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Chapter Twenty-Seven: Moment of Truth

SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 12:23 AM PST (8:23 PM GMT)
LOS ANGELES

-Angel-

"This is not my best day ever," Angel muttered to himself as he hurried past lines of shocked, panicky travelers, abandoning his search for Lilah in favor of collecting his own people.

He might be older than the country he currently called home, but he'd lived in California long enough to have a pretty good idea what would happen-- or rather, wouldn't happen-- as soon as the airport administrators got up from under their desks to take a look at the 'earthquake' damage and start directing recovery procedures. None of the would-be passengers clogging the terminal would be flying anywhere until the planes and runways were checked for readiness and a long list of other safety and security procedures were followed. And he'd rather not be there when people with badges and medical equipment started combing the crowd for injuries. Being temporarily shielded from sunlight didn't make him any less a vampire.

So much for getting to England in time to help Wesley. But on the other hand-- so much for Lilah getting there ahead of them. Even if the terminal wasn't evacuated, she wouldn't be getting on any flight; that would give them a little breathing room on at least one front. And he'd take any silver lining he could get at this point.

"Oh! There they are, Angel," Fred said, pointing to a knot of people several lines farther down. One of them-- a blond man of average height in a familiar leather jacket-- had a woman in a navy suit crowded up against one of the ubiquitous signage poles spread throughout the terminal like crossing guards. He sighed with relief as he recognized Spike and Lilah. A third, shorter figure hovered beside them: the source of the strong scent of coconut currently inspiring half the terminal to fan at their noses while they clutched at each other.

An idea sparked in the back of his thoughts; he filed it away for later as he changed trajectories. No point worrying how they'd get out of there before they actually, well, got out of there. From Spike's homicidally smug expression and the way Lilah was sneaking her hand into her purse, that wasn't a guarantee; his grandchilde had an infuriating tendency to turn the simplest of plans into absolute chaos, even before considering all the questions that day's events had brought up about the chip supposedly keeping him tame.

"I see them," he replied, picking up the pace a little. "Thanks, Fred."

"If I'd known there'd be so much walking in my immediate future, I would have worn better shoes," he heard Lorne mutter behind him; Gunn cracked something back about humming to himself in the morning, but Angel didn't catch it, too distracted by the hardening resolve on Lilah's face as her hand came back out of the purse clutching an unfamiliar piece of ancient-looking pottery that absolutely could not have fit in a bag that small. It was some kind of greenish color, fat-bellied, double-handled, and about the size of a funerary urn; no kind of good associations came to mind at the sight.

She said something to Spike, then lifted the thing negligently by one handle, her expression a taunt. Spike apparently didn't feel any better about that than Angel did, because he visibly tensed as she gestured with it, lifting his chin belligerently as Angel and the others finally got within hearing range.

"And I should believe that because?" Spike said challengingly.

"Believe it-- or don't, but it's the only chance you have to stop his plans," Lilah replied, edging sideways until she had her back to the open area rather than the blue guidance lines mazing the approaches to the airline counters.

It was obvious there was something going on Angel didn't have all the pieces to; it was also obvious that Lilah was about to do something drastic, like a trapped animal ready to bite off its paw in order to be free. And there weren't any mundane authorities in a position to interrupt the scene; they were all either just uncurling from their duck-cover-hold positions, or had their hands full with travelers knocked down or struck by falling glass.

"Now, Lilah, don't do anything rash," he blurted over the din of voices around them, trying to buy more time to get a better handle on events.

Lilah didn't pause, or even bother look at him; she threw the urn up into the air, then turned and ran.

"Bollocks," Spike swore, reaching for the falling object-- somehow managing to trip over Jonathan, who had reached for it at the same time. He managed to get one long-fingered hand under the wide belly of the urn, but at all the wrong angle; he broke its momentum, but it ricocheted off his palm as he stumbled, and Lilah used the confusion of the moment to yell for help as she headed for the nearest person wearing a uniform.

Given the choice between stopping Lilah, and catching the urn, she was a known quantity; the artefact of indeterminate age was decidedly not. Angel swore, then lunged for the urn, and got a finger through one of the handle-arms just before it would have hit the ground.

"Angel, she collared one of the security guys; we better think about getting outta here," Gunn commented grimly, reaching a hand down to help Jonathan up. "Whatever we were here for, got a feeling there's more important things to be worrying about now. Too bad it don't sound like they're evacuating."

The speaker system had survived the ground-shock intact; an authoritative voice overhead was encouraging the travelers to remain calm, assist one another, and wait for assistance from trained airline employees. Much as Angel was glad there hadn't been more damage, Gunn was right. As the confusion in the terminal began to subside, whatever distraction the restive crowd might have provided their exit was quickly evaporating.

"I hope this was important," he groused, glaring at Spike as he tucked the urn under one arm and turned to walk casually toward the doors. A quick glance behind showed Lilah making sharp, controlled gestures in their direction, and a sense of concern dawning over the face of the guard. "What the hell was she talking about?"

"Sahjhan," Spike growled, avoiding Angel's eye as he righted himself to follow. One hand knocked against the extended handle of an abandoned suitcase on wheels; the vampire swore at it, then glanced toward the security guard again as the man's body language shifted towards action. Then a slow, vicious smirk flashed over his face, quickly enough that Angel wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been looking, replaced by alarmed imperiousness.

"I'd like to report an unattended suitcase," he said, approaching the next employee between them and the exit. The uniform was still crisply new, the face behind it young, the boy's hands shaky with nerves as he opened a first aid kit to help an older woman with a cut arm: the perfect target for Spike's troublemaking tactics. "I was just accosted by some bint who said this wasn't an earthquake. Then she scarpered and left that behind. I'm not touchin' it; I don't want it anywhere near me!"

The shadowed corner of Angel's being that still thought in such terms, no matter how much he'd protested to Spike that he couldn't afford to set foot on that slippery slope anymore, approved... and reminded him of that idea he'd filed away earlier. He stepped up behind Spike, then raised his own voice and added in distressed tones, "And now the air in here smells like coconuts. What is that? Does anyone else smell coconuts?"

Several of the people who had been queuing in earshot glanced at each other in alarm at that; one middle-aged man in a suit clutched tighter at his briefcase and commented, "There hasn't been an aftershock yet... and after the mini-quake last month they found the Wolfram and Hart building in ruins. Has anyone checked the news?"

The combined suggestions went through the gathered travelers in a ripple of nervous energy and outcries, and Lorne gave Angel a dirty look as the various travelers abandoned all attempts at orderly calm and began streaming toward the exit doors en masse. The employee didn't seem to know how to respond, other than trying to ask everyone to be calm; the one Lilah had gone to wasn't visible anymore through the throng. Hopefully he'd forget all about trying to file any report in the chaos of trying to manage the crowd.

"Well done, Angel. You might as well have screamed 'fire' in a crowded theater," the Pylean sighed.

"I'm not proud of it, and I'll have words with Spike later, but it's getting us out of here," Angel muttered back, ducking his head a little to blend with the flow. "If we can't get Lilah, and we can't get to Wes...."

"Beige auras, my friend," Lorne replied, casually stooping to pick up someone's dropped cell phone as he glanced back over his shoulder to check on the others.

"I know, I know, lecture me later."

"No... no, I don't think you do," Lorne said, this time in a more troubled tone. "With most people? Beige is a practical color, conservative; means you're dispelling your doubts and thinking clearly. But when it comes to you and Spike...." He pressed green lips tightly together, trapping the rest of the remark behind his teeth.

Angel frowned. He'd never been all that great at balance, and that was the second time in one day that someone had reminded him there was a bit more Angelus to his makeup than he usually liked to pretend. He didn't see how he could possibly do anything about it other than what he was doing already, though; he was out of the gutter now, a father, a friend, a Champion. Buffy had started it; but he had found more reasons to stay the course, and had others around him to help keep him on track. He'd lose those if he....

His train of thought fractured as he suddenly recognized, with a visceral shock, the patterns behind Spike's recent behavior. Soul or no soul, for all their different natures, he had been the one Spike had shaped himself to please as a young vampire; that had been a source of guilt for years. And now? Angel swallowed, then shook off the thought-- he did not have any desire to deal with it at the moment-- and pushed through the exit door. The sunscreen was still working, and there was plenty of transportation available within reach. Time to get moving.

He waited until they were all back on the road-- he'd sought out a showy, spic-and-span SUV smelling of leather polish, rather than some soccer mom's car, and told himself the lack of guilt was because he meant to return it as soon as he retrieved his convertible-- before glancing at Lorne again in the rearview.

"Got the moving van squared away?" he asked, casually.

"Oh, yes. Called a family of U'halu demons I know; friendly guys, hard workers, have a taste for packing peanuts. They'll have it to the hotel by tonight. Then I tried to call England again, but...."

Tried? Angel winced. "We already know what's going on in England. The details... aren't important right now." The Hellmouth moving on so quickly had been a pretty clear sign, after all. It just wasn't one they could do anything about. Not anymore.

He was still having trouble enough with the concept that the infant son he'd cradled in his arms a month before was now his friend Wes, and had in fact been Wes all along; the idea of losing said son and his potential daughter-in-law who just so happened to also be a Slayer-- never mind that she'd tried to kill him more than once-- along with most of their other friends and family was....

Well, he was mostly trying not to think about it. They'd call. Everything would be okay. And then they'd fly back. And when they did, they'd expect everything in Los Angeles to be squared away. That, he could deal with. The rest just wasn't up for discussion.

"What's important is what's happening here," he continued, throwing a glare over his shoulder toward the other vampire. Angel had handed the urn back over when they lifted the new car, and Spike was currently staring into its mouth with a perturbed scowl. "Which brings me back to you, Spike. What exactly is that, and what does Sahjhan have to do with it? It's been a month since he's stirred the waters. I was starting to think he'd missed his chance and we wouldn't have to deal with him anymore."

"Starting to hope, you mean," Spike replied, sourly. "He might not've stirred your waters, but he's been a busy little bumble. Talking to Lilah, for one; tried to tempt me with Dru, for another."

"He what?" The steering wheel jerked briefly with the force of Angel's reaction. "What did he say to you?"

Spike gave him a strange look, blue eyes narrowed when Angel glanced at him. "Not askin' what reply I gave?"

Angel gave a frustrated growl. "I think it's pretty plain what your answer was, given that we're all still here. What did he say, Spike?"

"Not worried I'm just biding my time to tear out your throats?"

"What was it you said to me once? A good plan, smart plan, carefully laid out... but you got bored? Not really seeing how this situation would go all that differently."

"Guys. Guys!" Gunn interrupted, waving a hand between the seats to break their line of sight. He was tucked in between Fred and Spike in the SUV's middle bench seat, legs folded up awkwardly behind the center console. "You can't stand each other, we get it. Believe me, we get it. So bring us up to speed, already. 'Cause my girl nearly got herself run over to get us there to stop Lilah, and instead we ended up with this ugly piece of art as a souvenir." He tapped one blunt finger against its worn glaze.

Jonathan cleared his throat from where he sat alone in the back. "Uh... she said it was a Resikhian Urn?" he offered, tentatively. "She said it could trap Sahjhan; that it was the only thing that could."

"Stop his kind, actually. Guess we should be grateful we only have to deal with one of 'em."

"Speaking of dealing," Angel dragged the conversation back around to his original question. It was good to know that they might have a way of dealing with the incorporeal time-traveling demon now, but what went into a jar could always come back out again, and until they had a chance to test it he didn't dare trust that promise of fortune. "Still waiting to hear what he wanted from you, Spike."

Spike turned his head away, staring out the window, muttering something incomprehensible under his breath about bloody nephew when I need him. Then he sighed, hunching his shoulders a little under his coat. "Doesn't matter, does it? He's carrying a chip for you and yours; but you knew that already."

"You know, the more you refuse to answer? The more I really want to know," Angel frowned. There was something important there; he could feel it.

"Save it, guys. We're almost there... and it looks like we're not the first ones," Fred put in.

Sure enough, as they approached the Hyperion, they could see lights on in the lobby; Amy must have come back from her dad's place early, what with everything going on.

"Uh, Angelcakes?" Lorne sucked in a breath. "Speak of the devil...."

Angel's attention had drifted from the road at the sight of their home; he turned back just in time to see a figure in brown standing right in front of the SUV. He slammed on the brakes, hoping against hope not to hear a thump; then felt a different sort of emotion altogether as the car passed right through the jaywalker without any resistance at all, and he caught a glimpse of his face.

"Sahjhan," he swore, then threw a backward glance. "Spike?"

"Got it," Spike replied grimly, reaching for the door. Angel threw the SUV into park right where it sat and got out; Spike followed close behind him, urn in hand but shielded from view by Angel's broad back.

The Granok demon did not look impressed by their advance. He also looked uglier than ever out in the bright sunshine, the old scars and runes carved into his face standing out starkly against his pale skin, framed by long brown hair and flowing dark robes. "You just keep turning up like a bad penny. What is it going to take to finally get rid of you? I was only after you to stop your kid at first; but now it's starting to get personal."

"Funny, I was thinking the same thing," Angel scoffed. "Except for the part about my kid. But you know, when you really want something done, you ought to do it yourself. Oh, wait; you can't, can you?"

"Hah, hah, mock the tangibility impaired. Of course, that means you can't do anything to me, either," Sahjhan pointed out, as condescending as ever.

He shifted his gaze over Angel's shoulder when he refused to rise to the bait, moving to another target. "You know, I really expected better out of you though, Spike. You gave me your word that if I took out the chip, you'd take care of Angel."

Angel had wondered, after the moving van incident and Spike's subsequent evasiveness; his gut lurched, but Spike was already speaking up before he could react. "No, you told me to cause chaos and destruction, and save Angel for last. Didn't care what happened to the others. Done, and will do. Pretty damn convenient Peaches is the only one of this lot immortal, now innit?"

"Don't think you're going to rules-lawyer your way out of your due reward," Sahjhan snarled. "Holtz tried to pull that on me, and now he's no one's problem. I've got all the time in the world; not like the rest of you. Especially the vampire's son. I just had a look in on him over in England; his ragtag little band of do-gooders very nearly won the day, but alas, he was still in the basement when the manor started coming down around their ears. So much for the prophecy that said he would kill me. I had the damn thing rewritten, and look where we are now!"

"And that's bloody well enough of that," Spike growled, stepping out from behind Angel to reveal the urn.

Sahjhan had just enough time to choke in recognition before Spike opened the lid, and a column of light and wind reached out of its depths to suck him in. The whole process took only seconds; Angel stared mutely as it slammed back closed, feeling as though he was the one who had just been folded, spindled, and vacuumed up. "I never thought I would say this, but thank God for Lilah."

Spike's gaze was defiant as he handed the urn back over. "Might, uh." He cleared his throat. "Might want to have Wes smash the thing when he gets back. Just to be sure."

"Yeah," Lorne added, shuddering. "Genuine prophecies are funny that way. Even if you do manage to alter one-- time travel's a new variation on me, but I've heard of other attempts-- it generally just causes both versions to come true."

"Is that what... all this was just...?" Angel stammered, staring blankly at the thing as he took it. "Everything, all the attacks the last couple of months? It was about killing my son before he could kill him?" The scale of that thought was just as appalling as the one he'd had earlier about Spike's motives.

He didn't even want to think about what Sahjhan had said about Wes; he was determinedly ignoring that for the moment.

"Half, maybe?" Fred said, doubtfully. "What with the Prophecy, and Wolfram and Hart and... oh my God, Angel, you're on fire!"

"What?!"

Of course the sunscreen spell had chosen that exact moment to wear off.

Angel swore, then ran for the hotel, Spike trailing smoke at his heels.


Index | CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT >>
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The Lesser Men Saga: A B:tVS/A:tS Season 6/3 AU

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