Running the Gauntlet

Title: Running the Gauntlet

Fandom: Destiny AU with an appearance by BtVS.
Characters: Angel, the FG, Buffy, Scoobies, Grace, Jasa, Emily
Disclaimer: We own Grace, Jasa, and Emily. The god that is Joss
Whedon so owns everyone else.
Archive: At Ink-and-Quill

Summary: twelveth in the ‘Destiny’ series

*-*-*
Running the Gauntlet
by M. Edison and Christina A

“The girls are all settled in.” Willow reported, joining Buffy and
Giles in the kitchen. “They should probably have something to eat too,
I think they’re kinda hungry.”

“Indeed.” The former Watcher nodded. “It wasn’t an easy journey, we had
to be quite careful about where and when we stopped.”

Abruptly, Buffy looked up at Giles. “They can’t stay here.” She said
softly. “It’s too dangerous, we don’t have enough man power or
resources to protect them here… especially not on the hellmouth.
We’re way outnumbered.”

He frowned, knowing she was right. “What do you suggest we do then?
There aren’t many places we can send them.”

“You can send them to Los Angeles.” Willow suggested thoughtfully.
“There’s plenty of people at the Hyperion. Angel, Grace and the
others…they’ve got the resources.”

Her companions lifted their gazes and shared a long look then Giles
looked at the slim redhead. “Willow, that’s bloody brilliant.” He
complimented with a faint smile. “Absolutely brilliant.”

“I’ll call Los Angeles.” Buffy decided, moving for the phone. “After I
talk to Grace or Angel, we put everything together and get the girls to
L.A.” Lifting the receiver, she brought it to her ear and began to dial
the number.

*-*-*

“I’m tellin’ ya G, the bigger the weapon the better.” Gunn set the
broadsword on the desk and pointed to it. “And swords don’t get much
bigger than this.”

Grace laughed. “Gunn, dear, haven’t you heard that saying, ‘It’s not
the size of your weapon; it’s how you use it’.”

Fred popped a potato chip into her mouth and said, “Yeah, I’ve heard of
that.” It was then that the phone rang, picking it up, she said, “Angel
Investigations.” Pausing while she listened on the other end, her brows
furrowed and she looked at Grace. Finally, she said, “Angel’s out at
the moment, but yeah, Grace is here. Hold on.”

Handing the phone to the blonde, Fred shrugged. “Says her name is
Buffy. Wants to talk to you and Angel.”

Taking the phone, Grace set her smaller tachi on the table next to
Gunn’s broadsword and winked. Turning her attention to the phone, she
said, “Hey, Buffy.”

On the other end of the line, the Slayer smiled in relief. At least one
of them was there. “Hey, Grace,” she paused then decided to rush into
it. “IS everything quiet on your end?”

Something was up. “I’m tempted to say ‘Yes’ but by the tone in your
voice if everything is quiet that’s about to end. Angel and Wes are
just doing some routine work. What’s up?”
Given what she’d gone through with Voltimer and then what Angel had
gone through with Kamephis, they had relished in the quiet. But Buffy
needed help, and there was no question they’d be there for her.

The young woman related the story of the First, the murders of the
uncalled Slayers and the surviving ones they were trying to protect.
She finished with, “We’re trying to deal with the First but he sent
some sort of ubervamp after me and I don’t have the time to split my
attention between protecting these girls and going after the First at
the same time. We thought we’d send some of the girls to stay at the
hotel while we focused in on the First. Think we can do it?”

“You bet. Hold on.” Putting her hand over the phone, she said to Gunn,
“Get my cell and call Angel. Tell him to come home. If we leave within
the hour, we can get to Sunnydale before sunrise.” Returning to Buffy,
she said, “Ok, Gunn is calling Angel. We’ll head for Sunnydale as soon
as he gets home.”

“Great, thank you.” The Slayer enthused. “We’ll get them packed up and
ready to go. Oh, and come armed. If you do get here before sunrise,
you’ll meet resistance when you try and get to the house. The First has
minions,” She sighed wearily. “There’s always minions.”

“We’ll put Gunn in charge of weaponry. It’s his forte. And Buffy, be
careful, okay.” That said, they exchanged goodbyes and after the phone
was hung up, the three of them moved with the fluidity of a
well-trained army. Bags had to be packed and weapons made ready. They
had to be ready when Angel got home. They had to beat the sunrise, but
in doing so, they could be driving into danger. As they prepared, Grace
found her mother. Jasa had certain gifts that could come in very handy.

As she finished her bag, she was working on Angel’s when Jasa entered
the room. “We have to leave for Sunnydale.”

The Egyptian immortal’s brow furrowed. “We who? And why, may I ask, are
we rushing off to Sunnydale…” Her expression became one of dry
surprise as Gunn passed by the door with a bag fairly brimming with
weapons. “So heavily armed. Expecting the apocalypse again?”

Black pants and shirts went into the bag as Grace smiled up at her
mother. “There is an apocalypse.” Quickly she ran down for Jasa what
Buffy had told her. “It’s bad if she’s calling for our help, Mom. Will
you come with us? We could really use someone with your magical
abilities. Buffy says Willow can’t do it on her own.”

Jasa recalled her conversations with the young woman. “No, I suspect
she wouldn’t. This is rather like being thrown into the deep end after
all that she’s done to back away from magic.” She turned to leave the
room. “I’ll just grab a few things and be right with you.”

Grace threw some underwear in Angel’s bag. “Ok, Mom.” Carrying her two
bags, she made it down to the lobby just as Angel and Wes returned.
“We’re all packed and ready. Just have to wait on Mom, but she’s used
to packing with only a moment’s notice. Wes, you want to get a bag
while we get this put in the car? Wait, we’ll actually have to have two
cars. There’s going to be a few more of us coming back than going.”

Angel frowned. “And who will be coming back with us and why? Gunn was a
little short on details, big on the getting back here part.”

“Gunn, you didn’t…” The new Immortal was out loading the car and
therefore missed her attempted admonishment. Grace gave herself a
mental slap. All she had told Gunn was to tell Angel and Wes get back
here ASAP. “Sorry, we don’t have a lot of time. We have to get to
Sunnydale before sunrise, but arriving there during the dark hours is a
bit tricky as well.” That announced, she preceded to tell him about
Buffy, the ubervamp, and the potential slayers. “She called for help,
Angel. It has to be bad if she called for help. And the only thing I’m
really stressing about is getting there before it becomes a danger for
you.”

He nodded, grabbing a few remaining bags. “Worse comes to worse,” He
noted in bemusement. “I’ll ride in the trunk.”

“It is big enough.” Jasa agreed, appearing behind them with a bag in
hand and dressed in her favorite pair of leather pants and a long coat.
“Shall we?”

“Not funny, either of you,” Grace corrected. When Wesley joined them,
she said, “And yes, I think we shall now. Gunn’s taking his car and
we’ll have Angel’s. I think we’re set.” As the others walked out, Grace
stopped and rested her hand on Fred’s shoulder. “You and Emily have
Duncan and Cordy here. But don’t worry, he’s going to be fine.”

Fred sighed. She didn’t like being left behind. “I know. But still…”
She watched as Grace walked out and joined the others. She and Gunn had
already said their goodbyes. As the cars drove away, she shut the door.
Silence. All that was left for now was silence. She really didn’t like
being left.

*-*-*

True to the plan, they arrived in Sunnydale before sunrise. And as was
expected, they met resistance. Angel was out of the car in a flash, but
Grace took a stab in the shoulder for her lack of vampire speed. To
the others, she said, “These must be the minions we heard about.” She
took care of the one she was fighting and had a chance to look at the
boarded up house. At least they made it to Buffy’s.

“They do look minionish.” Jasa agreed, ducking a blade then frowning.
“That ripped my coat! Bastard.” She promptly kneed him in what would
have been the groin area on a human. Bemusement flashed across her face
when he fell to the ground, howling in pain. “Well, look at that. It
actually worked!”

Gunn winced in sympathy. Demon and all, yeah, but in his mind…
“Jase… you just don’t do that!”

The Egyptian smiled gratefully at her daughter as a spinning round
house from Grace sent him flying into Angel who promptly tossed him
over a fence. Or, more accurately, onto the picket of the fence. “Sure
you do.” She countered. “Whatever gives you the advantage in a fight…
go with it.”

“But *that*?!” He protested. “It’s just…” He punched one. “It’s
wrong!”

She grinned. “Of course it is, that’s why it works.”

Grace laughed. Using the hilt of her sword, she jabbed one of the
minions in the gut, rolled over his back, stabbed another and then
stabbed him. Standing, she smiled at Angel before replying to Gunn.
“Beauty of it is… it works on any male. Be he Immortal, Human, or
even Vampire. The kick to the groin works every time.”

“It does,” Wes countered, finally getting the drop on his minion before
moving to another. “And women all over the world love to exploit it.”

“Of course we do.” Jasa dodged another one and started for the front
door. “Men often have the advantage in size and strength, it’s the gods
way of providing us a great equalizer.”

“Thought that was a sword.” Gunn noted. “Or a handgun.”

Angel grinned. “No, that’s what they use when the equalizer has the man
neutralized. To finish the job.” He mimed slicing off a head.

Grace finished off the last of her attackers as Wesley found himself
free. “I’ve personally found it to work wonders. It’s all in the
placement of the foot because it’s more the testicles that are
hypersensitive than the actual penis. Though from the reaction, that
hurts like hell too.” That said, she joined Jasa on the front porch. To
Angel and Gunn, she said, “Hurry up, you two. They’re waiting inside.”

“Hurry up she says.” Angel punched another demon. “Like it’s so easy.”

“Women…” Gunn shook his head, throwing another one backward. “No
patience.”

“None at all.’ Jasa agreed in irritation, “Now get up here!”

“I think she means it.” One said to the other ruefully.

“She does.”

They shrugged, hit the demons again and made their way to the door.

Grace fidgeted with Angel’s collar while Wesley knocked on the door.
Giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, she looked at Gunn and said,
“We’ll be talking about that ‘women’ comment later on.”

Wesley chuckled to himself. “Never make that comment when they are
around, Gunn. Besides, I already had the lecture you’re going to get.”

Gunn grinned. “Emily let you have it huh?”

The door swung open to reveal a waiting Giles. “Inside.” He barked
quickly, stepping out of the way to give them admittance. “Before more
of them get here.”

“Nice to see you too.” Angel noted dryly, doing as commanded.

Grace, the last one to enter, gave the area the once over. “Giles, I
used my testosterone radar and found no more signs of the minions.”
Turning back, she said, “Unless you count the pile of decomposing ones
out in the yard. Nice welcoming party.”

“Mm…not really.” Jasa commented. “Their outfits were all wrong and no
refreshments were provided. When I kill something, I expect a nice cool
drink afterwards.” Surveying the young man tied to a chair, she lifted
a cool brow. “I do hope that’s not standard fair for your guests.”

“Or some kind of kinky thing that I didn’t think of. Tying Angel up in
public.”

Wesley pushed his glasses up and surveyed the room.” I thought there
were potential slayers here. And Buffy, Xander, and Willow, where are
they?”

Grace moved toward the young man who was tied up. He was skittish,
seemed rather intimidated by her presence. “And just who are you?”

“Don’t worry about him,” Xander said offhandedly, breezing into the
room. “He’s our hostage de jour…” Seeing Grace, realizing who she
was, his jaw dropped rather elegantly and he gaped at her. “Holy, sweet
mother of god, Angel traded up big time!” No sooner had the words
slipped out of his mouth than he realized who stood beside him. “Oh…
sorry Buffy.”

She raised a brow at him but turned her attention to Grace and the
newcomers. “I see you made it. Before sunrise too, you must have made
good time.” She nodded at the man beside her. “As you can guess, this
is Xander. Willow’s upstairs with the girls. We sent them up there
while we waited for you.” She smiled faintly. “We knew you’d make quite
an entrance. With you and Angel…” She saw him then and they shared a
look. “Hi.”

Angel moved forward, his hand brushing along Grace’s arm as he passed,
and hugged her. “It’s good to see you again.” He murmured into her ear.

“Breathing and everything?” Buffy teased back.

“Breathing and everything.” He affirmed, returning to Grace’s side.

Grace smiled. It was her turn to hug Buffy. “I just wish for once we
could get together for coffee, maybe a doughnut. Something that didn’t
involve swords or wooden stakes.” Moving back to Angel’s side, she
pressed herself against them. Their gang knew of the hell the two of
them had gone through lately. “A vacation for all of us would be nice.”

“You said it, G,” Gunn moved forward and introduced himself to Xander.
“I’m Gunn. The ‘muscle’ of Angel Investigations.”

Grace nodded and extended her hand to Xander as well. She’d been a bit
stunned at his initial reaction to her, but if Buffy wasn’t upset, she
would take it in stride. “I’m Grace, and that’s my mother, Jasa.”

Jasa waved and smiled. Xander barely noticed. He was too busy trying to
make his hand move up to shake the one Grace had offered to him. The
lady was a knockout. Tall, gorgeous, hot, Amazonish goodness…
*Angel’s* tall, gorgeous, hot Amazonish goodness. Angel’s. Not
Xander’s. Angel’s.

Damnit.

“Nice to meet you.” He said finally and promptly gave himself a mental
smack. ‘Nice to meet you?’ Totally original. “The circumstances,
ancient evil out to kill us all not withstanding, it’s nice to meet
you.”

Grace smiled sweetly. He’d yet to release her hand, the continual up
and down motion was almost something out of a comedy. “And here I
thought evil being out to kill us was the standard. But then again,
ancient is probably the key there.” She glanced back at Angel as the
hand shaking continued.

“So,” Wesley clapped his hands together. “If all the pleasantries have
been dispensed, perhaps we should turn our focus to the ‘ancient evil’
Xander was so eloquently referring to.”

Gunn snorted. “Damn, Wes, Em’s absence has brought back your ability to
speak in sentences of more than two words.”

“Em?” Buffy grinned speculatively, her intent gaze fixing on the
Englishman like a cat would a mouse. “There’s an Em?”

Beside her, Xander heard Jasa discreetly hide a laugh behind a cough
and realized he was still shaking Grace’s hand. Abruptly, he released
it and his cheeks colored. “Sorry.”

“GRACE!” Willow appeared in the doorway and hurried to hug her friend.
“It’s good to see you guys again!”

Grace was about to tell Xander it was okay when she saw Willow. The
young witch had been through so much lately that Grace couldn’t help
but be thrilled to see her happy. She returned the hug as intently as
Willow gave it. “As I told Buffy… I want to do this under better
circumstances next time.”

Wesley, who had heard Willow’s entrance, turned to the Slayer. “There
is not an ‘Em’ as Gunn likes to call her. There is an Emily, just as
Gunn has a Winifred and Angel has a Grace.” He did stand a bit
straighter though as they talked about her. “And I would love to talk
about her, but don’t you think we have more pressing issues. Angel?”

“Awww…’ Buffy looked at Giles. “He’s adorable when he’s embarrassed.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know.” The former Watcher replied with amusement.
“But yes, there are far more pressing issues.” He sighed. “I suspect
this will go easier if we are seated.”

“Speak for yourself.” Jasa pointed out from her post on the couch. “I
am.”

Moving to sit beside her, Willow nodded. “Yeah, you guys might wanna
sit. This is gonna be a doozy of a story.”

“That’s actually an understatement.” Anya pointed out, walking into the
room. “Massively huge understatement. This is a hugely bad story.”

Grace took a seat by Angel on the coffee table. Actual seating was in
short supply in the crowded room and since both of their ordeals, she
seemed to feel more of a need for physical reassurance from him.
When Gunn plopped on the floor close to her, she looked up at the elder
Watcher and said, “Ok. What’s going on, Giles.”

“A massive attack on both the Watchers and the line of the Slayer.” He
said succinctly. “From what we know, the majority of potential Slayers
are dead as are their Watchers. The Council is dead and their records
destroyed. To be blunt, the First is attempting to wipe the Slayer from
existence.”

It was Gunn who quite eloquently summed up their feelings with, “Damn.”

Grace nodded. “Gotta agree with, G on that one. So you have all the
potentials here. And that ubervamp is here and it’s too much to hand
him and the minions while protecting potential Slayers.” She shook her
head. This was indeed a dire situation.

“So we’re taking the girls back to LA with us, get them out of the
proverbial line of fire,” Angel rested a hand on Grace’s as he spoke.
“You need help here too.”

“English and I can stick around.” Gunn offered after a brief
consultation with Wesley. “Not like we ain’t got experience puttin’
vamps in their place.”

“Indeed, and I suspect there are a few tricks we can play on The
First’s minions… enough to keep them busy for a while.” His friend
added in agreement.

Grace smiled. “Gunn, if you stay and I go, you may have more than
minions and vampires to worry about.” She knew he was ready, deep down
in her heart, she knew he could easily stand on his own with almost any
Immortal. But she couldn’t help but worry. They hadn’t always seen
eye-to-eye. Squeezing Angel’s hand, she said, “Ok, if you get Gunn and
Wes, we want Willow and Giles. We’re still going to need Watcher
resources and the potential slayers know him as well as they know
Willow. I think that would help.”

Giles nodded. “I agree. I believe someone with the knowledge of the
Watchers should be with each of the groups. And the girls trust both
Willow and myself.”

“And , in all this, that trust is exactly what they need.” Jasa agreed.
“If we take them away from everything familiar, they won’t have a hope
of feeling safe.”

“Safe,” Grace said softly, moving a bit closer to Angel, though it was
an unconscious move. Speaking up, she said, “If they don’t feel safe,
they’ll be more likely to run off. And they’ll be protected by what
their instincts tell them to kill. So yeah, having people around that
they trust is a good thing.”

Willow agreed. “Yeah, and since Spike’s gone MIA, they haven’t met a
vampire who fights on our side. Very unusual.”

Angel frowned. “MIA? Spike? That doesn’t sound like him. Any idea what
happened?”

Willow looked nervously toward Xander who cleared his throat and rubbed
his neck before moving to stand by the fireplace. Willow’s next look
was to Buffy before going back to Angel. “The First sort of took him. I
mean, he’s just gone. And we…”

“Buffy,” Xander corrected.

“We,” Willow continued, “were thinking he could be a big help in our
fight against the First.”

Angel sat back, a frown on his face. He had the very distinct feeling
that something was going on here he didn’t know about. Buffy was quite
steadfastly avoiding his gaze and wearing her ‘guilty-face’ and the
others all seemed extraordinarily interested in anything but the
conversation.

“Buffy and Spike had a thing.” Anya said finally, rolling her eyes.
“Lots of angst, lots of the usual Buffy-stress and Spike Self-Loathing,
he went and got his soul and then he went and ended up nuts… so we
have no idea what’s going on but he’s gone and the First has him and I
have no idea what else we should tell you because your forehead’s doing
that vein twitchy thing and that’s *never* good on *anybody*.” She
paused to take a breath and noticed the look Giles was giving her.
“What? Somebody had to tell him!”

“But like *that*?!” The Englishman countered, pained.

Angel looked at Buffy. “Is this…true?” He choked out in shock. “You?
*Spike*?!”

“It is.” She admitted with a slow nod.

“It’s the apocalypse.” The vampire decided. “The world’s done for.” He
shook his head. “No other explanation…has to be.”

Of all that Anya had blurted out, Grace latched onto the one thing that
struck her. “Spike has his SOUL!!!! What the hell?” Instinctively her
hand moved to Angel’s knee. He was the only vampire who was supposed to
have his soul. “How the hell did he get his soul back?”

“Well,” Willow offered, “apparently there was this series of challenges
he had to endure. He did it because Buffy said she could never love him
because he was soul-less. So, given how much he loves her, he went to
get his soul back.” It was then that her eyes met Buffy’s. “So anyway,”
she said, “yeah, Spike’s got his soul back.”

Angel looked at Grace. “Well, we never said I had to be the only
one…” He shook his head. “Damn weird though. Maybe it’s hereditary.”
He chuckled dryly. “I make ’em, they get one too.”

“Well I guess not, but Spike? Spike? With a soul?”

“And don’t forget WHY he got his soul,” Xander added. “It wasn’t
because he needed to repent. Oh no. His reasoning was far more base
than that.”

“XANDER,” Willow and Giles called out simultaneously, only Anya
chuckled.

“Well, if there’s a reason to get your soul back…” Jasa noticed the
looks and shrugged innocently. “What? I come from a hedonistic culture.
Sex is a damn good reason for us.”

Grace nodded. “Sex is a damn good reason to do anything, especially
when the sex is good. And we all know that bad boys…” She paused, ok,
so maybe a dissertation on sex wasn’t what was best at the moment. And
maybe defending Buffy’s choice of bed partners wasn’t either, though
Angel was taking it surprisingly well, given his recent past with his
‘childe’.

The vampire shook his head and looked at Buffy again. “*Spike*?
Riley… Riley is halfway understandable…but *Spike*?”

The Slayer dropped her gaze. “It just turned out that way, Angel. I’d
give you an explanation if I could but… there isn’t one.”

“There is.” Jasa interjected. “But the explanation is none of his
business.” She smiled at Angel to cut the severity of her words. “What
choices you make are yours to make as his are his and that, as they
say, is quite simply that.”

Grace instinctively rubbed Angel’s back. He still cared about Buffy…
worried about her. And Spike, well, he wasn’t the best of choices.
Also, given that he’d tortured Angel a couple years ago… it had to
cut a bit that his first love was moving on with someone he considered
an enemy… of sorts. “Ok, I think we got distracted again. Are we
taking all the potential Slayers with us?”

“Half.” Jasa and Giles said at once. They shared a faint smile and
Giles continued. “They would be safer in Los Angeles but if we split
them up, then the First will have to likewise divide his numbers to
send after both groups.”

“Less minions, less fighting.” Buffy voiced his thought aloud. “Good
idea.”

“And the ones that fight off the Hellmouth may be less powerful without
that base to draw on, maybe easier to get rid of. The First may need to
send more after us.” Angel agreed. “Taking the pressure of you here.”

Grace nodded. “And we have the advantage that the First may know about
Angel, but perhaps we can have a few tricks up our sleeve in LA.”
Namely the supposed Immortal champion. He didn’t fight vamps, but
minions… he’d like that. “So, I say, bring them on. The more we can
get to LA, the fewer you have to worry about. But what about this
ubervamp? I’ve never heard of that.”

Wes interjected here. “They are what the vampires fear, Gracie. They
are virtually impossible to defeat. There was an instance where a
Slayer was able to defeat one.” He patted his satchel. “I have all the
information with me.”

“So what else do we need to do here?” Grace asked.

“Load up the car, take out a few more demonic minions and make sure
everybody’s used the bathroom before we leave.” Willow reported
promptly.

Grace chuckled and looked outside. “Well, it’s daylight. So, we also
need to grab a blanket for Angel. No spontaneous combustion allowed. Oh
yeah, and we also need to get the girls.”

“No problem,” Anya said and moved to the stairs. “All wannabes please
come downstairs.” Going back to the living room, she said, “So, how are
you going to decide who stays and who goes? Line ’em up and play Eenie
Meenie Minie Moe?”

“Somethin’ like that.” Gunn decided. “Which ones need to stick around,
get the whole ‘Slayer-in-action’ treatment?”

Buffy considered it. “I know which ones go.” She said finally. When the
girls came downstairs, she pointed in rapid succession at them. “Get
your stuff,” she instructed quietly. “You’re going to L.A. with Giles
and these guys.”

“These guys. Who exactly are ‘these guys’? And why are WE leaving?
Wouldn’t we be safer here with you? The Slayer?”

“Well…as far as that goes…” Wes admitted. “Buffy isn’t exactly
*the* Slayer anymore.”

“She’s *a* Slayer but not the Chosen one.” Jasa agreed. “But that’s
irrelevant.” She held up a hand, magic rippling along her fingertips
for a moment. “Put it this way, little one, The First and I have met.”
She grinned unpleasantly. “I’m what you call a ‘defector’.”

“And that’s Angel.” Buffy nodded at the vampire in question. “Formerly
known as Angelus.”

“As for you leaving,” Giles interjected. “We have decided to split you
up and keep you in different locations…under highly skilled guard in
both cases… it’s the more logical choice.”

“That way,” Kennedy spoke up, surprising the other girls by agreeing.
“If one group dies…”

“The other’s got a chance.” Willow agreed. “We have to try.”

“Definitely,” Grace said, standing and moving to grab the blanket off
of the back of Buffy’s couch. “So, to paraphrase what Willow said, we
should get moving. Separate as soon as possible so that the First stays
good and confused. I haven’t met the First, but I’ve met their minions.
I want them on MY turf. Is everyone packed?”

When everyone nodded, they started moving toward the door. Wes took
Grace by the arm and pulled her aside. “Tell Emily, ok. Make sure she
doesn’t worry.” He gave her a piece of paper. “Make sure she gets
this.”

Grace pocketed the paper without reading. “I’ll make sure she knows.
You and Gunn watch each other. He’s alone without Immortal cover. I
know he can take care of himself. But I worry.”

“No need, but I’ll watch anyway.”

Moving away, Grace tossed the blanket to Angel. “Guess this means I’m
driving. You get to cover up.”

He looked at the blanket in dismay. “I hate this.”

“Could be worse.” Jasa grinned. “We may put you in the trunk yet.”

“He has to ride in the trunk?” One Slayer-to-be gasped. “Why?”

“Uh, hello?” Kennedy raised a brow. “He’s a vampire. Either he covers
up or he’s Angel-Flambé.”

“Oh…right.” The girl blushed. “Forgot.”

Grace smiled. “It’s okay.” She moved to help him secure the blanket
around himself. Softly, she said, “I don’t much like it either. But
losing you is not an option and neither is putting you in the trunk.
You aren’t baggage to me.” To say she was still recovering from
everything was an understatement.

“No one ever said he was, Grace.” Her mother said gently.

“She’s right.” Angel agreed, touching her face. “I’ll be fine.”

She leaned into the touch automatically, then closed her eyes slowly,
finding her center and gaining control. “I know,” she said. “Just an
odd moment. I’m fine now.” Her hand strayed to his chest where it
settled for a moment and she inhaled deeply. “Definitely fine now.
Let’s go, shall we.”

Willow, not knowing why Grace wouldn’t be fine, glanced curiously
between Grace and Buffy. The latter only shrugged.

Jasa hooked an arm through the Wicca’s and smiled faintly. “It’s a very
long story.” Looking back, she crooked a finger at their protectees.
“C’mon girls, daylight’s burning and we don’t want to get caught out in
the cruel night.” She grinned. “Not unless we’re spoiling for a fight.”
She nodded at Buffy. “Miss Summers, it was a pleasure.”

Buffy returned the nod. “Likewise.”

“You have everything you need?” Angel looked from Willow to Giles and
back.

“Uh…” Willow glanced down at the bag by the door. “I think I have
everything. Giles?”

“Yes…” He looked at the books under his arm. “I believe I do.”

“Good!” Anya said perkily. “Have a nice trip!”

When Angel questioned Willow, Grace moved away and sighed. Finally, she
turned to Buffy. “You take care, ok. We don’t want to lose you again.”
Although, Grace didn’t know her the first time they lost her; she knew
how Buffy’s loss would affect all of them… her included now.

She also moved to hug Gunn. “Watch your head. I don’t feel up to a
vengeance beheading. Ok?”

He grinned at her. “My head’s stayin’ right where it is. No worries,
G.”

“Oh I’ll always worry. You’re my student and my friend.” And a more
proven friend she hadn’t had. Moving away, she spoke briefly to Wes,
telling him to take care and assuring him Emily would get his note.
With that, she grabbed the last of the bags and headed out of the
house.

Mid afternoon. The sun was high in the sky and Angel was out in it. She
wasted little time in putting the bags in the trunk. Jasa, Willow, and
Giles rode in one car with one of the potential slayers, leaving
Grace and Angel with the other two.

Once she made sure everyone was settled and they were on their way, she
looked at Angel and said, “You know, you handled that better than what
I imagined, finding out that Buffy and Spike were sleeping together.”

“I only look like I’m not freaking.” Angel responded, his voice muffled
by the blanket. “Believe me, when they find Spike, he and I are having
one hell of a talk.”

Grace smiled. “Well I would expect nothing less from you than that. I
mean, you sired him. If anyone knows what he is, it’s you. But Angel,
wouldn’t having a soul change him? Like it changes you. I mean,
Angelus is the antithesis of you. So wouldn’t Spike with a soul be
different too?”

“He would be.” He nodded. “But how much is the question. I changed when
I became me again. The man Spike is now is a far cry from who he was
*before*. Remembering everything, the killing, the violence, the
lust… The power… it changes you. And as much as you hate it, part
of you misses it too.”

In the back seat, the two young slayers shared a shocked look and sunk
down in their seats. They didn’t want to miss out on this conversation
so drawing attention to themselves was not a good way to ensure their
hosts kept talking.

“For Immortals, it’s the rush of the Quickening. It’s actually
engrained within out chemistry to seek out and destroy our own kind.”
She shrugged. “But that’s different than vampires. It’s like you said,
the lack of a conscience. It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t
have to attach feelings to it. I’ve heard the stories. I do NOT want to
meet Angelus… ever. But Spike, I mean, he was William the Bloody…
and he almost got you. How safe is Buffy even if he has a soul?”

“How safe is he from her if he has a soul?” Angel sighed. “Buffy won’t
kill him but there are a lot of ways to hurt someone with a soul… and
she’s adept in all of them.”

Grace gripped the steering wheel. There were things that she had done
to Angel that upset Grace, but it wasn’t her business what happened in
their past. Reaching out, she slid her hand under the blanket and took
his. “It’s easier to hurt when one has a soul, yes. But there’s no
love. And honestly, you know as well as I do that it’s not easy to hold
something together. It takes a lot more than love or even lust.
She’ll learn that. I’m just wondering if Spike is the right teacher.”

“You’re looking at that from the wrong angle.” He responded honestly.
“Buffy’s been around more than Spike in some ways. From the beginning,
I don’t think he even truly *saw* anyone beyond Drusilla. He’s not
perfect, and he has a lot to learn… Buffy may learn a few things from
this but…” He paused. “I have the feeling, Spike’s the one that will
come out of this with the worst scars.”

Grace squeezed his hand. Dear lord. What hit her hardest there was that
he was speaking from experience. “Angel… Maybe Mom’s right. Maybe
this one you should steer clear of then. She may actually learn a
valuable lesson from this. Perhaps they both will. I know you. I know
it’s going to be hard for you not to, but I won’t have you getting hurt
in any of this. Not even a little.” Her voice took on that tone…
she’d used it before.

The girls in the backseat shared an alarmed look but Angel responded
again and their eyes riveted on the blanket.

“I can take care of myself, Grace.” He said firmly. “One thing I’ve
figured out, is Buffy Summers. Spike… Spike hasn’t yet. I’m willing
to bet he screwed up royally at some point recently but I doubt she’s
any less guilty than he is.”

Grace pulled her hand out from under the blanket. “Don’t do that,” she
whispered. “Please don’t give me that ‘I can take care of myself’ stuff
when I struggle every damn day to deal with the shit I’ve gone through
these past few months. I don’t WANT you to take care of yourself. I
want us to take care of each other.”

“GRACE.” Angel’s voice became a different sort of firm altogether. The
kind meant to pierce through the emotion and reach the woman. “This is
not the same thing and you know it. What’s between Buffy and me is
between Buffy and me. Or it was.” He frowned. “Forget it.”

She pulled the car over, completely forgetting that they weren’t alone.
“Oh fuck,” she said, her voice shuttering as she spoke. “I KNOW that. I
fucking know that and I launched anyway. Why do I do that? I’m sorry.
I’m so very sorry.”

“Grace…” He sighed. “The others will wonder where we are. It’s fine.”

“Right,” she said, pulling out onto the road. What was wrong with her?
She was bad before, but anymore she was completely screwed up. She was
the epitome of hot and cold. Extreme was her way of life. And if she
didn’t get it together… She shuddered and gripped the wheel even
tighter.

The rest of the drive was made in silence. The girls in the back didn’t
even move.

As she pulled into the garage, she softly said, “We’re home.”

The girls scrambled from the car. “Thanks!” They chirruped nervously,
hurrying off to their friends.

*-*-*

“I think I’m working on fur ball.” Angel commented, throwing it back.
“Less hairy blanket next time would be good.” Getting out, he walked
around to open the car door for her. “You look in need of a hot bath.”

She was looking down at her hands when he opened the door. “The only
other blanket I saw was shag. Imagine the lung trauma from that one.”
She looked up at him, her eyes speaking her guilt for her. “And yeah, I
think a long hot soak would be perfect.”

He pulled her out of the car and led her into the hotel. “I’ll run one
then, Willow and your mother can set up some sort of magical barrier
for now, keep anything minionish out.”

Grace followed where she was led. She barely had time to give Emily the
letter before she was led upstairs. Truth of the matter was, she didn’t
care. She’d said some abominably horrible things in the car. It still
made her sick to think about it. “I’d like an anti-minion moment if I
could have one.”

“They’ll make sure we have plenty.” Angel responded. “You know that.
Willow is a little leery of it though. Hopefully your mother will be
able to help her work through it.”

She closed the bedroom door behind them and agreed, “Having Mother here
through all of this… before and now… has been a godsend. Lord knows
what kind of drivel I’d be.” ‘Or how far away I would have pushed you?’
she thought but didn’t say. She stopped moving and made sure he stopped
too. “I am sorry. Last thing I ever want to do is push you away.” She
paused. “And I know I can’t actually do that… but I don’t like
upsetting you either.” THAT he didn’t deserve.

He hugged her carefully. “I’m fine, Grace.” He insisted. “I haven’t
gone anywhere.”

She felt everything inside of her turn soft. The lead weight she’d
carried on her chest simply melted away. This was her foundation. If
everything in her life disappeared, she knew she could still be solid
if she had him. “I know you haven’t,” she said, “but sometimes I think
I have.” She tightened her hug as she said those words.

“You move around a lot.” He teased lightly. “But you always end up back
where you started…or at least, near it. You always get better.”

“But those things I said in the car! Those poor girls. How safe are
they going to feel after that little display? We’re supposed to keep
them safe, but how can we do that if we can’t even see eye-to-eye.”
She inhaled deeply. She hated admitting that she still had
insecurities. Of course, she was still dealing with how easily Kamephis
had taken him. How close they’d come to losing him. She just wasn’t
standing too firmly on her own. And the last thing she wanted was to be
was at odds with him.

“They’ll probably gravitate toward your mother.” Angel responded with a
shrug. “They’ll get over it. Besides, they probably heard worse fights
than that in Sunnydale. Things haven’t been the picture of perfection
there either. In fact, they make us look sedate. Neither one of us has
nearly gone over to the big bad evil lately, died and been brought
back, or dumped an ex-vengeance demon at the alter lately. Our issues
are fairly tame.”

She nodded. “I know. But we have nearly lost each other. And please
don’t say that we always come out on top. We may, but I still don’t
like the feeling. And then to argue over something that is in the
past…” She sighed. “I don’t like arguing with you. Not at all.”

“Well,” He smiled slowly. “There is one upside…” Leaning down, he
kissed her slowly. “Making up is very, very, *very* fun.”

Her hands wasted little time working on his shirt. “You know, I have
to agree with you there.” Exposing his chest, she pressed against him,
her lips attaching to his neck. They hadn’t done this nearly enough
lately. Not nearly enough at all.

He groaned in appreciation. “I love agreement.” Picking her up, he
backed her against the wall. “Suck and…” His eyebrows waggled
playfully. “Or just straight sex? The lady has her choices.”

Her legs wrapped around his waist pressed him to her. “Oh, suck and…”
She laughed lightly as she actually had no qualms about using the word
‘fuck’, except in reference to them. “I want it all.”

“Madam wishes the full treatment.” Angel intoned playfully, sliding his
hands down between them to rid them of their remaining clothing.
“Understood.” Nudging against her entrance, he teased his fangs along
the skin of her throat. “And the full treatment she will have…” He
nearly hissed in a soft undertone, seconds from sinking in on both
counts.

Her hands dug into his hair and she arched into the wall while
thrusting to meet him. Damn him but that felt good. Fantastic.
Heavenly. She wasn’t sure which part to focus on. The sweet euphoria of
his feeding or the sinful delight of having him inside her. All she
could do was close her eyes and feel. Ok, so there was some
vocalization of sensations as well.

Burying himself in her, the vampire let out a growl of satisfaction as
he pushed against her. They needed this. The explosive burst of energy,
they needed it. He teased and played as he thrust into her. She was
addictive to him. Purely addictive.

Her hands pressed back against the wall as she responded to his need
for more. Her strength was going to start to fade as her life flowed
from her and into him. She pushed forward until she’d taken him
completely within her. “Angel,” she managed to pant out. She could feel
her body building toward the rapid climax. Everything she had was
tingling. He often teased her about being quiet. At this point, she
didn’t care if everyone downstairs heard her. She called his name as
she climaxed. Her entire body spasming as the world turned dim and she
started to fade.

Letting himself go, Angel slammed up into her one more time, riding the
orgasm out before turning and bringing her to the bed, laying her down.
He rested alongside her, his hand skimming a slow circle on her
midsection as he waited for her to come back. They’d needed this.
They’d definitely needed this.

*-*-*

When her eyes opened again, she quickly found his eyes and smiled up at
him. “Wow!” she said softly. “I think we should argue more often.”
Pulling him down, she hugged him tightly to her. Her hands moved up and
down his back as she continued, “I really, really needed this. If
nothing else, I needed these moments right now. I somehow doubt that
were going to have many of them in the near future.”

“We’ll have them.” Angel insisted softly. “I’ll make sure of it. We’ll
make the time when we can’t find it. If we go insane from the stress we
won’t be much good to anybody.”

She agreed. “I think I’m just not bouncing back like I used to. Ever
since… you know… I seem to have a more difficult time finding my
center. And I’m far more jumpy. And you know I still have nightmares.
Right now, I don’t know how much I can afford those. I need the time,
but it just isn’t a luxury.”

“You take too many hits and it’s harder and harder to get back up.” He
nodded. “I know. Which is the point I was trying to make earlier,
Grace. Don’t take hits for me when you don’t need to. You need to get
back on your own feet before you worry about me. You can’t help me if
you fall apart and I need you in one piece.” He kissed her. “I’d rather
take a few hits on my own and keep you with me then have you try and
take them for me and fall apart.”

She nodded. “Ok. I understand. But answer me this… do you let me take
hits on my own?”

“I have to…” He responded softly, the pain of it apparent. “Every
time you step out there to fight… I have to.”

“And I let you when you have to do that. Of course that’s hard, but
unfortunately it’s a part of who we are. What I was referring to was
the personal ‘demons’ so to speak.”

“I know you were.” Angel responded. “But in this situation, the
situation with Buffy *is* my equivalent to your fights. It’s not that
I’m trying to shut you out it’s just that in that case, I have to go it
alone. That’s just the way it is.”

She closed her eyes. There would always be a part of him that was
Buffy’s and she wouldn’t be able to touch. Always. She inhaled and
opened her eyes. She didn’t want to argue about this anymore. “I know.
Doesn’t mean I have to like it though. But I *do* know.”

“It’s not about romance, Grace.” He insisted. “It’s about scars,
history and everything else I have to deal with. If it was just about
the romance…” He shook his head. “Dealing with her isn’t about love,
not anymore…I’m not even sure if it ever was.”

“Now wait,” she said. “I never for one second said that I thought this
was about romance or love.” She wasn’t sure where that had come from…
the romance stuff. “Unless of course you’re referring to Buffy and
Spike sleeping together. In which case, it shouldn’t be either way
because you two aren’t together anymore. Or have I totally
misinterpreted what you said?”

“No, but I might be misinterpreting you.” He answered. “Answer me
this…Do you think there’s a part of me that belongs to her and her
alone?”

“Why are you asking that? Have I given any indication that I might be
thinking that?”

“I know you.” Angel half-smiled. “And I can’t help but wonder if that’s
where your thoughts are going. If that my insistence on dealing with
her alone means there’s a part of me you can’t touch or are shut out
of.” Brushing a hand along her face, he shook his head. “It’s not true,
Grace. There isn’t any part of me that isn’t yours…But there are
things I have to do myself. Things you can’t do for me. The truth is,
you weren’t there, and even those of us who were can’t really
understand it. To try, you’d be overwhelmed.”

Grace took his hand and held it to her cheek for a long moment. Very
slowly she sat up. “Answer me this. And I’m not evading the topic, not
at all. Buffy, she was your first love, right?”

The vampire frowned thoughtfully. “Honestly? I’ve always wondered. Yes,
I suppose, she is but…” He sighed. “Looking back, I wonder sometimes
if we weren’t more in love with the idea of being in love than actually
experiencing it for real.”

“You came out of your shell for her. She brought you back to life, so
to speak. I’m the outsider looking in here, but a lot of that sounds
like love to me.” She shook her head. “What I’m getting at in my not so
eloquent way is that it’s ok that she was. It’s ok that I’m not a part
of that ‘Buffy past’. It’s ok. But what goes on in the ‘Buffy present’
does affect me. You may be dealing with the past but the actions are
happening in the present.” She put her hands on her face. “This is why
I was never a writer. I don’t express myself well.”

“I know what you’re trying to say, Grace.” He answered softly. “I
really do. And, were the situations reversed, I’d want to be involved
too. But…as much as I’d hate it, I couldn’t be. There are just some
things that go down between people…” He shook his head. “That stay
between them. It’s not an attempt to shut anyone out or to deny a
relationship with someone else. It’s just how…” Angel glanced upward,
searching for the right words. “I know some of it affects you, and I
try not to let it, you are the present and future. Anything with Buffy
is just…aftershocks. With this… this isn’t even about her and me.
It’s about Spike. I made him, Grace. He’s my responsibility and, in
this situation, he’s on new territory and Buffy is an emotional
minefield he isn’t ready for.” A wry smile touched his lips. “After a
century…I wasn’t ready for her. I can’t let Spike down. After
everything… I can’t.”

“Oh wait! You’re telling me this is about you protecting Spike.
Spike? After he kidnaps and tortures you for a ring, you are going to
warn *him* about Buffy. Or is it because he has a soul? When does he
get to make his own mistakes? I’m not so sure he’ll want to hear what
you have to say, love. But if you feel you must, you must.”

“He has a *soul*, Grace.” Angel insisted hotly. “He’s not the same
anymore. Believe me…” His smile was self-mocking. “The things I did
to the others…the things Angelus did to them…He killed Jenny
Calendar…And Giles forgave me for it. He’s not at peace but…” He
shook his head. “If they can forgive me…I have to be able to forgive
Spike a little torture. And yes, he gets to make his own mistakes but,
it seems to me, Grace…he already has.”

“Now hold on. I asked if it was because he had a soul.” She held up
her hand. “Ok… I get it. I really don’t want to argue about this
anymore. We have three girls down there who need our protection.”

Her lover paused and, her blood rushing through him, he managed a
blush. “We have to be the only couple in the world that fights after
sex. Most people sleep.”

She stared at him for a moment, looked at his state of undress and then
down at hers. Chuckling lightly, she said, “Post coital arguing AND in
the nude no less.” Reaching out, she put a hand to his cheek. “I love
you. That doesn’t change. And if you want me to butt out, I will. I
won’t like it. I never do when you tell me that your business isn’t
mine.” Her thumb ran along his forehead and then down his nose before
she continued, “I see us as one person… one life. And when I get a
reminder that that just isn’t so, I react in my usual way. I freak.”

“At least you’re cute when you freak.” He responded in a murmur,
kissing her finger. “Feel free to freak all you want…the fighting
always leads to great sex.” The words out of his mouth, he grinned
wickedly, moving away from the impending smack.

He missed the physical slap, but caught a pillow in the back of the
head. “YOU just had great sex. If you’re really good the rest of the
night, you may get great sex again. But that will only happen AFTER we
make sure that Molly, Vi, and Kennedy know I’m not insane.”

“How will we do that when we can’t even convince the others?” He
deadpanned, on a smartassed roll.

“Oh, you asshole.” She crinkled her nose to let him know she knew what
he was up to. “You are sooooo not getting sex now. And I was going to
do that fun thing with my tongue that you like so well, but now, you
can use your own tongue. If you can figure out how to reach down
there, that is!”

He grinned, leaning down to nip at her neck. “Don’t need to. You’ll
change your mind.” He playfully squeezed a thigh before leaving the bed
to hunt out new clothing. “After all, I’m the one with the fangs you
like so well.”

“And I’m the one with the blood and the womanly areas you like so
well.” She swatted his bare butt as she wandered into the closet for
her own clothes. “It’s a two way road sweetie.”

Angel flashed the game face for a second, his idea of a scowl, and
looked back. “Damn. She wins on that one.”

Grace covered her mouth to stifle a chuckle. He was damn cute when he
was forced to admit things he didn’t want to. Quickly, she dressed in
a pair of jeans and a sweater. “Ok, I’m ready to meet the wannabes.”

Her lover held up two nearly identical sweaters in slightly different
shades, one black, one dark gray. “Which one?”

Grace looked them over and said, “The gray one. It’s softer.” She
plopped on the bed and slid a pair of tennis shoes on. This was the
nice stuff. The comfortable stuff. The stuff that she wished they
could have more often. Downstairs, the usual awaited him. “I have
your loafers here if you want to wear those.”

“Sure.” Pushing his head up through the collar, he ambled toward her
and sat next to her to put them on. “So, more great sex later?” He
teased. “I’ll schedule you in between a rogue vampire gang and a few
lawyers.”

She glanced at him from underneath her hair and smiled. “Sure. You’ve
been good.” She stood and turned to kiss him. “I’ll even do that
tongue thing you like so well.” Her hand brushed along his pants.
Pulling away, she smiled. “Ok, Dad, let’s go talk to the kids.”

He grabbed her hand. “Behave.” Kissing her hand, he drew her toward the
door. “Why can’t we make Giles talk to the kids? He’s the Dad figure
around here. I’m the mysterious, dangerous neighbor that always drops
by.”

“Oh that’s right. Wilson’s your name, isn’t it?” She laughed as she
moved in front of him. “Besides, you’re older than Giles. You have
that aura of wisdom about you. Beats my aura of wisdom by a mile or
ten.” She laughed. Taking his hand, she said, “You’re definitely Dad.”

“I don’t wanna be Dad.” Angel bemoaned. “Dads are the responsible
ones.” He grinned. “I rather hide in the corner and make out with you
than be the responsible one.”

She laughed. “You cannot be the randy teenager. Duncan and Cordelia
seem to have cornered the market on that.” She stopped and slapped her
forehead. “Shit! I have to talk to Duncan about helping out on this
one. Why is it *I* have to talk to him?” She paused and looked at
him. “Ok, you don’t have to be the dad if you talk to Duncan.”

He thought about that for a moment. “I’ll be the Dad.” He decided and
hurried down the stairs ahead of her.

—-

“Ok, I am not above admitting I haven’t a damn clue where to start with
this.” Jasa slanted a glance at the mortal before her. “All things
Slayerish aren’t really my neck of the woods. Give me an ancient
Egyptian sorcerer or something.” Abruptly she frowned. “No, we’ve done
that already. Hmm… demigod with a beef against my practically
son-in-law maybe?” She shrugged. “The First is pretty much undefeatable
for all things not God.” Tapping a pen against her lower lip, she
arched a brow at Willow. “Unless…”

“We can’t stop him…” The redhead agreed. “But we can…”

“Slow him down quite a bit.” Jasa finished. “Exactly.”

A few moments of silence elapsed between them before Giles entered the
room from the library. “Ladies, if I may,” He moved between them and
set down a book he’d taken from Wes’s considerable collection. “It
appears from this manuscript that although we cannot defeat the First
but I think we can slow him down a bit.”

“No,” The Egyptian’s eyes widened with convincing amazement as Willow
looked frantically for something to snicker behind. “Really? That’s an
improvement at least.”

He pushed his glasses up and gave the young Wicca a penetrating look.
“Are you alright, Willow?” He glanced back at Jasa and his brows
furrowed in question. When the elder woman wouldn’t meet his gaze, he
said, “Ah! Well, it appears that Wesley has some past chronicles. I’m
not even going to ask how he managed to keep these. But look,” he
showed Jasa a page. Leaning in, he said, “It appears our Buffy isn’t
the first Slayer the First has come after like this.”

She silently cursed a few gods for making gorgeous Englishmen so damn
tempting and resisted the urge to inhale the scent of his cologne.
“Mmmhmm… this does look interesting. And, no,” Her lips curved
upwards into a smirk. “Asking where he got those might not be your
brightest move.”

“Well, I don’t know about bright, but they certainly do not belong to
him.”

“Um… Giles,” Willow interrupted. “If they were where they were
supposed to be. The wouldn’t be anything anymore but a big pile of
dust on the sidewalk. Right?”

Giles paused for a moment and nodded. “Of course, of course. Good
point, Willow.” Turning back to Jasa, he smiled at her and continued,
“You have to take a look at this. Both you and Willow. I think it
will be most helpful if you can pull off the spell.”

“Most helpful.” She mimicked and took the book. “Yeah, we can do this.”
She nodded. “Might need a blending of magic though…” She slanted a
look at Willow. “Think you can handle being linked up to that much
wattage?” She smiled faintly. “I’m afraid I’m somewhat hardwired for
magic with the Immortal thing.”

Giles looked at Willow as she fidgeted for a moment. Putting a hand on
her shoulder, he said, “You’re going to be fine.” It was his way of
saying ‘I’ll be here if you need me.’

“O… Okay, sure, why not! All I have to do is stay focused and
remember my limits. I can do that. Sure.”

“What doesn’t kill you…” Jasa quoted softly. “You’ll be fine, Willow.
I’ll see to it, I promise you that.”

Grace always said Jasa could do anything. Willow was going to put a
lot of faith in that. Both Jasa and Giles were going to be her buffers
here. “Let’s do it then. Anything we can do to slow down the Bringers
or the First, I’m all for it!”

“Ahh the enthusiasm of youth.” The Egyptian Immortal teased lightly. “I
was never that young. So, coffee break?” She grinned at Giles. “I know
where Wesley keeps the good tea.”

“Oh yes.” He smiled at her. “I think a glass of nice warm tea would
be delightful. Join us, Willow.”

She raised her brows and looked at them for a moment before smiling.
“You know what? I think I’m going to go check on the girls. See if
they need anything. Get myself in the mojo frame of mind. Enjoy your
tea.” With that, she headed off to find someone who had a few less
cobwebs growing around them.

“Was it something I said?” Giles asked, looking after her.

“No. We’re old and she’s got the hots for one of ’em.” Jasa grinned.
“Young love. Come on, Rupert, let us two old fogies go get something to
drink.”

“The *hots*? You don’t mean that Willow is attracted to…” He
paused, stunned more than anything else. “Which one? Certainly not
Molly.”

“Naw… the interesting one. The one with the presidential name.” She
led him into the kitchen and began rummaging. “She has to get back into
the dating thing sometime. Believe me, turning into the big bad evil’s
terrible on romance. *Great* for sex but bad for romance.”

“Evil is great for sex.” He shook his head. “I don’t know about that
one. All evil has ever done is destroy my romance.”

“That wasn’t evil.” Jasa said softly, regretfully. “That was
consequences. Karma.” She handed him a box then produced the tea from
behind a canister. “I’m afraid that was set in stone from the moment
the gypsies decided to use magic for vengeance. There are always
consequences, Rupert. Always. And to the gods…there are no easy outs
I’m afraid. Somewhere, sometime…the consequences always find you.
Believe me,” She offered a surprisingly frank gaze. “I would know.”

He nodded, setting the box on the counter. “I don’t blame Angel.
Well, not anymore anyway. I’ll admit it is very difficult to reconcile
between the two sometimes.” Pushing his glasses up, he said, “But I
have also been in contact with the First and their primary interaction
with Buffy. I’ve never experienced anything so vile before. Between
you and I, I am rather concerned about this confrontation. I’ll admit,
I feel better now than what I did before. But it still perplexes me.”

“Your confrontation with the First or my impending reunion with him?”
Jasa arched a curious eyebrow as she fussed with the tea.

“I feel better being here with someone else who’s battled them before.
I beg your pardon if I wasn’t as clear as I should be.”

“You’re clear enough.” She smiled faintly. “I suppose that’s the irony
of it. You feel better…I feel worse.” She sighed lightly. “No doubt I
will be inundated with reminders from the evil old days. Not looking
forward to that part.”

“But you are not that evil anymore. Oh and I know about how you’ll be
tempted and I know how difficult it will be. But you are much stronger
now than what you were back then. And you want to protect these girls
as well as your daughter and son-in-law every bit as much as I do. I
have the greatest confidence that you will prevail.” He gazed at her
for a long moment and smiled. “The kettle is whistling,” he said
softly.

She looked at it in surprise. “So it is.” Reaching for it, she turned
off the stove. “Thankfully, you didn’t mention faith. I rarely have
much of that.” She grinned a little. “Though, when you watch a sea
part, it tends to come back in a rush.”

He chuckled. “Oh no, my dear Jasa. You have more than faith now. You
have family. One you love and one who loves you very deeply.”
Steeping his tea bag in the water, he said, “I think that love will
carry you much farther than any faith in the world.”

Filling her own cup, the Egyptian nodded once. “Love does bring people
farther than anything.” She sighed. “However, I still hold a healthy
wariness for the upcoming confrontation. The part of me that so enjoyed
being what I was…she’s still there. Just waiting for my guard to
slip.” She lifted one shoulder in an elegant shrug. “It’s my burden to
carry I suppose. The consequences of my choices.”

He reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder. “It is precisely
that wariness that will keep you from succumbing. As I have told
Willow, I would worry if you were overly confident. But you are
realistic, and in that realism lies strength.”

She laid a hand over his and forced a soft smile. “You know, Rupert
Giles, for a kid, you’re a surprisingly wise man.”

He smiled. “Thank you. Of course, I work with the Slayer and one
cannot be a slouch around her. She can often take you to wits end, but
they are more often sharpened than not.”

Jasa chuckled. “She does seem quite…a handful. It’s a credit to you
that she’s turned out to be so…” A grin played about her mouth.
“Fearsome to vampires.”

“Sometimes, I worry about her. A bit too much, I’m afraid. She’s like
a daughter to me, but I’m afraid there are very few people who she
treats as she should.”

“Yes, that I’m aware of.” The Immortal clasped her mug between her
palms, absorbing heat. “I’ve had some discussions on that front.
Reluctant ones.” She chuckled. “Interestingly enough, Cordelia will
discuss just about everything but can become quite protective of her
friends’ privacy when she wishes to be and it seems, she wishes to be.”

Giles laughed lightly. “That wasn’t always the truth about her. But
her perspective on life was greatly altered by her father’s
predicament. And I believe living out here has encouraged her to
mature. And now with the Immortality.” He set down his teacup. “It’s
all rather shocking… even now.”

“Her Immortality?” Jasa smiled amusedly. “That always is. It seems like
we accept it easily but that is hardly the truth. There are days I
literally have to stop and convince myself of my extreme age and other
days I wonder if I’m not simply mad and tied up in some asylum
somewhere.” She sighed ruefully. “Then I have a fight and, believe me,
the Quickening is the worlds most vigorous reality shake one can get.
Immortality itself is quite shocking…and shouldn’t be. But it is and
I’m afraid it’s rather arbitrary in who it chooses.”

“Do you really believe that?” he asked. “I mean about it being
arbitrary? I sometimes wonder. Look here for example. If you were to
ask me, I’d think Grace was chosen for just this reason. I believe
that Gunn and Cordelia were chosen for a very specific reason, just as
you and Duncan were chosen. Jasa, if the First can work evil for its
purpose, why cannot other forces be at work as well. It may seem
arbitrary, but I’ll wager it isn’t.”

“In some cases…perhaps not. Others?” She hesitated. “I am not so
sure. Unless, you can offer a mystical reason a child would be required
for?”

He chuckled. “I didn’t claim to be all knowing or wise, Jasa. I can
only offer my opinion from what I’ve seen. I do not believe the gods
or Fates are perfect. But I do believe in higher beings and higher
purposes. Given the work I do, I have to.”

“Having both invoked and defied higher beings on many occasions, I must
agree.” She nodded. “However, on some things….should I ever have an
introduction to these beings…I’m going to, as they say, give them a
piece of my mind.”

He set his empty teacup down and smiled. “Well, if it makes you feel
better, then I’d say do so.” Offering her his arm, he said, “However,
don’t actually expect to sway their opinions. Shall we? Work awaits.”

“Ugh,” She made a face. “Work? I’m not the working type remember? I’m
from a hedonistic society. You want a worker, I know a Roman general
that can help.” Her eyes twinkling, she slipped her arm through his and
sighed dramatically. “If we must…I suppose so.”

“I fear we must… and quickly. Not only are the Bringers probably on
their way, but I believe Wesley warned me that your daughter enjoys
rearranging books if left to her own devices. We must not let that
happen.” He said the last in a gravely serious voice. “It’s a moral
imperative,” he finished, eyes smiling.

Jasa chuckled. “She does. She also enjoys teasing the poor dear until
he’s nearly dying from being so flustered.” She grinned impishly. “I’m
afraid I’ve been a bad influence on the poor dear. It’s the hedonist in
me.” She added innocently. “I love trouble.”

“It does run in the family,” he winked. “The first time I met your
daughter, she had me more flustered than Wesley was. She sprawled
herself out on his desk, knocking our things on the floor. At first, I
wondered why Wesley did not speak up… It only took me a few moments
to realize it would do no good. And Angel, since he seemed to be
enjoying the display, I quickly learned there would be no help from
him.”

“Oh, none in the least.” She agreed, tucking a dark curl away from her
face. “It, as they say, gets him going.”

“And given the fact that she’s the only one who can fulfill him, I can
understand why he would indulge himself.” Instinctively, he reached
out for another curl, realized what he was doing, and stopped. “You
um…” he pointed to the curl. “Your hair.”

Jasa restrained her amusement and looked up at the unruly locks. “It
does have a mind of its own, doesn’t it?” She asked distractedly.
“There are days I’m sorely tempted to go bald.”

“Oh, that would be a shame. I thought hedonists appreciated hair.
Some cultures see it as a sign of virility.”

“And sex is something I’ve never had a problem with.” She purred out
with a hint of laughter in her voice. “So, perhaps, there’s something
to it.”

‘Oh my,’ he thought. He smiled as he found himself hoping he’d
interpreted that correctly. “Perhaps there is. Perhaps there is.”
Joining the small group that had now formed in the lobby, he said, “Tea
break is over, it seems.”

“It is.” She nodded, pulling her formality about her again. Playtime
over. “Well then,” Moving forward, she looked at her companions. “Now
what?”

Willow moved forward. “I have a list of items we’re going to need to
cast our spell. Trying to encompass the entire hotel is going to take
a lot of items. Do you have them here or is there a magic store near
by we can raid?”

The Immortal accepted the list and considered it. “I think we have some
of it but there are other things we’re going to need. There’s a store
near here we can go to, they have supplies of the highest quality and
if this has a hope of working, we need the best we can get.” She
slipped the paper into her pocket. “Get your coat, we don’t have much
time.”

“Gotcha,” Willow grabbed her coat and followed Jasa out the door.

Cordelia and Duncan chose that moment to come down the stairs. “Well,
hi and bye, Willow,” she said to the Wicca’s back. “What’s she doing
here? And what are *they* doing here?”

Grace looked to Angel to explain that one to the young Immortal. Her
gaze moving to Duncan’s, she said in Gaelic, “We need to talk… out in
the garden.”

He frowned. “That does *not* sound encouraging, Grace.” He touched
Cordy’s arm as he passed, following his friend outdoors. “Ok, what is
it?”

She sighed. “It’s not encouraging, Duncan. We have three teenage
girls in there who are confused, frightened, and in very deep danger.”
Duncan championed mortals much like she did, so she knew this was the
best way to get him to understand. “I know we don’t ask you to help
much with our chosen war. But we need you. We need all the champions
we can get for this battle.”

The highlander held her gaze for a long moment then nodded. “All
right.” He frowned, leaning back against the building. “What exactly
are they in danger from?”

She sat down on the nearest bench. Ok, he accepted that Angel was a
vampire and had even met Lorne. But how much would his mind allow him
to accept. Slowly, she set out to tell him about the First and the
Bringers and the Ubervamp. She told him detailed information about the
Slayer line and the theory as to why the world was out of whack at the
moment. She finished by saying, “These Bringers… their numbers are
unimaginable. Duncan, we fought them at Buffy’s house and they seemed
to just appear out of thin air. And these girls, although they are
trainable, are also vulnerable. And if they die, the Slayer line dies
with them, and evil could easily win.”

The incredulity of the situation was not lost on him but neither was
the seriousness. “So we train them and we fight for them?” He frowned
darkly. “And when do we expect these ‘Bringers’ to arrive?”

“Sundown most likely. I wouldn’t ask. I really wouldn’t. But
Cordelia is still very new. Angel and I can handle most, but not the
entire swarm. We don’t have Wes or Gunn, and Mother is busy working
with Willow on the magic defense.”

Duncan nodded, absorbing the information. He was silent a long time and
then turned to look at her. “What are our chances?” He looked grave.
“Your honest opinion?”

She shrugged. “If they don’t send the Ubervamp, I’d say 30/70. That
Ubervamp can even take out Angel. If we just have to fight the
Bringers and our plan of spreading out the girls works… 80/20.”

“All right.” He said again, looking up at the sky. “Where do we start?”

——-

“The girls are in the kitchen giggling ’bout how cute you are.” Buffy
said matter-of-factly, emerging into the living room and presenting
Gunn with breakfast. “It’s kinda funny in a strange teenybopperish sort
of way.” She shook her head. “Well, strange to me. Teenybopperish was a
short phase until strange guy shows up with Chosen One gibberish
spewing forth and from there on…Slayerbopperish stuff. Not nearly
as…Teenagey.”

Gunn looked at her for a long moment as if she was speaking a foreign
language and then smiled. “They think I’m cute, huh?” Thanking her
for the plate, he patted the seat beside him. “Guess now wouldn’t be
the best time to tell them I’m taken, huh?”

“Uh, no.” The Slayer dropped down and shook her head. “Not yet. A
little girl type drooling is always a good thing for the stressors.”

He tasted the eggs. “Guess I’m more used to sidekick status and
everyone getting all drooly over the boss man.”

“Well, having been one of the ones who got all drooly over the boss
man,” Buffy smiled faintly. “The sidekicks deserve droolyworship too. A
fact I’m sure Xander would totally agree with. He never did like the
reaction Angel got.”

He shrugged. “Never was jealous of Angel because of G. She’s more
like the big sis to me than anything else.” He looked at her for a
moment. “Not so sure Xander was right about the trading up thing
either.” He set the plate down. “So, XanMan didn’t like Angel too
much, huh?”

The slim blonde grinned. “That’s a big no. Not a bit. It took him
forever to stop calling him Dead Boy. Was convinced he was out to make
happy meals out of the lot of us.”

Gunn noticed how she completely glossed over his compliment and went
right to the Angel story. Ok, if that’s how she wanted it, he’d fill
up on blackmail. “DeadBoy, huh? It suits him. Just tell him not to
call him that in front of Grace. Possessive doesn’t even begin to
describe how whacked she can get.”

“Whacked?” Buffy looked surprised. “She seemed…well…much saner than
‘whacked’.”

“Threatened to kill me, Buffy. How’s that for whacked? Of course, I
said some pretty mean things to Angel. They were honest, but I suppose
I could have handled it better. When you met her for the first time,
didn’t you wonder why she and I seemed so distant?”

“Thought had crossed my mind.” She agreed. “I got the feeling I’d
walked into the middle of something that nobody was talking about
but…” She shrugged. “Then things got complicated and I got busy.”

He nodded. “That complicated and busy saved our relationship. But
yeah, like I said, might want to tell Xander, no DeadBoy comments.
Grace’s sense of humor is nil in that area.” He smiled. “Now myself,
you can tell me all the little tidbits you want.”

Buffy grinned, reclining. “Is that a blatant fish for blackmail info?”

“How about a blatant exchange of information intro? How does that
sound?”

“Like you covering yourself just in case.” She responded before leaning
back and thinking. “Umm…Ok…well…let’s see. Did you ever hear that
Cordy and Wesley almost had a thing? There was this UST-ish thing going
on with them for months. It was funny.”

“Cordelia,” he said, shocked. “VisionGirl and HeadBoy. Now way!!!”
He laughed in spite of himself. “I can’t see it.”

“Well,” Buffy drawled lazily. “After their big resolution kiss, neither
could they.” She grinned. “As far as I know, they never did anything
after that.”

“They kissed!!!!!!!!!” He snickered not really sure who he could
harass first about this one. “And to think of how they reacted to one
another when I first got there. This is good.”

“It was very good. And…Wesley’s…a *LOT* different now than he was
then. He was a lot more…I dunno…repressed maybe?” She decided after
a moment’s consideration. “All neat as a pin, by the rule book a
hundred percent, the Watcher Council could do no wrong…Drove me
crazy.”

He nodded. “The man drives me crazy as he is now. I can’t imagine
what the poster boy for goodness would do. If you haven’t noticed, I’m
not the good one in the bunch.”

“Hadn’t noticed.” She deadpanned. “And all depends on who you’re being
compared to I guess.”

“I suppose,” he said. “Everything is relative.”

“Ugh, don’t go all Einstein on me.” Buffy waved a hand. “You do that,
no more funny stories…”

“Sorry,” he smiled. “I’ve never been accused of being Einstein. But
I’ll be good, just tell me more stories. I’ll tell you about gushy
Wesley.”

“Hmmm…” The blonde leaned back and considered it for a long moment.
“Let’s see…there’s always Cheerleader Cordy. Now *that* was fun…Boy
she was something back in the day. Something very…perky. Bitchy but
perky.”

“Well now she’s just Horny Cordy… when she isn’t being Vision Cordy.
I’d say she’s changed quite a bit since high school.”

“Mmm… All things considered, she’s got good reason to be Horny
Cordy.” Buffy’s mind eagerly presented an image of Duncan MacLeod and
she noted it appreciatively before continuing. “And the vision thing
must be fun.” She grinned. “Back in the old days, she would have gone
*nuts* if she’d had that and somehow I’d be blamed for it.”

“She would have blamed you? Interesting. She got the visions from a
half-demon named Doyle. Before she became Immortal, they were starting
to cause her health problems. She had an opportunity to give them up,
but she wouldn’t do it. Not for anything. One of the few unselfish
things I’d seen her do.”

“And that’s another thing that’s changed.” The Slayer commented. “She
really changed over the last few years…it started before she went to
L.A. but it really showed once she got there. Before then…I *never*
would have imagined she’d be working with Angel like she is.”

“Or that she would be willing to let herself die in order to help his
cause? Yeah, it’s pretty shocking. And now, she’s a fighter. Damn
good with a sword, if you ask me. Duncan pushes her hard, but he’s got
some incentive.”

“He can’t imagine losing her.” Buffy supplied with a soft smile. “I can
understand that reasoning. When they matter that much…”

Gunn nodded. “You’d kill to make sure they survive. I know. I can
say I know exactly how Mac feels. Thing is, mine will grow old and die
and I can’t do a damn thing about it.” He shrugged. “But I wouldn’t
change a thing about it.”

“She wouldn’t make a good Immortal.” His friend responded quietly.
“From what I’ve seen of Fred, I’m not surprised. She seems like a very
gentle person.”

“It’s what I love most about her,” he admitted. “There was a lot of
concern about her fitting in, at first. The only one of us she trusted
was Angel. But he saved her, so it was understandable. Then I figured
she’d go for Wes. You know, both brains and everything. But she chose
me… I’m the luckiest man on Earth.” He shook his head. “But hey, we
all have our stories, don’t we?”

Buffy smiled at him. “And some are better than others. I think I like
yours the best.”

He reached out and patted her hand. “You’ll have yours. I have a
feeling about you. And, trust me, my feelings are never wrong.”

She laughed. “I thought Cordy was the one who can tell the future?”

“Only if it helps Angel. My talents aren’t nearly as selective.” He
laughed in return. “So, what’s on our plate for today. More training?
Dusting some vamps?” He checked out the bruises on her cheek. “What I
wouldn’t give to be able to be the one to dust that Ubervamp.”

“Get in line.” She responded with a dangerous look. The Slayer in her
coming to the fore. “He’s going to get his and I plan on being the one
to do it.” Looking up at the light trying to bypass the plywood, she
added. “Training for the girls, work and investigating for me. We need
to find a way to knock the First down to size or the Ubervamp’s the
least of my worries.”

“But he’s the front man for the First. I’ve lived on the streets a
long time. Know you don’t know me that well, but I do have my uses.
And I say, when trying to take down a gang… you take out their muscle
first. That’s what the First is using this Ubervamp for. Plus, I
think if you take him out, you can get your friend Spike back. My bet
is they’re holding him in their hang out.”

“Yeah, I get rid of the Ubervamp…I go looking for Spike.” Buffy
agreed. “I’m not leaving him to them. I won’t.” She paused and added
hesitantly. “I can’t. I failed him too many times…can’t let it happen
again.”

Gunn didn’t respond immediately, merely looked at her. There were
feelings there. She had feelings for him. “Then let me help you find
him. Ok?”

She smiled faintly and nodded. “Ok.”

*-*-*

“So, Gracie,” Popping down on a seat next to her, Lorne grinned at his
Immortal friend. “Tell me, what’s got all the vibes hoppin’ around
here? You guys are setting off more energy than Vegas at midnight.”

Grace laughed. “Where do you want me to start? Fred and Emily are
moping because we had to leave Gunn and Wes in Sunnydale. We have
three potential Slayers hanging around who I’ve managed to frighten
senseless because Angel and I got into a disagreement in the car over
Buffy and Spike. One of the potentials has a serious thing for Willow,
who isn’t sure what to do because Tara just died not too long ago.
Um… it seems Mom and Giles have some major UST going on. And I had
to pry Duncan off Cordy long enough to ask him to help us fight the
Bringers.”

“Woahhhh…” The green-skinned demon held up a hand. “No wonder this
place is lighting up like a Christmas tree. All that going on here?” He
shook his head. “So, what’s the one jumping out at you? You’re
projecting like mad.”

“Would that be the frustration vibe?” She shrugged. “Apparently I do
things differently than Angel and we aren’t jiving right now. Add to
that the stress of the First, and it’s a bit shaky at times.”

“Uh oh…” Lorne smiled wryly. “I sense another blonde in the picture.
One with a boatload of baggage?”

She shrugged. “It’s not the blonde’s fault, Lorne. It really isn’t.
Angel and I just think differently. He doesn’t want me involved in
*that* part of his life. He says I’m the present and the future. And
ok, I am. But it’s his past that got him here. And I don’t block him
out of my past or tell him ‘I can handle it’. I don’t exclude him.
And for the life of me, I can’t understand why I’m excluded. And he
tries to explain it, but I don’t get it. So we each get frustrated and
argue.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought it was.” The demon responded, patting a
hand. “Lemme ask you this, Grace, are there things you haven’t told him
about your past? Things you probably won’t? Things that just bring up
too much baggage for you?”

She thought. “Honestly, nothing comes to mind, Lorne. If something
would come up, I’d like to think we’d deal with it together. It’s what
couples do.”

He raised a brow. “Nothing comes to mind? Are you *sure* you’ve talked
about, or are willing to talk about, every single emotional trauma
that’s happened to you in the last thousand years?” He held up a hand,
not giving her a chance to answer. “Forget that. This comes down to one
basic thing, cookie, you’re female. It’s wildly sexist probably but I’m
still gonna say it. The expectations for you emotionally are different
than for men. Angel honestly may never be willing, no let me rephrase
that. He may never be *able* to talk about the Buffy history with you.
He just may not have the capability. It isn’t that he doesn’t trust
you, it isn’t that he doesn’t want to share things with you. It’s just
on this front, he can’t bring it up. He can’t make the words cross
their lips.”

She put her head in her hands and gained control of her emotions.
Looking back at him, but not moving her hands from her face, she said,
“I’m not used to the not discussing things bit. Vin wasn’t a talker
either, but Lorne, at least he talked to *me*. I’m not asking to be
involved in decisions. But just to stay here while he goes off and
then comes back and doesn’t tell me *anything*. It feels a lot like
shutting out. Like she’s always going to have a hold on him. Because
I can almost bet you *she* knows. She knows things I never will. And
she didn’t leave him. She wasn’t going to leave him. He left her.
And I know I’m probably way off base. But I just don’t know how I’m
not supposed to even ask questions about it. How I can just let him go
off and not wonder, not ask? It is his past. But it’s affecting his
present, and that’s what I am.” She paused. “I’m sorry. I didn’t
mean to dump this on you. But at least you aren’t going to yell at me,
call me down, or threaten to attack me with a sword.”

“Course she knows things, Grace.” Lorne pointed out gently but firmly.
“She was *there* for them. She’s the cause of some of them. If you want
to know, talk to Giles. But be careful, and I do mean careful, it’s
Pandora’s box, you open it, you may not like what you find.” He rubbed
her back gently. “It is affecting his present, yes, it’s what helped
make him who he is today. Just like everything you’ve ever done and
experienced, everyone you’ve ever met, has shaped who you are?” He
leaned back for a moment. “Do you think your mother has told you
everything about her past? Do you think she has been completely and
totally up front with you?”

“I know she hasn’t. But Lorne, she’s my mother, not the man I’m
supposed to spend the rest of my life with. She needs to keep her
secrets, fine. But she’s different than Angel. Very different. Look
at it this way… if it’s bad, I’d rather find out from him than from
some evil entity who knows about the secrets and would tell me in order
to exploit it. And stuff like that happens. It happens all the time.”

“Yes, but how is he different from your mother, Grace?” He argued
calmly. “Everything that happened to her affects who she is now and how
she reacts to you, a lot of it went into how you were raised, and there
are Immortals, demons, and all manner of beings out there that can just
pitch up some day and destroy your view of your mother and, believe me,
from everything I understand – your mother’s past makes Angel’s look
like light reading.” He smiled softly, rubbing her back again. “Grace,
it isn’t easy to understand, I know that. But everyone has their
secrets, everyone has the things they just *can’t* discuss and some of
those things, most of them, affect others but they still just *can’t*
discuss them. It just hurts too much or brings up things they need to
leave in the past or risk having them overwhelm them again…I’m going
to suggest something, Grace. Try not to see this as how it affects you,
put yourself in his shoes, in your mother’s shoes. If there are
emotional traumas or past history that you know if you bring it up, it
will hurt the same all over again and possibly leave you worse off than
when you started or it will put you in a position where you could risk
sliding right back into that past all over again. Are you going to
share it anyway because someone declares they have a right to know?”

“Lorne… Jasa is different than Angel to me. Mothers are different
than husbands or lovers. Parents raise their children and the children
move on. Lovers build lives together. There is a big difference. And
I don’t need to know the details to know that she’s the baddest of the
bad. I get enough hints about that.” And of course, he brought out
the butt out Grace topic. “I share my life. Yet everyone around me
says… you have to think about others. You have to let them live
their lives. I guess I’ll just have to learn to be less selfish. I
just want an ours that is all inclusive. If the relationship is strong
enough, it can withstand the past. I have to believe that.”

“It’s not about withstanding the past, Grace!” Lorne responded
forcefully, trying to put the point home. “It’s about whether or not
*Angel* can withstand telling you. Do you think he can? He knows full
well you can handle it, your mother knows full well you can handle it.
What I’m trying to explain is, *they* can’t. Sharing it with you,
bringing it up again, could very well destroy *them*. Tell me this, do
you need to know so badly that you’re willing to inflict that kind of
emotional torment or pain on him?”

“*I* wouldn’t. But I can tell you this… some evil baddie comes up
and throws it in my face exactly what his past is, and I’m forced to
try to get it all in, I won’t react well. And maybe I am looking at it
only from my perspective, and maybe that’s wrong… but I’m scared
Lorne. I’m scared and feel very much on the outside looking in. And I
get called down a lot for wanting to be a part of things. And I just
want to help him because I love him. That’s all.”

“You are a part of things, Peaches, that’s my point.” He pointed out
gently. “You’re fighting so hard to be a part of things when you
already are. Stop struggling and just be. It’s a lot easier on you than
you’d think. Worrying about things that may not happen is just going to
cause you more trouble than it’s worth. It *will* drive a wedge between
you and Angel if you obsess over things that may or may not happen. If
you worry about every part of his past…all you’ll ever do is worry
and when will you find time for your present with him if you’re taking
it up with things that may never come to pass?”

“Never. Cause all we’ll ever do is argue about it. But damnit Lorne,
this past is happening now. He’s totally sticking his nose in Spike
and Buffy’s relationship. Because he’s protecting Spike. But it’s not
going to work. I don’t even know Spike and I know it isn’t going to
work. Then all he’s going to do is drive a wedge between himself and
Buffy because she’s not going to like him sticking his nose in.” She
sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. “Aren’t you going to
threaten me, yell, or just tell me to shut up?”

“Threaten you?” Lorne chuckled. “Gracie, if you hadn’t noticed, you’d
kick my ass. Either that, or try that trick of your mother’s…
Y’know… freezer… my head… no hat.”

She sniffled. “I’d never put your head in a freezer, Lorne. And
compared to most of the people around her, I’m not the ass kicker in
the group. I can list four people who can kick my ass without even
breathing hard. The fifth would be a damn close fight. I’m just me,
Lorne. Me. Someone who will probably never understand things.
Someone who wants what she shouldn’t, pushes when she shouldn’t. And
in a lot of ways, is just lucky to still be here. That’s it really.”

“Four?” He grinned. “I think you’re overestimating that one just a tad,
Gracie. And, everyone is lucky to still be here. No matter why, we’re
all lucky to be here for our own reasons. That’s it for everybody.
We’re lucky.”

“Four. Angel has me in strength and speed. Duncan is the champion.
Mom is the baddest of the bad. Okay, so that’s three, not four. And
yes, Gunn’s going to be a contender in the game.” She sighed. “And
Lorne, I know everyone’s lucky. I know a lot of things I don’t get
credit for.”

“Grace Victoria Hammond,” The demon offered his best stern tone
possible. “You will not descend into the ranks of self pity. You’re
better than that. Stop comparing yourself to others and start worrying
about being the best you there is. Duncan may be a champion and your
mother all show but you’re the reason that vampire gets out of bed in
the morning – night – and don’t you ever forget it. You’ve got your
purposes for being here otherwise you wouldn’t be on this earth, or any
earth, so don’t knock yourself…you’re better than you think.”

Her head fell into her hands again. “Oh God I am doing it, aren’t I?
How pathetic am I?” She inhaled deeply. “I seem to have the corner
market on fear and loathing lately. What a drag?” She ran her hands
along her jeans. “Ok, you’re right. I do have my niche here. And
until I got all weepy, I knew it.” The prophecy. It was always there.
Dark and light joining forces… invincible when joined together.
“Can the first work telepathically? Cause I swear, it would have a lot
to gain by turning Angel and I against one another.”

Impulsively, she hugged the green demon. “Thank you.” She paused. “I
can’t promise that I can let go of this jealousy though. If it’s
really jealousy in it’s true form. But you know what I mean. These
feelings… Buffy… Angel… what they have. I can’t promise to let
go of that, but I won’t throw it up to Angel anymore. Or I’ll try not
to. But can I talk to you… if I need to. I feel rather safe talking
to you. Non-threatened.”

“Well, you can talk to me all you want.” He responded gently. “You know
that. I’m the listener around here. Mr. Advice…and if you can’t
talk… hum a few bars.”

——–

Grace left Lorne and lasted all of an hour before she decided to go
against his advice and seek out Giles. She rationalized that she
wasn’t going behind Angel’s back. If he *couldn’t* tell her, she’d
find someone who could. She paused after finding the Watcher. He was
perusing some books in Wesley’s library. It was a definitely
hesitation. Giles knew. Not only had he been there, he was Buffy’s
Watcher. He *knew* almost every intimate detail.

But did she want to know intimate details? Not really. But something
had happened. Buffy was Angel’s first love. But he didn’t fall apart
when she died. Sure, he’d moved on… but first loves. And then there
was his need to protect Spike. Protect his childe from Buffy. Why?
What had happened?

Did Grace really want to know? Moving forward, she decided she did.
Maybe not details. But she needed something. “Giles,” she said softly
as she entered the library. “Do you have a second?”

Closing the book he’d been reading, the Watcher smiled faintly and
lifted his head. “Of course…is there something I can help you with?”

Most of their interaction heretofore had been playful. Well, more like
Grace trying to ruffle his feathers. There would be no ruffles this
time. “You can, yes. I’m just not sure if you will.” She sat down
and wrapped her arms around her abdomen. “I have questions, and you’re
the only one who may answer them.”

Removing his glasses, he leaned back in his chair, one earpiece finding
its way into his mouth. “The only one who may? I take it you’ve asked
others these questions?”

“Just Angel,” she said, looking at him through her lashes. “He won’t
talk. Lorne says it’s more that he can’t. And I do not condone going
behind someone’s back for information. But there’s a part of me that
*needs* to know something. Right or wrong, I need to know.”

The back history between the couple in question filled Giles’ mind and
he suppressed a frown. He hadn’t known Grace long but he already knew
she was intensely protective of Angel and that her reaction to a lot of
that back story wouldn’t be anything pleasant for either herself or
Buffy. A fact, he suspected, Angel already knew – hence his stubborn
silence on the matter. With a sigh, he leaned forward. “On that point,
Grace, I am inclined to disagree with you. You do not *need* to know –
you have convinced yourself that you do…” He looked sternly at her.
“And I suspect you are aware of that fact.”

“But why? Why don’t I need to know? I’m not asking for explicit
details. I don’t care about those. But why would Angel feel the need
to protect Spike from Buffy? My gut is telling me something went down
bad. All the clues are there.” She sighed. “I know that I’ve not
dealt well with people who’ve hurt Angel in the past. I know that.
But the clues are all dangling in front of me, Giles. They’re right
there.”

“Something did go down between them.” The Watcher affirmed. “But if
they don’t wish to share that with you, or if Angel wishes not to
discuss it, it’s for a reason. The old adage applies here. Ignorance is
bliss. This has never come up before between you has it?”

“He’s never mentioned a need to protect anyone from her before. And
definitely not that emphatically.” She was getting upset again. What
the fuck was so damn important? Oh it isn’t your business, Grace.
We’re doing what’s right for you, Gracie.” She stood rather abruptly.
“Just forget I asked. Jesus, the way everyone’s carrying on she tried
to kill him or something.” That said, she headed out the door.

“She more than tried.” Giles said softly. “She succeeded.”

Grace turned, the look on her face was more than astonished. “She did
what?!” Moving back to the chair, she sat down. It was odd because
everyone would have assumed she would have immediately gone into a
tirade and want to kill Buffy. But she didn’t. “Why?”

“Well, it’s a rather long story but it was because of Angelus’ actions
and she had no choice. Killed him and trapped him in a hell dimension
where he remained until he was inexplicably returned not long before he
left for Los Angeles.”

Holding up her hand, she said, “Angelus.” A visible shudder swept over
her. “The dream I had about him was enough to sustain me for a
lifetime. So, what you’re saying is that Angel wants to warn Spike
because Buffy once killed him when he was Angelus.” She shook her
head. “That doesn’t make sense. Angel would expect to be killed if he
was Angelus. He’s sworn me to do it.” She thought for a long moment.
“There’s something about Buffy herself that he wants to warn Spike
about. Something about the way she is in relationships. This urge
didn’t come up until he found out that they had been sleeping together.
And he admitted he was more concerned about Spike than Buffy.” She
let the wheels of her mind work for a few more moments. “Like I said, I
don’t want details. A simple nod will do. Buffy said or did something
that hurt Angel. My guess is she’s done something like this before as
well. Or maybe it’s just how she is with vampires. Angel still has
feelings for her, so it couldn’t be completely unforgivable. But
something happened… after he came to LA. Things were said and she
went for his ‘jugular’ so to speak. Am I close here?” She held up her
hand. “Just nod.”

“I will not.” Giles responded firmly. “I will say, mistakes were made
on both sides but I will not even so much as *hint* at what those
mistakes are.” His voice gentled and he returned his glasses to his
face. “I know you care about him Grace…and I know you believe that
knowing these things will help…but it won’t.” He paused before
adding. “May I ask you this…is your need to know stronger than your
desire to be in his life? Angel is an intensely private man. Over the
years I have known him, he has worked exceptionally hard to keep things
from us, some of which we eventually found out, more we didn’t. But the
times we…” He looked guilty. “The times we took roundabout ways of
finding things out…he was hurt by it. Even if it was Buffy…pushing
this issue…it could be disastrous.”

“Giles, for love and money, I can’t make one single person understand
my point of view. I’m wrong. In situations such as these, I’m always
wrong. It gets beaten into me more than I can say. But I think I’m old
enough to know a couple things. I’ve had extremely successful
relationships with men who were intensely private. And I told you I
didn’t want details. I can’t help how I am. Angel knows how I am.
I’ve been this way for over 1000 years… believe it or not. The
questions… the things I see adding up… they aren’t going to go away
just because you, Mom, or Lorne say they should. I will eventually put
pieces of the puzzle together. I don’t want it to be the wrong one.”
She sighed. “And yes, I know how Angel is. I know how he guards his
past. But I’m not going to go off the wall and try to rip Buffy’s head
off. I’m not going to stop caring for him because he mistreated her.
And as far as I’m concerned, this conversation never happened.”

He frowned. “Grace…I’m going to ask you to divorce yourself from your
own issues for a moment and consider what I’m saying….this is not a
situation that right and wrong even applies. Yes, you have every right
in all the worlds to be curious…but Angel has also every right in the
world not to tell you and, considering the past, I can certainly see
where you would go off the wall and attack Buffy. Things were rarely,
if ever, just simple hurt between them. Things have never been that
easy. It was always a massive hurt or nothing and if I were to even
*hint* at what that means, you would no doubt figure everything out
and, I can assure you, your first instinct would not be to attack Angel
for his part in things…however, Buffy is another matter entirely. You
barely know her, have little emotional attachment to her, it would be
unsurprising where she to become a target for your reactions…”

She didn’t say anything for several long moments. Finally, she stood.
Her composure was very control, almost stiff. But she managed to give
him a nod. “Ok. Well, thank you. I’m sorry to have put you in the
middle of this. Sorry to have taken you away from your studies and
more than anything, I appreciate your candor. At least you offered an
explanation.” Inhaling deeply, she turned and started to leave. “Thank
you for your time.”

That said, she left the library. What she really wanted now was a good
stiff drunk. What she wanted to do was grab Duncan and see which
Immortal got drunk under the table before… like the good ole days
when she, Connor, and Duncan would find a pub and see if they could
drink the tavern owner out of scotch. But no doubt Duncan was busy and
Connor was not in LA, so she settled. They had scotch in the kitchen.
She had a lot to think about and wanted to be loose to do it.

“Grace…” A soft drawl interrupted her thoughts as Fred entered the
kitchen. “Somethin’ wrong…” Seeing the bottle in her friend’s hand,
she got the hint something was and grabbed a glass. “Pour me up some
too please.”

Grace shrugged. “Sure.” Her find had revealed far more than one
bottle of scotch. Pouring a shot for Fred and one for herself, she sat
down at the kitchen table. “Here’s to secrets, Fred. And to those who
*really* need to keep them.” She touched her glass to Fred’s before
downing hers.

The mortal girl had a sneaking suspicion this had something to do with
Angel, he was a master of them, but she chose not to make mention of
it. “To secrets then…”

Grace had her glass filled again and offered more to Fred. “Your turn.
What do you want to drink to?” She downed that one and filled it again
while she waited. “Sorry, I have to drink rather quickly. Immortal
constitution and all. So what do we drink to?”

“Gunn riskin’ his neck.” Fred responded, lifting her glass. “And bein’
in Sunnydale without me.”

“To Gunn.” She downed her drink and reached out for Fred’s hand. “I’m
sorry about that, hon.” Another drink. “I’m really, really sorry.
You should be with him.” Another drink. “I know what it’s like. But
you know, he’s missing you too. You should call him. Have a bit of
phone sex. That’s thrilling in a whole new way.” She poured another
shot for both of them. “How about we drink this one to all the heroes
we live with? To each of those guys who risk life and limb for the
helpless.”

“To the morons.” The other girl agreed, downing her drink in one
swallow and hissing in reaction. “More.”

Grace smiled. Fred was definitely full of surprises. Filling her
glass, Grace said, “Morons… I like that. I like it a lot. Morons
who don’t know what the hell they have right in front of them.”

“Oh, and maybe we should toast that uber-do-flickey goin’ down like a
ton o’bricks!”

“Down with vamps,” Grace said, took a drink, filled it and then
laughed. “Oops, I meant ‘Down with Ubervamps’.” She said, drinking
again and filling Fred’s. “Oh, oh! And we can’t forget that lovely,
lovely thing called The Past. We have to drink to that!”

“There’s that too.” Her friend finished off her drink. “Though…if
people keep pickin’ at it and pullin’ it into the present, why’d they
call it the past if it’s not, y’know? Makes *no* sense…”

Grace didn’t respond, just took a long pull out of the bottle. “Well,
welcome to my world, Fred.” She stood and went to get the other bottle
of scotch. Taking another long pull from the already open bottle,
finishing it off. “I’m the queen of pick. Pick, pick, pick, pick,
pick. It’s what I do. I threaten the present by picking at the past.”
She fell back into the chair. Pouring some more for her friend, she
took another swig. “And I make no sense. It’s my secret weapon.”

“Weapon against what?” Fred questioned lazily, holding the glass up and
watching the light play through the liquor.

Grace looked at her quizzically for a moment. “Huh?” Another long
swig and she drained the bottle. Opening the other, she took a long
pull. “Oh yeah… weapon.” Her speech was slowing. This was nice.
“For pushing people away. Works like a swarm.” She waved her hand and
laughed. Another drink. “A charm. I meant a charm.”

“Thought so.” Her young friend slurred. “Why do it, though? Huh? If
it’s just gonna schrew shtuff up…sheems to me, it’d be eashier
t’forget it.”

Grace shook her head, made herself extremely dizzy, and took a drink
for the hell of it. “Caush… ish th’ wa’ I ish.” Another drink.
“Don’t know wha. I needtah no’. Belief me. Not known ish worse. Just
digs. Digs. Digs. Digs.” She shrugged. “Don know whysh they so damn
fucking impotent anywaysh.”

Fred watched her friend go face first on the table. “Ah damn…” She
muttered, getting up. “I should prolly get somebody…” and with that,
she stumbled out of the room. Running into Duncan along the way, she
mumbled something about Grace and kitchen which led the younger
Immortal in search of his friend.

What he found was, at least to him, very funny.

Standing there, looking at her, he chuckled. “Oh Grace…you’ve made a
fine mess of things here.”

She heard the voice and turned to look at him. “Your fault.
Fashe-suckin’ with Thordy all the time. Donn’a get plas… plas…
drunk. Noth mosh.” Planting her bottle on the table, she used it to
try to help herself up. Failing that, she tilted in and lapped at the
liquid as it poured out.

Duncan knocked the bottle away. “Have some dignity, woman.” He
muttered, pulling her to her feet. “Any o’ them girls see you like this
and what kind of protection will y’be then? None. You know better than
this…gettin’ drunk when there’s someone on the hunt…you’re lucky it
was me that walked through that door.”

“Oh pooh,” she laughed, tapping his cheek with her free hand. “They
hash championsh. You, Angel… lotsh of heroesh. Lighten up.” Her
head fell on his shoulder. “Ish day anywhoo. Ringersh don’t come in
the day.” She stumbled as they reached the stairs. “Besidesh, won’t
last long anywhoo.”

“Just long enough to destroy what little self-respect you have left.”
The other Immortal grumbled.

She sighed. “You dinna used to be such a stick.” She about fell and
was thankful that he caught her. “In the good ol’ days, you used tah
drink meh under the table. Me and Connor both.” Her speech was
clearing. What she wouldn’t give for more scotch to stop reality from
invading once again!

“Aye…right up til I damn near lost my head after gettin’ drunk around
the wrong Immortal. Immortals or no, here, Grace, you know you can’t
let your guard down. You can’t let personal issues crowd out your
responsibilities.”

She pushed at him, though it really had no affect. “I’ve had it up to
here with response… responsibilities.” She made a gesture to show
just how fed up she was. In pushing him, she lost her balance and
ended up having to hold on. “I can’t take it. I can’t do it.” Her
voice grew soft and she started to cry. “It hurts, Dunkie.”

“It always does, Gracie.” He responded gently. “But that’s why we look
forward to the other side of life…if we didn’t have the
responsibilities… and the pains…we wouldn’t know what great things
we’ve been given…in love and family.”

She leaned on him heavily. They argued and carried on quite a bit.
They teased each other profusely. But she wasn’t surprised to find
that he was the one who came for her. Arm around his waist more for
emotional support now than anything, she continued to cry, “I’ve messed
that up too though. All of it.”

“You haven’t messed it up…not yet.” Having some idea of what she’d
been up to, Duncan sighed. “But, Grace, in a thousand years…haven’t
you ever learned some things are best left alone?”

She shook her head. “Never. I’m more stubborn than a clan full of
MacLeods when it comes to that.” She tried not to sob. And she did a
good job of holding it back as she said, “I can’t lose him, Duncan.
But I can’t understand why secrets have to be kept. I don’t keep
secrets.”

“In this case, it about secrets.” He responded firmly. “It’s about
someone being unwilling to talk about a painful period in his life.
That isn’t secrecy Grace…it’s privacy.” He swallowed heavily,
remembering things he himself was unwilling to discuss. “If we don’t
have our right to privacy…what do we have?”

“And what about when that right to privacy comes up and smacks you full
in the face? Huh? And don’t you dare stand there and tell me it
doesn’t happen. You, of all people, know it does. You would have
killed Methos over his privacy. That was a painful period in his life.
And when it came out in the open, you sure as hell was screaming at
him because he didn’t tell you.”

“I know I did.” Duncan agreed, his voice heavy with regret. “And,
looking back, I was wrong.” The admission was not an easy one to make
but if a friend could benefit from his thoughts…then he wanted to
share them. “It took a long time for our friendship to get back to
where it should be…” He sighed. “In fact, there are days I doubt it
is. That kind of damage…it’s hard to get over.”

She leaned on him for several more moments. “It hurts, Duncan.
Whether it’s his right or not, it hurts. That for whatever reason he
can’t or won’t share with me… it hurts more than I can say. I’ve
done bad things. You and I both know there are things in my past that
are best left there, but I’d share with him. Some things I’d only
share with him. And to know he can’t do that in return. I’m supposed
to be safe haven for him. And it hurts him too much to open up to me
completely.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Please don’t lecture
me about thinking of him. I do think of him. And for whatever the
reason, he’s afraid, he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t want to open up to
me. Right or wrong, that hurts.”

He sighed again. “You have a right to your feelings Grace, but
incessantly pursuing it isn’t going to help matters…” Running a hand
over her hair, he added. “It’s self-destructive, you know that. Is it
fear of having something so permanent in your life…you have to latch
onto something that might destroy it and push as hard as you can?”

She looked up at him, her eyes filled with tears. But it wasn’t from
the alcohol. She was actually sober now. “I don’t know,” she answered
honestly. “I’ve never been the jealous type. My appeal has always
been one of my greatest confidences. But I’m very jealous of her…
them… what they had and still have.” She almost lost her footing as
a certain realization slammed into her gut. “Oh God,” she cried,
“could I be? Pushing him so I don’t get pushed? Oh God Duncan, is that
what I’m doing?”

“I can’t answer that.” He said quietly. “That’s for you to decide…you
to consider. Only you truly know at the end of the day, Grace. Only
you.”

She had to sit down before she fell down. She was thankful they’d made
it to the room. And even though he’d helped her to a chair, she wasn’t
ready to let him go. “But I don’t know.” She looked at him and cried,
“I don’t know.” Suddenly though, she didn’t need to know Angel’s past
so much as she needed to know why it motivated her so. “He’ll always
love her. There are places she’ll hold that I’ll never get to. How do
I deal with that?”

“By remembering she’ll never get a hold on anything else. He’s moved
on, he’s past her, she’s history, you’re his present, his future, and
everything to him. You seem like you’re trying to make a threat out of
someone who isn’t a threat at all.”

“It’s what I do where he’s concerned. I don’t know why what I have
isn’t necessarily enough. Or why the jealousy eats at me. I’m not a
jealous person, Duncan. I never have been. You’ve known me since you
turned Immortal. You know this isn’t my standard. I don’t act this
way. I don’t! And yet here I am, doing everything I know I shouldn’t.
Pushing when I shouldn’t. Needing to know, when it’s obvious he thinks
I have no right. Something is wrong with me.” She took his hand and
squeezed it. “I will tell him everything.” Looking into his eyes, she
reiterated, “Everything. I’ve never had anyone I’ve felt that sure
with. And to not get it in return is playing on insecurities I didn’t
know I had and I don’t know how to deal with it.”

“Grace…have you considered the fact it isn’t that he doesn’t want to
share it with you…but that he may believe he’s protecting you, and
your relationship, by leaving all things related to Buffy *out* of it?”

She shrugged, honestly not knowing the answer to that question. “How
can she be out of it, Duncan? She’s around, all the time. Situations
come up and we have to help her. But something is said and everyone
shares knowing looks and I’m left to look around like I don’t have a
clue. Because I don’t. There’s innuendo, and veiled conversations.
And this protects me? It makes me feel like an outsider. I’m not used
to that. That, like the rest of this relationship, is all new to me.
How do I deal with that and not ask questions? How?”

“Ignorance is bliss, Grace.” Duncan noted softly. “You’re not an
outsider until you make yourself one. There may be things that
shouldn’t be shared… for everyone’s benefit, yours included. You seem
as though you’re intent on self-destructing no matter if he tells you
or not, so what is he to do?”

“Leave me. Before I can hurt him. I don’t know!!!! I can’t even
figure out what I’m supposed to do.” She was starting to get a
headache. It happened after a quick drunk followed by a lot of stress.
“I can’t talk to him about this. He’ll take it all into himself and
brood. I don’t know where that leaves us.”

“Perhaps…with you learning to let go.” Her friend suggested softly.
“You treat everything in your life, Gracie, like a battle, like you
have to fight to win. There are some things that just can’t be fought.
Ghosts is one of them. You’re making a battle out of nothing and, deep
down, you know that.”

She looked up at him, her hand landing on his cheek. “Speaking from
experience, are you?” Her hand moved to his chest and her head rested
on his shoulder. “I thought everything was a battle.” She chuckled
and then sniffled. “Letting go, huh? Is that like trusting?”

He smiled, stroking her hair, and nodded. “Yes, it’s very much like
trusting…in this case, trusting Angel has good reasons for keeping
his silence. Trusting him to do the right thing for you both.”

“It won’t be easy. And you know I’ll react much the same way you do if
it ever comes to me from another source. I trust in the fact that
there’s nothing we couldn’t get through if we’re upfront and honest.
He needs his secrets… he needs parts of his life that I’m not in…
I’ll accept it because I have to. And accepting doesn’t mean it
doesn’t hurt. It always will.”

“Grace…” Duncan sighed. “Are you listening to yourself? He *needs*
his secrets? He *needs* parts of his life that you’re not in?” He shook
his head. “You really aren’t getting this are you….it’s not about
keeping it from you, keeping you *out*…It’s trying to move on and, in
his way, protect you. Imagine if he did tell you, can you say you
*wouldn’t*, not even a little bit, compare your life with him to his
life with her? You’re doing it *now* and you don’t even know what
you’re comparing…if he did tell you, for better or worse, can you say
you wouldn’t do it all the more?”

“It’s not stopping me from doing it any less.” She waved her hand and
sat up. “And I’m not sure how he’s moving on. He’s already got a long
line of lectures set out for Buffy and Spike once we get back into
Sunnydale. That’s not moving on to me.” She sighed again. “But at
least I know why I’m doing it, Duncan. And you can’t expect me to
change overnight. I’m Immortal. Change isn’t easy.”

He chuckled. “Don’t remind me…” He had the grace to look abashed. “As
you’re well aware, I have my moments. I can’t tell you how many times
Cordelia’s threatened to make me sleep on the couch downstairs.”

“Veiled threats, Dunkie. You’re too good at the sex stuff to get put
on any couch.” She looked down at her hands. “I just feel like I
could well and truly lose him. No matter how good the sex is. This
could tear us apart. And if I tell him I’m reacting out of jealousy…
can you imagine?”

“Yes…he’d think you were human.” Duncan smiled at her. “It’s ok to
have faults Grace…even more ok to admit them.”

“Yeah.” She looked up at him. Her eyes were bloodshot with crying and
alcohol. “I’m a talker. You’re a talker. We have this need for
complete honesty… no matter the cost. I’m in love with someone who
stays silent no matter the cost. You know, I’ll admit everything if I
start admitting. He’s not going to be happy.”

“He might not be…” Her friend agreed. “But he will forgive any
mistakes you do make…he loves you too much not to.”

“I don’t think I deserve him.” She stood, bringing him with her.
Hugging him, she said, “I can’t tell you how thankful I am it was you
who found me. I may not ever say it, but I do love you.” She gave him
a squeeze and then pulled away. “I think I’m going to take a long, hot
bath.” Inhaling deeply, she said, “If you see Angel, send him my way,
please?”

“Will do.” He agreed. “And…Grace? It isn’t about deserving…” Duncan
responded. “It’s about blessings.” “Then I’ve been blessed,” she said,
blowing him a kiss before entering the bathroom. She had a lot to
think over. She wasn’t the jealous type. Never had been. And yet,
here she was. Jealous of a mortal who was in her early twenties. She
felt silly, but yet again, relieved that she had realized it. She owed
Duncan. Damn!

—–

Wearily, Angel walked into the suite he shared with Grace and flopped
down beside her on the bed. “I actually miss, Faith,” He muttered
dryly. “Those girls…I’ll take screwed up angst over teenagers
giggling and trying to find a dagger that matches their outfit.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him. “That bad, huh? Sorry I wasn’t
much help with that. I’ll baby-sit potentials tomorrow. You take the
day off.” She looked at his face. So much ran through her mind. As
she bathed earlier, she’d decided she was going to tell him. Now,
after hearing how drained he was, she couldn’t do it. But she had to.
Not telling him would be like lying. “I think you need some time off.”

He rolled over to smile at her lazily. “Just so long as it involves a
bubble bath with my favorite bath toy.”

That smile. God help her! “There’s nothing I’d like more.” Leaning
forward, she pressed her forehead to his and sighed. She wasn’t sure
how much longer she’d be his favorite toy though. Losing him would kill
her. Not telling would be lying. She had to repeat that because
otherwise she’d lose her nerve.

“Whatever it is,” He murmured softly, touching her cheek. “You can tell
me you know…”

Her eyes drifted closed. “I don’t know about that. I’ve said that
same thing a hundred times…” She pulled away just a bit. She
supposed she should at least see the look on his face when she told
him. Inhaling deeply, she said, “I’m hoping it’s true though… we can
tell each other anything. You aren’t going to like what I have to
say.”

“I know.” Angel smiled faintly. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be so hesitant
to tell me.”

“I’ve been busy since we got back from Sunnydale and had our little
chat, for lack of a better word. I wasn’t going to tell you. I swore
everyone else to secrecy. But at the end of the day, I can’t keep
anything from you. Maybe that’s my curse, I don’t know. But I can’t
not tell you.” She inhaled and said, “Just please, hear me out
completely before you storm out that door, okay?”

His face grew serious and he reached out to take one hand in his,
curling his fingers about hers. “Ok.”

“I had a talk with Lorne. About this problem I’ve created between us.
My need to share everything vs. your need to not.” She squeezed his
hand. “About the only headway we made was me making up my mind to do
something really, really stupid.”

Angel groaned in anticipation. “Grace….”

She rolled onto her back. She was the confessor, but maybe looking at
him wasn’t the best idea at the moment. Swallowing hard, she said, “I
talked to Giles.” Thinking it best just to get all that out, she said,
“Don’t worry though, he didn’t tell me anything. And I didn’t ask him
for specifics necessarily. But I’ve got all these ideas running
through my head. All they were doing was making me miserable and I
thought, I believed that if I could just make them make sense, it would
help. All I got was yelled at. And I left knowing less and feeling
worse than I had before I walked in there.”

“Giles yelled at you?!” Forgetting what she was saying, he stared at
her in shock. “Giles?!”

“In as much as he yells, yes. I told you I was doing things that even
he thought I shouldn’t be. And if you can raise your voice to me over
it, what makes you think he wouldn’t.”

The gentle rebuke hit its mark and Angel fell silent, contemplating.
“I’m sorry, please…continue.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just really, really nervous… upset… angry with
myself. He did tell me things. Nothing actually that I hadn’t deduced.
When I pressed for more, he told me to mind my own business. So I
walked out on him.” She sighed. “You see, from my point of view, our
business is one and the same. But from yours, it isn’t. And I didn’t
understand that… or why I needed to know so desperately until I got
drunk. Very, very drunk.”

Angel remained silent, absorbing information, and fighting the inner
conflict for the thousandth time. What was better? To tell her or to
leave her in silence? He’d debated it so many times. He’d imagined
telling her so many times. It never ended well in his mind. He knew it
probably would bring nothing but grief but there was no way to explain
this to her. She would not hear it. And therein lay his conflict. Tell
her and let her see for herself what pain it would cause, or remain
silence and watch her pull further and further away.

She couldn’t hide her emotion. What would he think of her realization?
There was no way she could ever convince him that she would rather
know… that not knowing for her was worse. So she let it go… what
choice did she have?

“I got drunk. Fred got drunk with me. But it didn’t help. Not even
passing out face first on the table.” She sighed. “But believe it or
not, something’s come out of it. I’m just not sure about your
reaction.” Another long pause. “Duncan brought me up here, and we
talked… one hopelessly honest person to the next.” She rolled over
to look at him. “He actually went through something like this
himself… with Methos. Methos had a big, dark secret. Mac found out
from someone who wanted to drive a wedge between them. To split up the
two most powerful Immortals…” She paused again. “Anyway, it worked.
And Mac explained to me that he wished he’d never learned. That maybe
I should learn from that. And then he asked me the one question
everyone else was afraid to ask.”

“Why?” Angel prompted gently, forcing himself to speak.

She had to look at him. She owed him that much. “He asked me if I why
I needed to know about it. He asked me why the drive to know about you
and Buffy.” She couldn’t stop the tears now. She wasn’t sobbing; it
was more of a soft cry. Inhaling deeply, she said, “I’m not good at
this. I’ve never dealt with it in my entire life.” Her voice dropped
to a whisper. “I’m jealous of what you had. I’m insecure. It’s no
fault of anyone’s but my own. I’m just not sure how to process any of
it.”

“The events…What went on…” He shook his head. “It’s irrelevant.
Whatever Buffy and I were, it was flawed and we couldn’t see it, we
wouldn’t let ourselves see it. But we do now, I do now, it was and it
will never be again. What you and I have…what we are….it’s
different than Buffy and me. It’s, in a lot of ways, better. There are
no illusions. No false expectations…just us.”

She had to squash the instant reaction to ask him questions. It was
part of the promise she made to herself. “I get scared,” she admitted.
“I’ve loved… deeply. I’ve lost. But I was able to move on. This,
what I have with you, I’m afraid of losing it.” She took his hand
again. “And when this stuff comes up, when things happen that aren’t
my business, it goes right to the heart of my fear. Losing you. I
couldn’t stand it. And like Duncan ever so gently reminded me, by
demanding to know, I was pushing. Pushing you away because I was
terrified that it was going to happen anyway.” She swallowed hard,
trying to not have her voice shake. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t
even realize…”

“It’s all right, Grace.” He said after a moment’s thought. “You didn’t
realize and, there are days, I can’t blame you. My silence has to be
infuriating.”

“My imagination is a tremendous force to deal with. If you talk to
Giles about this, I’m sure he’ll agree. Are you upset with me? It’s
okay if you are. You told me it wasn’t my business, and I pried
anyway… talked to people behind your back. If it weren’t for Duncan,
God only knows the lengths I would have went to find out.” That was a
rough admission, but every bit as necessary as everything else.

“It’s not that it’s not your business.” Angel repeated the oft said
words. “It’s better that you don’t know…it really is.”

Again, no prying… though she *really* wanted to ask why. All she
could do was nod. “Okay.” She sighed. Well, he was still here with
her, still talking to her. That was something.

He looked at her. “It’s ok to be angry at me…I know you want to
know…” He looked at the wall. “I’ve thought it over every way I
can…no matter how I imagine telling you all of it….it never ends
well. I’m probably wrong but I can’t help thinking this is the best way
to handle it.”

“I’m not angry,” she said. “I’m really not. We’re different you and
I. And in this area, I *have* to be the one to accept. I know you’re
doing what you think is best. But it doesn’t stop me from wondering,
guessing, drawing my own conclusions. I can’t fight my nature that
much. All I can do is promise not to pry and to trust you. And I do
trust you implicitly. But I needed you to know where this is coming
from and why I was acting the way I did… am.”

“I do know.” He responded softly. “And I do hope you understand…
someday, I may be able to tell you…but for now…I don’t think I
can.”

She shrugged. “I don’t understand. Again, I can’t lie and say I do.
You’re leaving me the only thing I can do which is make up my own story
from bits and pieces. I wish you felt comfortable talking to me. I
wish for that more than just about anything. And maybe, in time, you
will. I can only hope.”

“Grace…” Angel met her gaze. “It isn’t about comfort. It’s about me
knowing what your reactions would be and wanting to avoid them
happening.”

That probably wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear. He wasn’t
telling her because of her own actions. “Well that just added a lot
for my mind to make up.” She held up her hands. “Ok, so maybe someday
I’ll be able to handle it.” She sighed. “I’m just very tired, very
confused, and a whole lot of other emotions all jumbled into one.”

“I’m not helping much either.” He noted wryly. “I never was good at
explaining things…anything.”

“No, your explanations are fine. I don’t like them, that’s all. The
massive emotional state comes from what I have been going through and
then knowing that something happened in your past with Buffy that, if
you told me, would possibly make me want to go wage war. And all I can
do is make up scenarios in my head.” She rolled over to face him.
“Listen. I push and push at this because I’m terrified of the results
if I don’t know, now I’m terrified about what will happen if I do.”
Her eyes met his and she all but pleaded with him for help. “What am I
supposed to do? Tell me, and I will.”

“I don’t know what to do.” He shook his head. “Believe me, Grace, if I
did, I wouldn’t be arguing with myself daily over this. Watching you go
through this wouldn’t be killing me, I’d end it and that’d be that. But
I don’t know. I try and explain, I try to find the right words…but I
can’t. Every time I think I have, something new is there and I’m back
at the beginning all over again.”

She closed her eyes. “I can’t change how I feel about you. I can’t
change that it bothers me when people hurt you. But the situation with
Gunn, it happened here and now. I had to see it happening.” She
sighed. “And I was wrong. Well and truly wrong. But Gunn and I, we
worked it out. And honestly, that’s all I can say in defense of my
actions.”

“You don’t need to defend your actions…” He responded. “You never
need to defend them to me, you know that. The last thing I want is you
feeling like you should be defensive with me. I’m the last person who
should be judging anyone else.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I didn’t think I was defending. I’m
not good at this. To realize I’m jealous. Like you’re the only one
I’ve ever cared about losing.” There was another, but Angel had no
reason to be jealous of a dead man. “The past isn’t important. I
mean, it is to you because you lived it and you feel the need to stop
it from repeating itself with your childe.” She sighed. “Shit, forget
I said that.” She was trying. “I don’t know what I mean. I mean, I
know what I’m thinking, but putting it into words… I don’t know.”

“Buffy has serious issues….” Angel clarified. “Her relationships
never go well…any of them. And Spike’s just learning how to…how to
deal with everything, he’s fighting his way back from being a
monster… he doesn’t need the emotional baggage she’s carrying
around.”

“With the responsibility Buffy has to carry, Angel, it’s only natural
that the girl would have issues. She couldn’t be allowed to have an
adolescence that taught her how to handle relationships.” It kind of
surprised her that she was defending Buffy. “In this era, teenagers
are supposed to have crushes and puppy loves that don’t work out. You
get your feelings stepped on and it destroys you. Her first boyfriend
was a vampire with a soul who was over 200 years old. Not that I’m
saying any of this is your fault. And if you try to shoulder all the
guilt, we’re sparring. I’m just saying I can understand emotional
baggage. I had it too.”

“Her issues didn’t originate with being the Slayer, Grace.” He
responded quietly. “They were already firmly entrenched. Being the
Slayer is one of the few things she has that she’s clear on.” He
chuckled. “Though, she’s not really *the* Slayer anymore but that’s
irrelevant.” He rested his head on his arm. “And, I wasn’t her first
boyfriend…some guy in L.A…Pike somethin’…Maybe. She doesn’t talk
much about before Sunnydale.”

“You’re kidding. The way Willow talked, you were her first boyfriend.
So, she’s emotionally troubled… mistreats those she loves because of
it?” She wanted to turn to him. To curl up beside him. “You don’t
have to tell me anything. Ok.”

“Not exactly mistreats,” Angel leaned closer to her. “She just
inevitably self-destructs the relationships she’s in….without even
realizing that’s what her actions are doing…of course…but it’s the
same end result. Me, Riley…not counting the dates she’s nearly gotten
killed.”

She gave into the desire and turned to face him. She shrugged. “The
way I was going, I was going to self-destruct too.” She put her hand
on his chest. “Answer me this, do you honestly think that telling
Spike any of this is going to change what he does? You two don’t
actually have the best history.”

He laughed. “That’s butting it nicely…but, no, we don’t. And, no, it
probably won’t. He needs to make his own mistakes but, as they say,
forewarned is forearmed, hopefully, he’ll see it coming ahead of time
and it won’t be as shocking…I hope.”

“What kind of deja vu you must have been going through these past
couple days?! Me, on my very path to annihilation.” She sighed. “I
don’t know what drives me. Maybe because of all you’ve gone through, I
want to right every wrong. Hold you so it doesn’t hurt.” She laughed
before looking at him seriously. “Of course, in the process, I end up
hurting you.” Resting her forehead on his shoulder, she said, “How
about this? Other than what little I already know, some pretty
horrible things happened between you and Buffy. She said things, you
defended and then perhaps said things. You regretted; she probably
didn’t. You drifted apart, but somehow knew no matter how bad it got,
you’d be drawn to at least help and protect her. When she first moved
on, probably with this Riley guy, it hurt. You hated it, maybe even
told her, and you most definitely didn’t like him.” She touched his
shoulder. “I know you. How am I doing so far?”

“Not bad.” He allowed. “There was a lot more to it than that…and
yeah, they were pretty horrible.”

She sighed. “Angel, I don’t need to know everything about it. Lord
knows if I tried to sit down and tell you every detail about my past,
we’d been here for another millennia.” She snuggled in next to him and
sighed. “And although I don’t plan on letting go of you for at least
that, if not an eternity more, I’d rather discuss something more than
our pasts.”

She wasn’t sure why she was saying this. Mostly, she knew he didn’t
want to talk about it. And Duncan was right; she had to quit pushing
or she’d push him right away.

“Good idea.” He agreed with a yawn. “Maybe how we’re going to get rid
of the Bringers…good fight or something a little more…subtle?”

“I think Mom and Willow will be the key to that. Basically, we just
have to wait around for Buffy to kill the Ubervamp. Then our guests
can go back home. Our lives can go back to normal, and you can stop
worrying about daggers and matching lipstick.”

Angel gave an exaggerated groan. “Don’t remind me…If it wasn’t for
the promising not to get them killed, I’d send them out to play in
traffic.”

“You would not. Oh, you’d consider it. But you feel as obligated to
protect them as I do. Even more so because at least you weren’t
enraging everyone around you and then getting passed out drunk in the
kitchen with someone who couldn’t hold nearly as much liquor as you.
So actually, you’ve done far more today than I. Tomorrow, you relax
and I’ll baby-sit.”

“You spoil me.” Her lover teased playfully, letting his eyes half-droop
shut. “Throw in a bath tomorrow night and you’ve got a deal.”

Wrapping her arms around him and letting his physical presence lull her
into a secure sleep, she said, “You have a deal. You may even get
dinner if you’re really nice.”

“With appetizer sex and everything?” He murmured back with a lazy yawn.

“I didn’t say anything about sex,” she teased. “But since you put it
so nicely…” she paused, and snuggled in. “Ok.”

“Great…” Angel pulled her closer. “Sex, munchies, and bath with
you… what more could a guy want?”

“Not much from what I’ve learned over the years. You’ll be as relaxed
as a hypnotic patient by the time I’m through with you.” She let her
eyes fall closed. “Love you,” was the last thing she said before
falling asleep.

*-*-*

Jasa surveyed the ingredients for their spells and chuckled ruefully.
“It seems to me we must have bought out every single magic shop in
L.A.”

“Well sure,” Willow agreed. “When fighting the First,” her voice
dipped a bit lower, “or actually those icky non-seeing Bringers, one
needs all the magic help one can get.”

“All things considered,” Her friend responded with a lazy yawn. “we
seem to have more magical help than most anyone else…”

“Oh no,” Willow enthusiastically responded. “These Bringers, they,
well, they come from no where. They’re like a swarm. A big nasty
swarm of locusts. Cause that’s what they remind me of. Bugs.” She
fiddled with some of her ingredients and then looked at the Immortal.
“I did a spell on Buffy’s house, but I couldn’t contain them all. They
got in anyway. So, I’m voting for all the help I can get. Including
you. You’ll chant with me.” After a short pause and a quizzical look,
she asked, “Right?”

“Right.” Jasa promised, patting the girl’s shoulder. “And like
bugs…hmm…” She offered an amused smile. “Perhaps, that’s exactly
how we should treat them…rig up magical bug zappers and load the
place down with ‘repellant’ of a sort.”

“Ha!” Willow responded with a smile. “That would be so cool. Big
spray cans that would just zap!” She laughed. “Although, we could
engulf part of the hotel with a barrier. When they ran into it,” she
waggled her brows… “Zap!”

The Egyptian grinned wickedly. “I do like how you think.” She agreed.
“Hmm… let us get working on our zappers then.” She decided, reaching
for a thick tome. “I’m sure, with all the information we have at our
disposal, the ingredients for just such a device are there for the
taking, we just need to find them.”

“Oooooo, I so like how you think.” Willow grabbed a book herself and
leaned back in her chair. She liked this Immortal. Really liked her.
‘Focus, Willow,’ she said to herself. Kennedy would be most
displeased.

“Well,” Jasa teased lightly. “We seem to enjoy each other’s thought
processes… always a bonus when casting joint spells.” She nipped at
her lower lip, considering a page. “Hmm…that may be useful.” She
grabbed a notepad and scribbled down some information. “Cobbling
together a trap shouldn’t be too difficult and it will take the
pressure of us both,” She added ruefully. “I’m a little out of practice
I suspect.”

Willow sighed. “And I’ve had far too much. You know, destroying the
world and all. Man, that drains you.” She said nothing else, merely
turned back to her work. “Oh here’s a fire spell.” She sat up and
then leaned back again. “It only works on vampires. I don’t think
killing those is our goal here.” She laughed once, and rather loudly.
“Sorry,” she said.

Grinning, the ancient sorceress patted the girl’s shoulder. “I must
agree… poor Angel wouldn’t be too thrilled if he were reduced to a
pile of ashes… and I think I would have a great deal of trouble
explaining to my daughter how the love of her life ended up in a dust
buster.” She winked. “Though, we may be able to incorporate aspects of
the spell…no one ever said we couldn’t improvise.”

Willow laughed. “A dust buster.” She looked around. “Your sense of
humor isn’t truly appreciated, is it?” Not waiting for an answer, she
said, “Ok, I think what we can do is take the aspect of the flame
defense but adjust it for Bringers.” She thought for a moment. “Oh
shoot. I think to do that we have to have Bringer DNA or whatever.
Something all scientific like that anyway.”

“Hmm…” Jasa looked thoughtful. “We may already have that. Both Grace
and I used our swords against them in Sunnydale…if either of us
managed to get a little Bringer blood or – whatever it is they have
instead of blood – what have you, we may still have traces on our
swords…” She looked a little abashed. “I confess, I haven’t had time
to clean it since I got back so the chances are good.”

“Oh, great, fantastic. We should go get it.” She paused. “Or maybe
you should and I can get started on this portion of the spell. There’s
just a bit to rewrite.” She turned to her notepad and then jumped.
“Oh wait. The canopy… around the hotel… how do we section it off.
We can’t do the entire hotel… can we?”

“It would be a stretch…” The elder woman agreed, resting her chin in
her palm. “But, if Giles helps, we might be able to manage it…and
that is a might. I’m not quite sure…”

Her hands began moving very fast and her face almost lit up completely.
“Jasa! A triangle. We could set up a triangle. We did it at
Sunnydale when all these really weird things started to happen. I
mean, weird was normal actually. But really weird. Snakes in the
cafeteria… floor turning to goo. That was WAY up there on the
weird-o-meter. Anyway, we set up this triangle… and it encompassed
the entire school. And that was with only me who knew magic. If three
of us did…” She didn’t finish, just waggled her brows.

Jasa burst into laughter. “Willow, darling, were anyone of the male
persuasion to walk in at this moment, they’d think you were
propositioning me.”

“Hey,” she said, sounding offended. “I didn’t always dig chicks.” She
whispered. “I used to be straight. But we don’t talk about that.”
She smiled.

The Egyptian laughed. “Oh, I’ve never bothered with a label for
sexuality. Silly little things, that.” She leaned over and confided
with much amusement. “Mortals worry about such things…but, in truth?
Live a few centuries with just the opposite sex for amusement? You get
bored with the monotony…”

“I don’t have centuries, Jasa. So I’m packing as much into a few
decades as I can,” she smiled.

“You never know.” The raven-haired woman returned enigmatically. “There
are many more kinds of Immortality than just mine.” She leaned back in
her chair. “But that’s another story.” She smiled amusedly and brushed
a hair away from Willow’s forehead. “For a time when we don’t have
those pesky Bringers breathing down our necks.”

“Oooo, I may just stick around for that talk. Buffy will be all poopey
about it.” She looked around. “But I like it here.”

“And we do have plenty of room.” Jasa noted, glancing up at the
ceiling. “Upside of living in a hotel.”

“It is tempting,” she said, the smile in her voice.

“Temptation…something that we’re quite good with around here.” The
Immortal agreed with a chuckle, making an adjustment to a spell and
contemplating it. “Quite good actually.”

“Can I live with you?” Willow asked. When she realized how that
sounded, she backtracked, “I mean with you… here… at the hotel…
Not with you as in *with* you. Though that wouldn’t be so bad either.
I mean, you being all ancient and all. You’ve forgotten more about
orgasms than I’ll *ever* know.”

Wiping at her tears, the Egyptian’s giggles subsided and she nodded her
agreement. “That is quite true.” She tilted her head slightly then
laughed. “But, then again, you never know.” Leaning over, she lightly
grasped Willow’s chin between her fingers and held the girl’s face just
so as she brought her lips to hers and kissed her quite deeply. “Some
things are just instinctual.” She finished when she pulled away, her
thumb brushing away the lip gloss that had been smudged ever so
slightly.

“Oh my,” was all Willow could say. Her eyes locked on the other
woman’s. “That’s a good lesson to learn.” She’d definitely turned to
butter. Nice and warm in all the right places. The experience, the
intensity, the… She had to stop it before she jumped the woman.
“Instinct good. Very good.”

“And there’s also raw talent.” Jasa agreed with a soft tone, her entire
form relaxing just ever so slightly. “Talent’s even better.” She smiled
lightly. “There’s so much involved in the equation really…rather like
a spell. Balance and counterbalance…” She reached out again, lightly
touching the girl’s face, softly gliding her forefinger across Willow’s
lower lip. “Talent’s so very important…” She smiled again, her eyes
promising. “I believe a little break from our research is in
order…don’t you?”

Willow, ever so effortlessly, took the forefinger in her mouth and
sucked on it. “I do believe you are right.” Her hand went into Jasa’s
hair. “Your room, mine, or the office. It’s empty, you know.”

“It is.” The Egyptian agreed, her free hand finding its way along the
mortal’s leg. “Such a nice big room…” She moved closer, flicking her
tongue against the soft skin beneath Willow’s ear. “And all that space
to move around in…”

“Or here, here would be good too.” She smiled. One hand roaming down
to lightly trace the Immortal’s breast. Soft… so soft in comparison
to the hardness that Jasa liked to portray. A taste. A taste of this
woman would be nice. “But I’d rather have the office. Shall we?*

“Mmm…We shall.” Drawing her to her feet, Jasa kept Willow close, her
hands exploring slim softness as they moved, her mouth teasing the
younger woman’s and generally playing about her neck.

Willow was a sensualist. She talked and appeared geeky and awkward,
but she took a lot of pride in pleasuring. When they made it to the
office, she pulled back just a bit and ran a finger down Jasa’s body
and then up to her chin. “Instinct is good, but there’s something to
be said for beauty in form and movement.”

“There’s something to be said for just about everything.” The elder
woman responded with a smile. “It all depends on how loud you wish it
said.”

Willow smiled. “We’ll have to see about volume, won’t we?” Her hand
moved behind the elder woman’s head and she pulled her forward for a
meeting of mouths. After that, talking became irrelevent.

—-

The Bringers’ attack – unfortunately for them – was not a surprise. As
expected the ‘Bringer-Zappers’ that Willow and Jasa rigged up were just
what was needed to ruin the stealth of their attack, alerting the
hotel’s inhabitants that the attack was on.

Settling down, the Egyptian looked at her magical conspirators then at
her daughter and the others. “We’ll keep them busy, you take out any
that get through.”

Grace nodded and looked at Angel before grabbing her SIT and Fred and
heading for the second floor. “I want Molly to stay between us Fred.
You stay sharp. They attack in groups, and they may be blind but they
are quick. Molly’s the imperative here, Fred.”

“Gotcha boss.” She held her sword at ready. The Sunnydale group
didn’t have witches to protect them; she couldn’t help but worry about
Gunn and how he was doing. She didn’t have long to think though. A
Bringer broke through and on her side.

Managing to take him out, she said, “Remind me to thank Gunn for making
me learn sword fighting.”

“Will do!” Cordelia agreed, spinning around and kicking the legs of
another out from under him before finishing him off. “And make sure
that thank you involves lingerie and many happy smiles.”

“Oh, just having him home will bring happy smiles.” She took out
another one and instinctively moved closer to Molly as Grace took two
on at once. “I’m thinking green with lots of lace.”

“And I recommend a few exotic oils to, y’know? All that fighting, he’s
gonna be sore…backrubs are wonderful things….” The dark-haired
Immortal grinned, backing closer to Kennedy and slicing at another
Bringer. “I think I’ve got a few up there…one that I know Duncan
loves…might be good for Gunn too.”

“You know, Angel likes lilac,” Grace added, nodding in approval when
Kennedy handled herself. “And I recommend bathing together and burning
incense. Relaxes him right away. And you know how hard it is to get…
what did Xander call him?… Dead Boy to relax.”

“He never really relaxes.” Cordelia agreed. “It’s like…against broody
vamp rules. So, if he does anything approaching it, we never know it.
Just Grace.” She grinned. “Which is also in the broody vamp rules.
Girlfriend allowed…nobody else.”

Grace did a spin kick, kicking one Bringer into another and then
running them both through with her sword. “Oh, he relaxes. There are
a few things that can be done to a man to make even the most uptight
relax completely. You just have to know how to work him.”

“Giving advice on romance?” Angel called from where he and Duncan were
protecting the three spellcasters.

“Nope,” Grace laughed. “Just sex! If it gets you to relax, it will
work on Duncan and Gunn easily. We’ll have to fill Emily in later.”

“With a little less blood and guts being involved.” Kennedy suggested,
slamming a kick into a Bringer’s jaw and looking extremely satisfied
with herself.

“Kennedy,” Grace offered, “it’s the blood and guts that makes the
relaxing so much fun. Get all worked up and then enjoy the downfall to
relaxation. Makes for fantastic sex.”

“I think,” Cordy kicked another Bringer before slicing through him with
her sword. “she means not at the exact moment we’re discussing the
sex.”

“Well, I have had sex when I’ve been icky from blood and guts. With
the way I take Quickenings, sometimes it’s necessary.” Grace grabbed
Molly, who was just about to make a very bad career move. She shielded
the girl from a glancing blow, taking it herself. A muffled curse and
Grace spun to send the Bringer back to the netherworld. “Ok, people,
this isn’t fun anymore. I just got cut and this was a new shirt.”

“That’s just an excuse to go shopping.” Kennedy pointed out with a
grin. “At least, that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Ooooo, shopping,” Cordelia chimed in. “Duncan, love, we’re going to
need the credit card.”

>From below, the girls could hear him moan. “Dinna distract me, woman.
I’m concentrating here.”

Taking out another Bringer, Grace harrumphed. “On what, your manicure.
I can tell that standing around is hard work.”

“Piss off, Grace,” Duncan retorted.

“Children.” Angel grunted out, throwing a Bringer against a wall. “Less
bitching, more fighting, please?”

“Uh oh…” Cordy teased. “Daddy’s mad…you’re in trouble….”

“Maybe I’ll get a spanking,” Grace teased.

Fred took out another Bringer. “Now *that* is fun.”

“Winifred… you are full of surprises. Not only can you hold your
liquor, but you enjoy a little S&M too.”

“Grace Victoria Hammond,” Duncan said. He tossed a Bringer across the
room and said to the vampire. “Honestly, she’s just too much.”

“She can be a handful.” Angel agreed with a grin. “We’ll have a drink,
talk about her many aspects.” His grin widened. “I’m betting you have
some interesting stories to tell.”

“Duncan MacLeod, son of Ian MacLeod, if you say one damn word, I’ll cut
your hair!”

Cordelia gasped. “Grace, why punish me?!”

“Sorry, Cord. He’s evil and must be destroyed.”

Duncan laughed. “If you think you can take me, come down here. After
you take care of the Bringers that is.”

Grace called back down. “Angel, love, there’s nothing about me that
you don’t already know. Duncan has no stories!”

“Somehow,” He called back. “I think I should be doubting that
statement!”

Actually, there was only one thing that was between Duncan and herself
that would be kept secret. And it wasn’t because she wanted it that
way; Duncan did. And his reason was fighting right beside her. “Well,
you are the doubting Thomas.”

The attack had lessened considerably. Seems like they were running out
of Bringers. When at last, no more came through, Grace made sure that
the girls were fine before leading them downstairs. “Everyone ok?”

Angel cast a glance at Duncan then back at Jasa, Willow and Giles…
“We are… As for them…” He shrugged. “We’ll know when they come out
of it.”

Grace sat down on the couch and looked at her mother. Jasa’s lover and
future lover were still deep in their meditation. Jasa would come out
of it first. “Someone better stand behind Mom, she’s gonna flop over
when she comes out of it. She always said magic like that drains her.”
Looking down, she checked her side. “For some reason, my wound isn’t
healing as fast as it normally would. Bringer magic, no doubt.”

“They’re mean little buggers.” Fred agreed, examining a scrape on her
arm. “Hate ’em.”

Grace shrugged. “I’m not sure that’s completely it. But yeah, they’re
mean.” As no one did as she requested, she moaned as she stood and
moved behind her mother. No way was she going to let Jasa revive
without assistance.

Cordy settled down on the floor just behind Giles and Willow, whichever
one roused first, she’d do whatever she could to help. They’d be fine,
she was sure, they’d been through worse than this but, seeing them
sitting there so silent and unwavering…it was kind of freaky. “Well,
spawn of the first and all that, they’re not really going to be the
nicest of guys, y’know?”

Grace pulled her hand away, which was fairly dripping with blood.
“They may score a kill yet, guys.” She was pasty white, but determined
that Jasa be cared for. “I can feel it trying to heal, but it’s just
not knitting together like normal.”

Drawing her away from the magical trio, Angel helped her back to the
couch and eased her down. “Rest. We’ll get Giles to look at you when he
comes out of it. He might know why this is happening.”

“It may be irrelevent before long,” she whispered. “I haven’t felt
pain like this since…” she paused and shook her head. “Let’s just
say in a very, very long time. Just take care of Mom, ok. She needs
someone to be there for her.”

He frowned in concern. “Don’t go thinking that way Grace. You’ll be
fine.” He tried for a reassuring grin. “You’ve been around a thousand
years, one little cut isn’t going to kill you.”

“It’s not at my neck, I’m not that worried. But it’s bleeding like a
sonofabitch.” She looked over at her mother. It was going to be any
time now. “I’ll survive, sure. But think of how pissed Jasa’s going
to be if she falls flat on her face. You won’t be her favorite
son-in-law of all time if you let that happen.” She smiled and touched
his cheek with her hand. “I’m going to be fine. It *is* healing.
Please, see to Mom. Ok?”

He frowned in worry and looked at the group expectantly.

Fred flashed a smile and dropped down by Cordelia who shifted to a
position more behind Jasa, allowing both girls to make sure all three
were of their charges were adequately protected.

As it happened, it was Willow that emerged first, sighing wearily as
she did so. Slumping back against Fred, she looked up at the people
surrounding them. “Did it work?”

Duncan brushed Cordelia out of the way and sat with Giles. “I’d say it
did. A few broke through, but the outside is littered with Bringers
remains.”

It was then that Giles emerged. His first words were ‘Oh my’ and then
he looked at Jasa, who was still under. “Is she ok?”

Grace nodded. “It’s just been a while. And her tour with the dark
arts was rather extensive.” She let herself lean against Angel as she
looked down at her wound. “Almost there,” she reported.

“Good.” He whispered back with a smile. “Keep healing.”

Willow looked up at the blond Immortal. “Somethin’ go wrong?” She
worried with a furrowed brow.

Grace shook her head. “Bringers’ sting takes a bit longer to heal.
One sliced me rather deep. I’ll be fine.” Her eyes went to her
mother. “But I am starting to worry about her. She’s been out for
quite a long time.”

“She’ll come around.” The redheaded mortal decided with an absent tone,
seeming to consult some inner sense. “She’s just taking her time is
all.”

“Probably enjoying the fact that I’m all worried about her… for no
reason, I’m sure.” She took Angel’s hand. “Take a look, all better
now.” She removed her hand and looked for something to wipe it on.
Deciding on her pants, which were ruined as well, she said, “Though I
think I need a shower. And a shopping spree.”

“You can use my card.” Jasa murmured tiredly, looking over her shoulder
at her daughter. “By the looks of it, a day at the spa wouldn’t kill
you either.”

“Look in the mirror lately?” Grace responded, smiling lightly. “Girls
day out. I think we all could use it. The guys… well, there’s no
scotch anymore, but there’s beer and popcorn. So you can do whatever
kind of bonding thing men do when women aren’t around.”

“Bonding thing?” Giles did his best to look blank, which – considering
his exhaustion – wasn’t that hard. “What bonding thing is that exactly,
gentlemen?”

“No idea.” Angel responded with a shrug. “Duncan?”

“I don’t know either…perhaps they’ve been influenced by the Bringers
somehow.”

“Ok, Giles, I believe. But you two are full of crap. Last time there
was bonding… there were pizza boxes, beer cans, and microwave popcorn
bags all over the place. Weird articles of clothing were strewn all
over the place. I don’t want to know about that.” She kissed Angel’s
cheek. “I really need a shower right now.”

“I’ll second that.” Duncan teased with a grin. “Blood leaves such a
stain… and the scent…” He made a face.

“Up yours, MacLeod,” she said before standing up and heading toward the
stairs. They were sparring again, verbally. It felt good. The
affection of earlier was always there, but they hid it well behind the
bickering. “Think I’ll hide these clothes in your room somewhere.”
With that, she stuck out her tongue and rounded the corner to head
toward her room.

“Well,” Giles said, “she’s certainly feeling better. More like the
Grace I’ve come to know.” He wasn’t sure he’d like that one earlier.
The driven one. The one who brought that side of him out that he’d
rather keep tucked away.

“Her usual difficult self?” Jasa joked with a leisurely stretch,
working out the kinks from sitting in one place so long.

“This one?” he questioned, looking at the Immortal. “Oh no. This one
is by far more complacent than the one I endured earlier.” He stood,
unwilling to discuss what had gone on between Grace and himself in
front of everyone. He stretched, feeling the muscles pull and flex.
Magic such as that, was hard work.

Grace’s mother lifted a questioning brow, resolving to find out what
*that* meant but chose to say nothing in front of the others. “So,
ladies,” she looked up at the Slayers In Training. “Enjoy your first
huge fight?”

“I’d say they did.” Cordy interjected with a grin.

“If that many got through, I’m afraid to know how many attacked,” Molly
said shakily.

Kennedy moved to sit by Willow. “Well, I had no doubt that our Willow
would be able to repel most of them. And the fighting… way cool… I
took out a Bringer.”

The compliment earned a blush from the redheaded Wicca and she
stammered something about Giles and Jasa doing all the work. “Won’t be
long,” she added with a shy smile. “and you’ll be takin’ out the big
vamps and everything.”

Kennedy smiled brightly, lightly touching Willow’s hand as she did so.
She kind of liked the thought of maybe being the next Slayer. Nodding
toward Angel, she said realistically, “Got a long way to go before I
can take of vamps of his caliber.”

“No kidding…” She agreed. “Buffy barely stood up against
Angelus…but against Angel…I don’t know if she could….maybe you
can practice more with him…he might be able to teach you some stuff.”

Angel momentarily had visions of matching stakes and purses but managed
to hide his thoughts as he smiled. “Don’t know what I could really
teach you but sure, if I can help…”

“Well,” Fred offered. “Grace often says the best way to know the enemy
is to study it closely. Now, you specifically aren’t the enemy. But
you are a vampire. And we’re not too proud to say you’re the toughest
of them. So if they learn from you, they should be able to stand up
against the others, right?”

He chuckled. “Well, if I am the toughest…then, in theory, yes they
should be.”

“Well I would certainly say you are.” Giles agreed. “And, having read
both Angelus’ history and yours…I can easily provide back story to
prove my point.”

Willow couldn’t help but chuckle. “And we all know that Giles wouldn’t
lend his support unless he could provide back story and believed in it
100%. Our Giles is no slouch in that area.”

“So, Angel,” Kennedy smiled. “When do we start?”

—-

The phone rang early in the morning a day or so later and it was a
lethargic Jasa that answered it. Drawing her silken robe about her
shoulders, she leaned against the counter, the steam of her coffee
rising in her face. “Mm…’lo?”

“Ms. Hammond?” Buffy questioned respectfully, unsure of the other
woman’s voice. “Is that you?”

“Yes…” The Egyptian cleared her throat and sipped from the mug. “I’m
afraid you caught me before my morning coffee…” The sound of
footfalls behind her drew her attention. “Ah…here’s Grace…” Handing
over the phone, she shuffled away, mug in hand.

Grace stared after her mother. Her attention was slowly drawn to the
phone, wondering what all this was about. Putting it to her ear, she
questioned, “Hello?”

“Morning…” The Slayer greeted with a muffled yawn. “How are the
girls?”

Grace swallowed hard. She had made a lot of strides with her
conversation with Angel. But hearing Buffy’s voice. She wasn’t sure
she was ready for it. Still, she had to talk. “They are fine. I
think Kennedy has some real potential, even if she never gets the call.
She conned Angel into working out with her… as a vampire.” She
looked down at her nails and then asked, “How are you guys? The boys
behaving themselves?”

The blonde mortal laughed. “Behaving themselves… sort of. Gunn has
enough blackmail stories on Cordelia now to keep him going for
centuries at the very least. He misses Fred, though, a lot. Wesley’s
missing someone named Emily.” She laughed a little, enviously. “They’re
being cute, manly-manish about it.”

Grace couldn’t help but smile. “Gunn has a very sensitive side. But
he likes to keep it hidden. If he starts rubbing his head a lot, have
him give her a call. And Emily is actually my watcher. A different
organization from what Giles belongs to. She and Wesley have a very
new relationship. She’s missing him too.” She let her thoughts wander
to the man who was still sleeping upstairs. “I can understand how hard
that would be for them.”

“New love is a special thing.” Buffy agreed softly. “Fred & Emily will
be happy to hear, then, that their sig others can come home now…” Her
quiet satisfaction was apparent over the line. “The Ubervamp is no
more. Took him out last night…so Giles, Willow & company can come
home when they’re ready.”

“Oh Buffy, you may have just elevated yourself into sainthood in the
eyes of two very lonely young ladies. I’m not sure how happy Giles
will be.” She chuckled to let Buffy know it didn’t have anything to do
with her. “He and my mother are giving each other the eye. But
really, congratulations to you. That was quite a triumph. What about
Spike? Any luck finding him.” A part of her hoped not. She was really
wanting to deny that Angel and Buffy would have any kind of rehashing
of anything. But he still felt it necessary. Grace still didn’t like
it, but she was dealing.

“He’s here.” The other woman revealed quietly, guiltily. “Not in the
best shape…not at all. The, uh, the First…was pretty horrific to
him. He’s not…people friendly yet.” She sighed. “Actually, he hasn’t
even gotten up yet since I brought him home. Wesley thinks he’ll be
sleeping for a while.”

Angel was going to have a fit. Spike was living there. It wasn’t her
place to comment, so she said nothing about the living arrangement.
“From what I’ve heard though, he’s made of tough stuff, Buffy. And he
has help. He’s not alone. He’s got you.”

“After everything…” Buffy trailed off. “Well, he…he deserves…”
She sighed again. “Spike’s had a rough time…and I’m sure I didn’t
help much.”

“I didn’t mean… I don’t know… Just from what you said…” Shit,
she was pushy, wasn’t she? “Buffy, we all have moments in our lives,
we’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. But the point isn’t about our
past but how we deal with the present. You’re going to be there for
him now. You’ve proven that and I wasn’t even there to see it. He was
lost, he needed, you found him. That says a lot.”

“Thanks, Grace…” the younger woman responded sincerely. “I mean
it… that… that means a lot.”

Grace wasn’t sure what to say. Somewhere, somehow, Buffy had hurt
Angel. And the hurt between them had been deep. So deep, he wanted to
keep it from Grace. But it was clear that Buffy needed a female
companion. So she set her jealousy aside and said, “If you need
anything, anytime, you know you can call. And I’m not just meaning in
saving the world. Ok?”

There was a long pause then, with great sincerity, Buffy responded.
“Thank you Grace…I…thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now, I’m sure you’re ready to return my boys.” Grace
chuckled to try to lighten the mood. “So when do you want to make the
exchange?”

Trying her best to sound ominous, Buffy huffed out, “In an hour and no
funny business or the Brit gets it.”

“But we can’t leave until sundown.” She sighed audibly. With false
conviction, she admitted, “Losing the Brit is an acceptable sacrifice.
But if the bald guy gets it, this is war.”

“Well war it’ll be then…” The Slayer countered perkily. “String ’em
up boys!” She paused then added. “Uh. girls…”

Grace laughed. “If those girls string them up, I want to see it. I’m
going to get these girls packed. They’ve been driving Angel nearly
insane. Something about Slayers and fashion accessories. Matching
stakes and purses, I think.”

“Matching…” Nearly choking with laughter, the younger woman took a
moment to get herself back under control then added. “Oh, God, it’s a
wonder *he* didn’t kill them! Angel’s never been…well the most
patient of vampires…at least not with stuff like that…”

“He’s just cranky. I don’t help much. But geez, when all you wear is
black… matching isn’t that hard. But for those of us who like a
little color in our lives…” She tried not to laugh. “But you should
have seen his face. Molly mentioned that again yesterday. And you
know Angel, I thought he was going to explode.”

Buffy continued to laugh. “He is never ever going to let me work this
off, is he? He’s going to be lording it over me for oh…at least
fifty, sixty years?”

“Well, at least you understand that. The torture won’t be so
unbearable.” Of course, the good vibes between them might not last long
once Angel stuck his nose in her business. “See you soon?”

“When you get here!” Buffy agreed. “I’m sure Wesley and Gunn will be
waiting on the front step.”

“Because you’ll throw them out there,” she laughed before saying
goodbye and hanging up. Her eyes found Fred and Emily, who had taken
to hanging out and commiserating together. “Get rid of those pouty
faces, ladies. Your stud puppies are on their way home. Well, as soon
as we go get them. You go round up the girls… tell Willow and
Giles… and I’ll go get Angel.”

Emily couldn’t contain her smile. “Go get the girls. Right! I’ll get
the girls. Girls… Wesley’s coming home.”

>From where she was draped out on a chair, Jasa grinned lazily.
“They’re
going to be grinning like idiots for the rest of the day…young
love… it’s so cute.”

“Not to mention the wild sex they are going to have tonight.” She sat
beside her mother. “What about you though? Giles and Willow going
home. And you can pretend with the others, but I see it. They’ve both
endeared themselves to you.”

“They have.” The Egyptian agreed with a slight nod. “Willow…well, in
another life…” She chuckled softly. “She has a bright future ahead of
her but it is one without me…As for Rupert…We’ll meet again I
believe…” She smiled lightly. “At least, I hope we will.”

Grace reached out and brushed a stray curl behind her mother’s ear.
“Willow, huh? I like her… a lot. And yeah, I bet you will see Giles
again. Probably pretty soon. He’s so in to you, I couldn’t even chase
him away.” She laughed lightly. “You’ll definitely see him again.”

Jasa grinned. “A girl can dream…I have a reputation to uphold you
know…my love life has been far too tame for the last century or
so…Methos has been teasing me. That needs to be remedied. But, yes, I
do hope I will meet up with Rupert Giles again…and in less dangerous
circumstances.”

Grace waggled her brows. “Can’t promise less dangerous. And you and
Willow were dangerous enough in that office. Geez! I’m not even a
vampire and I heard you guys.” She laughed. “Loud is good.”

Her mother chuckled. “Consider it payback for all the times you and
Angel have disturbed my sleep. You two can be…quite rambunctious you
know.”

“Bah! You can have any room on the second floor and you chose the one
right by ours. So you’re asking for it. I’ve finally found someone
who can keep up with me. Some feat, huh?”

“Slightly!” Jasa agreed with a playful grin. “Can you imagine how long
it’s taking me?” She patted her daughter’s hand and stood. “however, it
is time that I go make myself decent.” She glanced at her outfit. “I
can hardly go to Sunnydale in my sleepwear.”

“Oh I don’t know. Xander may like it.” She stood and followed her
mother. “I need to get Angel moving. He’ll be happy to know we’re
taking the girls home.”

“Happy?” Jasa snorted lightly. “He may throw a celebratory party and
dance down the street…” She glanced at the sunlight streaming through
the doors. “He may want to put on a coat and hat first though..”

“You think I should have him dress first? Last thing I want is for him
to get all dusty on me. I’ve had a hard enough time keeping him
lately. Don’t want to lose him now.”

“You should worry about losing him less.” Her mother scolded lightly.
“He’s not going anywhere Grace…and, yes, dressing him might be a
start. Given how slowly those girls move though, I suspect it will be
well into the afternoon before we go anywhere or are even remotely
ready to go anywhere.”

“I thought he could. I honestly did. I still do… a bit. It’s fear.
I finally find everything I want… so the pessimist in me wonders if
it will end. And I have to stop that or it will.” She stopped at her
door. “Once I tell him about the phone call, he may go pack for these
girls with all his vampire speed.”

She laughed. “Just tell him to relax…Distract him.” A mischievous
look dawned in her eyes. “And you can’t tell me you’re not a master at
that. I hear it quite loudly every time you go to bed.”

“Not every time. Not anymore. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There’s something to say for settling in.”

“Grace…” Her mother shook her head. “Sometimes I despair…how did
you ever get to be so melancholy…” She smiled gently, moving back to
pat her daughter’s cheek. “We’ve had a good victory this time…enjoy
it. Stop worrying about tomorrow and enjoy today. Tomorrow never gets
here…it’s always just around the corner…all we’re guaranteed is
today…enjoy it!”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I don’t think it’s your fault I’m so
melancholy. I really don’t. I’m ready to blame Ramirez and Connor
MacLeod for it.” She took her mother’s hand and squeezed. “What you
really mean is that I should enjoy him, don’t you? That maybe in all
this chaos we call our lives, he should be the one thing that brings
the biggest smile to my face.” She offered her mother a big smile.
“How’s that?”

“Better…” Jasa allowed. “Now, go find him and make that smile real,
ok?”

“Ok,” she said as she opened the door. “Better go find yours before we
have to take it home.” She gave Jasa a wave before closing the door.

“Oh Angel,” she said, not exactly sure where he was. “I’ve come to
make all your dreams come true.”

“Mmm…does that mean you’re naked?” He joked, emerging from the
bathroom, toweling his wet hair.

She looked him up and down. No matter how often she saw him nude, it
never failed to excite her to see him this way. “Well, you sure as
hell are, looking pretty mouth watering as well.” She smiled. “I
won’t mind getting naked, but maybe I should share my news first.”

He tossed the towel aside and grinned unrepentantly. “Well, I’m
guessing it’s good news…given that look in your eye…” He moved
closer. “Of course, it might be just that your absolutely irresistible
lover is standing before you without a thing on…so, which is it?” He
teased, drawing her into his arms.

“My absolutely irresistible and rather vain lover,” she teased. “The
one who can get me wet in all the right places with just the lift of an
eyebrow. Oh yeah, I like it when he’s naked.” She wrapped her arms
around his shoulders and placed a soft kiss on his neck. “Mmm… New
soap?” She ran her hand down his chest. “Never mind. I just got a
phone call. Good news. Big nasty Ubervamp has been slayed. We can
take your harem home as soon as the sun goes down.”

Angel grinned, spun her around then backed her against the wall,
kissing her deeply. “You…just…” He murmured between quick kisses.
“just…me the…happiest…vampire…on earth.” He glanced up at the
clock and then offered a leer at Grace. “And, just how do we plan on
passing the time?”

“Well, I suggest you show me just how happy you are exactly.” She ran
her hands down his body. “Mom’s next door getting ready. How about we
make her envious?”

His hands found the edges of her shirt and, with a lazy grin, Angel
pulled her shirt over her head then took her to bed. “I say that’s the
best idea I’ve head in a while.”

******

When Wesley saw Emily his eyes lit up and he ignored the others in
favor of rushing to her side, brushing his fingertips along her face
and down her arms until he could entwine his fingers with hers. “You
are a vision.” He whispered softly.

She let her eyes slid closed and moved to press herself against him.
“Oh God, it feels like a year since I’ve been here. You are the most
divine sight and sensation ever to grace this Earth. I have missed you
so much.”

He hugged her close and pressed his face into her hair, inhaling the
scent of her. “A year? Only that long?” He teased lightly, kissing her
neck. “It’ll be that long at least until I let you out of my sight
again. Next time, you come with me.”

“Well yeah a year. If I’d have said any more than that, we wouldn’t
have been able to get that ‘rogue demon slayer’ ego through the door.”
She wrapped her arms around his waist and let her hands dangle onto his
rear. “And I better be with you next time. No fair that Grace and
Angel go to be together and we didn’t.” She laughed lightly. Damn, he
smelled good.

“We’ll remind them of that.” Wesley agreed, running his hands along her
back.

“Ahem…” Jasa raised a playful eyebrow. “Would hate to interrupt, but
I suspect we let this go on any longer and it’ll go from PG13 to NC17
in a hurry and some of this bunch aren’t legal you know.”

Emily pulled away and blushed. “There’s no way I would do that, Jace.
C’mon. But look at him. How could any girl in her right mind not be
excited to see him, touch him, talk to him, and even smell him after
such a long separation. I love his cologne.”

“It’s the cologne.” The Egyptian advised her daughter. “Irresistible.
Angel… take notes. You may be able to put this stuff to use.”

“Certainly seems to work.” The vampire agreed with a faintly teasing
voice.

“Indeed.” Wesley countered with a glimmer of amusement. “With all your
romantic troubles, Angel, you could certainly use it.”

“Now hold on one damn minute,” Grace interrupted. “Angel doesn’t need
any magic cologne. And he doesn’t have any romantic troubles. And if
you don’t believe it, I can turn this into NC 17 very quickly and show
you guys just how free of trouble he is romantically.” She winked at
Emily. “I thought you were attracted to his accent.”

“Well, it sure isn’t his bulging manliness,” Gunn teased, finding Fred
and pulling her to him.

“Indeed, not.” Wesley responded archly. “Emily prefers lean strength to
muscle-bound jock.” He softened his words with a grin.

“I like muscle-bound jock,” Fred defended.

Grace looked at Angel and smiled. “Sounds like life returning to
normal to me. Now, hand your charges over… matching stakes and all.”

He turned to look at them and nodded. “It was…interesting, ladies.”
He flashed a quick smile, pretending not to notice several tittering
giggles that raced through the crowd.

Grace had to try not to roll her eyes. There was a bit of puppy love
going on between the girls and Angel, even Kennedy seemed to appreciate
him. Though in truth, hers was more because of his abilities than
anything else. “Sounds like the flippin’ Furies are hanging about.”

“Aaaaangggeeelllll,” Grace, Wes, Gunn, Fred, and Emily all said at
once.

The vampire groaned. “Please…guys…Anything but that.”

Jasa snickered. “Are these Furies really that bad?” She lifted a brow
at her daughter. “Really?”

“Mother, they follow him around, saying his name just like that.
‘Anything for you Angel,’ they say. ‘We love you, Angel.’ It’s
actually worse than all of that. Those women worship him.”

“They don’t, not really.” Angel denied, shaking his head. “They’re
just…eccentric.”

The petite Egyptian shook her head. “Gods…”

“Furies actually.” Wes supplied helpfully.

“Whatever they are…” She chuckled. “Everyone loves our Angel.”

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