They Did Not Fade Away
Page 1 of 6
Summary: Three years after Not Fade Away, things have changed so much, and yet not at all.
This is the first part of The Alive Series.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Please read and review!
"There's something changing." Willow tapped her pencil against the desk, staring at the computer screen as she thought out loud.
Through the monitor, via a web cam, Giles looked at her over his bifocals. "Changing? Yes... I've noticed something, but nothing that would cause any concern. The balances have been tipped in our favor, it seems."
"Doesn't that strike you as odd? I mean, there has been less and less activity over the past years. It's... disturbing. Who or what is destroying the demons, and why?"
"Perhaps... the Powers That Be have finally called more warriors to the front."
She swiveled in her chair and looked out her office window at the bluffs. The curtains were parted and the window was open, she could hear the breakers down below.
"Why haven't we met any of them? Why hasn't Buffy reported more soldiers? We should have heard something if there were more people on the front."
He nodded; still not entirely convinced Willow wasn't acting the part of an alarmist. "Willow, the slayers have come into their own recently. In the past three years, they have grown up, most of them are women. Buffy was at her peak at that time in her career, perhaps these girls have reached that point. We have more capable and trained soldiers on the front now than at any other time in history. Surely that has to have an effect eventually."
She wasn't making eye contact with him. When that happened, he knew she was hiding something or about to confess something. He waited in patient silence for her to either continue or end their conversation.
"I... I heard something from an operative in California. The demon population in LA is barely existent these days. I started some checking... " She brought up her files containing the information she had been collecting throughout the past few months and sent it to Giles. "Paris, Belgium, Rome, Madrid... they all have demon populations comparable to that of LA. That can't be a coincidence."
Looking through the files, he was suddenly a little less sure of the plans he had been putting into effect over the years. Xander was still in Africa, Dawn was finishing college in England, Buffy was traveling through Spain, and he and Willow were running the Watcher's Council. All was as he had planned. The thought of interrupting the lives of these people because something good was happening was... a little beyond him.
"Willow, I refuse to call a meeting because there are fewer demons than there were five years ago. I don't think that is the best reason to call everyone away from their lives..."
She interrupted him vehemently. "Wolfram and Hart either has had a complete and radical makeover, or they're planning something. I would like to know which one."
"Willow, I doubt there is something more diabolical than their previous plans at play. Surely nothing they come up with can be worse that anything they've done previously."
"It can always get worse." She contemplated the older man in front of her. He had been her guide throughout the times when she was learning to control her powers. After that, he had become one of her closest friends. They currently had a more equal relationship than they ever had before, being that they were co-chairs of the Council. He was in England, maintaining headquarters, and she was in Nice, watching over the Eastern sectors. She had not previously pried into his business when it came to private meetings and contingencies that he chose to not share with her. She trusted him. Now, however, he was purposefully trying to shut her down, push her away from her current course. That made her wonder just what she had stumbled into, and what he wasn't telling her.
"Giles, I am going to continue looking into this. I already have operatives en route to LA, and the other European cities I mentioned. Recon only. I want to find out what is going on."
He stiffened. Willow immediately knew that she had hit a nerve. There was something there he didn't want her to see. "That is not a wise course of action, Willow."
"What aren't you telling me? LA is no longer a no-go zone, as far as I knew... as far as you told me."
"It's not just LA..." He averted his eyes from the screen; purposefully making her wait to hear what he had to say. "I... there is something... well something I haven't told anyone. Wolfram and Hart is not under new management. It has been under the same management for the past four years or so. There have been changes, of course, but... none of them have been negative, from what I can tell."
"Giles, four years ago, it was... oh my God, Giles... you mean to tell me that Angel is still at Wolfram and Hart?" She stood suddenly, pacing through the room. She thought he was dead. She had told Buffy he was dead. Since the opening of the portal in LA, when Angel had left this dimension and traveled into a hell dimension, they had all been operating on the belief that he was dead.
"How long have you known that he was alive?" There was fire in her eyes, and if looks could kill, Giles was sure at that moment he would have needed resuscitation.
Clearing his throat, he made eye contact with her again. "Angel... has been alive since that battle. He was in other dimensions for a short time, but he returned and continued his presidency at Wolfram and Hart. He never really died."
Willow was stunned speechless. He had lied to her and she in turn had lied to Buffy. The months following that announcement had been the worst she had ever seen her friend. She mumbled about cookies for weeks, and cried spontaneously for longer than that. Buffy had tried to date other people, but none of the attempted relationships had worked out; the longest relationship lasted four months. Willow suddenly found herself struggling to control her anger. Buffy had been devastated, especially after she had started digging for information and discovered the Shanshu prophecy. After that, things had gotten a little heated between Buffy and Giles. Buffy had been sure that Giles had known of the prophecy. Of course he adamantly denied all knowledge such a thing existed, a fact that no one really believed.
"Giles... the prophecy, Angel's not-so-death... what else have kept from us? What have you kept from me? Was the prophecy fulfilled? Is he evil, good? Tell me what's going on!"
He knew that she could teleport herself to wherever he was and turn him into a pool of slime, and right now that was looking like a distinct possibility. He quickly went through all the options in his mind. He could continue the lie, but that seemed it would not work very well anymore. He could tell her truth... that would lead to wonderful things, he was sure, or he could give her just enough to sedate her for now. No, he thought, that last one would mean that some time from now she would find out the whole truth and be even angrier than she was now.
Reaching into a locked desk drawer, he pulled out a thick manila envelop. Opening the flap, he let the contents spill out onto the desktop. Sighing, he looked back at the angry witch starting holes through the computer screen at him. "These were addressed to Buffy. Needless to say, she did not receive them. Angel... is not quite human. He is no longer a vampire either. During the time that he... was not in this world, he was in other dimensions, changing this one. He changed the course of history, and therefore the future. Just because he is no longer a vampire does not mean he is 'good'. I would like to make that clear. He has been part of very questionable activities, activities that make me wonder as to what kind of being he really is. I have been keeping watch on him, and I have my own operatives inside the LA branch of Wolfram and Hart. I'm still unsure as to the exact nature of Angel's... well, soul. Buffy would have gone there. I couldn't have that, not yet."
She sat back down, stunned. All this time, he had been alive, all this time, he had been doing good work at Wolfram and Hart. All this time he had been trying to contact Buffy. "How many letters are there?"
"He sends them every few months. He has for the past three years."
Standing again, she gave a look that conveyed that she would not entertain any more arguments. "Pack. We're going to LA."
The meeting was boring. They were always boring. Looking over at Angel, he could see that the president of Wolfram and Hart was raptly paying attention. Of course, it helped that Angel had been hitting the bottle for a few hours. Angel could sit through the most boring meetings as long as he was drunk. Finally, Will noticed movement. They were looking at him. He managed an intelligent answer that made everyone in the room nod in agreement, and quickly called an end to the fiasco of a budget meeting.
Will watched the financial advisors leave, and then focused his full attention on Angel. They both had papers, birth certificates, social security cards, passports and other various paper work that stated their legal names and birth dates and all the other information that seemed to be so important for society. Spike's legal name was now William Benson. Will, for short. Being a human, or close enough, anyway, he couldn't go around with the name Spike on a driver's license. Angel's paperwork all stated that he was Liam O'Connor. Another way to torture himself, Will thought. A reminder of the life he lived hundreds of years ago, a life that had been brutally devastated.
"Angel... do you think it's the best idea to come to these things totally in the bag?"
He sighed and stared at the man who very few people would have mistaken for the dead vampire Spike. "Will, shut up. No one noticed." He rose and walked over to the well concealed bar at the far side of the conference room.
Things had changed in the past few years. Ever since Angel had come back from whatever hell he had been in, and found Wesley, Gunn, Fred and Spike, none of whom remembered anything of the six months previous, the world around them had changed. Angel had tried to explain, but he couldn't really convey what he had done. Will got the gist of it though. Angel had jumped through a portal into hell during the big battle in the alley. Portals were starting to open all over LA by that time. After getting into hell, Angel hadn't wasted much time; he went straight to the source. Apparently, the biggest reason that the Wolf, Ram and Hart had never been killed was because no one had ever tried before. Angel changed that.
Angel had said that it hadn't taken that long to kill them. They were well guarded, strong, but he was insatiable. He wouldn't stop. After that deed was done, he had gone into an intra-dimensional dimension. Something like a space in between two walls. He had described it like a maze, an ever changing maze that wound around itself continuously, with doors everywhere, and shimmering puddles that showed moments in time. He got lost a lot, until he started to figure out a pattern and how to beat it. It had taken him years, but he pushed the walls a little bit here and there, had gone through the right doors and changed things fractionally where he thought necessary. The end result was that Gunn hadn't died, only been in the ICU for months. Wesley had a fate close to Gunn's. Illyria was pulled from Fred, leaving a changed Fred, but Fred none the less. And he and Spike were human. Or close to it. The only door he could never open, the fate he could never change, was Cordy's. He had never been able to find her.
When Angel returned from his space-between trip, six months had passed in reality, and Wesley, Gunn, Fred, and Spike were simply standing before him, with no memory other than what they had believed to be their deaths. Fred had said it best: "I died, and it lasted as long as a blink, and then I was right here."
Fred was the most changed. Part of her remembered being Illyria. Her mind remembered flashes; her body remembered a power she no longer possessed. Fred was harder, more cunning now. She had a sureness, a confidence she had never had before, but with it came a subtle ruthlessness, a quiet sharpened edge that few people could really understand. Will wasn't sure if Fred had softened Illyria, or if Illyria had hardened Fred.
Two years ago, Fred's parents had died in a car accident. They had been hit by a drunk driver; he hadn't survived either. Fred had changed a lot during those times. Se had become a little more withdrawn for a time, but she also had become a little less shrewd, a little less ruthless. The accident had the exact opposite of what Will had thought it would do. Fred actually became more like Fred.
He was sure that had it not been for Wesley, things would have turned out differently. They were married not long after 'the blank period,' their name for the six months when they were, but weren't, in existence.
Things had actually gone very well immediately following the blank period. The work was hard, taking over Wolfram and Hart again and weeding out the evil demons and employees had not been easy. They had killed a lot of people and creatures during that time. They had rebuilt the business into something respectable, and the branches in Europe followed suit. Especially after Angel and Gunn had traveled to every branch and decapitated the presidents.
Angel was President of Wolfram and Hart, that meant every branch answered to him. There were multiple vice presidents, one at every branch that answered not only directly to Angel, but to a board of directors. Every branch had a board of directors, and they answered to the Executive board. The hierarchy worked well. Something needed to be done, it went to the Board, then to the Vice President, then to the Executive Board, and finally to Angel. Of course, not every decision or action was made by the President; Angel really didn't care about most of what happened 'in house,' that is in every particular branch. He only cared about things that would put the world in jeopardy, or cause loss of life. Most of time, he was sent a detailed report, along with a copy of the minutes, from every board meeting of every branch. There were committees within each branch, so that the boards never had to micro manage.
Wesley, Fred and Gunn made up the executive board of the LA branch. Will was vice president. Wesley, Fred and Gunn were also chairpersons. It was a good system, and the checks within the system generally meant that corruption was ferreted out quickly. It was difficult to hide projects within committees from the other chairpersons, and that meant it was hard to hide from the board, which was comprised of all the chairpersons and a few other people.
The LA branch was designed a little differently. Angel wanted his people at the helm, but he also wanted them to do things they enjoyed. Sadly, even after finding Lorne, he refused to come back. Angel had made sure that he wanted for nothing, and sometimes made anonymous donations, though Lorne didn't need it, to the club in Miami the demon had opened. The club, and the area it was situated in, suited the Demon more than his life in LA ever had. Angel told himself he was happy, Lorne was happy.
Angel of course kept tabs on Connor as well. The young man was almost finished with his degree in Art History at UCLA. Angel had, without Connor's knowledge, helped him secure an internship with the Los Angeles Museum of Art.
Other than Wolfram and Hart, Angel had continued his investments, and developed a few side businesses; most were concerned with shipping and trucking. The history that Angel had created for himself, to explain the stocks in his possession since the 1930s, was that his grandfather had purchased the stocks after the stock market crash and had passed them down to his father, who in turn invested in IBM and Microsoft. Angel had always had these stocks; he remembered when Cordy had found out about them. She had thrown a fit over the fact that he wouldn't use the holdings to pay the bills.
Angel had liquidated some of his stock holdings, but most of it had gone into new investments and businesses. And his house in the hills. The others had apartments in the city, but Angel had opted for a large house in Beverly Hills. He had found a house that was situated on almost an acre, and was completely hidden from view. It was gated in, and came complete with two guest houses, a spa and a pool. The four bedroom main house was largely left unoccupied most of the time.
Will, Wes, Gunn and Angel had formed a tight bond throughout the years; they were closer now than they had been when they first started working together. In the beginning, at Wolfram and Hart, everyone had been more focused on the job, on the novelty of being where they were, and less on the friendships they had built over the years. It was different now that the company wasn't evil, or working for evil. Their jobs weren't as polarizing as they once had been.
Will looked up at Angel, who was about half way through a four finger glass of single malt scotch. Every day since after Angel had sent that first letter, he died a little. Will watched Angel for the last three or so years shrink into himself a little more every day. Everything Angel had done, he had done for her. The prophecy had been fulfilled and Angel had made serious headway in the demon community, shrinking it little by little and forcing demons into communities or families that would live peaceably or be held responsible. None of it had brought her back to him. Will knew that Angel still sent letters to her every few months, but he never received a reply. Will still couldn't understand that.
Angel had always had a bit of an addictive personality. A few hundred years ago, he and Angel had gotten drunk together nearly every night. They drank enough whiskey to kill half the human beings of the world population at that time. Will knew that Angel had started to smoke again, and he was drinking more than what was healthy. The drinking had been escalating steadily.
"What are you doing tonight?"
Angel looked at him and downed the rest of his glass. "What I do every night. I'm taking some files home, signing my name to what Wesley and Gunn and Fred tell me to sign and then I am going to get thoroughly in the bag. Why?"
"Well... I thought we could go out."
"Is this a date?"
Will smiled; at least Angel still had a sense of humor. He wasn't totally dead inside. "Yeah, I'll buy you flowers and everything. Come on, let's go to dinner. We'll get good food, we can go to the cemetery, kill something, and go back to your place. There's a game on tonight."
Angel looked out the full wall of windows over the city he had adopted as his own. He loved this city. He loved the people in it. The one person he really wanted in his city, though, wouldn't come. He had asked her to. He had begged her to give him another chance, to just meet with him, hear what he had to say. She had never even responded. He almost found a place inside of him to hate her. Almost. Mostly, he hated himself, for screwing up so badly and in so many ways.
Will's tapping his foot woke Angel from his reverie. "Yeah, that sounds good actually. I could handle getting out for a while."
Will hoped the night wouldn't turn into another let's-whip-Angel marathon. He could only handle so much self-hatred from the man.
Xander met them at LAX. The three former Scooby members got into a car rented by Giles and headed towards the Wolfram and Hart Law Firm headquarters of Las Angeles. Willow filled Xander in on the highlights of the situation while Giles drove.
"... So Giles thought it would be a good idea to tell me that Angel was dead. And now, here we are. Angel is alive, and he's good, and he's some kind of human hybrid. He has been fighting a war against the demon population throughout the world, using Wolfram and Hart's extensive financial means... and other means as well. He's been trying to contact Buffy since they saved the world from turning into hell, literally, and Mr. Let's-Play-God here decided it would be a good idea that she didn't get her own mail. Because of course, Buffy can't be trusted to open her own mail and make her own decisions."
Xander nodded, trying to take in all that he was hearing. Three years ago, Buffy had come to Africa, crying, out of her mind with grief, and had stayed with Xander for a few months until she decided she could get out of bed on her own everyday. Willow had been in England, with Giles, at the time. Buffy had needed to be alone, not surrounded by slayers and potentials, so she had come to Xander.
Taking a deep breath, Xander said, "Giles... I thought she was going to die from a broken heart. How could you do that to her?"
"Listen, both of you, Buffy cannot think clearly when it comes to Angel. She cannot be trusted to..."
Willow reached across the front seat and slapped him as he drove. The car never strayed from its course, but Giles promptly shut up. "You pompous ass! Buffy killed him! How can you say she can't be trusted?"
"Listen, I don't even like the guy. I think he's a jerk, but Buffy has always held a torch for him, and... it's her life. You can't do that, Giles."
He took a deep breath, readying himself to tell them information he was sure would change their mind about his actions concerning Angel and Buffy. "Angel called me not long after he took over at Wolfram and Hart. He wanted help replacing a person he called Fred within her own body; a demon had overtaken this woman's body. I didn't help him. He... didn't sound right. I can't explain it, but I couldn't trust him. I don't think he can be trusted. I understand the idea of destroying this beast from the inside out, but I don't think he could have survived that."
They sat quietly. Willow didn't know how to take that. Was Fred alive? She believed that Angel could survive being inside the evil corporation, she really did. She had seen him when Buffy died, seen how he reacted. He had changed after he went to LA. He changed into more... well, more of a man. She liked what she had seen then, and she was sure that Angel was still that person. A good person.
"You were wrong, Giles. It's an indefensible position. Let's try and figure this out, because when Buffy gets here, she is going to flip out, and not in a good way. We need to do a little damage control before that happens, maybe we can avoid a nuclear holocaust."
Xander thought his eye was going to pop out of his head. "She's coming here! When?"
"When I ask her to. Dawn will meet us here as well; she's coming after her finals are done. Buffy isn't aware yet that she'll be taking a trip to LA. Dawn thinks she's coming here to go shopping with me."
"She's flying from England to go shopping?" Xander couldn't quite believe that Willow hadn't told Dawn anything more than that.
"Well, I might have mentioned that I was thinking about visiting the crater we call Sunnydale. She said she'd like to see it as well. You know, say goodbye again."
He looked out the window at the passing scenery. It was better than looking at the back of Giles' head. He absentmindedly played with the band that held his eye patch in place. He wasn't entirely aware he did this when he was thinking. It was something that Subira had pointed out while they were together.
Not fully believing that he was back in California, he tried to sort out his thought about this trip. He had promised himself that he wasn't going back to California, he liked Africa and Europe. He had been back to the states a few times, on errands for Giles or Willow, but he had never stayed long. He had a fondness for the desert now, after spending so much time in Africa. He felt most comfortable in Nevada and Arizona when he was in the states.
Training in Africa had gone well. He had trained with the slayers there, before they had left for places unknown, as decided by the Council. He had refused the offer to become a Watcher. That wasn't for him. Besides, he thought, if people like Andrew were the kinds of people that became Watchers, he wasn't sure he would fit in.
He had kept busy, training with slayers, running a small repair shop. He found he liked working with his hands. He had an eye for detail when he paid attention, and was good at troubleshooting. If anything, though, his customers just liked him. He didn't repair big things, most people didn't own cars in the parts of Africa he was in, and if they did they took it to a qualified mechanic. No, he liked smaller things, bikes, mostly. He could fix a kid's bike like no one's business. He also sold penny candy at the counter, the kids liked that too. Sometimes, they would come in just for that, even if their bikes were in good repair.
He fixed some clocks sometimes. No watches, he didn't have the right equipment for that kind of work. Of course, none of this paid the bills. The real money came from the Council, and the jobs they sent him on. He was very nicely reimbursed for those trips. They were always sensitive jobs, requiring someone that could be trusted and was relatively unknown within the Watcher community. Since the Council had been blown up, no one within the organization recognized him. The files the Council had kept on Buffy and her friends had gone up in ashes, and everyone that would have been able to recognize his face was dead now. Only Giles, Willow, Buffy and Dawn really knew of his existence, and that was okay with him.
His relative anonymity meant that he was perfect for low level espionage. He liked to think of his job that way. Harris, Xander Harris. That made him chuckle. He spied on people, he liked to blend into crowds, follow people, leave messages for people and disappear. He was good at it. Thinking it was odd that he had a talent for the work he was doing, he realized he had never thought he could be doing something as interesting as what he was doing. Geeky and awkward Xander Harris was a spy for a secret and internationally reaching English organization, he told himself.
Sighing, he leaned his head against the window. He had learned to live with one eye. It wasn't that much of a bother, really, he thought. His depth perception was permanently altered, meaning he couldn't drive again, but that meant that he had a huge budget to use taxis wherever he went for The Council.
"Giles... what are we going to do once we get there? Are we just going to walk right into his office and ask him if he's evil or not?"
Willow answered instead. This was her show and Giles was not going to take it away from her. He had messed this situation up enough already, she thought. "We're going to talk to Fred, if she's alive. We're going to assess the situation, and then we will go from there. This is a social call, as far is anyone is concerned. A just-wanted-to-check-up-on-you kind of thing."
"Okay. That sounds... disturbingly vague. So... why am I here?"
"Because you're a good agent. I think we can use your talents."
Great, Xander thought, he was a commodity. Actually, he didn't mind that much, the idea kept him feeling useful, instead of like a past his prime cripple.
Giles cleared his throat. "I want to be non-confrontational. Angel can't know we're here."
"Won't this Fred person tell him? Angel's the boss isn't he?"
Willow took over, "I don't think Fred will tell Angel until we're gone. That's important. We need to be out of the building before he knows. We can't have a confrontation right now."
Nodding understanding, Xander caught on to the reason for their precautions. Despite Willow's protests, she had her doubts about Angel. The time for reflections was over as they pulled into the parking lot of the Wolfram and Hart Law Firm.
Fred probably wouldn't be recognized by anyone who had known her before her blue phase. She couldn't bring herself to say out loud the name of the hell god that had taken her body over for a year. She referred to it in her head as the blue phase. A time of her life that was... fuzzy. She couldn't quite remember everything, just impulses, flashes, feelings. Most of them were not pleasant.
She was a different person now and she knew that. In her mind's eye, she saw herself as a woman whereas before she had been a girl in women's clothing. She had been so damaged before, she thought, before the blue phase. Perhaps this is the woman she would have become if she hadn't been sent through a portal into a world in which she was enslaved and forced to live in silence, she told herself. Maybe, she thought, if her life had turned out differently she would have never become the odd little person she had been.
After the blue phase, after she had been brought back, Fred knew she could never be the person she was before. She would never as soft, or delicate, or flighty. Now, she knew, she was shrewd, cunning, and a little ruthless. Nothing got by her, and she did not tolerate insubordination. Of course, she didn't kill the people who worked under her if they went astray, no, she would just give them a look, and a stern but private lecture about the error of her ways. She had inspired incredibly loyal employees, and they always strove to tow the line.
She liked the person she was. She was as smart as before, but now more aware of what to do with that intelligence. Shedding her naivety had great advantages, she had been told. Her projects were brilliantly designed and presented, and she almost always had the budget she needed to make sure things were done to her specifications.
The intercom on Fred's desk buzzed. Setting down her pen, she pushed the intercom button.
"Mrs. Pryce, security is on the line. They have a woman named Willow Rosenburg at the front desk requesting to see you. She doesn't have an appointment."
Fred froze. Willow was here after all this time. Why, she wondered. Fred was apprised of most of the movements of the Council. It was hard not to be, being married to Wesley. He kept his ear very close to the ground as far as the Council was concerned.
Composing herself, she took a deep breath. She had to address this problem before Angel found out Willow was in the building.
"Ask security if she's alone."
"Yes ma'am." There was a momentary pause from her secretary. "She is with two men, Mrs. Pryce."
So, no slayer, Fred thought. That was good, at least. Maybe a crisis could be averted. "Have Vincent show them up, and have him stay here, he can show them back down as well."
Removing her glasses, Fred stood and straightened her blouse a bit. She quickly had her secretary bring in coffee and four cups and saucers. This was going to be interesting, Fred thought.
They were shown in to Fred's office and Willow quickly took stock of the room. The wall opposite the door was lined with windows from floor to ceiling. A sitting area comprised of a couch and two chairs was to the left, and a large desk, neatly covered with stacks of folders and papers, was to the right. It was sparsely but beautifully decorated. Willow walked further into the room, so that the double doors could be closed. When they were, she saw Fred.
Gone was the Fred she had known. This Fred had her hair, which had to be shorter than the last time Willow had seen her, pulled back into a chignon, and long bangs swept to one side of her face. She was dressed conservatively, in a navy blue pants suit with matching pumps and an emerald green button down blouse. Her understated jewelry, including a wedding band on her left hand, completed the look. She appeared more aloof than Willow remembered, and the warmth and inescapable cheeriness Willow had once been greeted by was covered with a layer of calm contemplation and a good dose of skepticism. This Fred was a business mogul, not a geeky and girlish inventor.
Finally, Willow managed to choke out a greeting. Maybe Fred had died. Was this what replaced her? the witch wondered. Willow shook the hand offered to her and remembered that years ago she have been greeted by a hug, not a handshake.
Fred took stock of Willow, knowing full well the witch was doing the same to her. Willow was in jeans and a dark purple pullover. The handbag at her side was understated but oversized, and her hair was loosely hanging around her shoulders. She was casual, Fred thought, trying to appear low key and non-threatening.
Turning her attention to the younger man with a very dark tan and eye patch in the jeans and t-shirt, she offered her hand. "Mr. Harris, nice to meet you."
She didn't have to guess at the other man's identity. There was only one older gentleman Willow and Xander would travel with. She gave him a quick once over, black slacks, navy blue button down, glasses, and an anxious look on his face. Anxious, but somehow also secure, she thought. "Mr. Giles."
She offered them a seat with a sweeping motion of her arm. "Please, make yourselves comfortable." When her guests were on the couch and she was in one of the chairs, she poured the coffee. She took her time, politely offering cream and sugar. One thing she had learned from her blue phase was how to make a person sweat it out, make them wait for until she was ready to proceed.
She leaned back a fraction. Everything in her posture spoke of relaxation, serenity. "What can I do for you?"
Setting her coffee down, Willow took point. "We've noticed the decrease in demon and vampire populations in the cities in which Wolfram and Hart is present. That is commendable, of course, but we wanted to... well, we wanted to check in."
She smiled knowingly, "You mean you wanted to make sure we weren't pulling an Initiative." When Willow nodded, Fred kept going. "When we took over the company, it was known that we did it for the specific purpose of using the resources of Wolfram and Hart to fight for good. We've been doing that. I hope I've assuaged your fears."
"Yes," Giles entered the conversation and noticed that Fred acted a little colder towards him compared with Willow. "We had concerns knowing Angel's history and the nefarious reputation of this company."
"Of course you did." Fred's voice sounded sweet, but her teeth were clenched slightly.
Seeing that they were close to being thrown out of the window, ten stories up, Xander decided it was time to save Giles from himself. Xander didn't like Angel, but he hadn't known that Giles harbored such bad feelings for the apparently ex-vampire.
"Fred, can I call you that?" Seeing her nod, he continued, "And call me Xander, none of this Mr. Harris crap. Listen, what Giles is trying to say, and not very well, is that we were worried, because, well, we've met angry Angel. It isn't any fun. Now, until recently, I didn't know he was alive. Now that I do, I just want to make sure everything is on the up and up. It looks like it is, but I wanted to hear it from the horse's mouth. You're the horse. Not literally."
He was charming, she decided. Sweet, but shrewd. This was a man that knew he was cute as a button and could be sweeter than cotton candy, but who also took everything with a grain of salt and very well hid cynicism, she decided. She liked him immediately. However, he was with a man that let her die and a woman whose loyalties she questioned. He couldn't be trusted.
"Your concerns are noted, but I assure you, we have been fighting evil with this company for the better part of a decade, and we will continue to do this as long as possible. Now, if you'll excuse me, and if there's nothing else you'd like to talk about, I need to get back to work."
Willow raised a hand to motion for her to wait, "Fred, look... um, could you just... tell me about Angel?"
The reaction Fred had was both unexpected and extreme. She stood up, fire in her eyes, and hissed an answer at them, "Why now? After all this time, why now? He doesn't deserve the pain you'll undoubtedly cause him. Get out." She walked to the door before they could protest, and swung one half of the double doors open. The security guard that had escorted the trio to Fred's office stood waiting for them.
Willow knew she could stay if she wanted. She could shut the door and force Fred to speak to her, but it wouldn't be right. And with the security in this building, her powers might be stymied and they could be killed for trying to harass with one of the executives. She wasn't sure if the security guards, some of whom were not human, would shoot first and ask questions later and decided they should leave peacefully.
Xander gave Fred a smile that was more apologies than thanks on his way out. After what Willow had mentioned a few days ago about Angel writing to Buffy and the letters being intercepted by Giles, he guessed that everyone who knew Angel would hate anyone that had to do with Buffy. They all probably thought she was a jerk for not answering him and her friends would be lumped into that assumption as well, Xander realized.
When Willow had called him and asked him to get on a plane a few nights ago, he hadn't been happy. When she mentioned it had to do with who he still called Mr. Pointy Teeth, he had been even less happy. After hearing the whole story, though, and Willow's concerns, he had acquiesced and agreed to get on a plane. That was three days ago. He had arrived in time to get a shower and some sleep at a motel and meet Willow and Giles as they got off the plane. They were all jet lagged, and cranky, and now they had been thrown out of Wolfram and Hart. This was the best trip he had taken yet, he thought.
Fred immediately went to Wesley's office. She didn't bother to knock; she just opened the door and went in. Her husband was sitting at the conference table he used as a desk, old books opened and a color coded series of post-it notes covering the walls and parts of the table that weren't already covered with books and papers.
He looked up at her, his head cocked a little. She was walking like Illyria, her posture was straighter than normal, and, well, she looked pissed, Wesley thought. Fred never looked like that. No, he thought, that's not right; she never looked like that until Illyria. Now, she looked like that often. She was still Fred, he told himself, just a Fred that could get mad and deck a person with a rather powerful left hook.
He liked this Fred. Gunn couldn't handle Illyria, or the woman Fred had become after Illyria had invaded her body and killed her. Wesley, on the hand, liked Fred this way. He liked her before, and he would like her if tomorrow she woke up sweet and flighty again. He knew why, of course. He was in love her. He had been in love with her since he had first met her, as crazy and ragged as she had been. And, yes, he admitted to himself, he had been in love with Illyria. Because part of Illyria had been Fred, and he couldn't help but love that part of the hell god.
The woman in front of him, who would have been breathing fire had she been capable of such a thing, was the most beautiful woman Wesley had ever seen. Of course, telling her that right now would earn him a potted plant to the head, so he kept quiet.
"What did Giles have to say?"
"How did you know they were here?"
"Security knows better than not to inform me of the presence of anyone associated with the Council or the Summers sisters. What happened?"
She paced back and force, her hands and arms sweeping the room wildly. She had always talked with her hands, Wes thought. "The nerve! To just show up, now! Uninvited, unannounced, and just demand information about Angel! What arrogance! How could they think they are so important as to warrant... "
She kept going, but Wesley had learned it was better for his health and his marriage if he let her run out of steam, or at least calm down a little, before offering a comment. It took a few minutes, but finally, she dropped into one of the overstuffed chairs in front of the table, her posture and the tilt of her head every bit the young Texan girl he had known when he first met her. By the end of her rant, he had not only a summary of her feelings on the encounter, but a word for word reenactment.
"Fred... maybe we should take this at face value. Wait, don't interrupt me. I think they meant what they said, about wanting to check into things. As for the timing, well, Xander mentioned he didn't know Angel was alive. I can't imagine he'd lie about that, he'd have no reason to. Perhaps Buffy hadn't told them. Maybe, when they found out Angel was alive, they came to see for themselves. It has been a very long time."
"I doubt Buffy wouldn't tell them, especially Willow. No, she would definitely say something. But, you're right, Xander wasn't lying, I would have seen that. He may be involved in espionage for the Council, but I don't think he's very good at deceit."
"No, actually, from what I hear, he does recon, and bit messaging, very upfront business. No deceit, no lying, no impersonation."
"A watchdog, then? Interesting. If they didn't know, and Buffy definitely would have told them, then the only conclusion is..."
"Buffy doesn't, or didn't until recently, know that Angel is alive."
Fred stood again and started pacing. She shook her head, "Angel writes to her. I know he does. There are always weeks out of the year he gets hopeful and then he always goes into the deepest depressions a month or so later. By the time he's climbed out of that black pit, he's ready to send another letter. Like a dog that can't stop following an owner that beats it."
"I'm not sure Angel would take kindly to being compared to a dog."
"He was drunk at the budget meeting last week."
"I'm aware. Will talked to him about it." Wesley stood and walked over to the back corner of the room and sat on the couch. There was a tea pot on the table and he was relatively sure the tea would still be warm. "It's a problem, a problem that has been getting progressively worse."
Joining him on the couch, Fred accepted the tea cup offered to her. "He's too thin. He's lost twenty pounds since we started this again. He loses it and puts it back on again when he notices that we're getting nervous. He eats so we'll stop bugging him. Lately, though, he hasn't been putting it back on again. He doesn't eat, I don't think he sleeps, and he drinks a lot. Will won't tell me how much, but I think he's worried, and he doesn't worry easily."
"When it comes to Angel, William will worry rather easily, but I think he's validated in his concern. The question is, what do we do about it? I don't think sending a three hundred year old ex-vampire to rehab is a great idea. He'd laugh at us. And then possibly decapitate us." Leaning forward, he set the tea cup down and rested his elbows on his knees, his chin on his closed fists. "He's depressed, has been for a long time. He hasn't been right since Cordy died. Then, the letters... well, he's in bad shape. Maybe... " He stopped, unsure if he should express his thought to Fred at the moment.
"Maybe what? Maybe Angel should talk to Willow? Maybe Willow can tell him something we can't about Buffy? Good idea, Wesley. In the mean time, I'll ready the noose in his office with a wobbly chair under it. Brilliant." She stood, kissed his cheek, and left his office.
Wesley had to grin; she loved exiting with a flourish.
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