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FIC: The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square, Part 4/5

Title:  The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square
Author:  Lizbeth Marcs
Summary:  Nothing’s the same after the monsters come to town.

Genre:  Gen; Apoca-fic, dark fic, future fic
Rating:  PG-13
Series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series
Characters:  Xander, Faith, Willow, Angel, original characters
Pairings:  Xander/OC; Xander/Faith (referred to in the past tense)




They must’ve huddled curled around each other under the blankets in the midst of their nest for hours. They tried talking to get their minds off of the danger swirling around the house, but eventually they lapsed into silence as if talking about nothing at all was far too much effort for them to handle.

Moira didn’t know about Mom, but her nerves were stretched right to the breaking point. Every noise, be it potentially real or imagined, caused her startle as her ears strained for some sign that something had managed to crash into the house through a door, through an overlooked uncovered window, or even through an outside wall. Her eyes strained as she attempted to peer into the complete black that still ruled the house beyond the candle’s circle of light for some evidence that they were no longer alone in the house.

To make matters worse, every muscle in her body seemed paralyzed even as instinct urged to her run away, not that there was anywhere she could actually run to. Where would she go? Another room in the house? Not outside, that was for sure.

The stress, the disconcerting noises from the outside, and the knowledge that something evil was out there trying to get in all conspired to make her question her decision to forgo the promised security of the closet.  Was it really better to stay with the flickering candle, even if it meant staying in the relatively open space of the living room?

Moira began to think not.

Just as she was about to tell Mom that maybe the closet was the better bet after all, her mother said, “Wait.”

“What is it?” Moira nervously asked.

“I think…is it? I think it’s getting lighter in here,” Mom said.

Moira looked around. “If it is, I can’t tell.”

Mom sat up, her head turning this way and that. “It is. It is getting lighter in here.”

Moira still couldn’t see it, even though she really wanted to believe it. She glanced at the white candle and noticed that it was three-quarters gone, which meant that they had been waiting for some sign that the whole thing was over for fairly long time. 

Or maybe not. They still hadn’t burned through the first candle, so unless Chris had a cast some kind of burn-a-long-time spell on them that meant that the whole thing didn’t even last through the night. To be honest, she found it hard to believe that everything had happened and was over and done in a matter of a few hours.  It felt like she had been shivering in the darkness for nothing short of forever.

“Honey, look,” Mom grabbed her by the shoulder and indicated the far corner of the living room. “It’s getting lighter.”

Moira did as she was directed, but all she could see was complete darkness. She looked back at her mother to say so when, as if to prove Mom’s point that the worst was over, the noise outside suddenly stopped.

Moira was so startled that jumped to her feet, ready to run.

Mom began to laugh and cry at the same time. “Oh, my God. It’s over. It’s really over.”

Moira slowly sank back down onto the nest of blankets and began to shake and cry. She might not be able to tell if it was getting lighter, but she could definitely hear that the noise was gone.

Mom grabbed her in a hug and began rocking the two of them back and forth. “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over…” she kept repeating.

Moira hugged back and buried her face into her mother’s neck, just like when she was a little kid, as the tears came faster and more furious.

God knows how long they went on like that, not that they were keeping track. The relief that they’d be getting out of this alive and unhurt so powerful that time once more slipped away as they celebrated their good luck with both tears and nervous laughter that often crossed over into gulped sobs.

Eventually Moira pulled away, although she didn’t pull away enough to get out of Mom’s hug. “I hope Chris is still okay.”

“Don’t say that!” Mom cried as she grabbed Moira by her upper arms. “Of course he’s okay! Of course he’s coming home!”

“Mom!” Moira yelped.

Mom let go and she began to shiver. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to believe that he’s hurt. I’m sure he’s fine. He’s with friends. He’s not alone out there. He’s going to be just fine.”

“Okay,” Moira agreed with relief.

The white candle began to sputter its last.

“I’m going to light another one,” Mom said as she reached out and grabbed one of its unlit brothers lying on its side. “I don’t have the strength to even get up off the floor to go find a regular candle.”

“Yeah. I hear that,” Moira agreed as she flopped backwards onto the mess of blankets and her pillow. She rubbed her hands across her sore eyes, and scrubbed at the icky salt tracks left behind on her cheeks by her tears.

Now that the noise was gone, she could feel her muscles loosening bit by bit. The urge to run away was gone, her fear was slowly ebbing, and she began to believe that everything was going to be okay. They were safe, and Chris was safe. Chris was coming home and they could be a family again, only this time a family without any secrets.

It was all good.

As Mom lit the new candle with the dying wick of the old and placed it in a nearby empty candle holder, there was a knock at the door.

Mom and Moira exchanged worried looks.

“Guys! We need to come in!” Chris’s anguished-sounding voice shouted through the door. “We’ve got some wounded out here!”

Moira and Mom let out a relieved breath.

“Please!” Chris’s knocking became more insistent. “I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but if I don’t get these three to safety they’re going to die!”

Mom moved to get up. “Stay here.”

The old candle guttered and finally went out, leaving only one candle to carry the burden of casting light. Moira’s stomach began to flutter, almost as if the loss of that momentary extra light had a physical effect.

Suddenly, Chris’s repeated warnings echoed in Moira’s head. “If that’s really Chris, shouldn’t he have a key?” she asked.

“He could have lost them,” Mom said as she stood.

“But Chris said—”

“Don’t let anyone in until we see sunlight, even if the person on the other side of the door is someone we know,” Mom finished for her as she picked up the candle and headed for the door.

“Then what are you doing?” Moira desperately asked.

“Checking to see if it’s really Chris,” Mom simply said.

“But what about Chris’s warning. He said—” Moira began.

She was interrupted by Chris once again pounding on the door pleading to be let in with his wounded.

The desperation in Chris’s voice seemed to decide the matter for Mom. “I have to at least see if that’s really him, or something pretending to be him,” she said.

“So what are you going to do?” Moira asked.

“Like I said. Check,” Mom said.

Moira was plunged back into darkness as Mom as carefully tip-toed into the hall and turned out of sight as she headed for the front door. Moira clutched at the blankets, just to have something to hold on to.

“Chris?” Moira could hear Mom calling through the door. “Chris, is that really you?”

“I know. I know. I said let no one in,” Chris shouted back. “So you know I wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t the closest safe haven I could think of.”

“Where’s your keys?” Mom asked.

“In a drawer at my hotel room,” Chris said. “I didn’t want to take a chance that they’d fall into the wrong hands during the fight.”

“A-a-a-re you okay?” Mom asked.

“Bruised and banged-up,” Chris answered. “I’ll live. My people might not.”

“Hold on a second,” Moira heard Mom say.

There was a long silence.

“Okay, give me a few minutes, and I’ll be right there,” Mom said.

“Hurry! Please!” Chris desperately called.

Mom quickly returned to the living room with the candle, bringing with her both light and relief from the terrifying darkness.

“Right,” Mom said. “You’re going upstairs into the closet.”

“So it isn’t Chris,” Moira said as her heart sunk. Clearly, the nightmare wasn’t over yet.

Mom chewed her lip, a sign that she was either nervous or couldn’t decide on what to do. “I’m pretty sure it’s him.”

Pretty sure?” Moira’s voice rose in volume.

“Keep your voice down,” Mom harshly ordered. “Moira, it’s over. It’s getting lighter in here and we haven’t heard any strange noises for a long time. We’re safe.”

“But Chris said wait for sunlight,” Moira insisted.

“Moira, honey, I could see shadows outside. All of them looked human. Not one of them looked like that thing we saw I the window,” Mom said.

Moira was pretty amazed that Mom could see anything at all. Sure, Mom insisted that it was getting lighter, but near as Moira could tell that simply wasn’t the case.

“The shadow standing right in front of the door…he looks like he’s Chris’s height and build,” Mom said. “I’m 90% sure it’s him. And if it is him, he’s in trouble and we have to help him.”

There was another knock. “Katy? Not to be a pest or anything, but—”

Mom went up to the entrance to the hallway. “Give me a few more minutes! I’ll be right there!”

Moira stood up. She didn’t know why, but some instinct was telling her that something was really wrong. “If you’re so sure that it’s Chris, why can’t I stay right where I am?”

“Because I’m not sure enough,” Mom said as she marched over to Moira and grabbed her hand.

“No!” Moira yelled.

“Honey, listen to me,” Mom desperately said. “If it turns out to be Chris and his friends, I’ll come get you right away. If it’s not, I’d feel better knowing you were safe.”

“You’re sounding a lot less sure than 90%,” Moira insisted. “And what if you’re wrong. They’ll kill you!”

“I’ll leave the chain on the front door and I’ll only crack it open,” Mom promised. “If there’s anything I don’t like on the other side, even if that really is Chris asking us to open the door, I’ll slam it shut and run right upstairs and join you in the closet.”

Moira worried at her bottom lip with her teeth. Mom’s plan sounded reasonable, but…

Then again if that really was Chris on the other side of the door, he did sound very desperate. She couldn’t take the chance that he might get killed because they were too afraid to let him in.

“Katy? Honey?” she heard Chris call through the door.

“Okay. I’ll go upstairs to the closet. But you have to promise me that you’ll come get me as soon as Chris gets inside,” Moira finally said.

“Done and done.” Mom turned toward the door and gestured for Moira to get going for the stairs. “Chris, give me a few more minutes and I’ll open the door.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The relief in Chris’s voice was evident despite the fact his words had to carry through a door.

Mom grabbed her hand, led her upstairs, and to the closet.

She opened the door.

Moira paused at the threshold. “You’ll come and get me? You won’t forget?”

“I bet I’ll have to race Chris up the stairs to come get you,” Mom promised as she gently pushed Moira inside. “Just remember, don’t open the door no matter what happens. One of us will come and open it for you if it’s safe.”

The final warning gave Moira pause and she turned around to face her mother. “What if Chris gets inside with his friends, but it turns out that it’s not safe for me to leave for some reason?”

“Then I promise that Chris or I will come up here right away and tell you why you need to stay put for a little while longer,” Mom said.

Moira didn’t like that idea at all, but she’d deal with it later if it came up.

Mom reached out and touched Chris’s carving on the inside of the door. “He was right in front of us all along, and we never really saw him.”

Moira’s brow furrowed at that. It seemed they saw Chris just fine, except for the parts he never showed them. That was Chris’s thing, not theirs. If someone locked things away in a box, real or imaginary, it’s hardly other peoples’ fault if they don’t have X-ray vision.

Mom looked at her as she reached for the handle. “Just remember that no matter what happens, I love you.”

“Love you too, Mom,” Moira answered.

And with that Mom shut the door and plunged her into darkness.

Moira held her breath as she heard Mom’s steps leave the bedroom. She struggled to continue holding it while she waited for something to happen, be it the sight of the door suddenly opening or a soft knock and a voice telling her why she needed to stay put for a little while longer.

Her hands clenched and unclenched in the darkness and the silence, and she slightly shifted from foot to foot. Her skin seemed to crackle with nervous energy as she strained her ears for the sound of the front door opening, or the sound of returning footsteps.

It was all going to be okay. She was in the closet, her secret wonderland, the one Chris specifically built to keep them safe from bad things they didn’t know even existed until a few days ago.

Nothing ever went wrong in the closet. Nothing bad ever happened in the closet.

The good guys always won. The heroes always saved the day.

It was all going to come up happy endings.

A blood-curdling scream shattered the silence and Moira’s illusions.

She jumped with a yelp and reached for the closet door.

Mom! Mom’s in trouble!

Just as her hand touched the doorknob, that awful, deafening, roaring noise with its crazy, babbling undertone started up again as if it had never gone away. This time it was louder, and more terrifying than ever.

Moira stumbled backwards as if she’d been backhanded. She screamed in terror as she clapped her hands over her ears and collapsed onto the closet floor.

Her feeble attempt at blocking the noise didn’t help. The sound seemed to insinuate itself under her skin and rip through her mind, making it impossible for her to move or even think. Her world seemed to consist of nothing more than that noise, only now the high-pitched babbling had broken apart into a thousand insane voices, some speaking in English and some not.

She screamed as some of the babbling resolved into sentences, and spoke in laughing tones about evil deeds and other dark doings. Some lovingly detailed the awful things they wanted to do to her, some lovingly talked about the awful things that they had already done to other people. They talked about teeth and claws that were red like blood, and about places as deep, dark, and damp as a pit in Hell. The giggled over horrific deaths they’d caused, and horrific deaths they hoped to cause.

Moira kept screaming louder and louder. She screamed as her throat got sore, her facial muscles began to ache, and her bladder let go. She screamed as her hands pressed harder against her ears and her fingernails dug into her skull. She screamed even as her scream became a croak, and then disappeared entirely.

Despite it all, she kept her mouth open in a scream, as if it was somehow enough to drown the voices out.

It didn’t help.

*****

When he emerges from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, Faith’s on her cell phone.

He pauses to watch Faith before looking at her. “Now what?”

She doesn’t even know where to begin. Should she start with the fact Faith let her watch the news? Or should she start with Faith’s heart-to-heart talk?

Except he’s not asking about that. He’s obviously asking why Faith’s on the phone.

She shrugs, but this time she doesn’t look away from him.

He glances at Faith as he stumbles to the other bed and digs through the bag for a sub. “If it’s bad news, we’ll hear about it soon enough.”

Right on cue, Faith shoves the phone in her pocket. “That was Rosenberg cementing the details into place.”

He puts his head in his hands. “So, what parts of the plan have been ditched due to things going wrong?”

“Believe it or not, nothing’s changed,” Faith says.

She frowns. She doesn’t remember anyone talking about any kind of plan. “What plan?” she asks.

Faith’s eyebrows draw low. “What do you mean, ‘What plan?’ The plan to get you two to London without anyone noticing until it’s too late.”

“Faith,” he softly interrupts, “Moira was still out cold when we had that conversation.”

She’s surprised to see that he looks a little guilty when he says that.

“Oh, yeah.” Faith rubs her temples. “I forgot.”

“And when was the last time you slept?” he asks.

“Well? Or at all?” Faith asks.

“At all,” he answers.

“Two days. Maybe three,” Faith says. “Wish I could say that it was because I was too busy having fun.”

“What plan?” she interrupts. She resists the urge to stomp her foot out of frustration.

“The short story? I’m a nun,” here Faith bows while he makes a snorting sound like he wants to laugh, “bringing a student — that would be you by the way — to an exclusive boarding school somewhere in the U.K.”

Her heart sinks. While she’s not exactly thrilled that she’s stuck with him on what appears to be a permanent basis, it’s better than being dumped in some boarding school and left to fend completely for herself.

“You? You’re bringing me to…wherever? To a boarding school?” she asks. “I thought we were going to this Council place in London.”

“It’s just a cover identity.” He sounds tired as he says this. “In that duffle over there is a school uniform, spare clothes, some books, and a fake passport. Bonus, Willow’s cast a spell on the whole thing so that no one will even look twice at you or Faith until you’re safe and sound in London.”

“A spell?” she desperately asks.

“Willow’s a witch,” he answers. “One of the most powerful witches in the world, in fact.”

A witch. Of course. She should have known.

She is now living in a world where people aren’t entirely human, assuming they are human at all.

“Where are you going to be?” she asks him.

“Taking a different plane with a different identity,” he answers. “I’m going to be—”

“For Christ’s sake, don’t tell her,” Faith interrupts. “The less she knows, the better.”

She feels a stab at the hint that Faith doesn’t trust her. It’s a little hypocritical, she knows. She doesn’t trust either one of them as far as she could throw them with her pinky.

“She didn’t mean to say it like that.” He suddenly gets up from the bed and reaches for her.

She can’t help it. She shies away from his touch.

He drops his hand to his side and looks a little lost. “What she means is that the fewer people who know the whole plan, the better. That way if one of us gets caught, we won’t be able to spill what we don’t know. It’s safer for everyone.”

“But you know the plan for me,” she protests.

“He doesn’t, actually,” Faith interrupts. “He doesn’t know the names we’re travelling under, he doesn’t know what part of the U.K. we’re supposed to be going to, and he sure has hell doesn’t know the name of the school I’m supposedly taking you to. Hell, he doesn’t even know what airline we’re gonna use, let alone the flight number of the plane.”

She backs up a few steps. “So that’s it? I’m supposed to go with you without knowing anything? I’m supposed to trust you now?”

He winces as if he’s been slapped.

“Hey!” Faith protests. “I have never lied to you.”

She opens her mouth to argue the point, but realizes that she can’t. Before Faith walked into this crappy hotel room the two of them had never exchanged so much as a word. While she can’t prove that Faith has been entirely truthful about everything, Faith had told her the truth about home.

It was more than she ever got from him.

That had to count for something.

She shoots him a glare. “Okay. That’s true.”

She feels a little satisfaction when she sees him wince again.

“Look, I gotta motor,” Faith says. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

He’s immediately on alert. “Why? Don’t tell me they weren’t fooled and know we’re alive.”

“Nah, nothing like that,” Faith easily says. “Near as we can tell, they still believe that you and the kid here are getting roasted in one of those fires still burning back in Newport.”

“What?” she asks in shock.

“They think we’re dead,” he clarifies. “Someone somewhere started a rumor that they saw us running for our lives and a burning building collapsed right on top of us. They’re busily watching the flames so that when the thing burns out they can search the rubble to confirm we’re dead.”

She shudders and hugs herself. She doesn’t at all like the idea that people think she’s dead.

Except it’s not all that far from the truth, is it?

“So, why are you coming back if nothing’s gone wrong?” he asks.

Faith saunters over and gives him playful smack across his upper arm. “Because friends don’t let friends run for their lives on less than no sleep, dumbass.”

Her eyes narrow in distaste as she sees him smile and duck his head in what is an achingly familiar move. He used to do the same thing when her mother playfully teased him the same way a million years ago.

She has a strong feeling his claim that just-a-friend-with-benefits Faith was yet another lie, one that was mixed in with all the other lies he had told her over the years.

For some reason, the discovery of this new lie hurts most of all.

“While I’m really, really grateful you’re willing to play sentry while I sleep, what about you?” he asks. “You haven’t slept either.”

“Yeah, well, I got it in the superpower department, and you don’t,” Faith says.

“Still—” he begins.

“Xander? Shut. The Fuck. Up.” Faith doesn’t sound mad when she says it, though. “Jesus, you don’t change. Just take the gift, and worry about yourself for once.”

He glances at her before glancing back at Faith. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Faith turns on her heel.

He plops back down onto his bed and seems to deflate as Faith reaches the door.

“Hey, Xander? Moira?” Faith asks.

Both of them look at her.

“I’m sorry,” Faith says. “I’m just…well. I’m sorry.”

At last, an apology. It’s not from the person she needs to hear it from, but it’s better than nothing at all. If Faith kept this up she could almost learn to like the tough chick with the don’t-mess-with-me ’tude.

Faith uncomfortably shuffles, before adding, “And, um, Xander? Welcome back to the family. I wish the circumstances for you coming back were better, but…yeah. If we’re gonna go down fighting, I’m glad you’ll be there with us. Fighting, I mean.”

And just like that, any hope of ever liking Faith evaporates.

“I know how you mean it,” he softly says. “And thanks. Wish I could be so confident.”

As Faith leaves, he keeps his head bowed like he knows the next hour alone with her is going to be hell.

*****

She was alone in the dark and the silence.

She couldn’t see, and she couldn’t hear anything.

And she hurt. Oh God, how she hurt.

She heard a sound, but it was far away and muffled.

It was quickly followed by a loud thump, like something hitting wood.

She whimpered as she pushed herself more tightly into the corner.

A voice. “Oh, God. Please, please, please….”

There was a sound, like a door opening. Or maybe closing.

She screamed, but the only sound that came out of her mouth was a raspy gurgle.

A yell. “Moira!”

She picked up a nearby shoe and threw it with all her might in the direction of the voice.

Something thumped. “Ow! Moira! It’s me! It’s me!”

She began to shake.

A pair of strong arms gathered her up. “It’s me, honey. I’m here. You’re okay. You’re going to be okay,” the voice said.

She struggled against the hold.

“It’s me! It’s Chris!”

The voice, the name, finally sunk in and she stilled.

“Moira?” He sounded worried.

She finally looked up and realized that she could see. “Chris?” she rasped.

He pulled her into a tight hug. “Oh, thank God.”

“Chris?” she asked again.

“C’mon, let’s get you out of here,” he said as he began to pull her out of the closet.

She began to fight him. “No-no-no-no-no. Don’t leave the closet. Don’t leave the closet.

“Honey, we’re safe! It’s okay! It’s over,” he insisted.

She stopped fighting. “Over?” she asked.

“Over,” he confirmed. “You’re safe.”

“Okay,” Moira said as she tried to crawl over him to get out.

“Hold on. Let me get out of your way,” he said as he crawled backwards.

Moira willingly followed.

When Moira reached the bedroom, she took one look around and decided that maybe she should stay in the closet after all. The bed was torn to pieces, the furniture was broken and looked closer to kindling than furniture, and the walls…

Oh, God. There were claw marks all over the walls.

And the smell

Moira whimpered and turned around.

“No!” Chris grabbed her and hauled her back. “It looks bad, but it’s safe.”

“Safe?” Moira doubtfully repeated in her scream-tortured voice.

Chris sighed. “Safe enough and for now.”

As her senses and wits slowly returned, she realized that Chris looked like he had been at the bad end of a beating. There was a vivid red cut across his right cheek that had dripped blood down to his chin. There was a nasty bruise blossoming his on his swollen left cheek. His hands and his clothes are covered blood.

That the blood might belong to him or someone else made her want to scream and throw-up, pretty much in that order. If she hadn’t already learned the hard lesson that screaming and throwing up, not to mention crying and begging for mercy, wasn’t going to help her at all she would’ve done just that.

“What happened?” Moira asked. She wasn’t sure if she was asking about his condition or what happened after Mom let him into the house.

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” he said.

Moira stupidly stared him. She suddenly realized that it was still dark out. “The sun! There’s no sun!” She tried to shout, but it came out as a strangled squeak.

“It’s fine!” Chris desperately said as he grabbed her, probably to prevent her from crawling back into the closet. “It’s over. The stars are out and we can see the moon. We’re still a couple of hours away from sunrise.”

“Oh,” she said. She slumped against him in relief, like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

“Moira, I know this hard but I need you to answer me, okay?”

Moira nodded as her head flopped against his shoulder.

“I came by to see if you guys were okay, and I saw that the front door had been smashed in,” Chris said.

Her head shot up and wobbled on her neck. “Smashed?” she stupidly asked. “Did something smash it when you and your friends came inside?”

“Me and my fr—” Chris stopped short, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “Moira, I only just came home a few minutes ago.”

“No.” Moira struggled to make her voice louder despite her raw throat. “No. You were at the door. Earlier. You said your friends had been hurt. You said you needed to get inside because they were going to die. You said—”

Chris dropped his head. “That wasn’t me.”

“No. No, it was.” Moira shook her head. “I heard you. You were knocking on the door and telling us that you needed to get inside because your friends needed help. I heard you. Mom said it was you. She said.”

“No,” Chris hoarsely said.

Moira chin began to tremble and her tears began to flow. “Mom?”

Chris took a deep, shuddering breath as he shook his head.

As Moira began to cry in earnest, Chris gathered her up in his arms and rocked her.

She wasn’t sure how long she cried, but eventually she stopped sobbing. Shortly after, the flood of tears slowed to a trickle.

Moira felt like she had been crying forever, even if it didn’t feel like she had cried long enough.

“It’s going to be okay,” Chris quietly promised into the top of her head. He had been promising all kinds of thing during her latest storm, but she was too lost to really pay attention to anything he said.

She wasn’t sure if it was a good thing that she could finally hear him.

“I hate to interrupt.”

Moira startled at the strange voice and moved to crawl back into the closet.

Chris grabbed her to prevent her flight. “Jesus, Angel. You need to wear a bell.”

Moira tried to bring her terrified breathing under control as she looked up.

There was a tall man with dark hair standing in the doorway. He was wearing a long, black trench coat with dark clothes underneath. His coat and clothes looked like they were stained with dark splotches, and his hair looked rumbled, but he seemed otherwise unhurt.

“Or failing a bell, how about giving a little, polite cough before you enter a room,” Chris said.

The man — Angel, Chris had called him — raised his eyebrows. “I waited as long as I could before coming up here,” he said. “I made a lot of noise coming up the stairs.”

Chris glanced at Moira. “We were a little distracted.”

“Yes.” Angel fidgeted. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” Chris said as he drew Moira back into his lap for a hug.

“We have to go,” Angel said. “So grab what you need and—”

“Go where?” Moira asked at the same time Chris said, “I’m not going.”

“That’s not an option, and you know it.”

Chris dumped Moira from his lap as he practically jumped to his feet. “I’m making it option.”

Angel’s expression took on a dangerous look. “Plan to fight it out alone, do you?”

Chris snarled. “I know what I promised, but I can’t. Look.” He flung an arm toward Moira. “It’s not that easy.”

“Oh? I wasn’t aware that it was ever easy,” Angel archly remarked.

“I have to take care of Moira,” Chris argued.

“You have my word that the Council take care of—”

“The Council? The same Council that threw me to the wolves?” Chris raged.

Angel sighed and held up his hands as if to tell Chris to calm down. “I’m not saying you don’t have a point, but everything has changed. Even a champion grudge-holder like you can figure that out. Besides, if you want to make sure she’s safe—”

“Safe?” Moira hoarsely yelped.

“You’re going to be fine,” Chris quickly assured her. “I’ll see to it.”

Angel ignored the exchange. “If you honestly don’t think they’re going to keep their word, maybe we can send her to stay with family.”

“I’m the only family she’s got left,” Chris said.

Angel seemed surprised.

“Moira’s dad took off the second he found out that Katy was pregnant and no one knows where he is. Katy’s parents are dead, and they had no extended family. Katy was an only child. I’m it, and besides I’ve known her for 9 years, and I’ve been her stepfather for 7.” Chris drew himself up to his full height. “If she’s staying with anyone, she’s staying with me. That’s the only way I’ll know she’s safe.”

Angel blinked at Chris before turning his attention to Moira.

Moira hunched her shoulders and nodded that everything Chris said was true.

Angel scrubbed his face with a meaty hand. “And if you want to make sure that she’ll stay safe, both of you have to come to London.”

Chris angrily snorted.

Angel sighed. “Xander, you can’t go underground again. You know that’s no kind of life for an adult, let alone a young girl.”

“Why can’t we just stay here?” Moira plaintively asked.

Both Chris and Angel were so into their drama, that she wasn’t sure they even heard her.

“It wouldn’t be for long, just long enough to set up new identities and settle someplace else.” Chris sounded like he was begging. “Just tell the Council that I was killed an action, and don’t let anyone slip up and tell them I’m still alive.”

“Xander, the Council thought you were dead before this whole mess started,” Angel said. “No one ‘slipped’.”

Chris marched over to Angel and got up in his grill. “Yeah? Then who the hell sold me out? There were only 7 people who supposedly knew I was alive. Four of them are here and three of them are dead.”

Angel guiltily looked away.

Moira clenched her hands into fists. Angel. He was the reason everything turned evil and her mother was dead.

Chris took a step back. “You told the Council I was alive.”

Angel didn’t look at him. “I had to. I found out that the P’gloniv were targeting Newport, and I found out why.”

“The what?” Moira asked.

“The bad guys,” Chris quickly answered. “And how the hell did the P’gloniv—” Chris suddenly shook his head, before quietly adding, “Oh.”

Angel couldn’t seem to look at Chris. “We don’t know which one of them talked.”

“They all did,” Chris said.

Angel shot Chris an evil look.

“Angel, the P’gloniv have a way of getting information out of people who don’t want to talk. It’s ugly, it’s bloody, it’s violent, and you can’t fight it. You know this,” Chris said.

Angel shook his head and looked down.

“But you haven’t seen it.” Chris sighed. “I have. They trotted that trick out in front of me back during that mess in Hong Kong. They said they had no choice, but it seemed to me that they resorted to it pretty fast and way before we had run out of options. What I saw…” Chris gagged, before getting control of himself. “Angel, that was why I became suspicious of them in the first place.”

Moira shivered and willed herself not to whimper.

Angel slit his eyes at Chris. “That’s not a comfort.”

“No. No, it’s really not,” Chris agreed as he turned back to Moira.

“Xander, we need you,” Angel said.

“With all those Slayers—”

“Slayers?” Moira asked.

“Monster Slayers,” Chris explained before he turned back to Angel. “With all those Slayers, you and Spike, Willow and the coven, and the brainiest of the brainiest that is the Council, I think you’ll do just fine without me.”

“But we don’t have your knowledge,” Angel said.

“Which is waaaay out of date,” Chris answered. “There has to be someone whose knowledge is more in the now than in the yesterday.”

“But none of them know as much as you do, and with all of our records on them missing or destroyed you’re our best hope of beating them,” Angel said.

Chris’s shoulders slumped. “Then we’re in trouble.”

Moira sharply glanced up at Chris. She definitely heard ‘we’ in that sentence.

From the look on Angel’s face, he seemed to have heard it, too.

Don’t do it, she willed. Don’t do it, Chris.

She wasn’t entirely sure why she was rooting for Chris to tell Angel to get lost, especially since she really didn’t know anything about his Life Before. All she knew was that Chris really didn’t seem to like this Council, and he really didn’t seem to want to go back to his old life.

If he thought it was a bad idea, then it probably was a bad idea.

Angel glanced at Moira through narrowed, thoughtful eyes before he stalked a few steps closer to Chris. “Xander, believe me, I understand. I know what it’s like to think that you’ve finally moved on and that you’ve found a new life where you can be happy — really happy — without being afraid that something evil will come along and take it all away.”

Chris’s expression hardened and his lips thinned into a something that wasn’t quite a smile.

Moira gasped. Suddenly Chris didn’t look like Chris at all.

He turned his eyes on Angel. “That’s not entirely true. I always knew there was a very good chance that it would all fall apart. I knew, and I didn’t care. I went and did what I wanted to do anyway.”

Moira stared at Stranger Who Used to be Chris. What was he saying?

Angel seemed unfazed. “That’s the guilt talking.”

“Really not,” the Stranger said. “I’m really just that selfish.”

“If that were true, you’d be walking out the door right now and not looking back,” Angel insisted. “You wouldn’t have searched this house high and low after you got a look at the mess downstairs, and you sure as hell wouldn’t be worried about Moira’s safety.”

“Maybe I grew a conscience in the past 9 years,” the Stranger said.

Moira felt like she’d been slapped.

“Don’t give me that.” Angel moved so quickly that Moira didn’t realize that he was standing practically nose-to-nose with the Stranger until Angel was actually doing it.

The Stranger didn’t even flinch. Instead he defiantly stared up into Angel’s eyes, as if daring him to do something to make him move from his spot.

“If you want to believe that you’re not worth saving, then believe it if it makes you feel better,” Angel growled. “But even you, as selfish as you claim to be, have to know that other people are worth saving. Other people like Moira.”

And with a simple flinch, Chris returned.

Moira let out a breath that she didn’t realize she was holding.

“Xander, I know what I’m asking you to do is hard. Believe me,” Angel said. “And if it was at all possible, I wouldn’t ask you to do this. I wouldn’t ask you to put your trust in the Council, especially after what they did to you. But we are fighting a war, the biggest, baddest, bloodiest war you can imagine. The stakes are everyone and everything.”

Chris began to laugh, but it didn’t sound like he was amused about anything in particular. “You think we can actually win.”

“I know we can. I know it,” Angel insisted. “But we need you to do it. You’re our Key Guy.”

Chris made a sour face. “I’m not in high school, Angel.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true,” Angel said. “If we’re going to stop them, we need you to come home.”

Chris opened his mouth to say something, but Angel held up a hand to stop him.

“I know you keep saying that your information is out of date, but it’s entirely possible that you know something about the P’gloniv that we don’t,” Angel insisted. “Something you saw, or heard, or experienced while you worked with them. You were the Council’s main contact for them for years, and until you led an attack against them they viewed you as one of their most important friends on the Council. They even made you an honorary family member of the Jutta. I guarantee you know something, maybe a lot of somethings, that none of us do.”

Moira’s mouth dropped open and she openly stared at Chris. He worked with the monsters that murdered Mom? They saw him as a friend? They thought of him as family?

A sliver of doubt began to form. If he was a friend of monsters, if monsters considered him family, didn’t that make him a monster, too?

Chris rubbed his forehead like he had a headache. “Angel…”

“If nothing else, do it for her.” Angel nodded in Moira’s direction. “They took everything else from you. Don’t let them take her, too.”

Chris’s jaw worked as he looked down at Moira. “I’m holding you to our deal,” he finally said.

“And I’ll hold the Council to it, even if it means unleashing Angelus on them,” Angel promised.

Deal? What deal? Moira wondered. Who the heck was Angelus?

Chris’s face got hard, and the Stranger returned. The glance he gave Angel wasn’t at all friendly. “See that you do.”

Angel reached out to touch the Stanger on the arm, but the Stranger shrugged him off.

Angel let his hand drop back down. “You’ve got 15 minutes to wash up and get your things together. We’ll be waiting for you downstairs.”

The Stranger waved him off.

As Angel walked out the door, the Stranger dropped down onto the edge of the ruined bed. When he finally looked at Moira, Chris was back and looking more beaten than Moira thought was possible for one person to look.

“Do we have to go?” she asked.

Chris bit his lip and nodded.

“I don’t want to go. I want to stay here,” Moira said.

“We can’t.” Chris sounded defeated. “Too many people know I’m alive now, and that puts you in danger, too.”

Moira swiped away angry tears. “Don’t say you’re doing this for me.”

Chris closed his eyes. When he opened them again, it seemed like he was warring with the Stranger for control over his face. “You’re partially right. I am doing this for you.” When he looked at her again, the Stranger was firmly back in control. “But I’m also doing it for revenge.”

 

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