"Vampire," Xander said, not pausing as he checked the windows. "Big nasty vampire who, unfortunately, has an invite to the house. Willow will take care of that."
Kennedy shot a sideways glance at Spike. "How many vampires has she invited into the house?"
"Just two -- Spike and Angel."
Spike saw the look in the girls' eyes as they digested this, knew the conclusions they must be reaching. Two vampires with a soul. Two vampires with invitations...one of which was being revoked.
Still clad in her robe, Buffy moved through the living room, a bowl of burning sage in her hands, followed by Willow chanting the incantation: "...his verbes, consensus recissus est. The sage made Spike's eyes itch and water and he could feel an unease in his bones with each word Willow spoke. He knew the spell wasn't for him, but the demon was twitching badly with each word. The grim expression on Buffy's face didn't help.
Less than half an hour ago, they'd been tangled in her sheets and the world had been his. Strange how quickly reality could intrude. Not enough that they should face an evil so old it didn't have a name. Oh, no. Their personal devils had to come calling as well.
He'd been so lost in though, he hadn't realized the spell was finished and Buffy stood before him. "Everything alright?"
He did his best to smile. "Spell unsettled me a bit. It'll pass."
She frowned, brows knitted together above green eyes. For a moment he thought she was about to say something, but then she nodded. "I'm going to dress before Wesley gets here. If they have any questions..." She glanced at the girls who stood watching. "Answer as best you can. I'll be quick."
A brief brush of her lips against his and she was away. No sooner had she disappeared up the stairs than Kennedy approached. "Do we have any idea what's going on?"
Naturally, the first question was one he didn't have much of an answer for. "All we know is that Angel has, for some reason, apparently lost his soul and may be on his way to Sunnydale."
"Angel." Rona drew closer. "That's the one you were talking about at dinner."
"How could he lose his soul?" Vi was starting to look a bit more nervous than usual. "I don't understand how you and he got souls, but how could he lose his after having gotten it?"
Maybe he could pass this off to Xander, but before he could try, Xander made a hasty retreat in the direction of the kitchen. "Angel got his through a curse," Spike said, desperately trying to decide which facts to tell them. "Happened in Romania in 1896...no, it was 1898. Killed a gypsy girl and her tribe retaliated by cursing him with a soul so he'd feel remorse for the evil he'd done. Problem is, break the curse and Angelus -- the name he used to use -- reappears. Believe me, you don't want to meet Angelus. He's a right bastard who delights in torturing young girls."
That got their attention. "So he's evil and dangerous?" Kennedy asked.
"He's the one who taught me to hunt and kill after I rose." Spike caught Kennedy's eye and held it. "I'm an amateur compared to him."
He couldn't help feeling a touch of pleasure at seeing the girl flinch ever so slightly. A slayer -- even a potential slayer -- had to be confident, but this girl was cocky bordering on arrogant, the very weakness Angelus enjoyed exploiting. "He doesn't just kill," he continued. "Angelus tortures, both physically and psychologically. Ask Harris or Red or Giles when he returns. They've all gotten a taste."
Molly looked up from her notes. "I thought you said he got his soul in 1898?"
Spike took a deep breath. "He did. He also lost it for a while when he was in Sunnydale. Almost destroyed the world before Willow managed to put it back."
"Put what back?" Willow had reappeared, having changed from pajamas into an old fuzzy pink sweater that clashed with her patterned skirt.
"Angel's soul. I was filling them in on the basics. You know -- torture, mayhem. The fun stuff."
Willow shuddered. "It's why I don't keep fish."
The attention of the potentials moved from Spike to Willow, gazing at her with newfound respect. "Wow." Rona's voice was nearly a whisper. "That must have been some heavy mojo."
Willow looked at once pleased and unsettled by the attention, sneaking a glance at Kennedy to see how she was reacting. Then, a look of horror came over her face. "I'm going to have to do it again, aren't I? I don't' have supplies...I don't have an orb. I'd better talk to Anya."
With that, she scurried away, leaving Spike to watch the potentials' attention shift back to him. What could he say? He only knew what Wesley had said on the phone and that was just enough to send them into a panic.
Chloe, who'd stood quietly on the perimeter throughout this, chose that moment to speak. "It's bad, isn't it?"
He knew he should give them some stirring speech about the effort being difficult, but if they stood firm, they would find a way to overcome. He wasn't good at speeches, though, and he was loathe to downplay a threat he didn't yet understand. "It might be," he said simply. "Once this Wesley gets here, we'll have a better idea."
Spike had never been happier to hear a knock at the front door than at that moment. Buffy's feet were heard on the stairs and she called, "I'll get it!"
Spike moved toward the hall and he noticed Xander, Anya and Willow were hovering in the dining room, a stake in Xander's hand. Good boy; if Willow's spell had done its work, Angelus wouldn't be able to get into the house, but it didn't hurt to be prepared.
A second knock came as Buffy took a deep breath, obviously centering herself before opening the door. Spike stepped back, making certain he was out of the direct line of sight. Wouldn't do to give away the game too quickly.
The door swung open and the look of relief on Buffy's face announced it wasn't Angelus who stood on the other side. The relief quickly slid into puzzlement. "Wesley?"
"Hello, Buffy." The voice was British and Spike edged forward to find a reasonably neatly- dressed man standing on the porch, though his almost-beard and the scar that stretched across his jugular vein lent him a somewhat scruffy air. Just behind him stood a rather sullen-looking teenager with longish dark hair and eyes that sparked a shiver of familiarity, though he couldn't place it.
"It's...been a while." Buffy looked a bit unsure, as if this visitor wasn't what she was expecting. This was the man who'd been on the phone, though; Spike recognized the tone and inflection.
Wesley smiled, just a touch of condescension there. "Yes, it has been and I'm aware I've made some dramatic changes. You don't have to worry; I'm still quite human."
"And you can prove that how?"
They were both human; Spike could sense the blood pumping and the heart beating in both. He chose not to say anything, deciding it would be more fun to see how the man responded.
"Quite simply." He stepped over the threshold. "Since Xander and Willow can attest I was indeed alive the last time I came to call, any invitation given at that time would not extend if I had been turned into a vampire in the interim."
"'Alive' is a somewhat open to debate," Xander said, moving closer. "Who's your friend?"
Wesley gestured to the boy who followed him across the threshold, looking around with mild curiosity. When his gaze landed on Spike, his eyes narrowed as if he knew just who and what Spike was. "This is Connor, my...associate."
Now that the vampire question had been settled, Buffy welcomed them in and led the way to the living room. Spike maintained a safe distance from Connor, but stayed where he could keep an eye on him. Seemed the boy was determined to return the favor, declining Buffy's invitation to sit.
Since a conference in the living room was pretty much an open invitation to everyone who lived in the house, the potentials drew near, arranging themselves behind the armchairs that faced the couch. Andrew drew near as well, but retreated from Connor's glare. It wasn't a special glare for him, Spike noted. The boy seemed to favor everyone with such a look, which wasn't odd given his age, but was odd given the number of attractive females in the room.
Wesley, on the other hand, despite his dress, retained those manners that went with the breeding indicated by his accent. He stood to take Dawn's hand as she joined Buffy on the couch. "A pleasure to see you again, Dawn."
"You two know each other?" Buffy asked.
"He, uh, came up to Sunnydale to pay his respects after...you know."
Right. The watcher the Council had tried to put in Giles' place. Spike had decided to absent himself when the Los Angeles crew made its call and hadn't met the man.
"Seems you have quite a gathering," Wesley commented as he settled himself in the armchair. "Potentials? I'm not surprised, given what happened to the Council."
Buffy's face grew serious. They were clearly down to business. "Giles has been bringing them here and there are more on the way. Girls, this is Wesley Wyndham-Price, who used to be a watcher...my watcher, for a time. That's Kennedy, Rona, Vi, Molly, and Chloe. There's another one, but she's local so she stays with her parents. Oh, and that's Andrew. He's...staying here. I don't know if you've met Spike."
Spike could have done without the introduction, especially given the way Wesley's eyes lit up. "I don't believe it. You let William the Bloody into your home? And with all these potentials? Do you realize what damage he could do?"
"He's a vampire." Connor's voice was flat. "You can't trust vampires."
"Spike's part of the team," Buffy said firmly. "He's on our side, he's helping me train the potentials and, well, he's got his soul."
"Really?" There was a note of academic interest in Wesley's voice. "I wasn't aware anyone except Willow could do the Ritual of Restoration. Does his curse have the same properties as..."
"It wasn't a curse," Spike said, wanting to nip this conversation in the bud. "I went after it...and no, I'm not going to give you the details."
"Besides, Spike's soul isn't the topic of discussion here; Angel's is." Buffy looked toward Connor. "And for the record, I trust Spike. Implicitly."
Having laid down the law, Buffy turned expectantly toward Wesley. "Are you certain you want to discuss this in front of everyone?" Wesley asked, clearly a little discomfited by the size of the mob.
"Are they in danger from Angel showing up in Sunnydale?"
Wesley sighed. "Given his penchant for starting with friends and relations, quite possibly."
"Then they have a right to know what's going on. How and why did Angel lose his soul?"
There was a pause, and then Wesley began. "We've been plagued with trouble from a demon known as the Beast. Incredibly powerful, incredibly ruthless. We haven't been able to defeat and him and we haven't been able to uncover what he wants. What we have discovered, however, is that he apparently tried to strike a deal at some point in the past with Angelus."
Buffy looked past Wesley to Spike. "Don't remember such a demon," he said. "Of course, Angelus was already over a century old by the time I was made. Lots of encounters he could have had I didn't know about."
"The problem is," Wesley continued, "Angel didn't remember him either. Swore he'd never met him. Yet the beast knew him. After a great deal of discussion, we realized we had no other choice -- we had to summon Angelus."
"You took Angel's soul away?" Buffy was on her feet. "God, Wesley! I always thought you were an idiot, but this proves it."
"You don't know the circumstances."
"I can't think of any circumstances that would justify that. Angel agreed to this?"
"He had to be convinced," Wesley admitted.
"Convinced? With what? A stake to his chest? The Angel I know wouldn't do that willingly."
"Then perhaps you don't know him anymore."
The hurt caused by Wesley's words was writ large across Buffy's face...and the answering twinge of hurt and jealousy Spike suddenly felt inside was not particularly welcome. Angel had been an important part of her life; he had to accept that, just as he had to accept their paths would sometimes cross.
"Kennedy, maybe you can take everyone downstairs and put them through some exercises," Dawn said, her voice tight as she watched her sister.
Kennedy looked like she wanted to argue, but Xander started to hustle the girls toward the kitchen. "Sounds like a great idea. Who doesn't love a late night workout?" As he passed Spike, he leaned in and whispered, "I think she's going to need you."
There were moments Xander could surprise him; this was one. Seeing the worried look the boy cast at Buffy, Spike realized that, for this moment at least, he was being accepted.
With the potentials out of the way, Spike headed for the fireplace where Buffy stood, her back to the room. "Luv?" he asked softly.
"I can't believe he'd do it," she said, not looking up. "What could possibly convince him?"
The words "selfish bastard" popped into Spike's mind, but he opted not to voice them. Instead, he slipped his arms around her, tugging her gently back against him. "Don't know. Right now, we figure out a way to get him back. You can always pound the error of his ways into him later."
She didn't respond immediately, but neither did she pull away, her head resting against his shoulder. "Could there be something else at work here?" she asked at last. "The First once tried to make him lose his soul."
Spike frowned. He hadn't heard about that incident and it raised some unsettling questions. "And now he has and he's on his way back to Sunnydale. Think there might be a connection?"
"I don't think we can rule it out." She pulled away, turning back toward Wesley. "Okay, Angel lost his soul. How was it done?"
"I contacted a shaman by the name of Wo-Pang. He conducted a ritual which encased Angel's soul within a Muo-ping. Once we retrieved the information, he would return Angel's soul to him."
Willow was leaning forward, listening intently, as was Anya. With any luck, they might know what the terms meant. "We'd taken every precaution to keep Angelus under control until we were finished," Wesley continued. "There was a cage, he was strapped down, the Muo-ping was placed outside the cage where he couldn't get at it."
"A strong cage, I hope?" Spike asked, not liking any of this.
"Angel saw to the specifications himself. I can assure you it was quite strong."
"He also asked me to stake him if we couldn't control Angelus," Connor said. "Naturally I agreed."
"We don't need to go into that," Wesley replied, a look of annoyance on his face.
"Actually, I'd like to hear the lad's opinion," Spike said. "You say he's your 'associate'; what's his role in all of this...and why would Angel ask him, of all people, to stake him if he gets out of hand?"
Even as the boy spoke, Spike felt a flash of recognition and realized where he'd seen that sullen, dark look before. "Because he's my father."
Continued in Chapter Four