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PART 1

1.

The Hyperion was too big for two people. She and Charles rattled 'round like marbles in all its space. Mornings were the worst, waking up with this emptiness to themselves the whole rest of the day.

Fred crept out of bed down the corridor to the shower, crept back towelling her hair, crawled under the covers again and snuggled into the chest of Gunn, who was still trying to steal an extra few minutes' sleep.

The damp coldness of her skin woke him to groggy curses. She giggled and rubbed her wet hair against his belly, but the mirth echoed strangely in the hotel's aura of absence and she swallowed it.

And it wasn't fair. Because this - this should be fun. She and Charles, it was new and it was special, and if Angel hadn't disappeared and Cordy hadn't disappeared and Lorne hadn't left and Wesley hadn't gone all crazy and betrayed them-

Well, if those things hadn't happened, having the Hyperion to themselves for a time would've been nothing if not of the Good.

Her ear, rested against Gunn's stomach, was excellently placed to notice his breathing once more begin to slow and the first rasp of a snore rattle up his chest into his throat.

A poke in the ribs turned it into a grunt.

"We should get up. It's almost nine. If you want to keep the office open..."

"Yeah."

No debate or hesitation, no question, he woke in the space of a concept and suddenly she was the one still huddled beneath the covers, watching him pull on a fresh shirt with yesterday's jeans.

Sacred duty. They were big words, but they fit. The public face of Angel Investigations, the investigative agency, might not be the essence of what the operation really was - but in the absence of Angel, Cordy and Wes, it was something tangible to hold on to. It had become important the business stay alive. That they keep it running smoothly.

And because she'd promised herself she would break the habit, she bit her lip against wondering aloud if today would be the day one of them walked back through into the hotel's reception. It didn't prevent her from wondering it quietly. She could picture the scene in her mind. How they'd look around and take in all the signs that she and Gunn had kept things running, and they'd be so pleased and proud.

Well, not Wesley. 'Cause Wesley was at the very least enjoying serious under-the-sheets time with the opposition these days. But Angel. Cordelia. Even Lorne. She needed so badly some affirmation that it was all right, that they'd been not abandoned but entrusted.

She shook the thoughts away. They were familiar interlopers, occupying her morning brain every day for almost three weeks, but they were not helpful. Not the least helpful in the helping of the helpless that was the order of the day.

She slipped out of bed, picked a dress from the closet and pulled it over her head, leaning against Charles' back as he bent to tug his sneakers on and lace them. He rubbed against her playfully as she straightened.

This time she didn't allow the space to stifle her giggle. She reached back and entangled his fingers with hers.

"Come on," he said, drawing her along; out into the corridor, down the stairs. "You get the doors open for business, I'll bring you breakfast at reception."

***

Wesley grunted to wakefulness to find Lilah Morgan sitting on the edge of his bed painting her toenails an arrogant shade of pink. Relaxing back into the sheets, he silently watched her blurred form.

"Am I so interesting?" she purred coolly after ten minutes, not looking up. She crooked her other knee, perched her heel on the edge of the mattress, and blew briefly across her toes before beginning the next coat. "Well, I guess... Watcher. Watching. You Watch me paint my toes so beautifully, Wesley, I'm amazed the Council fired you."

He didn't dignify that with a reply - Lilah, he'd discovered, had a very obvious sense of humour - but felt for the new glasses discarded on the nightstand, and lifted them by a dangling spar to set them on his face. Movement made the covers catch the rough scar tissue on his throat, and he pushed himself up on one elbow.

"You don't usually stay for the morning afters."

He'd been getting used to waking up alone, and was on the way to convincing himself she'd broken the routine simply to irritate him.

"Habit is such an ugly thing. The scourge of innovation."

He winced. "Philosophy."

"You think minions of evil can't have depths?"

And he'd tried so hard to purge that question mark from his voice.

She replaced the lid on the nail polish and bent to set the bottle on the floor, pulled her legs up onto the bed crossing them carefully at the ankles and wiggled her toes at him.

The nail polish was the only thing she was wearing.

Wesley wondered what she saw in him that encouraged this game. The marks of too much alcohol and too little sleep, the scars on his throat and in his eyes. Were they the kind of darkness that drew a woman like Lilah?

He considered her question, feeling a sly smile mount a takeover upon the muscles of his face. "Demons, maybe. Vampires, assuredly. Soul-draining fiends of pure evil from the dawn of time, remotely possibly. Lawyers... hmm. Difficult. I'd have to consult my books and get back to you on that one."

"Books." She pouted and mimed a tossing-away gesture. "I always preferred practical research to boring old words."

"It is the time-honoured method to prove or disprove an hypothesis," he agreed, accepting the day's apparent roleplay of domesticity.

Lilah flexed her toes, extended a fingertip to lightly touch a nail, grimaced as she withdrew it and contorted her body to blow across her toes with quick breaths. After several seconds, strain forced her to relax her limbs and she settled for irritably wafting a hand over the drying polish.

Wesley flicked his glasses back onto the nightstand, doubting he'd be putting them on again anytime that day. He'd discovered the world, at the moment, was easier to handle out of focus. "For such an extensive research project, it's probably best if we start right away."

She shrieked as he tackled her, and continued to scream of her nails' plight until he found her something else to scream about.

***

First call of the morning took them to a restaurant where some crazy vamp was terrorising staff and customers. The vamp was dressed like a wino and staggering like one too; the clientele flinching from its ugly face and uglier breath wore suits that probably cost more than Angel Investigations made in a year. Gunn joked he was tempted to leave the vamp to it, maybe take some comedy pictures, but Fred's insistent prodding won out.

Vamp didn't put up much of a fight. He got more of a workout tackling the doorman who chased after him whining about a suit and tie. Some people seriously needed to sort out their priorities.

Gunn tucked the stake back inside his jacket as they left, and looked over his shoulder at the restaurant manager carefully watching them go. He fingered the roll of cash the man had thrust into his hand stammering a hurried 'thank you, goodbye'. "I'd give more than cash to see what Cordy could've made of that guy."

He felt a twang in his chest as he said the words.

"Never mind. Maybe Angel and Wes did the respectable-front thing better," Fred said as they trailed down the street to the truck, "But I'm glad it's you that's still here."

"I'm glad it's me that's here too. So long as it's you that's here with me." Gunn slipped his arm through hers and hung onto his restraint against anything more. They were working now. Mission time.

As the giddy haze of his initial hook-up with Fred began to fade - fighting the good fight as just a guy and a girl without souled-vampire-power would cause that to happen pretty damn quick - it had began to creep over him that at least some of the shit that'd gone down in those months might not have gone down if he'd had more of his eye on the job than on Fred. Maybe he would've noticed what Wesley was planning. Maybe he would've seen the signs of whatever it was caused Angel and Cordy to leave or took them away.

So now work got to be work, and no play, not even a little. Especially now they had only two minds and bodies to help the helpless, Angel Investigations couldn't afford wandering attention.

Didn't mean he didn't miss the haze.

Fred chattered, and he listened to a diatribe on science, and tests regarding what made a vampire a vampire, and trying to pin down the rules such as they were (Fred was frustrated by the inconsistency of the supernatural: everything, she said, had set rules and laws. You had only to find them out) and he kind of wished, as he had increasingly lately, that he'd had more schooling than he had. Because this was a girl he wanted to understand better, which wasn't happening when she could talk for hours with him grasping no more than half the vocabulary alone.

Didn't mean he couldn't still listen to her for hours.

A shrill noise startled him from his daze and he dug the cellphone from his pocket. "Angel Investigations, we help the helpless. Yeah?"

He listened to the voice across the line. Anger welled up automatically at the mention of the name and he quashed it. "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce doesn't work with us any more, man." He pulled a sympathetic face to Fred's wide-eyed look. "Angel's... Angel's on vacation. I... give me a moment." Covering the speaker, he asked Fred, "You know a Ralph Bowen? Claims to be one of Wes' contacts, says he's some kind of mystic?" She shook her head and he returned to the call. "Yeah... No, the agency's still open for business. What was it you wanted?"

Gunn listened to the answer with steadily mounting incredulity, then anger as the caller wound up.

"What? No, you've got to be kidding me. You're the one claims to know about this shit. You can't- No, hey, wait-"

He lowered the cell and glared at it.

"Charles? Charles, you're being scary. Charles, please, answer me."

-snapped back to reality with the realisation she'd been talking for some minutes while he stood staring at the cellphone in his hand like a crazy man.

"What's wrong? Charles? You look kinda-"

Gunn shook his head, trying to bring some order to his thoughts. "Mister Ralph Bowen," he said, wincing as his voice grated in his dry mouth, "just dropped the next best thing to the fucking apocalypse in our laps. He's leaving town. 'Cause, he says, this city's not a healthy place to stick around in - seeing as how according to his mystical mumbo-jumbo it's gonna be wiped off the face of the planet sometime today."

***

Mind-readers in the lobby was always a good indication it was going to be a Fucked Up Day At The Office. Lilah scowled as she pushed past them, feeling their stares absorb her memories of the morning and night.

A smirk on the lips of one irritated her.

"I'm recruiting," she snapped. She stepped into the elevator and the doors slid shut to cut his smirk from view.

God, she hated the paranoia in this place at times. Who were they after now? Had something serious happened, or just another round of examples?

She clutched her briefcase with whitening knuckles, didn't speak to the familiar faces in the elevator car who likewise weren't speaking to her, and tried not to sweat because on top of everything else she didn't need her foundation to drip. Her heart was beating too fast.

Screwing Wesley Wyndham-Pryce was hardly in itself a punishable offence, even if she hadn't shared all her plans with her superiors. But. Was she so sure there hadn't been anything, no matter how small, said to Wesley in the past few weeks that could be construed as passing information to the opposition?

No. No, she was sure. She was careful.

She slowed her breathing and calmed her pulse, relaxing through force of will. Relaxed, she ached. Wesley hadn't been gentle. He seldom was. Who'd have thought?

Opposition, though...? She smiled to herself. Hardly anymore. She was almost certain. Though the senior partners might be less so.

Her smile choked and died. She'd been certain about Bethany.

The elevator drew to a smooth halt at her floor and she strode out, exchanged a few nods of greeting with co-workers from her division and glared at interns engaged in hushed discussion. The haste with which they peeled off and returned to their work gave her a warm glow of authority. She carried on down the corridor to her office.

Opened the door to find Linwood sitting in there surrounded by a team. Shit, then the mind-readers weren't random sweeps. The place really was at Defcon One.

He looked up, and his flinty gaze followed her to her desk, where she rested her briefcase down and didn't sit. She raised an eyebrow and hazarded a smile. "Good morning."

Linwood always had been a humourless bastard, but lately he seemed to be going for some kind of record in maudlinity. "It most certainly isn't. We have a problem. Last night, there was a break-in."

Her breath caught. She registered that the harsh note in his voice was fear, and her brain pulled up a dozen different artefacts and files the sudden absence of which could prompt his 'we-are-all-about-to-die' intensity.

Then he said the name and she could've sworn her heart stopped beating.

Linwood nodded, not even mustering a smile of satisfaction at catching her off-guard. "It's gone, Lilah. And, whoever took it - they intend to use it. The psychics have been having nervous breakdowns since about 4am this morning. I hope you're ready for that Hell-on-Earth experience, because it's all going to happen considerably earlier than planned."

***