Partners 3

Author: Nodakskip <nodakskip[at]>


Rating: R

Continuity: AU set after season 7 Buffy and season 4 Angel. A slight crossover with Charmed and something else.

Author's Notes: The Angel timeline is such the last episode used for this story would have been the one with the robots faking Wesley's dad. Anything after that, such as the eps like the crazy Slayer Dana, or Fred dying, or Angel and Spike going to free Buffy in Italy from 'the Immortal', has never and will never happen here.

Also there is some anger towards others here, but its not just bashing for bashing sake.

Chapter 1

No one seemed to move for ages, as everyone just stared at her. A pin dropping two offices down could have been heard in that room.

Angel just didn't know what to think. Cordelia, or someone that looked exactly like her, was standing right there in front of him. Finally, he spoke. "So help me Harris, if this is your idea of a sick joke -I'll tear off your-"

"It's no joke, Angel," Cordelia interrupted the threat, and somewhat hurriedly at that. "It's really me."

"Fred?" the vampire called out.

It took the Texan woman a moment to tear her eyes off of the new arrival, to look at her friend and boss. "Take her to the lab. We were burned once before by a familiar face from the past showing up, it won't happen again," he told all those present.

"You think I'm one of those weird robots?" Cordelia asked weakly.

"Just the fact that you know about them, proves that we need to get this done," Angel told her, then adding with anger, "And I assure you - if this is some kind of trick, you *will* regret it!"

As she backed away from her old friend of over three years, Xander moved in front of Cordelia with a swift motion. In a tone that some of the people in the room had heard before, he told the ensouled vampire, "Don't take that tone with Cordy again, Deadboy. And you do *not*threaten her, if you don't wanna go flying out that window in the next few seconds!"

"Xander!" Cordelia said from behind him, finding her voice. "If it proves to them that I'm me, then fine, whatever. Fred and I'll go for some tests-"

"What?" He turned to her, surprised. "Come on, Cordy, you don't need to let them drag you away to some lab or another!"

"I know that," the former cheerleader told him with a tired smile. "We just have to prove who we are, and besides. You know perfectly well they couldn't hold me, if I didn't want them to!"

The look on his face made it clear Xander didn't like her decision. "Cor, may I remind you that this is an *evil* law firm? You have no idea what the bad guys here - and for sure, there are still plenty of them around - are capable of. This isn't like Willow taking your blood pressure back at the old library, or anything like that!"

"Believe me, Harris, I don't like this place anymore than you do. But if Angel's gonna be a doubting Thomas like this, I gotta let them do their stupid tests. Besides, it won't take all that long," she told him.

"Fine," her companion sighed, as Angel began to believe Cordy was who she appeared to be. "Let's go, then-"

"No." the former Queen C said, stopping him. "Stay here with them, and answer their questions. This trip was as much for *you*, as it was for me."

Xander would have disagreed, but he knew that look on her face. "Okay, but I still don't like it. Look, you send me a signal every ten minutes, understand? If I don't hear it even once, I'm coming to find you. And I don't care *who* I'll end up having to go through along the way..."

The duo shared a look that was not lost on Angel and the others, before Cordelia grabbed the other woman's hand. "C'mon Fred, time to show me this big science department you have already!"


Angel's penthouse suite

A short while later, the former Sunnydale people were sitting within the CEO's apartment on the top floor of the building. They had put two round tables together, as they waited for their drinks from downstairs - compliments of the management.

"That was quite the show you put on down there, stud," Faith said suddenly, as Xander checked his watch. "Mind telling us when you got all that juice?"

The former Zeppo looked at her with mild contempt. "You mind telling me why you care? Is it because I have Slayer-like power now, that I'm suddenly worthy of your attention?"

The dark Slayer looked at him in surprise. "Hey; come on, simmer down, tiger-" she started to say to him.

"The name, Faith, is *Xander*," he said darkly. "Not stud, not boy toy, and definitely not tiger!" The young man pointed to himself and spoke as if talking to a child, "Me, Xander Harris. Can you say, Xander?"

"What the hell crawled up your ass and died!?" she shot back.

Xander shrugged. "Nothing in particular, I'm just a bit fed up is all. You do your best to prove to Buffy you've changed and become one of the good guys again, but do *I* hear anything from you? About way back when you were getting off on strangling the life out of me, in your bed? But hey, who needs to apologize to Xander, right? Nah, he's nowhere near as important as Buffy and Willow..."

Faith looked down for a moment. "Look, don't think I don't feel bad about that, it's just that-"

"Just what, Faith?" Xander demanded, interrupting her. "I know - we had sex, and thus Alexander Harris no longer mattered in your world!" He held up a hand to cut off her retort, pointing at her. "I would just like you to remind yourself that *you* were the one who came onto *me*. So sure as hell, you can't play it off as if I was just like every other guy - who only wanted to grope your ass in the sack!"

While Faith just looked at him stunned, Giles asked him, "Xander, could you please tell us how you got the power you seem to now have?"

"And how you got your eye back," Willow added.

"No," he responded to both of them as a woman came in through the elevator, that sounded with a short 'ding!'

The new arrival silently set his Pepsi down along with the rest of the drink orders, before the woman walked away. Xander watched her leave and said to himself, "Hmm, I wonder if she sold her soul to get her job here - like some other people, who shall remain nameless?"

"Xander," Buffy said in confusion, drawing his attention. "Where is all this hostility coming from? Why, why are you acting like this?"

Harris slowly turned to look at her. "You really do feel the need to ask that, don't you?" he asked, astonished. "The question you really want to ask is, do I have issues? Oh, you bet your resurrected ass I do, Slayer. Lemme just put it this way, I will be *damn* happy when Cordy and I are back home. Because the only reason I'm even here, is to watch her back as she makes her peace with her friends."

"Xander-" Willow started but was cut off by him.

"Don't even try to Xander me, Willow. Just what did you think was going to happen?" he asked semi-rhetorically. "That I would see you guys again, and I would be all happy Xander once more? We'd have one big group hug - and I'd just let you guys walk all over me? For God's sake, the *potentials* had more respect for me towards the end than you people!"

"Ah, for what it's worth?" Kennedy asked. "Thank you for saving my life, last year. I should have said it then, but I didn't. I'm sorry about that - and about your eye."

Xander looked at her in mild surprise and told her, "You're welcome. I just hope you do something good with that life, and not become a clone of...someone else. Too much blind obedience is not a good thing. Trust me - I *know*."

Buffy looked down, after easily figuring out who Xander didn't want Kennedy to be a clone of. "Look, I know I wasn't perfect back then Xander, but I had a lot to deal with at the time-"

"And *I* didn't?" Xander shot back. "That's always the excuse with you, isn't it? Willow was recovering from Tara, and almost destroying the world. Faith had her reformed bad girl thing going, and you, Buffy? Oh yeah, you had this big thing about needing *Spike*!"

He snorted. "I was still screwed up from the big debacle with Anya, but when the time came - I set all that aside, and dealt with the problem at hand. You didn't." Xander just looked at Buffy, suddenly dumbfounded. "You know what? We really were so damn lucky last year, that it's not even funny. We had no idea that the amulet Angel gave you would nuke the town, and yet you opened up that seal anyway. What if all the townspeople had still been there, when the Hellmouth did its big crater act?"

"Well, we had to do *something*, Xander!" Buffy told him, getting more than a little upset. "We had run out of time to try anything else-"

"We had?" Harris asked her, acting faux confused. "Really? With the Master, Angelus, the Mayor, Adam, Glory and Willow - I'll grant you we had a time that we had to make our move by. We knew exactly when they would try to destroy the world. But the First never had a set timetable. We could have waited and planned better-"

"No, we couldn't have. How many more people would have died then? And even if we could have - what do you suggest we could have done, Xander?" Willow demanded, unconvinced.

"Well, Willow..." Xander answered with a frown, "For starters, we could have done what I suggested - and done the spell to activate the new Slayers at the house, before we went into the fight at the school. How many potentials did the Turok-Han slaughter before your spell kicked in, hmm? Admit it, that was just plain stupid!"

"No. That wouldn't have worked," Buffy said defiantly. "The First would have known what we were planning, it was constantly there-"

"Buffy," Xander sighed, rubbing his head. "The thing you never got was that it *always* knew what we were planning! There, or anywhere else. Don't you get it yet?"

He looked around the table. "Everyone here had the First show up to them as a dead loved one. Did it or did it not know *everything*? And not just about our dead friends, but what we had just been talking about? The First was watching us all, the entire time. The only time we ever got away with anything was when we lured that first Turok-Han to that construction site, and Buffy decapitated it. And that was because we never spoke of the plan out loud. We did it through that funky mind-link thing."

"So, you have some ideas on what we could have done differently?" Giles asked him, trying to stay neutral.

"Well," Xander mused. "Granted its all Monday morning quarterbacking now, but..." He thought for a moment. "We could always have just dug up the seal, in my humble opinion."

"Dug it up?" Willow asked, surprised.

"Well, yeah," Xander shrugged. "The seal itself wasn't the Hellmouth. If it had been, then the Master would have crawled out of it, the end of sophomore year. Or those Vahrall demons trying to sacrifice themselves would have jumped into it. Whatever - the seal was just a doorway from our dimension, to where the über-vamps were. I mean, if they were always down there, why didn't they ever dig their way up back in our high school days? I also searched that area during the construction of the new school, remember; I think I would have noticed it then! Plus the area was wide open for a year, after we blew up the first school."

"And what would have happened afterwards, if we *had* dug it up?" Faith asked.

"We coulda melted it down," the man suggested. "Or just dropped it into the deepest part of the ocean we could find. And another thing we could have done, was to demolish the school before the attack."

"Blow up another high school?" Buffy asked him in incredulity.

"Hell, yeah!" Xander exclaimed, with a snarl at the memory. "We were in an intact structure, fighting the enemy in the hallways. If we had taken out the building first, then obviously the Turok-Han would have come out of it right into the sunlight. And Anya would most likely still be alive, if we had done that..."

"Is that what this is all about?" Willow wanted to know. "The fact that Anya's dead, and we're not? You blame us for that?"

"At first, I'd have to say - definitely yeah, Willow," Xander told her with brutally blunt honesty, much to the redhead's shock. "But later, I realized that Anya and I went along with the 'bloody brilliant plan' as Giles called it, right from the start. So it'd be pretty damn hypocritical of me to throw blame for that on someone else! We went into it with our eyes - all three of them - wide open."

He turned to look at the Slayer, face to face. "Look, Buffy, I'm not perfect. Hell, I've made some damn huge mistakes in my life. But so have you, and before you say it yes, I understand that you were the de facto leader back then. I just should have voiced more of an objection to your wanting to go back to that vineyard that night."

"You kicked me out of my own house," Buffy said softly, as her eyes glittered dangerously.

"I sure did," Xander admitted, to the increased consternation of the others. "But that wasn't just me, as I recall. Personally, I was hoping it would shock a little sense into you that we felt so strongly about committing suicide, just on your unsubstantiated hunch. But as soon as Spike, who had somehow become the only one you listened to, gave you that pep talk? You risked your life to go in there alone. Hmmm, and I just happen to notice old Bleach Boy stayed downstairs, rather than come here with the rest of us?"

"But Buffy was right all along, Xander!" Willow said firmly. "There was that weapon that had been hidden there, by the Guardians-"

"True, there was *a* weapon present," Xander cut her off. "But we didn't know that. Buffy found something that Giles - and what was left of the Council - had never even heard of before. Even though the mission was successful, that doesn't mean it was a good idea to start with. And may I remind you, we had no real intel on what the scythe could or couldn't do. Nothing on its tactical strengths or weaknesses. We just lucked out. We are the Zen Masters of getting lucky..."

He saw the unsure looks on their faces, and so just leaned back into his chair. "Look, this entire conversation is completely pointless; there are obviously things that we're just never going to agree on. But it doesn't matter anymore; you guys have your lives now, and I have mine. I say, let's just leave it at that."

"You're not going to be coming back with us, are you?" Willow asked in an obviously sullen tone.

"You mean, back to Cleveland? Not a chance!" Harris took a sip of his soda before he added, "You guys have a lot of work ahead of you, in reestablishing the Council. I wish you all the luck in the world with it, but sure as Hell's burning beneath us - that's not where I belong anymore."

"Come on, you're still one of us, stu- uh, Xander," Faith spoke.

He gave her a penetrating stare. "No I'm not, Faith-y. When Robin and Andrew got promoted in our little food chain over me...well. I knew it was way past time. My days as a Slayerette are over. I hung onto the illusion of it always being like high school for *way* too long, as it is. Things were so much simpler then - well, minus that fluke of course. But our paths spilt off into different directions long before now. It's best to just make it a clean break."

"So - what are you saying, Xander?" Giles asked in confusion. "This is it for you? You, you never want to see us again?"

"I can't predict the future by any means, Giles," Xander answered at once. "But hey, I'm only 23 years old, so I think it's safe to say our paths will cross again one day - here and there." He suddenly got a strange, thoughtful look on his face. "It's just - we may not always be on the same side, from now on..."


Angel's office

"Well, Fred?" Angel demanded.

Fred Burkle, who was now wearing her white lab coat and with her glasses hanging from her neck, checked the paperwork on her clipboard one more time. "I don't know what to say, Angel. I don't know how, but it's her. X-rays, CAT scans...she even sang for Lorne and came up aces, well - after she gave him a big hug first..."

The vampire paced in front of his desk, a few times deep in thought. "But we still have the body, right?"

"Yes," Wesley answered. "I checked it myself, a few minutes ago. The corpse hasn't moved, and the mystics are still going over it-"

"So we have two Cordelia's?" the newly-arrived Gunn asked from his spot by Wesley. "Well, how do we tell which one is which? 'Cause I know I'd want the walking, talking, and alive one to be her. But can we afford to take the chance?"

"Okay, let's focus here," Angel said to Fred. "We know what matched up, did anything *not* match up?"

"Compared to her last physical, heck yes," Fred shrugged.

"Tell me everything," he ordered her.

"Well, for starters, the CAT scans we just took showed that all the areas of her brain that had been damaged by the visions? They're now 100 % functional again. She's in perfect shape. Our scan of her reproductive system shows no signs of any trauma that birthing Jasmine would have caused. She could have a kid tomorrow. And then, there's the big news-"

"That being?" Gunn asked.

"Well, we have nothing to compare it to because we didn't have the ability to do the tests before now," Fred stammered. "But, uh, her DNA is totally human, there's no trace of any demon DNA at all!"

"Could she be a clone of some kind?" Eve asked her, speaking for the first time.

"No," Fred answered at once. "I've had John Hopkins look at the test results. There's no trace of any of the normal cloning giveaways, like the altered telomeres and abnormal cell markers. Likewise, for any known shapeshifter..." She looked towards her boss. "Angel, I know it's unscientific and all, but I can just feel it - it *has* to be her."

Angel just went behind his desk and sat down. "Bring her in."

Harmony opened the door, and let in Lorne and Cordelia. The whitelighter stopped at the sight that greeted her, "Oh my God! Gunn, you have hair!"

Gunn had to smile at that. "What did you think? I was born bald?"

"Well, yeah!" Cordelia exclaimed before she frowned. "Don't I get a hug?"

"Uh, don't get me wrong here," Gunn said, fighting the urge to do just that. "But I'm not sure I want to get my hopes up yet. We have two of you now."

Cordelia groaned. "Look, that wasn't my idea! The Elders stuck to their guns on that one..." She looked around at her friends, and Eve and Spike, before she sat down in the closest leather chair. "I guess I should explain what the hell is going on, huh?"

"That would be great," Angel said evenly, not showing any emotion.

"Well, I remember most of it," the former Vision Girl began her story. "I felt so proud of myself that I had been chosen to become a Power That Be that night. I swallowed every goddamn lie that Skip fed me -hook, line and sinker. I was stuck up there for months. I could see it all..."

Cordy went on to tell them how she had watched what was happening in LA, then checking in on Sunnydale and seeing Willow's meltdown. How her boredom had led to her helping Angel in that casino, in Las Vegas. Also, she spoke of her being sent back with no memory, and then having her body taken over by Jasmine to give birth to herself - and letting Angelus loose, as well as killing Lilah.

"Um," Wesley said, trying to avoid thinking of his former mistress. "If you are the real Cordelia, then you will know this. It's something we've been trying to figure out for a long time - ah, just who was Jasmine's father?"

Cordelia stared at him with a sad look, as Angel tensed up. "Right, you wouldn't know that anymore, would you Wes?" she sighed. "Thing is, you used to know."

"I did?" the English man said, surprised.

"Yeah. Well, it's not all that important at the moment," Cordy said before she looked to Angel. "But the thing is, it's not for me to give out that information. I'm hoping that *someone* will eventually inform you about all of that - someday."

Wesley easily noticed the look on Angel's face change, as the vampire stared hard at Cordelia. "I don't know if we should-" Wes began, but Angel cut him off. "Let's just drop it for now, Wes."

"But Angel-!"

"She's right," Angel said with conviction. "It's not important right now." He looked back at Cordy, "Now that you've told us everything up to the coma, how did there get to be two of you?"

"Oh, I was in that coma for a long while," she told the gang with a shrug. "As far as I know, up until after Jasmine was defeated, which was about a day after I was moved to the hospital."

"How could you have woken up without the staff knowing?" Eve asked her suspiciously.

"I wasn't woken up at first, at least not in the normal sense," she told the immortal woman.

"Then how *were* you woken up?" Wesley pressed.

"My essence, or soul if you prefer, was brought before the Elders by a...friend. And before you ask, they're a step up from the Powers That Be, and they offered me a deal."

"Wait a minute!" Eve said suddenly. "The Elders? And that little light show that you did when you came in earlier. You're a whitelighter, aren't you?"

"Ah, sorry kiddies," Lorne spoke. "But for those of us in the peanut gallery, what the heck is a whitelighter?"

"It's what I am now," Cordelia admitted. "But I'm a...special case."

Angel just looked towards Eve, and she filled them in. "A whitelighter is a human who, in effect, gets drafted into the service of these Elders she mentioned. They're basically guides, messengers - guardian angels, if you like. They have the power to orb or transport themselves almost anywhere, and their touch can heal even the worst injuries. I've just never met one before. But from what I know, they watch over good witches..." she looked at Cordelia, "and they have to be dead, before they can become one."

"Dead?" Gunn asked, not liking that.

"Yeah," Cordelia told him. "But like I said, I'm a special case. I'm still very much alive; I'll have the option of remaining a whitelighter or moving on, when I do pass away someday. And no, I don't have a witch to look after."

"Why would these Elder blokes even offer you a deal, though?" Spike wanted to know suspiciously.

"Simple," she responded, again shrugging. "I was an innocent. Jasmine screwed my life over in so many ways everyone lost count, and they didn't want to leave me to rot like that in a coma. They're real big on innocent saving."

"But why on earth would they pair you up with Xander?" Angel wanted to know. "Why bring a Champion like you together with a-"

"A Zeppo like him?" Cordelia finished for him, as the vampire had the good grace to shrug. "Angel, someday I swear I am going to get you two to become friends! You're both good men, who are willing to die for what's right. Look, you don't know the backstory, and you don't need to know it either. Bottom line? I trust him, I feel safe knowing he's right there beside me in the crap we have to deal with nowadays."

"But after the thing with Willow, back when you were in school..." Angel insisted. "How the *hell* can you ever possibly trust him again?"

"I trusted *you* again after you fired all three of us, that time you went all stupid over Darla - remember? But with Xander it's simple," Cordy never hesitated. "The fluke thing with Willow is not an issue for us anymore. I kind of suspect that along with my family losing all our money, it was one of Jasmine's manipulations to get me to go to LA and become Vision Girl-"

"Oh, that bloody figures!" Spike said with a hearty laugh. "I'm sure he loves thinkin' that, doesn't he? The idiot whelp didn't get you gutted by that rebar, no - that was all Jasmine controlling him!"

Cordelia's look went ice-cold, as she turned to him. "Actually, Spike, Xander refuses to let any blame be taken off him about *everything*that happened back then. And as for the rebar thing? That, I blame solely on *you*."

"On Spike?" Fred asked, clearly confused. "Why would you blame that incident on Spike?"

"Oh, well, I don't know..." Cordelia said sarcastically. "Maybe because he kidnapped Xander, bashed him over the head, and then threatened to kill him if Willow didn't do a love spell for his sorry ass? Fred, he was the only reason any of us were ever there that night. And all because he went nuts after that 'ho Drusilla finally dumped him..."

She turned to the blond vampire, and spoke with pure disgust. "And by the way. Xander may have done a lot of stupidly idiotic things in his life, but at least I know he would never, *ever*, try to rape me in my own bathroom!"

Spike's look grew very dark at that. "Hey! I didn't have a soul then, just for the record!"

"Rape?" Fred asked, completely clueless.

Cordelia nodded. "Buffy dumped him, shortly before Willow tried to destroy the world back in 2002. I don't know details, all I heard is he went to her house and tried to rape her on her bathroom floor..."

Angel looked at Spike with naked hostility; he ignored the fact that Buffy had already told him to lay off of this topic. Wes and Gunn had twin looks of disgust, while Fred just backed up from the British vamp.

"Like I said, I didn't have my sodding soul then!" William the Bloody said heatedly.

Cordelia's face got the look of a cat stalking a mouse. "So, you were pure evil before you got your soul, and were just faking Buffy out when she came back from Heaven?"

"Yes," Spike said but quickly stopped. "I mean no!" He growled at Cordelia. "Oy! Quit twisting my words around, you stupid bint-"

Cordelia just shrugged. "Guess Xander was right after all, all you wanted to do was get in Buffy's pants..." Spike growled and advanced on her, but the whitelighter just yawned. "Oh please, is this the part where I'm supposed to be afraid of you? Because I'm not a member of your fan club, Willie."

Cordelia looked amused, when the vampire growled again and went into game face. "I swear, Spike, if you don't back off right now? I'll use you for target practice."

"Target practice?"

She just twisted her right wrist, and a bolt of energy flashed from her fingertips. The bolt hit dead center on one of the lights behind the desk, causing it to explode in a shower of sparks. Cordy then faced Spike with a beaming smile. "I've gotten very good at frying vamps with that power, you know. So I guess the question is, to quote Clint Eastwood, do you feel lucky?"

Spike just grumbled, "Bugger this! Have your little Waltons reunion; I've got work to do!" Then he stormed out of the office.

When Cordelia saw Angel's face, she groaned. "Oh, don't start Angel! It's not like I would have really killed him! I mean, if I didn't let Xander do it because of all the Sunnydale stuff, then I would *never*hear the end of it from the guy! I just wanted to get rid of the bleached wonder."

Eve didn't really care about that. "Getting back to your *status*? You said you were a special case?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm a human whitelighter," Ms. Chase began again. "Normal ones are chosen after they die...well, technically, they actually get picked before that..." She looked at the CEO, "But I'm definitely still alive and human. They purged my body of its demon parts and healed me of everything, and I *do* mean everything. I don't even have that scar from the rebar anymore."

"And you can...orb was the word, correct?" Wesley asked.

Cordy just nodded and vanished in a sparkle of lights, quickly reappearing on the far couch at the end of the office. Then she orbed back into the chair, "It took me some time to get the hang of it, but it works."

"Cool trick ya got there, princess," Lorne commented with a smile, convinced she was the real deal. "I surely could have used you when I got locked out of my club, a few years ago!"


Angel's penthouse suite

The last 30 minutes had not been very pleasant. Despite Xander deep-sixing the idea, Buffy and Willow had spent the time trying to get the man to give them some way to contact him; as they were *convinced* this was just a...a phase. Or something they could work past, to get the good ol' reliable Xander back.

"Look you two," Xander finally said, annoyed. "How many times do I have to say it? All I can give you is the e-mail address."

"But that's untraceable, given the encryption key you described!" Willow complained. "What if we ever need you for something?"

"What the *hell* could you possibly ever need me for?" Xander asked her in perplexity. "My value within the Scooby Gang disappeared a *long* time ago. And now you have all those Slayers who worship you guys like gods, so what could you need *me* for?"

"We always needed you!" Willow declared.

"No you didn't Willow," he responded calmly. "Ever since senior year, you guys pushed me away - one way or another. So, wish granted -consider me gone."

"We just didn't want to see you get-"

"Hurt?" Xander interrupted yet again, and finishing for her. "Yeah, I know that particular song real well by now, Buffy. But big newsflash for ya, I took worse punches from my dad when I was living with my parents, than what I ever got fighting the demons at night!"

Harris stared at the Slayer, with no emotion showing through and completely ignoring the looks from some of their audience. "And just for the record, I personally saved your life five times that I remember, and the whole world twice as well. But the way you acted, I gotta tell ya - it was like that didn't mean a damn thing to you."

"Yes it did! Xander-"

"Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not feeling sorry for myself - because deep down, I knew the score by then. But when you stopped me from killing Spike after I caught him screwing Anya - just because you were sleeping with him too? You have *no* idea how that felt. It was like everything I did - it never...really...mattered. Better yet, that *I*never really mattered. And if D'hoffryn had shown up to grant me a Wish then...God help us all, but I'd have wished that I'd never brought you back from the dead in the Master's cave that night. I kid you not..."

Buffy looked down, as hearing that one *hurt*. "I'm so sorry for that, Xander. Look, I know you don't want to hear this, but the truth is you became the link to humanity for me. Willow, Giles, Oz, and Angel? They all had something, that-that bound them to this sort of life. But you...I just got it in my head that if I could get you to have a life other than the fighting..."

She looked her former friend in the eyes. "I guess I kind of lived through you. All the things I couldn't do because of the slaying, I wanted you to do. But I never meant to hurt you, Xander, I swear I never meant that at all-"

"Ah, I see. Hmm, and that pesky thing about me making my own choice to fight the good fight alongside you didn't factor much into that, right? Buffy, when are you *finally* going to get it through your head? You. Are. Not. The. Law. And as far as my life is concerned, you have to live vicariously through someone else nowadays."

Willow looked hurt. "Xander, that's not fair-"

Xander nodded. "I know. But that's the way it is. And that's exactly the reason why the email address is the best I can do." He looked over the entire group. "Look, Cordy and I have made quite a few enemies over the last few months. We've been to countries that I'd never even heard of, and I just want our home life to be separate from all this."

"That includes the people who killed her dummy, right?" Kennedy asked, as she put her arm around Willow.

"Right," Xander nodded. "We don't know if someone wanted to kill her or just piss off Angel, but either way - I don't want Cordelia to have to watch her back even if we go to the movies or something, back home..."


Angel's office

"Pass me the sauce, please?"

"Here you go, Fred," Cordelia replied, as she handed over the Styrofoam bowl of sweet and sour sauce. "God, I missed this!" the woman added, as she chewed on another piece of Orange chicken.

"You sure you don't want your boy to come up here for some grub too?" Gunn asked her, not noticing the dark look he got from Angel at that question.

"No," Cordelia replied, as she took a drink from her glass of diet cola. "Xander knows this is an old tradition of ours. He said to have fun, and he'd grab something later."

"How would he know we were eating from Mon Choy's?" Wesley wanted to know. "He hasn't been down here for hours-"

With the back end of her chopsticks, Cordelia tapped her head. "I talked to him while Angel was ordering over the phone."

"You can communicate with him via telepathy?" Eve asked, interested. "Now, that is not listed under the abilities for whitelighters..."

Cordelia just sent her a knowing smile. "Your fake little bathroom break a while back was just to check the firm's files and records, huh? Don't tell me you couldn't find anything, Lilah junior?"

Eve looked annoyed. "Your file, along with Mr. Harris's, ends early October last year."

"You're damn right it does..." Cordelia shrugged, as she picked up another piece of chicken. "Xander and I value our privacy. And neither of us really feel like having a Wolfram & Hart SWAT team show up on our door, for either kidnapping or lead poisoning purposes-"

"You know that wouldn't happen," Angel told her at once, with a disbelieving look. "Cordy, I'd never allow-"

"Oh, I know *you* wouldn't, despite Xander's opinion to the contrary," the whitelighter replied. "But the thing is, you only run the Los Angeles branch of the firm; the Senior Partners are the ones really running the show here."

"The Senior Partners would never try going against the Elders-" Eve began, but Cordy cut her off at once.

She snarled, "Sure, I might believe that - if they didn't go against Angel, a former Champion of the Powers, all the time!"

"Former?" Angel said with surprise. "What do you mean, former Champion?"

Everyone looked at Cordy now. "Well, I mean, you were a Champion back then."

"But now?" Wesley prodded her.

She gave Angel a look that he knew well, it was a look that said 'you ain't gonna like hearing this, but I have to say it anyway'. "Ah...well, when you guys took up the offer to run this place...the Senior Partners got what they wanted. You're all out, from the good guys category."

"That can't be!" Fred said in a loud voice that surprised even her. "We're working from the inside...changing things!"

"Yeah," Gunn agreed wholeheartedly. "C'mon, Cordy, we're still the good guys here!"

Cordelia really didn't like having to say this, but they needed to hear it. "The thing is, as far as the Powers are concerned? You all handed in your good guy membership cards, as it were, when you signed on here. Granted, none of you have that post-mortem service clause in your contracts like Lilah did...but you still work for Evil Incorporated, nowadays. And as such, you're not Champions of the Powers That Be any longer."

She looked towards the CEO of the law firm. "I mean, didn't you ever wonder why no one else got my visions, and came to find you?"

Angel just slumped in his seat with a defeated look. "After all the things we did for those...people. They just toss us out into the garbage heap like that?"

Cordy's heart was breaking a little at the sight of Angel's face. He wasn't taking well the news that the ones whom he'd thought would one day return his humanity...had now turned their backs on him. "Angel...I'm sorry, but to them up there this is very cut and dried. I mean, it would be like...say, a U.S. army officer joining the Nazis during World War Two, saying he would work from the inside. Publicly at least, you're a traitor to the cause..."


Angel's penthouse suite
An hour later...

"So, Dawn's enrolled in college already?"

"Just yesterday, in fact," Buffy told him with pride.

Xander had to smile at that. "Myself, I'm just shocked you let her go off on her own. I-" He stopped when he saw the Slayer frown. "What?"

"Ah, I..." Buffy admitted. "Well, the girl she's gonna share a dorm with is a Slayer..." When she saw Xander's face she quickly pointed out, "Hey! The computer randomly assigned them together!"

"Randomly?" Xander said as he cast an evil look at Willow, who somewhat tellingly couldn't meet his gaze. "Yeah, right..."

"Oh come on, she's my little sister, Xander!" Buffy said, defeated. "And you know how college campuses attract the weird on a Hellmouth-"

She never got to finish because Xander jumped out of his chair, "Cordy!" he yelled as he ran past them to the elevator.


Angel's office

Everyone stopped yelling when Xander burst into the room, with Buffy and the others close behind. "What the hell did you do to her!?" he yelled at Angel, as he grabbed the vamp by the shirt and easily lifted him off the ground.

"Xander! Calm down!" he heard, before three Slayers had to pry the vampire out of his hands.

"We didn't do anything to her," Fred told him, as Harris tried to get back to Angel.

"Shit, I just *knew* this was a mistake!" Xander growled. "I told her this place was evil..."

"We didn't do anything to her, I promise you," Wesley stepped in front of Xander. "Something spooked the woman, and she disappeared. Believe it or not, Cordelia orbed out on her own!"

"Talk fast!" Xander growled at him. "Because friends of hers or not, if I don't like what I hear-"

Gunn stepped up. "A legal aide came in with some paperwork that I had to sign, she asked what it was and when I told her...she just freaked!"

"It was more than just freaking out," Fred added. "She looked like she was going to throw up! Cordy looked terrified..." She stared at the others. "How could just an insurance case scare her like that?"

"Insurance? Lemme see that paperwork!" Xander demanded.

"Sorry, but we can't do that," Eve told him matter-of-factly. "It's a confidential document that has to do with a client of-" she didn't finish, as Angel grabbed the folder from her and handed it over to Xander.

"The party of the first part agrees to blah, blah, blah..." And then, even Angel was shocked by the cold look that came over Xander's face. "Cordy!" he suddenly yelled out. "Cordelia! It's me! They're gone, damn it, they can't hurt you now!" Harris yelled to the air. "Cordelia!?"

He gave up, and just threw the papers at Angel. The vampire made no effort to catch the folder, before it spilled out onto the floor at his feet. And Xander muttered, "Why am I *not* surprised that this place has something to do with that...*sick* town!?"

"What town!?" Buffy demanded, as she looked between Xander and Angel.

"It's some small, isolated community in Connecticut. There's nothing evil about it, as far as I know," Gunn told her.

Xander just snorted. "Yeah, and that's exactly what people used to say about Sunnydale!" He advanced on Eve. "The cute and innocent act won't work on me, lady, so don't even try. Did you know about that town? Did you?!"

Faith and Kennedy moved in quickly to halt his advance, as Eve herself backed away. "What are you talking about?! We're only handling the case, because the company who built 70 % of it is based in LA!"

Xander angrily shrugged off the two Slayers, as he faced Angel. "Deadboy, I trust you about as far as I can throw, actually, these days as far as she-" he pointed to Fred. "-could throw you. But because Cordy trusts you...tell me, yes or no. Did you know the truth about that town?"

"No," Angel stated firmly. "I've only heard about the place in passing, during the staff meetings. But I take it that it's not just another gated community for the idle rich?"

"No..." Xander sighed, as he walked over and sat down in on the couch. "No, it sure as hell wasn't."

"Can you tell us about it?" Fred asked him gently. "If it freaked out Cordelia that badly..."

Xander looked at her for a moment, before he nodded slowly. "It was our fifth assignment for the Elders, Gabby said they'd been hearing rumors about...strange things going on in that little town."

"In Stepford?" Angel asked.

"Yeah," Xander nodded. "That's the place."

The former carpenter leaned back as he continued, "See, we went in there undercover. We posed as a newlywed couple, with fake identities - the whole enchilada. That was the big selling point, you know, that it was a great town for newlyweds. Well, *rich* newlyweds. But right away, we noticed something wrong. That is, with a lot of the women in the town. Cordelia told me that the wives she met at our welcoming party were getting almost orgasmic about cookie recipes! Harmony and the old Cordettes were rocket scientists, compared to those broads. They took the term 'bimbo' to an entirely new level, that I never even knew existed..."

"Well, many rich men tend to marry young...uneducated women, do they not?" Wesley asked, trying not to use the word bimbo.

"Yeah, a lot of young, rich guys marry those kind of girls, who are the basis for dumb blond jokes," Xander agreed. "But this was different. *Way* different. We studied the files on some of the people that had moved there, during the last few years. Some of 'em were damn smart and talented; one woman had just graduated med school, and was known to be very...opinionated. But when we saw her - God, she was in a very revealing outfit and had blond hair in pigtails! And get this...she even *giggled* in front of us, when her husband slapped her on the ass as he walked by!"

Xander continued on, "Another woman was a fairly good abstract artist, Cordy liked one of her old works that's on display in New York. But when we got there and she showed us her clay sculptures, they were all of her husband. All *two hundred* of them! And the kids...oh, the kids were afraid to go anywhere near the women. When I went to the bathroom in one of the houses, I saw a little seven-year-old girl hiding terrified of her own mother!"

"Sounds freaky," Faith commented.

"Sure was," Xander told her, without the previous hostility upstairs. "Like I said, we posed as a married couple. And us being us, we argued a lot. It's what newlyweds do, right? They argue about money, in-laws, that sort of thing. So we did that...but I guess we got into it too much."

"Why do ya say that?" Gunn asked. "You guys blow your cover?"

"Oh no," Xander replied. "They bought our little act completely, as a newly married couple. A group of guys in town invited me *very*quickly to join their little men's club. The things those assholes said in that place - well, it woulda gotten them castrated anywhere else, by even the most timid woman you can imagine! But I just went along with it, and soon they asked me if I would like to *streamline*my wife."

"Streamline your wife!?" Kennedy repeated. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It's not pleasant even to think about," Xander admitted. "Man, I have seen some sick crap over the years, we all have...but this - to do it to your own wife..." he trailed off, shaking his head.

"What did they want to do to Cordelia!?" Angel demanded to know.

Xander just looked at him. "What do you *think*, Deadboy? Turn her into one of those bimbos, that were all over town!"

"And how would they have done that?" Wesley asked. "Magic?"

"No," Xander said with a grimace. "They were pulling a Warren, basically."

Willow and Buffy shared a look of unease. "What's pulling a Warren, exactly?" Angel asked.

"They build a cyborg body of the woman...hell, they even showed me the work-in-progress Cordelia model," Xander said, as he grimaced in disgust again. "But instead of just making some kind of sexbot like Warren did for himself and Spike, they-"

"Xander, what did they do?!" Angel demanded again.

Xander looked at his old rival, very angered from the memories. "When the cyborg gets finished, the scenario is to kidnap the woman - with the husband's help - and bring her to the clubhouse. They knock her out, and with a little magical assistance they take out her brain...while she's still alive."

"Oh my God!?" Fred gasped, as she covered her mouth.

"Oh no, wait, that's only the first part," Xander kept talking, growing more disgusted at having to repeat the tale. "They then implant the brain into the cyborg body. Then somehow, in a way that wasn't explained to me, they reprogram the brain to be the best bimbo it can." He looked over the group. "The husbands let them take and murder their wives - just so they could get a super clean-freak, and bimbo sex toy! The men that promised to love, honor and protect them -let those bastards cut out their brains!"

"I don't believe this..." Buffy said, looking as sick as the others. Even Eve looked nauseous.

"Oh, wait, it gets better!" Xander told her. "After the 'bot is all ready to go, they cremate the wife's body; and then the guy takes the new cyborg home, and lets it raise the kids!" He could only shake his head. "All because they didn't want to argue about money, or their wives didn't have sex with them often enough!"

"That is just so totally disgusting!" Kennedy declared, as she sat down next to him. "I am *so* glad I'm a lesbian."

"They went after Cordelia no matter what you might have said, didn't they?" Angel asked knowingly.

"Oh yeah, they went after her all right," Xander nodded. "But I sent her a message through our mind-link thingy, to get the hell outta Dodge. Almost got it too late - two guys had just put their arms around her, as she orbed into the men's club records room to get what info she could, and then get me. It's a good thing too," he commented. "Despite my Oscar-worthy act, they could tell that I didn't agree with their ideas of how to make a marriage work."

"What did the Elders do to the men of this club?" Giles asked, as equally upset as everyone else present.

At that point, Xander took on the cruelest-looking grin anyone had ever seen on him. "Karma, G-man...those guys were kind of stunned when I told them that Hell was real, and they'd all bought an eternal one-way ticket there. And then-"

"What?" the British man asked, not certain he wanted to know.

"And then," Xander said with a *very* nasty grin, "Cordy visited the afterlife realm. The souls of the murdered women were given control of the cyborg versions of themselves...and I locked them all in with their beloved husbands in the clubhouse, for the night. I swear, it wasn't a pretty sight in the morning. Cordy and I moved all the kids in with friends and relatives, and then blew the gas main under the street - to make sure no one could ever redo what they'd done."

"This is just completely sick!" Willow exclaimed, appalled at the revelations. "All those women-"

"Oh, it wasn't just women," Xander told her with a shrug. "It stared out as just the wives, yeah, but-" He looked down for a moment. "One guy was secretly gay, and when the club members found out they 'reworked' him. According to the files we got, he went from watching 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' to going to strip clubs, along with the rest of the boys."

Willow's face drained of all its color. "You mean, just because he was gay, they-?"

"Yep," Xander told his childhood friend. "Also, one of the grown-up sons of the head guy of the men' club found out what had happened to his mom, and got more than a little pissed at dear old dad for it. So they murdered him, and then had his body show up back in the town where he lived."

"Please tell me that's it?" Gunn asked. "Man, these guys were obviously sicker than hell!"

"No..." Xander said sadly. "Turns out another son of one of the husbands came to town, and found out what had happened to his mother. Only in this case, he liked it...and had a cyborg created for himself, when he moved there after he graduated college a few months later."

"Man..." Faith whispered. "He saw what had happened to his mom, and he *still* brought his wife to be-?"

"Not his wife," Xander corrected her at once. "According to the records, that little murderer was stalking a girl from his dorm building. He never had the guts to even talk to her, before he...well, she vanished one day and then turned up to introduce her new fiancé to her friends, before announcing that they would be moving to Stepford."

"He..." Buffy started. "He just kidnapped a girl, and had her turned into his robot love slave!?"

Xander nodded sadly. "Bet that 'no killing humans' rule is looking mighty stupid right about now, huh Buff?" Buffy showed her answer by punching a hole in the wall.

"While I'll admit this is all truly disgusting," Wesley commented, "Why would Cordelia act the way that she did, when she just now heard the name of the town?"

Xander got up, and went to look out the windows. "We found something else in their files, something very...disturbing."

"WHAT?" demanded Angel.

"A couple of years ago, those bastards tried to recruit businessmen to Stepford by secretly informing a select few of their robotic replacement process..." Xander turned around to face the gang again. "One of them was David Chase, of Sunnydale."


"Cordy's dad?!"

"My God!"


Xander looked straight at Angel. "Cordelia always knew how her dad thought of her mom as just a trophy wife. Hell, when they divorced after the IRS thing, he later married a girl Cordy's age..."

Gunn looked to him. "Are you saying that Cordelia's own father was going to turn his wife of those cyborgs!?"

"He was, but when the Stepford guys learned of the impending IRS audit...they immediately dropped him from the list, like a hot potato. With the customary death threats of course, if he ever tried to tell anyone about the offer." Xander leaned against the beam in between the large windows. "But that's not all."

"There's more?" Wes asked, disbelieving.

Xander had trouble even saying the words to this, "It seems that Mr. Chase *really* didn't like Cordelia dating, and I quote, 'a futureless white trash piece of scum' like me, way back when..."

"Wait, a-a-are you saying what I *think* you're saying, Xander?!" Giles asked, letting the Ripper show.

"We found old movies of Cordelia travelling around Sunnydale, from her high school days." He looked directly into Angel's eyes. "They were five videotapes of her, Angel. They were all labeled 'Cordelia Chase, Mannerisms'."

The former Angelus shook with fury at this news. He slipped into his game face, and desperately wanted to kill David Chase. But since he wasn't there, Angel did the next best thing and shattered his desk. Still vamped out, he demanded of Xander. "Is that bastard still alive?!"

"All I'll tell you is that it's been taken care of," Xander told the very angry vampire. "I can't tell you where he is, but I made sure that he can never do that to Cordy - *ever*."

Before anything more than a growl could come out of Angel, the sound of orbing filled the room. They all looked, expecting Cordelia, that is - all of them but Xander. He was the only one not surprised to see the two newcomers.

Who happened to be the oldest of the Charmed Ones, Piper Halliwell, and her Elder husband - Leo Wyatt.

"He's not going to tell you, because Cordelia wouldn't want you to mess up your shanshu thing - by killing a human with your soul intact," Piper said, before she waved her hand and froze everyone in the room. She then quickly unfroze her husband and Xander.

"God, am I ever glad to see you guys!" Xander said, as he walked around the frozen Angel. "So, did Cordy go back home to Honolulu?"

"No," Leo answered. "She's still here in LA. Let's get you to her -and my advice? Be prepared for the worst..." He reached out and grasped Xander by the shoulder as they both orbed out, leaving Piper to watch over the frozen room.


The lobby of the Hyperion Hotel

The only light present was the one coming in from the windows, as the two men orbed in. Xander quickly scanned the room of covered furniture, "Where is she?"

Leo pointed. "Bathroom."

Xander didn't even look back, as he heard Leo orb out. "Cordy!" He knocked on the closed door. "Cordy, it's me!" When he got no answer, he opened the door and shouted, "Cordelia!?"

"In here," came the weak reply.

Harris found her on the floor, in one of the stalls. The smell of vomit filled the air, as he kneeled down to her. Her face had fresh tears as the woman stammered, "Uh, I'm sorry I left you behind back there, I just had to-"

"I know, Cor, I know," the guy sighed as he took his friend in his arms, offering whatever cold comfort he could.

"You said right from the start, it was an evil law firm..." she choked out. "But to work for *them*?! How-"

"Angel didn't know. And odd as it may sound, I believe him," Xander told her simply, as she buried her head in his chest.

"I'm going to have the nightmares all over again, I can tell," Cordy told him distantly.

"So we'll deal with them together, partner," Harris said soothingly. "I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."


Angel's office

Leo orbed back in. "Okay, I put their car in the Hyperion's parking garage. I'm guessing they'll stay there tonight...unfreeze them." Piper made a hand gesture, and everyone in the room unfroze.

"Hey!" Willow yelled in confusion. "Where'd Xander go!?"

"I took him to where Cordelia is," Leo answered her. "It's best if we leave them alone for now." He looked at Angel, "I understand how much you want to go after Cordelia's father, but she didn't help put you on your path to redemption - only to have you kill for her. No matter how justified it might be."

"Ah..." Faith asked before Angel could get a word out. "For us high school dropouts...what's a mannerism?"

"It's the things that you do every day," Piper answered. "How you talk, how you walk, drive a car, your facial tics...that sort of thing."

"Yes," Wesley said, disgusted. "After all - it wouldn't do if Cordelia suddenly started talking like a Southern belle or some such thing, after she was turned into a bloody cyborg!"

"Who the hell are you, anyway?" Angel demanded of Leo, still upset and now wanting to find Cordy at once.

"Hey!" Piper yelled. "Look, buddy, I don't care if you're upset. You don't talk to my husband like that!" She quickly froze him again.

"Piper!" Leo cried out, more annoyed than upset. She just rolled her eyes, and unfroze just his head.

"What did you do to me!?" Angel growled, when he couldn't move anything below his neck. The rest of the group moved in as well.

"Oh relax," Piper warned them. "I'm just letting him calm down a little, he's perfectly fine."

"Oh, this is bloody priceless!"

"Spike!" Angel yelled. "Not now!"

"Oh no, this is the *perfect* time mate," the blond vamp replied, as he swaggered into the office. He laughed as he walked around the frozen CEO, "You're like a bloody Gi Joe doll!" Spike amused himself by posing Angel's hand. "You have Kung-fu grip!"

"Oh, will you grow up!?" Piper said, annoyed, before she flashed her hands again.

"Wha-?" was all Spike got out before he stopped moving.

"Hey, let them go!" Buffy yelled, as she stepped up to Piper.

Ignoring the Slayer and with utterly no fear, the Charmed One looked at Angel. "You calm yet?"

"I'm calm!" he gritted out.

"Well, okay then!" Another flick of her hands, and Angel was able to move.

"How did you do that?" Willow inquired. "You didn't cast any sort of spell, I could tell!"

"I didn't have to," Piper told her. "It's my power, my thing."

"How long have you had this power?" Giles asked, intrigued.

"Well, I had a dry spell for about 20 years, but basically? Ever since I was born."

"You'd better be getting back home," Leo told her, not wanting to reveal too much about themelves to Wolfram & Hart.

"Fine with me, honey," Piper nodded, as she gave him a quick kiss. Then Leo used his powers, and his wife disappeared back to their San Francisco manor to check up on their family.

When she was gone, Leo looked over the group. "Cordelia's not going to be in any fit shape to work with you, for a while. And Xander won't be leaving her side till she's better, if I know him. But they did what we wanted them to..."

He looked directly at Angel, and the nearby Buffy. "You both know now that your friends are alive and okay. And as to who killed your duplicate Cordelia...well, we're looking into that. It may in fact be the Circle of the Black Thorn-"

"Who?" a Slayer asked.

"That will be discussed *in house* by only Wolfram & Hart employees," Eve told Kennedy very firmly.

"But they wouldn't have any reason to-"

"We'll look into it," Angel said forcefully. "You're one of these Elders?"

"Yes I am."

"Then you can release Cordelia from this so-called deal that she's in, right?" Angel told him, in a tone that made it sound more like an order than a question.

"Yes, but I won't be doing that anytime soon unless she herself brings up the subject," Leo told him. "Granted, the way they were both drafted into this sort of existence was not my idea, but they *have*been invaluable to the cause as of late. And quite frankly, given how much they both enjoy their jobs now, it's not my place to interfere."

"So, what?" Buffy asked him. "You're like their Charlie?"

"Charlie?" Leo blanked out on the reference.

"You know..." Faith chimed in. "You call them through a speaker box, and tell them where they have to go and who to put the hurt on." Leo was still confused. "That part *was* in those crappy movies, right?"

"And the TV show," Kennedy pointed out.

"There was a TV show?"

"Who cares!?" Angel yelled. "Look, bottom line, you're not letting her - them - out of this deal?"

"Listen to me very carefully, vampire. No one is holding a gun to their heads over this," Leo told the former Champion with some irritation. "They made their choice, and even like their new lives. Plus, hopefully, someday their kids will also want to sign up. And you never know - it could be one of the biggest families around, in a few centuries."

"Their *kids*?" Willow asked, surprised. "Hey, Xander didn't say anything about him and Cordy-"

"Well, I didn't mean anytime soon, or in the immediate future," the Elder said, cutting her off. "But judging by how close they are already? Not to mention the situations this sort of life puts people in..." He shrugged, "It's exactly how my wife and I got together."

(Forget that! Cordelia could still do ten times better than that idiot, no matter what super-powers he's been given!) Angel thought before he asked, "Just how long will they be in this deal?"

"You mean, she didn't tell you?" Leo asked him quizzically.

"No, she didn't," Angel responded caustically. "So why don't you fill us in?"

"No harm in that, I guess," the Elder concluded. "Well, the time frame is such that...we've stopped their aging process-"

"Excuse me?" Buffy asked at once, before he could finish. "How can you do, *why* would you do that?"

"You'd be surprised what we can do," Leo answered. "And the why of it is not your concern. Look, their nails, hair and skin still grow like normal, but they just won't...age for a while. Once their time is up, they can just start their normal lives again after that point, or renew their allegiance to the cause. Totally up to them."

"So, just how long will they be suspended at age 23?" Wesley asked, still not quite believing any of this.

"Oh, not that long," Leo shrugged. "Just 350 years, or so..."

And before anyone could respond to that, the Elder very wisely and quickly orbed out.


Hyperion Hotel
Room 213
04:24 am

"Nooo!" Cordelia yelled, as she shot up out of bed.

"Cordy!?" Xander called out, as he jumped out of his bed and ran towards her. "It's okay, you're safe!" When he saw via the moonlight that she was shaking from the nightmare, the young man climbed in and held her - with no romantic innuendo, just as a friend offering whatever support he could.

"I, uh, don't want to go back to sleep," the whitelighter told him quietly.

"I know, it's okay," her companion told her, as Cordy leaned against him. "We've gotten all the sleep we need tonight, anyway. You want to talk?"

"About what?" the woman whispered.

"Anything you want, Cor," Xander told her, as they lay down together. "Anything you want."

The End?