They were the last words Buffy ever thought she'd find herself saying to Angel. When they were dating, his dark, brooding silences drove her nuts from time to time, making her desperate for him to say something.
Angelus didn't have dark, brooding silences. Angelus constantly poked at a person, trying to find their weak spots. She was beginning to wonder how much of the stream of snark that used to flow from Spike was natural and how much he'd learned by example.
"What's the matter, darling? Cut a little too close to home for comfort?" Angelus curled his hands around the bars of the cage. "Don't like to hear the truth?"
"No. You're in danger of boring me to death." She strolled over to the basement steps. "You've done this all before. Tormented me, tormented my friends, tried to undermine my self-confidence by saying things that had just enough truth in them or picked up on my fears and doubts. Problem is, you don't have a lot of new material because Angel and I haven't seen a lot of other lately, haven’t exchanged a lot of information."
"We could talk about your new boy toy, or why Riley went away."
Buffy just glared as she settled herself on the steps. She glanced down at the stack of magazines she'd grabbed off Cordelia's desk and remembered something she'd once done that had driven Angel crazy. Maybe it would work on Angelus.
Picking up the Cosmo, she flipped through the pages until she reached the quiz. "Here we go. 'What's his Intimacy IQ?'"
She snuck a glance toward Angelus. He looked somewhat puzzled, as if he wasn't sure what she was up to. "Question One: Do you share secrets with each other that you wouldn't even share with your best friends? Answers: All the time. On occasion. No way."
"I can't believe you'd actually share anything with Spike...except maybe the occasional bodily fluid."
Buffy smiled. "Answer: All the time."
"Question Two: When you mention a problem to your guy, like a health worry or family issue, does he...? Answer: Tries to cheer you up fast and then changes the subject to something lighter. Says let's talk about it later but doesn't. Gives you his undivided attention and helps you find a solution." Buffy grinned. "That's easy; gives me his undivided attention."
Another snort from the cage.
"Question Three: In bed, how interested is he in learning about your needs?"
"I do not need to hear this!" He was rattling the cage, face dark with annoyance.
Buffy looked up. "Turn about is fair play. You don't want me to go on? Then be quiet."
"Aren't we the little bitch?"
She didn't flinch from his gaze. "Yes, we are. Sure, I'm going to regret this once we get your soul back in, but I'm not the innocent schoolgirl you remember. I've been through things you have no conception of."
He smiled like he'd just uncovered something. "It's made you hard. Does it make it easier to stick the knife into your friends? Is that what happened with Riley? You became too hard and he couldn't stand it anymore, had to run away?"
Damn him. There was more than a little truth in his words, more truth than he could possibly realize. She had become hard; it was the hardness that had kept her at arm's length from her sister and friends and prompted her to dive into a sexual morass with Spike with disastrous consequences. The ice was only now beginning to thaw.
But as she watched the glee on Angelus' face at the possibility he might have hurt her, she realized there were moments when that hardness could be an asset. "And if I have grown hard, what's to keep me from ramming a stake through your chest if you get to be too much of irritant?" she asked, her voice as devoid of emotion as possible. "I've sent you to hell once already."
It was enough to make him pause. Buffy heard footsteps on the stairs. Looking up, she found Spike descending and couldn't help the smile that spread over her face. "Is he being an annoying boy?" Spike asked, settling on the step next to her.
"The usual. I hope Willow gets that spell together soon; it's really irritating to listen to him after a while."
"You should try twenty years of it. At some point it just becomes background noise. Sort of like Andrew."
"Ewww. Not enjoying that comparison."
Spike chuckled. "Sorry. I didn't mean to insult Andrew. Why don't you head on upstairs? I think Willow wants to talk to you. I can handle Granddad from here."
"But Buffy and I were having such a delightful conversation."
Buffy didn't even bother to look toward the cage. "If he gets out of line, try reading the Cosmo quiz aloud. I stopped at question three."
Spike considered the magazines Buffy had left behind, repressing a shudder. Dawn had subjected him to a few Cosmo quizzes during the summer Buffy was gone, the last embers of her crush on him. He wouldn't wish such evil even on Angelus.
"She has you whipped, boy. Of course, that seems to be a common state of affairs where you're concerned."
Spike leaned back, supporting himself on his elbows. "Let me point out I'm not the one in the cage."
"At least not one you can see." Angelus pressed close to the bars. "But you are caged as surely as I am."
He'd be lying to himself if he said Angelus' words didn't have a certain sting of truth. "I think I enjoy mine a hell of a lot more than you do yours."
"Oh, yeah. The slayer's lap dog. At her beck and call, tending to her little wants and needs..."
What was his game? "Substitute 'Drusilla' for 'slayer' and I've heard this song before -- far too many times before."
Spike leaned forward, abandoning his casual posture. "I know you're not a complete idiot. I've watched you hunt; I know what you taught me. Cheap shots are one thing, but are you really just sitting here marking time until Red finds a way to get the soul back in?"
Angelus smiled. Apparently Spike had asked the right question.
Willow practically leapt to her feet when Buffy entered the lobby, abandoning the book-covered desk behind the front counter. "There you are!"
When Spike had said Willow wanted to talk to her, he hadn't been kidding. Fred, seated at another desk with her own pile of tomes, peered curiously over the top of horn rim glasses as Willow quickly moved to meet Buffy. "What's wrong?" Buffy asked in a low voice.
"Who said anything's wrong?" Willow's voice was a shade too bright. "Why don't we go into the garden?"
As Willow hustled Buffy out the door, she caught sight of Cordelia hovering about the entrance of the office, watching.
It was a lovely day, more than just a hint of spring in the air. The fountain in the center of the garden was splashing gently, a soft counterpoint to the exercise routine Connor and Kennedy were going through on the garden path. "She's feeling much better this morning," Willow said as they settled on a bench under the covered walkway near the hotel entrance.
"That's good. Why did you drag me out here? Don't say nothing's wrong, because you're acting like you've had too many frozen mochas and I thought you'd given those up."
"I did, except Fred made a run to Starbucks and it's not the mochas. I just didn't want to say anything in front of Fred or..."
Buffy could guess where the real source of trouble lay. "I saw Cordelia hovering."
"She's been doing that since early this morning. Says she wants to help me do research with the esoteric texts."
"Definitely doesn't sound like Cordelia. Is that what has you so twitchy?"
"No. There's more."
"I'm not saying you have to give anything up." Angelus' voice was smooth. "You want Buffy? You can have her. I think I'm over the small blonde thing, anyway."
"So glad you're giving us your blessing. Not that I need it."
"I'm saying I won't interfere. I don't have to be anywhere near her. There's lots of places in the world. Always liked Rome."
Intrigued, Spike got to his feet. "You're suggesting I let you out."
"I'm suggesting that we might be mutually beneficial to one another. You scratch my back, I scratch yours."
"Last time you scratched my back, it took almost a week for the welts to heal."
Angelus shrugged. "I got carried away in the moment. The point is, you want to fight by Buffy's side, that's fine with me. You always were given to romantic gestures, so I suppose it appeals to your basic nature. But think about this -- one day, perhaps even one day soon, she'll be gone and you'll be all alone again."
"Turn her? Is that what you're saying?" Spike took another step forward, crossing his arms over his chest.
"It's up to you, of course. But think of it. Think of her, all that beauty at your side, in your bed for all of eternity. All you have to do is open the door."
The terrible thing of it all, Spike realized, was there was a little voice inside him that was tempted.
The images Willow described were horrible, making Buffy shudder despite the warmth of the morning. "God, why did I come to Los Angeles?"
"Because you knew you couldn't let Angelus run free. Because you're the Slayer." Willow took a deep breath. "Whatever that...thing...is, I didn't sense Cordy anywhere. It's almost as if she didn't have a soul, as if some demon thing had set up housekeeping in her body."
William and Liam died, Buffy thought, their bodies inhabited by the demons that became Angelus and Spike. Did Cordelia die or was the change a slow one, a result of taking on the demon aspect to help with the visions?
"One other thing; I think she's the one who killed Lilah Morgan, not Angelus."
Buffy realized she hadn't had a chance to tell Willow about Spike's theory. There hadn't been time last night and this morning they hadn't spoken until now. "It was part of the images I saw," Willow continued. "I mean, I never saw her in the flesh, but there was this woman and she was stabbed in the neck."
Spike had said the neck wounds were something larger than a vampire bite. "Have you told Wesley?" she asked.
Willow shook her head. "I wanted to tell you first. I know we're trusting Wesley now, but this is so...out there, even for us. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it. Even now I don't want to believe it. But I think we have to. And I think she's got something planned for when Lorne removes the Sanctuary spell."
"Can you see it, Spike?" Angelus' voice was dark and seductive, lowered to a whisper Spike still sometimes heard in his nightmares. "It could be magnificent. You, me, Buffy...we could turn Willow as well. There was this weird thing once where we got her bizzaro opposite and I've got to tell you that she made one cute little vampire."
When Spike didn't answer, Angelus continued, warming to his subject. "Remember how it was when there were four of us? The terror, the blood? Remember how it was after the killing?"
Spike did remember. He could still see the victims, still remember his blind joy in the kill and how sweet the pleasure afterwards could be.
He also remembered years of simmering resentment and pain, of being pushed aside, denied, and used. "Get stuffed, mate."
Angelus chuckled. "All I'm doing is offering what you want deep down inside."
"No, what you're offering is a bribe to get me to do what you want and I don't doubt you have every intention of staking me at the first possible opportunity. And you think I'm stupid enough not to realize it."
Spike stalked dangerously close to the cage. It was a risk, but at this moment he didn't give a damn. "As for what I want deep down inside, when have you ever known that? How could you have known? Who'd suspect my deepest desire was to have William the Bloody Awful take up residence..."
"Not now!" Angelus practically shouted the word, causing Spike to step back and tense. "Can't you see I'm in the middle of a conversation?"
At first, Spike wondered if this was some kind of trick, another effort on Angelus' part to escape from his cage. When the older vampire began pacing the cage, carrying on one half of a conversation with an unknown party, he began to suspect something else was up. "Oh, and what bright idea do you have this time?"
Spike sprinted up the stairs and skidded around the corner into the lobby proper. "Fred! Get Buffy! Now!"
Buffy raced down the basement stairs, Willow hot on her heels. Spike was squatting near the cage, his eyes fixed on Angelus...who was holding a conversation with someone who clearly wasn't Spike. "Lots of big talk. I don't see any action, though."
Silently, Buffy moved to stand by Spike, her hand brushing across his shoulder. In response, he rose in a smooth motion to speak quietly in her ear. "We were talking and suddenly he broke off, started shouting at his invisible friend."
"Could it have been something you said?"
Was it her imagination or did Spike look a bit uncomfortable. "I doubt it. But this is what I looked like in the basement, isn't it?"
Buffy watched as Angelus paced back and forth, clearly agitated. There was an uncomfortable resemblance to Spike's crazy in the basement behavior...especially the fact Angelus didn't seem to notice any of them were there. "How long?"
"I had Fred get you as soon as it started."
"The First?" Buffy really didn't want to consider the idea the First might be able to reach them here in Los Angeles, but the question had to be asked.
"Don't think so, given the bits I'm hearing, unless the First is the Beast's master."
Twenty minutes ago, Buffy would have asked where Cordelia fit into all of this. Given what Willow had said, though, she thought she knew...which meant Cordelia had to be holed up somewhere to do whatever spell she was working to talk to Angel. "Be right back."
"Is everything alright?" Fred asked as Buffy reappeared in the lobby. "Spike sounded kind of worried."
"Everything's fine," Buffy said as casually as she could. "Angelus just got a little rambunctious. Nothing to worry about. Have you seen Wesley and Cordelia?"
"Wesley headed off to his apartment to get a change of clothes and stuff. He'd said he'd be back in an hour or so. Cordelia's upstairs." Fred lowered her voice confidentially. "I don't think she's feeling very well."
"Then I won't bother her." Buffy became aware Kennedy and Connor had returned from the garden and were watching her from just inside the lobby door. She simply acknowledged their presence with a nod and headed back to the basement.
Angelus was still keeping up the conversation when she returned. "Any idea where it's coming from?" Buffy asked.
Willow shook her head. "I can't really trace it with alerting the source and I'm not sure I want to do that. I mean, I have a pretty good idea what the source is already."
"Cordelia's upstairs. Fred says she's not feeling well."
"A little morning sickness, perhaps?" At Buffy's look she added, "She admitted she was pregnant this morning, but asked me not to tell anyone, though; said she and Connor wanted to do it themselves."
Damn. She should have known Connor wouldn't have been able to resist poking his head downstairs to see what was happening. Kennedy was in tow, of course; the two were becoming thick as thieves, a fact that worried Buffy no end because they had no idea how deeply involved in Cordelia's plan Connor was. "Keep working on the exercises you and Kennedy have been doing. Probably good for both of you; the chance to see different styles."
Standing just behind Connor, Kennedy raised her eyebrows skeptically. She didn't blow their cover, though. "I figure it should keep us out of the way while they're down here with the vampire doing magic."
It wasn't the most enthusiastic statement of support ever, but it seemed to hit all the right notes with Connor. "That's right. Put his soul back in so we can all go back to pretending he's not an animal."
Buffy glanced behind her toward the cage. Angelus was still pacing, but at least he was listening at the moment to the voice in his head instead of cursing it. Spike was far too close for her taste, leaning against the bars as if he were trying to hear that silent conversation. No telling how long Angelus would remain silent, though, and the quicker they got Connor out, the better. "Well, Willow's going to get started on it, so maybe we'd better leave her alone."
She started to climb the stairs, hoping the two would get the hint. They did, and as soon as Buffy saw them head back out to the garden, she started down the stairs again.
Back in the basement, the first thing she noticed was that Spike had abandoned his position near the cage and removed himself to a safe distance. Angelus had stopped pacing and was busily glaring at both Willow and Spike. "I'm not going to be in here forever," he warned.
"Yeah, sing it again, Grandad. Maybe the rats in the sewer will believe you."
"Stop calling me that."
Spike just smirked. "What happened?" Buffy asked.
"He apparently had an argument with the voice," Willow said.
"Yeah, told it to go screw itself right and proper," Spike added.
"You'd do the same in my position." Angelus was clearly annoyed, any polish being chipped away from his manner. "Lots of games, but no action. Somehow, though, I don't think whoever this is will just stand by idly while you stick Angel's soul back in."
"No, but she may decide to keep it bottled up so she can threaten you with it if you get out of line."
The look on Angelus' face showed the voice had promised just that. Then, however, he smiled as he registered the impact of Buffy's words. "You have an idea who it is. I didn't say male or female and you just said 'she.' I think Mighty Big Voice might be interested in that piece of news."
Buffy had thought of waiting for Wesley's return, but now she didn't think they'd have that luxury. "How soon can you be ready?" she asked Willow.
"For the spell? Twenty minutes, maybe. Of course, it all depends on when Lorne drops the Sanctuary spell."
"I'll go talk to Lorne, and I'm going to get Gunn. If Wesley comes back, I want him down here as well. Willow, give Spike your cell phone. If he." she jerked her heard toward Angelus, "starts talking to thin air again, I want to know. Get everything ready, because it's time."
Continued in Chapter Eighteen