Chapter Nineteen: Change of State

SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 11:10 AM PST (7:10 PM GMT)
LOS ANGELES

--

Lilah snapped her cell phone shut with a bitter, self-satisfied smile. She'd known from the beginning that getting the information she wanted out of McNamara would likely require multiple contacts and negotiation strategies, and Gavin had made the problem even thornier with his poisonous interference. But, like many others before him, he'd underestimated the strength of her conviction and her imagination; she always found another way to move forward, no matter what was conjured up to slow her down.

The technological option would have been the easiest route to take, but she still had contacts in this city, and McNamara was hardly the only former member of the Initiative to remember the disposition of Hostile 17. Lilah'd had to talk fast to get Mrs. Finn to put her husband on the phone, and the young Captain hadn't been able to give her access to the exact schematics of the behavioral modification chip, but he had remembered enough about its nature and construction for her to go ahead with Plan B. He'd had one of his own, if she remembered his file right, and must have looked up the details at least once after joining the majority of the Initiative survivors in their roving demon-hunting squad.

From the sound of things, a pretty rare combination of materials had gone into the chips' construction; Maggie Walsh had been aware of HSTs for some time before gaining approval for her little project, and she must have picked up enough experience with other aspects of the supernatural to run experiments with magic, too. That was the only explanation for some of the ingredients Finn had mentioned. Apparently, it took more than wires, plastic, and programming to affect a demon's basic impulses; it took compulsion spells and pain enchantments, too, worked right into the chip's physical make-up. Which meant that flipping switches might not have been enough to do the job, anyway, no matter what McNamara's records said.

Fortunately, Lilah's secondary solution had involved attacking the problem from a new angle altogether. She had called in one of her shrinking number of markers to acquire the services of a dark warlock-- not quite as powerful as Vail, who hadn't been seen or heard from since the local branch of the Firm was obliterated, but powerful enough to do the job-- and she'd sweetened the deal with some of the bounty the Council had paid her.

If Gavin really did report to Master Tarfall and had told the demon lord about her deal with the Watchers, then Lilah's grip on the money was tenuous anyway. Better to spend some of it now in pursuit of a goal that she could paint to the benefit of Wolfram & Hart, trumping Gavin's not-yet-implemented byzantine plans, than to lose it all anyway because a disaffected former co-worker had poisoned the Senior Partners against her. It was a risk, of course; if Spike did not act as she expected him to when his leash was removed, then no amount of plotting or groveling would restore her to favor. But if it did...

She glanced down at the designer watch clasping her wrist, and watched the sweep of the second hand as it inched toward the time the warlock had claimed he'd be done with his spellwork. Lilah hadn't had anything available with enough of an association with Spike for the man to use as a focus for his locating spells, but the information she'd given him about the implant had been an adequate substitute; as she'd expected, he'd be able to search for the combination of materials that went into the chip in conjunction with the metaphysical essence of a vampire within a certain radius of Los Angeles. Once that unique identifier coalesced on his map, he would then turn every scrap of metal within a one-meter radius of said vampire into lead.

The warlock, Rack, had been quite bemused when she'd asked him if he knew anything about alchemy; he'd laughingly informed her that turning lead into gold would end up costing more in magical supplies than the worth of the gold itself. The smile had dropped out of his tone of voice, replaced by intrigued respect, when she'd told him that gold wasn't her goal at all. While gold was less conductive than copper or silver, lead was even less so; much less so, as a matter of fact. And while it was difficult to precisely target a spell at a distance, a roughly two-meter circle should be a large enough buffer zone to guarantee results. If Spike's chip still worked after Rack's magic was through with him, Lilah would be very surprised.

"Let's see you spin that one to your precious Master Tarfall," Lilah said aloud as the time expired. Not that she expected Gavin to hear her; she had left her apartment after his call an hour ago to search out the nearest sanctuary space in town, a restaurant and bar not too different from the club Angel's pet Pylean had owned before his little Fang Gang had bulldozed their way through it one time too many. The sanctuary spell cast over the interior of this place, however, prevented more than just physical violence; it was calibrated to block most technological and magical methods of eavesdropping, as well. If it might drive away customers, the owner was determined to prevent it, and that had worked in Lilah's favor more than once over the years.

"Considering the fact that he just wasted one of the Firm's major markers against the Initiative, for no return?" an amused voice drawled suddenly in her ear. "Yeah, I'd say he'll have some explaining to do."

Lilah steeled herself not to flinch, then glanced over at the figure seated beside her in the booth. "Sahjhan, how... pleasant to see you again," she said, through clenched teeth. "I assume you're here to pay up on our little agreement?"

"I am a being of my word," he said amiably, favoring her with a scarred, shark-like smile. "You took out the chip; I tell you how to find Connor. Though I don't doubt you'd have figured it out soon enough on your own."

"Of course," she said, returning him smile for smile. If true, that would certainly explain his willingness to give up such valuable information at such a relatively cheap price; she'd half-expected him to wait until Spike's actions could be confirmed, or else to give her another task to perform before he'd talk. But of course, it would do him no good to sit on the information if she was able to uncover it herself. Bastard. Maybe she should have asked for more.

Too late now, of course. "I appreciate your quick response," she continued, coolly. "I hadn't expected you so soon."

Sahjhan laughed. "Believe me, I want to see the boy reduced to his constituent parts as much as you do," he said. "The quicker you take him out, the better both our lives will be."

Lilah took a deep breath, striving to hold on to her patience, and released it through her nose. "That would be easier to arrange if you'd actually give me his name," she prompted him.

"You sure you want me to just blurt it out?" he taunted. "A revelation of this magnitude needs a little lead-up, I think. Why don't you order another glass of wine? C'mon, live a little."

"Oh, I think there's been enough lead-up already," she replied, refusing to give him the satisfaction he was looking for.

"Oh, all right, all right," he sighed, sliding out of the booth. "You ready for this? It starts with a W and ends in ice; add the nickname Destroyer, and that should suffice." He gave her a mocking bow, then disappeared, flitting off elsewhere in the timestream.

Lilah snarled after him, then picked her way through the mangled Robert Frost quote to come up with the only name she knew that fit the bill-- Wesley Wyndam-Price.

"Fuck," she muttered, kicking the base of the table in front of her. "Fuck! All this time, he's been right here in front of me. And then I had to kidnap his girlfriend and turn her over-- Shit! If the Council gets their hands on him, too..."

She fumed. So much for her plans to use Angel's son against him; whatever Holtz had done to ensure that Connor grew up hating the very thought of the leader of the Scourge of Europe, he'd still managed to end up as Angel's right arm. No wonder the vampire had taken him back in after the kidnapping debacle! She'd heard reports from the hospital about Angel's little attempt to suffocate Wes, but the expected lengthy estrangement had never materialized; Wes had been right back in the thick of things with Angel Investigations in no time.

If what Sahjhan had just told her was true-- and she could see no benefit to him to lie about this-- then Angel's son was more than just a prophetic focus and potential weapon; he was also a vital cog in Angel Investigations' recently expanded operations. Forget killing him; whoever controlled him would have leverage over whichever of the Powers' current Champions survived Spike's rampage. And at the rate things were going, that 'whoever' was going to be the Watchers' Council.

I wonder what the Senior Partners would have to say about that? she wondered, and smiled grimly as she recalled Gavin's cavalier attitude earlier when they'd discussed her deal with Sahjhan. If she'd just 'let it go' as he'd mockingly advised her to do, then she would still be clueless about the bigger picture. Master Tarfall might forgive him his oversight regarding Spike's chip, but this?

Lilah flipped her cell phone open again and dialed her travel agent's number, hastily booking the next available flight to London. Wolfram & Hart agents there were already involved in the operation to hinder Faith's friends from their attempts to recover her, but when they found out about Connor's new identity... well, priorities might change. She didn't want to lose him to another branch; this was her deal, and she would be the one to benefit from it, which meant she needed to be there, on the ground, when he was dealt with.

Not to mention, if things went wrong? Being far away from Los Angeles when it happened might just save her life. If Mesektet was truly out of the picture, then the perpetuity clause on her contract might have died with the branch of Wolfram & Hart that had hired Lilah-- but Lilah knew better than to bet against the embodiment of darkness. Distance, and more powerful protection, was her best option to save herself.

Hopefully, she wouldn't need that option. But she wouldn't be Lilah Morgan without at least one back-up plan in her pocket.

"England, here I come," she murmured, then dropped enough bills on the table to cover her check and made her way out of the restaurant. If she hurried, she still had time to pack a few necessities before she had to make her flight.

-tbc-