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Apocalypse, Again

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Summary: Van Helsing and the Scoobies join forces to aid Angel's group at the final battle.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Movies > Van HelsingJanFR13733,62631210,9985 Aug 045 Aug 04Yes

Apocalypse, Again

Title: Apocalypse, Again

Author: Jan

Rating: 13 Mostly / Chapter "3 Interlude" is 21 but standalone, can be skipped

Summary: Van Helsing and the Scoobies join forces to aid Angel's group at the final battle.

Crossover: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel and Van Helsing

Pairing: Van Helsing / Willow

Spoilers: Angel Series Finale

Feedback: post or send to b17_fan@yahoo.com

Site: http://home.satx.rr.com/jbwalker

Disclaimer: All the BtVS and Angel characters belong to Joss Whedon, ME; Van Helsing belongs to Universal, Steven Sommers, and lots of other high-powered people. I mean no harm, and get no money from this, just loads of fun.

A/N: Lots of characters, but the main emphasis is on Van Helsing and Willow.



Apocalypse, Again Chapter 1

The tall, black-clad man strolled slowly through the door, paused for a moment, and gave a penetrating glance around the room before moving again. The pounding beat of the music and the piercingly bright flashes of the strobe lights assaulted his senses, causing him to wince more than once as he walked steadily towards the bar.

Normally, he wouldn't be caught dead in a place like this. He much preferred the quiet places, the places away from people, people he never seemed to be able to connect with, or even understand. He had no idea how old he was, or where he came from, or even why he would wake up every day, every year, every decade looking the same as the day, the year, the decade before. For over one hundred and twenty years, he had simply been a warrior; one who went where he was told; did what he had to do to destroy what was unnatural, what was a danger to the lives and souls of the people he had been sent to help; then afterwards to return home to the small rooms that were his only true refuge, in the secret places under the Vatican. He had no true memory of anything before the year 1881, only flashes and nightmares of battles and danger. Those powerful in the Church had told him many years before that his loss of memory was a punishment for past sins. He had no idea whether this was true, and he was not sure whether he even cared any longer. All he knew was that he would watch those he cared about grow old while he remained young; watch them die while he went on, seemingly forever, battling evil - or that which he had been told was evil. Sometimes he wondered about that, too. There had been a few times when he had disagreed, sometimes violently, with the orders he had received. And sometimes he had refused to follow them, to the fury of his superiors, and his own detriment.

And now, he had again been sent out into the world, this time not to work alone. His orders were to gather a certain group of people together, and take them to the United States, to the city of Los Angeles, where an Apocalypse was about to break loose and engulf the world. Again.

This time, all this normally solitary man had to do was convince a bunch of total strangers to follow him halfway around the world, and trust him enough to obey him. He had been told that some were already here in Rome, and the others were on their way: something about an anniversary of some kind. And Jacob was waiting for him back at the hotel where they were staying, and would continue to wait until he returned: his only faithful friend. Sometimes he wondered whether God had seen fit to reward him with the return of Carl, his first - and initially reluctant - field assistant. Jacob's hair was perhaps a little darker, his eyes tending more towards gray than blue, but in manner and spirit, that indefinable sense of 'self' that makes each person unique, he was Carl to the life.

The man flinched again as another strident guitar riff pierced his ears. If he didn't find the women soon, he was going to go either deaf or mad. Finally, when he had reached the point at which he knew he couldn't stand even one more note, the song (metaphorically speaking) thankfully ended, and the people on the dance floor scattered like brightly colored confetti towards the tables placed artfully around the room. From his current position at the slightly raised bar he could now see everyone in the area. He spotted his targets in a booth on the opposite wall and raised an eyebrow slightly. They matched the descriptions he had been given, but something felt slightly off: they gave the impression of being both younger and older than reported. Younger in looks, hardly more than girls, but older in aura, much older. The elder of the two women seemed tired, slightly fractured in spirit though still very strong, while the younger had the strangest aura he had ever sensed. He narrowed his eyes, trying to feel his way to an understanding of them. After a few moments, he gave up, realizing that he was simply going to have to, this time, trust the information he had been given by his superiors.

He strode around the edge of the dance floor, still wondering, even at this last minute, what approach he should take. And then it was too late for any more thoughts, because he was facing them and they were staring up at him; one brunette, one blonde, both delicately beautiful.

The younger one' s eyes widened, and she muttered "Wow" under her breath, then jumped and glared at the other woman as if she had been kicked warningly. The elder shook her head quickly at the girl, then returned her attention to the man standing over their table. He was tall and handsome, with dark hair worn longer than the current fashion, and eyes of an indeterminate hazel - at first, she thought they were brown, then he turned his head and they suddenly became an unusual greenish-gold. She couldn't tear her eyes away from them; and the only thought in her head was an echo of her sister's 'wow'.

Mentally cursing his assignment, now that he had gotten a better look at his potential allies, he matched gazes with the blonde, temporarily ignoring the younger brunette. He had not anticipated being an object of interest for an adolescent. This could end up being even harder than he had thought.

After a moment's mutual examination, he realized that the only possible approach to the two of them was total honesty. Their youth and their strength demanded it. He knew that English was their native tongue, so he spoke in that language, hoping that they would be more comfortable with him if they knew that their words would be completely understood. It was another source of wonder to him that he could seemingly speak many languages; sometimes he wasn't even aware that he knew one until someone spoke and he was able to respond without even thinking.

"I must speak with you on a matter of grave importance," he said softly. "May I sit?"

The young brunette gave a little squeak and nodded her head frantically at the elder girl, who was obviously a sister. The blonde stared at her for a moment, eyebrows raised, then sighed and gave a small smile as she slid to the back of the booth, waving for him to join them.

"Thank you," he said, taking his seat in the booth but making sure that he did not crowd them in any way. The last thing he wanted was for them to become nervous. He had to get this right the first time; there would be no second chances.

"My name is Van Helsing." The brunette was still staring at him, making him even more edgy than he normally was at the proximity of so many people, so he did his best to concentrate exclusively on the older girl. "I know that means nothing to you. But I can assure you that I'm not here to harm you. On the contrary, I'm here to ask for your help."

Ignoring her sister's glare, the blonde leaned back in her seat and asked, "And just what do you think I can do for you?"

He liked her already. This was a woman who would not take any guff off of anyone. He relaxed a little, leaning back himself. "You're the Slayer." He said nothing more, waiting for her response to that little bombshell.

She went completely still for moment, then said a filthy word under her breath, attracting a disbelieving look from her sister. Van Helsing sat quietly, convulsing internally with stifled laughter at her expression; he said nothing, however, simply waiting with as straight a face as he could manage for her to come to terms with his knowledge.

"I'm not the Slayer," she said quietly, teeth gritted, sensing his amusement. "I'm a slayer. I haven't been the Slayer for a year now."

"You may not be the only one any more, but you're still the original." That was a reaction he hadn't expected. Shock at his knowledge, yes; annoyance at being considered the Chosen One, no. "You're the one with the knowledge, the training, and the experience that I need to help me."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do."

The younger girl spoke for the first time since her initial reaction to Van Helsing's appearance. "Buffy, he knows who you are, he obviously tracked us down, so maybe we should, I dunno, hear him out."

Buffy stared at her sister's adamant face and grimaced, then shrugged and said, "Okay, Dawn; sure, why not. Can't hurt to at least listen." She turned back to Van Helsing. "You have ten words or less."

"There's an Apocalypse about to happen in Los Angeles," he said seriously, counting the words on his fingers. "You're needed." When he reached 11, he shrugged and gave a slight grin. "Maybe you can count Los Angeles as one word?"

That wrenched a reluctant smile from her before she closed her eyes. "Los Angeles," she muttered. "Why did it have to be Los Angeles?" Sitting up straight, she added, "And just what do you know about Apocalypses, anyway, Mr. Van Sling?"

Wincing, he said, "Van Helsing, please. The other sounds like some kind of kitschy drink. And I've worked against my share of them. Believe me, my information is correct. And the timing is getting critical. We have less than three days to gather everyone we need and get to Los Angeles."

The two girls shared a look. This time it was Dawn who said hesitantly, "And, um, who do we need to gather?"

"Your Watcher, of course." Van Helsing raised his eyebrows at Buffy. "You do still have a Watcher?" At her reluctant nod, he continued. "And I understand you used to work with a team when you covered the Hellmouth. Are any of them still..." He wasn't sure how to finish that sentence. He had been told that her friends were still alive, but for some reason, he felt that he needed to confirm the information he'd been given.

Buffy let him off the hook. "They're fine. In fact, they're on their way here. They should all arrive tomorrow." Glancing at her watch, she motioned for Dawn to move out of the booth. "I'm sure, since you tracked us here, that you know where we're staying."

He nodded. He didn't tell her that he and Jacob had moved into the same hotel that very day.

"Good. So you can meet us all there at my room tomorrow at 2 in the afternoon. Room 515." She stood up. "If you're not there, then I'll know exactly what you are. And I'll take care of you next time I see you."

Nodding again, he slid out of the booth and to his feet, surprised at how much he towered over her. "I'll be there." He turned away, then glanced over his shoulder and smiled. "Somehow, I thought you'd be taller." His smile turned into a grin at her disgusted expression as he waved and headed for the door.

* * * * *

As he stepped through the door, edging past Dawn, Van Helsing knew immediately that he had interrupted a discussion about him; or perhaps a better word would be argument. The four other people in the room were all standing stiffly: Buffy and the young man glaring at each other, the delicate redhead staring at the floor, and the older man looking out the window. Gesturing for Jacob to be quiet and remain behind him, he extended his senses to critically examine those he hadn't met before.

The stocky young man with the eye patch had an aura surprisingly dark for one so youthful. He glared at Dawn, then at Van Helsing, before facing away from both of them and fixing his gaze firmly out the window. Van Helsing couldn't decide whether he'd been badly hurt recently, or whether his was simply a character to which anger came easily. In any case, the Hunter vowed internally that he would think twice before turning his back on this one.

The older man also had an aura that was kin to the night. However, in him, the shadow was well contained in a thick bright coating. It was as if he knew of his own tendency toward violent action, and was able to compensate for it. There was Power there, also: not a lot, but enough to make him a potentially dangerous spellcaster. He would bear watching, but the final verdict from Van Helsing's inner senses was positive.

Turning his attention to the last unknown, Van Helsing inspected the redhead who was standing by the other window, staring into the afternoon sunlight. Becoming aware of his scrutiny, she turned her gaze on him in return, and he almost staggered. The strength of the power contained in the almost frail form was incredible. As with the others, he could feel a slight tinge of darkness; but rather than being contained, it was almost as if it were being deliberately excised, and thrust away in horror. Witch though she might be - and therefore beyond the pale according to the Church - he perceived beyond any doubt that she would be of great value in the coming battle.

In an attempt to regain his internal balance after the sensory overload, he turned his attention back to the people he already knew. Dawn was still staring hungrily at him, but at least it was better than the glares he was receiving from the young man, who had twisted to place his back to the window: the better to keep an eye on the stranger.

After a quick nod at Buffy, he gestured for Jacob, who had been almost hidden behind him, to drop his bag just inside the door, then spoke directly to her. "Thank you for agreeing to meet. This is Jacob. He is assisting me in this matter."

Buffy held out her hand to Jacob. "Hi."

Jacob fumbled with the items he was still emptying from his pockets, dropped them into the bag, closed the top, and shook her hand. "Hello."

Buffy turned back to the room, where the others, temporarily abandoning their altercation, had gathered by the couch. "OK, guys, this is the man, and, uh, sidekick, I guess, that I told you about." Taking Van Helsing's arm, she pulled him farther into the room. "This is Giles."

Van Helsing smiled. There was only one person this could be. "Watcher."

Giles returned the smile noncommittally and nodded. "How do you do."

"This is Willow."

Van Helsing bowed slightly to the slender redhead and smiled again. "Witch."

Ignoring the crossly muffled exclamation from the young man with the eyepatch, Willow grinned. "Not many people can tell that from just one look. You' re good."

"Chalk it up to a lot of experience," he replied dryly.

Willow laughed and held out her hand. She wanted to feel him out after the way he'd put her under a microscope, and unlike him, she needed physical contact for it. "Nice to meet you."

After a slight hesitation, Van Helsing returned the handshake with a wry smile - knowing well what she was about - before facing the angry young man, who was now doing his best to completely ignore him after glaring throughout the previous introductions. The Hunter's lips tightened. Usually, he enjoyed a good testosterone-level competition, but right now he didn't really have the time. Unfortunately, it looked as if he might have no choice. Fine then, he'd just have to make the best of it.

Buffy sighed, not in sorrow, but in obvious anger and disgust. "This is Xander. He doesn't want anything to do with this."

Van Helsing almost laughed, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. "So I see. But what I don't see is how he's managed to make up his mind without even hearing what it's all about." He cocked his head, and handed the young man his best line in sardonic smiles. Let's see what he does with that, he thought in delight, ignoring Jacob's warning headshake. Sometimes the little friar, no leader, was too ready to get along with others at the expense of needed authority.

Xander's one visible eye narrowed. "I know what it's about. You want us to drop everything and chase off with you to Los Angeles, to stop some 'apocalypse' that you say is going to happen. Oh, and Giles can't find any reference to it anywhere in any of his records."

Van Helsing kept his expression innocent, with difficulty, but he couldn't stop himself from shaking his head like a disappointed schoolmaster. "Sorry. No points for that one. That's what I want you to do, not what it's all about." He turned his back on the boy, and after a quick glance at Jacob, he centered his attention on Buffy, sure that he could hear the grinding of teeth behind him. "I think perhaps it would be best if we all sat. This tale will be a few minutes in the telling."

Buffy bit her lip and nodded, carefully not looking in Xander's direction as she led the way to the couch. The rest of them joined her there, Willow and Dawn flanking her on the couch, and Giles sitting in one of the two chairs.

Van Helsing raised an eyebrow at Xander, who remained stubbornly leaning against the windowsill, before gesturing for Jacob to take the remaining chair. Jacob shook his head and scurried into the next room, returning with the vanity stool, upon which he happily perched. Not giving Xander a chance to change his mind, Van Helsing sat, and began to speak.

"Not long ago, my superiors discovered that there was a group of people, or beings if you prefer, in Los Angeles who were preparing a massive takeover. This group, which calls itself The Circle of the Black Thorn, has been in existence for very long time; until now, the members have kept a low profile, only working for individual advancement."

"So what's the big problem?" Xander asked sarcastically. "Don't like the competition?"

Van Helsing ignored him. For the moment, anyway. Soon, he'd have to slap the boy down - hard. That kind of fire could be very useful in a fight, but it had to be contained. "That is changing. They've been banding together more often, working towards common goals, none of which seem to be for the common good. We received information yesterday that there is a group of people who oppose them. This Opposition has also become more active."

"Goody." Again from Xander. "Let them take care of it."

With only a short hesitation to close his eyes and count to ten internally, Van Helsing continued, any amusement at the boy's pushiness rapidly fading. "When my superiors learned this, they immediately consulted the seers; and what they learned from them has brought me straight to you." Van Helsing leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees, and massaged his temples as he gathered his thoughts. For once, Xander was silent. Maybe it had something to do with the redhead's vitriolic glare. Van Helsing wouldn't have like to be on the receiving end of that Look. Reminded him of why people used to make signs warding off the Evil Eye.

He was through with the easy part of the discourse - even counting Xander's obstructive contributions; now he had to convince them to come with him, and he wasn't at all sure how much he could, or even should, tell them. He set up straight and flicked a glance over at Jacob, signaling the little friar to remain silent. He was going to tell them what they needed to know to fight the battle efficiently, but he was going to stop short of telling them everything. There was no point in letting them know that there was a good chance that not all would return. This would be a nasty fight; his superiors wouldn't have told him to enlist the others if the situation hadn't been desperate.

One by one, he looked at each of their faces, into each of their eyes, wanting to impress upon them the severity of the situation. Even Xander was no longer propping up the wall, having moved forward to lean across the back of the couch between Willow and Dawn.

"The seers told them that in two day's time, from today, the Circle's opposition will attack. The battle will begin quietly, in single combat, as members of the opposition work to take out the leaders of the Circle. They will succeed."

"But, isn't that of the goodness?" Dawn asked. "You don't want us to stop them, do you?"

"No." He wondered whether his lack of familiarity with people was causing him to be unclear. Never mind; he didn't have time to worry about it. All he could do now was forge onward. "The difficulties - for lack of a strong enough word - are going to occur after the leaders of the Circle are dead. The members of the Circle have not only been gathering power, they've been gathering many followers as well. When they're killed, their followers are going to exact revenge upon those who ruined them." He again looked each person in the eyes for emphasis. "At that time, every demon, vampire, werewolf, and other unnatural being in Los Angeles is going to converge on the same place, hunting for those who destroyed their masters. When they find them, they will kill them; and when they have killed them, they will turn on each other."

Buffy shuddered. That thought alone was enough to give her nightmares. The level of carnage would be incredible. Los Angeles could easily end up nothing but a memory.

Willow whispered, "Oh, Goddess."

"If it were only that, my superiors would probably let it happen. All that would be required would be containment." Willow gaped at him in shock, and he shrugged in response. "Why should the Church care if a bunch of demons decide to take each other out? It only makes their job easier."

Her lips pursed, but she didn't protest further.

Van Helsing continued. "But it's not going to stop at that; the Circle of the Black Thorn does not include only demons. There are humans involved, as well. And those humans include a number of powerful Warlocks."

Dawn squeaked, and Van Helsing nodded at her. "Exactly. If the warlocks start fighting each other, things will escalate completely out of control. What we have to do is stop the combat fairly quickly. The seers tell us that if the battle between demons lasts for over six hours, then a few of the strongest Warlocks, those who are most aggressive, will have time to distract and destroy a sufficient number of the lesser Spellcasters, and that will put an end to the current balance of power. If this happens, the world is doomed."

"And just how are we," Xander gestured at the seven of them, "supposed to stop a battle between hundreds -- or would that be thousands -- of demons?"

Van Helsing sighed. Trust the one who didn't want to do anything to put his finger on the single point that Van Helsing had hoped to slide past. "It won't be easy," he said. "I have weapons, and a plan. But that plan requires certain talents." He looked straight at Xander; he had to get this into the open right now. If the boy was going to be a problem, he needed to be shoved out the door immediately - preferably on the toe of Van Helsing's boot. "How good is your aim?"

"With what?"

"A crossbow, for one thing."

"Excellent."

"Good. You'll need to be able to hit everything you aim at."

"I can." Xander wasn't bragging. Since he had lost his eye, he had practiced constantly to train his vision to work efficiently without good depth perception.

Van Helsing looked at Buffy and Dawn. "You'll both be needed. Buffy to fight, and Dawn, if you can back Xander up with another crossbow, that will help."

She nodded. "I'm a good shot, too."

"Willow, Giles: We'll need your power and your control, for the containment. We must keep this battle in as small an area as possible."

Willow's mouth dropped open. She was beginning to feel like a fish in a fast-flowing river. Constantly gaping, and at the mercy of the flow. "But - but I don't know any spells that will do anything like that," she protested.

"You don't have to," Van Helsing said. "When we reach Los Angeles, you'll have everything you need. You have my word. And once you've seen what we're providing, if it isn't enough, you're free to go. This isn't a kidnapping, it isn't conscription. I'll be going into battle anyway, whether you come or not." He grinned lightly at her. "I just think my chances of surviving are much better if you're alongside."

Van Helsing stood and stretched, working the kinks out of his tense neck and shoulders. He really wasn't very good at this. Every muscle was tight, he had a headache, and his throat was dry and scratchy from talking more in the last hour than he had in the entire month previous. All he wanted was to get back to his room and collapse for the next few hours. "The choice is up to you. I'll be leaving this evening. I have a plane that can get us to Los Angeles in about twelve hours. That will give us a night to rest and the day to prepare. Talk it over, and let me know by eight what you decide. I'm in 519, down the hall. It was a pleasure to meet you." He wondered a little about the Watcher's silence; the man was deep, and there was no telling on which color of the roulette wheel he would place his bet. Red for battle, black for the death of the world. Either way, their own deaths, most likely. And the Watcher would know that, with his all-seeing eyes and his analytical mind. Well, Van Helsing had done his best. Now, it was in the lap of God.

Nodding to Jacob, he walked to the door, picked up the bag that the friar had dropped there, and quietly left the room, followed closely, as usual, by the silent, brown-clad young man.

The door had barely shut behind them when the sound of voices raised in excitement or anger could be heard. Jacob looked at him in concern, but Van Helsing simply shrugged. It was out of his hands now, and up to them.

* * * * *

The knock on the door, later that afternoon, proved not to be Buffy or even Giles, but the slender redheaded witch.

"May I come in?" she asked tentatively.

Jacob stuttered for a moment before reluctantly standing aside to allow her in. She sidled past him, doing her best not to crowd too close. After giving a quick look around the room and finding no one there but themselves, she started to apologize for the intrusion. The words died on her lips as Van Helsing emerged from the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel riding low on his hips, and fighting to drag a comb through his wet, tangled hair. Catching sight of her thunderstruck but definitely interested expression, he looked straight into her face with a slight grin and a raised eyebrow before dropping his arms and retreating, slowly, into the bathroom to dress. Since his back was turned to them, he missed the look that was traded between Jacob and Willow; sympathetic on the friar's side and slightly flustered on hers.

By the time he returned to the bedroom, Willow had regained her composure. She was sitting on the sofa with her feet tucked under her and her hands folded in her lap, while Jacob was across the room on the phone, talking to room service about liquid refreshment. Van Helsing's amused expression only made her raise her chin a little as she stared right back at him. He conceded the point, and sat quietly beside her.

"I'm a little surprised to see you," he confessed. "I definitely didn't expect Xander, but I figured that Buffy would be the spokesman for your group."

"I'm not here as a spokesman. I just thought that maybe there were a few things that we needed to get into the open."

"Like what?" He wasn't about to take the lead on this conversation. It had the potential to turn into something very sticky; and he had never liked trying to pick his way through tar pits.

Willow hesitated, then took the plunge. She wasn't as confident as she pretended to be, but from certain words that he'd let fall and certain phrases he'd used, she was wondering whether they were going to end up with a clash in ideologies. She also wasn't sure about discussing these things in front of Jacob, but she figured that asking him to leave would be as useless as asking the Roman traffic to slow down. "There's one thing that no one asked you when you were in there," she said. "Well, more than one thing, but this one I think is really important. At least, it is to me."

Now it was Van Helsing's turn to be nervous. With that sort of lead in, there was no telling where she was going. "Okay."

"Who do you work for? You mentioned your 'superiors' a few times, and the 'Church', but you never said who they are. Exactly."

That set him back a little. He wasn't sure how to respond, considering that the group who directed him had worked in secret for centuries. The Order wouldn't appreciate their existence and their aims becoming common knowledge.

His hesitation was making her uncomfortable. He could see her begin to withdraw; and that was the last thing that he needed. So, it was time for honesty again. Damn. If he wasn't careful, he was going to end up making a habit of it. "That isn't an easy question to answer," he started out cautiously.

"Why not? If you really mean us no harm then we should be allowed to know who's pulling your strings."

He winced. The witch was just a little too perceptive. Sometimes he did feel like a puppet: his every action orchestrated by the Order. But so far, he had yet to find a reason strong enough to make him break off.

A long look at Jacob, who gave a slight nod, made him realize that any evasion would truly drive her away. He turned to face her directly and took a deep breath. "My superiors are known to only a few. They are called the Knights of the Holy Order, and they have been in existence for centuries. Their function is similar to your Council of Watchers, in that they fight that which is evil. Their base is at the Vatican."

"So they really are part of the Church. The Christian Church. The one that really, really doesn't like Witchcraft. Or Witches."

Van Helsing was hard put not to laugh out loud. Perceptive, indeed. It was going to be a pleasure having her around. Then he brought himself up short. This was business; and he had to keep it that way. Just business. He had to convince her that it would be a good thing to join in the fight, but getting too personally involved would only cause problems. To try pushing on the accelerator before letting off the brake was always an exercise in futility. "That's true. The Church doesn't approve of Witchcraft, or Wicca if you prefer, or in fact any of the other religions that people in this world have seen fit to embrace. However, the group that I work for is of a different stripe. The Knights of the Holy Order consist of representatives of many different faiths."

"Yeah, I was kind of surprised when you mentioned seers; they didn't seem to fit with the rest of your story. Working for the Church, and all."

"You're right," he said ruefully. "My group, and what I do, isn't even common knowledge in the Vatican itself."

"So how do you get around? You can't just wonder the halls of the Vatican without somebody, sometime, saying ' Hey, who the Devil are you, and what the Hell are you doing here?'"

Jacob was snickering as he went to answer the knock on the door, and still had a grin on his face when he brought the delivered tray over to the table, set it down, and handed cups of coffee to Van Helsing and Willow.

Van Helsing, with great difficulty, banished the entertaining mental image of a scarlet-clad Cardinal speaking to him in such a manner. "Believe it or not, I enter the Order's sanctum through the back of one of the confessionals."

It was Willow's turn to snicker. "I just hope you don't have to use some silly codeword like ' to the Bat Cave, Robin '."

He chuckled. "Not likely. I usually end up saying something that makes the Cardinal tell me not to blaspheme just before he hits the open-sesame lever much too hard for its health."

"So you're not particularly religious, then?"

Aware of Jacob's interest, Van Helsing temporized. "I'm not sure. Sometimes the outward trappings, and the rigidity, disgust me. But I do believe in God. No matter what name you call Him." With a teasingly sidelong glance at Jacob, he added, "or Her."

Jacob ostentatiously ignored the addition, covering any reaction by fussing with the coffee cups.

"So I guess my being a Witch doesn't bother you." Willow wanted to be absolutely sure of where she stood.

He shook his head. "No. On the contrary. Your Power might keep us all alive."

Setting her empty cup down on the table, she smiled with relief and stood. "Thanks. You just took a big load off my mind."

"You're welcome." He stood also, to walk her to the door. "Can you tell me how the discussions are going?"

"Pretty much how you'd expect." There was a hint of mischief in her voice as she continued. "Xander's voting no, Dawn's voting yes, Buffy's pestering Giles for facts, and Giles is on the phone to the Watchers' Council trying to dig up every piece of information he can about both you and what you've told us."

"Oh."

"What, you didn't think we'd check you out?" That parting shot was thrown back into the room as the door shut firmly behind her.

"She does have a point, you know." Jacob busied himself with the tray again to hide his glee.

Van Helsing wasn't amused. "About what." His voice was completely flat.

"Would you really trust them to back you up if they simply believed every word you said? I don't think that would say very much for their intelligence."

"You're right." He sighed as he headed for the phone to make sure the preparations on the plane were continuing. "I just hope they don't find out too much."

* * * * *
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