Chapter 1

"There's something changing." Willow tapped her pencil against the desk, staring at the computer screen as she thought out loud.

Through the monitor, via a web cam, Giles looked at her over his bifocals. "Changing? Yes…I've noticed something, but nothing that would cause any concern. The balances have been tipped in our favor, it seems."

"Doesn't that strike you as odd? I mean, there has been less and less activity over the past years. It's…disturbing. Who or what is destroying the demons, and why?"

"Perhaps…the Powers That Be have finally called more warriors to the front."

She swiveled in her chair and looked out her office window at the bluffs. The curtains were parted and the window was open, she could hear the breakers down below.

"Why haven't we met any of them? Why hasn't Buffy reported more soldiers? We should have heard something if there were more people on the front."

He nodded; still not entirely convinced Willow wasn't acting the part of an alarmist. "Willow, the slayers have come into their own recently. In the past three years, they have grown up, most of them are women. Buffy was at her peak at that time in her career, perhaps these girls have reached that point. We have more capable and trained soldiers on the front now than at any other time in history. Surely that has to have an effect eventually."

She wasn't making eye contact with him. When that happened, he knew she was hiding something or about to confess something. He waited in patient silence for her to either continue or end their conversation.

"I…I heard something from an operative in California. The demon population in LA is barely existent these days. I started some checking…" She brought up her files containing the information she had been collecting throughout the past few months and sent it to Giles. "Paris, Belgium, Rome, Madrid…they all have demon populations comparable to that of LA. That can't be a coincidence."

Looking through the files, he was suddenly a little less sure of the plans he had been putting into effect over the years. Xander was still in Africa, Dawn was finishing college in England, Buffy was traveling through Spain, and he and Willow were running the Watcher's Council. All was as he had planned. The thought of interrupting the lives of these people because something good was happening was…a little beyond him.

"Willow, I refuse to call a meeting because there are fewer demons than there were five years ago. I don't think that is the best reason to call everyone away from their lives…"

She interrupted him vehemently. "Wolfram and Hart either has had a complete and radical makeover, or they're planning something. I would like to know which one."

"Willow, I doubt there is something more diabolical than their previous plans at play. Surely nothing they come up with can be worse that anything they've done previously."

"It can always get worse." She contemplated the older man in front of her. He had been her guide throughout the times when she was learning to control her powers. After that, he had become one of her closest friends. They currently had a more equal relationship than they ever had before, being that they were co-chairs of the Council. He was in England, maintaining headquarters, and she was in Nice, watching over the Eastern sectors. She had not previously pried into his business when it came to private meetings and contingencies that he chose to not share with her. She trusted him. Now, however, he was purposefully trying to shut her down, push her away from her current course. That made her wonder just what she had stumbled into, and what he wasn't telling her.

"Giles, I am going to continue looking into this. I already have operatives en route to LA, and the other European cities I mentioned. Recon only. I want to find out what is going on."

He stiffened. Willow immediately knew that she had hit a nerve. There was something there he didn't want her to see. "That is not a wise course of action, Willow."

"What aren't you telling me? LA is no longer a no-go zone, as far as I knew…as far as you told me."

"It's not just LA…" He averted his eyes from the screen; purposefully making her wait to hear what he had to say. "I…there is something…well something I haven't told anyone. Wolfram and Hart is not under new management. It has been under the same management for the past four years or so. There have been changes, of course, but…none of them have been negative, from what I can tell."

"Giles, four years ago, it was…oh my God, Giles…you mean to tell me that Angel is still at Wolfram and Hart?" She stood suddenly, pacing through the room. She thought he was dead. She had told Buffy he was dead. Since the opening of the portal in LA, when Angel had left this dimension and traveled into a hell dimension, they had all been operating on the belief that he was dead.

"How long have you known that he was alive?" There was fire in her eyes, and if looks could kill, Giles was sure at that moment he would have needed resuscitation.

Clearing his throat, he made eye contact with her again. "Angel…has been alive since that battle. He was in other dimensions for a short time, but he returned and continued his presidency at Wolfram and Hart. He never really died."

Willow was stunned speechless. He had lied to her and she in turn had lied to Buffy. The months following that announcement had been the worst she had ever seen her friend. She mumbled about cookies for weeks, and cried spontaneously for longer than that. Buffy had tried to date other people, but none of the attempted relationships had worked out; the longest relationship lasted four months. Willow suddenly found herself struggling to control her anger. Buffy had been devastated, especially after she had started digging for information and discovered the Shanshu prophecy. After that, things had gotten a little heated between Buffy and Giles. Buffy had been sure that Giles had known of the prophecy. Of course he adamantly denied all knowledge such a thing existed, a fact that no one really believed.

"Giles…the prophecy, Angel's not-so-death…what else have kept from us? What have you kept from me? Was the prophecy fulfilled? Is he evil, good? Tell me what's going on!"

He knew that she could teleport herself to wherever he was and turn him into a pool of slime, and right now that was looking like a distinct possibility. He quickly went through all the options in his mind. He could continue the lie, but that seemed it would not work very well anymore. He could tell her truth…that would lead to wonderful things, he was sure, or he could give her just enough to sedate her for now. No, he thought, that last one would mean that some time from now she would find out the whole truth and be even angrier than she was now.

Reaching into a locked desk drawer, he pulled out a thick manila envelop. Opening the flap, he let the contents spill out onto the desktop. Sighing, he looked back at the angry witch starting holes through the computer screen at him. "These were addressed to Buffy. Needless to say, she did not receive them. Angel…is not quite human. He is no longer a vampire either. During the time that he…was not in this world, he was in other dimensions, changing this one. He changed the course of history, and therefore the future. Just because he is no longer a vampire does not mean he is 'good'. I would like to make that clear. He has been part of very questionable activities, activities that make me wonder as to what kind of being he really is. I have been keeping watch on him, and I have my own operatives inside the LA branch of Wolfram and Hart. I'm still unsure as to the exact nature of Angel's…well, soul. Buffy would have gone there. I couldn't have that, not yet."

She sat back down, stunned. All this time, he had been alive, all this time, he had been doing good work at Wolfram and Hart. All this time he had been trying to contact Buffy. "How many letters are there?"

"He sends them every few months. He has for the past three years."

Standing again, she gave a look that conveyed that she would not entertain any more arguments. "Pack. We're going to LA."