Title: Interlude Seven -- Want, Take, Have

Author: Jedi Buttercup (jedi_buttercup@yahoo.com)

Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.

Rating: PG-13 for language.

Summary: Lilah, Faith, Cordelia; ambushes and visions.

Spoilers: Takes place after A:tS S3, which in my AU conforms to canon through 3.16, "Sleep Tight". (Partially informed by 4.8, "Habeas Corpses").

Series: This is the tenth entry in the "Lesser Men" AU. (7 short interludes and 3 novellas, so far).

Feedback: Yes, please! Be honest!

Archive: My site. Others, ask.

Notes: I destroyed Wolfram & Hart long before the show did, but some things about their version I appreciated. However, I had to wonder in retrospect, why would the Senior Partners let their human minions be so completely decimated? So this little piece was a start at working that out.

Notes 2: This is another experiment in style for me. It's also, like some of my other interludes, a bit "unfinished" in terms of plot. Don't worry. All loose ends *will* be tied up, eventually.

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THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2002, 10:39 PM
LOS ANGELES

Lilah waits. And watches.

She's gotten good at the waiting game over the last few weeks. Not that she wasn't good at it before ... but there were always people to back her up, to do the footwork for her, to ruin their clothes in the grime of alleys and the slime of sewers. Not any more. Wolfram and Hart's been blown to Hell and gone, her minions mown down like so many blades of grass, and there's only Lilah left to carry on the Cause.

The Cause; what a joke. They'd meant to bring about the apocalypse, and they certainly had ... from *their* perspective. In reality it was more like a tempest in a teacup, if the rest of the city is anything to judge by. No one pays the wreckage of a law firm any mind, except the few people whose relatives once worked there, or the clients who suddenly found themselves without representation.

Screw the clients, Lilah thinks. She's always been in it for herself, for the power and the money and the respect. That's all gone now. All she has left are the contents of her wardrobe and an expensive apartment overdue on the rent, and she doubts any of the people who paid for her services before will give her so much as a glance without the firm behind her. No. There's a better way back to glory, a more promising one, and she intends to take it.

The keystone of the Senior Partners' plan has always been Angel, since the first rumblings of a souled Master vampire filtered through the mystical community. One dark warrior, ready-made, on a haphazard path of redemption; the conversion is always so much sweeter when they've been there once, turned away, and are fighting desperately not to sink back down. Unless she's completely lost grasp of logic, that plan *has* to still be in place. Angel's not dark yet, is in fact lighter than he was last year, and the related cascade of prophecies has barely started coming true. That leaves her with one of two conclusions to embrace. Either the Senior Partners were caught off-guard (hard to believe, with so many psychics on the payroll) or their plan is still alive and well ...

It's an interesting thought, that she might be the sole remaining local avatar of a massive demonic plot. (There could be others, of course, but it's unlikely. Linwood was down in the basement when all Hell broke loose, Gavin was missing and presumed dead, and no one else knew about the hidden exit through the supply closet). Assuming it's true, the situation is nearly guaranteed to work out in her favor - at least, for as long as she's alive. If there's one thing she's learned about the forces of darkness, it's that they love to hand out earthly rewards. She intends to collect as many as she can.

So far, however, she's seen no sign of netherworldy guidance, and she's not one to take things on faith. The only thing Lilah believes in is Lilah, and sooner or later she's got to pay the bills.

And so she watches. And waits.

After all, she might not *have* faith, but Faith is something she can get her hands on. She has unfinished business with the dark Slayer. The Watcher's Council hired Wolfram & Hart, specifically Special Projects, to spring Faith for a reason and Lilah is willing to bet that the reason still exists. Half of the payment has already been spent (the blood sample used in the Hellmouth ritual) but the rest is still in limbo, forfeited when Faith escaped the law firm's custody. If Lilah can recapture Faith and deliver the girl on her own terms, then the rest of the reward will be solely hers. Five million pounds translates to a *lot* in American money.

It might be wishful thinking. Faith never goes anywhere alone these days, and Wesley's stronger than he looks; this was never meant to be a one-man job. One thing Lilah does have in her favor, though, is a nifty little box full of syringes, and a special toxin packaged in half a dozen one-dose tubes. Supposedly, this poison can take a Slayer's strength and speed down to normal, and is mixed with a powerful tranquilizer. That'll go a long way toward evening the odds. If she's lucky, she might be able to use it on Wesley too -- if the Council will pay five million for a rogue Slayer, how much for a rogue Watcher who's undergone some sort of demonic transformation? She's still not sure exactly what Wesley is capable of, though, so she's keeping it on the back burner until *after* she deals with Faith. No sense endangering herself unnecessarily.

In the meantime, until she catches Faith or the Senior Partners make contact, Lilah's selling information. She's still got the names of all her contacts, and with all the chaos around the Hyperion lately there's lots of facts that she can let spill. Lots of little nudges she can make, roughening the road for Angel's do-gooders. Not only does it bring in money, it preserves her reputation. Someday soon, that will matter again. Maybe tomorrow? She can only hope ...

... And check the time. If Faith's on her usual route tonight, she ought to pass by in the next few minutes.

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THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2002, 11:52 PM
LOS ANGELES

Faith plunges her stake into the chest of the last of three obnoxious vampires, then pulls it back swiftly before it can turn to dust with the corpse. She's lost enough stakes and crossbow bolts to fledglings over the years to fill an entire weapons chest, and she has no desire to add to the total. Especially a stake like this one.

She turns the stake over in her hand to check for damage, then tucks it back into her belt with a smile. It's no Mr. Pointy, but it has a good grip and the wood is a lot more durable than the cheap Douglas-fir stuff she tends to buy when her arsenal runs low. Plus, it's pretty. Someone spent a lot of time shaping it and making little carvings around the top; it almost looks like an ornamental tent-peg or some kind of garden whatnot. According to Wes, it came surplus in a shipment of junk he bought from Giles's magic shop, and he thought that she might like it. She had to laugh. Only in Sunnydale will you find a carpenter with enough time and vamp-fighting experience to create stakes that don't slip in your hands even if they are covered in blood, slime, or sweat, yet still look pretty if you leave one on the coffee table.

Not that she has a coffee table. Wes does, though, and he has this habit of saying "What's mine is yours, Faith." She can't resist testing that every once in a while, leaving her weapons laying around, putting her muddy boots up on a stack of old prophecies (bogus ones, she checked beforehand), or leaving smears of brick-red lipstick on the mirror in his bathroom. It's been about a month now since she moved in, and he has yet to do more than raise an eyebrow. It's irritating, sometimes, how understanding he can be; but that doesn't stop her from loving him for it.

A month. That beats her old record by at *least* a week. Sometimes it boggles her mind -- I did it! I'm doing it! I'm twenty, I'm alive, I'm not evil, and I've got a boyfriend! -- but usually she tries not to dwell on it. She's almost afraid she might jinx herself, and after all, there is still badness in her life. It's just that for the first time she can remember, the happiness actually outweighs it.

A tingle in Faith's gut reminds her why she's out tonight, and she scans over the ruins of the Wolfram & Hart building one more time. Almost every time she's been out patrolling since the law firm summoned the Hellmouth there's been someone out here, watching. Someone not exactly evil, but not good-intentioned, either, she thinks. Her spidey sense isn't all that specific. Wes worried about it -- he hadn't wanted her out on the streets with everyone else out of town -- but she can't just not patrol, and besides, she has the feeling this watcher is waiting for something. Maybe waiting for her to be alone. The sooner Faith can banish his ass, the better; this is getting frustrating.

The tingle fades a little, and Faith frowns. It's been at least an hour since she picked up his presence, and the guy has yet to make a move. Maybe if she cruises around and checks all the morgues again, to tempt him into following - but that takes forever to do, even if she does have Wes' motorbike, and she did it last night, anyway. The watcher's likely to get suspicious if she starts messing up the routine. So. Back to the apartment, then. Maybe she'll get lucky and the guy will attack her along the way.

Faith sighs, then strolls back to the motorbike, tugging futilely at the hem of her top. She's broken in her new leather pants and they don't creak or pinch nearly as much as they used to, but the little sleeveless maroon thing masquerading as her shirt isn't very comfortable, and the generous neckline is full of dust. This kind of thing is all she ever wore back in the days before she went to prison, but she got used to the loose stuff she wore in there, and it's hard to go back to tight and skimpy. The only reason she still wears it is because she can't picture Slaying in anything else -- there's always an element of seduction in the dance of darkness and death. She wouldn't attract nearly as many vamps without it.

Well. Maybe not the only reason. She's still young enough, and vain enough, to appreciate the boost of ego from the looks of appreciation she gets. No model ever looked *this* good, she muses, and throws a leg over the bike. Adjusts the mirrors, fastens the helmet, turns the key.

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FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2002, 1:09 AM
SUNNYDALE

Cordelia turns uneasily on the lumpy hotel mattress, shaking off Groo's arm and muttering in her sleep. These days, she's rarely awakened by a vision until it's already over and the adrenaline hits her system. There *are* major benefits to the blissful absense of migraine headaches, but sleeping through a vision is not one of them; it's a lot harder to shake off the sheer volume of negative emotion when her conscious mind isn't active, and such visions have a nasty tendency to repeat themselves in later dreams.

Tonight's is a particularly dark one. Images of a ruined building, disturbingly familiar in its haphazard arrangement of burnt concrete blocks and melted glass, float before her mind's eye. There's a little starlight up above, a little dim streetlight down below, and a lot of shadows in between. She gets a brief glimpse of a woman kneeling on a rooftop nearby looking toward the debris where a second figure moves, then the scene spins dizzily down and refocuses on street level. Cordelia can still see the kneeling woman, relocated suddenly from her perch; she's not watching anything anymore. Her eyes are squeezed tightly shut. There's a knifeblade at her neck, the slightest touch of ice in a thin line, releasing a slow trickle down to her collarbone. Cordelia gasps for breath as fear rolls over her in sickening waves, and her heart races in sympathy.

Then recognition kicks in. This is Lilah ... she survived? How? ... and the arm pulled tight around her midsection could only belong to Faith. The voice in the lawyer's ear is impossible to mistake. Cordelia can't make out the words, but Faith's anger is very clear, and the Seer is torn. Which of them needs protecting, the one with the blade to her throat, or the one stepping off the path of redemption? Then Lilah's eyes open again, and something in her hand catches a glint of light.

"You won't kill me," Lilah rasps, and moves her hand. Now Cordelia can see what she's concealed: a needle, two needles, filled with God knows what. Up moves Lilah's arm, arcing around into Faith's side, and by the time the Slayer notices it's too late to stop her ...

Cordelia wakes, breathing hard, and turns wide eyes to the bedside clock.

"Another post-event vision," she whispers, as the time differential sinks in. "Why do they even bother?" Then she reaches for the telephone and dials the number for Buffy's house.

~~END INTERLUDE~~