After Wesley pulled into his parking spot at the Hyperion, the men piled out, but Buffy hesitated, staring down at the cement-covered ground. "What's wrong?" Spike asked.
"I was thinking of taking my shoes off to make it easier to get into the hotel, but I'm having second thoughts."
"I wouldn't recommend it," Wesley said. "Even at the best of times, what we find on the ground is somewhat questionable. These days..."
With a sigh, Buffy resigned herself to another painful and limping walk like the one she'd made to the car. Even as she started to get down, though, Spike passed his axe off to Connor and scooped her up into his arms. "All you had to do was ask."
She started to protest, but decided to relax and enjoy it. Besides, who was she to deprive Spike of the opportunity to play rescuer of the damsel in distress? It wasn't like he often got the chance. Unfortunately, their entrance had precisely the effect she didn't want.
"Buffy! You didn't say anything about being hurt." Willow was on her feet and immediately heading across the lobby.
"I'm fine, Willow. Spike, can you...?" He set her down and steadied her as she pulled her shoes off. "I broke my heel on Angel's foot."
"Oh, no. Those are new, aren't they?"
As Willow examined the damage, Cordelia decided to make an appearance. "I take it your 'great plan' was a bust?" she asked, offering up the "you're stupid" look Buffy remembered so well from high school.
"We ran into a little trouble."
"So catching Angel wasn't as easy as you thought? Surprise, surprise."
No, this was nastier than high school. "Cordelia, what is your problem? Ever since we came through that door, you've made it perfectly clear you'd be happier if I went home. I'm here to help."
"Help?" Cordelia snorted. "You know, we've been getting on just fine without you. Angel's been getting on just fine without you. You two haven't seen each other for over a year, haven't been a part of each other's lives for over three and yet you think you can just waltz in here like you and Angel were still joined at the hip and try to take over? Then to add insult to injury, you decide to bring your new vampire boyfriend along and shack up together while you're here. Angel's really going to appreciate that when we get his soul back in his body...assuming you don't screw up so badly we can't."
The only comfort Buffy could take was that everyone else was staring at Cordelia as if she'd gone mad. That didn't stop Cordelia from continuing. "You don't know a damn thing about what's going on here. Face it, Buffy; you didn't even know most of the people here until today. You don't know what's been happening except what Wesley's told you. Does that really make you think you're going to succeed where we haven't?"
Before Buffy could come up with an answer, Spike moved. In a flash he was off the stairs leading into the lobby and in Cordelia's face. "Maybe she'd have a better chance if you'd stop pissing and moaning so much...or is Buffy not being a part of this more important than actually helping Angel?"
Connor clearly took offense at Spike's action and set off toward in a burst of speed that left no doubt his parents weren't humans. Without taking his eyes from Cordelia, Spike stretched out his arm at the last moment so that the boy ran straight into his fist. "I'm waiting for an answer, cheerleader."
Sprawled on the lobby floor, Connor looked surprised at the blow. He was about to climb to his feet, but Gunn knelt at his side. "I think you should stay out of the way."
Connor shrugged off the restraining hand, but before he could rise, Spike warned, "Listen to his advice, boy. I won't hurt your girl; just want her to answer my question."
Buffy was surprised Cordelia hadn't backed down before this. Sure, people changed but Spike was starting to send off dangerous vibes. He'd been very cautious since the chip had been removed, almost as if he was afraid of letting go without the electronic leash. Now, though, that caution was rapidly disappearing.
As they stood there, Spike's expression changed, almost as if he realized something he hadn't known before. It was at that moment Cordelia broke eye contact. "We need to get Angel back."
"Then the more cooperation you give us, the quicker we get Peaches' soul back in place and Buffy and I can get the hell out of here. Think of it as enlightened self-interest."
He turned back to Buffy. "We need to get those scratches taken care of. The first aid kit's in my pack."
A first aid kit was probably kept in the office, but Buffy let Spike guide her upstairs to their room. She could feel the tension simmering just beneath the surface and decided getting him away from the others was probably the best thing.
Spike was silent until he'd examined the scratches on her neck, sitting next to her on the edge of the mattress with the first aid kit in easy reach. "They're not deep," he said with a sigh. "Just looks bad."
Fetching a washcloth from the bathroom, he gently wiped away the blood then began to clean the wounds with hydrogen peroxide. Buffy hissed a bit as the liquid stung raw flesh, eliciting a murmured, "Sorry."
She couldn't stand it. This silence just wasn't natural for him. "Spike. Talk to me."
He looked up and she was surprised to find fury simmering deep within the depths of blue eyes. "I'll be damned if I'm going to let Angelus have his one good day."
She reached out to press her fingers against his lips. "He didn't," she assured him. "He won't."
The fury was still there, but now he let the fear show as he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck. "I don't want to lose you," he murmured against her skin.
More than anyone, Spike knew how dangerous her life was. He'd become the one she knew would be there to watch her back, not tell her to hold back from fear of one or both of them not making it out alive. This reaction wasn't because of the wound, she realized, the scratches mild compared to others she'd suffered. This was one of those damn things they needed time to work through. "He's not going to take me away," she told him. "We're going to find him and we're going to stop him and we're both going to be okay."
He looked up and she could see he wanted to believe her, but she could see the doubt as well and she didn't know how to dispel it. She thought of kissing him and pulling him back onto the bed, try to show him she wasn't going anywhere, but before she could even make the attempt, there was a knock at the door and Willow's voice was calling, "Buffy? Are you two alright?"
Reluctantly, she pulled away and opened the door to admit Willow, who was thankfully alone. "We're fine. Just cleaning up some scratches."
Willow's eyes went big. "How did I miss those? What happened?"
"Angelus got a shot at her." Spike's voice was tight, the softness of only a moment ago vanished. "Not going to happen again."
Buffy was started to ask him how he intended to keep that from happening since they were likely heading out again soon, but another knock at the door put that argument on hold. This time it was Wesley, looking decidedly uncomfortable as he stepped inside. "That was an entertaining display. You've got Connor convinced you're about to do Cordelia bodily harm."
"Still might come to that is she keeps up her bitchy ways. Buffy, I need to finish cleaning that."
She sat down next to him again, while Willow took a chair. Wesley chose to remain standing, which allowed him the opportunity to pace. As Spike touched the damp swab to the scratches once more, he asked, "So how long has the brat been shagging her?"
Buffy jerked her head around to look at him, not believing what she'd just heard...and hissed again as the movement caused the swab to move abruptly across her wound. "Sorry," Spike said, pulling it away momentarily.
"Tell me you are not serious." Buffy wanted to look toward Wesley, but with Spike swabbing the wound, she didn't want to move. "Wesley, she isn't..."
"I'm afraid she is," Wesley said, obligingly moving into her line of sight. "Believe me, I found it difficult to accept when I heard."
"Ewww." Willow's face scrunched. "Wasn't she around when he was a baby? And wasn't she chasing after Angel?"
"Precisely the reason I found it hard to believe. I would have put it down to Angelus simply being nasty except that Cordelia didn't make any effort to deny it and once Connor knew we knew...well, he was practically glowing with pride. Seems he likes the idea of being able to take his father's woman away."
"Poor Angel," Willow said. "That must have hurt."
"Now he knows what it feels like," Spike muttered in a voice too low for anyone but Buffy to hear. In a louder voice he added, "So I take it Connor's the father of Cordelia's baby."
Once again, Buffy's head jerked and again the hydrogen peroxide stung. "It won't hurt if you hold still," Spike told her sternly.
"Thank you, Giles. I wouldn't move if you'd stop saying things to shock the rest of us."
Spike frowned at her throat. "I think I've pretty much cleaned it up...and I'm not saying it to shock anyone. When I was nose to nose with her, I picked up two heartbeats. Aside from that, look at her. Cheerleader always was a skinny thing. Now she looks like she's smuggling melons."
It wasn't the prettiest of word pictures, but Buffy began to realize Spike might be right. Cordelia was rounder and heavier, even though the coat she wore hid most of it. "That's..."
"Incredible," Willow finished. "I can't imagine Cordelia letting herself get pregnant unless she wanted to. And the visions -- she told me she has to take this incredibly powerful medicine to counteract the headaches she gets from them. What affect is that going to have on the baby?"
"Cordelia doesn't need that medicine anymore; hasn't for almost a year."
Willow looked skeptical. "Last time she told me about the visions, she said it felt like her head was going to explode."
"It almost did," Wesley explained. "We thought we were going to lose her, but she was granted the opportunity to keep the visions and her life by accept something of a demon within herself."
The thought crossed Buffy and Willow's minds at the same time. Despite the seriousness of the situation and that it wasn't a laughing matter, the moment the two women looked at each other, they started to giggle. "You realize that means all of Xander's girlfriends..."
"Every single one..."
"A perfect record..."
"I can't wait to tell him..."
"What is so amusing?" Wesley demanded, looking more than a little miffed.
"Apparently every girl Harris has dated has been a demon," Spike said, putting the first aid kit back in his bag.
"It isn't a laughing matter."
"You're right." Buffy tried to control herself, but the laughter kept threatening to erupt again. "We shouldn't laugh." She sputtered, only half successful in keeping the laughter in. Willow was faring just as well.
"Of course, if Cordelia is your traitor," Spike said, reclaiming his place next to Buffy, "I wouldn't be surprised if Connor was helping her. Not really in his interest to have Angel back in the game, is it? And baby will probably make him even more protective and manly."
Buffy stopped laughing. For a moment she'd forgotten Cordelia was on their lists of suspects. "Willow, did anything suspicious happen while we were gone?"
Willow had sobered as well. "No. I kept the locator spell going and pretty much focused on that. Oh, Lorne was helpful, made sure I had water so my mouth wouldn't get all dry 'cause it does that sometimes when I do spells. He's kinda sweet, like Clem."
"Where was Cordelia?"
"Around. She didn’t seem terribly interested in watching."
Buffy looked over at Wesley. "Anya told us that the spell Cordelia gave you to restore Angel's soul couldn't have worked, that the components she had you assemble wouldn't do what she wanted them to."
"You're taking her word for this?"
"Wesley, you remember Anya? Ex-vengeance demon? The one who'd witnessed the Ascension? I think she knows what she's talking about."
He didn't want to believe it; she could see the struggle on his face. "Buffy, are you sure?" Willow asked. "I mean, I know Cordelia's evil, but she's not evil evil."
"Willow, do you really think Lorne is behind stealing Angel's soul and letting Angelus know you were tracking him?"
"He knew?" The words came out almost as a whisper.
"He could have been guessing in the dark, but he knew you were keeping the spell going, commented on the power it took." Buffy turned to Wesley. "Do you think Lorne's behind this?"
"No." Wesley's voice was firm. "I've known Lorne nearly three years and I've never seen anything that gives any hint he would do such a thing. In fact, Lorne's usually the one who argues for caution. It's completely outside his nature."
"But it's also completely outside of Cordelia's, isn't it? She's been loyal and determined and part of Angel's 'mission' since the beginning, hasn't she?" Spike raised a scarred eyebrow. "So who's helping the Beast? Gunn and Fred? Doubt it. There's no magic in those two. Since Buffy's having this conversation, I think she's ruled you out. That leaves Lorne, Cordelia and Connor...and Cordelia and Connor are something of a matched pair these days."
The look Wesley gave Buffy was accusatory. "You suspected me?"
"For a few minutes. I knew there were things you weren't telling and then Anya told us about the spell. That's when we figured it had to be either you, Cordelia or Lorne. You actually did the incantation, so you had opportunity to mess it up. Lorne did the soul reading, so he could have been lying. Cordelia's the one who came up with the spell, so she could have given you bad information."
Wesley was silent as he processed the information. "I believe Lorne honestly saw a change in Angel's aura that made him think the soul was back in place," he said at last. "How do you explain that?"
"Anya though it might be a glamour. I should call and see if she's found anything more on that."
"Call her when we get back, Willow," Buffy said even as Willow reached for her cell phone. "I need to get changed and then you need to do another locator spell, a mobile one this time. You're coming with us." She looked to Wesley. "I think it's best we take the whole crew. I don't want to go in with just a few of us. Besides, it makes certain we don't leave anyone here to cause mischief...and doesn't give anyone the opportunity to contact any allies they might have. And, if Angelus has acquired any friends, we're going to need the extra strength and Willow's firepower."
For a moment she thought he might argue, but Wesley nodded. "We'll follow your lead. Best plan I've heard since we started this. I just hope you're wrong about Cordelia."
Buffy sighed. "She's a pain in the ass, Wesley, but I hope I'm wrong, too."
Continued in Chapter Eleven