tamibrandt (tamibrandt) wrote,
tamibrandt
tamibrandt

How to Treat Your Lover (A(us)/S, Buffy) NC-17 64-A/?

Title: How to Treat Your Lover (Book 4)
By Tami (tabrandt @ hotmail.com)
Disclaimer: The characters from ATS / BTVS are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox studios. This story is not meant to infringe upon anyone's rights, only to entertain.
BETA: Myself, Morgan
Rating: NC-17
Pairing – M/M, Angelus/Spike, Angel/Spike
Timeline – ATS Season 4/BTVS Season 7-AU
Summary - With both Angel and Cordelia still missing, Fred and Gunn try to keep Angel Investigations running while they search for their friends. Ironically, the man everyone believes betrayed Angel is the one who finally comes to Angel's rescue. Then, as suddenly as she had vanished, Cordelia inexplicably reappears with no recollection of her life or her friends. Unbeknownst to the team, things aren’t always what they appear. Even as Cordelia regains her memory, she harbors a secret that will change their lives forever. Finally, Spike returns from his sojourn abroad with his gift to Angel that leaves him mentally unstable. Meanwhile, in Sunnydale, Dawn starts her sophomore year at the new Sunnydale High School with a mysterious new principal that may shake things up. Oh, and there's an apocalypse a'comin' on two fronts.
Feedback – It would be appreciated. My plot bunny has been lagging lately.
Author's Note - This story came to me after watching how Buffy treated Spike in SMASHED - AS YOU WERE (BTVS, Season 6). I wondered how Angel would truly feel, if he really knew how Buffy mistreated Spike. Yes, Spike is the Big Bad, and he and Angel normally don't see eye-to-eye, but they are family nonetheless
A Surprise Special Guest Appearance in this chapter
Word Count: 10,425 overall

How to Treat Your Lover Soundtrack (Feel free to suggest a song/scene)

( Book 1 )
( Book 2 )
( Book 3 )

( Previous Chapters for Book 4 )

**************************



Chapter 64-A: Step 4 – Reconciliation (Part 14)



Los Angeles, Hyperion Hotel, Basement

Angel, Wesley, Fred and Lorne stood around Cordelia. Fred and Wesley were aiming guns at her.

“All this time, it was you, wasn’t it?” Angel unnecessarily inquired, glaring at her.

Cordelia smirked at his ire. “Took you long enough to figure it out, but nice turn with the Lorne-bait. You know, there was a time when I would’ve seen that coming eons before it ever crossed your tiny little mind.”

“Because you’re so clever,” Angel commented.

“On the scale of you versus me? Pretty damn,” she said.

“Until now,” Angel said.

“All good things,” Cordelia sighed. “So, what finally ticked off the great detective?”

“You were hovering way too much, more so than abnormal,” Angel revealed. “Every time I turned around you were there watching, wanting to know what was going on. Who else would be that interested in what we were doing to kill the Beastmaster?”

“That’s it? I get away with bringing the world down around you and you noticed I was too observant?”

“What we already knew,” Wesley said. “What he found out as Angelus. All the circumstantial evidence led to you.”

“Just needed to be sure,” Angel added. “So, we had Lorne set up this little stunt, and look who came spying.”

“Little late to the table, but I might have a few scraps left,” Cordelia smiled evilly.

“Why are you doing this, Cordy?” Fred asked.

“This thing isn’t Cordelia,” Angel corrected her.

Cordelia smiled and shook her head. “Is that what you think, hero?”

“She would never hurt her friends – like this,” Angel said.

“Or maybe you just don’t know me very well,” Cordelia countered.

Angel approached Cordelia. “I don’t want to know you.”

Cordelia pulled the knife on Angel, but he grabbed her wrist, diverting the strike, and with his other hand he gripped her by the throat, choking her.

“Where’s Cordelia?” Angel demanded.

Cordelia closed her eyes, and in the next instant, Angel was thrown across the basement. Lorne grabbed a tranquilizer gun from under the table, shooting at Cordelia, who ducked with snake like speed. Fred took aim with her tranquilizer gun, firing, but Cordelia grabbed her hand, redirecting the dart at Wesley who failed to avoid it, staggering and collapsing on the floor.

**************************</center>

Sunnydale, Wine Cellar of a local Vineyard

Caleb poured wine into a glass directly from a barrel tap.

“Drink of this, for it is my blood,” he recited scripture before taking a sip. “You know, I always loved the story of the Last Supper.” Looking at his glass, he turned and paced. “The body and blood of Christ becoming rich, red wine. I recall, as a boy, though, I couldn’t help but think: what would happen if you were at the Last Supper, and you ordered the white? A nice oaky Chardonnay or White Zin – I mean, would he make that out of his lymph or some-all?” Caleb shrugged. “Never did bring it up. Suppose there was a reason why I never spent too long in one parish. Just looking for answers. Just looking for the Lord in the wrong damn places.” He gestured to someone in the room with him. “Then you showed me the light.”

The First Evil, wrapped in the likeness of Buffy Summers, chuckled, “Do you think I’m God?” She emerged from the shadows, approaching Caleb.

“I certainly do not,” Caleb replied. “I am beyond concepts like that.”

“But you still wear the outfit,” the First Evil pointed out.

“Man can’t turn his back on what he came from,” Caleb acquiesced. “Besides, black is slimming.” He looked down at his clerical vestments. “Everyone knows that.”

“How do you like what I’m wearing?” the First Evil asked as it modeled Buffy’s appearance.

Caleb looked her over. “Just another dirty girl. And, since you only dress up in dead folk, I’m guessing, one who’s already paid her wage.”

The First Evil smiled. “Look hard. What do you see?”

Caleb checked out the First Evil’s form. “Strength, and the loneliness that comes with real strength.”

The First Evil turned its head and asked, “Nothing about my pert and bouncy hairdo?”

Caleb raised a brow. “You’re her.”

“The Slayer,” the First Evil confirmed.

Caleb reached toward her. “At long last,” he remarked, mystified. He tried to touch her face, but his hand went through her. “All this time. All the work I’ve done for you . . . blowing up the Council, organizing the Ray Charles Brigade, and stickin’ all them splits – you never showed me.”

“Well, you earned it. And you’ll be meeting her soon. Am I right?” the First Evil asked.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, she’ll get the message,” Caleb confirmed.

“And what makes you so sure she’ll come?” the First Evil asked.

Caleb nodded. “Curiosity. Woman’s first sin. I offer her an apple, what can she do but take it?” Caleb grinned and raised his glass. “I’ll see you soon.”

**************************


Los Angeles, Hyperion Hotel Lobby

Gunn walked into the lobby where Angel, Fred, Wesley and Lorne were sitting around nursing their wounds.

Reading his pager, Gunn apologized, “Sorry, just got your message. Being close to Electric Gwen can really screw with your equipment. What–?” he looked up and noticed the various states of bruising on his friends. “The hell happened to you?”

Holding an icepack to her face, Fred replied, “Cordy’s evil.” Then she noticed his expertly tailored attire. “Nice suit.”

“It’s not Cordy,” Angel insisted thoughtfully.

“We don’t know that for certain,” Wesley added.

“Whoa! Back it up for the new guy,” Gunn said, slipping his pager back into his pocket. “You saying Cordelia Chase threw you a beating?”

“More like cheated, used magic, probably a repelling spell. Then she mwa-ha-ha ’d at us as she fled,” Lorne replied before taking a sip of his drink.

“Why?” Gunn inquired.

“Beastmaster,” Angel said simply.

“You think she’s working for him?” Gunn asked.

Fred rolled her eyes. “She is the Master.”

Gunn looked perplexed. “Guy steps out for a few hours, half the place goes super-villain.” He fell onto the couch beside Lorne. “She’s the evil genius that’s been two-stepping all over us?” He shook his head in disbelief. “How? And when?” He took the drink out of Lorne’s hand. “Give me a sip of that.”

“Hey!” Lorne cried as Gunn snatched his beverage then took an indulgent drink.

“Has she been like this since she got back from that higher wherever?” Fred pondered out loud.

“What about that amnesia thing?” Spike’s voice asked through the speaker phone on the reception desk. “Was that a fake-out?”

Gunn thought Spike left with Faith and Willow, so he looked around the room, but didn’t see the blonde. “Spike?”

Then, there was a hissing sound and Spike yelling, “Ouch, woman!”

“Big baby,” Faith said. “No one told you to go with Wood in the first place. This is what you get. Now I’m stuck here playing nurse.”

“Still in Sunnydale, Charlie-boy,” Spike’s voice confirmed over the speaker phone. “Been packing up the mansion. Faith’s going to be leaving soon to reunite with her Slayer-kin over at Buffy’s. However, I did meet the Slayer’s new muscle, or rather my fist and fangs met his face and neck.”

“Turns out the new principal of the high school is the vengeful son-of-a-Slayer Spike killed. Faith’s patching him up,” Angel remarked offhandedly.

“Oh my God! You didn’t kill him did you, Spike?” Fred asked worriedly.

“No, Fred, I didn’t kill him. The guy trapped me in a work shed and tried to kill me for killing his mum. It was a fair cop; she was my second Slayer kill.”

Angel's eyes slowly closed at Spike’s words, as if that could block his mate's braggadocio about killing two Slayers.

“Well, props to you for not killing the guy, vanilla latte,” Lorne nodded toward the speaker phone.

“Vanilla latte?” Spike echoed.

“Back on point here, maybe the amnesia was a side effect; descending to a lower dimension was probably disorienting,” Wesley postulated.

“Or maybe this thing was curled deep inside for the trip on some kind of, you know, autopilot,” Angel added thoughtfully. When he was met with silence, he looked around at the owl-eyes staring at him.

“Care to elaborate, peaches?” Spike prompted.

“Look, all we know for sure is that the real damage didn’t start until after Lorne’s memory spell,” Angel explained.

**************************


In the hotel lobby a few months ago, Lorne gave Cordelia a drop of magical memory potion while Angel and Spike looked on. She made a face at the taste.

**************************


Fred’s face lit up. “Oh, my God.” She looked around at the group. “We woke it up.”

“That’s what I read,” Lorne said. “That’s what Wolfram & Hart sucked out of my noodle. It wasn’t Cordelia’s future, it was the smacker-jack surprise.”

“Damn thing’s been playing us right from the start,” Gunn observed.

“From the inside – where it could do the all the bloody damage,” Spike said.

“Everything the Beast couldn’t have done, it was this thing,” Angel added. “It spiked my blood at Gwen’s, snuck into the vault, killed Manny.”

“Wait a minute,” Gunn held up his hand in a pausing motion. “When Gwen and I came in, faux-Cordy didn’t have any blood on its clothes. How’d it abracadabra that?”

Wesley’s eyebrows rose in realization. “Lizzie Borden. It wasn’t wearing any.”

“Okay, so it stripped down then gave Manny forty whacks,” Angel adjusted his scenario.

“A quick sponge down in the sink, and –” Gunn started to say.

“Voila, shower-fresh murder,” Lorne finished.

“Taking out the Svear priestesses was a lot easier. Slip out while the heroes are chasing their tails –” Angel started to say.

“– And slaughter the only bloody hope of banishing her pet Beast,” Spike finished.

“Yeah. While everyone was reeling from that failure, it was making sure my soul was off the market,” Angel fumed.

“And the vision of the spell to re-ensoul you?” Fred prompted.

“Misdirection,” Angel replied. “Getting everyone to look over here while the real action was happening over there.”

Realization hit Lorne. “That explains why my mojo’s been gunked up. Queen Bee-yatch put the whammy on me.”

“How about the Soul-Eater?” Spike asked, adding sarcastically, “’Cause that was bloody fun.”

“It needed the skull for the spell. It probably didn’t think about the soul-eater sucking the soul out of you,” Angel replied.

“Well, nice to know that the Beastmaster was an equal-opportunist,” Spike groused.

“But it all added up to letting the monster out of the box,” Angel summarized.

“Angelus,” Spike observed. “That was another distraction to keep us off balance. While I was out trailing you, and the others were researching the Beast, Cordelia – or the Beastmaster – whichever, was left alone to do what she wanted. Everyone thought she was up in her room.”

Angel didn’t correct him because, to Spike, he and Angelus were both the same person, just different aspects.

Wesley considered this before speaking up, “It was Cordelia. She murdered Lilah.”

“We don’t know if it’s really Cordy,” Angel reminded him.

“Well, look mate, I got to go. Between packing and being on-call for another apocalypse, I'm a busy bloke,” Spike said. “Keep me posted, yeah?”

“Sure, Spike. Take care of yourself,” Angel verbally signed off before hitting a button on the phone to hang up the speakerphone.

**************************


Sunnydale, Sunnydale High School, Principal Wood’s Office

Principal Wood sat at his desk working when the school bell rang. Buffy walked up to his office and leaned casually on the doorjamb.

“You look better,” Buffy observed.

“No, I don’t,” Robin disagreed without looking up.

Buffy smiled. “No, you don’t.”

“But I’ll be okay,” Robin conceded. “Unless, of course, you start beating up on me now.”

“I won’t,” Buffy assured him, shrugging. “Well, I thought about it. I made some doodles.” She looked at him to see if she got a rise out of him then became serious. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re on even ground. I meant what I said; I don’t have time for your vendetta, but I need you in this fight. I want you on my side.”

“Thanks. That means a lot,” Robin said.

“So, are we good?” Buffy asked.

Robin looked at Buffy. “Absolutely.” Buffy sighed with relief. “You’re fired.”

“What?” Buffy exclaimed, shocked.

“Effective immediately,” Robin added.

“You’re firing me?” Buffy inquired as she walked into his office and stood in front of his desk. “I just refrained from kicking your ass, graciously I might add.”

“Buffy, there’s nothing here for you,” Robin explained. “I mean, people are leaving town, half the kids don’t even bother showing up anymore. You’ve got things to deal with that are much worse than anything here. Look at the big picture.”

“Right,” Buffy sat in a chair facing his desk. “The big picture. The one with the big war and dead little girls.”

“Not dead,” Robin insisted. “Not dead, not if you get them ready.”

“I don’t want to lead them into war. It can’t be the right thing,” Buffy said sadly.

“Most wars aren’t, you know,” Robin pointed out.

“Some of these girls haven’t even been tested in battle,” Buffy countered.

“Then, I guess, maybe you should test them,” Robin made the obvious suggestion.

“Couldn’t I just come to work part-time?” Buffy asked, attempting her perkiness of old. “I could make flyers for encounter groups and post them up all over school.”

“And you’re fired again,” Robin shot down her suggestion. “Remember, Buffy, the mission’s what matters.”

**************************


Los Angeles, Hyperion Hotel, Angel’s Office

Angel dragged himself into the office where Wesley sat at the desk, deeply involved in research.

Wesley looked up as Angel walked in and collapsed into a chair. “Any luck?” he inquired.

“I swept the area ’til daybreak, checked the sewer tunnels in case she went underground, picked up her scent a half dozen times, but–” Angel trailed off.

“Cordelia, or whatever she is now, if she doesn’t want to be found, she won’t,” Wesley admitted, glancing at his research. “You’re just wasting your time.”

“I’m getting good at that, huh? Dragged my heel with Spike until the last minute, and this thing was there right in front of me.” He looked at the picture he'd drawn of Cordelia. “I couldn’t see it.”

“The Master wanted that. All of those things played on your emotions, working to cloud your judgment.” Wesley rose and walked to the window, looking out at Fred, Lorne and Gunn talking to each other around the reception desk. “Drawing your attention away so that this thing could continue to murder anyone it – at least you had a reason for letting it happen.”

Angel stood up, speaking to Wesley’s back. “Wes, Lilah and I weren’t exactly friends –”

“You were mortal enemies,” Wesley agreed, stating the truth. “Why should you care what happened to her?”

“Because you did,” Angel replied softly.

Wesley turned to gaze at Angel a moment, before returning his attention to the papers on the desk. “There’s nothing here. If this thing could obliterate all references to the Beast, it’s very unlikely it would leave its own bio lying about.”

Angel walked behind the desk looking thoughtfully at the scattered papers. “What about pan-dimensional texts like the one Lilah –?” He stopped and looked guiltily at Wesley, then glanced down again.

Wesley cleared his throat. “Uh, I have Lorne reaching out to the black markets, but it’ll take time.”

“Great,” Angel groaned as he collapsed into the seat behind the desk. “Another thing we don’t have.”

“Then let’s go to the source,” Wesley suggested. “Whatever happened to Cordelia, it took place after her ascension to the higher planes. Maybe the Powers might be able to –?”

“No,” the dark haired vampire interrupted. “The last couple of times I’ve asked the Powers That Be for help, they made it pretty damn clear they weren’t in the business.”

Wesley nodded in acknowledgment. “But at least one of those was to save Darla’s life. A mass-murdering ex-vampire dying of syphilis? A strong ‘no’ is hardly a shock.”

“You think the Powers couldn’t see this thing was masquerading as Cordy? What it was doing to us? They didn’t stop it because they didn’t want to get their hands dirty.” Angel halted his rant as a thought occurred to him. “What we need is somebody who does. Somebody who is right in the middle of all this.”

**************************


Sunnydale, Crawford Street Mansion

Faith walked into the living room carrying a stack of three more boxes. The entire space in the dining room was covered in boxes so she'd begun filling this space as well. If Spike planned on sending all of this stuff to the Hyperion, he was going to have a hefty shipping bill. And there was still more that needed to be packed. She never thought Angel and Spike would last as a couple, but they seemed to be doing all right from what she’d seen on their visits to the prison, and those few weeks she spent tracking Angelus. She knew they were mated for life, but mated didn’t necessarily mean you could stand them for an eternity. Still, it looked like Angel and Spike found a way to make it work.

Spike came in from the kitchen carrying a glass of warmed blood. He watched as Faith set down the boxes. “You’ve been over here a lot lately," he observed casually. “What’s wrong at the Summers’ house? You and the Slayer not getting on?”

“Mind if I smoke in here?” Faith asked. When he shook his head, she lit a cigarette. “No more Starbucks for the wannabes over there. They’ve been spazzing since they woke up this morning.” She turned to him. “So, what’s it like to have your personal turkey stuffed with a soul after all those years of free ranging it?”

“I got dangerous – for a while,” Spike replied honestly.

“Before or after the soul?” Faith inquired.

“After, but I got over it. I was shackled to a basement wall for a week before they decided to take out Angel’s soul to get information on the Beast.” Spike took a drink of blood before asking, “So, why aren’t you over there imparting your hard won wisdom?”

Faith shrugged and took a drag. “That’s Buffy’s thing. Anyway, I just spent a good stretch of time locked away with a mess of female-types. I kinda had my fill.”

“Hmm,” Spike acknowledged. “But you waited ’til we needed help with Angelus to bust out of jail.”

“Three squares, nice weight room, movie every third Sunday,” Faith shrugged. “It could have been worse.”

“What movie?” Spike asked curiously.

Faith thought about it. “Last one was Glitter.” Spike raised a scarred brow at her. She smirked. “I guess it couldn’t have been worse.”

“You had the power to walk away any time. Nothing to stop you,” Spike pointed out.

I stopped me. I got dangerous for a while,” Faith parroted his comment back at him.

“Are you over it?” Spike asked.

“More or less,” Faith said. “I pull for the good guys now.”

“What’s the less?” Spike inquired with a smirk.

“Thinking of looking up a few old flings,” Faith told him with a smirk. When Spike just raised a brow at her, she explained, “Long incarceration.”

“Anytime you wanna ride me at a gallop ’til my knees buckle, and squeeze me ’til I pop like warm champagne, I’m sure Angel would be obliging and share me for a night,” Spike teased.

“Oh my God! You remember that?” Faith laughed at the memory of what she’d told him during the body swap with Buffy.

“It’s not the kind of thing a man forgets,” Spike replied, his eyes appraising her body.

“I didn’t know you were already with Angel like that,” Faith defended.

“It’s fine, Faith. Don’t worry about it,” Spike waved off her apology.

They were interrupted when the front door banged open then slammed shut. They both turned to see Buffy stalk into the room.

“Hey, B. Do you just barge in on anyone’s home or –?” Faith rhetorically asked.

“Buffy doesn’t know the meaning of knocking,” Spike explained.

Buffy crossed her arms, looking at them. “Well, it’s nice to see you two are getting along so well.”

“Things like that tend to happen when you end up dealing with an apocalypse together,” Spike replied. “Aren’t you usually at work ’bout now?”

“I decided to cut back on my hours. Figured I’d be better off focusing on the apocalypse ahead,” Buffy replied, annoyed that they were buddies when Spike should be watching out for her like Angel sent him to do. Her cell phone rang and she answered it, “Hello?”

“Buffy, Willow just called from the hospital. The girl’s awake,” Dawn said.

Buffy disconnected and looked at the two of them skeptically. “I gotta go. That girl you and Willow brought in just woke up,” Buffy addressed Faith before turning on her heel and stalking out of the mansion. Spike and Faith watched her leave with identical expressions of having a whirlwind blow through the house.

**************************


Los Angeles, Hyperion Hotel, Angel’s Office

Angel spent most of the night with Wesley, researching how best to find the Beastmaster. Wesley caught a catnap here and there, but Angel didn't require much sleep and sat at his desk rifling through papers, looking for a particular object. Fred and Gunn appeared in the doorway with a cardboard box.

Fred began going through the box, verbally itemizing. “Scented candles, couple of broken pieces of the Muo-Ping, and some toiletries that smell way too pretty to be evil.”

“A-ha!” Angel cried in triumph when he found a metal disc. He flipped it in the air then caught it, making a pinging sound.

“It’s not much to go on,” Fred continued as if he hadn’t interrupted her. “As insidious lairs go, it kept Cordy’s room nice and tidy. I think it even vacuumed.”

Angel looked up at her. “Keep working on a way to locate this thing. If I’m not back in a couple of hours –”

“You’re dead, we’re screwed, end of the world,” Gunn finished for him.

Fred smiled nervously. “Or, you could stay here with us. Here’s nice.”

“I’ve done this before. Don’t worry. Walk in the park,” Angel said with assurance as he walked past them, to the lobby, to perform a spell.

**************************


Hell Dimension, A Few Minutes Later

Upon entering the hell dimension, Angel discovered himself in a battle with a demon. Once he knocked him out cold, he looked around to see if there were any more.

“I really hate the park.”

He picked up his sword from the ground and proceeded deeper into the chamber where another demon was making growling-grumbling sounds. Angel sneaked up behind demon, raising his sword, but the demon turned to face him before Angel could strike.

“Oh! Angel, geez!” Skip startled back. “Don’t they knock in your dimension?”

Angel took a step back. “Sorry. I wasn’t sure it was you.”

Skip got to his feet, rising to his full height. “Powerful demon Skip at your service.” Then in a lighter tone he asked, “Hey, I—I got some more buffalo wings and, uh, the game’s on at five if you want to just–”

“I’m a little pressed for time right now,” Angel apologized. “When was the last time you saw Cordelia?”

“Who?” Skip asked, not sure if he heard Angel correctly.

“She told me you were her guide when she decided to become half-demon,” Angel explained.

“She did, huh?” Skip pondered. “Okay, look, I wanted to give you the heads up, but you know how the Powers are – always making with the big hush-hush.”

Angel paced in front of the Mercenary demon. “What do you know?”

Skip held up his hands in a placating gesture. “This is going to be really hard for you to accept, but Cordelia has ascended to a higher plane.”

“Oh, I know,” Angel told him. “She’s back.”

“Back?” Skip echoed dumbfounded.

“Or at least something that looks like her,” Angel corrected.

“Well, wait. Nobody comes back from paradise,” Skip debated, considering the situation. “Okay, a Slayer once, but that –”

“So, you haven’t heard anything,” Angel raised a brow at him.

“Uh, not since her ascension,” Skip replied. “Oh, it was beautiful. You should’ve been there.”

“You were part of that?” Angel asked, hurt because according to her she’d been on her way to warn him about what Holtz had intended to do to him when she ascended. At least that was the story he got before the Beastmaster took over her body.

“It’s in the job description,” Skip explained. “As Cordelia’s guide I’m there for all the important events.”

“Except her welcome back party,” Angel countered, eyeing the demon suspiciously. “So why didn’t the Powers invite you to that one?”

Skip shrugged. “Mysterious ways. They can really drive a guy nuts.”

“Or,” Angel drawled thoughtfully. “Maybe if you had known something you might’ve warned us. No, about the only one not keen on that slipping out is the one pulling her strings.”

“Not following you there, champ,” Skip admitted, confused.

“You said it yourself, you were there,” Angel walked up to Skip, “Guiding Cordelia to her ascension, seeing her off to a higher plane, which is exactly where this thing needed her to be to make its move. So, I'm thinking either you've been played for a dupe like the rest of us, or you've been in on this from the start, Skippy.”

Skip laughed nervously, and Angel joined in the laughter, sarcastically.

“Angel, buddy, whatever’s going on, I’m telling you true–” Skip suddenly raised his forearm in front of him, and triggering a release dagger to shoot out from his armor. “Not a dupe.”

Angel knocked the arm aside, swinging his sword, but it failed to penetrate Skip’s body armor. Skip knocked away Angel’s sword then grabbed Angel by the neck.

“Not like last time, is it, monkey boy?” Skip taunted. He threw Angel across the room then stalked after him. “You know, the worst part about signing on for this gig,” he continued, punching Angel, “Was having to take a dive when you rescued that runt Billy from his box of fire.” Skip kicked Angel across the room. “I mean, come on! You really think a guy built like this would be so easy to drop?” He strolled up to Angel again, “This time we do it for real, champion. This time–” He grinned evilly. “You lose.”

**************************


Sunnydale, Summers’ Residence, Night

Buffy gathered the core of her team together in the living room, including Faith and Spike.

“We need to start arming the girls. I want to be ready to move when we find them,” Buffy told them.

“We don’t even know where we’re going,” Willow argued.

“That’s why I figured we’d do a little recon first,” Buffy expounded before turning her attention to Faith. “You up for it?”

Faith shrugged. “Point me where you want me.”

“And you’re certain this is the best course of action?” Giles interjected dubiously. “You don’t even know what this man has of yours – if he, in fact, has anything.”

“It could be a girl, a Potential trying to get to us,” Buffy suggested.

“And it could be a stapler,” Giles hastened to point out.

“I’m going in anyway,” Buffy declared.</p>

“With the girls?” Giles asked incredulously. “Most of them have yet to be in the field, let alone in a life or death situation.”

“Then it’s time we test them,” Buffy countered. “Look, I’ll just take the ones that have been here the longest. The rest can stay behind.”

Spike, who had been pretty quiet up to this point, taking everything in (something he’d learned from dealing with Angelus and the Beast over the last few months), spoke up, “That could be what he wants you to do – the old bait-and-switch.”

“Yeah,” Willow surprisingly agreed with him. “He lures us away then kills the girls we leave behind.”

“I know,” Buffy conceded. “That’s why I need you to stay here with them. You’re my most powerful weapon, Will. I know you can keep them safe if anything happens.”

Xander held up his hands in a pause gesture. “An unknown man breezes into town, says he has something of yours. Buffy! This thing’s got ‘trap’ written all over it.”

“He won’t be expecting a full attack – not this soon,” Buffy said emphatically. “That’s why we have to move.”

“We know nothing about this man,” Giles argued. “We cannot go into battle unprepared. We have to have more time.”

“Giles, we don’t have time!” Buffy disputed. “And you’re not going into battle.” Giles sighed in frustration. “I need you to stay behind with the others. Help the girls that still need a teacher,” she added thoughtlessly, stalking out of the house with Faith following, utterly failing to notice the shadow of hurt on her Watcher's face.

Continued here
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