Privately, Spike didn't think anything would make the job easier. Wesley looked as if he'd aged ten years since the moment he'd walked through the door of Revello Drive, the personal demons he'd forced back temporarily riding hard and fast on his heels. "You have a spot picked out?" he asked, more to make conversation than anything else.
He felt the need to make conversation. This part of the hotel clearly didn't see much use, a cavernous ballroom that still bore traces of its glory days. Spike remembered dancing with Drusilla in places such as this, stylishly dressed and on the prowl for their next meal.
"Yes, I do have a spot in mind." Wesley led them into a service corridor, debris littering the floor. "I would prefer a cremation and a chance to scatter her ashes, but that's not possible now."
Of course not. Too many questions would be asked, the police involved. As painful as the situation was, Wesley was right to do it this way. Then a stray thought wandered across Spike's mind. "What about her family?"
Wesley shook his head. "There's only her mother and I'm afraid the poor woman no longer recognized her daughter. Actually, I'm not even certain what her status is at the moment or what Lilah's arrangements for her were. I should check. Here we are."
They'd entered the kitchen, all steel and angles, much the same as every other hotel kitchen Spike had ever seen. Wesley led the way to the walk-in meat locker, pausing only briefly before he opened the door.
She'd been laid out on a table, probably originally used to prep steaks or other such things, her body wrapped in a plastic tarp. Wesley moved to the head of the table, hands reaching out to fold back the shroud to reveal her face. She'd been a good looking woman, Spike thought, not his type but definitely striking. "Should I give you a moment?"
"No, we should get to it. I just wanted to..." Wesley shook his head and started to cover Lilah's face once more.
At the last instant, Spike stretched out his hand. "Hold on a sec..." He leaned forward, frowning as he examined what remained of Lilah's neck. Whatever Wesley had used to sever head from body had cut through the wound, but enough still remained for Spike to see there was yet another mystery here for them to solve.
Straightening, he took a deep breath, wondering what was the best way to phrase this news. Things had been easier when he was evil, hadn't they? Didn't give a damn about other people's feelings then. "Angelus didn't kill her," he said, seeing no other way.
The look of horror on Wesley's face was painful. "I saw him feeding on her. His mouth was at her throat."
"Easy pickings. Looks like she bled pretty profusely from whatever stabbed her in the neck."
"Stabbed?" Wesley leaned closer, a mixture of fascination and horror dancing across his features. "Are you certain?"
"Believe me, I know what Angelus' bite looks like. Unless he's gotten real sloppy, this ain't it. See how the skin's torn? Looks like something much wider than a fang got to her."
They were both quiet as Wesley examined the wound. When he straightened, his face was hard. "We're going to find out who did this."
Spike had no doubt about that, nor did he have any doubt the responsible party would pay dearly. He'd do the same in Wesley's position.
Carefully, Wesley covered Lilah's face, smoothing away any wrinkles in the plastic. "I think it's time to go."
Buffy was about to check on Willow and Kennedy when her cell phone trilled. To her delight, the voice on the other end of the line was Giles. "I wanted to let you know we arrived in Sunnydale safely. LAX is still closed, so we were routed through San Francisco."
"It should be open the next time you go out; we took care of that problem."
There was a pause. "This is in addition to Angelus on the loose?"
"You'd better believe it. Things are bad here, Giles. There's this beast and someone inside the group is up to something nasty...if I didn't have everything going on in Sunnydale, I might be tempted to stay and help."
"I said might, Giles. I probably wouldn't because there's the Spike issue. I don't think he'd be welcome down here long-term."
"Ah, yes. Spike. I'd like to speak with you about that when you get home."
This did not sound good. In fact, it sounded bad. "Did Xander say something?"
"No, Xander did not say anything. I was, however, greeted by Andrew who announced, 'Buffy is sleeping with Spike' the moment I walked in the door."
"No, he didn't. He actually said, 'Buffy is boinking Spike.' I was trying to be a bit more refined. I understand you're under a great deal of stress..."
Time to take the plunge. "Giles, I love him."
There was a long pause at the other end of the line. "Are you certain?"
"As certain as I am of anything these days. I know you don't approve..."
"That is an understatement." Clearly Giles was trying to hold himself together, but she could hear the anger in his voice. "This isn't something we can discuss over the phone. When you get home, we'll talk. I think there are some things you may not be considering."
She didn't hear much of the rest of the conversation, answering in what she hoped were the right places. It'd gone too easily with Willow and Xander, she realized that. Or was it that they'd been there the whole time, seen what Giles hadn't? Xander's acceptance of the situation had pleased but surprised her; with Giles so clearly set against it, would that acceptance waver?
She promised she'd call when she had more news of the situation and they managed to say goodbye pleasantly enough. When the call was done, Buffy stared at the cell phone in her hand, wishing for the old days when Giles had been the stalwart refuge she could turn to, dispenser of wisdom and advice, setting her feet on the proper path when she strayed, even if she protested at every turn. But then, he hadn't been that for some time, had he? He'd been gone from her life so much the last two years.
Shoving the cell phone into her pocket, Buffy headed down the hall and rapped gently at the door to Willow and Kennedy's room. The Willow that greeted her looked much happier than she had earlier in the day. "I take it Kennedy is doing better."
"Much." Willow stood aside so Buffy could come in. "Fred brought some soup up and she's managed to eat."
That was good news, at least. Moving toward the bed, Buffy could see the improvement for herself, even if the girl was still pale where she sat propped up against the pillows. The defiant look was back in her eye, which was a good thing. "I want to go after him," she said without preamble.
Definitely doing better. "Out of the question, Kennedy. Under other circumstances, we would have carted you off to the hospital and gotten you checked out. The last thing you need to do is go running off on a hunt."
"I want to get that animal." The words were said between gritted teeth.
Buffy crossed her arms, ready for the struggle she knew was about to commence. "First, you are not strong enough."
"I am." Kennedy struggled to get out of bed, but the effort clearly tired her and she slumped back against the pillow.
"Right. Sure you are. Second, we're not on a revenge mission. We're going to capture Angel so Willow can put his soul back. Look, I'm not too happy he got his fangs into you, but that's one of the hazards of the job. Vampires do their best to kill slayers. It's kind of hardwired into them."
"Easy for you to say. You've never..." Kennedy faltered as Buffy held up three fingers. "Three times?"
"Yup. I actually died with the first one. He drank till I was too weak to stand, then pitched me face first into a pool of water. I would have stayed dead if Xander and Angel hadn't found me and performed CPR. That's when the slayer line divided."
Kennedy was quiet for a moment, eyes cast down as her mind worked along whatever paths it had decided to wander. When she looked up, her face had gone hard. "How can you stand to even be around him, knowing what he is?"
"Angel? He's quite different when he has his soul, just the kind of dark, broody guy who could easily sweep a young girl off his feet. I think I can understand why you wouldn't be eager to meet him, but Willow will back me up..."
"I meant Spike. How can you stand to be around him, much less sleep with him? Isn't he an animal, too?" Kennedy practically spat the words out.
Before Buffy could reply, Willow came to her rescue. "You've got to understand that we've known Spike for years. Sure he's tried to kill us in the past and there was the time that he betrayed us to Adam, but he's been helping us now and he's changed."
"Which is why he sired those people? Or helped the First raise the Turok Han?"
"He didn't..." The words came hotly to Buffy's lips and she caught herself, taking several deep breaths before she felt she could speak calmly. "I trust Spike. I depend on him to watch my back -- and I did that before he and I ever started sleeping together."
"Spike's kind of Buffy's second in command for the fighty stuff," Willow said, reaching out to fluff Kennedy's pillow.
It was the wrong thing to say and Buffy had to wonder how Willow had missed Kennedy's desire for that very position. "You'd take a vampire over a potential slayer...a human?"
"It's not that simple, Kennedy." She tried to make her words soothing, but she doubted it'd work. "Spike's got experience none of us can match. It'd be foolish not to use it."
"But when you asked me to help with the training and...I see. It's because we were doing the work in the sunlight, where he couldn't go. That's the reason, isn't it? Otherwise, you would have had him running things."
Kennedy sank down on the pillows and pulled the covers up. "I'm tired. I should get some rest."
Buffy didn't argue; she knew it wouldn't serve any purpose. From the very beginning, Kennedy had continually offered challenges, measuring Buffy and finding her wanting. This was just another instance. The only question was what difficulties would it create?
Willow followed Buffy to the door. "She's not feeling well. Maybe in the morning..."
"That's not it. Ever since she arrived, Kennedy's had this sense of entitlement, like she's supposed to be the real Slayer and I'm somehow standing in the way."
"Uh, isn't Faith the 'real' Slayer? In the sense of being to pass along the powers, that is."
"Since apparently no new slayer showed up while I was dead, I guess so. The point is that given the way she's assumed the leadership position is naturally hers -- which I have not been encouraging her in -- she's bound to resent any hint anyone might be taking that place. That includes Spike and it definitely includes me."
"Buffy!" Willow pulled her out into the hall, shutting the door behind them. "How can you say that?"
"Real easy. Look at the way she's acted. Decided she'd rather be with you than go on a vision quest with the others so she faked being sick. Decided she didn't need it. I know you have feelings for her, but if she gets out of line, I'm going to have to slap her down. And now I've got a bigger problem because I need you to come with me when we go out again and we can't take her."
"Of course. She's not well enough and I need to do the binding spell."
"But can I trust her not to do anything stupid when I'm gone. I want you, Spike, Wesley and Connor with me. Everyone else stays here."
Willow scrunched up her nose. "Do we have to take Connor?"
"I don't want to leave him here with Cordelia. Who knows what badness she's up to? The point is that when we go out, I need Kennedy downstairs because I don't want anyone separated from the group and I don't want her trying anything stupid."
"I'll talk to her." Willow laid a reassuring hand on Buffy's arm. "I'll convince her to behave."
"Do your best. And if you can convince her to continue behaving when we get back to Sunnydale, I'd be grateful."
The place Wesley had chosen in the Hollywood Hills offered a lovely view of the lights of Los Angeles. They hadn't said much on the winding drive up, too conscious of the cargo carefully covered with a blanket in the back of the SUV. Nor had they spoken during the work of digging the grave. Wesley had been insistent it be a proper depth so some coyote or other such animal wouldn't disturb her.
It'd been hard work, digging through rocks and sandy soil, but at last the hole was deep enough. They'd rigged some straps to lower her down, using Wesley's limited mechanical sense and Spike's long buried memories of his breathing days when he'd attended the last rites of one relative or another. It wasn't the most graceful of descents, but after a good deal of sweat and effort on their part, Lilah Morgan was laid in her final resting place.
Reaching for his shovel to start filling in the grave, Spike asked, "Do you want to say something?"
Wesley, too, had taken his shovel in hand, but simply stood staring downward. "What would you suggest? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust?"
"In sure and certain hope of the resurrection," Spike completed. "Don't look at me like that. I was raised a good Anglican boy. Knew my prayers and services by rote. Those memories don't vanish because one becomes a vampire. They just get...buried."
Not the best choice of words at this moment, but he wasn’t sure how else to describe it. Wesley didn't seem to notice, or if he did, he chose not to acknowledge it. "I don't think Lilah believed in any of that. She very much lived in the now."
"Say a prayer for her anyway. Won't hurt and it's only fitting and proper for the moment." And it might make you feel better.
Wesley did as he suggested, bowed his head and closed his eyes. Spike let his head drop back and looked up to see what stars came peeping through the reflected lights from the city. God, he needed a cigarette, even if only for something to do with his hands instead of just holding on to the bleeding shovel and waiting for Wesley to finish. He didn't want to think too much because his memory might lead him back to a cellar in Sunnydale and other burials. No, he needed to stay firmly here in the present, no matter how the associations called to him.
There was a murmured "Amen" and Wesley used his shovel to spread the first sprinkling of earth over Lilah's corpse. After that, the work continued in earnest, the grave filling far easier than it had been to dig. Even so, the hour was later than Spike would have liked by the time they tamped down the last bit of dirt and dragged some ground cover over the spot to conceal it.
In silence, they headed back to the SUV. "We need to tell Buffy about this when we get back," Wesley said as he turned the key in the ignition. "There may be some steps she feels we should take."
"Not going to do anything stupid or heroic?" Spike asked.
"No," Wesley assured him as they headed back toward the Hyperion. "At least not at the moment."
Continued in Chapter Fourteen