Corrupted by Degree

Angel and Wesley came out of the distillery into the open pavement. The pavement was wet, reflecting the darkness in a faint sheen and in puddles from recent rain. With them came the black dressed retrieval squad, rifles slung on their back and with a gurney with a young girl strapped to it between them.

"Chain her into the van," Angel told them. "I want armed guards riding with her in the back."

Andrew walked out of the darkness past the van that they planned to load the captured Slayer into. "That's alright, boys," Andrew said calmly. "I'll take her from here."

A lone figure standing there in front of Angel and the Wolfram & Hart retrieval squad in a coat that was far too big for him. The picture was far from intimidating.

Angel was dumbfounded. "What?"

"Totally appreciate your help on this one big guy. Never could've found her without you, but you've got enough problems of your own to worry about."

Angel tried to step around the boy, one hand on the gurney where the psycho young girl was strapped down. "Get out of the way, Andrew."

Andrew made a point to stand in Angel's path.

"She's a slayer. That means . . . she's ours."

Angel looked at Andrew as if he were crazy. Like a bug he had to step over to get where he was going. "Yeah. Sorry ... not how it works." He tried to walk around as he ignored the boy and spoke to the retrieval squad. "Load her up don't hesitate to tranq her if she so much as ..."

Andrew stepped back in his way.

"No. I don't think you heard me Angel."

Behind Andrew, girls appeared out of the darkness. Each were young. But they each seemed to carry themselves with an assertiveness that was . . . disconcerting. They gathered behind Andrew and tried to look intimidating. They were just girls, but something about them threw Angel and each of the men around him back a step. An aura of power. Strength. Slayers, Angel realized with a preternatural chill that struck the vampire to the bone.

Andrew stood there before them, undaunted. "Think we're just gonna let you take her back to your evil stronghold. Well as they say in Mehico ..." The boy slowly realized he seemed to have lost himself somewhere along the way. "No," he said slowly. "We're not gonna let you."

Angel refused to be backed down. "She's psychotic, and I'm not turning her over . . . to you."

"You don't have a choice. Check the viewscreen Uhura. I've got twelve Vampyre Slayers behind me and not one of them has ever dated you." Andrew faced down Angel smugly. "She's coming with us one way or another."

Angel smirked. "You're way out of your league. I'll just clear this with Buffy."

Andrew smiled faintly. "Where do you think my orders came from?!"

Angel's smirk faltered. Heartbreak played around behind his eyes.

"Newsflash," said Andrew with a dramatic gesture. "Nobody in our camp trusts you anymore." Andrew shook his head, dismissing any hopes the vampire might entertain. "Nobody. You work for Wolfram & Hart. Don't fool yourself. We're not on the same side."

Angel, Wesley and the team from Wolfram & Hart faced Andrew and the slayers, each on opposite sides of an invisible line in the pavement.

"Thank you for your help," said Andrew, "but, uh . . . We got it." He gestured quietly and some of the girls came around him and took hold of the gurney, rolling it away from Angel. Many of the girls seemed reluctant to turn their back on him, he noticed. A few moments later Andrew and the girls disappeared back into the darkness.

"So that's it," said Wesley quietly. "We're just gonna let him take her."

"She's one of theirs. They can handle it. Besides," Angel said distractedly, still staring off into the darkness after them, "You heard the man, we got enough problems of our own to worry about."

* * * * * * *

"Mission accomplished," said Andrew. "We're on our way home."

He flipped the phone closed.

"I am so cool," he said, smiling faintly before he dropped his phone a moment later. "Oops!"

Andrew sat there for a long minute, thinking of the long road that brought him here. Of the people, who despite his many quirks, trusted him with something this important. Rupert in England. Willow and Kennedy in Rio. Xander, somewhere in darkest Africa, in countries for which Andrew didn't even have a name. Faith and Robin, god knows where. People, who had seen him at his worst and yet somehow had faith in him, in the man he could become.

He thought of Buffy, so strong, but with damp eyes reflecting heartbreak and other things. World weary and lost somewhere along the way. Stalwart in spite of it.

He thought of Spike, who had died to save the world and yet lived.

Andrew smiled in the darkness. Collected his small bag and his laptop for the trip. "And the news he brings home will change their world."

* * * * * * *

Half an hour later a small private jet lifted off from the runway, somewhere outside of Los Angeles, heading eastward into the rising sun.

* * * * * * *

Wesley frowned. "I thought you said you were okay with it?!"

"Well I'm not." Angel said. Wesley somehow wasn't surprised to see tears in his eyes. "I'm not." The vampire paused to take an unnecessary breath. "That little chickenshit stood there and played me for a fool. Stood up to me, and somehow walked away the better man. How did we get here, Wes?" Angel spoke sadly. "How did we get . . . here?"

"I don't know," Wesley said slowly. "Maybe when we accepted control of the evil multinational corporation."

Angel looked up at him with dark eyes. "We're doing good here, Wes."

"Are we? Can you really take this giant faceless thing, built on shades of evil we can't begin to imagine, and somehow turn it toward good? This building is built on the blood of human sacrifice. The money we spend squeezed from slaughter. For every person we save how many indeterminate evils do we ignore because they allow us to get there. I seem to remember sitting here in this office just a week ago having a conversation with Fred and Gunn about whether we could kill somebody from space if we wanted to . . . if we wished," Wesley wanted to bury his face in his hands. "I remember speaking calmly . . . when once upon a time that possibility would have struck me with the most profound horror. I feel . . . like something's slipping. Like I lost something of me along the way. Maybe Spike was right. Working someplace like this. Maybe you don't change the system. It changes you."

Angel came out of his thoughts and looked at Wes with cold eyes like pits of steel. "Something has to be done."

"What?" Asked Wes. "What is it that we can do?"


* * * * * * *

"Your mission went well?" Giles asked as Andrew walked into the room in London.

"Like clockwork," responded Andrew. "Wh . . . What'll happen to the girl?"

"I'm not sure," Giles said kindly. " I'm not certain what we can do for someone as far gone as she seems to be. I can promise that she'll have the best help the Council's money can buy."

Andrew looked at his feet. "I suppose that's something."

Giles stopped. He took off his glasses and proceeded to clean them with a soft cloth. "Andrew, I know you probably don't hear this much. To be honest much of the time all you do is irritate the piss out of the lot of us, but I thought you should know how ... proud ... we are of you. We should probably tell you that more often. This mission was important, and difficult in a lot of way, not least of which was Angel. Once upon a time I never would have trusted you with anything of this importance, but you've slowly proven yourself, and you came back with flying colors. I just wanted to say it, wanted you to hear it ... I'm proud of you."

"Mr. Giles ... and I didn't even get you a gift. Thank you."

"No thanks are necessary." Giles slipped his glasses back on. "Though to be honest one of the other reasons I sent you was a sincere hope that you could irritate Angel and Wesley as much as you sometimes irritate me."

"Still," said Andrew blushing. "Thank you. You can help me in one way though, if you really feel bad for not telling me before that is. Kind of an apology present if you will. I'd like to borrow the X-jet. Need a ride to Rome."

"Why the he . . ."

"News for the boss. J. Jonah Jameson, stop the presses kinda news. I think it's something she'll want to hear about in person."

Giles frowned at him. "As usual, Andrew, I don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"Trust me," Andrew smiled evilly. "It'll blow your mind."

"Now I'm frightened."

"You should be," Andrew said in a bad mimicry of Yoda. "You should be."

Giles turned and left the room.

Andrew followed. "Oh, come on!"


author's note: sorry for the lack of spuffy action so far. hell, sorry for the lack of buffy and spike entirely. that will change. you gotta have faith. everyone who wants to strangle me now raise your hand. oh, everyone is it ...

(two fingered salute)

do you trust me?