him. "But this isn't...Giles, I didn't..."

"Oh, I know that," said Giles. "Or at least, a part of me does. Lord knows these things happen, and Cordelia's impulse control was hardly her most sterling character trait even before you came along."

He opened a package of cookies and broke it into pieces. "But then..." He shrugged, tossing a cookie piece into his mouth and crunching noisily. "A part of me also knows that YOU had her last, and she certainly wasn't in this state when I left her."

Angel backed away warily. "Giles..."

"Oh, we'll take care of her," Giles was saying. "Don't you worry about that. But Angel...I shan't wish to find like this again"

Angel slowly nodded.

"Well, then. Onto business?"

Two slender legs slung themselves over the embankment and plopped themselves down on Giles' lap.

"Great," said Buffy, settling in comfortably. "I was worried we'd missed that part."


Charles Gunn, still pumped from his pre-dinner patrol, bounced innocently into Caritas.

"Yo, Lorne," he called. "Defender of the universe, here! What can you get me?"

Lorne popped up from behind the bar, smiling largely. Too largely. "Charles, my friend, my about a drink, old buddy, old pal? No charge!"

"There's never a charge," said Gunn suspiciously. "Seeing as how I have a tab..."

"Yes, yes," agreed Lorne. "But this is a special occasion, Gunn. A special night."

Gunn raised a wary eye. "For you or for me?"

Lorne's red eyes glowed suddenly with ominous threat. "It's an interesting situation you find yourself in, Charles. YOU have the sole power to either maintain my glorious mood, or to ruin it. You don't want to ruin my fabulous mood, do you Charles?"

Gunn blinked dazedly. "Um, no. Guess not. Um, Lorne..."

"Katie's here," the demon explained. "And she wants to take me out for dinner. She's wearing a dress, Gunn. A DRESS."

"Uh, okay...."

"Only thing is..." Lorne gestured expansively around him. "Fella's gotta earn a living, you know? Can't shut down the place just cause he's in love, can he?"


"No!" pronounced Lorne. "So here I am, going about my business, de-stingering the Jubailian entrails for the crudite tray, when Willow calls. She and Tara are staying with Dawn during the hellmouth thing, and she had front row seats to the Kate-absconding-from-Sunnydale show...and now I have my lady on her way over and me with this bar to see my dilemma, don't you, Charles?"

"I was patrolling," said Gunn, shaking his head in dismayed---and growing---realization. "I just got thirsty..."

"And you, my friend, will not be the only one to find himself in such a bind. Which is why we have bars, isn't it? And when you have a need a bartender."

"'re the bartender," said Gunn hopefully.

"Not tonight, amigo. She washed her hair. She put a little ribbon in it."

"So what you're saying is you want me to stay here and sell drinks to people so you can go out?"

The door creaked open and a large blue demon with three heads peered anxiously in. "You guys open?"

Gunn sighed. "What can I get you?"


Cordelia slumped unhappily against the sweaty plastic chair, face newly washed, hair pulled back in some attempt at comfort, and features pinched in exquisite misery.

"There, now," said Giles softly. "You're all right, then."

She took a tiny nibble of oatmeal cookie. "Umm hmm."

"It's nothing profound, I'm afraid," said Giles, giving her a resigned smile as he settled back into his seat. "It's overload, plain and simple. You haven't been in a crowd this large since your accident, have you?"

She shook her head mutely.

"Just school," clarified Angel.

Giles nodded. "I expected as much. Now, double the number of people, put them in a building half the size of the LACU campus, and stir them all into irritable tempers with flight delays, poor air quality and blindingly grating fluorescent lighting..."

Buffy frowned. "But what does any of that have to do with the price of tea in...wait, you're telling us she can sense them?"

"Not in the sense I suspect you mean. But in a matter of speaking...well, ask Angel how HE knew that Cordelia was in a state. For someone with enhanced senses, it wouldn't be hard to deduce..."

"Her breathing..." said Angel softly. "Her heartbeat..."

"For you, yes," said Giles. "But Cordelia has shown herself to be especially sensitive to scent, hasn't she? And...well, under pressure, people sweat, don't they? They fidget and they pace and they sweat, and she can smell it on them. All of these frantic, over-heated must feel like walking through a field of apples, and having them all go suddenly rotten on you."

Buffy grimaced. "No wonder she's a little grumpy. And ewwwww."

"Indeed. I imagine even a supremely centered person would find it difficult to filter the stimulus from a crowd this size, never mind someone as raw and untested as Cordelia..."

Cordelia slumped unhappily and rested her head on Angel's shoulder. "And funnily enough, having an explanation isn't making it any easier..." she whined.

"Hush now," he said gently. "We'll try to help you, all right? Buffy, my bag..."

Buffy hefted his bag onto the chair beside them. "Geez, Giles, it feels like you have bricks in here," she teased.

He withdrew two small, dense boxes from the front pocket, and Buffy groaned. "And since you do, that would explain it..."

He pressed the sides of the boxes and popped the lid to reveal a mass of crystals. They were in pieces of various sizes, some loose, and others bound pendant-like to necklaces, or fastened to strips of leather in crude, makeshift armbands.

"Amplifying crystals," he explained. "They'll have no effect on Angel, I'm afraid---it's the same principle as a mirror. They reflect the aura of the wearer."

Buffy frowned. "Huh?"

"Amplifies our mood," clarified Giles. "We simply keep our minds on soothing, happy thoughts, and the crystals will boost our auras enough to hopefully create a barrier---a sort of karmic white noise, if you will, to drown out the static."

Buffy picked up a crystal and hefted it casually in her hand. "Happy thoughts, huh? Like sunshine and puppy dogs?"

"Well, it's not entirely that simple. But yes, something like that."

They were interrupted as the loudspeaker blared to life and announced that flight 463 to Toronto was finally boarding. The relief in the waiting lounge was palpable, and it fortified Cordelia enough that she managed to stagger to her feet unassisted, and follow the others onto the jetway.


Gunn rested his chin on the bar, straining to keep his eyes open as the three-headed blue demon chattered away.

"..and that's when Vern explained it to me," he was saying.

Gunn raised half a finger and pointed to the right-most head. "That's Vern?"

The left-most head, already identified as Harvey, nodded. "Uh huh. Nearly killed him, doing it. He's always liked Esmeralda, but he and I go back WAY further..."

Gunn eyed the scaly blue torso that joined the heads together. "Obviously."

"...and event though he KNEW it would break my heart, he felt that I deserved to know the truth." The demon paused for weighty emphasis. "She was cheating on me! With my own brother Marv!"

Gunn cocked an eye at the middle head. "That's Marv?"

The Marv-head nodded sheepishly, then looked away. Gunn directed his attention back to the Harvey-head.

"And you had no idea," he clarified.

"Why would I? To think that all of this time...they had been sneaking around! Having clandestine meetings!"

Gunn tried to puzzle out the logistics of that. "And while that was going on, you were..."

Harvey shrugged. "Sleeping?"

Or possibly passed out in drunken stupor, theorized Gunn. The dude was packing it away. He regarded the Vern and Marv heads suspiciously. "You guys want some food maybe?"

The Marv-head, still shamed, was avoiding his gaze. The Vern-head, clearly not the brightest of the bunch, snooping skills notwithstanding, looked bored and downright sleepy.

"That Esmeralda...cheated on me with my own brother!" fumed Harvey. "Do you believe that? I wish I could make her pay. I wish...I wish her lying, cheating, oral-pleasure-giving hands would just rot off in a smelly rot of...rot!" He paused his rant and looked at Gunn expectantly.

"You know," said Gunn. "I'm not actually a vengeance demon, per se. Although I have seen their work..."

Harvey frowned in disappointment. "Oh. Well, can I have more of this purple stuff, at least?


The flight was crowded to capacity, and amidst the crush of people, Giles attempted to stake out their territory. They had two seats in each of two rows, one immediately behind the other.

"You, there," he said to Buffy, nodding at the farther row. And to Angel, he added "And you."

Angel looked plaintively at Cordelia. "But Giles..."

"No arguments, Angel, you aren't the one with the amplifying crystal, and of Buffy or I, I am the most practiced at the form of mental control it takes to keep it working. I should be closest to her."

Angel looked at Cordelia again. "But I...Giles, I want to sit with her."

Giles took his glasses off and leveled his gaze at Angel with as much severity as he could muster. "You sit with Buffy."

"Giles, I..."

"Really, Angel," Giles sighed. "You are nearly three centuries old. Surely, by this time, you've mastered sufficient self-control that you can be apart from her for a mere few hours..."

Cordelia smiled limply from her seat. "I'm fine, Angel. Really." Then she arched in her seat with a blinding shriek of pain. "Oh god, Angel..."

They were instantly surrounded by people, and amidst the melee, a flight attendant pushed herself upon them, barking 'what's going on?'

Giles, nearest to Cordelia, had to literally dive through the crush and between the legs of a well-dressed executive to reach her.

"Nothing," he muttered, fixing his glasses. "She's fine." He braced Cordelia's body with his own to minimize the writhing, and block the flight attendant's view.

"She doesn't look fine," said the flight attendant. She poked her head down the aisle. "Hey! Hey, anyone! We got a doctor here?"

Cordelia, still in the throes of the vision, heard just enough to shake her head mutely with wide, panicked eyes.

"She's fine," Giles repeated. "Just a little dehydrated, that's all." He smiled winsomely.

The flight attendant watched dubiously as Cordelia choked and gasped beside him. "Dehydration. Really."

"She's hypoglycemic," Giles suggested. "Hits her harder than it would you or I. Some water, some protein, get her electrolytes back up there..." He rummaged in his bag, then pulled out a cheese string, which he waved at them triumphantly. "There, see?"

The flight attendant squinted at the wan, sweaty face and already slowing breathing. "You sure? It's a long flight, mister. We don't want any problems..."

"We don't either," said Giles sincerely. "Really, just give her space..."

The flight attendant backed away, still watching cautiously, and Giles waited until she was out of earshot, then hissed "What did you see?"

Cordelia, still a little thrown, pointed weakly at a boarding passenger, a large, scruffy man in a motorcycle jacket. "Trip him," she croaked.

Angel casually stuck his foot in the aisle, and moments later, the man went tumbling. A long, narrow and blatantly illegal knife tumbled out of his jacket pocket as he flipped to the floor. The flight attendant, still hovering nearby suspiciously was on hand to subdue him.

Cordelia collapsed weakly and curled up in her window seat. "I need to go to sleep now," she said in a tiny voice.

And she did.


Lilah strolled out of the steamy hotel bathroom, robe-clad, toweling off her dark, thick hair, and nearly tripping over the detritus of a recent blood bank theft. Spike and Harmony, near-drunk from their feed, lolled on the floor, slurping up the last of it.

Lilah wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Well, this is quite a scene."

Spike grinned. "You know what they say about those Canadians, don't you, pet? Paris, the city of lights. New York, the city that never sleeps. And Toronto, working towards a smoke-free environment. Sodding nation's so damn nice and polite their blood tastes practically virginal."

"Well, that's all you're getting from ME," Lilah declared. "I warned you to ration this haul. You're on your own, Spike."

Spike shrugged. "I'll manage."

"No you won't," taunted Harmony. "You have the chip, remember?"

"So? This piddly dump's a college town, Harm. Punk kids...shoddy housing...rats aplenty. I'll manage."

She nodded to the remains of their feast. "Maybe so. But it won't be like THIS, will it? Well, not for you, anyway. Some of us can hunt on virginal college students any time we want to."

"Well, this IS the hellmouth," he said. "Maybe the rats will be magic rats. Those are always fun."

Harmony patted his arm with a condescending smile. "You just keep telling yourself that."

Lilah collapsed on the nearest double bed with an impatient sigh. "Can we PLEASE go to bed now? We have a big day tomorrow---you have your thing with the thing, and I will be getting the last of my supplies together..."

Spike sighed and rose to his feet, surveying the bloody mess of plastic. "'Spose we should tidy up a little..."

"Are you a moron?" snitted Harmony. "Why should we? This dump has maid service. "We're PAYING for maid service."

Spike shrugged. "Works for me." He peeled off his shirt and made for Lilah's bed. Harmony cast her eye to the other bed, where Jenny already lay unconscious. "Why do I have to sleep with HER again?" Harmony complained.

"Well, you don't want to sleep with Lilah, do you?"

"I wouldn't be 'sleeping' with her any more than you will. It's just sharing a bed, Spike. And I don't like the witch. She's creepy. And she's gone all spacey again. What's up with that?"

"Beats me. But Lilah has shower-hair, Harm. She'll get the sheets all soggy."

Harmony considered this for a moment, then hopped into bed with Jenny.


Lorne strolled into Caritas well past closing time, a cheery spring to his step and a noticeable smear of lipstick smudged against his green and scaly cheek.

"Gunn?" he called.

He strolled behind the counter and booted up his computer to check for messages. "Gunn? Buddy?"

The bar was spotless, and Gunn had cleaned the place as well as Lorne himself---tables wiped down shiny, chairs stacked atop them---all but the one he was sleeping in, feet propped up on a barstool, stake clutched in his sleeping hand, and his leather jacket tossed over his lap like a blanket.

Lorne smiled and gently shook his friend awake. "Amigo? You okay there?"

'You've got mail!' blared the computer loudly. Gunn jumped to his feet. "Huh? What? Who's here?"

"Just me," said Lorne softly. "Sit back down, why dontcha, and give yourself a minute..."

Gunn obediently lowered himself back into the chair. "Uh, hi. How'd it go."

"Fab. I've never seen Kate like this---she's had an epiphany, and she's...she's wild, amigo. Wild."


"She was just, full of energy..."

Gunn smirked. "Had sex, didja?"

"And how. Turns out that Pylean genitalia a way that human penises are not. And the pressure points just happen to line up exactly with the erogenous zones of the human female..."

"Whoa!" said Gunn. "TMI, Lorne. TMI."

"Sorry, bro. So, how'd you do here?"

Gunn shrugged. "Quiet night, I guess. A few stragglers here and there, and one guy who stayed all night and didn't stop yapping the entire time---or possibly three guys, depending on how you look at it..."

"HMV!" squealed Lorne. "I love those guys! Three-headed blue guy who came in just as I was leaving, right?"

Gunn nodded. "Uh huh. Man oh man, can that guy pack it away. By the third drink or so, I started watering 'em down a little."

"And a good thing you did," said Lorne. "Since their species has no taste receptors anyway. Alcohol's a total waste on them."

Gunn frowned. "Really?"

"Yup. They're just here for the pretty colours, my man. Lemme guess---he had the purple stuff, didn't he?"

"Nearly two bottles."

Lorne nodded. "He's a regular. You'll get to know them after awhile. You did good, my friend. Really, really good, actually---HMV on your first night? That's skill! You wouldn't be interested in doing some moonlighting, by any chance, would you?"

Gunn shrugged. "Why not? Crime does pay, but not a whole lot these days. I could use the cash."

Lorne grinned and shook his hand. "I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship," he beamed.

He showed Gunn out, then settled at the bar to read his email. Jenny had found herself an Internet Café just down the street from her hotel, it looked like. Far enough away to make the spellcasting even more debilitating than it used to be. Poor thing was tired, but more importantly---she was scared.


They were nearly over Lake Ontario when Cordelia woke up again.

"Morning," said Giles softly. He smiled gently and gently snapped shut his briefcase.

"Is it morning already?" she said.

"Just barely. We'll land in a few minutes..."

She nodded, then unbuckled her seatbelt and climbed to her knees, peering over the seatback at Angel and Buffy.

"That's so cute," she said. "Giles, look..."

Against the black of the cabin wall, Angel looked massive, especially in sleep---his back an unmoving anchor, his legs splayed out into Buffy's personal space, and arms wrapped easily around the tiny blond slayer, who was fast asleep in his embrace...

He returned her smile, then grew serious. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine, Giles. Don't worry about me."


"No, really," she said, glancing pointedly at his amplifying crystal. "Don't worry."

He blushed. "Sorry. I wasn't...but truly---how ARE you feeling?"

She settled back into her chair. "A little headachey. A little nauseous. A little hungry." She shrugged. "I'll live."

"I'm sure. Cordelia..."

"I'll be ready," she insisted. "Giles, I'm fine, really."

"If you did need to...look, there's nothing wrong with..."

"I know. Happy thoughts, Giles."

He closed his eyes for a moment. "You're right. It's healthier for all of us, really..."

She winced suddenly and swatted him on the arm. "Not THOSE kind of happy thoughts, though. Ewwww."

He blushed again, then ruefully smiled. "Well, your filtering skills are improving, at any rate. That's a good sign, I suppose."

"See? Fine. Just like I told you. Demoned and visioned and ready for action. So how does this work, exactly? They gonna meet us when we land?"

"Not entirely. Seems they split the trip up for us in deference to Angel, to assure as only night-time travel. We've a ways to go yet. We land in Toronto and have the day to spend as we see fit, so long as we get ourselves to Union Station by 7 to claim our tickets."

"Tickets to where?"

"They haven't said. Typical council nonsense---saving up their information for a pompous lecture when we get there, I suppose..."

"Not that we're bitter," she observed with a wry smile. "Happy thoughts, Giles. Sunshine and puppy dogs."

"Right," he said. "Sunshine and puppy dogs." He waited for her eye to wander, then immediately removed the amplifying crystal and stowed it in his carry-on. They had a battle ahead of them, and nearly everyone he loved was diving headfirst into it. He'd brood if he bloody well wanted to.


Lilah Morgan clambered awake to the shrill pierce of a ringing phone. She fumbled for the receiver. "Hello?"

"Morning," chirped the desk clerk. "Rabbit Courier Company's here. Should I send them up?"

She hopped out of bed, tossing her pillows at her sleeping lackeys to rouse them. "Yes," she said, instantly awake. "Thank you."

Spike and Harmony were slowly coming too. "Visitors?" drawled Spike sleepily.

"Better," said Lilah. "I think my supplies are here."

That got him out of bed instantly. "This I've got to see."

There was a timid knock at the door, and Spike propped the latch open. Clipboard-armed and in a standard dishwater-gray courier uniform, one almost didn't notice that their messenger was a Chaos demon.

Lilah stared at him, eyes widening in sudden recognition. "Kevin?"

The demon pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his dripping antlers. He smiled sheepishly. There were braces on his teeth.

"Kevin?" Lilah repeated. "Oh my god..."

Spike smirked. "Your name is Kevin?"

The demon shrugged. "So? Hey, Lilah. Long time, no see."

"And you KNOW each other?" Spike marveled.

"College. Freshman year. There was a thing. Oh my god, Kevin, you look FABulous! Have you been working out?"

Kevin flexed a tiny bicep that would be pathetic even by human standards. "A little," he said with a shy grin.

"Kill me now," muttered Spike under his breath.

"So this is where you wound up," Lilah mused. "Who would have do know there's a hellmouth, right?"

Kevin's lazy eye popped to alertness. "Really? Huh."

"So I'm guessing you're the only one who FINISHED college," Spike snarked to Lilah.

"I thought you joined the Peace Corps," Lilah was telling Kevin.

Kevin shrugged. "Pay sucked."

"Sure," teased Spike. "And working for a low-rent courier in a dippy little college town pays SO much better..."

Kevin glared at Spike, then turned to Lilah. "Who is this yutz? But oh, hey, speaking of..." He hauled a large carton in from the hallway and handed her the clipboard. Lilah signed it absently.

"We MUST get caught up," she was gushing. "There's this thing we're want in?"

"WHAT?" squeaked Spike. "I bust my ass for you for WEEKS with barely a thanks, and Drippy-McAntler shows up all minimum wage and gets invited in just like that?"

"Never hurts to have some muscle, Spike," said Lilah. Kevin smiled weakly. His antlers looked heavy enough to nearly topple him over.


Cordelia caught up with them just inside Museum station, hands jammed with ice cream cones.

"Thanks for letting me stop," she said, collapsing against a wall to catch her breath. "The concierge at the hotel said no visit to Toronto would be complete without a visit to Greg's for ice cream..."

Buffy shrugged. "We're cool in here. We have a day pass. We can get on and off the subway as many times as we want to."

Angel nodded enthusiastically. "This is a GREAT city. The whole thing's, like, underground..."

Buffy smiled. "So what'd you get us?"

"Roasted marshmallow," said Cordelia. "Greg's specialty. With chocolate syrup for you and me, and without it for the guys." She passed out the ice cream "Where to now?"

"Well, since we're already AT Museum station," said Giles hopefully. "It would stand to reason that the museum must be nearby..."

The girls both groaned. "Giles, no," whined Buffy.

"I'll go," said Angel.

"But it's the Royal Ontario Museum," Giles complained. "I haven't been to that one. I hear they have a stunning collection of Egyptian artifacts..."

"Mummies?" said Buffy. "I don't think so." She shook her head firmly. "We are so not doing that."

"But their collection of first dynasty gems is apparently exqui..."

"No," said Buffy again.

"I don't mind," piped up Angel. "I'll go."

But they were beyond hearing him now. Giles' face was as close to a pout as it ever got, and his voice was dangerously whiny. "I went up and down this bloody subway all day for you girls," he was ranting. "I did not go into any libraries to look up arcane regional mythologies that might help us in the impending battle. I did not hole up in our hotel room and pore over musty old books to supplement my cache of protection spells. I did chain myself literally OR figuratively to Cordelia's laptop computer so I could instant message with Wesley and recruit him to fill in the numerous missing pieces we have yet to unravel. Instead, I went to several large malls because you wanted shoes. I went to several designer outlets because Cordelia wanted a bag. I stood in line at the cashiers while you paid for a novelty t-shirt, then again at another store while Cordelia bought a small stuffed animal. And I did all of this without complaining, Buffy. Now, it is nearly four, we have a train to catch in less than three hours, and I want to go to a museum. Do you have a problem with that?"

Buffy fidgeted and stared at the wall, stalling.

"You know," said Angel helpfully. "It's very important to take an interest in your partner's hobbies and activities."

She glared at him, then sighed. "All right. But NO mummies, Giles. 'Kay?"

He nodded. "Deal."


Wesley walked into the Hyperion at noonish to check the messages, and did a double-take when he saw the front desk. He was nearly getting used to the feeling of walking into his office and feeling like he had stumbled in on the tail-end of one of those gleefully unpredictable and incomprehensibly non-subtitled Japanese anime movies, but this...

He took a deep breath and located Gunn amidst the wreckage. "Morning," he said.

"Morning, Wes."

"Why is our front desk covered in muffin trays?"

Gunn shrugged off his oven mitts. "It's taken me a few tries to get it right," he explained. "I've been baking."

"Um hm. Why?"

"Well, I was at Caritas last night," Gunn explained. "And...hey, Wes, I have a job now! I am gainfully employed."

"You already had a job. You work for me."

"Uh, right," said Gunn. "And fun as that might be, the hours are unpredictable and the pay almost as much. So I was at Caritas and there was this thing with three heads that was there cause Lorne was doing Kate, and then there were these purple drinks, and then Lorne was telling me that I am just what that place needs."

Wesley gave himself a moment to process this narrative. "Well," he said.

"So anyway, I was thinking this morning that maybe now that I am board, that place might have a chance to diversify a little. I mean, purple drinks are one thing, but the food? SO greasy spoon, which is fine and all, but obesity is a growing problem in America, you know? The menu at Caritas may be fried and tasty, but it's hardly very socially responsible."

"The clientele are demons," said Wesley. "I hardly think that social responsibility is a dominating factor."

"Well, maybe it should be," said Gunn. "Maybe this is my thing, you know? Those PTB paying attention to ME for once and giving ME a chance to make a difference!"

Wesley frowned. "You do make a difference---working for me. Helping your OWN kind."

"And I still will. This Caritas gig is just a sideline, Wes."

Wesley frowned again. "Why is our front desk covered in muffin trays?"

Gunn sighed in frustration. "They just don't look right, Wes. I mean, they TASTE okay, but they just look pale and dull. Things ain't right if they don't have some colour, you know?"

Wesley sighed. "Does Lorne know you're doing this?"

"I'm a new employee, Wes. Got to take some initiative if I want to get noticed."

Wesley nodded. This was the first thing Gunn had said that made even the remotest bit of logical sense, and he rewarded his friend with a pat on the arm and a wise smile.

Maple syrup," he told him, stepping carefully over the five-pound bag of flour in the entryway and heading into the office.


"Maple syrup," he repeated. "Use brown sugar, not white, and replace the vanilla extract with maple syrup."

He turned on the computer to check for any messages from Cordelia or Giles, leaving a dumb-founded Gunn to scramble after him with an incredulous "How the HELL do you know that?"


Part 5

The train ride was brief and uneventful.

"After all that," complained Buffy. "They build it up to this whole big thing, then we're two hours into the train ride and that's it?"

"Apparently, that's this town's selling point," said Cordelia, reading off a tourist pamphlet she had picked up just beside the taxi stand where they now waited. "Kingston, Ontario, the gateway to the Thousand Islands, is centrally located halfway between Toronto and Montreal."

"THAT'S their claim to fame? Geography?"

Cordelia consulted the brochure again. "Well, that and prisons. They have almost as many of those as they do universities."

"And...large quantities of limestone," observed Giles, reading over her shoulder.

"Oooh, and a fort," said Cordelia, pointing to one of the pictures.

"Plus the hellmouth," offered Angel. He frowned. "Although I guess they probably don't publicize that too much."

Giles gave a weak smile. "Well, then. Suppose we find a taxi, hmmm?"

They lugged their bags into the nearest car, and Giles hastily conferred with the driver about the instructions they had found with their tickets. They reached the downtown core in less than twenty minutes, and when the taxi stopped, a large imposing building loomed in front of them.

Angel took in the officious structure and frowned. "That can't be good."

"It figures," said Cordelia with a groan. "It would be another library, wouldn't it?"


Gunn ambled into Caritas whistling a jaunty tune.

"Lorne? Charles Gunn, reporting for duty, as ordered."

Lorne peeked out from behind the counter. "Evening, employerino. Just in time."

Gunn nodded. "I try and be prompt. But I do have patrol responsibilities, you know?"

"Understood, good buddy, understood. I would certainly never want something so pedestrian as the purple love of Harvey, Marv and Vern to compromise the safety of the untold innocents."

Gunn nodded again. "My man! I knew we was cool."

"Even so...there IS more to this job than schmoozing with the lounge lizards, you know. I took care of the Jubalian entrails for you THIS time, but you really are going to have to take some initiative, Charles. I am only one man; I can only do so much."

Gunn gulped. "Uh huh. into muffins?"


Queen's University may be one of Canada's oldest universities, but the Stauffer Library is among its newest buildings. Even at this almost late hour, the towering, spacious facility was crowded with students.

"Special Collections," said Giles, reading off his directions. "Apparently, they're to meet us at...ah, this way..."

A helpfully posted sign directed them downward---away from the students, away from the shiny email terminals that crowded the rotunda, and down into the basement.

"Always a good sign," chirped Buffy. "Going AWAY from all the people..."

"This is the hellmouth," said Giles impatiently. "Not the best place to be looking for good signs, Buffy."

"Oooh, grumpy. What's up with that?"

"Don't tease me."


"Don't. Tease. Me."

Cordelia frowned, then dumped her bag at Angel's feet, and, with a resigned sigh, pulled Giles aside.

"All right," she prompted, keeping her voice low. "What is it?"


"Nice try. I don't need an amplifying crystal to read you anymore, Rupert Giles. You're wigging out."

"I'm not sure that's the term I would use."

"So, what, then? We've done battles before. We've done hellmouths before. But this one has you all wound up."


"And there is a time and a place for wigging. On the stairwell of a library in a strange town far from home, in the middle of the night with dozens of clueless innocents milling around us would not be that time."

"It's been a long day."

"Nice try. Giles, come on, you can talk to me. Is it the watchers?"


"Cause I don't like 'em much either, if that's any consolation. Trying to do experiments on innocent people just because they happen to be..."

"Cordelia, really..."

Her eyes widened. "Miss Calendar! We still haven't seen her, and god, you must be..."


She took an obliging step away from him, brow furrowing curiously. "It isn't just that, is it? It's all of it. One thing, you could handle---one battle, one ghost, one problem---but all of it together---the hellmouth, the council and Miss Calendar too..."

His fingers clenched into fists at his side. "I'm fine," he said stiffly.

"Sure you are. And using that tone of voice with me is really gonna convince me. Look, can I talk to Buffy about this?"

"Cordelia, really..."

"Look, I'm trying, okay? I'm letting you snit at me and I'm not saying anything cause I think you're kind of at your breaking point here. And I won't make you talk if you don't think you can right now, but Giles, if you don't tell her what's going through your head, she'll get upset, and she'll get pushy, and she'll get mad and she won't back away like I'm doing right now, and then we'll just have one more problem to deal with. Now, the fact that I am even asking you before I talk to her should tell you something. This is not an ambush. This is not an intervention. This is just me being your friend and her being your lover and both of us wanting to do this right..."

He nodded briefly, then walked away, his face unreadable. He did not say a word until he had reached the Special Collections information desk in the library's basement, and found it utterly deserted. He closed his eyes, muttered a brief "Bloody hell..." and rang the small bell that rested helpfully on the counter. A familiar face popped up before them.

"Ah. You're here. Wonderful, wonderful...let's get started, then. May I be the first to say it?" Fiona Wyndam-Pryce smiled proudly and opened her arms in greeting. "Welcome to the hellmouth."

They stared at her dumbly.

"You?" whined Cordelia. "YOU'RE the council contact?"

Fiona shrugged. "Well, who did you think it would be?"

"But Wesley said...he told us you'd been placed far away."

"It took you two days to get here."

"In a less prestigious outpost."

"Well, until about a week ago, this WAS. They didn't know about the hellmouth," she admitted.

Giles cracked a tiny smile. "Really?"

"So how'd YOU find it?" asked Cordelia.

"By taking Wesley's suggestion and doing a little bit of research. Obviously, there HAS been paranormal activity---it wouldn't be an area of interest to the council, otherwise. But there are so many such areas, and this is such a small town---oh sure, it IS the largest urban centre between Toronto and Montreal, but only if you count the outlying townships and transient student population..."

"The hellmouth?" prompted Giles.

"Right. I owe that to Wesley, really. We've been talking...rather nice, after all of these years, but anyway, he was telling about his early days as an active watcher. Mid-sized town, about two hours from the region's largest urban centre. Well-regarded, if somewhat smaller, university. And a military presence to boot. Sound familiar?"

"That's Sunnydale," said Buffy.

"That's Kingston," said Fiona with a smirk. "Stunning coincidence, isn’t it? Two hours from Toronto by train. Queen's University, which is, depending on your source, the number one or the number two school in the country. They have a military base AND a military college---quite a variety for a town this size, no?

"But that's..."

"And it's just SWIMMING in mythology," said Fiona much too cheerfully. "Their sports teams are called the Golden Gaels, Gael as in Gaelic, and their unofficial motto is 'Cha Gheill.'" She beamed at Angel. "Care to translate?"

"No surrender," he said. "Cha Gheill. It means no surrender."

"And of course, there were Indians," continued Fiona cheerfully. "Should we talk about those?"

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed between his eyes. "Let's don't."

"So I started taking some readings," said Fiona. "That imbecile Zabuto always teased me about my crystals---too new-fangled for his tastes, I suppose, but in my mind there's no more reliable a way...and presto. Hellmouth."

Buffy looked nervously down at her feet. "Here?"

"Of course not here. Who would be stupid enough to build a library on top of a hellmouth?"

The scoobies traded bemused looks. "So...where?" said Cordelia.

"Under the pub, of course," said Fiona. "This campus has three of them, but two of them are in the same building. If that doesn't just SCREAM suspicious..."

"Should we go see it?" said Buffy.

"Oh, I'm keeping on eye on things, but it isn't doing anything yet. There's a full moon in two days. I think they'll make their move then."

"So do we have a plan yet?"

Fiona nodded. "I'm still trying to work on getting the pub---Alfie's, it's called---closed down for the night. It's a hard sell, I admit---it's fairly popular. It's in the basement of the JDUC---that's the student centre here, you know, food courts, meeting rooms, and, among many, many other things, a residence for graduate students. Those people have filed more than a few noise complaints this year---it's been a small scandal. I'm trying to leverage that a little, but I'm just a librarian..."

"We'll help," said Buffy.

"Well, of course you'll help. I wouldn't have sent for you, otherwise. I'll have Giles for research, I think, and you in case I need a 'student.' Cordelia, I'd like you and Angel to do some shopping, if you don't mind---there are still some volumes I'm missing, and this town has quite the profusion of used book stores..."

They nodded their assent, and Fiona smiled, genuinely, this time. "You must be tired. I've found some rooms for you in that graduate residence I mentioned---it's just across the street. Just go through the upper ceilidh to the staircase..."

"The who?"

Angel smiled. "More Gaelic. They do like their history, don't they? It means meeting place."

"If you can call a hallway that. Go in the side entrance past the food court, and that large open space is the lower ceilidh. Just follow the stairs. I have your keys here..."

"I should do a patrol, I guess," said Buffy. "Well we're here...I mean, this IS a hellmouth, after all..."

"I'll come," said Cordelia. "It's been awhile since I've done a real patrol..."

"Cordy, are you..."

"I'll come," she repeated. Her tone was significant; no one questioned her further.

"I'll go the other way," said Angel. "Do a quick pass before heading back here..."

They headed outside, and nobody even thought to ask Giles if he had plans. He watched the others head off in three different directions, then waited until they were out of sight and took the fourth.

Part 6


It was almost 9, and Caritas was hopping. Wesley, grimacing distastefully as he worked his way through the crowd, stepped delicately up to the bar to search for Gunn.

He found him aproned and active, tossing drinks with the speed of a god, and boredly tuning out a large three-headed demon who was prattling like an idiot about a woman called Esmeralda.

He tapped his knuckles on the counter. "Hello?" he called.

Gunn broke off the drink-pouring and greeted him with a relieved grin. "Wes! My man, thank god you are here. Yo! Ramone!" He flagged down the nearest bartender. "I got a business meeting. Get my buddy HMV some more purple stuff and watch the bar a few minutes, will ya?"

They retreated into Lorne's small office. "Wes, thank god!" Gunn repeated.

Wesley shrugged and calmly took a seat. "You called, I came. No less than I would do for any friend, really. What can I do for you?"

"I so need your help," Gunn whined. "Remember that muffin thing?"


"Well, I told Lorne about it," he said. "And he really likes the idea of expanding our repertoire. But he thought the apple-cinnamon might be a little too....too FRUITY for our clientele, you know? He told me if I beefed it up some---and no, I don't mean literal beef---it might go over better."

"And this involves me because..."

"Do I have to spell it out for you? I know jack about regular baking, and jack-all about the demon kind. You gotta help me, Wes. I don't know how you know the things you know..."

"It isn't hard, really. My Nanna always said that all you need is a recipe with clear instructions, and anyone can produce a moist and fluffy..."

"Whoa," said Gunn. "I don't know what a Nanna is, and I don't think I even want to know. But one thing I do know is that unless you help me come up with an alternate menu, I'm going to be de-stingering Jubalian entrails 'til the cows come home. And no, I don't mean literal cows. Look, bail a brother out, will you? If you were a scaly- blue-skinned purple-loving three-headed demon, what would YOU want with your crudite tray?"

Wesley thought for a moment. "All right," he finally said. "But I'll need a day or so to do some research..."

He headed back into the bar. "With my own brother Marv!" the blue-skinned demon was exclaiming, poking three stubby blue fingers into Ramone's arm for emphasis. Wesley shook his head. He was far too good for this crowd.


They passed through nearly three Byzantine campus blocks of buildings named after people before Buffy finally plopped herself down on a park bench and rested her stake in her lap.

"All right," she sighed. "Let's get it over with."

Cordelia sat down beside her and smiled sweetly. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Oh no you don't. Don't play innocent with me, missy, you've been biding your time all night trying to get me alone for a heart-to-heart, haven't you? So spill. Are you the one in trouble, or am I?"

"This isn't that kind of conversation."

Buffy nodded. "Giles..." She kicked a pebble unhappily. "Figures he'd talk to YOU about it first."

"He didn't talk to me."

Buffy flexed her fingers back and forth in near-fists. "Oh," she managed.

"Oh? Buffy, trust me when I tell you that this really isn't something you need to get jealous over. You think this is some kind of contest? Spot the stress first? Please! The man was projecting like a drive-in movie! I saw the same thing you saw. I'm just brave enough to talk about it, unlike some people."

Buffy shrugged. "Okay. So?"

"So for totally selfish reasons , namely that I don't want to listen to either of you complaining to me when you handle this the way you usually do and make things worse, I'm going for option two and butting my nose in to give you a heads-up on this."

"A heads-up," repeated Buffy tonelessly. "You think THAT'S what I need? You think I really don't see what's going on here? He gets a little stressed sometimes. All he needs to do is..."

"What? Fight it out, like you do? Rant it out, like I do? You know that's not the way he handles things."

"It's worse," said Buffy. "What he's worse."

"Which is exactly why you need to back off a little. You might not like the brood thing---god knows I sure don't when Angel does it. But Giles has stuff on his mind right now---the hellmouth and the watchers are bad enough, but there's the whole Miss Calendar angle too..."

"Oh, that one's okay," said Buffy. "We already talked about that."

"Right. Cause it's that easy..."

"Now, just a minute..." Buffy fumed.

"No, YOU just a minute. Giles is strong, he's smart and he's tough, but you know as well as I do that he's not the best emotional multitasker. One problem, and you never even see it on him. But two or three at once, and he starts showing cracks. Jamming in a chisel before he has a chance to smooth them over is not going to help things."

Buffy looked torn. "I know," she said weakly. "But Cordy, you weren't here the last time he did this. When he gets overwhelmed---like the kind of overwhelmed you're talking about---he completely shuts down. It's...dangerous."

"He can't help it."

"I know he can't. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stand by and let him be vamp-food just cause he wants to broodfully hide out in the dark and lick his wounds! If what you're saying is true, he's in pain right now. You really want me to just sit by and let it run its course?"

Cordelia shrugged. "I think what I want right now is kind of immaterial, don't you?"

Buffy untensed, exhaling slowly. "You're right. Damn you." She drummed her fingers on her knees. "So what happens now?"


He had been walking for less than twenty minutes when he hit the waterfront.

"Such a cliché," Giles muttered, taking in the brooding landscape with a disgusted sigh. "Inky water, craggy a bloody painting..."

He kicked a stone with his foot, then looked up sharply when he heard a soft voice behind him. "You shouldn't be here."

He turned his head and exhaled slowly. "Oh. You."

Fiona crouched down beside him. "I know, I know, probably only cranking up the trauma, aren't I? Bad, evil watcher and all that. But Mr. Giles, really, you shouldn't be here. Things hide in shadows, you know. Here especially."

"You know," he said archly. "I do actually live on a hellmouth. I know how these things work."

She arched her brow. "Seems like."

He tensed to his feet and met her gaze with a stony glare. "Are you quite done?"

"Oh, come on. You think you're the first man to ever have a girlfriend who talks too much? I know how this works. Or at least, I know how it works HERE. Man goes off to find himself a dank and gloomy hideaway to suit his mood. Man sits on the craggy rocks and gazes out into the water, lost in his past, or his love, or his demons. Vampire, demon or hellhound of nefarious evil sneaks up behind man and tears his bloody throat to pieces."

"Now, come on..."

"And I, for once, have no desire to piss the slayer off by letting the likes of you run off and get yourself eaten. Go," she said, shooing him forward with her hands. "Do your thing. I'll wait."

"Oh. Is that right?"

She fumbled in her backpack and emerged with a stake in one hand and a taser in the other.

"Yes, yes," she prompted. "I've got you. Now, go, do your thing already so I can walk you home and get this over with."

He gave her an odd glance, then walked away from her and perched himself on a high, broad stone. The water was oddly soothing, and it briefly crossed his mind that perhaps, at least, one problem---the council problem---was blessedly taken care of.


Cordelia flounced into her tiny room and plopped herself down on the bed.

"Hey," she greeted Angel.

He was sitting in the desk chair, book in hand and feet propped comfortably on the keyboard tray. "Hey. Patrol go okay?"

"Hope so. You?"

"Good enough. Now let's have sex," he said.

She blinked. "Wow. Um, way to preamble there, buddy. You okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"That had all the subtlety of a cement truck, Angel. What's up with that?"

"Men are bad," he said. "They are emotionally immature and have difficulty articulating their feelings."

She frowned. "Have you been reading my self-help books again?"

"No one is so perfect that they can't learn from others, Cordelia."


"The problem," he explained, "Is that men too often hide their feelings because they think that expressing need is a sign of weakness. So they play mind games, Cordelia: the mind games of repression, of denial...and that, as I am sure you'll agree, is NOT healthy. The reality is that we ALL would be happier if only men could just allow themselves to TELL women what it is they're really feeling, instead of fooling around about it."

"And what you are feeling right now is that you want to have sex with me?"

Angel beamed. "Yes. Cordelia, I am feeling lust, and I am not ashamed about it because it is perfectly natural."

"Don't be an idiot," she told him firmly. "I'll have sex with you, all right. But I want the flirting. I want the foreplay. I actually LIKE the pointless pretty stuff, and don't you forget it."

"See, there you go," he said happily. "Clearly expressing your needs and emotions. You picked up on this MUCH faster than I thought you would, Cordelia. Good for you!"

"Shut up," she said, peeling off her jacket and tossing it onto the bed. "And Angel---stay out of my self-help books, will you?"


Part 7


Spike paced impatiently outside the bathroom, pausing intermittently to bang on the door.

"Hurry up, Harm," he growled. "Some of us need to get in there..."

The door cracked open infinitesimally. "Well, excuse me for living," Harmony drawled. "Or unliving, as the case may be. You're the one who made me share a bed with the witch, Spike. And I don't know what kind of experiments you've been running on her, but she smells funny. Like magic and sweat and stuff. Ewwww." Harmony shuddered. "I just can't get clean."

"YOU can't get clean?" he roared. "YOU can't get clean?"

"You're the one who made me share a bed with her," Harmony repeated.

"A fact I am sorely regretting," grumbled Spike. "Didn't know Lilah'd ask HIM to stay."

He pointed to the bed he had just vacated, where Lilah lay fast asleep in demon Kevin's arms, his pointy antlers nudged vaguely sexually against Lilah's breasts, the flow of drippy slime only moderately slowed by his sleeping state.

"I say again," said Spike dryly. "YOU can't get clean?"

He ran a finger through his hair. It came out sticky, and Harmony burst into giggles. "Do you have any idea what you look like right now? Like that scene in that movie with Cameron Diaz, where they use the spermy stuff like hairspray!"

"Shut up!"

"Well, you do. I can't help it that you do. Seriously, Spike, why didn't you just sleep on the floor or something? Are you THAT desperate to cop a feel?"

"Shut up! And lemme in, Harm. I need a shower."

"Well, I don't think so," said Harmony. I haven't even done my hair yet. She ran a silky finger through her long, high-maintenance tresses. "I don't think so at all."

She closed the door on him with a haughty pout, and not for the first time, he lamented the fact that since she was already a vampire, he couldn't even shut her up by eating her.


The Book Shop was their third stop of the morning, and Cordelia was already tired of looking. Their first two destinations had been complete wastes of time: too many cheap paperbacks in the first and too many college psychology textbooks in the second. So when they stepped inside this third one, she didn't even bother looking seriously. As she wandered off into the stacks, Angel accosted the elderly shop-keeper.

"Hi," he said.

"Morning. Can I help you find something?"

"Maybe. We're doing some research into local myths and legends---you know, folklore, ghost stories, paranormal occurrences, that sort of thing..."

"Ah. Well, you don't need a book for that. There's a tour you can take---Haunted Kingston, they call it. Very popular with the tourists..."

"We aren't tourists."

The shopkeeper gave him a funny look. "Paranormal occurrences, you say?"

"Um hm."

"How paranormal?"

Angel tensed alertly.

"I only mean...look, what sources have you already consulted?"

"Special Collection," said Angel. "At the university..."

The shopkeeper nodded, and reached behind the desk, pressing a hidden button. The desktop rolled back to reveal a hidden shelf stacked as high as possible with musty old volumes. Cordelia wandered over. "Jackpot..." she whispered.

"Have a look and see what you can use," the shopkeeper said. "Now, you understand, I am sure, that most of these books are priceless and irreplaceable, but word on the net is something big is brewing here. I do my part, you understand?"

"Word on the net..." muttered Cordelia, frowning. "Are're a..."

He smiled. "I believe the word you are looking for is 'technopagan.' Nothing to be alarmed about, Miss."

"Oh, believe me," said Cordelia. "You want to alarm me, you're going to have to do a lot better than that."

He gave them an odd frown. "Now, you wouldn't happen to be Angel, would you?"

Angel looked up from his reading. "How did you..."

"'I shall lament my death, betimes, and mourn my life, that it must be kept prisoner by sins and crimes so long before I am set free...'" He plunked a slim paperback on the table in front of Angel. "St. John of the Cross," he explained. "Had a devil of a time finding it on such short notice..."

Angel frowned in confusion. "What...?"

"Your order," than man said. "Three days ago? The website?"

"I...ordered this book?"

"Well, somebody did. The Campbell translation, as I recall. More obscure than the Kavanaugh version, but definitely worth the bother, if you want my opinion. I have your receipt right here," he said, waving the piece of paper at him triumphantly.

"Is there a billing address?" asked Angel.

The man shook his head. "We go through bill, and all we do is fill the order. You telling me you didn't order this book?"

"Yes. I mean, no. I didn't order it."

"Well, it's paid for," he shrugged. "So it's yours. You really have no idea who sent it?"

Angel, still skimming the slim volume, looked up suddenly. "I have some idea," he said with a sudden smirk. He looked at Cordelia. "Know any other technopagans?"

Her eyes widened. "You think...?"

He looked down at the pages again. "'Over the ramparts fanned, while the fresh wind was fluttering his tresses, with his serenest hand, my neck he wounded, and suspended every sense with its caresses.' It's her, Cordelia. It's Jenny. She's sending us a message."

Cordelia paled. "We need to find Giles," she said.

Angel fingered the volume thoughtfully. "I don't think so," he said. "I think this one's for us."


Fiona Wyndam-Pryce looked up sedately from her book and beamed a shy smile at her lone remaining charge.

"Perhaps you'd like a break?" she suggested.

The slayer, hair tied back messily, pants dusted with carelessly unnoticed book must, one hand nervously fisting at her side while the other lazily gripped a priceless book with sweaty fingers, ceased her infernal pacing and appeared to give the sentiment a moment's consideration.

"No," said Buffy flatly.

"Perhaps you could at least...well, slow down for a moment?" Fiona suggested. "Perhaps clutch the ancient, irreplaceable volume with a smidge less vigour?"

Buffy carefully put the book down, then glowered at Fiona with dark, flat eyes. "Bite me," she said.

Fiona sighed. "Another tantrum. This is SO not the time!"

Buffy cracked a tiny smile. "Ah ha," she said softly. "She shows signs of life at last. Emotion. Actual, human, pissy-little-attitude...emotion."

Fiona slammed her book shut, then seemed to reconsider. Eyes never leaving Buffy's, she pointedly opened it again, then gently folded it closed. "Is that really how you see me?" she said with horrifying softness. "How all of you...really..."

Buffy squeezed shut her eyes and slowly counted to three. "Oh god. Please don't tell me you're going to cry or something. Look, I'm sorry, okay? I..."

"Really," said Fiona calmly. "I truly am genuinely curious. Is it only because I'm a watcher, or is it me?"

"She grows a heart," said Buffy wearily. "Although, to paraphrase...this is SO not the time!"

"That's not a paraphrase. It's a direct quote."




"Bitch. Are we quite done?"

"I think so. Look, I really am sorry, okay? I admit, not the best play-nicer with the council, especially with a new, improved hellmouth on our hands complete with evil lawyers and broody MIA Giles...but still, I haven't been...I mean, here you are trying to help, and I'm..." She hesitated. "You ARE trying to help, aren't you?"

"I am. Look, Buffy, I know that I didn't make the absolute BEST first impression..."

"I'll say. I seem to recall someone threatening to lock up my sister in a watcher lab and run experiments on her."

Fiona turned crimson. "I was saying, perhaps it was not my best possible beginning...but I had never MET a slayer before in person, and all I had to go on was the fact that Faith tried to KILL my brother and that YOU actually bested him. And here I was, still a naïve, untested little trainee who had never even left bloody England, and suddenly I'm in the middle of all of you and with that dunce Zabuto breathing down my neck saying draw the line, draw the line..."

"Guess we both made the same mistake, didn't we?" said Buffy thoughtfully. "Forgetting that in all the power and magic and history, there really is another person in there..."

Fiona took a deep breath. "We're okay. Gods help us, we're okay."

"I'm glad YOU feel better."

Fiona looked down at her hands and idly picked at a hangnail. "Yes, well we do still have work to do," she mumbled.

"Uh huh. So what time did you program Giles to come back for?"

Fiona winced. "Buffy, about that, I'm..."

Buffy gave her a reassuring smile. "It's okay. You think you're the first person who ever gave Giles and me a night apart to cool off? Although Lorne is not a person per se...look, it's okay, Fiona, you did good this time. He came home, and I was sleeping. I woke up, and he was gone---on YOUR errand---but now that I've had a chance to calm down a little, I know he'll be back. I peg lunch at, what, half an hour away? Cordy's bringing donuts. He'll come."

"He seemed better, when I left him," Fiona offered.

Buffy gave the girl's hand a comforting squeeze. "I'm sure he was."


 Part 8

Gunn stood before the tray of Jubalian entrails and poked them delicately with his paring knife.

"Like this?" he said, grimacing only slightly.

Lorne shook his head. "Here," he said. "Like this." He took the knife from Gunn's hand, and stabbed the platter of entrails dramatically. "I mean, sure, they LOOK fairly dead," he remarked off-handedly. "Especially being already extracted from the body of the Jubala demon and everything. But, as I am sure you can understand, one can never be too careful..."

"Right," said Gunn.

"So we always whack it a few times with the knife like this," said Lorne, demonstrating. "Just to be on the safe side."

"Right," said Gunn again. "Of course we do."

Lorne beamed, delighted that his protégé was understanding. He then put down the paring knife and picked up a larger, machete-sized chef's knife, which he used to enthusiastically hack the mass of entrails into smaller pieces while he continued talking. "I'm glad you're picking up on this so quickly, bro. Makes me feel a whole lot better about leaving you solo, you know?"

Gunn's eyes widened. "Solo?" he gulped.

Lorne grinned. "That was a really good segue, wasn't it?"

"Solo?" Gunn repeated.

"Oh, right." Lorne began tossing entrail pieces into a smoking saucepan. "There's a thing I need to take care of---with Kate, you know? She's had an epiphany, you see, and I'm thinking she needs a little karmic nudge---and there's this...well, I hesitate to use the term fortune teller, cause that's SO b-movie, but anyway, he's really, really good and I want to take her."

Gunn frowned. "But isn't that the kind of mojo the stuff YOU do?"

Lorne shook his head. "You know Kate as well as I do, buddy. Well, okay, you don't, exactly, but you do know that she's not the type to let the likes of me inside her head on a regular basis. Freaks her out enough that I'm green and scaly and in love with her and so amazing in bed that she nearly passes out from the orgasms. Plus which," he added, pointedly ignoring Gunn's wince of disgust. "There's that whole conflict of interest thing. Pretty hard to read someone else's fate when your own is so entangled in it. No, my friend---for this, we need an outsider, and not just any outsider, but a good one. Our plane for Shanghai departs this very afternoon."

"Shanghai?" Gunn squeaked.

"Oh, relax. We'll only be gone a week---two, at most. Or possibly, three if we sight-see. And it's not like you don't have your very own Wes-man at your beck and call. You'll be fine!"

Lorne poured some purple stuff into the saucepan, then stood back as it ignited in a dramatic fiery inferno.

"Right," said Gunn hollowly. "Fine."

"Only one tiny thing," said Lorne casually. "Just the teensiest favour being that we sort of need someone to watch Bruiser."

The flames died down, and Gunn stared dubiously into the blackened saucepan. "We naming the entrails now?"

"No, not that, dummy. Bruiser. You know, Bruiser? Kate's widdle puppy?"

Gunn shook his head. "No. No way. Nu-uh."

"But he's really a very sweet little..."


"A dear, loveable..."

"No. Nope. Not happening. Me and puppies---unmixy things."

Lorne shook his head. "I'd just hate to think what Wesley will say," he said with mock sadness. "When I tell him HE has to do it because you're scared of a tiny widdle defenseless puppy..."

Gunn hesitated. "You wouldn't."

"I'd do it, Charles. I'd tell him."


Lorne smirked in triumph. "Looks like we have an understanding. You know, you and I really do work well together. Does my heart good..." He poured the flambéed entrails onto the serving tray. They had, in the heat, turned a rich orange and shrunk into tiny, crunchy strips. They looked suspiciously like carrot sticks.

"There," said Lorne, embellishing them with a dollop of blue cheese dressing. "All ready."

"Yeah," repeated Gunn hollowly. "Ready."


Giles returned at lunchtime, directly on the heels of Angel and Cordelia. He nodded briefly to Buffy with a shy smile, then stiffly reached over to help Cordelia arrange the sandwiches.

"Well look at that," said Fiona, flustering nervously with a messy sheaf of papers. "Time to...time to go do some library work, I think. On account of my...working in a library. Cover story, you know. Has to, maintained..."

She snitched a sandwich and bolted up the stairs as the light dawned in Cordelia's eyes. "Right," Cordelia said, looking around her and realizing that Angel had, bless his undead heart, already disappeared. "I should go find Angel. Cause he's...not here. So I should go find him!"

She grabbed a salad and plastic fork and scrambled away, leaving Buffy and Giles alone in the work area. They looked at each other and simultaneously burst into giggles.

Giles pointed at the departing Cordelia. "That...was..."

Buffy nodded, eyes watering. "All the subtlety...of a cement truck," she gasped out. "Giles..."

He nodded, growing serious again. "Thank you."

"No problem." She took a step toward him. "Can I...oh god, I think I need a hug..."

He embraced her, and was surprised to find her shaking. "It's okay," he soothed. "Let it out..."

"I was...worried..." she blubbered. "I hate it when you do that! I was worried and you wouldn't talk to me and it scared me!"

He stroked her hair. "No more tears," he said gently. "I know. And I'm sorry for it. But Buffy, I couldn't help it. You know I couldn't."

She nodded, lifting up hear head with a weak smile and blinking back the last of her tears. "I know it," she admitted with a sniffle. "But I still hate it."

"And I still had to do it---and likely will again on more than one occasion. Thank you," he said again.

She shrugged. "You needed space and I gave it to you. Would have been worse if I hadn't. Did you get it out of your system, at least?"


She blinked. "No?"

"Does that surprise you?"

She shrugged.

"It shouldn't. I won't run off again, if that's what you mean. Not tonight, anyway. But Buffy, there is nothing good about this situation. The hellmouth could open. You could die---Cordelia could die---there is NOTHING good about that, and even a night of solid brooding can't make it good."

She gave him a funny look. "But that's not all of it."

"No, that's not all of it. Buffy, I have this feeling---I don't know how to explain it, but I know---I KNOW I'm right..."

She flushed guiltily. "Miss Calendar?"

He nodded. "She's going to die again, Buffy. Tomorrow night, when they try and open the hellmouth---one way or another, she's going to die."

Buffy nodded, hands clenching by her sides. "Okay," she said. "If you're right...if we know it now...we'll protect her." She nodded confidently. "Don't worry, Giles. We'll protect her."

"It won't matter. One way or another---there's no stopping it. She'll die, Buffy. She'll die---again."

He punched the wall in nervous anger. "Damn it! That'll teach me to believe in second chances."

She led him to a chair and sat down on his lap, touching his face gently. "Do you really believe that?"

"Come on, Buffy, you know how this works. You really mean to tell me you haven't thought of it too, thought of---thought of HER too?"

"I've been trying really, really hard not too, actually. And doing a pretty good job, I thought. Lawyers---bad. Hellmouth---bad. Giles---awwww. That's pretty much my thought process right now."

He looked up at her unhappily. "She's come back, Buffy. She's come back, and they'll take her away again."

He allowed his cheek to nuzzle into her hand. "I just get so tired sometimes. Bloody fate pulls you out of line...I dared to hope that maybe we had gotten points somehow. Maybe they were saying this time, you CAN have a second chance. Poor Jenny---she lost her life for the cause same as we did. And I thought---I thought that MAYBE they were giving her her just reward...but they were toying with her, with US, just as they've always been. They brought her back, and now they'll let her die again. How can one night of pain and anger possibly begin to make sense of that?"

"I'm a second chance too," she said, voice breaking.

"You are that," he said, tears dripping soundlessly from his stony eyes. "And if I lose YOU again too..."

He slid off his glasses to catch the wetness on his fingers, and in his bare eyes, she saw the glint of Ripper, silently finishing the thought.

Part 9

** Cordelia wandered through the bowels of the library basement, munching idly on a turkey wrap and boredly keeping half an eye out for Angel. After a few moments, she doubled back and quietly slipped into Fiona's tiny office.

"You okay?" greeted Angel. He was comfortably ensconced in Fiona's desk chair, feet perched casually on her keyboard tray, and book resting comfortably on his lap, a cocky grin on his face as he watched her.

She jumped. "Angel! What are you..."

He shrugged. "I heard you come in."

"Like heard me as in I was being too noisy or heard me as in heard the tread of my shoes on the carpet from rooms away with your sicko vampire hearing?"

He didn't answer. "All right," she sighed. "That was a low blow, and I apologize. I'll be good, okay?"

He regarded her impassively.

"So how's the book?"

"Very interesting, actually. I've never read a poem written by a vampire. I mean, I was always a drawing sort of guy myself, and it never occurred to me to..."

"Whoa, back up a second here. VAMPIRE?"

Angel nodded.

"But that's..." she snatched the book from his hands and skimmed through the biographical introduction. "St. John of the Cross, Founder, with St. Teresa of Avila, of the Discalced Carmelites. Born at Hontoveros, Old Castile, in 1542. Ecstatic visions, exiled to Gaol, saved from death by the Blessed Virgin, yada, yada, yada...where exactly are you getting vampire from again?"

He handed off the book with a smug grin. "The Dark Night of the Soul. Fun stuff. Read THAT and tell me it wasn't written by a vampire!"

She scanned the poem impatiently. "Darkened night, flame of love...okay, so the virginal maiden sneaks out into the abyss to rendezvous with her lover, and he...whoa." Her eyes skimmed down the bottom of the page. "'From all endeavour ceasing...threw them amongst the lilies there to fade.' He KILLS her?"

"He bites her," Angel corrected. "'My neck he wounded, and suspended every sense with its caresses.' He bites her, and they 'joined ...transfiguring them each into the other.' Come on, Cordelia! It's so obvious. He..."

"He turns her," finished Cordelia softly. "Night---transfigures...oh my god, Angel, he bites her, then he turns her."

"Vampire," pronounced Angel with satisfaction. "Told you!"

She shrugged away from him. "Well, don't sound so proud about it. It's kind of gory, isn't it?"

"Kind of beautiful too," he said. "Night that was my guide..."

"But why would she..."

"Darkness dearer than the morning's pride..."

"Stop quoting at me," she snapped. "I'm trying to think!"

"You don't have to. It's us, don't you see? That same power...that same took Jenny's life, but it also SAVED yours. I think...Cordelia, I think she sent me this because it's her way of giving us her blessing. I think she's telling me that maybe...maybe she forgives me."


They were just cranking up the karaoke, when, for the second night in a row, Wesley marched himself past the scaly bouncer, through the tables stacked high with Planter's Peanuts, past the three-headed blue-skinned demon who was loudly demanding more purple stuff, and up to the bar at Caritas.

"Gunn?" he called cautiously.

A harried-looking Gunn popped up from behind the counter. "Wes! Thank god!"

Wesley took this greeting in stride. "Umm hmm. I must say, I was surprised to hear from you again like this. I was fairly thorough in my instructions regarding the baking soda. I thought we had the crisis covered."

"No, not THAT crisis," said Gunn. "This is another one. You know about the Lorne and Kate thing, right?"

Wesley nodded. "Drove them to the airport myself not a mere two hours ago, as I recall."

"Thing is..." said Gunn. "They left behind a little something---I mean, besides the demon bar I'm now in charge of. Ramone!"

He snapped his fingers, and the waiter approached them. "Cover me," said Gunn. "Me and Mr. Wyndam-Pryce here have some stuff."

"Yes, sir," said Ramone, saluting smartly at Gunn. He smirked at Wesley. "Boss..."

Wesley opted not to comment on that one, and silently followed Gunn into Lorne's apartment. The demon bartender had apparently begun redecorating, in deference to his newly acquired live-in girlfriend---stray belongings had been stowed in neatly stacked boxes, and several bookshelves lay empty, awaiting Kate's influence. It was onto one of these that Bruiser the puppy had climbed, and on which he had apparently gotten himself stranded. Gunn pointed at the quivery ball of fur with concern.

"It won't come down," he said.

Wesley squinted. "But that's...THIS is the crisis?"

"It won't come down," Gunn repeated. "Which means it won't eat. Which means it will die. Which means Kate will be sad. And when Kate gets sad, Lorne gets..."

"But Charles," said Wesley in genuine confusion. "That's...all you have to do is reach across these boxes here, pick him up, and..."

"And touch him?" said Gunn. "I don't think so." He squatted to the floor and timidly patted his knee. "Here, Bruiser. C'mere, puppy. Here..."

"Oh, for goodness' sake," sighed Wesley. He stepped delicately over Gunn, reached above his head and snatched the now-whimpering puppy off the shelf. Bruiser had it in him to be a big dog, but he hadn't grown to near his potential yet, and he fit easily in the watcher's arms.

"There," said Wesley, putting the dog gently down. "See that?"

Gunn exhaled. "Thanks, man."

"No problem at all, Charles. But really, you must learn to manage these sorts of things on your own. Now, shall I add desensitization exercises to the lengthy, lengthy lists of things we need to work on?"

Gunn shrugged. "You're the boss."


They convened their evening meeting at the hotel's pool---dripping wet like the rest of them, Kevin the Chaos demon's oozing antlers were slightly less conspicuous.

"So, we're set for tomorrow, then," began Lilah.

"Set?" whined Spike. "Like we could NOT be. Not like the hellmouth's going anywhere, pet."

Lilah frowned. "Don't call me that." She turned to Kevin. "He does that all the time. It's irritating."

Kevin balled a girly fist at Spike. "This is not the time for games, vampire."

Spike grinned. "Demon-come-lately's giving ME commands? Oh, come on."

Harmony adjusted the straps of her leopard-skin bikini and cleared her throat impatiently. "Hello? This is our last night before we blow up the world, and we're going to spend it bickering? I mean, hello! We have things to do, people! With the spells, and the potions, and the killing the slayer and all her friends so they don't get in our..."

Kevin raised a timid hand. "We're not blowing UP the world, actually. It's more of a..."

"Wait a minute," interrupted Lilah. "Slayer? What slayer?"

"THE slayer! The one I saw lurking near the hellmouth when I was coming back from shopping!"

"Here?" clarified Lilah. "You are talking about today, are you? THIS hellmouth---not the other one?"

"Of course this hellmouth, stupid. I'm not dumb, you know. Well, okay, I am, but not about this! I saw the slayer. She's here!"

Beside them, Jenny twitched a little. They didn't notice.

"Huh," said Spike. "Wondered how long it would take THEM to turn up."

"Don't worry," said Kevin. "It's not a problem."

"It isn't?"

Kevin shook his head, raining goopy slime down on them from his swaying antlers. "Remember that thing?" he told Lilah.

She snapped her fingers. "Right! That!"

"What?" said Spike.

"There's a thing we talked about," said Lilah. "While you were in the shower?"

"What thing?"

"Oh, don't worry," said Lilah, patting Kevin on his arm with a self-satisfied smile. "Kevin's taking care of it."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Of course, he is," he muttered darkly. "Why wouldn't he be?"


Part 10


Buffy snuggled into a blanket, feet tucked under her knees and phone balanced comfortably in the crook of her shoulder.


"Buffy!" Willow sounded thrilled to hear from her. "How are things? You guys okay? Did you see the hellmouth yet? Is it just like our hellmouth?"

"Actually, yes," said Buffy. "Which is why is IS a hellmouth. Willow, how's..."

"Do you have all the books you need?" said Willow. "Do you know what's happening? Is there snow there? Do you need me to do any spells?"

"No, yes, no, and no," said Buffy impatiently. "Willow that isn't why I called. I..."

"Oh," said Willow, deflating a little. "Right. The whole pre-apocalypse sharing the love in case you die thing. I'll get Dawn."


"Buffy, it's okay," said Willow. "I'll get Dawn. Once sec..."

She heard faint sounds of scuffling in the background, followed by a whiny 'I got it!'


"Hey Buffy. You guys okay?"

"Are YOU okay? I..."

"Left me all alone with only Willow, Tara, Xander and Anya watching my every move and caring for my every need? Geez, Buffy. Over-protective much?"

"Dawnie, I just..."

"Wish you didn't have to go off like this and save the world and maybe die and stuff, I know. Buffy, honestly. You have enough to worry about without getting all concerned over my math grades and whether or not I'm taking my vitamins. Which I am, by the way. We're cool here."

She let herself exhale. "Fine. Good."

"Taking my vitamins, doing my homework, limiting my television to one hour per night---do you need to know what I had for breakfast too?"

Buffy bit her lip and burrowed deeper into the blankets. Dawn picked up on the vibe. "Hey, it's okay," she hastily reassured. "I was just teasing, Buffy. Maybe that was inappropriate, with you stressing and all, but...look, you ARE okay, right? I mean, you HAVE done this kind of thing before."

"I know."


"So that doesn't mean it gets any easier, Dawnie Opening a hellmouth is still opening a hellmouth, and we've got evil lawyers and Miss Calendar, and Giles is freaking out, and on top of it all I've been a bad sister and left YOU all alone..."

"You really feel guilty about that? Buffy, that's so sweet! But you're a great sister. And I've been having a blast with Willow and Tara and the gang. There's this thingie Tara does with the blender, a jar of marshmallow fluff and some peanut butter that is just amazing, and...wait, Giles is freaking?"

"As we speak. He's been really, really trying to work it through with me, but it's not something so easy to get your head around. I mean, his ex, who was practically killed before his very eyes by my then-evil ex-boyfriend is magically resurrected by evil lawyers...not exactly something you can just shrug off, is it? It's like the rational part of his brain is all trying to figure it out rationally, but meanwhile the rest of his brain is all 'ahhh!' and the net result is mucho scrambled circuits and no easy answers and nighttime brood-walks on the waterfront that help nobody, least of all him."

"And you?"

"Oh, Dawnie, I'm so worried about him I don't know what to do."

"Oh," said Dawn. "That's convenient."

"That's what, now?"

"Convenient. How you worry about him like that? Keeps the worried circuits nice and busy so you can avoid thinking about how YOU feel. That's kinda co-dependent, isn't it? The way you have that whole thing set up?"

"That's ridiculous."

"Really? You knew Miss Calendar too, Buffy. And it was YOUR evil boyfriend who killed her. How do YOU feel about having her back?"

"I feel sick with worry about what this is doing to Giles."

"Uh huh," said Dawn.

Buffy frowned. "Oh."

"Oh indeed. He's probably out there right now punching a brick wall or something, isn't he?"


"Well, I'd follow his lead if I were you. Take some time for yourself. Go to the gym or something, I don't know. But work through it---now. Or it'll hit you, hard, when you don't want it to. And Buffy?"


"I love you too. I mean, in case the world DOES end and stuff? I wanted you to know that."

The phone clicked off and Buffy sat there dumbly with the receiver in her hand, not even processing.


Cordelia Chase rolled onto her back and gazed up at the stars from beneath the leafy shadows.

"I love it when we do this," she said quietly.

Angel propped himself up on his elbows and looked at her. "Do what?"

"Find ourselves a quiet spot under a tree somewhere and just enjoy the quiet..."

"Um hm."

"I mean, we've been here, what, two days, and we haven't even gone for a walk yet. Why haven't we?"

"Well, the hellmouth," Angel suggested.

She frowned. "Right. But besides that, I mean. Who knows when we'll get up this way again?"

"Probably soon," said Angel. "What with the probably permanent council presence and the hellmouth being here..."

She swatted him on the arm. "Do you mind? I'm kinda trying to enjoy the moment here."

He thought about this. "You know," he said after a moment. "We could probably have sex right now and nobody would see us. There's a tree in our way."

She looked briefly exasperated. Then, her eyes abruptly sparkled as she appeared to consider his proposal. After a moment's though, she made her decision. After all, she figured, shrugging calmly out of her sweatshirt, they all could die tomorrow.


Buffy took a deep breath and closed her eyes, giving herself a moment to centre her breathing before she jumped her feet back and stretched her arms out on front of her.

"You're wobbly," said a voice behind her.

She let her knees cave in and picked herself up off the floor to find Giles resting casually against a pile of exercise mats and watching with open smirk as she tried to untangle her limbs.

"The shaky arms would not have been a problem," he elaborated, studying her bare limbs appraisingly as she stretched. "If you had your core properly aligned before you extended. But your knees...decidedly wobbly."

"Smart ass."

He shrugged. "Is it my fault that you telegraph your feelings through your posture? Although, I am sorry if I made you angry," he said.

"I'm not..."

"You are. It's in your elbows. Sadness goes straight to your knees, and anger---elbows. I could see it as soon as you extended, and I'm sorry if I was the cause."

She sat up again, all pretense of workout gone. "You weren't. Well, okay, you were, but...not like that. Not really. It's complicated."

He smiled. "And you're just now realizing that?"

She took a deep breath. "I was talking to Dawn before," she told him. "And she suggested that maybe the reason I get so caught up in your stress is not that I care so much, but that I'm using it as a coping skill to avoid dealing with my own."

"And is she right?"

Buffy squirmed. "Maybe a little. I mean, I do care about you for you, don't get me wrong, but at the same time---it's like I wasn't even processing the whole Jenny thing. On an emotional level, I mean. I was all dealing with you, and battle strategy and hellmouth issues and what does her being here mean in THAT context, but in terms of what it really...means..." She took a deep breath. "It's simpler for me, I think, cause I can just feel guilty."

"And guilty is easier than sad?"

"Heck, yeah. Sad is hopeless. Sad is woe is me, why do bad things happen to good people. Guilt is miserable, but it's my own damn fault so I grin and bear it and that's the way it is."

He nodded. "And you really don't think that I feel guilty too?"

"Why should you? You didn't make Angel turn evil. You didn't have a chance to kill him before he did any harm, and you didn't pass up that chance when you did have it. I killed her, Giles. The only reason she's back is cause she died---because of me."

"And me," he said quietly.


He gave her a sad smile. "You really haven't learned it yet, have you? It's all connected, Buffy---everything, it's all connected. Your moment with Angel---that didn't happen in a vacuum. I was there. Your friends were there. We all made what were, at the time, the best decisions we could. Jenny kept her past a secret. Her elders kept the curse a secret. And I myself never connected the dots, never pieced together what was really going on back then. But at the time---we did our best. We're ALL complicit."

Buffy frowned. "So we're all guilty, yet at the same time, it's not our fault?"

He smiled. "Something like that."

"And yet...I don't think I really feel better. I mean, I do, but I sort of...don't, you know?"

He smiled again. "I understand."

He pulled her into his lap and they held each other, drawing from the warmth what comfort they could.


Part 11


They met in the early hours of the morning for coffee at the JDUC Tim Horton's, then doubled back outside and to the underground Alfie's entrance to scout the pub for signs of hellmouth---or lawyer---activity.

"There's only the one entry point," Fiona had told them. "The sewer access goes into another side of the building---this is the only way in. If they're here, we'll see them..."

They hadn't counted on the security guard. "Boss said there might be trouble," he told them, stoutly barring the door.

"It's seven in the morning," said Fiona impatiently. "You don't open---if you DO open tonight at all---for another twelve hours!"

The man shrugged. "Boss said there might be trouble. Wants guys here all day."

"But we need to get in there!" Fiona whined.

The guard shrugged. "There might be trouble."

Fiona looked like she was going to open her mouth again, when Buffy pulled her aside. "They can't start the ritual till sundown, right?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"So that leaves us a good six hours to find another way in. I say we retreat. See if that library of yours has any floor plans to this building or anything..."

From the rooftop of the gymnasium, Lilah and Kevin watched the proceedings with binoculars. "Didn't think a bunch of locals would be smart enough to sense the vibe," said Lilah, eyeing the student guards. "Those won't be a problem, will they?"

Kevin shrugged. "They might be. If we weren't planning to teleport in, I mean."

"Right," said Lilah. "That thing of yours. Lucky for us, then. So, you up for some breakfast? Heard the Tim Hortons has pretty good donuts."

Kevin gave his festering antlers a perfunctory swipe with the back of his sleeve . "Why not? I need to get some more paper napkins."

"Okay. We'll just stop back at the hotel and get your Tilly hat..."

Kevin laughed. "In this town? Don't need one. Half of them think I'm a goth. The other half think I'm an engineering student. I just love clueless college kids. Especially deep fried and with butter sauce."

"Don't we all," said Lilah, nodding sagely. "Don't we all."


The lunch crowd had come and gone, and Gunn motored busily up and down the bar, wiping tables. He heard the key turn in the lock of the now-closed Caritas, and looked up from his wiping to see Wesley, patting his brand new spare key securely in his pocket.

"Afternoon, Charles."

"Hey, partner. Lunch was a SMASH," he enthused. "Those muffins? Went over like the purple stuff, but in solid form."

In his enthusiasm, Gunn had stopped watching where he was going. He tripped over Bruiser, and nearly went flying. "Damn!"

Wesley's smirk was far too self-satisfied. "Having trouble?" he asked breezily.

"Wipe that grin off your face, man. I'm warning you."

"Oh. You're warning me, are you?" He looked down at the waggy-tailed widdle puppy, then up at the glaring, disgust-pinched grimace Gunn was leveling at it. "Very threatening," he told his friend reassuringly. "On both counts."

Gunn stepped carefully away from Bruiser, and settled numbly into a chair. "I just don't get it, Wes. Damn thing's been following me around all morning."

Wesley smiled. "Because he senses you don't like him much, I expect. He's trying to win you over. Trixie did that too---followed father around like a..."

"Whoa. TRIXIE? Who's that?"

"Little poodle puppy dog we had when I was small. A school-friend of Fiona's had just had a litter, and she brought one home one day. Lovely little thing---snowy white, with fluffy tufts of fur that curled out just so...Father hated her on sight, of course."

Gunn fidgeted, his happy mood suddenly sapping out of him. "Right. Of course."

"But we took SUCH good care of her, Fiona and I. Fed her, played with her, took her for little walks...everything just so. That was actually how Mother wound up positioning it to Father when it came to decide on keeping her---the education of it all. Teaching us responsibility, you see. Discipline. Structure."

There was an uncomfortable clench to Wesley's jaw.

"And?" Gunn reluctantly prompted.

"And we thought we were handling it," said Wesley. "We thought we were doing a good job. And we continued thinking so right up until the day he took us to the park and drowned her in the river."

Gunn instinctively cast a protective glance at Bruiser. "He WHAT? Why?"

"He drowned her in the river. We were getting too attached, you see. You must never get too attached to your charges, because emotion is the enemy of control."

Gunn let his hand drop to his side, and Bruiser took advantage of this lapse of control to try a tiny lick.

"Oh, man," said Gunn after a moment. "That sucks, bro."

Wesley straightened bravely in his seat. "Well, I'd like to think I've evolved since then. Done better than HE thought I would, bleeding heart notwithstanding..."

"Oh, man..." Gunn gave Bruiser's furry chin an off-hand stroke. "You have, Wes. You have. Only reason we've done so well is cause we stick together. It's those kinds of relationships that...look, you do need a brain, but you need a heart just as much---can't fight so well if you don't have anything at stake, can you?"

"I know that, Charles. But at the same time---brutal and heartless as it was, it WAS an effective lesson. You should try picturing it in your head sometime---with, say, for example, Wolfram and Hart playing Father, and Cordelia playing poor, dead Trixie..."

Gunn shuddered. "It isn't like that."

"But it COULD be, and it's why we have to be so careful. We have to..."

"What? Be cold, unfeeling bastards just so nobody ever hurts us? Nothing ventured, nothing gained? Wes, it doesn't work that way. You're not a little kid anymore, and it's not just you and little sis against the big scary world. We're all in this together, bro. You and I and Angel and them---we're ALL in this together, no matter what your psycho Vulcan father might say."

"I know that, Charles," Wesley said again. "Most of the time...I know it, I really do."

Gunn watched him for a moment, then casually picked up the towel and started polishing the bar again. Bruiser zipped by, giving his new friend an almost-knowing almost-wink before hopping onto Wesley's lap and nuzzling insistently into the distracted watcher's balled-up, shaking fist.


It was just after five at Mission Central, in the bowels of the Stauffer Library at Queen's University, when one of Fiona's monitoring crystals began wailing like a siren and emitting magical purple flares.

"Damn it," grumbled Fiona, rushing to check on her readings. "They've gone around us! They've...they've teleported inside!"

They gathered their backpacks, and grimly made their preparations, but when they arrived at their hotspot, the same security guard was casually resting against a garbage dumpster, smoking a cigarette.

"Hello," said Fiona, smiling sweetly. "We need to get in there."

The guard shook his head. "We're closed tonight," he said. "Termites."

"Yes, of course," said Fiona. "And I have MY extermination crew in there right now dealing with them. I need to go in there and supervise."

The guard frowned. "I don't think so."

"Now, now," said Fiona calmly. "If we could just talk about this for a moment..."


"But I..."

With an impatient sigh, Angel shoved his way in front of her. "You know, I really hate doing this," he apologized. Then, he growled, vamped out and barked "Let us in."

The guard hopped to his feet. "Okay."


They tiptoed carefully into the dark, cavernous pub and Buffy winced. "Why is it always the bad guys who have the hordes of backup?" she grumbled. Lilah had clearly come prepared. They'd set up shop on a makeshift dais, probably to allow the scoobies a suitably distressing view, but they had barred the way with what looked like every vampire they could get their hands on.

Lilah, Spike and Harmony, each with crystal in hand, formed a triangle around a bound and prostrate Jenny, who was not even pretending to be out of it anymore. She struggled openly, in obvious distress---quieting eerily when she caught sight of Buffy and her friends.

Tiny cones of light flowed between the crystals. Lilah beamed. "Slayer! Good of you to join us. Unfortunately, you're too late, of course---the ritual's already started. I can feel the floor going all warm and fuzzily evil beneath us even as we speak..."

Beneath them, it was true, tiny cracks were starting to chip into the floor as the hellmouth fought its way open. Lilah smiled benignly at the pack of vampires.

"Get them."

The scoobies went flying in four directions at once. Buffy dove headfirst into the crowd, trying to make headway, trying to reach the dais, where the cracks of the hellmouth widened.

"Jenny," Giles whispered. He looked desperately up at the dais, took a halting breath, and threw himself once more into the melee. They had to thin the herd.

Cordelia fought her way through the rumble, ducking flying stakes left and right, her heartbeat accelerating dangerously. Careful, she mentally warned. With great anger comes great power---but with great calm, comes greater precision...

"Come on, Slayer," taunted Lilah, as the crystals ominously glowed. "You can do better than that..."

Buffy lunged, stifling a distracted moan as Giles dove to her aid, then stumbled under the crush of the onslaught. She looked away from Lilah just long enough to catch Angel's eye and wave him over to her watcher's aid, as Giles raised half a knee and got in a desperate but well-placed kick that sent three vampires tumbling.

Cordelia ducked, and found herself an unoccupied corner where she could get her bearings before diving back in. There was nothing they could do. She saw that now. They were outnumbered, they were too late, and there was nothing they could do...careful, she warned herself sharply. Calm down...

Buffy found herself a tiny scrap of footing, and with sudden slayer energy, leapt to the dais---noticing, at the same time Angel did, that it wasn't Lilah chanting the spell at all. It was cover, all of it was---cover for a tiny gray chaos demon who suddenly yelped the last of his spell, antlers crackling magic as he dove into the protection of the melee. Tentacles started creeping their way out of the hellmouth, and in Buffy's eyes, Cordelia saw the first, faint glint of uncontrolled panic.

She took deep breaths and tried to calm herself, her gaze drifted around her and landing unwittingly on the bound and struggling Jenny. Her soul abruptly starting reeling---from stress, from panic, from guilt...but she couldn't tear her eyes away. Their gazes locked--- and suddenly, the jumble of alphabet soup in her battle-panicked brain starting spelling out words...

---Hey, kiddo.---

She gasped, and slumped a little. ---Jenny?---

---'Bout time you got here.--- On the dais, Jenny's eyes glowed, and magic leaked out of her fingers and dribbled onto the growing maw of the hellmouth.

---Not that it matters much,--- continued Jenny with a wry smile. ---It's already started. And only blood will close it now. My blood. You knew that, right?---

Cordelia nodded, and felt her eyes sting with tears. ---I'm sorry.---

---Don't be. Everything for a reason, kiddo. You know how it works.---

Cordelia shook her head. ---It's so unfair...---

Jenny twitched, eyes alight like circuits. ---Not really. I had a second chance, and I did what I needed to with it.--- On the dais, still bound, she struggled weakly, breath coming in deep, hitching heaves as the telepathy exerted her. ---At least, I hope I did. You got my message, didn't you?---

---St. John the vampire bard? It WAS a message. I knew it!---

The bond briefly wavered as Jenny collected herself. ---It's important that you understand,---she said. ---There's power out there, Cordelia. There's power, and there's danger and magic---but in spite of everything, it's beautiful, and you know---you're none of you the first. Others have seen, others have felt, others have...have shared...and it's there, if you know where to look for it. There's power out there, Cordelia. But there's comfort out there too...---

Cordelia stumbled, the mental effort draining her also. ---Should we...?---

Jenny nodded. ---It's almost time. You'll tell them...---

The letters faded, and Cordelia cried out. ---Jenny, wait! Wait...---

The connection flickered to life again. ---Tell them...what?--- Cordelia pleaded.

---Tell Angel...he's not forgiven. He never CAN be, you know. But he's redeemed---in my eyes, anyway. It's a fine distinction, but it's one he'll understand.---


---Tell Buffy I'm proud of her. And tell Giles...--- She smiled oddly. ---Tell Giles that sometimes, you really DO get second chances---even if they aren't what they might seem.---

---Okay, THAT one I don't understand.---

---You will.--- Jenny's bindings suddenly melted beneath her, and she raised a finger wearily and stared straight at Cordelia. ---You want a boost?---

Jenny touched her finger to the ground, and a snake of blue energy coursed beneath it and traveled the length of the of the floor, immolating vampire after vampire as it swept the room, and zapping Cordelia from beneath her feet, momentarily dazing her.

---Jenny? You there? Jenny!!!---

She heard a strangled cry from Giles, and before they could react, Jenny had stumbled to her feet---and dove directly into the maw of the hellmouth. She crackled with magic, and as the energy beams caught on the edges of the pit, they snared the gap closed.

"No!" Cordelia shouted. She lunged through the thinning herd of vampires and threw herself at the whirlwind that was slowly blinking out beneath her. She tripped, and caught her hand on the hellmouth's edge. Her skin glowed blue, as Jenny herself had---and the current of magic sealed up the hellmouth neatly.


Buffy came to with a groggy wince of pain. "Owwww."

"Easy," said Giles. "Easy..."

She sat up. "Lilah..."

"Got away," said Giles softly. "By the time we got our bearings..."

"Owwww," said Buffy again.

He smiled. "It was a very big fight," he told her. "A hundred vampires at least. You did well, Buffy."

She frowned. "Owww again. And why are YOU not limpy?"

"Cordelia," he said. "I'm not entirely clear what happened, but somehow...she got herself a boost. And after using it to close the hellmouth, she had just enough of it left to heal the worst of our injuries. She tapped herself out on Angel's chest wound, and I made her stop---figured that with your slayer strength, you'd rebound a lot faster than she would. She's with Angel now---still sparking a little, and trying to process this whole thing."

"But're okay? Miss Calendar..."

"She shouldn't have been here," said Giles, more rueful than sad. "The magic they used to MAKE her here---it was dangerous. It was wrong. She clearly knew it. And in my heart of hearts, I suppose I knew it too. She came to our rescue---then she where she was meant to be, I suppose. She's at peace, Buffy. She earned it."

Buffy nodded. "We're all okay," she said, eyes wide with wonder. "After all that...Cordy, And Angel, and...hey, has anyone seen Fiona? Is she..."

"On the phone with the council putting in my request for vacation time," said Giles with a grin. "We're taking a honeymoon."

"We are?"

"We're already halfway to Montreal," he told her. "All those old castles and things, it's frightfully romantic."

"But to have a honeymoon," said Buffy slowly. "You kind of have to...get married first..."

Giles grinned. "It generally works that way, yes."


Part 12


In a small private airplane hangar on the outskirts of town, Spike and Harmony slouched lethargically in fold-up deck chairs, and watched Lilah pace with Kevin, anxiously checking on arrangements.

"How much longer?" Harmony whined.

Spike sighed heavily. "Wouldn't take so long if Sir Goops-a-Lot didn't keep dripping antler slime all over the sodding propellers."

Kevin briefly turned their way and pouted, waving a puny fist at Spike. "You stop right now with the racial slurs, vampire! I can't help it that I have antlers!"

"Well, if you weren't cuddling in so close with officious boss lady over there," said Spike, cocking a finger at Lilah, "You wouldn't be getting close enough to the bloody plane to gum it up."

Harmony rolled her eyes. "Oh, great. Here we go..."

"No," said Kevin, quaking hard enough from anger that little drips of slime rained furiously down on his cheeks. "We are not doing this. I've had enough, Spike. I have had ENOUGH! So let me lay it out for you, man: she doesn't love you. She never did love you. You can just stop trying right now because it isn't going to happen."

Spike gazed dubiously at Kevin's flabby bicep as it wobbled with fury. "Right," he scoffed. "You're a MUCH better specimen than I am..."

Kevin briefly looked like he was going to sock him. Then, he turned on his heels and whined "Lilah!"

Lilah stalked regally over and leveled her gaze at Spike. "Are you behaving?"

"He's not," whined Kevin. "Lilah, he's making fun of me again. He called my antlers drippy!"

"Well, they are," said Spike.

Lilah hauled Spike to his feet and dragged him bodily away from the group. "We need to talk," she told him.

His face crumpled. "You mean you're serious? It's not just antler-boy getting all many and you're really SERIOUS?"

Lilah softened. "Look," she said gently. "You've been loyal, and you've been helpful, so I'm trying to let you down easy here. It isn't you, Spike. It's me."


"Seeing Kevin again...we have a history, do you understand? There no way you could possibly compete with...look, it's like Drusilla and you. A love like that."

He eyed Kevin suspiciously. "Really? Like Dru and I?"

She nodded. "And seeing him again....FIGHTING with him again, and doing acts of nefarious brought it all back to me. And it made me realize that life is short and love is fleeting. If he's the Dru and you...don't I owe it to myself to find out if we can make it work? To at least give it a try?"

Spike felt himself tearing up. "You do, pet. To have it like do."

"We'll drop off you and Harmony anywhere you want," she reassured him. "Sunnydale, or L.A. or who knows where..."

"Good. Right."

"And I hope we can still be friends," she told him.

He nodded. "Sure. Absolutely."

Lilah clapped her hands together briskly. "Well, than. Shall we?"


Cordelia Chase stood shivering in the Kingston train station, fidgeting with her bags.

"Geez, what's taking so long?" she complained. "How long does it take a person to buy some coffee and a candy bar from a vending machine?"

"For a person, not long," said Buffy with a smirk. "But Angel's not a person, is he?"

Cordelia let go of her bag and swatted Buffy on the arm. "Smart ass."

"It's one of my endearing qualities."

She shivered again. "It's freezing!"

Fiona looked up briefly from a file folder she'd been fiddling with all afternoon. "It's not so bad," she said absently. "It's not the temperature, it's the wind chill."

Buffy grinned. "Is that, like, the Canada equivalent of 'it's not the heat, it's the humidity?'"

The door stumbled open behind them, and Angel emerged with a tray of coffee and a handful of candy bars, both of which he distributed to the girls. He also produced a styrofoam cup of water and a flaccid teabag, which he offered to Giles.

"Thanks for the ride to the train station," he said to Fiona.

She looked up again. "Hmmm? Oh, no problem. I had to be here anyway to pick up my new trainee. She should be arriving any second now."

"Trainee?" said Giles curiously. "You're awfully young to be getting one of those. I didn't get one until I had been with the council for years."

"Well, Mr. Giles, I do actually have a hellmouth here," she huffed. "That's rather a circumstance."

He nodded. "You do. And a solemn burden it is, my dear."

She sobered appropriately, then broke into a grin. "Stop nagging! I'll keep in touch, I already promised I would!"

"Good girl. I believe this is your train, is it?"

They stood back from the tracks as the train pulled to a stop with a dramatic whistle. Fiona began scanning the crowd.

"We'd better go," said Buffy. "Our train leaves from the other platform, and it's all the way over thataway, and..."

"Right," said a distracted Fiona. "Lovely trip, then. Don't be a stranger."

Cordelia flew into Giles' arms. "You're leaving? Already?"

"Now, now," he soothed. "It's not like we'll never see you again. We'll be home in just a few weeks, Cordelia."

"And our flight home connects through Los Angeles, as all flights invariably do," said Buffy, smiling. "You can meet us or something."

"And it's not like you don't deserve the vacation and all," sniffled Cordelia, tearing up a little. "But we'll miss you SO much, won't we, Angel?"

"Sure," said Angel. "Right. Of course we will."

Giles laughed, and Buffy gave him a happy squeeze. "It's so good to see you like this! I love you. I mean, I loved you when you were all dark and broody too---that was kind of sexy, actually, even if it WAS really irritating, but this, this happy-vacation-us stuff is really fun too."

"Two weeks," he beamed. "Not only did Fiona get us actual council approval for this little vacation, she managed to get all expenses paid too. It seems that, amidst all the hellmouths and slayers and such, the council accidentally, well...neglected some of the mundanities of running an actual, legal business. Such as, for example, statutory vacation pay. Which has, now that Fiona here caught the error, been paid retroactively---with interest."

Buffy's eyes widened. "You did that?" she said to Fiona.

Fiona shrugged. "God is in the details. Let this be a lesson to us all about getting so caught up in the supernatural that we forget our humbler responsibilities. Such as, for example, employee payroll deductions."

"Not complaining," grinned Buffy. "Well, not now, anyway."

"Oh, me either," said Giles. "Two weeks alone with you, to do whatever I like..."

Cordelia swatted him on the arm. "Hey! Keep the thoughts clean around the vampire-sense-y, why dontcha!"

He flushed, grateful for the interruption of the tiny stranger in the large woolen cloak who tapped him suddenly on the shoulder. "Excuse me. I'm looking for a Fiona Wyndam-Pryce?"

"Here," said Fiona briskly, running over to investigate. "I'm Fiona, right here."

The figure unwrapped itself from the cloak to reveal a slim woman with long, stringy hair that fell over her face in messy, travel-sweated clumps. The girl withdrew a clammy hand from beneath the cloak and extended it warmly.

"Hi," she said. "I'm..."

Cordelia stared at the new arrival. "Fred?" she squeaked.

The girl gave a tiny bow. "Winnifred Burkle at your service. Hey, Cordelia. Great to see you again."

"But you're...I thought you were in Texas, safe in the bosom of your loving family, recovering, after your rescue, by us, from the Pylean hell dimension."

"I was," chirped Fred. "Right up until the watcher's council recruited me. Guess there aren't too many people out there who can handle metaphysical anomalies from both a scientific AND experiential point of view."

"Train ride was pleasant?" said Fiona.

"Oh, sure it was. VERY exciting. I've never been on a train before. They have little sandwiches."

"So you're a watcher now?" goggled Cordelia.

"Well, a trainee." She turned to Fiona. "So is the anomaly here? Cause I was really told that there would be a metaphysical anomaly."

"Oh, yeah," said Buffy. "You'll have about as much anomaly as you can handle. Good luck with that, nice meeting you, and we really do have a train to catch..."

She took advantage of Cordelia's distraction with the new arrival to sneak on her way with Giles.

"So," said Fred, looking around her. "Can we go see the anomaly now? Is it nearby?"

"You know," said Angel, watching Fiona and her new trainee get acquainted, "It's so nice to see young people these days who are excited about their jobs."

"Sure," said Cordelia. "Just what we've been missing. Young girls who like to play with hellmouths."

"Well, still," said Angel. "She does look pretty pumped about it. That's..."

Cordelia grinned. "Well, it can be a TINY bit sexy," she conceded. "With the kicking, and the fighting, and the ripply training muscles, and the..."

He slung his arm around her shoulder and walked her to the waiting train. "Think they'll be okay?"

"Who, them?" she said, turning back to watch Fiona and Fred.

He cast his eye in the other direction, toward Buffy and Giles' departing train, and she nodded. "Oh, that? Sure they will. You know how it goes. It will get bad again. But it will get good too..."

He leaned over and gave her a tiny kiss. "When did you get so smart?"

She shrugged him off. "And when did you get so sappy? Have you been into my self-help books again?"


"Sorry," she said soberly, climbing onto the train with him. "Kinda let the snark get the best of me there for a second. Guess it still freaks me out a little that sometimes, you need comfort too."

He looked so stricken that she smiled again, and nuzzled into his arms as they settled themselves. "They're good. We're good."

"I almost lost you," he told her. "Last night...we were in deep."

"We were," she agreed. "But, in the words of the immortal Indigo Girls, 'not as deep as the love I'm in. I know not how, I sink or swim.'"

He let her enjoy the sentiment for a moment. Then, he said "They didn't say that."

"Well, okay, they didn't. Not directly, anyway. But 'in the words of some immortal unnamed folk song writer, as co-opted by the still otherwise very good Indigo Girls' just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?"

The train pulled out of the station. "We are so finding you a new band," said Angel.

She raised her head from his comfy chest in huffy indignation. "ME? You're one to talk, Mr. There-is-no-sentiment-that-cannot-be-expressed-by-a-Manilow lyric!"

The train rolled smoothly, and they drifted slowly toward home. For a long while, they didn't speak again. They didn't need to.


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