WHAT A TANGLED WEB…
DISCLAIMER: I don’t own the characters from Roswell or BTVS and I don’t profit by this.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is my take on ‘Meet the Dupes.’ It directly follows ‘Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…’ As always, feedback is welcomed, even encouraged.
SUMMARY: Three strangers with familiar faces come to town as the Roswell teens are dealing with another problem.
NEW YORK CITY: One week ago
"The guy said Kivar’s dead. This is our big chance to step in. Someone needs to take control back home."
"We ain’t goin’. No arguments."
"Yer bein’ stupid! This is our big chance! Why you wanna blow it?"
"If you can’t figure that out for yourself, you’re the stupid one." Zan kept walking, ignoring the crowd and his second.
"Back me up here Lonnie?" He looked to the taller of the two girls in their small group. She glanced at her brother’s back and then at him. She nodded slightly before looking away disdainfully.
"If my brother says we don’t go, we don’t go."
"You wanna continue bein’ nobodies here when can be royalty back home? What’s up with that?"
"Shut up Rath. Try listenin’ for a change. We’re not going, but that don’t mean we won’t be there." Zan stopped abruptly and turned to confront his second. Rath stared stupidly for a moment, his leader’s words having completely thrown him off track. He glanced at Lonnie, but she only looked curious. Her face betrayed none of the confusion Rath felt. Zan rolled his eyes. "Guess you are stupid. This could be a trap or it could be real. Safest way to find out is to send someone in our place. Might as well get some use out of those dupes they sent with us."
Rath’s eyes widened in surprise, then a crafty grin spread across his face.
"Always did like the way you think, bro."
ROSWELL: The present
Liz massaged her temples, trying to ward off the headache she could feel coming on. She cast an irritated glance at her teacher who was practically doubled over with laughter. "I don’t see what’s so funny," she griped. "This guy could cause us real problems."
"He already has," Spike grinned, his laughter tapering off. He tried to look serious for a moment, but then burst out laughing again. "Then he solved them!" Liz sighed and turned away. Clearly, Spike wasn’t going to be any help.
"So he thinks Tess is psychic or something?" She leaned back against the cushions of the old sofa. Her basement wasn’t the ideal place to meet, but it was convenient to the returning group. Max and Maria had met the three as they returned home. Liz had not seen her parents yet. Fortunately, they were out of town till late that night.
"Or something," Max agreed. "He mentioned a colleague in L.A. He might’ve been talking about Wesley."
"Maybe we should talk to him," Liz suggested, "Wesley I mean, find out exactly what this means."
"Good idea," Max nodded. "In the meantime, we should keep an eye on this guy. We don’t want him running into Liz on patrol."
"Maybe she should hold off until this guy leaves town." Maria glanced at her friend, but Liz shook her head.
"I doubt the vampires will hold off."
"So Spike can patrol in your place," Michael said. "If Hawkins finds him out killing demons he’ll have an explanation for the rumors of a Slayer, and it’ll give him another reason to move on."
"Hey that’s right." Liz’s head came up sharply, a look of inspiration crossing her face. "Thanks to what that vampire said before Tess killed him, Hawkins thinks there’s a Slayer in town. If he finds Spike is the one doing the demon killing he’ll definitely think he’s on the wrong track. Michael, that’s brilliant!"
Max’s second-in-command blinked in surprise before nodding, only just realizing the implications of what he’d said. "Uh, yeah, I thought so."
"It’s an idea," Spike allowed, interested despite the potential risk to himself. "Could be fun too, seein’ exactly how stupid this guy is." He thought for a moment and quickly warmed to the idea. Putting one over on the infamous Watcher’s Council would be sweet indeed. "I’ll do it."
"Knew we could count on you, Spike," Maria said, sarcasm dripping like honey from her words. Spike recognized her tone and knew he was being made fun of, but it only made him grin the more.
"Yeah, yeah, tease if ya like, but I’m gonna enjoy this almost as much as I would enjoy-" he glanced at Liz. "Uh, would’ve enjoyed…" He shrugged. "Ah, you know." The others traded concerned glances and Liz sighed, deciding it was best to move on quickly.
"So how do we do this? We’ve gotta find him first. Then set it up for him to run into Spike."
"Well, we know where he’s staying," Max answered. "It should be easy to keep an eye on him." He glanced at Michael, and then frowned thoughtfully. "What he believes now is a real stretch. Do you think he’ll believe that the rumors of a Slayer started because of Spike?"
"Sure," Maria spoke up cheerily. "I can do something with his hair, and with the right earrings and a little make-up he…" she broke off in a fit of uncontrollable laughter at the expression on the vampire’s face.
"Thanks Maria," Michael groused. "Like that’s an image I want stuck in my head." Liz and Max shared a long-suffering look and waited for their friends to grow serious again.
"Can we focus?" Spike asked, surprising them. "We need to deal with this guy, and the sooner the better."
"Spike’s right," Liz nodded. "It’s not going to be easy to pull this off and not make it look contrived. It’s not enough that he meets Spike. He’d probably just try to stake you," she reminded him. "And I don’t have to remind you that you can’t fight back."
Her teacher nodded glumly, thinking. "So. We need a vampire or two as well." Spike trailed off, realizing that it would indeed be difficult not to make such a meeting look contrived.
"Well, this guy’s gonna be looking for vampires, right?" Maria looked at the others and they nodded hesitantly. "So the chances of him running into Spike by accident aren’t that small. Roswell isn’t a very big town."
"So it might not be such a stretch that two vampire hunters run into each other," Max allowed. "We can’t depend on him to jump to the wrong conclusions, though. I don’t think this guy would have gotten where he is if he were stupid." He shot a warning look at Spike.
"I have to agree," Liz sighed. "The two Watchers I’ve met, Wesley and Giles, are pretty sharp." She glanced at Spike. "This guy may have jumped to the wrong conclusion once, but we can’t depend on his doing it again."
"So let’s make a basic plan and then revise it until we have something workable," Max suggested. "What’s the first thing we need?"
"Okay," Alex sighed. "Could we make this any more complex? You know, so when it goes wrong it can really
"Ah, the voice of optimism," Tess grimaced. Though her tone was sarcastic, she found herself agreeing with the human boy’s assessment. The slightest hitch could throw everything off and ruin the plan.
She glanced around at the group that had assembled at the Evans’ home. Max’ father had given the group a disapproving look before retreating into his office. Mrs. Evans had left to run unnecessary errands. Neither really approved of the ‘Slayer meeting’ happening in their home and neither really wanted to know what was going on, but they had resigned themselves to their children’s participation. The Evans’ children were too strong willed to accept being forbidden to get involved.
There were occasions, though, when Max found himself wishing he weren’t involved. "You’re not helping," he said, a bit more sharply than he had intended. "If you have a better idea, lets hear it."
Alex considered, and then shook his head sadly. "So who goes first?"
Rath watched his double leave the Evans’ house and frowned. "Do I gotta dress like that? Guy’s got no style."
Lonnie smirked. "Poor baby." Ava, sitting in the back seat of the stolen Ford, said nothing. She had privately been against the entire endeavor, but it was what Zan wanted, and she would do anything for Zan.
Several others left as they watched. Some in pairs, others singly. "Dinner party?" Lonnie speculated in a put on snobbish tone that made Rath chuckle. The last two to emerge were a tall, gangly, dark-haired boy and Lonnie’s double. She took special note of the boy, as the two seemed especially close. He spoke softly to her and gazed into her eyes while giving her hand a quick reassuring squeeze. To Lonnie’s surprise, though, he didn’t try to kiss the girl before turning to depart.
"Now there’s an approach I haven’t seen in a while," Ava commented almost wistfully. Lonnie gave her an irritated, look. "Shy and sensitive," she offered by way of explanation. Her voice was wistful as she watched the two part company. Lonnie ruined the moment by blowing rudely between her lips.
"’Cause it’s stupid. That’s why."
"Don’t get mad," Ava answered sweetly, "just ‘cuz guys ask you for a price list instead." Rath made a strangled noise that diverted Lonnie’s wrath.
"You think that’s funny?" she demanded. Rath didn’t answer, but his lips were pressed tightly together and he studiously avoided looking at her. She muttered an obscenity under her breath and ignored both of them.
She turned instead and watched Isabel go back inside. It wouldn’t be so bad impersonating her, Lonnie decided. At least there was no problem with style.
"Do you think this Max guy’ll go for it? Will he help?"
Rath shrugged. "Only one way to find out. Gotta be ready if he won’t." He watched as the teens split up, headed in various directions. They were moving with definite purpose, not just wandering off home. "What’s this about?" Lonnie looked after the departing teens and shrugged.
"We can ask ‘em later. Pick someone." Rath did so and they left to follow his choice.
Using a car to follow someone on foot is next to impossible, especially in a town with so little traffic after dark. They gave up fairly quickly, and Rath, after altering his appearance, got out and followed the girl on foot. The short brunette made her way toward the center of town. He had thought that she would be fairly easy to follow, but she walked fast. He lost sight of her after five blocks and three turns.
Rath cursed silently as he looked around the empty street. "Now where did you go?"
"Right here." Rath spun to find the girl standing behind him looking both amused and annoyed. "Max ask you to walk me home?"
Rath cast a quick glance around. Where the hell’d she come from?
He recovered quickly though and nodded.
"Sweet, but you know it’s not necessary. Go on home. I’ll meet you at the CrashDown tomorrow after school. Kyle and Tess can let us know how surveillance went."
Rath nodded reluctantly and turned to go. Surveillance? Of who?
It was a question that might or might not be important to his plans. He decided to get back to Lonnie and let her know what he’d learned. What had he learned though? There’d been no chance to connect with her. Don’t even know her name.
He would just have to hope that Lonnie and Ava had better luck.
"Good morning Mr. Hawkins," Nancy greeted him as he sat down at the counter. He nodded in greeting and traded pleasantries with Nancy Parker while he looked at the menu. After a moment’s consideration, he asked for the least offensive item.
American food was bad enough without giving it bizarre names. Hamburgers and fries were simply not healthy, and he didn’t want to know what an alien slime smoothie was. Fortunately, the menu did include a nice green salad. He took a moment to be grateful that the menu didn’t refer to it as ‘alien foliage.’
Nancy Parker was watching him covertly as she worked. Might as well get on with it
. It was one of the reasons he had come in.
"How are you feeling Mrs. Parker? After your close call the other day?" He gave her his best ‘concerned friend’ smile, and she accepted it at face value.
"Fine. It was a shock, but I’m fine now. How goes your… research?" The hesitation caught his attention, but he wasn’t sure if it was something he should be concerned by.
"Well enough, though not as quickly as I had hoped."
"Tess wasn’t the one you were looking for then?"
Hawkins stiffened. "I beg your pardon?"
Nancy sighed. "I’m not stupid Mr. Hawkins. Is Tess the Slayer?" When he didn’t answer she shook her head. "I saw more and heard more that night than you probably thought. You’re looking for the Slayer that you told me was a myth."
Hawkins sighed and nodded. "You are quite perceptive. I was… premature in my judgment." This wasn’t going well, he realized. It was bad enough that a group of adolescents knew of his blunder, but if the woman started telling the wrong people what he was doing, his job could become very complicated. "Tess’s display seems to have been nothing more than an incredible burst of adrenaline. It is rare but it is known to happen. Lifting a car off a trapped person I believe is the most common example."
Nancy nodded, seeing that he was embarrassed by his error. "Well, no harm done…" she broke off, "was there?"
Hawkins shook his head. "Everything’s fine."
"I ask because I saw you, Tess, and the Evans’ kids leaving. I wondered."
"They were showing me the scene of an unusual incident they thought I should investigate. Perfectly safe." It hadn’t been of course, but there was no reason to alarm the woman.
"Good. You haven’t found the Slayer, then?" He shook his head. Nancy could see the topic made him uncomfortable, but she had to know what he knew. "So you’re looking for someone very strong and fast, like a permanent adrenaline rush."
Nancy’s mind flashed back to a scene in the diner almost two months earlier. A stool ripped out of the floor and a robber in a fright mask. What Hawkins had told Tess had caused her to remember that night and the incongruities. Who sticks up any place, let alone a café, with a sword?
"It sounds like very dangerous work," she hazarded.
"It is, but its necessary. It is imperative that I find her soon."
"Why? So she can get on with this work? Risking her life every night?"
"Oh, there’s much more to it than that. There are more… practical concerns as well. A Slayer without the proper training and guidance is not only vulnerable, but she is also a danger to those around her. Everything about a Slayer is enhanced. Speed, strength, and reflexes are pushed to a superhuman level. An untrained Slayer could accidentally injure or even kill someone."
Nancy paled at the thought. "Well, I guess you’d better find her soon." She wasn’t yet willing to share her suspicions; not when she knew so little about Hawkins or his Council. "Um, you said they showed you a place where something strange happened?"
"Yes." He didn’t elaborate, not wanting to go into details.
"I was asking because I saw something sort of weird a while back."
Hawkins raised an eyebrow. "Indeed? What?"
"Well…" Nancy glanced around, but the café was all but empty. There were only two occupied tables, both on the far side of the café. She reached into her pocket and retrieved the piece of paper she’d put there that morning for just such an occasion. "I saw this a while back. I… Well I don’t know what to make of it." She passed him the sketch artist’s rendering of the ‘fright mask’ the robber had worn. Valenti had said it might help track down the suspect, as there couldn’t be that many places that sold such elaborate things.
Hawkins accepted and unfolded the paper. "Good Lord!" The blood drained from his face as he recognized the rather crude drawing of a Mora demon. "Where did you see this and when?"
"A couple of months ago. It was attacking this guy, stranger in town."
"I didn’t see it all. Didn’t want to get that close, but they fought, and there was a bright flash of light, and when I looked back it was gone. The guy took off." She shook her head. "I haven’t seen him since." Actually, she had seen the young man at the café twice since the ‘robbery.’ She never had learned his name though and knew nothing about him accept that he was Anya’s boyfriend. "What is it?"
"Hmm?" He looked up from studying the picture. "Oh. It’s called a Mora demon. Very nasty creature. Two months ago you said?" She nodded. That corresponded to the time that Seth Gecko and Cole had been in the area. It was quite possible the woman had witnessed a skirmish between their forces. Cole was known to recruit creatures besides vampires. It was interesting, but not particularly relevant to his search. The young man she mentioned was most likely one of Gecko’s fanatics. "You haven’t seen the creature or any like it since?" Nancy shook her head. "Well then I wouldn’t be concerned. If the creature isn’t dead it has certainly moved on." For some reason the woman didn’t look relieved.
"Somethin’ weird is goin’ on here," Lonnie opined.
Rath cast an irritated glance at her. "Ya think?" He got up from the couch in the small room they had rented and started to pace. "Question is, what. You followed Ava’s dupe and that jock. What did they do?"
"They went to this motel and sat outside for a couple of hours. Then they went home."
"Went to a motel and stayed in the car? What? Couldn’t afford a room or unclear on the concept?"
Lonnie made a disgusted noise. "Get yer mind outa the gutter. They were watchin’ the place." She shrugged. "I guess they was expectin’ somethin’ to happen an’ left when it didn’t." Rath had guessed as much, remembering what the girl he had identified as Liz Parker had told him.
"Could you tell which room they were watchin’?" Lonnie shook her head. "We don’t got a lotta time y’know. We may just have to approach them and take our chances."
Lonnie nodded, annoyed at the prospect of not having all of the angles covered. "We talk to ‘em tonight, even if we can’t figure out what’s goin’ on."
"Guess he stayed in and did research last night." Liz shrugged. She looked around at the group gathered at the factory and shook her head. They had moved to the factory after Liz had spotted Hawkins hanging around the CrashDown earlier in the day.
Liz focused on Tess. "He never left his room?" Tess shook her head. "Tonight then. We can’t leave the town open like that. I don’t like the idea of not having someone out there patrolling."
"-waiting for you to tell him where to go in order to set this bloke up." The vampire didn’t look happy at the delay or at having to be at their beck and call. "We’ll just have to hope he gets off his arse and goes out tonight."
Liz nodded. "So lets review. Michael and Maria will be watching Hawkins, following him when he goes on patrol. Spike will be patrolling nearby, waiting for an opening. I… I won’t be anywhere near there."
"And the rest of us will be going about our business but on call in case something goes wrong."
"That will be the risky part," Liz frowned. "Having any of us near that meeting. It has to look accidental. At the same time, we need to be ready to intervene if things get out of hand in some way."
"What could go wrong?" Spike asked.
"We don’t know," Maria said. "That’s the problem." She looked around the group. Max and Liz were there, and surprisingly, so was Tess. Alex, Isabel, and Michael were missing. Michael was working at the CrashDown and she would need to be there soon. Her shift ended at eight o’clock. Then it was tailing duty.
"Let’s get ready then. Maria will keep in contact. If any problems crop up we’ll be able to coordinate and decide what to do."
"Well let’s just hope something happens tonight," Spike grumbled.
"What’s your problem anyway?" Liz asked, becoming irritated.
Spike shrugged. "It’s just rare that anything interesting happens around here. Now I’m finally gettin’ some fun, and I have wait for it?"
"Bummer," Maria agreed, deadpan. Spike shot her a dirty look.
"Well you’re going to have to wait till sunset at least," Liz pointed out. "Just be sure you remember your part. He has to believe you’re the one behind the Slayer rumors."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t take all the fun out of it."
"Okay, fine. Let’s go." She looked at the others and they nodded and rose. She turned to face Spike. "I need to get to work. I’ll be by for training tomorrow morning before my shift." Liz turned and started to leave.
"Right then. I’ll see you tomorrow, unless something goes really wrong." His tone made her glance back sharply. Spike saw her worry and rolled his eyes. "Don’t worry. Nothing’ll happen. It might blow up, and yes, that might be very entertaining, but that wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as pulling it off. Makin’ a fool of this Watcher."
Liz nodded, relieved. "Thanks."
"For being honest about that."
He nodded. "Uh-huh." He looked uncomfortable for a moment then continued. "I wouldn’t betray you Liz. I may lose my bet with Angel, eventually, but it won’t be because I sold you out for a cheap laugh." He held her gaze for a long moment. Liz looked away first.
"Thanks," she said, repeating herself, but she smiled. "I’d better go." She turned to the door and followed the others out. Spike watched her leave and grimaced. He had meant what he said, but it didn’t make life in Roswell any less boring. Never mind boring
he thought glumly. If the Council finds out I’m here and workin’ with the Slayer life’ll become damn near impossible.
Maria left the CrashDown shortly after 8:00. Alex had just called to tell her that Hawkins was on the move. Michael was waiting for her at his apartment, having arranged to end his shift an hour early.
Her Jetta turned into the street a block from Michael’s apartment and pulled to the side of the road. She unlocked the door and called to him as he walked towards home.
Rath began to turn when he heard the car slow, instantly alert to a possible threat. An attack was, he knew, unlikely, but he had gotten used to looking over his shoulder and taking precautions many would consider excessive. His paranoia was often justified. It wasn’t a threat, though. It was the first thing that had gone right on the trip so far.
"Michael! Come on. We’re gonna be late." Guerin’s girl friend, Rath guessed. He recognized the girl from the night before and had used their stolen yearbook to identify her as Maria DeLuca. She had left with his dupe. Rath had been hoping it would be her that came to pick up Michael.
He nodded and got into the car. This should be informative and fun.
The girl wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes. He watched her as she made a U-turn and headed back into town. "Alex said he’s headed for the park. There’s been some activity there." Rath nodded silently, having no idea what she was talking about. That was, he reminded himself, the entire point of the impersonation.
Pulling to the side of the road at the edge of a small city park they sat in the dark and watched as a man in a three-piece suit made his way down the street toward the park. "Here he comes," Maria observed. The man moved briskly but kept a wary eye on his surroundings, like a tourist in Brooklyn after dark, Rath thought. The man entered the park and made his way toward the trees. "And there he goes."
"Good," Rath grinned. "Now we can be alone." He leaned closer and reached towards her, intending to initiate the connection that would tell him what he needed to know about the group, but she slapped his hand away lightly.
"Dream on space boy," she said, giggling at his antics. "We’ve got work to do." Both jumped as someone knocked on the driver’s side window. Maria scowled when she saw who it was, but she quickly schooled her expression and lowered the window. "Is there a problem, deputy?" she asked as innocently as she knew how.
"You two need to get on home," he said sternly. "We’ve had reports of muggers working the area. So it isn’t safe to be making out here." He straightened up and pointed. "Go on home. Both of you." Maria obediently started the Jetta and drove away.
"Get the cell phone in my purse and call Liz," she instructed in an aggrieved tone. Rath retrieved the phone, resisting the urge to pinch her wallet as well. He looked at it for a moment before Maria took it out of his hand. "It’s first on speed dial." She hit a button and waited.
"Liz, babe, we got a small problem. We weren’t able to follow Council boy. Deputy Dog, I mean Dodd caught us parked outside the park…. No we weren’t." Maria shot an aggravated look at Rath. "He said something about muggings in the park so… Yeah. I’ll call him and tell him. He does have the phone, doesn’t he? Okay then." She hung up and dialed another number as Rath watched in growing, but carefully hidden confusion.
"It’s me, Maria… Liz is on her way. Deputy Dodd is in the area. He spotted us parked outside and… No we weren’t." She rolled her eyes. "Right, keeping Roswell safe from rampaging hormones. Very funny. Anyway, she’ll be here in maybe ten minutes… The others would be spotted sneaking around, remember? She’ll stay out of sight of Hawkins and Dodd… Yeah you taught her real good." The last was added in an overly patient voice. "I think we can drive around a bit and be in the area if you think we should. This kind of throws things off, you know." She listened for a moment more and then nodded. "Right. We’ll be ready just in case."
"So?" Rath asked, when she hung up, hoping for some clue.
"The bleached leech sends his regards. We’ll drive around, stay in the area, and watch out for Dodd. We might be needed if one of them needs to make a hasty get away." She shot him a warning look. "So keep your hands to yourself. There’ll be plenty of time for that later," she promised with a grin.
Nancy Parker closed down the accounting program and opened her word processor. It was almost 8:30 and there was still a lot to do. The letter to the Small Business Association had to go out the next day and she still had to review the paperwork from the insurance company. The claims adjuster was having some difficulty accepting the explanation for their claim. A wall damaged by a flying sword and a counter stool ripped out of the floor did look a bit unusual, she supposed. The man had been downright skeptical, even with the witness statements.
Thoughts of that incident brought back worries about her daughter. What was going on with Liz? As she had told Hawkins earlier in the day, she wasn’t stupid. She had noticed a difference in Liz lately. She had taken to sneaking out late at night and coming home somewhat mussed.
On several occasions, she had found Liz’ clothing in the garbage, torn or stained beyond redemption. When she had asked, Liz had always had a plausible explanation. Now she was starting to wonder. If Liz was the Slayer and her abilities were getting her into trouble then maybe she did need help. She just wished she knew more about the Council.
Something else worried her as well. An image formed in her mind of a tall, pale man who spoke with a cockney accent. He had rushed in a few minutes after the robber had vanished. What was his connection to Liz?
What about the robber? Was it a Mora demon as Hawkins believed? If so then it seemed that just being the Slayer was dangerous. Were the demons somehow drawn to her daughter? It was a frightening thought. Enough guessing,
she decided. Time to get some answers.
Liz was in her room studying. Nancy knocked on the closed door, but didn’t wait for an answer. "Liz? We need to talk." There was no answer. The room was empty. She went to the window that led out to the balcony. It was closed but not locked. Quickly she went out on to the balcony and looked down, just in time to see Liz round the corner and disappear. Not this time.
She climbed down the ladder and followed her daughter.
Liz moved carefully from shadow to shadow. She had hidden from police cars twice as she made her way to the park. Once she arrived, she began to search for Hawkins and for any vampires that might be hunting in the park. This wasn’t part of the plan, but there was little choice. Leaving Spike there without backup was out of the question. She had been in the park only ten minutes when she spotted her teacher.
Liz grimaced. The vampire hadn’t even turned around. "How’d you know?"
He spared her an amused glance. "You tell me. Hawkins is about 20 yards that way." He nodded toward a grove of trees in which Liz could make out furtive movement. "No activity yet." The figure moved out of the grove and down an animal trail headed away from them.
Liz settled in behind him to follow and watch while Spike moved off to search for sport in another part of the park. That had been part of the plan. Someone would keep an eye on Hawkins while Spike patrolled nearby. It increased the likelihood of an ‘accidental’ meeting. They didn’t have to wait long.
Nancy Parker was growing increasingly nervous about her daughter. She had nearly lost Liz twice because she kept hiding. At first, Nancy thought that Liz had spotted her; then she saw the deputy’s car.
She had managed to follow Liz without being spotted herself but wasn’t sure that was a good thing. Despite the mounting evidence she hoped that she was wrong about what her daughter was doing in the park at such a late hour. I must be the first mother in history to hope she stumbles across a drug buy,
she thought morosely. Nancy doubted she would be that lucky, though. Movement in a small clearing a few yards ahead caught her eye.
Knowing that it could literally be anything, she brought out a cross that she had taken to carrying with her at all times. Feeling as ready as she could, she moved toward the figure cautiously.
With all of her attention focused on the person in the clearing, she didn’t spot the figure hiding in the bushes till she accidentally stepped on his foot.
"Ow! What?!" The figure spun to confront her, full vamp face in evidence. Nancy let out a small scream and shoved the cross at him. Snarling, the vampire grabbed her wrist and pulled, applying pressure as she stumbled past him.
She dropped the cross and would have fallen if the vampire hadn’t held her up and pulled her against him. She found herself looking down the shaft of a crossbow bolt.
"Get away from her, monster," Hawkins shifted his aim, but the vampire held his hostage so as to cover his only vital area.
The vampire grinned. "You should worry more about yourself Watcher."
Liz stared at the pair of feet balanced on the limb above her. Her eyes moved up the body the feet were attached to, from the black pumps that looked outrageously out of place balanced on a tree limb, to the dark nylons to the short, tight green skirt that ended about mid-thigh. Then up farther to the black halter-top and choker. She grimaced, both at the fashion statement and at the incongruity of the clothing under the circumstances. Not exactly dressed to blend are you?
Liz noted that the woman was holding very still, not even breathing, not that that was really a problem. Her eyes were fixed on the figure in front of her on the trail, and she hadn’t noticed Liz yet.
What concerned Liz was that the vampire had let a victim pass by within a few feet of her and hadn’t attacked. She seemed content to watch. That suggested an ambush. How many?
Liz wondered. This was unexpected and possibly a serious problem. Back up.
Maria’s phone rang. "Hello?" She blinked in surprise. "Ambush? For Hawkins? Why?" She shook her head. "Okay, we can figure it out later. What do you want us to do?" Maria glanced at her companion dubiously. "I don’t know. Michael, you up for some sneaking around?"
"Um, where?" Rath asked, asking himself, for the millionth time it seemed, what he had gotten himself into.
"Never mind," Maria said shortly. "I think it’s too late. Careful babe." Maria glanced at him. "What is with you tonight? It’s like you’re on another planet." She smirked at her own joke.
"Not yet," Rath answered cryptically as Maria stepped on the gas. His effort to take her hand and form a connection was foiled as he was thrown back against his seat by the unexpected acceleration.
"So, we gonna help?"
Maria shook her head. "We would just be in the way now that the fighting has started, especially with Hawkins there."
The thought was cut off when he noticed the patrol car turn into the road behind them. "Cops."
Maria muttered something under her breath but turned away from the park. "Let’s head for the CrashDown. We can meet the others there." Including Michael.
Time to improvise. "Need to make a call." He took the phone and dialed the room where he, Ava and Lonnie were staying. It rang twice before Ava picked up. "We need to speed it up. Get everyone and meet me at the UFO center… Right." He hung up.
Maria was watching him curiously. "Why the Center?"
"So we can talk without worrying about watching what we say. No one is there this time of night."
Maria nodded. "Makes sense."
"I thought you were with Maria?"
Michael shrugged. "So did I Maxwell, but she never showed up. I thought she might have been delayed here." Max shook his head. "Well her phone’s been busy. When did she leave?"
"Almost an hour ago." He glanced at his sister, sitting across from him. "Did she say anything to you?"
Isabel shook her head, then glanced out the window by the booth when Tess tapped on the window. She motioned for them to follow.
Tess looked up from her book when she heard the tap on the window. "Isabel?" Tess quickly opened the window and moved aside so she could come in.
Lonnie shook her head. "Come on."
"Where to?" Tess asked, climbing out the window.
"UFO Center. I’ll explain when we get there."
The female vamp moved when she heard the scream. Liz had retreated almost 200 feet to make the call, but she heard it loud and clear. "Gotta go." Maria warned her to be careful and Liz started running.
Hawkins turned when he heard the bushes rustle behind him. Three more vampires stepped out into the clearing. He swung the crossbow to aim at one of the others, but a strangled cry from Nancy stayed his hand.
"Ah, ah, ah. Don’t want to hurt the lady, now, do you?" Hawkins knew the creature would kill them anyway, but he might be able to do something if he could buy time. "I’ll be happy to let her go if you tell us what we want to know."
"What would that be?"
"Cole’s treasure. I think you know where it is. Am I right?"
"Possibly," he hedged. He hadn’t the vaguest idea where the treasure was, but he had to keep the creature talking.
"So where is it?"
"What’s to keep you from killing her if I tell you?" The vampire opened his mouth to answer, but all that came out was a pained squawk as he collapsed into a pile of dust.
"That’d be me." Nancy turned to see a familiar figure stepping out of the shadows. "Come on then. Plenty of pointy wooden things to go around." Spike considered for a second and then tucked the stake he had just used into his jacket and drew the ax he carried had carried across his back to guard position. "Or maybe a this is more to your liking." Stepping between Nancy and the vampires, he nodded to the Watcher who was staring at him incredulously.
"Don’t know who you are," one of the others snarled, "but you just bought yourself a whole lotta pain."
"What is this," Spike griped, "a cliché festival?" Mindful of Liz watching from nearby, he kept close to her mother. Hawkins carefully moved toward Spike, while covering the three vamps, two males and a female.
"Who are you?" Hawkins asked, sparing his unexpected ally a glance. "Not that I’m complaining mind you."
"Just a demon hunter, happened to be in the park. Roswell’s been jumpin’ of late."
The vampires had recovered from their initial surprise and were trying to surround them. One in particular was watching him suspiciously. Spike could almost see the light bulb over his head.
"Spike!" Hawkins started and glanced at the vampire that had spoken. The voice practically dripped venom. "I’ve heard about you!"
Hawkins stared at the outraged vampire in confusion. What was he babbling about? And why was the name Spike familiar? "Spike?"
The vampire snorted derisively. "Some Watcher. Doesn’t even know a vampire when he’s got his back to one." The others started to laugh, and the name Spike suddenly clicked. Hawkins turned to cover the infamous killer of two Slayers, and didn’t see the closest vampire lunge at him.
"Oh soddin’-!" he was standing directly in front of Liz’ mother, protecting her. He took a split second to appreciate the irony of that before reaching behind him and shoving her one way even as he dove the other.
The bolt from the crossbow thudded into the tree when the vampire hit Hawkins from behind. Spike came to his feet fast, lunging and catching the closest vampire across the throat with the haft of the ax. When it staggered back Spike swung the ax in a flat arc. The vampire ducked under the swing and drove doubled fists into Spike’s stomach.
He spared a glance for Hawkins. The Watcher wasn’t doing too badly actually. He was using the crossbow as a blunt instrument and had drawn a stake from inside his jacket. The vampire he had clubbed was already climbing to his feet though and coming after him again. Spike glanced at Nancy who was successfully fending off the third vampire with the cross she had dropped earlier.
Hawkins stepped back, but half-turned toward Spike. Nancy cast a worried glance at him. "Oh for pity’s sake! Watch that vampire." She gestured with a free hand toward the one Hawkins had knocked down. "I remember you... Spike."
Spike cast a distracted glance her way. "Yeah?"
"You came to the café a couple of times. You were looking for Liz." She let out a shuddering gasp. "It’s my Liz, isn’t it? She’s the Slayer?"
That got everyone’s attention. Hawkins looked at her, realization clear in his eyes. The vampires looked suddenly nervous.
Spike just looked exasperated. "And you felt the need to share this insight, why?"
Nancy glanced at him, too flustered by the situation and by Spike’s tone, to muster any kind of a response. Before she could begin to form an answer the vampire facing her started to back away. "Slayer? The Slayer that tore up Cole’s army?" Nancy’s jaw dropped at this. Army?!
"Army? What army? Who’s Cole? Where’s Liz?" Her inquiries were becoming increasingly more frantic. Nothing was making sense.
The two groups stared at each other. Maria kept glancing back and forth between Michael and Rath, unable to speak for some time. Finally, she managed a single baffled word. "What?"
"We knew there were other pods," Michael said grimly. "I think we just found the people in them."
"Good guess," Lonnie allowed herself a slightly condescending smile. "There were two sets of hybrid clones made. Insurance, I guess, in case something happened to one of us."
"Why are you here?" Max got straight to the point, wanting an explanation for their deception. "Why the charade?"
"We didn’t know anything ‘bout you," Lonnie explained. "Needed to know you were trustworthy before we talked."
Rath broke in. "Look, we’re sorry already, but there’s way too much at stake for us take any chances."
"What do you mean?" Tess asked for the group.
The three duplicates traded looks before Rath answered. "We’ve been contacted."
"They got a big problem back home," Lonnie picked up the explanation after allowing Rath’s announcement to sink in. "The one that contacted us said that Kivar, the guy who overthrew our family, is dead. No one is sayin’ exactly what happened." She noticed the way their counterparts looked at each other. What seemed odd was that there was no sign of surprise. She made a note of it and pressed on. "Only a few people back home know right now. If the word gets out, well… Kivar wasn’t a real popular guy. There were a buncha people who woulda liked to kill him and try to run things their own way."
"So," Max broke in, "if word gets out that Kivar is dead-"
"There’ll be a blood bath." Michael finished. "Everyone will take a shot at the throne."
Lonnie and Rath nodded. "The leaders got a problem. The heads of the five planets need a way to keep the peace. They think bringin’ the Royal Four back’ll do that."
"They want us to come home?" Max sounded dubious, and not merely because of the potential for a setup.
Lonnie nodded. "They’ve called for a summit. Each of the leaders of the five planets will be there. They think if the Royal Four return, all of the factions will fall in line."
"Could be a trap," Michael noted. "I’m betting that at least a couple of those people think that they should be the ones in charge."
"It’s a risk," Lonnie agreed, "but there’s millions of lives at stake. If we can get everybody to agree on how to do this, we could all go home."
"Why come to us?" Tess asked. "Why not go to this summit yourselves?"
Lonnie looked down, troubled. "We can’t, not without Zan."
"I’m guessing he’s my double?" Max asked.
Lonnie nodded. "About two weeks ‘fore they called us… there was an accident." She stopped, hoping that she looked suitably grief stricken. "Zan’s dead."
"A stupid traffic accident," Rath fumed. "Guy comes all the way to Earth, all this way, just to get hit by some jerk runnin’ a red light." None of the Roswell group answered for a moment.
Finally, Max spoke for them. "I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to lose him like that." He glanced at Isabel, Tess, and Michael. "I… I’m sorry," he finished lamely. "I still don’t see what this has to do with us."
"They want the Royal Four, not the Royal Three," Rath answered. "Without Zan, they won’t give us the time of day. That’s why we need you Max. You’re the king."
"You want me to stand in for Zan?" He nodded thoughtfully. "Makes sense, but what happens when they find out there’s seven of us?"
"We don’t tell ‘em," Lonnie said succinctly. "We go to the summit, work out the details and then we let ‘em know when they can’t back out. If they don’t like it, tough. They need us."
"We’re gonna need some time to think on this," Max hedged. "There are other things to consider."
"Like what?" Lonnie wanted to know. "Our lives here? They’re not real. It’s not us."
"Yo! You really think anything here is more important than stoppin’ a war back home?"
Max didn’t have an answer to Rath’s question, so he fell back on what Michael had said earlier. "How do you know it’s not a trap?"
"We don’t," Lonnie admitted, "but I figure we gotta take the risk."
"Y’know," the female vampire facing Hawkins began thoughtfully. "If these people are important to the Slayer, and she fought against Cole, we might be able to trade them for info about the treasure." The vampire menacing Nancy seemed to draw courage from his comrades, and moved towards her again.
"Yer not layin’ a hand on her," Spike declared, not daring to take his eyes off his own opponent for more than a second.
"Why should you care?" the one facing Hawkins demanded. "She’s just food. What’s wrong with you?"
"He switched sides," the first snarled. "Traitor!" The vampire leaped forward to attack.
Spike rolled his eyes even as he brought the ax up, in a cross block that, once again, caught the vampire across the throat. He swung the ax again, this time compensating for the defensive crouch the vampire dropped into. Its head flew clear, but Spike didn’t wait to see it hit the ground. He turned in time to see the vampire threatening Nancy explode into dust as Liz emerged from the shadows, stake in hand. The last backed away hastily, looking from one enemy to another. After a few seconds, she turned and bolted. She didn’t get far.
Liz caught her before she’d gone three steps, driving a fist into her back. The vamp flew forward and landed face down. Liz’s stake rose and fell.
"Lizzie?" Liz rose slowly and turned to face her mother. Nancy came forward quickly and looked her over, checking for injuries. "Are you all right?"
Liz nodded, while returning the scrutiny. Nancy was a little dirty from having been knocked out of the way of Hawkins’ crossbow but was otherwise unharmed. She gave a sigh of relief and hugged her mother before turning on Hawkins who was watching Spike closely. "Do you normally shoot at people trying to help you? Endangering innocent bystanders in the process?!"
"Help?" Hawkins looked incredulously at Liz. "He’s a vampire." He cast a baleful look at Spike. "He’s only out for himself, probably drawn here by rumors of Cole’s treasure. I don’t know what your involvement with this creature is, but it must stop. The Council I represent…"
"I know about the Council," Liz informed him coldly.
Her words and tone surprised him. What could she know about the Council? Had Tess and the others filled her in, or had Spike been telling tales? He recovered quickly from his surprise, deciding that Spike was the more obvious answer given her tone. He had clearly been working to turn her against them. A part of him had to admire the tactic. Turn the Slayer against the Council with his lies.
Details of Spike’s history began to come back to him. He doubted that the vampire could have defeated the Council’s efforts to find the Slayer, not being a sorcerer, but he might have a connection to the one responsible. Speculation was pointless at the moment, however. He had to try to undo some of the damage. "Do you know who you’re dealing with? Spike is notorious. He’s killed two Slayers before you. We-"
"How many has the Council killed? I know you didn’t kill Faith, but it wasn’t for lack of trying."
Hawkins was completely thrown by this. He stepped back as if slapped. "How do you know about Faith?"
"Doesn’t matter." Liz raised a hand, cutting off any further debate. "I know Faith wasn’t exactly the ideal Slayer, but she was trying to set things right. Trying to make amends." She cut him off again. "That wasn’t good enough, though."
"You don’t have all the facts."
"I have enough of them. I know that the Council tried to kill her when they couldn’t control her. Three men working for you made multiple attempts on her life, and they weren’t all that concerned about innocents getting in the way. The last was after she had surrendered to the police and pled guilty." She glanced at her mother. "Faith was on a bus, being taken to a prison with several other convicts and a group of guards when their men ambushed her, shot at her, nearly killed a couple of guards."
"The truth?" Liz interrupted hotly. Faith’s memories of the Council’s attack replayed before her eyes in vivid detail. She saw the windows shatter under a hail of automatic weapons fire.
"Why?" Nancy asked suddenly. "Why would they try to kill her if she was going to prison?" Hawkins opened his mouth to answer, but didn’t get the chance.
"Control," Spike cut in. "With the Slayer in prison she’s not runnin’ around jumpin’ through hoops for the Watcher’s Council, and without a Slayer they’re pretty much just watchin’ X-files reruns. They wanted to start fresh with a new Slayer and killin’ Faith was the way to get one."
"I will not get into an ethical debate with a vampire," Hawkins sneered. "Think what you will of the Council’s decision. The fact remains that the fate of the world sometimes rests in a Slayer’s hands. If you know as much as you claim then you know that is not an exaggeration."
Liz nodded. "I know that, but ‘the ends justify the means’ is not an argument I want to have with you." Sighing tiredly she waved him off. "Go home. The Council is not welcome here." She turned to go. "Come on mom, Spike."
"Where is Cole’s treasure?" Hawkins asked.
Liz glanced at him. "Don’t know. Don’t care."
"You should. Cole collects magical items, books, talismans, hard to find ingredients for spells. Some of them are extremely dangerous. If Cole-"
"Cole is dead. I was there. Spike and I helped Seth wipe out his entire force. None of them escaped."
"Then the treasure is out there, hidden somewhere for any demon to find, and a great many demons are looking for it." Liz had turned away, but she was still listening. "Rumor has it that he was on the trail of a particularly powerful artifact, capable of literally reshaping the world. Something called the Granalith."
Liz felt the blood drain from her face and was grateful for the darkness. The Granalith. It was the thing the Skins had been after. The thing Kivar had said was crucial to their success. Hawkins hadn’t seen her reaction, but he did see that she wasn’t walking away from him anymore. Spike, much to his surprise, was looking thoughtful rather than angry. "Imagine what could happen if that collection fell into the wrong hands."
After a long moment, Spike spoke up. "I hate to say it, pet," he admitted reluctantly, "but he’s right. We can’t allow that." He turned to Hawkins. "You got a lead on it?"
"Why would I share it with you if I did? You’re not involved vampire."
Liz finally turned to face him. "That’s where you’re wrong," Liz said. She glanced at Spike. "We don’t need him to track it down. I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of where to start looking."
"And what will you do with it when you find it? You don’t know what you’re dealing with, Liz. You don’t know what Spike is."
Liz smiled, wanting to see Hawkins’ expression. "He’s a soulless demon who enjoyed killing and eating people until he got a chip put in his head that zaps him every time he tries to hurt a human, and frankly I trust him more than I trust you."
"We’ll deal with the collection," Spike assured him. "Destroy the dangerous parts and pass the rest to Angel or Giles." He met Liz’ curious look and smiled. "Don’t worry. They can put it to good use."
"Hold on a minute," Nancy interrupted, looking between the three. "Setting aside the talk of magic and… well, everything else. Who are you to decide anything for her Spike?"
Liz smiled. "He’s my Watcher." Spike had decided long ago that he didn’t want to be called a Watcher, but under the circumstances he didn’t mind, especially when he saw the look on Hawkins’ face.
"I don’t trust them," Maria declared. She had been silent throughout the meeting with the three doppelgangers. Once they had retreated, at Max’s request, the five of them were able to talk in private. The center was deserted. Even Brody, normally a workaholic, had gone home.
The five teenagers had made themselves comfortable in the ‘Small Town America’ exhibit. "Why did that guy Rath pretend to be Michael?" She glanced at her boyfriend. "He even tried to kiss me a couple of times." Michael looked distinctly unhappy when he heard that. He thought he might know Rath’s motives, but Maria wasn’t finished. "And how long have they been sneaking around? Who knows what they learned about us?"
"I think that may have been the point," Michael told her.
"What do you mean?"
"He tried to kiss you. Remember how Max got flashes from Liz when they were making out?"
"You think he was trying to pick my brain?" she sounded disgusted at the very idea. "That… that’s just low!"
"They’re paranoid," Max interjected in a reasonable tone. "Given some of the things that have happened to us, it could be justified. We don’t know anything about their lives."
Maria gave the idea grudging consideration but finally nodded. "Okay, maybe."
"He didn’t do it, did he?" Michael asked.
"Did he kiss you?" Maria shook her head. "Good, then I don’t have to kill him."
"Why are we doing it this way again?"
Lonnie gave Rath a tired look. "They take the risks, of going to the conference," she explained in an overly patient voice, "but we can’t get ‘em to go without at least one of us along. I’m hopin’ that just Max’ll come. Everyone’ll be lookin’ at the king at the summit. If it’s a setup he’ll be the first one dead and we take off. If it’s legit, we gotta be there to make sure he does it right. You saw what they’re like, not real quick on the uptake even if we could trust ‘em." Rath nodded.
"And it means we got just one to get rid of when we’re ready to go." Lonnie nodded; glad she was finally getting through to him. The plan wasn’t working out quite as they had hoped, but it seemed to be working.
The only thing that worried Lonnie was that they still had no idea what was going on with Max’s girlfriend.
"You can’t be serious." Hawkins stared, openmouthed, at the two. Nancy looked almost as confused. How could a vampire be a Watcher? Even a vampire that couldn’t kill people?
"He’s done well by me so far."
Spike nodded. "I took the job ‘cause I knew it would be interesting," Spike smirked, "and she hasn’t let me down yet. With my training she’s taken out some pretty tough demons."
"Your influence shows," he said dryly. "Was it you’re idea to attempt to convince me that our meeting was accidental? That you were the source of that vampire’s claims that there was a Slayer in Roswell?"
Liz winced at this, but raised her hand. "Actually, that was my idea. Might’ve worked if you’d never seen me or my mother here."
"Unlikely," Hawkins responded, his arrogant tone grating on Liz’s nerves. "At any rate, deception-"
"-is easier than beating an enemy into a bloody pulp," Liz interrupted. "It’s also more effective. Well, most of the time."
"Strangely enough," Spike said, casting Liz a proud look, "it’s also more satisfying. Like that time you sent those slavers from Oden-tahl off on a wild goose chase." He glanced back at the Watcher. "Which isn’t to say she can’t beat bad things into a bloody pulp. Bear that in mind."
"Let’s go, Spike." Liz got her mother and her teacher moving again. She badly wanted to know what Hawkins knew about the Granalith, but she couldn’t risk letting him and by extension the rest of the Council know that she was even aware of its existence. The mere fact that humans and demons outside their small circle knew of it was troubling.
She had walked only a short distance when Hawkins spoke again. "For uncounted centuries the Council has protected and guided the Slayer. We have things to teach you that the vampire cannot. Whether or not you accept my tutelage, I will be staying in Roswell. I have resources that your… teacher lacks. When you need me, I will be here." Liz had to force herself not to pause. From what she knew of the Council and the impressions she had gotten of this man in particular, what he was saying was completely out of character. He sounded almost humble, as if he wanted nothing more than to be of service. She kept moving while trying to make sense of the change. Why would he make an offer like that?
"How does this guy know anything about the Granalith?" Michael demanded. "We don’t know anything about it." He sounded almost petulant.
"We know it’s powerful," Spike offered, annoyed at the alien’s tone. "Didn’t that Kivar bloke say it was the key to the invasion?" He glanced at Max who nodded grimly. "Hawkins said that the rumors he’d heard said that it could ‘reshape the world.’" Spike really wished that Liz were there. She should be the one answering the questions,
he groused silently. Unfortunately, Liz had had to go home to face her parents. She had asked him to get them focused on the Granalith. Her own problem was small by comparison.
"So how seriously do we take Hawkins? I mean what could he or the people he heard these rumors from really know?" Isabel glanced at her brother, the worry writ plain on her face. "We have to find it Max. Before anyone else does."
Her brother nodded. "I know. I guess we start by backtracking Cole. If he found the Granalith or even a clue about where it’s hidden, then we need to find his treasure first." He considered carefully for a moment. "We should start at the mine and try to backtrack his movements. We need to contact Kate."
"That’s all well and good Maxwell," Michael interrupted, "but aren’t we forgetting something?" Max glanced at him distractedly. "What about the dupes?"
Spike blinked. Obviously, he had missed something. "The what?"
"I don’t even know where to begin," her mother paced almost frantically in front of her. "I don’t know what questions to ask."
"Then why not let me begin at the beginning?" Her mother ignored her, continuing to pace while worrying her lower lip with her teeth, something she only did when she was very upset. Liz sighed, almost to distracted to worry about her mother’s reactions. The night had not gone at all as planned. Whatever else happened next, her life was going to get a lot more complicated.
"What’s going on?" Both looked up, not having heard Jeff Parker enter the kitchen of their small apartment. He took in their matching expressions of worry and grew immediately concerned. "What’s happened?" Neither of them knew how to answer.
NOT THE END