"Not a whole week. I'm here today," Buffy pointed out. "Just the rest of it."
This was why slayers shouldn't have regular, full-time jobs because there was no company or organization in the world that was going to provide enough leave time to handle demon uprisings or apocalypses. She recognized the look on the principal's face; her supervisor at the Doublemeat Palace had started to get that look shortly before Buffy quit. "I realize you're not a full-time employee, Buffy, but your job is important and the work you do is valuable."
"And I wouldn't be asking for time off if I didn't need it. It's just that I need to meet with my father about some stuff on my mom's estate. He's the executor and since I'm Dawn's guardian..." And bless you, Spike, for coming up with this excuse for me and explaining what an executor was in case he asked.
"Your mother didn't make you her executor? I would think with your parent's divorce and..."
"Her illness was unexpected. She didn't have time to make the changes and the will was drawn up before I came of age." Okay, so some of Spike's phrasing sounds really Victorian, but I don't remember telling Principal Wood about my parent's divorce. Unless Dawn did. Or unless he read about it in my file. And why would he read my file anyway? Didn't it get blown up when we took out the school?
Wood frowned, shifting through some papers on his desk. "A week, you say."
"I should be back at my desk bright eyed and bushy tailed on Monday," she promised cheerfully.
"You're sure your father won't persuade you to stay longer? I get the feeling it's been a while since you've seen him."
"No, I think I'll have had all the family togetherness I can handle by then." And ghosts of high school past. "I'll probably be eager to come back."
"Well...if it's family business...and we are supposed to be 'family friendly...I suppose I can spare you. If you think you can get back earlier, give me a call before you come in. That way I can make sure any files you need are back on your desk."
Or make certain I hide the shovels before you run into me while I'm carrying them from my evil, secret, evil purpose, Buffy mentally supplied. "Thanks," she said before heading for her desk.
She was pretty sure he wasn't monitoring her conversations, but Buffy still waited until Wood was safely out of the office before she called home. "Willow? Pack your bags; we're heading for LA tonight."
Buffy had asked Willow to arrange things, let Wesley know they were coming and tell Anya there were going to be fewer mouths to feed for a few days. The call from Anya letting Buffy know Giles had called back and would be in Tuesday afternoon had unfortunately come just as Wood showed up at her desk, but Buffy managed to get the information without letting the possibly-evil-though-still-undetermined principal realize what was happening. With Giles coming in tomorrow, that meant all Xander and Anya had to do was hold things together tonight. Kennedy would put the girls through their paces tomorrow as she often did during the daytime training, so things would, with luck, hold together.
They'd already fallen apart by the time Buffy got home after school.
"I don't understand why I can't go," Kennedy was insisting to Willow as Buffy walked in the door. You need someone to watch out for you."
"I can assure you I am perfectly capable of seeing that Willow is kept safe while she's in Los Angeles," Wesley said in that voice guaranteed to win friends and influence slayers. "I wasn't under the impression that anyone but Buffy and Willow were going."
Kennedy jerked her thumb over to where Spike was sitting. "He's going."
At that, Wesley turned toward Buffy. "Do you really think that's a good idea?"
This wasn't the time or the place, but she knew she wasn't going to be able to actually avoid the conversation. "He knows Angelus. Hunted with him. He's coming."
Perhaps Wesley was just glad she'd come along and he wouldn't have to do his version of the Great Escape to get his hands on a slayer. Maybe he realized the rightness of her point. Either way, he didn't argue.
Kennedy, on the other hand, was more than willing to take up the slack. "So you're taking him; I should go to look out for Willow. I mean, you two are going to be on the move most of the time, trying to track this guy down."
Buffy was about to object, tell her that she was needed here when she saw the tightening of Wesley's lips. "Okay, Kennedy. You're on Willow patrol. Get packed because we're going to be moving out soon."
She started to turn away, head for the stairs and do her own packing, only to be followed by Wesley's complaint. "I must protest. This is a serious mission, not a field trip. I see the reasoning behind your decision to Spike, but to bring an untrained girl along is..."
With a wear sigh, Buffy turned back. "Is it going to be like this the whole time, Wesley? 'Cause if it is, I could just as easily stay here and listen to everyone else moan and complain. You said you needed a slayer to track down Angelus and you needed Willow to help you locate and return Angel's soul. Guess what? We get to pick our own team."
She didn't wait for his answer, but headed upstairs to pack. Spike joined her a minute later. "Great exit, luv, but it did deprive you of the expression on his face when you walked out."
"I have a feeling I can guess. Like he'd had a pickled lemon?"
"Pretty good description." He lounged on the bed, watching as she packed jeans and tops into her duffel bag. "I'll wager he'll want to drive; he's got one of those sodding SUVs. Not a small one like yours, but one of those big monsters."
"That reminds me; I need to clear out the back of the car, make certain it's empty."
"Why? Thinking of sticking someone in the trunk? Not that it has a proper truck, just a space behind the back seat with a cover on it."
"A cover which keeps out sunlight because I seriously doubt the tint on my windows will do the job."
She packed two more jeans and waited for him to react. "You're going to put me in the trunk?"
"We could take the DeSoto if you think it'll make it to LA. Not the greatest mode of transportation, but the windows are blacked out."
Spike mumbled something incomprehensible. "What did you say?" she asked.
"I said I don't have it anymore. I sold it last spring. Needed the money to get me to Africa."
Buffy sat down next to him and took his hands. She didn't know how to respond because the whole getting a soul for her scared her silly and the idea he'd sold his beloved junk heap to pay for the trip only made it worse. "We'll wait until the sun goes down," she said at last, "and I'll make sure there's a blanket in the car just in case. That's why I'm going to make certain the back's cleaned out -- just in case. If possible, I want you up front with me."
Spike smiled back at her. "No place I'd rather be."
She spared a few moments from packing to just sit with him, but all too soon she had to return to the task at hand. "How's the arm?"
"Better," he admitted. "I did like you told me this morning; got my blood and rested. Should be okay by tomorrow. Keeping it wrapped helps."
"Who'd ever think those adjustable casts would have so many households uses?"
"Well, there's a metal bar in here that would give someone a nice surprise if I popped them in the nose with it."
"Which is a standard need for most households." She shoved the last piece of clothing into the bag and zipped it closed. "Ready to hit the road when you are."
Spike had been right; Wesley suggested that it might be "safer" if they all piled into his SUV which, he pointed out, had windows that were tinted dark enough to accommodate a vampire during the day. Buffy stood her ground, however, and once the sun had set, two vehicles set out from Revello Drive.
Buffy had also stood her ground with Spike and was doing the driving at the point, leaving Spike to the front passenger seat, cast still wrapped around his arm despite his claims he didn't need it, while Willow and Kennedy took up the back. "Any more thought to what went wrong last night?" Buffy asked once they'd safely maneuvered onto the freeway.
"When I talked to Wesley, he said that they'd discovered the Orb wasn't supposed to work if the soul's contained in the Muo-ping. In fact, it mentioned that specifically."
"Which begs the question why he came hauling up here," Spike commented. "If he knew the spell wouldn't work..."
"Why did he want Willow to do it?" Buffy sighed. "I can't believe Wesley's in league with this beast-creature. I mean, he screams like a girl at the sight of danger."
"And the sight of blood," Willow amended.
"I wouldn't dismiss him so lightly." Spike shifted in his seat, reaching out a hand to fiddle with the radio controls and deciding against it. "I know you don't have the highest opinion of him, but there's something there you're overlooking."
"Like the fact that he's dangerous?" Kennedy interjected. "He was watching us work out today and it was like he was weighing and considering each of us, making sure we were up to standards."
"Well, he was a watcher; it's not surprising he'd be interested to see what we're doing."
Glancing in the rearview mirror, Buffy could see Kennedy give Willow a look that said she didn't buy that. "How closely was he watching you?" she asked, suddenly feeling a bit worried.
"Very closely. If he wasn't on our side, I'd wonder if he was trying figure out our weaknesses."
And Wesley wasn't telling them everything and was one of three people who could have messed with the first attempt to return Angel's soul. In fact, Wesley was the only person who'd been at both attempts to return the soul. And he'd been the one to get the shaman who'd done the deed in the first place.
"You're being awfully quiet, luv."
She kept her eyes on the road...and the dark SUV just ahead of them. "I'm beginning to wonder just how much Wesley hasn't told us...and just what we're going to find waiting when we get to Los Angeles."
The hotel was exactly what Spike would expect from Angel: large, impressive and clearly compensating for something. "I'd love to know how he swung the deed for this one," he commented as they pulled into the parking garage, a small outcropping at the back of the hotel that housed a handful of vehicles.
"Anyone else live here?" Buffy asked Willow as they got out of the car. "I mean, I know Angel likes room to move around in, but this is ridiculous."
"I don't think anyone else lives here, but the last time I came down, I wasn't really paying attention. It was just after...you know."
God, it was over a year and they were all still dancing around that topic, Spike though, himself included. A dark spot in their lives that kept popping up at unpleasant intervals.
It was Wesley who rescued the conversation, ushering them toward a gate that led into a walled garden. "At the moment, most of us are living here during the crisis," he explained. "When we're not waiting for the world to end, Fred and Lorne are the usual residents...along with Angel, of course."
Spike didn't miss the fact Connor was apparently not a regular resident at the hotel. Had to give the kid credit for some backbone; it was doubtful Angel would willingly loose his hold on such miracle child, even if he was a sulky brat.
Wesley led them through a glass door trimmed with blackened steel set in a deco design and into a two-story lobby that must have been the height of elegance in its day. Now, it offered an air of genteel poverty, as if those that cared for it wanted to keep it up but were fighting a losing battle.
All these impressions flashed by in a second, passing thoughts as they paused on the steps leading down into the lobby and took in the committee that waited to greet them. Only one face was familiar to Spike, and that one twisted with anger when she saw him.
"What is he doing here?" Cordelia demanded, taking a step forward. "I thought you were going to get Willow."
"I did get Willow, as you might notice," Wesley said, more than a touch of tension in his voice. "We tried the restoration spell but it didn't work, so I thought it might be of use to call in reinforcements."
"Spike is not 'reinforcements.'" The words were practically spat out. "He's more likely to side with Angelus than anything. Oh, that's right. You weren't here the last time Spike came to visit, when he tortured Angel to find the Gem of Amarra."
Having dealt with Wesley, Cordelia turned her ire on Buffy. "You agreed to this. All this talk about how Angel is the love of your life and there'll never be anyone else and you enlist the person he probably hates most in the entire world to help you?"
He knew he shouldn't, knew he should stay quiet and play along, let Buffy and Wesley handle it, but the soul hadn't really given him any discretion when it came to irritants. "And it's lovely to see you as well, Cordelia. Are the blond streaks new?"
This time she didn't fall for the ruse, just narrowed her eyes like she was considering staking him where he stood. "Get out."
"He's here to help," Buffy said, her voice tight. "I stay, he stays."
"Have a nice trip back to Sunnydale." Cordelia turned on her heel and stalked away toward what had likely once been the front desk. Connor followed her, loping down the stairs with all the eagerness of a puppy following its mother. No, that wasn't right; given the way he tried to close the gap between them, you'd think he...
Spike shook his head. Wild-ass speculation wasn't going to do them any good at the moment. There were more pressing matters at hand.
One of those pressing matters was the tall black man who stepped forward, eying them suspiciously. "So, you going to introduce our guests?" he asked Wesley. "I know Willow and I'm betting the blond is the infamous Buffy."
The dark haired woman who stood close to him, but not too close, suddenly brightened. "You're Buffy?" she chirped. "Hi, I'm Fred."
Before anyone could object, Fred was coming forward to shake hands, offering the first genuine words of welcome they'd heard since arriving. "I've heard so much about you," she told Buffy. "I mean, Angel was all broken up when you were dead...is it okay if I say 'dead'?"
"I've kind of gotten used to it," Buffy admitted.
"Willow, hi. Good to see you again...not that I really saw you the last time you were here as I'd just come back from Pylea so I was a bit overwhelmed, but Wesley's told me you're like us, a scholar and all that. How do you do both magic and science? My specialty's physics, but I'm afraid the magic stuff just gives me a headache."
Willow looked a bit like she was going to drown in the enthusiasm. "I, um, er...this is Kennedy. She's a potential slayer."
Kennedy was shoved forward and subjected to the torrent. "Potential slayer? That's kind of neat. How do you get to be one? Do you apply or is it some mystical choosing thing?"
For once, Kennedy looked a bit thrown. "I, uh, was chosen. My watcher's been training me for years."
Fred nodded, still smiling and taking it all in as she turned to Spike. "Hi."
Caught, Spike wasn't certain what else to do. "Uh, hi."
The moment she shook his hand, he saw the change in her expression. "You're a vampire."
"He's here to help," Wesley quickly assured her.
"Like hell he is," the black man argued. "The last thing we need at this point is another vampire. There's enough running around outside; we don't need to import them."
"Spike is uniquely qualified to help us with Angelus, Gunn. They have...a history together."
"Like what? Killing and maiming? He's a vamp! They're bad -- or have you forgotten that fact?"
"No, but there's also the fact Spike has a soul."
Gunn looked appropriately skeptical. "Say what?"
"I know, it sounds unbelievable, but Buffy has assured me that there are now, indeed, two souled vampires. Well, only one at the moment, but once we restore Angel, there will be two."
"And why should I believe you? I mean, your track record hasn't been so hot. Misreading prophecies, coming up with brilliant ideas like taking away Angel's soul...how do we know this vampire isn't going to go nuts and try to make a snack out of all of us?"
Thoughts of the trigger danced unwanted in Spike's head. That was their secret, the thing they hadn't mentioned to Wesley. Given the hostility here, there was no way Spike was going to mention it or stray far from Buffy's side.
"This is getting us nowhere," Buffy said suddenly, arms crossed over her chest. "Wesley asked us to help and that's what we're here to do. If you don't want us, we have our own crisis back home that we need to deal with."
She made her way down the steps, stopping directly in front of Gunn, head tilted back as she looked up at him. "I came here because I know how bad Angelus is; I've dealt with him before. I've killed him before. Willow's the one who restored his soul last time. Spike spent twenty years with him and probably knows Angelus' mind better than the rest of us...which is just one of the reason he hates him so much. We want to figure out where Angelus is and contain him until Willow can find a way to put his soul back. We think we can do that...but it's not going to happen if we just standing here listening to some macho pissing contest about who's in charge."
Spike knew the grin Willow shot him was echoed on his own face. In a few minutes, they'd know if they were staying or not. He could see the struggle on Gunn's face and knew exactly what look Buffy was giving the man, the one that could quell a vampire at thirty paces. He also realized Gunn knew they needed help.
"He makes a move toward my neck..." Gunn said at last, clearly trying not to abdicate all of his dignity and control.
"Spike won't," she assured him. "If he does, I'll stake him."
"Yeah, if I don't get to him first."
"I said I would stake him. No one else. That clear?"
Gunn opted to back down on this one, though he didn't look happy about it. Clearly, here was someone who'd need watching.
The question of who was in charge having been settled for the moment, the last of the welcoming committee elegantly slid off the stool on which he'd been seated and came forward to meet them, a martini glass still clutched in his hand. "Hi, I'm Lorne. So you're Buffy. I've always wanted to meet the girl who made Angel like 'Mandy.'"
Buffy didn't look like she necessarily thought that was a compliment at all, but Lorne was off and running, happily babbling greetings to Willow and Kennedy. "Lorne reads auras," Wesley explained. "He can sense people's futures, help them along their paths."
"Sort of like tea leaves, only more fun." The green demon didn't reach out to shake Spike's hand immediately, instead looking him over with more than a little curiosity. "You know, Sweetcheeks has told me something of his past and I think I remember where you fit in. Drusilla's your sire, isn't she?"
Add that name to Angel's as one Spike didn't need to hear for a while. He was about to tell Lorne he was correct when Gunn piped up. "You know that crazy bitch?"
Spike almost moved in reflex, angered by the dismissive contempt in the man's voice. He caught himself, though, realizing it would serve no purpose other than to start a fight...something which was clearly a common occurrence with this group, given the amount of tension he was sensing. Even the affable Lorne (who was on their short list of suspicious characters, Spike reminded himself) exuded tension. Whatever was dividing this group, it was a good bet the problems didn't start with Angelus. "I know her quite well," he managed to reply with a modicum of civility. "We were together for almost one hundred and twenty years. Look, is there somewhere we can stash our kit so we can get to work?"
Again, it was Fred who did the polite thing, leading them upstairs and sorting rooms for them. Lorne trailed along, explaining, "I think the boys have some things they want to work out. Best leave them to it."
Fred didn't say a word, but her lips thinned. Here too were things omitted, not spoken of. Things of the heart, perhaps? Whatever it was, Angelus must have had a field day before he escaped.
"I'd love to read you," Lorne told Spike as Fred led them down a corridor. "Call it professional curiosity. Never thought I'd meet one souled vampire, much less two. I wonder what differences there are."
"Mine's anchored; his isn't." Ahead, Fred was discussing sleeping arrangements with the girls, how many rooms they'd need and all that. He knew Kennedy was going to insist she bunk with Willow, but part of him was betting that Buffy might hesitate at sharing a room with him under Angel's roof. He was sure of her, he really was, but he also knew how much the Poof's opinion still meant to her.
"There's a curse Angel would like to know about. Certainly solve a number of his brooding problems if he wasn't always worried that a little bit of happiness might bring Angelus forth. When this is all over, maybe you could give him the number..."
The women had rounded the corner, leaving the two men alone in the corridor. Spike turned on Lorne. "Listen, greeny. The soul's mine. It's not a curse; I won it and it's not going anywhere. Angel wants to get off his fat, brooding ass and go get his anchored, he can come ask me, but I'm not volunteering information."
Lorne backed up a step or two, his eyes growing a bit wide. "Calm down, cheesecake. I'm on your side."
"Really? We've barely met; how can you make that statement?"
"Because you're here fighting the good fight, trying to put Angel's soul back where it belongs instead of being at home snuggling with your slayer honey. Oh, didn't need to read your aura to figure that one out. You two have this electricity thing going between you, likely to fry anyone who tries to interfere." Understanding dawned on Lorne's face. "And she is Angel's ex-squeeze, so you're none too happy about the idea of her being around him -- especially since none of the things Angel's told me about you are flattering."
"Which again begs the question: what makes you think you're on my side?"
Spike took a step forward, but this time Lorne stood his ground. "Because I'm a sucker for guys who wear their heart on their sleeve. Didn't need to read your aura to know that, either. It's obvious. She's your whole world and you're worried that she'll slip from your grasp, that you won't measure up."
Buffy had come back around the corridor, looking a bit concerned. "Fred's shown me our room. You coming?"
Our room. Despite his best efforts, he felt a strange hitching in his chest he'd swear had to have been his heart. "Be right with you."
Turning back to Lorne, he admitted. "You're right. The whole world."
Continued in Chapter Nine