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Believing

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He doesn't know he's prey. The man in the white apron stealing out the restaurant's back door for a smoke in the damp alley doesn't recognize the predator moving in. If he notices her at all, he just sees a somewhat oddly dressed twentysomething out for a night on the town. She's lost her way, maybe, or wants some fresh air.

Angel knows that she doesn't need the oxygen. He can't hear her heart beat.

But, as he trails her, he can hear a soft pair of footsteps echoing his own. He, too, is prey and hasn't noticed until now. He breathes in deeply and catches a pungent, vaguely familiar scent. Not human. Not his usual Wolfram & Hart security detail – he shook them off long ago. This is another demon.

The moment of distraction has cost him. He hears a creak and looks up to see the vampire he was tracking propelling herself off a nearby fire escape and rocketing toward his head. He ducks, but she clips his shoulder and sends him sprawling. He hits a row of metal garbage cans, the sound like crashing cymbals. Before he can get his bearings, she takes off running into the night. The restaurant worker has disappeared as well.

But someone else is still in the alley. The demon steps out into the dim light and stretches a hand toward where Angel lies covered in trash. He's wearing a black fedora and a smirk.

"I really thought you'd smell better this time," Whistler says.

Ignoring the barb and the proffered hand, Angel gets to his feet, brushing off his clothes. "Why were you following me?"

"I was waiting for the right time to say hi. I wasn't sure you'd want to see me. It didn't go so well the last time, what with the girl and the sword and the all-expenses-paid trip to hell."

"Then why are you here?"

"I've always wanted to come back to LA. I think I have a certain star quality. Can't you just see this face in the moving pictures?" He smiles like a sardonic game show host.

Without a word, Angel turns and begins to walk out of the alley.

"Jeez," Whistler says a few blocks later, slightly out of breath from struggling to keep up with Angel's long strides. "I think I liked you better when you were on the all-rat diet. OK. This is going to sound entirely cheesy, but…I want you to see something."

He nods toward the large, propped-open window ahead. Somehow, without Angel realizing it, Whistler has maneuvered them to an abandoned warehouse that appears hastily converted into a base of operations. There's a small collection of mystical reference books…and crossbows…and battle axes…and…

Angel watches as two people stride into the room, clearly having a disagreement, and every last one of his senses lights on fire.

"It's Buffy," he says.

"Shh," Whistler hisses, grabbing his coat and pulling him out of the line of sight. From his new vantage point, Angel can see Buffy, luminous as ever, clutching a steaming mug and talking in controlled but urgent tones to that idiot Rupert Giles sent to collect Dana, the mentally disturbed slayer.

"You're sure he still has his soul?" Buffy is saying.

"You really think I could come face to face with the Scourge of Europe and live to tell the tale?" Andrew asks with pride.

"Forget I asked," Buffy says. "This just isn't like him."

Her head turns toward the window and Angel can see a puzzled look cross her face. He digs his fingernails into his palms. But Buffy shrugs it off quickly, turning back to Andrew.

"I'm sorry, Padmé, but we're dealing with Vader now. Nobody thinks we can trust him."

"I know what they think. But he must have a good reason for working there."

"If he does, he wasn't exactly Share Bear about it."

"He'll tell me."

"Don't be so sure. I mean, did he even bother to let you know that Spike is still alive?"

Andrew gasps in shock at his own reckless revelation. Buffy's mug slips from her hands and shatters on the floor.

†††

Angel turns from the window. He doesn't want to see the part where Buffy rushes off for a heartwarming reunion with the thorn in his side. The one who is really out helping the helpless, while he sits in his shiny glass tower, pushing paper for his mortal enemies.

"Where are you going?" Whistler asks. "You can't tell me her…heroism…doesn't do it for you anymore?"

"I don't want to spy on Buffy. I'm going home."

"As a point of fact, the spying was not the actual purpose of this outing. I thought you'd want to talk to her."

"And say what? That I'm not the CEO of a diabolical law firm bent on world domination?"

"I thought you were only in charge of the LA branch."

"Are you seriously questioning my evil credentials?"

"Hey, I have a sporting interest here. I was trying to get you to bat for the good guys."

"Sorry to disappoint you."

"C'mon, man," Whistler says, stopping in his tracks. "The lady is right. There's gotta be a reason."

"Maybe." Angel turns back to look at him. "But I can't tell her. It's too…It's complicated."

"Fine. Don't tell her. Tell me. We can figure it out. It's not too late to get back on track."

Angel shakes his head and turns away.

"Face it, Whistler," he says. "You bet on the wrong vampire. I'm not a hero…I never was."