"That's a relief," he said as he hung up the phone. "Your little sweetmeat of a vampire had me all worried something had gone wrong with the sanctuary spell -- it's supposed to prevent violence, after all, and with him flattening Connor..." Lorne waved it away with his hand. "Turns out, he managed to find a loophole by letting Connor do all the work. Not that I blame him; I've felt the urge to lay into the precocious brat's skull more than once myself."
Buffy looked around to make certain they were alone before pulling herself up onto one of the tall stools arranged in front of the counter. "Not your favorite person, I take it."
"I'm not one to tell tales out of school, but since you asked, no. Don't get me wrong; Connor was the cutest baby and we all adored him, but after he returned from Quor-toth...I'm not sure if it was Holtz, his environment, a combination of the two or just the fact he's a teenager, but he is not number one on my list of who to invite for dinner."
When Buffy had learned of Connor's existence, she'd felt a wave of resentment at the idea of Angel had a child, something she was convinced she'd never know. The longer she knew Connor, however, and the more she heard about him, that resentment melted away, morphing into something else. Pity? Was that the right word? "Where is he, anyway? I thought he'd be down here chomping at the bit for the chance to go after Angel."
Lorne frowned. "You know, I'm not sure. He usually gets pretty antsy and active once the sun goes down -- the vampire parentage thing, I imagine -- but he went upstairs earlier today and I haven't seen him since. Probably with Cordelia making..."
He cut off the end of his sentence rather abruptly, almost as if he'd had a sudden attack of discretion. "It's a rather complicated situation around here, my dear. I know you and Angel were the big star-crossed lovers, but lately he's been developing feelings..."
"For Cordelia. Who's now sleeping with Connor."
The look of surprise on his face was almost worth the trip to Los Angeles, but the wicked, conspiratorial grin that followed was even better. "My. We have been keeping up with 'Days of Our Unlife,' haven't we? Let me guess; Spike figured it out. Very perceptive fellow you've got there. Pity Angel hates him."
That made her wince. Dealing with Angel over this was going to be so not fun and she was wondering exactly how soon after Willow got the soul back in they could hit the road. She could rationalize it as worry over what might be happening in Sunnydale during her absence, but even she knew it was rationalization. With all that was whirring in her head at the moment, it was easier to admit she was feeling a bit of a coward where Angel was concerned.
"Have you had anything to eat?" Lorne asked, effectively derailing that line of conversation. "You're looking a bit thin around the edges. Fred took Gunn out on a food run, which means we're going to be eating tacos tonight, but, hey, anything in a pinch." He frowned. "Kennedy and Willow aren't vegetarians or anything like that? I'm afraid most of us are fairly carnivorous around here."
"As long as it's not spaghetti, we should be fine," Buffy replied, perfectly happy to have the conversation back on safer ground. "We've eaten a lot of spaghetti lately."
"Hmm. Wesley told me something of your troubles in Sunnydale. If no one else says it, I will. You're being a real trooper to come down here and help us with our problems when you've got your own evil to deal with. And speaking of problems..."
She turned her head to discover Connor coming down the stairs. "When are we going?" he asked as soon as he got within range.
"When Wesley and Spike get back," Buffy replied. She was hoping it'd be soon.
"We don't need them. The two of us are strong enough to take Angelus."
She was about to give him a list of reasons why they weren't out to "take" Angelus, but decided she'd had enough of justifying what she was trying to do. "Probably, but I haven't had dinner yet, so we're waiting."
Disagreement flickered in Connor's eyes, but he offered no protests. "I'm just going to practice until then."
With that, he wandered toward the weapons cabinet. "Is it just me or does he seem distracted?" Lorne asked, leaning in, his voice low.
"He does seem distracted. Not in a good way, either." Buffy watched Conner pull a sword from the cabinet and begin going through a series of exercises. "Looks like something's on his mind."
"If it keeps him quiet, then 'yay' whatever."
No, Lorne definitely didn't like Connor. Buffy wasn't certain the distraction was all for the good, though. She recognized the expression on his face as he went through the motions, light glinting off the blade. Angel used to get that look, usually when there was something dire happening he wasn't ready to tell her about.
And if Connor had been upstairs with Cordelia...
Connor executed a spectacular series of turns, the sword flashing as it twirled, ending in a final extended lunge.
"Nice sword," Kennedy said, standing on the lobby steps directly in front of where Connor had stopped. She still looked a bit pale but she was on her feet and seemed steady, a bandage on her neck covering the wound.
Connor acknowledged her with a nod as he straightened. "Thanks. I make it a habit to practice every day."
"Same here. Can't keep in top shape unless you practice. I'm fine, Willow."
Willow, who'd been hovering just at Kennedy's elbow, drew back as if stung. "Just wanted to make sure you're okay. You were a little shaky on your feet upstairs."
"We can sit down," Connor said quickly, "talk weapons. You've got some good moves yourself."
"Does he realize she's batting for the other team?" Lorne asked as Kennedy was escorted to the circular couch by both Connor and Willow.
"Does he even know the other team exists?" Buffy had to ask in return.
"Good question. Holtz seemed like an uptight guy, not the kind who'd discuss alternative lifestyles."
When the three were seated, Connor started on about technique, what he'd learned and how he used it. Kennedy seemed interested but Willow's eyes glazed over in less than thirty seconds. She stuck it out for another couple of minutes then wandered over toward Buffy and Lorne. "Is it my imagination," she asked sotto voice, "or is Connor trying to hit on Kennedy?"
"We were just discussing that fact." Connor's face was showing more animation now, even offering a smile, thus smashing Buffy's theory he only had two expressions: sullen and sullen disapproval.
Willow stifled a giggle. "This could be funny."
At least it was some entertainment while they waited. Connor preened, postured and puffed; Kennedy kept talking about fighting...and she just meant fighting. No subtext on her part.
The fun continued until the moment Willow glanced toward the stairs. "If looks could kill..."
Cordelia was descending, her eyes fixed firmly on Connor and Kennedy. Buffy had been on the receiving end of that look before, back when she was the focus of attention from a boy Cordelia had marked out as her own. Of course, the fact Kennedy didn't know anything about Cordelia and probably didn't give a crap about her opinions would hold all sorts of fun possibilities if not for the fact they suspected Cordelia of darker deeds.
She was wearing loose-fitting clothing with a long flowing jacket over the ensemble, but if one knew she was pregnant, her condition was obvious. Given her size, she had to be at least five months along...not that Buffy considered herself an expert on the subject. "So this is the great plan? We sit around and stare at the walls?"
Connor literally jumped at the sound of Cordelia's voice, putting space between himself and Kennedy. "Do you have a better suggestion?" Buffy asked.
"Anything would be better than this."
"She wants to wait until Spike and Wesley return," Connor said.
"Because they've been oh-so-helpful." Cordelia settled into a chair, the queen keeping court. "I'm surprised you're relying on Wesley so much. Back in Sunnydale, you made no secret of the fact you thought he was pretty useless."
"They certainly do. I remember when you used to be afraid of nothing, always eager to rush off and fight. Now it's wait for Wesley, wait for Spike, wait for Willow because that binding spell was spectacularly successful."
Buffy knew she was being bated and resisted the urge to respond. Connor didn't. "We really should find another way besides the magic to catch him. Something more trustworthy."
That earned him an approving smile from Cordelia. Buffy was about to ask him what he had in mind when Kennedy had to put her two cents in. "It's not a bad idea. I have faith in Willow, but at the very least we need a backup plan, something we can throw at him if she gets knocked out again or something like that."
Kennedy didn't rate the same look as Connor, but Cordelia didn't look hostile to the idea. "Whatever it is, we should come up with it and get going. Time's a-wasting."
"You do want Angel back, don't you, Cordelia?"
The glare Buffy got in response wasn't one of the high school one, but something darker and angrier. "Spike's not here to fight your battles for you. You're the Slayer. You're the one Wesley was convinced could come charging in and save Angel. I haven't seen anything so far to convince me you have any idea what the hell you're doing. Yes, I want Angel back, but I'm not going to sit here and blindly follow someone who just keeps getting people hurt."
She shouldn't respond. She shouldn't let herself get angry. She needed to show restraint and not be goaded...oh, to hell with it. Sliding off the stool, she began a slow stalk across the floor. "You don't like what I'm doing, Cordelia? Fine. Where's your plan? I haven't seen you come up with any solid suggestions since we got here. I want to hear what steps you think we should be taking."
"Well, for one thing I wouldn't be sitting around on my ass when I've got people who could help me capture him. Take Connor and Willow. She can do one of her glow spell thingies and track him down and you and Connor can manhandle him or Willow can wave her hand."
"I thought you felt the binding spell was a failure. But then, you've learned so much about spell casting, haven't you? That's why you were able to come up with that spell which supposedly put Angel's soul back..."
Cordelia sat up abruptly as if she was about to surge out of the chair. Anger Buffy expected, but for just an instant there was something much darker in Cordelia's eyes, a change that wasn't quite human. She started to take a step back, but stopped, determined to stand her ground.
"Girls, may I remind you there's a sanctuary spell?" Lorne called out. "That means no violence or you'll find yourself with a nasty headache."
Deliberately, Cordelia sank back into her chair. "Don't worry, Lorne. If there's violence, I won't be the one doing it; unlike some people, I know how to control my temper."
Buffy said nothing, merely smiled. She knew. She wasn't certain how or why, but something in her bones was singing, telling her that everything they'd suspected about Cordelia was true. The only questions now were how, why, and what did they need to do to stop her?
The front doors opened to admit Gunn and Fred, arms laden with carry-out bags. "We were going for Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles," Gunn said has he carried the bags to the front desk. "Unfortunately, they had some damage when everything went down and haven't re-opened yet. So, we went to Fred's taco stand, which was open...and did I miss something."
"Absolutely nothing." Buffy strolled back to the counter. "Those smell good. I didn't realize I was so hungry."
The food was quickly unpacked and distributed. It wasn't food Buffy would have normally chosen, but the rumble in her stomach told her it was time to put worries about things like saturated fats aside and take in some fuel. The others seemed to feel the same way, quickly tucking into the crunchy shells. Connor brought one to Cordelia, but while she took it, she also turned her nose up slightly as it the smell was unappetizing. That wasn't necessarily a sign she was evil, though. Cordelia had always passed up anything that wasn't lo-fat, lo-taste and stamped with a designer signature.
Eating brought quiet, which was fine as far as Buffy was concerned, her eyes fixed firmly on the front door, waiting. She was working on her second taco when Wesley and Spike returned, both looking serious as befitted the chore they'd come from. Wesley sniffed the air. "I take it Gunn and Fred went for food."
"Hey, I tried to go for chicken but Roscoe's was closed."
"Oh, dear. Not permanently, I hope."
"Nah. They had a sign on the door, said they'd be open next week."
It was a rare moment of friendliness, the first she believed she'd seen between the two men since her arrival. Then her mind was skipping away from it, turning toward the other Englishman present. "Spike, there's blood in the office refrigerator," Fred called out. "It should be fresh."
Spike nodded his thanks and fetched himself a cup. After heating it, he strolled toward Buffy, pausing as the food caught his eye. "I haven't had tacos in ages."
With that, his hand snaked out and snagged a paper wrapped package. Leaning against the counter next to where Buffy sat, he set his mug down and unwrapped the cover, biting into the shell with a loud "crunch." "Oh, that is good," he said, the words slightly mumbled due to food in his mouth.
Gunn was staring. "I didn't think vamps ate people food."
"This vamp does. Tacos, spicy chicken wings and if you can found me one of those flowering onion things, I'd be grateful. Used to enjoy it the Bronze up in Sunnydale, but they took it off the menu."
Gunn's eyebrow had climbed steadily throughout this. "Wes, do your books include any of this?"
That brought a chuckle as Wesley unwrapped his own tacos. "No, but I'm rapidly learning that Spike is hardly the usual vampire."
Spike looked smug as he took another bite. This time, a tiny smear of grease was left at the corner of his mouth and Buffy reached up to wipe it away. He looked down at her, bathing her in warmth with his smile, then leaned forward to give her kiss that taste of hot sauce and all things Spike. She could feel the daggers at the back of her head from various parties, but she didn't care. Let Cordelia glare all she wanted and Buffy would deal with Kennedy later.
"Aw. Now isn't that sweet. Could just about turn my stomach."
Every head in the room jerked toward the spot where the voice originated. Angelus stood there, hands in the pocket of his black wool overcoat, a grin on his face that promised nothing but trouble. "Hi, guys. Miss me?"
Continued in Chapter Fifteen